01 June 2009

Varanasi is Here

We got to Varanasi after numerous plane delays. We left Hyderabad at about 7am and got to Varanasi at 6pm. We're getting used to the fact that in India there is no such thing as a set time. You get there when you get there if at all.

It was a long journey and it is very different here. Like nothing Kristen and I have ever experienced.

We have to get up at 5am tomorrow so we will write more then. Wish us luck!

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Hi-Tec Hyderabad

After seeing a lot of the old Hyderabad, it was time for something different (Sunday). Pauline and our driver met us at our hotel at 10ish and we headed straight to Hi-Tec City, the area that give Hyderabad it’s nickname of Cyberabad. We drove past offices for Google, Oracle and IBM, with the highlight being a stopover at the Qualcomm Hyderabad offices. Pauline gave us the full tour and I got to see everyone I have only interacted with via email’s workspaces. It was really exciting for me.

Then we all piled in the car and headed to a nearby handicraft bazaar. We got to see a lot of the local goods in a much calmer environment than that of the bazaar near the Charminar. After looking at many of the stalls we were all starting to get warm and hungry so we got back on the road to head to lunch.

Pauline had chose another excellent restaurant and took us to the vegetarian buffet at the Taj Tristar hotel. The food was amazing! I think Charlton and I were only familiar with one dish, so we got to try a lot of new things. We even got to try a snack they typically serve at street stalls, chati. Since we can’t eat street food while we are here that was a real treat to try something that is typically a local snack.

With incredibly full bellies, we made our way to the local movie theater, Prasad’s. There we watched the Hindi film 99, about the cricket match fixing back in 2000. While there were no English subtitles, both Charlton and I enjoyed the movie. They do sprinkle some English in here and there, and it helped Pauline could fill us in on some of the plot.

When we left the movie it had just stopped raining, we decided it was getting late and we didn’t want to risk trying to take a boat to the Buddha statue that is in the middle of Hyderabad’s lake so we headed to Pauline’s house to meet her family. We had some delicious mango and some great conversation. It was a nice way to cap off our experience in Hyderabad.

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Hectic Hyderabad

Kristen and I woke up this morning (Saturday) at 8:30 both not really knowing what to expect from the day. After the confusion the previous night we were both definitely excited and nervous at the same time. We slowly got ready and made our way downstairs at our hotel for our breakfast buffet. After a little bit of naan and roti, we were ready to go.

Pauline (Kristen’s former co-worker) picked us up in a hired car and we were soon on our way. Driving was exciting seeing all various storefronts and people. In addition the driving here is pretty intense. Bangkok driving was fairly wild but here in Hyderabad it’s a little crazier. However, there is a method to the madness and mostly everyone gets to where they are going in one piece. We almost didn’t make it however as our car overheated or had an electrical issue. After a few minutes of our driver messing with wires the car started up again and we were on our way once more.

Our first stop was the perfect introduction to Hyderabad and India for us. We went to the Salar Jung museum which is a huge collection of India and worldwide artifacts. There is quite a bit to see but it is a good way to get a feel for much of the artwork that exists here.

Afterwards we headed to Hyderbad’s most famous landmark, the Charminar. The Charminar is basically a tower with four points that was built as a thanks to God for stopping a epidemic short (perhaps we should build a shrine for the H1N1 virus). It’s a beautiful but insanely crowded area in the heart of the old city. Kristen and I both made the decision to go to the top and see the views. The way up was simple. Climb 50 steps and you’re there. The way down is a whole other matter. Go down 50 steps after waiting an hour in line. The latter wasn’t as much fun.

We then swung by the bangles market which was chaotic coupled with touts galore screaming and yelling at us. It was an enjoyable experience however crazy as it was.

Next, we had our first meal in India. Pauline took us to the Hyderabad House which is a chain of restaurants. We had the Hyderabadi specialty, Biryani as well as a paneer dish and some kabobs. The meal was delicious and a great intro to all the Indian food we will be eating in the future.

As dusk approached we headed over to another Hyderabad landmark, the Goldconda fort. This fort was built before Hyderabad existed and was a Muslim fort. Kristen and I had both never seen any Islamic architecture so it was very eye opening. We all made our way up to the top of the fort which was about a half hour climb and then made our way down to see the light show that both lit the fort beautifully and was very informative.

To cap the day off we got Chinese-Indian food, including my new favorite, Chicken Pakoras. They were quite amazing. Think flash fried chicken and curry spices.

After dinner, we made our way back to our hotel knowing that we had made it through our first day here in India. It was chaotic. It was a learning experience. It was amazing.

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A New Journey Begins

India. India. India.

I’ve just repeated this in my head ever since Kristen and I made the decision to come here. Truthfully, when we made our decision I had a very small idea of what to expect other than the few documentaries I have seen on television. Slowly, I began to develop my preconceptions of this country while preparing for our trip. I’ll have to detail more once we finish our trip here and I have a chance to fully digest what we experienced.

Right now Kristen and I have made it through two days in India and have virtually completed our experience here in Hyderabad.

It started off easily enough. Catch a quick three hour flight from Bangkok and end up in Hyderabad. Quickly we had two shocks that alerted us that we weren’t in the United States, let alone Thailand anymore. First was money. We had none. We both had banked that there would be an ATM at the airport where we could get some Rupees. As soon as we received out bags we saw a sign that said “ATM” and went over to get some money. Unfortunately, as soon as we got there the ATM sign was just that, a sign. There were no ATMs. The next half hour was spent frantically searching the airport looking for the lone ATM all the while avoiding the taxi touts (no it’s fine I’d prefer that you didn’t drive me to an ATM to pay you). After a few other glitches we found an ATM and got our much needed Rupees.

Second shock. Hyderabad has a new airport. It is 30km outside the city. The old airport was 8km to the city. We didn’t know that. Our taxi ride consisted of me yelling at the taxi driver convinced that he was just driving us around to run the meter up as well as worrying he was taking us to the middle of nowhere.

Driver: “thirty kilometers to city”
Me: “no, eight”
Driver: “ten, twenty, thirty”
Me: “one, two, eight!”

After a long ride we finally got to our hotel which was on a deserted street. We later found out that this was an insanely busy street from about 06:00 to 00:00 and after everyone goes home to bed.

We settled into our hotel room shortly after and prepared for day one in Hyderabad.

This is India.

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