A Passage to India

May 22, 2011 - Pune, India


Here we go again! This time it is a “Passage to India” – Pune, India to be more precise. Prior to this assignment, I had never heard of Pune – now, every time I mention the location, it seems someone knows someone from Pune. Anyway, as I said in the last trip, it gets easier every time in terms of preparation, packing and traveling. I’ve stopped obsessing that my family will have enough to eat, enough clean clothes, and that they will be able to entertain themselves while I am away. Even our daughter has become more comfortable with my traveling and there is less guilt on my part when I say goodbye. We did have a clash of schedules, of sort, as here last day of school was also the day I was to leave. I had intentionally arranged to take a later flight and then decided to take her out of school for half a day so that we could have some “mommy-daughter” time before I left. While we didn’t have enough time to get a pedicure (which we love) nor to drive out to her favorite lunchtime splurge (Steak-N-Shake), we settled on a picnic on the porch with Daddy. It was such a lovely spring day and it was nice just to sit and chat about all of our plans this summer. With the afternoon fading, I am whisked to the airport and we part ways for the next two weeks.

The itinerary goes like this: Atlanta-Amsterdam-Mumbai-Pune leaving Friday afternoon and arrive on Sunday, late morning in Pune. I am traveling with my friend and colleague, Becky. As flights go, uneventful. Amazingly, left on time and arrived a bit early in Amsterdam. Off to Mumbai (Bombay) on time, and again arrive a bit early. I have tentatively decided that I will try to be vegetarian throughout this trip, so I choose the veg option for dinner on the flight. Not too bad, eggplant masala and red lentils and rice, chickpea salad and some dessert that I cannot remember but suspect I will see over and over again. These were golf ball size fried dough balls in sweet syrup. They were kind of dense and tough – maybe these are better fresh. Anyhow, we’ll see how long the veg lifestyle can last.

Exiting the airport in Bombay is like being in Atlanta in the summer plus add 10% more heat and humidity. It is difficult to comment on Bombay as we were quickly driven to our hotel, which is near the airport - and once I hit the sack, I was out. Night comes, morning follows.

Sunday am. Up at 6 am to shower and repack and have breakfast before we catch our ride back to the airport for our flight to Pune. As I was having breakfast I was somewhat surprised to see a bird land on the ledge outside. This bird was a parrot, and the more I looked around outside the more I saw them flying about. It was kind of like seeing pigeons around buildings in the States. Very pretty and very unusual. I hope to see more wild life throughout this trip (like monkeys). Our drive to the airport gave me a little better glimpse of what I missed in the dark last year. Frankly, I was a bit curious how I would react to the poverty that is so evident in India. It was definitely there, but because we didn’t have any actual encounters, I think that I was able to make myself believe that it wasn’t as bad as I envisioned. That was until I saw the family of 4 – 2 children definitely under 2 – gathering up their belongings from a pile of rocks under an overpass. There was no denying they either lived there or had, at the very least, slept there the previous night. While it wasn’t a beggar sticking their hand in the window of the car – their faces, their lives told the same story. It was heartbreaking. That comment earlier about the pile of rocks these folks slept on also brings to mind the whole of Bombay thus far. Everywhere there are buildings that either look like there could be torn down or being built, it is really hard to tell. There is just rubble around them everywhere. They do not look inhabited at all. The other observation of note is the piles of trash everywhere. It is unbelievable how much there is. I am thinking that there is no trash collection and any refuse just gets piled on these existing piles. It is so daunting and seems impossible to cure.

So we’re off. The domestic airport in Mumbai is pretty basic. A large waiting area where half the gates appear to be. Looks like a train station waiting area. Your flight gets announced and you board a bus that takes you to your plane. Our flight is pretty full and our seats are in a row where they don’t recline, but that doesn’t really matter since it is only a 25 minute flight. We could have hired a car, which is about a 3 hour drive or taken the train, again about three hours but we were advised against either of those two. The train station, as it happens, has a stop directly across the street from our hotel. I have been able to see why we were advised against that route. So far, I have not seen a single train stop here that doesn’t look like a clown car with the number of people that have exited from each car. From the air, we were able to see why driving would have been pretty dull. The landscape once you leave Bombay is very dry and barren. Even the few homes that you see out in this area seem forgotten and sad. It would not have been a drive that you reveled in the scenery.

So now, we are in Pune. We are met at the airport by a hotel van and quickly make friends with the other woman waiting for the van. She is here for three weeks of business. We actually joined her for lunch and shared her company while we were entertained by a magician (note: this is NOT like the “magician” from Indonesia –no blood was shed). This was your turbaned and robed magician with scarves and balls and rings and magic sticks. The most amazing trick was to ask each of us which flower scents we liked the most. Our choices were roses, jonquils, jasmine and some others. Jaime and I chose jasmine and Becky chose roses. We were then asked to rub the back of our hands together and he incanted some magic words and poof! the back of our hands smelled just like the flower we had stated. I still can’t figure that one out.

After lunch Becky and I got pedicures at the hotel salon, as neither of us had time before we left. This was just about the time we hit the wall with jet lag. If the chair had actually been one of those spa pedicure chairs I would probably have fallen asleep right there. I had the courtesy to wait until I got back to my room. It’s strange how jet lag does not creep up on you; it is either here or gone. I was seriously typing this commentary when I just fell over in the bed and slept for about an hour with my laptop lying on its side. When I awoke, I felt completely refreshed. I have never had that happen.

Dinner tonight was at the rooftop restaurant Chingari (that specializes in kebabs and tandoori from the north of India). I could probably have dinner here every night as the restaurant is beside the pool and the most refreshing breeze blew the entire night. I was tempted to stray to the non-veg items on the menu, as they are some of my favorites, but the veg items looked really good (and it turned out they were yummy). We shared a kebab platter that included two different kinds of potato puffs, one was cooked in the tandoor and the other was not. There was also tandoor paneer (very firm cheese) that was good and then the final item was a potato and dal patty with mint and coriander. On the side was fresh garlic naan, of which I could (and just might) make a meal. We also ordered a drink called “The Revitalizer” which was soda water, lime juice and coriander – a little weird, I don’t think I would order again.

Night comes, morning follows.



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