I’m sitting in Singapore airport on my way home from a fascinating 10 days in Bangalore.

I’m not sure what I expected, but Bangalore managed to shatter any preconceptions I had about India and her people. I’ve often heard India described as a country of contrasts, and that really is what I found. I can’t say I know India as a whole – it’s a huge place with 15 official languages, 1.2+ Billion people, every climatic region possible and a vast diversity of people and cultures. My experiences have been in a small portion that is Bangalore, with a brief (unplanned) stop in Chennai on the way and a fascination day trip to Mysore in the middle.

My Singapore Airlines flight from Auckland was about 30 mins late getting in to Singapore, which meant I was offloaded from the connecting flight to Bangalore and reroute on Air India. I was due to meet up with Melody in Singapore and she went on the Bangalore flight without me. There was time to make the connection, but it appears that Singapore Airlines oversold the seats on that flight – despite a number of us being rerouted, the plane to Bangalore was completely full,

After wandering around Singapore Airport I finally found the correct transit desk and was given a boarding pass for the Air India flight. I have to say they don’t qualify as one of my top-3 airlines, not the most comfortable flight I’ve ever been on, but not the worst either. It was interesting to hear in the safety briefing that “smoking and the consumption of alcohol are prohibited on this flight” – not sure is the safety impact of a glass of wine, but hey, they make the rules 🙂

A point of concern for me was safety in the event of decompression – I was seated in a row of three seats, along with a couple with a small child, so four of us in the row. The cabin attendant checked an indicator on the overhead bulkhead and informed us that there were only three oxygen masks in that compartment – so “in the unlikely event of decompression” when the oxygen masks drop down one of us would be left without a mask; who do you sacrifice – mom, dad, the baby, or the strange foreigner sitting at the end of the row?

There were six of us who were on the Auckland flight and got rerouted to Chennai, so I had company in my detour. We arrived in Chennai collected our bags and were met by a Singo Airlines representative who shepherded us to a waiting vehicle, and out to the hotel we were put up for the night in.

One of my fellow travelers is a plastic surgeon coming to India to teach new techniques, we had some delightful discussions about the meaning of beauty in different cultures and how norms don’t translate from one society to another. We also spoke about the medico-profsessional attitude, present in a strongly hierarchical culture like india, of “doctor knows best”, which attitude needs to change when asking patients about what they are looking for in cosmetic surgery, a fascinating discussion on exploring real needs and managing expectations often when the customer really doesn’t know what they want, and the service provider might think they know best.

My initial impression of Chennai (at 01:00 in the morning) was one of noisy chaos, which was reinforced by the drive to the hotel.

This was my first introduction to Indian road conditions – there are rules, but they’re not the ones you got your driver’s license with 😉 A hooter is an important communications device, serving to inform other drivers that “I’m here – don’t hit me, let me through” and there is a clear hierarchy based on size & power – busses go first, always! Strangely the traffic flows quite steadily, and self-organizes in an almost fluid way; on one trip there was a slow-down in the road ahead and to get around the obstacle the traffic flow changed from two lanes to a weaving stream of at least five vehicles abreast, using the curb and pavement to bypass the glitch. Indian drivers have incredible spacial awareness, they know the exact dimensions of their vehicles and how much space is needed to fit into a gap when one opens up, the idea of “safe following distance” is a joke in India. Driving like a Kiwi would quickly get you killed because the underlying rule set is so different, and driving like an Indian in NZ would get you fined and your license revoked in short order, but it does actually work there. A great example of a chaordic environment.

We got to the hotel in Chennai at just before 01:30, and I got some sleep before meeting my fellow travelers for breakfast – a buffet with fresh fruit, Indian and western choices. I had a couple of chilli-bites, some fruit and fried eggs.

Then it was another chaotic ride to the airport, where I got my first real introduction to bureaucracy, Indian style. In order to enter the airport we had to produce tickets, and we only had notices from Singapore airlines to pick up tickets at the Air India office. We queued up to go in to get the tickets and were turned away at the door by a security guard – we had to join a different queue and get the tickets issued, then only could we enter the airport. When we got the tickets they were checked against our passports by the security chap, and stamped “checked” with his initials. Once inside we had to show the tickets and have all our bags x-rayed before we could go to the checkin counters, another “checked” stamp and an initial. We checked in, and I managed to convince the them to let me into the lounge (even though Air India is not a Star Alliance carrier). Our hand baggage was tagged so it could be security checked (again) and we went to wait in the lounge.

The plane was delayed, planned departure was 10:30, actual departure just before 12:00, which seemed to be situation normal. To get into the departure area there was another security check, this one included a very intimate body pat down, and the tag on my hand baggage was stamped and signed. Only then were we allowed to wait to board the plane.

We landed in Bangalore just before 1:00pm, and the airport greeter from the Zuri hotel was there to greet me and escort me to the car which would take me the 40km to the hotel.  The driver took the alternate route which took us around the city rather than through it.  I was amazed at the lushness of the countryside, and the variety of produce growing. There were lots of grape vines which surprised me – I certainly had not considered India a wine producing nation.  We tried a glass of the local wine with dinner one evening and it was rather plesant.

After arriving at the hotel, I spent the rest of Sunday relaxing and indulging in a massage to help recover from the travel.

Monday was the beginning of the work week – teaching a Practices of Agile Teams course to a team in Bangalore, followed by a couple of days working with them to figure out how implement the new practices in their local environment.  I found the team to be a great group of people, deeply interested in what I was teaching with lots of deep questions about how to really make it work.  Thanks to everyone for the great hospitality and really enjoyable experience I had with you.

On the Wednesday afternoon the course was interrupted by the whoop-whoop of the fire alarm – file drill.  We dutifully traipsed outside and assembled on the lawn in front of the building, to be greeted by the news that we would have all been dead because we took 8 minutes to evacuate the building, and that we are expected to do better next time.  We then spent the next hour being shown how to make temporary stretchers from two sticks and a couple of jackets, or from a length of rope.  The presenter was a former chief fire officer of the region who now spends his time educating people on how to evacuate and survive in the event of a fire.  He’s quite a character, and certainly had everyone’s attention with repeated assertions that “seeing is believing” as his assistants showed us various techniques to carry injured people out of a building.  The finale was the demonstration and hands-on tutoring (for a few volunteers) of the correct way to use a fire extinguisher. He ended by spending a couple of minutes reciting his experience and credentials which are extensive.

The food was a highlight of my time in India –every meal was delicious, even the veg lunches (non-veg is the exception which was interesting for a carnivore like me J).  The meals in the hotel were delicious, three good restaurants serving very different styles of food: a buffet of Indian and western dishes, a tandoori grill and Asian fusion on the terrace.  We ate at all three over the week and the meals were great.

Outside of the hotel we ate one night at an Italian restaurant and once at an Indian BBQ venue.  As you can see from the photo’s the meals pleased and satisfied.

On the Saturday we went to Mysore for a really busy day out.  Here’s the itinerary that Tuck prepared for the day:

Departing from Zuri at 7am sharp
Along the way before Mysore road you will see:
Monkey God on your left close to Kurramangla
Ghanesha Temple, Stop for 10min if interested in taking picture (Beginning of Mysore Road)
First break Breakfast choice of McDonald or Traditional Indian, Toilet is reasonable.
Next Hindu Temple (spend 30 min max), put shoe into a plastic bag and take them inside with you or pay guard outside the temple
Nearby a Veg Open Market, great cultural experience. (spend 20 min max)
Reach Mysore at 11:30-12pm, 1st Mysore Palace (Ticket for foreigner Rp 200-250)
Spend 1-1.5 hours depending the volume of visitors
Behind the palace, elephants rides if interested and art&crafts
Lunch (……)
Chamundi Hill (Temple, Mysore City panorama, Young coconut drink, snacks….) Monkeys. (spend 30 min – 1 hour max)
On way down hill, Black Bull Temple ( Sugar cane drinks, stone craft ) (Spend max 10-15min)
City Centre Market ( 1-1.5 hrs ) (make sure you walk through some of the alley to get to the market behind the main road, colourful powders, etc.)
7pm – Mysore Palace Lights on for 10-15min,
Depart Mysore 7:30pm.
Half way break at KFC for dinner
Arrive in Zuri at 11-11:30pm

Our driver Yasudas (whose name means Jesus’ Helper) kept us on track, and guided us through the markets and bargaining.  I took the opportunity at the Mysore market  to do some Christmas shopping and Yasudas made sure we got good deals.

Sunday morning was a chance to catch up on some emails and work that had been piling up, then Chandu took us for a ride around Bangalore city then on to lunch at BBQ Nation.  Another delightful meal in good company.

The next two days were work, and on Tuesday evening I headed off to the airport and back to Wellington.  This trip was uneventful, just long with a 12 hour layover in Singapore before the flight to Christchurch and home to Wellington.

India was an adventure, and one I look forward to repeating in the future.