Sunday, October 28, 2007

October Travelogue #2: I arrive in India!

[Note: now I am home, after flying for over 17 hours yesterday. Ugh. So nice to sleep in my own bed and hug my wife...the following was written on Tuesday, Oct 22....more to come...including photos]

Continuing my travelogue, I left Germany on Saturday morning but instead of heading home (which I would really loved to have done, given the small amount of time I have had lately to spend with my wife, Veva), I got onto a Qatar Airways Airbus 330 and headed to Doha, Qatar. This is a very popular transfer point to India (I assume Qatar is offering not only many flights but also low fares), and as a result I visited the Middle East for the first time ever.

In other words, even though I have been very active on Middle East peace issues for the last five years or so (with a focus on supporting Israeli soldiers who refuse to enforce the occupation of the West Bank), even though I was raised in a typical Conservative Jewish home on Long Island, I have never visited Israel nor any other country in that region.

And this wasn't much of a visit in Doha or the Middle East - I never left the departures area. Still, when I came down off the airplane, it felt a bit special and different to stand on this ground. I stood there in the heat and looked around, eager to make the moment last - and immediately an airlines employee began to urge me to get on the bus. Take it easy, there!

Then a long bus ride to the terminal....looking out the window, I was struck by how much the area directly outside the bus reminded me of Chicago in the winter, after a light snow. Of course, in this case, it was sand and not snow, but in the darkness, they looked much the same!

Entering the terminal, I saw that all the signs were in English and Arabic -- and was immediately struck at how beautiful Arabic lettering is. English seems very boxy and boring, all business, compared to the flowing curves of Arabic (the same is true for Sanskrit - beautiful, as I glance at the signs on the seat in front of my on my current plane ride from Delhi to Bangalore).

And a few hours later off to Delhi! I arrived in Delhi at 6 AM on Sunday and my first impressions were that this is an old airport in major need of upgrading. Which, apparently, is how the airport authority feels about it as well, since they are in the midst of a major renovation project. Then whisked away by my arranged driver for the ride to the Le Meridien hotel....I am not sure if he was just being friendly or was hoping for a better tip, but he decided to show me the sights all the way, pointing out embassies, big government buildings, etc., usually creeping along at about 3 MPH to provide his brief explanations in halting English. And all I, rather exhausted on 1 hour of sleep, wanted to do was to get to the hotel....

I finally arrived and found that the Le Meridien was a very beautiful and fancy hotel - the sort that makes me a bit nervous, because they are so well appointed. I'm just not much of a luxury sort of guy. My room was very modern, with a console for all electronic operations right at my fingertips by the bed.

And then after just a couple hours' in that beautiful room, off I went for a half day of a tour through Delhi, organized on my behalf by Quest Software India. I saw the Presidential Palace, the Parliament building, India Gate (on which are carved the names of all soldiers who have died for their nation, I believe since World War II - not sure about that. I mostly looked at it and hoped that they would not run out of space), several tombs and adjoining mosques, the Red Fort and more. It was a hot sunny day and I got worn down rather quickly. My driver, Amar Singh, was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable, though I would have enjoyed it more if he was a bit more fluent in English; discussions were rather difficult. Sadly for me, October 21 is a national holiday, so all the museums were closed - a big disappointment.

Delhi is an enormous, busy place. Usually, traffic is an utter horror. Sunday, it wasn't as bad as usual, because of the holiday, but it also made some areas and streets even more crowded, as they prepared to celebrate. I was intrigued by the three-wheeled, very small taxi vehicles that zoomed in and out of every available open space (when, that is, a motorcycle hadn't beaten them to that space). Everyone honks at everyone else, but without any real anger so far as I could tell. And, yes, the contrast between wealth (such as my hotel) and poverty (the beggars lining almost every street, knocking at the window of my car whenever we stopped at a light, accosting me as I walked around the India Gate and other places) is downright depressing. Of course, this contrast also exists in the US - and it is getting worse with every passing year, under the grand leadership of "W". Yet it is a bit more "in your face" in India, unavoidable, ever-present. I guess in the US, we have compartmentalized and hidden extreme poverty from the eyes and thoughts of every day middle class existence. And I am not saying that is a good thing, but there it is.

One of my favorite moments in Delhi was standing at the window of hotel and watching hawks circling around on the air currents, right outside my window (which was, unfortunately, quite dirty). I also saw flocks of noisy, green parrots swooping about.

The roads are full of three-wheeled, 2 stroke engine mini-taxis (they are all green in Delhi, yellow in Bangalore and their official name is "auto rickshaw"). They jam themselves in between cars. And then the endless stream of motorcycles fit into every space between the mini-taxis. So there is absolutely no room to maneuver, but everyone maneuvers endlessly.

Well, that was it. A very short visit to Delhi, a very constrained visit to Delhi. My friends here at Quest did not think it would be a good idea for me to just go out and walk around (my usual, preferred method of visiting a new city). So I was driven around, I saw the very typical tourist sites, I bought my wife a gift, and then back to the hotel.

Because by 3 PM, I was mostly sitting in the car and falling asleep, and when I was awake, I was thinking about how I would have to wake up before 5 AM to catch my flight to Bangalore.

And that is the flight I am on now....I have two days and nights in Bangalore, the highlight of which will be a public seminar on Tuesday evening to which almost 900 developers have registered (!!). So I will write another entry in my blog after we see how that goes.


Sidhu said...


Nice to know that you visited Delhi. Had met you if would have known it in advance :)

BTW you described Delhi perfectly, that too in very few words. Hope You had a good time here.

Do post in advance if you come again :)


Steven Feuerstein said...


I did make some announcements, but I did not do so on my blog. Silly me! Next time...


Sanj said...

Just visited your son's site...

wow what an amazing site... I loved his work... also his artistic statement is incredibly beautiful :)