Yesterday morning I stepped onto a plane at Gatwick Airport in London. I can only assume that Airbus keep their warp drive technology under wraps for IPR reasons since I seem to have stepped off the aircraft on another planet entirely! (although I mean this in the nicest possible way)
The flight was fairly long, we flew for 6 1/2 hours from London to Doha in the UAE, and after a 2 hour wait at Doha airport we boarded a flight from Doha to Delhi. A further 4 hours and we had arrived. My newly acquired Nintendo DS kept me good company for most of the trip, as did Peter, the MD of CLIKMedia and my partner in this little adventure.
We arrived at Delhi in the very early hours of Sunday morning. Thankfully, 2 of the guys that we will be working closely with (Shekhar and Pankaj from J9) were there to meet us at the airport. I really appreciated that, who knows where me and Peter would have ended up without their help.
I made my first mistake when a guy approached me offering to carry my suitcase to the car, in my half asleep state after a long journey I had assumed that this was our driver but actually it turned out to be some guy who was after tips. The guys entered a fairly agressive sounding debate in Hindi (presumably telling them to stop trying to take advantage of the naive Brits) but I gave the guy the 6 USD I had received in change from my inflight cigarette purchase. Pankaj asked me exactly what I was paying them for (he had a point, they carried my suitcase all of 15 metres) but the USD were not much use to me, and I was too tired to get into any kind of altercation.
We arrived at the hotel after a short journey and sat down with Shekhar and Pankaj for a tea while our room was made ready. I hit the room for a shower and we headed out again for breakfast and to meet Rajeev who is the head of J9.
We then headed off to see the first option permenant digs in Delhi. During this trip two things struck me....
Firstly, here they have stray cows in the same way you might see stray cats in the UK. They just seem to wander the streets entirely of their own accord and you will see one every few hundred metres. This seems to be a common sight for India (neither Shekhar or Pankaj batted an eyelid at the sight) but for a newly landed Brit this is quite strange. Of course the cow is sacred in Hindu culture (and it somehow seemed inappropriate for me to point out how tasty they are!) but it is still quite surreal to see them wandering around the streets.
The second big thing I noticed was the all road regulations in India (assuming they exist) seem to be entirely optional. If a road has markings for 3 lands there will usually be 5 vehicles side by side spanning them. Mixtures of cars, motorbikes and devices called 'auto ricksaws' (http://www.nriinformation.com/autorickshaw.jpg). The driving style is very aggresive, horns are used nearly continuously and there seems to be no well defined right of way at junctions, but these guys manage to get around pretty well (although many cars seem to have sustained some minor damage at some point). It is important to bear in mind that Delhi is slightly smaller than London but has nearly 3 times the population so the roads are busy and there is very little scope for politeness if you intend to reach your destination on the same week as your departure :o).
The first house we viewed was nice enough, and the landlord seemed to be a very nice guy. However, I don't think the area was right for Peter and I. Firstly we would have to live in the same house (and we are still not sure if this is right for us!), also although the area seemed fairly affluent there was still some development in progress. One house was being either built or renovated, Peter and I were quite surprised to see that wooden scaffolding was being used and even more surprised to see quite young children standing on the second floor looking down on us with nothing between them and a very nasty fall. The UK health and safety crazies would have had a field day with that. Although, thinking back, I seem to remember that when I was younger (perhaps not quite that young!), that old, partially demolished houses seemed like the ideal place to play.
We walked around the area a little and stopped in a restaurant where Pankaj bought us all an Indian dessert dish called Rasgulla (thanks Shekhar for reminding me of the name!). I wasn't sure if I liked this or not, it was very different to anything I had before and that made it difficult for me to decide. It was *very* sweet and had the consistancy of coconut. I wasn't able to quite finish it, but that was because the sweetness was a little too much for me.
After this, Peter and I headed back to the hotel room for a few hours sleep. At this point (having not slept on the plane at all), I was ready for it and feel asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. However, 30 minutes later Peter received a call from Rajeev to tell us that some other apartments were available for viewing. So Peter began the attempt at waking me up (few people realise how much of a challenge this is!). I eventually awoke to the sound of simultaneous knocking and ringing of the doorbell, for a second I thought that the hotel must be on fire!
We went out to view the appartments, all around an area called Gugaon (which is where Rajeev lives). The appartments ranged from very good to quite poor in quality but there were certainly enough to choose from.
Then we spent some time with Rajeev, and his wife and daughter, discussing various things. Rajeev is a nice guy, smart and successful and his family is great too. They took Peter and I (along with Shekhar and Pankaj) out to an authentic Indian restaurant for dinner. The food there was awesome. I am a big fan of Indian food anyway, but this was a class above (as you would expect in it's country of origin). It was a bit different to the Indian I am used to as we tended to try small amounts of different dishes but this was a very worthwhile exercise since it was all delicious.
After this, it was time to head back to the hotel for some much needed sleep. 12 hours of it in fact.
This morning I woke up, got ready and had breakfast. The hotel has a very nice buffet breakfast available. Some web sites have suggested to avoid buffets in certain situations due to the risk of the infamous 'Delhi belly', a type of food poisoning common to travellers to many countries including India, however, I assumed that the hotel would have very good hygeine procedures and also, my constitutions is pretty strong (there is a jinx if ever there was one), so I decided to tuck in.
After breakfast we headed off to meet Rajeev for some more apartment viewings. The highlight of this was one apartment agent who asked for 70'000 indian Rupees per month in rent (£940 approx at todays rates), this immediately provoked a fairly extreme response from Rajeev who used some heated sounding Hindi words. It was not necessary to be a Hindi speaker to understand that this would have been roughly translated as... "Just because they are English you think you can take the fucking piss! We are out of here". With that we left, leaving a fairly shell shocked agent standing gobsmacked in the main bedroom.
We then headed to meet the father of a friend of Peters who runs a business importing luxury brands into India, (his main client being Porsche, which would impress my father who is a Porsche fanatic!). He gave us some fair frank information about the issues of life in Delhi for a Brit and how to best cope with the change in style and pace. All very useful. He was a definate 'no-nonsense' guy. He also showed us some pictures of his appartment which is in a place called Noida. This place is very very upmarket and has a price tag to match. It is just within mine and Peter's budget (if we share), so we are going to look tomorrow. This place has lots of onsite services such as a gym and squash court, which means I will have no excuses to prevent me from working on loosing the extra pounds that I have.... perhaps I should suggest a non-gym equiped complex tomorrow!
We then made a trip to the office which will be our base for the next 6 months. A very nice place. There were more people working here than I expected but Rajeev told us that many of these people would be working on a different floor shortly which will free up some more space. I am looking forward to getting in there and working on the project.
The trip back to our current part of town (to see our final 2 apartments for the day) was interesting to say the least. If Delhi driving was crazy during the day, during the rush hour it reaches the level of insane. The roads are absolutely jam packed with vehicles, it is not uncommon to see at least 3 people riding a single motorcycle (1 has a crash helmet... at best!) and cars swerve in and out of traffic with mere millimetres of clearance, with both the swerver and the guy being swerved into tooting horns like mad.
This trip also gave me more of an oppurtunity to look out the window at the world around me here. I have been quite struck by the vast gap between the rich and poor in India. There are many people who live on the road side in makeshift tents. I am certain that India is a country that has begun the journey into the same level of affluence of the west, but while the middle classes are making good time on this journey (we visited a mall today that could have quite easily have been Lakeside or Bluewater back home!), there is a whole class of very poor people, and it might be a while because these people are able to catch up. Seeing some of the circumstances in which people live here, made me develop a greater level of appreciation for what I have and the advantages I have been given.
After a quick dinner, Peter and I returned to the hotel room, and I begun (over and hour ago) to write this first blog post.
Tomorrow we are going into the office for the morning and spending the afternoon looking at some more appartments in another area of town. We hope to have made the final choice by tomorrow evening and we can then begin the process of moving into what will become our home in India for the next 6 months.
Before leaving for India, somebody told me that I would not be the same man when I returned to the UK. This phrase has been bouncing through my head for most of the day today, and I now believe it with absolute certainty. It is going to be an interesting 6 months of my life, but I have to say I am looking forward to it.
Thanks for reading, more soon.