Incredible India

March 6, 2009
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, NAIROBI, Kenya Mar 6 – Last week, all eyes were on India, at least if you attended the Oscar’s where the movie, Slumdog Millionaire, went home with eight Oscars including the coveted Best Motion Picture of the Year.

So it’s with this in mind I have decided to indulge you with the story of my visit to Bangalore, the capital city of Karnataka State in India last December. The timing of my trip may not have been perfect as the Mumbai bombing had just happened a few weeks prior so the country was still on a high security alert. Fortunately, despite the increased security check points to and from the airport, my stay was without incident.

I boarded the Emirates flight from Nairobi to Dubai where I had a stopover. Globetrotter writer Amoroso Gombe details his visit to Dubai in last week’s Globetrotter very well so I won’t dwell on that. My flight from Dubai to Bangalore was a nice short three hours landing at the new Bengaluru International Airport. While it doesn’t compare in architecture or size to Dubai International Airport, Bengaluru is definitely a modern and simple airport that was easy to get through. I picked my bags and found my courtesy car to my hotel waiting for me.

Our ride into Bangalore took almost an hour due to traffic. Coming from Nairobi, I thought we had the worst traffic jams but nothing beats Bangalore! What is interesting is that it unlike Nairobi, traffic in Bangalore is an orderly moving chaos with no one observing their lanes but not once in the 5 days I was there did I witness a traffic accident.

The road is expertly shared by 2, 3 and 4 wheeled vehicles, namely, motorbikes; rick shaws (tuk tuk’s) and cars. The wait at each traffic light is so long that all the cars switch off their engines, to save on fuel!

I stayed at the Solitaire Hotel which is pretty new but the service was superb. The only downside is that the hotel’s design is very western that you don’t really get to feel like you are in India. The up side is that the amenities in the rooms are very plush, like the shower that had multiple heads to spray you from all angles! The staff were very cordial, but I kept wandering if it was because they thought I was an American because I had told them I was from” Obama’s land!”

Being the woman I am, my first stop in this IT capital was not to the IT parks but to Mahatma Gandhi Street or “MG Street” as the locals call it. This is the main shopping street. Off MG Street is Brigade Road where I found McDonalds- that only serves chicken and fish, and KFC that serve very spicy chicken (even if you ask for it plain)! In addition, several authentic Indian restaurants litter these two streets. My first meal was at one of these Indian restaurants where we had a variety of food- spicy fish, chicken curry, lamb, lots of naan and rice.( My mouth is watering just remembering how delicious the food was, packed with Indian spices not too hot but flavour full.  Please understand I am a HUGE fan of Indian food so this was paradise for me! However, after days of Indian food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I couldn’t stand it anymore and found myself at McDonalds!

After filling my stomach, I headed out shopping. The thing about shopping in India is that the shop owners will just not bargain they are like, take it or leave it. However, it is worth noting that the prices of most locally produced commodities is quite affordable, so there is no point bargaining. After almost endless hours of shopping I ended up with a couple of sari’s, raw silk material (Bangalore is famous for its silk), some kaftan’s and even those funny looking Indian shoes (that have no left or right foot!). Another pointer is that if you tell a rickshaw driver to take you to a shop to say, to buy a sari, he will take you to a shop where he knows he will get a commission from the shop owner. As a result, you may end up in the more expensive shops thanks to your driver! So it’s good to do your own homework, talk to locals at the hotel and get advice on the best shops to go to.

 The next day, I joined my group to tour the IT parks of Bangalore. Bangalore is one of Asia’s fastest growing cities and is referred to as the Silican Valley of India.  Several multinationals have offices here including IBM, Wipro, Google, Yahoo, HSBC, and more. I had the opportunity to visit both IBM and Wipro which are huge campuses employing thousands in Bangalore, and in other cities in India. While at IBM, I asked our host what made IBM set up in India, and how they went about it. An interesting thing in this story is the IBM established itself in India by taking over a small domestic IT company that had only been operation for a few years. IBM was attracted to this company (Daksh) due to its favourable reputation in the country as far as treatment of its employees, participation in community projects and good brand recognition. IBM was not just attracted to Daksh’s financials but also its values in terms of welfare of its people and environment. A lesson we as Kenyans may need to learn if we were to attract global business.

My visit to Bangalore would not be complete without a visit to one of Bangalore’s 200 pubs! Yes, I said 200. The city has been appropriately nicknamed, “Pub City”, and boasts all sorts of pubs. During my visit, there was an 11:30pm curfew in effect, due to the high security alert necessitated by the Mumbai bombing. As a result, my “pub-hopping” was curtailed slightly, but nevertheless proved quite interesting. Due to the effects of alcohol I can hardly remember all the names of the pubs we visited (as part of my research for this article, I must add), but I do remember the interesting names Indian’s give to western cocktails. Example, instead of a “Long-Island Iced Tea,” the menu stated, “Long Journey,” so I asked my waiter as to what journey this drink was going to take me on? His response- the legendary Indian side to side wiggle of his head, and a polite, “sorry, madam, I don’t know”.

FAST FACTS ABOUT INDIA
Demographics
Population (billion)     1.13
Population growth (%)     1.6
Labor force (million)     516
Less than 30 years (%)     52
Urbanization (%)     28
Transport/Telecom
Passenger cars (million)     13
Two wheelers (million)     53
Mobile users (million)     295
Internet users (million)     52
Economy
GDP (nominal, US$ billion)     1171
Inflation (%) (Aug. 08)     12
Fiscal Deficit  (% of  GDP)     5.6
FDI  (US$ billion)     32
Forex reserve (US$ billion, Jul 08)     307
Source: NASSCOM

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