20 interesting things you notice when you travel to India.
I recently traveled to Bangalore, India for work. My ad agency, The Weaponry, was hired to film a very impressive business based in Bangalore. And I was thrilled to have the opportunity to go. Not only was it my first time in India, it was my first time traveling anywhere in Asia, that wasn’t actually in Orlando, Florida. #epcot
Between my readings, my Indian friends, the people I know who have traveled there themselves, and my consultation at Passport Health, I felt fairly well prepared for what I would experience in India. But nothing compares to visiting a place yourself. It was truly a perspective-altering experience. To summarize this once-so-far-in-a-lifetime trip, here are the Top 20 things I noticed during my travels.
Top 20 Things I noticed on my business trip to India.
#1 Language One of the things that makes traveling to India easy for Americans is that so much of the population speaks English. In the area I was in about 60% of the population speaks English. But I never encountered anyone who didn’t. You can quickly understand why it is so easy for Americans and Indians to do business together. Which is why I was there.
Other languages spoken in Bangalore include Hindi and Kannada (the local language that is pronounced like the song, O Canada, without the O. The pervasive English definitely helps make you feel at home, even though you are 10,000 miles away.
#2 Climate The Climate in Bangalore is perfect. Highs are typically in the 80s and lows are typically in the 60s. This is extremely pleasant weather (although I am not sure pleasant can be extreme). Bangalore is close enough to the equator to be consistently warm, yet at 3000 feet above sea level, the heat is moderated by the elevation. I can understand why people enjoy living there.
#3 People The people were fantastic. They were excellent hosts. They were hardworking and responsible. They always greeted me with a smile (except at immigration at 2:30 am). I, like so many other visitors, were struck by the remarkable people. I don’t mean struck in a Reginald Denny kinda way. More in an Eat. Pray. Strong-like kinda way.
#4 Food The food was a surprise. I have eaten Indian food before, but not in such quantities, qualities or with such great diversity. It all felt very different from American food. Different flavors, different textures, different smells, different seasonings. I would have liked to have tried an even greater range of the most adventurous food options, but I was on an important work assignment, and didn’t want to risk missing any of the work because of a gastro-tastrophe.
#5 Traffic The traffic was crazy. The craziest I have ever seen. In the city, during hours when humans were awake, there were vehicles everywhere. There was no adherence to lanes or signaling, or safe distances. It was like the wild, wild east. And I LOVED it! The traffic was pure entertainment. It was like high-caliber improv show, because the drivers seemed to be making up their wacky performances on the fly.
Our driver, Alfton, said, ‘If it wasn’t for the traffic I would be bored driving.’ My friend Tarun said, ‘Here, if I leave more than 4 inches between me and the next vehicle, someone is going to fill that space. But for all the crazy, I never saw a crash. Even better, I never saw anyone angry or hostile. There seemed to be an appreciation that everyone else was trying to get somewhere too, and nobody was trying to prevent you from getting where you were going.
I also noticed that the traffic never seemed to stop moving. Unlike in LA, Chicago, and Atlanta, where you can sit or creep for an hour, this traffic was denser, less organized, but almost always flowed forward. Maybe this self-regulated traffic can teach us something.
#6 Motorcycles There were motorcycles everywhere. Not giant, muscle-y hogs like we have in the US. All kinds of small, efficient, people-moving motorbikes ands scooters. These little bikes moved large quantities of humans, produce, and other random cargo.
A favorite game was finding bikes with more than 2 people on them. While 2 is the maximum allowed by law, the law didn’t seem to have a huge influence over the traffic participants. However, for the rule-less behavior, almost everyone wore helmets. Although several times we saw a father riding with a wife and children, and the man wore a helmet and the others did not. The dynamic was surprising. I later heard that the man would be ticketed for not helmeting up. But the women and children would not.
I also saw many women riding the motorcycles side-saddle. This always drew my attention, as I expected that any moment I would see the women un-saddle off the other side. But thankfully, I never did.
#7 Motorized Rickshaws There were little green and yellow motorized rickshaws everywhere. These mini taxis are like 3-wheeled, partially enclosed motor trikes. They are also kinda like motorized wheelbarrows. They have handle bars, not steering wheels. And they seemed to be able to navigate traffic faster than the cars.
#8 The Smells India smells like no place I have ever been. It is a combination of the plants, the natural environment, the spices and scents that the locals use in cooking and in the general scenting of their environment.
My hotel scented the hallways to make it smell like India. I wish I had a better nasal identifier to be able to tell you exactly what it smelled like. Although one morning during our film shoot the room we were working in smelled so good I finally asked what it was that I was smelling. The answer was cinnamon oil. I had no idea that was even a thing. But it is. And it smells amazing. Probably like being inside a bubble of Big Red gum.
#9 Poverty The poverty in India was impossible to ignore. I saw it as rundown buildings, homes and structures that had fallen apart and were not about to be fixed. It seemed to be intermingled with everything else. There were parts of the city that clearly were more poverty-dense than others. But there were few parts of Bangalore that didn’t exhibit a sense that there were fewer financial resources than there were people who could use them.
#10 Service The service was excellent everywhere we went; from the hotels to restaurants, to our drivers, to the places we worked. The people were extremely accommodating and responsive. It felt as if it was part of the culture to be thoughtful and offer great service to others. I will remember that as a core part of the brand experience in India.
#11 Cows Ever since I was a child I heard that cows are sacred in India. I read that you would see cows wandering the streets in India. I didn’t think that was still the case. But sure enough, I saw plenty of stray cows. But maybe not as many as in Moo-mbai. They seem to congregate near markets, where they benefit from produce being tossed out at the end of a day. It was both very odd and very interesting. I also never saw a cow related menu item either. But then again, I never visited McDonald’s.
#12 Tourist Attractions We had one afternoon to do some sightseeing. We had a driver and a host, Loknath, to take us around to various places he and his team thought we should see. Based on what we saw, Bangalore was not a city of obvious tourist attractions. We saw a historic palace, a historic temple and some interesting government buildings. The palace and temple both had the potential to be impressive. But both of them lacked for the resources needed to impress as a well-kept destination worth visiting.
In other words, the building were visually interesting, but the overall experience lacked because the building were not well cared for, or supported. The government buildings were large and impressive. But I left feeling as if Bangalore could use the help of a business dedicated to offering tourists interesting experiences, and investing in the things worth seeing. #businessopportunity
#13 5 Star Hotels I stayed at two amazing hotels in Bangalore. The Ritz Carlton downtown Bangalore, and the Taj Hotel, next to the airport. Both of the hotels were important to my stay in a couple of ways. They both offered a wonderful experience. The service was excellent. The rooms were extremely comfortable. The food was outstanding. And they both felt extremely safe. When in a place so far from home it is important to have a sense of safety and comfort. These places provided this and more. Which played an important part in enjoying the overall experience. Plus, they were easily the least expensive 5 star hotels I ever paid for. So If you go, I recommend 5 star-ing it up.
#14 American Knowledge It is an understatement to say that the people of India know America better than we know India. Among the people who I worked with, and socialized with, not only did it seem most had a very good knowledge of America, many of them had either lived in the US, gone to school in America or traveled to the US regularly. I was a bit embarrassed by the lack of American travel to India. And I was wowed that so many of the people I interacted with had spent time in America, given the fact that it is neither cheap nor easy to travel between the two countries.
#15 GI Attack If you travel to India prepare for an assault on your GI track. You have to be careful with things like water, ice, and fruits and vegetables that were likely washed in said water. Also the food is interesting and different and potentially spicy enough to create a glitch in your digestive system.
I traveled prepared. I had Travel-Ease tablets before each meal, I had Diahrease in case I ran into trouble, and I had antibiotics in case I ran into a lot of trouble. My stomach definitely got knocked off course by my gastronomic adventures, and I used everything in my weaponry just to make sure my work and flight home were not negatively impacted. The tablets and pills really helped keep me between the ditches. I would never travel to India without such reinforcements.
#16 The Beautifulness of the people I thought the people of India were beautiful and handsome. I had a great appreciation for how visually interesting so many of the people were. It reminded me of when I traveled to Iceland and was impressed by how good-looking the population was. Maybe I just like the looks of people from countries that start with ‘I’.
#18 Namaste I was not at all prepared for all the Namaste-ing I received. It is a beautiful greeting. But I didn’t know how to receive it. Was I supposed to respond with thank you? By replying with my own ‘namaste’ and pressing the palms of my hands together? Did I offer a high-five? Should I wink and point back at them? I still don’t know. But I do know that every time I was namasted, I thought of my friend Suzanne Darmory, who frequently drops a nam-bomb as a funny response to a frustrating situation.
#17 Billboards There were billboards all over Bangalore with no advertising on them. That made me sad. In a city of 12 million people there should be plenty to advertise, and plenty of people who would rather see your ad than a big empty board on the side of the road. I am still mulling over what I can do to help this situation. If anyone wants to collaborate on a “Make Bangalore Beautiful with Billboards’ initiative with me, let me know.
#19 The Head Bobble The most perplexing thing I encountered in India was the head wobble, or bobble. This head movement is neither a head nod, nor a shaking of the head, but both and neither at the same time. In fact, it seems to be the head moving in all the ways a head can move that are neither a nod nor a shake.
I found that I have no way of processing this gesture. So I was confounded by how to interpret it. Did it mean there was a problem? Is it the equivalent to the stink face? Or does it mean everything is ok? Eventually I came to realize it is not a bad sign. And no one was mad at me. But it still feels like an input that my processor doesn’t know how to interpret.
#20. The Time Zone The time in India is 10.5 hours later than US. Central Time Zone. I could not have kept this straight without the World Clock feature on my iPhone. I have never visited another place that did the .5 hour difference. Which made India feel just a bit more exotic than it already felt.
India was amazing. I have a new-found appreciation for all that I saw and experienced there. It all started with the very special people. It also ended with the people. In fact, the final night we were in India we were invited to the beautiful home of Parth and Roshen Amin. They treated us to a wonderful dinner and an unforgetable evening among our new friends on the other side of the planet. It was the cherry and whipped cream on top of our trip.
If you ever have the chance to travel to India for work or pleasure, I strongly encourage you to go. Interact with the people. Enjoy the food. Avoid the water. Smell the air. Look out for cows. Pack your pills. Grab some popcorn, and watch the traffic. And if you figure out how to interpret the head bobble, please let me know.