Posts Tagged ‘india’

View from the Four Seasons hotel over the Worli skyline in Mumbai. Our offices are beside the circular building on the left-hand side of the photo.


Back in Mumbai for a three days of meetings.  Managed to avoid the worst of the monsoon rains, and even managed to get a room with a view of the water this time instead of the slums.

My trip nicely summed up a lot of Indian culture.  Coming out of the airport, I was greeted by a cacophony of horns and the ubiquitous trucks and rickshaws with ‘Horn OK Please’ painted in bright colours across the back. 

I ate dinner at the hotel restaurant the first night, a hugely-expensive Asian-fusion place.  It wouldn’t be my first choice of restaurant, but it’s convenient when you’re jetlagged and don’t want to venture out.  I figured I’d order something straight-forward and quick – two orders of sushi rolls.

I counted 14 chefs and at least a dozen waiters for the ten customers in the restaurant. Yet still it takes more than 30 minutes for an order of tuna rolls and an order of salmon rolls. India at its chaotic finest!

The next day I caught an early flight to Hyderabad for the day.  Having flown a number of domestic Indian sectors, I think I’ve seen it all. Seatbelt signs routinely ignored, people standing up while the plane is still taxiing, seat swapping, the lot. And a very different sense of ‘personal space’ that we’re used to in Europe. No one bothers to get out of their seat to allow you access (eg, someone in the aisle seat getting up to let someone reach the window seat). They prefer you to crawl over them, no matter how limited the space.

The thing that always gets me, though, is deplaning in India. Rather than deplaning by row, there’s always a mad rush for the door with people climbing over one another to get out. On my flight from Hyderabad, I was in the (ugh) middle seat, and immediately upon reaching the gate the guy at the window was trying to crawl over me into the jam-packed aisle. I don’t know what he thought he was trying to do, or if he figured that I preferred to stay on the plane, or where he thought he was going to go once he’d passed me? Presumably onto the lap of the chap sitting in the aisle seat?

Still, we had a good series of meetings in India and it was a good investment of a three days.  Off to Beijing next for another three days of meetings.

Sunset in Mumbai, India

Sunset in Mumbai

Life has been busy with a lot of travel over the past month, including three weeks in Mexico and the US.  I’ve got a bunch of photos that I need to upload when I have some time, in a case of ‘Where was Matthew’ instead of ‘Where is Matthew’.  But for the moment, Matthew is in Mumbai for the week.

We’re staying in a different hotel than we normally do, located much closer to the centre of the city and many of the historic landmarks.  They’ve managed to arrange waterfront rooms for all of us, affording us some beautiful views over the water at the Mumbai skyline.  Despite forecasts for heavy rains (it’s the beginning of the monsoon season), the weather has remained mostly dry and the sunset last night was spectacular, with the sun hanging low in the sky.  Like so many cities, the dusky light hides the reality of the dirt and grime, transforming a grubby collection of buildings into a picturesque skyline.

I’ll be here all week conducting workshops.  We’ve got a big team dinner this evening, but the rest of the week is free, so we’ll hopefully be able to do some sightseeing this time.  Despite my many visits to India, I’ve rarely had the time to venture out of the hotel.  Now that I’ve got some fellow travelers with me, maybe that will change.

Well, it’s been a pretty full 24 hours.  After a very full day in Mumbai, I finished my workshop and headed out to the airport to catch my flight to Bangkok, then onwards to Sydney.  Mumbai traffic is legendary – the roads are normally jammed in the small hours of the morning when most international flights come and go.  But my flight last night left earlier, so we fought our way out to the airport at the peak of rush-hour.  Driving in India is not for the faint-hearted.  I always end up with a few more gray hairs.

It was a good trip – both professionally, as I got a lot accomplished, but also personally.  My Indian colleagues have discovered that I like to eat, and are showing me some of Mumbai’s best restaurants.  We went out last night for super seafood, including delicious garlic crab – whole crab sautéed with loads of butter and garlic.  It’s the second time I’ve had it in Mumbai – and both times, I’ve made myself sick by overdoing it with the rich, spicy concoction.  The pleasure’s worth the pain in this case.

I made my way through the throngs of people outside the airport, through check-in, customs, and security.  The airport in Mumbai really is the pits – I’ve been through plenty of unpleasant, grotty airports in my time – but it’s the inefficiency, the crowds, the dirt, and the hassle that make Mumbai top my list.

Finally through to the departure lounge, I had a few hours to kill.  After four days of curry, I decided to treat myself to a KFC for dinner (never let it be said I’ve lost touch with the common man).  Across from the fast food court there is a massage hall – where the massage is performed by blind masseuses.  So I treated myself to a foot massage.

I flew Thai to Bangkok.  The flight to Bangkok was uneventful, but the service was such a contrast the Swiss service I had the other day.  Friendly, attentive, and constantly trying to please.  The seat was rubbish, uncomfortable for sleeping – when I finally find the airline that combines the flat seat with the great service and convenient routes, I’ll be a convert for life.  (BA would win my business if it didn’t mean constant backtracking, and sadly my travel budget doesn’t stretch to Singapore on regular basis.)

Thai Airways Lounge at BKK - Closed

Not the sign you want to see at 4:30am when you've just arrived from Mumbai, desperate for a shower

My flight arrived in Bangkok on schedule at 4:30am.  I went straight through customs and security, only to be turned away at the lounge because it didn’t open until 5:15am.  After a few fitful hours of sleep on the flight from Mumbai, this was not a pleasant surprise.  I made a quick phone call home, then hit the lounge for a shower as soon as it opened.

The spa opened at 6am, so I headed over to have a shoulder massage before I boarded my flight to Sydney.  Two massages in a day might be a little indulgent, but they were in different countries, so I chalk it up to one of the benefits of being a global traveler.

Time to jump onto my next flight to Sydney.  Next update from down under!

Flight TG451 to Sydney, Thai Airways Airbus 340-600

My plane awaits: flight TG451 to Sydney

I arrived in Mumbai around midnight.  Our flight arrived early, but no gates were opened so we ended up sitting 30 minutes on the tarmac waiting for a gate to open up.

Straight through customs and out to my waiting car, the Mumbai adventure began anew.  My driver decided to do his best impression of a F1 driver, and we raced through the heavy Mumbai traffic and to the hotel.  I haven’t figured it out – maybe we’re all just too polite to complain – but seemingly all the chauffeurs in Asia think that driving like a maniac is what we’re after, and the fastest car will get the biggest tip.

Fresh flowers at the Mumbai Four Seasons

Fruit platter and ice tea at Mumbai Four Seasons 

The hotel is getting better. I’m still not a big fan of the Four Seasons here in Mumbai (it’s overpriced and the service isn’t up-to-scratch), but they made an effort this time.  I was greeted by name out of the car, my key was waiting and handed to me by the doorman (no check-in formalities, a blessing at midnight), and I arrived in the room to find fresh flowers, fruit, iced tea, and a note from the manager of the hotel, welcoming me back.  They’re trying to win my business, which is something.

Steaming wrinkled clothes in the hotel shower 

I still refuse to pay their extortionate prices for ironing / pressing, more out of principle than anything.  My colleague tells me that he pays 3 rupees (about $0.10 each) to have his shirts pressed.  The hotel wants 600 rupees ($13 each) to do the same thing.  That would be on the expensive end in Switzerland, where labour costs about $25/hour.  But here, where wages are measured in single dollars a day, there’s no excuse.  So I resorted to the old traveler’s trick: I stuck them in the shower.

A very jetlagged Matt

A very jetlagged Matt


Jetlag kicked in big time.  I managed to get a few hours sleep on the plane, which was a mistake as it meant I couldn’t fall asleep.  I finally drifted off at about 7am, just in time for my alarm to go off at 8am.  Monday was a long day in the office.

Workshops all day Tuesday and Wednesday, then off to Sydney on Wednesday night.  Stay tuned.

I’m writing this from a Swiss flight on my way from Zurich to Mumbai, and I’m currently somewhere over Abu Dhabi, looking down on the brightly-lit highways that cross the country. 

The good news is that the new Swiss business class cabin is much more comfortable than the old one.  The bed is totally flat, and the unusual layout of the cabin means that I ended up with a huge single seat with a table either side of me – far wider than any first-class seat I’ve ever sat in (although not as long, making the layout feel slightly claustrophobic). 

 Swiss Airbus 333 seat map

With only five seats in each row (compared with six or even seven on other airlines), Swiss are sacrificing a lot of potential revenue to give people their extra space.  I guess they’ve done the calculations of revenue vs. load and determined that if they can get people on-board and paying full-fare, it’s worth having fewer, higher-paying passengers.

Swiss A333 business class cabin layout

Mine was like the solo seat on the right of the photo — with a table either side of the seat.

Despite the new seats, I still can’t bring myself to like Swiss.  It’s just a little too much like Switzerland.  You never really feel that you’ve gotten value for your money.

The marginal cost of providing catering can’t be that high.  On Lufthansa, they recognize the good German appetite and cater accordingly.  Portions are generous and you’re served at least two proper meals plus a snack on most routes.

But the portions on Swiss are incredibly small.  Half the menu is vegetarian (catered by the Hiltl restaurant in Zurich), which doesn’t meet my definition of food (it’s not a meal if it doesn’t contain meat or fish), and they’d run out of the meat choice halfway through the cabin, despite the plane not being full.  On my last flight, they fooled me twice – they served me a vegetarian meal of soup.  Breaking two of my rules: 1) no meat and 2) soup is not food.  Seriously, when you’ve spent several thousand dollars on a ticket, you expect something more than a bowl of soup.

If this were an American airline, with loads of upgrades and much lower revenue-per-seat, I could be more forgiving.  But nearly everyone on this flight has paid the better part of US$4500 for their seat.  At that price, everyone should be able to get a decent meal, and one of their choice.

I left my last flight on Swiss feeling the same way – that they’re cutting too many corners unnecessarily, especially with their catering.  I’ve booked the rest of my 30,000 mile trip on Lufthansa & Thai – revenue that would have gone to Swiss if they’d just spent another $20/head on catering.

Enough griping about the food.  It’s just that I get grumpy when I’m hungry.

Shifting gears, I’m secretly jealous of all my friends and family in Washington who are busy digging out of the deepest snow they’ve had since 1922.  Something about the way snow transforms a busy, noisy city is absolutely magical.

I left the house early this morning, walking up our road at around 6:45am on a Sunday morning.  I had the entire village to myself – dark, misty, and utterly silent.  I thought to myself that it’s the last time I’ll enjoy silence for the next week or so.

I’m mentally preparing myself for Mumbai – the cacophony of horns, the chaos of cars, scooters, bicycles, pedestrians and cows that are everywhere, the smells and sights.  I’ve managed to bring a decent camera this time, so maybe I’ll even get the chance to take a decent picture or two.  If I’m brave enough, I may even venture outside the hotel this time…

Upcoming flights for February

I knew it had to be too good to last.  I’ve been gloating over the past few weeks about how quite my travel schedule is.  No sooner had I thought about taking a week of vacation than I learned that I need to be in Mumbai for a few days, then straight to Sydney for a two-day workshop. 

Flight times mean that I lose two weekends away from home.  And Aude will have to add Valentine’s Day to the long list of events I’ve missed due to business travel (her birthday and my birthday being the other two events, recently).  And let’s face it, 21’099 miles in a week is a lot, even for a backside as calloused and travel-weary as mine.

Still, we’re headed out to the slopes for a week as soon as I get back from Sydney – hopefully without too much jetlag.  We’re just finalizing our plans for the trip, booking our apartment, and buying our skis!

China flight itinerary

As soon as we’re back from skiing, it’s straight onto a plane again — this time, headed for Beijing.  Yep, February is turning into a pretty brutal travel month.  Plenty of frequent flyer miles, though!