Being a successful international author, you get invites to all the fancy SAP events, but the request for SAP TechEd ’05 in India arrived on my desk, I must have broken all land speed records getting down to the travel agent.
Arriving in the hotel, I got my second taste of India (the first being the cattle market, also known as “the Bangalore International Airport”) – due to a strike protesting at a 100% entertainment tax hike there was no TV and then all the power went off. Turning to the newspapers, the main feature was about the forthcoming eclipse. Whereas in Europe, we concentrated on the path of the eclipse and the fact the special glasses are needed, the Indian version was a little more esoteric. There is “no harm in eating during eclipses” was the main title and the report went on to reassure pregnant women that if they go out during an eclipse, their baby will not be born blind or with a cleft lip. We risked it going out and went out for a great meal whilst avoiding getting anyone pregnant – I didn’t want to risk a deformed child.
From there it was off to SAP for some work. Bored of that, we booked a day trip to the local town of Mysore, some 130 km away. The trip there confirmed all the clichés India has to offer, hundreds of people just standing around, traffic chaos, dogs and cows meandering through the traffic, roads that suddenly ended for no apparent reason – it took over 3 hours getting there and over 5 on the way back due to bucketing rain, the like of which I have never experienced before.
Mysore was, however, wonderful. Our first stop was the temple and protective stone bull on top of the “8th holiest hill in South India”. At the temple, we were on the verge of passing under the floral garlands decorating the beautiful sliver doored entrance, when Ganesha (the temple god) sent me a mystical fragrant message from a blessed bird high above us. I wasn’t sure if having shit all over me was a good or bad thing when entering an Indian holy place, but it amused the natives in the queue.
From there we went to the beautiful Mysore palace, ex-main seat of the Maharaja. Once inside the palace temple, we were blessed by the local holy man for a few rupees. Everyone emerged with a blessing in the form of an elegant red dot on their forehead. As I was sweating so much, mine quickly melted and I ended up with a huge Harry-Potteresque red lightening blessing – but again, it amused the other people in the temple.
Interestingly all the palaces and temples can only be visited with bare feet. The is so alien to me, imagine telling people they can only walk around, say the Tate Gallery or Capitol Hill, if they take their shoes and socks off, but in India it is the norm. The shoe-return-fee rocked 2,000% during our 15 minutes in one temple (because it was about to be painted) which meant some serious haggling to get them back, much to the amusement of the crowds.
From there it was back to SAP, where the event was in full swing, but such an event highlights India’s biggest problem – too many people. There are 1.2 billion people in this country; and a good portion of them seemed to be at the conference. Despite the excellent management of the event from my SAP colleagues, there are always so many people around you could never find the person “in the know”. For example, you ask 5 different people “when the does the bus leave?” and you literally get 8 different answers – all different, all wrong. In the end I got the truth, I walked over to the bus park and asked the bus driver.
The book signing was rather busy, with queue managers, helpers and people policing the 100 meter long queue to stop people cutting in. In order to detract the multitude, I was tempted to make them all take off their shoes and socks before giving them a copy and then hiking up the return fees exorbitantly, but this was vetoed by Tesha.
From Bangalore, we then flew up Delhi – an amazing, bustling city (with paved roads!) where we visited all the top tourists spots: The Red Fort, Gandhi Memorial, giant Mosques and the stunning Humanyun’s Tomb. Then by train to Agra – the in-train entertainment was excellent, my money was on the green cockroach, the red one’s legs were far too skinny.
Agra was our main and final destination in north India – it is home to the Taj Mahal. From 1631, it took 22 years to build by Shah Jahan as a memorial for his second wife. It was designed as part of a “his and hers” matching set – he wanted a black one. However, before Jahan could bankrupt the country by building #2, his son threw him in prison, where he died 9 years later. Still, his cell had a nice view of the original, and he was compensated by having the thumbs amputated of all the master craftsmen who worked on the original so that nothing so beautiful could be created for anyone else. Talk about job motivation. It is, however, truly magnificent and a nice visit to finish the trip.
I really like India, it has a downside (pollution, crowds, frustration when try to get anything done, crowds, the malaria filled bugs, crowds, trains full of Bird Flu victims and don’t get me started on the toilets – and did I mention the crowds?) but this is way out weighted by the good – the nice people (such as the rickshaw driver so high on something so he let us drive his car), the food, incredible sights and stunning scenery, the markets and the laissez-faire attitude to life. But if you can cope with the bad, I recommend it whole heartedly – if nothing, it will make you stop and think and appreciate the incredibly high standard of living we in the west enjoy.