India: Are you liking your foods very much Sir?
I've been lucky to visit India several times..but only for work travel.
Fortunately I managed to be there over a few weekends and/or managed to schedule a bit of spare time into my schedule during these trips.
Nothing can ever prepare you for what you will see, hear and smell in India. You will either love India or hate it and no in between. My first visit was quite hectic and I was in the not liking it at all category. But during my second visit I got to better understand how the place functioned and I really enjoyed it.
Subsequent visits I loved it.
I went to Bangalore, New Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, and Bhubaneswar and Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum). All very different cities, with the latter two not being on the typical tourist route.
My work colleagues were predominantly vegetarian, so when dining with them I followed suit, and usually only ate meat when alone at my hotel. I flew on Indian Airlines, Jet Airways and the now defunct Kingfisher...all very good. The airline meal service is always accompanied by "veg or non veg" choice and I usually went with the veg option.
By the way, you cant get into any Indian airport without a paper copy of your tickets..it is passenger's only inside the terminal.
Outside the terminals and near the taxi drop off points, there are often numerous guys in airline colour jackets..don't avoid them..use them to guide you quickly into the terminal entrance and to carry your suitcase to security check. A bargain for 100 rupees. Always put an airline label tag on every piece of hand carry luggage; the security man at X-Ray will stamp the airport and date on the label tag, and you wont get anywhere near the plane without showing another security man your carry on with said labels and stamps. easy once you know what to do...
Vast and very interesting. Horrific traffic: cars trucks, buses, auto-rickshaws, people and cows all competing for space in 30 degree plus heat.
I stayed both around the airport area and in the downtown business and financial district. The first contrast..looking out of my Aud$300/night hotel room directly bordering a slum to an airline catering facility near Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji airport.
The downtown financial district is very nice as the auto-rickshaws are banned from that area..its mainly taxis.. Fiats and various versions of Morris Oxfords/Mahindra
In Mumbai we ate very well at several veg restaurants and avoided the hotels except for breakfast. One of the best was the Samrat Veg Restaurant. It's a Gujarati restaurant (a western state) and at lunchtime they serve delicious Thali ..a mixed platter of Roti, Dhal, Rice and vegetables plus a dessert.
After work we stopped by the Taj Palace Hotel for a snack and drink. It was attacked by terrorists in November 2008. We chatted to a waiter who had worked there for 20 years and survived the attack..he hid under a table..and he showed us many of the bullet marks around the bar and restaurant area. We also strolled around the Gateway of India monument across the road from the hotel which is a monument to King George V's visit to India in 1911.
Driving across Mumbai at night, we saw a group of a dozen or so people sitting at the side of the road. The local guys said it was a charity restaurant..the hungry/homeless rely on passing traffic to stop and leave money which will buy them a meal. I left 500 rupees (about NZ$10) which was enough to buy a meal for around 40 people...about 25c each.
Bangalore is an inland city in Karnataka State; about 9 million population. It is about 900 meters above sea level and so is much cooler than some of the other coastal cities. It is a university city and an IT hub and is where my guys from the work office were based.
I spent some weekends in Bangalore and wandered the city shipping areas. I usually stayed at the Taj Hotel in MG Road which had an excellent restaurant, room service and was in walking distance of the main shopping areas. I hired auto-rickshaws to get around at times...the drivers understood enough English to get me where I needed to go at high speed. Looking out my hotel window one morning, 4 guys on camels road past. When driving to work one morning, an elephant crashed a red traffic light...nothing is surprising in India.
India isn't very well known for barbecue...but some of the best food I have had was at a chain restaurant called Barbeque Nation. Amazing food where you cook on live grills embedded in the tables...an excellent selection of vegetarian, meat and fish dishes on skewers cooked on the hot coals.
Barbecue Nation is in most cities..go there if you get the opportunity.
Thiruvananthapuram is the capital of Kerala state on the south west coast down to the bottom point of India. Kerala is very well developed and has a mix of Hindu, Muslim and Christians. Trivandrum has about 1.0 million population and is a very conservative city....non existent bars or clubs and after 8pm it is very quiet. Alcohol including beer wine and spirits of foreign brand or origin is very highly taxed.
I hired a hotel car and driver and went to Kovalam Beach about 20km from the city. Its a well known beach and holiday area with many restaurants and accommodation at all price points right on the beach front. I spent 1/2 day there and had lunch..the hotel car and driver was about NZ$10 for 4 hours plus I gave the driver 100 rupees ($2) for his lunch...he was more than happy.
We also went to the The Leela Kovalam Hotel..a top hotel located on a cliff overlooking the Arabian Sea. A perfect location and amazing food at The Cafe..more Indian Veg this time in South Indian style.
I must confess I didn't know where Bhubaneswar was before I had to go there to meet a Cable Tv Co who were buying our set top boxes.
Bhubaneswar is the capital of Odisha (Orissa) State on the north east coast of India. It has a population of around 1.0 million and is a relatively modern city. It became the capital in 1948 after Indian independence. It is fast growing and developing as a smart city and IT Hub. It is cleaner and greener than the very large Indian cities and has many temples which are major tourist attractions.
I stayed at the Trident hotel in the city centre...another very nice Indian hotel with an excellent restaurant serving Oriya cuisine which is mainly vegetarian and seafood quiet mildly spiced. For those who wanted it, Italian and other meals wee available including pizzas and burgers...but I stayed with the local cuisine.
The highlight of my time in Bhubaneswar was having sufficient time to take a drive to the Konark Sun Temple, about 70km each way and very near the coast of the Bay of Bengal.
The Sun Temple is a 13th-century at Konark and is believed to have been built in 1255 AD . The temple complex is in the shape of a giant ornamented chariot of the Sun god, Surya, with carved stone wheels, pillars and walls. A major part of the temple is now in ruins.
It is carefully oriented towards the east so that the first rays of sunrise strikes the main entrance.
However the main attraction at the Sun Temple today are the many erotic and explicit carvings in the stone; thousands of them decorate every part of the temple. Lots of sexy business was going on in 1255AD that's for sure.
The drive to and from the temple was an adventure on its own..narrow roads, cows, tractors, bicycles, overloaded buses,trucks and trailers, and a few random "toll gates". I was a little bit pleased that I wasn't driving.
Chennai supposed has the worlds biggest beach.
Marina Beach is right in the city along the Bay of Bengal and is about 13 km long and up to 400 metres wide. It's odd but swimming is banned due to very treacherous currents and undertows. yet is still very crowded.
I hired a hotel car and driver who took me to some of the cities attractions including the excellent Sri Srinivasar Hindu Temple and Fort St George.
The temple was very peaceful and a beautiful and colourful place..I left my shoes at the gate with thousands of other shoes, carefully guarded by a young Indian guy. An hour later when I returned, he knew exactly where my shoes were and helped me put them back on..I rewarded him with 100 rupees