Putanga – Life on the Road

Stories from my journeys around the world…

Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Bloody Murphy!

Posted by Monica Johansen on April 28, 2010

I am back in India this week to complete the implementation project in Delhi. The temperatures have increased quite significantly since the last time I was here, and it now hits 42-44 degrees Celsius (107-111 Fahrenheit) during daytime.

View from my hotel room

The customer has limited desk space, so we are usually working together in a conference room while testing and configuring policies. Since most of the meeting rooms are booked a few times during the week we are moving around to a different room every day. The first two days the rooms were extremely hot, and I though that maybe they are just saving energy by shutting off the air conditioning. I usually bring a jacket with me on customer site since you never know how cold it gets in the office and sometimes we have to work in freezing cold server rooms, but today I decided to leave it behind since the last couple of days have been so extremely hot.

But I forgot all about Murphy’s Law, because today we were of course staying in a room with the air conditioning on full speed and set to low temperatures. I asked the customer if they could turn up the heat a little bit, but apparently it is centrally controlled and they couldn’t change it without changing the settings for the entire floor. Hence, I have been shivering all day while trying to focus on getting the work done, and I have found it rather difficult to work with goosebumps on 80% of my body.

Apart from a few temperature issues I am having a great time in Delhi. The hotel is great, and the view from my room would have been awesome if this part of India had more trees, grass and flowers instead of just sand, dirt and garbage. Anyway, you can’t have it all.

Oh, by the way, on my flight home from Australia last week I saw the movie “Up in the Air” with George Clooney. If you ever wonder what my life is like then just see the movie and you will get it…

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Agra and Taj Mahal

Posted by Monica Johansen on February 14, 2010

This is my second weekend in India, and on Saturday I finally had the chance to see the famous Taj Mahal. I have wanted to see the building since the first time I saw a picture of it several years ago, but until now I haven’t had the opportunity. Hence, I was very excited Saturday morning when I was waiting for my driver to pick me up in the hotel.

Taj Mahal

My driver picked me up at 7 AM, and we started the four hour trip down to Agra. The roads from Delhi to Agra are pretty average, although they are considered good in Indian standards, and with proper roads and well organized traffic it would probably take half the time to get there. Parts of the journey were rather uncomfortable, and at the same time I was worries about the weather conditions. When we left Gurgaon it was a little bit foggy, but as we drove further south the fog seemed to get denser, and when we passed the border to Uttar Pradesh (the state where Agra is located) a couple of hours later we could hardly see ten meters ahead of us.

I had a guide waiting for me in Agra, and he called us to tell us that the fog was very dense in the city and that it was difficult to get a good view of Taj Mahal. I thought to myself that the trip could end up as a complete waste of time, but there is not much you can do about the weather. However, when we were about one hour away from Agra the fog suddenly dissolved, and the sun came out and heated up the air. In Agra it was a little bit hazy, but it was still very good conditions for viewing and taking photos of the famous white marble tomb.

Mosque next to Taj Mahal.

We picked up the guide in the city, and afterwards we headed directly to Taj Mahal. It was about 11:30 AM when we finally got there, and I was quite impatient to enter the area. My guide wanted us to sit down first so he could tell me the whole story of why Taj Mahal was built, but I told him that I was already quite familiar with the story and I just wanted to see it as soon as possible. I have seen several photos of the building, and I knew it was beautiful, but as we walked through the gates and Taj Mahal appeared in front of me I was completely stunned by its beauty and I almost had tears in my eyes. It was much larger than I expected, and it was something very special about the building, something magical that you can’t experience by just looking at a photo.

The construction of Taj Mahal was started in 1634 and continued for almost 22 years. Situated on the banks of the river Yamuna, the Taj is enclosed in a garden amongst fountains and ornamental trees, and the walled complex includes two mosques and an imposing gateway. The tomb is encased in white marble which is decorated with sculptures and inlaid design of flowers and calligraphy cut from precious gems. It rests on a platform of red sandstone, and at each corner of the platform stands a slender 40 meters high minaret. In total the Taj Mahal is 50009 square meters, and the highest point of the outer dome is 55 meters high.

Marble art

I am not going to tell you much about the history behind Taj Mahal, since you can read all about it on the Internet, but for those of you who are not familiar with the story I just want to mention that Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial for his beloved wife Arjumand Banu Begum (also called Mumtaz Mahal, meaning the “Jewel of the Palace”) who died in 1631 while giving birth to the couple’s 14th child. Apparently he was planning to build a tomb in black marble for himself next to Taj Mahal, but it was never completed, however, the foundation of the tomb is still there. The emperor himself ended his life tragically as his third son, Aurangzeb, got rid of all his brothers and led a rebellion to take over the throne. Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son in the Red Fort of Agra, and after his death in 1666 he was buried in Taj Mahal next to his beloved wife.

The story of Taj Mahal is truly romantic, but it also has a dark side. According to the historians, Shah Jahan cut off the hands of the workers after the completion of the Taj Mahal so that no one would ever be able to build such a marvelous monument again. In Agra there is a government founded workshop where they make marble art using the same ancient techniques that were used during the building of Taj Mahal. Apparently, the workers in the store are direct descendents from the artists who decorated the famous marble tomb. They make marble tables, plates and different Indian status such as elephants and Hindu statues, and I ended up buying a statue of my favorite Hindu God, Ganesha, in black marble with decorations in mother of pearl, blue lapis and turquoise. I am so happy to finally have found my Ganesha statue.

Tomb of Akbar

On the way back to Delhi we had a short stop at the tomb of Akbar. Of course, after seeing Taj Mahal nothing really amazes you anymore, but it was still interesting to see another one of the famous buildings in Agra. The building I located in Sikandra, a suburb of Agra, and the guide didn’t come with me since it was relatively far from the city centre. I didn’t have time to go inside, because it was getting late in the afternoon and we had a very long and tiring journey back to Delhi, so I just took a few photos from the outside.

Luckily, the traffic wasn’t too bad and we arrived in Gurgaon around 8 PM. I was pretty exhausted when the driver dropped me off at the hotel, and I was so hungry since I hadn’t eaten since breakfast at 6:30 AM. The driver asked me several times if I wanted to stop for lunch on the way, but I was too worried about my stomach, so I decided to starve rather than taking the chance of getting sick.

Today I don’t have any plans, and tomorrow I am back at work here in Gurgaon. I have two more days to complete before I can fly back home to lovely Singapore. After over two weeks in India I am actually looking very much forward to coming home to a place where it is clean and safe. Singapore may be small, and there may not be so many stunning sights there (although Raffles is still my favorite building), but it is most definitely a comfortable place to live, and I love it there. 🙂

You can find the latest photos here: http://monicaaj71.vndv.com/20100213/index.html

Posted in Asia, India, Travel | 1 Comment »

Sightseeing in Delhi

Posted by Monica Johansen on February 8, 2010

Since I am staying in Delhi over the weekend I decided to do some sightseeing and get out of the hotel. Yesterday I hired a guide for the day, and he took me to some famous tourist spots in both Old Delhi and New Delhi. Old Delhi is mostly inhabited by Muslims and they have built a fabulous mosque, called Jama Masjid, in the old town. It is the largest and best known mosque in India, and it was built by Emperor Shah Jahan who also built the famous Taj Mahal in Agra. In front of the mosque is a huge courtyard which apparently can hold up to 25000 people, and the three gates to enter the courtyard is built in red sandstone. The mosque is truly an amazing sight, which I highly recommend for anyone visiting Delhi.

Jama Masjid mosque

Our next stop was the India Gate in New Delhi, which must not be confused with the famous Gateway of India in Mumbai. The India Gate is the national monument of India, and it is a war memorial for Indian soldiers who died in World War I and the Afghan Wars. It is located in one end of the Rajpath, also known as King’s Way, and in the other end of the road is the Rashtrapati Bhavan, or the President Palace. The palace was designed by the British architect Edwin Lutyens and built in 1931, to be the central point of the British power in Delhi. However, the mansion was occupied by the Indians after the freedom in 1947.

We also did a brief stop at a beautiful Hindu temple called Laxminarayan. Unfortunately it was not allowed to take photos inside the temple, and it was a real shame because it was truly stunning and I wish I had some pictures to show my friends. Anyway, after the Hindu temple we drove to the Bahá’í House of Worship which is commonly referred to as the Lotus Temple due to its shape. It is designed as a lotus flower, and the roof of the building actually has resemblance to the Sydney Opera House.

Laxminarayan Hindu temple

Our last stop was the Quitab Minar Tower, which is 72.5 meters tall, has 379 steps to the top and is apparently the world’s tallest brick minaret. The tower is fascinating in itself, but I was also amazed by the beautiful Hindu & Jain temple ruins surrounding it, which in many ways resemble the ruins of Angkor Wat and the other temples outside Siem Reap in Cambodia. At the time I was there it was getting late in the afternoon, so the sun was lower on the sky and the light had a warm orange tone which is great for photography.

Today I haven’t done much. There is a huge mall close to the hotel, which I had a look at this morning, and I was hoping to find a nice Ganesh (which is my favorite Hundu God) figure to bring home to Singapore, but I didn’t really find anything of interest. Ganesh (or Ganesha) is a very popular God in India, because he represents wisdom, attainment and prosperity, and I would love to have one in my collection of Asian artifacts.

By the way, here are some photos: http://monicaaj71.vndv.com/20100206/index.html

Posted in Asia, India, Travel | 2 Comments »

Incredible India

Posted by Monica Johansen on February 4, 2010

I arrived in New Delhi on Sunday evening, and I am currently staying in Gurgaon, which is a town just southwest of Delhi. I started working on customer site in Gurgaon already on Monday morning, and I am supposed to be here until Chinese New Year (the end of next week), but it actually depends on the progress on the contract discussions with the customer.

Trident hotel lobby

I am staying in a hotel called Trident, which is an amazing hotel with great service. It is in fact rather different from other hotels I have stayed at in India previously, with its resort like luxurious design and minimalistic interior. I love it actually, because it gives a sense of space and cleanness that I often miss in many old fashioned hotels, and to explain how amazing it is I just want to mention that the hotel was voted “Asia’s Leading Hotel” and “India’s Leading Hotel” at the World Travel Awards in 2009.

A strange thing I have discovered about hotels around the world is that the poorer the country, the better the service. For instance, in Jakarta in Indonesia there are a large number of very poor people living in shanty towns, but the hotel I usually stay at is one of my favorite places in Asia, and the people working there are so friendly that I almost feel bad. India is also extremely poor, but the quality of the hotels and the service level is impeccable. In fact, sometimes I think they are simply too friendly, and I would prefer if they could be a little more natural. Personally I think that no one should have to bow and crawl for anyone else, no matter how “important” or rich they are, and I would prefer if they could get to know me and appreciate me for who I am rather than being polite because they have been instructed to do so.

Trident hotel garden

I find working in India to be a very different experience. First of all, communication can sometimes be confusing because the Indians tend to shake their heads when they agree rather than nod as we are used to in the western world (if you have ever seen a Bollywood movie you will know what I mean). Fortunately, most Indians working in business environments can speak English relatively well, which makes it easier for foreigners to work here, and technically they are quite strong. But I find the Indians to be rather disorganized, at least compared to what I am used to. For instance, when working on projects involving several components they often want to do everything at the same time, while I prefer to focus on one or two things to avoid confusion and ensure maximum quality. Nevertheless, somehow we manage to meet somewhere in the middle and get things done.

Another funny thing about this place is that the electricity supply is very unstable, and the lights and air-condition etc. keep switching on and off during the day. The first time I experienced it I asked the guys I am working with if it happens often, and they replied “no, just a few times per day”. I was laughing inside, because I was expecting an answer more like “once or twice per month”, but apparently they didn’t consider “a few times per day” to be very often. 🙂

This week has passed very quickly, and soon it is weekend again. I am very excited to see what new adventures the weekend will reveal. 🙂

Posted in Asia, India, Travel | 2 Comments »