It's probably due to the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai that I'm getting lots of people asking me how I'm doing. Never had so much Facebook activity before. I've been getting back to people individually or via Facebook Wall posts, but even though this doesn't have anything to do with the Internet per se (other than I am here for an Internet conference) I figured it was easier to give some of my impressions of India via a blog post. I'll be blogging about conference specifics later today (if jet lag doesn't get the best of me).
The 35 hour door-to-door journey to get here was rather hellish. I couldn't sleep on the plane and I had 3 transfers (Amsterdam, Kuwait, and Muscat in Oman). This was probably the best available flight too as any other flights to Hyderabad involve hellish transfers into either Delhi or Mumbai (hellish in that they all seem to arrive in the middle of the night; involve getting on a local bus - and all that means - to transfer from international to domestic airports; and about 6-8 hour wait). At least Amsterdam's Schipol airport has comfy chairs, delicious European pastries and a miniture Riksmuseum on site - so I managed to gaze at Rembrandt paintings during my layover. Oman airport was so shabby it dispelled the notion I had that all Middle East countries are oil-rich. Hyderabad airport is modern and incredible - the second best airport I have been to anywhere in the world (Hong Kong is the best definitely).
The hotel we are staying at, Ista Hyderabad, is nice. It's down the street from Microsoft's Indian campus. My biggest complaint about the hotel is that it is trying to hard to be an international 5 star hotel and as a result it is generic (too much blond wood, chocolate-brown leather chairs, and marble floors) - it also has the price of these hotels, so much so that the prices seem more fitting of Switzerland or London rather than India (eg. $3 for a Coke).
What I love about the hotel (other than their incredible infinity style and toasty warm swimming pool) is the incredible food. Breakfast is included here and it combines traditional Western breakfast foods with much more delicious Indian food. Yesterday the waiter asked me if I wanted a traditional Indian breakfast. It was potato curry dish and a sweet stewed spiced pumpkin dish. The pumpkin dish was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. In general, the food here is AMAZING. The western food is mediocre, but the Indian food is way better than the best Indian food I've ever had in Toronto - plus there is such an incredible variety of dishes.
Unfortunately, the hotel and conference centre are about a 40 minute drive apart and the free shuttles only go once in the morning and once in the evening. Taxis are expensive here (at least the ones for westerners) about the same rate as home. Both the hotel and conference centre are in the midst of tech building sprawl and far away from the city proper, so there's nowhere to walk either. Not that walking is safe here as there are no sidewalks or traffic rules it seems. Plus one would have to pass by the cattle in the street and the poor living in tents by the roadside everywhere. So we all feel trapped either in the hotel or in the conference centre, which is a shame as I do like to explore cities when I travel.
I did get four free hours where I hired a driver to drive me around the sites of Hyderabad. The main sites were incredible; the temples, palaces, government building and fortresses are so different architectually from anything I'd ever seen before and centuries old. But I think I enjoyed seeing the slices of normal Indian life while driving about town. The open-air markets with stunningly beautiful textiles, the chaos in the streets, the vibrant street life, and the unbelievable poverty intermixed with it all. I was also struck at how there seemed to be a much greater committment to architectually beauty - even more modest buildings all have unique details or arrangements.
Jet lag is fairly bad. I was dead tired at 6pm last night. Many of the other ambassadors went shopping at a mall last night but I went for a swim and was asleep for the second night in a row by 7pm. Skipped supper even. I woke up at midnight but watched a Bollywood film. There are about 30 channels that show nothing but Bollywood so I'm enjoying discovering the many permutations of this genre.
The weather today is hot, sunny and humid. Other days it was just perfect. There is a lot of pollution here - particularly in the city proper. My photos are hazy because of the pollution. I'm not kidding - it's not poor focus it's layers of smog!
Security is tight both at the hotel and at the conference centre. So tight I couldn't go out to get my morning coffee, without having to go through the thorough security check and frisking (okay maybe I don't mind the frisking). I am impressed
with the degree of security at the conference centre and at the hotel, so that goes a long way to making me feel more at ease. Although last night there was a huge noise in the middle of the night and on another occasion the power went out at the hotel for about 3 minutes - both times my mind instantly wen to the worst.
So I'm staying safe and eating very well. Everyone at the Internet Society is super friendly and the even though I've only had a half day of conference sessions, I've already learned a lot (definitely some thesis fodder). So no regrets for coming here, but I'm definitely dreading that 30+ hour return trip.