Readers know best: My trip to India
Sunrise view from a room at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, looking out at Mumbai's Gateway of India. (Chris McGinnis)
If it weren’t for Ravi Kiran Voleti, I may not have tasted Hyderabad’s most famous local dish, and thanks to Jovitta Thomas, I was able to prepare for “Indian stretchable time”.
Last month, readers responded enthusiastically to my call for advice about a proposed business trip to India. I took many of your tips to heart — thank you — and wanted to let you know how it influenced my trip.
“Don’t eat any fruit that you cannot peel yourself, no ice in your drinks, don’t drink the water, other than that, enjoy everything the country has to offer,” Carla James said. Throughout this trip I was very careful about food and drink, even brushing my teeth with bottled water — and it paid off. I did not have any cramps or any other sign of “Delhi belly” for the entire 10-day stay.
Snehad Kasodekar advised, “Understand and get used to Indian head nodding if you don’t know about it already.” I had heard about Indian head bobbling or wobbling — a sort of sideways nod that in the US could mean “maybe” or “let me think about it”. But in India, I learned that the gesture is more positive… meaning something like, “Yes, I agree, I get it.” By the end of the trip, my head was nodding sideways, too.
Barbara Harrison wrote, “Don’t pack much. Use the laundry services at hotels, which are usually inexpensive and very fast.” This was great advice. My suitcase was light, and I ended up having plenty of room to bring home new clothes and souvenirs I picked up along the way. There’s nothing better than returning to your hotel room after a long sweaty day to freshly laundered and pressed clothes stacked like gifts on the bed!
For transportation from the airports, Jovitta Thomas recommended using “hotels with pick-up and drop-off services”. Throughout the trip, I was always very happy to see the driver of my pre-arranged car at the airport to save me from the throngs of other drivers aggressively hawking rides to the city. Due to construction and road damage from the recent monsoon, the ride from the airport to my hotel in Mumbai was quite an ordeal, so I was glad I had booked a car in advance. On the other hand, the roadways connecting the airports to Delhi and Hyderabad were extraordinarily modern and fast. If my timing had been better, I would have opted for Delhi’s modern new metro link to the city.
Thomas also said, “We Indians have a relative way of describing time… if someone tells you it will take five to 10 minutes to get to a particular place, plan for at least 20.” When encountering the inevitable delays that are part of travelling and doing business in India, I learned from locals to sit back, relax and accept what they call “Indian stretchable time”.
Emil Qazi said, “Forget about business and make the most of your time there. If you are in Delhi, hire a taxi and visit the Taj Mahal. Believe me, it’s worth it!” I wanted a glimpse of India’s famous railroad, so I opted for an early morning, two to three hour train from Delhi to Agra. Seeing the Taj Mahal, long on my bucket list, was a high point of my trip, and indeed worth it. However, I booked a car for the return, which was a mistake — due to traffic, the road trip took five long hours.
Ravi Kiran Voleti said, “Don’t forget to gorge on a Hyderabadi Biryani while in Hyderabad.” Based on this suggestion, I took a peek in the kitchen at Adaa in the new, gorgeous Falaknuma Palace hotel in Hyderabad, where chef Ashfer Biju and his team turned out an outstanding Hyderabadi Kacchi Biryani, a popular local rice-and-meat based dish, that included at least 25 ingredients including marinated kid lamb, fragrant aged basmati rice, yogurt and garam masala (spices), cooked in a big copper pot with the top sealed on with bread dough. It was the best meal of my trip!
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Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel