Friday Jun 26, 2009

Driving in India

Chennai traffic
Driving in India is a daunting experience.

Lanes are just a suggestion and stop signs and lights are ignored if they exist at all.

Chennai traffic Traffic often comes to halt and vehicles of all sizes and shapes press forward into any available space jockeying for the most advantageous position.

Chennai trafficAn horn is an essential part of any vehicle, used more than than the brakes and indispensable for crossing intersections where it's every man, motorcycle, SUV and tuk-tuks (auto rickshaws) for itself.

India's cities are filled with a cheerful cacophony of beeps that can be heard inside of buildings or in the distance while walking Chennai's Marina Beach.

Pedestrians take their lives in their hands to cross the streets and many die.

Ravi and Mahindra ScorpioMany just don't drive, rental cars come with drivers and are cheap. Ravi said it took him a month to get used to the driving. His Mahindra Scorpio is "specially designed for India" and an even better choice than it first appears, as it is a favored vehicles for ranking government officials.

After a few days of driving around Chennai, we came to an intersection where all the cars were stopped and the pedestrians were safely crossing the street. It was so odd and out of place how everyone was obeying the light and letting the pedestrians cross. The reason? There was a traffic cop.

Many hours later, sitting in a snarl of traffic to cross the Bay Bridge, I caught myself wanting to nose my car between the lanes of traffic Indian style.

Wednesday Jun 17, 2009

Tour of Chennai

Mall in Chennai Due to my delayed luggage I had to find something to wear. Ravi was kind enough to come and get me at the hotel and take me shopping and to visit a few other sights. I found some clothes in this pleasant mall. Available was a mix of "normal" and traditional Indian styles. While India is known for the sari, salwars etc. are gaining popularity as more practical.

Marina Beach, Chennai IndiaChennai is on the Bay of Bengal and known for having very long beaches. Don't let the picture fool you, it is very hot on the beach at mid-day, and fairly deserted. At night the beach comes alive as a social gathering point. There are even playground style structures for the kids to play with. Per Ravi there is ongoing tension between the economic development forces that want to bring more tourists to the area and the fisherman whose rows of boats are not far from this picture.

St. Thomas BasilicaA Christian church is not the first thing to come to mind as an Indian tourist attraction, however India has a diverse background of many religions and St. Thomas, the one and the same "Doubting Thomas, spent much time here and was dubbed the Aposole of India. This church was built in the 1500s and the original tomb for his body. Legend has it that he died not far from this church on a small hillhock, known as St. Thomas Mount.

Monday Jun 15, 2009

On the other side of the planet

Chennai lighthouse on Marina BeachEvery so often it's good to take a trip to somewhere completely different, where you have never been before. For me, this year, a work trip to southern India fit the bill quite nicely.

Sun has several teams based in India, and a campus in Bangalore, the Indian IT mecca of the south. Like many companies we have outsourced some of our work to Indian companies, and for the identity management of Sun's web sites we work with a team in Chennai.

It is unlikely that I will be able to do justice to India in these collection of posts. India is a diverse, multi-cultural country of many religions and languages that can't be put into a convenient box.

Indian expatriates well know the rigors of traveling here. Many undertake the trip every year, or every other year, bringing their families on 20 hour plus journeys so that the kids will know their extended family. After back to back 10 hour flights with lots of such families (yes, it is summer holiday time) interspersed with a mad dash between Heathrow gates due to a delayed first flight, I arrived in Bangalore having lost my mobile phone and my luggage still in London which took over 30 minutes to report. The lines to get through immigration were slow due to a check of everyone's temperature to screen for swine flu. Everyone working in immigration wore a mask.

Not getting the chance to change my clothes like I would have liked, my next leg was a domestic one hour flight at 7:25 AM IST. Security queues divide into two lines, one for "ladies" and the other for men, apparently this is so the women can be screened in a little curtained room for privacy. I then queued up on the jetway with a collection of business Indian travelers (and the one token Brit), all wearing business slacks, long sleeved dress shirt and carrying laptop case. An hour later I was in Chennai with my scare belongings.

India's challenge has always been infrastructure and Chennai like many Asian cities, struggles with choking traffic. My driver, opted for a unpaved "shortcut" that we bounced over underneath a uncompleted overpass, but that quite handily led us straight to the hotel. The fallout from Mumbai's terrorist attacks was front and center at the gate to the hotel. Every vehicle undercarriage was examined with a rolling mirror and I had to walk through a metal detector.

Despite all this, everyone here has been quite nice. The security screener even asked if I was Ok, must have been due to the scowl on my face over my lost luggage.

Next, a trip around the city to find some clothes.

We are part of .Sun, a group in Marketing that operates and designs Sun's web presence. So naturally we focus on the web in this blog but random musings slip in often.


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