The best place to start my latest update is our recent trip to Pune for a seven day visit. The strategy behind the trip was that while I spend time getting to know the office (staff, vision, plan, etc), Stephanie could get to know the area and do some house searches.
After a 14.5 hour flight, we made it to Mumbai. The flight was as uneventful as 14.5 hours in a pressurized box can be, From there, we stayed overnight at the Hyatt Regency, and took a morning local flight (if barely taking off even qualifies) to Pune. Due to Health and Safety reasons, my company does not allow driving between Mumbai and Pune. And for good reason, it is obvious that at lower speeds the population can manage driving in a hectic symphony. But the minute there's dedicated lanes and a high speed limit, the accident rate skyrockets. And due to lack of safe vehicles, the collisions are frequently fatal.
The flight is so short you don't really get very much altitude, so you get to see all the region from bird's eye. And it's very pretty. The area is full of mountain ranges, lakes and streams, small villages and farming. I would have had some photos to show, but a downside to jet lag is being so tired you let your phone easily get stolen...
I'm going to take a moment here and point out that I'm going to be honest in my recollection of thoughts. Now that this groundwork has been set, I must say my first impressions of India were... mixed. Firstly, I have yet in life to see a place more dirty. I have been to both isolated areas and highly urban environments in China and Thailand but neither compared to the level of debris and trash I noticed in Mumbai and Pune. It's not everywhere but it is definitely prevalent. My second impression was the vast high energy of both cities, which I fell instantly in love with. There is a multitude of people all doing different things, cars swirling around bikes and mopeds on the road, discussions, haggling, hammering, honking, mesmerizing and energizing. It reminds me of my youth in New York City, the bustle of the buses and taxis driving all hours of the night. Except multiply that by a thousand. It's so much, such a sensory overload that you can lose yourself in it, you can easily blink and realize minutes have passed by. It really is something. I think I love it.
Lets get one thing clear: The food is phenomenal. Both Stephanie and I like it hot, and despite the local Maharashtran food being traditionally non-spicy we found several dishes we both loved. I had a semi-sweet and quite spicy Goan Seafood Curry with chunks of fish so tender they seemed to somehow stay solid in the thick sauce but melt the minute your tongue touched it. We ate at a restaurant called "BBQ Nation" which is essentially a mix of Fogo de Chao, Korean BBQ and all you can eat Indian Buffet, except it's cheaper than half of the price of the buffet. I got the instant feeling that it's going to be a go-to spot for me when I want a "Man-Meal". Unlimited grilled skewers of chicken, curry tofu, shrimps and more covered in all manner of spice with a quenching supply of Kingfisher Ultra at hand. Why thank you, yes... I'll be coming back!
Taking Rickshaws as a complete newcomer was quite daunting and incredibly fun. Stephanie and I took our first Rickshaw to the Westin to meet friends for brunch, and managed to haggle down the price of the ride to 100 rupee, or under $2.00 USD. We later discovered that the actual price (yes, there's meters they should be using) was more along the lines of 20-30, max. The ride was bumpy, oily, loud, smelly, jerky, exhilarating, and an overall great way to absorb the city. Stephanie and I loved it. Other rickshaw rides would prove both better, and way worse.
We managed to visit multiple properties and decided that if one was still available in January we would definitely take it. The shining pinnacle of the penthouse apartment was the full roof-garden. It must have easily been nearly 1000 sqft of open garden space with it's own Gazebo and separate stair access to the elevators. We both envisioned Stella prancing around our rooftop in the cool breeze.
A fun fact: The location of our office in Pune has a beautiful balcony which overlooks the most reknown prison in India (Yerawada Central Jail). Mahatma Gandi was imprisoned there. The surviving terrorist of the Mumbai attacks of 2011 was imprisoned, and later executed there. The female wing of the prison and the fields which they work is all visible from the balcony. Its a surreal experience. Coffee in hand you can see the women tending to tomato and eggplants while behind you in an air conditioned office coworkers discuss over 3D models the finer points of material selection for oil-well applications.
My first impressions are a mix, and are great. We like this country. I think we are going to have a great experience there.