Tagged: Visits

Torture the Tourists and Travellers


That’s exactly what happened at Chennai International Airport last evening.

Unbelievable, right?

What I am referring to here is the closure of the three entrance doors of the international airport side, keeping only one door open for ALL travellers, which resulted in long, serpentine queues outside the main doors all the way down along the main corridor wherein travellers disembark from their taxis and cars.

First of all, I saw many irritated folks (that includes me, of course), who could not find a trolley to load their baggages. There is no trolley point at the point(s) at which travellers disembark from their vehicles. All the trolleys are dragged to the points just outside one of the main doors, which forces people to wade through huge crowds in search of trolleys. What a dysfunctional idea is it to park all the trolleys away from points where they are sorely needed? I had to wade through the crowds, first to my right where I could not locate any trolleys and then to my left where I saw trolleys parked some 200 feet away but I could not reach those trolleys as there was a long line of folks trying to get into the only door which was open! However, I did wade through and reached the trolley line, and managed to get two trolleys and then had the unenviable task of climbing over people and cutting across lines to get to my baggages (I luckily had another traveller taking care of my belongings). This was ridiculous, no international airport has such a mess going on at the peak time for international travellers. I was already profusely sweating by the time I managed to bring the trolleys for loading of baggages. Chennai is not for anti-humidity and anti-heat folks.

The most annoying thing however, was the long queue (usually there will be at least 3 doors operating for different airlines) and the quick adaptation of the Indian Q-Theory which I have written about in the past. This theory predicates that if there is one feet of space between two people on a Q, then you can rest assured the gap will quickly covered by a suddenly appearing person who grabs that space, or that space will be used as a “bridge” for people crossing from one side to the other. This theory also advises folks to take care of their nostrils because of the pungent smells which hit one from folks all over in a sweaty weather. This theory then goes on to predicate that people like to rub each other with complete lack of sensitivity in India while existing on a Q, and when it suits them they ignore the presence of people in the front by smashing their trolleys into the inviting legs in front of them as they decide it would be a good resting point for their trolley. And so on, and so forth.

It took me more than 40 minutes to just get through the outside Q, before I reached the only open main door to the airport terminal. Now I was sweating badly, and saw an intruder trying to cut me just at the entry point from nowhere. I threw him away by strong and loud questioning as that is the only way to put some sense into such idiots – they get scared and move away (they must be thinking “what a moron – what is there – I am just one single guy trying to jump into the Q”).

Once inside the terminal, there was a small Q at the airline counter, which I tackled in about 10 minutes. Armed with the boarding pass, I then turned my attention to the immigration Q, and was appalled to see a very, very long Q spilling out of the immigration area by a mile. This was just hugely ridiculous. How do other airports even within India handle crowds? Mumbai and New Delhi stand as prime example on how queues are managed effectively, even with an operating Indian Q Theory. But Chennai International Airport has failed its passengers completely, it is a dysfunctional airport with new buildings which do not make sense. One previous time I saw the new terminal building leaking in pouring rains and puddles of water all over inside the terminal.

Chennai is as close to my home town as any city can be, and it is shameful that the authorities could not manage such an important international airport effectively. Almost everyone I talked to complained or put the blame on one government agency or the other. Unless there is shame which is deeply felt, unless the government ministers and officials are forced to go through the mess like an ordinary passenger, the situation on the ground is not going to change.

What a pity? Why would tourists choose Chennai over the other cities? When is this situation going to change for the better?

No answers yet. Hope is still there.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

12th September 2016

The Kolkata Experience


I was in Kolkata last week just for 2.5 days.

A city of some 18M (some folks say that the population of Kolkata is over 20M, putting it just next to Mexico City) people, Kolkata had been in the forefront of British India for a long time. It has what I call “cultured” people, who are still steeped in a colonial mindset. The funny thing though is that Kolkata has been a Communist bastion for over 4 decades, till Mamata Banerjee (the current Chief Minister of the West Bengal State, of which Kolkata is the State Capital) came along and usurped the Communist Party from their long-held power and sway over the Bengalis (as the people of West Bengal are called).

So, here you have a gargantuan city of enormous proportions (it is actually a twin city, with the Howrah Bridge connecting Kolkata to Howrah, its twin city), which has the distinction of hosting Mother Theresa till she died. It has many accolades from the past, not the least being the Capital of British India which was later taken over by Delhi.

The Bengalis are a passionate people with rather strong opinions on everything which matters. They are what I call as “the intelligentsia” of modern India. They are also the source of some of the most talented actors and actresses of Bollywood. And, who can forget Shri Rabindranath Tagore, who was the first Nobel Laureate of India, and who hails from West Bengal ? And so on and so forth………

Surprisingly, the part of Kolkata that I visited (Southern Avenue adjoining the lake), Tollygunge Road, and areas around these locations were not crowded. The traffic was light for the size of Kolkata and when I checked with one of my hosts, he happened to remark that there are no big crowds due to lack of industrial activity. Which may be true, given that the Communists were always against the industrialization of the State, and drove away Capitalists who wanted to invest in the State, leveraging the strong intellectual capital of the Bengalis. But that was not to be, and today West Bengal is one of the least industrialized states of India. This led to Bengalis migrating en masse to other progressive states of India and overseas, and you see them almost everywhere you go.

Still, Kolkata has its charm, and I loved the New Alipore area which I visited to meet up with some old relatives. A rather charming area, with neat roads and large apartments which was strange amidst the chaos in the rest of the city. I also bought some sweets in a famous old sweet shop in that area – Bengalis are very famous for their sweet tooth. Fantastic sweets which you cannot get elsewhere in India are available from the 100 year old Kolkata brands of sweet shops – I bought from one such brand – Balaram Mullick Radharaman Mullick. Excellent choice, but there are several other brands equally famous.

The strangest part of Kolkata was the Airport. It is a gleaming new international airport. But, there was not much activity in the international side on a late evening/ night time, unlike Chennai or Mumbai or Delhi wherein there are always thousands of passengers and a long list of flights right through the night. When I arrived at 9 PM at the Kolkata International Airport, I could count only 5 or 6 flights, and there were few passengers at the airport. In fact, everything was a breeze – check-in at the Silk Air counter, immigration clearance, security check-up, etc., were surprisingly fast. Of course, this shows the influence of the Communist ideology on the residents of West Bengal and also the lack of tourists.

I took a drive along Howrah Bridge during a rainy day, and it was fabulous. The Victoria Memorial visit was great, with its beautifully maintained gardens and statues, but also reminding one of the British dominance in the 18th and 19th centuries over India. I have always detested their acquisition of India and their politicking with the Kings and Princes of India on a divide-and-rule philosophy. They did leave some good things behind in India when they left in 1947, but overall I think that India would have been better off in a faster manner had it not been for the Briitsh rule. That topic is for another blog post, I guess.

In any case, there are a number of places to be seen in Kolkata (ensure you have a good English-speaking driver), and do not miss these places. And, the traffic is not worse than other metro (large) cities of India.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th July 2016

Agra in Decline


Most readers may not agree with what I am going to write about, especially the foreigners who visit Agra, and definitely most locals.

But it is my wont to state what I feel strongly about and I am not going to desist from uncovering my mind about the dilapidation around the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world and by any definition, an outstanding architectural marvel ever conceived and executed by man.

When I visited Agra last week, I was impressed with the journey from Delhi – I took the Yamuna Expressway, which has been so well executed by Jaypee Infratech, an infrastructure developer. Theoretically, one could cover the distance of 184 KMS between Delhi and Agra in less than 2 hours flat, but it does take more time if there is heavy fog, which was the case when I undertook the travel. The intense fog over much of Northern India, enveloped the expressway, so it became difficult to achieve more than 90 KMPH speed. However, as stupidity would have it, there were a number of speeding drivers with headlights and blinkers on, who were doing well in excess of 100 KMPH, even under dense fog conditions. For Indian drivers on the road, such expressways are a rarity – in most highways around the country, one can be lucky to achieve a speed of 60 KMPH under ordinary driving conditions. So, most drivers freak out on the gleaming new cement roads at speeds which would endanger their lives, but they mostly ignore the danger, so to say.

Our car took some 3 hours with couple of breaks in between, but it was all right, as our driver was quite conscious of the dangers of speeding in foggy conditions, when the visibility drops to some 100 metres.

Once we finished the expressway, the fun started. There is no expressway exit direct into Agra city, and that was not surprising. In other countries, that would have been the case though. But in India, strange things happen for strange reasons, so we have to accommodate as onlookers.

When we exited the expressway, we entered another highway with heavy traffic, on which we took a U-turn (!) to go towards Agra city. The drive which ensues from this point takes some 12 KMS, but in terms of time it took more than 40 minutes due to heavy city traffic. All kinds of vehicles, including bullock carts use the same roads, and there is no choice but to go slow and carefully.

The Agra city has been maintained in such a manner that I am not able to use the word “lousy”. Many visitors have thick skins and ignore the surroundings and the deteriorating conditions in the city as their main aim is to go and visit the Taj Mahal and probably nothing else. But, if you watch carefully, you would witness a place which has deteriorated beyond redemption.

The roads are narrow, there are no pavements, the traffic is unregulated, there is construction going on with encroachments on the road and affecting the traffic, there seem to be many touts roaming the streets and looking for “prey”, there is enormous dust, and in general no civic sense in a radius of some 10 KMS around the Taj Mahal.

A sensible administration would have avoided any construction in a radius not less than 5 KMS from the Taj Mahal, and avoided environmental impact. But in the case of Agra, the distance provided is only 100 Metres, which is nothing short of ridiculous. And some restrictions have been put in place, though belatedly, on industrial activities in Agra.

So, it was no wonder when I saw the Taj Mahal – it was slightly yellowish in colour, or tinted in some manner not explainable easily: it was not the pure 100% white marble that one would expect.

It is not a surprising phenomenon in India, as the government fails to use its powers and enforce regulations actively in all spheres of life. But in this case and in many other heritage monuments, I believe the government should have taken extreme care to avoid the unfavourable impact of humans and greedy folks whose only motivation is profiteering. Many carvings in Taj Mahal with embedded precious stones have been scraped away by visitors as pointed out by our guide !

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
30th December 2012
Mumbai

The Delhi Shock


I was on family vacation last week at New Delhi, the capital city of India.

The flight from Mumbai was delayed by an hour as Delhi had heavy fog (this is the last week of December, and intense fog was to be expected in January/February), so we arrived a bit late into Delhi – that was fine, no issue there.

What surprised us most was the complete lock-down of the central part of Delhi, due to the protests against the gang rape victim. It appeared to me that the government was running scared. There was no senior politician or minister or even bureaucrat, interacting with the protesters.

The government obviously wanted to avoid a show down with the protesters, but it failed. There was a show down, and many protesters were physically hurt. A policeman died on duty. The government earned a bad name for itself in the process.

And, the result ?

The government shut down the central parts of Delhi around the seat of power – the Parliament, the President’s Palace (“Rashtrapati Bhavan”), the Government offices, et al, to avoid facing the protesters who usually assemble around the India Gate memorial. So, as tourists, we could not see the India Gate or take a ride on “Raj Path” the arterial road leading from the India Gate to the President’s Palace. Police presence was everywhere – asking even pedestrians to go away from the barricaded roads. There was no possibility of entering any one of the prohibited roads (and, we did test that !).

We tried visiting India Gate twice, but could not reach it. We could view it only from a faraway location, which is not the same as seeing it up close.

While all of us are in someway affected with emotions swirling around the gang rape victim (who died yesterday early morning), lack of an authoritative government presence in dealing with the peaceful protesters was a sure sign of the increasing disconnect between the government and the governed.

And, the government in power is surely missing one thing – that the many young people who were protesting are the same people who may be voting in their first or second elections, when the opportunity to vote comes up in early 2014.

Let us see whether the dissatisfaction with the government continues through that long, but as of now there is a clear disconnect and absolute disenchantment with the government and its lack of action and proactive engagement with people.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
30th December 2012
Mumbai

What a Summer !


I was visiting Chennai last week.

From an average of 34 deg C in Mumbai, the increase was to the extent of some 8 deg C in Chennai ! While I am not a newcomer to Chennai, it was made clear to me (by my relatives and friends) that I had landed in what was the “Agni” week of the Chennai Summer. “Agni” means fire !

The simmering heat during the peak sun was barely bearable, but the worst thing was that the electricity board cut off the power supply to residential premises for some two hours every day – different parts of the city have the power cut at different times of the day. In my house, it was from 2 PM to 4 PM. In some areas, it was from 8 to 10 AM and in most other areas, it was from 10 AM to 12 Noon. You can imagine the torture when you are at home or office and the air conditioner stops working !

I noticed that most residential premises have invested in a unique contraption – the “inverter”, which provides electricity during the power cut for a duration of 2 to 4 hours (depending on battery capacity and the number of rooms/lights/fans to be covered). The approximate cost of such a device is some INR 12,000 (USD 220) for addressing the needs of the living room and one bedroom (an approximate estimation only). So, in Chennai, a family has to invest in such devices, import water (as water supply is equally erratic) at high cost, pay for inflation in fruits and vegetables, pay one of the highest prices for petrol in the country, suffer the heat, and still sustain one of the highest real estate prices in the country !

This is not to complain – Chennai is far better organized than most metropolitan cities in India, has better quality roads, is in the process of completing the metro rail network, has a booming IT (Information Technology) economy now supplemented by a fast-emerging automotive industry, has a conscientious workforce, and is challenged with much less crime than other States of India. In devising its model for development of the State, the Tamil Nadu State comes only next to Gujarat. So, overall, the situation is good and should improve vastly if the State Government manages to fix the power situation and continues to provide incentives to the manufacturing and IT industries.

But, can we buy the weather ? Of course, not. The prudent thing is to ensure continuous power supply to both residential and industrial customers across the State.

Now, I am back in the 32 – 34 deg C Summer in Mumbai and surely, I did not feel the heat wave during the day though it was slightly uncomfortable if one is over-dressed !

Welcome to the Summer ! Enjoy it with cold buttermilk and fresh juices !!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2012

Mumbai

Worsening Chennai


I spent the past couple of days in Chennai.

I was really surprised to see the rapid deterioration in the environment – high level of pollution, huge traffic jams, massive construction especially that of the metro railway system leading to big difficulties in commuting for the general public, lousy unfixed roads not dissimilar to what one sees in Mumbai with potholes and craters, et al.

What happened to the neater version of Chennai which people boasted about ?

It is no longer neat either – there were big dumps of waste in several places that I travelled to in Chennai metropolitan area. It was painful to see obstruction of traffic by vehicles parked indiscriminately in heavy traffic areas, and no action being taken against the offenders. I did see police confiscating motor bikes in the Panagal Park area in T.Nagar, but not in any other place in the city.

One positive thing I did notice is the ease in crossing certain congested areas via newly constructed flyovers. Even though these flyovers were quite narrow, having these was better than what was the situation before.

But I got a feeling that the city has got “poorer” in terms of the deterioration in the quality of life and environmental degradation all across the city. The indifferent attitude of people does not help, as most Chennai folks seem more interested in what is inside their houses, not really what is at their doorsteps.

But life goes on. There seems to be more people on the streets than ever, indicating an increase in the migrant population of the city. It is obvious that the city is becoming an economic magnet for the manufacturing sector and IT industry, and it is giving a good competition to Bangalore because of its supposedly good infrastructure.

It won’t be long for the corporates to discover the problems, unless the government moves fast to fix the long list of issues facing the citizens.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
24th December 2011
Mumbai

Beijing Experience


I went to Beijing after a five year gap.

What a tremendous build-up of infrastructure ! Amazing – when they (Communist Party/Government of PRC) set their mind on something, they go all out and achieve it. Most of the infrastructure was built for the 2008 Olympic Games.

But, somehow, I felt the place was impersonal in almost all aspects. There was no warmth or inviting allure as one can feel in, for example, Vienna or even Singapore.

It looked to me like the desolate place that Moscow was – I don’t know how it looks like these days though.

The traffic is still a bit chaotic in Beijing, not very unlike a Delhi or Bangkok for that matter. Cars kept cutting across the lanes, forcing drivers to brake hard. There were some rude looks exchanged, and there were traffic jams !

Well, with millions of people and cars, it is difficult to achieve world class status easily. Still some way to go.

Most people still struggle with their English. They prefer to be shown a piece of paper with the place name written out in Mandarin for giving directions. I keep reading that China is racing ahead in English language learning, but I did not see evidence.

The other thing I noticed was the confusion at the airport. Not very well organized. My flight was on the tarmac for 50 minutes waiting to take off. Not unlike Mumbai.

All in all, while the money has been poured, the heart is not functioning well I guess. Propaganda is required, Singapore style !

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
22nd July 2010
Hong Kong Airport