Monday, January 3, 2011

Hyderabad/India - First Impressions

Before my trip to India Anil joked that he would not blame me if already upon seeing Indian airport, I would immediately decide to go back to the US and also terminate our relationship.

Also many of my friends who had previously traveled in India warned me that it would be a shocking experience and that likely I would get overwhelmed by the number of people, smells, dirt, noise, poverty, lack of privacy, super-heavy traffic, general messiness and so on.

Therefore, I was mentally preparing myself for a big shock. But it did not happen. If anything, India surprised me positively.

The airport in Hyderabad was small, but clean, modern and well-organized. Also, even thought there were many people ready to "help" tourists, they stopped bothering me after I decisively declined their help.

The road from the airport to downtown Hyderabad was top-notch. It had several lanes, no holes, and - most importantly - the traffic was moving in the organized fashion! The drivers obeyed the traffic lights and other traffic signs. That proved to be true throughout my trip and I was definitely very positively surprised by it. I still have vivid memories of the total chaos on the roads in Kenya and Uganda, and I was surprised that even though there were way more people on the roads in India, traffic there was much better organized.

I was also surprised that there were not too many beggars and homeless people on the streets. We also hardly saw any slums anywhere. I am not sure if it was because of the routes that our driver was choosing, or if Hyderabad truly does not have too many of the homeless people. During a single trip to downtown San Francisco you will see more of them than I saw during two weeks in India...

On the second day of my stay in India, Anil took me for a drive through Hyderabad and I was definitely very positively surprised by the city. Yes, there was lots of traffic, yes it was noisy and crowded, but it also felt modern and busy, and it almost seemed that you can see progress happening there overnight. Several major IT companies have their campuses in the outskirts of Hyderabad, which likely drives the development of the city.

During that drive we also got to experience the negative side of India. For no obvious reason, we got pulled over by the police. We ended up paying them a small bribe (100 rupees = $2) for letting us go, as our (Anil's family) driver did not have a valid driver's license on him. Actually, he did not have his driver's license at all on him... Instead, he carried a photocopy of his expired license... (Later, at home, Anil made sure he had a valid license and asked him to start carrying it with him.) I have never paid a bribe in my life and I hope I will never have to, so I was not happy about Anil handing over the money to the police. On the other hand, it saved us a lot of time and a lot of trouble for our driver...

Sadly, the corruption seems to be so widespread in India, that it likely will take many generations before it gets eliminated. If it gets eliminated at all, as the major question is if the people of India are willing to change the existing situation or if they are comfortable with how things happen right now...

This posts is the first one in the series of 20 posts describing my 2009 adventures in India. Till the middle of February, you can expect a new post from this series every two days. Once this series is done, I will start a new one describing our trip to Peru.