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My India visit 2018 – Joy and problems

My India visit 2018 – Joy and problems
February 01
07:36 2018

We just came back from India. We go almost every year. Somehow I can’t disconnect from homeland but I don’t like direct flights. While working in a hospital one time I scanned a 36-year-old Indian lady, who developed clot on way back home and died three months later due to complications. So we took Emirates and decided to spend 2 nights in Dubai.
We wanted to see the tallest building in the world Burz Khalifa. It is 150 stories tall; you can go to 124th or 148th level. They do have restaurants on 148th floor, but need reservations. It opened in 2010 and they had fireworks from every level simultaneously. Now Saudi Arabia is building the tallest building in the world. However Dubai has started even taller, which will be completed in 2020.
Another beauty, we wanted to see in Dubai was world’ most expensive Gurdwara, (Sikh place of worship) built at the expense of $30 million. No other denomination can build a place of worship except Islam in Dubai but circumstances made the Sheikh allow the Gurdwara. A Sikh doctor treated his wife and in return he allowed the Sikhs to build a gurdwara. He had them translate the Sikh Holy book (Shri Guru Granth Sahib) in English and got it okayed by Muslim clergy in Dubai and authority in Mecca who said there is nothing against Islam in Sikh’ Holy book.
The gurdwara set a world record last year by holding breakfast for 101 denominations from around the world.
Dubai has a Gold Mall too where you can get all kind of gold jewelry – 22 or even 24 carat. Labor is cheap so you get great variety. Dubai is quiet a safe place and tourist friendly.

Delhi to Chandigrah
We landed in Delhi after two nights in Dubai, though we could have taken a flight from Dubai to Chandigarh. We didn’t know about this. We usually book one way taxi from Delhi to Chandigarh; they are cheap anywhere from Rs2500 to Rs3500. They have built nice highways with overbridges in towns, so you don’t really know when you have passed the town. It used to take 8-9 hours earlier. Now you can do in 4-5 hours. There are beautiful Dhabas (roadside eateries) along the highway. Food is fresh, cheap and good quality because of competition. They do brisk business.
Best part of the trip was that my elder daughter took her family to see India. She has two teenage daughters and a 9-year-old son. Her husband is of Irish heritage. There is so much common in Irish people and Punjabi people. Every time, I said we do this in Punjab, he said we do it too. His family is farmers too. He loves Chulla (open wood fire) cooking.
We went to Mumbai a few days ahead of them to make arrangements as they had only two weeks to see and shop. We hired a cab in Mumbai to see Gateway of India and Taj hotel which was bombed a few years ago. It was hot. We went to food market where they have all kind of rehries (stalls) selling fresh cooked food.

We were skeptical about cleanliness, but it was pretty clean, tasty and cheap. They tasted all kind of food during the trip and loved it. India does offer so much food variety and prices. We visited Bandra, centuries old church and Mumbai malls. Mumbai is very tourist friendly specially auto rickshaws and taxis. They run on meters. You don’t have to haggle fare and police keeps strong watch on them.
Pride of India
Our next stop was Delhi. We love to visit Dilli Haat near INA market. You have to purchase a ticket to get in, so you don’t get a crowd that could be there to just to bump into people. People are well behaved. There you get display from all over India selling clothing, art and food. Most of the stalls are rotated to bring in different items. Prices are good and good product. This is one place to see what India is proud of. There are live performances.

Next day we visited Red Fort and Chandni Chowk. Of course we paid homage to Shri Guru Teg Bahadurji, Sikhs 9th Guru whose head was cut off in public because he won’t convert to Islam. Kashmiri Pundits came to him to save them from atrocities of Emperor Aurangzeb and Sikh Guru set condition that if the Emperor can make him convert to Islam, all Hindus will follow. Of course Sikh Guru didn’t change and was tortured alongwith his followers. Guru Teg Bahadur was cremated in two different places – body in Chandni Chowk Delhi and head in Shri Anandpur Sahib in Punjab.
There are world famous restaurants in Chandni Chowk and great market for Indian clothes. Of course kids bought plenty of stuff. We had lunch at Karim’s, whose ancestors cooked for Mughal Kings. Later we went to family farm of our host near Gurugram. Lovely place developed by Ansal Properties.

Now it was time to visit one of the seven wonders of the world, Taj Mahal. On our way to Taj Mahal, we went to see Akarshardham, Shri Swaminarayan Temple in Noida. Another wonderful place to enjoy art and religion. We couldn’t watch the sight and sound there, but I heard it is awestriking. Food is cooked according to Jain traditions and it is delicious. Next morning saw Taj; it was foggy but still enjoyable. Hawkers are big annoyance there. They don’t leave you alone; most of them speak pretty good English. Government should control their aggressiveness.
Couldn’t see Red Fort, because 75% is occupied by Indian Army now. Instead we spent about two hours to see Fatehpur Sikri built by Emperor Akbar. Great architect and well preserved.

Our next stop was Jaipur, named after Raja Jai Singh. About an hour out of town is an elephant sanctuary where you get a close encounter with elephants. You make reservation to give bath to the elephant, feed him, paint and ride him. They picked the family up and even served fresh vegetarian lunch. Worth life long memories for the kids.
Being New Year eve, we couldn’t make to Choki Dhaani where they have full display of Rajasthani culture. May be next time. We drove by many well-kept forts. Due to time constraints, we couldn’t spend much time exploring them, but were able to take the kids to Jantar Mantar where Raja Jai Singh built instruments to study planets in 17th century who still hold true within 1- 2 % efficiency. Even in Chicago Planetarium they give him credit for being so advanced mind to set up such a place.
Punjabi culture

Then we headed to Punjab where they enjoyed Saag Makki Di Roti with Lassi. Actually Lassi, Samosa, Paneer Tikka, Butter Chicken were the favored dishes all along. They even sucked on fresh sugar cane and enjoyed warm Gur.
I give awards to elementary school children in memory of my parents in my village. I have been doing it for years; also help them buy/repair whatever school needs. Majority of the children there are children of migrants learning English and Punjabi. Their love for education is so motivating; I enjoy their recitation of Punjabi poetry, songs and dances. My grandkids demonstrated Irish dances and sang English songs for them. My daughter explained the functioning of school districts and school boards in US.
My village is very close to Mohali where some big companies are doing business and also in some adjoining adopted villages. Swaraj Tractor and Phillips also come to village to provide some free services. Even garbage collection is sponsored by Swaraj.
We went to Chandigarh where they enjoyed Rock Garden. It is the creation of single person who was watchman for Public Works. During his free time he created statues with broken bangles, electricity switches. Seeing it first time, officers fired him but kind hearted Commissioner Dr. MS Randhawa when he heard about it, restored his job and honored him. Now Nek Chand Saini is known world over.
Kids also enjoyed Ellante Mall, newest attraction to Chandigarh. They have a wonderful food court, where there are 8-9 American restaurants. Mall is also filled up with American brand name stores. Chandigarh youngsters are crazy for American brands.
Traffic problem

Chandigarh has a huge traffic problem. The city wasn’t built for that many cars, so constantly there are traffic jams. Police is little bit stricter in Chandigarh than neighboring Mohali and Panchkula. There you can get away by bribing with Rs.50 or Rs.100. People either know someone in higher police ranks and they mention their name and policeman lets them go due to fear of action by higher ones. It also results in higher crime. It is no surprise to see day time robberies there. Gold chain snapping is every day occurrence. Even well-known figures are killed in day light. I have my relatives in Jaitu, District Faridkot, Punjab. Within last one month, they had three daytime robberies.
We visited 17th century Pinjore Mughal Garden located in foothills of Himalayas. It has seven levels and each level has different fruit trees, so that Royals didn’t have to go out to get fresh fruit. It has beautiful light display in the evening. Lot of movies are shot there. It has a stage at the bottom of the garden for live shows. They hold Mango festival once a year. I learnt Angur mango is the smallest, most expensive but sweetest.
Another huge issue everyone facing there now a days is Adhaar card similar to Social Security card in America. There is so much confusion. Nobody really knows what you need, why you need it. They say it will be attached to your bank accounts. If you don’t have Adhaar card linked to your bank account, Government may shut it down. All info regarding card comes on your cell phone. So if your cell phone is disconnected, you are out of luck. If your card is lost, you are out of luck. All your subsidized services will be linked to your card.
Confusing for NRIs

For Non Resident Indians (NRI) it is even more confusing. They tell you, you need this paper or that paper. Newspapers ran articles if you need it, what you need to get it. I went to an agent. Who asked me if I have Indian driving license or voter card? I didn’t, he said “no problem.” He got affidavit from me , got it signed and man came with scanning machine, asked me if I have Pan card ( another identity card issued by Indian federal Government). I did.
He put info in and had my fingerprints and eye scan. I carried around all those papers whereas all I needed was Pan Card. Now I have OCI card, Pan Card and Adhaar card. How many more Federal IDs I will need, who knows? Why can’t all these be linked to OCI card. My OCI card wasn’t accepted as ID for sim card in Punjab, whereas it was accepted in Mumbai, Gujarat. Even Federal ID has different acceptance rules in India.

India is much cleaner than ever before. People still need to learn to follow lines. On highways, they have three lanes, but you will see five cars going side by side. They drive on left side of the road with driver sitting on right side. Making left turns, they will go to extreme left lane then turn right in front of everyone.
Slow traffic moves in extreme right lane. You can overtake from left lanes. They love to drive with high beams, especially when they drive in opposite one way lane. They just blink and think you saw them. Now it is your job to move out of their way.
Drunk driving is the norm. Parking your disable vehicle is ok wherever it broke down. Traffic can move around. Staying in line and waiting for your turn is not etiquette in India. Even educated people of Indian origin think it is cool to bump others and cut lines.

We were waiting for security check at Chandigarh airport. Three people from behind us dashed in front of us and started putting their stuff in baskets. Of course being Punjabi I had to tell them in my way what they just did. Strangely enough, they went in same plane as us but had to show their machoism.
You see it in planes too going to India. Instead of waiting for their turn, people from back of plane want to crush everyone and be first to deplane. Same in immigration lines or customs. It is even worse at religious places. They will take hours to reach the religious place, but want to pay respect (mathha take) in minutes no matter how many old people or ladies with children are in queue. They are in a hurry. May be India needs to start classes in line formation and staying in line.
Dealing with banks
Dealing with banks is another story. Although debit cards and charge cards work fine, there is lot of cheating involved. If you need to cash a check and you go to counter, there could be 4-5 people trying to get ahead of you. They don’t think privacy is an issue. Cashier could be attending to 4-5 people at one time and don’t forget the iPhone, they have it on almost all the time. Then you wonder why so many people get robbed after they leave the bank with cash.
I deposited check at HDFC bank and before leaving counter, I asked the receptionist if I need anything else with it. She said, “No, you are fine.” She was on her cell phone and attending to three other people. So I wrote check against it. Two days later a person called me to say, my check bounced. I enquired from the bank; they said, “Yea, you were supposed to attach form saying where the funds came from.” I asked who was supposed to give me the form, receptionist said, it was fine. Anyway my check sat with HDFC for a week without anybody letting me know check wasn’t deposited.
Needless to say, I was charged NSF fee, though HDFC later removed it, but all this after a lot of hassle. India still is way behind in customer service. They are lacking this concept and will take a while to catch up with rest of the world.
Price negotiation is still a big issue, though most of the items have MSRP printed; quality also I don’t know if you can trust. There is very little control on quality. Lot of packaged food but they aren’t really health conscious yet. You can see kids munching on junk food. Awareness is needed. Overall we enjoyed our trip and kids area already getting ready for next one. Thank you.

Thakar Basati

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