Business travel! Lots of airports, planes, hotel rooms and meetings. Very little seeing of a country but plenty of currency and language confusion, passport stamps and airmiles. I don’t begrudge it – I have visited some amazing places over the years (although I have to say that I have been to the USA on business enough for the time-being, including some day trips across the pond last year!!) and travelling alone abroad is an amazing way to build confidence and experience. But I do sometimes wish I didn’t need to do it!This was the case in the run up to a recent trip to India – I wasn’t keen to be going by myself and was focussing on the treat of flying on a Boeing 787 for the first time rather than where I was going to… Then I got there (comfortably and in a snazzy new plane), met the people, enjoyed the food and saw a tiny part of the country and learnt a lot more about it from my colleagues. And now we’re talking of taking a holiday to India next year! And so to my thoughts on India. It doesn’t get a great amount of good coverage through the news which was one of the reasons I was dubious about my visit. But this is an enormous country with such interesting cultural history and is the source of one of my favourite foods. Visiting in a ‘safe’ work environment was a superb way of testing out whether I liked it and whether my stomach was up to the job too!
Happily I liked everything I saw and tasted, albeit in a tiny corner of one city!Hyderabad is a very busy and professional services driven city – it is clearly going places and the impact that foreign investment has had in creating professional jobs can only be a good thing for the country as a whole. At a time when most of the western world is suffering in varying depths of recession and many other areas are in the midst of war or terror, it is incredibly refreshing to visit somewhere that is clearly on the way up – with plenty of investment, building and jobs being created. The scale of business over there is quite incredible and talking to other hotel guests around the pool they were all similarly impressed by how big the business district of the city has become so quickly and how great the quality of work produced is too. I have never stayed at a business hotel over a weekend before in a hot country or one where I didn’t have plans to meet friends or explore the city. As a result I found it fascinating! The flight arrives from London at breakfast time and so I had my hotel room booked from the night before – I had a quick power nap on arrival and then decided to make the most of 38 degree heat and expose my lily-white winter body to some sunshine! As you can see the Westin Mindspace Hyderabad has an incredible view from the pool of offices! Nothing like seeing the office to motivate me into doing some work! It is a funny situation as everyone around the pool was there on business – busy working away whilst making the most of the sunshine too. I found it quite funny as everyone, me included, didn’t quite have holiday-garb nailed. There was a perculiar mix of business attire and beach wear – works shoes at the pool in many cases too! Normally around a hotel pool no one talks to each other but this pool was quite social – most people were travelling alone and so were pleased to have conversations to break up the monotony of working! As business hotels go I was very happy with the Westin. The Trident hotel is apparently a little nicer (and it has an infinity edge pool with city views, so I was tempted) but I chose to stay near the office and stick with my allegiance to Starwood. The hotel is massive but whilst it was clearly busy it didn’t feel at all hectic or overrun. Plenty of space and facilities for its size. The rooms felt very modern and new – so I suspect there has been a recent refurbishment. The bed, as ever in an Starwood property, was one of the best found in a hotel! Plenty of water provided – both for drinking and for teeth cleaning (this is apparently where people get caught out), there were also little bottles of water in the spa area by the pool. All of the staff were very helpful and spoke perfect english – as a single traveller it was a very simple place to stay. The food – now this was what I was most nervous of. I think we have all heard horror stories about the food? Well – I fared very well indeed, not a single incident! I avoided any raw/chilled food (fruit and salad) and stuck to curry, for breakfast lunch and dinner. On recommendation from colleagues I took immodium with everything that I ate and also found myself listening for the confirmatory pop as I opened every bottle of water. The hotel food was good – of course – and even though it was hotel food, the curry I ate there was some of the best I’ve had. We also had curry at the office – a lovely vegetable curry with a dhal and a paratha. I had taken some of my own food with me but spurred on with the success of the previous day I made the most of the local fayre and really enjoyed it! I did miss fresh fruit (making up for that on the plane) and it was funny to see how more frequent visitors plan for this – at the pool another guest told me he’d seen people tucking into fruit from tin cans that they had brought with them from home! A good idea – I always travel with cereal bars, but that is an inspired idea!
The funniest moment during my trip was on my final evening. I was going to go to bed early as I needed to be up at 4am for my flight (apparently the done thing is to stay up all night in “preparation” and sleep (rather than work) on the plane… but not the approach I took) and so was sat in my pyjama’s in my hotel room catching up on emails! My mobile rang and I decided to ignore it and emailed the colleague that had rung to say that I would call him back tomorrow when I was home from India. Simple? Not so. Said colleague was, he told me, also in India. Which city was I in? Same as him it turned out. Which hotel? Again the same as him (no wonder we have a good rate here then as it is was starting to feel like an outpost)! No option for me apart from to agree to a bar meeting, get up, put my work clothes back on again and head to the bar for a business meeting – the joys of working for a global business!This was a very short trip and my first to India, as a result I didn’t have the time to explore and see the city and sites of interest nearby. So I didn’t really ‘see’ India, but it gave me the chance to find out about the country through my colleagues and decide if I liked what I saw, in a very easy environment for a single traveller. Next time (and I have a feeling there will be a next time fortunately)…
- I will make sure I take local currency – this time I didn’t as I knew I would be pressed for time and I was travelling alone. The hotel driver offered to take me to buy pashmina’s (silk and pearls are significant business in Hyderabad) after collecting me from the office, sadly I couldn’t because I didn’t have the local currency
- I will go and visit some sites of cultural interest and make sure I leave the hotel for more than just to go to work – there are plenty and speaking to others around the pool it is easy enough for the hotel to arrange trips as required
- I will eat out locally – whilst the food at the hotel was fantastic (better than normal hotel food) the ‘real’ experience (with preventative immodium of course) sounds like something to investigate with local colleagues.
Mr P and I have also started our research on India as a holiday destination – I would love to see more of the country. Areas that really appeal are the tea plantations that have gorgeous views of the Himalayas, Jaipur and all of the forts and palaces and of course a fleeting visit to the Taj Mahal (first thing or last thing of a day when it isn’t overrun with tourists). Those are just the suggestions my colleagues gave me as places they would recommend – I am sure there is far more to see.
An unexpected benefit of business travel from this trip – increasing the length of my bucket list!!