Account of travels across the world. This blog provides descriptions of travels in different parts of the world. Pictures related to many of the blogs can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/7330879@N05/ and for more information I can be e-mailed at ananda@wfu.edu

Monday, January 05, 2009

Dubai and India December 2008 

Dubai and India, December 2008

December 15, 2008

We got up as usual and I dropped Srijoy to school. This trip is
especially difficult because he is missing about 5 days of school and
that can be quite strenuous in 8th grade. So, we at least had him
attend two periods today. I took the time to stop by the office and do
a few chores and then got back home, packed the car and picked up Mikku
and headed back to Srijoy's school and picked him up. The drive to
Raleigh was eventless but a traffic jam stopped us from going to the
Indian restaurant for lunch. It was actually a nice and warm day and we
went to the outlet mall food court and ate a quick lunch. We then
headed to the airport, put the car in parking, and the check in was
quite smooth. So was security and although the flight was a little
delayed things went OK. We got to La Guardia; the flight path was
rather odd and we did not get a good glimpse of the Manhattan skyline;
we then got into a cab and went over to the Fairfield Inn near JFK.
Relaxed the evening and ordered a nice Indian dinner delivery. We
ordered far more than what we needed but the food was good and we
eventually called it a day.

December 16, 2008

The marvels of modern technology now allow one to fly 6,000 miles
non-stop and we were about to do this. We took the hotel bus to JFK and
check in at Emirates was smooth. The line moved quickly enough and we
had our bags checked to Dubai. Security at JFK is really bad given how
important the airport is and the line just winds around for ever. We
were eventually on the aircraft (A300-330) around 10:30. The seats were
OK and we settled in for a 12 hour flight. These planes have added a
camera in the front where one can see the outside from the pilot's point
of view. The seats were marginal and were just about comfortable enough
for the long flight. The seats did provide a laptop power outlet which
was very convenient and also had a very sophisticated entertainment
system. How things have changed from the days of the three-tube
off-colored video projectors where everyone had to watch the same movie
to the new systems that offer more choice than what makes sense! The
flight service on Emirates was marginal in cattle class and I was not
terribly impressed. I still feel that Virgin overall does the best job.
The flight was long, and I slept the best I could since I had work in
Dubai. We reached Dubai a little early, with the winter jet stream
helping us, and reached the new Terminal in Dubai.

December 17, 2008

We reached Dubai at about 7:30 am. The new terminal is simply an emblem
of everything Dubai is about. It is huge and shiny new. Given it
became operational in October 2008, everything about it was just smooth
and efficient. It took almost no time to get through passport control.
One needs to understand Dubai as one of the most striking places in the
World. I first went to Dubai in the late 80s and I remember the desert
city it was. Everything changed in the past twenty years, and the Deira
district with the old markets or "souks" by Dubai Creek has basically
become "old Dubai" and the city has expanded into the desert. It was
visible from the plane as it approached the new sprawl that is Dubai and
that is what the airport represents - the new Dubai where things are
either the tallest (as in the case of Barj Dubai, the tallest building
in the World that we saw), biggest (as in the case of yet another
airport being built) or have some exceptional value. And all this is
owned by the "Emiratis" who make us about 15% to 20% of the population
and employ expats from all over the World to run the city. The global
recession has marginally affected the place and the construction boom
goes on undaunted. Our bags arrived quickly and we were soon in the
exit area. A person with a placard was supposed to greet us, but no one
was there. I knew that the person was from Bangladesh and so called his
mobile but realized that his version of Bengali was remarkably different
from what I knew and what continued for about 30 minutes was an extended
unintelligible conversation as both he and I were getting increasingly
irritated. It was clear that he was saying that he is at the airport,
and he was upset I could not see him. I was outside near the taxi stand
(where he claimed he was) and yelling at him in Bengali for not having a
placard. Srijoy and Swati were inside the airport. What Srijoy noticed
was the fact that a very agitated man was yelling in Bengali on the cell
phone and looking around inside as if looking for someone. They
realized that this was the person who had come to receive us. So Srijoy
came out and told me that there was a man inside yelling in Bengali on
the phone. So, I continuing to yell on my mobile went back inside, and
the taxi driver and I realized that we were yelling at each other. Once
the confusion was resolved we got into his cab. The problem was that he
drove a regular taxi and they are not supposed to meet and greet people
at the airport. What he was doing was marginally legal but he was doing
it as a favor to another Bengali, because my contact in Dubai had
requested this particular taxi driver to pick up the fellow Bengalis.
We chatted in the car. I was able to revert to the Bangladeshi Bengali
(or as many would call it Bangal) since in my childhood I lived in a
neighborhood with many people from East Bengal-East Pakistan-Bangladesh
and I have a good sense of the different Bengali. Anyway, we had also
reached Dubai on a day when there had been a rain shower in the morning
creating much consternation to the desert city and so the entire city
was in a traffic gridlock. We still enjoyed the drive marveling at the
160 storey needle being built in a way that it is visible from any part
of Dubai. We reached the apartment at about 9:45 am. The Manipal
University of Dubai had arranged for an apartment hotel for the stay in
Dubai. It took a while to find it, but it was quite nice. The
apartment had a large sized living room, two baths, a kitchen and bed
room. The temperature was perfect with a high of 78 and low of 57. I
had to take a quick shower, and then we went to the small little cafe
upstairs for a quick cup of coffee and then at about 11:00 I was picked
up to go to the University. The session went well and I returned to
the hotel about 3:30 in the afternoon. The three of us then rented a
chauffeured car, this time with a driver from Pakistan who was a very
wise, knowledgeable man and said was once an elementary school teacher
in Lahore, and we took a tour of some of the new areas of Dubai
including the brand new Dubai Marina and the Palms area. We also saw a
glimpse of the new Atlantis Hotel which is a near exact replica of the
one in Nassau and just marveled at the amazing amount of growth here.
We decided to skip going to Dubai Mall and fought incredible Dubai
traffic, for which it is infamous, to return to the mall near our
apartment. There we met up with Fokiya, my contact in Dubai, and her
daughter and we had dinner together at a Chilies restaurant in the food
court of the mall. Being a Muslim country the only place where one can
get alcoholic drinks are restaurants in 5-star hotels. No alcohol is
sold in any restaurants. We walked around the mall some, and eventually
returned to the apartment on foot since the taxis were unwilling to go a
short distance. Some things are the same all over the World! We
eventually called it a day, which for us had really started in New York.
When we went to bed we were as good as dead from the jet lag!

December 18, 2008

We slept in as much as we could, and eventually left the apartment at
about 11:00 am and took a regular Dubai taxi to the airport. The
departure area of the new terminal is just as impressive and we
encountered a new technology that was quite impressive. We did not have
to stand in line to check in our bags. They have developed numerous
kiosks where one can print out one's own baggage tags, put them on the
bag, and the system of conveyor belts simply takes the bag away. This
was really helpful since there was no waiting involved in the process.
We cleared through passport control and security quite easily and
entered the duty free shopping area of the terminal. Although it is
quite large, my sense is that Terminal 5 in Heathrow simply is still the
best. The Dubai shops are not as varied as Heathrow and surely there
are fewer shops in Dubai. I think Changi in Singapore is also a bit
bigger than this one. But then, Dubai is about to build the largest
airport in the World and things would change again then. We boarded on
time and the aircraft was a decrepit old machine. Generally, Emirates
offers really bad equipment for all its South Asia destinations. This
was really a cattle carrier and we survived the 4 hour flight to
Calcutta. It was dark when we reached Calcutta. The new arrival area
in Calcutta is quite nice, and the baggage arrived quickly and we were
outside fairly fast. There was the driver with the placard and driving
down VIP road on the winter evening was exactly what Calcutta is about.
There is something totally unique about Calcutta winters with the fresh
vegetables, the cool climate (72/50) and the thick smog that settles on
the city every evening as well as the hordes of mosquitoes that appear
from no where in winter. We reached AC 140 in good time and spent the
evening with the family.

December 19, 20 and 21, 2008

I was busy these two days running around doing different errands
including bank work for Ma, getting the final touches to the party in
place and generally taking care of the numerous things that pile up in
six months. Spent some time with the family in the middle of all the
running around. We made the necessary pilgrimage to New Market (see my
other blogs about Calcutta) to get some stuff as well as the traditional
stop at the Grand for a beer in La Terrace - the olden coffee shop at
the Oberoi Grand. The party to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary
of Swati's parents was on the evening of the 21st. It went off really
well, with nearly 45 people coming to party. We had rented out the AC
Block Community Center where we decorated the upstairs and laid out the
buffet downstairs. Much of the arrangements were done by my friend
Abhijit Basu who really was instrumental in putting this in place. The
food was catered by Guin Caterers (different kinds of starters, luchi,
traditional lomba-kata begun bhaja, dal, alur dam, fish curry, mutton
curry). I had got the gulabjamun from the AC Block Market sweet shop
and also an anniversary cake from Monginis (who actually took the order
for the 2.5 kg cake the day before and got it done, no cake stores take
special cake orders between December 20 and January 2 because they are
so overwhelmed with providing the holiday season cake demand) and of
course paan. People really enjoyed the food because Swati and I had
chosen to create a traditional Bengali wedding dinner menu in stead of
the new fangled "Chinese" and "Continental" fares that has become
popular with noodles, lasagna, and burgers in the same buffet line! The
caterers also did a really good job, because their core competency is in
Bengali cooking! Some of the food was actually cooked on site using the
traditional tools I have seen in the weddings of my cousins in the 70s.
The guests left around 10:30 pm and we had a really good party to
celebrate the auspicious anniversary.

December 22 and 23, 2008

I was in Delhi. Srijoy and Swati were in Calcutta. My work in Delhi
went very well. Some details - stayed at the Janpath Hotel which is not
bad, but with Delhi hotel prices touching those of Tokyo, that was what
Wake Forest could afford. Also, found an inexpensive solution to the
hired car high prices. I got into a regular cab in the morning, and
simply did an on-the-spot contract with the Sikh driver (Sir ji!) for a
much more reasonable amount than what the hired taxis cost. What is
interesting is that neither can I trust him, nor can he trust me. My
first meeting was at the Crowne Plaza at Friend's Colony. I just told
him to wait in parking, got his mobile number and promised to call him
when I was done. There was no guarantee I will be back. I also did not
leave my heavy briefcase (which I did not need for the meeting) in the
car, because there was no guarantee he would not run off with it. But
the system worked and he was with me all day and actually took me to the
airport at 4:30 am to catch my early morning flight back to Calcutta on
the 24th. Flew on Indigo airlines and they were really quite good and
much less expensive.

December 24 to 28, 2008

There was a lot of meeting people over these four days and a lot of
family events. We all went to see a Bengali movie (Tintorettor Jisu) on
the 24th evening and we were able to take Shanker da who is recovering
from a broken foot. The cinema hall was very well equipped to serve a
person using crutches and who could not easily go up and down stairs.
We also went to the South City Mall and tried the gelato in the food
court. That was quite nice. There were numerous trips to City Center
and I also went back to New Market to get DVDs of Indian movies from
Symphony and undergarments from Naskers (really, I do not think I have
ever bought undergarments from any store other than that!). There was a
Christmas Party on the 25th that was arranged by my nephews and we had
some great kebabs and ordered mediocre Chinese from Haka at City Center.
Also, met up with Joy over lunch at Bar B Q on Park Street and visited
Music World. Walked on Camac Street some window shopping. Also met up
with all elders in the family. Spent most of the afternoons dealing
with Srijoy's home work. Took Ma to the bank for some work as well and
generally spent the 4 days mostly catching up with people. The
highlight was the lunch on the 28th where 15 of old school buddies (and
three wives) from Calcutta Boys School (CBS) again gathered together for
lunch. We met at Marco Polo (on Park Street) and they had set up a
table for us on the lower level. Most of us were there by 1 pm and what
was interesting is that the restaurant realized that it would be a
mistake to send any other customers to the lower level with the amount
of noise we were generating. These unofficial reunions have really
become quite successful and it is really interesting to see how
incredibly successful this group has become in their respective
professions. For this one I met someone after nearly 30 years and it
was really interesting to see the confusion that ensues! Also, was able
to spend one evening with Rana which is something that we also have
almost never missed for all the years. One of the days we also went to
the Emirates office to get the hotel vouchers. This was a busy four
days with much accomplished including doing Ma's medical insurance and
visa for her trip to Singapore in January.

December 29, 2008

We were up early and were quite ready by 8 am when the car arrived to
take us to the airport. Reaching the airport was eventless, but there
was utter confusion at the airport as a Boeing 747 had just brought back
a load of people returning from the Huj pilgrimage to Mecca. The whole
area was overrun with buses and taxis that had come to take the
pilgrims. The upshot was the fact that there were no baggage trolleys
and we had to lug the suitcases all through security and up to check in.
The process was long. There was a Bangladesh Biman flight leaving at
the same time along with the Air India Express flight and those
passengers were marginally accustomed to the civilized behavior of
standing in line. Srijoy was amused by the number of times I lost my
temper yelling at people who were trying to cut in front of us in the
immigration line. Eventually we were part of the cattle on another
Emirates cattle carrier taking the expat labor to Dubai (actually what I
realized about the crowd on the plane was that a fair portion were
headed to different parts of the Middle East and Dubai is the point of
transfer, because when we actually reached Dubai, most of the people on
the flight headed for the transfer desk and only few like us actually
entered Dubai). Again the new terminal was really impressive, and we
breezed through passport control and customs and took the bus to the
Millennium Hotel. The hotel was nice, although a little worn. Right
next to the airport, this is the hotel we stayed in about 8 years ago in
2000 when we had gone through Dubai during Ramadan (see that blog, there
are some interesting stories). Emirates has taken over a complete
section of the hotel and uses it to board the transit passengers like
us. They gave us two adjoining rooms and meal coupons. We left the
hotel at about 4 and took a taxi to the Deira area where the famous Gold
Souk (Gold Market) of Dubai is located. This is a place where one can
get any form of gold ornament one desires and people from all over the
World come to window shop. We spent most of the evening there and then
walked around the numerous stores and shops that make up the old market
area of Dubai. We spent some time there and then took a taxi back to
the hotel. This was a bit of a trick since the taxi driver was a new
arrival from Pakistan, a young man of about 20 who kept his radio dial
on a Muslim religious channel all through the drive (and did not want to
change to a music channel when Swati requested it - I told her to back
down because he was obviously not approving of anything other than the
religious prayer channel). The fellow was really polite and nice and we
realized that he had no idea where the hotel was, and since Dubai keeps
changing, I too was a little disoriented. But thanks to the combination
of my trusted Cingular phone, Google Maps and my GPS receiver, I was
able to direct him back to the hotel. It cost us an extra 5 Dirham ($1
= 3.5 Dirham) but we were back. After a short rest in the room we came
down for the complimentary dinner buffet. In the meantime, Soumitra (my
CBS friend, who I had not seen for nearly 30 years) and I had connected
up and he and his wife came over and we had a few drinks together. As
Srijoy has sometimes said to me: It seems to him that there is no major
city in the World where I do not have a friend either from CBS or from
IIT. We really have developed a global network and I feel confident
that I can be in any major global metro and would be able to find a
friend who lives there. So, here we were two people from CBS catching
up after 30 years sitting in a restaurant in Dubai. Eventually they
left and we called it a day.

December 30, 2008

We had an early start since we had to get on the 8:10 flight from Dubai.
Had a pretty good breakfast at the hotel and then the shuttle to the
airport. As usual, it again stunned us with its size and efficiency.
We hung out at the gate going through some of the duty free shops. We
realized that things in Dubai are not necessarily any cheaper and I
decided to wait to return home before buying the new phone handset. The
flight boarded on time and it was quite an experience to enter the A380
with its double-decker approach. Being in cattle we were stuck to the
downstairs, but what was noticeable about the downstairs was the fact
that the head room was much greater and it made the area look much more
spacious. It was truly a huge aircraft and walking up and down the
plane offered quite a bit of exercise. The flight was very long (about
14 hours) but I got a fair amount of work accomplished on the plane.
Arrival into New York was a little bumpy for Srijoy because of a food
allergy but we eventually made it to the hotel OK. There was an
incident that night which I can share when we meet. It was bizarre and
was caused by sleep deprivation and a general disorientation due to the
long flight. I do not think I want to do this long flight again, and
would much rather stop in London as we usually do.

December 31, 2008

Finally reached OK taking an earlier flight and stopping in Raleigh for
groceries and lunch at Tower.

posted by Ananda  # 5:53 AM


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