Beginning with an ending: India blew me away

To start things rolling in my new digs here in WordPress, I’d like to begin with a post that will cap my 7 Days of Incredible India Series. The 9-post series are all posted on my old blog. (I will type out a formal welcome-to-my-new-blog message in the next post, with my reasons for switching blog hosts).

ITC Agra

Visiting India was like blowing away a lot of smoke and mirrors for me. Before arriving in India, I was told by friends that the country is dirty, overcrowded, and poor. Mind you, these were all just impressions as none of my friends have been to India. So I wasn’t expecting much.

But when I set foot in New Delhi, I was floored. New Delhi is sleek, sophisticated, modern. It was much like Manila in how much of a bustling metropolis it is. Throughout our trip from New Delhi to Agra (where Taj Mahal is) and to Bangalore (or Bengaluru, the IT and education hub of India), I was pleasantly surprised to find an India so different from the India of my – and most Filipinos’ – impression.

We Filipinos harbor a mostly negative image of India- that it’s seedy, crowded and poor. It’s true that it is all those but only in some parts of India, just like how it is in other countries. But after my week-long visit there, I’ve found out how India is so much more than that.

Taj Mahal is what comes to mind when one thinks of India. But India has grown rapidly, and I’m not only speaking in terms of population. In fact, it was able to turn its population explosion (a billion and counting)  into an asset by harnessing from it a massive pool of educated, trained and innovative human resource. The ingenuity of Indians in the fields of IT, engineering, aeronautics, and biopharmaceuticals have helped plug this country into the world market. It is, in fact, now emerging as the 10th largest economy in the world.

You can read more about a feature story I wrote on how India is now more than just The Taj here. (Published on the PIA website).

I would highly encourage anyone who travels a lot to include India in their itinerary. This country’s rich culture and astonishing technology would be worth your time and money. But of course, please know that my visit there was sponsored by the ASEAN and India’s XP Ministry (their version of our DFA here). So we were given red carpet treatment, and doors that normally aren’t open for tourists were opened for us.

For example, I don’t think they allow tourists inside the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) or the laboratories of Biocon, or the hangar of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) where they assemble the doors for Airbus A320s. But tourists can still check out Infosys where tours are free, and of course Taj Mahal and Agra Fort.

There are a lot that I miss about India. Topmost is the food. Ah, the food. The mouthwatering taste of Chicken Tandoori lingers in my mind even until now.

And the jamun, a ball-shaped dessert that looks dry on the outside but once you bite it, a sugary syrup oozes out. One jamun leaves you reaching for more, believe me.

Also, I’ve developed a taste for milk teas. We were constantly plied with hot milk teas during our stay in New Delhi (it was chilly in February when we got there). Now I find myself making hot milk teas at home or at work.

I also miss the friends I’ve made there, the journalists from the other ASEAN countries. Although we were stiff and formal at first, the ice thawed as we spent more time together in the bus and during our interviews. We capped our last night in India with drinks and dancing at the bar of ITC Gardenia. Everyone let down their hair and let loose. I’m glad most of us are still keeping in touch on Facebook.

And there’s one more thing I miss a lot about India. The sight of cows on the streets. Moo.

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