I've had it with India

If I hear Bryan Adams’ Summer of 69 one more time I’m gonna jump on a plane and head back to the States. Yes, I understand some songs are classics but to hear that song at the club and at the gym is a bit much. But, in India he is God, he’s got a concert lined up for Feb 2006. Last night went to the JW Marriott in Juhu for what was billed as the “hip hop event of the year” featuring the Los Angeles based group Flipsyde. Uh, I have never heard of these guys and I live 15 minutes from LA, but then again I’m not a music exec that tracks every group. One of my todo’s in India was to ride a local train, to get a sense of what people face when commuting in India. I was able to check that off the list last night as the place was packed and was a scene. Finally got into the venue, had a beer and left after 30 minutes. One of the questions I’ve been getting is “are the clubs in India like what I see in Indian movies?” The answer is yes. Just like the shows the OC and Beverly Hills 90210 are what the typical American high school student faces.

Saw this in the paper this morning on the brand “FCUK”. It was originally called French Connection and based in the United Kingdom. Then they expanded their sales office to Hong Kong and to differentiate the various sales office they used the initials FCUK and FCHK on the faxes. The story goes that an ad exec got a fax from the UK branch and noticed the initials “FCUK” on the top and thought it would be a great marketing campaign…the rest is history.

Cisco Q2 Earnings

Cisco Systems reported sales of $6.5 billion, a 9.7 percent increase over the year-ago quarter and just below Wall Street analysts’ forecast of $6.58 billion, according to a Thomson FirstCall survey of analysts. The company posted pro forma earnings per share of $0.25, excluding an expense for stock options, beating Wall Street’s forecast by a penny, according to Thomson. This is the first quarter in which Cisco included the compensation expense, which shrunk its profits. Including the expenses, the company’s net income for the fiscal first quarter of 2006 was $1.3 billion, or 20 cents per share, compared with $1.4 billion, or 21 cents a share, in the same quarter a year ago, which excluded the options expenses. Cisco said it would have earned net income of $1.1 billion, or 17 cents a share, in the same quarter a year ago if it had included the expenses. Cisco’s pro forma gross margin was at 68.1 percent.

shaadi.com sued by Raveena Tandon

The Bombay High Court has directed Shaadi.com and Shaaditimes.com to stop using Raveena Tandon’s pictures to promote the site, a leading daily has reported. She sued the owner Satyanet Solutions because they claimed that she met her husband Anil Thadani through the website. The portal admitted that they were using her pictures but maintained that the part where she met her husband was provided to them by her in an interview. Raveena denied this and approached the High Court and it directed the site not to use her pictures. However she could not get Rs. 60 lakhs which she had claimed as damages.

Putting the "Bom" back into Bombay

Since, I’ve been getting slammed with a ton of queries on Bombay and Goa, I figured I would put together a quick Bombay 101 visitors guide and also some side info on Goa. I suggest you bookmark this page, as I’ll be updating it with new info as I continue to explore and find new things in the city.

Bombay or Mumbai? The city was earlier called Bombay. The name was changed by an act of the Indian parliament in 1997. The reason for this change was that in two of the local languages, Marathi and Gujarati, the city has long been called Mumbai. Since, I’ve always called it Bombay, from here on out I will refer to it as Bombay.

Map Of Bombay I would suggest printing out this map, as it will give you a better idea of where things are located. This way you won’t feel like an ass, when you ask the doormen at the Taj where is the Gateway of India.
Map of Bombay

Where to fly into? you have only 1 choice depending on whether it’s a domestic or international flight: Santa Cruz Domestic Airport or Sahar International Airport

Domestic Airline Carriers?
There are a couple indian travel websites Travelguru and Make My Trip. Stay away from Indian Airlines unless you are into extreme sports. Below are some links for the more popular domestic carriers:
http://www.jetairways.com
http://www.flykingfisher.com
http://spicejet.com

Where to stay? The city is roughly broken up into 4 areas:
1. South Bombay (aka Town Side) – Colaba, Cuffe Parade, Nariman Point
2. Central Suburbs – Parel, Dadar, Sion
3. Western Suburbs – Bandra, Juhu, Andheri
4. Eastern Suburbs and New Bombay – Thane, Vashi, Chembur

Most people will want to stay in the Western Suburbs as it has more of the clubs and restaurants that you will want to visit, more on that later. The hotel of choice is the Taj Lands End, it’s located in Bandra Bandstand which is where many of Bollywood’s top people live. There are no shops around but the beach is right there, you will require a taxi ride to most destinations but worth it. You can even make a day trip down to South Bombay and check out the sights there. Other hotels in the area are the JW Marriott, Holiday Inn, Sun and Sand, and the Hotel Grand Hyatt near the airports. South Bombay has typically been the financial hub of Bombay, it also has some worthwhile clubs, restaurants and some sightseeing tourists spots. There are several hotels to stay at: Oberoi/Hilton Towers in Nariman Point, Taj President in Cuffe Parade and the legendary Taj Mahal Hotel (aka Taj or Taj @ Gateway of India) near the Gateway of India. If I had to stay at any hotel in this area it would be the Taj since it’s located right across from the Gateway of India and there are many shops and things to do around the hotel. The newest area that has started to become popular is a central suburb by the name of Parel. It’s located between South Bombay and the Western Suburbs, if you are planning to split your time between these two locations then this is the place to call home. The only hotel in this area is India’s tallest hotel called the ITC Grand Central Sheraton, it just opened in December 2004 and is awesome. I had a chance to visit the hotel and I’m sure in the next 12-18 months this will be another one of those legendary Bombay hotel properties that people will meet for business deals. I didn’t have a chance to eat at the restaurants but several of my relatives have said the Sunday buffet is great. Unless you have friends or relatives in the Eastern Suburbs there is not much to do there. Most people that live there end up traveling to either South Bombay or the Western Suburbs for restaurants or clubbing.

Getting Around The public transportation system (trains or buses) of Bombay is abysmal at best. However, if you are coming to India for the adventure then i suggest you ride a local train in rush hour traffic, even Richard Branson would not try. The best way to get around is via taxi’s, you have two choices the yellow and black (bumble bee’s) which are non-air conditioned or the air conditioned Cool Cabs. You have to call to request a Cool Cab and they charge a bit more then a yellow and black, but so worth it. Cool Cabs @ +91.22.2824.6216

What to See? – Gateway of India, across from Taj in Colaba. – more info coming…

Shopping? There are many places to shop where you can haggle and all that jazz. But, India is currently going through a big retail boom and the malls are where you can really shop in peace and not worry about having to haggle. – High Street Phoenix (aka Phoenix Mills), Lower Parel. – Crossroads, Tardeo in South Bombay. – Shoppers Stop, Bandra. – Inorbit, Malad. – Cotton World, behind the Taj. One of my favorite places to get hip high quality indian clothes. The main store (aka showroom) is located in the basement. But, the real action is in the outlet store which is located on the top level of the same building. There are no signs to indicate it’s located upstairs, it’s one of the little secrets you have to know about.

Clubs/Bars?
South Bombay: – Redlight, near Taj in Khala Ghoda. – Indigo, near the Taj. great lounge bar – Insomnia, located in the Taj. – Cafe Mondega, near Taj. Has that beer garden feel. great for a beer before partying the night away – Polly Esthers, Colaba, inside Gordon House Hotel. I’ve been to a couple Polly Esthers in the States and they play mainly disco era music, however this one in Bombay plays everything. Medium sized dance floor, saw more foreign toursits at this club then any other, probably b/c its located right behind the Taj Mahal hotel. – Salt Water Grill, chowpatty, near H2O and Mafatlal swimming pool. After Vie Lounge this is my 2nd favorite place. Right on the ocean, sand on the ground makes you feel like you are in Goa. Great crowd and ambience.

Central Suburbs: – Lush, at Phoenix Mills.

Western Suburbs: – H20, Bandra. – Squeeze, Khar. Great music, great crowd and massive place. Sometimes they charge a cover charge of Rs 1000, but this is just drink coupons that you use inside. – Olive, Bandra. This is the place to be on Thursday night, all the bollywood and MTV India wannabe’s hangout here. – Engima, inside the JW Marriott. Very good. – Seijo and the Soul Dish, Bandra. – Zenzi, Bandra. Great decor. – Shooters, Bandra. Good pub – Club Escape, Lokhandwala near Crystal Plaza. So far one of the best places I have visited, played great dance/hip-hop music and the scenary was great. I went on a Friday and we left around 5am, which is pretty amazing in Bombay since most places shut by 1-2am. – Vie Lounge & Deck, in Juhu. Right on the beach, great laid back atmosphere and plenty of space to move around.

Hookah? – Koyla, near Taj. A roof deck place, ambience is great. – Mocha Cafe. A chain of coffee/dessert shops and they also have hookahs – Sheesha, roof of Shoppers Stop in Bandra. Good ambience, great good and the hookahs are great.

Restaurants? – Don Giovanni’s, near the JW Marriott. Good italian food, although not sure why they have a Ferrari flag in the window. – Spaghetti Kitchen, Phoenix Mill. Great italian food and good ambience. – Out of the Blue, next to Olives in Bandra. Good sizzlers and good looking crowd, probably wannabe models. And it’s ISO 9001 certified, as the big sign says as you walk in. – All Stir Fry, Colaba, inside Gordon House Hotel.

Mobile/Cell Phone? The first thing todo once you land is to get a prepaid GSM SIM card from either Airtel or Orange. If you are bringing your own GSM phone make sure it is unlocked from your service provider or the prepaid card won’t work. If you have a BlackBerry with global roaming enabled then you will be able to send and receive e-mail albeit with some stiff int’l roaming charges. Don’t bring your Sprint PCS phone as the CMDA network offered by Reliance and Tata is supposedly a locked network.

Goa? – info coming…

Tipping Point in India?

After being here for 6 weeks all the talk and newspaper articles seem to center on taking India to the next level – massive capital infusion into real estate, technology, retail, etc… But, after reading “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell, I personally think they need to look at how New York transformed its subway system via small steps that led to big changes. When i first got here I was saying “what this country needs is to fix the infrastructure” – most of my cousins said “no shit”, thanks for the insight now jump on a plane and get back to the US. Roads, electricity and improved public transportation are a few of the items needed, but honestly the politicians will talk all day while nothing gets done. So what type of small things: clean the buses, clean the roads, paint everything to make it look new, etc… The one remark I hear time and again from people is how OTHER cities and countries are so clean and beautiful. It’s never “wow, the balance sheets of those foreign companies are great” it invariable is “man, the air is so clean” or “the city is so clean and orderly.” Don’t get me wrong part of the charm of India is the way it is. But like I mentioned many people are talking about taking India to the next level and that might simply mean cleaning up its act and nothing else.

Happy Diwali

Happy Diwali, This was the first Diwali for me in India and it’s similar to Christmas in the States – shopping, holidays and a festive atmosphere. However, with the bomb blasts in New Delhi the festive mood was a bit muted. The one big difference is that during Diwali they let off firecrackers and holy crap some of them are so loud and powerful it makes me wonder if I’m in Bombay or Baghdad. For Diwali, i left Bombay and headed to Pune (old school: Poona) where 95% of my relatives live. Monday night had a big dinner and met most of my relatives and yes the number one question was………when are you getting married? not surprising. On Tuesday we had Laxmi puja at my uncles factory, Laxmi is the goddess of money so of course we all participated in it. The rest of the week is all about rest, relaxation and eating food – as is most of the country. Once I get back to Bombay on Sunday it will be back to work and also the beginning of the wedding season. For November, I’ve been invited to 3 weddings and I’m also throwing a massive b-day (Nov 20th) party for myself in Pune with all my relatives. more info on Diwali