Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Economist - Why do I love living in India?

I came across an interesting article today that I thought I would share with all of you.....and yet another interesting fact about India, my adopted homeland .......and I have found yet another reason why I enjoy living in India and am so fond of the country.

I am not sure what many of you will gather from this, but I can assure you that it made me realize that there are several places in the world that I wouldn't want to live in.....

I never thought that I would be influenced because of the price of a 500ml bottle of beer!

Here are the stats!

Daily chart

Thirsty work

Sep 24th 2012, 16:04 by The Economist online
How long does it take to afford a beer?
ON SEPTEMBER 22nd, the beer started flowing at Oktoberfest in Munich, an annual Bavarian beer festival which confusingly begins at the end of September. Last year, over the course of the 16-day event, visitors glugged 7.5m litres of beer, sold at an average princely price of €9 ($12.50) a litre, which is what a typical large stein holds. Germans love beer and down around 100 litres per person a year. Away from the Oktoberfest beer is readily affordable. Analysts at UBS, a Swiss bank, have calculated that it takes a German earning the national median wage just under seven minutes of work to purchase half a litre of beer at a retail outlet. At the bottom of the pint glass, low wages and high taxes mean that boozers in India must toil for nearly an hour before they have earned enough to quench their thirst.
Now here are some additional things to ponder......China and Nigeria have the lowest prices for a 500ml beer........I have been to China, but the beers I consumed were not cheap! I was obviously in the wrong place..............and Nigeria........not tops on my places in the world that i would want to live in.
Japan......$4.15 USD for the average price of a beer..........No Thank You......I'm not sure if i even want to visit the country!
Australia.......I have a friend from Australia........he drinks beer like a fish..........it is a good thing for his wallet that he lived in the USA, because at $3.70 USD per beer down under he would have never been able to afford his beer tab! He would have had to take a second mortgage out on his home.....it certainly is an eye opener for me I have a completely different perspective regarding "Beer and Barbie"!!...It is not a casual thing but almost the price of a gourmet meal with champagne!
Britain, Spain, Canada - All over $3.00 USD............nice places....but unless I got a substantial increase in salary, or stopped drinking beer altogether............I wouldn't want to live there.
ARGENTINA - out of all the places on the list...........the price is reasonable..........less than the USA's average price........and they have great wines also..............has potential
So next time you are asked......"If you could live anyplace you wanted to in the world, where would you choose?"..........what would your answer be?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Khyber Mountain Resort & Spa - Gulmarg, Kashmir, India

We are getting close..........very close.......to the opening of what I consider to be the finest hotel in the Himalayan region - Khyber Mountain Resort & Spa.

Khyber Mountain Resort Exterior in Winter
For the past three years I have been making trips to Kashmir to see the resort rise from its foundation to what it is today.......and in just 3 short months we will be launching this magnificent project for the world to enjoy.

My first trip to Gulmarg is unforgettable simply for the reason that when I stepped onto the property for the first time, I immediately understood how special "this place"........the hotel and Gulmarg truly is......it was more than I ever imagined, and as a hotelier, the opportunity to be part of such a special project had my mind racing as to its potential.

Towering Trees and Fresh Crisp Air Winter
The setting was idyllic.........perched in the foothills of the Himalayas, with commanding views of the white capped peaks........surrounded by towering trees and the lobby overlooking a beautiful lush green valley, and perfectly located next to the area’s most world notable attractions.....the tallest Gondola in the world and a Golf Course at the highest elevation in the world……the location is a dream!

Lovely Scent of Pine in the Summer Air
I have literally watched Khyber Mountain Resort & Spa come to life.........and on this most recent visit, I am finally able to see past the construction and witnessed for the first time the hotels "personality" coming through.

Kashmir is an area of India notable for many things; saffron production, pashmina's, cashmere wool, some of the finest handmade carpets, kawah tea (more later), and papier-mâché and hand carved items from some of the most beautiful walnut wood.

Hand Carved Wooden Ceiling in Lobby Tea Lounge

Not surprisingly, the architect and interior designer along with the vision of the owner have done a remarkable job to incorporate all things that make Kashmir special into the look and feel of the hotel. The attention to detail and Kashmiri influence can be seen throughout the resort and in its guestrooms.

Wall Sconce in Guestroom Corridor - Hand Painted Papier-Mâché over Copper
So I thought I would provide you with some pre opening peeks into what is taking place right now as we begin to breathe life into this magnificent hotel.

Khyber Mountain Resort & Spa Exterior work  under way
There is no doubt that at the end of the short drive from Srinagar, we will be greeting each guest with a nice warm offering of Kawah Tea........while I am not much of a "chai man", this tea is one of the most delicious warm drinks I have ever tasted. It is made with the following ingredients; saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, sugar and noon chai leaves. Slivers of fresh almond are placed in the tea just before serving. The result of this infusion of flavors is simply one of the most amazing creations from this region of the world......yum!

Warm Cup of Kawah Tea Upon Arrival

As our guests walk into the cathedral like lobby, they will be standing under the hand painted papier-mâché ceiling that was most recently installed in the reception area of the lobby.......yes, hand painted.......and while my photographs simply cannot do justice to this beautiful work of art, once the lighting is complete and the construction dust is removed, the ceiling will truly provide the perfect setting for our guests to be welcomed.

Hand Painted Papier-Mâché over Carved Wood Ceiling in Lobby
At the opposite end of the lobby is the Tea Lounge with its magnificent views of the mountain peaks and the valley.......whether the valley is covered in a blanket of fresh white snow or during spring and summer when the lush green carpet is laced with the various colors of the natural flowers that grow during these times of the year, I envision guests just enjoying the view for hours at a time.......enjoying a cup of Kawah made and served in an authentic Samovar.

Authentic Kashmiri Samovar for serving Kawah

A samovar is a traditional Kashmiri kettle used to brew, boil and serve tea. Kashmiri samovars are made of copperware with engraved or embossed calligraphic motifs. Inside a samovar there is a fire-container in which charcoal and live coals are placed. Around the fire-container there is a space for water to boil. Tea leaves, sugar, cardamom, and cinnamon are put into the water and the result is simply indescribable.

View from Lobby Tea Lounge - Summer
On the left side of the lobby is the main restaurant.......and on the right is the Hookah and Cigar Bar............upstairs just over the tea lounge is a covered open air gallery, a one of a kind for Kashmir, and a place to be enjoyed all year long by our guests. In winters, our guests can enjoy watching the falling snow and the skiers and snowboarders make their way down the slopes.........a billiards room is also on the same level.

View from Lobby Tea Lounge - Winter
The resort is complete.......an indoor swimming pool with floor to ceiling windows offering some of the most breathtaking views one could imagine......picture yourself in winter, swimming in a nice heated pool while just outside snow is falling and the temperature are minus 10 Celsius or lower.
Then take a moment to relax in the areas world class spa.....with treatments designed to help you relax or rejuvenate after skiing, trekking, sledging, yoga, fishing, ice skating, white water rafting, horseback riding, a work out in the fully equipped fitness center or simply after taking a ride on the world’s tallest gondola to take in the views of the Himalaya's.

Sledging in Gulmarg - Winter Activity
Khyber Mountain Resort & Spa has left nothing to chance. Multiple places for Food and Beverages, outdoor activities year round and a fully equipped and staffed children’s activity center to keep young guests and teens alike entertained while parents enjoy other areas of the resort. There is even a movie theater that will show past and current favorites throughout the day and evenings. An amphitheatre, tiered gardens, relaxing terraces, outdoor dining areas, indoor and outdoor banqueting spaces, and on and on!

Guestrooms? Yes............the finest...........the only.....ONLY resort in the area at which customers can control the temperature of their rooms with central heat and air. Trust me, while this may seem like a "standard" for hotels throughout the world...............it is not so for this area of the world......relax in an oversized tub......maybe a bubble bath with scented bath salts while enjoying the breathtaking views just outside the window.

View from Relaxing Soaking Tub - Winter
Deluxe Rooms with balconies that can be enjoyed all year round....the perfect place to enjoy a private breakfast while taking in the gorgeous view or just enjoying the fresh, crisp scented air of the pine trees. Private cottages with multiple bedrooms.......kitchens for those who travel with their own chef or perhaps you would like to have us provide a chef for you to cook customized dishes for you and your family and friends........anything can be arranged.

Khyber Mountain Resort & Spa - Deluxe Balcony Room - Summer
More?.........yes I will be writing more about Khyber Mountain Resort & Spa over the next few months.......and I will share more photographs with you as I take you through the "unveiling" of this truly world class resort in one of the most remarkable and beautiful places on earth!

View From Balcony of Delue Room - Winter
For inquiries and reservations, please do not hesitate to leave a comment........I will be quick to respond.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Car Games - INDIA GPS

I grew up playing games on long car drives.......the tradition carried on by playing them with my sons as they were growing up during long trips by road to visit family or when we travelled on vacation......car games are meant to keep trips from becoming boring and to keep young minds from asking "ARE WE THERE YET?" or "HOW MUCH LONGER?"

I was recently on a trip in south India where I found myself playing a new car game specifically to be played only in India......during a journey to four cities by road............Bangalore - Yercaud - Mahabalipuram - Chennai.......I have named the game.......INDIA GPS

I almost missed him....this is when I got the idea
  Throughout the world, GPS is the abbreviation for Global Positioning System, but in India......GPS stands for Gurpreet, Pranav, and Sanjay.......or any other Indian names starting with the letters G,P and/or S.......you see, in India, the way of finding your way, is by stopping and asking someone along the way.......nothing electronic....not even a map.......your driver simply stops and asks his way.

Day 1 -

My day began at 3:30am when my alarm awakened me in Chennai, India.........the driver had been instructed to meet me at the hotel at 4:30am to transport me to the Chennai airport for a 6:00am flight to Bangalore.

The Bus Man

After arriving in Bangalore, I retrieved my luggage and proceeded outside.......drivers dressed in white lined the railing, holding signs with names of other arriving passengers........I scanned the signs, but could not find one with my name....the driver that had been arranged for me was nowhere in sight.......I dialed the number that had been sent to me, and the dialog started with a driver with less than the required command of English that we had requested.......After several phone calls, we finally identified each other and my journey began.

A "Double"

My driver, Srinivas, was to accompany me during my entire journey........and after a rather "rough" start, together we battled our way through the morning traffic of Bangalore......it was then that I realized that what was to be a "3 hour journey" would not be possible......I confirmed with him that he was familiar with getting to Yercaud...my first destination......and as usual, I received a very confident "Yes sir. Yes sir"

The Rickshaw Man

Needless to say, after 4.5 years living in India.........I am used to things not going as planned and I am also familiar with the practice of drivers stopping to ask for directions, but, even though we stopped several times along the way, nothing was out of the ordinary about the journey, and I did not pay much attention.......and 5 hours after leaving the airport I arrived in Yercaud.

The Hotel Man

My meeting was at a lovely hotel named Lake Forest .......a beautiful hill station hotel surrounded by a working coffee and pepper plantation....simply beautiful. More on this location later.....but my meeting went very well.

By 5:00pm, the meeting had concluded and after the customary "goodbye's", I settled into the front seat of the car for what was to be a 6 hour journey by road to a city called Swamimalai.

The Bus Stop

Srinivas dutifully took directions from the Lake Forest Hotel Staff, however, within 15 minutes of leaving, Srinivas stopped and asked directions.....after several subsequent stops I noticed a pattern emerging.......every 15 minutes, like clock work he would stop and ask directions......It was then that I began timing his stops and began keeping count...........by the time we reached Swamimalai, Srinivas had stopped to ask directions 43 times.

Yes, FORTY THREE!!!!!!!!!

It was actually comical........what would have been very irritating to some of you became very entertaining for me....what would have caused some of you to lose your patience, had become a game of predicting what would happen next.....the hand gestures and the passion in the language was fascinating to me but may have been aggravating to many........I have been blessed with a sense of humor and with patience.......two qualities that have served me well while living in India.

The Motorcycle Man - I
  Throughout this leg of my journey, I was communicating the experience to my wife in the United States via email......."It happened again.......# 24"......etc........and she would reply........with an occasional message offering her sympathies.......but I was smiling and laughing inside.

I was also keeping in touch with my staff.........who were concerned about me being on the road at such a late hour........but I was reassuring them that all was "good"......

Motorcycle Man - II

We reached Swamimalai at 11:30pm........6.5 hours after leaving Yercaud.
After a welcoming foot massage, and a great meal, I headed to my room for a good nights sleep.......remember my journey had started that morning at 3:30 am and it didn't end until 1:00am.......22 hours.....11 of which were spent with Srinivas in the car.......I was very tired.

It was a very long day.......and my journey had just reached the halfway mark.......Srinivas and I had one more day and two more cities together.......and after the fun I had on day one, I couldn't wait for the second leg of the trip to begin the next day!

Day 2

After sleeping like a rock, I awakened the next morning at 6:00am at my hotel in Swamimalai, had some amazing food and that wonderful South Indian filtered coffee......toured the hotel and by 8:30am......Srinivas and I were off again on our road journey to Mahabilipuram.......after my previous days experience, I knew I was going to keep count on this journey as well.........

The Scooter Dude and his Wife

The staff at the hotel gave him directions........"out of the hotels drive, take a right, etc.......needless to say,  10 minutes into the journey, he instinctively felt that something was wrong..........so he stopped and asked directions and realized that he made a wrong turn......we were in the middle of a small village and he had to turn around and make his way back to the main road......

Rickshaw Man II

Three more stops for directions and we were on our way.......the fun had began again and in addition to counting I decided that I would begin taking pictures of those people he stopped to ask along the way..............unfortunately, this idea did not pop into my head until he had already asked 5 people........The pictures scattered throughout the blog are the photographs of the Indian G.P.S in action.......

The Coconut Water Man
By the time we had reached Mahabalipuram, he had stopped and asked directions 18 times from 17 different people. The motorcycle driver in the pictures below helped us twice!
The Toll Taker Man

I wish I would have asked them their names........they were all very helpful........good sports as I snapped their photographs.......I wonder how many names actually started with G, P or S?

The Tailor

Another observation is that Srinivas never asked a woman for directions....only men.......I am not sure why!

I hope that you found this to be an interesting, insightful,educational and informative story.......and what some of you have experienced, and for those of you planning a trip to India what you might expect if your visit will involve a journey by car.......India is certainly never boring! And you can play your own version of INDIA GPS.

Since I have originated the game, the current record stands at 4 cities, 770 km and 61 stops

On future trips I will be more diligent in my photo documentary and I will get photographs and names from all who help......from the very beginning.

Enjoy playing!