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So as a precaution, I visited my doctor who after some research on the CDC website gave me the appropriate shots and a course of anti-Malaria tablets. Armed with those and some emergency rations (mostly protein bars, nuts and some dried fruits), I embarked on my adventurous journey to Chennai and Mumbai.
The journey itself was a tad painful - admittedly hrough my own doing, by leaving the transit time in Bangkok too short. I was warned against this, and next time I will heed that prudent advice. Anyway, both my bags and I made it intact.
From the moment I deplaned in Chennai i was engulfed by the culture. Whilst I'd had some exposure to the Indian way of life over the years, it was nothing like the concentration I was now being exposed to, and I really enjoyed it. The fact that I could easily communicate in my mother tongue - English, was certainly less painful than what I experience on a day-to-day basis in China. Not only that, but on the whole, I found everyone to be so friendly and helpful.
Chennai to me, seemed very residential and affluent in it's feel, while as a stark contrast, Mumbai was overcrowded, rather neglected, and of course, suffers from a deluge of slums.
For those of you who like me before this trip had only heard about the slums or seen them on the TV or in movies, it's important to understand that this is part of the Mumbai way of life. This was appropriately described to me by a staffer at the wonderful roof top bar of the Four Seasons Hotel where I enjoyed a non-alcoholic cocktail and a small cigar whilst taking in the incredible city views. She most eloquently stated, "The slums are part of then skyline of Mumbai" - I did not let that spoil my Four Seasons experience, and if you are in Mumbai, this has to be on your list of places to visit.
My exposure to Chennai culture was limited since I spent almost 72 hours inside a hotel attending various meetings and did some socializing with business associates. Although extremely pleasant, it limited my understanding to theory versus the actual color of the city of Mumbai.
But I have to point out some very interesting and positive experiences during my time staying at the Taj President - Mumbai.
Firstly, for those of you who follow my Blogs you will know that I like to stay at hotels where people don't know me, and really see how they treat you. And the Taj President was no exception to this...
When I arrived, and approached the Front Desk (a large cuircular structure in the center of the Lobby) I was warmly greeted, and then escorted by a Guest Relations person for in-room check in. This was very courteously handled. The only comment I would have to make is that the space allocated to position my luggage was too small, and the room door could not open if I left it there. So, I had to improvise and perch it on top of the chair for my two nights stay. Otherwise, the room was quite comfortable, with a recent overhaul having taken taken place - probably in the last 12-18 months.
For my first night, I was recommended by some Business Associates to eat in the hotel - they have a good selection - Indian, Thai and Italian. I opted for the Indian - after all, I was in India and could not see myself eating Thai or Italian food.
The restaurant was more European in decor that Indian - by my standards, and pretty busy - always a good sign. After a few minutes I was escorted to a table, and the person escorting me took my room number - and from that moment on, I was always addressed by my name.
The menu was pretty diversified, and I sought assistance - settling for a Tali - a mix of various dishes with a fixed price, and served on an eat as much as you want basis. It was delicious - even for me, a vegetarian. Actually, for a veggie, Indian food is a great choice. I washed down the meal with a Kingfisher (local) beer. Very pleasant indeed.
The next day, I had a full schedule running around town in a private car taking in various sites and doing some recconnaisance on various 5-star Hotels. Arriving back at the Hotel, I was tired, and quite honestly had enough of the traffic and driving round town, so I opted to return to the same restaurant. Walking in the door, the Captain immediately recognized me, addressed me by name, welcomed me back, and escorted me to a nice table.
He offered assistance in menu selection, and when I declined a cocktail, he brought me a complimentary mocktail. During the meal, a couple of staff came over to check if I was enjoying my meal, and I was even brought some alternative breads to try with my meal - probably prompted by the breadmaker who was in the room itself making those breads and who often caught a glimpse of me observing his handiwork. At the end of the meal, the Head Chef came out to check on me, and I complimented him for the delicious food prepared by his Team. I deciined dessert, but instead opted for some fresh fruits. Just as I was finishing those, one of the wait staff brought me out a little cake with "Bon voyage" written on it, and a small gift. They said this was was part of their service for guests who they know are leaving the next day. What a great touch i thought, and certainly added to my memorable experience.
One other point worth noting was that my flight out of Chennai was not until late in the evening, and when I asked what time can I keep my room until (without charge) they said 5pm would be no problem. How great and helpful that was as I could work in my room and only actually get dressed close to my flight time - this was especially welcome seeing as I had almost 18 hours of travel ahead of me.
I loved India - even the traffic, the slums and hustle and bustle of Mumbai made this a very colorful and enjoyable trip. And the fact I did not get sick, added to my enjoyment.
I hope to return soon - for business or pleasure. It really is an incredible place.
Terence Ronson began his hospitality career over thirty years ago as a Chef, and has held various management positions with prominent hotels, both in England and Asia. In 2000, Terence started Pertlink, a hospitality IT Consulting firm headquartered in Hong Kong that specializes in helping hotels differentiate themselves through the effective use of technology.
Terence moderates an online discussion group for in-room technology at: www.wiwih.com firstname.lastname@example.org. while at the same time puts out an active Hotel Technology Blog and participates in numerous hospitality related events. Professional affiliations include membership of the Hospitality Financial Technology Professionals (USA), the Hotel Catering Institute Management Association (UK), HTNG - Hotel Technology Next Generation, and is a proud Member of the Institute of Hospitality Consultants. Terence can be contacted
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