Work Trip to Chandigarh, India

VIew across Chandigarh from our hotel

I was recently invited by my work colleague Darren House from Trading Depot to join him on a trip to India to meet up with a prospective new web design agency for their upcoming projects. After I had gotten over my surprise at the approach he was taking, he quite rightly pointed out that the local UK web agencies that had been used were all slow and unresponsive and generally also outsourced a lot of their work abroad too, so why not evaluate whether we could achieve the same things whilst cutting out the mis-communication of a middle man.

The agency Darren had arranged to visit is Axtrics who are based in the North West in Mohali, Chandigarh. They have a strong track record of developing web sites and systems for clients across the US, UK and more and had impressed with their initial proposal and Skype conversations.

Meeting with Axtrics

So off we headed on the morning of the May Bank Holiday Monday to catch a flight to their offices from Gatwick. Our first flight was an Emirates Airbus A380, the super jumbo, my first time on one of these and I have to say it was a magnificent experience. The ride was very quiet and the service was also very good. We arrived 9 hours later in Dubai at about Midnight UK time and hung around in the hard rock cafe bar for a couple of hours whilst we waited for our connection to Delhi. The three hour hop over to Dehli was slightly longer than usual apparently as the Pakistani airspace is currently closed after recent spats between India and themselves. Whilst we could have caught a bus or driven up to Chandigarh, the best option was to wait a few hours and catch another plane to our destination. By the time we arrived at what looked like a part civilian part military airport it was mid afternoon Indian time and we were pretty exhausted, not having had much sleep on the flights (we were flying economy, but I’m hopeless at sleeping in anywhere but a bed!).

Indian Driving Experience

For the whole of the time we were there, the team from Axtrics looked after us very well and extended much appreciated hospitality. This started with two of the team picking us up from the airport and driving us to our hotel, the Marriott hotel. This was the first time I’d been to India so the initiation into the driving styles was interesting. The first roundabout we came onto, the driver drove straight out between two cars who were approaching from the right (they drive on the same side of the road as us) as apparently they have to give way… which I didn’t know. I’m a nervous passenger anyway, but entering the roundabout at 30 – 40 miles an hour and slotting between to oncoming cars wasn’t something I was expecting. The theme continued as the driver and other drivers were constantly on their horns, realising later this was their way of telling other road users where they were approaching from. By the end of it, I almost got used to it – though Old Dehli was another level!

Marriott Hotel Chandigarh

Our overall experience in India was one of good service and everyone was very friendly with nothing being too much trouble. The level of security in the country was something I was not expecting and our first experience after the airports was at the hotel where they had security inspecting car boots and bonnets before they were allowed onto hotel premises and security bollards lowered. Before we could enter, we had to go through another security scanner ourselves. Once we were in we were greeted by very friendly personnel and shown to our rooms which themselves were one of the most luxurious rooms I’ve stayed in. The beds even had petals strewn across them!

Rare moment of relaxation amongst the exhaustion at the rooftop pool – complete with bathing pigeons

As soon as we had dropped our cases off, we headed to the rooftop swimming pool and bar, where we had a spare hour before going out for the evening with two of the owners of Axtrics including our main contact Rohan. The view was amazing with the start of the Himalayas in the distance and the bustle of street traffic below. I was keen to dip into the water, but wasn’t sure it was treated with Chlorine (I couldn’t smell it) and could see the local pigeons using it as an en suite. We could also see a beautiful metallic blue swift kind of bird swooping in and drinking from it and up above us an Eagle enjoying the thermals looking for some food miles below.

Japanese Indian Food

After an hour on the roof, we popped back to our rooms and got ready to go out with two of the owners to get to know them over some Japanese food – with an Indian twist. The food was delicious and it was great to get to know Rohan and his colleague Manjul over some tasty food and a few Kingfisher beers. We managed to cover many subjects including Brexit, religion and traditional Indian ways of doing business. Interestingly, Darren was very much the focus of attention as the project lead and main contact and conversations carried on as thus over the next couple of days of interactions – this was fine for me, happy to take a back seat to Darren’s starring role lol.

Eventually we got back to the hotel about midnight, exhausted after practically no sleep the previous night whilst we travelled for over 24 hours to our meeting place.

Web Meeting

On Wednesday after a deep, deep sleep and hearty breakfast, Axtrics very kindly picked us up and we made our way to the office to talk about their skills, Trading Depot and the overall projects. After the 30 minute or so car journey where I was slightly less unnerved by the Indian driving style, we were taken to meet the team. They tend to follow the clock according to where their customers are based ie USA, UK or elsewhere so we met around 30 of them, all of whom stood up in unison as we were introduced. Suddenly I had two thoughts, I’m back at school and I really should have worn long trousers to look slightly more professional!

Biryani in clay pots including goat and butter chicken

The meetings themselves were very productive, they all have amazing skills, in depth knowledge, and spoke superb English. We made a lot of constructive progress in them understanding the finer details of what the projects require. Again at lunch time, we were treated to an amazing curry, authentic local biryanis and butter chicken in clay pots. Oddly, they said they just threw away the clay pots rather than give them back to the original take away outlet. Included in the biryani was a curried goat on the bone – it was delicious.

Another thing we noted was that the vegetarians left the room whilst we were eating meat although they didn’t in the restaurant, but all the menus listed vegetarian food first and then non-vegetarian as the last options. Interesting as a completely opposite way of how we do it culturally. However, I did mention in my recent podcast I did with Darren that the vegan industry is taking off and very innovative in the UK so who knows, maybe we’ll catch up with India in a few years!

Chandigarh Lake

Chandigarh Lake and The Rocks

Once we had finished our marathon meeting by 5, we dropped our laptops back at the hotel and went straight out with some of the team who volunteered to guide us through the traffic and show us a couple of the best spots in Chandigarh – the Rock Garden and then the lake. Interesting the rock garden is made from waste products from around the area so a display of switches and sockets was oddly appropriate for a trading depot visit. The lake was beautiful with views for miles and across again to the HImalayas, though it was also extremely busy. Again we were grateful that some of them had taken time out to show us around their home town of which they were rightly very proud.

Chandigarh itself was a very decent place, built along similar lines to Milton Keynes with a grid system (though several decades before MK was built into the new town it is today) and has a huge potential to be somewhere special. The odd things were though the ‘mess’, what I would consider fly tipping around our village of hardcore bricks and soil etc were just everywhere and litter was also everywhere. Whilst we try and fix our plastic problem in the UK, if some of this goes into the oceans, there is little point in us trying to do anything. The same if not more so was applicable to Old Dehli which we visited the following day. I was really impressed with the education of the people we spoke to, the pupils who performed best were on the front page of one of our newspapers we were given, yet we also saw absolute poverty along the roadside – though again, nothing like Old Dehli.

That evening, we were again extended more hospitality, joining the team at ‘The Boat House’ a brewery and also more great Indian food. However, the owners were more than distracted by the big screen and the IPL – it is true, most non work conversations were based around whether we liked cricket, did we watch the IPL and who will win the forthcoming World Cup (in England!). Even the barman at our hotel showed us a fixture of a few of the International IPL players staying there.

Trip Home Via Dehli

I was looking forward to a decent sleep on the Wednesday ready for the long slog back home again, but unfortunately I was too keen to listen into the Spurs Champions League score vs Ajax and stupidly didn’t go to sleep until about 3am. Anyway, up at 8 for breakfast and then packing and off to the first leg of our trip from Chandigarh airport to Delhi. The stop over at Dehli was the most interesting as we had about 6 hours to kill. We dumped our bags at a hotel and caught a metro into Old Dehli. After making our way through the incredible smog and pollution, we had to go through security at the station before catching the very clean and fast metro. We then popped out to the most intense noise, heat, pollution and street business i’ve ever encountered. We took a quick stroll into the heart of Old Dehli, the shops, the street markets, it was utter chaos but brilliant at the same time. However, at the heart of it you felt just how poor a lot of this community is and we had to be aware of ourselves all the time. Walking down narrow alleyway where stray dogs, mopeds, motorbike and tricycle tuc tucs were passing from all sides. See the video Darren took on his phone for a sample of what it was like. We passed rows of beggars on our way back and also took our lives in our hands with a 10 minute tuc tuc ride back to the metro station – though it was completely safe and I loved it!

Watching the IPL in a sports bar

When we got back from the metro to where our hotel was, we stumbled on an upmarket bar, restaurant, hotel and cafe area with all the major financial institutions around us and had a few Kingfishers. There we pondered the depths of poverty and state of the environment just 20 minutes down the metro line vs where we were sitting which could just as well have been in Canary Wharf.

Unfortunately our flight from Dehli was delayed and we ended up sprinting across Dubai airport in the early hours to catch our flight back to London. The doors were closed behind us as we just about snuck on and returned to Gatwick on Friday lunch time.

So a whistle stop tour to and from India, six plane flights, several fabulous Indian meals, a few Kingfishers and a very impressive meeting with a professional web agency who have a very skilled workforce and capacity to take on large ongoing projects. My thoughts on India after just 36 hours is that it has huge potential, but has a struggle to take the huge population along with it whilst taking care of their beautiful country, the environment and suffocating smog. It really was quite a whistle stop work trip.

Video walking and in a Tuc Tuc around Old Dehli

Below is a video of some footage I and mostly Darren took around old Dehli to try and give you a flavour of what it was like – Darren is a very good photographer so thanks for sharing the videos with me!!