Traveling to the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference in Mumbai: Vol 1
Although the conference occurred last year, this travelogue predates the blog site, so I thought it might be interesting to describe my travels to India, rather than the scientific sessions. The travelogue will be presented in several sessions.
In this installment: Getting There
I traveled to Mumbai, India, for the first time to attend the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference. I was able to call my family from half-way around the world (thanks T-Mobile!), but the internet connections, and especially email, were challenging, to say the least. Since I wasn’t able to get online consistently, I decided to blog about the trip and upload it when I could so that you could share in my experience.
When I was a kid, I would get letters in the mail (remember those?) from my dad, who was a naval officer stationed in Europe and the Middle East, and I was always fascinated by his trips. I thought that my own kids might read this and remember the trip when they are adults. In addition, one of the best parts of being a scientist, in my opinion, is getting to travel the world to interact with other scientists. I grew up in a small town in south Georgia (population 200), so traveling to a cIty of 21 million was a big change. I hope that you enjoy the description of my trip to India. The blog will be presented in several installments.
First, I want to comment on the situation with the internet here in Mumbai. I don’t understand the issue with the wi-fi. It’s like a closely guarded state secret or something. I’ve heard from folks staying in the hotel that wi-fi has been an issue there as well. There is wi-fi in the guesthouse at the university, which is where I’m staying, but I can’t get a password to start it. The person at the front desk told me that the wi-fi wasn’t working, but I can see it on my computer. I think what he meant was that I couldn’t use it. So, this will be like an old-fashioned letter, which seems to be fitting for this place, as you’ll see from my description below.
Days 0 and 1: Getting There
The flight from Newark to Mumbai was very good. We took off close to correct time even though it was still very windy, so the first hour was a bit bumpy. We had dinner (Indian food), then they turned off the lights about 10:30 or 11. I watched the movie Red, which was about retired CIA agents kicking ass of corrupt government officials. It was funny, but I’d like to see it again on a bigger screen. After the movie, I felt like I dozed off and on, and I had to get stuff out of my bag a couple of times – like the eye shades, but when I woke up it had been seven hours. So, I suppose I was waking every hour or so. Then I watched a second movie – The Hurt Locker. It was OK, but maybe I was expecting more since it won an Oscar. I worked on my seminar a bit and read a bit, then we were here. Overall, it seemed to be a very quick trip, but I think that sleeping on the overnight flight and eating a couple of meals helped.
Overall, the flight seemed pretty short. I’m amazed that I can leave the US and sixteen hours later be in India. The route was interesting. We flew over London and Berlin, then south over Europe and Afghanistan. We flew over Kandahar, which is about 3-4 hours flight from Mumbai. So, now I know where the troops are going when I see on the news that they are shipping out to Kandahar.
I noticed as we were landing that the area has lots of hills. For some reason I thought that the area was flat, probably because it’s coastal. My first experience with Mumbai was its odors. I had to walk the length of the airport to get to passport control. The odors were not exactly pleasant or unpleasant, just different. It’s like mixing all the spices and food and sweat together into one big mix of olfactory assault.
After I got through customs, I walked out of the airport, and the scene was amazing but difficult to describe. There were metal barriers set up, like you might see at a parade, to keep the “locals” back. There were hundreds of people standing at the rails holding signs with someone’s name on it. I was astounded because it was about 10:30 local time on Sunday night, and the streets were full of people. I’ve come to think that in a country about a third the size of the US with a billion people, the locals have to work whenever and wherever they can.
As we drove off in the cab (two others from the US were also on this flight and we met at baggage claim), I noticed people in official looking garb standing in various doorways, or sitting near the entrance to construction sites. I’m wondering if these are “public works” people whom the government is paying – it seems the job is to tell people to go to the next door, or to control the flow of the crowd, or whatever.
It was also interesting that I left Newark in the dark (~9 pm) and landed in Mumbai in the dark (~10:30 pm), so I lost a day.
Next Installment: The cab ride that would make Walt Disney stand up and salute!