It’s been a while since my last blog post but, truth be told, I’ve been busy rushing around India, Nepal and Bangladesh as well as researching other upcoming data collection trips. Regular readers of the blog may recall that my first ever post, some three years ago, was from the chaotic streets of India. They may also remember that that trip didn’t end too well after I picked up a nasty bug which knocked me out for a few weeks. Well, this time I made it out unscathed and now find myself in a rather different place on the planet – French Guiana. I’ll be blogging about this place soon. However, I wanted to share photos and thoughts from my India trip with you first.
There are a lot of people in India, some 1.25 billion in fact, and there are seven cities with a population of over five million, all of which are covered by ECA’s Cost of Living survey. A recent addition to our list of Indian location’s is Gurgaon. The name derives from ‘Guru Gram’ which means Village of the Guru and if you look at a Google Maps image of India’s capital city Delhi, then you’ll be able to spot Gurgaon some 30 km to the south and east. The city is so close to the capital that it is part of Delhi’s metro transit system and is essentially a satellite city of Delhi.
Gurgaon was once a small agricultural village but since leading Indian car manufacturer Maruti Suzuki opened up a manufacturing plant there back in the 1970’s it has grown to be one of the most important and modern areas of the country. Today it is home to operations of over half of the Fortune 500 companies and the likes of Microsoft, IBM, Coca Cola and American Express have established their Indian corporate headquarters in the self-dubbed Millennium City. It has one of the highest per capita incomes in India and has become one of the world’s most important offshoring centres.
Although very new by Indian city standards, Gurgaon still has that essence of splendid chaos which I mentioned in my first ever blog post. I’m pretty sure that in no other country in the world would you be able to find free roaming monkeys, cows, dogs, goats, pigs, peacocks, horses and camels – all together! Well they certainly add to the unique smells and sounds of an Indian city. The ‘India trip’ which is carried out twice a year is usually one which we ECA international data researchers try to avoid. Magical and mysterious as India can be there really doesn’t seem to be anywhere else that wears you down quite as much: the chaos, noise, smells, beggars, being stared at, getting ill, the heat, the rain, the difficulty in tracking down shopping items – and for the ladies there are additional troublesome aspects of travelling around India, as my colleague, Rachel, blogged about previously. However, I have to say this time around it was ok (not getting sick helped, of course!). Love it or hate it, India is certainly not a boring place, with seething humanity everywhere you look. Sure, I felt like a walking exhibit half the time, and when you enter a shop you get swarmed by the staff trying to get a commission on any sales, but outside of the monsoon season it’s not that bad a place really. Mind you, I was just visiting briefly. Expats and their families are there day in, day out, which, as you can probably tell, wouldn’t be for me!
This brings me on to the topic of home comforts for expats in India, in particular with regards to finding familiar day to day goods and groceries. Availability in Gurgaon and Delhi was, on the whole, good but then I moved on to the capital of the state of Rajasthan, Jaipur – an IDR’s nightmare! Let me explain: in all Indian cities there are several supermarket chains which can be found throughout the country. These include Big Bazaar, Reliance Fresh, Spencer’s and HyperCity. All of the outlets of these supermarkets will sell the staples such as rice, bread and pasta and will have local made versions of items such as cereal, biscuits, jam and ketchup but some outlets will have a ‘gourmet’ section where you can get imported foodstuffs. These outlets tend only to be in areas of cities which are home to the middle and upper classes, and where foreign workers live. In the cities where there are large expatriate populations there are also small grocery stores dedicated to selling imported home comforts. The chains vary from city to city but include Nature’s Basket, Modern Bazaar and Le Marche. Often these small shops will not look much from the outside but will contain a treasure trove of goods such as brie and Edam cheeses, Lindt chocolate, Bonne Maman jam and Heinz ketchup! Now, while Gurgaon and Delhi have many gourmet food shops, hunting around Jaipur trying to find any is a hopeless task. Even the outlets of HyperCity and Big Bazaar there only have the bare essentials. So, if you love your brie and Heinz ketchup then best bring it with you when heading to Jaipur!
Thankfully, I had better luck in the next city I visited – Ahmedabad. Although the choice of imported foodstuffs is nowhere near as good as Gurgaon and Delhi there are at least a few shops selling some favourites from home, with Magson perhaps being the best bet. Ahmedabad is another new location in India for me. It is the sixth largest city in the country and was predicted to be one of the fastest growing cities this decade according to Forbes. In 2012, the Times of India named Ahmedabad as the best mega-city to live in in India. It is also an important location for the IT industry as well as pharmaceuticals and the automobile industry.
I know it’s been a few weeks since I left you with a teaser asking you to name six countries other than Angola which are officially Portuguese speaking. Well, congratulations if you came up with Brazil, Portugal, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe.