I just got back from a visit to our partners at Business Insider India, based in New Delhi.
It was my first time visiting the country. I’ve been to a lot of other places in Asia and around the world, but India was somehow completely new.
Here’s some of what I learned when I was there…
Parts of India are really modern, with everything you'd see in the United States. There are futuristic malls like Cyber City in Gurgaon, a suburb of Delhi where a lot of multinationals have their headquarters.
Signs all over the place advertise classes where you can get your tech skills up to date. Tech jobs are highly desired and pay a lot, just like in the U.S.
People are even obsessed with the Oscars, just like at home. Here was the Business Insider India team gathered around the TV watching Leo DiCaprio's acceptance speech.
But most of India is not modern at all. Cows really do roam the streets, especially when you get out of the bigger cities and into places like Agra, the city where the Taj Mahal is located.
India is filled with amazing music. This was a local Sufi rock band called Faridkot. Sort of a more complicated Pearl Jam vibe, but with a great singer.
And this small band was marching down the middle of a crowded street outside the main market in Agra. Why? No idea.
The restaurants in Delhi rival any major city in the world. I ate mostly Indian dishes, and they were better than the best I've had outside India. This chicken Tikka at Farzi cafe was a highlight.
The interior of this restaurant, Sodabottleopenerwala, wouldn't have looked out of place in New York. It served Bombay-style food.
My favourite meal was at a place called The Toddy Shop. Toddy is a kind of alcoholic drink served in Kerala state in southern India. This restaurant didn't actually serve toddy, but the food was Kerala style.
It's hidden away in a nightclub area in Delhi called Hauz Khas village, which was built on the ruins of an ancient village.
The meal at Toddy Shop was so good I ate most of it before remembering to take a picture. That's a spicy beef dish in the front, Goan fish curry in the middle, and bread. Amazing. Go there.
And this is real Tandoori chicken. It's not pink like at most places in the US! That's food colouring, and only the sub-par places use it.
We're paying way too much for phone service. I wanted to avoid AT&T's egregious overseas charges, so I bought a SIM card at the airport. It cost $20 and got me one month of voice plus 2GB of data. One of my contacts in the country pays about $12 a month for unlimited data. But there was just one problem....
Rookie move: Don't bring a locked iPhone overseas. When I tried to put the SIM into my AT&T iPhone, it refused to activate.
I ended up using this borrowed phone from LeTV, the 'Netflix of China.' It was fast, had all the apps and features I needed, and it costs only about $100. I'd buy one in a heartbeat if they were available in the US. The only drawback was the camera, which wasn't as good as the iPhone's. I ended up taking nearly all these pictures on my (otherwise useless) iPhone 6S.
In India, the air pollution is really bad. The WHO recently named Delhi the most polluted city in the world, and it's clear why. This picture has no filter on it. That's what the sky looks like during the day.
Part of the problem is millions of cars with minimal emissions controls. Traffic is awful and cars can be stuck for hours, just throwing out exhaust. Vendors and beggars take advantage of the traffic jams by moving between cars.
My first view of the Taj Mahal was from Agra Fort, a couple miles away. It was barely visible. (Agra is the 19th most polluted city in the world, the WHO says.)
The Taj Mahal does not disappoint. You've seen it a million times in pictures, but unlike, say, the Statue of Liberty (sorry New Yorkers, you know it's true) or Mount Rushmore, it's actually more impressive in person.
The line to get in is a little brutal, but if you're a foreigner you have a special faster line. (You also pay more for your ticket -- about $12.)
The entire surface is covered with carvings made from semi-precious gemstones. It's perfectly symmetrical on every single side.
The four minarets are equally beautiful. They all lean slightly away from the main building so in case there's an earthquake, they fall away from it.
There's also a lot of great lore around the Taj. The king who built it, Shah Jahan, built it for his dead queen. He was supposedly going to build an symmetrical black one across the river for himself. This is the foundation site.
But, the story goes, before he could start on the mirror-image Taj, his son overthrew him in a coup and imprisoned him in this part of the Agra Fort. The room was constructed so that if you put a mirror on any wall, you can't help but see the Taj Mahal.
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