I’ve returned from a month-long trip to India and the UAE. I visited Bangalore for around two weeks and then Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Dubai for roughly a week each. Out of these places, Bangalore was the only city that I had visited before, but the last time was in 2010. I’ve always wanted to go back and see if and how the city has changed, though I kept postponing my travel plans. I wanted to go in 2020, but then COVID happened. Now it is 2023, so I went back after 13 years, but the good thing was that I now had an itinerary supported by my online activities during the pandemic years.
In Bangalore, I stayed for a week with a couple with whom I shared an apartment also during my last stay. I finally met their two-year-old son and visited the ISKCON temple and Bangalore Palace together. Then, I moved to an Airbnb in Indiranagar to be closer to the city center. We had a big Interintellect meetup nearby, which I had co-organized with Reddy, and I attended the first IRL Notion hackathon hosted by my friend Vensy as part of her No-Code Weekend brand. The week after, I spent my days working out of a co-working space and hanging out with more people from online circles afterward. Also, I met a guy from the old team from my startup a decade ago, and we enjoyed the nostalgia together.
I took a train to Hyderabad with Aravind, whom I met through Ness Labs and who also attended the Notion hackathon, so I didn’t have to experience my first Indian overnight rail trip alone. In Hyderabad, I saw the impressive historical Golconda fortress and the brand-new financial district with its massive towers, wide roads, and international companies. I also experienced the Holi festival. Vensy hosted me this week and pushed me into the Marvel cinematic universe. We also co-worked from her apartment.
The next overnight train brought me to Mumbai. The parents of a woman I met on Tinder (we didn’t end up dating but remained friends) took care of me and organized two days out, where I saw the former Prince Wales Museum, the Gateway of India, and the Elephanta Caves. We also had a small Interintellect meetup. I co-hosted with Shubh, which we had not yet planned when I left Germany. Shubh introduced me to her “Starbucks circle of friends”, which includes Natalie, a German journalist based in Mumbai. I also reunited with Samita, who I met in Lisbon in 2019. She’s establishing herself a second home in Mumbai right now. I also introduced her to Shubh, as she showed interest in Interintellect salons.
The final leg of the journey, Dubai, started with the only terrible thing that happened on the whole trip: I lost my wallet! Someone must have stolen it from me when I was not paying attention for a few minutes at the airport. Luckily I could block my cards immediately and get by with some cash advance from my Airbnb host and the NFC chip in my phone. There is a certain irony that this happened in Dubai when everyone warned me about how dangerous India is (especially rail travel) and told me how safe the UAE is. We had another small Interintellect meetup in Dubai, which I co-hosted with Mashal. I finally met Sach and Pragya in person for the first time. Besides that, I went to the top of the Burj Khalifa, walked along the beach, the marina, and the creek, and saw the enormous shopping malls of the town.
I returned a few days ago and am still processing my experiences from the trip. As I had seen India before, Dubai left the biggest impression on me. In my head, I kept comparing it to the United States regarding the infrastructure and the overall feel. It’s like Las Vegas, just without the gambling and the alcohol, making Dubai seem the more ethical version of a theme park city if you ignore that their riches come from fossil fuels. It is also a very ethnically diverse city. However, the markup of the groups is different from the West. For me, it felt like a better reflection of the actual global population, and it was a stark reminder to think of the world as less Western-centric. Many people I know have stereotypes about Dubai being only a tourist attraction. I can’t debunk that: parts of it feel like that (again, the comparison with Las Vegas). However, it’s also an actual city with real people and areas that feel normal. And despite being very car-centric, the public transport system is fantastic, and I did not need to resort to a private vehicle even once.
What about my impressions of India, though? What I’ve seen is a country making progress. There’s construction everywhere. Of course, all is subjective and based on the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met. However, I felt lots of tiny improvements in terms of the infrastructure. My last visit was before the smartphone age. Now, being able to call cabs and rikshaws via Uber instead of negotiating with drivers on the road seems a significant improvement. I loved riding Namma Metro, the new public rail system in Bangalore, which is a welcome change over the insane road traffic. Mobile payment is a huge thing now, thanks to UPI. Since that system is tied to Indian banks, I, as a foreigner, had to use more cash than the locals. The IT industry, especially in Bangalore, is now more about Indian startups than just offshoring for Western companies. The fact that the younger generations have more disposable income caused the proliferation of hipster-style cafés where people have become nerds about coffee and its preparation, just like in the West. Yes, there are underdeveloped parts and a lot of poverty, but things are going in the right direction. Indian cities need to ensure they don’t suffocate from pollution, but green number plates indicating fully electric vehicles aren’t unusual, so I have hope. One new friend I made, Vyshnavi, is a sustainability influencer. People do think about the environment, even if there’s a lot of room for improvement.
Europe and North America must avoid discounting Asia by clinging to old stereotypes. Billions of people live there, moving out of poverty into economic powerhouses. I’m grateful for seeing it with my own eyes.
I don’t appreciate the fact enough that I could visit four cities on a different continent and know locals in each place. Being part of global communities of open-minded people willing to meet, host, and show you places is incredibly valuable. I thank everyone I met on my journey; all of you contributed to a beautiful experience.
I returned a few days ago and have not wholly entered my daily routine. I’m tired from the trip, but I’m also unfocused while contemplating my takeaways from the trip and what my next steps will be. Even before going, I felt unsure about my personal and professional priorities for the year. There’s this idea that going abroad will hint you in a new direction, but I am still determining what it will be. The bottom line so far is that the trip was worth it. I hope to have more conclusions soon. I have no plans to travel again, but I left every city with many next-time ideas, so I surely can’t wait another decade.