WARNING NO POKER CONTENT

This is a long overdue follow up to my post London and India.

Over the next several days I would come to hate the Marriott. Not the entire chain, just this hotel. It’s out in the middle of nowhere on the other side of Husain Sagar lake yet they don’t even have a sundry shop in the hotel. For something as simple as a pack of gum I have to get in a cab and travel into town (more on that later). But that’s just a minor annoyance. Eating at the hotel has almost driven me to tears. Tears of laughter or tears of frustration I’m not quite sure but the tears have certainly welled up.

First there’s the hotel restaurant. I’ve come to refer to eating there as an hour with the 30 Stooges. Everyone tries to be helpful but they plainly know nothing about serving food. For instance, this morning I went down for breakfast. It’s a buffet and the place is all but empty. They seat about 40 tables and there are diners at perhaps 10. I’m shown to a table and I set down my newspaper and go to the buffet. As they serve about 90% Indian food and 10% . . . non-Indian food (sorry, I’m just not sure how to describe it but it doesn’t fit into any neat category) the pickings are slim. They’re even slimmer when they serve cereal but they’re out of milk and they have pancakes but no syrup, which is about 50% of the time.

I return to my seat with the only edible and available things at the buffet, a few pieces of melon and some hash browns, and they’ve seated someone else at the table. I don’t even bother asking or attempting to claim my seat. I grab my newspaper and move to the next table. The waiter who is seating someone at MY table makes no apologies or even attempts to determine why there was a mix-up. I could see if none of my stuff hadn’t already been at the table how he might conclude that it was my mix-up but there is a newspaper plainly laid out and a napkin already unfolded where I was sitting. Whatever.

I go and sit at another unoccupied table. A different comes over and asks me if I would like coffee which I am enthusiastically appreciative of since the last few times I’ve been down for breakfast I’ve been unable to flag a waiter to get me coffee. He brings a coffee cup but no coffee. But, he doesn’t just bring the coffee cup; he moves all my food and place settings around so to position the coffee cup in front of me as if it’s the main course. He never returns with the coffee. I can’t be sure if that was some sort of joke on me or the pinnacle of incompetence.

As I mentioned, there’s about 10 diners in the restaurant yet there are 7 wait staff and 4 managers bossing around the 7 wait staff. Yet, I still can’t summon someone for my coffee or even for a glass of water. They’re busy flying around the restaurant like they’re working the Friday dinner shift at the trendiest restaurant in SOHO. I still can’t figure out what the hell they’re accomplishing since it’s a buffet. All they have to do is get coffee and water and clear the tables yet those simple tasks are exactly the tasks they are failing to perform (except for the table clearing which they seem to excel at). When I’m done with my melon and hash browns a waiter comes over and takes my plate. He hands it to a second waiter who hands it to a third waiter. All this manpower to clear one dish and yet I still can’t get a cup of coffee!

Then there was the morning that they forgot to open the flue on the wood-burning stove they use and filled the entire restaurant with smoke. My eyes and throat were stinging from the harsh fumes and I had to cut my breakfast short because I thought I was going to get sick.

The managers are right up there on the incompetence bar. If there’s one thing you learn – very quickly – is that you should never, ever, ever look unsure. If you’re going down the buffet line and you realize that you missed grabbing a box of cereal, it’s just best if you do without (at least on that trip to the buffet). If you even pause to consider going back for the cereal one of the managers will swoop down on you.

Manager: Can I help you, sir?

Me: No. I just wanted to get some cereal.

The manager is now standing between the cereal and me and as I try to slide by him to the cereal he puts on one of those body blocks bouncers at nightclubs put on you when you aren’t on the list. I bob to one side and he counters. I bob to the other side and he counters.

Manager: We can bring it to your table.

As a result of the prior bobbing and weaving, the manager has dangerously invaded my personal space. If this were in a bar or a nightclub this is the type of personal space invasion that usually precedes a fight.

Me: No, I can get it myself if you could please move out of the way. It’s literally five feet from me but you’re blocking me from getting it.

Manager: Oh sorry, sir. Is there anything else I can get you?

Me: No.

When I simply couldn’t take it anymore I decided one day to screw eating in the restaurant for dinner that night and I would splurge having a nice, juicy burger in my room. I had seen burgers on the room service menu and that entire day I couldn’t do anything but think how blissful it would be to sink my teeth into a glorious burger. The entire ride home from the office I was craving that burger. I could taste it. I could feel the juices dripping over the sides of my tongue as I bit into it. It was going to be heavenly. I get back to the hotel and race up to my room. I grab the room service menu and double check that they have my salvation. I call room service and ask for the Marriott Burger, well done. “Sorry sir, we have no burgers today,” was his response. I hang up the phone as I violently throw the room service menu across the room.

But it’s not just the food service. Everything is a tragic comedy. When you pull into the hotel compound they have the guy with the mirror on a stick checking under the vehicle for bombs. First, I can tell just by looking at how this guy goes about this business he has no clue whatsoever as to what he’s looking for. I’ve been in the military. I’ve passed into secure areas in a vehicle and the attention to detail and seriousness of a MP looking for a bomb under your vehicle and this kid who isn’t even looking down towards the mirror is frighteningly obvious.

Then before you pass into the hotel you have to go through a metal detector. If you’re white, the metal detector buzzing is no cause for further investigation. If you’re not white, buzzing gets you some extra attention with the wand. Why? I have no clue.

Anyway, back to the trip.

Sunday I hire a car and driver for the entire day for a whopping $20. I ask him to take me around and show me the sights. First the driver, Bapu, takes me to the old part of town. We parked the car next to a leper clinic and walk across the street to Charminar, a monument built in 1591 by the city’s then Muslim ruler Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah.

Charminar

Being white made me stand out like a sore thumb though. I even had people coming up to me and asking if they could take a picture (which they called snaps) with me. It also brought out the beggars which were, by far, the most aggressive that I’ve ever encountered anywhere in the world. They followed me for blocks at a time. When we walked over to the Laad Bazaar and then to a mosque I was again followed.

Next we went to Golkonda, a ruined city and fortress. Built in 1143, it spans a very large area and is a constant uphill trek. Bapu gave me little facts about each area and he listened in on some of the tour guides to fill in what he didn’t know. Here again, my whiteness was a draw of much attention. Little children would stop dead in their tracks and smile and say hello. One Indian woman who was with her husband saw me and giggled as she walked past. I could see as she walked by that her head and body kept turning as I passed and when I turned around she was standing there still giggling. Then her husband whacked her on the head with his newspaper and said “Don’t be rude.”

Golkonda

As we left Golkonda a young dog walked right out into the middle of the street and lay down in the road. One motorcyclist swerved to avoid it but Bapu hit his breaks and honked his horn until the dog moved. He looked back at me in the backseat and said “He just laid there in the road,” as he shook his head. I responded back “Well, he’s never going to grow up to be a big dog if he keeps doing that.” When the dog finally got up out of the middle of the street and returned to the sidewalk, a small boy, maybe 6 years old, holding his mother’s hand, kicked the dog in the face.

Kids playing in the pool at Lumbini Park

We ended the day going to Lumbini Park. We took the boat out to the massive Buddha statue in the middle of the lake. Standing close to 60 feet tall it can be seen from almost anywhere around the massive Hussain Sagar lake. The statue is carved out of a single stone and the man-made island was constructed in the middle of the lake as its home.

Buddha

I wasn’t sure how to fit this in but Hyderabad drivers have to be some of the best (or worst) drivers in the world. There are simply no traffic laws. I’m sure laws exist but you won’t find anyone following anything close to a traffic law. The rule of the road is you can drive anywhere and any way you wish as long as you don’t cause an accident. Only three lanes on that highway? That’s surely enough room for five cars and a motorbike. Motorcycles pass so close that you can smell what they had for lunch when they whiz by your window.

Traffic around Charminar

Personally, I would go insane driving in Hyderabad. I would be a complete nervous wreck driving just 5 miles. Instead of blinkers, people honk to let you know that they’re passing or coming up behind you. Traffic is nothing more than a long series of horns blowing signals to other drivers. People drive inches from your vehicle and zip in and out of traffic with absolutely no regard whatsoever for those white lines painted on the pavement. The night I arrived in Hyderabad the taxi driver honked at every vehicle and pedestrian he passed. I thought to myself “What an asshole,” but I would soon learn that this is how they do it. Many vehicles even have “Sound horn please” on their bumpers begging other drivers to alert them to their presence by tooting the old horn.

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful. I spent most of my time here working though I did leave the office one evening for dinner out on the town. I’ve heard that there’s some sort of nightlife here in Hyderabad but I was too buried to make it out anywhere. Maybe next time.