By Cindy Kerr, Managing Director, Client Services at Switchplace
If you have been in the temporary housing or relocation industry for at least as long as I have (13 years) then you have heard this before- “I need a Two BHK”. If you are new to relocation, the acronym BHK refers to B-Bedroom, H- Hall, K- Kitchen, and the number in front of the B is how many bedrooms. In corporate housing, we are asked daily for a “Two BHK” or a “One BHK” depending on the need of the employees we relocate around the world.
But before we can place one of our guests in a two BHK, we need to find them. I decided to venture off, in search of a long list of suitable accommodations for our guests and clients who need to have temp housing in India.
The planning for a trip to India, starts at least two months in advance, after gathering the list of the cities I needed to visit, my scheduled days in country is at 16 days. Equipped with freshly updated childhood immunizations, Malaria medication and a travel VISA, I leave Dallas with my next stop scheduled in 27-hours in Mumbai, India. Mumbai was a stopover on the way to Bangalore.
Bangalore is known as the Silicon Valley of India and is home to 16 million people and by far the worst traffic that I encountered during my time in India. The rapid growth of Bangalore over the past decade has led to large settlements of “slums” (where families reside who live below India’s poverty line which is equivalent to $360 US per year.) The traffic is dense and unforgiving and causes air quality concerns. Anyone relocating to Bangalore needs to understand that no matter what you read or study, it will not prepare you for life in Bangalore.
Library in Bangalore, India
This is sad but a common street scene in Bangalore. Per the Delhi Financial Times, to get the infrastructure in India on par with the rest of the world it would require $350 trillion U.S. Dollars. Growth over the last 15 years has crippled them because of corruption in government. They only move 1/4 of their waste, and the rest just gets swept into piles in the streets towering over 7-8 feet high.
Cows on the streets of Bangalore, India
Temporary Housing in Bangalore is not plentiful, but is available. The landlords were anxious to show me what they had and were welcoming and everyone invited me to share a meal with them or enjoy tea. I saw what looked like a “C” level corporate apartment with sparse furnishings, and sat in my first traffic jam caused by the cows that roam the streets and sidewalks in India.
Three days later, I board a plane for Hyderabad. Hyderabad is home to the youngest and most well educated population in India. 14.5 million Inhabitants live here and behind the walls of “Mind Space” are skyscrapers that advertise the names of multi-national firms such as Facebook, Yahoo, Google and General Electric.
View from the Westin Mind Space Hyderabad
View of the corporate HQs located in Mind Space complex from the Westin Mind Space Hyderabad
Motorized Rickshaw that drives guests around Mind Space complex where I hitched a ride to the Starbucks!
It was in Hyderabad that I finally saw my first Two BHK. Temp Housing in India in most locations consists or renting an air-conditioned bedroom and bath and sharing a communal living space, hall and kitchen. A Two BHK consists of a suite of two bedrooms and one bathroom that are private, along with a shared hall and kitchen area. With a better understanding of the standards in India and after two full days of apartment tours and one weekend day spent by the pool, I leave for Ahmedabad.
Ahmedabad – home of industrial giants such as Ford, Caterpillar and the Indian automaker Tata, was the most remote of my locations and temporary accommodations are sparse and not readily available. Almost everything I see for two days is a shared accommodation 1 BHK, 2 BHK and even some 3 and 4 BHK units.
Ahmedabad offers very few hotel or dining options that cater to American tastes, for three days I subsist on cashews and almonds from the mini-bar and a lot of sparkling water. Ahmedabad in in a “dry county” in India so no wine is sold anywhere in the city, power outages are frequent, which resulted in my almost losing contact with my life at home. Glad to be leaving Ahmedabad and the 119 degree heat and smog, I rush to the airport and connect back through Mumbai into Chennai.
Chennai is also an industrial area housing auto plants and a technology corridor. Chennai is much more westernized and has a higher standard of living than Ahmedabad or even Bangalore. I locate an Apple Store (for a new lighting cable for the iPad), a Starbucks, and a Hard Rock Café in the mall near my hotel. Equipped with caffeine, and gifts for my colleagues I return to the hotel for a few down days by the pool. After some personal time to recharge, I set out to see what we can expect in Chennai. Chennai offers the best mix of homes and apartments. I meet our Partner in India and we embark on three days of tours in and around this area, seeing some gorgeous ocean side villas that are rented to the many English, Japanese, Australia, Canadian, and American expats who make their homes on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. There is an American school in Chennai and I see several American citizens as I visit neighborhoods throughout Chennai.
Bay of Bengal
Reflections: 16 Days after touching down in India, I travel back to Delhi and spend the afternoon in the United lounge waiting for the plane that will bring me back to Dallas. Airports in India are a myriad of check points all manned by soldiers who carry machine guns. Each flight requires at least five or six security checks and a lot of questions as to why I am in India. There are no signs and no one to answer questions or guide you to what comes next.
The time finally comes to board that beautiful airplane back to the USA. (Yes, I said beautiful, I have never been so happy to see an airplane in my life.) On board, I get comfortable and have a glass of wine and set out for 19.5 hours of flying time back to Newark and then onto Dallas.
As I reflect on the last two weeks of my life I recall all of the emotions that I had experienced, I was frustrated, scared, overwhelmed. I was in awe, saw humor, grandeur, and poverty. I feel hungry and fearful to drink water or eat the food, I feel guilty about feeling that way, and grateful for my life.
I dealt with frustration of not being able to get help in hotels/restaurants, losing power and dealing with communication challenges.
Professionally, I know we can locate suitable, safe accommodations for guests, I know I can talk to people and share what I saw and experienced. I also know that what we do is in the end all about setting expectations.
If you travel to India or accept an assignment there, don’t expect anything close to what you have at home, bring patience and a sense of humor, learn quickly to carry 100 Rupee notes ($1.39 US) and use them freely to get the assistance you need. Get used to cows on the sidewalks (and understand that a classic American Cheeseburger is not made out of Texas beef, so steaks are out of the question ) and hire a great driver. Take a back-up charger for everything you own, count on losing a little weight and request a 1 BHK, unless you want to become very good friends with your neighbors.