Sunday, June 12, 2011

Recce trip to Guwahati

Last month, we came for a quick recce to Guwahati. I had hoped to write about it in this blog, but by the time we got back, we realised our cat was down with jaundice. A hectic and extremely stressful 45 days of vet visits, hospital admission (can't recommend CGS Hospital enough), drips, liver tonic injections, etc followed in the midst of the chaos of relocating from Delhi.

I had blogged about a couple of things, but here's a round up - albeit a month late.

The main purposes of our recce trip to Guwahati were:
1. check out the housing options
2. check if there were vets familiar with cats and their treatment (over 90% of pet cats in India are semi feral and rarely innoculated, its been difficult to find vet's familar with cats even in the main metros)
3. check if cat food and cat litter were available in the city
4. check on basic groceries

The purpose of points 3 and 4 (common to every move) is so that I can pack enough extras of essentials which then come in our truck load of stuff being shipped, rather than paying excess baggage on subsequent flights.

Touchdown into Guwahati was beautiful, snow capped mountains, the majestic Brahmaputra, green cultivated and forest land were soothing to my eyes, over-strained by the concrete and pollution of Delhi.

We had heard a lot of comments about how Guwahati was more polluted and congested than Kanpur and Chandni Chowk combined. Having been here, I suspect people who made these statements have never been to Kanpur (I visit at least once a year).

Roads in Guwahati for the most part are 2 or 4 lane and while traffic isn't as indisciplined as Delhi, people do tend to stop in the middle of the road (to pick up passengers, fix a flat etc) and hence hold up traffic for a bit. But I still haven't had to deal with anything as extreme as Ashram chowk or Gurgaon crossing at peak times.

Our first stop from the airport, was at the famed Kamakhya Temple - one of the 58 Shakti Peethas across the country - to seek heavenly blessings before starting a new chapter.

House hunting was a challenge. The eternal argument of every move resurfaced - he wanted an independent house, I wanted an apartment - but we decided to keep an open mind and explore both options.

The bungalows that we saw got me into deep depression - poorly lit, in the middle of congested areas  with train tracks and markets right next door, ground floor bathrooms with only wire mesh doors leading to the garden (covered with a pull-back flimsy curtain on the inside) . One 4 bedroom bungalow we saw, was completely missing a kitchen! Just space for a microwave on a platform next to the dining room! I know a scholarly friend in Egypt who would have been quite happy with this arrangement, but I NEED space in MY kitchen.

98% of houses do not have ANY kind of STORAGE. No cupboards in the bedrooms or even in the kitchen. You are supposed to put in your own. I have later heard, that this is a common practice across Eastern India extending to West Bengal and Orissa too. But I just can't afford to pack cupboards and take them with me on every transfer, what if our next move is to Bombay? We will have to end up living inside one of those cupboards!

The apartments we saw, were tiny and bathrooms were in a very run down state. Given that we hardly stay 2 years in a city and my dreaded weekly dates with electricians and plumbers in Delhi, I really do not have the patience and strength to deal with fixing up another house, just to find its time to move, as soons as I've just got it into liveable condition.

The problem of housing in Guwahati is that there is a very negligible population of corporate transfers and good quality houses are snapped up before the owner can say  "available" So the hunt will continue after we return.

The company guest house is quaint and lovely,  the guest house boys are very pleasant and eager to be of assistance. They have already introduced me to quite a few new vegetables, unique to Assam. The food was good and hence we did not eat out, except for one meal at Paramapara - Gateway Paradise - an authentic Assamese thali experience and the airport's Port Lounge on our way back to Delhi

After the disastrous start on housing, I hoped groceries would be better. There's a Big Bazaar and a Vishal Mega Mart in town. But I found that the better and cleaner options were 9 to 11, Tanz and a few other such independent stores. However even after checking out over 10-12 stores, I did not come across brown bread or skimmed milk, which means I will have to wake up and provide nutritious hot breakfasts for the hubby. Lets see how long these good intentions last. Already thinking of contacting friends in Nestle to ensure the distributor brings in a couple of cartons of blue wala doodh and peela wala doodh at the start of each month.

Other basics are rather easily available. Although, I will have to get back into my Egypt habit of checking expiry dates on every item before putting it in my shopping cart. Aquafina and Kinley water were not available at most supermarkets, nor did I see any diet pesi. But since Pizza Hut carries them, I'm sure I can find it upon a deeper search or another phone call to friends in Pepsi (these are the advantages of doing an MBA! - you have friends in most MNC's - who are probably resonsible for getting  you addicted to their produicts in the 1st place)

Found a vet who seemed cleaner than my Delhi vet, he said he had feline rabies vaccines in stocks but if I needed fel-o-vax or anything else I would need to tell him at least a week in advance, so he could get it from Calcutta. Given our international moves, our cat has to be given the additional vaccine so we can transport her across countries. But at least the vet issue was sorted out.

So the final stop was to find cat food. Checked out a couple of pet stores (which didnt carry any kind of pet food - just sold fish and birds) and pet food stores -which were mainly selling accessorries and food for dogs.

One of the shops I went into, I ask the guy at the counter "billi ka khana hain kya?" (do you have cat food). He gestured towards the dog food and said "ye hi khilao" (feed her this only). Horrified, I reply "BILLI hain!" (She's a CAT!), He says "teekh hain, tho biscuit khilao!" (oh, ok. then, feed her biscuits) while pointing at some dog biscuits!.

Pedigree is available in Guwahati, so I'm sure we could talk to someone to ensure a supply of whiskas- but the little brat has hated the new formulation of whiskas (4 years back - a global change). She is a "friskies" addict and extremely brand loyal. Friskies isnt available in India, so I think this will be a good excuse for me to make a couple of trips to Thailand just to get her food - the hubby will never say no when it comes to his darling cat! However just so she won't starve, I've carried about 25 kilos of Royal canin wet food wet food with us, which should last a couple of months.

Cat litter was unheard of anywhere in Guwahati. Our princess refuses to use sand and I refuse to deal with the smell that comes from wet sand, so 75 kilos of cat litter is coming in the shipment too.

We're quite excited about moving to the North East. Its a region we have long been wanting to explore. However moving to aplace to live is very different from visiting on a holiday and having access to what once considers daily necessities is quite essential.. What I consider necessities, may be considered luxuries by others, but having them available makes it easier for me to slip into a comfort zone. What you consider necessities, may be completely irrelevant to me. That's what makes us who we are and as long as we aren't making anyone else miserable or unhappy with our needs, then I think its ok. What do you think?

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