Bastille Day in Pondicherry: Part 3

By Reita Hutagalung, Global MBA student 2013-2013, Indonesia

Here comes the last day in Puducherry! People split up into sub-groups, as several people had different interests for how to spend their last day here. After having another brunch at the French bakery, some of us set off to explore the city.

We started by going to one of the gardens in the city. Unlike Bangalore, which actually has cool weather, Puducherry is very – once again, VERY! – hot and humid, as it is next to the sea. While the city itself is not very large, the walk to the garden seemed long due to the heat of the sun. Once we arrived, I walked under the shade of the trees and rested. The garden itself was not large and, though it was pretty, it was unfortunately poorly maintained. From there we headed for the art museum. Unfortunate again, as along the way we wanted to see the Ashram (which was closed, probably because it was Sunday), and we arrived at the museum as lunch hour approached for its staff.  We went to a Hindu temple instead, which was dedicated to the worship of Ganesha, the elephant god. We were told that there would be a real elephant in front of the temple, but only at 4 PM, so after taking photos we left in search of lunch.

We came to a nice place with rooftop dining that served French-Chinese-Italian food; although we were a bit puzzled about how they all could fit together, we decided to give it a try. The ambiance was good and it was a cooling place after walking under the sun the whole afternoon. However after waiting for quite long for the food, the food was just ok. One learning point: specialization is true not only for companies nowadays; it seems to apply to restaurants as well ;)

After the long lunch and rest, we headed back to the temple to see the elephant: Lakshmi. It was interesting to see people lined up to give her coins and then Lakshmi would put the tip of her trunk on the head as if she blessed the people. After watching how it went for other people, we decided that it looked safe to have your head flashed by an elephant’s trunk (:P) and we decided to try it. We got in line and put some coins out.  It was funny to see how Lakshmi inhaled the coins and stored them in her trunk; after some time the keeper would ask for the coins and Lakshmi would pour them out of her trunk. When our turn came, one person tried first while the others were ready with cameras. In between our excitement and anxiety, every person needed several ties and several coins before they were satisfied with the pictures. When it finally was my turn, I was excited, but it turned out I was quite scared and I kept dodging my head away from her trunk’s path. Well, at least the picture looked as if I wasn’t scared (haha…).

At the end of the day we went back to La Maison Rose and had good dinner with most of the interns. Unfortunately, some of us had booked our return train that at 8.30 PM. Why unfortunate? Remember our initial plan: Bastille Day celebration? Guess what, it started at 8.30 PM! So after going all the way in India to get a little glimpse of Bastille Day, I just have to live the fact that celebrating Bastille Day was not to be for me in 2013.

Bastille Day in Pondicherry: Part 2

By Reita Hutagalung, Global MBA student 2013-2013, Indonesia

After we reached the hostel, we rushed to take showers to freshen up and then went to the recommended French bakery. The pastries spared our tongues the pain of missing French bread and we were ready to discover the city.

Pondicherry was recently renamed as Puducherry in 2006, taken from the Tamil language, which means “New Town”. It’s a Union Territory of India formed from four enclaves of former French India and named after the largest, Pondicherry, which was known as “The French Riviera of the East” (La Côte d’Azur de l’Est). The town is divided into two sections: the French Quarter (Ville Blanche or ‘White town’) and the Indian quarter (Ville Noire or ‘Black Town’.) Many streets are still named with French names and French-style villas are a common sight in the French part of town. The main sights to see were a 32 km coastline, palm-fringed beaches, fishing villages, beach resorts, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the Mahatma Gandhi statue, the international city of Auroville, and churches and temples within the city. After discovering some of the historical sites, we wanted to go to the beach called Paradise Island. But before that, we wanted to have a good lunch! In Pondicherry there are many French restaurants because I think that there are still many French people living in Pondicherry. That hot afternoon, we went to a restaurant called La Maison Rose and it was perfect! Set in the backyard of a house, the eating place was in the middle of a little garden shaded by trees. Several plants and flowers were set beautifully and jazz music played softly, brought in the relaxed feeling after going around the city under the scorching hot sun. We rushed to order drinks to re-hydrate ourselves and then moved on to satisfy our grumbling stomachs. The owner of the restaurant was so nice and came to meet us in person to take our orders. When the food came, they were just perfect! We were re-energized to continue our journey around Pondi.

We had to cross the water in a boat to get to the island.  In order to get to the boat hub, we had to ride in a motor rickshaw (called “oto” in India). That in itself was another unique experience for some of our friends who come from western countries where rickshaws are not common. With little knowledge of the actual price, we confidently bargained for three rickshaws; after some (if not little, hahaha) success in bargaining, we took off. The island was not far from the hub and it took the boat around 15 minutes. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the afternoon, so although some of us swam in the sea, we couldn’t play volleyball since they wouldn’t give out balls with the boat waiting to go back. Another oddity was that we spotted several signs not to swim in the water, but people were swimming. So with no swimming (by rule) and no volleyball, there was little to do besides hanging out in a little shop. Not much of paradise, as it turned out. Coming back to the city, we closed the day with another amazing dinner at a place called Madame Shanti, a fine dining restaurant. Food-wise it was just superb, superb, superb!

Bastille Day in Pondicherry: Part 1

By Reita Hutagalung, Global MBA student 2013-2013, Indonesia

As a student in France, I want to experience important French events and festivals held in France. One important day for France is Bastille Day, France’s national holiday.  It commemorates the 1790 Fete de la Federation, a symbol of the uprising of a modern nation and the reconciliation of all the French within the constitutional monarchy preceding the First Republic during French Revolution. Since we are doing our project in India, I thought I could not experience Bastille Day. But hope came when news from other French interns spread: the chance to celebrate Bastille Day in India! One part of India was a French colony: Pondicherry. If you watched the recent movie “Life of Pi”, you can see some parts of Pondicherry in the initial part of the movie. Because it was a former French colony, Pondicherry had a Bastille Day celebration on July 14, so most interns coming from French universities planned to go there together. Amidst the hectic project and complexity of big group arrangements, approximately 20 interns went to Pondi!

Our adventure starts with a new experience: Indian AC (air conditioned) sleeper train. I have never been in a sleeper train before so I was curious how it would be. This is how it turned out: in one car, the inside was divided into several berths. In each berth there are three walls on which three “beds” could be installed vertically on each wall. When it wasn’t yet time to sleep, the lowest and middle part could be turned into seats. When the person with the middle “bed” wants to sleep then he just needs to lift what was once the cushion, put the chains that are connected to the top “bed” hung from the roof and voila! You have another bed =) We actually found it unique and for a long ride, it’s quite ok instead of having to be in seated position all the way; on the bed you could lay down and if you’re tired enough, you’ll fall asleep.  As we were beginners in this experience, we didn’t know that the air conditioning was very cold! We also didn’t know that once you get in you have to take the bed sheets and blankets from storage (if you opt for that when purchasing the ticket). We only realized it after some time when people showed up with sheets and blankets that had the same motifs and they started to go to bed. We started our hunt for blankets and bed sheets; unfortunately, our cart had run out of the inventory. With some determination we went all the way to the end of train, but no luck, we didn’t get enough for everyone. I was lucky to be given the blanket, so at least I didn’t feel cold and could sleep. It was a funny experience, trying to sleep in the train. It was basically comfortable and we even had our own electric socket if we want to charge our mobile phones or laptop; it’s just the snores of other people that you have to bear. If you were wondering how long the ride was and why we took the sleeper train, let me tell you: it was 10 hours! The distance between Bangalore and Pondicherry is 306.9 Km; but the train speed was slow and it stopped at many stations.

In between the state of sleeping and awake, we heard the announcement: we finally arrived the next morning. Our young adventurous souls were up again and we pushed ourselves to be awake. As the train approached Pondi, we couldn’t wait for the following: French pastries, French food, Pondi’s beaches and temples, and just getting to know the city!

Morocco IIP: Week 1 in Marrakech

By Cassandra Hendricks, Global MBA student 2012-2013, USA

The International Immersion Project is an integral part of the ESSEC Global MBA experience.  Other than that, we didn’t know anything about our projects or their locations for most of the academic year.  There was much speculation amongst the students about the locations, the topics and the teams.  I secretly hoped for an interesting project in a warm location that was new to me.  That’s not too much to ask, right?

I was thrilled to learn that I was selected for the project in Morocco along with three of my classmates.  Our mission was to develop a marketing strategy for introducing ecotourism to Mirleft, a small village along the southern coast.  We would work in close collaboration with our sponsors, Union des Franco-Marocains pour le Développement (UFMD), and the Mayor of Mirleft.  We would visit Marrakech, Agadir, and Mirleft to obtain an in-depth understanding of the different types of tourism and opportunities for development in Morocco.

The first leg of our trip brought us to Marrakech.  I visited Morocco years ago so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect and I was looking forward to escaping “summer” in Paris.  But I didn’t visit during the summer… or during the holy month of Ramadan.  Temperatures exceeded 40 degrees Celsius every day and we found that our schedule was often calculated to enable us to be on time for iftar (breaking the fast).

During the first week, UFMD arranged a full itinerary for us.  We started with seeing the sights of Marrakech where we enjoyed a guided tour of Jemaa El Fna souq in the medina, the famous Koutoubia Mosque and garden, and the Majorelle Garden.  The next day we had the first of many meetings with key actors in the government and tourism industry.  Hours later, we were happy to escape the board room and embark on a tour of the most luxurious hotels in Marrakech.  In my opinion, Le Royal Mansour Hotel was the most opulent.  More like a palace, it was commissioned by King Mohamed VI and sets the tone for luxury hotels in the city.  Guests do not rent rooms or suites; they rent entire riads with private pools and 24 hour butler service.  Also high on my list were La Mamounia and the Taj Palace, where many scenes from Sex and the City 2 were filmed.  We managed to remember that we were on a mission and we treated each visit as a company trek.  Each hotel representative was met with questions about visitor demographics and spending habits, changes in the tourism industry, and financial data.

Our last day in Marrakech brought us to the Université Privée de Marrakech which has a specialized program in Tourism and Hospitality.  We toured the university and spoke with administrators where we learned about many of the problems that Morocco’s tourism industry faces.  Rising competition from neighboring countries, infrastructure, cultural perceptions, and changing demands of tourists are some of the challenges to overcome.  Despite these issues, we discovered that Marrakech is on track to reach the targets set out by the government in the Vision 2020 plan aimed at increasing tourism in Morocco.

After four days, we felt like we had gotten into the rhythm of Marrakech life and started to understand their delicate balance between modernism and tradition.  We were sad to leave but looked forward to the adventures waiting for us in Agadir and Mirleft.  Yalla!