Chad Stark at the Taj Mahal
I just spent the last 2 weeks traveling all over India and Nepal for work. To many, this opportunity sounds fun and exciting. However, I was dreading the trip since the day I found out I was going 6 months ago.
Recap of Trip #1 (2012)
This wasn’t my first time in India for business. 2 years ago I went on a 17-day trip to India to source handmade carpets and rugs. I attended the Veranasi Rug Fair, India’s largest annual rug trade show where 100s of carpet and rug vendors display their new product developments, and traveled with a former colleague whom I was not particularly fond of. We stayed in mediocre-at-best hotels with barely any Internet access. It was scorching hot, extremely smelly, and we worked 14-hour days every day for the entire trip – my colleague was the more experienced rug buyer since it was my first time traveling to source product so I followed his lead; I think he was trying to kill me. One experience I remember in particular was driving 2 hours each morning from our hotel to 6 or 7 different mills in the middle-of-no-where India, and then driving 2 hours back to the hotel in pitch black on unfinished roads with no traffic laws. Driving in India is crazy! I don’t know how there are not more accidents, but I was literally scared for my life!! Ultimately I did end up learning a lot about the products we sell but the overall experience was…questionable…. and it took a serious toll on my body making me sick for a couple weeks when I returned.
Trip #2 (2014)
I figured the trip this year was going to be similar except with better company; rather than traveling with this ex-employee who was trying to kill me, I was going to be with my uncle and CEO of Stark John, my partner-in-crime at the office Greg, and our new VP of Product Development whom I was just getting to know named Haynes. The trip was scheduled to be 14 days long instead of 17 so that was a good start. Also, I was traveling to Kathmandu, Nepal for a couple days where I had never been so that was exciting. Now that the trip is over, I can say that I was more than pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the time away from our crazed NY office.
The group was, to say the least, very diverse. John and Greg both shared similar skepticism as I about India in regards to traveling at night and eating out of the hotels – we brought a combined 50+ protein bars in our luggage. Haynes had a different school of thought. Having lived in India for 3-months a year for the past 5 years working for a manufacturing company, Haynes loves India. He basks in the culture and is willing to eat just about anything! I shared his adventurousness to an extent but was also jaded by my previously bad experience in the country.
The first few days were not that day. When I arrived in Delhi on Saturday night, my friend who is from and lives in Delhi picked me up and took me to a nice traditional Indian restaurant called Bukhara. It was excellent. The next day I had a 530am flight with Greg and Haynes to visit a new potential supplier – the flight was 2 hours and then the drive was an additional 2 hours, so we spent 8 hours traveling and only 5 hours working. It was rough.
I was allowed to take the next day off to do something I’ve always dreamed about doing – seeing the Taj Mahal (see pic above). It took 4.5 hours each way in a car to get to Agra but the trip was well worth it. The Taj is an amazing site. I had an incredible tour guide who not only told me the history of the Taj Mahal and the Fort next door, but also took me through the town of Agra to see authentic jewelry and masonry artisans who still use some of the techniques found in the Taj. I bought a cool little ashtray as a souvenir. My guide even took me to a rug manufacturer once he learned what I do for a living! It was awesome.
Greg, Haynes, and I spent the following day visiting mills in a location 2 hours from our hotel where we selected products to present to John later that week; John decided he didn’t want to travel to those mills (smart man) so he rented a conference room at our hotel to review all our selections. One of his friends in the industry does this every time he comes to India so John figured he would give it a shot. After doing this once, I’m conformable saying the John never wants to travel to a mill again…it was very productive since we were able to review only the products we liked in an efficient and concise manner. The next stop was Nepal.
Although the travel schedule was intense, the country’s stench was strong, and the meals were non-existent other than early breakfast, late dinner, and protein bars, I could tell the trip was going to be different than last time. My last trip was really a buying trip with no free time where this one was more of a product development trip. The subtle difference is that instead of just buying things we saw, we spent a lot of time working with the manufacturers to develop new qualities, recolor existing qualities, and learn the technicalities of different woven structures to understand the capabilities of each loom and product type. This is Haynes’ specialty and I was fascinated. I quickly began comprehending the complexities of our product line: the difference between hand loomed product with and without a jacquard; the different types of hand knots and what makes them unique; yarn preparation methods and counts, etc.
Wearing in Kathmandu
The next stop was Kathmandu, Nepal, and I was blown away – what a beautiful city! Not only was the scenery spectacular but the people we so friendly and happy: all smiles all day. Plus there was no terrible smell! I was there for 4 days and it barely even felt like work – we worked 8-10 hours days but the time flew. On our last day we even played golf. There were monkeys on the course and everything! To control these monkeys, guards with slingshots were stationed on the course to shoot rocks at them whenever they came onto the fairway. One of the guards even let me shoot his slingshot. What an experience.
Hotel in Varanasi
The next and last leg of the trip was what I was dreading most – Varanasi. However, we weren’t going to the trade show and John decided to shorten the trip by 1 day because of how product the trip had been. He also booked another conference room to have mills come visit us so we could see more people in less time. We only ended up traveling 2 hours from our hotel once and the drive back to the hotel at night wasn’t as bad as I remembered it being. It was still pretty bad, but I wasn’t as scared.
Overall, this trip was a success from both a personal and business standpoint. Not only did we develop and find some amazing products but I also learned much more on this trip than on my previous one. The food was actually a little better than I expected (even though we still ate all our protein bars) and having some free time to site-see and play golf really made the trip more fun. I also brought a video camera with me and filmed almost every aspect of carpet and rug making to make a documentary. More information on that to come!
I won’t say I’m excited to come back to India on this trip again, but I am definitely not as against it as I previously was. Plus, there are still some activities I need to do in India like go to Mumbai and Jaipur. I also discovered a bunch of activities that I need to do in Nepal like visit Pokhara and Everest Base camp. It’s a good thing I will be going to this part of the world at least once every 2 years for the next 10!
Great things to come in 2015 for Stark…keep an eye out!
Until next time,