Pooja's Great India Adventure

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Pooja Lodhia recaps her great adventure to India with Governor Greg Abbott.

Hi, friends! Thanks for checking out my new blog! I'll be traveling to India with Gov. Greg Abbott this week and updating you along the way.

SUNDAY, APRIL 1, 2018

I am back in town and incredibly grateful for the past ten days. I have been trying to describe the trip to my friends and family and keep failing miserably! All I can say is, "It was incredible!"

Some trip highlights:

1. Frolicking around Mumbai with my relatives! My awesome cousins took Noe and me to Chowpatty Beach, Colaba street market, and more! My nephew even took us to Palli Market to see the fruit and vegetable stands! It was so cool to hang out with them, and even cooler to see the city through their eyes and experiences. It was the perfect start of our trip!

2. Getting to tour IT Centers in Bangalore! Bangalore is known for its Information Technology centers, and we got to tour two different places. We played Tic-Tac-Toe with a robot, rode self-driving voice activated cars, and had a blast with interactive video games. It was a neat experience to see such high levels of science and math in a country with such fewer resources than we enjoy in the United States.

3. Exploring Delhi, the capitol city! Throughout the trip, there were rumblings that the governor might be meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Finally, on a Wednesday night, his office confirmed - it was a go! We weren't allowed into the meeting, so we waited outside the gates for the Governor to arrive. He came out more than an hour later! The governor, his wife, and one staff member were allowed to attend. The U.S. Diplomat, a translator (who wasn't used), and a few of PM's staff members were also there. The governor said he was served juice (he chose watermelon), and the two men talked for more than an hour about a variety of topics, including self-defense, healthcare, and Texas' oil and gas sector.

4. Who could forget the Taj Mahal?! I visited the monument when I was in middle school, and I remember being blown away by its beauty. This time, it felt even more beautiful. There's a reason eight million people visit it every year!

5. It was really a neat experience getting to the know Governor Greg Abbott, his wife Cecilia, and their staff. Whether you agree with the governor's politics or not, I'd be hard to imagine not getting along with such a friendly group. They were polite to everybody we met, and seemed to genuinely enjoy spending time with each other. I've never noticed the Governor's sense of humor on television or during press conferences, but he's definitely funnier than you would probably guess.

6. Hanging out with Bob Garrett, the journalist from the Dallas Morning News. He works in the paper's Austin bureau, covering the state legislature and the governor's office. He was hilarious, kind, and entertaining. It's always nice meeting experienced journalists we can look up to!

FRIDAY, MARCH 30, 2018

WOW! That's all I have to say about the Taj Mahal!

What an incredible experience!!!

Many of you have probably seen photos of the ancient wonder, but I'm here to tell you that it is grander, more beautiful, and more romantic than you probably expect.

PHOTOS: GIFTS, TREASURES AND MEMORIES OF INDIA


The emperor Shah Jahan built the shrine for his favorite wife, who died while delivering his 14th child.

The monument is actually a mausoleum, built as a symbol of eternal love. Today, both husband and wife and buried there.

And, if you don't care about the romantic part (I know, I know..), consider the engineering feat! The Taj Mahal took 22 years to build and finally opened in 1653! Legend has it that more than 20,000 workers built the monument by hand, using more than 1,000 elephants to transport the white marble.

Even today, it's considered one of the most symmetrical structures in the world.

Governor Abbott signed the guest book: "Our visit endears our hearts to India forever."

THURSDAY, MARCH 29, 2018

Good morning from the road! We are on our way to the Taj Mahal and I am super excited!

We left Delhi this morning, and it's a four-hour drive to the big tourist destination in Agra.

Yesterday was another incredible day. In the morning, Gov. Abbott met with India's Petroleum minister to discuss natural gas shipments from Texas to India.

Then he met with the Minister of Commerce and Industry and Civil Aviation to discuss possible direct flights from Texas to India. Those Texas flights could be from either Dallas or Houston (I bet you can't guess which one I'm rooting for!), and Gov. Abbott says he expects to see them relatively soon. Pretty cool!

Finally, the governor met with Indian Prime Minister Modi for more than an hour! It was the first time PM Modi had met with a U.S. Governor since he took office four years ago.

We weren't allowed into the meeting due to security concerns, but the guv looked elated after the meeting. He says the two men spoke about a huge range of topics, from defense to healthcare to Hurricane Harvey. Gov Abbott presented the PM with an engraved limestone bowl in honor of Texas' oil and gas sector.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 28, 2018

As my incredible trip starts to come to an end, I'd love to share a few more observations about India!

First, this country rocks! I have never seen so much friendliness in one place! Complete strangers have been coming up to us as we shoot video to ask if they can help.

The pollution is rough. There are signs all over Delhi, noting dangerous air pollution levels for the day.

We have seen several people walking around with face masks on. I feel okay for the most part, but Noe keeps telling me my voice suddenly sounds much more nasal. I've actually been breathing in hot water (a very technical process, I know!) before voicing my stories!

Almost everybody speaks English, and those who don't will still try to understand you. I truly believe that language isn't the only part of communication that matters.

Indians love Americans (and especially Texans)! Everybody we've met has been excited and impressed that we are from Texas. One man told me today, "America is the best at everything, and Texas is basically the king of America." I made sure to tell him that I love India also! It's pretty awesome when somebody loves the place that you live.

Kids seem more mature here than in America. Stores and buildings remain open very late here, and we've often seen kids as young as 10 hanging out after midnight. Of course, most of the stores don't open until 11 a.m., but the late nights are a blast!

TUESDAY, MARCH 27, 2018

Big news! We have just learned that Governor Greg Abbott is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday afternoon!

Modi was elected four years ago and hasn't met with any other U.S. Governors until now. The governor wants to talk to him about improving business and trade relations between Texas and India. First Lady Cecilia Abbott is scheduled to go, too!

I'm REALLY hoping we'll be able to get some sort of access to the meeting. We'll keep you updated!

Earlier in day...

Good evening! We just arrived in Delhi after another long, fun day!

We toured two IT facilities in Bangalore this morning/afternoon, then hopped on a plane and arrived in the country's capitol city!

Noe and I both REALLY enjoyed Bangalore. It felt hipper and more tropical than Mumbai. Then again, I'm sure a lot of people would disagree with us! We've spent such little time in each city that our experiences have really depended on the few places we've been able to visit.

Bangalore is often called India's Silicon Valley. It's in the southern part of the country and has an estimated 900 Information Technology companies. Young people from all over the country move there for opportunity.

We'll be live tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM India time (10 PM Houston time) with a cool story about an IT company expanding in Plano. While touring the facility, Governor Abbott got to sit in a voice activated self driving car, play tic-tac-toe with a robot, and try to figure out a video game where he felt like he was on an oil rig. For the record, I tried the video game, too, and was terrible at it! Mrs. Cecilia Abbott was the only one who could figure it out!

I'll see you in about five and a half hours! :)

MONDAY, MARCH 26, 2018

Good evening, friends! It's about 3 AM here in Bangalore (4:30 PM Houston time) and I am hoping to get some sleep soon!

We had a whirlwind day! We started at 7:30 AM in Mumbai by going to the headquarters of JSW Group with Governor Greg Abbott and his staff. JSW is the country's largest steel producers and has a plant in Baytown! Today, the company announced a $500 million expansion that will hopefully lead to 500 new jobs in Baytown. Most of those jobs pay around $65,000.

WATCH: Pooja's adventure inside the Mumbai markets
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Pooja shows us how to get our fashion fix in India's busiest city.



Pretty exciting news!



Once we finished up there, we rushed to the airport and got on a plane to Bangalore.

Bangalore is super cool! It's often called India's "Silicon Valley" because of its huge Information Technology sector. Like so many other parts of India, the traffic is crazy, and the nightlife is awesome!

After landing, we first met with Governor Greg Abbott for a little bit. It still surprises me how open and available he has been to us on this trip. He has told us some great stories - most revolve around his daughter, Audrey, who lives in California. He says she begged to come on the trip but had to study for exams. Strict dad!

I say that as the girl whose dad just texted her: "Stop socializing. Focus on your work!" J

After our meeting, Noe and I went outside for a little bit to explore! We told ourselves we would only spend about an hour outside - we would get some video and update our social media pages, and then get back to our hotel rooms to start working on our broadcast stories. Of course, that didn't happen! We ended up having a blast in Bangalore! We checked out street food vendors and walked into shops.



Check out my twitter page (@PoojaOnTV) to watch our adventures. We still haven't actually bought anything because we've been so busy shooting video and exploring, but it's always fun to look!

We have another early morning tomorrow. We'll be touring two Indian businesses - Wipro and Infosys. They're both major IT firms with offices in Texas.

Some observations about India so far:

People here are nice. Like, too nice! I feel like every time I turn around, somebody is trying to help me with my bags or take me somewhere interesting. It's a great feeling.

The time difference is awful. 10.5 hours is a LOT! I'm only here for a week, and I doubt I'll get over the jetlag before I get home. Oh, well!

Everybody in India is unbelievably high-tech. No joke - even street food vendors use iPad minis! There are more cell phones here than in the United States, which is pretty incredible when you consider income levels.

Talk to you tomorrow!!! :)

SUNDAY, MARCH 25, 2018

Good morning from Mumbai! It's about 10:15 AM (11:46 P.M. Houston time) and we are getting ready to tour an Indian business with the governor! It's going to be another busy day!

On a personal note, I got a chance to hang out with my family a little bit yesterday. I have two cousins from Sugar Land who now live in India. One of them started a non-profit in Mumbai (www.dasra.org), and the other one works for the U.S. Embassy in Delhi. I grew up thinking they were the two COOLEST guys in the world, and I still feel that way!

My mom's brother and his wife, my mom's sister and her husband, my dad's uncle, and more cousins and nephews also live in Mumbai!

It's awesome to see them, and it's also super helpful for us as journalists. They took us around the city, showing us local points of interest and making sure we were well fed and safe. I'm able to bring yall so much more local flavor because of their experience!

So, yes, I'm a very lucky girl!

SATURDAY, MARCH 24, 2018

Good evening! It's about 1 A.M. here (2:30 P.M. Houston time) and we are BUSY BUSY BUSY!

Noe and I woke up WAY too early to go to Bandra, a cool, trendy neighborhood in West Mumbai. We got to check out vegetable markets, ate street food, and rode a rickshaw through some of the worst traffic I've ever seen. It was a blast!!!
Pooja eats some fiery street food!
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Pooja is on a great adventure in India and today she tried street food.



After that, we went back to our hotel and met up with Gov. Abbott. He had a meeting with the heads of Reliance Industries. Reliance is a conglomerate that specializes in multiple sectors like telecommunications, oil and gas refining, and retail. Just for an idea of how powerful and influential the company is: I asked an Indian if it was bigger than Apple or Walmart in America. He laughed and said there's NO comparison!

The governor was originally going to meet with the billionaire chairman and managing director, Mukesh Ambani, but, in a fun twist of fate, his son ended up getting engaged today! Gov. Abbott met with a Reliance executive director and other leaders in the company.

We were not allowed in the room during the meeting, but the governor briefed us afterward. He says his two hour meeting went exceptionally well, and he hopes to see the company expand in Houston. The Houston office currently has twenty employees and $10 million in annual revenue.

Exciting news!

Tomorrow is scheduled to be another fun and busy day! We are meeting the governor in the morning and touring a local business together. After that, he is giving a speech to the Rotary Club of Bombay.

And, what's a day in India without more street food?! I can't wait!

Talk to you tomorrow!!!

FRIDAY, MARCH 23, 2018

It is 2:30 AM here, India time. That means it is 4 PM Houston time! I know I need to get some sleep, but after a nearly 20-hour flight and a 10.5 hour time difference, why even bother??

We landed in Mumbai this evening with Governor Greg Abbot. It's really exciting to talk to him about India because he is so interested in the culture. He has lots of kind things to say about Indian Americans in Texas and he says he can't wait to meet local Indians on our trip! He'll be in meetings all day, talking to both business and political leaders. We'll be there, too, taking notes and asking questions.

After we finally got off the plane this afternoon, we put together some stories for broadcast.

But, around 11 p.m. (exactly when we should have gone to sleep!), we decided we needed to go explore this fantastic city! So, I called a couple of my cousins who live here and demanded they act as tour guides! We had a total blast! They took us to Chowpatty Beach, which is a festive place for street food, kites, and snow cones.

Think Kemah Boardwalk, but way more random!

Noe tried pav bhaji, which is an Indian treat involving curry, potatoes, and bread.



I tried paan, which is basically a leaf wrapped in a triangular shape with spices, dried fruits, and sugar inside. I've had it before and love the sweetness of it, but this time was different because the vendor actually lit the paan on FIRE and stuffed it in my mouth! It was terrifyingly awesome!



Okay, I'm finally getting sleepy! Talk to yall tomorrow! :)

jueves, 22 de marzo
Noe Cumplido, fotógrafo

Con la finalidad de fortalecer las relaciones comerciales y económicas entre Texas y la India, el gobernador Greg Abbott encabeza la delegación que viaja a dicho país. El enfoque principal del grupo tejano es lograr más acuerdos comerciales con empresarios hindúes que beneficien el estado de Texas.

El gobernador Abbott señaló que se reunirá con inversionistas que ya tienen negocios en Texas. "Es mi primera visita a este país, lo que expande mi perspectiva de negocio en todo el mundo," expresó el republicano.

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El gobernador Abbott señaló que se reunirá con inversionistas de India que ya tienen negocios en Texas.



Durante ocho días, la delegación tejana visitará cuatro ciudades de la India.

Abbott también informó que firmará algunos contratos y anunciará próximamente acuerdos importantes para ambos países.

THURSDAY, MARCH 22, 2018
We are now about four hours into our big flight! We land in Ireland in a few hours, and then we'll refuel and head to Mumbai.

As you probably expect, I've been spending most of my time eating too much food and annoying photographer Noe!

We have internet access, but it's SLOW! As frustrating as that is, the lack of internet access is forcing us to talk to each other a lot more than we usually would. Maybe we should all try putting away our phones and computers more often!

There are 15 of us on the plane.



From the governor's office: Gov. Greg Abbott, First Lady Cecilia Abbott, Senior Advisor to First Lady Chelsea Holden, Deputy Chief of Staff and Communications Director Matt Hirsch, Deputy Chief of Staff David Whitley, Executive aide Jim Dwyer, Director of Economic Development and Tourism Bryan Daniel, and media director/photographer Cody Kloster.

The Texas Economic Development Corporation is funding the trip, so President/CEO Robert Allen and events manager Jackie Merrick are here, too. There are also two security officers.

Then, the media: a reporter from the Dallas Morning News, star KTRK photographer Noe Cumplido, and yours truly!

I'm actually the only one on the trip who has been to India (and it's been more than a decade!), but that makes me the resident expert!

I tried to describe to the governor the traffic in Mumbai, but I figured it's just something you have to see to believe! He says he's looking forward to seeing the culture and meeting the people there. He has already set up meetings with several Indian companies and is also planning on meeting with political leaders.

I just found out that Indian Prime Minister Modi hasn't met with any U.S. governors since he was elected in 2014, so I'm hoping Texas will get the honor!

Governor Abbott shared this interesting fact: India has the seventh largest economy in the world. Texas has the tenth!

See you later! Okay, back to annoying Noe... :)

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21, 2018

Governor Abbott is going to India on a trade mission, funded by The Texas Economic Development Corporation. He and other business leaders will be touring Indian companies and meeting with both business and political leaders.

They promise me there will be some BIG announcements involving business partnerships between India and Texas. One of the announcements even involves the Houston area!

We'll be going to Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, and Agra.

My mom, who was born in Mumbai, broke it down to me like this:

Mumbai is India's New York, except busier and more crowded. (Way more crowded.) Almost 22 million people live there, while 18 million live in New York City. Mumbai is in the western part of the country, and is its financial, commercial, and entertainment center.

Bangalore is in the southern part of the country. It's the center of the country's huge Information Technology sector. In fact, some call it the "Silicon Valley" of India.

Delhi is the capitol of India and the second most populated city in the world. It's kind of like the Washington D.C. of India - all government services are based here.

Agra is very close to Delhi, and we'll be going there to visit the Taj Mahal. The ivory white marble monument was built in 1632 for the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to honor his beloved wife, who died during childbirth.

The mausoleum attracts as many as 8 million visitors a year. I visited once as a child, and I'm excited to see it again!

WHY INDIA?
According to the governor's office, Texas exported about $2 billion in goods to India last year. Texas imported about $4 billion.

The connection makes sense since so many Indian Americans call Texas home. Both Houston and Dallas have some of the largest Indian populations in the country.

The non-profit India House estimates there are more than 140,000 Indians in the Houston area (we're counting Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery counties), and the number is growing quickly.

I was amazed to find this statistic: According to the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 35 percent of Sugar Land residents are Asian, and Indians make up the area's largest Asian group.

If you ever get a chance, check out The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Stafford. The Hindu temple is beautiful, built out of 33,000 pieces of hand-carved Italian marble and Turkish limestone.

Then, there's southwest Houston's Gandhi District, with its huge concentration of Indian and Pakistani shops and restaurants. If you've never been, head over to Hillcroft Avenue between Highway 59 and the Westpark Tollway. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain even featured the district in one of his recent shows.

THE GOVERNOR AND I: ABOUT OUR TRIP
We fly out of Austin Thursday morning and land Friday afternoon in Mumbai. That means you'll be able to watch my reports starting at 6 p.m. Friday!

We're bringing special equipment so we'll be able to report live from India, which should be pretty interesting considering the 10.5 hour time difference! So, if I look a little loopy on TV, promise you'll give me a break!

I'll also be updating this blog throughout the trip. We'll be posting lots of videos and photos on social media, too, so stay tuned!

Follow Pooja Lodhia on Twitter and Facebook.
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