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Trip Start Sep 28, 2010
Trip End Sep 01, 2011

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Where I stayed
Shritin Hotel

Flag of India  , Mahārāshtra,
Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bright and early on Tuesday morning I met my customs broker, Aubrey D'Souza, and headed for the port of Nhava Shiva to collect my Land Rover. Finally, after a month of waiting, the day had come! Everything was arranged - I would spend the day at the port finalizing the customs paperwork, and then I would meet with a representative from the insurance company to finalize and pay for my insurance. Perfect! By the evening I planned to be on my way to Pune for a meeting the next day.

The container yard was awe-inspiring – towers of 20 and 40ft boxes holding treasures from all over the world. Surprisingly (well, not really), there’s no tracking system to know the location of a specific container in the maze. So three of us set out to find the box that ended with 7860. Considering it had just traveled across the earth and sat in a container yard for a month, I was hoping we would find a present and not a coffin. After searching for 30 minutes or so we found it, looking to be in good condition with the seal still intact.

My container was at the bottom of a four-box-high tower, one row in from the outer edge. It had to be "dug" out, and the machine they used to do it is probably my new favorite piece of heavy equipment! Try to picture some combination of Jurassic Park, WALL-E, and Mad Max – a post-apocalyptic world where massive mechanical monsters roam industrial fields in search of their prey: shipping containers. Like a python unhinging it’s jaw, the container plucker expanded its proboscis from 20 to 40ft to swallow its catch whole. What a wonderful machine! See the stalking and capture of my container in the video included within this entry.

Once out of the stack, and after a 30-minute wait more excruciating than the time between wakeup and sunrise on Christmas morning, the container was opened to reveal the Defender, safe and sound. Phew! It wasn’t stolen, it wasn’t dropped, it wasn’t sunk in the ocean – the truck was in perfect condition (well, as perfect as a 23-year-old ex-military Land Rover can be) and started right up after connecting the battery. I, and many of the container yard’s workers, stood around admiring the impressive machine for a long while (see picture).

At this point it would seem that I was home free, expecting to be on my way to Pune within minutes. Oh how wrong! It would take two more DAYS to hit the road. Customs was relatively straight forward. I waited around the yard with the truck for the rest of the day while Aubrey arranged for the inspection and paid the duties. I also had to pay the container yard for storage of the container, which after a month totaled about $500!!! But the nice folks at Seabird Marine Services PVT. LTD, and more specifically the Manager of Operations, E. K. Haridasan, arranged for a reduction in price because I will be using the vehicle for a disability and educational project. I ended up having to pay only about $100, which was the expected charge before my shipping paperwork caused huge delays.

By 5:30pm I was in the clear, done with customs and the vehicle released from the container yard. But I couldn’t drive the truck anywhere because the insurance agent never showed up, and thus I did not yet have insurance. It was getting dark, I was two hours away from Mumbai, and I was facing an uncomfortable night sleeping in the truck, waiting for the insurance inspector to show the next day. Luckily, Aubrey came to the rescue and showed me a little bar/hotel about a half mile away from the container yard. I felt driving the truck that distance without insurance was a reasonable risk, so we did it.

Now, let’s take a second to think about the kind of bar/hotel you’d find in a shipping port outside of Mumbai. I was scared. I’d be hesitant to stay at a truck stop hotel in the US, and Mumbai is India’s largest port! But there was no need to fear, as the Shritin Hotel in Navi Mumbai, with its proprietor Ashok, was one of the best places I’ve stayed during my whole time in India. The food was fantastic too! Ashok took me under his wing and made sure I was alright, the truck was safe, and that I was able to do everything I needed to get it on the road. He even gave me a set of wrenches when I needed to adjust the idle!

I want to reflect for a minute on the unbelievable kindness and generosity shown to me during the ordeal of getting my truck on the road. India seems to be a land of contrasts, and one that I have struggled with has been whether people are genuinely nice or out to cheat me. The three people mentioned in this entry went out of their way to help me, and I deeply appreciate their kindness and support. Mr. Haridasan at Seabird didn’t have to reduce the storage charges on my container, but he went above and beyond to do so, and to do it quite quickly, which saved me about $400. Ashok at the Shritin Hotel didn’t have to personally take an interest in my wellbeing, but because he did I was put at ease, had tools I needed, and was on the road much sooner than I would have been without him. And finally, my customs agent Aubrey D’Souza has been the most reliable, straight-forward person with whom I’ve worked on the challenge of importing my truck. From the start he laid out all the costs and paperwork required for clearance, gave me a realistic timetable, and then guided me through the process. He reduced his fee because of the nature of my work in India, which I greatly appreciated. And even after the clearance was finished, he made sure I was safe, sound, and comfortable at the Shritin Hotel before he headed back to Mumbai. If you are reading this blog and considering shipping a car to India, I HIGHLY recommend working with Aubrey to make it happen. You won’t find better. Here are his details:

Aubrey D’Souza, Proprietor
J. P. International
12/14 Pilanmai Building, Near Deven Motor
Vaju Kotak Marg,
Ballard Estate, Mumbai 400001
Tel: 66333261, 66333263
Fax: 66333262
Mobile: 9821240603

Back to the issue of insurance. After the inspection agent failed to show up at the container yard on Tuesday afternoon, I was assured that he would arrive at my hotel at 10:30am the next day. He got there at 3pm. Furthermore, after being assured that I could pay for my policy on the spot, I was told that I would have to pay in person at a branch office, and that it would have to wait until the next day because I didn’t have time to get to an office before it closed. Another day delayed getting to Pune. This was frustrating, but I was assured again that all my paperwork was arranged and that only a half hour was required for me to go to the office, make payment, and sign the paperwork for my policy. The upside of waiting around all day for the inspection agent was I had time to deck the truck out in its M-Lab livery (see picture). I think the logos look sweet, and help make the vehicle look less blatantly military.

The next morning I headed to the insurance office first thing. The fantastic Ashok gave me a ride after we couldn’t find a taxi. I was all pumped and ready to get things finalized so I could hit the road to Pune during daylight hours, as this trip would be my first driving experience in India and I wanted to make it as safe as possible. I got to the office at 10:30am, expecting to leave at 11. Stupid me. It took SIX HOURS to finalize everything. And it’s a good thing we did at all, as Friday was Diwali, the Indian equivalent of Christmas, meaning it would have taken till Monday (when I was going to be in the US) had we not wrapped everything Thursday afternoon. All sorts of crazy mishaps slowed progress. At first I couldn’t pay by cash or a credit card, even though the insurance company is run by a bank (they finally took cash). There was all sorts of confusion about my carnet and what it is, including the fact that it allows me to drive the vehicle in India without paying importation and road tax. At one point a junior associate told me that because I did not pay road tax the insurance company couldn’t cover any of my claims that resulted in India, and he asked me to write a letter acknowledging that I waived all these rights. If I couldn’t use my insurance in India, what was I buying insurance for?!?!?!

I’ve learned some lessons about the “rules” of India during this whole ordeal. First, it is a waste of time to work with junior clerks in an office when you can go directly to the manager. Apparently it is common for a junior person to get involved in a task in order to look good, even if he has no knowledge about the task or how to resolve it. I ran into this twice, with the shipping and insurance companies. Once I spoke to the manager things were cleared up quickly. The second is to be nice and polite. Before coming here I read about how Indian bureaucracy will drive you insane, but getting mad will only slow things further. And finally, I am coming to realize that many of the things I perceive as “wrong” or “broken” about India are problems with me. Although I do think the country needs to, and will eventually, grow out of the bureaucratic lethargy of the type I experienced with my insurance, by and large I need to play by India’s rules. And I think when we’re talking about one-sixth of the world’s population and a steamroller economy, anyone who wants to work or do business here has to come to the same realization in order to play nice with India.  
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Alison on

Hey, you! More entries, please. How are we supposed to oogle your Landrover if you don't post anything?

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