Meetings in Bangalore and the first Drink Technology India in the south of India

When looking through old tour blogs, it’s clear almost without exception that there have been difficulties on every single tour. Overland journeys in remote parts of the world are almost predestined to offer surprises, both positive and negative. Now our short break is over and the next section of our tour of Bangalore and Chennai awaits us. But things aren’t looking so easy for us this time. And although the Editourmobil is in the best of health, there are now some quite different challenges. Completely by chance and just as our tour was starting, the vehicle rental company wanted to adapt the vehicle somehow, which seems to have triggered a mountain of red tape in the capital, Delhi. Without successfully resolving this, the motorhome would not be allowed to cross the border into the Indian state of Karnataka. And the red tape drags on because also by chance, parliamentary elections are taking place in India right now and the entire country is in the grip of election fever. We had already discussed all this during the short break from the tour and had found an interim solution: there should be an almost identically constructed Editourmobil, which would be stickered up once again with our India layout. No sooner said than done! When I fly into Bangalore on Friday evening, I go first to a downtown hotel close to the Ulsoor Lakes. Felix, my short-term tour assistant and photographer has meanwhile gone on ahead and in his place is Rolf, who has been my companion on a couple of tours in the past. But this is a first for him: it’s his first time in India! I put him up in the same hotel for his arrival and from there, we would then start our week with a hopefully (almost) identical Editourmobil.

With a little residual tiredness from a short night and an added helping of jetlag, we finally make it to breakfast. Rolf arrived at the hotel a few hours after me but is astoundingly chipper. After checking out at midday, there is actually a new vehicle ready and it collects us from the hotel with its new Bangalore driver. It looks quite similar to the previous vehicle but doesn’t have the tour layout yet. The rental company assures us on the phone that this will be put on the vehicle shortly. The interior, however, is a complete disappointment. It hasn’t been cleaned for an eternity and also smells quite horribly of a mixture of diesel and mould. The slide-outs, a really slick feature of the original vehicle, are missing entirely. First on my To Do list is to clean the bathroom. Just looking at the toilet almost makes me sick – and I’m used to these things after so much travelling around. But everything is cleaned up with Dettol, the locals’ first choice of antibacterial cleaner. It still looks bad but at least it should be fairly germ-free. Thanks to Rolf, I can even take a shower. There are no towels but luckily he brought two. However, the shower has some kind of fault and water just trickles out. The next day, we have an appointment at Nishant Moulding. Because Bangalore City is pretty challenging for parking, our first stop is at the Palace Grounds, large open-air areas for huge events, which are slightly outside the city. When we return from our afternoon excursion in the city to our intended sleeping place, someone has already chased the driver and the Editourmobil from the parking space and instead, we are parked up halfway to the airport in an actually relatively quiet side street.

On Monday morning, we set off to Nishant Mouldings, a manufacturer of preforms and PET containers, which has invested increasingly in new capacities and has demonstrated tremendous growth within the last couple of years. Nishant Bafna and his uncle Pankaj tell us their success story and why the highly fragmented drinks market in India is so important. The local Husky rep Ajith Sivakumar is also in attendance. In the afternoon, we seek out the parking space from the previous night so as to do a few hours work in peace and later to sleep. After an excursion to the Toit microbrewery in the Indiranagar district that we had found a somewhat roundabout way to by taxi, we were driven by a pretty crazy Uber driver back to our Editourmobil. Even I, as an experienced traveller of India, had to admit that that was by far the craziest taxi ride yet. With the speed of a madman, we were driven without any prudence whatsoever across the highway and almost collided twice with tour buses before we finally arrived at the motorhome. I rarely give bad reviews on Uber but this time I had to because this driver clearly needs his licence taken away.

After an expectedly peaceful night, we set off for our next appointment, which was pleasantly close to our parking spot. It’s the local factory of Indian water giant Bisleri. Here, Plant Manager Mr Vishwanath and his team welcome us and show us the bottling process for the most popular water in the country, which has a larger market share than water products from Coca-Cola or Pepsi. 500,000 litres of water are bottled here every day. On the site, notices say clearly that photography is allowed, which surprises me. Bisleri wants to be transparent. Next to the factory, the company has filled a reservoir with fish and we are allowed to observe them feeding. Also, there is a small garden area with any number of exotic fruit trees and a rabbit hutch. Bisleri uses this mini ecosystem to teach school groups and other interested visitors about sustainability and furthermore, employees can use the facilities for short R&R sessions.

Today is Wednesday and the start of the Drink Technology India trade fair. It is the first edition of the successful trade fair created by Messe München and/or Drinktec Worldwide and the local Messe München India team in Bangalore. PETplanet has a small trade fair stand too, which I leave in the experienced hands of my colleague Pooja, who took charge of our trade fair stand at the Mumbai event in 2018. This time she has reinforcements: her sister Preeti and a friend. Because tour appointments are also scheduled during the event and Indian traffic does not offer much leeway for travelling around, Rolf and I can come to the trade fair only sporadically. This means we are particularly pleased that the stand has reinforcements. During the trade fair, the Editourmobil provides effective advertising from its parking space outside the hall; its roll-up banners guide interested visitors directly to our stand.

This also means that during the trade fair, we stay in a hotel, which is just behind my old apartment in Richmond Town. I lived here from 2011 to 2012 when I worked for the publishing house as an expat. On this first day of the trade fair, we were intending to pop in just during the afternoon, as we had planned an appointment with local preformer Fillenpac. But then we agree that we will all meet at the trade fair itself and before we know it, we are sitting at our stand and learning from Fillenpac boss Mr Jagani about how he has equipped himself with new preform equipment and which new markets he is moving into.

On the following trade fair day, Thursday, we do not go to the trade fair at all. Instead, we have a whole-day meeting with Manjushree Technopack. The gigantic preformer and bottle manufacturer, which in the past year has been taken over by large-scale investor Advent, wants to bring the topic of recycling into sharper focus for the general public. To do this, Manjushree is currently constructing a “Reuseum”, an information centre at the Bidadi site, which offers training and education and will also have a small demonstration recycling centre. It’s still a building site but when we have a quick tour of the site with boss Vimal Kedia, it is clear to see what will be completed here later this year.

The future auditorium is already easily recognisable. At the end of the visit, I am even accorded the honour of planting my first tree on the Manjushree site. The company has been maintaining this tradition for a long time already and now a PETplanet tree is also growing on Manjushree’s property. Besides the Bidadi factory, we also travel next to the original factory in Bommasandra, to which I was first invited many years ago. While the focus in Bidadi is on preforming, in Bommasandra, bottles for food, beauty care and other non-food sectors are produced. After an interesting and memorable day, we drive back to our temporary hotel and spend the evening in a nearby pub.

It’s Friday and the last day of the trade fair. Today too we come to the trade fair site only later, as in the morning we meet with Suresh Joshi, the local rep for Swiss mould-maker Otto Hofstetter. Here on site, the company designs moulds for thin-wall products and has a small workshop next to the office for preparing the moulds. Indian potential shows a lot of promise and is to be expanded in the long-term in more than just the service sector. From Otto Hofstetter, we go directly to the Drink Technology India trade fair, where I have my first opportunity to wander through the halls and chat to exhibitors. For the last afternoon of a trade fair, there is a surprising amount still going on.

I quickly bump into Petra Westphal, our “Miss Drinktec”, and her local colleague Avisha Desai, then I am delighted to find countless local exhibitors that I have not yet met but are really interesting for PETplanet. Later, around 5pm when the trade fair closes officially, we sit together at the stand with the trade fair team and discuss the tour so far and further plans for the coming year. After the trade fair is always before the (next!) trade fair and in December, the second Drink Technology India is coming up, this time in Delhi.

After a successful ideas sessions, we dash off to a cool rooftop bar on top of the Sheraton Hotel to celebrate the success of the first Bangalore event with free-flowing beers, cocktails and electronic dance music. The evening is great fun and full-on so it’s no wonder that on the way to the lift as we’re all intending to leave, I jump into the DJ booth and turn a few knobs, to the complete surprise of the DJ there! After a group selfie and many goodbyes, Rolf and I are sitting in the taxi to our hotel, where we have to spend an extra few nights as the red tape regarding bringing the motorhome to other states has obviously not been completed and the vehicle that the rental company has given us is not available for onward travel. But we’re told that after the weekend, everything will be fine and on Monday we will be able to continue to Chennai with the Editourmobil, as originally planned. We’ll wait and see.

It’s Saturday but as this is a normal working day in India, we are of course out and about, this time heading to the Fillenpac factory to see Mr Jagani. During the trade fair we’ve already spoken to the converter but we want to have a look around the facilities too. We leave relatively early so that we have an hour on our way to the factory for a quick visit to an enormous Krishna temple. With VIP-entry tickets in our hands, all waiting times for the popular temple complex are waived and we have plenty of time to speak at length with a monk, who tells us a little about Krishna’s history. We also attend a Krishna ceremony before we travel by rickshaw to our appointment, where our driver and the Editourmobil already await us. Mr Jagadi is unfortunately unavailable for the meeting but his colleague gives us a tour of the factory instead. Work really is done here by hand: beside the small, new Husky plant with 40 cavities, 20l water dispenser bottles are created. The heated preforms are moved from the oven into the blower by hand. Later in the evening, after we’ve spent a little time enjoying the bustle of Bangalore’s streets, we are invited to visit Rajesh and Payal Nath, two long-standing friends. Rajesh is the Indian boss of VDMA and his wife Payal is boss of the internationally renowned NGO Kadam Haat. There’s delicious Indian food and of course, the obligatory group photo in front of the Editourmobil.