May 4, 2017
Very early morning today. Getting up at five o’clock so I can get the free shuttle from the hotel to the airport. It only runs on the hour, so even thought my flight isn’t until 8:55 am, I have to take the 6:00 am shuttle in order to be timely for the check-in and immigration. If it’s anything like last night, I’ll need the extra time. Better to sit at the airport and wait then to miss my flight due to the lines at immigration.
This airport is huge, and nothing is convenient. Air India is all the way down at the furthest end of the terminal from where the shuttle dropped me off. He only makes one stop. The line there is short, so that’s easy. And the line at security is reasonable and so that also goes by quickly. But immigration is another story. Although nowhere near as bad as last night, the line still takes me thirty minutes to get through. And there are about a dozen stations open. This is one busy airport.
Once in the terminal, behind security and immigration, I look for a restaurant. I haven’t eaten since breakfast yesterday morning. It’s been too hot to eat, and with traveling yesterday, and taking care of my errands, I just didn’t have the time for dinner. My stomach is now protesting. Loudly.
I’m in the middle of a huge shopping mall, or so it seems. Designer store, after designer store. No food to be found. I finally find an information booth and they tell me that the restaurants are at the far end of the terminal, at either end. So, I must go to the end of the building to eat, and then come back to the middle to get to my gate (which is one level below than the main floor). This airport terminal is a shopper’s paradise, but a traveler’s hell.
After eating, I make my way to the gate and find I must go through security again, including the pat-down. Since there is no x-ray machine here, they need to go through your carry-on items by hand. I’m so glad I decided to get to the gate and wait there, instead of lingering at the restaurant.
This is a big aircraft. A Boeing 787: nine seats across. I’m lucky today. I’m in the middle three seats. Yes, all three. No one else is in this section so I’m able to spread out. Watching “Manchester by the Sea”. What a depressing way to spend the time. It’s a good movie, but I should have tried to find a Bollywood musical instead.
Once we land, it’s an easy trip to immigration. They have moving walkways almost the entire length of this terminal which helps a lot. The hall is packed but there is a special line for e-Visas, which is what I have. I must walk to the other end of the hall to get to that line but once I’m there, I’m the only one. The officer I get is young and friendly. We talk and joke around for a few minutes while he’s processing my paperwork. Now to get my luggage and find my ride, which I ordered from the hotel yesterday.
While I’m in the luggage area, I notice a few currency exchange booths so I change my Thai baht for Indian rupees, but they won’t change my Myanmar kyat. I go to the next one, and the same thing. I ask if there is anyone here that will and no one can be bothered to respond. In fact, at both booths they acted like they didn’t want me to bother them, even to change the baht. I’m certainly not in Myanmar any longer, where everyone is friendly. Here it seems that no one is. Maybe that’s what comes from living in a country of 1.2 billion people.
And while I’m making my initial observations about the Indian people, I may as well add this one. Good thing I bought the deodorant yesterday in Bangkok. Judging from the smell, I don’t think they sell it in India. Every man that walks past me seems to reek of body odor. And it’s only 11:30 in the morning. I can’t wait to smell this place at four in the afternoon, when the temperature reaches 110 degrees.
I make my way to the arrivals hall and immediately spot the sign with my name on it. There are two men waiting for me. One is dressed in an all-white uniform. The other, is in a business suit. They both greet me and inquire about my flight and then try to drag me off to the parking lot. But I have other plans. I need to buy a sim card, I need to go to the ATM, and I need to get a bottle of water.
While the clerk is loading my sim card, I make a trip across the aisle to the ATM. It’s nice having the two guys with me. One is watching over my luggage, the other is with the telecom clerk. I get my money and my water, and then return to pay for the card. Now, we can go.
Once we arrive at the parking lot, the guy in the uniform leaves to get the car. The guy in the business suit is asking me all kinds of questions about my stay in India, and making me a bit uncomfortable. So I finally ask him why they sent two guys to get me, thinking that maybe he is a guide and is trying to learn about my plans so he can sell me his touring services. But, it turns out that he is something the Doubletree calls an Airport Manager.
He works for the hotel and his job is simply to greet passengers at the terminal and help them get to the hotel van. I’m not sure why they feel they need this; the guy is the uniform would have been sufficient. He was the one holding the sign, helping me with my luggage, and going to get the car. This guy in the business suit has done nothing but annoy me.
So, we leave him behind and it’s just me and the driver now. He turns out to be a lovely young man. Away from that “manager”, he opens up and we have a delightful conversation on the hour it takes to get from the airport to the hotel. The hotel isn’t that far from the airport. But the traffic is that awful. And the drivers; well let’s just say that they drive in India the same way they did in Vietnam. No traffic rules.
For example. This is a three-lane highway, in each direction. I can clearly see two sets of lines painted, dividing the highway into three lanes. However, there are five cars abreast at any given point. And sometimes, there’s a motorcycle thrown into the mix, or maybe two. There are moving vehicles everywhere! Well, as long as I don’t have to drive in it, I can just relax and hope that everything will work out just fine.
Once at the hotel, the car is stopped at the gate and the guard checks under the car, under the hood, and in the trunk before he lets us enter. Then, both my bags and I have to go through security screening just like at the airport. I have never had this happen at a hotel before. And, we’re in the suburbs. A nice section of town with high-rise apartments and large corporate offices for international companies all around us. They are very security conscious here.
For as rude as people were at the airport, they are overly attentive here at the Doubletree. They are doting on me. Which is also somewhat annoying. I really just need my key and directions to the elevator. But that’s not going to happen. The duty manager is going to escort me to my room, which is on the executive floor. I’m getting the full treatment here. She explains how everything in the room works, as if I’ve never used electricity before. And then she needs to take me on a tour of the Executive Lounge, where I can avail myself of the snacks and non-alcoholic drinks they have out all day. They have breakfast from 6:00 until 10:00, and in the evening from 6:00 until 8:00, they have free cocktails and hot hors d'oeuvres. This is my treat before going into the “real India” for the next 22 days. Oh, and it’s all free. I still have a bunch of Hilton Honors points from when I traveled for work, and this was one way to use some of them.
I still need to buy a small bag to take with me for the tour. My large suitcase is too large, according to the information I received from Intrepid. The concierge is able to help me out with this. The hotel shuttle can take me to the mall and bring me back. Great.
The mall is not close, the driver tells me. And traffic is horrible. After being in the van for about 20 minutes, he asks me what it is I need to buy. When I tell him, he suggests that there is somewhere closer we can go and I can get what I need there. If that’s OK with me. Well, I don’t want to spend any more time in this traffic than I have to so I agree.
This guy was right. We’re back at the hotel within thirty minutes, and I now have everything I need for the trip. I spend the rest of the evening enjoying the free wine and appetizers, and writing. And I watch “Hidden Figures”, which was a thoroughly enjoyable movie.
Tomorrow, I head off for my adventure in India. Here’s a sample of what I’ll get to see and do. This is from the literature Intrepid sent:
Why we love this trip:
• Experience old and new India in the bustling streets of Delhi, where ancient temples stand against billboards advertising Bollywood films
• Discover the ancient forts, lake palaces, rural villages and colorful cities of Rajasthan: sandy red Jaisalmer, blue Jodhpur, white Udaipur and pink Jaipur
• Ride out into the Thar Desert on a camel safari. Feast on Rajasthani cuisine at sunset before bunking down to camp between the sand dunes
• Explore the world famous Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary, home to hundreds of bird species. Share in the delight and knowledge of local amateur bird-watchers, as you’re pedalled around the park in a cycle rickshaw
• The Chand Baori, the magnificent 10th-century step-well in Abhaneri, is one of Rajasthan's most awesome sights
• The Taj Mahal in Agra may be one of the most recognizable buildings in the world, but its poetic history and beauty have the power to surprise even the most jaded travelers
• Pushkar and Varanasi are among the holiest cities in India. Climb to hilltop temples at sunrise, dodge cows in the street, and observe pilgrims praying and bathing along the ghats of the sacred Ganges River during a boat cruise
How exciting is that?