Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The India diaries I - What a journey

It took us two days to get anywhere. Every element that could conspire against us did. But we made it and once were there it was a holiday not to forget.

Instead of taking off on Thursday night and thereby reaching on Friday morning we took of on Friday morning, thereby wasting a whole day. We were travelling with friends who are moving back to India after a few years in London. As we had an early morning check-in and they had to give up the keys to their house they came home and spent their last evening in London with us. Slept fairly late, clearing up last minute things, postponing locking our suitcases till the very last. Reached the airport in London darkness at 4.45am and joined the mile long line for the Jet Airways flight, along with the hundreds of other hopefuls from the previous two days of cancelled flights. No information or sign of anyone remotely in authority till about 5.30. Then we heard that priority was being given to those on the Thursday flight (us chickens!). Finally, at 6.55am, after more than 2 hours in line we reached the counter where the very cheerful check-in chick told us that boarding was at 6.55am as printed out on our boarding cards. V had to repress his laughter as he pointed out that it was already 6.55 and there were atleast 400 people in the line behind us. Anyway, checked-in we proceeded to the security check counter. There an offical directed us to the fast security check-in counter, the sign of which claims that you must be 'invited' to join this esteemed line (read: a business/ first class passenger)

Me (with big frown): But we aren't invited...
Him (with big grin): Madam, now I am inviting you...

So into a far more crowded line where everyone seemed to have been invited. Duty free'd and at our gate and in our allocated seats by 8am. Plane fills up slowly and we finally take off at 10am. Nice clean new A340 with polite and friendly staff, good food and a wonderfully modern entertainment system gets us into Mumbai at midnight. All of Friday lost - not the best start to the holiday.

Mumbai airport is hellish. Easily THE WORST airport on earth. It's no wonder that foreign visitors to our country have such a dismal impression to our country. What do you expect if their first encounter is with Mumbai airport. A first impression is made up of bricks and mortar and no amount of friendly Mumbaikers at the airport can erase the images of a dim, worn and broken down airport. Thanks to the dearth of immigration lines, the slowest luggage belt, absence of any ventilation and archaic customs systems we staggered out of the airport at 2.15am, gasping for breath. It was a relief to breathe in the muggy air that envelopes Mumbai.

Home at last....our flight to Chennai was scheduled for 9am on Saturday, so there was just enough time to unpack, repack and catch 40 winks before heading back to the airport. With all the yacking and catching up of tales to tell, the un- and re- packing went on till around 5am. Slept for a bit, called and confirmed that our onward flight was delayed to 10.20am and left home with my middle bro-in-law (R) and his wife (T) to arrive at Chatrapati Shivaji airport at 9am. On arrival a hurridly scribbled sign greets us: All flights delayed until further notice. Passenger whisperings, the TV crews and talks with the security gaurds reveal that an Air India flight has skidded off the runway rendering the only working runway for the domestic flights completely useless. How's that for luck!

Useless Jet Airways staff did nothing to help the situation by sealing their lips and throwing away the keys. When they finally did find the keys, ambiguous answers like 'All flights are cancelled', 'All flights are delayed', 'We cannot say anything', 'Some flights will/ may go later', 'Please check in 4 hours', flew out of their mouth with no restraint leaving an airport full of irritated passengers. With my cousin A's reception scheduled for 7pm in Chennai, the whole point of this trip was fast dissolving into the material for a very funny story. In reality I was in tears, talking to my parents and cousins in Chennai, all of whom had flown many miles so we could all be there for the occasion. It was also to be V's first trip to Chennai and trying to cheer me up he kept joking about how it was a conspiracy to keep him from ever going south of Goa! At mid-day convinced that no flights would take off under the soft drizzly skies till atleast 2pm, we set off back home.

Our Mumbai-Chennai flight was a connector flight that would arrive from Ahmedabad, take us to Chennai and go on to Coimbatore. No amount of calls to Jet Airways would solicit a straight answer on when it would arrive from Ahmedabad or take off for Chennai. On T's suggestion we called Ahmedabad airport and they informed us that the flight had left an hour ago, thereby about to reach Mumbai. So we raced back to the airport and fought our way through suitcase security and the check-in counter just in the nick off time. Mad dash through security and onto the plane re-scheduled to leave at 2.15pm. Of course it only left at 4.15pm. Airborne we heaved a huge sigh of relief.

Arrived at lovely clean and very well organised Chennai airport at 6.15pm to be greeted to hugs and kisses from my brother N (whom I had not seen in two years) and my mum. Dash home to see my aunt as she left for the reception, then a dash to our hotel and quick change later we arrived at the reception at 8.30pm. Such relief to be among my family at long last, all my cousins, my nieces, grandfather, aunts and uncles. For the smiles on their faces and mine, it was a journey well worth it.

1 comment:

  1. yikes... sounds like a real ordeal.. am glad it was worth it though