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Tuesday
Mar092010

Havelock to Goa

Tuesday to Friday involved travelling from Havelock Island in the Andamans, to Goa, on the west coast of India, by stages. The first stage is fairly crucial in that you have to make sure that you get back from Havelock Island to Port Blair in time to catch your plane. The guide books tell you to book your ferry in good time because the public ferry is often full. Thus on the Thursday before I had travelled to the port to try and book the ferry back. (John’s schedule meant that he could stay an extra couple of days before resuming his travels) One look at the frenzied queue at the ticket office made me decide to go back to the Holiday Inn, have a nice cool beer, and think about it.

Asking around, it turned out that there was a helicopter service, and initially, this seemed like quite a good idea. On paper, I could stay an extra night on Havelock, fly direct to Port Blair airport, and then catch my flight to Chennai. How easy would that be? It was not even expensive, about £15 to make the trip. In fact, it wasn’t that easy. The helicopter could only be booked two days before, had limited capacity, and locals got priority. So couldn’t rely on that one then. When in doubt, about anything in India, ask a rickshaw driver. Sure, the answer will be in his interests, but it will be an answer. It transpired that there was also a private ferry, a catamaran. It cost about £10 to make the crossing and it takes only an hour and a quarter. Not only that, but if you give the rickshaw driver your name and permit numbers, and the money (plus a bit extra) he will go and get the tickets for you, and deliver them back to the hotel. No nasty queuing up. How cool is that?

Thus, on 2nd March, I found myself on the 4.00pm catamaran back to Port Blair, and a further night at The Holiday Resort before my flight back to Chennai. The next morning, I had some time to kill, so I went to a chai stall for a couple of lovely hot sweet coffees. John had introduced me to the delights of a chai stall on the way out. Don’t be put off by the look, the end product is marvellous. And at about 20 rupees a glass (30p), about double what the locals pay, still very good value. Then Papa made another significant contribution to his pension fund, because I needed him to take me to an ATM machine en route to the airport, and a flight to Chennai.

The flight was fine, apart from the worst queue I have ever encountered in my life at Port Blair airport. Arrival at Chennai was relatively simple, I think my bag was the third one off the aircraft. I then spent two nights at The New Woodland Hotel on the other side of Chennai. This stay was a little handicapped, by the fact that I was having a bit of ‘tummy trouble’. Not full blown Dehli Belly, but certainly enough to make me ensure that I had two toilet rolls in my rucksack, and to try and ensure that I was never more than 60 seconds away from a vacant loo.

The New Woodlands Hotel is an interesting experience. It is three star, and not hugely expensive – 1,400 rupees a night for a single room, with air con, a tv, and telephone. The hotel is run a bit like a throwback to the Raj, or a pre-ww2 British hotel. There are doormen on every door to a public area, and there are bell boys scurrying around all over the place. The hotel is huge and accommodation is in a number of blocks within the grounds. My room was in the ‘single male’ block.

This was my room in Chennai - I liked it (single man's room)

 It wasn’t luxurious, but I felt very comfortable in there. The only problem was food. Indian establishments tend to be either vegetarian or non-vegetarian, and the New Woodlands is the former. I have to be a bit careful with Indian food at the best of times, most particularly so when I have a dodgy tummy. I have now discovered that I definitely struggle with Indian vegetarian cuisine. Curried vegetables, in non meat sauce, are not my thing.

On Friday, my flight to Goa was scheduled for 3.45 in the afternoon, again via Chennai airport which, I assume will shortly erect a plaque of some sort, dedicated to me as their most loyal user. The airport has two domestic terminals, and one international. Obviously, as my flight was domestic I trotted down to the Air India terminal 2. There was no sign of my flight, nor was there any sign at the other domestic terminal. Aha, I thought, it’s finally gone t-u. Direct flights from Chennai to Goa, are quite difficult to get, what am I going to do now? After another queue, at the Air India  desk, it transpired that my flight to Goa was the first leg of a flight to Kuwait, and was therefore leaving from the international terminal. Problem solved. PLUS, international departure lounges in Indian airports have smoking areas!

Smoking Area at Chennai (International) terminal

I have been very unkind about Dabolim International (Goa) Airport in the past. In order to be both fair, and truthful, I have to say that they are very good at arrivals when they are not busy. The facts are: Touchdown at Dabolim = 17.45pm. Time got in taxi having both collected bag, and got a pre-pay taxi voucher = 18.05pm. This is a record, for any airport in the world, in over 5 decades of travelling. Please, please, do it again on the way back!!!

the view from a beach shack, Calengute, Goa. More to follow