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« A couple of days in Chennai, and the flight home…… | Photon by TATA INDICOM - Larceny on a grand scale. »
Thursday
Apr082010

Starting to Head Home

With hindsight, and we are all wiser with that, I really planned this India trip rather badly. Well OK, very badly. It started with very poor groundwork in the UK, and it continued through with some diabolically timed flights, and not enough time in some places, and too much in others, Chennai, for one.

I make no claim to be an India ‘traveller’ in the accepted sense of the word. I have the greatest admiration for those that like sitting on a train for 15+ hours, and an even greater admiration for those that can do so every couple of days. But it ain’t for me. At my age, I need to know where I am going, why I am going, and to get there as fast, and as comfortably as I can. Very lazy I agree, but given a choice between 18 hours on a train, and an hour and 10 mins on a plane, and the plane wins heads-up every time with me.

So, back to the planning, and how I got it wrong. What happened was that I spent the first couple of weeks dashing around – London – Chennai – Mammalapuram – Chennai – Port Blair – Havelock – Port Blair – Chennai. And then I spent around three weeks, just sat on my thumbs in Goa. I like Goa, but it had two problems for me on this trip. The first was that I had just about ‘done’ all there is to do in Goa during my November-December trip. The second was that, once you have done the sights, Goa is basically a holiday area, and holiday areas are best enjoyed with your ‘significant other’ – i.e. MBG. My friend, John, came to visit me in Goa but, as I explained to reception, he would be needing his own room because he was not THAT kind of friend. Next time, MBG comes with me.

So, on 25th March, it was time for me to set off on the first leg of my trip home. This involved a flight from Goa to Chennai (again). You might not think that an 8.15am flight is too bad, but calculating backwards, allowing an hour and three quarters to check in, and an hour to get to the airport, means leaving the hotel at 5.30am. I did mention that most of my flights were diabolically timed!

I had booked Jay, my taxi man, and he duly turned up on the dot of 5.30. I then encountered problem number one. For a while, it looked as if I was going to have to break OUT of the hotel. Unbeknown to me, at some point during the night, they shut and locked the gates to the hotel compound. And then, being India, the ’24 hour security’ guards all vanished into a dark hole somewhere, and went to sleep. I could, possibly, have climbed over the gates, but my 20Kg suitcase would have been a bit of a challenge. Jay used his local knowledge to identify which dark hole the security guards were sleeping in, and managed to rouse Mr Very, Very, Grumpy Indeed (Mr VVGI).

Firstly, Mr VVGI thought that I had burgled the compound and that I was making off with a suitcase full of swag. Eventually, I showed him my room key and that calmed him down on that issue. He then thought that, because it was by now only 5.45 in the morning, I was doing a ‘moonlight flit’ – leaving the hotel without paying my bill. Eventually Jay, to his credit, convinced Mr VVGI that I was an honoured guest, and that Joe, the Manager, would be extremely pissed off with him if he didn’t stop mucking about. So, around about 6.00am, Mr VVGI eventually let me out of the compound. Oh how Jay and I laughed, as he broke every speed limit between Calengute and Dabolim Airport.

Jay is a good guy, he overcharges, but they all do. I gave him a pretty good tip when we got to the airport. It would have been a very good tip but for the fact that he insisted on dropping me right at the door of the domestic terminal. I knew that my flight was an incoming from Kuwait, staging in Goa, and onward to Chennai, but Jay was having none of it. Hence the pretty good tip, and then lug all my stuff the 250 yards to the international terminal.

It seems to me that Dabolim Airport only has two moods. One is bright, sunny, and helpful. The other, which seems to be reserved for the charters, is dark, surly, and bloody unhelpful. Fortunately, it was mood number one today, and I was checked-in, and airside in no time at all.

There is one more incident of note in relation to my flight to Chennai, well two actually, but they are related. I have written, in previous posts, about the fact that Indians don’t queue. Well, I have discovered something else they don’t do either. They don’t take any notice of aircraft allocated seat numbers.

My flight to Chennai eventually got called for boarding. Immediately, 200 Indians tried to not queue, and cram themselves through the boarding gate simultaneously. I remained in the smoking room, and smiled a superior smile before strolling down to the last bus to the plane. Possibly a mistake. Because I was one of the last to board, I had my own personal Indian Airlines steward to show me to my allocated window seat. It was occupied. There were a very nice Indian couple that had decided that window and centre was very, very, very, very much nicer than centre and aisle. And they wouldn’t budge despite a fairly good finger-wagging from the Indian Airlines steward. Eventually, and rather needing the plane to take off, the steward asked me if I minded having the aisle seat. Now, the only seat I don’t like is centre, so being in a fairly relaxed mood, I scowled at the Indian couple a bit, and took the aisle seat.

One hour and ten minutes later we landed at Chennai. The nice Indian couple, being a nice Indian couple, immediately set themselves a short term objective of being the first to get off the aircraft. As soon as the wheels touched the ground, they undid their seatbelts, stood up and started flapping around making ‘we are ready to get off now’ gestures. Tough tittie, kidiwinkies. The one disadvantage of having window and centre, is that you cannot go anywhere if the person in the aisle seat doesn’t want to let you go past. I reflected for a while and decided just that. The gentleman of the couple suddenly discovered that he spoke very good English. It had been nowhere to be seen earlier when the steward had been trying to move him out of my seat. He told me to ‘move’. I told him to ‘wait’. He started shoving, I shoved back. He started waving, shouting, and gesticulating. The steward noticed what was going on, and gave me quite a wide grin, and did nothing. The Indian gentleman tried to climb over me, and I wasn’t having it. He was getting very, very, angry. One of the things that you learn about India is that, if a person swears, the matter is very serious, and the swearer feels very strongly about the issue. So, I quietly said ‘F*** you, you pinched my seat. If you hadn’t, you could have, quite possibly, been one of the first off this aircraft. But you did. So you can now wait until I am ready to get off’. The effect was amazing, the guy reduced his screeching and shouting down to a quiet burble, and pretended not to notice that the stewards were now openly laughing at the situation.

In the end, we were the last three passengers left on the aircraft. I grabbed my hand baggage, and marched swiftly off,  third last, leaving the nice Indian couple to be second last, and last off, respectively.

There were quite a lot of dark scowls and muttering as we waited in the baggage hall for the hold baggage to arrive. I should have bought a lottery ticket on that day because Lady Luck was briefly nodding in my direction. My bag, was the very first one off the aircraft. I grabbed it, gave the Indian couple my very sweetest smile, and headed off into Chennai.