Saturday, August 19, 2006

Welcome to India, now line up over there

My head is spinning. Partly from the shock of India, partly from exhaustion.
My flight left Beijing at 9 am Saturday and I got into Bangkok around noon. I had some time to kill in the Bangkok airport, so I changed my Yuan to Thai Bhatt and ordered some Pad Thai — one of my favourite dishes — and a Tiger beer from a restaurant. My flight was delayed, and it didn't end up leaving Bangkok until 7 pm. There was an Australian woman sitting next to me who was coming to India for her first time to take a 10-week yoga course or something. She didn't sound convinced that she could handle the place. I tried to reassure her, but I don't think she believed me.

We had to fly around Mumbai for ages because of congestion at the airport. After Shanghai's sleek terminals and even Beijing's older airport, the Mumbai International airport seems set up to test even the most refreshed traveler. It's tiny. No air-conditioning. Instead huge industrial fans periodically blast passengers as they make their way through the hall. There was a huge lineup at customs. The guards kept shifting the lines around in ways that made no sense whatsoever. That was line-up number one. After I cleared customs, I had to join a long row of people to have my luggage x-rayed yet again for some reason. Then another line up to have another piece of paper stamped. And then...another line up, for another security check. Thankfully this last one had a reassuring sign over it saying "No Check Beyond This Point." By now, it was already 11 pm. I needed rupees for the taxi into town, so I went to the foreign exchange desk. More stamps, more photocopies of my passport. The lady typed stuff into her computer for a good 20-30 minutes before actually changing my money.

I ordered a pre-paid taxi at an office inside the airport and they gave me a receipt with a taxi number on it and told me to stand by the big Taxi sign outside. After about 30 minutes of waiting I was told taxis are no longer allowed to park in front of the taxi stand for security reasons. I had to wade into a sea of Ambassador cabs to find the right one. None of the drivers knew where the Hilton hotel was. There were six of them gathered around my guidebook map as I gave the driver instructions on how to get downtown. He didn't have a clue. Halfway to the hotel an awful grinding sound started coming from his engine. We had to pull over three times as they worked under the hood. Then a couple more stops to ask directions. The guy wouldn't give me my money back so I could grab another taxi. What should have been a 40-minute drive was another 2 hours. Lordy Lordy.

The hotel is nice, but I certainly didn't get my moneys worth last night, having arrived at nearly 3 am.

The sun just broke through the clouds. I'm going for an early morning swim in the pool and then breakfast.

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