“Mumbai International Airport”
By Linda Shore
We departed London’s Heathrow on what is considered India’s best airline – Jet Airways. It was a wonderful flight with great Indian food and gracious flight attendants. It must be a good airline because Sir Ben Kingsley was on our flight! Of course he was in first class (a first class “suite” actually – complete with a bed) and we were in coach. Wow. “Gandhi” was on our plane!
We arrived in Mumbai just a few minutes late, but we were cutting our connection to Hubli close as we only had 2 hours between flights. We might have actually managed it but it turns out that transferring planes at Mumbai International is not a simple matter. First, we had to go through several layers of customs and long lines at the swine flu check point. Last step is the baggage screen. The passengers waited anxiously for their bags to come off the plane and most, like us, were nervously checking their wristwatches. Sir Ben Kingsley was also waiting for his bags, but his arrived in minutes. We watched as he and a traveling companion (who turned out to be his wife, as we would read in the India Times a few days later) were escorted through x-ray screening in record time. After waiting about 30 minutes, our bags finally came off the plane. By this time, the line for x-ray screening of bags was snaking all through the customs area. Another 30 minutes lost.
Then we encountered the “nail in the coffin” of our plans to catch our Hubli flight: the lady guarding the entrance to the airport terminal bus.
We needed to take this bus to get to the domestic terminal to receive our boarding passes for our Hubli flight. But you can’t get on the bus without a boarding pass. Catch 22. The lady guarding the gate was quite serious. We were not getting on this bus.
We did eventually escape the airport, but not without surviving a number of harrowing adventures. There was the desk clerk who told us we needed to get a cab to leave the airport, the cab company that told us we needed to exchange currency to hire a cab, the numerous men who grabbed our luggage and insisted on putting them in the trunk of the cab (for a small fee of $10 US), and the nail biting taxi trip that was reminiscent of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. We spent the night at the eco-friendly Orchid Hotel – which was actually a good thing. We were exhausted, and this gave us an excuse to sleep before completing the rest of the voyage to Drepung.
My Mumbai Walkabout
by David Barker
As is my wont when I travel anywhere new, I grabbed the camera and decided to wander around the neighborhood, taking in the local culture.
Unbeknownst to me, the Orchid Hotel was a very protected island in the midst of a very poor area.
Immediately outside of the perimeter, buildings were horrendously rundown, I was constantly harassed by young boys offering guide services, and as a matter of survival I quickly became adept at avoiding being run over by the omnipresent legions of tiny and very deadly three-wheeled rickshaws.
The scene was very much out of Slumdog Millionaire, and i became very aware I was the only westerner wandering blithely through this area. I did happen upon a very lively alleyway cricket match, and became sort of brothers in arms when i announced I played American Baseball. ALl ages were playing, and I took a certain delight when one of the batsmen smacked one over a tall nearby wall and the group had to organize an impromptu commando raid to get their ball back, something I had done a thousand times in my youth.
Tomorrow we attempt to make it past the arcane Mumbai security and make it to Hubli.