On the Indian subcontinent, nothing ever really runs smoothly if they run at all. Things that appear to be simple, simply cannot be explained and there is little retribution. I have had 7 flights (including connections) thus far on this trip within the subcontinent and to neighboring islands and every one of them have been late, cancelled or even more annoying-disallowed. This trend continued in the most annoying fashion over the past several hectic and chaotic days that brought me from Chennai to the Andaman Islands to Dhaka, Bangladesh to Sikkim to Kolkata.
In order to minimize me bitching about Indian airlines’ inefficiencies and how I wish I had several hours and actually a day or two (plus some money) of my life back because of cancellations, delays and inexplicable random circumstances I will just get to the point and get it all out before I finally and mercifully leave the subcontinent tomorrow. I will break it down by place.
Chennai (formerly known as Madras in British Colonial times) was a place that I had heard awful things about and was not at all looking forward to visiting, especially after my flight from the Maldives to Chennai was delayed for 5 hours. However, it actually was a pleasant surprise. India’s fourth largest city really wasn’t that bad as far as Indian cities go. It is much more laid back than Delhi, Bombay or Calcutta and is even on the beach although it’s not very nice. The main attraction is the ancient Hindu Dravidian Shiva Kapaleeshwarar Temple.
It is actually pretty cool to look at as you can see and is the main sight for prayer in the city. It is also the main tourist destination although you must take your shoes off and walk on the ridiculously hot asphalt and black marble in 100 degree searing heat which can get old pretty quick. So can the relentless touts and fake guides who try to tempt you with their knowledge and follow you around like a little dog. I said no like 100 times and they still follow and spout out info as if I am listening and then when I am ready to leave they demand a tip. They clearly do not know who they are dealing with as they follow me back to my waiting tuk tuk for the inevitable fast getaway, sans tip.
Andaman Islands (sort of)
So after a quiet night because of a very early flight to Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, I arrive at the airport to find out my flight has been cancelled and there was no flight later that I could get on. No explanation was given but the good news is they offered me breakfast and a shitty place to stay right near the airport in the middle of nowhere Chennai, thus I elected to decline and find my own accommodation. Needless to say I was pretty pissed as I only was to have 1.5 days on the islands as was and now it would only be a half day assuming the flight the next day left on time. That didn’t happen.
The flight was delayed for hours and I could do nothing about it. When it finally did take off I ended up barely having enough time to land to catch my next flight out to get to Calcutta to get to Bangladesh. Now I fully admit that I planned this tightly and slightly poorly but I was short on time and the flights are not exactly readily available as I definitely wanted to get to the Andaman’s this trip.
So basically I was in Port Blair for a very short time and don’t have much good to say or bad for that matter because I didn’t see much. I was not pleased to say the least but shit happens when you travel, especially in India and I won’t think about the hundreds of dollars I wasted on the flights or the annoyance of the Indian airlines and I mean all of them; Indian, Kingfisher and Jet because I’ve flown all of them this trip and they’ve all screwed me with delays. It’s a little frustrating-actually a lot frustrating.
So I finally made it to Dhaka, Bangladesh and I was actually really excited because I have several friends from business school here who are shockingly doing a microfinance internship here for the summer, god help them. Let’s just say I had very low expectations about the city itself.
Dhaka is a hole. It is just what you’d expect. There is little charming to see or do. It is hot as all hell, sticky and nasty. The streets are filthy and infested with rickshaws, tuk tuks, people, poverty, pollution and animals. The decrepit, crumbling buildings all look alike and there is garbage everywhere. It sounds pleasant right?!
However, walking around all day we managed to come across a few fun things to do. We took a little punter boat in the river that was very pleasant and certainly a sanctuary compared to the streets of Dhaka which are sensory overload. Old Dhaka actually reminds me of Pahar Ganj in Delhi in much the same way filth overruns the streets and you can’t get an ounce of sanity, click here if you want to read about my Delhi experience 4 years ago.
The other really fun thing I got to do was play cricket with a bunch of kids on the streets of Old Dhaka as you can see in the picture. It was really fun and we had a huge audience as I cracked a few to the approval of the local kids who love and worship cricket-although they kept telling me I swing likes it’s baseball which is probably true but oh well.
Sikkim and the final airport fiasco
Sikkim is a place that I have always wanted to visit as it is an alpine kind of retreat away from the craziness of the rest of India. It is at the base of the Himalayas and is supposed to be gorgeous, especially when the weather is perfect. Unfortunately for me, that was not the case.
First, I would like to state that just when I thought the Indian airlines couldn’t screw me any more, I have been proven wrong. So yesterday I am going to the airport from my hotel in Kolkata for my quick flight to Bagdogra on Jet Airways, which had been the best of the worst of the airlines. However, my imbecile taxi driver (and by the way taxis in Kolkata are like yellow vessels of death that resemble soviet era tanks) decided to rear end a Mercedes from a well to do Indian who was not too pleased. Of course I am running a little bit late for my flight but I still had an hour and a half. Normally, I would’ve just split and found another cab but the problem was it was pouring and we were kind of in the middle of nowhere about 10km from the airport so a rickshaw wouldn’t work because I would get soaked. Also, the driver assured me this wouldn’t take long. I should’ve known.
It was eventually resolved about an hour later and we arrived at the airport with 20 minutes to go before my flight. There is a sign right on the check-in desk that says they close 30 minutes prior to departure. However, I just have carry-on baggage so it shouldn’t have been a big deal. However, the megabitch behind the counter told me I had no chance even though the domestic airport is small and I could easily make the flight and it’s no skin off their back. Needless to say she said she didn’t feel like doing the paperwork that she would have to do. I was beside myself as you can imagine and that did me little good as I insisted on seeing the manager who surely would help me.
Nope, no chance as the woman took forever to get to me and by the time she arrived the flight only had 4 minutes until takeoff. I pleaded with her to call the pilot and ask them to wait but no shot she said. I was about to toss this lady as she kept telling me my logic was off. I still don’t understand what the hell she was talking about but I decided Indian jail wouldn’t be a good move so I asked her to get me on the Kingfisher flight that left two hours later and was the last flight out. She said no way, I was a no show. I am like, I’m right you moron and have been here for 20 minutes you twit. Then she proceeded to point out the 30 minute sign as if I couldn’t read. I then proceeded to tell her that sometimes you can actually do people favors and help them but she told me once again that my logic was off. I was about to lose it as she told me they would not endorse my ticket over to Kingfisher and I would have to buy another ticket on that airline. Left with no options but to not go to Sikkim as I was coming back the next day, I had to do it as I wouldn’t get my money back anyway.
So finally I get out in a heavy rainstorm and land in the same rainstorm with low lying clouds. This was a perfect ending to my fiasco of a day because I wasn’t even able to see the best part of Sikkim -the views, because of storm clouds which is just what my last 6 or 7 days have been. So I woke up hoping perhaps the clouds would have risen and they hadn’t so I said fuck it and just went back to Bagdogra to catch my flight back to Kolkata to enjoy my last day in India because of course I couldn’t get a flight out to Nepal until Monday.
It goes without saying that Kolkata is a megalopolis and a complete mass of humanity. It is as crappy a place as you’d imagine. Mother Theresa was correct when she was appalled by the poverty and unfortunately she didn’t really succeed in changing it. People are still living in some of the worst possible poverty you have ever seen. People walk around looking like skinny zombies, going to the bathroom on the street and sleeping right next to it. They bathe in disgusting river water that will probably kill them faster than not bathing at all. I have actually spent a few nights in Kolkata over this ordeal but I was finally able to get out of the hotel and see the city. I had very low expectations.
The only real site is the Victoria Memorial which is actually a very nice building as you can see. It is kind of the US Capital meets the Taj Mahal and was built in memoriam of the late Queen Victoria finished in 1921. It houses a museum inside which is marginally good but very overcrowded as the locals are able to enter for 10 INR wherein we have to pay 150. Basically that just makes the museum very crowded and it is hot as hell as well as the rains make it so humid. The memorial is surrounded by a very pleasant park and some nice ponds that are actually well maintained and make it a nice escape from the madness of the city.
After I headed out to Park Street which is their main drag and walked past the big central parks where all the kids are playing cricket, it looked like any big metropolitan park and was nice to see. Park Street was not that nice and I was relentlessly hounded by touts and beggars and after nearly 3 weeks on the subcontinent I am growing very tired of it and am very much looking forward to tomorrow and getting out to Nepal for some clean air and outdoor treks. I have also heard very good things about Thamel in Kathmandu so I am looking forward to seeing that and meeting other travelers and swapping stories.