Thursday, May 10, 2007

Holiday in the Himalayas

Last month San and I went on a holiday to Sikkim, and the Darjeeling district of West Bengal. Roshni had been sent to Hyderabad on the train with her grandparents. We were flying as the train would take the best part of three days to cover the route. Better than the three week journey, in the times of Empire, from the south to what is now Pakistan, recalled by a relative of mine, but still too long for me.

Instead we took advantage of India's booming budget airlines. As the linked article states there are absurdly cheap fares available. Ours were modest rather than absurd, however we did manage to grab a 79 Rupee (about £1) flight between Hyderabad and Pune for San's sister Kinu, so the really low fares are there. The downside of the budget airlines is that they consider timetables to be a rough guide rather than anything you can rely on. Our first leg was to have been from Pune to Delhi with GoAir, but that route was cancelled, and we were put on the Bombay-Delhi flight a few weeks before departure. Since it around five in the morning this would entail a stay in Bombay.

Fortunately one of San's friends, who like me is an expat UK working in India, put us up in his flat in Navi Mumbai, a suburb of Bombay situated on the mainland. We drove down on the expressway which finishes on the edge of Navi Mumbai itself, avoiding the busy roads of the city, if not the humidity. In the evening he took us for a tour of his workplace; the enoromous, and very impressive Reliance campus - officially named the Dhirubhai Ambani Knowledge Centre. We had dinner in one of the on-campus restaurants; no alcohol or meat to San's chagrin.

The following morning we were kindly dropped off at the airport to begin the holiday proper. The budget airlines had more mischief to wreck on their, and our, timetables. Because we were put on the Bombay flight at a late date, we were told that we would have to wait and see if we would get on. Rather unfair as we had booked the original Pune ticket long in advance. After a nervous wait we were allowed on the plane bound for Delhi. Unfortunately it left late, and we were delayed further at the 'quick' stop in Jaipur, and delayed once more waiting for a slot to land in Delhi. The upshot was that a comfortable connection was turned into a rush. The onward flight was with another airline; the infamous Air Deccan. San went ahead in an attempt to reach the check-in desk before it closed, whilst I waited for our bag to appear on the carousel. Once it arrived I went to find her, and realised that domestic departues is in a different, albeit nearby building, to arrivals. Since San had the e-ticket thay wouldn't let me in, but after some remonstrating I was accompanied into the hall with an armed guard. Once satisfied that I was legitimate he left me with San. Then we discovered that Air Deccan had over-booked the flight and we were stuck in Delhi for twenty four hours.

First we called Paras, who had arranged our itinarary, to inform him that we weren't on the flight. I want to point out that he had nothing to do with the flights, and that the delays we experienced do not reflect on him at all! Then we booked into a pricy, but conveniently close hotel that went by the original name of Airport Hotel. The staff sympathised with our plight, and led us to our room. As I've been to Delhi before, and it is hot at this time of year, sightseeing wasn't a priority. Instead we caught up on our sleep, and went out in the evening to Connaught Circus, a huge circular road in the heart of New Delhi. I was going to call it a roundabout, but it hardly seems right to take a trip somewhere and describe it as a piece of traffic furniture. It's much grander that that.

We passed close to India Gate, and hence various Government of India buildings. We also passed the local Bentley and Lamborghini dealer. Most of the roads in India would be impassible for the latter, but New Delhi has some impressive and wide streets. Indeed, a pie in the sky plan for an F1 Grand Prix in the city has even been floated. Despite all this talk of roads Delhi is a very green city; indeed the Times of India recently listed it as having the most forest cover of any Indian city. There is an underground market at Connaught Circus which San was keen to explore. It was underground in both senses of the word, with DVDs and computer software of varying degrees of authenticity available for knock down prices. San stuck to clothes, whilst I politely declined a DVD of sexy ladies. After the shopping we headed above ground and sat in the park for a while. We could catch glimpses of the shiny new Delhi Metro through windowed ceilings laid into the park's earth. After our break we took a walk around the shops and searched for a place to eat. A lot of places were pretty busy, with queues forming at the doors. We found somewhere a bit quieter and had a decent meal with Indian wine.

After that we retired to the hotel and bed. The next morning we were up early, determined to be first in line at the checkout counter. Successful in our mission, we were on the flight! As with GoAir, Air Deccan's flight was delayed so we had a bit of waiting in the departure lounge. Eventually the flight was called, and unlike GoAir there are no seat bookings on Air Deccan: it's a mad rush instead. Other differences are less cabin crew, and what cabin crew there are wear longer skirts. Important facts for the traveller to know. We managed the scramble on board and get a pair of seats on the port side of the plane, where me might catch an early glimpse of the Himalayas, and eventually we did see some mountains through the clouds. The flight was fairly long, and overshoots the final destination of Bagdogra to make a stop in Guwahati in Assam. In the end we arrived safely, albeit somewhat delayed, in West Bengal, and finally met up with Paras. Up till now we had been dealing with him solely by phone, fax and email. We were led to our 4x4 to begin the four hour journey to Gangtok in Sikkim.

To be continued...



Post a Comment

<< Home