Oh hi India, I didn’t see you standing there!

Posted: January 5, 2013 in Life As I Know It, Travel
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Welp, I made it. To India. Kolkata, to be exact. I know, it’s nothing special. But I’m still going to write about it like this is the coolest thing you could possibly ever read about! (Also, this is really long. So if you want to skip to the bottom for some fun pictures, please do!)

I left Denver at ~3p on January 3rd. After a night in which I probably should’ve refrained from drinking whiskey and staying up until 4 to watch USA/Canada Junior Hockey (With gold medal game implications!) with my cousin….but didn’t… So that started me out right.

After a pretty solid mid-morning freakout worrying about transferring planes in Mumbai (everything I read about it said it was a ridiculous hassle, poorly done, and difficult for first-timers at the airport) I headed to DEN to depart. I was pretty certain I had (mostly) everything packed. I’m still not sure if I’ve forgotten anything, but only time will tell.

The first leg of my flight was a 9.5 hour stretch from Denver direct to Frankfurt, Germany, complete with a roughly 6 hour layover, landing somewhere around 6a. I think. it’s all sort of a dream-confused haze at this point. It also feels as much like it was a week ago as it does that it was yesterday. The flight itself was uneventful though I was rather disappointed in the Lufthansa business class accommodations. I was much more impressed with both Philippine Airlines and EVA airlines the last time I flew biz, but at the same time — who cares. First world problems, right?  9.5 hour flight with maybe an hour of sleep. Definitely should have slept for the vast majority of this flight, given that local time upon landing was early morning — but I’m clearly not one for doing what I SHOULD do. Alas.

At FRA I hung out in the lounge, took care of some emails, charged up my appliances, had a couple glasses of water — didn’t have any food because despite my announced “displeasure” with the food — they do love to feed you like every three hours! While sitting in the lounge I felt a coughing fit take me over. I’d love to say it was from being sick or dehydrated (well I was probably dehydrated but that wasn’t it) I’m fairly certain while not having slept on the one flight I absolutely NEEDED to sleep on, I was sitting in an exhaustion haze, and tilted my head back slightly and my own drool ran down the wrong pipe.

Needless to say, lots of coughing ensued. It also made my eyes water to the point that it looked like I’d been sobbing. I’m pretty sure everyone around me thought my boyfriend had just broken up with me.

Shortly after I left, deciding to make my way down to my gate a little early. The boarding in Frankfurt was, strangely, a giant clusterfuck by Western standards. I would’ve expected a little better at the global home of Lufthansa (considering I was flying Lufthansa) but the announcement to board folks with children, the elderly, or anyone with reduced mobility seemed to be met with everyone thinking it was time to board, with a small subset of us waiting in the business/first class line waiting our turn while half the plane boarded ahead of us. Not that that was a bit deal in any way, just…odd. It did lead to one German lady getting very angry and yelling in stilted English at a family, though, so that was fun.

Boarded, sat, uneventful 7.5 hour flights (with an hour and a half nap.) Then…Then I arrived in Mumbai.

I was nervous about Mumbai because everything I read said it was a horror show. Buses between terminals, hellishly long lines, chaos and lack of organization… It gave me a pretty fun panic attack just before I left (which was aided and abetted by being hungover and a lack of sleep) because I’m the kind of guy who wants to know everything about everything before I make a decision, or get thrust into a situation where things are unfamiliar. I think a lot of times I’m pretty easy-going and roll with unfamiliar situations reasonably well, but battling being exhausted (shut up you baby!) and traveling internationally? All bets are off!

It turned out to be not nearly as bad as I had read online, but it was certainly an interesting experience. After the flight landed, it took about 25 minutes to deplane, get to immigration, and pass through. Then it took over an hour for my bag to arrive. After about another 15 minutes I’d passed through customs. Following what I’d read online (you have to gather your baggage, then get to the domestic terminal several miles away) I debated either exiting the airport and hailing a cab, or following the more traditional route and taking the free shuttle bus. Despite the warnings of time (I still had about 3.5 hours until my flight boarded) I decided to go through the shuttle bus route. It took about an hour and a half to get through a secondary security screening checkpoint, then wait, then board a crappy old tour bus, and take a 20 minute riding tour from one end of the airport to the other to get to the Domestic terminal that’s several miles away.

This link http://goo.gl/maps/sKqov shows you an overview of the airport. On the east side you can see the International terminal, and then separated by runways, you can see the domestic terminal on the left. It’s a hike.

Free, but it definitely took a long time. Once arriving in the domestic terminal I just followed the crowd, tried to figure out where I was going, etc. I entered, looked briefly at a video board, and saw a flight headed to Kolkata from gate A8, so I knew where I was headed. After following well-marked pathways with visible signs I checked in for my flight, and re-checked my bag. The young lady at the counter told me that my flight was at gate A8, and off I went! I got through security, took a seat and jacked someone’s wifi and started doing all the usual updates to facebook and twitter and whatever else.

My flight was scheduled to board at 6:10, and on the video board I could see that time listed. Though, interestingly, there was a windows error box on the screen so the name/number/destination of the flight was blocked. Also there was a lot of American Christmas music playing in the terminal, which makes less than zero sense to me.

FORESHADOWING.

Fast forward to about 5:40, 30 minutes before my flight is supposed to board, and all at once everyone gets up and gets in line. So, I join the party! As I get to the gate, the agent takes my boarding pass and looks at me as if I’ve got three heads. He looks at the boarding pass again and says, what airline are you looking for? I said Jet Airways. He looks at me again. Looks at the boarding pass again. This is Air India, he says, you have the wrong flight. He tells me to go back and check the monitors to find the right gate. So I go back to check but my flight isn’t listed anywhere on the monitors, so I go back to the gate and he tells me to go find some Jet Airwas personnel. At this point it’s about 20 minutes before my flight boards and I can’t even find it listed. I’m starting to get worried. I find another gate agent, he tells me that my flight is at gate 18, and not A8. Oh. Well. Oh what’s that? I also have to exit security and go back through? SO EXCITED. So I leave security, go back through the other security line (nearly 20 minutes) feels slow as death. From my vantage point I can see the gate I’m looking for, and there’s no info listed on the video board for it. This on top of not being able to find my flight on any of the video boards in the other gate? At this point I’m officially alarmed.

After finally getting through security I reach the gate, and just as I’m about to step up and ask if it’s 9w 619 to Kolkata, they put the info on the board and invite us to board. Woo! I’m finally almost there! But what’s interesting is that by “boarding process” they mean scanning your boarding pass, and then sending you outside to figure out what bus to get on. Yes, bus. It had a sign outside saying “Kolkata” but I still probably asked a dozen people if that was the bus for the Kolkata plane. The last thing I wanted (And probably Mumbai Airport Security, though not the paying passengers) was to run down a row of buses knocking on doors yelling “WHO IS GOING TO KOLKATA AND CAN I COME?!”) Thankfully I had everything right. But still, a bus?! Then the bus drives you off, and goes to your plane. It drops you at the door of a 737, you climb up, and then off you go. Really….really strange. In fact, if you check this link: http://goo.gl/maps/qXXhr you’ll see a plane parked sort of at the bottom left. That’s where you exit and board the buses, and just northeast of that you’ll see a bus driving up the tarmac, followed by a couple more planes parked at the top right corner. It’s just so..odd. The other end of the terminal has real, actual, honest-to-goodness jetbridges, but not my end! Oh well. All’s well that ends well. Another 2:40 flight to Kolkata, some breakfast, and about an hour and a half of sleep. Couldn’t have ended better! Except I really, really wish I could figure out why the plane had a stilted loop of “jingle bells” on repeat…

Landing in Kolkata was a lot like taking off in Mumbai. Walk down the plane steps, get on a bus, take the bus to the terminal. I walked in the door and was maybe 30 feet inside trying to find which baggage carousel was mine when a gentleman started yelling my name (I’m the only white guy on the flight, natch) so it’s pretty easy to figure out I’m the person he’s supposed to be picking up!

We meet, we chat, luggage starts coming out, and I get my bag and we depart. At this point everything really does feel like a crazy haze. The ride to the hotel felt a lot like what Vietnam felt like, so it wasn’t hugely overwhelming or surprising. But it was a quick drive, I checked in, and promptly started writing this blog (only to fall asleep for 6 hours in the middle of the day) then come back to finish it.

So oh boy. Long trip, not awful. I’m exhausted. I had a clifbar and a beer for dinner because I’m not 100% ready to dive into anything with ‘Paneer’ or ‘Rogan Josh’ in the name yet. But, tomorrow! I’ll also have some less insanely-tired thoughts and observations soon, since, you know, that’s why you pay me.

OKAY PICTURES!

Take seat, receive champagne. The only way to fly!

Take seat, receive champagne. The only way to fly!

A pretty delicious breakfast on my DEN-FRA leg.

A pretty delicious breakfast on my DEN-FRA leg.

There's a casino in the Frankfurt Airport? There's a casino in the Frankfurt Airport.

There’s a casino in the Frankfurt Airport? There’s a casino in the Frankfurt Airport.

The hour + clusterfuck at the Mumbai baggage terminal before customs. I just waited off to the side and read.

The hour + clusterfuck at the Mumbai baggage terminal before customs. I just waited off to the side and read.

Had this insanely gorgeous sight (the photo obviously doesn't do it justice) leaving Mumbai at sunrise. All these awesome peaks poking out of the fog at daybreak. Absolutely gorgeous.

Had this insanely gorgeous sight (the photo obviously doesn’t do it justice) leaving Mumbai at sunrise. All these awesome peaks poking out of the fog at daybreak. Absolutely gorgeous.

Welp, I made it.

Welp, I made it.

It's too small to tell, but the line at the bottom of the screen is the windows taskbar, and on the right it says "new hardware detected" or whatever Windows computers say. Do you think it does that every time there's new luggage coming?

It’s too small to tell, but the line at the bottom of the screen is the windows taskbar, and on the right it says “new hardware detected” or whatever Windows computers say. Do you think it does that every time there’s new luggage coming?

This is the view outside my hotel window. It's...something.

This is the view outside my hotel window. It’s…something.

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