Stopovers to and from India
The best thing about having to go to the Indian interior for a week of work from Australia is the fact that the cheapest flights to Kolkata just happen to change planes in Bangkok…and if you have to change planes, you may as well have a break.
Well, I did that and gave a brief overview of my observations in the LOS here. What follows may be of interest to some as I journeyed for my week's work in India. I don’t claim any sort of photography prowess, and indeed consider myself more of a happy snapper. Nor am I brave enough to confront “interesting characters” along the way and take photos. I hope some of the shots are of interest though.
The flight from Bangkok to Kolkata is a real ripper (not) and one I have done many times before. It leaves Bangkok at about 11:30 PM so you really have to book that extra hotel day so you can have a shower and freshen up before the journey. The taxi to the airport is fast at this time of night, a quick squeeze and tearless farewell to my instant girlfriend (potentially looking for any last minute spare change, but didn’t ask so didn’t get) and I’m checked in and on my way.
It’s an interesting mix of travellers waiting at the gate – I’d say 80% Indians, 10% Thai, a few Koreans, Japanese, some western women from the 60’s (dress sense, not age) and a couple of western businessmen – including me. The 80% are not regular travellers, absolutely no idea how to store hand luggage, let alone find their seat. The always so polite Thai Airways crew are a steelier breed on this leg, but go from a mustering cattle approach, to the smiling service we are used to when one of the 20% pass them by.
Two and a half hours later (one and a half hours time difference) we land at Kolkata at about 12:30 local time…certainly not long enough to sleep so it’s a very weary me that gets off the plane and goes through Immigration – this was pretty seamless and our plane used one of the 2 or 3 aero bridges at Kolkata Airport so no tarmac bus or walk which was good. The baggage carousel had an interesting mix of packages and bags. Lots of brown boxes tied up with string, many pieces of electrical equipment – flat-screen TVs etc, and mainly old (as in 1970’s old) suitcases. Some people had enough for 2 trolleys. I learnt later that many of these people are couriers that take lots of cloth and clothes over to Bangkok and then return with the electrical goods rather than cash…they must take a lot of stuff over for this to make economic sense to me, but that’s what I was told.
Kolkata Customs is a walk through affair but the sight that greets you as the sliding doors open to the outside is confronting…the mass of humanity waiting for the plane, the jostling for a view, the drivers with name signs. Well, onward into the masses.
Spot my name and driver quickly. Well, he spotted me as I was probably only 1 of 3 that may match his idea of what I should look like based on my name and origin. He clears a path through the crowd and directs me to wait here while he gets the car. At this point I become somewhat of a tourist attraction with some families coming past for a look. I experienced this last time I was in Kolkata at the zoo. Such a “once was beautiful” establishment that has run down under the press of a billion feet. Only the tiger cage had more interest than me as I walked around. Zoo admission was 25 Rupees (less than 50 cents) and same rate for me as the locals.
The car arrives with much honking to clear the audience and with bags secured we are ready to depart. This is where it gets interesting in terms of what can be done with low wages and many people ready to take the place of those already employed and generally a solid work ethic. The Taj Bengal is my favourite hotel and the service is amazing. Before driving off the driver introduces himself and asks if I am ready to depart…
“Thank you, sir.”
After a short while he asks if the temperature is comfortable.
“Thank you, sir.”
A little later, do I have a music preference, he has many CDs he can offer me etc etc. The cool towel and water bottle is offered and welcomed. On the way he explains the time it will take to get to the hotel, and compared to his compatriots is relatively easy on the horn for the journey.
I’m informed that we will be arriving shortly, and when we do, I am greeted by name by a bell captain and beautiful sari clad lady. My bags and passport go one way, the lady and I head to the room (no, it’s not one of those hotels!) as we go she completes check in documentation which I sign and she departs. A minute later my passport and bags arrive and I am set for the night. Absolutely seamless and minimal time…Fantastic. <The Thais REALLY could learn from that – Stick>
In the morning, as I head for breakfast the female security guard for my floor spies me and presses the elevator button so it is there waiting. She also greets me by name. Do they memorise the guest list and doors along the hallways? When I return from work at the local office late that day, the same guard is still there. I chat with her about her long hours and she sincerely lets me know it is a pleasure to work in a hotel such as this.
View from my window
Pool area…up close it looks like the grass and trees have been manicured.
I’d left a tangle of chargers and cords on the room work desk and hey had been all wound up and secured with hotel provided Velcro – amazing!
It’s the little things that make a hotel experience special, and these guys do it well. On a previous trip I spoke to a hotel driver as he showed me around town. All the staff know that there are millions of people that want their job and they will do anything to keep it and that anything is the attention to detail and service ethic that comes across in all aspects of the hotel.
The book I was reading and left face down open at my page now sported a hotel book mark – not a bad story by the way.
The dry cleaning arrives.
Next morning it's up at 4.30 AM for a 5 AM car to the train station. Yes, I am braving the rail network in India! The locals from our site in the interior have a laugh at me and call me an honorary Indian as I am the only whitey they know from our company that is willing to do this unaccompanied. The car deposits me at the station, walks me to my seat, checks that I have a schedule and watches and I’m set. All I have to do now is get off at the right station and not eat or touch anything…so it’s not that hard!
The train heads off at the appointed 6:05 AM and we are away. This is pretty easy as trains go. I’m in the good carriage, looks about 1950s. It is an express so only 6 stops, and is generally on time. Almost 5 hours later I’m about 300 km west of Kolkata and getting ready to get off. It's winter in India, so the sun only came up at around 8 AM. The view from the window then improved and a panorama of very basic rural life passed me by.
And the dunnies, now for a 2-hour, 60 km drive to our work site through traffic, cows, kids, bikes, carts, goats, chickens, potholes, random people all conspiring to slow us down.
Repeat in reverse in a week's time and I’ll be back in the LOS for another brief stopover.
Really nicely put together. That hotel you stayed at sounds top notch!