Sunday, January 1, 2017

Travelogue 2017, Episode 1, Two nights at Mumbai airport

Take your mind back to New Year’s Eve 2016-2017. Where were you? At midnight we were on an escalator towards Bombay airport departure hall.

Seldom an outbound journey has been so adventurous and the arrival so overwhelming

In spite of the early start - we were at Schiphol at 5am - the journey started well. After days of fog and cancellations there was a brief window of visibility, in which we took off. Changing in Zurich was easy and the flight to Mumbai was comfortable. We had the first row in economy with extra legroom but no noisy toilets or freezing emergency exits. The veg meals were delicious.

No long queues for immigration and customs. The brand new, huge terminal "T2" wasn’t exactly beautiful, but a huge improvement. In the arrival hall we had some trouble getting money. Because of the recent demonetisation there was a huge shortage of cash, and you could take just 2500 rupees out of the ATM. With  a 230 rupees service charge. That was, if you found an atm that actually had money, about 1 in 10.

Midnight. We spent the night sitting, walking and waiting. At 5am our domestic connection should depart. At 5:05 the pilot announced a delay due to poor visibility in Rajkot. The fog had caught up with us after all.
We had to deboard and received new boarding passes for the same flight one hour later. Which was then cancelled three hours later. By that time we were too exhausted to wait around for the evening flight, so we decided to wait until the next day. Getting our luggage and getting out of the airport was a true ordeal. Clearly departures was a one way process, and to backtrack we needed special assistance and authorisation.

There we were, in front of the airport. No travel desk, no travel guide, no clue where to go. Airport hotels were 200€ per room, the city centre was too far away for an early departure the next day. So much out of character, I ended up with a shady guy offering a taxi and rooms nearby. Negotiations and exchanging money on the back seat in a dark parking garage. On my own I would have felt uncomfortable,  but with the four of us I felt safe.

Within 10 minutes the guy dropped us in a narrow winding street full of tiny shops, street stands, potholes, colourful people, cows, goats and a small hotel. Which wasn’t too bad really, except we paid way too much as the guy obviously took a large commission.

It was a fascinating little neighbourhood, very poor, one step above a slum, very lively, the tiniest shops, and people dressed in their Sunday Best – after all it was New Year’s Day. At the beginning of the alley was a main road with an elevated metro line, some expensive restaurants and hotels, and a middle class neighbourhood on the other side.

The rest of that day and night we slept, we ate, we slept, we ate and we slept. The next day at 11am we flew to Rajkot, Gujarat.

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