So Karen and I were sitting in the departure lounge in Singapore, waiting for our flight to India, when I noticed that I was different from all of the other men there.? Sure, I’m a couple of shades whiter than office paper, but that’s not what I’m talking about: I was pretty much the only guy in the room that didn’t have a nice full mustache.? Also, my hair is nothing like the nice full wavy styles sported by the average Indian man.? Basically, Indian men are all trying to channel Burt Reynolds his ’70s/Smokey and the Bandit days.
India is a country apart from just about everywhere else I’ve ever travelled.? Some things about this place truly are enchanting.? Right after we arrived in Chennai, I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear as we slid in and out of traffic in the Autorickshaw taking us from the airport.? Indians probably think we’re crazy to pay for adventure sports when you can get the same kind of rush just from going place to place.? Also, although many countries sport friendly people, I’ve never been to another place where people were so happy to help as India.
India can also be incredibly frustrating, however.? We had our first reminder of this when we went to get our visas last Monday at the embassy in Singapore:
- Arrive between 9am and 11am; take a number from the machine, wait for it to be called
- While waiting complete the most in depth personal form this side of a mortgage application
- Hand over all of your forms with $40 and get a receipt to come back Friday morning for the visa (4 day later–we at least kept the passports so we could go to Malaysia)
- Come back Friday morning, and wait in the single line that blocks all of the other front counters; people keep trying to cut in front of you to go to the other counters so they can be told to wait 4 days
- At the front of the line, pay another $160 and be told to come back for the visa in 8 hours
- Come back 8 hours later (killing our plans for the rest of the day) to get another number; wait for it to be called to pick up the visa
Let’s contrast this to Zimbabwe (a really messed up country):
- Go to customs line after getting off the plane in Zimbabwe
- Pay $40/visa to the customs inspector (who makes jokes about your wife’s fear of flying)
- Get visa in passport, and you’re free to go.
If you were to try that in India, they’d of course make you get on the next flight home.
Similar frustration occured when we tried to buy a flight from Kerala to Bangalore.? Yesterday, we found the Indian Airlines flight online.? We then?followed the helpful steps on the website to buy an e-ticket.?After the final “confirm” button was pressed, we were told, “Sorry, we are unable to process international credit cards at this time.”? (Would have been easy to tell us this ahead of time.)? Undeterred, we went to the local travel agent, who said they’d be happy to book the ticket for us, but we’d need to come back the next day (Monday) because Indian Airlines requires paper tickets (even though, you can apparently buy e-tickets on the website.)? We were told to come back at 9am (we double checked this as we were leaving.)? Today, I came back at 9am, and they said, “sorry sir, please come at 10–today is a holiday so the agent doesn’t come in until an hour later.”? One hour later: “I’m sorry, but our Indian Airlines agent doesn’t work today because it’s a holiday.? You’ll have to buy the ticket tomorrow.” (We’re going to buy it in the next city instead.)
Tonight, we catch a night train for the city of Kochi/Cochin in Kerala (Southwest coast.)? We’ll stay there for three nights before (hopefully) catching a flight to Bangalore.? Then we’ll take a night train north to the town of Hampi, stay for 2 nights, take a night train back to Bangalore, train later that day to Chennai, stay the night in Chennai, fly back to Singapore, stay the night in Singapore, fly to St. Louis via New Jersey (an 18 hour flight!)? We’re thinking it’s going to be a relaxing trip.