Category: South of India, 2012

Aloft, Jan 20-21

Warning: if you’re into learning about India, you may want to skip this post. But, if you’re willing to wallow in the travails of travel, and indulge a bit of background, read on.

You’d figure that leaving home 3 1/2 hours prior to flight time would be plenty of time for a half hour taxi ride to the airport, but not necessarily so, in a driving Chicago snow storm. In the first hour and a quarter we covered what would normally have taken ten minutes. A check of the flight time online in the taxi revealed that it’s on schedule, as planes always are when you may be running late. Skillful driving by our regular and highly reliable airport driver, Clifton, managed to get us to O’Hare by 6:20 PM, for our 7:55 flight, and we sailed through check in and security in good time.

After sharing a tasty tuna wrap at the gate, a check of the flight time shows a delay of two hours. This would leave us an hour layover to make the switch in planes, if the 2-hour delay does not get extended. Not exactly a relaxing start, but, at least our flight has not (yet) been cancelled, as was our November flight to Ghana. But these are the joys of air travel and, if I’ve gained any maturity–something my daughters would not concede–it’s in recognizing that there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

Boarded on schedule to be only two hours late, but de-icing and various other activities made our lift-off four hours behind schedule, almost midnight. Since our layover was to be three hours, we may not make it to Mumbai, when planned. Luckily, I’m mature.

Well, anyway, we’re aloft, but a long, long way from India. We’re flying Etihad Airways. Never heard of it? Neither had I, but it turned out to be the most economical (that sounds better than cheapest, doesn’t it). Since Etihad is the airline of The Emirates, it means that we need to fly through Abu Dhabi, but, hey, nothing’s perfect. In a scant fourteen hours we’ll be there, then on to Mumbai, maybe. It’s Friday evening (now Saturday morning), and we aren’t scheduled to arrive in Mumbai until early Sunday morning. That’s a pretty long time in coach, but our frequent flier status on Etihad is not exactly platinum.

We’re looking forward to our trip for two reasons. First, India is fabulous, teeming with life, color, religion and “foreignness”. In short, exotic. For the past dozen years or so, Carol and I have leaned to the exotic, though, at least initially, that was not a conscious objective. It’s not that Europe, for example, is not wonderful. Of course, it is. But, for us, it doesn’t carry the same sense of excitement that traveling to a country with a totally different culture, look and feel does.

Our first trip to India, in 2006, took us to the North of India, and was quite mind-blowing. To give you an idea, the Taj Mahal probably ranked about fourth in our favorite experiences. I’d rank the 2006 trip we took with our friends, Joe and Madeline Wikler, who we’d met several years earlier on a biking trip to New Zealand, as among the very best trips we’ve taken. Carol loved it, but would rank it a bit lower. But I’m writing this, so it was among our very best. Carol and I returned to India for a short time in 2009, en route to Nepal and Bhutan, and I spent another four or five days there, in the Kulu Valley, on my return trip to Bhutan in 2010.

The second reason we are looking forward to the trip so much is that most of it will be spent with our good friends, Steve Sugarman and Karen Carlson, from California. (I’ll refer to them as the Sugarmans from time to time, though that’s not strictly accurate.). Steve was a law school classmate and friend, who spent considerable time sleeping in our flat in London, when Carol and I lived there in 1967-68, and Steve was engaged in various projects in London. He and I collaborated on an article on British antitrust law that was published in the Stanford Law Review, back in 1969 (egads, forty-three years ago). When Steve’s not on what seems to some of his friends to be a perpetual sabbatical or leave, he teaches law at Boalt Hall (Berkeley), where he’s been a fixture (albeit a very mobile one) for forty years. Karen teaches ESL, and is a thoroughly delightful and adventurous companion. We’ve taken short trips with the Sugarmans in the US, but Carol and I bowed out of the Egypt/Jordan trip we’d planned with them, because of its proximity (two years ago) to our grandson, Jasper’s, birth. So, the prospect of extended time with Steve and Karen holds great appeal to us.

The Sugarmans have been to the North of India (having gone shortly before we did and given us some excellent tips), but neither of us have been to the South, so we’ll explore it together. Because Steve and Karen have been to Mumbai, they’re going someplace else while we’re in Mumbai, and we’ll meet a few days later.

Actually, Carol and I were supposed to have gone to Mumbai in 2009, but a few months before our trip, the Taj Mahal, where we were to have stayed, was invaded by terrorists. Despite my assurances to Carol that the Taj would then have been the safest place in the world after the attack (which I sincerely believed), she decided that she would not be comfortable there, so we stayed in and around Delhi. This time, though, we’re headed to the Taj, hopefully “hold the terrorists.”

We’re confident that this will be another great trip, as we’ve planned it again with the aid of the fabulous travel agent in Delhi that we’ve used three times before, Shonali Datta of Peirce & Leslie. I’ll resist recounting stories here of why we love Shonali, but if any of you following this blog are contemplating a trip to India, let me know, and I’ll tell you why she’s so great.

Flight to Abu Dhabi long, but uneventful. Plane landed a few minutes after our flight to Mumbai began boarding. Long walk, aided by moving sidewalks, past very upscale shops, got us to the gate in time. As to our bags, stay tuned; we’ll see in Mumbai.

Bottom line: despite terrible roads and snow getting to O’Hare, a 4-hour delay in takeoff to Abu Dhabi, and a delay taking off from Abu Dhabi, we arrive in Mumbai six minutes behind schedule and, after waiting half an hour for pretty-much all the luggage to be unloaded, with our bags (perhaps due to the delay leaving Abu Dhabi). We are met at the Mumbai airport by Wamed, the Peirce & Leslie representative, who walks us out to an unauthorized loading area to be picked up by our driver, cautioning us that we must enter the vehicle very quickly, to avoid being ticketed by the police. We load quickly, but not quickly enough, as, despite a vigorous argument, Wamen pays either a fine, or a bribe, and we are on our way to the truly fabulous Taj Mahal Hotel.

En route at 5 AM, we see a large produce market begin to come to life, great-looking vegetables being unloaded. A bit farther along the way, we see women with large baskets, making their way to the dock to purchase fresh fish.

At the hotel, we are greeted and blessed, red-dotted and garlanded at reception in the old, palace portion of the hotel, then shown up to our large and luxuriously-appointed suite. The pictures I hope I’m about to attach below don’t do it justice.

Before ending our 25-hour door-to-door trip and going to sleep (collapsing), the private butler for our floor, brings in two freshly squeezed orange juices. I have always preferred private butlers to terrorists as attendants.

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Aloft, Jan 20-21

  • David

    Hey, I believe everything you say except that 1969 was 43 years ago. That is simply not possbible.

    Be safe. We’ll keep you posted on Eve’s surgery.

    David

  • W.

    Great post, Dadz! I’m behind on your blog updates b/c Jake didn’t have internet access at home while I was there (though Robrob did). Must pay some never mind to your grandchildren at the moment, but glad to hear you made it to the Taj (at long last), hold the terrorists. I’ll read more later.
    L,
    W.

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