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Published: June 16th 2015
Our time in India was over. We were flying back to Australia via Singapore in the evening (9.30pm), so we prepared for the flight as our last afternoon in Delhi drew to a close. We checked out of Hotel Gulnar at 5pm, jumped into a taxi and headed to Indira Gandhi International Airport. We arrived at 5.30pm, checked in and wandered around the duty free shops. I picked up a copy of Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Omnibus Volume II’ (a selection of short stories from one of India’s best known authors) along with a few gifts and trinkets that we’d not been able to find during our travels. We headed to the food court to try Indian McDonalds, and the Masala Grilled Chicken Burger was surprisingly good.
We were fading fast, so we made our way to the gate lounge and relaxed until we boarded at 8.30pm. The first leg of our flight (Delhi to Singapore) was five and a half hours. We were travelling on the upper deck of an A380-800, which was a first for us. I loved it, because there were fewer seats than the lower deck, which meant the service was faster. I also had my
first red wine for a month! Bliss 😊
We opted for the Indian supper. We had zaikadar chat
(lentil dumplings with pomegranate and yoghurt sauce), murgh balti / sabzi jalfrezi / jeera pulao
(spicy chicken with stir fried vegetables and cumin rice), aloo palak / lauki chana dahl / pyaz pulao
(potato with spiced spinach, chick peas, dahl and onion rice), chapathi
(unleavened flat round wholemeal bread), aam rasmalai
(milk dumplings in sweetened creamy milk and mango) and masala tea
. The meal was great, although the chapathi
was nowhere near as fresh as the ones we’d been eating over the past two weeks. While Ren slept after supper, I worked on my travel notes with a few more red wines and a cognac. I love travel flying!
We landed at Changi Airport around 5.30am (Singapore time). We made our way to the opposite end of Terminal 3 and used the free wifi while we waited to embark on the second leg of our flight home (Singapore to Melbourne). It was a seven hour flight, and we boarded around 7am. Ren slept for the first part of the flight. I slept intermittently, worked on my travel notes and listened
to music (Hindi singer Arijit Singh – I’d picked up one of his CDs in Udaipur). When lunch was served, I got the pan-fried chicken in basil cream sauce (even though I ordered the braised fish with hot bean sauce). It sounded a lot better than it tasted. The second half of the flight was a lot more comfortable than the first, possibly because I didn’t feel anywhere near as tired.
We landed at Tullamarine Airport around 6pm (Melbourne time). It felt like 6am. We picked up our packs and breezed through customs. I declared the wooden shruti box I’d picked up in Pushkar, but when I described it to the customs officer he just waved me through. We walked to the domestic terminal and I checked into my flight home to Hobart. Ren had to forgo her flight home, as she was staying on in Melbourne for a week to be with her mother who had only just returned home from surgery. I used the airport’s free wifi for an hour or so, boarded my flight and touched down in Hobart around 11pm.
This was to be a problematic homecoming. When I got to our car (which
we’d left in the long-term car park), the battery in my keyless entry remote was flat. For some reason I just kept pointing the remote at the car and pressing open, but nothing happened. It was late at night, so my options were slim. I walked to the back of the car and pressed open one last time. I heard the doors unlock, and the sound was joy to my ears. I loaded my pack into the boot and headed over to the ticket machine to pay the parking fee. When I took the ticket out of my wallet it looked pretty worn around the edges. The barcode had faded considerably, so I crossed my fingers and pushed the ticket into the machine. An error message appeared on the screen – “Invalid Ticket”. I took it out and tried again, but the same error message appeared. Things were not looking good. I noticed an intercom on the front of the ticket machine, so I pushed the call button. To my amazement, a guy answered straight away. When I explained my predicament, he asked if I could still read the issue date on the ticket. I could – it was January
8, the day we left for India. He took my word for it and sent through a new ticket. When it slid into the tray in front of me I paid it, ran to the car and drove to the exit gate. I wound down my window, tentatively slipped the ticket in the slot and the boom gate shot upwards. I was free!
I arrived home at midnight. The electric gate opened but didn’t close. I couldn’t work out why, but it was dark and the dogs were still in boarding kennels, so I decided to leave it open. When I got inside the house there was no water in the laundry or the toilet. While we were away an outside water pipe had burst but luckily someone had seen the gushing water and reported it to Southern Water, who sent a technician out to turn the town water off to our block. The water had been gushing for at least 24 hours, so our next water bill will be astronomical. Without town water I couldn’t wash my clothes or flush the toilet.
I woke early the next day and drove into Hobart to pick up Mia (our
cat). When I got home I called a plumber and explained the water situation. He said he’d be there late afternoon the following day. I had two more days without clean clothes or a flushing toilet. Jasper and Oliver (our dogs) were dropped off at midday. I overfed Mia and she barfed on the kitchen mat. She also decided the kitty litter tray was too difficult to negotiate, so she pooed right beside it. The smell was far reaching and unspeakable. Oliver killed a possum during the night and left the carcass on the front steps. This was getting beyond a joke!
However, all’s well that ends well. A plumber came and fixed the pipe. A builder came and fixed the gate. Mia settled. No more possums ventured into the yard. And Ren came home. SHE SAID...
We arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport at 5:30pm, having grossly overestimated our journey time. We had allowed an hour and a half, but we got there in half an hour as the roads were still deserted due to the elections. And so we said our final goodbyes to the land of colourful saris and scrumptious curries, showed
our passports and flight itinerary to the smiling machinegun slinging army official, and walked into the airport.
We did a bit of shopping at the airport for little souvenirs and then proceeded to our gate. The first flight from Delhi to Singapore was five and a half hours, but I slept for five of those hours and can only tell you that the chicken curry dinner meal was very good. The two Singapore Slings I had at the start of the flight were clearly stronger than I realised. My sleep was also helped by the fact that we were on the upper deck of the A380 and had more space than we usually do on Singapore Airlines flights.
The two hour transit stop at Changi airport went by very quickly and we then boarded our seven hour flight to Melbourne. It was an absolutely packed flight and we were squished in at the back. I had a reasonably large man next to me who didn't start our seat-buddy relationship off well as he had piled his jacket and personal documents on my seat while he filled out some forms. After a few seconds it became clear that he
expected me to stay standing until he finished. Ha! He could think again! I politely asked him if the stuff was his as I started moving them to the floor. He got the message and sulkily piled the items onto his lap and then made huffy noises about how hard it now was to fill his forms. We find drama queens quite hilarious, so Andrew and I had a good chuckle about it. I fell asleep pretty much soon after that, woke up for the uninspiring breakfast (or was it lunch?) and then slept again, waking up on the four hour mark. I used the remaining three hours to catch up my travel notes, which I was massively behind on.
When we landed at Melbourne airport and started getting ready to disembark, we were asked to remain seated as quarantine officials were boarding the plane. It turned out that a sick child was on the flight and we could not be let off the plane until they ascertained the child wasn’t contagious. This was the first time we’d re-entered Australia since the Ebola outbreak in Africa, and we were required to fill in an additional entry form to confirm
that we hadn’t been in Africa in the last 21 days.
No matter where I’ve been, or for how long I’ve been away for, there is something really comforting about arriving at Melbourne Airport. And ‘like that’ (an Indian saying I’ve picked up), we were back home.
I found India to be a world of contradiction-in-terms and contrasts. A few things that really stood out for me were:
• the busiest and dustiest hard edged city streets had fresh produce carts with the lushest looking fruit and vegetables;
• the people scratching together a living on the streets seemed to have lives devoid of any softness, but when you looked at their faces there was almost always a ready smile at hand;
• with no seeming awkwardness or judgement from either party, the filthy rich and the profoundly poor lived side-by-side;
• some of the Hindu deities are highly sexualised, but it would have been considered very indecent if my very very ordinary knees or shoulders were exposed in public;
• grown men held hands and showed open affection to each other, but accepting homosexuality is unimaginably abhorrent to the mostly religious populous. Incidentally, if you are a
heterosexual man and like holding hands with other men – India is your country. 😊
Many people had told me that India was a tough place to visit. And in a sense it was hard, but it really wasn’t as bad or horrible as some people claim. It was like a more intense version of other Asian countries, with a slightly increased degree of difficulty. Before we travelled to India, I had trawled a few online forums which addressed questions about travelling in India, but most of them were either hysterically anti-India or over-the-top condescending to anyone who might have any trepidations about travelling there. So I thought I’d write a few practical tips and hints that I would have found useful before we travelled there. Some of these are general tips that are applicable to travelling to any south or south-east Asian country, but some are specific to India:
• You can’t enter an Indian airport without presenting a paper printout of your flight details to an armed official. I have heard that an electronic copy on your phone or tablet would be acceptable too – but I can’t be sure of this.
• India is a very
spiritual country, and if visiting religious sites, women (and sometimes men) will need to conform to the custom of covering head and shoulders. It’s easy enough to carry a light scarf in your bag (and it’s also handy on overly air conditioned buses and trains).
• When travelling by overnight train, the upper sleeping berths provide more privacy.
• On travel days (or on any day for that matter), when you see an ok-ish toilet, use it. There are two types of public toilets in India – useable ones and ‘oh my god I would rather die’ ones. So when you find a useable one, use it.
• Load up on hand sanitiser, as lots of public toilets don’t have hand washing facilities.
• Carry toilet paper and/or wet wipes.
• Constant hot water in hotels is not a given. Keep this in mind if you plan on travelling to the north in winter. There’s usually a hot water switch to individual water heaters in the bathrooms. And the taps are not always hot and cold as marked – which adds an interesting Russian roulette like quality to your morning shower.
• The power grid is not very reliable in
smaller towns, and there will be times when there is no power. We stayed in hotels and properties that had their own generators (but it would be courteous not to use things like hair dryers when power is limited).
• I would recommend good walking shoes that are fully covered to protect your whole foot - especially if you’re a bit of a germaphobe and don’t want any ‘stuff’ accidently splattered on your feet.
• People will very rarely say ‘no’ to you as it’s deemed to be rude. Learn to distinguish between an enthusiastic ‘yes’ head wobble (which means ‘yes’) and the ever so slightly hesitant ‘ok’ head wobble (which could mean ‘no’, ‘maybe’ or ‘I don’t know’).
• The poverty in India is something that you’ll need to come to terms with (in whatever way is most comfortable to you). Before you get there, have a think about your position on giving money to beggars (especially children).
• If you’re an animal lover, you will have to learn to steel yourself against some pretty harsh sights.
• Most Indians can understand most of what you say to them in English. Especially if you are talking about the cricket!
• Visiting India requires a thick skin and a relaxed attitude. If you can’t learn to accept that things will most likely be done very differently to what you are used to, it most likely won’t be an enjoyable visit for you.
We experienced so many sights, colours, sounds, tastes and interesting people in our month in India. We travelled from lush coastal plains to misty hill country to sweeping barren deserts to jungles with tigers... our journey had been bursting with variety. And now we are finally back home.
I needed to spend some time with my Mum, so I stayed on in Melbourne while Andrew continued to Hobart. As a result, all the post-holiday administration and getting our house and work load back on track was left solely to Andrew. And it would still be a few days before I would see Jasper, Oliver and Mia.
On the drive to Mum's house from the airport, I was in a bit of reverse-culture shock – the streets seemed so empty and there wasn’t a constant stream of horns, bells and chatter. Where were all the people? And the animals?? And the street food carts???
The sunny season was still in full swing in Australia, which made coming back home from a trip vastly more welcoming than coming back to winter! 😊
As always, we will gather our thoughts and write a summary blog of our trip very soon.
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