08 January 2008

Memories of Delhi Airport

I used to fly trips to Delhi, India. Back in the day. While half of me is very sad that we stopped flying there after September 11th, the other half is thankful . The layover was fabulous/horrendous/crazy/cheap , but the process of getting from the aircraft to the hotel and back was something else. I will leave the MANY crazy DEL flight stories for a time when I have writers block, but the Delhi airport was mentioned at a union meeting today which made me look back with a nervous tic.

When you landed in DEL, you were thankful that the aircraft door opened so you might escape being confined any longer with the huge families, 90 year olds traveling solo who only spoke an Indian dialect that 7 other people spoke, people looking to 'find themselves' etc.

As the passengers were filing off the aircraft, the cleaners who were equipped with straw brooms and wearing slippers ( if any shoes at all) shuffled on the aircraft as you were collecting your luggage. The cleaner supervisors would actually beat the backs of the cleaners they felt weren't working up to speed,it was really like Charles Dickens, India style.

The smell of DEL airport was what first greeted you. It was one part dirt/dust, one part spices and one part heat. (If you have been to India, you will know exactly what the heat smell is). The wall of heat was almost 3 dimensional,you almost physically jerked back when you got hit with it. Not a pleasant smell at 2am after a 9 hour flight.

The crew would proceed to immigration, where you would have to fill out various entry books by hand, your passport inspected by multiple people, and you were on your way. To customs. The customs form makes you list how much money is on you, how much jewelry and what type. This was always in triplicate to hand to each customs official. It was always fun to see which pilots listed a 'gold band' or 'wedding band' on the form, yet had bare fingers. (I could name names here, but I won't).

After 30 minutes of them dickering around because we wouldn't give them a bribe, they would usually give up and let us in India. This is where the fun began. When you left customs you entered a sea of humanity, all wide awake to wait for Granny Sapna, Uncle Subhash or their future husband or wife they had not met yet. Each person on your flight is met by no less than 17 family members who have traveled twice as many hours to greet them. Push, shove, get outside.

You wade past the taxi drivers to head to the crew bus. One of the various 3 legged dogs that we apparently feed show up. No fools, they recognize that our bags are filled with sick bags filled with leftover meat for them. For a moment you feel guilty when you notice actually poor and hungry people staring longingly at the food but, we can only feed so many. Tripod the beige dog ( named by the pilots) is out adopted child. We panic is he or his other 3 legged sidekick does not meet us .

We are also met by the vendors of brass .They will make us name tags, bag tags, house numbers, anything in metal to be ordered tonight and delivered as we get back to the airport tomorrow. They have designs for each airline, we know all the salesmen and their sons, who show up on school breaks.

After piling in the bus, we settle back, some opting for a purloined bottle of champagne and orange juice for the long ride to the hotel. In spite of being in the middle of the night, the roads are always filled with trucks. Their driving skills make you usually opt to close the red velvety curtains and fall asleep. Their tooting horns ( all of which toot various songs, like mobile phones) keep you from falling asleep. You laugh about the flight and the assorted weirdos on it and make plans for your layover. Some plan to party in the crew room, some plan to shop and some gamely try to plan both ( never successful). You are usually tapped on the shoulder by the tip envelope and you slide in rupees if you have been there recently, dollars or pounds if you have not.

The bus pulls up to the hotel where men that are gloriously dressed in Indian finery help you off the bus. Their huge turbans and curly slippers seem out of a movie. The luggage is quickly removed from the bus and you enter the fragrant lobby of your hotel. Home for a night, the craziness of the flight falls away, to be forgotten until the next night.

I never thought I would say this, I wanna go back to India.....


DUNCAN said...

I have been to Bombay or Mumbai but never Delhi, but I can report that "Tripods" brother is alive and well at the Bombay airport as well. As I read your story it reminds me exactly of our trip over there. Amazing isn't it? Indian food is my all time fav though. xoxox Dan

Blondie said...

Wow! Reading your posts about India made me feel like I was right there with you!