10 January 2008

A Passage From India

It would only be half a story to tell about getting to the hotel in DEL without detailing the return trip. The flights themselves could be its own blog, so ridiculous were the things that happened on the flights. Those weird stories that are things that could only be true because no one could dream them up, are left for another time.

The hotels in India for layovers were like no other. You were treated like kings and queens ( possibly mostly queens depending on the crew)! Our pickup from the hotel was after 1am, so they hotels called you 1 hour before your pickup to make sure you were awake. They would also call you 10 minutes later to make sure you had not hung up the phone and rolled back to bed. Sort of like when you were a child and your mother was waking you up for school.

Most of us emerged into the lobby with either shiny faces or hair ( or both) having sprung for a facial or head massage in the hotel that afternoon. Our bellies were filled with a gorgeous Indian dinner from hours before. This layover was rare in that at pickup, we were all generally well fed, rested and no one was hung over. At least half the crew had HUGE bags they did not come with, filled with curtains ( tailored to measure), pashminas, 'leather' (lambskin) jeans made off a pair of their own jeans, furniture or God knows what.

We would file outside into the darkness,people loading our bags into the back of the bus that we climbed up into. Plop back into the seats for the hour + long ride to the hotel. The tooting of the trucks did not bother you, you were going home. Purchases were showed off to those that did not hit the stores/stalls with you. Prices, colors and shore locations were all vigorously compared and defended. Everyone had their preferred purveyor . Most of the pilots had not left the hotel and prided themselves on not eating anything 'Indian' on their trip. They would make exception for Cobra beer though. Their loss, even if you did not care to shop, DEL is full of colorful, interesting and SAFE things to see.

We would make it to the airport where the brass merchants would meet us with out things. We would tease their sons for staying up so late to bring these to us. The front of Indira Gandhi airport was a MASS of humanity. That is because ( wisely) only ticketed travellers were allowed into the airport itself. As a result the 17 people that had met the visitor when he arrived also accompanied him to the airport and watched through the glass as he/she checked in and disappeared into the throngs. You had to work your way through this sea of people to get to the door,where IDs were checked and you were allowed in.

Crew with the large bags checked them in while the rest of us ran to the pharmacy where you could get Retin-A for a dollar and Valium for pennies, no prescription required. (It is always interesting to see what you can get in foreign pharmacies.....) Drugs stuffed into our bags, we headed to the immigration area. You were meticulously logged by hand into the crew log book as having left the country. You were also not supposed to leave with over a certain amount of rupees on your person. Not a problem as we had spent it all!!

After clearing immigration procedures, people with children would hit the toy store where Barbies from all areas of India were sold. Rajasthani Barbie had HUGE hoop earrings that would do any ghetto girl proud. They also sold the must have purchase, Stewardess barbie was 3 USD. Then the crew would stop at the Nescafe pushcart where some 'generous' crew member would but a round of coffee for the princely sum of 2 USD.

Next stop, duty free. Cigs for the smokers and booze for the drinkers were at ROCK BOTTOM prices. Prices that were so ridiculously cheap that it made you forget that you did not drink sambuca, Pernod, creme de cacao or whatever was on offer for 6 dollars!!

Finally you made your way to the gate which always resembled what you imagined a holding cell in eastern Europe would be like ( not that I think about that much).... Throngs of people that had either been travelling for half a day to get there or were just beaten down by being awake at this ungodly hour sat there quietly. Some were in the throes of Delhi belly, some were sad to leave home, some excited to get the heck out of dodge.

You boarded the aircraft where you would see the cleaners finishing up their jobs. in spits of using pioneer level technology ( brooms and dustpans) they got the plane cleaner than any cleaning crew in the US. You stowed your bags, did your safety checks, hit the 'BREW' button on the coffee and tea makers and dove into the crew meals.

Shortly boarding began and you were on your way home. Until the next trip.....

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