To India with Sofie: Day 1

September 1, 2012

I’m in India.

Delhi to be precise. More I don’t know. My friend Thinlay came to collect us at the Indira Gandhi airport. He brought another friend with an air conditioned vehicle and they brought us here, in this studio. Apparently, this friend’s friend had no objection to collect me, and give me his best room with A/C for free. But I have no idea where ‘here’ is, precisely. However I’m very grateful for the warm reception we got.

I hadn’t traveled by air in 10 years.

Between 1989 and 2002 i must have traveled by air at least 25 times, far and beyond, with more than 125 flights in total. But the stringent security implemented since 2001, although a good measure, removed a lot of the pleasures of traveling.

In the early nineties i often went on the tarmac in many international airports, accompanied by maintenance staff or whoever. And i have this sweet memory from Bonaire Flamingo airport, where i was strongly advised not to go too early to wait at the airport. Instead, I had to wait in a local pub and drink and talk with friends until one of them said, “your plane is there!” pointing to it approaching the airport. We then jumped in a pick-up truck and drove onto the tarmac, confused minutes later, because, suddenly(?) there were two planes boarding, and which one should i take? This happened as recent as 1998.

I never had an e-ticket,

but this seems to be a blessing to everyone: Gone are the days when you had to walk around with this multi layered red carbon ugly paper.

I never printed my own boarding pass before, and never checked in my own luggage. So it is done nowadays in Amsterdam airport. I don’t know if anywhere else. When on the plane, I wondered whether anyone checked my boarding pass at all. Passport control looked at it and the corresponding visa, and so did someone from security when walking us through the scanners. But they did not check when we boarded. So whether this is a blessing or a curse?

Security: That guy who checked our boarding pass spoke with a Surinam accent, so i told him i had been in Paramaribo and Sarawacca in 1995. He bombarded us to priority customers so we were security-checked the very first. I had to throw a nearly empty bottle of coke (but i knew they would ask me) and i had to remove the belt (temporarily) keeping my trousers on my fat belly. They did a correct and efficient job in a very friendly way.

I never traveled alone with my 5 year old daughter

Mother had to stay home for red tape reasons, and my eldest has to go to school. This 5 y.o. girl was so sweet. She kindly woke up full of excitement at 4am, and never fell asleep the whole 16 hour journey, never complained about anything, ate some food and drank enough, and found her way to the womans room at Delhi airport (where i refrained from accompanying her / did not want to start an inter cultural war by showing my beardy face there).

And she was most of the time my sweet ambassador, opening doors by her smile – she melted hearts at security, passport control and boarding (we did not even notice boarding), her smile gave us first class treatment by the KLM-crew in the plane.

I hate that morning train

When traveling by KLM economy from Brussels you get a free train ticket. But we needed to have a boarding pass before 10am, and we got only a ticket for a slow train, one that takes nearly 3 hours over 220kms. This train left Brussels South Int. by 6.18am. There is the stress that this train might be late. There is the stress of getting in time to Brussels South. There is the nuisance that there is no morning train on Saturday mornings from where we live to Brussels. And that is very inconvenient, cause our local train station is within walking distance, and the local train only takes half an hour, while a taxi might take twice as much.

Anyway, we woke up around 4am and the taxi came quarter to five and delivered us 5.30. Again, more stress because the ticketing windows where all closed, and people were already standing in quite a long queue. By 5.45am, 4 of them opened though, and they handled 50 travelers in less than 15 minutes.

We went on the train and said goodbye to mom.

Trains leave very slowly, but I saw no tears, only laughter and excitement on our faces. The train kept to schedule and arrived before 10am in Amsterdam airport underground station.

I never went to India before

I never went to Asia before, but went often to Africa, and Latin America. So even for this experienced traveler there was the big unknown. We were not spared the stories about corruption, dirt and disease, trafic hell and more of that …

But I did not yet see it yet. It is now September 2, 1am, and our friend drove us over dark highways with nearly no traffic. Passport control in Delhi airport was more like a dream, customs offered us the green line, and the airport toilets were very clean.

Terminal 3 at Indira Ghandi int. airport is fully air conditioned, even cold to our liking, but once we left it, we were slammed by 35 degrees C and a humidity close to 100%. I saw people trying to sleep next to a large fan in the corridors of the airport parking. These huge fans are nothing but hot air blowers.

Our room is not that hot. I put the A/C off to go to sleep, and although it is close to 30C, a ceiling fan at lowest speed delivers a delightful breeze, sending us to dreamland …

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