Trust me, if you haven’t started reading this from Part 1 of this saga, you really should start there.
So I last left you with my Air India flight from Hong Kong to Delhi. I was warned about Delhi from a number of colleagues who have either made this trip before me, or were born and raised in India. An example of one of my conversations with my good friend Vik Singh, originally from India.
“Oh, man. You’re going through Delhi? That’s not good.”
“Why’s that? It’s the capital of your country, right? Shouldn’t it be the most incredible airport the country has to offer?”
Vik can’t stop laughing at this comment. I’m not comforted. When he finally contains his laughter, he says:
“No flights ever leave on time from Delhi. The weather sucks, man. It’s always fogged in. Expect to spend a night in Delhi my friend. Oh, and it’s a shit hole. Also, it is very well known for it’s pick-pockets.”
Lovely. I have six more very similar conversations like this with other people. I may not be a statistics major, but I can clearly see a trend here.
There are no jetways at the Delhi International airport. No, sir. It’s off the plane onto the tarmac and onto a bus. The bus drives us to the terminal and we all unload. Straight to immigration and customs we go. My first impression of the airport is less than stellar. It’s all concrete and I can’t help but feel like I’m in some sort of bus terminal in south Detroit or the Bronx. Very … blah.
They stamp my passport and ask no questions. Suresh and off head off to the baggage claim. No, they don’t automatically forward your luggage to your connecting flight. You have to go get it and go through the whole check-in process again. There is no such thing as a connecting flight in this country. It’s just another, separate flight.
The Cathay agent is waiting for us and he tells Suresh that he will be able to catch a connecting flight tonight to Bangalore. Me, not so lucky. I’ll be spending the night in Delhi and I’m confirmed on a 7:55am flight tomorrow morning to Pune. Suresh immediately speaks up:
“What hotel are you putting him up at?” The Cathay agent spews off the name of some hotel that I can’t recall because I couldn’t pronounce it.
“Not good enough! You’ll have to do much better than that my friend.”, Suresh exclaims. Suresh has obviously been through this more times than I can possibly imagine. He then negotiates for me to stay at the Hilton. Not bad, I think to myself. I owe Suresh a beer.
Off to the Cathay Pacific booth to get our re-printed boarding passes. It’s just the two of us, we’re both confirmed on flights, and I’m staying at the Hilton. Since I’ve been awake for almost 48 hours at this point, I dream of the pillow and soft bed like an oasis. Suresh has his ticket re-printed withing 10 minutes. We exchange business cards. I thank him and wish him well and we talk about contacting each other back in the States. Now it’s just the two Cathay Pacific guys and me. I am there for 45 minutes. I ask what the problem is and he says he is having some issues re-printing my ticket. The problem is that I was not scheduled on a Cathay Pacific connecting flight, I was scheduled on Sahara Air and my new connecting flight is with Jet Airways.
“It shouldn’t be much longer, sir.”
Enter the dragon. A lady now enters the booth with a posse of six. She doesn’t look like anything special, dressed in sweat pants, no makeup and rather bland looking. However, both gentlemen behind the desk immediately perk up and beckon to her every demand. WTF? No longer are they working on re-printing my ticket, which I have patiently been waiting for 45 minutes. Here’s where the American in me pushes aside the Canadian in me.
“Look, I know you’re upset … but you’ll have to wait for these guys to re-print my ticket. I was here first, and as soon as they’re done, I’m sure they can help you out with your needs. Until then, have a seat.”
Yeah, that was fairly polite. Very Canadian. Read on for the American in me to be unleashed.
I’m pretty sure this is when I lost my Hilton reservation. The next thing I know one of the Cathay agents comes out with documents in hand, and escorting her off. Hmmm. Another 20 minutes go by and I’m still waiting.
“Okay, look I don’t know what problem you’re having re-printing my ticket. Let’s do this. I go to the Hilton, get some much needed rest and whenever you get my ticket re-printed, you drop it off at the front desk at the Hilton. Sound like a plan?”
“I would really feel much better if you had the ticket before you left, sir.”
The way this trip has been going, his comment worries me. Fine, I’ll wait.
Another 10 minutes elapse and two more guys enter the booth. I recognize one of them from my flight. Wow, I wonder what took him so long to come up to the booth? Oh, no. There I go asking myself more dangerous questions.
“None of my luggage arrived! All four of my bags did not make it from Hong Kong! We went to the Air India booth and they told me to come here. Where are my bags? What am I going to do? I have nothing!”
“Well, sir I am afraid you must go talk to Air India. They were the carrier that flew you here to Delhi, not Cathay. We simply booked you on Air India because of the missed Cathay flight. There is nothing I can do. I have no knowledge of you bags.”
This makes perfect sense to me. How should the Cathay agent know where the bags from an Air India flight are? Different airline. This wasn’t as clear to our friend missing his bags.
“Well, they told me to come here. You are both pointing your finger at one another. I will never fly Cathay ever again! This is ridiculous!”
I can’t understand this guys logic. What is there not to understand. I’m tired, I’ve had a crappy experience, and this guy is now taking up the time of both the Cathay agents who are trying to explain this to him. Remember earlier when I said the American in me would finally surface. Here he comes.
“Okay pal, you flew on Air India from Hong Kong to Delhi. Not Cathay. Go talk to Air India. Did the Cathay people load your bags on to the Air India flight? No. Did they fly your bags here to Delhi. Not at all. Did Cathay have anything to do with your god damn bags if they even arrived here in Delhi? I don’t think so! Now march on over to Air India and go figure out this dilemma with them. If you still think this is a Cathay Pacific problem, stand the hell behind me and wait your god damn turn!”
“I want a letter from Cathay Pacific that says…”
“BEHIND ME!”, I yell as I point to the floor space behind me. “You’re turn will come.”
“This is preposterous! I demand…”
I turn and tilt my head and give what must have been a very crazy, “I swear to god, I’ll kill you” look. He immediately shuts up and walks out.
Now I’m revved up. I really don’t care if I make the 7:55am flight anymore. I just want to sleep. A pillow, a bed … oh, how I dream of thee.
“Deepok! It’s been almost 2 hours. Let’s face it, I’m not getting my ticket tonight. Let’s do this. I go to the hotel, I sleep until 6am and wake up. I will call the front desk and they will delightfully tell me about the plane ticket waiting for me to come pick up. I’ll skip down to the lobby after my 6 wonderful hours of sleep, pickup my ticket and be on my merry way.”
He tells me that I’ll have to meet Mr. Rishi at 6am in the Domestic terminal. He writes down all of the instructions. 6am, Splendid, there goes another hour of sleep. I’m done to 5 now.
In India, I quickly learned that you really have to be very specific. Don’t assume anything! For example, I ask the agent how I’m getting to the hotel. Oh, I will get you a cab. Are you paying for the cab? Uh, yes. One second, let me get you a voucher. How about my ride back from the hotel to airport? Oh, okay. I will get you that voucher too. It’s not hot enough to be hell, but I re-examine where I’ve really landed once again. Nope, it’s Delhi.
Off to the cabs we go. The first thing I notice, is just how crowded this place is. People are literally shoulder-to-shoulder. I think to myself, no wonder this is a pick-pockets haven. I strategically have my wallet, passport and other valuables in areas in front of me, in an area where I will feel any sort of contact. I think you know where I mean.
As the agent is leading me out to a cab, I feel something tugging on my pull-cart luggage. I quickly look over and see this very dingy, old man with both of his hands around my luggage smiling and grunting as he tries to pull my luggage away from me. I forcefully instruct him to let go of my bags before I assault him. He doesn’t understand. I tell the Cathay agent that if he doesn’t get Old-Man Stinky off my bag, there will be a scene. He quickly attends to the problem and forces the old man away. I take 4, maybe 5 steps forward and I feel tugging on my bag again. Guess, who’s baaa-ck?
“Let me be extremely clear, old man. I do not want you touching my bag, or anything of mine. Let go of my bag rightnow, or I will lay you flat on your back. You don’t seem to understand my English, or his Hindi. Perhaps you’ll understand a swift, right hook. Deepok, make him understand the severity of the situation. If this happens a third time, I won’t be consulting you on a resolution.”
My brain the whole time has been yelling at me, “It’s a distraction. Keep your eyes on your valuables.” Nothing was taken. He just wanted to load my bags into the cab so I would give him some money. I understand the poverty and hardships over there, but yanking my luggage out of my hand, throwing it into the cab without asking me if this is what I want, then holding out your hand doesn’t work with me. I am very generous with my money, especially for those in need. But this was just a scam. A hard lesson? Perhaps. I certainly don’t want to endorse, or encourage this kind of behavior to be rewarded.
It is very late and the cars in India are incredibly small. I mean, really, really small. A Ford Focus would stick out like a Hummer here. It’s also very dark. I pull up under the canopy of the hotel lobby and taxi drop-off area. The doorman opens my door, unloads my bags, and I give him a tip of 100 rupees. That’s only $2 USD. However, it’s about 10 times what is normally given. Not bad for opening a door and unloading a single luggage bag. The lobby is … nice, but not Hilton quality as far as I am concerned. I’m in India, standards are a little different I guess.
After I register, I take the elevator up to the second floor. I’m in room 201. As the doors open I am greeted with holes in the opposite walls stained by something that looks like severe water damage. No word of a lie, the hotels in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina were in better shape than this place. This certainly can’t be my floor. Maybe it was floor 20, room 1. I examine the number of floors available on the elevator keypad. It only goes up to floor 11. Super. This must be me.
My room is the first one on the left. The door resembles that of a bathroom door you would expect to find in a home built in the early 1900’s. Very thin, warped, doesn’t really close all the way. I’m holding the key, yes an actual key. Not an electronic key card like those you would find in any hotel in North America, a real key. I hold it inches from the keyhole to my door. I look down at the warped door and can easily see inside the room. I hesitate and decide to nudge the locked door with my shoulder. It opens without a fight. I lift my head and scan the room. I am frozen by what I see. The bathroom is beyond disgusting. There is mildew and some other substance, that I was unable to identify, hanging off the shower head. The tiles were that 1970’s green, but were thoroughly covered with brown grunge. The ceiling was partially exposed, insulation hanging from the broken tiles. The bed, simply frightening. I curled up on top of my luggage, in my clothes, wallet and all other valuable in my pockets, and fell asleep within seconds. On the bright side, I didn’t see any bugs or roaches. The key being, I didn’t see any.
I haven’t even arrived into Pune yet. It doesn’t get any better. Tune in to Part 4 to see how it works out.