Sunday, May 21, 2006

Welcome to Indian Time

The ride to the domestic terminal of Delhi was much like the one from the night before. My friend from my company's Indian agency - let's call him Sam - was quick to point out the parliament building, the US Embassy building, and other key landmarks. The embassy areas are very nice with tree-lined streets and green lawns dividing the road. With the exception of several grown men openly urinating on the walls, it was a pretty sight.

We made it to the airport in one piece, my knuckles white from gripping the door handles. If I thought the international terminal was a mess, I was in for a shock. The domestic terminal was 100 times worse. Again, for a city of over 13 million people, the domestic terminal had only 4 gates and one tiny entrance. The terminal looked like it had been built during the era of the Wright Brothers and was in bad need of repair, decay was everywhere. The sun was out and already it was over 100 degrees. Inside the airport it was marginally better, about 85. We checked in - our airplane tickets were not computerized, the airline issued HAND WRITTEN TICKETS - yes, that's right, hand written. When we got up to the check in desk - more like a badly beaten metal table with a circa 1982 computer on the top - the gentleman very kindly explained that my ticket had been "cancelled". A heated argument ensued between my Indian friend Sam and the airline agent and finally he accepted my ticket. He did not ask for my ID. We went through security. No one asked to see my ID. There was no place to sit down, all the broken and torn waiting seats were occupied. But luckily they boarded quickly enough. We went outside through one of the 4 gates and got into a bus which took us out on the tarmac to our waiting 737-200. The plane was easily 30+ years old. I looked for the manufacturer stamp which is a habit of mine when I enter into airplanes, but it has been wrenched off. Rivets were missing in certain places and the seats were worn and thin. Some of the plastic tray tables were broken. The inside of the plane was unbearable as we were still on the ground, at least 90 degrees. 2 other Americans were on the flight as well and they look terrified. Finally we taxied down the runway where we could see the second runway being built. They actually had women laborers carting sand and concrete in baskets on their heads! These poor women formed a giant chain of labor from the construction area to the supply area. No bulldozers, no forklifts, no machinery of any kind, it appeared that the entire paving of the new runway was being done by manual labor.

We got into position only to be told by the pilot that we were being delayed for 10-15 minutes. Sam smiled grimly and said "welcome to Indian time, where nothing is on time." We sat in the unbearable heat for more than 1 hour. Sweat streamed down my back and soon the entire plane began to smell funky. Finally we took off and the air conditioning was turned on mercifully. We received a warm sandwich (warm from sitting in the heat too long) which I refused to eat, but plenty of delicious fruit juices. The 2 other Americans on the plane kept looking around nervously, wondering if the shuddering plane was going to fall apart. I eventually fell asleep and an hour and a half later we landed.

to be continued......

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