Sunday, August 12, 2012

Denver to Delhi

Arriving at night by air to the 8th largest city in the world one would expect a horizon filled from end to end with the yellow glow of sodium vapor lights.  This was definitely not the case as United flight 82 floated from the sky down to the tarmac of Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi.  There were clusters of lights here and there but in general the sky did not have the intense glow of light noticed in many other cities.  Perhaps though this is a good thing as other cities utilize too much electricity and create massive amounts of light pollution for no good reason.

As my airplane landed in Delhi I had now spent over 20 hours in my journey from Denver to Delhi.  I left home around 10:00AM on Friday morning.  Leaving Denver on United Airlines I first stopped in Newark, New Jersey for several hours before boarding United Flight 82.  This flight was a direct flight from Newark to Delhi with no stops.

Both of my flights went off without so much as a hitch.  My first flight was about 30 minutes late taking off.  But given I had a three hour layover in Newark it didn't really matter.  Due to my constant schedule of getting up at between 4 and 5AM for work, the flight from Denver to Newark passed in very quick fashion as I slept almost the entire way.  Arriving in Newark I had almost 2.5 hours to kill, so I spent much of the time just walking back and forth throughout the terminal.  Given my next flight was scheduled for 15 hours it was my intent to get as much physical activity as I could in those 2.5 hours.

The flight to Delhi boarded about 20 minutes late.  As soon as boarding began I was so glad that I had managed to secure an upgrade to business/first class.  Economy looked to be packed and having flown transatlantic flights in a 777 before I was not looking forward to the fact that my original assigned seat was in the absolute last row of the airplane.  Though it cost me 35,000 frequent flier miles and $550, the ability to fly upfront was so worth it.  On top of having the much larger seat of business class, this 777 was configured so that all seats in business/first were the same and were capable of reclining to be beds.  Though I have flown business class to Asia and Europe before, this was the first time I was to experience seats that could fully recline to be beds!

My plan for this flight was to stay awake as much of the flight as was possible.  For the first 4 - 5 hours this wasn't too hard as I spent my time reading, watching the Avengers and enjoying a good dinner.  However about 5 hours into the flight I found the urge to sleep to be too great and I succumbed and spent the next 6 hours sound asleep.  Waking up I found that there was still another 4 hours to fly!  Talk about a very long flight.

The remaining 4 hours passed quickly as I continued reading my book.  The book that I was reading was called "The Lunatic Express" and was about traveling on the most dangerous highways, railways and airlines in the world.  The author - Carl Hoffman is a freelance writer who has made a career of visiting some of the most dangerous places on the planet and writing about them for magazines such as the National Geographic, Wired and Outside.  For whatever reason he decided it would be an interesting experience to embark on a five month journey around the world to ride on these most dangerous methods of transportation.  From the buses of South America to the taxi vans of Africa and the railways of India, Mr. Hoffman managed to explore the means of transportation most of us would want to avoid.

One whole chapter of his book was dedicated to writing about the railways of Mumbai, India.  Some of the trains that traverse Mumbai are the most packed trains in the world.  According to statistics cited in the book, in the year 2000 over 4500 people were packed onto each train that runs through Mumbai.  More frightening than that figure is between 2003 and 2008 just under 21,000 people died on the trains of Mumbai.  Some died when they fell out of the over crowded trains, others were simply smashed to death by the never ending crush of people.  Though I won't have the opportunity to travel on the urban trains of Mumbai during this current visit, the experience must be unreal!  (Imagine how busy these trains are...  over 7 million people ride the trains - A DAY!!  No I am not a danger freak, but I couldn't imagine what it would be like to be in the midst of that amount of humanity!)

Our descent in Delhi was banal.  There was nothing of note about it.  In the far distance there were streaks of dry heat lightening and as we got closer more lights did begin to appear.  But the landing and taxi to the gate after being in the air for over 15 hours was anti-climatic.  Our taxi to the gate was short and before I knew it the we were parked and the door of the airplane was opened.  As soon as the door was open the smell that is distinctly India filled the air.  It is not an unpleasant smell at all.  Just like various parts of the US have their own smell, so does India.  The smell is a combination of dust and wood smoke.  It is very different than the smell associated with Denver that is usually very dry and lacking of any kind of humidity.  Over the numerous trips I have made to India in the last decade I have come to associate this smell as some thing very Indian.

Arriving at the Indira Ganhdi Airport I was surprised at how modern and efficient it was.  Keep in mind that my experience in flying into India has been limited to the old HAL airport in Bangalore.  This airport which has now been replaced by the Bengaluru International Airport, was old, crowded and very utilitarian.  As a result of that experience from 6 years ago, I had come to expect all Indian airports to be the same.  Fortunately I was very wrong about that and Indira Gandhi airport is one of the more efficient well-run airports that I have experienced.

(Inside of the Indira Gandhi International Airport)

Processing through immigration and customs took no time at all.  Before I knew it was headed to the airport exit and the moment of nervousness - would there be a driver waiting there for me.  (Past experience in Bangalore had got me used to the idea that arriving at an Indian airport was a crazy out of control activity.  Essentially once you left the security of the baggage claim you immersed yourself into a wild west kind of atmosphere where everyone wanted to get a piece of you.)  There was a driver waiting there for me with a placard with my name on it.  Furthermore I was surprise in the fact that the environment was exceedingly calm and sedate.  There were no hoards of people trying to direct me to this cab or that rickshaw.  It was far different than what I expected.

The gentleman with the placard handed me off to my driver who was a turbaned Sikh from the Punjab.  We had a pleasant conversation a long the way from the airport to the hotel.  The drive was calm and relatively speedy.  There were no major traffic tie ups and before I knew it we where going through the intense security surrounding the Gurgaon Leela Kempinsky Hotel.  How my employer has managed to secure a reasonable rate at the Leela is beyond me, as the Leela is one of the most exclusive hotel brands in all of India.  They are renowned for their service and well appointed hotel rooms.

Security at the hotel is very tight in response to the Mumbai hotel attacks that occurred in November of 2008 and killed several hundred people.  Needless to say, I did not feel slighted in anyway by having my luggage and myself scanned.  It was interesting to note the soft methods of security that have also been implemented.  Instead of having hotel guests register in the lobby, you are met by hotel personnel and escorted to your room.  All the registration activity then occurs in your hotel room.  Most guests see this as a way for extra customer service and it is, however my view is that it keeps people from lingering in the hotel lobby, which in turn keeps down the number of targets for any terrorist group targeting a hotel lobby.  Bottom line on all this is that security is tight and it is appreciated by me!

Pictures of The Leela Kempinski Gurgaon Delhi NCR, Gurgaon
This photo of The Leela Kempinski Gurgaon Delhi NCR is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Once I was officially checked in, my goal was to sleep as quickly as I could to acclimate myself to the time zone.  Taking a sleeping pill as soon as I was done talking to everyone I needed to talk to at home, I was asleep within an hour or so.  It took me about 15 minutes to figure out the dialing codes to get an AT&T access line.  My employer provides us with AT&T international calling cards that keep rates down and also make it easy to make international calls.

Photos of The Leela Kempinski Gurgaon Delhi NCR, Gurgaon
This photo of The Leela Kempinski Gurgaon Delhi NCR is courtesy of TripAdvisor

(The above photo from TripAdvisor shows the typical room at the Leela.  They are modern and very stylish.  The really cool thing about the shower is that it is one of those "rain" showers. That is the shower head is like 2 feet x 2 feet and the water just rains down on you like a rain shower.  It's very cool.)

Waking up this morning I felt relatively rested and after checking in on the latest doings in the world and my e-mail, I went off to get breakfast in the hotel restaurant.  Breakfast was good and filling.  I found some wonderful Indian food to eat and I was happy as a clam.

Returning to my hotel room after breakfast I decided to watch some TV and then take a nap.  I expected to sleep only about 2 hours but before I realized, it was 8PM and the sun had already set.  So much for getting up to anything here in Gurgaon!  But it was so worth it as after that nap I awoke feeling truly rested and ready to face my week in India.  Now as I wrap up for the evening it is slightly after midnight on Monday morning.  I will stay awake for another hour or so and then it is off to bed.

I'll try and write some more as the week progresses.  However it might be difficult as my work schedule for this week in India is extremely full.

Thanks and peace to al1! ~J.


Johanna said...

Wow!!! The room's nice!! I've always imagined myself in India on mission trip, staying in a dirty little village somewhere.

Jerry Kromer said...

Johanna - There are still plenty of small little villages in India and unfortunately lots of slums. However, India is advancing at a staggering pace - it is amazing. The are quite a number of hotels that cater to the western business travel and the Leela is one of the top of the line. I was amazed at the rate my company's procurement department gets for us at this hotel! If I were staying there on my own the rate would be 2 - 3 times higher than what I paid through my company's rate.

William The Third said...

The picture of the airport is great! I enjoyed reading this!

manish said...

Thanks for sharing...

here is one of the good Online Food Deals site in india: Online Deals in Delhi at