After months of planning, it had finally arrived; our round the world trip was here! First stop India.
We were both a bit apprehensive and excited at the same time; neither of us having travelled for more than a month at a time. 8 months suddenly seemed quite daunting.
Questions rushed through our heads. Are we doing the right thing putting out jobs and life in London on hold for adventure? As 30somethings are we too old for a gap year? How on earth are we going to carry 8 months worth of clothes in a backpack?!
Nobody likes airports!
Bags were packed (to bursting) and we set off to the airport. We were travelling from Heathrow Terminal 4 with Air India. I’d heard some rumours about the airline (drunk pilots among others) but put those to the back of my mind. First piece of advice, our flight (ai020) was delayed 2 hours (20:30-22:30) Seems to be delayed everyday, from a quick google search. No explanation offered. So plenty of time for a beer and some food at the airport.
Upon finally embarking, we were greeted with some stylish 70s brown and orange decor. Very Indian in style. Leg room was surprisingly good although the headphones I was given were broken and the tv in the back of the headrest wasn’t working properly. A selection of films (nothing like western airlines) was available which could keep you entertained for hours. However as it was a night flight I was keen to get some sleep.
We arrived at Delhi airport terminal 3 which was modern and welcoming. We were transferring to Kolkata also from terminal 3 so expected to transfer through domestic side but instead were directed through international – we also didn’t clear customers until Kolkata. There was a long security line, we managed to skip most of it as they called out for single male travellers and took us to a quicker queue. Woman had to be screened separately so families and couples had quite a wait. After clearing security (several pat downs and bag scans later) we were anxious to get some rupees as you can’t acquire them outside of the country. We had an hour and half before our next flight so thought that plenty of time: surprisingly no where in the airport (or at least the departure side) could you sell rupees nor were there any ATMs. So we waited for our second flight.
Welcome to Kolkata
This flight was on time and a Dreamliner, everything worked a bit better and the food (a chicken curry) was tasty. We landed with a bump and a swerve and deplaned (is the verb the cabin crew used) quickly. We went straight through immigration no problems as we already had our visas in our passports- (as we were there for more than 30 days we needed a proper visa from the India authority in London rather than a eVisa).
Mike’s bag came out almost immediately and mine took another half an hour, almost the last bag on the belt (I’m just glad it arrived!). I noticed a money change counter before the exit and we queued. Not a great rate but we needed some for the taxi. Once through the exit we were greeted with a large pre paid taxi queue, however while I waited in the queue Mike went outside and found a local driver and agreed a price before hand.
The drive to our hotel on a map looked simple enough (we had considered bus but glad we didn’t). The drive was about 40 minutes and not simple at all. Back streets, motorways and lots of hooting. OMG there was so much hooting – seemingly because no one has wing mirrors. If there are lanes people don’t use them, they drive at full pace, and squeeze through the smallest of gaps- our driver was also quite happy nipping in and out of the oncoming traffic too, quite an experience. We saw one accident were a motorcycle clipped a bus but surprisingly everyone was used to this chaos, even the stray dogs could navigate it.
Our first hotel experience
Finally arriving at the hotel on Sudder St, which is a popular location for tourists with several hotels. We paid 1000 rupees about £12.50 for the taxi which seemed reasonable enough given the distance, time of day and adrenaline rush. We had gone for a budget hotel, the staff were friendly and expecting us. We had booked through hotels.com. They took our passports and returned them to us in our room about 30 minutes later- which seems to be standard practice here although we were reluctant to let them out of our sight.
The room was basic, what particularly bothered me was no sheet or duvet to sleep under. I realise it is a hot country but found it odd not sleeping under at least a sheet. After attempting to sleep I decided to use a towel as a sheet and managed to get some shut eye. Day 1 done, it was off to watch India vs England in the cricket at Eden Gardens for day 2.