Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Flying to Delhi ...

[This was written last night, 8-14-2006]

Well I’m back in the capital, on the eve of the 59th anniversary of the end of the British Raj. The enhanced security at Baroda was quite bearable. There’s only five flights a day, so crowds aren’t an issue. No liquids in carry-on baggage, the latter limited to one item (including a laptop bag/briefcase). They were strict about the weight of check-in luggage as well – domestic flights allow 20kg. I had 44. In the past, I would mention that I’m eventually flying on to the US (where the weight limit is 23kg per bag), and the sweet girl at the check-in would smile and place the bags onto the belt. This time, it wasn’t a sweet girl but a friendly if firm guy. “Sir, you can avail of the special US allowance only if you have purchased a full-fare ticket. This is a discounted ticket.” I hemmed and hawed to no avail and then agreed to pay the excess baggage charge. “That will be Rs. 95 per kilo.” He charged me 20 kilos excess, which comes to a whopping Rs. 1900. That’s almost half the cost of the ticket! But that’s still better than shelling out Rs. 8000 for a full-fare ticket.

Jet operates a 50 seater ATR prop on the Baroda – Delhi sector. It’s quite comfortably appointed, and covers the distance in some two hours, enough time for a relaxed dinner. They do need to get some regional jets though. An Embraer or a CRJ would reduce the flying time by 30 or 40 minutes at least. As long as they keep the ATR seat pitch! We took off from runway 22 (southwest) turning north over the lights of the city, eventually cruising at 17000 ft. That’s one of the issues with the ATR – you can’t really go above the weather. And boy, there were some bumpy patches! Eventually the monsoon clouds were left behind over southern Rajasthan. We passed Jaipur at 9:30 pm and were at about 12000 feet, directly above Palam airport at 10:04 pm. To the left, one could see the line of planes lined up on final, landing lights on full, properly spaced. We were number 12 to land – not bad for Delhi, which has way more air traffic than it can properly handle, on the eve of the holiday too. As the plane banked, the twinkling lights of Delhi appeared, spread out like a twinkling, golden bed sheet, as far as the eye could see. In the distance on the horizon, nature was providing a spectacular display of lightning, the purple flashes providing a surreal contrast to the tungsten glow of the city.

We touched down at 10:30. I was out of the terminal with my bags at 10:40. Unprecedented. The brother had sent his chauffer with their brand new Toyota Innova (India’s first luxury mini van). I must say, riding in a car this size in India seems … weird, like something is out of place. Yes, this is Delhi, with its broad, leafy, well paved, extremely un-Indian roads. [Bombay wouldn’t know what to do with such roads!] But they’re still driven on by Indians, with the same crazy traffic rules. Which are infinitely more dangerous when the car is going at 80kmh versus 40. Security (pronounced “sick-yorty” by all the breathless 24/7 TV anchors and reporters) was quite visible, and not just at the airport. We went through at least three police checkpoints on the way. Without stopping. Terrorists, it seems, do not ride in luxury minivans.

Tomorrow, August 15, apart from being Independence Day, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the BVM, and a holy day of obligation, is also the twelfth anniversary of my baptism. I am planning to go to the 11:30 am Mass at the Cathedral. That’s if the city isn’t completely shut down in the morning for the I-day celebrations. The Cathedral is a hop skip and a jump away from Parliament, and I am afraid the roads will be shut. I know of no parishes closer … nor did the person who answered the phone when I called the Cathedral earlier. [Actually they sounded most surprised that the phone had rung, that someone was talking at the other end, and that this someone was asking about the Mass schedule. Guess people don’t call ‘round these parts … ]

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