Wednesday, January 31, 2007

There and Back Again - Part 3

Travelling to and from India is a weird thing simply because of the distance and time differences. This trip we left on Friday night and arrived on Sunday afternoon. It was kind of difficult to figure out what time it was and what day it was as we made our journey east. We took off from DC and landed in London and then after a short jaunt around the city, we made our way to Bombay. We arrived on Sunday afternoon in Bombay time. This was one of the first times I had ever arrived from the US into India during the day and it was a welcome sight. Normally touching down in the middle of the night, it's hard to get adjusted to the time. In this case we arrived during the day which helped keep us awake until we could get to bed and more or less synch up with the local time.


The journey is only part of the experience. One of the big worries these days is lost luggage and after a journey around the world it is a big worry whether or not your bags have made the trip with you. The state of air travel these days is much improved over the early years and bags usually make it to their destination provided the connecting flights have some time in between. If not, it ends up being a near thing. With nearly ten hours between flights, I was pretty sure that all our five bags would have made the journey in fine fashion but there is always a bit of trepidation in the wait. This feeling is only exacerbated by the fact that you're tired, a bit cranky and ready to just get home. So it doesn't help that you have to swim through a sea of humanity to get to the baggage claim.


The international arrivals hall in Bombay is much improved from the state it was in nearly ten years ago when one had to literally fight to get through customs. At that time there was never any formalized line established. People lined up where they felt appropriate and practiced what I refer to as lining by osmosis. It's an interesting phenomena that occurs worldwide but most especially in India. It's the time when people sort of stand next to someone midway through the line and then sort of pretend that they've been there the whole time. There are people who will call out these line crashers but very often they get through okay. Now with an single line and a single person guiding people to the appropriate line, the process is much smoother. Now if they could only do something about the baggage claim.


Bombay baggage claims are likely the longest meandering claims that I have seen in years. Since there are so many passengers expected to be on an international airline, the baggage claim is huge. Typically, the belt will move along at a stately pace to allow passengers time to lift their baggage off; and with Indians, that baggage is often extremely heavy. Extremely. So it doesn't help when the belt is moving at speeds that would make the drivers of Formula One bow their heads in shame. People of Indian origin often tie their bags with strings to identify it or set it apart from the rest of the pack. Unfortunately, we tend to forget that all other Indians do it as well so when all 300 black bags come out, we have to figure out exactly which red string was ours.


In places like Dubai or Washington, the staff on hand were there to help you figure out where your bag was if it was late in turning up (as mine usually was) but in the case of Bombay, you have over a dozen officials standing around seemingly watching you enjoy the fun and if you ask them a question, they point you to one or the other. No one seems to have any idea nor do they direct you to where you're supposed to go. No signs point to your baggage claim, nor do any announcements. You go with group think and go where the crowd goes. So, as we stand by the speedway that is the baggage belt you see dozens of people trying in vain to chase down their bags and lift the heavyweights off of the belt. Unfortunately upper body strength is not often coupled with speed lifting so it tends to be difficult to get bags off. As a result, people across the aisle from me would start calling out and pointing to bags to be lifted off the belt as they couldn't do it themselves. Being the generally good natured person that I am, I lifted as many as I could but I got to the point where I was getting worried about my own bag.


Finally it arrived, everyone else's had arrived nearly fifteen minutes before. We headed out through customs; always an experience. One time we went through customs standing in the green channel with nothing to declare when an official approached us and said we could go through the red channel (with goods to declare) and get through faster. We told him we had nothing to declare and he replied that that was fine. So we went along and much to our dismay, the police began to badger us with regards to our bags. They were certain that we had goods to import into the country. Despite pointing out the official who sent us over to the red channel we were harassed to the point that we realized they were looking for a bribe (all too common). We told them to search our bags and then tell us what we owed.


As usual, the selected mine; always mine. The only thing of suspicion in their eyes was my bottles of contact lens solution. Now in case you didn't know, such items are relatively cheaper in India than in the US when one does the monetary conversion, so why in my right mind I would seek to import a more expensive product which is already available in India at a much cheaper fare was beyond my comprehension. They held out hope that their singling out this item in my bag would persuade us to 'come clean' and pay duty. We didn't, because we had nothing to declare. It's a never ending battle of wits but in subsequent years we have stuck it out in the green channel, no matter how long the line is. The journey done, it's finally time to relax.

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1 Comments:

At 4:23 AM, Blogger tpraja said...

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