Our brush with India

Frequent readers of this blog will know our travel days tend to be a bit of an “adventure.”  I don’t know why we thought our Air India trip from Singapore to Sri Lanka via Chennai would turn out to be any different….

Things started out well.  Air India is a Star Alliance member.  Combine that with my status on United and it meant we got to hang out in the Singapore Airlines lounge before departure.  Free breakfast!  And they even had chocolate croissants.  I started to think we were actually going to have a good travel day.  Oh, how wrong I was.

Our first flight was on a Dreamliner.  Pretty cool, right?  Well, it might have been if we weren’t flying Air India.  I swear the plane was the dirtiest plane I have ever been inside.  The walls, the luggage bin, and my tray table were all smeared with who knows what.  Ugh.  And the entertainment systems were already broken.  Robert couldn’t plug his ear phones in and I had to bash on my screen to get it to do anything.  (I did ultimately get it to play Foxcatcher, which was oddly entertaining).  And our neighbor was a piece of work.  She had a “lap child” that was the size of an American 5 year old.  Seriously.  Guess who screamed nearly the entire flight?  And, guess who was standing in the aisle whenever he wasn’t screaming.  (I would have been screaming too if I was the size of a 5 year old and forced to sit on a lap for 4 hours).  I swear, by the end of that flight, I was wishing I was back on the bus that took us to Can Tho!

But, I still held out hopes of a good Indian meal during our four hour layover at the Chennai International Airport.  You know, the airport that is the third busiest international airport in all of India and that was supposedly completely renovated in 2012.  Well, those hopes were dashed.  Turns out, Chennai really doesn’t deal well with transfer passengers.  You know how every other major international airport has a path for transfer passengers to follow to be rescreened and let into the departure area?  Yeah, Chennai doesn’t do that.  Upon arrival, we were directed to the “transfer lounge.”  Sounds fancy, right?  Wrong.  A big empty room with lots of chairs.  That is all.  I don’t even think there was a bathroom in the “lounge.”  So we sat and we waited and we waited and we waited.  Every so often someone would come by, look at our boarding passes, and tell us to wait awhile longer.  At one point, someone asked us if we had an Indian visa, in a tone that suggested we should have gotten an Indian visa.  (No, really, we don’t need a visa to transfer through the airport).  Finally, an agent came and walked us to a back entrance to the security screening area.  Where we waited while a guard fiddled with a broken door.  I kid you not.  The handle pretty much fell off in the guard’s hand.  Finally, we were directed into the same security lines as all the other departing passengers.

Who knew in Chennai there would be separate security lines for men and women?  Or that I would have to go into an enclosed room to protect my modesty during the standard screening (even though I would much rather see my stuff to make sure nothing is getting stolen than have my modesty protected)?  Or that Robert would be required to take out all of his electronics and have them separately screened even though I did not have to do the same and even though a woman in a full burka went through with virtually no screening.  Fun times.

Finally, however, we were in the departure area.  Bring on my meal!  Wait…what do you mean there isn’t a restaurant in the third busiest international airport in India?  Can you believe it?  Two fast food stands, a coffee stand and the saddest duty free shop I have ever seen, but not a single sit down restaurant.  Urghhhhhhh!  Thankfully, Robert had an emergency bag of Ritz crackers in his carry on and we devoured them while waiting for our plane to Sri Lanka — I had forgotten just how good a Ritz cracker can taste.

(I’m not even going to mention the standing water (I hope) in the bathroom or the vile stench that permeated the entire departure area.  No, not going to talk about that because I really don’t want to remember that).

Ahh…travel days….gotta love them.

Thankfully, we eventually made it to Sri Lanka.  Yeah, yeah, I know we have been in Sri Lanka three days and haven’t posted about Sri Lanka yet.   We really didn’t do anything post worthy in Negombo, although we did have some really good food.  Today, we had a very long travel day to Dambulla — 6 hours on local buses at the rock bottom price of $2.51 for the two of us — no, that is not a typo.  Tomorrow, the real fun begins with a trip to Sigiriya, another UNESCO World Heritage sight and the Dambulla caves — we are both really looking forward to it.

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