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Delhi is closed today. And how to queue in India

[NOTE: I've been traveling in India with (brave or perhaps stupid) friends Janine and Jaya for several weeks. My apologies in advance for any delays in responding or posting. I’ll be adding updates about our adventures as quickly as I can get to places with internet connections.

[NOTE: I’ve been traveling in India with (brave or perhaps stupid) friends Janine and Jaya for several weeks. My apologies in advance for any delays in responding or posting. I’ll be adding updates about our adventures as quickly as I can get to places with internet connections.

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We had been warned, of course, that the arrival of President Obama for the Republic Day celebrations would make navigating Delhi difficult. But Jaya wasn’t worried, because she had already checked in with her Delhi posse (extended family, colleagues, and her nephew, the airline pilot) to ensure our plans were not disturbed by the President of the United States. Unfortunately, that meant getting up at 0:dark-thirty to make it to the airport so we could get out before Delhi closed off the parade routes.

I’d already had some experience with the different approaches to standing in lines in the UK vs India. But I was still surprised when Jaya, after a word with one of the airline staff, calmly waded right through the crowd to the front of the line. She waved for us to follow, so Janine and I shamefacedly trailed in her wake. In the States, people would have stopped us. In the UK, we would at least have been speared by laser-focused glares. Jaya was surprised by our embarrassment. “Our plane is the next one. And people in India are very kind.” Some still waiting in line smiled at us as we slinked over to head through security.

As usual, during the security check my backpack was sent for repeat visits to the x-rays, while every piece of electronica was examined. “Madam has a lot of cables?” Why, yes, Madam does. You mean everyone doesn’t travel with a phone, laptop, and kindle? Plus child-canceling headphones, a spare pair of earbuds, charging cables for all of them, spare power-strip, and international current-converter? Really? Why not?

About the time my backpack was heading back for x-ray pass #3, the man behind me placed his nearly-full liter bottle of water right on the top of his tray. After it sailed through x-ray without comment, he shrugged, picked it up and headed off to his gate. I faced the attendant holding up my backpack yet again. “Madam has a lot of coins?” Yes, Madam was too lazy to separate out the international shrapnel from her most recent UK, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, Russia, US, and Australian trips. Clearly, I should have put them into a bottle of water.

Finally, my backpack was reluctantly released, and we started walking to the departure gate. And walking. And walking. Just as we wondered if the airlines were trying to save money by having passengers complete the journey on foot, we reached our gate. The “Boarding NOW” sign was flashing, and there was nobody left in line at the entrance. We dashed up, convinced we’d missed the flight. The attendant gave us an odd look, but stamped all our tickets and let us proceed. Racing down the ramp, we made it to the closed jetbridge. And that’s when we realized that they hadn’t even started boarding, and for some reason we’d been let through even before the anointed in first class.

Now that’s how to queue in India.

How to navigate in India

At the Kochi airport, we met our new driver, Suresh, and headed to Kumarakom, a seaside resort in Kerala’s beautiful backwater region.

We stopped to visit Jaya's friend. Upon his recent retirement, he and his wife built their beautiful house near their family home. The airy house was surrounded by beautiful trees,  growing everything from coconut to banana to rubber. He showed us several pressed mats of harvested rubber hanging on lines waiting to be smoked, as well as the mats he was smoking to a glossy black finish.
We stopped to visit Jaya’s friend. Upon his recent retirement, he and his wife built their beautiful house, surrounded by trees growing everything from coconut to banana to rubber. He showed us several pressed mats of harvested rubber hanging on lines waiting to be smoked, as well as the mats he was smoking to a glossy black finish.
Also, they produced their own banana and cassava chips. (An instant addiction that Janine and I would pay for later.)

Also, they grew mini-bananas that were like eating candy, plus made their own banana and cassava chips. (An instant addiction that Janine and I would pay for later.)

Our driver, Suresh, navigated by IPS (India Pedestrian System). Just a shout of “Kumarakom?” to the nearest pedestrian/shopkeeper/entire family on motorbike/auto-rickshaw driver, and the smiling directions would be shouted back, along with helpful hand gestures.

This happened every few miles or so, and I realized two things:

  • First, no American male could possibly navigate in India, because it is genetically coded on their little red-white-&-blue Y chromosome that Real Men don’t ask directions.
  • Second, nobody had a GPS (Sat-Nav). I asked Suresh about that, and he responded with a flood of (presumably) Hindi that went on passionately for several minutes. At the end, Jaya turned to us. “He says he doesn’t like GPS.” She paused, and explained. “My mother used to say your map is in your mouth.” Suresh nodded emphatically, but we must have looked blank. “You can just ask directions. People in India are very kind.”
You CAN get directions from roadside vendors, workers (plus or minus their elephants), auto-rickshaw drivers, and even passing motorbikes carrying entire families and their weeks shopping. You can NOT get directions from at GPS/SatNav/map program

You CAN get directions from roadside vendors, workers (plus or minus their elephants), auto-rickshaw drivers, and even passing motorbikes carrying entire families and their weeks shopping. You can NOT get directions from a GPS/SatNav/map program. Or an elephant.

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One of the amazing treats of a visit to the Backwaters is tender coconut with a straw, fresh from the tree.

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Kerala is closed.

Following lunch and several dozen more fly-by IPS directions, we finally made it to Club Mahindra Kumarakom among Kerala’s scenic backwaters. We’d already learned the need for flexibility when it comes to vacationing in India, so we weren’t surprised at the news that the boat trips, bird sanctuary, 5000 year old Thirunakkara Mahadeva Temple—and pretty much everything else including the internet—was about to close for a general strike. But we didn’t really mind because the resort itself was basically paradise. (If paradise has lots of mosquitos, of course.) Each villa was perched along tree-lined canals and surrounded by water.

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image3image3We were just settling in when a lady in a beautiful sari came by to ask if we’d like to book a full body Ayurvedic massage including traditional Kerala steam bath cabinet at the Club’s Svaastha Spa. You have to understand. I don’t do massages because I don’t like people touching me. But when she mentioned the massage would use warmed oils and spices followed by steam, I considered it carefully for the split nanosecond it took for Janine and Jaya to say yes, and we each booked an hour for the next day.

Meanwhile, we had an agenda. Janine and I had escaped winter's grip just before Mama Nature barfed blizzards and subzero arctic blasts back in Washington and Scotland. Temperatures in Kerala, however, were hovering in the 80's F/30s C. Everyone we knew back home was miserable. Obviously, we needed to take pictures by the pool to cheer them up. It was the least we could do.

Meanwhile, we had an agenda. Janine and I had escaped winter’s grip just before Mama Nature barfed blizzards and subzero arctic blasts back in Washington and Scotland. Temperatures in Kerala, however, were hovering in the 80’s F/30s C. Everyone we knew back home was miserable. Obviously, we needed to take pictures by the pool to cheer them up. It was the least we could do.

image2All this vacationing is exhausting. After dinner in the room, we watched an Indian movie (Delhi Belly–which turned out to be scary foreshadowing…) At 10:51PM we went to bed and turned out the lights. By 10:52—as I was dozing off—I swear by the beard on my baby goat pashmina’s chinny-chin-chin—BOTH roommates were already sound asleep. Seriously. Contact the Guinness Record people for fastest synchronized wake-to-snore time?

Tomorrow: Munnar—tea and the Top of the World. Previous posts include:

  • Part 1 Indian Drivers
  • Part 2- Temples, trains, and the kindness of strangers
  • Part 3 – Agra is closed today
  • Part 4 – The Taj Mahal is very clean today, and Bargaining in India: beware of the chair and the special suitcase
  • Part 5 — Tastebud assault, Indian medicines, and an iron-mystery
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