boldly he heads forth
dec 5th 2005
jonii and i got a couple of nights together in madras (yum), after which we headed in opposite directions (not so yum) - she to the south and i to the north and on to burma. not the best of circumstances, but i think given my current state of mind (cranky and assholic) it was probably best that we were separated for a while. the point of this trip was to get to do some thinking and being on my own. the mere thought of touristing caused me grief.
india provides about the most diverse forms of transportation that you can find anywhere in the world, all available to the adventurous traveller - everything from bullock cart to bus to airplane. traveling between the indian metros boils down to either the relatively slow and somewhat stinky express trains to the relatively unreliably and lacking in customer service airlines. the latter have supposedly changed with influx of new and sexy independent airlines. we now have choices beyond the ubiquitous indian airlines (who've rebranded themselves as just "indian", dropping the 'airlines' suffix ostensibly because that was an insult to the industry). pricing is pegged to sexiness of the air hostesses i think. being generally oblivious of all these subtleties my departure from chennai (nee madras) to kolkata (nee calcutta) was by the venerable indian airlines - cheap and matronly. IA is an institution that boldly reflects the state of the indian government and all services public. my 7pm flight managed to depart at 9.30pm with no notice of the delay. fortunately the airports have improved over the years and the throngs of sightseers (who i'm sure came to see strangers fly off since they were just so happy that someone was leaving and giving them a bit more space) have been kept away with a hefty Rs. 60 entrance fee.
indian air travel does not require id's. this is more welcome than i can emote. the bullshit that the west puts in with all their id related crap irks me every time i get on a plane. why even a third world country (ok 2nd world country) can get it together to ensure that there's safe travel without the need for a pointless id card while the US can't really brings up a lot of ancilliary questions - john gilmore had better win his case and i'm praying every day for it!
however, let it not be said that the indian airline system does not have irritants. when i got to security check the officer (armed with a rifle) indicated that i did not have a cabin baggage tag on my luggage. i said that's not a problem since it has my name tag on it, and it's got an american airlines platinum tag on it. he insisted that i must have a cabin baggage tag from the appropriate airline. i told him that i was going to keep my bag with me and that it did not matter. he insisted that i go get a cabin bag tag. at this point i realized that it's not a good idea to be getting hostile with a guy with a firearm especially over a piece of paper. i figured he was an idiot for making the suggestion. about 20 minutes later, when i was boarding my flight, another passenger was made to go all the way back to security check in order to get a baggage tag. it's good to see that mindless beaucracy still has a strong position in india.
arrival into calcutta sent my eyes swimming. the pollution in cal is ferocious. and i was introduced to getting raped by the taxi-wallas. i needed to get used to it, so better that this came early. instead of the customary Rs. 250 fare from the airport to alipore, i had to fork up Rs. 500. granted it was past midnight, but hey, there should be at least a token of civility, no?! a 60kph ride for 45 minutes scared me shitless and by the time i got out of the cab i had somehow forked up another Rs. 50 for a tip. somewhere in there is a lesson that i have not yet learned!