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An Indian Odyssey: BA to Delhi and 5,000 Miles of Rail Travel on the Subcontinent

An Indian Odyssey: BA to Delhi and 5,000 Miles of Rail Travel on the Subcontinent

Old Jun 7, 09, 2:41 am
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An Indian Odyssey: BA to Delhi and 5,000 Miles of Rail Travel on the Subcontinent

Note: LOTS of pics are forthcoming upon my return home. I wanted to write this report on the road to ensure maximum accuracy, but I do not have the ability to upload photos here. I will update the thread with the images as soon as I arrive back in the States.

This trip was conceived seven months ago, just before Thanksgiving. I had simulatneously been a full-time graduate student/TA and a full-time professional for three years, and the double life had begun to take its toll. With my 20s feeling perilously close to their end, I decided that it was time for a lifestyle change marked by one last big adventure abroad before I buckled down to focus on finishing my education and embarking on a lasting career.

The decision to stage this odyssey in India came easily, since it was a country that I'd wanted to see for years and one where a few of my college friends now live. Late one night (admittedly after a few beers to scare away any potential buyer's remorse), I hastily booked a BA flight in Y from ORD-DEL via LHR's T5, which I had yet to visit since its completion.

I awoke the next morning feeling confident in my decision and looked forward to planning the six-week journey, which I planned to spend riding the rails to and from the extremities of the Indian subcontinent. My goals were to hit the major cities, to visit my friends (thereby experiencing India from the local perspective), and to fulfill a long-standing desire to see the Himilaya.

Not long after booking my flights, tragedy struck, as Westerners and Jews were targeted in the notorious 11/26 terrorist attacks on Mumbai. Being both a Westerner and a Jew, I began to reconsider my trip. I would continue to do so for months, finally deciding only about 8 weeks prior to my departure that the desire to have this experience was worth the risks associated with traveling alone in India.

During those last weeks of planning, I worked with a travel agent in the UK to book my rail itinerary, which was to begin in Delhi. From Delhi, I would make my way to Rajasthan, visiting Udaipur and Jaipur, before backtracking to Agra and the obligatory visit to the Taj Mahal. From Agra, I would ride to Mumbai, then to Madgoan, Goa (staying in Colva Beach). From Goa, I would head south to Kochi, Kerala, then east to Chennai to visit the family of my best college friend. After Chennai, I would make my way back north to Calcutta, where I would stay with another good friend of mine, after which the two of us would make the trip to Darjeeling, which would serve as the staging area for the Himalayan portion of my adventure. I continue to work with a mountain guide--a friend of a friend--on determining the best itinerary within the mountain regions.

During the final three weeks before my trip, I informed my employer of my plans, obtained my Indian visa, endured a bevy of immunizations, and purchased a veritable pharmacy of malaria medication, altitude sickness pills, and antibiotics.

BA0294, June 4-5, 2009
Aircraft: B767 ETOPS
Depart: 7:15 pm (sheduled, on time)
Arrive: 9:35 am (scheduled, 8:50 am actual)
Flight time: 7 hours, 50 minutes

I left my condo at roughly 4:00 pm for a 7:15 departure, assuming rush hour traffic and the usual bottlenecks at ORD's horrendous international T5. To my pleasant surprise, it took only 45 minutes to reach the airport, and after saying long goodbyes to my girlfriend (who was sadly unable to make the trip with me), I entered the building to find it surprisingly calm for a weekday late afternoon.

There was only one other passenger in the BA Y line, and it was soon my turn to retrieve my boarding pass. The check-in agent tagged my bag all the way through to DEL and handed my BPs for both legs of the trip (21B to LHR and 18A to DEL). She then proceded to explain that all food and shopping was on the outside of security, and she kindly suggested that I eat and shop before heading to the departure area. While I knew ORD's T5 and its shortcomings well, I appreciated the warning and told the check-in agent as much.

The previous night, when I checked in online with BA, I found that the first leg of the trip would be on a 767 instead of the 777 that had been initially promised. It had been a few years since I had ridden a 767, and I was looking forward to doing so once again.

After making a few last phone calls in the check-in area and quickly perusing the meager shopping options, I headed through a light security line and did some spotting before heading to the gate. Soon, I was on my way to the back of the bus (or the Boeing, as it were).

We pushed back on time, and after a short taxi, we were airborn. The company to my left was a talkative and pleasant young British woman, so I barely realized that we had taken to the air.

Soon after takeoff, drink service was offered (I opted for a Diet Coke), followed by dinner.

I opted for Asian-style chicken with rice and salad with a whole-grain roll, and a caramel cake and piece of crispy chocolate for dessert. I was offered wine with the meal, and when I asked for white, I was given the choice of Chardonnay or Bordeaux. I chose the latter and was pleased. 30 minutes late, a refill of wine was offered, which I turned down in favor of coffee.

Once dinner ended, I finished the movie that I had been watching (Gran Torino--excellent) and took some notes for the TR. This was when I noticed something that I don't often see in Y cabins--an amenity kit! While it lacked the velvet PJs and other trappings of higher classes of travel, it did contain socks, an eye shade, toothbrush, and toothpaste.

A note on BAs AVOD: it ranks with Swiss (and perhaps even outranks it) as one of the best film and music selections across the Atlantic.

A meager breakfast of orange juice and a pre-packaged Danis was served about an hour prior to landing, and we arrived at LHR's new Terminal 5 without event.

Last edited by zcat18; Jun 7, 09 at 10:18 pm
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Old Jun 7, 09, 3:07 am
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Once clearing security and taking in my first glimpses of LHR Terminal 5 (first impressions--sensory overload, poor security layout, unmatched shopping options, seems designed to resemble the hectic airport environments of yesteryear while still allowing decent traffic flow), I decided that, since I had 8 hours to kill in London, I would leave the airport for lunch and a walk around Windsor, a suburb that I hadn't yet visited but that friends had promised me was no more than a 20-minute bus or train ride from LHR.

In order to leave the airport while in transit, it was necessary to inform customer service of my plans and then wait for a "customer host" to escort me to customs. As promised, the host arrived 30 minutes later, but I was not informed. I approached the gentleman who I suspected the host and identified myself, at which point a quite irritable man with an Irish accent snapped, "We've been waiting on you, you know," even though the host had arrived less than 2 minutes earlier.

We walked through a series of doors and hallways before reaching immigration, which I cleared without event (other than being asked to show my Indian visa). I then made my way to the bus stop, where I boarded a 71 bus to Windsor. While the trip took much longer than anticipated--almost an hour--I enjoyed my short self-guided tour of Windsor and my lunch near the Thames. Soon, it was time to head back to Heathrow for my second overnight flight of the day (the entire journey ORD-DEL took roughly 24 hours, including the layover, but because of eastward travel, I experienced three sunrises in that span).

Flight: BA 0257, June 5-6, 2009
Aircraft: Boeing 777
Flight time: 7 hours, 35 minutes
Depart: 5:45 (5:35 scheduled, 10 minutes late)
Arrive DEL: 6:20 a.m. (scheduled--actual arrival at 6:15)

After doing some spotting and further exploring the terminal, I headed to gate B44, where my 777 to India awaited. The passengers on this flight were an animated group, full of families with small children on their way to visit relatives in Delhi and beyond.

By this time, fatigue and jet lag had begun to catch up with me, and I admit that I was simply looking forward to catching a few hours of precious sleep on the plane before a long first day in an unfamiliar city.

Once again, I turned right upon boarding and took my seat in steerage. I had inquired about an upgrade to World Traveller Plus earlier in the day, but the customer service representative simply said, "that's going to be pricey," and gave me an askew glance. I took his point and decided to keep my original plans.

The plane pushed back from the gate 10 minutes late, since it was necessary to offload the luggage of a few passengers who had missed the flight due to a late arrival from LAX.

By the time I felt the big GE engines rumble to life, I was already half-asleep, and when dinner was served, the kind gentleman to my left had to nudge me awake. I noticed that about 25% of the plane had requested Hindu vegetarian meals and was already eating. The rest of us were served an Indian-style meal with choice of beverage. I opted for coffee over alcohol and enjoyed the dinner of Indian chicken (something resembling paneer sauce). The yoghurt-based dessert was...dodgy...and after finishing Anchorman (comic gold and one of my favorite films of the genre), I was in and out of sleep for the next several hours.

One of the reasons that sleep did not come easily to me during this flight was the fact that the young woman--perhaps around age 20--sitting behind me seemed to constantly be kicking and shaking my seat. She would do so consistently at 4- or 5-minute intervals, and I can only guess that she was either having trouble getting comfortable or having trouble figuring out the AVOD system.

Now, I try to be as understanding as possible during flights. I've endured kicks to the face from sleeping toddlers and pulled hair, and I once happily vacated my seat no less than 15 times on a flight where the gentleman sitting beside me clearly had an overactive bladder.

This time, however, my impatience got the best of me for only the second time that I can recall, and after several hours of being awoken by a kick to the back and a jiggling headrest, I turned around and asked the woman (politely) if she could please try not to kick my seat. Her response was, "well I only did it ONCE," at which point, I gave up and told her not to worry. It was one of those instances where immediate hindsight told me that I should have simply let it be.

I awoke with the airshow indicating that the plane was passing between Qandahar and Kabul, Afghanistan, west of Lahore. It's not everyday that one finds themselves in close proximity to those cities.

When breakfast was served, I was offered my choice of English or Asian breakfast, and I opted for the latter. The FA laughed and commented on my adventurous appetite (if only she knew what I'd eaten in past trips to Asia...). It turned out to be the right choice, and I enjoyed the Indian-style potatos with roti bread and orange juice. During breakfast, FAs passed out Indian landing cards as well as a new supplement that required those traveling from the US, Canada, or Mexico to identify themselves and answer a series of questions regarding swine flu--er, I mean, the H1N1 virus (sorry, PC police). This made the gentleman next to me nervous, but I suspect that he had nothing to worry about.

After another cup of coffee, anticipation and excitement began to replace fatigue as we neared Delhi, and my first glimpses out the window at the city's environs as we made our final descent only served to further whet my appetite for what lay ahead.

Upon deplaning, I was hit with the strangely appealing combination of heat, diesel fuel, incense, and burning wood and garbage that, I later realized, permeated the entire city.

Immigration was a breeze, and after retrieving my luggage, it was time to take a pre-paid taxi out into the deliciously colorful and yet excitingly rancid city of Delhi.

Much more to come over the course of the next several weeks...

Last edited by zcat18; Jun 7, 09 at 10:15 pm
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Old Jun 7, 09, 6:48 am
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So far so good, looking forward to the India pictures!
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Old Jun 7, 09, 2:25 pm
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Just got back from India myself, and your first impressions of New Dehli were vivid enough to bring that smell temporarily back to my conscious. Enjoy, and beware the heat!
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Old Jun 7, 09, 10:25 pm
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That smell is distinctive--and great .

I realize that the report is fairly dull without photos (especially since I traveled in Y). I didn't bring my laptop for practical reasons, but if I find a place to upload while on the road, I'll try and do so.

Meanwhile, I'll probably write an installment after each leg or two of the trip (once a week or so), in order to space it out but keep it coming at a reasonable rate.
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Old Jun 8, 09, 1:09 am
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Originally Posted by zcat18 View Post
During the final three weeks before my trip, I informed my employer of my plans...
Thanks for the report - great reading. ^

I too agree with your description of the smell on arriving in India (and it bought back memories!)

However... you only told your employer three weeks before leaving!!


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Old Jun 9, 09, 1:56 am
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However... you only told your employer three weeks before leaving!!
Thankfully, I think that my boss also had a restless soul when he was young, so he had no problem enabling my travel addiction and offering to hire me back on a consultative basis upon my return (which is a huge relief, since my initial plan was to part-time job hunt for the rest of the summer, which I don't have to worry about now).

Off to Udaipur on tonight's overnight express train. Will have installment #2 of the TR up within a few days.
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