I was almost in tears this time, unlike any/many other times before. Probably because this is the first time I was seeing the entire family on the station, bidding me goodbye. Also the first time that papa came to the station to drop me. I only remember having call conversations to Kuwait with him while leaving for USA. Living away from family is probably the worst curse of studying abroad. But, I must go on!
To my dismay, there is NO internet on this train because the router short circuited a few stations back. So, I plan to document this journey in words and pictures. Anyway my blog has been barren since a year now, this probably will spark up the page.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey through my eyes. It begins with a train, includes an autorickshaw ride, a long wait at the new T2 Mumbai international terminal, an air journey and culminates in a long-ish bus journey.
I want to point out one thing among the chaos of the getting to the station and boarding the train, cleanliness. Yes. Things are clean. While I am at it, let me briefly also mention the roads that are hand swept daily by a troupe of 60 folks, the bus stops that are swept and wiped with dettol and the RTO office that I visited were super clean too. ‘Swachh Abhiyaan’ or not, things are clean as long as they are govt. operated. Of Course not speck clean but by a cleanliness freak standards I would rate it 7/10 clean. That is good! However, you will still find a load of dump in and around the houses especially under the boards marked ‘Do not throw rubbish here.’ I hear these are being closely monitored for cleanliness but haven’t seen much activity in my relatively short trip.
Disclaimer: I was not actively looking for cleanliness but awkwardly clean locations struck me and warranted a point.
I digressed. Sorry.
Coming to the journey now, Shatabdi has a dedicated, uniformed, labelled, ‘cleaning-squad’ that keeps moving frisky through the compartment time and again, hunting for shreds of paper or anything that they think dirties the seating. Toilets, although were clean, were not very clean. Could be more cleaner. Definitely needs better interiors. Greyed-Pistachio green does injustice to it. Aesthetics matter. To me.
Executive class, E1 in Ahmedabad-Mumbai Shatabdi, 12010, is different. Different from the regular chair-car. The compartment is VERY spacious, clean and has a lot of legroom. I have an extra armrest so I don’t have to share the armrest with the neighboring seat. The seats can recline to almost \|_ 140′ and the train is FAST. Luxury.
As soon as the train started moving, a guy dressed in a vest and sporting a bow tie came and gave me a bottle of water with a glass and wished me ‘Happy Journey.’ He did this at every stop for all new passengers entering while promptly removing the old used/unused water bottles. Brand of water: Aquafina.
First round of food is served as soon as the trains departs.
Khasta kachori, suttar feni (from the red box), Chivda, ketchup, eclairs and tea (hot water kettle, tea bag, creamer and sugar).
Food tastes like it is supposed to taste. That is a positive sign. It was hot, not piping hot, but hotter than warm. The hot water in the thermos was steaming and the brands of products were pretty standard in Lehar, Amul, & Lipton.
Surat just went by and it is 2 hours from the time I boarded at Vadodara. Time for soup. Tomato soup served in a white ceramic bowl with a pair of breadsticks and a white soup spoon. Could use better cutlery. The consistency of the soup was mediocre, thick, but not as thick as I expected. It tasted yummy and I ended up sipping a bit of it to all of it just to accompany other fellow travelers. The soup is endless, they serve as much as you can drink, the waiter/steward stopping every two minutes with a refill jug! I ended up having two bowls full!
Vapi just went by and dinner is here.
Paneer butter masala, dal fry, jeera rice, dudhi Chana Daal, paratha, mix pickle, yogurt and papad. Sumptuous. Taste test: 6/10. Servings were sufficient to fill me up given that I had hogged on previous servings of soup and Khasta kachori. All in all a decent meal, far better than the ones I have had in 2/3 tier AC compartments but nowhere close to Rajdhani’s First Class AC’s food service.
I highly recommend this leg of journey in the executive class. It basically is the business class of Shatabdi. Ample storage space overhead as well to store two US based 23 Kilo bags.
I am an hour away from Borivali now.
Half the train seems to want to get down at Borivali station. Everyone rushes for the door in fear of leaving a bag or a kid behind if they do not hurry enough unloading everything of the train. Surprisingly no cookie approached me partly because I had too few a bags to make money off porting them or maybe they believed in me that I can really lift the two 23 kilo mountains on my own from platform 6 to 1. Finally found a porter to get me to the cab. The cab driver was a distant cousin of Michael Schumacher. Driving on Mumbai roads at a speed no less than 80kph in rush hour is a dream come true. Or, maybe not. He got me from BBorivalito The airport in 30 minutes, claiming that the same distance takes no less than 50 minutes. Who am I to judge. I like speed.
Boarding the flight at 6:40am, I reached the airport the night before at 9:30pm. To my dismay, the guards do not let me get in until 2am. Up until a bit of pestering, a bit of pleading, and a bit of everything in between.
T2 is a marvel in itself. What-an-airport. Best of all, free WiFi. Yay! Now comes the tricky part though. Killing the time from 12am to 6:40am. The chaos of T2 terminal is my source of entertainment for the time being.
After sporadic naps, none lasting more than 10-12 minutes and two total hours, Turkish airlines begun assigning boarding passes. I was the second person in a line winding more than 20 times. Free of the bags I walked away through security check (a gimmick compared to US based checks) followed by immigration.
An old uncles spat out to each other allegedly over line jumping, which prompted every immigration officer to stand up from their cozy cushions and bend out to watch the entertainment unfold, alas there was not much drama.
This however wasted precious 15 minutes of all the people awaiting to get stamped! Moving on. The T2 terminal is beautifully made. I think I mentioned this before but it needs a repeat mention.
With those ‘power button’ symbols, aesthetics are simple yet resourceful. I am glad to see this airport after what I have seen before. Those days crow-spotting was a sport that all could play at the Mumbai airport terminal. Things are different now, and good too.
Gate 73. Takes me to the man made technological marvel that will lift a 90kilo me in the air along with several others and guess what, I will FLY. Like a bird in the sky. Flight updates coming up. Three more hours though.
Meanwhile this happened. A guy and a girl meet. After a brief introductions of educational background and work status they have swiftly moved from broken English to Hindi to Gujarati and found out that they both have ties to a local town in Gujarat. Now the conversation has moved to future career prospects, salary hikes, engineering versus IT, snowfall in Atlanta to airport infrastructure cost and now it’s heating up towards a debate on immigration reform. Time taken, 487 seconds, ~8 minutes. Yes I timed it. This kind of instant contact truly amazes me. Does it happen only in India? Maybe, maybe not. I haven’t travelled enough to be able to jump to that conclusion yet.
Boarding finally commences at 6:10am for a 6:40am flight and all the co-ordinated efforts of the flight crew in requesting back to front boarding seems to be a major fail! “All passengers with seat numbers 40-53 line up for boarding,” yells a crew member, the entire flock of passengers lines up and the first person to get his boarding pass checked bears the seat number “12.” He promptly gets sent back. Some sit back awaiting their numbers to be called out, others are in for a gold rush, it seems.
An aisle seat is possible the best seat to have. Not that I am a tall guy but still having space to push that leg out in the aisle is the freedom of movement I would have fought for. The flight accelerates on the runway after standard operation procedures are recited like I recited my morning prayers in the school assembly. Speed lovers would love this part. The food promptly arrives and I opt for the Vegetarian meal.
This was a major downer compared to my past experiences of Turkish airlines. The chole curry was tasteless and Aloo curry tasted like raw pumpkin, or, maybe it was pumpkin. I couldn’t say. Sleep deprived I hurried through my meal and dozed off. Good comfortable reclining chairs and some good music did the trick. A long-ish 3.5hr of a sleep was thus achieved. Win! Good views help too!
Time to land in 1hr 50m and a sandwich arrives. Lamest possible sandwich ever eaten. Served with a side of a cup of water. Yay! I bit through it hungry from the sleep. Couldn’t eat it all. Yes it was that bad. Time to catch up with the movies now. First on the list Europa Report. I had 1hr 30m in all and within five minutes of the movie it was apparent that I will be watching this movie in fast forward only. The main shot in the movie is at 1hr 29th minute in this 1hr 30m movie. A Matrix tentacle creature lives on Europa, the moon. That is all there is to the movie. In order to compensate for the valuable time lost I re watched Pacific Rim. Fast forwarded to key scenes this movie is worth multiple screenings any day.
Time to land. The flight was 45 minutes late when it took off and arrived 40 minutes early than scheduled. A worm hole was encountered enroute, a small one presumably. While I land and move to the transfer gate I will leave you with this image. Hope you see what is funny, almost.
The turkey airport seems to be in form of some overhaul. We landed around 5kms away from the airport and a bus picked us up to get us to the airport. As soon as you get in the airport there is a maddening rush of everyone running for something. I took things lightly because I have around 4 hours to kill here. I was wrong. The rush was for the security check lines. These are crazy long. Good for me, I have time at hand. Security check here too is lame to say the least. Take a bow TSA.
Mad rush continues at the food court. The security check route ends directly in the food court. Convenient much. A wait for at least 2hr for my flight details to appear on the monitor. Time to hog. A chocolate milk shake and Methi Thepla. I would have loved some tea but Turkish coffee is to die for too. It however doesn’t go well with thepla so chocolate shake it is.
Gate 503. The last leg of the flight journey. The gate looks surreal and I couldn’t resist clicking a pic.
Also worth mentioning is the writing on the bus. Funny to me. Yes. Smile along. Turks don’t know a thing about it.
Boarding commences. The flight this time around, an Airbus again but is a relatively older version. As long as my seat reclines I am happy. And it begins. Take off, operating procedures etc recited like clockwork and it flies. 30,000ft in the sky.
It has been not more than an hour and the delicious food is here. Turkish standing up to its name. Finally.
Pasta cooked in red sauce and sun dried tomatoes with olive oil generously drizzled over, crackers with cream cheese, humus in salsa sauce (interesting combo), spiced feta cheese and cucumber salad, chocolate mousse, wheat bread and malt beer.
Nearing the end of my journey now. This has been one heck of it. I should have penned the other side of journey too, but then that would have been an overkill. Anyways, hope you had fun reading it. I had fun penning it.
Duration of the journey: ~40hours. Tiresome.
I leave you with a brief Chicago landing video. Showcases the city of gold, or as it seems from up above.