Flying to India

Traditionally I have combined a trip to India with a post trip recovery in Thailand. Thailand is sort of “on the way”? This meant a long two leg-ged flight on Eva: 13 hours from Seattle to Taipei, some 4-6 hour layover and then 3.5 hours from Taipai to Bangkok. Combined with planing and de-planings, taxiing, it is 20-24 hours from house to BKK hotel. A few nights in Bangkok to eat and help habituate to jet lag, then another 6 hour flight BKK to DEL where the trip begins. On the way back maybe stay on a nice island and gain back weight I’ve lost.

Truth of the matter is that Thailand aren’t what it used to be – is very developed these days. I still love BKK but the old quiet beaches have been pretty overrun with development, rich people with speed boats and I think the quality of the food has gone way down. Thais are much more rich and prosperous these days and there is a ton of domenstc vacation all over their country. For me this development has sort of sucked away a lot of the stuff I liked about Thailand.

Air Canada YVR To DEL:

So for this trip I really just wanna to get to India, to Manali specifically to start riding my damn bike. I looked into fares and found a flight with air canada that goes Vancouver (YVR) to Delhi direct in 12 hours. Since DEL time is 11.5 hours from SEA, its pretty much the other side of the planet. A-and since both are in northern hemisphere the shortest route is due north, then when you are near the north pole you keep going straight and end up heading almost due south. Here’s a recent flight path for AC44.

Flight goes over Far north arctic circle, then down near Murmansk, lots of time in Russia and then China, Tajikistan, Kyrgistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan – straight over the best of central asia and the Pamirs as well as the hindu kush, the karakoram. All this land I’ve not visited!

Best thing about ‘ol AC44 was that booking more than 3 months early the fares were in the the same ballpark as any other route to India. A-and when I when to buy the ticket, looking at baggage costing I came across the option to pay m00re and fly “Premium Economy.” I was thinking maybe a bit more legroom wouldn’t hurt but mostly I’d get a bigger baggage allowance so I wouldn’t need to pay extra for two bags. Total extra ca$h for “Premium Economy” was $250, quite close to the $100 cost each way for a single excess bag.

So anyway, for the first time in my life I paid exta to Not Fly Economy. $50 for 20 hours of a bit more legroom seemed like a no brainer. Maybe cut down on the push-ups and planks in the area in front of the emergency exit.

How to Fly DEL TO KUL

A-and now that I’m spending money left and right, splurging on Premium Economy, I was thinking how absolutely great it would be to not stay in DEL on my day of arrival, not pay for an expensive hotel, a taxi, food, and NOT pay for and ride that damn bus from DEL TO Manali. The price of a domestic flight would be cheap compared to the time and money of DEL and travel to Manali. I’d get more time to acclimatize and a bigger weather window to cross the Rhotang, because the Monsoon is Coming!

Well… the last flight from DEL To KUL was 6:30am, and my flight from Canada was due to land at 3:45am. That gives me 2.5 hours to clear immigration and customs with my junk and then negotiate to get my Junk onto the domestic plane. Hmm. Lots could go wrong there. What’s more I would still need to pay for transport from KUL to Manali, a 2.5 hour drive. Would need to play it by ear but lots to go wrong there too. Bags not making their way to the plane, etc. India is not a place to lose your expedition baggage.

I actually did buck up and buy a ticket DEL to KUL, with a 24 hour cancellation. I viciously explored the baggage allowance, ended up tracking down footnotes of footnotes and discovered that no baggage larger than a shoebox was allowed on that flight. And besides that the oversize fees were insane.

Pulled the plug on that and got a refund.

Book a Bus From Delhi to Manali

Instead I booked the last seat on the HPTDC bus from DEL to Manali. The Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Company runs good reliable buses. They aren’t offering all the fancy features that some other companies offer, but from experience those features are never actually working. What they do offer is good drivers and reliable buses, which is what really matters.

Seat was $35, departed delhi at 5:30pm, arrives manali at 8:30am. This was going to suck but at least its booked and paid for.

Flight Change

A few days before the trip I got a schedule change notification. Royal pain in the ass to contact air canada and find out the flight was now 14 hours instead of 12, arrival time was now 5:45. Reason I later found was the airspace between india and pakistan was now contested and my flight now had to go around the south side of pakistan. Bummer. At Least I Cancelled that Domestic Ticket to KUL.

Baggage Check

Big day came and my slightly oversize bike boxes are accepted with not even an eye blink. But after I’ve been given my boarding pass I’m told I need to take the boxes to the TSA oversize box inspection desk. Guy there is nice but… needs to see inside. What about XRay? Nope, gotta open them. Jeese! All that packing, all that gorilla tape. Pisser. At least he loans me a box cutter and lets me carefully cut my way in with minimum of damage. We open both boxes and he noses around, then I rewrap everything. I didn’t bring tape, which in hindsite was a big mistake – BRING A COUPLE ROLLS of your best GORILLA TAPE because nothing like that is available in India (that I could find, even in Delhi.)

Fortunately the TSA guy had a baggage strap machine and wrapped the boxes solidly with some heat fused reinforced tape.

Boarding:

Time to board, the lady at the gate says “Boarding Now for Zone 1 Passangers, Disabled and those travelling with small children.” I glance at my boarding pass… Zone 1!? What hte heck? Did I mishear. I head over and the lady waves me through. Maybe the first person on the plane. And I’m seated in a small section of HUGE CHAIRS right near the door. HUGE. Like what I thought was First Class. Padded leg lifts when you recline. Ton of leg room. I’m shocked and stunned. I had no idea this is what I was paying for. Am I really in the right seat?

And you know what else? I love not needing to wait in a giant 300 person like of Indians with Families all jostling to be first on the plane. Being a Zone 1 I skip all that and just saunter on into my big seat. Plant my ass and start browsing the movies. And the prols all eye me as they shuffle by to jostle for space in the overhead back in the back (AKA the dungeon.)

I’ve since discovered that $250 extra for upgrade to Premium Economy was a Very Good Deal and my seat pardners all paid lots more than that.

DELHI

Flight is lovely. Food is fine. I try a new jet lag stragety involving 1/2 pills of ambien and sleep like a damn baby. Arrive 5:45am, have to wait a bit for my luggage to arrive at the over-sized counter. Breeze through immigration and customs and out to the airport. I know from the past that there’s a govt run prepaid taxi that should get me into town for 500rp or so (about $7.) There’s some pretty young ladies at a private prepaid taxi counter, lots of makeup, nice outfits. They call me over. I’m like “Nope, I’m just going next store to the cheap place, you guys are too expensive.” One says, try us? Get an estimate? Won’t hurt? Yeah ok. I give them the address of my hotel and they want 2400rp. Ha. Yeah… Adios! I guess I understand how you can afford to hire pretty girls. The normal squalid prepaid counter with bored clerk sells me a ticket for 550rp. I carry my boxes out to the curb with my stamped piece of paper, am accosted by people that want to help carry my baggage, want to help in all sorts of ways that will somehow prove to not be helpful and/or cost me money. Get off my bags! No I don’t want help. I get to the prepaid section and load up the taxi. I’ve not paid for AC so Not AC I get, the driver tryies to up sell me but the air isn’t so hostile at the moment. Strangely the air is quite cool on this morning – it has rained recently. We actually a nice drive beating the morning traffic. I mean, we had a nice drive for Delhi where a normal drive can be so awful.

Driver is confused by my hotel address. Says… thats a rich person neighborhood, not a hotel address. Well, yeah… but go there anyway.

I’ve decided to skip the Imperial this time and stay at Leuten’s Bungalow. Supposed to have a nice pool and I’m just in town for a night.

Arrive no problem, check in no problem, except that I was expected 2 hours earlier at 6 or so. I forgot to tell them that my flight was changed and I’d be arriving at a normal hour. I’m sorry I inconvenienced them.

Leutens Bungalow is an estate in delhi where the architect of new delhi lived while designing the city. Pretty neat. Not over the top luxury like the imperial but a damn nice pool and was fun. They apparently have good food but I’m in delhi to find some specific stuff, so didn’t really enjoy much other than the coffee – which was maybe good by delhi standards.

I have breakfast, some good coffee, speak with the other guests for a while, then head out for a Tuk Tuk. I’ve got some shopping and eating to do.

Go to supply store and buy some wire cutters, to help cut all the zip ties from the bike in manali.

Head to a recommended restaurant “Kake Da Hotel.” And while crowded with locals it warn’t very good. I can make a better butter chicken.

The worst thing about Kake-Da-Hotel was that they kept refilling my food. I eat until I was stuffed. And food warn’t good so now I wasn’t having dinner. Sadness! Squandered two meals in Delhi. At least the Naan was cheap.

Head back to my hotel for a swim and drink a glass of some ultra premium gin I picked up at the duty free. The hotel let me store it in their freezer. A few onces really hit the spot after my swim.

Birds of Delhi

Laying out floating in the pool, surrounded by trees.

Watching the sky it is filled with all sorts of birds. Big ones cicling, kites? assorted smaller corvids. I’m really surprised by this gentle wildlife that lives above delhi. Maybe just this relatively wooded neighborhood but wow was it nice to see. Relaxing.

And finally its dusk. I’ve remained awake all day. Good for me. I lay out my broken ambien pill and a glass of water and fall asleep at 7:30pm. I wake at midnight, take half an ambien, wake at 3am, another half ambien, and wake at 6. Perfect time to wake up!

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