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India Trip - Days 1-2 - Friday Sept 30, 2005 - Travel time - 1 photo

            Today is the first day of our vacation to India!  It is long overdue.  The first day is not too exciting, because we have 24-hours of solid travel time to get through airports and on airplanes to get to Delhi.

            I’m writing this on board a DC-9 headed for New York’s JFK (Kennedy) airport.  It’s a Northwest flight, but it wasn’t supposed to be.  We got up at 5:00am, finished our last-minute packing and drove to work where we left our car in the parking lot.  Mike Clark at work gave us a ride to the airport, and we checked in at Delta airlines for our 9:00am flight.  We checked our bags, made our way through the security checkpoints and headed for the gate.

            As we were walking up to the gate, the man at the podium told us the flight was overbooked, and asked if anyone was willing to take a later flight.  Kathy and I volunteered because instead of two Delta flights (Minneapolis to Atlanta, then Atlanta to New York) we were able to take a direct flight to New York on Northwest.  That meant more time in Minneapolis before our flight, and a direct flight to New York.  Delta also threw in a couple of seven-dollar food vouchers, which we forgot to use!  We passed the time by going up to one of the airport waiting rooms.  We took turns playing on the computer and reading our books.

            We are supposed to fly from New York to London Heathrow, then from London to Delhi.  Since India is on the other side of the world, there will be a lot of travel time.  A very long commute indeed!  When we arrive in Delhi, it will supposedly be after midnight on Sunday, which means Saturday will be entirely lost somewhere in time.  There will be an extra Thursday gained on the return flight to make up for it.  I was joking with Kathy that the pilot will lift the plane into the air and just park it there and let the Earth spin below us until we’re back home.

            We’re supposed to have three weeks in India.  The first part of the trip is an organized tour booked through OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel).  The last three days we are on our own in India after the tour is over.  The last three days are the most concerning, and I’ll tell you why.  Before we left, Kathy picked out three-days worth of sightseeing at sites south of Delhi.  Then we contacted a woman named Miriam, who is actually the daughter-in-law of Nancy, one of our friends at work.  Miriam was raised and lived for a long time in India, so she knows the place very well.  Anyway, she contacted some of her acquaintances, and based on what she found, she recommended we contact a guy in India who owns a small travel company in Delhi called “Journey Masters.”

            So Kathy and I contacted Journey Masters to make hotel reservations for the sites we wanted to visit, and also to book guides, drivers and trains for the three days.  Our main contact was a guy named Duni who sent us e-mail assuring us that he had made the appropriate reservations and requested us to pay him.  We weighed all our options for paying him, but didn’t want to send our credit card information in an unsecured e-mail, so we asked for information on how to directly send money to his bank from our bank.  He e-mailed us back and sent us two sets of bank routing numbers and account numbers.  One was for a bank in New York City and the other was for a bank in Delhi.

            We spoke to our credit union (bank) about how to wire-transfer money to his account, and they told us there would be a fee.  The fee for the New York bank was much less than the Delhi bank, so we opted to wire the money there.  After some amount of hassle, we managed to wire the agreed upon amount to the New York bank.

            Days passed, and Duni sent us an e-mail asking us where the money was.  He had not received it.  Concerned, we spoke to our credit union again, and got more information about the bank we transferred the money to.  We forwarded this to Duni, proving that we had sent the money to the account he gave us.  Everything looked good from our end.

            Duni replied that he had still not received the money, and now he was concerned about us not paying him for the commitments he had made.  On the other hand, we were concerned that he was trying to steal our money, since it must surely be sitting happily in the account he gave us.

            Several weeks passed, with both Duni and us trying to track down the missing money.  The destination bank in New York wouldn’t even talk to us because our names were not on the bank account that had received the money.  And of course, all our credit union could do was to verify that the money was sent to the appropriate account, and send banking transaction requests to forward the money to Duni’s account in Delhi for the same bank.  Every day, we were getting more worried that our money was gone, never to be recovered, and worried that Duni would cancel our hotel reservations because he didn’t get the money.  We wondered if we would join the surging ranks of the homeless people on the streets of Delhi for those three days.

            Finally, two days before the trip, Duni sent us an e-mail saying he had finally tracked down the money in Bombay, so everything was alright.  We breathed a big sigh of relief!

            This trip is important to us, so we bought some new equipment for the trip.  First, I retired my old Casio Fiva laptop I have used on other trips.  It was starting to flake out: the screen would occasionally go completely black and we had horrible times trying to get it back.  Second, it was very slow, and had too little hard disk space to hold our digital photos we intend to take.  It only had a 10GB hard drive.  Therefore, we invested in a new laptop, which I am using now.  It is a Sharp Actius MP-30.  It is a sweet computer because it is only two pounds light.  It has a bigger screen for my 44-year old eyes.  It has a 40GB hard drive, and wireless 802.11G networking, and a 1.6GHz CPU.  Plus, it came with Windows/XP and WordPerfect, my favorite word processor.

            The reason we needed the bigger hard drive is because we decided to go all-digital with our photos.  We retired Kathy’s EOS E-Lan II SLR camera we used in Turkey and other trips, and replaced it with a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT, a very nice digital SLR.  I replaced my Minolta Dimage-7 with a newer Dimage Z6, which has 12X optical zoom, 4X digital zoom and a 6-Megapixel resolution.

            Well, we’re about to land in New York, so I better power down the computer…


            We landed okay in JFK around 5:00pm (17:00) New York time, all set for our next flight from New York to London.  The flight was due to depart at 8:00pm through Air India, and the gate was only a few gates away, so we thought we had it made.  A thirty-second tour of the terminal revealed that we were in a very tiny International terminal with only basic facilities and one restaurant.  We thought there were more possibilities for dinner, but that meant leaving the secured area and having to be screened by security again, and we didn’t want to go through that hassle again.

            We proceeded to our departure gate, and discovered there was no representative from Air India there.  That was concerning because we didn’t have seat assignments or boarding passes yet for the flight to London.  We decided to plop on a bench and wait for the agent to arrive.

            In the meantime, we decided to play a game of San Juan, which is a trading and building card game, a simplified version of the more complex “Puerto Rico” that we like to play.  The game took us a while to play, and meanwhile, I was recharging the laptop battery.  I managed to squeak out a one-point victory over Kathy, and we put the game away.

            In the middle of our game, an Indian gentleman approached me holding two dollars.  He showed me a piece of paper with the telephone number of his son and he asked me in very broken English to help him make the call.  I walked him over to the bar where I had him get four quarters for the telephone, then I walked him back to the telephones, dialed the number, and he spoke to his son.  The call was fifty-cents for the phone and fifty-cents for five minutes of long-distance.  His wife was talking when the time was up and he was cut off.  He was very grateful for my help.

            After our game, we saw that someone was at the Air-India gate and Kathy went to speak with them.  Unfortunately, they told her we couldn’t get our boarding passes or seat assignments there at the gate.  Of course it couldn’t be that easy.  No, we had to go all the way back out of the secured area, go back to the Air India ticketing counter, and talk to them.  Just what we didn’t want to do.

            The problem was, the computer was only 97 percent charged, and if you unplug early, it cuts down the capacity of the battery.  The other problem was that this was an international flight, and you’re supposed to check in two hours ahead of departure.  It was well past that; only and hour and a half remaining.  I sent Kathy to the gate to make sure we didn’t miss some timing window, and I proceeded to nervously wait for the computer to charge to capacity.

            After about fifteen minutes, I finally gave up and unplugged it, packed it away and dashed for the exit, and upstairs to the Air India ticketing booth where Kathy was pacing nervously.  There was a crowd of people waiting to check in, so we got in line.

            Eventually we were processed by a man who seemed knowledgeable, but he was slow and he mumbled.  We had to explain how we arrived on NorthWest Airlines, but our luggage would be arriving on our original Delta flight.  He scribbled out some hand-written paperwork regarding the transfer of our luggage to Delhi, checked us in and sent us back to the gate where we had played the game.  The paperwork made the whole process seem extremely primitive and uncontrolled, and we doubted that any of our luggage would arrive from Minnesota.

            We headed back to the security checkpoint and proceeded to wait in an extremely long line to get cleared.  Eventually, we were permitted to go back to the gate and got right onto the plane, which was already boarding.

            The plane was filled efficiently and we pulled away from the gate without being too delayed, but then we proceeded to park on the tarmac for nearly an hour before taking off.  Let me tell you: getting to London takes a very long time when you’re just sitting on the tarmac.

            Eventually we took off and now we’re finally on our way.  Currently, I am on a huge DC-10 headed for London.  We flying at 36,000 feet (11,000 meters) traveling at a ground speed of 644 Miles per hour (1038 kph). The outside air temperature is -65F/-54C.  Hey, reminds me of Minnesota! We’re over the Northern Atlantic, half-way to Greenland, with a lot more trip ahead of us.  The flight to London is normally six and a half hours.  After that, London to Delhi, which is more than eight hours of additional flying, with a couple hours’ delay in London.

            The wonderful thing is this: Air India serves Indian food on the plane!  I love Indian food!  It was wonderful, and hopefully a taste of good things to come.