It’s been about 7yrs since I last visited the MOTHERLAND (I was born & raised in the US, but for the literal translation, I am in my mother’s homeland, sooo). Every time I come back, the experience is like no other. Since my last trip, the advent of social media has kicked into high gear, so I have the tools at my disposal to keep a running log of my journey…and I intend to share my experiences in real-time as best I can. So, this will be my first post in a series of pieces about my trip to INDIA…I hope you enjoy these as much as I enjoy writing & sharing them
First topic of discussion is the commute. I’m out here visiting my sister & her fam (as well as a truck-load of my parents’ family in Punjab, because you can’t come to the motherland and not visit your family, PERIOD). I’m also here to work. My sis just so happens to be involved in a public health workshop in GOA, so she suggested I start my trip by joining her for a few days and then together we’ll head back to Delhi over the weekend…simple enough, right?
The flight(s) over, although luxurious & elegant via Singapore Airlines, were long & tiring: LOS ANGELES –> TOKYO –> SINGAPORE –> MUMBAI –> GOA. Total flight time is approximately 28hrs, but it took me exactly 48hrs from the time I left Los Angeles, to the time I landed up in my sis’ hotel in Goa…yes, you read that right FORTY-EIGHT hours straight. And truth be told, it was all smooth sailing until I landed in Mumbai…then the drama started. Now, I should start by saying a lot of the drama was self-imposed, because I decided to pack a damn heavy bag…43kilos. Why airlines let you take 2 suitcases, up to 50lbs each, totaling 100lbs, for FREE and charge you for ONE that’s under 95lbs is beyond me. The logic boarders on stupidity, but because I decided to pack all of my goodies into one suitcase, I paid the price (both literally & figuratively). Now, Singapore Airlines, handled it, no problem. It’s when I had to transfer domestic flights in Mumbai that the drama started to unfold.
Let’s start with my arrival into Mumbai. After getting your bags off the baggage claim belt, you have to put them through a security scanner to exit the airport and/or transfer to domestic flights. But you have to do this THREE TIMES, consecutively. And I don’t mean 3 times over the course of a great distance, no, no, no…bags through one machine, walk 10 feet, bags through the next machine. Naturally, I get pulled aside at security because I have my camera & production gear. Not only do they not know what to do with me, they have no idea what they are looking at…like a deer in headlights. After speaking with 3 supervisors, carefully explaining the function of every piece of gear in my bag(s) and showing them my business card, they allow me to pass…HURDLE #1, complete. Now on to domestic transfers…
I find my way to the Jet Airways counter (think Virgin for domestic flights in the US) where I’m informed that my bag is too heavy (no shit). But unlike Singapore Airlines, they simply tell me I can’t take the bag (no reason or logic behind the “No”…btw, “No” is the first response of every Indian in service when asked a question, so you have to fight your way through to an “Ok”…just part of the game). What am I supposed to do now? My back-up plan was to hire a car to drive me to Goa…but wait, now they are telling me, I can send my bag as “cargo”, so they ask one of the baggage handlers to escort me to the cargo area to send it that way. I’m thinking, ok, this isn’t so bad…until I see the baggage handler, who’s name is Pramod, roll my suitcases OUTSIDE the airport…I’m thinking hooooold up dawg, where is this spot? We leave the terminal, walk about 3 blocks, down a back alley (sketch-city) lined with scooters (naturally) and up to the cargo counter. After being ignored by the 15 employees “working” behind the counter that are actually doing nothing & texting their hommies, we connect with someone. “What’s in the bag?”, they ask. “Clothes mainly…some toiletries, meds, etc…”, I respond. “Sir, you can’t check in liquids or medicine.” HUH? This is the damn cargo area, now you’re telling me I can’t take what you can take in checked-in luggage? Wait a second, this shouldn’t be about what’s in my bag, this is about the weight. Remember, logic & reason do no rule out here, the word “No” does. Patience is a virtue one should exercise daily when traveling through India. After about 30mins of searching for a superior to talk to (and we spoke to about 5 of them) and after pre-screening my bag through, yes, a 4th security scanner, they say I can send it for $5,000rps (approx. $100US) – the price based on the weight it returned off the cargo scale. But there’s a catch, they don’t accept $US or credit cards. So, my man Pramod tells me, we’ll need to head back to the terminal to exchange my cash into rupees.
Back down the alley we go, leaving “big-bertha” behind, to the terminal to exchange money. I tell the guy behind the counter, I need at least $5,000rps, so how much cash do I need for the conversion? He doesn’t respond, but says “Sir, Yes, Sir.” Okaaay?, here’s a $100US. After about 10mins of waiting, he gives me back $4,900rps & change. So, I tell him to exchange another $20US and the first question out of his mouth to me, “Do you have any change?” Really dude, “You just gave me all the rupees I have, why would you ask me if I have change?” BLANK STARE. Whatever, I get my extra change & push off back to the cargo area with the ever so persistent Pramod. I should take a moment to say that Pramod had an ear-to-ear grin on his face during this entire experience…gotta love India for that reason alone.
At any rate, I’m feeling good at this point, all we have to do is walk back, pay boss-man and I’m golden, right? NOT. I pay the guy, get my cargo receipt and now the woman at security, that cleared my bag not a 1/2 hour earlier is saying I can’t…why? Because I have batteries in my bag…DOUBLE-A batteries :/ I’m like, “You approved it before, that’s why I just PAID your boss”…NOTHING. Alrighty then, me & Pramod were on the hunt, yet again, to find a supervisor to approve. Two supervisors into the process, I’m like “Listen, do you want me to open the bag and show you?”. “Yes, Sir, Please, Sir.” I open up my bag, pull out the batteries, the supervisor grabs them, walks them over to the security woman, holds them up to her face and says, “You idiot. This is why you’re wasting my time? Idiot…bag is fine, let it through to cargo.” BOOM. Bag is through…exactly TWO HOURS later. In the US, they charge you an arm & a leg and handle your biz in 5mins. In India, its cheap, but they put you through 2hrs of drama to make it happen…HURDLE #2, complete.
India has mastered the art of getting a lot of people to do not much work at all.
I hook up my boy Pramod up with a $20US spot (that’s approximately 1,000 rupees for my man, he was ecstatic…and it was well-deserved) and head to my gate…but I have to pass through security first
Here we go again. You know when you travel with a laptop, they make you take it out and put it in a separate tray to run through the scanner? Well, these geniuses decide its necessary for me to empty my bag of ALL electronics (think cameras, chargers, headphones, plugs, EVERYTHING), put the articles in separate trays & then run those trays and my empty bags back through the scanners again. Effectively, they scanned my gear a total of FOUR times. Mind you, when I landed in Mumbai, it was 10:30AM and my flight to Goa was leaving at 2:35PM. By the time I got through security, it was 1:55PM. I’m sweating like its nobody’s business, I’ve been in the same clothes for 2 days, so I’m FUNKIN’ it hard and my back is damn near broken…but I’m pumped, FINALLY, the last leg of my journey…HURDLE #3, complete.
I land in Goa and quickly locate a Jet Airways employee to tell me where the cargo pick-up is. She tells me, “No, sir, its luggage, it will come out on the baggage claim belt.” I tell her, no, they told me to go to cargo, here’s my receipt. She looks at it & responds, “Oh, you will need to pick this up from cargo” (no shit?). So, I’m directed outside the airport towards cargo pick-up. Her directions to me were as follows, “Exit the airport, make a left. Walk down a ways, until you see a crowd of people on the right and that is where the cargo pick-up is”. Walk until I see a crowd of people??? REALLY???…this is India, there are mobs of fools EVERYWHERE. Now, this is where the trip gets semi-pimp…as I’m walking out of the terminal, I see a young kid holding a sign, “Mr. Yashraj Dhillon”. I’m like whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!, I got a driver? I guess my sister hooked up a pre-paid taxi to grab me, so that was a perfect sight for my eyes considering what I’d been through so far. I tell him, I need to go to the cargo area to pick up a bag, so we walk to the left, as instructed, towards the crowd of people. My driver, Abhi, asks a fellow Goan where the cargo pick-up is and we actually have to get in the car & drive for a mile or so. There is absolutely no way in hell I would’ve found this spot on my own…it was way down the highway, off to the left, in the middle of a village, across from a cricket field. Randomness. But we found it.
I give them my receipt, they say, “Sir, please, 15mins or so”. If you haven’t guessed by now, you get a lot of “Sir, Please’s” and “Please, Sir’s” out here 20mins go by, they call me to the counter to look at my receipt. Hommie dips behind the counter, gone for like 10mins. Comes back and tells me, my bag will show up at the terminal…we have to go back where we came from. This shit is too funny now, so me & Abhi, go back to the terminal, but this time we pull into another area off to the side that’s designated for cargo. I go up to the only guy standing there, again, with receipt in hand, and he tells me to park our car in the middle of an empty lot and to simply wait. Even Abhi is like, WTF?! So, we’re waiting and here comes a tractor about 15mins later…a tractor pulling what appears to be cargo from Jet Airways. All I see are massive blocks of wood, giant boxes, but no sign of my bag. There are two enclosed hitches, so I walk around to look inside. BOOYAH! There’s my bag in all its glory. I’m starting to reach for it and the guy goes, “No, sir, please. You have to wait like 15mins.” Oh helllll no brotha, I’m grabbin’ my bag now, so somebody best come up & sign off on it or that’s your bad. Luckily, a supervisor is walking over, so he checks my I.D. & receipt and the bag is mine. WOOHOO!!!…HURDLE #4, complete.
Finally, we get to the hotel and I see my sister…and its like none of that happened. I was just so happy to see her and so happy to be in Goa, to be in INDIA, I really didn’t give a shit about the drama it took to get here. You see, the important thing to take from this was the experience. As annoyed as I could’ve been, I was actually laughing the whole way through it. The joy of this country is that it’s a completely different culture, which operates under a completely different set of rules. You need to learn how to play by their rules and just roll with the punches. If you get upset & start to lose your shit, you miss the whole point of the journey. I didn’t care about what happened or that I was traveling for 48hrs straight. All I cared about was, I’m in India, chillin’ with my sis, throwin’ back my 2nd glass of Kokam juice (local Goan delight, so, so yummy), about to shower and hit the road for some fried fish & beer. My sis was concerned about my energy and I was like, dude, I’m in India, I don’t care if I’m tired, let’s do this!!!
We walked to a local favorite (Viva Panjim), had one of the most amazing meals of my life, strolled by some wild street dogs on the way to the “chemist” (pharmacy) to pick up some pro-biotics & vitamins and headed back to the hotel to crash. As I laid down to sleep, all I could think about is how blessed I am to be able to take this trip and be here, in India. It’s hard to explain, but suddenly, I feel like I’m home…