Friday, November 18, 2011

First post: Day 1, Wednesday, 16th November, 2011 - Part A

My family and I parted at the entrance of the Indira Gandhi International airport at New Delhi after much emotional discussion. Nishrin, Hannah and I were all crying, with Inas also moved almost to tears. A lot of indignation was expressed: Hannah was very vocal in criticism, while Inas was, as usual, down to a few harsh words. There were some personal issues that could have been resolved there and then and I would not go as planned, but in the end, reality prevailed and I decided to go. I said my goodbyes, hugged everyone for the last time, and walked in with my luggage.

Disaster struck within a few minutes of my interacting with one Gurpreet Kaur at the check-in counter of Saudi Arabian Airlines. The first thing was that there were barely 15-20 minutes left for me to reach the final queue, and hence, I would have to hurry to avoid being left out. The next thing was that my luggage weighed a grand total of 77 kg! It was deemed to be 27 kg overweight, and I was told to pay 395 X 27 = 10665 plus 10.3 % extra, for a total of 11763 INR … or leave the entire books carton back. The problem could have been overcome if I had more time and had been able to withdraw cash from an ATM nearby; but, as readers may have already guessed, neither of the two options were available to me. Also, I was travelling without an active mobile phone, as I was planning to buy a local SIM card as soon as I alighted at Riyadh. I could not carry my own instrument either as all the phone nos on it were needed by Nishrin who would be keeping it with her at the parlour, and because most of the numbers were stored on the phone memory and NOT on the SIM card.

Having no way to contact my family, although they were just outside the passenger hall, I had no option but to pay the full amount and then carry the luggage inside as soon as possible. I had no cash to buy Riyals, as almost all the money I had to buy them with was gone. Thus, I would have just 100 SR while boarding the aircraft half an hour later. An employee from the check-in desk accompanied me to the security check to enable me to jump the other queued passengers as my flight was ready to take off. Eventually, I was past the security check and going as fast as possible to the terminal from where the aircraft would take off. Here, there was a lot of crowd already as this was an international flight with nearly 500 passengers. They checked each handbag manually, and also repeated a body search. After this, we were allowed to proceed. By the time I had found my seat in the rear section in the central aisles (56), it was obvious that the aircraft had already passed its time to depart. In the event, instead of starting at half past one, we left ND at 2.45 p.m.

In the next few hours, I faced yet another shock when I realised that on my agent’s ticket, the departure timing was in IST, but the arrival timing to Riyadh (King Fahad Int. Airport) was mentioned in Saudi timings! Thus, what I had thought to be a 2 hr 15 min flight turned out to be a 4 hr 45 minute flight! To be fair, the hosts, charming youth from King Abdulla’s kingdom were quite efficient and a couple of them even smiled from time to time.

The on-board entertainment consisted of several channels, including some movies on the Hindi channel, lots of Hollywood movies edited for content (even bestsellers like the final Harry Potter and latest hits like Super 8 and so on), Hindi songs, children’s channel with Kung Fu Panda and Lion King, games, plane Camera, and Islamic channel with guidance on Hajj and Umrah in Urdu, and also several shorts on Quran and Islam. There were many more. However, the charm was spoilt by the computer hanging up several times and by the flight-related announcements which disrupted the program on view. Flight crew served a meal, lunch, with Indian taste – I had the mutton non-veg meal which was very nice. Tea was served with the meal and on demand too.

We reached Riyadh at 4.45 p.m. Saudi time. The airport was good, but I think the Delhi airport is much better than this one. At several places, the airport looks old and jaded. The real surprise, however, was that as soon as the passengers disembarked, they started running to the next post, which was the immigration area. I got my third shock of the evening when I saw the huge crowd of mostly Asians, including Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese and so on, standing in long winded queues before the 5 or 6 immigration counters.

 Although it was not even 5 p.m., and my connecting flight was more than 4 ½ hours away, I soon realised, after inspecting the situation and the almost creeping queue, that I would definitely miss the connecting flight if I stood with the others in the queue. In addition to the language problem which was insurmountable, there was also the need to be tactical, polite, persistent and show some anxiety to the several people I spoke to. Some were the men who sat at the immigration counters (but they simply brushed me off with a slightly louder than normal and haughty response to “go back”. Others were flight crew and at least one airport manager. Once the airport guys realised that I was not the only one who had a connecting flight; there were at least 15-20 others. They soon organised a separate queue for us, and we were taken in ahead of the hundreds of others awaiting their turn. It was at about 7.15 p.m. that I was let in into the customs area. Another wait occurred there as they asked first to see, and then, to actually take the entire medicine box to some other place to verify that the medicines were indeed the ones that they purported to be.

Once they were satisfied, they returned the box to me and after putting it back into the bag, I proceeded further to the domestic terminal at 8 p.m. On the way, I picked up a STC SIM card for SR 25 and then went in. I reached my departure terminal within 20 minutes of going through the baggage check-in and was able to rest for about 13-15 minutes. During this time, I started my mobile and called home to give the number and tidings of my safe arrival in T'aif. The flight itself was unremarkable. We reached T'aif, partaking of a mini meal with mixed grill chicken and kheema kababs. After having these and a cup of tea the hostess took away the trays and all in the short time available to them (the flight takes just one hour and fifteen minutes).

More in the next post ...                                                                                      


MUHBEEN said...

looking forward for the 2nd day adventure. i hope u have settled well and ur initial finance problems have been solved. All the best. Insha Allah all will go fine

Unknown said...

Wish you all the best for your stay in Taif. As they say, you have begun a new chapter of your life, "Dr. Taher of Arabia".