India Trip – No Power Cells in Bags!

I haven’t written for a while, but here’s the last chapter in my India follies.

Of course this also involves Airplanes and my ongoing battle with the rules of flight in India. It seems the rules for what you can and cannot have in your checked baggage differs when you come from US and when you got to US using Air India. Going from US, they don’t care what you have in your checked in bags.. and this is important as you will soon see.

Coming from Mumbai is a totally different story.. You can’t have ANY external power packs in your checked in bags! Of course you don’t know this till AFTER you come to the airport!

Mumbai airport is a very modern and beautiful airport. Unless of course you are flying with Air India! Air India is a government owned airline of India and with that comes the perils of dealing with anything that is government related in India. Incompetence!

My daughter and I got to the airport early so we could check in before the crowds.. Wrong! Air India will not allow you to check in unless it’s 2 hours before the flight. God forbid you come 3 hours earlier.. you are out of luck.. you need to be there 2 hours before flight time.. This is to ensure you hit the long lines and crowds!

We got there 3 hours early and there were no lines.. so naturally we tried to check in.. but we were told in no certain terms to come back when in an hour when it was two hours before boarding.. Don’t ask.. I asked why and the person behind the counter said, that it’s the rules and they follow the rules!

So my daughter and I walked away and sat nearby.. So can you guess what happened when it was 2 hours before boarding? The checkin line snaked around the terminal!

After we got to the counter (about an hour later).. they found one of my bags was overweight by 4 lbs.. so they tell me to go the “payment counter” to pay overweight fees. I just shook my head and went to the counter.. and you can guess what happened next!

Nobody there! The person on duty had apparently gone on break or something and nobody else could do his job.. Anyway, the guy shows up about 20 mins later and by this time, I’m furious.. He gives me some lame excuse.. saying he had to step away on an “urgent issue”.. So I pay my punishment fee ($100) and check in..

While I check in I notice a sign which says that no power packs are allowed in checked bags.. I of course didn’t think I had any in my bag! Wrong again!

We check in and walk towards the gate.. and this is when the fun begins!

They call my name at the gate and take me to a soldier who tells me that there is a problem with my baggage. Of course by this time.. I’ve passed through multiple security checks and they wouldn’t let me out of the secured area with the soldier.. after a few minutes of discussion.. they did let me out..

The soldier takes me a few levels down into the bowels of the airport.. and I’m getting more and more nervous.. When I get to the security room, they tell me that they found 6 (yes 6) power packs and it’s not allowed! They bring my bag and tell me to open it.. of course this is as good time as any for my keys to NOT work with the locks. I tell them to break the locks and they tell me “No sir, we cannot do that, that is not allowed!”.

I finally got my bag opened and by this time I’m surrounded  by multiple army soldiers! I’m sweating profusely by this time.. I find 1, 2, 3 and tell them can I go now? They say no.. there are 6 and they want all of them found in the bag!.. So everything comes out of my packed bag and we find all 6 power cells. I even tell them.. they can confiscate them and they say to me: “No Sir, we cannot do that.. that is not allowed. You need to take your power cells as part of your carry on baggage”.

By this time, my exasperation level is beyond exhaustion.. I say “whatever, just give me something to carry the power cells in” and they oblige.. Keep in mind by this time the time is approaching departure and my daughter is on board and I’m in the bowels of the airport.. Fun right?

So the soldier escorts me back to my gate and I have to go through security a third time and finally get on the plane.. Picture this.. me sweating profusely and my daughter asking me “what happened Dad, they were announcing that the flight was delayed due to a baggage issue with a passenger”.. Can you guess who that was? Me!

We finally take off and by this time I’m just drained of all my life. I vowed that I will never fly Air India again.. to save a few hundred dollars.

Lesson to be learned here: Don’t assume that you know the rules of baggage when it comes to travel to India.. and listen carefully to the rules!

So basically, overtime I traveled in India by air, I had different issues.. I guess I just need to stay local!

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India Trip – Don’t Lose that Boarding Pass!

I took a few weeks off from my India trip blog, but before I forget.. this one is good and I’ll remember this for a long time!

When we were returning from Goa to Mumbai by Air.. this is an amusing (it wasn’t funny when it happened – trust me)…

I passed through security final security check point and my carry on bag was pulled aside for “questionable content”.. I had some small scissors in a case as part of my overnight stuff. Remember this is has been in my bag since we came to India and it was not flagged in ANY security check points neither in US nor on the flight TO Goa..

So I said to the security guy.. go ahead and take the scissors.. as I had forgotten that I even had them. They removed the offending item and I was on my way.. with my carry on bag.. Of course this is where the fun begins.

I met my daughter and we were getting some snacks pre-flight and I ask her whether she has my boarding pass and she of course says “NO dad.. you have your own pass!”. Of course I did not have it! I had left it behind at the security check point.. and in being flustered at the bag check.. I had left for the gate w/o the boarding pass.

We went to the gate and asked for a duplicate pass and of course.. the gate agent said “We cannot print  you a new pass, you will have to go BACK and get a new pass at the checkin gates”.. Panic sets in.. Keep in mind this airport is ultra modern with all the amenities you want except #IndigoAir cannot print boarding passes at their gates!

The agent tells me to go back to security check point and see if the boarding pass was pulled aside.. I race back to security and of course it’s not there.. The security officials send me to the customer security desk.. monitored by the military.. I go over to the security desk and explain to them my situation (and the officer was very very patient and helpful I must say)… he was aghast that the gate agent asked me to go back through security to get another duplicate from the check in gate agent at the front of the airport!

After I tell him my sad stupid mistake.. he asks me to go back to the gate and get the gate agent.. so I race back to the gate and ask the gate agent to come to the security desk.. so now we both go back to the security desk and she says again.. “Customer must get new boarding pass from check in desk at front of the airport”.. The army officer goes ballistic and says.. “No.. he is the customer.. you go to the front and get him a duplicate”.. After a few minutes of back and forth… the gate agent finally agrees to have a duplicate boarding pass sent back through security  gate.. so I can board my flight!

This wait was about 15 minutes.. whereas the gate agent said they would print the duplicate and be here in 2 to 5 minutes.. Well of course this was not the case.. So here I am sweating profusely at my stupidity for losing my boarding pass after security check.. as well a quite bit embarrassed. By this time my daughter is texting me as our boarding time is approaching for our flight to Mumbai is approaching…

Finally the Indigo Air customer service agent comes and gives me my duplicate boarding pass.. I snatch it and make a beeline to the gate. Can you guess what happens next???

My daughter and I are boarding at the gate and the gate agent (a new gate agent).. says “Sir you cannot board.. Your boarding pass is not security stamped!”.. So the gate agent tells me to “run back to security and get the boarding pass security stamped.. Let me lay out this scenario.. the distance from the gate to the security check point is at least 1/10 of a mile..

So now my daughter boards and I sprint back to the security check.. I ask the military official to stamp the boarding pass.. and he just looks at me in disbelief and and refuses to stamp my pass.. By this time.. I’m sweating profusely and my NY attitude is surfacing with multiple choice words about to be expounded by my vocabulary..

Luckily the security desk guy (again.. I must say this officer was totally amazing!).. sees my distress and comes over and tells the other guy to stamp the pass.. I guess he had rank.. so the security reluctantly stamps the boarding pass.. and I race back to the gate to board the flight finally!

Now lessons to be learned here:

  • Never ever assume that security in Indian Airports is consistent
  • Never ever let go of your boarding pass when you pass through security check in India.. Of course.. there is NO cellphone boarding passes.. so you are always dealing with paper!
  • Remain calm.. always say to yourself —> “This is India and you are wrong.. as they are just following their directions”.. this will absolutely nullify any anger and panic you are feeling
  • Security at Airports is very very tight… If you don’t pass through multiple security check points with the same information.. something is very very wrong.. The terrorism threat in India is taken very very seriously!
  • Stay Calm! After all you are the one at fault. even if what is the norm in America.. you cannot expect this level of normalcy in India.. even if technologically India has really surpassed America (i.e. Dual Sims Phone are the norm in India.. we don’t have ANY Dual sims phone in US!)
  • Remember that even though technology is superior in India.. they are still living in the paper world with process!
  • Always, Always, Always.. make sure your carry on bags don’t contain anything that may cause you grief.. Well how would  I know that my cuticle scissors that I’ve been taking everywhere would be flagged at this airport??

After I got on the plane.. I did a silent prayer and told my daughter of the whole episode.. She of course was laughing so hard that tears were coming out.. Well what more can you expect??

So my next post will talk about what happened with Air India on the way back to India. Again.. totally my fault.. but who knows what is can happen when in India..

India Trip- Mumbai Airport

When we went to India, we arrived in Mumbai Airport (Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport). This airport is really impressive. Be prepared to walk, this is truly an impressive airport.

When I came here 6 years ago, the airport used to be called Sahar Airport, and it was un-impressive. The design and architecture of this airport now is very impressive. The airport is spacious  and comfortable but let me warn you.. you will walk and walk and walk a substantial distance from the gate to the Immigration area.  I estimated that I had to walk at least a 1/4 of a mile..

Immigration is where the fun starts.

If you don’t know what you are doing (and I’m one of those people), you are guaranteed to go to the wrong lines. In India, you have Indian Nationals, OCI (Overseas Citizens of India) and Visa Holders (me!).

Each of the above has a separate line and you can easily spend an hour on each of these lines as I had to do on two of the lines. The OCI Line for my daughter and the Visa line for me. Of course her line was pretty efficient, but the fun was on my line. I was redirected to the “special” line for Visa Holders.

BTW, you should make sure you print out your e-Visa as this paperwork is absolutely essential.. Otherwise you will not be able to enter India! We almost lost this paper copy of my e-Visa in Newark, as it fell out of our passport folder.. Luckily, I picked it up from the floor at Newark Airport!

In each of the visa lines, there are plenty of stations for visa processing, BUT only a few are  actually manned.. Maybe this was a slow work day?

On my e-visa line, after waiting 45 minutes for the 2 manned stations, I finally got to the counter. My visa was in order.. but of course, they wanted to take retinal scans as well as fingerprint me. Security is a great thing when things work well. I realized quickly that the fingerprint scanner was not working well at all. I was asked to put wax on my fingers to get a better read.. of course the container that the agent gave me didn’t have any wax!

After about 10 minutes of sweat (mine), somehow, I was stamped on my paper e-Visa and allowed to enter India! Both hands were fingerprinted and a retinal scan was done as well.

To get to your baggage, you nave to exit thru the Duty Free Shop. Onward to Baggage Claim!

We get our bags, and I decide to get some local currency.. Bad Idea! Remember the word de-monitization. There were limits on how much US Currency I could convert. I could only convert $40.

Finally we get out and we need to two floor up to get our ride.. Elevators  are a commodity. It took us about 45 minutes as we had to wait among my fellow traveler’s as we patiently waited for the two elevators.

In retrospect, I was really impressed with the size and comfort level of the airport. The inefficiency of the immigration lines need to be addressed. When you see this airport you see the efforts that the Indian Government has made in making the Airport comfortable.

Just make sure you are wearing your walking shoes!

 

India 2017- A Trip in Review

First in a series of posts on my Big fat Indian Wedding in India and random thoughts of my trip to India in December of 2016

In the last month of 2016, My daughter and I went to India for the first time in o
ver6 years. We went for an Indian wedding and to say we had the time of our lives would be an understament.

India
India 

To see India as a native is also an experience that was eye opening. There is no country that is more diverse and has sense of pride than India. This country is a super power and you see this everywhere!

As many of my readers know, my writing is infused with a sense of humor. Over the next few postings, I’ll convey to you my views on what I saw during my vacation in Mumbai, Goa, Pune and back to Mumbai. Many of my opinions will invoke responses (hopefully). Much of what I saw and my thoughts should be just considered my views and treated with the humor and realism, I try to inject into my postings.

When I go to India, I am a foreigner.

  • I’m what they refer to as an IBCD (Indian Born confused Desi (slang term for a person of Indian Origin)). This year when I went to India with my beautiful 24 year old daughter, I went with an open mind and went without the normal prejudices I bring to the table when I visit India.

My experience in India was amazing! The changes in the lifestyle of the people that call India home (regardless of whether they live there or are NRI’s like myself), has progressed tremendously.

Some ramblings to start:

  • Be prepared to walk – When you get off the plane, the huge rebuilt terminals are just that.. huge and spacious.. your walk from your plane to immigration and customs will be at least 10 to 20 minutes. The vastness of the international airport in India is a sight to behold. The same holds true for the aiport in Goa.  What you experience in these terminals is for another posting.
  • Your Dollar goes further – If you are coming from United States, you are already at an advantage as you are getting a favorable return on currency. One dollar equals $67 Rupees. This number might make you feel rich, but the fact is that even with this favorable returns on currency exchange, it is quite expensive to get around (be it by taxi or other mode of transportation).
  • Currency and De-Monitization: 2016 was the year of demonitization of the 500 and 1000 rupee note.. this made getting money via ATM, via currency exchange an adventure. Empty ATM machines and Limitations on how much you can exchange for currency for me was quite restrictive. At the airport, I could only exchange $40 for local currency!
  • Change Anyone? Make sure you have plenty of cash on hand and change. Due to de-monitization and the basics how things run in India.. Don’t expect to get change easily.. So everytime you get change for currency you are using for payments, treasure it. You will need it!
  • Rules of the Road: There are none.Forget the concept of normalacy and organized traffic patterns  when it comes to automotive traffic and travel. The law of the land is “If u are in a car, Look Forward only, and lane indications are just for sake of having them“.  Remember that when you cross the streets.. you need to always look “right-left-right” and if you are an NRI, for the first few days, you are always looking the wrong direction when crossing ANY street!
  • Traffic is a mess, but rarely do you see any car that has dents or has been damaged due to an accident. The patience and skills that drivers in India show is amazing.. I have to applaud the patience of every single driver that is in a car, motorcycle, scooter, bus, taxi, rickshaw… and any other vehicle that is on the road!
  • Technology in India is at par with what we see in the US. In certain thing we have been left in the dust. Can you get a dual Sim phone in the US for less than $80?
  • Travel is divided into multiple categories: Pedestrian, Car, Public Transport, or Taxi (can be rickshaw, or taxi). Yes there is even Uber in most cities in India!
  • Travel Light: You can literally go to India with a carry on and get everything you need within 24 hours! With Malls and markets readily available buying d Clothes is not a big deal.. be they Indian or western (for me that’s Jeans, shorts and short sleeves).. So my suggestion is pack light and leave lots of room for souvenirs and clothes that you MUST buy!
  • Family is family – For me I met I attended my first real “Big Fat Indian Wedding”. The size of my family is huge and to meet them in one fell swoop is not only overwhelming, it’s touching. Considering I have 17 first cousins and each of them have a few kids, the family in attendance at the wedding was huge!
  • Curb your apppetite – With India comes food. You get the best variety of food in the world. Be it vegetarian or non-vegetarian. If you are looking for beef you are out of luck! Cows are sacred in Hindu religion, so you will not get any beef (or at least I didn’t find any) in Mumbai). Friendly advice… if your stomach is weak, make sure you take enough meds to settle your stomach, otherwise you will be making constant trips to the bathroom.. Most of these will not be pleasant as you will be running there! I was lucky.. I only had only 24 hours of this unpleasantness, but the symptoms were around constantly!
  • Security – India is very secure. With all the threats of terrorism, you will see plenty of armed military from the time you land to the time you leave. You will not feel insecure when it comes to this. At times this is overwhelming, but you will see that this is absolutely necessary with the world we live in.

There is so much more that I can write about my trip. I’ll use the next few postings over the next few days to give you my spin on my trip. 

 

Pune – Travel Diary March 24th, 2010

Pune Diary from March 2010

So we came here yesterday after cutting our Goa trip short by a few days.. Heat being the key contributing factor to cutting our trip short..

Personal note: After my return, you will hear more of our horrible  experience in using Make My Trip services.  Double charging,  Horrible/pathetic customer service,  overall not a pleasant experience.. Fortunately, my wife has been dealing with them (god bless her fortitude and patience in dealing with the incompetence she dealt with in changing our plans!)

After almost missing our flight from Goa even though getting to the airport 2 hours earlier, we got on the puddle jumper to Pune.. We we were the last ones to board as there were no announcements of boarding. We would have missed the flight, if not for the King Fisher personnel that went through the terminal looking for stragglers!

After almost missing our flight from Goa even though getting to the airport 2 hours earlier, we got on the puddle jumper from Goa to Pune.. King Fisher Airlines…Great Local service in India!. which airline in the US will give you a decent snack for a flight less than 1 hour? Kudos to the King Fisher team.  See I am capable of saying nice he things for good service!

We arrived in Pune and oh boy has Pune Grown! The airport (in Lohgaon) is in the outskirts of town.. Near the city prison and near the air force station!

Best part of the day was going for my favorite ice cream/shake treat. It’s called mastani.This absolutely delicious concoction of milkshake and Ice cream (various flavors), will leave you in a diabetic coma (guaranteed).

Where I live in Pune – Sadhashiv Peth – Sujata

Sujata Mastani
On Sadashiv Peth, this landmark parlor for Mastani ice creams still rules the roost when it comes to luscious, syrupy liquids and dollops of high-calorie ice cream that go into the making of an immaculate Mastani, fortified with a lot of other flourishing superfluities.

The flavor that is the most popular remains the most sold- Mango. As an  frequenter of Sujata from childhood to have the delectable Mango Mastani, says, “This is the highlight of my visits to Pune. The tangy mango taste steeped in the dense fluid has no match”.

My wife and kids loved the  stuff just as much as I did.

Anyway.. time for breakfast

Goa Travels – March 2010 Highlights

Summary of my visit to Mangeshi

So Dad’s taxi escaped the heat of Goa yesterday… We cut short our trip in Goa, as it became quite apparent that the heat would get the best of us (Me specifically).  We spent our last full day in Goa at the beach (I think it was Tito’s Beach).. Near Arpora.

Highlights of Goa:

  • Heat is unbearable, unless you like to deep fry on the beaches and while you tour
  • Goan Food/Seafood (fish, prawns, calamari, crab) is to die for.. You will not find such delicious food/seafood anywhere else in the world. Goan spices make the seafood just a treat!
  • When you order food, make sure u know what you are odering.. Pancakes can turn into crepes very easily.
  • When you order any “masala” dish, make sure you order Mild, unless you want to pay for it later.. we won’t go here.
  • Shopping Nirvana.. There is no such thing as a fix price. Everything is negotiated down from the asking price.
  • Go to the local market and learn the skill of haggling for a few rupees.. My best method: “Shake your head, and walk away”.
  • Look for Bargains and carry a calculator, you will easily pay more if you don’t know what is the value in your local currency!
  • Roads are narrow, and taxis are expensive! With the generous conversion rate from $ to Rupee, you still come out ahead.
  • Do not go to Goa in Summer.
  • The Goanese people are very friendly and helpful. Friendliest people you could ever meet. They are soo happy…
  • You must rent a scooter if you are staying at a resort. I didn’t do it as I was with my family and none of them wanted to ride with me.. hmm.. probably with my history of accidents on 2 and 3 wheeled vehicles gave them just cause. 🙂
  • Be prepared to spend lots and lots of money..
  • If you are looking to buy a summer house, Goa is the place for you.. with construction going on.. you can pick and choose where you want to buy.. Be prepared to pay thru the nose….
  • European and Foreign Tourism is putting a lot of money into Goa.. Many foreigners now call Goa their 12 month home.

Overall, my trip to Goa was great. Incredible scenery.. Beaches, Food, Shopping, and great fun to be had.  My next trip will be during a cooler time, so I can visit some more churches and temples…

I will always consider to be one of my favorite places.. My special attachment to Mangeshi is the clincher for my reason as to  why I will come again and again to Goa!

My next posting will be about Pune.. Another one of my favorite cities..

Day 1-2 – New Delhi

India Trip of the Dad’s Taxi and his family – day 1 -2.

Hi all. Arrived in India on the 12th evening in one piece.. Came through from JFK (NY) –> Paris —> New Delhi via Air France.. Service is good on this airline, but the flight personnel absolutely have the French Attitude.

After arrival, plan stayed on tarmac for over an hour, as there was no gates open. Apparently, this is a common problem at Indira Gandhi International Airport. Too many arriving flights chasing not enough gates.  I guess that ‘s the price you pay for being a popular tourist destination.

My Mantra for the next few days is “This is India”. You’ll soon see why this is so later…

At the airport, went through custom/immigration with now problems. normal delays  the manual stamping of the passport and verification process in immigration took me over 1 hour as a foreign national. Of course the Indian national line was tiny and over manned.

Fortunately, I had slept for 3 or 4 hours on my journey so, I was somewhat  alert as I went to grab my bags and get a Taxi to go to my hotel..

First instance of  “This is India”:

  • Went to get a prepaid taxi and the taxi cost about Rs 350. Gave a 500 Rs note and the clerk said  “No change”.  One of the things you see quickly in India is that No One wants to part with change. It’s like someone is hoarding all the change (small bills and change).  So,  I told the guy that listen.. just give me my change.. He gives me a uninterested look and throws the my change in my direction. Again all together now: “This is India”.

My taxi driver doesn’t know how to get to my hotel.. He actually has to call someone to get directions. I guess this is universal.. where the taxi driver doesn’t know directions to a local hotel.. I get to the hotel and I’m pleasantly surprised to see the Jusako Inn, New Delhi is really a nice hotel. Maybe that’s because we are paying $200/nite for a suite to accomodate all of us.. 🙂

Day 1:

Slept a couple of  hours as my body is telling me its mid-afternoon and my eyes are telling me it’s past midnight and need to get some sleep. Next day, I woke up and was starving.. looking for dinner (NY time).

Went out today for some Tourism and we had a blast.. had a few more instances of “this is India”. I gotta tell you I was so wrong about New Delhi.. Even with all the traffic, smog, pollution, crowds, the capital is a must stop on any visit to India..

We rented a car today and went to see the Lotus TempleAkshardhan site, and India Gate.. Doing these three sites in one day is easily doing at least of 5 miles of walking. Too much too soon when you are suffering from delayed Jet Lag..

I tell you something.. the architecture and the Akhsardhan site is something you will remember for a long long time.. I takes a lot to impress me, but I was in absolute awe of this religious site of Swaminarayan.  You must stay at night time to see the musical fountains and the boat ride is a must..

I loved India Gate! Even if they turn off the lights at 10PM, the scene is so much fun with the tourists and natives really enjoying themselves. Street vendors hawking their wares and of course food.

If  you want some really good food in the capital.. you must stop at Haldiram’s in Rajpath Nagar (on Ring Road).  Amazing food… be prepared to wait….

Miscellenous Rants and Raves:

  • One thing that I learned (again) today, there is no such thing a personal space.. If you are on line (queue) for tickets.. the person behind will be all over you to get ahead of you.. “This is India”…. .
  • How many family members do you need to stay on line to get tickets.. Answer is all of them..
  • Rupee is just paper… The value of the rupee is very less than the paper it’s printed on.. God forbid you tear any part of the currency.. Good luck trying to pawn it off on someone else..
  • Damn 1, 2, 5, 10 rupee coins.. When you get back change.. guaranteed that your pockets will start flowing over with these damn coins..

Thus far nobody has fallen ill. I know with the way I have eaten over the past 24 hours.. I have a destiny with the doctors.. need to slow down…

Spent good money today on pampering myself (massage, facial, hair cut, the works).. You gotta love it..

today (Sunday)… Shopping… ugh!

Agra is cancelled.. Kids are more interested in spending time with their cousins.. I guess missing the Taj is ok… they have their whole lifetime…

TTYL for now friends.. as I head out into the heat of New Delhi for some shopping!