Thursday, January 2 2020
location: room 308, Karohi Haveli, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India
I awoke to our last rooftop breakfast in India. CC, J's nephew and the youngest of our Indian fixers, had looked up a vegan crepe recipe on the web and given it to the haveli staff, and they'd managed to make crepes, each with a squiggle of chocolate for decor. Tired as I might've been of Indian food generally, the continuing novelty of having it available at breakfast kept me from eating so much as a single crepe. I also exercised restraint regarding the Coffee Day machine (and its silver-mustachioed operator).
Today was "a travel day" (as Gretchen tends to remind me when we're traveling; it's a quote from Hedwig and the Angry Inch). So after breakfast, Gretchen and I did our last bit of packing, hoping our backpacks were each under a 13 kilogram cutoff for checked luggage for an IndiGo flight we'd be taking today back to Delhi. We'd been told that our packs would be too big to carry onto that flight, so we assumed we would be on some small rinky-dink plane.
Our travel began with another joyous ride in a tuk-tuks. Since yesterday we'd been riding four to a tuk-tuk, which requires one of us to be either rail-thin or a little intimate with the driver. Kirstin was definitely the latter on today's ride out to our bus.
On the way to the airport, the bus stopped at Fire & Ice Restaurant & Café, a nice restaurant in a clean, modern hotel that also included at least one bar and perhaps another restaurant. It had been only two hours since breakfast, but now it was time for brunch. We'd arrived a little early and so had to wait in the lobby for our dining area to open, and as we did so we made extensive use of the hotel WiFi and made occasional jokes about how hungry we were.
Lunch was another Indo-Chinese meal, starting with a delicious dark brothy soup having thin slices of mushrooms and strong notes of ginger. Other food available from the buffet (this wasn't thali-style) included a delicious noodle dish and some sort of presumably-vegan "meat" ball. None of us thought we were hungry when the meal began, but it was hard to stop eating once we'd started.
At the Udaipur airport, the first phase of security happened at the entrance to the airport, where our bags were xrayed and we walked through some sort of metal detector. At this point, Zach and Singhji were still handling all the details, and we just did what he told us to: walk through this, stand here, "slowly start moving" over to there. Ultimately we passed through a more rigorous security scan, the kind where men were wanded in public, while women were wanded in a curtained room. Once we made it through that layer of security, we found ourselves standing around a machine that would polish our shoes for free, had we had the sort of shoes that could accept a polish. There were also a number of signs and posters worded with questionable English grammar. Generally, though, I'd been fairly impressed with the quality of the printed English I'd seen in this country.
The airplane turned out to be a standard Airbus A320, which is the class of plane one might take from New York to Los Angeles. It was, in other words, not rinky-dink, but our bags were checked nonetheless. My bag was well under the cutoff at 7.8 kilograms, and Gretchen's was about 10. Others in our group had bags weighing well over the 13 kilogram limit and it didn't turn out to be a problem at all.
The flight took about an hour, and we said our goodbyes at baggage claim in Delhi. Our flight from Udaipur had been a little delayed, so Gretchen's parents were in danger of missing their next flight, to Kolkata (where they'd be spending the next week). So they were the first to peal off once they had their bags. Then we said goodbye to Kirstin, her mother, "the family" and the two older couples. We later compared notes on the quality of the hugs we'd received, and all agreed that Melada's hugs were the most tentative. Remember, she's from Cold-War Czechoslovakia, so perhaps it's a cultural thing.
The rest of us comprised "the hang-out crew," people with flights out of Delhi's international terminal that would happen in the wee hours of the morning. When we arrived in Delhi, it was maybe 4:30pm, and some of us had nine hours to kill. The Delhi airport isn't near anything anyone would want to walk to, so we couldn't really leave the airport. And supposedly we wouldn't even be allowed into the international terminal until six hours before our flights (this is a rule evidently designed to prevent people from buying a ticket well in the future and then using the international terminal as their home). How to spend that time? The baggage area of the local terminal we were in was pretty drab and unpleasant, but right away everyone but me and Savanna's mother Diana set off to look for food and (hopefully) alcohol. I'd managed to connect to the internet, but only by using Gretchen's phone. For some reason she was able to receive texts in India, while I couldn't. And one cannot use the free WiFi in the Delhi airport unless one can receive texts, since you have to confirm a phone number before the WiFi is enabled. (This seems ridiculous to me; most people who need WiFi have phones that are unable, for various reasons, to connect to local cell networks.)
There was no alcohol to be found, but weird snacks were available, so that was what people in our contingent were blowing their last rupees on. My main concern at this point was finding a means to recharge my laptop and phone, and soon a place for doing that was found. It was on the other side of a pillar from a security detail equipped with menacing semi-automatic rifles and a sign that said people shouldn't gather or ask questions. It seemed, though, if one stayed on the other side of that pillar where the charging station had been provided, nobody would care. While I was tapping away at my laptop and worrying about such things, Gretchen, Savanna, and Bess were working on solving the New York Times "Super Mega" crossword puzzle, which they'd spread out on the floor.
At 8:00 or 9:00pm we decided to go over to the international terminal. It was a moderate distance away by foot, but Gretchen and I had obtained a luggage trolley, which made moving our packs nearly effortless.
Bess, Savanna, and Savanna's mother quickly vanished into the international terminal, leaving Gretchen and me with our sister-in-law and nephew. Eventually we found out where we needed to go to check in, but it was still too early to do so. So we holed up in an array of seats near a charging station. Better food was obtained, and it included a samosa and a container of rice, both of which I ate. The WiFi was so good here that I could watch YouTube videos. Fortunately, a brand new True Crime Loser video about Julio Nivelo, the infamous Manhattan gold thief, had just been posted. While we were hanging out here, we were joined by Bess, who hadn't been able to get into the airport far enough to use the "pod" she'd pre-paid for. Such pods serve as tiny in-airport hotel rooms and can be rented for six-hour periods. They seem like a good investments for occasions when one must burn so much time in an airport. But if you can't get into the airport deep enough to get to your pre-rented pod, that's just money down the drain.
Eventually it was late enough for Gretchen and me (as well as our sister-in-law and nephew) to check in, so we separated and did those things. Initially it seemed like we'd have to wait in a long line behind all the people checking baggage, but when Gretchen asked if there was some simpler thing we could do if we weren't checking luggage, the staffers figured out a solution. They talked to somebody who sent us over to the staff check-in line (where nobody was actually in line). Standing there, we felt a little like celebrities as the magic happened and, eventually, our boarding passes were printed out. This all took a fair amount of time, but the important thing was that we didn't have to wait in any line to have it happen.
Next we had to go through proper international-grade security, where I got confused about the nature of India's peculiar separation of men and women in security theatre. I thought there was a separate male-only line and joined it, only to be rebuked by a no-nonsense security official (a woman) who pointed at me and said "you: go there" as she pointed to the back of line containing both genders. And then there was immigration, where the first/business class passengers had their own line, which was just as long and just as slow as people riding in economy, but they had better ropes and poles to direct them. Instead of silver poles with black ropes, they had golden poles with red ropes. My nephew was the first to notice this absurdity, and when he drew this to the attention of first me and then Gretchen, we both found it enormously funny.
The walk to our gate was surprisingly long, and lined for much of the way by duty-free shops. At some point as we passed a sports bar, we caught the eye of Savanna and Diana. They were doing what I wanted to be doing: drinking booze and sitting in comfortable chairs. I proclaimed that we should join them, and there were no dissenters. The beer options were pretty sad, so I ordered a margarita. Gretchen ordered a strawberry daiquiri, and my nephew ordered french fries. I don't think my sister-in-law didn't ordered anything. I sucked down my margarita in record time and then wanted a beer, but the closest thing to acceptable I could find was Heineken. I've occasionally made jokes about Heineken, so Gretchen was totally amazed and perplexed that I would be ordering one here in this airport. But there was nothing weird going on at all: Heineken was the best of a bunch of bad choices. And, truth be known, I rather liked it. It had been maybe fifteen years since I'd last had a Heineken, and it tasted to me like a fairly good German-style beer.
I don't know what we were talking about, but the concept of a trifecta-like situation that involved four factors came up, and I referred to it as a "quadrafecta." "That's not a word," Savanna immediately declared. This led into a discussion of Greek and Latin roots, with Savanna assuring us all that "-fecta" is Greek. She even said that if I'd used the term "tetrafecta" she wouldn't have objected. [It turns out that she was wrong.]
When I finished my beer, I had a second margarita just as Savanna was drinking her second or third Long Island iced tea. She said that Long Island iced tea gives one the most booze per dollar, since it contains multiple shots of liquor per drink.
Meanwhile Savanna's mother Diana was, for some reason, feeling queazy. At some point she got up and went looking for a bathroom. When she came back, she told us that she'd had to vomit into a trash can along the way. That was puzzling, was she sick? And if so, why?
At this point, all of us went our separate ways. Gretchen and I made our way to our gate, where she lay down and immediately fell asleep. I let her sleep as long as possible, and set about getting our devices charging again at a charging station. There would be a lot of people on our flight, and it was disconcerting to hear so many of them had persistent coughs, particularly a young woman who was getting in all the Facetiming she could before the flight. (She would end up sitting in the seat directly in front of Gretchen.) As the last people were boarding our massive Boeing 777, I woke Gretchen up.
We'd paid extra to set up a situation where one of us had a window seat and the other had an aisle seat, with the hope being that the seat between us would be empty. Unfortunately, this was a full flight, and when we got back to our seat, we found some guy there in the middle seat. I offered him the window, but then it turned out that he too had been doing some sort of speculative seat selecting, and we ended up with some woman in the window. For an Indian woman, she was unusually fat, and before the plane took off she was having a long and (for me) annoying conversation with someone on her smartphone. But then the plane took off, Gretchen and I took xanaxes, and we prepared for our next sixteen hours, all of which would be spent in this airplane.
Our VegVoyages crew outside the hotel containing Fire & Ice Restaurant & Café.
From left: our driver's assistant, Zach, our fearless driver, Singhji, not sure, J, CC, the woman who joined the team in Udaipur, and J's brother.
A free shoe-polishing machine in the Udaipur airport. That kid was fascinated by it. That's Bess on the far left.
A ridiculous, grammatically-heartbreaking promotional sign for some sort of elite Indian military corps, seen in the Udaipur airport. They 'dont' need weapons,but they 'r' carrying them anyway.
The "War on Christmas" seems to have been decided in favor of baby Jesus in the Delhi airport. That's my sister-in-law in the lower right. Betty and Richard are on the left. Behind the back of my sister-in-law's head is Melada, the giver of inspid Czech-style hugs.
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