Newcastle to New Delhi

We woke up this morning with the usual excited anticipation of another long-haul flight to the exotic east – this time, a tour of India. We had booked this trip over a year ago and couldn’t believe the day had come at last. 🙂

Our private car to the airport was not due to arrive until 11.50am, so we had the morning at our leisure. I therefore took the opportunity to go and get a pedicure, relishing the thought of my feet in flip-flops and open-toed sandals instead of heavy autumn/winter shoes or boots, the attire more suitable for northern Britain at the end of October.

When the private car, a Mercedes, arrived to take us to Newcastle Airport, the half-term holiday traffic crawled along in the dull grey autumn drizzle. Luckily we had plenty of time before our 14:35 flight to London Heathrow.

Eventually we arrived and checked in our bags. Then we had about an hour to while away the time before making our way to the departure gate. Browsing around the duty-free shop, I bought some YSL “Paris” perfume, my favourite, as I was running a bit short. Inevitably, our British Airways domestic flight was about 20 minutes late. We enjoyed a drink and a snack on the hour-long flight to the capital.

On arrival at London Heathrow Terminal 5 we had the usual rigmarole of picking up our cases from the carousel and getting the Heathrow Express train to Terminal 3. Luckily it didn’t take too long. Then we were able to check in at the Virgin Atlantic desk, even though our flight wasn’t until 21:50 hours.

Then it was, as usual, off to the executive lounge to pass the time in pleasant, comfortable surroundings with free food and drink. 🙂

With the clocks having gone back an hour at the weekend to signify the end of British Summer Time, the darker evening made it seem later than it really was, and by 7.00pm we were actually feeling quite tired. However, we whiled away the hours until the departure board advised us to make our way to Gate 18 for Virgin Atlantic flight VS300 to Delhi, India. 🙂

The Boeing 787 aircraft was clean and very modern; a brand new aeroplane. I had the window seats and the windows were actually quite a lot larger than any we’d seen on a plane. I was puzzled at the lack of pull-down window shade but the reason for this would become evident later on.

The plane was on time taking off, and out Captain advised us that the schedule flight time would be eight hours 55 minutes.

Once we were airborne the cabin crew, as usual, came around with the pre-dinner drinks and a small pretzel snack. We switched on the AVOD units mounted in the seats in front of us, and browsed the selection of entertainment channels, settling on the Sky Map while waiting for our dinners. In the meantime, the Titan Travel rep sought us out, gave us an envelope containing some information about our trip, and introduced himself as Peter.

The evening meal when it came was Indian, and we enjoyed chicken curry with mini poppadoms, spinach and rice before a traditional milky rice pudding containing cardamom and cinnamon. It was washed down with another glass of wine and some coffee.

I then noticed, on the Sky Map, that the plane was just about ready to pass over Austria. When I tried to zoom in using the touch screen, nothing happened! In fact none of the controls worked; my screen had frozen and there was nothing I could do to fix it. No in-flight entertainment for me then! 😦

After reading my Kindle for a while, I tried to get some sleep, but as ever it was mission impossible as I can never sleep properly on the plane; unlike Trevor who can sleep sitting up, I need to lie down or at least rest my head on something to enjoy proper shut-eye.

At the point I noticed that everyone else’s windows were blacked out, despite there being no window shades. I saw that there was an interesting looking button below the window so I pressed it to see what would happen. It was a glass dimmer! Keeping your finger on top of the button made the glass darken considerably (a bit like those Reactolite sunglasses you used to get); pressing the bottom allowed the glass to lighten. How clever!

I passed the time as best I could, dozing or reading, as the hours crawled by. As we were travelling east we enjoyed an early sunrise as the somnolent passengers around the aircraft slowly came back to life, and the stewardess came round with some fruit juice before breakfast.

Saturday, 31st October 2015

At this point I put my watch forward five and a half hours to Indian time. There is an interesting reason, which goes back to the days of the British Raj, why the time difference is five and half hours and not just five or six. It was so that, no matter what the time of day or night, the people of India just had to turn their watches upside down to see what time it was in London! Try it – it really works. 🙂

At 11.30am the captain switched on the “fasten seatbelts” sign, told us all to return to our seats, and got ready for his final approach into Delhi airport. Looking out of the window, we couldn’t see a thing – just a greyish-yellow blanket of smog. The air pollution here must be really bad – usually you see something when coming in to land. We were almost down onto the runway before we saw land, and a clouded sky with a hazy sun trying to get through.

Leaving the aircraft we walked into a wall of heat and a nearby sign proclaimed the temperature in Delhi to be 27ºC. We were glad to be able to walk a bit and stretch our legs. 🙂

We got through passport control and security fairly quickly, collected our cases from the carousel and met Vikram, who was to be our local rep for this trip. Only a few of us had made it through security by this stage, and Vikram explained they were still waiting for 26 out of 32 of us!

We had to wait, grubby, tired and jet-lagged, over an hour before the rest of the passengers appeared. It transpired that some of them had waited until they arrived in India before sorting out their tourist visas! How disorganised, and it meant that the rest of us had a long and unnecessary wait. I lay down on a nearby bench and tried to snatch some longed-for sleep in the meantime.

Eventually everyone was present and correct, and we boarded the waiting bus outside, ready to be taken to our hotel. The Saturday afternoon traffic was atrocious, and Vikram made us laugh when he said that it was lucky we hadn’t arrived on Friday teatime during the rush hour, as today the roads were nice and “quiet”. 🙂

We looked agog out of the bus window at the chaos outside. The dusty roads were crowded with battered cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, push-bikes and numerous green-and-yellow tuk-tuks, all competing for their space on the roads with a constant cacophony of blaring horns. There seemed to be no rules of the road at all; vehicles jumped from lane to lane, did U-turns in the road, battled for right-of-way at junctions and in the midst of it all stray dogs and children caused heart-stopping moments by running into the flow of traffic.

Along the route the streets were lined with scruffy looking shops and makeshift stalls selling all sorts of merchandise from fruits and vegetables to clothing or car parts. Among the disorder we frequently spotted blanket-covered bodies of people sleeping in the streets. It was certainly a culture shock compared to back home!

Finally the bus pulled up at the Maiden’s Hotel, Delhi. It was a grand-looking white building with pillars and balconies and harked back to the old colonial days; indeed it was built during Queen Victoria’s reign in 1903.

We all thankfully piled into the plush lobby and were given a cool glass of lassi to drink. Lassi is a fermented milk drink, similar to Yakult or the other yoghurt drinks you can buy in most supermarkets at home. It contained chopped nuts and some fruit, and was very nice.

By this time we had our room key and we happily made our way to room 315. The room was very large, lovely and cool and clean. The bathroom was huge and there was a selection of complimentary toiletries. There was also a spacious walk-in wardrobe and there were twin beds with plump pillows and crisp white sheets.

After getting washed and changed, we went back downstairs and waited for the bus to take us on our afternoon tour of the city and Humayun’s tomb and mausoleum. Humayun’s tomb is the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun and was commissioned by Humayun’s first wife Bega Begum in 1569-70, and designed by Mirak Mirza Ghiyas, a Persian architect chosen by Bega Begum.

As the bus rattled, jolted and lurched its way through the crowded, noisy streets it was difficult to keep our eyes open, and we were still suffering the slight disorientation that comes after a full day and night spent travelling.

On arrival at the large, mosque-like building that housed the tombs, we alighted from the bus into the warm, early evening air and walked through a park towards the building. When we got there, there were quite a few steps to ascend and I really didn’t feel like doing it, so I just stay at the bottom while Trevor went up. Several of the local Indian children came up and stared at me, as did some older Indian girls; I think they were fascinated by my blonde hair!

As dusk started to fall, our guide Peter rounded us all up and back on the bus again for the ride back to the hotel. We arrived at 6.30pm and Peter said we had an hour before dinner. As we noticed it was Happy Hour in the hotel bar, we didn’t even bother going up to our room; we just went straight to the bar where all the drinks were on a “two-for-one” offer. As we were in India we decided to have a couple of cold Kingfisher beers each. Trevor was happy to see that there was live English Premiership football on the television, so he was able to watch the Liverpool v Chelsea game.

At half-past seven we made our way to the restaurant terrace, where the tables were set for our dinner al fresco. Small glass holders held flickering tea lights, and the air was fragrant with the scent of incense and citronella to keep any flying bugs away. We noticed several stray cats around; one with half-grown kittens playing nearby.

The meal was a buffet style and was inevitably Indian, consisting of several different styles of curry, marinated meats and fish, Indian flat breads, rice and fresh vegetables. As we love Indian food and eat it once a fortnight at home, it was certainly no hardship for us, but I would feel sorry for anyone who “doesn’t like” foreign food (a lot of the time who hasn’t even tried it) as there didn’t seem to be anything British, apart from maybe some salad.

We washed the delicious meal down with some of the two-for-one white wine and spent a very pleasant couple of hours in the company of two of our fellow travellers, Chris and Carole, from the Cambridge area who we’d sat next to on the plane.

Afterwards we found that exhaustion was catching up with us, so we said our goodnights and made our way back to room 315. I was in bed by 9.30pm and had intended reading for half an hour or so, but could barely keep my eyes open. Therefore we just settled down for our first night in India. We had an early wake-up call scheduled for tomorrow (6.30am) so this was our chance to get a good night’s long-awaited sleep.

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