Andrew Ducker (andrewducker) wrote,
Andrew Ducker

A passage to India

(Largely written on the road from Mumbai to Pune)
I've never flown Business Class before. It's an odd experience, to be treated so well when flying. I'm used to being shuffled on and off planes, ignored in-between, and generally left feeling like cattle.

I felt nervous, walking into the Edinburgh BA Business Lounge , like an impostor. I handed over my boarding pass, knoing full well that it was all in order, but still feeling like I would be told that it wasn't for the likes of me. Of course I was waved through with a smile (once the computer had beeped in recognition), and wandered into a very comfortable room, with padded leather seats scattered throughout it. Four of the people I was travelling with were already gathered there in a square, and we rearranged seats so I could join them. I helped myself to free sandwiches and a glass of water - eyeing the free alcohol but really not wanting to end up feeling travel sick or missing something important.

The flight to London was uneventful. I haven't flown with BA since budget airlines came into existence. I couldn't think of a good reason to do so - and although there was more space between the seats (not a huge amount, but the extra couple of inches are enough to change the experience from "cramped" to "comfortable") and the overall feeling was more relaxed I still don't feel I could justify the expense if I was paying for flights myself. I chatted to the lady in the next seat, who was off to Australia to visit family, making the trip by herself for the first time, and worked my way through the first half of The Economist.

The Business Lounge in Heathrow was significantly more impressive. The selection of free magazines was a good start (one of my travelling companions instantly latched on to "Super-Yachts Magazine", and I regretted having paid for The Economist), and the range of free food (salads, choice of cheeses, fresh fruit, and five different hot options with pasta, rice and cous-cous) was great. We settled in for an hour while we waited for our connection to Mumbai, my workmates helped themselves to some very nice complimentary drinks (the place was better stocked than some bars), and we chatted amiably about our nervousness and expectations for the trip.

We boarded our flight half an hour before take-off. We were on a 747, and despite our complete lack of organisation in booking seats we'd managed to get five of us together - the seats in Business Class are arranged with a block of two on each side and four in the middle, matched up in pairs top to tail, so that the view to my left was the aisle, and the view to my right was towards the face of one of my colleagues (who was facing backwards). To say that the seats were luxuious feels like an understatement. I've never had a flight before that I'd describe as comfortable - but having a seat that could recline to be entirely flat (or halfway into a recliner) was staggeringly more pleasant than any flight I'd had before. The choice of in-flight TV and movies was also great (although I understand that video-on-demand is now fairly standard on long-haul flights).

What also made a massive difference was the service - there was a choice of champagne, orange juice or water on boarding, the food was actually delicious (the starter was as good as any starter I've had in a restaurant), and they kept us supplied with alcohol, bread rolls, and pretty much anything we fancied (I declined the champagne, wine and port, but they did seem to go down very well with my companions). This felt somewhat uncomfortable to me - I like to be left to my own devices most of the time, rather than feeling watched over by waters, but it did make us feel well looked after.

And then I fell asleep for about four hours, waking up at 9:30 Indian time (or 5am UK time), to be handed fresh fruit salad and a roll for breakfast. Followed by just enough time for a quick episode of Blackadder before I had to stow my flatscreen for landing. I'd been a bit worried about jet-lag, as we're going to be starting our training sessions at 8am, a good two hours before I'm usually in work, plus four and a half hours of time difference, will means that I'm getting up six hours early. So forcing myself to stay awake for the drive from Mumbai to Pune seemed like a good idea, in the hope that I could stay conscious until 9pm, and then stay asleep all the way through the night. We'll see how that feels tomorrow.

Immigration was trivial - a long queue followed by a disinterested border guard. She glanced at my passport, waved it at a scanner, and then handed it back to me as soon as it beeped. We headed through the arrivals foyer and out into the bright noon sun.

I hadn't worn my winter coat to the airport. Edinburgh's warmed up a lot in the last week, as spring has sproinged, and I clearly wasn't going to be cold in Pune, so I just brought a light jacket with so I didn't freeze in Edinburgh/Heathrow, and a jumper for the plane. I dumped the jacket into my suitcase as soon as I collected it, but had left the jumper on to keep me warm (my heat regulation system doesn't like my sleep cycle being disrupted, and I was feeling a tad chilly). I regretted this the second I stepped outside. The temperature didn't feel dramatically warmer than when I was in Tenerife*, but the humidity was definitely higher, and by the time we had met our drivers and walked three minutes to the car park I was sweating uncomfortably. I was vey happy to get out of the jumper and into the car (something between an SUV and a people carrier), which also got us away from the beggar who was asking us for any cash we could spare (something we'd been warned about during our briefing in the UK).

We drove into Mumbai, where I discovered that a comment someone** left on Facebook was entirely true - the drivers honk all the time. Not out of anger, but to let all of the other drivers know where they are. Nobody was taking offence, and most of the vans I saw said "Honk Horn Please!" on the back of them, presumably because they had massive blind spots. Mumbai itself was fascinating. It felt like the jungle - in a constant state of motion, growth and rot. None of the buildings looked "finished" - every building was either in the middle of being built, or a state of decay. Chunks of it are absolutely gorgeous, and other parts are clearly povery-stricken. I'm fascinated by it.

We drove South (I assume - without Google Maps I'm entirely lost) for fourty five minutes, and then our driver announced that we were about to go onto the Expressway, and once we were on it we wouldn't be stopping for three hours, and maybe we'd like to stop, get something to drink, and use the facilities. We agreed (nervously, as the only person with Rupees was in a different car***), and I'm embarassed to admit that he pulled over into a MacDonalds. Still, it seemed like a safe place to start, so it was Diet Coke all round (the only thing keeping my eyes open right now), and then off we went.

(Addendum, several hours later - Hotel is gorgeous, you can see it here. Dinner was great. Managed to chat to Julie over Skype. Now going to bed. It's 9:30 here, or 5pm in the UK, but hopefully I'll sleep through until tomorrow...)

*About 90F/32C
**Can't check who at the moment, what with being on the Mumbai->Pune expressway.
***We have three cars/drivers assigned to us for the week, and there are seven of us in total, so we're split up 3/2/2 for the drive down.

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