HCMC Dining Guide

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

India (again): Arrival

I'm back in Saigon after spending the last two weeks in India, and I can't wait to write about the trip. It was a hell of an experience, similar in many ways to last year's journey, but vastly different as well. I'm not sure how many posts will be dedicated to it, but there will probably be a lot, since if any country deserves lengthy coverage it is India. Some posts will be quite long, while others will be shorter. Enjoy the ride.

My second journey to the subcontinent began with a short layover in the uncomfortable budget terminal of Kuala Lumpur's otherwise amazing airport. KLCC, as it's called, was slapped together a few years ago when the huge new main terminal became overcrowded, and now the cheapo building is running over capacity as well.

It was a dawn takeoff west towards India. After about three hours Chennai appeared right on the coast, a vast low-slung city stretching into the hazy horizon. I went through customs and walked over to the domestic terminal, where my subsequent flight to Bangalore would be departing from. Sadly that departure wouldn't be for another nine hours, thanks to a cancellation. The security officer checking documents at the entrance was flabbergasted: "But...your flight isn't until this evening. Once you go in you can't leave."

I had used this old, cramped airport last year so I knew the wait would be torturous, but there didn't seem to be much of a choice. I could've taken the train into the city, but there aren't any famous sites there, plus I would be ending the trip with a few days there. I would've just ended up wandering around aimlessly in the brutal south Indian heat while getting harassed by autorickshaw drivers.

So I sucked it up and entered, and for what seemed like an eternity I alternated between listening to music, nearly falling asleep in my chair, and tearing through a huge chunk of the second book in the gripping Song of Ice and Fire series (currently showing on HBO as "Game of Thrones").

At 5:30 it was finally time to head to Bangalore and truly start the trip. Appropriately, two quick power cuts darkened the airport just before I boarded my plane. No one batted an eye. After a quick jaunt on a twin-prop plane I was in Bangalore's sparkling new airport, so new in fact that it isn't even finished. I liked it so much I visited it four times, but more on that later.
I took a city bus into town in order to avoid having to pay for a taxi, since the drive was a long one. The highway into Bangalore was smooth (mostly), fast, and cow-free, although as soon as we hit the city proper traffic slowed the bus to a crawl, and after about 90 minutes I was finally deposited at the central bus station. I hailed an auto and as soon as the driver pulled into traffic I was sucked into the stream of sensory overload that courses through nearly every urban Indian street. The sounds were familiar: the put-put-put of two-stroke auto engines, relentless honking, blaring music. Like I said in my conclusion on last year's trip, India comes at you full-bore as soon as you step foot in her.

Bangalore has a reputation as India's most modern city, and while it was still plenty dirty there was a ton of construction going on: either a new train or bus station going in, signs advertising the to-be-completed metro system everywhere, an elevated rail line bisecting the airport highway. Traffic was absolutely immense, especially considering the fact that it was almost 9pm on a Monday night, and between the bus and the auto it took 2.5 hours to get to the hotel. Although about 20 minutes of that consisted of the auto driver being lost.

I checked in, feeling sticky and dirty from nearly 24 hours of travel, took a shower and headed out in search of food. The neighborhood was strikingly quiet, and I quickly discovered why: everything was closed. I wandered in vain for a few blocks and had to settle for some sort of rice dish sold from a street cart. It was good, but I was still hungry. Exhaustion took over though, and after watching an episode of "Seinfeld" I passed out, waiting for my friends Kevin, Ryan, and Jobie to arrive. We had 14 days of India ahead of us.

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