Kolkata to Kovalam

I woke up this morning at 5:30AM after a sound sleep and packed away the rest of my stuff after getting myself showered and dressed. My taxi arrived 10 minutes early so I headed down to the lobby, checked out and loaded my bags in the car as quickly as I could. The taxi that I ordered was metered and I remembered a warning from Deev that some drivers like to take a longer route for tourists that aren’t familiar with the city. I was monitoring our route on Google Maps while we drove, but still he managed to add a few kilometers to the trip. Still, I got to the airport in plenty of time as it wasn’t very busy.

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Inside I was directed to a station where my checked luggage needed to be pre-scanned after I initially tried to wait on the check-in line for IndiGo Airlines. After scanning the luggage I waited in line again only to find out that I had “excessive baggage.” She had no idea! I had to pay 2000 INR (about $30) extra for my excess weight. I was expecting that because I had looked at the baggage policies previously, I just didn’t know how much over I would be. I had to go to a different person to pay my fee and then come back to the first person to collect my boarding pass. I accidentally tried skipping that last step, due to a misunderstanding, but I was sent back by security.

After getting my boarding pass, I went through security which was far easier than TSA security. I found my gate easily and got some coffee and a cheese sandwich. As we waited at the gate I noticed that it was incredibly foggy outside, and sure enough it was soon announced that our flight would be delayed 2 hours.

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An angry mob descended on the gate attendants and there was a lot of yelling in Hindi that lasted a good 15 minutes. Eventually things calmed down until about an hour later when they announced that a flight to Bangalore was boarding. The angry mob once again surrounded the agents with loud voices, but dispersed quicker than the first mob. The airline provided some boxed lunches which were simple, but very nice and unexpected. I couldn’t imagine any airlines in America doing that.

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It was clear that the fog was beginning to lift, and sure enough we began boarding at 10:30AM. The crowd seemed to be much calmer now and boarded the plane in an orderly way.

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We took off pretty quickly and a really nice flight. I fell asleep through half of the flight, but woke up in time to purchase a foul tasting sandwich and orange soda. We began our approach to Chennai shortly after that and having a window seat, I got some really great pictures on the way down.

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Chennai, which was formerly known as Madras, had a really nice, modern airport, though I was somewhat confused about where to catch my connecting flight. I had landed in the domestic terminal and needed to get to the international terminal after retrieving my checked bag. I took a “shuttle” which was essentially a golf cart over to the international terminal along with three women who stuffed themselves in the back. It was quite a distance as they had built a brand new terminal on the far end of the airport. The international terminal was pretty empty and I had to wait 45 minutes before I could even check-in for my flight. There was a snack counter where I was able to purchase a chocolate croissant and a chai tea. They were good, but she microwaved my croissant making it limp and soggy.

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After the short wait, I went back to the check-in counter and went through a very similar process as Kolkata. The excess baggage charge with Air India was slightly less than IndiGo, but again completely expected. After check-in I had to go through immigration because my flight continued from Trivandrum to Sharjah, UAE. The immigration process was quick and went smoothly, and before I knew it I was though security in a long waiting area that spanned the entire terminal. I sat near a group of Russian tourists after getting a bottle of water and a samosa.

This terminal was kind of odd because there seemed to only be two gates on this floor and 4 gates on the first floor. Considering the size of the terminal it seemed wasteful. Also, I didn’t see any airline staff anywhere, and the monitors displayed incomplete and inaccurate flight information. Our scheduled flight time came and went without any change on the monitor and no announcement. About 15 minutes later they announced a gate change for us to the first floor. I immediately headed down to the gate and arrived first. I asked the attendant when we were boarding, but she didn’t even realize that our flight had been moved to that gate. Moments later a warm of people lined up between two ropes next to me and all of a sudden I seemed to go from being there first to last in line. However, I didn’t move, and neither did a family who had been standing with me. We all were just chatting and laughing about the situation. Sooner than we expected, we were ushered to a bus which would take us to the plane. The decor on this plane looked quite a bit more dated than on the IndiGo flight. For a moment I felt I had stepped back in time to a TWA or Eastern Airlines flight. Once we began boarding it wasn’t long before we took off. I spent a good portion of the flight writing in my journal.

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A little more than an hour after take off we began our approach to Trivandrum. It was quite dark outside so I was unable to see anything until we emerged from the clouds to reveal a sparsely lit landscape. Within 15 minutes we were on the ground rolling up to the gate. Upon leaving the baggage claim there was a taxi waiting for me, holding up a card with my name on it. He had been waiting for over an hour because my hotel had never told him that my plane was late, despite my frequent updates to them.

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The ride to Kovalam took about 25 minutes in the nearly pitch black darkness. When we arrived we were on a curvy road that angled downward with several shops to our right lighting up the area. The taxi driver pulled over and told me that I would need to walk the rest of the way to my hotel, which was only a couple hundred meters away. I thanked him, and we traded phone numbers so I could arrange my ride to the train in 2 days.

At the hotel I was greeted outside by a staff member who asked if I was looking for a room. I told him that I was and he showed me upstairs, past the restaurant, to the first room in the third floor hallway. Something felt kind of odd, so I mentioned that I had booked a reservation and he seemed surprised. Looking though his paperwork, he located my reservation and told me to first get settled, and then come down to the restaurant to fill out some paperwork.

My room was adequate, pretty large, but had an empty feel to it, despite a number of furnishings. The double bed looked more comfortable than average, but the sheets looked only moderately clean. Fortunately, I had brought my own linens and a pillow which I had been using at all my stops. There was a glass coffee table against the wall next to the glass sliding doors leading to the balcony. It was just large enough to put my big bag on and open up. Digging through the bag, I started to reorganize so my beach clothes were on top, and figured I’d have to completely repack my bag again anyway. After spending some time reorganizing, I went down to the restaurant and sat with one of the staff members. They brought me a bottle of water and offered some food, but I was planning on going out to eat so I just took the water. Filling out the paperwork took about 30 minutes and then I was free to get some food.

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Having previously looked through the various guides I had access to on my iPhone, I found the restaurant I was looking for, Malabar Cafe and sat down. I had read about a special dish they make where they take a whole fish, marinate it in hot chills, wrap in a banana leaf, and cook in the tandoori oven. I ordered one with a fresh caught Red Snapper. I was so hungry that I devoured that fish excitedly, not even giving myself a chance to photograph the beautiful meal I was enjoying. Though I couldn’t see the ocean, I could hear the sound of the tide as I ate, something very soothing after the last few hectic weeks.

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After dinner I slowly walked back to the hotel, savoring the flavors in my mouth, the smell and sounds of the ocean, and colors of lights up and down the beach. Retiring to my room, I settled in and fell asleep quickly.

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