Although we are off to India again to take part again in a Polio Immunisation, we are going a few days early in order to go to Amritsar to see the Golden Temple, the Wagah Border Ceremony and to travel back to Delhi by train for the immunisation events.
The process of getting a visa for India is the same pain as it was last time, although the cost has gone up considerably. Visa fees seem to be set on a tit-for-tat basis. Whenever the UK changes its visa fees for Indians seeking to come to the UK, the Indians retaliate by changing theirs to match. So they charge us £80 plus fees (total cost around £110) and we charge them 8400 Rupees plus fees. The actual time it takes from posting off the forms to getting our passports back is only 5 days. The system is very efficient and provided you complete the four forms correctly and do everything as exactly as specified, it is relatively easy.
We are flying on Jet Airways which does not have the greatest of reputations for comfort and quality. However its flights meet our criterion of departing and arriving at a sensible time at each end both there and back and on the way out we “simply" (not a word which India usually manages and in this case, a word we regard with suspicion) change planes within the same terminal in Delhi for the flight to Amritsar.
And so after my regular Monday Rotary lunchtime meeting, we find ourselves putting bags into the car for the longish drive around the M25 to Heathrow. The Tube system has been going through one of its regular "strike / threat of strike" moments and we cannot assume that they will be running when we get back - hence the drive to the airport and making use of a really cheap deal with Purple Parking on a bright Monday afternoon (a contrast to the months of heavy rain we have had in the past few months).
The flight is better than the reviews had led us to expect, queues at Immigration are thankfully very short because strong tail winds enable our arrival to be earlier than and hence before numerous other planes scheduled to arrive at around the same time and our baggage appears on the belt without too much of a wait. As we had suspected, “simply changing planes” is not simply. The seasoned air traveller knows that the last thing you want to do when changing planes is to go “landslide” during the change because then you have to go through the whole process of security and its associated queues again. However we are all directed to go landslide (along with about 100 other passengers) and have the pleasure of an Indian style queue through baggage security and then personal security and its queues and searching (which the Indian system does very thoroughly). The flight to Amritsar is short and arrives only 15 minutes late and we are disgorged into the wonderful mayhem
and contrasts of India.
Driving down roads where horse drawn vehicles meet lorries and
Auto Rickshaws (we always called them Tuc Tucs but were constantly told that they were really auto rickshaws) are fighting for customers with Pedal Rickshaws.
Adjacent to our hotel is a shopping mall - something which we have never before experienced in India. Having passed through security and been throughly frisked, we are inside a building which looks just like a shopping mall anywhere in the world. Although around 1/3rd of the shops have yet to be occupied, what is on sale in them and the type of customers we see in the mall are typical of the new wealthy working class in India. Prices are high by Indian and low by British standards.
If you want to, you can eat at a Subway or buy a Domino’s Pizza - and judging by its popularity, many Indians do want to.
The supermarket sells a wide range of prepackaged products whose equivalents would be found on any British supermarket shelf.
This is a marked contrast to the shops just down the road, the type which is used by the majority of the Indian population,
or this roadside drinks vendor (sugar cane juice)
people patiently waiting for the next person wanting to buy firewood for cooking their meals (hence the thick pallor of smoke hanging over the city),
and the building work everywhere throughout India.
Paraphrasing what our local guide said when we arrived: "It is our endeavour to provide you with the most fulfilling experience in this special destination filled with peculiarities not found anywhere else in the world. Be prepared to be impressed, bewildered, fascinated, thrilled, inspired and amazed. How you react is entirely up to you, but it may help to keep a few tips in the back of your mind. One, be patient. Things don’t work the way they do back home and sometimes they don’t work at all. Two, be open minded. The more flexible you are, the easier it will be to enjoy your yourself. And three, don’t worry about solving or understanding the phenomenon around you."
Welcome to India!