Day 25 - Last night in Rajkot
I would be leaving tomorrow for Australia. I had started packing - what I took was critically important to get right. I had to have what I needed when I went walkabout downunder, stuff I needed for Sydney (possibly a family celebration there) as well as everything that had to return home with me to London at the end. And I had to travel light. No Big Red to accompany me this time. I also needed to have a clear idea what clothes I left behind in Rajkot. Previous visits had proven a tendency to either bring too much of stuff I already had here or not enough.
It was also time to catch up with the diary. I had over a week's worth of updates and much more besides to go in. In the evening, we had planned to see another newbie at BIG Cinemas - Ishqiya, featuring Naseeruddin Shah. A classical star of the Indian stage and screen, Shah has also appeared in a number of Hollywood movies including Attenborough's Gandhi from the 80's where he played a convincing Jawaharlal Nehru. Ishqiya is in a totally different league (also contrasting with Rann from yesterday); it is a very thought provoking film about a woman living in the sticks in a world dominated by the Alpha male. Has a good splash of fun and humour to keep its audience interested. Glad we all went. After the movie, it was time to feast on Tea and Toast with spreads by Amul. Naughty but nice.
Day 26 - Starting second part of adventure tonight!
We had voted to have lunch at Bhabha in town today. In my experience, there are very few places serving a better Gujarati Thali, anywhere in the world. Also, I wanted to capture some images of Rajkot itself whilst making our way to/back from Bhabha. At some stage when I can upload on You Tube, video clips - Streets & Markets of Rajkot and Gujarati Thali at Bhabha - tell a better story. After lunch, I asked Hasmukh (our faithful Riksha driver) to take us past a spot where people gather on Sundays, perhaps somewhere near the river. He mentioned a place that I did not recognize or understand but agreed that sounded like a good spot. Some 4 km outside the centre, it turned out to be something like an arboretum. Upon researching later, it turned out to an experimental garden by Saurashtra University. I was unaware that Rajkot offered much for tourists or leisure pursuits so this place was a welcome change. Alas, the battery in the camera was right out of juice so nothing to show for it.
There was time for a siesta after lunch. I needed to, I was facing a long 24 hours ahead. Fly Rajkot to Mumbai. Change from domestic to international. Fly Mumbai to Kuala Lumpur via Jet Airways. Connect with Malaysian for the KL to Sydney run. I would need to be alert. When running through the online checkin on all 3 flights, I could not complete the process for the JetAir from Mumbai to KL. The website could see my booking but would not allow me to print my boarding pass, instead prompting me to present myself to Jet Airways staff at Mumbai.
I had asked Hasmukh to return for 7:15 so that I was comfortably the airport for my 8:30 flight to Mumbai. The transit at Mumbai was already tight. It hinged on there being no major hiccups with JetAir to Mumbai, or the transit at Mumbai, especially as the airport has been undergoing major work and reconstruction for months. JetAir to Mumbai was delayed by half an hour. And at Mumbai, in the 3 weeks since I was last here, there already was a change to the internal shuttle transfer.
The staff at the airport transfer desk seemed better organized. But the process really sucked. Not much help or information, a bus every 30 minutes seemed nonsense in a modern airport. Or so I thought when waiting. When it finally arrived, I soon realized that it was now diverted along the airport perimeter road, from the outside. Anyone who knows Mumbai traffic will understand what that knowledge meant to me. Loads of traffic and having to negotiate with the world to get back into the airport at the entrance to international departures was a nightmare I had not contemplated. In fact, I later realized it was highly stupid by the authorities to mix transit passengers with ordinary laymen. Absolutely stupid. It meant that I would be subjected to stringent security checks yet again but with far more people than usual. I think my pulse and blood pressure raced in that journey. I was cursing why they had not lain on more buses but then realized that more buses equated to even more congestion. It actually may not have helped.
Fighting through the throng at the entrance was not fun and I must have resembled a zombie on the loose the way I cannoned past the bodies. Rushed to the Jet counters to a bemused desk whose people knew nothing about my flight. One of them eventually piped in that I was on a codeshare flight - would have to go to the Malaysian counter to check in. I explained with anxiety why their website had allowed me to go so far but not print a boarding pass and still not tell me that? I hissed, huffed and puffed my way to the Malaysian counter. Right at the other end of a long set of check in counters. The last of 84 where Jet took the first few! The clock said 50 minutes before the flight departed. The guy at the desk (who was an absolute gem) said they were 5 minutes from closing the flight. He and his team worked like a Trojan army, all working on different aspects of my check in. Their security guy literally wheeled me into security (where I happened to bump into 2 ex-work colleagues from my time in India 5 years ago - our hellos and goodbyes were brief moments). The guy at security cleared the path so that I virtually seemed to be walking over some kind of a red carpet all the way to the plane. I had not been upgraded, but instead, had received the best of service and attention from Malaysian to help me board their flight. By the time I got to the gate, I still had 20 minutes before they started boarding. The flight took off on time. The next day had dawned. As had a new adventure. With or without conspirators, I was on my way to Sydney.