Friday, October 29, 2010

North-East Trip - Day 1, Oct 29

OLD-WORLD CHARM

Kolkata airport may lack the swanky look of Bangalore airport, and the first thoughts of a tourist from India's tech capital would inevitably be that it could easily do with some image building to get rid of that 'old' look.

But step back a bit, and the old-world charm would start sinking in. The plaster of Paris on walls, deep grey cemented floors and steep steps, fans perched on thick pillars -- you begin to realise this is Kolkata, a repository of rich heritage. Soon, those sepia images begin flooding the mind, in a flashback as it were.

FLIES, NOTHING UNUSUAL

Had lunch at one Saptagiri restaurant outside airport. Flies were a major put-off. There was this no-fly zone, the air-conditioned enclosure for which there is a 20% extra charge. But surprisingly, there were few takers for it. Almost everyone, including well-dressed staff of well-known airlines found flies just a part of the Kolkata ambience. In fact, in the airport lounge too, there were a few flies marking their presence.

TAXI MUDDLE

The 6-hour transit halt at Kolkata did tempt me to step out of airport premises to get a feel of this world-renowned metro. Did briefly contemplate rushing to Dakshineshwar temple, on the suggestion of a friend. But quickly abandoned the plan as taxi fares being demanded were as much puzzling as exorbitant.

The first cabbie spoke of Rs 500. Then, a person sitting at a desk under a tree, who we were told is a 'pre-paid counter' said the trip would cost us Rs 700. Then, a few cab drivers followed us, with each of them slashing the others' fare by Rs 100! The whole thing sounded quite funny and scary in equal measure.

To be fair, there is indeed an authorised, well-designated pre-paid taxi counter, where I am sure we would have been offered a reasonable and straightforward deal. But, Kolkata wasn't a part of my tour itinerary at all, and there was no plan to see any place. Also, there was this highly inhibiting thought about massive traffic jams. Many of my friends discouraged me from going out to the city.

THE BIG SURPRISE

In a way, it was good I stayed put in the airport, for it enabled serendipity to play out in a glorious fashion. After lunch, at the lounge I was killing time with the mobile. And momentarily I looked up and around. I noticed a very familiar face, and I couldn't believe myself when I realised it was the very same person I'd have missed on my trip to Shillong.

We were travelling in opposite directions, and Kolkata was the transit halt for both of us; and never did we realise that we would run into each other in this crowded airport.

'DIFFERENT' GUWAHATI

Touched down at Guwahati airport at 7 pm. What a contrast in comparison to Kolkata. Much smaller and virtually deserted. I was quite impressed by the sensor-operated taps in the washroom; Kolkata had the very ancient variety.

Tomorrow we travel to Shillong. There's a lot to look forward to, I am told.

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