After leaving home at 9am, I had checked in at rainy Heathrow by 10:20. The queue for Air India was lengthy and the passenger luggage was bursting out of control. I waited for my friend Roshni and her mother at the terminal and soon enough the check-in system crashed and there were heaps of angry travelers.
We were quickly shifted to a different check in point and soon enough we scurried through duty free testing perfumes and then were heading to our flight in no time. I managed to watch a few movies on the way, including the classic ‘Casablanca’ and parts of ‘I am Sam.’ But my favorite film I watched had to be ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’!
When we arrived in Mumbai airport I proceeded left and Roshni went right. After enduring a long queue in customs I had to collect my luggage and check it again in this humongous new terminal! After going through security and checking in my bag for my next flight I walked to a bus which dropped me off at another part of the terminal, only for me to have to continue walking, get searched again and wait at my gate for a hour or so to catch another bus which would literally drive me onto my plane. I thought I had got on the wrong flight, but quickly found out the plane was making two stops and I was getting off on the second stop – Kolkata airport. As you can guess, I was pretty tired at this point so I was in and out of consciousness but in no time we arrived in Kolkata.
The airport was stunning and absolutely huge – I immediately felt the heat seeping through the doors. After collecting my baggage, I was greeted outside by Karthik- the Head Teacher of Ranipathra School. We had coffee and snacks from a restaurant across the road and talked books, family and culture- I knew immediately that we would get along great. We were getting swarmed by mosquitoes but my trusty Jungle Formula soon sorted that.
I was enticed by the goings on in Kolkata. In front of me was a row of yellow taxi cabs which were filling up just as so many were leaving with passengers. There was a kind of cab patrol service where women were dressed in a camouflage uniform wearing neon yellow vests and directing the cab drivers as the handed over receipts for each group of passengers they collected. Stray dogs were traipsing around on the grass ahead of me and some pretty black birds were pecking some plants near the bench I sat on.
Eventually the rest of the group showed up- Stacey the team leader and my other colleagues for the trip Michelle, Amy, Jackson and Rob. Stacey proceeded to change all of our Pounds to Rupees and we quickly separated into two cabs on our way to the train station. To say this was the most interesting cab ride I’ve ever taken would be an understatement! Kolkata has no road rules. – it is literally every cab for itself. There appeared to be no lanes, no traffic lights or zebra cr osses- nothing! It was very loud and there was a lot of loud beeping and noise. I eventually realised there were some traffic lights but they are very high and barely get used. The cab driver would move fast and brake suddenly as people scurried across the road, music blared from stalls on the side of the street where cows and dogs also resided. He would honk his horn at every instance as we bounced up and down in the back of the cab staring with the window rolled down.
Once we reached the train station, we sat down for some snacks before we got on the train. Once we ate, we went to the station waiting room and found out from Karthik that our train was delayed and it would be a three to four hour wait. Luckily we had a pack of cards and Stacey bought ‘Pass the Pigs’ a great game which we all enjoyed. So we put a sheet on the floor and got playing. It was very warm in the station and practically all the fans were broken. Many passengers waited along with us but after a long wait we got going to get on our 12 hour train ride.
I managed to secure a top bunk with a private curtain and I vaguely remember taking off my shoes because I was asleep in no time. I managed to sleep really well almost 10 and a half hours. The only times I was woken was by the man selling coffee on the train surprisingly loud and then by a small child in the next compartment who sang and giggled in the morning. By then I was awake and raring to get the day well and truly started. When we were getting off the train, Amy told me she had spent some time taking in the sights through the train window which included the Ganges River.– she even swore she saw monkeys ‘‘contemplating life’’ and relaxing on the edge of the tracks. We found this hilarious and partly did not believe her, but I would eat my words by the end of the trip!