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Monday, June 30, 2014

(At long last) The Arrival: Kolkata, India


My fascination of going to India started even before I was bitten by the travel bug. Five to six years ago I deemed of going there as almost next to impossible as there are many factors to consider; the long haul flight and expensive airfare, being tied up with a corporate job and for a country as big as India - a mere 5 day trip just won't cut it, unless you go there just to see the Taj Mahal at Agra. However, circumstances have a strange way of conspiring to bring me to the country I longed sought to see.

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I remember when my boss at my previous job was telling me about being laid-off, my thoughts aren't in uncertainty territory as most in my same situation that time would be, instead my mind wanders at the possibility of at last having the time and means to go to India. At the end of that meeting, my boss who is also of Indian descent but grew up in the United States correctly guessed what was in my mind. "So Marky, I assume you will be travelling to India?" to which I replied with an affirmative. 

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Photo credit: Travel. Food. Finds
I was so umped that I am even ready to go on a month long jaunt to India alone, fortunately after sharing my travel plans online, a photographer turned shoe designer friend Aileen Siroy signed up to be my travel buddy. With the help of our common friend Mina, who is married to an Indian citizen Manesh, we plotted our trip over lunch a month before our trip.

Mapping our 25 day Route:

The thing about India is it is one big-ass country that at first I thought a 25-day trip will cover a lot of ground. I became greedy with mapping out our intended route that when I found out later about the travel time from one city to another, I decided to ditch other places and leave it for the next trip back (which I will definitely make in a year's time). Since the return ticket me and Aileen purchased was from Kochi to Kuala Lumpur, it would mean we need to haul our behinds from Kolkata all the way down to southern India. In the end we just decided to pencil routes that will be subject to change on the fly and proceed with our trip whenever and wherever we decided to go next.

the black line suggests orig route, the red line were the 'just in case we got more time' route
12 Hour Lay-Over at Kuala Lumpur

Come March 4 and my India trip is just around the bend. As I finished packing my backpack and about to leave, I looked back at my room and kind of imagined coming back with a whole new set of wonderful experience and memory, if ever the trip would change me a lot - remains a question in the air at that time. After taking the 6:00 am flight out of Manila we arrived at KL at around 10:00 am, just a shade over 12 hours early, for our flight to Kolkata at 10:30 pm in the evening. Without any shower, ragged and a bit tired, my mind wanders to India. It was the longest 12 hours I have to wait and as exhausting as it was, I felt great joy in just going through that arduous process of traveling. I'd rather wait a 12 hour period to my dream destination than just lounge around at home without anything to look forward to. 

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The cab ride out of the airport to Sudder street was everything I expected. Chaotic street scenes all around us
Visa on Arrival at Kolkata 
Since my unsavory experience at Hong Kong Immigration a few years ago, I've developed a perception at the immigration booth as an obstacle I need to hurdle hard and fast with confidence and swagger that I won't take that "you overstaying here?" kind of look anymore. Fortunately, after going through a chorus of yelling-like conversations between the airport staff, we were directed to a room where visa on arrival is processed.

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I'm finally in India. The first few moments of seeing Kolkata in daylight was one of the best experience I had
We sat at the small office for an hour since the man in charge would leave the room a few times, but was very cordial asking us the basic questions of how long are we staying there, are we married to which we told him "we're just friends" which elicited a smile from him. The visa on arrival cost 3,600 Rupees each, which got me worried a bit bout shelling that much and its not even our first whole day in India. Well, that's just me always worried about my money on hand when I travel.

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Me and Aileen at the NAIA Terminal 4 in Manila. Photo credit: Travel. Food. Finds
After getting our visa on arrival, the waiting doesn't end there as we still need to spend the night at the airport since cab rides are expensive during midnight and it will be difficult looking for a cheap hostel during those hours. We need to get our bearings right first - get a feel of India before we could go hostel hunting past midnight. (We were able to do that in the later part of our trip when we arrived at Udaipur by bus at around 3:45 am)

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at KL Low Cost Terminal Airport. Hour 2 of 12 of our layover. Photo credit: Travel. Food. Finds
Munching on Aileen's chocolates she bought at KL, we talked for a while in between short bursts of naps until the first evidence of sunlight seeped inside the modern and stylish Kolkata airport. Walking outside and towards the line of cabs, I felt a different kind of goose bumps. This is it I told myself, the one trip I always waited and aspired for. I'm finally walking over India's historic grounds. The 30 minute cab ride to Sudder street was everything I expected it to be, like tearing pages out of my India dream book, I saw immense street activities, smelled strong odors of spices, heard all kinds of noises, with horns blaring from all directions, our cab driver unmindful of what was a totally overwhelming scene to us, drives the cab like a madman. Left and right, swiveling hard then stopping in random to take a leak. All of my senses took a wonderful beating and I've never been happier at any starting stages of any trips I had before. 

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