Monday, April 28, 2014

India Travel in 3 (or more) parts

Now that my year-long Thai class has ended and the fact that Chiang Mai is pretty hot and smoky this time of year, I felt it was time to take a little vacation to somewhere cooler.  At the suggestion of our choir director Clare, I decided to go to Darjeeling in North India high in the foothills of the great Himalayas. Also in the itinerary was a tour through the even more northern state of Sikkim where the mountains are steep and the population is heavily influenced with Tibetans and Nepalese.

At the outset I have to admit to making a mistake in arrangement of flights.  Something I learned many years ago is not to book flights through a second party booking site like Travelocity or the several similar ones.  On a previous trip to Greece I booked through one such site and when it was time to check in for the flight it happened that the airline had added a leg to the journey but I was never notified by the booking site.  I was not allowed to board that flight and had to rebook for the following day.  That meant a nights lodging in LA and a nearly missed appointment with a travel agent in Athens where I was to pick up 6 airline tickets for the group I organized and was responsible for.  Travel can have "Oh, my God" moments like this.

So I had forgotten my lesson and booked India travel through Travelocity.  For the preceding month before my travel date I received no less than 5 "flight change" notifications from Travelocity.  Each time I crossed out the changed flight and added the new on to my printed itinerary.  The curious thing was that the next change was always back to the original flight time.  At this point I began checking with the China Eastern Airlines website where I found a "confirm your flight" tab.  It turns out that all but one of the changes were not changes at all on China Eastern's part.  Apparently Travelocity has in issue with their notification system algorithm.  Anyway, I have relearned the lesson and pass on the information to you.

Since Darjeeling is supposed to be the best tea growing region in the world, I thought it would be a good time to actually study up on tea in general while there.  So with cool climate and great tea ahead, off I flew from Chiang Mai airport changing planes in Kun Ming, China.  Price for the RT Chiang Mai to Kolkata was $400.

First thing while checking in at Kun Ming, some Indian guy wanted me to check one of his bags under my name as he saw I had only carry-on.  He explained that his business is a shop in India selling women's undergarments that he buys in China.  He even opened one of his bags to show me the bras he was (probably illegally) importing.  Says he does this all the time and there is no problem as his checked luggage is limited to one piece.  Others standing in line said he had asked them also.  I later saw him on the "air" side of the airport (past security check point) and apparently he got someone to check it in for him.  I thought to myself that the scams are already starting and I'm not even in India yet!

I'm always interested in airline meals I suppose because they are included in the price and can be interesting.  China Eastern served a beef flavored thing with rice along with 2 different packets of mushrooms and one of kimchee.  The after-meal breath tablets were seaweed flavored.