Kerala Landing 2006
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Part 1 of 2. Read part 2 in Kerala Journeys 2006 - Traversing Trivandrum in 2006
India time Sunday, 3:45 am. However, due to weather delays, we were forced to be rerouted through Bombay. We landed in Bombay about 2:30am India time. We realized that there were other people who also missed the same flight as us, so we had misery in company during our lay over.
Along with our new friends, we found our way through the international airport customs and immigration. Though the construction made navigation through the campus challenging, hopefully the updates will improve the current atmosphere and layout of the international airport. The international airport is old, dull, drab, and hard to navigate through. Since we had to take a domestic flight to our final destination, we had to find our way to the domestic airport. Since the international and domestic airports are not connected, we had to take a ten minute bus ride to the domestic terminal.
To take the bus, we had to go outside. This was my first step back on Indian soil in almost five years (I left last in November 2001). At 5am the morning air hit my face. The temperature was between 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit, it was not hot and not cold. The bus route kept us inside the airport compound. As we rode behind the domestic terminal, it didn’t look like an airport at all. But, as we drove to the front, it looked very much like the Rochester airport (though not really). They said it has been newly remodeled as noted by the reflective window panes, new pavement and landscaping. So we went in, and it was great; air conditioned and spacious. There were marble tiled floors and lots of high ceilings and lights. It was a bustling place at 5am, unlike the international airport which was the dark, decrepit maze...with hardly any activity at all. Soon as we entered, we wanted to eat something. There were three choices: a Baskin Robbins, a hot dog stand and Café Coffee Day (like Starbucks). I was surprised to see the hot dog stand as most Hindus and Muslims don’t eat pork. Anyhow, we had vegetarian sandwiches, lattes and hot teas at Café Coffee day for US $5 (a little expensive in India).
Since we had a lot of time, and had to stay awake, we kept getting up and walking around inside and outside the airport. Inside the airport, behind the ticketing area there were small shops- book shops, clothing, jewelry, snack and tourist shops. In addition, there were clean bathrooms. I would say cleaner than most public bathrooms in US. There were maybe three lady janitors in each bathroom, cleaning each stall after every use. Each bathroom had marble tiled floors with three western toilet stalls and three Indian toilet stalls (squat toilet), all have toilet paper. Also, they have one or two rooms for changing clothes (for transit passengers). There may be showers in there, but I can’t remember. The floors are all marble and each stall was like a small room, not like US stalls you can see under the door. After you wash your hands, the lady janitors hand you the paper towels in hopes of collecting small tips. I did not give tips, but about 25 cents is enough. Upon leaving the bathroom, I told my husband I thought the airport should train the janitors not to take money- incidentally they seem to ask only non Indian looking people for tips (because, I understand, most Indians don't tip). He answered with a good point, he said that the janitors are paid by the government and the wage is pitiful, like waitresses in US need tips. So, until the government hands the ownership of the airports over to a private company, it is good to give tips. Plus, the ladies keep the bathrooms sparkling clean. So, next time I will take in money to give them. My husband also commented that it is good that the ladies bathroom is kept so clean because the guy’s bathroom was not as clean- and there were no janitors there.
Near the bathroom was a cell phone charging stand, with about six different connections. We charged our cell phones there, for free. It was a neat concept. After that we sat in the waiting area and the sun came out, and we walked outside. Just in front of the airport was a small restaurant, open air. We ate some Indian breakfast foods there. Total cost about $5 for both. We stood out there and took photos of the traffic, the restaurant and the airport. Then, we went back in. There were plenty of free English newspapers, so we read some. There were sudoku puzzles in there, which quickly became a new fascination because I had nothing better to do.
So we waited in this area again for a few hours, and then were able to go into the actual waiting area for flights. Even in India they make you take off your shoes and you can't carry over 3 oz liquid bottles. But the good thing in India is there are separate security lines for women and men- called frisking lines. The men are frisked in open air, but the ladies have a small booth and are frisked only by ladies. In my opinion, this is much more respectful than the American system, where ladies are frisked in public by women and men in front of all other passengers.
So we waited inside the terminal. This terminal is pitiful in comparison to the waiting area in the front of the airport. There were three stalls of food- the cafe, and two snack stands. The bathrooms inside the terminal also clean. Otherwise there is nothing to do there but sit and stare out the window. Our flight was supposed to board at 10:10am, but we got delayed several times and finally left about 11:30 am. When you board the flight, you have to ride a bus and enter the plane in the open air. Krishna was surprised with all the airport renovations; they have not updated this aspect.
The Jet Airways flight between Bombay and Trivandrum was 2 hours. They gave us a meal (no peanuts included) and plenty of water, coffee and tea. Finally as we touched down in Trivandrum, the international airport in the capital of the state of Kerala, I was surprised that the airport seemed so small. It seemed not much bigger than Syracuse (New York) airport. Krishna said very few international flights actually land here, and it is called international for names sake due to being in the capital.
Trivandrum greeted us in pouring rain. Krishna's brother in law was waiting by the exit door in his military uniform. They have two cars, one that he drives, one that is the official government car with government flag on it and a flashing light on top, like a police light. So the airport seems to be on the very outskirts of the city, and the place we were going, we did not have to travel through the city, and missed it all. The road we drove on is good as many state highways in US, with lots of signs and two way traffic. Only thing is driving on left side of the road and passing can be done on either side of your vehicle. The scenery was great, very green, lots of coconut and palm trees. I noticed only a few cows on the 40 minute drive home. This place is a lot different than where I lived in India. Though it’s only the neighboring state, the scenery, the interactions, customs, food, and language are all different in comparison to Chennai. Here, people have cement gates around their properties. Sometimes companies pay the property owners to advertise on their fence, so some fences have brightly colored advertisements for sari and gold shops or cement manufacturing. Alongside these fences stand many goats. Goats are a larger offender of loitering on the street here than cows, it seems.
On the way, we also had to pay a toll, it was like interstate 90. Since we're in the government car, we were exempt from paying tolls! The toll booth guy has a solemn and bitter look on his face every time a government car passes through the toll booth because the toll booth workers are entrepreneurs. They put their own money into running this, and they only make profit once the tolls pay off the expense of starting their business. Finally, at about 4pm we came close to their home. The road that comes to the Sainik (army) school is called Vet road - Vet means cut in Malayalam. But they were joking with the accent, since that day it rained a lot and mud puddles everywhere- it is now Wet road! Anyhow, to enter the Sainik School you have to go through a guard who opens the gate. Usually only people who go to school here or are relatives enter. Mostly foreigners can't enter. I have exemption I guess! His brother in law is the principal of this school. It is for school kids in high school. They live on campus in the hostel (dorm).
Upon being greeted by Didi (sister), dad and niece, we were given the grand tour of the home. In addition to being provided fully furnished, the compensation also includes several helpers including cooks, maids, handy men, gardeners and a private driver (with car). Not only is the interior of the home spacious and relaxing, but the yard is also spacious and a true retreat! There are plenty coconut and banana trees, a pepper tree (green peppercorns which you dry and turn into the black pepper), a cashew nut tree, drumstick tree (that's a vegetable), eucalyptus and neem tree, and lemongrass herbs growing on their property.
So, as we settled into this new and wonderful environment, it continued to rain heavily, so we stayed inside until evening. In the evening Didi and I went out to get some sari blouses stitched. At 35 rupees a blouse (about 75 cents), the tailor said we could pick up the final products in two days. The place she lived was just on the outside of the Sainik school gate. This area seemed like a pakka (real) village, full of small houses built in the old style, narrow pathways for the main road and narrower pathways between homes. In these roadways, it was impossible to have two way traffic. Cargo trucks could not fit on that road, though I am sure they try to! Following this, we went to a shop called Jayalakshmi Silks where I purchased about 14 blouse pieces to get stitched later. I did not get anything else in that store but blouse pieces. The shop personnel were friendly, and for the most part, could understand English. They gave a free washcloth with purchase.
Near by this clothing shop a rally was being held on the street side. It was some political rally, as always happens here. Didi joked that this is how the 'menfolk spend their free time'. Anyone driving by couldn’t miss the rally due to the light display and loud, boisterous appeals blasting through the loud speakers. It was all in Malayalam, so we don't know what was happening. We did not stick around to find out either.
Part one of two. Part two, here.
Slide show- Our trip to Kerala- Cochin (Kochi), Trivandrum, Kazhakootam,
Velli, Varkala, Rajagiri College, Kalamasherry, Arabian Sea Cruise from Kochi,
Kovalam (November 2006)
Part 1 of 2. Read part 2 in Kerala Journeys 2006 - Traversing Trivandrum in 2006
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