Anatomy of a disastrous Indian vacation, part 1

I just came back from a vacation. Make that a typically Indian, ridiculously, disastrously, catastrophically, wtfically craptacular vacation. A vacation brokered and broken by Kingfisher and Spicejet. In the words of Maddox, if foggy Himalayan hill-stations and fresh mountain air were the twin towers of enjoyable vacations, Kingfisher and Spicejet would be the two planes that crash into them.

Stop.

No wait. Make that, in the words of the legendary Goundamani, “Staaap”.

I just realized that angry ranting always leaves a bad aftertaste, much like payasam that has “caught the bottom” of the cooking vessel. So I am going to describe my vacation in the cheeriest possible way.

It began, like most vacations do, with a Wikitravel search for laid-back, formerly colonial, Himalayan hang-outs and that was when I chanced upon Darjeeling. Finding out that it is now a hotspot for Gorkhaland agitations and has generally become tourist unfriendly over the last decade or so,  I chose it with no further hesitation. I like places that other tourists don’t frequent because I would not want to get in the way of the average tourist tossing his empty Lays Tomato Chilli bag and Mirinda PET bottle into the verdant woods. It would have been rude to be a spoil sport and not participate in this great Indian tourist pastime.

Once the destination was selected, I had to find find some means of transportation to get there, and it seemed like “air” would be a good choice to traverse the 1741 km (1082 miles if your persuasion is distinctly un-metric and 5.64219187 × 10-11 parsecs if your sense of scale is astronomical). Kingfisher promised me that I would fly the “good times”, and that sounded so positive. After all, who would not want to fly the “good times”. The Government of India did seem to insist that Rs. 8000 (out of Rs 11,000) are required as taxes to maintain the excellent, world-class spaceports of Chennai and Kolkata and  the Galactic Headquarters at Bagdogra. I paid up with no hesitation and with full trust in our good government to make those taxes pay for a smooth airport experience.

We reached Kolkata with no incident, and soon enough it was time to board our “good times” flight to Bagdogra, the nearest airport from Darjeeling. As the printed departure time came, had some coffee, made small talk, and went on its way, I started to worry a bit. I walked over to a Kingfisher representative and asked her if we were going to fly the good times to Bagdogra.

She said – “Umm..Er”

I immediately scaled down my expectations – “I don’t necessarily have to fly the ‘good’ times. Just flying the ‘sort-of-ok’ times would be ok as well”

She said – “Er..Umm..Sir, we are yet to announce the departure”

I reassured her that the lack of a departure announcement over the PA system had made that point rather clear, but was there any intention of making said announcement at some point in the near future?

She reassured me that Kingfisher always “intends” to make departure announcements, but those intentions are often tempered by factors such as fog in Bagdogra.

“Aah. I understand perfectly ma’am. Crashing the aircraft because of low visibility would definitely not qualify as flying the “good times”.

So I went back with the satisfaction of knowing that Kingfisher did not consider a crashed landing in Bagdogra to qualify as a “good time”. But soon enough, as the departure time on our boarding cards had generally left the outer boundaries of the Oort cometary cloud, several passengers seemed concerned about this gross deviation from printed reality. And that was when Kingfisher airlines, being the excellent customer-centric organization they are, decided to compensate us with an afternoon tour into a parallel universe. Let me explain that with a diagram.

paralleluniv

It was a dizzy ride so far, but clearly some of the passengers seemed to sour at this point. Perhaps the relativistic effects of cavorting through  parallel, and highly improbable, I might add, universes had something to do with it. They were starting to get agitated, and soon enough, Kingfisher had to tell us that the joyride was over and that they were depositing us back into the real world, back where Flight 4549 from Kolkata to Bagdogra stood cancelled, and passengers were back on the tarmac with vacation plans that would not go for $0.01 on ebay for the paper they were printed on.

I had enjoyed my ride through the parallel universe, and was disappointed that it had to end. But not for long. Some of the Bengali gentlemen on the tarmac were determined to keep spirits (not of the Kingfisher type though) high and decided to put on a skit for all of us. They called it “The Fundamental Right to Fly (and keeping it open)” and it went thus:

Angry Bengali Gentlemen: You cannot cancel the flight like this.

Kingfisher rep: But sir. Fog..

Angry Bengali Gentlemen: You are violating my right as a passenger.

(Repeat ad infinitum)

Wonderful stuff, although it did become a tad repetitive after a while. But they quickly invented a new script. This one was called “I am the Bagdogra Weather expert, not the Met dept” and it went this way:

Angry Bengali Weather Expert: This is bullsheet. Tottal Bullsheet. There is no fog in Bagdogra. I just called my friend there. The skies are totally clear. You people are totally lying.

Kingfisher rep: But sir. We have not got clearance to take off.

Angry Bengali Weather Expert: What clearance. What fog? You people are taking us for a ride or what?

Oh well. I wish they were indeed taking us for a ride, but the plane was stubbornly switched off and wasn’t going anywhere. But nevertheless, other folks got into the skit mood, and we had the pleasure of watching several other ad-hoc masterpieces that were enacted on the tarmac of the Kolkata airport that day. The best of them were:

  • I have called the TV Media, and they will be here any moment. We are going to embarrass Kingfisher in the media”
  • “The Kolkata Tarmac Sit-Down Dharna”
  • “Ratan Tata was first, Vijay Mallya will follow him (out of Bengal, i.e.)”

It was lovely vintage Kolkata stuff. I might not have been “flying” the good times, but I was sure “having” the good times. I thanked Kingfisher heartily for their excellent alternative, albeit non-flying, entertainment options, unlike the dull and dreary Indian Airlines and Jet Airways, which oh-so-boringly announce flight cancellations well ahead of time and deprive passengers of an opportunity to experience parallel universes.

KF also graciously offered us two choices once the tarmac skit festival was over.

1. Take the next day’s flight – An excellent option, but just to be sure, I asked them the probability of the flight taking off the next day, and the rep cheekily informed me that since the collective energy (decibel volume) of the Bengalis demanding to know this answer was so high that it made the actual calculation of the next day’s flight’s position very inaccurate because of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle.

2. Cancel the flight and make alternative arrangements to Darjeeling – An ever better option, but of course, with one catch. KF temporarily arranged to reprint a custom new edition of the Oxford dictionary with a radically altered defintion of the word “Cancel”. Apparently, “Cancel” was now recursively redefined as “Handing over a piece of paper with instructions on how to cancel from yatra.com”. Heady stuff it was.

So option 2 it was, and we made some enquiries on alternative modes of transport from Kolkata to Darjeeling, and since train reservations had become full by the end of the Pliestocene, our options were limited to “Bus” and um..”Bus”. So we went down to the main bus stand in Esplanade and were immediately mobbed by touts. It turns out the the tout to bus ratio in Kolkata approaches infinity on days of flight cancellations. We settled on a particularly sprightly young L’arrangeur de bus who assured that it was a cushioned, breezy 12 hour overnight ride from Kolkata to Siliguri, from where Darjeeling was just a stone’s throw away (provided of course that stone = 3 hours and throw = taxi). We were also promised by our hyperactive tout that our bus was a state-of-the-art Volvo.

It turned out to be a State-of-the-Jamshedpur Tata and the journey took 19 hours.

The rest, in part 2.

53 Comments

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  1. Objectively (subjective objectivity is what i a referring too 🙂 ) seeing it, KF seems to have tried hard compared to other airlines.

    Nicely written.

    This reminds me of my bus trip along the same route in comfortable 3 seater with 5 people on it to darjeeling 10+ years back.

  2. Looking forward to part 2 eagerly. I had a similar experience at Esplanade in 1997 on my way to Gangtok via Siliguri :-(. I had promised myself never to go by bus from Kolkata ever again. Amazing, those infinite touts are still in business.
    and KA saar, plis to release part 2 at your earliest.

  3. I had been to Gangtok and Darjeeling from Siliguri/NJP in 2001-2. The “stone’s throw” journey is very memorable than the flight. Gangtok has far more toursit things to offer than darjeeling and miles ahead in hospitality.

  4. Haha… good stuff!

    “I have called the TV Media, and they will be here any moment. We are going to embarrass Kingfisher in the media” Telling commentary of our times 😛

  5. YAYYYY !!!!!! RETURN OF KA !!! feared u had retired from blog-land after ur Ghajni blog. Dont miss their Alu-Gobi fry, its delicious , and fresh chaaaatney with lots of nuts and raisins. in Darjeeling, try out the Aloo Achaar — a Neplai delicacy, with Puri or rice or whatever. and dont miss the atmosphere of a soccer match at a minor stadium or ground — there are many near Esplanade.
    in Bengal , the bus passenger ( public in general ) is king, and the conductor ( or functionary) is polite and doesnt boss around. ppl are united and cooperate.

  6. even if he starts as an iyengar, he will be going iyer and iyer into the Himalayas ( is that mcp-ish, shud it be Her-alayas? ) , and njoing Darjeeling tea, with Aloo achaar. note how Darling is chaperoned by a “jee”. how does Darling-jee sound?

  7. @ramachandran: i cannot resist this comment even if it sounds totally freaky.. HER-aalayas is what I happen to call my cousin’s ass(et).. also wondering why its socially ok to joke abt the ass but not abt the frontal lobes.. amounts to anatomical discrimination.. (sry for the off-topic comment)

  8. Eagerly awaiting Part-2 of this epic journey! I hope you wrote Kingfisher a nice ‘Thank You’ note for the entertainment provided via impromptu skits and to all your co-passengers who so assiduously took up roles in said one-act dramas.

  9. Sorry to rub it in, but I think you might have gone wrong right about the point where you selected Darjeeling. Darjeeling is to Kolkatta what Nainital (or any of those hills with cars backed up from the Mall to Dilli), or any of what the Mumbai-wallas call hill stations (Matheran, Lonawala, etc), is for Delhi and Mumbai respectively. Meaning that whatever you do, you must never ever go there around a big weekend.

  10. What’s disastrous in flight getting canceled because of bad weather? It’s very common. Why are you making big deal out it? All over the world flights get canceled because of some bad weather or technical problems. But people don’t write blogs criticizing their own country. You could have just said “My disastrous vacation” and that would have been enough. Why do you have say “Indian Vacation”?
    Ashok: Perhaps you missed the point about this being “part 1” 🙂 There’s more to come. And of course, flights getting cancelled because of weather is perfectly normal anywhere in the world, but the way airlines handle these situations is uniquely Indian, and I speak from years of experience traveling not just in India, but outside as well. But let me ask you a question – why is criticizing ones country so bad?

  11. Ah the good’ness of my state. So you’ve had a first hand account of the famed ‘Bhadrolok’ I see. Bherry Guud.

    But on a serious note, I welcome you to West Bengal, once more.

  12. LOL ! I had a very similar experience once, but in reverse – being stranded at Bagdogra airport due to Jet Airways deciding (and no, neither Kolkata or Bagdogra was foggy) that it would be more economical to put up people overnight in a Siliguri hotel rather than actually flying their plane from Guwahati.

    We had a plane to catch from Kolkata the next day. So we had to take the bus.

    We weren’t given any assurance about the state-of-the-bus other than the fact that they would turn on the AC ‘only because we were going to be on board’. We felt like VIPs. Except that it was winter and the question of having the AC on was moot.

  13. ROFL!!
    Part 2 pliss!!
    I spent some 2 months in Kol and other parts of Bengal last year so know exactly what you are talking about with respect to angry protests aka skits or the tout to bus ratio!!Not to mention the bus drivers who are Schumacher in the parallel universe!A visit to Howrah station would also prove that Coolie/Luggage ratio=infinity and Coolie charges=infinity*luggage

  14. oh oh, i don’t like where this is going. I DO hope you liked Darj. did you? did you? did you pick up some nepali?

    though i agree with someone who commented earlier, that sikkim would have been a better choice for some peace n quiet.

    part I is hilarious. waiting with bated breath for part II 🙂
    Ashok: I love Darjeeling, and more than that I love the people there. I also have a weakness for momos, thukpas and potato phing, and I wish I had actually spent more time in Darjeeling instead of airports, buses, taxis and more airports

  15. really sorry for the episode 1….waiting for episode 2. had very similar experiences for my very first flight journey all the way to NY, Mumbai-NY flight had this parallel universe show for almost 12 hours, we even enjoyed the privilege of waiting in line for food….sleeping on any available chair in mumbai airport , scripts enacted by NRI crowd and then to top it all…the very very friendly attitude of the Air India personnel…overall it was a memorable journey indeed…..i would say domestic KF is way better than international Air India 😀

  16. Thank you so much! Worth the wait, I say, machcha! Waiting for the second part…good to see posts coming in such quick succession!

  17. State of Tata is perfectly fine , you should have stepped out and seen TATA atleast you can talk to people in Hindi unlike Chennai .
    Ashok: The Frenchman says – “Paris is a lovely place because I can talk to people in French. Brussels is also a lovely place because despite being in Belgium, I can speak to people in French. But Munich sucks because they dont speak French there.”. And I said to him – “Aah. I see. Ok. Tata. Bye Bye.”

  18. Sounds like a horrendous experience. Exasperating! Darjeeling, must have been worth all the pain at the EOD? Very well written, looking forward to Part -2. 🙂

  19. sad that Kingfisher didnt give you a meal in the plane before cancelling the flight. Apparently this happens very often in china- people get into planes, eat a hearty meal and get out. Top of the world restaurant types..

  20. Great stuff……… even i had similar experiences….

    the excerpt abt the french man (reply to one of the comments) was to the mark!!!!! 🙂

    waiting for part 2……….

  21. Me thinks you were having a lot of expectation from our Desi airways.

    Have’nt you heard their famous punch dialogue – “Eppadi irundha naanga…..appadiye than irruppom”

  22. Poem :
    Streeling, pulling, darling,
    Dar-jee-lingering.
    Prose:
    Basically this is a humerous , entertaining blog, only cretins and morons would get offended and crib abt “criticizing one’s country or airlines” . Such strong feelings would be relevant for a blog on say, Mumbai attacks. Be Peela-sophy-cal . Relax, njoi, travel at second-hand to one of the World’s beautiful places, cloud-and fog-covered, snow-capped mountains, and excellent Nepali music . Listen to “Hamra Galpara” etc.
    Do a search in Google video for “Tuva music” ( this is not Nepali, but Siberian )

  23. I was LOL’ing so loudly that the neighboring in-conference-call-technophiles had to *shush* me 😛

    during our last vacation, we let a coin decide the destination,mode of travel as well as the lodgings! A good Re 1 coin decided that Ooty, Tavera and Hotel Lake View were the winners and we had a wonderful vacation.

    We now have the coin framed and hung in our room 😀

  24. That’s what happens you set out with the wrong premise. You called a vacation in India a vacation. I have no clue what made you call it that, but I’ve known people to confuse travel with travail 😐

    As an aside: if the pilot saw Ghajini in that non-clearance time, I don’t think he was any less of a victim than you guys.

    g

  25. Bonga-bandhus and South Europeans pronounce travel as travail, and vice-verca . when KA used the word “travel” in Kol, the local Devas understood it as travail, and said “thatastoo” ( “lets bug that ass, too, he actually asked for it !” ) .
    they interchange short and long consonants. in Kolkatta,u write with a pain , and suffer from pen . ( with due apologies to all Bongs, i admire ur gr8 soccer , food, camaraderie, accent, etc. )

  26. *grins and breaks into a beeg smile*

    On behalfs of the peoples of Darjeeling, I thank you. You tried phing? and momos? great. that’s my comfort food.

    my folks run a homestay in darj, so next time y plan to visit Dj, lemme know. y’ll get authentic tibetan food for sure 🙂

    ok, now bring on Part II !

  27. oho! KA – you should have put up your travel plans here and asked for advice BEFORE the holiday 🙂

    Seriously, flying to Darj is a bad idea. There is a very convenient overnight train from Calcutta to Siliguri and then a lovely 3-4 drive from Siliguri to Darj. This is the best way….

  28. desperately Seeking part II. Plannign a similar trip to Indore/Ujjain soon.

    The bongs can be cute. Gimme a buzz sometime. needed to talk

  29. Vijay is goofing up everywhere. What is he doing these days….getting everything messed up. His father would be churning now in the grave….for the poor boy

  30. Hahaha! I looohb Kolkata! But you have to grant that they are polite. No “you mother’s….” or “your sister’s…” stuff. When a Bongla cusses, he begins with “Sir” or “Madam”. I am told that they sing Robindro Shongeet when they feel the need to burn a tram. I am sure that the tram driver feels a lot better.

    Like the rest of the crowd, I’m turning up at your page 10 times a day, hoping for the sequel.

  31. Aei je Oshok,

    What is life without proteshts? Especially on the tarmac?

    — Boudi, whose last stop at Bagdogra airport was spent joining the passenger brigade waving red flags.

  32. Ki go boudi, leakha bondo korey die cho kano? 😦

    Anyway KA, the train route to Siliguri better for 3 reasons:

    1. Your train passes right through the tea gardens. If luck has it and its slow enough you can actually pluck some tea leaves on the run. This is to be seen to be believed.

    2. If you loue the quainty types it takes you through some very quaint places/routes/stations.

    3. You get the best Cham-Chams, RoshoMalai’s and Jaggery rasagullas in the train (uber hygenic) that will make you go wtfically mad the next time you compare prices and tastes of milk sweets in madras.

  33. Pingback: Tsk Tsk « Sottai
  34. Hi,
    Just blog-hopped here. Its an absolute riot:), Basically, Kalakitte!
    Will surely take some pointers from you, when I decide to visit the mountains.

  35. Ironic that the ad staring me in the face when I finished laughing enough to see was Book Kingfisher Airlines via Clear Trip 🙂

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