Dodging the Bullet (s)
Trip Start Sep 01, 2009
70Trip End Dec 27, 2009
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We had an early up to catch the Jet Airlines flight from Aurangabad to Mumbai. Once we entered the airport at 6:30 AM we found that our 8:30 AM plane was not at the airport yet. It was still in Mumbai. The official line was that there was some "congestion" in Mumbai International and the plane would fly up to meet us soon and we could board. We were going to be at least one hour late.
We sat in the main airport waiting area and began watching the local TV news station in Hindi.
We soon noticed that the whole waiting area was filling up with Muslims dressed in simple white robes. They each carried a simple black hand bag, and little else. Many of the women were veiled, either in all white of all black robes
I got a local paper and it had an article on how India Airlines had provided 6 or more flights from Aurangabad directly to Jedda, Saudi Arabia for Muslim Haj Pilgrims for the Ramadan celebrations. This was apparently one of those flights. The place was packed and the lines for customs was moving very slowly for these folks, as Aurangabad is not an International Airport and the whole customs set up was a new temp set up operation. Muslims are required to make at least one trip to their holy land during their lives., I watched as many of these people prepared to fly, many I believe, for the first time. They were excited and scared at the same time. It was fun to watch them prepare for their journey
Our attention was diverted back to the television as weather shows showed the familiar Hurricane symbol. You know the one, it looks like a saw blade. Over here they call them Cyclones. The storm was moving north up the coast toward Mumbai. We watched and could not understand the Hindi. There were symbols showing the number 400 on the screen
I determined that the sooner we fly the better, as the storm was closing on the city. The reports on TV cited Government buildings being shut down, schools closed, and lots of shots of reporters in raincoats on the coast watching the waves and wind build. You know the routine.
After the Haji Pilgrims boarded and departed, our plane arrived and we boarded without incident one hour behind schedule. We have plenty of time, I assured Barbara, who by now was getting nervous. (Barb loves to travel, and HATES to fly.)
After take off the pilot came on the intercom and explained that there was more congestion than normal at the Mumbai Airport, due to the fact that only one of two runways was currently in use.
I opened my newspaper again and saw why. The previous evening (a Tuesday) a Kingfisher airliner tried to land on what they called the shortened runway
I explained this to Barbara and reassured her that this was a Wednesday. "Not to worry!. No Problem" I explained confidently, as we began our decent to approach for landing. Then the pilot came on the intercom again.... "Apparently we have been waived off our approach, as there is another airliner reporting an emergency. We will land after he has completed his landing. " He seemed calm and comfortable with this turn in events. " Not our problem" , I said to Barbara.
We took a very long and low flight over Mumbai, the ocean, and the port area. We could see the slums, buildings, and ships in the harbor
The pilot added that the "good news" was that we had 2 hours of fuel left in the tanks so "Nothing to worry about" Nervous laughter filled the coach. The clock kept running and Cyclone Phyan kept closing.
Well, this news pretty much ripped it for Barbie. I tried to reassure her. What do you say? "Gee, the emergency vehicles are all warmed up, they are right out there and ready to go!" The ride was getting a bit bumpier as the winds from Cyclone Phyan picked up. I was still trying to calculate distance and time. We were now in the air delayed once again, now over two hours behind. I did not know the speed of the storm over the ground. Fortunately the disabled plane was removed from the runway and we were able to make our "Final Approach". As we neared the ground I could see lots of water on the runway. I think the design is an old one. There is a lot of water on the surface, and it did not appear to drain well. It looked like inches of water on the surface. The pilot came in very fast. Everyone was absolutely quiet on board
We went to the hotel Residency by cab and found the best room of our trip.The whole town was prepping for the arrival of Phyan. People were closing their shops early and bustling home as fast as they could. We took an early dinner, and were surprised to find beef on the menu! WOW, we had beef steaks stuffed with cream cheese mushrooms and onions. We went to our hotel room with the flat screen TV and watched the storm unfold. We were lucky, and Mumbai was lucky. The storm missed the city and ran up the coast fizzling out. Unfortunately for 68 missing fisherman, the storm was very real.
The next day was clear and the air was absolutely clean. My breathing continued to improve. We walked around the old city. The architecture resembles old British buildings. I shot several pictures as we walked down to the Gate of India and the Taj Palace Hotel. We visited the hotel which was the site of the terrorist attack known here as 26/11 as it happened on the 26th on November last year. Preparations were underway for the one year anniversary of the horrific events that occurred here. About 10 terrorists from Pakistan attacked this hotel and one other, in addition attacked a Chabad House here in Mumbai, killing many, many innocent people in the process
We spent the last part of our second day in Mumbai at the Prince of Wales Museum. It had some fine art objects and was small but worth the visit, Get the Audio guide if you go there.
Each evening we found ourselves going back to the same neighborhood restaurant, the Mocambo, for some variation of a steak dinner. (Hey, we didn't know if we would see beef again!)
The next morning we got up at 3:30 AM and left the hotel. In the street, we awoke a cab driver sleeping in his cab, and 15 minutes later we were at the Victoria Train Station in Mumbai. The travel guide says that 2 million people a day go through here. As we entered at 4 AM I believe it. There were hundreds of folks sleeping on the floor. I took a few shots as I toted by bags toward platform number 4. I got a paper and read how a train had derailed here yesterday, and there were more accidents in other places in the country. We got on our Shatabdi Express 2nd class Chair car and headed south to the south western coast of India. As we rolled along the country side became more and more tropical. Palms andf Bamboo everywhere. No lack of water here. We got off the train in Madagon, near the old colonial Portugeuese enclave of Goa. We hire a quick cab and in 40 minutres we were sitting on the beach under the palm trees in Palolem. We had managed to "thread the needle between plane and train crashes, and were now sitting comfortably on the India coast of the Arabian Sea.