September.

Here I am, sitting at my office desk, back to work on a Sunday morning.. the memories of a wonderful holiday lingering in my mind. Yes, I could attribute a few adjectives such as ‘eventful’, ‘happening’, or adventurous’ to my recent one month vacation.

Scene #1 – Thursday Sep 1, 2016, 11:55 PM, Dubai International Airport T3

It all started at Dubai International Airport – Terminal III. The first travel woe began here. I crossed the cabin-luggage security check and proceeded to the Duty Free shops to procure alcohol and chocolates for home. Half-way into shopping, I started to feel lighter. Wasn’t I holding something in my left hand before the security-check? Hell yeah I was. My f*ckin LAPTOP. My personal treasure. Losing it [especially before the start of a vacay] would be equivalent to getting paralyzed below the waist. I billed the items ASAP and ran back to the security check area only to see it lying untouched..safe n’ sound but open. Since my hands were already full, I kept the boarding pass on the empty space next to the luggage belt and immediately shoved the laptop into the bag. The lady handling the crates unknowingly stacked a few used crates over my boarding pass and it fell into the luggage belt. The boarding pass was torn to shreds. I was like WOW, this sh*t’s getting sequential. Lucky enough for me, I had checked in online earlier in the day and had received the E-boarding pass on my email. The lady apologized and told me that I can proceed with the screenshot. Perks of technology. Phew. This wasn’t a major hiccup by any means, but who knew I was just gettin’ started.

Scene #2 – Friday Sep 9, 2016 5:40 AM, Hosur Check-post

After a peaceful week at home, I set off on my two week journey to explore the North-East. The flight to Shillong was scheduled for Sunday Sep 11th from Bangalore but I chose to get there two days in advance just to catch up with friends, shop a bit and be ready for the big trip. My friend was supposed to join on the 10th (as he had to work on 9th!).

The news of the Cauvery water issue had already looked alarmingly menacing on TV. Rioting, vandalism, protests..Karnataka and more significantly, Bangalore appeared to be on highly unstable ground [which was pretty unusual]. A 6 to 6 bandh had been declared for Friday 9th September, the day I was supposed to reach the city [by semi-sleeper bus]. I contacted the travel agent to check if all was well. They said that Karnataka registered vehicles were being let through the check-posts without much hassle. I was a bit relieved to hear this and although I had a bad feeling about the entire ordeal, I decided to proceed with travelling as planned earlier, regardless of the bandh scenes. Let’s face it. The bus ticket was worth a 1500/- and if I were to cancel it last moment, I’d lose the 1500 plus I’d have to spend an additional 9 to 10K on a flight ticket that would drop me off 40 kms away from the city. Considering all factors, I simply decided to go ahead with the earlier plan. The travel agent said the timing of the onward journey had been altered by a few hours [the bus that was supposed to leave at 8pm now re-scheduled to leave by 5pm] so as to get to the city before the bandh commences. The bus departed at 5 30 and not 5 as said, and there were further unnecessary halts made at various junctions for totally unnecessary reasons.

As a result, by the time we got to the dreaded Hosur check-post (Karnataka/TN border), it was well past 5 40 AM (P.S – We were supposed to reach Bangalore city before 5 AM). A huge procession of vehicles were already stationed at the spot, trying to get in and out, along with a very rickety mob. Up until 6 AM, the mob was letting in KA registered vehicles alone. Post 6, they were adamant not to let a single vehicle in or out (KA registered or not!), and were instigated to attack anyone who opposed this idea. This left us with no choice but to try out alternate routes. But to our misfortune, there were cops and protesters maintained at every entry point into Bangalore who were hell-bent on making travellers’ lives miserable.

Since all options by road had been exhausted, the only option to get into the city was by local train. It was either this or holding up somewhere till 6 PM; went with the former option. In fact, of all my years of college in Bangalore, I had barely traveled to the city by train, let alone know that a functional railway station existed at Hosur. So here I was, barely 35-40 kms away from my destination city, stuck with no other options. The bus dropped myself and fellow passengers off at a junction and asked us to walk to the station. Luckily, we were told that local trains were very frequent and the next one would arrive in less than half an hour. I could hear people saying it was probably the first time in the history (of Hosur railway station) that it had catered to such a big crowd. All the interstate buses had followed the similar modus operandi, hence the massive crowd.

Second-class train travel (totally not part of my itinerary)..CHECK. With my limited knowledge of train stations in Bengaluru, I chose to get down at Carmelaram (on Sarjapur Rd.) which would ultimately be the closest destination to Koramangala (where I had arranged my accommodation). The train halted at the village for a few minutes. A platform was nowhere in sight but my co-passenger from the bus asked me to jump off. I threw out my baggage into a bush (safe landing phew!) and I followed. I followed the track backwards for a bit until I came across a railway crossing and a tarred road (Civilization’s back b*tches!). My tired eyes caught a few rickshaws parked on one side of the road. I noticed that a few other passengers (my fellow bush-jumpers LOL, who happened to be from Kottayam) had caught up with me as I approached one of the rickshaw guys. Three of us needed to hit Christ College side, so a bargain-talk commenced. One of them agreed to take us up till BTM 2nd stage (11 kms for 750 bucks). Rest had to be covered by foot. “Whatever, just get us there UNHARMED!” was our only concern.

My first experience of a full-fledged bandh outside of Kerala had been fulfilled in all its senses. The rickshaw guy scrammed through the empty roads at maximum speed and even resorted to some drifting stunts to avoid the crazies, who at the sight of any vehicle other than a two-wheeler were reaching for stones. There were atleast three of four instances of the rickshaw driver showing true grit while racing past the crazies with passengers and his own vehicle at risk of getting vandalized. Hats off to the guy! We somehow got to a point in BTM 2nd stage and the rickshaw guy halted at a seemingly safe spot. No sooner had we alighted the rickshaw with our luggage than this bunch of crazy protesters riding bikes, holding sickles and swords in their (free) arms appeared outta nowhere. The rickshaw guy turned around and fled for his life. We just stood there motionless for a minute (holding our breath even!) and waited for the buggers to ride past. PHEW. (Total Mad Max Fury Road scenario!). It was at that point when we came to the conclusion that they didn’t have intentions to annoy pedestrians. Their sole mission was to get (their own) people to struggle a bit, so the world would take notice of their demands. A 2 kilometre walk was still remaining. Thankfully, the weather in Bangalore was kind enough for walks (with two pieces of luggage, mind you!). We walked up the Taverekere stretch, crossing St. John’s Wood, Rock Paradise, a few apartments where I had stayed during my college tenure (unintended nostalgia of course!) and finally, the time had come to bid goodbye to my co-passenger /acquaintance as he had to take a diversion. Thanks man, I forgot your name but your company kept me feeling positive during those tough few hours. Finally, I arrived at my accommodation UNSCATHED (but dog-tired, thanks to all that mid-day walking!) and in one piece. But travel woes weren’t ending there either..

Scene #3 – Sunday Sept 11, 2016 4:30 PM Guwahati Airport

Right after boarding the flight from CCU to Shillong (something as small as a helicopter, a 30 seater, complete with juddering propellers on both sides) and before take-off, we received an SMS text stating our flight would be halting at Guwahati for an undisclosed reason. After enjoying the aerial views of Kolkata, we flew an hour before we were informed that our flight would be landing at Guwahati for passenger disembarking. To our dismay, we realized that there wasn’t a single passenger who wanted to get off at Guwahati (other than an Air India official). Later, while cross questioned, the cabin crew told us that we could not proceed to Shillong directly because of poor visibility at SHL airport. So here I was again, in a similar scenario as earlier, nearly 140 kms from my intended destination. It was raining quite heavily outside. The air-conditioning was switched off too (AIR INDIA showing their true colors!) and eventually we were asked to disembark and get on an airport shuttle to catch some air in the meantime. Almost three quarters of an hour had passed. But no sign of take-off. Another 15-20 minutes later, we were told that the airline would arrange cabs for all passengers to get to their respective destinations in Shillong. We made sure our names came up first on the list. We, alongside two native Shillong residents, resumed our journey by road. When we stopped at a roadside eatery to have tea and momos, we conversed with one of the co-passengers about places to visit in and around Shillong, how to commute, what dishes to try, a little in n’ out about the place. A dire situation that indirectly helped in many ways. Although we were forced to undertake a long road journey which quite literally left us exhausted and took our entire evening away, we felt grateful and happy in the end.

Scene #4 – Thursday Sept 15, 9:45 PM, Koramangala, Bangalore

After a long exhausting day spent on the flights (SHL-CCU-BLR), we finally got to our hotel where we were supposed to crash the next few days at. The time was around 9: 30 PM I guess; a rough 20-30 minutes spent doing nothing but simply lying on the bed (much needed!). A shower was next in order, so I opened my bag to fetch clothes for the night. To my horror, I found out that my it was NOT MY BAG AT ALL! I had misplaced mine with someone else’s at the baggage pickup. The exact same model and color. Dammit! And to top it all, looking at the contents of the bag, this guy seemed like a mobile UNDERWEAR dealer. All I could find inside was underwear. Too much of it, LOL! Panic stricken, I and my friend tried tracing the Airport’s supposedly toll-free helpline number but it just hung up after a couple of rings. Tried my airline’s customer care number..No response. Tried the Duty Manager’s number..No response. Ultimately, the only thing left to do was to physically go to the airport (a good 40 kms from our hotel!) and check with the ground staff, hoping that the bag was maybe lying in the lost n’ found section. While booking a cab to the airport, my friend received a call. It was from the guy whose bag I’d accidentally taken. Phew. “Sorry Sir, I seem to have to taken your bag by mistake.” “Good to hear that you atleast have it with you!” “Okay Sir! Would it, by any chance, be possible for you to come to the airport so that we can do the bag-exchange there” “No! You see, right now, I’m at this ISRO guesthouse which is on Bangalore-Hyderabad highway, somewhere on the outskirts of the city. You must also know that I’m not at all familiar with this city and am really bad with directions. The company had arranged a pickup for me n’ my family  and we arrived at this guesthouse. By the time I found out that it wasn’t my bag, the taxi had left. And this place looks like it’s really difficult to find a taxi, let alone book one!” “Alright Sir, we’ll try googling the location and try to get there as soon as possible. Will be in touch through the phone anyway” “Okay!”.

Cab arrived. Phone charge 27%. Google-mapped the location as per his directions and hit something. Okay chalo. We ask the cabbie to take us to this ISRO guesthouse but he says anything beyond the airport is outside city limits and double the charges apply since he was working overtime. Whatever man, just get us to this place! During our onward journey, the cab seemed to be experiencing a frequent missing and ultimately broke down at St. Mark’s Road. Grrrrrr. How unlucky were we! Phone charge 19%. Immediately booked another cab and the driver took almost 15-20 mins to get there. We hopped in. This cab had a charging point. Put google maps on, connected the phone and we were on our way. We were about 2 kms from the intended destination as per Google-maps and that’s when it asked us to take a deviation and we entered a side road. The place was pitch-dark, no street lights, only the sound of the leaves rustling, crickets chirping and some dogs howling. Forget a guesthouse, there was not even a proper house in sight. The driver started laughing and asked us which forest Google had taken us to. We too were in splits. The timing couldn’t have been better for Google-maps to screw us over. We phoned the bag-owner again and asked him to give the phone to the security guard at the guesthouse (who knew the local language!) so that they could do the talking rather than us getting further lost in the middle of nowhere, that too in the dark of the night. Eventually, a few halts, U-turns and phone-calls later, as the lady in the GPS says “We had arrived at our destination!

The guy whose bag I’d flicked was a middle-aged person, who also happened to hail from my hometown (Trivandrum!). We then proceeded with some friendly banter while doing the ‘exchange’; that’s when the cab driver gave us a hint by letting out a long yawn that we still had our (40+20=60 km) journey back to the hotel pending. We got into the cab and set off on our way back. On more than a few occasions the cabbie took the wrong road because of droopy-eye-syndrome (LOL!) and hence, had to play the local FM extremely loud in order to stay awake and reach our destination in ONE PIECE. And indeed we did. By the time the entire ordeal had finished, it was close to 2 30 AM. Sound sleep was all that was left on the agenda.

..and hope.. mere hope that these sortof adventurous travel woes come to an end with that long debilitating night!

Next stop was Colombo, Sri Lanka. 🙂

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Pic: Outsourced 

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