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36 hours, 5 connections and 12.000km – how I succeeded in making all the connections and arrive on my destination in one piece at the predicted time… I don’t know, but I did it! Today, let me tell you all about my eventful journey from Lo Pagan, where I spent the Christmas holidays, to Bhubaneswar, the place I will call home for the next three months. And let me also share with you a couple of my first impressions about India.
On January 3, 2016 I arrived in Bhubaneswar after a long, eventful journey. On Saturday early morning, my dad drove me from our holiday house in Spain to the trainstation of Alicanta. For the first time, I took the AVE train (alta velocidad or high–speed train) to Madrid. I had never been on one and it was kind of an exciting experience for me! Next, I took a local train to the airport and, since I had arrived at the wrong terminal, had to get on a transfer bus to reach my plane to Istanbul. It was an omen for what was yet to follow.
The big question was whether I would be able to fly to Istanbul and, if I did, whether I would be able to fly to Mumbai or not. You see, since the day before my departure, I was notified that Istanbul was experiencing it’s most harsh winter storm in 26 years. Even though I succeeded in containing my stress, I was a bit worried about not reaching India in time for class. But I had no reason to panick, because I was able to get on the plane to Istanbul on time. The arrival there didn’t go so smooth, though… Even though we landed on time, because of the large amounts of snow and frozen ground, we had to wait in line with the other plans for a really long time before we were able to connect with the terminal. And since I had to make my connection to Mumbai, I got a bit nervous. In the end I had less than half an hour to make my connection, but I made it!
The flight from Istanbul to Mumbai was slightly delayed because of that same snow storm, but the journey to Mumbai itself flew by (pun intended). I watched the movie Everest, had an interesting conversation with my Indian neighbor (who was a student in Dallas), and even succeeded in getting some shut-eye (which was partly to make my Indian neighbor stop sharing all aspects of his life with me). When I reached Mumbai, I had a couple of hours before I had to make my connection to Bhubaneswar. You should know, though, that I was pleasantly surprised with the ease with which I was able to get through security in the airport. Because I am blonde and pale? Maybe, I dunno.
I was not so happy when I was urgently looking for a bathroom after the long flight and when I found one, discovered the Indian toilet inside (i.e. a squatting toilet). I really couldn’t handle that after 30 hours of no sleep. I decided to hold it up until I found a western toilet. But after twenty minutes of walking down a really long hallway, I had to give in. Fortunately, I bumped into a friendly cleaning lady who showed me where the western toilet was. I could have cried of happiness at that moment!
When I headed for my transfer in the domestic terminal, I was finally presented with the famous “Indian efficiency”. I had to wait 45 minutes before they let me on the transfer bus! Even though I was the first one to arrive there and even though the bus was only half full. Nevertheless, I wurmed my way in that bus a bit before my time, because I was tired of waiting. I desperately wanted to get a normal breakfast before I made it to my last connecting flight (I mean, who knew what my next breakfast would look like?!).
The journey on the transfer bus was an eye-opener. It was my first experience with Indian traffic, so when I saw some crazy people crossing the street seemingly without a care in the world, through the seemingly chaotic and deadly zigzagging of cars, tuktuks and motorcycles, I was 100% convinced they were trying to commit suicide. But not long after I realized: this is India, this is normal here.
In the end, I arrived in one piece at the domestic terminal of the Mumbai airport. There new problems arose as soon as I arrived and had to check in my luggage. Apparently you can only bring 15kg with you. That meant: extra charges of €20! O well… Nothing to do about it. I did hide my heavy backpack from the lady’s sight though. Or they would have charged me for that as well, I’m sure!
Finally I was able to have my breakfast in some coffeebar – afterwards I found out I was at the famous Indian coffee chain CCD (Cafe Coffee Day). I immediately felt a lot better. At that time, the lack of sleep also really started weighing me down. When I was searched by the security guards, had to unpack my carefully packed and puzzled backpack and lost my secret santa gift (a swiss pocket knife I forgot I put in there), I got really rude.
I did make it to the other end of the baggage control, though, and was finally able to make my way over to my gate. The further I walked down the hallway, the less white people I saw. And indeed, when I reached my gate, I was only surrounded by Indians. I would be the only European on the flight to Bhubaneswar. I also had my first celebrity experience here. I was openly stared at by almost everyone and even had to be in a selfie with someone who didn’t even ask. Your welcome!
After a two-hour flight, during which I wasn’t able to keep my eyes open any longer (even though it was really uncomfortable being stared at like that) but couldn’t sleep well anyway because the girls in front of me were continuously leaning back and forward with their chair, I arrived in sunny, hot, humid Bhubaneswar. I waited for more than half an hour for Krishna, one of my Indian batchmates who lives here, came to pick me up and take me to my new home/school. Hellen arrived an hour after me, so we waited for her to join.
And again we made our way into the Indian traffic.
On the side of the road, in the middle of the road, on the sidewalk… really everywhere.
I really had to bite my tongue to not keep pointing them out. They almost distracted me from the chaotic zigzagging of vehicles around our car (which, by the way, didn’t have seatbelts). Then there was also the fact that everything I saw was dirty. Shabby stalls along the road, street dogs amongst the trash… At that moment I could only yet imagine how it must smell like out there.
But, like I said, I made it to campus. Sweaty and exhausted, yes, and wondering why the hell I decided to enroll in this program. Was three months in India really worth it? Could I still cancel this whole thing? How could I not get sick and dirty in this place?
I think it is pretty obvious that I was experiencing a big culture shock. But whether my first impression of India is a consequence of my exhaustion and whether my superficial glance at my new temporary home is what is seems, you will find out next time. But I promise I will keep you posted!