After a LONG flight, I finally arrived here in New Delhi, India on Thursday night around 8:30 PM. With the 9 1/2-hour time difference, it seemed as though we were in the air over 23 hours, though the flight itself was only 14 hours from Newark. I left Jacksonville yesterday morning at 11AM and sat in the airport until departing 2 hours late at 4:30 PM. Air traffic in Newark caused backup’s, so all the flights were delayed.
Arriving in Newark, I quickly connected with Emily (my 22 year old daughter currently living in NYC), who took the train over from Manhattan to spend a few minutes with her dad. It was great seeing her since it had been close to 3 months since she was home last. We grabbed a bite in the food court (gross food at too high a price) and sat and talked for about 45 minutes before I needed to get back through Security and to my departure gate.
While we were waiting at the gate, several ICE (Immigration officials) escorted a handcuffed Indian past us on their way to our airplane. When they got to the gate, the illegal alien started fighting with the armed ICE guards, screaming “I don’t want to go back” causing a major caufuffle at the gate in front of us all. That was quite unnerving, as none of us wanted an angry handcuffed illegal alien on our flight. Several airport policemen arrived and, to our relief, escorted the man off the plane and out of the area. We didn’t see him again.
The flight from Newark departed around 9:20 PM last night. and, thank God, I had a great seat. Having checked in at home early the day before, I snagged an aisle bulkhead seat with an empty seat between me and the window seat. Fortunately, it stayed that way and the gentlemen from LA traveling to Delhi sitting in the window seat was a good seat-mate who didn’t talk too much but was cordial and considerate.
The flight itself was about 14 hours long. Having traveled a number of times to Africa, London, and all over Central America, this was by far the longest nonstop stretch flight I’d ever traveled. The plane wasn’t full to capacity, but sitting in a semi-inclined position for that long is hard, especially since just 12 inches away was business first class where the service was 5-star and the reclining bed/seats incredibly inviting! We were served dinner after reaching altitude, which consisted of baked chicken marsala, rice, yogurt, bread, and some kind of veggies I avoided. I must give Continental Airlines kudos for taking such good care of us! It equalled my experiences with British Airways, which was always impeccable on every flight! Breakfast was served an hour before we landed in Delhi and consisted of eggs, fresh fruit and – hallelujah! – coffee!
The Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi is a very modern building inside, with a spacious Immigrations and Customs area for arriving international flights. After retrieving my luggage (which made it!) and clearing Customs, I made my way to a very crowded lobby looking for my host. Rohan Solomon was waiting, holding a sign that read “TMA – Gary Stripling” and, before long we were off in his car to the hotel.
I had forgotten that, since India is a former British colony, everything is backward here (of course, to the Brits and Indians, it’s the way it’s supposed to be). I was ever so glad that Rohan picked me up and drove. Not since El Salvador or Nigeria have I seen so many drivers all over the road at once, beeping each other, cutting in front – it was a terrifying 20-minute ride to my hotel not for the weak of heart!
We pulled into the hotel – The Taj Ambassador Hotel – around 10:30 PM last night. In order to pull into the property itself, the car was stopped by armed guards, searched (underneath with a mirror on a pole & in the trunk), and the heavy gate was pulled back so we could enter the property. I suppose since the attacks in Mumbai last November that security has been beefed up. Rohan remarked as we were pulling in that I should be glad no terrorists would be able to get in!
The hotel itself is part of a large, 5-star chain of business hotels around India. This particular property is older, but very nice inside. We pulled up to the entrance and porters immediately opened our doors, retrieved my luggage and ran it through airport-type luggage scanning machines while we walked through metal detectors and went into the lobby to check in. The porter brought in my luggage almost immediately.
The Ambassador is a British-colonial style hotel with very properly trained employees. After taking me to my room and giving me a brief tour of my huge room, the porter left me to my own. My room is the size of a large business suite with king bed, sitting area with fireplace, flat-screen TV, large desk, mini-bar with tea service, large bathroom with the biggest tub I’ve ever seen, and a walk-out balcony overlooking … a large pit being excavated for a new hotel. Oh well, can’t have everything!
I ordered dinner in and was very pleasantly surprised at the service, speed, and quality of food. The dinner tray arrived in about 20 minutes – complete with a fresh rose on the tray. The porter offered to serve me, but I politely declined, tipped him and dug into my Chinese lemon chicken with fried rice and Seven-up. The food, while not spicey, had a yellow tinge I wasn’t sure came from curry powder or from the lemon. You see, when Laura and I were first married (28 years this June!), she served a Charleston favorite – chicken curry – and I immediately discovered that I’m allergic to curry powder. So, all these years I have avoided anything remotely flavored with curry powder, in spite of how great it smells. However, I’m not sure my Chinese lemon chicken didn’t have a bit of curry in it since I’ve been just a bit upset in the tummy since dinner. But the food was great and much needed after eating only airport/airplane food for the past 24 hours!
After a hot bath, I took a sleeping pill and crawled into my large, down-covered bed and fell fast asleep. Now here I am, at 5:30 AM and totally awake, writing this blog entry, wondering if my sleep patterns will adjust anytime soon! I fixed some Earl Grey tea, and will go downstairs for the breakfast (included with my room) in a couple of hours. Hopefully the laundry will return my shirts and pants – all pressed and ready to wear – before I need them!
I am excited about the next 6 days here in New Delhi. My client is finishing up on a Gospel CD, which he played some for me on the car ride here last night, and we will be jumping into business on Monday with a 3-day consultation to plan the final mastering of the project, its release in Hindi and English both in the UK and US, marketing, promotions, and a tour. His music is well-produced and quite good! Watch for great things from this break-out Indian artist!
Later today Rohan will show me the city and we’ll chill out and rest. Tomorrow we are going to Agra – a day trip to see the Taj Mahal! Other than the car ride, I’m sure the weekend will be great fun! I’ll keep my postings current as time allows, so check back here often for updates. And of course, your comments are always welcomed!
Blessings from New Delhi, India,