Travel Editor Stephen Scourfield has had some interesting experiences en route to India, and he's glad to be back there. Here he takes us through another week in Travel
INDIA IN PERTH
India begins for me in Perth with the 13cabs taxi to the airport. I am going to Delhi, and the taxi driver migrated from Delhi to Perth six years ago. Well, not quite Delhi, he says — “an hour’s drive from the city”. I reply: “That’s about 100m, if there’s traffic.” Officially Delhi has a population of 34 million people. In festivals and in the current wedding season (which started on November 23), it is way more than that.
INDIA IN MOTION
We talk driving and roads — new roads being built around Delhi are toll roads, and most locals can’t afford them, he says. I know this from experience. When you leave the chaotic local roads and get on to a toll road, they are often eerily empty. And then there is the cost of fuel, my new, temporary friend says. “If we fill up the car here and it is $80 or $90, we are happy with that,” says this driver of a Toyota Prius hybrid taxi. “That’s, like, 5000 rupees. The ordinary person in India can’t afford that. In India, petrol is over $2 a litre.” He’s been going back every year, but not this year, as he’s building a house for his young family.
From the first moment I step on board the Singapore Airlines flight, I feel the Singaporean welcome; it is cultural, imbued, organic, intrinsic, natural. It is not just the habit and complete attitude of the people, but absorbed and saturated right through the company. I have witnessed it on planes, behind the scenes, with executives, for many years … but when I am greeted at the plane door, it feels fresh. I am reminded that it is real, not scripted. Goodness, how I like and value politeness. The captain announces a four-hour, 45-minute flight time. I’m very happy back here in 46K (I’m an economy guy, remember).
I think I made a mistake paying $88 for three hours in the Ambassador Transit Lounge in Terminal 3 at Singapore’s Changi airport. The seating area is tired, and it is stuffy and clammy (there’s even a plug-in air cooler in the corner — a sign that it can get even more unpleasant in here). The food is very poor, and meagre. The only thing I really trust is the plastic-wrapped white bread cheese sandwich, a small tub of bought-in ice cream and a “press the button” cappuccino (which is awful). Given that there are so many good public facilities in Changi, I wouldn’t waste your money here.
PS I wasted my money to be able to tell you not to. That’s what we do.
It’s raining hard in Singapore as we sit in the plane, waiting to take off for the next flight, to New Delhi. Rain in the tropics is a deluge from a bright, beige sky. This is a green city for a reason.
On the flight from Singapore to Delhi, a bare foot is stuck through the gap between mine and the next seat, and rested on the seat arm next to me.
A child behind, is sitting on a parent’s lap for the five hour, 15 minute flight, mostly kicking the back of my seat. (Travel has its challenges.) I don’t usually recline my seat, but I do today, and stuff pillows behind me to dull the blows.
I did have two empty seats next to me. I thought I’d won, for once. Now I have a woman sleeping with her head in my lap, her feet out in the walkway. (Sharing is caring.)
Singapore Airlines’ entertainment system is not only easy to navigate and with a curated feel (many airlines’ systems feel almost pumped too full), but when I clean the screen I realise it has already been thoroughly cleansed after the last flight. My choices today include Bend it Like Beckham (probably prompted by the Netflix Beckham documentary). It gives a bit of insight into Indian culture, and even a wedding, in Hounslow, near Heathrow Airport (with women’s soccer and Keira Knightley thrown in). It is a good re-watch, especially as I spent a year at school in Hounslow as a child. Oh, and it has a happy ending.
… but it’s a little difficult to hear any movie, as the woman behind me has been chanting to a grandchild at the top of her voice for the last hour. The same two bars, over and over and over (get me off this plane).
ARRIVING IN DELHI
I last arrived in Delhi in 2018 — and today, Indira Gandhi International Airport’s T3 still feels calm and well organised (it opened in July 2010). This city went through some version of hell during the pandemic. I lost friends. But I’m glad to be back.
I am with Narendra Singh Rathore Bawadi, the experienced guide on our Travel Club Tour of Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Udaipur. We leave at 4.30am in hazy light, to go to the airport to meet the group arriving on another flight, drink coffee from the little stall, and stand in the crowd to welcome them. Then we’re off to the Taj Palace New Delhi hotel.
I see a rail carriage marked for “Differently Abled Persons”.
There is a constitutional right to use the washroom of any hotel in India, whether you are staying there or not.
A Hindu house traditionally has its door facing east, as dawn kills the darkness.
PS Full story on my days in India in Saturday's print edition.