Four o’clock in the morning. There is almost no reason to have to wake up at this ungodly hour – unless you have to catch a flight. Which is what we had to do, get to the Mumbai airport to board a plane to New Delhi, to catch another one to Manipour. While I’m sure all of us in the group felt it was too early at 4:30 Sunday morning, the hotel lobby was filled with young people for whom it was still Saturday night. They were still PARTYING big time, not a care in the world. I even noticed one Indian young lady in a mini-skirt, the only one I saw the two weeks were in India. Whatever else you want to say about the Indians, they do dress modestly.
They also do take security v-e-r-y, v-e-r-y s-e-r-i-o-u-s-l-y all over, but especially at the airports. Here’s the drill. We arrived at the airport and started schlepping our suitcases. At the entrance, there was a guard, with good old reliable Ralphy standing next him. He had all our tickets, having learned from experience not to give them out beforehand. We handed Ralphy our passports, so he could show the guard that the names on the list and the passports matched up – otherwise, you simply don’t get past the front door. We entered the airport and went through another screening in which they again looked at our passports and inspected our suitcases and whatever else was to go into the baggage compartment. Then we got on another line where they again compareded our passports with Ralphy’s list, weighed the suitcases, put tags on them, and put them on the conveyer belt. (Ralphy managed to get them to weigh all the stuff together, so none of the people who ignored the weight limitations got charged extra.) Boarding passes in hand, we went through another screening, where they did the standard body inspections and examined our hand luggage. Then, and only then, we were almost ready to get on the plane.
Except we hadn’t davened shacharit yet. By the time the group reassembled by the boarding gate, we had about fifteen minutes before the flight was supposed to take off! We quickly put on our tallitot and tefillin. I zipped through what I needed to say. Sorry guys, but I’m not missing the flight because you need a little more time to pray.
Hours later, we arrived in New Delhi. Another beautiful, modern airport. Another round of security checks. Maybe it’s because we were switching from Air India to the budget airline, Indigo, but whatever the reason, our luggage did not get routed to our next flight. We had to head over to the luggage carousel, drag it off, and start all over again. And I mean all over again. (Groan.)
We finally reassembled near the next boarding gate, and, guess what, it was time for minchah! We had enough guys, but Ari G. figured that maybe there was some other random soul in the airport who might want to join us; so he located an open microphone and made an announcement. As you might imagine, the airport personnel were less than pleased with this usurpation of the p.a. system, but they let Ari G. off with a stern warning. Maybe the Sephardic Torah scroll in its ornate wooden case that he was lugging around scared them off.
It’s not that I want to appear super-critical of Indigo Airlines, with whom we would be flying the rest of our India adventure. Their flights took off and arrived on time; their planes were new; the flight attendants were courteous and attentive. I just had the feeling that they were making their profit on the goods they were hawking during the flight. The reason we didn’t have to pay for the bottled water we were given was because Ralphie would buy up the entire stock on the plane and have the attendants hand it out to us. A number of us, out of idle curiosity, leafed through the merchandise catalogue and came across this intriguing offering.
Our question is: What does a one-year guarantee on an idol cover? If you lose your job or break your leg while it’s under warrantee, do you get your money back?
(Don’t anybody tell the big-wigs at Indigo, but they could increase their profit margin big time by installing pay toilets on the planes.)
We took of from New Delhi – where the air seemed as polluted as in Bombay –making one stop along the way. Some of the passengers disembarked, and Security checked the boarding pass of everyone who remained and all the baggage left on the plane – just in case someone had snuck an explosive device past the four security checks at the last airport and left it on the plane. Another shift of passengers got on, and we were on our way to the airport serving the state of Manipour and its capital city, Imphal.
If there really is such a thing as “the beaten path,” guaranteed that Imphal is not on it. Don’t believe me? One look at the undernourished airport would convince you. More like the Greyhound terminal in Utica in 1963. Tour buses are scarcer than hen’s teeth in this part of the world, so Ralphy had commandeered a fleet of taxis to motor us around for our stay there. We headed off to the Classic Hotel – brand new, almost finished – where we checked in, gave them our passports to copy, brought our baggage up to our rooms, and headed back down again to ride over to the Ima Keithel Market in the heart of downtown Imphal.
Just as our brochure described it, this market is definitely “authentic India.” And yes, all the vendors are women.
We will be given an hour or so to walk around and, for those so inclined, to go shopping. I’m not interested in buying anything, but I’m delighted to have the chance to have even an hour to take some photographs before it would get too dark. Shades of the flea markets on the streets of Brighton Beach, but in northeast India, they sell fish, spices, local produce, and exquisite fabrics, not third generation hand-me-downs.
The market used to be in several buildings adjacent to one another, but recent earthquakes have made most of these structures unsafe; so almost all the vendors are now selling their wares on the streets and sidewalks – better for me, as there’s more light on the street!
I walked around and photographed for a while, and then was 6PM when the market would begin to shut down. Stand and wait for the taxis to return to take us back to our hotel. Marvel at the traffic. According to Wikipedia, there are about 220,000 people living in Imphal; if that’s true, then every last one of them must have been at the market or the nearby streets, on foot, car, taxi, truck, bicycle or tuk tuk.
We definitely did “experience the sights, smells, and sounds among the people who live here, surrounded by nature in this mountainous area.” Well there is a statue of an elephant below the overpass. I guess that counts as “nature.”
Later that evening, we are again whisked away, this time to witness an evening of Hindu music and dance – costumes and all. You have to admit there was an indigenous culture in the subcontinent – long before Bollywood!
(Note: My original plan was to finish this series of articles before we leave for The States crack of dawn March 8, but that’s not going to happen. I may or may not send out another article before we leave, but you will have to wait patiently for the remainder until we return to The Land before Purim.)