When I logged in to do an online check-in for our flight to Chandigarh, I found that we were assigned the last two seats in front of the lavatory. Initially, I thought that MakeMyTrip had not selected our seats as it would have cost them a whopping 300 Rupees causing a dent in their quarterly results. But then I had this epiphany that it could have been done on purpose so as to give the customer the real “economy” experience.
The last row in domestic flights can induce a feeling that the plane is taking a sudden nosedive whenever someone flushes inside the lavatory. Every time the sound gets to you. Not to mention the cramped legroom and lack of pushback seats and the scathing olfactory puncture during explosions inside the lavatory. Every time you see someone going there with a tense face, you brace yourselves for what’s coming.
The French Connection
The flight’s take off was delayed due to a French family boarding late. The French lady argued with the hostesses that they had random seats assigned and that her kids couldn’t sit with her. She even quoted hypothetically a flight disaster situation where her kids would be left alone adding to the tension of other flyers.
“Ma’am, what’s your problem? You are delaying takeoff and we have 200 other passengers waiting. It’s your responsibility to get your seats assigned before boarding”, said a ground personnel who stormed in when he heard about the delay.
The argument shaped into a small ruckus and she shouted back in her French accent, “Iteeez not my responzeebeeleetee! Iteeez yourz! Si. You not doeen your job…and…er…now you ask me to go f*** myself…”
“Ma’am, do not use such words to me. I am not your servant. I am off-boarding you and your family”, he said and mumbled something into the walkie-talkie.
Then, a few passengers who didn’t like the sight of white people being displeased (probably from the IT industry) quickly volunteered to switch seats and got them settled.
For most part of the flight, I alternated between watching my wife reading a novel on her tablet occasionally stealing glances of random sentences and an industrious little Candy Crush Saga player in the front seat who seemed to rejoice regaining his lost childhood through his journey in his Candy Kingdom. He kept nodding ecstatically every time he achieved something and the screen popped up “Sweet!”
One thing I terribly missed is the photo opportunity of the Mohali Cricket Stadium before landing. We hit some rough air and being in the last seat, we felt as we were in the washing machine dryer for the final shake. I always knew that the stadium had low floodlights because it was very close to the airport, so I was eagerly counting on getting an aerial shot. Instead, I got a clearer view of the wing flaps opening during the landing displaying its innards. It was almost as though you get a quick glimpse of someone’s rotten molars while they yawn like a Hippo.
Summer up to Shimla
We landed in Chandigarh. The airport looked neat, freshly built and somewhere between empty and haunting. The guide from the travels greeted us outside promptly with a placard and a wry smile indicating that the next week was going to be a carnival of translation comedies. He brought a Tata Indigo vehicle, fairly well-maintained, and we started for Shimla at 2 PM in overcast conditions with Maps and Translate apps open on our phones. After a breezy first hour in the plains, we started climbing the hill glancing at the outlines of high mountains.
Due to construction work and a lot of vehicle congestion, we knew we were in for a long haul. The traffic was so thick that people were getting off for roadside food at any place they wanted. Food stalls were setup every kilometer milking money from desperate tourists. Apart from the first timers, it looked like Shimla was the perfect weekend getaway for the regulars from Chandigarh.
Half the journey went stop-start and traveling through this dust bowl made us quite weary and reminded us of what we wanted to get away from in the first place.
The driver stopped the car about 4:30 PM for a tea break. The place had a row of tuck-shops and small-time eateries and a few men who liked staring at tourists. We bought water and some snacks and waited in the car. While waiting, another car slowly parked close to ours, so close that it was impossible for someone to come out. But an old man got out from the driver’s seat dinging our car without the slightest comprehension that he did something wrong and walked casually to the shop as though people dinged one another’s cars as a welcome hug to their town.
After our guide came back fully recharged, we started uphill under the sun gradually peeking from the clouds. He was driving as though his other personality took over, steering effortlessly along the curves ripping through at 90. Every time we were at the blind spot of the curves, I prepared myself for a huge truck conjuring suddenly and ramming right into our car. It was exciting in a fiendish way.
Eventually about 6:30, we reached the cramped streets of Shimla connecting to our hotel, Snow Valley Resorts. The outlook from a distance had a facade like spreadsheet cells, radiant in the evening sun with excellent symmetry and capped off roofs. We inched ahead in the traffic, occasionally looking at a humongous gibbon (the animal) sitting royally on a ruptured stonewall as would wise men from the villages picking teeth after a sumptuous dinner. We eventually reached the hotel at twilight.
“This is it? Is this the Shimla I’ve always wanted to see? Where is the snow?” I thought.
“Of course, it is only the summer but it is 27 degrees and we have seen nothing but a strangely squatting gibbon so far.” When I was wondering where the hotel was, our guide pointed to a stairwell going downhill and parted with us after informing the next day’s agenda.
The unusually courteous front desk gave us a room only in the first floor when we requested for a higher room with a better view. But it turned out they had actually fulfilled our request. The second floor is below the first floor. So, people who thought they wanted to go up can only go down. In fact, during dinnertime, we saw a guy frantically inquiring people whether buffet was being served above everything pointing to the roof as the restaurant was marked at fourth floor.
The room was of average size with a spacious and well sanitized restroom. We could view the stacks of town houses from our window. The restaurant was huge with a wide balcony where dinner was served for those who liked to discuss brewing international crises in a cold outdoor motif.
The balcony had the most gorgeous view of the valley with concrete on the left and greenery on the right and a distant view of mountains, marred by screens of smoke and dust, giving us a memorable snapshot of Shimla melting in its own indulgences.
There was live music with Hindi songs. Since our package included night buffet as well, we feasted on the food without guilt and retired quietly into the night.