25 October'06 : Coimbatore Junction :
My parents were going to Chennai for a long stay of several months & I was leaving for San Francisco for a six weeks trip. We reached Cbte Station earlier than usual around 7.30 pm.The Nilgiri express chugged in from Mettupalayam amazingly on time at 8.30 pm. We were booked to travel by First Class.
Nilgiris was one of the very few trains in the country which still ran a first class compartment. I chose first class travel because the berths are wider,there is greater safety as each 4-berth bay had a sliding door which could be bolted from the inside,there is more leg and luggage room & the toilets were cleaner. Bed rolls are provided against payment. First class coaches are not air conditioned though but this was not a major disadvantage considering the weather was quite cool & comfortable at this time of the year.
The first class coach could not be found. Some one mentioned that coach cancellation was a frequent occurence in this train. I was aghast & shocked at this possibility ! The guy also stated that passengers having confirmed berths are normally reallocated in 2nd or 3rd A/C coach. After that I rushed to the A/C coaches & scanned the passenger lists pasted outside. Our names did not figure. Meanwhile I approached a TTE who informed me that another TTE would arrive shortly with the updated charts.
With only 15 minutes left for the train to depart I considered alternative contingency plans. My parents would have to return to the Den(name of the bungalow where I live in Coimbatore) & I would have to travel overnight to Chennai by road-an unattractive proposition considering the run down condition of large stretches of the Cbte-Chennai highway.
Suddenly the chap in black coat appeared triumphantly waving the updated charts. I thrust our tickets towards him - he scoured the charts again but failed to find our names. I snatched the charts from his hand & in less than 30 seconds succeeded in locating our names & berth numbers.
I then quickly boarded my parents in the 3rd A/C coach & guided them through the packed aisle amidst the chattering,pandemonium & chaos that prevailed. It took us what seemed like eternity to find our berths & arrange our suitcases & bags in available spaces.We finally heaved a big sigh of relief. We were making the journey after all.
Caution : If you hold a reservation in First Class in Nilgiri Express make sure to check up well in advance whether the coach is running or not & if cancelled if you have been reallocated berths in 2nd/3rd A/C coach. A lot of unnecessary panic can be thus avoided. It is reported that First Class compartments may be abolished under the Lalloo regime and therefore may soon become a thing of the past. So if you wish to have a First Class travel experience rush & make reservations today ! And pray that the coach is not cancelled on the scheduled date.
26-27 October'2006 : Anna International Airport,Chennai & San Francisco :
Reached the airport around 9.30 pm well ahead of the scheduled departure time of 0130 hrs. Check in at the Lufthansa counter was smooth,no excess baggage was paid.Each suitcase was within the prescribed dimensions(158 cms) and weight 23Kgs. Hand baggage specifications as per norms.No problems with immigration & customs either.Reached the departure lounge @ 11.00 hrs. Chatted with other passengers,had some coffee,napped a while. Flight was delayed by an hour due to heavy downpour at Chennai Airport & finally took off at 0230 hrs.
I was allocated the 28th row - convenient as it had greater leg space & one could comfortably stretch out.(Row no.24 is also similarly comfortable) The flight took approx. 9 hours to reach Frankfurt. Slept through most of the flight. Fortunately the crew did not wake me up for the late dinner service. Got up refreshed around 0730 am & helped myself to some Indian B.Fast-idli/vada sambhar & coffee before deplaning at F.Furt. Security check was very strict at Frankfurt probably a consequence of 9/11. Even transit passengers had to go through the rigorous drill - I had to take off my wallet, shoes/socks,belt,coat,mobile,anything else I carried on my body, place them in a basket to be put through the scanner.Followed by a thorough & skilful hand frisking - cold & dispassionate but quick & efficient.
The flight to San Francisco departed @ 11.30 am roughly an hour behind schedule. This was a long haul flight of 13 hours over the Atlantic . This time I was not so lucky with the seating. Row no.34 was cramped & uncomfortable.The journey was largely uneventful-except for the frequent visits to the toilets & for walks on the aisle to keep out cramps. Indian vegetarian lunch was served as per request-naan/chole/sweet etc.(Tasteless stuff ! Should be more appropriately renamed German Indian vegetarian) Soft drinks,wine & other forms of alcohol were available on request. The TV monitor frequently displayed a flight route map showing location of the flight,altitude, temperature,hours remaining,time of arrival etc. The crew served with with immaculate efficiency- but were expressionless & displayed neither warmth or friendliness. Finally arrived at SF International Airport. After a smooth & hassle free immigration & customs & bagagge collection(some delay here) finally emerged from the airport @ 2.30 pm to a warm reception from Shobha, Rohit, Bhavana & Baby Mira.
We had a smooth ride home in Rohit's Toyota Camry automatic - a comfortable, spacious, feature rich sedan with huge elbow, leg & boot space. After a 30 minute ride we reached their residence at Daly City (San Mateo County) a suburb of San Francisco where Rohit,Bhavana & Mira live.The neighbourhood is called Village in the Park, is situated atop a hill from where an excellent view of San Francisco can be had. On arrival I was warmly greeted by Pepper, a recently adopted 8 yr. old jet black labrador-shepherd mix.