Consider the process of stamping of boarding passes and baggage tags. All they do is create delays. There is no logic that is served other than employment and once again, the false sense of security. I have yet to come across another country which insists on doing this kind of stamping and then employing more people down the chain to check the stamps.
We build new airports, and then paralyse them by not building or using the aerobridges. I don’t understand the logic. Why not plan and build aerobridges to make the passenger flow streamlined and faster? In Mumbai, a new terminal was built and we still have our buses. Even on some international flights, we use the buses.
The drop-off and pick-up points are so messed up at some of our airports, that honking is a continuous background sound stream. Go to Mumbai’s international airport for a midnight drop and you will know exactly what I mean. See the chaos at peak hours at Mumbai’s pick-up points where yet another chit is handed out to cars to ensure they depart within five minutes. The result: a long line of cars honking at each other to get out quickly. Space is obviously a big constraint everywhere since we have voters occupying a large part of the Mumbai airport land.
The security check at airports is a bottleneck that is what I think of as a “daily dysfunction.” It occurs multiple times daily. Everyone around knows about it, but no one wants to do anything about it, because the buck stops somewhere else.
The metal detector that we walk through – the information emanated by it (a beep or lack of a beep) is entirely ignored by the security person who waves his wand across every part of one’s body. Why have the metal detectors then? Even in the US, if the detector doesn’t beep, you are allowed to walk through.
The result of this is that one is penalised for actually coming in early. Late passengers are prioritised through all the checks. As a result, it can take 20-30 minutes in the queues. In addition, many times not all the scanners are pressed into service again creating inordinately long lines. As passengers, all we have to do is to stand and stare.
I have been taking many flights on work of late. While the on-time arrival of flights has improved, many procedures at our airports hark back to a different era or are simply illogical. Of course, everything goes in the name of security so no one will have the courage to make any changes, but that doesn’t make them any more right.
The silly stupidities we go through at airports are probably replicated at many other places. Take for example all the scanners we have installed at malls, hotels and random other places creating an illusion of security. They serve absolutely no purpose – like the question “Are you carrying a satellite phone?” in the customs form at airports.
What is needed is for us to think of how we can make things better. Just because things have been done in a certain way doesn’t mean they have to be that way for the future also.
From the last part of my Binsar vacation series a year ago:
Bali and Binsar capped off a summer of plenty of travel. Pune, Surat, Anand, Nageshwar, Bali, Binsar, Nainital. It was a packed June-July for us.
As I write this a few days later, I cannot but help think of the beauty in India, and how little we know of it. If only we can improve the information about and accessibility to destinations like Binsar, tourism can be a huge revenue generator for us. Indians now want to travel, and for the most part, it is still much easier to travel to Bangkok, Singapore or Bali than it is to travel within the country.
The other thing I loved was vacationing with my parents. It brought back lots of memories from childhood, especially the trip we had made to Kashmir and the frequent ones to Mount Abu. When I went to IIT, these stopped. Now, with Abhishek growing, we have decided to do these trips annually within India.
I was thinking about our past international vacations with Abhishek: 2011 was Bali, 2010 was China (HK, Shenzhen and Shanghai), 2009 was London, 2008 was Singapore, 2007 was Dubai and US East Coast. By age 7, he has already seen a lot more of the world then Bhavana or I did till our 30s. Seeing the world around gives a wider perspective and also shows what we can make India.
Every vacation is a realisation that Abhishek is growing older. My favourite moment of the trip was the two of us waiting outside a store in which Bhavana was shopping. The considerate store managers had put two chairs outside with a tag on them “Man Chair.” I sat in one of them, and he clicked me. That became our shared moment every time Bhavana went into a store. We went around looking for “Man Chairs.”
Abhishek is now so full of questions and memories. His favourite game after we have come back is “Money Changer.” He uses an old cash register and becomes a money changer man! We’ve been playing this every night. In bookshops, he had lots of questions on politics. Some of his simple questions hid behind them a quest for a deeper understanding.
Vacations create lasting memories and experiences. This one was our most diverse and the longest. Until, hopefully, next year.
Our last day of the vacation was in Kuala Lumpur. We began the day visiting the Petronas Towers. It was a Sunday, and all the tours to the top were booked, so we had to be content seeing the malls at the base. We then visited Little India and nearby China Town for some last-minute shopping scan.
KL airport is 62 kms from the city centre. We covered the distance in about 40 minutes. It was a Sunday so there wasn’t much traffic. But there is an elaborate network of expressways that connect the city to the airport. I shudder to think what will happen when our unimaginative planners get around to building the new Mumbai airport near Panvel. The travel to the airport may take longer than the flight out.
Landing in Mumbai reminded me of the distance we have to travel as a nation. A couple flights had arrived at the same time, and there were no trolleys. No one seemed interested in making them available. Worse, even the just arrived passengers had resigned themselves to moving the bags by hand. When our expectations were so low, how will we transform our nation?
I could not help thinking that we, in India, perhaps have better and more scenic places. But the ease of access is just not there. The drives we did to Binsar and Munnar last year were, quite literally, back-breaking. Tourism done right can be a huge revenue generator and jobs creator for India.
On the last day in Sydney, as Bhavana and Abhishek walked around Paddy’s Market, I took the opportunity to walk through some of the streets of Sydney and spend some quiet time in Hyde Park. As I sat on a bench, I could not help thinking that we could have built Mumbai so differently.
There was no logic to having an FSI of 1.33 which stunted our buildings, limited real estate, and created for astronomically high pricing. The spread of short low-rise buildings eliminated public spaces that should have been used for parks and gardens. We did not use the water around to build bridges and eliminate congestion on the roads. We did not use the underground to create subways to speed up transportation.
We didn’t have to look far – just imitate some of the best cities in the world. We didn’t, and the result is all around for us to see in our Indian cities. We should have picked the best practices and learnings from the world when we built India post Independence, but we did not. The sad part is that, for the most part, we are still not learning our lessons.
Day 3 was a tour out to the Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation and Mossman Gorge. It took the full day. We also took a river cruise and saw a couple of crocodiles. At the restaurant in the rainforest where we had lunch, a python showed up on the roof, even as we were getting ready to take a walk at the nearby stream. Overall, a day made for nature.
Our final day in Carins was a walk down on the promenade at the Esplanade, looking into some of the shops, and finally packing up for our 3-hour flight back to Sydney.
Cairns is a tourist town in what they call the “wet tropics.” They have done an amazing job – combining the power of two different ecosystems, the reef out at sea, and the rainforest inland. The journeys are very comfortable, and each is an experience to savour. The airport at Cairns makes travel in and out so easy.
Most of our meals were at Marinades, where we got excellent Jain food. Food normally is a bit of a challenge when we travel, but in general, we do manage to find Indian restaurants where we get Jain meals. Breakfast is typically at the hotel, and then we carry sandwiches for lunch when we are out.
I had planned out our four days in Cairns as 3 days of tours, and the last day for general walking around town. This was to be our real sightseeing part of the vacation.
Day 1 was a trip to Kuranda. A 7.5 km cable skytrain takes you over the rainforest into a small village. Return was a 2-hour train ride back on the Kuranda Scenic Railway. The dense rainforest views from the top via the cable car and then all around on the train ride back were simply amazing. In Kuranda, we went to the Butterfly Sanctuary and the Zoo. For Abhishek, the highlight was holding a butterfly and touching a kangaroo. We saw kaolas sleeping and some crocodiles.
Day 2 was a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. We took a catarmaran out to a pontoon 50 kms into the sea. The 90—minute ride was tough – the waters were very choppy and the high winds added to the discomfort. We were all feeling extremely seasick by the time we reached. It took an hour or so for us to start feeling normal again.
Abhishek and I weren’t up for snorkeling and scuba diving, even as Bhavana did both. All three of us went on both a semi-submersible and a glass-bottomed boat through which we got a good look at the coral reef. As Bhavana was out in the water, Abhishek and I ‘suntanned’ on the upper deck of the pontoon . The ride back, thanks to the low tide, was very comfortable.
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