Day 11 (Darjeeling – Bagdogra – Kolkata – Singapore)
After having breakfast (toast and cornflakes) in the hotel, we checked out and boarded on a jeep provided by the tour agency for Bagdogra Airport. Our flight to Kolkata was 2pm. The distance from Darjeeling to the airport was only 95 km but the driver insisted to pick us up at 8am even though we requested for a later pick-up time. Hence, the only Darjeeling we saw was through the jeep’s windscreen and windows. However, the driver did bring us to Margarets Hope Darjeeling Tea Estate (one of the many tea estates in Darjeeling) which we passed by along the way to buy some Darjeeling tea back home. We bought some good quality tea at INR 100 per 100g. We tried the tea back home and it was really good. Similar quality tea would have cost us at least 3 times more expensive back home. It took us 4 hours to travel down from 2250m Darjeeling to 130m Bagdogra. We eventually reached the airport around noon. Luckily, we did not insist on a later pick-up time or we would have missed our flight. After collecting our boarding passes, we headed to the airport restaurant for lunch. The restaurant was very crowded. We ordered Masala Butter Chicken and Chinese Fried Rice (interestingly, no matter where you go, this dish is always easily available). The Masala Butter Chicken was one of the best i have ever tried.
Our SpiceJet flight (unlike Jet Airways) did not provide any refreshment. I was looking forward to a nice Indian cuisine dinner in Kolkata but ended up having exorbitant cup noodles instead. Our flight had arrived in Kolkata around 4 pm. After collecting our check-in luggage, we exited from the domestic airport and walked 10 minutes down the main road to the international airport. As our connecting flight to Singapore was 12 midnight, we were thinking of visiting the Kolkata city for a couple of hours. To our astonishment, there was no luggage deposit facility or service available in Dum Dum Airport. Mind you, it was an international airport that we are talking about here. Bearing in mind our baggage, we decided not to venture out of the airport. The airport was really small. Within the main building (before departure check-in hall), there was only a convenience shop, a bookshop and a restaurant. To kill time, we went to the restaurant for a drink. The restaurant was the total opposite of the one that we went in Bagdogra Airport earlier. There were only a few souls inside. We stayed in the restaurant for almost 3 hours until we felt that it was time for us to enter the check-in hall. Unfortunately, we were barred from entering the check-in hall. The reason provided was that the gate for our flight was not yet open. We tried repeatedly to bargain with the security officer for entry but to no avail. We ended up waited for another 2 hours outside the check-in hall. It was already 9pm when we were finally allowed in. Till now, we still do not understand the logic of the security keeping us outside the check-in hall. We thought that this was the last hiccup, only to be informed by the check-in staff that our boarding passes could not be issued because they had lost our records in the computer system. A few other passengers were also affected. We waited for another 30 minutes for them to resolve this issue. After finally checking in our luggage and getting our boarding passes, we felt that it was time for dinner. However, the only shop available in the check-in hall was a snack shop. The snack did not look very appetizing so i bought cup noodles to eat instead. Guess what? The cup noodles was masala flavour. I did get to “enjoy” my last Indian cuisine after all. Despite all the waiting and hiccups, our flight departed for Singapore on time. It was finally: Home Sweet Home.
During the last two days of our trip, we encountered India as it is in reality: crowded, polluted, full of inefficient bureaucracy. Singaporeans have been so used to (pampered perhaps?) the living conditions in developed countries that we exhibit the slightest intolerance and impatience towards any sort of inefficiencies (be it at home or overseas). Subconsciously, we have taken efficiency as the natural rhythm of life. We were especially vexed when the other party expressed indifference or were helpless to our complaints. Despite all the reminders to look at things from other people’s perspective, we still fail to truly understand and appreciate that culture and pace of progression are not the same everywhere. Something for us to ponder upon..