My travel report

A Bavarian in India and Sri Lanka – Part 1

Flying Emirates and Arrival in Kerala

By Ralph Kratzer

My whole life I have never been a fan of 1.) organized group travels and 2.) Far Eastern countries. I have always been traveling alone or with a girlfriend, later with my wife or very often with my motorbike to countries in the western hemisphere. Why? On point 1: I’m not a group person, I sometimes really enjoy being alone. On point 2: Prejudices! I have learnt about the Far East only from media reports to know it as noisy, crowded, dirty, with strange food, malaria-infested, only for sex tourists, full of German backpackers… and so on!

Kerala mapMy partner Sarah persuaded me last year to take part in a trip organized by our friend Mike, a specialist in travels to exotic destinations. The trip should go to Kerala in Southern India and then to Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon. Mike is well-known for his organized tours and everyone who had traveled with him before, was excited. So I agreed, not only for the reason to do a favour for Sarah.

To get back to point 1: It was not as bad to travel in a group as I had thought. Many fellow travelers I already knew from Cyprus – all of them nice people, and this equally applied to the rest of the group I did not know before. And to learn as much about a region in the shortest possible time an organized tour is much better, because the dedicated tour guides for such a trip are locals and know all the worth-seeing places by heart. In addition, my wish was mostly accepted to not speak to me before 9 am, because I am not a morning person!

And back to point 2: Most of my prejudices about the Far East I had to revise on the trip. Loud? – only partially… Overpopulated? – compared to Cyprus “yes”, compared to my home country of Germany “rather not” (at least the parts of India and Sri Lanka we visited)… Dirty? – far less than I ever thought… Strange food? – not at all, it was sometimes even excellent… Malaria-infested? – not a trace… For sex tourists? – I have not seen one of them (no offer, no demand!)… Full of German tourists? – “yes”, but even more Japanese and Chinese…

But enough of the introducing words, we now come to the travel report.

Visa passportTraveling to India is not so easy, because you need an entry permit in advance. Nowadays to be applied via Internet. After filling out a multi-page questionnaire, uploading passport photos and copies, and the payment of a $ 60 fee via credit card, you get the authority to enter the country within a short time by email. With this permit you then get the visa stamped into your passport at the Indian destination airport – at least as a German! My British friends, including my partner Sarah, also had to apply online, but they paid more, and Mike had to fly with all passports – weeks prior to our departure from Cyprus – to London in order to obtain the visas in the Indian Embassy. Why so complicated? I do not know! In my opinion, for many people who are interested in a trip to India, this could be a deterrent.

Nevertheless, all members of the travel group got their visas in the end and I had the printout of my ETA (Electronic Travel Authorisation).

So in mid-March our group of 20 went to Larnaca Airport in South Cyprus for the first stage of our trip, the airport of Dubai.

Dubai Airport_1I’ve never flown with Emirates Airlines before, but from what I have had heard from others, it should be one of the most modern and best airlines worldwide…! The plane that we were allowed to use, was obviously one of the oldest models in their fleet, a stone-aged Airbus A330, narrow and with minimal leg room, the food on board – just so-so! But the flight was at least on time, the on-board service friendly and solicitous. Why, however – although we requested at the check-in desk to get two seats next to each other – my partner and I were placed in different rows of seats, remains a mystery to me. And this should not be the last time that it happened…

Dubai Airport_2The Dubai International Airport is giant. I knew already the huge Atatürk Airport in Istanbul, and the not just small airports London-Heathrow and Paris-Charles de Gaulle from many flights before, but Dubai is yet another dimension.

To use a bus or monorail train to go from one terminal to another at an airport, is nowadays well-known. But the need of a coach to change the arrival and departure gate in the same terminal was new to me. Anyhow, it was interesting for all of us, and when I saw the number of brand new widebody double-decker planes Airbus A380 – currently the largest airliner in the world –Airbus A380at the Emirates gates of Dubai airport, I thought to myself: money does not play a major role over there! Emirates seem to have more A380s than other big airlines in the world have planes, even if they count all their different aircrafts in their fleets together!

The flight from Dubai to Kochi in South India was then in a new Boeing 777, more space, more legroom, most modern entertainment system, the food… – lousy! Service and punctuality again A1.

Although only about 8 hours of pure flight time, it took us about 15 hours – with the approach to Larnaca airport and the stay in Dubai – to finally land in Kochi, a 2-million-inhabitants major port city in Kerala, the most south-western state of the Indian subcontinent.

Fingerprint ScannerKerala was the first destination on our nearly 4-week-trip and turned out in the end as a wonderful experience. But first came the immigration procedure at the airport. While my British fellow travelers queued endlessly at the immigration counters in the stifling-hot arrival hall, I went as a privileged Bavarian from good old Germany (!) directly into an air-conditioned lobby, to there get my Visa-on-arrival stamped into the passport in a relatively short time. Only the malfunction of the fingerprint scanner at the counter took some time, but this was seen by me, and 3 other German travelers entering the country, to be more funny than annoying. Quote of an immigrating German lady after the about 10th unsuccessful attempt to scan her fingerprints, “What am I supposed to do? Those are the only fingers I have !!! “

My report about the days in Kerala will follow soon!