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Date: Thursday 15th Dec - Friday 16th Dec 2005
On the 15th December, we headed off to Heathrow in order to catch BA 142 to India. Delhi to be precise. Our flight wasn't until reasonably late in the day so we leaving home in the early afternoon left plenty of time so that we would not have to rush. How wrong we were.
Understand this, from where we live, Heathrow is maybe 30 minutes by car - if one doesn't hit traffic. We also live near a train line. We opted to take the train, changing to the air-link coach at Woking for the final leg to Heathrow. This in and of itself is amazing, why is Heathrow not a train terminus in it's own right? Yes, there are connections into London - but not everyone lives there! Heathrow should have direct connections north, south, and west - it should be easy to go there direct. This might just reduce some M25 traffic. One can get a train from Gatwick to Reading, but the line stops there... they did not extend it all the way.
Inevitably, the coach was late. It then took an hour to get out of Woking. We needed Terminal 4, and the driver told us it'd be quicker to get off at Terminal 1 and take the interconnecting train link (which is part of the London Underground network - connections to London are good). Of coursem being Heathrow this meant loads of walking to find the connections, but at least we were no longer subject to the vagaries of London orbital traffic.
We arrived with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately the check in queue was two and a half hours long. We finally got allocated our seats at 8pm - the gates closed at 8:20pm. The signs said that the gate was a 15 minute walk.
All in all, from when we left home to check in would usually take about 2-3 hours ended up taking 6. Including a couple of hours in Woking. It really brought home the fragility of the London transport system. Crossrail in London for the Olympics? That is important (and not for the Olympics), but what we really need in this area are trains which connect around the capital (most obviously) Heathrow should connect directly to Gatwick, and ideally should have a major train terminal to connect to the rest of the country.
The staff on the plane were pretty good, and we flew out over the Netherlands, north of the Black seam past Dnepropetrousk (so the map told me) and Afghanistan (going near Kabul). From the air Afghanistan looked absolutely beautiful, there were hundreds and hundreds of little walled compounds in the hills - the terrain undulating beneath us with the Himalaya in the distance.
We flew into Delhi, and as we landed the pollution was thick outside the window. New Delhi is fog prone at this time of year, and the pollutants turn this to smog. One never quite got used to this, but it did vary from day to day - and was not too much of a problem. Overall, New Delhi wasn't that bad when we were there (though when we were in Kolkata the Delhi smog got so bad they had to close the airport some days). The worst pollution we had was when we arrived in Agra, we got to the city and it attacks the back of the throat. Again, it seemed to clear the next day when we did the bulk of our sightseeing.
Arriving in Delhi was a breeze for us, though as we waited in the airport the pollution was noticeable and unpleasant. There was a long and snaking line for passport checks - but we went straight to the short queue for 'Diplomats and PIO card holders'. Lovely.
We had arranged with the Hotel for someone to pick us up at the airport, and they were good to their word.
We had arrived in India.
(More to follow)