Though I am a keen traveller, flying is my least preferred mode of travel. With progressing age and regressing patience, flying nine hours or more at a stretch has become almost impossible. When choosing a flight to Cochin therefore, opting for a flight that included a stopover seemed like the more sensible option. Considering that I would have to fly into Cochin at 3:00am at dawn seemed the least of my worries. Against the better judgement of my family members therefore I booked a Gulf Air flight with around an hour’s stopover at Bahrain. Things were fine until I started to research the city that I was going to visit. Kochi is scary and unsafe for women screamed the first headline. Kerala is the country’s most crime prone state screamed the second. Study says that Kochi is unsafe for women and I did not want to read anymore. I was going to be travelling alone with my daughter. Though my usual modus operandi is to book a hotel as close to the city centre as possible, this time I had to book one as close to the airport as possible. I really did not fancy taking an hour’s joy ride at dawn into the city. Thankfully the hotel was going to provide a free airport transfer. To survive the journey from the airport to the hotel, I hit upon the idea of carrying a pepper spray with me until I found out that it was illegal to purchase or carry a pepper spray in the UK. That was that then. I would have to carry out the ten minute journey from the airport to the hotel on my own in one of the unsafe cities in India at 3am in the morning.
Each time that I get on the plane, I promise myself that this would be my last plane journey. I detest flying so much. However each time I go back-for more. My daughter’s head meanwhile was full of the missing MH370 and she wanted to know exactly what precautions were being taken to avoid such a calamity from befalling us. Six hours and two bites of the airline meal later, we were in Bahrain. The airport was crowded and it was night time. We barely had an hour before our next flight. I am not an overly judgemental person but the repressiveness of Bahrain made me uncomfortable that day. The unabashed penetrating stares of the men and the fully covered women with only the slits of their eyes visible became a little too much to handle that day.
Once on the plane, there was another four hours to reach Kochi. Two hours into the flight and my energy was drained. Flights do that to me. They sap the energy right out. We still had to make the perilous journey back to the hotel and there were another three hours or so to go until we could sink our heads on the soft white hotel pillows. While counting every minute and every second (I was doing the counting, my daughter is blissfully unaffected by the discomforts of a long distance flight), finally we landed. We were helpfully given a form to fill and since the queue for foreign nationals is so much smaller than the queue for Indian citizens (when travelling to India) in no time at all we were at the immigration counter. Until the lady very kindly told me that I had filled up only one of the requisite two forms. So it was back to the end of the queue to fill up the other form. The queue crawled forward. The heat of India started to trouble my daughter almost immediately. I was on my last energy reserves until finally we reached the counter and then proceeded through. The bags were duly picked up and now came the exciting part for which I would need all my wits about me. We came out of the airport looking for a placard displaying our hotel name. We could not see any. The hotel had not sent anyone to pick us up. I knew that this would happen. We started to walk outside and I thought of calling the hotel as I did not fancy a walk so late at night. And suddenly there was our hotel sign held up by a young lad with sandal wood paste smeared on his forehead. The minute I took a look at him, I knew that we were safe. The hotel taxi was clean with the typical aroma of sandalwood incense that I will always associate with Kerala. The hotel lad kept up a constant stream of conversation and in no time at all -finally- we were actually sinking our heads onto the cool, white hotel pillows. We had arrived.