With the alarm going off at 1.45 am I barely had two hours of sleep. But, I did not feel tired. When there’s action ahead of you, the mind becomes alert after the shortest of rests. That, to me, is the concept of power napping. A fifteen minute nap can keep me charged for almost 5 hours. In modern terms, that may be called a turbo charge! The need for turbo charges were more in New Zealand than in Australia. Towards the later part of Explore New Zealand I realized that the reason for this could be the hot water shower I took before starting the days’ drive. This probably lulled the eyes and lids dropped. Maybe, pure conjecture.
We all got ready in time for a 2.30 am departure. It was cold when we went out to load the car. Shukla had to clean up the window and side view mirror so that I could get better views of the road on his side. I kept my window open for a while till the turns on the road were over and we had hit the main road for the airport. It wasn’t that far either. In about 15 minutes we were at the drop off point of the Christchurch airport. We commandeered a few trolleys and unloaded all the luggage onto them, carefully counting the number of bags to tally with those loaded into the car from the accommodation. I left instructions with Shukla and Hetal to check in all of us if the counter clerk permitted without my presence. With that I drove off to the rental car drop off location.
I reached the parking lot without much ado and there was Neville sporting his trademark welcome smile. He watched where I parked the car and took the key from me. I took a selfie with the car that had served me well for 18 days. Neville ushered me into the office where he had been watching IPL action on TV. IPL fever was well and truly on. Kapil had been hooked on to it in Auckland. And now, other diehard fans here. Neville’s colleague, behind a desk, entered a few things in the computer and the process was over and done with. It was as simple as that. Neville showed me into a van and drove me to the airport. He told me that the rental company would fetch the car from the parking lot in the morning and they would settle any balance payments, if any, directly with me. He also told me that the occupancy rate of the car park is almost always above 80% since they were cheaper than the competition. Customer preference was also influenced by certain add-ons which his company provided like washing; customers didn’t seem to mind that they were a bit further from the airport than their competition. I exchanged warm goodbyes with Neville before getting down in front of the departure gate of the international airport.
When I got down I found the Shuklas and Hetal with the luggage inside the domestic part of the terminal. I was told that the International check in area would open only by 3.30 am. When the counters opened Hetal and I went to a vacant area and weighed our bags. It was indeed a great relief to note that the bags we wanted to check in were within the permissible limits. The Qantas check in queues moved quite fast and very soon the check in formalities were completed. The bags were all checked through to our respective final destinations. All of us were together for the legs from Christchurch to Brisbane and onwards to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong we would split up with Hetal flying out first to Mumbai and the Shuklas to New Delhi next. My flight to Chennai was the last. Immigration did not take up much time and security check was least intrusive. We spent a while in the duty free shops and found a few good deals for chocolates. I wanted to buy a couple of bottles of Krakken dark rum, but thought of getting them in Chennai instead of carrying them all the way from Christchurch. I was to rue this decision later. Shukla got us a cup of coffee after a long wait, by which time boarding was announced.
When I boarded the flight with the cup of coffee one of the hostesses showed me that she had also picked up her cup before boarding the aircraft. The flight to Brisbane was all of four hours and in time. As it turned out, ours was the first flight out of Christchurch for the day. It seemed that the airport is closed in the night hours. Breakfast was served on the flight and I had scrambled eggs, baked beans and sausage, besides a muffin and juice. The stayover in Brisbane was less than three hours and we whiled away time scouring the duty free shops and hanging around in the common areas. On the long flight to Hong Kong we all had seats together in the large aircraft. After a while, Hetal and I could not bear the cold in the forward section of the aircraft and we found a couple of seats in the last row. The Shuklas preferred to sit in the allotted seats with jackets and blankets to warm them. The nearly ten hour flight seemed longer than it was and the food was just passable. I had a couple of shots of vodka with ginger ale before dinner, which was predictably a Hindu meal! The choice of Indian movies was very limited and hence, I opted to sleep most of the time.
When the flight reached Hong Kong we found that the gate for Shukla’s flight to New Delhi was almost immediately after the transit check in. Shukla and I were on Cathay Pacific flights and this was the terminal for those flights. The gate for my flight was yet to be announced. As Hetal was flying Jet Airways she had to go to Terminal 1 taking the inter-terminal train. I accompanied her to her gate, which we reached without too much fuss. I took leave of her as boarding was announced. I went back to the Cathay Pacific terminal and met up with the Shuklas. Even when they started boarding the gate for my departure wasn’t announced. However, from the display board I realized that the flight was delayed by a half hour. Thus, I took leave of all the companions who had been with me for 24 days.
As the flight was delayed I went to the food court and looked around. Finally I settled for a meal of paratta and chicken curry. The meal was every bit Asian and a wee bit spicy. The gate announcement came just a few minutes before scheduled boarding time. The long walk to the gate, which took me more than 15 minutes of brisk walk, consumed the paratta and chicken curry. It looked as if the flight was full, but mercifully the seat next to me was empty. However, that did not deter the gentleman sitting a couple of seats away from knocking down my vodka with his blanket! The captain kept apologizing for the delay of the flight and promised to make up as much as he could. Nothing of that happened and I landed an hour late into Chennai.
I was pleasantly surprised by the quick and hassle-less immigration clearance in Chennai. I was tense regarding Customs clearance as I had a drone in my checked in bags. When the bags came, after some delay, I was happy to note that there were no chalk markings on them. While waiting for the bags I completed my duty free shopping. The liquor I wanted, Krakken Rum, was not available in the store. I cursed myself for not having picked them up in Christchurch, or even in Brisbane. In its place I bought a couple of bottles of Gin and plenty of chocolates. The duty free shop gave me a special bag to cart the goodies away. As soon as I came out of the airport I was assailed by the heat and sound of horns, both of which I was insulated from in the past couple of months. In that instant I knew I was back home.