Saturday, July 14, 2012

My ramblings - Domestic airport observations...

I thought I'd write a travelogue today but have ended up listing some observations that I saw in the last few days.

Like father like son?

What a pity it is the way we set examples for others - we crib and cry about the wrong that others do, but how good an example do we ourselves set? I noticed a father and an inquisitive son step outside an ATM after they withdrew some cash. Once outside, the father proudly tore the ATM receipt in eight pieces and threw it on the footpath as if they were flowers that he were showering in a marriage. What an example indeed?
Ask and you could get it

I didn’t know it was this bad - last time it took me 1.5 hours to get to the Bangalore airport. Today it took me 2.5 hours. As we approached the airport, I checked the time on the cab’s dashboard and was pretty certain that I would miss the flight - just 30 minutes for departure and I hadn't done an online check-in as well. But the cab time was 10 minutes ahead - I rushed to the departures entrance and was confronted by two queues with more than 6 people in each. It would slow me down if I waited there. 

I saw a couple of North Indian security guards sitting idle in front of a 3rd entrance; there was a board that said “Staff only.” Looking at the guy I had a feeling he wouldn't budge but I still thrust my ticket and id at the man and told him my flight was at 9:10pm. And he causally, in Hindi, replied that there was plenty of time for me! Fortunately the lady beside him noticed my hurry and told him, “Just check.” Not happy at being rushed into this, the security guy examined my id card very closely. Seeing me at this empty queue, a couple more passengers joined behind me. The security guy said that my name on the ticket didn’t match with the id card - I pointed out that the id only had the first two names and not the third. He examined the id and ticket for a few more seconds before waving me through. The lady then said, "Check theirs also," referring to the two people who were behind me.
Listen to your mom!

I then rushed to the Check-in counter to get my boarding pass and drop my check-in baggage. There was less than 40 minutes left and today morning a colleague missed his flight because he arrived at the airport 30 minutes before departure - you are supposed to arrive 45 minutes before departure. He had to cancel and rebook on the next flight which was 3 hours later. For me there was no other flight after this one tonight. 
Fortunately in Bangalore, there isn’t a separate security scanner for check-in luggage; you just go directly to the airline counter and drop your bags - but the queue here had more than 12 people. After talking to one of the airline boys, he created a new queue where I was the first in line. I don’t think anyone else would have liked it! I thought the lady at the counter might say, “Sorry,” but she didn’t. She said, “I’m giving you the last aisle seat I have.”

In airports, you can feel relatively relaxed once you get your boarding pass - because then even if you were held up in security check, the airline would start searching for you and expedite the process. The security check queues were moving very slowly and only a few were operational. After ten minutes, a energetic security personnel opened one more line for screening. He was so fast with the metal detector instrument that he completed 4 people while the others had finished just one. And it wasn’t that he took any shortcut - it was just that he was so energetic and brisk when he waved the metal detector on your body. The people in the queue were delighted to see the speed at which he worked. 
The moral of the story is, as most of our moms would say, “There is no harm in going to the airport or station early. What big deal are you going to do at home in that one hour? Why not spend it in the airport?”
Why the hurry?

It reminded me of something else. Every time in flights, I always dream of a day when everyone in the flight will be patient while exiting the plane. Today was typical - as soon as the flight slowed after touchdown, most people stood up and start pulling out their bags from the overhead compartments as if they could leave the plane immediately; why so much hurry for such a petty thing?
Oh well, that’s enough for today... No space for a travelogue - next edition will be about the first baseball game I attended in US.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Part 30 - Luray Caverns

Altruism, smiles and laughter

Alright, I can’t resist the temptation to continue the banter from last edition about altruistic deeds. It amazes to think how some people can love unconditionally - and they are not even related by blood. 

We generally tend to lose our cool when someone doesn’t respond favorably to us; and at the other extreme of human nature you have someone like Mother Teresa who has probably faced umpteen situations where people never even treated her with respect (one very often quoted incident is the one about the baker who spit at her); really amazing how she kept going.
Talking of altruism and smiles, reminds me of another thing. If there is someone who has a different type of laughter - maybe it’s loud, or maybe shrill, or maybe with some odd accent, then people around them will ask them to control it. Even though the laughter would just last for a few seconds, society tries to curtail it. I wonder why we have to do so - what’s wrong with the person laughing their heart out for a few seconds? Maybe for a few seconds it sounds odd but there's no harm done. And I think the uninhibited laughter is a lot more beautiful than the muffed one. Would you ask a baby to control its laughter?
Visiting a cavern

Seems like travelogues are becoming like the “WakeUp” series... back to travelogue... So off we were to Luray Caverns that was discovered some 130 years ago. A large underground cave is called a cavern. Walking down the steps I didn’t feel there was anything special. I had brought a sweater since I thought the temperature might be low - but it isn’t that bad. Here also they use the self guided audio tour system - they provide a little audio player where you can press numbers to jump to different sections of the tour. There were a lot of stalagmites and stalactites around us (I was reminded of geography). The audio explained about the color differences - depending on the mineral composition the colors varied. As we walked in the cave, there were more beautiful sights to be seen. A few formations had been given special names because of what they resembled. (pic on left is the reflection in Dream Lake)
Marriage underground!

One special spot was the dream lake - there is actually were little water but the reflection of the stalactite is beautiful (stalactites hang from the ceiling in case you've forgotten your geography!). There was one area where you had flowstone that covers walls - this gives the appearance of a veil and it is called “Titania’s veil”. In another area there were huge columns running from the ceiling to the floor - about 40 feet in height or so. In some places you can even see water dripping from the ceiling and it gives the appearance of a fountain when it drips on calcite (which is white). 

There is even a cathedral where it seems there used to be weddings - a wedding in a cave! And in the cathedral they have built a musical instrument - the stalacpipe organ. This device is setup such that sounds are produced by tapping into the formations in the cave. It took them years of research and design to build! So when you are in the cathedral you can actually hear music - and listening to music in that vast hall sounds great. It is even possible to do a live performance on the instrument but most of the time the sequence of keys are automated. You would think that all there is to see in a cavern is two types of formations - one growing upwards and the other growing downwards. But the combination of minerals and water has produced a variety of things. (Pic above is the musical instrument)
Pure air

As we neared the exit, I realized the nose block I had while entering the cave had cleared. And one of the last parts of the audio tours spoke about the cleanliness of air inside the cave. In fact in the 1900s they had a sanitarium above the cave which used the air from the cave to circulate inside the house. This is said to be one of the first air conditioned homes - and the clean air was said to help in the recovery from respiratory illnesses.
(Pic on right is Saracen's Tent - they will appear like curtains)

To top off the trip, there was a car museum beside the caverns where we spent a few minutes before leaving. There were some old Peugeot, Bugati and Mercedes cars.

And with that another weekend ended in the USA; I headed back to Union Station in Washington DC. The bus was at night and I had to do a ten minute walk to an open ground where there were a fleet of MegaBus buses; though the bus was late they reached Boston on time.