I'm at the Cyber Valley internet cafe in Calcutta, having just received my official card & number to use the internet. To obtain this, I had to have my passport scanned & photograph taken. (Who knows - this may be being monitored...) So I can now report that I've arrived in India safely but utterly exhausted. Finally got to the Hotel VIP Inter Continental at 2:15am this morning (according to the details as recorded on the hotel's computer ... in fact I think it's some new national monitoring scheme. At first I thought the man behind the counter said it was for 'tourism' ... later clarified as 'terrorism'. I felt a little uneasy when "Melbourne Australia" appeared on screen, but he & the assembled audience - a typical feature of any public activity you conduct in India - seemed unfussed about this. Perhaps they haven't heard ... )
Departure from Melbourne was complexified, as usual, by arriving with a bicycle at check-in. The woman at the desk told me I needed to have the bike in a box. I explained that Thai airlines didn't insist on this; she then called a fellow over to adjudicate. He smilingly told me through his braces (!) that I would need to remove the chain from my bicycle. Now this is a particularly difficult exercise on the Surly, and so he went off to check the regulations when I gently expostulated. Luckily, and as I had thought, the regulations did not require this, but he did discover that in addition to letting the tyres down (a pointless exercise, but never mind this, my railings will never change it), turning the handlebars around & removing the pedals, I also had to sign a disclaimer indicating that I wasn't going to remove the chain! At Calcutta airport, as the bike eventually appeared on the conveyor belt - well, almost appeared ... it jammed & so I had to wrench it out, I began to wonder if a box mightn't have been such a bad idea. The handlebars had come adrift and, ironically, the chain had half come off.
Passing through customs & immigration was prolonged by having to complete a form regarding the H1N1 virus & then lining up before a table of doctors wearing face masks to have it signed off. Thankfully there was a man with a sign with my name on it at the exit, and a yellow Abassador taxi waiting for me. On the way to the taxi I was hit by the old 'cup of chai at the airport scam' .. in my debilitated state after 14 or so hours in the air I unthinkingly accepted a cup of chai given to me by a fellow holding a small tray of them & had a sip before realising I didn't want a cup of chai & that now I would have to pay. So at 1:00am in the airport carpark I was being pursued by this fellow & his chums wanting money for the damn tea ... And then a short while later, another group of young men wanted a tip for helping cram the bike into the rear seat of the taxi. Message to me: I have now arrived - time to rearrange the brain into India mode!
My room, on the 3rd floor, is OK but small - and pretty cramped with the bike in it. I had to move it into the bathroom when I had breakfast, and then out again when I had a shower. The bike looks as though it has reassembled into much the same shape as when I left but tomorrow will hopefully tell when I take it for a spin. The roads don't look as bad as Delhi's.