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The Call of the Vaigai! Madurai, Oct 2011

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Location: New Delhi

PostPosted: Sat Jul 28, 2012 10:16 am    Post subject: The Call of the Vaigai! Madurai, Oct 2011 Reply with quote

The Call of the Vaigai! Madurai, Oct 2011

This trip report can be found at the following URL:

Two trips to Madurai in nearly a decade, and two trips within a
period of five months? Yes, this was for an official trip, once
again. My last trip to Madurai had been in early July, 2011.
The corresponding trip report can be found here:
``The Fish-Eye Beckons! Madurai, on Air India. Jul 2011''
The observant reader would remember that that time, I was
accompanied by my friend Mr. Frederick Foresight.
This time, I was all alone.

Let me embark on the preamble, now.
Madurai is Tamil Nadu's second largest city.
After Chennai/Madras, of course.
The contrast between the cities cannot not be more stark.
A disclaimer: what follows is only a personal opinion.

Madurai is on the banks of the Vaigai, almost a seasonal river.
Chennai is on the banks of the Adyar River, (un)popularly
referred to as the Adyar Drain.
Well, as a Delhi'ite I should not complain.
The Yamuna is a giant sewer.

Madurai has some nice and soft-spoken people, in general.
In Chennai, I have found people a bit rude.
Well, as a Delhi'ite I should not complain.
I am a resident of perhaps the rudest of all the 4+2 metros, with
Calcutta and Chennai coming a somewhat distant second and third.
I have found people in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad to be in
general - nice, and helpful. Once again, this is but a personal
opinion, and I do not intend to hurt anyone with this

Madurai has a nice laid-back, and old-world charm about it.
Chennai is a noisy metro, with unruly traffic.
The two-wheeler is the king of the road - people come in from
anywhere, cut- and weave in-and-out, with complete disdain
towards their fellow travellers.
Well, as a Delhi'ite I should not complain.
I stay in a city where traffic is at its ugliest and unruliest
worst. We are asked to drive on the left of the road.
We end up driving on what is left of the road.

Madurai is a city of temples - there is one around every corner.
Chennai does not have too many places of tourist interest,
barring the excellent Marina beach.
Madurai has limited public transport options.
Chennai has a very efficient local train system.

What then, according to me, are Chennai's plus points?
These are not in a comparison with Madurai, but in general.

- Chennai is a foodie heaven. This was an eye-opener for me -
someone who had considered Bengaluru's eateries (The MTR, The
Darshinis and the Kamaths', and many more) as the ultimate in
good, affordable, clean and hygienic not-too-heavy snacks.
Chennai has many affordable joints serving many different types
of cuisine - including exotic ones such as some Mediterranean ones
(such as `Tangerine'). South Indian vegetarian cuisine is
available at many places, Murugan's Idlis (T. Nagar),
Sangeetha's, Saravanna Bhavan, Adyar Ananda Bhavan (but this is
more for sweets and snacks), and so many more. Sangeetha's also
has its own interpretation of north Indian dishes - unique
Southie-flavoured North Indian food.

- Chennai's local trains may not have the to-the-minute
correctness of the Mumbai locals, but are not too crowded; they
are affordable, safe and clean. The stations themselves are large
and spacious - signs of good planning and infrastructure, keeping
future growth in mind. I have travelled from the Thiruvanmiyur,
Thirumailai (Mylapore) and Beach stations - and found them very

- The city itself is neat and clean. Most places have the
twice-a-day garbage collection. Chennai would rank quite close to
India's cleanest cities: Surat and Chandigarh, and quite rightly
so. The Chennai Central Railway station is also neat and clean,
and quite orderly.

- Chennai has a mid-boggling array of classical music concerts in
winter, all around the city. Calcutta has the Dover Lane
concerts, but the sheer number and diversity of the performances
in Chennai - are simply a treat for the afficionados.

Ah, so much so for an excessively long introduction.
As is the norm, I started at around a quarter past four, for a
06:10 am flight. The taxi was slightly late, but given the lack
of traffic at this hour, I reached IGI T3 well in time. I was through
checked-in to Madurai, and given two boarding passes. This leg of
my itinerary was as follows:

Set out 14 Oct (Fri) for Chennai from New Delhi
AI 439: Air India (A321) [Seat: 11F; PNR: YVP8Y]
IGIA T3, New Delhi - Kamraj (Domestic) Terminal, Chennai
New Delhi (DEL) - Chennai (MAA)
[06:10 am - 08:25 am]

This description is circa 14 October, 2011.
There were dedicated counters for each destination, instead of
common counters. I had been extremely elated a few months back,
to see Air India shift to the any-counter concept, but is it a
matter of the time of the day, or is it simply a change to the
old system for good? Since the last few flights I have taken have
been early morning ones, I do not know the answer. I guess, time
will tell. I went to the busy security check part. While
frisking, the metal detector brushed by my pocket, sending my
plastic pen airborne, and past the security check.
``My pen has cleared the security before me,'' I said to the CISF
constable. He smiled, and replied,
``I will ask it to wait there for you. Patiently.''
I walked past a vehicle on display that was yet to be unveiled.
I made my customary detour via the food court, to see the action
on the International piers visible from the domestic section.
There were no wide-bodies to be seen (I was expecting to see an
Air India Airbus 330-200: VT-IWA/IWB, but that was not to be.)
Two drinking water fountains near gates 28 and 29 were dry -
I wonder why.
Rhyme apart, there were two Indigo A320s - this was something new
for me, and numerous Air India narrow-bodies all around: both the
domestic part, as well as the international one. As interesting
sight was a Jetlite B737-700 docked at an extreme aerobridge of
the domestic finger that is usually the `Air India' section.
While climbing the Y junction of the domestic part, there was
Hyundai's new small car on display, the `Eon', that caught the
attention of many a passenger and members of the cabin crew of
the three full-service airlines. At the time of the journey, this
was a novelty - now, it is not unusual to see such a car on the
roads of a metropolitan city in India.

Anything else?
Yes, there were three `masked bandits', the CRJ-700s. It was too
dark to read the registrations.
We were assigned gate 28B, but with about 40 minutes to go, an
Air India official came around, and announced a gate change (I
was getting worried as I did not see any plane docked at gate 28B
till then - would the flight be late?). Soon, this was announced
over the public announcement system also. We rushed to Gate 29A,
where boarding had started well in advance. I boarded an A321,
the `concentration' plane: VT-PPM.
Parts per Million.
The load concentration in PPM was moderate - about two-thirds of
the Economy section was full. Push-back was on the dot at 06:00
am, and Captain Anoop Singh took off from the new runway 29-11
towards Dwarka, and turned to the left. A nice lemon drink had
been served on the ground itself, so some of my rising hunger
pangs were soothed to some extent.
The lack of sleep was telling on my system (I had gone to bed
around 12:30am, and woke up again at 3am. Oh, I had dutifully
switched off the alarm, lay down, and prepared for another
eye-shut round before the alarming thought rushed through my mind
- I had a morning flight.) I was sound asleep in no time at all.
(Sound sleep implies `sleep with sound' for me - thankfully, the
snores were not too loud, else I would have woken up earlier.
I would have been woken up, rather - given what I saw my
fidgety co-passenger ahead of me, doing. He was frequently going
forward and backward in his seat, and almost constantly muttering
in his breath - about the airline, the magazine, the IFE, and the
people around him. All in the chaste vernacular.
I woke up from my reverie, only when the sweet words,
``Veg, or Non-Veg?''
reached my ears.
Among the cabin crew I saw on this flight, there was one very
senior lady (the chief), a middle-aged lady, and a young lady and
two young gentlemen in the part of the plane I was.
When the food tray was handed over to me, I noticed some further
cost-cutting: I missed the butter chiplet, and the sauce sachet.
There was a soft and fresh bun, with some strawberry preserve to
go with it. The fruit bowl had two slices of papaya, two of a
musk-melon (the variety that is called `Sarda' in Delhi, not the
`honey-dew melon', or `kharbuja', as it is called in these parts
of the country.) This sat atop and beside two pineapple blocks.
The main course had a fluffy cheese omlette in between - done
just right: neither too much, nor too rare. On one side was a
vegetable cutlet with a mixed-vegetable-and-sweet corn filling,
and on the other, there was a potato cake, or `Alu tikki' as it
is called in north India. This was rounded off with a very
ordinary coffee. The meal was nothing to rave about, and was
sufficient in terms of quantity, to quieten my insatiable
appetite. For a while, at least.
I do not patronise the IFE (In-Flight Entertainment) system much,
apart from a causal flicking through the video channels, and
listening to the audio ones, while working. My father had just
come back from a Chennai trip last week - he had reported that
headphones had not been handed out then.

I was a bit apprehensive about being uncomfortable during
landing, since I had a bad cold, and a near-constant headache to
go with it. I was firing sneezes like the staccato of a machine
gun in action, spraying germs in all directions all at once.
Ah not really, since I had my handkerchief as a shield, and some
sort of silencer. However, we made a very smooth descent through
the clouds into an overcast Chennai, coming in from the sea, onto
the main runway. Captain Singh made a very smooth touch-down.

I was apprehensive about Chennai airport, since just three days
back, there was a report of a cockroach invasion of the domestic
terminal. It had rained heavily, and the flooding of the drains
had brought the slightly smaller versions of the insect pest,
sometimes referred to by its biological name
Periplaneta americana, scurrying into the terminal in hordes,
scaring the wits out of many a passenger, and putting the
terminal management at their wits' end. They had been driven
back, as news reports said, with a combination of pest-control
sprays, water jets, and the good-old mechanical means.
Luckily for me, most of the winged, flying traffic was of the
six-wheeled, and not the six-legged kind.
We de-planed using the front right door of the plane (somethign
that is not very usual at most places), onto a warm
and humid tarmac, and were bused to the domestic arrivals, a very
short distance ahead. While landing, the parking apron beside the
secondary runway (to the left, as one approaches the intersection
with the main runway) had an ATR of the now-defunct
Deccan Cargo 360, and nine - yes, nine ATRs of Kingfisher.
These are the planes one read about in the news recently, for
being grounded for maintenance. The date was 14 October, 2011.

My next leg was the Chennai - Madurai segment. The itinerary was
as follows:

Set out 14 Oct (Fri) for Madurai from Chennai
AI 671: Air India (A319) [Seat: 04F; PNR: YVP8Y]
Kamraj (Domestic) Terminal, Chennai - Madurai Airport, Madurai
Chennai (MAA) - Madurai (IXM)
[12:15 pm - 01:05 pm]

I had walked to the domestic departures, and went to the security
check after picking up a baggage tag. Was there anything new at
the domestic departures terminal? Yes, there was!
The emergency exit beside Gate 5 on the ground floor is now gate
5A. The other change was seeing a moving escalator just before
the new Gate 5A: Gate 6 on the first floor is now operational,
albeit accessible only from the ground floor via the lift. The
airport will hopefully don a fresh new look once all the
modernisation is over. The domestic apron was busy as usual, with
lots of narrow-body movements. The international (Anna) terminal
had an Air India Express Boeing 737-800 with the Kathakali tail
on its left, and an Emirates Boeing 777. About an hour later, a
beautiful Sri Lankan Airbus 340 came in to land. By the time we
took off, I saw two Air India Express Boeing 737-800, and an Air
India Airbus A321, parked there.

I had worked on my laptop for most of the while on the first
floor at the Kamraj Domestic Terminal at Chennai. I had also
roamed around a bit. However, this little exercise is not known
to cause any change in one's energy levels drastically. The
reader would have by now, guessed what I am hinting at.
Yes, I was hungry.
Does that surprise the reader?
Perhaps, no.
Did it surprise me?
Yes, it did! Why? I would have liked the terminal building to at
least have some smells of wonderful South Indian snacks like
idlis, vadas, utthapa(m)s and dosa(i)s around, or some
sambhar/rasam, or at least, some `kaapi' - the delicious South
Indian filter coffee, with some chicory added, for good measure.
Instead, the overpowering smell of `Freshly Baked Australian
Cookies' filled the ground floor, and some insipid miscellaneous
smells, the first floor. What is the world coming to?
No, not that I do not crave after cookies, or miscellaneous items
- it is just that it just felt a bit out of place in Chennai.
While any nice smell sends my belly into a tizzy, the above
expectation (or rather, the lack of it) made its best efforts to
arrest another wave of hunger pangs.
However, they only delayed the inevitable, and did not do
anything to stop it. Why should they, by the way?
Yes, I was hungry, and now, craving for some solid food.

The incoming flight from Mumbai was a bit late, and we boarded in
a jiffy, and were airborne at 01:45 pm, about half-an-hour behind
schedule. Captain S. Velaraj was in command, and he announced a
flying time of an hour. The delay had prolonged my anxiety.
The loads on this flight were 100% in Economy. Yes, not a single
seat was vacant. On boarding, two of the eight business-class
seats were occupied (passengers from Mumbai, who were going all
the way to Madurai.) I did not count the number of passengers who
had come to occupy the J class from Chennai, for the MAA-IXM leg.
I was sleepy.
But, of course.
The plane for this leg was CH, the `Swiss Miss' plane (VT-SCH) -
one of the first few for the erstwhile Indian Airlines. The
seats, and interior were in the blue-and-grey Indian Airlines
colour scheme, and the seat covers had not been switched to the
vermilion-and-ochre scheme.

There were a surprisingly large number of foreigners on board
this flight - I have not seen this before. They were on the plane
from Mumbai itself. A very large number of passengers had
boarded from Chennai. I do not know anything about the loads in
the BOM-MAA segment, as the gate had not been announced until
some 45 minutes before boarding, and Gate 7 on the first floor
actually led to the aerobridge which says Gate 8. This had been
behind me, hence I had not seen passengers disembarking from the
plane. I took my camera and some reading material with me, as I
sat down. For the first time, I actually saw my bag being loaded
into the plane. I have often peered down expectantly, waiting to
catch a glimpse of my luggage, to reassure me (especially in
situations where I have transited through a third city, and my
luggage has been through checked in from the source city to the
final destination). My black bag was hauled up from the trailer,
and dumped onto the belt which went into the deep interiors of
the plane's entrails. So, my luggage had been transferred
That soothed my frayed nerves a bit.
This usually happens to me on all transits.
So, there was nothing unusual about it.
However, this did nothing to soothe my hunger pangs.
This usually happens to me at all times - transit, or no transit.
So, there was nothing unusual about it.

The cabin crew went into overdrive as soon as the
fasten-seat-belt sign went off. The cabin crew had a very senior
lady, and some young ladies, all of whom went about the holy task
of distributing the cold snack boxes. No, neither were the boxes
cold, nor were the items cold. Just that it was not a hot snack.
The food had been loaded in Chennai itself. There was a soft and
fresh cheese sandwich with some shredded salad inside, and a thin
slice of carrot with serrated edges, placed on top of the two
triangular wedges of the sandwich - for effect. There was some
tomato sauce (ketchup) to go with it. All right, so Air India had
not compromised on the sauce part, as a part of the economy
drive. Good! There was a bottle of water, and a slice of a dry
fruit cake, which was a bit dry, but tasty. Thus, there was nothing
special about the snack, but it was quite welcome, indeed.
I did fore-go the IFE, and `caught some eye-shut'.
Captain Velaraj made a very smooth landing on runway 09 at
Madurai, and we parked at a remote stand. This was well in view
of the impressive new terminal building (and the old one too,
which houses the Air Traffic Control), which has the aerobridge
fingers, but not the aero-bridges themselves. Hence, we were bused
to the terminal.

An interesting feature of the Air India flights was something I
have consistently noted, on more occasions than not - explicit
permission to use cellphones as long as the plane is not on an
active runway. While pushing back, no mention of using cellphones
is made till the aircraft comes into the active runway for
take-off, and an announcement to the effect just after the plane
has landed, and is on a taxiway, going towards the terminal. It
is nice to see Air India following the new relaxed rule to the
hilt. I have not seen this with the private carriers after the
rule was put in place - both Jet, as well as Kingfisher, though
admittedly, I have not travelled as frequently with them of late,
as I have travelled on Air India.

My destination again was the beautiful Thiagarajar College of
Engineering (TCE), Madurai. If Chennai had had some relatively
heavy rains and was warm and humid, Madurai was cloudy, and
relatively cool. It also rained in the afternoon, and the night.
The next day saw me get up extremely late. The day started with a
nice and filling breakfast. Some nice thengai (coconut) chutney
and sambhar accompanied some light dosa(i)s and vadas. These
dosas were not the usual restaurant-type
thin-and-tight-fried-brown kind - these were more the
`home-cooked' type, but done quite thin, and soft, and...large!
Even a person like me, infamous for his ravenous hunger, was
quite satisfied with traversing the folds of one piece of the
dosa. While the coconut chutney did not have the fresh twang of a
preparation made minutes ago (remember, I had woken up very late:
Late to bed, late to rise: this is me...I surmise.),
it was nice, all the same.

Does the reader remember my surprise at a Chettiar institution
being purely vegetarian? The reference is the last trip report on
``The Fish-Eye Beckons! Madurai, on Air India. Jul 2011''

As I had written there, the Chettinad(u) cuisine has a
predominantly non-vegetarian character to it, of course, done
with the typically unique combination of spices. The gravies are
simply superb! While the food in the institution is purely
vegetarian, it is not the Jain kind.
What? Jain food in Tamil Nadu?
Interestingly, I have an acquaintance from the state, whose name
sounds every bit a respectable Tam-Brahm one. They are a family
of Jains. Of course, among the four southern states, Karnataka
possibly has the largest concentration of Jains. Some sects such
as the Mogaveeras, as pure Jains. (The name `Heggade' is one such
example, not to be confused with the Konkani `Hegde'. The latter
are from Sirsi, on the beautiful Konkan coast.). Karnataka also
has the largest Jain statue - the statue of Bahubali, at
Oh, there goes my mind wandering, again.
Of course, I love things which strict traditional Jains would
abhor - among vegetarian items, as well. Traditional Jains do not
partake of food after sunset. (Insects or other creatures could be
unintentionally ingested - that is the primary reason, I believe.
This is also very good from the health point of view - giving a
large gap between the last meal of the day, and sleep.) There are
similar reasons for avoiding food that grows under the soil -
this rules out the foreign potato and its Indian underground stem
cousins, carrots, radishes, and the like. Onions and Garlic are
additionally supposed to impart animal-tendencies to their
patrons, which are sometimes undesirable. So believe the devout.
Many Jains also do not eat any thing which causes the demise of
the plant concerned, such as spinach, cabbages, cauliflowers, and
many more. Many eat things which can be plucked out without
harming the plant or tree in consideration - many fruits, for
instance. Of course, the stricter Jains would have only items
made of grains and pulses - which are harvested after the drying
of the plant in consideration - much of which happens naturally.
All this may not be appeal to logic for many people,
yet is quite interesting to think about, and analyse!

I had been a bit late to set out for the Madurai airport, after a
hearty lunch at the GRT Hotel. As the car sped towards the
airport, I periodically looked at my cellphone to check if any
SMS from Air India had come in, announcing a delay in departure.
None did.
I looked at my cellphone to check out the time.
I remembered that the check-in would close with 40 minutes to go.
After bidding my gracious hosts a very hurried good-bye, I rushed
into the terminal. On seeing a familiar face - I seemed to
remember two senior gentlemen in Air India/Indian Airlines with
french beards/goatees - I asked about AI 672. He said, yes,
please hurry to the check-in counter. I was apparently the last
to check in. The X-ray machine had conked out, and was restored
to working order just in time to have my bag scanned, and I was
checked in, through to Delhi. I also got two boarding cards, one
for the IXM-MAA segment, and one for the MAA-IXM segment. The
smiling gentleman at the check-in had handed over my boarding
passes to a colleague, as my bag came out of the machine, telling
me that he had to go to the plane for the boarding check.
Boarding pass in hand, I rushed up to the first floor for the
security check, just as the boarding was announced. There were
four people in front of me, and in no time, I was in the bus,
waiting to board CQ, the `messaging' plane, VT-SCQ.

Set out 15 Oct (Sat) for Chennai from Madurai
AI 672: Air India (A319) [Seat: 04A; PNR: YVP8Y]
Madurai Airport, Madurai - Kamraj (Domestic) Terminal, Chennai
Madurai (IXM) - Chennai (MAA)
[03:30 pm - 04:30 pm]

The timings may look a bit strange to the reader, as AI 671 is a
daily Chennai - Madurai flight, with the scheduled timings of
12:15 pm - 01:05 pm. The return flight however, is
03:30 pm - 04:30 pm on Tuesdays and Saturdays, while it is
01:45 pm - 02:40 pm on other days of the week. All these are mere
statistics - how would this be important in the context of this
trip report? It would be.
We boarded a sweltering hot aircraft, which had most of the
window shades down. The plane sits on the tarmac for just short
of two-and-a-half hours, and then sets out from Madurai, possibly
to suit another departure from Chennai, using the same aircraft.
The parking space at Madurai would be a plus point, as opposed to
the crowded Chennai apron.
The air blowers had some flow of air, which was not too cool.
The captain came on the microphone, and wished us a `warm' welcome.
There were laughs around, even amidst all the sweating
passengers. Captain Prashant Raj Dev was in command, and the
loads in the Economy section were around healthy: 70%, though
a far cry from the 100% loads in economy that I had seen on the
inbound flight. There was one passenger in the business class section.

We took off from runway 09 into the clouds, which were to cause
some very mild turbulence throughout the flight, and the captain
kept the `fasten-seat-belt' message on for most of the while.
This did not prevent the cabin crew - all young people, from
making a quick trip down the aisles to distribute the food boxes,
and collect them back. Ah - what was inside the food boxes?
I will come straight to the point. In addition to a bottle of
water, there was a nondescript vegetable patty (which thankfully
had some greens inside, as opposed to a usual potato-based one),
and a piece of cake - nondescript, again. A very plebeian meal,
but it was enough to keep my tummy satisfied.
For some time, at least.
Captain Dev made a feather-touch landing into Chennai - we had
come in not from the sea, we had approached the main runway from
the other side i.e., 07-25. This was an incredibly smooth landing
- we hardly felt anything at all!
Once again, as soon as the plane exited the active runway, there
was an announcement that passengers could use their mobile phones
if they wished to.
Again, we de-planed via the forward right door of the plane, into
a dilapidated waiting bus, which drove us to the arrival hall.
From there, the domestic departures hall was a quick walk ahead.
The next leg of my journey was as follows:

Set out 15 Oct (Sat) for New Delhi from Chennai
AI 802: Air India (A321) [Seat: 11A; PNR: YVP8Y]
Kamraj (Domestic) Terminal, Chennai - IGIA T3, New Delhi
Chennai (MAA) - New Delhi (DEL)
[08:15 pm - 10:50 pm]

AI 539 was the 06:10 pm - 08:50 pm flight from Chennai to Delhi.
I had reached Chennai from Madurai well in time, as the flight
was only 15 minutes late (we had circled over
Kanchipuram/Kanjeevaram for around 15 minutes, owing to
non-clearance from the ATC at Chennai).
I was wondering if I could have opted for this one.
When I had tried booking my ticket, I had chosen the multi-city
option on the Air India website (this is still a pain - how is a
non-regular flyer supposed to know the permutaitons possible, in
taking an indirect flight from a particular source, to a
particular destination?), to get all 4 legs of my trip on
the same ticket, to enable a through check-in of my luggage from
Delhi to Madurai, and vice versa. In this option, the system did
not even offer me the choice of taking AI 539, possibly to avoid
a hypothetical situation if the Madurai - Chennai flight got
delayed. So, what could I have done? I could have hoped for the
best, and booked separate tickets - for instance, for the Chennai
- Delhi leg. Yes, I could have done this, and incurred much less
cost. (The AI 802 MAA-DEL flight is the last Air India flight out
of Chennai, and is heavily patronised by those with a day trip to
the city - the business crowd. I could only get a high-priced
economy class ticket on this sector.) However, if I had booked
separate tickets, I may not have been through checked from
Madurai to Delhi - I would have to take in my luggage on arrival
from IXM, lug it to the adjacent building, stand in line for
another check-in, and then take the flight - all of which would
take some additional time. Why did I not go straight to the
check-in counter, and request for my flight to be changed to the
previous one? I checked my boarding pass - the baggage tag
clearly listed the later flight, which I had booked. What if
there was a mess-up, and I landed in Delhi on the earlier flight,
and my luggage came in on the later one? I decided not to take
any chances, and work on my laptop, inside the Kamraj domestic
terminal. Of course, I looked around.
There was a model of the final airport after the modernisation is
complete - when the two additional side buildings come up.

Further, the new first floor gate accessible from only the ground
floor - which had been open yesterday, was cordoned off, today.
Possibly the airport traffic was too light to have an out-of-the-way
gate in operation.

I felt a bit sleepy, and was periodically falling asleep, as I
waited for boarding. I was falling into periods of sleep, which
had my mind wandering around a bit. This wandering around was
certainly not in uncharted territory. The lines and the settings
should look familiar to the reader. Food, precisely.
I was hungry.
No, no one in the right frame of mind would go hungry, more so,
after the nice breakfast (described in some detail, above), and
the lunch. Not to mention the small non-descript snack aboard the
Madurai-Chennai flight.
The obsession with food almost touches Lady Macbeth-esque
proportions - much like Lady Macbeth's mania with washing off
stains, in Shakespeare's famed novel.
So much so, that my trip reports denigrate into some kind of food
reports. But then, I can hardly be called a `normal' person.
Even when the middle doesn't quite wake up to send input-ready
signals to the brain, the brain compensates. Mind over matter,
as they say - matters of the tummy. I was looking forward to the
spice-light version of the Chicken Chettinad that Air India
typically serves, on its last flight to Delhi out of Chennai.

I sat close to the magazine stand (there is a power port there) -
this is right beside the first floor security check area. On
reaching the departure hall, I had rushed upstairs in the hope of
getting a near-empty counter for the security check.
I hoped to type in, `...and it was a breeze'.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
This line turned out to be one of the longest I have seen.
I promptly beat a hasty retreat, and took the ground floor
security check. I then went upstairs, and sat down to work in the
previously-mentioned position. Of course, in full view of the
same security check unit. By the time I had settled down, worked
for a while, I looked around to find this place fairly empty.
I noted a Sri Lankan monk come around. Yes, fine.
Sri Lankan monks often come to Buddhist destinations in India.
Then came in a Sri Lankan lady.
And another.
And...what followed was an almost invasion by citizens of the
pearl island nation across the Palk Strait. There seemed to be a
tourist party to India. I saw Air India boarding cards in their
hands. So, they would be flying Air India to...
To Delhi! One look at the Departures board told me that the only
Air India flight boarding in the near future from the first floor
was AI 802, the last Air India flight of the day out of Chennai,
to Delhi! Unlike the other invasion I talked about at the
beginning of the report, this was a pleasant one. Most of the Sri
Lankans were lower middle-class people. I could hear Sinhalese
softly spoken around, and most members of the party in general,
carried themselved around with dignity. Most were elderly ladies.

Usually, I type in main points in a trip report almost as soon as
I touch terra firma - or at least, some place firm enough for me
to take my laptop out, and turn it on.
Some of the words I wrote above proved to be propehtic.
About the gate which I had seen the previous day as open, and
today had been cordoned off, this would be the gate from which we
would board today!
When boarding was called, I noted almost half of the people in
the first floor waiting area, heading towards Gate 7. Almost
immediately after that, the corresponding Jet Airways flight to
Delhi also announced boarding.
Out of the same gate!
There was some confusion, but the respective officials had two
lines formed, and Jet passengers would go to the left - to the
aero-bridge with Gate 7 mentioned.
We would board from the above-mentioned mysterious Gate 6,
which had been cordoned off for quite some time - at least, I had
not seen it on my Chennai trips since last year (and I have made
quite a few of them - many of them have found mention in the Trip
Reports section, on this forum). All of them after I started
pennning down: keying in, rather, some memorable incidents down
the line. It was quite dark by now, and I missed the registation
number of the plane - an old A321. Old, implying that the seat
IFE units were dark blue in colour, and the walls of the aircraft
had the old Indian Airlines patterns. Only the seat covers were
the new vermilion-and-ochre. The plane was spotlessly clean,
almost in mint condition. On de-planing at Delhi, I was pleased
to find out that it was an old friend, VT-PPA! Yes, the first
A321 for the then Indian Airlines, which had been painted into
the new `Indian' scheme, and then, into the Air India `flying
swan' livery. The one with the extra-whitish tone on the main body.
A word about the boarding procedure.
A very long line formed around Gate 7, for the Air India flight.
I soon realised that this would be one full flight.
and also, the fact that I would be one of the only 6 or so,
Indians on board the 100% full economy section of the A321. There
was not a single seat in the economy section that was empty.
The business class load was quite light - I noticed only four
seats occupied out of the twenty. The plane had come in 15
minutes late - I noticed the cabin crew trying to hurry up the
boarding and seating. They announced free seating (much to my
utmost dismay) - what if someone else occupied the seat I had so
zealously chosen at the time I booked the ticket?
I was half-expecting someone to be in my assigned seat, 11A.
Yes, there was.
There was an elderly Sinhalese lady there, in my seat.
She did not speak much English.
Even as the cabin crew were announcing free seating,
I politely told her that my pre-designated seat was 11A -
could I take it?
The lady took out her boarding card from her handbag, and checked
it out - it said `11B' - the middle seat.
She graciously took the middle seat, as I sat down with an air of
achievement - how mean of me!
I looked around.
And into the seat pocket.
There was a packet, with headphones inside!

The captain came on the intercom, and requested the cabin crew
to complete the procedures, and close the doors as they were
ready for departure. It was very nice to see Air India taking
their on-time performance, seriously. The cabin crew had one
senior lady, a middle-aged one, and the rest of the cabin crew
were young people. This is something I have been noticing of late
on many Air India flights. Captain Sanjay Karir was in command.
The international apron had a Emirates B777, the Kathakali Air
India Express B737-800 (VT-AXE?), and a nice Sri Lankan A340-300.
We waited for the Jet Airways flight to Delhi take off, an Air
India A320 in the new `Indian' colour scheme land, and off we
were, on runway 07. My hope of seeing the sea shore in the
darkness was cut short by a relatively low left turn just some
time after taking off. The fasten-seat-belt sign went off, and
immediately, the cabin crew set into action. There was a language
barrier, resulting in some confusion during the baording
procedure. The cabin crew went to a younger Sinhalese gentleman,
and asked him for some simple words in the language, which would
help the passengers excercise their choice of meals, and in
general make the crew understand some requests better. I admired
the way that the huge Sri Lankan delegation conducted themselves.
There was no pushing or shoving, no loud conversations...all
apart from an isolated incident as the plane was taxi'ing to the
active main runway, when an elderly lady got up to make her way
to the toilet, in a rather determined manner. I also liked the
way that the cabin crew handled the situation - two ladies got
up, and softly requested her in a combination of English and sign
language, to be seated till the seat belt sign went off.

Yes, the meal.
I was handed out a Vegetarian meal.
Chicken Chettinad, anyone?
I smiled and requested the lady if I could have a non-vegetarian
one. The lady replied that she would check, and get back to me.
Would she forget?
I was apprehensive.
The lady soon returned with my request in hand.
The elderly lady beside me, took the tray, and handed it to me.
Now, I was feeling quite bad, already, to have exercised my
choice of the seat. A vegetarian herself, she did not mind
forwarding the tray to a person who had displaced her from the
seat on which she was originally sitting.

The meal started with a green salad. There were three slices of
cucumber (with the serrated edges - a cut above the rest, both
literally, as well as figuratively). Two slices of tomato, a piece
of some non-hot but flavourful green chilli, and a wedge of
lemon! I squeezed out the lemon, sprinkled the salt and pepper
onto it, and...this was the harbinger of a nice meal, for the
binger typing this text. There was a nice Malabar Parantha/Barota
in the outer covering, which is similar to the Punjabi `lacchha
parantha' in appearance, and taste. And what was inside the box?
I did not hold my breath.
Why should I have?
Chicken Chettinad!
Yes, there was the fabled light Chicken Chettinad to the left,
separated from a very nice preparation done in a minimal amount
of oil, and spices. French beans and carrots had been finely
chopped, mixed with some heavenly grated coconut/thengai, tossed
with a little black cumin (kala jeera/kalonji), in a heavenly
preparation. In the middle was a very aromatic basmati rice bed.
I enjoyed every morsel of the two items around the rice, with the
rice and Malabar Parantha. I am glad that Air India has stuck to
Chicken Chettinad for its last flight out of Chennai. This is a
milder version of the original somewhat spicy dish, and done for
a wider audience - those whose mild disposition does not allow
them to partake of dishes which was spicy. Variety is the Spice
of Life - and I love both the original spicy versions, as well as
the Air India intepretation of it!
A very ordinary coffee came in, and down it went.
There was a nice unsweetened yougurt, and a lovely sweet - a
payasam/kheer with rice, and a flattened sweet in the
centre, which tasted like what Tamilians call the `Badusha' - a
variant of the north Indian `Balushahi'. Both the items had
a hint of sweetness, and were not too sweet, which allowed the
eater to enjoy the subtle flavours of the rice cooked over a low
fire, and the unique combination with the Badusha/Balushahi at
the centre. Amazing, to say the least!

Captain Karir made a very smooth touch-down on the new runway
29, and we taxied to an aero-bridge in Delhi's IGI T3.

This ended a short but memorable trip to Madurai.

I end this trip
report with some night photography Nokia 2700 Classic-style
(this is an entry-level cell-phone), of a sight on the street:

Any guesses as to how an entry-level cell-phone camera can have
such an output? What did I photograph - where is the catch?
Cheers, Sumantra.
Links to my previous TRs, in reverse chronological order:

21. Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: Beijing, 2011 Part 3

20. No Panda-monium: Beijing, 2011 Part 2

19. North By, AI and CA: Beijing, 2011 Part 1

18. Going Bananas over Oranges: Nagpur, Aug'11

17. To the City of Joy and back, on Air India: Aug'11

16. To Chennai, Mar'12 with a Celebrity Captain!
(This is out of sequence owing to sheer excitement, and nothing

15. Marble Rocks, Marbles Rock; Jul 2011

14. The Fish-Eye Beckons! Madurai, on Air India. Jul 2011

13. To Russia, with Awe: Moscow, 2011, Part 3: Monino!

12. To Russia, with Awe: Moscow, 2011, Part 2: The Central Museum
of the Armed Forces

11. To Russia, with Awe: Moscow, 2011, Part 1: The Overall Trip

10. The City of Lakes: Mother's Heart, Heart of the Motherland

9. Mostly Indoors, in Indore:

8. Inter-metro Shuttling on AI: DEL-BOM on AI810, BOM-DEL on AI888

7. On the cusp: DEL-BOM on IC863, BOM-DEL on AI660

6. DEL-BOM on IT308, BOM-DEL on IC166

5. DEL-MAA on IC439, MAA-DEL on IC802

4. DEL-PNQ on IC849, PNQ-DEL on IC850

3. DEL-MAA on IC429 (A321), MAA-DEL on IC7602 (CRJ7)


1. IGI T3, AI 314 DEL-HKG and AI 311 HKG-DEL
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 28, 2012 1:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent TR as usual Sumantra. The food extravaganza that you routinely describe in your TR has led me to suggest you that once you retire, you must either open a resturant or take up catering with AI Laughing .

Excellent report again.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 28, 2012 2:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent TR, Sir!
I loved every part of it!
15th October I was in Chennai!
Wow that was close!!
Also, once if you can, CMB is a must do for you!! Very Happy
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Posts: 3671
Location: Pune,Maharashtra

PostPosted: Sat Jul 28, 2012 5:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Amazing TR again Sir !

Everytime you ensure that the pilots are noted down and then you remember them at a later date mind boggling !
Twice in recent past I have seen AI open the doors on the right side, one each at BOM and GOI.

Regarding the baggage bit, absolutely love the sight of seeing your own bag, except once in IST last year, where those chaps threw off our heavy Fragile tagged baggage. The hard top saved the fragile items, credit cannot go to the loaders for throwing properly

Let me clear your doubt about the change of timings on day 2,6. MAA has a NOTAM on days 2,6 which continues even today. No ops from 1430 to 1630hrs due to runway work and hence since you were flying out on Sat, the a/c had to be kept away for that long.
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Location: New Delhi

PostPosted: Sat Jul 28, 2012 6:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks a lot for your kind words, Shivendra, Jishnu, and Ameya!

shivendrashukla wrote:
The food extravaganza that you routinely describe in your TR has led me to suggest you that once you retire, you must either open a resturant or take up catering with AI Laughing .

Ha ha! A restaurant where the owner eats up the goodies, or Air India, with a new kind of pilfering: the catering supplies get loaded onto aircraft, but disappear without any trace, soon!

jbalonso777 wrote:
Also, once if you can, CMB is a must do for you!!

Jishnu, after your lovely descriptions, I would love to - I hope some official work carries me to the emerald isles, soon. I would also get a chance to meet up with you!

ameya wrote:
Let me clear your doubt about the change of timings on day 2,6

Trust our genius to remember and quote every technical nuance which is so mysterious to most of us ordinary travellers! Your incredible in-depth knowledge, and that too, at the tip of your fingers - is simply amazing! On the other hand, I usually listen carefully when the captain's name is announced, just in the hope of travelling with a celebrity! To date, I have been lucky only twice: Captain Saudamini Deshmukh, and Captain Devi Sharan.

Cheers, Sumantra.
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 28, 2012 10:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A1039/12 1205290900/1207311100 EST AD
TUE AND SAT 0930-1130
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 30, 2012 5:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great TR Sumantra - thanks for posting! The description of the food, esp. the Chicken Chettinad, had my mouth watering... Time to explore some chettinad restaurants in the city I think Wink.
We miss you Nalini!
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Location: New Delhi

PostPosted: Mon Jul 30, 2012 7:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks a lot, Nimish - you are lucky to be in Bengaluru.
By the way, I guess you are back, and we are eagerly waiting for a nice and long trip report, or at least a picture report! You had some very exotic routings in your US trip.
Cheers, Sumantra.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 30, 2012 11:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wonderful TR Sumantra!

Your descriptions really amaze me!!
Causal Determinism : We are hardwired to need answers. The Caveman who heard a rustle in the bushes and checked out to see what it was, lived longer than the guy, who assumed it was just a breeze.

- Greg House
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 30, 2012 11:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks a lot, Rishul, for going through the report in detail!
Cheers, Sumantra.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 06, 2012 7:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Are there are any ATR/Q400 flights between madurai. I have a trip coming up in november and want to have my first flight on prop. On my recent trip to Madurai (by rail) i found a lot of SG/9w flights are operated by boring 737s
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 07, 2012 9:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

`Boring 737s' - ha ha! On the original question, I guess IXM has primairly been a jet station. The only propeller planes I have seen there are the piston-engined bizplanes.
Cheers, Sumantra.
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