Day 0 – On Air India Express We Will Go
Location: Arrival Lounge, Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, Dhaka, Bangladesh
I hesitate to use the word lounge to describe the passenger arrival waiting area. Instead, let’s use a more apt term, arrival hall. Ok. So here I am in the arrival hall, of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, Bangladesh’s main air gateway to the rest of the world. It is 2am here, two hours (GMT+6) behind Singapore time and I am waiting for dawn to take a cab into the city.
I am mosquito fodder. Mosquitoes, of the long-legged slow variety, are eagerly feasting on me as I write this. I smack a few around, easily, yet they seem to be incessantly attracted to fresh exotic Singaporean blood. Or at 17 degrees celsius this early morning, and with each local swathed in a sweater or at least a jacket, I am the most exposed warm blooded living being around, a shining beacon attracting mosquitoes. I am mosquito fodder.
Ok, let’s talk about pre-trip proper. First, why Air India Express. At 550 SGD return, it is hardly a bargain. The reason is threefold. First is the desire to try something new. Air India Express flies from Singapore to Dhaka via Calcutta. It is a chance to try something different from the usual budget fare from AirAsia. Secondly, after factoring the cost of booking an AirAsia ticket, it is not much cheaper, considering the inflated price of an SG-KL ticket during the festive lunar new year period. And then there is the hassle of clearing customs twice at KL LCCT airport. Air India Express also serves meals, and I relished the idea of having an Indian airplane meal.
I packed light. I removed anything that was restricted from the carry on luggage, and kept the weight down to a respectable 7.5 kg, or 6kg backpack without this netbook, which I hand carry anyway. This was the correct idea, as earlier tonight in the check-in queue, I saw everyone else on the plane carrying 3 or 4 more times the allowable luggage.
By everyone else, I meant the passengers. I was the only non-dark skinned passenger on the plane traveling to Dhaka. There was a lone Chinese girl carrying what seems to be an Indian passport who got off at Kolkata (now what’s her story?) and another Chinese couple who got off at the same stop. Other than that, the only ones traveling on this Chinese New Year eve were the homebound Indians and a handful of Banglas.
The flight itself was an uneventful 3.5 hour flight to Kolkatta, with a 40 min stopover in which I stayed on board, watched the crew vacuum, clean and clear up the mess from the Singapore to Kolkata flight. The next part, a short 1 hr flight from Kolkata to Dhaka saw me seated to a Bangla who speaks fluent English, having spent 5 years in the Navy. He was on his way home after 6 months out in the sea, and was returning home from a posting in Kochi, India, where he attended a course.
Other essential things to note: The visa was done up at the Bangladeshi High Commission in Singapore, along Bencoolen Street. It took 3 working days and 25 SGD to process, with no problems at all. No letter of invitiation is needed for single trip tourist visas. There could be visa-on-arrival facilities, since the check in counter asked me whether I was getting my VOA, and also evident by the VOA booth at the Dhaka airport, but I was not going to take any chances. Secondly, I couldnt’ find a money changer in Singapore handing out Taka, the Bangladeshi currency. The last guy gave me a funny look before chasing me away when I told him I wanted to buy Bangla Taka. I had to change to USD at the airport forex counter, and convert that upon reaching Dhaka to local currency. The current rate is 1 SGD to around 55 Taka.
I shall now end this entry and go buy another hot cup of tea (15 Taka). I am in a silly predicament because I only brought mosquito coils, yet I didn’t pack a lighter in to avoid the need to check in luggage. And I couldn’t light a coil in the arrival waiting area even if I did have a lighter, because there’s a huge no smoking sign here. And I’m not going to go out and light one either, since it is too cold, and I did not bring any warm clothing. And so I sit here, freezing my ass off, trying to keep awake for the next 5 hours, feeding mosquitoes. I love this trip already. =)