A direct flight from Israel to India usually takes 5 hours. My travels between the two countries took 40 hours. As a backpacker on the long haul I have a limitless amount of time, but a finite amount of money. When you're booking a flight only two days away, the gap between budget and regular airlines can feel like swift kick between the legs. The cheapest option I could find came out to $490. I covered the majority of it with the miles I had saved up over the past two years (I would have had to wait two more weeks for any significant change in price).
To prepare for my journey that would have me sitting in airports 2.5x longer than I would be on a plane, I downloaded tv shows, charged my kindle, and stocked up on food supplies of cashews, granola bars, and chocolate.
Before I could check-in at Ben Gurion airport, I was stopped (along with everyone else) to answer questions. Besides the usual questions about your baggage, I was asked:
Why are you in Israel? I participated in Birthright and stayed to volunteer at a kibbutz.
Are you a part of a religious organization? No.
How did you hear about Birthright if you're not religious? Everyone knows about Birthright...
Where is all of your stuff? You can't have been here with so few clothes? I pack light, it's not my first time traveling.
The entire questioning process was repeated twice as another person was called over to question me again. They were polite, but acted skeptical with disbelieving smirks on their faces. Without any other questions to ask I was let through with a little wave.
Layover in Istanbul
After arriving in Istanbul with Pegasus airlines, I had my first layover was for 15 hours. "Now, Ezra, why don't you just go and explore Istanbul?" Valid question, but I choose against this option for a couple of reasons. I didn't want to pay for the visa. I have visited Istanbul before. It was raining when I arrived and continued to rain the entire time I was there.
I didn't have my boarding pass for my next flight because I was flying with a separate airline, FlyDubai. My choices were either to pay for the visa, go through customs, and wait at the ticketing counter for 13 hours until I could check in. Or, I could wait in the nowhere land that sits between getting off an international flight and going through customs or transit security.
Since I'd be waiting in either case, I chose to wait in nowhere land, save some money, and hoped that when the time came the Pegasus representatives would help me get my boarding pass to go through the transit security. Armed with my snacks, entertainment, and a bathroom nearby I had everything I needed. I was also lucky to have been able to bring both my bags on the plane allowing me to stay in nowhere land and not worry about where my other bag might be. *Travel tip - always carry-on your bags when you have connecting flights, especially international.
New Year's 2015
Two hours before my flight to Dubai I received my boarding passes and went through transit security. I sat at my gate listening to music and watching the clock countdown to midnight. I was alone, tired, and more excited than ever for my upcoming travels to India. A part of me wished to be with my friends and family to bring in the new year, but being in an airport was a fitting end to 2014 and the right way to begin 2015. I think I was only one who noticed when the clock struck midnight. I ate a Mars bar in celebration and an hour later I was on my way to Dubai.
12 Hours in Dubai
For U.S. citizens you can receive a free visa for up to 30 days on arrival to the United Arab Emirates. After getting my visa and going through customs I stashed my larger bag in storage and jumped on the metro. I had 12 hours before my flight to India and there was no way I would spend that time on my butt in another airport.
I headed towards the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, which stands at 2,722 feet high. It made my hometown skyscraper, the Sears Tower, look like a thumb next to a pointer finger.
After walking around in awe of the Burj, I headed next door to the Dubai Mall, which is the access point to getting to the top. I was hoping to get a view from the tallest man made structure in the world, but the tickets were entirely sold out.
I’m not a fan of malls, but I decided I could take on the oppressive lighting and crowds of people to explore what the largest mall in the world had to offer. Inside the mall there is an aquarium, ice rink, amusement park, and even an indoor sky slope (Mall of Emirates). There are over 1,200 stores and after a while of walking around even I was getting the temptation to buy something.
I settled for two meals that contained beef and chicken as I plan on staying away from the majority of meat in India. After receiving a full dose of commercialism and meat, I was more prepared than ever to arrive in India.
Getting to India
I returned to the airport, grabbed my bag, headed to my gate, and boarded the plane to India. On the flight it seemed like I had to constantly protect the space entitled to me against the man in the middle seat. The moment I would lift an arm up, his arm would settle down on the whole armrest. If I let my legs slide together his legs would spread wider into my area.
I ended up having armrest and leg battles with the Indian guy in the middle seat for most of the flight. Apparently fighting for space on buses and trains is something I would need to get used to while traveling in India so I appreciated the practice.
Another curious thing about the flight occurred when the fasten your seatbelt sign was turned off. The moment it happened there was a 30 second long cascade of clinks echoing around the cabin as every other passenger undid their seatbelt. Can anyone explain this?
I arrived at 1:30 in the morning and went straight to customs. I love not having to wait for any bags. I handed the customs agent my passport and after she gave me a stamp she proceeded to preform the traditional headshake that leaves all foreigners utterly confused at what it means. I call it the “wiggle headshake nod.” I remember hearing tales of this fascinating motion and even reading how to decode the gesture, but at the moment I was lost (and still am). It wasn’t until she smiled and used her hand to beckon me past that I understood. I had made it to India!
I exchanged some money and paid for a pre-paid taxi to the downtown district of the city of Kochi. After receiving a bit of help from the locals on the street we made it to the address of my couchsurfing host. At 3:00, I walked in the door, greeted my host, noticed how hot it was in the dead of night, and promptly fell asleep. The next morning I woke up to the honking sounds of rickshaws, mopeds, and motorcycles, ready to experience India.
I plan on being in India for a few month as the very least. If you have any suggestions about where to go, what to eat, or anything at all in India, please let me know in the comments below.