Last Friday Neal kindly chauffeured us to the airport while snacked on bahn mi from Saigon's Sandwich & Bakery in preparation for our two day journey to Kolkata. We were excited about a ten hour layover in London, which would give us a chance to do some sightseeing and stretch our legs. The only real thing on our agenda was a trip to the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. Thankfully, Air New Zealand has on-demand movies and television so I entertained myself watching indie films.
After a restless night we stepped off the plane under dreary, rainy London skies. Our bags were checked through to Delhi so it made things easy. We took the Underground to Holborn station and got a (ghastly) cup of cappuccino to wake us from our stupor before heading to the Hunterian Museum. The museum has an amazing collection of anatomical and pathology specimens from all different species, in addition to medical instruments from prehistory to modern day. The only downside we discovered is that photography is not allowed. We still had a few hours to kill so we headed to Trafalgar Square. The sign for the St. Martin in the Fields crypt caught our eye, but we were disappointed to see it turned into a food court.
We continued along the Underground line and I was surprised to find a large statue of Pazuzu at the British Academy. This is the demon of Exorcist fame and who we discussed in my Babylonian Religion class at UCB. Pazuzu amulets were worn by Sumerian women as protection against Lamashtu, the demon who was responsible for miscarriages. The line spoken by the old priest/archeologist in the Exorcist, Evil against evil, refers to this. Since we were in London we decided to cave and indulge in bar food before getting on the plane.
Unlike the smoothly running Air NZ flight we knew that our Air India experience would be chaotic. Air India and Indian Airlines are in the process of merging and we had already had our earlier flights rescheduled three times following route cancellations. We had to go back and forth between several agents to finally get our boarding pass to Delhi and some sort of special handwritten endorsement for our Delhi to Kolkata leg. We eventually got on the plane for our second night in transit.
By the time we got to Delhi we were wiped out. The air was thick with smog and what the Indian newspapers refer to as "mist". Jascha's bag, which contained his riding gear and tools, didn't arrive, so he rapidly came up to speed on Indian bureaucracy and the need to save every scrap of paper. We took the shuttle over to the domestic terminal and checked in. The armed guards wouldn't allow me to go back out of the security area to use the ATM, so I was hoping we would would find a money changer or ATM in Kolkata. The departure lounge was freezing cold and I spent the next few hours wrapped in both of our jackets. Finally we boarded the final leg of our flight. Of course we arrived at the airport to a broken ATM and no money changers in our terminal. The touts were all over us and the only good thing that came out of it was a black market money changer. We managed to avoid all offers for "cheaper taxi fare" and score a prepaid ride to our hotel for ~$5. En route to the airport we hit a major traffic jam, which we later learned was caused by the procession for the Jagaddharti Puja. We caught only a small fraction, which consisted of trucks hauling illuminated statues of gods and goddesses. Wearily, we stumbled into our hotel room and crashed.