~Not So Happy Memories~
Once upon a time, any traveller arriving in India was hit instantly by culture shock the moment they stepped off the plane; the airports were dreadful. Whilst I used to enjoy the exotic scent of joss-sticks, it was harder to turn a blind eye to the dirt and the cockroaches and there was no way I was going anywhere near the airport toilets even though I knew the lines for immigration, bag collection and customs were going to be a challenge. In 2009 we got our first sniff of 21st century Indian airports when we flew through Hyderabad and Bangalore - both of which were modern, state of the art hubs of cleanliness and efficiency. There couldn't have been a bigger contrast with the old Indira Gandhi International airport in Delhi.
~Dragging Indira Into the 21st Century~
We knew that a new terminal - Terminal 3 - was being built in Delhi for the Commonwealth Games and that it was going to be enormous. We hoped it would also be rather lovely and we weren't disappointed. Stepping off our plane onto the air-bridge last October we weren't hit by the normal humid 'fug' of India. Stepping into T3 we were greeted by a blast of air-conditioning to rival the best US shopping mall. Everything around us was spotlessly clean and new.
Curiosity was too much for us so we trotted off to try the toilets, male and female identified only by a large photo of either a female or male head. After so little sleep, I struggled a bit. Once inside everything was so clean that we really did wonder if we'd landed in a parallel universe rather than another country. And not only was everything clean, but everything worked too. From toilet paper being there, to flushes working, water coming smoothly out of undamaged taps and paper towel dispensers actually dispensing paper towels. This was a world away form the old IGI airport. Admittedly we did land just a couple of days after the Commonwealth Games had ended and I do have some doubts about how long everything will continue to be perfect, but I was very impressed and surprised by the new terminal.
~Wear Comfortable Shoes - it's a BIG place~
As we started the rather long trek to passport control - it's a big airport, everything's a long way - we did have a giggle that any designer could possibly have chosen such disgusting carpeting but other than that we were open-mouthed in wonder at the new terminal.We hit passport control and were through in just a couple of minutes. No crush, no long lines, just efficiency all around us. It's only fair to mention that we'd taken an overnight flight from Heathrow which arrived about 10.30 in the morning which is a quiet time for flight arrivals. Most of the flights that leave Europe during the day time arrive late at night when things are much busier and if you're mad enough to transit through the Middle East with Gulf or Emirates or similar carriers, you may well arrive at stupid o'clock in the morning at the same time as lots of other flights.
We passed into an area of arrival duty-free shops and were almost relieved to see that workmen had the flooring up for repairs - now that was more like India. We went to the baggage area where our bags did take a silly amount of time to arrive, but this left lots of time for my husband to go off and change money.
We headed to the customs area, handed over our customs slips and found ourselves in a really rather quiet area with shops, cafés and what we needed most, the pre-booked taxi counters. The old airport used to throw you out on the mercy of the crowd to fight off the seedy little men trying to get you in their cabs but they've moved all that outside of the actual terminal building so you can go and arrange transport without any hassle.
There are bus services to the city and the Metro now connects all the way to the airport but as a party of four going in the wrong direction for the Metro or the buses, we wanted to take a pre-booked taxi. There were several desks to choose from and we took Mega Cabs where there was only one other person waiting. I gave the assistant the address, she took a look at the size of us and our luggage and gave us a price of 520 rupees for the journey (approximately £8). We paid and she issued two copies of the receipt - one for us and one for the driver - and explained to go outside to pillar 14 (clearly marked) and look for the car with the registration number on the ticket. We should then give the driver one slip and keep the other.
Despite the car looking a bit small for the challenge (those CNG gas tanks have stolen most of the space in the boot of the taxis), the driver and his friends got us and all our bags in and not one person had their hand out for a tip. We've never had such a smooth arrival in India and within 40 minutes we were at our B&B, more than happy with the driving skill and communication from the driver. Going to India just keeps getting easier!
Just to give a little bit of balance to the glowing praise of Terminal 3, we flew down to Aurangabad from the domestic terminal 1A a week later. I won't write too much about this since the domestic flights were intended to move to T3 within the next couple of months so an in-depth discussion of them would be rapidly out of date. Allow plenty of time to get your hold luggage screened and then checked in, and to pass through security which is admirably thorough. We flew at 1 pm on a Saturday and the airport was very quiet and nothing took very long (even more so since a 'fixer' decided to 'fix' on us and whiz us through the formalities of the check-in process in return for a small tip.
Airside Domestic is quite well equipped with several snack bars including a McDonalds, forex, book shops, a jeweller and very clean loos. The terminal is wi-fi enabled and the service is free of charge but you'll need to give a telephone number so they can SMS you a code to use it. My phone was in my checked luggage so I missed a trick there.
Our return to England was through T3 and I was a bit disappointed by the place. There was nothing wrong with the facilities it was just the total sense that you could have been absolutely anywhere in the world in any airport and there was nothing Indian about it. The check in area was enormous, they've now dispensed with the old pre-check in baggage screening and we sailed through passport control and security because there were just so many staff working the counters. Once we'd got to the departure area we found a very swanky, clean, modern shopping and restaurant area - my only complaint would be that it was completely lacking in any sense of Indian identity - for heavens sake, they even have WH Smiths. The food court had a great range of cheap dining options including some that were uniquely local and we stuffed ourselves with Chinese food from a place called NoodleWok and my sister took advantage of the need to use up her last rupees by buying us all drinks in the bar - including the first glass of wine for two weeks.The walks to the departure gates are long and marred by the shockingly ugly carpets but at the moment the moving walk ways are still operational and that helps. There's plenty of seating and more toilets in the boarding area. Terminal 3 has taken Delhi airport from a run down hovel where nothing worked to a beautiful sparkly new hub that's on a par with any modern airport worldwide. The city should be proud of its achievement.