“ Newly opened international airport near Hyderabad in India. „
Rajiv Gandhi International Airport opened in March 2008, taking over the business that had previously been served by the much more central Begumpet airport. As so often happens, airports become the victim of their own success - do too well and you become obsolete and get replaced by something bigger and shinier but much further from the city.
The airport was ready long before the infrastructure that's needed to support it - hence you'll find lots of reports on travel forums of people trying to find a hotel near the airport. There's only one - the Novotel - so for everyone else, there's an inevitably long journey to be made. There will be train links and fancier roads sometime in the future but for now, it's not the easiest or most convenient place to get to and from.
It's a fairly safe comment to make that it's never a great experience to land at an airport you don't know at 4.45 in the morning. Our recent visit to Hyderabad found us tired, a bit confused and not entirely sure what to expect but I had done some homework before travelling so I was fairly well forewarned and forearmed. I had learned a few key things about the airport. I knew that it was very new, that it was a LONG way from the city and (from reading online travel forums) that I was highly likely to get ripped off for a taxi. But I needed to stay calm because I was also aware that if we got hot and bothered and looked at all like we might have swine flu, we weren't going to be let into the country. So no pressure then!
Due to having nabbed seats that were fairly near the front of the economy cabin, we were able to get off pretty quickly and beat the worst of the queues. Stepping off the plane my husband looked around and said "Wow, this is pretty impressive", and considering that we most often fly into Delhi when we go to India, it's very true to say that Hyderabad is a gleaming bright jewel of an airport compared to the run-down inefficient, smelly horror that is Indira Gandhi International airport. Keeping it in the family, the airport that bears her son's name is a 1000 times more pleasant than her Delhi hub.
Walking up the gleaming air-bridge and looking towards the brand spanking new terminal we were both a bit dazzled. I was reminded of Munich Airport but maybe that was just lack of sleep though I did once pass through Lagos airport and found an identikit copy of Amsterdam's Schipol so I'm always on the look out for such similarities.
Once inside the terminal everything was clean, shiny and best of all, everything worked! The toilets were spotless and nobody tried to mug us for our change to pay for the facilities. The moving walk-ways all, well, moved! It sounds like little to be stunned by but most of the Indian airports I've used (and I've used many) just don't come close to the charms and efficiency of Hyderabad.
~Squeak piggy squeak~
We joined a pair of lines for the health checks, overly conscious that heat-seeking cameras were checking us and those around us to make sure we weren't suffering from fevers. We'd already completed our 'I haven't got swine flu, honest' forms before stepping off the plane but faced with a bank of serious looking doctors and nurses in face masks, it's hard not to imagine being hauled out of line and refused entry. What would happen? Would they stick you on a plane back to London or throw you in an isolation hospital and chuck away the key? I have no idea and fortunately I didn't have to find out.
As a result of the long line for flu-screening, the passport check area was almost empty and we sailed straight through. Passing duty-free arrival shops filled with tempting goods we found ourselves at the luggage carousels where the efficient sparkling airport systems broke down a little and we waited nearly 20 minutes for all the bags to come through. All the porters were watching the cricket so we couldn't help wondering if the baggage handlers were doing the same.
~ We're here, what now?~
Whilst we waited, my husband popped off to change some money and we were soon out of the airport, facing a wall of waiting faces. I'd already read up on the transport options both in the luggage area and on the internet before we travelled so I knew we were likely to be charged higher rates into the city because it was so early in the morning. I also knew that we could either take a taxi straight outside the terminal and take a gamble on getting one that would charge the official rate of 15 Rp per kilometre, or we could take a bus to the so-called Transit Hub and get a 'pre-paid' taxi. The locals apparently pre-book their taxis on-line which is the cheapest way but well beyond the capabilities of a foreigner without an Indian bank account or local contacts. Finding the transfer bus right in front of us, we opted for the latter. No sooner were we on that we were being schmoozed by a taxi man.
"Where are you going?" he asked and I told him evasively "The Transit Hub". "No, no, WHERE in the city?" I told him I wasn't interested, I wanted a pre-paid taxi and would get one at the Hub. After a bit more nagging from him, I revealed the area of the city and he told me it would be 800 Rp. I laughed in his face and called him a crook (yes, it sounds extreme but I knew that he was overcharging me) and I repeated that I wanted a pre-paid taxi. He showed me his ID pass showing that he was a pre-paid driver and I said I'd take my chances at the Transit Hub. My husband was sniggering and enjoying the entertainment. I told the guy he was charging far too much and he claimed it was because these were the 'night rates'. I told him the official rate from outside the airport was only 15 rupees per km and so it shouldn't be more than 600.
~ The Transit Hub~
After about 5 minutes we were at the Hub, a clever set up where all the taxis and buses are kept off the main airport concourse by holding them in one place. It's an elegant solution and we were impressed at the organisation and thought that had gone into this system. What we weren't impressed by was finding that there was no sign of a pre-paid taxi office. Throughout this trip we struggled with so-called Pre-paid systems before finally working it out in our last destination, but in theory you SHOULD be able to go to a ticket counter, tell the operator where you want to go and be assigned a driver and a fixed price. Sadly at 5.30 in the morning there was no evidence of such an arrangement.
It's worth keeping in mind at this time that I was arguing mostly for the sport. 800 Rp is only a little over £10 and the journey was going to be about 25 miles so the actual amount wasn't going to make or break the holiday. I kept the debate going a bit longer before eventually agreeing I'd pay him 650 Rp and an extra 50 if he got us there without any crazy or dangerous driving. It might sound trite and you might think me very rude but if I'd agreed to his original 800 he'd never have respected me and would have spent the rest of the day kicking himself for not asking for 1200. The deal was struck, he called a driver over and he and the driver took us into town along the smoothest and probably newest roads I've seen anywhere in India. Our holiday had begun