On my recent trip to Israel I was flying Mumbai Tel Aviv Mumbai with El Al, the Israeli national carrier. It was my first flight with El Al. If I will remember one thing from the trip, it will be the level of security they deploy. At the outset, let me state very clearly, I understand. I am not complaining, at all. I am just telling the tale, with a smile on my face!
When you wish to board a plane what do you do? You get inside the airport, you queue for check-in and you get the boarding pass, right? Wrong if you are flying El Al. The area for check-in is roped off. You stand outside the rope and staff attends to you individually. They ask you to answer a long list of questions. In my case my visa clearly said ‘invitation by Ministry of Tourism.’ I still had to answer a lot of questions. Some of them were- how many countries you have traveled to? How did you find the PR firm that invited you to Israel? For the first time in my life I said, “it is the other way round, the PR firm found me, my blog is popular!” The lady asking the questions went away with my passport finally to a hefty guy (with ‘don’t mess with me’ itched on his face) who nodded his head. I was then allowed to proceed to the check-in queue. Truth be told I was rattled by the questions simply because no one else does it. I was not expecting it.
The check-in was relatively easy and straightforward. Almost all airlines ask if you packed your bags yourself, so did El Al. However they asked me to report at the gate half an hour early for security check. I was wondering what more security checks were there! I was curious now.
I was flying out from T2 at Mumbai for the first time. The airport looks impressive but their immigration was a pain. It took me hours to clear it. Mumbai Airport Security clearance took less time. Then I proceeded to the boarding gate for El Al.
How do other airlines board passengers? They ask the first and business class passengers to board at their convenience. Many airlines ask people who need assistance and those traveling with kids to board first. And then the general boarding starts. Not with El Al. While I was in the queue I heard people saying they had business class tickets and why were they not allowed to board? Apparently boarding was according to security rating.
This was my first trip to Israel and I was flying economy. I had to undergo another check at the boarding gate. They took out almost everything from my hand baggage (and I carry a lot of electronics) and passed it through a scanner. They did this to every bit of chargers, cords, power banks and what not. Then they asked us to sit. There was water and chips for us. After a while we were asked to board.
Some people found the procedure stressful. Someone said they have traveled to the USA and even they do not do so many checks. I didn’t mind at all. It had a lot of novelty value!
I was given a paper by the Ministry of Tourism to show to the security at the Ben Gurion Airport at Tel Aviv on my return. The security is tight at Ben Gurion too but I thought they were extra conscious at Mumbai. Maybe at Tel Aviv everything is under their control and they feel more confident about the security measures.
Once inside the plane, the flight was like any other flight. In the Mumbai Tel Aviv Mumbai sector you need to download the entertainment app on your phone to watch movies. I did it using my mobile data after boarding the plane. You need your head phone too as the app mutes the voice automatically. The headphones on the plane are quaint. They barely worked with my phone. The plane was old but clean. There was a blanket on the seat and I used it in the flight.
I watched three Israeli moves through the app- Apples from the Desert, The Band’s Visit and Sodom. If you use Netflix you can watch The Band’s Visit, it is a beautiful movie.
The food was OK. On the Mumbai-Tel Aviv flight they gave me vegetarian food. But on the Tel Aviv Mumbai flight I was not booked as a vegetarian and I got almost nothing to eat. I only got an energy bar. I had to ask for the tea and water to be given to me as it was vegetarian anyway.
Other than not getting vegetarian food my flight back was fine too. On board the El Al promotional video says at a point “El Al it is not just an airline, it is Israel!” I think I understand the sentiment!
PS. I was invited to Israel by the Israel Ministry of Tourism
It all started with a visit of Nisha and her husband to my 28th floor room at the Palladium Hotel, Mumbai. We were there to attend 2015 Discover Thainess event. I had a room with the view. Over tea, they pointed out that the structure in the water was the famous Haji Ali Dargah. Now that got my attention for sure. I got an opportunity to visit the dargah the next morning.
Now that I could see the shrine from my room (this is through a zoom at 300mm) I had to go there. I was staying in Lower Parel and I decided to hail a taxi right outside the hotel. Now I was in for a pleasant surprise here. The taxi went by meter, the bill came to 46 rupees and the driver gave back the exact change! People who live in Delhi/NCR would sure understand why I am surprised. That was a good start to the trip.
The weather in Mumbai was surely warmer than Delhi but it was still quite mild. As a rule I like to walk but I am not so sure about the paths full of hawkers and destitutes. However, once again, people did try to sell things or ask for alms but no one was pushy even when it was obvious that we were tourists.
At the beginning of the path, there is a concentration of shops selling flowers, chadar and other such things. People invariably asked if I would like to buy something, but I didn’t. They were quite alright when I stopped to click a picture even without buying anything. I was either ignored or the shop owners commented on their excellent display which compelled me to stop and click pictures!
All my recent trips to Mumbai have been for events and one night affairs! This one was no different. And yet, I am getting more attracted to it with each trip. I do find it claustrophobic with all its high rises standing next to slums. The traffic makes me feel nervous but there is something about the city which surely attracts me. What it is I know not yet, but the attraction is there, it is unmistakable.
The dargah is said to be built in 1431 AD in the memory of Peer Haji Ali. It is about 500 meters inside the sea and I am told at high tide the path becomes inaccessible. So, at high tide there are chances of getting stuck within the dargah as well. It didn’t happen to me though.
There is a separate enclosure for women at the dargah. It looks like women can’t visit the main shrine but then even this vantage point gives a good view of the main shrine. Like many religious places in India, it is required that you take off your shoes to enter the main complex. You are also required to cover your head. The shrine welcomes people from all religions.
People tie a thread to the outer walls if they wish to make a wish to the saint. If your wish is granted you are supposed to come back and remove the thread.
I am told that photography at the main shrine is not allowed. However from the women’s side no one said anything when I photographed the shrine.
Even though I had very little time, the shops were so colorful that I would stop to click a few pictures even on my way back.
One of the last pictures I clicked was of this bright orange sweet dish. After looking at this mouth watering picture I realized that I should have actually tried the stuff as well. I will surely do it next time. one of the pictures I didn’t dare to click was of a person sitting by the road, he was wearing a green kurta and his white beard had orange tinch of henna. I am still so timid when it comes to clicking people.
My visit to Haji Ali Dargah was truly memorable. So long Mumbai, till we meet next.
The Discover Thainess 2015 campaign was launched in Mumbai on February 25 by the tourism and sports minister of Thailand Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul. I was invited to attend this complete visual delight. I present you the same in pictures!
The Tourism and Sports Minister of Thailand Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul
The minister addressed the press conference and unveiled the theme of 2015 Discover Thainess. She interacted with the media for long hours after the event. She was quite bullish on the Indian market and had great optimism for Thailand Tourism in 2015.
The Lobby of the Palladium Hotel, Mumbai
The beautiful Palladium Hotel in Mumbai was the venue of the gala 2015 Discover Thainess event. I stayed there for a night as well.
A Riot of Colors
The venue of the ballroom of the Palladium Hotel in Mumbai and it was a riot of colors. These bright colors are used to paint the Thai face masks.
The Thai Masks
This is how the masks look when completed. Thai culture has some similarities with the Indian culture when it comes to Kinnaras, asuras and the ramayana.
A Beautiful Thai Girl!
One of the themes of the event was ‘floating markets’ of Thailand. This boat had beautiful orchids with a beautiful lady right in Mumbai!
At the first glance I thought these were miniature soaps, till I was invited to eat them! They are actually Thai sweets, mild flavored and really good. They were such an eye candy too!
Orchids- Quintessentially Thai
There were rows of orchids at the venue which created the vivid colors of Thainess at the event. Try as I might, this was the best I could do in photographing them, I was not too happy with the result.
This was my first glimpse of Muay Thai. It was a fascinating display of skills and strength between the two boxers. And the two beautiful ladies are fellow bloggers Ragini and Manjukila from Delhi.
A Thai Basket
I was not sure what looked more cute, the miniature boat or the beautiful basket full of delightful Thai sweets. And that perfectly tied bow was a pleasure to photograph.
If you have been to Thailand you already know about ladyboys. This charming ladyboy was at the drinks counter of the event. I hope we will treat our transvestites as well in future.
A Very Rosy Arrangement
This bowl full of rose and its petals was an eyecatcher for sure. I can’t remember when I saw such a bright shade of orange in such a beautiful formation!
Miniature Thai Boats
Thai floating markets are a thing of beauty. I have been lucky to see two of them Taling Chan Floating Market and the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. The miniature boats reminded me of the real markets which are so vibrant!
Such a Beautiful Arrangement
I was quite fascinated by the beautiful flowers in the hair of this Thai dancer. I am sure one has to know how to carry it off, I am sure if I put it, it will not look half as good!
Thai fruit carving was also on display and you guessed it right, this is a carving on a watermelon. It surely made for a pretty picture.
I have not been to Amphawa Floating Market but it is 50 km from Bangkok and seems to be less touristy. I hope I will go there one day.
So if you had to pick only one picture out off all these, which one would you choose?
PS. I was invited to the event by TAT New Delhi!
Took this picture somewhere on a flight from Delhi to Mumbai. I was amazed at the number of rays I could see with the eye. Not the same effect in the picture.
Beautiful Sky, From a Delhi Mumbai Flight
For the nth time I love sitting on the window seat on a plane because of this. At 35000 feet sometimes the drama in the sky is completely worth it. This post is part of Sky Watch Friday. Do check it out.