I don’t know if you have felt it, but there is always something magical about a holiday which spreads over the last few days of the old year and spills over on to a few of the new. While I am not sure if it has anything to do with leaving the stress, worries and issues of the year gone by behind you, there is no denying that one invariably returns refreshed perhaps more than at any other time of the year. Yes, you are right, this Christmas and New Year, we did manage to flee. We ran away from the mundane, from the madness of maximum city and spent a few days tanning on sunny, palm lined beaches, dining at restaurants on a cliff with the Indian Ocean waves crashing onto the rocks beneath, having a ‘mammoth’ experience playing with the pachyderms at an elephant orphanage and admiring fireflies on the dark porch of a 19th century colonial bungalow that overlooked a bay.
(Picture courtsey : Sukanti Ghosh)
The germ of this holiday was sown a few weeks before Christmas – one mid November evening – when the Bee was beside his proper Brit self. He plonked on to the couch (he actually just let himself go from around a foot above the sofa, which almost resembled a crash) and declared, “I need a holiday!”. When the Bee puts propriety last and his point of view first, I definitely stop to listen. That evening – he had just returned from Brussels – yet he sat up and booked air tickets for the vacation before succumbing to jet-lag. This, I told myself, was definitely serious.
And two days later when he had finished packing his bags for his trip to Paris, he left me with “Will you remember to look up a couple of things about Sri Lanka? Places we should visit, things we should do, sights we should see? Check both the beaches and the Buddhist Dagobas, I could do with a tranquil break”. Google, Wikipedia and a few questions tweeted into the dark quickly came to my rescue, as always. And soon I had a fairly plump dossier of places to visit and things to do on the Emarald Isle.
The Bee took about half a minute to go through the material I had carefully collated over the past four days and asked, “So what did the Srilankan tourism board site say? Is this the right time to go there? Do they have any exciting packages they strongly recommend or anything they strongly advise against? And, do they have an office in Mumbai?”
These and some more of such ‘finer’ details were missing from my carefully compiled dossier. So off I went, back to where I started, the drawing board. However, even after two days of detailed study, I seemed no closer to where I wanted to be than where I was earlier. I had neither found a travel agent who could take care of our needs or formed a strong opinion of anything we should not do or see. All we had was our confirmed tickets to the Emerald Isle and our determination that we must go on vacation. By the weekend, I was starting to doubt if the trip would actually materialize, but then, on our way to the haloed southern part of Maximum City, we spotted the office of a leading international leisure holiday firm and sighed a huge sigh of relief.
However, what we witnessed over the next couple of weeks was the antithesis of what we expected: customer focussed, effective, well informed and trustworthy service. Not only did they never live up to their word, but also took umbrage at the fact that we were indeed reading up and trying to form an opinion for ourselves of what we wanted to see and do. To our surprise and consternation, we found that the destinations we liked always seemed to ‘grow apart’ and places that were popularly touted as tourist havens, had really nothing to see or do – “So why do you want to drive to Galle? There’s nothing much to see there”; “Bentota? There are no rooms available, why don’t you stay in another resort along the way which has much more to offer?”; “Sorry, getting reservations in Nuwara Eliya is out of the question.” and then the inevitable,”You will need to pay us in advance, if we are to confirm any of these rooms” and the inexplicable, “You will have to wire the money in US dollars to XXYY account through your bank and not through your personal netbanking account, alternatively, you can pay us a cheque in Indian rupees on which we will act once the instrument is cleared. No, we can’t access funds in Indian rupees that are wired to us from the bank” (?!).
Till three days before our date of travel, we had no itininerary, no reservations and no clear route ahead. Even our suggestion that we pay them by demand draft in advance met with hesitation, “We actually have an office Christmas party and can only collect things on Monday” and again, “We can’t check the details you have asked for, we will have to ask our operations team tomorrow and then will have to wait for our colleagues in Srilanka to respond”.
Things continued in this vein almost till the very start of our holiday, when to our horror, we found that our trusted travel partners had had us travelling anything between 4-7hours every day for the next 11 days and had changed two of the hotels we had agreed upon without our notice! The only redeeming feature was all the places we had wanted incorporated had indeed been woven in. Needless to say, our patience was running very thin…. (to be continued)