Sujata, Anupama and I landed at Raipur airport on May 21st. We thought we could beat the Delhi heat, but no luck. We were received by a very warm blast of air as we stepped out of the airport. But let me rewind a bit here.
The airport is one of the swankiest new airports built in Indian state capitals in recent times.One wouldn’t imagine that one of the poorest states in India, having the lowest HDI and among the lowest per capita income, could boast of such a plush airport. The airport had beckoning coffee shops, an assorted variety of tribal handicraft shops and many others. There was a glass topped water-flowing canal cutting across the ground floor of the airport, which we crossed over with gingerly steps.
We all had one-piece luggage and the ubiquitous laptop. Anupama brought an extra exquisite and irresistible leather bag. Sujata and I had to be content holding it now and then. Through subtle queries we tried to find out if she had a few more of them, at least a couple. But the queries were politely ignored.
The tribal handicraft shops had salesmen and women who were looking for a good catch for the day. When they saw Sujata and Anupama glancing at them, their faces brightened. I generally avoid such shops in airports and take another route if possible. But Sujata and Anupama were made of more adventurous stuff. I gracefully offered to look after the luggage and they quickly made a foray into the shops and got some wonderful, surprisingly affordable, mementos too. I think my low esteem of these airport shops needs a re-assessment.
Now coming back to where we left, one could see that the aesthetic appeal inside prevailed outside also. Well-manicured plants, bright patches of flower beds, artistically landscaped grass carpets and colorful coffee and snack shops decorated the huge airport lawn. But we had to get to work fast. So, we located our taxi driver and drove to the imposing Satlaj Hotel, right in the centre of the city.
This particular hotel was highly recommended by Sujata. The hotel needed a coat of paint, but the rooms were comfortable. A garlanded photo of the hotel owner who expired early hung above the reception. The ex-hotel owner has a history which we plan to investigate in our next visit.
Our business was partly in Raipur and rest in Naya Raipur, the new capital city, 17 km away from Raipur and connected by an excellent highway. The airport is somewhere in the middle of both the cities, and was visible almost the entire long ride. Looked like we were circling around the airport. Some government directorates remain in the old city and many have shifted to the new city. The SPAC (State Plan of Action for children) team will become familiar with all the landmarks along this stretch in the days and weeks to come. Later I came to know (from Google of course) that Afghan planners are looking at these twin cities as a model for the new Kabul city, but hopefully not for its health infrastructure. The newly built Mantralaya is an imposing building with a formidable security. Somewhat comforting to know that we will be developing the plan of action sitting in such a world-class building.
But nothing to beat the comfort of India Coffee House. Sujata being the veteran of Raipur, took us to a few of her favourite eating joints, and we have plans to cover many more in the next visit. She seemed to be a familiar face in these joints with malayalee and non-malayalee waiters and cashiers eagerly saluting her. And it was not only waiters and cashiers. There were also ex-project associates and others who seemed to be constantly hovering around the place.
For those going to Raipur next – please visit India Coffee House – ask for “filter coffee” and of course the exotic India Coffee House Special triple Sundae!