In the hoopla of the opening of the swanky new terminal at the Delhi International Airport, most of us had forgotten about the other new sensation down south. In February, Hyderabad International Airport was ranked the fifth best airport in the world and the best in the 5 million-15 million passengers category by the Geneva-based Airports Council International. So when I found myself going to Hyderabad earlier this month, I decided to see this wondrous beast for myself.
The first intimations of the façade of Hyderabad airport are the Stonehenge-like structures on the roundabout outside. The airport itself resembles a number of fallen soufflés stacked against each other. So far, not good. Outside, gigantic hoardings tell us that the only thing you can hear inside an Audi is your heartbeat. It’s the same inside this airport. You are struck by the silence, the order, the harmony — so alien to discordant India. And what’s more, procedures like checking in and security take on the fluidity of an Anna Pavlova ballet recital.
Were it not for my children, I would have, like Tom Hanks in Terminal, lived out my days in Hyderabad airport. It is clean, cool, has everything I need from sparkling toilets to a plethora of food stations. The king among them all is the Idli Factory, its steamers churning out idlis of all sizes like vaporous bubble wrap. I decided to live a little dangerously and eat a guntur idli. The idli seemed to hover over the plate like giant tumbleweed, coated with a volcanic chutney powder. The viscous sambar bobbled on the side as I wept my way through the dish.
On the far end, a mega-flat screen was showing football World Cup re-runs. The bar sits next to the screen offering. So it’s all very civilised with Pleasantville passengers sipping slowly on their watery drinks.
You can amble about and pick up a perfume or two, clothes, pearls, watches, cellphones and books in any of the shops that seem to apologetically cling to the sides of the terminal. If all this good life within the airport makes you a little under the weather, there’s even a fully equipped hospital on hand where you can get the once over from doctors before you continue your perambulations across the glittering floors. And if you’re not feeling too happy with the world, vent your spleen at 38 computer terminals and get an immediate response from the management. They really do care, you see.
Hyderabad airport is a two-in-one model. It can move seamlessly from being domestic to international with some clever David Copperfield movements of doors and security cordons. All very resourceful and green to boot. Hitarth Mankodi, Director, Terminal Operations, is clearly doing his job. He tells me the airport prefers natural lighting during the day, thus there is minimal wastage of power. And from the giant glass windows you can watch the planes land and take off, something that brings out the child in all of us.
The address system is clear, crisp and slow. I can actually hear and understand the status of my flight and the gate I should go to. Seeing me staring at the monitor, an airport worker asks if he can help me. This is too much. I am overdosing on all this politeness. The real shocker comes when my flight is announced. Something unknown in the annals of Indian public behaviour transpires. As an honorary citizen of Delhi, I leap to my feet, elbows at the ready to edge out any competition. But strangely, no one else is exerting themselves. People get up silently and form a queue. Am I in Zurich? No, it’s Hyderabad. I must plan another trip soon. Not to see my family, not to see my friends, not to buy kalamkari tablecloths but to return to mooch around the airport — and get my teeth into those addictive idlis.