I got a chance to visit New York City this February and this write-up is all about that.
I don’t write frequently; but when I do, I tend to overwrite. The entire piece runs across ~5000 words spread over 28 MS-Word pages. Therefore, in an effort to keep things interesting and crisp, I’ve decided to publish it in 3 parts.
I was selected to participate in the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) Conference, which is 4-day event organised at Harvard University every February. The aim of the project as well as this conference is to ‘promote understanding of the economic, political, social, and cultural issues facing the Asia-Pacific region’. HPAIR organises 2 international conferences every year – one at Harvard University in February and the other at an Asian University in August.
I was a delegate at the HPAIR Asia Conference, 2016 which was organised in collaboration with the Chinese University of Hong Kong and was interested to see how the two conferences compared. Moreover, I was thrilled to be given a chance to visit Harvard, which is among the world’s most prestigious universities, with an astonishingly low acceptance rate of ~ 5.4%.
Even more exciting was the point that I would be getting a chance to meet Hrishikesh, who is studying at the University of Washington, Seattle. Hrishikesh and I have been uber-close friends for over 16 years now and the fact that I would be meeting him in the US was unbelievable, to put it mildly.
The foundation of this trip was laid way back in October, when I had casually mentioned about this conference to Hrishikesh. I had not planned to apply for the conference at that time. But then we discussed how thrilling it would be to meet at the other side of the planet, in a totally new country. Although the proposal sounded too-good-to-be-true at that point, considering that there was a possibility of Hrishikesh’s exam dates clashing with the period of my stay and the fact that the entire exercise depended upon my selection to attend the HPAIR conference, it somehow panned out so flawlessly and before I could sit back and admire the flawlessness, I had my NY boarding pass in my hand.
The original plan was to meet in Boston a few days ahead of the conference. Thank god we shifted it to New York. This is not to say that Boston would have been a bad choice (it is also a terrific city), but in hindsight, I would safely say that we made the right choice. After all, New York has the exuberance and vibe which is unlike anything found anywhere in the world.
Seattle is a city on the western coast of USA and is roughly 3,800 kilometres away from New York (this stat alone gives you an idea of just how massive the US is). To put this into perspective, if you travelled that far to the east of Delhi you’d reach Beijing, and to the west you’d reach Jeddah. But then, that’s still a quarter of how far Nagpur is from Seattle and the day I told him I would be visiting the US in February, a plan started taking shape.
In theory, 5 days in New York and 5 days in Boston sounded good. We were now keen to see if the planning and investment was worth it.
It was. It so was.
City New York City, NY
Date 11th to 16th February, 2017
Travel Qatar Airways (return Rs. 58,000/- from Nagpur via Doha)
Accommodation Hotel Belnord, West 87th Street, NY ($95 or Rs. 6,400/night – twin room)
Flight – Nagpur to Doha (QR 589) & Doha Airport
This was a long day (~34 hours). I had a 4h 20m flight to Doha that departed at 0230 hrs from Nagpur. 60% of the seats were taken, which was impressive considering Qatar Airways operates daily A320 flights from Nagpur.
I had a meal pre-booked but did not end up eating anything in the flight and slept through most of it. From the little interaction I had with the crew, I could tell that they were very helpful and kind. I woke up when we were flying over the Arabian Sea, with an hour or so left for landing. At this time, the air hostess promptly came up to my seat and asked if I wanted to have my meal since there was still time for landing. I told her I wasn’t hungry and instead asked for some apple juice.
We landed ahead of schedule (at around 0445 hrs local time) and had a smooth touchdown at Doha’s Hamad International Airport. Boy, what a fancy airport that is! Most people flying from the east to the west choose to have a stopover either at Doha, Abu Dhabi or Dubai. The airport therefore, is often the sole point of contact with the country for a lot of people. The governments have therefore invested heavily on airport infrastructure and the result is that the Middle East now boasts of some of the fanciest and swankiest airports in the world.
I stopped at a coffee shop before boarding my flight to JFK where a Café Mocha set me back by QAR 30 (Rs. 575/-). Ouch!
I spent most of the 2h 30m I had exploring the airport, gazing out at the tarmac, and staring at random people. I also got a chance to see Qatar’s Airbus A380:
Flight – Doha to New York City (QR 701) & JFK Airport
Qatar Airways’ flights to New York-JFK are operated by a Boeing 777-300ER. Weirdly enough, the Doha-Boston sector is served by the newer Airbus A350. Since Doha-New York is clearly the busier route, wouldn’t it make more sense to operate (and showcase) the newer A350 here, considering both have near identical seating capacity?
Anyway, I had no complaints about the Boeing aircraft. It is a time-tested long haul carrier and is also reasonably comfortable. Tall passengers always find legroom to be limited and this is something which is not airline-specific and is more of a general issue.
It was a 14 hour flight and the views during climb out were phenomenal.
USA is far, far away. Planes flying close to 900 km/h take 15 hours to reach the US from Doha. Add another 4h 20m to India. It is that far. The journey almost becomes boring towards the end.
We touched down at around 1415 hrs at Terminal 8 of New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. The entire city is divided into neat square-ish blocks. There was snow everywhere. What a view!
While not as fancy as some airports in the Middle East, JFK is sleek and functional. It’s more Volkswagen Phaeton than it is Mercedes E-Class. It does not shout for attention but gets the job done very well. But then, it’s also not majorly used for a stopover.
Stay (Monmouth County, New Jersey)
My cousin, Sushrut, who is a student at Purdue University had flown in from Indianapolis to meet me. Our uncle had come to pick us up at JFK. From there, it was a one hour drive to his house at Monmouth Junction, New Jersey. We stayed the night with our uncle and aunt. We had great home cooked food and slept well at their beautiful and cozy home. To say that it was a supremely comfortable first night would be an understatement.