“We had the first-hand experience of flying through the cyclone today and I hope you might have enjoyed it” the pilot announced as soon as we touched down at Chennai International Airport, probably in an effort to comfort the worried passengers. We all burst into laughter when the pilot made that announcement. The weather conditions in Chennai on Sunday, 15th November 2015 were really wild with heavy rains and strong cyclone. We took off from Bakdokra at 4:30 pm and after a short stop at Kolkata, we continued to Chennai in the same flight. But as we approached Chennai International Airport, the aircraft began to tremble wildly as we flew through the oncoming cyclone and heavy rains that had been flooding Chennai and the neighboring areas over the past five days or so. As the pilot announced, it was really a scary and dangerous flight. I had never been nervous and anxious like that before. I kept on praying as the aircraft struggled to cut its way through such a strong and wild rainstorm. But due to God’s grace and the kind wishes of our friends, we could safely land at Chennai at around 8:30 pm as scheduled.
The team from the host organization was patiently waiting for us outside the airport when we came out after completing all the arrival formalities at the airport. We were warmly received by a team of staff from Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development (RGNIYD) who escorted us to the Institute in the Institute’s car. The rain was still pouring down like buckets of water and all the roads were flooded. Even when we got out on the way for dinner, we had to hop one step at a time to escape the pool of rainwater, but still then we got drenched in the rain. After having sumptuous dinner, we continued our journey to the Institute and by the time we reached the hostel, it was 1 am.
The heavy downpours continued for the next couple of days and the daily life at Chennai was severely affected with large areas covered in floods that cut off several roads. But although many places in the area were affected by floods, the campus where we were kept was safe. The pools of rainwaters were everywhere though. Fortunately, the hostel where we stayed was internally connected to the rest of the buildings and hence, we didn’t have any problem going to and from the conference room where we attended the briefings and presentations.
The first two days were intensive. We were briefed on the primary mandates of the Institute and numerous programs/activities currently undertaken at the Institute. We were familiarized with different initiatives of each Department of the Institute and provided us an overview of how it functions as an institute for youth development. Since it’s a government agency under the Ministry of Youth Affairs, Government of India, the main expectation from the Institute was to initiate and strengthen future collaborations with Bhutan in the areas of capacity-building of youth functionaries/youth leaders, youth exchange programs and exchange of technical and human resources in the field of youth development. . The two parties agreed to initiate the process for collaborations as soon as possible in order to facilitate better exchange of resources and expertise in many areas of youth development. We were also taken to visit a couple of NGOs with whom the Institute collaborates and showed us various initiatives of each partner. It was a very fruitful interaction.
During the last one and half day, we were taken on a cultural tour in and around Chennai. We visited numerous historical sites including Rajiv Gandhi’s Memorial and ancient Hindu temples. It was a thrilling experience to visit a number of ancient monuments and other places of cultural significance. We also got the opportunity to go to Mahabalipuram Beach. Although it was raining heavily, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip. We had to even buy umbrellas from the roadside while going to the beach. We were fully drenched in the rain but it was a lovely experience. The staff who went with us also bore equal hardships and we are very grateful to them for their patience and commitment to help us.
Although we could not visit many other places due to heavy rains and flooded roads, it was great to visit some of the most interesting nearby places. I truly got a lot of good memories to bring home. Alongside such cultural tours, we could also buy some items like silk materials, sea-shells and banana chips. The time flew off so fast that the 5-day program had soon come to an end. It was time for us to leave. Fortunately, this time the weather had returned to normal and it was sunny when we boarded the plane although it was raining just a few hours earlier. We took off smoothly from Chennai at 11:35 am on Saturday, 21st November 2015 and landed at Kolkata in one piece. We had booked our rooms at Sikkim House and we had a very comfortable night. We left for Paro the next day at 2:10 pm after our previously scheduled morning flight was cancelled due to technical problems. Overall, it was a very pleasant trip.