Friday, January 25, 2008

Life at 30,000 feet!

Cherian Parakkal, currently using his 39th passport, gives tips on international travel

By Shevlin Sebastian

A few years ago, Cherian Parakkal, 54, the director of the Canada-based Sutton Healthcare International, was travelling with his family on a bus in Austria. They had lunch, which consisted of meat and fish, along with 30 other passengers at a restaurant. “After lunch, we set out again,” says Cherian. “Half an hour later, somebody asked the driver to stop.”

The man ran out onto a field and relieved himself. He returned and the bus started moving again. “Soon, a second person raised his hand,” he says. “In the end, thanks to food poisoning, all 30 passengers, including my family and I, had to relieve ourselves in the fields.” Since he had anti-diarrhoea tablets, by the evening, things settled down. “This is an experience I cannot forget,” he says, with a laugh.

Cherian has been traveling 15 days a month for 25 years, as a senior marketing professional in the pharmaceutical industry. Based in Dubai, he has traveled to 60 countries in the USA, Europe, Africa, the Far East and the Middle East and is now using his 39th passport.

On a recent visit to Kochi, where he has an apartment, he gives some advice on international travel. “The climate is different when you travel east or west,” he says. “If you traveling west, like, say, to Switzerland, you have to wear heavy, woolen clothes.”

He says that because Indians live in a tropical climate, it is difficult for them to face the European cold, even in the summer. “Wearing thermal clothes is the best defence,” he says. “It consists of a pant and a shirt which has sleeves and reaches up to the neck. You have to wear this throughout.” Travelling east is easy because the climate is warmer, so cottons should be preferred.

But traveling has its dangers. Once on a trip to America, Cherian was robbed inside the Newark International airport at New Jersey. “I learnt a lesson from that, which other travelers should follow,” he says. “Always keep your travel documents, money, credit cards and passport on your body, instead of the bag. So, if the bag gets lost, or is stolen, you have your passport and money with you.”

And what tip would he give for those traveling on long-haul flights? “You need to drink a lot of water to fight dehydration,” he says. “You have to do a bit of exercise in between, to keep the blood circulation flowing.”

He suggests walking up and down the aisle. Or, when one is sitting, you should move the fingers, the ankles, the feet, and the calf muscles. He also suggests a moderate intake of alcohol, otherwise, you could end up with a severe headache.

However, even without taking alcohol, travelling across time zones can result in headaches, because of the effects of jet lag. “Your sleeping pattern is disturbed for three to four days,” he says. However, things are easier if you travel westwards, because you gain time.

He gives an example: Suppose you are travelling at 9 a.m. from Dubai on a Thursday morning, the time in New York is midnight on Wednesday. But you will reach New York at 4 p.m. on Thursday itself. “So, even though the flight is 13 hours long, I have landed on the same day, so, the jet lag is much less,” he says.

But when a passenger returns, he starts at 11 p.m. from New York on a Thursday and reaches Dubai on Friday at 9 p.m. because of the time difference. So, it makes a mess of the system. “When it is time to sleep, you are awake,” he says. “When you should be awake, you feel like sleeping. You go to the toilet, and things do not happen. It takes three days to readjust.”

His wife Betty, 50, has also had to adjust to the long absences of her husband. “It is very hard,” she says. “I have to make most of the day-to-day decisions. Before the advent of mobile phones, it was tougher. The children, especially my son, miss their dad’s presence.” The Parakkals have a daughter, Sheryl, 18, and a son, Deryl, 14.

The family has traveled abroad extensively but when you ask them about their most favourite country, the Parakkals say, without hesitation, “There is no place like home, sweet home.”

But Cherian has his grievances about Kochi. “The first three days I enjoy very much,” he says. “On the fourth day I get tired because of the traffic congestion. The infrastructure also needs to improve a lot.”

There is a social behaviour in Kochi that, he feels, could improve a bit. “Everyone says they want to meet me, but they will not come to meet me,” he says. “Instead, I have to go and meet them. If I don’t, they complain about it. In other places, people find the time to come and see me.”

Then he laughs and says, “No place on earth is perfect.”

Asked whether he will continue to do international travel, he says, “Yes, because travel is always a welcome change from my routine life. I enjoy meeting new people and cultures. There is no greater joy for me.”

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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