Miss Asia-Pacific 1992 - Part 1/3

While most of my friends know by now about my Miss India stint, not many know about the fact that I had also taken part in the Miss Asia Pacific pageant in 1992. It was almost by default actually as I had taken part in the Miss Bombay contest then organised by Femina, the same year when Madhu Sapre had become Miss India and had gone on for Miss Universe. However the girl who came third in that Miss India contest and who was entitled to take part in the Miss Asia-Pacific contest could not participate for personal reasons, so I was called by the then editor of Femina, Ms. Vimla Patil, and asked if I was interested. Of course I was! My mother was very supportive and we were all thrilled that I got this opportunity. In those days there was no sponsorship given, no preparation done, no surgeries involved. You just pack your bag and leave. I got my own dresses designed by the one of the top designers of those times Sangeeta Chopra. They cost me Rs. 10,000 at that time which was a huge sum of money offered by my parents. I also had to buy my own make up and accessories. The only thing sponsored was a 2-way air fare to Manila, Philippines where the contest was to be held. So here goes my account of what happened from November 24 to December 8, 1992. You will find that is quite detailed and specific as I had written down my experience in my diary soon after I returned from the pageant. Reproduced from my diary below.

I was only 17! I left home with 3 big suitcases, 1 handbag plus my purse and a vanity case and of course with lots of fanfare! I had to take a stop-over flight to Bangkok before my flight to Manila. My flight was easy with no incidences and I reached Bangkok safely and in very high spirits. Since we could get visa on arrival, I found my way to the arrival visa counter, paid 200 bahts, got a visa form, filled it and submitted it and then went to the baggage carousel to gets my bags. I did not realise how much time I had spent getting my visa since by the time I reached the baggage carousel not many people were around, so I had no help available and had to use all my strength to lift my bags and haul them on the trolley. When I reached the exit I found a girl holding my name placard and very happily I handed over my trolley to her. To my surprise she asked me which hotel I wanted to go to? I was quite confused as I was told that someone would pick me at the airport and take care of my stay and also hand me my airline ticket for Philippines ( I did not have the Bangkok-Manila sector flight ticket with me yet!) When I checked about the ticket, she said she knew nothing of it and that she was a travel agent and was just instructed to drop me at a hotel of my choice. But more than the hotel stay, I was quite worried about the Manila ticket as the contest was there and not in Bangkok! The next thing I could think of was to go to the Philippine airlines office to check about my tickets. Their office was somewhere on a higher floor so I trusted this girl with my bags and rushed upstairs. I found the office and explained my predicament to the lady at the counter. She made me wait for half-an-hour after hearing my problem and then came out to tell me that my tickets were lying in the Philippines airline city-office. By now I had spent an hour away from my luggage and I hurried down praying that the girl would still be there waiting for me.....and she was! She also gave me the news that Cathay Pacific had booked a room for me for one night at Hotel Mandarin. I was relieved to hear that and we finally made our way to the hotel. When we reached she dropped me and my bags to the hotel (I keep specifying my bags as there were 3 big-sized suitcases which felt more like added appendage to me than bags). She said she would be there to pick me up the next day and take me to the airport. The hotel was magnificent with a high domed ceiling which was beautifully carved and a majestic reception cum lobby area. I went straight up to my room and was just about to relax on the heavenly bed when I got a call from Cathay saying that they had booked a room for me on my 'insistence' and that I would have to pay for it!! They said that they knew nothing about my hotel voucher and also said that I would have to pay for the hotel bill and also for my transportation to and from the airport! Suddenly I remembered that I had to collect my airline tickets from the Philippine airline office so I rushed down to the reception and requested the receptionist to keep my luggage while I returned with my tickets. I also honestly told them that since the Mandarin was a 5-star I was not sure if I could afford it or stay there for the night! The receptionist heard none of my pleas, asked me to take my bags with me or pay for the room. At the same time, I also tried calling up Mr. Marianito Cruz - the sales manager at Philippine Airlines to double check if he had my hotel voucher but got no response. So finally I had to leave the hotel after paying 500 bahts for the one-way airport transport. I took a taxi loaded with my bags to the airline office. It cost me 200 bahts and 30 minutes to get there, during which I kept praying that the driver doesn't kidnap me. When we reached I requested the driver to bring my bags into the office building. But my charms failed again as I was left by the kerb with 3 heavy suitcases, one vanity case and 1 handbag and my purse of course! I struggled to take everything inside the building when a kind passerby offered to help me and carried all my belongings inside. I thanked him profusely for his timely help and started checking with the receptionist about Mr. Cruz's office. His office happened to be on the 5th floor and I had to request the receptionist to keep my bags till I returned -- this time somebody did agree!

Mr. Cruz was a kind man and handed me my tickets to Manila saying he knew nothing about my hotel stay in Bangkok or the vouchers. He also showed me a fax from Asia-Pacific pageant organisers about handing me over just the ticket. I was exhausted by then and a bit emotional as I told him that I had very little cash left and I still had to travel to Philippines. Maybe that helped as he called up some friend of his who was a manager at a 3-star hotel called Mungkom and arranged for my night accommodation, all free-of-charge! He also asked me if I had money for the taxi since this place was a long way away from his office but closer to the airport. I did not want to trouble him further so I declined his offer to help with money, thanked him with all my heart and continued my journey. I reached after an hour, paid 150 bahts for the taxi and this time the hotel people were there to assist me with the bags. I was given a delux room, in fact it looked more like a suite to me since it had a separate dining room. I was so happy that I went downstairs to personally thank the manager. I found him and kept thanking him when I realised that he could not speak a work of English. I came back to my room, freshened up and started reading a book to relax. I also made a call home to let my parents know that all was fine- no point in worrying them with my little adventure as things were sorted in any case. Before I knew I was fast asleep only to be awakened in the middle of the night by the buzz of the T.V. It was a bit spooky so I left a light on, said a quick prayer and escaped into a deep slumber.

.........to be continued.