It disturbs me that six months have passed since I visited India and Nepal. Fearful that I will start forgetting details of my trip, I have finally decided to record my memories of the trip on this here blog.
Day 1 – May 23rd (ish): Flight Time (sans Big Easy)
I thought about omitting the details of our flights, but decided that this is a good opportunity to whine about how much I hate airplanes.
During my trip I flew from Salt Lake City to San Francisco to meet up with Nate, then flew from San Francisco to Seoul, then from Seoul to Delhi, then from Delhi to Kathmandu, then from Kathmandu to Lukla (on a 14-seat plane), then back from Lukla to Kathmandu, to Delhi, to Seoul, to San Francisco, to Orange County (to meet up with Kristina & Tom and Mom & Dad.) About a week later I flew to DC, so that’s four more plane rides. So, for those keeping track, that’s 14 flights in about a month. Which is way too many, especially for an aerophobe/aviatophobe/pteromerhanophobia (yes, those are all words for “fear of flying”) like me. At no point, during all those many hours in the air, did I start to feel acclimated to flying in a metal tube at hundreds of miles per hour at 40,000 feet above the ground.
So how do I sum up the psychological effect of so many airplane trips in such a short space of time?
Well, I’ll begin like this: I hate airplanes. They’re cramped, uncomfortable, utilitarian, smelly, aesthetically disastrous, frightening machines. The airline companies shove you into as tight a space as possible and don’t care if, say, they make you wait on an airport tarmac for eight hours, after having already spent many, many hours in the air.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
When I fly I’m constantly at high attention, alert to every little bump and jerk and unexplained noise. This is a rather tense state of mind to be in for hours at a time, and, suffice it to say, I can’t sleep very well when I’m on planes. I can doze off for a few minutes, but at the first sudden noise or bump I’m as alert as can be. Heck, I can’t even concentrate on books, or movies, or video games. It’s as if some part of my subconscious is telling me that I’m not allowed to focus on anything else other than the plane, as if it’s only my mental concentration holding the plane up.
Basically the best I can do is sit back, turn on some comfort music, close my eyes, and hope that I don’t die.
In spite of all that, we got on the plane in San Francisco, made it safely over the Pacific, and after 11 or so hours of flying were able spend an hour or two in the very clean, very modern Incheon International Airport outside of Seoul before getting on our next would-be seven hour flight to Delhi. We flew over China. We flew over various other southeast Asian countries I hope to visit someday. We flew over eastern India. We fly over Delhi. We start to land in Delhi. We start to land in Delhi, but the pilot announces that we can’t land in Delhi quite yet. Because of a storm. So we circle around Delhi.
We circle around Delhi.
We circle around Delhi.
We circle around Delhi.
We circle around Delhi, 10,000 feet above Delhi, in the middle of a severe storm. We see lightening flashing outside our windows. The plane moves up and down, up and down. The plane shakes like a very old, very rough wooden roller coaster. I get nauseous.
We circle 10,000 feet above Delhi, in the middle of a severe lightning storm, in the midst of some rather nauseating turbulence, for over an hour.
And then the pilot gets on again and announces that we won’t be able to land, and that we’re going to be flying to the airport in Ahmedabad (“Where’s Ahmedabad?” the 150 non-native passengers ask at once.) We start to ascend through some pretty crappy weather—the plane goes up and down, up and down—and I feel that this is it. I’m about to die in a plane above Delhi, India.
But I don’t die, and we leave the turbulent altitudes, and two hours after our scheduled landing time we land in Ahmedabad, and are all extremely excited. We might be hundreds of miles away from where we wanted to be, but at least we’re on the ground, in India. It wasn’t a part of our plan, but maybe, even though it’s one in the morning, we can go take a quick driving tour of this random Indian city—get a chance to see what there is to see in Ahmedabad, India—while we wait for the weather to clear over Delhi so we can take off again. At the very least we can go out into the airport terminal and walk around and use real bathrooms, bathrooms designed for people larger than a member of a Pygmy tribe. At the very least we can get off this damned plane.
(I bet you can see where this is going.)
So we’re all tired, and covered with the grime of hours of air travel (if not physical grime, then psychological grime.) I feel dirty. Stiff. Tired. Unwashed.
I want to take a shower, brush my teeth (is there anything more satisfying than brushing your teeth after 24 hours in the air?), and sleep in a clean, fully reclined bed. A clean, fully reclined bed located safely on the ground.
The flight attendant comes on and tells us to stay in our seats - tells us that we can’t leave just yet.
It’s the middle of the night at this point, but once we’re on the ground and stopped the air conditioning goes off, and it’s hot. Hot and humid. Humid and gross.
But we wait. Sweating, sleeping the sleep of people who are too hot and tired to really sleep.
After three hours of waiting the pilot comes on and announces, in Korean and English, that the copilot has exceeded his maximum number of flying hours for the week and that he had to leave to go to sleep. He then states, quite nonchalantly, that it will be another five hours before we’re ready to go.
And I’m pretty sure that moment where he said “five hours” was one of the worst moments, ever. In all the history of human civilization, and of the universe in general.
Words can’t really describe the sense of frustration and futility and anger of 200 people, sitting on a tarmac, but unable to leave the plane. Rather than try to describe the indescribable, I’ll simply provide some fragmentary memories and impressions that will hopefully give a glimpse into our rather sad state during those dark, dark hours:
The people are restless. Lots of arguing with flight attendants.
There’s something pleasant about being in a foreign airport late at night. So much potential. In this case, so much potential wasted.
But a stronger sense of overwhelming lethargy and listlessness.
I hate airplanes.
It’s hot, but we’re only offered water twice during the eight hours.
People are gathered around the single open exit of the plane, because there’s a cool breeze coming from outside. No one makes a run for it through the exit, but they should have.
Je déteste des avions
Why do airplanes always smell so… Airplaney?
There are interesting birds that I’m not familiar with hanging out on the wing of the plane.
The explanation for why we can’t even go and wait in the airport terminal: The passengers of a single international flight would exceed the holding capacity of the Ahmedabad International Airport. That’s right—200 people would be too much for an international airport with fairly expansive terminals (in view of our plane), and with multiple jumbo jets already sitting on the tarmac (also within view of our plane.)
Ich hasse Flugzeuge.
Everything is terrible.
Turgenev and Dostoevsky were wrong. The nihilists are right.
After 8 hours, we all wake out of a daze as the pilot announces that we’re ready to take off. Less than an hour back to Delhi. We circle for a while, but are able to land. We immediately head for our hotel, which Nate reserved in advance—but in order to get there, we must endure our first Indian taxi ride.
Which, really, after all the hype, wasn’t as terrible as I had been led to believe. Yeah, it was incredibly stressful and frightening. Yeah, we were constantly inches away from a collision with cars on every side of us. Yeah, they don’t seem to care much about lanes, and instead choose to drift here and there as they will. Yeah, the whole time you’re hearing a cacophony of horns, which is how drivers communicate there (turn signals are for sissies,) which can be really aggravating to people who haven't slept (really slept) for more than 24 hours. Yeah, I spent the whole time clutching tightly to the handle on the car door. But at least it was better than riding on an airplane.
After 30 minutes of that we arrive at the Crowne Plaza hotel, which advertised itself for its close proximity to the airport.
While the hotel is fancy, it seems to have randomly been placed in the middle of the slums. Which is kind of weird. It sticks out from the rather squalid surroundings like a sore thumb—which is probably why the place is surrounded by high walls, and why there are guards at every entrance, and why they even xray your luggage and send you through a metal detector before actually getting into the lobby.
But it was a fancy hotel, in spite of its location. You could tell it was fancy by the fact that everyone wanted a tip, including the person who stood outside the elevator and pushed the Up button for us.
Our 4th story room had magnificent—even breathtaking—views of the surrounding slum.
Anyway. We’re tired, even though it’s noon. We were supposed to have arrived about twelve hours earlier—this was supposed to be our Taj Mahal day—but oh well. We change our plans around a bit, decide we’ll go to Agra on our last day in India and will still leave for Kathmandu tomorrow morning, as we had planned. We’re too tired to go out and see Delhi—plus it’s looking like it’s going to rain—so we clean up, eat a fairly decent meal (including fresh mango juice!) at the hotel, send emails at the hotel’s internet café, and then head back to our room to go to sleep.
And they were pretty decent beds (located, as they were, safely on the ground), and it was a pretty good afternoon’s and night’s rest.
DAY 1 (or DAY 20, depending on how you count, and how long that 8 hours on the ground felt) in INDIA – FIN
After endless delays and endless anxiety, will tomorrow bring better fortunes for our two protagonists? The day will start off with another aeroplane ride, which is never a good sign—but will their trans-world trip finally prove fulfilling and enlightening? Will they finally get to see Mt. Everest, and the Taj Mahal, and all the other things they flew 10,000 miles to see? Tune in next time, dear reader, to find out!
2 months ago