Friday, September 17, 2010
Ladakh - Day 10 - The Unexpected Turn of Return
I have to stay in a place only for 3 days to feel its my home and I have been living there forever.
Heavy at heart, I left Changspa to the airport. The flight was delayed, by I am not sure how many minutes.
They took away my baggage and checked it in, telling me it was a sensitive airport. I had been told by someone Srinagar airport was sensitive.
Just when I thought it was all over, it turned out there was some surprise delight waiting for me during take-off.
From the tiny window, I saw an ocean of mountains below; miniature Ladakh; a view you get only from the plane. I was absolutely delighted. How smooth, how harmless, how innocent these looked from that height! One had to only touch them to get a bruise.
I landed in Delhi and my friend Rajan, a Delhi-ite I know through Toastmasters, was waiting outside.
We drove to this resort passing India gate, Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Kutub Minar on the way.
The wide 8-10 lane roads in a particular stretch with no human in sight; not even a dog, no roadside shops in sight and vehicles zooming away without a care –was most depressing to me. All large structures – large organizations, large cities - are characterized by alienation, estrangement and apathy but this was alienation at it’s worst. Or that’s how it seemed to me. And I don’t think I want to impute this to the intoxication of the mountains.
After lunch we chatted for a few hours. I showed him some pictures and he was awed. Come evening and it was time to return.
We did not care too much for a margin of time and left just sufficiently in advance to reach the airport on-time.
We had journeyed for 15 minutes and I suddenly remembered I had forgotten my camera charger in the resort. After a brief one minute dilly dallying, we decided to take a U. the car sped to the resort, Rajan ran inside, grabbed the battery while I waited in the car.
And this time, the 10 lane hell was not as free as it was that noon. We sped through vacant stretches, of which, there weren’t many. We honked. We scrambled. We switched lanes. There was just half an hour left.
Our last hope was that the flight was delayed. Rajan asked me to call up the airline. And we scrambled. This time, for the right number. I dialed this number and that before I could speak to the right persons. I was told that the flight was on time.
Rajan was speeding now. We had to stop at the toll gate. There were 3 cars before us and each second of waiting had the weight of an eternity upon us. We paid when it was our turn and we were speeding again.
We saw the airport but it was to take us 5 more minutes of driving before we reached the right terminal. I said a quick goodbye, grabbed my luggage and ran in. Rajan left at once telling me he would most probably have to pay a fine for stopping the car in the wrong lane or some such thing.
I reach the airline counter for the boarding pass. There were only 15 more minutes left.
I gave the staff my e-ticket. But alas! She shook her head and said I was too late. Passengers were expected to report 30 minutes before departure, failing which they were not allowed to board!
I called up Rajan in a panic and he asked me to tell her it was a medical emergency.
I tried but she shook her head firmly.
And then, after a few minutes, she said she would put me on another flight of a sister airline company which was flying 40 thence. I would incur not a rupee extra. What a relief it was. And I didn’t know these fellows were capable of such generosity.
I called up Rajan and our joy knew no bounds.
Knowing I had 40 minutes, and driving as he was, still in the proximity of the airport, he asked me to expect him at the entrance in a few minutes.
Pushing the trolley, I went to the entrance, shook hands briefly, thanked him profusely by which time I realized I had to rush if I did not want to miss this flight too.
I actually ran, my trolley speeding on its wheels on the smooth granite airport floor. When I thought I was going to hit this guy and cause some serious injury, I panicked for I could not break my own speed suddenly. But fortunately the trolley stopped when I released the handle with the kind of meticulousness that only a machine is capable of (I like technology sometimes).
In a few minutes, I was on the plane, occupying the very last row, and happy to have it all for myself.
It was an episode from Bollywood.
And yet, it was not over.
We few and flew, it got darker and darker but the light at the horizon would not dissolve. It turned from a yellow to orange to crimson even as I kept looking at my watch that showed 8:30…