Friday and Saturday, November 8 and 9:
The Marathon Plane Trek from DC to Delhi

Going to work on Friday morning seemed almost laughable. As everyone at CPB knew, today was the day that Susanne and I were going on our latest worldly adventure. This time around, we chose India and Nepal as our destination, both of which had been on our short lists of must-see countries for quite some time. Having spent six months planning and organizing this trip, we were now rearing to go. My only obstacles were a long morning at work and intolerable weather in the afternoon. So because I didn't have to be at the airport before 3pm, I figured it was worth going into work for at least part of the day, if only to avoid wasting a precious vacation day.

Despite beginning that Friday morning with several productive meetings (wrapping up Civic Networking Grant affairs before I left), inevitably the morning slowed to a snail's pace as I set there in my office, staring at my backpack and worrying whether or not the trip would even get off the ground due to a severe storm that was expected to hit DC mid-afternoon. By the time noon came around, I couldn't take it anymore. I strapped on my backpack, walked the halls of CPB saying "I'm outta here" to anyone who cared, and left for the Metro with the dwindling hope that I would at least get to Dulles before the storm broke wide open. I was wrong.

Thanks to a rare case of forethought the night before, I had sprayed my backpack with layers of waterproofing, so I managed to keep it relatively dry en route to Dulles. The rest of me, unfortunately, was soaked. Upon arrival at Dulles, I checked in, headed to the gate where I was to meet Susanne, and began the process of drying off with a fresh pair of socks.

Because of the storm, Susanne's plane from Denver was a little late. It was now 4:30pm, and our flight was to start boarding at 5pm. We hustled over to the gate, sat down, and began what was to be an infuriatingly long wait. One fateful mishap befell another - our plane was two hours late because of the storm, the new crew was late because their minivan died on the way to Dulles. By the time we boarded the plane and started to taxi, it was 10pm. We had assumed that our scheduled five-hour layover in Amsterdam would have been sufficient. Needless to say, the massive delay at Dulles put us into a mild panic, which was made worse by the computer-generated arrival time that was flashing on the plane's TV monitors: 10am, then 10:10am, 10:15am, 10:20am. The longer we taxied, the later our projected ETA got, and our flight out of Amsterdam to Delhi was scheduled to depart at 10:55am. Potentially, this still gave us enough time for us to make it, but it didn't exactly quell the acids in my stomach. Finally, once we took off and started on our path towards Newfoundland, the monitor's ETA stabilized at 10:22am, Amsterdam time. For the rest of the flight, the arrival time remained stable, so we felt somewhat better about our chances of making it to Delhi this weekend.

Saturday morning, the plane arrived at Amsterdam Schipol Airport at 10:24. Close enough. By the time we pulled into the gate and left the plane, it was 10:30 and we were ready to make a run for it. But as we entered the terminal, we were greeted by a KLM rep waving an "875-Delhi/Calcutta" sign. She informed us that she was there to escort us and about two dozen other travellers to the Delhi flight, which was being held for as long as it would take to get all of us on the plane. My loyalty to KLM began at that moment. Thanks to them, we made it on board - a 747 seemingly packed with hundreds of Indian American kids going back to the old country for Diwali, the five-day Hindu festival of lights that began the next day. I felt like I was on a really big field trip. Glad I remembered to get my note signed by my parents.

During the eight-hour flight, we enjoyed delicious Indian food for lunch and laughed our way through an edited-for-inflight-entertainment viewing of "The Rock," starring Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage. I cannot begin to stress the sheer awfulness of that film. Perhaps the highlight of the flight, though, was the flightpath itself. Thanks to the use of global positioning satellites and our TV monitors, we could observe our plane's journey down the Balkans, across Bulgaria and the Dardanelles into Turkey, east through Anatolya, skimming the northern Iraqi border into Iran by way of Mount Ararat. As sunset approached, we could see the red, snowcapped mountains of northwest Iran - the light refracting through the dense atmosphere on the horizon created a dazzling array of colours. Leaving Iranian airspace, we squeezed just under southern Afghanistan into Pakistan, eventually descending into northern India. We landed at Delhi around 11:30pm local time - for Susanne, a 12 1/2 hour time zone difference. We were exhausted.

Immigration took 20 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity. I was concerned that our hotel in Delhi, Nirula's, wouldn't hold our reservations this late (they had already been cancelled once due to a misunderstanding by way of email). Fortunately, outside customs there was an information desk that kindly called the hotel and reconfirmed for us. Everything was ok. This made the rest of the trip into New Delhi a breeze, with the stress of insecurity and loss of shelter having been lifted from our tired shoulders.

The Delhi taxi port was a horrorshow. Hundreds of people jammed themselves behind a railing, all trying to vie for our transport needs. Thanks to some solid advice from other India travelers over the Internet, we ran the gauntlet of touts and successfully found the official cab stand, which offered flat rate rides to New Delhi for RS 190. Hiring the cab was easy. Getting to Nirula's wasn't. First, the cab wouldn't start - the driver had another cabby push us while he cranked it up. Then, the front passenger-side door began to open every time we took a left turn. I offered to hold it closed, but the cabby insisted that he stop and relock it each time, as if his pride would hurt by a concession to my assistance. Halfway to New Delhi, he stopped the taxi again, but this time he opened the front hood. At first, I worried that this was all an act - a "give me 1000 rupees to fix car" scam - but after a minute or so he closed the hood and we were on our way, sputtering along at 30 kph.

When we arrived at Nirula's, which was located at the L Block of Connaught Circus in New Delhi, we were approached by three large men who informed us that Nirula's would no longer accept reservations after 1am. It was 1:05am. Therefore, we would have to stay elsewhere. Susanne and I looked at each other, and I could tell that both of our scam alarms were sounding in our heads. I excused myself, squeezed through the men with Susanne in tow, and walked to the door of the hotel. As one of the men began to plead "But sir, wait, I am the manager, and you cannot stay here," Nirula's doorman let us in and the concierge greeting us with "And how many nights will you be staying with us?". Aha. I was glad to see that our suspicions were correct.

We signed in, climbed the stairs to our room, and unpacked fresh clothes to sleep in. We were on the other side of the globe, almost 10,000 miles from home, and I realized that 15 hours of air travel and an 11-hour time shift had left us pretty beat. Time for a good night sleep.

Next Entry: Getting to know Old Delhi.

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