Report from India #1

Fly Emirates

Just to make things interesting, on the very first leg of our journey we arrived to pick Jay up at his house only to be informed by a courteous driver that we had no working lights in the rear of the bus.  We booked it back to Carr’s store where our knight in shining armor, Mr. McFall, met us to exchange our mode of transport and handed us a dozen or so Dublin School Winter Warrior hats.  Ms. Knapp expertly navigated us to Boston as we sat alertly in our seats waiting to begin our trip.

Fresh from three days of final exams, a NEPSAC play-off win, and the anticipation leading up to the expedition our group entered the terminal at Logan Airport tired, but enthusiastic about what lay ahead.  Maybe too enthusiastic.  We gathered after checking in, before the security check point, and took count.  “Where is Hope?”  “Bathroom?” She was nowhere to be found.  We proceeded through security and as everyone was slipping on their shoes and belts Jay caught up with Hope at the gate, “Where have you guys been?” she asked. First lesson learned. We found a sandwich shop in our terminal and enjoyed our “last meal,” at least of the American type, and prepared for departure.  After months of planning, preparation and anticipation here we were.  India or bust!

Comfort and a twelve hour flight aren’t always used in the same sentence, but about three hours in as we finished the first provided in-flight meal, Jay turned back from his seat with a smile and said, “I’m hooked.”  Without any prior experience a flight on Emirates is probably seemingly routine, but for anyone that has experienced international flights on another carrier and felt like a sardine in the air, this experience was a welcome reprieve.  Although still not overly abundant for the Hunter sized person, the leg room was more than adequate for us averaged sized people.  The food was above par for being reheated 35,000ft in the air and the entertainment selection was admirable.  If you have the choice, Fly Emirates.

The Dubai Airport, site of our two hour layover, appeared as more of a high end shopping mall than airport.  Certainly it is a hub of international exchange as a central geographic point between Africa, Europe and Asia.  Various cultures and ethnicities were represented by the people strolling through the terminals past numerous shops offering goods of all makes and models.  Brianna found the McDonalds as others made their way to Starbucks.  We are well on our way for a multicultural experience and immersion.

Spice of Life

Our first experience of India is that at 2am local time Delhi Airport is a busy place. Not overwhelmingly, but still much more than one might expect for being an ungodly hour that no human should be awake for.  Nonetheless, the procedure through immigration, the baggage claim and currency exchange was virtually stress free and we moved off to meet our drivers.  We boarded the mini bus as our bags were stuffed into the back and thrown on top.  No tie downs? No worries there will be a car following us in case anything falls off. 

With the number of people moving throughout the airport still fresh in our minds, the greater quandary was wondering where are all these people driving to?  Even before sunrise, the streets of Delhi were packed with everything from bicycles to trucks.  In the US, the car horn is a rarely used feature, but in India it is an important form of communication with its own language and connotations.  There are no rules of the road but rather survival skills and right of way belongs to anyone that wants it.  With competent drivers we made it to our B&B with no problem.  Just a couple hours before dawn we took to our comfortable rooms to rest and freshen up.

We were soon called to the Main House for breakfast and we feasted on fresh fruit, cereal, yogurt and eggs.  The hospitality was first rate and food just continued to be brought to the table until everyone’s appetite was satisfied.  Although not yet 100% awake, we were determined to visit Old Delhi and followed the recommendations of our hostess and headed to the Metro station.  Keep in mind that our minds and bodies are not as sharp as they are under normal situations.  The group instinctively waited for the train and then as the doors opened slowly proceeded into the car.  Unfortunately Cam, Hunter and I were left on the platform as the doors quickly closed. 

Jay repeatedly held up two fingers as he mouthed the word “stops” as the train pulled away.  The girls and Jay had their attention quickly shift as Taya was handed a small baby as the mom asked, “picture?”  The group happily obliged as they took on rock star status.  The next stop on this metro line is a major junction and it was here that both groups were joined by the multitudes as they jammed their way onto the train.  Of course the doors opened on the left side at the first station, but the right side on the next two.  Fortunately for Cam and I, Hunter provided the means of exit as we worked our way to the door and a meeting on the platform with our friends who had made it on the previous train.

Immediately outside the metro station we contracted six rickshaws, partnered up and head out for a tour of Old Delhi.  Still just morning, the city was a bustle and we took it all in from the seat of a bicycle powered taxi.  Our drivers weaved us through buses, cars and trucks and passed various shops and cafes.  Our first destination was the spice market.  Since the 14th century they have processing and trading spices from India and around the world in this market.  All of our senses were assaulted as our driver/tour guides led us by foot through the market and up to the roof of the building so that we could get a panoramic view of the city and the people moving about below.  We literally went in to a coughing fit as we ascended the stairs where a man was sweeping up red pepper dust.  We shared the rooftop with men washing for the day and monkeys collecting whatever scraps of food they could scavenge.  After some pictures we headed back down and were led through alleys and passageways back to our taxis. 

The men then pedaled us through more of Old Delhi to the oldest mosque where we took a few quick pictures.  Our final destination was the Red Fort.  An old fortification built by the same emperor that contacted the building of the Taj Ma Hal, the Red Fort has been a major center for the evolving history of the city.  Our tour guide Rajj took us through some of the buildings and shared its rich history with our group.  As afternoon was setting in and jet lag taking its toll we returned to the B&B for a snack and a nap.  The rest was much needed as we prepared for the next leg of our journey.

The Long and Winding Road

After a great dinner at the B&B we made our way by bus to the Old Delhi train station.  We contracted the services of several coolies to handle our many bags.  Jay commented on how seemingly quiet the station was this night and we easily navigated our way to platform 11.  Unable to reserve specific seats we were spread amongst two different cars, but we did have groups of two or three and we settled in for the night.  The trip was about seven hours and many were able to catch some sleep.  Just before we arrived at the final station Jay took many of us to the connecting area between the cars and opened the door so we could stick our heads out and catch the wind in our faces. 

We quickly moved through the small station out to the parking lot where we were met by three drivers who would be taking us through the mountain roads to Chaukori.  They loaded our bags and we jumped into the cars and took to the road.  Immediately we were ascending along narrow and winding roads and were far above the city before the sun rose.  It was novel at first.  Darting around other cars and trucks, taking tight corners with horns blaring so as to alert our presence we felt like participants in a great race to the top of the mountain.  After about an hour and a half we reached a village tucked in a small valley between numerous peaks.  Here we stopped for tea and a bite to eat just steps away from a temple where people of the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zukerberg have found inspiration to create their empires. 

Back in the cars and away we went, up mountains and down mountains, vistas abound with head bobbing and neck twisting as we shot through each corner.  After several hours the novelty wore off and we looked forward to this part of our journey ending.  We arrived at the Himalayan Inter College to warm smiles and applause.  After a long and winding journey half way across the world we found familiarity in a place we had only heard about.  We were welcomed with open arms and the Dublin and HIC students quickly bonded, sharing their adolescent commonality as well as stories of the friends we share.