“Oshi, please. Uncle is waiting for us.”
I am sitting in a renovated immigration hall with too much time on my hands.
The lines are getting smaller, but I look forward to the arrival of 747s from Frankfurt and Hong Kong. A woman beside me shoos her young daughter away. She is kneeling on white marble, resembling the Taj Mahal, and scribes in black letters the details of her arrival card.
She’s finished. Mother and daughter leave for an awaiting Uncle. They file through Indian Customs and disappear within the night lit streets of New Delhi. Outside, a full moon keeps the shadows short and shines through the city’s haze. I breathe as I watch Oshi and her mother leave. I inhale the atmosphere of India, my nose drawing in a lungful of breath. I exhale its customs and culture, relaxing into a seat as hours linger like lost baggage. I’m back in India. I’ve never felt so at home.
I am in India again. Over a year ago, I was intimidated to be alone in this massive democracy, but now it seems tiny, minuscule and almost nothing; another bee in the hive buzzing with its weight ready to turn sweet. The flights have unloaded their passengers. Paces quick; strides long and lean, others short and swift.
Beside me on the plane sat a young British woman with her boyfriend. They were from the Gatwick area of London and were in India for one week on work. She was part of a human resources company and was preparing to give a presentation at the University of Delhi to recruit employees. Those applicants accepted would be trained in London, then returned to India to work in their Delhi offices.
Lines fill again at customs, this time with the Germans. A CD skips over the speakers; music something like an electronic Peruvian flute. In a purple sari, a woman’s lace scarf wafts in movement, following the music’s strange beat. It’s in the air, yet she’s oblivious, scuttling to her own tempo to claim a forward position.
As she rounds the metal poles, which form an orderly symmetric maze, her luggage follows closely behind, cutting corners too close, rising over the aluminum bases of each pole.
Apparently, Hong Kong has just arrived, and maybe the woman has this on her mind. I see no Chinese. If such arrival exists, I expect to see pairs of young backpackers, or the hoards of tourist groups: name tags, color-coordinated luggage plates. You get the picture. Still there are none. No Chinese. Only Indians and aged Germans.
My plan is to catch a 7:20 train; the 2031 Shabati Express to Amritsar. But it is 2:30 in the morning and my desire to wander the New Delhi Railway Station at this hour is nonexistent. This large room with its movement suites me well, and I will stay until the uniformed workers, a blue ID card strung about their necks, kick me through the booth.
Yes, there is definitely no flight from Hong Kong. The morning is early. My sleepless brain is weary. My slow body hasn’t been horizontal for over forty hours.
Life In Indian Hands
The Shabati is booked. The next available train is in four day’s time. I forgo the fancy plans and find a room, get ripped off at the susceptible hour, and crash until checking out at one in the afternoon. 3:30 PM rolls around in the Paharganj district of New Delhi and I’m on a bus to McLeod Ganj in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh. The destination looms distant, twelve hours in the future. I have no seat, but the front cabin bench along side the rotating drivers and the wayfarer Indians picked up on route.
Atop my bags, wedged behind the driver’s seat, my limbs fall asleep as the cold winter air flushes in the captain’s cracked window. The current Indian behind the wheel smokes his beedis one after another. Needless to day, I’m ecstatic to be reuniting with India. It is a country with a world in-and-of itself. It is a world within its own universe, contriving a diversified lifestyle of unimaginable manner. The pantheon of Hindu religion; the myths and legends—unique and esoteric—yet retaining an obscure dimension in everyday life; the spices and scents within the thick air; the sacred bulls and cows, the camels and the menageries of the streets where the mangiest dog lingers like the Rat Pack; it is India. And within India could it only exist and continue to support its massive culture.
On the overnight ride, I have a lot to ponder on my backpack, stuffed behind the bus’ driver. I have a full view of the road stretching ahead, which can be more than often disconcerting. The driver, lovesick with the Ganesh shrine pasted to his dashboard, disregards the increasing degrees of turns as we climb up to the Himalayas. He spits his wads of sputum out the window and down shifts, arching the bus along the narrow road as the whole vehicle lilts around a corner. On the right side, the craggy, torn face of mountain. On the left, a beaten and scarred metal railing dropping off to a cliff where the bottom passes unseen. My eyes shift from Ganesh, to the road, side-glancing the driver, and then they refocus back on the sacred elephant deity—the remover of obstacles.
Back stiff. The first second of free movement as I step off the bus is an array of alignment. My spine pops like a high-speed game of marbles. The trip is halfway complete. Only a slim six hours await. Tibetan refugees and dwindling travelers emerge from the cabin’s dark into the roadside eatery. The spices sift through my nose. My eyes twinkle, my stomach turns, and then I remember the roads lying in wait. I bypass the steaming rotis and metal dishes of palak paneer, hopeful to save a wasted meal and a few pennies.
- The Thai Road Less Travelled
- The Road to Batopilas
- Life and Death on a Tibetan Mountain Road
Copyright © 2006 Cameron Karsten