After the airlines screwed up my first ticket (i.e. CANCELED it on account of me not using the Dulles-Roanoke segment of my flight home), I was able to pull another one for the following day. Tuesday rolled around, and so did the bad weather. After getting booted by TSA because I had two 4-ounce bottles of sunscreen (each terroristically higher than the police-state required 3.4 ounces), I got them checked with my other deadly weapons (trekking poles), and re-entered. And waited... and waited... Original flight: diverted to Charlotte. Connecting flight to Newark: Rescheduled. I pulled in with an hour before go-time. Grabbed two kiddie-meal SMASH-burgers out of desperation. The small headache I'd been nursing (stress/no caffeine/stress...) was creeping towards migraine as I stood in line massaging my temples. Creeping headache. Creeping forward in line. Soon, I am nauseous. I race to get water, pound 2 liters and 4 ibuprofen's. Take my seat. Miracle of the day: my ticket is re-printed, and I am given those delicious 5 extra inches of space for knees. Heaven. With shaking hands, I eat my kiddie-burgers (same size as regular smash burgers but without pickles and iceburg lettuce... you know... cause kid's hate "veggies"), my fries and drink more water. Weather has us socked in again. Delayed again. Half an hour before we begin to move? Eventually, we arrive at first position only to be told that Newark is locked down, as another airport is using the airspace. Whatever... I've got Weeds, Madmen and Everybody Loves Raymond on demand. Eventually, we take the air...
14 hours later, we land. After passing all the checkpoints, I leave the main airport into the lobby and try to find a place to curl up for the next 8 hours... only security guards keep walking by disturbingly close with their ginormous weapons. "Am I allowed to sleep here?" I walk around and finally settle down next to some people on the wall... roll out the camp pad and sleep fitfully until 5 when I showered (washed my face) and pulled out my travel book to begin making plans. 6:30 rolls around, and I head to the metro to take me into town. OUT OF SERVICE. I choose the bus instead.
On my way in, I meet Mel, a man pushing 70 who first came to India 48 years ago when he traveled OVER-LAND from western Europe (he's a Brit) through all of the middle-east and ultimately made it into Nepal. This guy: my hero. He hears that I am an RPCV and gushes about all the great PCVs he's met over the years. Again: My hero. He's also traveled extensively in Uganda, as he was stationed in Kenya in the fifties with the British Air Force, so we trade stories about the changes the country has seen. We get off so he can show me the tourist office and a quiet place to stay with food nearby.
Delhi reminds me of Kampala, only the population is around 9 times larger here, and all the bodas are auto-rickshaws... and the people are Indians. Same hustle. Same bustle. Same dust. Same heat. I felt rather at home.
Trouble arises... it turns out that the road I must use to get into Ladakh, Kashmir closes at the end of September to mid-October due to snowy conditions on the high passes (3 of which are over 5,000 meters!!!). This means that I (a.) go straight to the north NOW and skip all of my planned travels in Himachel Pradesh, (b.) Travel through H.P., risk not making it through the pass to Leh - thus missing my flight - and feel rushed and stressed through HP or (c.) Cancel my flight from Leh-Kathmandu (that I purchased on Monday in a flurry of last minute idiocy) and reverse my direction through HP. I checked with the tourism office, and it turns out that the pass is still open... fine... but I don't think I want to spend ALL my time up there.
The frenetic pace of Delhi was not helping me decide... That, and I've never been good at making a decision with any more 2 options (You should see me picking out Ben and Jerry's with Michelle...) Mel showed back up unexpectedly, and we sorted through the tangles. Conclusion: Cancel the ticket, reverse directions through H.P. and time permitting, travel over-land from Delhi to Kathmandu instead of flying. There will be a cancellation fee on the tickets. Fine. I earned that. But my options are far more open this way. I see all of HP, AND I'll get to see the Taj Mahal and Varanasi on the Ganges where all the Ghats are.
I was stressed before I left. The prospect of traveling alone was really weighing on my mind. "Will I survive without Brian's pop-eye arms to back me up in times of danger?" I thought time and again. But now that I am on the ground, it feels natural. I feel a bit absurd for being so... um... immature. At some point - perhaps in my thirties? - I will learn to trust in myself.
Tonight, I travel to Manali. From there, I'll try to get to Kaza and Kiber. From there... Rekonk Peo? Kalpa? Shimla? One thing at a time... First, get food. Second, get the hell out of Delhi. Third, shower and wash my boxers.
Must run... hour's up, and key-rist am I hungry.
Thanks for reading,
I love you all (but especially you, Michelle!)