December 10th – Someplace that starts with Guw, in Assam. (Guwahati)
I'll remember the name by next time I make an entry. This is just going to be a page of bitching and no photos. It might be better to skip this entirely.
I am so tired. At the hotel's cafe, just to get some food in me before I hit the 600 thread count.
We were supposed to leave at 5 am to make it out of Darjeeling before the 6 am strike. I don't know what would have happened if we were on the road when the strike happened. If the SUV would have just stopped on it's own accord or there would be barriers on the road, or Bavin would just accept it and pull over. Fortunately we didn't get a chance to find out.
At dinner last night the manager of the hotel came over and said he would have someone pick up my luggage at 4 am. I corrected him that I would like a wake up call then and leave at five. He got this look on his face and said that wouldn't work out so well. It was too late and we'd get caught in the strike. I gave him Bavin's phone number. After a bit he came back and said we were leaving at 4:30. So at 3:30 my day started. It was especially early, since I didn't sleep that well, worrying if the wake up call would come and that darned hot water bottle being a surprise every time I rolled in that direction. No hot water, so no shower, just push clothes into whatever bag is handy, and sort it all out later.
The Jeep was waiting when I got down those 75 steps for the last time. He had his wife with him for this trip. She was going with him down to his parent's place. She was going to wash clothes because they would dry down the mountain, where up they would take forever. He was going to visit and get the Jeep washed. Seemed like a lost cause to me, since he wiped it off yesterday and it was already in a layer of dust. Whatever. He said in the evening after the strike abated he hoped to pick up a paying straggler and take them back up the hill.
There was almost no traffic on the roads that time of day. Thee or four SUV's moving tourists, a water truck and two lorries going down. About the same going up. What took three and a half hours up at peak time, took an hour and thirty-five going down at dark, dark thirty.
Where I had been afraid of falling off a cliff going up, I didn’t worry a bit about. What you can't see can't hurt you, right? Except for the headlights it was pitch black off to the sides. My new found concern was head on collision with one of the very few other vehicles on the rood. Hey would just appear out of nowhere. Bright undimmed bulbs, narrow road, sound of gravel under our tires, wondering if we were off the road sufficiently, then blackness as my eyes tried to recover from the blinding onslaught of that high beams. When I first got in the SUV reached for the shoulder belt and he said “No, not needed”. I went along with that stupidity for about two cars worth of driving. Now my white shirt had a dust brown stripe on it from left shoulder and across my boob.
Since Wi-Fi was only a dream while on the mountain for me, I was looking for ward to the hotel by the airport he promised me. A place to catch up on the missed sleep and to reconnect with the world. AND to print out my boarding pass and hard copy of my hotel's reservation. He drives down this Any street, Any town India. It is lined with shops, car repair places, telephone kiosks and then pulls up to a large metal gate and honks the horn. I am thinking it is your typical local hotel, a room, a bed, maybe a toilet and who knows what added attractions, none of them particularly appetizing. He assured me it was a good place and told me who the proprietors were. I had dined at one of their restaurants for a snack one afternoon and felt it was a good choice on his part. The gatekeeper open the gate and said they were full. Of course they were full, everybody left yesterday when they heard it was going to strike.
So now the option was a real local hotel or the airport. Give me the airport. We parted ways, I know I paid him, I'm not sure if I thanked him. The doors to the Departure Hall beckoned and at my approach was closed to me. Identification and boarding pass were required to cross that threshold. I only had one of those, the other was locked away in inaccessible world wide web. The door dragon said he understood my plight, but the wicked witch said None Shall Pass without two pieces of reformed wood.
What time does the IndiGo window open up? Nine am. Only two hours to wait. “Is there any way to ….. ?”. Then a man came up and started asking the cop questions. I said something like “We were talking here”, he said “This is important”. After he got his question answered he went back and sat down. Ya, important to YOU ! This is getting better and better. After an hour I needed to pee, where is the only bathroom this side of Darjeeling? In the departures hall, but you knew that. I told the cop that I'd leave my passport with him if I could just enter for that one chore. He begrudgingly let me with a finger point and “Straight!” command. The one good thing that has happened so far today is that it was a western toilet and no one had pee'd on the seat – yet.
Back on the street I sat and twiddled and wandered until a light shone through yonder ticket office. The woman said that my plane wasn't due to leave until 3:25. I told her that I was well aware of that, but the dragon at the gate wouldn’t allow me the warmth of the castle fires without a some sort of paper. She said she understood and started typing. Then the man behind me actually leaned on me to get to the hole you talk through. I physically pushed him back. He said “It is business”, I said “It might be business, but you don't need to conduct it ON me”. She looked up and smiled. Not sure if it was a pity smile or and understanding smile. Then she asked if I wanted to upgrade to an extra leg room seat. It was only a 40 minute flight, but I knew it would take half that to process and Mr. Lean On Me would really steam if I said yes. So I said “Yes, please.” For ten bucks it was worth it, and I'm not talking about the legroom. As I stepped away from the window the leaner said, “Is it okay if I go now?” I don't think he was looking for an answer. His business at the window took less than a minute, if e would had asked I probably would have yielded to him.
With paper in hand the moat was raised and I was allowed to enter the sumptuousness that is second or third world airline terminals. Only four hours until I could start the check in process. Too tired to read. Too brain foggy to do crosswords. Too uncomfortable to sleep. Some way time passed. Then it was time to get the checked luggage x-rayed and the zippers sort of zip tied with security ties, to prevent tampering.
Next came the line to get the actual boarding pass. When I started the x-ray process this particular line was short. Now I had my luggage safely zip tied the line was long. I made it to my penultimate spot in line. Yes, I was next. I had made it and I hadn't even punched out the man who was behind me and kept bumping his airport trolly into the back of my heels, even though I had pointedly pushed it back thrice. The men at the counter were business types and then another one pressed past and joined them, and then came a fourth. He, I squawked at. He asked if he could go, and I said “Certainly”. He was the first man to think it a privilege and not a right to be exactly where he wanted when he wanted. The ticket agent said my luggage was 2 kilos over weight. The same luggage I had carried on two previous flights on the same airline without any problem. That will be $10 please. Well at least it wasn't like that Delta agent who charged me a Benjamin for being 5 pounds over. Okay, here is your 500 Rupees. No, Ma'am you must go over there to pay it. - over there was the first window I had encountered in the morning.
This step went pretty easy. Give her the AMEX and signed then back to line, which of course grew. I waited for my turn and instead of giving the man before me Indian personal space, meaning none. I gave him American personal space of a couple feet. The second he stepped away from the counter, and I mean he hadn't taken a second step, the man behind me said “You can move up now.”. The flight left in 2 hours and my 5 second delay was going to cost him if I didn’t get a move on.
I think that is enough bitching for now. I got on the plane, it took off and it landed. My expensive luggage made it to the same place was. The taxi got me to the Radisson. Hot water. No parka necessary for dinner, and communication with the rest of the world (even if no one from home wrote me).
I came here to go to a national park to see the one horned Rhino, maybe ride an elephant in the jungle and hopefully see a tiger. The park is about 150 miles from here, which means 2 ½ hours, right? No, it means 7 hours. So one day shot getting there, and another getting back here. It is the weekend, so all the decent places are booked, unless I want to pay the travel desk nearly $700 for the trip, plus extra for the second day in the jungle. I decided that I'd stay near Wi-Fi and hot water for a two days and see what the local area has to offer.