well, it’s never as easy as you think it will be, especially when ‘it’ is ‘getting from point a to point b in a timely manner in india.’
after much german deliberation, i bit the bullet and bought a plane ticket from delhi to bagdogra, in west bengal. i was going to take the train, but last minute scheduling snafus conspired against me, and in the end it seemed kinder to myself to pay the extra hundred bucks and not have to get a taxi/hotel at midnight after 24 hours without sleep, and then spend 2 solid days on a train that has no food. so… flying seemed like the ‘easy’ answer. but of course it never is. in almost an exact replay of my last delhi-to-bagdogra experience, the security officer at the delhi airport who inspected my ticket said, ‘to where is it in india that you are going?’ not ever having heard of bagdogra. sigh.
after my 3rd night spent trying to ‘sleep’ on a chair in the airport lounge, i made it to my flight to bagdogra running, having paused to take pictures of the beautiful life-size statues depicting surya namaskar (yoga’s sun salutations) in the domestic departures hall. it figures that indian punctuality would kick in the ONE time it was inconvenient for me… which means i had to run like a leopard (a leopard with two carry-on bags weighing it down) to the gate.
the flight was pleasant enough, until we approached bagdogra, at which point we were informed that the visibility was too low to allow planes to land. keep in mind, this is an airport the size of gualala’s grocery store (literally) that only takes one plane at a time. so it’s not like there was a risk of colliding with another plane. but apparently it was risky enough to keep us circling the airport for 2 hours, hot and muggy. blessedly, i slept, and was glad of the excuse.
when we landed i looked around for subhan-ji, the kindly driver employed by apne aap who was supposed to pick me up. but he was nowhere to be found. since i myself was already over two hours late, this was disconcerting. borrowing a local’s phone, i discovered that there is a strike in all of west bengal due to some corrupt minister (surprise surprise), and it’s affecting transportation workers (apparently the airline didn’t get the memo). and so now here i sit, outside the bagdogra airport, with a handful of indians, swatting at mosquitos and dogs, waiting for my driver, who is apparently going to be about another hour in getting here. already a throng of men has come by, chanting and marching and carrying indian flags, the air force (which owns the airport and has a huge base next door) is flying unbelievably loud warning flights overhead, and i have been interviewed by a minuscule tv crew for siliguri’s nightly news about how the strike is affecting me and how i like india and so forth.
an hour later, and a slightly skeezy looking driver has arrived for me (subhan-ji couldn’t come because of the strike, so a taxi had to be sent) and we drove 100 meters out of the airport ‘parking’ before he pulled over to the side of the road and demanded 50 rupees for his lunch. this i declined to supply. firmly. several times. so i’ve not high expectations for a smooth or pleasant drive, since it’s begun with me sitting in the car while he eats at the roadside ‘hotel’ (two brick walls, one wire fence, corrugated roofing, two tables, 4 chairs, and a hand pump.) and i’m expecting the normally 4 hour unpleasant drive to be significantly longer and more unpleasant than usual. but once you’ve bitten the bullet you’ve got to keep on chewing, i guess.
and so here i am, near the bihari border. a papaya tree grows dustily beside me, and the rear window of the car is entirely obscured by a giant stuffed dog that is vaguely uncomfortable. i have the familiar feeling of unrest in my stomach, that i know will dissipate with time, but is sad and scary nonetheless. here i am. back to bihar…