Beginnings

The plane touched down sometime around ten pm.  Next to me, Brenna leaned forward and peered out the small window at the light subdued darkness.  We had spent the last 14 hours traveling, mostly in silence as we made the east bound flight.  After our delayed departure and subsequent turbulent ascent from Newark, United flight 82 traveled steadily northeast over Newfoundland and toward the coast of Greenland before jogging easterly over Iceland and then to Scandinavia.  Eventually the skymap showed us tagging airspace over Moscow, then Afghanistan and finally, India.

Our row, 42 was almost at the back of the plane.  It seemed that  a timely exit was not in order from the back of the Boeing 777-200, so once the fasten seat belt sign blinked off, I quickly went backward in the plane and made use of the time and lavatory.

Brenna, Robin, Pete, and I made our way off the plane and followed the mass of people towards immigrations and customs, eventually meeting up with the other six folks in the group.  After pausing to fill out some foreign visitor forms, we filed through immigration and waited for the bags to show up on Carousel 13.  We gathered our respective bags and in the process, discovered that Pete’s did not make it.  That warranted a visit to the baggage counter while the other eight sped through almost non-existent customs and to our escort, Manohar, and the three other students waiting in the lobby.  By the time Pete and I had finished at the baggage counter and made it through customs, our escort and the students had gathered and were ready for the exit into the Indian night.

The smell struck me first.  Then the warm air.  Stagnant exhaust and smoke infused air burst its way past my nostrils to my olfactory glands.  I immediately wondered if there was any fresh air in India.  Several days later, I am still in search.  Even at the 10 pm hour the temperature was enough to make small droplets of sweat form on my forehead and spine.  I wondered about the viability of this venture.  A bus, with no flowing fresh air, on crowded, winding, Indian roads, rough with potholes and speed bumps, late at night.  At least I had my neck pillow.

The driver and three helpers crammed into the front of our bus, which was blocked off from the passenger compartment by a metal and glass wall.  When the door between the two opened, loud noises and moving, dirty air came through.  I wondered which would be better.

Motorcycles, some carrying four people, squeezed through quickly narrowing slots between the bus and other vehicles, stalls or poles.  Sidewalks were not off limits.  Traffic slowed to a crawl and the sudden accelerations and decelerations became even more violent, unpredictable and terrifying.
 

Manohar passed out bottled water, fruit and biscuits and gave us the run down on the ride.   I pounded some liquid Benadryl for my motion sickness allergy and popped a couple Dramamine.  Could it induce sleep in this insomniac?  Only time would tell.  To get our internal clocks on the time zone it would be useful to sleep a good portion of this overnight bus ride.  But fuck, it was India, it was Delhi, life was happening and it was loud; semi-trucks and cargo trucks honked incessantly and sirens screamed.  Bright lights flashed QWALEDY HOTEL, McDonalds, RESTO-RANT, and so many other claims.  Motorcycles, some carrying four people, squeezed through quickly narrowing slots between the bus and other vehicles, stalls or poles.  Sidewalks were not off limits.  Traffic slowed to a crawl and the sudden accelerations and decelerations became even more violent, unpredictable and terrifying.  The horns never ceased.  “Let me through.”  “I am here.”   “What the fuck are you doing?”  The horn has so many different meanings.  I peeled and ate the orange then demolished a box of cookies.  Water was chugged and then the bloated bladder pinched and held till we found a suitable gas station.  “Yeah we can go here but I make no promises of it cleanliness ”  Manohar said as we exited for our first bathroom stop.  Three giant tractor trailer trucks, held together by rust, wire, and paint jockeyed for position under the small fuel station roof.  A man tried repeatedly, with no avail to start his scooter.  Again and again.  Two small dogs found our cadre of folks and begged for attention.   More than one student needed to hear the admonishments not to pet, no matter how cute.  “Never touch the dogs” Manohar explained,  “they are dirty…”  “Feel free to touch them violently with the end of your foot if necessary though” I added.  Back on the road, the traffic thinned out but even at two in the morning we still wound our way out of the city on narrow, cart traffic and vendor clogged streets.  Maybe the curiosity and intrigue overpowered the drugs, but my earlier ingestion of various sleep inducing medications did not do their appropriate jobs.

Manohar passed out bottled water, fruit and biscuits and gave us the run down on the ride.   I pounded some liquid Benadryl for my motion sickness allergy and popped a couple Dramamine.  Could it induce sleep in this insomniac?  Only time would tell.  To get our internal clocks on the time zone it would be useful to sleep a good portion of this overnight bus ride.  But fuck, it was India, it was Delhi, life was happening and it was loud; semi-trucks and cargo trucks honked incessantly and sirens screamed.  Bright lights flashed QWALEDY HOTEL, McDonalds, RESTO-RANT, and so many other claims.  Motorcycles, some carrying four people, squeezed through quickly narrowing slots between the bus and other vehicles, stalls or poles.  Sidewalks were not off limits.  Traffic slowed to a crawl and the sudden accelerations and decelerations became even more violent, unpredictable and terrifying.  The horns never ceased.  “Let me through.”  “I am here.”   “What the fuck are you doing?”  The horn has so many different meanings.  I peeled and ate the orange then demolished a box of cookies.  Water was chugged and then the bloated bladder pinched and held till we found a suitable gas station.  “Yeah we can go here but I make no promises of it cleanliness ”  Manohar said as we exited for our first bathroom stop.  Three giant tractor trailer trucks, held together by rust, wire, and paint jockeyed for position under the small fuel station roof.  A man tried repeatedly, with no avail to start his scooter.  Again and again.  Two small dogs found our cadre of folks and begged for attention.   More than one student needed to hear the admonishments not to pet, no matter how cute.  “Never touch the dogs” Manohar explained,  “they are dirty…”  “Feel free to touch them violently with the end of your foot if necessary though” I added.  Back on the road, the traffic thinned out but even at two in the morning we still wound our way out of the city on narrow, cart traffic and vendor clogged streets.  Maybe the curiosity and intrigue overpowered the drugs, but my earlier ingestion of various sleep inducing medications did not do their appropriate jobs.

Around us the income gap is glaringly apparent.  Giant Louis Vuitton signs, Mercedez-Benz dealerships and luxury apartments rise behind barbed wire enclosures and out of trash ridden streets strewn with tarps and make shift homes.  Nestled behind the glass/metal driver door, in an air-conditioned compartment, separated by steel and windows, staring into the darkless night, never have I felt more like a tourist.  Despite my lack of economic status in the states I can not help but feel, wealthy, lucky and privileged.  I have seen and been here so little and already the realness and rawness of it all is creeping in through my pinched nostrils, drug heavy eyes and closed, wary mouth.  I feel like the one percent and realize I am not that far off.

We moved north.  More bathroom breaks.  We peed on the roadside, watering the marijuana plants that grew out of the ditch.  We stopped for chai and in the process learned my second word in Hindi, tea.  Chai=tea.  Hmm, go figure.  To the east a red ball of fire climbed out of the monkey infested trees and into the pollution hazed sky.  The silhouetted stacks of an effluent spewing factory, producing god only knows what, only added to the haze, color, and scenery.  A few hours before Ranikhet Manohar made the announcement that if you wanted it, or hadn’t already taken the maximum dosage, leaving Haldwani was the time to take the Dramine.  We would quickly be entering the mountains, rising out of the plains of Delhi.  The roads would get windy.

Passing lanes are non-existant, maybe because they are unneceesary.   People pass whenever they want on, which ever side they want, where ever they want.  The road to Ranikhet of course was no exception and our bus driver was no different.  Maybe our school’s risk management director chooses to ignore it…?  Maybe the best risk management is to have professional, local drivers.  Or maybe it is to take the train?  Of course the train only goes to the base of the mountains and we would still need to get up the windy, exposed, narrow road.  After a quick break to void our bladders, we piled back on the bus.  The road was less crowded, but horns still ruled and to this lay person, there were no rules.  Cars and bikers passed us on the left and right.  We passed on straightaways and on blind corners.  Bodies and bags slid from the right side of the bus to the left side.  Heads rolled on seatbacks and full bottles of water migrated back and forth across the floor.  To our left a precipitous drop, hundreds of feet down steep treed slopes into the valley below.  Now an oncoming car, and one passing us.  They weave and dodge.  Students gasp deeply, withhold their shrieks.  Now the driver lays on the horn and we pass into a blind turn.  Now the drop is on the right.  Another freight truck out of its lane.  A car threads the needle.  We wind, crawl, shift, jerk, and hold our breath up the hill to Ranikhet, a military town built along pine covered hillsides and ridgetops on terraced outcroppings,

There is no vomit on the bus.  No pants peed out of fright, only a deep sigh of relief as we pull into the parking lot, dutifully hear the instructions from Manohar and file off the bus like zombies.  We grab our bags and make our way down the cement sidewalk to the NOLS India, the journey just beginning…

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A bit of a nomad, Jared likes to refer to himself in the third person.