Friday, February 06, 2009

Another India adventure begins

Many people reading this have no idea that I'm off on another India adventure. It was originally planned as a two and a half month trip, but was extended after the Exploratorium, my employer, started looking for ways to balance the budget. I'm one of the few people there that would enjoy an unpaid leave.

My flights were from San Francisco to New York, then to Paris, then to Delhi. I slept probably half of the entire 19 hours of flight time and didn't read a page of either of the two books I brought. The flights were comfortable and uneventful, though I came close to missing the Paris flight. By the time I got to Delhi, 28 hours after leaving home, I was bleary-eyed and bracing myself for the chaos that inevitably follows landing here. I did all the right things - bought a voucher for the prepaid taxi, got money from the second ATM because the first one was broken, and got into a junker of a minivan that passes for a taxi. The driver, Manoj, was young, dishevelled and slightly manic, about par for the course. There was more stimulation in the 15 minutes of getting out of the parking area onto the "highway" than there'd been in the last day of travel.

I noticed that the van was sputtering a lot, and Manoj didn't seem to be able to go more than about 20 miles an hour. It's about an hour's drive in a car that runs - it made me wonder. Only about a quarter of a mile from the airport the van sputtered and coughed and almost died. I said, "Manoj, are we're going to make it the hotel in this car?" His response was a surprising, "Yes, sir. No problem!" If there's any confusion, that's a total non-answer, because that's the default response whether everything is going great or is about to collapse. (Guess where this is going?)

The van died a minute later, and after trying to start it a couple of times, Manoj got out of the car and started pushing it. "Uh, Manoj? What are you doing?" Manoj says, "Patt roll! Patt roll!" What the heck? Oh, petrol! He was trying to push the van, with my fat ass in the back seat, up this very slight hill, to the nearby gas station. I assume he's out of gas, and maybe it's a quick fix. He gave up pushing and got a little Pepsi bottle out of the trunk, and said, "Patt roll!" and ran off to the gas station. So I'm sitting in the back of this car, alone since Manoj took off, the car is blocking a lane on this busy road, it's almost 2 a.m., and I've been traveling for the last 29 hours. It could have happened anywhere, I suppose. Maybe not.

Eventually Manoj returned with his microtank of gas and sets to repairing the car, using only a greasy rag and wily determination. It seems the van wasn't out of gas, but I was. I told Manoj I was going back to the airport to get another taxi. A man showed up out of the blue and offered to take me to the hotel. He could have been a serial killer, but he turned out to be just a taxi driver, and he did give me a ride, and I was glad for it.

I've been here a few hours now, but it seems like a week. I ordered some prescription glasses, including prescription Ray Ban's. I'm hoping for the best. In two days I'm flying to Varanasi and attending the 10-day meditation-ish event in Sarnath, which I'm a big fan of.

More stories are sure to follow.

Much love,

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