The journey begins at Logan where my fellow travelers and I find each other at the Air France terminal hours before flight AF 8399 is ready for us to board. Each of us has only a single backpack and a small shoulder bag, and from the start we bond over our exceptional packing jobs and the fun of going on adventure to a land none of us has been to before.
From the start it is clear this trip to India is about much more than the immersion into Ayurveda that will begin in a few days. We have lessons to learn together that will reveal themselves as the days go, not the least of which is patience. I chug down the last sweet bit of NH well water I can drink and pour the remaining drops into a bucket before we go through security. Alexis is the first in this trip to have the contents of her well-packed bag scrutinized. We watch as the officer unzips compartments, pulls out the neatly packed bundles, and then looks apologetically at Alexis when she realizes there is no way the bag is going back together the way it was before she dismantled it. “It’s okay,” Alexis says earnestly, knowing it will be easier if she repackages it herself. Once through, we grab a bite to eat, sit and make final phone calls, and just hang out waiting for them to announce our flight. We stand in the long line to board, and are entertained by our collective footwear: one pair of hiking shoes, one pair of short leather boots, and a pair of sneakers–each as different as we are–and agree we couldn’t be more comfortable with our toes tucked away from the frigid Boston air.
On the plane we share our own little row of three seats and settle in for the night. After a little dinner, Annie begins a book that she will finish before we land in India, and Alexis and I watch Adele live in concert (amazing btw). I never sleep much on planes, so I fight with my fidgety body while others in the rows around me either snore or watch movies. The girls sleep quietly through the flight, and I watch the sun come up over the wing as we descend into Charles de Gaulle.
Paris is all of a cup of tea and change of planes. There is a collective wish that our 12-hour layover in Mumbai could be had here so we could take a spin under Le Arc de Triomphe in a Fiat taxi and eat a croissant at the Eiffel Tower. Air France rules, by the way–perhaps the kindest, most attentive crew I’ve ever seen on a plane; and if you haven’t flown with them lately, you have to check out their new safety video on you tube–had us all cracking up before we even left the gate!
The late morning bleeds into the over-the-clouds sun of evening somewhere over northern Africa, and then the attendants ask us to close the blinds for the night. Alexis colors, Annie reads, and I manage to get an hour or two of sleep before we begin our descent. Time no longer means what it did to me yesterday.
When we land, the Mumbai air at midnight is warm–a hazy potpourri of smoke and cotton, of tired bodies ready to be out of the plane that sailed us through the skies over countries in turmoil below. One breath in and I know it is India, though I have never set foot on this ground. Intriguing, heavy, dirty, and yet oddly sweet, and I take draft after draft just to get it into my lungs and begin to believe that I am really here.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the direction of an airport official telling us we needed to go to a different terminal to catch out domestic flight to Coimbatore, which led to a 30-minute bus excursion across town, where we were promptly told to go back to the international terminal. There is no such thing as prompt bus drivers in the middle of the night. While we waited, several men stood outside and chatted. All of them stepped on and off the bus, and finally we were herded onto yet another bus with a driver that tried to get us to pay him a bribe to bring us back where we came from. I heard a stern “No” come from my mouth and got a bobbled-headed look of disgust before our drivers were switched one last time. Patience at two in the morning after sixteen hours of flying is an interesting thing. If it is possible to be elated, nervous, and frustrated all at the same time, this about describes it. Our excursion gave us a close look at the slums just outside the airport where the dogs and rats gather at street corners, and men huddle in dusty doorways littered with plastic bottles, bits of paper, and colorful candy wrappers ground into the day’s debris. Some little piles were lit afire and smoldering–that smoky smell I first breathed. It was an eye-opening introduction, and maybe the only chance we will have to see an Indian city in the middle of the night.
Thank goodness we didn’t have a short window between flights! When the bus drops us at the gate, we head back through security, where it is my turn for baggage to be prodded. Several customs attendants investigate my packages of herbs and collection of essential oils, and one man demands that I open my bottled water and take a sip (to make sure it’s not some kind of poison?), and finally we are through and off to find a place to hunker down for the night.
By morning’s light we have slept little, but all three of us turn to face the orange sun. I capture this pic of my beautiful friends and also a cool shot of a line of men waiting for a plane to dock. It is the start of our first day in India.