8th April 2014
There is a unique sense of calm that comes over an airplane passenger, shortly after take-off. For me, it’s a zen-like experience. Rare, pristine, tranquil.
Some people hate to fly, and I can understand the sentiment. The preamble to the flight is full of stress and neuroses. It’s a whirlwind of packing bags, double-checking flight times, traffic on the way to the airport, security checks, endless hallways, and then the fidgety discomfort of waiting for boarding calls. You shuffle down the aisle, and find your seat, and stow your bags and sit in your uncomfortably upright seat. The flight attendants do their song and dance as the plane starts to rumble down the runway, building speed as you grip your arm rest and stare at the blank screen in front of you. The engines roar, the flaps wheeze into position, and the plane angles slightly upward. It’s enough to give anyone a panic attack! But suddenly, you’re airborne.
And you can exhale.
You can take a deep breath and watch the world fall away and shrink to inconceivably small proportions. You’re completely disconnected from the world. No cellphones, no internet, nothing.
Your life is now in someone else’s hands hands now.
For the duration of the flight, your only job is to sit. To eat the food you’re given, to watch the movies on the tiny screen in front of you, and to try to drink more than your fair share of the complimentary beer and wine that the pretty lady brings. Your life is on hold. You can relax.
This is my happy place.
On this particular flight, I was heading to India, by way of London. It was going to be a long journey, and I had been incredibly stressed out with work before I left. Joel and I had built our little holiday rental business into a well oiled machine over the course of the last few months. But Kerala Tourism had invited me to visit their state and to blog about my journey on the Kerala Blog Express, a bus filled with more than 20 other bloggers and photographers from around the world. It was an exciting opportunity, and I couldn’t pass it up.
I didn’t really know what to expect from the trip. I knew Kerala was a well-touristed state in India, and that it had a lot of beaches, so I was looking forward to spending some time in the sun. But before my trip, I had to figure out a way to keep the business running while I was off galavanting around Europe. I hired two friends to help out, and did my best to plan and organize everything for the coming month. I was nervous, but I knew that if anything came up, Joel was more than capable of handling it.
Still, I felt like a new mother, leaving her child with a babysitter for the first time. I was nervous. And as my flight to London Heathrow gained altitude, I finally exhaled and tried to find that zen happy place of mine.
I had charmed my way into a Premium seat, so the pre-takeoff champagne certainly helped to calm my nerves. On that note: If flying is zen, flying business class is nirvana. Or Valhalla. Or whatever existential bliss you prefer. I think everyone should experience an upper class flight sometime in their life, and my friend Shawn from Miles to Memories can give you some tips on how to make that happen.
Anyway, I watched some movies, drank a couple glasses of red wine, and drifted off into a fitful, but much needed sleep. After 12 hours in the air, an arduous layover in Heathrow’s Terminal 3, and another 10 hour flight, I finally landed in New Delhi, excited to start my journey through India!
I had wanted to visit India for years, and even before the Kerala Blog Express tapped me on the shoulder, I had been secretly looking at flights to the region. When the trip to Kerala came up, I decided to extend the dates a couple weeks, so I could see a few other parts of India as well.
I knew I wanted to see the Taj Mahal, and I had plans for drinks with my old travel buddy, fellow travel writer, and long time partner in crime, Ruby Tuesday in Mumbai — other than that, I had no plan except that I needed to make it from Delhi to Kerala in about a week.
I had read that the Paharganj neighborhood in New Delhi was a good place to find budget hotels and I heard it had a bit of a backpacker scene. So when I landed, I hopped in a taxi and asked him to take me there, mispronouncing the name terribly, but making myself understood. If you ever need to take a taxi from an airport or train station in India, I recommend taking the Pre-Pay Taxis, if possible. They have set prices, so you know you don’t get ripped off (too much). Or at least, you can ask the price there, and then use that as a starting point for haggling with the independent drivers.
I had my driver drop me in an area with a bunch of hotels in Paharganj, and after inquiring in a few, I ended up in the New Hindustan, in a room with a round bed, and free wifi.
Outside, the Paharganj neighborhood of Delhi was bustling with street vendors, locals, hippie travelers, and the general chaos of any big city. I was keen to explore, but the 30 hours of travel was winning the war. I knew I had a whole month of India to look forward to, but I needed a shower, and I needed to rest up.