It is remarkable how a notion can occur and grow so much as to overtake any part in decision making you thought you had. When I left Cambodia I was already looking into flying to Nepal. November was the right time to go. And yet... There is so much in South East Asia which I had not yet explored.
I could head into the relatively unspoilt wilderniss of east Cambodia, followed by a tour into Vietnam. To buy a motorbike in Ho Chi Min, drive to the north and sell it again in Hanoi. Or I could go to northern Thailand and then move into the authenticity of Myanmar. Then I heard of Loy Krathong, the famous lantern festival in Thailand as displayed on the front of the Lonely Planet, best to be experienced either in Sokuthai or Chiang Mai. Thus far I had not paid much attention to any festivals aside of the very wet New Year parties of Laos and Thailand in February. But this would be different. Cultural. My plan was hatched. I would go into Thailand, circle through northern Laos and back into Thailand, to Chiang Mai. Then fly to Nepal. All neatly within one month.
So I found myself in Thailand, and to my irrational surprise, my travelling was in much of the same slow fashion at which it has occured so far. It dawned on me that I had to make concessions and shortcuts for this plan to succeed. Instead of being the lure, Loy Krathong became my obstacle.
Meanwhile Nepal was having none of this. Nepal was pulling at me. I thought I comitted myself to this last plan, but I was wondering if it was worth the trouble. And wasn't I the one providing my fellow travelers with a bit of road wisdom, encouraging them to let go of things they 'should' do according to guide books or other travellers? Why was I not practicing what I preached? It seemed wasteful to spend my money on an expensive airplane ticket being in the midst of these unexplored lands. At the same time the climatical clock was ticking slowly into December. That seemed to be more wasteful in my judgement.
This leaves me wondering if there ever really was a decision. I have faced similar situations during my travelling where I had to decide to go either one way or the other.
Flipping a coin is something I believe in. Not because it is reasonable, but because as soon as you do so, you know which side you want the coin to land on. Another sage on the road told me that in fact doubt is not really indecision, it is the difficulty of the mind attempting to incorporate the changed situation into the existing story while seemingly remaining consistent. The mind loves weaving its stories and a consistent story is an easier one, but not always a better one. I enjoy a good plot twist.
I have been reading a lot since I stopped working. Fiction, psychological, neurological and books discussing the very fabric of reality. Then there are my conversations on the road and my own observations. All this information is being woven into one story as well. And of course it makes a lot of sense. Everything does in hindsight. The mind makes it so. In reality things are much more random than we would like to believe.
So here I am, this notion having taken over my thoughts and following that I find myself on a 19 hour layover in New Delhi, (otherwise known as DEL) unable to leave the airport. From this limited experience I cannot tell you much about India except that there is an overabundance of personel. The theory I developed on India's complicated VISA policy points towards job creation. My stay on the airpoint underwrites this theory. It is obvious in the amount of people with badges just walking around, desperately trying to look busy, but failing to do so. A result is that each toilet is cleaned after each visit. Taps are activated and paper towels are retrieved and presented without any effort of myself.
Possibly in earlier times, travellers in transit on DEL must have wandered around blindly and missed their connections, because there is a competent team of four people intercepting everyone getting off the plane who is in transit in order to lead them through the singular directed hallways. They are just as competent in following the signs informing us with the word TRANSIT accompanied by an arrow as we could ever expect them to be.
Then at security (mind you, we just got off a plane) everyone walks through a metal detector. Possibly these were of an unreliable Chinese make, because even while they remain silent, the standard follow up is for all passengers to be padded down and scanned by a portable by a metal detector.
As for the bags, these are scanned just in case we managed to smuggle something illegal into to from the plane. And so it happened that a security enforcer found a bottle of wine in my bag. Now this was an unexpected turn of events! Certainly I would have been aware of this. Perhaps some mischivous character slipped a bottle of wine in my bag and I failed to notice the extra weight. To say the least, I was very much surprised until it was clear they meant my hip flask.
I regret to say that my pointing out the low amount of fluid in it and it neither being a bottle nor wine, did not alter anyones perspective. Instead what followed was a brief, but involved conversation in Indian. It was decided I could keep the flask, but not the contents. And no, I was not permitted to drink it.
I was lead back through the metal detector, to a regular wastebin and was instructed to pour the contents in the bin. If you ask me, it was bullying and sadism. Not even being allowed one last sip, I witnessed three good measures of a very fine Scotch, particularly a 16 year old Lagavulin, being poored into a rubbish bin by none other than my own hand. A shameful episode indeed.
And so materialised my first encounter with Indian bureaucracy. Oh, how glad I was to fly onto Nepal instead of moving into the cityscape devoured by such a smog that the sun was a a blurry orange disk. New Delhi. I have heard the accounts of your unpleasantness. We have only met briefly and it is my genuine hope our relationship will remain as such.
There is much to be said about airports and in fact, I have done so previously. So 19 hours on one of them seemed undesirable. Yet, I have heard tales of airport lounges where you can stay as long as you like for a reasonable fee. This was the case in Denpassar and Kuala Lumpur. But the lounge in New Delhi is less open to chance encounters. Only members may remain, or you may purchase access for two hours only. Honestly, I find this much too short to establish any form of familiarity. True, one of the lounges provided the option for a ten hour stay, but that still left me with nine left to kill and the price of $75 did not qualify as a reasonable fee.
Fortunately there happened to be another unfortunate. I ended up in the company of Taryn who was on the exact same flight. The day was spent effortlessly. It was only in the night where the Indian wisdom of having an overabundantly loud karaoke performance in the main hall was revealed. But sure enough, after 1:00 a.m. I managed to find a spot in the very back of the hall where I succeeded in falling asleep. The real pleasure was between 3 and 6 a.m., when I found the lights in the large seating area of the coffee shop turned off and I stretched myself on a wonderful couch for some solid sleep. I was only woken once by a stewardess who was worried I was missing my flight. I reassured her: "No miss, it is only my sleep I am missing."
Furthermore this was a situation where having a credit card makes me feel like a true member of the very elite of this world. Who desires money when a signature suffices? Another description would be that of a safety net, a parachute, a crutch. There is no accessible ATM or money exchange in the transit area of DEL. My credit card allowed me to purchase a much overpriced meal. If you ever find yourself stuck in DEL there are some nice sleeping options I could recommend. (Without having to pay through the nose.) As for food: Wait until you are hungry and track down one of the buffet specials at whichever restaurant is promoting them. Best value!
Either by the element of chance or consistency, the ATM and money exchange situation in the arrival hall of KTM (Kathmandu airport) was much the same. There I found myself, faced by immigration and security with a credit card, a debet card and some Thai Bhat, none of which were any more useful in this situation than if I would have offered my knowledge of mitten knitting, which I feel I should add, is entirely non-existent.
But however much I was dissapointed by the lack of facilities, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the leniency of the airport personel. "No problem at all. There is an ATM downstairs, around the corner." I asked for explicit confirmation that I was allowed to walk through the exist without being killed or otherwise apprehended. It would have been both illogical and shameful to find myself detained as an illegal immigrant in Nepal. I was neither detained nor an immigrant, but I did find myself 8 kilometers outside of the airport in Nepal, without a VISA. That is where the first ATM happens to be which accepts Maestro instead of Visa. (The other kind of visa.)
Being knowingly swindled by the taxi driver could not hamper my amusement of my situation. For only a short while I entertained the notion of not going back for my VISA. Not only would I save money, it would bring a certain edge to my presence in this country. I would not look forward to explaining myself to emigration however once I decide to leave the country. Sure, Nepal provided me with this entertainging first impression, but that's hardly enough for me to make the rash decision of spending the remainder of my life here. There are certain benefits to being in a first world country which I at some point would like to embrace again.
My second reason for returning to the airport is that I found 13 degrees celcius to be slightly chilly for a t-shirt and a pair of flip-flops. I did not pack much warm clothing, but what I packed was in my backpack, still at KTM. It is hardly going to be enough for mountain trekking and the nights, but after getting lost wandering in Kathmandu I was quite reassured by finding North Face and goretex for only a fraction of the price back in Europe. Oh Asia, I do applaud your counterfeit ways!
What's next? Submitting my VISA application at the embassy of India and go trekking! Rafting! Bungee jumping! I am somewhat fearful the first mentioned undertaking will prove to be the most rigorous. At least that would provide me with some additional fodder for my next blog.
Eveline Oh Richard, ha ha ha, ik heb dit gelezen met een (glim)lach op mijn gezicht en af en toe meer dan dat. Wat een verhaal. En wat zonde van de whisky....