I’m not sure which was the hardest bit initially – asking my boss for a six months holiday, deciding what to pack for a six months holiday involving cycling and trekking in temperatures from -11°C to 43°C, or the logistics of transporting all my gear from my flat in London to a hotel up a narrow flight of stairs in the old part of Amritsar where motorized transport is not allowed. In hindsight I think the hardest bit was just choosing which day to leave. A nice problem to have.
Wednesday as it turned out.
Courtesy of my mum’s fretting Reggie and I took a taxi to the airport with me slowly stewing in the back through the traffic delays wondering why I hadn’t got a train. However, much to the driver’s lack of amusement, the size of the box that Reggie was in made a car a much more sensible option and it only took a minor amount of engineering to fit everything into the car.
It’s always a worry turning up to an airport check-in desk with a giant cardboard box that is at the limits of the baggage allowance. However, this time when one man directed me to the normal check-in queue another one stepped in and showed me straight to the wide, empty, first-class desk. It’s more of a worry when the person at the desk says you can’t check-in because you only have a one-way ticket. Luckily I had signed up for a trek in Nepal for later in the year and so had some sort of proof that I was intending to leave India after all so she begrudgingly started the process. When she told me I needed to go and get the bike box weighed a kindly member of the airline staff stepped in and put ‘23kg’ on it. Nevertheless, due to the size of the box, it had to travel by cargo as it was ‘super-gauge’, which entailed being escorted to another floor and into a secret back room. The box was opened and the bike swabbed, but luckily the man with the ‘23kg’ sticker had also provided me with some of the airline’s packing tape to seal everything back up and Reggie was off.
Straight to the gate, a phone call home, and then to my seat at the back of the plane. Ah, time to relax.
However, my relaxing was short-lived as it turned out I was sitting across the aisle from a man being deported. He let loose just before we taxied when it became apparent that he was definitely going back to India whether he, or we, wanted it or not, escorted by five security officers. He screamed and yelled constantly until after take-off that he wanted to go home; people in India were going to kill him; he’d been in a detention centre for six months, he has a pregnant girlfriend, he has three children, they were breaking his arms, they were breaking his legs, they were injecting him, he had done nothing wrong. Despite him finally calming down, it did not feel like a particularly auspicious start to my travels.
One thing I hadn’t factored into my planning was that I would have to go through immigration at Delhi, collect all my luggage and then re-check it for my internal flight to Amritsar. It took a while to find the bike box, but we were reunited in just enough time for me to find another super-gauge X-ray machine in a far-flung corner of the airport and make it to the gate.
I could have done without a window seat overlooking the box being manhandled onto the plane; that cardboard box wasn’t going to survive much more trauma. Just enough life left to be squeezed over the top of the seats in a geriatric 4WD taxi (so old the seats didn’t fold down) and onto the back of a cycle rickshaw for the final stage through the car-free old town before being lugged up the ridiculously steep stairwell into the hotel.
Finally Reggie and I had made it to Amritsar.