…didn’t turn out exactly as I had hoped. My first flight from London to Mumbai was pretty uneventful (i.e. boring. The guy next to me kept leaning so far to the left he was practically sitting on me, and the TV that was available broke about 4 hours into the 9 hour flight). We landed in Mumbai at 4am Sunday morning local time, (which is about 10:30pm Saturday night English time), and 25 degrees outside! So I was beginning to get tired. I got to the airport and waited around to pick up my suitcases and when they eventually arrived, I somehow managed to fall over one of them. In front of everyone. Smooth. Thankfully, an English lady and an American lady helped me up (and helped me to laugh it off. If I didn’t laugh, I’d cry).
Over at the customs desk, I was in a long line of people waiting to get my luggage scanned, and it suddenly hit me that I wasn’t in England any more. I was scared and tired and a little bit grumpy, so I cried. Embarrassing myself in front of hundreds of strangers very quickly became a new gift of mine! Thankfully, another lovely American lady and her husband chatted to me and managed to calm me down, and she gave me a hug. I got my luggage scanned and moved onto another queue for domestic flights to have my luggage scanned. Again. Once that was all done and my luggage was re-checked in for the next flight, I had to go through a security scanner before finally being allowed onto the coach that would take me to the other side of the airport. While I was on the coach, I got talking to an Indian guy who was visiting family. He somehow got the impression that I was here because I was arranged to be married to someone who lives in North India. But hey, he was nice and gave me the directions I needed. And I made it clear that I was not here to get married.
I boarded my final flight at 6:15am (12:45am English time), which departed for Chandigarh at 7am and making a quick stop off in Delhi. Another pretty uneventful flight, until we arrived at Delhi where I was told all flights in and out of Chandigarh had been cancelled until further notice. However, they didn’t explain this in English – just in Hindi. Which I don’t speak. So I picked up my bags and started to cry in the middle of Delhi airport. One of the customers at the information desk saw that I was getting upset and pushed me towards the front of the queue (although they don’t really queue here – it’s more of a free-for-all. You have to be ruthless to get anywhere near the front), insisting that someone help “the little white girl”. I was taken into the office where they told me that I had a seat on the next coach to Chandigarh (the flight was due to take 50 minutes. The drive would take 6 hours..!).
Thankfully, the coach didn’t take very long to organise, which was a real blessing because by this point, I was exhausted and I was feeling more than a little overwhelmed at the different sights/sounds/smells/colours and all I really wanted was my bed (and, at this point, I didn’t care if that was in England or India). I headed straight to the back of the coach to hide in the corner and sleep. By the way, they drive like crazies here. On a three carriage motorway, you’ll have as many as six lines of traffic, because you don’t look at the ground, you look in front of you, put your foot down and drive and pray you don’t hit anything. Oh, and it’s also acceptable to pile your family of three (or four. Or five. Or however many you can possibly fit. Including very small children) onto a motorbike and take off. Nobody uses baby seats or seatbelts – at one point, I saw a family of five in a car, with the baby sat in the front of her mother’s lap and two toddlers stood on the back seat fighting over something on the parcel shelf. Anyway, we had been driving for about five hours when the coach decided to break down.
I’m not even joking.
Again, everything was being explained in Hindi, and all I could see was people STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MOTORWAY trying to wave down taxis. I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry (don’t worry…my crying has just about stopped at this point). Thankfully (again), two lovely people who had been sitting at the back of the bus with me said that they didn’t want me travelling on my own, so they offered to share a taxi with me because they were heading past the airport. I felt increasingly hopeful that I would finally make it to the airport.
Until I saw the “taxi”.
Imagine a motorbike. With a box on the back. You sit in the box, with your luggage tied onto a shelf on the back. The sides of the box are made of tarpaulin, not metal, and these things weave in and out of the crazy traffic. They look like this:
So there was the driver and the guy I’d met in the front, with one suitcase. Me, the girl I’d met and some other random lady in the back, with another suitcase, and the other FOUR SUITCASES tied onto the back of this thing (and I’m pretty sure someone made me promise that I would never get in/on one of these things. Whoops). But hey, I finally made it to the airport at 6:30pm! My lift was there, and I’d never felt happier about being in a normal car on my way ‘home’.
Once I arrived at Frishta, I quickly put my luggage in my room and was taken off to one of the houses because they were having a birthday party for one of the boys. All the children introduced themselves and then we sang happy birthday. The birthday boy then went round to all the adults and fed them all some cake (like what English people do at weddings, although there’s more in your mouth and less on your face…) and we sat down for birthday cake and samosas.
I don’t really remember much more about my first evening at the village, but I do remember that I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow that night, feeling incredibly thankful that I’d even made it to Frishta after that journey.