The flight to Leh lifted off into the dry New Delhi sky precisely at 5.40 am. The previous night had been harrowing and therefore tiring. They had not let us enter the airport departure area because the day of the flight had ‘technically’ not dawned.(?) it was a question of security, they told us. Yeah right!! At 10.30 in the night, hungry and looking for some decent seating, the last thought on our mind was blowing up places. Personally, I think citing security reasons is just a facade for unwillingness to accommodate or co-operate. Determined terrorists will sneak through while the rest of us endure one security check after another. Terrorism is just the symptom. If you cannot treat the cause…it only leads to a hollow victory. This will be the subject of another post though.
Since we were flying with Jet Airways to Leh, we got the airline manager to help. He requested the guards to let us through and also had our luggage checked and sealed (again) as additional guarantee that we were only looking for a place to spend the night.
We had about 8 hours to kill. I half slept – half dreamt that I missed the flight by a whisker, only to be reassured by Mother that we were still at the departure gate. Whew!
Meanwhile, Mother got into conversation with a Bengali lady. She too was waiting for her early morning flight to Kolkata. When the subject of my profession came up, I was called in to explain the finer details. (Is elearning such rocket science after all??) Thereafter I spent an interesting 2 hours talking to her. She was a statistics professor returning from Toronto after a teaching stint at the university there.
Finally, we were on the flight. Father had picked the window seat this time, all eager to be the first one to see the eastern Himalayas as we proceeded due north. Mother, miffed at being squished in the middle, was craning her neck to look out.
In between distractions like breakfast and tea, she was offering a running commentary on the sights below. When we were actually on top of Leh, she almost announced to the whole plane that the Shanti Gompa had been spotted. We finally got her to buckle up for landing. She positively looked as if she could start touring the landscape right away but for the fact that she was airborne. Incidentally, Shanti Gompa is located at a very strategic location, easily spotted from the airplanes and high rise areas around Leh due to its white colored exterior. It can also be seen from the Khardung-La.
Mohammed Ghaus, driver extraordinaire, who would also be our guide for the next few days, had come to pick us up at the airport. The hotel was only a 10 minute drive away and the warm hospitality was apparent from the time we were received.
As soon as we entered the lobby, traditional cloth was lovingly placed on our shoulders in welcome. We did not have to lift a thing except our tea cups. And those appeared as soon as we sat down in the lush courtyard. It was a great beginning to a fascinating journey in the land of the Lamas.
We had been advised rest for the full day to avoid altitude sickness. Anybody traveling to those parts will do well to take this seriously. And that’s what we did all of Sunday. Except for lunch and tea again in the evening, we dozed fitfully in anticipation of the next day. And no, I did not dream again.
Father, all eager to see us have a good time, finalized out our itinerary with the manager.