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Back home (India: Day Nine)

Started: 2010-03-28 20:29:06

Submitted: 2010-03-28 22:12:06

Visibility: World-readable

I boarded American Airlines flight 293 at Indira Gandhi International Airport around midnight localtime. I settled into my seat, an inner aisle seat toward the back of the plane, and waited for takeoff and my epic flight to Chicago.

We took off to the west and continued on a westerly course for some time before finally turning north to follow a rough approximation of the great circle route to Chicago. (At one point the navigation computer recalculated our estimated time enroute based on the current heading, rather than our planned course, and added several hours to the time remaining as displayed on the flight statistics on the map view of the in-flight entertainment system.) We flew over Kabul, according to the map, but I didn't pay attention to any other landmarks or keep the detailed notes I took on the way out. (The airplane stayed in local darkness for the entire flight, and I didn't have a window seat, so there wasn't much to see outside.

The cabin crew served two hot meals on the flight, a "supper" meal shortly after takeoff and a "breakfast" meal shortly before landing. (Unlike my outbound flight, it actually made sense in the target time zone to eat a "breakfast" meal before landing.) I requested ginger ale with my "supper" meal and received a pop-top can that appeared to be printed entirely in Urdu, except for the logo.

When planning my sleep cycle on the flight, I tried to split the twelve-hour difference between my departure and arrival time zones. I added six hours to my nominal 22:00 IST bedtime and arrived at an 04:00 IST bedtime, and tried to stay up until then. After eating, I watched an episode of Rick Steves Europe featuring Istanbul, Turkey (aware of the irony of watching travel programs for cities I wasn't visiting; while the in-flight entertainment system featured a broad selection of programs, few interested me) and could barely keep my eyes open; I gave up on staying awake and attempted to enter a sleep cycle at 03:00 IST. (One hidden benefit of ultra-long-haul flights is that it's much easier to fit an eight-hour sleep cycle into the flight, which makes it easier to adapt to jet lag than a relatively shorter six- or eight-hour flight from North America to Europe. I also find it much easier to stay up later rather than go to bed earlier, which worked to my advantage on both my outbound and return flights.)

I've never been a fan of sleeping in coach class on long-haul flights, but I managed to sustain a reasonable sleep cycle for at least eight hours. I declared my sleep cycle complete and tried to find worthwhile things with which to amuse myself for the remainder of the flight. This included trying desperately to find something to watch on the in-flight entertainment system, reading subtitles off the screens of other passengers, working on number-painting puzzles, walking around the cabin (wishing for space allocated for yoga), and finishing reading Escape from Kathmandu. (I had charged my netbook before leaving Delhi and I thought about continuing to document my trip, but I didn't think I was quite awake enough to do so.)

We crossed the Greenland Sea well above the Arctic Circle; we made landfall over Greenland at what appeared to be the northernmost point of the journey at a point I later identified at being in the neighborhood of 75° north. (I counted this point as the furthest north I have been in an airplane.) We seemed to spend a great deal of time over Canada and comparatively little time over the United States before finally landing in Chicago sometime after 05:00 local time. It had been a very long flight.

I grabbed my bag and stumbled out of the airplane, still a little groggy despite the coffee I drank with breakfast an hour before landing. The immigration officer barely glanced at my landing card and passport before waving me through. (It appeared that, despite enduring a pass through the laundry, my passport was still machine-readable.) My checked bag took a long time to arrive on the baggage claim; many of the passengers on my flight were of Indian descent and carried many checked bags, which I attributed to their longer stays visiting wherever they were visiting. (This was in sharp contrast to my primary objective: to pack as lightly as possible, making my bag as portable as possible to facilitate hopping through north-east India.) When my bag finally arrived and I headed to customs, the officer seemed incredulous that I had collected all of my luggage, though it wasn't clear that he had spotted my backpack. He gestured me to the inspection lane; I handed my landing card (including my modest customs declaration) to the officer there, put my bags through the x-ray, and spent a moment trying to figure out if they were going to do anything other than let my bags through before picking them up and continuing on my way.

I shuffled items between my checked and carry-on luggage, stowing Escape from Kathmandu since I was finished reading it, and rechecked my bag before leaving international arrivals into the crisp pre-dawn chill at the inter-terminal train stop. I disembarked at the next stop, and waited through a long security queue, filled mostly by Monday-morning business travelers. Once through security (and vaguely reassured by the mostly-meaningless but once again familiar song-and-dance) I picked up a bagel at a bagel shop and coffee at Starbucks for breakfast part two and settled in to check my e-mail and let the rest of the world know I had made it to Chicago.

My flight to Denver left at 08:30 CDT. The rising sun, and the coffee, had woken me up enough to continue writing about my trip on Hobbes. (Netbooks have many disadvantages in terms of screen size, keyboard size, and processing power, but they're unmatched when it comes to fitting into a coach-class airline seat.)

We landed in Denver around 10:00 MDT. I caught the train to the terminal, walked past The Children of the World Dream of Peace to see the Indian and Pakistani flags wrapped together, claimed my bag, and checked in at the airport shuttle counter. The next shuttle left in half an hour, so I found a seat where I could get wi-fi (albeit slow and buggy, insisting on popping frames with banner ads on top of each page) and waited for the van.

The van dropped me off at home right at noon localtime, forty hours after I left Darjeeling the previous morning, having traveled by jeep, auto rickshaw, three airplanes, inter-terminal shuttle bus, two inter-terminal shuttle trains, and one van. Kiesa and Calvin were at home; both were happy to see me. Kiesa took Calvin to daycare and I began unpacking and working on laundry. I managed to stay awake until 18:00; I had hoped to stay up at least until 20:00 but jet lag didn't cooperate.

After one week in India, I barely scratched the surface. I traveled halfway around the world, saw two of India's great religions, ate fantastic Indian food, and avoided getting sick. I'm confident I'll return someday.

Scott Galvin, age 23, is a highly sought mentor and motivational
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arrangements, call 303.944.9964
- scottgalvin.com message, 03 October 2002