About 45 min to Logan, an hour-and-a-half flight to Newark, seven hours to London, 8.5 more hours to Delhi, a 45 minute drive to Old Delhi train station, seven hours by train northeast to Kathgodam station, two hours winding up the hills of Uttarakhand and we found ourselves in breathtaking Nainital, India.
I’m pretty proud that we arrived at the right place considering how unfamiliar we were with everything once we got off the plane. We stepped out of Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi and it felt like we had walked square into a wall. 100+ degree heat hit us just as we were warned it would. With every hot breeze, it felt like someone had turned the dial on the heat up a notch.
Raj, a friend of Kathy and Ray’s met us holding a sign with Katie’s name on it. He was a short, balding man who’s face lit up when he smiled. He led us to his car, power-walking ten feet ahead of us with our largest suitcase dragging behind him.
I’m glad that our first encounter with Delhi traffic was with Raj behind the wheel. He knew exactly what he was doing, masterfully weaving through the lawless streets. It was amazing how little he used his horn in the city. Rather, he swerved wherever he liked, nudging other cars out of the way without even looking back to see just how close he came to scraping the car next to him. Writing this about a week after it happened, I now know that Raj’s tendency to keep his hands off the horn is anything but the norm for drivers on the treacherous, rural roads of Uttarakhand, where horns alert on-comers that a car is approaching around each and every bend.
As we arrived at Old Delhi train station five or six porters swarmed our car looking to take our bags for us. Raj started bargaining with them for us and got it down to 500 rupees for two porters. Lots of people warned us not to give our bags to anyone at either the airport or the train station but I am so thankful we did because there is absolutely no way that we would have been able to board the train properly without their help. The two men carried our largest bags on their heads while we carried our backpacks. After sliding all of our luggage through a metal detector and scrambling to get it after it was spit out on the other end, we followed the two porters as they swerved through the growing crowd and tightroped the edge of the platform before setting our bags down in a pile by a red pole.
As we absorbed stares and giggles from everyone around us we tried to figure out how comfortable this ride was going to be. The train that was waiting to leave the station was packed so tightly that people’s arms and heads were sticking out of the barred windows – no doubt trying to get some relief from the 110+ degree, chlaustrophobic’s nightmare inside the train. The well-dressed business man beside us read our ticket and informed us that we had assigned seats and were in an air-conditioned (we found out that air-conditioned meant that there were 6 or 8 fans on the ceiling) car. This calmed us down even though mom was still a little worried because everyone else we had asked said we had booked a lower-class ticket and we were in store for a miserable ride.
When our train pulled into the station, our two porters appeared, flung our bags onto their heads and started marching away into the mob of people trying to board the train. Katie, mom, and I tried our best to keep up, forcing our way through the crowd my hand grasping Katie’s and her’s holding my mom’s behind her. The crowd of people was like nothing I’d ever seen before – so many people going a million different ways, even the porters were stuck waiting for the crowd to free up. I held on to one of our helper’s wrists as we were all pressed up against one another in one place for a good fifteen seconds. The air smelt like a combination of garbage and b.o. Suddenly either impatience or determination struck our closest porter and he started shouting and tossing people out of the way. I did my best not to let go of him and squeeze through the mass of people the best I could.
The three of us made it safely to the train, we gave the porters 100 extra rupees for their effort and we took our seats. Mom and Katie dozed off, but for some reason I was paranoid about leaving our bags unsupervised so I forced myself to stay awake. After a few hours on the train – my head bobbing because my body thought it was the middle of the night – I realized that nobody was going to take our bags from the overhead shelf and allowed myself to fall asleep. Although we were all exhausted the ride was pretty comfortable and definitely better than expected.
Prakash picked us up at Kathgodam station at 11pm India time (1:30pm Boston time) and we drove about two more hours to his home in Nainital. He is a soft-spoken, funny guy who is the head administrator at the Himalayan Public School in Chaukori (the school which we are now teaching at). On our first ride with Prakash, he asked me why the US interferes so much in other countries’ affairs. Why does Obama spend so much money in Afghanistan and not on education in America? I was so tired that I really didn’t answer very elaborately but I was happy that I had already met someone whom I could have an interesting conversation with. We finally arrived at his house, took a minute to admire the lights of the town dancing of off Naina lake, met Prakash’s father, Papa G, and went to bed for some much needed rest.