Friday, April 1, 2011
Air Khyber Pass
4/1/2011 1:54 pm Delhi time
Three and a half hours to landing. Below us, Siberia stretches off to the horizon, flat and white, which I keep checking surreptitiously as the flight attendants are maintaining total darkness inside the cabin. According to the in-flight path tracker, we passed Yekaterinburg a half hour ago and will pass the Aral Sea in just a while, with Tashkent a ways to the east.
In the U.S., those of us who live in the big, important coastal cities talk derisively about “flyover country,” states that are only worthy of passing over as quickly as possible. I’ll leave the validity of that sentiment for others to discuss (then again, you wouldn’t catch me dead living in Kansas). In this case, the country we’re flying over is full of legends, murders, wars and events that changed human history forever. We’ll pass over Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and the Khyber Pass, where Alexander and his armies passed on their way into India… how cool is that? This is where the Scythians rode, and where the Aryans mounted their invasions of Iran and India. Tashkent and Samarkand, glittering names from the journeys of Marco Polo and Genghis Khan. This may be the closest I ever get to these places. And yet the flight attendants are still enforcing the “shades-down” rule, even though it’s mid-afternoon where we’re going, most of the passengers indifferent to the wonders 36,000 feet below. Bastards.
Yeah, I love to fly. I get just as excited sitting in a window seat as I did when my mom put me solo at age six from Hilo to Los Angeles to visit my grandparents. The ever-narrowing seats, the miserable, crowded terminals you pay three times for food what you’d pay just outside the airport, and the constant whining from my fellow passengers, none of this really sours the experience for me.
Now the screen is showing where we are in relations to Baghdad, Tehran, Lahore… The Himalayas are popping up on the map’s 3-D version. It makes me think of my dad, to whom maybe I owe my fascination with all things historic. I wish he were still alive to see us make this trip – he’d have spent the past month poring over maps with us. As it is, my mom is dying of envy, but we’ve made it clear she’s not going; for A the idea of riding the rails in India with his mother-in-law (who lives with us, did I mention that?) is unpalatable, and for me, having my mom along while I wank in a cup is… eew. We did spend the past three weeks watching several Bollywood films, “Earth” and “Fire” (which I highly recommend), a cartoon version of the Ramayana (whose animation and voiceover was so putrid we had to stop) and Michael Woods’ “The Story of India” with her, so maybe that made her feel better.
So yes, we’re going to Delhi. Like most couples, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs in trying to arrive at a decision, mainly regarding our income level, our refusal to stop traveling no matter what (even more important if we have a child, I think) and our housing situation.
(Ooh… now the screen says we’re heading towards Kabul… damned war, I always wanted to go there… and looking out the window the landscape has turned flat and arid, dotted with an occasional cloud… the Steppes of Central Asia!)
We were going around in circles, unable to arrive at a final decision. So we took it in increments, as I imagine fertile straight couples do: “Honey, let’s try to have a baby.” “Okay, I’ve flushed the pills down the toilet.” Then they just keep doing what they’ve done all along, having sex until maybe something happens. It doesn’t involve (yet) doctors or surrogates or donors, it’s just a couple of incremental steps. So when that thousand-dollar fare to India popped up over New Year’s weekend, we booked. Or rather, we put it on hold… then on hold again… then on hold again… then it expired. See, we’ve always wanted to go to India, right? This doesn’t mean we’re absolutely doing this. Incremental step one.
After it expired, a week passed, and another fare became available on Cathay Pacific, which would award us our precious frequent flier miles on American. Cathay Pacific is one of my favorite airlines, probably due to the fact that the one time I flew them, to Hong Kong and back, I flew business class and had taken both a Vicodin for back pain and a Rohypnol that the producer with whom I was traveling had gotten from a pharmacist uncle in Tijuana (I slept like a log, not surprisingly). But as soon as we booked, we realized (SHIT!) that we’d booked in the wrong fare class and we wouldn’t get any frequent flier miles. We called and cancelled, 200 dollar cancellation fee be damned. “It’s a sign,” declared my atheist husband.
Well, a few days passed and an almost-as-good fare once again appeared on American. “It’s a sign,” I declared… at least a sign that we’re spending A’s spring break in India. And after much wringing of hands, yes, we can finally pursue surrogacy without either one of us reaching for the Xanax. We’ll be leaving our genetic contributions in Delhi over the weekend, then hopping on a train for Agra to see the Taj and the uber-cool abandoned Mughal capital of Fatehpur Sikri, hopping another train to Ranthambore National Park to go tiger spotting, thence to Pushkar, which now that I’ve read more about it sounds more full of Israeli stoners than Rajasthani magic so only rates a day (good thing I kinda speak Hebrew), and finally to Udaipur. I wanted to do Jaisalmer, but hell, we’re only there two weeks.
The flight map says we’re now passing just to the west of Samarkand… think there’s a parachute on board? No, we'll have to save the wonders of the Silk Road for another trip.