Squeezing into our seats aboard a small tired old plane was not an auspicious beginning to our journey half-way around the world. American Airlines could have done better on our first leg to Heathrow. But oh what a relief! We can relax. We’re on our way!
The weeks – and in my case months – of planning and preparation are over. I’d managed to forcibly cram into one small case, everything I needed to give me an illusion of security for the next four months. It’s not the first time…I should be a pro, but after six consecutive years, it doesn’t get any easier. I plead my case: traveling through the many different temperature zones of India, requires a corresponding variety of outfits. But why carry warm clothes for three and a half months in the warmer climes? Gerard nonchalantly says, “We can buy warm clothes when we get to Darjeeling”, a town renowned not only for its tea but for being one of the wettest places in the world. Far too risky for me! I need to be prepared for any eventuality.
This questions whether I’m really a traveler – or am I just tagging along? A few weeks ago, when searching for the strongest DEET based mosquito repellent, the young REI shop assistant but with the persona of a seasoned mountain climber, asked where we were going. We described our four month trip across India and he exclaimed with awe, “You’re real travelers!” I felt a fraud! Would I do this without Gerard’s planning and guidance? Wouldn’t I be happier staying home, safe in the confines of my everyday life? St Augustine says, “The world is a book and those who do not travel, read only one page.” And like the moth is drawn to the light, I know that even if it means having my wings singed, I need to travel. The dye was cast almost 40 years ago when Gerard took me to North Africa for the first time. I’ll never forget the exhilaration of standing on the road outside Paris waiting for a ride – we hitchhiked everywhere in those days. It was a pivotal moment – I was experiencing the here and now in a way I never had before. Traveling helps me let go.
I remember our first trip to India as travelers ten years ago. Without the protected guidance of the organized meditation retreats that took us from Delhi far into remote Rajasthan for many years in the 1980s. I was fearful – would I get sick… robbed…trampled…lost in the vortex of a culture so mysterious that someone from America can never really fathom? But getting sick, having your pocket picked is just part of everyday life whether you’re in India or on Boylston Street in Boston. So the question is where is the fear coming from? If you believe, as I do, that the quantity of life is determined, then the ultimate fear of death is abated. Therefore the fear has to do more with the unpredictability. Consciously or otherwise I think many of us, like me, spend a lot of time making our lives predictable. We take out health insurance to ensure our health…we save money to ward off poverty…we spend a fortune on beauty products to keep our youth. But in the end, the only thing predictable is change.
Meanwhile back in Heathrow, the highlight of our five-hour lay over is a hot chocolate, rich and creamy the way it’s supposed to be…it used to be. Even though the café manager has a distinctly French accent; so what – it was Heathrow. And then our second 747 plane to Delhi compensates for the previous apology – the middle row all to ourselves is luxuriously spacious. My failure to remember to book us vegetarian meals in advance no longer matters. “Madam,” the Indian air hostess laughs, “Going to India, we never have a problem with “Veg”….it’s the chicken we always run out of.” Ah, how comforting – we’re back in the land where vegetarians rule! “Non Veg” is the exception, the afterthought! All is right with the world…for now.