We stopped in Mumbai for one night, so aside from a quick visit to Mumbai Central Rail station that evoked a surreal feeling of being in a Rudyard Kipling story, we didn’t get to see much of the bustling, ever moving City. We would see much more on our return journey but that’s for another post.
Ashwani remembered travelling to the station over a matter of day’s many decades before, en route to taking his weeks long boat journey to England. Railway’s held a special place in Ashwani’s heart as he had been born in the railway settlement on the side of Mount Abu. His house there our ultimate destination (If it was still standing of course – he hadn’t bothered to check before committing himself to travelling halfway around the world, literally).
We had a flight booked from Mumbai to Udaipur, and had a rather special Chauffeur. Ashwani’s brother, who he hadn’t seen in over 40 years. It’s strange how families can break apart and still find their separate destinies in completely different walks, and places, of life. Ashwani’s brother, Dev, was a retired Indian Airforce pilot who had remained in India for his entire life. Ashwani, who had emigrated to the UK in his teens, was a music teacher and shop owner. Looking back now it make’s me realise that there is a place for all of us, sometimes the journey just takes a little longer, and sometimes it’s a little harder (or a lot harder). That’s worth holding onto when things are difficult. We all have a place.
I felt privileged, watching Ashwani transported momentarily back to that journey of many decades before. And I felt more privileged watching a reunion of two brother’s after many, many years apart. I thought it strange at the time, though, that there greeting was a cursory handshake, no more. I thought it strange that there wasn’t, over the course of our trip, any emotional outpouring from either side. I thought it meant that they didn’t feel as they should have felt. I’ve learned since then that people feel on the inside different to how they seem on the outside. And I’ve also learned it isn’t my place to make judgements.
My anxiety peaked as we arrived at the airport, wondering what surprises Ashwani had in store for us. However, it wasn’t Ashwani I should have been concerned with. It was the plane journey itself (again – thanks Air India). The airport that serves Udaipur, Maharana Pratap Airport, is in Dabok, a mountain valley 14 miles outside the city. Although it seems like a place from a post apocalyptic movie, eerily quiet and small in the middle of nowhere, it did have a sense of calm to it that I found very rare on that journey. I don’t think my lack of calm had anything to do with India really, rather more to do with my unfortunate attack of anxiety and disassociation that had overcome me when we landed in Mumbai.
As you can imagine, an airport in a mountain valley makes for a very turbulent landing. So, when the plane started to shake violently and we missed our first attempt at the runway, I actually thought this must be a fairly usual occurrence. Isn’t it funny how, when suffering monumental bouts of anxiety, you can also be exceptionally calm about things you perhaps shouldn’t be? Maybe it’s the relief of thinking that the worst thing you are dreading is actually about to happen, and then you can get over worrying about it.
Anyway, when we missed our second attempt at landing and the frequent traveller of this route sat next to me grabbed hold of my knee in panic, I knew something wasn’t quite right. It also seemed that (and I mean this literally) every other passenger who had ignored the warnings and been talking on their mobile’s for the entire flight went very quiet at the exact same moment. I wondered briefly if their glib disregard for safety instructions had somehow caused a malfunction.
Thankfully, the third landing was a success, and with shaking legs we all traipsed off the plane. There was no transport to the terminal here – maybe that has changed now? It was strange, as we literally walked across the tarmac.
We were due to be met by the hotel taxi when we landed. It was three hours late, and I think that should have been a clue as to the type of hotel I’d managed to book us into. I wanted to see the authentic, real India on this trip, and so I would…The good, the bad and the ugly (a film that many Air India passenger will be familiar with).