Everything I believed about India was true. Many things that I didn’t expect to find in India also came to fruition.
Armed with tips from fellow travellers, and an ungodly number of India scam YouTube viewing hours under my belt, I embarked into the mysterious cauldron.
The flight was entertaining. One of the fun parts about traveling to parts of the world that seemingly no one visits is the chance to fly on crazy airlines. Ever heard of Mantis Air? It’s the national airline of Kyrgzystan. Ever hear of Air Astana or SCAT Airlines? Didn’t think so. This time we were flying Uzbekistan airways from Almaty, Kazakhstan to Delhi, India.
Getting in to Central Asia was easy, but getting out was nearly impossible. Flights are sparse and expensive, and traveling East overland presents a whole new set of challenges (hello Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan). India was one of the cheaper exit options with a one-way (two hour) flight setting us back $330 AUD each. We planned to end our Central Asia trip in Uzbekistan, taking a direct flight from Tashkent, to Delhi. For some reason, the direct flight was exorbitantly expensive, however, flying from Kazakhstan through Uzbekistan then on to India was substantially cheaper, and, erm, longer. Sometimes airline logic doesn’t make sense.
Uzbekistan Airways isn’t on the cutting edge of airline service or technology. The planes are severely outdated and the website is so glitchy, it’s litereally impossible to book a flight online (we bought an old school hard copy ticket from a travel agent). The hidden perk in all of this is the plane was extremely comfortable (remember what planes were like in the good old days when they had substantial leg room and seats that actually reclined properly?).
I sat next to an Indian man in his fifties, who after the flight took off, whipped a bottle of duty free vodka from his bag, cracked the lid and offered me a drink. I sipped on vodka Coke mixers, as he simply downed a glass of straight vodka, followed by another, and another, with a vodka Coke mixer as a chaser. He polished off the entire bottle of duty free vodka during the two-hour flight. Tim leaned over and asked, “are you allowed to do that?”
“I don’t think so,” I replied with a grin.
I knew this was going to be a memorable trip.
The rest of the journey to Delhi wasn’t as eventful. We left the airport, and weren’t suddenly bombarded with a million taxi drivers and vendors (to my surprise). A driver waited, my name scribed on a sign, ready to whisk us off to our hotel. It all seemed much more orderly than expected. As we entered the taxi, I saw a sticker plastered on the rear window which read, “this taxi respects women.”
For a moment, everything came into perspective. I was in the middle of a country full of paradoxes. A country rooted in rich culture and religion, founded upon tradition with strong beliefs where people belong. Men, women, rich, poor. A country with impoverished beggars, and educated upwardly mobile. A country with strong traditionalism, and forward-thinking modernists. A country clinging to the past, yet simultaneously striving to embrace western ways, on the verge of blossoming, finding its own rhythm in this global composition. Nothing here was as it seemed, and I was anxious to break through the surface.