That’s No Cloud…(It’s a Hill Station!)

Dangerous mists in Delhi, they said. Best delay an hour, so the sun could clear clear them away, they said. I think the pilot was still sleeping it off. So much for German efficiency. When the Lufthansa flight finally took off, it was significantly less luxurious than the transatlantic half of my trip had been. I slept fitfully next to a frumpy Spanish gentleman. Nervous: I had a connection to make in Delhi, and now barely an hour to do so. The German clerk at the gate assured me that I would be fine, but I knew how chaotic and ponderous the international-to-domestic switch could be in Delhi. I had been worried about doing with two and a half hours. Looks like we just had our glitch for this mission.

But the glitches kept coming, and they ate away the minutes. An agonizing shuffle from one gate to another, then the endless gazing at other people’s bags sliding down the conveyor belt, mine apparently one of the last to be unloaded. There was indeed a thick mist in Delhi, and waiting the hour did nothing to dispel it. A prepaid taxi swerved me along, the broken dirt mounts of construction sites in all directions. The road felt too flat, and the half-finished highways looked sinister in the mist-dulled distance, at once too ragged and too concrete. My driver made practiced but still awkward small talk as he honked his way through, sometimes passing and sometimes being passed. I glanced at the dashboard to see how fast we were going; the speedometer hand had broken off. It probably didn’t matter, though. By the time my taxi dropped me of at the domestic terminal, my flight had already left.

Jet Airways didn’t have another flight until tomorrow — a pronouncement that churned my insides — but Kingfisher had one in just 40 minutes. I managed to pull aside a rather harried Kingfisher ticketing agent, and miraculously he printed me a boarding pass and rushed me through security. I was the last one through the gate, they told me, but I was there, boarding a plane with people that looked reassuringly Nepali.

Still, it was a lot of trouble, and a lot went wrong. As the plane sped up I watched the ugly, blurring airport landscape and wondered, not for the first time in the last few hours, if this was all really such a good idea. Moving to India on my own with nothing but a vague promise of a job and some exaggerated sense of restless ambition…what exactly had I gotten myself into?

We rose up through the mist and cloud, that same weak, low cloud that had hid the world across the whole continent from Munich and nearly derailed my whole trip. Then, breaking into the sun, I saw them. A jagged gray and white-white wall to the north, huge and impassable, like something out of Tolkien. Storm’s coming, I think, but I’m wrong. That’s no cloud: it’s the Himalayas. And a short time later the pale sheet beneath us cleared, I could make out the contours of the hills before them, rolling and cool and strange, so welcoming. That’s what I came back for, the hills and mountains. And tucked in there somewhere, I knew, was the well-meaning hill station of Gangtok, small but with enough twists and secrets to keep me occupied for a while — at least two years, I figure, and maybe more. Can’t be sure how long it will hold me. But then, only one way to find out.

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