[This is a chapter from my travel book. There are lots more chapters posted on the blog, but if you’d prefer to read them all at once, sign up for my e-mail newsletter and I’ll be sure to let you know when they’re available in a condensed form!]
I had a ticket onwards to Nepal, via Delhi. The five hours between when my girlfriend’s plane departed for home and mine left felt interminable. Yet, sitting in a shocked stupor, it also felt as if things were moving very swiftly. Nothing made sense.
I was a human robot, less than a lost child. I could not have thought for myself or made any decision other than to continue down the path I had set for myself a few days ago: I was going to Nepal, and Holly was going home. What had seemed to make so much sense in the weeks leading up to our parting now felt all wrong.
But she was gone, and I held tightly to two tickets: HKG to DEL, and DEL to KTM. The idea to buy a ticket home didn’t even enter my mind. I was utterly incapable of independent thought. So I sat, and I waited, and I boarded the plane to Delhi.
I didn’t speak a word to anyone.
Here’s a fun fact about Indian airlines: they play relaxing soft-jazz music during takeoff and landing. This detail woke me from my reverie for a moment— so different from the strictly regimented takeoff and landing procedures of the FAA and American airlines. The differences didn’t stop there, as I quickly found out. Not only did my ticket include carry-on luggage, it also included TWO free checked bags, up to 50kg each, AND entitled me to an entertainment system, full meal, and free alcohol. I thought of my last few experiences flying domestic in the U.S., and actually laughed.
My seat mate drew away from me, but didn’t comment. I ate my meal, lay my head against the window, and drifted off into instant sleep. I had been up for over 24 hours. It felt like a week.
As we flew into Delhi, my window seat afforded me a strange view. The entire countryside around the city was peculiarly patterned: dotted with identical circular structures. At first I couldn’t make out the exact details through the thick haze of smog which lay over the ground. Then, as we continued our descent, it became clear: the circles were causing the smog. They were smokestacks.
For kilometers and kilometers surrounding Delhi, the country was covered in identical factories. Not similar factories, identical factories. Each compound consisted of the same parts: a large, circular building with a tall smokestack in the center, a few access roads, and about two dozen long, low buildings, a mixture of storage or barracks for workers. We passed over an innumerable number of these factories, and my thoughts turned to the clean skies of my home in Colorado. I thought of my love for the outdoors, and the fulfillment I find in playing in the clean mountain air.
I thought about the thousands of dollars I have paid for skiing and climbing gear, manufactured here, or in similar places. I thought of my car, my home, and our strict environmental regulations at home. I thought of Republicans in our Congress, denying global warming. I wondered: how many of them have come to these places, and seen these sights?
Maybe they have, and maybe they just don’t care. Money, they say, makes the world go round. But clean lungs will help keep you going around, with the world. The residents of Delhi were suffering so I could live my lifestyle, and they didn’t even know it.
I stared, hypnotized, at the never-ending industry. We landed with a bump and a smattering of soft jazz, and I was in India.