After what seemed like an eternity waiting, saving, working and researching, the day of my flight finally arrived. I worked a late shift on the Wednesday in the pub which meant several gins and shots before bed, so I woke up early on Thursday 1st September, unsure if the sickness in my belly was due to alcohol or nerves, or both. After a shaky goodbye with Aimee, I jump in my taxi to the station to catch the train to Birmingham. My flight isn’t until 9pm, but I give myself the whole day to travel there, allowing about 5 hours in the airport to begin getting used to feeling alone in the world. Once I’ve checked in my backpack, I head to the airport bar and smoking area to drink a pint of cider and eat a cheese sandwich. I call my mum and my dad, and flick through my Rough Guide, attempting a bit more research into what exactly I will do upon landing in Delhi.
Now, I don’t really consider myself as a sufferer of anxiety or nerves, but I do worry, of course I do. It is perfectly normal to worry about things occasionally, especially pretty big life-changing leaps into an unknown world. I don’t tend to vocalise my concerns all that often, at least not the real ones, but I had been outwardly concerned about where to go first, how to get around, and whether or not I could survive and enjoy a trip out on my own. I remember sitting in the airport lounge with a wave of nausea washing over me, a niggling doubt inside my gut regarding the solo journey I was about to undertake. What if I was on my own the whole time? What if I didn’t make any friends? What if nobody could speak any English and I couldn’t grasp any Hindi or Tamil or Urdu or any of the other 20-something official languages? I know I’m certainly not afraid of being alone, or of flying, or of going somewhere new. I have done all these things a hundred times over, and I would do them a hundred times more, but… when you’re sat in an airport lounge, alone with your life in your bag and nothing or no-one putting any expectations or demands on your time for the forseeable future, with no-one waiting to make sure you’ve arrived safe and sound, with nothing except my own back to think about…all of these things plus a dollop of last night’s beer fear creeping in, it’s no surprise I wound up having little flutters of panic in the hours leading up to my flight.
The best way for me to combat these anxious feelings was to break them up into sections of “bitesize” stress. I’d travelled on a plane before alone. Easy. That’s what I was about to do again. So I can swallow that. Got some previous there, that makes that one easier to cope with. Once on the plane, I’d have 9 hours to panic about where I was going next or how I was going to get there or what it was going to feel like or smell like or sound like..or ..WAIT. NO. Let’s tackle the fear of what to do when we land. I have landed in an alien city before, alone and unsure of where to go, so I know I can do that. I will get through airport security, customs, and then take on the next task. Brick by brick, little by little. A weird sort of calm began to take hold, one that would be invaluable during my time travelling. Take each little fear bit by bit, block the anxieties in to sections, piece by piece, journey by journey, rather than thinking about them all at once. I soon found I’d conquered ten little fears without even breaking a sweat! Well, not an emotionally driven sweat anyway. The heat, well, that was a whole other level of perspiration there is no preparing for. We’ll come to that soon.
So, armed with my calm demeanor, my little red rucksack (packed to last me a week in the event my backpack got mislaid), my travel purse (a lovely gift from my friend Emma, with clever little compartments for my passport, emergency cards, insurance and medical details) and my genius idea to arrive super early at the airport, I board my flight, with my window seat near the front of the plane.
HERE WE GO! She’s off! A quick text to my loved ones and I’m up in the sky, admiring the lights of late night Birmingham as we soar into the dark. My seat is next to an elderly Indian couple, Seema and Nagesh. An hour into the flight and we get our dinner; paneer and vegetables, lentils, curd and kheer, an Indian rice pudding. Seema watches as I pick at my food, and we strike up a conversation about Indian cuisine, something I thought I was perhaps somewhat familiar with, but I soon learned I knew pretty much nothing about. At all. We share my mints as our ears pop, and she tells me of her time in Europe visiting her son in Germany, her daughter in England and spending time in Austria, Switzerland and Belgium. Nagesh side-eyes me the majority of the conversation. He is frail, and I wonder perhaps if his English isn’t so good or if he is just used to letting his wife do all the talking. 🙂
As the trays are cleared away, the cabin is plunged into darkness and I realise that being 4 1/2 hours ahead, it’s now about 3 am Indian time, so dozing off seems the next logical move. Seema and Nagesh snore away, and I flick through the in-flight entertainment,not particularly interested in anything. I nod off for about 2 hours, until I’m awoken by a sudden burst of blinding light shining through my window. At first I thought there was a green light on the wing of the plane, and then, as I start to rouse, I realise I’m staring at the most beautiful moon. The sky is clear, not a cloud to be seen, and the light from the moon bathes the plane in this ethereal brilliant green, blue and turquoise hue. Green is my favourite colour, it brings me calm and, emotionally, I associate it with safety. Needless to say, I am calm, collected and smiling from ear to ear at what felt like getting a personal green light, a go ahead from the universe as everyone else slept soundly. It wasn’t so easy to capture through the window as I’d hoped but these pictures, not filtered or edited in any way, still bring me calm.
We’re woken up at about 8am Indian time by a small breakfast of fruit and an egg free banana muffin. Seema and I talk about my trip and my plans in Delhi. She looks shocked when I say I am travelling completely alone and I have nobody to meet when I land. Nagesh, having not said a word to me the entire flight, stares me dead in the eye and whispers hoarsely “don’t trust anybody. ANYBODY”. I laugh nervously, and turn to watch our descent into Delhi out of the window; the sky no longer a blueish green ocean of calm, but a cloudy grey haze. It’s murky and stuffy as I step off the plane and head to collect my bag.
I spend roughly an hour in the airport, getting changed, then collecting currency and breaking the large notes (at that time 500 and 1000 rupee notes) into smaller notes, buying water and cigarettes. (I soon regret not buying snacks) I dabble with the idea of a prepaid taxi to my hostel but figure I might as well chuck myself in at the deep end and learn to get around as cheaply as possible. I’d booked my first 3 nights in a hostel in New Delhi (or so I thought…) called Stops. Like many hostels and hotels, they had emailed to suggest the easiest way to travel to them from the city’s main transport hubs. From the airport, I understand, I can take a dedicated airport metro line right into the centre of New Delhi, and then take a rickshaw to the hostel. Easy peasy! Maybe. Again, I’ve done a metro, and a rickshaw and a taxi before, I’ve carried my huge rucksack through bustling cities and dingey underpasses and I’ve lugged my whole life in a bag on London Underground Central Line during rush hour, so I know about crowds and stifling air in a metal tube in a tunnel below the surface of the earth. I’ve got this.