Poor old airlines complaining publicly about the truly xenophobic virus doing the international circuit and discouraging the idea of flying anywhere.
|Busy city ... Kathmandu is packed almost constantly, and no less at its busy airport, as I discovered. Many thanks to Wikipedia for the shot.|
Let me tell you about my worst experience.
It was my first flight with Air India and as I hope you'll understand, the only time I entrusted my life to that airline.
I was involved in seeing the world, but not from a ship or with some tour operator, but simply overland from the Antipodes by any mode of transport as long as it was going more or less West.
A part of the world I really wanted to see was India.
A shock to European eyes
It has another name now, but back then it was famous/infamous old Calcutta, which followed my journeying through Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, around Burma, and into Pakistan, which also carries another name.
Calcutta - as the spelling went then - was a wild place and a real shock to European eyes which had never seen the sort of poverty that vast metropolis hosted.
I walked its main streets to discover its mood but instead I saw extreme poverty and danger.
The safest bet, I imagined, would be to stay in a YMCA.
I found a seemingly organised one and checked in. Near its door, as if a reminder of reality, lay a corpse or two. The street seemed to be home to what looked like tribes of utterly impoverished families.
Shocked by so many astonishing street scenes, I looked forward to a peaceful, safe sleep behind a well-locked bedroom door.
It seemed I'd hardly welcomed the sandman when I thought heard a noise, a weird sound, like skin being, well, sandpapered.
Dear God! A snake
Then something pushed my head up a little from the pillow. Dear God, a snake!
I had little experience of Indian snakes - or any of the species - and probably did exactly the wrong thing.
I grabbed it. The snake became an arm, and the arm was attached to a body, and there in the half-light stood the manager's son.
He'd been searching for a wallet or passport but didn't wait around to explain.
The strangest airline behaviour followed soon afterward. As a journalist who didn't comprehend what the Nixon administration claimed about drugs, I took a very scary bus ride up to Kathmandu, the centre of drugs-taking, he reckoned.
Instead, Kathmandu was a wonderful place and living proof (as I've mentioned here before) of the extreme exaggeration of Tricky Dicky.
That very scary bus ride up into Nepal was certainly not to be tried again. I opted for an Air India flight back to India.
At the airport, I was directed to join a crowd outside the building. After a while, an aircraft came over from the main runways and parked nearby.
The 'check-in' to the flight was, well, rather different. The crowd - all at once - stampeded for the aircraft. Not walking, not a gentle jog, but haring as if their lives depended on it.
They seemed to burst through the aircraft doors and rushed madly for a seat.
I waited for anger to burst over the intercom as aircrew attempted to reprimand the passengers.
Flung itself into the air
Not at all. The doors closed, the plane waddled out to the main runway, picked up speed, and seemed to fling itself into the air.
The airport looked as if it was built in a sort of volcanic cone, with a steep ridge right round. The plane flew at it as if harakiri must the destination.
At what felt like the last moment, the aircraft rose to skim over the ridge.
For the very long drop down to India, the flight almost stood on its nose as it hurtled downwards.
In youth, I had endured quite a lot of aerobatics from a friend who owned a Tiger Moth and a craze for looping and spinning.
Nothing he did could have matched the adrenalin-encouraging flight down to India.
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