Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Final notes on Leh - Part 1

Journal excerpt:
Delhi, India - August 15, 2007 (morning)

Flew in from Leh tod
ay. Airport scenario was as follows...

Took a taxi at 5:30am (driver arrived at 5:20) from the Oriental Guest House in Changspa to the Leh airport. Driving into the Leh airport is like driving into the heart of an extremely secure military base - with more security than I've seen at any airport (including Heathrow).

As we drive into the airport proper, there is a strong military & police presence everywhere. I pay my smiling taxi driver 150 rupees and gather the luggage. While shuffling through the sliding doors, I am greeted by 4 police officers and a walk-through metal detector.

I set my luggage to the side, walk through, assume the usual “T” position and am then frisked (frisk #1). From there, preceded to wait in a queue where we were instructed to put our handbag & check-in luggage items onto a conveyor belt which fed into a large x-ray machine. Several army officers proceed to walk through the front door and they too are privy to the frisk - much to my surprise. A policeman signals us into a second entry where I show my ticket & passport and get frisked again (frisk #2).

I then gather my luggage and check in at the Jet Airways kiosk. Immediately recognize one of Dechen’s co-wor
kers - the guy who was at the Jet Airways office in Leh when I purchased my ticket (5875 rupees). He smiles. I smile. We shake each other’s hands and he offers me some potato chips that he’s eating. I decline, loading my check-in items onto the scale. He hands me a boarding pass.

I join yet another queue along with several army officers. Something catches my eye while in the line. On the wall there is a list of those who are free from this thorough frisk-a-thon – one of the people on that list, besides the garden variety of Indian government officials, is the Dalai Lama. All hand baggage is put through a second x-ray contraption.

A police officer asks for my
boarding pass and we all get frisked again (frisk #3)... This time the police officer runs a metal detector over all passengers. The metal detector looks like it’s vintage surplus early 50’s Soviet gear. As I attempt to gather my carry-on bag (which contains all of my electronic gear including a laptop, hard drives and various AV gear), I find an agent inspecting its contents. I let them know that it's my bag and smile, which they clearly seem to appreciate.

The airport lounge is packed with Indian army officers and dozens of French tourists. A police officer signals me to join another queue to board the airplane shuttle, but not before another search. This time we are frisked (frisk #4) by an airline employee who then runs (another) metal detector over each passenger before boarding the shuttle.

The shuttle doors continuously fly open all the way across the tarmac due in part to the zig-zag driving. I use my booted foot to keep the shuttle doors closed as much as possible with mixed results (to the delighted amusement of my fellow passengers). We finally get to the plane after a rather indirect & confusing route. I'm the first off the bus and am greeted by the same guy at the check-in counter. He smiles sincerely while shaking my hand enthusiastically as I climb the flight of stairs to the Boeing.

Walking into the cabin, I see the pretty stewardess who constantly referred to me by my name on the original flight to Leh. She bids me a "very good morning" and asks how I am - still remembering my name and pronouncing it correctly. Impressive. About the time I reach my seat & pop on the noise-canceling headphones, the Xanax kicks in. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, happy flight to Delhi...

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