We were supposed to land in Delhi around 4 a.m. But somewhere over the ‘stans, intruding into my wine-induced plane sleep, the captain in his thick Turkish accent said something about a storm and circling and a delay. Oh well, more time to nap. And I conked back out.
Somewhere around 6:30am, wheels hitting tarmac jolted me awake. As I pulled out my ear plugs and stood to stretch, our captain came back on the intercom, letting us know that it would be a while–like an hour or so–before we could get security clearance to enter the airport. But once we got off the plane, they would get us breakfast shortly. Fresh and I looked at each other, both barely emerging from the fog of delirious exhaustion. Security must have really been upped in Delhi since 2003, we commented. And as for breakfast…one more reason we were falling in love with Turkish Airlines–good food, applause when the plane lands, shifting lumbar support in your seat. And now a meal after you land. All for under $800 round-trip Chicago to Delhi! We giggled with excitement–but also a little nervous confusion. Something about these announcements just didn’t seem right.
The girl across the aisle–a Sikh girl living in Berlin who was returning home to the Punjab to meet some potential suitors–noticed our confusion. In German that Fresh struggled to understand, she broke the news: We were not in Delhi. Really?! Where are we, then? She smiled. Karachi.
And then Fresh and I cracked up laughing.
I guess for two exhausted American travelers trying to get to India, there was something absurd about a flight diversion to Pakistan. And so we giggled about it for quite a while; everyone else was rummaging through carry-ons while waiting for security clearance, but Fresh and I just kept laughing and high-fiving one another–we were in Pakistan! We were, after all, going to be traveling to the India-Pakistan border in just a few days to watch the infamous Wagah-Attari border closing ceremony, and for a month or so, Fresh kept suggesting we get visas to spend a day in Lahore, Pakistan. But alarmist American media got the better of us and we decided against it. Too dangerous, we thought. Why risk it, we wisely decided. One day we’ll get to go to Pakistan, just not this trip, we comforted ourselves. Apparently that day was sooner than we knew.
When the delirious laughter subsided, we started piecing together my sleepy memories. Come to think of it, when I got up for a bathroom break, I had noticed that, all of sudden, the “time at destination” had been reset to thirty minutes earlier, and our flight path did change from moving towards Delhi to pointing at Karachi. I guess I just thought the monitor was wrong. Or that I was imagining things. But nope, imagine I didn’t: We were really in Karachi.
Our day just got more absurd from there. We ended up spending a good six hours in the Karachi airport while our flight waited out the dense Delhi fog. Of course, no one told us about the fog while we sat in that waiting lounge with pit toilets and steel seats. (We learned about the fog–and the train wrecks and canceled flights that came with it–only when we finally got to Delhi.) No one really told us much of anything. At some point, we were signaled to a balcony area where we were fed that promised breakfast. But no one told us anything; I think another passenger just telepathically knew that it was time to eat omelettes. And at another point, airport crew came into the waiting area and started setting up banquet tables with runners and tablecloths, explaining what they were doing only with the word, “Party!” Were they going to feed us again? Or was this where security would sit to screen our bags and documents? Six hours we waited in that room–except when we got cabin fever and cautiously ventured out to the airport shops right outside. We didn’t even know if we were allowed to leave the room, but we went anyways. (The upside: Fresh scored us coffee and muffins for a dollar. The downside: A shopkeeper felt me up.)
As the hours passed in Karachi, imagination got the better of me, especially because when I called Andrzej in India to let him know a storm had diverted us, he was stunned. Storm? What storm? The weather’s fine here. Maybe it was all a hoax. Maybe there was something broken on our plane. Or maybe there was a security problem, like a terrorist or something. Or maybe this was all a ploy to divert our plane and trap us in Karachi! And since none of us have visas and aren’t allowed to be here and yet are wandering all over the airport, they’re going to keep us here; they’re not going to let us leave the country, and we’re going to be prisoners in Pakistan. Forever! Yes! That was exactly what was happening! The look of disgust from airport employees when we said our destination was Delhi only confirmed it.
(And this, my friends, is a perfect example of how brainwashed even the most savvy of us become by the rhetoric and propaganda spouted off by our media outlets. For a good twenty minutes, I was utterly convinced that this was all an elaborate ploy to hold us hostage. But then I drank some coffee and came to my senses.)
So instead of spending our first day back on the subcontinent revisiting our old haunts in Delhi, we spent it in the Karachi airport. Where, aside from a dirty look or two–and aside from the shopkeeper grabbing my boob–the day was completely uneventful. Go figure.
And what do you know–within about twelve hours of finally making it to our hotel in Delhi’s Pahar ganj neighborhood (just enough time for dinner, a Kingfisher, and a shower before passing out), we were headed right back to where we started: Pakistan. For that border ceremony, which is like the geo-political version of the Ohio State-Michigan sports rivalry. And while the crowd stormed the bleachers and the border, while the Pakistani side ululated and cried out, “Jiye! Jiye!” and the Indian side had a dance party to “Jai Ho” in between rounds of rhythmically shouting, “Hindustan! Mukerjee!,” while the border guards mirrored one another’s peacock preening and knee-to-nose kicks, while civilians waved the Indian flag over our heads and cheered us on to join in the festivities and marveled at our enjoyment of this Indo-Pak show of military might, it was all we could do to look across at the Pakistani side of the border and think, “Hey! We were just there!”
Maybe Fresh was right: Maybe we should’ve spent the day in Lahore…sure beats the airport.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
Like what you see? That's mostly Ross Freshwater. Check out my talented partner-in-life's photo gallery.