Vacuum packed to Delhi airport (and back!)

The first time we landed in Delhi after our long-haul leg from London I felt the pull of exotic India and wished I was going out into the traffic-filled, smog-drenched yet endlessly intriguing streets of the city. The second time, more than eight hours later, it was the last place I wanted to be. Our short-hop two-hour flight to Kathmandu had turned into a working day’s worth of aimless circling and to-ing and fro-ing, only to end up right back where we’d started, in Delhi’s terminal 3, with its sweeps of dull orange, geometric-patterned carpet, like an Escher painting gone wrong.With the rest of my trekking group towards the back of the plane, I was sandwiched in a middle seat between two Brits. In the window was Penny, a sweet, wise, well-travelled widow from Cardiff who I just wanted to hug. In the aisle was Craig, an offshore banking professional based in Jersey, who kindly shared his emergency Pringles with me when I slept through lunch. Behind was Veronica, a loud, energetic middle-aged woman from Penny’s group who made her boisterous presence known throughout the flight. She wore a grubby white polo shirt from Penny’s group and whooped happily as she accepted a Tiger beer from the flight steward.

Shortly before we were scheduled to land we were warned that our descent into Kathmandu would be bumpy as the weather was poor. After much circling and half-hearted swooping, the pilot gave up and turned out of Nepali airspace back to northern India. We landed at Lucknow and refuelled, before we turning our nose back towards Kathmandu to try again. Once more, no luck. Reports from the ground described the weather as ‘biblical’, with cloud cloaking visibility, rain lashing the valley and worst, a strong wind making a safe landing impossible. On the seatback screens, our route looked like a crazed spirograph as we retreated to Lucknow for a second time. After hunkering on the runway for a while, confined to the plane but peering out into a gentle pink sunset, we headed back to Delhi for the night.

On landing, a well-meaning but slightly thoughtless stewardess (although I think actually they described themselves as ‘flight executives’) read through the standard script impassively: ‘Welcome to Delhi airport and thank you for choosing Jet Airways’. With the passengers by now frustrated, cramped and tired, an angry ripple of hard laughter flowed down the plane. An irate Polish man declared colourfully to a male flight executive that ‘she needs to go back to school, it’s a horror to fly with you’. Back on land and finally liberated from the plane, an aggressive chaos reigned as besieged airport officials in navy suits tried to explain to the impatient mob of stranded passengers that we would have to stay overnight in the transit lounge. A tall military man stepped in to relay the instructions in a commanding bellow and eventually the disgruntled crowd thinned out and skulked off to find their own corners of the airport in which to lick their wounds and wait out the time until our rescheduled flight at 11.45 the next day.

I rented a ‘sleeping pod’ in ‘Sam’s Snooze with us Space’, a small compartment with a curtain in place of a roof and no insulation from the loud speakers or constant stream of travellers crossing the orange carpet just outside. But critically, it had a bed and clean sheets, so I gratefully grabbed a few hours rest. The next day, we felt almost institutionalised to the familiarity of the airport, and it was with a mix of deja vu and camaraderie that we all resumed our seats on the plane to await today’s outcome. Thankfully this attempt was successful and we descended into Nepal’s bustling capital without incident. Now, if the weather holds for our flight to Lukla, the trek can begin …!

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