Picture two days without sleep; three international flights; miles of exploring terminal byways in search of gates that seem hemispheres apart (the beauty of new, enlarged facilities); and long lines at every immigration checkpoint . Regardless of whether you have a connecting flight and haven’t stepped out of the terminal, you still must go through security at every stop, and herein lies the tale. Fortunately, a passenger doesn’t need to remove his or her shoes as in the U.S., but since my last visit to Heathrow, the security has been stepped up with a meticulous perusal of every inch of luggage. Usually my backpack goes sailing through the Xray, but this time a jolly Brit proceeded to take it apart, piece by piece, even putting the contents of my first aid kit into a plastic bag and blowing air on it to see if fragments of explosives appeared. He was a very likable fellow, shrugged and said, “It’s the rules…but don’t worry, I won’t take your peanut butter sandwich.” Gee, thanks!
It took no time to dismantle a bag that I had packed like a fine-fitting jigsaw puzzle, and I couldn’t imagine how I would put it back together before flight time. “You can do it, Ducky,” said my new friend. Chargers, cameras, New Yorkers, almonds, walnuts, headlamps, cosmetics…how could anyone get so much in one bag? But I was better off than those with lingerie and personal hygiene articles strewn over the counters. Never mind that, in my haste to get on the elevator after hearing a “last call” from my about-to-depart flight, I left my brand new fleece jacket on the counter never to be seen again…by me.
India was even more radical, with female operatives examining every inch of my body. It was the first time I had been asked to remove my money belt and take out credit cards, cash, and travelers checks. I put my sense of humor on hold and stared straight ahead. Even though the Indira Gandhi Airport has had a thorough face lift, and the space between gates so lengthened that you yearn for a pair of roller skates, it is still not a place where I care to linger.
Of course, there are wonderful pluses to travel that outweigh the inconveniences. You meet the nicest people! In Heathrow, just after recovering from my security adventure, a flight attendant, surmising that I was hopelessly lost, guided me to the correct train to the flight he happened, also, to be on, and even found two empty seats after take-off, so I could curl up in relative comfort. Then, upon arriving in Nepal and boarding a bus to take us to the terminal, two men jumped up to give me a seat, something I haven’t experienced since Prague, ten years ago. At breakfast in my guest house here in Boudhanath, I’ve met a group of Bhutanese young people, and a most delightful German scientist/doctor who works with an NGO to help preserve the culture of the families in the Kathmandu Valley.
I feel as if I’ve come home. I walk kora in the busy square of the giant stupa, and return to the Shechen Guest House to renew old acquaintances and enjoy the best food in town. I’ve even attended a large Puja being held at the Shechen Monastery. And tomorrow I fly to Bhutan. See you in a week….