Chapter 7: Finale

June 5-7

I hang out at the cafe, bouldering on the artificial wall for the next three days before my flight out of Leh. On Sunday we go to a large boulder above the city, a project that Vaibhav has been developing. There are several very challenging routes on the north side of the rock. Viraj works on a crimpy boulder problem on the vertical face while Vaibhav and his wife top rope a 6c+ on an angled ledge. I help Viraj clean the moss off of the top holds by connecting to a top rope and climbing down. I am able to the top half with most of my strength, but the bottom crimps are too much for me. Before we leave in the early afternoon, I get Vaibhav to work on his project. It’s a roof with anything-but-positive holds and tricky feet till you get out over the edge, then big, dynamic moves to the top.

Amazing view from GraviT Cafe.

I meet the taxi driver outside of Vaibhav’s gate at 6am and head to the airport. An assortment of people wait to get inside: Indian army personnel going home to their families, Buddhist Monks and Indian tourists. There is little resemblance of order while entering, though airline employees try to corral their ticket holders into lines. I work my way through the chaos to the first security check. “You must put all your batteries in your checked bag,” the security guard tells me as he ruffles through my camera bag. I take out a handful of my AA rechargeable batteries and stuff them into the top of my pack, but I leave some in the bottom of my camera bag. After checking my backpack at the counter I move through Security Checkpoint #2. “Sir, you can’t take batteries on the plane. You have to remove all of your batteries from your camera and flashes.” “I can’t travel without my batteries. It’s fine. I’m taking them with me,” I try to tell them. This tactic has worked well for me in the past, but this security would have none of it. “You can pick them up in Delhi.” I don’t trust them, but I have no other option. They wrap up my AA’s and take them away. Luckily they left the battery in my camera.

I hoped to get some breakfast before getting on my flight, but inside the waiting area there was only a tiny tea stall. I bought some biscuits and laid down on a bench waiting for my boarding. The entire airport terminal came into this one room with one exit. All of the signs were for Jet Airways, which confused me, but all of the airlines operate from here. Finally the Kingfisher flight is called, and people scramble to get their place in line, shoving and pushing others out of the way. The whole way, soldiers eye us suspiciously as we take the bus to the aircraft. The seats only partially fill, and I have an entire row to myself. The views of the Himalayas from my window over the wing as we take off are absolutely incredible. They serve a simple breakfast, and before I know it the stewardess asks me to shut off my MP3 player – we are landing.

Delhi is not nearly as hot as I expected or when I left almost three weeks before. After grabbing my bag I try to book a flight to Mumbai, asking for standby, but the costs all the airlines quoted me were between $200 and $400. As per the Delhi custom, I argue with the rickshaw driver trying to get his price within reason, and take off to the railway station. I’d like to spend as little time in Delhi as possible. I sit in line at the Tourist Reservation office, realizing as I near the counter that I only have a little money. The Rajdhani express is available, but it’s 1500/- ($30). It’s faster, cleaner, more comfortable, and includes food. But I only have about 1000/- on me, so I opt for the slower, hotter, cheaper route – only 400/-. I find that you meet a lot more people when traveling in sleeper class. On the bunk across from me is Mark, from England who has been traveling for four years. Made for an interesting 22 hr train ride.

Getting into Mumbai I had this certain feeling that I had been gone for months, although it wasn’t quite three weeks. The time away was good. I needed the break from the heat; I needed to be cold. It restores the soul.