The return from India

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 07/02/2021

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It was Christmas of 1989. My friend and I decided to travel with a group to faraway India and spend the holidays there. Our fellow travellers were mainly teachers, who took advantage of the Christmas holidays, participating in the excursion, without securing permission from the Ministry of Education – this is something you keep in mind, because it matters for later.

I have no intention of describing to you the beauty and the mystery of India – which anyone can see in documentaries and travel guides. What I am about to tell you it cannot be found anywhere, because it was rather unique and unrepeatable.

The departure was due to take place from Mumbai on 4 January 1990 – in time for teachers to return to their schools before classes started on Monday, 8 of January.

But, as it turned out, different was “Shiva’s” will! Two days before departure, we were in the town of Auragabat, from which we would depart for Mumbai by plane. The plane that was going to take us, arrived late to the airport, and it became dark. In the evening, however, there were no flights because the airport had no lighting! We had to leave by bus. And what a bus! It must have been a 1960s construction, with sliding windows, which, in every puddle of the endless country road, opened. The journey lasted almost all night. We arrived in Mumbai at 4.30 am to see thousands of people sleeping on pavements, under makeshift huts or just on the ground, outside luxury homes and skyscrapers.

However, over the next two days we toured the city and Elephanta island, I found it beautiful and interesting, like all of India.

And that is when the hard times started.

Just before our departure on January 4, 1990, we were told that our flight had been postponed, and we could not leave. Then we were informed of a different route, which it was canceled again, and, in the morning, we were told about another flight, which until the afternoon was changed again. We were also informed from the hotel management that we had to leave, because another group was expected! Doom. Some ladies were screaming, some were crying, but nothing could stop the eviction.

Luckily, we were taken to another hotel, Sheraton this time. And the days were passing, it was now January 6th, and we had a vague promise that we would leave in the afternoon and arrive in Cyprus on January 7th. It should be noted that we were left without money, because as purebred Cypriots, we had spent our last money, on the supposed last day of our trip – I note that, at that time, the amount that outgoing Cypriots were entitled to take with them was determined and there were neither credit cards nor mobile phones. Luckily, the travel company paid for our accommodation and travel, otherwise I do not know what would happen.

Suddenly, in the afternoon, a hotel employee steps into the room and announces that we are leaving in a few minutes. I do not know how we packed the suitcases, or how we got down, or how we were loaded four of us in Al Capone-era taxis and arrived at the airport. Our connection to Larnaca (according to the original schedule) would have taken place in Kuwait with Cyprus Airways, then we were told that it would take place in Muscat, and the last information was referring to Abu Dhabi, if we left of course.

Hello! We did not leave! The travel agency employee, who was holding our tickets, did not get to the airport in time. And we could see the plane leaving and the lady teachers were crying, and a gentleman wanted to enter the takeoff corridor to stop the plane, but that had gone… I was just living the surreal story I am describing to you. Despite all the hassle, it all seemed very comical to me.

We stayed at the airport until 9 p.m., when we were taken to another hotel, and we were assured that we would leave the next day at 6 a.m. for Abu Dhabi, then for Amman and in ten hours we would arrive in Larnaca. Great expectations! We woke up at 2am, went to the airport and got on the plane, two hours late. It was Sunday, January 7th. When we arrived in Abu Dhabi, the plane that was going to take us to Amman had gone, because of the delay of our flight, and we stayed to wait at the airport. The next plane was due in two days!

There was a lot of whispering. It was said that there was probable that the emirate authorities would not let us out of the airport because they thought that the influence of the Westerners could corrupt the morals of the population or that if we were given permission to leave, we would have to pay for our accommodation and other expenses.

Amid the turmoil and confusion, I saw a teacher sitting alone, motionless and tears running from her eyes. I asked her why she was crying, and she replied:

— It was our last chance to leave today for Cyprus. Tomorrow the schools are opening, and besides me leaving without permission, I am the principal of the school and I keep the keys to the school! It is not enough that I will not be there, the others will not even be able to get in!

Tragic? You could call it comical! Tomorrow students and teachers at school will wait the principal who is on holiday in nowhere, in a vast desert, following a return odyssey with an unspecified itinerary! After several negotiations and lasted for two hours, we were announced that we would have been taken to the city and the travel agency would pay for our stay. That was a relief!

I cannot resist the temptation not to describe this desert town. Everywhere there was sand and in the middle a city, completely modern, with wide streets, side walks, flat buildings, luxury houses, tree lines and men dressed in traditional uniforms, belted with guns and knives (we were told these were decorative). There were no women around. Some, that were working in hotels, were Asian women.

Trying to make the most of our two-day stay in the city of Abu Dhabi, we went on a desert trip and enjoyed sand and then sand and after, sand again. We did not see anything else.

There have been funny incidents in this town, too, but I do not want to make this story longer. What matters is that on the morning of January 9th, we took the plane to Amman. We arrived in the neighbouring country after a short trip, but our flight to Cyprus was leaving in the afternoon!

We had also made use of this situation! Not only that, but we went on a trip to the ancient city of Gerasia! I do not remember much about this trip, because our fatigue had paid off.

On the evening of January 9th, we boarded the Cyprus Airways plane and headed to Larnaca airport. When we arrived, we could not believe it! We were really exhausted.

I have never seen the teachers again, nor do I know what happened due to their prolonged absence from school without permission…

I lifted the curtain for a while and let you see a small aspect of this journey that is unforgettable. It was not just the adventure; it was that I visited a country that was interesting and magical. It has been more than thirty years and all I would like to ask life is to keep in me the joy and surprise – many times ecstasy – for everything new and unexpected!

 

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Photo from Internet

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