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Late Nights – Reboot the second

by JANNIS REISSIG


Another late night. And what a night at that.

It is close to midnight in Vienna as I walk on a wet, slightly uphill pavement, three piece pinstripe-suited, buttons open, hands in my pockets, strands of hair that escaped the hair tie one by one over the course of the night playing in the soft breeze of the night. I am just a cigarette away from being the embodiment of a French tobacco brand commercial.

Continue reading “Late Nights – Reboot the second”

Giant Space Condom

How many times have you, have I stuffed away ideas as “not feasible”? As “to crazy”, “weird” or my personal favorite: “probably not good”? How many ideas we had and keep having disappear forever after getting one of those labels above?
Continue reading “Giant Space Condom”

The Epilogues – Poverty … as seen by an engineer

As announced here starts the new segment “The Epilogues” where I try to chase down some of those white rabbit thoughts pacing through my mind. It takes great effort to focus on one topic at a time since they all seem to be connected somehow. But I really do my best to keep it clear and readable.

Continue reading “The Epilogues – Poverty … as seen by an engineer”

Chapter 13 – Furaha

[Emilia Torrini – Jungle Drum]

One of my collegues writes me from Switzerland. She hopes I don’t have to do to much work so I can discover this unique island. I don’t know how I could discover this unique island without my work.
Waking through the backstreets of Kinyasini suddenly a quad tour of a near by hotel passes by. Starring and disbelieve. Here are supposed to be little black children waving at them not some pale, blonde dude in torn trousers with a notebook in his hand.
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While I am sitting in the shadow on the side of the road chewing some sugarcane and chatting up a local, a taxi passes by. Behind the window a camera lens, behind the camera a tourist watching the scenery passing by on the little preview screen.
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For displacing some 30 cubic meters of earth Daniel organizes the local football team from the next village. One day leaving the construction site they give me a ride. Imagine 20 young men on a mini trasporter, hardly fitting yet drumming and singing and turning it in to a party at 90 [km/h].

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One evening we leave Matemwe in the evening. Its a small transporter with two covered seats and an open cargo area and we are 5 people. Off course I jump on the back. Hassini protest I have to sit in the front. Hapana, Hapana. I’m fine. I want to sit here. Okay but then he wants to sit on the cargo area as well. Omar starts driving. I protest. But now Omar is alone in front. The car stops, the door opens and Omar joins us in the back. For a moment we are five grown men sitting on the back of a transporter with running motor and no driver. Then everybody cracks. I offer to drive but Omar and Hassini are already taking their places in front. As the transporter pulls away from the shore an orange colored full moon rises from the Indian sea.
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Off course this is before I meet Furaha. She is asian. We are an odd couple but we are getting along better and better. Lots of heads turn our way. Before me there was a Brazilian guy. But he didn’t give her much attention and now he is leaving the country anyway. She hums vividly as we fly over the dusty asphalt road. The first time we went out together she snapped at me. Twice. I wanted to know what she was made of and pushed to hard. Full throttel in the fith gear. Snap, jumping to 10000 rpm and no traction. I calm her down. Back to 4th gear. Lets try this again. Since the boundries are set we are getting along just fine. Just adjusting to each others temper.
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I named her Furaha. The kiswahili word for Happiness. She opens up a whole new dimension to my stay here. The things I can freely explore now are expanded, the way I organized my day more flexible. I sing to her very loud and off tune while driving. She does the background. A weird duett. Anyway sometimes I do miss being squeezed into a dalladalla, or huming jingle bells while driving with Daniel in the car. But thats all still possible. Furaha is not very possessive. I just have to invite her for a drink every 200 kilometers.
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Happy Hollidays

Dear dearest reader. Because of the Hollidays and a lack of acces to computers “Chapter 7 – Hyperreality” will be published in two weeks together with “Chapter 8 – Bamboo Boogie”. Stay tuned. I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New year.
Yours truly
This guy.

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Chapter 4 – Shame and Ashes (and Steam and Plastic)

SEEED – Deine Zeit

There I stand staring at the flames. Pillow stuffing smoldering, Styro foam wrinkling up, cable rails melting. The green and blue flames rise above the barrel rim sending thick, dirty smoke further up in the air. You can almost taste the soot. A slight breeze in my back. Otherwise it would be unbearable to stand here. I started the fire and now the garbage from the storage is burning. It will take all afternoon to throw all the stuff in the flames. It will then burn and smolder for another day and take two more days for the barrel to cool down before the ashes get dumped in to a trench 20 meters further. Not exactly renewable or sustainable or environmental friendly and not healthy at all.

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Here I can see the full implications of failed product lifecycle management[1]. Manufactures feel no responsibility for disposal of their products. It is a worldwide problem but in the “developed world” we don’t see it because of an elaborate garbage disposal system. Well “elaborate”. More often then not the garbage is still burned but far away from our awareness. Here every piece of non biodegradable garbage that enters the community has no way out … except by fire. Every two days the smell of cancer lingers in the air and makes me wonder how the acceptance of plastic packaging would change in Europe if we had to burn every piece of it in our own garden/yard/balcony. I oppose garbage burning by every means yet I am considering designing a crude incinerator so the plastic at least burns at higher temperature reducing the toxicity of the fumes. I betrayed my ideals. As my lector used to say: Ideals are for those who can afford them.

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Meanwhile the designs for a steam cooking system using the Scheffler dish advanced to a pasteurizing system and back to a steam cooking system. The changing preferences and Diwali[2] leave me with time for my “hobby”. A hobby with two side effects:

1. Exposure: A lot of people from the village are curious about my experiments trying to melt plastic with the solar cooker

2. Frustration: None of my exeriments have brought any useful result so far.

I had high hopes for mixing plastic (PET) with sand in the solar cooker in order to create a versatile, processable paste. But no paste. Only sand sticking to PET pieces. The process seems to be far more intricate then I thought. I wish I could develop a simple process to recycle the plastic garbage and reduce the toxic fumes… Any ideas are welcome.

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A day trip to the camel fair in Pushkar leaves us somewhat disappointed on the camel part. But it still ends up to be a great day. Mainly due to the fact that after weeks of rice, dal and vegetables 3 times a day we endulge ourselves in ecstatic spheres of tastes. Fruit salad, a credible pizza … with cheese … lots of it, mint squishee, pakora, katjori, falafel, pasta with pesto, tomato soup, apples, papaya…. Never have I enjoyed the variety of food so much.

Enjoy your meals today!!!

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 Creative Commons, Photo credit Lawrence Miglialo

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1  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_lifecycle_management

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diwali

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All photos (except indicated differently) in this blog are my own and are not allowed to be used without my explicit permission.

Chapter 3 – The elephant

Massive Attack – Paradise Circus

From India originates the tale of 6 blind men who went to “see” an elephant [1]. As everyone of them feels another part of the elephant they all come to different conclusions of what the elephant they all come to different conclusions of what the elephant looks like. None is wrong. But none is right either. None of them possesses the whole truth. You can easily apply this to all fields in human live. In my case engineering (or in a broader sense problem solving). So I’ve come here to discover another part of the elephant. I’ve come to learn. That’s at least my intention.

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Battery banks

As I arrive at barefoot college I find a self-sufficient community. The new campus is 100% solar electrified with solar panels worth 70 kW of electricity and multiple battery pack is in every house. A rainwater collection system, a solar cooker on the roof of the mess (cantine). Library, solar workshop, offices and a puppetry. Old campus possesses a water filter system, a recycling workshop, a wood workshop, a metal workshop, a solar cooker manufacturing workshop, craft shop that weaves its own cloth, a workshop to make sanitary napkins and a class room to educate illiterate women from all over the world to be solar engineers.

Solar Storage

 Craft Shop

But first I get sick. The food, the water, the heat – it is just to much, all at once. 3 days I am out. When I finally dare to leave the vicinity of the bathroom I start to explore…and find the nursery, declare it my favorite spot and move on. I love trees but I want to do something with solar energy, preferably with the Scheffler solar cooker[2]. There are three spread over the two campi (campuses?). But none of them is used for cooking. As I spend another day in bed, hung over from the medication cocktail off the last days, the idea arises to kill two mosquitos with one strike: use the solar cooker to melt plastic garbage into something useful. First experiment proves it is possible, the second experiment makes clear: The problem is not the lack of heat but the controlling of the heating. The plastic burns and sticks to the “mold”. But I am going, fully in my element. Not realizing that I am missing the point.

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When I arrived I found a functioning community that is very self reliant. The word “Barefoot” is not so much an indication off missing footwear but certificates. The barefoot community opposes the western obsession with standardized learning. People from villages with a certificate tend to leave for the cities for assumed prosperity.[] Especially men. So barefoot college trains mainly women, mothers, grandmothers. Students don’t get a certificate. They earn their respect and acknowledgement from the community. No need for certificates. Additionally kids are not only taught conservative school subjects but rural knowledge, culture and skills as well.

Septic Tank

That is why I came here. Well partly. I didn’t realize the full extend till I got here. Anyway. So after talking to the founder of Barefoot, Bunker Roy, I have to focus on a steam boiler water filter extension to the solar cooker. Apparently barefoot has to buy 670 bottles of water every month for foreign visitors. The solar plastic becomes a “hobby”. No problem. But when I get called “a white imperialist that is useless to teach because he will just go back and be another stepping stone in the system” I start to wonder which part of the elephant I am actually exploring here. I am angry and upset. My pride is hurt. I have good intentions. I came to learn. And that is exactly what I did not. I came and started to work exactly like would have in Europe. And no matter what my intensions are/were it comes across like somebody who comes and thinks he brings the light. Realizing that humbles me. I stop trying to proof myself and start to open my eyes, submit to the way Tilonia roles. Much more enjoyable.

Tracktor ride

Looking back at my first three weeks here it seems like every time I reach a certain point in my personal development something/someone comes along to show me the next step. An eerie feeling.

A couple days later pursuing my “hobby” I find out that there has been a plastic project a couple years ago. Though different from what I had in mind. But the astonishing thing is we find two hand driven injection molding machines (!!!) in the back of the metal workshop. I mean: Wow. Although they are only 5 years old they look at least like 30. But they can be fixed up again. There are even one or two bags left of the plastic grind they used. Despite my amazement I dismiss any ambitions in that direction. It is about getting rid of waste plastic not introducing more of it. So back to steam boilers and sanitary napkin production feasibility studies. Meanwhile my “hobby” already had a distinct impact on my room. 35 empty plastic bottles, a collection of bottle caps and bottle sealings, three containers of different sand, different cut-up plastic wrapper samples, marble stone plates, stainless steal containers, strips of cloth … I plan some experiments for the day of diwali but the clouds are against it. Well I finally get to write this blog entry plus more time to contemplate the events of the past weeks.

injection molding

Concluding I would ask everyone to watch the documentary “Schooling the world – the white man’s last burden”[]. It is a vastly different view on the western schooling system and it also deals with “good intensions”.

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1  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_men_and_an_elephant

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfgang_Scheffler_(inventor)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDxYWspiN-8

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All photos in this blog are my own and are not allowed to be used without my explicit permission.

 

 

Chapter 2 – with honks and fire

Chico Cesar – Respeitem Meus Cabelos Brancos

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They say India teaches you patience. They say India works different and you have to go with it and see what happens. It is right what they say – applied for foreigners that is. Watching the traffic it becomes clear that patience is not an Indian virtue.   If you want to over take: HONK. If you are overtaking: HONK. If somebody is in your way (and can`t move): HONK. If you are about to be rammed: HONK. If you are driving through a pedestrian area at high speed. HOOOOOOONK. If none of the above applies: HONK.

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After my escape to Delhi I escape Delhi and end up in Baghsu, a small colony of shops and guesthouses just a short walk away from McLeod Ganj the residence in exile of the Dalai Lama. Baghsu is full of Israelis and thermal solar collectors. Interesting fact: The solar collectors are the only way to guarantee affordable hot water here. Gas bottles are expensive and electricity is cut several times a day.   Three times I go on a trek. First time to  the shiva caffee high above a waterfall where I discuss Solar concepts with S. from India and P. from Sweden. The second time a hike to a higher waterfall where I end up alone on a high up rock pumping with adrenaline, thanking gods I don`t believe in for bringing me here. The third time we hike up a mountain to a Tibetian school and a holy but very polluted lake. On the way back we experience Alfred Hitchcocks “The Birds” but with monkeys. Creepy.

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Just before we (a group of 5 people) leave to the next destination I get to see the Dalai Lama after one of his public teachings. He is just an armlength away. But more fascinating than the man are followers. Especially the western ones. “My hard is beating so hard.” some woman says behind me. Another one is crying. The Asian worshipers are less emotional but very eager to touch him.   The next day it is off to Amritsar and the golden temple. The bus system in India is incredible. We never spend more than 2 minutes waiting for a connection. They say you either love or hate India depending if you are able to filter out the bad things like poverty and pollution. I haven`t decided yet. So far I didn`t succeed in filtering out. Especially the pollution (which is again connected to the poverty). Even in the rare case of a garbage bin they just empty that 2 meters further on the street and set the garbage on fire. It seems to  be an universal solution. The smoke smells terrible and irritates my throat beyond healthiness.

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Passing from Punjab into Radjasthan the pollution problem gets better by a lot. Not sure what they do differently because garbage bins are as scarce as anywhere else. Occasionally there is still burning garbage to be found. Arriving in Pushkar I get an emaiil from the barefoot college[1]. I am most welcome to join them for next month. My mind was already set on Nepal. But I guess Nepal will be still there in December.

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http://www.barefootcollege.prg

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All photos in this blog are my own and are not allowed to be used without my explicit permission.

Chapter 1 – Incredible India

Koop –  “In a heart beat”

 

This is the story I thought I would tell:

I stepped on the plane, had a long flight to India, arrived in Srinagar, was hustled by the taxi drivers, checked in a hostel, had some minor inconveniences due to some funny cultural misunderstandings, bargained for a trip to Leh, had an exhausting trip to Leh, met W., went trekking, saw some awesome views, the end. But this is not how the story goes. Instead I stumble right into the biggest flood in Kashmir since 60 years. So here are the last 14 days:

Day 1:

I almost don’t get to India at all. Arriving at the gate in Vienna my pouch with the credit card is gone. I carried it dangling around my middle finger after the security check. Now its gone. Chasing back and forth between security check and gate my shirt gets increasingly soaked in sweat. The only thing  keeping me from freaking out is the pure and utter disbelieve this is actually happening. Without credit card I don’t have to step on the plane. Just when I’m about to give up I see the right kind of color out of the corner of my eye. Its my pouch. If the plane was on time it would have been gone by now. But its delayed.

Day 2:

Touch down Dehli. The flight was relaxed. Every passenger had 3 seats for themselves. Not sure why. Luck? Off-season? Because its a Boeing dreamliner? Connecting flight to Srinagar is two hours delayed. I can’t get Internet cause I might be an antisocial element. So I sleep. Just before getting on the plane I see that while I was sleeping a flood warning has been put in effect for Srinagar. Ah well it’s just a warning and my luggage is already on the plane… In Srinagar I end up bouncing around on the backseat of a minibus with Gulzar as my guide and “beautiful Mustar” as my driver. I get to know some facts. Among many others:

  • it has bee raining 4 days continuously
  • it shouldn’t rain that much right now
  • all roads to Ladakh (Leh) are closed due to the rain

Gulzar shows me the housboats he runs with his family. It’s to expensive for my budget. We bargain and agree on a deal for two nights. The price still hurts my budget but I am tired and need a base to explore other options. Transfer to land is included. I make landfall withdraw some cash, buy a charger and get back to the boat. Jetlag is a bitch and packs a punch.

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Day 3:

Today the rain should stop. Or so they say. The water level in Dal Lake is high. But not more than a minor inconvenience. Strawing through the city my skin complexion is a neon sign that says “Talk to me!”. Early afternoon it stops raining. I gain hope the roads to Ladakh will open soon. In the evening it starts raining again – heavily. I tell Gulzar I’ll be leaving tomorrow. Budget reasons. We re-negotiate. I stay.

Day 4:

It has been raining all through the night. While the tourist live in the deluxe and semi-deluxe houseboat the Gulzar’s family lives in a small shelter build on the fixed landing stage. Gulzar tells me that the family will join me on the semi-deluxe houseboat if the water rises further. There’s not much to do. I climb a steep pathway to a hindu temple on the top of a mountain. The mountain is surrounded by clouds. Back down I hitch a ride in a Tuktuk down the other side of the mountain. Little landslides and a 5 ton boulder slid out of the side of the slope partly block the way. I start to understand why the roads to Ladakh are closed. Back at Dal Lake I enter a bakery. While munching on some pastry I watch the news. Pictures from Jammu flicker by. Water in the streets, People running for their lives. Its weird. Here at Dal Lake everything is calm. In the news they call it the biggest flood in 60 years. And as the rain has just been waiting for this cue it is picking up the pace. Streams of water rund down the streets. So much water. It seems to be every where. Back at the houseboat the family has moved in with me.

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Day 5:

At noon it stops raining and the sun comes out. Around there is a sense of relieve. People start cleaning, hanging out stuff to dry and making repairs. I go to the tourist information center. To sum it up: Rain stopped, everythings fine now, roads probably open in two days. Great. Unfortunately wrong.

Day 6:

It is mildly warm. The sun occasionally peeks through a thin layer of clouds. The houseboat owners chat while they go their daily business. I am hoping to go to Leh tomorrow. Suddenly the tone changes, movements become hectic. I ask whats going on. Water is coming in from the river. Dal Lake is a peaceful lake. If you would throw a ball in the water it would drift in the same spot for hours. Now there is a current. Half an hour later the water gets muddy. The water level rises – and fast. I help where I can with as high point saving the rice barrel from the muddy tide. Later I make landfall. Well kinda. The Boulevard along Dal Lake is 15 centimeter under water. Dal Gate is a flood control gate regulating the water level in Dal Lake. Brown water is flowing over and around it, sprawling into the lake. The water smells of kerosine and paint. To get to the tourist information center I have to wade 200 meters through the knee deep brown soup. The information center is not flooded but closed. In the backyard some men preparing a raft. I talk to them. Tourist information is closed (No shit!). Come back in 2 days. It’s all I get. Back on the Boulevard I try to get a plane ticket to Leh or Delhi. But the AirIndia office is closed (come back in 2 days) as well as every internet caffee. No ticket, no information. In the evening the current in the lake has slowed down. Maybe it will stop soon. It won’t.

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Day 7:

The current in the lake is back to its old speed. Later I will find out why it slowed down last evening. As the water rose above Boulevard level the water started to flood this part of the city. Gulzar has to relocate the family car to higher ground. As we paddle through streets under water and along sunken trucks he sighs: “Incredible India”1.

In the hotels along the boulevard there are still tourists trapped. The staff has fled and the stocks are in the now flooded groundfloor. From the window they ask and bargain for water and supplies.

In the afternoon Gulzars father and a neighbour and I venture out to get some food. We try two landing points. The situation is tense. Shikaras have been stolen. People are yelling on the land and on the water. We drop Gulzars father. He ask me if I need anything. Well mosquito repellent. But it seem so trivial in the face of the situation. On the why back we paddle through low hanging branches (well technically they are not low hanging but the water is so high), circardas are singing and every once in a while you hear the distant whole of a starving dog. Its a morbid idyll.

 

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Day 8:

The water is still rising. Not much to do but waiting. We get some “clean” tap water. It is offcourse much better than the brown soup around us but my stomach still has complaints. I try to build a solar driven water purifier from plastic bottles  but fail cause I can’t get the water seal water tight. In the evening Gulzar takes me on a cruise in a shikara around “the block” with his friends. We get some drinking water for me. I even make landfall. The streets are covered in ash. People digging through garbage or just walking around. I feel that I am very lucky with my spot on the houseboat. Although my instinct tells me Gulzar is keeping information from me.

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Day 9:

Not much to do but sitting around. Watching the many helicopters fly by. I start sketching up design for an emergency droppod. A drop pod that functions as floating shelter or water purifier after you removed the supplies contained in it. Kind of like a “childrens surprise” with the chocolate on the inside. The water is slowly leveling out at about 2.5 meters higher than when I arrived.

Day 10:

Still sitting around. I got really good at the puzzle game 2048. My current record is 66908 points. I try to get the attention of the helicopters but without success.

Day 11:

Gulzar tells me of dead people in the water and other stuff. But over the past days the feeling that he is not honest to me has getting stronger. There are irrefutable signs that he is trying to hide certain information from me. Or at least distract me from getting to know it. The problem is I am isolated. He and his father are the only people who speak proper english so they are my only source of information. The things is I am running low on cash. A couple of more days and I owe them money I can’t pay and then I am stuck here for a very long time because without electricity I could have all the riches in the world but I can’t access it.

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Day 12:

We are low on gas. Cooking might be suspended soon.

Day 13:

Its a slow day. Akil the 8 year old cousin of Gulzar has been teaching me some Kashmiri. And he is a persistent teacher. Every time he sees me I have to recite all I have learned so far. Because we are both bored they send us on a shikara ride. And here is the changing point. By coincident I get to talk to a local who speaks english and he confirms what my instinct has been telling me for days. All this helicopters were part of a tourist extraction program. It has been going on for days. It has been on the news. No the airport was never flooded. And so on. As last proof of what I was suspecting he asks me not to mention his name cause he told me the truth. He hadn’t even told me his name.

I’m angry I tell Gulzar I wnat to leave. His first reaction makes me doubt my anger. “Okay if you feel so.” Later in the evening the bullshitting starts. I have been watching the news with them. They try to interpret what I’ve seen for me. Basic message is always the same. Stay a little longer just wait. Suddenly they now where the taxis to Leh might leave. Just wait a few more days. Lets go trekking tomorrow. 4 days, 3 nights. And so on. I fall still. They tell me not to think to much. I half-heartedly smile. I am not thinking I need all my concentration to contain my anger. If I escalate the situation I might not get out here at all.

Day 14:

Gulzar brings me to the five star hotel which serves as extraction point for the tourists. The extraction program has been shut down. There are no more tourists here. They send us to the military post nearby. A soldier with whistle in his mouth asks me something in Hindi. I don’t understand. He clothes the gate. “The gate is closed”. In the end Gulzar gets me a ride to an transition point from where I can get a taxi to the airport. I leave him with mixed feelings. They took good care of me but they also tried to milk the situation. I could have been out of here 5 days ago. And now I don’t even get a free helicopter flight

At the airport AirIndia tells me there are no more free tickets for extraction. Tickets to Delhi cost 2800 Roepie. I have 1500 left. There creditcard system is down. The atm doesn’t process my request. I talk to AirIdia again and agian and again. Finally the at least get me into the airport building (because of the security level you are only allowed in the airport building if you have a flight ticket). The station manager bumps me off and sends me to GoIndigo. I explain my situation. At first they misunderstand. You have not been aware there is a flood in Srinagar? I go blank. They think I just arrived and want to get out. I have been very well aware of it because I have been stuck in it for 2 weeks!!! From there its downhill. They get me a free ticket. I have to wait in the staff room until my request is processed. They offer my airplane food for lunch. I get cigarette which I enjoy like no other cigarette before. A baggage handler gives me his apple and cookies. And then before I know it I am on the plane and in Delhi. A stewardess lets me use her phone to inform my family. (Imagine that. Hey there is a bit of a flood here but I am fine. After that 10 days no message.). After getting some directions I make my way to the center. Check in a hotel and finally crash on the bed.

I want to thank the ground staff of GoIndiGo for getting me out!!!

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qBE_Z8JbzY

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All photos in this blog are my own and are not allowed to be used without my explicit permission.

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