Thanks to the Virgin Atlantic online checkin and also because a colleague who was supposed to get me upgraded had a baby daughter, I ended up on a window seat and in economy on my way back from London. After dinner and a few hours of sleep, I woke up and looked out of the window.
I like looking out of train windows - this habit started early with a lot of 2nd sleeper journeys while travelling around Bihar, Assam and Delhi. There was a brief interlude when my parents started booking the 3-tier AC sleeper and staring out of the air conditioned windows is no fun, even in the day. I was back at the looking out of windows in college , which was 40 hours away by train from Delhi and had some of the most interesting landscapes on the way with tunnels, bridges, valleys, mountains, creeks and even a stretch of sandy beach. I will dig around for pictures and post some, but the best way of seeing this stretch of rail is by traveling by 2nd sleeper in a non-rainy month (which are only a few and the best months are just after the rains!) from Kurla down till Mangalore. My father likes to say that nature comes in four varieties - hills and hills, hills and forests, forests and hills, forests and forests - and this route has each of the four in plenty. However, the best sight I have seen was even before the Konkan started and going to Mangalore from Delhi used to take 53 hours, as the train used to take a gigantic U turn and works its way back up through Kerala. I remember one morning, when we were passing through Kerala and were in the middle of the mid morning bathing. All the men had left and gone to work, while all the women were washing their clothes and bathing. It was quite a sight for the young testosterone being transported right through the middle of god's very own country! Amen. I want to add another variable into the natural beauty equation - women.
Cutting back to the journey at hand, I saw a huge city to the north next to some water. It was Teheran, which is to the south of the Caspian Sea. It was very peaceful - the time probably being around 5AM local time, the time when a city is usually most asleep than others. (In any case, I was too high to notice any movement). For a passing moment, I thought about Ahmadinejad and some of the things he has written or said, but the view tore me away from such things. I went back to just taking in the view of the city, albeit from 10 miles up, which has been habitated for the past 8000 years.
Gradually, the scenery became more interesting. We crossed the Zagros mountains as the sun rose and the scenery only improved with the Hindukush ranges coming into view. It was a goegraphy class in fast forward - glaciers, ravines, valleys and rivers - all in quick succession. What was interesting was how some rivers seemed to cut right through a mountain range - as if they had existed all along and the mountains rose afterwards. This is what plate tectonics also suggests - that the earlier continents were very differently shaped and located and they have drifted away from and into each other leading to the current continents. In the process, they created the Himalayas. The Hindukush is located approximately where the western edges of the Indian island would have rubbed against the Asian landmass and would have led to the mountains slowly rising out of coastal plains. Hence, the rivers.
This was also the age old route to India over which I was flying. Iranians/Aryans/Persians/Greeks, Scythians, Mongols and then the Arabs all have had their go at my precious and till very recently, a predominantly benign (read lazy and fat) country. I could see all the hell they were willing to go through to reach the pot of gold which was India. Every father west of the Hindukush who had a particularly headstrong son would rear him with his head towards the east and his mind full of a tales of gold in India. On the plane, the entire horizon was filled with lethal looking mountains and passes - and while I was flying over them, all kinds of adventurers had made a highway across this landscape for India.
Faith can move mountains. Greed can get you across.
The tremendous sense of calm is worth a mention. On sea level or thereabouts, every problem seems bigger than it really is. Religions (all of them), countries, economies, commodities or the lack of it have all been invented by humans over the past thousand years or so. The mountains and the planet have been changing, but have moved by a few inches in the past 10000 years. They are all that matter when you are ten miles up. They are all that you can see.
Maybe all of us should just chill a bit more and takes ourselves a bit less seriously.
Just for a bit.