Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Seven miles above the earth, sipping on Dom Perignon while I nibble on Haagen Dasz chocolate ice-cream with some kind of pie that has orange peel in it. Bailey’s on ice frappe to follow, and for the first time, I wish air travel still permitted smoking. A cheap sweet cigar would have been SO good here. Or perhaps a fill of Amphora Cherry Cavendish.

I love upgrades. Sybaritic? Decadent? Bring it on, I say. And the pleasure is all the sweeter for knowing that sooner or later, this man will say “Dude, you’re doing that on MY money!” Thanks, dude, now with the aforementioned pride and admiration there’s also gratitude.

Far below us is Iran. The porthole frames an expanse of mud. From up here, it looks like Reza Shah Pallavi and the Ayatollah ruled over the world’s largest WWE mosh-pit. Then a ridge appears above the plains, like a crocodile's back surfacing. A great river valley runs from north to south, diagonally across the plane’s nor’westerly track. A series of little lakes, each with its own patch of cloud standing guard above it, dwindle into the north like yeti footprints. The in-flight screen shows us flying across the Arabian Sea, skirting Karachi and indeed all of Pakistan, entering Iranian air-space and passing way south of Kandahar and Kabul (north of Muscat and Bandar Abbas, I must post again about the magic of names). Our craft will pass directly over a town called Zahedan. Is it in these mountains that now appear below us, dark grey and stippled with patches of ice, little cousins of the Mountains of Mordor that rise above the northern horizon? Or does Zahedan lie in the Plains of Mud that must resume on the other side of the mountains? Our flight path lies north of Esfahan, south of Tehran, past Yerevan, over the Black Sea, past the south-facing port of Sevastopol and on over the Alps. Such romance in these names, such visions of deserts and caravans, ice creaking under oaken hulls and fir-bristled crags in the drifting snow.

The mountains I can see at this moment, however, could do with a make-over. Perhaps even personal stylists.

Then suddenly, dramatically, a huge massif, chocolate dark with crumbly crags, dusted with fresh cream and icing sugar*

I love these flying geography lessons. Like Goh Cheng Leong brought to life, or the Oxford Atlas from Metropolitan Book Store, only in bright new 3-D. If only I could connect to Google Earth in-flight. That can’t be more than 3 years away, watch this space.

Meanwhile, the sunset glows through the portholes over on the other side of the cabin. And I find some Bulgari in the wash-room. Tedium is so much more tolerable when one smells good.

* - I can’t download the picture from my phone without the connector cable. Which is back in Calcutta.