Thursday, September 8, 2011

Travels in foreign lands-XXII (Going West in America-I)

My next visit to America had an interesting background and it also resulted in a lot of trouble for me regarding my job! The International Union of Alpine Associations (UIAA), the apex body in the world overseeing the adventurous sport of mountaineering was holding its next executive council meeting in Flagstaff, Arizona in April, 1996. The members of the Council, usually the heads of mountain federations of different countries are expected to attend the annual meeting. Mr. M S Gill, the then Chief Election Commissioner who was also the President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation was supposed to attend the meeting on behalf of India. However, as the Parliament elections were scheduled to take place soon, he could not leave the country. He asked me, being the Vice-President, to attend the meeting on his behalf. Accordingly, I applied for earned leave but the same was rejected by the then Chief Secretary because of elections. Mr. Gill spoke to him and my leave was sanctioned. The tickets for the travel were being paid by Air India and the Mountaineering Foundation and I was also entitled to the boarding and lodging expenses for the duration of the meeting which was expected to last for three days. Air India also upgraded me to business class.
The travel was a long one. The flight routing was from Delhi to New York via London. The stop over in London was just for couple of hours. From New York airport (JFK), I had to go to New Jersey airport to catch a flight to Phoenix. I was not familiar with the arrangement. While waiting in the Air India lounge in New Delhi airport I was talking to Anoop Kannaw our Deputy Director in Delhi about the subject when suddenly a gentleman sitting close by came to us. He said he too was a Kashmiri and was Chief Executive of a firm in USA. He offered me to guide me for taking the connecting flight as he too was on the same flight! It was a very nice gesture.
After almost 18 hours of flying we finally reached New York. After immigration and customs I was taken by the recently made friend to the New Jersey airport counter. They told me that I could get a flight only in the morning around eight. I had to stay for the night at the New Jersey airport. I could not make a booking as those days I did not have a global access credit card. In America one cannot do anything without a credit card. I had to take a bus to the New Jersey airport and was picked up there by the van from a hotel where I stayed for the night. Again the hotel receptionist wanted cash in advance as I did not have a credit card! Next morning I took the flight to Phoenix. It was about four hours. In the flight I met another Chief Executive who was going for a golf weekend to Phoenix which had over a dozen excellent golf courses. The said gentleman was so fond of golf that he would come every weekend to Phoenix to play. From Phoenix I had to take a small 12-seater aircraft to Flagstaff. The
flight was quite enjoyable as the plane was flying very low and we could enjoy the scenery. The airport was very small and there were hardly any people inside. To get a taxi, I had to phone from free phone in the airport. Within 20 minutes a lady came in and told me that she would take me to the Flagstaff hotel. It was for the first time I had scene a lady taxi driver! The drive was just for about 20 minutes or so through pine forests and mountain scenery. I checked into the hotel and went straight to bed. I had been now travelling for 22 hours and was suffering severe jet lag! The only engagement that day was dinner at the Flagstaff Club on the hill. So I had the chance of sleeping for few hours. The President of the Pakistan Alpine Club General Amir Gulshan Janjua was also staying in the same hotel. I met him in the afternoon in the lounge when I woke up. I had earlier known his predecessor, General Qamar Ali Mirza. General Janjua invited me to visit Pakistan again. We went together to attend the dinner. We were able to meet mountaineers from many countries during the dinner which was held in the Club on the hill. The council meeting was scheduled to start next morning and continue for two days.
There were around 20 members who had come to attend the meeting. Various agenda items were discussed which related to payment of fees, regulations for climbing and so on. Members were also allowed to raise other issues or move resolutions. I moved a resolution for holding of the next meeting of the Council in Leh, Ladakh. The resolution was admitted for discussion and voting next day. In the evening we were taken to a lakeside restaurant which was in the form of a log hut. It was a very enjoyable evening. Next day there were more discussions. My resolution for a Council meeting in Kashmir was also taken up. Most of the members favoured it as they were keen to see Ladakh. However, in the voting we got 18 votes out of 20. Pakistan abstained but one of the Scandinavian countries voted against us. The resolution was passed and it was decided that the meeting would be held sometime in September that year. The meeting concluded by lunch time and we were given afternoon free to go round Flagstaff town. In the evening a farewell dinner was held in a local hotel. During our stay in Flagstaff we were also taken to see the famous Lowell Observatory. It had been a fruitful meeting for me.
I have a friend in Arizona. It is Gajendra Sharma, the son of Mr G D Sharma of Jammu who has been the former Director Information. Locally he is known as George Sharma as Americans find it difficult to pronounce Gajendra! We know him as Pappoo Sharma. He lives in Lake Havasu, Arizona where he heads a condominium construction company. He had taken a promise from me that after the meeting I would stay with him for a week or so. In fact, next morning he came to Flagstaff in his car to pick me up! It was on his insistence that I had booked my return journey from Los Angeles to New York and the air trip to Flagstaff via Phoenix was only one way! Pappoo took me not only to Lake Havasu but to Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. I will describe these journeys in next few episodes!
(To be continued…)

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