Claire Soares: Stranded in Mumbai – yet we're among the lucky ones

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The Independent Travel

After four days of Ash Watch, the novelty of an unexpected holiday extension is starting to wear thin. We caught the news on Thursday morning before leaving downtown Mumbai for the airport. "Those poor Icelanders, the second eruption in as many months," my father said as the volcano headline flashed up, not thinking for a second that the after-effects would reach around the globe to India and beyond.

We had cleared immigration and security, and changed the last of our rupees back to sterling, before learning that UK airspace was closing. We grumbled bitterly as we retraced our steps through the scanners and had our exit stamps cancelled, but the last-minute nature of our delay has actually proved a saving grace. We are among the lucky ones: put up in a plush airport hotel and fed by our airline. Since then, passengers are simply being told to fend for themselves until the ash clears. But with every passing day, fatigue and boredom is written that bit larger on the faces of our group of stranded passengers. The excited breakfast discussions of how many extra vacation days we might get has been replaced by a single refrain,"I just want to go home now".

People are running out of clothes and contact lenses, money and medication. I have missed a long-awaited hospital appointment, my father has missed a friend's daughter's wedding – as well as his own wedding anniversary (sorry mum) – and one of our breakfast companions will not be at his grandmother's funeral today. But the most heartbreaking story I have heard is that of a woman who was on the beaches of Goa, when she learnt her mother had died suddenly. She got herself a ticket for the first plane out of Mumbai, which ended up being Thursday's aborted flight.

Restlessness might be on the increase, but not at the expense of pragmatism. All we can do is wait, though that does not prevent endless discussions about volcanic activity, weather patterns and global flight-routing. We all repeat the gobbits of information gleaned from television bulletins, airport reps, surfing the web and talking to friends and family back home, as if we were qualified experts.

For the first two days, nobody strayed far from the hotel, fearful that the cloud might suddenly lift. Then reality dawned, and excursions began. My father went to school in Bombay for four years before his family emigrated to the UK on a steamer. Throughout this holiday, we have been intermittently retracing his steps and who knows, 44 years later, the fastest way home might still be by boat.

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