Thursday, June 18, 2009

My India Journal--Introduction

Over the next few months I am finally going to transcribe the journal I kept while traveling in India and Nepal last winter. It's my impressions of two countries I had never been to before, and was not knowledgeable about.

If you are from India, or have traveled there and uncritically loved it, I apologize for writing about the poverty, the pollution, and the squalor, along with the beauty, the color, the friendliness, and the majestic monuments. However, it is one of the unique properties of India that these things exist side by side.

Many of the complaints I wrote in my journal are about the tour, not the country--but they are part of the experience I had, and I can only write about my own experience.

There were four of us who decided to see a part of the world none of us had ever been to, so of course we took a tour rather than try to find our way around on our own. Our first--and really only--mistake was to book a GAP tour. We booked through an agent in the United States who had never been on a GAP tour, and hence did not know that when three of the four of us were over 50, he should have steered us to a different tour provider. GAP, we learned when it was too late, is geared to young athletic people with loads of stamina who don't mind starting nearly every day at 6am and ending it after midnight.

What fooled us was the literature GAP provided, listing six levels of tour from 1--little activity, mostly cruises--to 6--hiking, mountain climbing, camping out. Our tour was listed as a 2. Four experienced travelers, we thought that would be easy!

We were all in good health for our age, and certain we could meet the physical requirement of transporting our own luggage for up to half a mile. Boy were WE wrong, as was that description of the most exertion that would be required of us. You see, no one bothered to warn us that the half mile would often be straight up! My small wheeled carry-on became a real drag when I had to get it up forty or fifty steps and down the other side in train stations, in the middle of a rush-hour mob.

I must say, though, that the information about lodgings was spot-on. Except for the sleeper train, the "luxury tents," and the lodge at the nature reserve in Nepal--all listed in our itinerary--we were in modern comfortable hotels with all amenities every night. What we were not warned about was how few hours we would be allowed to spend there!

Twenty years ago, we would have taken the hyperactivity and the sleep deprivation in stride--at least as long as the rest of the group did. As it was, we were the first to complain, but certainly not the last or only. Well before the end of the tour, the young, athletic folk who made up the rest of the tour members were complaining as vociferously as we were about the forced marches, lack of free time, and being immediately dragged away from every interesting shopping area we encountered. By the second week, we were all in active rebellion against our tour director, arranging our own transport and going to see what we wanted to see, buy what we wanted to buy.

Which brings up one really great advantage to traveling in India and Nepal: for westerners, everything is CHEAP! Breakfasts were the only meals included in the tour, but we had no trouble finding great food wherever we went, for astonishingly low prices. Transportation was also cheap, so once we rebelled against walking for miles and arriving exhausted at the sights we had come to see, we could easily afford rickshaws or even taxis (where there were any).

Excellent meals, extra transportation, souvenir shopping, a couple of extra activities, and all--at the end of the trip I was amazed to find that in two weeks I spent less than $300 above the prepaid portion of the tour!

Well, with that as a teaser, the next post will be my journal entry for the first day in India, December 27, 2008.

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