Monday, January 17, 2011

Jewel in the Crown

Okay, I've been remiss again about posting.  But time to get back in the habit, as I'm off to India shortly ...

Yes, the so-called jewel in the crown, its nickname from back in the days when the Brits liked to boast that the sun never set on the Empire.  I hear from people who have been there that some of Indian society is still more British than the British (unlike we North Americans who pride ourselves on our separate-ness), so I'm not sure whether they'll embrace me as a fellow colonial or listen to my accent in horror since I don't speak anything like her Majesty Queen E.

You may wonder what the heck I'm still doing here.  Well, for one thing, I had some complications with my original flight plans, as Dubai decided to introduce new visa charges for Canadians.  $250 for a 30-day visa, just so I can stop there for a few days on my way back?  I don't think so.   (Dear Dubai, please don't punish Canadian travellers for your airline dispute -- we really don't have anything to do with it.)

So it was back to the drawing board.  Problem is, given the opportunity to come up with new plans, I was almost paralyzed by the wealth of opportunities out there.  And very conscious of the fact that this is my last hurrah, so to speak:  the last big trip before I have to head back to work on April 1st.  So I wanted to make it count as much as I could!

I started to fall into the trap of thinking that "making it count" meant squeezing in as many places as possible into three months.  So I was dreaming up fantastic round-the-world itineraries with multiple stops in a few continents, which would've left me with only a few weeks in India and limited, rushed stopovers everywhere else.

I came to my senses, but I was still tempted to tack on another country or two.  Maybe Turkey first, I mused, and then Kathmandu afterwards so I'd have done a pseudo Hippie Trail trip (minus the dangerous bits in the middle).  Or, hey, I've never been to western Australia, so what about a couple of weeks there?  Or maybe lounging on a beach in Bali?  Or coming back through Europe and hanging on a Greek island?   I needed an onward ticket to ensure I'd get into India in the first place, so I became obsessed trying to plan the perfect path.

None of them seemed quite right, though, so I couldn't make up my mind for days.  I had just about settled on Bali, but second-guessed THAT choice, too, after going to the travel medicine clinic for my malaria meds and shots; they told me there's a rabies epidemic in Bali (affecting cows, dogs, pigs, monkeys, you name it).  Worse, if you get bitten and need treatment (immediately, if not sooner), it's impossible in Bali and you have to fly to Australia or Singapore.  (There's a rabies vaccine, but it's horrendously expensive and requires a couple of shots at specific intervals that I don't have time for, even if I was willing to pay.)

You begin to understand the kind of tailspin I got myself into.

Well, I've recovered from that particular mania, and I'm keeping it simple:  return flight to Delhi, direct on Air India (fourteen hours on a plane -- oh God!).  I could've stopped in Europe, but cheap options had me arriving in Delhi in the middle of the night, which I didn't want; especially as a lone woman, I think it's smarter to arrive in daylight, where possible, and that applies at least double for Delhi.  I leave January 23rd at about 11 a.m., getting there just before noon on the 24th.  Don't ask me about the time difference, I haven't worked that out yet; suffice to say, I'll probably be completely disoriented by the time I arrive unless I figure out the optimum time to sleep on the plane so that I wake up already adjusted to a new time zone.

I might change my mind later, but my return flight was cheap enough (and not much more than a one-way ticket) that I won't be too bothered about just junking it later and booking something else.

I also decided to do the first three weeks of my trip with a group tour.  I admit to being very nervous about India; despite the fact that I've travelled a lot, I think India is likely to be a whole different league from anywhere else I've been.  Oh, I've been to poor places, with little infrastructure and a language barrier that made travel challenging (Bolivia and Nicaragua especially spring to mind), but none of those places have the same crush of humanity that India does.  (Ask me after a couple of weeks how a girl who likes her own space is managing to cope with never -- literally never, from what I hear -- being alone.)

So I'm hooking up with a group, to give myself the chance to try it out in a way that feels safer and less, um, terror-provoking.  (That's why my flight there isn't earlier; I'm timing it to hook up with the tour immediately, instead of attempting to wander around on my own right away.)  GAP does great tours; they can be the best of all worlds in some countries, where you still get a lot of autonomy about how you spend your days but someone else takes care of the logistics of getting from point A to point B.  After three weeks, I figure I'll be used to it enough that I can strike out on my own without too much problem.

And, hey, if I get there and hate it, I'll just swing over to western Australia or New Zealand instead.  Although the danger of going to NZ, especially, is that I might forget to come home because I love it so much.

Well, at least until my empty bank account reminds me that I need to have a job again.  At least for a while.

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