Thursday, February 24, 2011

Canuck at Large in India

This is an odd trip I’m on.  I don’t just mean because India is so surreal in many respects that I feel like I’ve dropped into an entirely different world sometimes (although I do – more on that in a separate post); it’s been a different way of travelling that anything else I’ve done this year.

For one thing, it’s the first time this year I’ve done “organized” travel, where I signed up with a group and had all my transportation and accommodation arrangements made for me.  I spent the first couple of weeks in India that way, with the same group of 14 people, then the next few days with a slightly different group (some of the same faces, with a few additions).  I’m not used to spending large amounts of time with the same people this year; oh, I occasionally joined up with other travellers in South America for a short while, but it wasn’t the same experience.

I do know myself well enough to recognize that I need to make sure I have some time alone, when I’m travelling with a group; I have a fairly high need for solitude, to think and write and read and just be on my own.  So I took time out occasionally, even when travelling with a group; but for the most part I was eating and drinking and sightseeing and shopping and sharing a room with the same other travellers. 

And I got quite used to it; there’s an upside to travelling with other people in that you don’t have to organize everything yourself and can sometimes let other people pick the restaurant or figure out how to get back to the hotel, or just watch your stuff if you want to go for a swim at the beach or find the nearest toilet.  These things are more problematic when it’s just you, and sometimes it gets downright tiring to be the one who always has to make the decisions and figure things out.

It’s nice, too, having the same group of people for a while.  It was very, very easy to meet people in South America, for example, as I stayed mostly in hostels and always had someone to make dinner or have a drink with.  But it was an ever-changing cast of characters as I moved from place to place; there’s a certain amount of repetition in the conversations you have when you travel this way.  “Where are you from?”  “How long are you travelling for?”  “Where have you been and where are you going next?”

When you travel with the same group for a couple of weeks, you have those same conversations at first, but then you get to move on and talk about other things, once you’ve learned all that preliminary stuff about each other.  It’s not quite the same as hanging out with your close friends at home, but it’s a good travel substitute for a while.

But I’m back to solitary travel now.  Rachel and Debbie and Susann, all 30-something women from my travel group who elected to stick around in Varkala for a while with me after the tour ended, have all now gone back to their respective snowy corners of the planet (New York and London and Switzerland respectively).  So I no longer have automatic beach or yoga or dinner buddies.

Wandering India on my own.  Now there’s a concept.  Were I still in the north, I think I’d be overwhelmed by the idea, as it’s a chaotic and busy and demanding place to travel (with the possible exception of Pushkar).  In the south, I’m not so worried.

I think my own idea of how I want to travel has changed, too — perhaps because I’m nearing the end of my travels.  In my previous trips this year, I was moving around a lot; getting from Antarctica to Quito, Ecuador between March and July, for example, is covering a lot of ground.  Whirling around northern Scotland and Ireland doesn’t rack up nearly as many kilometres, but trying to do it in the first throes of winter — and the worst winter they’ve seen in decades, at that — makes it just as arduous. 

I spent the first month in India that way; it’s a big country and a lot of kilometres from Delhi in the north down to Kerala in the south, and I saw a lot of places and some incredible sights in between.  But I think the second half of my trip here will be different; I’m going to see fewer places, spend less time “sightseeing” and settle in on a beach or two to really get to know those small corners of India.  And do some yoga, read a lot, write for a while each day — travel is as much about the “inner” journey, I think, as it is about the “outer” one.    

An Aussie I met earlier in India explained it best:  “You go travelling to find new places,” she said wisely, “but what you end up finding is yourself.”

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