Pre-Trip Reading & Travel Plans for India

At the age of 15, I desperately wanted to attend a party at a friend’s place. Quebec high school runs from Grades 7 to 11, and the event was set to host not only us measly Grade 8 students, but also the older grades in school. My mother was kind enough to say I could go, but she required that I be home by 11pm. In retrospect this seems quite reasonable. At 15, not so much. Putting my hands on my hips and staring her in the eye, I retorted, “Let me get this straight: there are hospital procedures I can get under Quebec law without your consent, but I can’t stay out past 11?”

Let’s just say no one was surprised when I was accepted into law school at the age of 18.

And let’s also say that while I certainly could have been a worse kid, I definitely had a mouth on me, and my mother definitely got the brunt of it. She’s going to have approximately 3.5 weeks to get back at me, as we are about to be thrown together for a few long haul flights and a lot of travel days.

Next up: India

I’m not taking her to India to make amends for being a snotty adolescent, of course. She has always wanted to see the Taj Mahal, and has never been to the subcontinent. Nor have I, which many readers from India have pointed out over the last few years. (“Why are you not visiting us! We have soups too!”) While she has traveled a bit since her retirement, she has dreamed of traveling more than anyone I know. With a wonderful but very strict father (my grandpa), she was never allowed to travel alone. Getting married quite young and then having me, and then my brother, meant that she did not have a chance to try before a family came along. In the last few years, she has travelled with my step-dad but is always looking to do more. When I  return from somewhere on my visits home, she sits and ask questions, eyes curious and wistful.

As her 65th birthday approached, I wanted to know if I could take her somewhere she wouldn’t otherwise visit. On a walk back to the car last fall, I casually asked her, “So, where do you want to go that you and Howard (my step-dad) likely won’t get a chance to go?”

High up on the list was India. Of course, I said, “great, I’ll take you!” And she said, “not so fast.”

Copious negotiating later, conditions were set: (1) she wanted to go on a group tour,  (2) she asked that I fly there and back with her and (3) a joint packing effort was required. (She hates packing as much as I do). For the group tour, we are going with G Adventures — a natural fit since I am a brand ambassador for them already under their Wanderer in Residence programme.**

Given that it is my mum’s birthday, I chose a Comfort Level trip instead of G’s standard tour; it has transfers from the airports included, as well as lodging in ancient heritage mansions during several nights in the Golden Triangle.  The trip is called Land of the Maharajas, and it takes us to New Delhi first, and then Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur and Agra, as well as smaller Rajasthan villages in between.  I’m currently in Toronto for G Adventures’ annual meeting and many people from their Delhi office are in town to attend; I’ve gotten even more excited hearing about the next weeks firsthand from them.

As most midday and dinner meals are not included in the trip, I have made her promise to trust me on food-finding missions, despite my inability to completely guarantee that we will avoid Delhi Belly. We will do our best, of course. But we also happen to be bringing Cipro.

**  For those who aren’t familiar with the Wanderers programme, it is not an extension of a ‘press trip model’ or FAM trip for bloggers, but rather a combination of coverage — stories, food, the usual — with an additional assignment components, depending on the trip. In this case, I’m bringing model releases for others in the group to sign in the event they’d want to be included in photography for the site or brochures, and I’ll be providing additional coverage for a newer project in Delhi (a training school for street kids to fund higher education and specific vocational pursuits).  Part of what made this programme a good fit for me was the combination of writing with more inward-facing value for G in the form of feedback and deliverables. The ongoing partnership/relationship gives this trip a really different feel from a FAM or press trip.   I’m providing these details because I rarely share the more business-oriented info here, with the exception of the “about” page, but more and more of your emails ask about the kinds of projects that support my lifestyle. Perhaps a “how I do this” post is needed?

And Then: Bangkok

Those who are longer-term readers might remember my trip to Morocco with G in 2011, where after the two-week tour was over, I stayed put, rented a car and then high-tailed it to the Algerian border. In this case, in lieu of staying in India, I’m taking my mum to one of my favourite cities on the planet: Bangkok. After hearing me go on and on (and on and on) about the markets and the food (and the coffee) and my friends Bangkok, I figured why not take her with me. I’m speaking at a conference just after our trip, and there was no arm-twisting involved — she readily agreed to join. (Of course, I have vowed to feed her, provide her with copious options for foot massages and show her around a place I called home.)

I’m also happy to be providing actual proof for all the street food vendors who would immediately ask how old I am after I ordered my food, and then not believe me. I’d pull out my phone, show a photo of my mum and say “guess how old SHE is?” and they’d guess about 20 years too young and I’d say “It’s in the genes!”

So now I can just point to her and say SEE I TOLD YOU SO.

For those thinking about a Delhi-Bangkok trip, our flights on Jet Airways were 350$ return, tax in.

Stories and Photos from India

I’ll be sharing stories and photos from the India trip on Legal Nomads, as well as on G’s Looptail blog. On this site, I’ll be tagging those posts as “WIR” — much like those first weeks of my Morocco trip in 2011. As always I’ll be posting real-time updates on Instagram and Facebook. G Adventures has wisely given me their login for their Instagram feed, so I’ll be posting there occasionally as well. Food might just figure prominently.

In addition, my mum has also asked if she can write about it here – both what it’s like to travel with a globe-trotting daughter for a month, and also about her thoughts and feelings in the chaos of India.  If there are any questions you have for the mother of a long-term traveler, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

So that’s my October.

Pre-Trip Reading List

I tend to skip the parts about pre-trip reading and research on this site, as I’ve focused on narrative in-country instead. But people often write about how I prepare for a place I’ve never been. Since India is a first for me, I wanted to put those readings and resources here.

I haven’t used guidebooks in quite a few years, opting instead to read historical fiction or non-fiction books, history entries from Wikipedia and pore through food blogs, making notes about what I want to eat. With a wonderful network of friends who love food and travel, I’ve been sent lists of what to eat from many, with special thanks to Cameron (who lived there for years) and Earl (who has been a dozen times).

In addition to general introduction reads on Wikipedia, we are reading or have read already:

  • Sorcerer’s Apprentice, by Tahir Shah  (Kindle version is only $2.99)
  • The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga (Kindle version)
  • A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth
  • Shantaram, by David Gregory Roberts (Kindle version)
  • A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry
  • City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi, by William Dalrymple
  • The God of Small ThingsArundhati Roy (Kindle version)
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, & Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo (Kindle version)
  • India: a Million Mutinies Now, by V.S. Naipaul (Kindle version)

These were suggested by readers after I posted this blog entry on Facebook:

  • A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur, by Devi Gayatri (Kindle version)
  • The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai (Kindle version)
  • A Strange and Sublime Address, by Amit Chaudhuri
  • Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure, by Sarah Macdonald  (Kindle version)
Biryani from Yangon, Myanmar

Biryani from Yangon, Myanmar. Looking forward to trying it in India!

We’ve also been pouring over these blogs about Indian Food:

  • Ruchik Randhap (Mangalorean food)
  • Aayi’s Recipes (Konkani food)
  • Tongue Ticklers (Vegan food)
  • Veg Recipes of India
  • Sailu’s Kitchen (focuses on Andhra cuisine. More on that here.)
  • Preoccupied
  • Mad Cooking Fusions
  • Sharmi’s Passions
  • eCurry
  • And Mark Wiens kindly sent over a copy of his Delhi street food guide too.

And for general history/background of region and country:

  • Manas: History & Politics of India
  • The Ancient History Encyclopedia‘s India entry
  • Fordham University’s list of online sources for history of India
  • Anecdotes and legends about the history of Indian food
  • Texas A&M’s “Worldroom” site, with a brief overview of regions in India and their foods (PDF)

Finally, In Case You Missed It…

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And for those not interested in any of those things, thank you for reading and back to regularly scheduled programming soon.