Sunday, October 30, 2011

Packing for India

Packing for India really isn't much different than packing for any of my other trips oversea. I have the usual toiletry items, passport, money and so on. But I have made a few slight changes to what I would normally take;

Clothes - I'm packing very few clothes as I've read and been told that clothes in India are relatively inexpensive. So I'll just get what I need when I need it there. This way I avoid packing clothes that I probably wouldn't have needed to take whether it be shorts, jackets or whatever.

Power adapter/converter - All of my travels in the past have been to countries that have the same electrical power as we have here in the states, 110 volts ac. But in India the power is 220 volts ac so I'm taking a few adapters and one small converter so that I can safely use the 220 volts to power my 110 volt items such as my netbook, electric shaver and cell phone charger.

Lonely Planet Guide Book - Normally I don't travel with a guide book, I usually do a lot of internet research at least to get me started and then wing it once I'm in the country. But with India being so big and seemingly intimidating I decided to bring one along on this trip. Since it's heavy I may decide to ditch it somewhere down the road if  end up not using it.

Nopikex - I found this insect repellent in Panama and it is by far the best repellent I have ever used. It is a bar of soap and one just washes their skin with it, leaving the lather on the skin where it quickly dries. It does not leave behind an oily film or clog the pores as most sprays do, and is odorless. It contains 22% deet and usually lasts the entire day. I'm taking two small bars but I probably should have brought three.

Acidophilus - This is a probiotic which is naturally found in yogurt and is used to aid in digestion or calming an upset stomach. Acidophilus is a natural bacteria found in the digestive system but when one eats questionable food the bad bacteria can overwhelm the good bacteria causing 'delhi-belly'. I've been traveling with a probiotic for years and it works great. Anytime my stomach starts to feel queasy I'll take one or two and usually will feel better in less than an hour.

Money Belt - I normally don't travel with one of these but because I'll be traveling for three months I felt like I might need one. I also got a new wallet with a chain on it to help foil pick pocket attempts should that be an issue. Probably all over kill, but why take a chance.

Lock and Cable - Again, this is something that I usually don't travel with but so many people recommended one for keeping bags safe when traveling on a bus or train in India.

Here is a short list of items that I always travel with;

Nokia phone - this is an unlocked phone that I take with me everywhere. For a dollar or two I buy a local sim card, put it in my phone and add minutes to it for a reasonable fee. This allows me to call taxis, hotels, and even back to the states for a very reasonable cost. From India to the US it is less than 10 cents per minute.

Camera - who travels without a camera? Not me! I recently sold my beloved Pentax digital SLR camera and assorted lenses and purchased a Canon SX40 HS point and shoot camera. While the Canon takes great photos it isn't near the quality as the Pentax DSLR. However walking around with a large DSLR and a few lenses isn't always practical, actually it's a pain the butt. I believe the Canon will fulfill all my needs. I also have a small Olympus that I'll take as it is a pocket size camera and I can take it with me every day to capture those unexpected moments.

I got a new tetanus shot yesterday so all of my immunizations are up to date. I took a quick check at my flights online yesterday and so far there haven't been any schedule changes (it happens once in a while). So I'm packed and ready to go!! Just need to wait another 7 days before I board the plane.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The wedding suit

One of the things I plan to do shortly after I get to New Delhi is to attend the wedding of my cousin's daughter. I emailed my cousin and asked what would be appropriate to wear to the wedding and he replied that a suit would do. Everyone that knows me knows I'm a short sleeve shirt and cargo shorts kinda guy, there is nothing fancy in my wardrobe. After asking my cousin if there was a place in Delhi to rent a suit he replied back and suggested that I send him my measurements and he would have one made for me, a gift from his family to me.

I'll admit that it wasn't a pretty sight with me and a measuring tape, and besides, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to measure. So on the advice of my mother I hopped into my car and drove to a bridal shop (mom suggested tuxedo shop but all I could find was a bridal shop). When I walked into the shop everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at me as I stood, surrounded by racks of white gowns and cases of sparkly costume jewelry, wearing my cargo shorts and a black t-shirt. I was obviously not 'bridal shop' material. Someone in charge quickly approached me asking if I needed help (probably help out the door) and I explained that I was on my way to India and where a tailor needed my measurements so he could make me a suit. I was pleasantly surprised when the person in charge said 'sure, we can do that'. Five minutes later I had my measurements and was out the door.

My cousin just sent me photos of the suit he got for me to wear to the wedding, it really looks good. He explained that he picked a tweed jacket as I could wear that for in the future even for informal occasions. So here's the suit and the accompanying shirt and tie...

India Mike Link Fixed

It appears that when I put this blog together I had the wrong link inserted for India Mike in the column on the right hand side of this screen. It's now been fixed.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Childhood Memories

My parents took my brother and me to India many times when we were kids, the last time was when I was eleven years old. Here's a list of memories I have from that last trip 35 years ago;

Flying on Air Italia and being served beef tongue and quail eggs, YUCK!
Climbing and sitting in guava trees eating the fresh fruit.
Sneaking off by ourselves down the street to the candy seller to buy goodies.
Eating beetle nut watching the red saliva go all over the place.
Uncles sneaking us kids out of the house and to the market so we could get a piece of chicken or fish (the family is vegetarian so we weren't allowed to say anything).
Seeing the Indian style toilet for the first time and being scared (google it).
Watching the wild monkeys trying to steal food from the kitchen or fruits from the trees.
Taking an Indian train and sitting on hard benches in crowded train cars.
Taking a bus during monsoon season, the fields and road were covered in two feet of water and a man had to walk in front of the bus to show the driver where the road was.
Not liking most Indian desserts or chai tea but loving the savory snacks.
Fresh roasted corn with chaat masala sprinkled over it.
Eating jalebi, a syrup like substance that is deep fried in a beautiful pattern.
My grandmother, very sweet.
How fun it was to eat with my hands.
The Red Fort in old Delhi with it's markets and street vendors.
The giant black ants that seemed like they were four inches long and were on a mission to get me.
Flying through Hong Kong and having to spend a night in a hotel where it was so foggy we couldn't see anything out of the window.
Flying Pan Am and the flight attendants treating us kids very well, giving us lots of pin on wings and letting us sleep on the ground between the seats and bulkhead.

What I do not remember;
Over crowding or poverty.
Eating out.
Having any Indian children as friends.
Being home schooled by my mother.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Getting to India

India is on the other side of the world from where I live so the only realistic way of getting there is by air. Tickets really aren't cheap to India no matter who you fly these days. Those of you who know me know that I usually have a knack of finding great deals and in the past many years I've been able to find first class tickets cheaper than coach tickets. But not to India, no good deals seem to exist.

Fortunately I have done a lot of flying in the past with American Airlines and have accumulated a large quantity of miles, enough for a free ticket to India. I started looking at tickets in February and though it was nine months before my travel date it was actually quite difficult to find award seats available in which I could use my miles. A coach ticket was 90,000 miles round trip but no seats were available for the months I wanted to travel. Business class required 135,000 miles and while a seat was available for my return in January the only seat in November to get to India was at the end of the month, after my cousin's wedding. So then I looked at first class tickets which required 180,000 miles round trip. Luck was with me and I found a seat in each direction on the dates I wanted to travel so without hesitation I booked my ticket. I did have to pay taxes which was about $52 but what a deal considering the cash price for this ticket was in excess of $16,000!!!

It will take me two flights to get to New Delhi. The first flight will be on a small Boeing 757 which till take me to Chicago in about three hours. I'll overnight in Chicago and the following day I'll board a Boeing 777 wide body which will take me from Chicago to New Delhi non-stop in about 14.5 hours. The 777 is American Airline's largest airplane with three classes of service including first, business and economy. The first class seats are known at Flagship Suites and take up more space than four economy seats. The seat swivels from facing forward to 90 degrees to face the desk and it also lays flat into a bed. Service will include dinner, a midnight movie snack, breakfast and arrival snack, an amenity kit which includes slippers and pj's and even turn down service in which the bed is made with a topper and quilt. How cool is that!!! Okay, so I'm bragging a little bit but I just can't help it. But still, no matter how comfortable I'll be on this flight to and from New Delhi it is still a 14.5 hour flight. That's a long time in an airplane no matter where you sit.

Those who don't know me might think I'm independently wealthy traveling first class and spending three months in India. But nothing could be further from the truth. My friends and family know that I'm unemployed and cheap, not having any bills for the past few years has allowed me to save up enough money (and miles) for this adventure. My budget will be cheap, as in cheap hotels, cheap food and cheap transportation. There will be times though that I am treated to a bit of luxury such as when I first get to India as I plan on taking my cousin up on his offer to spend a week in his guest house. And when I spend a month with my mother and step father traveling on their dime in the lap of luxury (THANK YOU MOM and STEVE!!) But then when I'm on my own I expect to see a lot of budget hotels and restaurants off the main drag. I don't think traveling cheap takes away from the experience but rather adds to the adventure.

I start traveling in about three weeks and will do my best to start off this travel blog with my adventure of getting to India so expect some notes and photos of my flights to New Delhi.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Why go to India?

I think the better question is Why Not. It's been 34 years since I was last in India and I've always been fascinated with the people, food and culture of India. Last fall I made contact with some relatives in India and numerous offers to visit were sent my way that I finally decided "Why Not". The warm invitations from various relatives really helped in my decision to go as did the timing. After telling my mother of my intended trip she and my step father decided that they too wanted to visit India so they'll be joining me for one month shortly after I arrive in Delhi.

Three months may seem like a long time but I suspect that in this large and diverse country three months may not be enough time at all. But it is all the time I have available so I plan on making the best of it. Yes, I could have just gone for a couple weeks but if I'm going to travel to the other side of the world I want to make it a trip worth while. What can one really experience in just a week or two?

Half of my three month trip is planned out while the second half is not. I'll arrive in early November into Delhi where I plan on spending the first week adjusting and visiting some cousins including attending the wedding of one of my cousin's daughter. My mother and her husband Steve will join me a week after I get to India where we'll spend their first week in Delhi as well. Then starting the second week we will be taking a three week south India tour. At the end of the tour mom and Steve will depart India and I'll have six to seven weeks on my own. For this time period I have no agenda, no plan, no idea what I will do. And that's my 'plan', to wing it.

Of course I'll do some of the tourist things and visit some monuments and such but this blog really won't be about that. There's enough blogs on the internet about all the tourist destinations in India. Rather my blog will try to focus on the people of India, it's food and it's culture. Anyone that knows me knows that I like to travel off the beaten path. And that will happen more so during my second half of my stay in India.

Stay tuned, and enjoy.