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Desperately Seeking Ganesha

the faith to remove all obstacles

semi-overcast 14 °C

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Daunted? Me? Oh ye of little faith! I thought you knew me better than that. A couple of little setbacks aren't going to dissuade me from going to India. All it's made me do is go out and buy a second guide book -- Frommer's Guide -- and spend even more time on the Internet -- and start talking to everyone I know who's been there.

India was definitely in my immediate future and one way or the other I was going to organize the trip of my dreams. Truth be told, I was enjoying the challenges. I was loving the research because, in the process, I was learning a lot about India and I know that when I finally get there, it will be a lot more familiar to me than it would be if everything had gone smoothly and quickly. There's no question that the preparation is almost as much fun as the participation. What's that saying? 90% Perspiration and 10% Inspiration?

First stop? I spoke to Allison, who used to work for me, who has been to India a couple of times. It was a wonderful conversation and I came away with tons of useful information and tips:

For instance ...

She convinced me that, considering that I couldn't go for months on end, as charming as Pondicherry sounded I should go to Varanasi instead. Of course after I'd left her and did my homework I quickly realized she was absolutely right. It is, after all, the spiritual essence of India -- an absolute must-see. Challenging to be sure -- I would see things that would be difficult to handle -- but pushing my boundaries is one of the many reasons I want to go to India in the first place.

Varanasi is where Indians go to die -- and bodies are cremated along the banks of the sacred Ganges 24 hours a day. It is believed that if you die in Varanasi your soul can finally rest in peace.

Allison also warned me about the trains in India and suggested that, because I was traveling alone, I avoid them altogether. I took this suggestion very seriously because Allison is someone who goes confidently where others fear to tread. So if she was warning me about something -- anything actually -- I was going to listen.

She had been to some of the hotels I had decided I'd like to stay at, so that gave me some confidence. She told me I would love the people -- and if I met a local who invited me home for a meal I should definitely go -- it would be a fabulous experience. She told me over and over again how terrific the people are -- how warm, how friendly, how generous, how kind.

She told me not to be afraid of getting delhi-belly -- that she'd never had a problem -- that I should just use common sense.

I walked away from my time with her with pages and pages of notes. It was great --and it reminded me that there is tremendous value in talking to people who have spent time in far away or exotic places you want to visit. Guidebooks are great, the Internet is great, but you can't overlook the recommendations, suggestions and watch-out-fors from people you know and trust.

Which is why I also talked to another friend of mine, Daryl. She'd spent 3 months in India on business and her advice was also invaluable -- not to mention her shopping tips -- like wait to buy a sari in Varanasi, where they are known for silk. And she would know because she told me she shopped so much she had to buy another suitcase and still she had to ship things home!

All my homework certainly paid off:

By now I knew exactly where I wanted to go, when I wanted to go, what I wanted to see, how long I wanted to stay and which hotels I wanted to stay in. It was time to find the right travel agent; and just when I was thinking I might try an agent in the U.K. (with the Internet geography doesn't matter) serendipity took over.

While talking to John, another friend, I mentioned I was planning a trip to India. "OMG", he said. "I have a friend who went to India recently and LOVES his travel agent. Do you want me to get her name for you?"

"Please" was my answer.

I spoke with John's friend Richard that night -- or more to the point, I listened to him rave about his trip and his agent for the better part of an hour. The next morning I called Rashmi Brahmbhatt, the owner of Crossways Travel & Tours. I trusted her immediately. I loved her immediately. And it took her about 5 minutes to convince me to join her on a very small group (8 people in total) trip -- to exactly the places I wanted to see -- that she was leading at the end of the year -- Delhi, Rajasthan, Varanasi, Mumbai and Kerala.

First off, it was Rashmi's passion that got to me.

Rashmi is someone who loves her country ... who is proud of where she comes from ... who revels in its history and customs and pagentry; and wants nothing more than to share it with you. She wants to give you an experience you will cherish forever, and turns herself inside out to deliver.

She understood what I wanted to get out of this trip in a nano-second -- and in about the same amount of time I knew I couldn't be in better hands.

We talked for about a half an hour -- the first of many, many, many wonderful and interesting conversations we've had about her homeland and our trip.

I have never seen anyone work so hard. To say she aims to please is an understatement. But the better I've gotten to know her during the months we've been planning this trip the more I have come to realize that Rashmi gets pleasure from giving pleasure.

Over and over again she refined the trip -- like a craftsman who is working on a piece of marble or fine wood -- constantly polishing and sanding and polishing some more. Re-plotting the course we would take and how long we would stay ... adding in a train journey so we could add that to the many experiences we would bring home with us ... allowing enough time to rest and to shop ... making sure we would have enough time on our own ... breaking up long stretches of driving by stopping and enjoying historical sites, or meeting village people, or simply having a leisurely lunch ... giving us a taste not only of the typical tourist attractions but how the real people live as well ... making sure we see not only the splendour but the spirituality and even the squalor -- the real India.

She was never satisfied. Each time she said she was finished, she would start again.

And she was just as committed to finding people to join us who would be compatible.

What would have been easy would have been for Rashmi to simply advertise the trip. But that's not how she does things. Like a matchmaker, she wants to make sure the chemistry will be right ... that we'll be willing to compromise so everyone gets to see and do what they want ... that we'll roll with the punches when reality sets in and we're dealt the odd surprise -- which is bound to happen no matter how well everything is planned. Like with everything else concerning this trip, she refused to compromise -- even if it meant we'd be a smaller group than she'd hoped for.

While Rashmi was finalizing the itinerary I started making lists of what I'd need and need to do. For someone who hates needles, I could look forward to becoming a pin cushion.

Never mind ...

So off I trotted to the doctor for polio, dyptheria, tetanus, thyphoid and Twinrix shots. She also convinced me to take a flu shot -- my first ever -- because I'd be on a plane for so long. She sold me when she said, "You don't want to get the flu and ruin your trip do you?" With a sigh I gamely rolled up my sleeve and raised my arm.

If nothing else this experience has cured me of my fear of getting jabbed!

Happily I had no reactions. Two weeks before I leave I will take Dukoral (prevents ecoli) and soon after I will start my anti-malaria pills. Thankfully there is a new one on the market -- Malarone -- which apparently has no side effects.

I will also make sure I have a full list from her of stuff to include in a First Aid Kit. What can I say? I was a Girl Guide when I was a kid. I believe in 'Be Prepared'. Considering the reaction I got to some mosquito bites in Bequia last year let me assure you that I have every intention of making sure I am well stocked with steroid cream and anti-histimines.

Next I took care of my Visa and I was shocked at how quickly I got it -- about a week. Now all I really had to do was think about what clothes I would take ... and stop spending and start saving so I'd actually have some money for the trip.

Now there's a concept ...

And while I was in list Heaven Rashmi was constantly thinking of anything and everything she could do to make sure we all had a spectacular time -- including hosting a dinner party so we could all meet each other -- with the exception of the couple coming from Australia, obviously. And ...? The verdict ...?

Posted by a_broad 13:35 Archived in India Tagged preparation

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