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Entries about preparation

between us girls

try to get it all out of your system this week please

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I'm referring, of course, to Mother Nature. That's quite a load you dumped on us today; and seeing as how this time next week I'm supposed to be enjoying a cocktail on my flight to Delhi -- at this very minute you should know -- I just want to make sure you don't do anything to rain (uh, make that snow) on my parade.

Because hell hath no fury like a woman who's planned a trip for nine months and then can't go because of bad weather!! Enough said.

Yes. I've had all my shots. I've swilled back enough Dukoral to make sure I never get e-coli. My malaria pills are on stand-by until the day before I leave. I've paid my money. Renewed my passport. Got my visa. Done my laundry. Had my hair cut. Made lists. Checked lists. Double-checked lists. Scratched things of lists. Made new lists. Stocked up on cat food. Loaded up on Litter. Remembered to buy cat treats. Charged batteries. Downloaded music. Paid bills. Ordered money. Bought medicine. Bought books. Bought bathing suits. Finished shopping. Booked a limo.

In other words, I'm ready to go!

When will you next hear from me? Maybe while I'm whiling away the hours in The Maple Leaf Lounge. Maybe before the plane takes off. Maybe from Brussels if we're there long enough. Definitely from Delhi -- which is our first stop.

We arrive there at about 10:30 at night on the 27th of December and will be staying at the fabulous Imperial Hotel -- do check it out on the web. A family friend lives there so I'll get a chance to see her and her husband while I'm in town. She's going to take me shopping for a sari or a salwar kameez -- I've decided I want to wear native garb for New Year's Eve -- which we're celebrating in a former palace -- now a heritage hotel!

So stay tuned. I promise to keep in touch.

Posted by a_broad 16:51 Archived in India Tagged preparation Comments (1)

three weeks and counting

soon, soon

sunny 3 °C

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I can hardly believe it myself.

After all the months and months of researching and reading and planning and choosing and deciding, exactly three weeks from today I will be sitting on a plane on my way to India. Actually, as I sit here and write this, it is 11:23 p.m. in Toronto -- and three weeks from this very moment I might be snuggled up in my pod on the plane fast asleep. At least I hope I am.

While life is certainly not "normal" (after all how could it be?), things in Mumbai seem to be settling down. Rashmi has had to change our hotel because obviously we cannot stay at the Taj. But other than that our plans remain the same. I have been checking the Canadian Travel Advisory site regularly and the advisory has been lifted now.

And I continue to be very excited about going.

Yes, I know. Security has been heightened at airports all over India. That's a good thing.

So be on the lookout for photos of me on an elephant, on a camel, in front of the Taj Mahal and in a sari -- not necessarily in that order, or at the same time.

Later ...

Posted by a_broad 20:21 Archived in India Tagged preparation Comments (1)

Mumbai

to reassure you

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Since this tragedy started to unfold yesterday afternoon I have been inundated with emails from all of you. Thank you so much for your concern, your love and support -- how lucky am I to have all of you in my life.

I want to reassure you ...

We are not leaving for a month.

Mumbai is not our first stop. In fact we'll be well into January before we go there.

My travel agent is on top of it and she will not take us anywhere that isn't safe.

It's academic anyway because the government will not let us in if it isn't safe.

Tragically, nowhere is safe. 9/11 certainly brought that message home loud and clear.

Thankfully I have decided to write this blog ...

... and you will know that I'm ok. So if you haven't subscribed yet, please do -- that way you'll be notified every time I post an entry. And if you haven't become a member of travellerspoint yet, please do -- that way you can post comments and I will respond and we can converse (if you have disposed of that email already -- and shame on you if you have -- I will send out another notice soon.)

Let us all pray that this gets resolved as quickly and effectively as possible -- not so I can take my trip, but so those who are already in Mumbai can be safe and secure once again; so those who are injured make speedy and full recoveries and so the souls of those who perished can rest in peace.

Posted by a_broad 10:44 Archived in India Tagged preparation Comments (1)

(My) Passage To India

it's getting close

sunny 2 °C

BlogCatalog

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There are the mixologists who combine all kinds of booze and juice and other non-alcoholic beverages to create fanciful cocktails ... and then there's Rashmi -- who I've decided is also a mixologist -- only she has a real knack for throwing a bunch of people together, and creating a diverse yet compatible group (which makes me think that the next time I want to meet a guy I should put her in charge.)

The dinner at her house was such a great idea. She invited some folks who had been on previous trips with her and those of us going in December who live here (there's a couple coming from Australia who obviously didn't make it to the dinner -- although if we'd known that CNN could make a hologram of someone and import them from one location to another ...).

And we all got to know each other over a wonderful, home-cooked Indian dinner.

Those who had travelled with Rashmi before couldn't stop raving about her and the trips she'd organized for them. All we heard, over and over again, was what a great time we were going to have. And they all had fabulous and interesting stories to share with us: how challenging it is to get up on a camel, let alone to ride one ... how much the kids in the villages loved the little gifts they brought them ... how blown away we'd be by the opulance of the palace hotels ... how moved we'd be during the evening Aarti prayer on the Ganges in Varanasi, and on and on it went.

One minute we were strangers -- and the next we were united by our common interest in India. It was truly amazing.

I had a chance to talk to everyone going on our trip, too. There's an incredibly bright woman who owns her own IT company and commutes between North Carolina and Toronto ... her cousin who was a teacher and just bubbles over with enthusiasm and energy ... a soft-spoken, really well-travelled bridge instructor ... me ... and Haidee -- a photographer who's originally from South Africa.

It's a great group and I can't wait to really get to know them. I am very glad I decided against going alone. It will be so much better to have people to share these experiences with.

But it gets even better.

Haidee and I have decided to collaborate on a book of this trip --

with her being a photographer and me being a writer it's a natural! In talking to her that night we realized how much we had in common. It's unreal -- and all good!

Now the time is starting to fly by and it's time to decide what I'm taking on the trip. I pare it down and pare it down because I know I plan to shop. I am definitely buying a sari and I know I want several salwar kameez -- and that's just the beginning -- yes, I will be stashing an extra piece of luggage that folds up into a sack in my luggage.

I've done just about everything I can to prepare for this trip. All that's left to do is get my prescriptions ... last minute stuff from the drugstore ... socks ... an extra memory card and a spare battery for my camera ... money ... and, pack.

Even our itinerary is now cast in stone:

We fly to Delhi (through Brussels and spend a couple of days there. Then we go to Agra (Taj Mahal) ... Samode (where we stay in the most beautiful palace hotel -- Samode Palace -- and celebrate New Years -- albeit 10 1/2 hours before you do here) ... Jaipur (pink city and also where we get to ride elephants) ... Bikaner (where we begin our desert adventure) ... Jaisalmer (camel ride) ... Manvar (where we get to stay in tents and watch the sunset over the dunes) ... Jodhpur (yes, maybe I'll even buy some) ... Deogarh ... Udaipur (where we stay in a floating hotel) ... Varanasi ... Khajuraho (think Kama Sutra) ... Mumbai (where the couple from Australia leave us to go home) ... and then on to a week in the South, in Kerala -- we start with an overnight houseboat cruise of the backwaters ... go to Munnar (tea and spice plantations) ... on to Thekkedy (where there is a wild animal reserve, a wonderful Auryvedic Spa and we'll also get some cooking lessons) ... Cochin -- then back to Mumbai for our flight home.

Yes, we will be covering a lot of ground, but I can't wait. There will be lots and lots of pictures -- some you'll see on this blog -- for the rest you will have to endure a slide presentation when I get back home. Maybe I'll bribe you by inviting you to a beautiful Indian meal I will cook for you, with spices I bring home from India!

To those of you who have endured my endless dissertations on India and descriptions of every event that has led up to this journey, thank you for your patience. I can't wait to share my experiences with you -- on this blog and then again "in the flesh".

I hope you enjoy travelling vicariously with me -- and I hope I inspire you to make the journey yourself one day. The next time you hear from me I will be at the airport -- or better yet, in my pod on the plane.

Namaste ...

Posted by a_broad 12:59 Archived in India Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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 Comments (0)

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