Three weeks away from now we'll take off from Warsaw, stop over at Doha for some frozen yogurt, and then head straight for India. We're in the middle of our usual planning & preparations routine, steadily getting a bit more anxious with every passing week. It'll be fun to see how our, certainly flawed, expectations stack up against reality on the ground.
With two and a half weeks we have for the trip there's some time to see and do a few things, but not overly much either. And we need to be careful with how often we're planning to transit from one location to another, because travel times between cities are surprisingly long, as offered by Google Maps.
For instance, Bengaluru to Mysuru is only a 150km drive, but the time is a whopping 3 hours, meaning a snail-pace average of 50km an hour. I could cycle the distance in just a little longer than that. It probably says a lot about the road conditions we'll be facing and means we'll have to curb our plans for seeing several far off locations and focus on a relatively small area.
The rough route plan is as follows then:
- Bengaluru, arrival, some sightseeing, meeting friends we have there and perhaps enjoying a bit of nightlife.
- Mysuru, for the palace(s) and possibly one of the best street markets in India.
- Wayanad, a short stopover to see elephants.
- Kochi, for a bit of sightseeing, but mostly time off at the beaches.
- Kumarakom, with some excellent lodging on houseboats. More on that later.
- Munnar, very briefly to see tea plantations in the hills.
- Coimbatore, for the Grand Wedding—all four days of it. Perhaps with a short stint for Ooty, via a scenic train ride.
- Bengaluru back for a bit of extra city-dwelling and heading back to Warsaw.
Doable? Hopefully. Our local friends said it's perhaps only a little bit of a stretch, but should be within reasonable limits. The only discomfort will be having to pack and unpack between each jump, but we've gotten pretty efficient at that through the years of traveling. Plus, thanks to the wonderfully hot climate, we won't have a lot of clothes.
We've pretty much settled for renting a car and using that as transportation. It's not as iconic as taking the Indian trains, but leaves us a lot of freedom in deciding the timings and routes of our travel. What we're still discussing is whether we want to be driving ourselves or hire a local driver.
There have been legends told about the unruly traffic of India (and other Asian countries, of course), people completely disregarding any regulations and standards. But I was personally driving in Bali for three full weeks, in what I think were very similar conditions to what we'll face in India, and I'm not particularly daunted. It's much less dangerous than it seems from the outside. One simply has to be pretty decisive about intentions and execute them carefully. Only when you hesitate do others get confused and possibly dangerous situations happen on the road.
Having said that, our local friends insist that we hire a local driver with the car we'll be getting, saying that even they do so when they leave their home state. Apparently there are local road regulations to follow, known by the drivers but usually not the foreigners, and a driver would also be very helpful in resolving any local disputes that may arise.
It's not ideal, but perhaps we'll follow that advice if everyone is so insistent on it. It'll be one extra person to cater for, even if they're pretty self-sufficient and inexpensive, but it might be a necessary price of reasonable safety.
That's “on the agenda” as we speak. We're checking out the offerings in our chosen locations. Prices and standards look good, compared to what we know from Europe and even from Poland, so we're pretty optimistic here.
One particularly interesting location will be the house boats we were suggested in Kumarakom. Located in a bay isolated from the currents of the ocean, surrounded by lush, green jungle, and pretty much all-inclusive. Looks like a fabulous place to rest and I'm just wondering whether we can swim there too, maybe even do some training for my summer triathlons.
Oh, we've been warned. Some of the people we know, who have been to India before, said that they have “never seen such a messy place before, ever”. Again, we've seen our own share in Bali, have been to the Balkans and even Poland isn't nearly as tidy as we would like it to be. We'll see for ourselves and report back on the findings.
Speaking of hygienic standards, travel advice includes the usual warnings of possible food poisoning, avoiding drinking anything else than bottled water and never, ever eating on the street. We're trying to stay reasonable here. I can easily imagine people, whose daily diet consists of highly processed food, who then travel to a place like India, where the first thing they'll try will get their stomachs upset.
Our own diet is pretty varied day to day, with plenty of raw stuff on the menu. And we've been to Indonesia, Malaysia, Ghana, South Africa, Lebanon and never had any issues. Basic precautions are fine—we're also taking some anti-poisoning pills, just in case—but let's not overreact.
Travel restrictions are always a nuisance for myself, and perhaps for everybody else living in the European Union—especially the Schengen zone. The Indian ones are easy to obtain, with a fully online procedure, if a bit costly at $48. Yet I'm always surprised at why some countries would make it difficult for others to visit. My understanding of visas is that they're meant to control immigration. Fine. Now, how many immigrants is India expecting from Poland?
Finally, the grand event, the reason we are going to India, in the “little” town of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. Only a handful of friends a relatives expected. Some 3,000 people perhaps. We might be the only white people in there.
Of course we're thrilled! We're going to get ourselves the local clothing to look properly. Henna tattoos too, and everything else that's part of the process.
We're a bit concerned for our good friend getting married, with the ceremonies taking the whole weekend. I remember my own wedding in Bulgaria, which was only a single day long, and how both physically and mentally exhausting it was. Now we're talking about not one but two, three or four days, depending how you count. That's an IronMan-class endurance sport!
‘nuff said for now. Time to comb Airbnb and Booking.com for accommodation offers on our route and prepare a training plan that I can follow in the 35C heat. This'll be an excellent transition away from this year's cold, snowy Polish winter.