Pam and me (Barbara) have been great friends since the 1970s in Manchester and have travelled together to exotic places over the last 40 years. I have recently retired from a busy career in art and design education, and Pam a retired dentist has bought and developed a fabulous olive farm in the hills of Andalusia in southern Spain. So here we go …healthy, adventurous and great shoppers it is time for an extended trip to India.
The planning itself has been something of an adventure. Theoretically we are ideal travelling companions; I am super organised, planning an itinerary and doing lots of advance research. Pam on the other hand is quite laid back, calm and determined. Although we are setting off with a brightly coloured travelling pack each, I can guess which one will actually be used!
I have been to India for both leisure and work and suggested a route that will give us sightseeing and beach time. We have used Viber, Pinterest and Instagram to share ideas and to collect research, although neither of us are great IT users. Some of the preparation has been a challenge, not least the dreaded Indian Visa that is an expensive form of torture. We decided to go for the fairly new online E Visa that gives you 6 months of travel time and allows two entries to the country. I called on the support of my husband and his superior IT knowledge – it has made me aware that for older people, the challenges of scaling a Jpeg, formatting a PDF and then being timed out on the form twice, could present a seriously stressful stumbling block! Finally we received a confirmation email … phew. However that was not the end of it. For Pam the lack of a reliable internet connection on the farm, and fear of the form, sent her off for help and support of a good friend in the local village. Finally she achieved a confirmation and the desired ETA with an Indian stamp … thankfully concerned about which documents to take, she sent photographs and made me realise that for some reason I didn’t have the vital certificate. After an afternoon of panic, I rang the embassy and was directed to the place on their website to download it. I could have been left at the airport … so the one without the planning gene saved the day!
So where to go, how to choose where to stay, and how to travel around? This is where the internet is invaluable. There is so much choice in price level, facilities and location but my limited knowledge, some friends who have been to India and are PLU’s (people like us), and lots of reading travel blogs helped to create a plan.
India is not as cheap as it was a few years ago and many of the traditional world that we loved is being replaced by shopping malls, coffee bars and expensive boutiques. I love the aspirational nature of Indians .. they are very hardworking and have taken to new technologies with enthusiasm. Mobile phones and internet shops are now everywhere, and although this means that creature comforts are easily achieved it does mean that you have to have realistic expectations about the costs of hotels etc. There are still vast numbers of poor people, some living on the streets, but there is a growing prosperity for many and a growing educated middle class, many of whom are also on the tourist trail. I love the chaotic bustle of the cities, but it is in the countryside that you see the old India, and a bus or car journey through the Thar desert easily transports you back in time. We aim to start with a few city days in Mumbai to visit the sights, potter around Colaba and Bandra West and go to the Mangaldas fabric market in central downtown. We have chosen a middle range hotel in a nice area so this is our gentle introduction.
Next we are flying to Kerala for two weeks, renting a bungalow near to an old friend of mine who looks after abandoned dogs. I have had the rabies vaccine just in case! We have promised ourselves a trip on a rice barge so have that to arrange on arrival. Kerala is still supposed to be like Goa of 10 years ago but I would guess it is more popular than that …if a little less western.
From Kerala we are off for major sightseeing and shopping in Rajasthan, starting in the fabulous pink city of Jaipur, then by road to the blue city of Jodpur, golden Jaisalmer, and finally Udaipur by the lake. I have had the luxury in the past on business trips, of a great travel organiser and driver from Jaipur called Bharti so he is looking after us for 2 weeks.
From Rajasthan we are giving ourselves 2 weeks in Goa with lots of swimming and snoozing … but no sightseeing. Pam and I have been there before so know what is on offer; Anjuna market on Wednesday, the Saturday night market, but mainly resting before we fly off to the crazy world of Delhi.
I have booked a range of hotels … none of the luxury type that India does so well in old Palaces, but more modest havellis and small boutique hotels. We are economising by having twin beds in some of the more expensive places, but a central apartment in Goa with 2 bedrooms. I am well supplied with earplugs and a variety of clothing and living in Spain Pam is used to hot weather and hates air conditioning. However, I can’t sleep if I am too hot and am a mosquito magnet!
So there we are 8 weeks of two old ladies on their version of the (comfortable) hippy trail. Gurus will be visited, yoga practiced, treasures bought and the Indian postal system attempted. Tomorrow we meet at Heathrow, Pam flying in from Malaga, whilst I am travelling by coach from the south west. The first challenge is to find each other and then off we go …
Written by Goldie contributor Barbara Jones