Gosh, I can barely believe it. I’m halfway through my trip. I’ve traveled 15,486 miles (3,924 since last month) in five countries on this trip. India is the 30th country I’ve visited in my life.
In some ways the time has flown. I can’t believe I’m already halfway done, meaning that my time is truly winding down. On the other hand, it feels like ages since I landed in Moscow and eagerly began my adventure–surely that was more than just 12 weeks ago!
So where am I spending this day? In a nice hotel (!!) in Mumbai near the airport, since Eric leaves tonight. It’s been a wonderful trip having him here and I was able to relax and let my guard down a bit, knowing I had a buddy to have my back. Tomorrow I head to Goa, a veritable backpacker mecca, though not in the same way as the funky banana pancakes. I’ll check in from there, certainly. But in the meantime, highlights from the past month:
Pokhara and yoga. I’ve already written about both Pokhara and the yoga ashram, so no need to rehash it all here. But it was the best conceivable way to relax and unwind–both mentally and physically–after the Everest trekking experience. It was a real highlight of the trip so far, and it’s top of my list for places to return to someday. (But next time I’d like a buddy–any takers!?)
Nepali detention. While it was happening, I was mentally writing the blog post about it in my head. But then I never could bring myself to sit down and write about the long, drawn-out, bureaucratic debacle that nearly prevented me from leaving Nepal. It involved expressing displeasure in a reasonable tone of voice, followed by respectful dissent, then frustrated insistence, progressing to foot-stomping, pleading, tears, and, finally, reluctantly forking over $100 cash (in that order). Let’s just say: Don’t be as naive (or arrogant) as me and assume that overstaying your visa in Nepal is no big deal and easily solved with a fistful of rupees. Not so.
Wedding in Ahmedabad. Two of my very best and dearest friends arrived in Mumbai a few days ahead of me from the United States. They came to go to a wedding in Ahmedabad, in the Gujarat state north of Maharashtra. We spent a fun day together in Mumbai before flying to the wedding. The wedding itself was a fabulous feast for the senses of vibrant colors, intoxicating scents, jangly rhythms and lip-smacking flavors. I particularly enjoyed eyeing all of the women adorned in exquisitely bedazzled sarees and eye-popping gold and jewels.
From the Harbour Since 1933. Oh my, my. What a lovely, over-the-top, indulgently pleasurable place the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is. Five stars and then some, walking into the complex made me feel instantly important and rich–even though I’m neither of those things. It was a main target in the 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai, though you’d never know it from the elegant, confident ambiance there. (Though the metal detectors, bag scanners and body searches do hint at a certain apprehension in the air). We settled into a couple of barstools inside at the Harbour Bar and checked out the cocktail menu, noticing one called From the Harbour Since 1933. Since it’s the hotel’s signature drink, we ordered one. What resulted was a long process of preparing my drink, including several glasses, infusions, a splash of Chartreuse (my favorite!) and an accompanying narrative. The bartender set the scene by describing two Americans who were sailing in the Arabian Sea (which the hotel overlooks) when they learned about the end of Prohibition back home. They came into the hotel to celebrate and the bartender prepared them a special concoction–this one. He finished the story by lighting the Chartreuse on fire, swirling it around and gently mixing it into my drink. It was absolutely lovely. We went back and had another one the next night.
Taj Mahal. It was a stressful day. I lost my temper at a few hawkers (and Eric, the mergers and acquisitions lawyer, had to give me, the self-righteous social justiceteer, a talking-to about respecting local people). My audio guide stopped working early in the visit. Mosquitoes were eating us alive. But nothing could take away from the truly awe-inspiring experience of visiting the Taj Mahal. Everyone told me it was worth going to miserable, filthy, hell-on-earth Delhi, taking the train to just-as-bad-but-with-more-rats Agra, fighting the crowds and crooks, all to lay eyes on this spectacular building. And they were right. It’s difficult to imagine that it’s nearly 500 years old. Built for the late third wife of emperor Shah Jahan, the marble and sandstone building is really a huge mausoleum and is inlaid with thousands of shards of tiny stones in floral and geometric designs. It is opulent, serene, exquisite. Just plain fabulous.
It looks pristine, new, elegant and imposing, as though all at once it was built yesterday but had existed since the dawn of time. It was worth every rupee and frustrating moment. Added bonus? Tom Cruise was there, too, though we didn’t see him. Apparently his presence caused a commotion, which surprises me, since the complex was filled with stern-faced Muslims who glowered in the direction of the handful of Western tourists present. I didn’t imagine they’d welcome the presence of an essential representation of American largess–a Hollywood star. I was glad not to see Tom Cruise, actually, since my experience at the Taj Mahal was pretty relaxed. I really let myself enjoy the place and sharing it with Eric was maybe the best part. I’m so glad I went.
The next months are exciting and packed full of friend visits–Emily, Caralyn and Sameeta in Singapore and Bali, Katie and Tim in Cambodia, Eric again!!! in Thailand, and Julia in Vietnam. In a way, the first half of this trip was the segment for which I was truly alone. And I think I did some of the toughest traveling on my own, too. I’m both glad and somewhat reluctant to end that chapter–knowing I’m self-sufficient, acting resourcefully alone, and successfully maneuvering hairy situations completely independently is a source of pride. By the same token, I crave company and familiar faces. I’ll be glad to have so many close friends to share the second half of this trip with.
Before that, though–two more weeks alone in India. Deep breath!…