A look back: India by number

Tonight is my last night in India. Tomorrow night, late, I fly ahead of my better half to spend some quality time caring for my body on the yoga mat, while putting forth some tentative feelers in Thailand. Plans have changed in the last minute; Ritu can no longer join me and I am curious for the alone time in the resort grounds. It may be the perfect situation to contemplate beginning to reflect on everything I’ve experienced in India, while starting to transition to a whole new country. Maybe I’ll just vegetate in the solitude. We shall see. 🙂

We have been using our time in Cochin to look back a bit, while also sorting out logistics for our upcoming plans. Looking at it from a purely statistical point of view, here is a quick rundown of my time in India.

When I fly out tomorrow, I’ll have been in India for 116 days. That’s closing in on four months.

I’ve made 29 stops at 20 different locations, in nine different states in India.

All together, I’ve spent well over a month in Delhi during my four visits there – 44 days in total. (the place I’ve spent the second longest amount of time is Mcleod Ganj at 11 days in total)

And all that I’ve seen has been just a drop in the pond of what India has to offer. At nine, I visited only 25% of India’s states and union territories.

I’ve visited 7 out of India’s 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Agra Fort, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Monuments at Hampi, Humayun’s Tomb, Qtab Minar, Red Fort Complex, Taj Mahal)

Things I’ve lost count of include the number of:

Times I have been so grateful to have Roman at my side for this trip, auto rickshaw rides enjoyed, hours spent sleeping on the night trains, stained hotel towels I’ve opted not to use, delicious curries, chapatis and coffees (and calories 😉 ) ingested, collective hours spent in Café Coffee Day, Costa and Barista, interesting philosopher-salesmen met and deflected, cows milling about the streets, dogs napping in dirt piles, cute baby goats and incredible ancient trees who’ve stolen my heart and brilliant, open smiles shared with the beautiful people here.

Thank you India!!

My India itinerary

Sep 4 New Delhi, NCToD Green Park Hotel
Sep 6 Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh Meradan Grand
Sep 9 Agra, Uttar Pradesh Howard Park Plaza
Sep 10 Amritsar, Punjab Country Inn
Sep 12 Mcleod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh Surya Hotel
Sep 16 Cochin, Kerala The Casino
Sep 18 Kumarakom, Kerala Coconut Lagoon
Sep 19 Alleppey, Kerala Houseboat
Sep 20 Kovalam, Kerala Travancore Heritage
Sep 23 New Delhi, NCToD Ritu’s house
Oct 1 Mcleod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh Green Hotel, Annex Hotel
Oct 8 Amritsar, Punjab Hotel Indus
Oct 12 Rishikesh, Uttarakhand Bhandari Swiss Cottage
Oct 16 Ramnagar, Uttarakhand Hotel Corbett Kingdom, Corbett Motel
Oct 20 New Delhi, NCToD Ritu’s house
Nov 7 Jaisalmer, Rajasthan Shahi Palace
Nov 11 Jodhpur, Rajasthan Cosy Guest House
Nov 14 Jaipur, Rajasthan Karni Niwas
Nov 17 Agra, Uttar Pradesh Hotel Sheela
Nov 19 Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh Teerth Guest House
Nov 24 Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh Hotel Mohan
Nov 25 New Delhi, NCToD Ritu’s house
Dec 10 Mumbai, Maharashtra Chateau Windsor
Dec 13 Palolem, Goa Ciaran’s
Dec 15 Hampi, Karnataka Gopi Guest House
Dec 22 Bangalore, Karnataka Brindavan Hotel
Dec 23 Kumarakom, Kerala Cruise ‘n’ Lake
Dec 24 Thanneermukkom, Kerala Houseboat
Dec 25 Cochin, Kerala Fort Heaven Residency

Rainy days and corporate reflections

Wet weather and a nice hotel set up (decent sized room, which actually has a table and chair and non florescent lighting, a sweet little shared terrace outside our screen door complete with fat, chatty resident sparrows, comfy chairs, and room service delivery of big pots of coffee and a friendly French/Lithuanian couple as neighbors) has encouraged us to have a very lazy stay in Jaipur so far.

I am proud to share that rather than feeling like a travel failure and freaking out about a big list of ‚shoulds’ as I might have done a few weeks ago, I am actually rather enjoying it. I see this as a sign of progress and also marvel at the fact that it has taken me this long to start to really relax! 🙂 I’m still not at Roman-levels of chilling out – he is really a master at this – but if I keep at it, I might catch up with him eventually. 🙂

I’ve been trying out a new mantra – ‘Who gives a $#!@’. The mechanics of the technique are pretty straight forward. Any ‘should’ or judgemental thoughts that my brain starts spewing at me can be countered with the simple but potent incantation.

I haven’t showered and my hair is messy – ‘Who gives a $#!@’. These clothes are comfortable but do they look ok? ‘Who gives a $#!@’. It’s raining and we are tired but if we stay at the hotel we will miss out on the cultural landmarks of Jaipur. ‘Who gives a $#!@’.

I’m starting to feel more comfortable in my own skin again so it seems to be doing the trick! 🙂 Also helpful is remembering that just because we are traveling doesn’t mean that we have to be doing stuff all the time; down time is important.

I wonder if some of the pressure I’ve been putting on myself is just residual stress from my recent past life as a team leader in a corporate environment. How long does it take to detox from an eight year career in finance I wonder? I heard from a good friend still working at my old employer that there has recently been yet another big round of lay offs…

Even months removed from work, I still feel strong loyalty to the people there and it makes me upset to hear about how carelessly people’s lives and livelihoods are manhandled all in the name of the anonymous shareholder… So please excuse the rant. 😉

There were so many positives about my old job. The work was really interesting and I learned a lot. But the best part by far was the great people I got to work with and how valued they were. The culture of the company has been increasingly pressured and compromised though.

I don’t know what will happen when it’s time to get back to work after this big trip, but, especially having some distance and perspective, it is hard to reconcile the thought of giving my time and energy to any company that views its employees as completely disposable. I know that is probably the attitude most employers take, but it just seems like a completely flawed stance to take based on mercenary, short-term thinking.

Anyhow, I am angry (in case you couldn’t tell 😉 ) on behalf of my friends still there and at the seemingly poor perspective of managers who value short-term gain over long-term quality and a healthy culture. I also wonder if this will remain the pervading reality at most employers. In the corporate world in India, from what I have heard, it is even worse and most white collar workers hate their jobs but competition for positions is so high that employees will put up with bad work situations.

This may sound naive, but it just seems insane to spend the majority of your time being miserable at work or to support a work environment where your employees are seen as a cheaply transferable commodity rather than a valuable resource and maybe even as human beings. I realize that one’s happiness is one’s own responsibility and having the right perspective can transform any situation into something positive. But still, I have a tough time understanding certain aspects of corporate mentality…

And, spending time remembering all that, I am all the more grateful to be here in the bad weather in Jaipur with Roman. 🙂

Wherever you go, there you are, even in India

Ok so all that stuff I was saying in the previous post about grace and openness and all that seams to be unravelling at the seems these past days. It’s not about India or anything that’s happening externally. Rather, I’m feeling totally uncomfortable in my own mind and anxious about just about everything we are doing, or not doing. I’m most likely too deep in it to have clear perspective but I have some theories. (Boys, please avert your eyes if you can’t handle women discussing their particular bodily functions.)

I’ve figured out some things about my body over the years, and I can imagine that all the sitting I’ve been doing for the past month plus all the yoga and jogging I haven’t been doing has helped contribute to one of the most unpleasant periods I’ve had in years. I can’t remember the last time I have felt so massivly PMS-y or had such bad cramps – I even had to stop walking today while we were out when they were just too much which never happens to me. I’m breaking out, sore and sensitive and just feeling generally blah.

On top of that I think I am missing the momentum and support of the group travel and I know I am having a hard time sitting still and accepting the generosity of our incredible hosts (As some of you may know, I sometimes am challenged by receiving… On another note, more on our incredible hosts once I get my self-gripe out of my system.). And I’m feeling the need to sink my teeth into the this travel thing and really start exploring (while simultaneously fearing that I might end up being a bashful and lame traveler, oy).

All this while Roman has arrived exhausted from so much work and wants nothing more than to just be for a while – to sleep, take it easy, ease into being in India and finish up on the last of the tech prep which he ran out of time for back home. So basically our instincts right now are to want totally opposite things while I am also overly sensitive, verging on crabby – please send the guy your sympathies! He’s managing to stay patient and sweet, and I to my credit can at least understand with my mind why it’s important for him to have down time and can grasp the fact that for once in my life there isn’t any time pressure. So even if the rest of me is feeling totally impatient, there is a small voice of logic fighting the good fight.

So, enough griping and here is where we are at now: we’ve been in Delhi for nearly a week. We are staying in the apartment upstairs from my friend’s parents in the south of the city. It’s a detatched apartment and we can come and go as we please, but are welcome in the big house at any time. Her parents are just lovely. Generous, interesting and articulate with their insights on their home country. Generous in all other ways as well – we’ve been taking full advantage of their WiFi and have been having all our meals there.

The food is just incredible. The family has three women working in the household. I’m still getting used to this – coming from a typical Western upbringing it feels kind of weird to have someone do everything for you rather than being able to help myself to something out of the fridge or clear my own dishes. At first it made me squirm with “privileged white girl” guilt but this is being tempered with trying to find out how to be a gracious guest by Indian standards (i.e., not wanting to offend our hosts and their staff by doing anything that might imply their hosting/serving abilities are poor) and trying to understand the situation in general by the values and culture of the people in it. I still don’t know how I feel about it, but I’m glad to have the chance to take a closer look.

These women are incredible cooks and every meal is a feast with numerous vegetable dishes, a different dal every day, home made yogurt, cut raw vegetables, piping hot freshly made chapatis, and often a meat dish at dinner. And then a different Indian sweet from a local pastry specialist every day. It’s really just incredible and I have been eating past being full at every sitting just being everything is so tasty. Some of the vegetables I’ve never even heard of before, let alone tasted. Of these my favorite is something I think was called bitter gourd – you can guess how it tastes. 🙂 There have been a bunch of paneer (a type of mild Indian cheese) based dishes that are also high on my list of favorites.  And all the dals (basically legume stews) have been outstanding. I haven’t been in the mood for much meat so I’ve mostly been sticking with the veggie dishes, but I did try a bite of and was pleasantly surprised by goat. Today for lunch we had a more simple dish which may become one of my comfort foods in India. It’s called parantha and it’s basically a stuffed, grilled chapati. Ours had fillings of lightly spiced cauliflower or potato, but they can be filled with other things too. As far as I could tell, once filled, the parantha is grilled in butter, which to me made it reminiscent of and just as comforting and satisfying as a grilled cheese sandwich .

So, with all this eating to be done and the various IT stuff Roman has been setting up for us, we haven’t been out that much in Delhi yet. We have explored the surrounding neighborhood some – it’s quiet and lush and lovely – plus the nearby shopping area and we went on a field trip to another shopping district to get ourselves set up with local phone numbers on our cell phones. We’ve become big fans of the auto rickshaw (also knowns as a Tuk Tuk in some parts of the world). Much more fun than a cab plus better ventilation (which can be a good or a bad thing, depending!). 🙂 Today we finally did something touristy, and went to the Red Fort, which was lovely – although I have to say I was more struck by the Red Fort in Agra.

Tomorrow we have another full day here to finish any last bits and pieces and maybe fit in another sight or two, and then the next day we are hopping on a plane to Dharamsala and we’ll head up to McLeod Ganj and see if we can’t find a hotel (booking ahead at the budget places doesn’t seem to be an option – booking online was impossible and the one place I was able to reach by phone told me they didn’t know if they had anything free but that I should stop by and see. The impression given was not that they were booked out, but that booking ahead was a foreign concept. 🙂 Wonder what we will find when we get there.). That was my favorite place of all the locations visited on the group trip – I’m looking forward to being back in the cool, green mountains (and hopefully out of my messy head and out of my own way).

Along the way – a travel journal. Or, I don’t know what I’m doing.

Welcome to my online travel journal. Today is the first of September and I’m just days away from embarking on the biggest travel adventure of my life (so far).

An alternate name for this blog was “I don’t know what I’m doing”. By way of introduction: I grew up in America. Over five years ago I moved to Switzerland for a job and ended up staying for love. I’ve been living with my boyfriend for over four years now. We have a fantastic life in Zürich – good jobs, a lovely apartment, wonderful friends. We have been very happy together, and I’ve been very happy with my life here in Switzerland.

But starting last year, something began to feel like it was missing. Where before I had delighted in the smallest details of my life overseas, I found that the sparkle had gone out of even the nicest experiences. Somehow, I had gotten trapped in a never-ending cycle of ‘shoulds’ and obligations. My time no longer felt like my own and I felt increasingly that my true self existed more and more on the outskirts of my own life.

I’m still not entirely sure how this happened. I had a very demanding job that took a lot of time and energy. There are certain aspects of Swiss life that can be a bit rigid (Sunday means stores are closed and doing laundry is forbidden, for example. And making plans with friends and family, you usually have to get into their calendar at least a couple of weeks in advance, if not longer.). I also have a tendency to over-commit myself in a need to make others happy. All of these things probably contributed, but even when feeling stressed, I could still see the good in my life – I just no longer felt it. Maybe it was simply time for a change. All I know is that one day in December I was on my yoga mat in class and this voice inside me said loud and clear and totally undeniably: something’s got to give. The seed was planted and my heart started to move towards change. Easter weekend, my boyfriend and I were sitting at the station cafe by our apartment when we decided.

Traveling the world is something we’ve talked about doing since we met, something we’d thought about individually even before we met, but for various reasons, we hadn’t been able to make it happen – until now. We’ve chucked our corporate jobs, given up our apartment and are saying our goodbyes to the people we love. Friday I’ll be taking a one-way flight to India (boyfriend will meet me there three weeks later). The first three to four weeks of the trip are planned. After that we’ll just make it up as we go – destination, activities, duration all up to how we feel and where the journey leads us.

As I can’t say why my life as it was wasn’t working anymore, I also don’t know what I hope to do or find out there in the big world. Like I said, I don’t know what I’m doing.

I don’t know how long or how far we will travel. I don’t know how I will react to the lands and cultures I have never experienced before. I don’t know how we’ll spend our time. I don’t know how I’ll handle being essentially homeless. I don’t know how the travel will affect our relationship and if we’ll come out the other end stronger as a couple or ready to go our separate ways. I don’t know where we’ll land when it’s over, where we will live or how we will earn a living. But, I do have hopes for how it will feel (honest, open, relaxed, joyful), and I know that every step taken since December has let me feel more like myself, more honest, more open, more relaxed, more joyful. And even though I don’t know what I’m doing now, I do know I’ll figure it out along the way.