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Passage to India

Started: 2009-11-13 21:16:15

Submitted: 2009-11-13 22:37:05

Visibility: World-readable

My brother Willy is spending a year teaching in India. Having close relatives living on the other side of the planet gives me a compelling excuse to visit the other side of the planet. Actually finding the time and the money to do so is tricky, but the later sorted itself out when my employer gave me a nice bonus. (It doesn't hurt that, at the current exchange rate, I can essentially blow my entire budget on airfare and get around on the ground without a lot of money. The exchange rate is not kind to the Indian Rupee.) I could buy a shiny MacBook... or I could visit India. Ten years hence, only one will matter.

Actually finding a good time to visit will be tricky. I don't have much vacation time between now and March; I'm committed to using my current balance around the end-of-year holidays, and the schedule is too tight to fit in anything then. (It doesn't hurt that December is an extremely popular time for Indian-Americans to fly home for a month.) The summer monsoons don't start until mid-spring. Willy's availability any time in the spring is sketchy, though he does need to visit Nepal every 180 days to fulfill the requirements of his Indian visa. (He's in north-east India, nestled between Bangladesh and Bhutan, but Nepal is easier to get to; one need only show up at the border, ask nicely for a visa, and pay the posted fee. China and the country formerly known as Burma aren't very far off either.) This suggests my meeting him in Guwahati (the nearest large city) and taking the train down the Brahmaputra River valley towards Nepal. While I'm in the neighborhood, I'd like to visit the British hill station of Darjeeling in the foothills of the Himalayas. Even restricting my visit to two states and one river valley leaves a lot to see, and I'm not sure I can travel halfway around the world and not see the holy Ganges.

There are hundreds of little things I can research for the trip -- the train system, telecommunications, transportation, language. My more formal research is starting on background (history, culture, religion, all of which are intertwined), and I'm working through tour books as well. I picked up a stack of books from the library and finally visited the Boulder Bookstore's North Room, where the religion books are hidden. It didn't surprise me to see the Hinduism section was much smaller than the Buddhism section, but I did manage to find a copy of the Bhagavad Gita to work through. I listened to a series of lectures on Hinduism, and I'm working through an introductory text on India (titled, unimaginatively enough, India, with a Library Journal blurb on the cover: "If one were to read a single book about India in a lifetime, this should be it"). Willy has given me a long list of recommended reading, which should keep me occupied for the next several months.

One of the most exciting parts of my preparations so far has been getting a visa. Having traveled modestly through Europe without a visa, the idea of actually having to get one in advance seems somewhat quaint. (I did need a visa to visit Australia, but the application process was fast and easy on the Internet and was done for me by the corporate travel agents.) To get an Indian visa, I have to send my passport to San Francisco, where a captive third-party agent takes my application to the consulate. I started the whole thing online, with a reasonably-well-designed website that generated a PDF that I printed to accompany my passport, two passport photos, and a money order for the processing fee. I gathered the remaining artifacts yesterday evening and took the whole thing to FedEx this morning. If all goes well, I'll have my visa by Thanksgiving.