Dear K (in the past),
I hope (I know) that this letter will find you well in Hanoi. I’m writing to tell you that, in the end, you will love India. You may already expect this; I did. But although the first week with your friends will be great (with the exception of a few days of Delhi Belly), once you start back out again on your own, you will have a more trying time than you expected. There’s a few things you could start doing now in order to better prepare yourself.
1. Start setting up an account on IRCTC so that you can book your trains on the go. It takes a few days to register and you won’t have an easy time doing it on the move.
2. Just get a SIM card when you’re there. Even though you want to limit your smartphone usage, the free Wi-Fi hotspots are far fewer than in Vietnam and Cambodia.
3. Re-count the days that you’ll be staying in India. It’ll be a lot easier to change your flights now rather than under pressure of potentially violating your visa.
4. Abandon all frustration you might have have on being unable to capture and share your true feelings on India with photos or written words. There’s just no way you’ll be able to describe it.
When you first get to India, you’re going to be hit with the strongest case of gastrointestinal chaos that you’ve ever experienced. On your first three days, which will be spent celebrating your friend’s wedding, your favorite position will be fetal. Take some medicine and don’t think you’re just going to “tough it out”.
When you get to Delhi, your openness to strangers will be met with dozens on locals just hoping to get some money off of you. In the city, don’t even bother going into those travel shops for the advertised ‘FREE MAP’. They only want to sell you on an overpriced train and hotel package. I made this mistake, I still don’t know how, but you’re smart, and you’ve got your own IRCTC account. If you book at one of these agencies they’ll put you in different hotels than promised, you’ll be rushed through cities on “complimentary” package tours, you’ll spent days fighting on the phone to secure your train and bus tickets in time (end up having to book one yourself), and you’ll spend 150% more for the whole experience. Besides, you like the spontaneity of unplanned travel anyway and relying on no one’s travel expertise but your own.
However, if you do book anything overpriced or you do get swindled in some other way, take solace in the fact that this whole trip is a learning experience. If everywhere you went was as you expected, what would be the point of it all? Start reflecting on the fact that as much as you think you know about travel, you are still in the earlier stages of knowing the world. If one of your lessons is to find that you still have lots to learn then that might be worth the money and wasted hours at this unnamed Delhi travel agency (Travel Expeditions – 55 Panchkuian Road, New Delhi).
For every hustler you’ll meet, you’ll meet a dozen incredible souls the following day or even hour. Even though the Dalai Lama will be on retreat while you’re in Dharamsala, you will have some incredible conversations with some other Tibetan monks. As awful as you’ll feel from your first meal, once your gut flora gets acquainted with its new South Asian bacterial friends, you’ll fall head over heels for Rajasthani food and you’ll be munching on puri bhaji at street corners around the country. You’ll have a hundred more brilliant experiences for which you’ll have no words.
You’re going to have a fantastic and life-changing time in India, never forget that along the way.
Love from Goa,
K (from the future)
P.S. In retrospect, I guess I won’t send this letter to you. I’m not even sure how many stamps a time traveling postcard requires. I’m grateful for every experience I’ve had on this trip, good and bad, and I wouldn’t want to deny you of any lessons learned – and what lessons they are. Doors will be opened, so to say. I’ll post it on our blog instead and you can read it there when you’re finished with our month in India. Namaste.