Saturday, March 23, 2013

Travel After School? My First Trip - India and Pakistan

Taj Mahal - Agra. 
Best seen in the early morning as there are less tourists and the wind is still for good reflections off of the water. This was taken the first week of November, 1993

My first trip overseas after school was to India and Pakistan.  The year was 1993 and I was living in Texas at the time.  I went to two American friends and we spend eight and a half weeks exploring 10 cities and doing volunteer work on the subcontinent....

I always had a desire to travel growing up.  Right after school I didn't feel quite ready to do a trip overseas on my own.  I didn't know anyone overseas.  Having grown up in small town in British Columbia, I didn't think to look for resources about traveling overseas or ask for help in how to plan a trip (mind you, this was over 20 years ago and travel resources weren't so prevalent then).

Myself, Joanne, and David
after immunizations
A couple years later, I had moved to Texas and my world had gotten a bit bigger.  I had many more friends who had done some traveling overseas,  and I had gotten more comfortable with traveling on my own within North America.  David, Joanne, and I decided to travel together.  Our plan was to volunteer at various missionary bases we were affiliated with as they gave us a place to stay in return.  But first there were some preliminary items to get out of the way.  We needed immunizations and Visa's for India before we could leave.

Planning your trip (at least to some degree) in advance is important.  It can help you avoid getting unnecessarily sick, or having to spend a night sleeping on a bench, or getting turned away at a border because you didn't have the proper documentation.  Planning is also good experience.  As you execute your plan and see what works and what doesn't work you'll gain more confidence and get better at it.  As a result, your trip will be more enjoyable and fulfilling.  We used a guide book extensively to help us with our planning and our day to day excursions.

At the gate at DFW
We left DFW airport in the middle of October, 1993 and flew to London.  After a 6 hour layover (in which we caught a quick train downtown to see Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly Square) we caught our next flight to New Delhi.  We landed in New Delhi early in the morning. 

We spent our first week at a small boarding house in Jangpura, seeing some of the sights, getting acclimatized to the time zone, the food, the culture, and getting visas from the Pakistani embassy for our trip there. During the second week, we stayed in a conference center close to Humayan's Tomb and volunteered at a missions conference.

The Red Fort - New Delhi
Diwali - an Indian holiday known as 'The Festival of Lights' - happened while we were in Delhi.  What an experience that was!  I remember walking early in the evening from Humayan's tomb back to Jangpura with firecrackers going off all around us and roman candles being launched horizontally down the street.

Even though we planned, I found I needed to temper my expectations.  After our time in Delhi, our plan was to catch a train north to Amritsar, heading towards Pakistan.  For some reason traffic on the way to the train station was terrible, and I grew very concerned that we would miss our train.  It seemed hopeless with the traffic the way it was.  However, when we finally got to the station, the train ended up being late departing anyway so there was really nothing to be worried about.  It was an over-night trip and I was concerned about getting robbed.  We had hung our backpacks in the middle of the compartment and I tried to sleep lightly that night.  Sometime late that evening, someone came into the room and reached toward our backpacks.  I quickly reached out and firmly grabbed their wrist.  It was an armed army officer doing rounds - the light switch was under our backpacks.  I felt a little sheepish, but I think he understood.

In Amritsar riding on the top of the bus. 
Joanne is in the middle.  I'm on the right
We road on the top of a bus from the train station in Amritsar to the India-Pakistan border and spent the morning going across the border to Pakistan.  Once in Lahore (30 kms into Pakistan), we realized that we had forgotten our bag with passports and our return airplane tickets back at the border - travel newbies that we were.  We were beside ourselves with worry as we sped back.  Again, our worry was unfounded.  When we breathlessly returned to the border asking for the bag the officials smiled and handed it over.  What a relief!

We spent a week in Pakistan, staying one night in Lahore, several nights with some missionaries from Australia in Rawalpindi, and then spending two nights with an American family in Peshawar.  The father of the family we stayed with in Peshawar worked for the US Food and Drug Administration keeping an eye on the drug smuggling out of Afghanistan.  

Me, overlooking Vidisha (close to Bhopal, India)
from a hill in the town.
Joanne had the foresight to bring along a book called 'Freedom at Midnight' by Dominique Lapierre to add some historical context to our trip. The book went through a brief history of India and then focused on the people and events surrounding the independence of India and Pakistan.  It gave us a deeper appreciation for these two countries and their people.  It also helped us understand the conflicts and riots that were happening between the Hindus and the Muslims while we were there, which eventually lead us to cutting our trip short.  I'd highly recommend finding a book that will give some historical context to your travels.  It will give you a new appreciation and perspective for the history, culture, and people of the country your are visiting.

Riding a rickshaw in Kanpur, India
Returning to India by plane, we traveled through Agra (saw the Taj Mahal) to Kanpur and stayed there for a week.  Then we took a train to Bhopal and did some volunteering in some smaller villages in the vicinity a week.  I loved the food we ate there.  It was mostly a chic-pea curry and fairly spicy.  We ate it with naan bread using only our right hand, as per local custom.  When that week was done, we hopped on the train again and spent a week in Hyderabad.  During this whole time we were hearing reports about riots between the Hindus and Muslims in different cities around India, but it hadn't impacted us directly.

Doing laundry in Pune. 
Sometime traveling gives you
an opportunity to do something
you've never done before
We traveled by train to Pune after our stay in Hyderabad.  It was December by this time, and because we had worked our way south through the country it was still pleasant weather.  After our stay in Pune, we were supposed to catch a train into Bombay (now Mumbai).  However, 4 hours into the trip the train stopped and didn't move for quite some time.  After a while, we heard news that the Hindus and Muslims were rioting in the train station in Bombay and the engineer was afraid to take the train there.  More than one hour passed while we waited to see which direction we would go.  In the end, the train turned around and went back to Pune.  

Once we were back in Pune, we heard that both the Canadian and American embassies were asking travelers to leave the country as it wasn't safe with all the unrest between the Hindus and Muslims.  We hastily made alternative arrangements to leave.  We decided to fly into Bombay and leave that same night.  On our flight into Bombay, David made friends with a fellow that turned out to be the son of a wealthy Indian movie producer.  Once we landed at the airport we encountered a problem.  The city was under curfew with troops on the ground keep law and order - we saw them ourselves.  We had to get to the international airport and had no means to get there because of the curfew.  This friend that David made on the plane apparently had special permissions though, and seeing our dilemma offered us a ride in the international airport in his chauffeur driven Mercedes.  We thought it somewhat ironic that we had been going all over India in all modes of transportation and that our last ride would be in a chauffeur driven limo!

Traveling gives you an opportunity to learn things about yourself.  It give you an opportunity to make your own decisions and be more independent that usual.  Personally, I became more confident and less anxious because of this trip.  I also developed a new appreciation for history and planning.  See my travel resources page for links to sites to help get you motivated.

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