Wanderlust: India

Even well-traveled people have dream destinations. Nothing against the places they’ve already been, which still spin off memories like ever-expanding galaxies. But the next horizon is always seductive.

I’ve been in the golf industry for 20 years and have not visited Ireland or Hawaii. That’s almost unheard of. Business will take me to Hawaii later this year, so that’s covered. Ireland, we’ll deal with. But if pressed to choose where my heart’s desire will lead me next for a purely recreational trip, I would have to say India.

I know this desire is authentic because it pops up randomly, not just when I see an engaging photograph, polish off a plate of spicy dal makhani, or read Gandhi (although all those things help). Intersection of ancient cultures that it is, filled to the brim with all kinds of people, deep in art, spirituality, religion, history, terrain and more, India exerts a powerful draw on the imaginative traveler.

A busy street in Porbandar, in the Gujarati state of India. This place figured in M.K. Gandhi's youth.

A busy street in Porbandar, in the Gujarati state of India. This place figured in M.K. Gandhi’s youth.

And India wants us to come. Between 2001 and 2010, the number of foreign tourists welcomed by India rose from about 2.5 million to more than 5.7 million. The United States led the way in visits in 2010 with more than 931,000; the next closest nation was Bangladesh with about 432,000. An Indian Ministry of Tourism document sets the goal of attracting 11.24 million foreign visitors by 2016. Some high-profile attacks on women have depressed tourism growth, but the country still had more than 6 million foreign visitors in 2012. India is working hard to repair the damage to its image from the heinous attacks, although it is not yet clear what steps are being taken to assure women travelers that they will be safe.

These things give me pause, but they can be prepared for, and they have not decreased my wanderlust. (I understand this is easy for me to say, but I do think about whether I could safely take my wife and child.) Assuming I could do that, I want to go.

But just as important as what I want is what I don’t want. Many westerners feel overwhelmed by exotic cultures; the mere magnitude of the difference — the part that excites me — scares them. So they fall back on detailed, heavily arranged tours. These things are good for some travelers, with their schedules and agendas and desire to see the high points and postcard spots. Tours have their uses, especially for the old and less adventurous.

That’s not me. In travel, I’ve never met an envelope I didn’t want to push. I strayed from the beaten Communist path in China often enough to make my Golf Channel producer lose hair. In Scotland, on our very first trip there (expertly arranged for golf and hotel by a top golf travel promoter), my wife and I purposely pointed our rental car all over the Auld Sod during our non-golf hours. The only rule: head for the Highlands, and if you see a road smaller than the one you’re on, you must turn down it. Sure, we ended up in a lot of farmer’s yards; we just waved, K-turned, and sped off across the cattle grating, back the way we came.

A young native of Tamil Nadu, in India's southern tip, near Sri Lanka

A young native of Tamil Nadu, in India’s southern tip, near Sri Lanka

How much of that is possible in India? I remember before my first trip to China in 2003, I was at the local travel clinic getting the required shots to avoid malaria, hepatitis and whatnot. While putting my shirt back on, I was looking at a world map on the wall.

“Wow, that’s a lot of shots,” I said. “China must be the one you give the most shots for.”

“Oh no,” the nurse said. “Not by half. It’s India.”

Nanga Parbat, the world's ninth-tallest mountain, is in Pakistan, but visible from northern India.

Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth-tallest mountain, is in Pakistan, but visible from northern India.

Hm. So how much backroad wandering do I want to do, far from pharmacies? Well, I want to do plenty, but wisdom is another story. The solution might be to employ a guide, someone who can give you a one-on-family tour of the out-of-the-way spots. A fellow traveler more than a formal tour guide in the “O.K. group; let’s move on” kind of way. I recall having someone like this in China, and in Japan the first time as well, and it was a huge help.

Not that I’d want to ignore all the “big” sights. But I also want to explore Porbandar, where Gandhi grew up; and the markets of Tamil Nadu, where the food is hot and attacks your senses; perhaps Kashmir (if it’s safe from civil war) and the beauty of Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth highest mountain.

It sounds like a trip that would take a lot of energy, especially for extra rolling with the changes. But wherever the next horizon may be, India or elsewhere…namaste.

© 2013 Adam Barr

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2 thoughts on “Wanderlust: India

  1. mariemcc says:

    In India, anything is possible. Your desire for off-the-beaten-track touring will be easy to satisfy. A private car and driver is very affordable and far less hassle than trying to arrange ground transportation yourself. A little research will put most of your misgivings about India to rest. Go for it and enjoy!

  2. B says:

    I agree. I’ve travelled solo as a woman in India a couple of times, and will soon be taking the kids. Generally I felt very safe. Fellow (domestic) travellers were so welcoming I was never alone on my voyages – it was actually kind of hard to make headway on my reading! The one time I did feel unsafe I’d made a rookie error – getting sucked in by a pushy tout. So you do have to be sensible and even then you can’t eliminate all risk – wherever you are – but an experienced traveller with a good, square head should be safe enough.

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