At the age of 15, I desperately wanted to attend a party at a friend’s place. Quebec high school runs from Grades 7 to 11, and the event was set to host not only us measly Grade 8 students, but also the older grades in school. My mother was kind enough to say I could go, but she required that I be home by 11pm. In retrospect this seems quite reasonable. At 15, not so much. Putting my hands on my hips and staring her in the eye, I retorted, “Let me get this straight: there are hospital procedures I can get under Quebec law without your consent, but I can’t stay out past 11?”
Let’s just say no one was surprised when I was accepted into law school at the age of 18.
And let’s also say that while I certainly could have been a worse kid, I definitely had a mouth on me, and my mother definitely got the brunt of it. She’s going to have approximately 3.5 weeks to get back at me, as we are about to be thrown together for a few long haul flights and a lot of travel days.
Next up: India
I’m not taking her to India to make amends for being a snotty adolescent, of course. She has always wanted to see the Taj Mahal, and has never been to the subcontinent. Nor have I, which many readers from India have pointed out over the last few years. (“Why are you not visiting us! We have soups too!”) While she has traveled a bit since her retirement, she has dreamed of traveling more than anyone I know. With a wonderful but very strict father (my grandpa), she was never allowed to travel alone. Getting married quite young and then having me, and then my brother, meant that she did not have a chance to try before a family came along. In the last few years, she has travelled with my step-dad but is always looking to do more. When I return from somewhere on my visits home, she sits and ask questions, eyes curious and wistful.
As her 65th birthday approached, I wanted to know if I could take her somewhere she wouldn’t otherwise visit. On a walk back to the car last fall, I casually asked her, “So, where do you want to go that you and Howard (my step-dad) likely won’t get a chance to go?”
High up on the list was India. Of course, I said, “great, I’ll take you!” And she said, “not so fast.”
Copious negotiating later, conditions were set: (1) she wanted to go on a group tour, (2) she asked that I fly there and back with her and (3) a joint packing effort was required. (She hates packing as much as I do). For the group tour, we are going with G Adventures — a natural fit since I am a brand ambassador for them already under their Wanderer in Residence programme.**
Given that it is my mum’s birthday, I chose a Comfort Level trip instead of G’s standard tour; it has transfers from the airports included, as well as lodging in ancient heritage mansions during several nights in the Golden Triangle. The trip is called Land of the Maharajas, and it takes us to New Delhi first, and then Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur and Agra, as well as smaller Rajasthan villages in between. I’m currently in Toronto for G Adventures’ annual meeting and many people from their Delhi office are in town to attend; I’ve gotten even more excited hearing about the next weeks firsthand from them.
As most midday and dinner meals are not included in the trip, I have made her promise to trust me on food-finding missions, despite my inability to completely guarantee that we will avoid Delhi Belly. We will do our best, of course. But we also happen to be bringing Cipro.
** For those who aren’t familiar with the Wanderers programme, it is not an extension of a ‘press trip model’ or FAM trip for bloggers, but rather a combination of coverage — stories, food, the usual — with an additional assignment components, depending on the trip. In this case, I’m bringing model releases for others in the group to sign in the event they’d want to be included in photography for the site or brochures, and I’ll be providing additional coverage for a newer project in Delhi (a training school for street kids to fund higher education and specific vocational pursuits). Part of what made this programme a good fit for me was the combination of writing with more inward-facing value for G in the form of feedback and deliverables. The ongoing partnership/relationship gives this trip a really different feel from a FAM or press trip. I’m providing these details because I rarely share the more business-oriented info here, with the exception of the “about” page, but more and more of your emails ask about the kinds of projects that support my lifestyle. Perhaps a “how I do this” post is needed?
And Then: Bangkok
Those who are longer-term readers might remember my trip to Morocco with G in 2011, where after the two-week tour was over, I stayed put, rented a car and then high-tailed it to the Algerian border. In this case, in lieu of staying in India, I’m taking my mum to one of my favourite cities on the planet: Bangkok. After hearing me go on and on (and on and on) about the markets and the food (and the coffee) and my friends Bangkok, I figured why not take her with me. I’m speaking at a conference just after our trip, and there was no arm-twisting involved — she readily agreed to join. (Of course, I have vowed to feed her, provide her with copious options for foot massages and show her around a place I called home.)
I’m also happy to be providing actual proof for all the street food vendors who would immediately ask how old I am after I ordered my food, and then not believe me. I’d pull out my phone, show a photo of my mum and say “guess how old SHE is?” and they’d guess about 20 years too young and I’d say “It’s in the genes!”
So now I can just point to her and say SEE I TOLD YOU SO.
For those thinking about a Delhi-Bangkok trip, our flights on Jet Airways were 350$ return, tax in.
Stories and Photos from India
I’ll be sharing stories and photos from the India trip on Legal Nomads, as well as on G’s Looptail blog. On this site, I’ll be tagging those posts as “WIR” — much like those first weeks of my Morocco trip in 2011. As always I’ll be posting real-time updates on Instagram and Facebook. G Adventures has wisely given me their login for their Instagram feed, so I’ll be posting there occasionally as well. Food might just figure prominently.
In addition, my mum has also asked if she can write about it here – both what it’s like to travel with a globe-trotting daughter for a month, and also about her thoughts and feelings in the chaos of India. If there are any questions you have for the mother of a long-term traveler, please feel free to leave them in the comments.
So that’s my October.
Pre-Trip Reading List
I tend to skip the parts about pre-trip reading and research on this site, as I’ve focused on narrative in-country instead. But people often write about how I prepare for a place I’ve never been. Since India is a first for me, I wanted to put those readings and resources here.
I haven’t used guidebooks in quite a few years, opting instead to read historical fiction or non-fiction books, history entries from Wikipedia and pore through food blogs, making notes about what I want to eat. With a wonderful network of friends who love food and travel, I’ve been sent lists of what to eat from many, with special thanks to Cameron (who lived there for years) and Earl (who has been a dozen times).
In addition to general introduction reads on Wikipedia, we are reading or have read already:
- Sorcerer’s Apprentice, by Tahir Shah (Kindle version is only $2.99)
- The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga (Kindle version)
- A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth
- Shantaram, by David Gregory Roberts (Kindle version)
- A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry
- City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi, by William Dalrymple
- The God of Small ThingsArundhati Roy (Kindle version)
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, & Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo (Kindle version)
- India: a Million Mutinies Now, by V.S. Naipaul (Kindle version)
These were suggested by readers after I posted this blog entry on Facebook:
- A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur, by Devi Gayatri (Kindle version)
- The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai (Kindle version)
- A Strange and Sublime Address, by Amit Chaudhuri
- Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure, by Sarah Macdonald (Kindle version)
We’ve also been pouring over these blogs about Indian Food:
- Ruchik Randhap (Mangalorean food)
- Aayi’s Recipes (Konkani food)
- Tongue Ticklers (Vegan food)
- Veg Recipes of India
- Sailu’s Kitchen (focuses on Andhra cuisine. More on that here.)
- Mad Cooking Fusions
- Sharmi’s Passions
- And Mark Wiens kindly sent over a copy of his Delhi street food guide too.
And for general history/background of region and country:
- Manas: History & Politics of India
- The Ancient History Encyclopedia‘s India entry
- Fordham University’s list of online sources for history of India
- Anecdotes and legends about the history of Indian food
- Texas A&M’s “Worldroom” site, with a brief overview of regions in India and their foods (PDF)
Finally, In Case You Missed It…
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70 thoughts on “Pre-Trip Reading & Travel Plans for India”
Who wasn’t like that as a teenager?
The best part about this is you get to share something that’s made up so much of your recent life with your Mom. I love indian food so I’m sure the food-finding missions will create many memories.
I will be doing the same kind of trip with my sisters once they graduate!
Thanks Shaun! She’s excited for that reason too, as I come home and cook for her but it’s never been possible for her to discover a new place with me.
Sounds like it’ll be a great time! Love the reading list, btw – The God of Small Things was one of the best books I read in college :)
Wow, you really favor your mom!
It’s incredible to be able to share such a rich experience together. I’m definitely looking forward to reading your mom’s accounts of it all.
Hi , I’m your fan and inspiration ! I love all your travel articles ! It’s so fascinating . I live in India , I moved here this April . I have learn a lot living here . We live in Bangalore , it’s a south of India . I visited some cities , goa , Kerala. , Mumbai , chennai . I can write you a email with some helpful tips , since you are traveling with your mom . I would like to share my experience with you . Hope to hear from you !
Hi Irina! We’re going with G Adventures so the itinerary is set already but appreciate your offer to help. We’ll only be in the North this time.
Well don’t forget the Parathe Wale Gali in North Delhi to try the world famous paranthas!!! Also anything from Karim’s….hope you have a wonderful trip ahead!!!
That’s awesome. Are you hitting Hyderabad? I am a huge Biryani connoisseur and that’s the best place in the world for Biryani. Definitely check out Shadab in the Charminar area of Hyderabad if you go there
Not this time but with a country so vast, I’m sure to be returning at some point in the near future. Thanks for the suggestion.
If you have spare time in Udaipur, I recommend checking out Meenu’s Queen Cafe (and take a cooking class if you can!) – aside from being a wonderful person and a fantastic cook, she’s great at being flexible with recipes – I can’t eat gluten either, so she was happy to modify breads and pakora to be made with only chickpea flour so I could eat them too!
Thank you Jessica!
Shantaram & A Fine Balance are both so so excellent.
Sounds like a great trip. Look forward to the pictures!
I recommend some of the street food vendors. The best foods in India are not necessarily in the fine restaurants. Try the Bhel Puri, Alu Chat and the baked corn on the cob. Believe it or not, try the Aloo Tikki burger at Macdonalds! Make sure that you wash it down with plenty of bottled water so your system does not get shocked by the concentration of spices! Have fun!
That’s awesome! I’d love to travel with my mum like this, unfortunately, she’s not quite as adventurous as yours; I don’t think she’d to come with me to India! (Although she has just surprised everyone by announcing her visit to Burma to see my brother!) Looking forward to reading your mum’s experiences.
And I was just looking for some good reads to satisfy my desire for travel inspiration and a good story. Will check out a few on your list!
Lovely! I’m excited to hear about what you (and her) think of India!
I’m also going to Bangkok soon (November) and I’m excited that it’s one of your favorite cities!
Awesome you are taking your mother to India. Very cool. Natalie and I just arrived a week ago. We’ve been to Mumbai and are currently in Delhi but are leaving tomorrow to the Spiti Valley to get in some volunteer work before the snows start. Delhi has been great, but most the locals suggest not eating the street food durning monsoon season, which is just about over but not quite yet. As far as Delhi Belly is concerned, we’ve been taking daily pre-biotics and have not had a incident yet. Fingers crossed.
We haven’t been eating too many soups, but the food is AMAZING! I’m sure the two of you are going to love it. And we’ve meet the nicest people here, everyone is so friendly. We will be spending some time throughout Rajasthan after our visit to the Spiti Valley. Are you still going to be in India for Diwali? I hope so, it’s suppose to be amazing, we will be celebrating in Jaipur.
Shanturarm is an amazing book. Although is mainly set in the south, Roberts does an outstanding job at capturing the essence of life in Mumbai. (or Bombay at the time it was written) I can’t recommend it enough but it might not be as relevant to your current itinerary.
If you have the opportunity, I highy suggest a slum tour, we did one in Mumbai with Reality Tours. They are a NGO that support the slum they operate in with 80% of their gross earnings. It was a truly eye opening experience. Not because of the poverty, but because of how resourceful and complex the societies within a Slum are. I’m not sure if they operate in the North but I’m sure they could point you In the right direction.
I’m so excited for you! It’s our fist time here too and we are falling madly in love with India. Good luck with your travels and hopefully our paths will cross.
Hi Cliff, as we’re going w/ G Adventures we’re on their itinerary and it’s a 2 week trip (if you click on the Land of the Maharajas link it leads to the full itin). My mum wanted an intro but with structure, though I suspect given the vastness of the country I will almost certainly return for a longer exploration. I’ll keep your notes for the next trip, though — thanks! (Former G Adventures employee Stephanie Hayes is working at Reality Tours & Travel now and has been great for info about India & food – glad you enjoyed your tour with them too.)
Two weeks! Well you’ll still love it I’m sure. Looks like a great trip. Have fun. Eat tons.
Heh, no doubt. I see it as a first foray for what will surely be a more in-depth trip in the future. Enjoy as well!
I just returned to the US and am trying out semi-retirement at age 65 after completing a 2 year teaching contract at the American International school – Chennai….the way I have seen the world! I did this exact Rajasthani trip a summer ago…and I hope you and your mother revel in every minute like I did. The colors of the sarees like butterfly wings floating in the breezes! The puppets! The forts and palaces! The elephants and camels! The PEOPLE! The FOOD! I was even invited into an amazing wedding at the grounds of one of our hotels……and the Taj Mahal. Be sure to keep your eyes closed until your guide tells you to open them. You will shiver with the culmination of everything you have ever anticipated for this moment! I cried…..it is…perfectly. exquisitely. beautiful. Have a wonderful once-in-a lifetime trip.
I’m at DC BKK!! Look forward to hearing you speak..
Huzzah! Thanks Adam. I hope you enjoy it.
I think it’s great that you travel with your mom. I really enjoy traveling with mine whenever I get the chance to do so. You two will have a great time (and eat lots of soup!)
I’m headed to India for The Richshaw Run in January with 3 friends. Thank you for pre-trip reading list. City of Djinns has been on my list for a while!
Awesome that your India trip is happening! The state of Gujarat, just south of the state you’re going to, is going through a major flood situation right now but hopefully it all clears up by the time you visit.
If you’re willing to brave Delhi Belly, I’d highly recommend eating Pani Puri / Gol Gappa! I think you’ll enjoy it very much.
Thank you Arti! Unfortunately I have celiac disease and I believe wheat flour is used for the puri. Sad face!
Aah, I had no idea the puris had wheat flour, but I just looked up the ingredients and you’re right. It’s referred to locally as ‘rava’. Wonder if someone might be able to make you a puri from rice flour and chickpea flour… The puri just provides the crunch, the water is the crucial part.
How interesting! Seven years ago my brother and I took our mom, who was born in India, back there for her 70th birthday. It was the first time she’d been back in 54 years and it was an amazing trip.
We didn’t do a group tour – because we were mostly going to visit places Mom lived while growing up, which are quite off the beaten path – but we did organize a lot of our activities and accomodations through an Indian travel agency. After visiting her childhood hometown and boarding school, we did the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur triangle – it was magic!
Eating gluten-free was no problem as so much of Indian cuisine is normally gluten free – but I’m sure you know this already! (Glad you’re bringing Cipro, though, as we ended up needing it even though we were very, very careful.)
I hope you have a spectacular time. Traveling with my mom is one of my favorite things to do. I hope it’s the first of many such trips for you both.
I’ve only met you in person one time, but you bear a striking resemblance to your mother who I imagine was somewhere near your age in the photo. I’m sure I would not be my travel blogger son’s first choice as a travel companion, but we did take a 5 night trip together in Spain when he was a college junior. We actually did quite well as we are both Hispano-philes. At night, he went out—-and Mrs. Excitement went to bed. Safe travels.
I’ve been in Kolkata for a week now, starting a four-month volunteer fellowship with Kiva. It’s also my first trip to India, and I’ve fallen in love with the food… and the people. The hardest thing is not being able to venture out much on my own, but going on a tour will definitely take care of that. I’ve been taking probiotics everyday, and so far not even a tummy tickle (knock wood!). I’m also taking grapefruit seed extract (GSE), so I’m sure the combo is helping. I’d recommend one or both of those to help balance the system. Have the most AMAZING time and eat up!!
Thanks Shelley! I’ve got probiotics but no GSE. Appreciate your advice!
I don’t think I’d survive a long trip with my mother!! If you’re looking for more pre-trip reading, you could try “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel.
Thanks Annabel! I actually didn’t like Life of Pi, so I chose to leave it out. Appreciate the suggestion though!
First, this music video. you know, to prepare you for the glitz and glam of Delhi Belly, Bollywood style:
Second, may I suggest adding the novel Shantaram to your reading list. Based on the author’s own story (which, once you begin to read it, you’ll find this quite unbelieveably) and mostly set in Mumbai, it’s one of the most beautifully written novels i’ve read in awhile. I practically smelled and heard and recounted my own travels through India through the pages of the book. Plus, at about 1000 pages, it’s a good book to have on a long plane ride :)
Hey Jessie – Shantaram is on the list already!
So exciting, Jodi, your trip to India is finally starting soon! A couple more resources for you:
– check out the blog EatandDust about food in Delhi
– you’ve missed some of my fave books: Freedom at Midnight, Maximum City and Midnight’s Children; also anything and everything by William Dalrymple (though City of Djinns is my fave)
– lots of great movies about India, too; or from India of course!
Quick gluten-free notes: Pakoras are often made with besan flour, which is chickpea and non-gluten. In India, wheat has several names including atta and medai (not sure of spelling). You can get rotis made from corn (makti roti). But overall I have found it very easy to avoid gluten in India.
Looking forward to your stories, have a wonderful time.
Thanks Mariellen! Cameron sent me a few movies too: Sholay; Rang De Basanti; Monsoon Wedding; Lagaan; A Wednesday; and Dhaba.
I went to India with g years ago and it was great. You will never forget experiences in the North. And the food…. the FOOD!!!!!! Incredible…
Another important thing that you have to keep in mind is about the scams because there are lot of people who are waiting to scam us.
Welcome to India Jodi ! :) Finally you visit us….Sad you are not visiting the south this time…but anytime you do make it to Bangalore just let me know if you ever need anything…Have a wonderful trip with your mother and I hope you will be back soon…
Thank you Rups! I’ve no doubt I will be back :)
Enbvy you looking at the itinerary, you will be covering! Looking forward to the pictures and stories! Clicked on this post, for the mouth water ing picture of the Biryani, guess there will be no dearth of it, esp, in the north if India!
I would love to make such a nice trip. So far it’s on the backburner, but maybe in few years I’ll be able to see these places. Can’t wait to read about this ;)
India is a great place to visit and especially during this time, when the weather is moderate and pleasant. I am sure you will have lots of fun. And the food will be great too. You may have to keep adjusting your taste buds to various spice levels – from Delhi to Rajasthan.
You should also visit the state of ‘Maharashtra’. This is where the last indian empire has it’s roots. There’s a lot of forts, castles to see. Although, not in such a good shape considering how considerate the government is. But, that shouldn’t stop you from visiting these places. Indian government always tries to sell(promote) only the ‘Taj Mahal’, Rajasthan palaces but there’s way more to see.
Thanks for writing pre trip reading and travel plans for India. Great experience.
Have fun over there hun.
Thank you sir! Missing hang outs (and, I won’t lie, kale salads) but see you when I’m back in town! Hope biz is good.
Overwhelming information Jodi, I need a second reading.
By the way, The White Tiger is the most brilliant book I read when I was in India. And I have just purchased the Sorcerer’s Apprentice from your link. If you like them both, it’s worth a try (your link is to Amazon US however, and I buy from Amazon UK. Not sure it’s tracked …).
Enjoy your trip!
This trip sounds wonderful! I love the reading list, too. So many people have told me that Shantaram is simply life-changing. It’s certainly one on my future reading lists. Enjoy!
Bon Voyage! Looking forward to your posts. Shantaram fan as well and it’s probably too late but an Indian physician with whom I work recommended the 1992 film “City of Joy” some time ago after I kept grilling him about his home country. Haven’t been yet but it’s high on the bucket list.
India is fantastic, I was in Mumbai a couple of months ago and the contrast between rich and poor and new and old is quite literally mindblowing.
I am glad to say I am now back in Tasmania (which is also absolutely fantastic). Give me a shout if you are over our way
I am supposed to be in India now, but the India Embassy in Ireland said my visa would take over two weeks and I couldn’t stay that long. Oh, well Thailand isn’t bad either!
Wonderful! I am also from India. It’s a lovely country. I am glad you brought your mom here! :)
I live in India. Just some warning. DO NOT DRINK TAP WATER. USE BOTTLED WATER PREFERABLY SUPPLIED BY YOUR HOTEL. Pani-puri(alias Gol Gappa)as well chutneys made with water are a likely cause of DelhiBelly or worse. Unless, of course, the cooks use bottled or highly filtered water.
There are many different kinds of Biriyani made in India. Each area/state had slightly different variations. Each state also has completely different cuisine depending on the local produce. Re probiotics, try our curds (natural yogurt) called ‘dahi’ in North India. We normally end our meals with some variation of this, in summer.
You’ve inspired me to take my mom on a big trip to Asia… Not sure if she would agree to go, though!
Love the reading suggestions: many great books on here that stay with you for a long time: God of Small Things and Shantaram are definite must-reads! :-)
My daughter suggested I look at your blog as I am entertaining the idea of taking a trip to India to meet up with her while she is there as a volunteer for Kiva. Like your mother, I am 65 and a bit apprehensive about going to India. So……Can’t wait to hear about your trip with your “mum”. Loved reading your blog; honestly, feels like I’m listening to my daughter. Have never totally understood her passion for travel or her desire to meet the “willagers” ( as she calls them) but am beginning to understand it better after reading legalnomads. She just quit her job to travel for a year, starting with 4 months of volunteer work for Kiva in Calcutta. Her passion is travel and food. Seeing all your comments & pictures of food is very reminiscent of Shelley. Anytime she went anywhere she would take as many pics of the food as anything else. Really?, I would say…..ANOTHER picture of food?! She just started her own blog to record her travel year (planssubjecttochange.wordpress.com) and I now find myself living vicariously through her …. And now also you. Thanks for all the good times I’m having (!) and hope you’re having a great time with your “mum” in India.
Hi Holly, thank you for the comment and glad to hear the site has helped you frame her travels more clearly as well. Please feel free to write me via the contact form if you have more questions! Enjoy :)
Glad I came across your blog! We just bought our ticket to India for next year and we are so psyched to travel to India. Awesome tips and we would definitely take it to heart.
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We briefly met at WDS a few months ago. I saw that you are heading to Saigon after your trip to Costa Rica? Will you be there through the winter doing your food tours? I’m heading to Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam for a few months from December through February.
Hi Carl, I’ll be in Saigon as of 4 January and yes, I will be doing food tours at least through Feb or March. Away Dec 16-Jan 3 but back thereafter :)
Awesome, I’ll be in touch.
Thanks for being in touch with us and India is one of the most popular and growing country having with many beautiful travelling attractions.
Hi Jodi! Being an Indian, I’m really elated to find some good pre-tips for those making a visit. By the way, you missed some great places like Kerala. Moreover, a detailed info on food options (I mean places to eat) could be a awesome addition. This will reduce definitely reduce the burden for nomads. Thank You.
Well that would be a totally different post, would it not? :P No plans for Kerala on this trip, but perhaps one day. I don’t usually post the restaurants when they are street stalls, since — as we know — they change rapidly.