I joined a package tour.
There are so many reasons I don't do package tours. I could go on and on, but my biggest beef is the complete lack of interaction with the local people. No, asking the tour guide insipid and asinine questions does not count.
|Sunset at India Gate, New Delhi, 25 September 2012. We didn't even get off the bus.
When you're in an organized tour and you're driving around in what is essentially a sanitized bubble, you can't really immerse yourself in the community and culture that you're visiting. You're sitting on your ass inside an air-conditioned coach for eight to ten hours a day, you only stop at the places that are always crawling with obnoxious tourists and the crooks who prey on them, you're in each place just long enough to take a group photo, and at the end of it all you're utterly exhausted and sadly clueless.
|Parliament House, New Delhi, 26 September 2012. This is the closest we got to it.
So why did I join a package tour this time?
Two words: Food poisoning.
Almost everyone I talked to who had been to India had gotten sick. I mean really sick. Dave from Chiang Mai told me that he was down for two weeks and lost almost twenty pounds. Because he rinsed his toothbrush with tap water.
If there's one thing that terrifies me about traveling, it's having an upset tummy while being away from my pristine, comfortable bathroom.
|Hawa Mahal or "Palace of the Winds", Jaipur, 24 September 2012. Yep, that's a smudge on the bus windshield.
Earlier this year, I dropped some not-so-subtle hints to my friends who are package tour "connoisseurs" (there's no other word for it, the way they take the packages apart and analyze the inclusions to find the best values) that we should go to India. They called their travel agents and got us a pretty good deal.
At first, it was disconcerting to be traveling with such a huge group-- there were 18 of us! I was definitely not used to the regimented daily schedule with the wake-up calls and the mess hall type meals. Endless hours of staring out the bus window while listening to people make long-distance business calls (Yes, Cookie Monster, that means you!) drove me a bit nuts. Being billeted in hotels in the outskirts and not having free time to explore the markets and local hangouts made me frustrated.
But I survived. And I'm glad that I did it.
|Yamuna Expressway, connecting New Delhi and Agra, 22 September 2012. Our view for almost five hours.
India is unimaginably huge. We visited just a teeny tiny part of it-- the Golden Triangle which consists of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur-- and it took us a week of non-stop zipping through the hot and dusty countryside to get anywhere. If I had to do it myself, I would have broken down on the second day and hired a car and driver. Which would have cost more.
I dunno, maybe I'm just getting older and I enjoy my little luxuries now.
|Train crossing at Agra, 23 September 2012. Train versus air-conditioned private bus?
To be perfectly honest, I don't think that I would have enjoyed my first time in India as much if I didn't do the package tour thingy. Of course it didn't hurt that our accommodations and means of transportation were first class all the way. Bottom line, I was able to fulfill my India travel objectives in a safe, comfortable and reasonably-priced manner.
You get what you pay for. In this case, I paid to not get food poisoning. No regrets... although I'm still cringing a bit.
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