Indian itinerary, take two

Thanks to all who helped me with the previous itinerary: Kriti, Supriya, Palash, Abhishek, Pradeep, Anmol, etc. We’re supposed to call things like this crowdsourcing, right? To hell with that–I like to deal in individuals, not crowds.

Whatever the case, the deal has changed since last time; I did mention that all plans were flexible. Supriya notified me of the Jaipur Literature Festival. I’m there. I’m so there. I was going to skip Rajasthan on this trip because I thought that the place merited its own separate vacation, but I’m going there now. How long? I’m not sure. I could use your help there–see phase 4 below.

Here is the newer version of the itinerary. If you prefer maps–I prefer maps–see 2011 India (looks better in Google Earth: 2011_India.kmz).

Phase 1: Kolkata

  • 29 Dec-1 Jan: New Delhi. This will be my second New Years in New Delhi, or third if you count this.
  • 1-4 Jan: Kolkata. Supriya advised me of the open-air book market on College Street. Palash wants to go up to Shantiniketan.

Phase 2: Chandigarh

  • 5-6 Jan: Haridwar. Haridwar is an unnecessary side trip between Delhi and Chandigarh, but I was interested in visiting it after reading Eric Newby’s Slowly Down the Ganges. Haridwar was his starting point [1].
  • 7-10 Jan: Chandigarh

Phase 3: Mumbai

  • 11 Jan: Chandigarh to Mumbai (by plane)
  • 11-19 Jan: Mumbai

Phase 4: Jaipur

28 January through 5 February is wide open. Kriti suggested a few places: Sariska Tiger Reserve, Ranthambore National Park, Pushkar. Also, I saw some photos of a ghost town 80 km away: Bhangarh. (Excuse the mentions of “actual” ghosts in the linked article–I’m not looking for ghosts in ghost towns in India anymore than I was looking for ghosts in Panamint City, California.)

I see Anmol has sent me some advice about Jaipur. Perhaps you also have some ideas on what I can do in the area–where area can be defined as whatever distance I can cover and get to Delhi a major airport on 5 or 6 February.

Update 2010-12-10: I have been directed, quite persistently, to go to Jaisalmer. I am an American desert rat myself so: OK. In fact, had I only been laid off a few months later, when the snow would have mostly been gone from the Panamint Range, I’d be bumming around that desiccated stretch from Mojave Desert in California to the Canyonlands of Utah. Yeah, tough choices. 

  • 20-26 Jan: Jaipur
  • 27-30 Jan: Jaisalmer
  • 31 Jan-1 Feb: Jodhpur
  • 2-3 Feb: Kumbhalgarh
  • 4-5 Feb: Udaipur
  • 6 Feb: Delhi Ahmedabad

Phase 5: Bangalore and Pondicherry

I have spent less than 24 hours in Bangalore on my previous trip to India–really, just a stop on the way to Vellore. Supriya suggested that the Blossom Book House is legendary. OK, sounds good. What else? I don’t know.

  • 7-10 Feb: Bangalore
  • 11 Feb: Bangalore to Pondicherry (by train)
  • 12 Feb: Pondicherry
  • 13 Feb: Auroville Marathon
  • 14-16 Feb: Pondicherry
    • Gingi Fort
  • 17-18 Feb: Bangalore

Phase 6: Bangalore to Mumbai

I have now completely left out southern India from my itinerary. No offense is intended to my South Indian friends. I’m not skipping it entirely, I just think the region deserves more attention–its own completely separate vacation–and I don’t want to blow through it too quickly.

  • 20-21 Feb: Hampi
  • 22-23 Feb: Badami or Bijapur
  • 25-26 Feb: Mumbai

Alternatively, instead of going to Badami or Bijapur, and then going from there to Mumbai via Solapur, I could go west from Hampi to Goa and then north to Mumbai. This is an alternative instead of primary choice because something seems fundamentally sad about hanging out in a beach community by myself. Or I could hack out any intermediate stops and go to Mumbai earlier, or spend more time in Bangalore on the front end of this segment. Whatever’s Right.

Phase 7: Mumbai to Delhi

I have three locations listed here between Mumbai and Delhi. The only one I’m settled on is Ahmednagar; I met a photographer on Flickr based in Ahmednagar who posted quite a few images of his hometown, so I’ll try to meet him there.

The other two? Aurangabad appears to be a well-traveled stop for tourists: Ajanta Caves, Ellora Caves, Daulatabad, etc., are in the vicinity. My heart is not set on Aurangabad, so I could skip it.

However, Burhanpur is the city that catches my eye. Check out this fort: Asirgarh Fort. That is a capital-F Fort. I have… no idea how I’m going to get there. I can figure out how to get in and out of Burhanpur because it is on the main Mumbai-Delhi line. But I haven’t figured out (a) where to find a place in Burhanpur or (b) how to get to Asirgarh, which is 20 km north. Hmm. On one hand: perhaps there is a reason no one goes there. On the other hand: I smell a challenge.

  • 28 Feb: Ahmednagar
  • 2-4 Mar: Aurangabad
  • 6-7 Mar: Burhanpur

Phase 8: Delhi

  • 8-11 Mar: Delhi
    • 9 Mar: Delhi, Cricket World Cup, India vs. Netherlands
  • 12-15 Mar: Farther north India (Amritsar, etc.)
  • 16-19 Mar: Khajuraho
  • 20-22 Mar: Delhi
  • 23 Mar: Delhi to Chicago to St. Louis

OK–if you have any advice, please leave a comment, let me know what you think.


  1. Two hundred yards below the bridge and some twelve hundred miles from the Bay of Bengal the boat grounded in sixteen inches of water… I looked upstream to the bridge but all those who had been waving and weeping had studiously turned their backs. The boatmen uttered despairing cries for assistance but the men at the bridge bent to their tasks with unwonted diligence. As far as they were concerned we had passed out of their lives. We might never have existed.

    [back to text]

85 days in India; or, Peculiar travel suggestions

(2010-12-08: Updated.)

On 27 December I will depart the States for India. On 23 March I will return. The chronologically curious will note: that’s 87 days. (Subtract one day in a plane on each end for 85 days.) It’s not quite a geologic age, but it is a long time.

For the purposes of this post, I will leave out the why [1]. Instead I will outline the trip, and ask for your advice. Some dates and places, e.g., the Mumbai Marathon, are firmly fixed; those items are noted in bold. However, all other items are quite flexible and represent only a notional itinerary that can be abandoned for better notions.

Like any first draft, there will be a number of mistakes, I’m sure, so don’t be bashful about saying that something is stupid. Ready, aim…

Phase 1: Kolkata

  • 29-30 Dec: New Delhi
  • 31 Dec-3 Jan: Kolkata

Phase 2: Chandigarh

Here I could use some advice on places to stay in Chandigarh or Delhi.

  • 4 Jan: Kolkata to Delhi (by plane)
  • 5-6 Jan: Haridwar? Or Delhi?
  • 7-10 Jan: Chandigarh

Phase 3: Mumbai

The basic idea here: spend some time in Mumbai, then go on a loop through Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, then return to Mumbai.

  • 11 Jan: Chandigarh to Mumbai (by plane)
  • 11-19 Jan: Mumbai
  • 20-28 Jan: Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, Burhanpur
  • 29-31 Jan: Mumbai

Phase 4: Mumbai to Pondicherry

At the least, I want to stop at Hampi, as one of my Kannadiga friends says I must. Anything else via buses and trains on the way to Bangalore is a bonus.

  • 31 Jan-9 Feb: Bijapur, Badami, Hampi
  • 10 Feb: Bangalore
  • 11 Feb: Bangalore to Pondicherry (by train)
  • 12 Feb: Pondicherry
  • 13 Feb: Auroville Marathon

Phase 5: Tamil Nadu

After the marathon on 13 Feb and until the India vs. Netherlands cricket match on 9 Mar, all plans can be changed. I can go anywhere and can do anything with anyone and anytime. It doesn’t have to be in the south,–I could fly to Ahmedabad and cruise around Gujarat, what the hell?–it’s just a first go at an itinerary.

  • 14-16 Feb: Pondicherry
  • 17-23 Feb: Tiruchirappalli, Thanjavur, Rameswaram
  • 24-26 Feb: Chennai
  • 27 Feb-1 Mar: Bangalore
  • 1 Mar: Bangalore to Delhi (by plane)

Phase 6: Delhi

  • 2-7 Mar: North India?
  • 8-11 Mar: Delhi
    • 9 Mar: Delhi, Cricket World Cup, India vs. Netherlands
  • 12-14 Mar: Khajuraho
  • 15-18 Mar: Agra
  • 19-22 Mar: Delhi
  • 23 Mar: Delhi to Chicago to St. Louis

To get a flavor of what that looks like on a map, go here: India 2011.

I have left out the timing of various bus and train journeys–it made the itinerary above, which is already jumbled, look like something that could only be understood with the help of heavy pharmaceuticals. Let’s just say that I know that it will take the better part of a day to travel, for example, from Delhi to Khajuraho, and I have accounted for that in each trip. Probably.

Discussion

When it comes to travel, the best places I’ve ever visited have been recommended by friends. This takes a variety of forms. For example, in 2006 it led to me going to dinner at [we drank a lot of wine and I don’t remember] in Cadaques, Spain, with Alvin and Jorge. And Jorge pointed me to TurronerĂ­a Sirvent in Barcelona for ice cream. Both were fabulous–the former, especially.

The point is: although I will mention some things below that are interesting to me, my first priority is to meet friends that I know and friends that I don’t yet know, and try the things they like. I don’t have a bucket list or 1001 things to see before I die; I’m here for the ride.

What would I like to see?

  • I like books–especially libraries and secondhand bookstores. (Via email I just received some absolutely and outstandingly thoughtful advice on bookstores to visit in Mumbai.)
  • I like sports. When I’m not running one of the two-and-a-half marathons I’ve signed up for, I’d run with anyone from a Delhi or Bangalore or wherever running club that wants to go for a run. Also, I know nothing about cricket–there is a bat and a ball, but apparently it is different than baseball?–and I’d like to learn to play, or watch a real game, whichever.
  • I like music–especially music that isn’t popular music. First person to take me to an Indian version of Morphine or the Dismemberment Plan wins.
  • I like history–which is to say I could amuse myself for days walking in and around old things. It is no accident that I live in a museum in a National Historical Park.
  • I like wandering in hills and mountains–but this is not something I will allow to be rushed, so I’ll save it for another trip.

What do you think? Where should I go?

You don’t need to suggest something grand. I don’t need 85 days of Taj Mahals. Listen: if you came from India to Illinois, I could take you to Chicago to the top of the Sears Tower–I guess they call it the Willis Tower now, don’t they? Ridiculous.–but I’d rather take you to Fulton County, to the Cedar Creek. Never heard of it? It’s a secret, and it’s not great by any absolute measure, but let me tell you: my enthusiasm would infect you, and it would be the best damned stream you’ve ever seen.


  1. I am tempted, here, to say something faux-clever as my reason, perhaps I’ll lift a line from Kilgore Trout in Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions:

    To be
    the eyes
    and ears
    and conscience
    of the Creator of the Universe,
    you fool.

    I could pretty much steal lines from Kurt Vonnegut all day long. Bonus points if you can identify the second half of the title. [back to text]