In April, I decided to go to India.
Explaining this decision in great detail is probably not worth it, so let’s just say that at some point earlier this year, out of the blue, Paul exclaimed, I got this great REI dividend! They gave me like $400!
And I replied, That’s weird. They don’t just give you money, you have to buy something first.
This was the moment where he confessed that he’d booked a two week-long trekking trip in Bhutan with his friend Nigel, and that maybe I should pick somewhere I wanted to travel solo and just go.
Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, Paul is typically slightly irritated when I want to take a solo holiday.
So I decided to go to India. By myself.
In a prior iteration of my life, I really liked to Figure Things Out On My Own, and I relished Booking My Own Travel. I was totally into roughing it. But after five years of taking the 6 Train down the Upper East Side to get to work, I am not nearly as into savagery as I thought I was. I won’t shy away from a backpacking trip or a tough and dirty race if the mood strikes. But I take a taxi to the office most days now because the lawlessness of the Lexington Avenue Line and the general water-torture effect that That Whole Thing has had on my psyche has made me question whether I want to do anything even remotely uncomfortable in my free time, ever again.
And I am no longer of the mind that I should stay at terrible hotels or deliberately try to spend as little as possible on travel. If I can’t afford to do it comfortably, I’m staying home.
Oh no. Is this middle-age?
This is the back story of how I wound up travelling through a bunch of fancy hotels in India. It was only when I got to Jaipur that I found out that the travel agent who had been deputized to book my travel had been arranging for only high-level diplomatic guides to meet me. In Jaipur, the guide was so popular that we’d have to stop and talk to people and I was constantly being introduced to folks, and I couldn’t quite sort what was happening.
It was only at the gift shop at one of the palaces that I noticed that the guide’s picture was plastered everywhere, and then I discovered that he was a member of the Maharajah’s court, and was one of the personal assistants to the British royal family when they were in town (which, admittedly, was once every decade or so).
I also learned that there is a new-ish Maharajah (who is something like 16 years old), but the recently deceased Maharajah apparently went by the name Bubbles.
I’ve never really had a nickname, so I am particularly fond of people who are called by delightfully frivolous things that are not their given names. I don’t know why this gives me so much pleasure.
But is this who I am?
In India, I went from Mumbai to Delhi to Agra to Jaipur. I had guides everywhere; I had drivers. I was fussed over constantly. There was so much to see and do and experience, but there was also the sense that as a small, blonde woman, my movement was a little restricted and I needed to keep to myself.
It was a wonderful, weird, overwhelming experience. And if I had known that everything would be so regimented and restricted from the start, would I have picked that trip?
Maybe. Maybe not.
There is nothing that can easily or adequately prepare you for India if you’ve never been. It’s not like anywhere else. You’d think having been in big cities all over the world, or travelling in hot climates, or being exposed to extreme income inequality would help to put it all into perspective, but…it doesn’t.
So that was what I did. I got on a plane, and went to India by myself. And dealt with ever changing plans, and people who wanted to take pictures with me, and Bubbles’ personal assistant, and was led around by the guy who had spent countless hours with diplomats and royalty.
And still I wondered: Is this me?