Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Yeah, let's do that North-India-from-west-to-east thing.

I guess you can still get to Leh in winter, but come on, what fun is it if the roads are all closed and you have to fly in?

I've taken the first step of contacting a Bhutanese tour company (this one) about visiting in November, and all seems well so far.

One trick: if you leave India, you have to stay out for 2 months before coming back in, unless you do a bit of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo and apply for a permit something something. I can do that, but I'd rather not do it twice (once for Nepal and once for Bhutan) so I'm thinking, fly from Kathmandu (Nepal) to Paro (Bhutan) and only leave/re-enter India once.

That makes the whole Indian-subcontinent part of this trip look something like (using big cities to denote "sorta in this area"): Leh-Srinagar-Jammu-Amritsar-McLeod Ganj/Dharamshala-Chandigarh-Haridwar-Lucknow-uhh Nepal Nepal Nepal-Kathmandu-Paro-Bhutan Bhutan-Sikkim-long trains-Delhi/Gurgaon/Marutikunj-more long trains-South South.

Man, I love those names!

ps. Incidentally, congrats to India in the cricket last night, and good luck India in the cricket world cup finals on Friday night/Saturday morning!

Monday, March 28, 2011

"Moments"; I think (but am not sure) that this idea is more mindful than twee

A few questions I've been thinking about:
- what will I do on the trip?
- how will I keep in touch with everyone?
- how will I get souvenirs for everyone?
- how will I document this trip?
- can I do something on this trip that might have relevance to the rest of my life?

Here's a thought. What if I keep an email rolodex of folks who I'd like to send things to, and every so often, send someone a moment. A moment is a photo with a short or long bit of text, telling them something that happened that day. I'm thinking something like this. Key characteristics:
- it's a tiny slice that you can't get in a postcard. No "omg the taj mahal is so beautiful". More "the trucks here all say "horn do" and have brilliant paint" or "this guy tried to sell me a beard" or the "three cultures meet, we share half a language, and we all need gas" story.
- it's ethereal. After sending it, I delete the photo. I don't post the photo or description anywhere else. This memory is only yours.

I see two main pluses. First, it keeps my eyes and ears and wits about me. If I'm looking for great moments in current life right now, I'll get more out of the trip than if I'm always thinking about my next step.

Second, I can't say why, but the ethereality of it is pleasing. Back in the day, I might mail you a photo. Then you have it and I don't; all I have is the memory. Nowadays, nothing is transient. Everything is on the internet forever and for everyone. This would be a chance to create something new for you in particular. And creating a one-time thing is new for me; I wonder what would happen. Finally, maybe I would have to invest more here-and-now mental energy in it instead of offloading the memory to "later."

I'm a little torn on the ethereality. Part of me says I should just publish this all in a blog instead. You can't go back and record your memories later; they're gone. And I somewhat obsessively record the rest of my life, so why not this trip too? It would let me reflect accurately on myself and my trip's progression, if nothing else.

So say I do just blog everything. Then do I just email friends and family and say "I was thinking of you when I wrote this post"? Seems cheesy. Maybe I just keep in touch with people and also keep a blog, same as it ever was.

So, in summary, the questions are:
- what sort of things should I record? (I've mostly answered this, and the answer is, I know what I want to record. "Moments" is the closest I'd have to a guiding phrase here.)
- ethereal to one person each or all in a big blog? (I'll ponder this.)

Finally, one more unrelated question:
- should I go through North India backwards? That is, start in say Ladakh and head East, as opposed to Bhutan and head West? Signs point to yes, because I may not be able to get to Ladakh in November, and it's maybe the #2 place I want to go. Thanks to Couchsurfing friend Anutham for the tip.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

India India Bhutan

Watch "around India in 80 seconds" and read "a beginner's guide to Indian English" and just TRY to tell me you don't want to go to India right now.

In other news, I'm researching how I'll get to Bhutan. You have to go with a tour company! I don't trust tour companies to not make for crummy experiences. But hey, it's the first of many new things I'm trying, I guess. I'm trying to land in Paro (the only airport), spend about 5 days, and exit via Phuntsholing to India.
(size comparison: switzerland)
... and not spend my entire trip's budget. (flights to Paro are pricey, and single travelers pay $240/day.)
I'll let you know how it turns out!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Let's do the vaccine rundown too.

(not to be confused with a purification rundown.)

All the rules for vaccines seem pretty simple. So why is there no site on the CDC or something where you can go and answer a few questions and it'll tell you all the vaccines you need to get? Lacking such a thing, I'll try to piece together relevant bits myself.

Countries I plan might have a remote chance of visiting: Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Indonesia, Australia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan.

Diphtheria: had a Tdap booster in 2008, it's good for 10 years.
Hepatitis A: had 2 doses of this in 2008-2009, set for life.
Hepatitis B: had 3 doses of this in 2001-2002, I'm set for life.
Influenza: this is the flu. I'll skip it.
Japanese Encephalitis: this is supposedly worth considering. However, "only 5 cases among Americans traveling or working in Asia have been reported since 1981." The only countries I'm going to where it's prevalent are India and Indonesia. In Indonesia, I'd only be going to Sumatra and/or Borneo, and "human cases recognized in Bali and Java only." In India, it's more of an issue, but I'll be in high places and Northern India mostly. I don't plan to stay in South India for more than a month, and I also don't plan to go to rural/farming regions. Also, it costs $300-600 and takes 3 shots. Side effects are relatively mild, although about 1 in 10 get headaches/fever/vomiting level reactions. 
Malaria: there is no vaccine. According to this map, it's in a lot of places I'm going, and almost always Chloroquine-resistant. There are many drugs; I'll have to take Atovaquone/Proguanil (Malarone), Doxycycline, or Mefloquine (Lariam). Sounds like Malarone is nice, weekly, and expensive; Doxycycline is cheap and also good, and Mefloquine is the worst of the bunch (although who knows, the crazy dreams might be fun...) I guess I'll take Malarone or Doxycycline. I've had good luck with Malarone before.
Measles, Mumps, Rubella: had the second dose in 1998, I'm okay here.
Meningococcal: I don't plan to live in a dorm or have several medical conditions (I think), so I'm set here.
Pertussis (whooping cough): had a Tdap booster in 2008, I'm set for life.
Polio: had a bunch of shots for this as a baby, then a booster in 2009 which means I'm fine here.
Rabies: I've always heard that you can get pre-vaccinated, but it's 3 shots, many hundreds of dollars, and you still need urgent care if you're bit. Better just to avoid animals.
Tetanus: had a Tdap booster in 2008, it's good for 10 years.
Typhoid: had a series of 4 pills over 7 days in January 2008, I'm good until January 2013.
Varicella (chickenpox): had this as a child, I'm fine.
Yellow Fever: vaccine not required or recommended. (seems to be an African/South American affliction.)

Whew! I think I'm in good shape. Just the malaria pills.

EDIT: For future reference, this is useful too, to tell relative risks of various diseases: WHO Global Burden of Disease project.

March 1: 6 months

I put a note in my Google Calendar a while ago, counting March 1 as 6 months, so September 1 is my prospective liftoff. 6 months!

And I've got another visa. Well, it's technically not a visa, but I now have an Australian "ETA", which is what you need in order to enter the country. It's good for 12 months, so I can be there anytime between now and March 2, 2012. I'll be there in January. $20, literally under 5 minutes at

Rock on, Australia! I am pleased with the ease of your visa process.

Anyway, 6 months. Exciting. It still feels like a world away (I have another entire job to finish between now and then) but it's getting closer. Hooray!