Monday, October 24, 2011

the real actual truth about traveling in India

INTERN is back!

INTERN is back!

*hands out packets of incense and yak cheese*
*inquires as to whether or not postcards mailed three weeks ago have arrived*
*makes elliptical references to someone called Guru G. without explaining who this person is or why it is suddenly necessary for INTERN to dress in orange robes and eat only "high-vibrational" foods*

INTERN missed you all very, very much. She is delighted to be back and spent the entire plane ride home composing all sorts of posts in her head. But before she returns to things writing and publishing-related, she wanted to share a few insights gleaned on her travels, just in case you yourself are planning a trip to India or thereabouts.

The Real Truth About Traveling in India

When you tell a veteran traveler that you are going to South Asia for the first time, they will invariably tell you two things:

1. The roads are c-r-a-a-a-a-a-z-y.

2. You are going to get the trots like you wouldn't believe.

These two claims are followed by a knowing chuckle, and perhaps an anecdote involving crazy drivers and/or gastric distress, often both at the same time.

However, after spending roughly a month and a half in the subcontinent herself, INTERN found that the picture her informants painted wasn't entirely accurate. Here are some slight corrections:

Old Claim #2: You are going to get the trots like you wouldn't believe.

Real Actual Truth:

Over the course of your time in India, you will experience fever, headache, insomnia, loss of appetite, minor cuts and bruises, sunburn, upper respiratory infection, delusions, hallucinations, and temporary deafness.

You will not, however, get the trots.

Your host's family will include one retired medical doctor whom INTERN will refer to as Dr. Sandesh. Noting your shivers at the breakfast table one morning, Dr. Sandesh (who speaks no English) will slip you a small white pill, which you will gulp down with your chai. A little while later, you will start to feel sort of--better.

The next morning, you will be reading Rabindranath Tagore poems on the couch when white-haired Dr. Sandesh will shuffle in and press two more little white pills into your palm, giving you a magnanimous smile as he does so. Although your fever went away in the night, you have a bit of a headache, so you thank him profusely and take them right away.

A little while later, you feel--like--totally better, and you go wander around the neighborhood sniffing the tropical flowers by yourself and have a very good time.

Over the next few days, you and Dr. Sandesh establish a friendly routine. You try refusing the pills 'cause you're really not sick anymore, but he's so sweet and it's so nice of him to reach out like that, across the language barrier, so you always end up taking them.

In the afternoons, you go out by yourself and splash around in the Ganges, drink chai from little clay cups, and gaze at temples until the monks shuffle you out. You never thought India would be this mellow. You never thought you'd FEEL this mellow in such a new and overstimulating environment. But it's like everything is soft and rosy and OK, even when you get caught in some kind of protest and your Metro station gets shut down and there are police shouting into loudspeakers and you can't's like, just roll with it, man.

You start to wonder if India really does cause spiritual transformation like your friend who's into meditation claims.

Then one day Techie Boyfriend will leave for work a little late, and he'll witness your morning ritual with Dr. Sandesh.

"What are those pills?" he'll ask. Several younger members of your host family will be called in to confer.

It will emerge that Dr. Sandesh is slightly senile and that you have in fact been taking a high dose of Valium every morning for the past week and a half and not cold medication as you had presumed.

You will be mildly disappointed that your rosy outlook is not, in fact, due to a spiritual transformation.

You will feel mildly depressed for the next few days.

You will not, however, get the trots.

Old Claim #1: The roads are c-r-a-a-a-a-a-z-y.

Real Actual Truth:

Yes, the roads are cr-a-a-a-a-zy. The drivers honk once, then put the pedal to the floor.

However, you will have taken so many of Dr. Sandesh's little white pills that here's the thing: you don't give a flying $@%#.
You're so mellow you could be thrown out the front seat of an autorickshaw when it takes a corner too fast, and instead of feeling upset or shaken or at all ruffled, you will pick yourself up, smile dozily at the wide-eyed autorickshaw driver, and wander away to find some of those nice Bengali sweets before it gets too hot.

That is the Real Actual Truth about traveling in India, and now you know.


What have you all been up to while INTERN was away? Who's working on a new manuscript? Who got an agent? Who found some interesting mushrooms in the forest? Let's catch up! INTERN wants to know!


  1. Wow. I know you’re a writer, but you can’t make that stuff up. So glad the doctor's generosity went well for you, and now I know what to pack.

    About mushrooms, right after you left, I went for a hike and I found a couple of these. And I thought, oh great, here I discover a mysterious mushroom, and my fungus guru’s off to the Ganges.

    Welcome Back!

  2. Glad you came back alive and drug free. Remember the 50 pages you lovingly critiqued? Well it must have worked because the full is out to an agent right now. Would have never gotten past the first 5 pages without you. :) Oh and I started my author website. www.Sarah yay!

  3. Nice to see that you're back. I'm looking forward to reading more posts about India. Was it a good place to get writing done?

  4. YAY! Welcome home, INTERN! I am delighted that your trip to India was

    I had a very similar experience in Argentina:

    Medical Patriarch with metaphysical leanings...check
    slight illness...check
    language barrier...check
    volunteered medication...check

    Except the volunteered medication came in the form of an intra-muscular injection. Sure, my hip was sore for a week, but I felt waaaaaaaay better.

  5. Your anecdotes made me laugh out loud! Laughing with you, dear, of course.

    Welcome back!


    We missed you.

  7. ROFL! Welcome back. I missed you and your wonderful humor.

  8. Yay, you are back. I had only just found you and poof, you disappeared to India. Om Shiva Hari Krsna and all that. Yep, working on a new manuscript. Nope, no agent. Yep, well, my son is finding mushrooms in the bushes at the park, but they are babies, it would be like "an abortion" if he picked them now. He's waiting and hoping no one else knows his spots...

  9. Glad you are back!And that's a hilarious story.
    I actually did get a book deal while you were gone. (I had the agent before you left; now I have a publisher.) And as it is a memoir, I am now struggling with your sage advice about memoirs...that they shouldn't be a whole bunch of sentences starting with "I." Instead they all start with "My dog..." (I kid. I kid.)

  10. Having lived in India for about six months a number of years back, I find this so very much funnier than I should.

  11. So Valium prevents the trots, good to know.

  12. Welcome back! I've been a lurker here for a while - and I missed your posts while you were gone. Also, I was a Peace Corps volunteer, and the traveler warnings are quite similar for the area of Central Asia where I served. Only we didn't have a friendly Valium-bearing doctor around...

  13. It is wonderful to have you back -- and with stories from India as well! It's like having a bonus on top of a bonus!

    Valium and chai sounds like a great combination. Having just finished reading a memoir on growing up in India (with recipes) it's good to know that the happy doctors are taking care of foreigners and treating them like family.

    Do you really want to know that Agent #4 sent me a 5-page "here's what's wrong with your first 50 pages" and extensive comments on those first 50 pages? And that it's taken me two weeks to convince myself that my manuscript isn't just a steaming pile of crap and maybe all of those Revise and Resubmit comments means Agent #4 believes in the manuscript enough to fight for it?

    Yeah, I didn't think so.

    -- Tom

  14. Sarah B: Congratulations on the full! So very excited for you!

    Neurotic Workaholic: In fact, India was a terrible place to get writing done (at least for INTERN). Whenever INTERN settled down with her notebook, curious people would crowd around and peer over her shoulder, which made her rather self-conscious.

  15. Shell Flower: good to know your son is learning good mushroom hunting protocol. May they blossom into fine, tasty specimens in good time!

  16. Tom: 5 pages of comments? You would need some chai-valium after that...Good luck!

  17. I found your blog while you were gone, so glad that you are back and posting! I spent last year in Southeast Asia/China so I definitely relate to this.. valium/xanex definitely played a role in my ability to survive over there.

  18. chai-valium. that sounds about right!

  19. I really missed reading your blog and feel like I led a pretty lame life in your absence. I got my first job (a real job, not an internship!) in the publishing industry, though, so hurray!