Chapter 1: Countdown

Utrecht, 08/22/2016

In November last year (2015) I started as a promovendus (aka PhD Candidate) and got rewarded with a multitude of vacation days. Before that in my time-between jobs, I had been backpacking to Guatemala. Somehow this summer found me a bit uninspired for vacation destinations. Usually I go after the peak European vacation period of July-August. I was talking over dinner to Casper, a classmate from my executive MBA days, about my dilemma. Casper is also in favour of destinations new and far and he enlightened me about Shoestring, who seemingly had well designed packages and sporty groups. I registered for their newsletter and a couple of weeks later, there was a special offer to South India.

My father was in the Air-Force, so when growing up in India we traveled all over India and lived in Air-Force stations spread over the country. I was born in Pune (Poona), which is in the west of the country and across the mountains from Mumbai (Bombay). So I had not really seen much of South India as an adult. I grew up in the capital Delhi and perhaps like all cities where one grows up, I have a love-hate relationship with it. Delhi is in a way like most capitals around the world in my experience, more aggressive than the rest of the country and the center of power. I love the memories it brings back though. Abundant in restaurants, park and historic monuments; I recommend it well though adding in the same breath to save it for the end of a trip so that by that time one would have got used to India and can take on Delhi.

In Delhi I grew to love the North Indian cuisine, my favourite being Punjabi Chicken Saag and Rogan Josh from Kashmir. Though true to my roots, nobody makes a Loitta-mach (special fish) like a Bengali or for that matter Kosha Mangsho (dried Goat curry preparation). The South is reputed to be even hotter, not just the weather. It was a tempting price for the Shoestring South India but I was not a big fan of organised trips.

I took the plunge and booked the tour. I was going to play tourist in my own country! This is how I felt (Photo from last time I went travelling in India, to the extreme North in Ladakh). This trip would covers three states in the South, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu in fifteen days! India is a sub-continent with a lot of diversity, it can be compared to Europe where travelling a few hundred kilometers one comes across a different language, cuisine and habits. The coming chapters are in the order of the trip in the three regions.

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