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Packing for a Month in India


It was my intention to pack as light as possible for my trip. That said, I needed to bring enough gear that I could remotely solve any kind of work-related emergency that might have come up.

In the end, I ended up heavier than I would have liked. I should have put in the effort to weigh the heavy things make some tough choices. I could have easily shed 5kg, probably more.

This is what I packed, and what I would change.

PS: By removing the unneeded items, I would have saved 6.3 kg (14 pounds)!

Item Quantity Weight Opinion Comments
jeans 1 750g bad I brought jeans because I knew I would be riding a motorcycle. Jeans give more protection on a bike than shorts. At home, even on the hottest 35C days, you can crank the throttle, and you cool right down. The problem was that in India, you can't crank on the throttle. Traffic moves at 40-60, not 80-120, so there is no way of staying cool in jeans. Worse, once your legs start sweating, the jeans absorb the moisture and just get wet, heavy, and smelly. They take up a lot of space and are heavy. I wore shorts almost exclusively. A pair of light cotton pants might have worked, but these are out of fashion and difficult to find.
undies 4 300g good Since they are small and light, I might pack a couple more, but 4 was enough since there was laundry facilities.
shorts 1 350g good Should have brought 2.
socks 3 pair 150g bad I think I wore socks once or twice while I was there (see running shoes).
running shoes 1 pair 800g bad Unless you intend to run, leave the running shoes at home. They are bulky and heavy. I brought them for added protection on the bike, but ended up wearing sandals exclusively.
rubber sandals 1 pair light good These were great for everything. They could get wet at the beach, and be dry for the ride home.
Birkenstock style sandals 1 pair heavy bad Too heavy, and less comfortable than the spongy rubber sandals. Barely wore them.
white long sleeve shirt 2 light ok I brought white long sleeve shirts because I wanted to cover my skin, and hoped the white would keep me cool. The local men wear long sleeve shirts. After a month I started to adapt, but honestly the long sleeves were just uncomfortably hot.
t-shirts 2 light good I wanted to avoid t-shirts because most Indian men wear button-up shirts. Nonetheless, the t-shirts were very comfortable in the heat, and I wish I brought more.
undershirts 2 320g good The tank tops were great for sleeping in and hanging around the house. Although it would have been most comfortable, I did not wear them in public; only the beach tourists do.
swim trunks 1 200g good I didn't swim much, but the trunks were small/light enough that I was glad to have them, and they coulod double as underwear in a pinch.
hoodie sweater 1 400g good I knew the hoodie was bulky and heavy, and I wasn't sure about bringing it, but it was great up in the Himilayas, and even in Goa in the early mornings.
money belt 1 light good Peace of mind in busy airports and train stations.
documents   200g required Passport/visa, International Driver's Permit, cash, driver's license, credit cards.
magazines 6 1200g good, but I had a few unread Popular Mechanics to read. They were very heavy on the way there, but I threw them out or gave them away as I read them, and they were gone for my trip back. If I didn't already have them, I would have downloaded digital copies instead.
prescriptions   light required I packed them into s smaller container for the trip.
prescription sunglasses 1 light n/a I forgot them at home. I wish I had them.
zip ties 30 10g good Solved so many problems. Kept pickpockets out of all my zippered compartments.
binoculars 1 heavy bad I never used them.
pens and pencils 10 120g good 2 pens + pencil + sharpie would have sufficed.
Gravol 1 bottle light ok Didn't use but, glad I had it. A few tablets would have sufficed.
Immodium 2 packs light ok Luckily didn't need it. Glad I had it, didn't need so much.
other pills lots light ok I brought pills for most ailments. I only used the Tylenol-1. Didn't need so much.
toothpaste 1 100g good The travel tube didn't last long so I bought toothpaste there.
shampoo 1 50g good Travel size.
soap 1 50g good I brought a full-size bar. The smell of a familiar soap is surprisingly reassuring.
toothbrush 1 25g good A mini travel brush would have been nice.
deodorant 1 120g ok The turny knob broke so I didn't end up using it. It didn't help as an anti-perspirant, and luckily I don't smell too bad. Access to a shower helps.
q-tips small box 20g good Good for cleaning ears and so much else.
wipes 1 pack 300g good Packs better than toilet paper. Heavy but worth it. Good for cleaning all the things. I bought more there.
carabiner 1 10g good Handy for attaching A to B. They remove zip ties with a twist of the wrist.
nail clippers 1 15g good My nails grow quickly. They got lots of use. Great for cutting zip ties that are done too tight for carabiner.
phone 1 200g good Once I got a SIM card it was an irreplacable source of information.
camera 1 365g bad I barely used my point-and-shoot camera. I used my phone instead, even though the camera had optical zoom and better image quality. I knew I wasn't going to take a ton of pictures. If I was going on "a photo trip", I would bring my DSLR gear. I missed the 300mm telephoto, remote shutter, aperture/shutter speed control, and low-light quality.
tablet 1 1500g good Great for doing research at the coffee shop, etc. Great for large maps while on the road. 1.2kg plus charger.
ultrabook 1 1880g good Great for doing work, writing blog updates, etc. 1.5kg plus charger. I could have gotten by with only this or the tablet, but I don't know which one I would choose. Since my tablet is a full windows PC, maybe it + a keyboard and mouse would have worked.
power bar 1 light good My sister mocked me for bringing it -- until she saw me charge my phone, tablet, laptop, and camera at the same time. This $3 until from the dollar store was very light.
cable lock 1 150g bad I never used this computer lock.
mouse 1 100g good A real mouse makes working so much easier.
portable hard disk 1 200g bad Never used it.
misc. cables, etc.   200g bad It never hurts to have a spare ethernet or HDMI cable, or USB drive, but that weight add up.
water bottle  150g  good  Great for filling when you have access to clean water. 
pajama bottoms 0 light good I didn't bring any, but gave in and bought a pair there. Great for around the house and sleeping on the train.
sunscreen 0 heavy good I should have brought some. Very hard to find in India. Eventually got some (containing skin whitener).

Day 28: Last Day in India

After checkout I headed to Uncle Aloysius' apartment. As I knocked at his door, he arrived from an outing. Perfect timing. Aloysius is my father's cousin.

We spent the day chit-chatting and shared Chinese dinner.

After a nice relaxing day with family I headed to the airport and checked in.


Day 26: Kalka to New Delhi to Mumbai

McDonalds menu at Old Delhi station

I slept the night in Sleeper class, this time with a blanket, and awoke in new Delhi.

I stored my pack at Old Delhi station so I could spend the day looking around.

I walked around the central Rajiv Chowk, looking for an internet café. I found it, but it was just a computer and a printer; and they didn't serve coffee.

I had two very friendly people come up to me to chat.

"Where are you from?"


"French or English?"

Hmmm, I thought after speaking to the second one, that's odd that they both asked? I eventually figured out that it was their job to befriend tourists, recommend a shopping mall, and arrange to take you there.

I went back to the station to get my things, and then took the Metro to New Delhi station, where I boarded the 16h express train to Mumbai. This time I took AC Three Tier class, which is like Sleeper but with linens, food, and air conditioning.

When I boarded there was a guy in my seat talking to his friend. He seemed quite irate that I asked for my seat.

One of my fellow passengers was playing some nice Indian music softly. The guy in my seat pulled out his tablet and starts watching a movie at maximum volume. What a dick! Then he pulled out his phone and invited his friend to come join us from another car.

I sat by the window enjoying the view. Then in the reflection I noticed that this guy and his friend from the other car are making fun of me, my attire, and are planning a prank in which they will kick my bed all night and pour water on me. This was all in Hindi, of course, but the guy would make an excellent mime.

I asked the guy in the seat next to me, with whom the jerk was originally sitting, to tell his friend that he is being a cock, that I found it quite insulting, and that only an asshole would treat a guest to their country in this way. He spoke English, and had gone to college at Fanshawe in London Ontario. He said something to his friend, who looked a bit embarassed, and shut up for the rest of the night.

I woke up in Mumbai.

Day 25: Kalka to Shimla to Kalka

Narrow gauge train
My young travel companion
Long tunnel
Station signs
Mountain-side town
Snow capped peaks
I can dig it.
Nifty carts

A UNESCO World heritage Site, the Kalka-Shimla Railway was bulit commencing in 1891. It connected Shimla, in the foothills of the Himilayas at 2186m altitude with Kalka, at an elevation of 658m.

The narrow-gauge rails are 762mm apart, less than half that of "normal" railways, allowing the engine and rolling stock to maneuver around 919 curves, with radii as small as 37.5m.

The line includes 864 bridges and 103 tunnels.

My train from New Delhi arrived about 6:30, and I hurried to buy my INR230 ticket and climb aboard for the 6 hour, 97km trek that I travelled more than 2250km to see.

It was totally worth it. I've posted a handful of photos, and I have dozens more of beautiful mountainscapes that are done no justice by the camera. You had to be there.

The air grew cooler and thinner as we ascended the mountains. There were at least 10 stops at stations along the way. Each had its own chai wallah, curry booth, and sweets shop. All of us hopped on and off, scurrying back when the engine honked its departure horn.

Manual switches and mechanical semaphores, driven by pushrods, cables, and pulleys still control traffic on the line.

Expecting a few tiny villages along the way, I was amazed to find huge towns each with thousands of people, houses decorating the steep rock cliffs like a European picture postcard.

I thought San Francisco had steep hills, but upon reaching Shimla, I realized my plan to stay a while and explore would be almost impossible. In the thin mountain air, at over 7000ft ASL, my body couldn't complete the 2km walk uphill to the post office to find a postcard. The taxi drivers refused to drive me such a short distance. Even at the cool temperatures, a veritable rainfall fell from my pores.

I returned to Kalka on the next train, the sun setting as we descended the steep winding rails.

I giggled as four young fellows eagerly debated cricket. Without knowing the language, I understood the conversation implicitly. One argued his opinion about his team, another took the contrarian view, just for spite, while the rest jeered and pointed out the merits of each. It was a scene you could see in any country, for any sport, on the merits of anything at all.

Noticing my observation, they were immediately curious to know my opinion, to which I explained that I had tried to learn the rules of the game a few nights previous, and gave up on trying to understand overs and wickets.

With their various degrees of English proficiency and confidence, we chatted for the next couple of hours back and forth in simple English. They even tought me some Punjabi, which I quickly forgot minutes later.

Our topics included politics, dating and marriage, the Indian baby girl problem, what -35C feels like, education, and anything else we could think of.

Asking if they had girlfriends, they proudly assured me that they did not, being devout Hindus and Seikh, and looking forward to a day when they will meet their wives to be. I remarked that it must be difficult for them, with only 700 girls for every 1000 boys. "No, we are just more motivated," they laughed. I remarked that with a population of over a billion people, reproduction didn't seem to be an issue. My words were a bit to complex. "India is good at babies!" I simplified to roaring applause and laughter. "yes, you are right", they confirmed.

Remarking that it was -35C back home that night, they asked, "How do you live?" I explained that in the winter we just adapted, staying inside most of the time except for the trips to and from work. "No, how to you live?" they repeated. Having never lived in insulated homes with central heat, the concept seemed impossible.

My new friends were a view into a fun, devout, positive, new India; they are driven to seek education, find and honour wives, raise children, and contribute in every way they can to their India.

None of their spiritual practices condoned drinking, so after our trip we shared chai in lieu of Kingfisher, took photos, and went our ways.

They invited me to join them on their journey, but I had a train back to New Delhi to catch. While waiting, I found some shops near the station, indulged in an Indian sweet or two, and picked up a blanket for the cold trip back.

Day 24: New Delhi

Mom watches son showing off that he's ready for the family business

I arrived at Hazrat Nizamuddin station, one of three major stations in New Delhi around noon. The temperature was slightly cooler than in Goa. I had the better part of a day to kill, as my next train, to Kalka would not leave until late evening.

I took the Metro to Old Delhi station to have them stow my heavy bag. I also need to actually book the next trains. The Metro train was insanely packed, and pushing and shoving was the norm. After an attempt to board the first train, I politely withdrew to wait for the next one. When the next one arrived, I followed the locals, pushing, shoving, and elbowing my way aboard. So un-Canadian it hurt, literally.

En route to Old Delhi station, I noticed that a map showed a National Train Museum in the city. A day to kill, and a train museum! I gave up, however, when the train museum's website yielded no response, and both provided phone numbers seemed to be disconnected.

I spent some time in the station waiting room charging devices and trying to get an internet signal, with very little success.

As the sun began to set, I decided to check out the outdoor market that is right across from the train station. Most of the goods were the standard fare: shirts, shorts, watches, and headphones. The food on the other hand was plentiful, varied, and made on site.

After nearly a month in India, I found my first homemade masala chai: tea, fresh spices, milk and sugar, all just like Aunty used to make. Sadly, most chai in india is made from a powder, like Ovaltine, or a prefab baggie.

For supper I had a veggie thali dinner: two curries, daal, 4 chapatis, raita, naan, pickle; This street food was probably the best I had in India, and the whole dinner cost me a whopping 40 rupees. "Drink clean water", one of the owners demanded as he poured me a glass. "You promise clean?", I challenged. "Drink clean water", he insisted. I drank many glasses, dry from the day's heat and sun, and crossing my fingers that my Hepatitis A and Cholera vaccines had kicked in.

I met a young rickshaw enthusist playing on his uncle's vehicle. I asked his mother if I could take their picture and she agreed excitedly. Once I did, another family member, his grandfather I think, barked, "Money! 100 rupees!". I scoffed and placed 5 rupees in the little boys hand and closed it. "Not for him", I explained, pointing. The rest of the family thought this was hilarious.

I boarded the train for the 265km journey from New Delhi to Kalka, at the base of the Himilayas. I had the upper bunk in sleeper class. It was a cold night.

Day 23: Madgaon to New Delhi in 26 hours

Rajdhani Express

The Rajdhani Express is a high-speed train that runs from Madgaon, Goa to New Delhi, 2000km in 26 hours. It left at 10:00, so after tea and goodbyes, I left Porvorim by bus to Madgaon via Panjim, arriving at 9:30. On my last day in Goa, I finally had the bus “system” worked out.

The train would arrive In Delhi the next day around noon. From there, I would need to make my way across the Delhi subway system to another train station to catch the train to Kalma; however that train would not leave until nightfall, so this would leave me the day to explore Delhi a bit (one of the places my sister would not visit, FYI).

I figured out that if I timed things right, I would not need to seek accommodation, instead sleeping on the trains.

The ticket that I booked to Delhi was AC1, first class. I figured the 26-hour trip might be a good time to spend extra for comfort. My only comparison was sleeper class, which I took from Mumbai to Goa upon arriving in India. The two classes are very different experiences, and I now know my preference.

More on that, later.

Day 22: Last Day in Goa

Last day with the bike

Today I needed to return my bike, or rent it for more days. Still wanting to see other parts of India, I decided to make this my last day in Goa.

After tea, Ulrike and I rode scooter and bike to Candolim beach for breakfast, and a last look at the Indian Ocean. We debated the obsession of the largest of the Brits to come to Goa to lie in the sun and turn a painful shade of red; and places we wouldn't travel, based on reputation or hearsay.

We took the ferry to Panjim, dropped the bike off, and stopped for a cold coffee in the air conditioning, during the hottest part of the day.

Ulrike took the scooter back to the house. We weren't sure if it was able to take us both up the long hill to Porvorim, so I took the bus.

Ulrike watched Downton Abbey, as I studied the rail schedules and booked the next day's journey.

India has one of, if not the foremost, rail systems in the world. On this trip I wanted to see at least a couple of its particularly cool parts.

When I visited India with my parents in 1981, steam trains were still widely used throughout the system, and indeed our trip from Goa to Bombay was by steam train. Today, steam has been eliminated from the system, with the exception of one tourist train that runs every other Saturday. I would have liked to have experienced it nonetheless, but unfortunately I would be back in Canada during the next expedition.

While most of the system has standardized on broad gauge track, there are still some lines that use metre gauge (one metre between tracks), or narrow gauge (as little as two feet between tracks). These were constructed particularly in mountainous and hilly regions to accommodate the small radii required for winding mountain paths.

The highest concentration of these metre and narrow gauge lines are to the North, in the Himalayas. The famous Darjeeling line in Sikkim was crucial to the East India Tea Company's delivery of tea and spices from the mountains.

Another line, from Kalka to Shimli in Himachal Pradesh was built for the Viceroy to transport him from India's heat to his cool summer home in the mountains. This line, more than 2000km from Goa, is where I was headed.

Day 21: The 1000 Rupee Train Schedule

Train schedule scavenger hunt
Aldona Bridge
Quarry (camera doesn't capture its iridescent glow)
Trucks loaded on train
Trucker cooking lunch
Mining road intersection
Naroa station?
No road here!
Boats at the ferry docks

In General Aviation, there is a term called the one hundred dollar hamburger. It's what recreational pilots call a short flight to a nearby airport, to fly for no reason other than the love of flying. The hamburger at the airport café is as good a reason as any to leave the ground.

Indian Railways publishes a book called Trains at a Glance, that includes not only every schedule for every train, but all kinds of information about the booking process, menus, and more. It is a priceless tool for planning a trip. Although much of this information is available online, it is fragmented over hundreds of webpages, and the actual schedules can be searched, but not just downloaded en masse for browsing. The publication costs just 45 rupees (less than a dollar) and is about the size and thickness of a phone book for a small city.

Today I would buy one. I planned a route that would take me past four train stations. Hopefully I would get lost along the way. The words, I wonder where that road goes... always make Sarah nervous.

My first leg was to Thivim, the closest railway station, about 19km away, Northeast of Mapusa. As I turned off the highway at Mapusa, I saw a beautiful windy road with very little traffic, so I diverted. Some random left and right turns later, I found myself riding through Nashinola, a stunning village, full of hills and flowers; also the location of my grandmother's homestead.

Following another interesting-looking road, I rode through a quarry. Goa has hundreds of mining roads, each consisting of no more than a lane of Goa's signature red soil. These are uncharted in Google maps, but are detailed fairly accurately in Bing maps.

What amazed me is how I could follow a dirt path for long distances on mining roads without seeing anyone for 20 minutes, thinking I need to give up and turn around, only to stumble into a little village of 50 people, complete with a general store, following by another 20 minutes of nothing. As this happened over and over, I realized that I was seeing Goa's agricultural heritage. Villages like Nashinola, no doubt started as the crossing of two dirt roads long ago. As I studied my maps in detail, I realized what a huge fraction of Goa's population is invisible; unseen and unknown to the vast majority, accessible only by axle-breaking mining roads, their citizens living their lives traditionally in small communities.

Thivim station didn't have any copies of the book. There was however an example of something Ulrike was telling me she read about the previous day.

To save fuel and tires, freight trucks actually load their trucks onto flatbed rail cars for long trips. The drivers stay in their cabs for the extended journey, where they sleep and cook meals. About 100 trucks were on board at Thivim, and the train was leaving the station as I arrived. Think of all of the pollution, carbon, tires, accidents, deaths, and traffic that is being averted.

My next stop was Naroa Station. I went via mining roads. A photo shows an "intersection" of two such roads. A few missed turns led me to a dry dock on the North shore of the Mandovi river, where I met Sunil. Currently unemployed, Sunil and his friends gather for chat and games in the early afternoon. Impressed by is English, I listened as he told me about working in Dubai, fishing for mud, how to heal a cut, and the dream of working in Canada, only attainable if he can save 40,000 rupees for the work placement.

Naroa Station was not just a short ride away. I mean, it was a short ride away, but it wasn't there. It seems to have been abandoned long ago. Next.

Now in the middle of nowhere, the next stop was Karmali station. Inconveniently, the Mandovi river and Malar Island were between me and Karmali. As I was essentially following the rail line, this should not have posed a problem, except that the train had a bridge, and I didn't. How could my closest of friends, a map, lie to me? Thankfully, there was a ferry there, and after being accosted by a mentally-challenged person, I was aboard and on my way to Malar. I didn't check if there was a ferry on the other side of the island.

There was. The North/East half Naroa island was filled with dense communities of small houses and had the feeling of a European village, windy, intersecting roads at all angles, and often paved with stone. The South/West half was primary wetlands. At the end of the road I found the other ferry to Old Goa on the South shore of the Mandovi.

Karmali should have been easy to find. I had been there before. Twice. I had a map. I found it on my fifth attempt. They had a copy! Faced with success, I realized I had not brought my backpack, so I fashioned the book into a seat pad of sorts.

I checked with Ulrike to what she was up to, and met her at the Urban Café in Panjim.

It's harder to get lost with a GPS, but you can if you want to. 6 hours, 45 rupees for the book, petrol, and I assume I ate or drank something along the way. 1000 rupees well spent.

Day 20: Mapusa Market

Keep your ducks in a row, and your chickens... stoned?
NO handbags or purses (or whatever else they are).

I was awoken at 3:30 by a torrential downpour. Rain is quite rare in the winter in Goa, but it does happen occasionally. This is the first, and likely only, rain that I will see on my trip.

The rain and its humidity seemed to bring out more mosquitos. After an hour of killing them, and piling their corpses as a warning to the others, I gave up on getting back to sleep. I chatted with Sarah and then got up and made tea.

I was planning on going to the Goa Science Centre today, followed by SEQC quiz night, but the rain would have made the trip miserable by motorcycle, and impractical otherwise.

Ulrike and I took advantage of a brief pause in the rainy day to go to Mapusa market, an outdoor market for food, clothes, and household items. It got:

  • a leather wallet, INR 100
  • a leather belt, INR 100
  • cargo shorts, INR 60
  • 500g of cashews, INR 275
  • two things for wife-unit
  • a chiku milkshake, INR 30

The chickens in the photo were disturbing. They are alive, and no, chickens do not normally lie in neat rows.

Ulrike found a booth at which, I assume the movie studios, in an insightful new sales strategy (no doubt copying Apple's dollar-a-song iTunes model), were selling new releases such as Birdman and 50 Shades of Gray on DVD for 50 rupees.


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