Lynn Braz

Content Creator / Marketing Specialist

India: Travel Tips for Women

269703_2219068076757_6746597_nI have traveled alone extensively in India, and have always felt safe, despite putting myself in questionable circumstances. I disregarded the U.S. State Department’s warnings and traveled to Kashmir and skied there at a resort, Gulmarg, that is three miles from the Line of Control over which Pakistan and India bicker. I backpacked across the Indian Himalayas during winter, and grabbed jeep rides to whatever town they happened to be going. I spent a summer in Southern India, where daytime temperatures soared to 107 degrees F. (41.67 C.). I have never contracted food poisoning, never been robbed, and other than a few minor incidences have never felt physically threatened.

But my travels could have easily gone wrong. I’ve been lucky, but also prudent, for the most part. Here are my tips for women traveling alone in India:

  • Dress modestly. Always. No shorts, short skirts, or tank tops. No tight T-shirts, no showing cleavage. No matter hot it gets—and it gets really, really hot in India—cover up. I almost always wear a salwar kameez. Local tailors in every town will custom make them for you. But, I prefer to buy them ready wear at FabIndia (chain store with zillions of locations), which is the Indian version of Anthropolgie. There are some exceptions to my salwar kameez rule: Goan beaches, mountain/rock climbing in Manali, skiing, yoga. Temperature is not a factor. Regardless of how hot it gets on the Indian plains I cover up, and you should too.
  • Carry a shawl or scarf with you. You’ll need to cover your head to enter temples and gurdwaras and other holy sites.
  • Avoid animal products. This is not me trying to sneak in a plug for veganism. This is pure practicality. Electrical blackouts are the norm in India, making refrigeration unreliable. Eating animal products = food poisoning.
  • Pack your must-have personal care products. Tampons are nearly impossible to find in most towns. Bring sunscreen, a headlamp and torch (for frequent blackouts), a personal water filtration system, sugar substitute for coffee/tea, oil of oregano (a few drops a day keep bacteria away), hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, money belt for under your clothes, pumice stone for scrubbing the filth off your feet if you wear sandals/flip-flops, bug spray (citronella won’t cut it in India, opt for chemicals). Dr. Bronner’s all purpose liquid soap multitasks as shampoo and clothes detergent. Bring a lock to secure your belongs during long train/bus rides. Possibly the most important item of all: toilet paper.
  • Clothes to bring: Rain jacket if you’re traveling to the mountains (which I highly recommend), sunhat, sensible shoes, yoga clothes—capris and full-length tops. Clothes not to bring: whites (it’s astonishing how quickly dirt gathers on everything), booty yoga shorts, bandeaus/bra tops, anything see-through or revealing.
  • Know how to say, “Thank You.” Danyavaad in Hindi, Sukriya in Urdu. India has 22 official languages, one of which is English.
  • No PDAs. If you hook up while traveling, keep the romance in your room.
  • Add leg day to your workouts to prepare for India. Squat toilets are still the norm in most places outside the major cities/tourist areas.
  • Don’t make eye contact with random men on the street. They will think you’re coming on to them. During my travels, I’ve made many guy friends. I’ve even gone on dates with local men. But when I’m dealing with locals, I channel my most proper, chaste, ladylike qualities. No come hither looks. No flirty conversations.
  • Be polite, but take no shit. My minor incidences with men occurred when I let my guard down for fear of coming across as a rude American. One young man followed me back to my hotel (unbeknownst to me) and when I opened the door, he tried to push his way in and kiss me. I kneed him in the groin (thank you, Model Mugging workshop).
  • But don’t assume the worst. You will get hit on in India. Relentlessly. Regardless of your age. If you’re traveling alone, men assume you want to be hit on. But not all of them. Some will genuinely find you interesting. Develop your radar so you can tell which is which.
  • Planes, trains, automobiles? If you travel up north and take shared jeeps from town to town, buy two seats. Jeep drivers pack as many people as possible into one vehicle. Flights between cities are inexpensive, but can mean unwanted overnight stays to make connections. Trains are…let’s just say fly whenever possible.
  • Carry extra passport-sized photos for permits. You need special permits to enter Sikkim. If you’re in Dharamsala during the Dalai Lama’s teachings, you’ll need a permit to attend. Extra photos come in handy. Also, carry multiple copies of your passport and Indian visa.

For more information on what to expect as a woman traveling alone in India: My Worst Date. Ever.

Bangkok’s Museum of Contemporary Art—MOCA

An amorphous sculpture of a Thai man holding a doll-sized, but otherwise lifelike, Adolf Hitler puppet provocatively greets visitors to Bangkok’s Museum of Contemporary Art—MOCA. Behind Hitler, a wall of diminutive, realistic renderings of former heads of state include Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill side-by-side with Stalin, Mao and Saddam Hussein. In viewing these pieces, I wanted to know what the artist intended. Was the choice meant to strike a balance of good versus evil? Or was he saying the three symbols of freedom and three despots were more alike than different? That all leaders, intentionally or inadvertently, create bondage? There are pieces of art that stay with me forever because they touch me emotionally with their beauty. And then there are those pieces I reflect on often because they stimulate my mind, help me crystallize my own world view. These pieces in MOCA fall into the latter category.

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Adjacent to the two unnerving displays, a bit of levity is in evidence: A life-sized Salvador Dali wearing an elaborate Thai crown holds his paint palette behind a chair and a mirror. “Sit down,” the museum guard urged me. My friend Evan snapped photos of my reflection as I perched uncomfortably, my body still in visceral reaction to the works we’d just seen.

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The paintings and sculptures of two of Thailand’s National Artists fill the remaining halls on the first of five floors of MOCA. As we continued through the museum, Evan and I noticed the repetition of imagery and motifs—Buddhas, skulls, horned demons, lots of breasts—in many of the works. Modern art in Thailand was largely nurtured under the guidance of Professor Silpa Bhirasri (born Corrado Feroci in Florence), who introduced European techniques to Thailand and helped establish the country’s first university dedicated to the visual arts in 1934. Viewing the impressionism, post-impressionism and hybrid realism works of Thai artists is reminiscent of watching Balanchine’s muses perform his ballets—there is an unmistakable style within the unique, individual interpretations.

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My visit to MOCA was one of the highlights of my time in Bangkok. The building itself, to me, is a work of art. The outside grounds are scattered with sculptures—Buddhas, birds, the Hindu god Ganesha—an enormous abstract rendering of a lotus flower rising from a pool that runs the length of the building. Both the interior and exterior feature a lot of white on white, shapes that are discernible only from certain angles, an overall design that elicits a feeling of coolness amid the often torrid art works.

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The majority of MOCA’s works are by Thai artists. But I found a delightful surprise among the small sampling of international artists—several pieces by Lancaster, Pennsylvania, photographer Tom Chambers.

Evan at MOCA

Located somewhere in the outskirts of Bangkok, MOCA is a schlepp—50 minutes by motorbike, and much longer via any other form of transportation—from central Bangkok. Considering Bangkok’s abundance of sights—temples, floating markets, the royal palace—MOCA is an inconvenient visit. But well worth the time spent getting there.

MOCA impressionist painting

 

 

 

Flying Trapeze in Koh Tao, Thailand

Away from the busy-ness of Sairee Beach; view of Shark Island in the distance

Away from the busy-ness of Sairee Beach; view of Shark Island in the distance

I first visited Koh Tao, a tiny island—7 kilometers by 3 kilometers—off Thailand’s southwest coast nearly 13 years ago. Back then, the island, which is a 2.5-hour ferry ride from the larger and more popular island, Samui, offered exactly one organized activity: scuba diving. There were no roads, thus no vehicles. Only one beach, Sairee, offered accommodations—rustic beach bungalows with outdoor showers. Dining meant grabbing a bite at a street food stall. I was traveling with several friends who chose Koh Tao for quick and cheap scuba certification. After three days on the island, I was eager to move on.

A lot has changed between my first and second trip, this past May. A main road now circles the island. Scooters, cars and trucks jam the sidewalk-less streets. Sairee Beach is now a bona fide town teeming with resorts, restaurants, hotels, bungalows, and hostels. Diving is still the main draw, but the island now offers adventure travelers an array of sports, including rock climbing, bouldering, and flying trapeze.

Flying trapeze classes are offered six days a week right in the heart of Sairee Beach by Goodtime Adventures. Lead instructor Gemma Semple’s coaching style is equal parts cheerleader, drill sergeant and MacGyver—trapeze supplies, including chalk, athletic tape and Liquid Bandage for hands that rip from exertion are hard to come by, so Gemma improvises. To appropriate a quote from one of my former trapeze catchers, flying trapeze on Koh Tao is the most fun you can possibly have with your clothes on.trapeze rig

During day classes, the view from the platform features palm trees and beyond, a verdant jungle. Behind the rig, the turquoise sea stretches to the horizon. Fairy lights illuminate the rig during evening classes, which made me feel like a pixie soaring through a tropical forest. Gemma is a wonderful teacher, articulate, strong, confidence-boosting. During the week I flew with her, I watched students try trapeze for the first time and progress dramatically within a few days.

Although dozens of people tried convincing me that diving is the most incredible, most relaxing, yet exhilarating, thing imaginable, I have zero interest in the sport. I just can’t imagine trusting anything to breathe on my behalf, and chronic earaches as a child have left me wary of any activity that could blow out my eardrums. I went to Koh Tao specifically for trapeze. But the beauty of doing trapeze on Koh Tao is that the diving culture means there are plenty of other tourists and expats, thus tons of potential playmates for all those hours I was not on the trapeze rig.

Through trapeze I met another traveler, Tamara, who was on Koh Tao for diving. She said that when she left the island, she cried. I understand. This trip, instead of being bored by the island within days, I wanted to stay forever.

Trapeze classes: Contact Gemma at flyingtrapeze(at)gtadventures.com.

Getting there: From Bangkok, Bangkok Airways offers inexpensive flights to Koh Samui. Ferries from Samui to Koh Tao run twice daily.

Rim Lau Restaurant at Koh Tao Cabanas

Rim Lau Restaurant at Koh Tao Cabanas

Favorite restaurants: Chaba Tapas (best salad), Sairee Sairee Braisserie Pizzeria, Gallery (more luxe than my usual meals), Su Chili, Rim Lau at the Koh Tao Cabanas (breakfast), Banyan (breakfast, early lunch).

Favorite activity besides trapeze: Water taxi (15 minutes) to Nangyan Island’s crystal clear waters for snorkeling.

Nangyuan Island

Nangyuan Island

Other activities: Yoga, Hiking, Rock Climbing, Bouldering, Beach Bumming.

Accommodations: Can fit any budget. I chose the Sairee Seaview Hotel, and loved it there.

Singapore’s Changi Airport

orchid meSingapore’s Changi Airport is not just another airport. It is a destination onto itself. It’s Oz, the Emerald City, minus the wizard and witch. A self-contained oasis for travelers. The only place in the world where flying economy feels like first class.

It’s hard for me to choose a favorite spot in Changi. The sunflower garden. The butterfly garden. The orchid garden blooming in a kaleidoscope of colors—fuchsia, burgundy, scarlet, lemon, teal, and ruby—circles a koi pond, replete with waterfalls. I sat on a teak wood bench and watched dozens of tourists, not one of whom looked weary or harried, all of whom were smiling in a merry old land of oz kind of way, stop, rest amid the emerald foliage, snap photos of the fish. I strolled through art galleries, created my own sand art, took in a movie, Despicable Me. At the children’s playground, I hung upside down from my knees on monkey bars.

I was in Singapore for exactly seven hours, all of which I spent at Changi. I strolled the luxury shopping terminal, an indoor Rodeo Drive. I enjoyed a macrobiotic, raw, vegan lunch. I had a massage and pedicure.

Singapore was not part of my original travel plans. It was not a layover to someplace else. I was living in Bali, on a tourist’s visa that had to be reissued every two months, which required my leaving Indonesia. Singapore, a one and a half-hour flight away, was just part of my wriggling through a travel loophole, a means of staying in Bali.

Someday, I’ll return to Singapore and actually see Singapore. But I still think the airport will be the highlight of my trip.

Tales of Love in India and New York

Kanchenjunga_IndiaFor my first trip to India, my expectations were low. Friends who’d traveled extensively warned me against going there. “You’ll kill someone,” Charlane said. “The first man who grabs your breast—you’ll beat to him to death.” “You’ll see a cab driver not even bother to swerve to avoid hitting a street dog, and you’ll have a nervous breakdown,” my yoga teacher Brenda said. “You’ll get food poisoning and lose too much weight,” Pawan, my doctor who grew up in Delhi, warned. The general consensus was I’d be better off going to France.

But India was calling. Literally. My close friend Gurudharam Kaur Khalsa, formerly Joanie, lived on Yogi Bhajan’s estate in Anandpur Sahib. She was traveling to Rishikesh, where I was to meet her, take yoga classes taught by Americans at the Parmarth Niketan ashram on the Ganges. I told myself I had to go. After all, it’s practically mandatory that everyone who practices yoga make the pilgrimage. I spent the first three weeks in the sweltering late April heat simply grateful I hadn’t killed anyone, lost my mind, or contracted food poisoning.

With Gurudharam as my guide, I took respite from the unrelenting heat by swimming fully clothed in the canals of Anandpur Sahib, because Gurudharam informed me bathing suits are neither graceful nor ladylike and, therefore, wholly inappropriate attire for the holy city. I’m not a strong swimmer under the best of circumstances, and swimming while wearing a salwar kameez is about as much fun as it sounds. Eventually, I sought a different way to escape the heat. I headed to the Indian Himalayas.

It was during the jeep drive up the Kullu-Manali Highway, headed to the town once known as the End of the Habitable World, that I saw the sight that will forever stay etched in my mind as the most profound sight of my trip. This sight was not the man traveling the highway, dressed in a white suit, clutching a briefcase, as he sat atop an elephant. It was not the desolate, dusty plains giving way to lusty emerald deodar and pine forests. It was not the mountains revealing themselves one by one, the faint pink glow of dawn hovering like a ghost behind an enormous silver Himalayan peak.

The sight that left me teary, stirred in me a longing I feel to this day was one I might have missed. It’s one that is infinitesimally tiny compared to the 20,000-foot mountain peaks that surrounded me. In this part of India, bridges across the mighty Beas River are rare. Crossing the river requires ingenuity and a flying fox, which is a cage suspended on a wire, a pulley system that shuttles the cage across the river like clothes on a clothesline . On that drive to Manali, to the End of the Habitable World, Rohtang La (the pass of death), to the gateway to Ladakh and Tibet, this is the sight I remember best: a young couple gingerly stepping into a flying fox, the man’s arm around the woman’s waist, her head tilted onto his shoulder. If then someone asked me to define love, I would have offered up a photo snapped in that moment.

I saw that look of love again last week in New York, riding the 1 train from the Bronx to Port Authority. A man and woman, both beautiful, her with long, light brown hair, not quite straight, but not wavy. He had dark hair, a beard, not a hipster, deliberate beard, but the beard of a man who was too busy to shave for a few days. They sat with their thighs touching, as she continually cupped his face in her hands, kissing his cheek, nose, eyebrows. She kept her hands on his face as she turned his head to her, kissed him lightly on the mouth. Ran her fingers through his tousled hair. Found his neck, kissed him there. The look on his face was something I will always remember. He was passive, not annoyed, yet not responsive. He didn’t look bemused or put out. He looked, simply, like a man who was giving the woman he loved what she needed in that moment. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.

My first thought was they can’t possibly be Americans. Then I noticed an open travel guide on his lap. I decided they were Spanish, possibly Italian. I made up a story in my head. They’ve been together for years, they’ve traveled everywhere, India, while having the good sense to go Goa or Mumbai, someplace where PDAs would not be considered graceless and crude. Or, maybe Manali, where they hid away amid the thick green forests, crossing the Beas in a flying fox.

I wish I’d had the presence to snap a photo of the couple in the flying fox, of the Spanish/Italian couple on the 1 train. Love is hard to describe with words. Love isn’t always joyous. It’s not always safe. What those couples showed me is that love is the ability to be present with each other, to be still, to be.

Skiing Kashmir

lunch at gulmargAt first, they all look alike. Men, dozens of them, every size and shape and color, covered in ski jackets and pants and five o’clock shadows, wearing hats and sunglasses or goggles. I’m too self-conscious to look at them closely. They’re all men and I’m a woman, the only woman. In my Catholic elementary school forty years ago the boys’ playground was separated from the girls’ by a chain link fence. I feel as if I’ve just scaled that fence.

Now I’m in dangerous territory. Not just because this is Kashmir, with its tragic history of political violence, but also because I’m the only possible action in town: According to the locals, I’m the first woman to travel alone to this Indian ski village of Gulmarg. Every day I receive hand-written calling cards—complete with the names of my suitors’ parents and their villages—at my hotel, where men sit in the lobby, patiently waiting to speak to me. In my younger years I might have been game, but I’ve been warned that Indian men think all American women behave like porn stars. So when the men stop me on the slopes with invitations for après ski, I make it clear I’m here for the powder. Period. I feel relieved when Arif, who is eighteen and asks if I know any twenty-year old American girls who might want to marry him, declares it’s his duty to watch out for me.

On my first night, as I leave to meet a group of Swedes for dinner, the manager of my hotel asks where I’m going. “No,” he says. It’s too far.”

I explain that I’ve traveled ten thousand miles on my own, so I’m comfortable venturing an extra fifty meters. But the manager insists I sit down. He picks up the phone. Ten minutes later Arif strolls into the lobby to escort me to the restaurant. He takes a table, alone, next to the one I share with the Swedish guys, who bend my ear about President Kennedy and the Green Hilton Agreement and how on earth could I have allowed my country to elect George W. Bush president. Obama’s no better, they add. Hanging my head, I sigh, explaining I’m not singlehandedly responsible for U.S. politics, that they are preaching to the converted—people who voted for George W. Bush don’t, generally, travel to the Indian border of Pakistan. Nearly two hours pass when Arif stands up and tells me it’s time for me to go back to my hotel. I’ve never been more grateful for an interruption.

After tailing me on the bunny slopes all day, Arif, whose father Yaseen owns Kashmir Alpine Ski Shop, which arranged my trip here, shows up at my hotel with new skis for me. Tomorrow I’m taking on the thirteen thousand-foot slopes accessible by the world’s highest gondola. Unlike the other men who have come to call on me, Arif doesn’t wait in the lobby or bring along a chaperone. He swaggers into my room, shutting the door behind him, lighting a cigarette. Earlier that day outside the ski shop where I sat gazing at the 15,500-foot massif called Sunrise Peak, surrounded by men, Arif explained how friends help each other out. And since he and I are now friends, he would like me to help him relocate to the United States. A discussion ensues—Utah versus Colorado, and visas. I’m indebted to Arif’s father for quite a few rupees and also I’m afraid to say anything that might detract from my current, never-before-experienced popularity, so I agree to do whatever I can, which I know damn well is nothing.

Arif sits down and lights another cigarette. After six hours on the slopes I’m famished, looking forward to a long hot bath and climbing into bed with my John Irving novel, Son of a Circus, but feel obliged to behave hospitably. I ask the waiter stationed on my floor to bring us tea and vegetable chow mein. The waiter, a young man who wants me to give him my headlamp—an indispensable tool for the daily electrical blackouts that occur in the Indian Himalaya, where I am traveling for three months—scowls at me. “What is this boy doing in your room?” he says.

As a woman, an American, who regularly travels alone through South Asia, I wear invisible armor. It’s a delicate balancing act, this kind of travel. I depend on locals to help me out when I get myself into situations I can’t navigate on my own, just as they depend on people like me for their livelihoods. In a world where everything is negotiable, straightforwardness is not Kashmiris’ forte. Not only do I not know what anything costs or how I will pay for it, no one can tell me what time the gondola opens tomorrow morning. Or if it will be closed the next day, which falls on one of the nearly three hundred national and/or religious holidays India celebrates.

On the slopes Arif looks like the elite skier he claims to be. Here in my room, he seems like someone who dropped in from another century. Dressed in traditional Kashmiri garb, a drab brown wool coat draped over wide-legged pants with a boat-shaped cap on his head, it’s easy to overlook how alarmingly handsome he is. I’m guessing he’s about six feet tall, a hundred and seventy pounds. Eyelashes I’d kill for frame his enormous dark eyes. I think of his father who, at fifty, smokes copious amounts of tobacco from a hookah, is missing half his teeth and looks like he’s lived his whole life in a war zone. I feel a mixture of melancholy for Arif and his fate and annoyance that he’s here in my room, trying to make his problems mine.

As one hour passes and the next, Arif lights cigarette after cigarette. He brags about his skiing—he placed seventh in an international ski competition held in Japan last year and he plans to ski for India in Canada at the Winter Olympics. Why then, I want to know, would he want to leave here?

“For money,” he says. “Kashmir is totally safe. But the tourists are only starting to come slowly, slowly. The last fifteen years have been very hard for the people here, for my father. If I earn myself money, I can give it to my father.”

Contrary to Arif’s claim, Kashmir continues to be one of the most dangerous places on the planet. Pakistan and India regularly threaten to blow each other and themselves off the planet, fighting over land roughly the size of Utah. Kashmiri liberation groups, rebelling against both countries, periodically blow up cars and hotels, ensuring embassy warnings against travel there never lift. That this area is not known for peace is more obvious in Srinagar, a winding, two-hour descent down the mountain. Airport security, notoriously lax in most of India, is so tight in Srinagar it borders on farcical. Barbed wire fences surround downtown hotels. Streets, eerily bare except for the pungent military presence, starkly contrast the typical Indian city that teems with every form of life and vehicle. The feeling that hangs in the air so heavily I can almost touch it is not terror, though; it’s sadness.

I’m lying on my bed bundled in fleece, listening to my favorite Led Zeppelin song, Kashmir, on my iPod when Arif shows up at my hotel room the next night. He forgets why he’s here the second he sees my iPod, so I place the Bose headphones over his ears and tell him to kick back and enjoy. After a few minutes, he fixes his big brown eyes on me with a look I imagine gets him mostly everything he wants. He wants my iPod. I feel anxiety swirling through my chest. How can I spend another two months in India, alone, without my music, my guided meditations, my only form of company on long bus and jeep rides? Arif explains I can buy another one. Yes, I agree, but not until I return to the States and I need this iPod now. He begs. I promise I’ll send him one. He counters that it will never arrive. He tells me that training with music would help make him a world champion skier. I suggest that quitting smoking would be even more helpful. He promises me tickets to watch him ski in the Sochi Olympics. But, wait, I say. Won’t you be living in Lake Tahoe by then?

It’s my last night in Gulmarg. Arif drops by to say goodbye. He has a present for me—a traditional Kashmiri dress, wool maroon, with intricate embroidery. Grudgingly, I hand Arif my iPod. I would have preferred to part with a kidney or a lung, but I know I’m obligated to Arif. I’m also cynical. I don’t believe anyone gives without expecting something in return. Besides I know I can’t deliver what he really wants—entrée to the U.S.

Arif plops down for one last conversation. I tell him about the Indian army battalion toting rifles that whooshed by me on the slopes. He sighs heavily and takes a long drag on his cigarette. “In Kashmir, we just want to be free,” he says. “Why do India and Pakistan bother us? Pakistan wants space and thinks that because we are Muslim we should be part of their country. And India wants Kashmir because it’s a really beautiful place.”

He asks for my email address. He mentions again he will write to find out how our plans to bring him to America are progressing. As he leaves, he says, “I’m a first child, a first-born son. Everybody loves me.” He pulls the iPod out of his pocket, strokes it gently, looks at me. “You love me,” he says. “They will love me in America too. Even though I’m Muslim.”

Himalayan Ski Village in Manali

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOnce known as the “End of the Habitable World,” Kullu Valley, framed by spectacular 20,000-foot Himalayan peaks, is one of India’s most beautiful regions.

In the 1940s, after combing Central Asia in search of mythical Shambhala—paradise on earth, the concept upon which James Hilton based his utopian society, Shangri-La, in his novel Lost Horizon—Russian artist, explorer Nicholas Roerich chose Kullu Valley as his home.

It’s easy to understand how Kullu Valley could seem to Roerich the closest thing to paradise that earth has to offer. Wildflowers, rhododendron bushes, pines, firs and deodars cover the grassy slopes of the lower reaches of the world’s highest mountains. Unlike other populated areas in the Indian Himalayas—Darjeeling, Gangtok, Kalimpong—where the loftiest peaks are way off in the distance, in Manali, Kullu’s popular tourist town, the towering peaks are right there. It feels as if you could reach out and touch them. The weather—temperate in the lowest parts of Kullu, with the higher reaches enjoying four seasons—encourages a wide range of crops: almonds, apples, plums, pears, pomegranates, kiwi, honey, soybeans, barley, rice, tomato, cucumber, spinach, lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage, carrot, onion, turnips, hundreds of medicinal herbs and what is reputed to be the best pot in the world, Malana Gold. Kullu Valley’s rivers, the Beas, Parvati and Sutlej, teem with trout.manali

Kullu Valley also offers an enormous range of tourist activities: trekking, paragliding, zorbing, whitewater rafting, mountain climbing, rock climbing, visits to Hindu and Buddhist temples, shopping for local handicrafts, including beautiful, hand-woven shawls, and year-round skiing. There’s only one problem with the skiing—you have to hike up the mountains, carrying your skis. Except for a bunny slope accessible J-Bar on the ski hill of Solang Nullah, Kullu Valley is totally devoid of ski lifts.

A consortium of international investors seeks—or sought—to change that. In 2004, an agreement between the Himachal Pradesh state government and the principles of Himalayan Ski Village (HSV) laid the groundwork for an Aspen-in-the-Himalayas resort town that would be built above Manali. It sounds like a great idea: world-class skiing in the world’s most magnificent mountains, an alternative to Gulmarg in Kashmir, the Himalayas’ only legitimate ski resort, a destination caught in the tension between India and Pakistan, and its own nationalist organization. Nine years later, HSV remains unrealized for a variety of reasons—the political wackiness of Himachal Pradesh, environmental concerns, economic downturn that slowed investment funds. And infrastructure. I’m no expert, but the biggest obstacle, I would think, is the fact that often you can’t get there from here.

No trains service the Kullu Valley. Its one airport, in the tiny village of Bhuntar, is usually fogged in. Even when it is open, the five times weekly flights from Delhi, featuring 35-seat planes, offer minimal tourist influx. The one-lane each-way Kullu-Manali “Highway,” one of the most dangerous stretches of paved roads in the world, is frequently closed due to landslides or heavy snowfall. Despite this, Manali is overcrowded with tourists from Delhi and Gurgaon and the Punjab. One billion people live in India. At any given time, it feels as if half of them are in Manali.

According to its website, HSV hopes to lure affluent travelers from Europe and Asia. The most important qualities for a successful to trip to India, particularly to Northern India, are patience and time. At the End of the Habitable World “India time” takes on a whole new dimension. Skiers want to be on the slopes. If you book a two-week ski holiday, and you have to spend four days or more simply traveling to the ski resort, you’re probably going to come away from the experience disappointed. Especially since the Alps, Colorado and Utah all offer better powder and reliable infrastructure.

Next week, HSV’s investors will decide whether to continue with the project or scrap it completely. Stay tuned.

Budget Travel Beyond Youth

Empty Hotel RoomBudget travel websites, magazines, and newspaper articles make big promises they rarely can keep. Sure you can travel throughout South Asia on $10 a day—if you stay in Spartan guesthouses and subsist on rice. Europe on $100 a day requires staying in youth hostels during the off-off-season, and becoming comfortable with being hungry.

Travel bargains for bona fide adults are out there. You just need to know where to find them.

One key to nabbing the best rates is flexibility. That’s where older adults who are retired and freelance writers have an advantage over younger travelers. Last minute travel deals tend to be the best bargains. But even if you need to plan your trip weeks or months in advance, being flexible on the exact dates will help.

Follow these tips for stretching travel dollars:

Airfare—Researching cheap airfare can become a full-time job. Airfares, even when purchased through consolidators, can vary dramatically based on time of year, day of the week, and even the time of day. Airports within a 50-mile radius of each other can feature significantly different prices for flights to the same destinations. You can comparison shop fares by date on Momondo.com. When you type in your city of departure, destination, and travel dates, Momondo displays a graph that allows you to see if you can save money by traveling a day or two—or a week or two—earlier or later.

Accommodations—Staying in hotels is expensive, and means you’ll be eating most of your meals in restaurants. In many destinations, you’ll also pay additional taxes and fees. You may be able to save money by renting an apartment or home from its owner. You’ll enjoy the comfort and convenience of a home, save money on food, and perhaps have access to a vehicle as part of your agreement. If you’re traveling with children or pets, a home vacation rental can make traveling smoother. Numerous websites connect vacationers with homeowners throughout the world. Try VacationRentals.com.

Dining—Make eating out a treat, rather than a routine, while traveling. You’ll save money if you choose restaurant dining for a hearty breakfast or lunch, and keep dinner light. Pack your own food for planes, trains, and long drives. Buy large bottled water; skip cocktails.

Get advice—TripAdvisor (TripAdvisor.com) publishes reviews of hotels, restaurants, attractions, services, transportation, and more by other travelers. It is an unbiased source for practical information.

Don’t plan everything in advance—If your idea of the perfect trip involves backpacking in the Andes or Himalayas, hiring a local guide may help make the journey more authentic and affordable than hiring a U.S.-based outfitter.

Budget for the occasional bump in the road—Create a travel spending plan and stick to it. Remember to allot a certain amount for unforeseen expenses—an impulse purchase, being ripped off by an unscrupulous taxi driver.

The Internet has made the world much smaller and much less intimidating to travel. With Skype, cell phones with international calling plans and texting, you can stay connected to home even when you are abroad. You don’t have to be a 20-something recent college graduate to get out and see the world on a shoestring budget.

Bravofly for Best Airfares to Europe

imgresFlying internationally is obscenely expensive, especially given the abysmal service provided by U.S. airlines. The airlines continue to merge; the competition gets weaker. Economy passengers feel the squeeze.

One way to take the sting out of outrageous airfare is using Bravofly.com to book flights to Europe. Roundtrip flights from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport to Geneva, Switzerland, start at about $630 for September dates. Not bad at all. I can suffer through awful service for that price.

Monday Travel Tip: Airfares to India

imgresFor grabbing the best airfares, I’m a fan of momondo.com. Except when traveling to India. For the cheapest flights to and from India, check out vayama.com. You’ll save an average of $500 per roundtrip ticket to India with Vayama, especially if you’re willing to endure longish layovers.

Jet Airways is my favorite carrier to India. Far roomier coach seats than US-based airlines, good food, great service.

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