Nepal & India: My Parallel Packing List

This article is not about the packing list for what I am carrying in my backpack.

For that, I am grateful to have had the benefit of other travellers, and the network of travellers that I’ve somehow made in just the past six months. Indeed, today travel is so much more facilitated, just because fellow travellers can so easily communicate and mediate trust. My key resources for the packing-the-backpack part, with special thanks:

No. This blog article is about the parallel packing list – the things I’m bringing that aren’t in the backpack!

The year in review

New Zealand North Island | scenic train route | Nepal and India Unusual Packing List | Teja on the Horizon

2017 verges on the miraculous, if I stop and think about it. If I’d thought that my Blue Period brought an astonishing rate of evolution, that was as nothing compared to this year.

I can’t quite recall at what point I resolved to go trekking Annapurna. It can’t be much more than half a year ago. Certainly, deciding to cut across Uttar Pradesh afterwards – picking up both Varanasi and Delhi – was no earlier than that.

And it all happened because I took it into my head, that I would go to Easter Island for my birthday later this year.

She has gone mad!

…is what people would say if they weren’t secretly convinced I already am.

For most people who knew me from before I completed my Blue Period, this recent spate of activity seems out of the norm. And it is.

But it’s also not.

It is what I had always done, in my mind – but could not do in practice, because of limitations. Not necessarily financial or time – I could manage both. But I had different limitations – of mindset, and a secret social debilitation.

And I am growing beyond them.

All the new things

This trip is different from all my previous trips. It’s true, even though I played it down to my anxious mother.

Yes, I’ve travelled alone before – but never for this long (1 month), and never to places generally admitted to be indifferently supportive of one’s independent travel plans.

Yes, I had gone backpacking once, and had begun to dabble back into it (and very appreciative of the truly impressive backpack technical design that has happened in the interim). But I can’t say that I am used to it, yet.

And while I have stayed at hostels before, it was only infrequently. Certainly I’ve not done it in the time after I began to feel like I have ‘caught up‘. This would be its test.

And then I’m going trekking – over 10 days. Even though I would have the assistance of a guide and porter, and I’m not in terrible shape, possibly this is the longest duration trek that I have done. Certainly it’s the first time in the mountains. Where it’s cold. Even in August. And I am famously cold-unresistant.

New Zealand South Island | old mining town | cliffside | Nepal and India Unusual Packing List | Teja on the Horizon

And then there’s the India part.

There’s a reason why India – the popular India – had previously not been at the top of my bucket list. Crowds and introverts don’t really mix. And the part of India I’m going to is famously dense, in multiple shades of the word and all that it means. Physically, emotionally, spiritually – dense in human energy. Though I’ve grown steadily more tolerant over the years, it’s still daunting.

And I’m going to Varanasi and Delhi. Varanasi, which even my Indian expat colleague hesitantly and diplomatically warned me is very…. Indian, and are you sure?

Then there’s crossing the border between Nepal and India, by land. This may sound funny but I’ve never crossed international borders by land (Malaysia to Singapore does not count, nor that time when I went to the Wang Kelian border market, which may technically cut across the Thai border).

And while I’ve taken the train to places before, I’ve never done so for such a distance, alone, in an unfamiliar country.

In short, I can’t exactly say for sure that I can do any of these things. Let alone all of them, within the same trip.

Mak, Akak pergi berkelana*

solo travel | Perlis road trip | limestone hills on the horizon | Malaysia

What I can say, though, is that throngs of others have done it before me. And once I found some and reached out, they have come through wonderfully. Even, enabled me to take questions from concerned stakeholders like a PR rep.

No, I don’t need to wait to have someone come with me. I might meet up with people on the way who would. And if I don’t, that’s fine as well.

No, I don’t need to report at the embassy in Kathmandu any more than I would do it if I were to go to Canada intending to visit Banff. I will be with Nepali people for most of it.

Yes, India is perfectly doable for a solo woman traveller. The cultural norms, sensitivities and risks aren’t that far off for a Southeast Asian to understand. I have friends supplying me information to be prepared.

We are out of time for further questions.

How we perceive risk defines who we are.

Back in the day, before being colonised, the peoples of the Malay archipelago were mostly voyagers. Granted, this was more applicable for the men than the women, due to the hazardous realities of those times. Nonetheless, having supplied the first woman admiral of the world, it cannot be said that there is a difference in spirit.

Oftentimes something feels far too risky simply because we’ve not done it, and don’t know anyone who has. Or we are fooled by biases about places and people that make us trust them less than others, even for pretty much the same circumstances.

You could look at the sea and fear drowning and say, the sea is too dangerous – never approach it. Sure, that works too.

Or you could understand the sea, learn to sail on it – and dive into it. And the world expands to the horizon.

A voyager nation exists because long ago, they had chosen the latter.

Residential street in Dhiffushi atoll | the Maldives | Nepal and India Unusual Packing List | Teja on the Horizon

Travelling inherently involves possibly having to do new things. On the fly.

Therein lies its value for accelerating maturity – because maturity involves being prepared to possibly have to do important things while possibly being insufficiently ready. Like marriage, or parenting. (I have the sneaky suspicion that school prepares you for this by constantly putting you in exams for which you can never be sufficiently prepared. In this alternative reality, A students actually fail the deeper meaning of school, precisely by being successfully prepared for exams.)

The post-industrial human civilisation lays upon us the belief that life can be controlled and predicted, and that certain Important Things must never even be thought about until one is 100% ready, secure, and sure.

It isn’t true, and has never been true.

How much negativity and confusion has been bred from such false pretensions!

It’s just another journey.

A very great one, certainly. But a journey nonetheless. You just need a packing list of some kind, find out you packed some really pointless crap, pick other things up along the way, hope for the best – and be committed enough to ride through any storm.

Or be shipwrecked, cast ashore, and somehow – be equally committed to start again.

It’s life. How you travel it, is your character writ.

My Unusual Parallel Packing List

This packing list is based on the realisation that packing the most important things you will bring, begins long before you start packing the backpack.

Taking down measurements in the Western Ghats forest | Sirsi volunteering | Earthwatch

Preparing to pack the backpack

  1. Physical condition. It is sooo easy to become indolent living an urban lifestyle – particularly in Kuala Lumpur. And I never did have the mental fortitude to adhere to any kind of fitness regimen that’s much more than er, ad hoc. However, I am well aware that I need to at least maintain a minimum level of conditioning so that I would be able to enjoy being in beautiful Annapurna while trekking it. Oh, and that I have all the vaccinations I need.
  2. The packing list. No, I don’t mean what things are in the packing list, to be ticked off. I mean, the packing list itself. You see, despite all my previous travels, I never sat down and wrote down the ‘default’ things that are always in the nominal suitcase, and always replaced/replenished. But backpacking travel has no tolerance for things that aren’t really needed. And if I’m intending to become a more sustainable traveller, I need to be able to begin auditing how I travel. Without a list to start with, I can’t examine the things that I use and begin making changes.
  3. Tap into a network. I was honestly blown away by how much of my preparation was smoothened and enhanced by random other people. Other bloggers, a random diver I met in Dhigurah just in March. It gave me visibility to the opaque parts of the journey, and contingency plans. In addition, while I wanted to do Nepal as sustainably as I can, I thought it would extend to just my personal habits and maybe the trekking. But through the network, at least the Nepal part looks like it would be much more enriched than I ever expected it would be.

The mental packing list

  1. Self-belief. If a toddler dwelt on all the reasons why it should not be able to walk, no child would ever run. But a toddler eventually walks. She identifies with the people around her who do walk, and assume that she must be able to, as well. Eventually. Every new thing is mastered through one necessary first step: that you believe you are the person who does this thing. Believe first – and the proof will come later.
  2. Trust. You can’t travel light without a mindset of abundance. And you can’t have a mindset of abundance without an inherent trust in the wider universe. Indeed the world is a dangerous place. But ultimately, it is we who keep each other safe. This is more so with a backpacking sort of travel, where you yield more to the personal hospitality of the host nation rather than simply buying the expectation of security.
  3. Visualisation. Never has this been so feasible than in the present age. Places and crossings and journeys vividly described and reviewed, such that you can get a reasonable feel for it. This is what made me feel able to contemplate braving the busy pilgrimage city of Varanasi, and the crowded megapolis of Delhi. It allowed me to make peace in advance with the risks of both transport options to Pokhara. It allowed me to feel comfortable with personal care expectations on the trek.

The emotional packing list.

Hipster sustainable chic | Coffee table | Yellow Doors hostel | Tacloban, Leyte | the Philippines | Nepal and India Unusual Packing List | Teja on the Horizon

To be honest I had not thought about this until much closer to the trip.

I consider myself to be relatively aware of world and sustainability issues – not just the environmental ones, but also socio-economic. I know that Nepal is not a materially rich country, and that there is a great inequality in India.

It is why I designed the trip to support good organisations working these issues.

So I think I’m not naive.

Still, there’s something to be said about being wary of hubris.

A friend of mine went to Lombok recently. Admirably, he first stayed in the local village instead of the town.

He did a couple days, and wrote a starkly honest narrative of his experience and his reactive feelings. A vivid blend of humanity and compassion and recoil and discomfort, of fraternity and disquiet.

And it made me think. I knew about these things. I knew people who have seen it firsthand. Yet I remember: from a close but still-aloof distance I had felt a glimmering of conflict before, on the lahar plains of Pinatubo. I have only rarely seen, personally, the marks of deep poverty close hand – if ever.

I do not know for sure how I would respond, emotionally, if the realities I knew were to approach me firsthand from all around – as might be the case at some point on this trip. Would I see from my heart, or my gut? Am I prepared to respond the best way I could?

Or might I be beaten back to habitual responses by confusion and distress?

My last minute addendum packing list

You can’t prepare for everything. I could try to practice lists of awareness skills, and rehearse scenarios with the full force of the latest discoveries in psychology.Nepal and India: My Unusual Parallel Packing List | Teja on the Horizon | travel preparation | mental preparation | emotional preparation | packing list | mental fortitude | female solo travel

But on the road, you will forget complicated plans. It is the heart that needs to be schooled.

So I turn to my faith, for what is unconditional in conduct towards people.

  1. Manners. The very first thing of orthodox Muslim schooling is surprisingly not even theology, let alone ‘shariah law’ (last in the syllabus, by the way). You’d not know it, given how some communities are like these days, but the priority step is in fact supposed to be adab – good manners. It sounds easy. And like many ‘easy’ things, it is underestimated. Everyone likes to think they have good manners. But manners aren’t about what you do ‘correctly’, but more about how the other person feels as a result. To maintain that effect under any circumstances? Not so easy, anymore.
  2. Patience. Patience with others, for the realities they may be coming from. With myself, for mine. I’m not by nature a patient person. In fact, pretty much anyone you ask who knew me any longer than a few years ago, would vouch for the opposite. One might even say, trigger-happy temper. But a couple decades of Ramadan eventually tempered a restraint into even that, and the forge of the Blue Period finished the shift – to at least not being impatient.

I think it’s best I expect myself to remember only two things, under possible conditions of duress.

Then choose an action, that maintains both.

I think I’m packed!

New Zealand South Island | sunset | Nepal and India Unusual Packing List | Teja on the Horizon


Mother, I am going wandering. 

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7 Responses

  1. Lydia Smith says:

    Awwn. I liked how you sectioned the post. It was an easy read and I was able to jot down. I never paid much attention to my emotional needs, no wonder I get a bit temperamental whenever I’m under fatigue.

    • Teja says:

      Self-care is important! Especially as a traveler, we are always surrounded by others – other travelers, hosts, and people in the countries we visit. And you know, you can’t be sensitive to the emotional needs of others unless you learn to manage your own.

  2. neha says:

    It was an interesting read. By the way, I am from India. And I always find it interesting to see someone’s perspective about it , someone who doesn’t hail from India. I can understand why you were warned about Varanasi. And about that border – I walked a road where houses on one side belonged to India and on the other side to Nepal. Now, that is called real human unity!

    • Teja says:

      Hahah it must be so strange to you, that people are nervous about things so normal for you! But I guess, I could have written this for a lot of destinations – Easter Island, Peru, Mexico, Namibia… (did I just give away my bucket list?)

  3. Penny says:

    How we perceive risks tells us who we are. How we react to risks defines us!
    You are one hell of an inspiring lady. Nothing is ever going to get you down! I’m sure Nepal is going to be just fine.

  4. Lydia Smith says:

    Thanks for this infotmative post. I’ll try to emulate your steps to see if I can achieve my goals of being a sustainable traveler

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