Thursday, November 17, 2005

Visa: it's everywhere you want to be

Out of, and Into, India
Because of the visa thing, I must exit the country and go to either India (the easiest thing) or, another possibility,Thailand. It is peak season weather-wise in both India andThailand. The weather in most of Thailand (at least, in Bangkok) is like Madras - hot 85% of the year except wintertime, when it is tolerable (about 90 degrees). Chiang Mai and northern Thailand are more like Kathmandu in terms of climate.

If I'm going to India, I need to apply for the visa soon, as they are known to take at least 1 week, and you never know what kind of official funkiness they will decide to pull. God, it's been 4 months and I have almost forgotten the Indian way -the supercilious attitudes of store clerks, the over-staffed restaurants and shops - five people running a tiny stall and they STILL cannot get anything done (no service with no smile), the pushy crowds, contemptuous bureaucracy, and constant air of desperation. And the pressure. I was there so long I didn't even realize it (the pressure!). India is indeed an amazing testament to the adaptability and endurance of the human spirit. Or just plain stubborness and intransigency.

Non-Bhutan
I had hoped travel to neighboring Bhutan would be an option. This unspoilt Buddhist mountain kingdom, however, requires a minimum expenditure of $200 US a day. That's right, per diem. It's called the tourist tax, and it includes absolutely nothing except a guide (read: spy) to follow you around and make sure you see and do only what they approve of. I spoke to a Dutch couple who had just arrived from Bhutan. They said it was worth the money (hard for me to believe, as it's about half my US salary, but that's an exact quote). They had stayed 10 days at $200 US each, making a minimum (not including your food, hotel, or activities) of $4000 US for 10 days. In other words, Bhutan is out of the question for a shoestringer South Asian traveler. Actually, from the Bhutanese perspective it is an ingenious plan. It has enabled them to admit tourists without succumbing to commerciality or pandering. 90% of the people still wear their full traditional dress every day and participate in traditional occupations like farming. The king decides everything. It is still pristine. They only went online with the Internet five years ago. Off limits to most of us backpackers - they're definitely trying to keep the "riff raff" out - but the few tourists who manage to go always love Bhutan.

Interestingly, there is an enormous Bhutanese refugee problem (they are pouring into Nepal and India) - if it's so ideal, wonder what they're running from? Probably just looking for a place to buy Nikes, pick up Western women and see Baywatch.

Gainful Employment
One reader suggested I become a tour guide for Intrepid. I had already checked out Intrepid, a tour group that claims to show you the "real" country and takes pride in making "roughing it" part of their package. It could work; however, they require first that I get to Australia under my own steam and at my own expense just for the interview. Then if I am accepted, I have to fork out $500 for training. It comes out of your initial pay, of course, but if at any point in the several-months-long training you decide it's not working, you still have to pay them for the amount of 'training' completed. In other words, there are considerable upfront costs to even applying for the job. I was thinking of being a guide for South India and Nepal. According to their specs, I will need to learn more Nepali, Hindi and probably Tamil, but I've already got a good start on the first two, and I am inordinately proud of my (slightly more developed) Malayalam, the other language (with Tamil) needed to complete my South Indian lexicon.

2 comments:

Admin [Bhutan Travel Guide, Google Group] said...

Non-Bhutan:

Bhutan may be only country in Asia, which was never under the rule of any country, no corruption, no politics, no influence. World's First Nation to Ban Smoking Nation wide!!!, lots more... lots....

Visit Bhutan once ... you will understand what i mean...

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

Dear Bhutan Admin:
Invite me as your personal guest in my capacity as a travel journalist, and I can sincerely guarantee you a website full of beautiful photos and favourable publicity. However, otherwise I cannot afford your very steep vistor's fees. I do not make $200 a month, let alone per day. My South Asian travel work can be seen on this blog, and my articles on India, Nepal and Sri Lanka can be seen at
www.trekshare.com/members/sirensongs
and
www.bootsnall.com