1. India here we come


Hello gorgeous things,

Happy New Year! I hope you had a really happy festive season.

The Christmas New Year madness is over in our house. Not that I didn’t love it. But I’m going to love the India madness even more. There’s been a simmering excitement lurking at the back of my mind all through December.

Taking you with me is such a bonus. My husband John is coming too. Double bonus.

Maybe you were following me on Instagram when John and I went for the first time last year. I fell in love, head over heels. With the country, its people, the chaos, the religions, the colour and the customs. When we came home I spent months thinking about how we could live there - I looked at real estate online, I looked at house swapping, I looked at rentals. I couldn't get India out of my mind. Mind you, I didn't tell John. He would have had something to say about leaving Australia.

But now the next best thing. We’re going back. In exactly two weeks today. And I’m so glad you are coming with us.

Last time we saw the north and the romance of the golden triangle. This time, the south. From what I hear, totally different.

The map above shows the itinerary.

First port of call is Calcutta. Chaotic. Dirty. Many tourists avoid it. That's what I've read. I’ve always said whenever something is dark and dreadful, it’s like the Black Hole of Calcutta. It’s a city which conjures up the essence of India, the days of the Raj, the East India Company. I want to see for myself.

Then Goa on the west coast. Watching the sun set over the ocean, the beaches, Portuguese colonisation. A different flavour again.

Next stop Chennai. Which you may know by its British name, Madras.

On that subject, I’ve found Indian city names a bit confusing. After Indian independence in 1947, some Indian names started to revert to what they were before colonisation. Calcutta is now called Kolkata. I can’t seem to remember if it’s Kalkota or Kolkata. Nothing makes sophistication fly out the window more quickly than not being able to pronounce where you are.

The same goes for many of the cities we’ll visit. Bangalore is Bengaluru, Madras is Chennai, Mysore is Mysuru, Cochin is Kochi. Apparently many locals and some of the Indian press still call them by their British names. To confuse matters more, the old and new spellings are often pronounced very similarly.

After time on our own in Calcutta and Goa, we join an ADFAS tour. ADFAS stands for the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society. John loves the social interaction of being in a small group tour and this one suited our timing - there's only 12 people booked so it’s intimate yet big enough for a happy party. We’re being escorted by Sue Rollin, lecturer, archaeologist and interpreter, and her partner Stuart is looking after the nuts and bolts. Sue has taught at University College London, SOAS (the London University specialising in the east) and Cambridge University and she co-wrote the Blue Guide to Jordan and Istanbul. It will be great to have the benefit of her knowledge. I hope it will be fun and informative without being too high-brow.

The itinerary is pretty comprehensive. We’ll see city and country, national park, wetlands, temples, museums, and markets. But to be honest I don't really think it matters what we see - it's the total Indian experience which is so intoxicating.

Tomorrow we’re starting a course of pro-biotics to get our gut(s) travel-fit. And while we are away, we must eat the local yoghurt each morning from the big bowl, not the imported generic stuff in the pretty containers. That’s a hint from my friend Julie Gibbs who got it from chef Christine Manfield - it worked last time.

Speaking of Christine, I’ve been poring over her ‘A Taste of India’. It’s such a beautiful book - not just a cookbook, but a cultural plunge. Her guide book to India and Bhutan is very useful too. And Fiona Caulfield's beautiful Indian guide books, which are all hand-made in India. Plus Victoria Alexander's 'Colour A Journey'. Sometimes I find just one thing in a guidebook which absolutely makes the trip.

I've just started reading a Penguin book called A South Indian Journey by Michael Wood which was sent to us by the tour company. I'm not far into it, but already I can feel the humidity of the south, see the lush tropical greenness, the inexorable decay, the walls covered in moss.

Just a bit of housekeeping. Make sure you add this address to your contacts newsletter@wixshoutout.com because my emails while I am away will come from it, even though they'll be marked Shelley Dark Travel.

If somehow you don’t get your daily email link while I’m away, go to my website www.shelleydark.com, click on the travellers page, then underneath that India 2016. A password box will come up. Type in the password thepullofindia. I’ll do another email test before I go to check if everyone’s address is receiving.

Click here to see our itinerary. Happy reading!

Phir milenge travelling buddies! (in Hindi means see you soon, pronounced peer mil-ing-ghee)