When I landed in Chennai, I realized I was also in the city of Madras. But when I wanted to explore the state of Madras, I learned I would be hopping around Tamil Nadu.
I haven’t been on this planet long enough to know a lot, but I never heard of a country that loves to change the names of its places as much as India.
As Istambul was Constantinople, Mumbai was Bombay, Kolkata was Calcutta, Bengaluru was Bangalore, Haora was Howrah.
A benefit of traveling off the beaten track is that when you finally visit a well-trodden place, it’s a pleasant surprise.
The annoyances of tourism – hustlers, touts, tons of restaurants and bars catering for tourists, loud drunken backpakcers – become a cultural attraction, no longer a burden.
It was while sitting on a riverside restaurant on the Mekong Delta in the Vietnamese town of Chau Doc, which borders Cambodia. The resto floats on metal drums and bobs gently with the wash from passing boats.
You can see slender ladies with conical hats rowing their canoes across the river to visit a friend in a floating home, who might be washing her hair while crouching on her front porch.
That’s when it happened. “Holy crap,” I thought, “I’m really in Asia! Holy crap, I’m really traveling!”
For one month now I have not used a travel guidebook once. I didn’t used one in Papua New Guinea nor in Java. I have no intention of using one from now on.
Doing away with guidebooks is like leaving the backpacker ghetto of a city and plunging yourself into its alien reality. It’s cutting off any safety lines to comfort and convenience.
It is, I daresay, real travel.