They do, in fact, often go awry. Over Christmas and New Year a few – well, three – things have happened. Firstly, I finalised my itinerary, which looked so beautiful I’m going to lay it out for you now:
March: Fly into Delhi. Travel the Golden Triangle and Varanasi, with a stop-off at the stunning Fatehpur Sikri to see the gorgeous red stone at sunrise. While in Jaipur, take a day trip to Bhangarh – which is more commonly known as India’s most haunted place, and sits high up on my list of places to visit.
March/April: Meet my friend’s mum, Sue, in Ajmer, and work with the incredible charity TOLFA for 3 – 4 weeks, aiding their rescue animals, cleaning, snuggling, feeding, crying, laughing, playing, and helping. Make lots of furry friends and do something good.
April: Explore Rajasthan, including a weekend in Pushkar and adventures in Udaipur, Jodphur, and Jaisalmer, before flying to Mumbai.
May: Mumbai cacophony and excitement. Explore the ruins at Hampi, then take the train down the coast and spend a week taking stock on a beach in Goa. Travel to Kerala and drift on a houseboat, wash an elephant, visit a tea plantation, and generally soak up the southern culture.
June: Explore the temples of Tamil Nadu before the monsoon arrives in kind. Watch everything turn green as the rains sweep in, and then run away to Shimla when it becomes too wet to handle.
June/July: All of the excitement and dramatic scenery of Shimla, topped off by trekking Leh to the Ladakhi Lakes and Spiti. Walk through the Indian Himalayas and feel even smaller than usual.
July/August: Explore Kashmir, and travel back through Madhya Pradesh. End my ridiculous trip in Delhi, debate coming home, and deal with the inevitable existential crisis that follows.
Doesn’t that sound wonderful? I have to confess, I’ve read so many guides and learnt so much about every area, climate, and culture of India by now, that I’m a bit impressed by quite how much of this epic country that itinerary covers, and how long I still have left to explore in each area.
Gold star for me? Yes. Gold star for me.
The second thing that happened after all of this was finalised – at least in my head – was that I got ‘the fear’ in a big way while at home over Christmas. This trip is large and encompassing, and it relies a lot on dealing with the Indian rail system which I have heard a number of horror stories about. The key to beating the fear though? Talk to a friend who’s already doing it, and remember just why this is all so exceptionally exciting. The panic soon passes and nervous, stomach-churning trepidation soon resumes.
Beating the fear can also be accomplished, I discovered, by using the January sales to buy a fair few essentials I’d been putting off: a compact sleeping bag, a water bottle with a filter system, hiking boots, skirts that covered my knees, etc. The one key thing I’m missing at the moment is my backpack, but choosing that most vital piece of travelling kit has been one of my favourite parts of all of this, and is very much still ongoing.
But to the the third thing now, I suppose, which has thrown my itinerary all out of whack and given me a few days of mild concern, to say the least.
Let me explain.
Since last March my face and neck on the left side have been swollen. Not in a Quasimodo-esque sense, but in a radiating pain, catch-it-at-the-wrong-angle-and-I-look-like-I’m-holding-something-in-my-cheek sort of a way. It has been and is still irritating. I’ve had blood tests, seen GPs, been referred to ENTS, and had two ultrasound scans.
The first one of these in August was all clear, which was confusing but reassuring. The second one was done mid-December, and lo’ – A Christmas Miracle! They found something. Not only that, but they found something concerning enough for the GP to call me on a bank holiday Monday between Christmas and New Year, and when I missed the call, insist via voicemail that I call the surgery the next day. Yikes.
Fast-forward 24 hours, and I’m in a pub playing pool and drinking beer with some friends. When I step outside to phone the doctors I end up on hold for 20 minutes. When the receptionist does finally answer, she tells me apologetically that a doctor will have to call me back because she doesn’t have access to these particular results. There are a couple of alarm bells ringing in my head by now, let’s be honest, but would it help if I worried? Probably not. So on to the next half pint.
Finally, half an hour later, the on-call GP rings me back. After some confusion as to why he can’t access my notes, he goes very quiet for a moment and then says the words: “They’ve found a nodule – a small growth – on your left thyroid.” A minor bubble of panic begins to rise.
“Right. Ok. What does that mean?”
“Well, it’s classified as U2 on your notes, but I’m not entirely sure what that is, so would you mind if I called you back?”
(Yes, I absolutely would mind.)
“No, of course not. Thanks, bye.”
Twenty excruciating minutes ensue, during which time I sit outside with a friend and, ill-advisedly, chain smoke and laugh nervously. At long last the phone rings, and the first thing the doctor says is:
“U2 means it’s classified as benign. It still needs following up but you can book the blood tests yourself, and you’ll need an appointment with your regular GP.”
Now, I love the great, lumbering, imperfect beast that is the NHS. For all of its faults, in my opinion it’s the best thing this country has ever done. Nevertheless, I do have this to say about these particular phone calls:
When you call up someone to tell them they have a growth on their thyroid – nay, anywhere on their body – perhaps it might be a smart idea to have to hand the information that says it is, most likely, non-cancerous. Don’t you think? In future, kind, over-worked cover GP, please do. I’m sure the person on the other end of the phone would appreciate it a great deal. I know I would have done.
Regardless though, since then I’ve had the blood tests and spoken to my GP, and at the moment I’m waiting for a referral to an oral surgeon for further investigation. Although current opinion is still that they’re 99.9% sure the growth is benign, albeit presenting a little strangely, this does delay my travelling plans. The referral won’t be coming through until February and I won’t know until then whether or not I need surgery or any further treatment, which means that I can’t hand in my notice or book anything more concrete until all of this is done with.
After so much planning and so much excitement this is a royal kick in the teeth, but I can say this: at least it isn’t cancer, or anything else more serious (touch wood). A twenty-minute scare was more than enough for me, and I will take a minor inconvenience over anything truly life-threatening/life-altering any day of the week. More than this, after a slightly self-indulgent day in which I bemoaned my luckier-than-some lot, I’m now working to make this delay work in my favour.
With a longer wait comes a longer time in full-time employment, and therefore longer saving my money and planning. I regretted that the timing of my previous itinerary was going to mean I would miss trekking in Nepal, or jumping across the sea to Sri Lanka, or breaking my bank paying the tourist charge in unspoiled Bhutan. Perhaps if I have to wait until autumn then I might make it to at least one of these countries as well. And wouldn’t that just be the ultimate silver lining?
Our best laid plans might go awry, but that doesn’t mean they can’t turn into something far better – I hope.