I arrived at the border between India and Pakistan on a sweltering May day in 1977. I had spent the past year traveling through Europe and the Middle East, had wintered in Jordan and made my way across Iran by train. After a month hitchhiking through Afghanistan, I was finally arriving in India, my ultimate destination.
I was carrying a single piece of baggage—a ragged backpack containing one pair of jeans, two tee shirts, and an English-Hindi dictionary. In those days, I had a saying. “All you really need when you travel is your ticket, your passport, and your money. Everything else, you can get on the way.” So, there I was equipped with little more than a deep longing for adventure, a feeling that my life was opening before me, and one pair of shoes.
Today, I’m leaving for India again. This time, as a university professor guiding a four-week study-abroad class. Instead of rumbling across the border in a rickety local bus, I’m taking a Delta flight. Rather than staying in reeking, seedy dives by the train station, I have reservations at hotels with room service and clean linens.
“All you really need when you travel is your ticket, your passport, and your money,” I told my husband as I packed. “Well, also your prescriptions,” he said. “And your calcium supplements. And your glasses. Plus a spare pair in case you lose the first. And you’d better bring sunscreen, you know how your skin gets.” My doctor gave me an antibiotic to take with me, and I packed itch cream, Bandaids, Kleenex, insect repellent, and over-the-counter meds for nausea, diarrhea, and indigestion. I added a lumbar pillow, an alarm clock, a tablet, my Kindle, my camera, and all the chargers, cords, voltage converters, and plug adaptors I’ll need. No tattered backpack on this trip. This time, I have a brand new Samsonite suitcase.
Times change. You can’t hitchike across Afghanistan any longer, and the heady days of hippie travelers going overland from Europe to India on shoestring budgets is long gone. How utterly lucky I was to be part of that time. And how utterly lucky I am now to be past it.
In the 70's, I wandered the subcontinent at my leisure and whim, got myself in and out of trouble, explored the country with abandon, and experienced the exquisite freedom to go wherever I wished and stay as long as I liked. This time, I'm teaching a class. I have responsibilities. Fifteen college students will be expecting me to provide a useful educational experience and offer the perfect blend of safety and adventure. I'm on a pre-arranged scheduled, and I have work to do.
But still, there’s India, just as full of beauty, despair, and wonder, just as exotic and troubled, just as astonishing as ever. And that feeling is still there: that surge of excitement and expectation and eagerness I had the first time I crossed the border. We leave today at 5:10. I can't wait.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...