Travel in India with type 1 diabetes – planning the trip

In late July 2011, exactly 7 months after Amy was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, we backpacked around India for four weeks, in a trip we called Monsoon Meandering.
 
This is post 2 in the series about that trip and its planning and how type 1 diabetes played a part.
In this article there are several tips for people with diabetes identified by the text ‘tips for diabetics
 

Yet another trip of a lifetime

Our backpacking trip wasn’t a ‘land. chill. where should we go now?’ trip, instead it was a ‘we’ve got four weeks, how do we make the most of that time’ one. This meant it had to be well planned which in turn meant we had a great trip and one that didn’t cause too many problems for Amy’s diabetes management.
 
Whilst planning the trip I had some rules I wanted to follow:

  • Be adventurous, see things normal tourists wouldn’t, but…(see point 2)
  • Make this trip as easy as possible, we’ve had enough pressure on us recently
  • Make sure Amy is never in danger, medically speaking
  • Managing diabetes should not take our holiday time up
  • Don’t let diabetes stop us doing anything we want to do

 

Trains, planes and automobiles

trains: for this trip we used trains for all bar one journey which we did by car.
planes: distances in India are huge and sometimes a plane may be the best option, but honestly you’d miss so much wonderful stuff.
automobiles: for the trip in 2009 we stuck to the north and travelled by car and had a driver/car at our disposal for 10 whole days, being chauffered from place to place. You might think this would be an expensive way to travel but for four of us, petrol, tolls, driver costs/accomodation and our hotels we only paid £850!. If you’re interested in this I’d thoroughly recommend the company we went with Namaste India Tours.
 

The route

So, you’ve seen the route – it’s up there on the right, click the picture for a bigger version – which saw us take 8 trains over 2700 miles during the course of our journey. The route looks a bit like a crazy waste of time but there’s good reason and that’s where rule number 1 comes in. But before that a word about booking trains.
 

A word about trains in India – you need to book

The railways in India are popular, very popular and many trains can be booked up many months – currently 4 – before the date of travel. If you turn up to a station without a ticket it’s highly unlikely you’ll be going anywhere. If you want to know how to research and book trains in India please read this guide way before you travel.
For our trip I researched the whole route way before the earliest date I could book the first train. When the booking day arrived I got up early to make sure I was one of the first to get my seats. This might sound like I’m a bit OCD but on our longest train – an 18 hour overnight journey from Jhansi to Aurangabad – there were only 4 possible berths available and I needed them all. Worse still, there was only one train a day.
 

Rule #1 – the most direct route isn’t always the best route

For any travel in the UK I’d always plan the fastest or most direct route from A to B but this isn’t necessarily always the best idea.
India is a vast country, the distances are huge, trains can run for up to three days from their starting station to their destination station and most trains are ‘sleeper’ trains, having padded benches which convert into beds between 9pm and 6am. To read more about the different types of trains in India take a look at this guide on Seat61.com.
Overnight trains have three massive advantages, one we found especially useful for type 1 diabetics:

  • you don’t have to pay for a hotel too. If you were to catch a long day time train you’d stay one night in a hotel, spend much of the next day on a train doing nothing, arrive and book into a hotel. So that’s two hotel prices and a wasted day.
  • you don’t waste a day doing nothing. Catch an overnight train and you can check out of your hotel just before lunch, leave your luggage there and go sightseeing, eat, come back to the hotel, catch your train, sleep, wake up in a new town
  • tip for diabetics: from a diabetic’s point of view catching an overnight train means you don’t really need to worry about food, its carbohydrate values or injecting on a moving train.

 

Rule #2 – you can’t always arrive and leave when you want

If you’re travelling off the beaten track using some of the minor train lines then you’ll have precious little choice of what time you catch the train as there will possibly only be one train a day. On some of our routes such as Hampi (station:Hospet) to Goa (station:Madgaon) there’s only a few trains a week. We had wanted to stay for only 4 nights in Hampi but due to train connections we were forced to stay for 5, something which turned out very well for us as we loved Hampi.
 

Rule #3 – the fastest train isn’t always the best train

On one of our routes – Aurangabad to Hyderabad – had a train which left at 9pm and got in at 7am, a seemingly brilliant timed train considering what I wrote in Rule #1. A little more research showed that they had a train from 7pm to 9am, a whole four hours longer on the train but it was the better train for us due to two reasons:

  • if you arrive very early you’ll need to wait to check in to a hotel. What’s the point getting the fast train, arriving at the station, transferring to the hotel only to have to wait there for hours for your room to be ready.
  • if your train arrives early you need to be up and ready to get off, otherwise you’ll miss your stop. Indian trains are sometimes (very) late but many aren’t and arrive at the specified time, with the minimum stop time of only 1 minute at some stations. Believe me, waking up at stupid o’clock in the morning realising that your station is next and your luggage is all chained up as the station nears isn’t much fun. Best to give yourself some time to wake up first.

Tip for diabetics: from a diabetes point of view catching the faster train would have proved a better option if our slower train was delayed as we didn’t take any breakfast with us. We could have also eaten dinner at a more normal time (for us) of 7:30pm, rather than having an early dinner. Also, Amy could have done her Levemir (basal) insulin at her normal time of 8:30pm.
 

Rule #4 – avoid the main meals on the sleeper trains

Actually, this is down to personal preference but having taken a look at the food served on sleeper trains I’d do anything I could to avoid having to eat it. I did eat some mutton dish but it was inedible, very fat and generally not very nice. So my suggestion is as before, try and catch an overnight train which leaves at 9pm or 10pm and eat a proper meal before hand. On a long day time train – Goa to Mumbai – we even took sandwich style food with us; okay I’ll admit it, we took a footlong Subway each, that was dinner but much more preferable to eating a train main meal.
 

Rule #5 – DON’T avoid the main meals on the Shatabdi trains

The Shatabdi trains are completely different to the normal sleeper trains, they have airplane style seats and waiters/hosts who serve you food, all on a lovely tray. If you go for the top class your soup will be served in a china dish. The food was lovely, not full of fat or rubbish meat.
 

Rule #6 – For road travel always carry some food with you.

Tip for diabetics: on most of India’s roads there are cafes known as Dhabas which serve tasty snacks like samosas, pakoras and full meals too, but they aren’t everywhere and we got caught out when expecting to find one to eat lunch in. We had to keep going until 2pm until we managed to find a small shop, which only sold crisps and chocolate and high-sugar drinks. Amy’s blood glucose levels were all over the place for the next 24 hours. It’s an obvious tip really but we didn’t realise how long it would take to reach our destination.

Next up: getting the visas

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