Do you dream of India?
In that dream what do you see?
Is it the waving palm trees announcing your arrival to Mumbai?
The pink palaces of Jodhpur?
Those gorgeous sari colours that get caught in the breeze?
Or does India bring other things to mind: Dirty streets. Begging Children. Delhi Belly. Slumdogs.
Before we got here we were braced for more of the latter than the former. My knowledge of this country wasn’t as a journalist or a researcher or a traveler it was as a consumer– of movies and television.
I knew all about the Bollywood Glam and the IT outsourcing and the Slums of Mumbai. I knew of Gandhi and poverty and that Ayurveda had its roots here. And that’s about it.
I’m not proud of that fact, but it’s the truth and I share it with you because I know that many of you know only that much too. That the fear of what might be waiting here has stopped you from visiting and that, my friends, would be a shame.
Because in seven days I’ve already learned so much about this place.
I have Liberty Travel to thank for that. He and the team at Liberty took my desire to understand this country seriously and set out an itinerary that will have me criss-cross it over the next six weeks exposing me to its history and beauty.
I have only been in Rajasthan so far but already I’ve fallen in love with the ways of the Maharajahs and those who fought against Britain’s colonization. I’ve tasted teas I’ll need to take home and salivated over the decor of locally run hotels. I’ve seen 5-star luxe in completely Indian owned and operated hotels that would match and surpass many of the properties I’ve visited in other so called first-world countries.
I’ve seen immaculately kept homes in the middle of the dessert. I’ve watched people work harder than they should for less than they deserve. I’ve been offered chai tea from people who can’t afford to do so.
I’ve met people who I knew within hours would be friends for years to come, developed an entirely new understanding of hospitality and continuously nurtured a dangerous craving for Laal Maas and Naan.
And I’ve done it with my children in tow.
Watching, learning and immersing themselves in what is just another day in their lives; never once thinking that there is anything odd or different about a man who drapes cloth around his head or a woman who offers them a bindi when they enter.
For my boys this time in India is simply more adventure in a year of adventures. And if it means that when they are on the cusp of 40 and asked what they think of when they think of India and they can only remember how welcome they felt here and how beautifully they’ve been treated, then this visit has already been a success.