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We love our India....We love our India...

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Twelve years ago when we had reached the end of our four-month stint in the sub-continent, we couldn’t wait to leave. At the time, a popular song (which had blasted from the speakers of every bus we took over the four months we spent) featured the lines, “I love my India! I love my India!” and it echoed in our heads as we set forth towards the airport on our way to Thailand – only we were singing, gleefully, “We’re leaving India! We’re leaving India!” It had been a love-hate affair. In a year of travelling through a dozen countries, a third of them in Africa, no place had been as trying, difficult, exasperating or memorable as India.

And then a strange thing happened. Over the next half dozen years, we started to miss the place. It turned out that although later on in that year of travel we visited places that should have been equally fascinating—including three countries in southeast Asia and four in Africa—most of the stories we found ourselves recalling and recounting were about things that had happened to us in India. We had seen only the north of the country during that trip, and as the years went by I knew that some day, we were going to have to do it to ourselves again: we were going to have to go back to India and see the south.

But this time, with kids in tow and some experience behind us, we approached the arrival differently.

Twelve years ago, we flew into Delhi, got a taxi to drop us at the railway station near Old Delhi’s Paharganj district, where most of the cheap backpacker hotels were, and went into the bazaar on foot from there. We were fresh from Canada, pasty white, with clean, new backpacks, carrying our Lonely Planet guidebook. We drew touts like ants to a puddle of honey, and once they were stuck to us, they were equally difficult to remove. We were assaulted by a storm of sights, sounds and smells, and found ourselves accosted by what seemed like dozens of beggars--some missing digits or limbs, sometimes propelling themselves on carts, some of them scruffy, barefoot children with their hands outstretched. We were unprepared for the open manholes, the mazes of narrow, busy, unmarked streets, the sweltering heat, the choking pollution, the combined smells of sewage, sweat, cooking and incense, the noise and chaos and crushing press of humanity.

Although our arrival in Delhi still makes for a good story all these years later, we didn’t feel inclined to repeat it or subject the kids to it. Instead, this time we pre-booked a four-star airport hotel located about a 15-minute drive from the Chennai airport, and had the hotel send a driver to pick us up. So when we’d cleared immigration and customs and wandered outside near midnight into the thicket of people waiting and waving, there was a friendly man in a white uniform holding up a bright white and yellow sign that said: “LEMON TREE HOTEL, Mr. Patti Ryan.”

I wished I’d taken a photo of that, but as soon as I thought of opening my bag to grab the camera, the man had disappeared into the crowd to go get the car, and the opportunity was lost. Mr. Patti Ryan, because in India, the assumption is that a man would have been making all the arrangements by email. That would have irritated me a dozen years ago, but now I just find it humorous.

The ride to the hotel was completely uneventful, and the hotel itself may just be the second-nicest of our entire trip so far. There is a TV that receives 257 channels, so the kids woke up and immediately turned on Cartoon Network. There’s a swimming pool. It would take me a week to work my way through all the free toiletries in the bathroom—there’s even a loofah. From our ninth-storey room, we can see much of the city laid out before us.

We’re not going to explore it, though. We decided some time ago that we were probably trying to cover too much ground by travelling from Chennai down to the southernmost tip of the country at Trivandrum and then all the way back up the west coast to Mumbai in just seven weeks, so we booked a flight from Chennai to Trivandrum. We’ll be on it this afternoon—so actually, we’ve managed to put off our full immersion into India by about 24 hours. The hotel we chose near Trivandrum, at Kovalam beach, is closer to $10 a night, has no air-conditioning, and doesn’t offer an airport pickup. We’ll grab a prepaid taxi from the airport, but our directions from the hotel tell us to get out at a particular temple and walk from there, since there is no proper road, and to “be cautious of the brokers who stand in the road to divert you.” In other words, dodge the touts.

But hey, we’re old hands at that now. After all, we’ve just spent a month in Vietnam. India: Bring it on!

Posted by The Rymans 20:40 Archived in India Tagged family_travel

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Glad it is smooth sailing in India so far. The only thing I remember you (or was it Steph) telling me about travelling in India was how all the men grabbed you on the buses, etc... I think a driver with a nice "Mr. Patti Ryan" sign sounds much better than going thru that. Happy travels. xo Sarah

by sarah

I can picture it all Patti, especially the people begging and grabbing at you.
What an amazing adventure you are all on!
Happy New Year!
Mary :)

by mary

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