Once, when my kids were really quite small, we took them parasailing in Goa, India. It only cost something like $20, so we figured, Why not.
So far, I have visited India exactly three times. The third visit was my very first without my children. The first trip was to Delhi and Varanasi with our 1 year-old and I was pregnant with our second daughter. Five years later, when we returned for a six month stint in Kolkata (Calcutta), we had three children and the eldest was 6 years old.
Bet you couldn’t guess that the third visit was the most relaxed and stress-free for me. First of all, I only had to cope with my own jet lag (that’s a head start right there!). And it was a lot simpler to cross Kolkata avenues alone, it turned out.
For an outsider, certain corners of India can take some getting used to. The urban areas are especially relentless. The press of crowds, the sounds of traffic and animals, and the climate might just inspire a girl to find a nice grassy field in the Alps and just stay there for a good long while.
Side note: I took the above photo in Austria, immediately after having departed Kolkata. Just because it was green, and quiet and empty. (I also made a video of the same woods to share with friends still back in the city, to remind them what forests sound like. They said thanks for the thought, but they couldn’t hear the audio track over the incessant traffic noise outside their window. Oh well.)
So, yes, urban India is a treat. You never quite know what you are in for when you step outside the door of your home or hotel.
This article does not recommend traveling to India with small children. I would have to agree: it is difficult to recommend. You and the kids have to be up for something truly unique and unforgettable.
The truth is, it’s hard to find a place that is more welcoming of children than India. I literally had to strap my baby onto my body to keep local folks from overloading her with their enthusiasm and joy. Once, a woman gently and firmly pried my hands away so she could pick my daughter up out of my arms to carry her away and out of sight. That was at a museum in Sarnath, near Varanasi, in peaceful surroundings where I did not have to panic about any sinister intentions. Even still, there is hardly anything that is more culturally inappropriate in my country than helping yourself to someone else’s baby, so it required a lot of restraint not to (ahem) overreact (cough, cough, understatement).
When we returned for a longer stay a few years later, this time with slightly older children and no babies, they still often became the main attraction for Indians on holiday at popular sightseeing destinations. Or just regular people out for a stroll in the neighborhood.
My kids did not love this and we eventually put a stop to these modeling sessions, however misunderstood our intentions as we declined offers for photos. “No, thank you. They do not like photos,” we would say briefly, instead of explaining that it was particularly photos with strangers that they did not care for. Cultural sensitivity shmensitivity–our kids need to learn they are allowed to say “No” to adults and strangers when they are put in uncomfortable situations. In our view, that is healthy and we expect that it will help keep them safe in the long term.
Besides, it allowed us more energy and freedom to dive into the fun stuff they, and we, wanted to do while in India.
(Festival of Holi in Kolkata)
There are different customs and traditions all around the world relating to children, and we carry our own with us where we go. A wonderful discovery we have made throughout our travels is that just about everywhere we have been, and not only in India, children are loved and cherished. Since we also love our kids and so the feeling is mutual, it is fun to share it with others along the way and enjoy each other’s company as much as possible.
We wouldn’t have known that if we hadn’t decided to go for it and hit the launch button.