Dan has been waiting twenty years to step foot in infamous India, and to finally experience firsthand the culture, music, color, food, spirituality, utter chaos, and pure magic. We both feel that one cannot wear the true badge of “world traveler” until this country has become a part of your history and understanding. We did however question if it was the right place to bring young children, for all of our fears about sickness and health. We knew that the sights of poverty and poor sanitation would be shocking to us all, but strongly felt that this might be the best lesson for empathy, and gratitude for what we have.
As I write this almost three weeks into our expedition, there are NO REGRETS. Although traveling with children has changed our typical backpacker style to that of “flashpacker” (def. older, slightly higher budget, lots of technology), in order to ease some of the transport hassles and ensure cleaner, more comfortable accommodation, we still cannot (nor want to) shelter our kids from some of the harsher realities of Indian street life.
As we had our first taxi ride to our Delhi hotel in the backpacker’s ghetto of Paharganj, it was quite apparent that we were in for a new and eye-opening experience. Immediately assaulted by honking horns, dense traffic, beggars at the windows, cows and pigs roaming freely, foul smells of burning trash and sewage , under sweet incense and exotic spices. I kept trying to gauge Stella and Gabriel’s responses. I expected more shock, and possibly fear, but they took the new, all in stride, proving their better adaptability to challenging environments.
On our first morning, Dan had to brave the streets in search of a sim card for our phone, and Gabriel was eager to join him. They came back with tales of playing Frogger in streets full of cows, autos, tuk-tuks, rickshaws, and fellow pedestrians. My courage and enthusiasm to venture into the streets had to grow gradually, as each excursion into the smoky mayhem would leave me exhausted and desiring a quick return to the solitude and quiet of our room. Now I look at Delhi as the training ground. The kind of city that makes me think of Frank Sinatra’s tune, “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere”. By our fourth day exploring the many sites, spread out in opposite directions of this large and sprawling city, I had finally begun to understand how to master the stress. You have to pace yourself, slow down, and counter each drama-filled journey with a locale of peace and beauty. As you will see from many of the photos below, the amazing architecture of India’s proud forts, monuments, and temples are irresistible. These are places of refuge from the chaos of the streets, and are well-attended, with manicured lawns, constant sweeping, and an absence of excessive trash.
Jama Masjid (Mosque):
One of the highlights of our Delhi stay, was meeting up with Rishi and Karan (Shishir), two tech guys who handled all of our computer woes at Airtreks. They took us to several different bars and eateries, giving us insight into Delhi culture and food. Under their guidance, we sampled street vendor sweets and savories, ate lots of tandoori chicken, and drank copious amounts of beer and whiskey (all with the kids in tow). They helped convince us to stay in a calmer neighborhood of India (Green Park) with better access to the impressive metro. They checked in with us through our short visit to make sure we were doing well, and also suggested that we visit Akshardham Temple, a Disney-like, Hindu complex of elaborate temples, fountains, and exhibitions about the life of Swaminarayan. This showpiece included animatronic storytelling, boat rides akin to the “Pirates of the Caribbean”, a movie, and THE BEST outdoor water/light show after sunset about Hindu Gods. Unfortunately, as a strictly “spiritual” destination, no cameras/photos are allowed. We had to go through a strict Fort-Knox security check to even enter.
I had one rough point, which nearly broke me. We had just visited Humayun’s Tomb, and were in search of a shrine, famous for the Sufis that sing mystical Islamic devotions at sunset. This took us into a slum-like, labyrinth bazaar of crumbling and poorly built concrete buildings, and down a narrow lane of butcher shops. Chopped chicken parts were scattered over dirty tables and wood blocks, swarming with flies, with open sewers running directly below. The smell of excrement and filth, coupled with the deep socket, dark stares of the destitute people, were haunting and frightening. It was dusk, and I could see clouds of mosquitoes rising before us. We had obviously gotten lost in the wrong part of this neighborhood, and it was time to flee. I clutched Stella and Gabriel and implored that we leave as soon as possible, ditching any search for ascetic music. So far that has been my darkest moment in India, and the beginning of deeper lessons to be learned about the “haves”and the “have-nots”. It also helped to concrete our decision to become vegetarians for the rest of our travels in India!
Dan, Sarah, and kids,
Once again we devour every word you write, captivated by every picture you show and inspired by the love that you share.
Hug and kiss each other thinking of those who love you back as you continue your fascinating journey.
P & G
I have to say that India has never been on my bucket list of place I want to go to before my life ends, however, you have vindicated your resolve to show Stella and Gabriel how some people have to live in other countries, but also the beauty that can be found in that same country. The architecture is incredible. India is an amazing country! Sarah, I would have reacted the very same way you did when having taken a wrong turn while searching for the place that they have mystical Islamic devotion. That would have been it, for me. Stella and Gabriel, you are both Rock Stars for the way you are immersing yourselves in the various cultures of the different countries. Uncle Dale and I are so very proud of you, and I know your mom and dad are as well. We love you all so much and wish we could be in Florida when you visit your Mom and Dad. I would love to hear all the tales from Stella and Gabriel. Continued safe travels for you are my prayer!
Dan, Sarah, Stella and Gabriel I am at a loss of words, I know this is hard to believe from one who loves to talk. Your description of Delhi and your photos have given me a new insight of India. I have always had these visions of how India would look with its overcrowding, foul smells. beggars, and a place I would NEVER want t0 visit, nor wanted you take the kids to.. Well once again you have proven me wrong. The beauty you found is now my vision of what is there to discover…. Also In reading how Stella and Gabriel adapted to their surroundings and persevered with little or now complaints only tells me how much they have grown over the last few months. My heart is so full of love and pride for all of you. Stella and Gabriel, Poppy and Grammy are so proud and thrilled you are on this adventure with your parents. As time goes by and you think back on this absolutely amazing trip you will say ” Dad and Mom thank you for opening up the world to me and showing how planning and commitment and love of travel has made me look at the world with a QUALITY OF LIGHT that most young people have never had a chance to experience.” As always my love comes from a far but know that we are with you in spirit and look forward to your next eye opening adventure. Travel safe and a BIG HUG to all.
Dito to all the other comments. Now I see why travelers who have been to India often return. It is truly a dichotomy of wonderful and distressing.How fortunate you were to have some locals guide you in New Delhi. The architecture and those brilliant saris are breathtaking. Fabulous photos!
OMG…You MUST feel like you have ARRIVED as travellers!!!! India has been top on my list to travel to since, oh…..as long as I can remember…In 7th grade, Sash and I did a report on the Taj Mahal and actually drew every brick in the dome….some of the most beautiful contemporary literature I have read is written by Indian writers; both about their country and/or love….they are such a dynamic people and colorful culture….I LOVE these pictures!!!!!!! I want to BE THERE TOO!!!!!! Love to you all!!!!
Oh!! P.S. I just resigned ftom the Dan and am going to work at the Bahai World Center in their Health Clinic….:)
I feel like I am there with you on this amazing adventure… and wish that I was!! I hope that one day we will be able to take such a trip with our kids. Until then, I hang on your every word and will live vicariously through you. Hugs to all of you. xo
Thank you so much for sharing your blog with us. I don’t know you but your story has been passed my way via a family at my second graders soccer game. We too are traveling the world for a year , starting in August 2016. I absorb all your life experiences and advice like a sponge. We are traveling with our 8 year old twins, a boy and a girl, and our 11 year old son. I’m always so excited when I receive an email about your travels, I squint my eyes at your beautiful pictures so I don’t spoil our trip with expectations. I like surprises. It’s not easy not looking. Keep writing!!!
Hello Bianca, Thank you for the encouragement, and kudos for planning your own coming, family adventure! It was two years of planning for us, and is definitely one of the best decisions we have made. Your children will be the perfect age to appreciate the experience, and grow in confidence and independence. Will you keep a blog? I will love to hear your own road tales.