My favorite country is undoubtedly India. Expressing this constantly to friends and family I wanted nothing more than to return there and spend time with my adopted Indian family. It had been three years since my last visit. My daughter celebrated her 21st birthday last year and I wanted her to have a memorable gift. Come to India I said, It will be my birthday gift to you.
Nothing is ever simple. Both being UK passport holders, we had to apply for our visas at local Indian embassies. This became a much longer and costlier process for us both. Before on my previous visits, I could do an e-visa application but this unfortunately changed for UK citizens during the covid pandemic because of the restrictions the UK enforced on Indian citizens, India retaliated by making the visa application harder. We were then further delayed, as Megan my daughter missed her visa appointment and had to wait a month to get another one and I had to attend a funeral in UK followed by some problems at home needing attention. All of this preventing me from traveling.
But India was calling and finally, our flights were booked. I wanted Megan to love it as much as me. There was a niggle in the back of my mind. Would she love it as much? India is not for all travellers. ‘Be prepared for some cultural shocks,’ I had told her.
Long tiring journeys can be a challenge. Our long stop-over in Bahrain was no indication of what was to come. The airport was super clean, empty of crowds, and comfortable seating everywhere. Make the most of it I told her. Dehli will be different and it undoubtedly was.
We arrived in the evening, changed our money, and looked for a place to book a cab. We agreed on a price but did not account for all the extras, the porters’ tip, and the extra time the cab driver wanted us to pay because he got lost. I argued with him and told him I had already paid for our ride at the airport. The hotel was shabby and the long-awaited hot shower was a cold one and consisted of a jug and bucket. I joked all we need is more sleep. I noted the expression on my daughter’s face. ‘So mum was not joking about roughing it.’
‘Come to India you said’ my daughter joked out loud mimicking my voice as she climbed into bed, “‘You’ll love it’.
My Indian friend Nitin had booked us a morning Taxi ride to Jaipur and the driver surprisingly was there on time. The streets of Dehli were not the best to navigate out of, busy, bustling dirty, and dusty. Megan sat quietly in the back. I wondered what she was making of it all. As we got onto the highway our driver who was consistently on his phone showed us his remarkable talent of steering the car with his knees. We were to have four and a half hours of this. Conversation was hard because he spoke little English. I wanted him to concentrate on the road.
‘Oh yeah, I had forgotten to mention how people drive here, Megs, forget Rome and Madrid. This will be much worse and something that will stay with you forever. ‘
Our driver, ignoring any lines in the road negotiated by swaying and squeezing between, buses and bikes, pedestrians and cows. overturned carts and grain spills.
‘My seat belt does not work Mum.‘
‘You will be fine‘ I assured her.
What kind of mum am I? I scolded myself. I thought back to previous times and so far I have survived. This is traveling, the sense of risk is invigorating….. I don’t want to die she said, not yet anyhow.
We arrived at our destination. My Indian family house. My friend’s Mother stood at the top of the stairs. Her son had not told her we were coming. It took her a moment to recognise me, It had been three long covid years. There were shrieks and tears but most of all there was love. We have made it I told my daughter. For me – I have come home and she felt it too.
India has spirit and energy. To experience the culture you have to work to understand it. The infrastructure here makes life difficult. In Jaipur, only 2% of the population pays their taxes. Roads and highways are in seriously bad condition. There are no rules on the road because there is nobody to check that you stick to them. It is a free-for-all and survival of the fittest and fastest. Coming from a nanny state your brain shifts, comparing amuses you. it makes you think, your awareness increases and you open your eyes. It is the grounding I seek, that brings me back down to earth and reminds me how it feels to appreciate life but live so close to the edge. This is the birthday gift I wanted to give my daughter. We are a few days in and already I see a sense of relaxation, the ability to just go with it and smile, our problems all faded away into oblivion. Glad to be back in India.