In March, my family spent 14 days in India. My children were 12, 13, 15 and 19 years old at the time. In an earlier blog called Fourteen Days in India With Kids: Cows, Culture and Chaos, I describe in detail where we went, what we did and where we ate.
Since returning home, I have thought a lot about our trip. I have asked myself whether I would recommend it to other families with children the same age as mine; or with younger ones.
The answer is – it depends. The itinerary itself was exactly what I wanted. It blended city and rural life, with exposure to history, culture, architecture, and animal life. I feel that we got to taste a little bit of everything from India’s past and present. In another blog called Best Places to Visit in India: Four Reasons Why You Should Go, I highlight all the amazing experiences that we had on our trip. Why it should be considered as a possible destination for your next adventure.
I really wanted to go to India. It was my bucket list destination – the one place that I have always wanted to visit and I was thrilled with our trip. However, India is not an easy place to visit.
In this blog, I discuss the challenges that we faced in India. Most of these challenges were not family specific. They would be relevant for anyone with or without children. I do not pretend to know everything about India so my comments must be taken into context. We only toured a small region of India for 14 days. Accordingly, you might not share these same experiences in other parts of India, or you may face different issues. I can only speak to what we observed.
The following are reasons why India might not be the right place for you and your family at this time.
India Was Very Crowded
As of April 2017, India’s population was over 1.3 billion people. It is second only to China. The population is equivalent to almost 18% of the world’s population which equals to 1,169 people per square mile.
In other words, there are lots and lots of people EVERYWHERE you go! If you stay in a nice hotel with large grounds, you will get some relief from the constant immersion with other people, but it is only a temporary relief. It is crowded in the cities and it is crowded in the countryside and it takes its toll on you after awhile if you are not used to it.
I have been to very crowded and busy cities all over the world – Bangkok in Thailand and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam come to mind. I actually love to experience these places and I think it’s important to do so in order to fully appreciate the diversity of different countries. However, once you leave those cities and go to rural areas, or smaller cities/towns, the space around you opens up. There are fewer people, cars and action around you. So in these places, I am able to enjoy the chaos of the large cities because it balances out with the calm of other parts of the country. In India, this balance is much harder to create, if you can at all.
There Was Garbage Everywhere
Unfortunately, everywhere you look, there was garbage. There was garbage along the streets in Delhi, along the highways, and all over the countryside. There were a few exceptions. For example, the tourist sites were kept clean of garbage, but not the area around them. The hotels and their properties were very clean. Also, it was clean around the diplomatic area of Delhi and in Ranthamborne National Park where we did the tiger safari. However, that was basically it.
There Was A lot Of Dirt Or Cement
All of the highways and many of the roads in cities and towns were paved. However, not all roads were paved and these roads were simply dirt roads. In many places, there weren’t any sidewalks and you ended up walking in the dirt. The flip side to that is in Delhi, or in the centre of larger towns, everything was cemented over. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. I have been to many places where there was a lot of cement and dirt. However, what made this different from other places that I have visited was there was hardly any trees or plants to soften the constant cement or dirt view. Consequently, I felt that I was immersed in sombre brown and grey tones, and I found that I craved nature and colour while I was there.
There Was A Lot of Poverty
We did a lot of travelling within India. We drove for the most part, and took the train once. In our travels, we saw a lot of extreme poverty.
We saw naked and dirty children running around; families living in shacks on the side of the road without running water or electricity; and people begging at stop lights. We were aware of the poverty and were saddened by it. However, we were not shocked or traumatized by it. My children have been to around 35 countries and we have seen extreme poverty several times before. India would be a difficult place to have one of your first encounters with this level of poverty because it is so widespread and in many cases, they lack even basic needs such as clothes, shoes and running water. However, if your family has visited other poor countries than this level of poverty should not overwhelm them.
Food Can Be Tricky
We had some amazing meals in India. I never thought that I could eat only Indian food for two weeks and be happy about it, but I came pretty close to that. We stayed a couple of nights at very nice hotels that offered western food. So, I did indulge in some pasta one or two nights, but every lunch was Indian food, and most dinners were as well. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
Having said that, Indian food is pretty much always spicy. We only went to restaurants that were used to tourists. As soon as they saw us and our children, they immediately assured us that the food would not be spicy. We quickly learnt that there was no such thing! My husband and I loved it (although a lot of antacids were taken before bedtime). Our children found ways to enjoy the food (there was a lot of yogurt, naan and rice with the dishes). However, if you have young children, or very fussy children, food in India could be a huge challenge.
Westerners should avoid raw food in India. Tap water is not filtered to the same degree as we are used to and bacteria easily remains. Personal hygiene in India is also at a different standard. Bacteria is easily transferred from those handling the food and your meal if proper safeguards are not taken. Restaurants that cater to tourists implement different water filtration systems and have a more rigorous standard of handling the food. However, it is not foolproof. Even at the best hotels, mistakes can be made. We were very lucky. None of us got sick. However, we only went to restaurants that catered to tourists, never ate raw vegetables, and only ate raw fruit that you had to peel.
There Was Lots Of Chaos
Driving was nuts. If there were two lanes, four vehicles – cars/motorcyclists/trucks/buses – were side by side at any one time passing and swerving around each other. We witnessed two accidents and came across the aftermath of several more. They used their horn constantly. It was acceptable and indeed expected to blow your horn every time you came up to another vehicle, and wished to pass it or share the lane with them.
Walking was stressful. As mentioned above, many places did not have sidewalks. If they did not have sidewalks, you were walking at the side of a road, normally in dirt, dodging pedestrians, cows, cars, motorcycles and bicycles coming from all directions. Horns were blaring and you never felt like you were completely safe from being clipped from the side or behind. My youngest child was 12 years old when we were there. Most of the time, my children were aware and cautious but not always. I was hyper-alert watching them and my surroundings for oncoming danger. It was never relaxing walking in India.
Normal Safety Precautions Were Not Always Present
There were several times that I was very grateful not to be travelling in India with young children. One fundamental problem was that normal safety precautions were not always in place.
For example, we had high tea with a local Indian family in Jaipur. We sat mostly on her rooftop deck where we talked and enjoyed our tea. We were about four stories up and there wasn’t any handrail or fencing around it. In other words, anyone could have tripped and fallen off the roof. In the case of children, a simple game or horsing around would have been dangerous. This wasn’t only the case with private property. At one hotel, the bannisters on the stairs were very low and would have done nothing to stop a person from tumbling off the stairs to the ground below. Even at tourist sites, some bannisters had wide gaps between rungs where young children could have easily fallen through.
Indian Men Were Often Inappropriate
If you have daughters, you have to think very carefully about taking them to India.
I have two daughters who were 12 and 19 years old when we were in India. Men stared at them constantly, all day long, everywhere we went.
Our 19 year old daughter wore baggy pants, loose fitting tops, and no make up, and they still could not keep their eyes off of her. My husband is 6’4″, and my two sons were 6’2″ and 6’4″ at the time. We had Indian guides, mostly men, everywhere we went. Still, we were followed by fifteen Indian men at the train station while we walked on the platform and waited for our train. My husband and sons flanked the girls while we toured the markets in Jaipur as men stared, followed us and catcalled. The male attention was so uncomfortable at the pool at our hotel in Agra that my daughters never took off their cover ups, never went into the pool, and used the towels to cover themselves up further even though it was very hot outside.
My 19 year old daughter, who has been to over 40 countries and goes to school 3000 miles away from our home, said that she would never return to India without being married or with her family because of this intense male attention. I never thought that I would hear something like that from her.
My girls felt very uncomfortable with the attention, but were still able to enjoy our holiday and appreciate what India had to offer. However, this could be very difficult for other girls without our travel history, or even for husbands, fathers and brothers to standby and watch.
India is a remarkable country with some spectacular historical sites. It has amazing culture and delicious food. We met some wonderful people and had excellent service at hotels and restaurants. However, there are lots of challenges facing tourists. It doesn’t matter whether you stay at a five star hotel, or only eat at tourist restaurants, or have a car, driver and tour guide at your constant disposal, you can not avoid the challenges described above unless you never leave your hotel. And then, what’s the point of going in the first place?
We all thoroughly enjoyed our trip for many reasons that I will write about at another time. However, before deciding to go India, you need to determine whether the challenges described above will overwhelm or ruin your experience. If so, it might be better to wait until your children are older, or they have been exposed to other developing countries before you head to India. Even then, your trip will, more than likely, be unlike any trip that you have ever taken.
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