Excellent. Hopefully, it’s your child. Attempting to cross international borders with someone else’s offspring is not recommended.
If it’s your first time travelling to a challenging country, you might feel somewhat anxious in the weeks leading up to your trip. This is most likely being caused by repeated phone calls from your mother, who is freaking out because you’ve hatched a hair-brained scheme to bring her precious grandchild to a chaotic, impoverished foreign country rife with malaria.
Relax. Start screening your calls. And consult your physician.
Yes, India is impoverished. But it’s also home to a burgeoning middle class that possibly numbers into the hundreds of millions. It’s got opulent palaces, too. And the Taj Mahal. It’s a diverse place – that’s what makes it so interesting.
Yes, there’s a threat of malaria (in some regions). Our travel doctor prescribed Malarone, an expensive but well-tolerated antimalarial. My son, London, took it. My girlfriend and I did not. None of us got malaria. We did, however, get bitten by mosquitoes, even though we sprayed with repellent regularly (though certainly not religiously). If you want peace of mind, take the pills. And buy repellent before you go.
You will probably get the shits. And let me tell you – there is no panic like an Overseas Diarrhea Panic (ODP). Especially when it strikes while you’re clutching an inanimate child in the middle of Old Delhi’s endless maze of narrow alleys. If you’re lucky enough to find a toilet, chances are it’s going to look like the one in Trainspotting.
(Tip: Head for a hotel – they’re the best bet for clean(ish), western-style toilets. Generally, the nicer the hotel, the better the toilets. Though there are exceptions. Regardless, accept that you’ll be squatting at some point. So best bring a couple packs of wet baby wipes. DO NOT fall backwards and unintentionally plunge hand in hole, as I did at an Italian ferry terminal circa 1992. Alcohol was a factor.)
Thankfully, we stayed (almost) shit-storm free for the duration. Most importantly, my son produced stunningly well-formed structures throughout the entire trip. Anyone who’s dealt with sick kids/stomach viruses at home will appreciate why healthy bowel movements overseas are something to be celebrated. (Note: while we all took Dukoral (an oral vaccine for travellers’ diarrhea), it’s important to be vigilant about where and what you’re eating. Although, let’s be honest: it’s always going to be a bit of a crap-shoot. Stick to bottled water (drink lots of it), and always check to make sure the seal hasn’t been broken and the bottle nefariously refilled for resale. Also, don’t go into the fucking Ganges – use a boat – it’s the most-polluted river in the world.)
Traversing a country like India with a kid takes planning and preparation. So be prepared for your plans to change. The sooner you come to terms with the fact that shit is going to hit the fan – sooner rather than later – the better for that festering western ulcer. Try some yoga or something. You’re in India, after all. Besides, once you’ve witnessed the resilience of its people – particularly the kids – and their uncanny ability to smile in spite of absolutely brutal circumstances – you might not get so heated about that cancelled flight out of Dharamsala.
One of the best ways to get around India is by train. The lower classes are cheaper but can be somewhat chaotic, so if you’re looking for some privacy – and trust me, you’ll be looking for some privacy – first-class is the way to go. You’ll appreciate the space on an overnighter from Delhi to Jaisalmer, which takes 17 hours (approximately). Reasonably priced flights can save lots of time when covering vast distances on a time-crunched itinerary. Of course, our lone flight booking in country got cancelled due to a pilot strike, forcing us into a 12-hour taxi ride back to Delhi in order to make our next long-distance train reservation. It should be noted that we did have one train cancellation, as well. For the most part, however, they ran on time. And we took a lot of them. All our bookings were done several months in advance (recommended) via cleartrip. You do need to get a numerical password (to replace the required Indian mobile number) emailed from Indian Rail in order to sign up to their site via cleartrip. Well worth it. Then download the cleartrip app for your device and you can book on the fly from any wireless area in India (free at plenty of hotels/restaurants/bars). Handy to do the same with hotel-booking apps from sites like Agoda.
Long-distance taxis are a reliable option, but, for us, were also the root-cause of three near-death experiences in India. To put that in perspective, we only had three near-death experiences in India. Night driving is not recommended. As one taxi driver told us, “Peoples is crazy people.” On the roads in India, this is invariably true.
Bring a jar of peanut butter. This is a top-three item, just below passport and money, respectively.
Touts are aggressive. Don’t be afraid to return the favor. Being 6’3″ and male certainly helps.
Indians are fascinated with western kids. Particularly the blond-haired, blue-eyed variety. Their intentions are good but the attention can be overwhelming.
My advice: Try to enjoy it. It’s the closest you’re ever going to come to being in the band.