Meher Marfatia: Make it India

Meher MarfatiaLondon... New York... Spain... Turkey”... the responses came flying fast when children’s author Deepak Dalal asked the young bunch gathered before him where they last holidayed. He was our special guest from Pune for a Meet-the-Author book club morning with 11 to 14-year-olds who had read his Sahyadri Adventure. Deepak presented a fascinating slideshow of photographs shot in hills around Mumbai. He found the kids had traipsed all over tony cities across the world. From a group of 10, one was able to tell us how happy he was to have gone horse riding in Matheran and strawberry picking in Mahableshwar.

Deepak was surprised. I wasn’t. I’d heard so much gush from globe-trotting families throughout my kids’ school years, I could fill several fresh travel magazine tomes.

Family time in Fatehpur Sikri
Family time in Fatehpur Sikri

I’ve to tick the boxes here: travel beyond our borders broadens the mind, it is wider cultural exposure and even easier to do in many ways — but why not soak up some desi destinations first? Hooking them young might work well. There’s time enough later with higher studies and job-related travel to appreciate the wonders of the world.

Let’s be honest, India won’t top the list of child-friendly lands to visit. Difficult to access, Delhi belly food fears, dangerous for women and children trekking alone... the list can reel quite endlessly in anxious parents’ heads. I have to admit to never encouraging the kids to plan outings to Indian adventure parks because of very obviously rundown equipment and not a soul accountable for
their safety.

That being said, forsaking our own mountains, valleys, seas and snows may sadly be a colossal mistake. The country’s wildlife sanctuaries, historic forts, sandy beaches, bustling bazaars, temples, tombs and other monuments are among the best on the planet. For starters, there’s an abundance of undiscovered beauty in our backyard.

Having holidayed a fair amount within India and abroad, my children simply never tire of fun-in-the-sun Goa and nurse the fondest memories of trips to Corbett, Kanha, Ranthambhore and Bandhavgarh. Their cosy forest lodge rooms saw us snuggle close to read Kipling’s Jungle Book aloud to each other by candle light. Years since an unforgettable Christmas week in Bandhavgarh, my daughter continues to gaze up at her bedside wall to a pair of wood-framed pictures of B2, the majestic tiger of that terrain.

Not that it’s always smooth sailing. After a nightmarish train trip back from that same Bandhavgarh break (what with a stinking-of-urine waiting room at Katni station, being bumped off the booked passengers’ list after paying properly in advance and associated horrors), my harried husband did declare, “If anyone in this family wants to see more animals they fly to Africa!”

Yet, look at these hitches and glitches as par for the course and you reap a heap. Kashmir to Kanyakumari, try home stays over hotels and watch kids thrill to nights spent on houseboats, jeep safaris in wildlife parks, camping under the stars, canoeing in backwaters, bathing with elephants, listening to local lore, following spice trails, street festivals, colourful
handicraft fairs and vibrant village melas.

Sharing one’s excitement also helps considerably. I described to my children how, six months after being awestruck by Hampi in Karnataka, I found myself not half as stunned standing at Angkor Vat on a visit to Cambodia. Comparisons are odious. But because both fascinating South Asian sites date back to exactly the same period — a thousand years — I couldn’t help noticing how differently I still felt about them. And having enjoyed the serenity and splendour of any number of temples dotting Asia, we will still always rate the magnificent Golden Temple at Amritsar as our most moving, mesmeric temple experience ever.

You can influence local choices as interestingly. Hearing us rave about music magic at the Rajasthan International Folk Festival held under a full moon sky in Mehrangarh Fort, our son has decided that faced with a toss-up between RIFF and an NH7 weekend of gigs (these happened to be scheduled over the same days more than once), he and his pals want to be Jodhpur-bound.
Incredible India isn’t just a tourism tagline, it’s a truth. We really live in this country only when we love it. We really love it only when we explore it.

Make it India this summer.

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