Traveling to India can only be described as otherworldly. There is something both objectionable and illuminating within each of the more than 1000 photos taken during my visit there in 2010. The profound cultural differences became obvious from the moment I felt the taxi speed away from the airport to a hostel in Old Delhi. The street scenes can be shocking where poverty-ridden kids beg at the windows of the rich and a government is overwhelmed by a billion people clamoring for resources.
Like many third world cultures, India offers a unique paradigm that can challenge western sensibilities. In South Asia the children face greater challenges than the poorest children in Europe and America. To appreciate India one must try to see the naked disarray as the manifestation of a country’s innocence, the evolution toward a first world world lifestyle playing out before the traveler’s eyes, where the villages and cities have glorious festivals of illumination while doing their best to embrace modern sensibilities and provide for the struggling classes. India is one of the least expensive and safest places to travel, with less violent crime than in North America.
What would your children learn by traveling to India?
South Asians are one of the most family friendly cultures in the world. Children are invited to formal parties and carried along to evenings on the town. Most cultures in this part of the world are ingrained to feel greater empathy for children than those cultures in the West where “seen but not heard” rules the roost. Nontheless, the English language dominates in much of India, commonly taught in schools and frequently spoken due to the long British occupation. Most will relish the opportunity to meet and discuss eager participants.
But what about the poverty? Will seeing abject poverty scar my children’s innocence? On the contrary! It is the paradox that impresses your child’s sensibilities for life. While Disney World distracts, the third world educates. Ask the poorest of the poor how they feel and you’re likely to get a smiling face and optimistic perspective. We should attempt to expose our children to humanity’s good and bad sides. India certainly offers both extremes.
Where to go in India
National Geographic says “The Taj Mahal will change your child’s life … it will change the way they see all other buildings from then on.” Lonely Planet says the Delhi to Darjeeling train adventure – 26 hours! – offers an inexpensive way to book a First Class train cabin adventure of a lifetime. Finally, if Christian pilgrimages are your thing, St. Thomas the Apostle proselytized in Southern India, setting up many churches still in operation today. Christianity dominates many parts of India, so spiritual relevance is yet another attraction for children to relate.
There is something wonderful going on in India, where travelers can befriend families intent on sharing their unique and integrated culture. India has seen the largest peaceful social integration in the world where all the major world religions coexist – Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jews.
We Americans struggle to accept the strangeness of other cultures when they land on our own doorsteps, so we should take our children to places like India. They might see grown men holding hands in friendship, and they might also see the desperation and suffering inherent in this fallen world. Travel can offer new flavors and colors to impress our bumping kids with new experiences. Although third world travel can be cost prohibitive and restrictive, outgoing families should consider the upside to such an experience.
India is a good place to start.