We leave for India Wednesday night. Our flight leaves Abu Dhabi at 10:30, a good two hours after the boys’ bedtime, which should make for some lovely pre-flight bickering. We arrive in Delhi, conveniently, at 3:15AM. I think that even my children may be too tired to squabble at that hour, but who knows. Perhaps they’ll rally and stage a re-enactment of the Sepoy Rebellion at the luggage carousel.

India floats in my mind in a cloud created from long-ago readings (and re-readings) of MM Kaye’s steamy historical romance The Far Pavilions, Rohinton Mistry’s brilliant  A Fine Balance, a smattering of Forster, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s yogic enlightenment.  There’s a little “Slumdog Millionaire” thrown in for good measure, and then the whole mishmosh gets wrapped in brightly patterned cloth and tied with sparkly mirrored thread.

In other words, I know pretty much nothing.  Liam and Caleb are all “elephants! Taj Mahal! Red Fort! Elephants! Tigers! Taj Mahal!” So pretty much they don’t know anything either.

We’ve done some homework: my copy of the Lonely Planet guide to Delhi, Agra, and Rajasthan is as well-thumbed as a holy book; indiamike is now bookmarked on my computer. The boys have flipped through a few India books, and they’ve looked at some websites, but nothing more than that.

This trip is the first Big Trip of our Middle East Adventure, so we’re doing what we can to cater to the tastes of the under-eleven set: we’re staying at hotels with pools for post-touring jumping around; we’ve booked a little tiger-spotting safari in Ranthambore National Forest (erase visions of bwana in a tent doing a Hemingway—it’s a jeep that drives through the jungle for a few hours, then dumps us back at our hotel); we’re going to Jaipur to ride an elephant to the Amber Fort.

Actually, who am I kidding? Our itinerary seems perfectly designed for the closer-to-fifty-than-you-want-to-admit set, too.  It’s my first trip to India and I’m not ready for too much “off the beaten path” this time around. Next time, maybe, but at this point, I’m flying Low Expectation Airways.  I want us all to see a glimpse of this amazing part of the world, become a little more aware of the educational and economic privileges we take for granted, check the Taj Mahal at sunrise off my life list, and then…well, after that, I just want to survive nine days, two boys, one husband, shared hotel rooms, and a LOT of trains.

Husband toured around India and Pakistan decades ago, in the post-college haze of youth and energy. He stayed with distant relatives or slept in youth hostels (or youth hostiles—there’s a reason god invented the B&B, and it was to save us from the youth hostel).  Husband wandered through cities, hopping trains whenever and wherever he wanted. He was, you know, Finding Himself.

Finding Yourself is easy (sort of), when you travel alone. I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to have a yogic “aha!” moment on this trip, the way Elizabeth Gilbert did when she stayed at an ashram, in the “Pray” section of Eat, Pray, Love.  Finding enlightenment is a whole hell of a lot more difficult when you’re traveling with emergency jars of Nutella and peanut butter in your suitcase.  If I were to write a book about this trip, I might call it “Please EAT, Love,” and in it I would answer the burning question of whether a seven-year-old boy can survive for a week on nothing but rice and nutella.

I’ll let you know when we get back.



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