Sisters are doing it for themselves!

My fabulous sister Lisa has arrived in Delhi with my nephew Otis. We cover them in marigold garlands and annoint them with the red pigment sindu as soon as they burst from the departure gates and into our arms. As we bounce along the highway Paloma and Otis, are ecstatic to see each other and kiss and cuddle in the back of the Ambassador taxi into Delhi. Who knows how long that will last!

Ben is heading to Afghanistan for a ‘Boy’s Own’ adventure and I thought it would be great to visit the south of India on a ‘Girl’s own’ adventure with Lisa. And the kids, of course! We are sad our other wonderful sister Ainsley can’t join us, but hopefully she can next time with more kids in tow. Lisa is writing a blog about her foodie finds through the USA, Mexico and Europe and is on the first leg of her 5 month family sabbatical. Matt, her husbando, is on a Caravan of Comics (hyperlink) traveling through the USA.



Sisters are doing it for themselves! We wonder if we are mad, taking two under three year olds through India with us, probably but you have to give it go, right?

Our days are spent buzzing round dirty Delhi, feasting on Mughali food at famous Karims and exploring Old Delhi, getting mobbed by everyone for photos of our blondies at the Jama Masjid and relaxing in the lovers quarters of the Lodi gardens.

Before Ben leaves he takes the kids for one night while Lisa and I run through the streets and markets, shopping and getting our hands and feet hennad. The kids love our weird and kooky hotel Anoop and are fast becoming friends with the boys who live in the hotel, these boys break their backs to give you a hand with anything you need. The Indian service is second to none. After a few days in Delhi I can already see that Lisa is a natural, taking India in her stride.

The Taj Mahal is the seventh wonder of the world and as horrible as Agra is, being filled with dodgy touts, dirty streets and tourist walahs begging for your rupees, it all contrasts starkly with the beauty of this magnificent building. I still believe that no trip to India is complete without seeing the Taj Mahal. After a 3 hour drive from Delhi to Agra we have a dip in the pool at our hotel and head to the Taj for sunset.

The Taj Mahal building is as stunning as always, surrounded by lush manicured gardens and flanked on each side by identical red sandstone mosques. Lisa and I are love with it and can imagine it in its former glory. It was originally built is a mausoleum in 1632 by emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his third wife Mumtaz Mahal. She demanded he build the most magnificent tomb for her, as every wife deserves.

One would think that by being surrounded by all this splendour and tranquility; the gardens, the white marble made soft over time by the millions of hands and feet seeking meaning in this ‘ode to love’, that the place would be peaceful and calm. On this occasion however the experience was a little more challenging than last time; with 38 degree heat and non-stop requests by Indian Tourists wanting ‘snaps’ of Paloma and Otis. We were stopped at every carved flower, at each minaret all around the tomb . One or two ‘snaps’  is ok. But the people wanted more and more. We stop for one and a crowd soon forms and everyone then is asking for a photo with our children as if they are celebrities!

The children have their own ways of declining these offers. Even when Otis is ‘blasting’ them with his ‘rocket powered arm and Paloma is rolling on the ground flashing her nappy, they still don’t get ‘NO!’ Otie is very vocal in his dislike of ‘snaps’ and Paloma loves pulling silly faces at them when they beg for a smile. Somehow we manage 2 minutes on our own to absorb a brief lull of peace and love and then we are out of there and head back to dusty Delhi.

Our itinerary had originally been to travel to Kerala for our adventure, but we are told it is scorching hot down there already and would be too much for the kids. At the last minute we decide to change our plans. Instead we decide to visit a place that turns out to be ‘paradise on earth’.

Wandering Rainbows

Nestled into the back of the ambassador taxi we hurtled through the orange dust of an Indian midnight from Delhi airport to Jaipur. Paloma was finally asleep in my lap, after her unfortunate decision to stay awake for most of the flight over. It only took one hour of breathing in the pollution and that unmistakable smell of India for me to feel like I had somehow come home. The holy cows lying hither and thither on the road, the warm air, the jangly coloured trucks with painted messages of ‘Honk Please’ and ‘Blow Horn’ on them – not that Indian drivers need a further invitation for tooting incessantly.

Jaipur, the fabled ‘Pink City’, ancient and crumbling and set in the dusty desert seduced us with her charms even by night. When we woke, we found it’s bazaars filled with treasures, city streets chaotic with wandering Sadhus, incense smoke and flower garlands with which I decorated my family for our immersion into our temporary Indian way of life. Paloma’s new mantra ‘Have no fear’ was evident when she asked to sit in her own seat behind the rickshaw driver who wove through the chaos with the same mantra, speeding between the sleepy cows and wandering pedestrians. Paloma laughed with delight as the rickshaw wallah swerved on the wrong side of the road over bumps and potholes, throwing her up and down, more fun than anything on offer at Birchgrove Park, watching the world swirl by like an natural globetrotter.

Today we are clad in matching pristine white kurta pyjamas ready to revel in the annual festival of colour known as Holi. Young boys race to the side of our bicycle rickshaw, liberally smearing our faces with neon pink, canary yellow and emerald green pigment powders.

Paloma is a hit and as soon as we have stepped from the rickshaw and entered the temple complex she is stolen away and covered with kisses, blessings and clouds of holi powder. She runs with the village children, chasing cheeky temple monkeys and posing for snaps with Indian families. Someone offers her a bag of powder and she delights in annointing everyone with her Holi blessings. We are swallowed by the melee and dance to the temple drums with the frenzied crowd, laughing all the time until our cheeks hurt.

Before long we have become top-to-toe walking rainbows. As we leave the beautiful and ornate Govind Devji temple, more festival-goers shower us with bursts of colour thrown up or pumped into the air with plastic pistols. Our rickshaw driver is getting as much attention as we are and he cycles us away to another part of town where painted elephants trumpet and sparkle in the descending sun outside the Old City walls.