When an unexpected “second chance” trip to India presented itself, writer and mom Susan Heinrich couldn’t pass it by. Although she felt a bit selfish leaving her family responsibilities behind; she soon realized that her cross-continent indulgence was exactly what she needed to be reminded of who she once was, and discover a renewed sense of purpose back home.
“My Trip To India”
It was my first trip to India.
Yet, as I toured ancient monuments, admired ladies in colorful saris, and photographed market stalls piled with golden marigolds, I felt a surprising familiarity. It was like running into someone who was once your best friend, but you hadn’t thought of in years.
My husband and teen sons were at home, in Denver. I was 12 time zones from my family, literally on the opposite side of the world. It was the furthest I had traveled from them.
For several years before the trip, I had been working on a novel set in Colonial India. My friend Lisa knew of the project, which prompted her to send me an email with the subject line: Trip to India – Come join us.
She and her husband were traveling to Delhi to attend a wedding, followed by a group tour of Rajasthan, the northwest region of the country known as “Land of Kings”. I stared at the laptop and thought: “I can’t go to India. I have two teenagers. And a husband. And a dog.”
I read her note once more and replied saying that the trip sounded exciting, and I appreciated the invitation—but I would have to think about it.
As a freelance writer, I have a flexible schedule, but leaving my family for almost three weeks didn’t seem feasible.
It also felt selfish. How could I take such a significant trip without them? All the reasons I shouldn’t go played on repeat in my head, like an irritating pop hit. But, I couldn’t let the idea go.
I had missed out on India once before and regretted it. On a backpacking trip at age 24, friends and I had traveled together through Nepal and most of the girls were continuing next to India.
It was May, the hot season, and when I say hot, Delhi can reach 45 degrees Celsius. So, I chose Thailand instead, intrigued at the idea of traveling solo for a bit. I enjoyed the gorgeous beaches and met people from around the world; yet thought of India. I was considering trying to re-join my friends when the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated. India became my road not taken.
Eventually, a husband and two sons became a part of my permanent itinerary. We stuck to destinations with direct flights when the boys were young. And one very particular eater kept us from going anywhere too exotic for a time. As the boys grew, we ventured further. Traveling with my family was fun and rewarding, if not always relaxing; I am typically the travel planner.
Despite my novel-in-progress, I hadn’t thought seriously about travel to India until Lisa’s email. Sensing I would regret missing India a second time, I talked to my husband, unsure about his reaction. He supported the idea. We agreed that a chance to go with friends was too good to pass up. India wasn’t high on his bucket list anyway.
I had never done a group tour before, so I had no idea what it might cost.
My friends had booked the trip with G Adventures which offers tours at various price-points and styles—from shoestring to upscale. I also learned that some destinations are more affordable than others; two weeks in India was half the price of the same trip to Japan.
Arriving in India is unlike anything I had experienced. The chaotic traffic, the honking, the cows. Cows are sacred to Hindus, so they are everywhere and do what they please. I spent the first few days on my own in Kolkata, which felt a little like going back in time.
There are still thousands of hand-pulled rickshaws, the last place where these exist.
I hired a guide and we went to India’s largest flower market at dawn. The villagers travel to Kolkata daily to sell garlands of colorful blooms and they are piled in huge mounds, creating an incredible display.
We wandered the narrow streets of the old city and stopped for chai tea, which was ladled into a clay cup from a huge steaming pot. It was creamy, spicy and sweet. I was enchanted.
But, India is not all exotic beauty.
People discard trash carelessly, and it gathers in smelly piles, which only the cows appreciate. I once saw a cow eat an entire foil pie plate, only a small remnant of pie stuck to its top.
The signs of poverty are unsettling—and it remains a very patriarchal society. My senses were flooded; I was equal parts overwhelmed and fascinated. By the time I met with my friends for the group tour, I was realizing this trip would be unique.
Like most women, I have many roles in my daily life: mom, wife, writer, daughter, dog walker, volunteer, errand girl.
Being distanced from those defined roles in such a significant way was creating space for me to feel something new. It was a feeling of both freedom and of being more myself. I had experienced it on previous travel adventures, in my twenties, but had forgotten.
With each day in India, I felt it more. I was just Susan again, the Susan before all the spaces of myself were filled with career obligation, marriage, children—responsibilities. When you travel without your family, you get to be entirely selfish, in a good way.
We toured historic forts and temples; and attended a wedding on the grounds of a palace, along with hundreds of Indians (we were the only tourists, it was magical). Having a guide meant freedom from managing any details. I could immerse myself entirely in the experience.
And my family… by all accounts, they more than rose to the occasion.
They walked the dog, got to school on time, and took on cooking responsibilities. Both my sons are now competent in the kitchen. My younger son, not yet driving, even rode the city bus. That alone feels miraculous, in an age of Lyft and Uber.
Three weeks passed quickly, and I returned home feeling immense gratitude, both for a fantastic experience, and for the beautiful family I returned to. But I am not the same. The mid-life me has rendezvoused with the carefree me. I’ve remembered things I had forgotten.
I think I knew I had lost a little of myself as I journeyed through adulthood. I just didn’t realize how much I missed it, until I found it again traveling in India.
Here are some more beautiful photos from Susan’s trip to India:
Click on the first image to view in gallery mode.
About the Author: Susan Heinrich is a freelance writer and former newspaper journalist, happily transplanted from Toronto to sunny Denver, Colorado. She has a passion for travel and balancing her desire to be a mid-life globetrotter and home for dinner with her family. She is close to completing a historical fiction novel, set in India. Follow her midlife travel adventures at www.midlifeglobetrotter.com and connect on Instagram: @midlife.globetrotter