“Want to go for a walk before dinner?”
This seemingly unremarkable statement can take on a whole new meaning when you’re on your honeymoon in India. We had decided to forego the traditional, “romantic” honeymoon, and instead chose Intrepid’s Unforgettable India trip because we wanted something that would be more challenging, personally meaningful, and include adventures that we could never have foreseen.
We had been in India for roughly a week when we arrived in the small village of Alipura. Prior to arrival, we had experienced the chaos of Delhi, the splendor of the Taj Mahal, and the historical and fascinating charms of Chanderi and Orccha. When we arrived in the small town of Alipura to spend the night, we imagined that this would be a quiet moment in the trip; a quick overnight stay in an ancient palace to recharge the batteries before plunging back into another week of remarkable travel and immense experiences.
Instead, during this brief stop we experienced some of the most memorable moment of our trip – and, indeed, our lives – and were reminded why we had booked our travel with Intrepid in the first place.
While ending our walk through the village as we headed towards a dinner at an old palace, we came upon a group of children playing cricket. Growing up in the US, I know as much about cricket as I do about Vegemite sandwiches: absolutely nothing. However, one of the children noticed me imitating a cricket swing as we passed the group of children, and he beckoned us over to join in their game. The other children were also warm and inviting, and “Come play!” they shouted in both Hindi and English.
How could we say no?!
We joined the group of 15 or so children who had set up an impromptu game in the sandy lot between their school and the palace. I was handed the cricket bat, and my first swing went as well as I imagine most people’s: a complete whiff. However, the children were very supportive and encouraged me to try again. On the next pitch, however, I connected with the ball and sent it flying…over the locked wall of the school, which had been closed for the winter holiday.
I soon realized, to my horror, that I had hit the children’s only cricket ball over a locked gate that wasn’t going to reopen for a week. I felt absolutely mortified that I had ruined the children’s game. The children showed exceptional sportsmanship, despite the loss of their only cricket ball.
With disappointment, but great warmth, they shook my hand and told me “Good! Good!” in English. I was crestfallen over what I had done and asked the children if there was any places in the village that sold cricket balls.
This led to a 45-minute walk through village in which, led by our fellow young cricketers, we hunted out a spot that sold cricket balls. Most of the village stalls were shut because of the hour of our hunt, and we were repeatedly told “no” as we inquired. More and more children join my wife and I on our search until we were walking through the village surrounded by 20 or more children eager to shake our hands and point out beautiful places of interest we completely missed during our own walk an hour earlier.
Finally, we came to a small, brightly adorned shop on the far side of the village. The shopkeeper had a set of two cricket balls for sale, and the children and my wife cheered when we confirmed the sale! We all walked back towards the makeshift cricket field with a collective sense of triumph!
Quick to continue the game, we began to play again and I was up to pitch. As we resumed our game, a woman popped her head out from a nearby home and beckoned my wife over. She smiled and waved and then disappeared into the house of this woman. After finishing a round of batting with the kids, I went to find Jessica. I was met by the sister of the woman who owned the home. She warmly greeted me and beckoned me inside.
I walked through the doorway and into the lovely courtyard of her home. The following image and smells will always remain with me: the mud-packed floors juxtaposed with the incredibly bright blue doorway; the warming water buffalo milk and the ground cardamom wafting in the air. Jessica, a teacher, was sitting with our host’s children, as they went over their school work. Although neither spoke a common language, Jessica and the women and children in the home were laughing and communicating through smiles and gestures.
I was immediately welcomed to sit and handed a steaming cup of chai. An elder daughter of our gracious hostess joined us. She spoke a little English and helped to translate. Together, with more smiles and gestures and some translated words, we sat with our hostess and her sister and talked. While my wife and I had come from the completely opposite side of the world, what struck as we enjoyed a chai together was how each of our hopes and dreams are aligned: spending time with loved ones, ensuring our children had access to the best education, and making the best of this brief, amazing time we have on this earth.
Like this, we talked for nearly an hour about our backgrounds and families. The woman and her family had lived in the town for generations, and she showed us a picture of her grandfather serving as a palace’s head guard in the early 1930s.
Following tea and biscuits, of course there was more cricket! The youngest child of the family, who could not have been older than 3 or 4, produced his plastic cricket ball and bat and was insistent that I play with him. As Jessica sat with the children and went through their English assignments with them, I engaged in a 1:1 cricket game: our hostess cheered us on, and she and Jessica laughed kindly at my ongoing struggles with a cricket bat.
As the sun began to set, we knew that we had to say goodbye to our hosts to join the rest of our Intrepid cohort – a group of open-minded, diverse, and very interesting men and women with whom we greatly enjoyed other travel adventures. We said our goodbyes to our hostess and her family. As my wife and I walked back to the palace, we talked about how such an experience would only be possible with a group like Intrepid and in a country like India.
Our local leader, Naggi, met us at the palace gate. “How was your walk?” he asked. When we began to tell him about our experience, he smiled. “Yes,” he said. “India will open its arms to you.” And, as usual, Naggi was right in so many ways that we continue to talk about today.
Ready to experience the magic of India for yourself? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group tours there.
(All images courtesy of Sam Horn and taken on Intrepid’s Unforgettable India trip.)