Celebrating life after cancer on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to India

written by Lani Innes April 11, 2018
India tour Jaipur hot air balloon

‘Welcome to India,’ the sign said, stopping me in my tracks in the middle of the Delhi airport.

Just off the plane, I was tired and a little unsure of myself amongst the heat and the people, some 11000 kilometers from home and alone. Cold and snowy Gatineau, Quebec – where my children were still tucked securely in their beds, sleeping peacefully – felt worlds away.

‘Was I sure this was a good idea?’ my friends and family had asked before I left, with a hint of their own reservations revealing themselves, but mostly speaking with my best interests in mind.  Admittedly, there had been a few moments in the preceding days when I had asked myself if I was indeed crazy, if my unorthodox choice to travel solo to India was quite unwise. After all, as a busy professional and a mother of two, this type of thing is not something I would typically do at this stage in my life.

But in that split second, seeing those words – ‘Welcome to India’ – and feeling my feet firmly on foreign ground, I remembered my resolve and a tidal wave of relief and joy and excitement washed over me: I’m here. I made it. I did it!

Welcome to IndiaThat was February 13, 2018; a great day, and one that I will never forget. But also one of several unforgettable days that had punctuated my life over the past few months. In fact, that day was:

105 days after collapsing at home and being rushed to the hospital, where I would soon learn that I had a tumor the size of a grapefruit in my stomach that was causing significant internal bleeding.

94 days after being released from the hospital, now a cancer patient.

57 days after having my tumor resected, that is, surgically removed along with a portion of my stomach.

29 days after finding out that I was incredibly lucky: the surgery was successful and I was cancer-free.

And then I made one of the best decisions of my life. I booked my trip to India with Intrepid Travel.

I have always loved the idea of travel, and to see India – this exotic land of childhood stories, the world’s most populous democracy, rich in history and culture and spirituality – had long been my dream. The iconic monuments! The hustle of the cities! The glorious beaches! The saris, the sacred cows, the spice markets…!  India captivated me.

India tour Taj MahalBut time has a funny way of passing quickly; years came and went and never was it the ‘right time’ to go. Work was busy, life was busy, I was busy. There were always other priorities and there would always be ‘another time.’ It was so easy to get caught up in that narrative, especially as a mom; taking time for ourselves doesn’t always come naturally. And then that awful day back in the fall, time almost ran out. As I was being wheeled out of my house on the stretcher, I honestly thought that I was done, that I was dying.

But I didn’t die. And that instantly changed how I saw my life. Because the truth is, the present – this moment – is the only time we ever really have. Suddenly things became very clear: I would spend my precious time differently from now on. Starting immediately. ‘I’m going to India,’ I told myself. ‘I’m not waiting any longer to make this dream come true.’

So there I was, abdomen stitched up and passport in hand, scanning the crowd in the airport for the gentleman who was going to take me to the hotel to meet my would-be companions. Later, upon meeting these 13 adventurous folks and our exceptional guide Priyanka, I was lucky enough to explore India from Delhi to Goa, celebrating a fresh start on life and making the most of my time on this planet.

India tour

My amazing Intrepid group

And what a fabulous time it was. India pulled out all the stops.

In Delhi, the colours of the vegetable stalls exploded against the washed-out buildings like fireworks, as we toasted to our first day of travel with a cup of steaming chai from a street-side vendor. Amid the narrow and winding streets of the city, Priyanka knew just where to take us to taste this quintessential brew.

In Agra, the anticipation built as we glimpsed the Taj Mahal from afar, and when we arrived at its gates, its majesty left us speechless.

In Jaipur, from the vantage of a hot air balloon, the countryside glowed in the early morning light, the stillness of the sky broken only by the voices of school children calling out ‘hello’ as we passed low over their villages. Airborne, how quickly the busyness of India receded, a silent reminder to me and my morning companion, Rebecca, that reality is all a matter of perspective.

India tour Jaipur hot air balloonAnd later, we all let loose a little, feeling the liberty of cheering along – out loud! – with the local crowd for Pad Man at the Raj Mandir Cinema.  Our western convention for silence at the movie theater is overrated, I now think. Live in the moment, if even just when watching a film.

In Pushkar, the langur monkeys rewarded those of us out for an early morning hike to the Savitri temple with their energy and antics as we watched the sun rise above the Aravalli hills. And opposite those same hills, on the edge of the desert, me and my fellow adventurer, Allison, later caught the sun set from the back of a camel.

India tour train

Getting comfortable on an overnight train

And then there was the wedding, a spectacular event, more colourful and vibrant than one could imagine. Being at the right place at the right time, we were welcomed as guests to witness the nuptials of a young couple. Although we all pitched in for a small gift for the bride and groom, we were the ones who felt truly fortunate. How fortunate we were that these people would share this most special time with us.

Next in Udaipur, the hotel rooftop terrace gave us stunning views of this lovely city of lakes, sunlight sparkling on the water like a thousand tiny candles.

India tour UdaipurThen in Mumbai, a few of us escaped the city’s commotion, the deafening din of honking horns and the thick humidity, and seemingly travelled back in time for high tea at the Taj Hotel, living a little of this city’s colonial past…and a little bit of luxury too.

And finally, Goa. Beautiful Goa, with its clear skies, golden beaches and warm water, inviting us to simply chill out. The hot sun feeling so good on my body as I sat on the sand, listening to the waves crash, taking it all in, making the most of every last second.

India tour Goa beach

Soaking up Goa’s beauty

And along every step of the way, at every location, every landmark, every little adventure, a feeling of gratitude grew: the events of my life – as awful as they had been over the preceding months – had inadvertently brought me to this time and place, and with these people, these travellers – at first strangers, then quickly friends, each offering me a bit of inspiration by way of their own desire to see the world.

I could not help but think how incredibly glad I was to be here, embracing this adventure. And I knew in my heart that this was just the beginning. India affirmed my new outlook on life.

‘You are absolutely glowing!’ my friends and family noted, when I arrived back home. ‘How was it?’ they asked.

The answer was easy: I could not have asked for a better experience. I had the time of my life.

Ready to have the time of YOUR life in India? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group tours there.

(Image credits from top to bottom: Intrepid Travel, Lani Innes, Courtney Raisin, Lani Innes, Intrepid Travel, Lani Innes, Intrepid Travel, Lani Innes.)

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