Life is a River in India: Part One
By Brett Paesel
Brett Paesel is the author of the Los Angeles Times bestseller Mommies Who Drink: Sex, Drugs, and Other Distant Memories of an Ordinary Mom. She has been published in many national publications, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Salon.com. She has also developed television shows for HBO, ABC, Fox, Comedy Central, Lifetime Television, WB Television Network and Nick at Nite. Brett blogs weekly at lastofthebohemians.blogspot.com.
This story is excerpted from the literary travel anthology Lights, Camera…Travel!, published by Lonely Planet.
I was tired of failing. That’s the simple truth and the only reason why I agreed to go river rafting on the Betwa River that afternoon. I’m not physically adventurous by nature. I am physically timid by nature. But I was tired, tired, tired of feeling afraid, anxious and stuck. Which was why my husband, Pat, and I had persisted in taking our two sons to India, on a trip we could no longer afford, in the first place. It helped, of course, that my brother, who was teaching at the American Embassy School in New Delhi, had said that he would pay our expenses once we arrived. A former army ranger, Keir had even offered to take us all on a ten-day backpacking excursion, ending with a stay with an adventure tourism organization known as ‘Snow Leopard’ on the outskirts of a city named Orchha. I wasn’t sure what ‘adventure tourism’ was when Keir mentioned it in the planning stage of the trip. Now I knew. It meant camping in tents on the edge of an ancient town, bicycling on battered, butt-busting bikes, and river rafting.
I could have passed on river rafting – which was my first response. My body had tensed at the mention of it, visions of jagged rocks and white water churning, tossing our inflated boat in the air while our family of four clung to each other, screaming out to an indifferent God for deliverance. But later, I reasoned, would that really be any worse than our last year in Los Angeles? Pat and I had lost several jobs and declared bankruptcy – all while helplessly clinging to each other in the middle of many sleepless nights as if we were on a life raft, miles from any visible shore.
Another simple truth: the only thing that scared me more than death by drowning was the thought that I would return from my trip to India unchanged, unable to see past what I had previously determined were insurmountable problems. And worse, that having experienced their parents’ ineffective response to adversity, our children would grow up feeling defeated before they even walked out the door to face the world on their own.
As we climbed down the worn, pinkish steps of Orchha Palace to the launch site that afternoon, I was determined to model bravery and adventurousness to the children. I promised myself that I would not inspire new fears in my sons by laying bare my own. Our guide, Vinod, and five guides from Snow Leopard readied a large inflatable raft and the accompanying two-man banana boat. The men in the banana boat, called so because it was shaped like a banana, would come to our rescue if needed. Vinod had been our main guide throughout our stay and had a genial air as if everything secretly amused him and he couldn’t wait to tell his wife about it later.
When we reached the pile of life jackets on shore, I said confidently, ‘Okay, kids, let’s strap these babies on.’
‘Babies?’ asked my seven-year-old, Murphy.
‘Life jackets,’ I explained. ‘We have to wear these babies in case we fall in the water. Which probably won’t happen because these men are trained experts. But in the event that one of us falls overboard, we need to fasten these babies tight so that we’re nice and safe and don’t drown.’
‘Overboard?’ said Spencer, eyes widening.
‘Unlikely,’ I said. I turned to Keir. ‘Keir, you’re a former army ranger, wouldn’t you say that falling overboard is extremely unlikely?’
Keir shrugged, ’It’s pretty gentle. What would you say, Vinod? Difficulty, one?’
Vinod gave Spencer a relaxed smile, ‘Difficulty zero.’
Spencer cocked his head, unconvinced. I could see my precocious ten-year-old assessing the risk-to-safety ratio with the skills he’d just absorbed from his class’s latest math unit. He was about to ask Vinod another question when I quickly interjected, ‘See, kids? Very gentle waters. But just in case, let’s make sure our helmets are secure.’
’I’ve already checked them,’ said Pat. ’We’re good.’
‘Excellent,’ I said and turned back to the kids. ‘That way, if you fall out and slam against a rock, you won’t damage your brain. These guys know what they’re doing.’
‘Let me adjust your helmet,’ Pat said to me. Now that he mentioned it, the helmet did feel like it was resting on the back of my head, leaving my frontal lobes vulnerable. As Pat fiddled with the straps, he whispered through a fake smile, ‘Chill on the bad-stuff-that-can-happen-to-you talk. You’ll scare the kids.’
This story is excerpted from Lights, Camera…Travel!, edited by Andrew McCarthy and Don George, published by Lonely Planet. Copyright 2011 by Lonely Planet Publications. “Life is a River in India” excerpted with permission of the author and the publisher. To purchase a copy of the book, click here.
For further information: Adventure Collection members offer a variety of India adventure travel packages and guided tours.