When I decided to go backpacking for a year after I completed my degree at university, little did I know that the course of my life would change forever…

I was young, naïve and cocky – there was certainly an element of already thinking I knew the way of the world. I also thought I was well-travelled, having been on countless trips with my parents. Now, when I look back at my blissful ignorance, I do so with a smile… After all, with age comes wisdom – and with travel also comes humility.

Even though I was to be away from home for nearly 16 months, it was India – my first stop on an around-the-world adventure that had the most significant effect on me.

India is so unlike anything I had ever encountered before and will probably never experience again. I definitely appreciated my time there more so after I had left the country.

It was a culture shock. It took me weeks, months even, to digest this huge and diverse country: the sights, the sounds, the way of life, the poverty; the Indian people; who are both infuriating and accommodating in equal measure.

New Delhi was my first stop where I met my guide for the next few weeks. My plan was to explore the Golden Triangle – taking in Delhi, Agra and the Pink City, Jaipur, before visiting Varanasi, and jumping on a train to Goa. My diver Manesh was kind and gentle. Not only was he proud of his homeland, but also knowledgeable about so many hidden gems – taking me to an Indian cinema and out-of-the-way spots only locals know about. I recall how he humbled me into contemplation when in his pidgin English he would tell me about his wife and children, and how it was hard to be away from them for such long periods of time.

He took me to food stalls on side streets where I tasted my first-ever stuffed paratha – delicious tandoori bread filled with spicy potato. I went through villages and towns probably not seen by your average tourist. He took me to watch the sunset over Pushkar and its holy Lake in Rajasthan – a pilgrimage destination for Hindus. I was blown away, the air filled with the sound of chanting and prayer.

I explored the Pink City Jaipur and its Water and City Palace and remember the amusement that flickered across his face when we arrived in Varanasi and gawked at the burning pyres along the sacred River Ganges and its long string of bathing ghats. I remember being overwhelmed. In fact, I was overwhelmed a lot of my time in India… including my sunrise jaunt to the Taj Mahal.

After the mayhem of the city, it was with relief when I finally arrived at the coast. Goa already felt a different way of life, much more relaxed – even though there was still the hustle and bustle of street life in the capital Panjim.

I had heard on the grapevine from other travellers that the place to head to was further south, to a small beach town called Palolem and, back then in 2001, it was completely unspoiled. It was a decision that was to shape the rest of my life…

Wandering along Palolem’s stunning crescent-shaped beach I found Ciaran’s Camp and its simple wooden beach huts. It was here in Palolem, where I used to fall asleep to the sound of the ocean crashing into the shore. This was the first time since I had left home that I truly felt relaxed.

It was there I soon became friendly with a group of backpackers. Little did I know that one of them, Stephen, would eventually become my future husband and the father of my children…

In fact, after two days of hanging around together, his group decided to leave Palolem. So we said our farewells and I thought I’d never see Stephen again. 

Emailing was a new phenomenon back then – iPhones and WhatsApp didn’t exist. But after writing down our details we managed to keep in touch. So it was with delight when we physically bumped into each other in Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand, some months later… And then continued travelling together as a couple.

India will always be my favourite place on earth because it changed me in so many ways. It made me see material items are of little consequence when you don’t have the ability to be humble and kind to others. It also provided me with the ultimate love story. One that is still being written in the sands of time – and one I can’t wait to tell my two young sons.

  • Ting Dalton
  • : Ting Dalton is a freelance writer who has a real passion for travel. Her blog, My Travel Monkey, recently won Best Travel Blog in the Flight Centre UK Awards and seeks to dispel the myth that travelling around the globe should be put on a hiatus if you have young kids. Ting’s sons have been on several marvellous adventures including Iceland, South Africa and Thailand - as well as plenty of trips around the UK.
  • : https://www.my-travelmonkey.com/
  • : 'May you all find a marvellous adventure' is the ethos behind My Travel Monkey. Having children shouldn't stop parents from seeing the world – families just need to organise themselves in a different way. The blog aims to not only provide tips to help facilitate this, but to offer inspiration, both at home and abroad. Meanwhile, My Travel Monkey has a comprehensive directory of attractions, hotels and destinations from all across the globe.
  • : adult_(19_and_over_as_of_31st_december_2019)
  • : This is the first time this story has been published.