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Tripping through India with my pint-size Peter O’Toole

The author Graeme McRanor and his son London in the Thar Desert.

Suzanne Patrick

Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their adventures – those times when, far from what's familiar, you must improvise in the midst of a wild travel moment. They are the stories you can't wait to tell when you get home.

In India, there's a car accident every minute. Not the most comforting statistic to be bouncing around the brain as your tiny taxi careens along a highway in the Himalayan foothills. But it's dark, there are no functioning seat belts and the decrepit vehicle's misaligned left headlight cranks just enough wattage to illuminate the edge of the crumbling road, which drops directly into an abyss below the front passenger seat.

Then there's the large truck directly ahead with broken tail lights and a sun-bleached bumper-sticker only readable because of its proximity to my face: Keep Distance.

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We're passing the truck.

Here, that's done in three stages: honk incessantly to let its driver know you're travelling at an unreasonably high speed only inches from his vehicle (he has no mirrors); pass on whichever side has more room, blasting horn entire way; veer in front of truck, narrowly missing post-monsoon sinkhole, head-on collision with speeding bus and herd of [insert animal here] meandering along middle of highway.

Repeat until arrival at destination.

This particular pass had me shoulder-checking my girlfriend in the backseat. Shockingly, she was asleep, bolstered by one of those ridiculous neck pillows.

My son, however, was upset. But it had nothing to do with the inherent risks of driving recklessly on India's vast network of shabby roads.

He was hungry. And we still had six hours to go until we reached the hill-town of Palampur.

Travelling through India with a four-year old isn't easy; flights get delayed, trains cancelled, plans changed. It's hot. Dirty. Chaotic.

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And it's big. We covered an admirable chunk in 30 days: 13 cities, four provinces, countless roadside towns – spending almost a full week in transit (more than 150 hours in planes, trains and long-distance taxis).

Are we there yet? No.

How many minutes? About 720.

This can be draining.

But then you see the Taj Mahal for the first time. And in that surreal moment, everything else just disappears. Including your child.

Indians love kids. And they're especially enamoured with the blond, blue-eyed variety. Consequently, we were often approached by curious onlookers. Occasionally, these ad hoc photo-ops intensified into friendly-but-frenzied, paparazzi-like swarms.

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So he was easy to find.

It turns out four-year-olds don't care much for the world's most-wondrous mausoleum. Or most temples, mosques and palaces.

He did, however, seem to enjoy the country's assortment of spicy potato chips.

Varanasi was of interest, but not because it's one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It's got boats. Lots of them. And we were floating down the Ganges when my son, who'd been observing the burning-ghats in the distance, suddenly and definitively stated: "I don't want them to burn my body, Daddy. I'd be too hot."

Curiously, the heat didn't stop him from falling asleep on the back of a camel in the Thar Desert.

Traversing a challenging country with a young child is a lot like riding a camel: unpredictable, daunting and with more than a fair share of ups, downs, moans and groans. Fleas, too. And even some projectile vomiting.

Eventually, though, you hit stride. Man, that warm desert breeze sure feels great – suddenly, you're Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia.

But every film has to end.

On a brutally long train ride toward the end of our trip, I asked my son what he liked best about India.

He didn't even have to think about it. "Ice cream," he said.

Holy cow.

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