I’m telling you this because you should know.

Everything you’ve heard about India: that you’ll be sick if you go; downed with Delhi Belly if you so much as sample local cuisine; that you’ll be dirty all the time and mauled by beggars and dogs; that you’ll never get out of Delhi or Mumbai without being pickpocketed or robbed or worse; that you shouldn’t go and if you do you shouldn’t stay long. It’s wrong. I know because I’ve been.

For six weeks my husband Ish, our two sons (Ethan, 9 and Cameron, 7) and I explored an India we’d heard nothing about. And it was beautiful.

I don’t use the word lightly.

I’m talking about beauty in all of its multifaceted layers; the kind of beauty that fractures in the light and gives way to an even deeper layer of the same beneath it.

I’m talking about an external beauty, the kind you find in the contrast of saris clean and bright despite dusty roads; the beauty you find in that first glimpse of the Taj Mahal and again in the eyes of your child as they too catch their breath. In India there are palaces, forts and temples that make the ones you’ve seen in the fairy tales seem plain and boring. There’s an appreciation for art and the artist and his/her relation to the heavens unlike any I’ve encountered elsewhere, with carvings so intricate and detailed that you can’t help but imagine the time and worn fingers that created them. The results are the must sees: The Golden temple in Amritsar, the red stone of Agra fort and the view from atop an elephant as you climb the yellow stones of the Amber Fort in Jaipur.

The people are equally beautiful; stunning to look at with their bejeweled ears, bodies draped in beautiful cloths and turbans or head scarves tied just so. These are people, for the most part, who believe that it is their moral duty to help those less fortunate no matter how unfortunate they are themselves. Karma – the belief that the way you behave in this life will reflect on you when it comes time to live the next one – rules the day in a palpable way. And so you meet people like Sanjay Verghese who with his wife and in-laws is running the Ashray Bhavan home for children who might otherwise never be able to go to school. He works all day and then heads over to check on the boys for whom he provides food, shelter, a parental figure and education. No pointing fingers at a government that isn’t doing enough, just the steadfast day-to-day work of doing his part to change things for families here a few boys at a time. When I point out that between his day job and his commitment to the boys, he is working 24/7 he shrugs and tells me only of the girls he’d like to help next.

That’s the kind of beauty India holds.

In our travels I also found a diverse India; a country that is more like a continent with each of its states showcasing a different way of dress, cuisine and dialect. The thick spicy lamb curries of Rajasthan, the delicate vegetarian meals lovingly prepared for us in Kerala and the super-sweet treats at the end of the meal. Traveling from romantic Rajasthan, through the immaculately manicured neighborhoods of Delhi to the worshippers at the river Ganges in Varanasi is like skipping across planets where Hindus and Muslims and Jains and Buddhists have all left their mark and your respect grows as you realize that even when in contradiction there is beauty in all of them.

Travel here long enough and you’ll see it all: Gridlocked roads and fields cut in two by train tracks; men on elephant back amongst the tuk-tuks; women using one hand to hold their head scarf tight and the other to hold onto the driver while sitting sidesaddle on a fast flying motorbike; cows who have the right of way and dogs who don’t; children too young to look so old. If you’re lucky you’ll succumb to India’s lure and find yourself on camel back casting long shadows across the golden sands, sipping high tea in the dessert, wandering aimlessly through Sunday market stalls, searching for tigers too big to hide in Ranthambore.

Travel further and you too will be impressed by an industrious India. Men who work hard; women who work harder. You’ll grow accustomed to seeing the slight women, robes slightly askew carrying piles of bricks or sticks on their heads. Slip down the back streets and you’ll smile at familiar rituals: A mother combing through her daughter’s wet hair; the laughter of children of the lowest caste as they watch a friend dancing under a setting sun on a nearby rooftop; the piercing glaze of Hindu gods and the waft of incense as locals worship.

India does it all to extreme. The poor are poor beyond comprehension and the rich are rich beyond imagination. Come with dollars to spend and you’ll quickly become a Rupee millionaire staying in hotels that make North American 4-stars look laughable. A dedication to service that shakes its head at the phony over scripted attempts back home and stems more from culture and genuine hospitality than company policy.

And when it’s time to leave India? I wish you bangles and long drippy earrings and cotton shirts and well-tailored suits and thousands of pictures. I wish you memories that wake you at night and drive you to do more and be better.       

I hope you’ll go and see it for yourself. I hope that you’ll explore further than I did to see if the negative stories you’ve heard are all there is to this magnificent country.

And I hope that when you do, you’ll write and tell me what you thought and how you felt and how very much you want to go again.

And I’ll know then, exactly how you feel.