WHEN I told the neighbours I was taking our 10-month-old daughter to India, the response was hardly supportive. 'What about injections?' one demanded. 'They say she's too young,' I replied. 'As I'm still breast-feeding I'm told she gets the immunity from me.' Another asked: 'What about food?' I said I intended to cook for myself, that she was still breast-feeding, that in any case Iona's favourite food was curry. 'And supposing you get sick?' I was asked - rather hopefully, I felt. 'If you get the runs, you're not going to be able to produce milk, you know.' I suppose they thought I was crazy. But to me, it seemed quite logical that if my husband had to go to Tibet for a couple of months, I should go for the easier option of India. I had been there many times, knew a bit of the language, knew what places catered for tourists, knew what I should take. If your baby is disturbed by a weekend away and you're unused to travelling, maybe you should think twice about going anywhere too exotic. But Iona, as I told my friends, loved new people and places, and their words of caution only hastened my departure. From the library I borrowed the Lonely Planet guide, Travelling With Children, in which Maureen Wheeler highlights the delights of travelling with children in Asia. She also sensibly advises taking as little luggage as possible - and then a couple of pages later comes to the subject of nappies. The hideous truth about Indian mothers is revealed: they don't use nappies. Instead they just stuff rags between the babies' legs. Wheeler follows this startling revelation with the blithe announcement that when she went to Asia for three months, she took all her Pampers with her. Travelling light? Being rather concerned about littering the planet with indestructible disposable nappies but not being so fanatical as to dispense with them altogether, I did as I always do: I took 12 terry nappies for daytime use and a couple of packs of Pampers for nights. As well as the nappies, I packed all Iona's clothes (I later gave away the excess to Tibetan refugees), Napisan, vitamin pills for me, a stove, foam-backed pan scrubs (akin to gold-dust in India), a bag of toys (which she rarely played with but which provided hours of fun for her playmates, young and old), a change of clothes for myself and a medical kit. This last was substantial, and included everything from teething gel to mosquito milk, from a thermometer to antibiotics. In the event, I used everything but the antibiotics. Finally we staggered to the airport, taking plenty of hand luggage. We were given aisle seats in the no-smoking section and not, thank goodness, those directly below the in-flight movie screen I had been informed were usually reserved for mothers with babies. In order to relieve the pressure on Iona's ears I fed her at take-off and landing, and she was perfectly happy. Ten Thais behind us and a family of Sikhs kept Iona smiling and laughing throughout the flight. It was a taste of things to come. As Iona is a sociable baby, we never had a dull moment. I pushed her around in an E-type McLaren baby-buggy (which the Indians referred to as her 'baby rickshaw') and she'd smile and wave at everybody. The Indians, who regarded all babies as gifts from God, were enchanted. Everywhere we went she was regaled with plastic toys, balloons and sweets. Travelling in India with a baby is very different from travelling as a single Western female. Suddenly I had the status of a mother and all attendant respect. I experienced none of the sexual harassment which used to be the norm, even though my husband wasn't with me. When our train to Pathankot was 12 hours late and I was too tired to amuse Iona, Indians did the job for me: bringing their children, pulling faces and singing songs. I also found the stress taken out of breast-feeding in public places because every Indian mother does it until their baby is several years old. Yet sometimes the attention my little one commanded from strangers could be wearing. The Indians regarded it as their right to stop her wherever we were: men would plant their feet firmly in front of the push-chair, women would try to lift her out, and often we'd be bossed into posing for a snapshot. Iona's plump little cheeks would get pinched more than was comfortable and I was constantly whipping out the damp, TCP-soaked flannel, which I'd been advised to keep at hand. After all, there are a lot of contagious diseases in India. By keeping clean and being careful, we both enjoyed good health for the most part. I didn't cook for myself in the end, but went to more expensive restaurants where the kitchens were clean. Perhaps the worst health problem was altitude sickness when we flew to Leh in northern India. I had been told babies adapted to altitude better than adults, and was personally acquainted with one of Ladakh's youngest tourists - at four months - who had no problems. I was therefore taken aback when Iona became listless and stopped drinking upon arrival. As it was essential to drink plenty of liquid with altitude sickness, I force-fed her 30 five-millilitre syringes of luke-warm camomile tea; she visibly revived, even opening her mouth for the last shots. After that she was fine for a couple of days. Yet the shift in altitude seemed to coincide with a bout of teething, and for 10 days she had fevers, vomiting and diarrhoea. I bought medicine and worried about obsolete drugs being sold by unscrupulous companies to Third World countries. Then she recovered. Shortly after her recuperation we had an unusual encounter with the successor to the old Ling Rinpoche - tutor to the Dalai Lama - who died about 12 years ago. Less than three years later his reincarnation was found, according to Tibetan custom, embodied in a two-year-old child. He lives in a house on the wooded hillside above the small town of McLeod Ganj, home to the Dalai Lama and 8,000 Tibetans in exile. I had heard of him years ago. He seemed enshrined in a cloud of impenetrable sanctity, so I was surprised to hear an Englishwoman, who lived just down the hill from him, speaking of him quite casually, as if he were an ordinary person. 'Oh, Ling. He made me laugh last night. He was telling me how they'd had a tiger round the house and they all had to go out banging pots and pans to scare it away!' 'You mean anyone can talk to him, just like that?' 'Oh, yes! He speaks really good English and he loves children, especially those with blonde hair and blue eyes,' she said, looking at my blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby. 'Why don't you just pop up and see him?' So we did. We found Ling, a plump and bespectacled 11-year-old boy, sitting on a throne in a small room furnished with Tibetan carpets, tables, boxes, shrines, statues and the other trappings of mortal divinity. He wore a red crown and looked at us imperiously as, taken aback by the formality, we offered our obeisances. 'Yes?' he demanded in a clear, high-pitched voice. 'I was wondering,' I said, shocked to be ordered around by a child, 'if you could tell us about your life. How do you spend your days?' He graciously told us, as if it were an exercise in the English present tense. 'I get up between six and seven. I eat breakfast. I meditate and study all morning. I take lunch at midday. I study English for one and a half hours after lunch. Then I study some more.' He stopped a second, looked around him, then said, with a dismissive wave of his hand, 'That's all.' Ling is one of a new breed of Tibetan lamas being groomed for the new era of worldwide Buddhism. Somebody is making sure he speaks the English necessary for communicating with the rest of the world, and, as can be expected of the Dalai Lama's tutor, he's doing well. We stood our ground a bit longer and learned he had spent time in the United States and that his English tutor was American. He can't remember his parents - hardly surprising as he was 'discovered' in the Tibetan children's village for orphans - and has no other children to play with. 'Don't you miss other children?' 'Oh, no,' he said, 'I enjoy my life.' We wanted photos so I set Iona alongside Ling on his carpeted throne. Ling let out a wild shriek of laughter as she clambered excitedly over him, reaching for the things on his table. As we were putting on our shoes outside, we heard an ear-splitting whoop of delight coming from inside the throne room. Later we discovered that as it was Sunday, his day of rest, we had interrupted his favourite occupation. Now he could get back to watching his videos. I WAS surprised to meet so many other people travelling with babies and young children. The other mothers said their children had greatly enriched their travels. One German woman was with her four-year-old daughter, whom she'd been bringing to India every year since she was a baby. 'Babies are easy. It's when they're two that the problems begin,' she said, repeating the truism I heard from mothers everywhere, travelling or not. 'When she was two she was drinking water from every tap and she caught giardia. It was a nightmare. Now, at four, she is easy again.' Babies are the most unprejudiced people in the world. They bring out the best in people, transcending racial and linguistic barriers. If you have a healthy outgoing baby and yearn for something more stimulating than toddler groups to get you out of the house, I recommend travelling unreservedly. Well, perhaps I will make two reservations: preferably take a husband (it is very tiring to go alone) and start off with a place you've been to before. It could be the trip of a lifetime.