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Time: GMT+5.5

Language: Hindi
Currency: Indian Rupee
Dialling code: +91
Tourist information: incredibleindia.org

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Family Holidays in India

A cow wandering amongst a traffic jam; a fresh dollop of elephant poo in the road; a bullock hauling a cart; an exhilarating ride in a cycle rickshaw; people staring; people spitting… Children have an insatiable curiosity, and everything about India’s chaotic street life will hold them rapt. And that’s before they’ve seen the country’s romantic palaces, explored its rugged deserts or encountered its Jungle Book wildlife. Of course, India can also be hot, dusty and crowded. And you might find that your kids refuse to eat anything except boiled rice and chapattis. But with careful planning, an adventurous spirit and the odd day at the pool or beach, a family trip to India can be incredibly rewarding.

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DELHI

Venturing with kids into the hurly burly of Delhi may fill you with trepidation, but take a deep breath, hail an auto rickshaw or taxi and get stuck in. New Delhi has tree-lined avenues, swanky embassies and imposing monuments like India Gate, while Old Delhi has the labyrinthine bazaar of Chandni Chowk where you can buy anything from chess sets and silver jewellery to handmade paper and toy rickshaws. You can explore a mighty relic of the Mughal Empire at the Red Fort, while the nearby Jama Masjid (or Friday Mosque) offers eye-popping views of Old Delhi from its soaring minarets. The Rail Transport Museum (Chanakyapuri) has mighty steam engines like the 1855 Fairy Queen, plush saloon carriages used by royalty and even the skull of an elephant that charged a mail train in 1894 and lost. Shankar’s International Dolls Museum (Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg) showcases 6000 costumed dolls from over 85 countries, while the National Children’s Museum (Kotla Road) has craft workshops. If your kids need some space to burn off energy, take them to the park next to India Gate or to the stone observatory of Jantar Mantar which has several intriguing stairways to explore.

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AGRA

A symbol of undying love crafted in white marble, Agra’s Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1641 by grieving Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, in memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Adults and children alike cannot fail to be overwhelmed by the exquisite beauty of this lavish mausoleum, which took 20,000 labourers 22 years to complete. Be sure to show your kids the intricate detail in the walls, which are inlaid with malachite, turquoise, lapis lazuli, coral, jasper and other precious stones. Just 40km from Agra lies another Mughal masterpiece – Fatehpur Sikri, an ancient royal city guarded by massive gates. Around 15km further to the west is Bharatpur, the eastern gateway town to Rajasthan, where you’ll find Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary. A former royal hunting reserve, this small park is now a haven for 300 species of birds, including migratory Siberian cranes (September to February) and nesting populations of painted storks, herons and pelicans (July and August).

MUMBAI

 

There’s no shortage of important buildings and landmarks in Mumbai, the Gateway of India being a prime example. However, you may well find your kids are more fascinated by the general swirl of life going on around them. Give them time to soak it all up by hopping on a red double-decker bus or taking a boat trip in the harbour. For broader-minded children, Reality Tours and Travel takes guided groups into Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, for an insight into the area’s enterprising industries, such as leather tanning and plastic recycling. Mumbai’s museums include Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghralaya (also known as the Prince of Wales Museum) which houses thousands of ancient artefacts and an interesting natural history section. Interactive exhibits can be found at Nehru Science Centre. When it all gets too much, seek refuge in the Horniman Circle Garden and along the nature trails of Maharashtra Nature Park. Located opposite the Hanging Gardens, Kamal Nehru Park has shady gardens, a giant shoe-shaped slide and views of Marine Drive. Popular at weekends with locals and tourists, Juhu Beach has fairground rides, snack vendors and pony rides, while the combined theme parks of EsselWorld and Water Kingdom, reached via a short ferry ride, boast around 100 ways (dry or wet) to get your heart thumping.

GOA & KERALA

An almost continuous 130-km swathe of palm-fringed beaches, Goa’s coastline has obvious family appeal. There are the inevitable overdeveloped spots, just as there are peaceful wildlife sanctuaries and authentic temples to be explored inland. Accommodation ranges from simple budget hotels to five-star resorts. Some of the most popular beaches include Calangute (for watersports), Anjuna (for its party atmosphere and flea market), Morjim (a turtle nesting site) and Colva (Goa’s longest beach).

Like Goa, the sandy beaches of Kerala’s Malabar Coast (keralatourism.org) have several resorts offering family accommodation. But it’s what lies behind the palm-fringed shore that will really captivate your children. The Kerala Backwaters, a maze of canals and rivers, are easily explored on a houseboat. These converted rice barges offer both a gentle pace of travel and a superb vantage point from which to watch rural life glide by. Other highlights in the region include the fishing boats and Portuguese fort at Cochin, walking trails in the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, the tame elephants at Kodanad and the wild elephants at Periya National Park in the cool Cardamom Hills – the perfect place to discover how India’s spices are grown.

INDIA OVERLAND

Good news for die-hard overlanders: just because you’ve now got kids doesn’t mean you have to give up all those epic road journeys in the back of a big truck. One of the latest additions to its family portfolio, Dragoman Overland offers an 11-day circuit of northern India, including the Taj Mahal, camel riding in Shekhavati and tiger spotting in Ranthambore. To help smooth the way you’ll stay in small hotels, some with swimming pools.

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Family travel in India - first impressions

Even as a grown-up backpacker you can’t help arriving at Delhi
airport without a certain amount of trepidation – make that a big,
paranoid dollop of trepidation and antibacterial handwash if
you’re arriving with children. We’d briefed nine-year-old Joe
and Ellie that it was going to be hot, chaotic, noisy, sometimes
whiffy and even a bit scary.

We lingered in the relative calm of the arrivals hall before
taking a deep breath and taking a taxi to the railway station.
As anyone who’s been to India will know, this is like being
fired into a giant pinball machine, ricocheting along streets
choked with tuk-tuks, garishly painted trucks and lopsided buses; women in
dazzling saris sitting side-saddle on scooters as they flit through the mayhem; the whole scene thick
with exhaust fumes and throbbing with horn blasts. It was the first of many occasions during the trip when I spent as much time checking the reactions on my children’s faces as staring at the world outside. Strangely, though, their initiation into Indian streetlife caused barely a ripple of culture shock. In fact, they spent most of the taxi ride wide-eyed and giggling. Perhaps it was all too familiar – a real-life version of Super Mario Karts…

Stepping out into the human traffic at New Delhi Railway Station, however, was an altogether different matter. Indian life pulses through this place like a fizzy drink bursting with e-numbers, pumping you with stimulants, stretching your senses to breaking point. Sally, my wife, and I took the twins’ hands in vice-like grips and attempted to keep pace with the porters on whose heads our luggage bobbed like flotsam carried away on a tide of commuters. Weaving through the crowds, vendors pedalled everything from fruit to padlocks and chains. The 40-degree heat, the stench of excrement rising from between the tracks, the babble of announcements from the tannoy system, diesel trains hauling endless lines of carriages and stirring the platforms into frenzied activity, as if someone had prodded an ant nest… what were we thinking, bringing our children here? Was it madness to have started our trip like this? Should we have stuck to an organised tour, handheld by a guide?

But the bubble of bewilderment soon passed. The porters made sure we reached the right platform (with our bags). They squidged Joe’s chin (something he’d get used to in the weeks ahead) and, minutes later, an Indian family wandered over to say hello and check that we were OK. That’s the beauty of travelling with kids in India – it brings out the very best of local hospitality, no matter how manic the situation you find yourself in.

India-Elephant

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