Following in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace
15 June 2023
Open your family’s eyes to all the colour and wonder of India, one of the most exciting destinations out there. Fire your children’s imaginations by going in search of tigers, surf breaks or ancient palaces. Take them to a traditional festival for an unforgettable encounter with Indian exuberance. Show them India’s mind blowing diversity of population, landscape and culture. There aren’t many destinations that are so consistently enthralling for inquisitive youngsters, and you can guarantee that a trip to India will open your child’s mind and expand their understanding of the world.
Children are universally doted on in India, adding plenty of delightful interactions to your experience. Obviously travelling with children anywhere unfamiliar presents its own particular challenges, and India is no different. It pays to plan ahead a little and be prepared, but with the help of our on-the-ground experts, a trip to India with children in tow does not have to be difficult. It’s a huge country, with a correspondingly vast array of attractions to consider, which is why we’ve put together this guide to taking a family holiday in India.
If you are looking for a nation filled to the brim with awe inspiring experiences and sensory thrills, then look no further. Yes, the barrage of sights, sounds and smells can be a little overwhelming at times, but that is all part of India’s appeal. Young minds are primed for learning, and when you stretch your children’s perception of the world and it’s endless variety, you are preparing them to be open and accepting of difference. Travel is hugely educational and children can really benefit from being immersed in cultures that contrast their own.
What’s more, India’s long history, impressive architecture, rich culture and natural bounty are all there waiting for you to learn about and discover as a family. It would be impossible to return from India without some incredible memories and a richer, more rounded view of the world and all its diversity.
1. Take your time and don’t try to cram too much into your trip. A long flight wears everyone out, and even if your ultimate destination isn’t your arrival city it’s worth taking a couple of days to acclimatise and get over the jet lag before you move on.
2. Be prepared for some time spent on the road – even if you decide to focus on a single area, you will still have some miles to cover. Invest in a few distractions to keep little people entertained, from mobile devices packed full of movies, to travel games and books. Consider making some journeys by train or tuk tuk to mix it up and sample some iconic Indian experiences. Internal flights can work out to be good value as children’s tickets tend to be 50% of the adult fare.
3. Think hygiene. There are different germs in different parts of the world, and trying to protect your family from them will be a big priority. Bring as much hand sanitiser as you can carry, as well as antiseptic wipes and rehydration salts in case one of you gets an upset stomach.
4. Get ready for the sun. Most of us enjoy sunshine on holiday, but remember that sun protection is not as widely used in India so can be harder to find and quite expensive. Pack high factor sunscreen, UV block clothing for the youngsters, and sun hats. Allow time in your itinerary to rest out of the sun during the hottest part of the day.
5. Choose quality accommodation, where air con, good standards of cleanliness and comfort will make life a lot easier and more relaxing. Good hotels get booked up early, so plan as far in advance as you can to ensure you get your first choice.
6. Pack carefully for your children. Think through anything they might need that could be hard to track down once you’re in India. Familiar over the counter medications you know are effective, for example, might not be easily available. Formula milk is available but might not be the brand your child is used to.
7. Take care eating out. Avoiding tap water and anything that has come into contact with it is the priority. If in doubt, look for restaurants which are busy with locals and tourists and this should give you a good indication that dishes are not going to have repercussions. If your kids can’t manage spicier dishes, many restaurants are happy to make something plain instead.
8. If your children are young enough to need a buggy or pushchair, think creatively. Pavements are not the norm in India, and even where they are, in places they are often crowded and rutted, making buggies more hassle than they’re worth. Consider leaving it at home and bringing a carrier instead. The added bonus is that your child will have a great viewpoint over the crowds.
9. Be prepared to cause a stir! Small children will bring lots of attention wherever you go, and though it’s all coming from a place of goodwill, when you are hot, tired, harassed or in a hurry it can be hard work trying to fend off the attention without causing offence. Sometimes a firm no along with a polite smile is the only way to rebuff requests for photos of your kids. Or you can obligingly strike a pose and say cheese!
There’s enough to see in India to keep you busy for a lifetime, however some of the sights are more child friendly than others. Here’s an introduction to the best places to head for with the kids in tow.
Spot a tiger
More than half of the global tiger population is in India and recent decades have seen some great successes with tiger protection globally. India has seen really encouraging improvements in tiger populations since they introduced new conservation measures in 2010, so your chances of spotting one are ever increasing. Most of the 47 tiger reserves in India offer some kind of safari tours – usually in the morning or early evening – designed to showcase the best of the local wildlife and hopefully deliver the ultimate thrill – spotting a tiger. Bandhavgarh National Park is well organised for game drives and offers a good chance of a sighting, plus it has the added advantage of a wealth of other species, including 22 other mammals and 250 species of birds. Kanha National Park was the setting for Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, and it is another great area to look for tigers, boasting a lovely landscape of hills, forests and lots of streams and wetlands.
Take to the water
The word ‘mellow’ could have been coined for the Keralan backwaters. A sprawling network of canals, lagoons, rivers and waterways runs just inland from the Arabian Sea coast, connecting rural communities whose livelihoods depend on these tranquil backwaters. Take a cruise on a traditional Keralan ‘kettuvallam’ or houseboat, from the deck of which you and your children can enjoy observing the watery world glide by. Watch fishermen bringing in their catch, women washing their laundry at the water’s edge, boats piled with produce puttering past on their way to market, or kids taking the waterbus to school. It’s as fascinating as it is charming, and it’s a leisurely way to appreciate this lovely corner of India. It is also, of course, the perfect opportunity for lots of memorable games of I Spy!
Haggle at the market
Most kids love the opportunity to buy a few souvenirs and there are certainly plenty of opportunities to shop in India. The bazaars in Old Delhi are the perfect place to gaze at the heaped spices, the dazzling sari fabric and the bejewelled accessories such as scarves, belts and slippers. Helping your children to choose a quality souvenir and then to agree a price that suits vendor and customer is a good introduction to negotiation, which is a useful skill for anyone to learn. Remind them too that haggling is not about getting the lowest price possible, but a fair price which allows the merchant to take his profit. Haggling should be fun and productive, and it’s a good way for kids to learn the value of a local currency.
Pack your bat
India lives and breathes cricket. If your children need a good run about in order to keep them calm, happy and tired enough to sleep through until a decent hour, you could do worse than pop a child’s cricket bat in your hold luggage. Everywhere you go in India, you’ll see kids – and adults – setting up impromptu games wherever there’s enough space. Approach a game with bat in hand and a smile, and your children will likely be welcomed into the match with enthusiasm. It’s a fun way to get involved in real daily life of Indian children, and it’s a great leveller. Seeing how passionate most Indians are about cricket is a great cultural insight, too as it’s a genuine national obsession which is shared by virtually the whole population.
Don’t miss the Taj Mahal
It may not be your children’s idea of a great day out, but imagine them returning to school and doing a ‘show and tell’ on their trip to India without having seen the Taj Mahal. If you are anywhere in the vicinity, make the effort to get there. Many visitors go simply to tick it off their list, with low expectations and no plans to stay very long, but it is such a bewitching sight, especially in the low light early or late in the day, that it often ends up as a highlight of any trip. This is a day to let the kids have a go at photography, as it’s an inspiring place for budding artists to capture some wonderful frames when the light is changing. If the grown ups in the group are planning to spend a lot of time basking in the Taj Mahal’s beauty, pack some card games or similar to keep the younger contingent out of mischief once they have seen enough.
India’s culture is so vibrant, intense and varied that you don’t have to make much of an effort to expose your children to it. Just being there, experiencing the crowds, the temples, the street life and the hectic festivals is a fairly full immersion into the rich culture of India. But if you are looking for some specific experiences that will bring India’s culture to life for your children, there are plenty of options. Rajasthan is a great starting point for a cultural trip, and as it’s home to the Golden Triangle it’s well set up for visitors, which should make your experience smoother. Child friendly highlights include the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur, where fairytale pink palaces embody Indian grandeur; the ruined city of Fatehpur Sikri, a UNESCO listed ghost town of intricate mosques and monuments which has lain abandoned for 400 years; the fabled blue city of Jodhpur and the lakeside beauty of Udaipur. Pace yourselves as sightseeing can be tiring and gets stressful if young travellers run out of energy, but remember that all these cities have beauty and wonder at every corner, and even if your children are more interested by a passing camel cart than the murals adorning the historic monuments, it’s all part of the thrill and intrigue of India.
Make it happen
India is an amazing adventure with children, and with the expert help of our friendly India specialists, the nuts and bolts of your trip will be taken care of, leaving you and your children to absorb all you see. To create a bespoke itinerary for your family, send a few details over to our local India tour operators today. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.