There are few places on earth like India. Magical, mysterious and at times completely overwhelming, it can be one of the most challenging places to travel and can test even the most experienced of travellers. But it can also be one of the most rewarding countries to visit, a vibrant country that you would need a lifetime to truly explore properly. For families, India can be tricky to navigate but as long as you are prepared, you’ll find that that it’s an incredible place for kids. But where do you start? The country is full of incredible sights and scenery so it’s hard to narrow down which are the best places to visit in India. Instead, we’ve listed ten of our favourite activities to enjoy with kids in India, from riding the rails to discovering fairytale forts and magical cities.
1. Meet an Elephant
Elephants have long been revered in India, which is one of the reasons that the country’s elephants have survived in larger numbers than other elephants in Asia. Elephants can be found almost everywhere in India and it’s not unusual to see one simply lumbering down the street. Kids will love it. But if you want an up-close-and-personal elephant experience then you should head to Dera Amer, a wilderness camp home to well cared for elephants located outside the city of Jaipur in Rajasthan state. Here you can feed and bathe the elephants as well as paint one of the elephant’s trunks.
2. Sleep on a Traditional Houseboat
Mellow Kerala in southern India is a fantastic family holiday destination and an easy place to travel with kids. One of the highlights of the region is the ‘backwaters’, the long chain of lagoons and inland lakes that wind their way inland, parallel to the Arabian Sea. And the best way to experience the rural lifestyle of the backwaters is on a traditional Keralan houseboat. Glide along the waterways past villages, temples, churches, wading buffalos, people bathing and fishermen hauling in their catch. Kids can help the driver steer the ‘floating hotel’ and wave to the local children heading off to school.
3. Ride a Camel in the Desert
If you’re not seeing elephants, chances are that you’ve spotted a camel. But really the best way to experience this animal is on a camel safari into the desert. The Thar desert around Jaisalmer in northern Rajasthan is one of the most popular places to enjoy this Indian experience. Ride through the desert on camel back and camp out under the stars. It’s a wonderful way to escape the cities and witness rural desert life.
4. Fly Through the Air
Not only is Jodhpur, in the state of Rajasthan, one of our favourite cities but it’s also home to one of our favourite family activities, the Flying Fox zip wire. Six zip wires hang across walls and ramparts of the mighty Mehrangarh Fort and family members can whizz between them, just like Batman. The fort was actually used as a location in the Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises – see if you can spot it!
Children must be aged 10 or over and be at least 4’7” (1.4m) tall. Anyone wanting to participate must be no heavier than 115kg. Zipping takes 1 to 2.5 hours depending on the group size. Bring your own shoes with closed toes (unless you’re happy to borrow a smelly pair of trainers) and avoid wear dresses/skirts.
5. Dance the night away at the RIFF
Also in held in the Blue City of Jodhpur at the Mehrangarh Fort is the fantastic Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF). Held annually in October to coincide with the full moon, this wonderful festival was originally established to celebrate and preserve traditional Indian and Rajasthani music and art. Today the five-day program features musicians from all over India as well as overseas acts (expect anything from blue grass to flamenco) playing from dawn to dusk, and well into the night. Events are also organised specifically for children where they can play traditional Indian instruments or even learn to tie a turban.
6. Ski the Himalayas
The hill station of Gulmarg, in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, has gained a reputation as one of Asia’s top ski resorts, home to waist-deep powder snow, near-empty ski runs that go for miles and miles and some of the most affordable skiing in the world. During the winter months the area is covered in a thick duvet of snow that’s perfect for skiing, snowboarding, sledging and snowman building. This is a brilliant place for a family ski or snowboard holiday.
There are lots of things to do with kids. Beginner skiers there are a handful of nursery slopes and lessons available. For more advanced skiers and boarders, the options are endless. One of favourite things, however are the porters. Your kids can sledge down the hills to their hearts content and you know that there’s someone else on hand to pull them back up again!
7. Visit the Taj Mahal
You can’t go to India and not visit the Taj Mahal. India’s most famous site really is as beautiful as everyone says it is (we were prepared to be underwhelmed but were completely blown away). This monument to love was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife and took more than 1,000 elephants and 22,000 workers almost 22 years to build. Take a tonga ride (horse and cart) to visit at sunrise or sunset and watch how the marble changes colour with the shifting light. Nearby is Agra Fort, where Emperor Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his very own son. Remind your parents of this when they’re being oh so annoying! The Taj Mahal is closed to visitors every Friday.
8. Search for Tigers
There are 47 tiger reserves in India and Ranthambore National Park is one of the best places to spot one of the royal creatures in the wild. The forested reserve is home to leopards, wild boar, sambar, cheetal, sloth bears, langur monkeys and, of course, tigers. Morning and afternoon jeep safaris in the park and usually last 3 – 4 hours.
The reserve itself is quite beautiful, dotted with ancient temples, hunting pavilions and large reservoirs where these jungle cats like to hang out. For a bird’s eye view of the park and its surrounds climb up Ranthambore Fort that was built in 900AD. Rumour has it that some weaponry remains in the ancient barracks. We recommend staying at Khem Villas.
9. Discover Colour & Magic
Rajasthan is India at its fairy-tale best. This popular state is home to colourful cities and magical palaces and will captivate kids young and old. Jaipur, the “Pink City” is the romantic capital of Rajasthan. Founded in the 18th century by the Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the city is famous for its whimsical palaces, fanciful observatories and dusty pink buildings.
On the other edge of the state is Jodhpur, the “Blue City”, once a vital post on an ancient trade route. Today it’s famous for its labyrinthine lanes of cornflower blue havelis and the majestic Mehrangarh Fort. To the south of Rajasthan is Udaipur, the “City of Lakes” made famous by Roger Moore as James Bond in the movie Octopussy. Even if your kids are too young to remember this, they’ll be mesmerised by the floating palaces, lakeside forts and mountain castles.
10. Ride the Rails
Travelling by train is a quintessential Indian experience. Indian Railways is one of the largest rail networks in the world and carries nearly 20 million people every day. The whole family will enjoy a train journey, whether you ride the rails for a couple of hours or overnight. There are seven different classes of train travel, although not all classes are available on every train. They range from 1AC (1st class air-conditioned) at the top to an unreserved seat in 2nd class at the bottom. Children up to the age of 4 travel free, children aged 5 to 11 pay half fare and children aged 12 and over pay full fare.
The excellent website www.seat61.com is a great place to go for more information on train travel in India.
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