DISCOVER INCREDIBLE INDIA
One family went to India and found that beyond the crowds and the culture shock was a place of incredible beauty and extraordinary experiences.
WORDS Julie Smith
India isn’t the destination most people think of for the ideal family holiday. When we told friends we were taking our kids who are nine, 12 and 13, we were frequently met with a resounding, “Really!?” But India is the perfect adventure. It offers all the excitement, intrigue, exploration and mind extension to keep kids and parents engaged.
There is an idea that India is somehow unsuitable for families, but our motivation for going to India came from a desire to show our kids that life can deliver different opportunities. What we found was incredible, because India is an amazing place with beautiful palaces, colourful clothes and stunning scenery.
We spent months in advance planning our trip with our fantastic Virtuoso travel advisor who, along with Virtuoso partner Amber Tours in Delhi, took on all the hard work. Our job was to provide directions on where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see, but we never had to worry about booking hotels, cars, drivers, flights, guides or train tickets.
Once on the ground, Amber Tours delivered a flawless experience, from arrival to departure gate, with someone on hand to welcome, guide, manage and pay for porters and rickshaws, check us into hotels, sort out delayed flights, advise us on where to eat, where to buy crafts, the scams to avoid, purchase tickets at monuments and even how to pray in temples. At all times we felt like there was someone to help if we needed.
We really wanted to experience the full range of India, from the big cities, to the small rural villages, the wonderlands of the north and everything in between. Our three-week adventure took us from Mumbai to Bangalore in the south, then to the beautiful cities of Rajasthan, dropping in on the Taj Mahal and ending in Delhi.
Udaipur was an unforgettable place. This ‘Venice of India’ was a labyrinth of streets and our haveli rooms hung over Lake Pichola, looking across to the magical Taj Lake Palace hotel. This 17th-century palace offers a unique vantage point from its position in the middle of the lake and delivers impeccable service, exquisite detail (right down to the Versace side plates) and welcomes children.
“We really wanted to experience the full range of India, from the big cities, to the small rural villages, the wonderlands of the north and everything in between.”
Temple, fort or palace?
Rajasthan has a seemingly endless number of forts, palaces and temples to explore but there are a few that can’t be missed. The 15th-century Amber Fort in Jaipur offers amazing views and the opportunity to explore the daily life of the internal palace, once the summer residence of the royal family. One of the finest temples in Rajasthan is Ranakpur’s Jain Temple with more than 1400 marble pillars. It is definitely worth stopping and spending time gently strolling around its extraordinary interior.
Give kids time to unwind
We dipped in and out of five-star hotels which gave us the opportunity to stay in the middle of old cities – like in Jodphur – and enjoy some of the beautifully restored and converted royal lodges like Rawla Narlai and Royal Heritage Haveli in Jaipur.
Other hotels we stayed at, like JW Marriott Hotel Bengalaru and The LaLiT New Delhi, offered all you would expect from five-star hotels and gave the kids a chance to unwind by the pool, enjoy room service and cable TV and generally disconnect from the hectic pace of the outside world.
Take a train
Most of our trip was done in a small bus with our own private driver and guide, which meant we avoided much of the hustle of day-to-day India. We made an effort to get out of our comfort zone, however, by taking an overnight train trip. The air-conditioned firstclass sleeper car sounds upmarket, but it’s pretty basic and gives you the opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life who are keen to have a chat, offer you a snack and tell you about India. While the bathroom situation is not for the faint hearted, our kids loved watching the world go by, India style.
Every Indian wants to roll out the welcome mat
Indians are extremely willing to open their home to a visitor. From the dust floor, where a cow shared a corner of the room in a village house, to Jodhpur’s blue city where we watched the sun set over Mehrangarh Fort from our host’s rooftop, to the generosity of a family in Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums, we were amazed by Indian hospitality.
Our walking tour of Dharavi was a real highlight revealing its ingenuity, productivity and human spirit. Reality Tours employs residents as tour guides and puts 80 per cent of its profits back into community programs.
India is a wonderful place steeped in history, full of friendly and welcoming faces, and offers a fantastic holiday for those looking to be immersed in a culture. This is a destination that delivers a front-row seat on a unique adventure.
This article appeared in volume 9 of Five Star Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.