Places to visit in India
Wherever you wish to travel in India, we generally advise that you combine the well known cities or sights with some more rural towns that are difficult to find in guidebooks, as it is often the latter that travellers enjoy most. We will always try to keep driving to a minimum though distances in India are substantial and there will always be some days with longer drives. There are a huge number of regions and places to visit in India and it’s no surprise that many visitors choose to return for a second and third time.
Welcome to India! Delhi is most people’s introduction to this vividly memorable country and the journey from the airport to your hotel is a great first point of contact. The children will be mesmerised by the somewhat crazed traffic system. There are cows on the highway, tuk tuks nipping between slow-moving cars stuck in an endless jam and a constant entertaining panorama of street life.
We will usually include a full day guided tour of Delhi to acclimatise you. Not quite planes, trains and automobiles but if you take the subway to Old Delhi and climb on board a rickshaw you will be immediately immersed into the colour and mayhem of the old city. Your children will be agog at it all as you visit the majestic Red Fort, the exquisite 17th century Jama Masjid Mosque and the lively markets of Chandni Chowk.
For a welcome contrast, enter the calm and serenity of New Delhi with its impressive colonial buildings and wide tree-lined streets. You will visit the Qutab Minar and Humayun’s Tomb before collapsing back at your hotel for a much needed chai tea. Who knows, perhaps even the children will enjoy this delicious sweet milky drink…
The most famous of the Rajasthani cities, Jaipur is known as the Pink City. It is home to the imposing City Palace, the main residence of the former royal family, and the intricate ‘Palace of Winds’. We find the best way for families to explore is on an early morning cycling tour. Starting at dawn you avoid the worst of the traffic and heat and this is the ideal time to watch the city come alive. Children run errands in the street and market stalls are getting set up for the day.
Nearby, the magnificent Amber Fort sits high on a bluff with wonderful views over the hills around. The fort is huge and beautifully decorated with lots of nooks and crannies that the children will be able to explore. It is very popular with local families so you will probably receive lots of requests to have your pictures taken. This makes for an interesting reverse of the normal tourist experience! As sightseeing in India can take its toll on all ages, for a contrast we can also offer an excursion to Elefantastic, a wonderful centre where you can feed, wash and even paint your very own elephant.
Rajasthan – Forts and Villages
The region of Rajasthan is full of imposing forts, desert towns and tiny rural villages where the way of life remains much as it was centuries ago. Bullocks carts lumber down the main highways. Statuesque Indian ladies in vibrant saris and laden with heavy wood piles walk along the roadside. Caravans of camels head out into the desert. Fairy-tale palaces (now often offering luxurious accommodation) loom over simple settlements. Heavily turbaned Sikhs with magnificent moustaches sit smoking hookah pipes. This all creates the most photogenic of regions.
The ‘White City’ of Udaipur is perhaps Rajasthan’s most picturesque city with its idyllic Lake Palace Hotel (made famous in the James Bond film ‘Octopussy’), sitting in the middle of Lake Pichola. Children will love the many rooftop cafes found here and its narrow winding alleys lend it an almost medieval charm. The vast City Palace is fantastically impressive and children will enjoy following their noses through the labyrinth of tiny corridors leading to terraces, hanging gardens and courtyards.
Jaisalmer looms out of the Thar Desert like a mirage. The ‘Golden City’ is aptly named, seemingly in a constant battle with the encroaching sand. There is a true frontier feel here with the massive fort enclosing a maze of narrow alleyways and delicately carved havelis (merchant houses). From here a camel safari beckons, riding out to a desert camp, watching the stars around the campfire – the peace found here is almost ‘deafening’ compared to the manic streetlife of the cities.
Jodhpur is known as the ‘Blue City’ and as well as being the location for the towering Meherangarh Fort, is also a fabulous place to start children off learning to barter. Its streets are packed full of fabulous souvenir shops so haggle away!
Combining a variety of popular cities, traditional villages, fascinating temples and remote desert camps will allow you to fully appreciate this most enigmatic of regions.
Agra is of course home to the one of the world’s most beautiful buildings, the Taj Mahal. This is a mausoleum built by the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife. It is magical to see this monument at dawn when it is at its quietest and most serene – and temperatures are at their coolest. We find the most successful way for children to get the most from their visit here is to rent an audio tour to bring the heart-breaking story of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal to life.
In addition to the Taj, Agra is also home to the Agra Fort, a masterpiece of design and construction. The fort’s colossal walls enclose a maze of buildings that form a small ‘city within a city’. Alternatively, if your family is a little ‘monument-weary’, we can arrange for you to visit a nearby sanctuary which houses rescued dancing bears. Or perhaps enjoy a cookery lesson at your hotel and learn how to tantalise the taste buds with a freshly prepared chicken curry.
Mumbai is the financial, commercial and industrial capital of India as well as being the centre of fashion and film making. The city hums with activity and its 15 million residents seem to be constantly on the move. Major sites include the famous archway, the ‘Gateway of India’, the Prince of Wales Museum and the Hanging Gardens in the Malabar Hills which offer a panoramic view of the city. Alternatively, both parents and children alike will find the chaos of the city’s main railway station fascinating – whether you are embarking on a legendary train journey or merely taking a peek at the organised pandemonium which takes places here through both day and night.
Kanha National Park is considered to be one of the best places in the world to see tigers and is also one of the most beautiful parks in India. It can be combined with a trip to the better known Bandhavgarh Park (see below) to increase your chances of spotting as much wildlife as possible.
Aside from a healthy tiger population there is also the chance to see leopard, Indian bison, sambhar, sloth bear, blackbuck and wild dogs. Kanha also has a rich variety of bird life with more than 230 species recorded.
Along with Kanha, this park is one of the best places in India to spot a tiger. It is also home to a wide range of other game such as nilgai, jungle cat, wild boar, hyena and many species of birdlife. It is set in extremely rugged terrain with many hills and there are interesting cave shrines scattered around the park. You can also visit the nearby majestic Bandhavgarh Fort. A typical safari day will consist of an early morning wake up call (if you have not already been woken by calls from the local wildlife!) followed by a morning and afternoon jeep safari, allowing for a rest in the heat of the midday sun.
Ranthambore is the best known of India’s parks possibly due to its relative proximity to Delhi and the popular Rajasthani cities. Sightings of tigers may be rare but there are also elephant, leopard, nilgai, wild boar, hyena, bear and many different types of deer. These will help maintain children’s excitement if tigers prove elusive. It is also home to the magnificent old Ranthambore Fort, now populated only by monkeys. The fort is situated on a rocky outcrop with breath-taking views over the forest and national park below. It is a fabulous place for the children to climb at will and explore endless hidden corridors and towers.
Varanasi is a magical riot of colour, noise and spirituality. It is the perfect place to get lost in the maze of alleyways, dodging the steam from the ubiquitous street stalls cooking delicious puris and weaving past shops packed full of a kaleidoscope of silk saris. Cajole the children out of bed early in the morning and make your way to the long string of bathing ghats – or steps- that line the riverfront.
It is here that pilgrims make their sin-cleansing dip in the holy river and where bodies are cremated. This will no doubt produce a mixture of fascination and horror from your children but is an important part of Indian life. A boat ride along the Ganges as the sun rises is a beautiful way to begin the day – and a useful momentary escape from the frenetic pace of life on the streets.
Kerala and the South
Kerala is a narrow strip of land fringed by beautiful white sand beaches on its western side, lush verdant hills along its eastern border and a labyrinthine network of tiny canals criss-crossing the green interior. These backwaters can be explored on board a beautifully restored rice-barge. Alternatively you can stay with local families in traditional villages set right on the river-bank, a fascinating experience for children. Elsewhere the hills are home to tea, coffee and spice plantations as well as small wildlife sanctuaries.
Tamil Nadu, the adjacent state, is also worth visiting. It is home to Srirangam, probably the largest Hindu temple complex in the world, as well as the quaint former French colony of Pondicherry.
The children will particularly enjoy being able to end the trip with a stay on one of the many beaches, fringed by coconut palms and home to a multitude of small boutique resorts.
Goa and the beaches
Goa is a world apart from the rest of India with a strong Portuguese heritage and a liberal attitude. The beaches here are wonderfully picturesque with a backdrop of swaying coconut palms and an inspired local law that, along most of the coast, prohibits the construction of any building taller than a palm tree!
The town of Old Goa is home to a number of beautiful old colonial-era churches. Also worth a visit is the state capital Panjim. This is packed with traditional Goan houses with overhanging balconies and red-tiled roofs, white-washed churches and small alleyways with interesting handicraft shops.
Many families add a few days in Goa at the end of a trip to India for some rest and relaxation away from the mayhem of the rest of the country.
Hill-stations of the Himalayas
The Himalayas stretch across the northern borders of India, forming a majestic backdrop to colonial British hill-stations and ancient Buddhist kingdoms. There is the option to go mountain biking or white water rafting as well as numerous hiking opportunities. These vary in length from easy day walks to longer treks through remote mountain valleys that will delight adventurous teenagers.
The scenery varies widely, ranging from spectacular but barren high-altitude desert in Ladakh, across lushly forested slopes and tea plantations in Himachal Pradesh, to the magnificent snow capped mountains around Kanchenjunga in the distant east. There are charming Raj era towns, traditional wooden villages and wind-swept Buddhist temples.
Temples and landscapes of Central India
One of India’s less visited areas, Central India features a spectacular array of temples, forts and palaces. Khajuraho is home to a complex of intricately carved temples displaying scenes from the Kama Sutra with erotic abandon (which may cause blushes with teenagers) whilst further south, the astonishing carvings in the caves at Ajanta and Ellora are breath-taking.
This area also boasts some of India’s finest game reserves, with wonderful opportunities for children to brush up on their wildlife spotting skills in search of tigers, leopard and a variety of other animals. There are also wonderful deserted hill-top forts and off the beaten track medieval villages.
The remote frontier - Assam and beyond
Adventurous families looking for something different might like to explore this remote area of North Eastern India, miles off the beaten track and utterly unique. There are tribal villages belonging to the Konyak people, who traditionally practiced headhunting and whose men sport elaborate tattoos. There are also peaceful national parks that are home to wild elephants, tigers and three quarters of the world’s population of one horned rhinoceros, lush tea plantations and the majestic Brahmaputra river.
Call us and we will be happy to provide you with a free-of-charge no obligation itinerary and quotation designed for you.
India in pictures
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