50 best things to do in India with your kids | Condé Nast Traveller IndiaJune 8, 2021
Travelling with kids may seem daunting. But India has a lot to offer when it comes to kid-friendly travel destinations. From picnics and pottery to forests and fireflies, these experiences will bring memories that last a lifetime for you and your little ones.
50 essential India experiences with kids
MAKE CHEESE ON A FARM IN THE HILLS, TAMIL NADU
At a farm stay, the kids can get to see firsthand how food is grown and animals are reared, and the hard work and passion it takes to keep a farm up and running. Eat, make and talk all things cheese at Acres Wild, a 22-acre, family-run, organic cheese-making farm in Coonoor, in the Nilgiris. Immerse in the eco-friendly, sustainable way of life at this property. About six hours away lies Cinnabar, a farm stay in the Palani hills that encourages nurturing your relationship with the land and the food it gives you. Guests can learn bread-making and cheese-making and take part in harvesting from the heirloom vegetable garden.
BE A CULTURE VULTURE IN CHETTINAD, TAMIL NADU
Chettinad is one of India’s most culturally rich regions. Visit the village of Athangudi, known for its hand-painted tiles. Children enjoy making patterns with freshly made colours on these tiles. Drive a half-hour to reach the village of Karaikudi, famous for its resplendent mansions built by affluent traders, and its potters who delight in showing you a trick or two at the wheel. The highlight has to be the large and charming terracotta horses, painted in bright colours, and placed as votive offerings at Ayyanar temples by devotees seeking boons and
protection. These Ayyanar temples can be found in the forests a little outside the villages; look out for the one closest to Karaikudi. —Priti Mahajan
PICNIC UNDER THE LOFTY TREES OF CUBBON PARK, BENGALURU
Roll out a mat, lay out the picnic basket and get cosy in the company of the magnificent trees of Cubbon Park. The 300-acre park, home to over 6,000 trees and plants, is a precious city haven. Spending time outdoors is always a winning idea: read a book, paint, throw a ball or climb trees. Spot flaming gulmohars, purple jacarandas and pink tabebuia trees. See how many of the statues of famous personalities you can recognise. There are many heritage and botanical walks to get to know this century-old urban sanctuary.
MAKE POTTERY IN ANDRETTA, HIMACHAL PRADESH
Andretta is the perfect setting to tap into your creativity. It is an artist’s colony set in the midst of quaint stone houses, fruit trees, gushing streams and the snow-clad Dhauladhar range. Mansimran Singh’s excellent Andretta Pottery teaches short and long-term courses; it is worth stopping by even if you just have the day. Between pottery classes, go trekking and birdwatching, visit the home of Irish theatre practitioner Norah Richards who made Andretta an artists’ hub, and chat up friendly village folk. Pick up the exquisite clayware, and also Himachali shawls and other handicrafts. For the adventurous, there’s paragliding at Bir Billing: the joy of soaring free is unforgettable.
GET BOWLED OVER BY HAMPI, KARNATAKA
Gigantic rocks dot the landscape of Hampi as far as the eye can see. In-between them stand ancient temples, some of which are still intact despite the onslaught of nature. Coax the kids out of bed early, climb to the top of Anjanadri Hill, and watch the sunrise. If mornings don’t work for you, head to Matanga Hill to catch the sunset. With older kids, rent bicycles to ride around the ruins. Stories rooted in the Ramayana and scores of monkeys will keep the kids engaged. Don’t miss the chance to spin across the gently flowing Tungabhadra river on a coracle.
VISIT THE TOY FACTORIES OF CHANNAPATNA, KARNATAKA
A nondescript town lying between Bengaluru and Mysuru, Channapatna is totally worth a detour. Its toy-making craft is protected by the World Trade Organisation’s Geographical Indication tag. Visit a factory to watch artisans create magic with wood, chiselling, sanding and lacquering handcrafted toys in bright colours and with an impeccable finish. The toys are non-toxic and eco-friendly and are both educational and fun. From dolls and cooking sets to abacus sets, spinning tops and trains, the kids will be spoilt for choice. Be prepared for excess baggage!
CLIMB LIVING ROOT BRIDGES IN MEGHALAYA
The Khasi and Jaintia tribes have perfected the art of growing the roots of the ficus elastica, or rubber tree, into sturdy bridges over gushing rivers. These bioengineering marvels take 20 years to build and last over 500 years. Visit the single-decker root bridge near Mawlynnong, known as Asia’s cleanest village, a three-hour drive from Shillong. Take older kids on treks to the double-decker root bridges of Sohra, two-and-a-half hours away from Shillong. Drive an hour out from Shillong to Mawphlang, for a guided tour of its sacred forest. Kids will get to see the reverence that tribal communities have for nature, hear legends and observe traditional ways.
PEEK AT THE MANY TREASURES OF SALAR JUNG MUSEUM, HYDERABAD
Salar Jung Museum, India’s third-largest museum, has 38 galleries, one of which is dedicated to children. There’s a train from the early 20th-century that still runs, toy armies and beautiful objects in porcelain and jade. The museum’s collections were acquired by Nawab Salar Jung III and date from the 2nd century BC. There’s plenty to marvel at: samurai warriors cast in bronze, astronomical equipment, Persian carpets, manuscripts signed by Emperor Akbar. The most popular artefacts include a 200-year-old musical clock and the exquisitely carved Veiled Rebecca sculpture by GB Benzoni.
BASK IN THE GRANDEUR OF THE TAJ MAHAL, AGRA
Some kids might be fascinated by the scale of the Taj Mahal. A few might be taken by its history and tales of how it was built. And yet others, by the colours of the flowers that are painstakingly carved into the smooth white marble. A visit to the Taj is sure to leave an everlasting impact. Set in verdant gardens with plenty of fountains and ample space to wander and dream, the monument is a joy to explore with children. Take time out to visit the city’s craftsmen who create artefacts using the same techniques employed at the Taj. Afterwards, head to the nearby Agra Fort, a sprawling red sandstone structure, to find out more about Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the mastermind behind the Taj.
DANCE WITH A MILLION FIREFLIES IN PURUSHWADI, MAHARASHTRA
Experiencing magic comes easy in Purushwadi, a tribal village close to Nashik. In the last couple of weeks preceding the monsoons, a million fireflies put on a show like none other, spinning like flecks of gold to attract partners. Grassroutes, an organisation that promotes rural tourism, conducts trips to enjoy the spectacle and experience a slice of village life. Take the kids for a swim in the river. Eat mangoes and jamuns fresh from the trees. Help in the fields as villagers go about their day and camp out under a star-studded sky. There’s lots to do around: visit Bhandardara’s Wilson Dam and trek to Ratangad Fort and up the state’s highest peak, Kalsubai.
SOAK IN THE GOLDEN MAGIC OF THE DESERT IN JAISALMER, RAJASTHAN
The 800-year-old Jaisalmer Fort is a marvel to experience: with about 3,000 people still residing within its walls, it is one of the few living forts in the world. Narrow winding alleys, streams of cattle and people, lively restaurants and shops make for a heady experience. Take a guided tour for a more intimate understanding of the sandstone citadel and its people, and then head out into the quiet of the Thar Desert on the back of a camel. Let the kids roll and slide down the undulating sand dunes as local musicians and dancers put on a spectacular show closer to sunset. To linger longer, camp out the night under the starry skies. The adventurous might like to visit the abandoned village of Kuldhara that’s said to be haunted.
EXPLORE THE BORRA CAVES IN ARAKU VALLEY, ANDHRA PRADESH
Having formed a million years ago, the Borra Caves has just the sort of mysterious aura, natural beauty and thrilling stories to make a visit unforgettable. Arriving here is an adventure in itself, as one drives through thickly forested roads, past waterfalls and streams to reach Araku Valley. There’s also the daily train from Visakhapatnam, an equally beautiful ride onboard the Kottavalasa-Kirandul line—have the kids count as you pass through 58 tunnels! The caves were discovered by British geologist William King in 1807, and are shot through with stalagmites and stalactites. Local lore notes that the Ramayana’s Ram, Sita and Lakshman spent a few days here during their 14-year exile.
SKI IN GULMARG, KASHMIR
Gulmarg, with its fine powder snow and charming old-world hotels, is one of the most popular skiing destinations in the world. A week spent on the slopes with daily practice lessons under the expert eye of a local instructor can provide children with a good start to becoming accomplished skiers. Spend a few exhilarating hours on a ski mobile exploring the higher slopes and taking in the unique topography. Afterwards, children and adults alike will love hanging around a roaring bonfire under the brilliant stars and singing songs over endless cups of hot chocolate and steaming bowls of Maggi. —PM
EXPERIENCE FARM LIFE IN PUNJAB
The state has often been romanticised for its mustard fields and stunning countryside. Live like a local at a farm stay, such as at Punjabiyat, and learn all about living off the land. Milking cows, observing farming techniques and cooking via traditional methods are few of the activities which children will appreciate along with experiencing a gentler and unhurried pace of life. Walk in the countryside, chat with the villagers and visit the vibrant local markets replete with handmade goods from embroidered phulkari dupattas to nutritious homemade ghee. Visit the neighbourhood school and make friends with the local kids. Don’t leave the farm stay without learning how to roll a perfect parantha, the Punjabi breakfast staple! —PM
TREK UP TADIANDAMOL, KARNATAKA
A half-day trek up the third-highest peak in Karnataka might be the perfect way to introduce
children to the joys of hiking and spending time in the lap of nature. Tadiandamol is the highest peak in Coorg, and can be approached from Nalknad Aramane, a modest eighteenth-century palace visited for its hand-painted murals, sculptures and intricate wooden carvings, The dense trail is rich with shola forest and gurgling streams, with plenty of butterflies and birds for company. The Tadiandamol trek is a good trail for fit beginners, taking between four to seven hours to traverse its 15km depending on which route is followed. The summit offers sweeping views of the valley dotted with coffee and pepper plantations. September to February is the ideal time to undertake this trek, both for the weather as well as the terrain. The monsoon has its charms. as the landscape turns an iridescent green with gushing waterfalls though, of course, the trail also can get slippery and leeches are only to be expected during this season. Extend your visit at a homestay or camp, for guided night tours, fishing and soaking up all that mountain goodness.
LEARN ABOUT GANDHI AT SABARMATI ASHRAM, GUJARAT
Get acquainted with MK Gandhi at the ashram he established in 1917. It is located on the banks of River Sabarmati. Gandhi began the Dandi March against the British salt monopoly from here in March 1930, inspiring millions to join the civil disobedience movement. The Gandhi Memorial Museum, designed by Charles Correa, houses three galleries, of which “My Life Is My Message” exhibits over 250 photos and quotes chronicling his life and philosophy. Pause over the splendid riverfront views. Don’t miss the statues of the three wise monkeys installed near the entrance–poses both adults and children like to recreate.
SHOP FOR CRAFTS IN KUTCH, GUJARAT
Driving through the vast, stark landscape of Kutch, with hoopoes and kingfishers for company, makes for a grand adventure with the kids. During the winter, the endless white salt desert of Kutch is a big draw, but no visit to the region can be complete without learning about its many unique and colourful crafts. Home to friendly pastoral and nomadic communities, the Kutch is a piece of the country that has the endearing, slow charm of a bygone time. Stay in a mud home, ride into the desert on a camel, eat traditional food (such as the Kutchi Bhatia kadhi and the Kutchi dabeli), and shop for embroidered or block-printed textiles, clay pottery and handcrafted bags to take a piece of Kutch back home with you.
VENTURE DEEP INTO THE JUNGLE AT JIM CORBETT NATIONAL PARK, UTTARAKHAND
Jim Corbett National Park, named after the legendary hunter-turned-conservationist, is prime tiger territory. Being in the jungle is a treat in itself. Home to 50 species of mammals, over 500 birds and plenty of reptiles, the jungle is never devoid of excitement and drama. Take younger children on nature walks with well-trained guides and naturalists. With plenty of rapids, older kids can go rafting on the River Kosi or explore rock-climbing and rappelling.
EXPLORE THE ROCK GARDEN OF CHANDIGARH
Spread across 40 acres, the Rock Garden began as a small patch of forest secretly cleared by Nek Chand, a road inspector who spent nearly two decades creating a fantasy world of sculptures from discarded materials. The garden is a surreal world that children will love. The garden unexpectedly brought him both national acclaim and international recognition, and is a delightful counterpoint to India’s first planned city, Chandigarh. Sculptures of animals, people and imaginary creatures created from industrial and household waste are surrounded by trees, plants and water features.
VISIT THE FLOATING ISLANDS OF LOKTAK LAKE, MANIPUR
Take the children on a boat ride to see the ingenious phumdis, or floating islands of biomass that are home for the fishing community on Loktak Lake. There’s even a floating homestay, should you choose to stop for lunch or stay on longer. It is an hour’s drive from Imphal, where a must-visit is the 500-year-old Ima Keithel or Mother’s Market, where women sell all sorts of wares from spears to colourful textiles. Ukhrul, a three-hour-drive away, hosts an annual festival in honour of the endangered Shirui Lily, and is also well-known for the black pottery of Longpi village.
GET LOCAL WITH DOUBLE-DECKER RIDES, SUNSETS AT CHOWPATTY AND FLAMINGO-SPOTTING IN MUMBAI
From November to May, you can hop on a boat at Thane Creek to observe the city’s daintiest winter visitors: flamingoes, on a pit-stop to Kutch in Gujarat. Several birding organisations in the city offer guided tours. Take advantage of the bamboo walkway for bird-spotting in the mangroves and stop at the Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Centre for interactive displays on the wetlands. Juxtapose the trip with an equally unforgettable experience of South Mumbai, counting heritage buildings atop a double-decker bus and heading to Chowpatty beach at sunset for rainbow-coloured ice cream and people-watching.
EXPERIENCE THE LADAKHI WAY OF LIFE AT A HOMESTAY
Ladakh’s raw beauty is best experienced while living in a homestay. Under piercingly blue skies, amid swaying wheat fields and a gentle stream, the homes in Rumbak village in Hemis National Park, welcome guests into their spartan abodes. While the basics are taken care of, don’t expect modern luxuries. Kids may love or hate the Ladhaki toilets, but they will certainly not forget them. Take yaks on walks, help making momos or just enjoy the idyll. Devoid of light pollution, the lucid night skies may leave you weak in the knees.
CHEER ON BABY TURTLES MAKING THEIR FIRST JOURNEY TO THE SEA, MAHARASHTRA
Velas, a fishing hamlet about 300km from Mumbai, is most known for the hundreds of vulnerable olive ridley turtles that begin life on its sandy shores. During the annual Velas Turtle Festival, held between end-February and April, join the volunteers of the Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra to witness the magical spectacle of hatchlings bravely making their way to the sea. Villagers throw open their homes, welcoming guests to spend the night. Children get to experience the simple joys of rural life and sample delicious home-cooked Konkani food.
CELEBRATE A ROYAL DASARA IN MYSURU, KARNATAKA
Head to Mysuru for Dasara to give the kids a peek into how the royals celebrated festivals. Spread over 10 days, there are traditional games, cultural performances and lots of local delicacies. A grand procession of the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari seated atop a bejewelled elephant, known as the Jumbo Savari, marks the victory of good over evil. The Mysuru Palace glitters like gold during the celebrations, illuminated by 1,00,000 bulbs. For the best views of the illuminated palace, drive up to the top of Chamundi Hills.
SPEND A DAY IN THE VALLEY OF FLOWERS IN YUMTHANG, SIKKIM
Come summer, the valley of Yumthang is carpeted with flowers. Lachung town, with its candy-coloured houses, is the perfect base to explore the valley. The Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary has over 20 species of rhododendrons. With snow-capped mountains, glacier-fed rivers, lumbering yaks and clear blue skies, you may just feel like you stepped into a postcard. Soak in a hot spring, try fishing or just sit back and enjoy the glorious views and clean mountain air.
GET MEDITATIVE IN AUROVILLE, PUDUCHERRY
Spend a week or two in Auroville at Swaram, an institute that makes the most exquisite musical instruments and experiments with the power of sound. Children can co-create musical instruments with the artisans, working with different materials like wood, bamboo, clay, metal and shells while imbibing the healing properties of sound. For a deeply harmonizing experience, experience their sound bath, where guests can bask in the melody created by musicians playing different instruments. Fuel up at Auroville’s famous eateries. If you happen to be in Auroville in December, the group meditation on the lawns of Matrimandir on 31st December is a deeply soulful experience for children and adults alike. —PM
GO WITHIN AT THE GOLDEN TEMPLE IN AMRITSAR, PUNJAB
The serene Golden Temple complex in Amritsar is a spectacular sight through the day, and perhaps even more so at night. Pay your respects and then partake in the daily langar, a wholesome vegetarian meal cooked and served by the hundreds of volunteers who power the massive kitchen. A behind-the-scenes tour is an excellent way to get the kids to appreciate the spirit of community service. Follow it up with a food trail, with pit stops at its famous dhabas serving an assortment of buttery paranthas, chicken and fish specialities, lassis and indulgent sweets.
GO BEACH-HOPPING IN GOA
Finding a secluded beach in Goa is a tough ask, but there are still lesser-visited picturesque stretches. Wander down Mandrem and Morjim in the north, Agonda and Patnem in the south. If you’re looking for more than a quiet stretch of course, you are spoiled for choice: water sports in Baga, markets and restaurants in Anjuna, and pretty much anywhere for fresh seafood served at shacks on the beach. Get on a boat to spot and learn about the playful Indian Ocean humpback dolphins and other creatures of the sea with Terra Conscious, a marine conservation-based social enterprise. Change things up with a visit to one of Goa’s many spice plantations that offer a guided walk through their gardens followed by a sumptuous local meal.
CATCH SPECTACULAR SUNRISES AND SUNSETS AT KANYAKUMARI, TAMIL NADU
Kanyakumari, the coastal town at the southernmost tip of India, offers the twin pleasures of watching the sun rise and set. It is the meeting point of the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, Take the ferry to Vivekananda Rock Memorial. Built on a rocky outcrop, the memorial, to Swami Vivekananda, has a small temple and meditation hall. The philosopher is said to have swum across shark-infested waters to meditate on the rock. A 133ft-tall statue of Tamil poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar stands on an adjacent rock. Back on the shore, Gandhi Mandapam marks the spot where one of the urns carrying Gandhi’s ashes was placed for people to pay their respects before the ashes were immersed in the sea. Stop at the nearby Kanyakumari Bhagvathy Amman temple, dedicated to the incarnation of Goddess Parvati who had to remain a virgin to slay a demon; Kanyakumari’s multicoloured sands were created in the destruction of the feast meant for her wedding, and the sparkle of her nose ring is said to have been mistaken by ships for a lighthouse beam, Treat the kids to banana fritters before you leave.
MARVEL AT THANJAVUR’S BRIHADISVARA TEMPLE, TAMIL NADU
Rajaraja Chola I’s temple to Lord Shiva is a masterpiece for the ages. The 11th-century temple is part of the Great Living Chola Temples UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a stunning example of Tamil architecture. There’s lots to keep visitors of all ages immersed: watch priests climb ladders to perform rituals at the Nandi bull and at the massive lingam inside the sanctum. Spot the lone lizard carved on the roof of the main temple. Marvel at how an 80-ton stone was hauled up to crown the magnificent vimana above the sanctum. Then take a tour of the city’s master craftsmen of exquisite bronze sculptures, handmade jewellery and intricate Tanjore paintings with gold leaves and gemstones.
ADVENTURE ACROSS LAND AND UNDERWATER IN THE ANDAMANS
The Andaman and Nicobar islands are home to some of India’s best beaches. Dense forests, soft sands and cerulean waters make this a surreal paradise. There’s plenty to see, from Port Blair’s colonial-era Cellular Jail to limestone caves and rainforests. Visit Ross Island, the British settlement now overrun with vines and the dreamy Radhanagar Beach on Havelock Island. Some of the most enchanting sights are at Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, about 30km from Port Blair. Ride in a glass-bottomed boat, dive and snorkel in its waters teeming with coral and fish, and look out for sea turtles and white-bellied sea eagles.
WALK ON THE WILD SIDE IN PENCH, MADHYA PRADESH
Made famous by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Pench National Park is one of India’s most scenic with its gently undulating terrain and wild deciduous forests famous for sightings of leopards. The national park is named for the river that divides it, running from north to south through its centre. Stay in a lodge close to the buffer zone to enjoy the sights and sounds of the jungle. Go on a walking safari within your lodge, or in safe zones along with a naturalist, for a look at the bigger picture, for example, the role that insects play in maintaining an ecosystem. Children will delight in learning about tiger pugmarks, alarm calls by monkeys and the interdependence of the herbivores. —PM
WATCH DEMOISELLE CRANES IN KHICHAN, RAJASTHAN
The village of Khichan, within a three-hour drive of Bikaner, attracts thousands of demoiselle cranes every August. They stay on until March, encouraged by the feeding pens set up by villagers on the outskirts of their settlement. Their aerial formations, especially when they swoop down to feed, is an extraordinary sight. Time your visit to Holi, to celebrate the joyous arrival of spring and the victory of good over evil by playing with powdered colours or flower petals. Or just raise a toast with a glass of thandai and a plate of gujiya. —PM
LEARN HORSE RIDING BY THE SEA IN GUJARAT
Nargol is a sleepy village known for its pristine beach, lying about 180km from Mumbai. Here, Olympian Imtiaz Anees runs a residential equestrian training centre for young riders, as also a boarding and training service for horses. Learners can stay on the horse farm and participate in daily activities from mixing fodder to cleaning stables and grooming horses. Riding lessons for beginners are conducted in the pen while experienced riders will
enjoy galloping on the beach. A most delightful experience is watching horses play in the sand. Spending a huge part of their day with horses helps kids understand the moods and behaviour of these noble animals. —PM
RIDE ON THE SCENIC KALKA-SHIMLA TOY TRAIN, HIMACHAL PRADESH
Train rides have an irresistible charm and when the locomotive in question is a toy train built by the British in 1903, there’s no doubt that children will love the ride. The Kalka-Shimla toy train winds its way up through serene pine forests with gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. On the 96-km journey tick off 20 stations and over 850 bridges and 103 tunnels, the longest of which stretches over a kilometre. In Shimla, stroll on Mall Road and head to Trishool, known for their pineapple pastries, burgers and kathi rolls. If the crowds get too much, pack a picnic basket and head to Mashobra or Craignano National Park.
SPOT THE ONE-HORNED RHINO AT KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK, ASSAM
Kaziranga National Park may have a high density of tigers, but it is the greater one-horned rhinoceros that’s the big draw. While widespread poaching has reduced their numbers, two-thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinoceros population is found here, making it the best place to see the animal in the wild. One of India’s 38 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Kaziranga is also home to elephant, hoolock gibbon, bear and the Ganges river dolphin, and draws a variety of migratory birds.
TREK THROUGH DZUKOU VALLEY, NAGALAND
Straddling the borders of Manipur and Nagaland, Dzukou Valley looks like a giant green carpet laid out on loose marbles. A trek through the treeless valley seems easy, but it will challenge you. The incredible views from the top make all the walking and climbing worth it. Camp out under starry skies and sit around a bonfire soaking in the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. Wake up to a spectacular sunrise. Summertime is particularly special, as the hills are covered with flowers. A big attraction is the Dzukou Lily, endemic to the region.
BUILD SAND CASTLES IN GOPALPUR, ODISHA
Once an important port for the East India Company, Gopalpur today is a laid-back town with quiet beaches. It is about a four-hour drive from Bhubaneswar or Puri. Kids will love the climb up the lighthouse that offers stunning views of the town and coastline. Laze, enjoying the sea, sun and sand. Go on leisurely walks with crabs scuttling about. At the day’s close, watch the fishermen bring in their catch; you can make your pick and have a beachside shack cook it for you. During the annual Public Arts in Gopalpur festival, the town comes alive with pretty installations; the sand sculptures are a huge draw.
BLAST INTO THE PAST AT KOHIMA, NAGALAND
A land where an epic war was fought and won, home to headhunting tribes and the majestic hornbills, Nagaland is as unexpected as it gets. Shore up on wartime deeds at the World War II Museum, located within the Kisama Heritage Village. Take a day trip to Khonoma, India’s first green village, home to the indigenous Angami Naga warrior tribe. At the Kohima Museum, learn about the 16 tribal groups living in the state. Walk through exhibits of tribal costumes, jewellery, weapons and traditional sports. The annual 10-day Hornbill Festival, which starts on 1 December, offers a wonderful peek into the local customs and ways of life. With music, dance, sports, and delicious food and drink, there are lots of memories to be made.
ABSORB THE OLD-WORLD CHARMS OF KOLKATA
A tram ride through Kolkata, is a great way to sit back and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the capital city. It is over a century since Asia’s first electric tram cars were introduced here, and they are a wonderful reminder of the city’s grand past. Pick the regular trams rather than the air-conditioned coaches. Children will be amazed to see commuters hop on and off, often at busy roads, with absolute ease. With a local sweetshop at every street corner, Kolkata also encourages a mishti (sweet)-eating spree. Make sure to sample a variety of sandesh, some of the best in the city, at the unassuming Girish Chandra Dey & Nakur Chandra Nandy—confectioners dating back to 1844.
ADMIRE THE MAJESTIC ASIATIC LIONS OF GIR ON SAFARI, GUJARAT
Perhaps the best way to show someone the need for saving wildlife is to take them to the heart of years of painstaking conservation work. Gir National Park is the only place in the world where Asiatic lions roam free. With the help of forest department officials, experts and locals, the lion population has expanded from 20 in 1913 to over 600 today. Enter the dry deciduous forest on a jeep safari with a naturalist to see these majestic creatures in their element. With peacocks, marsh crocodiles, and the world’s only four-horned antelope known as the chowsingha, there are lots of birds and animals to fire up a child’s curiosity and imagination.
GO WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE IN ARUNACHAL PRADESH
The remote and wild places of Arunachal Pradesh have much to offer for the adventurous. With older children, go rafting on the Siang River. Or take a road trip looping at Guwahati: drive to Bomdila’s monastery and apple orchards with a stop at the beautiful Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, home to the endangered red panda and the recently identified Arunachal macaque. Carry on to Tawang’s monastery and Pankang Teng Tso Lake, followed by Bum La Pass. Drive on to Dirang’s dzong fortress and the centuries-old Kalachakra monastery, and wind down in the picturesque Sangti Valley, which is also a wintering ground for black-necked cranes.
WANDER THROUGH THE STREETS OF JEW TOWN AND FORT KOCHI, COCHIN
Jew Town holds many treasures within its folds. Pop into spice shops and antique stores. Admire the frescoes at Mattancherry Palace. Catch your breath over lunch at Sri Krishna Cafe on Palace Road. In Fort Kochi, shaded by lofty rain-trees, look out for street art and heritage buildings. Visit St Francis Church, one of India’s oldest European churches, before heading to the Mahatma Gandhi beach promenade to watch the fishermen work Chinese fishing nets against the backdrop of a magical sunset.
REJUVENATE IN SUNDER NURSERY, DELHI
Sunder Nursery is a microcosm of Delhi’s rich biodiversity and heritage. Sensitively restored by the Agha Khan Trust for Culture, the 90-acre nursery is home to over 80 species of birds, 60 types of butterflies and several species of Asian bees. The park is a naturalist’s dream with its 300 different types of indigenous trees. Abutting Humayun’s Tomb, the nursery is also home to Mughal monuments, six of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Look out for the Sunder Burj, a 16th-century tomb with intricate work on its dome and internal walls. Picnic in one of the many Mughal-inspired gardens with their geometric flowerbeds, lotus-shaped fountains and sandstone pathways. —PM
GRAPE-PICKING AND BEYOND IN NASHIK, MAHARASHTRA
With around 30 wineries in Nashik, and several charming stays around, there’s plenty of fun to be had just a few hours’ drive from Mumbai. While grape-picking visits on farms and wine-tasting tours are de rigueur, there is even more to do around from nature treks to horse-riding. Sula Vineyards has hosted India’s only vineyard music festival, Sula Fest, for over a decade; Soma Wine Village has more family fun with grape-stomping tours; visitors to Valloné Vineyards can celebrate a special milestone by owning a barrel, to be bottled nine months or later with a bespoke label.
LISTEN TO TALES OF TANSEN AND BIRBAL AT FATEHPUR SIKRI, UTTAR PRADESH
The once grand capital of the Mughal empire, Fatehpur Sikri, built by Emperor Akbar, was abandoned mysteriously. The complex is one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture. Follow a guide through the citadel listening to stories of unimaginable power, love and strength. A small lake with a platform in the middle, is where Tansen, a most prominent poet and musician of the Mughal court, is said to have given recitals. From lighting a hundred lamps to making the clouds burst, there are plenty of anecdotes that bring the stone structures alive. Birbal fans can visit a palace built for the trusted advisor right next
to Akbar’s personal quarters.
STARGAZE IN HIMACHAL PRADESH
The Triund trek from Dharamshala is extremely popular for beginners and offers breathtaking views over Kangra Valley and the snow-capped Dhauladhar peaks. This scenic but steep trek flanked by oak and rhododendron trees is a bird-watcher’s delight. One can spot speckled wood pigeons, babblers and tragopan among many others. Camp overnight for the most spectacular view of the night sky: jet black, spray-painted with a billion stars. If the call of the wild is still strong in your heart, carry on to serene Kareri Lake. —PM
LIVE THE STORIES OF BELOVED NOVELIST RUSKIN BOND IN LANDOUR, UTTARAKHAND
In Landour, step into the world of Ruskin Bond and his enchanting stories. Wander through twisty mountain paths, past stone cottages and market squares. At Char Dukan, watch the world go by over steaming Maggi and lemon ginger tea. Dig into chocolate brownies, apple pies and lemon cakes at Landour Bakehouse. Head to one of Bond’s favourite haunts, Prakash & Co, and stock up on an assortment of jams and preserves. At Clock Tower Café,
savour dishes inspired by the students of the Woodstock School, a Landour landmark. With its pizzas, momos and shakes, don’t be surprised if the kids take you back for more rounds.
REVEL IN THE STUNNING BEAUTY OF THE CITY PALACE, UDAIPUR
Studded with jharokhas overlooking Lake Pichola, bedrooms of kings and queens to peep into, and courtyards to run around in, the City Palace is a hit with both adults and kids. Hire a guide for riveting stories of royal pursuits. Go on a leisurely boat ride later for the best views of the sprawling palace complex; it is particularly ethereal at night when the lights come on. At the Vintage Car Museum, see beautifully maintained classic cars, including a 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II that featured in that James Bond film Octopussy—an intrinsic part of city history ever since parts were filmed here in 1982.
RAFT DOWN THE GANGA, UTTAR PRADESH
Rishikesh is known as much for its age-old temples and spiritual festivals as for adventure sports. To float down the cool waters of the Ganga in a raft surrounded by ancient monuments can be surreal. Equally rewarding is a trek through alpine meadows to the Kedarkantha base camp to catch a glimpse of Himalayan peaks. For a gentler trail, trek up the old Badrinath route past a swinging rope bridge frequented by women carrying wood home and racing village kids. Descend to the banks and let a guide tell you all about the mineral-rich rocks. —PM