If you live in the developed world, the prospect of traveling to India can either fill you with dread or with awe. Both reactions, and possibly a combination, are completely appropriate. India is a cacophony of sounds, a mélange of smells, and a dizzying collage of visions and wonders.
I was born in India and spent the first 18 years of my life there. I visit once or twice a year with my children (2 and 5 years) and they completely revel in the assault on their senses and how different things are from where they presently live (San Francisco and London).
I am also a huge fan of exposing kids to different cultures at a young age. I believe it breeds open-minded adults who are able to truly appreciate the world’s diversity. And as exposure to diversity goes, few countries offer as much opportunity as India.
Tips for Visiting India with Kids
Top Reasons to Go
History: India’s history dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization, one of the world’s first known societies. Every corner of the country tells a story through its landscape, architecture, and people. Centers for learning abound for those who want to deepen their understanding of ancient Indian practices like Ayurveda and Yoga, and for the rest, there are enough forts, temples, and palaces to give you a fleeting sense of the nation’s rich past.
Cultural Diversity: India’s culture varies vastly from the North to the South and from the East to the West. Each region boasts its own language, cuisine, clothes, art, and norms. Often, the common denominator is English, so tourists don’t feel so out of place after all. Most major religions in the world are represented in India so it’s possible to find a temple, a mosque, and a church within the same few square miles in the big cities.
Economic Diversity: India’s economic inequality is astounding. Almost 50% of the population is below the poverty line yet consumption is indeed conspicuous with BMWs on streets and luxury brands in malls. Affluent city-dwellers spend in one night what the average man earns in a month. You can find merchandise at any price point and to suit any budget, and it’s a real eye-opener for privileged kids to see how these different classes co-exist.
Beauty: India has some of the most magnificent landscapes in the world, although you have to escape the hustle and bustle of the major cities to find them. From the valleys of Kashmir to the backwaters of Kerala, from the tea estates of Assam to the sun-kissed beaches of Goa, there truly is something for everyone here. Indian art, jewelry and textiles are also world-famous as is Bollywood, India’s film industry, known for its rich cinematography and beautiful actresses!
Food! There is much more to Indian food than Chicken Tikka Masala. You’ve not truly experienced the wonders of this cuisine till you’ve tasted prawn curry and apam from the South, mithai from Bengal, street food in Mumbai, and tandoori rotis from the North. As if all this wasn’t enough, cities like Mumbai and Delhi have bustling restaurant scenes, combining local with international flavors to produce gastronomic experiences competing on a global scale.
Where to Travel in India with Kids
Ok, you’re sold. You are going to India. But where do you even start to plan a trip?
India is a huge country and unless you are taking a couple of months off to travel, it’s hard to cover it all in one trip. If you are traveling with kids, it might also be overwhelming for an extended period of time. I’d say two weeks is good start, allowing for some down time, and to get around.
For the sake of travel, India can be broken up into four major regions.
Delhi and the North: Most people start trips to India in the capital city of New Delhi and then travel around. This makes sense because Delhi has a lot to see in terms of India’s politics and history and because it’s an easy launch pad to some of the country’s most famous sights such as Jaipur (the Pink City), Udaipur (the “Venice of the East”), Khajurao (known for its ancient Hindu temples and sculptures), Fatehpur Sikri (former capital of the Mughal Empire), and of course, Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.
Mumbai and the Konkan Coast: Mumbai is the “New York of India” and people’s reactions to this city are just as to the Big Apple: You either love it or hate it. Mumbai has a beautiful collection of art deco and Victorian buildings, such as the famous Taj Mahal hotel and Gateway of India. But really, one goes to Mumbai to witness contemporary India in action. Mumbai is home to Bollywood, great restaurants, shopping, and bars. Those seeking a quieter pace can head South to Goa, an Ibiza-like beach town with beautiful resorts for the family.
Kerala and the South: The backwaters of Kerala are India’s lesser-known gems, offering visitors the opportunity to explore the coconut groves and paddy fields of the Southern states. You can hold up in luxury 5-star accommodations or stay in rustic over-water shacks. Diving enthusiasts can also consider the Andaman or Lakshadweep islands off India’s Southern coast.
Calcutta and the East: Some of the country’s most prominent cultural and historical figures hail from its East coast. From the banks of the Ganges, India’s most sacred river, to the colonial architecture of Calcutta and temples of Bhubaneshwar, a visit to this region will provide a deep understanding of the country’s art and religions.
Tips for Traveling in India with Children
While there are a lot of reasons to visit India with the family, there are certain things that first-time travelers, particularly from the West, should pay attention to:
Water: Never drink water from a tap in India. Always insist on bottled water and ensure the seal is not broken before you drink.
Food: As mentioned earlier, the food is one of the best things about India. It’s best to eat in established restaurants (over street vendors) and to avoid anything that is not cooked, like cold salads, unless you are in an upscale restaurant (you’ll know when you are paying international prices).
Bargain: It’s perfectly acceptable to bargain for goods and services in India. Start at half the price quoted and go from there!
Car seats: You’ll be hard pressed to find seats in or for cars outside the major cities, so take your own if it is something you are particular about. Most cars have seat belts but you may find yourself in a rikshaw or taxi without one. Hold tight, and remember that many have been here before you, and survived!
Safety: Indians are welcoming and hospitable people but as with any country with a lot of poverty, petty crime is always a concern. Keep your bags and personal items close to your person at all times and try to leave your valuables in the hotel safe.