One of the most popular and rewarding trips in northern India is around the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Delhi is not a place you’ll easily forget, and you need to prepare for serious sensory overload. Our advice is to stay somewhere a bit cushy for a few days until you acclimatise, then take a deep breath, flag down a rickshaw and throw yourselves into it. New Delhi is full of grand avenues, embassies and monuments. Old Delhi is the place to go – cheerful chaos reigns in its labyrinthine bazaars and wonderful relics, which include the Red Fort or Jama Masjid. Take train-mad kids to the Rail Transport Museum, where they can climb all over mighty steam engines and the skull of an elephant who charged a mail-train and lost.
The chief attraction of Agra is the Taj Mahal, a white-marble memorial built in the 17th century by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for one of his wives, Mumtaz Mahal; it took 20,000 labourers 22 years to complete. Not far from Agra is another Mughal masterpiece, Fatehpur Sikri, an ancient royal city guarded by massive gates, while at Bharatpur, on the edge of Rajasthan, you’ll find a wonderful bird sanctuary in a royal hunting reserve.
Within the colourful state of Rajasthan, famous for its bright-hued jewellery and handicrafts, visit the lovely capital Jaipur, known as the ‘Pink City’ since being painted this colour to mark a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1876. It’s surrounded by rugged hills and forts you can visit on the back of an elephant. Make sure to seek out the City Palace, full of regal costumes and weaponry, and the Palace of the Winds, an extraordinary and evocative place with 953 pink windows that make the air around it shimmer.
Also in Rajasthan are the ‘Blue City’ of Jodphur, so-named because of its indigo-tinged brahmins’ houses, and the ‘Golden City’ of Jaisalmer, built on a yellow sandstone ridge and topped by a fort. The latter has some lovely havelis or private mansions, and you can ride a camel out into the Thar desert and then eat dinner under the stars and sleep on a sand dune. There’s also Udaipur, famed for its lake palace (now a luxury hotel) and for being where some of the Bond movie Octopussy was filmed.
In southern India, the beaches of Kerala and Goa are the best places for family holidays. But you’ll probably arrive first in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), which is well worth exploring, although it’s a good idea to take it easy for the first day or two to help your kids acclimatise. Then take them to see the Sassoon Dock, where colourfully dressed Koli fisherwomen sort out the day’s catch, and to Colaba market, full of dazzling sights and sounds. Swim off famous Chowpatty Beach and hang around to watch the sun set, when hundreds of snack-sellers converge on the shore to catch the evening crowd.
Goa is basically a 130km string of beautiful palm-fringed beaches, although it pays to venture inland and explore the wildlife sanctuaries and temples that dot this lovely region. If you do stay on the coast, steer clear of the overdeveloped spots and seek out the quieter eco resorts. Some of the best beaches are Morjim, a turtle nesting site, Colva, the longest beach in Goa, and Calangute, particularly good for watersports.
Kerala also has beautiful beaches, including Kovalam, although the highlight of this state is a trip through the Malabar backwaters, a tangled maze of canals and rivers best explored by houseboat or even canoe. Go to Cochin to see the Portuguese fort, and to Periya National Park to see the elephants.
Indian cuisine is superb if not immediately child-friendly – if you’re worried that eating out might be an issue on family holidays here, be reassured that anywhere tourists go there’ll be cafés and restaurants offering western ‘travellers’ favourites’.
Before you go, be aware that ‘Delhi belly’ is so-named because traveller’s diarrhoea is a considerable problem in India, so pack supplies of an anti-diarrhoeal drug such as Imodium (not to be used for under-2s) or Lomotil. If your children get very bad diarrhoea accompanied by vomiting or blood in the stools, you could be offered Ciprofloxacin or Levaquin by local doctors – these medicines are unsuitable for children, so bring an alternative, such as Xifaxin, with you.