World Tourism Day 2018: Here are six destinations in India that are extremely child-friendly, regardless of fitness levels and the child’s age.
By Deenaz Raisinghani
There are lots of places you can travel to and have a great time in, but not every destination caters to children. Imagine going on the tough Chadar trek or a North Pole expedition as someone who loves adventure, but would you take your child along? Probably not! You want a destination that is easily accessible, has generally good weather, has access to food and supplies, and does not involve the high octane adventure that young kids may not appreciate. So, here are six of my favourite destinations in India that are extremely child-friendly so all you parents can plan a trip there with your little ones, regardless of fitness levels and the child’s age.
We travelled to Kerala when my daughter was just 11 months old, and it remains one of our most favourite trips with family. Kerala caters to everyone, on every kind of budget. Along with its scenic beauty, it allures you with its delicious coastal cuisine and cultural prominence. We took a road trip through Kerala entering from Wayanad and then Kochi, and finally reaching all the way up to the hills of Munnar. Our daughter took the road trip comfortably as the roads were in good condition, and there were places to eat at along the way. I carried a portable food-making kit for the baby (for mashed rice or vegetables), and gave her fresh coconut water all through the journey.
She enjoyed the houseboat experience as much as the beaches of Kerala, her first ever beach holiday. We stayed at a forest camp and went bamboo rafting in Wayanad with her, something we all enjoyed. She had started eating soft solids by then, so she experimented with “puttu”, Kerala fish curry and soft crab meat with rice. This trip opened up her palette to a lot more tastes around the world. Kerala is a complete family destination from Thekkady to Kumarakom to Varkala, and no matter which part of it you choose to explore, your children will have a great time.
Mahansar and Mandawa, Rajasthan
Rajasthan can’t really be defined in words, as the entire state is a sensory experience. Every part of Rajasthan has something different to offer and it is a great idea to take your kids along when they are growing up and asking a lot of questions. I had travelled to Jaipur, Udaipur, Ajmer and Pushkar before the baby was born and fell in love with Rajasthan. Since my husband is from Jaipur, we visit Rajasthan every now and then. Last year, we took our daughter with us to a beautiful little hamlet in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan called Mahansar, and we stayed at an old heritage homestay called Mahansar Fort.
The owners welcomed us extremely warmly, cooked local Rajasthani dishes for us such as “Gatte ki Subzi” (a gram flour delicacy cooked in Rajasthani spicy curry), “ker sangria” (cooked wild berries and beans from the region), “laal maas” and “safed maas” (two specialties of Rajasthani mutton) along with gourmet breakfast of the best crepes and omelettes for our daughter.
She played with the host’s daughter, their in-house talking parrot and tortoise named ‘Majesty’ while we spent the evening under the stars, explored the huge heritage fort with a hundred doors and windows, and went with her on a camel ride around the village. We also took her fresco spotting around Mandawa to the famous Piramal Haveli and Castle Mandawa, and also to the local Sone Chandi ki Haveli (townhouse made of gold and silver) in Mahansar. I think the Rajasthani homestay experience coupled with the lovely camel ride was an absolutely fresh experience for our child, and I would recommend this small destination if you have a weekend off and live a few hours from the area.
Pondicherry (Puducherry), Tamil Nadu
This town and the outskirts are a safe and enjoyable destination your kids will enjoy. Start driving or take a bus (plenty of cabs and AC Volvo buses available) from Chennai airport on the East Coast Road (ECR) road which is a beautiful two-lane highway, also known as SH 49 along the Bay of Bengal.
It is a treat to drive along this highway, and your children will enjoy the scenic route, stunning views and pit stops for coconut water along the route.
You can choose to visit or stay in the Auroville township and show your kids the gorgeous Matri Mandir, eat at their local kitchens and cafes, hop onto Paradise Beach for a dip in the water and then continue to Pondicherry. The colonial architecture and the coloured buildings in the French town are worth seeing, so is the Aurobindo ashram. There are plenty of guest houses/hotels and homestays in White Town that cater to tourists 24×7, and you can find them on the internet easily. Kids will enjoy the Portuguese style cathedral and the Vinayagar temple in the Tamil quarter that houses the famous elephant Lakshmi. There are plenty of French patisseries serving delicious food including the one on Rock Beach by the Promenade called Le Café which serves insanely delicious chocolate croissants. The entire French town is walkable so you can easily take your kid around in a buggy or cycle around the gorgeous lanes with them. Remember to take lots of Instagram worthy pictures with the colourful backdrops that won’t require filters.
The North East of India is a jewel waiting to be explored and Shillong is one of the destinations that truly find a mention on this list. Shillong, known as the Scotland of the East is easily accessible by road from Guwahati and several taxis and buses ply from the Guwahati railway station and airport. The newly constructed highway from Guwahati is smooth and well-maintained and there are several cafes lined along the way so you can take a rest in between.
Our daughter was nine months old when she travelled to Shillong and I enjoyed exploring the markets and cafes with her in a baby carrier. There are lots of stay options within Police Bazaar, or very pretty BnB and homestays a little away from the city centre, that have now opened in Shillong where you can live with local families and enjoy Khasi hospitality.
The weather is perfect all year round, but it gets nippy in the evenings so carrying something warm to wear is recommended. Your kids will love the yummy broth and melt in the mouth momos, watching little kids as they walk to school all dressed up in pretty knit sweaters and high socks, the street guitarists and live music, accessible parks and waterfalls, boating on the clear Dawki lake as you head out from Shillong for a day and taking in the views from a hilltop. You could also explore Mawlynnong, the cleanest village in Asia from Shillong and teach your kids a thing or two about sustainable and mess-free living. Cherrapunjee and Mawsynram, situated in the East Khasi Hills is reportedly the wettest place on earth with an annual rainfall of 11,871 metres and are also day trips from Shillong. There a number of scenic spots, caves and places to stay at in Cherrapunjee, also known as Sohra. Remember to avoid the monsoon season when exploring this region.
Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu
The Mudumalai Tiger reserve in Tamil Nadu is a very welcoming experience for families who are looking to take a break from the commercial hustle and bustle of Ooty, and want to experience a wildlife safari experience in India. There are several resorts, both budget style and high-end to choose from where you can stay and experience jungle safaris, booked through the resorts or independently. We stayed at a beautiful tree top house in a resort called Safariland, known for its tree houses and started when the concept of tree house resorts were relatively new in India. Run by a family from Bangalore, this pretty place caters to families and large groups too with a huge area of land and stay options of cottages as well as tree houses where you can plan to stay. Imagine spending the night perched 20 feet above the ground in a house constructed entirely around a huge tree!
We woke up to the sound of birds chirping around us, went on walking trails with their guide, and also spotted a sloth bear few metres ahead of us. In the night, we were taken on a jungle safari in their jeeps where we spotted a herd of elephants crossing over right in front of us, besides lots of wildlife, such bison, wild boar and deer.
The best part about the location of this reserve is its proximity to Ooty and Coonoor in Tamil Nadu, so if you wish to do all three places in the same area, you can do so.
Havelock Island, Andamans
We travelled to Andamans right after we married and we would love to take our daughter there as it is one of the most picturesque and stunning set of islands in India. Easily reachable from Kolkata by air, this is a holiday you will remember forever. Land in Port Blair, spend a day or two exploring the place including the famous Cellular Jail that has a wonderful light and sound show that the kids will enjoy, the Aquarium and Marine Park that contains exhibits of some exquisite aquatic life, boating on a glass-bottomed boat to spot coral reefs and then finally head to Havelock Island by an air-conditioned ferry or a seaplane to enjoy the pristine beauty of the transparent sea, salt and white sand.
Book yourself into a budget hotel or a resort depending on your budget, and if you are comfortable with water, try snorkelling (you don’t have to know swimming for this) or banana boat rides with your kids. Radhanagar Beach also caters to elephant rides and, can you believe it, has an elephant called Rajan, who actually swims with you!
Explore Neil Island and Ross Island and tell your kids all about the Japanese occupation of the island during World War II by showing them bunkers that exist to this day. There are great places to eat at in the Island so you will be spoilt for choice as a family.
(The writer blogs at Backpacking Mama.)