For somewhere so deeply exotic, it’s surprising how familiar India feels, especially to children. It’s probably an image conjured by a combination of Rudyard Kipling, Disney and the long relationship between the two great nations, but whatever its provenance, kids feel acclimatised to India, its customs, food and culture – even if they’ve never been there before.
Cricket helps, too. When my husband and I took our four children around the famous “Golden Triangle”, we also took a cricket bat. This proved to be a very good idea indeed. Whenever and wherever we stopped on our travels, be it to visit a market or temple or to eat some delicious food, boys and men, young and old, would arrive out of nowhere, wreathed in huge smiles of encouragement, welcoming us as they set up the wicket. If you like cricket, pack your bat in the hold, and be ready for some seriously fast bowling.
Our children were stunned and excited by the taj mahal’s symmetry and its calm beauty
The Golden Triangle is the perfect size for a family jaunt because it includes everything that makes the ideal holiday: big cities (Delhi and Jaipur), jaw-dropping culture that needs no explanation (the Taj Mahal), and adventure (tiger spotting). The food is delicious and the jet lag minimal. Driving through the vast Ranthambore National Park (home to more than 50 tigers) at dawn, you get some idea of what India must have been like many years ago, with its creeper-hung banyan trees, fortified palaces reflected in glassy lakes, kites high in the sky, sloth bears shambling up the hillsides and beautiful deer parading through the bush. Inquisitive mongooses, monkeys galore and exquisite long-tailed birds meant we were craning non-stop out of our open-top “Canter” off-road vehicle while the guide explained exactly what we were looking at.
But India isn’t just about the wide open spaces. It’s also about the wide jostling spaces, and our children, aged eight, 11, 14 and 16, took these in their stride too, haggling for trinkets at the colossal Connaught Place in Delhi, looking at the old Victorian government buildings and wandering around the wonderful markets of Jaipur, where they were festooned with flowers. Perhaps the most amazing experience was the train we took from Delhi to Agra, home of the incomparable Taj Mahal. “It makes London look quite mundane,” said my elder daughter, on encountering the sort of crowds at the station that one normally associates with Wembley on Cup Final day. Sheep, cows and people walking quite casually with stacks of luggage on their heads were just part of the picture. The station was colossal and our train itself equally magnificent, with vast leather seats and a man passing up and down the carriage serving everyone crisps, fizzy drinks and tea from a giant pot. There were also electric points for iPod charging, which went down very well indeed with the kids (the whole of India is totally internet-connected).