Wonders Never Cease

Issue 4 - 2016

Extraordinary temples, exotic wildlife and the vibrant streets of India will amaze the whole family, says Rosie Millard. Just remember to pack your cricket bat

Issue 4 - 2016

Extraordinary temples, exotic wildlife and the vibrant streets of India will amaze the whole family, says Rosie Millard. Just remember to pack your cricket bat

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).

The winter fog had descended on Delhi (it’s not cold in winter, but can be very foggy), and as we pulled out of the station through the grey mist, it felt as if we were on a real adventure. When we arrived at Agra in the afternoon, we went straight to the Taj Mahal. Seeing it in the winter afternoon sun was simply unforgettable. The building is a wonder of the world which defies guide books and cliché, and it turned out not to be one of those places which prompts children to start whining “When are we going to go home?” after five minutes. I think it is simply the power of the architecture. Our children were stunned and excited by its symmetry, its calm beauty and its perfect position. Everyone else wanted to sit on “that” bench and do the Princess Diana pose. After looking at the Taj in reverence for a while however, it was time to jump and run around the enormous enclosure of the Agra Fort next door.

“Street food! Can we have street food for lunch!” became the family clarion call

“Street food! Can we have street food for lunch!” became the clarion call from (most of) the family as the tour took us off the beaten track and through the small villages of the desert state of Rajasthan, which covers part of the Golden Triangle. The children absolutely loved drinking sweet chai and eating the piping hot samosas and other treats they saw cooked before their eyes on the roadside. I have been to India twice with my young family and nobody has fallen prey to a bug or picked up the infamous Delhi Belly. The key is to give everyone their own little bottle of water-free hand sanitiser before leaving home. I insisted we all used a good squirt before and after every meal or visit to the bathroom, and a bit more besides. Sensible provisions like brushing your teeth with bottled water and always insisting on very hot food also helped.

Colour and vibrancy are the beating heart of Rajasthan, as evinced by the vivid saris of the local women, the wonderfully painted lorries packed with improbable loads of animals, furniture or computer equipment, or indeed the actual cities themselves. Jaipur is known as “the Pink City”, because most of its buildings are painted a wonderful rose colour. This was on the orders of the Maharaja of Jaipur who, in 1876, insisted all the buildings were painted pink, the colour of hospitality, before a visit from Queen Victoria. The city has carried on this tradition ever since, and at dawn and dusk in particular it seems as if the whole vast city is bathed in magenta. A huge treat for us all was visiting The Amber Fort and the City Palace with its teetering galleries of windows. Just as beautiful were the teeming street markets with their heaps of flowers, pyramids of spices, snake charmers, animals and food, all presented for your pleasure. The children came home laden with jewellery, shirts, hats, wooden stringed instruments, elephant key-rings – and of course a couple of brand new cricket bats.

Call Scott Dunn’s India and Arabia team on 020 8682 5075 to arrange your trip.

Scott Dunn Suggests

Explore the bygone British Raj on this Indian adventure via Delhi, Jaipur and Agra

Your journey begins in Delhi with a private guide, exploring the grand sweeping boulevards of New Delhi, which the British constructed in 1911 when they moved the capital from Calcutta. Take the Himalayan Queen Toy Train which winds its way slowly up to the British summer capital of Shimla. Transfer to Wildflower Hall, once home to Lord Kitchener. Spend three days in the “Queen of the Hills” exploring Shimla’s colonial pedigree. Fly to Jaipur via Delhi for two nights at the sumptuous Oberoi Rajvilas. Spend a day exploring the capital of Rajasthan, from its bustling markets to the ornate City Palace and Amber Fort. Continue to Ranthambore National Park where you will stay at the amazing Sher Bagh, inspired by 1920s-style safari luxury camping, and search for tigers. Take the train to Agra where you will stay in The Oberoi Amarvilas, just 400 metres from the Taj Mahal, and finally head back to Delhi for a final few nights in Lutyens-style colonial bungalow Tikli Bottom.

Scott Dunn offers luxury trips to northern India from £3,578pp based on 12 nights accommodation on a bed and breakfast basis (except Tikli Bottom and Sher Bagh which are full board), private transfers, first class train travel, private guides and entry fees.
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