From five-star luxury to rural escapes
Travelers: Ronni (Ranjeev) and Isabelle Krishana and their daughter Maya (4).
The Plan: The Krishana family traveled to India for 18 days to visit family and cruise the “Golden Triangle” of northern India – New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. On this trip, Isabelle and Maya’s first to India, the family flew into New Delhi, then hired a driver to take them to Agra (the city of the Taj Mahal), then on to Jaipur (the land of Rajput kings) and back to New Delhi.
On the Road: Although driving between towns is a unique experience in India, Isabelle suggests hiring an experienced driver. Ronni’s family arranged for the driver, but any hotel concierge should be able to do the same. The drive from New Delhi to Agra takes three-and-a-half hours; Agra to Jaipur is five hours and back to New Delhi is four hours, depending on traffic. The family really enjoyed this journey through rural India, which they described as stepping a century into the past. The same journey is also possible by train – one-way to Agra from Delhi in an air-conditioned Indian Railways car costs RMB 120, including meals. Children 4 years or younger travel free, while tickets for those aged 5 to 11 are half-price. See www.seat61.com/India.htm for information on all kinds of transport in India.
New Delhi: Little Maya loved the markets in Delhi, which are all outdoors and bustling with treasures. Isabelle recommends Greater Kailash II M-Block market and N-Block market. Maya loved having mehendi (henna designs) painted onto her hands, but with a 20-minute hold-still drying time, little kids may prefer to have their feet done instead. The family also enjoyed Kahn market for the eateries, and Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens, where Maya played with local kids amongst the castle ruins. Be sure to visit the city’s incredible variety of Hindu temples (mandirs), which are vibrant, must-see places of worship, where priests chant, bells ring and kids run free. Wear or bring socks because shoes must be left outside. Isabelle recommends the Lotus Bahai, Birla and Hanuman mandirs where you will be given a bindi (forehead decoration) and can ring a bell or buy fruit for offerings.
Architecture in Agra: Isabelle says there’s not much to see other than the magnificent Taj Mahal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is considered the world’s finest example of Mughal architecture. Splurge on a gorgeous hotel and enjoy the view.
Elephants in Jaipur: This ancient town features many antiquated forts in various states of disrepair. Take an elephant ride to the top of the Amber Fort but get there early to avoid a lengthy queue. This winding, somewhat precarious ride features ringing bells, local music and warm tour guides.
Accommodation: The Krishana family traveled in high style. In Delhi, they stayed at the beautiful Oberoi Hotel (+91 11 2436 3030, www.oberoidelhi.com, RMB 2,500 standard double) and in Agra, they loved the Amarvilas (+91 562 231 515, www.amarvilas.com, RMB 4,900 double) where every room faces the Taj Mahal and traditional Indian music and dancing is performed nightly against a breathtaking backdrop of the Taj Mahal and setting sun. In Jaipur, the family stayed at the Rajvilas (+91 141 268 0101, RMB 4,150 double), a dazzling seven-star hotel that features luxury tents, complete with hardwood floors. A highlight was the traditional drumming, dancing and men singing kirtans (prayer songs) in a falsetto voice.
Exotic Flavors: Eating can be precarious in India. To be safe, travelers should refrain from eating salad, raw veggies or unpeeled fruit, even in high-end hotels. Isabelle says to avoid ice and anything water-based, and be super-vigilant with what kids eat. Bring your own snacks. One local treat Maya did love was the Indian milk tea, or chai. The family found the local Indian food divine; one favorite was the local Delhi dish chole batura, a spicy chickpea stew with fried Indian bread. Be sure to try the various styles of Indian bread such as roti, naan and chapatti, and for breakfast, try the traditional aloo paratha – potato-stuffed bread. For a taste of the old British Empire, drop into any number of hotels that still host traditional high teas. In Delhi, the Krishana family suggests eating at Bukhara, described by some as the best Indian food on earth (Hotel Sheraton, Diplomatic Enclave, Sardar Patel Marg, +91 11 2611 2233), The Kitchen (Khan Market, +91 11 4175 7960) and Moti Mahal (Connaught Place, +91 11 2923 2467).
Staying Healthy: Food and water will probably be your biggest health concerns in India, according to Isabelle. Visit your doctor to make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date, ask about malaria medication and be sure to take along Imodium and Gastrolyte. Be wary of buying medication in India – everything is available but the quality is unknown. Take lots of hand sanitizer, insect repellant and do not touch animals. Avoid the water; don’t brush your teeth with it.
When to Visit: The best times to pay a visit to north India are between October and December, and the end of February through March. The Krishanas traveled in November and found perfect weather; it was 70°F (21°C), sunny and dry every day.
Best Buys: Isabelle recommends the Indian-style shirts and pajamas, as well as the local textiles at super-bargain prices. Her favorite shop was Fabindia (www.fabindia.com) where everything is handmade by local craftspeople enjoying good working conditions. Table linens and kids’ outfits were the family’s favorites.
On the Town: With so many religions, there is always a celebration going on, with prayers to be chanted, bells to be rung and songs to be sung, as well as a lot of construction and traffic noise, and congestion. Take one of the many styles of rickshaw – bicycle, horse, human – but avoid the main roads. Getting around is easy because English is spoken almost everywhere.
Street Smarts: Unlike China, poverty is very much in-your-face in India and can be very distressing. The Krishanas suggest keeping your wits about you, and just keep walking if approached by beggars. If you do want to give money, be very discreet unless you want to be instantly mobbed.
Whole New World: Probably the most wonderful thing about the trip was the color and the culture – truly unlike anywhere else in the world. Traveling during wedding season, the Krishanas found no shortages of flowers, camels, elephants and men on white horses galloping through the streets. For kids who have lived elsewhere in Asia, a trip to India will show them a colorful, cultural richness that is truly unparalleled.