India Tips At A Glance
- U.S. citizens need to apply for a visa in advance of travel
- Pack clothing in a backpack, not a suitcase
- Do not bring a stroller. Opt for an Ergobaby or similar soft, collapsible device for carrying young children
- Diaper wipes are sold in pharmacies a.k.a. medical stores
- Overnight train travel, even in first class, isn’t ideal with children
- If going to the elephant festival in Jaipur before Holi, read the children’s book, Elmer the Elephant, to your children. This festival is like an Elmer Day Parade!
What made us decide on India as a travel destination, you might wonder. Well, a little about us. My husband and I take turns deciding travel destinations. It was my turn to pick our next destination. I opened up the Bing webpage one day to do something and the picture for the day showed people with brightly colored paint all over their faces, hair, and clothes. They had huge smiles on their faces and just radiated joy. I told my husband, I don’t know what or where this is, but this is where we are going next. Turned out that those people were in India, celebrating the Hindu holiday of Holi. Holi is the celebration of Spring and love. So, we looked ahead to when Holi was for the next year, and set about planning.
We flew from Seattle to London, where we extended our layover for 4 days. We find that making time zone transitions are easier if done in chunks. You can search for a ticket to your desired destination, see where they have a layover, and then just book two separate tickets so that you can extend your layover to allow time for time adjustments. London was fun. Only challenging part was that we were traveling in late February, where it is cold in London, but still hot in India. We only travel with one big backpack where we put everybody’s clothes. It was a little challenging packing for cold weather, and warm weather, at the same time.
From London, we flew to Delhi. You need a visa to go to India and you cannot get one at the airport. You have to apply in advance so allow yourself a couple months to do this before you travel.
We stayed near the backpacker area, which ended up being a big mistake. Delhi is crowded and gives off the general feeling of being unsafe. The backpacker are is especially a high target area for crime. We didn’t feel safe wandering far from our hotel room there. Thankfully, we were only there for 1-2 nights, to further adjust to the time zone changes.
From Delhi, we took the train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Train travel in India is very unlike other train travel that we have done. Even in first class, you do not get your own compartment, even if you book all four beds. Also, the bottom bunks do not fold into seats. We ended up getting assigned 2 lower bunks, and had nobody on the upper bunks which allowed us to store our bags up there. My husband slept with our 9 month old and I slept with our 3 year old. The bunks are very narrow and pretty uncomfortable. It was not the best way to travel with children in India and I wouldn’t travel overnight in India again by train. Daytime would be fine and it’s an inexpensive way to get from point A to point B.
The hallway within our train compartment, with individual compartments separated by a simple cloth. Yes, there were toilets but they are all squat toilets which is rather hard on a moving train!
Our berth for the night. Pretty narrow beds. Since all that separated us from the hallway was a simple sheet, we didn’t feel comfortable letting our girls sleep on the bottom bunks with us up top, so we both co-slept with our girls which was pretty uncomfortable, to say the least, but an experience none-the-less.
Once in Agra, we booked a hotel for the day. No place worth mentioning. We were leaving by train again that evening, but we wanted a place to nap midday and drop our bags while we were at the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. The Taj Mahal is beautiful. If you are traveling with non-Indian children, be prepared to be bombarded by people who want to take photos of your children or photos with your children. Everybody has to find their own sense of security with regards to strangers. We were selective and respected our children’s emotions. When our baby cried, we took her back. When our 3 year old didn’t want to smile for somebody’s photo, we didn’t try to make her and if she was all done being hounded, we politely walked away.
The crowd grew by the minute and we found ourselves completely enveloped in a mass of people who wanted to see our baby!
While in Agra, we also went to Agra Fort, which was also beautiful and had great areas in which to see the Taj Mahal in the distance.
From Agra, we caught another train to Varanasi, considered by many to be the most holy location in India. It is an old town, right on the banks of the Ganges River. The streets which wind around the city are too small for cars, although an occasional motorcycle (or cow!) will pass through. If you stay at a hostel in Old Town, which I highly recommend, your cab will park on the main road and you’ll have to walk to your hostel from there. (another reason why backpacks work better than suitcases).
Walking with Baby Belles through the streets of Old Town.
One thing to know is that baby wipes are sold at “medical stores” which is their term for pharmacies. It took us awhile before we figured out that they weren’t saying “American store” and that a “medical store” was a pharmacy. Baby wipes are available in abundance once you figure that part out! (=
Most of the rooftops in Varanasi are all connected, so you can walk from one building to the next to the next, without ever setting foot in the street. In this photo, it appears as if Alexis is perched on a wall, very far from the ground, but in reality, the next rooftop started just about 2 feet below her!
It was beautiful to come out here in the morning and watch the city wake up and the sunrise over the Ganges.
A view of the city from the water.
Varanasi is a city where people come to spend their final days. Death is celebrated here, not mourned. Elderly come and stay in a facility where people, who are trying to improve their karma, assist with their care. When they die, they are cremated in open crematoriums and their ashes and bones are put into the Ganges. The crematoriums run all day and all night. We took a boat out one night to see one. It wasn’t gruesome or anything. It was a good introduction for our 3 year old on the subject of death. On the way back, we lit candles and floated them on the river to send forth blessings for the deceased as well as wishes for our own futures.
We took the girls to a Hindu temple one day, where we were all blessed by a priest. He didn’t speak his blessing in English, but from his kind face and smile, I can only think that he said something lovely.
Some hotels have pools and for a small fee, you can pay to use them, even if you’re not a guest. It makes for a nice way to get away from the heat. You can still see the red marks from the temple on everybody’s foreheads in this picture.
In the afternoon, the skies of Varanasi are full of kites that people fly from the rooftops. Kites and string can be purchased at many small shops throughout the town, but the technique to actually get your kite to fly takes a lot of practice. Thankfully, we had help!
Having Henna done. Alexis LOVED this and still tries to recreate it with markers at home!
After Varanasi, we flew to Jaipur to celebrate Holi. Buy your tickets far in advance if you are headed to Jaipur for Holi as it is a popular place to celebrate the holiday and things book up quickly. We stayed at Vinayak Guesthouse (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Vinayak-Guest-House-Jaipur/154760671213264 )which was very lovely. We stayed in their family room which had four beds and a private bathroom with shower. The family lives on site and invited us in for their evening prayers which was really unique to see and experience.
The guesthouse hooked us up with a tuk tuk and driver who took us around Jaipur. It is a beautiful city and there is so much to see. The day before Holi, there is an elephant parade. The elephants are so beautifully painted. The girls loved it. Our guesthouse told us to get there an hour or more early to get a good seat, but that was really unnecessary.
Our guesthouse was an awesome place to celebrate Holi. Bring white or light colored clothing that you don’t mind getting completely ruined! Our host provided colors (although we did purchase some of our own too) and walked us through what to do. We stayed mostly within the confines of the courtyard because according to our host, Indian people will sometimes drink to excess on Holi and get out of control. The owner hired a passing musician to play some music for us while we played colors. It was so much fun. Colors were thrown, rubbed, or sprayed on people, but with the children, people were very gently. They would ask permission first before gently rubbing color onto their faces or hair and everybody would say “Happy Holi!” After we had tired of the fun, we took long showers and retired to the rooftop restaurant to watch the fun unfolding on the streets below us. One tip with Holi is that there is no food served at any restaurant on that day so stock up on snacks a day or two before to tide you over for the whole day. The restaurant at this guesthouse was quite good, serving all vegetarian food. The dal mahkani was to die for!
Our guesthouse host adding the first layer of colors to our eldest daughter, Alexis. She was pretty uncertain at first, but took to the whole concept quickly. What’s not to love about getting very very messy!
Alexis adding color to a passing gentleman.
Alexis making new friends, left and right.
Getting more colors added by a passing friend.
Baby Belles woke up from her nap in time to join in the fun.
Dada and his baby girl.
After Holi, we traveled by plane to Goa, which is a beach town on the western part of the country, south of Mumbai. It is a place that is frequented by Russian families on holidays so most of the menus are in both English and Russian.
We rented a three bedroom house with air conditioning off of airbandb.com that was right on the beach. The listing can be found at: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/292522
View of the house from the beach.
View of the beach from the house.
Goa is very quiet and laid back and the ultimate way to wind down after a couple busy weeks in India.
Beach bars line the beach.
Making friends in Goa.
After a fun filled week in Goa, we headed back to Delhi for a couple days of site seeing. This time, we stayed in a better area. We stayed at The Wood Castle Hostel which I highly recommend. It was close to the metro station, the restaurant was superb, and the staff was wonderful and accommodating. While back in Delhi, we visited The Red Fort which is quite worth the trip with kids. Little to no crowds and lots of open places to run and play.
Alexis decided that we needed to stand like flamingos! (=