These are my favorite people to discover the world with. For every bit of awe and wonder that looking upon the Taj Mahal and exploring India provides me in my 30’s, I have three little afterburners for my own initial explosion of excitement. Traveling the world with little kids isn’t always easy, but these three have been raised on “short flights” and “long flights” here and there around the world. They love a good adventure and anything we are excited about they match with equal enthusiasm, often pulling out maps, drawing pictures of buildings we may see, animals and the various modes of transportation we’ll take to get there.
We’ve had our share of family travel blunders, too. You can’t possibly anticipate every surprise with kids, but most of our mistakes we’ve looked upon as great learning experiences and lessons in letting go. After our trip to Pondicherry resulted in a trip to a questionable emergency room, I never leave for a trip without a small first aid kid, we never ever go anywhere without water, giver of life, hand wash, foot wash, magical cooling down potion, and we never ever put pressure on ourselves to “do it all” or “see it all” when we travel, taking plenty of time for rest and free time to play even if the end of a long day means ordering pizza or take out in our room instead of hitting the hottest restaurant in town. Most of the time those restaurants deliver anyway.
A few months ago we headed from our home in Chennai to New Delhi and Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I typically spend hours exploring and photographing a city when I’m alone, but with the kids I have to pack light and plan lightly, too. Here is what our long weekend in Delhi and Agra looked like:
Travel to Delhi. After a short hour flight, we were greeted by our car & driver (we splurge on the things that make life easier and this gave us a bit of a home base on the road.) We checked into our hotel and spent a little downtime resting and planning our first outing. Bathroom breaks, backpacks full of matchbox cars, blankies, favorite books and ponies litter the hotel floor and sometimes it’s hard to break them away from this simple change of scenery. Our first afternoon and evening were spent in one of my favorite neighborhoods in Delhi, Hauz Khas Village. Hauz Khas is a quirky little urban village, chock full of amazing boutiques, galleries and restaurants built on the periphery of 13th century ruins. Street art, shopping and culinary bliss are around every corner. After a quick late afternoon snack at Amici, we took to the ruins where we ran around listening to local soloists take advantage of the ruins acoustics, lovers watching the sunset and tiptoeing along with the kids through hidden arches and rooms overlooking the tank. At dusk we met friends at one of Hauz Khas’ many restaurants, but arguably one of the coolest, Amour. We ate on the rooftop beneath the stars and carried sleeping babies to our car after a long day of travel, play and reunions with old friends.
The truth is there is no easy way to get to Agra. I mean, it isn’t exactly hard, but you certainly can’t fly right in. We got an early start with our early risers for the three hour drive from Delhi to Agra. We listened to World Cup Cricket matches on the radio and watched the scenery fly by on the four lane, beautifully-paved, super highway. Rest stops rivaled turnpikes in the U.S.A. and came complete with hot tea, snacks and ice cream vendors. Upon arrival at our hotel we once again regrouped, ate lunch and let the kids nap before our twilight tour of the Taj Mahal.
I am not always a fan of guides, but in instances like this, with the kids, a guide was a gift. We shimmied to the front of every line and learned things about history, architecture and culture that we’d have missed otherwise. Don’t forget that your guide is just that, your guide, so don’t be afraid to tell him what you want out of your experience. For us, it was a slow paced, information packed walk and a buffer/translator for the many vendors and photographers that try to hawk their wares. We had a wonderful and very professional tour guide with a tour company that I’ve come to trust during our time here in India who zipped us to the Taj, through it’s exhaust free radius, in a battery car and back on the carriage of a twinkling horse. Our guide carried one of the kids when we passed through a very manic crowd in the tomb and acted as a third set of eyes for a posse of three on a very busy Taj day. Enter take out and a movie.
The Red Fort. You have to see the Taj, but you really should see The Red Fort. We spent the better part of our morning here daydreaming about living in a palace like this, snatching stunning views of the Taj by morning and finding light in the most dreamy corners of the fort. It was a great place to let the kids stretch their legs from the previous days lengthy car ride and the return ride later that afternoon. With a short stop at the “Mini Taj” the kids began to fade and we headed for lunch, bid farewell to our guide and hit the back seats of our Toyota Innova for the return trip. I shyly admit that we once again ordered a pizza to the room and maybe a bottle of wine and some cold Kingfisher. After putting the kids to bed, Paul and I enjoyed pizza in plantation chairs on the patio.
A half day to wander New Delhi, a cool treat to our hot southern summer. We ditched our guide for our last day, having spent some time in Delhi myself, I knew just what I wanted to show the kids and Paul and that we could find our way on our own. Our first stop was Lodi Gardens, home of more spectacular ruins, peacocks, Kingfishers (the birds, not the cold brew this time) and large open expanses for the kids to play. With a touch more shopping on my mind we wandered back to Hauz Khas for lunch at ZO and treasure hunting through old photographs and Bollywood posters in second hand shops and to grab another of my favorite leather bags at Nappa Dori. Exhausted from another great adventure we took our short flight back home.
A long weekend at the Taj isn’t a hop, skip and a jump for just anyone, but once you’re here the pace with small kids is just about right. The people are warm and accommodating and the food, culture and architecture are a flavor sensation unlike any other.
Tour Company // Himalayan River Runners