Think of Northern India, and the grand palaces of Rajasthan and the iconic Taj Mahal probably come to mind. However, travelling with our 2 and 3 year old boys, we were conscious that a full week of touring palaces and forts may be a bit much. So rather than opt for the well-trodden Rajasthan circuit, we decided to head East from Jaipur and Agra to explore the spiritual side of Northern India and end with a hill station with hopes of panoramic vistas to the Himalaya. This is our Northern India itinerary with young kids.
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We took trains where possible. Ensure you book these well in advance (www.irctc.co.in). When the tracks didn’t take us where we wanted to go, we opted for an auto or taxi. These can be booked through your accommodation, or flag one down and try your haggling skills. We flew directly in to the Pink City of Jaipur as we were able to fly direct from our home town of Bangalore. However, if coming from overseas, it’s more likely that Delhi will be your entry point; just adapt this itinerary and back track a little.
For much of the year, temperatures are hot. So plan your days around an afternoon siesta to escape the heat.
Day 1 – Arrive in Jaipur
The start of our ten day itinerary. Our flight landed early evening and so we only had time for dinner and showers before bed, ready for adventures to begin the next morning.
Visit the City Palace as soon as it opens at 9:30am to avoid the tour groups. Marvel at the intricate pink architecture whilst the kids run around enjoying the open spaces and hidden doorways. Try to catch a live traditional puppet show as well. Then pop over the road to Jantar Manta, an observatory with a collection of bizarre sculptures and instruments.
Later in the afternoon, take an auto to Naharagarh Fort (40 minutes drive) for incredible views back down to the city. As you can see from the above photo, it’s a great sunset spot.
By this time, you’ve probably befriended an auto driver. Arrange for him to collect you at 7:30am today to visit Amber Fort (Rs500 per adult), which opens at 8am. For little legs, it’s a bit of a walk uphill to the entrance, so you may have to resort to shoulder-carrys if, like us, you don’t use a sling. Once inside, the kids will love exploring the narrow staircases and corridors, which sometimes lead to an impressive elaborate courtyard, and other times a dead end.
There are a choice of afternoon trains to then take you to Agra, taking between 4.5 to 6 hours.
Arrive at the Taj Mahal for sunrise (Rs1000 per adult). This isn’t to beat the crowds (everyone is now in on the trick of getting there as soon as it opens), but rather to beat the heat. You will be there for a good couple of hours and if you need to take snacks for your little ones, just hide them better than we did in your day bag. Rather than shuffling along with the crowds, find a few shady spots so the kids can play and you can attempt to take it all in (as much as any parent can whilst ensuring their kids don’t kill each other wrestling). READ: Visiting the Taj Mahal with young kids
After breakfast in a roof-top restaurant over-looking the Taj Mahal, head back to the hotel for naps (it was a very early start!). Then later in the afternoon, visit Agra Fort (Rs500 per adult if you show your Taj Mahal ticket, saving Rs50) to explore more ancient tunnels and staircases, and perhaps look for dragons.
You could stay another night in Agra and get the train the next day to Haridwar. However, the prospect of entertaining our young boys on a train for 10 hours, didn’t appeal to us. Unfortunately there isn’t a sleeper train. Instead, we opted to break up the journey and ride the Gatimaan Express, the fastest train in India, to Delhi.
By all means, stay a day or two in Delhi to take in the sights, including the Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, Lodi Gardens, or even Safdarjung Tomb (check out this post from globetotting.com for more ideas). However, we felt the boys had perhaps seen enough palaces and forts and after a lazy morning, jumped on the 11am train to Haridwar. It’s supposed to only be a 5.5 hour journey. However, our train didn’t get in till 6pm, so we only really had time for dinner and bed once we had arrived at the hotel.
Take a 5 minute auto ride to the cable car for Mansa Devi Temple. Ensure you get there early to beat the crowds (opens 7am April to October, 8am November to March). It’s Rs100 for everyone over 110cm. It’s a chaotic shuffle around the temple. Hold the kids high so they can see the goings on and then save processing your thoughts for the gentle cable car ride back down.
In the late afternoon, take a stroll over the bridges and along the ghats towards Har-ki-Pairi Ghat Ganga Temple (quieter option). Find a spot on the ghat and watch the pilgrims bathing and placing offerings of flowers and candles on the water. At sunset you can watch a flamboyant fire ceremony.
After breakfast, flag down an auto to take you to Rishikesh. This is a seriously bumpy and spine-jarring road, so hold on tight! Once you reach the city of Rishikesh, you have to change autos to then take you to your hotel. Ideally you want to stay in the more picturesque, less hectic, north of town.
Spend the afternoon strolling around Laxman Jula. Cross over the wobbly bridge (minding the motorbikes, monkeys and cows), wander around the hippy-shops, grab a drink in an cool cafe or pop into a temple to enjoy the celebratory drumming and singing. The highlight for our boys, however, was playing in the sand on the banks of the River Ganges.
Head down to Ram Jhula and either walk along the bridge or take the short ferry crossing (Rs15 per adult return). Walk around the markets and ashrams, then pop to the ghats for a paddle (or dip!) in The Ganges.
Return in the evening to witness first-hand the noise, mystique and colour of a Ganga ceremony; the incredible levels of devotion shown by the pilgrims is breathtaking. We suggest going to the ghats to the left of the ferry crossing on the Northern side. It is one of the quieter options to witness the ceremony, which is perhaps more accessible for young kids. Finish your day by lighting a candle, placing it in the river, and watching it sail away on the current.
Book an early morning taxi to take you up the mountains to the colonial hill station of Mussoorie. I previously had visions of a quaint colonial hill station with dramatic vistas of the Himalaya. Unfortunately, it was a massive disappointment, starting with our hotel choice.
The town itself is just a congested mess of vehicles, tacky shops and people everywhere. Seriously the busiest place we have been to in the whole of India. Then to top it all off – cloud. Big white nothingness veiling any suggestion of a craggy edge. Thankfully, we stumbled across the wonderfully grand Savoy Hotel and the boys enjoyed ice-cream, football on the lawn and the best playground!
If, however, you have caught Mussourie on a clear day, there is a cable car to a wonderful viewpoint (Gun Point) and the drive along Camels Back Road is worthwhile (we managed to do this the next morning when the cloud had suddenly cleared!). We also suggest visiting during the week; it may be less crowded.
Where we stayed: One Earth Royale Boutique Hotel. Ridiculously overpriced and extremely run down (rooms smell of stale cigarette smoke and are very damp). Staff are sweet and view is wonderful on a clear day (see photo above, taken on the morning we left).
Day 10 – Fly home
If, like us, you arrived on a very cloudy day. Rise early, just in case the clouds have cleared to reveal those fine views. After breakfast, go into town to get a taxi to Dehradun Airport (aka Jolly Grant Airport, Rs1850). If you order a taxi from your hotel, the drivers seem to add on an extortionate fee. Allow two hours to get to the airport.
Continuing your itinerary…
From Dehradun Airport there are flights to main Indian cities, from where you can get an international flight home, or perhaps fly South to explore the sights of Hampi, Mysore, Kochi or Pondicherry, or maybe enjoy some well-deserved beach time in Goa.
To read more about travelling India with young kids, head to our India page.