Q & A: My little pony went to the Himalayas

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Q. I would like to take my 13-year-old daughter to India for the first time. We are both proficient riders and adventurous travellers, and so I was thinking of pony trekking in the Himalayas. Could we go in August, and what is the best way to organise it?

Q. I would like to take my 13-year-old daughter to India for the first time. We are both proficient riders and adventurous travellers, and so I was thinking of pony trekking in the Himalayas. Could we go in August, and what is the best way to organise it?

Lynn Coates, Edinburgh

A. To start on a negative note, the first thing to consider when planning a horseriding holiday abroad is the safety issue. It's important that you don't embark on this kind of trip without being fully aware of the possible risks. Generally, pony-trekking companies around the world do not live up to the stringent standards we have come to expect in the UK from approved riding schools and trekking centres. For instance, most do not supply hard hats. The British Horse Society ( www.bhs.org.uk) emphasises the importance of always taking your own. Once there, you should also take a good look at the tack before setting off, particularly the girth and bridle, to see if they are worn or cracked. If they are, then you should ask to have them changed. If the ponies seem too frisky don't be afraid of asking to swap. This said, pony trekking in the Himalayas, on mountain ponies once highly prized by the British army, could well be a truly memorable experience.

If you definitely want to travel in August, then your best option is Himachal Pradesh where you will be protected from the worst of the monsoon in the rainshadow area. Summer is the only time when many of the high mountain passes are open, enabling you to camp out at hot springs and visit Tibetan nomad camps at 14,000ft to 18,000ft. Alternatively, if you are prepared to take your daughter out of school for a couple of weeks, you could consider a gentler trip in Uttar Pradesh in October, when the monsoon will be over but it will still be warm. The Easter holidays, when the rhododendrons and spring flowers will be out, would also be ideal.

The mountains of the Garhwal and Kumaon regions of Uttar Pradesh are not as high as those of Himachal Pradesh, but are still stunningly beautiful. In Garhwal you may encounter Hindu pilgrims along the route as the mountains are the source of the Ganges and have great spiritual significance. Further east in the foothills of Kumaon, you can ride around the fringes of the forested Corbett National Park, where you might see herds of wild elephant, monkeys and other wildlife.

You could travel to India independently and organise your pony trekking with a local operator, but bearing in mind the above concerns it might give you more peace of mind to opt for a tailor-made tour organised in the UK. This will also give you a clearer sense of what your holiday holds in store before you get there. An 18-day pony trek with Chandertal Tours (01323 422213; www.steali.co.uk/chandertal-tours) for example, based in Manali and going into the high Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh, would cost £1,140 per person. This covers flights, hotels in Delhi, Chandigargh and Manali, transportation to and from the mountains by train and road, tents, food, a cook, ponies and a guide, plus trekking permit fees. Manali is at the head of the lush Kullu Valley, and in August, to avoid the monsoon, the tour would cross the 13,000ft-high Rohtang Pass into the rainshadow areas of Lahaul, Spiti, Zanskar and Ladakh, allowing for acclimatisation to the altitude. At lower altitudes in Uttar Pradesh, Oksana Travel (0845 345 5996; www.oksana.co.uk) offers a mix of pony-trekking to the poetically-named Valley of Flowers with game viewing by elephant or jeep around the Corbett National Park. The £1,110 per-person cost does not include flights, so the total would come to around £1,600 each.

Visas from the High Commission of India, India House, Aldwych, London WC2B 4NA ( www.hcilondon.org; 020-7836 8484) cost £30 per person. Special permits are also required for travelling to parts of Ladakh and for trekking in the Corbett National Park.

For advice on safety issues, consult the Foreign Office Travel Advice Unit on 020-7238 4503, visit the website www.fco.gov.uk or see BBC2 Ceefax Page 470.

For more information on other types of holidays in the Himalayas contact the Indian Government Tourist Office on 020-7437 3677 or, alternatively, visit the website www.tourisminindia.com.

Q.There seem to be hundreds of general travel websites out there, but are there any good sites for family travel?

Deanne Jones by e-mail

A.Whether you are in need of inspiration, want your health concerns answered, or are trying to find a child-friendly resort, there is no shortage of family travel websites: although many of the most developed sites are US-oriented, and often don't seem to recognise that the world outside North America and the Caribbean exists.

The Fodors travel site has a family subsection ( www.fodors.com/familytravel) with a regular features column and lots of useful links to other quirkier sites, such as Grandparent World. About's Travel With Kids ( www.travelwithkids.about.com) is a well presented site that is strong on travel advice and includes a family-travel forum where you can share ideas. Ivillage's family-travel site (www.ivillage.com/topics/ travel/travel/) also has lots of common-sense advice, though the copy sounds a little corny: "Take your kids to the bathroom before you board the plane, and again 30 minutes before landing" is one example.

My personal favourite from among the US sites is the Family Travel Forum ( www.familytravelforum.com), which covers many less mainstream destinations. The whole site is dedicated to family travel but the downside is you have to pay $3.95 (£2.77) a month for access to the archives.

One of the best UK sites is Icircle's family subsection ( www.icircle.com/Articles/ ViewArticle.asp?ArticleID=311) which includes a list of child-friendly hotels in some British counties and is a good place to find travel ideas linked to companies that can fulfil them. ICircle also offers an "Ask the Expert" facility, in which the expert is a human being rather than a search engine (not always the case!). Family Travel ( www.family-travel.co.uk) looks promising but is still under construction. The attractive, uncluttered design is complemented by the promise of great content and really helpful interactive features such as a "decision tree" to help you decide where to go. The "Practicalities" section is already full of free suggestions, including exhaustive health advice, but when complete, you will have to pay £14.95 to get access to the full database.

Of course, there are plenty of sites selling holidays: www.thefirstresort.co.uk and www.virgintravelstore.com are interesting because they offer a wide range of tour operators. For simple inspiration, look at www.whereintheworld.co.uk/level1_pages/with_the_kids.htm. This has links to a variety of tour operators' products, many of them US-based, selling tours for the truly adventurous family, from elephant trekking in Assam or kayaking in Fiji to sailing down the Amazon. Good hunting.

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