Q and A: Make the most of an Indian summer

The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered


Q.
We are going to India with our three young children (aged seven, six and three) to attend a friend's wedding in Bangalore. We will be staying for a week, arriving in Bombay, and then travelling down to Bangalore by air. Is this reasonable for the children, and what is there for them to do in India? We were also considering leaving Bombay immediately and staying in Goa for a few days before going on to Bangalore. We went to India once before, and conditions were difficult.

Q. We are going to India with our three young children (aged seven, six and three) to attend a friend's wedding in Bangalore. We will be staying for a week, arriving in Bombay, and then travelling down to Bangalore by air. Is this reasonable for the children, and what is there for them to do in India? We were also considering leaving Bombay immediately and staying in Goa for a few days before going on to Bangalore. We went to India once before, and conditions were difficult.

Susan Basselier, by e-mail

A.The heat, the dirt and the crowds; India can be an exhausting place. But it can also be dazzling, friendly and exhilarating. And, because of the attention shown towards children (and, therefore, their parents), you will probably find that the frustrations you encountered last time you were in India will be diminished by having the children with you.

Planning a trip to India is never an easy task. Before you go, you need to make sure you're properly prepared – getting the necessary injections and visas and buying adequate insurance and even, to help the children get into the spirit of things, reading stories such as The Jungle Book at bedtime. Introducing their tastebuds to a few new flavours won't hurt either. Invest in a guidebook such as Your Child's Health Abroad (Bradt Publications, £8.95, www.bradt-travelguides.com), which is a valuable resource dealing with the special risks for youngsters.

The best precautions are the obvious ones. As you know, any visitor to India needs to be vigilant about health, including some rare but alarming diseases. Just last month 16 cases of plague were reported in Himachal Pradesh. However, apart from avoiding areas where there's an epidemic, it's the small things that can really make a difference – peeling fruit and vegetables, avoiding ice, resisting any food that looks like it might have been standing around too long, and even brushing your teeth with bottled water. You will also need to make sure no one gets dehydrated or sunburnt along the way. But, if you can cope with all that, and are prepared for the possibility that someone will get sick despite all the precautions, it should prove an enriching, colourful and rewarding experience for all of you.

The key to travelling in India, particularly with children in tow, is not to try to do too much or to be too regimented. Things rarely go to plan so, if you try to stick to a rigid timetable, your agenda, and possibly your sanity, will come unstuck pretty quickly.

Mumbai, as Bombay is now known, can be great fun. With attractions such as the fairground at Juhu Beach and the Breach Candy Club's India-shaped swimming pool to splash around in (about £5 entrance per adult), there's plenty there for children to see and do, but it might all be too much coming straight off a plane from Europe. And, despite its funky, liberal feel, with the accompanying sticky heat and choking pollution (and resolutely grown-up attractions of temples, palaces and gardens), Bangalore also isn't the most child-friendly introduction to the country.

Heading straight to Goa would be well advised; much better to ease them into India gently, with a few days of sunshine, soft sand and warm sea. And, because air travel within India is pretty cheap (around £70 per adult per hop and half that for under 12s), flying from Bombay to Goa to Bangalore shouldn't take too big a chunk out of your budget. Alternatively, you could make an adventure out of it and take the children on an overnight train ride on the new high-speed rail line between Goa and Bombay, which takes around 12 hours.

Unlike Kerala, where you can leave the beaches behind to take a boat trip through coconut groves or venture into the coffee and spice plantations in the hills, there isn't an awful lot more to Goa than beaches, swimming pools and a seam of colonial heritage left by the Portuguese. With all the construction that has gone on along the coast, it's no longer a jaw-dropping tropical idyll. However, it is still pretty enough, and a few days here will help you recover from the journey, become used to the Indian way of life and the heat without the stresses of being in a big city.

Goa also has a safe, laid-back, "India for beginners" feel to it, and the children should find plenty of others to mix with while you can relax and look forward to the wedding. One warning: make sure you know what you're letting yourselves in for if you're travelling in the rainy season (June to September). Prices may be lower, fields greener and beaches quieter, but many guesthouses and hotels close, roads can often become treacherous and the risk of malaria is greater. But, if you're travelling before then, you'll find good standard accommodation and cheap food in Goa. If you get bored of the beach and building sandcastles, or trying out watersports on offer at some of the many resorts that dot the coast, it's easy to get away from it all.

You could spend a day exploring the huge, crumbling Portuguese churches and once-lavish colonial villas of Old Goa or haggle your way through the markets. Or explore further afield by hiring a car and driver for a day (probably no more than £15).

For more information on travel with children, visit www.mumsnet.com or get a copy of Are We Nearly There? by Samantha Gore-Lyons (Virgin Books, £8.99) or Travel With Children by Cathy Lanigan (Lonely Planet, £8.99).

Send your family travel questions to S F Robinson, The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS Or crusoe@independent.co.uk

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