As someone who has a chronic case of wanderlust, it’s no surprise that I like to take short breaks whenever long weekends, school holidays and bank holidays present the chance for a vacation. So when my birthday fell over a public holiday this year, I boldly decided to travel to a spot that I’ve always dreamed of: India’s Golden Triangle – Agra, Delhi and Jaipur. If you think a quick family road trip with kids to India’s Golden Triangle sounds totally insane, fear not. We scoured travel forums, Singapore Airlines, and Google maps to judge if our dream vacation was possible, especially with children coming along. Read on to find out how you can do it too…
Day 1 (WEDNESDAY) – SINGAPORE TO DELHI
8pm: We arrived at Delhi International Airport. Hubby was clever enough to apply early for the easy Visa on Arrival service, saving us loads of time queuing at the passport control counter on arrival.
Travel time: 5.5 hour flight
DAY 2 (THURSDAY) – DELHI TO JAIPUR
We know what you’re thinking – hasn’t Delhi had a bad rap lately? We, too, were hesitant to visit India with kids in tow, however, in the hands of Adventure Holiday Tours – a family-run tour operator in India that has received praiseworthy, in-the-know travel insider accolades from TripAdvisor – we knew we’d be well cared for throughout our journey.
10:30 am: Our pre-booked car and driver from Adventure Holiday Tours met us at the hotel, where we set off on NH8, the 270 km Delhi to Jaipur highway. The sights and sounds of Delhi traffic permeated our views as our skilled driver navigated through the chaos of mid-morning traffic jams to get us on our way. Once on the outskirts of Delhi, the road was smooth, offering us a peaceful glimpse of the countryside as we left a piece of the capital city behind us. We kept ourselves entertained by the delight in our daughter’s eyes as she spied the beauty of Rajasthan unfolding – an endless roadside parade of cows, monkeys and camel-led carts that took their place among the cars.
3pm: With the hints of a most pressing request from our littlest dictator, our thoughtful driver made a pit stop at Jal Mahal, and expertly haggled for one very satisfied five-year-old to ride atop a camel for the first time. Smile factor: exponential.
4:30 pm: Winding our way past the Amber Fort and passing through the Amer Gate, we made our way into the Pink City, famed for it’s pink buildings of Old Jaipur. Simply stunning scenes of old-world tradition rolled by, while our driver filled us in on what was happening outside.
5pm: Arrive at Jaipur hotel.
Travel time: 4 hours (including traffic and a pit stop)
DAY 3 (FRIDAY) – JAIPUR, HAWA MAHAL, AMER FORT, JAL MAHAL, WOOD BLOCKING TEXTILE AND CARPET FACTORIES, JANTAR MATAR OBSERVATORY, CITY PALACE
9am: We arranged for a hotel pick-up, drove through Jaipur (The Pink City) and made a quick stop at Hawa Mahal (Wind Palace). For parents, the above itinerary might induce a panic attack when thinking of your kids trouncing through so much activity in one day. Yes, it sounds like a LOT, but we were handled by one of the best tour guides ever, Pawan Singh. Pawan’s boundless energy and intuition gave us the ability to pace ourselves through the activities, taking breaks when we needed. Not only was Pawan great in helping to navigate sights and negotiating our family’s energy, he was clever to set up quizzes throughout the day to make sure we learned as much about the attractions as we could.
10:30am: An amazing 17th century fort and palace set against a lush hillside next to Jaigarh Fort, Amer Fort displays an amazing array of colors, frescoes and lots of nooks to discover as you imagine living in this lap of luxury during its heyday. Although we capped our visit at 2 hours, we could have easily stayed here longer.
1pm: Lunch time in Jaipur! It’s understandable to be nervous about dining in India with kids. Our guide took into account our dietary requirements (hubby’s a vegan, I’m allergic to shellfish, and our little one doesn’t like curry) and suggested tasty eateries that appealed to all of us.
2pm: Jaipur is well known for its textiles and jewellery, and as I had a Bollywood-themed fundraiser to attend back in Singapore coming up, we visited a traditional wood block textile factory, where our little one learned the trade and even made her very own elephant print. At the attached carpet factory, we watched carpet makers in their craft, and even helped to further condition the finished carpets by hopping on them. After a small memento purchase, we then packed up the car and headed to Jantar Matar Observatory, where we witnessed the majesty of the world’s largest sun dial in action. Next to Jantar Matar, we headed into the City Palace, built in the 1700s and home to an aspiring artist community. City Palace completely wowed us again – telling new stories around every corner of history.
6pm: After a full day of traipsing around forts, palaces, ancient observatories and Jaipur sites, we were ready for a good shower and meal at our hotel.
DAY 4 (SATURDAY) – DRIVE FROM JAIPUR TO AGRA
10 am: Our tireless driver arrived promptly for the next leg of our family road trip through India. Taking NH11, we scooted along the highway until arriving at Rajasthan Motel, a tourist stop where we were greeted by dancers and a good (and clean) alfresco meal. Back on the road, we were once again greeted by the ever-crowded “taxis” that closer resembled deathtraps than reliable transportation. Entering Uttar Pradesh from Rajasthan, you’ll encounter a marked difference in landscape, as the weather became a few degrees cooler and the rolling landscape turned darker.
40 kilometers from Agra, our driver suggested making a stop to visit Fatehpur Sikri, the 16th century Mughal capital built by Akbar the Great. Trooping though the palace buildings, pavilions, and Jama Masjid, our guide gave us a mini-lesson, tying in the old with the new. The ancient king played nightly games of “human Parcheesi” to select his bedmates from a harem of over 5000 women, and in modern days, Carla Bruni’s visit enabled her and former French President Sarkozy to become pregnant after a period of infertility.
6 pm: Arrive at Agra hotel.
Travel time: 7 hours (including traffic, lunch stop and Fatehpur Sikri visit)
DAY 5 (SUNDAY) – AGRA, THE TAJ MAHAL, AN ARTISAN MARBLE WORKSHOP AND DELHI
8:30 am: We were met by Sanjay Singh, our Agra guide who, I’m fairly convinced, just might be the mayor of the Taj Mahal. Thoroughly knowledgeable in all facets of this amazing wonder of the world, Sanjay was also an excellent time manager and gracious host, enabling us perfect photo ops around every corner by making way for us passing through. We felt like VIPs under Sanjay’s care, and we were in and out of the grand monument in under two hours, never feeling rushed along the way.
Foregoing the trip to Agra Fort, we opted to visit an artisan marble workshop. Legend has it that all marble craftsmen in Agra have descended via filial lineage, learning their trade through family heritage. We watched as these men sculpted and crafted wares using the same techniques and materials used to build the Taj Mahal hundreds of years earlier. Take note: as Agra is a tax-free zone, visitors can take advantage of savings when purchasing local art, wine, wares and bespoke crafts.
Arriving back at our hotel around 1pm, we packed our bags, enjoyed a quick lunch, and set off the road again, this time on the incredibly modern and ultra smooth Taj Express Highway/Yamuna Expressway, taking us to Delhi in just under three hours.
4:30 pm: With the late afternoon hours to spare, we had just enough time to take a plunge in the pool and enjoy a meal before repacking our bags to head back home in the morning.
Our top tips for travelling with kids to India:
- Take advantage of early web check-in, giving yourselves more time at Changi Airport to shop duty free, eat dinner, and blow off some steam at one of the many amazing Changi Airport playgrounds and activities for kids.
- Download a travel map on your mobile device before heading out on the road – it’ll save you a lot of “are we there yet?!”queries.
- “Prepared” moms know that any flight over three hours sends our kids into a tizzy. Because flights to Delhi are 5.5 hours, be prepared with a carry on bag loaded with stickers, doodling pens, small magnetic chess set, and a loaded iPad.
- Pack loads of non-perishable snacks from home to eat along the journey. Goldfish and granola bars can go a long way, my friends!
- Take advantage of Visa on Arrival at Delhi International Airport.
- Before you go, educate your children about visible poverty in the region, and prepare them with appropriate behavior.
- The Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays, so plan accordingly.
- October through March is the best time to visit the Golden Triangle, as it’s the best weather for sightseeing.
- The toilet cleanliness factor wasn’t a concern, as we were lucky to find only clean and modern toilets, thanks to our wonderful tour guides.
- Some tour guides may encourage you to get an early start on the Taj Mahal to catch the sunrise. Ain’t no momma got time for that! We opted to sleep in later, and had no regrets for our relaxed morning start.
- Full moons are the busiest time to visit the Taj Mahal, as the moonlight is said to make the Taj Mahal appear to “float” above the four water pools.
- Just driving around Jaipur is an attraction in itself – the old carpet makers, markets, snake charmers, markets and more proved a fascinating scene. Keep in mind that Wikipedia lists over 160 attractions in Jaipur, so our trip was merely a taster for a much longer stay in Rajasthan.
- Holiday Inn, New Delhi International Airport – This is a must, in our opinion! We were more than impressed with the ease in airport transfers, the professionalism of the staff, quality of food, and overall comfort of this hotel.
- Adventure Holiday Tours – Tarun Sharma, the eldest son in the business, promptly answered each of my email inquiries with patience, setting us up with a car and driver for the duration of the trip, and pairing us with knowledgeable guides in each city who will haggle for the best deals.
- Singapore Airlines – Ease into family travel by taking flight SQ406 (departing at 5pm, arriving Delhi at 8:10pm), and flight SQ401 (departing at 9:30am, arriving Singapore at 5:40pm).
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