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Family Travel editor, Jane Anderson recommends taking Delhi in manageable bursts when you visit with children
Delhi may feel like an overwhelming, unsuitable place for families, but it’s actually a wondrous city of many layers, built on many ancient cities, that suits all ages, especially when you have a bit of insider guidance.
Base yourselves at the Imperial Hotel, built in 1931, and the old-school service cushions any culture shock.
Highlight include a swim in the vast outdoor pool, an oasis from the metropolis beyond its high walls. It has to be one of the few pools where eagles swoop down to the ornamental fountains to take a drink. Lying on the bold yellow and white fluffy towels on a lounger is the perfect place to recharge before venturing out.
Head to the spa for some top class pampering. And don’t miss the old school gift shop stuffed with the best travel books, locally made silk shirts and gorgeous perfumed oils. Pop into Chanel shop where they sell on average three handbags a day all starting from a mere £3,000. An indication of tremendous wealth in this city we tend to associate with poverty.
The hotel’s breakfast is memorable with incredible fresh flavoured waters, juices and smoothies and a vast spread of food. And afterwards kids can run out onto the vast lawns to let off some steam. Afternoon tea in the lofty Atrium is another treat not to be missed at The Imperial.
Taking on the city in bite sized pieces with locals is the way forward with kids. Whether you’re a yoga novice or a devotee, don’t miss a family yoga session the Awaken Inner Buddha Yoga School in the peaceful Lohdi Gardens will set you up for a day of sightseeing or chilling out.
I was lucky enough to be taught by founder, Vidhi Chhariya who resembles a young Indian Jeff Goldblum and is on a mission is to promote healing across all ages.
As we stroll through the gardens, Vidhi explains he likes to practice outside so that we can take in the energy of nature. The gardens are certainly a world away from the frenetic, poverty stricken side of Delhi that everyone pictures. Vidhi says he feels that Delhi is one of the most misrepresented cities in the world and is in fact built on many ancient cities and has many green, calm spaces.
He’s brought along the yoga mats and soon we’re in our downwards dogs. Postures are taken slowly and before I know it, I’m doing my best headstand ever after filming my first attempt on my phone and correcting my posture. Towards the end of the session, the head park keeper for South Delhi joins us. Vidhi tells me he’s been trying to get this man to start yoga for years. It’s clear Vidhi is passionate about what he does, and it’s well worth trying yoga in the land it came from.
If there’s one thing everyone warns you of when you head to India it’s Delhi Belly! So the thought of touring round Old Delhi with my kids trying a range of unfamiliar street food from tiny stalls and unassuming stands seemed risky.
However in the safe hands of Delhi Food Walks this is in fact one of the best ways not only to eat genuine local food without a hint of tummy ache, but to get under the skin of these streets bursting with colourful humanity.
Our enthusiastic young guide, Lokendra, met us with water bottles and wipes at the ready in the Chandani Chowk area of Old Delhi. First stop was the Sikh temple, Gurudwara Seeshganj Sahib, which provides food for those in need and in fact anyone who is hungry and serves cups of tea 24/7. There’s even a free shoe cleaning and repair station. We learnt that Sikhs treat all gods as one and Scarlett and Fin loved to hear that the holy book is treated like a living entity and put to bed at night. A tour through the kitchens showed us the scale of the operation here massive sacks of wheat flour and rice. All the food is donated and made by volunteers, as is the impressive washing up station!
Pushing on through old Delhi’s crazy streets where it’s not unusual to dodge a moped on the pavement or get caught up in a procession – tonight was Hunuman Yayanti, the birthday of the Hindu god Hanuman.
Our first food stop was Natraj Café on a street corner near the train station. Here we ate aloo tikki, tasty potato patties stuffed with lentils, served in little foil trays with tamarind and green chilli and coriander sauce. A thumbs up from the kids.
Next up was the Lane of Parantha, a dish so famous, the whole street is named after it. We sat down at a table between the locals dining on naan bread with a choice of 26 stuffings from green pea to cottage cheese.
With plenty more food stops to go, we realized we had to pace ourselves! Lokendra led us down Kinaari Bazaar, otherwise known as Wedding Lane, a crazy collection of small shops packed to the gills with gold and rainbow coloured sari cloth, fancy edging, jewellery and fake flowers. And off down Naughara Street, nine houses that date back to the 18th century built by the Jain community when house facades were considered the face of the body, and the bigger the door the wealthier the family.
A quick richshaw ride took us to Jama Masjd, the largest mosque in India and the Muslim part of old Dehli.
Here we discovered the delightfully named, Gali Kebabiyan – Lane of Kebabs! And the illustrious Karim’s, renowned for its goat meat kebabs. Fin was impressed that here you could literally order an entire goat for 8800 rupees (£107) – No. 8 Tandoori Bakra on the menu! We opted for smaller, very tasty portions.
Lokendra pointed out a restaurant where you can buy meals for homeless people which seemed an appropriate enterprise in this city teeming with all life.
Next stop was Aslam Chicken, a tall narrow restaurant across four floors which serves the best butter chicken you’re every likely to taste, eaten with Roomali Roti, bread as thin as a handkerchief. This place gets so crowded the waiters lose track and people hold onto the back of chairs to reserve a seat! We wash ours down with a Thums Up – the local coca cola.
Although we’re almost bursting by now, there’s room for dessert. We stand in the street outside Cool Point, with mini terracotta pots full of kheer, mashed up creamy rice pudding with grated pistachio on top that we all love.
But our all time favourite stop is the last one. You would not look twice at this Kuremal, an open shop-front with just a concrete floor, plastic chairs, a huge freezer and a list of flavours on a board. This downbeat ice cream parlour proves the motto ‘never judge a book by its cover’, as out comes the most exquisite scoops in myriad colours.
We adore the kiwi and lychee sorbets and the coconut and mango ice creams. The rose petal flavoured ice cream is unbelievably delicate made with rose petals dried in the sun and marinaded in sugar syrup.
Lokendra laughs at us all as we manage to polish off an impressive amount of scoops after saying we were full. Best of all is Kulfi, reduced milk, sugar, pistachio, saffron and cardamom. A complex combo of flavours that literally tastes of India.
This food walk has been living proof that it’s well worth making the effort to go local in a place as culturally rich as Delhi. Children will challenge their taste buds and their minds too.
Delhi is usually explored as part of a wider trip around northern India.
Audley Travel offers a 12-day tailor-made itinerary through northern India including four nights at Me to We Araveli Cottages and Tented Camp where families work with the local community with all meals and experiences, one night at a beautiful countryside retreat in Shahpura, two nights in Jaipur, one night in Agra and two nights in Delhi (all B&B) from £3,995 per person based on four travelling (two adults, two children), sharing two rooms. Includes private, guided excursions in each destination, international and one domestic flight as well as a private vehicle and driver throughout.
If you’re nervous of travelling to India with kids, book with a tour operator such as Audley who look after you every step of the way yet give you the freedom have genuine experiences and discoveries.
Visit your GP six months before travelling to check up on what immunisations you all need and get them done well in advance of travel.
The best time to go
From October to March after the monsoon and when the desert sun isn’t so intense.