Are you dreading the coming school holidays when you’ll have to figure out how to keep your pre-schoolers and teens occupied? Summer camps can be a solution, but not for long. Children need family time. Here’s a list of 10 cool destinations to hang out with the kids this summer.
Travelling with children, young ones especially, can seem a bit daunting but need not be if you prepare right. Pick kid-friendly hotels or, better still, vacation apartments with small kitchenettes where you can heat milk for babies, make simple sandwiches for hungry munchkins and let the whole family spread out a bit instead of being cramped in a hotel room.
Take a good stroller along so you don’t get weary carrying small children everywhere you visit. Pack some board games for older children and the family to play as you may not be able to venture out after dark at hill stations in particular. Carrying colouring and sticker books to keep young kids occupied at airports and on trains where they get restless is also a good idea. A small first aid kit, or at least a few band-aids, should find room in your purse or backpack.
Here’s a list of 10 destinations within India that families can visit together. We’ve picked some cooler climes to give you and the kids a respite from the summer heat.
1. Kashmir – Houseboat and shikaras
Pic credit: makeindiatours.com
The Mughals called Kashmir ‘paradise on earth’ and the British named it ‘Switzerland of the East.’ The stunning valley, with its gentle slopes and distant snow-covered peaks, exquisite crafts and beautifully-laid out gardens, makes for a once-in-a-lifetime visit at least. The whole family will enjoy the experience of staying in a houseboat on Dal Lake in Srinagar and taking rides in the shikaras that ferry you to the shore. Travel up further to Gulmarg and Khilanmarg and there are opportunities for young kids to enjoy pony rides while teenagers get a chance to ski and trek. Food tip: Don’t forget to enjoy a cup of Kahwa tea.
2. Munnar – Tea gardens and Kalaripayattu
Photo credit: keralatourism.org
Located 1,600 m above sea level, Matheran was once the summer resort of the erstwhile British Government in South India. Sprawling tea plantations, picture-book towns, winding lanes and holiday facilities make this a popular resort town. Children of all ages will enjoy a tour of the tea plantations and tea museum. Another major attraction for the old and young is a performance of traditional Kerala martial arts – Kalaripayattu. Young boys of all ages often take part in it and interact with the children afterwards. For some culture exposure, enjoy a Kathakali performance – dramatic makeup and face masks are bound to tickle the fancy of young kids while proving an enlightening experience for your teenagers. Head to Echo Point and Lakkam Waterfalls where you can go for nature trails and treks too. Food tip: Aapams and stew at most restaurants and hotels.
3. Coonoor – Farm stay and cheese making
Photo credit: acres-wild.com
For a different holiday experience, try the all-year good weather destination of Coonoor. There are a couple of cheese making farms spread out over several acres in the area that the children are bound to enjoy. Take in a beautiful view of the Nilgiris and enjoy the experience of a farm stay. Kids may love getting the opportunity to milk a cow, watching the process of cheese making, and helping pick organic produce on the farm. Food tip: Cheese, of course!
4. Sikkim – Buddhist culture, wildlife and China border
Bound by the Himalayas with the majestic Teesta river crisscrossing the region, Sikkim is a relatively undiscovered delight. The surroundings here are clean and pristine, so make sure you leave them the same way when you depart. Since kids don’t enjoy being on the road for long stretches, it may be wise to confine your visit to the state to two cities – Pelling and Gangtok. In Pelling, visit the waterfalls, the rock garden, walk to the Rabdentse ruins and hike to the Sankacholing Monastery (this is a great hike with lots of beautiful butterflies and flora and fauna along the way). In Gangtok, the Himalayan Wildlife Park has black bears, red pandas, snow leopards, civets, etc. The animals have a huge area to move around in and look very healthy. Older kids may be up for a 3-hour drive to Nathu La pass, the border with China, which gives you a stunning view of Tibet. Other than this, just the exposure to Buddhist culture and monasteries will give your kids the memories of a lifetime. Food tip: A steaming hot bowl of Thukpa soup.
5. Mussoorie – Treks, history and cable car
Photo credit: ankitguptatravelagent.traveloca.com
Mussoorie, with its beautiful, undulating, tree-covered hills, looking down on the Doon valley and with a fantastic view of the Himalayas, is a quaint post-card pretty town in Uttarakhand. An idyllic stroll through any of the meandering mountain roads of the town, will bring you and the kids to some of the well known and not so well known spots – each with its own tale to tell – Landour Bazaar, Chaar dukaan, Lal tibba, Gun hill, the Camel Back cemetery, the Mussoorie Library, and of course the Savoy Hotel – a historical edifice in itself. Take the kids for a cable car ride and an eating sojourn to the Lovely Omelette Centre along the Mall – a cubbyhole that is said to serve some of the best omelettes in India. If you are very very lucky you may even run into Mussoorie resident Ruskin Bond, one of the most beloved writers of children’s literature in India, on one of your walks in the Landour area. Food tip: Omelettes at the Lovely Omelette Centre.
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6. Ranthambore National Park – Tigers and safari
Photo credit: travonica.com
This national park is known for tigers. People from around the world visit to see these magnificent creatures wandering around in their natural habitat – a sight that will give your children goosebumps for sure. Although there are other national parks in the country, spotting tigers is easier here. Summer may not be the ideal time to visit weather wise but this is when the tigers are really out and about – you will likely not come away disappointed. Have the kids look out for deer, nilgai, wild boars, bears, langurs, marsh crocodiles, and almost 500 species of birds as well. Amidst the hills, lakes and rivers in the picturesque region, lies a smattering of ruined old forts too, for the history buffs that is. Food tip: Chokhi Dhani restaurant offers traditional and authentic Rajasthani food.
7. Matheran – Zip-lining and toy train
Photo credit: mumbailocaltraintimetable.net
The smallest hill station in India to be declared an eco-sensitive zone by the Environment Ministry, Matheran is completely pollution free because it is a vehicle-free zone. Cars are banned in Matheran – horses and manual rickshaws are the only modes of transport allowed. But to reach here, you can take a toy train from Neral near Mumbai – the Matheran Light Railway covers a distance of 20 kms winding across hilly forest tracts – an experience the children will not want to miss. Matheran is also a popular spot for zip lining, paragliding and parasailing enthusiasts. Try any or all for a breathtaking aerial view of the rugged Western Ghats. Food tip: Do try the refreshing Kokum sherbet – a delicious local drink that is tangy and sweet.
8. Lonavala – Hot air balloon ride and Dell Adventures
Photo credit: enidhi.net
A hot air balloon ride, if you can afford it (Rs 6000-12,000 per person), is a spectacular way to see the Western Ghats. Imagine floating in the sky, with extraordinary views of lakes, valleys and cliffs! Lonavala is a great summer getaway from Mumbai. Della Adventures, just 3.3 km from Lonavala, is also a must-visit place with plenty of activities for kids – swoop swings, paintball, zip lining, dirt bike riding, rappelling, rodeo, bubble soccer, land zorbing, high rope challenge course, and much much more. Food tip: Hot batata vadas in the main market.
9. Bir Billing – Paragliding capital of India
The charming town of Bir is known worldwide as a destination for ecotourism and is praised by visitors from all corners of the world for its natural beauty. Bir is situated in the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh, amidst paths winding through tea gardens into the forests and the Dhauladhar mountains to the north. The greater Bir area (which includes Billing, the Tibetan Colony in Chowgan, Ghornala, and Sherab Ling in Bhattu) is home to a diverse community of over a thousand Indian villagers, a Tibetan refugee settlement, and a small but growing international population (including seasonal waves of paragliders and other outdoors enthusiasts). This is a destination for older children, especially those looking for some high octane paragliding adventure, natural beauty and treks. Food tip: Lhakpa Café in the main bazaar of Upper Bir serves tasty veg momos, but they usually run out around 1 pm so get there early.
10. Saputara – Honey extraction and ropeway
Photo credit: gujarattourism.com
This is the only hill station in the state of Gujarat. It is also one of the least developed areas, with several tribes still calling it home. But if you are looking for a quiet hill station, far from the crowds, you’ve found one. As for the kids, places and activities like the ropeway, rose garden, tribal museum, boating on the lake, camel and horse riding will keep them occupied and happy. A visit to the honey extraction centre, where they will enjoy observing the art of extracting honey from hives, is a must. Food tip: An authentic Gujarati thali.