Child’s play amid Delhi’s chaos
The Holi festival in Dehli is huge fun for kids, and even all the family. (Huw Jones/LPI)
At first chaotic, teeming, tumultuous glance, you might be forgiven for thinking that Delhi, the 12.8–million strong capital of India, is not the most relaxing place to spend time with children. And to a great extent you would be right. Try crossing Connaught Place amid careening traffic while gripping the arms of several toddlers and you will be racing back to the cloistered sanctuary of your five-star hotel room as soon as humanly possible.
But for those steadfast families determined to brave the crowds and the chaos, Delhi has a great deal to offer. Start your morning in South Indian culinary heaven at one of several branches of Saravana Bhavan with a masala dosa, a huge, crisp rice pancake stuffed with a potato-onion filling served with tangy coconut chutneys. It is the ultimate finger food for any cutlery-reluctant youngster. Next, head to Old Delhi, whose tightly-packed market alleys off the main, crumbling Chandni Chowk boulevard are best explored – to the delight of children old and young – by whizzing auto-rickshaw. Take a quick jaunt around the Red Fort, Delhi’s last Mughal bastion, before the mid-morning crowds descend, then cross the road to take animal-loving children on a visit to the Jain Bird Hospital, run by Jain devotees at the Digambar Temple, who rescue and nurse injured sparrows and lowly street pigeons back to health.
Alternatively, children (and parents) with a social conscience will be captivated by a walking tour organised by the Salaam Baalak Trust, where former street children act as guides, showing visitors what life is like for Delhi’s multitudes of street children. Call in advance to secure a place on a walk, which begins daily at 10 am (except Sundays) at the Rail Reservation Centre on Chelmsford Road. Fuel up afterwards (with the utmost gratitude for your lot in life) at Haldiram’s, where downstairs, piles of alluring mithai (sweets) lure candy-lovers and upstairs, tasty Indian dishes and spice-free pizzas abound in air-conditioned comfort.
Back in the centre of the city, kids with a penchant for all things locomotive will enjoy a spin of the National Rail Museum, featuring some 11 acres of rail-related exhibitions and memorabilia, including the Fairy Queen — the world’s oldest still-running steam train — the saloon car of King Edward VII and the skull of an elephant who unsuccessfully decided to charge full-tilt at a train. For those with more interest in all things celestial, head to the peculiar terracotta forms of the Jantar Mantar, an observatory constructed in 1725 by the Maharajah Jai Singh. Then little girls – or boys – with a profound love of dolls will appreciate a visit to Shankar’s International Doll Museum, wherein some 6,500 playthings permanently reside.
Returning to Connaught Place, seek out a child-friendly street snack on the inner circle, where ice cream vendors and a nameless stall dishing up particularly tasty sweetcorn ply their wares. Or pick up a cheese sandwich from Wengers, a long-running bakery whose simple cakes and sandwiches have been delighting Delhi’s children for decades. Little ones might enjoy working off some steam with a swing, slide and spin at the large playground just across from the imposing India Gate, or hop into a kitsch floating swan for a round of the boating lake nearby. And if all that action has made your brood weary, consider holing up with a big bag of popcorn and a movie at Connaught Place’s comfortable PVR Plaza Cinema, which frequently runs international new releases.
Before heading back to the comfort of your hotel, stop off for a sunset stroll in the serene Lodi Gardens or a glance at the beautiful Baha’i House of Worship (also known as the Lotus Temple), though only reliably quiet children are encouraged to enter its meditation-orientated interior. Next dine at the Cinderella’s-castle-style Hare Krishna Temple nearby, whose Govinda’s restaurant offers a fantastic vegetarian buffet from 7pm to 10pm nightly (see if your children can out-greet the frequent “Hare Krishna” greetings of various buffet attendants). Or, for more thoroughly familiar fare, end your child-friendly Delhi day in at the United Coffee House for a comforting bowl of pasta marinara, the All American Diner for a pretty decent hotdog or The Kitchen at the heart of the relaxed Khan Market, for a big, familiar plate of fish and chips before bedtime.