When the opportunity arose for Elisa Elwin and her 14 year old daughter Tori to undertake a three week journey to research and write about India as a family destination, it was an opportunity to good to pass up
It also became a time of personal growth, a chance to reality check their lives in Australia and for mother and daughter to reclaim their bond.
This way or that way? Planning a trip to India with an expert guide is definitely a good idea!
To some India conjures visions of magical palaces, snake charmers, saris and yoga. To others it’s tigers, Bollywood and curry. India seems so amazing and yet it hasn’t been high on the Australian family travel agenda.
India is such a diverse, absorbing and vast country that three weeks meant we didn’t have nearly enough time to cover its distances or all its inspiring locations.
Tori and I worked together to research and find the best stops to include on our journey – refining and calibrating our itinerary to fit as much as we possibly could without exhausting ourselves in the process.
It didn’t take us long to realise that for our trip to be a success we’d need expert guidance. In stepped Lincoln Harris from award winning, India Unbound whose fantastic help in planning every aspect of our itinerary ensured both mother and daughter would get to see and do everything we desired.
The best customised laid plans to explore India... require time and dedication
The southern states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, really appealed to both Tori and I. The pure beauty of the green, coastal rural states, the calmness of their less cluttered lifestyle and the option of home stays as well fabulous resort style accommodation suggested to us an India that we would capture and captivate. So it didn’t take much convincing to plan the larger part of our time down south.
But then how could we possibly go all the way to India and not visit the Taj Mahal? A few days on the tried and true trails of North India’s golden Triangle simply had to be squeezed in. We read, scoured Internet sites, and had many phone calls and e-mails to Lincoln whose calm reassurances and expert judgment became crucial to our venture into India.
Itineraries aside, there is a lot to plan and prepare for before visiting India
We covered all the health issues I could think of and stocked our luggage with a virtual pharmacy for any illness or mishap. We chose our clothing carefully to cope with the heat whilst maintaining all-important modesty – no short shorts, and plenty of coverage for shoulders and cleavage.
Finally, we tried to prepare for the impending culture shock we knew was awaiting us. To ready and steady us for what everyone says is an absolute invasion of all senses, we read up on women travelling alone. India Unbound ensured that we would have a driver for our entire journey (except the planes and trains) and a personal guide to nurture our appreciation of the myriad of experiences we were to absorb.
Unexpected rewards from our trip to India
With visas to the ready and as much planning, information and guidance as we could stuff in, we were on our way…
Part of the adventure of a trip to incredible India is in the anticipation and planning. And all the effort paid off. We had a wonderful trip and India gave us so much more than just an exciting adventure. In our three weeks together, exploring a country filled with such colourful and confronting culture, I found the heart of my feisty teenager again. I learned to value humour and appreciate how resilient life is. I learned to value again all that I have and take the time to appreciate this.
Here’s our itinerary to whet your appetite.
An Incredible Indian Itinerary
Day 1 - Sydney – Singapore – Trivandrum
Morning flight from Sydney to Thiruvananthapuram, via Singapore. On arrival transfer to the beach area of Kovalam.
Day 2 - Kovalam
A day to visit the local area and experience some of the spas and Ayurvedic centres at your leisure.
Day 3 - Kovalam
Another lovely spa day. Enjoy a beachfront seafood BBQ at one of the many restaurants.
Day 4 - Kovalam - Alleppey - Emerald Isle
Today begins with a four hour drive to Alleppey, the main town of the Kerala backwaters. Your accommodation is a small guesthouse set on its own island, with fabulous food and a gracious host. Local women skilled in Ayurvedic massage and henna tattoos (mehendi) can visit the guesthouse.
Day 5 - Alleppey - Emerald Isle
Ride into the local town by bike to visit the 1000 year old church and Hindu temple and see life unfold in a small backwater village. Visit the a pottery factory, see how toddy (a natural alcoholic drink) is tapped from the coconut tree or head out on a canoe to explore the small canals and rivers around the island.
Day 6 - Alleppey - Cochin
This morning we have a two hour drive to Cochin. The afternoon is free to explore this pretty and quiet historical area.
Day 7 - Cochin - Palakkad - Kandath Tharavad
An early morning departure today to Kodanad and the elephant kraal (training camp) to join the mahout in washing the elephants. Afterwards, we continue on to Palakkad. Where your accommodation is in an ancestral landowner’s home in a small village.
Day 8 - Palakkad - Kandath Tharavad
Start the morning at a nearby teashop for a breakfast of rice cakes and chai. There is a range of activities to be enjoyed today. Bird watching, a walk through the nearby village and visit to its small temple, a reading from the family astrologer, a visit to the 2000 year old Jain temple in Palakkad or a visit to the small local school are all options. Overnight to Kandath Tharavad.
Day 9 - Palakkad - Dindigul
Today we take a four hour drive to Dindigul. Your accommodation, Cardamom House, is set on the edge of a lake nestled at the bottom of the Western Ghats mountain range. The guesthouse is on an ‘eco-farm’ with water and waste recycling and solar power employed.
Day 10 - Cardamom House
There is a great deal to occupy you at Cardamom House. Visit the nearby village to get a sense of a typical Tamil Nadu town. Walk around the lake, do some bird and wildlife watching or visit the small local temple. There are also farm activities, many based on the sustainable principles of the property. In the late afternoon enjoy the sight of the sun sinking behind the Western Ghats.
Day 11 - Dindigul - Mysore
An easy morning before an afternoon transfer to Dindigul train station to board an overnight train to Mysore.
Day 12 - Mysore - Bandipur
This morning we drive to the newly opened Eco lodge, Dholes’ Den in Bandipur. In the afternoon take a jeep safari into the National Park to spot sloth bears, elephants, leopards and the elusive tiger.
Day 13 - Bandipur
Today you have a full day to enjoy the resort or take a trip in the park on optional nature walks. You might like to take the organic garden walk to the peak of the nearest hill for the amazing views or help prepare meals with the lodge’s chef.
Day 14 - Bandipur - Mysore
The morning starts with a two hour drive back to Mysore. In the afternoon visit the fantastically kitsch palace and lively market for great shopping. This is a good stop for kids.
Day 15 - Mysore - Bangalore - Delhi - Agra
This morning we fly to Delhi for an afternoon transfer to Agra to celebrate the “Festival of Lights”, Diwali. Explore the bustling evening children’s carnival and be part of the city fireworks show. This is a wonderful opportunity to experience the joy of Indian families celebrating one of their most loved public holidays.
Day 16 - Agra - Jaipur
After a dawn visit to Taj and a morning visit to Agra Fort we drive to the Pink City of Jaipur. Enjoy a traditional Rajasthan puppet show and explore the fantastic shopping along the endless bazaars.
Day 17 - Jaipur
Explore the Old City and take an elephant ride up to the Amber Fort. See the amazing Jal Mahal Water Palace and spend time at the Sundial Museum. The afternoon is free for shopping. Jaipur is famous for its semi precious gems, block printing, rugs, textiles, trinkets and shoes.
Day 18 - Jaipur - Delhi
This morning we drive to Delhi. The afternoon can be spent exploring the hectic and cosmopolitan old and new cities. Be sure to enjoy dinner at one of Delhi’s fabulous restaurants.
Day 19 - Delhi - Singapore - Sydney
On your last day visit Gandhi’s Memorial, the Red Fort and the National Museum before taking care of any last minute purchases. Delhi has great shopping opportunities for gifts and souvenirs to keep as memories of your trip. Relax and enjoy your flight Home.
The Reluctant Traveller - Tori Herbert, 14
A man I met in India said to me “You can look at this trip two ways. One you wish you were back home in your sheltered protected life so you can do the same thing over and over or you can travel, be different, open your eyes and discover from this experience and develop the person that you really are.”
Planning this trip didn’t thrill me too much. After all, holidays are meant to be about going out with friends and spending time away from family for a “break”. So when my mum told me we were going on a three-week trip to India I wasn’t impressed. But now, looking back I was being closed and naïve to an experience of a lifetime that has left me with a completely different outlook.
Going on this trip I have concluded that travelling and going on a holiday are two very different things. A holiday equals staying in your comfort zone, doing nothing in particular. Travelling equals breaking out of your comfort zone, trying new things, exploring and having once in a lifetime experiences. India is a country that confronts the newcomer leaving them with a new mindset and a new awareness. It is a place of never-ending juxtapositions, going from one place to another and trying to make sense of what you have seen and what’s next. India is a mind puzzle for foreigners like me to figure out.
As soon as we landed, the colours began to flash before me. Magnificent rich reds, oranges and yellows mixed to make a rainbow streaming past my eyes. Here, women carrying objects on their heads. There, children playing and clapping hands on the street. The jingle of bells from the women’s jewellery and the smell of freshly made chai invades my senses. In 14 years of travelling with a mother who can’t get enough of exploring the world, I have never been to a more interesting, different and culture enriched country.
When to go
The weather is hot most of the year with variations from region to region. The coolest weather lasts from around December to February, with fresh mornings and evenings and mostly sunny days. The really hot weather, when it is dry, dusty and a little uncomfortable is between March and June. Summer monsoonal rains occur in most regions between June and early October.
All foreign nationals MUST obtain a visa to travel to India (Except Bhutan & Nepal Nationals). More information Indian Consulate Sydney
The currency is the Indian rupee. At the time of writing , AU$1 buys you Rs.42.5
Local languages vary from state to state and include Tamil, Hindi and Malayalam but English is widely spoken.
Visit your doctor for immunizations and malaria treatments at least six weeks before departure. Take all required medications, antibiotics and precautionary drugs such as anti-diarrhoea with you in their original boxes.