India: Pure Wonderment

India is an enchanting destination, where the stuff of exotic fairy tales—the maharaja palaces, colorful bazaars, snake charmers, shadowy mystics—comes alive, all sprinkled with a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors, mysterious scents and intense tastes. This is a place where the imaginative kid comes alive as they travel from city to city through surreal landscapes, go in search of tigers, or view camels parading through Pushkar.

celebrate two humps in pushkar Pushkar celebrates the camel with the Pushkar Camel Fair, where snake charmers, acrobats, magicians, and mystics descend on this Indian city for a festive 5-day event that is usually held in November. It’s held during the Kartik Purnima full moon and is considered one of India’s most highly rated travel experiences, a spectacle on an epic scale, attracting 300,000 people and up to 20,000 camels, cattle and horses. Intrepid Travel offers a few tour options that include Pushkar, but one of the best for a family vacation is the 15-day Slowly Down the Ganges, which starts off in chaotic Delhi, where everyone will be in awe of the sights, including India’s largest mosque. After two days of taking it all in, it’s time for a River Ganges boat trip, passing village communities on the way to Varanasi, where a true feast for the eyes awaits, with its brightly colored devotees, twisting alleyways, and candle-lit flower ceremony. No trip to India is complete without a visit to Agra, home to the iconic Taj Mahal, or bargaining in the bazaars of Jaipur. There’s even time to feel like a maharaja with an overnight stay in the ancient Roopangarh Fort, with its serpentine entrance, turrets and grand hall. The last couple of days are dedicated to Pushkar, where visitors can plod through the desert on camelback to enjoy the moody Pushkar sands at dusk. That evening it’s time to camp under the stars while listening to the music of Rajasthani nomads. And of course, if clients are visiting in November, they can take time out to enjoy the Camel Fair. 2011 dates for the fair are Oct. 31 to Nov. 9; 2012 dates were unavailable at press time. Call Intrepid Travel for specifics on 2012 departures that coincide with the Pushkar Camel Fair. For clients unavailable during the fair dates, year-round departures are available for this tour. Note that transportation throughout the trip includes train, jeep, boat, local bus, auto rickshaw, cycle rickshaw, and camel, and kids must be at least 12 to participate on the tour.

elephants, tigers & snake charmers Kensington Tours, meanwhile, has a custom-designed personal India family tour that features a hot air balloon ride, elephant rides, exploring the Red Fort and getting lost in the hall of mirrors in the Amber Fort. Its 9-day India Family Highlights itinerary takes families through Delhi, Agra, Ranthambore and Jaipur. In Delhi, Kensington Tours mixes education—including visits to the Humayun’s Tomb and the India Gate—with more whimsical delights such as a stroll through the bazaars of Chandni Chowk, or Moonlit Square. After a day visiting Agra, it’s off to Rajasthan, to visit Ranthambore, a national park and tiger reserve. Here, families will trek for tigers, and look out for leopards, wild boar and hyena, among other wildlife. There’s also time to explore the 13th century Ranthambore Fort seemingly lost in the midst of the jungle. In Ranthambore, too, families will love the accommodations, the Khem Villas, with traditional rooms, cottages and tents. They’ll dine on freshly cooked food using mainly home grown organic vegetables (true adventurers will finally want to taste their veggies!). Jaipur offers up an elephant ride up to Amber Fort, reputed to be the treasure vault of the Kacchwaha rulers. This is a 4- to 5-hour safari that includes decorated elephants with seating for two and hot lunch at Kanota Palace, among other fun items. The last day brings a mesmerizing, 1-hour hot air balloon ride over Jaipur where clients will spot forts, palaces, monuments, hidden gardens and simply soak in the wonders of this “Pink City.” Tour rates range from $2,538 to $3,267 pp dbl (based on two to four people). The tour includes English-speaking guide, air-conditioned vehicle and personal driver.