I’ve always dreamed of visiting India with my children and would go there if I had the time and money! I’d show them the Taj Mahal and introduce them to delicious new spices. I’d teach them yoga and help them understand Hinduism.
We would decorate ourselves with henna, learn to count in new languages, and marvel at a Bollywood film. But I’m trapped in American suburbia with a carpool, a mortgage, and a full-time job. How can I offer India to my kids?
“Visit” India for the weekend! Do a little research before your trip by looking at a globe and a map. How far away is India from your house? What is the time change? How big is India and how many religions do they practice there? Read aloud about many special features of living in India – from the front gate to wedding celebrations to give your kids an exciting overview of Indian life and motivate the trip.
Perhaps stop at the library on your way home from school on Friday afternoon and browse the juvenile non-fiction section for books about India and Hinduism. What do your kids wish they could see or do if they actually traveled to India? Fun children’s books about India include Going to School in India and The Drum: A Folktale from India. Here is a wonderful review of more books about India.
On Saturday morning, wake up to a nice warm cup of chai. Find it at your local coffee shop, as a liquid to mix with milk at home, or make your own. Make it weak for younger kids. Older kids can handle a little more clove. While you sip your morning chai, download Google Earth. Type in your address to see your home as satellites see it. Then, type in “Taj Mahal” and watch how you would fly right to the front door of the Taj Mahal!
The satellite imagery of the building is poor but you can see clearly how the structure is situated on the banks of the Yamuna River. There are video guides, photos, and a digital reconstruction to enjoy. Older kids can learn more on Wikipedia. For example, over 1000 elephants helped carry supplies to build the mausoleum. Younger kids may enjoy the official tourism site for the Taj Mahal with a quirky video gallery or the UNESCO photo gallery.
Young kids can also travel with Aisha the Indian Princess and her little brother Iggy to the Taj Mahal. This neat book even guides kids to count in Punjabi. Older kids might be willing to spend some time learning a few words of Hindi.
Time to exercise and relax with yoga! There are classes everywhere for kids and adults, sometimes available on a free trial basis. You might also stretch out yoga mats at home and borrow a kids’ video from the library, or watch short clips on YouTube. KidsYogaStories.com just produced a quick, fun yoga routine inspired by the sights and sounds of Rajasthan. It’s perfect for younger kids.
Next celebrate with henna. Henna is a traditional bridal decoration in India often applied to the hands and feet. Traditional designs are usually large and detailed but small, simple, temporary henna art can be applied anywhere, anytime.
Many cities have henna tattoo parlors but you can also easily mix henna at home and try it yourself. Get inspired by photos of real henna art, copy simple designs, or make up new ones. Teens and ‘tweens can get excited about cultural exploration when it involves something cool like wearable art! There are also simple temporary tattoos with traditional henna patterns that can be more suitable for very small kids who have a harder time staying still.
You might also choose to kick back and watch a cricket game in the afternoon if that suits your kids’ travel style a bit better.
For the first night’s dinner, head out to Indian food at a local restaurant. Indian food is absolutely delicious. If your kids have never tried it before, start with pakora (deep-fried fritters) and tandoori chicken (Indian grilled chicken). If your kids are ready for more exotic flavors, jump into butter chicken, palak paneer, and daal.
To sample unusual specialties, look for an Indian restaurant that specializes in preparing cuisine from a particular region of India. If you can find a restaurant or bakery with Indian deserts, absolutely give them a try too!
Evening or bedtime are just right for exploring religion, philosophy, and good versus evil. To help your kids learn a few of the principles of Hinduism, HinduKids.org is a fun place to start. Kids might also enjoy some of the traditional Indian stories in How Parvati Won the Heart of Shiva. Hindu Stories by Anita Ganeri tells traditional religious stories for kids ages 9 and above. Older kids can try a few chapters of the Bhagavad Gita.
If you time your “visit” to India just right, you can celebrate Diwali, a five-day Hindu festival celebrating the triumph of good over evil. In 2013, Diwali will begin on Sunday, November 3.
On the second day, perhaps sample an Indian breakfast? You can even order something at the restaurant the night before and save it for breakfast. Ask the waiter what he/she recommends as a traditional morning meal.
In the morning, try Indian crafts such as maki
ng bangles or mirrordecorated elephants. For ideas, you can look at this neat selection of ideas.
In the afternoon, head out to an Indian grocery (or even just your regular grocery store) for ingredients to make Indian food at home. There are lots of healthy and easy-to-make options. If you aren’t much of a cook and you can find a good Indian grocery, pick out an assortment of frozen Indian food to try at home.
There is no better finale to a weekend in India than a Bollywood movie extravaganza. Billu Barber is a great place to start, with a thoughtful plot, interesting characters, and thrilling, outrageous, spontaneous dancing. My Friend Ganesha and Stanley Ka Dabba are also wonderful Indian films for kids.
When your weekend is finished, check in with your kids. What new ideas do they have about India? Would they like to travel to India for real? Why or why not? What would be the first thing they would want to do after they land in India?
Ideas for exploring India are everywhere but India is just the beginning. What other countries would you and your family like to “visit” for a weekend?
E. Ashley Steel is co-curator of www.FamilyontheLoose.com and co-author of “Family on the Loose: The Art of Traveling with Kids.” The goal of both is to promote cultural awareness through laughter, learning, and family travel – around the globe or around the block.
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