It has been a blast, some great times, some not so great times. The kids were thrilled at every cow, goat, pig, and buffalo that they saw wandering the streets. The parents were grossed out at some (many) bathrooms, restaurants, garbage piles, and thrilled at the scenery, temples, people that we met.
We went to an Indian wedding, cruised on a houseboat, relaxed at the beach, and were sick as dogs on an overnight train. The kids overcame a lot of their shyness around strangers, and acquired an allergy to cameras (especially selfies!).
India is an amazing country to visit, but spending time in the big cities is exhausting. We’re looking forward to some time in a nice quiet Eastern European backwater… but first, Bucharest!
Rajasthan, in Northern India, is chock full of palaces, ruins, and forts. Every major city has a fort in it, or beside it, or looming over it. Jodhpur is no exception, with the Mehrangarh Fort on a rocky hilltop in the middle of the city. It is spectacular.
It is the kind of sight that you say “Wow!” every time you walk out of your hotel. Many hotels and restaurants have rooftop patios to take advantage of the view. Our hostel, Hostelavie has a great terrasse with a superb view and an enclosed A/C section for hot or rainy weather.
Like many of the tourist hotels in Jodhpur, Hostelavie is not far from the city clock tower. A short walk uphill gets you to the steep, switchback road up to the fort. It’s not long before the enormous fort walls start to tower directly above. I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could ever have built this place almost 700 years ago! Oh, that’s right, indentured servitude.
The outer ramparts and beautiful views of the city, with it’s clusters of indigo houses, are accessible for free. To get into the museum and the various rooms of the fort open to the public will cost you. The foreigner rate is INR 600, almost 10 times the local price (as usual). (The fort is open from 9 to 5)
There is a couple of new twists here, though. If you are a senior or have a student ID it costs INR 500, and the full price comes with a pretty good audio guide. Some of the explanations are from members of the Jodhpur royal family (who apparently live in a big castle across from the fort). The challenge is distracting the kids long enough to be able to listen to the audio.
We found that if we gave them one to share, we could take turns with the other audio guide. I don’t know how much history they picked up, but we were actually able to listen to whole sections of the guide!
The museum is terrific, with rooms of old swords, rifles, artwork, and even silver palanquins that were strapped to the backs of elephants. Lazy maharajahs, too fancy to walk.
The tour winds its way up through the rooms of the fort, passing through a nursery, the women’s quarters, and balconies with amazing views. My favorite was the grand reception room with beautiful, ancient stained glass windows and secret alcoves where the maharajah’s wives could eavesdrop on meetings and take notes.
The maharajahs bedroom was also very impressive. Retrained, understated giant glass Christmas balls on the ceiling and a huge fan over the bed that some poor sucker had to keep moving all night.
After the tour we took a short walk up onto the ramparts of the fort to see the views of the blue city. The kids loved looking through the cannon ports and spotting monkeys and kites flying over the city. We even somehow spotted our hotel in the labyrinth below.
All in all, a very cool place. It’s do-able in an afternoon, even with small kids. There’s enough to keep them interested and you fascinated.
Family travel is wonderful, but it’s not always fresh mangoes and coconuts. Things can get hairy, the family gets tired, hungry, sick, generally cranky. There can certainly be stress, and sometimes it can feel like it’s more stressful than the life you left behind.
The following is my take on three ways to reduce travelling stress. These are not rocket science, but they’re still not easy to follow. I’ll be the first to admit that we fail at these as often as we succeed.
Eat well, and often
This doesn’t mean to eat big piles of fancy cheese or dine only in 5 star restaurants. We’re budget travelers, and vegan on top of that. What I mean is skip the easy option of bags of chips and other junk for the train and bus rides.
Make the extra effort to get raw fruit and vegetables, good stuff. We bought a fifty-cent vegetable peeler so we can take advantage of the 783 000 fruit carts in the streets of the countries we visit. The whole family is perfectly happy to sit on a bench and peel some carrots, carry a bag of cucumbers onto the train, or peel and eat apples at the beach.
We’ve found that eating well translates to behaving well, and Mama and Papa can relax that nobody will get scurvy. Eat often because we’re a family that gets cranky when we’re hungry, and a cranky family is a stressed out family.
Don’t schedule too tightly
In project management there is a thing called float. It’s kind of a buffer in your schedule that you can use in case of an emergency or unexpected delay. Schedule yourself one day per week of float, if you can. We often stop moving for a day or two when we’re feeling stretched too thin.
It’s certainly harder to do on shorter trips, or in a country like India where transportation is often booked solid a week or more in advance. Sometimes you book yourself an extra day and don’t need it, but there’s always things to see. We enjoy spending a day at the park or the library even when we’re at our best.
Float comes in handy when the family spends an entire day taking turns sitting on the toilet. It’s also very useful when everyone is burnt out and at each other’s throats, and you have to go to the park or sit by the water and eat ice cream.
Get some exercise
Everyone knows that kids need regular exercise. Did you know that parents do also? This one’s probably the hardest one to practice regularly. It’s hard enough to get motivated to go to the gym or go for a run when you’re at home. Some people stay in hotels with gyms or pools, that helps. That’s not really in our budget, so we have to find alternatives.
Motivating yourself to get up hours before the rest of your family to go for a run in an unfamiliar place is tough. Especially when you might end up running alongside a garbage canal, or being chased by a pack of street dogs. My wife resorted to running up and down the hotel stairs for 45 minutes in Bangalore. I read Living with a Seal by Jesse Itzler so now I try to do 100 push-ups per day as well as running as often as I can.
It’s hard, but totally worth it for stress reduction (and fitness in general, of course). Strolling through a bazaar saying “No thank you” 17 000 times is easier. Sitting on a train for 6 hours with two little kids is easier. Standing in line at customs juggling passports and colouring books is easier.
This one is my favourite tips to practice. My alarm is set for tomorrow, and I’m off to do some push-ups.
Check out the links below to get some other family travel bloggers’ take on how to reduce stress on family trips: