Entertaining kids in Delhi is child's play

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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 best or more relaxing spot on the planet to spend time with children. And to a great extent you’d be right: try crossing Connaught Place, amid  careening traffic, whilst gripping the arms of several toddlers and you’ll 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 (46 Janpath; 16 P-Block Connaught Place; 8/54 Desh Bandhu Gupta Rd) with a masala dosa, a huge, crisp rice pancake stuffed with a potato-onion filling served with tangy coconut chutneys, which makes the ultimate finger food for any cutlery-reluctant youngster. Next head out for early morning fun in Old Delhi, whose tightly-packed market alleys, ranged 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 to health injured sparrows and lowly street pigeons.

Alternatively, children (and parents) with a social conscience will be captivated by a walking tour organised by the Salaam Baalak Trust whose former street children guides show visitors up-close 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 10am (except Sundays) at the Rail Reservation Centre on Chelmsford Rd. Fuel up afterwards (with the utmost gratitude for your lot in life) at Haldiram’s back on Chandni Chowk, where downstairs piles of alluring mithai (sweets) lure candy-lovers and upstairs, in air-conditioned comfort, both tasty Indian dishes and spice-free pizzas abound.

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 eleven acres-full 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 (Sansad Marg, open 9am to dusk), an observatory constructed in 1725 by the Maharajah Jai Singh. Later little girls – or boys – with a profound love of dolls will appreciate a visit to Shankar’s International Doll Museum (Nehru House, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, open 10am to 5.30pm Tuesday to Sunday), wherein some 6500 of the 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 a pick-me-up cheese sandwich from Wengers (16 A-Block), 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 (15 E-Block, Connaught Place) for a comforting bowl of pasta marinara, the All American Diner (India Habitat Centre, Lodi Rd) 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.