Dimple Bedi, mother of 10-year-old Rohan and 7-year-old Arti, is tired of lugging her children to Funky Orbit, McDonald’s and the usual weekend mall walk. “We live in Gurgaon and, by default, end up at the mall.” Once there, the kids want to shop—juleps, toys, stationary, ice cream...the list is never-ending.
Explocity: (above) After exploring Cubbon Park, take your children for a train ride at Bal Bhavan; children can see a charkha at Gandhi Smriti.
“The problem with the mall-movie routine is that it is pre-packaged entertainment and makes children lazy. But going for a city tour or walk helps them think out of the box, keeps their curiosity alive and allows them to use all five senses,” says Jaishree Goyal of Weekends, who organizes walks along with workshops for children in New Delhi.
So this weekend, why not switch off your cellphone and concentrate on giving your child a good time by (re)discovering the city you live in? “You could handle this in two ways: either do some prep and figure out exactly what you want your kids to get out of the walk (for instance, if you go and recce Cubbon Park a day earlier, by yourself, you could actually plan a route and make it like a treasure hunt: ‘Who can find me the tree with the spikes on its bark?’ or ‘Who can bring me a leaf with three colours on it first?’), or you could play it completely by ear,” says Roopa Pai, a director with Bangalore WALKS, a company that specializes in heritage walks and tours.
We asked experts in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore to tell parents where they can take their 7-12-year-olds. A word of advice before you set out: Make sure you carry water and snacks. Also, don’t forget a bag to collect samples and writing/colouring material for those midway stops to draw something the children have seen or to record their impressions.
Roopa Pai, Bangalore WALKS
# Head for Lal Bagh: Sprawled over 240 acres of greenery, this 250-year-old park founded by Hyder Ali has plenty to keep children excited. There is a massive granite boulder to climb (it is three million years old, and a protected geological monument), vines to play Tarzan on, a lake to sit by and gaze at migratory birds, the “biggest tree” (a gargantuan silk cotton) to marvel at and picnic under, and a true-blue fossil. Carrying a picnic is a great idea, but if you don’t want to do that, you could walk to that Bangalore institution, Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR), for an impossible to finish—Kannadiga lunch (a steal at Rs75 per head).
# Spend a day at Cubbon Park: Bang in the heart of the city, this adventure-filled park has smaller boulders, huge flocks of ducks and geese in and around an enclosed water body, bamboo groves and beautiful trees. Start at the Queen Victoria statue at one end of MG Road, stroll through the park, then backtrack to the Bal Bhavan park and the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum (VITM). VITM is a fabulous touch-and-feel museum that has a huge animated model of a dinosaur, a model of the Kitty Hawk and an experience room. The park attached to the Bal Bhavan, which is also part of Cubbon Park, has a toy train, several exciting (and very, very inexpensive) rides, jungle gyms, slides and swings, and a dosa camp with excellent dosas.
# Take a tour of City Market: If you can rouse your kids by 6am, a good place to hit would be the wholesale flower market at the City Market. A visit here should make it amply clear why Bangalore is called the Garden City, and why 80% of the red roses exported from India come from this city. It is a visual treat, and if you know the names of the flowers, it can be quite an education for the children—not just about flowers, but about how wholesale market economics work. Then, do as the locals do and head out to the adjacent locality of Chamarajpet for a wonderful fresh idli-chutney breakfast at a little dive in Shankarpuram called, simply, Brahmin’s.
Deepa Krishnan, Mumbai Magic
# Go climbing at Kanheri Caves: It is a mix of walking and climbing. You can buy a map from the tourist office at Kanheri Caves. The map is like a join-the-dots puzzle. So it’s a nice game to discover the caves and join the dots. Kanheri is also a good place to tell children the story of the Buddha. It is a 2,000-year-old settlement that has seen both the Hinayana and Mahayana periods.
# Drive to Murud for a boat ride: There are night-time sailboat rides where you can take a picnic on board. There is the beach, with horse buggy rides. There is also the black fort, Ajinkya (the invincible fort in the sea), the citadel of the Siddis (the only Africans to rule parts of this coast). Murud Janjira offers you a chance to teach children about Maharashtra’s rollicking naval history.
# Stroll through Worli fishing village: The catch comes in by about 10am these days. Speak to the fisherfolk about the new bridge (Worli Sea Link) and how it is impacting their lives—let your kids understand environmental issues first-hand. The village itself has an interesting market area as well as several shrines. You can explain to kids about people who make their living from the sea, and their need for prayer and protection. The boats are colourful, and Worli Fort has lots of dashing pirate stories attached to it.
Jaishree Goyal, Weekends
# Go to Gandhi Smriti on Tees January Marg: This is one of our finest interactive museums. There is no viewing of “important stuff” through glass cases only. It’s a great way to help your child understand Gandhian concepts. Every room has a guide who explains things in Hindi and English; there is a xylophone which plays Gandhi’s favourite bhajans; a unity pillar which lights up when you hold hands and stand around it; and, bonus, even a real charkha.
# Hit the Garden of Five Senses:It’s one of the best places in New Delhi for children. It will not only tickle all their senses, but also teach them the importance of energy conservation. The bus which runs on solar energy is a big hit with kids of all ages. Do read up on on how solar energy can be harnessed before you take your children here.
It’s all in the Family
How to create a walk that is special to your family.
A tour that is sure to excite your children is a family-only one. “As far as personal family experiences go, it is always nice to show kids ‘This is where you were born’, or ‘This is where your grandmother lived’. I think telling children these kinds of stories keeps them rooted and gives them a sense of belonging,” says Deepa Krishnan, of Mumbai Magic.
Take your child for “a walk around the neighbourhood where you or your spouse grew up—especially if it is different from where you live now and where your children are growing up,” suggests Bangalore WALKS’ Roopa Pai. As you walk, tell them your memories of growing up there. “Show them the street where you played hopscotch or cricket. Give them their own money to spend in your neighbourhood at YOUR shops (at least the ones which still stand)—so they can see how little things can still cost and how much pleasure they can bring.”
Take them to the school or college you studied at. Let them explore your canteen, try out the samosas you could not live without, meet the peon who rang the bell or have a chat with your favourite teacher, if she is still around. Don’t forget to take permission from the administration staff beforehand.