Sleeping under the stars, cooking your own food, being left alone in the woods with just a compass and the parting words “Good luck. See you back at camp”—it takes brave city people to rough it in the wild. It takes even braver city moms and dads to let their children experience this away from their ever-watchful gaze.
Anuradha Lal, who sent her three sons (now grown up) to camp all through their teens, says parents worry about the physical safety of a child out alone in the wilderness. Most never realize that it can be “an amazing thing for children to be independent. When they go off on their own, they learn what they’re capable of,” explains Lal who is an avid trekker herself.
In flight: After a week of skiing, campers at Les Elfes spend a week learning other adventure sports such as paragliding. Les Elfes Proprietary
Gaurav Saklani has had to deal with plenty of worried parents over the years. He was one of the founders of the Youreka summer camps in 1996 and, nine months ago, set up the summer camp inme. Initially, he says, parents “were really wondering, ‘Who are these mad guys who have set this up to take someone else’s children up to the hills?’” But as more schoolchildren have started attending the camps, parents have begun to understand the value of these holidays. “Summer camp as a concept does not need to be sold any more. Now it’s about the kind of location that you’re (your child is) going to and...the activities that you’re doing,” Saklani adds.
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“My biggest fear about letting my 14-year-old daughter go to a camp all alone is that her boyfriend from school is also going,” says Manju*, mother of Sana, who will be attending the Youreka camp in June. Manju worries that without proper supervision, the two would be tempted to “cross boundaries”.
Saba Dave, 14, who has attended camps in the US and in India, says children definitely date at camp in the US. But in India there really isn’t any dating. “We have a so-called ‘last dance’, but it’s really all of us just jumping around together.”
Breaking the waves: Children head for the rapids aboard rafts at Snow Leopard camp.
Saklani reassures parents that in camps where the ratio of counsellors to campers is small, the supervisors keep the focus on group activities and away from burgeoning romances.
Gouri Dange, Lounge columnist and clinical psychologist, regularly hears from parents who are nervous about sending children to camp for different reasons. But Dange always recommends that the children be allowed to go. Camp life is a fantastic experience for kids and gives them “a small taste of autonomy in a very supervised sense”. According to Dange, camps fulfil the same role as visiting large joint families in the countryside, where children were left to hang out together and parental supervision was not as over-focused as it is today. Children nowadays lack that rewarding experience of functioning within a group and realizing that they are not, in fact, the centre of the universe, Dange says. Camp “is a fantastic leveller”.
Summer camps are not just about learning to interact with other children, they are also a means of exposure to all sorts of new experiences—interacting with nature, understanding astronomy, participating in adventure sports—and they provide a different take on life not necessarily taught in schools. “Kids who are not academically bright can go to camp and all this lovely stuff comes out of it,” says Dange. “Maybe they’ll learn they are really funny or they’ll find their compassionate side.”
Ranging from anywhere between 3-15 days, summer camps are open to children as young as six and as old as 17 (though many ex-campers make return visits in the guise of counsellors once they’ve passed the age limit). Here are 10 camps to start your children’s summer adventure.
USP: Focus on leadership training, and bonding with nature
As a manager for an overseas company, Bangalore-based Aparna Imam felt she didn’t trust her employees to think on their feet. She enrolled her team for a training programme at Outbound Adventure, a Mumbai-based camping outfit, in 2006. Camp conductor Andre Morris divided Imam’s team into groups, took every employee’s wallet and cellphone, gave each group a small amount of money and a map and told them to find the camp.
Imam loved the exercise and said it showed her the core competencies of each team member in a challenging situation. When she found out that Morris also conducted camps for children, she didn’t hesitate to send her two daughters, Fiona and Donna, who are now 15 and 13, respectively. They’ve attended camp every year since 2006. “He helped mould their personalities,” Imam says.
Morris has been working in the outdoors for 24 years and decided to start his own adventure company 12 years ago. “The bonding between people that happens outdoors does not happen anywhere else,” he says. He says that part of the bonding occurs because facing new situations and adversity—be it a challenging hike or cooking meals—helps bring children together.
Though Morris presents a series of challenges to campers, he aims to make the camps all about fun. By making each child act as the leader of the camp group at some point during the stay, Morris helps them find out how to direct others, speak up for themselves and treat team members fairly. As part of another activity, the Night Watch, each child must sit out alone anywhere from 30-45 minutes, with just the starlit sky for company. “Night Watch always toughens people up,” Morris says.
Contact: 09820195115 or visit www.outboundadventure.com
Where: Lonavala-Nilshi, about 2 hours from Mumbai
When: 26 April-3 May
Charges: Rs6,900 for eight days
USP: Focus on adventure sports
Many summer camps organize their programmes around a single skill set. Delhi-based Pallavi Dixit, 15, found this single-focus approach boring after she attended a camp that concentrated on one adventure sport. “I wanted to try everything,” she says. The self-described “sporty type” found out about Snow Leopard camps, started by the parents of a friend in her class. At the five-day course, Pallavi was able to get her fill of a variety of adventure sports—kayaking one day, mountain climbing the next.
The aim is to teach eco-sensitivity and outdoor safety to children while giving them a platform to explore nature and participate in adventure sports.
For Pallavi’s mother, Kavita Dixit, the camp had another plus: It takes groups of 15-20 children at a time. “The camp (Pallavi) went to earlier had about 80-90 kids,” recalls Kavita, who worried that the children wouldn’t have enough supervision.
Contact: 011-26122775 or visit www.snowleopardadventures.com
Where: Rishikesh, Haridwar, Chamba and Pauri Garhwal
When: The first programme begins 10 May and the last one on 14 June
Charges: Rs10,800 for six days for children coming from Delhi and Rs14,500 for others
USP: Focus on a single adventure sport
Imagine handing your 10-year-old daughter to relative strangers on a train platform and walking away knowing you won’t be able to speak to her for a week—not a single SMS or phone call. Now imagine doing that when your entire family says you are crazy and you think they may be right. For Devalina Kohli, a Delhi-based homemaker, this was the scenario when she sent her eldest daughter Amalina (now 19) off to camp at Youreka nine years ago.
“My family was not happy and they had a lot of doubts,” Kohli recalls. “I was taking a risk, but I heard good reports and it seemed like a decent place so I said, ‘Okay, let’s take the plunge.’”
Unlike other summer camps, Youreka doesn’t allow any electronic equipment—no mobile phones, no iPods, no games. And there is a strict policy that once the child is in the camp, there can be no phone calls to the parents. “You have to just let them go and trust the camp,” Kohli says.
Jason Lopez, the Bangalore area head of Youreka, says the camp is meant to be “a space for the children to step outside their comfort zone”. He says teaching kids one major activity for a week rather than teaching them a number of activities is meant to ensure that each child has an “I did it” moment where he/she overcomes the challenge and can walk away with a new skill.
Contact: Visit www.youreka.in
Where: Yercaud, Kollur, Sitlakhet, Tirthan Valley and Mori
When: Sessions are already on. 25 sessions remain. The last one starts on 12 June
Charges: Prices start at Rs11,850 for eight days. Charges vary from camp to camp
USP: Focus on team-building activities
Gaurav Saklani and his partner Tarun Chandna felt the need to try a new style of camping, with greater emphasis on smaller groups and team-building activities.
Just nine months old, the camp already has a fierce fan following among the children who have attended.
Mira Rajput, 14, says that unlike other camps, “they gave us a lot more freedom and they didn’t underestimate our abilities”.
The camp divides everyone into age-specific groups for the day activities, but at night, everyone gathers around the campfire. “They got a guitar and we (all) used to sing songs,” Rajput says. “Gaurav would show us magic tricks. One night we had a talent show too.”
The instructor-to-child ratio is 1:4 and instructors come from all over the world. Rajput’s personal favourite was James McManus, a rafting instructor from Ireland. “We called him Jam and he was so much fun. He taught us Irish and we taught him Hindi.”
Contact: Call 011-46714663 or visit www.inme.in
Where: Tons, Jugna and Coorg
When: Sessions have already started, 18 sessions remain. The last session begins on 12 June
Charges: Prices start at Rs9,895 for eight days. Charges vary from camp to camp
USP: Focus on experiencing farm life
Last year, Sonalika Mukherjee needed a break from the hectic Mumbai life at Diwali. So she headed for the hills of Jhadpoli village to Hemant and Sangeeta Chhabra’s HideOut Organic Farm, two-and-a-half hours from the city, with her then seven-year-old son, Dhruv.
Mukherjee was a bit wary that Dhruv, who is “picky” about his food and has asthma, was not cut out for farm life, but Dhruv fell in love with the place and didn’t want to leave. Luckily for Dhruv, a children’s camp had been organized right after the Mukherjees’ visit. “We came home, packed his bag and sent him back the next day,” Mukherjee says.
Built 21 years ago by the Chhabras, the farm has been organizing summer camps for nine years. The children sleep on beds in the open air, learn to cook over a fire, visit local potters and blacksmiths, and trek to nearby streams and waterfalls.
Last year the Chhabras invited wildlife biologist Anand Pendharkar to assist them and lead eco-walks for a more educational journey through the woods. “It’s not a school programme,” Hemant says. “It’s supposed to be a spontaneous way of learning. If you see an insect or a bird or a plant, (Pendharkar) can instantly explain to you what/who/where it is.”
The Chhabras have also invited Joy Fernandez, a theatre workshop organizer, to teach drama this year.
Dhruv has just turned 8 and plans to go back this summer, too. He says he wants to jump in the waterfall. “They do things that we don’t get to do in these concrete jungles,” says Mukherjee. “Dhruv came back last year with his footwear full of muck and dry leaves stuck to his clothes. You could tell he had a really good time.”
Contact: Call 09820149022 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Where: Jhadpoli village, two-and-a-half hours from Mumbai
When: 9-12 May
Charges: Rs4,000 for three days
USP: Focus on life abroad and international languages
Want to sneak a few French lessons past your child? They’ll hardly notice they’re learning another language when the class is conducted in the Swiss Alps. Along with skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and swimming, Les Elfes spring camp in Zermatt, Switzerland, also offers intensive language courses in French, German and Spanish. While language lessons are conducted over the full two weeks, the first week also has sessions dedicated to skiing and snowboarding, and the second week is all about paragliding, rock climbing, mountain biking and trekking to cities around Switzerland for cultural lessons.
When Hyderabad-based Pinky Reddy’s children, Mallika 18, and Keshav, 16, were pre-teens, she wasn’t very happy with the idea of sending them to camp because she didn’t want them so far away from home at a young age. But when a friend assured her Les Elfes was a fantastic experience, she sent the children. “They both got the Best Skier prize,” Reddy says. “I could see that they were very happy and that their confidence level increased.”
She recommends the camp to uncertain parents. “It’s good exposure for your kids and it’s safe exposure.”
Contact: Call 011-29213155 or visit www.leselfes.com
Where: Zermatt, Switzerland
When: One session starts on 2 May and the second on 16 May
Charges: Around Rs1.50 lakh (excluding airfare to Switzerland) for 14 days
Residential Sports Camp
USP: Focus on a sport and team building
Is your child planning on becoming the next Baichung Bhutia? Can he hardly put down the cricket bat for any other activity? The Residential Sports Camp is the perfect answer for the sport-centric child. The camp, started by the Mumbai-based sports training academy The Sports Gurukul, offers intensive training in either cricket, basketball, table tennis or football by national-level coaches. The children are tested on the first day of camp and placed into groups according to skill levels. They practise their favourite sport for about 4-5 hours a day. The rest of the time is spent on other team-building activities, such as charades or relay races, or practising meditation.
Kashmira Surveyor, the events coordinator, says what the sports academy can teach in two months at Mumbai, the camp can teach in 10 days, thanks to the intensive coaching.
Children new to sports can try out the three-day Fun Camps, which help to introduce them to the various sports but do not push an intensive training schedule.
Contact: 09320376677 or visit www.thesportsgurukul.com
Where: Hatne, Vikamgad, a 2-hour drive from Mumbai
When: The 10-day session starts on 1 May. The three-day sessions start on 1 May and 8 May
Charges: Rs3,900 for a three-day session and Rs9,900 for a 10-day session
USP: Focus on Character development and Self-Reliance
The international camp programme Outward Bound, with its two Indian partners, adventure companies Mercury Himalayan Explorations Ltd and Himalayan Outward Bound, will launch its first summer programmes in the Himalayas this summer. The camp, which was started in Britian in 1941, aims to instil the ability to overcome setbacks, there will be three age-specific programmes will be set up: Camp Hungama for children between 9 and 11, Camp Toofan for 12-14-year-olds, and Camp Jalwa, which will challenge 15-17-year-olds.
Mercury Himalayan founder Akshay Kumar says, “The activities are to make the kids more independent and self-reliant. We put them through a situation they’re not comfortable with so when they come out of it, they feel really proud of themselves.”
The challenges prepare the children for their final night, when they will have to search for a suitable campsite and set up camp there. They will also have to pitch their own tents and cook their own food. While counsellors will be there for safety measures, the children will be in charge of everything.
Contact: Visit www.outwardboundindia.org
Where: Camba and Mori
When: The five-night camps Hungama and Toofan start every Monday between 11 May and 29 June. The seven-night Camp Jalwa will start every Sunday between 10 May and 28 June
Charges: Rs10,000 for Camp Hungama; Rs13,500 for Camp Toofan; and Rs15,000 for Camp Jalwa
USP: Focus on space education and international experience
Send your kids to outer space, or at least a simulation of it. Sudhir Kamath, India’s Space Camp ambassador, is responsible for taking groups of aspiring astronauts to the US-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) Space Camp at the US Space and Rocket Center in Alabama.
In 2007, around 165 Indian children headed for the US. Just two years later, Kamath says that number has swelled to 800 children, who plan to attend the camp from India to experience zero gravity, plan a shuttle mission and learn how to walk in space in the underwater training session.
Kamath, part of the management at a Bangalore-based school, says the camp isn’t really about space or a love for science. It’s all about opening young minds and giving the children a global perspective.
“I primarily believe that at least in the Indian educational system, there is a lack of exposure to critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills and confidence-building activities. And this camp provides all that.”
Contact: 09845154982 or visit www.spacecampindia.com
Where: US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama
When: Starts 26 May
Charges: Around Rs1.1 lakh (excluding airfare and visa charges) for a two-week session
USP: Focus on one adventure sport and one educational activity
Sandeep Sahu has spent the past 30 years trekking through the Himalayas. As soon as his children reached the age of 10, he took his daughter, Hansa, now 17, and his son, Siddhant, now 14, up in the mountain. At first it went well, but Sahu noticed that as his children hit their teens, they didn’t “want their parents around”. Luckily for Sahu, friends he had met on the trekking circuit had started Kshitij summer camps for children across the Himalayas. These had been formed under the Great Indian Outdoors (GIO) campsites and in conjunction with BlueSky Learning, an educational programme for children. Each session includes a lead adventure, such as mountaineering or kayaking, and a value-added programme, such as map reading, yoga, star-gazing, or drama. The sites have large Swiss tents with attached bathrooms and are nestled near streams, or on hillsides, near trekking sites.
Hansa says she loved the rafting most, and has fond memories of gliding down the river, singing and shouting with her friends.
Contact: Visit www.kshitij.in
Where: Thangdar, Jayalgarh, Kund and Mori
When: 13 sessions have been planned. The first session starts on 25 April and the final session on 13 June
Charges: Rs8,700 for eight days
*Name withheld on request