Before booking your next trip to a destination, explore the beauty of your own city.
By Deenaz Raisinghani
Most of us sweep through the week being so busy that we hardly realise it has gone by. Sometimes, we forget to take breaks or cannot take them because work or family commitments keep us away from a long holiday. Let us admit being parents is a never-ending job and that situation itself keeps us on our toes all week. That doesn’t mean you should only travel or explore when you can take a planned leave, as disconnecting once in a while from work is healthy for the mind and the body. While binge watching Netflix, booking yourself movie tickets or restaurant brunches on a weekend may seem like so much fun and a good break, why not also include activities that include walking, exploring and connecting with your family with no screen time involved? In this article, I will talk about things you can see and do with your kids in the city you live in:
Go on a history hunt
Our incredible India is full of history and culture and almost every city or town has some historical significance to it. From being famous ports of trade during olden times, to bedrocks of ancient Indian civilisations and hot seats of the famous empires, India has a lot to offer even in its smallest towns. The various forts, palaces, statues and monuments constructed in and around your city will give you a brief glimpse into its historic past.
Local inhabitants often take pride in showing off artifacts from their native cities, and I remember having spent my childhood in Assam visiting these famous spots. One of the spots we would often visit was the Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra (named after Srimanta Sankardev, a neo Vaishnavite saint from the fifteenth century) located in Guwahati. It is the largest cultural centre in Northeast India which houses some of the most exquisite artistic displays under one roof, including a museum, cultural and historic mural walls, replicas of historical buildings built under the Ahom dynasty, Bhupen Hazarika (one of the country’s most iconic auteurs) museum, an artists’ village, an amphitheatre, a huge library full of ancient manuscripts and sound and light shows. This was for the first time that I attended a light and sound show as a child, and it absolutely thrilled me because of the colourful audio visual spectacle as well as an insight I got into Assam’s rich history. Since then, my desire to witness some of the most magnificent light and sound shows across India has taken me from the Cellular Jail in Port Blair to the iconic show at the Red Fort (Lal Qila), to the light and sound show at the City Palace in Udaipur.
I am now eagerly awaiting my chance to witness the light and sound show at the Amer Fort in Jaipur, since I currently live here. Children love sensory experiences and therefore these ones fit like a glove if you wish to expose them to some Indian history that will work better than reading from a school textbook.
Go wildlife spotting
Children love animals. Period. I have not met a single kid who does not like animals, be it domestic pets or ones they spot in the wild. Unless the parent themselves is extremely scared or averse to animals of any kind and keeps their child away from interacting with them, kids generally do not have inhibitions about petting animals, and staring wide-eyed at the dangerous ones that are kept in zoos or sanctuaries. Every major city in India has a zoo that houses animals in dry conditions, caged from the public but open to viewing. However, the condition of wildlife kept in each zoo is subject to debate, and there is a lot of protest from animal rights organisations and activists that feel commercial areas like zoos are doing more harm than good to the ecosystem. That being said, spending the day in a zoo, wildlife sanctuary, national park (if it is in the outskirts of the city), butterfly park, aviary, etc, are good ideas for families with children.
I have visited a lot of zoos as a child, and love the ones in Guwahati (Assam State Zoo), Kolkata (Zoological Garden, Alipore) and Darjeeling (Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park). Our daughter loved the Chhatbir Zoo near Chandigarh, which has lots of open spaces, carts that shuttle you around the zones, and a variety of wildlife, some of who have been adopted by local residents to ensure they are well-maintained. There are also sanctuaries and National Parks that one can visit as a daytrip around many cities in India. I have taken my kid to the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary (Assam) to spot the famous one-horned rhinoceros, which we clubbed with a visit to one of the resorts near it called the Zizina Otis on the outskirts of Guwahati. As a child, I loved the Guindy National Park in Chennai, which is located well within the city. We also visited the Elephant Village recently in Rajasthan (Hathigaon), which is a government initiated project for conservation and maintenance of elephant species along with housing for mahouts and their families. It was again a special experience for our daughter as it was for the first time that she got really up close and personal with the gentle beasts and played with them.
Visit theme parks around your city
This is an obvious option if you are looking at daytrips with families in and around your city. Most of these amusement parks and local theme parks are suited to kids and have so many activities within the park that kids will absolutely love them and tire out as well by the end of the day. What parks such as Essel World (Mumbai) and Nicco Park (Kolkata) started have now grown into full-fledged tourist attractions across India. Famous amusement parks in India include Wonderla (three cities in South India), Kingdom of Dreams (Gurgaon), Adlabs Imagica (Khopoli, off Mumbai Pune Expressway), Innovative Film City (outskirts of Bengaluru), and Della (Lonavala). There are, of course, other ones in smaller cities across India which are a great option to go to with the family.
I recently spent a day with family at the Innovative Film City and was impressed with the activities that were on offer. The activities my child appreciated were the film sets and dinosaur park, which is very well done with larger-than-life dinosaurs and eggs constructed around an artificial forest, with a 60 ft-high animated dinosaur as well. Just next to the dinosaur park is a fossil museum that kids will love as it has a 40ft-high skeleton of T-Rex along with dinosaur heads, bones and other relics inside. The film city also houses a tribal museum with beautifully done up statues displaying tribes of India replete with traditional costumes and facial similarities, and a display of popular culture around the globe in the Oddities Museum (quite like the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museums abroad) including an exhibit of a vampire killing kit (that I found unusually interesting).
Other than amusement parks, there are several children’s museums in India such as the doll museum in Jaipur, the Science Museum in Guwahati, the wax museum inside Nahargarh fort (outskirts of Jaipur which has wax statues of the Royal families of Rajasthan, and famous celebrities across fields kept in experiential zones that display information about the statue). Taking a day trip to these parks or museums will truly make your weekends more enjoyable.
Subscribe to event-listing websites
We often miss a really interesting event in our cities because we do not even see it advertised anywhere. Gone are the days when brands would place huge ads in newspapers for every event (although few still do), and gone are the days when one would actually sit with the paper every morning trying to find out movie screening timings or events and activity listings. In the digital age, it is wise to be socially active and try to research a little on social media to help make your weekends with family more interesting. Along with social media sites that advertise events on them, there are now event listing websites such as allevents, bookmyshow, insider, groupon among others that do a great job of aggregating a list of events happening in major cities across India every day. And if you are planning a trip, here’s my pick of the top six Indian destinations that you can visit.
Many a times, I have come across great activities for the entire family such as the now popular ‘sip and paint’ workshops, drum circles, cycling tours, pottery and baking workshops, dance or yoga bootcamps, or short trekking trips on these websites. All you need to do is subscribe to them and the events list will drop into your inbox every week. You can choose to book tickets online or at the venue and enjoy these events. We have been to some good pop-up markets with our kid in Delhi, Pune, Chandigarh and Jaipur where you have an amalgamation of food and drink counters, live music shows, activity zones for kids, and a flea market that everyone can enjoy. We have also taken our pets to various events and enjoyed as a family. I highly recommend these sites as they are a great way to find out more about your city. Some websites advertise heritage walks, night walks and food trails that you can take your family to and enjoy.
You could also check out city specific blogs or sites like Lonely Planet, Tripadvisor, Tripoto and others that contain listicles (a list of top things to do and see in a particular city) and that should be a starting point for you to get to know your city better. These sites (along with Google listings and blogs) have information about the smallest of cities and towns in India and we have often referred to well written blogs when passing through a particular town while looking for the best local place to eat at. Imagine finding out the best place to pick up Farsan while passing through Gandhinagar or locating the best croissants with coffee in Pondicherry. A smart internet search will always make you a happy intra city tourist.
As a family that shifts base every couple of years within India, we take a lot of interest in exploring food trails in the city we are based in, and we have managed to do this in multiple cities with help from the Internet, and guidebooks such as ‘Highway on my Plate’. Kids absolutely love the thrill of hopping from one eatery to the other instead of eating an entire meal at a boring family restaurant. So it may be a good idea to break your meal in parts and explore the best local joints for every dish that is famous in your city. Every little city has their own hidden joints for the best idlis, momos, aloo tikkis or chutney and nutella sandwiches. Why not make this a family outing one weekend and spend the entire day stuffing yourselves with all that you love.
Change your routine
If you are used to taking the car to work everyday, try taking the kids with you in local transport, or better still let them walk around the city (with you by their side, of course) and explore what interests them. Encourage them to walk into shops and shaded lanes, bookstores in little alleys away from busy traffic and anything that catches their fancy. Be present with them but let them take the lead. Let them feel like they are in control and are responsible for showing you a good time that day. You will get a lot of insight into what your kids are actually interested in, and this will help you plan your long leaves better. If a picnic is what they would appreciate, let them help you plan the basket and pick out the spot as well. The idea is to change what you are used to as a family so you can learn more about each other and have fun together.
You will be surprised at how much there is do in and around your city, if you seriously think about viewing it from an altogether different angle. Now, it’s time for me to try out something in my city this weekend. What about you?
(The writer blogs at Backpacking Mama.)