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A ‘little’ connect with the ‘BIG’ world

Our kids are growing up in a paradoxically smaller and smaller world- where they have to make less and less effort to connect with what’s ‘out there’, whether it is people, places or information. Friends from far-off locations are accessible on mini-sized screens, global foods and cuisines are available locally, and schools are turning ‘international’ too. All our systems are geared towards creating global citizens with a global awareness. And that is great!

But there is another ‘bigger’ world out there- that of the wild, the forests, and the very sources of civilisation. That of beings and species beyond those seen in urban spaces alone. That of the origin of food and what makes it available to us. That of rivers and wide open spaces. A world which needs a different set of skills to navigate and survive in. A world which is often hidden from urban view yet so inextricably linked with it.

How wonderful it would be to plan a little trip to help our children connect with this world ‘out there’. My recent visit to the Chambal Safari Lodge showed me what such a connect could do.

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Located at just about a five hour driving distance from Delhi-NCR (a comfortable enough road trip distance when travelling with children), slightly ahead of Agra, the Lodge offers a wonderful mix of comfort, along with a gentle, well thought-out introduction to nature and its many wonders. Its well planned excursions, some on-site and some off-site, are guided by enthusiastic and well-trained naturalists who have just the right skills to keep the little ones engaged and involved. The boat safari on the Chambal River, which allows you to spot a diversity of fauna including muggers, gharials, some spectacular birds and the occasional jump of the rare river dolphin, from the safe distance of your boat, provides a gentle yet wonderful introductory connect with the wild.

On-site activities are all gadget and screen-free (no TVs in the rooms), yet offer exciting possibilities- guided nature walks around the lush green property grounds with their own treasure house of birds and wildlife, bicycle rides around the adjoining wheat fields, board games and children’s books in the library. Feel free to carry your own badminton rackets or cricket equipment as the sprawling grounds provide enough space for these outdoor activities.

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The food deserves a special mention. Not only is it homely and mildly flavoured enough for kids, the chef’s skill in transforming regular (read boring :P) veggies into mouth-watering delicacies is above par. So yes, here’s a wonderful opportunity to get your kids to try out tori, lauki and baingan, not only because no junk is available on the table but also because it is really and honestly yummy food. Mostly home-grown on their farms too. Mr. Singh also told me that they organise natural farming experiences for visiting kids and families on their farms to help them rediscover the connect with food and how and where it comes from.

The Lodge is a purely eco-friendly property, based on sustainable and pro-environment practices, including natural irrigation, waste recycling and water conservation. In their endeavour to spread awareness, they not only urge guests to follow suit but also organise a number of conservation and awareness campaigns for children in local rural as well as outstation schools.

More than anything, what makes this ‘connect’ meaningful for me is that the skills needed in the forest are the exact opposite of the ones we need, and yet constantly strive to ingrain, in our urban world. You have to necessarily be silent and watchful for the forest to open up to you. It is the patient gazing across the stretch of the river that rewards you with the fleeting jump of the river dolphin.

You have to listen, and watch, and be mindful. Isn’t that what we are constantly telling our kids they need to do?

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Roots: A Great Place to Go, With Kids In Tow!

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In a city full of dazzling lights and ‘malling’ preoccupations, it is getting rarer and rarer to come across dine-in places that are child-friendly in terms of food, as well as ambience and recreation. With its ‘leisurely’ location in the Leisure Valley Park in Sector 29, Gurgaon, Roots- Cafe in the Park, still stands out as a welcome relief. This place ticks all my boxes for being a child-friendly place for many reasons:

  • With its part-enclosed and part-open seating space, punctuated with little winding paths, trees and lush yet non-manicured lawns, it provides enough space for kids to climb, run, prance, dance, and everything in between!
  • Slides, swings and trees still serve as age-old and time-tested ways of recreation, rather than the more widely seen TV and X-Box screens intended to ‘keep the little ones occupied’
  • They use fresh and truly organic produce to whip up a simple yet scrumptious menu that is interesting enough for children to want to try, yet as wholesome as ‘ghar ka khaana’. What kids love most is choosing their own order and writing it on the little notepad brought to each table.
  • It isn’t just their food that is organic and environment-friendly- everything about their decor and energy use is too- a wonderful way for kids to see energy-saving in action
  • The adjacent Leisure Valley Park and Energy Centre (it even offers solar car rides!) are excellent add-ons for an enjoyable and fun family outing
  • They let out their open space for birthday celebrations- outdoor games, swings, balloons hanging from the trees…really, what more could a child want?