Visit to Ameenpur Lake: Children’s Day Out

Ameenpur lake is one of the popular destinations of Hyderabad for an outdoor excursion. Having read and heard that Ameenpur attracts a number of migratory birds during winter, we wanted to visit during December and January, but that was not to be.

Finally, we visited Ameenpur lake on 5th March 2019. The manner in which B +ve and O +ve, our four and a half-year-old twin daughters, enjoyed the outing was a sight we will remember for times to come.

The girls enjoyed each and every aspect of nature on offer at Ameenpur. They made themselves comfortable as if they have been to Ameenpur every day of their life.

The Birds

The girls get to see pigeons, occasionally mynahs, eagles from the terrace and hear the sound of koel. This has been their birding activity in the city of the Hyderabad so far, apart from Zoo visits.

We showed the images of common birds of Hyderabad to the girls to acquaint them with some of the birds that we might get to see at Ameenpur.

They immediately identified the Green Bee-Eater as we were going to reach the Ameenpur lake. Once at the lake, we saw Little Grebe, Little Cormorant, Egret, Painted Stork, Rosy Starling and lots of Barn Swallow. The girls were very excited to see the Little Cormorant sitting on the rocks in the lake with the wings open. They waited and waited for the birds to catch fish but the birds did not oblige.

The Rocks

O +ve and B +ve are self-proclaimed rock-climbers. The rocks that they get to climb are 3-4 feet high rocks in Indira Park and other parks. At Ameenpur, they saw the natural rock formation and immediately set out to conquer them.

The rocks were surrounded with dried vegetation and were not designed for climbing. But, the girls would have none of it. We kept ascending and descending the rocks until they were satisfied with their conquest.

The Water

For the girls, the water was the star attraction. At Ameenpur, the place where we visited, we could walk 10-15 feet inside the water and the depth was just about till the knees. It was sandy and with no stones in the water, it was not slippery either.

The girls had the time of their lives in the water splashing it all around and on themselves. A Dirty Feet trip also landed at the same place with 13 children and they also joined the fun. Dirty Feet team had some sort of self-designed catamarans on which children could sit and it would keep floating in the water. All the children, including O +ve and B +ve, enjoyed and enjoyed.

I have come to understand that water is one of the best toys for children. This was no different. Looking at the children having fun in the water, a child in every adult comes to life. You can try and test it for yourself.

The Fish

The place where we were at Ameenpur also had 4-5 fishermen catching live fish in their nets. They gave demonstrations to children to throw the net, take it back with the fish, remove the fish carefully from the net and keep it in a crate inside the water so that they are alive till they are sold/packed in cartons.

One of the girls touched the live fish and even tried taking it in her hands. She understood how to hold the fish horizontally behind the gills / under the fins. Her sister said that she will try it, the next time.

The Wind

This is one of the most understated elements of nature that gets missed out staying in a concrete jungle. At Ameenpur, it was 12 o’clock in the afternoon, and nobody had a sweat.

It was a pleasure to watch the curls of girls flying on their faces in the cool breeze.

Conclusion

We spent about 5 hours at Ameenpur and did not realize where the time went by.

It is a pity that the children have to learn about the environment and nature from books and not through live experiential interactions. A visit like one to Ameenpur keeps reaffirming our belief that children are best looked after when left to nature. Just that the opportunities like this come few and far in between.

I am not sure about Ameenpur either, about how long it will be able to survive.

5 must-do activities for 4 years old in Parks

Indira Park has been a favourite destination for O +ve and B +ve since their first year. It is not close to our house, yet the attraction of the greenery all-around and the complete freedom to wander makes it a preferred outing location for the girls, almost once every 2 weeks.

For the last 3 years or so, the girls have made their acquaintance with quite a bit of the park space. As the girls turn 4 years old, I have listed down the 5 time-tested must-do activities for B +ve and O +ve in Indira Park that makes it a much-loved place for them.

Chasing the squirrels:

The girls are in awe of the hop and running, getting up on the tree, running after each other, standing up on hind-legs, putting food in the mouth – whatever the squirrels do. They want to participate in each of the squirrels’ routine affairs and run behind them to be a part of their team. Alas, no squirrels have come to terms with their idol status with the girls. They jump and run away to protect their space to themselves.

It is O +ve’s fervent desire to caress the squirrel’s tail. Needless to say, she has been a complete failure in this task. Yet, she pursues it with total commitment each and every time.

Rock climbing:

Almost twice a week the girls tell us that we should take them out for rock climbing. I am unable to understand from where they get their fascination with rock climbing.

Before you visualize that there would be large rocks in Indira Park to get the rock climbing enthusiasts going, it is none of the sorts. Indira Park hardly has 8-10 rocks, most of them 3-4 feet in height. Our little rock climbers scramble on these rocks from all possible directions and claim their supremacy on reaching the summit. The descent is by sliding down the rocks into the sand.

Snooping on the Centipedes

A wild-life in any form is sure to get the girls excited. None better than a centipede. Like an eagle that can spot her prey on the ground from the sky, both the girls can catch a sight of centipede from a distance. They are occupied tracing the movement of centipede on the ground, following the insect all along till it decides to get swallowed into the ground. The girls have actually tried counting the legs of the centipedes but to no avail.

The girls have not been brave enough to hold the centipedes in their hands. The day they do it, we are sure that they would want to bring it home as their pet in their small flower pots. BTW, a snail is also as charming as centipede to the girls.

Collecting leaves, twigs and seed-pods

This is a major activity for the girls anywhere and everywhere, particularly in the parks. They carry their nature bags with them and start hauling their collection once they step into the park. They understand not to pluck the flowers from the plants. Hence, their attention has always been on dried leaves, twigs of all shapes and sizes and seed-pods lying on the ground. This collection gets used for their colouring activity and other arts and crafts everyday stuff at home.

The girls want to know the names of each and every tree and seeds and flowers and fruits, how and why a leaf’s design is what it is – what all these should be called. I realize with each of their questions that I am no good in my botany or biology.

Rolling and Sliding over the grass

The girls engage in this activity when they realize that their sojourn in the park is coming to an end. It is a pleasure to watch the girls rolling in sliding in the grass without inhibitions – unabashed.

The best a child can be.

It is not that these activities that can be done only in Indira Park. Any of the public parks with a green space to run around will suffice for the 4 years old girls for their 5 must-do activities.

A joy to watch the 4-year-olds at their best.

PS: Public Parks also double-up as a survival guide for children by teaching life skills.

Visit to Chacha Nehru Park, Hyderabad

It was another Sunday afternoon in late June, a cloudy sky with no forecast for rain. The weather was pleasant and we felt outdoorsy – so we were on our way to Chacha Nehru Park to make the most of it.

We took the tickets and as soon as we entered the park, a kitten popped up to greet the girls. Both, B +ve and O +ve, kept running behind the kitten till the time the kitten decided that it was better to jump off the wall on to the other side of the park to protect its privacy.

Once the kitten was gone, we focused on the park in front of us and out of nowhere it started raining heavily. We rushed back to stand below the entrance gate to save us from the heavy downpour and the girls found the sticks of the security guards to amuse themselves.

It stopped raining in 5 minutes or so. The rain left behind many puddles to jump into. So, it was celebration time for the girls. They spent loads of time making ripples, swirling the waters, creating waterholes and splashing water all around to their heart’s content.

After the puddle play, the girls moved ahead to explore the park. They saw a miniature hippopotamus carved out of stone and both of them got on to it. After domesticating the hippo, they turned their attention to a giant globe lying in a corner. O +ve’s name means the Earth in Sanskrit. She started jumping up and down in excitement that she found herself in the park. Both of them tried to move the globe. After quite some effort, when they realised that it did not budge even an inch, they lost interest and stopped trying.

We then saw the moss filled pond at the park – the green coloured water disappointed the girls. They had loads of questions to ask as to the colour of the water, the filth around it and the absence of ducks near the water body.

Running along the walkway, we reached the children’s play area. The girls entered with eager anticipation and to their utter dismay found that more than 80% of the equipments were broken. With the remaining, there was so much of crowd that they realized they are not going to get any turn.

Coming outside, they saw a large drainage pipe. Both of them sat down on either side, calling each other’s name and enjoying the echo that reverberated through the pipe. They actually tried entering the pipe but with their shorts, they got worried about their ankles and decided against it.

The girls saw an unused man-hole opening and assumed that it was a tunnel. They actually found out the other end of the man-hole opening which was also unused. The debate raged on whether it was the snake’s burrow or the rabbit’s. We, of course, did not find any to ascertain the identity of the owner.

Then, the flowers and sticks and seed-pods lying strewn on the walk-way got their attention. There was a tree with a bent trunk. The girls loved climbing onto it and swinging from its low lying branches. Their nature bag started getting filled with seed-pods of the Pink Shower (Cassia Javanica) and the flowers of the Indian Medlar (Mimusops Elengi). B +ve likes having nectar of the Jungle Geranium (Ixora Coccinea). She tried out with all the flowers that she could lay her hands on but her bee glands had to go empty stomach.

Now, the sun had come out in its full glory and I was dragging my feet behind them. And I was continuously being told – Come On Papa, You Can Do It. A hawker was moving around selling football sized balls for kids. The girls bought it and kicked around for quite some time. Once they were done, again they got back to filling their nature bags.

Just as we were about to leave, the girls came across slopes of lush green grass. The girls ran to the top of the slope and began sliding and rolling over to everyone’s amusement. After putting up a good show, it was time for us to head home.

An evening well-spent at Chacha Nehru Park.

Come On Papa, You Can Do It: Father’s Day Promise

“Come On Papa, You Can Do It”. This is what I get to hear often from my twin daughters when we are on our outdoor immersions. Particularly so, when they find me huffing and puffing, on my haunches, perspiring heavily, trying to catch my breath and not being able to match pace with them.

I am a stay-at-home father to my three and a-half-year-old twin daughters, who do not go to pre-school or nursery or day-care. We indulge in umpteen numbers of outings to green spaces in the city or tag along with my wife, who runs an experiential rustic travel firm to villages.

Out there, the girls get going like they are in their second home. They love collecting twigs, leaves, feathers, seeds – you name it, and they have it in their little nature bags. Irrespective of the size, every rock, stone, pebble gets their attention. If it is big, they try to ascend on to it, if it is tiny; it goes into their personal stone collection. They chase squirrels till the time the squirrels run to the top of the tree. Armed with magnifying glasses, they love following the trails of insects and looking out for animal and bird droppings. They are still trying to get a hang of climbing trees and swinging from the tree branches and aerial roots. The girls have the liberty to visit the parks during non-peak, no crowd hours and it gives them the freedom to indulge in themselves to the core.

Just that, I have to keep an eye on them as they dash off in different directions. Run behind them, roll with them, and answer them as to why the squirrels and pigeons are not willing to play with them, help them get onto the rocks and trees. I end up losing tempo soon enough whilst the two bundles of energy would have just got started. I tell them to slow down and I get to hear “Come On Papa, You Can Do It”.

We accompany my wife on her village trails. Along the way, we get down in any place that the kids wish to explore. The girls get busy picking tomatoes or leafy vegetables or weeding or making farm bunds or checking out earthworms and I have to drag myself along with them. Under the sun, my energy levels dip right away and the girls continue as if they are on an awareness mission about the significance of Vitamin D. I tell them to slow down and I get to hear “Come On Papa, You Can Do It”.

In the current state of ‘no schooling‘, I am my girls’ go to playmate. They want me to not miss out on any of their playful exploits. But at times, they see that I am down and out. They ask me as to why I get tired. They get a bit upset that their father is not able to keep pace with them and they keep prodding me all the time.

I understand that their energy levels are only going to increase in the foreseeable future and I cannot let their enthusiasm to experience and experiment wither away just because I cannot match up to their liveliness. I realize that I have to be more fit and energetic to be there with my daughters. This is going to happen only if I take care of my health and improve on my physical stamina. A must if I have to ensure that my daughters do not miss out on any of their escapades.

While watching LittleBabyBum videos with my daughters, I came across this sweet message from Future Generali where a daughter is pondering over what to gift her father on Father’s Day (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_yr_EUGD2E&feature=youtu.be%5C). She realizes that her father has everything but hasn’t really taken good care of himself. It resonated with me for my daughters keep telling me “Come On Papa, You Can Do It”.

This Father’s Day, I would want to promise to my daughters a physically fit and an energetic father who can accompany them in all their quests. This is #PromisetoMychild. They may not be able to say it as such but I know that they really mean #Aapkihealthmereliye for their father.

Yes Girls, Your Papa Will Do It.

Visit to Jawahar Deer Park Shamirpet

It is early June in Hyderabad. Finally, the weather is becoming a tad pleasant with a couple of showers announcing the arrival of monsoon. The sky is dotted with black clouds and a cool breeze is blowing. The weather forecast predicts that it will not rain, but shall remain cloudy through the day. So, we set out for a Sunday outing to Jawahar Deer Park Shamirpet.

After a pit-stop at the twins’ grand-parents place and a sumptuous lunch, we reached the Deer Park.

Till now, we have never been required to buy a ticket for our twin daughters. All rules notify us that tickets need to be bought for children above 5 years. Now, the rule seems to have changed. The Shamirpet Deer Park informs us that a half-ticket needs to be bought for children between 3 – 6 years and a full ticket for children who are above 6 years.

O +ve is very happy that finally, she has her own ticket. She waits at the ticket window, takes her ticket, looks at it fondly and immediately tears it into two pieces; this is what she has seen happening at the entrance to all parks and gardens. Good observation and execution!

There is a small play-area before the deer enclosure. When we go to residential public parks the girls have to stand in queues to get their chance because of the crowd. In public parks in non-residential places, we have experienced that there is no crowd but the play equipment are mostly dysfunctional. At the deer park, there were two other families in all. And for a change, all the rides were working – so the girls enjoyed themselves wholeheartedly.

O +ve and B +ve kept running back and forth from one space to another in their quest to have it all. And we had to keep running behind them, as they cannot get onto the see-saw, merry-go-round or swing by themselves. O +ve loves to swing faster and higher; she loves the feeling of fresh air on her face and the wind blowing through her hair. B +ve is all for safety and speed limits; she loves to swing and slide at her own pace, she is never in a hurry. All in all, both the girls enjoyed trying their hands and legs at each and every ride out there.

We normally prefer walking and playing barefoot in parks and gardens. At the deer park, there were a variety of ants, bugs and centipedes which caught the girls’ attention and then they followed their trails for a pretty long time. They tried to figure out where they live, but after a while, some red ants got onto O +ve’s foot, resulting in loads of shrieking and wailing. Well, the insects were left behind to mind their own business.

It is around 4.30 PM and we remember that it is the time the deer are fed. We rush to the enclosure place and see the deer having a hearty meal. The girls were very excited to see the deer, albeit from a distance and began calling them to get their attention. The deer did notice them but had no inclination to leave their food and come towards the girls. After a while of incessant questions about the deer and their everyday life, all of us spent time in listening to the peacocks’ calls and in watching the deer walk back into the thick green foliage.

We were called by the staff to get going as it was their time to lock and leave. On the way back, the girls started focusing on the trees and plants on both the sides of the walkway. They had fun blowing the seeds of the yellow bells (Tecoma stans) and loved watching the swirling motion of the seed pods of the Flame of the Forest tree (Butea monosperma). They also picked some feathers, stones and seed pods of the Pongamia tree and the Ranawara tree.

B +ve saw a spider’s web in the adjoining plant and she was too intrigued by the same. Thankfully, she understands that she cannot take it home. Once outside, their mother saw a neem tree in full bloom with its low-hanging fruits. We plucked the ripe yellow fruits and B +ve had a go at it, she liked it so much that she started picking fruits from the ground and eating them. In fact, she wanted us to pluck fruits to last her for at least a week. A pity that she will never be able to find it again in the city, with such peace.

Despite being a small green space, the park offers immense scope for engaging kids with its boulders, green foliage, bird calls and cries, fluttering butterflies, fascinating insects; and of course the play-area and the deer.

Jawahar Deer Park Shamirpet, we are coming again…

Public Parks: 10 point survival guide for children

As per Wikipedia, a public park is an open space to offer recreation, it is a green space for residents with a playground for children as a common feature, among others. Having parks nearby urban residents within a 10-minute walk provide multiple benefits. Sounds innocuous, what can be wrong with this?

After taking my daughters to public parks on a weekly basis, I have concluded that public parks are a necessary feature in India to make adults out of children. These parks  ensure that kids understand their surroundings and necessarily build their adaptability and coping mechanisms, at the earliest, for their survival in India.

Travel & Traffic

We stay in Hyderabad, which I suppose is among the 10 largest cities in the country. Our house is within 2 km radius of Secunderabad Railway Station, this would make it nowhere near the outskirts of the city but very well within the city limits. Yet, the closest public park is more than 3 km from our place. Girls have learnt that we have to take a ride for a minimum of 10-15 minutes one-way to reach any park, and have to travel in the company of the city’s burgeoning traffic and the consequent high pollution levels to spend an hour or two at a green space.

Restricted Timings

All the public parks in the residential areas in Hyderabad close at 10 am and reopen at 5 pm. They are actually supposed to close at 9 am and reopen sometime after 4 pm, but the park attendants are almost always late in executing these tasks. Why should the public parks be closed in the day-time at all? For what reason? Girls have learnt that public utilities in India serve their own purpose and are not meant in reality for the public, at large.

Over-crowding

The play area for children does not take into account the population that it caters to. Most residential public parks will have two swings, one slide, two see-saws, one monkey bar and one jungle gym. Children at any point of time will far outnumber the available resources, similar to IIT seats. Girls learn that they have taken birth in an over-crowded nation.

Queue and taking turns

As the girls learn that the available infrastructure is less than the intended beneficiaries, they get trained to stand in queues, to take turns and to jump the queues as well for out of turn promotion. I am sure that very soon, the public parks will also equip them to push, shove and jostle around to get their way ahead – mandatory survival skills in our nation.

Difficulty in using resources

At any point in time in any public park, at least one swing will be broken or its chain will be in some sort of tangle to make it uneven. Slides come in all sorts of gradients to slide down, most of the time inappropriate for children below four years of age. See-saw will have either the seat or the handle to hold broken. Even the monkey bar and jungle gym will have some rods missing. Girls use their imagination and learn to make the most of the available resources – they learn “jugaad”.

Open Spaces

Our imagination is limited to swings, slides and the likes, which are of course required. But, beyond that there shall be no open places for a free play or some other stuff like sand pit, mud pit, water pit or good old tree climbing. Girls learn to think out of the box within the box – more of the same.

Trees

Public parks do have trees but nowhere near the children play area. So, all the play area accessories, made of pure metal, will be too hot to handle in the Indian climate for most of the time. Girls have learnt to deduce that trees are for lip-service to environment, somewhere in some corner, and not for providing shade where it is required. Anyways, only a handful of public parks can really boast of trees like the banyan, neem, peepal, tamarind which offer a cool shade.

Restrooms

None of the residential public parks that we have been to have restrooms. Girls have learnt to have better control for most of the times, and at times, I have been shouted upon by elderly park patrons for making a public toilet for my daughters behind a tree. Now, please tell me, how is it expected to have 100% control for three-year-olds? But I suppose,  it is about time for my daughters to learn that their country expects them to hold on to, whatever time they are in public spaces.

Inclusivity

Indian public spaces do not encourage special children to come out and enjoy with their peers. My daughters do not get to learn that there are other children also with whom they need to take the initiative to share. Compassion and empathy are not necessarily associated with us, as Indians, and non-inclusivity of public parks ensures that children learn this first hand.

Mosquitoes

Once the sun sets, children find it way too difficult to handle the mosquito menace at the parks. I have never been able to figure out why the municipality cannot make adequate efforts at mosquito control.  Girls learn that once the evening sets in, it is better to get back to home. And in another 4-5 years, they will also learn that it is not just the mosquitoes, but the security set-up in India as well that requires women to be at home after dusk.

Running around

The most favourite activity for both the girls is running and jumping. We stay on the 3rd floor and the girls are restricted to indulge in their favourite activities because of complaints from the neighbour who stay below us. Even at public parks, they are not able to run and jump as there is hardly any place for them to walk without getting trampled upon.

At an overall level, my daughters learn that access to green public spaces is a privilege in India. Even after you do reach the so-called green space, you need to be an innovator to make use of whatever is available. And there will always be a push from behind.

Welcome to the Indian way of life, my dear daughters.

A Grape Adventure – Grapes are not sour

Sometime back, my wife had come across a photograph in The Hindu of grapes being harvested at the Grape Research Centre, Rajendranagar. We figured out that they had opened their gates for the general public for harvesting. Too good an opportunity to let it go. So all excited, we headed to the centre to try our luck at getting some sweet yummy grapes fresh from the farm.

On reaching, a big hoarding with the pictures of different varieties of grapes grown at the farm welcomed us. The girls were intrigued by the varied hues of the grapes – green, black, red, purple, dark blue. Our energies were upped with the enticing prospects.

We made our way to a small stall set up at the centre to facilitate the process.  In response to all our enthusiastic queries, the person at the counter looked at us sympathetically and shared that the harvesting had begun more than a month ago. So, despite a bumper produce of 10,000 kgs, we may not be able to get even a kg of grapes from whatever was left at the vineyard.

The adults in us who need volumes for gratification were disheartened. Not the girls who were ready for action and fun. So there we were armed with two baskets, one for each of the girls to put their harvests and a knife. As we were about to enter the vineyard, the security personnel in charge of the place suggested that we begin our exploration from the far end columns of vines, just in case.

The entire vineyard had overhead bird netting in place – to prevent the birds from feasting on the produce. The net had to be lifted to enter the vinery and this act made the girls feel as if we were entering a special secret zone. As we walked through the grape climbers, the green leaves of the vines were pleasing to the eye. The girls were happy because they were able to touch and feel the plants, all by themselves. After running around a few columns, the girls finally chanced upon bunches of hanging grapes. Big, small, tiny, firm, soft, mushy, dried, green, black, purple, maroon – they described every fruit they picked. We helped them to figure out the difference between the raw and ripe ones and the care that they need to take whilst picking the ripe fruits.

Just as they were going about harvesting, the drip irrigation system was switched on to water the plants. There were pipes running along the grape climbers with holes for water to trickle drop by drop directly onto the plant’s roots. Seemed to be everything that we could ask for – each of the picked fruits started to get washed and gobbled. And that is when they realised that grapes also have seeds. I mean until then, all the market bought ones that they had been introduced to were all of the seedless variety. B +ve asked if they should eat the seeds like those of the watermelon or spit them out like those of the custard apples. I asked her to give it a try and she started crunching and munching.

O +ve had not been fond of fruits, grapes in particular until then. But she couldn’t resist the taste of her sweet labour. Unfortunately, all that she tasted was sour and had seeds much to her chagrin. Good enough for her to conclude that grapes are not worthy of her appetite. B +ve with her fondness for sour had her tummy full. The icing on the cake for her was when whilst reading out the names of the grapes, she figured out a variety of grapes which actually shared her name. O +ve searched in vain but couldn’t find her name etched on the sign poles.

In all our exploration, we managed to find only one variety of grapes that was sweet. The rest were sour to the core. But nothing deterred us. I mean the girls and they went on and on religiously walking through every column at the vineyard.

After a good two hours, we came out of the netted zone. A tractor in a corner caught the girls’ attention. They spent next 15-20 minutes in driving the stationary tractor. Finally, all our efforts were weighed at 300 grams and priced at Rs. 30/-.

Farm visits which tend to focus on picking and plucking give a great high. After all, who would not miss out on a chance of harvesting and savouring farm fresh produce? But such visits also tend to inadvertently not focus on the intensive and interesting facets and processes at the farm. It is often noted that kids, more so adults are on an accumulation spree/ on a race to fill baskets and sacks during harvest festivals. We are forever in a race and leave no chance of getting our kids inducted into it at the earliest, isn’t it?

Had there been more grapes, would we have missed out on getting acquainted with… The twists and bends of the grape vines? The smell of moistened earth? The number of nozzles between two sign poles? The textures and colours of the heart-shaped leaves? Intricately created spider webs?

We set out on our grape adventure in search of sweet grapes. At the end of it, all I can say is our grapes were not sour.