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Moms Around the World:
Tips for planning your family's vacation from a local mom in the know
Merlin Francis with husband Rony and toddler son Arthur.
Bangalore is known as the “Garden City of India,” celebrated for its greenery and many parks. In more recent years, Bangalore has also been called the “Silicon Valley of India” thanks to its thriving software and high-tech industries, which make it India’s leading employer and exporter of information technologies.
Merlin Francis is a former television journalist who now heads the PR division of Outer Join, an online marketing and PR firm with offices in the U.S. and India. She lives in Bangalore with her husband Rony and 1-year-old son Arthur, and was kind enough to offer these helpful tips and advice for parents planning travel to this region of India with their own babies, toddlers, or young children.
An overview of Bangalore
Bangalore is very cosmopolitan. It’s a melting point of different cultures, yet it manages to hold on to its own. It was famously known as “the pensioner’s paradise,” a place for people to settle post-retirement. With its all-year-round pleasant weather, gardens and easy pace of life, it did make an ideal place for retirement. But all that changed when some 15 years back it slowly started establishing itself as the Silicon Valley of the East. Today it’s a bustling and busy city, with its growing traffic and infrastructure woes. In the last 5-6 years it’s grown at an unbelievable pace as home to thousands of educated people with dreams to make it big. In fact in a recent survey it was judged as the best city for Foreign nationals to settle or reside in.
Great places to take the kids in and around Bangalore
I love taking Arthur to parks, and he loves playing around in the grass. Also water is something he loves, though I have still not initiated him into swimming. Lakeside parks are another place I like taking Arthur and Bangalore has a lot of these options. Some of the famous parks spread across acres of land are Cubbon Park and Lal Bagh. During springtime, they are a must visit, the riot of color around is refreshing.
Bangalore also has quite a few lakes, the most famous being Ulsoor Lake close to the city nerve centre. And many smaller ones like Iblur Lake, Agara Lake, and Hebbal Lake have walking tracks and parks around for people to just relax while taking in the scenic view. The Bannerghatta National Park is another must-see for all visiting Bangalore with kids. About 20-25 Km from Bangalore, there is a very popular water and amusement park called Veegaland—its quite a hit with young kids.
Most of our residential apartments have club house facilities and mini playgrounds for kids, and most of the shopping malls in Bangalore have kid areas where they can go play with their peers for as long as they want. These places have trained people for supervision who take care of the kids when parents are busy shopping. Forum Mall with its Kid Zone on the 3rd floor is one such example.
Car seat laws in India:
There are no car seat laws in Bangalore or anywhere else in India. In fact, it is very rare to see kids in car seats in Bangalore or any other Indian city for that matter. The change is setting in as more and more people are becoming aware of the benefits of having a car seat, but it is still not a norm. People prefer holding their kids in their arms. That said, car seats are available in almost all shopping malls across Bangalore which have shops for kid accessories.
Riding Bangalore's buses with babies and young children:
There are limited options when it comes to public transport within the city of Bangalore. Though in about two years’ time we will have our metro rail system of underground trains in place. The normal buses are not a good mode of transport for parents with babies and young children as they are usually very crowded.
There are air-conditioned Red buses that are available on all bus routes, these would be a better option as they do not take in more people than the number of seats so are rarely crowded and are quite safe. Also they charge you more than the regular buses.
Advice for using auto-rickshaws, taxis and rental cars in Bangalore:
The second option is auto-rickshaws; these are also safe and are a private mode of transport, and they can comfortably seat a family of four. They run on a meter so you just pay for the distance traveled. You also have private city cabs which can be hired in advance and run on a meter. These are also comfortable and safe and can easily seat a family of 4 to 5 members.
Renting a car is a good option. You have air conditioned cars, non-air conditioned cars, luxury cars all kind of cars depending on how much you are ready to pay. These have to be booked at least 3 to 4 hours in advance and their rates are fixed on a minimum hourly or distance basis. Like I mentioned earlier, city cabs are easily available, you can call and book a cab. Depending on the proximity and the availability, a cab can reach you in 10 to 30 minutes. They run on a meter so you just have to pay for the distance you travel.
Bangalore has wide range and variety of restaurants catering to all kind of palates: Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Korean, continental, Thai and Indian. Most of these restaurants are kid-friendly. They usually have kid chairs to seat the toddlers. The only places where kids are not welcome are pubs, bars and discotheques. All other fast food joints or fine dining joints allow children.
Most of the international brands for diapers and baby food are available in Super markets and Hyper markets like Spar or Spencers around the city. There is no special name—they are called diapers and baby food. Baby medicine can be bought from medical stores or pharmacies anywhere in the city. Ensure you ask for a bill.
The more popular brands of diapers are Huggies and Pampers. Baby Food brands are Cerelac and Nestum.
When it comes to raising children and changes, well of course India is a fast-growing nation and the options available two decades ago were miniscule when you compare it with what we have to choose from today. From international standard pre-schools to colleges to stores, clothing brands to toys, hobby classes… the options available for kids today are innumerable. Also, the spending power of parents is much higher when compared to our times, so everyone is always in the rush for providing the best of everything for their children.
Maternity leave: Mothers are entitled by law 3 months paid maternity leave in India—public and private—and the practice continues. What has changed is that, today many corporations give the option of taking a year-long break or sabbatical post pregnancy. Of course, you get no remuneration during this period. There are also options of working from home for sometime after you finish with your maternity leave. It varies from corporation to corporation, but 3 months’ paid maternity leave is a standard norm.
Breastfeeding culture: There are no specific laws against breastfeeding in public in India. But you rarely see women feeding in public. Even if they do, they ensure that their breasts are covered aptly. The newer shopping malls and multiplexes do provide a breastfeeding and diaper changing areas for mothers in the restrooms. I would suggest if you have to breastfeed the baby at a public place, do so, but ensure that you are covered properly to avoid getting stares and unnecessary attention. Also, feeding in your car or vehicle is another option.
When shopping in Bangalore, especially on Commercial Street, please bargain. Start at probably 40% of the cost they are asking for and then slowly increase your bid.
The other advice I would give parents traveling to India or Bangalore is that ensure you always keep your kids in sight, especially when shopping on shopping streets etc. India is a crowded country, and getting lost is easy.
Bangalore is a lovely and safe city. The city is well connected by Flights, trains, interstate buses. Bangalore is also a very cosmopolitan city. People are a little laid back and fun loving. You can just be yourself.
Merlin, thank you so much for sharing your tips, photos and insights for parents planning travel to your city. Also thanks to the photographers contributing to this article:
Copyright (c) 2009 - 2014 Shelly Rivoli. All rights reserved.
Adapted from an earlier article by Shelly Rivoli that appeared in the National edition of Examiner.com in 2009/2010.