Living Abroad with Children in Bangalore, India
Article and photos by Rebecca Stonehill
The city of Bengaluru (or Bangalore as it is still more commonly known) in the South of India is home to proportionately more expatriates than any other place in India. Expats are attracted by the range of professional and voluntary opportunities as well as the temperate climate.
While I have traveled a reasonable amount previously, this stay abroad related to my husband’s job has been quite a different experience. This time I have two children, aged one and three. Wanting my children to engage culturally and emotionally with India without sacrificing their comforts and, to an extent, their routines, naturally presents challenges. But finding many safe and engaging activities has helped to make our time here a fascinating and enriching experience for the entire family.
Settling into Bangalore
If a child has never been to India before, Bengaluru is a fantastic place to start. The “garden city” is rapidly developing and expanding and, while it may not be as leafy as it once was, it provides the expatriate a view into both faces of India: the India caught up in the technological and developmental boom, and the India of bustling markets, vibrant colors, and street side chai wallahs. The city sits at an altitude of 3,000 feet, so while it can still get very hot, neither the heat nor the monsoon rain is as intense as in many other Indian cities.
My elder daughter was nearly three when we arrived and I was keen to find her a pre-school so that she could integrate with other children and be stimulated in a new environment. Pre-schools are ubiquitous in Bengaluru—you will not have to look for long to find them. A good idea is to visit several in your area (they can be found on the Web using search engines and Ask Laila), have a look around, and ask questions about the school. It took some time for my daughter to feel settled—wanting to blend in was not easy for her as she was the only non-Indian child and as a result found herself the center of attention. However, she now loves school and looks forward to going each day.
Getting around in Bangalore
One factor that anyone must be aware of before embarking on any of the activities described below is time: traffic is a big problem in Bengaluru and you need to allow yourself plenty of time to get to your destinations. Do not try and do too much with your children or you may well end up disappointed and frustrated. Sundays are a good day to travel further afield in the city or to the environs, as traffic is reduced to a third of what it is the rest of the week. When traveling around, while auto-rickshaws are inexpensive and easy to come by, the pollution they produce can become unpleasant, so for anything other than short journeys taxis are a preferable mode of transportation.
Activities in Bangalore
Wherever you go with children, they will attract attention. While this can be intimidating for some children to begin with (as it certainly was for my sensitive 3-year-old), it should be explained gently to them that people are just curious and want to be friendly. Routine is not as strictly defined as it is in the West and wherever you go, day or night, you will come across many children out and about with their families.
Visiting temples: Temples are, not surprisingly, everywhere. They are a wonderful eye-opener for a child in India and are very child-friendly as many Indian families go and spend time there together.
Visiting markets: Bright, colorful, and teeming with life, there are numerous markets around the city where you may take your children. Be careful of your possessions, of course. For babies, slings are a good idea. Aim to stay for a short while and leave longer-term browsing for a time when you can visit without children, as markets can become very tiring, especially for younger children. A friendly, colorful market selling a plethora of fruit and vegetables is Russell Market.
Play parks: There are parks all over the city with variable quality and standards of safety. While several malls have play areas (e.g. Forum Mall & Oasis), a far more interesting experience is to find a good park which presents opportunities for your children to get to know local kids. By far our favorite is the Defence Colony Children’s Park in Indirangar. This is a good afternoon out as it is also close to Claytopia, a pottery café.
Bookshops: Bookshops are an important part of Indian culture and you are never far from one. They nearly always have seats so you can sit and read. Many of the larger bookshops have well-stocked children’s book sections and weekend storytelling and craft activities.
Monkey Maze: This is a new, soft play area for children up to eight years of age, complete with slides, balls, a climbing area and a multitude of books, games, and toys. This play space is not culturally distinct from what you might find in other countries, but it is set on the rooftop of a building in a quiet, leafy street and is another good opportunity for your child to interact with local kids. There is also a mother and tots activity time as well as activities such as kids’ yoga and Bollywood dancing.
Swimming. There are many pools in and around Bangalore. Your best bet is to go to a hotel and spend a few hours there. Our favorite and the most peaceful pool we have found is the Jayamahal Palace, set in a green, sprawling garden. The staff here is particularly friendly.
Hippocampus This is an excellent children’s library which we were delighted to discover as we found good children’s books generally hard to come by. In addition to putting on occasional story-related activities, the library also houses many games for children of all ages, and so provides a good afternoon out.
Georgia Sunshine Village: As in any city, sometimes the noise, traffic, and pollution can get to you and provoke a desire for open spaces and immersion in nature. A wonderful city escape is to Georgia Sunshine Village, nestled in the lush countryside on the road to Mysore. Only a few hours’ drive away, it is worth hiring a taxi to take you there and collect you. This is a brilliant area to go with children: not only is the area teeming with wildlife but the bungalow accommodation is comfortable, there is an area for games, and a swimming pool. Short guided morning walks take you through the surrounding fields and villages—an excellent opportunity for your child to experience the Karnatakan countryside.
Bannerghatta National Park: About one and a half hours from Bangalore is the Bannerghatta National Park. Here, you will find a zoo, a butterfly park, and 25,000 acres of protected parkland. Take walking boots if you are feeling adventurous. The zoo is home to a large variety of animals, ranging from tigers to reptiles to a large variety of birds.
Ask Laila Bangalore.
Taxis: There are literally dozens of taxi firms around the city. Call at least 45 minutes ahead. They are also happy to wait for you.
Rebecca Stonehill is from Cambridge, UK but lives in Bangalore, India with her husband and two children. She is an EFL teacher and freelance writer.