Nature Has The Best Box of Crayons
The Jilling Nature Retreat for Kids
It was a morning when the hosts Shilpi and Manish would meet yet another bunch of kids ready to be on an Unhotel journey. A mixed bunch across age and gender. Some excited, some shy and some very sleepy!
These days many city kids rarely get onto a train. We had to work hard to excite them about a train journey. Actually, we can’t blame the kids alone. They don’t have the exposure and they don’t want to compromise on Un-swachh trains…and why should they?
Anyways, within a short period of time the kids got to know each other, conversation started flowing followed with laughter and whispers; books and games kept the kids engaged. Upon deboarding at Kathgodam station and a short cab ride up the hills, we stood at the foot of the mountains, ready for an enjoyable forest trek.
Trekking is never easy for many adults, but children have amazing energy, especially when they are in a group. Eager for adventure, they mostly ran up the 45 minute trek! Till they were at Jilling, ready to do some chilling!
There was one main aim of this retreat – to interact with nature. We have to admit it was a little hard to get these city children decoupled from their phones and gadgets but with the help of another volunteer parent, it was done much to the kids’ initial dismay. But it didn’t take long for them to realise there was much more in store for them.
The children quickly made friends with Radhika – the hostess of our cosy Unhotel – ‘Sanctuary in the Hills’. She later narrated the story of how this homestay came to be.
When she was just an 8 year old girl and had first come to Jilling, the village postmaster told her that a forest fire had destroyed the trees and he was deeply saddened with the thought of birds losing their nests to the forest fire. It then strengthened young Radhika’s resolve to return and give back to the place she loved the most.
The whole trip was no-holds-barred as the itinerary wasn’t very regimented; so we mostly went with the flow.
The first morning the group ventured out on a nature walk along the estate, taking photographs and birdwatching. The next day the kids learnt farming in the homestay greenhouse – how to prepare the soil, grow potatoes, cauliflowers, etc. The children noted the marked difference in the city vegetables versus the mountain’s unadulterated ones. A lazy afternoon was spent in the solar pool – laughing, splashing water around while the summer sun gazed upon us.
We would sit until it was quite late recounting old stories our grandmothers would tell us, or learning how to journal our observations, the little big things which made a mark or touched us in some way. And of course there were a variety of board games…Parents, do all this sounds familiar? Don’t you remember spending your childhood days at dadi-nani’s home just like this. And that’s what this place can be described as – Dadi-nani ka ghar in the hills where cousins would meet and the days would never end.
I have to share a bit more on their journal. Creativity comes in different shapes and colours. Each one of them had their unique observations, reflections and individual takeaways. How important it is to reflect, to pause – it all came out in their writings & musings.
It invariably happens on Unhotel trips – a birthday to remember and this time, it was our hostess Radhika’s birthday. It was heartwarming to see how the kids spent an entire evening making birthday cards,planning secrets for Radhika aunty whom they didn’t know just a day before. They even baked a cake for Radhika aunty. Far away from technology is where they truly flourished.
The last day was spent at an adventure camp just 30 minutes from Jilling. There were loads of surprises in store for them at the camp. Their faces lit up as they learnt how to canoe and rappel. But when the time came for jumping off a cliff, suddenly there were scared faces all around.
It was young Sakshi who literally took the first plunge, breaking the ice and paving the way for the older children to jump into the cool water. Ironically the younger kids were motivating the older ones.
It was truly amazing to see special bonds develop during this trip. The group was mixed – the eldest child was 15 years old and the youngest 8 years. But by the end of the short trip, it seemed as if they were all long lost friends; the best of buddies.
It was great to see children move away from their digital addiction. At home, mostly because we don’t have the time or energy to ‘deal’ with kids we pacify them with phones and gadgets. But do try engaging them with stories and physical activities and voila, you will be surprised at their creativity.
As always emphasised by us, travel is not about structured learning, it’s about serendipitous discovery and we take pride in saying that each child discovered something about herself, about nature, about relationships, about things that truly matter in this complex fast-changing living universe!0