Child Free Zones and Other Malarkey

Child Free Zones on aircraft are not only unfair to parents who shell out extra for kids – they are also practically useless and unfriendly to women. Here’s why.

While many countries are adopting child friendly policies, a very popular airline in one of the most populated countries with a lot of children among its occupants (i.e India) is planning to introducing child free zones on aircrafts. So just by virtue of being and having a kid, my ticket paying child (full fare since age 2) and I will be relegated to the back of the aircraft or some such place.

My kid is the most well behaved little human being when he is on the road but not quite so when at home; hence maybe I should have a child free zone at home! (Well, even the bathroom is not spared here).

I have traveled a fair share and my kid has traveled quite a bit since he was 3 months old. We have been on long haul flights, smaller aircrafts and most modes of transport except on a truck. In all these years of travel, I have maybe had one or two isolated instances when a kid (not mine) was crying or ‘being a nuisance’ and they did calm down after a bit.

In these stray cases the kids are genuinely unwell or possibly bored; maybe that is what the airlines should focus on instead of discriminating on precious leg space and making travelling parents feel like the scum of travellers. I agree there are kids who can be unruly but I can vouch for this that the parents of such kids would rarely venture on travel and if they do, they are doing so under duress (so show some tolerance people!)

Among the countries where I have traveled to, child free zones seem to be quite popular in the US whereas Asian countries especially China and Singapore are possibly more child friendly. Between these two approaches I would definitely vote for child friendly, where bathrooms have baby seats that moms can place kid in when they are taking a leak, play areas near the boarding gates for the young travellers and car shaped luggage trolleys – as the biggest loads (albeit cute loads) moms carry is usually their babies.

These policies are not only child friendly but also women friendly, because guess who is usually the primary care giver and solo traveller with two kids in tow? (Yes, there are many such brave souls). While we are on this topic of being child friendly, another distinct improvement which China and Singapore boast of are diaper changing beds in men’s bathrooms at airports and malls – because men love their babies too. In my opinion, these policies are more inclusive than such discriminatory practices and empty money making strategies.

I call these empty money making strategies because even if  you buy your seat in the child free zones and feel quite smug and tweet something like,”I hate kids, child free all the way!” – if a two year old wants to be heard, you will hear him for sure unless the airline offers child free zones and sound proofing!

The only benefit of a child free zones could be that you would not see a child around you – but hear her you will. It is true that kids kick seats and that can be quite irritating but I have lost count of the number of grown-ups who have reclined their seats fully in the cramped space and fallen on my lap as I try to stuff a croisant in my mouth without any falling on the forehead of the person in front of me. Travelling is about tolerance and doing the best you can with the given space – or have we forgotten that?

On my first long haul flight with my then 5 month old, we pooled all our points and money and got one ticket in business class and paid the mandatory percentage for the baby’s ticket which almost equaled a full ticket in economy. When I took my seat with my baby an Indian ‘gentleman’ next to me was visibly shaken and informed his friend over the phone that business class is filled with kids, he was probably expecting child free zones!

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First published on Women’s Web. Image copyright and credited to TravelingNoodles.

Lands End Cherrapunji

Most people in India know Cherrapunji as the region with the highest rainfall and thats that, but this mountain abode and its charm was more mystical than any place I have experienced in India. Cherrapunji is also known by its original name Sohra. The road from Shillong to Cherrapunji itself is ripe with promise with flowers on wooden balconies, pine trees, mountains blanketed with grasslands and an ever descending mist. It is a steep motorable road which rises dramatically upwards to the clouds. Wooden houses with long laundry lines is testament to the heavy mist cover in this region.

A bend on the road to Cherrapunji

Cherrapunji is still quite remote and has not been taken over by mindless tourism and people there are conscientious about protecting their land and keeping it clean. The first stop on the road to Cherrapunji was a dramatic ravine on top of a green mountain where a brook gurgled among the rocks deep below on the ravine. There was a well laid out trail that was built by the people of Cherrapunji which went a long way across the mountains. There was a very exciting zipline which went across the ravine, Cherrapunji is a treat for the adventurous.

Laundry lines including washed diapers for reuse

There are deep and mystical folktales that add to the mystery of Sohra especially the story of Nohkalikai falls is quite chilling. Nohkalikai also happens to be a very soul fulfilling place to go to. Since the reaches of tourism is minimal there, the shops and kiosks sell local and fresh wares like fragrant cinnamon barks, mountain flowers and honey. The falls can be seen from a plateau, though we weren’t able to see the falls due to the thick cloud cover. The mist and plains, the sounds of a far away river the strums of a guitar and an unknown voice singing a local song made the memory an amazing one for us.

Mountain Kiosks

Another note worthy place to visit in Cherrapunji is the seven sister falls and the adjoining eco park. The seven sister falls over look the plains of Bangladesh. The eco park lies on top of the falls were you can see the seven sisters originating including an eighth fall that goes missing and underground from the top of the mountain. The seven falls are quite steep as they fall from India and flow onwards to the plains of Bangaladesh. The eco park has a few play areas and is generally quite delightful for kids.

Eco park above the Seven  Sister Falls

Another absolute delight much to my toddlers angst was Mawsmai which are limestone caves which test the endurance of an amateur. The small section of the caves that have been opened for the border development. The effect of the caves is quite thrilling with dark limestone walls that wind beneath the mountain as one has to crawl and twist and leap to reach from one end to the other. Cherrapunji has a lot to offer and a traveler has a lot that she can soak up from this delightful place at lands end.

A wuzzy feeling and a fuzzy photo

Places to eat and stay in Cherrapunji or Sohra

  • Cafe Cherrapunji
  • Polo Orchid
  • Backpackers hostel
  • Eateries around Mawsmai Caves

Did I mention, pineapples in Cherrapunji; they are absolutely divine, don’t forget to grab a slice.

Beautiful places in Cherrapunji – A Photoessay.

Cherrapunji or Sohra lies in the North East of India and protects a very unique culture and history which is still quite unknown to many in India as well as abroad. Cherrapunji lies on the border of India where the hills dramatically give way to the plains to Bangaladesh making both these lands distant from each other.

This photoessay captures some of the beauty that we experienced in this land which is known as the Scotland of the East. I am unaware of how beautiful Scotland is but Cherrapunji with its deep ravines, green mountain mists, plunging water falls, women wearing dhara and mystical caves and folktales has its own beauty without compare!

Stone Sculptures
The First of the Seven Falls
The thick cloud cover that descends ever so suddenly
Monoliths honoring Khasi heroes
A mountain cemetery in a land of Christian majority
Fun at Eco Park
An apt message at Nohkalikai Falls
Steep steps personify the mountains of Cherrapunji and Shillong for me
Mists make everything beautiful
Onwards to the plains of Bangladesh
The Seven Sister Falls
Solitude and serenity at Nohkalikai Falls
Mountain trails built by the people
Capturing history at Cafe Cherrapunji
A village in Sohra
My loot from the mountain abode
Luxury stay at Rikinjay Resorts

Photos credited to and property of Traveling Noodles and Razor Rasu.

In Search of the Ghost Pepper at Bara Bazaar Shillong

Bara Bazaar in Shillong is said to be the oldest market in the area and a market that is primarily run by women. Bara bazaar is also known as lewduh which is a literal translation of the word big market. The market is housed on a hill and is huge in its layout, narrow alleys traverse up, down and all over the hill and is definitely not for a claustrophobic person.

The market sells anything and everything one could fathom, from tobacco, to dried or fermented fish which is a local delicacy, to clothes, diapers, vegetables and other house hold goods. Definitely carrying goods up and down the bazaar through the crowded alleys and a labyrinth of stairs is a task a requires a level of skill I have not witnessed before. Men scurry along stairs and alleys with heavy loads tied to the back bent on a double. I also witnessed an erstwhile iron cupboard being carried down steep steps by a man who had tied it to a back and was transporting it at top speed by himself.

Goods being carried up and down the hill!

Our purpose for visiting Bara Bazaar was to buy the worlds hottest chili – Bhut Jolokia. Bhut Jolokia or ghost peppers is known by various names across the north east of India. We however didn’t know what is was called in Shillong. Anyone we asked for directions in the market pointed us towards various paths at random. One of the mistakes we made was to trying to speak Hindi in a state which has English as its official language. After walking around aimless around the fringes of the market which was full of godowns and old trader mansions, we plunged into one of the alleyways which intuitively seemed the unlikeliest place to hose such a big market.

To our surprise this dark small rabbit hole of an alley was one of the main entrances to this wide network of alleys also known as bara bazaar. The bazaar is traditionally true to itself and performs many rituals to the deity of the market (Ka Iew- Lei Hat-Lei Khyrdop) and the deity of Shillong (U Blei Shyllong). The shop keepers are primarily women and shops are placed wherever possible in the tiniest of spaces which is out of the way of the trampling feet of the crowd.

Dried Fish being sold at Bara Bazaar

We were asked to go up market to the vegetable section to find chilli. Up market there were more indigenous produce of mushrooms, banana stems, bamboo, pineapple, various types of almost lethal chillies, dried and fermented fish and tobbacco (which I thought was tea at first). We bought a couple of varieties of chillies as we frantically tried to google Bhut Jolokia but with some luck we did manage to buy a bit of bhût zôlôkiya (ভুত জলকীয়া) or bih zôlôkiya, also known as ghost pepper, aka naga zôlôkiya, umorok and probably bham (not sure of this) in Meghalaya. It was named the hottest chilli in the world in 2007 which is 400 times hotter than tobasco!

My Haul From Shillong, Bhut Jolokia, Bamboo pickle and something they called Red fireball!

It is usually used fresh or after drying and slivers of it are used in the stews, sauces or curries. It is also pickled and used, different types of pickles are also available in the market using bamboo, various chilies and other produce. Bara bazaar is definitely an experience, most Indian markets are narrow and crowded but the hilly topography and different type of merchandise at the market also the distinction of being one of the oldest women owned markets gives lewduh a unique flavor.

Here is a video of us navigating Bara Bazaar in search of the World’s hottest pepper!

Photographs copyrighted to Traveling Noodles.