Here's how this Hyderabad family roadschooled their daughters on the way to the North East

Gangadhar Krishnan and Ramya Baradwaj unschool, homeschool and roadschool their twin daughters. They talk about their three-month-long road trip to the North East in a yellow Nano
Ananya and Amulya during the trip
Ananya and Amulya during the trip

A few months ago, the world was yet to hear about the Coronavirus. People back then had the option of having actual weekend plans. They went to the mountains and beaches, restaurants and museums, parties and concerts. People travelled in planes, trains, buses and cars. Gangadhar Krishnan and his family were no different. Along with his wife Ramya Baradwaj and twin daughters Amulya and Ananya, this Hyderabad man has travelled the length and breadth of the country. And most of them are road trips. The children are never left behind, by the way. In fact, they were 'born to travel'. No kidding, they were two months old when they went on their first-ever picnic. So, it should not come as a surprise when you hear that these nine-year-olds are being homeschooled and even roadschooled.

Amulya and Ananya were pulled out of school last year. Their parents too quit their jobs at around the same time. Ramya is now a writer and a yoga instructor and Gangadhar runs a travel company named  Unwind@Unexplored. The couple believe that at this age, the children must learn life skills more than Math and Science. And they cannot think of a way better than roadschooling. The term is self-explanatory. It is the concept of teaching life skills to children in real-time while on the road. "It is an excellent way of giving kids and their family an opportunity to learn things that the urban setting does not allow. So we just travel. This can last for weeks or even months," says Gangadhar. "Roadschooling is not curriculum-based at all. Our trips are mostly unplanned. We get up on a certain morning and figure out the possibility. We also don't Google too much in order to not spoil any surprises," he says. While he says the original plan to cover a few states on the way to Guwahati, it actually ended up being a larger trip.

The family during the trip

13,000 km in a yellow Nano

 Remember the poster of Karwaan — with actors Dulquer Salmaan, Irrfan and Mithila Palkar posing next to a yellow Nano, against a picturesque coconut tree-background in Kerala? Well, if they can do it, then why shouldn't Gangadhar and his family? Except they didn't drive from Bengaluru to Kerala, like in the film, they travelled from Hyderabad, where they live, to Northeast India, all the way till the India-China border in Arunachal Pradesh. And they have even crossed international borders — they went to Nepal and Bhutan exactly a year ago. In a span of three months, they covered 13,000 kilometres and 15 states. "In these 90 days, the children had a lot of opportunities to learn life skills, languages, geographies, skills, cuisines. These are experiential to the kids. It is like learning to ride a bicycle. Reading it from a book is not really the best way to understand it," says Gangadhar, who cites the example of teaching them the water cycle by showing it to them in Cherrapunji, Meghalaya.  

Gangadhar tells us that the family only spent somewhere around Rs 3 Lakh for the entire trip. They pitched a tent and slept under it for many nights. On some nights, they stayed with the people who lived in nearby villages. "Fuel and maintenance of the car cost us around a lakh. We also ate a local food whenever possible," he says. "In fact, almost every day, we found a waterfall where we could take a shower," he says.

A travelogue by Ananya

Now, you'd think that a compact Nano isn't usually the car that most people would prefer to travel long distances. However, this family tells us that we are all wrong. "We wanted to prove to ourselves that minimalism works. This is the only car we have and we have done many trips in it. There was no downtime because of it. This was another way to cut cost," he says. We were awestruck when the couple told us that they drove the car 13,000 feet uphill and even through snow! Ramya then tells us that theirs was the first Nano to be driven in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. "They had never seen a Nano drive to Tawang before. The people there even took our picture and circulated it in their local WhatsApp groups," she laughs.

Starting 'em young

The couple took their twins to their first picnic when they were just two months old, to a lake in Bengaluru. When they were six and a half months old, they drove from Bengaluru, where they living at the time, to Coorg. "We carried sterilisers, baby food and a lot of things along as they were quite young. There were troubles, of course, once they cried for an hour straight because there was no power. But after that, they were okay. The next day, we visited an elephant camp nearby. That was when we realised that travel isn't impossible, even with children," says Ramya. "As soon as they turned one, we travelled again to Coorg," she says.

Coming back to their present-day life, Ramya tells us that the family has no complaints amid the lockdown. "We love to spend time together as a family and the lockdown lets us do that," she says. "We miss travel, especially our road trips, where we got to play games, sing songs together and explore local eateries and cuisines. Now, we mostly look at our pictures from last year," she says. Gangadhar adds that staying at home has its own perks. "Now, they are focusing a lot on cooking, cleaning, maintaining the garden, mopping and sweeping and washing the clothes. The kids also attend online classes for Bharatanatyam and Taekwondo," he says.

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