So, what is family life like in India, one of the most exotic countries on the planet?
In one of my blog posts, about living and traveling in India with children, I advise participating in kids’ birthday parties and playdates. Not only it’s fun and beneficial for children, but you also get to meet interesting people (aka their parents). I speak from experience! During one of the playdates, I got to meet Katerina, mom of a beautiful 6-year-old girl, called Isabella. I’m so delighted to now call Katerina my friend! And also excited about her sharing her story of expat family life in India as part of our global parenting stories.
Having lived in multiple cultures, she sure has many inspiring tales to tell, and definitely is your go-to person for any India-life/travel-related question.
Katerina is a talented photographer, and you can see many amazing shots taken by her on her Instagram account @Katerinas_asian_world
Without further ado, connect with Katerina on Instagram, and enjoy this entertaining and inspiring interview about what is life like in India!
Can you tell us about yourself and what brought you to New Delhi?
Hello! My name is Katerina, I live in India in New Delhi with my Indian husband and 6-year old daughter Isabella. I was born in Moscow, then lived in London for a long time, where I pursued my university studies and career in accounting.
My husband and I met in Singapore where I was working in a demanding job in investment banking. Our daughter was born in Singapore, and by the time she turned one, I was ready to try something new and different.
I wanted to spend quality time with my daughter and apply myself in different areas. India, as the birthplace of my husband, offered a great alternative at the time. I could raise my young daughter, indulge in local travel and photography, enjoy more time outdoors, brush up on my cooking skills, hone my interpersonal skills through meeting new people, join the book club, learn to drive, and finally spend more time with my family.
Having lived in London and Singapore before, what were your first impressions of your new home?
My relationship with India developed very gradually. I had been interested in Asia and India for a long time. There is something inexplicably exotic and alluring about India when you sit in an orderly office in The City of London on a rainy day and work on yet another deadline!
I first traveled to India with a friend when I lived in the UK. This first trip was truly overwhelming as we explored Old Delhi’s narrow lanes, marveled at the Taj Mahal in Agra, shocked ourselves with Varanasi’s burning ghats, were astonished by the palaces in Jaipur, and giggled while exploring erotic sculptures on Khajuraho’s temples.
After meeting my husband in Singapore, I had visited India numerous times. By the time I made the final move, India was already a known entity. There were undoubtedly several significant differences between how India operates compared to what I had been used to. Luckily, I had time to adjust gradually.
What are the biggest challenges of raising young children in New Delhi?
There are two types of challenges for me: environmental and cultural.
Environmental challenges in Delhi are well known, especially pollution during the winter months between November and January. I get around it by installing air purifiers at home and using a handheld monitor which shows air quality around us. There are also air purifiers at school which are a necessity during Delhi’s winters.
I was also surprised that dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases are still quite common in Delhi. In fact, I caught dengue myself a couple of years ago. Dengue prevention measures are a must.
There are cultural challenges as well. For example, fair-looking kids can attract a lot of attention, especially when very young. Local people sometimes rush towards them, hug them, touch their faces, pinch their cheeks (a sign of affection) and take photos. All of this can irritate protective parents who are simply not used to this type of attention. Asking politely but firmly not to touch your child normally does the trick straight away.
Schooling is very competitive in Delhi and it is can be a quite difficult and expensive process to secure a good school. My daughter attends The British School in Delhi and a lot of time and effort went into securing the place.
What do you love the most about your lifestyle in New Delhi?
There are many benefits to living in India. There is much more spare time which can be spent on my hobbies (travel and photography), self-development, or simply other things I like to do. With the wide use of domestic and other help (maids, drivers, chefs, tutors, security guards) the pace of life becomes a bit slower and more enjoyable.
New Delhi is known for its love of socializing and celebrating. I’ve attended some extraordinary parties and met some amazing people from different countries.
The cost of living in India remains very low by Western standards, most expats can live very comfortably.
Living in Delhi offers a unique mix of modern and ancient. The nightlife is thriving, and there are fancy modern restaurants, lounges, and nightclubs. But at the same time, there is this sense of ancientness everywhere. Such as incredible cultural sights in the city, like three famous UNESCO sites: Qutub Minar, Red Fort, and Humayun Tomb. There are many layers of history in Delhi as it is built over seven ancient kingdoms. And one can and should go on exploring all this with the kids!
Living in Delhi also offers unique local travel opportunities and weekends away. Jaipur is just 5 hours away by car and is an absolute cultural gem. Delhi is also a gateway to the Himalayas and several interesting Tiger Safari parks, like Jim Corbett, Ranthambore, and Sariska.
Lastly, I like the fact that Delhi is green and has many great parks. You can get quite close to nature. It is not unusual to spot a peacock in local parks. Large green and yellow Indian ring parrots are a very common sight.
What advice would you give to expats looking to move to India?
Expats moving to Delhi should ideally research the location very well and be aware of the fact that India can provide a cultural shock. However, it also is an unparalleled cultural experience. I’ve been told that India will not change for me, but I will need to accommodate India or at least keep an open mind!
Parents should look to secure a school place for their children in a limited number of international schools, preferably in advance. It helps to sort out English-speaking domestic help, specifically trained to deal with foreigners, as this tends to save a lot of headaches.
Once in India expats should explore this incredible country as much as they can. India is currently number six in the world in terms of UNESCO-protected sites. In my opinion, there should be more as some incredible monuments still don’t even have UNESCO status.
It is really enriching to participate in some famous local festivals while you are here. I personally absolutely love Holi (The Festival of Colours). Local weddings in Delhi and so-called destination weddings in Rajasthan are theatrical performances and carnivals rolled into one, so it is well worth getting invited to one!
What are Top 5 best places in New Delhi that you recommend visiting with kids?
There are definitely some worthwhile places to visit with kids in Delhi and NCR:
- Delhi Zoo with its resident white tiger
- Sunder Nursery, with its top of the range playground, zip line, and peacock spotting
- Illusions Museum
- Railway Museum with Joy and Toy train rides
There are some other interesting places like Barnyard contact zoo, Crafts Museum, Light and Sound shows in Red Fort and Purana Qila (Old Fort), boat ride in Akshardham… Last but not least Waste to Wonder and Bharat Darshan parks with their replicas of the famous world and Indian buildings made completely out of recycled waste.
Delhi’s beautiful landscaped parks offer plenty of opportunities for Nature Walks. Lodhi Garden, Buddha Jayanti Park, and Nehru Park all have a wide variety of trees, flowers, and birds.
There are some impressive indoor playgrounds like Duck, Duck Goose, Tumble House, Playhouse by Essex Farms, and Teeny Town, to name a few.
Older children might be interested in the Delhi Planetarium, Museo Camera Centre, National Museum, or National Gallery of Modern Art.
Let’s talk shopping. Are there some interesting local markets that expats and travelers should not miss?
Delhi is known for its abundance of different markets. To explore local flavor, and tickle your senses one can head to The Spice Market in Old Delhi. The legendary Chandni Chowk is great for materials and local Indian attire at wholesale prices. There is also an impressive Silver Market in Old Delhi selling silver pieces (including beautiful Rajasthani tribal necklaces) by weight.
Some expats love bargain hunting for reasonably priced trendy clothes at Sarojini Market, and ethnic jewelry (like Udaipur-inspired mirror necklaces) at Janpath Market. There are a couple of interesting tourist markets which appeal to foreigners – Dilli Haat and Paharganj. Dilli Haat regularly stages cultural events.
There is a popular Tibetan Market in North Delhi (Majnu-ka-Tila) which offers a glimpse into the life of the local Tibetan community. They also sell various Tibetan goods. AMA café is not to be missed there!
However, expats’ favorite hunt by far is Banjara Market in Gurgaon, which is really great for interior décor items. You will find items manufactured in India but destined for European stores, like Laura Ashley.
What adventure have you undertaken so far in India?
Actually, the list of adventures in India is endless!
Among the things we’ve done as a family with my daughter are the following: traveling to Havelock Island in the Andaman Islands (one of the most remote places on Earth), yak riding the Himalayan region, staying in and exploring Forts and Palaces in Rajasthan, boating on the Himalayan lakes, going on tiger safaris in Ranthambore (Rajasthan) and Corbett National Park (Uttarakhand), and of course, riding elephants and camels.
Which places do you recommend as must-see places in India?
I’ve been based in Delhi, and my experience is largely limited to North India.
If we are talking about traveling with kids, then must-see places can be roughly divided into the following:
CULTURE: Rajasthani cities of Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, and Jaisalmer. Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, and Akbar Tomb in Agra.
ANIMALS: Elephant sanctuary Elefantastic, Jhalana Leopard Safari in Jaipur, and desert camel riding in Jaisalmer are all worthwhile.
SEA ADVENTURES: South Goa and the Andamans with water sports in both locations.
NATURE AND TREKKING: Mountains and lakes of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. I particularly liked Shimla (former summer residence of the British Raj and the capital of Himachal Pradesh). They are both kid and expat-friendly.
There are many other places to visit with kids. Currently on my list are Kashmir, Kerala, and the Indian Tibet region of Ladakh. We make a point of taking our daughter to as many places as possible to give her those amazing childhood memories of Incredible India!
Thank you, Katerina, for taking part in this interview series and sharing your incredible story. As a fellow expat mom in India, I learned a lot about this country we live in and added multiple destinations to my to-see list. See you soon for a cup of coffee!
If you would like to read more about what is family life like in India, check these blog posts below:
More interviews with expat parents about life and parenting in foreign countries can be found here:
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