If you are holidaying in a coastal town, don't just be satisfied with sightseeing and ticking off the beaches in your itinerary; spend an entire day or days, beach bumming. Some beaches in cities and big towns come with their own tourist attractions particularly for children, like the ubiquitous merry-go-round and giant wheel, not to mention the pony rides. Some of them go to the extent of having video game parlours in the immediate vicinity. Though we may look askance at this incongruity, for children such attractions are often desirable and fun. But many times queuing up for these joy rides to wait your turn can take the fun out of it and dampen the spirit.
On the other hand, if you find a quiet beach, far from the madding crowd, children may possibly get bored with the monotony of the elements, unless of course, you can think up ways to keep them amused. Fortunately, there is no dearth of fun beach activities that you can indulge in, the only thing limiting them can be your imagination!
Hands on sands
To begin with, don't forget to carry the spade and pail paraphernalia; needless to say, this is a must to build sand castles. Children will naturally rake in the sand, wet it with water from the sea, and try to pat shapes in it, but try and see if you can learn up the basics of sand sculpting to lead them a little higher into the art. It calls for a keen application of mind to figure out how to sculpt a building or castle with towers and windows and can be a very educative experience. Smaller children can etch lettering and do line drawings in wet sand.
And even if you do not suggest so, kids will have sand all over them and bury their feet and torso under the sand; do not discourage this as it is quite therapeutic!
Swimming and playing in the water is the most obvious thing to do when on a beach, but be sure to get a change of clothes. Admittedly, it is fun to splash water on each other, but you could try games like catching ball while standing in the water. It can be fun and an excuse to keep dunking in the water! But a word of caution: be aware of the waves and tidal currents to avoid any untoward incident. One often reads about young and over-enthusiastic boys drowning in seemingly harmless seas, because one can never really gauge the force of the tides. In Alibag, off Mumbai, the Colaba Fort stands smack in the middle of the sea. When the tide is low, people can walk all the way or take a ride in a horse-cart to explore the fort, but they have to turn around well before the tide starts rushing in. You have to be aware of the tides or at least watch the tide chart to be on the safe side, when it comes to the sea.
Even as an adult you cannot resist collecting sea shells. That is one treasure you can carry home to cherish your visit to the beach. Beachcombing is an interesting pastime. In the process of scanning the sands you will come across colourful sea shells and pebbles, of course, but also myriad insects scurrying in and out of holes in the sand. Collecting sea shells is a great activity in itself, but don't indulge in it idly; try to tell the difference between conches and cowries. Looking for marine treasures in this vast treasure trove in the hope of getting something exquisite will keep the children exceptionally busy, while keeping boredom at bay.
Another interesting activity could be to take a pen and paper and make an exhaustive list of all the interesting things you see on the beach from the looming lighthouse to the indiscernible fishing boat over the horizon. You'll be surprised at what you see. You can then compare notes with the list of others and have a delightful discussion on it. This exercise will help to bring children closer to coastal life and its rhythms. Talk to the fisherfolk and learn more about their craft. In Cochin, the fishermen tell you all about the local fish and gladly let you handle their beauteous Chinese fishing nets to gather a catch. You can then approach the numerous fish stalls with your fresh catch and they will treat you to the most scrumptious fried seerfish, catla or tuna, as the case may be.
Make it a point to go to the beach before sunrise to witness day-break. This is also the time, unlike the sunset, when there will hardly be a soul on the beach. It is really something to see the darkness of pre-dawn dispel gradually with the first peek of the sun, changing the black hues through grey and blue, and then onto the bright colours of the day. You may also witness fishermen at their morning activity of setting out to cast their nets. Maybe you can hitch a ride on their boat if they are not venturing too far and for too long. They will gladly oblige. Hear the bird sounds bringing the place truly alive.
Bird-watching on the beach is different from that in the greens and gardens. For one, the species of birds here are different; they are mainly water birds. Secondly, they are not on trees, but either on the waterfront and hovering over or walking on the sand. Children will love to spot the wagtails with their bobbing tails and the chirruping sea gulls. They should be encouraged to keep a diary or a log book of what they observe. They can always refer guide books or the Net back home to verify or learn about their observations. Similarly, if you are going to spend the day on the beach, watch the tides to see when they rise and when they ebb.
Playing ball on the beach, whether football or volleyball is absolutely thrilling, but for that you have to be in a large group. If not, you can play frisbee with your family. And then when it is time to take rest, just pitch up an umbrella and open up your picnic hamper. Loll around, laze, put on your walkman and listen to music, curl in with a book, or just snooze. Pig out at the many food stalls with their fresh fish catch or on bhel puri - the original Mumbai beach fare, or shop for seashell knick knacks or trinkets.
There is more to beaches than just sand and water; all you need to do is to explore the innumerable possibilities. What can you think of?