World Tourism Day

Always Choose An Experience…

For everything else there *is* Mastercard. Or Visa as the case may be.

Let’s start with a bit of a context for this statement to make sense to those it hasn’t. My father’s a career banker. He has hopped all over the country before retirement and taken us with him. And while many don’t like the gypsy life, if you’re born into it; you don’t know any different.

In every place we lived in, local sightseeing spots, some out of the way spots- nothing was left to be explored. And during holidays, we explored places which were doable (7-8 hours in usually a white Ambassador without AC) and that was not only an eminently acceptable way of spending time as a family- it was the norm. No place was left out- religious ones, historical ones, architecturally renowned ones…nothing. As a result, traveling was understood as what “one did” because something was out there and it was meant to be seen.

Haldighaati

After the initial bouts of motion sickness passed, we would sleep turn by turn. My mother would always be very strict about nodding off while sitting next to a driver, those being the days before airbags and seatbelt’s in India, and anyhow who needed to snooze would need to head to the backseat and another person would replace them up front.

If the terrain was unendingly dull and unchanging, I would be asked to play word games or just conk off till we reached the next rest stop. Stocking up on a list of junk food curated by the child was an unheard concept till our generation became parents and the kids became the ones who dictated how the holidays would be spent.

And while having money was an enabler then, is one now and will always continue to be one, the focus wasn’t ever on going to “good places”, staying in a posh hotel or having a pool to jump into at the end of the journey. It was all about the parents opening the eyes of their child to everything they could about the country they lived in because the knowledge could help them in a future geography test. Kidding…

Chhota Imambara, Lucknow

I remember very little about Lucknow- I think I saw it as a toddler. I have vague recollections of seeing goldfish somewhere and my mother said it was in the Chhota Imambara.

When we moved to Delhi, Appu Ghar was a favourite that I got to indulge in infrequently. But we went to Surajkund quite a few times and it was fun for a preschooler!

Surajkund, Faridabad

I remember skipping and jumping on the steps and being told to be careful and not fall into the dirty, stagnant water-yes..that was my mother’s worry. I don’t think she’d have minded a dunking in free-flowing water much.

Trek to the now-visible Shiva temple in Koliyak Beach, Bhavnagar

I have lovely memories of Koliyak in Bhavnagar as an 8 year old and even better ones as a 20 year old on a return trip to the place.

The Queens Botanical Gardens, the Orchid shows, the trips to The World Trade Center, Bronx Aquarium and of course Coney Island were par for course since those are outright sight seeing spots but those have been the kind we visited the least.

We would still hop in the car and take off for whichever river, dam, temple, palace was worth seeing-never mind how far. The further it was just meant the earlier you got out of bed to start off. And over the years indelible memories have been formed at Menal during the monsoons and at Bundi which we just swung by since it was “close by”.

Of course the memories of eating pipping hot mirchi bhajjiyas in the pouring rain, on the side of the road also stands out vividly. Our driver, Chhattarsingh ji used to drive a tank in the army before he retired and joined the bank and the car used to be a toy in his hands. He loved to take us around the different tourists spots and would never say no to a hot cuppa!

Palitana Temple

We’ve done pav-bhaaji picnics sitting near the Mahi River, eaten deliciously unique cold curd set in stone plates after climbing up 7000 steps to the Palitana temple. I’ve travelled through pouring rains on a Kinetic that clearly was more than up to the task to see the Champaner fort and then semi-trekked up to the extremely crowded Pavagadh hills. And it’s all been terribly interesting to say the least!

The ruins of the Narasimha Swamy temple, Hampi

The ruins of Dholavira, the terracotta temples in Bishnupur, the Gol Gumbaz up close, wandering around lazily in Bidar fort, crossing over on the ferry in Hampi and coming face to face with him- cannot be replaced!

Gol Gumbaz, Karnataka

In this year and in the months to come, any sort of travel may seem like an indulgence because of the risks associated with it and yet people will and are stepping out.

They are opting for road trips, choosing their next travel experience with more diligence and curiosity than ever before because traveling was never something that anyone was told they couldn’t do. Staying at home under duress was never a condition we had to wrap our heads around.

So when given the option to indulge- materialistically, gastronomically or whichever -ally it may be…try and choose an experience related to travel. It’ll stay with you always and you’ll be replaying bits and pieces of it in your head over the years to come.

Cannot put a price on that!

The Throwback Blog Post

I know the references to Corona-impacted travel have been overdone, but with no clarity in sight about future travels, modes of recreation etc people are harking back to the good old days. Sadly for some of us they were just a few months ago. Check out my posts on my last trip here and here.

Social media platforms and photo-sharing sites have cottoned onto the idea of ‘Memories’. What were you doing on this particular day in the past. Say 3 or 4 years ago. And since our smartphones are an extension of our hands these days, most of us were doing a heckuva lot and the pictures speak for themselves.

Our family had taken our first holiday together to the mountains of India. The Kumaon part of the Himalayas to be more specific. TO had done the entire trip via trains and road and was amazed at the amount of things he saw.

A flight ends up having an amount of sameness to it after a point. And so do the actions associated with it. Go to the airport, check-in, keep an eye on the kid to make sure he doesn’t wander off, buy him KFC stuff before boarding all the while promising that yes, once we board, he would still get his Cup O’ Noodles as well and possibly some juice too!

There’s rarely any drama on a flight. Loads of it while traveling by trains and right from the time you enter the railway station. It’s a different kind of world altogether. With everything from livestock to fresh produce to wailing kids to frantic people and in India, usually a yelling patriarch of a family herding everyone in the direction of the train which is about to leave.

Railway stations would make for lovely dioramas I’ve always thought. But enough of that later. Onto our journey and why I woke up feeling nostalgic.

My child has traveled in trains before. With people and prehistoric pets both, he’s not fussy, but he’s not landed in a mess of a station where people are pushing and shoving like it’s their goal in life (aka Nizamuddin in the rains and Delhi people doing what they do best!). Neither has he looked out a window and seen mountain tips in the distance and taken in cleaner, fresher air all around him.

In 2017 we took a very memorable trip to Binsar, Uttarakhand. Red and I had been around the area before but for TO it was really quite an adventure. The poor thing emptied out the contents of his stomach all the way to the resort because of a lengthy diversion we had to take due to some road repairs. And he bore it like a champ. Of course, I defy any child to be like a parrot on steroids after having puked continuously for 3 hours. That he was still semi-bright eyed was good enough for us.

The resort was lovely. With mists hanging off the trees, big-ass monkeys threatening us from disturbing their morning rituals and lush green views of valleys and mountain peaks. The local cuisine was quite different from what we were used to back home but both Red and TO have simple needs- their idea of soul food basically forms the foundation of all Indian meals across the length and breadth of the country.

We stayed in a hut on stilts and I had the camera set up on the tripod the entire time to take pictures of birds and long-tailed ancestors who kept dropping by to steal our food.

TO showed his chops by giving Red and I a thorough drubbing in Monopoly and the three of us cuddled together under the blankets while it rained and turned the whole area a bit gloomy but pretty nonetheless. He did zip lining from a fairly high point and yelled in joy just when he landed safe on his feet. I, with my usual aim and focus, used the rifled to pop balloons but possibly knocked a few leaves off their stalks. You know…the good stuff!

A family trip is rarely without drama. Especially with hyper people like myself in the mix. But every so often we stop to take a breath and look around us and just take it all in. And those moments are what you remember one fine day when you wake up under semi- house arrest and longing to hit the road.

Here’s to better times for everyone. May you have your travel dreams fulfilled!

Check out these links from my Insta feed for some images of our trip:

Maximum City-Part Deux

Zoo Diaries

We’re a family with a child. Children like animals. Animals are fun to observe and usually even the smallest of cities will have an animal enclosure for the tourists. So while the idea of animals being caged bothers me, it seems to also be a way to get the kids up close and (im)personal with the creatures they usually watch on Animal Planet or Nat Geo.

Here are a few glimpses of the zoo visit Padmaja Naidu Zoological Gardens at Darjeeling.

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How Green Was My Valley

The obvious lame hijack of the name aside, just lookit!

Basic editing has been done to show the places the way I saw them.

 

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Musing At The Waiting Lounge

I like tea. I like tea infused with herbs and flowers which many people (read husband) make a face at and deduce that either am a hippie, far-Left, tree-hugging kook or a pretentious individual who wants to stand out by ordering hibiscus tea when everyone else at the table is just fine with their latte, thank you very much!

But despite caffeine being the lifeblood, I really enjoy a good cup of tea from time to time. Brewed well, steeped just long enough and fragrant as well as flavorful.

Am sitting at the Chennai airport right now, watching humanity rush, loiter and basically mill about. A subdued cyclone brought gusty winds and heavy rains and suddenly I needed a tea fix. And while grub or anything at an airport is hideously overpriced but the heart wants what the heart wants especially with 2 hours to kill before a flight. 

So I chose a tea bar (yes…teas have their own bars now..le posh!) and found that they had a lemon-chamomile blend which seemed like a good choice. Alas…seeming and being are two ends of a spectrum at times. This blend is blah. And to top it off, it looks like a specimen one reluctantly gives at the doctor’s office and tastes like nothing. Just a big, fat nothing.I think I’m qualified to rant a bit because I’ve had the real deal and it was just lovely. 

Nearly 20 years ago, I was on a trip with my folks up in the hilly areas of Himachal Pradesh and we ran into a colleague of my dad’s who was a local there. He and his wife lived in a lovely, quaint wooden house and she grew chamomile…just because. 

She brewed it and added it to various things and also had it as a tisane. She also knitted some lovely woollen socks and gave me a pair; which I ended up giving to an ex-roomie because her toes were freezing off in Frankfurt in the middle of their rather harsh winter, but that’s another story for another day. 

My mother had that baggie of chamomile tea for years. It was fragrant, mild and soothing. It grew in good earth, without too many pollutants and was given as a going away gift by an extremely simple lady who didn’t know how that tea would travel with us over the next couple of years and become an anecdote each time it was brewed.

The only good thing to come out of this cuppa is the stirring of memories of a sunny days, hills and good people. 

Salut.

Roadtripping: Part Deux

When I was a child, summer holidays were partly spent at my grandmothers’ homes and part of the time was spent in exploring touristy and slightly off-beat destinations in and around wherever my father was posted at the time.

Travelling 6-7 hours in 40 degrees plus temperatures (Celsius mind you) without air conditioning in the car was the norm rather than the exception.

Homemade snacks were packed and once we stopped for loo breaks or tea breaks, a big treat for me would be to have a chilled bottle of a cola. Bliss.

Fast forward to circa 2018 and we’re trying to create some of the same situations for our child. Summer holidays are earmarked for visiting the grandparents or wheedling a visit out of them instead.

Road trips have been started over 400+kms and it’s a huge achievement because this generation of instant-gratification kids can’t always wrap their heads around a trip that doesn’t involve a plane or something over 2 hours or an amusement park.

So despite the chants of “bored-bored-bored” and the whines for junk food and the telly, we have managed to pull off 2 trips to parts of India fairly far away from our home without falling back on the digital media till we reached the hotel rooms. There have been no iPads, laptops, phones to play games on. Just music playing throughout, an occasional creative app for good behavior and loads of outdoor times in the significantly cleaner, fresher air. What more can a parent ask for?

Of course the way the t.v. in the hotel rooms has been greeted by the offspring after we’ve reached our destinations, has been nothing short of an emotional reunion between mother and child! *rolls eyes*

But be as that may, the summer of 2018 will always be a watershed for Red and I. It’s been undiluted family time, all squished up cuddling in the same bed with the brat and having new adventures and making fun memories.

Salut!

Nagpur at night.

Roadtripping

We don’t travel as much as Red or I would like. It’s our fault actually…didn’t get the offspring used to anything but comfort so the mere thought of zipping along for 7 hours or more to get to someplace he can get to in 3, starts the ‘are we there yet’ litany and am not good with litanies. At all!

Although, my ‘put on your seatbelt’ and ‘use a tissue, ‘cover your mouth when you sneeze’ can rival even the most nagging kids on a ‘are-we-there-yet’ loop.

We tried to get him understand the value of such trips by talking to him about it and went nowhere fast. Kids of today don’t get enthused about seeing windmills-moving or otherwise. They’d rather make faces and take selfies with silly filters…thanks for making a entire generation drop a few IQ points Snapchat!

Rivers, lakes and flora are treated with a ‘Meh’ unless it’s truly spectacular and a hotel room counts only if they have a tv with the kiddy channels easy to find.

Last year we decided that there were going to be more trips in our future, more time spent travelling to get to the destination and to do a good mix of travel via railways and roads so the offspring knows more about India overall than which airport has the KFC counter and which doesn’t.

And so the 1st trip of 2018 was to be a road trip. And we were off! With little delays and all the double checks to see if the water and gas had been switched off and the milk and paper cancelled while we were out.

We decided to split a 14 hours journey over 2 days so the driving bit wouldn’t tire any one person out and we could also get to see places we hadn’t hit while we were growing up.

With all the breaks needed when a kid is chugging down juice and water and shovelling down packets of nachos, we managed to make pretty decent time and are now in a place I’ve never really had on my radar-Bijapur.

It has a lot of ruins and ramparts of the forts built during the time of a ruler by the name of Adil Shah.

Seeing the people is like going into a time warp. Middle-aged and old men walking around in Nehru topis and dhotis with signs of the present seemingly in the John Deere, Kubota showrooms and not the jewellery and sporting goods stores that have become a part of the landscape of what were earlier called the tier-two cities in India.

We got turned around in one part of the city at night and had to navigate through market places teeming with people and bullock carts and horse buggies. But the eagle-eyed kid who can never find his slippers could spot a Dominos pizzeria in the crowd. Go figure huh?

I haven’t seen a single Audi, Merc or Beemer yet. I have seen Bajaj Chetaks, Lunas and loads of cycles. A far cry from Hyderabad where I can come across a Triumph Bonneville, a Mustang and too many luxury cars to count just walking across a parking lot.

Not everything is well maintained but it has a charm and that’s what we wanted to capture and give the brat a taste of.

More to follow…next stop: Belgaum!