So the OA and I celebrated eight years of marriage on the 25th of April (cue to wish us, thank you), in Dharamshala. Our trip to the hills said something about why this marriage has lasted as long as it has. It was Easter (Hope you all had a Blessed Easter) and we were in a strange city and not attending Church. Actually I realise I am even more casual about such stuff than the OA. He tried to get us to wake up and attend the service at the lovely St John in the Wilderness Church, but I said I’d rather not drag the kids out of bed and rush them around on a holiday. At the beginning of this year we noticed there are a lot of long weekends and so we have a bunch of little trips booked up for the rest of the year. We did Sariska two weekends ago and have been using our Club Mahindra membership to the fullest. Yes, kam daam, full paisa vasool would describe us. Not too far, costs us nothing more than a tank of petrol and we’re off. We don’t shop, we eat at the local joints, we don’t even bother to ask for mineral water bottles.
We’ve been trying to get other couples to join us but most people are unwilling to travel on festivals and want to be home to celebrate, while others find it a nuisance to travel with babies. And in that one line I realise what has held the OA and I together. I dated guys who were wilder, I dated guys who were richer, I dated guys whose parents loved me. But I guess I married the one who thought just like me on these very relevant, daily issues. I don’t think I could have stayed married very long to someone who believed in going to the church/temple regularly and fasting and keeping rituals. Neither could I have married a man who couldn’t be a man and handle his share of parenting. Who didn’t think it was a lark to pick up a two month old baby and drive off to the hills with a wife burning with fever and a toddler puking out the window! Similarly he has a very healthy respect for women who are low maintenance and can handle their kids and still have a life. Anyone remember that post? We took the two month old Bean to Kasauli against all odds and that was still a fun trip.
So last weekend we grabbed two Easter eggs as a nod to tradition and drove off. We stayed one night with some friends who were once princely rulers and their old haveli brought much joy to the kids. Cows to be milked, orange orchards to be explored, old ruins (including a deeeeeeep well) and much more. We literally had to drag the kids out of there. They’d also dug out size appropriate beds for the kids and the Bean got lucky with a little cot that she refused to get out of. She’s not over it yet and at six hourly intervals I get a request for a cot. *groan*
Good Friday was spent with the friends and everyone laughed at the irony of spending it exploring an ancient Gurudwara. Holy Saturday was at the Bhagsunag Temple and Easter Sunday was spent trying to see the Dalai Lama. None of it was intentional, but that is how it ended up being and for me, it was a good Easter because I was with my brats and the OA and that was all that mattered.
I came back all tired and grouchy and a friend teased me – But I thought you said the kids are no trouble. Well, they weren’t trouble, they were, well, just kids! They walked all over the place and only whined when they were really exhausted, at which point the OA and I, kind parents that we are, threatened to leave them sitting on the road if they didn’t get up and walk. That worked. No strollers, no carrying, nothing. Funnily they were all excited and raring to go the next day inspite of what I thought of as us traumatising them. They kept awake late most nights but the OA and I stayed up even later, reading for a quiet hour, sitting outside the room in the garden and chatting for a while, getting our own little hour of conversation. But then they’d be up bright and chirpy and the OA and I would bury our heads under our pillows and groan, telling them to go to the bathroom and not trouble us. Which they did willingly, except that they don’t really maintain boundaries. So they kept skipping in and out of the loo, sitting on our bed, having loud conversations while the two of us moaned and slid lower in the bed and snapped at them for letting the sunlight in. Finally with a broken extra hour of sleep we’d get out of bed and take them for breakfast. Ah, good times! But I think the biggest problem was the soft beds. The OA and I are not creatures of comfort and even our bed at home has been divested of its thick coir mattress and replaced with a local cotton handstitched mattress. It’s really good for the back and the hard bed now has us so hooked that other beds just end up being a pain instead of a comfort.
The anniversary was spent driving back to Delhi and we stopped along the way to play in a river, watch a bridge being constructed, examine some Stinky Williams and a quick lunch break (at 5pm!). Healthy diets and timings usually go to the dogs when we travel and the kids ate pancakes for dinner and burgers for breakfast and butter chicken with roti at some point in between it all. Earlier I used to carry colouring books etc but I’ve realised that they don’t bother with them choosing instead to look out of the window. Neither do they need to be entertained with cartoons put on the laptop or puzzles or anything. I make up a bed out of the backseat by stuffing luggage in between the front and back seats and then spread a sheet over it. They fall asleep when they are tired, get up and look out when they are rested and chatter with us all the way. We now argue over the radio stations and if we do tend to fall silent for a while, the quiet Brat who never says much will suddenly pipe up in a very Itna sannata kyun hai bhai way. “I don’t want to talk,” says he, “but I want to listen to you all.” It’s scary how much they pay attention even when you don’t think they are, because the OA and I were discussing an uncle’s heart attack and the two of them who had been arguing over something suddenly joined in with questions – what is a heart attack? Why does it happen?
Anyway, a lot of people want to know how and why the OA and I love travelling so much with two little kids so I’ve got my travel tips down pat. They won’t work for everyone, but its okay, we’ve got to do what works for us!
1. Carry lots of snacks and water. It’s a holiday and you’re on the road so it’s okay if you eat whenever you want and whatever you want. Healthy diets are for being at home. Funnily no matter how much junk we eat on vacation, we all come home looking leaner and fitter (and more tanned)! Sanitiser, tissues, umbrellas, toilet roll, newspaper for accidents, plastic bags to avoid littering. We also carry two big laundry bags and keep stuffing our dirty clothes in those instead of packing them back in the suitcase. It’s simpler to unpack when you come home. The laundry goes straight to the laundry room and the rest of the stuff takes very little time to unpack. Which brings me to the other point – always pack your stuff back neatly when travelling home instead of stuffing it higgledy piggledy. I find it saves me a lot of time when we reach home tired and sleepy with a full day of work and school the next day. Again, it really helps to travel by your own car because then you can just separate things into bags and stack them in the boot without worrying about how you’re going to get it all home.
2. Drive if possible, or take a train. Nothing like seeing each place as you pass, stopping to examine a big toadstool, getting off to eat hot fresh jalebis at a level crossing while waiting for a train to pass, splashing in a stream and collecting pebbles. Don’t carry video games and laptops for the journey at least. Let the kids do what we did as kids – look out, play number plate games, count red cars followed by black jeeps, sleep, appreciate the silence, play antakshari and do some colouring. I hate to have them thinking that they need to be entertained. The journey is part of the holiday and they’re not doing us a favour by coming along. If they whine I offer to either offload them on a truck heading back to Delhi or ask if they would like to stay back in Delhi with the cook the next time we’re going on holiday. Admittedly I do carry some DVDs in case there is a problem. Case in point, a storm at Sariska where we were stuck in our tent for hours. No place to walk, nothing to do and the wind howling around us. We played for a while, read for a while and finally left them to watch some Madagascar while we read our books by the lamplight.
3. No shopping for a hundred toys each time you pass a shop. I understand the excitement of a new place and let them pick up something small – as of now they think anything more than Rs 100 is very “inspensive” and so a plastic gun, a bunch of blocks, some rubber insects and they’re duly grateful for our largesse. I’ve told them that at least they are out having fun and so they must think of those who aren’t on holiday and so they get really excited about picking up gifts for those left home – a shawl for M didi, the maid, leather boots are suggested for Baby Button and gently turned down. It’s really sweet to see them not go for a toy but pick up a spaghetti top for me and choose a shirt for their father – all sadly returned to the racks.
4. The idea is to sightsee and sights are what see, but within limits. I don’t pack the day with too much. And I don’t take them to places where they have to be quiet or careful. They’re too young to be forced into silence and fear of breaking something expensive. If we see one temple/fort in the day, we spend the rest doing fun stuff with them, even if it is something simple like playing cricket/basketball in the hotel gardens. They pick one toy for familiarity, but more often than not they don’t even cast a look at it. I’ve often wondered why my kids had no comfort objects or transition toys. Clearly I am doing something wrong. No blankie, no teddie, nothing. Strange brats.
5. Eat local food. We love eating local food and the kids learn to eat whatever is offered. Maybe not much, just some plain roti and subzi but try it they will. Over the years they’ve learnt to try everything once. I am not one for getting into the hotel kitchen and requesting for sandwiches and pizzas – there is always some curd, rice, dal, roti available and if they don’t like the special local cuisine, they make up for it by eating the other familiar but available food. If they don’t, they are not allowed to go out and play. It always works. Parents with really young babies tend to take along maids to cook and feed the babies. But I find it more of a nuisance to drag along house help who would much rather take a break from duty and watch TV. I nursed the babies as long as I could and then fed them simple stuff available everywhere like boiled eggs, mashed potatoes, bananas, curd and rice. Zimble. At times like this I miss our firangi friends who are mostly pretty cool. On the other hand its so much easier to get highchairs and motels with toilets on the road abroad. Here I have to hope and pray that they don’t want to go potty once we set out because the toilets are filthy at stops.
6. Make friends. Travel is all about meeting people and we encourage them to make friends with other kids. The only rule I have is that they aren’t allowed into anybody else’s room unless I’ve carefully checked out the family. The last trip I allowed them into a little girl’s tent only after ascertaining that the only other person there was her mother, also sitting at the door like I was, reading a book. And here I have to say the new school has done them a world of good – they’re very inclusive. The Bean has become a bit of a mother hen – she walks up to shy children even older than herself and invites them to play. It’s really rather sweet to see her hold their hands and coax them into a game of hide and seek or catch. The Brat is less proactive but has slowly grown into a strong, capable ringleader, holding his own when other more boisterous children feel nervous about taking the first step in a new place. I have to admit I feel rather tickled as I sit there watching the kids confidently invite other kids, make up a game, and in general display any degree of confidence. I often say I couldn’t care less if they become beach bums or engineers. I just want them to be happy and confident and good people. It’s a long road ahead and I might never know if it worked out that way.
7. Don’t fuss. If they fall asleep in their jeans or don’t brush their teeth one night, it’s not the end of the world. I am anal enough about it at home to ensure that they will not suffer by missing one day. By not sweating the small stuff I take a lot of pressure off myself as well as them. At one hotel the gardens were being watered and we played a game where we had to run under the sprinkler as it turned around, without getting wet. The kids had a blast and ended up getting quite soaked. One thing I never seem to have enough of, is changes of clothes! No matter what I do, we end up filthy. On the hills the kids end up puking. The last time I hopped out of the car really fast and rushed to open the door and let the Bean out. Too late – she threw up all over herself and down my pants. Not only did I wash her down on the highway, clean up the puke off the inside of the car (the Brat took one look at her and thew up too) but I also had to strip down to my smalls on the road and change into another pair of pants. If I thought delivering a baby lying pretty much naked on an operating table was the end of the indignity motherhood brought, I had another think coming.
8. Try and stop off and meet family/friends even if it is a little out of the way. Gone are the days when we had extended family holidays and got to meet everyone. Our kids are lucky to see their uncles and aunts once a year. So we ensure that we atleast have a meal or stay a night with someone we know. The kids get to see a different way of life – some places the ladies cover their heads, other places people take their slippers off at the door, some places we eat in steel thalis and although they are tiny details the kids soak them up and learn that people live differently and we have to follow the rules in their homes even if we don’t like it. This time the children who live in Delhi and never seem to have noticed turbans suddenly woke up to Sikhs in Punjab. “Why are they wearing that thing on their head, mama?” From there on to an explanation of religion and for the first time in 6 years I told my kids that their mother was a Christian and their father was a Hindu. They nodded vaguely and dismissed it – clearly we’re not as exciting as the “salwarjis” (the Bean’s cute mispronunciation – much cherished since she pretty much gets everything right these days) who are big and strong and have the best roads in the country.
9. Travel whenever you get the chance, regardless of the season. People thought we were mad for going to Sariska, Rajasthan in the heat. Hell, we thought we were mad too. But we ended up having a blast. Our safari was at 2.30 in the afternoon, open jeep, hot sun beating down on us, no sheltering trees – by 3.30 we were numb to the heat – I think our senses had died. By 5 it was cool and beautiful. By night we were using quilts. This was truly Rajasthan as we hear of it. The kids didn’t care about the heat and ran around all day in the sun, risking heat strokes and narrowly missing them I am sure. The off season times are better in resorts, you get more space, better service and more peace. The OA and I went to Kerala in the rains, against popular consensus and loved it. We went everywhere, got drenched and sneezed and dried off, but got to see the lush God’s own country at its most beautiful.
10. Don’t let a small hitch change your plans. I’ve gone on holiday with high fever, with a UTI and all sorts of other problems, simply because I didn’t know when we’d next get the chance. This last Dharamshala trip was jinxed. The Brat had fever and we were leaving on the third day of his fever. We took a calculated risk that the fever would come down by the third day and it did. He slept most of the way and took his medication on time, reaching the hotel fit and fever free and ready to bounce on the springy beds. We asked him if he was feeling too sick to travel and he shook his head and said he wanted to go on a holiday and see snow capped mountains. So we went. He’s come back apple cheeked from the mountain air. Two days before we left the OA was driving past some construction when he heard a blast. He turned around to see that our passenger window had shattered – no idea how. We sent the car in for servicing and it came back worse, jerking, shaking, shuddering to a halt. Frantically sent it in again – and it came back with the dashboard cracked open (wtf?!) and the music system giving an error. We got in and drove off anyway. On the way the fuel gauge packed up so we had to keep guessing our usage and topping up the tank. The charging point wasn’t working so no iPod, no charging our phones, nothing. But we soldiered on, managing with local radio and singing loudly when we were out of signal range. We came back and the car finally gave up the ghost when the OA was on his way to office yesterday. We were hopping mad at the garage but quite grateful that it laboured up to the hills and brought us home safely.
Okay enough gyan – here are some pics from both the trips. Starting with the tents we stayed in at Sariska. Air conditioned so can’t really say we roughed it out. But the kids enjoyed the tents, constantly zipping themselves in and out and threatening to unzip and walk into the toilet when we went in. Pests!
*gasp* My kids playing the weirdest game of cricket ever. I have no idea who the Bean is bowling to. Neither does the Brat.
This picture tells you what it is like to be mother to the Bean. I was trying to get a picture of her sitting and balancing on the football. In the split second it took for me to click, she’d jumped off the ball and right out of my frame. Most exasperating.
She is incapable of sitting on her own butt or standing on her own legs. At any given point she is either clambering on to my lap or climbing on to her father’s back.
Refusing to get off even when he gets up to go someplace. Standing confident, the lithe little acrobat.
And on the other hand, my contemplative little Brat – collecting pods, pouring water and digging with his sturdy little fingers in an attempt to green the desert.
And now for the animals. I have to begin with the disclaimer – No, we didn’t see any tigers. But then I will go on to say, that I find a lot of people ruin their trip by setting it up as the tiger trip. It wasn’t for us. For us it was just the widlife trip and we were more than satisfied with the hundreds of sambar and bluebull that surrounded our jeep and nosed in. Similarly we didn’t set the kids up for disappointment by telling them we were on the hunt for a tiger. We told them we were going for a jungle ride and whatever came, would come. And this is just a fraction of what came.. The guide told us that unlike most other sanctuaries, this one has no real natural water bodies. The royalty built a number of watering holes for the animals. So kind of them, right?
Wrong. Because they built watch towers along side the watering holes and then bang! shot the poor thirsty animals. I don’t support shikaar, but this is positively the worst way I can imagine preying on animals.
I’ve never seen so many peacocks… Did you remember that the phrase for it is a muster or an ostentation of peacocks? The OA and I racked our brains and finally remembered it just in time to tell the kids!
And here’s an example of how close things were – this little bird came and sat on our jeep!
And now the pics from Dharamshala and McLeodganj. These are the rabbits at the hotel.
Followed by the ducks and the fish pond.
The Bean gets to watch the rabbits being bathed and then spends the morning watching over them as they dry so that a wild cat doesn’t get them, cuddling the younger ones who are petrified of the water and shivering.
This is view of the play area, swings to the left that I didn’t remember to take pictures of.
The beautiful, beautiful Norbulingka. I keep going back there. We had brunch there – waffles with honey and fruit. Whats not to like? The Bean threatened to drown a couple of times, but that aside, a wonderful time spent there.
Peaceful and serene. Even the Brat leaped over the little streams without a sound!
The OA keeps an eye on his daughter who began with sitting on the edge of the pond and then slowly climbed in when no one was noticing. At this point she is perched on the inner ledge and they are having a rather civilised conversation. I’d have simply pulled her out and shaken her up, if I hadn’t been so busy clicking pictures!
At the Bhagsunag Temple. The Bean is so tiny that the bell was too heavy for her to ring!
This is the swimming pool into which the water from the holy waterfall is collected so that devotees can have a dip. I was very impressed to see local swimmers practicing their laps in the freezing water, getting out and warming up and then plunging right back in.
The Bean wakes up to a view of the hills. She could get used to this life.
The OA helps the kids with their Easter eggs.
The Bean plunges into a stream with enthusiasm. We were driving by and it just called to us so we scrambled down the hillside and scraped our knees and hands but got there!
The family that prays together…
The Bean throws up all over her last pair of clean pants and goes home confidently in a pair of frilly bloomers… with Dr Seuss to keep her company. In case you’re wondering, that is a dupatta that I pushed into the window to act as a curtain and keep the sun off their faces.
This sign had us cracking up and I had to bring home a pic for you guys… Enjoy!
And finally, to the man who has spent the last eight years with a crazy woman, though thick and thin, from pukey beds to stripping on highways to dancing under waterfalls to feverish kids to long drives, to empty pockets but never an empty promise, from crashed up cars to looking dashing at parties…thank you. Thank you for the best ride of my life. I have no idea where we’re heading to, but as the Bean says, This is a sooo fun trip! This one goes out to you.