A Scandinavian Vacation

This is a blast from the past- one of the trips we made last year for a long weekend. Most of these places might be closed now due to COVID.

I was not so keen on visiting Sweden, as I had my heart set on a sunny location like Slovenia or Italy, but as it was peak travel time, we finally agreed upon Sweden.

It turned out to be a short but beautiful trip.

Where did we stay

We stayed at a lovely AirBnb in Saltsjö-Boo in a beautiful guesthouse located by the sea. It was a cabin which had a large bed, kitchen, bath and dining table. All the amenities were available. Neel was really happy as there was a huge lawn with toys right in front of our house which belonged to the family who owned the guesthouse. It was a perfect house located on a perfect location. We could take nice walks along the pathway by the sea. While Mike and Neel enjoyed watching all the boats and ships sailing, I had a good time looking at the gorgeous Scandinavian homes. We also spent time drinking cups of coffee on the lawn while enjoying the beautiful views of the sea.

Places we visited and things we saw

1. Unfortunately, on the day we landed in Stockholm, my mobile crashed, so I HAD to find a dealer who could fix it or buy a cheap mobile. So the first stop we made was to Kungsgatan, a central area in Stockholm full of shops, cafes and restaurants. We spent the rest of the day walking around the city. We also visited The Stadsbiblioteket (Stockholm Public Library) and spent sometime browsing the books.

2. When you visit Stockholm, you cannot miss the old town- Gamla Stan. It is filled with cobbled streets and 17th- and 18th-century old, colorful buildings.

3. An Archipelago tour with a guide was a perfect sightseeing tour on a boat. For a duration of almost 3h, we got to see a beautiful collection of islands, learnt about Scandinavian culture and history and also spotted some amazing homes. Depending on the tour you take, it costs around 610.00 SEK (1 SEK= 0.12 United States Dollar) for 2 adults and for children under 5 years it is free.

4. All you Music lovers, do not miss Abba The Museum. It takes only a couple of hours to get the most out of this museum dedicated to the famous Swedish band.

5. Vasa Museum– Honestly, I was not such a fan of this museum, but Mike and Neel (die-hard boat-lovers), were really impressed. So do visit this museum if you want to know more about the history of Vasa (a Swedish Warship).

6. We also visited a beautiful archipelago town, Vaxholm. We had to take a ferry to reach this town. Wooden homes and fishing cottages beautify this quaint place. We really enjoyed spending time walking, eating Swedish lunch and lazing around while having coffee. Mike even bought an authentic handmade wooden boat from here as a souvenir.

If we ever visit Sweden again, I would love to explore more of its natural parks and nature reserves.

Madhurya.

The Monk who sold his Ferrari

I gave this book a 5-star rating on Goodreads.

It is about living your best life, written in the form of fiction. This book is a discussion between the 2 main characters- lawyers, one ex who has turned yogi and another, who is about to have his life completely changed.

The yogi who traded his prized Ferrari for a life of wisdom and inner and outer vitality, shows the way.

Well, I wouldn’t have minded if it was wholly written in a non-fiction format as at times the dialogue and humor seemed forced.

This book can’t be read in a single sitting (not for a slow reader like me anyway). It needs to be read slowly, savoring every word, sometimes re-reading to ensure certain ideas and practices stick. In short this book needs to be studied.

Throughout my read I was reminded of how life management was really all about mind management and that I am the gardener and protector of my mind. A single pest of a negative thought was all it took to unravel the carefully tended space. I began to notice when my thoughts were spiraling downwards. I started paying attention to what was going on within and without.

It is still a struggle to pull myself up when I’m upset or angry, but I’m learning ways to control myself through meditation and Journaling.

So many interesting and thought-provoking ideas like the kaizen method (constant and never-ending improvement), philosophy of opposition thinking (replacing a negative thought with a positive one) and Magic rule of 21 (performing an activity for 21 days for it to become a habit) were introduced and dwelt upon. I’d read about some of these concepts in other self-help books, but it is never a bad idea to have them reiterated.

Of all the lessons I learnt from this book the most powerful one and the one that’s already making an impact in my life in areas like my job and my kids’ education is this – RUN YOUR OWN RACE. It doesn’t matter where I stand compared to my peers, it only matters how far I’ve come and what needs to be done next.

One practice I truly want to explore is the idea of a Dreambook. It is a notebook filled with pictures of the things, people and places that inspire you. This would be such a fun activity to do with my kids.

Every second you spend thinking about someone else’s dreams you take time away from your own.’

Time is the most precious commodity we are all running out of with every passing second. The author believes that we are all born with a purpose and every life’s mission should be the realization of that purpose, but that’s where I disagree– Not all of us have big dreams or goals. I don’t. Or maybe not yet . I believe in making the best use of TODAY, or this very minute. If doing nothing but simply enjoying birdsong as I sip my Chai makes me happy, then it is time well spent.

I can go on and on about the things that stood out for me, motivated and inspired me, but I’d love for you to try the book and taste it for yourself. It has changed my perspective, and I can’t say that about many books ( the ones that come to my mind right off the bat are ‘the happiness project’ and ‘eat pray love‘) And if you have already read the book, please share your thoughts…

Love,

Manasa

What we are… (Nov. 11, 2020)

We used to post this every Wednesday, and we thought why not begin blogging again by recording what we are upto. So, currently,

Here’s what Madhurya had to say-

Reading: Get a life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert.

Watching: Movie “The bridges of Madison County” and series ” How to get away with murder” on netflix.

Eating: All the dishes I prepared for the pre-diwali get-together we had with a couple of friends.

Making: Diwali diy decorations and Advent gifts for Christmas.

Wishing for: a white christmas, a better ending for 2020 and a great start to the new year.

Learning: to pick my battles with Neel and to take it one day at a time.

Thinking: about how our life is going to change with the arrival of another little one. Excited and nervous!

Listening: to many kannada and tamil songs.

Loving: that the holiday season is here. Let’s make the best of it!!!

Here’s what I had to say-

Reading: Oh! So many- The monk who sold his Ferrari, The lady of Bolton Hill, Don’t Overthink it and How to be a writer, depending on my mood and whats closeby. 🙂

Watching:  True Detective on hotstar. Just love Matthew McConaughey’s character, his negative but wise observations about life and the small-town America shown in the first season.

Eating: lots of veggies that are available in plenty at the local market. I’ve become quite the expert on meal-planning and preparing after all these years of cooking for my foodie family, and also because I’m always short on time.

Making: videos and props for my online classes.

Wishing for: this new work+life balance to continue. I don’t ever want to get back into the pre-covid rat race!

Learning: that it is all in my mind. I have the power to be whoever and however I wish to be. I have more energy and time for the things that matter to me. And the same goes for you too, my friend.

Thinking: of where to travel to, next. What would be safer, Goa or Andaman? Or a jungle? A girl can dream right?

Listening: to Office ladies podcast and laughing along. Angela and Jenna (actors on the show) dissect the episodes of The Office, and share the backstory and facts and tidbits. I simply devour them, being such a fan of the show, especially the first few seasons.

Loving: having friends or family over for dinner on Saturday nights.

Love,

Madhurya & Manasa.

Neel @ 3

My little guy is turning 3 in less than a week. Like every mother, I am still not able to accept that my little baby is no longer a baby. In fact, he will soon be a kindergartener. How time flies!! Everyday I get to see the changes in him in the way he communicates and expresses himself and understands when we explain things to him.

My Spiderman

He reminds us that his birthday is getting very close. He is very disappointed to find out when someone else`s birthday is here and not yet his. He has given clear instructions on how he would like to celebrate his birthday. He would like to have a cake, some balloons and a gift. We bought his gift many days back right in front of him and told him that he will only get it on his birthday (I let him choose 1 toy, and he dedicatedly walked the whole toy section and after taking his time, he chose 1 helicopter toy), I am proud of the way he has been patiently waiting for it .

Neel can speak in 3 languages (English, Kannada and Swiss German). He is able to change the language according to the person he is talking to. He can say the numbers in English and German from 1 to 10. Though he cannot (or doesn`t try to) recite the Alphabets yet, he is able to recognize many letters depending on the names / words associated with them. Like he says Horse when he sees “H” and Tractor for “T”, Elephant for “E” and so on.

Neel and I enjoy doing a lot of activities every day. Just to name a few, tracing and matching letters and numbers, sticking leaves on paper, coloring and painting. Unless it is a new book, I don`t read his books anymore. We go through each page, while he tells me what is happening in the story. He remembers mostly what I had read in the past and retells it or uses his imagination to make up a story and we discuss it.

It is amazing to see him make friends faster than us. When we were on vacation, he made so many friends to play with. He loves his buddies and is always a happy guy when they are around.

Neel talks a lot!!! I think he gets this from his father, my mother and Manasa. He has to point out everything he sees when we drive in the car. It is quite interesting to see what catches his eyes.

He loves to help me cook in the kitchen. I call him my sous-chef. He helps in mixing dough, passing me the ingredients, cleaning the counter and washing utensils. He also likes helping his dad in the garden. Mike has finally found his first officer! Neel really enjoys going on boat rides. He understands what he is supposed to do when he is on board. He knows when and how to put the buoy in and out of the boat, where everything is stored, where he is supposed to sit when papa is maneuvering the boat from and into the harbor and so on . He loves swimming too!!!!

Here are some of his favorite stuff-

Favorite food – He is not picky. He loves Indian, Italian (pastas and pizzas) and Swiss foods.

Favorite show/movie – Youtube programs where they show how to build lego Firetrucks, tractors etc.

Favorite character – Spiderman

Favorite games / toys – Lego, his small toycars, bicycle

Best Buddy – Alex from his Daycare

What he enjoys the most – Neel is an outdoor person and is always happy to go out for shopping, travelling (He is always excited to go and stay in hotel rooms), meeting his friends and cycling.

He is a cuddle-bear and a real monster (when he doesn`t get what he wants).

We are expecting our second one in a few months. Neel is able to understand that there is a small baby in my tummy and gives lots of hugs and kisses to my tummy. I cannot believe that soon he will be the older one and I will get to see the other side of him taking care of the little one as a big brother.

Madhurya

LINKS WE LOVE

Here are some of the links/websites/blogs/people we love. Hope that you might find them useful and inspiring too…

Bharatzkitchen and cookingshooking – These are my go-to youtubers for cooking videos. They make yummy restaurant-style cooking seem easy-peasy, which is very much a necessity these days with dining-out not happening anytime soon!

Goodreads – I enjoy posting what I’m currently reading on this website. It lets me rate the books I’ve read, check out what my friends are reading and also gives me book recommendations based on what I’ve already read and liked. Plus, the Reading challenge, where you can set the number of books you plan to read in a year and attempt to reach that goal, is highly motivating!

Pinterest – is where I get lots of ideas for my preschool as well as my kids’ school projects. My daughter is a big fan of this website for her daily doodling exercise.

Artforkidshub– This is a great youtube channel for kids to learn art. My son loves to follow their character sketches.

What should I read Next – I sometimes wonder how I survived all those years when I didn’t know about this podcast! This has become such a big part of my life . It’s as if Anne, the host is my family now! She matches her guests with books based on their likes (books, of course), dislikes and what they’re currently reading.

Another person I follow for book recommendations is Noelle Gallagher. I find her weird and funny and with an all-knowing huskiness in her voice that makes me yearn to pick up even the scariest Stephen King books that she recommends!

Jady A– A homeschooling mama of 5, she has her hands full, yet she’s determined to give her children the right education and discipline. I love her ideas and her laidback attitude. I mean she’s serious about the values she wants to inculcate in her children but she’s relaxed about the things that are not a priority. After all, a messy house can wait, but not kids…

Mom and me – I very recently started following this mama of 2. Her self-discipline and the way she handles her kids brings me memories of my life as a new mama in the US.

Emily P Freeman – God, please make me talk like her! This powerful woman with her gentle voice talks about Christian values, but she could be talking about Hindu scriptures too, as I see so many similarities in them! Maybe someday I’d be wise like her and have pearls fall from my mouth every time I begin to talk! 🙂 Until then I’ll stick to listening and learning from her.

Finally… Amazon, Netflix and Hotstar- I don’t know how we would have managed without these websites during the dull and dreadful COVID times. I sure would have gone crazy if I didn’t have an episode of GOT at the end of a day to look forward to!

– Manasa

5 Things we are grateful for…

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”William Arthur Ward

In these crazy, dark times, we don’t want to ever take our blessings for granted. There are many things we are grateful for in our lives. Some are big but most are small. We wanted to record a few here…

I (Manasa) am grateful for-

1. Health – of myself and my loved ones. We’ve all come to the realization that there’s no great blessing than good health. It’s very important to treat our bodies with respect and not take them for granted or abuse them till they give up on us.

2. Home- I was always a homebody, but these covid times have made me appreciate our home even more. We are enjoying spending time with the kids on our terrace, surrounded by pots and pots of plants and shaded by Teak, Neem and Coconut trees.

3. Work – My work as a playschool teacher is keeping me busy and creative. I make a lot of videos and worksheets for my babies . Who knew I had it in me to navigate through the nuts and bolts of technology! 🙂

4. Books- My friends tell me they give up on books when the going gets tough, but I can’t imagine my life without books, especially when times are hard. I need a good book as much as or maybe more than good food. Reading keeps me sane and I’m thankful for being able to get my hands on good books.

5. Blogging – Even though we are not very consistent when it comes to our blog, I’m glad we are recording all these memories whenever we can. It makes me so happy when one of our kids is enjoying reading a post.

-Manasa.

Situation is much better in Switzerland. We get the chance to visit places around, eat at restaurants and hang out by the lakes. Luckily, we did not have to be in quarantine for a long period like many other countries and for that I am really grateful. Along with getting to spend time with my family, I am grateful for:

1. Working from home: I am glad that our company has given me the opportunity to work from home. I have realized that I can work quite efficiently here. I can take small breaks in between to eat or drink something and I can take calls without any stress..

2. Kindle: I have finished reading almost 25 books this year. Thanks to Kindle, I am able to buy and read books within seconds. Though I love reading actual physical books, the delivery times have increased due to COVID and waiting for them makes me go crazy especially when I don`t have a book to read.

3. Microsoft Teams/ Skype… : Thanks to the latest technology, I am able to connect with my family (at least) virtually. I cannot imagine how the situation was for the people in the past who could not access internet.

4. Summer: It is quite beautiful here now with nice and hot temperatures. We are able to spend time on our boat, swim in the lakes and keep our toddler busy and tired.

5. Longer weekends: As I work partially and have Fridays off, I am able to spend more time with Neel, go shopping or just relax at home.

-Madhurya

Medha @ 10

“I finally reached a 2-digit age!!!” was Medha’s delight and relief at turning 10! This girl can’t wait to grow up! She’s counting the years before she becomes a teenager! God save us when she does!

Medha loves to dress up: She tries on different clothes, sometimes even mine, picks accessories carefully to go with her outfits, does her hair, puts on a lot of make-up and clicks selfies! She knows more about blushes and eye-shadows than I do! For her magazine, Glimmer Glamour, she writes that “Since nobody else is dressing up lately, I’m the only glamorous news there is.” In her very own “Salon and Spa” she gave both her papa and I makeovers, of which we have both vetoed down posting pictures, thank you very much!

She loves to dance. She enjoys dancing to Zumba videos on Youtube. And she loves listening to English music, screaming, I mean, singing along, when her favorite songs are playing on the computer. She loves listening to stories on podcasts (Check out Stories or Julie’s Library podcasts) and audiobooks. She loves reading books too (She’s currently reading the 3rd book in the Beezus and Ramona series). Medha is very good at storytelling herself. She reads books to her brother when he allows her to.

She’s so good at art. I’m shocked at how deft her hand movements are when she’s intently sketching and coloring. She’s into portraits of girls lately.

A Wall hanging she made with old bangles, wool and beads.

She still plays with the same doll her grandma gifted her long ago. But most of all, TV is her life! Yes! She watches the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Krishna with her grandparents. She watches other soaps from the 80s and 90s with them. Fullhouse is a show which she can watch over and over again.

And she’s a foodie. She loves to try different foods, gives us suggestions and ideas on what and how to cook, helps me with the cleaning and chopping of vegetables and sometimes even whips up a tangy juice or a fruity souffle herself. But she hates exercise! It’s a big struggle to get this girl to do our daily exercise. She will cry and complain and whine away…… but eventually she will come and do her bit. It’s the same with her school work! Once we push her from the claws of inertia, she will go with the flow!

According to Medha, currently her-

Favorite food is – Mac and Cheese

Favorite book is – The Fudge series by Judy Blume.

Favorite show/movie is – Fullhouse

Favorite thing to do is – Draw

And, she is bored of – her brother!

What drives her crazy is- her brother, again!

Best Buddy is- not her brother, Nidhi.

She wants to be a – Fashion Designer or an artist

And a thing that makes her very happy is – being outside.

On her birthday we baked 2 cakes – one, a banana cake and another one- a red velvet cake. Both turned out delicious! I’m not posting the pics here as the pics don’t do justice to the cakes. But I followed this blog for the recipes. I’m going to try her other recipes too!

Anyways, every minute with this fire cracker of a girl is a minute full of hysterics, intense drama, catfights and bucketfuls of tears……. nothing short of a bollywood movie!!!

– Manasa.

Australia Part 5

You can read the previous posts here.

Day 21 and 22

We drove towards Rainbow beach from Maryborough. It was a very lovely beach and we let Neel play for a while before having pizzas for lunch. From there we drove to Noosa and camped for 2 nights at BIG4 Ingenia Holidays Noosa. At Noosa we were able to spend a day walking around the beach and the shopping area. Camp costed AUD 54 for 1st night & AUD 45 for the 2nd night.

Rainbow beach
BIG4 Ingenia Holidays Noosa

Day 23

We drove to Lamington Park and decided to spend 2 nights at Binna Burra Lodge. Located in the southeast Queensland, Lamington is part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, which includes the most extensive areas of subtropical rainforest in the world. Binna Burra Lodge is located in the midst of the forest. We were lucky to find a camping spot as it was almost fully booked and we did not want to miss this experience. Lush rainforests, spectacular views and amazing walking tracks make this an outstanding place to visit. After parking our campervan, we did the “Rainforest hike” and further to Coomera waterfall. It was a 10 km hike. These hikes are not stroller friendly. I carried Neel in the Baby carrier. Caravan park at Binna Burra Lodge costed AUD 35/ night.

Binna Burra Lodge Campsite

Day 24

We woke early and did another hike of 7.5km to Caves circuit. We enjoyed this a lot. We spotted a lot of wallabies and bush turkeys. The view of the mountains and the caves was so beautiful. After lunch we did another hike of around 3.5km from our campervan to Possum track, Garden track, bellbird falls, cliff track and back. We had a perfect weather (not too hot for the season!) Only disadvantage of this park was there were no playareas for kids (Like in most of the caravan parks we visited so far), so entertaining Neel was not so easy.

Caves

Day 25

We left early morning and stopped at Coolangatta for breakfast. We had delicious toasties at Good day coffee.  We drove to Byron Bay. Byron bay is a coastal town known for its beaches, surfing and scuba diving sites. There were lots of shops, restaurants and cafes. I really enjoyed walking around this place. I was hoping to bump into Chris or Liam Hemsworth but was really disappointed 😦 ! We drove further to Coffs Harbor and booked into Big4 caravan park for the night. It was a huge caravan park with lots of amenities. Camp costed AUD 63/night.

Byron Bay beach

Day 26

We drove to Dorrigo National park. It was noon by the time we reached. We walked a few meters to the Skywalk lookout directly connected to Dorrigo Rainforest center. We enjoyed the beautiful panoramic view of the forest from the lookout. We did the Wonga walk (a hike of 6.6km) covering Tristania falls and Crystal shower falls. Entry to the National park was AUD 2 per adult and AUD 1 per child. We stayed for the night at Dorrigo Mountain Holiday Park which costed AUD 30/ night.

View from Skywalk Lookout
Crystal Shower falls

Day 27

We drove further down to Port Macquarie where we spent the afternoon walking around. From there, we drove to Tuncurry and spent the day at Reflections Holiday Park. We spent the rest of the day at the beach and were able to spot lots of dolphins swimming around. Camp costed AUD 75/night.

Day 28, 29 & 30

On the final leg of the journey before driving back to Sydney, we visited Blue Mountains. This was at the top most on my list of places to visit in Australia. We booked 3 nights in Katoomba Falls Tourist Park. We spent the first day walking around near our caravan park and the main town. The next day we visited Scenic World. It is highly recommended to do the booking online and be there quite early as it gets very crowded with lots of tourists especially during the holiday season. We spent the whole day here walking around the rainforest, echo point, Katoomba falls and enjoying the scenic views. On the last day in Blue Mountains, we drove to Blackheath and Jenolan caves and around the mountains. We stopped at Blackheath for lunch. In the evening, we finished all our packing as it was the last day in our campervan before driving back next day to Sydney and dropping off our van.

Blue Mountains
Katoomba falls

Day 31 and 32

We drove back to Sydney and checked into our hotel. We took a walk through Hyde park, Darling Harbour, visited Opera House and spent the evening with our family members who live in Sydney. The next day we booked a rental car and drove around the city visiting beaches. In the evening, we ate Pizzas at Pizza Antentico where guests dine in a group while they circulate the room with a never ending selection of pizzas and pastas for 90 minutes.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

We had an amazing time and an unforgettable experience in Australia during all these weeks. I almost had tears the next day when we had to fly back home. Taking the beautiful memories of our time in Australia, we said Goodbye!!

We really hope to visit again soon.

Madhurya

Madhav @7

Madhav just turned 7!

He has grown taller yet not an inch wider! He is smarter, naughtier, yet he remains the apple of everyone’s eye, including his sister’s, though she will fiercely deny this! Ha! Sibling rivalry! Not a day goes by without the 2 squabbling and skirmishing, pinching and pulling one another’s hair, complaining and crying. I feel like all our energy and time goes into understanding and solving their bickering!  But I see how much he idolizes his big sister, following her around like a puppy, agreeing to watch her girly shows (and sometimes even enjoying them!) and going behind her for a hug (telling me it is because she is cute and ‘fluffy’!)

Madhav can’t sit still for long. He’s always on the move. Cycling is his most favorite thing to do. He loves to exercise as well. In the evenings when we workout together as a family, he chooses the hardest videos for us to follow! Slender and supple that he is, he’s able to do a lot more than we can and  he kinda shows off his athletic abilities while we huff and puff!

He sleeps with his grandparents and enjoys chatting about life with his grandpa and tasting the delicacies prepared by his grandma. He has a sweet tooth and when nobody is watching he gobbles up packets of bourbon biscuits. He’s also very fond of Mangoes right now.

He dives deep into whatever catches his eye and heart. He loves flipping through the encyclopedia and learning as much as he can. God save us if he doesn’t understand something! He will not rest until it is crystal clear to him. He has been slowly working his way up the multiplication tables.  He knows up to 13 now.

He is very clean and neat in his work and his physical appearance. He diligently follows the 20 second rule for hand-washing. He takes longer to complete his work as he will keep erasing till the words look perfect to him!

He loves to watch Ramayana, Mahabharata and Krishna on TV with his sister and grandparents. He is good at drawing portraits, pencil sketches and origami.

Here’s what he had to say when I asked him a few questions about himself-

Favorite food– Dosa

Favorite game– Chess

Favorite show– Brainchild on netflix

Favorite character– Ninja Turtle

Favorite book– Tinkle

The best trip he’s made so far– Switzerland

Who he misses seeing due to covid-19- Shristi

What would he like to receive as a gift for his birthday- A Magic set (He wants to be a magician!)

This is what his sister, Medha, had to write-

Madhav my annoying little brother. You are turning 7 – Wow ! that’s  amazing! When you were little I would cut your hair, make you my servant and I a Princess! Sorry! Sometimes I would make YOU a Princess too!  You would look so cute! But now you say no.

BUT WE ARE STILL  BEST FRIENDS!

 Happy Birthday  Madhav

This time we can’t celebrate your birthday nicely. We can’t go out , we can’t buy gifts because of the lockdown, but we can still celebrate your birthday with all the things we have at home,  like, we can make homemade cake , watch a movie in our home theater etc. So we can still make this a best birthday .

FROM-

XOXO YOUR BIG SISTER

MEDHA!

And celebrate she did, by baking a delicious loaded coffee and chocolaty nutty cake and making a card for her little brother.

Manasa.

Kerala

You can read my sister’s detailed post from 4 years back when she took a trip to God’s own country.

Our trip began with a visit to an aunt who lives in Cochin. After a hearty breakfast and family time we made our way to Thekkady. By the Pandikhuzi waterfalls we stretched our legs and enjoyed watching the mountains and the milky water snaking down. There were shops thronged by visitors eager to try fresh fruit salads and other local delicacies. We too tasted some and drove on.

Pandikhuzi Waterfalls

Club Mahindra Tusker Trails at Thekkady is located close to the gates of Periyar Tiger Reserve. A trek was organized by the staff at Club Mahindra, who took us through the bustling streets of Thekkady and into the cool and calm interiors of the jungle. It wasn’t such a wild experience; there were people and a Devi temple too. It was a pleasant walk though; we got to bond with the other guests of Club Mahindra.

Then we booked an Elephant ride at Tusker Trail Elephant Ride and Jeep Safari where we rode on elephants on a muddy path strewn with elephant dung between coconut trees, banana plants and fig trees. We didn’t opt for the Elephant bathing experience. Maybe we should’ve tried that!

One chilly morning we went on a jeep safari into the Periyar tiger reserve. The jungle was too green and dense, unlike the dry grasslands we were accustomed to. A misty haze in the air, the tiny glistening ponds, all added to its ethereal beauty.

We stopped at Gavi, an Eco-tourism spot inside the jungle where we went boating on the emerald waters of kochupamba. We then climbed up a mountain, spotting a variety of birds all along, and reached the Sabarimala Viewpoint, where we enjoyed a panoramic view of the Sabarimala temple. At the Valley view, we were treated to breath-taking views of the misty mountains and the wooded valley below. This perfect location impelled the kids to perform some Yogasanas right there! We took a tour of Cardamom plantations where we had to be very careful as the area was thick with blood-sucking leeches! I remember watching many guests at the dining area, warding off these bloody buggers with heaps of salt.

Breakfast, lunch and snacks were served right there and so it was a full-day event.

For a bit of culture, we decided to watch a performance of the ancient martial arts form called the Kalaripayattu at the Mudra Theater for Kathakali and Kalaripayattu. Before the stunts began, the members performed a ritual of prayer. It was dark inside the arena, so a bunch of lights lit at strategic locations provided a suspenseful glow. We watched with bated breath as kids (the performers didn’t look too old) performed acrobatics with swords and fire. They were swift and supple. We sincerely hoped they wouldn’t break their backs or set the whole place on fire!

Our next stop was Munnar, a hillstation, a honeymooners’ paradise. Well, we were in a big group with a bunch of kiddos, so it wasn’t such a romantic experience for us. There was fog all around, which made it difficult for us to see the road ahead or the edges beside. The hills were so steep, it was exhausting to get to our rooms from the reception at the Club Mahindra. But the green tea plantations on mountain slopes, the clouds hanging low, all made for some mind-blowing views and awesome pictures. I would wake up refreshed and do yoga on my balcony, overlooking the hills.

club Mahindra Munnar

There were roadside food stalls, serving steamed dosas and spicy maggi. Water gushed right beside the roads and underneath them which made me so uncomfortable whenever we got down from our vehicle. The poor visibility made me hold my kids closer to me. It worried me to find people posing for pictures on the middle of these roads, where the fog made it hard to tell whether there was a vehicle coming or not.

At the Sun Moon Valley Boating recreations by the Mattupetty dam kids had fun on the speed boats. We went to a beautiful spice garden for a tour. There was a stream running beside as we walked inside the garden packed with herbs and trees. We learnt a lot that day, about trees like cinnamon, (Did you know that bay leaves came from the same tree? I didn’t!), about cocoa sheathed in thick green coats, about medicinal herbs like Adulsa (used for cough and cold). We shopped for some spices and ayurvedic medicines at the store.

We went to Eravikulam national park, native of the famous nilgiri tahr- mountain goats. After a long wait for tickets, and the bus that would carry us up a mountain, we were dropped at a point from where we had to cover the rest of the distance on foot. It was drizzling almost the entire time which made it difficult to spot any wildlife, but the rain-soaked trees on hills and water gushing down them made our walk worthwhile. We saw the Strobilanthes kunthianakurinji or neelakurinji, that blossoms every 12 years. Nilgiri Hills, which means the blue mountains, got their name from the purplish blue flowers of Neelakurinji.

Our guide from Club Mahindra took us to a Cardamom plantation called Gudumbara, where we learnt how the plant is cultivated, harvested and dried to be used as spice. At an ancient, dilapidated building there was a furnace maintained at 60 degree for drying the cardamom for 18 hours.

We explored the plantation which was almost like a jungle with its packed vegetation and an eerie quietness. It was damp everywhere and with leeches festering the place, it was quite an adventure! All memories of this trip fade behind the singular memory of seeing blood oozing from our legs and having to clean out wet clothes and drying them with hair dryers in various rooms we stayed at!

There was ziplining across a small lake, which everyone tried. Trudging our way through wet, muddy roads on a jeep, we went to a windy point. The views of the farms below and the hills around were stunning!

Driving down from Munnar to Guruvayur temple in Thrissur was a feat in itself. The roads were dense with vehicles and fog!

We visited the beautiful but overly crowded Guruvayur temple the next day early in the morning. After the chaos of the visit we strolled about in the temple complex, visiting hotels and shops and purchasing traditional clothes and ayurvedic books to study.

Manasa