In God’s Own Country

When we planned our 3-week trip to India for my cousin`s wedding, we decided to include a trip to Kerala as well. I wanted to show my country to my husband, mother-in-law and our friend, Guido, who were traveling with me. My parents too agreed to join us. I checked many tour packages on make my trip, yatra and other websites, and after a lot of discussions we decided to go ahead with make my trip. The trip was to be for 6 days and the itinerary would include Cochin, Munnar, Thekkady, Alleppey and Kumarakom.

Our package included hotel accommodations, breakfast, the return airfare and a private car for getting around. It costed us around INR 30,000 (around USD 440) per person.

We flew from Bangalore to Cochin (an hour long flight). At the airport, we were welcomed by the manager of the transport company who showed us our car and the driver who would be driving us around for the entire trip. We were slightly disappointed with the car even though it was a 6 seater Innova. There was not enough space in the back seat. Thankfully, everyone took turns sitting there.

We drove from Cochin to Munnar, a 4 hour drive. On the way we stopped to check out the Cheeyapara waterfall while enjoying some juicy raw mangoes and pineapples sliced and mixed with chili powder, which were being sold by a roadside vendor.

Cheeyapara Waterfalls
Cheeyapara Waterfalls

After driving for another hour, we stopped at a Spice garden, where we took a tour accompanied by a guide who showed and explained the characteristics and benefits of different herbs and spices grown in Kerala like cloves, cinnamon, tulsi, hibiscus, eucalyptus etc. It was quite interesting. We could even catch a glimpse of the beautiful Valara waterfalls from the garden. (Entry to spice garden costs INR 100 per person).

On our driver’s recommendation, we pre-booked Kalaripayattu and Kathakali shows (An hour long show each which costs INR 200 per person per show) and an hour of Ayurvedic massage (We chose full body massage with steam which is INR 1800 per person) at the Punarjani Traditional Village. Our rooms were booked at the Misty Mountain Resort. After checking in and freshening up, we headed out to watch the shows. I must say, they were truly mesmerizing! At the beginning of the act, an actress showed the main facial expressions of a Kathakali artist called the ‘navarasams’. It was followed by an enactment of a story. Though we couldn`t understand what the story was about, we enjoyed the colorful dresses, the actions and the music. It is similar to South Canara`s “Yakshagana”,  except that in Kathakali, the artists do not speak. Kalaripayattu is an old and traditional form of martial arts. We were amazed to watch kids and young men showing different ways to tackle the opponents.

We ended our first day in Kerala with a relaxed massage which each of us enjoyed!

Munnar- View from our hotel
Munnar- View from our hotel

The next day we drove around Munnar. I’d never seen so much greenery in one place! Even my Swiss family was awed to see such beauty.


We visited Eravikulam National park located along the Western Ghats in Munnar. Anamudi (Elephant face), named because of its shape, at 2,695 meters, the highest peak in India south of the Himalayas is inside this park.

(Entrance to the park is 90 INR for Indian Nationals and 370 INR for foreign nationals!!) From the entrance, we were taken in a bus around the hill to a certain height. From there, we were free to walk around the hill. This region has the highest viable population of Nilgiri Tahr (Mountain Goat) in the world. Tea plantations and other variety of flora surround the region. The views are breathtaking!!

They say that wild animals like tigers and elephants abound in the underlying forest, but we are not allowed to enter as it is a restricted area. I highly recommend visiting this park for its stunning views.

A Mountain Tahr
A Mountain Tahr

A short drive from there, we visited the Kannan Devan tea museum. It was small but we learnt about the company’s history, what procedures the pluckers employ and the processes the leaves undergo to make Tea. We walked out of the museum relishing cups of tea. (Entrance fee is 90 INR per person)

Munnar Tea Plantations
Munnar Tea Plantations

Later we stopped at the Mattupetty and Kundala dams.

Next day, we drove to Thekkady. It was a 3 hour drive and we stopped at all the scenic spots to have some nice pictures clicked. As we drove from Munnar, the scenery changed from green hills and plantations to brown mountains.

Way to Thekkady
Way to Thekkady

We went to Periyar national park. (Entrance tickets cost 25 INR for Indian Nationals and 300 INR for foreign nationals plus there is an additional cost of 50 INR for the car as well. This ticket does not include boating). Periyar is pretty huge and vehicles are allowed only until a certain point. As you walk around, our ancestors will greet you, and by “ancestors” I mean “monkeys”; one even tried to jump on Mike! We bought our tickets for boating inside (it is 125 INR per person). The hour-long ride was amazing!

Boating at Periyar National Park
Boating at Periyar National Park

After the ride, we checked into our hotel “Michael`s inn”. The rooms were quite big and tidy. In the evening, we went around the small town, looking for souvenirs and gifts to buy for family and friends.

It is a 4 hour drive from Thekkady to Alleppey and we drove early in the morning, after breakfast at the hotel. We reached our houseboat by noon. The boat had upper and lower decks. There were 4 rooms in the lower deck and 2 in the upper. We were allotted 3 rooms and another family (who hadn’t arrived yet) the rest. Our rooms were quite spacious. There were 5 men to serve us food and care for our needs. There was a dining hall in the upper deck. As soon as we reached, we were served a glass of fresh juice followed by a delicious lunch. Later, we were taken on a short ride around the Punnamada lake.

Houseboats in Aleppey
Houseboats in Aleppey
Room inside Houseboat
Room inside Houseboat

After the ride, the boat was brought back to the original location to pick the other family who had finally arrived. We were again taken on a 3 hour ride around the lake. It was pure bliss. After a hectic schedule with family functions and travelling, this was just  what we were looking for, some unwinding time. We spent all that time reading, chatting, watching the birds fly and relaxing. We stopped at a small island, got down and walked around enjoying the beautiful sunset. Over dinner, we sat together and discussed the functions we’d attended, our present and future….

Chilling on the Houseboat
Chilling on the Houseboat
Enjoying the Sunset
Enjoying the Sunset

The next morning, the houseboat drove back to the pickup point as we enjoyed our breakfast. From there, our driver drove us to Kumarakom. (Houseboat was included in our tour package)

Our hotel in Kumarakom, “Ashirwad Heritage”, was again a nice hotel with spacious rooms. After checking in, we drove to a city called Kottayam, which is 20 km away from Kumarakom. It is similar to Mangalore or Bangalore, busy with traffic, lots of shops around. We bought some freshly-made banana  and jackfruit chips (famous in south India). We were mostly looking for authentic Kerala stores, but we found very few.

We took another boat-ride on the backwaters of Kumarakom (What?! Kerala is famous for its backwaters my dear!). We booked a whole boat for 900 INR (which can accommodate up to 8 people) for a one and a half hour ride. We drove a small part of Vembanad Lake spotting birds like Kingfisher, heron and even a water snake.

Backwaters of Kumarakom
Backwaters of Kumarakom

Next morning, we left early to Cochin, from where we would be flying back to Mangalore. Sadly, we couldn’t visit the beautiful Jewish Synagogue or the famous Dutch palace in Cochin as our flight was scheduled for noon and we did not have enough time. In the limited time we had, we went to Lulu Hypermarket and St. Joseph’s church.

Kerala… What can I say… The beauty of the land, its culture, the people truly makes it God’s own Country. We simply fell in love with it!

God's own Country
God’s own Country

Points to consider when visiting Kerala

  • Better drink tea rather than coffee as Tea is widely grown here
  • If you want to include Kumarakom in your itinerary, better make it a half day trip, as there is nothing much to see. Instead visit Cochin.
  • It is hard to find Vegetarian restaurants in smaller cities. You’ll have to make do with Veg/ Non-veg restaurants.
  • Please try to leave it as clean and green as you’ll find it.
  • Do try to stay in a houseboat for atleast a night, even if it is a bit expensive. It is totally worth it!
  • Our driver was good as he showed us a lot of places. Make sure you choose a good car and a driver.
  • And last but not the least, do inquire what all your travel package covers. We didn’t know ours didn’t include the entry tickets to various parks! Shop around (a lot) before you finalize the package!



A Bachelorette party

When my friend M asked me to be her bridesmaid and a witness at her civil wedding, I was thrilled! I had never been a bridesmaid before. Sadly, her parents are not going to be here for the occasion for some reason and I know how it feels to not have your loved ones beside you on your special day! I really want to be there for her!

I decided to throw a Bachelorette party for her (which I think every bride deserves!). In the west, such parties can get pretty wild. In Europe, bridesmaids make the bride go around wearing weird costumes and selling various things. I did not want to do that. I just wanted our bride to enjoy a pampered weekend.

M wanted just me and our good friend A to be her bridesmaids and so A and I sat together and planned the party. This was the checklist I prepared..

When? : We had to make sure all 3 of us had a free weekend. So we decided to have it on a Saturday morning and end the next day.

Where? : This was tricky as we had to look for a place which was convenient for us to travel, affordable and yet good in standards. After a lot of search, we zeroed in on Sihlcity in Zurich.

Sihl city

What to do? : Spend time at a spa, go to a movie, enjoy a nice lunch and dinner and stay at a good hotel overnight.

So off we went to Sihlcity,  just the 3 of us!

Sihlcity is a shopping area in Zurich. It has a wide range of restaurants, bars and cafes, a cinema, a cultural center, Health and spa centers, a hotel, a shopping mall and Service areas and townhouses.

We had our lunch at Vapiano, an Italian restaurant where you get  delicious pizzas and pastas. While we enjoyed our lunch, our bride thanked us by giving us Bridesmaid gift packages. It was lovely!

Bridesmaid gift package
Bridesmaid gift package
Vapiano lunch
Lunch at Vapiano

I had booked a room at Four Points Sheraton, which is the only hotel in Sihlcity (As there were 3 of us, I booked a 3bed-room). It was simple with all the essentials, perfect for us! After we checked in at the hotel, we enjoyed an hour of full body massage at the Asian Spa, inside the hotel (I had booked it a few days prior to our arrival); it was an hour of complete relaxation!

By the time we were done, it was 3pm. We walked around the Sihlcity mall and enjoyed a nice cup of delicious Cappuccino with brownies at a cafe.

Cappuccino and brownie
Cappuccino and brownie!

After checking the movie timings, we decided to watch “Joy”. It was running in English. The movie was all about a woman who built her own business despite the obstacles she faced. Totally an apt movie for a girl`s night out!

Hogging in the cinema
At the cinema.

With a lot of positivity we walked to Hong-Kong, an Asian restaurant with all kinds of Asian foods like Sushi, Indian, Chinese and Thai and enjoyed a nice dinner. We ended our night chitchatting and gossiping until we got tired and fell asleep.

I am so glad we did this!

Here’s to a beautiful life ahead to you, my dear friend, and many more such good times!



Jharana Jungle Lodge, Tadoba

If visiting Tadoba Tiger Reserve has been one of our best vacations so far, then booking our stay at Jharana Jungle Lodge for the duration will remain one of the best decisions the guys have taken till date! Jharana was the epitome of hospitality through and through.

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At the entrance

It is located close to the Park’s Navegaon gate and because it is at such proximity to the jungle, it is refreshingly quiet. The presence of a marsh nearby attracts birds of a wide variety into the premises. When you’re there (and if you’re there to truly experience nature and wildlife and not to dance to the tunes of a DJ or listen to loud music! Apparently MANY people look for ‘entertainment’ in a resort!) you’ll be relieved to hear the birds chirping and cooing and the occasional grunts and roars of a Leopard or a Tiger. You’ll wonder at the presence of a multitude of stars in the sky, which, strangely, aren’t visible in the city.

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Our cottage/room

The rooms are exquisite, tastefully furnished. It looks as if the owner hasn’t scrimped on a furniture here, a fixture there, just to save some money. No, don’t take me wrong… They aren’t flashy or extravagant; Each room is done in a way that the guest feels welcomed, with cozy beds and comfortable couches, tiled ceiling and spacious bathrooms. Let me warn you, there are no TVs! And that’s what makes it special, according to me! It forces the kids to come up with innovative games to keep themselves entertained and makes the adults spend more time with one another.

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We slept like babies here…

There were no other guests at the resort, much to our surprise and delight. We had the whole lobby, the dining area for ourselves. There were games like Carrom and Chess Boards beside the lobby. And Badminton and Cricket Bats too. The kids took turns playing and even the adults couldn’t resist joining them.

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Wait and watch how I play!

Food, prepared specially for us, was simple but delicious at all times. It was mostly Dal and Vegetable Curry, and sometimes a Paneer gravy, all served with fresh Tawa Rotis and Rice. We always ate to our heart’s (and of course to our tummy’s) content but it never felt like over-eating. Dessert was served every night and one afternoon we were treated to Chinese fare as well. We asked the staff to prepare fried goodies when we felt the urge to eat some. And they didn’t charge us extra for such treats. (Do make sure to carry plenty of snacks or special foods you may need as it is hard to find stores nearby.)

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The Dining Area
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Beautifully furnished

The staff went out of their way to create novel experiences for us. Once they set up Tea/ Coffee outside the resort, beside a lake, a fallen tree-trunk serving as our makeshift table. Then there was snacks by the light of a bonfire and a candle-light Dinner beside their new swimming pool. Ah! What more can one ask of a vacation!

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Bonfire Time!
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Dinner by the pool. They had to shift their huge, sturdy table outside for us!

Conversations, stories shared by Rahul (the Manager) at the lobby after a Safari and Yogesh (the Naturalist) over a Beer beside the crackling fire, were the icing on the cake. They are such passionate people- talking about the wildlife (especially Tigers) like they’re discussing the traits and oddities of members of their own family and answering our questions, clearing our doubts about the inhabitants of the Forest, the rules that are in place to protect them- their enthusiasm just rubs on people who listen to them talk. I spotted Medha soaking up everything they said.

Once, when there wasn’t much else to do, we decided to hike to the Tribal temple atop a hill nearby. We were asked not to bring the kids along, as the terrain isn’t kid-friendly and there are chances of coming across a Bear or a Leopard, but who would we leave them with? We decided to go, accompanied by Yogesh and another boy from the resort. If it gets too difficult, we can always return, we told ourselves…

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Off we go hiking

We met the guard who watches over the entrance to the Buffer area before the Navegaon Gate to the Tiger Reserve, who asked us to be extra careful as he’d seen a Tiger nearby just a while ago.

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The Guard’s abode

We walked ahead carrying sticks and making noises. We were entering thick jungle and as we walked/climbed, dry leaves crushing beneath our feet, we watched out for snakes. The hike wasn’t strenuous; It was just uncomfortable, with the path being slippery and the sharp branches of vegetation poking or brushing against us. The kids were brave enough to walk, with help, of course, but I felt so proud of them! We stopped to pay respect to the Snake-God, whose awe-inspiring idol stood, keeping a watch over the terrain.

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Snake God

Then we spotted a cave frequented by Tigers and its droppings closeby. We were probably being watched by the Big Cat himself, as we marched on, scared but excited.

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So glad we decided to do the hike anyway, because the views at the top were stunning, especially of the setting Sun. We sat on stones and logs and relaxed as we munched on pieces of Watermelon packed by the staff. We did this for quite sometime.

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Shiva idol at the top
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Soon, it was time to head back. To the Resort. And the next morning, towards home. We’d had the best best vacation so far! Oh! Did I mention that already?! Yeah, whatever! Still…

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Watching the sun set over Tadoba

PS: Just don’t buy the Coffee Table book on Tadoba called Tadoba – The Inheritance, at the Resort. Even though it is good, with beautiful photographs of the flora and fauna of the Park, it just isn’t worth paying Rs. 2000 (30 USD) for, especially since the copies were received free by the Resort from the Forest Service, as we found out later!

(Rooms cost us Rs. 7000 (100 USD) per couple per night. We ended up paying Rs. 26,000 (384 USD) for 3 nights, including food and other expenses)

Tadoba Tiger Reserve

To me, a good vacation is all about waking up early in the morning, sipping chai and talking life with loved ones, going for a nice, long walk, preferably beside a water body, eating good food cooked by someone else, sipping chai (again) while watching the kids play and writing about the day before dozing off. Visiting the Tadoba Tiger Reserve was one such vacation!

Tadoba Tiger Reserve is in the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is one of India’s 43 “Project Tiger” Tiger reserves, and the oldest and the largest National Park in Maharashtra, according to Wikipedia. We got there by road (a 7 hr drive, 440 Km distance), the guys taking turns driving our Fortuner, but it is possible to take a bus (nearest bus stop is in Chandrapur, a 32 Km away), a train (the nearest railway station is in Chandrapur, a 45 Km away) or even fly (airport in Nagpur, a 140 Km away) to reach the park.

We always try to cover a journey early in the morning, when the kids are still sleepy and the traffic and sunlight are low. There were 4 kids in the car, as we were traveling with a cousin and his family, and they kept themselves entertained by listening to good music, chatting and screaming the name “Tadoba” at the count of 3! We didn’t have to resort to using digital devices to pass time!

By noon we were at our resort “Jharana” ( wait for a review of it in another post) . After a delicious meal and a delicious-er nap in a cozy room, we were off to explore the area around our  resort. The resident Naturalist, Yogesh, accompanied us on a bird-watching tour. We got onto a rocky road, apparently a State Highway, and walked amidst dense jungle on one side and fields on the other. Water cascaded gently beside the road and the jungle seemed to be teasing us to explore. A marsh nearby invited us to sit on fallen trees and watch the birds feed and frolic. We spotted Black ibis, Crested serpent Eagle, Seven sisters, Red-vented Bulbul and  White-throated Kingfishers. We even saw droppings of a Sloth Bear with the exoskeleton of termites. I felt like we were learning  something new every step of the way. Our guide cum naturalist regaled us with stories and information about the wildlife and the region we were treading upon; Even the kids seemed to be absorbing everything.

Marsh beside the resort where we spotted birds
Marsh beside the resort where we spotted birds

The next morning we woke up to steaming cups of chai brought right to our room, at 5 am sharp, for our Tiger Safari. We’d booked our entry online before coming and that’s the only way it is done. The Navegaon gate opens at 6:30 am. There is another entry gate but farther from where we stayed. After the gate-in-charge verified our details (carry an ID proof along), we made our way into the reserve on our hotel’ s Gypsy.

A baby and mama Langur
A baby and mama Langur

Langurs and Spotted Deer were the first ones to greet us. No sooner did we turn towards a lake, than we spotted Maya, a Tigress and her 3 little cubs. The young ones were jumping about while their mama relaxed. A veil of dry grass covered the family and prevented us from having a clear view of them. Just as we were waiting for them to come out of their hiding and cross the street in front of us, the bunch took off into the bushes.  Still, we waited.  When nothing happened for a long time and the kids began their own soundtrack, we left in search of the other Tigers and other beautiful creatures that inhabit the forest.

Maya and her cubs
Maya and her cubs

Bright-red, orange and yellow leaves on tall trees and on the ground and the chill in the air reminded me of fall season in the US. Picturesque landscapes and clean roads made me imagine we were driving through Yellowstone or some other National Park there. Tadoba lake, with its clear, shimmering water, blues of the sky offering a beautiful background and different birds like Pond heron, Lesser whistling Teal, Red busted Flycatcher and Snakebird strutting, fluttering or lolling nearby looked just like a painting.



Fall colors
Fall colors
Like a painting
Like a painting

We saw the lodge where Yogesh stayed as a kid with his family on trips to the park. We saw dilapidated buildings that once housed or educated the locals. The Wild has now reclaimed its ownership on them as the Government relocated people from within the park to without. The villagers have been compensated fairly by the Government of India, which makes me feel a tiny bit prouder of my country for taking care of its Wildlife just as much as its people. I sometimes feel there’s so much to see right here, in India, that I can easily spend all my life exploring its length and breadth.

The next day too we set out early in the morning for another Safari trip. Have you ever tried the early morning safari? Not yet? Please do! I guarantee you it is pure fun! Dark, deep forest all around, cold wind slapping against you from all direction and the gate opening to let you inside a whole new world! Just thrilling, I tell ya!

Get, set, explore...
Get, set, explore…

It was colder than usual and we were practically frozen but we enjoyed the ride and the beauty around us. It was our last safari in the Core area. I wanted to soak up every smell, sound and scene.

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Even though we spotted pugmarks, we didn’t see another Tiger. We almost drove to the other end of the park, near Moharli gate, but there was no sign of Choti Tara, Sonam or Maya (all names of Tigers!). But I wasn’t too disappointed. I watched 3 ruthless Wild Dogs chasing a Sambar Deer and a Sloth Bear slinking behind a bush. All of this happened so fast, I couldn’t capture them on my camera.

Everyday we’d stop for a quick breakfast and a break inside the park, in a designated area. The staff at Jharana would pack food for us and we ate it and stretched around a bit before the safari resumed again.

Breakfast inside the park.
Breakfast inside the park.

And we’d make our way back to the gate before closing time at 11. Some of us felt sad and angry when we couldn’t spot a Tiger, but what can be done?! It is all a matter of luck.

Rightly said!
Rightly said!

Like I always remind myself, enjoy the journey, not just the destination. And boy did I enjoy!

(The Safari into the core area of the park costed us Rs. 4500 (67 USD)  per trip per jeep)

We tried a safari into the Buffer zone as well. Buffer is the area between the Core of the reserve and the city. It prevents the Tigers from entering cities where there’s more likelihood of them being killed. It was a truly wild experience. The core area appeared well-manicured compared to this one! We drove through thick jungle, our jeep tyres crackling dried leaves underneath and making us feel as if we were being stalked. Thickets poked and brushed against us and there was no other vehicle in sight. At one point, the rickety jeep we were on seemed to lose hope of ascending a steep area and the guys had to get down and push it. We almost thought we’d have to walk back to the gate, which would have been an adventure (nightmare?!). Here too, we spotted some cool animals, the coolest being a Crested Hawk Eagle with its Mohawk and the bulky, muscular Gaurs.

Crested Hawk Eagle
Crested Hawk Eagle

We spotted pugmarks on the road and our guide heard grunting noises; Gaurs dashed deep into the jungle and an owl hooted to alert everyone. There must have been a Tiger somewhere! We waited awhile, as long as the kids let us, and drove on. I believe there’s a mystery in wondering whether the Tiger was watching us from behind a bramble as we waited for it to come out. I still wonder…

(The Safari into the Buffer area costed us Rs. 3200 (about 47 USD))

Though I felt like my body was going to crumble into million little pieces after a jeep ride, spending time in the jungle, away from the din of the city, truly energized me.

I enjoyed every bit of the Tiger Reserve, and I’m sure you will too!



(Wait for more in my next post!)

My New Year’s Resolutions

I too have a few New Year’s Resolutions and I’m already working towards achieving them. Apart from waking up every morning with a positive attitude and pausing before I snap at someone and  discussing things through with Mike at the end of a day, I have some other things I wish to accomplish this year. Lets see how far I go.

  1. Learn German everyday for a half hour.
  2. Run/walk every evening for 30 minutes.
  3. Write letters to Medha and Madhav once every 2 months
  4. Read 20 books.
  5. Read books to my niece, Zoe, when we babysit her.
  6. Read a book in German
  7. Prepare a book of my favorite blogposts of 2015.
  8. Crochet a sweater/ jacket for my sister.
  9. Crochet a dress for my niece, Medha.
  10. Make this granny-square jacket for myself.
  11.  Make a tablecloth or a curtain-top for my mom.
  12. Start looking for a home to buy.
  13. Use the staircase instead of a lift to climb the 7 floors to my office.
  14. Talk to my grandma, uncles and aunts once a week.
  15. Sell one of my crochet handiwork.
  16. Teach Mike a bit of my mothertongue, Kannada,  everyday for about 15 minutes.

Anybody began working on their own resolutions? Do you have tips to share with us? We would love to hear.



Christmas Market, Constance

Hi all! I am back after a really really long time! Things were truly hectic for me, but now that I’m here. I’ve got loads to share about –

  1. Spending time with my family, especially my sis! 🙂
  2. Traveling in India
  3. My New Year’s Resolution

and other news. But before I move on, I need to tell you about a Christmas Market we went to. I LOVE Christmas! I look forward to December the whole year, not just because of the holidays but also because of the rosy, cheerful, blessed feeling this time generates. People are busy buying gifts, planning trips to visit families, shopping for food etc., and the shops have big sales, there’s the advent calendar tradition, decorating the Christmas trees and so on… It is as if everything just becomes extra beautiful, extra special!

During this period, Christmas markets are held in different parts of Europe, where ornaments, special foods and drinks are sold; games, music and dance shows are conducted.

We decided to visit one such market in Constance.  We drove our car, but it is best to get there by train, especially during the busy season.

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Constance was filled with stalls right up to the harbor and sold stuff like handmade wooden utensils, candles made of honey, jewelry items, scarves and shawls, glassware etc. There were bakeries selling German and Swiss sweets like gebrannte mandeln (sugary fried almonds) and magenbrot (sweet glazed biscuits). Delicacies like raclette, fondue, sausages etc were being sold at some food stalls. And there were not just Swiss or German, but Indian, Hungarian, American, Chinese and other food stalls too.

A popular drink is sold during this time called the Glühwein (Mulled wine), made with red wine along with spices and is served hot. Sounds yummy, right? Guess what, I just didn’t like it!!!

Everyone seemed to be having a gala time despite the freezing temperatures! Me too!!! Now I can’t wait to explore the other markets!

December, Where art thou?

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A Very Happy, Healthy, Safe and Prosperous New Year from Mike and I to you, dear readers!!!



The India I love – a book review

The Bhagirathi is a green river.  Although deep and swift, it has a certain serenity. At no place does it look hurried or confused- unlike the turbulent Alaknanda, fretting and fuming as it crashes down its boulder-strewn bed. The Bhagirathi is free-flowing, at peace with itself and its devotees. At all times and places, it seems to find a true and harmonious balance.

– The India I Love, Ruskin Bond

Isn’t that beautiful? I wish I were like her, the river. But I seem to be all over the place, anxious, confused most of the time.. just the opposite. But that’s the kind of descriptions you will find in this collection by Sir Ruskin Bond. It is the writer’s tribute to India, the colorful characters he met and came to love and to the art of writing itself.


It is a delightful read for someone aspiring to be a writer, someone who simply enjoys a lovely prose (and verses too, as there are a few thrown into the mix), someone who’s passionate about India and someone who observes life in great detail and tries to capture it in pictures and words. Someone like… ahem… yours truly. 🙂

I’m a huge fan of Sir Ruskin Bond, have always been one, since high school. I haven’t read all his books; he has written so many! And his books won’t make a reader tear through them. Reading him is like enjoying a steaming cup of Spiced Tea; you’ve gotta savor every sip! I love his style though, his words have an old-world charm to them, something I don’t come across in books anymore. He himself admits, “I’m not the most inventive of writers, and fantastical plots are beyond me. My forte is observation, recollection, and reflection.” ” As a writer, I have difficulty in doing justice to momentous events, the wars of nations, the politics of power; I’m more at ease with the dew of the morning, the sensuous delights of the day, the silent blessings of the night, the joys and sorrows of children, the strivings of ordinary folk, and of course the ridiculous situations in which we sometimes find ourselves.”

I can’t stop myself from quoting his thoughts on writing. He makes me want to stop procrastinating and Get to work, like RIGHT NOW, no matter whether I have something life – changing to write about or not. “In conveying my sentiments to you, dear readers, and in telling you something about my relationship with people and natural world, I hope to bring a little pleasure and sunshine into your life”– exactly what I wish to do with my own writing…

So, dear reader, I hope you pick this one or any of his other books. Happy reading! 🙂

Rashtrapathi Nilayam- The President’s Retreat

Rashtrapathi Nilayam, in Bolarum, is one place to visit for a nice, long, refreshing walk under the canopy provided by trees;

Tree-lined paths
Tree-lined paths

to let the kids frolic on the manicured lawns while you relax, with a book, maybe, especially on a weekday when it isn’t too crowded;

Playing tag on the lawn
Playing tag on the lawn

to enjoy an afternoon nap;

Nice place to relax
Nice place to relax

to whisper sweet nothings to a loved one in a garden surrounded by Daisies, Marigolds, Bougainvillea and other colorful flowers;

Rashtrapathi Nilayam Facade
Rashtrapathi Nilayam Facade

apart from getting a peek into the place which hosts the President of India at least once a year and other visiting dignitaries to our state. It is fun to look at the rooms where the President dines, sleeps and receives guests.

A peek inside
A peek inside the building

or even to have gorgeous pictures clicked. Cameras are, surprisingly and much to my delight, allowed inside!

The building is beautifully furnished (as viewed from the windows; the general public isn’t allowed inside the building) but not too extravagant. It is single-storied, white-washed and idyllic. All emphasis seems to have been placed on the surrounding area than on the building itself. There are Herbal and Fruit Gardens, Tree-lined avenues, pristine lawns, a temple, fountain and potted plants everywhere. Light music emanating from the speakers provides the perfect background score as you stroll around.

Don’t forget to carry snacks to enjoy a picnic on one of those lawns. And please, please leave the place just as beautiful as you found it. Rashtrapathi Nilayam is open to the public once a year between the first of January to the tenth. So make haste and head to its Gate 2 to spend some quality time in one of the prettiest, well-maintained parts of our state.

Let's just stay here, Please!
Let’s just stay here, Please!

(Entry is free. Timings : 10 am to 5 pm. Open on weekdays and weekends until the 10th of January)



2016 Learning Challenges for my kids

These are not “Learning Challenges” per se. That would be too much! They’re only 5 and 2! Goals? Not really. I don’t have an end in mind. Resolutions? Oh no, not at all! I hardly keep mine, forget keeping track of theirs! More like Guideposts, to keep us on the right track, except that there’s no right track. Ugh!!! What’s going on?  What are you blabbering about?? you may be, understandably, wondering. So instead of reasoning my thoughts out, let me come straight to the point.

I’ve decided to make Medha READ a book everyday. It’s not just because her teachers expect her to be an independent reader even before she enters First Grade! Yup! Seriously! But also because I feel like she will learn her words better by seeing them being used in a story and sounding them out regularly, instead of just memorizing them. I’ll help her (a lot) in the beginning, but with time, I’m sure she will gain enough confidence to read on her own.

We have a LOT of books at home, but not many Beginner-level-reading ones. So we will be re-reading a few, borrowing some from the library and printing PDFs of books I find online. There will be days when we won’t be able to fit in reading time into our schedule – sick days, busy days etc. etc. Even if we skip a few days, this guidepost will (hopefully)  lead us back towards reading “One Book a Day”.

 Anyway, we began our adventure on the 30th of December itself (You don’t have to wait for a new year to start something new!) and we have read 5 books so far. It’s been a bumpy start, Medha having forgotten what simple words like  C-a-t, I-t are, after a short vacation! I’ve been making note of what books she reads and the way she reads them on the EVERNOTE app on my tablet. Let’s see how far we go.

And for Madhav, yup, I have one for my little one too, but this one is different, as in, this guidepost is more for me than for him. I feel like I often neglect him and his ‘education’, since I’m always drowning in Medha’s assignments and assessments all the time. I hardly ever read a book to him or play his favorite games like Puzzles, building blocks etc. This year I plan to change that. I’ve decided to tackle one concept a week, like colors, alphabets, numbers and animals/birds the whole year. That is, Week 1 of a month will be about a particular color, Week 2, about a letter, Week 3, a number and so on.

I started with RED and will continue it into next week. I began by reading books about the color RED, showing related videos I found on blogs by homeschooling moms (Some of them are so so cool! I’ll put up their links soon.) and pointing out the color to him on our outings. I will be doing an activity (or two)  related to the color with him soon, just to reinforce what he is learning. (This is not my original idea by the way. I found it here.)

I don’t know about later, but right now Madhav just LOVES to learn. He lights up when I spend time reading or playing with him. This ‘challenge’ is a good way of reminding myself to spend more quality time with him.

I’ll leave you with this quote I came across this morning in the newspaper-

I have always been very focused on my purpose. I believe that our duty as humans is to evolve and become better. If I were to get distracted, I would dissipate my time and effort on the wrong things. How, then, will I channelize my energy upwards into myself?

Muzaffar Ali, Painter-Poet-Filmmaker.

Love and Best wishes on all your endeavors this year,