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.
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.
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.
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!
“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.
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.
“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.
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!!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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 .
XOXO YOUR BIG SISTER
And celebrate she did, by baking a delicious loaded coffee and chocolaty nutty cake and making a card for her little brother.
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.
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.
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 kunthiana, kurinji 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.
After breakfast, we drove towards Mt. Gambier in South Australia. The landscape changed from flatlands to dense vegetation. We visited the Blue Lake. As the name suggested, the lake was really blue and beautiful. We had a picnic right by the lake.
From there, we drove to Robe, a small beach town, where we set up our camp at Discovery Parks. After settling down, we spent the evening at the beach. It was so relaxing! We had some of the best pizzas at Pizza Project and ice-creams at Robe Ice Cream. The camp costed AUD 56/night.
We decided to spend the New Year’s in Brisbane with my aunt and uncle. We made a detour from Adelaide and drove towards Brisbane. On the way, we once again entered Victoria and the scenery reverted to barren land/ desert. After a 7.5 hour drive, we reached Mildura where we camped at Golden River Holiday park. We made Quesadillas for dinner. The camp costed AUD 40/ night.
We drove further (almost 6 h) and stopped at Forbes. We camped at Big4 Forbes Holiday park. Mike and Neel spent the afternoon at the pool while I enjoyed reading my book. We cooked Fried rice before resting for the night. The camp costed AUD 31.50/night.
We left quite early in the morning and drove further to Warrumbungle National Park. It was very pretty. We decided to set up camp here for one night. After a lunch of Rösti and left over fried rice, we did a 5 km hike. So far on our trip, we had mostly seen dead animals lying on the road. It was nice to watch lots of kangaroos and wallabies roaming around the park. Though they feared us and tried to run away, every now and then they would stop and stare at us. It was very cute to watch. Dinner was Mike`s delicious Spaghetti. Camp costed AUD 32/night.
In the morning, we had a simple breakfast of toast and Nutella and drove towards White gum trail where we walked around 500 m to see the most beautiful sunset view in the National Park (though we could neither capture the sunrise nor the sunset). We drove 500 km and stopped at Tentafield. We camped for a night at Tentafield Lodge Caravan park. Dinner was Tikka masala with naan. Camp costed AUD 31/night.
Day 16 and 17
We finally reached Brisbane. We spent 2 amazing days with our family. We got to enjoy home-cooked meals prepared by my aunt; my cousin gave us a tour of her university (The University of Queensland) which I really enjoyed; we walked around South Bank; took a ride on a CitiCat (water taxi) down the Brisbane River while enjoying some of the city’s best views; ate yummy gyros and icecreams. We even drove to Mt.Coot-Tha where we enjoyed the beautiful panoramic view of Brisbane skyline.
After 2 wonderful days with my family, we left Brisbane to drive further north. My aunt had packed some nice food for the road. We drove another 350 km to reach Bundaberg. We booked at Bargara Beach Caravan park for 2 days hoping to take a cruise to the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately, it was fully booked (due to holiday season). Camp costed AUD 45/night.
In the morning we walked along the beach. Mike made some delicious pancakes for breakfast. We drove around Bundaberg and Bargara. There was nothing special to look around, so we drove back to our camp and let Neel play for a while. We spent the day relaxing by the ocean. They grow a lot of sugarcane around here but, sadly, we could not find a single shop selling freshly squeezed sugarcane juice.
We decided to drive back to Sydney. On the way, we made several stops. Our first stop was Maryborough. We camped at Wallace Motel and Caravan Park for a night. After Mike and Neel enjoyed playing in the pool, we took a walk around the city center. We made burgers for dinner. Camp costed AUD 34/ night.
After Jim Corbett National Park and Nainital, our next stop was Binsar, about 150 km away. The journey was uphill and winding. Since almost everyone, except me and a couple of others, suffered from motion sickness, it was a quiet journey, punctuated with frequent breaks for vomiting!
On our way, we stretched our cramped legs and ran about in the lush green Golf grounds of Ranikhet. I was told that parts of the movie, Raja Hindustani, were shot here.
We finally reached Binsar, located on the Jhandi Dhar hills of Himalayas. This was the summer capital of the Chand Kings that ruled over Kumaon between 11th and 18th centuries.
We fell in love the moment we set eyes on our hotel, the Club Mahindra Resort Binsar. The beautiful cottages with their sloping green roofs simply blended into the surroundings. It was a bird-lover’s paradise. We could simply enjoy the views of the mountains with tall oaks and pines, the motley-hued birds that made their homes in the gardens, the rich flowers in their full bloom attracting a variety of critters. We didn’t have to set foot outside the premises. We all had much to do right inside the cozy confines of our resort. There was karaoke, art and craft, zip-lining, rock-climbing and other activities. The food spread was delicious, but we walked the extra mile (literally) to find cheaper alternatives to our dining experience. We went exploring up the slopes of hills nearby to see the locals and their daily lives up close, and sometimes lost our way too!
One morning we drove up to Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary where we stopped at KMVN (Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam) Resort. We snuck up to its wide balcony and stole glances at the majestic snowy Himalayas. The clouds were being nasty, trying to hide the jewels behind, but we were still blessed with a few sightings. We were shooed away, as the views were solely reserved for the guests of KMVN!
We hiked the winding path up to Zero Point with an awesome Guide who taught us so much about the flora and fauna of Binsar. We watched a noisy woodpecker building its nest, learnt about the medicinal value of Rhododendrons, watched the sunlight dapple our path through the shady branches of Oak trees, observed the spores dotting the underside of fern leaves and simply went crazy with pleasure at finding ourselves at such a divine place. At zero point (the highest point of Binsar) with the clouds still teasing us, we had the Darshan of Himalayan Peaks like Nanda Devi, Trishul, Shivling and Kedarnath. Our Guide regaled us with tales of trekking some of its slopes. We began dreaming of the day when we would go on such an expedition!
After a relaxing stay at Binsar, it was time to make our way back down to Khatgodam. On our way we stopped at Naukuchiyatal Lake for a boat ride. Before I knew what was going on we were strapped with life vests and shoved into a boat without a driver! We were on our own! Only later did I learn that Prasad wanted to go on a pedal boat, while the others chose a motor boat that came with a driver! I spent half the journey fuming and fretting, refusing to join him in pedaling. I kept thinking what would happen if the boat overturned or something. Was the lake too deep? Would Prasad, who was the only one at the time who knew how to swim, be able to rescue us?! And then as I felt brave enough to enjoy the stunning views all around me, I joined him in pedaling. We made our way back. What an exercise we had that day! We deserved to gorge on plates of crispy pakoras and spicy maggi at the eatery beside the lake, while watching a flock of ducks putter about.
We drove past Bhimtal with its Island Aquarium on our way to Khatgodam. There we spent the night at a cozy hotel before we caught a train to Delhi the next day. The Capital was eerily quiet as some kind of Bandh was going on. We were glad to be out of Delhi and on our way to Hyderabad.