Tirupathi – Tirumala Venkateshwara temple.

Yesterday, I published a post on my first time climbing the Tirumala hills.

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I felt jubilant at the end of the climb. And the kids were elated to receive us, like we had been apart for long. (We were out climbing only for a couple of hours before we joined them!)

We didn’t pay a visit to the Lord Tirumala Venkateshwara at the end of the climb. Instead, we first checked into a suite at Lailavathi Nilayam, a guest house at the hilltop of Tirumala. On our previous visits, we had stayed at Fortune Kences Hotel, which is situated close to the railway station, at Tirupathi or the Udupi Mutt which is located at Tirumala. But I highly recommend staying at one of the guest houses up the hill, close to the temple. A stay at Tirumala is much more convenient than staying at a hotel in Tirupathi; It takes longer to get to the temple. Plus, a stay at Tirumala, which is well-maintained and scenic, is so rejuvenating than staying at a pricey hotel in Tirupathi, amidst the cacophony of a big city.

Our room was clean, spacious and cozy. But the best part was the views our balcony offered.

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Refreshed after a shower and lunch at Sarangi, we headed to the temple for our appointment with the Lord at 3pm. This temple is pretty much crowded all through the year; In order to avoid the rush, we had purchased “Special Darshan” tickets for 300 rupees a person in advance. Actually, we bought tickets for both the days that we were staying there with the idea that, if it got too crowded and we were sent back the first day, we still had the chance to visit the temple the next day!

After winding through an enclosure for a long time, we were stopped at a counter to have our tickets examined. We were told that we had to submit a photocopy of our ticket, but we didn’t have one. We asked them to keep the original, but they refused and ordered one of us to go and get the copy from the Xerox machine, located at the start of the queue. Poor Prasad! He raced to the store to return before the number of devotees swelled.

Even with tickets booked in advance for Special Darshan, we walked at snail’s pace within the enclosures, with no breathable space between 2 people. Now that we had entered, there was no way out, except after visiting the Sanctum Sanctorum. After depleting their snacks, the kids began feeling bored and fussy and in the case of Medha, scared that she was going to be squashed by the adults around her. I carried Madhav, while Prasad carried Medha now and then. She is almost 5 and difficult to be carried for a longer time. So I tried to keep them entertained by singing rhymes along with them or by diverting their attention to happier thoughts, like talking to them about the windmills we could spot through a tiny window.

As it neared the end, just before the darshan, the crowd could not be restrained. There was a mad rush to “see” the Lord. The chanting of “Yedu Kondala vada Venkataramana Govinda Govinda” (“The Lord Venteshwara, who resides atop the 7 hills!” got louder and louder. People were ecstatic, as if they were about to see the God for real. I couldn’t help feeling the same… Something about that place has always had an intoxicating effect on me.

There was a place to offer money, in which I just emptied my purse. I couldn’t help it! Even though I’m not a very religious person, the Tirumala Venkateshwara temple has that kind of effect on me!

 

 

Tirupathi – the journey

“Slow and Steady!“, I kept telling myself, as I climbed the steps to reach Tirumala, the abode of Lord Venkateshwara. It was my first time; I had always driven with my family by car or bus and had never taken the pedestrian path up the hills. I tried not to think of the 3550 steps before me but chose to focus on the one step in front. One step at a time! Slow and Steady! One step at a time!…

 That’s what kept ringing in my ears as it got steep and difficult to climb.

I had joined Prasad on this difficult journey on a whim. He had long planned to do the hike all by himself as he felt I wasn’t physically fit to climb. Prasad plays Tennis, does weight training and elliptical and even walks with me every morning, while I only do the morning walk. It had been long since I’d climbed or hiked last. But how could I let a personal challenge like that pass me by? Or let go of a chance to spend some quiet time with Prasad?

Our train had left Secunderabad around 6 in the evening and we reached Tirupathi early in the morning next day. The kids enjoyed walking the length and breadth of our compartment. Madhav was too excited to eat his dinner. So he felt hungry and fussy in the middle of the night. That, and the tiny berth we were cramped together in made it impossible to catch a wink of sleep. Medha- her sleep situation had scared us. She is someone who rolls all over the bed, so we worried she might fall from her berth. We asked if she would sleep with one of us. She wasn’t ready to. We tied a bed-sheet around the middle berth, placed thick blankets as logs beside her, and hoped for the best. She slept through the night without a mishap.

As soon as we got down, we went to a hotel right in front of the Railway Station to eat some breakfast. The food was hard to swallow, but swallow we did, a couple of idlis each, to stock up energy  for the climb.

We told Medha we’d be visiting a temple and if she wanted to, she could join us, but her ajja-dodda (Grandparents), who had accompanied us on the trip, would be going to the hotel to freshen up. She never passes up a chance to explore a hotel room, so she gladly went along with them. We had to sneak out of the cab at Alipiri, when Madhav wasn’t watching.

My legs protested just as I began climbing the first 1000 steps. My muscles cramped and I had difficulty breathing. I asked Prasad not to talk to me as that used up all the energy I had and kept me panting. Every 50 steps or so, I stopped to drink water and to catch a couple of deep breaths. Whenever I did that, I could feel a new wave of energy surging in, making the next few steps climbable. I never let myself sit and relax. I thought that would put my body under inertia and make it impossible to continue the journey afterwards. We kept on moving.

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Prasad mumbled a Mantra, while I mutely watched the people around me, as they undertook this journey, and also wondered what effort and time must have gone into building the steps, in the beginning. The first pilgrims must have had it so hard. We now had a protective ceiling, railings to hold onto, comfortable seats, toilets, shops selling everything from water to Bhel Puri! I only had to look at the little kids or frail old folks making the climb just like me, to pull me out of exhaustion and self-pity

We were admonished by many for wearing chappals. We didn’t know it was a rule not to. Maybe we shouldn’t have, because many hadn’t. Many considered the steps sacred and lit camphor or smeared vermilion upon each step. Imagine having to bend down every few seconds! I pitied their poor backs! I also spotted a few devotees crawling up the steps. The things we do to appease god!

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That’s OK,  but if we could use some of that will power to do something productive, this world would become a much better place…

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About 2000 steps later, the climb leveled out and it was just a long stretch to walk on, through an arid jungle. At one point, we had to walk on the road, sharing it with oncoming vehicles. But the views of the mountains were stunning, for me to sulk about the inconvenience to the pedestrians. We spotted windmills, that instantly flooded us with memories of San Diego, our favorite holiday spot in the US. I kept expecting to see a Gopuram or a gigantic statue of the Lord to mark the end of our journey, but I found none, except, maybe, the gorgeous gigantic statue of Hanuman, along the way.

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The last few steps were steep, but I was brimming with excitement with every step climbed – I had done it; I had FINISHed something hard that I set out to do; I had challenged myself and had emerged victorious. I was also brimming with gratitude towards the Lord Venkateshwara himself; Had he not blessed me with the energy, determination and the companionship of Prasad, it would’ve been impossible for me to accomplish my goal.

It didn’t matter that I was totally exhausted and sore by the end of the journey. And for the next couple of days too…

PS- The band on Prasad’s wrist recorded

9 kms walked

3550 steps climbed

1582 Calories burnt

in 2 and a half hours

at the end.

 

 

Things I’d rather be doing…

ThIngs I’d rather be doing right now than continue participating in the Blogathon-

1. Go to bed early, as I’ve been sleeping late, much later than usual, in order to publish a post before midnight.

2. Wake up with the rest of the family and not be the last one to, all groggy and bad-tempered, no less, due to insufficient sleep.

3. Read Emma  by Jane Austen and dream of simpler times, when people gathered for tea and cake or played whist or had endless dance parties. (And probably didn’t punish themselves, signing up for a writing challenge!)

4. Watch all the episodes of “Emma Approved” . It is the modern version of Jane Austen’s Emma. 

5. Chat with my family more often.

6. Think about worldly problems and come up with a plan to tackle at least one of them, instead of wasting all that Electro-chemical energy in the brain worrying about what to post, when to make time to post and whether it is going to be “liked” or not.

7. Read one more book to Medha, who asks me to read 3 books to her before she sleeps. I’ve been stopping after book number 2 lately, as I’m in a mad rush to get her to sleep before I blog.

8. Watch the gorgeous on-screen couple, Martin Henderson and Aishwarya Rai Bacchan, romance in the movie, Bride and Prejudice. (Thanks Maddy for suggesting the movie/musical. I’m in love with it!)

9. Read and comment on the posts written by my Blogging buddies and other bloggers I admire.

10. Take time to free-write a post, look for pictures in my folder or capture new that can go with what’s written, fine-tune the post, instead of writing something like THIS, that isn’t useful to anybody!

So, should I quit? No way! I WILL NOT!

Not yet…

Life in India-so far

They say the first year after a big change is the hardest, and that if you stick it out, the rest is smooth sailing. It’s been a year since we moved to India, which means we have made it past the turbulent phase of new beginnings and novel experiences.  And on this occasion,  I’d like to list the (mostly) good and (a few) bad things about our life here, so far:

1. Although it isn’t all fairy tale, living in a big family, I’m truly happy we decided to move in with our in-laws. Having them around to help us raise our kids has been a blessing. They play with the kids and teach them a thing or two about our culture.

2. Where once even using the restroom was a “communal” event, now I can leave the kids under their grandparents’ care and supervision to grab a few moments of solitude.

3. Domestic help is easy to find and not too expensive. Having someone to help me clean the house or do the dishes frees up my time.

4. I find more time to do all the things I enjoy doing like reading, blogging, cooking exotic dishes and spending time with the kids at the park.

5. All that free time from not having to look after the kids 24×7 is helping me nurture other relationships that matter to me, for e.g., my marriage!

6. My mother-in-law is such a perfectionist when it comes to cooking that it is helping me polish my own culinary skill.

7. When a crisis arose in my family, I was able to join them to provide support and comfort. It would have been difficult to undertake the LONG journey home with the kids from the US at such a short notice.

8. There are so many temples to choose from when I feel the urge to soak in some spirituality.

9. I’m better able to strengthen bonds with our extended families. The kids grow up knowing and spending time with their aunts, uncles and cousins.

10. Although I’m a careful driver who doesn’t drive too fast or skip signals, I’m relieved that I don’t have to worry about breaking traffic rules all the time, like I used to in the US. Rules are meant to be broken in India, which is pretty scary when I think about it!

11. There are so many restaurants and cuisines to choose from, one is spoiled for choice here.

12. There are so many National Parks and places of cultural and historical significance to visit, but sadly, most aren’t well-cared for.

13. Many people here only care for their personal hygiene and the cleanliness of their own homes and do not think twice about dumping their garbage in front of their neighbors’ homes.

14. I have friends, other moms, I meet at the park or at school, but, other than that, my social life here sucks!

15. I buy books and diapers online and pay “Cash on Delivery”, which I find very amazing!

16. I don’t know how to bargain with shop owners, which means I always end up paying more than what the thing’s worth for.

17. Trains are dirty, Public toilets are dirtier. But they don’t bother me much. I suppose having kids raises your threshold for tolerance towards filth!

18. India isn’t the India I once lived in as a young girl. So many things have changed, for the better. People are educated, aware of the mess around them and are willing to “clean up the mess”, instead of just blaming the higher authorities or acting as if it is none of their business.

And I think we moved to India at the right time.

Day in the life

Last year I participated in Ali Edwards’ “Week in the life” project and had fun documenting the small and big things that happened during a particular week. I’m hoping to take part in it once again this year. On a smaller scale I will be recording a day in our lives every month, in pictures and a bit of journaling. Another fun way of honoring the everyday moments.

I’m a morning person. I love to be up before the Sun, get a bit of reading and writing done before the kids wake up. But lately I have been waking up late, thanks to this Blogathon. In order to have a post up before the clock strikes 12 at night, I’ve been working after the kids go to sleep.

So I woke up late yesterday. Along with the kids. It was nice in a way… I snuggled, talked and played with them before we, reluctantly, got off the bed.

Ever since Prasad bought the new carpet at the Exhibition, the kids have been wanting to sit, play and jump upon it all the time.

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I’m not very fond of carpets, especially when there are kids around. Spills and stains drive me crazy and I don’t rest until I get rid of them. So you can imagine what I’ve been doing most of the time when we are home!

By the way, does the carpet even go with the rest of the stuff in our living room? It will take me a while to get used to it. Until then Prasad has to bear (in silence!) my complaints against it, AND HIM!

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It was a beautiful morning with just a hint of cold. The warm weather in the midst of an unusually cold season kept us outside most of the day. The kids played together with their bubble- guns for a while.

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And then Madhav resorted to his usual game of digging mud while Medha played “dress-up” (Hobo?)

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P1100151For breakfast we ate Chapathis with my favorite Muthia Bhaji which my mother-in-law is an expert at preparing. I love the variety of textures offered by the ingredients that go into the dish like deep-fried Methi balls, potatoes, beans and eggplants. Don’t worry, I will learn that recipe from her and post it soon.

P1100148Later, I taught a couple of kids from our neighborhood along with Medha, a bit of Maths and a lot of English.

P1100164Then we attended a New Year’s Party organized by our community members.

There was a lot of Dance with a bit of Drama thrown in. The kids and I had a gala time listening to some of our favorite dance numbers and swaying to the music.

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This one was about Inter-caste marriages in India.

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Kuchipudi dance by this young girl enthralled us.

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Medha was happy to meet her friends.

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She told me she loved the “tuition” dance by her buddy! (Probably “fusion”, who knows! But she felt shy as she mentioned this to me!)

P1100194And before long, Madhav began looking around for the nearest EXIT!

We reached home at 10:30 pm, which means I worked late into the night on my post ONCE AGAIN!!!

 

 

 

 

Ramakrishna Math

This showed up as one of the top places to visit in and around Hyderabad on TripAdvisor as I looked around for things to do with my sister, when she visited us from Switzerland.  I used to go to the Ramakrishna Math in Bangalore with my friends after classes as it was pretty close to my college. It was right beside a bustling bus-stop, but I remember it being so serene, I’d forget I was in the heart of the city and not in a remote village.

I was curious to check this one out. The Math is in Lower Tank Bund area, which isn’t too far from my place.  As soon as I entered the premises, I took my camera out (as usual), but I couldn’t capture more than a single picture.

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A security guard came running towards me asking me to put my camera inside. I felt angry and sad that I couldn’t capture the beauty of the building or the serenity of the manicured lawns or the wise sayings by Swami Vivekananda displayed all around the campus. I seriously can’t fathom why photography is prohibited anywhere close to a temple; Not allowing it within the temple is understandable, as some people might start taking selfies with the “Gods”, which is kind of tasteless. But why not outside? A few well-taken pictures that show a glimpse of the temple might attract more visitors to it, or is it to ward off unwanted attention? I know not.

After meandering through the serene campus, we entered the main meditation/prayer hall. It felt warm and cozy inside. There was a well-lit, life-like idol of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa at the head of the hall. I thought I could gaze at it for hours, examining my thoughts and life, as I did so.

But I couldn’t, thanks to a couple of rambunctious kids, who were too excited to allow their mommy to remain seated and meditate. So, we slipped out. But there was more to explore.

First, we entered the Swami Vivekananda Institute of Languages to know what languages were being taught at the moment. We were told that Sanskrit, Hindi, German, French, Spanish, Japanese apart from English classes were being offered there at reasonable prices. Learning French has been in my wishlist for quite sometime now. Let’s see… I might join a class.

Then we checked the bookstore, which is moderate in size and holds a good collection of books on Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, his wife, Sharada Devi and his disciple, the well-known Swami Vivekananda. My sister and I bought a few biographies of Swami Vivekananda, stories of renowned Indians for Medha and posters of Swami Vivekananda before heading out.

Exiting the Math to join the throng of other vehicles, their blaring horns, as we drove back home felt like being shaken awake from a beautiful dream.

 

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75th All India Industrial Exhibition

The razzle-dazzle of bright lights, stalls selling everything from bangles to brass wall-clocks, air thick with the smell of popcorn, soft, pink swirls of cotton candy, rushing sound of the Columbus ride in the background, even the sight of a ground totally packed with visitors, everything about the Exhibition, brought immense joy to me this evening.

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Village – The soul of India

Trying new restaurants is one of my family’s favorite pastimes. That’s how we spend most, no, every Sunday. When the festival of Sankranthi presented us with a holiday, that’s what we decided to do.

Our plan was to eat at Jalpaan, a favorite dining place, but on a whim we entered the adjacent restaurant, Village – The soul of India, found the ambiance inviting and the pricing right. There wasn’t another soul inside apart from the staff (even at around 1pm), but our adventurous spirit pulled us to give the restaurant a try.

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From the moment I walked inside, I began snapping pictures. The restaurant looked so festive, like I had come to a village fair, that I couldn’t help myself.

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The dining area was divided into sections, each section representing a business (tailor, parlor) or a store (arrack, sweets) one can find in a village square. There was even a police station with pictures of “fugitives” (probably the staff) pasted on the wall.

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While the others indulged in the starters brought right to the table by the staff dressed in traditional dhothi-kurtha and turban, and the kids munched on fresh fruit as they climbed up and down a deck, I walked around, mesmerized, clicking pictures, a silly smile plastered across my face. I was having a jolly good time just exploring the restaurant that I forgot why I was there in the first place, until one of the employees reminded me that the food would get cold if I didn’t eat right away!

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The food, yes the food, there was such variety, that I felt full even before I finished gorging on the starters. It wasn’t specific to any region and had something to suit every palate, from Dhoklas to Hakka noodles, but only vegetarian, mind you.

I loved the taste of Gobhi Manchurian and Pudina Paratha with Sarson da Saag. The buttery texture of a rice flour concoction (i forgot what it is called), that resembled the ubiquitous Khichdi, sprinkled with a dash of red chilli powder, was so delicious, the thought of it still makes me drool!

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Since we were still the only customers, we worried about what might happen to all that yummy food. But we didn’t have to brood any longer as other people began trickling in.

 

Now, I’m more into starters and desserts, so I skipped most of the main course to try the Gulab Jamun. It was so good, and so were the freshly prepared Jalebis.

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Old, folksy, upbeat Hindi songs playing in the background made me feel like we were in a Bollywood set. We couldn’t resist swaying to some of the dance numbers.

A puppet show kept the kids enthralled.

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And then it was time for a game of “musical chairs” and you know who won? Yup, yours truly….

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There was to be a dance program as well, but we had errands to run, so I had to be dragged out!

We had a nice family outing and not just good food this afternoon for about 350 rupees (incl. Of taxes) per person at the “Village”. I will be going back again, soon. And not just because I won a voucher for free buffet for 2! 🙂

How I prepared Thai Red Curry for dinner

The rich and creamy coconut milk, the fruity fragrance of Lemongrass, the fiery blend of spices that make up the red curry paste, the assorted texture of the Vegetables thrown in and its pairing with the humble rice makes Thai Red Curry a hit around the Pejavar household.

When Prasad asked me to prepare it for dinner tonight, I thought why not post the making on my blog?

Whenever I decide ahead of time to post about an experience, I pay close attention to it as it unfolds. I take the experience very seriously, making sure I scribble notes in my journal along the way and click as many pictures as possible. This is another reason why I enjoy Blogging: It makes me immerse myself in every big and small project I undertake; It helps me live fully and stay mindful.

Like I said, I took the whole thing pretty seriously. I couldn’t find the keys to my car. There was nobody at home to help care for the little ones. So I decided to make a picnic of my foray into the market with the kids, in a rickshaw. I even packed lunch along for them ’cause I was sure it would be late by the time we got back home.

We went to my favorite market that sells everything from Onions to Celery. Imagine finding celery in a small store, not a super-market, in India! To my surprise I even found a bunch of Basil leaves, which the store-keeper kept referring to as “Brazil Leaves”!

I let Medha help me pick the vegetables and held onto Madhav in one hand, afraid he might take off on one of his escapades. With my free hand I took a few pictures of the store and the fresh vegetables (“for my daughter’s school project”, I told the owner. I didn’t know what else to say!), that lay seductively, sunning themselves on a warm January afternoon.

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P1100027I bought Zucchini, a Broccoli head, a packet of mushrooms, bell peppers – red and yellow, a couple of coconuts and Basil leaves.

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(If you’re curious, I fed the kids their lunch on the way back home, in a speeding rickshaw!)

I plucked a lime, a few leaves off lemongrass from our garden to prepare the curry.

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I began preparing the red curry paste as per this recipe while the kids slept. I had everything at hand, except the white pepper powder.

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P1100044Before I finished the bulk of the preparation, the kids woke up. So I had to attend to their needs first. Thanks to my in-laws, who took Madhav along with them on one of their errands, I could get back to my cooking in peace. Medha watched away her favorite show while I slogged at the Coconut grater.

P1100039Grating a couple of coconuts, grinding them to a paste along with warm water, squeezing the paste and allowing the thick liquid to pass through a sieve to obtain coconut milk, ate up a major chunk of my time. But the smooth, velvety end result was totally worth the hard work.

P1100046Now it was time to prepare the curry, for which I followed this recipe with a few modifications. I added more vegetables instead of just broccoli and baby corn and fried them instead of blanching. I dropped the paneer, as I didn’t want the dish to taste too Indian.

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  • Added chopped Basil leaves to the red curry paste after frying the paste in oil for a minute or so.

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  • Poured coconut milk, water, a tablespoon of corn flour mixed in coconut milk. Let it bubble as I stirred continuously for about 5-6 minutes. Added a spoon of salt.

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  • Fried the veggies separately

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  • Mixed everything and let it cook for a couple of minutes before turning off the heat.

After he got back home, Prasad felt inspired to prepare a fried rice to go along with my curry.

P1100064Together, the Thai Red Curry and the Fried Rice made a healthy, comforting and delicious dinner tonight.

Traveling with Children

Traveling isn’t just exploring a new place, gaining a fresh perspective, having fun, relaxing, trying exotic food and buying local, handmade goods, once you have kids. It is all of that and more- like planning ahead, stocking baby food and diapers, chasing kids up and down aisles in a plane, visiting dirty toilets, schedule thrown out-of-whack and a lot of pain-in-the-butt!

I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject of “Traveling with Children”, but I’m a mother of a couple of kids, both under the age of 5 and I’m a frequent traveler and that, I think, gives me the license to dole out a bit of advice to new moms and moms traveling with kids for the first time on having a stress-free, no, that is highly impossible, less-stressful is apt, vacation.

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1. try to limit the luggage when I’m traveling with the kids without my husband or another adult. Even with my husband around, I still limit our luggage to mostly the essentials. It is hard to pay attention to a number of bags, when the kids take off to explore, usually in different directions.

2. carry a back-pack instead of a hand-bag, even if that makes me look frumpy. A back-pack frees my hands to hold onto my kids in crowded places, balances the weight on my shoulders and comes with enough space to contain everything I need to manage the kids on long journeys.

3. Buy new toys and books that I don’t show the kids until we are inside the train/plane. Plus, I don’t give them all at once. I give one, allow them to savor the one thing in their hands till they get bored, then give another… Sometimes I just bring along the old, forgotten ones. Their fascination with something new or that which looks like new keeps them busy for sometime.

4. look for someone that appears trustworthy and friendly to help if I’m traveling solo with the kids. I once asked a friendly co-passenger to keep an eye on Medha on the plane when I had to use the restroom. Of course, an airplane is much safer if one is traveling with kids without the aid of another adult.

5. was told by my Pediatrician in the US that the airports are the most unhygienic places and was advised to keep the kids safe when in one. If airports are dirty enough for the kids to fall sick, then he would’ve certainly called the Indian Railway Stations Death-traps. But airport or train station, I always let the kids play, burn some pent-up energy and get dirty. Then just before boarding I get them cleaned thoroughly. They are better able to sit through the long journey after they have had their share of play.

6. always carry a Hand Sanitizer, Children’s Tylenol or Crocin to soothe aching tummies, a bottle of vicks to clear congestion in the nose or chest and a pain-killer for myself, thank you very much.

7. carry a good baby carrier (mine is this one) or a stroller.

8. carry Ear plugs along for plane rides.

9. ALWAYS pack a camera along.

10. remind myself to take a few deep breaths and take everything in stride, even missed flights or lost purse (both have happened to me).

“This too shall pass”, I remind myself. And not just the difficulties, even the happy, magical moments.  That’s enough to make me enjoy every bit of the vacation, even the journey.