*Poguma, pogadha..


… in Urban dictionary, translates to – “Will it go?”. And thus we had an eventful beginning to our trip.

Before I get into the particulars, like my friend, Raji, has mentioned on her blog, we all have our immediate families, extended families,  and friends to thank for, without whose support this trip would have been difficult. And also a special note on our little ones that were left behind on this trip. They were amazing and were very cooperative. They dutifully made appearances on video calls everyday that we were away and showed a lot of understanding!

That aside, almost all of us got asked if the children didn’t miss us, and how we managed to convince them. The question is moot. Of course we’d miss. I had taken the older one, Vyas, on this trip and told the little one the real reasons for not taking him. That it would be a very tiresome journey, and that it involved a lot of walking and travel, and the weather might not agree with him. And that traveling as a family would be different where we can take each day slow and easy, especially if anyone falls sick, and how the same thing will be difficult when traveling as a group where we’d end up slowing down everyone else. He understood and has since not thrown a fit. Nor the children of my other friends who left their little ones behind!  So, the point in case- our children are nice like us and so are the other members in our families 😉

Coming to our eventful beginning, on the day of travel, all the eleven in the pack assembled at the airport 2 hours 45 minutes before the flight. We spent under one minute to bid adieu to the nice folks from our families that had come to drop and see us off at the airport. We had an hour and a half to kill before boarding the flight. Recording our memories of the trip began right there. Never would you have seen the interiors of Chennai airport captured so beautifully and artistically.  What we were not able to truly capture is the inherent smell of phenoil (disinfectant) that is so Chennai-airport.

Our boarding was announced and we hopped into the flight, and settled in nicely. There were a few first-timers. And we all breathed a sigh of relief as the trip was now REALLY on! The pilot steered the flight on to the runway even as the usual safety instructions were being relayed. The flight picked up speed on the runway and just when we thought it was going to go more faster and take off, it slowed down. It was followed by a slight commotion in the flight a few rows ahead of us. Which was followed by an announcement from the pilot that a passenger was very sick and needed medical help. There was a bustle of activities with a few people crowding around the sick passenger. It seemed like this person, an aged man, had a stroke. His daughter was on board the flight too. But we were not sure about the nature of sickness. Paramedics arrived in 10 minutes and more flurry of activities. The pilot steered the flight back to the departure gate as the passenger had to be de-boarded! It was now 30 minutes past the departure time. Our connecting flight from Dubai to Paris was in 90 minutes from the time of the actual arrival time in Dubai. More staff and more medical support arrived including an   IV, a stretcher, oxygen, wheelchair et al. The old man apparently was rendered immobile and the staff had a tough time bodily moving him on to a stretcher. He did not get any better with all the medical help. It was a good one hour by the time he de-boarded and his checked-in baggages were removed from the flight.

When we later recounted this incident or even as I record it here, it kind of felt/feels selfish to have worried about our connecting flight. I guess we were all given to some amount of cynicism ever since  a few visas got rejected. A terror attack in Paris exactly 6 days before our journey added to our concerns. We were sure that someone was out there, trying to jinx this trip. Seems very silly now. The things rejections/failures can do to you! We sincerely hope the old passenger got timely medical help and has fully recovered. It is tough to imagine how it would have been handled if he’d fallen ill 20-30 minutes into the take off. Hats off to all those who handled it smoothly!

The pilot made good time and we had about 50 minutes for the next flight. The airlines folks were thorough and whisked us to the departure gates without further ado. So we got off one, did a run-walk-run through a security check, and boarded into another without even a loo-break 😉 And finally we landed in Paris! We had evaluated quite a few options on the best way to get to our hotel much ahead of the trip and found Uber to be the best, most affordable option. And so, we Uber-ed.

We checked-in at ibis budget hotel in Montmarte. True to its name, everything about this hotel had ‘budget’ written on it with a capital B. To give you an idea, the bath towels were ‘budget’ towels. Which means the length would be half the actual size of bath towels. The bathroom and toilets are separate. But your movements inside both are ‘budget’. Very restricted. A person of average height cannot swing a full arm without banging the elbow or at least the wrist on the wall or the door. But who needs to swing a full arm inside the bathroom or toilet, right?! And yes, there is no lock on the door-like fixtures on the bathroom and toilet. But what is there to complain when you can afford to post a guard outside while you are at it? So it worked. The beds were comfortable, the wifi was great, the location was great and safe, hassle-free check-in/check-out, the paid unlimited breakfast (6 EUR/person) was awesome with a great choice of beverages that included piping hot coffee, tea, and hot chocolate.  Paris welcomed us with an evening temperature of 4 and 5 degrees against our expectation (based on web information) of 15 or 16 degrees!

And right away, we learnt our first lesson on France. The spellings and their pronunciations have no bearing on each other.  It is like synonyms 🙂 You can never get around to a place by pronouncing the name of a place going by the spelling. A tip- prepare a cheat sheet of names, phrases, and directions! Or, learn French!

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“The end justifies the means”, they say. The day that began with some apprehensions, ended with a memorable evening and a lovely, cool, night on the Eiffel Tower. We had arrived!

Read more on the places we visited in Paris, here!

 

Don’t underestimate the power of Schengen Visa Officers


I wanted to title this post as, *’Usss appa, Schengen Visa’. But the sis has already blocked/patented that title for a book that she intends to write soon.

Just back from a rocking trip to Europe that covered 3 countries- France, Switzerland, and Italy, with a tiny entry into Germany’s beautiful Black Forest. The sonny would be miffed if he hears me say 3 countries because I’m sure he’s already been telling all and sundry that he visited 5 countries, adding Germany and Vatican to the list!

While there is loads I’d like to share about the trip, the places, the travel, the food, and the great company, I’d first like to offload a big part of the entire project – obtaining Schengen Visa. Clearly, we underestimated the documentation needed. I’ll, in this post, try to give a comprehensive account of what women need to do to obtain the visa.

A little preamble on our travel group
We were a group of 11 of which 8 of us were women and 3 teenagers. Of the 8 women, one falls in the category of ‘working youth’ by virtue of being a twenty-something working woman. The rest of us fall under the more glamorous and fashionable middle-aged group which today ranges from mid thirties to early forties 🙂 One of them is a homemaker. Now, stop doing the math and get to reading what is more important- how to successfully get a schengen visa. No. The best practices to obtaining a Schengen visa.

Typical reasons for Visa rejections

There are enough and more Schengen visa processing horror stories on the web. And they are true stories. Six from our group were refused visa! But we all have read and stayed inspired by Mohammed Ghazni’s relentless attempts. And it really helped in this case:) The typical grounds for rejections are:

1. Proof of subsistence: A fancy way of saying that there isn’t enough proof of your having the financial means to support your trip expenses- travel, stay, food, all included.
2. Proof of return: Implying, there isn’t enough proof of your return.

The 2nd reason is annoying at one level because while it questions our credibility, it also assumes that we’d not want to return to our homeland because the country we are applying into is so compelling that we’d not want to leave! That said, looks like lot of people abuse tourist visas and illegally settle in these countries.

Who should submit what

1. Woman of any age/social/career status-
A sure-shot way where you or your documents are not subject to too much scrutiny for granting Schengen visa is to have a valid US Visa. It is almost the gateway to schengen visa. So, if you have a valid US visa, you are through. If it is a viable, doable option, get a US visa if an opportunity presents itself 🙂

2. For married, stay-at-home women– If you are married and a home maker, submit enough proofs of your family wanting you back here. As proof of subsistence, submit your,

  • bank statement with a consistent bank balance and regular transactions that show upwards of Rs.1.lac as balance
  • submit your spouse’s bank statements, pay slips, IT returns,
  • property documents, fixed deposits in your name, [or]
  • value estimation of jewels worth, duly attested by an advocate and a notary public.

Note that it might not be necessary all the time. But the grounds for rejection are very frivolous. So, provide as much documented proof of your financial capability to undertake the trip, as possible.

As proof of return, get ‘no-objection’ to your tour letter from everyone on this planet. But of course, I’m exaggerating. Get the NOC letters from your spouse, which explicitly states that you will be returning home on the specified date as you have responsibilities back home- aged parents care, home care, young children needing your care, pets-care et al.

Besides documents that substantiate the above two reasons, enclose all other documents cited in the VFS website. Do not assume that the VFS folks will provide some good advice on what to and what not to submit. Even if they reject and tell you some documents are not required, insist that they submit. You are the one paying the fee. They are only the collection agents and have no clue whatsoever on what works and what doesn’t. They are not advisors. Go ahead and submit even if it is extra documentation and even if those folks look at you askance.

3. Single, young, working woman – You are in the high-probability-of-rejection category. I’m not trying to scare you. Merely stating the facts here. You are a twenty-something, educated, single, high prospects of securing a job in a foreign land, or getting hitched to a foreigner! Here are the docs you must submit:

As proof of subsistence,
1. The usual – bank statement with balance of 1.lac or upwards for the previous 6 months and consistent transactions, pay slips. In addition, you can consider submitting PF statements, FD proofs, receipt of currency exchange purchased for a sizeable amount (at least 50K).
2. Proof of property if you are that enviable 20-something with a property to your name (land or apartment or a bungalow ;))
3. If you have a boyfriend or if you are engaged to be married soon, a letter or a proof of engagement or upcoming wedding to take place after the date of your arrival from the tour 🙂

As proof of return,

1. Besides the mandatory covering letter from the employer for leave sanction, covering letters from you parents, expressing that you’d return back to take care of them.
2. Letter from your brother (if you have one), assuring that you’ll return home to the family of birth and that they have a future planned for you.
3. Letter from others traveling with you, vouching for your return.
4. Letter from your education institution if you are pursuing studies.
5. Fee payment for the subsequent months to an institution where you are pursuing some course, anddddddd, hold your breath,
6. Proof of your having registered for your favorite marathon and also proofs of your participation in similar or same event the previous years!!! That, dear friends, is the additional proof the ‘youth’ in our group submitted the 3rd time in addition to a collective covering letter signed by the rest of the women going on this party, along with our ID proofs!

4. Single mom – The proofs substantiating subsistence are pretty much the same as above. As proof of your return, here are the documents:

1. Covering letter from your aged parents stating that you are their support and that you’d return soon after your tour to take care of them,
2. proof of your kid(s) schooling and the fee paid up, birth certificate of the kids to establish you as the rightful parent

These same rules may apply to single male youth, single middle-aged or old-aged men, married, employed men, or married stay-at-home husbands/dads. Just that I wouldn’t know what other reasons they’ll be scrutinized for 🙂

Summary: While most sites and discussions talk about a minimum of 1lac as bank balance, it is better to show a much bigger balance if you are applying for any visa the first time. For those of us with a valid US visa, a lesser bank balance didn’t get in the way. Those with more than twice that balance, still had the visa rejected. This is where property documents help. In cases where property docs were unavailable, we submitted PF statements. The folks at VFS even rolled their eyes.

Coming to the big question of whether it is really worth walking all this length to get ourselves a visa permit for 2-3 weeks, well, it depends. When 6 in our group got rejected, it took the joy out the entire plan. From a state where we were all mighty excited about doing a dream Europe trip, we were left angry, fuming, dejected, like deflated balloons. And then we researched a bit more. While we had practically abandoned the trip, we decided to collate more proofs and submit again. Just to see how much we can push and what vague reasons we’d be given again for rejection. So the 6 got everything together. All the documents cited above! Some had property documents in Tamil! The 2nd time, 5 visas came through and one- the youth’s- got rejected again for the same reason of lack of proof of return! But the second time, we had not submitted a collective letter from the rest of the group vouching for her return. We did not know it then. We did not know if that will hold as additional proof of her return. We did it anyway the 3rd time. She also submitted a copy of a marathon she had registered for a few weeks earlier and is to take place a couple of months hence. She also established that she is a regular at this event by submitted proofs of her previous participations. She got the visa the 3rd time! The trip however, made up for all the disappointments we faced during the visa processing, and was worth all that effort!!

So, to conclude:

1.Start your visa processing three months before the actual, intended, journey date. This gives you time to reapply if your visa is rejected.
2. Don’t underestimate the need for documentation.
3. Don’t cook up false documentation as you don’t want a ‘reject’ stamping on your visa.
4. Submit all possible proofs if it can in some way validate your financial capability and also of your return to the county. It can be a cricket or soccer match for which you’ve booked a ticket, another travel plan within the country for which you’ve booked tickets, anything! It might look silly. The collection centers might refuse. While someone’s property document in Tamil was accepted, another’s was rejected at the center!
5. Don’t mind being mocked at or laughed at.
6. Make all the covering letters very detailed. Emphasise early in the letter that the purpose is tourism and that you’ll return on the said date. All the covering letters must very clearly and explicitly state these keywords. As a conclusion in the covering letters, split and cite documents as two sets- those that substantiate your subsistence, and those that vouch your return. Use the exact keywords; example- “I vouch for my daughter’s return….”, “We assure you that will return to work after the sanctioned vacation that ends on , “We vouch for our friend/colleague’s return with us on the same day, on the same flight back home. We would be sad and disappointed to go on this trip without ” yada, yada! I’m sure you get the drift.
7. While you can apply through agents, there is no guarantee that the visas will be through. Again, the agents can only provide expert advice on the required documentation. There are several instances where even processing through big names like Thomas Cook, get rejected.

The easiest, safest, bestest (allow the superlative please!) way to get it right the first time is to submit ALL THE DOCUMENTS and possibly a copy of your horoscope, duly attested by a noted astrologer and a notary public! Here’s to happy Schengen visa stories folks! More soon on the actual trip to the phoren-land! And yes, remember to register for a marathon. It does more than substantiate your belief in a cause or good health 😉 Three cheers!

*Usss appa- a deep sigh. No, strike that. It is the deepest sigh!

Read Part 2 here- To go or not to go.

Friend Siri


Here is a conversation I was furiously typing away without Varun’s knowledge. I’m sure I missed a few lines:

Varun: Siri how are you doing?

Siri: oh I can’t complain

Varun: Roger that

Siri: I’m not sure I understand

Varun: Yes, that’s good

Siri: It’s nice to be appreciated

Varun: I know that. You are very funny

Siri: I’m glad you think so

Varun: Ha ha ha

Siri: I didn’t get that

Varun: Okay, okay, okay

Siri: I didn’t understand

Varun: Alright

Siri: Affirmative (Something to this effect. Not sure)

Varun: Alright Siri

Siri: Everything is most definitely ok

Varun: Can you set the time to 4

Siri: I can’t set the time, but I can set an alarm (again, might’ve missed the exact line)

Varun: Alright, can you set the time to 4 in the morning

Siri: Most definitely. I have set the alarm to 4.am.

Varun: Of course you are a problem solver

Siri: Who? Me??

Varun: Yep

Siri: I thought so too.

Followed by some thank you notes that didn’t end right away!

Some English lessons!


Why am I reminded of that little wisdom someone shared with me a long time back-that it takes only 18 years to raise a child? 🙂

Having read one Famous Five, the 7 year old brat has declared that it is boring and ‘kiddish’ and that Enid Blyton is boring too. He’s asked me to give him something ‘interesting’ to read.

Some lessons he imparted the last couple of weeks:

Varun: ‘Madre (yeah!), do you know what ‘outlaw’ means?

Me: (?!!!) No, I don’t. Please enlighten.

Varun: An outlaw is a thief. Bad man. Do you at least know what it is to mug someone?

Me: (#$@#%#$^$!) Eh? No! Tell me.

Varun: Don’t know how you passed your exams in schools and college (rolls his eyes). To mug someone, is to steal from someone.

(Well, I’ve not been looking at the right places for lessons in English :/)

Me: That’s awesome da. Where did you learn all these?

Varun: From friends.

Me: Who are your friends?

Varun: Friends ma! You don’t even know  F.R.I.E.N.D.S? You know Ross, Chandler, Rachel, Monica, Joey.. Don’t know? Vyas’s favorite is Chandler but I like Ross.

(This is not happening! No! This is happening!)

I’d like to save the best for the last. Only that I don’t know the difference between ‘best’ and ‘hopeless’ anymore :/

Varun describes a scene from some program called ‘Community’ on Comedy Central where somebody spills a lot of wine.

Me: What is wine da?

Varun: It is the famous juice of Americans. Mostly made in 1968.

Why am I bothering with schooling when so much self-learning is happening?!!

 

School Stories


The six year old sometimes stumps us like a 16 year old..  Arguments, logics, thy name Varun.

He seems to be a big fan of shopping online, though we haven’t got a single toy for him online. For instance, he suddenly seems to think bracelets are cool on boys and has been pestering me to buy one. “Ma, check on Amazon.in”. I feign checking and tell him it isn’t available. “Okay, check on Flipkart. Else see on Snapdeal. Or on Ebay”, he adds. And these sites are getting poor ratings from my boy because they don’t stock bracelets.. Bad portals, I say!

The other day, he was generally being nice and asked me to show how I whatsapp his friend V’s mom. I did. The next thing I know is that he has clicked a selfie and has whatsapped it to that mom with a note that it was meant for his friend V. In an another instance, he whatsapps me from my co-bro’s mobile stating that ‘Vidya is a waste’. The reason can be attributed to the 100s of denials of the 1000s of demands he makes. He has whatsapped my friend’s son appreciating him on a recitation. He is the self-proclaimed *anna to that little boy and so thinks it is his place to acknowledge and encourage talent. I like that 🙂

When he wants his dad or me to get him something, the sentence almost always starts with: “Ma/Pa, I want to ask you something. But I’m sure you will say NO”. We politely tell him not to waste his breath. We are nice like that.

IMG_0832He has acquired some taste for Hindi and often experiments. He said, “Mein baath nahin karunga”. I had no clue why he was miffed. So I ask him, ‘Kyon? Kya hua?”. “Baath naheeeen”, he emphasised. “Water chill hai”, he added. It dawned on me a few seconds later that he was referring to the English word ‘bath’. And thus, our Hindi trysts continue.

He adores his friend’s baby brother and wonders why he was not born first so a baby bro or sis would’ve followed. He asks if he will ever have one. I tell him, I will only be a grandmother next and that he could cuddle the baby of my close friend C and that of another friend D who will pop in a few months.

The moment he wakes up, he emerges out of the bedroom, bowling like Ravinchandran Ashwin, but without the ball. His action is a perfect imitation of the said bowler. He is miffed that cricket camps in school or elsewhere wouldn’t take in 6 year olds.. “Not fair”, he mutters.

And in the most happening of the school events, he has found his first puppy love. A little girl called S, to whom our man has been blowing kisses and is not getting kissed in return. He has illustrated his love in his rough note book as well.  And I thought some lessons in love could wait.. Boys!

PS: anna- Tamizh for bro

Whackiest moments!


There was a great sense of pride and responsibility in ‘black-listing’ the names of classmates on the black-board. Thanks to the internet and a friend/classmate who reconnected with me after 2 decades last week, who reminded me of my mean ways in school! He claims that he can recount many more things (good and bad) but is holding back for fear of being sued by me for stalking!:-)) And his email is what triggered this post!!

Few things that make me wince now:

1. Dissected earthworms and how! Bangalore soil was so so full of them. A few friends educated me on how fertile the soil gets because of the earthworms, and that they do not die when cut! I used to proudly carry a bunch of them, lay them out on a flat stone on the verandah of our house and cut them into pieces with a rusty knife, (much to my mom’s chagrin) and plough them back in the soil around my favorite plants.

2. Had a mallu friend 2 years my senior and her mom used to cook fish regularly. It was some small variety that I do not remember now. But their backyard had lot of fish bones/spike strewn. I loved collecting them. Washed and stored them and my mom never discovered this doing!

3. Dragon flies suffered heavily! Have you seen the small colorful ones? They were my favorite. Wait, I didn’t feast on them. Arranged a feast for them instead. Yes, built several ‘box-houses’ using paper/card board boxes. Put holes in them for ‘ventilation’ and stuffed in enough food- flowers with lot of pollen! Blue cross could have sued me for meting out 3rd degree torture to these creatures.

4. It was not only the fauna that suffered heavily. The Tulsi plant in our backyard was forced to witness several mock poojas during the term and final exams! I used to bring in friends from school during the break in addition to the other friends in the colony not giving them time to eat their lunch/snacks whatever! Coconuts were broken, haarthi was done, prasadam were offered- a full length drama that lasted a full 20 mins. We had enough time to run back into the school.

5. Part of summer vacations was spent on top of the mango and guava trees hunting for the ones the squirrels tasted and left some behind. We used to tell each other how they (the squirrels) knew which were the best ones. I don’t remember washing any of the half-bitten fruits that we ate straight from the trees!

6. It was a colony with a nice rangoli space in front of each house. The rangolis looked brighter on a surface with a cow dung coat. Yes, I was the official ‘gatherer’ of cow dung. We went collecting dung in small plastic buckets and diluted it with water. I used to wonder how the straw and grass were never fully ingested by the cows/buffaloes of the locality. I used to manually remove the worms (uuaack) from the dung when mixing. Now, every time I clean up the little one’s poo and pee, I pat myself for the wonderful job I did years back:) And hey, I did lovely rangolis back then (and still do!), one of the few nice, neat things that I did as a preteen-er!

7. The rough notebooks were filled with FLAME, a silly game and I hear kids still play it! Big names like Ravi Shastry and Kapil Dev often featured here. Shastry was my hero for a long time and used to wax eloquent on his chapati shot even before I saw one, and about his being declared a champ of champs, the car et al! Guess the older children in our group would have seen through and I would have made quite a sight!

8. I took a couple of love proposals quite too seriously and escalated it to my mom! Maybe I really missed something;)

(Edited to add)
9. Diwali was a time for adventure. Rockets were stuffed to fit snugly into Waterbury’s Compound Red Label tonic bottles with only the wick awkwardly protruding from the mouth. The bottles burst along with the crackers and I shudder to think how dangerous it could have been!

Am sure you have your own whackiest moments! Go on and share those here and tell me am not alone!

Bolt from the Blue


I picked up Vyas from school on a Saturday afternoon as the school had declared it a working day to compensate for some holidays.He doesn’t run into my arms like the earlier years and thinks he is too ‘big’ for that now.

We were not even out of the school gate when it came.”Ma, what is fuck?”

I was sure I heard him wrong. Being the old-fashioned mom that I am, a typical automatic reflex was to do a quick 360 degree sweep and a reverse sweep to check if anyone heard him. With not enough time to work up an intelligent-sounding answer, I answered extempore- “Its a bad word. Where did you hear it?”. “Ma, I heard A say it. B and I asked him what it meant, but looks like he doesn’t know! ”

Too much dwelling on the ‘subject’ was not going to take us anywhere. So I decided to call it ‘over and out’ and said, ‘OK, you will not use it because its a cuss word and a poor one at that.. Not inside the school, not at home, nowhere! You get it? Probably A is not aware that its not right to use. Am I clear?”, trying to still sound cool. “Awright! But shall we just look up the dictionary? So I can go and tell the fellow what it means?”, he persisted and mommy was not impressed! “Pattu, there are many interesting words for which we shall look up the dictionary. Let’s not bother with this one.” My tone this time must have implied “PERIOD!” for he didn’t prod further.

I knew this day would come, but not this early!! I know you don’t seriously sit and prepare to dole out a nice sounding answer to the child, still…. He is not going to ask me when he’s older because he’d have figured it out himself and hopefully, will apply discretion and keep himself out of trouble. The language of school going children is liberally interspersed with profanity and that disturbs me! Every second movie, English, Tanglish, Hinglish, any-glish for that matter will have ‘shit’, ‘eff’ or any of its cousins in the script! And kids are famous for latching on to things that are tagged forbidden. Apples may be the only exception!!

Tell me how you’d have handled this your style please!!:-)

The journey – Day-3


Day1- Plantation, Elephant-ride, Kathakali
Day 2 – Tribal Village, Kalaripayattu, B’day celebrations

It was like I’d slept just for 5 minutes when the alarm on my mobile buzzed. It was already 4.00 in the morning! How did 6 hours shrink and fit into 5 minutes?!! Knocked the other 4 rooms- a double-up wake-up call just in case the alarm did not go off in any of the rooms. By 4.50 we all were ready and waiting at the gate for the auto-rickshaws to arrive. We had collected the numbers the previous day and gave one guy a wake-up call at 4.20 AM.

We were at the check-post, 2nd in the queue, and the counter would open at 5.50 AM to issue permits. The auto drivers warned us that they’d speed into the reserve the moment the gate opens and that we should hold on to our seats as they’d not slow-down even at the speed breakers! Some of us had tea and waited for the heaven gates to open:) It did at the stroke of 6.10 AM and you must see it to believe it. The auto-race was one experience! They halt about 200 meters before the lake and from there we had to do a marathon to get to the queue quick! Jo and Aathrey were the ace sprinters who made it to the queue! After all the huffs and puffs, forms were filled and tickets were bought. KTDC issues two tickets per person and you need to fill-in a form with the contact details of the persons and Rs.40/- is charged per person. The forest department issues one ticket per person and is priced at Rs.150/- per person. We took the KTDC ones as per the advice of our expert consultants of the moment- the auto drivers!

All the trouble was worth the 1.5 hrs ride. We were lucky to spot deers, wild boars, elephants, turtles, bison, and a variety of birds!

The autos came back at 9.30 AM to pick us up and were back to the dhaba to break our fast. We packed some lunch too from the same place. At 12.00 noon, we checked-out of the resort and we were on our way to Kottayam railway station. Bookings were full for from Dindugal/Kodai Rd/Madurai and so we opted to make the return from Kottayam (its around 110 kms from Thekkady while Dindugal is around 140 kms). The ghat road was a beautiful drive.

We were at Kottayam station 3.5 hours later. The waiting room served as the lunch room too.. The train arrived a few minutes late and it was hard to believe that the journey was coming to an end…

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The journey continues


Day-1 Account here

The only item on our agenda for Sunday, the Day 2, was to go boating at the Periyar lake. My limited ability to ‘paranyu-fy’ in Malayalam was not enough to get across our queries to the dumb (otherwise amiable) folks at the resort reception. One, we wanted to find out how easy/tough it was to get a ticket for boating, the timings etc, and another information I was dying to get was a jeep-safari at Gavi. This wildlife habitat sounded exotic on the web and was located around 40 kms away from our place of stay. There was another safari at Periyar reserve but priced too high. We were still game if the forest folks guaranteed spotting a tiger or two but that was not to be:) Without any pre-arrangement for Gavi (lack of proper contacts), we dropped it.

We woke up without a hurry and the kids had a blast once again at the pool! None of us adults carried a swim-wear which was mandatory to step into the pool (not to mention our immense water-talents, the adeptness with which we can walk in the waters unlike the tiny swimmers in the group, will make you want to forget what it is to swim:)

The breakfast this time had a little Kerala in it – the famous ‘steamed bananas’! We all ate ‘shamelessly’. Really. It was a part of our stay package and decided to make the most of it!! There was another important item on the agenda for Day 2. We had to make arrangements for the birthday celebration of 2 people in the group, one, a lady soon-to-be-married (on the same day), and another was for 4-year-old honey-bee Harish (the following day). We decided to celebrate both together on Sunday night as we had to check-out of the resort the following noon.

Soon after breakfast, a couple of us went out hunting for a good bakery that could bake a birthday cake by evening and found one. We placed an order for the cake, promising to collect at around 4.00 in the evening, and joined the others at the resort in 30 minutes.

Then off we went to the Tribal Village at Thekkady. We were hopeful of seeing a handful of ‘adhivasis’ and we did meet them. Only that they have turned modern:) A very good thing. So modern that we saw a Sun Direct dish on a thatched roof!! We would have nearly walked around 6 kms to and fro and again the kids did well! JC, the honey-bee’s mom somehow kept him distracted and ensured that he too walked the stretch.. Which is quite a task for a 4-year-old!

The guide was a friendly chap, a tribal himself in modern attire, educated, led us through the village, the wild flora (no fauna barring the buffalo basking in a murky pond under the sun and some birds), their huts built of bamboo and straw, and an elaborate account of the customs followed by the tribal. Each ‘house’ has another separate room attached for the women who stay isolated for 7 days during the ‘female-blues’! Why this national obsession with a woman’s menstrual cycle is something I’ve never been able to figure out! A casual question to the women on how the men of their tribe treat them was answered with a sigh, a groan and oh-these-men! reaction:) That by the way is a universal phenomenon isn’t it?:)) The dwellers here, farm, make bamboo/straw crafts, work in plantations, sell produce from their village etc for a living.

It appears that there are 7 tribal leaders who are the Panchayat equivalents. They decide on the right/wrong of the ‘tribal-affairs’. A man or a women cannot marry for 3 years if the spouse dies. They re-marry after the completion of 3 years during the tribal festival (which is once a year). Like the Egyptian mummies, they bury food, ornaments, clothes etc along with the dead- presumably for use during the life after death! The tenements, which were once in the deep jungles, have now moved more closer to the town. A tiger strays into their dwelling once in a while (not sure how true it is. maybe, maybe not!). At this, Vyas, the Tenali of our house, became very alert and there started a series of questions on tiger trails, the verification of tigers count, and how many of the1411 tigers were in this reserve etc. He found relief when the guide told him that the animal is virtually powerless in a human habitat and an encounter at that moment will not be very eventful!!

The government has provided a lot of aid to these people by way of school, occupation, basic housing/sanitation facility etc.. The modern-tribal women, clad mostly in nighties, posed for photographs and requested for a copy to be sent. The address is waiting in my hand bag for we are yet to print the hard copies. A lot of huffs and puffs and jackfruits-seeing later, we headed back to the dhaba for a packed meal! It was awesome.

After lunch, about 7 of us from the group took the local share-autos to check for boating tickets as we were told that KTDC issues only 2 tickets per person and that you need to fill-in a form with your name, address etc. These stringent measures is following the mishap last year at the lake. On reaching the forest check-post, we were told that the boating was full. We retreated to the resort and on our way back, booked tickets for a Kalari show at 6.00 PM that evening close to the resort.

It was around 3.30 PM and few caught up on some lost sleep. At 4.00, I left the kids at the pool and went out with another friend to fetch the cake, while another one watched over the kids. Off we went to fetch the cake, balloons, chocolates, candles, thread, and gifts and were back at 5.00. The elves were still soaking in the cool waters and making merry. After they showered and dressed, we all had tea/bournvita and waited for the others to join. The balloons were blown and kept ready in one of the rooms (It was supposed to be a secret and Vyas has a reputation for keeping it well! To him, a secret is something that can be shared in whispers or into someone’s ears just loud enough for anyone within 10 mts to hear!). And then we scooted to the Kalaripayattu show.

It was a wonderful show of martial arts using a sword and shield, free -hand, a long and short stick (thadi). All was well till a performer lit two ends of a stick wound in kerosene-doused cloth and lit them. He stored some of this fuel in his mouth and as he was wielding the stick he blowed some kerosene from his mouth sending up a ball of fire. ‘That is it!’ decided our man Vyas. And yelled, “What an idiotic stunt is this!”. Fortunately or unfortunately, the crowd did not hear him as they were too absorbed to notice. He was virtually in tears and had his palms covering his ears. “Ma, take me out of here. I don’t to watch this silly show”.  I tried convincing him that these were only stunts like the ones he saw on movies and the performers are trained well and nothing will happen. Just then, two fire rings were brought in and he knew a guy was going to jump through the ring. He got up from the seat saying the folks must be stupid to do something so silly and risk their lives for a show and I had to take him out. I felt it was not the time to tell him how wrong it is to call people silly, stupid or idiotic and let it go. He was scared out of his wits and was almost crying. I would have failed to make a point. Besides, something inside me felt he was right…

It had rained outside when we were watching the show, and the evening was beautifully chill. There wasn’t a single stagnate pool of water anywhere on the road. The earth had soaked up every drop of rain! We all gathered at the resort 15 minutes later, and celebrated the ‘twin birthday’. The cake under a lamp-shade in the courtyard with an open roof on top, surrounded by our rooms, was kinda romantic:) The birthday girl and the birthday boy cut the cake together, fed each other a piece and there was lot of chasing to smudge the icing on the b’day girl’s face. The cakes and starters served as appetizers. We were ravenous and headed-out to another dhaba we had discovered on our way to the bakery. Had a decent dinner, but the lassi was pathetic! No regrets though!

We all crashed and maybe snored after cleaning -up and packaging our baggage as it was a long day ahead. The alarm was set for 4.00 AM the following morning. We had to tick that one item on our agenda!! And that can wait for the next post! Till then, here are some pics from day-2..

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