Paris and Lucerne – Roti aur makaan (food and stay) ;)- Part 5

Part 1- Don’t underestimate the power of Schengen Visa Officers.
Part 2- To go or not to go? That is the question.
Part 3 –Poguma, pogadha?
Part 4 –Inside scoops 🙂

Food was not on top of our agenda and I don’t remember a single day/place where we took a long time to decide and place an order. We stuck to vegetarian food mostly except once or twice where a couple of them found non-veg options to their liking. This probably was the first time in a group trip where every single day, every single meal was wiped clean off our plates except one day where we were left with extra food because the restaurant folks misunderstood and delivered a double-order for a couple of dishes. Not a morsel was wasted otherwise. Wasting is already bad. We’d be wasting in Euros there!!

Coming to some of our stay experiences, I already told you all, in great detail, on our budget stay in Paris and how awesome the breakfast was. There was also an awesome waitress there who, no matter what the question was, answered with ‘oui’ and ‘merci’. According to her, 3 times 6, 5 times 6, 11 times 6, everything added up to 50 Euros. I gave up trying to explain that 11 of us had breakfast and that I’d given only 50 and that I need to give her more. She wouldn’t listen. Typing the question or the explanation in a translate app and showing it to her still didn’t convince her. She insisted on accepting only 50. I gave up and assumed she was in a mood to give us a discount. The next day, the moment we entered, she promptly put us on to another person who could speak English! And therefore no more discounts 🙂

In another instance, at a restaurant where we’d ordered pizzas, we also tried ordering some French fries. Apparently French fries are called so only in India and not in France. I’m not sure. This reminded me of the movie Queen where Kangana Raunat tells her roomies that French toast is available only in India. So, we cut the ‘French’ from the fries and went with just ‘fries’. No luck. All actions, pointing at some pictures stuck on their counter, still elicited some long drawn responses from the restaurant folks. It seemed like the fries came with some specific food combo and not ‘standalone’. I quickly showed an image from Google with just the fries in it, and asked if only that will be available. Somehow, after 10-12 minutes of dance-drama, we got the point across and were served super hot and yum fries along with our pizzas.

The stay in Lucern was by far the best. The Easy Living apartment was clean and spacious, stocked with the fluffiest of pillows and mattresses. The local bus stop was just around the bend, a 2 min walk, with a bus every 2 minutes, and a bus No.2 taking us to the Lucern ‘Bahnhof’-the railway station. The whole town (and the rest of the places we visited in Swiss) looked like a picture sketch- PERFECT!

Of the two times we had ‘Indian’ food on the entire trip, the first was in the Kanchi Indian Restaurant at Lucern. It looked inviting but was over-priced by any standards. We put together a quick breakfast of sandwich or cereals, and cooked the dinner ourselves every night that we were here. On a couple of nights, it was pasta for dinner and on a couple others, we stir-fried some fresh veggies, and wrapped them up in store-bought semi-cooked tortillas. We also had some of the best flavoured yogurts when here! The Lucern station had one or the other vendor giving away free sample food or drink every day. It was fun to shamelessly seek out and get that fruit yogurt, the flavored oatmeal, that fruit drink, some random snack 🙂 The best ‘food’ on this trip was however the piping hot veg samosas and equally hot ginger tea at the Rhine river, near the Swiss-German border. The owner of this food joint was a Gujarati and the taste was as authentic as Gujju food can get!

The folks at all the travel-desks understood English and were the most courteous. Train travel here was like no other. Huge windows, comfortable seating, scenic routes. The regular trains were like panoramic trains and some even had play area for children, complete with a slide inside!  It was in this leg of the trip where most on our group wouldn’t have minded losing our passports 😉 Every minute awake was a feast to the eyes.

Our next leg was Italy. More on food and stay in this beautiful country, in the next post!

*Poguma, pogadha.. (Part 3)

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

Part 1- Don’t underestimate the power of Schengen Visa Officers.
Part 2- To go or not to go? That is the question.

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.  They are like synonyms – two different words, but the same meaning 😉 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!


“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!

To go or not to go? That is the question. Visa officers answered!

Part 1- Don’t underestimate the power of Schengen Visa Officers.

This trip was in the talks for almost 3-4 years. It was meant to happen this year. And how!!

We came up with a mini agenda for the trip that went thus:

  • finalize countries
  • budget the trip
  • decide the possible dates
  • book the tickets
  • book the stay
  • get the visas
  • finalize the itinerary
  • fly

We arrived at the dates that would more or less work for everyone without conflicting with work priorities and on the home front. After analyzing the pricing across different airlines and routes, we picked Emirates, and booked our tickets. Confirmed tickets and stay bookings are a part of the mandatory travel proofs for tourist visa processing. Most sites we researched suggested that we even book the internal travel. We had 2-3 itineraries and didn’t want to risk booking internal tickets and incur cancellation losses. We decided to do it after procuring the visa.

After buying the tickets, we booked our stays in all the intended cities through and picked the cheapest ones lest they charge payment to the credit card. Yes, they collect the card information at the time of booking including the cvv number. While airbnb had awesome options for a smaller group, showed more options for a larger group. All our stays allowed free cancellation until the intended day of check-in barring one where free cancellation was allowed until 4 days before the check-in date. Items 1 to 5 on the agenda- a big tick!

With the air tickets and stay bookings out of the way, we started processing our visas. We assumed this to be just another formality and that it would be a cake walk. A few of us who have traveled abroad on work had until now not encountered any hassles with visa approvals. We however were aware of instances where the visas were delayed and when they finally arrived, it would be too late and the people abandoned the travel plan. We were advised to apply in Italy as France had supposedly upped their scrutiny ever since the terror attacks. Quite understandable. But we didn’t want to apply in Italy because a few colleagues who’d earlier applied there, were summoned to the Mumbai center for a personal interview. Dragging a 11-member battalion to Mumbai would be a trip in itself and the prospect didn’t seem appealing. We decided to apply in Switzerland instead. And we did. And waited. And were quite composed. As we waited, a few of us regrouped every 2 or 3 days or discussed over lunch and finalized the detailed itinerary. And then they came. The visas. In instalments. Over 4 torturous weeks :/ With the first rejection that came within a week of applying, our plans came crashing down and things were in a limbo. Nothing progressed the next 3 weeks and wtih more rejections coming, we abandoned the plan. We were holding back on cancelling the air tickets or stay bookings as the cancellation charges were the same till the last day before the travel date. Hope is a good thing, after all!

Img credit: Google

At this point, our dejection turned into angst directed at the visa process and the officers. The nature of rejections were absolutely random. All had sufficient and more bank balance to show. All had consistent salaries and payslips and ITR returns to prove. We had the necessary leave sanction from the work place and NOCs obtained from the schools for the 3 teenaged children. We had confirmed air tickets and confirmed stay bookings. The reasons of course were either lack of means of subsistence or lack of proof of return! I mean, really?!! All our covering letters had all our names and passport details listed as co-travellers and we explicitly stated that it was a group travel. So instead of giving up without a fight, we thought we should still try and NOT go even if the visas are through the next time 🙂 Watching too many cinemas or soaps can do this to you. You lose the faculty to rationalize that the loss will still be yours if you don’t go. Monetarily, mentally, philosophically 🙂

A lot of discussions on Quora and Tripadvisor weren’t giving any favorable leanings towards re-applying. A few Schengen visa myths we busted:
1. Some suggested we apply in the same country.
2. Yet others suggested applying in a different Schengen state.
3. A few dissuaded from re-applying.
4. A few agents we casually spoke to said that usually rejected visas will be rejected again.
5. A few said that the visas will be granted if we apply after a gap of 6 months.
6. Many suggested doing it ONLY through agents.

None of the above suggestions hold water. It is random free advice.

And then, there were a very few threads that said we can reapply anytime, but with more documentation that supports the reasons cited in the first rejection. This was random good advice. What do they say about you wanting to hear/listen/infer/discern ONLY what you want from what is said or read? Yes, so we scooped out only those countable number of conversations that sounded encouraging. Even otherwise, how will we know if we don’t try, right? Yes, we are unrelenting like that. So after many days of going back and forth and ditching the sour-tour, we gave the process a phoenix-like quality, and decidedly stayed positive. All extra documentations were pooled together and once again appointments were fixed, submitted, and then the next round of waiting began.

In less than 5 days, 5 of the 6 visas came through and again one was rejected on grounds of lack of proof of return. With about two weeks time, we had to give it one more go. We didn’t know what possible risks a third application entailed. We didn’t have it in us to leave one person and go, especially because she was the one instrumental in getting the others to re-apply. She however kept insisting that we should all go ahead without her. Yes, we will, but not without giving it another try and we still had a little over 2 weeks. This time, we gave a covering letter, a collective representation from all the rest of us with visas. And also an additional proof of her return- the marathon registration which I’d mentioned in my previous post. And what do you know! She got it on the 9th day as there were 4 holidays in between! We had exactly 7 days for our flight.

A couple of us did a night-out that Friday. Booked all the internal travels, passes, discount cards. Re-booked some of the stays in an attempt to bring down the stay costs, with better proximity, and with better safety. We ‘travefy-ied our day–by-day itinerary and also Google-trip-ed, offline-ed some maps, and also some tours. Items 6 and 7 on the agenda- another big tick! Our trip was ON!!!!

We have large hearts. We decided to forgive the Schengen Visa officers. We decided to forgive the processes. We forgave the eye-rolling, smirking reactions of the VFS folks. We decided to make a stately visit to the Schengen states. We are not only relentless, but also magnanimous like that!

Next post- Poguma, pogadha? – An eventful start to our journey!

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, strike that. 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 receipt 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 of 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 submitting 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 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!

Part 2- To go or not to go.
Part 3- Poguma, pogadha?

This, that & Chikmagalur

Have spent a lot of time wondering if I’d really hit a writer’s block. Or if I was running out of stories to tell, or tidbits to share. Or if life had become less eventful, or if I have been really that busy. Well, turns out that I have been a bit blog-lazy.

Well, trying to break out of the slumber with a few updates:

My boys turned 11 and 4 this summer. Vyas had his Upanayanam last month. Thoroughly enjoyed all the festivities surrounding this event, with most of the near and dear ones attending. Vyas had agreed to get it done and seemed to enjoy the attention.Looked like a painting of Vamana avatar:) He was a little irritable at the way his dhoti was tightly wound, making it difficult for him to sit, and the garland had some tiny twigs that kept pricking him. During the entire event, I caught sight of Varun twice. Several people, and several things kept him busy. Good for me.

Varun transitioned to L.K.G and is convinced that he really is a big boy, what with uniform and all that. Was more than excited the first two days and woke up before the rest of the household did. On day three, he woke up and wondered if kids really went to school every day, and why he had no holidays, followed by a major show-down. So much for being a beeeeg boy. We counseled him for like 38 hours about how he had attended just two days, and there was another 200 days to go! Phew! So, every work-day evening, I’ve set up a reminder on my mobile to remind the fellow that the next day is a working day too and how he has to wake up with a happy face and go to school still sporting a happy face. Our Mondays now begin with a count-down for the weekend to follow!

Vyas seems to have grown a bit wider and so has his mouth, though a few assure me that he has also grown an inch taller. Well, haven’t bothered to measure. He is thoroughly enjoying dragging his dad into doing Sandhyavandhanam every day. The sonny and I do a secret high-five before and after the task. Evil we ARE.

A trip to Chikmagalur with my friends was another awesome thing to happen this summer. If you are planning a trip, you must give Eagle Eye Holidays resort a try. It is 50kms off Chikmagalur town with very little human presence other than the resort folks and those visiting. A welcome thing. The food served there was nothing great, but just good enough. It was great hiking up the Mullayanagiri peak, and trekking our way down and up through a winding path to Jerry Falls, another trek to a view point from the resort- the other side of Bhadra reserve, and a plantation walk.. The campfire with barbeque and mindless dancing on all the 3 nights we stayed there was enjoyable..

The best experience however was that of taking an open jeep ride to the Bhadra reserve for a safari. Just as we hit the forest entrance, the skies opened up and it poured like there was no tomorrow! We were a group of 11 women and 9 kids. We took shelter in the verandah of what looked like a guest-house. The rains showed no signs of relenting even after an hour of waiting it out. It was already 5 in the evening and a forest guide dissuaded us from proceeding because the animals would have receded and also because it was an open jeep and as it continued to pour heavily, there was no way we could take the kids inside. We decided to head back to the resort and so tied a tarpaulin over the open side in the jeep. We managed to pack 4 small kids on to an adult’s lap in the front which had cover. Despite the tarpaulin cover, the water was seeping in and it was chill. Two from the gang were thoroughly drenched. I’d give anything to experience the jeep ride again!

While I go back and retrieve more stories, here are some pics from the trip. Also, let me know what you all have been up to. I don’t know what you did last summer 😉

One of those days when I wished I could fly too….

A corner near the reception desk in my office looks like this a day before a long weekend. Most birds (free birds) are scooting home for the Pongal holidays and I so wish to pack my bags and fly. And this is just one corner in a block. There are few others with more number of back-packs!! Disadvantage of having all your folks in the same city:(


Happy Shankaranthi/Pongal People!

Signing off with a pic of Pongal nearing the ‘ponging’ stage last season:)


Parenting gyan in a bus

Another of those ‘bus-conversations’ that I cannot resist posting here:)

This time a mommy instructing her daddy not to take her child to a birthday party. Ahem, and the party was in her S-I-L’s place.. I did not bother to find out if it was her hubby’s sis or or brother’s wife:-) Nosy, I know! But when people talk for the world to listen in to their parenting skills, I think there is no harm in contributing an idea or two!

So, our lady reasoned that the child (referred to through out the conversation as ‘adhu’ or ‘idhu’, the reason why I could not make out if it was a sad son or a deprived daughter), might end up eating chocolates, chips, cakes or pastries, or maybe even some fruit juice. So what snacks does one other-wise arrange for birthday parties? Tell me something other than veg sandwich and french fries please because the child cannot have these items too. The butter/cheese/veg/sauce filling is hazardous to the child’s health..

At which point, am assuming the grandpa on the other end was all empathy for the grand-child and seems to have mentioned there was dinner too and maybe he offered to take care to see that the child does not have any of these other than dinner. Rearing two brats at home, I know how hard it is to hold back a child from going to a b’day party (or from hosting one )if they already know its happening! And they have a blast! I’m restrictive too- chocolates, pastries, chips are not a part of everyday meal. No Lays chips, no Bingo/dingo, no cream biscuits. The regular variety of chips/wafers, chaat, tandoori, anything home-made, hotel-cooked is fine for me. Weekends, parties, when we have visitors, during travel – are all occasions to indulge… How can you deprive your child what every other child the world over loves and has? Well, I digress!

The biggest gyan was yet to come: “No dinner please. Am sure they’ll have a biryani and curd-rice and more chips. “adhu” cannot have curd rice because “adhu” can catch cold!” Give me a break!!

The grandpa made the mistake of saying ‘paavam kozhandai’ on the other end and there ensued a macro lecture that lasted a full 4 minutes. I’ll just give you the gist: “Paavam (sympathy)” will do no good. And she would go home and make ‘koottu (some dhal with veg- hopefully)’ and rasam and feed the child. Amending her ‘parenting’ style is not an option it seems!! Shabbbaa! ‘Paavam thatha and ‘adhu’, is all I can say!!


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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Its the journey, not the destination

Yet another magalir mattum (only-women) plus kiddos trip, this time to Thekkady. This time around, it was a coffee-toffee decision unlike the carefree Yelagiri trip. Should I join this time or not? If I do, will Varun go with me or stay behind? I know some mommies out there are ready to throw your daggers at me! Confining Varun to a couple of seats in the train, carrying him for the most part of the trip besides the travel bag, the fear of losing him in a crowd, the power to hold him back when he sees a lake or pool etc, were a few factors that I had to consider. The daddy pitched in here helping me make the decision. He thought the trip would do me good and so I should go with Vyas, and he, with the grandparents, would take care of Varun.

And so, Vyas and I joined my friends on this wonderful trip to Thekkady without Varun, my first stay away from the little one. I’m told, he was fantastic; ate, played, and slept without a fuss! Though I felt a little relieved, there was another side that was disappointed! My baby did not miss me? Felt like leaving for work the first day post the maternity break:) And counseled myself with – ‘No one is indispensable. Face it. You could stay away from your baby and so could he! Move on!’

The bookings were made nearly a couple of months back and none of us were sure if we will make it owing to official and personal priorities. Being a holiday season, we did not risk postponing the booking. We decided to cancel a couple of days before the journey date in case there is huge drop-out. A couple of friends dropped out at the last minute owing to sickness. Finally, we were 8 women and 6 kids (aged 11, 9, 8, 6, 5, and 4!) on the trip and a very fulfilling one at that!

We alighted at Dindugul junction and headed to Kumbakarai water falls. The original plan was to hit Suruli falls but dropped it as a friend who had visited a week earlier told that there wasn’t much water. Kumbakarai was a superb experience. What looked like a light fall from a distance, came with a huge thud on us. The kids got to take one more loooong dip at a stream leading to the fall. As it was shallow and safe, there was a lot of splashing and screaming!


After nearly an hour and a half at Kumbakarai, we were back on the road to Thekkady. The road was one long silk ribbon with a view of the Kodai hills at a distance.

Kodai Road
On our way to Thekkady
On our way to Thekkady
On our way to Thekkady

We reached the resort at 10.15 AM on a Saturday morning, parked our luggage, and had a sumptuous breakfast. A tad disappointed at the menu as there was nothing ‘Kerala’ in the breakfast menu:). Half-an-hour later, the kids were at the pool for yet another round of splashing and swimming. We had a hard time yanking them out of the pool:)

At the pool
At the pool
At the pool
At the pool

After refreshing, we visited a spice plantation at Kumily and the experience was enriching. Despite the hot afternoon, the kids walked without sulking. Vyas had to make a scrapbook of leaves collected over a nature walk as part of his holiday homework. This visit was a blessing and we collected the leaves from a few spice plants. There was this unique plantain tree in which the plantain flower and the plantains grow upwards, facing the sky! See this beauty!

At the spice plantation
At the spice plantation

There was another flower that resembled a golden fish! Here is the pic!

The fish-like flower
The fish-like flower

The lunch following the plantation visit was a disaster. We should have done at least a 10 minutes research instead of trusting the driver’s suggestion! Happens! Again, the kids did not fuss. We proceeded straight to the elephant ride. A few of us stayed back while most of the group hopped on to the elephant and took a 30 minutes ride into another plantation (there are quite a few plantations in Kumily-Thekkady). We were in time to catch the sight of an elephant being bathed.

Elephant ride
Elephant ride
Elephant bath
Elephant bath

We were back at the resort by 4.30. After some sandwiches, coffee and tea, we went to a Kathakali show where an artist enacted the ‘navarasas’, the nine different emotions expressed using the eyes. This was followed by two artists performing an episode from ‘Narakasuravadham’, depicting the killing of Nakrathudi, the demon (sister of Narakasura) by King Jayantha. The overall quality of the performance was okay only that Vyas jumped out of his skin towards the end when the slain demon really looked and bellowed like one!

Kathakali- Narakasuravadham
Kathakali- Narakasuravadham
Kathakali- Narakasuravadham

We discovered a nice Gujrathi/Marwadi dhaba just two blocks away from our resort and compensated for the poor lunch. Despite the splitting headache, we managed to gobble up hot panneer parathas, phulkas, yummy curries and lassi!

This was Day 1 of our rendezvous. More to follow!

Day 2
Day 3

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