Tag Archives: travel

Devbagh

We’ve been to Devbagh a few times already, so we knew exactly what to expect on this trip… or so we thought. You know it’s never that simple, right?

We reached the bus stop with about 5 minutes to spare. By our standards, that’s about 20 minutes late. It was past the kids’ bedtime and the commute to the bus stop had involved auto-hopping interspersed with short(ish) walks, so the kids were end-tethered by the time we reached. (By the way, I hadn’t realized that autos in Bangalore had become so completely unusable. It’s not like they go where you want them to; it’s more like a bus – if it’s going in roughly the direction you want, you hop on; then you reach the farthest common point and get off and look for another fellow willing to go in roughly the direction you want. And as for charging by the meter – forget it!  Arrrrrrrrgh! Thank god I very rarely have to use a $&%(*#@$ auto nowadays.)

The bus was supposed to start at 9 p.m., so obviously it got rolling only around 10. Meanwhile I took two grumpy girls to the toilet (in the bus operator’s office, thankfully; the option was, of course, by the side of the road) and tried my best to get them to sleep. It’s been an extremely long time since either of us (adults) went by sleeper bus and we’d seriously overestimated the size of the berths. Each berth is so narrow that only a reasonable sized person can fit and then only if they lie ramrod straight without bending limb or hair. And two adults would have to lie so close together on adjacent berths that being side-by-side with anyone other than your normal sleeping partner would be unthinkable! I’d thought that since we had two berths side-by-side, all four of us would squeeze in somehow, but I was wrong. Amit could have occupied a double berth on his own and still all his appendages would have been squashed into strange shapes and places; and the kids and I would have been approximately comfortable with a double berth to ourselves. In other words, we had to make do with exactly half the minimum space we really needed. We made do – I and the girls put our heads on the plastic “pillows,”, while Amit turned himself upside down and put his head where my feet were. This way, he had to contend with my smelly feet in his face, while I had to struggle to snake my legs through a tangle of kids’ limbs and straps from the camera bag that lay at the foot of my allocated space, and then try to avoid kicking him in the face. The girls’ feet were also ideally poised to kick him… where it hurts the most… but that’s the price of being a father anyway.

Kids, mercifully, can sleep through anything, so at least they got a good night’s sleep. Amit stuck his endless legs out of the berth and rested them on something that covered either the engine (rear-mounted; we were right at the back of the bus) or the air-con unit of the bus – it was hot like an oven! Mrini sweated with her head next to this box, while Tara and I curled up under the sheet with the air-con blasting on top of us.

In short, it was “interesting”.

It became more interesting as the drive progressed. At some point at night, we started on the ghats section of the drive. As the driver threw his vehicle around every curve, we fishtailed around in the back like flies on the tail of some really angry whale. By 6 a.m. we were all awake. The ghats were lush and green outside the window, but inside, Tara was the first to feel the effects of the drive. Empty-stomach as we were, the effects were limited, but she was a sorry sight all the same. Thankfully, we stopped for breakfast soon after. None of us ate, but we used the toilet “facilities” (5 bucks a go and nothing to show for it!). Soon after we got back in the bus, despite my efforts at distracting them with a story, Tara was back to feeling sick. Much to my surprise, I ended up retching as well! This never happens to me! Mrini was fine until the last ten minutes of the drive – then we were greeted with the spectacle of both girls retching simultaneously into the same plastic bag! Not the prettiest of sights…

And in all this, Amit, the one who can be counted on to be sick in any sort of long drive, was completely unaffected!

Once we got off the bus, things were better. We all had a hearty breakfast (though at first the sight of food still made Tara sick, but she recovered soon enough) at the usual place. I was a little worried about the impact the impending boat ride would have on our nicely-fed bellies, but the good thing about boats of this type is that you can be sick over the side and nobody has to clean up! (And what is a little puke compared to the vast quantities of oil (and waste) that we humans regularly pump into the sea?)

Amit went to locate the JLR office – it was in a slightly different location than it had been on our last few times. He found out that the houseboat would only arrive at 11.30. I had, as usual, been quite irresponsible while doing the booking and had completely ignored the need for vital information, happy with my own assumptions about what the houseboat would be like. We went back to the office after breakfast and found out a little more about the houseboat. It would collect us at 11.30 and take us 25 km out to sea. The next day it would bring us back. Not quite what I’d expected – I’d expected something moored a stone’s throw offshore, so that we could come and go as we pleased. I’d thought we’d linger on the beach during the day, have our meals in the Gol Ghar (in this instance, it refers to their dining room) and retire to the houseboat for the night. Being stuck on it for 24 hours 25 km out at sea with 2 little kids and nothing to do suddenly didn’t look like such a good idea. When they offered to swap our houseboat reservation for a cottage on the island, we jumped at it. What – give the kids an opportunity to drown themselves in the sea or cover themselves in sand? Sand, obviously. As long as they can get themselves dirty, kids are happy! And on the beach, at least we don’t have to worry about them falling into the sea!

And so, around 10.30, after an uneventful 20-minute crossing by a small motorboat, we were on the island, walking through the pine trees to the cottages.

Wait – pine trees? Here? I’ve always wondered about this – the trees do look like conifers, they come complete with thousands of needles, peeling bark, and tiny, really minuscule pine cones. So they must be pine trees, even though I always thought pine trees were to be found only in high latitudes or altitudes. They lend a very soft and romantic atmosphere to the island, providing plenty of shade, with sunlight filtering through, the ground covered in a thick layer of dry, brown needles, yet never the dense suffocation of thick, dark, heavy trees and a lot of undergrowth.
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One-and-a-half days passed pleasantly enough. The kids, on Mrini’s suggestion, had brought their sand toys. (She heard “beach” and I asked Amit what toys we should carry for them, and she had the answer. How she even knew, considering the last time she saw a beach was Lakshadweep a year-and-a-half ago, I don’t know, but she had absolutely the right idea.) They spent ages cooking up stuff with sand, pine needles, and sand toy utensils, and getting themselves – and, by extension, us – covered in sand in the process. Then they upturned some moulded plastic beach beds and used them as slides. We downed a bottle of beer. Everyone retired to the air-conditioned comfort of the cottage for the afternoon, and in the evening, we went out on to the beach again, to entice the kids into the water. Mrini was game for a bit of experimenting, though she ran away whenever the water touched her feet; Tara (typically?) watched from a safe distance, with a skeptical expression, and reverted to playing in the sand. Amit and I took turns in the water for about 15 minutes each. By this time it was almost 7, so I decided to walk back to the cottage with the kids and get the three of us cleaned up, leaving Amit to enjoy the water for a few minutes longer.

Excellent plan, but for the dog.

Last time we were at Devbagh, there were no dogs. But then, there were no houseboats either. Given that houseboats have been on offer for three years, or so we were told, it must have been more than three years since our last visit. Time enough for the dogs to arrive.

I’d walked a fair distance towards the cottage when I heard Amit shouting. I turned around just in time to see a dog grab his clothes from the beach towel and make off at top speed. I dropped everything and gave chase – but running across a sandy beach clad in a wet swimsuit is not really my thing. Actually, let me be honest – running is not my thing; the rest of it is very ok. Anyway, the dog, encouraged by his pack of friends and allies, made straight for the woods and was gone long before I got within anything more than shouting distance.

It was Amit’s turn. Like a cross between Venus rising from the sea and a dripping wet Tarzan the Ape Man, he followed the dog into the trees at an impressive sprint. He had kept a very precious mobile phone in the pocket of his shorts; losing it was not an option.

Luckily, the dog had only made off with his T-shirt. True, it was a Nike T-shirt, but it was one Roger (Federer, must I add?) had sported a couple of years ago, so it was definitely time for an upgrade to the current season’s look. And at any rate, the mobile phone was safe.

The next day passed in an equally relaxed way, though we had to vacate our comfy cottage in exchange for a tattered tent with no attached toilet. We’d reserved the cottage for one night, and the second half day package included lunch, a tent, and a common toilet. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t too bad. The beach was just as good. We went for a long walk in the morning before breakfast. The tide was out, so there was an immense flat area that had been underwater but now was only slightly wet. We went out onto the large, flat area and watched fishermen extract fish from their nets before casting the nets in the water and pulling them out again. Mrini and Tara were brave enough to pick up a couple of fishes by the tail – which was more than I could do!

By the time we started to walk back, the water had crept in behind us, and we had to wade in upto mid-thigh level to reach the beach. It was mid-stomach level for the kids. Tara was a little worried by it, but Mrini walked through it happily, holding Amit’s hand and asking for more!

After breakfast, Amit went for a full-body massage, while I kept an eye on the kids. After another bottle of beer was finished, I washed the kids’ hair under an open, outdoor shower. They had their swimsuits on, so it was quite decent and well worth a video. It was the first time ever that they actually enjoyed a shower.

Around 5 p.m., we took the boat back to mainland and then shared an auto for the short ride down the highway to Karwar town. This was when things started to get really interesting.

First, it turned out that our bus back to Bangalore started back not at 8 pm. as I’d been led to expect by the information on the website, but at 10 p.m. So now being 6 p.m., we had a whole four hours to kill, with two little kids in tow. Somewhat to Amit’s disappointment, I insisted that we find a room. Keeping the girls up that much past their bedtime just didn’t seem like a good idea to me. So we found a crummy room with a fan that gave no air, a grainy TV, grimy walls, and clean but torn bedsheets, where we camped for the rest of the evening. The kids jumped on the beds, we browsed TV, we all went out for an early dinner, and then the kids fell asleep, we read, and outside the half-open window, a deluge started.

It was still raining when we left the room at 9.40. Amit waited to get some refund from reception, while I went on ahead (with some vague idea of holding the bus, should it show any inclination to make a timely start). We got wet, the sleeping kids got wet, and, in the pitch darkness, we kind of lost our way. Luckily, though, Amit caught up with me, because I was beginning to feel jittery out there in the dark on my own – Karwar is the kind of town that is shut up tight by 9 p.m.

It was 10.00 p.m. Amit called the bus shop – the bus would leave in 5 minutes. “Yes, ok, hold on, we’re on our way,” said Amit, being desperately polite, “by the way, just where exactly did you say the bus would be?”

A couple of minutes later, we saw it. With a mixture of rain and sweat pouring down us, we climbed on board to find…

…that our seats were…

Taken.

Very firmly occupied, by a fat old couple who claimed to be senior citizens incapable of sleeping on the upper bunk.

It took half an hour and a good deal of screaming on my part to get the situation sorted out. The fat old couple remained as firmly seated as though they’d grown roots, so an unfortunate young couple were unceremoniously evicted from their berths and moved to an upper berth, so that we could get a lower berth. At last, frustrated, steaming, sweating, swearing, and trying to soothe two sleepy children we crammed ourselves into our double berth and the bus started rolling.

The bus was supposed to reach Bangalore by 8 a.m. – but the two hour delay in its starting time, the half hour hiatus as we fought for our seats, and the inevitable puncture stop along with the tyre-repair stop combined to ensure that at 8 a.m. we were not anywhere close to Bangalore. For the next three hours, we sat and counted the minutes and fretted and sweated as we crawled into the city and then crawled through the traffic around Yeshwanthpur and all the way to Windsor Manor.

We were both worried because it was 11 a.m. on a Monday morning and we had lots and lots of WORK to do! And now that we were so extremely late, we still had the onerous tasks of getting the kids ready for daycare, getting some lunch organized for them, getting ourselves cleaned up, and somehow getting to office, before lunch if possible. In the end, I managed it all and even managed to send out the documents in time for the end-of-day release… but I would have been happier with those three hours in hand.

And the kids? Were wonderful! They sat five long hours in the sleeper bus after they woke up. They talked, they sang, they got bored, sucked their thumbs and threatened to fall asleep, demanded food and demanded water, but… they didn’t fuss at all. No whining no fighting no driving us up the window (there wasn’t a wall). When they got home, they straightaway got to “work” with their toys, and, apart from occasionally fingering my laptop, didn’t cause any trouble at all. I dropped them at daycare at 1 p.m. and their teacher there said they ate and slept without any fuss and she’d never have guessed there had been anything different (tiring!) about their day.

I know I’m a disgustingly proud mama, but honestly, tell me: aren’t they just the bestest?

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Gingee

Every time we drive to Pondicherry – which, as you all know, is often – we pass by Gingee Fort. It’s an old, thick wall that runs up to the road on both sides, and a small collection of ruins atop three small, abrupt hills that stand guard over the highway.

When we drove to Pondicherry for the (non)hearing last week, we planned to stop at Gingee on the way back. It was a good idea – after all, this would be the “last time” we went to Pondicherry; we’d be returning full of excitement and a sigh of relief; and we could at least make a small outing of the long weekend we would otherwise be wasting.

As we all know – in great detail – things didn’t turn out quite the way we’d expected and we were returning to Bangalore with all the weight of the mountain of pending documentation to be collected. Our mood was far from jubilant, excited or even relieved. I was inclined to drop Gingee right off the agenda.

And yet… next time would be bang in the midde of the week and that trip promised to be quite a bit more hectic than usual. And who knows… it might even turn out to be the actual “last time” – for real. “Let’s go, anyway,” said Amit. “At least for a short time.”

So when we came to the old wall, halfway between Tindivanam and Thiruvannamalai, we looked for a path to turn off on to. My very cursory research had indicated that the hilltop we wanted to visit would be on the left, but the only path we saw was on our right. We turned off and parked. A long flight of stone steps showed the way to the top. We stepped out of the air-conditioned car and reeled back as the heat assaulted us in no uncertain terms. It was only 10 a.m. Ahead of us, a light-skinned foreigner stepped out of his car and squinted up at the steps, grasping an ice-cold bottle of water for moral support. “One hour,” I heard him ask the taxi driver in a weak voice. A moment later, he was back in his seat and his car was heading back to the highway. Following him pronto seemed like the sensible thing to do.

So we sat down on the old wall and traded our city shoes for a good pair of hiking shoes. We filled a knapsack with water, bread and jam, and more water, and Amit shouldered the camera. And we set off to climb the hot, steep, jumbled, stone steps.

First, we had to buy tickets. Yes, there was a ticket booth here, in the middle of nowhere, and the ticket collector tried his best to charge us foreigner rates. I had to test out my rudimentary Kannada on him to persuade him that we were, in fact, Indian.

If I’d thought that the climb might be too much for the girls, in this heat, I’d have been completely and utterly wrong. They walked up it without stopping, without gasping, without holding hands (well, Tara did; Mrini held Amit’s hand quite firmly), and without any sort of fussing. They were more hardy and willing than I was.

And yet… despite everything, the magic of the place had me in its grasp in a few moments. All of a sudden, I remembered why I had ever wanted to study Archaeology. All of a sudden, I remembered the person I used to be. All of a sudden, time slowed down, and I almost forgot about the documents, the court case, the sweltering heat…

The steps probably took us about 20-25 minutes. At the top were various buildings offering some welcome shade, and nothing much else. The ASI board at the bottom mentioned granaries, wells for oil and ghee, and a temple or two, mostly built around 1200 AD. All of these I saw, clustered fairly close together. It seemed like an incongrous place to store grain, oil, and ghee. Who would want to come all this way up to deposit or extract them? It didn’t seem as if there were any residences here at the top.

I would have loved to lose myself in the place for half a day or so, but reality didn’t quite take a back seat and in a couple of hours we were back in the car and back on the road again. We did pass by a road that looked as though it would lead to the other hilltop, where the other parts of this fort could be seen, but by then there really was no time. This entire expedition would have to be planned for another time. The way things were going, we’d still have several “last time” opportunities to take advantage of.

Cauvery Fishing Camp (Without The ‘Fishing’)

We took the kids to Cauvery Fishing Camp for a quick weekend trip recently. We’d taken them to Doddamakkali a year-and-a-half ago, when they were still too small to have enjoyed it much. This time we went to Bheemeshwari and they really did enjoy themselves.

Bheemeshwari is quite a bit nearer than Doddamakkali. We started around 8 a.m. and after a leisurely drive that included a break for a snack, we reached around noon. The kids played in some rubber rafts that were kept by the water’s edge, and then it was time for lunch. In the early evening, we went for a coracle boat ride. Unlike the usual such boat rides, which just take you around in a small area, this time we actually went downstream for a couple of km, and the water was quite fast. We have been whie-water rafting once, years ago, and this was nothing compared to that, but it wasn’t entirely placid either. There were sizeable waves, one of which swept right into the boat and wet a good part of Amit’s pants. Given that it was soon after the floods in North Karnataka, and that water level in the Cauvery was said to be still quite high – and, in fact, it appeared to be quite high, as we could see trees up to their knees in water, and roots of some of the massive old trees in the camp that we thought used to be above water were now submerged – I’m not sure how wise we were to go on this boat ride; but this was all part of the Jungle Lodges package, and they should know what they’re doing, so we didn’t worry too much about it. Besides, we all had our life jackets on… For whatever that was worth.

There was a jeep waiting to drive us back to the camp, but we decided to walk. They all thought we were crazy, and perhaps we were, but it was a comfortable walk of half an hour or so, and helped the kids work off some of their energy.

The bonfire that evening was very pleasant. It was too warm for a fire, but that didn’t seem to matter. We took a table some distance from the barbecue area, and the twins spent the evening running up and down ferrying food to the table and clearing away the used plates. I was amazed to see them go and ask the servers, coherently, for whatever they wanted. Amit had palpitations whenever the ran past the fire, logs from which jutted out in various directions, but they managed the evening without falling anywhere in the vicinity of the flames.

The next morning, we went for a mini trek. The guide allotted to us was visibly reluctant to lead us up the mountain path with the girls in tow. First he proposed a flat route, then, when I said no, we want to go to the watch tower on top of the hill, he led us a short way, then stopped and pointed up to where the watch tower stood. “Full teep” he said. It did look a formidable climb from there, but, having done it before, I knew it wasn’t that bad. Besides, after all the Himalayan treks we’ve done, I wasn’t going to be scared off a small hill like that, not even with the kids in tow. So we went on up the “full teep” path, holdin the twins hands and egging them on, and the guide took pity on them and led us up a route that eventually joined up with a jeep track and was quite as steep as advertised. We reached the tower in 40 minutes or so, and climbed the wet and slippery metal tower to the top. It was very misty, so we couldn’t see anything worth seeing, but it felt good to have made it that far with the kids. The descent, of course, was somewhat worse, but we made it without incident and were soon back at the camp seated at the breakfast table.

After breakfast, the girls had fun climbing the giant net and tackling the hammocks, and got scared by a monkey whom they rashly invited into the tent ‘for lunch’ and who appeared ready to take them up on their invitation. Then we all bathed and it was time to leave. Mrini kept us entertained during the early part of the car ride home by making up stories based on pictures in the books we keep for them in the car. She was amazingly good at it. She started each story with those hallowed words “once upon a time…” then she introduced some characters, usually monkeys, tigers or other wild animals, then she strung together 6-10 sentences about the characters, then she either trailed off, or ended with the other hallowed words, “happily ever after,” which, as she says it, would be written “happiligili after.” And on that happy note ended our first mini trek outing with our girls.

Traveling with Twins

Traveling with two-year-olds is not easy. Traveling with two of them is no easier… Or at least, it is not much easier. True, they do a lot to keep each other occupied, but two kids also means twice the number of crises in the shape of bumps and falls, tantrums, toileting accidents, and everything else.

Last year, we made several trips with the kids: Once each to Delhi-Chandigarh and Calcutta to visit family, and three or four trips to Pondicherry for their adoption legalities (which, believe it or not, are still under way). On each trip, the kids enjoyed at least some part of the journey, but we also faced some troubles. Still, we bravely (or stupidly?) undertook a trip that was exclusively a holiday – no family, no court case and no reason at all other than our selfish pleasure.

Did the kids enjoy it? Well, at times they did.

Did we enjoy it??? Well… at times… or at least occasionally… hmmmm…. let’s see now…

It started badly, when Tara managed to wet her pants in the Indian style bathroom at the station while waiting for the train to Kochi. Mrini immediately seized the opportunity to run out of the bathroom and on to the platform.

After I had got that situation under control, we boarded the train. It being early evening, the kids were full of energy and did their best to run into other people’s berths or to run out of the coach altogether. Keeping them in check took all my energy (whatever was left after making all those masala dosas, remember?) and when they started fussing about going to sleep, I was end-tethered very quickly and reduced to a screaming wreck.

To make matters worse, no food was served on the train. We ate what was left of the dosas, then I started to dig in to the supply of snacks intended for the cruise, before sleep overtook me.

The next day, in Kochi, when we ventured out to go to the SPORTS office to get our tickets, we found that traffic was off the roads because Sonia Gandhi was visiting. We lugged the poor kids around while we searched for byways that would get us outside the cordoned-off area. By the time we had given it up as a lost cause and gone back to the hotel, her convoy had just passed and the roads were re-opened to traffic. But the kids had been subjected to a lot of foot-soring by then, and for no good reason. Still, after a trip to the toilet, we dragged them out again, and this time we managed to get an auto.

By the time we actually reached the SPORTS office, they were tired and sleepy, almost asleep in fact. Not that that explains why they chose to spend the half-hour there driving me to distraction running around screaming, and touching everything they shouldn’t touch.

When we got back to the vicinity of our hotel, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch. It was your typical “meals ready” type of thali, only, it was so extremely chilli-hot that by the end of it even I was begging for mercy. And I have a fairly high tolerance for chilli. The poor kids ate a few bites, then drank a gallon of water.

Stupidly, I then let them – made them, in fact – fall asleep, without thinking about diapers. With the natural, inevitable consequence. Not only did both of them do oceanic puddles on the bed, Tara, who was snuggled up with Amit managed to thoroughly wet his jeans and underwear as well. Of course, none of the three of them woke up until it was all a cold, soggy mess.

I paid for my stupidity by struggling with a huge load of laundry. The mattresses remained damp the rest of the day, as did the bed-cover. The sheets dried, but had a visible “watermark”. Ugh. That’s one hotel I won’t dare to show my face at again.

Toileting accidents continued to plague us. The first night’s dinner was as horribly hot as the lunch, and probably was the cause of both kids’ mild stomach upsets. The trouble was that on the islands we had access to only a couple of toilets among 150 tourists, and for kids with tummy upsets, that’s simply not enough. Nor were there any bushes for them to decently hide behind.

Moral of the story: use diapers, or don’t go on the sort of holiday where you aren’t guaranteed instant access to the toilet at all times. Ideally, if you have twins, you need access to two toilets, specially once they get tummy upsets.

Luckily their tummies weren’t too bad, and most of the time we could focus on other things. Like, for instance, on the ship, where we were mostly focused on keeping them occupied. In the cabin, there wasn’t a whole lot of room for them to run around and play, so I had to spend a lot of time reading to them. On the deck, the problem was making sure that they stayed on the deck and didn’t roll out between the railings and into the sea below.

Mealtimes, specially dinners, were hectic. We fed the girls before our dinner time was announced, then when it was time for our dinner, we took it in turns to go. Apart from breakfast, Amit and I didn’t eat a single meal together. Normally, at home, dinners are together, and so are weekend lunches.

It wasn’t all bad. The girls didn’t enjoy the boat rides to and from the islands much, but they loved the sandy beaches and were quite happy on the ship as well.

But, it wasn’t the way it would have been had we gone without the kids. (Not that that’s an option any more or will be for, oh, say, the next ten years or so.)

So, all said and done, is traveling with kids worth it? It’s a different answer for every family and maybe even for every journey. So far, from what I’ve seen, all I can say is that it’s better to go, and take the rough with the smooth, than not to go at all. But it doesn’t always seem that way.

A tale of two two-year-olds, two trains, two days

The long train journey was not as bad as I thought it would be. Having said that, it was exhausting.

We left home in the midst of an extreme downpour, at almost 3.30 to catch an almost 4.30 train at Central. I was un-worried, until I noticed that Amit was the don’t-talk-to-me-I’m-focussing-all-my-energy-on-just-getting-there kind of tense. Then, I started to worry. He called 139, only to be told that our train was on schedule. By 4 p.m. We were all holding our breaths, as the station was still several traffic jams away and we weren’t even sure which platform to head for. Our taxi driver told us it would be platform 7, entry 2, and we took his word for it. Luckily, he was bang on, and we reached with 10 minutes in hand. The train hadn’t arrived yet, and what should have been a brief 10 minute wait at the platform turned into an hourlong marathon with the kids running around, screaming, lying down prone on the filthy ground and generally getting into every kind of scrape concievable. They provided endless entertainment for the others waiting there, and endless exercise for us, in addition to stretching our mental alacrity and patience to the utmost.

At last, the train came, and the journey got underway. The kids were as good as could be hoped for, given that it was early evening and therefore their peak activity time. Still, I was happy to find ourselves in Executive class, and with the two seats across the aisle from us vacant to boot, so that the kids could wander around a bit and even get seats for themselves. There was another girl just a little older than them nearby, and soon they had a brisk trade and exchange program for picture books. Aside from several trips each to the bathroom, despite being firmly strapped into diapers, the journey was not too strenuous. What was really taxing was a long wait just outside Chennai station, when everybody was at the end of their tether and just waiting to get off and go home. It was then that Tara started up her plaintive “pottykini” cries, which I had to ignore because the aisle was crowded with passengers waiting to get off. When we did finally get in to the station, I rushed past the toilet, thinking it’d be dirty and that I’d rather she used the toilet in the hotel. Or, better still, her diaper. It became very clear very soon that this was a big mistake. She absolutely would not “go in her pants”, diaper notwithstanding, and she cried the whole way with increasing desperation. I felt absolutely terrible about not being able to get her to a toilet any sooner. But in the end she held out until we reached the hotel, which was a very short walk away from the station.

A very short walk is all very well, but it doesn’t seem so very short at 11 at night, when you’re tired and irritable, it’s pitch dark, you don’t know the way, you’re walking on the sleazy and stinky pavement outside the station watching buses roar past you six inches away, holding two small and fidgety kids, encumbered with various pieces of luggage… And struggling with “pottykini” pleas every step of the way. I can’t say I enjoyed that particular short walk, but for the kids it must have been absolutely traumatic. Once we reached the hotel, got a room, and got the kids settled in, it took them a good 30 minutes to fall asleep.

And the next morning, they were up just after 7, none the worse for wear. We all grabbed a quick breakfast and walked back to the station, an easy walk in the daylight and without any added tension. Our train was waiting for us, we didn’t have any trouble finding our seats and we left punctually at 8.45.

On this leg of the trip, we were traveling AC First class, something I’ve only ever done once before in my life. I have to say, it was definitely worth it, just because in the coupe the kids could move around enough to not get bored to tears. They could spread their toys around, jump, climb, sit, lie down, or look out the window and that kept them happy for most of the journey.

Just outside the coupe was a short corridor that led to another two coupes and to the toilets. The rest of the bogey was AC two tier, and they and the other bogeys were separate from this half bogey.

Having two toilets dedicated for the use of ten passengers (though a few of the staff used these toilets too) is an unimaginable luxury and one that I don’t know how I would have managed without. Almost every time that I took the girls to the toilet, the western style toilet was vacant. It was even usually clean and dry! For quite a while, I think the girls were the only ones using the western style toilet. I have to say that it was extremely taxing taking the girls to the toilet, though. After Tara’s performance the previous evening, I had given up trying to put them in diapers: taking off and putting on the diaper after every trip to the bathroom only added an extra degree of complexity to the entire process, and any additional complexity I could do very well without. Besides, do you have any idea how difficult, cumbersome and ultimately ineffective it is to try and put a diaper on a child who’s standing up? No, the AC First bathrooms don’t have a fold-away baby changing station, at least, not one that I could find.

Just to give you some idea, every toilet trip involved the following steps:

    put on my shoes (slip-ons without socks for the occasion)
    put on the kid’s shoes
    grab the kiddy toilet seat and wipes
    head for the toilet opening and closing two doors on the way before even reaching the toilet door
    unhook the toilet door
    place the toilet seat on the toilet
    drag the girl into the toilet and close and latch the door
    pull down her pants and seat her on the toilet
    steps A-Z above in reverse
    repeat the entire process for the second child!

So yeah, that part of the journey was tiring. But apart from that, it was ok. Amit spent a lot of time looking after the kids and keeping them occupied or entertained, so I got some reading done: To Kill a Mocking Bird, which I’ve read before, but eons ago.

The sad part was that the train food was extremely insipid and almost unpalatable… And there are few public vendors in AC First. But we survived.

The train rolled in to Howrah station fairly punctually, maybe 10-15 minutes late. It was raining.

To Hell With Common Sense

Amit must be a world champion at emotional blackmail. Against my better judgement, he persuaded me on Thursday afternoon to accompany him to Delhi on Thursday night (well, technically Friday early morning) and then on to Leh the following day. With the twins, of course. Insane? Absolutely. That’s why I had resolutely stuck to my guns and refused to consider carting the kids off to an altitude of almost 11000 feet, where acclimatisation takes 48 hours, there’s no natural greenery so oxygen is in short supply, flights out are always sold out and descent by road takes two days and involves crossing altitudes upto 17000 feet.

So I had unilaterally decided that taking two under-twos to Leh was a bad idea and nothing Amit said could convince me otherwise… Until Thursday, when he gave me several of those looks and piled on the pleading and persuasion and I suddenly agreed.

There followed an evening of frenetic activity as we made additional flight and hotel bookings, and packed 50 kg (!) of clothing and camera stuff into 4 rugged backpacks. It was almost 12.30 before we were done, and with the new airport being so far away, we planned to leave at 3.00 for a flight at 5.30, so of course we didn’t get any sleep. What’s worse, when we carted the kids to the taxi at 3.00 a.m., they woke up and didn’t sleep again until after lunch!

The fun really started the next morning (if you can consider the dead of night to be morning) when we again awoke at 2.30 to catch our flight to Leh. It was pouring cats and dogs as we loaded everything and everybody into a rattletrap Ambassador taxi and set off for the airport. I sat with the kids while Amit and his dad handled the check-in. Then, from 4 a.m straight through till 10.30, we made the airport lounge our home as we waited for the flight to take off. It was clear from about 7, or for the hopelessly optimistic about 8, that our flight would be cancelled because no flights can land or take-off at Leh late morning onwards. But, we had to wait for the airline to take the final decision to cancel the flight and they decided to keep us waiting a few extra hours.

Meanwhile, the kids kept us on our toes. The ran from end to end of the huge lounge, watched the aeroplanes through locked doors and grimy windows, flirted with other passengers, ate cake and sandwich for breakfast, submitted to having their diapers changed in the ladies’ bathroom, sprawled on the dusty floor and made swimming actions with their arms and legs, held hands and played Ringa-ringa Roses, and generally enjoyed themselves thoroughly and provided free entertainment to all.

It was 11.30 before we got home and by then Tara was fast asleep and the rest of us were inclined to follow suit in short order. It was a really tiring and hardly a very successful start to a grand holiday. But you can never keep an avid traveller family down for long.

Back from the fishing camp, without any fish, but without drowning or getting eaten by a croc

Perhaps a wilderness camp is not the easiest place to take two small kids for their first holiday. Staying in a tent, no electricity for much of the day, no hot water… At least we had a limitless supply of Cauvery water, which is more than you can say of the water supply at home.

This time, we went to Cauvery Fishing Camp at Doddamakkali, not Bheemeshwari, where we’ve been several times before. We got extremely late leaving home, due to various complicated reasons including changing a tyre on the car (the puncture was a couple of weeks earlier)(don’t even ask), playing tennis, eating a nice but ridiculously expensive breakfast of Post’s banana nut crunch… Oh and doing the packing, too.

The distance to Doddamakkali is only 150 km, so we had expected a leisurely 3 hour drive, but after the first 80 km on the Mysore highway, we turned off the highway at Maddur and the road surface deteriorated considerably, so it took us a little over 4 hours, with a half-hour stop to give the kids lunch at Kamat. (Apart from the last 8-km mud road which leads to the camp, this is also the road to Shivanasamudram.) The last stretch of 8 km was pretty interesting, winding through arid forests and sloping hillsides before finally descending steeply through a series of swirchbacks to the campsite by the river.

The location was very scenic, the river broad and lazy, studded with rocks, fringed with greenery. There was a beach of sorts, with soft white sand. Civilization was as far away as could be with the 8-km mud track between us and the nearest settlement deterring all but the most determined visitors – usually those who, like us, had paid up in advance and weren’t going away without getting their money’s worth.

There wasn’t much to do at the camp. After a late lunch and a lazy afternoon snooze – me and the kids tested out the hammock and managed not to fall out – there was a coracle boat ride, followed by fishing classes for those who were interested. I wasn’t, nor were the girls, but we watched the trainer expertly throw out a line that seemed to hover in the air before flying straight out to a point in the middle of the river. A short while later, the line gave a jerk and the man scrambled to his feet and pulled in (no reel) a small fish which, he said, was a mahseer. After being duly photographed by various eager “students” (some of them more interested in grilling and eating the fish than in catching it) the poor fish was gently returned to the water.

We spent the evening sitting around the largely unnecessary campfire (it was quite warm enough without the fire) eating spicy barbecued chicken and drinking beer. The kids entertained themselves by throwing sand on the table and putting some of it in their mouths whenever they thought we weren’t looking.

The next morning I insisted on being taken for what they called a trek, what I called a morning walk, and what Amit called a walk in the park. What this entailed was walking 15 minutes uphill along a narrow path in the grass, with sweat pouring off me at 7.30 in the morning, and sliding back down the same path in 10 minutes flat. Apparently, there was an option to go around the long way and return along the river’s edge, but the guide was extremely reluctant to let me go that way. Probably afraid, speculated Amit. What if some locals saw him alone with a woman in the bushes???

A leisurely breakfast occupied an hour till 10, and then there was only time enough to bathe and dress before leaving at 11. Lunch at Kamat, and we were back home a little after 3.

On the whole it was a not-bad experience. I wouldn’t say the kids enjoyed it entirely – they did get fidgety with the long drive, and weren’t always full of smiles and good cheer the way they are at home. But, apart from being really hungry before their dinner was ready, they weren’t too put out by it either. They fell asleep easily at night, slept soundly, and woke up after 8 the next morning!