…Aaaaaaaaand We’re Back!

April 30, 2011

The short story is that the trek was a success. We all managed to walk the distance and we all pretty much enjoyed it. The kids, of course, fussed and cribbed at various points, especially on the first two days which were all uohill. If it had been up to me, I might have relented and allowed them to be carried. Amit, in typical military style, insisted that they were not really tired yet and in the end he was right. We kept them entertained with stories and they kept walking and when we finally reached around 3.30, they assured me they didn’t want to sleep and spent the rest of the day running around as if they hadn’t done anything extra that day. Nor did they seem to have any stiffness the next day. So in the end they managed the full 27 km uphill and 27 km back without any visible stress. On the last day of walking, we kept telling the kids that there would be a taxi waiting for us at the end of the walk, to take us to Purola, so they only had to walk to the taxi. The next day, we had to take a taxi to Dehradun and Mrini woke up in the morning and asked me matter-of-factly, “Do I have to walk to the taxi today?”

Kids adjust quickly for sure. They got only mild tummy upsets from the unfiltered water from streams, full of visible insoluble things. They got only mild runny noses from changes in weather that ranged from t-shirt temperature to snow on the ground and frost in the morning temperature. And apart from that, they tolerated a new venue each day, dank, dingy rooms, unsanitary indoor and exposed outdoor toilets, and various other departures from the norm with relative calm. They got tired and end-tethered every day around 7, but that’s hardly surprising, given everything. In short, they were champions and both of us were impressed by how well they did.

I did pretty well too, considering. As treks go, this was not a difficult one. For Amit, it was a walk in the park and even for me it was in no way challenging. But this was a good thing, because it meant I could focus on the kids and most of the time I had energy enough to spare. Only once or twice did I leave them entirely to Amit while I struggled with some difficult part of the route. But, though uphill was not difficult, my knees started to complain on the steep downhill stretches. Once, while holding Mrini’s hand on a particularly steep descent, I slipped and we both landed on the ground. Neither of us got hurt, but Mrini was understandably shaken (though later she could be heard bragging about it to Tara).

The rest of the time, I managed the walk without getting stuck anywhere. The uphill parts had me gasping, but that was to be expected. By day four, I had developed fluid retention and the familiar tightness and pain in the chest were back, but a single shot of Lasix took care of that. And yes, I survived on a gluten free, lactose free diet too. While the others stuffed themselves with puri and halwa and maggi and then snacked on chocolate chip biscuits to boot, I munched on peanuts and lunched on puffed rice. Breakfast was leftovers of the previous night’s dinner. The only thing I feasted on was onion pakoras on two occasions. By the time we got back I was ready to devour a kilo of nonveg and a litre each of ice cream and beer. And, a little over 48 hours after our return to the land of electricity and hot water, I’m well on my way to achieving those goals.

So that’s the short story. There is an unedited, unabridged version, but that’s in the shape of hand-scribbled notes which it will take me some time to transcribe (and decipher). Photos, hopefully, will be available sooner.

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…Aaaaaaaaand We’re Off!

April 21, 2011

Mrini woke up today and said, “We’re going to Himalayas today!”

They’ve been counting the days since the last two weeks or so. Well, truth be told, so have we.

We finally seem to have got everything done. I went to bed a little after 10.30 last night and when I woke up this morning, everything was squashed into three big backpacks and various small carry on bags. The carry on bags are a motley crew – a cloth shoulder bag for snacks like biscuits and things; a plastic bag for the kids’ toilet seat which Amit insists will be useful in Delhi; a large camera bag which, quite apart from a camera body and two lenses houses and assortment of things including spare underwear for the kids, books for the kids, a headlamp for Ballu, my precious Maglite (yes, the same one), spare batteries, and other stuff; and a pair of walking sticks which is too inconvenient to pack anywhere.

Oh and a formal strolley which has all the decent clothes we will need for our brief social stopover in Delhi on the way back. When you are travelling with two kids, you can completely forget about those wonderful words, travelling light. Light? Our luggage probably weighs more than I do! It would merit a whole extra seat on the plane, if it were a passenger. (And it would be much more inconvenient to accommodate.)

I have remembered to pack toothbrushes, rubber bands for the kids’ ponytails, and a comb. I don’t know yet what I have forgotten to pack, but I’m sure I’ll find out at some crucial juncture.

So we’re off, folks! Hopefully we will make it back in due course – in which case, you can expect several lengthy posts about all that happened and didn’t. Check this space in early May.


Three Days to Takeoff

April 18, 2011

So I got last week’s prediction half right. We did fight over how many backpacks we needed and we did drive down to Decathlon again (on Saturday, though, not on Sunday) to buy one, which we are (or rather, my better half is) now in the process of trying to make redundant.

We also got the kids raincoats, caps, gloves, and socks – all of which are fairly crucial and which we hadn’t managed to accomplish earlier. The gloves are for eight-year-olds, so they look a little ridiculous right now, but who cares? They will last a few years before the girls outgrow them, so that’s good.  The raincoats are even more ridiculous – the sleeves are at least double (maybe three times) the appropriate length, but who cares? They will keep them dry, if required, so that’s good enough. The socks appear to be knee-length, but that’s good, because their warm trousers belong to two years ago and are probably also only knee length by now. 😀 Ok, so the kids are going to look a little clownish. As long as they are warm and dry, who cares?

We haven’t completed organizing our medical supplies yet – we still need Crocin and other things. And of course we haven’t completed our packing yet – far from it. But we have assembled 90% of the stuff we need and thrown it in a jumble on the king-sized bed in the study. The bed has been covered with stuff we need ever since last weekend, though. It is still covered several inches deep. The disconcerting thing is that we have actually stuffed sleeping bags, sleeping mats, three-person tent, and loads of woolen clothes into the better part of four backpacks – and we don’t seem to have made a big dent in the mountain of stuff still covering the bed.

Regardless, after we’d finished buying all the other stuff, we went and stocked up on snacks yesterday evening. We even managed to get a good number of things that I can eat – so now life’s looking up.

Another thing that I didn’t foresee last week was that in all this melee, we’d actually have to have two lunches out. Yippee! Less cooking for me. Between 9.30 a.m. on Saturday and 5.30 p.m. on Sunday, I had a cooking holiday. I made up for it (grudgingly) by churning out two kinds of chicken on Sunday evening and doing the dosa-and-roti-and-rice routine this morning, but still – a cooking holiday is a cooking holiday and not to be sneezed at in my reckoning.

All in all, a good weekend. Nothing beats the excitement of an upcoming holiday, especially when that holiday is a trek, and especially when there are two under-fives involved. The photo in the previous post says it all. Of course, the person behind the camera should have been in the picture as well, but since he isn’t, just extrapolate the expression on three faces to the fourth face and then you’ll have the full picture.


You May Be Right – I May Be Crazy

April 8, 2011

…but that’s ok with me. It’s not such a bad thing, being a little bit crazy. Especially if one is crazy about the right thing.

In this particular instance, it is about trekking.

Most people know us well enough not to bother calling us crazy if they hear that we’re going off on another trek. But when they hear that our soon-to-be-five year old daughters are coming along on their first Himalayan trek ever, eyebrows (at the very least) do tend to go up.

Maybe it is a little bit crazy. But it’s probably not as crazy as you think. First, this is only a short trek – two days up, one day at the top, and two days down. Of course, we also spend two days getting there and two days getting back, but that’s on wheels, rails, and wings, so that (probably) doesn’t count as crazy. The altitude is not all that high. We start at about 6,000 ft, and the highest point is a little under 12,000 ft. The walking itself is only 5 days, one of which is a rest day. Also, on most days we won’t have to tent because there are lodges all along this route. Only on one night, we didn’t get a reservation at the lodge, so we might end up tenting for just one night. So it’s not all that crazy, see?

Of course, there’s the small matter of walking 13 km per day. And gaining 5,000 ft in two days. Are you asking me if the kids can do that? I haven’t the slightest idea – I don’t even know if I can do that. After all, it’s been four years since my last trek. This might come as something of a shock to you (especially if you’ve read my book; have you?) but I’m actually very scared of trekking. I mean, I get scared while trekking – when the dry, slippery pebbles start sliding under foot, I get terrified. I also get phobic about steep slopes and narrow paths. And heights. And descents. And boulders. And whatever else you can think of. It took me lots of practice to get my various fears under control, but now it’s been a gap of four years and I have no idea how much I might have regressed.

Of course I should be doing something to prepare. I should be working on my leg muscles. I should be improving my cardio-vascular fitness. I’m not really doing anything. I’m going to be in so much trouble. And, on top of everything else, I’m going to starve! Because I can’t eat most of the emergency food that we carry – biscuits, cake, bread, Maggi – and my lactose intolerance is also at its most intolerant in the mountains, so I can’t even have coffee, or even a good dose of ghee in my khichadi – not unless I want to risk diarrhea, which is not the best thing to have when on a trek.

And then I have to worry about the kids. I honestly have no idea if they will take to it – the whole wilderness experience. Will they enjoy doing nothing but walking the whole day long? They love to talk and they love to get the undiluted attention of their parents and they are very active all day long. At least I can be sure they won’t miss TV or battery-operated toys (they don’t have any). But will they enjoy the walk? How much will they be able to walk? Will they last the entire trek or will we have to abort after day 1? Will they be enthralled by the views and the sheer novelty of being in the mountains? Or will they start whining “I’m bored; I’m hungry; I’m tired; you carry me…” within the first 20 minutes and keep it up the whole damn day?

If they do get tired, will they agree to be carried? By a porter? In a sack? Will they (horrors!) both want to hang on to my hand and walk – on a narrow, slippery path with a steep fall on one side???

Worse still, what if I get petrified along the way and one of the kids has to come and hold my hand and pull me along? What kind of role model is that?

Sigh. Problems, problems…

But at least we are going back to the mountains. At one point, I doubted I ever would. If this works… there could be so much more to look forward to in the coming years. 🙂


All Smiles

February 15, 2011

Vacationing voyeuristically, thanks to Amit, mobile phone cameras and GPRS. Don’t they look happy?


Lakshadweep Part 1: The Ship

December 23, 2008

Wow. Lakshadweep is beautiful, just beautiful. Words can’t express it and photographs can’t convey it. You have to be there.

We boarded an overnight train to Kochi on Monday afternoon, which, happily, arrived a couple of hours late, so that we had a good night’s sleep and got up only around 6 a.m. Our hotel, Bharath Tourist Home, was only a short distance from the South Station. After baths and breakfast, we found our way to the SPORTS office in Kochi on Tuesday, and got our tickets and boarding passes made, a painless but excruciatingly slow process.

The next day, we reached the harbour, close to the SPORTS office on Wellingdon Island, by 9.30 a.m., and despite a long queue at the entry point, we were in our cabin before 10.30.

MV Kavaratti

The ship? Well, it was quite small, I think, as ships go, but quite pleasant on the whole. We were on the top deck, the fifth. Our cabin was small, but nice. We had two bunks, a desk, two chairs, two small cupboards, and of course, an attached bathroom, which was tiny but complete. And a speaker, which sprang to life in an alarming fashion from time to time, and which there was no escaping; every nook and cranny of the vessel had one.

There was a swimming pool on the deck a few doors away from our cabin, but it had no water. The bridge, just above and beyond the swimming pool deck, was out of bounds to passengers, but we managed a short stroll around it before the ship was completely loaded. It was lovely up there. There was a large, bare deck at the back which served as a helipad, and a noisy one in between where a lot of big red barrels were kept.

Ship to Lakshadweep

MV Kavaratti: Ship to Lakshadweep

The dining room was one deck below ours, and had long tables in rows like a canteen. There was a recreation room that had a couple of TVs and lots of chairs arranged in rows, a shop and a kiosk (which were both closed when I passed them), and a doctor’s office, which, thankfully, we didn’t have the occasion to visit. There were not, of course, any tennis courts, gyms, saunas, beauty saloons, bars or other such luxuries that I could find.

The other passengers on the ship were almost all Indians, and consisted partly of locals commuting between mainland and various islands, and partly of the tourist crowd, which included a disproportionate number of school children, a bunch of 40 teenagers from a school in Hyderabad. The twins shamelessly set about wooing the passengers and crew and had won themselves a number of admirers and a good deal of notoriety by the end of the trip. So much so, that they – and, occasionally, we also – had to pose for innumerable photo sessions before we finally left the ship.

Apart from our First Class 2-berth cabins, there were 4-berth cabins and dorms. The locals, who must be paying a much lower fare, got to travel sitting down, got their meals earlier, and mostly embarked and disembarked before the tourists.

A funny thing about the ship was that cabins could not be locked. You kept your valuables in the drawers and cupboards, which you locked, and left the room unlocked even when you left the ship for the entire day. I never got used to getting back to our room and not having to fish out a key and unlock the door, but nothing went missing.

I have only ever been on a proper ship once before in my entire life. That time, we went from Brindisi to Patras (Italy to Greece) and back, traveling deck class. Literally. We slept on the deck. And, man, was it cold! And so windy that at night, our flimsy cotton sheet almost flew off and landed in the sea. Well, this cruise was definitely a step up with the first class cabin and all… but with the air-conditioning that couldn’t be turned down or turned off, guess what? It was just as cold!


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

October 28, 2008

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.


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