Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Romantic Engelburg

The Euro rail is a delight to travel in. The train timings are so perfect and punctual with no room for error or delay. On our way to Engelburg we halted at Lucerne for a couple of hours, took a bus, walked around a little and saw the city where people mostly prefer to stay for a day or two since it is supposedly the central place from where you can visit all the mountain tops.

However against Aakaash’s will I decided to stay at Engelburg which was very close to the tallest mountain in Switzerland - Mount Titlis. Once we reached there Aakaash did pat on my back to choose Engelburg since this was a beautiful small quiet town with a population of not even 4000 people. Its snow peaked mountains, romantic aura and picturesque view left us spell bounded.

I was totally surprised when we got off the station in Engelburg since the hotels were just a min walk, literally. It was like the rail tracks were put right in the middle of the town with no entrance or exit. Although our hotel was 5 mins walk but to see the hotel boards from the station was something I had not witnessed before. Before boarding the train at Lucerne we had an early dinner because we were not sure if we would find anything open when we reached Engelburg which proved to be right but…. We regretted eating early dinner since our hotel had a full spread of Indian food, from dal makhani, butter chicken to kheer. So we quietly listened to our stomachs which denied giving any access to any other food particle and went out for a stroll on the lonely but beautiful lanes of Engleburg surrounded by lush green mountains with snow white peaks.

Once we came back to our room, we asked for a baby cot which was installed immediately upon our request but we hadn’t realized that we hadn’t seen the complete room and adjacent to our room was another small room with attached balcony which had bunker beds for the kids and Aan and Aananya once again had a blast going up and down the beds till they were exhausted and it was their queue to call it a night. Aan slept up and Aananya insisted on sleeping alone in the lower bunk. Another hectic but beautiful day gone and we too retired since the next day we were hitting where Shahrukh and Kajol shot for DDLJ. For breakfast amongst other things upma was there and the hotel had signs written in Hindi which was a delight to see. So we packed the kids very well with sweaters, snow mitts and headed for the snow.

We headed towards Mount Titlis in the world’s first revolving cable car called the Rotair and then had our first experience in an Ice flyer which is a chairlift that spans over the glacier. I was just hoping and praying that it would snow and it did. We had a blast and the kids saw and played in the snow for the first time.

Once we reached the top, we were startled to see life size boards of Shahrukh and Kajol in their famous DDLJ pose right at the entrance which was funny too since loads of Indian families were getting their pics clicked there. I also experienced that it was very difficult to see without goggles due to the glare of the sun. We had a blast tobogganing, swirling rides on snow tubes and sledges. Half heartedly we had to leave since it was time for us to catch our last train for Interlaken. After we came down from the mountain peek, Aakaash headed to the hotel to get the luggage while I couldn’t resist the temptation to buy idli, vada pao, samosa and pav bhaji for our journey to Interlaken making it a perfect end to our stay at Engelburg.

Monday, December 13, 2010


After the comfortable and relaxing stay at Abha and Deepak’s house at Lausanne we were all geared up for the hectic but wonderful trip through Switzerland. We headed to Zurich where we left our luggage at the station and headed for Rhine falls - Europe’s largest waterfall which is 50 meters in width and 23 meters in height. The view is spectacular and standing on a small bridge in the middle of the falls, seeing the forceful gushing water and the uproar of waves makes it worthwhile to go all the way up there. The only reason for us to halt at Zurich was majestic Rhine falls which is an hour away from Zurich. Later we headed back to the station, had dinner, picked up our luggage and headed straight to our hotel. We stayed in Zurich only for a night and the next day headed towards Engelburg.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Switzerland here we come! Lausanne - Phew

Thankfully everything worked out just fine and we were able to have just about enough money to reach Lausanne to Abha and Deepak where financially we took a breather. It was wonderful to meet them after 4 long years especially seeing the kids all grown up! Abha was my first teacher ever who showed me how to make “chapati’s” coz when we moved to Sri Lanka, I moved into the kitchen for the first time too. Abha is great at giving simple tips on how to make food quickly and effortlessly and Deepak is excellent at guessing ages (lol ;)!

We stayed in Lausanne for 2 days and as soon as we reached, the first place we hit was an ATM machine. Then Abha took us around; showed the town a little bit, went to Lake Geneva where we fed the ducks and swans, kids played on swings, had ice creams and we all had great time together.

The next day we were on our own, we went by ship to a small town Evian or Évian-les-Bains where the Evian water is bottled. The scenery is beautiful with Jura Mountains surrounding the Geneva Lake. Evian is a part of France and although we did go all the way there but due to time constraint, we just enjoyed the picturesque ride back and headed for Montreux by train.

 Montreux is a small town around an hour away from Lausanne and has a beautiful medieval castle called Château de Chillon, which is also one of the most visited historic monuments in Switzerland. While we were visiting the castle; for a moment it felt like we were in one of the sets of a medieval movie. Later we roamed around in the small town like true tourists and headed back to Lausanne.

In the evening we sat back and caught up on old times and chit chatted with Abha and Deepak till 4am in the morning. Thank you Abha and Deepak for making our stay comfortable and our trip possible. When we woke up it was time for us to leave for Zurich, although the stay was very brief, we wished we could spend some more time together.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Paris – Lover’s Paradise

I think that a vacation to Paris and Switzerland are almost on everyone’s wish list. Hence we decided to take up Aakaash’s very small list and head to France and Switzerland. Well the preparations were done, intensive study and plans were made, bookings confirmed and we were set on a jet plane for a vacation of a lifetime, one which we will never ever forget nevertheless not for the right reasons.

So after a tiring 6 hours plus flight we landed in Paris and for the first time we decided to take a metro to our hotel, pulled our luggage and walked a small distance (small according to Aakaash) to the hotel reception only to find that our room was not ready since we reached at 09.30am and the room would have been available only by 2pm. So we decided – what the hell, let’s dump the luggage in the cloak room and see the tallest building in Paris and the most visited monument - “Eiffel Tower”.
Upon seeing the Eiffel Tower my smile knew no bound, I was thrilled, excited and pumped up since I was seeing the Eiffel Tower which has been a very prominent background for most of the cliché Hollywood romantic movies and there I was seeing it with my own eyes.

We stood in the line and were lucky to break into a shorter line and get the entry sooner and faster; not knowing that the luck that we were smiling on was soon running out for us. After seeing the beautiful view from the top, we headed to Notre damn and walked around a little, had lunch in Latin quarters and decided to call it a day so that we could be fresh for the next morning’s sight seeing. On our way back I did gorge on the famous chocolate crepe and headed back to our hotel via the metro. 

When we reached our hotel at around 6.30pm, we were told that there were no rooms available and they were moving us to another hotel. Although the location of the hotel was still in our favor, I did act a lil dramatic, got a lil upset and got us complimentary breakfast for the 3 days that we were spending in Paris before leaving for Switzerland. Just when we were ready to leave, we told the hotel staff that we needed to buy formula milk for Aananya before we moved to the new hotel. This is the moment I can never forget in my life when all hell broke loose and the bad luck attached itself to us.

Aakaash couldn’t find his wallet. Now these are the events of the day what you didn’t read…..

  1. Since we hadn’t got the room, instead of leaving all the cash in the common luggage room, we had no choice but to carry it. It was for the 1st time ever that we didn’t check into our room and left our luggage in the cloak room.
  2. Aakaash did ask me to keep some money but I thought it was safer with him since my wallet is always in the diaper bag which we keep opening from time to time.
  3. When I was buying tickets for Eiffel Tower, Aakaash kept my credit card in his wallet which was the only credit card we had since all his credit cards had been revoked due to his NRI status.
  4. So we had no credit cards and $2000 and Euro 500 were all gone along with his international debit card.
  5. Although the 3 days stay was paid for but still we couldn’t afford to stay in the hotel because we had no money to eat food hence we had to ask them to cancel our booking.
  6. Before our luck ran out we had purchased a 3 day travel pass, so Aakaash just headed straight back to where we had come from, the place I had my chocolate crepe and he last saw his wallet which was stolen probably in the metro from his front jacket pocket which was zipped up.
  7. Aakaash was gone for 2 hours and my phone which has always been in a perfect condition decided to choose this day to get switched off again and again cutting my calls and making it impossible for me to talk to anyone. So I was cut off from the world, in a hotel lobby with 2 hungry kids and no money.

I didn’t care that people were looking at me but somehow I just couldn’t stop my tears from rolling and as Aan talks about it till today “Mamma cried like a baby”. Well that was the second time in my life I was crying openly in front of people, the first was my wedding day!

Time was ticking and Aakaash was gone, I settled in one corner of the hotel lobby and as night approached Aan and Aananya got hungry. Unfortunately the corner which I got had a vending machine and somehow to antagonize the situation there were kids who would go “ching ching” after every 10 mins and take out some goodies or candy. Although Aan was kind of aware that we had lost our money, so he pointed towards the smallest candy and said “Mamma can I have that” which made me all the more burst into tears since I didn’t even have 1 Euro to get him that; knowing that he hadn’t eaten anything since morning; for when we ordered lunch he has fallen asleep on the chair.

Finally after filing a complaint at police station and 3 torture-some hours Aakaash came back with his friend Deepak Soni who took us to his house. Deepak had worked with Aakaash in Ericsson India and for us, at that time and situation, was no less than an angel in disguise. Deepak and Kavita were staying in Paris with their 2 sons in a comfortable 2 bed room apartment. They had to move their kids to their room and gave us the kid’s room and Deepak himself slept on the couch. During such adverse times when you see such humble gestures, it really touches your heart and we are so very grateful for the gratification bestowed towards us by them. Deepak also assured us not to worry about money since he thought he could withdraw Euro 500 per day so that means it gave us Euro 1500 for 3 days that we stayed in Paris and after that we were leaving for Switzerland where another friend’s of ours had assured us that we wouldn’t have to worry on the monetary aspect at all. Hence we became a bit relaxed and took a breather for the night.

The view from Deepak’s apartment was amazing. When we went to sleep with our windows open, Aakaash who loves to sleep in pitch dark was interrupted with bright light from the full moon and Eiffel tower which looked so close by as if we could jump and touch it. Those 3 nights in Paris, looking at the beautifully lit Eiffel Tower and the full moon by its side really brought some calm and tranquility for the trauma we had undergone on our arrival.

So the next morning we had Euro 500 in our pocket, we were extra careful and headed straight to Louvre Museum to see the most famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci - Mona Lisa smile. Later we had our lunch out, wandered a little and had the feel of Paris! When we got home Aakaash and Deepak went to withdraw money since it was the 2nd day. When they came back, Aakaash had a worried look on his face and I could tell something was not right.

Oh! Didn’t I tell you that bad luck had attached itself to us and was not willing to leave us for a while. So we got to know that Deepak could withdraw only Euro 500 from the ATM once in a week and to withdraw more money he needed to go to the bank which was closed for 3 days. So there we go… back to square one.. insufficient funds and we had to buy tickets for our train from Geneva to Lausanne. So we took out all the coins and money that was left over from the day and started calculating and saw we had just about enough money to take a cab to the airport and then buy tickets from Geneva to Lausanne where our friends Abha and Deepak were. 

So the 3rd day in Paris was kinda closed hence no sight seeing, few stores open but we couldn’t afford to even buy a Euro 10 toy for kids since we were scared that we might fall back in buying tickets by just that much. Since our 3 days tickets was still valid so we roamed around and then came back to Deepak’s house. The kids did have loads of fun since they had 2 new friends -Aroush and Deepansh to play with all the time and spent the evening thrilled playing in a park near the Eiffel Tower. A special thanks to Deepak and Kavita who made us feel at home and truely helped us at the time of our need. Finally we got ready with crossed fingers to start our journey to Switzerland the next day.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


We took the 5 hour flight to Cairo and reached in the evening, checked into the Hilton and the view from our room was that of the world’s largest river - Nile. We could see the ships cruising right under our nose. It was an amazing scene.

So we got all pumped up and decided to make the most of the evening and went out for a stroll and then scavenged the Hilton mall which was right across the road. As the journey’s exhaustion started to creep in, we decided to call it a night and hit the bed.

The next day we were fresh and ready to see one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world - Pyramids. It was spectacular to see the Pyramid of Giza -the largest pyramid in the world. My mom really wanted me and Aakaash to dance on Suraj Hau Madham and Teri Ore Teri Ore in front of the pyramids but we let that pass for this time. Seeing the pyramids really makes you wonder and ponder on a lot of things. How magnificent a creature man is and it makes you realise how much time and energy is wasted in doing unfruitful and destructive things. 

Anyway, the experience of seeing the pyramids itself gives a high and to my utmost surprise, we could go inside the pyramid. So we had to bend and walk through the small and dark but perfectly created tunnels to see the chamber where an empty tomb of one of the kings of Egypt lies. It is unbelievable how 4300 years ago with limited resources and no modern technology they could have created such a perfect architecture which has stood to give the testimonial of time. The precision of 52 degree angle from all sides of the pyramid is remarkable; no wonder there are debates till date that the pyramids were built by aliens.

Anyway, after seeing the pyramids, we did some itar (perfume) shopping and were amazed to know that companies like D&G, Paco Rabanne, Polo etc import their concentrated fragrance from here. Later we moved on to buy some papyrus paintings. The seller showed us how the paper is made and the paper is so strong that it can be washed too. We did end up buying a lot of papyrus paintings too and then moved to see the Saqqara Pyramids. One thing I can say for sure that the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx are really beautiful; however the other pyramids that we saw in Saqqara were miniatures in front of the Giza pyramid but the scenic view was spectacular and reminded me of scenes from the movie “Mummies”. In Saqqara, on one side of the uphill road you can see beautiful city covered with greenery of palm and coconut trees and on the other side are sand dunes till where your eyes can see. So the scenic beauty made the trip to Saqqara worthwhile. 

On our way back we stopped at a carpet factory. Well for sure we didn’t do any shopping there; for a beautiful handcrafted handkerchief size silk shaded carpet cost more than $200. So we just watched them make beautiful carpet and off we went to see the light and sound show at Giza. It was remarkable to see the dazzling light show on the backdrop of the Sphinx and Pyramids. Different kinds of light including lazer were used to take us back in time to relive the Pharonic civilization. It was indeed an enchanting experience and by the time the show got over, the night had already drawn upon us and we decided to try authentic Egyptian cuisine. 

The next morning, the archaeologist took us to the Museum where I witnessed the mummies for the first time. The museum is huge and if a person spends 1 minute on every artefact there; then you would have to be in the museum for almost 9 months. So you can imagine how huge the place is and definitely we couldn’t see everything but with the help of our guide we saw all the major artefacts and possessions. It was amazing to see the burial chamber of King Tutakhamun and the innermost coffin which is made out of 110 kgs of solid gold. 

We saw the oldest mosque in Egypt called Ahmad Ibn Tulun which is one of the largest mosques in the world. The city of dead was our next stop which is a 5 km long cemetery and few people live there, some who choose to live near their dead ancestors and others are forced due to over crowded city. 

Khan-el-Khalili market is filled with all kinds of souvenir and is a stop for all tourists. We just stalled around for a while and later in the evening we decided to go for Nile dinner cruise. The food was just amazing; I think the best that I had in that trip. To make the experience more memorable there was music, live orchestra, belle dancing and an awesome Tannoura performance by an Egyptian guy.

The next morning we left early for Alexandria. It is said that centuries ago, Alexandria was the largest city in the world. We went to the port where Alexander - The Great set his first step in Egypt. There is a huge fort next to the port too. This fort was reconstructed from the fallen bricks of the Lighthouse. After that we saw the temple built by Cleopatra and the underground library of the medieval times. In that area there was an obelisk made out of one rock and a Sphinx made from pink granite. Then we headed to the catacomb which is one of the 7 wonders of the Middle Ages and were discovered in the 1800s by accident. It is amazing to see how they had constructed the catacombs underground.

The Roman amphitheatre and the remains of Roman-era baths was an interesting site to see. There were quite a few huge artefacts on display that were discovered from the bottom of the sea and have brought back to Egypt. These artefacts were either being taken to other countries by smugglers or were being sent as gifts. Last but not the least location that we saw was the spectacular library made with the help of UNESCO which is the largest library in Africa and Middle East. It is just spectacular to see the amazing architecture. It looks like a mini world of books and people; just magnificent, is all I can say. The last day we kept for shopping, all though didn’t do much but just enjoyed the culture and the beauty of the city. All in all, our entire trip was excellent, lots of site seeing and loads of experience to bring back with.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Unexpected Turn of Events

Sometimes I feel that the way things turn out is all pre decided and I am talking about as small a thing as going for a vacation. Well, I think like all couples, we also have a few destinations chalked out that we would like to cover during our lifetime on Earth. So Egypt was one of the destinations on Aakaash’s list.

One of our close friends were planning to go and we thought it would be great for us to join them. Of course going with friends always adds to the excitement of the trip. So between making our plans and getting the paper work done we get to know that since Aakaash’s contract in Nigeria was terminating, we weren’t allowed to go on a vacation in the last 2 months.

So there went out our plans down the drain. I tried to put up a smile and bid goodbyes to our over excited friends who were leaving for Egypt to visit the beautiful and magnificent pyramids, observe the mummies and enjoy the culture and hospitality of Egyptians and all I was left with was a stupid song running in my head over and over again – “ Walk like an Egyptian”.

Well but it seems like when things have to happen, they just happen. Suddenly our 3 months extension of contract came in and we jumped on to the next plane possible and off we were to Cairo.

Wait a moment........

Do you think it would be that easy for “us” to jump on a plane? Lol...

So we decided on the dates, booked the tickets and the archaeologist guide who would take us around and the only thing left was the visa. We thought visa would take maximum 2-3 days. So for some reason Aakaash decided to wait for the last moment and when he picked up the passports to apply for visa, he discovered that Aan did not have a single empty page on his passport which left us in a frenzy since all the other bookings were done and we were all set to leave, even the packing was 90% complete.

So the 1st thing in the morning that we had to do was get an emergency passport for Aan, by that time we had realised that we didn’t even have any passport size photograph of Aan’s in a white background. So I called his class teacher, informed her that Aan would be late for school and took Aan to the embassy. Out here in Lagos, you would find tons of photographers with white sheets who click instant photographs, however the embassies don’t approve of these photographs since the white back ground is not according to the standards required by the Indian Embassy.

First of all we were not sure that Aan can get an emergency passport since there was no real “Emergency” for his passport. However, while Aakaash and Aan had gone to get the photograph clicked right outside the embassy; Aananya was busy exploring the garden during which one of the employees had attempted to play with her for a while. Volla! He was the second secretary who was to authorise if Aan can get his passport done or not.

You know at times you do the silliest things to ensure that you give your best shot to the opportunity that you are getting. Finally when Aakaash and Aan came back after getting the “not so right” photo, I pushed Aananya into Aakaash’s arms and asked to take her while giving the application. So when Aakaash went in, the guy frowned as to why a 4 year old needs an emergency passport and then looked at Aananya; Aananya melted him with her smile and there we got our approval for the emergency passport – and not for a year as the case generally is but a passport with full 5 years validity.

So you think it was a relief for us, not just yet! We went to give the approved application and the guy at the window said to collect the passport after a week. Hello...it was Friday and we were flying the coming Thursday and next week was out of the question. However, after going back and forth with the authorities finally we were going to get the passport on Monday.

Tuesday’s agenda was to send our passport for the Visa which they said would take minimum 3 days. Again we were sweating since we were to fly on Thursday. So there again we had to pull strings, request, pull, push and finally we had our passports in our hands on Wednesday. Hence after struggling so much, finally we boarded our flight for Cairo..........

Friday, May 21, 2010


Honestly Melbourne was just a touch and go in Aussie Land. We just stayed there for 2 days and mostly what I did there was shop. Melbourne is definitely a shopper’s paradise. We did some sightseeing too by hopping on to their free trams which are somewhat like the hop on hop off buses that you get in Europe.

The most amazing restaurant that we saw in Melbourne was the tram restaurant. It is literally a tram on the roads of Melbourne which has been converted into a restaurant where people are being served. Unfortunately it needed a minimum of a week’s advance booking, so we had to pass off for this trip.

Another very interesting thing that we did in Melbourne was “The Edge”. It is in Eureka Skydeck 88 which is the 50th tallest building in the world with 92 stories. The lift takes you to the 88th floor within 9 sec which means you are travelling at a rate of 32.4km/h. The Edge is on the 88th floor and is a glass cube which is suspended 300 meters higher than the ground and 3 meters out of the building with us inside it. The glass cube is initially opaque but when you are suspended 3 meters out from the building the glass becomes clear with a flip of a switch. It definitely has an awesome view and the experience is breathtaking.
Anyway, before leaving Melbourne, we went to meet up with an old colleague of Aakaash and from there we took our flight back to Delhi, celebrated new years with family and within a couple of days we were back to Nigeria. Thus the much awaited Australia trip was finally over.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Shweta’s Adelaide

So of course I went to Adelaide only to spend some quality time with Shweta. We were picked up from the airport by Manish and I relied on my memory to spot Manish since we were meeting for the 1st time.

When I reached her house, I pressed the bell and then all people could see and hear us scream and hug. I was so excited that finally after planning for 3 years, I was standing at her door step. She took me for her new home tour and I must say she has a gorgeous house.

Adelaide was going to be a relaxed holiday; for I wanted to spend as much time possible with Shweta. She is a sister to me and I was thrilled to be with her after so many years. We chilled out till evening after which we got ready and went to the city. The next morning they took us to the Adelaide Zoo; even though Manish and Shweta had a Christmas party that evening.

Honestly, it’s hard for me to admit.... since I am a Steve Irwin fan that the Zoo that Shweta took us to.... ok... we enjoyed there more than Australia Zoo. It had walk-in enclosures of Kangaroos and Wallabies where for the 1st time I saw albino Kangaroos. The peacock greeted us by opening his feathers several times; giving us different angles for our camera and it was here that we got an opportunity to hug a Koala. (In Australia Zoo they just let us pat. The whole zoo was a treat; we saw various species of birds, ducks, monkeys etc and fed them too. After that we rushed back to the house since Manish and Shweta had guests coming in for the party in a couple of hours. In between we still got a little time for shopping and I picked up the same suitcase set that Shweta had – a pink polka dotted set of 4.

The Christmas party was fun. Aan and Aananya has a great time. Aananya enjoyed pulling out the christmas tree decorations and Aan kept putting them back on the Christmas tree and with all the pampering and Christmas presents from Shweta Massi and Manish  Uncle , they sure did have a rocking time. Shweta and Manish ensured to make us feel so comfortable and at home. “After Party” was even more fun, we all kept awake with her few friends till 4 am in the morning. Once everyone left, Manish went to drop off a friend to the airport and Shweta and I finally got 1 hour to catch up on old times and spend some alone time without any mad rush to attend to.
Next morning or may I say noon, we got up late and exchanged our Christmas presents, got dressed for the beach and volla! saw the most beautiful sea beach surrounded by mountains. Although there was the bright sun but it was so windy that I didn’t dare to venture inside the sea. It was freezing! We quickly wrapped up and headed for some sightseeing, the view was just picturesque. We even saw some beautifully decorated Christmas houses in Lobethal. The small town was just out of a fairy tale. So many people were stopping to see those houses, it was amazing. Finally we retired back home, ate and got ready to pack to head to Melbourne, our last destination in the Aussie land. I was feeling sad since I didn’t know when we would meet again but we were truly touched by Shweta and Manish’s hospitality.
Till we meet again....

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Australia Zoo – Brisbane & Gold Coast

Would you believe if I told you that the only reason that I have been planning to go to Australia was to see Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. I know, hard to believe but it’s true.
Brisbane turned out to be a beautiful and a different experience with lot of “firsts” involved. First of all, it was in Brisbane that we hired a car in another country; to begin with the firsts, Aan and Aananya sat alone at the back seat of a car by themselves for the 1st time, sat in a car seat and in a booster seat with seat belts for the 1st time, we all interacted with Kangaroos, Wallabies and Koalas for the 1st time and the best of all - I drove the car while on a vacation for the 1st time.

Brisbane turned out to be a perfectly planned holiday with some amazing memories that will stay with us forever. The location, the hotel and the view from the room of Brisbane river with so many ships and boats was simply awesome. The moment we checked into Park Regis, we checked the weather forecast for the next 3 days and accordingly made our plans. We decided to stay put in Brisbane for the day since it was raining heavily and did a little bit of shopping there.
The next day we drove down to Gold Coast, did some shopping again and enjoyed the beach. I was apprehensive how kids would take to the booster and car seat since they had never been buckled before but to my surprise neither of them cried or insisted to take off the seat belt and Aan was very supportive and kept distracting Aananya when she wanted to get out of her car seat providing her with toys and milk bottle from time to time.

The last day we had kept for Australia Zoo. Man O Man! Was I excited or what? We got ready in the morning and drove to Australia Zoo which was an hour and a half away.

I was so excited to see the Khaki wearing staff and remembered Steve Irwin and so wished if he were alive. Anyway, enjoyed the zoo thoroughly, patted Koalas, interacted with Kangaroos and various other animals and was saved by a second from stepping on a snake that was crossing my path. Aan and Aananya thoroughly enjoyed playing as well as feeding the Kangaroos and running after the ducks. Over all a fun filled day for all of us. The high point – I drove the car on our way back.

The next day I was super thrilled to take the flight to Adelaide since I was meeting my bestest friend after a very long time.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Dil Chahta Hai Sydney

The journey was very comfortable and we reached our first destination – Sydney. Our friend was there at the airport to pick us up. The thrill and excitement kept us up till we reached his place. The moment we reached his house, the soreness of 16 hours of flight suddenly crept on us. No matter how desperately our bodies were pulled to the comfortable bed, our heads helped us to get into the survival mode and get on with quick washing, sterilising of bottles, making Aananya’s and Aan’s milk and of course making the inevitable diaper bag ready.

Finally our friend drove us down to the Blue Mountains. It was almost a 2 hours drive and as much as we endeavoured to stay up or chit chat, we failed miserably - I could see Aakaash’s head tilting from one side to the other totally synchronised with the curves of the road, not to mention suddenly waking up with a startle and cleaning the drool from the corner of the mouth. I have never felt so embarrassed on sleeping like this while someone was driving us around but felt so helpless since sleep deprivation had got the better of us.

Anyway, Sudhanshu and his wife Neha had chalked out a very flexible plan for us so we really didn’t have to do anything there. They were sweet enough to take us everywhere. Blue Mountain was beautiful and literally looks blue, no wonder it is a world heritage area. We enjoyed seeing the 3 sisters (3 rocks together and has a story of its own), enjoyed the beautiful nature walk with a variety of trees and amazing facts about them.

We loved the Katoomba Scenic Railway which is the steepest railway in the world with a descent through a rocky tunnel at a maximum incline of 52 degrees. The Scenic Skyway was another attraction that we enjoyed a lot. Although we had already taken a ride on the Asia’s longest cable car in Genting, Malaysia but this experience proved to be another thriller in itself. The cable car started, we were admiring the beauty of ravines and waterfalls when suddenly with a flip of a switch, the floor became transparent. With a 360 degree view this beautiful glass bottom cable car has the world’s first electro scenic glass floor. It was awesome and freaky at the same time to see this 270 meters drop from the glass bottom floor.

After enjoying the panaromic view we left for Jenolen caves which is a series of limestone caves. However, we didn’t have the time to go inside but managed to see whatever we could from the outsides. I remembered the geography lessons of stalagmite and stalactite. It was beautiful and you could drive through a part of the cave. It is Australia’s largest cave dating back to 340 million years. By the time we reached Sydney, it was late. We gobbled the scrumptious food Neha has prepared and hit the bed right away.

The next day was a day just for drives. We drove to Helensberg, Kiama blow hole, Jamberoo that has breathtaking views and Wooloongong which is the 9th largest city in Australia with hills on one side and sea beach on the other. It was fascinating to see small swimming pools on the beach. Over all, an excellent day yet again. Reached back home, had dinner, made plans to watch horror movie – the guys ditched hence Neha and I enjoyed the movie till the end.

Today was the last day in Sydney; we had an early morning flight the next day. So we chilled out at home till 3pm and then all of us headed to Bondi beach, Sydney Harbour and the Opera house. Later we had fun at the Luna Park across the Opera, to which we got to through a ferry and just like that in 3 days; the stay in Sydney had come to an end. A Special Thanks to Neha and Sudhanshu for making our Sydney trip even more memorable.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Planning... lots of planning....

As some of you know that I have been planning a trip to my dream destination – Australia, for the last 3 years. Somehow every time I tried to make a plan to go to Australia, something would happen and my plans  would not leave the realm of dreams to transgress into reality. When we were in Sri Lanka, we were making plans to go there and suddenly Aakaash’s official trip came up for London and we packed our bags and “Hellooo London” it was! By the time we finalised our plans from Cambodia, it was time for us to leave Cambodia. So finally after waiting for 3 long years now was the time to go to “Down Under”.
For a change we were well prepared to go to Australia since I had already put in a lot of research to it. All the tickets, hotels, car rentals etc were booked and the only thing remaining was to reach there.
Aakaash wanted to fly to Australia directly but knowing that there was a time difference of 10 hours and flying time of 26 hours including the break at Dubai, I definitely was not interested in exhausting us totally. As usual the planner won and we decided to make a stopover in Delhi, celebrate his birthday with parents and fly to Australia. The trip proved to be hectic but the experience was indeed awesome.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Masai Mara here I come!

For the first time I sat right behind the pilot with Aakaash as his co pilot in a 13 seater small chartered plane. When we entered the air space of Masai Mara we tried to figure out the pin heads below and started our guess work as to which herd or animal it was. When the tiny aircraft landed on a patch of dirt airstrip in the middle of a jungle where a tower of giraffes and a herd of deer and zebras were there to welcome us - the feeling was sensational.

The open safari jeeps were there to whisk us to our Royal Mara Safari Lodge. The drive to the lodge was 45 mins but those 45 mins had our adrenaline pumping since what we didn’t know was that the drive was through the wild reserve where we saw deers, giraffes, wild beasts, gazelles, impalas, antelopes etc in their natural habitat.

On reaching Royal Mara we got a warm welcome from the staff and all of us quickly gulped our welcome drinks and headed for lunch which was set right next to the lagoon where the hippos were lazing around in the heat. The smell of scrumptious barbecued chicken filled the air and we suddenly found our stomachs rumbling and our feet automatically moved towards the beautiful buffet under the shade of colossal trees.

We were very eager to see our rooms hence were escorted with guards for each family. As we were in the middle of the jungle we were not allowed to move around without guards who carried guns, bow and arrows or sticks just incase wild  life encounter became too personal. Even if we had to go to our neighbor’s tent we had to call for a guard. There were stewards assigned to each room and they had told us how to signal them with a flash light at night . It’s never too easy to stay in a jungle.

I think I can write an entire blog just about the rooms. The rooms/tents were created on small stilts right next to the Hippo Bend Lagoon which has so many herds of hippopotamuses and even crocodiles. The tents had a wooden floor, on top of which was a tented cover with a wooden ceiling. It would be very hard to describe the room so if you have time, visit http://www.royalmara.com/accommodations.htm, it’s worth the time. 90% of the pictures in that are that of our room. So in short every room had a theme, ours was KIBOKO (Rhino theme) with beautiful carvings all over the room. The room was facing the lagoon and the only barrier between us and the wildlife was a zipped up canvas of tent which was open during the day and which we were compelled to zip up at night to prevent stray wild animals from sharing the room with us.

The beauty, the forest, the animals, the experience was a lot to take in. The moment we kept our luggage in the room, it was already time to go for our first ever “Game Drive”. We were totally intoxicated seeing Mother Nature and her children without any unwanted interference that we have always caused, in turn disrupting so many species and their lives. We saw deers, giraffes, wild beasts, gazelles, impalas, wild buffaloes, hyenas, jackals, wild bores, bat eared foxes, baboons, eagles, vultures and storks, just to name a few.

Nevertheless none of us had anticipated what we were going to see. All of a sudden a call came in on our driver’s phone and he turned the 4 wheel open jeep in a certain direction. Masai Mara is so huge that I kept wondering how would the drivers communicate and tell each other as to which direction or place to head to, especially since there are no sign boards anywhere. However, while I was busy talking to myself, the jeep came to a halt and the driver told us that today was our lucky day and pointed towards a cheetah which is very rare to spot.

No one could contain their excitement and the expression on everyone’s face was priceless. It still gives me goose bumps to recall the Cheetah so close to my open window and staring into my awe stricken eyes. We stayed and drove along with the Cheetah for quite some time but the expert driver knew that the Cheetah has a plan of its own and was on a hunt. For almost ½ an hour it was trying to focus on a prey but when its camouflage was busted, the gazelles and deers would warn their herd by making a strange noise and sprint away. I had always watched this on Animal Planet which use to be my permanent channel for a very long time and to see all this with my bare naked eyes was just amazing.

We started thinking that the Cheetah would eventually give up and wait for the night to find its kill but all of a sudden, the Cheetah sprinted in full speed and grabbed a wild baby boar. We were just digesting what we had witnessed when suddenly we saw that the parents of the piglet charged to attack the Cheetah who was still running with the boar in it's mouth but ultimately the Cheetah had to run away with a tattered ego and parental love saved the baby wild boar’s life to live another day. This scene had already made our trip a success and even if we had to return home the same very day we would have had no regrets but… we had another day and a ½ to see the beautiful Masai Mara and experience its wildlife.

Lions were our next target to capture and as the driver said luck was on our side we did spot a lion and 2 lionesses very soon. Not only did we see them but witnessed their mating ritual as well. So there was nothing more that we could have asked for from this wonderful trip of ours. The sun was setting and it was an indication for us to return back to our camp.

Some times unexpected things happen at unexpected time and some times unwanted things happen at unwanted times… Nature’s call is one such thing that can call upon anyone at anytime especially when you spend all afternoon and evening filling your tummy with free flowing cokes and sprites. So it did happen to us... Now what do you when you have to "do" in the middle of a jungle surrounded by lions and cheetah? You drive.. and you drive, and you drive till you reach the middle of the field from where you can see all the animals and especially in such a situation you know for a fact that all the animals are definitely staring at you… Hence I told the driver “Why you don’t take us near the bushes?” to which he replied “I don’t want you people to be the “yum-yum” for the lions.” Wow! What a day! The entire day’s experience was too much to take, for the things I had seen and done, I had never ever experienced before...

However, after reaching the camp we had delicious hot chocolate and headed for dinner. Having dinner under the star lit sky next to a bonfire was beautiful and romantic. We never realized that it would get so cold that we started missing our shawls and sweaters. We were almost through with our dinner when all of a sudden a group of Masai tribe wearing their authentic dresses came and sang and danced to their tribal song. Aakaash, as enthusiastic as he is joined them in their last round of tribal dance and I was so glad I could capture it perfectly on our handy cam only to realize that when the dance ended I had forgotten to press the record button.

Anyway, we were thrilled to get back to our rooms/tents at 9pm and we had only an hour to unpack, make the kids sleep, tuck them in bed, wash Aananya’s bottles, sterilize bottles as well as prepare the backpack for the morning. (We were told when we checked in that the electricity was for a limited amount of time and since there was no source of power, electricity was supplied by generators. Hence electricity timing was distributed according to the bare miminum needs: - 5am-6am, 11am-12pm, 2pm-3pm and 6pm to 10pm.) So after 10pm, we used kerosene lanterns in the room. It was a wonderful experience to stay up at night with kerosene lanterns and be surrounded by the wild animals. If you want to experience nature at its best, Royal Mara is the place to be. It is the ideal place to get away from the rat race that we have to run every single day of our lives. The staff of Masai Mara was kind to accommodate and make changes according to our needs and hence upon my request they removed a bed from our adjacent room which had no partition and in some ways was a part of one big room. They gave us a queen-size mattress where Aan and Aananya slept together for the 1st time.

We had been so excited and ecstatic in the morning that we decided that at night we would defiantly sit outside and sip hot chocolate and inhale the beauty that had totally smitten us. So after finishing off the chores, tucking kids to bed, we decided to have a romantic lantern light hot chocolate outside in the balcony. Although we could hear the noise made by baboons, hippos and something unknown, after the lights were switched off at 10pm we unzipped our tent and stepped out into the balcony. We were warned by the Royal Mara staff that hippos tend to come out of the water and walk around the tent at night and there was also a sighting of a Cheetah near our tent a week back. However the noises of baboon and hippos got louder and we decided to take our cups right inside where it belonged and went off to sleep to start another adventurous day.

“The Morning Game Drive”

No matter how hard we tried we were almost always the last ones to arrive. Our friends were sweet enough to always give us an understanding bow, knowing that we were a family of 4 with an infant. Nevertheless every time we managed to beat another family was always a family of 5. So by 6/7am in the morning we took our places in the jeep and headed for the game drive. Lo behold to our surprise the 1st thing we saw was the Cheetah that had tried hard to get some supper last evening. The only difference today was that it had a nice round belly which meant that probably during the night he was successful in getting dinner for himself. The way we got to know that it was the same Cheetah was due to an injury he had in his hind leg. Today he was in no mood of showing any action and was just lazing around in the sun. So we left him in peace and headed to see the other animals.

After the game drive we came back to our lodge, had breakfast, went to our rooms to freshen up and the men went for “nature walk” because kids weren’t allowed and there was a lot of walking involved. So the guys had a nice time seeing deers, hippos, crocodiles, impalas, ostrich etc while I made the kids ready for lunch.

Today we were not going to be served under the huge trees of the Royal Mara but were taken for “Bush Lunch”. When our jeeps stopped, we couldn’t believe our eyes. We were standing in the middle of no where, with beautiful tables laid, a chef turning meat on the barbeque grill, a buffet table with a variety of food to choose from and kind people to serve. We filled our plates with food and sat down to enjoy our meal; we could see far away herds of deers, gazelles, wild beasts, impalas and zebras moving around and having their lunch along with us. The view, the feeling, the experience is beyond words.

After lunch we came back to Royal Mara and had just about enough time to wash, sterilize Aananya’s bottles and make the diaper bag/ back pack ready for the evening game drive. Electricity was given at such times so as to cover the bare minimum time that we spent in the rooms. While we waited for our guard to escort us to the jeep, we spent time watching the wild hippos flickering their ears from under the water just outside our room.

For the evening game drive we were taken to White Rhino Camp which was an hour’s drive. On our way, we saw so many towers of giraffes, antelopes, wild fowls, elephant and many more animals. Picture this- clouded sky, beautiful cold breeze, towers of giraffes running and your car is driving parallel to it. While driving along with running giraffes, the scenic view was breathtaking.

After we returned from the game drive I spoke to the Royal Mara’s manager and I requested if as a favor he could arrange a night game drive for all of us. Once we finished the dinner, I inquired about the night drive and to our disappointment, he said only one vehicle and one tracker was available but they couldn’t arrange for a spot light. However my perseverance and persistence paid off and a tracker with a spot light was arranged. The only hitch being that there was only 1 car and we were 18 heads including kids. Lisa, a Malaysian friend was kind enough to back out with her 3 kids so that her husband and all of us could go but I wouldn’t have let that happen. We were in this together. So I convinced everyone that I and few others could stand and rest could sit with their kids and we finally squeezed ourselves in one jeep and moved into the mystical night to see some wildlife action and adventure. We did spot the now usual deers, giraffes, hippos out of the water, a lot of hares bouncing around, hyenas, jackals etc. To see these animals and to be out in an open jungle in the middle of night gave the thrill and excitement that we all were looking for.

On our return to the lodge I could see impalas, deers and a hare running away from outside our room as our jeep approached to drop us. “Tomorrow would be the last morning game drive” I thought. It was  12am yet the Royal Mara staff was kind enough to give us electricity for ½ an hour for us to settle in. While tucking the kids to bed, I saw Aan and Aananya both were running fever hence I decided to stay back with the kids and Aakaash went for the morning game drive. After he returned we packed quickly and moved to the muddy air strip to crawl our way into the tiny aircraft. 

This was one vacation I can never ever forget in my entire life. Although none of us wanted to leave we said our goodbye’s to the Masai Mara animals and headed for Nairobi. We reached there in the evening and met up with old friends from Sri Lanka, gorged on Indian food and rested for the next day’s flight back to Lagos, Nigeria.

Thankfully Aan and Aananya behaved and our journey was comfortable and smooth. The moment I got back, I was back on my laptop finalizing our plans for my dream destination - Australia.