Saturday, April 30, 2011

Skandagiri - A hot and trashy hike

As prep up for the Everest Base Camp trek we went on an early morning hike to Skandagiri. Skandagiri is around 70km from Bangalore and is one of the hill forts of Nandi Hills. You can read the wiki on it – it has accurate info for someone who wants to hike it. Quick take – nice hike, slightly hard, will take you 1-2 hours to do it, nice remnants of a temple and fort built by Tipu Sultan on top, you can buy some food and water on the top. Supposedly there is a huge 'mela' up there on weekend nights, especially on a full moon night.

Personal takes:
  1. It was hot and the two weeks of lazing around on the beaches of Goa showed J. It is a not a very hard hike but I kinda got why most people do it at night these days. The sun kills you.
  2. You have to pay for parking. As I hear if you don't you will have to pay for car paint or worse car repairs (supposedly done by the disgruntled parking guy)
  3. It is one of the trashiest hikes I have been on. There was more trash there than I expected. Somehow you think that people that like to hike like nature, thus care about it. This seems to be a very wrong assumption. Also, biodegradable does not mean it is ok to throw it on a trail. Banana peels, nut shells, paper bags – though not as bad as plastic bags and bottles- still take time to degrade and in the meantime degrade the trails people walk on.
  4. If you have not been hiking before go with someone – don't show up with no water on a hot day and think that climbing the 'hill' with your friends is a good idea. We met a group on our way down. The girls were swearing at the guys and I was sure there was going to be more swearing as they had no drinks with them. Bad idea. Bad bad idea. Luckily some enterprising villagers sells water and bread-omelet on the top but still hiking in summer with no water. Ouch.
View from the top
As always getting to the summit and looking down from the top was breath taking. But the best part on this hike was getting to know most of the folks I'd be going to the base came with. The company was great and really made me feel comfortable about the upcoming trip. Someday soon though I might have to partner with folks to get some of the trash down and most of all stop people from throwing rubbish there.

A lone Nandi left near the temple

View from the bottom of the hill.
It is steeper than it looks.
There is a fire burning near this cave. Set off on purpose by
a villager

Friday, April 29, 2011

Now I am a hot sausage

Ashvin's four year old vocabulary is increasing and is a source of constant amusement to us. A limp fish on the beach was declared "definitely absolutely dead". The beach was "enchanting" and "perfect". He was "relaxating" on the beach chairs. "Magnificent" and "Absolutely beautiful" has also been used. It is just fun to hear these words coming out of him but it is even better when he comes up with his own phrases to describe things. One morning while eating a plateful of chicken sausages – that he was really enjoying – he looked at me with love and said –"Mummy you are a hot sausage."

Hot sausage? I have been called many things but sausage? Hot Sausage?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

North and South Goa

Many would argue that there are many sides to Goa. I don't know it well enough to know all the sides so I'll stick to what I do know - the north side and south side. The kids side and the adults side. As different as day and night to me.

North Goa - this is where the party is at. You rent a bike, you find a beach and the goods on the beach find you. This is the more touristy side of Goa with cheap rooms, cheap food and lots of it all. There are shacks selling everything with amazing flea markets (Sat night at Arpora and Wed afternoon at Anjuna). The 'happening' clubs line up the road to Titos and the party goes on till 3am there. Then the party moves to the beach where many hang out till dawn - playing/listening to music and sitting their buzz away. I read the word 'bacchanalian' outside a dictionary in a Goa guide describing Anjuna beach parties on full moon night. Have not made it to one but it won't surprise me if they are bacchanalian indeed.

South Goa - North Goa's pretty sister turned into nun. Well, kind off. South Goa has the pretty pretty beaches and the fancy resorts. Really awesome if you want to lay back on a pretty property and don't mind shelling out a bit extra. It is a pretty place... the beaches are not crowded and offers to massage your feet, braid your hair, tattoo you are almost few compared to the North. The resorts are gorgeous and luxurious- great for a good relaxing vacation but as one friend put it - you could be in Goa or Jaipur, the resort makes it feel the same.

The other two side to Goa that I know are with kids and without kids. Here is what we did on our trips -

Without kids- rent a bike and stay by the beach. We stayed at SunCity Resorts on Baga. The room was average and breakfast buffet dismal. But we were never in the room and were too sleepy or full to care about their breakfast. Drive over to Anjuna and find a spot at the Tantra shack. Walk to Britto's (on Baga) after every meal and take two desserts to eat on the beach. Get lost on the bike. Make few plans and go anywhere and everywhere. Stay North.

With kids: take an apartment at Resort Rio in North Goa. Use their taxi to visit Baga and buy the kids some trinkets. Take them on the Panjem boat ride (the most scary tourist thing one can do in Goa is get onto a very lit up boat with 300 others then watch them dance - kids, men and women separately). Then move to South Goa. Find a good deal in a resort (Zuri is a good one) and relax there. Don't look at the menu prices too much - hmmm try to find an all-inclusive meal plan so you don't have to look at the price on the menu. Laze on the beach and relax. The kids will love resort grounds, the pools, the beach and activities planned for them. You will get a tan and some sleep.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shoveling Moments

There was once a little boy who was going to the beach. He lived far away from the beach and once he heard of the trip he was very excited. There was a new beach bucket at home. It had an unopened plastic mesh bag inside containing a shovel and a sifter. He was going to take that with him to the beach and there he would be allowed to open the mesh bag. He checked again and again to make sure the little bucket with its goodies was packed into his suitcase.

After a long train journey they made it to the beach. On the car ride to the beach he looked at the shovel and sifter inside. He loved the shovel so much. He was going to dig up the whole beach with it. He was willing to give the sifter to his brother but the shovel, the shovel was his.

The beach was big and sandy. The waves were strong and came rushing up, lapping at his little feet, making him run. Finally they found a spot to settle and once the beach towels were spread the mesh bag was opened. He held the little blue shovel in his hand. It was the best shovel ever. Off he ran to the water's edge to dig. The best shovel dug so well. It dug so deep. Then a big wave came rushing up.


Ashvin had had his shovel for less than a minute before it was gone. It was one of those moments where you are really sad for your child. His cry had such emotional pain in it. It was not one of a scrape on the knee, or one that an ice cream would fix. He was hurt. He could not believe the ocean did it to him. As a mom all I could do was look at the waves and hope the shovel would be washed back and hold him tight as he sobbed away.

I gave him a spoon and a cut up bottle to play with. He, resilient as all kids his age are, got busy with his new toys. Half an hour later the shovel did return back to the beach but the sorrow of losing it was way greater than the joy of getting it back. The shovel moment had passed and Ashvin forever hates that beach.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

All Set for Everest (Base Camp)

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” – Edmund Hillary

Very very excited right now. I have signed up for my much longed for Everest Base Camp trek. The other really nice part is that it is through Childreach International - a charity that helps children in developing countries. I am lucky to have a supportive spouse who constantly indulges me and family members that fly in to help with the children when needed.


When – 13th May to 27th May

The trek is 11 days long. We spend a day in Kathmandu getting ready and then going to a few of Childreach's Projects on our return.



Why I want to do this is the question I am asked the most. If it is just for a Himalayan trek then the Everest Base Camp trek is supposedly overhyped. There are treks that are way less commercial, less crowded and more beautiful. I do want to trek in the Himalayas but what I really want from this trek is to meet some people just before they take off on their quest to climb Everest. I am a people person. I love energy and being around passionate people (one reason I loved working at Microsoft). I don't think I will ever climb Everest but I want to feel that the excitement and the fear. I want to feel all the emotions.

And I must say I need a nice long walk in a cooler place than Bangalore. Darjeeling and then Seattle have ingrained a cold fondness in me.



That is what I am feeling right now J (excited and scared – time to go run in the gym and shed off all the laziness accumulated sitting on the beach all of last week)




Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Review - Resort Rio near Baga Beach, Goa

Resort Rio is a very nice family resort in a not so nice location. It is close enough to Baga Beach (a happening place in North Goa) but does not have very good road access making it a pain to get to it on foot or a bike at night. There are plenty of cabs available but that is your only option if you want to stay here.

Despite the road to it, the resort itself is a pleasant place – with great food and plenty of space in and out of the rooms. We booked a three bedroom villa there with an all meals included package. The villa was huge with two floors. Upstairs there were three bathrooms and bedrooms - with very nice beds and linen. Downstairs there was a huge sitting area, dining room and a kitchenette. The kitchen had a coffee maker and a big fridge but was missing a stove/microwave. However, we had opted for an all meals inclusive package thus never missed having a proper kitchen. The meals were served buffet style and it was really good food with a good Indian, Chinese and Continental selection at every meal. I had been skeptical about the meals but was pleasantly surprised.

Their swimming pool has a separate area for kids and is clean and beautiful. I liked their gym and also enjoyed the free morning yoga class on the lawn. Their landscaping is not as classy at Taj or other five star resorts but is pretty enough.

As mentioned before the location is a pain but they tried very hard to make up for this by providing a cab drop off and pick up ( during a few set hours) during the day and keep a well-staffed travel desk to meet our other needs. If I were to book there again I'd make sure shuttle pickup/dropoff was included in the package.

This resort is very new and they are overall very eager to please. I am not sure if the food quality and service overall will last the seasons but for this trip I must say that they outdid themselves


To note:

Look on travel site like Make My Trip before booking. The hotel site does not offer the best rates and even shows rooms as full when you can get a cheaper booking through travel sites. I was really surprised when I contacted them directly for a booking and they did not meet makemytrip's offer. Interestingly I found an offer where it was cheaper to get an all meals included package than just the room and we really enjoyed that.

Insure that beach pickup/dropoff is included in your package – it is Rs 250 for a roundtrip but you will get a little sour paying for it every day.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pencil sharpenings, magnets and mercury.

When I was in junior school we did not have Pokémon cards or Lil' pets to trade. We did not have a thousand TV channels and cartoon characters to discuss.

We, however, did have amazing erasers in all shapes and sizes. We had pencil boxes with magnets inside that opened on both sides. We had sharpeners that had pictures and an eraser and a brush at each end. We had huge pencils that had backscratchers attached to them. We had felt pens that we dipped in water when they dried out. We used pencils to learn how to use chopsticks.

We coveted magnets. They were not easy to get and so much fun to play with. All sort of things stuck to them. You often got it from a broken pencil box, or worse broke a pencil box to get it. Magnets were so cool that I joined my friends on a trip to the railway tracks to make one. The rumor was you could make a magnet by leaving a piece of iron on a train track. The train going over it would magnetize it. We put a nail and a coin on the track. The train went over them. We found neither.

We were sure you could make erasers using pencil sharpenings. You were supposed to collect a lot (four cups of sharpenings) and then boil it in milk till it was all pulpy and rubber came out. None of us ever reached the four cup collection goal but we stuffed our bags and pockets with pencil sharpenings.

We loved mercury. They came from broken thermometers and older siblings that stole them from the chemistry lab. Looking back, I am amazed at how recklessly we carried the shiny globules in paper cones and took them out to play with.

We found our own way to trade and do dangerous things. So now, when I watch my kids' trade cards, spoil their eyes on a video games, and ramble on to each other about the latest Ben 10 episode, I don't think this generation is crazy. I think of my trip to the railway tracks, I must have had mercury in my pocket and was surely rambling about what tiny eraser I'd trade for a handful of pencil sharpenings. We were crazy.

Images from

Monday, April 11, 2011

I played and got forked

When you play with your kids, you play with your kids. You tone it down and be less competitive. You let them win most of the times and make them lose sometimes (so they know how to lose and also believe you play fair). This is what I did for years. I looked away when I knew rent had to be paid in Monopoly or when I could kill in Ludo.

A few years back I played chess with Ankit. He was learning and it was a long fun game where I overlooked how the knight moved and did not checkmate him on many a turn. 

Then we came to India and he started to like chess. It seems they play it a lot at school and he loves it a lot. He even joined a neighborhood club with a chess teacher.

Today I played chess with Ankit. To justify what happened next I must say - I had my cup of tea and was distracted. And I was playing with my kid. Yes, he took classes and all but he was my kid. I had my defenses down. We started and within minutes I was kicked in the guts or as I learnt the right chess word - "forked". It did not take long, it was a very quick game – I was checkmated before I knew it. 

There was no sympathy moves for poor mom. No, awww she has not played for a long time. No, aww she is not part of a chess club. It was quick but painful. I was so forked.

Tomorrow I will play again. The chances I'll be forked are pretty high but I am going to give it a fight. The kid gloves are off.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

One Hundred Ice Creams

I must have been around seven when I had a dream, a goal, a want- I wanted a hundred ice creams. I did not want to eat a hundred ice creams. I just wanted to have them. I wanted to own them. They'd be my hundred ice creams.

This was long back in a small town in rural India. There was no soft serve or ice cream as we know it. My ice cream dreams consisted of orange popsicles. You could get nice big ones that left your tongue and lips bright orange for fifty paisa. It might have been all sugar and artificial color but it was cold and it lasted a long way on the rickshaw ride back from school. It also left a lot of your friends really jealous – the ones that saw you eating it and the ones that saw your stained mouth hours later. Well, I wanted a hundred of them. It was my dream.

One fine day, a visiting aunt gave us fifty rupees. This was for  my sibling and me to share. Usually, in such scenarios, the money went to my mom and was never seen again but today, due to some twist in fate, it had stayed with us. It was fifty rupees, which meant a hundred "fifty paisa", which meant a hundred ice creams.

It was not hard to convince to my younger siblings that a hundred ice cream was better than anything they ever wanted to buy (I was good at painting pictures and they were young and gullible). The problem however was finding a hundred ice creams. Most carts had some twenty orange popsicles at the most. So, we pulled in the neighborhood kids and went lane by lane and bought all the ice creams we could find. By evening we had a hundred orange paddle pops in the freezer. I counted them. Again and again. I had a hundred ice creams. I was the happiest seven-year old ever.

We ate a few and gave a few to the troops that helped find the ice cream carts. The rest stayed in the freezer and filled my dreams later at night. I think I smiled all night long. I smiled all the way to school and I smiled all the way home.

This indeed was long back in a small town in rural India. We never had twenty-four continuous hours of electricity. My seven year old want had not factored that fact into the plan. I came home to an orange puddle being cleaned in the kitchen. 

I think there was some ass whooping. Some talk about money and about being sensible and not eating stuff off the street. I am not sure if it showed on my face but I smiled through all that. I really did not care. I had  achieved my first dream in life. Even if it was just for a night, I had been the CEO of a hundred ice creams.


Image from:

True Love – Eating the bitter bits.

I was cutting up some cucumbers for a dinner party when my sister pointed out that I was not cutting and rubbing the ends. There are some bitter varieties of cucumber that require you to do it – you slice a bit off the end and rub it against the cut till foam is seen, this draws the bitterness out of the cucumber. It had been a long time since I had encountered such a variety so I had started skipping that part. 

The next day, during lunch, I happened to bite into a bitter piece of cucumber left over from  dinner. I grimaced as I looked across to my sister and told her it was bitter. She said "Yes, I ate a bitter piece last night then I started to eat all the ones next to it so no one else would get a bitter one. I guess this one escaped"

She wanted to make sure none of my guests ate a bitter piece. Now that is what I called true love.

Image from :

Friday, April 1, 2011

Don’t judge a book by its movie

I did not come up with this title but heard my mom and sister mention it while going through some magazines. It really hit home as watched “The Golden Compass” a few nights back. It was coming on cable and Ankit was excited as he loved the book it was based on. We all sat with him and then through the movies heard him sigh, exclaim, moan and groan and then finally, exasperated, he threw himself back on the bean bag and wailed –“They left the best parts out and this is not the ending. What did they do to the book? Why? Why? Why?” I had heard the same words while accompanying him to the Harry Potter movies.

I prefer to read either the book or watch the movie. While watching “Lord of the Rings” I was amazed by the sheer cinematography – the scenery, the computer generated realism – while friends that had read the book like it was the Bible shook their head in despair. There are many pages dedicated to the differences between the book and the movie and Gary Appenzeller has done a great job in detailing the difference on his page. I love his take on why we get disappointed -

“It would be an interesting study if somehow we could quantify this disappointment of readers when they see the movie adaptation and find out whether changes to the story in a certain book (for the purposes of adaptation to the screen) matter less to its readers, while changes to the story in another book have a greater effect on its readers.  I believe some books matter more to their readers than others.”

I think the length of the book has to do with it too. The Golden Compass, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, all require some time investment. So, it is hard to take hours of mental picture painting and replace it by one painted by the movie adaption. An adaption constrained by budgets, technological and time constrains. For example,  I loved the take on Rapunzel in Tangled – they did an exceptional job at making it a worth watch for all ages and gender – and I did not hear one complain on the story's "adaption".

 At home, Ankit has handed me the sequel to “The Golden Compass”. I am sure this is to ensure he has someone the join in the lamenting if a sequel is ever produced but more so to ensure I know what a great book it is. He really does not want me to believe the movie was the book. He has painted too good a picture of the series in his head.