Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A day in Shimla

We’ve been going to Chandigarh since 7 years now. Every year we made plans to visit the Queen of the hills but it was never to be. This year, however, we found a perfect opportunity and we grabbed onto it!

We booked our stay just a day in advance – which is rare considering the big planner that I am. I had no idea about the region and so I thought we will chill, walk the famous Mall Road and relax at some trendy restaurants. Well, we did exactly that during our short stay.

The trip from Panchkula (a town close to Chandigarh) took us 4 hours with breaks. The roads were quite neat and we didn’t feel any nausea or discomfort. It had been a few years since I had been to a hill station in India, so I was quite wary of the drive. Himachal roads did not disappoint.

We booked ourselves in Hotel Marina. It was at one end of the Mall road making it accessible by car which is not the case with all hotels in such a central location. It was also perfect for me for I could see tall pine trees from my balcony. On the other side, the hotel had easy access to the Mall road where, apparently, all the action was. The location was spot on and the hotel was brand new - we just loved our stay there.

I am a nature lover. I can sit between trees for hours and not feel bored. My favorite moments from the trip were actually sitting in my balcony and hearing the trees hustle. We did not hike anywhere because the trip was extremely short, so this was my only chance. I slept late, I woke up early, and I had all my cuppas in the cutest balcony of this hotel.

Clicks of an idle mind!

Sunset from the balcony.
We walked to the mall in the evening. There were quite a few uphill stretches which I managed well with breaks. We walked to what is called the Ridge (flat elevated area with a church and a market) and saw Shimla all lit up at night.

Shimla is indeed densely populated.

The weather was beautiful and we had Momos at Krishna Bakery and piping hot Gulab Jamuns at the famous Baljee. On our way back, we sat at a highly rated trendy open-air restaurant called Cafe Shimla Times. It lived upto its name for being a space with a great ambiance but lacked in gourmet food.

The next morning we checked-out from the hotel and walked across the Mall road to the Ridge again. Now it was sunny and I didn’t understand the point of this tough hike! I sulked and frowned but at last the sun pitied on us and hid itself in the clouds. We felt better and had those best-I've-ever-had Gulab Jamuns again!

The Ridge

I find all trees beautiful!

We had food at Giani dhaba on our way back and it was quite yummy. This was followed by famous and delicious malai kulfi at Ishar Sweets in Kalka. The whole trip was 'foodful' and a great escape from the unusual April heat. I am sure we will be visiting the hills again and discovering more than the Mall the next time!

Balancing Act on a Wednesday

I am lucky to be friends with women who have now become big corporate honchos and have earned a name for themselves. They are my besties from school and we keep in touch on a regular basis. Our chat this morning was as follows:

P: The first GOT episode was disappointing
R: *blah blah blah* reviewing the episode.
Y: I don’t follow GOT. *runs off to be the awesome wife, mother and daughter-in-law that she is.*
Me: I’ll watch it over the weekend. 
R: I want to sleep but have to file a story. *she’s a Senior Correspondent for Economic Times. And single.*
P: I want to chill too but have to file a plan. *she’s a Senior PR Manager for a big tech company and a new mum.*
Me: I can sleep.
Me: I can chill.
R: Do that on our behalf.
Me: I slept for 2 hours in the morning. Will nap if need be.
P: I am up since 5 a.m.
R: Me too!
P:  I can't chill and can absolutely not sleep!
Me: Aww.
Me: You’ll be successful with meaningful lives.
P: Yeah right. I can't wait to get fired.
Me: I’ll sleep and create that balance this world needs!
R: Lol
P: Hahaha

*And we sign off with our daily dose of inspiration!*

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Darkness and Light

The raindrops come falling down
The leaves rejoice, there is beauty all around
This weather always has a story to tell
There is one here too, waiting to be found.

I try to untangle the scheme of things
Sometimes it is not that clear
The haze around is too thick.
The weight – it is too strong to bear.

The clouds now make a thundering noise
A small puddle forms around me
The sun plays hide and seek
I look up – there is a rainbow that I can see.

Life’s challenges never seem to end
But if you look hard, beauty is hidden everywhere
The sun behind the clouds tells me today
That darkness and light always comes in pair.

Even though I like this rain
I wait for a strong wind to send the clouds away
There is clarity in light, in mundane things
And so I wait for a bright sunny day.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Twitter Frenzy

Online world is quite useful sometimes. When you can’t have a house party during a match, you can keep chatting on Whatsapp with groups that share similar interest. And when you can’t go to the stadium, you might as well put your television speakers on high volume and go on Twitter.

Now people who abhor the online world for all the stupid reasons would not agree, but let me tell you, it is a win-win situation – you don’t miss a ball (because anyone who has ever been to a stadium knows it’s only about the adrenalin rush, no match watching there.) and you still know how the world around you is feeling. Since you can’t go to the stadium always (because you aren’t grey-eyed man who probably has a huge inheritance since he misses work so frequently!), you can too go every day.

Since I am a girl (woman) in her 30’s, most of my friends are busy with their kids. They might be watching cricket, but to expect them to chat with me during the match is expecting too much. The Boy’s phone keeps buzzing with incessant chatter from all across the globe. I feel left out and so I go on Twitter. Also, he’s an MCP who smirks when I talk cricket because he thinks women watch cricket just for Kohli and reasons other than bat and ball.

He’s not completely wrong.

*The word Kohli itself sends me to a dreamland.*

So, Twitter. Since the Boy won’t listen to my inane wisdom on cricket, I lash out by sending tweets. I typed a couple yesterday, and guess what, I got 350 Likes and 117 Retweets!

Ignore the comments - some losers just want to get attention.

Basically I was infuriated by how fans treat their stars. On one hand they went gaga over Virat Kohli’s performance, on the other hand they were sending out jokes like ‘Bhadka hua Aashiq’. God knows I have a sense of humour, but when you put someone on a pedestal, you need to really respect the man.

This man gave us moments of unfathomable happiness. Millions were clapping and laughing and feeling ecstatic. There is no entertainment that can match the feeling of high patriotism in a sporting event. Yet there are morons who make jokes on this hero. If he made you feel so good, atleast don’t make him feel bad.

So trolls suck. I wrote a tweet which I am glad was appreciated by many. I think I did a good thing and would appreciate if Kohli thanked me for it. But since he is busy practicing a West Indian roast very soon, I’ll forgive him even if he doesn’t.

However, there is a downside to being so awesome on Twitter - you get new followers. Although the numbers make you feel happy, they really are just numbers. The other disadvantage is that I would be trying to concoct new Tweets during every match and that would just take away my precious time adoring Kohli on the pitch. Anyway, I just got 350 Likes and 117 Retweets – I am a celebrity, I shouldn’t be complaining.

Yes, yes, I know it’s no big deal. But it is to me. It is a ‘Dear Diary’ moment and I won’t let anyone take that away from me.

Here is my handle if you are looking to follow a wise soul. And there is a cross on the top right corner of your screen if you are looking to shut this nonsense down! 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

On a Serious Note

I tell the Boy that I hate flying alone. He should drop me to Lucknow and then come back. He tells me he will do so only when I am 80. I say no, 50 is the cut-off. He wouldn’t budge below 70. I secretly wish that I can still travel alone till I am 80. That’s the dream, it’s very simple – panic immensely for weeks before travel, climb the bus without help and see the family. That’s all I want from life.

I read ‘Kid Me Not’. It’s a book by 60-something women talking about their childfree lives. Sometimes you need reassurance. When you go against societal norms and don’t find anyone around you doing the same, you need to reach out to strangers. I feel better every time I do that.

I read ‘My Sister’s Keeper’. It is a story of a 13-year old girl who was conceived to treat her sister’s leukaemia. I feel for caregivers. It is not easy to live with people who suffer from some sort of illness. We have mood swings that are not normal. Our childhood is not about toys, games and books, it is about doctors and treatments. We grow into wonderful, sensitive human beings, but the craziness prevails. Those who stay by our side, value life much more and are the real heroes. Not us.

I go on Google and type ‘I want to write a book, but have no ideas.’ Even though I find it funny to find answers to this question, it is enlightening to know that most writers are like that. Only a lucky few have divine intervention for ideas, the rest of the world finds inspiration from resources like mine.

I have a mind that wanders into risky territories. I travel time, boundaries and situations in my head all the time. I plan to develop some sanity and put this wandering into good use. Creativity can be a curse in some ways.

I wish a cousin on her birthday. She’s a tad crooked and replies with one-liners. I keep my smallish ego aside and ask her about life in general. She replies in one liners - no questions only strange 3-4 words. I find it hard to keep up. I’ll wish her again next year knowing fully well that this is how she will respond. I don’t have an ego. I’ll message when and if I want to. I’ll love it if she initiates, I would talk without past experiences. Maybe she doesn’t think too fondly of me. Maybe I’ve hurt her in the past. I’ll give her a benefit of the doubt because that is what life is all about – you need to give people benefit of the doubt.

I give up on my present routine. I have given up many times before because of the same reasons I have given up this time. I will rise from the ashes after a few weeks. Knowing myself fully well, I will come back with equal passion and exuberance. Not everyone can do that. It takes a twisted mind and a positive soul. It takes hope and courage. I master the art. In this life of mine, I always call the shots. Always. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Movie Review - Kapoor & Sons

3.5/5 Stars

I went to see Kapoor & Sons expecting the same old love triangle. Since I like to watch all romantic Bollywood flicks, I had to go, but with very low expectations.

The film, frankly, surprised me. It had little to do with a love triangle (or a lack of it, go watch!) but more about family dynamics. The movie begins with the reunion of this middle-class family in the beautiful backdrop of Coonoor after five years when the grand-father has a heart attack. Before going further, I want to applaud Rishi Kapoor’s role as the grand-pa. He gives the much needed punch lines that make the audience laugh between intense drama amongst other family members.

The two brothers Siddharth Malhotra (Arjun) and Fawad Khan (Rahul) have had some feud in the past and so their relationship has been rocky. They have been leading separate lives in London and New Jersey, respectively. The parents, Ratna Pathak and Rajat Kapoor, live in the beautiful town of Coonoor and have trouble in their marriage. The love interest, Alia Bhatt (Tia) has a home in the same town and has her own family issues which I don’t want to reveal here.

The movie basically shows the crisis in the lives of each character, their relationship with each other, their problems and how they deal with it. The concept did remind us of Dil Dhadakne Do, but this was an absolutely different plot and set-up. It had interesting twists and turns and surprises that none of us expected. I am glad it was not the same old love triangle that we thought it would be.

The songs were woven well into the movie. Alia is chirpy yet intense, Siddharth is the boy you adore, Fawad's role as the favorite son is played well, but Rishi Kapoor was definitely the show stealer with his amusing role. There was nothing that I thought was larger than life or unbelievable in Kapoor and Sons which is rare in this genre. The story would make you value your family much more than you already do. I guess it is better to have a boring family than one with so much drama! Go watch it after the India – Pakistan match tomorrow. I know you won't, can't miss that!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Trip Report - Germany's Black Forest

You have been warned – after you visit the Black Forest in Germany, you will want all your holiday spots to be like that. I am telling you from experience – I went there 6 months back (September 2015) and I am looking to go someplace similar for my next vacation; I just can’t get over it!

I don’t remember what was it that made us want to go to the Black Forest. We had no friends who have been there, and absolutely no idea of the region. However, we had a fair idea of the type of places we like – picturesque small towns where you can walk and walk and take in the culture. Black Forest suited the description perfectly.

I took a lot of time deciding where should we base ourselves. Forums online advised against staying in bigger towns. But we needed a city with good connections to Amsterdam and Wurzberg (our entry and exit points). We needed a town where we would get good dinners ‘cause after a day in the villages we would be starving and we like to have more options. So it was down to 3 cities – Baden Baden, Offenberg and Freiburg im Breisgau (Frei in the following paragraphs!).

It was easy to choose Frei because it had a direct flight from Amsterdam. Euro Airport serves Basel-Mullhouse-Freiburg im Breisgau for three different countries. Frei is also a university town, that made our choice simpler.

Our hotel was very close to the train station. Since we had to take a number of day trips, it was ideal. Frei has an amazing network of trams, buses and rail. Our hotel gave us a card that made our transport free within a certain region.

We even bought a 3-day Black Forest pass which was extremely cheap considering the amount of time we spent on buses and trains. Germany is the cheapest destination in terms of public transport. And the most efficient as well. I don't take Switzerland into account - that country leaves you with a hole in your pocket!

It was raining on our arrival day and so we decided to go to a near-by lake called Titisee. Travel days are exhausting and so we just wandered around aimlessly. The lake was beautiful and so was the area. We had minced pork and potatoes for lunch – that was a grand welcome to Germany! Needless to say, I just hogged on the potatoes!

 The next day it was raining again. We wanted to take a cable car ride but it wasn’t the right day. So we decided to go to Triberg. It is a small village with the largest cuckoo clock. The whole village had small shops with clocks all around. It was like a fairy land! We went to a waterfall and got drenched with our ponchos on. Rain bothered us quite a bit but we had no choice.

We had a funny experience thereafter! There was a bus standing waiting to go in our towns direction. I thought it would be fun to visit smaller towns and go through meandering roads. We hopped on to that bus. The driver told us it would take 2 hours by bus while it would just take an hour by train. We thought this would be a different experience and so we waited for the bus to move.

The bus went through all the Black Forest towns it seems! The driver picked children from one village and dropped them in another. We quickly realised it was school time and this was a bus for the kids!

Nevertheless, we witnessed a fun aspect and had a great time being on the roads! We reached Offenberg and took our train to Frei. In the evening we thought of going to an Indian restaurant and found an amazing one with ease.

Getting lost and doing random things makes vacations so much fun. Although I hate the scary parts, and GPS sometimes takes us through frightening, deserted routes. Anyway, you learn along the way so it’s not that big a deal.

On day 3 in Frei we took a tram across the city. We saw beyond touristy spots and observed how the city operated. We then took a cable car to Schauinsland and I found my peace in the hills.

It was a clear day with only light drizzle here and there. We trekked a little on the hills and found some beautiful spots to rest in. I wish I could trek more and get lost in those mountains. But I am grateful for the ability to atleast walk and see some of it. Schauinsland was a very simple place, yet it had the most calming air to it. I could go there every day if I lived anywhere near it. Ah the joy!

We did our laundry in the evening since we were half way through our vacation and were running out of clothes. We ate at the Indian restaurant again since our clothes had to be washed and dried before we could leave the area. The laundromat was obviously in German. But with the help of some kind people, we managed well. Also, my opinion of Germans being a rude community changed after the trip since we didn’t have a single harsh encounter!

We went to small villages the next day – Schiltach and Gengenbach. All these places looked quite similar to each other. Yet they were beautiful and had a typical Black Forest charm. We ate the famous Black Forest cake in supposedly the village which is most famous for it  – Schiltach. It was definitely over-rated! The locally brewed beer, however, was quite yum!

Our evening was spent in exploring Freiburg. Another funny incident happened which will forever be etched in my memory. It has to do with hot coffee and what sometimes happens next. Eww!

For some reason I had over-looked Baden-Baden. Most people on travel forums are fans of local things. They like what is authentic and traditional and talk against modern yet beautiful places. We just looked at google images of Baden-Baden the previous evening and thought we would like it.

We couldn’t have been more right. This town in the North of the Black Forest is a modern fairy land. It has cute cafes looking absolutely chic. It has pretty streets leading to plush hotels and restaurants. And the best of all, it has a cable car leading to a hill with amazing views of the area. You know how much I love tiny hills with small trekking areas!

We wished we had stayed the night in the city. But since we had a bus to Wurzberg the next day and we hadn’t planned this before, we went against it.

Nevertheless, each and every day in the Black Forest was amazing. I wish I could go there again sometime. But before that, I have many miles to cover, and cover I shall!

Tips for the area:
- If you are without a car, you would be doing a lot of train travel. We had to take a lot of connections at Offenberg. If you like the town, you can base yourself there.
- 5 days would do justice to the area.
- Small towns are what they are – small. You walk around a bit and they end. So be careful while choosing them as a base.
- Buy rail passes and use them. It cannot get more cheap.
-  Black Forest is the cheapest European destination we have been to. It has the charm of the Swiss hills and the cuteness of Austria. Get the best of all worlds and save your money!
- Eat the sandwich with Mango Curry sauce at the Frei station. If you like it, bring back some mango curry sauce from Germany. It was our one and only purchase and ...slurppp!
- If you want to explore more THIS blog is quite comprehensive. 

Coming up - Trip reports from Amsterdam, Munich and Cyprus! They are long over-due!