Enchanting Cherai

enchanting cherai

A few months ago, we revisited a place that we had discovered, quite by accident, a couple of years ago. We had so enjoyed our laid back holiday in enchanting Cherai, Kerala that we just had to revisit it!

So here we present Enchanting Cherai

Landscape

Cherai Beach on Vypeen Island, would count as a natural wonder blessed with the sea and the backwaters within a couple of hundred yards of each other at some places on the island.

lake poyil, cherai
Lake Poyil

With the Perriyar river flowing in the east, the Arabian Sea lapping the shore in the west, a backwater called Lake Poyil lies between the two. Cherai beach itself is over 10 kilometers long, which makes it one of the longest stretches of beach in Kerala. And though it is just 25 kilometers from Kochi, as you drive towards Cherai you are transported to a different world.

cherai beach

As a result of the unique geographical proximity of the sea, river and backwater, you have on offer kilometers of shoreline with quiet and secluded beaches, acres of coconut groves and long stretches of backwaters where fishermen continue to use the traditional Chinese fishing nets.

chinese-fishing-nets-kerala

History

The history of Cherai is a reflection of the history of India; European powers like the Portuguese, the French, the Dutch and the English vying with each other to control the spice trade and exploiting the differences between various local rulers in pursuit of their goal.

The Portuguese were the first to arrive in this area around 1500 when the explorer, Vasco da Gama discovered a sea route to India and landed in Calicut on 20 May 1498. Soon thereafter, taking advantage of the rivalry between the Zamorin of Calicut and the Rajah of Cochin, the Portuguese were able to establish a foothold in Cochin or Kochi.

Besides constructing a fort in 1503 and a church in 1507 in Pallipuram at the northern end of the Vypeen Island, the Portuguese also established the famous Vaipakkotta Seminary and Jesuit Monastery in 1574 where the first printing press in Kerala was started in 1579.

As a result of continuing hostilities with the Zamorin of Calicut, the Portuguese hold in Kerala became tenuous and they were eventually ousted by the Dutch in the seventeenth century. The Dutch, in turn, held sway till 1795 when Dutch Settlements in Kerala were surrendered to the British for ‘safe keeping’ to prevent a take over by the French.

Places of interest

The economy of Cherai is intrinsically linked to fishing with several boat yards, ice factories and food processing units situated around the harbor providing employment to the local population.

Munambam, one of the major fishing harbors in India, is at the northern end of the Vypeen island and the best time to visit the harbor is very early in the morning when the trawlers come in with a fresh catch of fish and to witness the traditional auction of the lots of fish that takes place.  So around 4.30 one morning, we left the resort in in an auto or tuk-tuk piloted by Biju.

biju cherai
Notice the ‘Be Kind‘ sticker I stuck on Biju’s auto-taxi!

By the time we reached the harbor, the unloading of the fish was well underway and the auctions were taking place. It was most interesting to look at the boats coming in, being emptied of the catch, being cleaned and the auctioning process. We considered ourselves lucky to have had this experience.

munambum harbour cherai
The catch being sold, bought and getting packed at Munambum Harbour, Cherai

What particularly struck us was the friendliness of those around. No one seemed to mind the two of us scurrying around with our cameras trying to get the best shots. In fact, just outside the wharf, one auto driver asked us to pose together while he took our photo.

at munambum harbout
Our morning faces at Munambum Harbour ! 🙂

Quite close to the Munambam Harbor is the Munambam beach and the Breakwater point, where the Perriyar river flows into the sea and must be visited just before sunset. We spent over an hour at sunset at the breakwater point taking pictures of the local fishermen fishing with rods and tackles as also others in their traditional canoes and small boats with outboard motors. And as you gaze across the estuary you can see the neighboring district of Thrissur.

breakwater point cherai
Breakwater Point, Cherai

Two other places of interest that warrant a visit, from a historical perspective, are the Manjumatha Basilica also known as the Basilica of Our Lady of Snows and the Portuguese Fort, both of which are located in Pallipuram en route to Munambam.

We spent a morning visiting these two places. We found the Basilica and its precincts, including a church that was first built by the Portuguese in 1507 and rebuilt by the Dutch, are well maintained.

Basilica of Our Lady of Snows
Basilica of Our Lady of Snows

Local legend has it that in April 1790 when Tipu Sultan’s invading army was camped on the banks of the Perriyar river near Aluva, the locals took refuge in the church and prayed for divine intervention. And their prayers appear to have been answered when miraculously, a mist spread around the church leading Tipu Sultan to believe he had reached the sea and he withdrew. To honor this miracle, the locals called the church to Manjumatha or Our Lady of Snows.

Maybe the clue as to why the Basilica is so well maintained can be discovered on translating the word Pallipuram, which in Malayalam, means ‘Place around the Church’. According to the records this name predated the arrival of the Portuguese in the area;. it is amply clear that there were Christians living in this area who had constructed a church, around which they lived. Given the fact that the Apostle Thomas came to South India in the first century AD to preach, this is hardly surprising.

old church, cherai
This church that was first built by the Portuguese in 1507 and rebuilt by the Dutch

And in the cemetery attached to the old church built by the Portuguese we discovered on the tombstones of some very recent graves Portuguese surnames, like Pinheiro, leading us to conclude further that there exists a vibrant Catholic community that still take pride in their Portuguese heritage.

Once again, we experienced the innate friendliness of the people of the place; the watchman opened the old church for us to look around and take pictures and I believe even cajoled the verger to ring the bells in the old fashioned belfry a couple of minutes before noon, just for our benefit.

We were given to understand by the locals that the annual feast at the Pallipuram church with an accompanying fair is the high point of life in Cherai and spreads over fifteen days. Some of the major attractions at the accompanying fair are a procession of fishing boats, sale of fishing nets and fire work displays. Fishermen from around believe that nets bought on the occasion lead to good catches. Incidentally, the church was elevated to the status of a Basilica only in 2012 following a decree issues by Pope Benedict XVI.

While the Basilica and its precincts are well looked after, the same cannot be said about the Pallipuram Fort, built by the Portuguese on the banks of a tributary of the Perriyar river, which lies in a derelict state, as can be seen from the photograph.

Portuguese Fort
Portuguese Fort, Pallipuram

The fort was constructed by the Portuguese in 1503 and is the oldest European fort in India. The fort itself is a hexagonal structure. The walls of the fort are 34 feet high and each of the eight faces is 32 feet. The main purpose of this fort was to monitor the traffic on the Perriyar, to and from the what is the present day Munambam port.

Within the fort there is an underground cellar, which opens into an underground passage. Locals claim the passage led to the Kottappuram or Cranganore Fort in Kodungallur, in Thrissur district built by the Portuguese in 1523 at the mouth of the Perriyar river where the ancient Muziris sea port is thought to have existed. However, it is more likely that the underground passage let to the nearby river front and was used to bring in provisions and facilitate movement to and from the fort during hostilities.

It is indeed shameful the way old monuments and structures of historical significance are allowed to deteriorate in India. Maybe its time the Archeological Department is closed down and some private trusts are entrusted with the upkeep of such places.

Though we have visited Cherai twice, there is one famous attraction that we have not visited as yet; the Varaha temple that is famous for its wood carvings of Lord Vishnu, silver palanquin and a temple chariot or rath that runs on wheels. Traditionally, a chariot festival takes place twice a year and involves the rath being pulled by devotees around the temple accompanied by drum beats.

Whilst you may or may not visit these places, the main attraction in Cherai is the main beach. We have been to many beaches in India, but nowhere do you find the same festival type atmosphere like in Cherai.

We spent many pleasant evenings, over two visits, on the promenade of the main beach watching the hordes of people enjoying themselves while fishing boats chugged north towards Munambam with the setting sun acting as a backdrop.

Usually, beaches at tourist destinations like Goa are filled with holiday makers; in Cherai it is different. Soon after noon, buses and cars start arriving and whole families or groups of friends disembark and make a beeline for the shore.

cherai beach
Cherai beach

And they all have lots of fun swimming or just playing around in the shallows, fully dressed, secure in the knowledge that the local restaurants have shower rooms where they can shower and change, for a price. Children play in the sand or fly kites that are on sale. Those who are not in the water relax sitting on the promenade eating ice cream or munching some snacks that are available at the numerous kiosks or street food vendors.

Food in Cherai

When on a holiday, as a rule, we try to eat at places which are patronised by the locals. In Cherai, a short walk from the resort where we stayed brought us to the main beach where there are a number of small restaurants, snack stalls and street-food vendors.

On our second visit, we discovered Lilliput, a restuarant which had opened a couple of months earlier and is run by Varghese Paul, a graduate from a catering college, assisted by his parents. We went there on the first evening of our stay and were so taken up with the food and the ambiance that for the rest of our stay in Cherai we ate at least one meal everyday in Lilliput.

What made us keep going back to the place, besides the attraction of eating in the courtyard, was the large selection of local dishes. With the help of Varghese we sampled Nadan kozhi curry (chicken curry), Kanthari chicken (chicken dry fried in coconut oil and small green chillies), Koonthal fry (deep fried squid), meen Mulakittathu Shappu style (fish curry), Vendakka Mappas (okra with a coconut base). We also sampled Vallam curry fish – the kind of preparation the local Vallakaran (boat men) make to carry on their fishing expeditions.

lilliput restaurant cherai
Lilliput Restaurant, Cherai

Besides Liliput, another place to sample the local cuisine is the Holiday Hotel that is located in nearby Cherai Junction, a couple of kilometers from the beach. Here too, the menu has a selection of Kerala food, including a number of pork dishes. If you love your pork with lots of fat, this is the place to visit.

Breakfast, though, can be a bit of a problem at Cherai Beach, since most of the restaurants cater to day tourists and therefore open only around lunch time. So, rather than eating breakfast in the resort, we used to stock up sweet parothas  that we had with tea/coffee in our room.

sweet parotha
Sweet Parotha

When we really felt like indulging ourselves, we either took an auto to Cherai Junction, where we had breakfast at the Holiday Hotel. Or we walked down to Blue Waters a three star hotel just off the main beach that offered a buffet breakfast, which meant skipping lunch at Lilliput.

How to get there

After reading this post, many of you will be wondering how to get to Cherai. But given its proximity to Kochi, which is well connected to the rest of the country by air and rail, getting to Cherai is a breeze.

If you fly in, the airport is around 27 kilometers away with prepaid taxis available. Or if you arrive by train, Ernakulam Station is 28 kilometers from Cherai whilst Aluva is 23 kilometers away. Or after a pilgrimage to Guravayur, you have to drive some 55 kilometers.

Where to stay

And staying is not an issue, with lots of accommodation available to suit every budget; from home stays that offer home cooked meals to three star hotels with conference facilities and five star resorts, you can take your choice.

On both occasions we visited Cherai, we have stayed at the Club Mahindra timeshare property, known locally as the Indriya Beach Resort. This is a five star property where local architecture has been tastefully incorporated. All the rooms are equipped with modern amenities like an air conditioner, television, tea/coffee maker, mini-fridge and 24-hour hot & cold water.

club mahindra cherai
Club Mahindra, Cherai

The eastern side of the property is the Poyil Lake whilst the opposite side overlooks the beach. On our second visit we we were allotted a room on this side and through the large bay window we got an excellent view of the sea throughout the day.

The people – the best reason to visit Cherai

We are frequently asked why we keep going back to Kerala for holidays and I guess that an important reason, besides the sheer beauty of the place that is sometimes also referred to as ‘God’s Own Country’, are the people.

They are friendly, helpful, without trying to exploit a tourist, as is the case in some other major tourist destinations in India. They are quite willing to pose for a photo or assist you with directions. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised when some of the small shopkeepers and vendors remembered us from our earlier visit.

I can see us revisiting Cherai again!

PS: Thanks to my husband, José for organizing these holidays, enjoying them with me and for all his inputs for putting this post together! 🙂

Weekend At Mahindra Adventure Off-Road Training Academy

I have always been fascinated by jeeps. When I was growing up, the only jeeps on the roads of Bandra were either army surplus vehicles or those that had been painstakingly reconstructed by enthusiasts, again using old army jeeps.

It was only in the mid nineties that Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd (M&M), an Indian automotive company, started manufacturing and marketing the Mahindra Classic; a jeep that was a classic in every sense of the word. Simple and rugged and an icon of the time.

I fell in love with the Classic and it was right up there on my wish list. However, due to legislative norms that came into effect in 2005, production stopped and for many years the closest one could come to owning a jeep was the Maruti Gypsy.

And whilst several SUVs and MUVs are available in the Indian automobile market, no ‘authentic’ jeep was available commercially till M&M introduced the Thar, a CRDe jeep.

For the uninitiated, a jeep is a four wheel drive (4WD) vehicle that comes into its own on rugged terrain; like climbing hills, driving through cratered terrain or fording streams.

Last weekend, I got an opportunity to finally drive the Thar when I attended a two day Trail Survivor training program at the Mahindra Adventure Off-Road Training Academy at Igatpuri, about 120 kms from Mumbai.

Normally, if one is interested in off roading, you first buy an off roader like the Thar or Mahindra Scorpio or the Tata Safari Storme and then join some group of enthusiasts and learn the techniques. But this can be costly learning curve.

The primary purpose of the Off Road Academy, a part of Mahindra Adventure, is to allow customers of Mahindra to explore the the potential of their off roading vehicles, though other like me can also enroll and learn the basics.

What Mahindra Adventure have done is taken 28 acres of such terrain and set up an off road training track. This picture taken from the 4WD track of the Academy gives you some idea of the terrain of the place.

mahindra_offroad_academy

Here each participant is supplied with a Thar CRDe jeep and taught to off road in a controlled environment , with emphasis on safety and without damaging the vehicle.

We were a batch of four – Abdul, who came in from Bengaluru and Shashank (Doc) were proud owners of Thars and had joined the course to help them realise the full potential of the vehicle whilst Sanjeev drove a Mahindra Scorpio, a SUV and wanted to learn off roading, having already participated in a number of Great Escape Rallies organised by Mahindra Adventure.

Being a novice as regards driving a jeep, I cautioned Manish Sarser from Mahindra Adventure, who was conducting the course, that I would require lots of hand holding to which he responded ‘As long as you can change gears, you will be fine’.

Our session commenced around 2.30 on Saturday afternoon, after lunch at a nearby hotel. Since the course curriculum mentioned a session on 4WD theory, that I thought would shepherded to a classroom to attend a power point presentation.

But we were pleasantly surprised when instead, we were each assigned a Thar and were asked to follow Manish to the 4WD course. And after a brief theory session, with the bonnet of a jeep was raised for demo purposes, we were given helmets and started off roading.

The first obstacle was called Home Run, where we had to drive down a narrow path, with deep ruts, reverse at the bottom and return to the start. As I negotiated this stretch, at one point the Thar appeared to tilt so precariously, I thought that it would topple over. But following Manish’s instructions I made it to the bottom and returned to the top. And the bouncing about I received confirmed the need for the helmet.

After completing the Home Run, we once again drove down the same path, this time a lot more confidently and proceeded to the next obstacle, viz. the Pond Rush. This obstacle required you to drive down a slope, ford a small pond and drive up another slope. And return to the start.

Steering and acceleration were the key to clearing this obstacle. Sanjeev who was the first on the course, got stuck as you can seen in the picture below. So we got a live demo of a rescue operation, with Sanjeev’s Thar having to be winched out.

thar_stuck_in_the_mud

 After Sanjeev was rescued and completed his runs, the rest of us took our turn and I was pleasantly surprised that I could complet my runs without mishap, in near darkness. To put things into perspective, I don’t like driving after dark and managing to negotiate this obstacle  using headlight gave my confidence a big boost.

As the rescue operation took a while, for various reasons, the last obstacle for the day, was postponed for day two and we drove 40 kms to the Express Inn at Nashik for the night. Over a real sumptuous a la carte dinner in the hotel’s coffee shop, the four of us had great time with Sanjeev, a born raconteur regaling us with stories of his travels around the world and experiences in the corporate world. We hit the sack only around midnight.

Day two began with a not so great breakfast at the same coffee shop. Guess its the difference between buffet and a la carte. And after checking out of the hotel, we drove to the 4WD course to start tackling the remaining obstacles lined up for us.

The first obstacle we tackled on day two was the one left over from the previous day, viz. Zig Zag Hill, which involved going up a hill, coming down and then retracing the route, in reverse. Somewhere along the path up, there was a patch of wet surface, which ensured that you got bogged down and learn how to extricate your self.

This obstacle was also used to demonstrate the difference between 2WD and 4WD. Manish made us start the climb in 2WD mode and only after we got stuck, shift to 4WD. And boy, the difference is unimaginable.

And for me the biggest takeaway, was doing the hill in reverse. In fact, I did more reversing in the jeep up and down the hill, than I normally do on a flat surface in a car.

After Zig Zag Hill, the next obstacle was the Boneyard, named because the pot holes and steps make it a car breaker. According to Manish, if you dig up the mud, you will find bits and pieces of vehicles that have attempted the obstacle.

Whilst Abdul. Sanjeev and I made it without to much difficulty Doc tried pushing the vehicle to its limits by attempting difficult maneuvers and got thoroughly bogged down.

Having successfully negotiated the Boneyard, we then moved on the Blind Zone that involved going up a 45 degree slope, which meant driving blind for part of the way since you could only see the sky through the windscreen. With the ‘vast’ experience we had already garnered all of us completed this obstacle with elan.

The last obstacle for the day was the Slush Pit that required driving slowly down a steep incline into a pit filled with slush. Seemed quite scary, looking down from the top of the hill but by then my confidence had grown to such an extent that I volunteered to go first.

However, I must confess that sitting in the Thar at the top of the slope, I felt quite nervous. But Manish’s confidence was infectious and precise instructions were sufficient to overcome this obstacle. (Thanks to Dr Shashank Dhuri for this video).

 

Besides negotiating the various obstacles, we received tips on safety and recovery. Going off roading is a dangerous sport and no attempt was made to downplay this aspect. So there was repeated warning to don a helmet and fasten our seat belts.

And most importantly, not to succumb to peer pressure and attempt obstacles you are not comfortable with. As Manish told us right at the start of the program, ‘off roading is not about spectacular stunts, but getting from point A to point B, without damaging your vehicle’.

Further, since getting stuck is an essential part of off roading, we learned what to do when overcooked (or stuck, in plain English) in mud, water and sand, or when when the jeep gets beached (vehicle resting on its underside and seesawing). The picture shows the Thar on the left  that got beached at the top of the Slush Pit.

thar_beached

And when all else fails, the only option is to winch the jeep out. So we had two demos of winching a Thar to safety; one, when Sanjeev was winched out of the pond  and the second a simulation with plenty of practical inputs regarding safety and maintenance of the winching equipment.

 

winching_operation

To take us through the basics of off roading, we could not have had a better pair of instructors in Manish  and Rahul Kakar (of Autocar India), who incidentally partner as rally drivers. Both have excellent communication skills and are totally unflappable in any situation. In fact, I had interacted with Manish at the time of enrolling for the program and he allayed my fears of not having the required skills to navigate the Thar.

The entire weekend was most stimulating and I can’t remember having enjoyed myself so much in a long time. Besides the sheer exhilaration of driving through slush, ponds and rocky terrain, what made the weekend even more memorable was the attention to detail as regards the facilities provided..

I am sure that whilst the Academy is treated as a profit centre by M&M, there was no attempt to control costs, say, by rationing the mineral water and cold drinks. Or setting a per person budget at dinner.

So whilst Mahindra Adventure were generous with the budget, a special mention must be made of Abhishek Rahalkar of the Western India Sports Association (WISA) and his team who did an excellent job of taking care of the support functions; handing out the walkie talkies and  helmets, ensuring at the same time  that we were regularly supplied with snacks, tea, cold drinks and bottled water.

And finally, during the entire program there was no attempt to hard or soft sell the Thar or any other Mahindra vehicle to me. But if, after driving the Thar at Igatrpuri, I decide to buy one that is another matter. 😉

Disclaimer: I paid the fees to attend the course and if you are interested too can sign up. Details of the course can be obtained at the Mahindra Adventure website.

Bhadra Maruti Temple: Sufism In A Hindu Temple?

Meena and PhenoMenon and their little nephew!
Meena and PhenoMenon and their little nephew!

I first ‘met’ Meena Menon and her husband Pravin (aka PhenoMenon) via the Blogging From A to Z Challenge 2013 . Perhaps it’s the Hyderabadi connection, but Meena and I hit it off like a house on fire.  We were lucky to meet in person when they visited Mumbai late last year. They were on a trip across parts of Maharashtra – and Meena shares one of the stories of her trip here. Meena is one of the most generous and thoughtful souls I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with and I’m so happy to have her over here today.

Do visit Meena’s Space and follow her on Twitter @miamenon

 

When Cory asked me to do a guest post for her, I literally had butterflies in my stomach – imagine doing a guest post for Cory of all the people! Anyway you cannot deny the chief – can you!

This was during the road trip we did across Maharashtra in December last year. That reminds me, I haven’t even blogged about that trip!

Anyway, off we go on a visit to the Bhadra Maruti Temple (Aurangabad District).

It had been  a long day and we were headed towards the Ellora Caves. The last item on the ‘to-do’ list for the day – the visit to the Bhadra Maruti temple. Honestly a temple visit at the fag end of the day didn’t appeal much to either of us. But I am glad we did it.

When we reached the temple – there was hardly any crowd owing to it being the thirteenth hour. Just as we stepped into the temple courtyard, we were greeted with soothing local folk music created by the gent in the picture below.

Bhadra_Maruti_templesingers

The music had us so enthralled that maybe for the first time I was literally ‘lost in the music”. The tiredness was forgotten and a strange calm crept in….. the moon-lit night and the cool breeze added to the magic!

Watch the performance. Please excuse the poor quality and sound interference. This was shot on our phone camera and the conditions were far from ideal!

Did you enjoy the video?  Did you feel their music was heavily influenced by Sufism? Well, I for one did.

Surprisingly, the prayer-style of devotees here is very reminiscent of Islam (kneeling down, prayer cap on the head and hands raised towards heaven!). As you  see in this image, that the idol is positioned horizontally on the floor and not vertically as in a typical Hindu temple.

Bhadra_ Maruti_deity

It goes without saying, we stepped out of this place with a light-heart. Even today, when I recall this place, the feeling I have is one of peace.

This is the beauty of road trips –  discovering many a hidden gem like this.

~ Meena

PS: A quick Google search tells me that the place surrounding the temple is also called “Valley of Sufis” which is purported to contain the graves of 1500 Sufi saints.

Travel Travails In Bandra Of Old

After reading the first three post on memories, food and books, you have probably concluded that I am an incorrigible nostalgia buff, yearning for the ‘good old days’ of the sixties and seventies.

But if there is aspect of our lives that has changed for the better it is traveling around Mumbai and more particularly in Bandra. Despite the overcrowding, double parking and the pot holes, we are better off today than we were forty years ago.

As I mentioned in ‘Growing up in Bandra’  when we first moved to Bandra, the road outside our building had not been tarred. Walking on that road was a nightmare, especially during the monsoon when you risked slipping and falling. Only a few years later, when more buildings were constructed along the road that the municipal authorities tarred the road.

To get around Bandra, in those days, you either had to walk or cycle, because though there was a bus service the frequency was around once in half an hour. And the bus traversed a long and circuitous route. So you sometimes reached your destination faster if you walked instead of waiting for a bus.

Initially, I used the school bus to get to school. But since we lived on the outskirts of Bandra, I was one of the last to be dropped in the evening. And as the long drive cut into my play time, I started skipping the bus on the return leg, instead walking home with my friends. Eventually, my parents got wise to this and discontinued the school bus.

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Owning a bicycle, in those days, was a status symbol in school. And a racer cycle with gears and cable brakes was the envy of all. So, when I reached the secondary section, I started pestering my parents for a bicycle.

My dad did not directly refuse to buy me a bicycle. Instead he laid down a condition; if I got a first five rank in my class at the examination, he would buy me the bicycle. Being a sucker, I agreed when I should have known that this was never going to be.

Eventually, I realised that was being taken for a ride by my dad. So, using a gift from my godmother who was visiting us as seed capital augmented by my ‘savings’,  a couple of years later, I bought a bicycle.  If I recollect right, the bicycle cost around rupees seven hundred, which was quite a fortune in the sixties.

With the acquisition of the bicycle, every morning I joined the peloton  at the start of what is today called Manuel Gonsalves Road, all heading towards the school. In the evenings, the peloton headed in the opposite direction.

Traveling out of Bandra to other parts of Mumbai or Bombay at it was then called was always a horrendous experience for me. As a consequence of an infrequent service, a bus would sometimes be so full that it would drive past a bus stop without stopping. Especially if no passenger needed to alight.

bandra_station

For some reason, my dad did not like to use the local train to move around the city. Of course, getting into a local train in Mumbai, then as well as now, requires a special skill set and is not for the faint hearted. It was only when I joined a college that was located in the city that I began to use the trains, which I believe is the life line of Mumbai.

As I mentioned earlier, traveling is one area where I am glad that things have changed. Today the bus services have  improved phenomenally and with more people driving their own vehicles, the buses are no longer overcrowded. In addition, auto-rickshaws ply in the suburbs and make commuting quite easy. If fact, given the difficulty finding parking space, it sometimes makes sense to use an auto for shorter trips.

Also the government has invested in infrastructure like flyovers, subways and freeways all of which have made traveling around the city comparatively a happier experience. I know that many will still complain of the bottlenecks resulting in traffic jams or the lack of parking or the overcrowding of the local trains, but when I compare the present with the sixties and seventies, I’m not complaining.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013.

Photo Credit: lecercle via Compfight cc

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Vacations Redefined

A few days ago, as part of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, Sharmila Kulkarni had written a thought-provoking post about her Nana (maternal grandfather). But what struck a chord was the reference to the her annual vacation, when she was growing up.

Long, long ago, before globalization, going on vacations in India was a fairly simple business. There were only two choices for the average middle class family; you either went to your hometown, or you stayed where you lived. Of course, if you lived in the hometown ( or ‘native place’ as many Indians call it), then all your uncles, aunts and assorted cousins descended on you. Sometimes, but not too frequently, the ‘native’ cousins traveled in the other direction.

Joy Ride

Photo Credit: Apratim Saha via Compfight cc

But wherever you went, there were certain common threads that ran through the mandatory essay that you were assigned when you returned to school, viz. ‘How I spent my vacations’. I am sure that the teachers must have been bored reading these essays, if they did at all, but for some reason they seemed to enjoy handing out this assignment, without fail.

I have fond memories of traveling from Mumbai to spend days in Goa, soon after the liberation of Goa. Which is why I could identify so closely with the characters in the ‘Ferry Crossing‘.

In Goa, where public transport was and continues to be expensive and unreliable, my parents would hire a taxi for a day at a prohibitive price and go around visiting assorted aunts, uncles and cousins. In fact, going on a holiday was all about connecting with the immediate and wider family. Some were from other parts of the country and some even from your own city, but whom you hardly met.

The other notable feature was the benign indifference of your hosts, who were most likely your grand parents. They welcomed you warmly, made something special for you but generally ignored you and went about their daily routine or grind. And you can’t blame them.

My grandparents, for example, had their paddy fields to be tended to and workers to be supervised. They woke early and went to bed early. In addition, during the summer, they were quite busy getting ready for the torrential monsoons when they would be house bound for days.

So they prepared pickles, made sausages (chouriço) and dried fish. Minding the sausages, whilst they were put out to dry was a job I loved, as I could nibble at the meat with its distinctive flavor and blame it on the crows. I guess nobody believed me!

What I always looked forward to, but never quite achieved, was to go fishing in the river in the middle of the night with my grandfather. He and his neighbor would go to the river, set their nets and then wade in waist-deep and beat the water to drive the fish into the net. Each time he promised to wake me up and I too resolved to stay up, but it never happened. He probably didn’t want a nuisance of a grandson along, whilst he fished.

When Corinne and I reminisce about childhood vacations, we talk of two different places. (Corinne went for her holidays to Hyderabad). But she quite identifies with what I have said earlier. I am sure that many other Indians of our generation will share these views.

A great joy is coming soon in Monterosso al MareToday, the concept of vacations has changed for many Indians. Instead of visiting hometowns, which themselves have changed so much, there is a whole plethora of dream vacations offered with a click of the mouse. Travel agents and online portals offer customized holidays to suit various budgets and to exotic locations that once we learned about only by reading National Geographic.

In fact, even if you do visit your hometown, there is every likelihood that you will rent a hotel room rather than intrude on your relatives. And as for the benign indifference of grandparents, the latest trend for Indian grandparents is to travel to visit their children – usually abroad. This is with the express purpose of looking after the grandchildren during vacations so that day-care costs can be saved. Hail the rise of the Economic Man!

I don’t know if these changes are for the better, but vacationing has changed beyond recognition.It would be nice if you were to share your experiences and views on the changing trends in vacationing.

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Today we’re on V of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

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