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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Save The Elephant

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An elephant we saw on way through Masanigudi and Bandipur Reserve Forests, South India

I have yet to meet someone who says that they hate elephants. I love them – they represent all the best in humans – love, affection, a sense of community. Besides they do so much for our forests. Watch Elephant Grows The Forest here:

Sadly, we have forgotten just how precious these creatures are. It is estimated that there are  about 450-750k African elephants and only about 35-40k Asian elephants in the world today. Poaching, climatic change and habitat loss are causes the elephant population to reduce drastically.

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A baby elephant in Masanigudi/Bandipur Reserve Forests, South India

China with its endless appetite for ivory is driving poaching across Africa and Asia.

Highly emotional and completely guileless, elephants mourn their dead—and across Africa, they are grieving daily as demand from China’s “suddenly wealthy” has driven the price of ivory to $700 a pound or more. With tens of thousands of elephants being slaughtered each year for their tusks, raising the specter of an “extinction vortex,” Alex Shoumatoff…read more here.

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The same elephant in picture 1

Apart from torturing and killing elephants for their ivory, there are several cruel practices used to train elephants to perform as tourist attractions.  One example is the phajaan – a violent, ritualized separation and breaking ceremony, used in Thailand.  View this National Geographic presentation for more information.  Remember those ‘cute’ elephants painting? The fact is that elephants don’t paint.  Someone came up with the idea to ‘train’ them to do so. I don’t want to begin to imagine what they went through to learn painting.

Closer home, there have been reports from South India of ‘elephant taunting’ – a bizarre and incredibly dangerous activity in which onlookers harass elephants to the point of retaliation.

Let’s not even start with the cruelty to circus elephants… 🙁

The cruelty seems unending.

Thankfully, there are several individuals and organizations who are working to conserve and protect elephants. I invite you to read these articles/pages today or bookmark them to read later:
What can tourism do about wildlife poaching – silence is not an option.

Elephant Partners on Facebook

Elephant Voices on Facebook

Each of us too can make decisions and take steps to make a difference. Here are some ideas:

  • Sign The Elephant Charter today. Go here to do this.
  • Avoid buying anything made from ivory.
  • Don’t patronize shows that are geared to tourists, including elephant safaris. Visit elephant sanctuaries instead.
  • Make your next travel experience one in which you spend time as a volunteer for a wildlife project.
  • Increase awareness by writing and sharing about cruel practices and how we can help in wildlife conservation.
  • Find a baby elephant adoption program – read more here.

Save the elephant!

PS: I would like to acknowledge that I was inspired by this particular post from Holes in My Sole written by Jim McIntosh. Jim does a lot to spread awareness.

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

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Goa Rediscovered: Ferry Crossing

ferrycrossingTitle: Ferry Crossing: Short Stories from Goa
Edited by: Manohar Shetty
ISBN-13 : 9780140278064
Published by: Penguin Books India
Language: English
Available on Amazon and Flipkart
Mention Goa and the image that immediately comes to mind for most people is of a place with sun soaked beaches and the locals soaking in feni. Basically, a place where you descend to have a good time. And the demands of tourism, the biggest industry in Goa, ensure that this image is reinforced through advertising and coverage in the media.

Ferry Crossing is an attempt to present to the reader the ‘real’ Goa, inhabited by ‘real’ people living mundane lives, like people anywhere else in the world. As mentioned on the back cover, “the stories …. reveal a Goa infinitely more human and complex than the stereotypical image of an enormous beach resort.”

The book contains twenty seven stories, which were originally written in Konkani, Marathi, Portuguese and English. Whilst most of the stories have been set in Goa itself, three of the stories deal with the lives of the Goans who immigrated to East Africa, a part of the great Goan Diaspora and are set in Uganda and Kenya.

The subjects of the selection range from first love in ‘Innocence’ by Chandrakant Keni to sexual awakening in ‘Transgression’ by Mahabaleshwar Sail; from envy and jealously in ‘The Hour’s End’ by Laxmanrao Sardesai to sharp practices in ‘Tatoba’ by Vithal Thakur; from descriptions of the elite under Portuguese rule in ‘Senhor Eusebio Builds his Dream House’ by Victor Rangel-Riberio to the flights of grandeur of the emigre Goans in ‘At the Shrine of Mary of Angels’ by Hubert Rebeiro; from the exploitation of the poor in ‘The Sign of Ire’ by Orlando da Costa to domestic violence in ‘Theresa’s Man’ by Damodar Mauzo.

One of the most enjoyable stories is ‘The Hour’s End’, in which the main character is Rambhau, who filled with envy cannot bear to see others succeed. Rambhau is in his element when it came to ruining the lives of the young and the underprivileged. When he gets to know that the daughter of a relative Anantrao is to get married, he is determined to stop the marriage from taking place. How he is foiled by Yashwantrao Kosambi, a lawyer makes a an interesting and humorous  read.

Another selection that brings out the gradual but steady decline of the elite from prosperity is the story of Uncle Peregrine in a story of the same name by Leslie de Noronha. The life that the elite of Goa lived during the time of the Portuguese rule, when they felt quite alien from the ordinary Goan is very well brought out when describing the upbringing of Peregrine.

Overall, the anthology that was first published in 1998 and has recently been introduced as a text book in schools in Goa is certainly recommended to Goans and non-Goans alike. The former will be able to identify with some of the characters and descriptions. The latter will get a new perspective of Goa which is quite different from what one reads in travelogues and articles about Goa, which seek to reinforce the stereotypical image of Goa as an ‘enormous beach resort’.

For both sets of readers, the introduction by Manohar Shetty, in which he attempts to correct the distorted picture of Goa by highlighting the political and cultural history of Goa, provides a lode of information that even I, as a Goan, was not aware of.


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

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Gavi – An Escape To Wilderness

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During the Dassera holidays, we traveled to Kumily, a market town in Idduki district of Kerala and the main staging point to visit Periyar lake and the Thekaddy forest reserve. Whilst the boat ride on the Periyar lake is a must-do on the itinerary of most tourists, it can safely be skipped without much ado.

Instead, if one is really interested in eco tourism, the Kerala Forest Development Corp. Ltd.(KFDC) has put together a number of packages. One of these packages is a day trip to Gavi Reserve Forest. Developed into an exclusive eco-tourism project, Gavi is listed as one of the must-see places in India. Active involvement of tribals makes Gavi one of its kind on this count.

We have to thank, Kumaran, the Activities Manager at Club Mahindra’s Tusker Trails, for the jeep and the entry passes to the Gavi forest reserve. And yes, getting the entry pass is important, since only a limited number of tourists are allowed into Gavi each day. The reason for this restriction is that the Gavi forest is Nature in its pristine form. In an attempt to preserve this, the Kerala Government has imposed the quota and every tourist has to be accounted for.

Around 5 am, we were picked up by our driver, Benny, who has been doing the Gavi run for around ten years.The years of driving the same route has endowed Benny with an uncanny ability to sight wildlife whilst at the same time maneuvering a 4WD jeep through the forest!
Thekkady 090A 40+ kilometre drive from Kumily, you turn off the Kumily-Kottayam highway at Vandiperiyar. From there the road is blanketed by tea plantations and the last 20 kms of the drive to the base camp is through the jungle.

We reached Gavi around 7.30 in the morning and after completing the registration process got down stuffing ourselves. The food was wholesome and unlimited. Eggs, toast, poha, idlis, sambar, puris and chole and fruit was on offer. I didn’t notice any one complaining and everyone seemed to be doing justice to the food.

After breakfast we were assigned guides, jeep-wise, and given leggings to keep the leeches from getting under our trousers. As part of the eco-tourism project, these guides are the locals mentioned earlier. Born and brought up in the forests around and they use their knowledge of the area to guide tourists. Providing them with a livelihood, reduces the temptation to poach. Now, they are, in fact, the protectors of Gavi.

We were offered treks of one, two and three hour duration. We opted for the one hour trek, during which we got a panoramic view of the Gavi forest including the Sabarimala or ‘Poonkavanam (forests) of Lord Ayyappa‘. The pics below are only some of the spectacular scenes we saw.

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We returned to the base area, where we rested after the strenuous hike and waited for those who had opted for the longer treks. During this time, some of the tourists who had not opted for the hike were taken for a boat ride on the lake.
Thekkady 146

 

 

 

We got our turn in the boat after lunch and again were overwhelmed with the scenery and the wildlife.Our guide rowed a boatload of six so effortlessly that Corinne remarked that it seemed he was knitting wool.

 

 

 

 

The high point was the waterfall in a cove. You get off the boat and and go and gaze and one of natures wonders. Thekkady 159

Around 3.00 pm the day trip was declared over, though as per the itinerary we were supposed to visit a cardamom plantation and have tea. But given the strenuous activities of the day, I didn’t hear anyone complaining about the program being truncated. And no demands for refunds! 🙂

On the return drive too, Benny kept stopping the jeep to point out wildlife. We too got into the spirit of things and pointed to what looked like an elephant in the distance. But Benny, with one cursory glance, declared that it was a cow, which was established when we checked with the binoculars!

During the trip we sighted deer, elephants, Nilgiri langurs Malabar squirrels and various birds, including kingfishers. And of course, the cows. 😉

Tips:

  • Wear trousers, else you will have leeches attaching themselves to your legs.
  • Rugged footwear is a must, if you are planning to trek. If you are not planning to trek, sit at home at look at pictures of Gavi on the internet! 😉
  • Binoculars are essential, preferably a pair for each person.
  • Carry a camera but don’t only focus on taking pictures. You may miss the larger picture, quite literally!
  • Thankfully mobile phones do not work in Gavi – there is no signal. So social media addicts beware! 😉
  • Be polite to the guides; they know were the wildlife is located, sometimes right under your nose or over your head!

Useful Link:

Gavi EcoTourism

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I would recommend an overnight stay at Gavi rather than the day trip we took. The next time, we go there we’re going to stay in one of these Swiss cottages, on the banks of the lake, for a night or two.

Let me know if you get there before we go back again!

 

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