Category Archives: Travelogue

Lucknow to London, with love.

PART 1:  THE TODDLER TALES

I cannot think or surmise my trip to London without enough emphasis on what it is to travel with a toddler. Yes, this was Arjun’s first overseas trip (but not his first trip, that he undertook when he was 18 weeks old in my womb…), and though there was enough discouragement to travel all the way to London with a kid who will remember nothing of the trip, I wasn’t discouraged enough. For, one, I don’t think everything we do for kids is so that they remember it, and two, because I refused to go for another time to some pretty place in Asia that I did not want to go to in the first place, just because my baby isn’t old enough to make travelling easy for me. So, London it was!

An 8-hour flight, and 24 hours of non-stop travelling from home to holiday destination were only made easy by the company of both the grannies — Nani and Dadi, and Bua, apart from The Guy, of course. But lesson learnt: on trips out of town, there’s no substitute for Mamma. Mamma to carry around the baby, Mamma to feed, bathe, clean, Mamma to hug and Mamma to sleep with. Phew! You know, I need another holiday. But here’s what you should also know: that’s what I chose. I’m not leaving my little munchkin behind to go on a holiday till any such time as the little munchkin is really ready for it. I could do with a lot less travel, but no less than my complete bundle of joy.

So, what’s it like travelling to London with a toddler? Well, quite like what it is travelling to any place with a toddler. The child will eat, poop, sleep, laugh/cry when he wants to, whether you’re at the London Eye, or the expansive Westfield Mall; just be thankful there are diaper changing stations in close proximity to every place, and that the child can doze off in his stroller when he wants to. It’s a child-friendly place, extremely stroller friendly too, made even easier by friendly passers-by who will offer you a hand when you come to stairs that you want to carry your strapped-in-the-stroller-baby across. Of course, it is quite another matter that for the first 5 days of our trip, we had no stroller for Arjun because the airlines we were flying never put it on the aircraft from Delhi to London! So, for those five days, Mamma’s arms became accustomed to carrying the rather petite child over long walks across streets, parks, underground stations. Like the one across Green Park, while getting to Buckingham Palace from the tube.  Or from the tube to our apartment (yes, we preferred an apartment over a hotel so that the little one could get his fav foods even in London).

We had to face all of one meltdown in 8 days, right in the middle of Bicester Village, and it lasted no less than an hour. But once we discovered the teddy bear cake and the play area around, things were so much better.

Yes, there was a lot we could not do because we had a 20-month-old in tow — like catch a musical, watch a play at the Globe Theatre, go for the opera, or just take in the night life, or clicking enough pictures (yes, that I really, really missed doing) —  but like I’ve been saying, this is just my first trip to London. And anyway, 8 days there are just not enough to see everything and do everything. So, no regrets.

PART 2: THE ADULT EXPERIENCE

I love big cities. Unlike a lot of people who’re settled in smaller cities like Lucknow for good, I do not miss the comfort of knowing every street and every face on the street that Lucknow is for me. I love that in places like London, I can cease to be me. I can be anyone, just anyone at all. I’m not D. I like the anonymity that a big city affords you, the freedom that comes with losing your identity. I love that I don’t need to be this or that, I am part of a crowd. When I go to places like these, I ask myself why it is that I do not live there. Because I’d love to. It’s where my heart belongs.

A lot of Lucknow happened to be in London this summer, and we actually caught up with friends from here in London. But no, that’s not what I like to do on my holidays. I like to get lost on my travels, and to hibernate, so that I can come back with renewed energy.

But that’s not about London. That’s about me. The city is everything you’ve ever heard about it. It’s also everything you want it to be. I wish I knew better what I wanted more — to take in the sights and sounds of the place, which I partly did on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour, or to indulge in London shopping, which also I did at Oxford Street; whether I wanted to savour the local flavours, like I did at the Camden Market, more than to be the busy tourist, as I was at the Town Bridge Museum, where the MIL really wanted to go to see the Koh-i-noor, or the Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum…

But between all those things, we walked around a great deal. I came home with blisters on my feet, even though I’d taken my best walking shoes. And my best walking shoes were no match in prettiness to the high-heels and ballerinas that the well-turned out Londoners were sporting. Yes, it’s a well-dressed city. So, even if someone’s wearing a bohemian look, they’re doing it in style. I mean, the girls almost always had their eyes done up, and they almost always were accessorised well. I miss that too where I live — having enough inspiration to get dressed up everyday. I’d love to, except that I feel like there’s no one really to notice it when I get into my car at home and get off 7 minutes later at work. And it’s not half as much fun to be all dressed up till someone sends you an appreciative glance.

Did I dress up in London? In the mornings, yes. By evening though, I didn’t care or know what I was looking like. I was just a trying-to-get-everything-done-in-a-day tourist then, who wanted to eat fish & chips every other day. We did, however, try other cuisines — from Lebanese and Vietnamese, to Italian, Indian and Chinese. And I think the Indian restaurant we went to on Bloomsbury Road was the worst, for serving moong ki dal for Dal Tadka! Utter nonsense!

PART 3: THE SHOPAHOLIC’S CITY

We were told don’t think too much about shopping in London, it’s very expensive. It is, considering that the pound to rupee rate was 1:91! But sales make the world just a tad better than otherwise.  And we shopped like crazy. The Guy, not much of a shopper usually, had a field day at Harrod’s, shopping for perfumes; I’ve stocked up on Arjun’s wardrobe for I think a year, apart from getting him sundry books and toys from Hamley’s and John Lewis; I loved browsing through the tourist curios’ shops, and got one of those tea-leaves-in-interesting-tin-jars that you get in London. I also loved the Cath Kidston stores, and thank god I don’t have a girl, or I would have bought the whole shop for her!

Oh, the shopping subhead could be a whole post, in terms of what all I loved. But honestly, I’d hoped to shop a little more than I did, and I really want to go back, to pick up a few things that I should’ve.

Actually, I just want to go back. I’m not really enjoying too much this London-to-Lucknow transition. I want to be in a place which is big and beautiful like London was. I can’t wait to go back.

PS: I thought I’d do the pictures with this post, but that’s not happening because I write on a different computer, and the pics are on a different laptop. So pics later, ok?

Advertisements

What does the Nawab of Oudh smell like?

Browsing through the perfumes section at Harrod’s in London, I chanced upon this fragrance called the Nawab of Oudh.

IMG-20130617-01200

The Nawab Of Oudh on display. Sorry for the poor picture quality, clicked on the phone.

We don’t even have an itr that’s named after the nawabs, and a perfume in London named after one? I was happy like only tourists can be to find a trace of home in a foreign destination.

Of course, the efficient sales guy quickly caught on to my enthusiasm, and asked if I was interested in the perfume. I said I was, not just the way he thought I would be.

“I belong to this place,” I said, pointing to the perfume bottle.
“Really? Is that what the Nawab of Oudh smells like?” he asked, offering the bottle to me. He wasn’t joking, he honestly wanted to know.
I inhaled the perfume, it was a strong, pungent smell, nothing I would ever buy. “I don’t know, I’ve never smelt one,” I said, smiling at the prospect of smelling a Nawab of Oudh! I’ve read about the clothes and jewellery the nawabs wore, and the food they ate, and the lives they lived, but somehow, I don’t remember reading anything in particular about the perfumes they wore. Or did he mean, what a Nawab of Oudh just smelled like without any perfume?
“I’m just excited this perfume is named after the place I belong to!” I simply replied.

“So, you’re from Nawauuub?” he drawled.
“No, I’m from Oudh,” I said, even more amused now.
“Oh, ok,” he said, “Where is this place?”
“It’s in India, near Delhi, it’s called Lucknow now,” I proceeded to explain, “The nawabs are the erstwhile royalty of the place.”
“Oh! I thought Oudh was a tree…a dying tree, and the Nawab of Oudh was the fragrance of the tree!”
I looked at him incredulously this time, waved an arm, shook my head, and said in my best English accent, “Never mind!” and moved on, still smiling!

PS: Yes, we went to London. Yes, I will blog more about that later 🙂

It’s called a babymoon

So I hear. I love how people come up with all these cool terms to justify/describe the stuff they do. And then we all get to borrow those terms. Like this one – it’s called a babymoon. Like a honeymoon, but just before the baby comes, so it’s called the babymoon. Well, so we went on a babymoon. Because everybody has been scaring The Guy and me with depressing prospects of being housebound for months once the baby comes – no holiday, forget travelling, impossible, yada yada… So, I was really keen that we step out of the city at least once before, and if, any of that comes true. And the most feasible option at the moment was going to good ol’ Goa. That place where I don’t have to be a tourist, where I could go and just switch off mentally and relax. Because I so needed to relax. Work’s been so hectic, I really needed the break as well.

We were accompanied by two more couples, both of whom have lovely three-year-olds daughters and the two girls ended up totally in love with me! The Guy is very good with kids (fingers crossed for the future), while I’m good with all kids who’re good to me! Which is why we loved having the girls around us. Totally.

And how was Goa? Just as nice as only Goa can be. We stayed at the Fort Aguada Taj, which I really recommend just for the view. There are so many vantage points from the property where you can sit and do nothing. Yes, that’s what we mostly did – nothing. And it’s something that only Goa can get me to do so well. Elsewhere, I’m just a restless, on-her-toes tourist, looking for new sights and sounds, and getting a whole lot tired in the end. But that wasn’t the purpose of this trip….

The view of the fort and the sea from a restaurant window

And the hotel, it has one of those pools that overlook the sea. And when in the late night we would sit by the pool, we could hear the waves – some as high as the walls of the fort – lashing against each other violently. The dark sea is nothing like the blue waters that frolic about your feet in the day when you walk on the beach; it’s menacing, angry, all-consuming… And yet, you can be at peace with it because that’s just how it’s meant to be.

The pool overlooking the sea

 

 

A lot of people were sceptical about us going to Goa in the middle of the summers. But we brought the monsoons with us to Goa. The moment we alighted from our flight, the skies gave way and the rains came pouring down. All through our stay, we didn’t once get a chance to say how hot or humid or sultry it is. The weather was so benign, and the grey skies would intermittently clear up to show a little bit of blue – just enough to not let the greys begin to depress us.

That's NOT me in the pic

The weather and the hotel and the state of mind aside, what helped me to have so much fun was all the pampering I was getting. The Guy was super nice to me, as he is these days even at home. And my friends were so caring – no demands on me, no questions. Just a lot of space for me to sleep, eat and basically, just be. Just for all that niceness, I could be pregnant forever!

>What to expect…

> When you’re travelling to Thailand (Or keeping my promise of sharing pics from the trip).

SUN, SEA AND SAND
At Phuket
Ma Ya Bay

 

That red speck in the sky? That’s The Guy parasailing
The colourful sunbeds at Khai Island
Phi Phi Island

SOME WEIRD SIGNS

Need I say more? 🙂

His and Her (below) – Signs for the washrooms

  



“Best view in town”. Of?

Not in memory of Osama!

   ANIMAL INSTINCT

Gotta lick it!



You can swim with the fish at Khai Island

Those are sparrows!! Yes, those little house birds that are now extinct in India can still be found there. Can you imagine how excited that made me!

ART AND CULTURE

Multi-coloured flower motifs at Wat Pho, the temple of the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok 



Lots of Buddhas, everywhere

SHOPPING, OF COURSE!

NOT MOI!



>Swadhika! *

>I’ve been working hard, even if it’s out-of-office. On being well-travelled. It’s not an easy job, you know, starting out this late in life to get to know the world a little better. And yes, there was our anniversary too, which we wanted to celebrate away from the madding crowds of the hometown. So, we went to Thailand for a short break last week.


To be honest, Thailand wasn’t my first holiday destination. I wanted to go to Europe. France and Italy, with a little bit of Greece here and Spain there. But we were way off the European vacation season. And though I’d vowed I won’t go to South East Asia again (been there twice before), till I’d seen some highbrow stuff (no really, that’s not why I want to go to Europe; I’m just interested in all things Roman and Italian). But you see, nothing goes as you’ve planned, nothing at all. And as luck would have it, we got upgraded to business class both ways -to and from Bangkok! Part of the learning experience, you see, just so that I could get to know how different travelling business class is from economy – the extra leg room and the broad, recline-till-you-want seats and all that jazz.

About Bangkok, let’s get this clear: I was there to shop. Mostly shop. I mean, that’s how I’d been sold that destination. And so that I would suit my part better, I bought ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’ at the Delhi airport (I love T3! It’s awesome). That’s quite another matter that I started reading it only on the way back, after I was done with ‘The Accidental Billionaires’ (note to self: must do book reviews soon). My two-day stay at Bankgok was really all about shoes, and some more shoes, and still some more. Clothes are missable, always. Not shoes. So we went from one weekend market to another mall, and yet another mall and no surprise then that I had swollen, callused feet at the end of those two days. And please let me make a special mention here of The Guy’s patience in handling my shopping whims. Only after hours of waiting for me to choose from rows and rows and rows of shoes, would he groan in agony. And then, I would give in and get him a beer.

Please don’t tell me I should have gone here or there, or whatever place you think is worth going to in Bangkok. Because I had no time! I mean, you’re asking a girl to choose between shoes and anything else? Ha! You must be joking. I did, however, take out time to visit Wat Pho, the temple which houses the largest indoor statue of the reclining Buddha. I played the complete tourist there and clicked every nook, cranny and cornice of the beautiful structures. Unfortunately, there were too many visitors and too little time to enjoy the serenity of the place.


The Reclining Buddha


Indians must be the worst vacationers. They almost always come back feeling more tired from a holiday than relaxed. To avoid that eventuality, we’d reserved the latter part of the holiday for a more relaxed time at Phuket. And Phuket I loved! It’s just a Thai version of Goa, with Starbucks added for icing (I could spend my life inhaling the aroma of coffee at Starbucks). The water there is the most gorgeous blue-green, the sand a beautiful buff brown, and it rains in the middle of a hot sultry day. Plus, it has that aura of a place that calls to you to forget your worries and just go curl up on a beach bed in the shade of a colourful umbrella for 200 baht and nice oversized shades, with a book in hand.

Sunset at Phuket
And of course, there are the Go Go Bars. And here, I’d like to change the tenor of my post for a bit. Everyone knows that prostitution is one of the biggest contributors to Thai economy. And while a lot of women may have made the choice to be doing what they are doing, I don’t think it could be the first choice for many women, wherever they come from. You’ll find that women in Thailand run the show – they’re at shops, massage parlours, restaurants have almost no male stewards. According to a local we met in Bangkok, the sex ratio of girls to boys in Thailand is 70:30. Women are the chief bread-winners of the family. I know that a lot of ‘girls’ at these bars are cross-dressers, or transgendered. But they’re posing as women and  that’s the important thing here. There are women who invite you to these bars as if there was a sale on at a shop that you were missing. And I did go inside a couple of them, for a couple of minutes. For you need to be another person to be able to sit and watch a woman show her skin because she wants to make a living. It’s neither aesthetically appealing nor titillating to me. And I do not know what is the politically correct stand to take on prostitution, but I think it’s humiliating for me as a woman to see another woman sell her body like wares at a store. I understand primal instincts, physical needs and whatever other way you use to describe and elaborate on the beauty of sex, but I do not think that the prostitute could believe in any of those. Just my PoV. I’m not saying that prostitution should be banned, I’m just saying that women should be given an environment to opt out of it if they want to, or not be coerced into joining it to make ends meet.
What’s on the Go Go bar menu
But back to where I was – where was I? Yes, the Phuket experience. And if Go Go Bars aren’t your cup of tea, worry not; there’s plenty of beer to guzzle on all night long. Which, of course The Guy did to the best of his bladder’s capacity! And me, I went from mojitos to Breezers and then wine. Because when you’re eating as good food as we were, it doesn’t matter what you’re drinking! Oh yes, I loved the food and ate only because I didn’t want to miss anything. We were initiated into Thai food-Thailand style, by our friends in Bangkok who taught us to order the most Indian palate-friendly Thai dishes (sorry, no seafood and oyster sauce for us). And then we let the coconut curries and the sticky rice totally take over our gourmet pleasures. Not just that, the Mexican food at this place called Coyote was awesome. And the Irish pub, wow! I really wish I could do separate posts on all of them, but all I’ll say is that if you do go to Phuket, just stay at the Banthai Resort – it’s got the perfect location – right across the Patong beach – and is a great hotel and these great eating places? They’re right on the hotel property!

By the way, you have heard of the Patong Beach, haven’t you? It’s been rated by different agencies among the top 10 beaches around the world. And had it not been so sunny for us Indians out there, I would have rated it nearer 10 too. The goras were loving it – all the sun bathing, and I must say, some of them had such a beautiful tan! If only my skin would also tan under such strong sun and not sprout freckles! So I took refuge from the scorching heat in the masseur’s room. Thai massages live up to every single expectation you have from them. I went for one every single day, and came back asking for more each time.


Now, this post is getting really unwieldy and I haven’t yet said half the things I wanted to. Like our day trip to Ma Ya Bay, where Leonardo DiCaprio shot for Beach, and Khai Island and Phi Phi Island and the cruise that took us there. And all the newlywed Indian couples honeymooning in Thailand. Or the unfriendly steward at the cafe in Phi Phi, who really put me off. And my allergies…

I leave that for another day, another post. And I promise, more pics coming!

*Title reference: Swadhika is ‘hello’ in Thai

>Flights of fancy

>Overheard on a flight from Lucknow to Delhi that reached its destination before time:

Uncle 1: Flight is before time.
Uncle 2: Haan, hawa ka direction Dilli ki taraf ka hoga, plane isliye jaldi pahuch gaya! (The wind must be blowing int the direction of all Delhi, that’s why the flight’s reached early).

And then, no one laughs. OMG! he was serious.

Can I please continue to laugh? ROFL!!

Edited to add: Ok, the joke’s on me! There’s some method to the madness, as some of you point out. So let’s get together and laugh at my ROFLing. Cool?

And yes, I’ve deleted the duplicate posts and some comments may have gotten deleted with them. So sorry, but nothing personal about it, ok?

>Tere mere beach mein

>After a very, very long time, I got the chance to wield my camera like a pro. Despite The Guy’s discouragement, I carried my DSLR to Goa. And am so glad I did! It made up for any lack of company. That, and my super cool iPod touch, that’s everything that an iPhone is except that it’s not a phone. But I digress, we were talking about the camera and me and Goa.

Luckily for me, the resort the company had put us up in was pretty like Goan resorts are famed to be. And so I could put my photography to good use! And since I’ve been told enough times of my narcisstic tendencies, I live up to them by putting my pic here first:

But honestly, the hotel with lots of greenery and water bodies, was the prettier of the subjects.
This view, of the sunshine filtering through the wooden slats and creating a geometrical pattern of shadows right outside my room was heart-warming.

One of the best things about travelling is getting to see flowers and plants you’d never see in one single place. I’m not much of a botanist, but ain’t this flower pretty?


And that, darlings, is the gold tinged sky that was tempting us around sunset from the conference hall:

But where are the beaches, you ask? For all their prettiness, I’m not a South Goa beach person and that’s where we were! They are too quiet for my liking. And so, I had to wait to go to Baga Beach in North Goa, to really feel like I was in Goa!

And in the super-hurried visit to Brrito’s shack, I got the time to get a temporary tattoo on my ankle:
I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a permanent tattoo for far too long. But I still haven’t found my favourite design. Suggestions?