(A blog I wrote for mycity4kids…)
Hey guys… yesterday I blogged about Bonding over Bollywood with my Boy, who is a teenager now, and it reminded me of a memorable holiday we had this summer break in our land Devbhoomi: Uttarakhand. Wasn’t hunky-dory from the start I tell you, what with the hubby perpetually whining about “pending work” and the teen, typically, frowning upon our drab domestic destination vis-a-vis “everyone else’s” exotic foreign locales. Now Mama Pande (aka moi) may be moody, mysterious, mad, melt-downy, mean and mushy by turns…but once she puts her pedicured foot down, that’s it. So Binsar it was via the picturesque Gagar. No argument boys!
(One with nature at Binsar…)
Cut to June 8: After a long drive across majestic mountains and verdant valleys, we reached The Tree of Life Grand Oak Manor, a charming British-style heritage bungalow, deep within the lush Binsar Forest Reserve in Almora, 2200 m above sea level. Once upon a time the residence of Sir Henry Ramsay, the Commissioner of Kumaon. Now we know that several pockets in the Uttarakhand hills still exist in a time warp devoid of basic facilities like running water, 24/7 electricity and modern electronic conveniences which city folks take so much for granted. So, of course we were prepared for things like slow Wi-Fi…. limited TV channels… no swimming pool & bath tub fuss… old fashioned heaters and such. But imagine our surprise when all that was just the tip of the iceberg!
What we had to contend with for the next 3 days was:
1. Barely perceptible Wi-Fi signal ONLY in the dining area, so like this one chair…
2. No TV/heaters/DVD & the likes…..
3. Lights out every night about 11ish up till 5 am, “In case you want to use an iron or hair dryer during the day”, we were duly informed with a smile,”please let us know so that we cud switch on the generator.”
4. Similarly, the water connection was shut off for the night to save the precious resource and reduce wastage
5. There were bells (like the non-electronic Pizza Hut kinds) installed at several point to be rung “if you need any assistance”
6. No shower in the loo… just your old fashioned brass balti & mugga with organic eco-friendly toiletries
7. Obviously a sincere request to “try and not get a bedding and towel” change everyday if possible
8. No iron, hair dryer, fridge, water heater in the room
9. Even the phone service was weak, to say the least…
10. No laundry!
Oh Em Jee!!! There goes my holiday and my peace of mind I thought as I waited tentatively for the cribbing to start. But surprise, surprise, it’s amazing how humans adjust to circumstances. Especially when they are in holiday mode and the weather is a very pleasant 22 degrees. Add to that the magnificent snow-capped Himalayas in the backdrop, the gently swaying pine trees all around, the sweet scent of wood fire wafting about and you have the formula for instant Nirvana right there!
Once we settled our stuff in the room, it was time to explore the surroundings, starting with the very building we were living in. Ravenous teen and dad immediately rushed to the mess, where a grand native meal awaited them – crunchy bichchu (stinging nettle) pakoras for starters…. followed by madua roti, bhang chutney, pahari gosht, alu gutka, gohat ki dal, Kumaoni raita and finally kheer. Simply De-li-cious, announced pa and son with satisfaction. With no TV or ipad or smart phone to go back to that evening, all of us had no choice but to pay a visit to the well-stocked Colonel’s Library on the ground floor. And as the clock struck 8:30, the Pandes were cozy in their PJs, books in hand. I could not resist the temptation of a Sidney Sheldon, having done some heavy reading recently, while son settled for a Ruskin Bond and dad flipped through a bunch of travel magazines. Every once in a while we would exchange notes and then go right back to reading peacefully. The only sound breaking the gentle rhythm was the soft chir-chirruping of insects in the surrounding forest. And as I lay in my room reading Morning, Noon & Night, I wondered “when was the last time we all had a gadget-free day?”
11pm and the lights were promptly off, so we read under a solar-battery operated torch for a bit before drifting into sweet slumber. At home, things are usually warning up by 11 pm on vacation days as dad and son get set for some golf or cricket action on the telly.
A beautiful morning welcomed us the next day, and after a scrumptious breakfast of eggs,toast and coffee, along with yummy peach marmalade and apricot jam we decided to leg it to the highest point on Binsar Hills: Zero Point. The Binsar Wildlife Reserve is known for its awesome variety of birds,so I carried along my high zoom Nikon. We decided to attempt the tough 5 km short cut through the steep hillside one way and return via the relatively smooth but 10 km-long road track on the other side. Now I tell you there’s nothing better that a long walk among the hills to enjoy unadulterated family time. We chatted about everything from the blooming red rhododendrons to the gorgeous blue Hill Magpies prancing in the trees to Man Eaters of Kumaon to the most beautiful bit: dad reminiscing about his childhood in the hills and how he and his cousins would walk from Almora to Binsar, a tough 16km trek through pahari pagdandis, in the summer holidays and back to the family house loaded with chewy Bal Mithai and delicious Singodi wrapped in Malu leaves from the famous Khim Singh Mohan Singh halwai. Teen was particularly amused by the fact that dad’s daily allowance was a measly 10 rupees, “more than enough however,” dad chuckled, “for 2 chocolates and a plateful of alu gutkas with tangy mustard-cucumber raita.” Every pahari‘s food fantasy!
(Rhododendrons or buransh is used to make a deliciously intoxicating juice locally…)
As a mom, nothing pleased me more than the boys’ friendly banter. So refreshingly different from the daily exchanges of done-to-death Whatsapp jokes and dime-a-dozen Facebook Lives. And so it was that three whole days passed in sheer bliss in each others company, with no jarring ping or beep or click to break the magic spell. Wonder of wonders, we did not miss the TV or the tablet for one second after the very first evening, busy as we were with a whole lot of other interesting things to fruitfully occupy our time like bird watching, hiking, practicing photography, reading, playing games, being one with nature, talking to each other and the friendly chef, who, btw churned up a made-to-order yummilicious Italian lunch to the utter delight of my pasta-crazy son.
(Completely fell in love with the super adorable Simba, a bhutia-Saint Bernard mix….)
It was a holiday that will remain with me forever, purely for the fact that it inadvertently brought home to me the simple, pure, forgotten joy of gadget-free existence. Freedom from the loop of lunacy that these multiple modern day contraptions have woven around us. In fact there are times we can feel ourselves choking in their grasp, when the healing human touch is but an arm length away. Made me realize with a sharp tug how much precious time we have wasted in phoney (no pun intended) company.
Immediately I pledged at the grand old oak tree by the entrance of the manor, that this would NOT be a one off and from now on we’ll make a conscious effort to redeem our holidays, and by inference OURSELVES!