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Friday, 28 December 2018

Kutch Diaries #RannKiKahaaniya

I have a penchant for planning holidays on the mountains or beaches and my family keeps complaining that all the holiday pictures look the same with similar locales and scenery!
A short sojourn with my better-half to Kutch, changed our holiday routine and scene! 
We started the trip on a spiritual note with a visit to the amazing Somnath Temple, then visited the Rann Utsav at Dhordo, followed by a trip to Dholavira and a bit of retail therapy at Bhuj
The ongoing Rann Utsav was something I'd wanted to attend for a while now. There was hardly enough time to plan, pack or do any kind of research about the trip, so yeah, I totally went on this trip with a clean slate - no expectations and a mild curiosity about the White Desert. You know at a certain point in life, you are happy with any holiday that doesn't involve domesticated chores like cooking, cleaning and serving!


Our 4N/5D itinerary was something like this: 
Besides the flights from Mumbai to Rajkot and from Bhuj to Mumbai, all other journeys were made by road in a dear friend's chauffeured car (friends totally rock, don't they?!). 
A special word of thanks to some really dear friends of the better half who made this entire trip so memorable and enjoyable for us!
Follow the three part Kutch Diaries series:
Kutch Diaries #RannKiKahaaniya >> Kutch Diaries #Dholavira >> Kutch Diaries #Shopping

Reaching Bhuj
After a 6 hour drive from Rajkot, we arrived under a blindingly bright sun at Dhordo. Highway roads in Gujarat are really good, so the long drives aren't too tiring.(Rajkot-Dhordo: 308 km). You can directly arrive at Bhuj by road, rail or air as Bhuj is well connected via all routes. We stayed for a night at The Tent City, Dhordo. You get a Tent City pick-up coach (fixed timings) from Bhuj to take you there. (Bhuj-Dhordo: 81 km)

Tent City, Dhordo 

The Tent City is something you may detest if you are the kind of traveler who loves serene environments and craves solitude. Sorry folks, this is just not the place for you!
This is a place that is totally festive, mela-like, bursting with people, energy, wares and colors! Well, consumerist that I am, I obviously loved it all!
Interestingly, the entire set-up is a temporary one that is erected and set up for just the four months of the Rann Utsav (Nov-Feb) and then dismantled lock, stock and barrel.
The grand Reception lounge
The Tent city has 400 tents spread across 9 clusters, two large dining halls with a capacity of 350/200 respectively, an art gallery, a club house with indoor games, a rejuvenation spa, conference area, a handicrafts bazaar, open air entertainment. The larger tents are grouped in clusters of 32 tents while smaller tents in groups of 68 are arranged in a semi-circle overlooking the entertainment area which also has the interesting Skyzilla. They have a medical center and round the clock CCTV surveillance. The network connectivity is extremely good in this area.
I was overall impressed with the magnitude and efficiency of the personnel (about 350) that milled about this mini-city to manage the day-today smooth running of the facility. Personnel are always at hand to assist you at every nook and corner.

Besides the evening entertainment on the grounds, through the day one can avail a host of sport activities ranging from Paramotoring, ATV rides, Segway and Trikke rides, Paintball etc. besides sightseeing tours to nearby places such as Kalo Dungar, Mandvi beach, Mata nu Madh etc. These are not included in the package and one needs to individually book and pay for them.
The shopping here is pretty well-stocked with the famous Kutchi handicrafts, embroidered fabrics and more, probably a tad costlier than at Bhujodi but not too much. These are alright for souvenir shopping but the products are most probably machine-made and mass-produced instead of the claims of being handmade. The entire setup is a visual delight with a play of colors showcasing the art, culture and spirit of the Gujarat through the Rann Utsav.

Tent Package
The Tent City has differently sized and priced tents. All tent package stays include fixed timing coach pick up from Bhuj and drop off along with local sightseeing tour of Bhuj. The package also includes pick up and drops along with camel buggy rides to the White Rann twice, once in the evening to view the sunset and once at night for the moonrise. All meals beginning from bed-tea, breakfast, lunch, evening tea to dinner are included in the deal. 

Weather during our stay (Dec 3rd week) was extremely pleasant at a maximum of 27 and minimum of 9 degrees celsius.

Food is pretty good at the Tent City dining hall. Dishes from Punjabi, Continental, Gujarati and Kathiawadi cuisines are on the Menu. The delicious meals at the large dining halls are efficiently managed and catered by the Sayaji group of hotels. 
Dining Hall

Our Stay
While we checked in at the large reception area, our bags were whisked off in a jiffy. We were explained the itinerary for our stay and escorted in one of the several golf carts to our tent. We had opted for the Premium tent (Rs 10,000/person/night) and it was really a pretty neat set up with AC/Heater, comfy bed, TV, sitting area, bath-toilet area etc. 
We took the evening coach starting from the gates to the White Rann at around 5 pm to enjoy the sunset. A short 15 minute ride takes you to the white desert through a BSF check point. Another 2 minute camel buggy ride drops you off to a point from which you are free to marvel and wander the White Rann.
I was under the misapprehension that the White Rann would have white sand. 
The Rann of Kutch is a vast, low lying salt flat that extends along the western edge of India. During the rainy season, water level of the adjacent sea increases enough to cause the flooding of the Rann. As the waters recede, the area dries leaving behind mud encrusted with salt. By winter all the water evaporates, leaving behind a white, salt covered terrain.
Honestly speaking, the Rann at Dhordo isn't all that white, thanks to the heavy footfall, camel buggies, dung et al!
We enjoyed a beautiful sunset unfettered by man-made structures listening to lilting folk music by local singers, marveling the surreal white terrain around us!
Back at the Tent city we headed to the bazaar and indulged in some souvenir shopping. That done, it was a scrumptious dinner at the assigned dining hall. The city is beautifully lit at night, with aesthetic lighting that pleases the eye yet is bright enough to serve it's purpose.
Next we headed to the entertainment area which had a host of brilliant live performances ranging from catchy Bollywood and interactive Garba beats, dance by the Siddi community, folk singers and performing artistes.
Around 10 pm, we took the coach again to catch the beauty of the White Rann in the beautiful full moon (yes, we couldn't believe that we had timed our trip so well!). 
The night air was nippy and we were glad we'd packed our warm things!
It took us a little time to get adjusted to the night light. Once we did, we were left awestruck at how well we could see in just the moonlight because of the white terrain reflecting the light back. Indeed a marvel! Sadly, people were going crazy with mobile flash modes marring the beauty of the moment. 
After a comfortable night's sleep in the cozy tent, rendered cozier by the heater and warm blankets, we had breakfast at the dining hall. It was time to check out of Tent City for the next leg of our tour to Dholavira, the archaeological site of the ancient ruins of Harappa carrying happy memories of lovely experiences at THE TENT CITY!

The Tent City Itinerary Booklet
You can get more information on the Rann Utsav and Tent City, Dhordo HERE

Stay tuned for the next leg of my Kutch Diaries at Dholavira.

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and it does not intentionally promote any place or property. All the information and opinions shared here have been gathered and compiled by me based on my personal experience. 

Copyright © 2018 KALA RAVI

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Washroom Woes

It is 2.00 a.m, an unearthly hour when regular folk are cozily tucked in bed getting their zzz's. But Nina being on a mission, waddled dazedly to her bathroom. A minute later she walked out, shaking her head in disbelief. Simply incredible!
The building she lived in was inhabited by some rather uncivil, vile beings. The most irritating, abominable to outright scary noises traveled all through the common duct area into which all the washroom windows of the ten-storied building looked into. The sounds emanating from outside her loo window were on in a non-stop loop, 24x7. She'd actually taken the day off to test her theory.
The area of dispute, the duct, was a hollow shaft area that hid from public view the unsightly plumbing pipes. All you could see from outside was a decorative facade of intricate cement jali.  This facade was a veritable perching treat for the vast number of pooping pigeons. If you thought performing your morning ablutions was a matter you took care of in the privacy and sanctity of your own bathroom, you were mistaken. It was like you were putting on a show for these feathered follies, who had premium balcony seats to the show. 
The architect had to be complimented for yet another value addition to this duct design. The stereophonic sound effects, surround system like audio in the duct area were a breakthrough in design! Sounds were amplified to multiple levels in this zone, whether or not they were desirable!
Well, the pigeons were the lesser of worries now, Nina conceded. She'd learned to ignore their plaintive cries of encore and mute out their exuberant exclamations of violence (or copulation), while she carried out her jobs in the loo. 
What worried her now was the other different noises that made an appearance whenever she visited the loo. Before you go dismissing them as the humdrum gut-related unmentionable noises, no, these were different.
She'd even questioned Nik, Neel and Varun on this. Somehow none of them had noticed such weirdness, as they called it.

The noises in question were definitely man-made, just not the regular kind. They were acts of passion, the passion of a performer on stage. At any given point of the day, one of these "performers" took to live stage performances in a seemingly random order. But Nina had observed some patterns. The incredible acoustics of the hollow duct area made the sounds boom, a definite morale booster for the performers.
She'd coined names for each of them to distinguish them from one another. She had in fact devoted entire lunch-breaks at work to draw up character analyses for each of these noise-pollutants.

So you had the,

Bashing Batoness: The one who believed in the punishing act of bludgeoning dirty laundry into submitting the dirt they'd accumulated with a mighty washing paddle or dhoka. Had to be a she, 'cos one could hear her sighs of contentment in between the heaves during the episodes of brutal bashing and sloshing and even occasional humming of Bollywood numbers. A lady with pent up emotions that were vented out through this somewhat unconventional method. On weekends, she favored the afternoon siesta hours.

Whiny Imp: There had to be more than one of these, Nina decided. After all, sustaining an hour long performance on all weekday mornings was no single child's play! This character went on a relentless wailing, moaning spree with occasional high pitched shrieks. Nina was sympathetic to the distress of young mortals being subjected to the rigors of early morning rituals to get them ready for the day long torture at school, but there was only so much patience that one could have. 

Gargling Gargoyle: This was one character that could possibly have non-human origins, Nina thought miserably. This species had haunted her from as long back as she could remember. As a child traveling in the second-class Indian railway coach, she could remember being rudely awakened in the early morning by the crude, retching noises made by them. Like one was trying to bring up a hairball caught in the throat and gagging repeatedly. Most likely, the perpetrator favored the idea of disembowelment through the oral route. The gargling gargoyle had to be someone who OCD'd over his oral hygiene. Why else would he while away the hours of the day cleansing his oral cavity, gullet over everything else? Of the lot, he got Nina's goat the most! She'd even heard noises of a baby gargoyle in training, learning the ropes...and he seemed like a rather promising student!😢 

Trumpeting Typhoon: Nina strongly suspected that the Gargling Gargoyle and the Trumpeting Typhoon could be split personalities of the same person. This one had to be OCD'ing over a clear nasal cavity or it could be someone with a perennially choked nose. His vociferous nose-clearing attempts resulted in a trumpeting so long and prolonged that it could put a pachyderm to shame.

On weekdays and holidays, the Bashing Batoness, Whiny Imp, Gargling Gargoyle and Trumpeting Typhoon preferred the early morning and late evening peak hours and interestingly, they were the most annoying. Smaller irritants like Tuneless WonderRadio-active Rebel and Work-from-Loo Loser took the in between shifts when the lead performers were busy elsewhere, she presumed. 

Nina had assimilated all her observations and now her motto in life was to translate the findings to conclusive deductions on the perpetrators. She believed they were targeting her. What exactly they stood to gain by limiting her time in the loo, she hadn't still figured out but something sinister was definitely afoot. Was it just one resident or many who were a part of this plot, was yet another aspect she needed to crack. If only she could get hold of a Sherlock-like detective to assist her in sleuthing...


Read other stories from Nina's World:  

Disclaimer: All the characters in the Nina's World series are fictional, any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental and unintentional.

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Copyright © 2018 KALA RAVI

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Lessons from gardening

I sit twiddling my thumbs in the hope that inspiration will strike and make me start typing furiously on my brilliant piece. The one that seemed to flow quite effortlessly in the wee morning hours at dreamland. Sigh, doesn’t seem likely today!

I am pottering around my not-so-flourishing balcony garden, wondering for the nth time why these potted residents of my home cannot put on a better show. All they have to do is sport green leaves and look sprightly, huh? It’s not as if I am aspiring to see a great bloomin’ flower garden, am I? Stopped planting species that were supposed to yield anything more than just leaves a long time ago…errm…after laying to earth several failed experiments.

I fondly pet the money plant, spraying its leaves with water mist to keep them clean and shiny. This one is my sole salvation, the one that has thrived even under negligence when I was away on vacation. I scorn disdainfully at the stump of a rose plant that I had very optimistically picked up when the nursery guy told me that this particular variety would produce perennial blooms no matter what!
As I put away yet another shriveled plant to be disposed of, I contemplate whether it is just fool-hardiness to continue on this futile path of becoming the proud owner of decent-looking greenery!
It suddenly occurred to me that I could draw a few parallels between my gardening experiences and parenting.
Image source
Most family, friends, veteran gardeners and even total strangers have shared various tips and tricks to get the best out of my pet vegetation nook.
The crux of all that collective wisdom is, plants need your time, attention and love, besides of course the basic requirements of sunlight, water and soil.
Boy, isn’t that just what your kids require? Of course, kids don’t need soil, well, maybe some do, but most are in better health when fed human food.
Children thrive better when you give them your time and attention and even more so when you do it lovingly.

The thrill of watching a tiny seed germinate and grow day by day is no less than watching your own little baby grow.

I recollect that the rose plant, the pansy and peony, the daisy and chrysanthemum, yes all those and many more that I tried to rear, got my time and attention too.
But did I love them? I would have, if they’d given me a chance to, by displaying at least the slightest resilience to morbidity or even the smallest inclination of a bud!

As parents, are we doing the same? By self-righteously devoting our time, efforts and money on our offspring, are we holding back on the love our children need, simply because we have certain expectations from them? Expectations that need to be met with before the love is given. Is life any fun when one has to walk it through with the burden of expectations? 

I have this holy basil shrub, which I religiously (pun intended) try to keep reviving, replacing, with little success. I was informed that I am simply killing the plant with over-watering.
Sometimes the best of intentions are overdone, too much of a good thing.
Parenting can sometimes be overwhelming. Are we doing too less, are we being less attentive, is my child under-nourished, does my child have the right friends, is my child having enough physical activity, will he be okay alone at the picnic….you get me?
We are beating ourselves up, over-indulging the child, becoming over-sensitive to his needs and generally leaving no room for the child’s self-development, evolution, curiosity and independence.
Sometimes it pays to be a little less attentive. Let them fall down, pick themselves up and develop a thick skin. Resilience is a trait that will hold them in good stead life-long.

Along my gardening journey, I learned some tips on, "How not to kill your plants",
Water: less is more
Sunlight: the more the merrier
Soil: regularly turned over and topped up with natural nutrients
Well, there was a lot more but these are all I remember off the top.

So armed with even this much, I should be good to go, theoretically speaking. Then how come I am still burying the ill-fated remains of the coriander plant?

When it comes to parenting, most new parents today come armed with enough and more knowledge handed down from older generations and the all-pervasive google searches, parenting communities etc.
But there is finally no tried and tested common success formula for bringing up your child to be the all-rounder, physically fit, mentally strong kid you would like him to be.

Then it came to me, something my mom said to me, nurturing is something that is instinctive to every parent. Every child is unique with his/her own signs of developmental milestones. An observant and intuitive parent will be able to ascertain the child’s needs based on his responses and behavior and thereby decide when to indulge, stay put or start worrying.
Image source
Sometimes we parents are at our wits' end trying to figure out whether we are doing right by our children. Maybe they are just like the money-plant that requires little or no attention to thrive. Or they are like the special bonsai plant that requires all your focus. 
Whatever kind they may be, one rule still holds true. Once you are past the fragile times and they have their roots firmly planted, they will do alright. Even uprooting and replanting shouldn't bother them too much if you got the initial growing times right! 
As for you now, you can only advise them to either sway to the rhythm of wind or stand strong against a storm. You can worry, you can fret or simply just pray that they will do well, no matter what.

I realize, I need to watch over my green babies and learn what keeps them fresh and healthy, what makes them droopy or simply shrivel up.
That makes me think, maybe that coriander plant just couldn’t take too much of sun or wait a minute, were those white spots on the leaves, an infestation? Ah, yes, now that I think of it, it probably was! Time to put that big bottle of organic neem spray to work.

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Copyright © 2018 KALA RAVI

Friday, 26 October 2018

Tips for the Conversationally Averse

Hang in there, just a few minutes more...nod now, make that eye contact, give that understanding smile, tut-tut and look down sadly, swear with feeling,'What rubbish!'  or 'No seriously?' or 'Don't know what the world is coming to!' or 'I don't believe this!' and if you aren't sure, 'Tell me more...', always works!

Do you have the attention span of a 2-year old or do you wonder if it might be ADHD? Why there is even a phobia called glossophobia that you could be slotted under!
You aren't conversationally awkward but you'd rather steer clear of conversations that are zzz-inducing! Happier with a zip on the lip and over the ears too if possible.
Well, whatever, till diagnosed, you are out there in the open with no reprieve from compelling conversations. 
Talking about conversations, there could be various kinds you know...but I am talking primarily of ones involving your physical presence, the kinds which you cannot wait to tear yourself away from.

Conversations with a monopolizing speaker.
Many conversations are besieged by a speaker on his relentless monologue expecting no exchange from the audience.
Conversation bullies can be a blessing! While the said person takes control of the conversation, you can happily let your mind wander, observe the speaker or the audiences' individual tics, mannerisms, clothing, the room decor or simply transport yourself to another zone altogether. Actually, this is a pretty calming situation, meditative even if the speaker has a pleasant droning audio. Occasional head nods and looks of absorbed interest can see you through the evening quite successfully.
On the other hand, you've got to be wary of such monologues because there might be a twist to it with the speaker throwing off-hand questions to the onlookers at the end of his repertoire. This kind of rude interruption to the drifting mind is pretty unwelcome I'd say. Beating a hasty retreat in search of gastronomic or spirit-fueled refills comes to the rescue. 

Conversations in large gatherings that involve active participation.
You can well imagine how tedious it is to hang on to the words of each person in a party of say...twenty members, especially when the topic is nothing you like or relate to and you are constantly dreading the words, 'So what do you think ...?' asking for your personal opinion.
Thankfully most soirees comprise of persons, totally in awe and in love with their own opinions and voices, so you can shake off any awkwardness with a li'l bit of attention to body language and facial expressions...anyday more interesting than the talks, I daresay! 
You gotta watch for the most vociferous voices, the most antagonized faces, the most exuberant expressions and decide your course of action with, 'I totally agree with Mr. Vociferous' or 'I think Mrs. Antagonized does have a point there' or 'Ha,ha,ha...you are too good Ms. Exuberant!' 
However, to pass off as an avid participant, one cannot merely agree to all and sundry opinions expressed. 
You've got to shake things up a little, irrespective of what the ongoing conversation is about. Challenge Mr. Vociferous with a, 'You really think so?' and 'Can you prove it?' and stand back and enjoy the fascinated hushed horror of the audience.
You could make a contribution to the tryst with your own compelling statements by preparing beforehand on good ol' politics and all sorts of trivia news. The escaped whale from the Japanese aquarium that no one would have read about or titillating snippets from Hollywood/Bollywood. Choose topics that are self-sustaining, entertaining, no-brainers that enlist your own foray into the convo and ensure a swift escape therein.

Conversations in intimate gatherings, with limited participants.
Well, these are definitely challenging. You can help your cause here with some prior screwing with the background music if such a back up exists, and thereby plead noise pollution as your excuse for not being in sync with the proceedings, lame but hey, it helps! Another helpful tip is asking The Q, 'So Mrs...tell me what's going on in your life?' or 'So how are the kids/maid/body pain/exercise regimen....?' You get the drift? That should give you sufficient time to zone out. 
Then of course, you have the trusty, faithful mobile phone. Set alarms to go off at frequent intervals so you get justified time-outs to recharge those mental faculties overburdened with facts and info they were never meant to hold. Yes, mobiles are boons of tech to minds like a sieve. You come back to the field rejuvenated from the break having imbibed a few lines of 'shayaris' to be casually delivered or crack a few well-rehearsed 'impromptu' jokes, and voila, you've made your mark!

And then the most lethal kind of conversation, the one-on-one kinds.
The ones you absolutely abhor! The situation where you are faced with a speaker akin a predator with unwavering watch over his prey....yikes, the mere visual sends chills down your spine, doesn't it? The predator, I mean the speaker, expects you to hang on to every word of his with the same intensity that he is delivering them with and does not miss the slightest signs of waning interest from you. If you are spotted looking diverted, he gets irritated but to be fair, he decides to forgive you and restarts his narrative....oh God, no, no, no! Best recourse, chew the bullet, focus all your energies on following his narrative the first time itself.
Ideally, I would suggest that you inveigle yourself from such situations but when the going gets tough, the tough get going. See, you are tough, you know that. But there is no fortitude in putting yourself through such haranguing situations and so, you've got to get going...move out of such situations pronto.

Then we come to the point, aren't conversations about dialogues, mutual exchange of words and opinions between people, preferably voluntary? The key operative here of course would be, voluntary. Given a choice, you would not volunteer to be a part of a conversation, either physical or over air-waves that does not interest you, now would you? Phone conversations, ahh, they are an altogether different cuppa, to be savored over another time. 
You see, it is just a personal choice - Happier reading or hearing words and opinions than vis-a-vis being in the frame yourself! 
A good choice I would say considering, most people like it best when they are speaking and seldom interested in listening to anyone else. And if they do listen, it is with the intent to reply.

"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."
- Steven Covey (1932-2012)

Disclaimer: The above post has been authored on a lighter vein for literary purposes only. All tips and opinions expressed are the author's own and should be followed at the reader's own discretion and risk!

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Copyright © 2018 KALA RAVI

Thursday, 18 October 2018

These are a few of my favourite things #TheBlindList

For OCD-ing middle-aged moms, planning is everything. Surprises are just rude shocks. How boring, right? Yeah, I thought the same about my mom and now my kids think the same about me. 
Time and again my family tests my patience with their not-so-helpful attitude on every holiday we've taken. No one volunteers to help with researching the travel itinerary, the flight or hotel bookings or anything the holiday would include. Add to that woe list, giving me wrong dates of availability, that leaves me at my wits end when they realize the folly a couple of days before we depart for the holiday...arrghh!
That's it! I've had just about enough of this "holiday" planning! The weather is wretched and I am having a blessed moment putting my feet up on the couch mulling over our last annual vacation wherein my lazy family decided yet again on "simply chilling" at the resort while the rest of the group tour went on a mad rampage all across Malaysia. 
If only things were different...The cuckoo clock cheeps three times and I wearily stretch my toes.
Ping! There goes the email alert on my mobile. Must be some promo mail, with the approaching festive season. Hmm, it's a mail from DCT Travels, must be one of those innumerable sites I checked out for our last holiday. Half-heartedly I click open the mail and my jaw drops as I skim through the mail. I read the mail again and then once more. In a daze I call my husband, "Hello, you'll never believe what I am going to tell you! I just won an all expenses paid 7 days, 6 nights holiday!! I was the 100,000 th visitor on their website it seems! But the holiday is for just one person, me. Isn't that just awesome?....Where to? Let me read the mail again and call you back." 
As I go through the mail again, I realize it does not mention the destination. But, hey...wait a sec...what is this under the *Terms and Conditions*? It says that the holiday destination is to be a surprise and I have to agree to ask no questions about the destination other than those relevant to my travel requirements. Now, I am feeling really stupid! What kind of scam is this? Maybe I'll be robbed or kidnapped or worse! Just my kind of luck.

The phone rings, it's an unknown number. I answer,"Yes, speaking. Hmm, yes, I received the email. How do I know this is not a prank? Oh, I wasn't aware you have an office in Mumbai. Sure, I'll visit. And yes, I'll get my passport along. Thank you so much!"
As I get off the call from the rather nice sounding Neha, I can feel the adrenaline rush. 
I browse through the website of DCT Travels and check the customer reviews. Wow, all 5 star reviews! Nah, that could be fake! Only one way to find out. I'll visit their office which is surprisingly not far from my place.
The sweet girl Neha from the tele-call is there to heartily welcome and congratulate me. We are comfortably settled in with coffee mugs at her station and she asks me to fill out a questionnaire based on which they will customize my holiday. Besides the usual routine personal details I need to fill, there are questions that make me think.
They ask me questions like, what are my dream holiday destinations, my expectations from a holiday, stay preferences, food I love and so on!
Phew!! I am done answering all the questions and inadvertently it has been a journey of self exploration for me, I never knew I've been craving for a perfect holiday!

It is a fortnight since that meeting, the days have blurred past in a rush of packing, repacking, checking documents, visiting visa office, arranging for stuff to be handled at home in my absence and so much more. 
Other than the fact that my destination is somewhere in Europe, DCT Travels hasn't still revealed my travel itinerary, they just wink and tell me it's a #BlindList
I really wonder where I am going to be whisked away and honestly? It is literally a blind date that I am risking! I am praying this surprise doesn't turn out to be yet another rude shock!

I am at the airport, it is 12.00 a.m and the family is here to see me off on my maiden solo journey to God-Knows-Where! I am feeling terribly excited and a bit crazy as well! 
I wave goodbye to all and amidst tight hugs and last minute reminders to keep my phone charged, I am off! Off on a blind date to someplace I have no clue about but something tells me it is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime memory that I am about to make!

I am at the Lufthansa airways counter (I don't know why but I've always loved the exotic-sounding name of this airline). I am headed to Paris!! 
As I flash my ticket and passport, the cheerful Lufthansa executive smiles broadly at me. He informs me that my ticket has been upgraded to business class!!! Omg, this is so amazing!
I dazedly walk with my backpack to the business class lounge to wait it out in style till my flight is called.
A blissful flight cocooned in luxury and pampered by the delightful in-flight service, I am quite liking the way things are proceeding! They even have authentic Indian vegetarian gourmet food that I love!
At the Charles de Gaulle airport, I am received by a DCT travels executive and deposited in a waiting luxury car. I am informed that my destination is now just an hour and half's drive away.
I am eagerly peering through the window and helpfully assisted by the chauffeur who points out the various beautiful monuments and sites we are passing by. Mon dieu! The city is simply enchanting! We are now out of city bounds and traversing beautiful countryside, there is a river, La Seine, I remember from my French classes!
Finally I read a board saying "Bienvenue à Giverny". I am at the home of the brilliant Impressionist artist Claude Monet at Giverny from where he created some of his most amazing paintings of Water Lilies amongst many others. I remember mentioning in the DCT travels' questionnaire that I adore Monet's art and that I would love to visit his inspiration.

I am booked into...wait for it... a castle, called Chateau de Reves. The chateau is run by an old couple and thankfully they speak English though heavily accented which I find extremely charming! I am shown up to my room which done up in tones of pale rose and moss green. I am in love with the floral wall paper, the lacy curtains and the old, heavy period furniture including a canopied bed! 

Everything about Giverny is so adorable. The cobbled paths, the old buildings with soft faded hues, several chateaus from a bygone era, beautiful shaded pathways with tall poplars and trees I don't know the name of, tiny corner cafes fronted with glass displays of mouth-watering croissants....ahh, my senses are on an overload and my phone camera is in a tizzy to capture all the wonderful sights I am beholding!

After a good night's sleep and a sumptuous buffet breakfast I am all set for the day ahead. Imagine my surprise when I behold Neha at the reception waiting for me! She tells me she'll be with me all through my holiday! Woohoo! I love the idea of travel sans the worries of planning and logistics! Travel to explore has only been a myth to me so far!

Neha and I visit the Monet home which is every bit as beautiful I imagined it to be, and everything is so impeccably maintained! The grounds, the Japanese bridge, and THE waterlilies, they are simply out of this world!
I have taken my sketchbook on this visit and I spend a lazy hour trying to capture the famed lily-pond sipping a glass of chilled French wine accompanied by a cheese platter...life doesn't get any better! I am totally letting my hair down!

Neha informs me that we'll be taking a flight late evening to our next destination and smugly informs me that it will be a surprise too! I can't wait to find out where we'll be heading next!

You could have knocked me down with a feather when I hear that we are headed next to Salzburg, Austria!  I try to remember the number times I've wished to visit the rolling hills where the epic movie, "The Sound of Music" was shot. I am already humming,"These are a few of my favourite things..." Exploring the world is soon going to be my motto in life!
Salzburg is nothing short of picture-postcard prettiness! 
The air itself is invigorating and people seem to be thriving on it! Everywhere I see apple-cheeked happy folk with ready smiles filled with warmth. It doesn't matter that I can neither speak nor understand most of what people speak here. The place is alive with music, theater, culture and so much fun!
I am almost crazy ecstatic when I visit the Villa Trapp - The Original Sound of Music family home. Like a giddy teen, the lines,"I am sixteen going on seventeen.."are on my lips!
We take a trek on the hills where the blockbuster soundtrack,"The hills are alive..." was shot and indeed, my heart wants beat like the wings of the birds!
A delightful evening at the famed opera has me gushing and overwhelmed! This kind of enriching experience, visiting all these amazing places and doing all the stuff I have only dreamed of!

My guide and new best pal, Neha tells me that our next destination involves a train journey, the Euro-rail. We are now headed to England! We arrive to a dull, grey, drizzly London. I think I recognize most of the places the taxi passes by, thanks to all the scores of English movies I've watched. I am excited to recognize Picadilly square, the London Bridge, the Thames, the London eye, Westminster Abbey and all those iconic colonial structures.
I beg Neha to tell me where we are heading and she tells me it is to the English countryside. The place that inspired poets and writers to pen the most famed literary works! Dorset, Cornwall, Devon, Somerset...here I come!
The natural beauty of the English countryside takes my breath away as do the quaint cottages, the multi-hued heather, pretty blooms, beautiful sandy beaches and the nippy, crisp air! It is small wonder that those literary giants were inspired to pen down such marvelous prose and poetry. Why, I think if I stay here a bit more, I'll find myself drafting my own best-seller book of poetries soon enough! I visit a field of golden Daffodils at Cornwall and I am at a loss of words at the feeling of pure joy that envelops me when I see what inspired, "The Daffodils" and "The Solitary Reaper" by William Wordsworth.

My happiest moment is when I am given the keys to a lovely little fairyland-like cottage, with its own white picket fenced garden, thatched roof and a tiny attic room with round windows, in Devon! This is nothing short of a fairy-tale! Can it get any better? Oh yes, it gets better when you have a picnic by the roadside after a long bike trail! Neha has arranged for a packed hamper of dainty cupcakes, buttery scones, strawberries and cream, tiny cucumber sandwiches and of course chilled bottles of lemonade! The unforgettable Enid Blyton, I am living yet another dream! 

My mind runs through the last few days' happenings...and I am smiling away loopily! So many incredible moments, exotic, quaint and beautiful places that have blown me away. People and places that I have only read about...I am really so glad I agreed to go on this blind date with #TheBlindList. I came openminded, expecting nothing, and what a revelation the world has been to me! #SayYesToTheWorld and it opens up unlimited possibilities! I never thought traveling the world could be so fulfilling!

I settle down under the tree on the little blanket that Neha has thoughtfully spread. What with overindulging myself with such decadent treats and the overall feeling of bliss, makes me a little snoozy. 

There is a ringing sound...I ignore it, it must be some passing cyclist. The ringing persists and refuses to go away. Unwillingly I tear open my eyes from the stupor and come face to face with my son holding out the phone to me.
Oh, no!! What's this? Was it all just a dream? Was that my trip to Wonderland?
I accept my phone and answer the unknown number calling me,"Hello?" 
"Hello ma'am, this is Neha calling from Dreams Come True Travels...."



This post is my entry for the #TheBlindList contest from Lufthansa India in association with Indiblogger.
All the places mentioned are real though I have never visited any of them...yep it's a fictional trip, but one close to the heart!

Copyright © 2018 KALA RAVI