Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai

It all started with a visit of Nisha and her husband to my 28th floor room at the Palladium Hotel, Mumbai. We were there to attend 2015 Discover Thainess event. I had a room with the view. Over tea, they pointed out that the structure in the water was the famous Haji Ali Dargah. Now that got my attention for sure. I got an opportunity to visit the dargah the next morning.

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Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai- As Seem from my Room

Now that I could see the shrine from my room (this is through a zoom at 300mm) I had to go there. I was staying in Lower Parel and I decided to hail a taxi right outside the hotel. Now I was in for a pleasant surprise here. The taxi went by meter, the bill came to 46 rupees and the driver gave back the exact change! People who live in Delhi/NCR would sure understand why I am surprised. That was a good start to the trip.

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The Path to Haji Ali Dargah

The weather in Mumbai was surely warmer than Delhi but it was still quite mild. As a rule I like to walk but I am not so sure about the paths full of hawkers and destitutes. However, once again, people did try to sell things or ask for alms but no one was pushy even when it was obvious that we were tourists.

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Flower Shops on the Way to Haji Ali Dargah

At the beginning of the path, there is a concentration of shops selling flowers, chadar and other such things. People invariably asked if I would like to buy something, but I didn’t. They were quite alright when I stopped to click a picture even without buying anything. I was either ignored or the shop owners commented on their excellent display which compelled me to stop and click pictures!

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Mumbai

All my recent trips to Mumbai have been for events and one night affairs! This one was no different. And yet, I am getting more attracted to it with each trip. I do find it claustrophobic with all its high rises standing next to slums. The traffic makes me feel nervous but there is something about the city which surely attracts me. What it is I know not yet, but the attraction is there, it is unmistakable.

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The Haji Ali Dargah

The dargah is said to be built in 1431 AD in the memory of Peer Haji Ali. It is about 500 meters inside the sea and I am told at high tide the path becomes inaccessible. So, at high tide there are chances of getting stuck within the dargah as well. It didn’t happen to me though.

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Women at Haji Ali Dargah

There is a separate enclosure for women at the dargah. It looks like women can’t visit the main shrine but then even this vantage point gives a good view of the main shrine. Like many religious places in India, it is required that you take off your shoes to enter the main complex. You are also required to cover your head. The shrine welcomes people from all religions.

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Make a Wish!

People tie a thread to the outer walls if they wish to make a wish to the saint. If your wish is granted you are supposed to come back and remove the thread.

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Haji Ali the Main Shrine

I am told that photography at the main shrine is not allowed. However from the women’s side no one said anything when I photographed the shrine.

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Shops along the Haji Ali Path

Even though I had very little time, the shops were so colorful that I would stop to click a few pictures even on my way back.

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Sweets for Sale

One of the last pictures I clicked was of this bright orange sweet dish. After looking at this mouth watering picture I realized that I should have actually tried the stuff as well. I will surely do it next time. one of the pictures I didn’t dare to click was of a person sitting by the road, he was wearing a green kurta and his white beard had orange tinch of henna. I am still so timid when it comes to clicking people.

My visit to Haji Ali Dargah was truly memorable. So long Mumbai, till we meet next.

If You had to Pick Only One Picture- Discover Thainess 2015

The Discover Thainess 2015 campaign was launched in Mumbai on February 25 by the tourism and sports minister of Thailand Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul. I was invited to attend this complete visual delight. I present you the same in pictures!

The Tourism and Sports Minister of Thailand Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul

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Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, The Tourism and Sports Minister of Thailand

The minister addressed the press conference and unveiled the theme of 2015 Discover Thainess. She interacted with the media for long hours after the event. She was quite bullish on the Indian market and had great optimism for Thailand Tourism in 2015.

The Lobby of the Palladium Hotel, Mumbai

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The Lobby, Palladium Hotel, Mumbai

The beautiful Palladium Hotel in Mumbai was the venue of the gala 2015 Discover Thainess event. I stayed there for a night as well.

A Riot of Colors

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A Riot of Colors

The venue of the ballroom of the Palladium Hotel in Mumbai and it was a riot of colors. These bright colors are used to paint the Thai face masks.

The Thai Masks

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The Thai Masks

This is how the masks look when completed. Thai culture has some similarities with the Indian culture when it comes to Kinnaras, asuras and the ramayana.

A Beautiful Thai Girl!

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Beautiful Orchids and Beautiful Thai Woman

One of the themes of the event was ‘floating markets’ of Thailand. This boat had beautiful orchids with a beautiful lady right in Mumbai!

Thai Sweets

Thai Sweets

Thai Sweets

At the first glance I thought these were miniature soaps, till I was invited to eat them! They are actually Thai sweets, mild flavored and really good. They were such an eye candy too!

Orchids- Quintessentially Thai

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Beautiful orchids

There were rows of orchids at the venue which created the vivid colors of Thainess at the event. Try as I might, this was the best I could do in photographing them, I was not too happy with the result.

Muay Thai

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Muay Thai

This was my first glimpse of Muay Thai. It was a fascinating display of skills and strength between the two boxers. And the two beautiful ladies are fellow bloggers Ragini and Manjukila from Delhi.

A Thai Basket

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A Thai Basket

I was not sure what looked more cute, the miniature boat or the beautiful basket full of delightful Thai sweets. And that perfectly tied bow was a pleasure to photograph.

The Ladyboy

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The Ladyboy

If you have been to Thailand you already know about ladyboys. This charming ladyboy was at the drinks counter of the event. I hope we will treat our transvestites as well in future.

A Very Rosy Arrangement

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A Very Rosy Arrangement

This bowl full of rose and its petals was an eyecatcher for sure. I can’t remember when I saw such a bright shade of orange in such a beautiful formation!

Miniature Thai Boats

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Miniature Thai Boats

Thai floating markets are a thing of beauty. I have been lucky to see two of them Taling Chan Floating Market and the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. The miniature boats reminded me of the real markets which are so vibrant!

Such a Beautiful Arrangement

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Beautiful Flowers in her Hair

I was quite fascinated by the beautiful flowers in the hair of this Thai dancer. I am sure one has to know how to carry it off, I am sure if I put it, it will not look half as good!

Fruit Carving

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Fruit Carving

Thai fruit carving was also on display and you guessed it right, this is a carving on a watermelon. It surely made for a pretty picture.

Floating Markets

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Floating Markets

I have not been to Amphawa Floating Market but it is 50 km from Bangkok and seems to be less touristy. I hope I will go there one day.

So if you had to pick only one picture out off all these, which one would you choose?

The Apple Blossom Fagu Review

Both Chhavi and I were quite tired by the time we reached The Apple Blossom Fagu which is a HPTDC hotel. She perked up seeing snow on the side. I was happy that she found something to look forward to in spite of being tired. We spent three nights there and The Apple Blossom Fagu review is based on our personal experience when it had low occupancy in February 2015.

The Check In: We had a smooth check-in as there was no one else arriving that late in the evening. The staff took my luggage to the room. Rakesh the kind person that he was, he quickly switched on the heater correctly guessing that we were cold.

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The Apple Blossom, Fagu, Himachal Pradesh

 

First Impressions: The room was big and spacious. However, it had a carpet as well. Now as a rule I do not like carpets because many hotels do not keep it clean and the room stinks. At the Apple Blossom the carpet was certainly old but they managed to keep it clean, so the room had no funny smell. After that I started breathing a little easy. As the weather was cold they had provided a thick quilt.

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Our Room at the Apple Blossom, Fagu

The Room: The room had a comfortable double bed with clean linen. It had a mirror and a dressing table, table and chairs for food and a work table. There were side tables by the bed as well which is very handy to dump things like mobile phone, books earrings etch just before going to sleep. However what stumped me was the lack of plug points for charging. In the room the TV socket was the only option for charging gadgets. There was a functional plug point in the bathroom too.

I took the lowest category room and it was a big, clean and functional room. I have no major complaints.

The Bathroom: The bathroom was once again absolutely clean. The amenities were sparse, it had two clean towels, two sachets of shampoo, two small soap bars and bucket and mugs. There was a shower too which we didn’t try. There was plenty of hot water so we were good for our entire stay.

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The Tasty Noodles

The Food: The hotel has an in-house restaurant and we had all our meals there. They made excellent soupparathas, paneer, french fries and noodles. They make Maggie too! However the cheese omelet was just about OK. The food was always fresh and as good as homemade food. They were happy to serve the food in the room at night as it would get quite cold out there. They make good tea.

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The Huge Courtyard of the Hotel

The Ambience: The hotel has a huge courtyard at the back which is an excellent place to sit on a sunny day and do nothing. In a shady area there was a reasonable deposit of snow which was the favorite place for kids to muck about! From this courtyard you can take an exit and start exploring the nearby hillocks.

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Birds are regular Visitors at the Apple Blossom, Fagu

This and That: I guess on two nights Chhavi and I were the only guests at the hotel. The staff was so well behaved that at no point I ever felt unsafe. I ordered room service for all three dinners and I could confidently do so.

The hotel would get quite busy at lunch time as cabs stop with their guests who were exploring places around Shimla.

Their location is excellent but then government hotels usually have the advantage of the location. There are many birds around the hotel. The bird in the picture is a rock bunting.

The Verdict: If you are looking for a clean and no frills hotel, you would enjoy your stay at The Apple Blossom Fagu. I will happily stay there again. The only thing I want is more plug points in the room, preferably next to the side tables by the bed. If that is not possible then near the work table so that people can charge their various gadgets easily.

Bank of Thailand Museum, Bangkok

I had the privilege to visit the Bank of Thailand Museum, Bangkok on one of my trips to Thailand. It is the first central bank of any country that I have gone near to! The buildings are impressive. I could not capture the main museum building but the whole complex is made of former palaces!

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Bank of Thailand Museum Premises #Canon550D

What stuck me most was that to visit the museum one has to seek prior permission from the bank and it can be done only in groups. As I was traveling with Thailand Tourism Authority, New Delhi my permission was already sorted. The main palace (not in picture) where the museum is named Bangkhunprom Palace.

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Bank of Thailand Museum- The Grounds #Canon550D

While we were waiting to be escorted inside I decided to click the beautiful premises. There were blooming orchids too but then I decided not to post them, after all this is a museum post and not a nature post! You see the trouble is that photography within the museum is not permitted.

The museum is divided into many rooms, 14 in all. It traces, what else, but the history of money. Some of it we are familiar with. Societies started with simple things like cowries as money. We graduated to metals and then the current form of notes.

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The Bank of Thailand Museum, Bangkok #XperiaZ3

To me what stood out was the concern of counterfeiting the currency and how measures were taken in various eras to combat it. I never really thought about the paper and the printing press and the country they were located in connection of money.

The custodian of the museum, the lady on my left was about to retire in a year after serving at the bank for more than 30 years! With the modern careers being what they are, I was quite impressed by the length of her service. It was an absolute privilege to meet her and visit the museum.

A Friendly Football Game

Yesterday I took my camera to the park as I wanted to click flowers in the bloom. However, a friendly football game started taking shape in front of my eyes. I call it the Kids vs. the Giant. Kids were represented by Chhavi and her friends and the giant is my nephew Sunil. As it was Sunday all of us were in fun mood. This is one of my rare off topic posts which is not about travel. It was just way too cute, not to write about it.

The Start of the Game

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That is how we defend the goal!

The game started with just three players, Chhavi, her good friend and Sunil. It was actually quite difficult to keep all of them in the frame with a 50mm fixed lens. I don’t know why the kids wanted to defend their goal in this fashion!

I Would Rather do Handstands!

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I would rather do handstands!

Gradually the number of players increased but the frustration of playing against bhaiya (big brother) was on the rise. Chhavi wanted to perform handstands instead! It was anyway Bhaiya vs. everyone else!

We Are An Army Now

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We are an army!

The number of kids went up and soon the goal post which was denoted by the two slippers, was full. Now where would bhaiya score from?

The Giant

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The Giant Invades

However bhaiya got the line in complete disarray within seconds and every one was aflutter, running here and there. And you know what that would mean? He scored again! And he would celebrate as well after scoring!

The Team Went into a Huddle for a New Strategy!

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Post Huddle Strategy

This was the last ditch effort to save the goal which was the result of a team huddle. I was a little late to click the perfect huddle! The result remained much the same. But bhaiya made them learn passing and played some silly games with them as well.

Epilogue 

In the end the kids demanded that Sunil should kick the ball and hit the aeroplane flying overhead at that moment! To which he told them very seriously that it was not possible.

I remember reading knock at the door peep in with this giant who now scores goals at will! And now we sit together and discuss office politics. How time flies!

Why Do We Travel?

I know the answer to the question ‘Why Do We Travel’ is very individual. But let us explore it via what is in fashion about travel these days and see where it leads!

One of the most common theme doing rounds seem to be that we travel to find ourself. Well since I never managed to lose myself I feel I have no need to find myself! But then I guess it is just me?

Next comes the thought that we travel to know the unknown, yes I agree we try to know the unknown with our mobiles and tablets loaded with every app that would predict with certainty about everything that is there to know!

Then comes the variety that to travel is to awaken, now with the common office goer is anyway so much sleep deprived that many look forward to catch up on sleep on their vacations rather than being ‘awaken’ on an obscene hour by the alarm! Now a true photographer is different, they still need to chase the dawn for their pictures and they may like to get awaken.

Then comes let us find some beautiful place to get lost, of course with a sat phone and google maps! Hot water and electricity also welcome, a pizza joint in the vicinity would be priceless.

Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer, till my pay checks keep coming in either regularly or from somewhere. Otherwise my bank balance shows a tendency to run towards empty very fast.

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Why Do We Travel?

A journey is measured in friends rather than miles, yes Facebook friends and their likes actually. I have nothing against facebook but I somehow detest the current hype around travel.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness, till it comes to debates like tourists vs. travelers. Then we display prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness in all its glory.

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving, all very well, but next time I am going to tell this to a country’s Visa Office and see their response.

Travel is never a matter of money but courage, OK next time I will try to pay my bills with courage.

I mean I can keep going on and on and on. But then why has it so gone out of fashion to travel just on a simple, pure vacation?

When I Dropped My Wallet

Chhavi and I visited the Chail Palace on our way back from Fagu. Both of us were quite happy to potter around the huge lawn right next to the main premises. There was a toy train, a merry go round and a swing and you know what a treasure it is for a kid. However the toy train was stationary, the merry go round seats had water on it and Chhavi was not too fascinated by the swing as she has it at home too.

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The Lawns of Chail Palace

We had ten minutes of bliss and suddenly things didn’t feel so right to me. I put my hand in the pocket where my wallet should have been, but it was simply not there, it had completely and utterly vanished with all the cards and money. The last time I took it out was for paying Rs. 100 as the entry fee to the Chail Palace. I thought I must have dropped the wallet in the car itself. I was trying to hurry back to the car but the kid would just not understand the urgency. I was near panic, usually I put away one ATM card in a different place but not this time.

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That Beautiful Feeling!

While I was asking Chhavi to hurry up, a hotel employee walked to me and asked if I was looking for something? I told him I managed to dropped my wallet somewhere. The angel told me that it was in their office, they knew it was mine because it had my photo id cards. The amount of relief I felt at that moment cannot be expressed in words. He told me that I had dropped the wallet on the porch right at the entrance of the hotel. He found it and deposited it in the office. The fool that I am, I first to dropped my wallet to the last card and then I did not ask the name of the angel who found it and gave it back intact to the last coin.

I did try to tip him but of course they would not hear of it. As a thank you I am going to go back to Chail and stay at the Chail Palace Hotel whenever I can steal a leave next.

Beautiful Fagu Himachal Pradesh, India

I am a big mountain fan and I am blessed that I live in India, the home to the Himalayas. And if I want more there is always Nepal and Bhutan next door. However our ‘main’ hill stations like Shimla, Manali, Nainital etc are extremely crowded, particularly over holidays and weekends. They are over constructed too. However, the solution to the problem is also simple. Just move out a few kilometers from the main hill station and it is all beauty and solitude. Fagu Himachal Pradesh is just 22 kilometers away from Shimla but it is a different world out there. Admittedly there is no nightlife, and other than the HPTDC hotel, I spotted no restaurants as well. There are a few kirana shops and there is nature on a grand scale.

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The Rolling Hills at Fagu, Himachal Pradesh #Canon550D

Remember my letter to the mountain gods? Looks like it worked partially. I got an absolutely gorgeous day at the beginning of the trip. After that it snowed and it was business as usual but I am not complaining.

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Beautiful Fagu #Canon550D

Even though I have been to quite a few places close to Shimla like Chail, Narkanda, Naldhera and Hail Himalayas near Sadhupul, this was my first glimpse of the snow capped ranges. I so wanted to see them glow red at sunset, but then mountain gods had other ideas. Even though it was a clear day, by sunset the whole range disappeared behind a veil of clouds, but even then I am not complaining.

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Walking Around Fagu, Himachal Pradesh #Canon550D

We were staying at the HPTDC property Apple Blossom. There was a temple behind it and a tila (hillock) beyond it. It was our favorite walking ground. I actually liked that stray white cloud because it made the scene even more pretty.

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The Lonely House, Fagu, Himachal Pradesh #Lumia1020

On the hillock was this lonely house which was locked. There were no other accommodations around it. I wonder if this is just a store house?

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Fagu, Himachal Pradesh #Canon550D

And even when I got mist, it was beautiful on this trip to Fagu. This year the effort is going to be to go to the Himalayas whenever possible.

This post is part of Sky Watch Friday. Do check out the fabulous group of sky watchers from around the well.

Traveling with My Daughter

Traveling with my daughter is so much fun. I should keep my fingers crossed as we still have to travel back tomorrow. So far the sun part has been greater than the tantrums but we have one more day to go. Chhavi and I have now traveled together quite a few times and it gets easier with every new trip in more ways than I imagined it was possible! So this is where we stand with the latest trip.

  1. The Stomach must be Full
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The Stomach Must be Full! #Lumia1020

This is of course an old rule. If the kid is hungry, she would get cranky. She would get cranky if she is very tired as well, but that happens much less than the hungry bit. She is not an easy child to feed. She simply digs in her heels and tells me she will not eat, whereas I know equally well that the success of the day depends on her stomach being full. I am able to prevail over her every time when it comes to food by any means I can, it can be barter, blackmail or pleading but I simply do not let her go hungry. And this is true of every trip we have done together so far!

  1. Keeping her Entertained
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Keeping her Entertained! #Canon550D

Being alone with a child for a few days can get a bit daunting because I alone need to keep her entertained. If it is summer and she can play in mud and water which makes my task very easy. But at Fagu she had snow! It was a novelty, we indulged in snow fights but then we would get cold. Thankfully she likes to draw, so we carry color pencils. I do not carry any pastel colors or even sketch pens because they can easily be transferred to the towel or the bed sheet at the hotel! I also carry a bit of school stuff not because I feel she should study on a holiday but it helps in passing time! When all else failed, she had TV here at Fagu and I can’t remember when I watched so many cartoons in my life!

  1. Letting me Sleep

When she was even smaller I was very scared to go to sleep if she was awake, she would be up to some mischief in no time. This time I dozed off in Shatabdi and she simply sat by the window and entertained herself. Today morning she let me sleep for 45 minutes and sat by the window of the room. She woke me up saying, “look outside there is snow”! It is a big blessing to be able to sleep for a while even if she is awake.

  1. Playing Silly Games

On this trip we played a lot of silly games. Our favorite is bringing the index finger near the mouth of the other person where they have to pretend to bite. Initially she would make such an angelic face while pretending to bite my hands off! I told her look at my face and how I was really willing to bite her fingers off. So, now she tries to look fierce, which makes her look doubly cute.

  1. The Tantrums

This time I discovered a new tantrum. On the first morning at Fagu, she wanted to go back to the room before the breakfast arrived. As much I would try to reason that we need to eat breakfast, she would say she was very cold. She had gone out in snow first thing in the morning for a few minutes but I could not figure out what was wrong. We had a long argument, in the meanwhile the parathas arrived and I made her eat her bit. She perked up later and we had a merry time. Then today again she wanted to go back to the room after playing in the snow for a while. I was quite irritated as we were forced in anyway because of the snowfall in the first half. Reluctantly I agreed to go back to the room. And then I discovered that she had put her shoes in all puddles and they were wet, which then irritates her to no end. She won’t say her shoes were wet, instead she would insist that we go and sit in front of the heater. It took me a while so solve this mystery but once I understood it was easier for both of us!

  1. We are going to the Room!
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TV is a Big Draw #Canond550D

Sometimes (not much) she really wanted to watch TV and not to venture out! And that would be when either the light was good outside or the weather had just cleared. She stumped me once but then I too did my bargaining and got out every time I wanted to.

  1. Are we there yet?

The journey from Delhi to Fagu turned out to be a very long one. It is actually reaching to Shimla by bus which kills us; it takes 5 hours whether I do it from Kalka or Chandigarh. On this trip, to take the 7.40 am Shatabdi we started from home for the Metro at 5.25 am. The Shatabdi reached Chandigarh by 11.25 am as the train was late by 20 minutes. It took us about 25 minutes to reach the Sector 43 Inter State Bus Terminus by a prepaid auto. From there we took a Volvo to Shimla and this bit was 5 hours. Then I took a taxi to Fagu but by that time the kid was really tired. So, I don’t blame her at all if she kept parroting “kaab aayege” every few minutes. After all it took us more than 12 hours to reach Fagu from Delhi.

  1. Mushkil Wakt Commando Sakth

Today morning in the dining hall she kept chanting ‘mushkil wakt commando sakth’ which roughly can be translated as ‘in difficult times a commando rises to the occasion’. Now I wonder where she heard it, I am sure it must be lines from a cartoon but then how apt! So, if she threw any tantrum after this, I would tell her, “this commando is quite lazy, this commando is so soft!” And that would usually do the trick!

  1. Taking Walks with Her

We took quite a few walks together, and for a 7 year old she walks quite well. Yesterday I think I tired her. Today the mild snow put us in initially and then I was careful not to tire her out. She walks ahead of me almost all the time telling me to be careful. Indeed her balance is much better than mine and downhill I am no match for her!

  1. Chhavi the Photographer
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Chhavi the Photographer! #Lumia1020

Today by some quirk of fate I gave her my precious, my camera, the DSLR! She already has been using my cell phone to click pictures but before this I didn’t dare to trust her with my precious. After giving her the camera I had two precious’ to worry about. I put the strap around her neck so that even if she dropped the camera, it would not fall.

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When She Clicked Me! #Canon550D

She truly surprised me by clicking my photos without letting me know. She truly had a gala time, maybe I can actually do a post on the pictures that Chhavi clicked. Of course, I did the setting for her but it was amazing how much she enjoyed handling the camera. And now that my daughter can click pictures I don’t need to take selfies on these trips!

A Fierce Sunday Snow Fight

I cannot remember when I started a trip feeling this tired. If I was traveling alone, I would have canceled this trip to Fagu in Himachal Pradesh. But when Chhavi asked me how could she bring in tomorrow quickly, I knew I was going, ill health be damned. And here I am sitting and typing this away after spending the Sunday in a snow fight! The brat is peacefully asleep.

I had planned to take this mother-daughter trip to Fagu in advance but then I got very low temperature and started getting dizzy. As Chhavi knew about it, she was so looking forward to it. We in the end told her that if she closed her eyes, tomorrow would come when she opened it!

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The Joy of Making a Snowball

It was a long tiring journey to Fagu yesterday but she perked up when she saw snow above Kufri. Her joy knew no bounds when she found snow next to our hotel, at HPTDC’s The Apple Blossom. Yesterday we were just too tired to do anything but crash.

But today was another day. The child was raring to go after the breakfast, before the breakfast was another story but ask me about it some other time. Breakfast safely in our stomachs, we got out and started walking around the hotel Then we got more adventurous and decided to go to a temple that we could see from our hotel.

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Messing up with Snow

And she found patches of snow on the way. Chhavi would scoop it up from wherever she could. Initially she was happy throwing it about. Then she asked me, shall we do snow fight? Now when did I shy away from such challenges? I was game for it.

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Mom Where Will You Hide Now?

To begin with she would ask me, “shall I throw it on you now” (and when I get angry with her I have to remind myself that she is the same cute kid who seeks permission before hitting me with a snowball). I told her you don’t ask when you hit someone with a snowball; you just go and hit them, bang! It took her sometime to get over it, but in the end she started pelting me at will.

By lunch both of us were pretty exhausted and thankfully she was not too keen about anymore snow fights but I have a feeling that tomorrow is going to be another day! And I am looking forward to it.