13 reasons we love the J W Marriott in Mussoorie (even though we couldn’t find any walnuts on the walnut grove)

  1. This great way to start your day with a picnic by the stream

2. This view while chomping on your post-breakfast Danish

 

3. This walnut grove to hug

4. This evening of story-telling

4. This tiramisu you never tire of eating

5. This shortcut to lunch

6. This comfort of watching Harry Potter movies

7. This corn-on-a-cob at sundown

8. Or this lolling about on a beanbag

9. This magical glow after sundown

10. This hide and seek we never tire of

11. This quick screen time while mamma is at the spa

12. Or this play with water curtains that tells you she is still watching

13. And this new BFF who totally gets us

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10 reasons to love Novotel Goa resort and spa

So I spent a few days in Candolim during my Goa R&R last month and one of the places that hosted me was the Novotel Goa resort and spa (Pinto Waddo, off Candolim road). Here’s why you should go too:

  1. There as much room to do nothing as there is to pack it all up
  2. img20160905154352There is splashes of color when you need it
    img201609051223323. And then there is tranquility when you need it too. And some wonderful spa treatments at their poolside spa.img201609051523154. And how can I forget the memorable Sunday Brunch at La Briese, their beach-side restaurant, which also features a live band every weekend. And is also a great spot for sunset cocktails. img201609041427195. Just when I was missing the boy, I saw this father-son duo X-box connecting or Nintendoing (to me, it’s all the same) in the lobby. There’s plenty more where that came from. img201609051222076. And certainly it’s not all about the kids. Some things are all yours img201609051524277. And while you sip your poolside cosmopolitan, you can stare at this viewimg201609051526228. Or take a selfie (or if you are lucky, a photo) before you say good bye to it all photo-79. Did I forget to mention there is a special tree sandwich for those you have the eye for it? img2016090413201410. And how can I leave you without a sunset? photo-8

Want to make your children better travelers? Start with yourself

travels in new york

It’s a maxim universally marketed that having children kills the traveller in you. It is something often quoted in the “Why not to have kids” bibles and generally nodded to and sighed upon. ‘Herculean task’, ‘nightmare’, ‘horror story’ are commonly used words by people to describe traveling with kids. And then there are pre-boarding facilities and goody bags from airlines, overload of activity timetables at resorts – all aiming to subtly announce that a holiday with children is going to require supreme engineering.

When I threw open the question of how do we make our children better travelers on my blog’s forum, I received the usual formulaic responses, since no one realized it was a trick question: Plan well, involve the child, tell them about where they are going to travel, show them pictures, videos, show them the place on the map, plan their meals (or pack whatever you can),  get them excited about what they will do on the plane , make a list of activities, take their favorite toys, carry board games, carry their favorite food, favorite puzzle, favorite soft toy,  favorite movie.. and so on.

Why travel at all, I wondered? Why bother if you are going to simulate the same kind of life in a different address? When you do the aforementioned, you are raising the opposite of a real traveler. I do realize that holidays need to be planned (especially when kids start formal schooling as there are at best three windows to choose from). But that should be limited to bookings. In my experience, Air BnBs and homestays work better than hotels and if you choose locations you have friends living in – nothing like it.

In my limited experience of seven years and 13 trips with a child, I have come to realize this: The problem, very often, is not the child. It’s the adults. Because you pass on to your child how you have been programmed to travel and if you are the kind who bursts a capillary because you forgot to pack your iPod speakers, chances are, you are already raising a high maintenance child who may prove the cliché right. But this is not a post that tells you what to pack in their bag or how to pacify an irate kid on a plane. Instead I will tell you this:

Don’t behave like you are moving there. You are just travelling.  Stop being so manicured about your travels. Your child will follow suit. On my first travel date with fellow parents, I noticed that they came armed with a suitcases full of toys, dolls, books and games for a three night stay in Matheran. “Why do you need so much?”, I asked.  “Oh, you never know. It’s better to be prepared,” they said. But isn’t that what travel is about? Not knowing?

Don’t oversell the destination and what you will do there. Don’t sell the journey either. Parents have a tendency to do this. This disallows the child any room to have his own her own experiences, and they are forced to look at the entire trip through a readymade lens, which will never allow the real traveller in them to come out.

Allow the place to happen to your child.  Don’t tell them what to expect. This usually means giving at least four to five days in one location to give enough time to experience it, rather than location hopping. Improvise. If things always went as they were planned, it’s not travel. It’s stasis. I think this works better for adults too.

Travel is not about being constantly entertained and your child needs to know that.  And if you in that trap,  you are teaching them that this is how life is – a series of fun-filled, action packed time capsules on loop, where there is no time for recovery, stillness or nothingness – you are in a dangerous place. It’s a slippery slope from there.

Give gadgets a break. Try clouds instead. Or birdsong. Technology is an easy weapon used by most parents – I see it in airports, holiday destinations – each child with a gadget, adults with theirs, swiping away. It’s time to  talk to each other and not our gadgets.

Children have fewer expectations than you. Don’t build it up. The problem I have with checklist-y travel is that it is often more hectic than real life. This whole ‘things to do’, sights to see, monuments to tick off lists, photoboosk to make back home is quite sapping for adults so I wonder what happens when children are subjected to it.

Food is an integral part of the travel experience. Always make your kids try out the local cuisine. They may not like everything they try, but there might be that one thing that calls out to them. Take chances. The first time we traveled post having a child (my son was five months), I was raw, and still blemished from all the negative press traveling with kids seemed to have garnered. I was armed with a small rice cooker and supplies to cook from at the resort we stayed in. But that was the first and last time I traveled with supplies. I decided that when in Rome, we will do as Rome does. So on the next trip, my son and I went to Thailand and happily tucked into mango and sticky rice and fruit platters with prik-kab-klua, the Thai chilli-salt mix. And by the time my son was two, he was trying out gourmet meals at restaurants at every place we traveled to.

Slow down. Linger. You may never look at that selfie again, but you will always remember how it felt on that mountain, with the wind kissing your hair and your child pretending to take off in flight.

Remember you were a kid once. Go on, make that paper boat. Try and put yourself in your kid’s shoes. Remember what you were like as a child and how you liked to travel and be treated and the things you enjoyed doing.

Travel is not an old timetable in a new bottle.  Encourage your child to have a new routine. Shuffle things around. Let them wear what they want. Let them skip baths. Let them eat breakfast for dinner. What is the worst thing that can happen?

Make it about the journey. Not about the destination. We did our first long train trip when Re was 2.5. It was to a wedding at Chandigarh and the journey was 36 hours. He and I had to share a berth, as the Indian railways doesn’t allot berths to children under 5 years (yes!). In the middle of the night, I almost rolled off, as Re had occupied most of it and I stayed up all night, playing with my phone, as I couldn’t turn on the light to read a book. But it was this trip that Re and I tried pull-ups and swinging off the berth ladders.

Start them young. If you look at traveling with kids as a problem, you will always be finding ways to delay it. Instead if you look at it as an opportunity to see the world with a different lens, you will find ways to make it happen. And it’s never too early to start them. In fact the earlier the better.  

Encourage your child to be a resident, not a tourist, wherever you go. Blend in, be part of a community. Give something back. And that’s how we went gathering achhoos (wild gooseberries) in Himachal with the ladies who worked at the Bhuira Jam factory. Or puppy-sat the neighbours’ pups while they worked in the strawberry fields. Or when Re went about picking garbage in Landour, after having noticed that “humans throw things everywhere else but in dustbins”.

Travel is what you make of it, and if you have an open mind, you never know what will come along. I wouldn’t have chased ducks in the park in Irvine, California. I would have never met a “lady bird’s cousin” if I had been preoccupied with leech-proofing ourselves in our first forest trek in Dandeli when my son was three. Nor would I have enjoyed a ritual dance in the Erawan temple at Bangkok as my son fervently joined his hands in prayer even though I am a non-believer.

Bangkok with kids

Have them know that the world is a safe place. Every place has a story to tell, or it becomes a new story when you are in it. When my child saw images of the Paris bombings and asked me about it, I told him what had happened. He then said “We can still go to Paris no? The bombers must have left by now.” I said yes.

Use public transport: There is so much joy discovering a new world with the locals – these are the people who wear it easily, with whom there can often be meaningful conversations, even if you don’t understand the language.  take trains, buses, tuktuks, skytrains, subways and whatever you can manage.

Encourage them to document it. A travel journal or travel art book for drawing, doodling is far better than a toy or puzzle which has a limited shelf life. It is all we carry on our travels now and is more than enough to keep my son busy. Also there is no such thing as too many crayons.

Always check the weather and pack for it.  When they are dressed right for the weather, children are far happier and make better travelers. (it’s shocking how basic this is and how it is often overlooked)

When you take your child with you, leave your adult self behind. Children teach you the importance of being in the moment when you travel. This is harder to do if you don’t allow yourself to access the child in you

Show them how you can travel without going anywhere.  Sometimes a delayed flight or train may open up another adventure altogether. Like this time Re and his dad were doing hip-hop once in an airport. Or when waiting for a bus at Kasauli led us to an ongoing theatre performance by a group of monkeys.

Travel is about balance, and each trip is about finding something for ‘you’, ‘me’ and ‘us’.  If you look hard enough, you can. Having a kid couldn’t really be the end. In fact it is a whole new beginning. Of looking at the world through a child’s eyes, and that is a brand new, fascinating world with so many more stories to tell. You just have to stop getting in the way.

(A shorter version of this post appeared in Conde Nast Traveller here

parks in california

 

About a house called Maia that let me be…… and a cat called Maia that showed me how to be

Around a month ago, I took a train by myself to Goa in search of some me time. There was too much happening, I was too overwhelmed, and somehow the presence of a child in your life makes you act stoic even when you are not feeling so, and it was taking a toll on me. So off I went to Maia House in Saligao. The house belongs to Heta Pandit, a lady who has done exemplary work in the area of conservation, and whose other house (another heritage home, Dhun Heta in Panchgani) I had visited a few years ago. You can read more about her homes and contact details here.

What can I say about the house? Here it is:

Maia House in SaligaoFour poster dreamsIt’s a 19th century heritage home completely restored with modern amenities, a 15 minute drive from the beaches of Calangute and Candolim. The house is largely old world, with modern touches added for convenience.  The best part is a private sit-out among two rare trees and a freshwater well. I spent a large part of my time here with Maia.

It’s hard to say if the house was named after the cat or the other way, but going by the looks of it, Maia owns the place. She was the one who actually taught me the real meaning of me time. photo 2photo 4photo 3photo 2photo(41)I don’t know much about design or architecture, but I know when a house talks to me, gives me a hug, tells me it’s going to be okay. I know when I look at windows that are neither open nor closed and when they tell me all I have to do is reach out and I can have them either open or closed. photo 3And what can I say about a house that has a tombstone for it’s first cat, Maia’s predecessor, Catalyst.

photo 5I’m not sure if this is the kind of travelogue you wanted to read, but sometimes, places are more than things ticked off a list. I have been to Goa many times and I know there are many Goas, but this was the first time I went to Goa and never once felt like hitting the beach. Instead I sat home and wrote a letter to my future self.

photo 4Perhaps there’s something about Saligao. Maybe it’s Maia.

 

First Family Vacation Dos and Don’ts

featurelizBY LIZA BARTON

So, you’ve spent months scrolling through fantastic holiday deals online and you’ve finally booked your accommodation and flights. Now you and your family are counting down the days until you can escape the stresses of day to day life to enjoy some sun, sea and sand.

Of course you will want your time away on this maiden family adventure to be as relaxing and enjoyable as possible, but a child’s idea of a grand family holiday is very different to their parent’s. So to help things all go a little bit more smoothly, here are eight dos and don’ts for family holidays; little tips which will keep the whole clan happy whilst soaking up the sun this summer!

Don’t forget your passports

This might seem like a pretty obvious one, but you’d be surprised how often it happens. There will be no hope of hopping on that plane for your summer holiday if you accidentally leave them lying on your dining table at home. Make sure passports are the first thing you cross off your checklist before packing. Your children will also need their own passports, so make sure you apply for one well before your departure date, otherwise your summer holiday may turn out very differently.

Do remember play time

After finally escaping the stresses of the office, it’s all too easy to retreat to sunbathing on white sandy beaches for days on end. But whilst you may be happy to spend your entire holiday soaking up the rays, your children will not. A child envisions building tall sand castles and digging great big holes, so why not purchase a little bucket and spade and other beach toys to keep them busy? Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself getting sucked in to playtime too!

Don’t stick to the same old food

Let’s say you’re headed to destinations you’ve never visited before on your holidays. If you’ve never been there before, it’s likely you’ve never tasted the local food either. So, why not take the opportunity as a family to immerse yourself in the culture and try some? And who knows, maybe your weekly Sunday roast could be replaced by a sea-food paella or tasty Italian pasta.

Dodge the daylong boat trip

A daylong boat trip is a popular holidaying excursion, especially amongst parents. It’s relaxing, you witness some incredible sites and you get to dive into the glistening warm sea at some point or another. But as a first family holiday activity its a risky business going for a whole day on a boat. Children who may never have fought the ocean waves before may suffer from sea sickness, and to spend the whole day reassuring an ill child that ‘it will all be over soon’ isn’t a fun proposition – approach with caution.

So, those are our do’s and don’ts for a successful first family holiday. Bear these in mind and we’re sure you’ll have a holiday to remember.

The kids are okay. The parents need some happiness shots.

I see them, sulking into the distance, or staring vacantly at the heap of energy that is their child in the pool. Sometimes I see them not even looking up once from their smartphones while the child is at play. Once in a while, I see them peering into a book, catching up on their reading, as their child builds sand castles, skates or free-plays in the park. They have this look of ‘why me?” that I cannot understand.

I used to see this at the Montessori when I went to drop Re. It was touch and go at the gate for some of them, while the child still wanted to wave a slow good bye, be held for just a little longer, be kissed just one more time. But no. They were in a rush to get to their offices and gyms and accomplish nobler tasks.

Why do parents look so grumpy? Why does it always appear that they want to fast-forward childhood? After all, they are young as long as the kids are young, aren’t they? How does growing up make anything easier? I know every child is work on loop, some more than the others, but then it’s not the neighbour’s child. It’s yours. And then one day you will say they shouldn’t have grown up so soon.

I have been a stay-at-home mother for four of Re’s almost six years and I know it’s hard. I know it’s several tasks on autopilot. I know that even if you have help, it doesn’t make it easier. I know that even if you have your mother around, there are still negotiations on a daily basis. I know that outsourcing is easier said than done. But still. When my child is out there, having fun, the least I can do is not look like I have been punished.

The strange part is, these are activities that the parent has clearly chosen for their child, whether it is a summer camp, or an activity class or a hobby class or whatever they call it these days. So why do parents look so miserable and bored when they accompany their children to these things, whether it’s swimming, dancing, skating, music or tennis? In all these years, I have rarely seen a parent who is there, in the moment (I go back to the power of now, I know) while their child is indulging in something he/she is having fun with. I see them taking photos, yes, but I rarely see undiluted joy or eagerness or even mild curiosity. And when I do, it is the most heartwarming sight.

Some look like they have been hit by a thundercloud. Some look like, “Let me just strike this off my list and get on to more, real stuff.” Some look like ‘Well, if I didn’t bring him here, I would have to figure out what to do with him.” Most look like they’d rather be some place else.

I know it’s that time of the year when school, the primary outsourcing model for all parents is closed or on the verge of closing (can’t factor in all the boards, so sorry, you IB fellows). Some of you may have planned your holidays or summer camps or ‘activities’, but most of you may be saddled with ‘what to do with the kids?” Every day, at the pool, I see mothers exchanging notes on where they want to ‘send their kids’. They look at me vacantly. It helps that they don’t know I’m going to write about them.

Of course you can take a vacation, but holidays are easier said than done, given that summers are often a bad time for travelling in India and how far ‘up north’ can you go really? And for how long? And not every one can afford foreign vacations.Two months is a long time (and that’s the average summer break a child gets in India, some get even more) And besides, when you work at an office, ‘privilege leave’ of a grand 21 days hardly seems like a privilege, given that most people have to break it up (for other, important causes like weddings, funerals) and spread it across the year. That means the best it can get is roughly two weeks. Parents who plan their lives better usually have longer holidays together. I didn’t realize my father was investing in us when he was taking us to all those far-out, obscure places every year. Now it all makes sense.

But this summer, I am going to try my hand at some magic. I am going to ask Re to make me a potion (by now, he has mastered the art of making potions from all the witches and dragons that are a part of his universe). The only difference is, it will be a potion of joy and happiness and will have no evil hidden inside. Then I am going to offer it to all the parents that accompany their kids to various activities in summer and say, “Drink up, and smile!”

Of beaches, backwaters, a beetroot pickle and a Biennale: Kerala, Relais & Châteaux style

I was a bit late to the whole Kochi Biennale party, but when Relais & Châteaux invited me to a Kerala trail, hopping across three of their resorts and threw in the Biennale as a bonus last month,  I figured, why not?

Besides, I was curious. I had done Kerala a few times earlier, but it was either cushioned in familiarity (staying at my friend Gayatri’s house on Bennett Road in Trichur, listening to her father hold forth on orchids or Che Guevara and eating her cook Ram’s consistently delicious fare ) or a nonchalant brashness (backpacking from Cochin all the way to Thekkady alone) and almost giving up my life in Bombay to live in the hills and grow coffee.

So this was different.

When I arrived at the first resort, Niraamaya Retreats Surya Samudra in Kovalam, it made me a bit nostalgic. It was an expanse of old heritage homes or tharavadus across eight acres that reminded me of Gayatri’s home in Trichur, except that it was flanked by the sea. And was on a cliff. It was also tradition with a twist. To start with,  I had an open air bathroom with a stone tub.

Bathroom garden at Niraamaya Retreats, Kovalam

No wonder they don’t call them bathrooms, but bath gardens. My home was called Cinnamon and the path to it looked like this:

The road to my home for two days

The road to my home for two days

The only difference between this and the ancestral home I had earlier lived in was that it had all the frills of a five-star and a spectacular view of the sea on one side. So spectacular that I woke up at 6 am the next morning to have tea on the beach. Of course it helped that we had the most endearing and entertaining hosts one could ever dream of, in Poonam and Rejeesh, who with their chutzpah and eye for detail made our stay even more fun.

Tea, coffee or sea?

Tea, coffee or sea?

And while on sea, there were some people at work early in the morning. The early fishing folk.

Fisherfolk on Kovalam beach

Fisherfolk on Kovalam beach at dawn

Well, luxury can get to you and you can spend hours gazing at the waves or the green topped mosque you see at a distance. Or just laze around on the hammocks gazing at this Ganesha.

Reclining Ganesha on the lawns of Niraamaya retreats

Reclining Ganesha on the lawns of Niraamaya retreats

Or just go walkabout spotting the cutest things on this sprawling property

I just pretended this was a wishing well and made a wish

I just pretended this was a wishing well and made a wish

Is your tharavadu bigger than mine?

Why does the neighbour’s house always look better?

The gym was too pretty for me to even think of a workout, so I gazed some more

Pretty gyms can be too distracting for a workout

And why did I forget food? Well, I started the day with idiappams with stew and then did a masterclass with Chef Prakash who has a magic wand hidden somewhere, I am sure. His Venkakkai Pepper fry had me drooling even as he was showing us how to make it (sorry forgot to take a picture) and I also managed to squeeze out the recipe for his Beetroot pickle. The difference between a  Relais & Châteaux resort and any other upscale resort is that they don’t do buffets. They don’t believe in the concept of precooked food, just sitting there for hours. So every meal is freshly cooked and customized to your taste. And you feel like a lord, as no one else is eating what you are eating.

Idiappams,a traditonal Kerala breakfast

Chef Prakash’s heavenly beetroot pickle

And that's how you feel after an Abhyanga snana

And that’s how you feel after an Abhyanga snana. Pic: Shannon Lobo

And then, it was time for some more walkabout and a spa treatment. I had an Abhyanga snana, which actually means one is doused with oil all over and slapped and massaged into a gentle sleep and then eventually, it is time to wake up and have a bath to wash all the oil off. I felt so well scrubbed and rejuvenated that I got all loungy.On the way back, I said hello to mamma jackfruit and baby jackfruit. Once a mom, always a mom, I thought. I tried hard to imagine that this was well-deserved me-time and I must really enjoy it, but each time I saw something interesting or pretty, I couldn’t help thinking of what Re would have said.

Jackfruit fiesta We also went for a boat ride in the Poovar backwaters a few kilometres from Kovalam, where we saw an elephant indulging in some spa treatment

Elephant being bathed in the Poovar backwatersWell, we didn’t realise he was grooming himself for a date later in the evening

Two is company, even with elephantsNext stop: Malabar House in Fort Kochi. Serene and classy, it was love at first sight.

Malabar House, Fort Kochi. Photo: Shannon Lobo

It was like a private garden right in the middle of all the Kochi Biennale action. And the evening buzzed even more, in the company of the absolutely charming Joerg Drechsel, who owns the resort and his Spanish wife Txuku (who admitted gracefully that her name was easy to pronounce by the locals, as she sounded like chickoo, a local fruit). Joerg and Txuku’s love for Kerala dates back 20 years. They came looking for a summer home and found themselves falling in love with Cochin. As they wanted a place to stay, they built Malabar House and it later became a boutique hotel and is now a Relais & Châteaux property.

Fort Kochi otherwise was good, city style fun. First of all, the streets had absolutely come alive with all the Biennale buzz. There was graffiti all around and even a walk through the street was a visual delight. Graffiti in Fort Kochi during the BiennaleGraffiti by the mysterious and iconic GuesswhoIt was the last week of the Kochi Biennale closed, so I just about made it. Spread over multiple venues all over Fort Kochi, Mattanchery palace and Willingdon Island, the Kochi Art Biennale, built on the theme of Whorled Explorations and curated by Jitish Kallat. It was a treat, no less.

Aspin Wall, where the action was at   I wish I had more time, because there were so many spectacular works that caught my eye. Like this tent covered with paintings by Francesco Clemente:Pepper Tent by Francesco ClementeOr this fabulous charcoal sculpture by Shantamani Muddaiah:

Backbone by Shantamani Muddaiah

My favorite moment was when Anju Dodiya walked into the frame as I was gazing at Dayanita Singh’s photography-meets-architecture piece.

Dear Walter by Dayanita Singh

Dear Walter by Dayanita Singh

Lunch pangs had me heading back to Malabar House and what greeted me was a work of art in itself. Chef Manoj’s fennel, lettuce, shallot, beetroot, pomegranate, feta and orange salad. Once again, following the Relais & Châteaux philosophy of food being integral to your stay and cooked to your palate  from fresh organic produce. Chef Manoj at Malabar Housee

Fusion restaurant at Malabar House

Fusion restaurant at Malabar House. Photo: Shannon Lobo

Next stop: Purity on Vembanad lake.

Purity on lake Vembanad is a boat ride away from Fort Kochi, and also accessible by road in an hour. It is another labour of love by Joerg. Purity had me at windows, each one  a piece of art.

Purity on Vembanad lakeJust another spectacular window at Purity The rooms reminded me of some of the work I saw at the Biennale. I pretended to be an artist in residence. This room one was mine, with the famous athangudi tiles from Thanjavur:

Color is the underlying theme at Purity

Color is the underlying theme at Purity

View from Purity. Pic: Shannon Lobo

Wherever you stay, it’s like you have a private lake. And finally, it was time to go. Not before the ceremonial boat ride on the Vembanad lake with the boatman Shaju telling me stories of their nocturnal fishing adventures with the Chinese fishing nets that dot the periphery of the lake.

Girl on a boat

Girl on a boat. Photo: Julie Sam

And then I realized, you can take a girl out of Kerala, but you cannot take Kerala out of a girl. So I spent the next two weeks eating tapioca chips and sweet banana chips and occasionally dipping them in the beetroot pickle that Chef Prakash  of Niraamaya so lovingly packed for me to take back home. It helped.