Of cycling, trekking and misplaced enthusiasm…

It all began with an innocuous packing list that started with “1. Cycling shorts”. I figured that hard-core cyclists like wearing specific shorts to prove their street cred, and ignored it. But after two more reminders with this item at the top of a must-have packing list for the cycling trip I’d signed myself and V up for, I realized it was time to Google this. Even after discovering that these shorts contained padding, I continued to stay in denial, and unilaterally decided that they couldn’t possibly make much of a difference. Finally, I mustered up courage to ask A (who couldn’t believe I signed up for this trip in the first place), and she’s like “yeah, you need them. That’s how AM does his long cycling trips. Your butt will hurt if you don’t have the padding.” That was the moment I knew I was in over my head. I’d signed up for this trip to Wayanad primarily because I’d get to see the place, and I thought maybe some exercise wouldn’t hurt. I should’ve known it wasn’t that simple, given my history with trekking, if not cycling.

With misgivings (and a brand new pair of cycling shorts), I showed up at the bus terminus on Friday night, wondering what I’d gotten us into. We reached Wayanad, and for a while I forgot about my worries once I saw where we were staying. I even optimistically took a pro-biker picture.

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My optimistic bike shot

Post the photo clicking, I suddenly realized that all we got before we began the ride at 6AM was a cup of tea. I was essentially cycling about 10kms just to get to breakfast! But I had Plan B – the option of riding in the support vehicle once this exercise business got to be too much. We set off on our ride when I suddenly realized that Plan B had disappeared in a cloud of dust with the pack of cyclists ahead, leaving V & me to puff and pant while P helped us out at the back of the pack. I should’ve quit then, but well, I needed my breakfast.

We rode on, and on, and on, while I wondered when we were reaching those lovely flat tea plantations I’d conjured in my head. So far, we were just headed upwards on some hilly terrain that was way more exercise than I’d bargained for. I mentioned something about flat trails when P burst out laughing and asked me what tea plantations were found in the plains. That’s when I realized that this wasn’t just exercise, this was a cardio punishment that involved steep uphill riding. I was told that the downhills are worth the uphill pain, but let me be the first to tell you that a free fall downhill flow felt more like a rollercoaster gone wrong than a reward of any sort. I somehow muddled through to breakfast (finally!) and inhaled the food. At this point, I was done, but I didn’t want to give up that easily (I blame the food and the mountain air for impacting my rational thought process).

 

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Getting high on the mountain air to forget the lack of breakfast

So I persevered, and pushed my bike up through the bad roads and steep climbs. Just when we could see the last stretch of our return up ahead, D was enticed by a local at a tea shop, and our plans changed. We were going to take a new path that would show up a part of the Meenmutti waterfalls. Oh and by the way, this was a route the support vehicle couldn’t take so there went my Plan B yet again (worst Plan B ever!).

We arrived at the water falls, and I was THRILLED to discover a swing by the river and promptly settled on it. I was contemplating if  I could get some reading done (yes, yes, I took a book along on a bike ride), when someone asked the pertinent question of how we were to get to our resort, given that we could see it on the opposite side. Turns out that we were supposedly going to haul our bikes across the river and cross it. Um, OK then. I’d almost resigned myself to living on that swing when enthusiastic V set up a process where he & D did most of the heavy lifting to get the bikes across. Reason #1000 that I married right! All that remained was for klutzy me to feel my way across the smooth river stones and somehow crossover without falling flat on my face, and thankfully this was one of those days when I pulled it off.

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V keeps me company while I push my bike instead of riding it.

If you thought this was the 50KM ride I signed up for, you’d be mistaken. This was about 25KM. I still had the evening ride to get through. I started off by blocking space for myself in the support vehicle for the after-dark portion of the ride. Turns out I couldn’t even get that far. After a punishing uphill stretch of about 2KM, I quit wimg_9730ithin the first 5KM of the ride and checked out the scenery from the confines of the car (the way God intended man to enjoy these things!). I also doubled up as the photographer and took some of these after-dark photos, for those of you who are reading this and thinking, “this sounds awesome, what’s she complaining about?”

The next day, we had 2 treks. As some of you may know, I don’t do treks. The incentive for the “walk” in the morning was breakfast. It was fairly simple, probably because I’d recalibrated my expectations post the first day. We had breakfast by a lake, and while others ran around trying to spot birds and enjoy the scenery, I did what I do best when confronted by a nice peaceful space – I read (with my back to the lake, because who needs to see the angry bull stare at you).

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The walk/trek to the lake, with very few uphill climbs!

The day was fairly light in that we got quite a bit of time to relax at the super awesome heritage bungalow we were at, so I also got in a Sunday nap. Then came the second trek, to the top of Neelimala peak.

As soon as we got to the start point, we were accosted by folks trying to sell us the option of going up on a jeep. Tempting though it was, I used my rusty Malayalam skills to pack them off so we could begin the upward trek. I was suffering my way through some treacherous uphill (at the back as usual), and was just about beginning to enjoy the views. I was ALMOST deciding I liked (ok, fine, tolerated) this climb when suddenly a forest dept official materialized to say we were late and we couldn’t go up. We tried arguing that half our group was already ahead, but he began grumbling. The tourism guide (who we’d paid) then began to have a conversation with the ranger and they promptly proceeded to argue for the next 15+ minutes. With all hope of peace gone, I soldiered on, wondering why I was doing this anyway. Finally we reached a point super close to the peak and the forest ranger decided that he was going to draw his imaginary Lakshman Rekha at this point, even though we could see the rest of our group. I was pretty mad by then, and I told him that I was fine to stay where I was provided he didn’t say anything more. All I wanted was the silence. He began complaining almost immediately so I stalked off to a point where I couldn’t hear him anymore.

A few minutes later, he’d let us go through. So we hurried ahead, saw the views from the peak, got some cursory inputs from the tourist guide, took the mandatory photos (I didn’t take any because it wasn’t worth the loss of mental peace on the ascent), and began our descent. This time though I made sure I was well ahead of everyone so I could get that elusive quiet that the argument had destroyed on my way up. And that’s when I realized, that silence is the key to trekking. It gives you time to just be, and you actually feel good (of course this was downhill, and it had been two days of inhaling mountain air so maybe I was just delirious and mistook it for happiness!).

At the end of it all, though, I’m still the city girl, who needs the city air. I’d rather get my mountain air as instant gratification by inhaling it through the windows of a 4-wheel vehicle. Huffing and puffing in the air does not have the same kick. I will probably still go on these trips with Pedal in Tandem, because of the awesome locations, stays and food. Most importantly, I can threaten D into letting me do most of it from a car! Also, I need some exercise and even if all I do is push a bike up a hill, Apple Health tells me that’s the equivalent of the 81 floors I’m NEVER climbing otherwise.

If you’re one of those who likes to cycle, trek and all that (*shudder*), please contact Pedal in Tandem – they’ll find you awesome locations to get your weird endorphin high every month. If you’re someone who just likes traveling, you should still sign up, the #protip is to be sure to block rides in the support vehicle upfront.

As for me, next time, I’ll get into the jeep instead of getting on the cycle so they don’t have the opportunity to strategically ensure I get the exercise!

PS – anyone who tells you the padding on the cycling shorts saves you from an aching butt is a liar. Also, lycra combined with sweat will give you a rash. Whoever thought it was a good idea to reduce the padding on the cycle seat and compensate it with padding on lycra shorts was clearly onto trying the printer + ink business model in the cycling industry. 

“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality”

I don’t ever post my artwork here (except for some super old ones that I put up when I first switched over to WordPress), but today seems like one of those days when I should.

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When I think of why I love reading so much, these are a few names that pop into my head – Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Daphne duMaurier, Harper Lee (I dislike the damned lawyer that published that prequel). Right at the top of the list, is Lewis Carroll, the man who told you you could believe six impossible things before breakfast (it’s no coincidence that I also love the number 6). The man who told you that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. And most importantly, the man who told you that it doesn’t matter if you’re bonkers, because the best people usually are.

If you thought he writes “children’s books”, well, you just grew up too soon (and you don’t realize that writing a good children’s book is infinitely harder than writing any adult book ever. Children will tell you if your work is crap, adults lie and often don’t have the imagination to know any better). If you thought he was high, you’re reality is just very different from mine. If you think that nonsense words do not “teach” right, then may the Jabberwock get you by those slithy toves.

I’ve always believed that one must never do something unless one is good at it, and this is someone who reminds me over and over that the bar for what I want to do is pretty darned high. Thank you Mr. Carroll, for setting such a high bar (and maybe someday I’ll make it somewhere close to it). Until then, thank you for also always, always reminding me to keep my muchness alive.

Of Despair, and Hope…

It’s weird how you can see a weird karmic cycle in a single day.

You wake up in the morning, and find out that something ended before it ever began. And then minutes later, you see a smiling face that gives you hope.

You go through half the day in a daze and realize you were upset, but you didn’t even realize it. You start to go into a blue funk. And then minutes later, you watch hope try to crawl.

You spend the entire day texting, trying to help in your own way,  while wondering how you could make this better. And then minutes later, you see pictures of hope from exactly a year ago, before this ever happened.

I am holding onto these little bits of hope.

****

Dear A & N,

I can’t say anything to make this nightmare fade. I wish I could’ve made this right for you, the way you always did for me. I thought dancing was the hardest thing I’d ever do for you, but what a fool I was! I wish things were different, I wish you never had to go through anything like this ever, I wish, I wish, I wish…

I wish so many things, but mostly I wish you the strength you’ll need to get through this. Here’s sending you all the strength I’ve ever built up (I only ever learnt it from you, N), may it add to the immense strength you already have. 

Love always, me.

Dear You…

This one is to my person – I write best when I’m not at my happiest, & I just felt the need to write to you in this way…

Dear You,

We’ve ranted, we’ve judged, and we’ve just talked so damn much.

And yet, I feel like you still feel like all this is your fault, like you did something, or you wished something that should’ve been, away.

Dear You,

I know you may feel like I just say things because I’m your biggest cheerleader, but please know that I say them because I mean them, and I truly believe you’re awesomer than most.

Dear You,

I know everything and everybody around you, is dragging you down and making you feel like you did something wrong. You, most of all.

Dear You,

Believe me when I say, you are awesomer than most, in fact you are the awesomest I know, except one.

Dear You,

Things are hard now, but I believe they will be OK eventually. I believe in Karma, and that good things happen to good people, and you are one of them. And if Karma won’t comply, I will MAKE it comply.

Because, dear you,

You are MY person. And nobody messes with what’s mine. Not Karma, and not anyone else.

Dear You,

You’ll get what you want, even if you’re only 50% sure you’ll be good at it. It takes a village, they say, and we have that village (that “agraharam” like our ancestors said). It has B12, and FB friends, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I know you wouldn’t either.

Dear You,

Continue to make fun of the trials. You’re at your best when you’re sarcastic, and some day we will add this to that little bit of awesomeness that is part-you.

I promise.

Dear You,

Just be the best you, that you are. That’s all you need to be.

<hugs>

Dear You,

We don’t say this much, but, hey, you’re my person, my village, my #1 on speed dial. You’re my village and I’m yours.

I ❤ you.

PS – Can we PUHLEASE work on that book already?

 

 

 

Food Trippin’ through Bangkok

As some people would know, the husband (V), is busy eating his way through the world. He even has a chart a la a second grade Science textbook of the Animal Kingdom that organizes all the species he’s managed to consume thus far. It’s therefore not terribly surprising he wanted to go to Bangkok for his birthday, with the sole objective of adding to this chart. I’ve been to Bangkok before, and done the touristy stuff like the Buddha temples, Ayuthaya, cruising down the Chao Phraya and more. If you’re looking to read about those, this blogpost isn’t it. If you’re interested in knowing about eating your way through the streets of Bangkok (and eating weird food), you should keep reading. For those with sensitive stomachs, consider yourself warned before you read this!

Day 1 – Khao-ing at Khao San 

We landed super early in the morning (cheap ticket alert), and spent 2 hours waiting for the visa on arrival. For anyone who decides to go to Bangkok because of the visa on arrival, I strongly recommend getting it in advance because the disorganized queue is no fun. We had about an hour to kill before checking in to our AirBNB, and so we chose to go to a mall that the owners recommended. This was a local mall in Sukhumvit, clearly not a tourist hangout – in order to get some bubble tea, we had to wait till the iPad on the table played the ad for bubble tea and point.

Once we’d checked in, and cleaned up, we headed out to our first stop – Khao San Road. We started our food explorations at the street vendors near Soi Rambuttri and sampled our way through Pad Thai and rice with two kinds of curry. We walked down the length of the Soi and picked from carts that looked most interesting.

 

 

V considered buying a scorpion on a stick, but skipped it because the 200Baht price was too expensive (yes, he knows how much insects on a stick should cost). Given how muggy it was, we decided to sample some local beer at Khao San road and then began the hunt for the insect cart (top of V’s agenda).

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I recommend Chang for those who like lighter beers.

We found a cart almost as soon as we started looking, and she created a mixed box of insects (grasshoppers, silk worms, bamboo worms, beetles, crickets, waterbugs, frogs) for 200Baht. She also sold him a centipede for 100 baht, a spider for 200 baht and a snake for 500 baht; and threw in a discount for such a top-end customer (AND we weren’t charged 10baht for a photo of the cart).

V’s Verdict: Unfortunately, all insects tasted the same, and of the overused oil they’d been fried in. Of course each had its own texture, so V might be able to blind taste and identify them next time (or so he claims). V’s tip – buy insects from a wholesale market and fry them yourself. Overall, we recommend eating at the street stalls at Soi Rambuttri. We also ate at one of the restaurants at Khao San, but the food was nowhere near as good.

Day 2 – Khlong Tooey Wet Market

We planned to wake up super early and head to Khlong Tooey wet market, the largest wholesale market in the region. We overslept, but still chose to visit the market. We took a direct train from the Phra Rang 9 MRT station to Khlong Tooey. It took us some wandering around on the roads before we found the market, though. At Khlong Tooey, we found every possible species of fruit, vegetable and meat in an infinite maze of shops and alleys. Basically in the absence of a zoo or botanical garden, this market can be visited.

The market explorations started with what sounded like squid in banana leaf (per the vendor’s sign language), but was likely some other kind of fish in banana leaf (per V’s expert opinion).

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Can you identify the fish?

The highlight, however, was finding a lady selling ant-eggs, which was one of the reasons why V wanted to visit this market. He believes he has amazing luck with finding food, because the market was ginormous and we only spent a couple of hours, yet he was able to find what he wanted. He bought about 100g of ant eggs as well as a 100g combo of ants and wasps for 100 baht. The transaction was conducted almost entirely in sign language, and pointing at calculators and weighing scales. When we started, we thought she was selling a kilo of ant eggs for 5 Baht. This turned out to have been a kilo for 50o Baht, so clearly some sort of translation app would have been beneficial! And these aren’t the tiny ants you find scurrying about aimlessly in our homes or yards, these are big-ass ants, of the size of wasps, and I’m sure they would be roaming around with serious business out there in the wild.

While we were heading out from this section (that also had chicken and other meats that I was trying to avoid looking at), V happened to find yet another delicacy that comes from the villages of the area – rats. I’d like to think he didn’t buy any because I couldn’t stand the thought of walking around with one and then cooking it. But actually, I guess he didn’t buy it because he couldn’t have possibly cut, cooked and cleaned it in the AirBnb. So that’s one weird food that remains off the list, thanks to me.

 

From Khlong Tooey, we headed to do some regular site-seeing because I couldn’t possibly let V leave Bangkok without seeing ANY Buddhas. I highly recommend the directions in this post to make your way to Wat Pho and then Wat Arun, like we did. Between the two temples, we had more bubble tea, and a very special dish of Thailand – the Boat Noodles – as always, presented in an especially deep bowl as it was traditionally a dish sold and had on the wobbling boats by the boatmen. In addition to seeing the Golden Buddha, and climbing up Wat Arun, V was able to sample some street side squid. I really liked how the street vendors presented the food – it was MasterChef level plating, complete with the flower.

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Once we were done with the site-seeing portion of the day, we moved on to Chinatown, in search of Birds’ Nest Soup. If you Google Chinatown, there are many restaurants recommended to try out this dish, and we chose to head to Hua Seng Hong. For those who haven’t been part of a quizzing circuit, let me remind you that birds’ nest soup is a delicacy which gets its semi-sweet taste from the birds’ saliva used to make the nest.

While we were hunting through restaurant recommendations, I read about a street vendor who made awesome toast, but it was really hard to locate the guy. Until, I spotted a group of teenagers eating it. I couldn’t help but ask where they’d bought it, and I was given directions (and also a look of ‘doesn’t the crazy lady have a map?’) to the toast guy. This toast is so popular, there’s a huge line of people on the sidewalk just waiting to be served. They have a set of chits with numbers on them, so one needs to enter their name + order and drop it into a bucket. The servers pick these up and call out the number when the order is ready. We tried some toast with a local jaggery like paste. If, like me, you’re a mere spectator to the weird food eating, I highly recommend the toast to accompany your explorations. I also managed to pick up some Green Tea KitKat Icecream (verdict: weird, but yummy) at the 7-11 before we headed back.

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At home, V finally got to cook the ant-eggs he’d bought. I also did him the favor of squishing (“pre-cracking”) the eggs as a result of carrying them in my bag all day (I had a book in the bag that I was speed reading, because I’d found it at the AirBnb and wanted to finish it before we left). He stir fried the eggs in butter, and added some soy sauce for flavor.

V’s Verdict: “The most tasty egg bhurji ever!” As a bonus, there were some wasps sized ants that got cooked in with the eggs, for added protein, flavor and crunchiness. The ant eggs had an inherent lemony taste, which he says comes from mango leaves that are a part of the ant’s diet.

Day 3 – Feeling Fishy at the Floating Market

Bangkok has many floating markets, which are large tourist attractions. Our research pointed us toward Taling Chan Floating Market which isn’t touristy, but is frequented by locals. So that’s where we headed. V thought he was being super prepared and had a Google maps shot of the destination, with Thai directions that he shared with the cab driver. However, it turned out that the words “market” on a Saturday meant only one thing to the cab driver who clearly did not know a word of English (and definitely didn’t read Thai) – Chatuchak Market, the giant flea market that tourists flock to in droves. We planned to go there, but only after we’d eaten at Taling Chan. So we were forced to get off at Chatuchak and find another cab that actually knew where to take us.

When we first got to Taling Chan, we were surprised to see that there were no boats. Just a bunch of stalls on a dock. We thought that we were so delayed that we’d missed the floating stalls. We were standing on the dock, when we noticed boats with vendors further ahead. We walked on to discover the actual floating market – clearly Taling Chan floating market has led to this dock that calls itself ‘Wat Taling Chan market’ for unsuspecting tourists who aren’t quite sure where they want to go.

The actual market had a bunch of street stalls before you head onto a giant boat with different stalls. Each stall buys produce and fish from a boat by the side – there’s everything from variations of the papaya salad, to different varieties of fish, mussels and other sea food. They also had variations of Thai Iced Tea to go with the food. And for dessert, there’s the famous Mango + Sticky Rice combination, to make the most of being in Bangkok during mango season.

 

We opted for a grilled fish and a plate of shellfish, both extremely tasty. Once we’d stuffed ourselves at Taling Chan, we headed back to follow the tourist path and explore Chatuchak Market.

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While I busied myself buying random things that I will never end up using, V managed to find squid eggs at the food stalls near the homeware section of the market. We also had still more bubble tea, and a strawberry cooler while we roamed around in the heat. The highlight of Chatuchak for me, though, was the amazing foot massage at a stall near the apparel section of the market.

V’s Verdict: “Foods taste best in their natural place of occurrence. What’s better than buying fish from someone sitting on a boat? Chatuchak is a flea market with food options too, so neither were the expectations, nor was the experience high on the food dimension”. He is happy that he had a new species’ eggs and is now planning to make a separate egg chart. He claims he has had eggs of enough different kinds to start one.

So that’s 3 days of weird eating (and a LOT of bubble tea drinking) at Bangkok. If you’re interested in seeing V’s chart, let me know in the comments and I’ll share where he’s at in his quest to eat his way around the world. And if you’d like to know more about planning a trip to Bangkok, I can help with that, too!

 

Book Review: Rebel Queen

This post also appears on my Goodreads blog

As a long time reader of Philippa Gregory’s Tudor series, I’ve always wished that someone would write similar accounts of Indian history, and that’s how I chose to pick this book up. Overall, it’s a very good account of the Durga Dal and the mutiny at Jhansi. I especially liked the fact that it was narrated from the perspective of someone in the Durga Dal, and therefore also highlighted the great trade-off between Sita’s loyalty to the queen, and loyalty to her family. My biggest complaint with this book, though is that Rani Lakshmibai comes off seeming like someone who kept going with the flow, and not really the strong character we encounter in our history books.

I would love to read more non-fiction from the era to get a better sense of the Durga Dal, as well as the Rani’s motivations. And that push to getting the reader to want to know more about the era and it’s people is where Michelle Moran succeeds with this work.

Book Review: Becoming Nicole

This post also appears on my Goodreads blog

A beautiful book that clearly highlights the struggles of feeling like you don’t belong. I’d previously read Janet Mock’s account, but this story spoke to me more. Maybe it was the contrast between the twins, one who was comfortable in his skin and one who wasn’t. Maybe it was the way the author included data that just added to her storytelling. Maybe it was the story of the father-son relationship that never was, that transformed into the father-daughter relationship that was never expected. Maybe it was just Nicole herself, a fighter who always knew what she was supposed to be – the girl whose journey didn’t just transform her family, it transforms the reader as well.