A photograph of the grounds of our vacation cottage.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how summers have changed. As kids, we often went on long summer vacations to visit our grandparents or an ancestral home or village for at least a couple of weeks. But today, no one has that kind of time. Vacation outings usually last from four days to at most a week, unless one is splurging on going to some exotic destination often outside the country.
Is it possible?
So this year our family decided on an old fashioned two week long vacation in a secluded cottage in the hills of Nainital. While during our regular four day vacations we do a digital detox, and cell phones are only used for Google maps and Zomato, this time we took our laptops along to get a few hours of work done on some of the days to make it feasible to have a two week long vacation in this day and age. Although modern lifestyles make long vacations difficult, the internet age has made it possible for many of us to work from almost anywhere on the planet.
After some usual touristy sight seeing, getting a bird’s eye view of the mango shaped Naini lake, paddle boating there, and checking out the crowds of enormous fishes, we settled in to a quiet and enjoyable routine.
A Quiet Getaway
Our secluded cottage (rented through Cottage Rentals) with a gorgeous view of the sprawling valley below is simply marvelous.
Here is a view I get from my window when I look up from working on my laptop.
The cottage has a yard lined with pretty flowering plants and pine trees.
It is spacious with three large bedrooms, a playroom stocked with children’s books, Lego and board games, a large living room and a dining area.
As an added bonus the caretaker of the cottage has the friendliest puppy I have ever come across. My girls love to play with her for hours and I can use the time to get some work done. Having a pet dog in Mumbai is complicated, and I am glad my girls are having the opportunity to spend extended time with this adorable puppy. I’m not a dog person myself, but she has managed to win my affection as well.
A Fun New Routine
Early every morning, and on most evenings, we go for walks up or down wooded hill and mountain paths. My younger one, after three days of practicing with one to two hour walks, managed a 3 hour hike through some difficult mountain terrain. At the end of our ascent, we all sit under the shade of some trees and drink juice and munch on biscuits and dry fruits before working our way back. We have come across some awesome views on the various paths we have explored. We also spotted some delicious looking lemons growing just off one of the paths we walk on.
We return with ravenous appetites and indulge in a breakfast of hot aloo, or gobi, or methi or paneer parathas courtesy the caretaker, who is a good cook, innovative with the limited resources available in a small town. His food is simple yet intensely flavorful with a homey feel.
After a heavy breakfast and baths, my husband (the universal Papa) and I work for sometime, while the girls collect and paint pine cones. They run around the property playing with the puppy. Having access to a private yard to run around in, is pure joy to my Mumbai bred girls. When they get tired the older one reads to the younger one. Later she reads her own books while the younger one potters around with Lego and play dough. We have a light lunch consisting of apples, mangoes, mountain peaches and nuts. Then Papa and I do crosswords and sudokus with the older one while the younger one sits next to us and draws or naps.
The picture on the right, my mother's day gift, wasn't too surprising. But I did love it, just the same.
Papa and I work for another couple of hours while the girls indulge in play role playing games, chat, paint, read or flip through books. One day, in the afternoon, when they were unusually quiet, I went to check on them and found them with their notebooks out at the large table on the porch doing writing practice!
Around 4:00 we all go out in to the yard and play some Frisbee, fly paper planes, run around with the puppy or we go for a short walk and work up an appetite for a hot lip smacking dinner of hot phullkas with bhaji and either dal or meat and some interesting Indian dessert.
After dinner we all chat and play charades or hangman or guess who until it’s time for bed. We go to bed early so we get a good rest before our early morning walk.
Not Without Excitement
Our idyllic life here hasn’t been without excitement and adventures. On one of our walks I heard a rustling noise and when I looked I saw a huge snake slithering away into the bushes barely a foot away from us. I was proud I had managed to stifle my scream given that I run around the house screaming every time I see a cockroach.
My older one was given a branch full of ripe berries by a local once, while we were walking up a village path. She was thrilled with it until a monkey came and snatched it away from her. Fortunately, we later found the same berries at the market and shared a bowl full of them. Locally, they are called kafal and have quite a unique flavor and texture.
We tried a couple of different unknown berries plucked of plants on our trails. It was a first for me and I was quite worried about getting an upset stomach. One variety grew on plants with bunches of tiny orange flowers. It was a delicious tangy juicy berry that looked a lot like a raspberry but was orange in color.
But not all the plants are so friendly. A lot of them have thorns we have occasionally got scratched during our walks. But none look so scary as this particular one that has thorns, not just on its stem and branches, but also on its leaves!
We noticed that some of the local villagers have cleverly grown this plant close to the fences of their orchards to effectively deter trespassers.
On our walks we have encountered some truly magnificent birds. One is midnight blue with an orange beak. It has a long tail with a white border that looks beautiful when it is spread out while it flies. We also saw a black bird with brilliant red tipped feathers and another gorgeous green and golden brown bird.
While playing Frisbee the disc often floats into the small wild patch of land between the cottage where we stay and the neighboring one and then we have to trek down a precarious path to retrieve it.
We saw the most frightening forest fires flaring up one night. Here are some pictures we took from our window.
Fortunately the stormy winds and rain over the next couple of nights helped put out the fires. And then we had a hailstorm with confetti sized ice balls pelting our tin roof making an great racket. My girls just sang and danced with joy before settling down to nice hot cup on ginger tea on the porch.
Although our cottage is at distance of about 18 Kms from Nainital by car there is a shortcut one can take trekking through the hills that amounts to just 5 Kms. So one day we walked to Nainital lake and it was a most satisfying experience getting there on foot in just a little more time than it would take a car to get there. The last couple of Kms is on a busy road so we used a cab for it. But at the end of the mountain trail is a lovely outdoor gym/park with a lovely view of both the city of Nainital as well as the surrounding hill side. It’s all the motivation my girls need to do the 3 Km walk uphill to it, and then back.
Visitors Are A Must
Vacationing as a family is great, but it’s nice to have other people around to hang out with too. For a while, a friend of mine from my physics post doc days in the US visited, and we had a grand time gossiping, doing a few touristy things and playing games. Being a vegetarian she was amazed at the variety of vegetables available and flavorful dishes the cook could conjure with them.
My in-laws also came to stay with us for a few days and the kids were simply delighted to have Dada-Dadi around. With them we went to a quaint little restaurant on the Nainital mall road called Sakley’s. The restaurant has been around since 1944 and my father-in-law had fond memories of it from his own childhood. It had the most delicious egg-white omelet and collection baked goods I have ever set eyes on! We took some goodies home for tea, of course.
With our visitors we went paddle boating on both Sat Tal and Nainital lakes. There is a lovely park near Sat Tal with a lot of fun activities for children. My daughters particularly enjoyed jumping on the trampoline while I enjoyed a walk in the wooded areas around these lakes.
The cottage with it’s 3 large bedrooms could comfortable accommodate us along with our guests who stayed for separate intervals.
We Learned A Lot!
Since we were staying for two whole weeks the holiday was relaxed. We got to know the place quite well. Each time we took the same trail we managed to either get further along it, or to explore a new branch of it. The girls had some time to acclimate themselves to long walks and we could get some serious trekking done after a few days.
We had so much more time to sample the wild flowers and fruits and get a lay of the land so we felt confident exploring new paths and getting to high peaks and view points all by ourselves.
While doing research for my Nina and Nana posts I had learned that India has made great advances in utilizing solar power over the last decade, but I had seen little evidence of that in Mumbai. However, in the hills of Nainital, this became really clear. So many streetlights and village homes are powered by solar panels that can be found in the remotest of locations.
The parks near the lakes are very well maintained and efforts are being made to keep the Nainital lake in good shape too. We noticed touch up painting and maintainence work being done regularly and any issues being attended to promptly wherever we went.
We found that Nainital though larger than Sat Tal, was also a lot more crowded. Sat Tal had some interesting adventure activities like kayaking and ziplining, while Nainital had more choices in restaurants and a lot of shopping options.
All in all we had a wonderful two weeks spent away from the sweltering heat of Mumbai and learned loads of new things. A Tania book of course is forthcoming! How could it not after so many adventures?