Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Happiness on a budget

It was our first vacation as a married couple. The honeymoon doesn’t count as one, does it? Those were the days when we were perennially broke, yet giddy with happiness. We were inseparable, oblivious of each other’s faults and viewed the world around us through rose-tinted glasses. The much-in-love couple wanted to escape the Delhi heat and zeroed in on Pachmarhi – little known, unsung, located somewhere in Madhya Pradesh. Sounded perfect. Who needs crowds when we had each other for company?

This was the pre-internet era and vacations could not be planned and booked at the click of a mouse. Tickets had to be purchased physically; a mandatory visit to the tourist office was required for information. Pachmarhi is not the most conveniently located. An overnight train ride to the little known Pipariya followed by a few hours on the road would take us to this hill station.


Project: Vacation

Phase I: Railway tickets to be booked.

Our weekend expedition to the ticket booking centre, at the New Delhi Railway station turned out to be a comedy of errors. In the early 90’s, the Indian Railways reservation system was not exactly passenger friendly, unlike today where we can just log in and book an e-ticket. As we entered the Reservation centre we were greeted by an intricate maze of queues. In a single file for onward journey, join another for return tickets, oh you want AC tickets? Tee hee go stand in a separate line. We were like lost sheep in the big bad jungle and managed to join all the wrong queues. After wasting the better part of a day we managed to get only half the things right and ended up buying II nd class tickets for our return journey. WTF, travelling cattle class will only add to the adventure - we reasoned.

Phase II: Booking a hotel

Like any middle class kid, we were brought up with the notion that all things government are safe and trustworthy. Our stay was booked in an MP tourist accommodation, a cheap and well-within-our-budget option. We were pretty excited about our trip. Our friends had waxed eloquent about this pristine hill station. In our mind’s eye we had pictured a charming hamlet with verdant greens and gurgling waterfalls and even managed a dream or two (No, I wasn’t splashing under a waterfall and he wasn’t swinging from trees).

Phase III: Destination Pachmarhi

Our journey was long and uneventful except for one startling revelation. The brand new husband for all his meticulous planning had forgotten to include the hotel tariff in the spendable cash. The advance we had paid covered only part of the stay. In those times, you didn’t have ATMs and credit cards as a way of life - certainly not in sleepy Pachmarhi. To say that I was pissed off is putting it mildly. I managed to murmur a, “It’s ok honey; it will be fun starving together”, the cursing and ranting remained in the safe confines of my head.

At first glance our hotel, like most tourist bungalows, was a staid-looking complex. Our accommodation looked like the servant’s quarters, a small room with a much larger attached courtyard and a prehistoric bathroom. But did we care? Naah. When people say love makes you blind, they are absolutely right. We had more pressing matters on hand, how to last the entire week on a measly 1500 rupees.

Not only did we survive the week, we sailed through it. The hotel’s restaurant with its 15-rupee thali was a blessing in disguise. An hour before noon, this ravenous pair would start hovering around the dining room, waiting impatiently for cooking aromas to waft out of the kitchen. The staff must have found us intriguing, wolfing down our chapattis and assorted subzis at an alarming rate. If the chapattis took too long in coming, we would go and fetch it ourselves from the kitchen. Ah, the hungry impatience of youth. To break the tedium we would have dosas for lunch from a nearby shack for a mere 10 rupees. With our limited budget, we even managed to squeeze in the mandatory sight-seeing trips to the Bee falls, Pandava caves and the Handi Khoh valley. At the end of our stay we had nothing but happy memories of a week well spent and enough money left for a princely last day meal at one of the better restaurants. We ate as if we had recently been deported from Ethiopia.

Phase IV: Back to civilization

It was our dreaded journey in a II nd class compartment. We boarded the train at night, well past bed time, struggling to find our sleepers and shoving our suitcases below the seats, before dozing off. I was jolted out of my slumber by a shrill, chortling, persistent cry of “pappaaa paaani” and saw a man fumbling in a stupor, hurriedly fetching a glass of water for the scream-queen. In the morning I discovered the man was just another passenger and definitely not her ‘pappaa’. A scream can move mountains and even sleepy passengers not even remotely related to you! The precocious girl, all of 4, was quite a drama queen and kept us engaged with her histrionics. As our train approached our destination she proudly pointed out “hamari jhuggi” at ITO junction.

The girl made such an indelible impression on my consciousness that for years I mimicked the ‘Pappa Paani’ act which would have my friends dissolve into hysterical bouts of laughter.

I miss those days, even though we now have a relatively comfortable life. Many exotic locales later, I still hold Pachmarhi close to my heart. When it rains, it often takes me back to a rain-drenched ramshackle stall in that charming hamlet, devouring piping hot mungores with steaming chai, shivering with excitement.

My daughter jet sets with us to London and Singapore. She has never been inside a rain-drenched ramshackle stall and has never tasted mungores. She has no idea what a room looks like in a budget hotel. And she finds street food unhygienic and vaguely revolting. It took us a lot of effort the other day to get her to sample these absolutely divine burras at a road side stall. She is now hooked on to it.
Have we shielded her too much for her own good?

This article is dedicated to my daughter, and for her to know that the best things in life do not necessarily require a whole lot of money. For everything else there’s Master Card.
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32 comments:

  1. brilliant post! loved it!
    the imagery and laughter it evokes is marvelous!

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  2. A lovely walk down memory lane for you. Reminded me of my own Honeymoon in Kulu Manali when you are so much into one another :). A gr8 post for your daughter.... how old is she now?

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  3. What a romance? "The Husband" must be a very lucky guy.

    Your work is so unique and refreshing... you always cheer me up.

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  4. "The Husband" needs to be reminded everyday, his memory is failing :)

    Thank you Magiceye, Abha and Harsh...glad you liked my post.

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  5. Budgeting time is the most difficult in our running lives...

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  6. Again, visions of you under a waterfall n Avijit swinging from a tree had me LMAO !!! And yes, the "pappaa paaniiiiiiiii" has made its way into my vocab, too.....love that anecdote !

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  7. Great post. I often reminisce of days when we had lesser money to splurge on vacations but always had so much more fun.

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  8. Loved this nostalgic post - you're right - the best things in life do not require a lot of money.
    I don't know why youngsters equate money with happiness nowadays...
    Keep writing such wonderful articles

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  9. A nice post for a daughter...very well written, witty and at the same time drives the point home. Pachmadi was on my college trip...most enjoyable coz my classmate now husband was with me!

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  10. @ Gyanban : Challenging rather than difficult in my opinion

    @ Sug Ah laughing at expense haaan?

    @ Namita More money comes with too many strings attached

    @ Vikram : Thank you so much, glad you liked the article :)

    @ Nalini : Kids nowadays get too much too soon. They need to know, the comforts they enjoy should not and cannot be taken for granted.
    And I would love to read about your Pachmarhi trip :)

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  11. Loved the post...I was laughing through your description of trips to the kitchen for the chapatis...

    When I travel to any place in India, I become a happy voyeur..And I love looking at how new brides and grooms strut about..in hill stations women in bright red sarees looking like a mini-mela with the mandatory gold display, shiny gold heels and a tight tshirt over little paunch with hair gelled back new husbands.. Were you one of them..;)

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  12. soumyamukherjee05 May, 2010 17:38

    lovely.been there done that.mptdc in panchmari had lovely cottages in a mahua forest.we had mahua under the trees followed by champi.we trekked,bathed in the falls,&parasailed @100/head,complete with 2 kids.i had a car though & drove up from nagpur.soumya.

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  13. Journomuse :O yea in a psychedelic pink tee with yucky yellow jeans, I looked quite fetching :))

    But to unravel the mystery you might want to read
    http://purba-ray.blogspot.com/2010/02/happily-ever-after.html

    Shomu : So why don't you write about it, a nice long post?

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  14. "For everything else there’s Master Card." Indeed! Your daughter will find her own route, her own journey, don't worry about it :)

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  15. "She has never been inside a rain-drenched ramshackle stall and has never tasted mungores. She has no idea what a room looks like in a budget hotel. And she finds street food unhygienic and vaguely revolting"
    ---- these are not exactly what she has chosen to do/be. It's how she has been brought up.
    You may or may not have enjoyed the ramshackle - but memory is customizable. I had been to a trek near Har-ki-dun where we had certain things stolen and had to suffer a lot for almost a week. Now that I look back to it - it seems so adventourous and sweet!
    :-)

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  16. @ sacred btw my name translated means east-wind

    @ Raja : Agree with you on we tend to romanticize our past. But we did have a good time in Pachmarhi, almost penniless and IInd class travel not withstanding.

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  17. Lovely post...I belong to some sort of an in between generation and can understand both worlds,but probably don't fit in anywhere.
    I vividly recollected how life was growing up in 80s, 90s upon reading your post.
    The only class I travelled in was cattle class, and just for one vacation, dad took us in A.C and we were so excited.
    Kids today are so spoilt for riches and choice I tell you!

    Cheers!
    Vasu

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  18. Probably because we want nothing but the best for them.

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  19. Love your style, expression and the simplicity with which the story flows naturally. A peep into the past resonates priceless memories, who needs a master card!

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  20. Purba, loved this post. It somehow reminded me of my own budget honeymoon in Khajuraho..

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  21. Thank you Kavita and Rajashree :)

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  22. The honeymoon doesn't count? Why not? Sarkari acco, indeed, is usually better in the budget category. If u think 2nd sleeper is bad, u should try the 2nd sitting aka general sometime.

    PS. Post a video of you doing the "Pappa paani" routine some time!

    PPS. Bachchi ko thoda ruf n tuf banao :P

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  23. Purba, a good one!! I could relate, as I was working in Delhi for 7 years.

    Well, I got introduced to you through Indiblogger. Please do visit my blogs at www.renjithps.blogspot.com when you get time.

    Best Regards to all at home,
    Renjith

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  24. haha.. lovely post.. though i must say i am amazed at how you two managed on 1500 for a week.. i think i could barely manage that as one person, definitely not with two ppl..

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  25. Kaushik...Yea, high time I started the ruf-tuf education.

    Renjith..Thanks and glad you liked it.

    Dr Roshan...It was way back in the early 90's. One Masala Dosa..10 bucks...1 thaalee at gormint acco,...15 bucks!

    Now, I can't imagine surviving even for a day on a measly 1500 :)

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  26. Loved this one soo much Purba..hilarious in places..sweet, tangy & delicate..esp the last two lines.

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  27. I am sure your daughter would have brought the point home(if i being one obstinate daughter to my parents can understand the import of such a blogpost then..)lovely read!,refreshing too...

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  29. very lovely post about traveling and nice one of this post is that u taken a panchmari which is quite different feeling , you manner of presenting you feeling is very pleasurable . how you parity smart to explain this honey travel .

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  30. Raji...Thank you

    Maitreyee...When I think back it almost seems like a dream :)

    4 those who care....Our kids get too much too soon. But then I have heard the same lines from my parents as well.

    Rajeev....This happens to be one of my favourite posts. It took me back to a time when we were young and giddy with love.

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