Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Laos Love

~ 90 weeks to my 'Tees' (30th) ~

First month of the new year and the travelogue has begun: Went on my first ladies trip, finally :D

Really glad we chose Luang Prabang as the destination, for it was so amazing, and definitely exceeded our expectations!

Disclaimer: I am no travel blogger, so this blog isn't going to be about recommendations of stay or suggested itineraries. 
I'm going to take the opportunity instead to highlight my favourite experiences from the entire trip (in order of time of day ;)) 

Pre-sunrise: Alms giving ceremony

We set our alarms to ring pre-5am, to find our places along the main temple street, in quiet anticipation of the saffron-orange robed monks in silent procession before dawnbreak - the alms giving ceremony was s spiritual experience to say the least. Our hotel had kindly packed sticky rice offerings for us to give to the monks, as part of the ceremony. As we moved back to our place of accomodation, as the sun's first rays broke out into the dark sky, there was a sense of deep calm, surrender and gratitude within. 

Early morning: Kuang Si waterfalls

Post breakfast, we headed to the famous Kuang Si waterfalls. We walked through the black bear sanctuary, until we finally set eyes on the first pool of the terraced blue (thanks to the limestone apparently) waterfall. As we hiked up, the view only got even more gorgeous - and yes, they were just like the snaps on Instagram #nofilter! The ecstasy of the falls, got heightened upon actually taking a dip in the near-freezing water! What a joy it was - despite the cool temperature, to swim to the waterfalls, and even dive into it from a protruding tree bark - was probably one of my most fun moments from the trip!

Late morning: Temple hopping

We strolled/cycled around town using GoogleMaps and visited many a temple. They might all seem similar from afar, but each temple had its own thing of beauty speaking for itself. Wat Xieng Thong's walls and doors in gold, against black/maroon were to behold;  Wat Manoram had just the most beautiful coloured Buddha paintings adorning it's walls; Wat Sensoukaram had a large standing Buddha at the fore; and such. Monks walked about doing their prayers etc, and fellow travelers flocked the premises, listening to guides or clicking snaps on their cameras/phones. The temple of the Royal Palace stands as an iconic structure in the middle of the main temple street as well. And though, one can only circumambulate around, it still is one of the oft-visited temples, given all the intricate work done in gold. 

LunchTime: Foodies haven

We enjoyed authentic Laotian food at restaurants, which also host cooking classes - like 'Tamarind' - which blew us over with their refreshing drinks, 'dips platter' and the succulent stuffed lemongrass; and 'Bamboo Tree' which gave foodies like me a taste of everything with their set meals, so brightly laded in 'thalis' made of bamboo.  In addition, given that Laos was a French colony - we also enjoyed some delicious baguettes. 

Afternoon: Relaxation

We could have chosen to take a dip at the swimming pool - but instead we chose to explore further. One day, we walked across the bamboo bridge to discover a lovely jewelery making (work)shop, much to our delight; another day, we went back in time, walking through the corridors of what once was the Royal Palace, now a Museum. Our favourite answer to the sweltering heat however, was to lay back and enjoy some relaxing spa time!

CoffeeTime: Caffeine Fix

The cafe culture was something we were pleasantly surprised to find. There were quaint cafes at various corners and bylanes. We really liked the coffee at 'Indigo Cafe'; and found ourselves, tracing our steps back to the same coffeehouse, on many a occasion. Mentionworthy is also the book cafe: 'Novelty'; A visit to the much-acclaimed 'Saffron Coffee', by the riverside, was made on our last day and we were glad we finally made it there - wish we could have spent more time though. 

Twilight: Chasing Sunsets

Sunsets were simply captivating. One evening we climbed up and hiked 300 odd steps, atop Mount Phousi to behold our first sunset there, overlooking the town of Luang Prabang. Another evening, we boarded a private boat and cruised along Mekong river, sipping on red wine while enjoying splendid views of the setting sun, river, mountains, and silhouettes alike. 

Under the moonlight: Night market

We girls thoroughly enjoyed shopping at the night market - we picked up local street food on the go,  bought fridge magnets, lamps, table runners, clothes, accessories, what not! Enough to say we had a ball - considering we kept heading back each night for more! We'd then call it a day, after being picked up by our hotel tuktuk (which was a complimentary service!), chill in our suite, chatting away until past midnight.

All in all, had a great time with the ladies - who infact are the husband's friends' wives; heartening to see that we've become good friends over time, amounting to us going on a trip by ourselves, sans the husbands :D We were so happy with our choice of destination - loved the variety of novel experiences, the delicious food and warm people - and headed home, with some cherishable memories indeed. #LaosLove

Monday, 14 January 2019

The ups and downs

~ 91 weeks to my 'Tees' (30th) ~

So, the first weekend of 2019 started on a high indeed. 
Our cousins from Kolkata were staying with us, and we planned a dinner with another cousin-couple, who had recently moved to Singapore. It was good fun indeed, catching up over 'Xiao Long Bao' and green tea, keeping up with our 'first weekend of the year at DTF' tradition. The after-party continued in our living room, listening to college stories and what not - love what a bit of a good ol' rum/whiskey can do to one's inhinbitions ;) 

I was working the night shift again on Sunday, so I had the daytime to do whatever I pleased. Despite the late night conversations, I did manage to reach before time, for the 'Art of Living Kriya follow up session' - the first session of the year. Not only was the session of yoga/pranayama/meditation/long Kriya amazing, the Guru Puja & knowledge session that followed was lovely too - I was uber glad I could attend it. 

The next noon, I was woken up post my night-shift slumber by the toddler who was back from playschool; but what really got me sitting in bed was the younger brother Rohit's message. When I had dozed off, his last message was "Off to Pune for work - don't know how long" - and then I woke up to "Acute appendicitis." I was clearly missing the in-between pieces. I rang him up immediately to find out that he had had abdominal pain and vomiting since landing in the city, and he had been to a hospital, and gotten a painkiller shot as well as an ultrasound which revealed that he indeed had 'Acute appendicitis'. The next couple of hours are a blur: they were spent on the phone, ringing back and forth - speaking to the brother's manager, his local doctor, my doctor/surgeon friends, my supervisors and Head of Department, the roster person, husband, parents who not! - at the end of the day, I was flying home to Bangalore (now Bengaluru) with my toddler in tow. Luckily, mum managed to reach Singapore on the immediate next flight from Jakarta, and we were headed together to Bangalore. 
I had taken a gamble, on my brother's health (fingers crossed that the inflamed appendix wouldn't burst enroute to Bangalore) and so obviously, as his healthcare proxy, elder sister (kind of like his second mother) and only doctor in the family,  I was nervous when I put my phone on flight mode, as we took off - afraid what the Whatsapp notifications would read like upon landing. Thankfully, despite his own flight delay, he was home and was coping. I reached and took him immediately to the nearby hospital, got him admitted and scheduled for the operation. I can't recall enough, but it most likely was my first overnight stay at any hospital as a patient's attender (I've obviously attended to family/friends in the daytime but first time at night). The brother dozed off... in the wee hours, I was saying my prayers of gratitude as everything was ok...and nothing untoward had occurred. I know I wouldn't have been able to forgive myself IF it had... 

Anyways, fast forward to 2-3 days later, and the brother was back home, after a successful, uncomplicated laparoscopic surgery and what we realised was that the Kamaths were together under a single roof, for the first time, since my wedding! We spent some good time eating Mom-cooked finger-licking-yum food, chatting loads and decluttering our home even (thanks to the Konmari bug that had bitten the family!). My good friends from medical school, Prudhvi and Althea, very kindly paid the brother a visit too, despite their busy schedules and I was very touched obviously. We also managed to squeeze in a family lunch to celebrate Mum's birthday (belated) where Rohit had to stick to 'curd rice' while I had 18 bbq prawns ;) (which is only half of Rohit's high score to date :D)

Soon, I was on the flight back, headed to Singapore. I was famished, to say the least. It felt great to be picked up by the husband at the airport (a first for us as it's usually, the other way round) even though it was quite early in the morning. I was also relieved that my shift that day was kindly shifted to the evening so I could recuperate, prior to heading back to work. And soon enough, it was the weekend again. I was working and Prantik had his cricket matches. Saturday evening, post work, I went for a spa session (was a birthday gift from some friends) while the husband took the toddler on a playdate to our friends' place; and then for the first time, we went for a midnight movie "Uri" with another couple, after putting the baby to bed. The Indian army-centred movie was invigorating indeed and expectedly, we really liked it. I was free on Sunday morning, so notwithstanding yet another late night, I traced my steps to another follow-up session - and again, was glad I went (I knew the next couple of sessions would be missed). I was refreshed and rejuvenated for another happening week.

Throwback to Guruji's words of wisdom: 'The ups of life, bring expansion - the downs, bring depth" 
And so, the journey of inner growth continued, through the ups and downs, that the past week had in store for me and us. I also told myself, that sometimes, we can choose how we perceive these so-called 'ups and downs' as well; and irrespective of circumstances, choose poise, choose calm, choose happiness, if you may. 

And, so when I got back around midnight on Sunday, I plugged in to some of happy, trippy numbers and woke the half-asleep husband and convinced him to watch some Netflix with me, clink our glasses to 'life', and just chill... :)

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

In Retrospect: 2018

~ 92 weeks to my 'Tees' (30th) ~

This last week we rang in the new year 2019! Looking back at the year gone past: 
(copying the A to Z style from a previous blog)

A: Ayaan - this year has been phenomenal with respects to Ayu's growth and development. We witnessed Ayaan not just run around, but also climb rocks and jump like a "monkey"; we've seen him start talking to now singing rhymes in tune!; we've seen him express his feelings be it love/gratitude/concern or displeasure, in the form of tantrums of the infamous "terrible twos"; we've seen him adapt to changes be it in the form of his old nanny leaving, to a new helper joining our household, or even starting playschool and being on his own, away from home for the first time ever. As parents, we're so amazed and in awe, almost everyday!

B: Beaches - We love the mountainside but there's no denying that we are beach people. So the first chance we got, we were off to Bali, to meet Prantik after one of his conferences. Even when we were in a desert state, Bahrain had its own beach retreat in the form of Al Dar islands. Bali beckoned us again, for the #HMX celebrations later in the year and we had loads of fun by the beachside. We also chose a luxury beach resort in Langkawi to celebrate our 4th wedding anniversary, and 'twas probably one of our most relaxed holidays thus far. Last but not the least, we chose to ring in the new year with Prantik's folks at Bintan, where we not only enjoyed a fun evening at the shore, but also loved the firework display at the stroke of midnight  and the scenic first sunrise of 2019.

C: CleanUp - The year end saw us give away about 40% of our books, a lot of old clothes including 2 years worth of baby clothes, and toys as well. The house and heart felt lighter, most certainly. We also re-arranged stuff in the Study and can't wait to do some more tidying up in the other bedrooms! Though it was tough to let go of some of the more sentimental items  surprisingly with all the stuff we still have around, there feels no void haha. Looking forward to reading "Spark Joy" by Marie Kondo (which the husband thoughtfully gifted me sometime ago) and watching the Netflix series "Tidying up with Marie Kondo" - and decluttering our home even more in the year ahead. 

D: Didun - 88 year old Didun had been a constant source of love and affection, ever since our wedding. When she passed away after a week+ of illness and ICU hospitalisation in end September, we did heave a sigh of relief, thankful that her suffering wasn't prolonged further, and that she eventually breathed her last, in a state of peace. The days following were obviously tough and not without grief. But we found happiness and gratitude in all the memorable moments spent together; which I weaved unto a video montage, with Lopamudra's "Hrid Majhare" as a befitting background soundtrack. 

E: Exams - The year also saw me give 2 exams after a gap of 2 years! Pre-exam months were not without stress admittedly. As a full time working doctor mother, it was extremely tough to find time to sit and study, without any disturbance. Often i'd have to lock myself in the study room, and 5 mins later, the little one would knock and keep knocking until I let him in! Hoping the little efforts pay off nonetheless...

F: Festivals - We had our share of fun and frolic around the festivals all year round. At CNY, Ayaan dressed up in a Chinese silk suit; during Holi, he coloured our cheeks with bright colours, alright. Durga Puja pandal hopping was fun with the toddler too. Diwali saw us celebrating each of the three days, with much gusto with friends and family alike. As the year end approached, Ayaan helped us set up the Christmas tree and we had an enjoyable dinner, hosting cousins at home. 

G: Gang -  This year, we went on our first big group trip with 5 couples and 3 babies in tow. Chiang Mai won us over with the warm hospitality at the lovely villa; memorable experiences at the elephant sanctuary; and the scenic views atop Doi Suthep and hiking around the National park. The crazy fun times were of course, in our night pajamas, after the kids were fast asleep ;) We also celebrated Prantik's 35th and another friend's 30th,  clubbing together right until the wee hours of the next morning. 

H: Hosting - We love hosting friends and family at our humble abode; Ayaan likes the company and extra attention too. We had our Bangalore friends Samheeta-Amrut over mid-year; Ananth joined from HK too and that was one epic party weekend. Latter half, we had Srotoswini (Prantik's cousin) and her husband over from Tokyo - and that was one fun week too. Precious memories made; and some yummy food by yours truly :P  

I: India - The homeland summoned us quite a number of times in 2018. We were in Chennai and Hyderabad for my exams; came to Bangalore a couple of times, once even for a dear friend's wedding - was so good to catch up with so many friends! Father-in-law's hospitalisation saw us take the immediate next flight to Pune via Mumbai too. Many a city visited - way above our annual average I'd like to think :D

J: Japan - Celebrating Ayaan's 2nd birthday in Japan was indeed one of our travel highlights this year. Not only did we have so much fun with his aunt&uncle who were our superhosts in Tokyo, we enjoyed some really good family time in Kyoto. The autumn feels were really splendid; The sense of loss that pervaded having lost my iPhone in an old Japanese uncle's black taxi (never to be found again :() didn't stop us from celebrating Ayaan's birthday in style, hiking up Mt Inari, across the hundreds of vermillion tori gates, feeling grateful for all that we have... (notwithstanding that which was lost)

K: Kindness/Karma - What goes around, comes around. One day, I helped somebody with their excess luggage during check-in at the airport; 2 evenings later, somebody assisted my parents with the same. Made me ponder, that a considerate act, no matter how small, does go a long way and that Karma does act up real soon, not just in this lifetime, but sometimes, way earlier than a few days! In addition to our regular contributions via Milaap; we pledged some funds to the the cause of Children Refugees (on the occasion of Ayu's travel theme birthday) and also, for the Kerala flood relief - piling on some good karma hopefully ;)

L: Letting Go - This year, I also started learning to "let go" more. As a working mother, I've had my paranoid days, my "kiasu" days, my frustrated days even - but now as the last quarter approached a lot changed for our household. Our old helper (who Ayu was accustomed to since he was just 2 months old) decided to move on to greener avenues; the new helper employed though kind, was poor in communication and to top it off, my mother who had been living with us last 2 years, had decided to move back too, for everyone's good - and so there was a time, I did feel stranded having to manage the household as well as leave the toddler with a new helper - but I learnt to trust, have faith, and deal with circumstances patiently; letting go of my fears and learning to live with 'imperfections' etc, and get past one day at a time. It didn't matter if the glass was broken, or the food wasn't as tasty; what was paramount was the safety of our child. And if I couldn't be there, I had to trust whoever was entrusted with his care, to be responsible too... I had no choice right?

M: Musicals (Concerts) - We started the year, attending Sonam Kalra's concert over the first weekend of the year. I squeezed in time to attend school friends' Bharatnatyam dance & another's Carnatic music performances at SIFAS. The year also saw us going on double dates to Ballets (Swan Lake) and Musicals (Mughal-e-Azam); even watched 'The Lion King' with another friend of mine, and boy was it enjoyable!

N: Netflix - Given our crunched-for-time busy schedules, we haven't really been watching much of any TV/web series, unlike our early marriage years. But when we did get to steal time together, if our schedules aligned and our stars too (read: the baby sleeps early), we ended up binge watching :D 'Breath' and 'Sacred Games' had us hooked; 'Little Things' and 'What the Folks' left us with 'em fuzzy feels. 

O: Out of Comfort Zone - As mentioned in a previous blog post, I've been out of my comfort zone alot. I began the year with a rotation in Anaesthesia - being in the OT and Anaesthetising patients was a whole new ball game! I also had a 3 month rotation to an Adult Emergency, at a different hospital - again, new people, new outlooks. The most I learnt was probably from my Children Emergency and PICU rotation - at the end of which, Senior Consultants were like, "Wow! You seem so poised and unfazed, as though this is your parent department!" In hindsight, I realised I was "out of my comfort zone" 3/4ths of the year! And yet, I did find my comfortable niche during the time and learnt a lot on the go - thankful for the opportunities.

P: Photoshoot  - This was always something we've been meaning to do for a really long time. We had missed out on alot of earlier opportunities - pre-wedding shoots weren't that big a deal back when we got married. We had an informal maternity shoot, just a week before I popped. We were too busy dealing with the newborn and getting accustomed to his routines, we definitely didn't prioritise a newborn photoshoot at the time! So, when the family was coming together for Ayaan's 2nd birhday party - we decided it was the perfect time for a family photoshoot. Though Ayaan wasn't as compliant, the photographer did a brilliant job nonetheless and we have such bright, colourful family photographs, which have found their way onto our walls and annual calendar gift to the family as well. 

Q: Quest for knowledge - This year was a milestone year for Ayaan as he took his first step on his educational journey, by joining playschool. He transitioned into playschool quite smoothly despite all our fears (based on what other parents' had shared); he also enjoyed opening "FlintoBoxes" on a monthly basis and learning stuff, via interactive play with us all. I would highly recommend these for all parents (of toddlers) out there - who like me "Say Nay to screens, and Yay to Books and Play"  

R: Rohit - The brother visited us in Singapore after 2 whole years. We maximised family time and feasting on "Maa ke haath ka khana"; and had heart-to-heart conversations even post midnight, after I returned from late evening shifts. The best part was the bonding between the uncle and nephew - 'twas heartwarming indeed. 

S: SocialShaadi - Date nights took us to various restaurants across the island state, enjoying Thai/Indian/Western/Mediterranean cuisines over a glass of wine and good conversation. The cherry on the cake was when the year-end saw us finally taking the plunge and becoming members of the esteemed 'Singapore Cricket Club' (which has always been on PranMaz's dream list) - that called for celebration over champagne - awesome anniversary gift!

T: Trail of DDLJ - I am very particular when it comes to gifts, especially for my loved ones. I put in a lot of thought and hence, it would either be something creative/personalised product/an experience gift. So apart from other things I had collated for the Mister's 35th, this topped the list. A well-researched trail of the various locations where his all-time favourite movie "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge" was shot in Switzerland. I also earned brownie points as I invited his parents too to join us on our Swiss summer adventure ;) Prantik was clearly bowled over :D We had hilarious fun as we re-enacted some scenes from the movie at various railway stations and all; while thoroughly enjoying the most gorgeous Alpine views. 

U: UAE - We also went on our first desert safari this year (with my folks, this time) and the sand-dune bashing was a thrilling experience indeed; especially with a baby in a carrier! In addition, we enjoyed serenading through Dubai souks; and continued our Arabian sojourn at Abu Dhabi as well, where the Ferrari park and the Sheikh Zayed mosque, stole the thunder. Prior to this, we visited relatives at Bahrain and spent some real good time (after Rohit's lost passport had been sighted and he was finally out of No-Man's land after an almost 6-hour ordeal), catching up over food and some sightseeing too. 

V: Videomaking - Over the years, I've made some video montages for some birthdays/anniversaries etc. This year saw me making a hat trick ;) Our Swiss adventure snaps and videos were stitched together, with the DLLJ iconic songs playing in the background; I also saved Didun's memories, to be cherished for life, in the form of a video, which was valued highly by the family members for obvious reasons; last but not the least, I put together a nostalgic video for Happy Marketer's 10th anniversary celebration, featuring Rachit, Prantik and co. through the years, through their ups and downs, also the people behind their successful journey thus far - their families, with sneak peak into the all the fun times that the #HMTribe has shared, over the past decade. 

W: Weaning - This year marked 2 years since Ayaan's birth and the start of my breastfeeding journey. I am glad I could exclusively breastfeed for 6 months, and continue to latch him on until he completed 2 years. It was a personal goal for me as a doctor-mother and so, I was happy to have been able to achieve it, despite the many challenges of irregular work timings, intense and stressful shifts and sometimes not being able to express at the workplace, even. I also felt extremely grateful that I was able to pull through, thanks to Ayaan being a very good 'latcher' right from the very start and my mum, who encouraged me and kept me going, with wholesome nutrition too. So when it was time to wean him off, it was indeed an emotional challenge (got me all poetic too) but that too occurred seamlessly, looking back now. 

X: X (for ten) - A lot of X's this year. I spent my bonus on myself and got an iPhoneX early this year. August 4th marked 10years since joining med school - and the reunion with college friends, a couple of months later, was heart-warming, to say the least! The 3rd X this year was the #HMX celebration, in Bali, with Happy Marketer colleagues, their families, alumni even - the BeerByTheBeach party under moonlight, the Amazing Race across Ubud, chilling by the beach at sunset with the brother-in-law (while the spouses were busy at the workshops), the gala dinner (where the video showcased) which I unfortunately had to miss - were some of the highlights from the celebration.

Y: Yummy - I don't eat much in quantity, but that doesn't make me any less a foodie; I love to taste new kinds of food and equally so, I like to experiment in my kitchen. I plated a Bengali thali on the Bengali New Year day; I paired KungPao chicken with zesty stir-fried veggies in a Japanese rice bowl; when PranMaz went on a pro-protein diet, I tried out many a recipe for grilled chicken and tikkas of cottage cheese; for Christmas, I baked cookies for the first time, with M&M's which are the little one's favourites. I made Sangria to kickstart Prantik's birthday celebrations and mulled wine with the cousin, to ring in the year-end festivities. I am no great cook, but I serve with love, always.

Z: Zen - Since moving to Singapore, I hadn't been able to go for Art of Living 'Sudarshan Kriya' follow up sessions, but finally early this year, I made the effort (thanks to mum's nudge) to locate a centre close to home and attend yoga and kriya sessions on Sundays (schedule permitting), as well as some other meditation and Satsang gatherings, which were soul-enriching experiences, to say the least. All in all, glad to have gotten back on the beautiful path. Additionally, I found bliss in the pages of little books: "Hygge", "Lykke" and "Ikigai". 

A year filled with so many new experiences and cherishable memories - thank you Universe!