After packing up the house and all its accoutrements – and throwing out a lot, and giving a lot to our ayah Asa – we performed a miniature migration of reminiscence. My mother in law is a Woodstock alumna and she remembered trips to Kashmir as a child (teen) as well as Varanasi; thinking this will be her last trip to India, she wanted to go to Srinagar and to Varanasi again. We took a taxi from Mussoorie to Dehradun (including a way to the airport brand-new to Adam and I), flew Dehradun to Delhi, overnighted in Delhi, and then flew Delhi to Srinagar.
A few friends of ours have gone to Kashmir previously; because of the kids, we couldn’t do all the stuff we would normally have wanted to (but that’s the price you pay for choosing to have offspring). We stayed in a houseboat on Nigeen/Nageen lake for three nights; compared to the chaos of Dal Lake, it was a peaceful respite even if it’s further away from “everything”. We saw lots of birds, including three different types of kingfisher (pied kingfisher, blue kingfisher & white-breasted kingfisher ), Pallas fishing eagles, and night herons. We were the only group on the houseboat, which was nice – it meant we could pick our dinnertime (and with a 2.5 year old, we wanted early rather than Indian-style late) and breakfasts to suit our schedule.
The houseboats were rather different than the ones in Kerala: they were moored very firmly to the land, for one (rather than sailing), the food was prepared in a communal kitchen shared by the property, and we had to take a shikara across the lake every time we wanted to go on or come off. Asha got to like the shikara rides… most of the time, anyway. The rooms were nice; each one had a double bed plus a single, so Asha was sleeping in her own bed every night. She was excited.
Srinagar has three Mughal era gardens (bagh), and we visited them all on our first day: we started with Shalimar Bagh, went to Nishat Bagh, and then ended our morning at Cheshmashahi Bagh. We were some of the first people into Shalimar, having arrived promptly at 9am: nonetheless, there was still rubbish on the lawns and in the channels from the night before, which was quite disappointing and detracted from the experience. The scent of roses and other flowers was heavy in the air, and it was easy to see why visiting the gardens is such an enjoyable experience for locals and tourists alike: there are trees and liberal splashes of shade, and in a city where you might be scrabbling for shade and greenery, the gardens are a respite. The next gardens, Nishat, were a bit busier (due to being later in the day), and were a little more built up, including having some people inside offering dress-up experiences in Kashmiri “traditional clothes” (which… well, I find hard to believe those are traditional in any sense). Asha had a grand time running up and down stairs with our guide Farooq. The last gardens, Cheshmashahi, were much smaller and are known for water coming up from a spring. That… was about it, and some of us were rather nonplussed about it, but it was still worth rounding out the three Srinagar bagh.
One morning we had a morning shikara ride from about 7-8 and it was interesting; we could see ‘floating gardens’, which were small plantings on built-up pieces of land jutting into the water, men fishing, women gathering lotus leaves, some people dredging the lake (they take the seaweed and some of the small surface plants, dry them, and use them for animal feed) and fish and birds galore. There were also, unfortunately, already some early morning vendors trying to sell us Kashmiri nuts/jewellery/apricots/other things, which was less than enjoyable. Adam calls them “interceptor shikaras”; they also show up at the back of the houseboat. Adam and I joked we wanted to write a sign in Urdu that said “no solicitation, no photos” (the latter due to the two blonde kids present).
We had an afternoon/evening ride on Dal Lake; the lake is amazingly busy compared to Nigeen. If you want to be right in the centre of everything, then it’s where to be; if you want quiet, Nigeen is it. There are evidently over 1,500 houseboats on Dal, versus around 500 on Nigeen.
There was an overnight outing from Srinagar to Pahalgam; we did about 30kph the entire way there. We all commented on the large number of soldiers present on the route (particularly the stretch of road from Srinagar to the turnoff to Jammu). We asked Farooq about it, and he said that it was the standard number of military officers/standard presence; I had been curious since our travel was the first day of Ramazan. We arrived in Pahalgam in the early afternoon (about 1pm) and I can absolutely see why it is so coveted by India, and why its people struggle with the current situation. We saw buildings that had clearly been hit by gunfire (and worse)… tragically, it was a building which was formerly a centre for Kashmiri innovation/development. Talk about depressing, as well as more than just a little symbolic: something which could set Kashmir apart, give voice to its youth, its clever and its determined people – a shot-up beast on the side of the road, a reminder that aazadi is not acceptable in this day and age. While on this trip I’ve been reading a fairly dense book called Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir and it discusses how Kashmir is presented in Indian media by Indians versus Kashmiris (among other things). We drove through a town, c, and it was just another blip on the map – and the book tells me it was once an ancient seat of Sanskrit learning, and is now the place where a massacre took place.
While we were in Pahalgam, there was a lovely thunderstorm… which rather effectively quashed any plans to really explore. Combined with the fact that our guide & driver could not actually drive us around – we’d have to hire locals for that – and the trip was a little frustrating but enjoyable. Asha and I were up at dawn and walked around the property we were at; nice, quiet, and surprisingly cool (temperature-wise!).
That said, I know we would love to come back when the kids are older to do some of the exploration that their current ages make prohibitive (Leh/Ladakh, going up to some of the lakes near the LOC with China and India), if the region is sufficiently stable – in whatever form that may take.
- Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir, Ananya Jahanara Kabir
- Kashmir: The Case for Freedom, Arundhati Roy, Pankaj Mishra, Hilal Bhatt, Angan P. Chatterji & Tariq Ali
- Haider (film), dir. Vishal Bhardwaj
We’ve made a fair bit of progress on our list!
We had lunch at Madras Cafe with Diane, and Asha demanded chai afterwards. There were dosas all around, and an uttapam as well. We’ll miss the cheap, tasty dosa of Madras, and the jalebis and chai of the tea shop next dor.
Then – this past Saturday, we went up the mountain to Chardukaan (namely, Tip Top) with Tara. We settled down and had pakora and chai, paratha and fries (for Asha), and Tara and Adam with some cold coffees with ice cream. We took a cab up because otherwise we’d never have made it (and I had a Mandarin lesson from 9-10), got ourselves settled, and ordered. It was a lot of fun with Tara – and definitely a lot quieter than the Sunday brunches we’d gotten used to with Ashlea and Owen!
We were also very lucky to have a second Saturday meal invitation – the Webbs invited us to dinner at Doma’s. We headed up and out, and Asha was mostly fascinated (in love?) with the fish in their fishtank, and comparing the Buddhas in the foyer. The food was wonderful, and we were only there for two hours!
We tried something new – a “pork monster momo” (basically pork momo filling, in a tingmo body) – and I buckled into the monster that is a buffalo sizzler. I think I ate all the rice, half the veggies, some of the fries, and maybe 2/3 of the buff, before my stomach waved the surrender flag. For those readers unfamiliar with this – think of a fajita plate where it comes out sizzling hot, and then it’s draped with all of the accoutrements in the above picture. The bright thing on the bottom center-left is a tomato which has been hollowed out and had a candle put into it.
It was especially wonderful to have dinner with the Webbs, since we were their buddies when they first arrived, and they have been here as our family has gone from two to four – and we have been here while theirs has gone from two to three! We loved watching Asha and Jyoti and Rohan last night, and I know we’re all going to miss them tremendously.
Figuring out where we were going after Mussoorie was a bit of a surprise. As Adam applied for opportunities, we had very open minds: we wanted to explore the world. It came down to two places: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and Zanzibar, Tanzania. Adam was initially going to be accepting a position at a school in Mongolia (which we were extremely excited about) before something personal came up, and we could no longer accept that position.
Luckily – something came next, and we were able to accept it. We are thrilled and excited that we will be going to Beijing, China with Harrow International School Beijing, this coming August. We have the Fidlers not far away, the Husthwaites also in the area, and are within an easy plane flight of friends in Japan and South Korea. Adam will be teaching English, and while we are a bit sad he will not be engaging with mathematics more, hopefully that can come in time. I, meanwhile, am excited about returning to Mandarin and studying – and speaking! – it for real this time, and not just in an academic setting.
We have already been in touch with a buddy in Beijing at Harrow, and Ashlea introduced me to a friend of hers who is a staff spouse there as well, so we are feeling a lot more prepared and with a better understanding of what to expect and what we will have, or need to bring with us. Harrow is able to provide us a lot of things, and there is an IKEA trip already in the works, planned by the school, and so we have already started peeking at IKEA hacks for making our apartment a bit more ‘our style’.
We are also already preparing for the poor air quality. I’ve been monitoring it and it’s not actually as horrible as the media makes it out to be – much better than Delhi, for certain, on average! – but we are not often in Delhi. It will certainly necessitate buying air filters for the apartment, and we are okay with that (frankly, I miss having a nice HEPA filter anyway!). I am particularly excited that our little people will have friends nearby, and A will be eligible to enter school in August. Apparently, staff and staff families are also allowed to use school facilities (like the pool!) after school hours… And Beijing is an eminently cycle-able city. Friends are already looking out for bikes for us to buy as staff at various places depart.
Here’s a video from the run-up to the 2008 Olympics; it features a number of famous Chinese people, and was filmed at a number of landmarks.
This series is dedicated to Meg and Matt Brodie, and Matt’s perpetual love of momos.
On this trip, we stopped at Clocktower and Little Llama. We are hoping to visit a number of other places with momos – but decided, on a walk through the bazaar one day, that these two would be excellent starts.
From Clocktower Cafe, we ordered three different types of momos, all steamed: vegetarian, chicken, and a new “Schezwan Tossed Chicken” momo. We weren’t entirely sure what this was, but decided to give it a try. There is a vegetarian version also on the menu.
The Szechuan tossed arrived first, with the other two following shortly after. The plating, as you can see, is fairly straightforward: the Szechuan have a sauce already poured on them, whereas the veg and chicken are plain and come with the usual dipping sauce (a chili-based concoction). Each plate has 6 momos.
The Szechuan momos were tasty – the fact that they were coated in the sauce necessitated fork usage. The filling was ample, but not particularly juicy or flavourful – most of the flavour came from the sauce.
Which is disappointing – since the Szechuan momos are, as you can see, the exact same as the regular chicken momos. They are not bad by any means – but comparing the Szechuan and the regular momos, there is a definite difference. The ‘plain’ momos allow for a better feel for the filling, and the chopped-up things within it (mostly chicken and onion).
The veg momos were a bit of a surprise. Texture-wise they were a bit rough, but that has to do with the contents: cilantro, carrot, cabbage, a bit of paneer, some onion. None of those blends to a particularly smooth texture, and none of them release a lot of liquid for a juicy momo. They were flavourful, but they were also somewhat dry.
All in all, we would give the Clocktower momos an average of 2.5/5 stars (or thumbs, or momos). Veg momos are ₹110, chicken momos at ₹130, and the ‘Schezwan tossed chicken momos’ are ₹160, per plate. While the sauced ones were an interesting digression from the norm, the main filling is nothing to write home about in any case.
Next up was Little Llama, a fairly new restaurant in the Mussoorie scheme of things. We had gone there previously a number of times and had pizza and momos – but when we went this time, we saw – to our shock – most of their momos had migrated off the menu! There was only chicken to be had… so that is what we ordered.
We much prefer both the presentation of the Little Llama momos (served in the steamer, and if you order multiple sets, they are all nicely tucked in their tiers), the flavour of their chili sauce, and – in general – the flavour. It is a richer flavour, somewhat juicier, and with more flavour. They include not only minced chicken, onion and cilantro, but a few other things we could not quite put a finger on (veggies of some sort – we think carrot and cabbage, minced very finely), making for a substantially more flavourful momo.
Each plate of 6 costs ₹120. When they were available (and perhaps they still are, by request?), vegetarian momos used to cost ₹90. These we woud put at a 4 out of 5.
This topic came up frequently in January and February – what is it like traveling with kids? Why would you travel with them? You can’t travel AND have kids! What makes a good vacation with kids?
So… here’s a compilation of some thoughts from Adam and I on it.
1. Pick your routing intelligently. We’ve had good luck with direct flights or with long (6+ hour) layovers – enough to get out and see the city, have relaxed meals (in the airport or out), and to give Asha playtime. Direct flights offer the convenience of only going through security once – which could be make-or-break with some families and their children. We prefer either those long layovers, or direct flights. We’ve especially enjoyed our one in London – enough free things to do (though you definitely need at least 6 hours, preferably 8, to handle getting out through immigration and into London proper on the train, and going back to the airport and clearing security). The long-layover route also lets you get a sampling of another place to perhaps visit down the road.
Historical site: that’s nice. But there’s DIRT here! I CAN DRAW IN IT!
2. Figure out what activities are in the destination location before you go. Whether it’s aquariums, parks, or making sure that your historical sites have child-friendly spaces (as above, the Angkor Wat complex – all this dirt, great for drawing in!), it’s not fair to the kids to plan a trip that isn’t suited to their ages/activity levels – or you need parents who are willing to not go see certain things in order to wrangle the offspring so the other parent can see the sites in question.
3. We have found budget things tend to be more child-friendly than high end things. This is in part due to the fact that budget things seem to be more “eh, whatever” than high-end, whether it’s restaurant or hotel or event. If you’re a self-conscious parent, the relaxed attitude of many budget establishments lends itself to a more relaxed experience for you and the kids as well.
4. Food can, surprisingly, be easiest. Unless your kid has an allergy, as long as the parent doesn’t express aversion – and/or lets the kid decide on their own! – most are remarkably gastronomically diverse. When it’s street food (what we prefer – because it’s tasty and cheap and child-friendly!), there’s usually enough noise and bustle and casual attitude about the entire affair that no one cares if you have a squalling infant or an enthusiastic toddler. There was one vendor in Penang who was thrilled when he heard that Asha polished off an entire fried oyster omelet on her own (the crafting of which is the middle picture, below).
Adam – and Asha, and Rohan, and I! – like getting to watch our food being made. You always should, when it’s street food, to make sure it’s fresh… but there’s the additional visual fascination of seeing how some of these intensely tasty and unusual dishes get made.
5. Give the kids some ownership. Even our toddler, at two, was surprisingly vehemently enthusiastic about her backpack and water bottle and rarely wanted to be parted from them. The backpack (MEC Fledgling) and water bottle (a Camelbak – good for toddlers who like to bite their straws!) were undeniably hers, and that made it easier for us to give her responsibility in carrying some of her own stuff – and to make sure she kept drinking water from her bottle. She was very enthusiastic 90% of the time about carrying her own bag with her own things in it, too.
On the most recent trip around the world, we travelled with two new products. One is [The Pack], a product designed to carry clothing/some smaller items inside your luggage (particularly a 40L backpack) and to be able to easily be hung up on a rail in a cupboard or closet.
We ordered one of these, and it never made it to India. When I contacted the company, they sent me a replacement – and to the USA, at my request, so I could be sure we safely received it! Adam and I are both extremely pleased with their customer service.
When we opened the PACK, we promptly filled it with the kids’ clothes – socks and underwear, one ‘shelf’ for the infant’s clothes, and the remainder (2 shelves – one whole and one of the divided ones) for the toddler. The clothes fit in fairly neatly, but definitely required folding/rolling. If you’re a “shove it in til it fits” type… you can still use it (there are flaps to close over the drawers/shelves) but take a read through some of the blog posts out there on more efficient packing styles. 🙂
We ran into a few snags with it, however – and while we love the product, it’s not going to come on every trip with us. The picture here has it packed pretty copiously – 2 skirts, 2 pairs of pants, 4 shirts (including a pullover sweater), 2 bathing suits, a pareo, a pair of pajamas, and undergarments. I probably could have pushed it and put some more in, but decided against it.
Questions to consider:
- Who Is Using It? My husband is not tiny (and neither, frankly, am I) – but he wouldn’t be able to fit two pairs of pants on one ‘shelf’ of the unit. If you’re not traveling ultralight/minimalist, you may find that it can only handle some of your clothing, rather than all of it. If you’re also traveling with various ‘sets’ (e.g. beach, climbing, etc) the shelves offer a good way to organize – but definitely require rolling/folding. For sorting the kids’ clothes, or even if I were to use it, it would be great. Larger people (who have larger clothes) may not find it as useful.
- Convenience: it’s absolutely convenient to have all your (or in our case, kid’s) clothes in an easy to pull out container. Not all places we stayed had convenient rails, though – and while staying with family, the Pack got hung on the back of doors. For short (5’4″) me, this made reaching into the top two pockets extremely awkward since the straps don’t adjust in length. I could still do it but it was blind hunting around – we ended up putting socks and underwear in them so I could just grab any pair for the kids.
- Fasteners: My husband’s quibble is that the hooks don’t have a good way to be packed away within the PACK, and tended to get caught on things; as well, the adjustable clips to close the ‘drawers’/’shelves’ sometimes still gaped. He thinks zippers would be more suitable.
- Packing the PACK: This is definitely a product to go in a backpack and be pulled right up by the hooks and hung up on a clothes rail or door. It was awkward within a suitcase – things tended to get caught in the hooks or to catch on/in the straps for the ‘shelf’ closures. There is a loop on the back to let you hang it off a hook on a door or wall, but we found those opportunities few and far between.
In sum: we’ll keep this for when we travel with a backpack and not “real” luggage, and it will either be used by myself or the kids; Adam’s stuff just won’t reasonably fit into it. If you’re a solo traveler who likes keeping things organized, and especially if you’re using a small bag, definitely consider the PACK.
I recently received an e-mail survey with what looks like a new iteration of the PACK for 2016 (the survey asked about colour preferences for new PACKs), so I’m hoping to see/hear about the changes.
We had a good run on souvenirs this trip. A few cheap things (pareos, consumables) but three things we’re really happy and excited about!
The bracelet was purchased at the Angkor Night Market in Siem Reap. With a closed lotus flower on one end and a lotus seed pod on the other, it’s everything I love (lotuses!) and not just a single design. The bracelet was made by a young woman as part of the Jivit Thmey program, using recycled bombshells and bullets. I presume most of these are from the conflicts in Cambodia – or if not actually from, that’s the marketing scheme. It is an interesting craft idea. Adam picked up a pair of minimally-worked cufflinks from the airport from a similar company.
Adam gave me the hairy eyeball when I picked out that shawl, also from the Angkor Night Market. “But… it’s so… monochromatic!” Yes – but pretty, and the varigation in the dye of the threads for the cotton is pretty, as is the simple colour scheme. (I feel like I have to defend my choices sometimes!) The organization is similar to Himalayan Weavers up in our neighborhood; work done by women to help bring in an income to their families which would otherwise be struggling, and using locally sourced cotton and natural dyes. It’s not a traditional Cambodian krama, but I don’t wear scarves that much – so this is more the shawl version.
It means having to collect some brass polish (or, at least, getting our hands on some good substitutes!) for the cufflinks and bracelet – but we’re excited to add those to our wardrobes nonetheless.
Though we haven’t seen it all, by far, yet.
We bounced DED-DEL-EWR-BWI-MCI-BWI-DCA-YYZ-HKG-BKK… then DMV-KRB-CNX-REP-BKK-DEL-DED. A real, true circumnavigation.
It was a lot of travel – especially as we hadn’t planned on doing more than the Thailand leg, until American Thanksgiving and we ended up flying back to the States and Canada. Both of the tiny humans are troopers, however – they had Christmas in Kansas with their maternal great-grandmother, saw wild ponies on Assateague with their maternal grandmother, had a fancy family dinner with the paternal great-grandparents, then tromped around Thailand and Cambodia with the paternal grandparents and aunt.
We saw temples and shrines a-plenty, and Asha developed a propensity for shyness near the end, after the thousandth Chinese photographer snapping pictures of her (only a few asked – in English or Chinese! – leave to take her photo).
We saw many of the temples of the Angkor complex, from Bayon to Bantey Srei and Preah Khan, including Ta Prohm – the “Tomb Raider” temple. Claire, Anne and I took a cooking class in Chiang Mai and learned how to make half a dozen dishes each – from spring rolls to mango sticky rice, larb kai to tom yum and tom kah. The Asian Scenic cooking school in Chiang Mai is worth every baht (thanks, Anne!), and our instructor, A, made it all worthwhile. We even learned how to make blue sticky rice (the photo above is from a restaurant in Koh Phi Phi, however – The Mango Garden). We visited a floating market outside of Bangkok, and a number of temples in Bangkok and Chiang Mai as well.
The hardest part of it all was time zones and having kid-friendly days: hard sometimes, with everything scheduled as it was, but infants are usually pretty easy, and the toddler went with the flow better than we anticipated. It’s been a relief to get back to our regular schedule, though, since little kids thrive on routine, and our routine was “get up and explore!”
The worst unfortunate side effect of it all, however: now Asha is camera-shy. All the people snapping all the pictures means that if you hold up a camera or a phone, or ask if you can take a picture, she covers her face (and has hidden behind Adam or I when possible). I need to learn how to say, firmly, in Japanese and Korean “No pictures.” and “Don’t take pictures of my kids.”
We have been at Woodstock for five, nearly six years – and it’s time to bid Mussoorie farewell, and look for new options in different places around the world. Adam has filed his intent to not renew with Woodstock, and now we are in the process of exploring where we might want to go. With that in mind: we must now create our Woodstock bucket list.
We have some ideas for what’s on our list, but are also looking for ideas from friends and readers to find out what you think we should see, do, eat or buy before we leave in June. We have some ideas – but what else should we add?
Our current list:
Eat at: Kalsang’s (momos), Doma’s (momos, sizzlers), Chardukaan (pakora)
Do: a hike up to the top of Flag Hill
Buy: Adam one last bespoke suit
What else should we add?