Family, India

Balaganesh Manikandan

As the morning of 29th of May dawned, many of us who were mothers, fathers, grand-parents and well-wishers of 15-16 year old 10th graders were again eagerly awaiting the results of the ICSE exam. It had already been an agonizingly long wait for all of us and there was already one false report stating that it will be released on May 15th and it wasn’t. Finally the day dawned and the clock started its slow march towards 3:00 p.m.(the time when the results were to be declared online)

2:50 P.M:

I was nervous and was sitting glued to the laptop. I had kept the online portal open to check the results as soon as it was declared. My son, Balaganesh Manikandan(a.k.a Bala) the ‘unique’ one (who has never liked to play and is always wondering what to do in a soccer field :))  – was as cool as ever, just going about doing his mundane everyday things. He spent his time ambling along and reading his favorite books(‘Tinkle’ :)) while his parents and grand-parents were nervous wrecks.

 

3:00 P.M:

The time was finally here and the online portal to check the results was initially jammed. Finally, at 3:10 p.m. I was able to login and was able to see the results of my darling son, Bala and lo and behold -he had scored the most amazing marks:

Math -99/100, Science – 99/100, French-98/100, Computers – 100/100, Hist/Geo – 98/100 and English – 91/100!! 🙂

He had scored 97.4% and stood 3rd in school!!

The absolutely shy, introverted boy who rarely talks to anybody and keeps to himself most of the time (or at other times he is wondering ‘what to say to people and how do I say it?’ – the exact opposite of his mother!! 🙂 ) was totally calm and serene while the parents/sister/well wishers went completely bonkers with joy!! 🙂  While the phone rang incessantly, congratulating him and us, he walked nonchalantly away onto his next project…..doing his FIIT JEE assignments! 🙂

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Message for Bala:

A boy of a few words and not having any fancy needs and wants and racing towards your sixteenth birthday, you are an easy going boy with simple likes and dislikes. But most of all, I like the fact that you can state what you do NOT want rather than what you do want! Here’s hoping all good things come your way and we are always there for whatever decision you may take!! (within mom’s rules ;))

Good luck my son, as you take the first few steps to spreading your wings into adulthood,

Happiness always in all you do,

Mom, Dad and Maha!

 

 

 

 

Family, India

Why we returned to India!

After having lived in the US for 14 years spread across three states(Texas, New York and Michigan) I have always been asked this question “Why did we return to India?” and have always been amused by the question. Recently, one of my friend’s husband posted about it which tickled me into answering the same question in my personal blog post as well! 🙂 As he correctly noted – nobody ever asks you “Why are you going to the US?” but we are always asked the question when we are back.(why, I wonder)

While most of us vow to always return back after a few years abroad(whether US, UK or any other country) it is but difficult to say who will actually return back and who will not. There are variety of reasons for people to not return:

  1. Love the meticulous way and organized way in every facet of life(from getting the driver’s license, to get getting admission for kids in schools)
  2. No corruption at all(at least in the areas where we transact our day to day life)
  3. Perfect well laid roads and highways(we don’t see people digging up newly laid roads the very next day!!)
  4. Always think of making ‘X’ amount of money and coming back
  5. Just got used to the Western system and might find it difficult to re-adjust back to Indian system(for parents and children)
  6. Scared of living together with family at a short distance 😉 (this is probably true for most families – most go abroad in their 20s and have no clue how family relationships work when they return in their 40s – we would rather watch the happenings from a distance!! :))
  7. Wondering how they will adjust to a new work life in the Indian sub continent
  8. There are still others, who are not able to come back because of medical conditions as they age in a foreign country
  9. When one spouse agrees to go back and the other doesn’t – it is better to stay back after all….
  10. Those who have built a good family network there(they have their brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, parents, in-laws and everybody else there – they wonder who is there in India to see?!! :))
  11. Those who are always thinking that they will return the “next year”!! 🙂
  12. Those who have never thought that way at all…
  13. And finally, those who do not want to come back at all!

And I am sure there are several other reasons that I have not listed as well…

The reason we decided to return back to India:

IT IS INDIA!! 🙂

Elaborately though, as the first year of our marriage gave way to successive years and the American life of luxury enveloped us, there was a small but certain hole that was certainly forming in our lives. It was not very evident in the initial years(we were very excited initially like everybody else 🙂 – new country, new life, new customs, new traditions)  but the hole grew by leaps and bounds as the kids started growing up.

The social life for most of us, Indians in the US is always a very narrow circle – there are a group of 10 or so families who stay tightly knit and celebrate Diwali, Thanksgiving, Christmas and so on.  Things that we take for granted in India like stepping out and meeting your neighbours(I have written about this already?! :)) , authentic way to celebrate festivals in India was sorely missed. I missed the color and vibrancy and buzzing life of India.

There is also a slow and but sure communication gap that occurs in everyone’s life(in spite of all social media channels) when staying abroad for a prolonged period of time.

These reasons might look small as I write it but it can envelop your life as you live alone and see life in a different way. All these reasons propelled us to return to India for good!

Note: All these reasons are solely mine alone. The bottom line for those wondering whether to return or not depends on you and your circumstances alone! Stay where you are happy!! 🙂

 

Family, India

More about arranged marriages!

My last personal post(which seems ages back!) was on arranged marriages in India! This post is in continuation of the last post…

Most Tamilian weddings shown in movies show the “boy to be” “seeing” the “girl to be” at the girl’s house and deciding whether they are in fact “made for each other”!! 🙂 The “boy” and his family eat sweets and savouries and talk and decide the relationship for life! 🙂

It should be noted that even in this day of digital relationships, a lot of marriages occur only via word of mouth. We in our families have a novel way of having an arranged marriage! (no, we don’t have much say in who we are getting married to!! 🙂 ) – but before the “seeing”, a lot background match making occurs.

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  1. First, the “match fixing” occurs.   X who is connected to Y might fix an alliance for Z who is A’s cousin!! 🙂 ‘
  2. Once it is made sure that the boy and girl are indeed made for each other by each other’s families, pictures are exchanged, horoscopes are matched and the pair is made sure that they are indeed the perfect celestial pair! 🙂
  3.  Finally, after a lot of talk the boy and girl are allowed to “see” each other. The girl will be shown to the “boy”  – not in anybody’s house….but at a public place, like an “exhibition”(“a carnival” , for my Western guests!)  The “girl” is not supposed to be knowing that she is in fact being “shown” to the boy and his family(but in all probabilities, she will be knowing, considering that she is in fact all dressed up!) (There is actually a time of year in my hometown when eligible parents of boys scout the “exhibition”for girls who might be dressed up! 🙂 )
  4. Once the “boy” is satisfied with the “girl”, the girl is also given the go-ahead to see the “boy”and the relationship is given a “green”flag to move ahead.
  5. Phone calls begin and the date of engagement and marriage is fixed and all is bliss! 🙂
Family, India

Arranged marriages!

“Love marriage” is one way of getting married and there is yet another way of getting married which is highly prevalent in Indian homes and it is known as an “arranged marriage”.

India is so beautifully diverse with its languages(all of the four southern states have a different language) , cultures, religions and climates (If you ask me how diverse India is – I could do an entire blog post on that too!! :)) , but they are all united by one novel way of getting married which is the “arranged marriage”.

What is arranged marriage?

‘Arranged marriage’ is when a boy and girl get married as per the parents and/or grand-parents wishes! 🙂 There is no “getting to know each other phase”, “living together phase”, “seeing each other’s parents phase” – some arranged marriages get completed in a matter of months.

How do the parents know that the “boy” and “girl” are made for each other? 🙂 ( well, that might be for another post ;)) – for now, they just “know” that they are made for each other!! 🙂

Given the complexity of human personalities and the constant change it undergoes with respect to its environment, it is truly amazing that arranged marriages work and continue to work. “Arranged marriage” is in my opinion -one of the most surreal of all relationships! 🙂  I don’t know how it works and till this date I try hard to wrap this thought around my head “how two people who have absolutely no clue about each other, each other’s personalities, each other’s habits and most importantly each other’s families are told to spend the rest of their life together and they successfully do! 🙂

Given the huge success rate of arranged marriages, it is a sure bet that this unique and blissful relationship will continue for more years to come!

Beverages, Musings

Coffee vs. Tea

What is the beverage that wakes you up from slumber in the morning? Is “coffee” the magic elixir that peps you for the day ahead? Or is it “tea” that brings you upto speed to the beginning of the day’s drama?

In my younger days I have never had a preference between the two beverages, but as the years rolled by I soon realized that I favored one more than the other. Coffee in India in the ’80s and ’90s had only two versions, the “south Indian filter coffee” or the “instant coffee”. South Indian filter coffee is when the freshly boiled milk meets the coffee liquid that seeps in through the south Indian coffee filter along with adequate amount of sugar that creates the magical refreshment!

Moving abroad for sometime revealed the amazing incarnations of the caffeine drink. There were Cappuccinos, Lattes, Macchiatos, Black coffee, cold coffee etc. All of the variants were absolutely divine taking one to coffee nirvana! 🙂

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Not to be left behind, tea evolved in its own way too! Traditionally tea leaves were added to a pot of boiling water and milk and sugar were added to a create a marvelous beverage! Soon, I realized tea had its variations too like black tea, green tea, white tea, oolong tea , Kashmiri Kehwa tea which were all equally magical! Tea also often had the argument that it was more healthy than its caffeinated counterpart.

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As I relax with my cup of Joe, I see each of the beverages undergoing a sea of changes to allow one to experience the perfect cup!

Images source: Google images

 

Travel, Travel, Michigan, US

Live to Drive!

Driving has always been one of my favorite things to do. The feeling of driving a fast moving vehicle(safely :)) can be compared to a free flying bird with no restrictions and barriers. I got the first feel of a vehicle 20 years ago(!) and it has been an exciting experience all along. The feeling of exhilaration and independence, we can get from driving one’s own vehicle cannot be described!!

Continue reading “Live to Drive!”

India, Plastic, Plastic waste management

Bengaluru/Bangalore, India goes green!

Given India’s struggle with managing waste, Bangalore has stepped up its efforts to try and manage waste and particularly “plastic waste”.

The way “plastic” has slowly but surely blended into our life is truly shocking. In fact, we cannot have anything in life without plastic playing a role in it (plastic grocery bags, plastic cups, plastic plates , plastic bottles, plastic spoons, plastic wraps, plastic garbage bags to name a few) The environment seems to be eroding with “plastic overdose” and just like our “digital footprint”, the “plastic footprint” is getting huge as well. Consider these few facts about plastic:

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While the discussion of plastic and its ill effects have been discussed about it in length – very few countries/societies are working towards making their environment a “plastic free zone”. In that regard, Bengaluru/Bangalore, India is definitely making a gigantic step in preserving the environment and going “green”.

How are they doing it?

Rather than produce plastic and recycle it (which may or may not occur for most of us) – the key is to not use it at all in the first place. This is how it is done:

  1. No plastic bags at all for carrying away groceries etc. Each person who wants to shop must bring their own cloth bags.If they do forget to bring their own cloth bags, they can buy re-usable cloth bag at a cool price ranging from 5Rs/bag – 25 Rs/bag!
  2. No plastic bags to bag the vegetables, fruits too – anything that needs to be bagged is done only in brown paper bags or newspaper bags
  3. Reduced forms of plastic in takeaway restaurants – like wooden cutlery(no more plastic spoons, knives, forks etc)
  4. No forms of plastic to be used as trash bags. The waste is segregated at source as (wet waste, dry waste) and managed appropriately. Wet waste is mostly converted to compost for plants.

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Wooden Cutlery!

It might not be a big step in waste management and results might not be visible immediately but every little step could mean a much more healthy environment! How are you eliminating plastic waste today?

Technology

The Rise of Whatsapp Journalism

In today’s social media frenzy, there has been a quiet revolution of sorts. Where do most of us get our  most up to date news today? Is it thru good old newspapers, radio or the ever green TV or social media channels?  It is probably from the raging and popular Whatsapp groups!! 🙂 People who earlier shunned the other social media channels have now embraced Whatsapp, thanks be to its anonymity and “groups” feature. There are family groups, school groups, college groups , birthday groups, groups for functions and so on!!

What is Whatsapp Journalism?

Wikipedia defines “Journalism” as “the work and distribution of reports on the interaction of events, facts, ideas, and people that are the “news of the day” and that informs society to at least some degree”. “Whatsapp Journalism” is when we receive our daily dose of any type of news from our several Whatsapp groups. With the rise in social media channels and the ever present urge to share information, Whatsapp journalism has increased enabling certain news pieces to become viral!  The only catch when receiving the news from several Whatsapp groups is figuring out whether the said news is really authentic or not!!

Consider the case of Northeast exodus in 2012:

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/after-rumours-northeast-people-flee-bangalore/article3776549.ece

With any type of news today at ease of being viral, Whatsapp journalism will continue to dominate our lives. It is up to us to filter the news from the non-news and react to it!

India, Travel, Uncategorized

Sights and Sounds of Hyderabad, India

History which can neither be re-created nor re-lived can only be felt through present day influences. We got to feel this as we visited the the ‘City of Pearls’ or Hyderabad recently. What does Hyderabad immediately make you think of? If you are thinking of Charminar, Golconda Fort, Biriyani,pearls – then you are right on!

Hyderabad is the capital of Telangana, India. Hyderabad owes most of its present day influences to its rich history. Indian history is fascinating and we can see that the Nizams and Mughals have carved their impression on Hyderabad even today. The history of Hyderabad can be explained in a few lines from Wikipedia “In 1724, Mughal viceroy Asif Jah I declared his sovereignty and created his own dynasty, known as the Nizams of Hyderabad. The Nizam’s dominions became a princely state during the British Raj, and remained so for 150 years, with the city serving as its capital”. The air that we breathe and the architecture of the buildings in Hyderabad still remind of you of the Nizams.

Charminar:

The ‘Charminar’ is synonymous with Hyderabad. It was built in 1591 and it was built by the fifth ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah. It has four minarets with the typical dome shaped structure.

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The writing describing ‘Charminar’

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The ‘Charminar’ with its minarets

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It was interesting to reach the upper floor of the minaret. There were 149 steps which were steep and winding.It almost reminded us of the steep and winding steps in the Statue of Liberty’s crown(when we climbed it prior to 2001) Once we reach the top, the view from the top of Charminar is spell binding.

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The inner dome visible from the upper floor of Charminar

 

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The Charminar is surrounded by ‘Laad bazaar’ which is a shopper’s paradise for bangles, pearls and other miscellaneous items.

Fun, excitement, life, hustle and bustle, hawkers, crowd all describe India’s shopping markets and that is what we got to experience at the Charminar market too!

 

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Velvet bangles, anyone? 🙂

Salar Jung Museum:

The Salar Jung museum houses artifacts collected by Salar Jung III. It has artifacts related to the Indian, Far Eastern art and European art. The Salar Jung Museum takes more than 3 hrs to admire.The cost per adult to see the different artifacts in the Salar Jung museum is only 20 Rs! (not dollars!! :))  It has the musical clock, Veiled Rebecca, ivory collection, art collection and so on.

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This is the clock that has the bearded man stepping out 3 minutes before the hour and striking the gong for the respective hour. There is also another blacksmith who is busy striking the seconds with a hammer.

There is a big crowd waiting patiently and orderly to see this magnificent machinery in work!

 

Hussain Sagar Lake:

Hussain sagar Lake is the man made lake built by Hussain Shah Wahi in the year 1562. It connects the cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. It has a beautiful Buddha statue in the center which can be accessed by fun boat rides.

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Buddha statue at the Hussain Sagar Lake
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Skyline of Hyderabad from the Hussain Sagar Lake

 

The park adjacent to the lake boasts of a number of activities and rides to keep everyone entertained.

Our trip was completed by tasting Hyderabad’s very own biriyani… 🙂  These were 2 days in Hyderabad with a whirlwind of “Mughalai” activity!! Join me as I seek more of Indian historical sites….

 

 

 

Festivals, India

Ganesh Chathurthi in Bengaluru,India!

‘ Ganesh Chathurthi’ is the birthday of Lord Ganesh – the first son of Lord Shiva and Shri Parvati according to Hindu mythology and it is celebrated for 10 days. Lord Ganesh is the elephant faced God and is the remover of obstacles. He is worshipped before beginning any task to achieve absolute success in it.

Celebrating Ganesh Chathurthi at home:

During the festival of Ganesh Chathurthi, many devotees buy a new idol of Lord Ganesh(made with clay or other materials) and decorate him with flowers and fruits. Markets are abuzz with the arrival of different statues of Lord Ganesh in different sizes and different themes.

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Ganesha’s in clay models and painted models along with ‘Gowri Ganesha’ (Ganesha’s mother)

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More Ganesha’s in different sizes

 

Flowers, fruits(wood apple – Lord Ganesh’s special fruit), ‘arugampul'(a type of grass – which is very special of for Lord Ganesh), mango leaves, small banana plants all abound the market. It is a treat to watch and experience the shopping scene around this time. Road side vendors sell the different things for a very small price.

 

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Roses in plenty!

Devotees also make ‘modaks'(made of rice flour, jaggery and coconut as one of its fillings) and ‘sundal'(made of garbanzo beans or moong dal and other spices and coconut) to Lord Ganesh and welcome him home.

‘Rangoli’ is drawn before houses and kids and adults are all dressed in fine ethnic wear making it an absolutely delightful event!

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Rangoli before the house!

He is immersed after 1, 3,5,7 or 11 days.

Immersion:

Due to several environmental concerns, many opt for clay made Ganesha’s instead of ‘plaster of paris’ ones.

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This helps one to immerse the idols at home in a pail of water. Immersing the idol after the apt day completes the Ganesh Chathurthi festival.

 

 

Musings, Social media

Social media outcasts

When I saw the term “social media outcasts” a few weeks back, I couldn’t help but grin. It perfectly described what “some” of us are.

When social media made a big splash in the early 2000s, many were greatly excited about this new technology. As the educated population in India had moved far and wide across the globe in search of better opportunities, keeping in touch personally was no longer easy.Enter social media channels and sharing pics and chatting in real time was a reality. Lives were better understood, in spite of different time zones.Old friends were re- discovered and getting in touch with them after 30 years through social media was considered a boon! Social media kindled old relationships and made the world a much smaller place.

Who are social media outcasts anyways?

In spite of the several advantages of social media and the very thought that everybody should be on it, there are some of us who stay away from it(yes, they do exist!! :)) I am no means a complete social media outcast, but refrain from sharing all private information. There are still others, who don’t tweet, don’t care about the “likes” or the “followers”or the “views”!! 🙂 yes, they do exist as well!! They are NOT a “digital marketer’s delight” nor a “Data analyst’s ” dream!! as they are not dropping digital bits that can be picked and analyzed.

Reasons for being a social media outcast:

Being an Infosec professional and understanding the hacking and cracking ways of devious individuals, I could manage only a few months on social media. There are other reasons for others not being on social media  like not being comfortable with the sharing ways of the world and so on.

With social media being omnipresent from infancy, being on it or out of it is entirely a personal decision. Which side of the social media bandwagon are you on? In it or Out of it?

 

 

Travel

Niagara Falls, NY

We stayed in the state of New York for quite some time and a visit to Niagara Falls was the most obvious thing to do.

We visited the Falls for a total of three times and each of the visit to the Falls was nothing short of spectacular.

Water has calming and soothing effect and the cascading falls that is depicted in so many Indian movies is sure to blow anyone away. We visited the two major falls on the American side – the American Falls and the  Bridal veil Falls.

The American Falls has a drop of about 100 ft and the power of the water is totally amazing. It is little wonder that the Niagara Falls is a good source of hydro electric power. These are some pictures of the American Falls:

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The walk across the Niagara state park was equally mesmerizing as one was able to enjoy the clean and pure environment which refreshed our heart and soul.

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The Bridal veil Falls are so named because the Falls resemble the veil of a bride. It is the smallest of the three falls on the American side.

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The ‘Cave of the winds’ experience was truely a memorable one. We were taken 175 feet down on an elevator and we could walk to the base of the Falls in special rain gear and get up and close with the Bridal veil Falls!

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The Bridal veil Falls from the base
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Misty base of bridal veil Falls

The ‘Maid of the mist’ moves from the American Falls, crosses the Horse Shoe Falls and moves directly underneath the Horseshoe Falls. Everyone is provided with a rain coat as one is sure to get drenched as the boat meanders beneath the Falls.

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Another gem of a place that will always have a special place in our hearts!

Technology

Prisma app for Android

I have been asked a quite a few times about my new Whatsapp profile pic. This blog post is about the new Prisma app for Android and iOS.

I had seen the new Prisma app in action across a few Whatsapp groups and was waiting for it to be released on Android. Prisma is new and cool. It is the newest art photo editor and converts mundane pics into interesting works of art.

Here are a few pics original and Prisma converted pics:

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For more information visit: http://prisma-ai.com/

 

 

India

Wayanad, Kerala

Continuing in the series of being enraptured by India and its beautiful locales we visited Wayanad, Kerala in 2015. ‘Wayanad’ is the district situated in the north eastern part of the state of Kerala and is nestled in the Western ghats . ‘ Kerala’ is ‘God’s own country’ and perfectly lives up to this name. The air is free of pollution and the natural greenery makes it a great getaway for those tired of a hectic city life. Just breathing the natural air makes you feel more relaxed and cozying up on mother nature’s lap is the ultimate experience.

 

Kuruva Island:

We visited ‘Kuruva island’ which is an island which can only be reached by a raft. This island is situated about 40 kms from Kalpetta.  The island is uninhabited and is situated on the Kabini river. Entry to the island is restricted during the monsoon season. The natural landscape of the place is disturbed only by visiting humans and the place is surrounded by lush vegetation and greenery. It is also home to different species of birds. The entire experience of walking the 2 km stretch across the island is an enchanting one for nature lovers.

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At the end of the 2 km stretch is the Kabini river where one can dip their feet in water and relax and have fun.

Banasurasagar dam:

Our next stop was the ‘Banasurasagar’ dam. The ‘Banasurasagar’ dam is the second largest earth dam in Asia and the largest earth dam in India. It is situated at the foothills of the Banasura hill.

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The view from the speed boat ride was a mesmerizing experience and being surrounded by Banasura hills along the speed boat ride was a new one.

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Horse back rides and shopping for new types of plants from the local nursery completed our Banasurasagar experience.

Ayurveda and Kerala:

No trip to Kerala is complete without looking at Ayurveda. Ayurveda and Kerala go hand in hand. All those who seek a different form of treatment move to the Ayurvedic form of  treatment. The medicinal herbs found in the Western Ghats help all those with pains and aches. There are variety of ‘thailams’ like the ‘Dhanavantri thailam’ that soothe sore joints.

The air was  fresh and clean and life was innocent at Wayanad, Kerala. We came away taking precious memories of ‘God’s own country’.

Travel, Michigan, Uncategorized

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Michigan’s climate can be described as beautiful during the summer months from late May to early Sept. Fall slowly creeps in by September with the trees showing off their beautiful colors.Winter sets in by late Nov and the weather can be quite brutal with temperatures dipping to negative readings(in Fahrenheit!) Snow is a common scene in Michigan and sometimes we can see it as early as September.

Mackinac island is located between the lower and upper peninsula of Michigan. It is best enjoyed in the summer months of Michigan because can be quite brutal. It is situated on Lake Huron and is about 3.8 square miles in area.mackinac_thumb3

We visited Mackinac island in 2004 and again in 2009 and enjoyed mother nature at her best. We reached Mackinac island by a ferry service from the lower peninsula. The unique part about the island is that motored vehicles are NOT allowed on the island. To get around the island, we used bicycles or horse drawn carriages. It was fun to ride on bicycles along the Lake Huron shoreline. Both of my kids were young then and it was an exciting experience to do tandem bike riding around the island with them.

The Mackinac island butterfly house boasts of many butterflies and insects and was another good place to visit.

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Butterfly house

 

The crisp, clear and beautiful waters kept us wrapped in mother nature’s glory. We came back with the very popular ‘Mackinac island Fudge’. This place will  always be in my dreams!