With the past few years being full of changes, 2018 was more about settling in. Our move to Cairo has shaped the dynamics of our personal lives, professional fields, and our travels. Tickets to India being cheaper from Cairo, we have visited my homeland thrice this year, and that was the highlight of 2018 for me. Thanks to Tarek, I have also fulfilled many of my travel dreams and for the first time, after Akash’s birth have gone on trips alone. I must admit, that it was not easy leaving Akash and to get back to being a solo traveler, but then those two trips were emotionally very fulfilling. Interestingly, I also learned a few critical life lessons this year, wasted a lot of money on missed flights, and my pet project of Curry Cooking Club was quite a rage in Cairo. Before I go into being philosophical about growing as a person and gushing over my cooking skills, let’s take a look at all the places we have been to this year as a team i.e Tarek, Akash, and yours truly.
We began our year with a freezing cold January week in Cologne, Germany. It was a special homecoming trip for Tarek and Akash and I tagged along.
Lesson learned from that hectic German week – Do not visit Europe, except for winter wonderlands, in January, if you do not absolutely have to. Most importantly, do not be an excess baggage to your partner and vice versa. You are two bodies and two souls, who choose to be one and not born together like conjoined twins. That is why, most of the times, it’s best for couples to go on some personal trips alone. Distance makes the heart fonder and both the partners have time to focus on their individual priorities. I am carrying forward this one to the next year.
INDIA (WEST BENGAL)
We were invited to one of my closest and oldest friend’s wedding in Calcutta in February. Deepayan and I have been friends since kindergarten and he was one of the last schoolmates to get married. Naturally, it was an event guaranteeing loads of old friends moments, great food, and nostalgia. Tarek happily joined in, and it was his first experience of a real Big Fat Indian wedding. Though being a Bengali wedding, it was without the song and dance routine, our February in Calcutta was spent well. That trip also brought in a new well-wisher in the form of Shiladitya Chaudhuri and he is one of the readers of my blog. Thanks to his gracious invitation to stay at the traditional Bengali palatial house in Amadpur, Tarek and Akash got a glimpse of the beauty of rural Bengal and it was a wonderful homestay experience.
Lessons learned from this one – Old friends are as good as gold and a compatible partner, who likes them is even better. Put them in a mix and you have wonderful memories to last a lifetime. That trip also honed my instincts on interacting with unknown people on social media and I am glad that Shiladitya Chaudhuri came into our lives. Not every unknown person is a terrible leech on social media platforms, and many stable, happy connections are born out those interactions.
This was on a long weekend and Alex totally made me flip with its crazy traffic and unfriendly people. Though, not one of the best experiences of 2018, I still love Alexandria and love the people I went there with. Temperamental, quirky, beautiful, and unforgettable, my travel companions were exactly like this famous coastal city of Egypt.
Lesson learned – Say NO when required. It says a lot of bad blood and memories in the long run.
INDIA (ANDAMAN ISLANDS)
Tarek was lusting after the Andaman Islands ever since he saw the pictures of an elephant swimming in the clear, turquoise ocean. Since we had two weeks for India in February, after Deepayan’s wedding, we flew to Port Blair from Calcutta. We decided to focus only on Havelock Island on that trip and use that time to relax, rejuvenate, and be complete beach bums. That turned out to be one of our best travel decisions and Havelock Island was a lot of fun. We spent our days scootering all over the island, weaving through the hinterland to explore different beaches, swim, and eat enormous seafood dinners in the evening. Akash loved it as much as us and the weather was just perfect.
Lesson learned from Havelock Island trip – Do not be the arrogant, annoying ass who believes they know everything just because they have traveled to more than 35 countries. In Havelock, I must shame-facedly admit, that’s exactly how we behaved, and we threw all caution (plus lifeguards warnings) in the wind to go swimming in the sea. Our poor research and blatant ignorance of the fact, that sea crocs have killed swimmers in those parts may be blamed for our behaviour, but it was only after glorious sunset swims in a secluded beach that we read a big fat warning of the water being infested with crocs, at sundown. What can I say? A major scary face-palm moment which got even scarier when internet search substantiated the news and we were irresponsible enough to put even poor Akash at risk. Yet, another lesson that I am carrying forward for the rest of my life.
Spring came and I revisited India with Akash. This time, Jaipur was on my mind and I wanted to be with my daughter, Noni on her birthday. She is a turbulent teenager at the moment and that brief Jaipur visit was focused on keeping up with her moods and angst. So, sometimes when I had time on my hands, to distract from brooding over my rebellious daughter, Akash and I explored the lovely pink city. We focused on handicrafts of Jaipur, including gem cutting, blue pottery, and traditional prints. My relationship with Jaipur being a very old one, it felt nice to revisit the known places and I was lucky to meet two of my favourite travel bloggers, Arvind from Jaipurthrumylens and Shubham Mansingka of Travelshoebum there. That started my year-long pattern of connecting with fellow bloggers and it is something I intend to continue next year.
Lesson learned – When life gives you lemons, simply make lemonade or travel, if you can.
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The emotional tussle of Jaipur was so much that we stayed grounded at dear friend Anurag Kakkar’s place in Delhi for some days. An adventure travel enthusiast, Anurag has a wonderful Airbnb apartment in Ghaziabad and it felt like home. Once or twice, I met up with more of my favourite travel bloggers and they helped me enjoy Delhi to the fullest. Akash simply lapped up all the attention and suddenly, traveling alone with a baby was not so difficult anymore. Thus, with Sushmita Sarkar of Myunfinishedlife, Sowmiya Kasturirangan of Sowmyashastri, I explored the street art of Lodhi Colony, while Nirdesh K. Singh from Justtripping and Ayandrali Dutta of Scattered Expressions showed me the flowers of Delhi, along with the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary.
Lesson learned – Its much nicer to socialize with like-minded people and be candid, than staying inside your shell.
INDIA (WEST BENGAL)
Akash and I flew east from Delhi with the intention of spending time with my parents. Little did I know, that they would end up being caught with my father’s health and family issues and that we will be left alone, taking care of them. It was hot in Calcutta in April and when Akash started falling ill, we escaped to Darjeeling, the grand old queen of the hill stations. Though that was my second visit to Darjeeling, I have a soft spot for that place, especially since I had spent a wonderful holiday there with my parents as a child. Darjeeling did not disappoint us, and we stayed in a beautiful flower filled homestay in Ghoom. Our days were spent horse-riding, gathering fallen rhododendron and magnolia flowers, and talking long walks through the terraced tea gardens. Darjeeling was a much-needed respite after the emotional stress of Jaipur and Kolkata, and I found myself healing after parenting my two very precious dependants; my daughter and my parents.
Lesson learned – You know that life has come to a full circle when you end up parenting and caregiving your parents. It’s not the easiest phase, especially if you live abroad and your father is starting to develop Alzheimer’s like mine. But then, that is life and my Darjeeling sojourn taught me to replenish my energy first before taking care of others.
Sikkim was a bit of a party spoiler of that trip. We made the mistake of going all the way to Okhrey in West Sikkim and with Akash alone, it was not the smartest, pocket-friendly, or easiest thing to do. Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary was still not blooming, and weak internet made Tarek nervous of our whereabouts. Needless to say, a sudden snowstorm did not help matters much and we rushed to the plains as fast as possible.
Lesson learned – When traveling alone with a child, do not push boundaries of safety or steady communication. There is another person who is completely dependant on you and who will be most affected by your travel mistakes.
EGYPT (ST. CATHERINE and DAHAB)
Akash and I returned to India, emotionally exhausted and travel sore. We figured out that instead of being relaxed, our India trip had taken a massive negative toll on us. Plus, we missed being together as a family and decided to spend a long weekend at the gorgeous Red Sea destination of Dahab. It was a road trip, which busted a lot of Egypt travel safety myths and we stopped by the stunningly beautiful St. Catherine’s monastery before heading to the Sinai Bedouin land of Dahab. That was also the first time that I, overcame my severe fear of water and snorkeled in the exceptionally beautiful, infamous Blue Hole. Filled with rich marine life, the Blue Hole changed the way I looked at what lay underneath the deep blue sea and I am gearing to learn diving soon.
Lesson learned – Don’t judge a book by its cover and overcome your fears, to discover the stunning parts of the world you are missing out. Egypt is a safe destination as long as you travel smart and follow the safety regulations.
EGYPT (THE WHITE DESERT)
This was a dream come true and after a long drive from Cairo, we reached Farafra to visit the surreal White Desert. The experience was spectacular and eye-opening at the same time. While the White Desert did not disappoint me with its unimaginable beauty, the barrage of security measures taken over me by the local police and army was unnerving. Needless, to say, I was the only foreign tourist at Farafra and the experience brought home the reality of Egypt’s recent terrorist attacks there.
Lesson learned – Sometimes its good beyond the scope of travel advisories to discover the truth, and beauty of a place. But, it sure comes at a price, as I learned from the paranoid reaction of the Farafra security missions. There is no smoke without fire and needless to say, a massive terrorist attack in that area made the White Desert off-limits to tourists again.
GERMANY (BERLIN and LUNEBERG HEIDE)
I planned for a quiet mummy-son getaway to Amsterdam this summer and had booked everything when my expiring residency card smashed the plans. Being completely careless, I failed to notice that my card was expiring just a few hours before the departure time of the flight. That was our first set of international tickets which got wasted and it pinched at the pockets hard. Anyway, our summer was spent in Germany, visiting family in Berlin via Luneberg Heide and that was another vacation which completely drained me out.
Lesson learned – Always check and re-check travel documents before going on a trip, especially if involves flight tickets.
A little pottery village, Fayyoum was a great weekend getaway from Cairo. It was right after a horrific accident and Fayyoum was the perfect place for healing. Though we did not visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Valley of the Whales, Fayyoum was a nice break from Cairo.
Tunis came as a fresh breath of life. I went there to visit my friends, Munnie, Daniel and their little son, Matteo. That trip was the second time, I went alone this year and it was something that healed a lot of my heart aches. Tunisia is a gorgeous Mediterranean nation, with deep African- Bedouin influences and French panache. Tunis smells of jasmine and oranges and it is yet another destination, which comes loaded with travel advisories, but is absolutely safe to visit. I loved Tunis and for a few days, I got my individuality back. Now, that felt awesome.
Lesson learned – Everybody needs a break from daily life to get their batteries recharged, soul refreshed, and hurts healed. Taking time for yourself on doing things you enjoy is one of the most important aspects of staying well and this another life lesson that staying with me for good.
INDIA (KERALA and TAMIL NADU)
India will feature for the third time this year and we hope to spend our Christmas and New Year in Kerala (Madurai in Tamil Nadu). Hopefully, 2018 will pass smoothly there leaving no more scars and I can only wish 2019 to be kinder.
Things I want to keep in my life and those I want to lose
2018 was a turning point in which I learned many difficult, yet important lessons. One thing that I am definitely going to do is irrespective of how selfish some people find me, I am going to take care of myself. Life turns harder as we become parents to our parents and nobody knows how deep the water runs, without being in our shoes. The things I can definitely lose this year are the trend of giving my individuality, being a “Know-All” and most importantly, being a constant foreigner. It’s time I go home to be with my people in India and as they say in Egypt; Inshallah! May that day comes fast.
Have a great new 2019 folks. Wishing you all lots of love, peace, and happiness. See you soon in 2019 and stay tuned for lots of brand new travel experiences. Now you can connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for your daily dose of exciting travel experiences.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE