Thursday Hops #8

So there’s been a lot of talk about a new temple. No, no, I don’t meen the Ram Lalla temple in Ayodhya but a much smaller and humbler temple in our apartment complex.

Originally, it was a temporary structure but at the beginning of the year, donations were collected to make it a bit more grander and permanent. When I had left just before lockdown, work had started on the new temple but it came to a stop during lockdown.

Work resumed when the lockdown ended, and the temple was completed in August. I got my first glimpse of the temple this week, and this is how it has turned out.

Nice, isn’t it?

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When Your Home Is Alone

Last week, I returned home after five long months. All this time, my home had been alone and locked up. Though HarpiyTravel‘s post on returning home after five months kind of reassured me that things won’t be that bad, I was still on tenterhooks till the time I actually stepped into my house. After all, his house is somewhere in USA; mine was in dusty, gritty Delhi NCR.

To make matters worse, there had been ants around for some time before we left. We had been planning to call pest control but hadn’t got around to it. I had visions of an army of ants taking over my house. There was plenty of packed food and tuppeware canisters full of pulses, rice, and flour. And I have witnessed that plastic is no match for determined Indian ants. They have a way of somehow getting into sealed bags and tins.

I was quite nervous when I opened the main door. But no, I didn’t get instantly swallowed up by swarms of ants and rodents. Relieved, we spent the next 15 minutes taking stock before deciding on our battle plan for cleaning up the house.

Rooms – All the rooms looked more or less the way we had left them, albeit with a coating of dust. I had worried, I might have left the balcony doors slightly ajar, letting in rain water that damaged the floorboards. It had happened once earlier, before we had moved in last year and we had recently got the damaged floorboards replaced. But all the windows and doors were tightly closed so the rooms were more or less okay. Still all bed linen would need to be changed and the floors needed to be swept and mopped to make the house clean enough to sleep in.

Balconies – The balconies, unfortunately, were a completely different story. Stagnant rainwater, grime and mud from flower pots had accumulated in the corners. Everything in the balconies was coated with layers of dust. They needed immediate attention.

Plants – I had placed some of my plants outside in the corridor. As our cleaning lady also works in the house next door, I had requested her to water my plants in my absence. Unfortunately, the same day that we had left, our society barred entry of all domestic help in a bid to keep corona virus at bay. So all my outside plants, except Aloe Vera and the hardy Mother-in-law’s Tongue, had withered and died.

I had kept some of my plants inside. I had either double-potted them, with the outer pot filled with water or placed them in trays filled with water. I had then covered the lot with a plastic sheet with some holes punched in and drawn the curtains to let in ample sunlight. I had hoped that this sort of a greenhouse would keep the plants going for the 10 days that I had originally planned to be away. Of course, except for Aloe Vera and a couple of Adina (Adenium) plants, the rest didn’t make it. I especially mourned for the tomatoes, which seemed to have made a valiant effort to survive.

Refrigerator – A quick look ensured that there was no nasty smells emanating from the refrigerator. I had left the fridge on and had kept recharging the electricity meter online while we were away. We decided to tackle the fridge the next day. We had reached in the evening and had to focus on things that required immediate attention.

RO Water filter – Apparently, all the ants in the house had decided to drown themselves en masse in the water filter. A thorough cleaning was required the same day.

The Battle Plan and Follow Through

Day 1 – It was clear that the rooms and the balconies needed a thorough cleaning. The water filter too demanded attention. Finer cleaning, the fridge, and the laundry (all the stripped linen) could wait.

My husband and I spent almost three hours cleaning up the house. He thoroughly washed the balconies and everything in them (my son and I kept fetching buckets of water as he would have made the house dirtier if he stepped back in from the dirty balconies) while I swept and mopped the rest of the house. Meanwhile, my son changed the linen on the beds and dumped the dirty ones in the washing machine. He also emptied the water filter, cleaned it up thoroughly and refilled it. We took a break in between to have pizzas from OvenStory. My son had been dreaming of them all the time we were away. It was a little after 8 pm by the time we finished the cleaning up for the day. I went for coffee and gossip to my friend’s house downstairs before calling it a day.

Day 2 – After starting the laundry, I turned my attention to the refrigerator. I had left a lot of stuff in the fridge as our trip had been kind of sudden. We had planned our trip, then cancelled because of uncertainty on whether the borders would be closed so I had ordered milk and veggies for the weekend. Then suddenly our plan was back on and we had left within two hours. I barely had time to pack so I stuffed what I could in the freezer and left the rest as is in the fridge.

Well, obviously the veggies in the vegetable tray didn’t make it. A cauliflower that had been the size of a football had shrunk to the size of a cricket ball. A big, healthy bottle gourd had shriveled to the size of a long brinjal. The sweet potatoes had died and gone to a rotting hell. The onions and potatoes that I’d left in a basket next to the refrigerator had sprouted and then died. I threw all of these away. Next there were some kind of curries and cooked veggies in bowls and dabbas, which I had cooked the day before we left. I emptied these and washed them up. The assorted masalas like Sambhar powder, Chole powder in the side shelfs looked and smelled okay so I let them be.

Finally I moved on to the freezer. Surprise, surprise, almost all the stuff in the freezer had preserved well. Packets of frozen corn and peas looked completely okay. As did a sealed bowl of meat for our dog. I had preserved methi leaves (which are abundantly available in winter here) in three different ways – ground and frozen into ice cubes; washed, air-dried and placed in sealed bags; and microwave-dried and placed in tupperware box. All three preservation methods had worked successfully. Surprisingly, even the milk packs that I had hastily thrust into the freezer hadn’t gone bad. I boiled the milk to test and it seemed fine. We didn’t consume it as it was after all dairy but it did seem fine. I must say I am favorably impressed with my Samsung fridge.

The next few days – Over the next few days, we did some finer cleaning. My cleaning lady was back so that was a big help. I also planted new seeds in my empty pots. For now, I planted tomatoes, beans, rai (a type of mustard), cheera (red spinach), methi and mooli (radish). I am happy to say most of these have sprouted. I plan to get some new flowering plants in the coming weeks.

New Bean Plants

It’s been a little over a week since we are back, and my home is back to normal and feeling blessed!

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100 Follows!

A heartfelt thanks to all of you for love and support. I started this blog a few years back but never really got around to regular posts. Now thanks to the lockdown-induced work from home situation, I finally got around to posting at twice a week. And all the likes and follows have really charged me up! I promise to continue even when everything returns to normal.

Hope you all keep reading and stay connected.

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Thursday Hops #7

I’m back in the city!

And so for Thursday Hops #7, here’s a view of the city at night.

A Thousand Lights

I know, it does remind you of the iconic song Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds, made popular by Pete Seeger. If you haven’t heard it before, do check it out below.

Little Boxes is a great song. I do identify with it for a certain extent, but this week I must say I was glad just to be back in my little box. After the quietness and isolation of the last five months, the fact that there are thousands of people living within a few minutes’ reach is actually a comfort!

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Traveling to UP in Unlock 3.0

I’d been in Bhimtal, Uttarakhand for the entire Covid-19 lock-down period and then some. There were several reasons for staying there beyond the lockdown period but the main thing that stopped us was transport. We had our dog with us so trains were not an option, even if they had been running. We needed to hire a car but initially there were a lot of restrictions on interstate road travel for drivers as well as passengers.

By Unlock 3.0, the travel restrictions had eased a little though there was still a lot of confusion on whether or not an ePass was required and where to apply for it. Although the central government had said no ePasses were required, most states were following their own rules. For instance, Uttarakhand still required an ePass for travelers coming to the state. Even if you had ePass, you could also be asked to produce a Covid-negative report. A couple of friends coming to Uttarakhand, who had procured both ePasses and Covid-negative reports were still held up for 2-3 hours as they were asked to undergo thermal screening and fill up various forms and declarations.

Hearing all this, we were a bit scared to make the return journey. Who wants all the hassle? But other friends ensured us that things were easier in Uttar Pradesh (UP) than Uttarakhand. Apparently, no ePass was required in UP in Unlock 3.0. But this was not stated explicitly anywhere, not even on the UP website for ePasses. So we gave it a try. The first step was to feed in your mobile number and then enter the one-time password (OTP) you received. We did that and waited and waited. No OTP. We thought this was a temporary glitch and decided to try another day.

Meanwhile, we checked with a cab provider and booked a cab for the weekend. The next day we got the OTP on the second try, but when we proceeded to subsequent steps, they seemed to be all about traveling from UP and not to UP. This seemed weird, shouldn’t a state’s website be providing ePasses for travelling to the state? On a hunch, I checked the Uttarakhand web site. Sure enough, this one was much better managed, and clearly stated that though ePasses weren’t required, registration at the Web site was mandatory for both travelling to and from the state.

Sometime during the day, in a team meeting, some colleagues mentioned that UP had restarted weekend lockdowns from Friday night to Monday morning. The weekend lockdowns had been suspended during Rakhi and Id festivities and we had thought it hadn’t been resumed as in Uttarakhand. We frantically made inquiries about how strict this lockdown was and some relatives and friends said that they had been freely travelling on weekends, with some even crossing the UP-Delhi border. However, I didn’t want to risk it. In India, especially UP, encounters with the police are best avoided. So we changed our plans and decided to travel the next day itself, which was Friday.

We registered and applied for an ePass for travelling from Uttarakhand to UP on Friday. Thankfully, the ePass was approved within half an hour. We asked the driver to be ready the next day at 10 am. The ePass gave me a certain confidence that we were finally going and had the necessary documentation to make it happen. A separate news site had finally clarified that UP didn’t require ePasses so the Uttarakhand ePass would be sufficient.

On Friday, we were all ready and set to go by 9:30 am. The driver too arrived on time and we started at 10:05 am. We had to wait for some time at the Bhimtal Mallital market because the driver wanted to get FASTag so that we could pay at all the highway tolls online without having to wait in line to pay by cash or card. We finally departed from Bhimtal around 10:30 am.

Remarkably, the entire road trip was completely uneventful. Nobody stopped us anywhere on the highway. At the Uttarakhand-UP border, the focus was on traffic coming in to Uttarkhand and nobody minded us. We had all had a heavy breakfast so there would be no need to stop for lunch on the way. The driver too confirmed that he had binged on aloo parathas so that we could avoid stopping anywhere.

About 3-4 hours into the trip we stopped to buy water and some packaged refreshments and to refresh ourselves. The break was only for 10 minutes or so. After that, we traveled non-stop till we reached our home. There was very less traffic on the highway. For the first time, I had a clear, unobstructed view of the Hapur market and Garh Mukteshwar (Garh Ganga). Usually, we pass through these areas at a speed of 30 km/h because of the crowds. We reached our home in Noida by 5 pm, just six and a half hours after we started. Pretty good, I think.

It was really good to be back in the city. Our house was a mess, but that’s another story for another day!

View from our balcony

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Thursday Hops #6

In Thursday Hops #6, a monkey peeping in from our kitchen window….as if to ask “Is breakfast ready?”

A monkey peeps in
Is breakfast ready?

Monkeys are a common sight in Bhimtal. As number of houses increase and forest covers decrease, more and more monkeys are moving into residential areas in search of food. Some people feed them, perhaps seeing an incarnation of Hanuman Ji in them. On the other hand, farmers and those with gardens are forever shooing them off to keep their crops/fruits safe.

Our dog, Cheeku, takes it as a personal insult if any monkey comes within a metre or two of our house. When they come to the kitchen window, Cheeku puts his paws on the kitchen counter and starts barking like crazy. Initially, the monkeys got scared of his barking and would jump off to another roof whenever they caught sight off him. Slowly, they realized he can’t actually jump on to the counter and come close to them.

Then, this one monkey realized that there is a thick glass pane between them so even if Cheeku somehow managed to get on to the counter. Look at the disdainful way in which he is looking down at poor Cheeku! And all that time Cheeku was working himself up into a frenzy.

Finally, afraid that Cheeku would give himself a heart attack, I shooed it away.

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How To Pass Time

Accha timepass hai, paisa toh jo hai so hai. (Hindi)

A neighbour

“It’s a good time-pass, whatever little the money,” a neighbour commented when I told them what I do for a living.

She was relaxing on a bench just outside our tower, taking in the crisp, morning air. I had paused at the bench as the cab-booking app I was using was still searching for a suitable cab for me.

Should I keep quiet like I usually do when people make inane comments like these?

“No, it’s not just time pass, it’s good money,” I retorted. “Besides, I really enjoy what I do.”

What in the world do they mean by ‘time pass’? Time passes on its own, doesn’t it?

So here’s my advice to all those who are looking for ways to pass time. Don’t!

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT spend energy doing something that will happen on its own. Even if you continue sitting on a bench as the world goes by. Even if you curl up and take a nap on that bench. Heck, even if you drop down dead! So there, I guess it’s clear that passing time is not something you need to worry about.

Instead, what you probably need to focus on is learning how to enjoy doing absolutely nothing. Idleness is hugely underrated. It’s all the fault of proverbs like ‘An idle mind is a devil’s workshop‘, etc. etc. which our parents drilled into us. That’s all a scam really. I ask you, where would be today if Newton had been busy attending classes instead of relaxing under an apple tree? Or if Archimedes was a get-set-go type and had not dawdled in his bath? Or if James Watt hadn’t lingered in the kitchen just watching a kettle come to boil? You get the idea, idleness has and will lead to great things.

So do not feel guilty about lolling around in your bed all day, or sitting in the balcony and looking out at trees, birds, or even your neighbors if the houses are built really close together. Enjoy it. Instead of fretting and worrying about this, that, or the other, take a deep breath and enjoy the pleasures of idleness.

Who knows? The next big idea may be floating around, just waiting to plant itself in your mind as soon as you let it relax and be calm.

I am a technical writer by profession, and spend a lot of my time writing “How-To” topics (How-Tos). These are precise, to-the-point, step-by-step instructions for completing a specific task. Frankly, they are quite boring, if you are not technically inclined or simply not interested in that specific task. In contrast, in this how-to series with a twist, I’ll be attempting to give advice on relatively mundane things which you probably already know how to do, but I firmly believe (with absolutely no basis) that I can teach you how to do better.

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A Picnic Lunch at Apollo Bay

Apollo Bay is a picturesque seafood village along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia. Tranquil beaches with great surfing options are the highlights of this coastal town.

Main Shopping Strip at Apollo Bay

Though quieter and smaller than nearby Lorne, Apollo Bay is now a popular tourist place as most Great Ocean Road tour buses, like ours, stop here for lunch. This was our fourth stop after Anglesea, Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch, and Kennet River.

Our bus stopped in front of the main shopping strip at Collingwood Street, which is also Apollo Bay’s commercial centre. There are several nice restaurants and cafes, all overlooking a green grassy front that separates the commercial center from the beach.

Our driver guide recommended the scallop pies at the Apollo Bay Bakery. So we went straight to the bakery, which is famous for its scallop pies and sourdough bread.

Outside Apollo Bay Bakery

A huge stuffed koala sitting on a wooden bench outside The Apollo Bay Bakery displayed the day’s attractions on a board next to it. The bakery offered an assortment of pies, sandwiches and desserts. We got some sandwiches and scallop pies packed so that we could enjoy them at the beach.

Scallop Pie

We then crossed the grass front and made our way to the Apollo Bay beach. There were several sandy pathways leading to the beach.

Path leading to the main swimming beach

The beach was relatively quite, though there were a few swimmers around. Green rolling hills near the beach provided a scenic backdrop.

We chose a spot in the sand and sat down to enjoy our picnic lunch. The sandwiches were great. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite like the famous scallop pie. We had as much as we could and then fed the rest to the birds who had been hovering around us. They seemed to enjoy the pies much more than us!

After our lunch, we strolled around the beach for a while and then returned to the town centre.

Travellers to this region can enjoy the Great Ocean Walk, which is a long distance walk between Apollo Bay and the iconic Twelve Apostles. The Walk extends along the rugged coastline for more than 100 km and is one way (from East to West). The walk is supposed to be spectacular, weaving its way through tall forests, rocky shores, and windswept cliff tops. We would have loved to undertake this walk but couldn’t as we were part of the bus tour and anyway didn’t have time for a 100km hike. We satisfied ourselves with pictures of the starting point.

Soon enough, it was time to return to our bus to continue our Great Ocean Road adventure.

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Thursday Hops #5

Thursday Hops #5 features the Ducks of Bhimtal Lake.

These ducks (well rather their parents, grand parents, great grand parents… get the drift) have been around Bhimtal Lake for as long as I remember. Every day, they swim from this end of the lake to the island in the lake. They spend a lot of time at the island, and then swim across to the other end of the lake, where tourists usually gather to throw breadcrumbs and other treats to them.

Nowadays, the tourists are missing but the ducks still make their daily round. The lake is teeming with fish and, thankfully, the locals continue the tradition of feeding the ducks.

And the ducks still have faith in humanity!

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At Kennet River


After our stop at Anglesea for coffee, the next stop was about an hour later at Kafe Koala, Kennet River.

Our driver guide said that we are bound to spot a koala or two here so we set out after him along a side path near Kafe Koala. And sure enough, after walking less than half a kilometer, we spotted a koala fast asleep on a tree.

Can you spot the koala?

Can you see that lump high up on the tree? That’s the koala! A pair of binoculars would certainly have been handy. It was a wonder how it managed to stay up on the tree while staying fast asleep. Here’s a close-up of the koala.

Close-up of the koala

We did manage to spot another koala on a little lower branch but it too was barely awake. In all, the koala spotting experience was not too exciting. But that was more than made up by the lovely birds that we saw.

A lot of people bye birdseed from the cafe to feed the birds so most of the birds around here were used to having people around. Some even landed on our shoulders and heads!

Mobile washrooms were stationed in the parking lot for those who needed it. The cafe had some basic refreshments but we weren’t particularly hungry as our driver guide had said that we would soon be stopping for lunch.

The highlight of this spot is definitely the colorful parrots and other birds. If you are coming here in a car and have more time at your disposal, you can go for a koala walk or generally explore the Kennet River surroundings.

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