Well, it’s been a while since I wrote my last post. This was mainly due to my exams (my university had a grand plan of conducting 10 exams in 11 days, by the end of which my condition was almost reduced to that of a zombie!).
Being an Indian has many perks – celebration is inherently a part of our culture. The second half of the year is filled with festivals, and each of the festivals brings out another facet of our rich culture. Diwali has always been one of my most favourite festivals. The lights, the colourful rangolis and the sweets! Five days of pure fun.
This Diwali was all the more special, as the 6 of us would be spending it with our extended family at Lonavala. We had done our fair share of research and had bought enough supplies for the 3-day vacation. The most interesting part of the plan was stuffing everything we had packed into the trunk of the car. We joked that stuffing everything to ensure the most effective utilization of space required all the engineering knowledge we had accumulated until now!
The night before leaving for Lonavala was even more special – my sister and I picked up donuts for our cousins, and joined my best friend and her brother for dinner at a nearby restaurant. Well, our Diwali had begun with a bang, and this was only the beginning.
Day 1: 9th November, 2015
Expecting about 23 of us in total, we had decided to look for a bungalow. After some effort we had found the best fit for us at Hill Top Colony – a nice and airy red bungalow. It was a two-storeyed (ground plus one) and had spacious 6 bedrooms – two on the ground floor and four on the first. The first floor had a central veranda connecting the four rooms, and the balconies of the two rooms were connected (giving me an excellent idea for hide and seek!). The house was slightly old, but decently maintained.
The six of us reached at about 3pm, and started unpacking the stuff – the fruits and foodstuffs among other things. Soon after speaking to the caretaker and asking him about a few things, we left to have lunch at Rama Krishna restaurant nearby.
My sister and I waited with baited breath for our other cousins to arrive. By evening, most of us had arrived. I was really happy to see my younger cousins Aditya, Ananya and Yash there. I had been discussing the trip with my older brother Akshay for weeks, and was more than happy that he and his parents joined us too. My aunt and uncle from Bengaluru joined us the following morning.
The first evening was really fun. We played Taboo! (which I had downloaded in my mom’s phone) for a while before dinner. I really enjoyed it as it had been really long since we saw them last. We had a simple dinner – parathas with paneer and mixed vegetable subzis. Our happiness was elevated to a completely different level when we got to know that the six of us were allotted a single room on the first floor. We raced each other to it and laughed and played silly games. The last memory that I have of the first day was watching half of the movie Kingsman together, before our laptops gave up on us.
Day 2: 10th November, 2015 – The best day ever!
Well, quite literally, the day began with a bang. I was the first to wake up, and went down to fetch my toothbrush. Before leaving, I put a stopper against the bedroom door, hoping that it would hold. I was unfortunately wrong, as the door slammed against the frame waking everyone up.
We had quite a feast for breakfast. Satish Uncle (Yash’s dad) had a nice surprise for us – crepes. Filled with Nutella, sliced strawberries and figs, and scented with a hint of vanilla, it made everybody’s mouth water. We cousins continued our tradition of having meals at the staircase. I became kinda greedy and stuffed myself until I could eat no more. It was the heavenliest breakfast ever.
We made a new friend there – Rocky, the neighbourhood Labrador. He was visibly old – maybe 8 or 9 years old. His coat was jet black, although there were a few stray strands of grey. We played with him and fed him some leftover food. I have never seen a dog so happy – it came to visit us for the next two days, and played with us all morning long, until he fell asleep. There was another Labrador puppy who joined us for a while. I was sad to not see him again during our stay – maybe he wasn’t really used to having so many people around.
We then moved on to the part of the day that everyone in the family enjoyed, right from the kids to the elders. My sister had been trying to find out the perfect recipe for making giant bubbles, and had asked Hemant uncle for help. Hemant uncle surprised us with two 1-litre bottles of the solution. The solution was really a huge hit among us cousins, especially Ananya. We took barely an hour to exhaust the two bottles completely!
We all spent the next hour playing games and chatting. It was a warm yet breezy afternoon and everything was picture perfect – 20+ relatives sitting and chatting at the lawn, with our dear Rocky fast asleep near the foot of the swing. We played a couple of games. Ananya was clearly the star of the afternoon, as she called out the numbers during Housie (I don’t know how every family outing manages to include a game of Housie!). The next part of the afternoon was spent by my mom and aunts making pretty Rangolis. Inspired by them, Ananya and I made a couple of them too. Although Ananya and I were satisfied with the small piece of art, it honestly was nowhere close to the league of the rangolis that my aunts and mom had made. Well, at least, we get some bragging rights…
Later in the evening we went to the upper floor to finish watching Kingsman and to play Hide-and-Seek. This was the moment I had been waiting for – we had 4 rooms and the balcony connecting two of the rooms. It was the perfect place. And we had a perfect seeker – Ananya! We older cousins had been planning the game with her as the seeker for weeks. According to the rules the seeker must tap all the other players on the shoulder before any one of them does. If not, the seeker has to begin again. We did a sort of double attack – people hiding in groups of 2, so as to take her by surprise. She fell for it about thrice, before realising that something was fishy. She demanded that we play some other game instead, and we ultimately agreed. After a nice treat of vada-pav, we played Apples-to-Apples. My aunt came to call us downstairs just a few minutes before the clock struck 12. The six of us raced down the stairs and soon began the countdown to 12am – Aditya’s mom’s birthday. All of us – uncles, aunts and kids sat together and chatted for a while. It was amazing – cool breezy weather, amazing company of relatives and cold fruits (dragonfruits, oranges and strawberries). I loved every second of it and hoped that the time would never pass. As the clock pointed towards 1am, we cousins went back to wrap up the Apples-to-Apples game and recharge our batteries for the power packed day ahead.
Day 3: 11th November 2015
Once again, I was the first to wake up among the cousins at about 8.45am. Learning from the experience of the previous day, I had decided not to trust the door stopper and decided to lock them in while I went to fetch my clothes from the room downstairs. I had left my phone and portable speaker with my dad the night before as he wanted to play Suprabhatam in the morning. Too bad, I forgot to tell him the unlock code of the phone, and he had to wait for me to come and unlock the phone. I noticed that my cousins had all woken up and started shouting for someone to come and open the door. “Didn’t expect that” I muttered to myself as I raced back up the stairs.
After a delicious breakfast of idli-sambar, we spent a couple of hours in the lawn playing with Rocky. The rest of the afternoon was spent playing charades. We divided ourselves into teams of 3 in such a way that both the teams were equally inexperienced…It was really confusing, irritating and fun at the same time, as neither of the team-leaders were able to explain the name of the movie to the others. We gave up soon after, and went for a nice walk in the evening.
Our walk down the hill was slow owing to the hundreds of goats sharing the road with us. Although slightly scary at first, it was fun seeing the herders guide the goats ahead. When the coast was clear, we sped up. We intended to walk to the sunset point but couldn’t reach there in time. We hence decided to enjoy the evening watching monkeys have corn-on-the-cob. Tempted, we too treated ourselves to the same before walking back to the bungalow. I loved the slight drop in the temperature on the way back. After reaching the bungalow we got dressed for the Puja.
The best part about Indian festivals is that we get an occasion to celebrate – looking our finest and spending time with our loved ones. Lakshmi Puja during the festival of Diwali this year was all the more special. I sang a few of my favourite songs, and was joined by the others. Soon after we had the actual Puja, which was followed by the photo session.
The Lakshmi Pooja was by far the “uniquest” we have had. This was the first time we performed an e-Puja – we didn’t have a photo of the Goddess and hence tried to find different alternatives. The most creative solution had been to use the iPad for the photo.
After the Puja, we sought the blessings of the elders, post which we invited everyone for the photo session, and ultimately the ritual of the grand family photo. The grand family photo was slightly tricky for me – getting a good photo while ensuring that everyone was captured was a task in itself. It took me a few attempts to get the best photo possible. We burst crackers and attempted launching sky lanterns (Even after numerous attempts only one out of the three we bought actually worked).
The most memorable part of the day was the time we spent at Della Resort. We went to Café 24 for dinner. The roads were pretty smooth and the drive was pretty comfortable, although it was dark. Della certainly is one of the most beautiful and well maintained places in the whole of Lonavala. I loved everything about it – right from the way it was laid out to the quality of the service they provided. The first thing that caught my eye was the Swarovski Horse – it looked really grand and heightened the beauty of the place altogether. We cousins grinned as we got a table to ourselves. My aunt Geeta is really awesome – the menu she planned out was just perfect. The dishes served were looked great, and tasted amazing. I loved every bit of the experience – each element in the restaurant had been crafted beautifully and was really innovative. The birthday cake was delicious too – a blueberry cheesecake.
The aspect of the evening that made the experience stand out as compared to the others was the washroom. Until now, I have felt that visiting the washrooms at restaurants is pretty uneventful. In this case, they were kickass! The washroom definitely surprised me and my sister, and we couldn’t help but giggle on our way back to the table. The coolest part about the washrooms were the quotes on the lockers. Most of them were hilarious and had us in splits. Needless to say, the washrooms at Della constituted a major part of our discussion on our way back.
Although it was pretty late by the time we returned, we decided not to sleep early. As we had only a few hours left before we dispersed, we decided to make the best use of our time. We played (and even invented) games. We not only clicked selfies, but also made a couple of silly 5-minute videos capturing the highlights of the year. We finally slept at about 4am, when none of us could stay awake any longer.
Day 4: 12th November 2015
The last morning together was a mixture of sadness and happiness – none of us wanted to leave. We had had really amazing moments together and wished that the time would never end. We sat in the lawn area for the last time and relished the local kulfis that came in a multitude of flavours ranging from strawberry to custard apple!
We spent a decent amount of time packing up all the stuff and loading it in the car. Although not as difficult as before, it was a challenging exercise. We left the remaining firecrackers in the bungalow, and I am sure that they brought a big smile to the caretaker’s kids. We waved to our relatives as they left. Finally we bade bye to the red bungalow and the caretaker Mr. Namdev, for making our stay eventful and smooth.
The trip has been a great experience, and one of the best memories of the year so far. I am looking forward to the festivals next year, so that we can find more opportunities to celebrate together and have a great time.