Thursday, 25 August 2011

Ranthambore minus the Tiger

Ranthambore is an all season destination provided one does not have a single-point agenda of sighting the tiger. While summers are ideal for sighting the tigers, winters offer pleasant weather but it is the monsoons when the forest is at its best in its looks. Lush green, scenic, serene, incredibly beautiful and something beyond words. This is what we felt when we visited RNP (Ranthambore National Park) last week.

We took the Dehradun-Bandra express train from Nizammudin Station around 10 pm and reached Sawai Madhopur station next morning at 5:40 am. The overnight journeys have an element of magic in them, you board the train in the night and while you sleep, you get magically transported to your destination. Once at the station, we walked a few meters and then climbed down a small over-bridge. It was easy to get an auto-rickshaw, the driver asked for Rs 50 to go to the Taj- Sawai Madhopur Lodge.

This hotel used to be a hunting lodge for the Maharajas of Jaipur and was built 80 years ago. We were way too early for a normal 12:00 pm check-in time but we were received warmly and told to wait in the lobby while the room was getting ready. The lobby turned out to be a semicircular drawing room, not big but quite cozy. The walls are decorated with stuffed heads of deer, tigers and leopards. We were served tea and biscuits. The lobby overlooks big, nicely maintained lawns. I took a short walk to the lawns and saw a big bird about a foot long. As it flew over my head I felt something was un-usual about it. Perhaps, the wings? Could it be a bat? I had never seen a bat of that size. I called my husband to check it out too.  He confirmed it was a bat. Not just one, there was a colony of bats spread over a few trees. It was amazing to see how the bats would fly for a short distance and on reaching the tree, they would hang upside down. We took a few pictures from my new camera - Canon SX230. I later figured out that they were the Indian flying foxes. An amazing beginning to our trip!
Lawns in front of the lobby

Bats roosting in trees
While we were still waiting, it began to rain. The room was ready and we were driven to the room in a hotel golf cart. Our room was a bit far from the main lobby and the reception area. It was surrounded by trees all around. I loved the setting. While it was still drizzling, I took my umbrella and went for a short walk to explore the surroundings. I had not gone too far when I felt a sudden movement in the grass. Was it a wild animal? For a moment, I was scared. It turned out to be a hare. I saw him hide behind the bushes. When I walked a few steps towards him, he ran and vanished.

From the bats to the hare, all in the premises of the hotel, in the first couple of hours. My excitement level was increasing. I walked around the area. I observed a bird which looked like a partridge. When I walked a little further, I saw some babblers on the ground and also an unfamiliar bird, which appeared vaguely like a chick - but not quite. It was brown in color and had white underparts. I later checked in the birding books and suspect that it was a water hen but I never got an opportunity to see him again in my stay. It began to rain heavily and I came back to the room.

The room was luxurious though not very big. But the bathroom was huge. In retrospect,  in this trip I spent very little time in the room. I was outdoors most of the time. The big trees and the lush green surroundings were very inviting.

Lawns in front of our room

During breakfast time, the staff told us that a limited area of the RNP is open and a safari can be arranged. It was clear to us that tiger sighting was out of question and if we took the safari, it would be primarily for the jungle experience. We had missed the slot for the morning safari, which may have been canceled anyway thanks to the rains. We still had some time to decide for the afternoon safari. Mr Nagendra, the Operations Manager of the hotel came around to introduce himself. He was very warm and helpful and gave us personal attention throughout our stay.

After breakfast, I was out again. I spotted a few parrots. Then a few more. Initially I would exclaim and call my children 'Look Parrots'. But within no time, I realized that the place was completely full of parrots. As I took my walk, I saw that a couple of neem trees were absolutely filled with parrots and they made a lot of noise. I have always enjoyed looking at parrots and I got my fill there. I specifically liked the ones with the rose-pink ring around the neck and the plum headed ones. These parrots are lovey-dovey birds. I mostly saw them in pairs and in romantic moods. I got to see Asian Koel, both male and female from very close. Soon, I learned that the Koels  had a favorite tree and I could always spot two or three Koel sitting there. An amateur photographer with a new camera in my hand, I was trying to take as many shots as possible, when one staff guy called out to me 'Good morning. An owl there'. Immediately I followed him and he showed me as many as three owls sitting in the trees. I could see one smaller one very clearly while the others were hidden by the leaves. I looked at the owlet and he looked at me. He was simply adorable. My first experience of seeing an owl in the wild. Oh boy, did I need to take a safari! I was already in a jungle.

Adorable Spotted Owlet

The upper one is a male rose-ringed parakeet

After an early lunch, we decided to check out the possibility of a safari.The booking office is at a walking distance from the Taj hotel. This could be a major benefit for the peak season. I believe, even after doing the booking on-line, one needs to go to the office to deposit papers before every safari. A hotel staff member accompanied us to help with the booking formalities. Since it was an off-season, there was no option available of sharing seats in a gypsy. The only option was to hire the complete gypsy (all 6 seats) for Rs 3000. I looked outside. The rain had stopped and the sun was out. We decided to take the safari that very day. I am glad we did! It was great traveling in the open gyspy, comfortably occupying all the seats and entering the jungle. Only three zones are open at this time of the year - zone 6, 7 and 8. The zone 7 and zone 8 belong to the Sawai Mansingh Sanctuary at Balas. We were allocated Zone 6, which was the best of the lot. The trail was broken at most of the places and we had to cross streams at many places. In the summer season, these streams are completely dried out, but in monsoons, they are a challenge for the driver. This is perhaps the reason, the canters do not run in the monsoon season.  We had a great driver Mr Mahavir, who knew more about the jungle and the birds than the guide allocated to us. On the way he learned from some forest guards that they have seen a sloth bear. He tried his level best taking us through all the different paths trying to sight the bear but all we spotted were a few holes freshly dug by the bear and more importantly we traversed interesting parts of the park. The forest itself was amazingly beautiful - it was a 360 degrees beauty around us. Lush greenery and lovely water streams all over.
Inside the jungle

Crossing a stream
We spotted many animals- neelagi, sambar, spotted deer, langurs, peacocks and many beautiful birds. My four year old son was completely bowled over by the beautiful peacocks and he kept demanding 'I want to see one more'. We saw painted spurfowl, bush quails, gorgeous golden oriole, Indian blue roller,  treepie, drongos,  magpie robin, laughing dove, greater coucal and many others. I wished the safari would never end. I could spend the full day inside, the night would be a different matter though.

A small waterfall

Painted Spurfowl
Unfortunately, before the safari ended, my camera started showing low battery. While I am yet to debug the problem with the new camera batteries, it was a let down in the middle of the trip. To make matters worse, we were not carrying the charger. The sales-person had guaranteed 500 shots and we had taken only a 100 odd stills and a couple of short videos. This meant, we had to be very selective in clicking photographs from that time.

When we were back to the hotel, the only bird that had left an impression in my mind was the golden oriole. And guess what, next morning, my husband woke me up to show a golden oriole sitting on the tree, right in front of our room.There could not have been a better way to start the morning. I decided to reserve the remaining battery to click the golden oriole.

We decided to visit the Ranthambore Fort on the second day. The fort is actually open from 6:30 am but we decided to take it easy and left after breakfast.  A magnificent fort with an interesting history, standing 700 feet above the plains, in the middle of the RNP, it is known for offering splendid views of the forest. Great! another chance of traveling in the open gypsy and entering the RNP.

The right way to visit a fort is to read the history of the place beforehand. Though I intended to, I did not get time to do so and that is the reason, we decided to hire a guide with us. The fort was founded in 944 AD by Nagil Jats, a branch of Chauhans. The guide told us the story and the legend that go around the most famous king who ruled this fort, Hammir Dev Chauhan. Standing there, I was getting shivers, thinking about the bloodiest battles fought there and the jauhar performed by thousands of ladies. Stairs in the fort have been made for the visitors, originally there were ramps made of stones, to facilitate the horses getting in. Hammir Dev, a direct descendant of Prithvi Raj Chauhan was a brave king who won 12 out of 19 battles he fought during his reign. The reason for the last ill-fated battle was Hammir's givingshelter to Muhammad Shah, who had escaped from the wrath of Allaudin Khilji. This infuriated Khilji,  who immediately attacked Ranthambore fort. It was a tough battle. Finally Khlilji won the battle not out of his bravery but essentially with the help of Hammir's treacherous generals Raitpal and Ranmal, who sided with Khilji.

The guide showed us foot marks of Hammirs' horse on the walls of the fort. Apparently, his generals had closed the door to enter the place and the horse magically climbed up the wall. A legend goes that after losing the war, Hammir Dev, severed his head and put it in front of Lord Shiva's idol.

There are many tunnels in the fort, which have now been closed for the safety of the visitors. There are good viewing points, including one from the Badal Mahal.

If interested, in knowing about Hammir Dev Chauhan and the battle, look here

There is an ancient Ganesh temple in the fort. It has idols of Trinetra Ganesh, his wives Ridhi and Sidhi and his sons Shubh and Labh. The guide told us that the people send the first marriage invitation card to the Ganesh temple by post. People who wish to build a house of their own, build a symbolic house using a few stones outside the Ganesh temple.

We spotted a few more birds including crested bunting, rufous treepie and rockchat inside the fort. Thanks to the low battery, we were not even carrying our camera.

We spent the last day relaxing and with the precious little battery charge, I managed to capture the golden oriole in my lens. The male is extremely attractive to look at, bright yellow and black plumage and an orange beak. It is a rather shy bird and I had to work hard to take its pictures. I also spotted another new bird, called coppersmith barbet, one with a crimson forehead and throat. As the names suggests, his calls have been appropriately likened to a copper smith striking metal with a hammer.

The Beautiful Golden Oriole
Coppersmith Barbet

Before I close, would like to say a few words about the  the hotel. The one thing, that really touched us during the stay was the warmth of the complete team. Right from the cleaning guy to the top management, everyone greeted us with respect and genuine smiles. Even as Indians, we felt humbled by the way the staff would bow down and fold their hands in Namaste. The food was good but not great. But the service was outstanding. On the first two days, there were only 2-3 families in the hotel. They asked us what we wanted to eat and planned the meals accordingly. They have not learned to say 'No' and accommodated all our requests, whether it was for a simple item like boiled potato or elaborate Rajasthani specialty like Dal-Bati-Churma. I loved the fresh sweet lime juice, made from the limes in their own orchards.

The hotel has a neat swimming pool. They have TT table and badminton courts too. What was a hit with my family was their small library which had a decent collection of books. Books on bird watching came in real handy.

Visit to the wild forest and the magnificent fort,  the bats, owls and birds at the Taj lodge was a great experience. I think I will remember this for a long time.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Thank you mother-in-law

Thank you mother in law for not helping me bring up my second-born
         And there is no sarcasm in what I say
Thank you  for not staying on to take care of my kids
        while I went to work each day
For what you have given me, knowingly or unknowingly, is a blessing
        That my soul needed while I never knew
For what I got to live from that point was a life
        About which I had no clue

I brought my second one up on my own instincts
       Little nervous may be, but no real fear
I did not miss the first smile, the first crawl, the first step and the first babble
        All that there was, to watch and hear
I learned and loved to be hands-on everything
        The divine pleasure of breast-feeding, bathing, cooking, feeding and even singing

Leaving behind the guilt that pierced me while I worked after my first born
        I try my best to compensate what was lost by my first one
Being there to pick them from the school or the bus-stop
        Playing, sleeping, even doing nothing with them is great fun

Covering the journey from the board room meetings to bringing up kids
        I have come a long long way
Traveling, painting, reading, writing and bird-watching came along
       Not a bad deal, what do you say?

No achievements at work to boast about
        My personal bank balance does not rise
But for the guilt-free life and the richness of my soul
        It's  not a heavy price

I look back and smile when I remember that time
        And I know the realization may have been slow
But clearly the turning point of my life was
        when you said that 'No'

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Priceless Smile

A few days ago, our car stopped at the traffic light and two girls came close to the window asking for money. My 4 year old son was curious to know 'what they wanted'. He has a lot of questions these days and I told him that they were asking for a 'coin'. I checked my purse but there was no loose change inside. As I was closing the zip of the purse, my son said 'There is a toffee there'. It was a 'dairy shots', which has two small chocolate balls inside the sachet. 'Do you want it?" I asked my son. 'Give this to them if you do not have coins' he suggested. 'Are you sure?" I asked him in case he changed his mind and wanted to keep it for himself. 'Yes, give them', he said generously. I handed it over to the bigger girl and told her to share with the other girl. The smile it brought on her face was something to watch. Together they walked back to a safer place and got busy opening the toffee. No longer were they interested in utilizing the time to beg for more coins. I loved the busy look on their faces, the bigger one trying hard to open using her teeth and the younger one looking at her constantly in anticipation of the treat. 'Good Job' I told my son, feeling thankful to him for the smile he brought to the girls.

Rakshabandhan Rocks

The concept of 'Mother's Day' and 'Father's Day' is as alien to me as 'Diwali' is to any American. Though these adopted festivals have picked up acceptance in India, the age-old traditional festivals have an exclusive special place in my heart. If I have to explain Rakshabandhan festival in simple words to someone outside India, it can be described as a 'Brother and Sister Day'. But for us Indians, it is much more. It is the 'celebration of the bond' between a brother and a sister. It is not merely sending an 'e-card' or a phone call. There are a lot of 'feel-good' rituals that go with it too.

For my kids, the meaning and depth of the relationship is not yet understood, for them it is about getting a 'mickey mouse rakhi' or a 'car rakhi'. It means eating chocolates and getting gifts. But for us grown-up's it is an entirely different feeling.

Consciously keeping away from the recent commercialization of the festival, I was happy to chose a 'traditional Kurta' to gift to my brother. I know he loves the kurtas from the 'Handloom House', so it was an easy task. I spent sometime selecting from the choice of available designs of Rakhi. I know he is choosy about what to wear and what not to wear even when it comes to a rakhi. That's how he is and I tried my best to select what he would like. I selected a couple of them, before I came across the 'sandalwood' rakhi. I knew he would love it and picked it up too.

Unfortunately, the chocolates that I had picked up got melted by the time I reached his house in Noida. More importantly, he was very disappointed that I had not brought the traditional sweets. I was speechless for a moment. Suddenly a lot of our childhood memories flashed through  my mind. When we stayed in Gole Market, my mother used to send us two to the 'Bangla Sweet Shop' to bring the sweets of our choice. I have seen my brother go through the different choices on display with lot of interest and almost always he would decide to buy an assorted collection of as many bengali sweets as possible. 'Buying and eating sweets' was half the fun of the festival. Adulteration in sweets and 'health consciousness' has taken away the biggest pleasure of festivals.  But I felt guilty. Next time, I am celebrating the festival with traditional sweets, even if it means making some at home.

My mother advised us to stay away from 'expensive gift exchange'  and we agreed. My brother took me out to the Mall to buy me a 'kurta-churidar'. It was lovely to go out with my brother, while my husband and bhabhi took care of the kids at home. This was the perhaps the first time, we went out shopping together after years. I am an un-usual woman who gets stressed even at the idea of shopping and it was such a pleasure to have my brother select the dress for me. I simply went by his choice. The dress he selected is very beautiful white and golden in colour. What is more important for me is that when I will wear it, I will be wearing the 'love' with which he selected the dress for me.  I felt like the most special sister on that day. That's the reason, I love this festival. It simply rocks.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Birthday Party Games for kids - What do they teach?

 This post was selected for blogadda Spicy Saturday Picks

Have you ever stopped and looked at the kind of games our children usually play at birthday parties? Fortunate to be in the parent-family of a school, which has a different school of thought, I am learning to question before adopting any standard practices. It amazed me no end to see how these common birthday party games are structured to promote development of qualities like 'Winning', 'Getting Ahead', 'Asserting' and 'Grabbing' too, starting with kids as young as 3 or 4 years old.

I felt especially uncomfortable with the concept of 'elimination' and 'winning'. Come on, competition at this stage! To begin with, it is difficult for a 3 or 4 year old to even grasp the rules of a game like musical chair. And I have found it almost impossible to answer a child 'why he has to go out of the game just because he could not run faster or could not comprehend the game rules or could not grab a chair fast or had to release the chair because someone else pushed him'. I have often seen the parents of the eliminated child desperately struggling to console him/her and trying to reason out, while the game continues with other children. I personally feel scared when the children start running and pushing each other, all to grab a seat as fast as possible. I am not sure what are we teaching the child through this game especially at this stage of life.

Then there is this game where the host throws a lot of straws and children are encouraged to grab as many as possible. The one who can grab the maximum is declared the winner and gets a prize. What did we teach the child- 'Get ahead and Grab'?

There is also this 'Khoi Bag' practice where a  paper bag filled with goodies (toffees and small toys) is hung at an upper level. Children gather around the bag and the game organizer pierces the bag. A mad scramble follows, as the children try to collect as many goodies as possible. This is the 'literal loot game' with no pretence. Do I need to say more?

When I celebrated birthday for my son (4 year old) recently at Pizza Hut, I tried to stay away from the competitive games as far as possible. I explained to the host that there will no winners and no prizes. We played many rounds of 'musical statue' with the kids without any elimination. We explained the rules to the kids and helped them to be still for a count of 5. They had lot of fun and I did not feel there was any natural urge in them to win as far as they were having fun. The game helped them participate together, have fun and and also learn to 'concentrate'. Then my sister-in-law suggested a game of 'balloon race'. I would like to rename it to 'balloon walk'. The children were told to place a balloon tucked inside their legs and walk slowly, making sure the balloon does not fall out. The children were allowed as many tries as they wanted. They were having fun as there was a challenge involved. They were also learning to 'concentrate and balance'. After a few minutes, something strange happened. The Pizza Hut host suddenly tried to convert the game into a race and helped one boy walk faster and declared him the winner. Not only this, he gave him a prize on his own. All this happened so fast that I could not intervene to stop him. I was really upset. Luckily too many children did not notice or get concerned. But I could immediately see how difficult it is for society to change. That guy was finding it very hard to digest how a game could be played without declaring a 'winner'. Perhaps he thought I had been sloppy and had not arranged a prize so he went out of the way to give something from his own stock.

I had requested my 10 year old daughter to take charge of arranging other activities for the kids. My kids refused to call in a tattoo-maker, though I could not see why. She asked me to arranged for papers, crayons, stickers and clay for the children. The kids had a good time playing with all of these. The stickers were used in a variety of ways - from decorating the balloons, to making cards and even for making tattoos on their arms, which kids did on their own. All this without any winning, losing, looting or grabbing!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A Trip to Pondicherry

It's been more than a year we visited Pondicherry but even today, the memories of the trip bring a smile to my face. Such was the charm of the place that I am happy to re-live the trip in my mind while writing this blog. A beach vacation is our family's favorite getaway. Having been to Goa and Kerala earlier, we decided to explore a new place by the sea, this time on the east coast. Situated around 250 kilometer from Chennai, Pondicherry looked suitable for our 'sea-side' vacation. Further, I was intrigued by the spiritual flavor of the place and was enthusiastic about visiting the Aurobindo Ashram. Having been through a couple of bumpy plane rides, my husband has been completely put off the plane journeys and he suggested we travel to Chennai by train. I am not used to such long train journeys, it meant two nights and a full day in the train. But I decided to take the plunge. The train tickets were booked. Surfing the net, we came across Auroville Transport service. It was great, we could book a cab online to pick us up from the Chennai railway station and drive up to Pondicherry. Next step was to book a hotel. After surfing the tripadvisor reviews, we selected Ashok Beach Resort. There were two main points in favor of this place - 1) the proximity to the sea and 2) the rooms were air-conditioned.

Auroville Transport Service -
You can fill a form on-line or contact them on phone no mentioned in their site

Ashok Beach Resort -
Online Booking is possible

We traveled by the Tamil Nadu Express which starts at 10:30 pm at night and after a journey of around 33 hours reaches Chennai in the early morning.We booked first A/C . Since the fourth person did not turn up, we had the full cabin to ourselves. I realized it was a lovely opportunity for the family to spend the time together chatting, playing cards, telling stories and reading books. The meeting point for the Auroville Transport Service guy had been set up as the Higgin Botham Book Stall at the station. At the end of a long tiring journey, it was nice to be received by somebody waiting for you and all set to drive you to your destination. The journey from Chennai to Pondicherry is on the East Coast Road and is a pleasant and scenic drive. We stopped on the way at Motel Mamalla for a hearty breakfast comprising of Pongal, idli and vadas. The pongal served was heavenly in taste.

It took us nearly 2.5 hours to reach our destination, the hotel Ashok Beach Resort. When I walked around the place, I could not help noticing that the wall paint was fading at places and the swings in the children area were partially broken. In the uncomfortable hot and humid weather of the month of June, the absence of a swimming pool was also hurting. Did we do the right thing by booking Askok, there were more luxurious choices available? Our room was a sea-facing air-conditioned room on the ground floor. It wasn't luxurious but very comfortable. The view of the sea from the room was refreshing and inviting. The sea being so close, we immediately walked up to the beach. Standing by the vast sea, I felt the wind in my hair and watched the waves taking form and breaking rhythmically. Just looking at the waves brought a sense of tranquility to my soul.

We went to the restaurant for lunch. The food was delicious. We especially enjoyed their soft chapatis 'phulkas'. Makhani Paneer was a big hit with my kids and they wanted it practically at every meal we had there. We also liked their sea-food preparations.

In the evening, we were back to the sea. Gradually I realized what a bliss it was to be so close to the sea.In the next four days, I got a chance to watch the sea at different times of the day - under the early-morning rays of the sun, in different hours of the day, at dusk and even under the moonlight. At the end of my beach holidays, I have always felt I did not have enough of the sea. Here, I was, soaking the sea inside my soul all through the day. We took bath in the sea, we played with the water, we collected shells and we made sand castles. When we were not inside the water, we lazed around in the hammocks reading books and hearing the sound of the waves in the background. The hammocks had been placed under the tall coconut trees. One doesn't really get around to looking at a tree from its bottom - it is lovely to look at the the blue sky peeping through the green leaves.
Hotel Lawns
The Beautiful Sea

Hammock under coconut tree
View of the coconut tree while lying in the hammock

On the second day, we decided to visited the Aurobindo Ashram. Children below 3 years are not allowed inside, so I took my 9 year old daughter inside, while my husband roamed around outside the ashram, with my 2 year old son. A very calm and quiet place, filled with the fragrance of the hundreds of flowers laid on the samadhi. Having seen the samadhi, I stood there wondering, what next. One volunteer walked up to me and said 'There isn't very much to see here. Just feel the place". I did find the place very quiet and serene. "Very peaceful" I replied. "It is a paradise on earth" he said "Believe me". I was amazed to hear his feelings about the place. I spent some time inside, talking to another volunteer who advised me to include a visit to Matramandir (at Auroville) in my trip. I picked a book on the life of the Mother before leaving the place. Coming out of the ashram, we took a short stroll in the promenade area.

Next day, my husband volunteered to take care of the kids at the hotel and suggested that I make a short visit to Matramandir. Whatever little I had learned about Auroville, it appeared to be a very unique concept. Auroville is a univeral township in the making for around 50,000 people around the world. The current population is around 2000 people.This idea originated in the mind of the Mother in the 1930s. The township is divided into multiple zones. The meditation place is in the Peace Center, comprising the Matramandir and its gardens, the amphitheater with the Urn of Human Unity that contains the soil of 121 nations and 23 Indian sates.

The hotel staff helped in arranging an auto for me. It took me about half an hour to reach the place. It is around 10 km north of Pondicherry. At the information center, I figured out that it was mandatory to see a short video presentation about Auroville.  Thereafter you have to walk for half an hour, pass through a very old banyan tree on the way and go through a forested area. I must have walked for about half an hour before I reached the place where I climbed a small hill and there, I could see it, the very beautiful Matramandir. A golden metallic sphere, appeared like an architecture marvel. The visitors are allowed to view it from a distance only. You need to visit Auroville information centre a second time if you want a visitor's pass to see the Matramandir from inside. I could not get to see the township or explore any other parts of Auroville and to be honest, I came back feeling confused.

A staff guy at the hotel had casually remarked that on some days it was possible to see dolphins while sitting in the hotel room. Whenever I looked at the sea, I wondered if this could really happen. May be it would happen on a cloudy day. May be on an early morning. Secretly my eyes would be on the look-out but no such luck. On the fourth day, we were taking bath in the sea almost like a routine. It was a bright sunny day. By now, I had learned to get a little deeper in water rather than getting wet only up to my knees. My son was still trying to come over his fear of water and by the fourth day he was ready to let his feet get soaked in the water. After an hour or so, I came out with my daughter and she requested me to join her in making hills and tunnels out of the sand. After a few minutes, when I looked up, I felt a sudden movement in the water. Was it the dolphins? I screamed and my husband looked in that direction too. A school of dolphins was around, they were getting in and out of water, causing a good deal of commotion in the water. Though they were not very close, we could see them clearly. It was an amazing feeling, sharing the sea with the dolphins. I could not have asked for more on my last day.

In the evening as I sat with my kids, with my feet deep in the sand, watching the rhythmical sea waves form and break, I had only one thought in my mind 'Paradise on earth, Believe me"

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