An Abundance of Tea (#munnardiaries)

Our last day in Munnar was spent exploring the very essence (in a both figurative and literal sense) of what the popular hill-station stood for: tea.

I had spent the entirety of my stay surrounded and awed by the beautiful landscapes, my awe rocketing when I had come to the realisation that it was made up of tea plantations. It seemed like almost every turn around the corner sported a chaiwala or tiny stores selling varieties of tea leaves for excited tourists and locals alike.

I’ve been an avid consumer of tea since I was a kid. It started off with my obsession for Lipton in third grade, when afternoon snacks constituted of the famous Yellow Label bag and Rich Tea biscuits. I started exploring new flavors with ginger, cardamom and peppermint before settling on my constant go-to concoction of classic green tea now; healthy and soul nourishing.

But never had I stopped to question how the steaming cup of goodness actually came to be. Not until our last-day visit to the TATA Tea Museum at Munnar, that is.

The Tea Museum gave me a glimpse into just how much work goes into producing tea for us to happily consume. Machines of different kinds were spread out across the room, all serving their own purpose in the bigger process.

The first thing that greeted us in the room was a line of inter-connected machines with boards on each one reading ‘1st cut’ to ‘4th cut’. Raw, freshly picked tea leaves were put together into the first and we watched as the machines sifted, cut, and finely ground the leaves into tea dust at the end of the line.

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From start…

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…to finish.

But that wasn’t all.

Following the ‘cutting’ process, the minced tea leaves are left to dry in a huge, rather scary-looking machine that heats up to 104 degrees. Call me irrational but I didn’t step anywhere near that hunk of metal, happy enough to witness the magic from a safe distance away.

Around the room, there were informative posters on the benefits of consuming tea with a special focus on green tea. Highly informative but mostly disregarded by the people there who were more absorbed by the age-old machinery around us.

The connecting room to the exhibition had a small stall where people lined up to have a small cup of healthy green tea minus the sugar, honey, or sweet goodness they were used to. Mom, dad and I all got our own cups but having gotten used to the bitter taste, we didn’t so much as flinch while drinking it. It was amusing to see others, though, who were new to the taste make faces and cringe before discarding their cup, still half-full. One look and I knew they weren’t so keen on experimenting with green anymore.

The merchandise shop was filled with tourists, all stocking up on bags of tea leaves. There were so many varieties on the shelves with generous offers like ‘buy three and get two free’. And I watched happily as my mom tossed box after box of green tea leaves that would easily last us a year into our shopping cart before wheeling the way toward the till. Of course, we also got our fair share of other types as well.

What can I say? Indians are suckers for good offers.

And thus, our trip to Munnar came to a flourishing end.

We went back to the hotel, gathered up our things and had a final photo-shoot in the beautiful outdoor garden. I said my goodbyes to the hill-station with a smile on my face and bags of tea in the backseat. I had something to look forward to trying once I got back home after all.

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I’m not quite sure when my next trip will be. Life has got me booked for the rest of the year but I do hope adventure will come knocking at my door. Perhaps, another hill-station to explore like Coorg, or a thrill-ride with friends to WonderLa.

Until then, I have my memories preserved in these diaries to keep me happy and a whole lot of tea to give me company. I think this catchy slogan captures it all perfectly.

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Greater Heights (#munnardiaries)

We started off the next day, bright and early, with a number of places visit on our itinerary.

First stop – Mattupetty Dam. The infamous dam is known for being one of the most essential sources of power for the state of Kerala through its conservation of water for hydroelectricity. The tiny travel pamphlet I had on me also stated that it was a common visiting ground for elephants. Unfortunately, we didn’t bump into any at our time there but again, the view of the landscape and the large body of water proved its magnificence.

Next up was Top Station! The drive to the highest point on Munnar took a while but the cool air coupled with the nature that surrounded us made it a beautiful journey. Luckily for us, despite the telltale signs of rainfall in the sky, the view waiting for us at Top Point was not at all shrouded by the clouds.

1700 meters high, it felt close enough to touch the heavens. Sometimes, you visit places and see things that’ll never quite leave you. That’s what Top Station was like. It wasn’t just the spectacular view that etched a permanent picture in my mind but that feeling of being so faraway from…everything, far enough to liberate me from everything that was waiting down on Earth.

Mom, dad and I spent a good hour there before the growling of our stomachs got the better of us and we decided to head back to town to grab lunch.

On our way back, we made a brief stop at the infamous Echo Point. As its name would suggest, the river bank carries with it the natural phenomenon of an echo coming back to those who shout their lungs out at the spot. There was an abundance of greenery, as expected, with the lake in the middle and tall trees surrounding the forest on the other side.

It was crowded too, with families and kids standing near the edge of the bank and screaming their names, waiting with bated breath to hear their voice echo back to them. I wish I could say I’d shouted something too but I had settled for watching the others do it with a smile on my face.

And of course, without fail, we took a few more pictures there too.

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I think what I took away most from that day wasn’t just the hundreds of photographs or the aesthetic pleasure of witnessing nature at its finest. But the weightlessness of just being.

Living in the city, amidst the rush of life as a university student and surrounded by throngs of people that all have an agenda of their own, I am forced to move along with the crowd and toward a future that I am both excited and scared for. But at that moment, I didn’t feel any of that.

All I did was simply…exist. And sometimes, we need to take a step back and realize what a blessing that is in and of itself.

I’m Still Around.

It’s been a little over a month since my last blog-post, and the reasons for this hiatus are multi-fold (is that even a word?)

Since my return to Bangalore, I’ve been struggling to keep balance of the chaos that has taken over my life again. To think I had actually missed it during the dull, rather monotonous course of my summer vacation, huh? I would give anything to go back to sleeping all day and binge-watching animes now that the stress of senior year has kicked in.

The first couple weeks of college had me busy right off the bat with the start of CIMA classes (this super fancy but tough management accounting course I’m doing). My return to early morning lectures at 6:30 coupled with unhealthy sleeping habits of only four to five hours wasn’t missed at all. Coupled with my determination to keep working on my novel on the side, the constant sleepiness and struggle of juggling everything is proving to be quite difficult.

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My first two Sundays back were spent shuttling to an exam center twenty kilometers away from my house. And in Bangalore traffic, that translates to a day-long journey. Today is the first real Sunday I’ve had off since uni started up again and I’ve spent 99.99% of it doing absolutely nothing.

It’s liberating really – having the looming responsibility of all these tasks over my head but choosing to take the high road and be utterly useless (ha). I’m sure my wise decision to procrastinate will come back and bite me in the ass later, but that’s a story for another day.

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This post is to tell you all that I am very much alive. I can’t make any promises on how regularly I’ll be able to post on the blog as I’m still trying to figure out a working schedule that’ll keep all the aspects of my life in check – studies, family and social ties and of course, my writing. With the former taking up most of it, it’s going to be a challenge. Nevertheless, I shall try to commit to weekly blog posts. I am yet to complete my travel diaries to Munnar so that shall be my first priority!

So, until next time!

Beatrice

 

Kissed by Nature and God’s Mockery (#munnardiaries)

The climb to Munnar was surely a memorable one but what followed afterword was worth all the excitement that had built up. After checking into a hotel and freshening up real quick, we hit the road again. The first place on our itinerary (which was really just a list I’d made on my phone) was Hydel Park.

Hydel Park, often referred to as Blossom Park, was hosting a flower show during our visit. We saw boards advertising the show all over the place and thought it would be good to check it out earlier in the day. Having arrived at Munar around noon, it was the perfect time to soak up the promise of nature’s beauty.

The park, in itself, was rather small compared to Bangalore’s Lalbagh but beautiful nonetheless. We didn’t go on the boating ride or visit the aquarium (having seen our fair share of fish at the Isle of Wight) but we did have a look around at the flower show. It was probably our timing to visit Munnar, and the fact that it was raining on top of that once we got to the park, but the flower show wasn’t as spectacular as everyone had hyped it to be (and by everyone, I mean the Internet). In spite of that, I enjoyed myself there and made sure to take a lot of photos with my parents.

(And here, we have an elephant leaf-sculpture [my English is so pro today]. There’s not one flower show I’ve seen in India without one.)

An hour and couple ice-cream cones later, we were on our merry way to Pothamedu View Point – a super high point on Munnar that has an amazing view of the surrounding hills. However, fate was not on our side. Although it had stopped drizzling, the rain had brought in thick clouds of fog. By the time we got to the place, the entire view which many people had travelled to see (there were rows of cars parked together) was completely covered.

My mom, although she wouldn’t admit to it if you asked her, seemed somewhat relieved. She doesn’t fear heights but the various view points Munnar has to offer certainly didn’t bode well with her – causing a wave of dizziness, and a severe case of frowning. I couldn’t blame her – it was rather scary but for me, fascination took the place for fear. I mean even with the fog blocking the entire view and all.

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Here we have a lone tree, basking in the glory of mist.

None of the photos we took there turned out really well. But I did have a nice steaming cup of cardamom chai. The kind that makes you feel all fuzzy and warm on the inside. It was worth climbing the hill for the fog-view.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to see a waterfall…with no water in it. At this point, I was laughing. The pictures I’d seen on the Internet showcasing the majestic cascade of water flowing down the jutting rocks were imprinted in my mind when I stepped forward to the barren landmark. It was like the universe was mocking me.

You climbed a hill, had this whole movie-worthy monologue about beauty in the broken, only to see a barren waterfall that is basically symbolism for your dead social life at the moment. LAWL. ~ God

Thanks, God. I found it funny too. But of course, we took a few photos in front of it anyway.

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So hooray for empty waterfalls! May the monsoon bless you after our visit. Could you pass a few prayers on for my social life as well? I’m kidding (but not really).

The Climb (#munnardiaries)

When my parents said we’d be going to Munnar, a hill-station located in Kerala and only about four and a half hours away from home, I immediately thought of Kodaikanal – the first and only other hill-station I’d been to before. Boy, was I wrong to have expected it to be the same.

We started early in the morning with packed bags for a three day stay and anticipation for the much needed cool weather we were promised. Madurai was scorching, hitting above 40 degrees, and an escape from the heat was exactly the kind of release I needed. The hunger for breakfast I felt gnawing at the pits of my stomach was washed away by the excitement I felt to visit a new place. I couldn’t remember the last time we’d gone on a trip like this. It wasn’t just an escape from the heat, but a journey to a new setting I’d long desired.

And so it begun. Three hours were spent reaching the base of the mountain, most of which I spent singing along to music playing off my phone, jotting down bursts of inspiration and daydreaming for a good half of it. But the best part was when the ascent begun. I immediately realised Munnar was going to be nothing like Kodaikanal.

For one, the roads were incredibly narrow. Secondly, we weren’t just climbing one tall as heck mountain but several. As a result, the road went around in loops across several connected hills – the kinds that reminded me of a Snakes and Ladder game I used to play as a kid. I found myself rolling back and forth in my seat like an aimless potato with every twist and turn, nevertheless enjoying the view outside my window. And what a breath-taking view it was.

The higher up we went ventured, the chillier and, better yet, cleaner the air became. I could practically feel the air strip itself free from the dark, toxic particles of pollution and turn pure. For someone who has breathing problems, I relished the clean air I started to breathe in. Of course, Munnar remained true to its reputation and as we got closer and closer, the scent of tea leaves mingled in as well.

(Naturally, I had to take a picture amidst the tea leaves.)

As someone who loves her cup of steaming hot chai, I was enchanted by the thousands (I’m not kidding) of tea bushes that surrounded us  I could see women with baskets strapped to their backs, picking with skilled, nimble fingers at the leaves they knew would concoct that ideal cup of nature’s goodness and tossing it into their day’s collection. The people’s love for their land’s fruition was proven further by the several specialist shops we passed by selling all assortments of tea – cinnamon, ginger, mint, jasmine, chocolate (apparently that’s a thing?)

Everything about the climb up to our destination was enchanting – the chilly breeze blowing my hair back, the beautiful landscapes surrounding us, and of course, the company of my wonderful parents to share this journey with me. I started to tune out the music playing in the background as my mind wandered, as it often does at times like these.

The world is filled with so much ugliness, enough to taint us and make us feel smaller than we really are. But there are places like these too, fleeting moments we experience that show us that there is beauty in the broken.

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The climb showed me that if we choose to look up instead of down at the world around us, there just might be something worth living for.

Winds of Change

On my twentieth birthday, I had a realization.

Reflecting on the past two decades of my life, I’ve accomplished a lot I should be proud of. I survived a school life spread apart five different countries, received academic awards and merit for all my hard work, aced my A-levels and I’m currently conquering my way through a triple-degree that’s not as pretty as it sounds.

With one year left of university, I should happily proclaim the achievements under my belt. I’m a Distinction holder with a pretty good GPA, and an Associate of the Insurance Institute of India.I have a Diploma in Management Accounting under CIMA and I wrote a research paper in first year. I’m one of the founding members of my department magazine...yada yada yada. 

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My parents have a huge smile on their face when they speak of me and that’s possibly the one thing that makes me happy – that I’ve made them proud. But none of these achievements give me the pride I should have for myself. I know just how much blood, sweat and tears I put in and yet in the place of pride and joy, I feel a cold numbness. Because all these accomplishments have been on the academic front, for which I had to put my personal aspirations on the back-burner.

I don’t know at what point my academic achievements stopped meaning something to me. I hated being defined by a number. Studying and consuming knowledge in the field of accounting and business no longer gave me the excitement it used to. Despite the sudden monotony my life took on, I didn’t let it bring down my momentum. I worked unfeeling, like a machine, and continued to deliver as I always do. All the while, I couldn’t shake off the overwhelming sadness of not being able to feel happy about the fruits of my own labour. On the outside, it was all smiles and rainbows. My mind, however, had transformed into a hellscape.

Over the past year especially, my mental health took a turn for the worse – my anxiety acted up, insomnia got worse and all of it reflected on my physical health. I barely slept and at the wrong times, ate either too much or too little or nothing at all. Nothing interested me anymore. Each morning, I just wanted to stay in bed because there was nothing motivating me to stand on my own two feet.

I had several personal goals I had hoped to achieve by the summer of 2017. To have my next book released through a publishing house and to have completed the first draft of a new series. To have an active blog and Youtube channel, and to have learned to play the guitar so I could make more of my own compositions and possibly some music covers.

On my twentieth birthday, I realized how much I missed it all. How much I missed feeling something – the excitement and nervousness. How much I missed actually enjoying the work I put into my goals, as an artist and as a student. How much I missed seizing the opportunities I’d had to do something real. I resented how much time I had devoted to certain things, certain people – commitments that did more harm than good and devotion I could have put to better use for my own dreams.

I realized I need to stop and just breathe. I need to decide what is worth my time, who is worth sparing my overly sentimental heart on and stick to my goals. I need to stop living for others and learn to live for myself.

I need to change.

I’m only twenty years old and I still have a long path ahead of me. I will stumble and fall as I have over the past year and I do not need to justify my failures, nor should I rationalise the meaning of my hard work to anyone as long as I know what it means to me. I will  prove to myself that my dreams can come true.

In conclusion, to quote a few lines from Victor E. Frankl’s inspiring book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, “It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”

I am going to punch life’s lights out.
Bring it on!

You Are A Celebration.

Growing up, my mom used to ask me this one question all the time. “What do you want to be in the future, darling?” “A singer! An actress!” I’d exclaim, as a child. She would ask me the same question a couple days later, when I came back home with muddy shoes and dirty clothes, and I’d answer, “I want to save the plants! Can I be an environmental scientist?” She’d smile and nod. Time and again, the infamous question popped up with a variety of answers from my side.

I want to be a writer, momma. A basketball player. A teacher to impart wisdom! A business woman to showcase my leadership. A nanny because children are adorable! An activist for change. 

My answers were never set in stone, and every day, I wished to be something different. To try new things and to live a million possibilities in one lifetime. Yet, every time I voiced a different dream, my mother never shut me down. She’d pat my head in a sign of affection and promise me that I could be anything and everything I want to be, if only I put in passion and hard work.

Growing up, I never realized just how much that question means. But now I do, and I start to wonder if my mom was ever asked the same question and shown the beauty of possibilities. If she was ever given a promise to be anything she wanted to be or have the freedom to choose it for herself.

My mother is a housewife. I say this to the people who ask, and to the people who don’t, because I am proud of her. The reception to this varies from shrugs to the passing, ignorant comment of, ‘ah…so she doesn’t work or have a job?’

Yes. Yes, she does. She creates a space where I feel like I belong. She gives me nourishment to survive, both in body and spirit. Her unconditional love is a gift beyond anything any job could ever give. She sacrificed her dreams, put them on the back-burner, to promise me my own. And in exchange? She asks for nothing, but my own happiness.

You’re right. That isn’t a job. She is a Miracle.

It’s beyond anything that can be restricted to three little letters. My mother is a blessing. All mothers are. All women are. My mother is my best friend, my sister and my role model but mothers aren’t the only women worth celebrating today.

Women who balance their lives working 12-hour shifts and coming back home to their children and husband, to work again and to share their love deserve to be appreciated too.

Women, who brave the scorn of society and go out to fulfill their own dreams by deciding not to get married are not to be judged for not ‘playing their role’ by sticking to motherhood. They’re fulfilling the purpose they set out to do.

Women who defend their countries in war-ridden nations and female activists that fight for a cause with their words and actions…they fight with their every breath to secure the future of the children in the generations to come.

Sacrifice in the form of being a housewife is a gift, yes. But so is every other dream. Because today isn’t just about the mothers in the world but the fighters, the business women, the leaders, the activists, the teachers, the women

We are all warriors in our own right.
We are all cause for celebration.

So, go!

Celebrate yourself!

Celebrate who you are, and what you do because no one, no where can achieve your dreams better than you do.