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It all started with a dream, a dream of sharing what I love the most, with the person I love the most – my sunshine boy, my baby – my son!

It has been 6 years and beyond since I started my love affair with the Himalayas. Their call is impossible to ignore and I make the yearly pilgrimage to feel amazed, humbled and grateful in the lap of the mighty mountains.

I wanted to bring my two worlds together. I wanted my boy to walk these tough paths with me, to experience the beauty and the roughness, a life without walls, a life where needs are reduced to the very bare minimum – eat, sleep, walk… and ….I dared to dream up a trek with him…

The dream was not without its share of second thoughts..actually hundreds of them..was he too young to take on a Himalayan trek? Was I pushing him too hard for a dream that might turn out to be entirely mine? What if he hates trekking forever? What if he throws a tantrum in between? What if he hates the trek food? what if….what if…the list continued and yeah I have a very lively imagination too…

But the dream refused to go away and hesitatingly I put across the idea to my trek gang..naaa..my trek family. The response was unexpectedly beautiful! Nagu, was the first one to say that she would come with me and my son on whichever trek I chose! This gave me the courage to move ahead…As time passed, I was undecided between Kedarkantha and Deoriatal Chandrashila (DC), both scenic, about the same altitude – around 12500 feet. Yashu, my trek sister and partner in all treks Himalayan, said she would be willing to do the DC trek and so it was DC and by the end of a week or so, we had a motley gang of eleven people – some experienced trekkers, a few newbies and one eight year old boy! We registered with India Hikes (this is not a sponsored article and the views and opinions are strictly personal.)

Off we went…First stop – Delhi, where both me and my son were showered with love and great food by soul-sista and her wonderful husband! It was a short time but she filled my tummy, my heart and also insisted that I take a much needed nap! Her generosity and love has filled and continues to fill my life from the day I met her and I am ever so grateful.

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From there it was a night time train journey to Haridwar and my kid was a champion traveller! He was off like a light bulb the minute he hit the sleeper on the train and Sunil, my brother from another mother 😉 and I took turns sleeping, sitting next to the lil traveller sound asleep and swinging his legs around and trying to play football in his sleep!

At Haridwar , we had the IH vehicles ready to pick us up and off we went on a ten hour journey to Sari, our base camp. Sari is a small scenic village, with houses covered with stone tiled roofs and a single school where you can catch cherubic apple cheeked kids playing around!

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DevPrayag – enroute to Sari

We had a hearty dinner and a crash course on trekking form our trek lead Venkat and assistant TL, Umesh. We were introduced to the other participants in our group and had all our questions answered. I could see my son raptly listening to every word uttered and I am sure he had already started learning a lot! Rishi also met up with his trek buddy, a ten year old bubbly, inquisitive, precocious boy – Shreyas.  Shreyas and Rishi’s friendship was cemented with the exchange of a scooby (stuff that you tie to the bag zipper – very cool in an 8 year old boy’s world apparently!) and some chocolates!

I was up early at Sari the next morning and managed to catch the sunrise light up the mountain peaks all around into golden tips and also got a glimpse of the summit of Chandrashila – the moon rock! I remember the small mynah like birds and the fat sparrows calling out to their mates….it was such a welcome change from hearing the honk of a lorry the first thing in the morning!

Yummy breakfast later, we left for our next camp – the lovely Deoriatal lake. According to the legends of yore, It is the lake of the gods, the lake where the eldest Pandava answered the questions posed by a yaksha and through a very generous and just choice, managed to save all his brothers. This is a very pretty spot , with undulating meadows and a mirror like lake, placid and deep, reflecting the many peaks – like the Chaukambha, Nandadevi and the Neelkanth in its belly! It was an easy hike to this picnic-y spot and Rishi, my son was able to get his first feel of outdoor camping, sleeping bags and the notorious toilet tents here! He was like a happy pup, rolling around in the meadows and playing with abandon!

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He struggled to go to sleep in the unfamiliar surroundings, but after keeping me up for a good part of the night with stories of Nobitha from Doremon, he went to sleep only to wake up full of energy and batteries re-charged!

The second day was what I had been dreading. It was to be a 14 km hike through steep ascents. I was sure that my son was physically fit to do this, but was very skeptical if he had the mental stamina to complete this arduous and taxing climb. But then, we were in trusted hands, Umesh, Bhupi and Pratap from the Indiahikes team, helped him whenever he was about to give up! Umesh, who I suspect is not a great singer, offered to sing for my son as well ;).

We passed through dense rhododendron forests, the floor carpeted with the red rhododendron flowers! Did you know that the rhododendrons change color with altitude??! They became paler as we climbed up, turning a pale pink by the end! The red, low altitude ones are eatable, however, we were warned against eating the pink ones!

Then came the oak forests – with silver/green and brown oaks and the very beautiful Rohini Bugyal (Bhugyals are meadows). My friends Yashu and Sunil helped him cover some more distance with promise of a Frisbee match at the campsite! Bhupi, teased my son about all his non-existent girlfriends and helped him reach till Akash Kamini – a small rivulet with crystal clear water, where we had lunch and rested for almost an hour. Here we cooled our feet, filled our tummy and bottles and headed off to Chopta with a burst of renewed energy!

Chopta campsite was beautiful…huge undulating green meadows, a few abandoned shepherds’ huts, trees surrounding the meadow from all sides and then the majestic mountain peaks all around us! The sunrise and sunsets were definitely beautiful. However, the best part of this campsite was the moon rise for me. From beyond the mountain peaks, the big , friendly yellow moon would rise and shine so bright, that I could walk around in the night with no torch! we were lucky that we camped here on the full moon night and when I got up in the middle of the night, the stars and the moon were such a cool, benevolent presence, calming me and taking away all the worries and tensions of life. Most of us slept well and woke up rejuvenated the next day.

Day 3 was an easy one, we just traipsed around the campsite and trekked a very short distance to what the guides called the view-point – a cliff with amazing views of all the major peaks. Here we rested, talked and the talented few in the team sang songs. We came back by lunch time, had yummy food and oh I forgot to mention…all the food tantrums I expected never really happened…the plate was empty every single time!

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Since the next day was the summit day, we were supposed to be up by 3 AM and hence we all had an early night by around 7:30 PM.

Day 4, the much awaited summit climb began at 4:06 AM. we were armed with micro-spikes, water bottles and head torches. This is a gradual , not so difficult ascent on well made roads till the Tungnath temple. Rishi was a champ and managed to be in the lead for the most part of the ascent. Our energy levels were boosted up at the temple with the packed ‘raamdaane ki laddoo’. This was very delicious and I am going to hunt down the recipe for sure!

After Tungnath temple, starts the slightly challenging ascent with roughly hewed roads, in between boulders and a rather dry landscape. the snow-line also starts after the temple and unfortunately we didn’t get much snow and hardly had any use for the micro spikes that we were carrying…

We reached the summit, which has another smallish temple surrounded by a lot of piles of flat stones stacked on top of each other – very much like in our game of lagori! Our guides explained that these were ‘mannats’ – symbolising wishes made in front of the divine.

At the summit we had a lively snow fight and lot of pictures and our lunch which consisted of aloo paranthas. From here it was an easy but long-winded descent till Chopta. Once we reached the campsite, it was time for lunch, games, some more photos, rest and the much awaited certificate distribution.

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Rishi and Shreyas both received the spirit of trekking award and this I think would be a memory and a confidence booster that he will carry throughout his life. I had never before seen his face light up that way or seen him do a happy jig!

Then it was some more music, dance and we also learnt the zen like Ghadwali dance, courtesy, Umesh! The trekkers from UK who were part of our team also joined us in dancing to the mad medley of Tamil/Hindi/Ghadwali/English songs!

Next day we headed back to civilisation with memories galore, new friendships sprouting – (Seema, Santosh, Satish, to name a few), old bonds strengthened and a promise made to oneself to keep coming back!

It was back to Sari-Haridwar-Delhi, a small stopover at my friend’s place, good food, love and rest and then a flight back to dear old Bangalore!

Was it the most beautiful, most challenging or the most exciting trek ever….the answer would be ‘NO’, but it was the most memorable one for me!

It was a trek where I was able to bring together two very important aspects of my life – motherhood and trekking and to be able see my son trek with passion and confidence and joy was a gift in itself!!

This is only a part of the story…we will always remain indebted to the cooks, helpers, support staff, the guides, friends and so many others who made this journey possible for us.

Sometimes dreams do come true and a few times, reality ends up being better than what one could have imagined!

Photo courtesy : Thirtharaj B.M , Yashaswini Ramamurthy, Vandhana and Aishwarya.

It is just my Ice-breaker speech for toastmaster. It seemed like an overall good show, except that I got a bit emotional in the part where I described my son’s birth. It embarrasses me no end that I stood on a stage in front of around twenty people and got emotional, but I did get good feedback. so maybe, emotions or not, it did work in my favor!

Recording it for posterity! Speech below:

Hello everyone…You see, while I have always loved these opportunities to develop and express myself, I have never overcome the nerves that accompany them. Apparently, as people have told me, I’ve learned to hide it well… But, for me, it isn’t enough to look calm. I want to actually be calm when I deliver a speech or a performance. I still enjoy standing before a group, even with the shaky knees and sweaty palms, but I know that I could enjoy it that much more if I weren’t so nervous and that is the reason I stand in front of you all today to deliver my Ice-breaker speech.

 

My ice-breaker today is titled MAPs.

Regular maps have few surprises: their contour lines reveal where the Andes are, and are reasonably clear.

More precious, though, are the unpublished maps we make ourselves, of our city, our place, our daily world, our life; those maps of our private world we use every day;

Here I was happy, in that place I left my coat behind after a party, that is where I met my love;

I cried there once, I was heart sore; but felt better round the corner once I saw the hills of Fife across the Forth, things of that sort, our personal memories, that make the private tapestry of our lives.

 – Alexander McCall Smith

 

I would like to take you through a couple of major highways in my life’s map – things which changed my perception of life and made me a better person.

One was the birth of my child. My world was centered around myself before this and I thought I knew what love was. My baby made me realize that wonderful happiness comes your way when you give, care and love without any expectations or wanting anything in return! He definitely taught me major lessons in patience for sure! The second one was and continues to be trekking. I have done a few treks in and around Bangalore, Western Ghats and 6 treks in the Himalayas.

 

I completed my trek to roopkund – in Chamoli district in Uttarkhand about a month ago. This was the toughest and had the maximum altitude to which i have climbed so far – 16400 odd feet!

Just before we had planned to leave for Delhi, there had been flash floods and cloud bursts in Uttaranchal, especially in Chamoli district where we planned to trek. Everything was hanging in balance and that was a lesson in itself of patience… I learnt to wait, to trust the unknown and hope for the best. Treks have been magical for me. It provides me and a lot of other people to connect with themselves and nature. During a trek your life gets stripped to the bare minimum necessities. Mobiles don’t work in the mountains and the batteries run out due to the extreme cold. Food truly becomes a necessity and not a luxury. The cravings we experience here for chocolates and ice-creams somehow disappear there! After a long and arduous climb, getting hot dal and chawal will seem heavenly. You appreciate the effort that goes into making early morning black tea! A pack of tiger biscuits never tasted better than when shared amongst fellow trekkers, while taking a small breather on a steep incline! Everywhere your eyes roam, you get to see beauty. Mountains kissing the skies and trees that seem to be in an endless competition with them. Vast stretches of beautiful white snow. Walking on a glacier is something to be experienced to be believed.

During the kedarkantha trek, we decided to slide down 50-100 meters of steep descent and believe me when I say that this gave me more of an adrenaline rush than all the wonderlas and waterparks! But the most beautiful and peaceful sight is the night sky -Black velvety sky lit up by zillions of stars and the Milky Way snaking in between them. Star gazing on a clear night with absolutely no light pollution from artificial lights, gives you that moment of pure elation and you feel one with this vast universe.

I have met so many interesting people on treks – A world famous botanist, a great guitarist and so many ordinary people like me who all have extraordinary stories! On the Valley of flowers trek-incidentally my first trek, I was trailing behind everyone and just wanted to give up at one point. I was buoyed forward by a group of Sikhs on their way to Hemkund Sahib (they seem to be exceptional people). They helped me keep moving with the chants of ‘Satnam Vaheguru’ and glucose powder. There was an old man, around 80 years old probably who helped me cover almost two km with his stories about Sikhism and Guru Gobind Singh. I have nothing but respect for this warrior clan who helped so many of us during our way up and down. As I walked past them, I met up with a couple of Bengali babus, who told me ‘tea khabhi’ and then had the grace to laugh at their own Hindi and made wonderful company for a couple more kilometers. I was resting for a while, when it started pouring and I realized that I had left my raincoat in my solo journey. But as if someone had heard my thoughts, from the mists materialized my friend from sixteen odd years with my raincoat. From there on it was him and me and the mist walking in tandem to the pitter patter rain and the sound of our breathing. It is always an amazing feeling to finally reach the summit, to know that I am greater than my limits and the mental barriers that I had set for myself. The only parallel I can draw to this experience is very clichéd and probably cheesy – delivering my baby boy–where I yelled for the doctor to cut me open and end the pain, while he yelled right back at me to keep pushing. In the end the pain was gone and I had a perfect baby in my arms….this trek was almost as magical as that for me…and that, is saying something!

Before I started trekking, my perception was to conquer the mountains; you know…the planting your flag on the summit sort. But nothing could have been farther from the truth. I was the one who was conquered and in letting myself be conquered lay my victory! I know it’s grammatically incorrect, but “Yes! I dind it.” Well that’s how Rishi, my son used to put it when he achieved anything that is extraordinary for his little hands. And that’s what I think and feel every time I reach the summit! I want to go down on my knees and give thanks to the majestic mountains, the gurgling streams, the thundering clouds, the angry river and the unpredictable rain for letting me complete this journey. I feel humbled and grateful and elated all at the same time. This I think is as close to a spiritual experience that I will ever get.

I started with a quote and I feel it is only fitting that I end with a quote form one of my favorite authors – Maya Angelou….

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all people cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.

So friends…as Ruskin Bond says –

Out of the city and over the hill,
Into the spaces where Time stands still,

Cast away care and come roaming with me!

I have been doing little experiments with myself! Half of my friends are going to snigger and the other half will get worked up and worried. But there it is…I should probably call it “My experiments with truth and other stuff” (as pompous as it sounds, I will risk it!).

I have been trying to push myself out of the comfort zone. To go out there and live. To be excruciatingly honest with myself and others in my immediate circle. To find new experiences, to discover different ways of doing the same thing.

I deactivated my Facebook account. It suddenly hit me one fine day as I liked and commented on a friend’s baby photo that our relationship had become virtual. I no longer had her number and in the days of yore I would have at-least called her and spoken to her. I wanted to push myself to make that sort of effort with the people in my life.But am I going to be off FB forever? Honestly, I don’t know! (I am getting more comfortable with the ‘I-don’t -knows’ and the ‘maybe-s’ in my life.)

I had a very honest conversation with a long lost friend and found that brazen, blatant, honest conversations provide you with a peek into your own self. I want more of those!

I also turned around the attention that I was giving others and the problems in my life onto myself. Books that I love to read, people that I want to be with and it was difficult learning to put myself first. That too, I discovered comes with practice! It is something that I know I need to inculcate unless I want to end up depleted.

I realised that I am happy only when I am learning. I need to keep learning about love, life, travel, cooking….

I started a small little garden and found how rewarding growing something can be. That my baby was also equally enthusiastic about this endeavor made it more special.

I read a few very interesting books. Who knew Agatha Christie could write about love and life and so well at that!

I had always associated her with the brilliant yet eccentric Hercule Poirot or the clever old Miss. Marple.

Do read her books under the pseudonym of ‘Mary Westmacott‘ – ‘The rose and the yew tree’/’The unfinished portrait’/’Absent in the spring’/’A daughter’s a daughter’ to name a few.

Pink – another movie which held my thoughts in its grasp for a couple of days atleast. A good movie which certainly sparked off discussions and brought awareness about the legal rights of women.

The Pink Sheep – Mahesh Natarajan.

A book about homosexual love. We fear and abhor what we don’t understand. This book definitely drives home the point of how natural and normal homosexual love is. This book is different from others in the sense that it doesn’t glorify the struggles of homosexuals or say how all of them are good. It deals with their fears, heartbreaks, deceits and life which makes it endearing and as a human anyone can relate to those emotions.

This book leads me to a new restaurant  (I first saw the book here)that a friend introduced me to. It is the Yogisthaan cafe in Indiranagar. The best masala chai I have had in ages and a calm environment to boot, books to read and wonderful organic stuff that you can buy. You ought to try their organic jaggery with chai and I promise you, this will elevate the humble chai to a whole new level!

I also ended up reading ‘One Indian Girl‘ by Chetan Bhagat. Oh boy! the man cannot write- nope, nada – zilch!

But he brings across the point very well that women need to give themselves permission to be successful, to be more than mere decorations. In the book, an IIM-A grad still rates herself by the size of her boobs and the color of her skin.

That women are forced to chose between a flight of success or the nest of their homes is another point that is brought forth. Also how women are forced to work in timings that were first set by men and that there is no acknowledgement that women’s needs differ or the lack of efforts in the direction of accommodating a working woman’s needs does come through in the final chapters.

The writing is horrendous. The conversations between the female protagonist and her inner voice – the one she calls ‘mini-me’ are yawn inducing.

I have a few more books in my kindle that I plan to get on to, places that I plan to travel to, foods to cook and eat, watching my young one grow and bloom, people to meet…life definitely looks exciting!!

After keying in this rant, it had me wondering what prompted me to it??

The year end review at office is my best bet!

This, then my friends is my true year-end review and I would definitely rate myself an exceeded expectation !!

I struggled quite a bit with this piece. Should I give a blow by blow account? Should I stick to the emotional roller coaster and the gamut of experiences?

Then, my son during bedtime asked me to tell him the story of Roopkund, and I thought, well why not?

So here comes a story – of a king and a queen, of a goddess’s wrath and majestic mountains and a mirror like lake containing in its womb thousands of human skeletons!

Welcome to the story of our trek – a trek to the ‘Mystery Lake’ – Roopkund.

Our journey started from Bangalore-Delhi-Kathagodam-Loharjung. Loharjung was our first base camp and this where the ancient legend begins too…

It is said that Mata Parvati fought with the mighty demon Lohasur at this very place for more than a year. After a tough and drawn out battle, Lohasur was vanquished and Shiv and Parvati moved ahead.

We too moved ahead from Loharjung to Didna village. It was a steep ascent in the later part and was a true test of will and stamina for all trekkers.

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Didna is a quaint village with just a couple of houses as far as our eye could see. The house we stayed in was the most beautiful, coziest, darling little house. Blue shutters and awnings and bright blue doors against the stone walls and the sloping stone tiled roofs, added to the rustic charm!

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We had some simple but tasty food and had loads of fun playing dumb-charades. As the sun began to set, the chill in the air was much more noticeable and it almost seemed to say to us – “welcome to the mountains!”.

Didna Village to Ali Bugyal

Bugyals are meadows and Ali Bugyal is one of the largest in South Asia. It was rainy in patches, but the scenery and the rolling stretch of green meadows were unbelievably beautiful. It felt awesome to be above the clouds, which would now and then manage to come up above us, shower their blessings on us and then move way as gracefully.

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Ali Bugyal to Patar Nachauni via Bedni Bugyal and Ghora Lotani

Mata Parvati on the same path, decided to take a breather on a rock. But she was invisible to the lesser mortals. A shepherd decided to throw the smallish looking rock away, as it was blocking his path. But try as he may, he could not lift it! Only after he sent out a heartfelt prayer to Durga (believed to be another form of the Goddess Parvati) , was he able to move the stone.

There is a small Durga mandir, made of some roughly assembled stones nearby and many of our team tried lifting the rock. Only a few were successful! It is said that one’s wish would be granted if they could lift the stone. I will need to cross check with the fellas to see if their wishes did come true?!

Now, its not just us, trying to follow the divine footsteps. Remember, the Raja and Rani that we spoke about at the start of the story, they were on the same trail too. Raja Jasdhaval, the king of Kanauj, was traveling with his pregnant wife, Rani Balampa. They were accompanied by servants, a dance troupe, and others as they traveled on a pilgrimage to Nanda Devi shrine, for the Nanda Devi Raj Jat, which takes place every twelve years.

Little did they know that the divine couple were just ahead of them.

The Raja decided to entertain himself and his soldiers and asked three of his dancers to put up a show. The goddess angered at this display of cavalier attitude, simply pulled in the three nachnias to pathal – the underworld and hence the place gets the name ‘Patar Nachauni‘!

I still think it was misplaced anger!? Wasn’t it the Raja’s idea??

We clearly are able to see three sudden depressions in a raised piece of flat land…whether or not believe the legend is unto you!

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Patar Nachauni to Bhagwabasa via Kalu Vinayak

From here, us – the trek team, the Raja and his Parivar and the gods, all of course in different timelines move onto Bhagwabasa via Kalu Vinayak.

Kalu Vinayak shrine is a reminder of the famous story of how Vinayak got his elephant head and how Lord Shiva granted him the right of worship before any other god. It is all supposed to have happened here!

From here the snowline starts. The chill is definitely more pronounced. We begin to see patches of snow in the far distance.

Near the Kalu Vinayak shrine, is a small tarpaulin tent in which an old man sells maggi and tea. I waited for my black tea here, for quite some time, after the other trekkers had left. It was definitely worth the wait! The tea powered me enough to reach the Bhagwabasa camp at the same time as the others!

Like any other normal couple, the divine beings have their spats and ego and vanity too. Shiva asked Parvati to let go of her vehicle, the tiger as he was doing the walking all by himself. So Parvati left her tiger in a cave and this place came to be known as the ‘abode of the tiger’ or BhagwaBasa! Gokul, one of our guides who is the source of all these tales, told us that after this point no big cats or animals can be found!

The Bhagwabasa camp is filled with flat stones and is bone numbingly cold. The tents were pitched on these rocks and only because of Nagu, our superwoman tent mate, were we spared a bad back ache in the morning!

She as usual managed to reach the camp site first and found the best tent of the lot!

A lot of clickety clack of cameras later, we had our acclimatization walk and it was here that Gokul narrated the stories.

From our camp, we could see the formidable looking Trishul mountain and the treacherous path that we were expected to navigate the next day to reach Roopkund lake.

Our trek lead, Tara showed us a trough formed just below Mt. Trishul, where Roopkund was nestled.

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Bhagwabasa to Roopkund to Patar Nachauni

We woke up at 3 AM the next day and after eating a very watery maggi noodle – soup..sorta mush, got ready to complete the journey that had started in Bangalore.

I had had a misadventure with the samosas the previous day and as a result had some stomach issues. One of the trekkers offered me norflox, but the poor soul in the limited light, had given a wide spectrum antibiotic – Oflox, which rather worked out well for me, as I faced absolutely no stomach issues during the climb and back!

The climb was all that it had promised to be. It was tough, demanding and scary in parts.

We were also given crampons to help us walk on the snow. We had to finish our climb up and down before the sunlight could start melting the snow. Melted snow becomes soft and pudgy and extremely difficult and dangerous to walk on!

We moved like a well oiled machine on those narrow tracks. Never breaking ranks and always together. For me, it was emotional at times and meditative at others. I did not speak or look ahead but just concentrated on keeping the next step and then the next…

Tara’s well intention-ed taunts and jokes all fell on deaf ears, as we climbed what was to me the most difficult summit climb that I had done so far…

As we reached the cusp of the summit where we could see the glimmering Roopkund, shouts of joy, whoops of victory broke out everywhere. There were a lot of tears too! I was crying! This had to be one of the best parts of what had been a very difficult year for me. The humbling experience, once again brought to fore how minuscule ‘I’ was.

In another age, in another time, Parvati before heading off to kailash (Mt. Trishul) wanted a mirror, to do her sola-sringar! Shivji never did anything small scale now, did he? He stuck his trishul into the ground and out sprang an oval pond with crystal clear water, where the divine lady satisfied her vanity! Hence the name – Roop Kund — the Beauty lake!

Now the Raja and his troop weren’t going to miss out on all this action, were they?! They followed the couple. The goddess was angered at all this hoopla and encroachment on divine territory. She rained hail stones, as big as iron balls which cracked open the skulls of all the soldiers. The king and queen perished and tragically the unborn child passed away too… I asked Gokul to repeat the last part, hoping that the story would somehow end differently, that at least the queen and the child would be spared…but that was not to be. (I did change the ending for my li’l one though!)

The skeletons can still be seen strewn around the lake and can be seen inside of the lake as well. (However, the lake was frozen when we trekked. It melts only in the November-September time frames.)

Women weren’t allowed on these mountain ranges for a lot of centuries, but of course things have changed.

Now scientists have found that all the bodies date to around 850 AD. DNA evidence indicates that there were two distinct groups of people, one a family or tribe of closely related individuals, and a second smaller, shorter group of locals, likely hired as porters and guides. Rings, spears, leather shoes, and bamboo staves were found, leading experts to believe that the group was comprised of pilgrims heading through the valley with the help of the locals.

All the bodies had died in a similar way, from blows to the head. However, the short deep cracks in the skulls appeared to be the result not of weapons, but rather of something rounded. The bodies also only had wounds on their heads, and shoulders as if the blows had all come from directly above. What had killed them all, porter and pilgrim alike?

Among Himalayan women there is an ancient and traditional folk song. The lyrics describe a goddess so enraged at outsiders who defiled her mountain sanctuary that she rained death upon them by flinging hailstones “hard as iron.” After much research and consideration, the 2004 expedition came to the same conclusion. All the people died from a sudden and severe hailstorm.

Trapped in the valley with nowhere to hide or seek shelter, the “hard as iron” cricket ball-sized [about 23 centimeter/9 inches diameter] hailstones came by the thousands, resulting in the travelers’ bizarre sudden death. The remains lay in the lake for 1,200 years until their discovery!

Reference: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/the-skeleton-lake-of-roopkund-india

The descent was somehow much more difficult than the ascent. It scared me out of my wits to see the path in broad daylight. I am just glad I did not see it well in the early morning or I might have never made the climb 😉

We came to our base camp at Bhagwabasa, had a quick lunch, packed our bags and started the long descent back to Patar Nachauni. I was physically and more so mentally exhausted. The climb down was slow and painful. We also got caught in a hailstorm but it was sorta pretty, to see small pearls dropping down on us every where!

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Patar Nachauni to Lohajung via Bedni and Wan

This was the toughest descent yet. My toes were screaming to come out of my shoes. The 20 odd kilometers downhill gave us all blisters and frustrating moments galore.

The only relief was the serene and cool waters of the Neelganga. We kicked off our shoes and as one of my friends’ put it, we could almost feel the steam coming off our tired, blistered feet, as we immersed them in the Neelganga.

We had our lunch here, clicked quite a few artsy type of photographs as well. I also managed to gather a few small and colorful stones for my son.

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I was very thankful for the ascent that came next. It provided much needed relief to my toes but pretty soon another long stretch of descent started. This was pure, unadulterated pain. But we all made it to the spot in Wan village where vehicles were waiting to take us to Loharjung.

Another hour’s drive and we were in a guest house, with running water and modern toilets and a promise of hot water to come!

Treks enforce life lessons like nothing else can! The things like running water and all the modern amenities that we take for granted, are unavailable on a trek. It teaches one, the value of natural resources, it teaches and renews your trust in human beings.

Money is no scale to measure the help and guidance that the trek leads and guides give us on the journey.The money in your pocket will mean nothing on a trek if there isn’t another human to help you out!

The Roopkund trail is a well traversed one, however the local guides and trek leads make every effort to create awareness and the trail is amazingly clean. No plastic, no litter!

There are so many more things that I still want to write about – the wonderful camaraderie, the new friendships forged, old ones strengthened. Hours of ‘Uno’, sharing food and goodies, helping each other, understanding each other.

Celebrating a birthday at 14000 feet with a freshly baked cake and a milkmaid icing and the immeasurable effort and care that might have been put into the making of that cake!

Calling back home after a long gap. Enjoying the best scenery that a man could wish for while brushing teeth…not brushing teeth for a couple of days and of course the feeling of hot water on dirt caked skin after almost eight whole days!

Sleeping truly like a baby, after hot rice and dal and a bath! Waking up to mixed feelings – already missing the mountains, the simple life and then the longing to see my son and go back home to my own bed. Salivating at the thought of idli sambar, for some it was rotti palya!

Finishing up half a kilo of pear and a kilo of lychee between the both of us (me and Nagu)!

Enjoying the first taste of dahi and butter after what seemed like ages.

Explaining what a trek is to a beautiful Bengali lady and her kid at the railway station. Experiencing a slightly scary train ride.

Last but not least, snatching a few precious moments with my best friend, she and her spouse took so much pains to make those minutes filled with love and giving. Thank you both.

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There is definitely something about the mountains, that makes you want to believe in these legends, to believe in magic and divinity and finally makes you believe in yourself and each other.

 

P.S: Picture courtesy – Thirtharaj BM, Nagashree Upadhyaya, Vidya.

A couple of days ago, as I prepared to snuggle in for a well deserved siesta, I felt a sharp pain on the eyelid of my right eye and then the itching started…I rubbed and scratched till I managed to find and squelch the culprit, a small red ant.

I went to a family gathering with a swollen eyelid is worth another story, but I wont digress, I promise!

The ant bite and me crushing it so easily led to a completely different set of thoughts – thoughts of floods in Chennai and loss of life.

Before you decide to close the browser window, spare another minute or two….

What if the earth was a giant, breathing, throbbing ball of life? What if like the ants we are just not able to see the big picture, since we are, well, very very infinitesimally small?!

What if she (earth) decides we are just the red ants irritating her, causing her eyelid to swell, when she wants to look gorgeous for the party that all the planets are going to?! She would probably want to get rid of us too…maybe just gently wash us way with a lot of rain or a tsunami, or just shake us off with an earthquake, or perhaps keep the area dry and make sure it gets lot of sunlight and air, till the pesky little humans, who are so very much a blight on her gorgeous self, drop off!

This entire idea suddenly seems so much plausible to me as I put it into words.

Take a look at what I found on google (of course!) –

“The human body contains about 100 trillion cells, but only maybe one in 10 of those cells is actually — human. The rest are from bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms.It is more like a complex ecosystem—a social network—containing trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit our skin, genital areas, mouth and especially intestines. In fact, most of the cells in the human body are not human at all. Bacterial cells in the human body outnumber human cells 10 to one.”

We are not even independent within our own body, we are not who we think we are!

The existence of our species, does not matter to anyone but us. If we as a specie cease to exist, nature would reclaim what is rightfully her’s and a new species, maybe one more intelligent than the dumb-asses that we are, would arise.Maybe this intelligent specie wouldn’t be so hellbent on eradicating their own existence and life on earth will go on, one way or the other.

Dinosaurs and several other species were wiped out, because they could not adapt. We might go the same way, because instead of adapting, we thought that we could change the mighty earth to suit us. Much like the ant that probably thought it was going to have a brilliant future, full of…well whatever it is that ants care about, when it bit my eyelid, and we all know the fate of that poor ant!

So when I see statuses on FB which proclaim in heroic fashion to save mother earth, I cringe a little , for it is the false bravado of a braggart, who thinks he can, or even needs to save something that is far beyond his understanding and grasp.

The message that should probably go out, is to save our own backsides, which in turn translates to learn to adapt and live as part of nature and that might in the end, be what appeals to our inherently selfish gene!

I struggled giving a title to this post..should I have said “Hampta Pass, 14500 feet – done and dusted”? But that’s far from what I feel!
It’s not a personal victory over the mighty Himalayas but the feeling of gratitude to the multitude of people who helped me cross the pass, gratitude towards nature for having let us see the sights we saw, for the weather being in reasonably good condition, for the slips that didn’t turn into major falls!
I think gratitude and an understanding of the abysmally unimportant and minute nature of human-life are my biggest takeaways from this trek.. and this sets me free!
We all live in our own personal worlds within the larger world. A personal world where we are all important, where our decisions have huge impacts, but somehow, being with the mightiest of mountain ranges sets me free from this self-imposed prison! To understand that I am but a very small speck in the cosmos, gives an entirely new perspective to the worries and the daily grind. It makes me live my life with a lot more freedom of mind..
I know this philosophical rant is not what you look for in my blog..especially one on a trek! you want to see beautiful photographs(All courtesy my trek mates..I am the worst photographer there is!), blow-by-blow details of the ascent, of the people and the place…and I nor the Himalayas are going to disappoint you! So here goes.. A motley crew of nine from Bangalore, a few of whom i had trekked with before, but most of them who turned out to be wonderful new friends I made, left for the mountains.

Day 1: Travel to Chandigarh by air and then a tempo traveler to Manali. 

Since I had traveled to Manali pretty recently, this seemed like the shortest route . We reached Manali by around 12:30 AM the next day. Had an awesome nights sleep in one of the most comfortable cottages I have ever stayed in. we booked the double room cottages. http://www.treehillcottages.com/ Not to forget the jolada rotti and shenga chutney provided by Guru through the journey!

Day 2: Manali – Jobra- Cheeka

Late wake-up and awesome breakfast of Gobi paranthas and we headed to the Rambaugh Circle on Mall road to meet up with the rest of the trek team from IndiaHikes – http://hamptapass.com/ Met up with the trek lead Ashish and the very handsome and dashing Arjun (I think that was the name…all the girls in the team had a mini heartbreak when they got to know he wasn’t going to be leading our batch but was leading the batch coming after us! ) Since we had to wait for a couple of people who were yet to arrive (their bus had broken down a couple of times the night before, as we came to know later..), we hogged on bikaneri jalebis, ice-creams and chai to pass the time. We left from Manali to Jobra by around 1:30 PM and reached Jobra within an hours time. The drive is beautiful and gives you a teaser of whats in store for the rest of the trek! Standing in between clouds, with a light drizzle, we ate ‘Siddu’, a Himachali delicacy, which was described as the ‘big brother’ of a ‘momo’. Let us suffice to say that none of us were a huge fan of this dish, but it did help fill our tummy and caused all sorts of tummy troubles for the majority of us!! Jobra to Cheeka was an uneventful easy 2-3 hours trek through a slight ascent and pine forests and a meadow. On the eve of the trek , I had had a brain wave and decided to take my laptop bag as my backpack…since it was supposed to be ergonomically designed et all. Huge mistake! It weighs you down so badly and now I know there is a reason there are light-weight backpacks manufactured! Lesson learnt!

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Day 3: Cheeka – Bhalu ka ghera. ‘Bhalu-ka-ghera’ – it instantly brought to my mind ‘Bhalu the bear’…and in my imagination there were a lot of bears, holding a round table conference, roasting marshmallows over a bonfire…now, hold your horses, it doesn’t match my imagination one bit, but Bhalu ka ghera means a huge pit/mound of sand, which is left over once the rivulets passing through the area dry up! So off we went from Cheeka..slightly difficult ascent, had a phase of around thirty minutes where breathing became extremely difficult, but it passed and with a lot of encouragement from Sunil, one of my trek mates, we reached ‘Bhalu ka Ghera’. Beautiful campsite as usual!

Day 4: Bhalu-ka-Ghera – Shea Goru (After crossing Hampta pass)

I had wisely given up on guessing the meaning of names by now! Ashish, our trek lead explained to me that Shea Goru meant the ‘road of winds’ and so it was! But before that let me give you the low down on crossing the pass itself, the dreaded and steep Hampta pass, which the trek leads had us believe was just after the next slope. We had to cross many a steep blanket of ice before we could reach Hampta Pass! The clouds were so close and would envelop us like a blanket, making visibility a challenge. We also had to use crampons/micro spikes to help us through this climb! I have to mention about ‘Superman – Sid’. He climbed the pass with a torn ligament in the knee, without taking a moment’s break, but kept trudging on when the rest of us would take a break just for the heck of it! Sid, you were an inspiration to all of us!

Superman Sid!

Superman Sid!

The exhilaration on reaching the pass was awesome! A lot of photo sessions later, our tummies started rumbling, but the packed lunch of soya pulav had frozen and had become inedible! We were saved by the rations of dry fruits and dates and chocolates that we had brought along! That said, the trek team were very open to suggestions on the food quality, but I do not think, there might be anything that would survive the temperature at the pass and still be eatable! The descent into Shea-Goru and thereby the Spiti valley was the steepest I have done so far and was lots of fun! Camp at Shea Goru, next to the river was the most beautiful.

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Day 5: Shea Goru to Chatru/Chandertal

It rained heavily during the night and our trip to Chandertal was hanging in balance, when the skies suddenly cleared up and a very faint rainbow appeared on the horizon, as if to say that our trip to the moon-lake will be done! The walk down to Chatru is a gentle descent and beautiful at the same time. You will start to see a long winding road as you near Chatru and this is the first sign of civilization that you get to see after so many days in the mountains! I was not really sure if i liked being close to humanity again or not! Chatru to the Chandertal lake, was done in vehicles and i would be lying if I don’t admit that i was glad there was no more walking! Spiti valley has a beauty all its own…it is barren, cold, majestic, sporting a myriad different hues in the dry dust…the mountain peaks all look to be of varied colours ranging from brown to red to a dull bluish grey! Chandertal lake, like all alpine lakes is crystal clear and beautiful and shaped like the moon, as the name implies! We fooled around in the icy cold waters, stayed on till it was too cold to stay put at one place. Another thing that I observed, is that even the slightest of activity in Spiti valley will cause breathlessness initially. This is because the air is so thin here and the oxygen content is very less due to the near absence of any vegetation! Back to our camp in near Chandertal lake, to be followed by a night of music ,dance and revelry! Panna Lalji,the cook – our anna daata, redeemed himself that day with amazing carrot halwa! He also proved to be one hell of a musician as he sang lovely Himachali songs accompanied with drums on an empty plastic can! I will always remember this mad caper of a night with Guru singing ‘Jumma chumma’ song and we adding our own ‘Bhalle bhalle’ twist to the Himachali dance steps!

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Day 6: Chatru/Chandertal to Manali

Next day back to Manali, freshened up in the same cottage that we had booked earlier, had dinner at a place called Ilferno. Amazing Pizzas, lasagna and salads and an amazing fresh oven baked biscuit topped off with chocloate mousse – fiametta I think, it was called….yum, yum! Oh and not to forget, the roadside leg massage 😉 Early next morning, we were off to Chandigarh. My backpack, that I hated so much during the trek, got stolen in Chandigarh! Maybe I had grown too trusting, sticking for so long with the mountain people! But I also lost all the small little trinkets I had bought for friends and family back home along with my gloves and cap which were four Himalayan treks old!

Oh! I am forgetting to mention so many things.. Especially the ‘cliff hanger’ type save of a fellow trekker by our assistant trek lead Mahi! Also a special feeling getting to know that Mahi was the same shy fifteen year old I had met on VoF trek a few years ago and now he is such a handsome, confident albeit still a bit shy and very emotional and a wonderfully endearing person! In his own words “gaane se meri phatthi hai!!” and off he disappears before the music and dance begun!!

And also our river crossing adventure and sliding down a steep descent on ice, scraping my back totally in the process!

Oooh..how can I forget finding ‘nandini’ good life milk at a tea shop in Spiti and me and Naga going all gung-ho about seeing kannada there!!

The last one, I promise…no explanations, except that the memory is going to bring out the giggles in many!! IMG_6617 Still in the same head-space and finding it very difficult to come out and work in the rigid cubicles of a corporate environment. Till the next time the mountains call, I shall wait and prepare and dream away!

Picture Courtesy: yashu, Divya, Sid, Jairaj, Nagashree and others if I have missed out, please remind me!

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And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

                                       -Dr.Seuss (Oh, the Places You’ll Go!)

I must be the proudest proud mommy around! (Yes, have been reading a bit too much of Dr.seuss…if there can be such a thing!!).My son and myself went on a day trek to Makalidurga to the beat the school re-opening blues.( I am not sure which one of us feels bluer…).

http://indiahikes.in/a-trek-for-children-to-makalidurga/

Anybody who has read my posts will know how much I love the mountains. I wanted to share some of that love with my son too. I was super excited since my son would be part of something that occupies a huge a place in my heart…but I was also a bit scared that he might not like it at all! You can never tell with kids!

That said, we bought him a new pair of trekking shoes at Decathlon and off we went.

Boy-oh-boy!! It was a revelation to watch him climb up the steep tracks..that too in the middle of the day with the sun threatening to melt the skin off our necks! He was a mountain goat, nimble and sure-footed, effortlessly climbing, turning back now and then to call me a ‘slow coach’!

As he took the lead and as he realised that he was good at this, I saw his confidence bloom. He was more chatty, enthusiastic to open up to other kids and the sometimes shy kid that I see had disappeared!! I saw him walk with the trek leads to see another ‘view point’ when most of us had given up and were resting in the shade.

He made friends, learnt about being patient and persevering and about pushing your own boundaries and limitations – mental and physical, that nothing but something like a trek can teach. He knows now that when he wants to give up, there are huge reservoirs of strength that he can call upon, deep within!The most wonderful change is in his level of confidence.

He may not be able to express in so many words, but as a mother, I know that he knows…I see a definite change in his attitude. He also knows when to respect his body’s needs and take a break. Hard to believe that he learnt all this in a single day, but treks are magical! They reinforce life lessons like nothing else!

A huge round of applause and gratitude to the trekking group – Indiahikes for thinking of organising something like this for kids and parents. There is definitely scope for improvement in the way the transport and the trek timings were managed, but the intentions and the efforts are definitely praiseworthy!

We will always remember the steep climbs, the ginger chikkis,sliding down the heated up boulders and our pants melting away!, Shubhankar explaining about different angles of the body and centre of gravity and his smart lesson on climbing down. I am thankful to both the trek leads for raising awareness about plastic waste and littering. I am glad that on every trek that I have been to with Indiahikes, cleaning up the trek path has always been a priority. (This is not a sponsored article!!)

We made memories that day, ones that he will hopefully remember with a smile!

The ultimate question—Will I take my son on a trek again?

The answers is a …………..A resounding yes!!

One of my friends is preparing for GRE and has been throwing new words at us each day, and I for one am loving it. Learning a new word is almost akin to eating creamy caramel pudding with coffee sauce.(Well people who know me will understand my fixation with this!)

Each new word, like a tasty morsel to be rolled around on your tongue, savoured and saved in memory , in wait for an occasion to use it! (I am in love with ‘Hiraeth’ and ‘syzygy’…now go find out the meanings…’cos I am not telling you 😉 )

Also, have you experienced how some words embody their meanings…like ‘slaughter’, it invokes images of blood and gore, or it could be ‘nefarious’ and I can only think of ‘Kroor Singh’ . Words have a special way of bringing back memories. Some words can trigger an entire train of thoughts!

So, sometime today, I chanced upon this word – ‘allegory’ and that led to me remembering reading out ‘Little Men’ by Louisa May Alcott to my son.

There is a story in that and it goes something like this:

“This great gardener gave a dozen or so of little plots to one of his servants, and told him to do his best and see what he could raise. Now this servant was not rich, nor wise, nor very good, but he wanted to help because the gardener had been very kind to him in many ways. So he gladly took the little plots and fell to work. They were all sorts of shapes and sizes, and some were very good soil, some rather stony, and all of them needed much care, for in the rich soil the weeds grew fast, and in the poor soil there were many stones.”

“What was growing in them besides the weeds, and stones?” asked Nat; so interested, he forgot his shyness and spoke before them all.

“Flowers,” said Mr. Bhaer, with a kind look. “Even the roughest, most neglected little bed had a bit of heart’s-ease or a sprig of mignonette in it. One had roses, sweet peas, and daisies in it,” 

“I knew he meant us!” cried Demi, clapping his hands. “You are the man, and we are the little gardens; aren’t we, Uncle Fritz?”

“You have guessed it. Now each of you tell me what crop I shall try to sow in you this spring, so that next autumn I may get a good harvest out of my twelve, no, thirteen, plots,” said Mr. Bhaer, nodding at Nat as he corrected himself.

“He means things to make us good; and the weeds are faults,” cried Demi, who usually took the lead in these talks, because he was used to this sort of thing, and liked it very much. (Demi calls such stories ‘arregories’ and that never fails to elicit laughter from my son!)

And all this leads me to a little story of my own!

After reading this story out, we were all discussing what would be the good seeds (an allegory to good habits) that we would like to sow in our gardens…My sister spoke about making up her mind to wake up earlier, I wanted to sow seeds of patience and then we asked my son, what he would want to grow in his patch of garden. He thought about it for a while and said that he would want to be less shy and speak to people…

I know it doesn’t sound like much, but for a six-year-old to be able to analyse and introspect and express what he needs to cultivate is amazing! (Alert: Proud Mommy speaking. 😀 ).

But it also brought forth something else…that everyone of us has the ability to introspect. It had me wondering whether as we age, do our egos also grow which prevents us from seeing what is really lacking within us..that we start to perceive ourselves infallible?

Still mulling over it and resolved to try and be honest about my shortcomings to myself at least!

New words, some soul-searching and a long winding story….happy weekend y’all..

The internal dialogue:

“It does not matter what you said or did, he never has a right to hit you or push you or slap you or punch you or verbally abuse you . And don’t try to justify him hitting you.”

‘Well, if I wouldn’t have said this, or did that, then he wouldn’t have gotten mad enough to hit me’ or ‘It won’t happen again, he is just stressed out.’

“NO. It will happen again, and it will get worse.”

The others say:

Why don’t you leave or why did you stay for so long?  -A well-intentioned question but often a very simple approach to a very complex and layered issue.

It is not so simple to ‘just leave’!

Abusive relationships don’t start out with a black-eye. They too start out with passion and promise. She is thinking that the real him is the one at the beginning of the abusive cycle, the real him is the one who is so profusely apologising afterwards .

“Only someone who’s walked in their shoes can fully understand the complexity.”

To judge someone, to say “why doesn’t she just leave” is inappropriate.

It is about education and it is about awareness. October is the domestic violence awareness month and today is Deepawali- the festival of lights.

May this month and day bring awareness and light into each one of your lives.

Love and peace,

PP

Being a mom is the best thing in the world!

Motherhood=sacrifice

Motherhood is the best and most important job in the world.

God could not be everywhere, so he created mothers…

Then why the F*** aren’t the men queuing up for this job?? (I mean not the conceiving and carrying the baby for nine months and beyond- thats well, pretty obvious..but a SAHM job and I think its because its unpaid and unappreciated! )

I agree motherhood is rewarding, wonderful and a blessing. But is it enough?

Not for me! It is a relationship, which is bound to change over time, to give some and take some, but to make it the center of my existence, my identity…is something that is not palatable to me.(You know when you feel something is just not right but don’t yet have the logical reasons to explain to others or to yourself, why you feel so strongly about it… that’s the sorta thing I am speaking of.This post is an attempt of sorts at trying to explain why I feel this way 🙂 )

To have a complete, satisfying life I need to define myself as more than a mother.(Please note that this is not judgmental  if you are happy being just a mom..then Yay! good for you). There are very few women who are just ‘moms’..they identify themselves as home makers (Another unpaid, under-appreciated job!) and every one of them I have met, feel the need to add something else to their identity than just a relationship, be it of a wife/mother. This is the feeling I am speaking about!

If motherhood is all that it is jazzed up to be, then we would be complete with just that. Women need more than that to survive, to thrive. They need to follow their interests, pursue their dreams and LIVE. The mould that we are supposed to fit into is one of sacrifice, forgiveness,tolerance…

But we at some point need to learn to take care of ourselves, to live life the way we want and not feel guilty about it all !

Being a 24/7 mom can get to you when its a lot of snot wiping, bum washing, feeding and sleeplessness.

We all surely love our kid/s, but then lets spare some of that love for ourselves. We are important too. A happy, satisfied and successful (and don’t let others define either your satisfaction or success) mother = A happy well adjusted child!

Shouldn’t this be our new mantra? whatcha think?

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