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Of Blackbucks, Langoors and Peacocks in Blackbuck Resort, Bidar

blackbuck

Finally temperatures are cooling here. Saturday was in lower 30’s which is a big relief after the month of mid 40’s in May. June and early monsoon showers are very welcome.

To make most of the lovely weather, we made an impromptu trip to Blackbuck resort in Bidar. Technically in Karnataka, Bidar is a 3 hour drive from Hyderabad and a popular weekend destination from Hyderabad. The resort is set on banks of Vilaspur lake about 25 kms from Bidar. Most people start early on Saturday morning, have breakfast en-route and spend the morning exploring Bidar fort and tombs before heading to Blackbuck resort for lunch.Rest of the day can be spent at the resort with variety of activities.

Path in the jungle

 Nested on banks of lake, the blackbuck resort is home to langoors and peacocks. It is clean, spacious and offers package deals including meals at a reasonable rate. The staff is very helpful. While the resort is not very luxurious, it is a great place to unwind after a hectic week. A lovely place amidst nature a short drive from hustle and bustle of Hyderabad!

Monkey

Peacocks

Emu Farm

To keep visitors engaged, the resort offers a lot of activities. Nature walk to see Emu farm is offered in the evening. Lots of different varieties of birds are seen en-route and come visit the lake at sunset. There were these yellow flowers in bloom all along the path along with fiery red Gulmohar. And so were these unique fruits that the birds love to feast on. When the lake is full post monsoon season the resort also offers coracle rides on the lake.

Yellow flowers

Trees with fruits

The sunset  over the lake was brought to life by the chirping of birds, playfulness of monkeys and the beautiful red-yellow afterglow. After sunset we enjoyed a wild life documentary along with a round of beer and snacks. Telescope was setup to star gaze and post dinner a campfire was setup.

After glow sunset

The best part of staying at the resort is the safari at sunrise to see the blackbucks. Even Varun was thrilled to get up early to go out in the jeep and see deers in their natural habitat. We not only saw deers but a wild boar, countless peacocks and many langoors. While we were driving back, a dog chased a herd of blackbucks around and it was surreal to see them galloping away.

Herd of deers

Adult black buck

We also saw a whole bunch of colorful birds whose name I don’t recall anymore.

Birds

We came back from the safari to breakfast and then sat on the private gallery off the cottage to watch more birds and animals come to the lake below. We saw lizards and a huge reptile cross across the brush below amongst other scary animals like tadpoles, frogs and squirrels.

We left after taking a short nap as we were tired after carrying Varun on the long nature walk and waking up early to for the Safari. Our initial plan was to leave after lunch and shop for the Bidri artwork that Bidar is so famous for. But the mid day heat got to us. It was back in 40’s again. Varun slept as soon as we started driving back. We plan to visit again after the monsoon season when the weather will be cooler, the lake full and the deers back in larger numbers.

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The Contemporary Paan

The display

Dimmy -the paan palace has been a unique experience for me in Hyderabad. Having paan as a dessert in an ice-cream parlor like setup. Clean, hygienic with sit in option and no dubious folks giving you the looks!

A typical pan shop

Paan , usually eaten after a meal is both a digestive and a mouth-freshener. Its available at nearly every street corner in paan shops. It has traditionally been ‘frowned’ upon in my family. Kids from ‘good’ families don’t eat paan – that’s what grandma used to say. It was mainly to do with the ‘not-up-to-any-good’ people who hang out at ‘paan-shops‘ than to do with its ill-health effects. She used to give us a home-made version with coconut, gulkaand and tuti-frootis. So, as grown up I love paan. I don’t like the ones with tobacco or areca nut but the sweet kinds.

Ice Pan in Making

This paan palace in Jubilee Hills hence is the perfect contemporary version. We stepped in without hesitation. Chocolate paan, Meenakshi paan, Date- paan, kulfi-paan tempted us from within the glass display. Colorful, ready and inviting. There was a counter with assorted toppings (desiccated coconut, flavoured supari, nuts etc to make a custom paan). We asked for an ice – paan ( a Gurgaon – Delhi area speciality) and it was freshly made for us. Shaved ice filled in paan with typical paan toppings of gulkand, sweet supari and coconut. On a summer evening the generous helping of rose petals, coconut and ice are perfect end to a meal.

Ready to eat in silver foil

The shop is set up like a typical roadside paan- bedi shop with cigars, cigarettes and even chocolates. They also have shaved ice in classic kachi kairi and kala khatta flavors – which we will probably try next time.

We skipped dessert one evening and instead had  2- 3 types of sweet and dessert like paan.

Suparis on the counter

That’s going to be our new routine -at least till the novelty wears off!

Royal Elegance: Chowmahalla Palace

A beautiful chowmahalla backdrop for a wedding

Its been more than a week since we are in Mumbai and strangely I am missing my home in Hyderabad. I never thought that I would miss Hyderabad over Mumbai, ever. Yet, here I am flicking though pictures of us together playing in the garden, in the tent and going through routine day-to-day tasks such as reading books at night.

I came across these pictures of recent trip to Chowmahalla palace  with my cousins and realized that I have not blogged about it. A complex of four Nizam palaces, central courtyards, surrounding corridors and gardens; it depicts the elegance of those days through carvings on the walls, rich tapestries and huge vintage chandeliers. Very similar to Falaknuma Palace in general layout ( which is more ornate), Chowmahalla is an unexpected oasis of calm amidst the bustling Old Hyderabad. Open to public (unlike Falaknuma which you can only visit if you dine or stay at the Taj property), this is on my ‘don’t miss’ list for Hyderabad.

Map of Chowmahalla Palace

Corridors flanking central courtyard at Chowmahalla

The fountains in courtyard have a couple of ducks gently wading by.  One of the mahal’s acts as museum of heritage clothes, furniture , arts and crockery. A stones throw from Charminar, it has vintage cars and buggies. Swords, daggers, arrows , shields are displayed in a very modern classical manner. Trees with century old canopies and pigeons add to the old world charm of this palace. This place has something for everyone. Kids, art lovers, architecture buffs, lovers, romantics at heart, vintage car lovers, textile designers, landscape designers, photographers…I am sure you will be inspired and will love this place just as much as I did.

Central courtyards with fountains

It easily takes a couple of hours to wander through its corridors and wings. The furniture and crockery are reminiscent of Salar Jung museum. There is also a vintage clock which chimes every hour (similar to the cuckoo clock in Salar Jung). In fact if you are strapped for time or not into museums, skip Salar Jung museum and visit this palace to get a taste of arts and lifestyle in that era.

Intricately carved window at Chowmahalla

Elegance at Chowmahalla

Royal durbar

Royal durbar with its massive chandeliers

Chandelier at Chowmahalla Palace closeup

As you exit the royal durbar palace, you will find arrangements for some function or the other. The grounds are rented for ceremonies and corporate functions. Wouldn’t it be lovely to exchange vows or get engaged against this gorgeous backdrop?

Chowmahalla Palace

The lawns beyond lead to the vintage clothes, cars , buggies and the royal living room where the royal guests used to be entertained.

Living room at chowmahalla palace

Arms collection at Chowmahalla Palace

Vintage buggies at Chowmahalla Palace

Vintage clothes at Chowmahalla Palace

Varun loved running around in the corridors and looking out through the large windows. He identified elephants, horses and tigers in the paintings and carvings. But he was most fascinated by the huge canons with carved dragons kept in the courtyard. One of us was constantly chasing him – such is travelling with a toddler.

Cannons

Turret Tower

Sunset and closing time loomed on us. Pigeons swarmed together in the fading sun light. We walked by giant clock tower which is still maintained admiring the architecture, lemon and orange trees on the grounds; with a promise to come again – this time with more time to spare.

Clock Tower at Chowmahalla Palace

The school search begins…

Its November, that time of the year where schools in Hyderabad give out admission forms for the next school year starting June.

All parents around me have warned me to get started with the school research. Apparently, you should enroll your kid into the school of your choice in nursery. I have been told that its harder to get enrolled in kindergarten or in first grade.

Varun is still a baby and I can’t think about school and him in the same sentence, but for the past week or so, school is what I have on my mind. At ~3 years, kids begin going to a nursery school for 3 1/2 hours.

As we both work, we also need to figure our after school day care and transportation from the school to daycare.

And also, we need to look at which curriculum we want to enroll Varun ( International Board IGCSE or CBSE), commute ( send him by school bus or drop him and pick him up), smaller school or an established larger organization etc. Too many factors to think about.

Following is the list of schools that we have in mind:

1. Oakridge International School

2. Chirec Public School

3. Indus

4. Manthan

5. Delhi Pubic School

6. Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan

Based on early feedback from friends and colleagues, last two are hard to get in and are very academics heavy. If you want your kid to win Olympiads and get into IIT these are the schools to go to. Oakridge and Chirec are both very popular with Indians returning back. Both have variety of  extra curricular activities, strong faculty though parents mentioned Chirec is more focussed on academics than Oakridge. But Oakridge have air-conditioned  classrooms –  a luxury by Indian standards but a necessity while enduring Hyderabad summers.

Indus seems to be perfect bet with the balance of academics and others activities but is too far from Kondapur area (where we live) and is also the most expensive. Manthan is one of the smaller schools not quiet as established as Oakridge and Chirec but loved by the parents who send their kids there.

Anyways, we also have the option of taking a chance and not sending him to these big banner schools and keep him in a smaller school for nursery. The class size will be around 15 – 20 and he will not be lost in sea of faces. And hopefully he will get to have some fun as well.

7. Oi Playschool School

8. Blueblocks

Well, this is just the beginning. Over the next couple of weeks we plan to visit a few of these schools, collect forms, get more information, talk to more parents and possibly be inetreviewed (parent interviews 😦 ) as we begin the next phase of parenting journey.

If you have recommendations, resources and feedback that will help us narrow this down, please leave a comment below.

Navratri in Srisailam

Daycare Search

The single most important thing for us as soon as we landed in India, almost 2 months ago, was to find a day care. Although my parents were here to help us transition, I wanted to get Varun settled in a routine right away.

Thanks to Microsoft taking care of our accommodation and car with a mini army of help staff we could focus on finding a daycare. Daycares in India are a different ball game than in US or since the time we were younger. I remember my mom taking my brother to a neighborhood ‘crèche’ for some time where he learnt a few things. Not sure how good it was my modern measures but she mostly got some free time to spend on her hobby – writing!

Daycares in US, on one hand, are regulated, licensed and a bit impersonal even if it is tagged as ‘grandma’s home’ by others. The focus is on the premise (safety/hygiene/training of staff /student: child ratio etc.) and child (development/independence/routine) – which I had started to love and depend on.

On the other hand, in India, although you will be bombarded with hundreds of daycares billboards (as many as real estate projects), to find one that will work for the child is a herculean task. When we visited the first daycare, the conversation went something like this:

Principal: Are you looking for playschool or nursery?

Me: I am looking for daycare.

Principal: Yea, but playschool or nursery

Me: Ummm….What’s the difference?

Principal: How old is the child?

Me: Err…19 months!

Principal: Ok then he can come to Mommy and me group and then start Playschool in June

Me: (A bit panicked and frustrated at this point) No, but I need daycare. I work – I really need daycare!!! Also what is Playschool and Nursery? (Mentally I was thinking- why am I paying for Varun to play – when reason kicked in- I have always paid for Varun to play ;))

Principal: We have several programs. Mother -toddler groups are for less than 2 year olds for a couple of hours.2 – 3 year olds are in Play school, 3-4 years olds are in nursery, 4+ are in Kindergarten

Me: I see. (I didn’t really see which option worked best for us)

Principal: (Probably sensing that I am lost, finally asked) – how many hours do you want to send the child?

Me: Probably 9 hours

Principal: Fee is based by hours. 2 hours minimum. Hourly rate is Rs x/hour.

Finally, it made sense. All programs had a daycare facility appended. Based on the age, the child went to nursery or playschool where they focus on age appropriate activities. The daycare is for pre-program and post program care.

I spoke to several working parents- but none of them were in the same boat as us. Most have older kids so only need daycare for part of the day, if at all. Or they have family living in the city that takes care of the grandchild. Others resort to 18- 22 year old girls to take care of their little ones. These girls many a times are not educated (beyond primary school education), speak very little English and primarily tasked with feeding/bathing/cleaning the child, taking him to the park, assorted household work when the baby sleeps and not really with developmental activities. They have varying ability to follow instructions and here in Hyderabad, can manage well if you can communicate to them in Telugu.

Most daycares in India focus on money- deposits, form fees, monthly fees, meal fees, and not on child – how can they help transition, development activities of the child like gross and fine motor skills, language development, social etc. . . . Sure, we had deposited money at Bright Horizon almost a year in advance just to secure a spot and another daycare wanted a full month’s fee as deposit – it didn’t irk me as much then as a similar requirement here.

Probably because I knew what I will get in exchange- quality service, peace of mind and the fact that the wont nickel and dime me further. Here, I wasn’t too sure what to expect.

Here are my notes on the daycares we checked out:

1. Strawberry Fields – Nice bright building, decent teacher: student ratio, segregated classes by ages, Montessori style, monthly theme based teaching, separate dining area, Telugu speaking maids- far from current house, may be further if we decide to stay near campus. No AC backup.

2. Kids Paradise – In basement of Raheja IT mind space park (convenient for parents working there but not otherwise), no outdoor playtime, cooped up/dark space artificially brightened by tube lights, extra charges for meals, Hindi or English speaking maids, felt a bit stuffy and pretentious. No AC backup.

3. Esperenza – Popular daycare amongst IT workers here. Segregated classrooms, separate play area, dining area, nice and bright, emphasis on music and art, but smaller room sizes with poor teacher: student ratio. Also I saw the dance teacher yell at the kids at rehearsal. Negative points for that. Webcam to watch kids from office and also have weekend/weeknight care.

4. Blue Blocks – Not really a daycare but a Montessori style preschool. Really awesome place – something I have filed away for future. Access road was bad so may cause issues in rainy season.

5. KinderKare – First place I could actually see Varun going to. Nice bright gated building, garden and sandpit – Big indoor play area with lots of ride on toys. Separate classrooms. The principal actually talked about various developmental activities, meals charged extra but served several times a day keeping up with tiny active bodies and their little stomachs. Staff seemed friendly. We almost finalized this when we released that the school focused on forms, formalities, payments etc. without making an effort to transition Varun. Was put off by that.

6. KidsKare – A small daycare started by a US returned mom in the same housing complex that she stays in. Close to Microsoft campus. Telugu speaking maids, has AC backup, meals are included (with 2 daily servings of fruit and milk), mixed age daycare, 2 primary teachers who are extremely likeable. Focus was on Varun, helping him transition not only to daycare but from US to India. The owner doesn’t even provide form or ask for payment till she is sure that it’s a mutual fit for the child and the provider.

We received feedback on couple of more options- Polka dots, GlobeToters and Indus School – but they are in Jubilee Hills/Banjara Hills area. Some of them also pickup and drop-off kids but I wasn’t going to trust my precious to someone to transport in a brand new city.

Needless to add, we went ahead with KidsKare. The daycare also has a Kidzee playschool across the hallway which we are thinking of enrolling Varun in from June.

Verdict?

Varun seems to love the daycare. There are no tears at drop-off. He loves seeing older kids play and tries to sing the rhymes and songs that they recite. Every evening we sing Jack and Jill, Ringa Ringa Roses, Mr. Golden Sun etc. He’s begun to talk more and gets frustrated when he can’t speak as much as the older kids he observes. The other day he didn’t burst into tears when he could sing ‘Wheels on the bus go round and round’ and kept on repeating till he could master it in his own babyish way!

The food served is mostly rice + dal + veggies and Varun’s mimicking the rice eating style of the maids. I am not too thrilled about that but the ‘Endakooo’ that he asks me just makes me smile.

Will we stick to this place? Likely for a while. Globetoters is opening a branch near MS office which is full despite being under construction. Once things settle a bit on home/car front, we may revisit this again.

Do you have any other suggestions for daycares or playschools near MS area? Any observations on how daycares in India are different from US? Drop a comment…

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