Monday, 25 May 2009

From Rainforest Retreat to Realm of the Rajas

We spent little more than a week away but the break has felt like far, far longer. For the first time, we've been travelling and it feels fantastic. I think a large part of the reason it felt like we were gone for so long is because we packed so much into our week away but somehow, also managed to catch a few moments of relaxation too. We certainly had some ups and downs but the good news is that we're back, safe and sound and all still talking. On every other holiday we've taken Maya on, she's always been delighted to be home again and it's been no different this time round. When we walked in the front door, she quite visibly relaxed. It doesn't matter how much we try to encourage Maya to be a traveller - she is, quite simply, a home girl. A number of times whilst away, she asked when we were going home. I must admit though that this question also brought some confusion with it because neither Maya nor we knew which 'home' she was talking about - was it Godmanchester, Bangalore or even just the hotel room?? Poor little thing, being dragged about by her parents, she'll either love or loathe us for it one day!

So, to tell you a bit about our adventures...

To be honest, the trip didn't get off to the best of starts as an hour into our 6 hour drive to the rainforest, the car we were being driven in got a flat tyre. When it was all sorted out, Balu the driver then ran over my big toe, thinking I was already in the car (??!) which was pretty painful. Poor man was so shaken up however that he proceeded to spend the rest of the journey praying to his Gods that my pain would be reduced which, I'm pleased to say, seemed to work!

Maya and Lily fought for most of the journey, Maya getting very cross with her little sister and Lily generally antagonising Maya so were mightily relieved when after 6 bumpy hours we arrived at Rainforest Retreat, the spice plantation nestled high in the cool Western Ghats. The brochure says that The memory will linger long after you have returned home. This is very, very true. This is what the rainforest IS:

Home to the most mind-boggling bio-diversity: coffee, cardamom, pepper & vanilla, pineapple and banana groves, an abundance of trees, tropical plants, giant butterflies, lizards, fireflies, bats, frogs, moths, snakes and a million and one other creatures and plants.

This is what the rainforest IS NOT:

Safe for two little girls!!!

We wanted it to be, we really did. That's why we went there rather than some resort, because we wanted Maya and Lily to experience the living breathing rainforest, dripping with fecundity, all around them. And they did experience this - It was truly awe-inspiring and humbling, to be staying in a cabin right in the middle of the jungle, listening to the deafening sounds of the wild closing in on us from all sides. We felt like a guest of the rainforest, which is why we decided not to outstay our welcome. Here's what happened:

On the third night of our proposed 7 night stay, Maya had a nasty slip in the stone bath tub, banging her head hard against the side and sprouting an instant bruise the size and shape of an egg on her forehead. Now of course this could have happened anywhere, but what we found slightly unsettling is that our first aid kit only goes so far. The manager of the retreat, a French girl, admitted that their own first aid kit is woefully inadequate and it occurred to us that if something worse should happen to the girls, it is a very long, bumpy, unsafe drive to anywhere to get help. However, this did not come close to the other two experiences which eventually led to our hasty exodus the following morning.

That night, the heavens opened and it rained heavily and solidly for several hours. At about midnight, I woke up to feel something running over my foot. Nudging Andy awake, I whispered urgently what I'd felt. His response? "Go back to sleep, it's probably just a spider". (Spider my arse. My darling hubs has numerous virtues but responses at night do not count among them.When I woke him at 3am going into labour with Maya, he said 'Oh that's nice' then rolled over and went back to sleep.) Anyway, I lay there for a while, starting to think maybe I had just imagined it. But then I felt something run down the side of me and Andy too felt something. On went the headtorch and we saw something scurry up the ladder to the loft room (where we nearly let Maya sleep - thank the Lord we didn't). Me being all sleepy and shortsighted, I thought it was a mouse and said as much to Andy. He looked quite concerned but I then pulled the covers over my head and attempted to get some sleep, trying to ignore the sound of little scurrying feet. It wasn't until the following morning that Andy told me it wasn't mice at all. It was rats. RATS!!! Our room was infested with them. It seems that they'd come in through a crack in the roof to escape the rain and had also found some biscuits we'd stupidly left in our room to feast on. What a bonus for them! So in the end, poor Andy spent the entire night trying to fend off our spider friends in the guise of rats. Lily was all zipped up in her tent but the noise of them running around kept waking her up throughout the night too. Maya, thankfully, was oblivious to the drama and slept on.

As if this wasn't enough, early the following morning, two leeches (they come out after the rain) attached themselves to Andy's leg and sucked his blood. Oh yes, and he almost stepped on a snake too.

So, as I said, we gave the rainforest our best shot. We loved being there and the landscape, bio-diversity, people we met, hammocks, ethos and food (Maya ate her first proper Indian food - finally!) of the Rainforest Retreat was unbeatable. But the jungle is far bigger and greater than us and we also know when to call it a day. The manager was horrified to learn about the rats and completely understood our decision to move on. So yes, the memory of our few days there certainly will linger. No doubt about that.

After this somewhat traumatic experience (particularly for Andy), we longed for a clean room with no holes in the roof, room-service and a pool and that's what we found in Mysore, a beautiful old city full of crumbling palaces and unscrupulous rickshaw drivers. You're never far however from animals in India, even in posh hotels. One day, we returned to find a troupe of monkeys gathered on our balcony chewing away at Maya and Lily's drying clothes, pesky things!!

We spent a couple of days in the heart of the city, splashing with Maya in the tiny rooftop pool (I think this was her happiest times of the whole holiday!), wandering around the impressive Mysore palace, making the most of the reasonably western-child friendly room-service menu and even following the sounds of music only to discover a wedding in full swing and being invited in to eat with them!

After a couple of days at this hotel, we decided to move once more to a place called The Green Hotel on the outskirts of Mysore. Fortuitously, we had read an article about this hotel a few weeks before in the Guardian Weekly and it was as fantastic as we hoped it'd be. Set in an old palace, it aims to have a low impact on the environment and is also unique that amongst its staff, many are from amongst the infamously ostracised dalit caste, or "untouchables" as they are also known. Traditionally the dalit caste are assigned to do the unpleasant jobs nobody else wants to do for meagre wages but The Green Hotel has broken away from this (no doubt causing considerable controvery) and the service and smiles we received from the staff was first-rate.

We loved, loved, loved this place. Maya too, as she had huge grounds to wander, numerous sweet-smelling flowers to pick and a whole palace to explore. In fact, she really asserted her independence whilst we were there in a new way - going off for walks on her own, not letting us come with her (obviously followed by our beady eyes!), often doing little vanishing acts into secret corners of the palace. She was also taught to play chess on an antique set by her daddy, gobbled up yummy home made bread and cake at the wonderful Malgudi Coffee Shop and read lots of books taken out from the Palace library.

The other brilliant thing about the Green Hotel was that the three nights we spent there, after we'd put the girls to bed, Andy and I sat outisde on the balcony till it had been quiet for a while and then we could eat at the restaurant in the garden, just below our balcony. It felt like 3 successive nights out for us - such a treat.

In another respect, Maya has well and truly turned into an Indian child. Before, if she was tired and grumpy during the day she'd tired and grumpy. But now, she often falls asleep in rickshaws and we put her over one of our shoulders and there she'll sleep for a while. She's getting a heavy girl, but it's worth it to for the mood improvement upon waking, particularly if she finds herself in a cafe with a large slice of cake in front of her.

So, did we enjoy the holiday? Andy, Lily and I certainly did (though, obviously it wasn't without it's more stressful moments). And did Maya enjoy the holiday? This is more debatable. There were aspects she loved - eg the hammock, fireflies and butterflies at the rainforest and pool, park and palace exploration in the city - but we've also had some - how do I put this - issues with her behaviour since I last wrote. I think this is how Maya would see such occasions: I'm sad and I'm angry but I don't know why I'm feeling this way. Of course if Maya doesn't know why she has these sudden violent mood changes it's hard for us to get into her head. And there's been a huge amount of patience-exercising recently. But trying though these times can be, we can't be angry with her as she's battling something that we are trying very hard to understand and get to the bottom of. Sometimes she is euphorically happy, only to suddenly snap and become very difficult and agressive. Okay, so it's just a phase and partly the Gemini in her and the fact that she is a typical two year old, filled with contrasting, frustrating emotions. But is also runs deeper than this. What's for sure is that you simply can't fight a tantruming toddler and I know everyone raises their children in different ways, but Andy and I very, very rarely, if ever, raise our voices to her. That's not to say we don't reason with her or try to explain when it's simply not okay to behave a certain way. And it's an exercise for us too, trying incredibly hard to keep our cool when Maya is passionately battling us and herself.

To use an examplle, we visited a Tibetan settlement one day and their place of worship, the 'Golden Temple'. Maya decided to chose the moment when Tibetans and tourists alike were peacefully and reverently genuflecting, praying and gazing at the huge golden Buddhas, to have a full blown fit. I have no idea why. Perhaps she was hot, tired and thirsty. I really don't think she knew why either though. Unfortunately she didn't want to move. The problem was, I couldn't pick her up from the temple floor she was kicking so much and this peaceful sanctuary was suddenly filled with violent toddler screaming. Groan. Not much fun. But contrast this with the little girl who sits for an amazingly long time in deep concentration pouring over a puzzle (her latest craze) or a book or being taught chess. Or the child who sings about the lost sheep in Little Bo-Peep (her song of the moment) with such passion and sadness that I feel sure she's bound for Broadway.

We have a book called Superpowers for Parents which is written by a UK based child psychologist. We've read bits and bobs of it and it's useful stuff, but recently it's been gathering dust. So I think now's the time to shake that dust off and delve in again for some ideas to help understand and empathize with our daughter who can be all of these things and more: taciturn, sweet-natured, fiery, angry, inquisitive, sociable, anti-social, comical, perfectionist, messy, independent, needy, difficult and adorable.

But above all, she's Maya. Just Maya. She's unique and we love her so much it hurts. But oh to understand a toddler!

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a great holiday. What an adventure. By the way, you can't use the words 'understand' and 'toddler' in the same sentence. It just doesn't fit...