Thursday, June 22, 2006

The other side…

A couple of years back, on our trip to India we had a..should I say, enlightening experience. If our experience with the Good Samaritan was great, this was the exact opposite of it. I felt I had to blog about both experiences.

We were going to Tirupati from Bangalore by road. We had booked a Toyota Qualis (not unlike our SUVs here). It’s a distance of about 160 miles and on Indian roads should have taken us about 5 to 6 hours. We started bang on time, an unusual occurrence in itself for us…many who know us will agree that we are not the most punctual people. It was about 9.00 am. We figured, with a break for lunch and everything we would get there by about 4.00 in the afternoon, giving hubby plenty of time to climb the hills by foot (which he does every time we go to Tirupati). It usually takes him less than 2 hours to climb. For mere mortals like me, it takes about 4-5 hours. He is very much used to it as he has been climbing the Hills by foot since he was a kid. We ( my parents, kids and me) would continue up in our vehicle and get settled in before he joined us.

The plan remained the same this time too. We were on the road in good time and actually got through the Bangalore traffic in decent time. We passed the outskirts of Bangalore and hubby even remarked that we might actually get there before time! Wow! Never happened before. We marveled at the newly laid highway as our driver whizzed past busses and other traffic at reasonable speed (forgot to tell you - whenever you hire a car in India, you get a chauffer too). He was obviously used to this route and could drive with his eyes closed. We chatted merrily and enjoyed the drive. When we got near Kolar, this guy suddenly started crossing the busy highway with a huge bale of grass on his shoulder. He seemed oblivious to the oncoming traffic. Our driver honked several times, but the guy didn’t flinch. Our car was going at a speed where it would have been dangerous for the driver to brake all of a sudden(the car could have toppled with all of us in it.) we were hoping the guy would hear the honking and move quickly, but nothing…

And the car hit him..... All this happened so fast, in a matter of seconds. We were terrified and of course, we all got out of the car and tried to help him up. However, within minutes, it seemed, many people materialized, almost out of nowhere and started harassing us. We agreed to take the guy to the nearby village hospital and go to the police station to settle the matter. We were concerned about his safety and were ready to do what it takes. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into.

One thing we realized when we got down to help the guy was that he was stone drunk. We got to the village hospital soon enough and the police station was just opposite to it. The guy went in to be checked by the doc while we waited outside. The kids were freaked out by the whole experience and so was I. We were all very tense. Waiting in the hospital was no help. One of the nurses walked out and told us the guy had to be taken to another hospital, about a half hour away for an x-ray, since they did not have the necessary equipment. The man’s wife( we later learned that in all probability was not his wife!) came now and started kicking up a big racket and asking for money. The demand started at 10,000 rupees. We were happy to pay for the person’s treatment and do the needful. But the demands kept increasing. We went to the police station, where, it seemed the inspector there was quite used to this sort of thing! He advised us to pay the man and move on.

While we were still confused about what was going on and trying to figure things out, our driver, poor guy, was trying to placate the villagers. He agreed to take the injured guy in the car to the other hospital for the x-ray, while we waited there. We agreed and waited for several hours while they were gone. Meanwhile, the family still kept asking for money.

Our driver returned a few hours later and we learned that the guy was fine, no fractures. Thank goodness! Now came the police station scene. A number of villagers had gathered at the police station. The inspector there talked to our driver (our driver advised us to stay away). After a long discussion, they decided on a certain sum of money and this soon exchanged hands.Somewhere along the way, some sort of report was also filed. We were told we could leave. We thankfully got into the car and drove off. It was way past lunchtime and we were all starving. But most importantly we were out of there.

We later learned that this was a daily occurrence and a source of income for some people in the village. They would send one person out into the traffic; making sure a small vehicle hit him. They were careful not to send people into the path of buses or trucks. The group would then get together and harass the occupants of the vehicle for large sums of money. If the occupants insisted, as we did, on going to the police station to settle the matter legally, they would agree, as it seems, some of the police men are in cahoots with these people and they all share the money!!

Apparently, when our driver walked in with the injured guy into the hospital, the doctor took one look at him and said,” you again? When are you going to stop putting your life at risk to make some money?”

I was appalled listening to all this. Imagine pushing one person into the traffic so some of them could make a few extra bucks. We also later learned that, sadly, the person who actually put his life at risk got the smallest cut(mostly just some booze money) while the rest of the group made off with the rest of it!

If there are wonderful people in the world, there are others who spare no thought before they put the lives of a lot of people at risk for their personal gains. The accident that day could have turned out much worse if they had miscalculated their whole plan by a second. The man could have lost his life. My whole family, my parents, my kids, hubby, the driver and I could have been seriously injured or worse!! Why don’t people think of the consequences of their actions? At what cost do they wish to make money?

I am just so thankful that no one was seriously hurt that day. We were all badly shaken after the incident. We went on our way and reached Tirupati late in the evening at about 8.00 pm., much later than our scheduled time. Hubby still climbed the hills by foot and we all reached our room, had dinner and got settled in close to midnight.

What a day! What an adventure! That’s one adventure I do not want to ever have in my life ever again.

Note: The town of Tirupati, located in Andhra Pradesh, in South India, is one of the most sacred places in India. The shrine of Lord Balaji is located atop one of a cluster of seven hills in the town of Tirumala. Every day thousands of devotees flock there, waiting for hours for a glimpse of their God, Lord Balaji (Lord Venkateswara).

Monday, June 12, 2006

Good Samaritan

The other day we were talking about Good Samaritans and I remembered this story from a few years back.
My older child was only about two years old. Hubby joined us at my parents’ place (in a different city than where we used to live) after a long trip abroad. We were returning to our own home together. We took a flight out to New Delhi and had to catch another flight from there to get back home. We all had confirmed tickets on the same flight. But when we got to the check in counter, guess what? Hubby’s ticket was not valid. Computer malfunction? Probably....
Anyways, the guy at the counter would not hear a thing. He said hubby just had to buy a new ticket in order to travel that particular flight. Well, the price of the ticket in those days was 6,000 rupees, no small price by any standards, not then, not now. We didn’t carry that much cash and believe it or not, we didn’t have a credit card. (Not many people did back then.) Being as it was really early in the morning, banks were not open and the domestic airport did not have a travel exchange office. We just had travelers checks and international currency. My son was clinging to his dad and that ruled out the possibility of my traveling with him and hubby following us later after sorting out the ticket problem. We could all just take a different flight, but that meant giving up our two good tickets. We were stranded at the airport with 30 minutes to go before the flight took off.
As we were debating about what to do, this guy tapped hubby on the shoulder and handed him 10,000 rupees. “Buy your ticket and take your family home,” he said! As our jaws were still hanging open, he disappeared into the crowd. It took us a few minutes to understand what was going on. First things first, we bought the ticket and then went running to find the good man. After much searching, we spotted him, thanked him profusely, and asked for his home address so we could mail the money back to him. He seemed totally cool and said he did not expect the money back! But, of course, we insisted and after much persuasion, he gave us his home address.
To this day, I do not know his name. But I do remember his face clearly. His act of generosity towards total strangers woke us up to the fact that the world is not such a bad place after all! There are good people out there.
It is almost 10 years since this incident and I hope that person, wherever he is, knows how thankful we are for his timely help..

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Tips for road travel…

Look no further, I have all the secrets to successful road travel with kids right here. Yeah anyone could figure that out. But I do have some useful tips.

The most important part of any trip is


The first thing you have to do is obviously, pick your destination. It could be a couple of hours away or days away from where you live. The important thing is to plan it properly. I would suggest here a couple of good websites that I have used in the past with very good results. To get a good map and directions, is one of the best tools. Also offers some useful hints for planning a road trip. For example, at, you can calculate how much gas you will need for a particular distance based on the kind of car you are driving. You can also get the exact number of miles from point to point and decide on your night stop or any halts along the way.
A really neat gadget for road travel is the navigation system. Most of the newer model cars and minivans often come equipped with one, but if you have an older model, investing in a navigation system is well worth it. We ourselves bought one before our trip to Arizona and it came in very handy. There are several models available at Circuit City or Best Buy and you can find the right one to suit your needs best. I am sure other stores might carry them as well. We shopped around and found one that best suited our needs. The price ranges from around $700.00 to $1000.00. This works out less expensive than having one installed in your van or car. Not only does the navigation system give you exact directions, but you can also access several other ‘points of interest’ along the way like restaurants, drug stores, gas and stuff. The navigation system also gives you the exact time of arrival at your destination. I also like to keep my road atlas handy.

Another important part of planning your road trip is to book your hotel for a night stay (if necessary). My favorite website, I have to say is,, I have used this website many times in the past with excellent results. In fact, the one time we did book a hotel through them that we didn’t like, and had to leave in a hurry (someone was sleeping in our room!) we got a full refund.It's best to stick to popular hotel chains. I have even booked several flights and actually planned complete trips through them with very satisfactory results.
Of course you can choose any travel website from the multitude available like, Orbitz,, Travelocity, cheap tickets and several others, and get really good results as well. You can compare the rates and choose the one that works best for you.
When you travel by road, its always best to start early so you can beat the morning rush hour and make good time. I have noticed that we tend to cover more distance before noon.

Once you have planned your trip carefully, you have to think about..


I like to say pack really light. Comfy clothes, preferably cotton clothes work best. For kids, always keep an extra set handy where you can get your hands on them easily. Don’t throw all your stuff in the trunk. Trust me, the minute you toss everything in the trunk, you’ll need something.
The kids can wear flip flops or sandals in the car, so they can take them off and get comfy when they want to and they are also easy to put back on when you stop. (too many minutes spent on tying laces taught me this, specially, when they need to really go to the bathroom!) Pack an extra pair of shoes for when you arrive at your destination, depending on your activities planned.
Remember to pack some emergency medicines like Tylenol(adult and childrens), pepto bismol or any other antacid for that upset stomach that has a way of creeping up on you at the wrong time, any necessary allergy medication and a few Band-Aids. You also would want to pack some chewing gum and hard candy. These really help if there is a sudden change in air pressure. The change in air pressure sometimes results in terrible ear pain, especially in young children.

Now my favorite part, food.. I think this the most important thing you need to think about when traveling with kids. Pack plenty of snacks and drinks. Kids can go from being stuffed to starving within minutes of passing that elusive McDonalds on a deserted highway. Also by packing your own snacks, you can keep it moderately healthy. My favorites are baked cheese snacks, crackers, cookies (although you might want to avoid anything with too much sugar) and trail mix bars.

For drinks, I like to carry plenty of water, juice boxes and of course coke or other caffeneited drinks for the driver and navigator. You may not want the kids filling up on soda and then bouncing off the walls of the van. Good breakfast foods for the road are snack size cereal boxes, pop tarts.

I also like to carry lunch for the first day of travel as later mostly we have to eat out. PB&J sandwiches work really well as also cheese or boiled egg ones. I, of course, love some good Indian food and so like to carry flavored rice dishes or stuffed Indian bread. These keep really well for a long time and can be stored in an air tight container and kept in the ice box to retain freshness.

Of course while packing don’t forget your essentials, no I don’t mean underwear..of course you’ll pack that. What I’m talking about is a couple of rolls of travel size toilet paper. You’d be surprised at the number of rest areas that do not have enough toilet paper in the stalls!! I know, yuck!! Also make sure you have some sanitizing hand lotion as again, there are faucets at the rest areas, but sometimes they don’t work. And when they do work, chances are you wont want to touch them! Sanitizing wet wipes come in handy too. Of course some rest areas are really good and provide all the essentials. I have to be fair about that.

Last but not least, pack plenty of stuff to keep the kids busy and occupied. Books are great. Also little toys and coloring books come in handy. My older son, an artist of sorts loves to sketch or draw cartoons. That kept him busy for a long time. When they are too tired to do anything or just want to wind down, a movie on the portable DVD system is really good. Most newer model vans come equipped with this too, but you can also buy one at any of the stores. The price ranges from about $100 to $300. We chose one for about $200. This came with two sets of ear phones, a carrying case, remote et al. The carrying case is supposed to go around the back of the front seats and the DVD player can be hung from it. We just couldn’t figure it out though, and so our ice box acted as a good little table to prop it up on.
Of course, don’t forget your toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant and lotion and a hair brush.
Now that you have everything you need, what are you waiting for? Pick up your camera, bundle the kids in and set forth into the unexplored beyond and have the time of your life..