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Happiness On A Budget

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It was our first vacation as a married couple. The honeymoon doesn’t count as one, does it? Those were the days when we were perennially broke, yet giddy with happiness. We were inseparable, oblivious of each other’s faults and viewed the world around us through rose-tinted glasses. The much-in-love couple wanted to escape the Delhi heat and zeroed in on Pachmarhi – little known, unsung, located somewhere in Madhya Pradesh. Sounded perfect. Who needs crowds when we had each other for company?

 
This was the pre-internet era and vacations could not be planned and booked at the click of a mouse. Tickets had to be purchased physically; a mandatory visit to the tourist office was required for information. Pachmarhi is not the most conveniently located. An overnight train ride to the little known Pipariya followed by a few hours on the road would take us to this hill station.
 
 
Project: Vacation Phase I: Railway tickets to be booked.
Our weekend expedition to the ticket booking centre, at the New Delhi Railway station turned out to be a comedy of errors. In the early 90’s, the Indian Railways reservation system was not exactly passenger friendly, unlike today where we can just log in and book an e-ticket. As we entered the Reservation centre we were greeted by an intricate maze of queues. In a single file for onward journey, join another for return tickets, oh you want AC tickets? Tee hee go stand in a separate line. We were like lost sheep in the big bad jungle and managed to join all the wrong queues. After wasting the better part of a day we managed to get only half the things right and ended up buying II nd class tickets for our return journey. WTF, travelling cattle class will only add to the adventure - we reasoned.
 

 
Phase II: Booking a hotel
Like any middle class kid, we were brought up with the notion that all things government are safe and trustworthy. Our stay was booked in an MP tourist accommodation, a cheap and well-within-our-budget option. We were pretty excited about our trip. Our friends had waxed eloquent about this pristine hill station. In our mind’s eye we had pictured a charming hamlet with verdant greens and gurgling waterfalls and even managed a dream or two (No, I wasn’t splashing under a waterfall and he wasn’t swinging from trees).
 

 
Phase III: Destination Pachmarhi Our journey was long and uneventful except for one startling revelation. The brand new husband for all his meticulous planning had forgotten to include the hotel tariff in the spendable cash. The advance we had paid covered only part of the stay. In those times, you didn’t have ATMs and credit cards as a way of life - certainly not in sleepy Pachmarhi. To say that I was pissed off is putting it mildly. I managed to murmur a, “It’s ok honey; it will be fun starving together”, the cursing and ranting remained in the safe confines of my head.
 

 
At first glance our hotel, like most tourist bungalows, was a staid-looking complex. Our accommodation looked like the servant’s quarters, a small room with a much larger attached courtyard and a prehistoric bathroom. But did we care? Naah. When people say love makes you blind, they are absolutely right. We had more pressing matters on hand, how to last the entire week on a measly 1500 rupees.
 

 
Not only did we survive the week, we sailed through it. The hotel’s restaurant with its 15-rupee thali was a blessing in disguise. An hour before noon, this ravenous pair would start hovering around the dining room, waiting impatiently for cooking aromas to waft out of the kitchen. The staff must have found us intriguing, wolfing down our chapattis and assorted subzis at an alarming rate. If the chapattis took too long in coming, we would go and fetch it ourselves from the kitchen. Ah, the hungry impatience of youth. To break the tedium we would have dosas for lunch from a nearby shack for a mere 10 rupees. With our limited budget, we even managed to squeeze in the mandatory sight-seeing trips to the Bee falls, Pandava caves and the Handi Khoh valley. At the end of our stay we had nothing but happy memories of a week well spent and enough money left for a princely last day meal at one of the better restaurants. We ate as if we had recently been deported from Ethiopia.
 

 
Phase IV: Back to civilization
It was our dreaded journey in a II nd class compartment. We boarded the train at night, well past bed time, struggling to find our sleepers and shoving our suitcases below the seats, before dozing off. I was jolted out of my slumber by a shrill, chortling, persistent cry of “pappaaa paaani” and saw a man fumbling in a stupor, hurriedly fetching a glass of water for the scream-queen. In the morning I discovered the man was just another passenger and definitely not her ‘pappaa’. A scream can move mountains and even sleepy passengers not even remotely related to you! The precocious girl, all of 4, was quite a drama queen and kept us engaged with her histrionics. As our train approached our destination she proudly pointed out “hamari jhuggi” at ITO junction.
 
 

 
The girl made such an indelible impression on my consciousness that for years I mimicked the ‘Pappa Paani’ act which would have my friends dissolve into hysterical bouts of laughter.
I miss those days, even though we now have a relatively comfortable life. Many exotic locales later, I still hold Pachmarhi close to my heart. When it rains, it often takes me back to a rain-drenched ramshackle stall in that charming hamlet, devouring piping hot mungores with steaming chai, shivering with excitement.

 
My daughter jet sets with us to London and Singapore. She has never been inside a rain-drenched ramshackle stall and has never tasted mungores. She has no idea what a room looks like in a budget hotel. And she finds street food unhygienic and vaguely revolting. It took us a lot of effort the other day to get her to sample these absolutely divine burras at a road side stall. She is now hooked on to it. Have we shielded her too much for her own good?

 
This article is dedicated to my daughter, and for her to know that the best things in life do not necessarily require a whole lot of money. For everything else there’s Master Card.

 

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Life like a vacation is about

Life like a vacation is about people, memories, and experiences. Money only alters affordability of the combination. An abundance of money is no guarantee of the best combination of all three. Thats where intelligence and wisdom comes into play into making the best selection of combination for the utmost fulfillment with available resources. Also, each parameter carries a different weight depending upon ones age and the dynamics of available companionship.

Sanjoy Ganguly

You almost sound

Purba Ray's picture

You almost sound philosophical Sanjoy. For me happiness is but a state of mind. And money may not always buy you happiness but it's a great facilitator.

It's a lovely read. True how

It's a lovely read. True how the materialistic plesures mean so much to our children.

Our fault partly. That's the

Purba Ray's picture

Our fault partly. That's the way we have brought them up :)

A question to the author :

A question to the author : Will you be able to go to a similar vacation now? sans all the luxuries??

Sania

Oh dear, now you've got

Purba Ray's picture

Oh dear, now you've got me.

Well, I can't imagine myself in the same tourist facility. I will be cribbing majorly!

Very Nice Purba

Enjoyed.

Ayon

Glad you did.

Purba Ray's picture

Glad you did.

Liked it!

anita.a's picture

It was a pleasure reading this piece of writing and going down the memory lane of my honeymoon days. I liked your way of writing.... your narrative voice is quite interesting.

Anita.A

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