Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Iran Chronicles: Part Yek

Note: This post will talk about a "Family Member" at some part, without whom my travel would've hardly been possible (and that is all the gratitude that's going to be expressed, so it IS about Iran!)

One hot April afternoon in 2014, my travel buddy called me excitedly to ask if I was game to travel to Iran - her husband's pal had just returned from Tehran and had been raving about it.  And that the sweets in Iran were superb. Would anyone say no? And as simply as that,  we started planning our holiday.

Now, getting a visa is always a pain. Especially for housewives (yeah, get used to the term!). Even harder for housewives traveling without their husbands. And more so, when there are 2 housewives traveling. Add their clear happiness at the travel, as if running away from their domestic bliss back home, it goes up a notch to raise suspicions. We'd faced this for Israel, Oman, Bahrain, even Bangladesh. But Iran? The country took it up 2 notches.

First off, Iran is deeply suspicious of non-Iranis interested in traveling to their country. Especially when they are declared neither Muslim or Parsi, and don't seem particularly interested in any religion including their own! And then we spouted all this jargon about being interested in culture and experiential travel, and thought Iran would be a wonderful fit. And we raved about their ancient civilisation and beauty. All normal? We thought so too! But at the Consulate of the Islamic Republic of Iran, despite wearing the mandatory scarf over the head and being more docile than usual, my pal and I were met with hearty suspicion. What were we asked to do? Come back with our respective husbands to sign in person a "No Objection Certificate" 'allowing' their wives to travel to Iran as a tourist.

Now for the gratitude part - luckily both husbands turned up.  They showed exemplary wisdom both at home and at the consulate by not tittering or even smiling at the idea of 'allowing' their spouses to travel.  They also displayed considerable intelligence by not talking about our previous visit to Israel. Yes, all in all, am grateful to the Universe for my husband. He da man!

And that's how the stamping happened. Before we knew it, in September, we heard the Emirates announcement that all liquor would 'now be cleared' and that we were in Iranian airspace!

The Useful Info Part

  1. If you are traveling to Iran on a tourist visa, you need a 'letter of invitation' from the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Therefore, it is best to go through a travel agent based there (we used 'Gasht Travels', Shiraz and I cannot recommend them enough) 
  2. They require a medical test to rule out AIDS and TB. These tests have to be done at the consulate authorised medical labs only. In Mumbai, there is one at Kemps Corner that does it. 
  3. The visa processing takes 4 - 6 weeks from start to finish. And the tourist visa is usually valid only for 90 days for an Indian citizen. Single entry only. So plan accordingly. 
  4. If you have an American passport, or are traveling with a friend on a US passport (like we did, our third travel partner is a US citizen), it is best to declare it upfront in the Consulate and have her details too. 

To be continued…..

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Vote of Thanks!

Gratitude Challenge : Why the Challenge, Why I am grateful for my husband and What my family means to me!

In the last year and a half, since I stopped blogging, I have had many many things to be grateful about. Maybe then it is only right that I spend an year reflecting on and writing about the little and big joys of life. But of course, the Universe has a perverse sense of humour too; so my posts shall reflect exactly that - Part Gratitude, Part Crib, Part Rambling and 3 parts Bombay Sapphire!

PS: 1.As it happens, I started the challenge 3 weeks too late :) So in true management style, I have decided to do the first 3 together.
2. I may deviate from the blog topic required regularly to write about whatever catches my fancy at that time. Consider yourself forewarned!

Why I am grateful for the Husband? 

This is a hard one to answer. Especially without being sappy! Bear with me.

Because no one has stood by me with as much confidence and trust as he has in my abilities. Because no one can make me laugh like he does, especially when I am close to tears. Because he knows when I need my third drink! Because holding his hand make me feel warm and se#y at once. Because he shares his life selflessly.  Because he is the voice of reason that I lack. But mostly because, he understands. Always.

Now before, I run out of words, let me thank the Family too.

I am grateful for them, because they let me be. My parents let me make my choices knowing that I would fall sometimes. My sister for holding my hand and being my safety net every time I fell (and continue to fall!) My grandparents for always taking my side, ensuring I got away with murder (okay, close). My dad especially, for letting me live my life on my terms (except for insisting on getting married!). My mom for being the word of caution on every account (except for urging me to have kids!) And the extended family for the fun and laughter in my childhood… and my in-laws for helping me gang up against the Husband (especially) and for always working hard to establish great communication with me.  But most of all, I am grateful to my mom for instilling a love for travel, to explore, to seek new experiences all the time. And to my dad for showing me how to be optimistic always and live life on the edge.

Phew! This challenge is harder than I thought. Its going to be a lot of work, being thankful all the time. But then, a challenge is exactly that.  Hard. And hopefully the Force will be With Me!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Day 11: Smile

Ooo danger party hai! Hardly a smile worth returning, eh?! I remember feeling scared of this shark even on the other side of the glass. It also seemed to me (my overactive imagination of course!) that the shark was repeatedly coming back to smile at me. I also remember thinking had the shark learnt to brush its teeth, it would take forever to shine its pearly whites. 

Thinking now of Bruce, the friendly shark in 'Finding Nemo'.
"I am a nice shark. Not a mindless eatin' machine. If I am to change this image, I must first change myself. Fish are friends. Not food."

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Days (7,8 & 10), 9: (F, Shape, Stars), Snack

Guest Post by Button (4 years old) 

Fan, Semi-Circles and Stars: Appa bought a new thing called iPad for amma last year. A week after he had gifted it to her, she still did not use it saying she was busy with the new baby. She was so busy looking after the baby, she did not hear the iPad cry for some attention. I decided to help her and took some pictures, actually many pictures. Amma often says the world has to learn not to be afraid from children. Amma's friend said the same of my pics - he said Button takes such wonderful shots, you should buy a camera for him. I wish amma listened to him. 

Snack: Now amma doesn't always listen to me. I said I wanted snacks for my friends on my last b'day. What do you give 4 year old kids? Let ME answer. Some popcorn, a cupcake, chips and maybe cucumber slices. Now look at the pic to see what amma put on the plate? NOT GOOD! All mothers should listen to the kids. How will mothers grow up otherwise? :) 

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

A Virgin at the Gym!

I have always been a tad more 'prosperous' than is the norm. Usually no more than 10% of the standard weight for my height, say 4 - 5 kgs overweight at best. Once I had my son, things steadily started going downhill. I began to steadily buy a larger pair of jeans every 6 months. I did not stop to think the effect of eating on my body. A short while after delivering Button (the older one), I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. I used it as a crutch to continue piling on the pounds. Nary a thought about jeans size (you DO get really large sized jeans provided you know where to look). In 2010, I moved from Bombay to Chennai. In Chennai, the pressure to lose weight is even lower, many pretty and plump maamis in town! I did drop a few kilos, mostly by sweating them out, thanks to the Sun God. After my second one, Twinkle, was born,I was 25 kgs more than my prescribed weight.

Two things subsequently happened - I wanted to be healthy for my daughter. I remember the taunts and jibes that I listened to as I grew up (and certainly do not want that for my daughter). Secondly, I found this lovely red top that I have (3 sizes smaller) that I LOVED wearing and had somehow forgotten about. So began my quest for fitness. I am not aspiring to be a svelte modelesque size 0, but I do want to be healthier and back to less than 10% over my standard body weight. I ate healthy and was back to pre-pregnancy weight in just 3 months.

Now I am working on the first pregnancy's weight gain. I have at least 15 more kilos to drop. Long way to go, but I try to do a mix of 80-20 (Aerobics:Weight training) at least 3 times a week. The whole of April, I devoted my gym time to blogging. Yes, the A-Z challenge. It was a challenge I was determined to complete, and between childcare and looking after my parents (who had health challenges in April) and completing my story-telling course, I let my fitness routine slip. Like Barney Stinson would say "Big Mistake".

And then, like he says , because I was sad, I became awesome! This May, I am working on a 26 days of gymming (my personal challenge for the month). Okay, I know 'gymming' is an Indian English word, cut me some slack okay?! I am blogging about this because public announcements always helps me stay committed.

So here's what happened this morning at the gym. I was cycling and listening to Madonna. And without realizing it, I started singing LOUDLY! Which song? "Touched for the very first time, like a viiirrrrgin". Yes, I got "THE LOOK" quite a bit, but made a couple of friends too. :) 

Monday, May 06, 2013

Day 6: Broken

Remember Shrek? The lovable adorable Ogre, who showed us beauty ONLY lies within. Well, I am re-discovering him, thanks to Button. Button too talks nineteen to the dozen these days, just like the Talking Donkey. The Donkey apparently talks to Button too (did I mention he loves role-playing?) So one evening I came back to find that the donkey had talked his head off! 

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Day 5: Paper

Most people I know keep an emergency stash of cash. Emergencies could range from medical exigencies to impulse purchases to ATM malfunctions to unexpected bills. Well, I am one of the few who never kept a stash like that. I was in labor (second kid), the contractions were fast and furious and the husband and I realized we had NO cash in hand! We had to scramble around to pay Rs.8/- to the parking attendant. Luckily Apollo, Chennai has an ATM on the premises