Taking a break?
Travel the world if you want to; but don’t knock the humble ‘family holiday’
Chances are that you are reading this either while planning a holiday, enjoying a break, or recovering from the rigours of a family vacation. Yes, this is the holiday season, when everyone who can afford it gets away from the heat as fast as they possibly can.
And these days we are all spoilt for choice, aren’t we? We can hit the beaches of Goa or Koh Samui, depending on our budget. We can enjoy the mountain air in Manali, Shimla or even Switzerland, if our money stretches that far. We can trek in Nepal; go shopping in Dubai; watch plays in London; golf in Scotland; sample the best of Renaissance art in Italy; indulge in a bit of wine-tasting in France or the Napa Valley; gorge – or gag, it depends entirely on you – on authentic Chinese fare in Shanghai or Beijing.
As far as holidays are concerned, the sky (and of course, our bank balance) is the limit. And even then, there’s nothing we enjoy more than pushing the limits. A week spent river-rafting in the wilds of the South American jungle? Bring it on. A fortnight in the icy wilderness of Greenland getting in touch with our inner Innuit? Why ever not? Walking up the slopes of active volcanoes in New Zealand? Count us in.
These days, everyone wants to push the envelope when it comes to holidays. It’s no longer enough to go tiger-watching in Ranthambore, Pench or Bandhavgarh. You have to go on a safari in Africa or better still, watch from the sidelines when the annual migration of wildebeest takes place in Kenya. Chilling out on the beaches of Kovalam is now passé. These days you must head out to Croatia, the new jewel of the Mediterranean. And Nainital and Darjeeling are now spoilt beyond belief; if you want to enjoy the mountains then Ladakh is where it’s at.
It sounds great doesn’t it? After all, who would pass up the opportunity to see the world in all its glory, sample the delights – both culinary and cultural – it has to offer, and explore every nook and cranny of our beautiful planet. If we live in a global village, then I guess it behoves us to get acquainted with all its secret gardens. And great fun it is too.
And yet, even as I scour the internet looking for the best deals on hotels and airline fares, there is a tiny little part of me that misses the good old days when holidays were more about family time and less about seeing the world. When we spent our vacations bonding with assorted uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews and a veritable army of cousins rather than discovering the delights of gelato or the finer points of bull-fighting. When taking a break didn’t necessarily involve breaking the bank.
Growing up, I spent all my school vacations visiting various members of our extended – and, to be honest, fairly extensive – family. The summers were invariably spent at my aunt’s tea garden in Assam. And the holiday started from the time we boarded the train from Sealdah station, me armed with a stack of Amar Chitra Kathas and my mother with a lot of patience. Snack-time came with every station we stopped at, with deep-fried samosas and pakoras being scoffed down with hot, milky tea drunk from terracotta bhands (yes, I know, it sounds a bit vulgar, but it just means a tea-cup).
The high point of the journey was the ferry transfer across the Brahmaputra, which put all those geography lessons in perspective. And then, there was the rickety jeep-ride to the tea garden itself, with us indefatigable kids singing loudly and I fear quite tunelessly in the back while the adults struggled to stay upright on those long and winding roads.
And then followed a few weeks of absolute bliss, when you never needed to do anything you didn’t want to. There were no mandatory early mornings to catch the sunrise on the beach; no traipsing around museums feigning interest in the Dutch masters and dinosaur models; no endless shopping trips for our moms to drag us on. Instead, my assorted cousins and I ran quite wild: going on long exploratory walks on the tea slopes; examining the wild life in the area (mostly frogs and leeches, if you must know); starting our own Enid Blyton-style Five Find-Outers gang; making friends with the kids in the local village; and generally, having a blast.
In the winters, we headed north to visit more uncles and aunts. It helped, of course, that my uncles were in the army and hence could host us in a different city every three years or so. Thus it was that we sampled the delights of Southern temples, splashed around on the rocky beaches of Visakhapatnam, explored a yet-unspoilt Bhutan, visited endless forts and palaces in Rajasthan and made ourselves at home in army messes all around the country. All of this, leavened with lots of inter-generation bonding, and much re-telling of old family lore.
Even today, when I have traversed every continent in my travels, it is those family holidays that evoke the most heart-felt memories. And it is the family bonds forged on those vacations that provide me with the most emotional sustenance.
So, in case you haven’t booked that mini-break in Bangkok just yet, you might want to examine the possibility of a family vacation. Your kids may balk at it now; but they may well thank you for it in the years to come.