Five secrets to having a great big-family holiday.

Outside Bangalore at 7:30 a.m - a lovely day for a drive into the hills.

Outside Bangalore at 7:30 a.m – a lovely day for a drive into the hills.

Over the third weekend of October in the heart of Bengal, people gathered by the dozen to worship Durga, go pendal-hopping and indulge in a lavish spread of Bengali fare.

Approximately 1,800 kilometers away, I was busy with my own celebrations: a weekend away from the city with family.

It wasn’t just the parents and I – it was the three of us plus six cousins – all younger – and two aunts. That’s one big family do, and after over a decade. Even then, the headcount wasn’t complete, with three uncles, another aunt and two more cousins – younger again –missing. And that’s just on my mother’s side.

Anyhoo, now that I’ve made you unnecessarily privy to my family tree, let me tell you more about the holiday itself.

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“What’s in there?”, he said, and promptly proceeded to peep in.

Unlike all the other times when you holiday to untangle yourself from the world and everyone you know in it, a family holiday sort of strengthens the strings that tie family to one another. The time you have can go either way – morose and unhappy and full of family politics and cribs and complaints, or totally chilled out and mindlessly fun and full of camaraderie. Fortunately, I belong to a family that falls in the latter category, minus the occasional outburst of preferences and cribs, which is only natural. Oh, and the best part? By the end of it, we had our hair intact, vital organs in the right places and no blood on knives. And here are five things we did right, that helped us have a relaxed couple of days.

#1 Allot a SPOC (Single Point of Complaints)

Food not good? Travel arrangements not up to the mark? Beds too comfortable? Find the family a neck to put on the line. It works to your advantage to outsource the arrangements – that way, everyone can have a good time pointing fingers, without having to worry about hurting sentiments. Be warned, though – sometimes, one single person will have taken the initiative to choose the planner and that person may risk having been bitched about anyway. Don’t worry, just join the others and point away as well!

By default, the responsibility of arranging things fell on my shoulders because I’m the only one in the family with strolley wheels for feet. And because I’ve done it so many times, the whole thing was a cakewalk – except for the part where we decided on the travel dates 24 hours before travelling, on a long weekend when every resort I called was booked out or didn’t have accommodation available for 11 people.

Discovery Village, where we went for out short family holiday.

Discovery Village, where we went for our short family holiday.

#2 Choose a location/resort with provisions for group activities

You probably haven’t spent more than seven hours (including loo breaks and meal times) with your family since you were a toddler (read too little to comprehend family dynamics). So, living together for the next couple of days is fertile breeding ground for discord. By going to a place that has lots to see/do, you automatically give everyone something better than each other to be involved in – flowers to pluck, monkeys to chase or skimpily-clad women on the beaches to ‘observe’.

Discovery Village was our chosen destination. The place is not too far from the city, yet feels like it because it’s surrounded by mountains. Their usual guests are corporates who want to hold team outings or families that visit for a day-trip. We stayed overnight, and had much fun trying our hands at pottery, archery and target shooting. They even have a high-ropes course, but that needed to be booked in advance and we hadn’t.

The youngest in the family gives pottery a shot.

The youngest in the family gives pottery a shot.

#3 Stay away from controversial topics (including “When are you getting married?”, “Why do you spend so much money?” or even “What do you think of our Prime Ministerial candidates?”)

I’ve seen talks on Big Boss eliminations end in fist fights, so trust me when I say that I know what I’m talking about. Controversial topics may give people something to occupy themselves with, but they also usually divide people into three groups – those arguing, those supporting arguments and waiting for an opportunity to take a personal dig, and those who stand far away and enjoy the drama vicariously. Isn’t it better to spend time doing other, more interesting things (refer to #2) instead of debating if Salman’s new movie name was a gimmick to get more TRPs for the show?

Here’s what happened to me: Our holiday had precisely three minutes of focus on when I was going to get married. I deflected the question by drawing attention to my cousins and their problems –is so-and-so’s teacher discriminating based on religion? or Ohmigod you’re wearing that to go exploring? When both failed, I resorted to randomly jiggling to beats from “Lungi dance”. It worked beautifully.

Another effective way of distracting people - shoot tons of weird photos. In this picture, a cousin and I were fooling with the classic theme of love as shown in 80s cinema. We found this leaf from the Fig tree big enough to cover both our faces!

Another effective way of distracting people – shoot tons of weird photos. In this picture, a cousin and I were fooling with the classic theme of love as shown in 80’s cinema while another cousin clicked away. We found this leaf from the Fig tree big enough to cover both our faces!

#4 Don’t let how old you are affect how much fun you have

Being in a similar age group can give you lots of dots to connect, but when the years range from 10 to 75, you have to keep age aside and get together to have fun. Since the older generations have problems with the younger ones growing up (metaphorically and briefly) to their age, they just have to get down to the level of the youngsters. Which means, keep throwing in phrases like ‘Cool!’ and ‘Whatever’, get on Instagram, use the resort space to advantage to come up with age-neutral games, or just have a bonfire and play Antakshari.

We just came up with an impromptu game around pillars outside the rooms at Discovery Village. It was great fun, with all of us conspiring to get my mother out while she cheated her way through every round.

The aunts doing an impromptu climb up a mountain on the way to the resort. The cousins were already on top and hollering for them to move faster. Kids, I tell you.

The aunts doing an impromptu climb up a rocky hill on the way to the resort. The cousins were already on top and hollering for them to move faster. Kids, I tell you.

#5 Go with the flow

There’s nothing much to explain about this, is there? Go crazy, have fun, keep an open mind and try out new things.

The youngsters pitched a tent on the patch of grass outside our rooms and went a-playing Dumb Charades. They got chased out by lots of little creeepy crawlies, but that's a story for another time.

The youngsters pitched a tent on the patch of grass outside our rooms and went a-playing Dumb Charades. They got chased out by lots of little creepy crawlies, but that’s a story for another time.

So there you have it, my little secrets that will make a big difference in having a fabulous time with family. Use them, share them, turn them around and by all means, adapt and modify them as per your convenience. And if none of them work, get my number on speed dial and I’ll give you fantastic cheats to get out of sticky situations.

Getting to Discovery Village: Driving down is the best way. It’s about 60 kilometres from Bangalore and if you follow the directions to the T, then easy to find too.

Go if: You’re planning a family holiday or team outing, want to treat the kids to a day out, like being among mountains or want to stay within easy access to the city.

No-brainer destinations: Nandi Hills

Nandi Hills at 6:45 a.m, surrendering to the invasive power of the mist and clouds.

As a young adult, one sees Nandi Hills as a place not just covered in mist, but also in a fog of secret meetings and clandestine one-on-ones with the opposite sex. You’ll find young couples dotting the low walls, reclining against random trees, holding hands and walking around and sometimes even sitting close together on benches that offer a million-dollar view of a valley surrounded by hills.

A private, and romantic?, moment.

As one grows older, things change somewhat. Nandi Hills becomes the default destination for when you want to go out of town but not really. It’s a quasi feeling of leaving Bangalore and going someplace else. It is to us locals what the Louvre is for Parisians. Government officials take advantage of weekends to park themselves in the guest houses on the peak; families pack endless baskets with food for themselves and the monkeys and spend the day picnicking; and newly married couples come to spend time away from the prying eyes and perky ears of in-laws and family members.

The Huddlers and The Tease. I can’t believe the monkey in the corner’s sticking its tongue out at someone!

I’ve been to Nandi Hills twice in my adult years. Once to watch the sunrise, which of course we missed because we started late and it was a foggy day on the hills. The second time, to celebrate a friend’s birthday at midnight, standing at the doorstep of the mid-20s to welcome her. I saw a different side to the place on both occasions – bright, quiet and scenic by day, and hiding dark, brooding shadows in its cloak by night.

The night we drove down to Nandi Hills for a friend’s birthday, it poured cats and dogs. Worried about the zero visibility, we had to take shelter under the roof of twin shops in the middle of nowhere. The only light came from the headlights of the car – everything else was steeped in darkness. There was a lot of lightning as well. This picture was taken when i was trying to shoot the car’s headlamp against the darkness around it and lightning struck just then. This is how much it lit up the entire surroundings. Freaky!

Regardless, the drive to the destination is scenic and peaceful. On the way, you may want to stop on the roadside to inspect the crop of grapes and taste the juice of the just-ripening green fruit, take a little detour and explore fields of string beans and cabbage, or even stop by for a photo shoot amongst rows and rows of roses in shades of the setting sun.

Vine-ding roads towards Nandi Hills.

To prolong the feeling of a lazy day ‘out of town’, you could do a brunch at Royal Orchid, Yelahanka. Stretch, yawn, put your feet up, order something cold to drink and something warm to eat, and enjoy the music (if you’re lucky, it won’t be the kind that plays in elevators).

Sunset by the roses.

Do not make the mistake of heading back to the city during peak hour. It’s absolute chaos. Whatever peace you will have assimilated through the day, you’ll lose while waiting for the traffic to inch ahead. But that’s okay, because that means you can always head back to Nandi Hills and maybe catch a moon beam or two.

You’ll find lots of lone cyclists like this one on the way up to Nandi Hills.

Go if: You need a day away from the city, want to see nothing but greenery around you, enjoy feeling like dating teens or a newly married couple and want to take stunning pictures of the vista.

Getting there: Nandi Hills is a two-hour drive from Bangalore. Hire a cab, drive down or take a local bus up to Chikkaballapur and a cab from there.