Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Hello, hello!! Melbourne calling....

She lives in India, Bhopal (north) and has called up her aunt's husband, also in India, Nasik (west). Her aunt (father's sister) and he had visited Melbourne, Australia, the previous year. Notepad and pen in hand, she launches off her questions.

"Uncle, when do you think is the right time to visit Melbourne ?"

"My dear, I'm telling you this, your time to visit Melbourne is NOW! Don't delay!"

She smiles at the childlike excitement in the voice on the phone

"But it must be cold there right now! Isn't it winter in Australia when it is summer for us here in India?"

"No my child, it is now spring there, winter is almost over for them...ah Spring in Melbourne..." a few seconds of silence prompts the 'child', a woman in her mid forties, to wonder if the telephone line has suddenly gone dead.

Just as she is about to hang up and redial her awestruck relative, she hears him sigh....

"Ah....spring in Melbourne", he repeats. " .....gardens, trees, bushes, all blooming.... "

You know, just on hour's drive from the city is this heavenly place, called the Tesselaars Tulip Farm, with more than a million variety of tulips!!"

"But I thought that this kind of farm existed only in Amsterdam?"

"You know, before I visited Melbourne, I thought the same thing. There are many tulip farms around the world. In fact, at Tesselaar's,  I learnt that tulip farming is neither European nor Australian in origin, but actually Turkish!

No my dear, this farm is very much in Australia, and at this time, a sight to see!

It is not just about the flowers, its the whole experience.

For one thing, its a working farm, the owners of which open it up for the public for a whole month (mid Sept to mid Oct) every year!

Then they have all kinds of theme based festivals every weekend , the locals can even take their dogs, there is plenty to eat, drink and picnic among the tulips, and all at a very nominal cost! Do you know, children below 16 years can get in for free!"

"Oh Uncle, that sounds like a must-do! But you know what my husband will say...have we gone across the world, down under, just to see a million flowers?"

"Oye! You tell that husband of your this is no ordinary festival. He will understand when he actually sees them. Does he even know how much a million is, that....?"

"Uncle, please, no jokes about my husband...." she says in pretend annoyance.

She knows that her husband and her aunt's husband rib each other a lot, but share a wonderful, deep bond.

"Oh, all right,", and she can sense him smile as he adds, "but tell him that he will always remember this experience as his most 'colourful' !!. Its a riot of colours as far as the eye can see!!. People keep returning to see it every year..."

Check one: Tesselaar Tulip Festival

"All right, but tell me, what else can we do once we're there?"

"There is so much, where should I begin?"

"Start from what aunt and you did when you landed there. It was the same time last year, wasn't it?"

"Yes, that's right. Well, the first thing we did was to settle into our holiday home.

While there are a number of places available to stay in, from the very hip to the budget ones, I had 'homed' in on a very nice serviced apartment, in South Yarra.

Excellent service with bed and breakfast, and well situated. Once settled, we decided to explore our neighbourhood.

Do you know that Melbourne is close to a river,  the ocean as well as the mountains?"

"All three?"she asks, incredulously.

"Yes, all three. The city is situated along the Yarra river, where we were staying.

There are shops, art galleries, theatres showing plays, even places where one can ski! We saw several signs indicating workshops for kids in dance, theatre, music.....

We also went for a river cruise!  The city looks completely diffferent viewed during a boat ride on the river....."

Check two: River Cruise....she could definitely spend all her days cruising gently along such a river, she thinks....

"....the shops, oh, the kind of shops there....", Uncle is carrying on, " Southgate on Yarra riverfront was where your aunt and I went window shopping...all the international was a sight to know, there is a even a shop where they sell vintage clothing flown in especially from America!

We  picked up some souvenirs from a lovely shop  at Federation Square."

Check three: Window shopping at South gate and shopping at Federation Square! Her itinery is taking shape, now all she has to do is seduce her family.....

Her Uncle's narration continues, " see, your aunt wanted to check out the city and its surroundings thoroughly, and we found there was so much to do!

We visited libraries (I tell you, I have never seen so many in a single city!), museums, saw some aboriginal carvings, even went to a circus, and an over 100 year old market called the Queen Victoria market, which is an open air one.

One can find anything from food to clothes to gifts to candles here.....I took so many photographs...."

"But how did you know where to go and what to do?" she asks

"Oh, there are so many Visitor Information Centres all over the city. We simply visited the nearest one, explained our interests, and then they helped us plan our itinery . They were very friendly and helpful.

That goes for all the local people we interacted with. Very well behaved, smiling and helpful."

Of course, my best moment in the city was when I went to visit the holiest of places, for me......the Melbourne Cricket Ground!

You know what the Australians call it? The 'G'!!

I had to pinch myself to really believe I was here....for a moment I closed my eyes and tried to imagine Sir Donald Bradman playing here, and me watching him...."

Check four: Melbourne Cricket Ground.....that would interest her husband more than anything else, she thinks...

"For you youngsters, there are many all night pubs and cafes, along the riverfront. That is the beauty of Melbourne. It is a city for all ages, for families wishing to holiday together...its cosmopolitan, as well as laid back...."

"Ok, got that. Uncle, Now, is there something in or near Melbourne that would excite my little Tanu?"

"Of course! ...So many. You see, to the east of Melbourne lie the Dandenong Mountain Ranges. It takes just an hour to reach them from the city.


Worried that her aunt's husband would decide to launch into yet another silent rhapsody, she quickly interjects,

"What can one do in Dandenong?"

"Ah, what can one not do there, my dear......when I went there with your aunt, we were transported into a land of  a picture perfect forest land, with lakes, rivers, ferns, humongous trees, bright feathered birds, quaint villages, and the sweetest train ride ever!!"

Her eyes have become misty, as her mind throws up visions of a forest like she had seen in the Steven Spielberg movie, "Avatar'.....but then she jerks back to the conversation.

"Train ride?! Into the mountains? Are you serious??"

"Yes, you heard right! Train ride. Its called the Puffing Billy, and is a century old one pulled by a steam engine!"

His voice is now dreamy.

"We went on it twice. The first time your aunt and I travelled first class on the "Steam and Cuisine Luncheon Train" upto Lakeside Station in Emerald Lake Park.

We had a good hour to explore before the train headed back. We saw families fishing, boating, walking, eating and just taking in the beauty of the place....."

That would make her seven year old daughter Tanu very happy, she thinks.

"The second time", her uncle is saying,  "we went right up to the destination station, Gembrook. The train rode through thick Australian bush.

Do you know that each and every person who works for the Puffing Billy is a volunteer?!"

"Really?" That was such a passionate thing to do, she thinks, to work as a volunteer on a steam train.

Now they are silent together, she with him on his mental twists and turns on the storybook train....

Her mind goes back to her childhood, of getting coal in one's eyes and lungs, of unmidfully sticking her head out of the train window, of hearing the chugging of the train coaches and the shrill whistle of the engine.....this was something the family would love!

Check five: Puffing Billy to Dandenong

Pulling herself out of her reverie, she asks,

"Uncle, what about the ocean? You said that Melbourne is close to the ocean too."

'Yes, dear, the Indian Ocean lies to the south-east of the city.

In fact, one of the first things that your aunt and I did was to drive along the Great Ocean Road. Do you know, it was built by soldiers in the early twentieth century, and is almost 240 kilometres long?

The coastline offers a visual treat, and there are so many villages along the way, from quaint fishing villages to ones with art galleries, shopping malls, Victorian era buildings...

The local people recommend Torquay, which is just at the beginning of the Great Ocean Road, and has one of the best surfing beaches in Australia, called Bells Beach."

Check Six: Surfing (or trying to) at Bells Beach...her teenage son Aadarsh, who had declared he was too old to holiday with the family, could be lured by this prospect.....

".....and they have these rocks called the twelve Apostles, fascinating rock formations that rise out of the need plenty of time to drive down the Great Ocean Road.....and...."

Her mind is now furiously calculating....visas, tickets, airfares, staying costs, eating costs, travelling costs....

Her aunt's husband's is now saying,  "You know, you can see the city from a hot air balloon as well!"

She is amused at how like her teenage son he sounds right now!

"Your aunt and I were taken up in this hot air balloon in the wee hours of the morning to catch the sunrise over the city! Your aunt tells me it was the most romantic ride she's ever taken with me!

People even hire helicopters, and old vintage planes, and new ones to fly to islands, along the Great Ocean Road, to catch the breathtaking scene from the air."

"Is there anything that you wanted to, but couldn't do?"

"Plenty, my dear. We realised we did not have enough time for a Tree Top Tour, around three hours from Melbourne, at the Great Otway national Park. It is an almost 2 kilometere walk on the tree tops in the Forest. Maybe we will also visit Tasmania the next time we are here, as the ship leaves from Melbourne

We also could not make it to Swamp Wallaby, that is just 90 kilometeres south of Melbourne. I'm told one can see the Eastern Grey Kangaroo there as well. We plan to visit there on our next trip."

Check Seven: Swamp Wallaby....spotting a kangaroo was a must do on a visit to Australia!

"Uncle, that's a lot to do for the entire family, thank you so much! Now, I can't wait to get started on the mission, "Visit Melbourne". I want us all to experience each and every thing that you have described....." she smiles into the phone, thinking that maybe one visit wasn't going to be enough.

She can sense him smiling back, with his parting shot, "Just tell them, like I told you, "your time to visit Melbourne is NOW!"


  1. excellent flow of pen. very gripping tale.

  2. Thank you, Maun Vision. Comments like yours motivate me to keep writing...:)

  3. Interesting post... loved the racy and dialogue-rich style.

    Arvind Passey

  4. Thanks Arvind.., value your visit here, and your thoughts on the piece..:)

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