O’Hare or O’Harrow?

I walk as fast as I can, even running in parts. Carrying my backpack and holding Tanvi’s hand, I am trying hard not to bump into people who I cross. It is turning out to be a constant struggle. Heading towards gate number 6, I look up at the overhead sign for direction. We still have eight gates to cover.

English: O'Hare_International_Airport - Termin...

Chicago O'Hare International Airport

Ten minutes ago sitting in the boarding lounge of gate number 16 at Chicago’s O’Hare International airport I was beginning to relax. It had been a rough morning but it was over now. Our flight to Kansas City was to leave in 45 minutes. Baroon, sitting next to me was reading on his iPad. Tanvi as always, was unaware and self-entertained.

I stop to catch my breath. I look around and the terminal is full of people. Most of them seem at ease. This annoys me. I have swapped my backpack with Baroon and am now carrying Tanvi instead. I figure this will make us move faster. In actual fact it has managed to slow us down. ‘ We’ll make it, don’t worry’, says Baroon. I huff and I puff. I have just about had enough.

‘I think we will be there by ten’, I’d said to him this morning when boarding the CTA for the airport at 9:00am. For an 11:30am flight, that sounded good. Turned out, it wasn’t. For starters, the train has a couple of extra stops in the morning which we did not know of. To top that, there was a twenty minute mid-way halt due to technical issues. It was twenty minutes too much.

Tanvi is back to walking. I have to drag her now. We are going past gate number 8. ‘Nearly there,’ Baroon declares. I can’t believe how calm he is.

‘Run..’- was the call as soon as we got off the train at 10:30am. O’ Hare is big and difficult to navigate especially on a Sunday morning. Losing our way twice, we finally made it to the check-in counter. We knew we were pushing our luck.

‘I’m sorry, check-in for this flight is closed,’ we were told. There was nothing we could do. The next flight was in an hour and we would be kept on stand-by for that. Thus, began the real ordeal.

Three hours gone and we were still waiting. Two flights had since flown and we had missed both. The first was full and a frequent flyer family was given preference over us for the second. Hearing their names being called out over ours had been excruciating.

I see the board that says Gate 6. I go over to read the flight number on screen. With only twenty minutes to go, most people are already standing up for boarding. Deflated, I flop myself on one of the lounge chairs. ‘Don’t let this take the sheen off Chicago for you,’ says Baroon. He can read my mind.

We had made it the third time. Boarding passes in hand, we sat in the lounge of gate number 16. ‘Finally!’ I sighed, looking at Baroon. We were all set. I was wrong. ‘The departure gate for American Airlines flight 197 has been changed to gate number 6.’ I found myself running again.

‘Morning from hell’, I mutter. ‘Come on, these things happen’, says Baroon. ‘This is O’Hare after all.’

‘O’Hare or O’Harrow?’

Baroon sighs and sits down next to me. ‘Does it matter?’ he asks.

I close my eyes. I ask myself the same question. I answer is simple. No, it does not matter. The essence of traveling is experiences, both good and bad. What I learn from them is what matters. I have learnt my lesson. Chicago to me will always be the two brilliant days that I spent here. Not the Sunday morning that went wrong. Suddenly, I feel better.

Holding Tanvi’s hand I walk towards the gate happily.

‘Hare not Harrow’, I say to Baroon as we enter the aircraft. He grins. We both chuckle and take our seats.


Review: Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus tour Chicago

Downtown Chicago is home to some of the most popular tourist attractions in America. It’s also big and hoping to cover them all in two days was an ambitious plan. We found our answer in the two-hour Signature bus tour of The Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Bus Company also known as The Hop-on-Hop-Off Tour.

Michigan Avenue Bridge

Standing on the corner of Wacker Drive, holding newly acquired pamphlets from the Visitor Information Centre, we had a decision to make on that mildly cold September morning. Hopping off the tour bus at the exact same spot later that day, we knew we had chosen well.

Tickets for this tour can be bought online on http://www.coachusa.com/chicagotrolley/. Like everything else we did on that trip, we bought ours on the spot. Wearing red company logo-bearing jackets, ticket sellers are stationed all around Wacker drive and they are hard to miss. Buying online, one can save four dollars each on adult tickets and two dollars on kids. We paid full price, $35.00 and $17.00 respectively.

Finding a spot on the open upper deck was easy. ‘Ah! The perks of visiting in the waning end of the season,’ grinned Rachael, our tour guide. Her live commentary helped keep our spirits up throughout, even when rain decided to play spoil sport midway through the tour.

The Art Institute of Chicago

Michigan Avenue Bridge was the first out of the fourteen stops. Nestled under this, next to part of Lake Michigan is the Chicago Riverwalk. Water taxis can be hailed from here for cruise tours on the lake and to enjoy the stunning views of the Chicago skyline. The Chicago Theatre, home to some of the best stage and screen performances since 1921 was stop number two.

‘Oprah gave these away on her show!’ Rachael shouted into her microphone and gave us the need-I-say-more look. Re-enforcing the legend of Garret Caramel popcorn, we were told that there were coupons for a free bag behind our tickets. She had us at Oprah.

The Art Institute of Chicago is the second largest art museum in the United States. The stately building, also housing the School of the Art Institute of Chicago is flanked at its entrance by two imposing lion structures. An art lover’s heaven, it warrants uninterrupted time dedication. Short on time, we were happy just to take pictures.

Lake Michigan

Millennium Park with its cloud bean structure, Grant Park with The Buckingham Fountain and The Chicago Hilton occupied our interest and our eyes for the next half an hour.

‘That’s where Sue lives!’, announced Rachael, pointing at the Field Museum of Natural History, the next stop. Entering Museum campus we were told that it housed the popular Shedd Aquarium as well as the Adler Planetarium. Coming back to Sue, she is the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus currently known and holds a privileged spot in the centre of the lobby in the Field Museum.

Hard Rock Cafe

The highlight of the tour ride was the drive past Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is one out of the five great lakes of North America and catching a glimpse of the blue water from the bus that day there was no question why. It was a stunning view.

John Hancock Observatory

Stops of Navy Pier, Sheraton Hotel, Water Tower and John Hancock Observatory followed.

Going past Hard Rock Café the tour came to an end at Sears Tower popularly known as Sky Deck Chicago.

‘I think we have captured Chicago in spirit,’ I said to Baroon as we got off the bus. That pretty much summed it up.

For those people who have more time on their hands, the tickets of the Signature Tour are valid for three days. Since there is an option of hopping off and then hopping back on at any of the stops, it is worthwhile to choose a destination of choice and spend a few hours there before getting back on the bus.

For people like us, who might be visiting for a short span, The Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Bus Company Tour is a great way of sitting back and getting a feel of Downtown Chicago. Just enough to make you want  to go back for more someday.

Getting There:

The Blue Line Chicago Transit Authority Train runs between O’ Hare International Airport and Chicago Downtown. See link


Tour bus Information and online tickets:



Garret Popcorn


Chicago Deep-Dish Pizza

Pizzeria Uno:

29 E Ohio St  Chicago, Illinois 60611

Mon-Fri 11–1am
Sat 11–2am
Sun 11am–11pm

 For Information regarding attractions included:


Summer in North India: A Survival Guide

Summer in North India is hot. Temperatures can go up to nearly 45 degree C or 113 degree F and visiting North India in this season is not high on the most travelers’ agendas. Despite the heat, summer in India is a vibrant time and can be enjoyed if certain guidelines are followed. Here are a few tips on what to do in order to survive the heat and make the most of your trip.


Dilli Haat in New Delhi is a great place for buying summer clothing and footwear
Dilli Haat in New Delhi is a great place for buying summer clothing and footwear

Stick to light weight cotton clothing. Fabrics like linen work best as they allow the body to breathe along with the fact that they are good absorbents. This helps when one is sweating, and sweat you will, be absolutely sure of that! If you plan to travel light there is a huge variety of cotton clothing available in India itself which is affordable and easy to maintain. The best places for buying such clothes is the handloom shops and the haat bazaars  and every city in India has more than its fair share of these. Examples of such markets are Dilli Haat and Janpath in New Delhi. Along with the fabric, it is a good idea to stick to light colors preferably whites and pastels. You might have to wash them more often but once there you will realize that it is well worth the hassle.


a pair of Kolhapuri chappals
a pair of Kolhapuri chappals

When it comes to footwear, it is best to wear something more open ended like flat sandals or floater sandals as opposed to shoes. While on the one hand, shoes might be more comfortable when walking long distances, wearing a pair of sandals will mean that you will sweat a lot less on your feet. Shoes tend to trap heat and with socks the problem is actually aggravated. Like clothing, there are a number of economical footwear options available in India for summer. Most of these are budget-friendly and even if they only last you through your trip you will realize that eventually it was money well-spent. Some popular options include, ‘Kolhapuri chappals’ for both men and women, as well as ‘Jootis’ which are traditionally from the state of Punjab but available all over India. In addition to these you will find various modern styles to choose from.


North Indian summer can be highly dehydrating and it is absolutely important that you keep your fluid intake high. While water tops the list of beverages that you should be consuming, do enjoy the flavor of the country by trying come local delicacies like ‘Nimbu paani’ ( sweet and sour lime water) and ‘Lassi’ (flavored buttermilk). Be careful of where you choose to have these from as variations are available all over- from five star restaurants to the roadside local vendor. It would be a good idea to go for a clean, sanitized environment and give the roadside vendor a miss! If you end up in the state of Punjab, you can also try ‘Ganne ka Ras’ which is basically sugar-cane juice as well as ‘Chaach'( a thicker, creamier version of the flavored buttermilk). Drink as much as you can to keep your body temperature cool and to avoid dehydration.


By all means, eat what you want- but also make sure that your diet includes a lot of citrus as well as seasonal fruits. Fruits such as Watermelon and Rock melon should find a place on your daily platter as these help the body to stay cool internally. India has a wide variety of seasonal fruits in summer and ‘Litchi’ also known as ‘Lychee’ is one of them. This belongs to the soapberry family and is made up of delicate soft whitish flesh. A big summer favorite among the locals, make sure you try this as the benefits are many when it comes to taste, nutrition as well as fighting the heat battle. It is important to buy and consume fruit that is either whole or covered if cut in order to avoid any stomach problems.


draped around the neck here, the dupatta can be use dot shield head in summer
draped around the neck here, the dupatta can be used to shield one’s head in summer

Finally, keep your head covered to avoid any heat strokes. Shielding one’s head is a common practice even amongst the locals and there are various methods that one can employ. You can use an umbrella but that can turn out to be an obstruction to free movement. A cap or hat is another alternative. One of the best methods is to use a ‘duppatta’. A ‘duppatta’ is a rectangular piece of  fabric that is usually 4 ft by 2 ft in size. Available in a multitude of colors and fabrics it can be used by women to wrap around the neck and then lift an end from the nape to cover the head. For men, it can be tied around the head like a ‘saafa’ or a ‘pagdi’. These words may seem alien while reading but are very commonly used in the country and help can be easily sought in order to learn the correct methods of draping.

With the help of these guidelines, a summer trip to North India is very much a reality for any traveler and can be a very enriching experience as well.

The Singing Voice

Standing on the balcony of our first-floor apartment, I watch as the white Toyota four-wheel drive pulls out of the complex. It turns on to the main road and is out of my sight in a matter of seconds.The light breeze feels cold on my cheeks but the hot cup of coffee that I am holding makes me feel warm around my hands. Everything around me is just as it is expected to be on a cold winter morning in Kansas. White and completely frozen.

Lost in my thoughts, I hardly notice any of it.

For the third time this week Tanvi beat the alarm clock and I woke up to the sound of her singing. Dragging my feet and rubbing my eyes, I walked instinctively across the living-room towards her bedroom and pushed the already half-open door with a slight nudge. Dark even at this hour, the room is a blatant reminder of the fact that winter is already upon us. I turned the lights on and there she was- singing, smiling, and squinting all at once. I went over and gave her a hug. ‘Good morning, baby’, I said. She said nothing and carried on singing.

Tanvi is my four year old daughter.

Tanvi at 11 months

Some tea, some music, some breakfast and in the middle of all this, a few stolen hugs and kisses from Tanvi made up for the rest of the morning. My husband Baroon left for work at 8:00am. Fifteen minutes later, I heard a knock on the door. Mandy, Tanvi’s therapist was here to pick her up for the Applied Behavior Analysis session. Putting her jacket on, I said,  ‘Bye baby, have a good day at group.’ Holding Mandy’s hand she walked out of the door and said nothing. ‘Not my day,’ I thought and with a wry smile rushed off to the balcony to see her get into Mandy’s white Toyota and leave.

It was two years ago and we were living in India at the time. I woke up earlier than usual without the help of either the alarm or any early morning singing from Tanvi. ‘Had I even slept?’ I thought to myself. The doctor’s appointment was at 11:00am and I still had a few hours to go. Over a cup of morning tea with my husband’s parents I talked about everything else except what was to come later on in the day. No one else did either.

one day old here

‘Hey there! Good Morning.’ My thoughts are interrupted suddenly and I realize that my neighbor is waving at me from underneath. Sipping my coffee, I wave to her, turn and walk back into the apartment. It is warm in here and it feels nice.

Sitting outside the doctor’s room that day, I felt cold and tried hard to ignore the constant knots in my stomach. We had been talking all-along on our way to the hospital. ‘She has always been a happy child’ I said   ‘active too..’, added my husband. All her milestones were in place. ‘She did start walking at 11 months…’, he said and we both laughed at the memory of her first few steps. The happy memories helped but only for a few minutes. We both knew we were hoping against hope. Tanvi was over two years old but had no speech, not even single words. She made no eye contact with anyone and did not respond to her name. She did not play appropriately with toys or other children and she was always lost in her own world.

Once inside, it only took a few minutes for the truth to emerge. ‘Your child has Autism’, the doctor said looking at her reports. I clearly remember feeling like I had been hit on the head and stabbed in the heart both at the same time. I also remember one more thing- I had recovered quickly.

My phone rings and I walk over to pick it up. ‘Baroon’- I read the display and answer.

‘We are in this together’, he had said on our way back home. We had a plan for our life. I was going to go back to work and we were going to buy a house. ‘I’ll take care of it all. Trust me.’ The drive home was silent. He drove with his right hand, the left holding mine.

It’s 9:00pm and Tanvi is in bed already.I can hear her sing again. She does that a lot. Mandy said that she had a good day at group and learnt a new word today. I catch myself smiling. After two years and numerous therapy sessions, Tanvi is making great progress. She interacts more, she responds well and she is a fast-learner. She loves music and has started using two word sentences to express her needs. Autism is not such a bad word anymore.

With her therapists at group two months ago

For an instant reflect I on my life as it is today. I notice that my smile is slightly broader. ‘There is a lot to be happy about,’ I tell myself. On that note I head towards my bed and set the alarm for 7:30am. Will it be Tanvi or the alarm tomorrow morning?, I wonder as I finally shut my eyes for a peaceful night’s sleep.

Hold me by the horns

‘Passengers traveling to Chicago on American Airlines flight 194, please proceed towards gate number four for boarding.’ Within a few minutes we were seated. It was a near full flight. ‘Seems popular. I think that’s encouraging,’ I said to Baroon, my husband. Unsure, I had been looking for reassurance ever since we left home.
Chicago was a destination of convenience for us. I had landed in Kansas City with my daughter Tanvi about a month back from India. Baroon had been living in America for the last five months. We wanted to travel but had no idea where to start. Disha, my husband’s cousin who lives in Michigan suggested that we meet in Chicago for the weekend. We agreed and that was it.

Feeling connected to my destination has always been important to me. For the most part, cities I have visited are ones that I have wanted to go to all my life. This however was new. I did not choose Chicago. It got chosen. It had a lot to live up to.

We landed at O’Hare international airport at 9:00am. Coming from Kansas, I could have been intimidated by the sheer size of it. Coming from New Delhi, I wasn’t. Within half an hour we were onboard the Blue Line Chicago Transit Authority train heading downtown. With very light luggage, traveling by CTA turned out to be economical and user-friendly. We bought three-day passes allowing unlimited travel at $15.00 each for Baroon and myself. Tanvi, who is under 6 years, rode free throughout.

So far, I liked what I saw.

‘I need breakfast,’ declared Baroon. Having gotten off at Jackson station in downtown loop we had been walking around for nearly 40 minutes. People heading to work on a Friday morning is all we had been able to see. At this point, breakfast seemed like an enticing option.

Chicago skyline

Gobbling freshly made chocolate chip cookies, we walked some more. What had started out as spontaneous and fun was beginning to get tiresome. Chicago downtown is big and we were getting nowhere.

‘We should look for the Visitor Information Centre’, I said. Located on Wacker drive just above the Chicago Riverwalk was a cabin like structure with only one person sitting behind the counter. ‘That looks small’, I remember thinking. Not expecting much we stepped inside. Turned out, we could not have asked for more. This mini information centre had all that we needed and more. Detailed pamphlets about food, attractions, tours, accommodation, you name it. Walking out, I had a spring in my step. We were back on track.




A small round of applause followed each of the introductions. ‘What about you at the back?’ questioned Rachael, our guide on the tour.

‘India’, I replied.

‘Give it up for India!’

Chicago Trolley and Double Decker tour bus

For the next two hours we were going to be taken around fourteen downtown locations on the Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Company tour bus. At $35.00 for each of us and at $15.00 for Tanvi, we had decided this was a good option.

‘Hop on’, Rachael had said as we boarded.

‘I am so ready to be surprised’, I had said leaning towards Baroon as we took our seats on top.

We had been on the bus a total of ten minutes when it started raining. At first, no one budged. Rachel kept talking enthusiastically. As the rain got heavier, we found ourselves seated on the bottom floor of the bus, at the back with no windows whatsoever. Having gone past two stops, we had no idea what Rachael was talking about. Frustrated, we looked at each other.

‘We should go upstairs,’ suggested Baroon. Back on top, I wiped the seats with my jacket. It was still raining but it wasn’t as bad. Two more couples followed and so did Rachael.

From there on, for the next hour and a half we were on what I would like to call the ride of a lifetime. Going past Millennium Park, The Chicago theatre district, The Art Institute, Navy Pier and many more stops, taking in the Chicago skyline combined with detailed information provided by Rachael, we were on a roll. The city of Chicago was mighty, flamboyant and impressive.

Chicago theatre district

‘How are you doing back there India?’ Rachel screamed into her microphone. We were going past lake Michigan and it was pouring. We had officially been christened ‘India’ for the duration of the tour. Wiping my eyes with one hand and holding Tanvi close with the other, I gave her the thumbs up!

Braving the weather with a smile

‘The city is holding you by the horns, isn’t it?’ She laughed. We laughed too. It was cold and it was wet. It did not matter. We had already warmed up to Chicago.

Disha joined us that night at the hotel. Too tired to talk we decided to meet in the morning at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. Taking the Blue Line CTA train,we were in downtown by 9:00am. Light familiarity had set in. We recognized certain streets names from the day before. We were on our way to the Field Museum. Having seen where it was from the tour bus yesterday, the walk today was purposeful and self-assured.

By 2:00pm we had touched upon the Field Museum as well as the Shedd Aquarium, both located in the Museum campus. In actual fact, one can spend over a day in each one depending upon what one likes. A common interest however was awaiting us someplace else.

‘We are going to have Chicago deep dish pizza for lunch, followed by Garret popcorn as afternoon dessert’, declared Disha. We had already been instructed by Rachael not to miss out on either. ‘Which way are we going?’ I asked. Clueless, all three of us stood huddled over the map held by Baroon.

‘Can I help you with something?’ I turned as someone tapped on my shoulder.

‘We are trying to find our way to Pizzeria Uno.’

‘Walk two blocks straight down from here and take a left. Second shop on your right.’


The lady smiled and walked away. We had been helped without asking for it. We talked about it endlessly on our way to Pizzeria Uno. Suddenly, Chicago had raised the bar.

outside pizzeria uno

The evening was spent looking at the bean structure in Millennium Park and later visiting the Chicago Skydeck. We did not get lost again. It did not matter even if we had. We knew we were in safe hands.

‘Passengers traveling to Kansas City on American Airlines flight 197, please proceed towards gate number six for boarding.’ Holding Tanvi’s hand I walked towards the boarding gate. Two days in Chicago had gone by quickly. The city had treated us well.

As our flight took off, I looked out of the window and reflected on what had happened. I knew. I had been introduced to a new kind of traveling. The spontaneous kind. The kind where all you do is land up and let the city hold you by the horns and wrestle you around. Any which way it likes. No plans and no preparations. It had been a fantastic experience. I had just tasted blood.

Suddenly, I turned to Baroon and pointed at the map of America on the back cover of the in-flight magazine. ‘Pick a city’, I said. He did.

‘That’s where we are going next.’ I declared. Then I turned and carried on looking out of the window.

Two days in Chicago

Chicago Skyline

We traveled to Chicago last year in September. Being the waning of the tourist season, we were told later that the city is much quieter around this time. Personally, I did not mind that. Weather-wise, neither too hot nor too cold, this is a good time to visit. We were unaware of this fact when we booked. In hindsight, it was a good decision.

Ours was a two day weekend trip. At 9:00am we took the Blue Line Chicago Transit Authority train from O’Hare towards downtown. Located within the airport terminal, it’s easy to find the station with signs all over. Buying three day unlimited passes for $15.00 each, we were all set. Tanvi who is under six, rode free. Traveling with light luggage, CTA trains turned out to be an economical and user-friendly option.

Chicago water taxi used for cruise tours

Chicago Downtown is full of tourist attractions but it’s big and one can get lost. Getting off at Jackson station in downtown loop area, we bought a map after walking around for an hour. When in a hurry, keep a map handy.

The Visitor Information Centre on Wacker drive is located above Chicago Riverwalk next to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Valuable information in the form of pamphlets and brochures is available on topics ranging from tours, food, accommodation, activities and much more.

Aboard Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Tour bus

We decided on the two-hour bus tour of the Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Bus Company. At $35.00 for adults and $15.00 for children, fourteen stops around downtown are covered. There is live commentary by a tour guide and one can hop off at a stop and get back on again at the same or another. Millennium Park, Fields Museum, Navy Pier, John Hancock Observatory were amongst the attractions included. Detailed and comprehensive, this is a great option when time is short.

Monroe statue pictured from tour bus
Navy Pier pictured from tour bus

A word of caution! Seasonal rain is expected so carry an umbrella or a poncho. It rained while we were on the tour bus and very heavily at that.

A walk down Magnificient Mile shopping district marked the end of day one.

Day two started nice and early. Reaching downtown at 9:00am via CTA we already had a plan in place. First stop-The Field Museum of Natural History, followed by the Shedd Aquarium and then the Adler Planetarium, all located within the Museum Campus. To try and cover the three most popular tourist attractions in Chicago in one day was an ambitious plan. We did not make it.

Field Museum of Natural History

Researching online the day before we had bought the CHICAGO CityPASS. With discounted entry tickets to five attractions, including the ones above, this pass also allows one to cut through the long queues at the entry gates. My personal review- wonderful!

Jelly Fish at Shedd Aquarium

Couple of hours in the Field Museum were followed by Shedd Aquarium. Both of these are huge and what we covered may quite really have been the tip of the iceberg. If either of these is of particular interest and time is short, I would suggest choosing one over the other. We reached Adler Planetarium at 4:45pm. They close at 5:00pm. Needless to say, we were late.

Lunch consisted of Chicago deep-dish pizza at Pizzeria Uno followed by caramel popcorn from Garret. Both highly recommended. Looking back, I think we unknowingly chose the pizza and popcorn over Adler Planetarium. At another time, I would make the same choice.

Glass ledge at Skydeck

Touching briefly upon the cloud gate and the crown fountain in Millennium Park, we finished the day at Chicago Skydeck. Entry to this was included in the CHICAGO CityPASS.  The night view of Chicago from the 103rd floor was captivating. I found my ten seconds on the glass ledge to be both frightening and thrilling at the same time.

Chicago downtown has a lot to offer. Two days went by very quickly and were by no means enough. However, packing in what we did in our limited time gave us a feel of the city and just one more thing along with that- a great reason to go back!




Bus Tour:

For Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Company


Chicago Visitor’s Pass:



Pizzeria Uno:

29 E Ohio St  Chicago, Illinois 60611

Mon-Fri 11–1am
Sat 11–2am
Sun 11am–11pm

Garret Popcorn: