Category: INDIA

Christian festivities in Kerala

Christian festivities in Kerala

This morning I attended a church service that happens annually (January ) here … another church about a kilometre away has the same event every December.

It was a mass and I assumed catholic but the outside I’d seen a Rev. someone mentioned so not sure. Also 16 stations of the cross in windows and as we dow Presbyterians didn’t have them back in the 50s/60s when I was attending I’m sure it was catholic. 😀 I was told last night ‘we have four different catholics here.’

Religion, like everything in much of Asia, is loud, public and today was no exception. Many food and toy stalls in the church grounds too.

After the service small artifacts were carried from the church around a cross and taken back. Not sure of the significance of it all but everyone was joining in.

Here are some photos and a video for you.

Pics from around the backwaters of Kerala

Pics from around the backwaters of Kerala

I first came to Kerala many years ago after reading God of Small Things.

It’s a beautiful part of India and here are a few more photos – more will follow – with words 😀- when I return to New Zealand in about 10 days.

Taking a canoe ride with the ferryman … birds and an elephant

Had a short ride with a ferryman yesterday. We picked up a couple of women and on my return to the landing spot saw an elephant leave the river side Hindu Temple. Here’s a photos – sorry I didn’t take any on my phone and the internet is too slow for uploading so once again you’ll need t wait until I’m back in NZ and can blog about birds and elephant and potters and weavers all near The Pimenta here in Kerala.

No Monday morning walk  … but Thursday in Cochin, India

No Monday morning walk … but Thursday in Cochin, India

Travel disrupts routines which is great … however it also means I don’t post as regularly.

Here are a few photos from a walk today in Cochin, Kerala (sthn India )

How to pack, and what to take, for six weeks travel?

I’m off to India shortly, so, once again I wonder (and others asked me) how to pack and what do you take for six weeks travel? If I didn’t need my electronic gear I’d be taking carry-on only – and I obey the airline rules re carry on weight:  like AirNZ, Singapore Airlines – which I’m using this trip – have a 7 kg (about 15 lb) limit.

It’s the ‘other stuff’, not clothes that take the most room: electronic gear in particular! We all will have different needs – mine are; batteries and chargers and selfie stick and tablet and camera and power plug adapters, for instance. It pays to put them in a pile and consider what’s missing? And what don’t I need? I carry that mostly in my carry-on bag as they’re essential for travel writers. As ‘they say’ no photos, no story.

Then of course there’s the toiletries and first aid and medications. I also take a bag of ‘curiously strong’ peppermints  or other sweets for midnight snacks!

As well as the travel clothes and shoes I’ll wear, I’ll also take a pair of jandels (that’s kiwi english for flip-flops or thongs in other forms or variations of English) and a my trusty can-walk-anywhere Teva sandals.

I’ll also have an umbrella for sun or rain and these clothes.

I’m off to India so taking my Indian clothes back to India😀

 

Cream Indian outfit

Add a pair of ‘western’ pants and top, and a long lounging dress for either nightwear, or pool wear, or just lounging and writing in my room – or under a tree :). And, of course, underwear, and togs/swimming gear – as always, that will be about 10/12 kg

‘western’ top and pants

 

My carry-on (7 kg max) will have my electronics and camera plus tablet, e-reader and paper book and my medications – plus for the first time a mask for smog!

items for on my carryon luggage
missing from this photo is my tablet!

It will also have, tissues, sox for on the plane, headphones, notebook and pen, travel docs, water bottle, inflight snack, sleep mask and compression socks  – to be put on at airport. Plus of course things security want to see like batteries and any liquid, like my moisturiser.

 

 

 

Cooking classes in India – where to learn?

Chilli drying in Cambodia

At the beginning of 2018 I’m taking a cooking class in the foothills of the Western Ghats, Kerala, India.  I’m really interested in the growing of spices and herbs in the region, and it seems by staying at the Pimenta I will be able to see that, and learn to cook authentic dishes!

Many years ago, I attended one of the very first cooking classes in Thailand – of course now they’re everywhere there, and it seems that the Pimenta (the name for allspice) was also the leader in homestay and cooking classes.

I’d not really considered a cooking class, but a response from them on one of my social media posts about going to Kerala had put me in touch with them and, as they say, ‘everything else is history.’

So, watch my blogs, and of course Facebook and Instagram to see my photos, and find out more about my stay at one of the four bungalows at the farm.

In the meantime, check out their website and feel excited for me! 🙂

Chilli growing on my balcony

 

 

 

 

Another yatra in India – travelling solo you’ll love it or loathe it it seems

Another yatra in India – travelling solo you’ll love it or loathe it it seems

Salt Plains, Gujarat

About ten years ago, the author Christopher Kremer, who, at a book festival I helped organise in Christchurch, New Zealand, signed his book (Inhaling the Mahatma) by saying ‘To Heather, with best wishes on your yatra!’  Christopher, September 06′.

That was just before my first trip to India, and now with my fourth starting soon, I wondered what is it that attracts me to the country – after all, I have family members who find India too intense, too difficult.  Why do people love it or loathe it? Why am I different? And why do people always ask : is it safe to travel alone?’

Yatra means journey and, as a travel writer, for me a journey is not just the places I go – it is also the trip my emotions take – and India takes you on many journeys of the emotions – the highs and the lows.

the author in Haridwar

I loved it, I hated it, I laughed at it, I laughed with it, and I cried about it – confused and sad but ultimately optimistic about this huge country,  an intensely vivid country – the colours, the sounds, the smells, the tastes, the sights (and sites) – which assaults all your senses for good and for bad: and that’s just in the first hour of course.

It continues the whole time you are there.  When you are travelling on your own, such as I usually do, you get 100% of the pain, and of course, a hundred percent of the pleasure.  What you don’t get, is bored.

photo of Narenda Modi
I breakfast with Narenda Modi (then Gujarat’s Chief Minister)

Of course, there is also pollution, and rubbish, nearly everywhere, as well as people desperate to sell you something.  Poverty and richness live side-by-side and it’s devastating to see and hear the beggars.

While I usually don’t give to beggars, I travel sustainably and support small businesses and responsible tourism – instead of waiting for money to ‘trickle down’, wherever possible I spend with small traders – and certainly not with international companies.

On my first trip I travelled from Haridwar, Uttarakhand, in the north then south to Ernakulam in Kerala and of course, Maheshwar on the banks of wonderful Narmada River.  My other Indian yatra have been in Gujarat, home of Gandhi, and which has few tourists – I recommend you go there.  Search on any of these names in my blog and find stories and photos about each of those places.

Let me make a list of just some of the reasons I’m returning on yet another yatra:

  • the people, the food, and the feast of colours, sights and sounds
  • 2000 years of sacred buildings; Buddhist, Hindu, Islāmic, to name just a few
  • Interesting festivals throughout the year
  • There are nine or ten religions in India, and about 33 million gods – I’m bound to stumble over at least one!
  • And maybe, just maybe, when they know I’ve been an extra in the Bollywood movie The Italian Job they may make me a star – or, knowing what happened, they may not!

 

Haridwar – pilgrims get blessings in the Ganges
Navratri festival in Maheshwar
Another beautiful Indian (Gujarat) woman

 

Meditation on the banks of the holy Narmada River, Maheshwar.

 

 

 

 

 

A travel writer tries to blend in with birders!

A travel writer tries to blend in with birders!

I can’t even say I’m a cuckoo in this international nest – after all, a cuckoo is at least another bird – I feel like a completely alien species. I’ve read the Steve Braunias book ‘How to Watch a Bird’ so was sure I was well-prepared. It soon became obvious – I’m out of my depth.

It first became clear on the bus from Gujarat‘s Ahmedabad airport where, in the middle of the night, I meet a Welsh couple who have written a best-seller bird book and a South African birder, all presenters at this gathering – they’re talking a different language to me.

webjam-sahib-shatru-shalya-sinhji-img_1167

Hours later, after a slow, bumpy trip, I’m checked into the Jamnagar hotel as “Vikitoria from Ukraine” then, after less than three hours sleep, at breakfast it becomes even clearer that I’m an imposter.

Steve says birders are passionate people and I start to see what he means. Beside most settings, along with the coffee, fruit, cereal and curry, was a piece of equipment. Olive green or black, obviously well-used, some with sticky-tape repairs, are huge binoculars. I’m pleased my little opera-type glasses are still in my suitcase – I don’t want to be outed so early. Telescopes and tripods lean against tables, chairs and walls. As I eat, a bird call fills the air: one of my table companions answers his phone, the bird stops singing. It seems a birders accessory is a bird call ringtone. My phone has the factory setting ring, it confirms my out-of-my-depth-ness: I come clean.

I tell everyone I meet I’m a kiwi, ‘quite likely the only person here named after a bird’. I also confess to not being a birder but a travel writer, there by invitation to cover the Global Bird Watchers Conference. Some 500 people have ‘flocked together’, as the conference title declares, in Gujarat, India, a mostly vegetarian, low-alcohol use state and birthplace of Gandhi, for some bird talk. I wonder, do they, will they, also twitter or tweet?

weban-enthusiastic-birder-at-global-birders-conference-gujarat-img_1234

Evidently bird watching is not only one of the biggest hobbies in the world; it seems avitourism is a niche activity among, often well-heeled, travellers. Sadly, as bird watching increases, the numbers of many birds are declining and soon presenters are telling us “we have not been able to halt the decline of bio-diversity”.

It seems twitching, a subset of birding – rather like train-spotting – raced around the world in a godwit-like migration. Birders, like trainspotters, are often obsessively ticking off, or creating lists. Most of the enthusiasts attending the conference know their exact place on the life-list ranking; a list of birdwatchers showing the number of species of birds they have seen during their lifetime. It appears there are over 9,000 bird species and according to the website Surfbirds, many have seen many more than 7,000 of those feathered creatures.

I breakfast with Narenda Modi (then Gujarat's Chief Minister)
I breakfast with Narenda Modi (then Gujarat’s Chief Minister)

I decide to tick off the birds I see, and appoint Alan, a travel writer, photographer and birder – as my go-to-person to identify birds in my photos. No longer will they be ‘a large black and white bird with pink legs and tail’ or one with ‘a cute hairstyle’, The first Indian bird I learn to name by its long v-shaped tail is a black drongo. No-one but me thought that was funny: it seems its only we down-unders who use the term ‘drongo’ for dim-witted and which I was now feeling.

While everyone seems supportive of each other in this particular flock there is no doubt birding is a competitive sport with people, or teams, trying to spot large numbers of species within a specified time. Others compete by attempting to increase their life, annual, national, or county list. No-one asks me about my status – after all, I’ve only just started ticking the bird book I’ve been given. They smile indulgently at me, a virgin twitcher: I’m slipping over to the ‘other side’ but I don’t know their language.

Travel writers learning to be birders
Travel writers learning to be birders … note the bird dog!

I overhear conversations about someone being ‘gripped’: it seems it has nothing to do with groping or being grabbed but being first to ‘tick’ a bird on a trip, especially a ‘lifer’ or a ‘mega-tick’. Evidently some of these people are not cooing doves, but hawks. Rivalry can sometimes mean they intentionally ‘grip’ a fellow birder with deliberate misinformation, or even scaring the bird away – I have a lot to learn!

While we crass travel-writers are looking at people, food, or lions, searching for stories, the birders have their bins – as I’ve learnt to call binoculars – trained on a spot in the distance, or pointing skywards.

One of the experts, American Ben King tells me birding is not usually a fatal disease but “it’s even worse than an addiction – it’s an obsession”. He also tells me some amateurs go bird-watching in white tops, ‘the very worst colour’. Two hours later I glance down and realise I’m wearing the offending colour.

My companions recount tales of birdwatchers who spent their lives trying to see most of the world’s bird species. They rarely died in bed. One spent her family inheritance travelling the world before dying in a road accident in Madagascar; another, who was leading a bird tour, was killed by a tiger; and yet another was killed in an air-crash in Ecuador. Clearly, these so-called ‘bird nerds’ don’t lead boring lives!

The Welsh couple I met on the bus, Alan Davies and Ruth Miller, gave up their jobs and sold their home for a year-long twitching trip, resulting in a book “The Biggest Twitch”.

It’s interesting to be surrounded by this flock of mostly interesting, sometimes obsessive, people from all over the world, keen to see Gujarat’s resident and migrant birds. It’s obvious more and more bird tours will arrive there, and around the world, for twitchers to add to their many lists.

Ted Floyd, American Birding Association, says in his blog, “Birding is “just” a hobby, I realize. It’s mere sport, some would say, or avocation. Yes, but it’s also a lifestyle, a way of life. Birding brings out the best in us, imagine if there were far more birders. Imagine if birding were to catch on in a huge way in, say, Israel and Palestine. Imagine if everyone in Washington and Tehran were birders. No harm could come of that. In all likelihood, it would do a world of good.’ I wonder.

I finally meet ‘Vikitoria from Ukraine’. She is young, blonde, and gorgeous: I tick off some 100 birds but it seems I’m just a ‘dude’ – a casual birder who prefers pleasant surroundings and nice weather.

Khijadia bird sanctuary. Gujarat
Khijadia bird sanctuary. Gujarat