Category Archives: Photos

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.






Hilton Kota Kinabalu ticks all the boxes for me

Flying into KK or Kota Kinabalu as its officially called, we, my friend Judy and I were picked up by Ben who was to be our guide – many thanks to Sabah Tourism Board for helping host us for 3 days and organising my itinerary. Ben was an ideal, and professional guide, and of course our driver, Wilfred (who incidentally, we find out, grows vanilla) was a safe and considerate driver.

First stop the was the Sabah State Museum, where we walked through the heritage village, in and out of many traditional houses and watched women making jewellery and arts and crafts. Inside the museum we enjoyed, in particular, costumes of years gone by and a photographic exhibition. We also made a note to ourselves to read more by Agnes Keith whose first book about ‘North Borneo’ as it was then, has become a tagline for Sabah – Land Below the Wind while another of her books, Three Came Home inspired a film of the same name.

Checking into the Hilton Kota Kinabalu, that evening we had early dinner with Jeremy, the marketing manager from the Hilton: he didn’t need to do any ‘marketing’ as the hotel and the Rooftop Poolside Bar and Grill spoke for itself. I had an Angus beef steak which was thick, tender and cooked perfectly, exactly as I’d requested – rare. Judy had salmon and said it too was faultless.

While up there we met the chef as well as the cooks and wait staff. Breakfast was in the Urban Kitchen on the ground floor and, as always, although I loved the wide variety of global food, I particularly enjoy being able to have Asian dishes for breakfast. The Urban Kitchen has an international buffet every night as well as having a special menu – for instance, Monday Malaysian, and Saturday Local Seafood Market. The Rooftop also specialises in the local seafood.

The Hilton Kota Kinabalu – really central, and which accommodated us for three nights in luxury – has been open since mid-March 2017 and, going by our experience, it’s living up to the names international reputation. Its spacious, luxurious rooms are all you could wish for – including in my room, a large rain or ‘deluge’ shower and big TV. It also had many power points and USB plugs, essential for travellers, and the bedside lights were fantastic – often one of the worst features in hotel rooms!

I also loved the welcoming lobby with its huge chandelier and especially the variety of little seating areas and magazines. Off the lobby was a quiet and well stocked library which impressed me.

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The Hilton staff were impeccable. I asked one of the wait staff ‘why are the Hilton staff so friendly?’ He responded. ‘I don’t know, maybe it’s just typical Malay, ma’am’. It’s true the Malay are friendly and helpful, but the staff here seem to really enjoy their various roles. Of course, Sabah, with the highest number of tourists in Malaysia, is not called ‘friendly state’ by accident.

This is about the third Hilton I’ve stayed at – it certainly was the best, by a long shot – and this, as followers of my blogs will know, is truthful and is exactly how I’d have written this had I not been hosted.

Kinabalu National Park, Sabah, Malaysia

“No, I’m not climbing to the peak” I tell our excellent guide

While in Kinabalu National Park,  (Sabah, Malaysian Borneo) I’m not sure if our guide said “look up there” or I just noticed and photographed the pretty canopy outline then later heard about ‘canopy shyness’. I just know the narrow yet clear gaps between the tree crowns is attractive.

Canopy, or crown, shyness is, I now know after research, is a phenomenon in which some tree species make sure they do not touch each other: forming canopies with channel-like gaps. It’s most common among the same species.

This growth has been discussed in scientific literature since the 1920s and many hypotheses have been put forward as to crown shyness being an adaptive behaviour. Research suggests that it maybe stops the spread of leaf-eating insect larvae, and, or, also possible physical explanations such as light shading sensing by adjacent plants.

A Malaysian scholar, Francis S.P. Ng, studied (1977) the Malay camphor tree and suggested that the growing tips were sensitive to light levels so stopped growing when near other foliage due to the induced shade.

Mt Kinabalu

However, apparently, the most likely theory is that the trees simply do not want to hurt themselves in windy areas!

I wonder – I just know the gaps between the trees provided me with a couple of  striking photos.

Is this a Malay Camphor?


NZ’s Government House, Wellington

little girl was queen for the day

Yesterday my Monday morning walking group joined a public tour of New Zealand’s Government House.  (Check their website to book a tour )

This was my first visit there as when public events have been on I have missed out because of number restrictions or have had other engagements on. We all enjoyed it and intend making a booking for just our group to visit the gardens in particular.

I will blog about Government House (1910) and our Governor-General’s later but for today, here are a few photos of the beautiful gardens.

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Greening the Rainforest World Music Festival

My RWMF cloth bags are often commented on at my veg market

When in Malaysia (Kuching, Sarawak) I have planted trees as part of their ‘greening the festival’ programme: and helping cut my carbon footprint too. This tree-planting ceremony – at all local festivals -“helps make Kuching a livable city” I’d been told.

Once again at the Rainforest World Music Festival (20th) #RWMF I find they have found another way to green the festivals by making great bags out of the previous year’s banners! Excellent recycling.

reusing old banners to produce bags help reduce rubbish

Malaysia often receives bad press for destruction of native forests and planting oil palm plantations, so it cannot be easy to convince the often cynical foreigners they want to “take care of our environment”. It’s heartening to note that the Sarawak Tourism Board has taken the government’s eco campaigns seriously. After all Sarawak is proud of having the world’s’ oldest rainforest so they need to care for it on behalf of the world.

Here’s another story I wrote about me planting mangroves at another RWMF festival.

I got to the 20th music festival a day too late to plant trees this time – if I get to the 21st RWMF I will make sure to be there in plenty of time to dig a hole or two for a tree 🙂 🙂

Happy Suffrage Day New Zealand -and thanks to Kate

Happy 124th anniversary to New Zealand!

Annual celebrations in Christchurch 19th Sept

It’s 124 years since our wonderful New Zealand suffragists, won us the ability to vote in our general Parliamentary elections.

Some, (usually landowners) but certainly not all, women had been able to vote in various non-Parliamentary elections. Female ratepayers, that is landowners, had voted in local body elections from 1875; two years later they could stand for school committees, then in 1893, after years of campaigning, New Zealand women, whether landowners or not, became eligible to vote in the national, NZ-wide, Parliamentary elections.

Our suffragists certainly led the way, with the USA, in the face of most states allowing voting, it granted the same right to their women in 1920 (19th amendment) then in 1928 all women in Britain were able to vote before that, from 1918, only female property owners over 30 years old had been able to vote.

Given our proud and world leading history I get upset at the lack of knowledge by a wide swathe of New Zealanders, including the media, who often use the term ‘suffragette’ to refer to our suffragists. Here is an example from last week … shame on

Did you know the term ‘suffragettes’ was coined about 15 years after New Zealand women were voting so New Zealand women were never suffragettes?

The term was first used in a British newspaper as a derogatory word but eventually was captured by the women of the USA and UK, and should never be used in relation to Kate Shepherd and our women ancestors, including my great-grandmother Elizabeth Rowe.

One of the great things about New Zealand’s 1893 Electoral Bill was that Māori women, who had fought for and been given the vote too. It was not ‘just’ women with land, but sadly, Chinese women, in fact all Chinese, did not get the vote in New Zealand until the early 1950s!

Suffrage day (19th November) is also called White Camellia day, as women who supported enfranchisement wore a white camellia, and in Christchurch women wear the flowers and lay them at the wonderful memorial in Christchurch – where our Kate was from.

The national memorial was unveiled in 1993 – the 100-year anniversary – and at the same time a new white camellia variety was created and named ‘Kate Sheppard’.  When in Christchurch, take a walk along the Avon, in the Botanic Gardens along the camellia walk and remember with gratitude the women who worked so hard to get us the vote.  That same year, 1993, a women’s program, Women on Air, began on Plains FM, and although it was scheduled for one year, it was so  successful it continued, for some fifteen years: many thanks to Ruth Todd and Morin Rout for all their hard work.

Kate’s home in  Riccarton/Ilam Christchurch

Last week I attended a performance of the rock musical “That Bloody Woman’ at the Wellington Opera house – the best stage performance I’ve seen in years. Kate would have been thrilled!

Don’t waste the courage and strength of those brave 19th century women – always vote

For more about New Zealand and the three documents, our taonga, or national treasures, the signatures that shaped our country,  visit the free, permanent exhibition He Tohu at the National Library, 70 Molesworth Street, central Wellington. (open 6 days week)


Drumming at a music festival in the Borneo Jungle

The Rainforest World Music Festival has just celebrated twenty years of family friendly fun:  that’s two decades of unique, worldwide, musical experiences and talents in the heart of the Borneo jungle.

It started over twenty years when a Canadian, Randy Raine-Reusch, a musician and student went to Sarawak to learn their traditional music.  He particularly became enamoured with the Sape, and this instrument has become an enduring, recurring theme of the festival which is held at the living heritage museum  – the Cultural Village  – just out of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, Borneo.

A much-loved tradition, that started a few years ago, is the drumming circle led by Drums, and other percussion instruments, are provided for 100 people at each session – and each seat in the circle is highly sought after – and it’s first in first served.

Judy, from Los Angeles, and who was travelling with, was lucky to get a seat – ‘lucky’ as I pushed her into it. 🙂

Emerging thirty minutes later she said she was thrilled to have taken part and also said “I can see the attraction of playing music or singing on a group – the conductor was marvellous and easy to follow I can also see why you wanted me to experience it – it’s wonderful”.  I suspect, had not everybody been asked to give up their seats for others, she could still be sitting there now.  However, the second ‘sitting’ of musicians were just as enthusiastic!

The ‘outer circle’ of people (swaying, dancing, and flag waving) are just as much part of the noise and fun of the drumming circle as those sitting in the front row. So, when you get to this wonderful event make sure you too participate in the drumming circle.

Here’s a video from 2015 when, I too, was in the drumming circle

Diary in these dates: 13th – 15th July 2018 for the twenty-first festival (#rwmf) and your turn to get drumming.

NOTE: this is a great stop-over destination between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres

Some general scenes from the drumming circle:

I’ve always stayed at Damai Beach Resort while at the #RWMF

Addiction, or obsession, rules – even in the luggage shop

My daughter looks at me wryly.  I know what she’s going to say – she’s sitting on my bed looking at the top shelf of my wardrobe.

This is what she can see.

“Why have you got three cases the same size?”

I explain: the red one is a hard-shell case and I use that for my checked luggage, it has two expandable zips; the lavender one on top of it is the one I use for weekends away, and I know, should have checked the size of that before I bought the dark blue one last week – which was to replace my small red carry-on bag which I had to jettison during my recent travels after a bedbug scare!  I thought it was smaller than the lavender one.

However, I know I have been sprung: I have a luggage obsession – what else can I say? 🙂

So, I’ve got all my bags out and photographed them just for you!  Do you have a luggage obsession?  Do you find it difficult to walk past a shop selling luggage?  I do.  I wonder if there is a word as describes an addiction to luggage – a luggage-aholic perhaps.  If so, I’m one.

Here are my bags – and they don’t even show my many multi-coloured handbags (do Americans still call them pocketbooks or some-such word – the ones you take when you go to the café, library, mall etc) – although I now notice my yellow handbag in a photo – recently bought in Malaysian Borneo.







And, this is the last bag shop I went in to.  It takes time to compare and contrast the pros and cons of each bag!

It’s on Lambton Quay in the Wellington CBD.  I went there to get a small, hard covered carry on suitcase to keep my photographic gear, my laptop, or tablet, and of course all the bits and pieces needed to keep them going when you’re on the road.  Leads, battery chargers, power plug converters: you know, all the things that weigh so much in our luggage.  They are also the most important things in my travels.  I can replace clothes or toiletries really easily, but not so my electronic gear.  (Of course, when I started my long distance, long-term, solo travel  (1995)I didn’t have any of those.  Just a little camera with film.)

After some time, comparing, opening, wheeling, and checking the weight of hard-shell cases, I decided although they are great, that they keep your gear safer and, you cannot overpack  – I also realised you have to open them completely to get the offending, suspect gear out, when going through security.

I prefer a carry-on that has a front pocket big enough to put everything that needs to be screened in the one place and pull it out quickly – so not holding up the line and having to repack at the other end  – to be checked as I go through security.

So that long-winded explanation is how I explained to my daughter why last week I bought a suitcase almost the same size as my lavender one, but with a better pocket on the front – well, that’s my reasoning – it didn’t wash with her either 🙂

My lessons from a stolen camera

Home for a week it’s now time for my first blog about my five weeks of travel in Mongolia and Malaysia.

But first, I have to talk about lessons learned.

With a travelling alone, with someone else, or in a group, it’s important to be equally careful despite the circumstances.

I’m not sure I did this while in Mongolia.

Many years ago, I recall my daughter saying, when she joined me to spend a month in Turkey, ‘how on earth do you get around the world on your own without looking at maps or street signs?’ It seems that after nine months of solo travel as soon as I was with her I had abdicated all responsibility for where we were going!

I had not even noticed I’d done so. Perhaps I did something similar at the beginning of this trip.

Flying into Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, on my last day, I had my camera stolen.

As you photographers know, I didn’t really care about the camera but was, initially, devastated to lose irreplaceable photos. I wasn’t angry at the thief – but could not believe that after all these years of untroubled, no drama, no insurance claims  travel, I had somehow let my guard down. People don’t steal without opportunities and I obviously, somehow, had provided an opportunity to someone.

The next three hours were a comedy as I tried to report the loss to the local police:  not because I thought I’d get my camera back, but knew I needed some sort of evidence for my insurance company. So, two different police stations, a ride in two different police vehicles, and strange three-way conversations between me, a non-english speaking detective, and someone on the phone who spoke a little English!

I’m glad Judy was with me :):)

During this time, we saw one police officer change trousers in the corner of the room, while another put his shoes and socks on; during our second journey in a police jeep, we pulled up while the police officer-driver spoke to a group of people who seemed to be trading out of the back of their cars – and was apparently telling them to move on. They argued back and the loudspeaker conversation lasted a few minutes high excitement for two travellers just trying to report a missing, stolen camera.

I never got a report! The only evidence I have is this – written in my diary by policeman number one under instructions from english-speaker number one! I think is says the time and places things happened – and I’m not sure how the insurance company will accept that as proof.

I could add more about those three hours, but this blog is about lessons learned, so here they are:

  • backup your photos daily – no excuses, tired or not, back them up
  • if for some reason this is not possible, have many memory cards and change them often

Memories of my photos have not disappeared, just the physical copy of them!

I can clearly ‘see’ the photo I took of a horseman driving his horses up a slope. As soon as I had taken the photo I announced ‘OMG, that is the photo of the day.’ And it was. Drama, action, atmosphere, flying dust, great composition. However, the photo I do have of that scene was one taken seconds beforehand in which I put up on Facebook as I wanted to save my ‘fabulous’ one for an article.

Another photo I specifically remember was of the setting sun and wonderful light on the hills around the Chinggis Khan horse statue and camp, ‘I could live with that photo on my wall’, were my thoughts, but of course, because I hadn’t backed up my photos, it too remains in my mind and nowhere else.

So, the only photos I have of my trip to Mongolia are ones I took on my phone and my tablet, as well as a few I’d posted on Facebook and Instagram.

Luckily the woman I was travelling with has shared all her photos with me and, for much of the next month, gave me her camera to use – while she used my small, waterproof one. Naturally, any photos I use of hers I’ll credit to her.

NOTE: these few ARE my photos:)