Category: Worldwide travel

Encounters with creatures in Udaipur, India

Encounters with creatures in Udaipur, India

In India, architectural heritage is often linked to the major religions of the country: Buddhist stupas and monasteries; Hindu and Jain temples in  many styles – many share structural characteristics such as stone columns and horizontal blocks carved with sacred imagery or decorative motifs sculptures of the vast pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses are everywhere the various deities have many manifestations which becomes confusing as their names, like many Indian cities, are interchangeable.

Udaipur, Rajasthan, is a fairy-tale city with marble palaces and lakes – and I will blog about them later. In the meantime, here is a slideshow (23 pics) some of the local wildlife.

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Are there negative impacts to tourism?

When you travel to less developed countries, you might think that just by being there you’re helping give a better quality of life for the locals. Seems you, we,  could be wrong.

Just $5 of every $100 you spend stays local and  after searching I found the United Nations Environment Programme reference to the negative impacts of tourism here.

NOTE Seems the above  UNEP link is broken or has been removed  see  this one instead about sustainable tourism

Tourism is one of the most powerful change agents on Earth and we consumers must vote with our wallets and support local people with local businesses.”

I blogged about this issue (first published in a newspaper column) some years ago and reprint it here. I’ve also written a small book on the same topic A Love Letter to Malaysian Borneo  – and if you have read it I’d really value a review on Amazon or Goodreads. 🙂

Here’s that column I wrote . . .

What is an eco-tourist? Ecotourism?

Like Asians need rice, Italians love pasta, British their curry, and us Kiwi’s love fish and chips, I need to travel and being a traveller who writes means I get to visit where I want to go to rather than have to go the destination flavour of the month.

This means I’m often in places that are not on the tourist trail. As a slow traveller I can stay longer and get to know people, to absorb the local culture and flavour. This also means that although I don’t always sign up for an eco-tour, I practise many of the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism – a word that’s often thrown around and frequently means nothing.

My understanding of the word and the concepts behind it are that’s it an activity that has minimum impact while providing maximum benefits to the locals.

I believe independent travellers are most likely to be the closest to being real eco travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country while those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home – giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge costs – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.

Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a nature component many claim it to be eco-friendly. That has not always been my experience.

Life on an Asian marine reserve sounds wonderful right? A great eco experience? Yes the natural sites and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does stay with the locals providing it. Unfortunately, the big money is creamed the off the islands in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then  leave, taking the money with them. Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags and straws are left on the beach.

Have travel agents sold us too narrow views of places to visit? Given us a list of sights we ‘must see’ or activities to take part in? This produces problems all over the world with buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors and fumes to see wonderful pristine or historic sights.

It reminds me of Lake Louise in Banff, Canada, where I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see the great views. I have proof that I was there – a photo of me sitting alone with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However I know that beside me, waiting for their turn to have the moment recorded, is another busload of chattering travellers.

The problems of being poured into these tourist funnels will continue if we rely on unimaginative travel agents (and of course not all are) and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in areas. While it is more economical for planes and hotels to have us arrive together and stay in the same places it also creates problems for them – not the least is the strong chance of killing the goose that lays the golden egg such as the warning in the child’s story.

This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made. Tell others you are going to Bali (or Timbuktu) and immediately you will be told “you should have gone there ten (2, 5, 50 years ago,) before it was discovered.”

So, what can we travellers do?  I don’t know what you will do – what I do is travel slow, travel cheaply, and use local products when I can.

So, by combining the universal codes of pack it in pack it out and take only photos, leave only footprints, along with getting off the well-worn tourist trails means I’m able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best homestay in Northern Kerala – Kannur Beach House

Best homestay in Northern Kerala – Kannur Beach House

The Kannur Beach House is a genuine homestay and owners Rosi and Nazir are your perfect homestay hosts: eating with their guests, at the communal long table, every morning and evening and willingly share their knowledge about local traditions, Malabari cuisine,  and places to visit when they’re asked. As another guest said to me, ‘this is a little slice of heaven.’ I agree. 

This has been a family home for about hundred years and around 2000 they built a replica building, alongside the original, to use for guests.

This is a must book beforehand stay as they have 6 rooms and many guests  – who often have stayed with them before, and many like me, stay for a week or more – so, for much of the time they are full, which is of course a great endorsement. I will willingly return here to do all the things I missed out on – I was there for a week’s R&R over the Christmas period, so was happy to just, successfully, chill.

My balcony

On the Malabar Coast in Kerala, and overlooking a brackish lagoon and Thalassery beach, this beach-house was perhaps the first in the region.

Kerala is a colourful mosaic of green hills, coconut groves, rainforests,  , backwaters, and beaches. Interestingly, unlike much of India, most of the Hindu temples are not open to non-Hindu.

Watch this space for more stories about the Kannur Beach house, food, and of course, only in this area, Theyyam, a ritual dance glorifying the mother Goddess, and which is a mixture of dance, mime, and music.

See an earlier post of photos of some of the birds I saw from the grounds of this delightful homestay.

Is ‘black’ or ‘dark’ tourism ethical?

Woman carrying firewood – Agra

Some people chase fire trucks, others follow typhoons to get the best photos, while war journalists or photographers, because of their job, are often in the most dangerous parts of the world, but what about tourists?

As soon as trouble breaks out (dengue fever, earthquake, tsunami, or civil unrest) it’s tourists, often with group travel arrangements, who cancel their bookings, while solo travellers, looking for the differences, the culture and the food of another place, who usually continue with their travel plans. Is it ethical to go to places who have had an earthquake or other disaster? What about places with chronic poverty?

Do you indulge in dark tourism? Defined as travelling to places historically associated with death, has been around for ages.  Concentration camps in Europe; the killing fields in Cambodia; the site of the twin towers in New York; and Pompeii in Italy, just to name a few.  I’ve been to many places that could be considered ‘dark’. The Anne Frank house in Amsterdam; the Colosseum in Rome; John Lennon’s garden in New York, the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated.  I’ve also been to the 1692 site of my ancestors’ notoriety, Glen Coe in Scotland.

Of course, more recently I’ve been a constant visitor to my home city, Christchurch New Zealand, where 80% of the inner-city was lost due to quake damage.  (See more that I’ve about Christchurch – as it was two years ago  2016)

Black or dark tourism is nothing new but when it’s recent many people think it is insensitive to go – or for novelists to write about it, comedians to joke about it, or films to be made.   I believe it depends on the traveller’s attitude – are they chasing fire trucks or cyclones?

Think of slum tours in India, do they help the locals or not? It’s all about ethical travel – are you taking from a place, or are you adding something?  Are in locals involved?  Did they set up the tours with community involvement, or is it someone making money out of another person’s misery or are they interested and supportive?

As a travel writer I am often conflicted about taking photos – sadly, poverty and misery often produce fantastic photos.

In Christchurch tourism dried up just as if tap was turned off and the water stopped flowing.  I heard and read many articles and blogs and sadly, advice given by uniformed travel writers, tourist companies or information centres, advising people not to go, there is ‘nothing there’ or ‘you will only be in the way’.  In the beginning I know locals thought some other locals did ‘get in the way’ of clean-up work and considered  them ‘rubber-neckers’ by other locals who felt their privacy, and misery, were being invaded.

However, ethical travel may just another word for green travel which is about leaving money behind in a community so can dark tourism be ethical too?

Perhaps travel agents and guide books sell us too narrow a view of places to visit. Along with our tickets they, (and guide books, blogs or articles) often give us a list of sites we ‘must see’, activities ‘we must do’, or places we ‘must’ stay. It’s not for nothing the popular Lonely Planet books have been nicknamed the ‘travellers’ bible’ as many won’t eat, visit, stay or see anything or anywhere until the guide book is consulted.  Sadly examples of unintended consequences can be the six accommodation places are mentioned are full – while three, not in the book, and maybe better, are empty.

This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made by travellers and owners – some places over booked others empty. Tell friends you are going to Bali or Timbuktu, Christchurch or Botswana and immediately you will be told that you should have gone there two, five, ten, fifty years ago, ‘before it was discovered’, or in Christchurch, New Zealand’s case, ‘before the earthquakes’.

So, what can we travellers do? Well, I don’t know what you will do, but what I do is travel slowly, travel cheaply, support local businesses and use their home-grown products whenever I can – and this is even more needed after a disaster whether it’s man-made or a so-called act of God.

I asked on Facebook for people’s opinion about disaster, or dark tourism. One person sent me a link to a blog she’d recently listened to and believe its well worth giving you the link too – BBC World Service: The Why Factor.  In it the reporter visited Auschwitz and the site of the Grenfell Towers disastrous fire in London.  I’ve not been to either – and chose while I was in Poland not to visit Auschwitz.  If I was in London I would also not visit the Grenfell Towers – I don’t need to be at either site to know how appalling the events were.  Others of course will disagree with me.

My father was a fireman in Christchurch New Zealand when they had the worst fire disaster in our history – Ballantynes, 1947.  He was so distressed about attending the fire and having to recover bodies, that our family were forbidden to give the store any patronage – I have broken this rule two or maybe three times.

The Christchurch earthquakes 20101/11 have produced things that also could be considered dark tourism.  The Memorial Gardens at the site of the highest number of deaths, a memorial wall on the banks of the River Avon, and a museum exhibition – which for me triggered the smells of dust that hung in the air – and up my nose – for ages.

Tram outside Arts Centre

The owner of Beadz Unlimited (one of the many shops damaged inside the Christchurch Art Centre – and now in the historic New Regent Street) posted on my Facebook page  where I was asking about dark tourism said ‘actually we desperately needed people to come and put money into the community because we were all hunkered down just trying to survive.  It was a necessary evil.’  She did not clarify what was ‘evil ‘.

In the UK there is an Institute for dark tourism research and they have studied many facets of this topic if you want to delve into it! Wikipedia says “Scholars in this interdisciplinary field have examined many aspects. Lennon and Foley expanded their original idea [1] in their first book, deploring that “tact and taste do not prevail over economic considerations” and that the “blame for transgressions cannot lie solely on the shoulders of the proprietors, but also upon those of the tourists, for without their demand there would be no need to supply”.

New Zealand heritage has website and touring map  for some war sites in the Waikato region and its hoping to eventually have one for all NZ land wars and other fighting – perhaps some will consider this ‘black tourism’ too

What are your thoughts. Do you believe you are an ethical traveller – and why? And, do you indulge in dark tourism?  What black tourism spots have you been to –  after all it seems we all do that at some level.

I’d really love to start a conversation about all this in the topics – so before you board your next flight, or bus or train, will you please join in and add your opinion ?

 

Glass half full when travelling and the health benefits of a life on the road

Glass half full when travelling and the health benefits of a life on the road

The kiwi travel writer enjoys Fiji cruising

Are you a glass half-full, empty, or full-glass person when travelling?  My glass is full all the time – although on occasional days, minutes, or hours I have had an empty glass in a foreign country –  they are usually associated with tiredness.  A day off from being a traveller,  what I call ‘my housework day ‘ usually fixes it.

My travel-house-work-day consists of taking everything out of my bag, washing, sorting, throwing away unneeded stuff, reading, plus an afternoon nap works wonders.  It’s not possible to be a tourist for seven days in a row for a few weeks – just as if we had to work thirty days in a row in our regular employment.  By the last few days we would not be performing at our best.  Travel is the same – unless you only have a week, in which case you just have to suck it up princess (or prince) and make the most of every, minute, and hour of every day 😊

Those of you who follow me know I’m a great believer in an early and relaxed check in – I don’t want to have to rush to the gate and start that leg of my travel anxious – I use that time with my journal, social media, or a book – or now, my latest must-have, an audiobook.

eclectic reading  – now electronic too

There’s nothing like having a story read to you.  I just shut my eyes and be transported somewhere or even learn something.  I love that my local library has many, many, free audiobooks that I can check out no matter where I am in the world.  On my recent travels to India I listened, en-route, to The History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters ‘ by Julian Barnes. I’m sure I found it funnier in the audio version than I would have had I had it open in my Kobo (e-reader) or had a paper copy on my lap.  As you can see, I’m a promiscuous ‘reader’ in both form and topic.

I’m not alone as I’ve  had many, many people say how much they have enjoyed hearing me read an abridged version of  my book Naked in Budapest: travels with a  passionate nomad ,which has been broadcast on Radio New Zealand – and repeated a few times

Temple elephant: Ernakulam, Kerala

During my last week in Kerala, India and feeling the heat, during most afternoons I lay on my bed, under the fan, having two more books read to me – I can recommend both.  America’s First Daughter, a novel by Stephanie Dray, gave the added layer of a southern American voice and, A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul also had a local accent.  These appropriate voices added an extra something which I enjoy.

I recently read a long piece “25 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Traveling” and the first three benefits  resonate with me … my immune system is great because I eat everything everywhere! My mind is pretty sharp – I was in the winning team at a pub-quiz a couple of weeks ago – and my stress levels are low.  Are these because my years of travel have added these health benefits? I don’t know.  It’s a bit like the Mark Twain question asking if travel make you broad-minded or do broad-minded people travel?  So, am I healthy because I travel, or do I travel because I’m healthy?

Who cares!  I’m going to keep travelling – and writing – about travel for the foreseeable future: as I often say “I want to be like me when I grow up!”

Drummer boy, Ernakulam

Upcoming stories, articles, and blogs, in my to-do pile include, a cooking school in India; up to my knees in water feeding stingray in Gisborne New Zealand; ethical travel; a day at the Taj Mahal; and seven days relaxing over Christmas at the Kannur Beach House.

So – watch this space and I’ll be back soon.

 

 

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.

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 )

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 🙂 🙂

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 1Drum.org 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 https://youtu.be/NsFAvbL4UEw

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

The best burger in the world – in Ulaanbaatar of course!

Chinggis Khan statue is 40 metres tall

While in Ulaanbaatar recently, and before checking into our hotel (after staying at a cheap, cheerful and comfortable hostel for a few days) my friend and I ate at Modern Nomads – a Mongolian restaurant chain – just a few doors down the road from the Tuushin.

Three or four days later we discovered a different side to the Modern Nomads: the Black Burger Factory right beside our hotel and which had opened only a couple of months ago.

It seems black burgers are the newest trend in many parts of the world. “Burger King Japan” first unveiled the “Kuro Burger”—which translates as “black burger”, which features a dark black bun, a slice of black cheese, and the onion-garlic sauce, made with squid ink.

We were thrilled to find it and try their chicken burger: they also have Black Burgers with double beef for meat lovers, Brown Burger for dieters and a Steak Burger for chilli lovers.

‘So what’ I hear you say, well, we voted their chicken burger ‘the best burger in the world’ – and, as my friend lives right opposite one of Los Angeles top burger places, and where I’ve also eaten, our best-in-the-world title is high praise indeed!

So why is a great?  It is great because it was delicious, tender, juicy, and because of all those juices, black gloves are provided with each burger to save your hands from the sauce that covers your fingers and runs down your chin and wrists 🙂

While I don’t approve of the waste from the plastic gloves, unless everyone recycles them of course, I understand the need for them – I almost needed a baby’s bib as well.

So, while this is not ‘traditional; Mongolian food, it needs to be on your to-do list while in Ulaanbaatar. Luckily for you it’s only moments from Chinggis Khan Square, an area all tourists will no doubt visit.

Sadly, my photos of Judy, with black gloves on of course, enjoying all the deliciousness of her black bun chicken burger, are not available – as those of you who read my blog will know,  However, here is a photo (found on Trip Advisor) of a young woman savouring her burger.