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.






Riding one of the world’s great train trips

web dunedin stn IMG_0633The historic Taieri Gorge Railway is considered one of the world’s great train trips. On an overcast day, during a 10 day trip to the southern New Zealand city of Dunedin, I checked it out.

Leaving the well-photographed 1906 Dunedin Railway Station, Graeme Smart and John Chapman drive us through tunnels and over viaducts … what I didn’t know was that I would get an invitation to ride in the cab for a while!  It’s tough being a travel writer at times. Not!

Judy, the guard, tells me she started as a volunteer about ten years ago and about 5 years ago qualified as a guard – which includes helping with shunting I believe.

“It’s an amazing job! I have fantastic moving scenery from my office and it changes daily, and with the seasons.”

However, she has also been up to her knees in snow while digging down to find the switch controls.  Fearfully, she was only 3 months into her job when the train and car collided:  a tough, and scary memory that’s still vivid.

“It seems my training just kicked in and I went into another mode and did what I had to do.” What a woman!

The scenery includes; pine forests, sheep, cattle, llama, horses. Add hills and rivers and bush to the tunnels, viaducts, bridges and tannin coloured streams and this trip is fantastic. There’s also a dog statue to commemorate all working dogs and I’m not surprised my fellow passengers were enthralled.

Those around me were from the UK and the USA, from Taranaki and Singapore.

But enough talk:  sit back and enjoy just some (40) of the many photos I took in this, the biggest slide show I have put into a blog.

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My ten days in Dunedin – was spent traveling in a NZ RentaCar  and if you too are in a car, parking is available at the north end of the station.

I have a copy of the booklet Taieri Gorge Railway. A photo guide by Antony Hamel … its last page is named ‘Train Enthusiasts’ Page.

It talks about trainspotting ‘can become obsessive;  he also warns ‘Foaming at the mouth when in the presence of a train requires medical attention.’

So, you have been warned!

The saga of me, a cruise, a notebook, and a plastic card

This is not a blog I expected to write: a saga about me, a cruise, a journal, and a plastic card.

When I’m planning a trip, one of the first things I do is buy a new notebook for keeping notes  – and when I need a new one while on long travels it becomes a souvenir and I always take ages in a foreign city to buy the exact right one.

For a recent trip to Europe I bought a notebook with a Maori motif on it. I had no sooner put in my suitcase than I went to Christchurch, NZ and went to the Art Gallery. 

Although the fabulous galley is still closed  for repairs after the quakes, the shop is still open. (See their website for information about all the exciting Outer Spaces exhibitions).

Browsing the shelves I saw a notebook I JUST HAD TO HAVE! I knew it was perfect for my trip: it was elegant, it was classy and I coveted it: I bought it.

As I began my travels I recorded notes in my much-loved and elegant paperblanks journal – in tidier writing than I would normally use. This is just as I did at the beginning of each school year and, just like those early days, within a couple of days, my writing reverted to its ‘a-spider-that-fell-into-an-inkwell-staggering-across-the-page‘ look.

Every day, often early in the morning as I photographed birds, and other natural sights,  along the Rhine, Danube and Mien rivers, I wrote in my classy leather-bound journal, and nearly every day I couldn’t get back into my cabin!

I felt foolish as returned day after day to the front desk to have my plastic card  restored – to have the room number re keyed in. Whats wrong with me I wondered (and I think the staff did too).

One day as I sat in the lounge after yet another delicious lunch on the river boat Njord  a speech bubble appeared above my head. Inside it I read:

IDEA! I wonder if the magnetic closing flap on my journal is affecting my plastic card door key?”

Duh! Of course it did!

So, my lovely journal remained in my cabin, out came my Maori-motif one for recording my thoughts about the trip – the colours, smells and tastes that add to my photographic journal, adds to my memory, when I’m blogging or writing articles about my travels.

Note to self, travel tip #613. Don’t keep plastic cards near magnets!

Wellington to Christchurch via the Interislander & KiwiRail

Sailing across the Cook Strait on the Kaitaki, then a rail journey from Picton to Christchurch on the CoastalPacific  is fabulous. Now it’s going to be even better!

KiwiRail’s new scenic carriages are now on the Coastal Pacific train between Christchurch and Picton: the carriages have 52 square metres of panoramic side and roof windows. They also have ceiling mounted HD screens, GPS triggered commentary in a choice of five languages, and new café cars. They’re also the first carriages to be entirely designed and built in New Zealand since the 1940s.















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Sailing across the Cook Strait then training down the Coastal Pacific

After sailing crossing the Cook Strait on the Interislander, yesterday I was on the first Picton to Christchurch train (after the February quake). The newly named CoastalPacific was great and more stories will follow.

In the meantime, here are a few photos from the trip on the Kaitaki and the TranScenic Coastal Pacific.

The Kaitaki leaves Wellington city behind
The observation carriage on the CoastalPacific is loved by photographers

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I’m staying at the wonderful boutique Classic Villa, right in the middle of the Cultural Precinct, Christchurch. (Check out the snow photos I posted too)

Pitcairn Island: so hard to get to it must be the ultimate must-visit!

Pitcairn Island is so hard to get to it must be the ultimate, ‘top this’, must-visit!

After all, how many can say they have been to the ‘hardest island in the world to get to” – I can”t!

I went to the British High Commission on Friday night for an introduction to the islands. Seems it takes a flight to Tahiti, then a flight to Mangareva ( 300 miles SE of Pitcairn) and then a  2 or three days by boat to get to your destination – its seems the journey would be as exciting as the destination.

Pitcairn has recently had a couple of weddings – perhaps this will be the new ‘hot’ destination!

With such a  tiny population much be hard to be support themselves and  tapa cloth, wall hangings, wooden carvings, jewelery and even honey, and music CDs were on sale at the beautiful High Commission in Karori, Wellington.

For more information contact Heather Menzies ( the new Pitcairn Island Tourism Coordinator) or sign-up for their Tourism Quarterly on


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