Scotsabroad's Weblog

March 6, 2015

Heading Home

Filed under: Cairo,Indonesia — scotsabroad @ 3:17 pm

Thats-all-falks

This blog is dedicated to Alistair H.B. Davidson.

Thanks for following. 

VanPac

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February 22, 2015

Jayavarman 7

Filed under: Holidays — scotsabroad @ 12:36 pm

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A God-king. His creative ambition and spiritual devotion – along with a wee bit of self-defense against the Vietnamese Chams – resulted in the magnificent temples and fortifications around Angkor Wat. Surayavarman the second may have built the most famous. The legendary Angkor Wat Temple. But, Jayavarman the seventh built the magnificent city of Angkor Thom – the capital of the Khmer Empire. This city boasted a population of one million when London was a small town of 50,000. He also built the incredible temple of Bayon. After his death in 1219 the empire went into steady decline. Angkor Wat was restored in the 16th century by the Khmer royalty as a Buddhist shrine. The rest of the area was left to the jungle for many centuries. 

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We tried hard to read up on the Buddhist myths and legends and identify the motifs, symbols and characters carved within the temples. What is the Churning of the Ocean of Milk all about? We were all too familiar with Lingas.

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On our first afternoon in Siem Reap we visited the Angkor National Museum. The galleries were okay. The gallery of a thousand Buddha’s was okay – although some were a bit on the small side. But, we learnt later that when the state religion reverted to Hinduism a lot of Buddhist sculpture was vandalized or altered. Certainly, there were numerous headless Buddhas scattered around the Angkor Wat site. We also thought that many of the treasures in the museum would have looked better back in situ. But, then we found out that there is an attempted theft of an artifact from Angkor Wat on a daily basis. Big artefacts too. Also, over time sandstone tends to dissolve when in contact with dampness.

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Our greatest pleasure was just cycling round the monumental site that includes Angkor Wat. We hired bikes and bought a three-day ticket. Exercise, fresh air and culture ticked all our boxes.

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The first bridge at the South gate to Angkor Thom is just wonderful. A balustrade of warriors on each side taking part in a monumental tug-o-war. Each guardian with a different dour expression of determination. We crossed this bridge every day on our way into the archaeological site.

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On the first day we cycled to the furthest away sites. Neak Pean was a large square pool used for ritual purification rites. We reached it by walking across a long wooden pontoon over partially flooded ground.

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Then we clambered over the ruins of Preah Khan. Piles of sandstone blocks lie piled against lichen-clad walls and blocking corridors. 

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The next day we visited Prasat Kravan, Banteay Kdei and another pool of ablutions, Sra Srang. Then it was on to Ta Prohm. Film set for Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. Ta Prohm had literally been swallowed by the jungle – but now only the biggest and most photogenic trees and root systems remain. Many corridors are impassable, too many tourists and clogged with piles of stone churned up by the roots of ancient trees. An army of labourers rested under a crane or on the roofs of damaged galleries. Others stood around a stone block probably guessing where it could go. You can’t imagine how they get the pieces back together. 

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Then we decided to walk round the outside of Bayon. We marveled at the 54 gothic towers decorated with 216 faces of Avalokiteshvara. 

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Everyone was trying to take a picture that would capture this mesmerising temple. But we just sat and watched a massive swarm of bees clustered above an entrance. Every so often a ripple moved across the body of the swarm – making it look as if the stones themselves were moving. Angkor Wat looks good from a distance. Up close, Bayon can’t be surpassed.

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While Lucas took a catnap at the shaded entrance to Baphuon Temple, we walked the 200m elevated causeway, held up by hundreds of pillars. Baphuon was a pyramidal representation of the mythical Mount Meru. It certainly was a steep ascent to the top.

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We found it hard to believe that this temple had lain in 300,000 pieces for about 25 years. Restoration had halted during the Khmer Rouge years. Indeed, the Khmer Rouge destroyed all the records and cataloged details of how to put it back together.

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On our last day we stopped at Baksei Chamkrong, a small temple from the 10th century. It was a challenging climb. Inside Lucas was rewarded with another good luck blessing.

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We then headed on towards Angkor Thom. We stashed our bikes across from the Terrace of the Leper King. We walked the Elephant Terrace. A viewing stand for public ceremonies in the central square. The walls were decorated with parading elephants, trunks holding tails and carrying their mahouts. We walked back on the terrace and entered the royal enclosure. There is little left of the actual palace but the palace temple of Phimeanakas is still there. In need of some TLC. We climbed to the top – as you do.

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We then headed for Bayon with the intention of going inside.   We were not disappointed. We followed the bizarre directions through stooped corridors, avoiding descending tourists while passing precipitous flights of stairs. Eventually, we were allowed to ascend a flight towards the towers. It was incredibly busy up top but we still took in the wonder of the place – our progress monitored by the coldly smiling enormous faces. 

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We then headed for lunch and a final visit to Angkor Wat. I read it took 300,000 workers and 6000 elephants to build. But, they still didn’t finish it. It’s hard to predict how many elephants you need. It was an exciting walk towards the temple. It was mobbed with Cambodians and tourists of all nationalities. The temple is massive, believed to be the world’s largest religious building. We walked around the sides and back looking at the outer wall bas-reliefs. We decided not to queue for access to the third level.

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We sadly headed out of Angkor Wat for the last time. But, grateful to have been so lucky to experience the place. I now have a brass head of the great king on my bookshelf.

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One of our last posts?

February 21, 2015

Ethical Memories

Filed under: Merchandise — scotsabroad @ 2:55 pm

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We have picked up our fair share of souvenirs during our travels. We have probably lined the pockets of some unscrupulous people in many of the countries we have visited. But we like to think we try to buy ethically from local artisans and bazaars. 

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/25/i-love-buying-souvenirs-abroad-but-are-they-ethical

However, everything became a bit confusing recently when we visited the centre of the Angkor Arts and Crafts in Siem Reap.

http://www.artisansdangkor.com

They say that impoverished youngsters are trained in the arts of their ancestors.

Bus-loads of tourists were weaving through the workshops taking photographs of the artisan workforce carving beautiful heads of Buddha or Jayavarman. The workforce was silent and did not entertain any requests for dialogue or posing for a photograph. Each worker wore a paper hat, or had a paper message sellotaped to their shirts – both declaring that they needed more money and a pay-rise of 8%. They must be desperate to go to such undignified lengths to be heard. But, none of the tourists seemed remotely interested as they got their shot and headed for the shop. We managed to speak to a worker discreetly about what was going on. Basically, they couldn’t sustain themselves or their families on their present wages and were asking the private owners for an 8% rise in wages. To date, the owners had refused to even enter into negotiations. Very wealthy owners – judging by the cost (and the amount) of goods leaving the factory shop in the bags of tourists – just in the time that we were there. They have outlets at the Blue Pumpkin restaurant in town and out at Angkor Wat too.

There was no way we could bring ourselves to buy from the company.

Were we supporting the artisans or making their plight worse by not purchasing their products?

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But, we did find Mekong Quilts on Sivatha Street. Cotton, linen and silk items made by women from rural areas. Beautiful things. And, selling these cool bamboo-frame bikes.

We stayed at a great wee hotel out of town towards Angkor Wat called, Cyclo d’Angkor Boutique Hotel. We hired good quality bikes from them for $7 a day. This would make a great base if running the marathon.

http://thecyclodangkor.com

It was pleasant to be able to cycle down into the town and the market area and then escape along Charles de Gaulle. 

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Finally, having tried a multitude of fine (and rank) beers over the last eight years such as Stella, Sakara and Bintang – I think the Cambodian beer, Angkor is my favorite. Delicious, if I remember correctly.

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February 9, 2015

Regeneration

Filed under: Jakarta — scotsabroad @ 4:21 pm

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The boys drove down to Kota’s Fatahillah Square yesterday. We have a list of a few places we would like to see before our departure. It has been about two years since we visited the square. The ex-governor of Jakarta, now President of Indonesia has taken action to promote and develop the area of old Batavia into a major tourist attraction. I think they are trying to get it World Heritage status. He has warned the owners of the historic buildings that if improvements, and restoration, is not carried out – they will forfeit their ownership. For some buildings this action has come too late.

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The first thing we noticed was the new prominent position of Canon Si Jagur. It used to be tucked away at the back of the Jakarta History Museum. Will this deter women who think their chances of conceiving are increased by straddling the cannon on a Thursday? There are still the unmanageable, fluorescently-painted bicycles for hire and a lot more street performers. The side streets were also packed with vendors.

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We headed for the Fine Arts and Ceramics Museum. This was a lovely building dating from the late 1860s. A wing of the building was being restored and we were unable to get access.

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Maybe that was where most of the ceramics were because we didn’t see a lot. An eclectic selection of paintings with a couple of stand-out pieces. Didn’t get the artist’s name who painted the beautiful breast-feeding child.

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Big painting by Dede Eri Supria called Urbanisasi.  Although painted in 1977 it still carries a powerful message that changes are still not having a positive impact on those who live beside the fetid canals of Kota. What does urbanization really mean to them? And, what will happen to them as the intended regeneration of the area gathers momentum?

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We went looking for a Portuguese church down past the train station but the traffic fumes were getting to Lucas. We were also looking for a Rumah Abu, or Ash House, where Chinese families house the ashes of their ancestors. Originally, these resting places were meant to be temporary until they could be returned to the original home villages of the deceased in China.

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So, we headed into the Museum Bank Mandiri. This was the headquarters of the Nederlandsche Handel Maatschappij Bank, Batavia – and opened in 1933. This was a beautiful old building in need of some new ideas and a good clean. However, we had an enjoyable time exploring this massive old bank. Impressively barred teller counters and a magnificent stained-glass staircase up to the boardroom. Mannequins in advanced states of disrepair were scattered among the rooms representing customers, tellers, bookkeepers, managers, guards and computer technicians.

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We walked into rooms displaying old computers, telephones and display cabinets full of paper punches and the same leaflets. An old NCR machine but no evidence of it originating from Dundee. The next room had samurai swords. Then some exquisite scales. There were several photo shoots going on. Some real-life models in 1920s costume and a graphic novel exhibition among those mingling on the ground floor. Brilliant. We headed down to the vast vaults. Deposit boxes behind impressive combination doors. Interesting to see the mechanism from the other side of the door. Had security ever been breached?

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We wondered if any of the boxes have remained locked, the key holder long dead and the key misplaced – their valuable contents forgotten. The vaults were used as a prison during the Japanese occupation. 

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We headed to the Batavia Cafe for a snack. We still wouldn’t risk the street food. World Heritage prices already in the cafe. This time we meet Sean Connery on the stairs. Well, actually…

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Then it was a quick walk round the Museum Wayang. We are not really into Indonesian puppets and the music but the independence Puppets of the 1940s were pretty cool. The building was interesting. It was built on the site of the Old Dutch Reformed Church and is the burial place of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the first governor and founder of Batavia. Wonder what he would think of the place today?

Rubbish Bins

Filed under: Jakarta — scotsabroad @ 7:44 am

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While visiting Kota’s Fatahillah Square yesterday we couldn’t help but notice the eye-catching rubbish bins scattered everywhere. Choice of triple watermelons, polar bears and penguins among others. They are incredibly tacky and ugly. Whoever commissioned these needs to be kept away from any other decisions involving the regeneration of the square.

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January 21, 2015

Aye… sorry Nye

Filed under: Running — scotsabroad @ 8:07 pm

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This is the great Dr Teoh Tiong Ann from Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore. My sports tear hernia has been dealt with by one of the best laparoscopic surgeons. I love this man. I’m fixed.

A perk of the job? Whatever, this man is a genius. And I am very lucky. I am told about the surgery I received as a child in the 60s. As he dealt with my unrelated hernia he looked upon it as a challenge to work through the detrius of 50 years ago and improve on the repair work of that time. His work leaves an inch long puncture wound under my belly button and two more small puncture wounds in my abdomen. Compared to the past site, a 15 cm open surgery scar, it is nothing. Of course I’m asleep when all this is going on but have some amazing pictures to prove it. But, I never knew hospital theatres were freezing cold. 

I am told I am Highlander. Operated on in the evening, I am discharged and on the street the next day at eleven. Well, I don’t want to live forever but I’d like to run again.

I was not allowed to fly home until the gas in my intestines had dissipated.  I read up that you should try and walk as soon as possible after the surgery. When I return for a check-up before flying home I mentioned to Dr Teoh I want to run a marathon in under four hours. When could I start running again? He laughs when I tell him I walked to the art museum the day before. He said Singapore citizens don’t walk anywhere. I am told six weeks. No football, ever again, the cause of my hernia. At 50 I can live with that.

I’ve never been enamoured with Singapore. Even with our family’s past connections I have felt little affinity to the place. Too clinical, safe and smug – and full of non-Asian narcissists. However, I can recommend three places. My insurance didn’t cover flights and accommodation. I found a place to stay just off Orchard Road called Lloyd’s Inn that turned out to great.

http://www.lloyds.com

This was a very reasonably priced place. I wish I’d known about it for the marathon. Breakfast was a voucher for a couple of places on Killiney Road.

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And, I’ve always admired the Singapore Art Museum building but never had the time to visit. It was originally St Joseph’s Catholic Boy’s School opened in 1855. Last Wednesday I waited for the doors to open at 10am and practically had the place to myself. I was not disappointed by the building nor the artwork. Cool place but didn’t appreciate all the stairs. Much of the space was assigned to finalists of the Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation Signature Art Prize.

My favourite…

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Eskimo Wolf Trap often quoted in sermons.

By Robert Zhao Renhui from Singapore.

Very simply a blood-coated knife, hilt down, in bicarbonate soda  – that represented snow. It depicted a parable about how a snow wolf can be trapped by its inherent bloodlust. I’d never heard the story before. Basically, the trap is a knife covered in frozen seal’s blood. A wolf seeks out the smell and once it feels safe begins licking the knife – a tempting carnivore’s popsicle. Its tongue becomes numb as it continues to lick the frozen blade. It does not feel the cuts to its own tongue as the blade becomes exposed and even enjoys the taste of its own warm blood. The wolf eventually weakens, drinking itself to death on its own blood. Once I knew the story the installation managed to capture the moment of anticipation brilliantly. Great artistic metaphor, or was it the painkillers?

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Permanent artwork included this clever instillation using only shampoo bottle tops. Shadow was created by how far the cap had been pressed open. How many hotels had this bloke stayed in?

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Great museum.

Also some interesting work outside the malls on Orchard Road. I liked these big jelly babies.

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Finally, I can recommend the Trattoria Lafiandra outside the museum. Great wee Italian with take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Good, quick food.

http://www.lafiandra.com.sg

Very soon we will back using the NHS. Very soon we will be back in the real world. But I’ll be running better.

January 6, 2015

Cold Curry Cows and Cricket

Filed under: Books,Holidays — scotsabroad @ 8:23 pm

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We were not prepared for the weather encountered in Agra, Delhi and Rajasthan. We felt the cold everyday. The classic shot of the Taj Mahal does not show it shrouded in heavy mist. We experienced the mist straight away on our arrival to Delhi. We crawled to Agra through the fog in about five hours following the fluorescent paint on the road. However, the mist took nothing away from the magnificence of the place.

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I read Diana and Michael Preston’s delightful book, A teardrop on the Cheek of Time – the story of the Taj Mahal, a few months ago. This was a great potted history of the Moghul empire – and preparation for some of the extraordinary palaces we encountered in the region and the remnants of Moghul opulence we discovered as we drove around the region.

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In Agra we also encountered the first of many local school excursions and waves of modern Indian tourists enthusiastically visiting their country’s historical sites. They often brought warmth and colour to some sun-starved places.

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Some memorable moments…

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Standing at the bottom of the steps of Buland Darwaza (Victory Gate) at Fatehhpur Sikri. This fortified ancient city was magnificent. We walked the courtyard where Akbar is said to have played an ancient version of ludo using colourful slave girls as pieces. And the site of public executions where Akbar’s favourite elephants trampled on convicted criminals.

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Drinking creamy lassis in the early morning from a clay cup in Jaipur.

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Enjoying some early morning warmth in Jaipur. Stopping to view the outside of the Palace of the Winds. Lucas befriended a snake charmer. Climbing the Iswari Minar Swarga Sai (Heaven Piercing Minaret) above the Tripoli bazaar at sunset. Walking the streets around the City Palace and visiting the extraordinary Jantar Mantar – an observatory built in 1728, with its large sculptures that are incredibly accurate instruments of calculation.

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The boys sitting on the wall outside the Sun Gate to the Amber Fort for about an hour watching an unbroken line of painted elephants negotiate the steep ascent into the main courtyard. Tourists are now deposited in the courtyard, replacing the war booty once displayed here to the populace. This was our favourite palace and fort.

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Visiting a paper-making factory near Jaipur after an unsuccessful tiger safari in Ranthambhore National Park. Getting a tour of the premises. Sheets of fabric paper hanging to dry from the ceiling. Everything from lightshades to notebooks produced mostly for export.

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The highway was the domain of magnificently un-aerodynamic lorries. Tata or Ashok Leyland trucks rumbled across the country many with tasselled and tinselled mirrors. Massive, slow-moving cuboids with rear painted messages such as, Blow Horn and All India Permit.

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Lucas delights us, innocently reading aloud another common message on the back of trucks, use diaper at night. After our laughter subsides in the car we get to thinking of the advantages of wearing one while driving in India. No disgusting service stops for a start.

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We visited the mighty fort of Mehrangarh as the sun was setting and looked down on the blue city of Jodhpur.

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We visited the wonderful old clock tower in the heart of Jodhpur’s Sardar Market. The old mechanical time-piece struck ten as we reached the top.

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A stop for lunch (and jewellery shopping) at a 300 year old heritage hotel at Rohet. Bruce Chatwin stayed here when he wrote (bizarrely) his book about the Aborigine people. His book, Songlines, describes the importance of ancient markings and songs to the Aboriginal’s nomadic lifestyle and their ability to travel across vast distances. I read it years ago when we lived in Harrowden Road.

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We admired the many Royal Enfield motorcycles on the road. Still produced in India, they may not go fast but they look good and sound menacing.

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We visited a showroom in Jaipur and I ended up buying a t-shirt. On the road to Udaipur we stopped at The Motorcycle Temple.

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Om Bana Temple was mobbed. A garland-decked Enfield Bullet from the 1980s is seriously worshipped. Om Bana died when his motorbike skidded into a tree. The bike was taken to the local police station but then mysteriously twice made its own way back to the crash site. Travellers along the road also started seeing visions of Om Bana.

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Only Lucas was brave enough to accompany me in and have his forehead smeared with a blessing. A cow was chased away as it made a grab for the flower garlands. 

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We visited the amazing Jain Temple at Ranakpur. Built in the 15th century from white marble. 1444 individually carved pillars. 

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Udaipur’s Lake Pichola. Four years ago there was no lake due to drought. Very touristy but stunning none the less. We sailed to Jagmandir island as we watched locals wash their clothes and perform washing rituals on the steps. We looked on Jagniwas Island. Roger Moore swam here, disguised as a crocodile, in the film Octopussy. Indeed, many hostelries show the movie daily. We explore the City Palace. I pick up an elephant head carving from an artisan outside the palace gates.

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Stunning architecture. Detail in everything. Even the glass adornments high up on the top of gates and arches catching the light.

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We visited the Monsoon Palace on top of a mountain above Udaipur. The boys oblivious to how high up we were and lack of safety barriers.

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On advice we drove to a remote Mewar fort called Kumbhalgarh instead of the bigger Chittorgarh Fortress. Rulers used to retreat here in times of danger. It was only taken once in its entire history and only then by the combined forces of three armies. And they only held onto it for two days. The walls were magnificent, wide enough in some places for eight horses to ride abreast. We walked a small section of the twelve kilometres of wall in the warm afternoon sun.

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A clogged street runs up from the Palace gates to the footbridge for Hanuman Ghat in Udaipur. Tourist-tack, tourist cars and beasts of burden vie for space. I’m sure the horns are pitched louder in Udaipur.

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On our final morning in Udaipur we squeezed in a cooking class at the Queen’s Café. We shivered in Meenu’s home kitchen. While drinking Chai, we found out about the basic spices and the amounts to use in a curry. Cumin seeds: 2 pinches, mustard  seeds: 2 pinches. Then coriander, red chilli powder, salt, turmeric and garam masala in decreasing amounts of 5,4,3,2,1 pinches.

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We… okay, Lucas made pakura, wet and dry masala, chapattis, paratha, poori and naan. We couldn’t really appreciate the food as we had been poisoned the night before in an expensive, dangerous roof-top barbecue restaurant. We certainly were not prepared for all the unwashed fingers in the mix. On the whole the food during our holiday was fine, especially since it was mostly vegetarian. Once our friends asked for mutton at a roadside service restaurant.  We think we got the gist of what the waiter said – something like it wasn’t being served today because the last diner who ate it had got a worm. This was before we ate. Kingfisher beer seemed to kill most bacteria at mealtimes.

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Then there was Delhi. We flew to Delhi from Udaipur and stayed at some dodgy bed and breakfast. Freezing and not enough hot water. We welcomed the new year in with a rat in the kitchen and an intruder up at our bedroom window. For our last two nights we decamped to the Holiday Inn. Delhi was cold and dirty and hard to love.

However, we managed to see a fair bit of the city as we zoomed around in auto rickshaws. At other times we braved the underground.

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We visited to Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque. In our socks, we climbed the filthy steps of the narrow southern minaret for a view of the old city. We stopped outside the Red Fort. We did not go inside. The British had gutted the place after flushing out a last troublesome Mughal emperor in 1857 and upgraded it to an ugly military barracks.

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We had an interesting tour of the Sisganj Gurdwara on Chandni Chowk. This Sikh shrine was mobbed. We got to see the community kitchen, providing food for twenty to twenty five thousand devotees, pilgrims, visitors and the hungry each day. Huge cooking pots and chapatti making machines. If you are hungry the last thing on your mind is prayer, explains our guide. We taste the sweet wheat halwa distributed on small foil plates to devotees entering and leaving.

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We visited the Qutb Minar Complex. Dominated by the victory tower and minaret built in 1193 to proclaim Muslim supremacy over vanquished Hindu rulers. At the foot stands the first mosque built in India. Built from materials taken from demolishing idolatrous temples, the buildings are carved with recognizable pieces of Hindu and Jain masonry – some quite explicit.

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Standing inside the complex is an iron pillar. It is 7 meters high and predates all the surrounding monuments. Originally from a Vishnu temple it might date from around AD 375 to 413. Mystery still surrounds how it was made – scientists can’t work out how the iron, which has not rusted after 1600 years, could be cast with the technology at the time. Still, wouldn’t stand a chance after a few winters in Greenock.

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Our final day was spent at the National Museum. Some of the carvings  downstairs (from the Harappan Civilisation?) matched the best we saw in Egypt. The  surviving jewellery from the Moghul Dynasty amazing. Did I see that on the turban of the Khasi of Kalabar (Kenneth Williams) in Carry On Up the Khyber? Sorry.

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A sombre visit to Gandhi Smriti. His family house where he spent the last 144 days of his life before being gunned down in the garden. Great man. When Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western Civilisation, he replied that it would be a good idea. A flying visit to one more tomb before closing time. We started our time in India with a visit to Akbar’s Mausoleum and end with Humayun’s Tomb. It too alive with green parakeets. Bicycles… dogs…

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Cricket. The most popular sport in India. Being played by the young in every conceivable place – mosque ground, parks, streets and in the roundabouts and under flyovers on our way out of Delhi.

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India. What a fantastic place. Well, we only saw a bit. Love Rajasthan. Our little, point and shoot, Canon IXUS tried its best. In fact, I think this post includes just about all the pictures it took. Our penultimate foreign holiday. We will remember this one for a long time to come.

Rajputana Udaipur

Filed under: Worst Hotel Room Art — scotsabroad @ 6:38 pm

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Expensive – dangerous food, no wifi or hot water.

December 22, 2014

Love Central

Filed under: Holidays — scotsabroad @ 11:02 pm

Taj

November 23, 2014

BSJ Biathlon 14-16 Silver

Filed under: School,sport — scotsabroad @ 12:29 pm

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photo taken by his brother

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