Tag Archives: travel

Just a Drop in the Ocean

The last month has been filled with the dramatic impact of demonitisation. This possibly inspired move was intended to curtail black money which is prevalent throughout every transation in India: from the unregistered maid to the more impactful millions of dollars in bribes that tend to move for major real estate transactions to the millions of ₹50 ($1) bribes paid to the poor during election season. India cannot progress until this black market is controlled – simple. Hence the inspired moved to overnight ban the two large denomination notes (500 ($10) and 1000 ($20)) which form the basis for most black market transactions.

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A Bridegroom 6 days after the introduction of the new₹2000 note. Restricted to withdrawals of 4,500 a week. His suit is made of these notes. This was at a wedding cost hundreds of millions of dollars – all clean according to both families – really!?

Reality is that the implementation was so poorly thought through that a month later the impact on the poor is heart-breaking and the reality is that the wealthy just rapidly moved their money into gold / diamonds and have quickly managed to come by the new notes (500 ($10) and ₹2000 ($40)) through bribes, threats and connections. It is the poor with money but no means of accessing it that are going hungry. Impact of Demonitisation It is the migrant daily workers with no means of being paid who are being forced to give up their lives in the cities and go home to the small farms they originally left in desperation. Video: Monkey Has Just Been Paid  

fullsizeoutput_231c.jpegIt has been easy therefore this month to focus purely on the negative. Focus on the fact that you have to watch every rupee: that you have to consider whether you really need to take a rickshaw or whether it is better to walk.  I could also focus on the all pervasive pollution that rolls in thickly every evening and somewhat recedes during the day: leaving your eyes gritty, your chest clogged and with a, at times, hacking cough. These are the things that it is so very easy to focus on. For me however the last month has also brought significant progress in a very more positive way.

For me, my greatest achievement since moving to India has been my involvement with Ashta No Kai, a small but impactful charity operating in 9 villages around Pune.

I have been teaching English in one of these villages to groups of girls for the last 18 months. Rapidly it became clear that my objective should have very little to do with language acquisition but more on building the confidence and independence of these incredible girls

The girls, aged 13 – 15, live in a very rural village with limited outside impact save for TV and the work of Ashta No Kai. Their knowledge of the world outside of their village is incredibly limited. They are trained from an early age not to question what they are told. They are trained to blindly accept the authority of their elders. In school, they are not given the opportunity and consequently the confidence to think for themselves. They have learnt to fear making mistakes therefore following whatever their superiors do is a safer way to live.

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Photo credit: Deborah Clearwater of Embracing India

My objective with my girls is to as much as possible try and counter this approach. I want them to feel they have a choice. If they CHOOSE to continue living the life of all the girls that have come before them, then that is no problem. The key word however is: CHOOSE.

It has taken 18 months but we are finally beginning to see the impact of such an approach

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Medal winning karate girls! Ashta No Kai had to fight entrenched opinions about the role of girls to convince parents to allow their girls to attend karate classes. The girls grow in confidence and in the ability protect themselves from sexual abuse – someone is raped in India every 8 seconds. 

on the girls. I cannot claim full responsibility. Deborah Clearwater has been coming religiously to our weekly lessons for about 8 months now can take great responsilibity. We are of course but a conduit for helping Ashta No Kai transmit this female empowerment message. There are several such conduits including health and legal education and karate classes.A new lady, Erin, came to the village with us this week. Deborah and I beamed with pride when one of the girls went straight up to her and asked her name, how she was and finally said, ‘nice to meet you’. We beamed with pride when we asked the girls to work in pairs and they did with no hesitation. We beamed with pride when we asked them to use their initiative to apply that day’s learning to new ideas of their own choosing and they did! We beamed with pride because these are skills unimaginable a mere 18 months ago. We turned to each other and said, ‘this is why we do it. This is affirmation that we are making an impact.’

 

 

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The girls have grown in confidence significantly. This ability to move and use their initiative as shown in this photo would have been impossible a mere 18 months ago.                                     Photo credit: Deborah Clearwater of Embracing India 

Has the girls English improved in this time? Somewhat – dramatically – definitely not! Why not? The boundaries to learning were so strong that a simple task that should take 10 minutes takes 120 minutes. Progress to me is irrelevant. The girls when older can choose to learn English but if they fall into the trap of blindly accepting everything they are told; if they are not trained to puzzle out answers; if they are not encouraged to see just how incredible they are, that they should believe in themselves then no matter how good their English is, their future is limited to whatever other people say their future should be.

This is not why I came to India but it is what I will take away and something incredible to have been involved in!

I am also so very proud to say that I have been able to lead others towards supporting Ashta No Kai this month. From a former neighbour who donated ₹1000 ($20) to a friend who gave me a cheque for ₹5000 ($100). A friend’s company has just donated ₹2.5 lakh ($5,000). A fantastic woman here on a British Council internship is in the process of taking over the running of the charity’s website (soon to be launched). Another lady, with a background in development work analysis and grant applications has offered to work with Ashta No Kai to produce professional impact assessements while also helping to apply for much needed grants. I now also co-ordinate a group of expat women happy to come regularly or some as and when needed to the village to support the more regular teachers. Hence ensuring that if I cannot attend lessons one week, lessons can continue without me therefore causing less disruption to the girls’ lessons.

Myself and Deborah have also found success recently more locally, indeed in the oldest part of Pune – Kasba Peth. For about 9 months, I have been teaching a young man English.

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                                           Vivek, my student and the community he lives in.                                                 Photo credit: Deborah Clearwater of Embraced Photography

He is in his early 20s and is developing a carreer in finance. Walking through his community one day on an incredible tour (Chalo Heritage and Nature Walks), I came across this shy unassuming guy – terrifyed to speak English but desperate to learn! 7 months later, I realised from weekly excursions into this tightly knit community that the women (one in particular) seemed anxious to learn English but household duties and to a certain extent mother-in-law reluctance meant that any attempt to offer them free lessons was going to fall on deaf ears (if disappointed ones!).

The offer to teach their pre-school children English (Deborah and Barb’s job) thereby freeing the women up for that hour to learn English (my job) turned the whole situation around. The child’s education being only possible if the women also came to class. Mother-in-laws therefore agreed as the opportunity for their grandchildren to spend time with expats learning English was too good an opportunity to miss.

Four lessons in, it is still an evolving group. There is a central core of 2 – 3 women but every lesson has brought new students. The women are incredibly excited about learning and spend their lessons giggling, with me telling them off for helping the others rather than letting them learn for themselves.

Most of these women finished their education between the ages of 12 – 15 and therefore not only is learning a skill they have to recall but I’m doing it in a very different way to how they were used to it! My achievement that I am proud of this month therefore is being able to set this group up (believe me not an easy feat!) and now that the woman I set it all up for finally came to lessons on Friday!! I could have burst with happiness!

For cultural reasons, I cannot show you the children’s lessons in progress. Some of the girls are Muslim and consequently their parents do not want their photos published. Love the old man blowing up his balloon (not his granddaughter’s – no – HIS balloon!) Barb, clearly enjoying the incredible time she has with the children every week. 

While I teach the mixed community women (Hindu and Muslim) in the local Hindu temple, Deborah and Barb teach their children on the pavement outside. There are three particular children who always attend with a floating collection of other children and adults on a weekly basis. My moment of pride in the kids came on Friday when one rounded the corner and upon seeing me said confidently, ‘Good morning!’ – loud and clear! This little girl is not quite 4 (she is a twin). Her little sister (about 2 1/2 years old) is beginning to get the confidence to sit close to Barb and Deborah and is beginning to talk to them (in Marathi) where before she hid or stayed very close to her older sisters. They are the children of the mum I set the classes up for.

Her attendance on Friday in my lessons was a vote of confidence in Deborah and Barb. Previously, she had washed clothes or dishes outside her house while keeping a wary eye on her children, now she is happy to leave them and learn herself. This woman therefore who spends most of her life under the wary eye of her mother-in-law now has an hour a week where she is a woman: not a mother, a sister, a wife, a daughter-in-law – simply a woman. I like to think that that hour of giggles and laughter is something the women look forward to and is perhaps not the highlight of their week but certainly a high point.

It has been challenging however as we have an increasing number of women desperate to have lessons but I am just one person and a class of 20 is simply not going to work. We have a new volunteer however  – Erin (who also comes to the village) – although she has taught English in the past, she is conscious that she needs to develop the necessary skills to teach in India. Once she is confident however we intend to either increase the size of our current women’s class or to start a second one! Amazing!

That all sounds like I am looking for a big pat on my back, ‘well done, Karen – aren’t you doing well.’ It is not intended that way. People talk about being just a drop in the ocean as something negative – as if you are making no impact. What is the ocean made of however? Simple – millions of drops. Create enough drops and you have an ocean.

If you can support Ashta No Kai in any way, please feel free to contact me (whatwillhappentome@gmail.com). Ashta No Kai will happily accept financial as well as practical support.

 

Embracing Kasba Peth: Embracing Community

This blog has been produced in collaboration with Deborah Clearwater of Embraced Photography. She is a professional photographer from New Zealand living in Pune, India. 

We have started to have great adventures together. Exploring the streets of Pune, in particular the city centre. Through her pictures, I have an opportunity to explore the beauty of this city in a way that the hustle and bustle of street life doesn’t always give you time to appreciate.

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Recently, we went on an inspiring walk through Kasba Peth. Kasba Peth is the oldest community in the city, dating back to the 5th century. Most of the housing however dates back to the time of the Peshwars who ruled Pune prior to British colonialism. The 16th century housing is not subject to protection orders; there is no money to invest in its maintenance. As you read this blog, buildings may be tumbling down taking their very many occupants with them.

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Life is on the streets: a wire recycler – stripping the copper out of old electrical wires

The streets are narrow and circuitous – paths developed over thousands of years of occupation. Some wide enough for a car (a slow moving car), others for a motorbike or perhaps a rickshaw, others again for only a bicycle but most can only be seen on foot.

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Kasba Peth: where the young and old live together harmoniously 

Life slows down on these streets. People loiter in the doorways talking to their neighbours or the women wash their clothes communally in a the washing areas – nattering and gossiping as can only happen when a group of women get together. Children run from house to house, no house really their particular home – all houses feel like home. They just happen to sleep in one particular place! All tenderly rub the children’s hair as they run by or scold them when they’ve been naughty. Bloodlines run thick through these streets but bloodlines do not seem to define family – love and care defines the family and no shared blood is needed for this.

As an outsider such communities can feel intimidating. You don’t know how they work, you don’t know how easily you could cause offence or intrude. Chalo Heritage Walks however have taken what in our minds is quite a unique slant on how to walk through these communities. Rashid and his (Irish) wife Jan have developed over the years a close relationship with the community in Kasba Peth.

They have watched the children grow up and celebrated their achievements and advised when necessary. On first going to the area, they took the time to sit with the locals: pass the time with them, talk seriously with them and laugh with them. As a consequence, it appears to both of us from the two walks that we have now done with them, the community engage with them and don’t see the foreign tourists they bring to the area as intruders but love the fact that they are interested in their little community.

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This fruit seller insisted that Deborah take her picture. Proud of her community and her role in it. 

Deborah has always had a strong interest in people but I think for me the more I live in India they more I realise that I am an ‘anthropologist’ at heart. I want to be able to understand what makes people tick; and how people live. This interests me far more than the history of a palace or a visit to a temple. These places do not reflect the lives of the ordinary people. They only reflect the lives of those lucky enough to achieve high status or indeed were born into privilege. City tours therefore can sometimes fill me with dread. The idea of traipsing from one monument to the next and one historic building to the next is unutterably boring. To wander through the same streets but stop and look down little alley ways; to try and speak to the locals; to simply stop and sit and observe – that to me is a tour worth doing.

Neither Deborah or myself will be paid by Chalo Heritage Walks for writing this blog but rather this is a reflection of what we have gained from them that we feel we couldn’t necessarily get from anybody else.

The biggest lesson for us from these tours has been the power of community. In the west we seem to have largely forgotten that a community that supports and loves each other, that provides peer pressure as a means of maintaining positive attitudes and behaviour makes us all stronger and more able to deal with problems as they arise. Yes, there are drawbacks but the drawback of not having a community to fall back on is surely far, far worse.

Reading the newspapers here or indeed following Indian religion and politics from abroad you could be forgiven for thinking that there is a huge animosity between the Hindu and Muslim communities in India. Indeed at times there is. What Kasba Peth made us realise however is that this animosity is not driven by the realities of daily life but rather political manipulation by Hindu nationalists (BJP etc) of sections of society who lack the life experience and education to understand they are being manipulated.

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Vivek in his community. Notice the narrow streets and the children happily playing. 

Along our route on the last tour we did, we met a lovely young man, Vivek – in his early twenties, total Bollywood guy: hair styled, clothes sharp but this guy didn’t lack brains, rather he is studying an MBa in Finance. He grew up in poverty, living in conditions rarely seen now in the west – yet he finished school, finished a degree and now is completing an MBa.

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‘Is it safe to come out Vivek?’

While chatting to us and while of course Deborah was taking many photographs of this highly photogenic young guy, we noticed out of the corner of our eye, this little, little girl – perhaps 18 months old peeking out through some doors at us and this man.
The young man upon spotting her put out his hand and beckoned her to come out and see us. It was so clear from the look on the young man’s face and that of the little girl that they knew each other and trusted each other. She remained however too nervous to venture any further than her peek hole by the door.

So how does this interaction relate to the question of Hindu and Muslim animosity – well this little girl is Muslim and this young man is Hindu. Is this an anomaly? Not in this community. Wandering through the streets you see women in full hijab laughing with Hindu women – hanging out on the door steps. You see the meat market where in order to make sure both Hindu and Muslim clients can buy all the meat – the muslims butcher all the animals making sure the meat is Halal. Muslim and Hindu butchers share a small space. In order to cause no offence to either side, the Muslims have never sold beef (although it is now illegal in Maharashtra anyhow!) and the Hindus do not sell pork.  They could have chosen to have separate butcheries and have Muslims buy the halal meat and Hindus their pork. However they have chosen not to render division in the community, rather for centuries they have a sought a way to work together in peace.

A tour of temples and historical monuments would fail to bring across this great harmonious relationship. Certainly, at times, a fragile relationship but one that is ultimately built on trust. As you wander through the streets you notice that Muslims will say, ‘namaste or namaskar’ to Hindus while Hindus will say, ‘As-Salaam-Alaikum’ to a Muslim. Why? It is a traditional way of trying to accommodate yourself to others while they try and accommodate themselves to your way. There is perhaps a lesson there to learn in relation to the current world refugee crisis.

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Notice the black mark on this boy’s face: his parents warding off evil that may take his life while he is young

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Kasba Peth is an area that experiences severe hardships. There is a daily struggle for the very basics: water, food and money to educate the children. The children’s toys are old and often broken – yet they still find as much joy in them as they would something brand new. The younger children are often marked with black spots (they look like growths to the outsider) intended to ward away evil. Children die young in India and many are not even named until they are a few months old – to ease the pain if they are to die.

You are not however met with a grimace but rather an open welcoming smile. You can be certain that this community would give you the last of their food if they felt that would make you more welcome. They stop and give you the time from their busy lives to chat and share stories.

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This lady may be recovering from a major operation but that doesn’t stop her being the heart of the community

As my Hindi improves, this becomes an ever more enlightening experience. There is the lady who has had a triple heart by-pass but who proudly stands at her door and tells you just how well she is doing, while her husband is at his printing press next door that only prints lines for exercise books.

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Peek a boo works in any language!

There was the little boy we met – his mother an itinerant builder. Kasba Peth was only her home for a few weeks. This is a woman who lives at a level of poverty even more extreme than that of her temporary neighbours. Yet this woman still took the time to stop and enjoy the sight of her little son playing peek-a-boo with Deborah.

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There was the extended family of two grandmothers, their daughters and their daughters’ children. One grandmother took the time to explain who everyone was, how long they have lived in the area. All to a woman with dodgy Hindi while Deborah was busy taking their photographs.

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The youngest grandchild and his caring sister / cousin

It is a two-way street however. Rashid and Jan make sure that their guests take as many pictures of the people as they can. Their guests then send the pictures to them, they print them and then distribute them when they next do a tour.

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They were clear from the beginning that they did not want the relationship to be financially based. They wanted the community to get something from the visitors but not to depend on them. We met a little boy that said he was collecting foreign coins – on the last visit Rashid had given him some. However, he told the boy that he wanted to see his collection. If he genuinely was interested, then he would encourage his visitors to donate foreign coins if they had them. He insisted however that it be a genuine hobby and not just something he would take and do nothing with.

Jan, who has become a friend, recently forwarded me an article about a woman in Kolkata who has started a project of taking pictures of the poor and distributing them. She said she was struck by how many adults said they had a picture of themselves but when they produced it, it was simply their ID photo. She was also struck by the fact that many parents had no pictures of their children. Something we all love to have, to reflect on as our kids as they grow older.

In India however a lack of photos can have a dark side. What happens if your child gets lost or worse again is kidnapped and trafficked? How can the police and various agencies help you if you can’t even give them a picture of their child? Suddenly, upon reading the article, the work that Jan and Rashid do in the area became even more important.

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This woman is so incredibly beautiful and her saree is just perfect for her. She look so old despite her beauty but when I asked, she is only 50. Life ages you when life is not easy. 

To walk through the streets of Kasba Peth has to be my very favourite thing to do. The over-powering sense of community; the beauty of the women’s sarees; the smiles on people’s faces despite the hardships they endure; and the higgledy-piggledy nature of the streets is uplifting while at the same time reinforcing just how lucky I am to live where I am and to be free of all of those struggles that the inhabitants of Kasba Peth experience daily.

So my friend Gillian (mentioned in my last blog) arrives tomorrow for two weeks and both Deborah and I will once again do the Chalo Heritage Walk tour. I can’t wait to see what I will experience this time round.

Feel free to share and / or follow this blog for more stories about life in India just use the links below

Find Deborah Clearwater on Facebook through Embraced Photography and Embracing India pages: Embracing India (India portfolio) and Embraced Photography (general portfolio)

Chalo Heritage Walks website: Chalo Heritage Walks

The Road to Heaven via The Road to Hell!

Gently floating as I currently find myself on a traditional Keralian houseboat near Allepey, it is hard to imagine that just yesterday our Keralian adventure took us to the other side of the state: a land of complete contrast to here.

IMG_0335 2Our first night in Kerala had found us, or so I imagined, in the high peaks of the Western Ghats – a mountain range stretching down much of western India. Our views were spectacular. Views that stretched for mile after mile of intense greens and rising peaks. Our morning however was to show us that we were far from the high peaks I had imagined the night before.

Our driver, Manoj, managed to rather undersell our morning. ‘Today, we can take jeep and see tea plantation. We drive half way and jeep drives up next half, off-road.’ This was stereotypically Indian – either you get a great over-sell or a great under-sell. Rarely, do you experience an accurate sell.

So we drove up the ever smaller, ever twister and ever (as I thought at the time) bumpier roads. Our driver calm in the face of buses coming hurtling towards him in the middle of the road around blind bends. It was with great shock therefore when I heard him say, ‘Shit!’ This was not the type of language I could ever imagine emerging from his very gentle face.

IMG_0346‘Shit!’ is a good phrase and perhaps the only accurate phrase for when you find yourself going up a steep hill and find a truck stuck on the verge, having failed to quite make it around the tight corner. Several attempts to pass the truck failed, the road simply too steep for the car to cope. Manoj however to the rescue, a couple of quick phone calls and chats with locals led to a perfectly acceptable solution. The jeep came and collected us (after a rather steep 5 minute walk up the hill to get beyond the truck) and a neighbour agreed he could park his car outside their house.

For Manoj however I think this may have been a good day. He too could be a tourist! With his car stuck, there was little more he could do but join us.  The jeep careened up the mountainside, flying over bumps and landing with a thump the other side. Upon reaching a village perched on the edge of the mountainside, our driver jumped out to get some diesel. Looking around, I was a little perplexed. Diesel? Where was the petrol station? Moments later he returned with a plastic five litre bottle and a cut up plastic soft drink bottle with a hose attached. Diesel issue solved.

We then proceeded to go higher and higher up a mountain – leaving the ‘high peak’ of our hotel far below us. Eventually, our driver stopped and pointed to a mountain range in the far distance shrouded in cloud – ‘that’ he informed us, ‘is Tamil Nadu state, we are going there!’ Tamil Nadu is where my maid, Maggie, is from so I was excited to be able to tell her I had at least seen the state from up close.

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As we rose out of the jungle, slowly a verdant carpet spread out around us. Suddenly, the expression ‘a carpet of tea’ came to mind and equally suddenly – it made sense. Each cluster of tea plants were like a detailed knot on a Persian rug – separate but intricately linked to the knots beside it. Knot by knot creating an image of a flowing softness of colour.

FullSizeRender 9IMG_0386In the village, we had also picked up a lady with truly the most beautiful smile on earth who had gone to the village for her weekly supplies. Her return trip to the tea planation she worked on was dependent on such a lift. Only two hours later, having arrived at her house, did I realise just how far it was to the tea factory: how isolated it was, how isolated her life was. The roads became impassable but for the sturdiest four by four – ours I was not convinced was all that sturdy and its engine needed screws tightening at every photo stop.

Every time I turned to look at the lady she was smiling. Was she too enjoying this crazy bumpy ride to the top or was it just the unexpectedness of finding two foreigners enjoying what she saw as normal that made her smile? Either way, without many words to share with each other, we laughed and both I think will remember that very briefest of friendships for much of our lives.

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IMG_0385This lady of course reminds you that amidst this intense jaw-dropping beauty are everyday people trying to live their everyday lives to the best of their everyday ability. These people live in poverty yet always have time to smile broadly at a stranger. The tea plantation workers must pick 31 kilos of tea a day plus clean it, all for a miserable 350 rupees a day (3.50 UK), yet they took the time to stop and recognise your presence with a smile, happily showing you the tea they had picked and allowing themselves to be photographed. There was no sense of the intrusion I feared there would be, rather just a delight in sharing their lives with us.

IMG_0403We reached Tamil Nadu!! Rather, we reached the top of the mountain range representing the Kerala / Tamil Nadu border. Maggie will, it seems, have to wait to see that picture of me with a Tamil Nadu background. Thick fog enveloped us, hiding our view. Our driver did assure us that below was village after village and even large towns. The tree in my nearest foreground was all I got to see!

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Our tea plantation claims to be the highest organic tea planation in the world. True or not, it was certainly a very long way above sea-level at 8,000ft.  As we ascended the mountain (through switchback after switchback of tortuously bumpy roads) you were left wondering – how in all heaven were these roads ever built, how in all heaven was the planation carved out of the jungle and finally how in all heaven did the heavy machinery (from 1935) every make its way up these roads? My theory is that the reason this factory has still its original equipment is that modern equipment would never get up the mountain!

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Our journey down was equally an adventure although of course missing my new friend. To, I can only assume, save diesel our driver shut off the engine and glided down the mountainside. Well, no, glided is definitely not the right word – rather careened over the bumps and around bends. A free massage, the driver jokingly said. Certainly not
a massage I would pay for. When finally we reached a relatively smooth bit of road (well surfaced anyhow!) that was it – brake off and AWAY! We glanced at each other, sIMG_0377miled bravely and…well continued and anyhow it was fun! The thought, I will admit, did flash through my mind, we are a long way from anywhere should something happen. A long way from even a helicopter being able to airlift us out! My husband later reassured me that we would have been fine! ‘Did I not see the ambulance at the tea factory?’‘Ambulance? What ambulance?’ IMG_0442‘The box on the wall with ambulance written on it of course!’

To be able to accurately describe all that we saw and experienced in those four hours is impossible. No wordsmith or photographer could really capture the true beauty of Munnar.  I do not represent any travel agency but if you too want to experience true beauty let me know and I can put you in touch with our travel agents and of course lovely Manoj!

To read more about our Kerala adventure read my last blog and the next few blogs to be published very soon. 

It is always nice to know that people have enjoyed what I’ve written so please do feel free to follow, like, share and of course comment below. 

Great Ocean Road

This blog is now over a week old. For most of the last week we have had no internet connection, inherently not a bad thing! I haven’t  changed it however so for those of you following our adventure via Facebook / iPhoto – panic not! 

My loving husband, Chris, can in many ways escapes the jagged edges of my criticism. If you were to meet him, you would find him kind, caring, highly intelligent and funny. If you were to observe him from a distance when he little realises that he is being watched, you would also find him silly in a really great fun way.

There is one area however that Chris is difficult and that is time keeping! Now, he is never late for anything – in fact the very opposite, he is always early for anything he does. Now, I’m never on time either, you can always guarantee that I will want to leave for somewhere far too early also.

There is one location however that his earliness is always a little testing even for me: the airport. So today, I find myself in Melbourne Airport, ‘patiently’ waiting the three hours required for our flight to Hobart. At least it gives me time (lots of time) to catch up on my blog that I have had little time to touch in the last five days! Silver-linings and all!

IMG_4280The last five nights have been spent travelling overland from Adelaide to Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road. A friend in India has asked me to advise her on what to do on her upcoming trip to Australia she is trying to plan. Now, I am definitely no Australia expert but including the Great Ocean Road on her itinerary to me now seems obvious.

Year in, year out, Chris and I end up going on holidays to places at, shall we say, the least traditional times of year. Seville in mid-August where afternoon temperatures ranged into the 40s, Stockholm in the summer (well is it ever really warm there?!), Iceland in July (so chilly but no snow) and now Australia in the winter. Time after time on this trip, people have been astounded that we have chosen to come to Australia – ‘you did realise it’s winter here didn’t you?’ ‘You did realise it isn’t hot in Australia all year round, didn’t you??” Well yes we did but we live in India so … which as you can imagine sends the conversation off on a completely different track!

The Great Ocean Road therefore in winter is an experience, an incredible experience. One compounded by the fact that a storm swept along the coast while IMG_4279we were driving it. 120 km/hour winds were reported at various stages. We were able to reliably depend upon the fact that as soon as we arrived at a lookout, we
would see beautiful blue skies. By the time, we reached the furthest possible distance from the car however we could guarantee the arrival of the same black, black cloud (seriously it was very black!) giving us just about enough time to say ‘Wow, look at the view!’, snap a few photos and then have to run headlong to the car while being pursued and regular caught by torrential rain or even hailstones or sleet!

IMG_4317The weather resulted in three major outcomes. Firstly, amazing photos – wow! Even those taken by a simple iPhone were spectacular. Secondly, ridiculous wet coats, hats and scarfs! Finally, lots and lots of fun. Fighting your way onto some of the viewing platforms against winds that threatened to fling your backwards; clinging onto railings while trying to move along a lookout path; watching women’s hair streaming backwards in near horzontal lines; even getting wet over and over again was simply fun! Exhausting but fun!

IMG_4311The Great Ocean Road wasn’t quite what I expected. In my head, we would travel for mile upon mile along a road that probably twisted and turned along the edge ofthe coast. Reality was that that was the reality from Apollo Bay to near Geelong however the first few days were IMG_4337spent on roads that twisted up and down mountains; through coastal rainforest; and through barren heathland. At times, the sea was only metres away but not visible through the trees. Somehow therefore when you emerged from the rainforest or heathland and saw the sea it dramatically increased the impact of the view.

When I lived in Warsaw, Poland, I used to always say that Warsaw was more beautiful than Krakow. Unlike Krakow, Warsaw’s stunningly beautiful buildings were interspersed with ugly communist blocks but that this allowed you to see just how beautiful the buildings were because you had something to compare them to. The same goes for the Great Ocean Road coastline. As a result of not always being able to see the beauty of the coastline, it was more shockingly beautiful when you could. On the other hand, what we did drive through was also stunningly beautiful just different from expectations! Unlike, of course, the ugly communist blocks of Warsaw! IMG_4275

By the time we had reached the end of the Great Ocean Road, the term ‘holiday of a lifetime’ had gained currency and greater clarity of meaning. I had never really believed in the concept of a ‘holiday of a lifetime’. Surely that was a very sad concept, a bit like how your wedding is ‘the happiest day of your life’. Well if this holiday is the best it is ever going to get then that is a very depressing thought.

I now understand what it really means. It means a holiday that will stay with you for the rest of your life. A holiday that little things that you see and do into your long-term future will fleetingly remind you of that great three weeks of your life. it is a holiday that has more meaning than the average one, that has had more impact than the average holiday. Australia has become our ‘holiday of a lifetime.’  A ‘holiday of a lifetime’ that we can be assured will never be diminished by the other ‘holidays of a lifetime’ we will have in our future.