Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Eternal Traveler

Facts and Thoughts
     Facts and Thoughts have been re activated at the request of my friend Stephen M. so here goes – new stuff.

  Previously I stated in an earlier Thoughts Post, that the Higganis Family in Afghanistan (They are located in the Borderlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan and Afghanistan proper) would probably take over the country upon the removal of our troops at the end of  2012. This family, which has both criminal activities as well as legitimate businesses, has just been put on the US list of terrorist originisations. Rather than a terrorist group, from what I have read, they seem to be more like the Mafia  who only terrorized the local people to keep their power and business enterprises going.  Of course with the vast amount of poppy cultivation in the country, that does give an international bent on Hagganis family operations . Will the designation of 'terrorists' by the US weaken the strength of this group?  I wonder, as the Higganis family is, other than the Tiliban, the most powerful group in the area.  But US strategic analysts are at least aware of their influence.  Once NATO leaves we cannot really control how this country is ruled nor should we.  But it is obvious that the average citizen will have little say over the future of their government.  The Higganis Family and the Taliban both want to control Afghanistan. Some of my questions are: Will there be a war between these two factions for supreme power over the country?  Or will the two make an accommodation with each other of shared power? What is the best outcome for the general citizenry of the Afghanistan?

 I read in the Monday, September 3, 2012, Jakarta Post that the US is going to build a military base the size of the state of Connecticut in Australia.  After reading this once, I have never heard or read a reference to this military base again.  Speaking to Aussies, they have heard nothing about this either.  Any reader heard about this? 

Hundreds of Myanmar Monks staged a rally in Mandalay supporting the their president’s proposal to send members of the Rohingya Muslim minority to another country.  Which country was not named.  Myanmar has numerous hill tribe minorities of different faiths.  Many have been fighting the Myanmar (Burma) government for years.  Case in point: Many of the Sharon Tribe live in a ‘no man’s land’ between northern Thailand and Myanmar and neither country will accept them as citizens.  (Also Jakarta Post, September 3, 2012).

The question I get ask most by foreign friends and travelers I have met during this latest journey has been “who will win the US presidential election?”  Of course I do not have a crystal ball, but if the people I talked to (mainly Europeans and Aussies) were allowed to vote Obama would win by 100%.      

I have a new friend, Asha, the fifteen-month-old daughter of my friends Agus and Diah at Teba House Home stay in Ubud, Bali. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Eternal Traveler

The Tank and I

I flew into CGD airport in Paris using only part of my Miami/New Delhi ticket so I could go over to England to do some on site research for my new novel, BANISTER.  I have been coming to England for the last thirty years but had never ventured north of the Warwick/ Stratford areas.  It was time to get some insight on Northern England and while researching, also see some dear friends.  Little did I know they would be so instrumental in improving my knowledge of the area I was writing about. 

After two days in London, one spent at the V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum) to see the extraordinary Thomas Heatherwick Studio exhibit – this is the studio that designed the 2012 Olympic cones carried by members of each participating country and later taken home to their countries; these were the cones connected to the massive torches for the Olympic flame.  The second day I just wandered.  I had not been in London since 2006 and I wanted to check out my old haunts, and take a long leisurely evening walk across Kensington Gardens. 

The next morning I was up and out to catch a nine a.m., train to York, in northern England.  New territory.  The guesthouse in London had called a taxi, but it didn’t arrive.  So I went out on the street and hailed one down, and good I did.  It seems that if you order a taxi, they can charge any amount they wish; I was quoted 22 pounds 50 (around $36).  If you hail a cab on the street, the cost is almost half the price ($19). Also the drivers who drive throughout the London streets picking up fares have to pass a test about the history of London, so they not only become your driver but also excellent tour guides as well. 

  Upon arriving in York, I went to Foss Bank Guest house conveniently situated just outside the York City walls, then after a casual overview walk of York headed back to the train station to meet my dear friend Carol who arrived on a five o’clock train.  Carol is one of the more remarkable people I know.  She has bought a house in the highest part of England in Cumbria, and as the location is not on a rail line, she bicycled twenty-five miles to get the train – in the rain.  Carol has been cycling around the world since age seventeen; biking across Iran, Afghanistan, much of India, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and parts of Europe.  Now she is knocking out walls and rebuilding her new home into a haven when she is not traveling.  Her friends used to call her the Road Queen but now she referred to as Cement Carol.  Although I think she will soon be reverting back to her former nickname, as her next Asian cycling adventure is to bicycle across the ‘Stans,’ Uzbekistan, Turkistan, etc., from Asia to Europe and home.  

Meanwhile, Carol stopped all her projects to come to York and spend a day and a half with me.  What fun. She spent the night in a campsite six miles outside York, and cycled in to meet me the next day.  After garden walks, museums and shopping (she’s and incredible shopper), we had a leisurely dinner at the Viceroy (great Indian food) discussing our passed and future adventures.  It’s nice to spend time with someone who also has a roaming spirit.   

After Carol left, I spent two more days playing tourist in York.   One evening, I attended The Mystery Plays.   For some unearthly reason, I had no idea that Mystery Plays were actually the long biblical story from Adam and Eve to the Easter story, and the hanging of Christ on the Cross (and they did).  It was horrifying, one of the most frightening events I have ever experienced.  Why I did not realize the story line I have no idea, but I assure you, if I had of been an individual living during the 13th century I would have been scared half to death into becoming a believer ‘in the one true religion,’ if I were not already.  Attending The Mystery Plays once in a lifetime is enough for me, and I will never go again.  Although the other is not a religious event, I will also never attend another bullfight.   Nor do I have to break my arm again to know there is pain. 
One really lovely event I attended was the Evensong service at The Minister, the largest and one of the oldest (built in the 11th century) Norman Cathedrals in England and Europe.  One doesn’t have to be religious to attend this service of music and prayer, which absolutely embellishes the grander of this great cathedral and makes one thoroughly aware of the fervor at which the medieval society believed in their God and the majesty and power of the Catholic (now an Anglican) Church. 

The Botanical Gardens are delightful and the York walls fun to walk.  York’s medieval architecture is a festival to the eye and the local York Museum does a great job putting it all in historic prospective from the Vikings to modern times.  I enjoyed the light fare at Lucky Days, a luncheon place where if you threw a six on the dice, you received one pound off the price of your lunch. After two more great dinners at The Viceroy  – I really like Indian food (The Viceroy’s chef is Pakistani which gives an interesting twist the flavor of the food); it was time to move on. 

On my last morning, I walked over to the train station to pick up the car I had pre-rented for a week to drive from York to Heathrow.   Drive in England you question?  But they drive on the left side of the road.  No problem. After all, the steering wheels are on the left side of the cars, so why not.  I had requested the compact size.  Then I saw the car.  It was a TANK.  A four door Nissan Juke.  Didn’t these Brits trust me?  Did they look at my age and say, ‘lets cover our bets the best we can?’   Tank it was; in which one sat high in the air with both a GPS and a rear-backing camera.  They also offered me extra insurance over and above what I had already purchased.  These people weren’t taking any chances.  I ask for a smaller car.  They balked.  I ask for a map.  They said no maps because no one ever returned them.  I thought how quaint.  Actually I had an obsolete map, but I didn’t tell them. Then I had the young man set the GPS for my day’s destination and off I went white knuckled all the way. 

I was headed south to Baslow, a typical English village in The Peaks district, where I was invited to stay with my friend James Bettney for three nights.  The distance to Baslow from York is 53 miles.  But with numerous errors of missing traffic signs and making wrong turns, my whole trip extended to 83 miles.  Keeping in mind that I did see some lovely countryside, I must admit the GPS was up to my every foible. 

James and I left the ‘tank’ in Baslow and for the next three days he drove, showing me the Peaks area countryside, the villages of Baslow and it’s charming village church, Bakewell, and Pilsey, the location of the main Chatsworth farm shop.  We checked the Matlock area for a hospital or nursing home, and searched Sheffield for dealers in antique Sheffield Silver, and the Derwent River (necessary knowledge for my latest novel).  
In the middle of a Chatsworth field with rare red deer in the background

Then we went to Chatsworth a palatial manor house, the ancestral home of the Duke of Devonshire and his family. The house is massive with the grounds covering 50,000 acres, including all or parts of many of the little country towns and villages in the area.  Although this is still the Duke’s family home, the house is opened all year around with International Horse Trials in the spring, Theatre performances in the summer and Christmas themes during the winter.  The house has 126 rooms, 100 0f them for family use only.  But the rooms that are open certainly give a realistic idea of how this family lived, and of their antecedents.  James and I also visited another country house, which had been turned into a lovely little country hotel.

James Bettney is a young fellow to watch, only 24 and a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, with a degree in Photography and Visual Arts. His work entitled, Written in their Karma, is currently being displayed at the Scottish Parliament Building in Glasgow.  His work and the others from that presentation will be moved to the V& A in London for a month’s showing.  His subject matter is a series of portraits of widows in Nepal.  When a husband dies, the widows and their children are tossed out of the Nepali family enclave like so much garbage, to fend for themselves and their children.  An almost impossible plight. 
                                                   Check out     MUTU
James with the help of a local Nepali women’s organization has started a charity/ foundation, MUTU, to help the widows help themselves by buying sewing machines, training them to sew, and how to make certain items which will appeal to other women in markets around the world.  He’s also working for an international Photography firm with contracts in Europe and the US.  Pretty well done, I’d say.
Monica and James

After three wonderful days with James and his soul mate Monica, I left Yorkshire and headed down to Derbyshire.  Nottingham was my destination, there to see out Mark, my old New Zealand traveling companion, and his partner, Sarah.  While driving through Nottingham, I heard a terrible crash.  Had I being driving too close to the parked bus?  Had I sideswiped it as I passed?  I was petrified!  Did I stop?  You bet your life I didn’t.  I didn’t even think of the consequences of leaving the scene of an accident.  I panicked and just drove on.  How could I?  Then I looked out the rider’s side window and realized I had no outside view mirror.  Had I hit the bus so hard the mirror had fallen out?  I was scared witless, and drove to Mark’s and Sarah’s as quickly as I could, not stopping to calculate the damage I had caused – I just high tailed it out of the area and didn’t stop till I pulled into their driveway.  Then I got out of the car and checked for damage.  There was none.  Not a scratch.  Obviously, I had hit nothing.  The mirror was obviously not secure and just fell out of it’s own volition.  What kind of rental car-company was this, that allows mirrors to be so poorly installed (rented from Hertz through Euro Car)?  But what to do now?  If I took it to the rental car office, I assumed  they would probably  charge me for the price of replacing the mirror, which would probably cost a fortune, and probably used up my whole 650 pound deductible – a little over 1040 dollars. Even though I had nothing to do with the event.  (What would you have done, readers? Some opinions here, please.)  Mark saved the day.  He called the Nissan dealer service center, and they ordered a new window sent over night for about 74 US.  Once it was fixed, we went to the rental office and I paid an extra eighteen US a day for two days to insure Mark, so he could drive the ‘tank’ while we continued my Peaks area research.  I was much like the glass, too shattered to be of any use in the driver’s seat for a while.
Mark and Sarah in Mr. Straw's garden
We then had a wonderful day visiting an old Industrial Revolution cotton spinning mill, and Mr. Straw’s House.

We also visited Hardwick Hall a classic Elizabethan manor house built in the late 16th century, and Haddon Hall an ancient manor probably built around 1150.  The villages of Haddon were first mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1086 (a real estate record began by William Duke of Normandy after he conquered England in 1066).  But Haddon Hall and it’s chapel were not mention until 1180.
Hardwick hall

Hardwick Hall orginally owned by the Duke of Devonshire's family, was handed over to Her Majasty's Treasury in 1958 for death duties and transfered to  the Nation Trust in 1959. By giving up Hardwick Hall in leiu of other family assets, the family were was able to keep Chatsworth, their major residence and it's 50,000 acres in tack.  Today Hardwick is opened to the public, and recently exterior shots were use it the movies, Harry Potter and the Deathly Harrows, I & II to depict Malford Manor.  Whereas Haddon Hall, which at one time had much the same amount of acrage as Chatsworth, did not have any other manor houses to give up, after death duties it now has only 2000 acres still owned with the manor house (Check out the internet to read more about this) .  

Haddon Hall
Haddon Hall is a most fascinating historic castle and is available for general public viewing.  Much like many other of these manor houses, it has it’s own special list of yearly activities; Folk Music evenings, Easter Egg Hunts, Tudor Cooking classes, Tudor Weddings, and Halloween and Christmas events to list a few.  Yet, because it has never been modernized, that makes it really authentic, and I found it a wonderful place to visit for it’s unique historic value.

Sarah, my friend Marks partner has just turned 49.  In honor of her birthday, she has made a to do list of 50 things she has never done before, to be finished by the time she becomes fifty.  One item on the list was to visit Mr. Straw’s House, “…the Straw family moved here in the 1920s.  For 60 years the Straws threw little away and chose to live without many of the modern comforts we take for granted today. [A] Time capsule [of another age].”  So off we went.  I prefer castles, but Sarah was enthralled and it was nice for Mark and I to see her enjoy the visit so much and be able to ‘tick’ one more thing off her fifties list.  We had lunch in an authentic pub and Sarah had a real ploughman’s lunch – pork pie with all the trimmings.  Lovely day.                      

Mark is also one of those special individuals who put his life on hold to travel throughout the world for three years.  He spent months on Bedford truck safaries in both Africa and South America; saw much of Asia and the US.  While in Asia he suffered a terrible bus accident between India and Nepal.  Here is a man who faced the harrowing knowledge that because of the carelessness of an Indian bus (Indian bus companies are notorious for their horrible accidents) company, that he might lose part of a lime caused by an infection when the bus toppled over a thankfully low cliff.  After three surgeries in Kathmandu and two months of healing he finally recovered. I met him in Kathmadu and later we traveled together on the South Island of New Zealand. Then he went on to North and South America to finish his remarkable three years of travel.   

church used in Downton Manor scenes
The next day, after our day out in the Peaks, we went to Mark’s mother and father’s for lunch, in Stratford on Avon.  It was nice to be in such a loving family setting, but after lunch I was off to drive through the Cotswolds to the village of Burford; the set of the most current funeral scenes in the BBC (PBS) Downtown Manor stories. 

Early the next morning I drove to Heathrow, went to my hotel ( the Ibis, nothing to brag about) and then turned in the ‘tank.”

The flight the next day was a breeze, and upon arriving rode the free airport shuttle to a really nice little hotel, the, Companile Roissy Le Mesmil Amelot, in the little village of Amelot very near the CDG airport.   Soon my dear friends, Hilda and Chris Bamford’s, seasoned travelers who live in Paris, arrived and we had one of memorable evenings of good food, good wine and good friends. 
Meant to take a picture - Darn't!  

Tomaz, sitting on my terrace at Teba House Ubud

We must all thank my good friend, Tomaz Krakowiak for riding on his Motor bike from Dempasar, Bali to Ubud, where I am staying, to show me how to insert pictures.  Thank you, Tomaz.



Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Traveler

Missing Six Months

I could pull an Agatha Christie and have a missing six months but… rather than be coy, I will explain.  I went home for body repair camp.  Fortunately it was all very successful, BUT WAIT!  I couldn’t leave immediately because…

Pressured by friends, I decided to publish my novel, DISPOSABLE ASSETS, which is now available on, and Kindle.  After dealing with the book’s publication, I was now ready to return to India but… then it happened.  I broke my upper left arm April 15th, and it took until the end of July for my arm to heal.   But now I am happily on the road again.  See next entry.  Also see my new website at:   

The Traveler

                                                   Different worlds

During mid October, my friend Nancy Jo arrived in Delhi for three weeks travel in India and Nepal.  The itinerary had been planed ahead, hotels booked and adventures discussed.  Even though I am an early raiser but late to leave my room, Nancy is out with the ‘golden sun’ to take pictures, so I spent three weeks not only up but also out most mornings at 5:30 a.m.  After all, I could not have her wandering off alone to tangle with an inquisitive morning cow or be run over by a wayward auto driver.  I had promised Alan, Nancy’s husband, I would take good care.  After all, I was responsible. 

But it worked out well. Off we went every morning, Nancy Jo wearing her khaki  ‘white hunter’s vest’ with her reasonably large camera slung around her neck, smacking of ‘tourist’, while I continued to dress in my low key borderline grunge, squiring her throughout New and Old Delhi from Khan Market to the more exotic Chandni Chowk.  From the Red Mosque, through ancient alleyways of 17th century Shabjahnabal, or old Delhi which was built before the British Colonization, India’s Independence, and the very bloody Muslim/Hindu Partition in 1947, which left a million dead and India divided into two, now three separate countries: India, Pakistan and finally Bangladesh. 

Old Delhi is the old Muslim quarter where remnants of Islamic architecture can be found, many of which are now in ram-shackled condition.  Where the savvy tourist can occasionally spy the big heavy studded doors, minor minarets, and curved and arched entryways of romantic Arabic picture book fame that still exist. 

Except for the massive crowds Old Delhi is still secretively mystical in it’s own way.  Wandering this labyrinth of narrow alleys, we stumbled upon a working Jain Temple during an afternoon ceremony.  Only about twelve men participated, dressed in white sari like robes, they sat misty-eyed, drumming and singing their prayers. Ritual food of rice, banana and a miniature sweet bun in a banana leaf bowl was passed to us.  “Eat,” someone whispered between their prayers and we did.  Unbeknownst to the worshipers, Nancy Jo, with her camera on her lap set on play, filmed their service.  A rare bit of footage, I am sure.

After quietly leaving, off we went again to find the Jain Svatambara Temple.  I was determined to show to Nancy jo this temple as it was considered the most beautiful Jain temple in Dalhi and maybe alll of India.  The religious art inside is most unusual and unbelievably spectacular.  Finally we found it, and for a ‘tip,’ a razor thin priest (these Janis as well as being vegan vegetarians, also do not eat onions or garlic) was not too busy and gave us a fast tour.  One is not allow to take pictures, so I go there as often as I can to bask in the artful loveliness of the temple whenever I’m in Delhi.  As an aside: There are two sects of Jainism, the Svatambara in which the priests wear white.  The word Svatambara means wearing white.  The other sect, the Digambara believe in wearing nothing at all.   The alleyway where the temple is located also has a number of pastel painted residences, owned by local Jains.  One of which belongs to a Jain jeweler. After our temple visit, we stopped in the jeweler’s shop and among his loverly hand crafted items, Nancy Jo found a beautiful silver cuff bracelet studded with small semiprecious stones.  
We continued our tour of Delhi with a visit to the Crafts Museum (great – don’t miss it), and the National Museum (a waste of time – only three rooms were opened for viewing although we were charged the full entrance fee and there were masses of individual workers within the building).  Another day was filled with shopping in Kahn Market at Fab India and Anoki with lunch at Mama’s to Go, and a personal revival visit to my favorite local hair dresser, Dolly (or Dolma –princess in Tibetan). 

We took a three day tour that included the Taj Mahal and neighboring Red Fort in Agra.  The Taj was beautiful as usual and my visit was much more enjoyable than previously, as there were fewer tourists.    Then it was on to Jaipur with it’s pink palace, and the Amber palace in a neighboring village, where we had to ride and elephant up the hillside to enter.  I most enjoyed Jaipur’s Astronomy Museum, a wonderful outdoor museum just across the road from the Pink Palace, an estounding venue one generally never hears about. 

 Then it was on to Varanasi for five days (four would have been enough) to see the funeral pyres, visit special temples, and indulge in the aura of the place, which is exotic to say the least.   People come from all over India to honor their loved ones by having them burned on the funeral pyres called Ghats; a more purifying step to nirvana then to have them cremated at their local temple pyre.  Varanasi, which borders the Mother Ganges River, is the holiness city in the whole of the Indian Hindu religion.  Yet there are some who are too holy to be burned and instead their dead bodies are dropped into the Ganges to float off to nirvana in their special holiness: children under age four, pregnant mothers, Sadhus a certain sect of holy man, Lepers and those with small pox, and animals.  Many tourists like us take both morning and evening boat rides on the river to experience, in the morning the ritual washing of the body in the holy waters (mostly men), and in the evenings the religious rituals, architecture and the ghats as they burn in the moonlight.  There are three ghats on the river’s edge and these are used to cremate the dead twenty-four hours a day, everyday of the year.  Gigantic piles of wood are stacked at the end of the streets behind the pyres and are continually replenished daily to supply the incredible amount of wooden logs necessary to maintain the funeral Ghats.  

During a visit to the Sahdus’ temple, we passed a amall room in which lay and old Sahdus who’s face I had seen many times before on postcards and large posters throughout India, but had never learned his name.  The young Sadhus who gave us the tour of this holy (yet very dirty by western standards) temple had lived here since age seven; going out on occasion across the country with only the clothes on his back and his tin pail, begging for food and bits of money,  praying for those he met on his way.  Yet he always came back to his home temple, contently happy in the belief that this was the only way of life for him.  

 Then it was on to Kathmandu, Nepal and one of my very favorite Hotel/Guesthouses in the whole world the Ganesh Himal.  To visit with friends and share with Nancy Jo local historic villages I have mentioned in previous posts, (see previous Kathmandu and Nepal entries) and also visit the second largest town in Nepal, Pokara.  All of which were wonderful as usual. 
In Varanasi there were many women who clean up the Cow dung, which riddles the streets in their neighborhoods every day,  and form it into patties.  Laying the patties out in rows along the streets, they dry the patties in the sun.  Later, these women sell the dried patties for cooking fuel or for home heating in the winter.  It was after the experience of seeing these industerious women that I returned to Broken Sound an Upscale gated community situated in my hometown.  There they have special green machines from which community dog owners retrieve little green bags to pick up their dog’s excrement and then deposit it in other special trash containers just for dog dung.  How shocked those Varanasi ladies would have been to see this waste of such a valuable commodity?  Two different worlds.