Saturday, August 30, 2014

Leh Market 

I am in a state of shock!  Leh’s main streets are laid out in a  square, and three out of four of these streets are being dug up to modernise the drainage system.  Two streets are totally blocked off while a third still has traffic, but shop  owners on this street have had to tear down their buildings so the drains can be fixed, and the road widened at the same time.

rebuildig a bulding

removing old pipes

The first thing that popped in my mind when I saw Leh’s decimated streets was Connaught Place in Delhi, where the roads on the inside Circles have been in a muddy state of disrepair for the last ten years; a corrupt snafu of Congress Party cronies???  I don’t know.  But something is definitely wrong. Was that going to happen here in Leh too? But hurray!  Not in Leh. Everyday, work is underway.  

Although the Indian army directs and coordinates the road projects in the Himalayans, of which there are a great deal, with landslides and constant repairs, most of the workers are from Bihar, Indian’s poorest state, recruited to do the actual manual labor. Out in the hot sun using an old cement mixer, the work appears to me to be back braking.  But it goes on, and progress is being made daily.

Leh road work

Himalayan Mt. road work

Two must sees in the center of Leh are The Jokhang complex, a Tibetan temple, which “was  consecrated by the Dalai Lama” in 1980, and the “green domed (Sunni) Jami Masjid (mosque)” built in the 17th century in recognition of military support given to the King of Ladakh by the Moghul ruler Aurangzeb.  

Inside The Jokhang Temple

Entry to The Jokhang Temple

Jami Masjid

The other day, Mr. Modi, India’s new Prime Minister came to Leh to announce the building of a new hydroelectric plant for the area.  This would be a great boon for the Ladakh, as currently electricity is erratic and intermittent. Mr. Modi, a member of the BJP political party, which has in the past been a predominately Hindu party, trounced the governing Congress Party (led by the Gandhi family), in the latest national elections, which had been in power for many years.  Mr. Modi also went to Kargil, the other Ladakhi district. But he stayed out of the Jammu Kashmir sections of this state. There, there is an extreme distrust of Modi by most Muslims because of past events in Modi’s own home state of Gujarat, and also because Modi is still a member of the RSS a extremely militant wing of the BJP Party (Mr. Modi has distanced himself from this group in the last few years, which for him could become a two edged sword).  But I am not here to give a history lesson in Indian politics.  If you are interested, look up Modi’s background and the latest election - you might find it fascinating reading.    

Selling vegetables in the market

Meanwhile, although this is part of the tourist season, business is slow and some shops have closed because of the dust and construction.  Yet cows and donkeys still wander the streets at will, and Ladakhi ladies continue to sell their vegetables on the main street between the shops and the street repairs.

My friend Nazir, who owns the Gala Shop has not been too effected by these events, 

Nazir's Gala Shop

Nazir repairing an antique carpet

Inside Gala Shop

Dolma whose shop was demolished

but my friend Dolma, who did business in one of the buildings that was demolished, now has her sons doing business for her in one of the tent covered Tibetan Markets. Of course her close friends come to her home and she shows us lovely things there, as we drink chi tea and munch on sunflower seeds.  This year, I have bought only a garnet ring and a simple black onyx necklace.

The other day, Dolma (Jigmet’s mother) received an invitation to a Muslim wedding, and I recalled that during the preparations for Jigmet and Amo’s wedding, both Buddhist and Muslim ladies came to help. One of the daily charms of this community is the mixture of the drumming of the pujas, or Tibetan prayer sessions, and the Muslim call to prayer.  I awaken to these sounds some mornings, aware that there is this magical place in the world, where people still live happily in harmony side by side. 

Dolma, Jigmet's mother

OK, I did it again.  I fractured another bone.  Those who know me well, know I am often in an impetuous hurry.  So again, my fault.  I am almost ashamed to say that this did not happen during an exotic cross country road trip while riding on a Royal Enfield, or while trekking on a remote Ladakhi mountain trail. Much more prosaically, I slipped in the shower and fractured my elbow.  The pain was excruciating, it is the first time ever, during the fracturing of a bone, that I experienced piercing multiple tremors and a sense of nauseousness.  Well there’s some reality, I can use in one of my next novels.  Although in the future, I prefer to imagine  unpleasant happenings rather than experiencing them.    

Buying the fiberglass cast at the pharmacy

Dr. Dorje removing the 'rock' from my arm

The orthopedist at the government hospital, Dr. Dorje, put my whole arm, from upper arm to around my fingers in an old fashion Paster of Paris cast.  Therefore if I decided to fly home, this kind of cast would give room for the swelling that regularly happens with new fractures.  My G- , it was so heavy, like carrying around a can of cement or the Rock of Gibraltar.   After a week, he has replaced my awkward rock with a much lighter fiber glass cast( which cost $35.00) which is easier to manage.  If the bone heals properly (so far so good), with a little physical therapy, I can carry on as if it’s just another one of those inconveniences of travel.  Otherwise, home I will go.  Brave or stupid, that’s for you to decide.  But as The Eternal Traveler, I know if everything goes well, there are new adventures ahead.
What I really need now is a Pimms and lemonade.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014


I arrived by plane in Leh, the capital of Ladakh, on August 8th.  The moonscape, earthy beauty had not changed since my last visit a year and a half ago.  Off I went by taxi to my favourite little Inn, Jigmets Guesthouse & Hotel.  
Jigmet Guesthouse & hotel
Cosily located less than five minutes from central Leh, or as the locals call it , the market, it’s charmingly quiet garden 

Dolma, who makes it all happen every summer!

Dolma's garden

lovingly nurtured by Dolma, matriarch of the household was in full bloom. This is my fourth or fifth visit and every time this family has welcomed me with open arms.  Dorje, 

Dorje, the family patriarch
the head of the family, met me at the entrance  to the hotel with a white scarf of good wishes for a pleasant stay.  There were hugs all around and the introduction to me of two new baby girls, Diskit, the older is two years and two months old.  And little Amo, who is one year and six months old.  I was ‘home.’

Little Diskit
Little Amo

A bit of HISTORY

Located in the northeastern corner of what is now the state of Jammu Kashmir, bordering Tibet, Ladakh was originally a separate Buddhist kingdom under the British rule.  Then in 1947, India gained it’s freedom from the British Empire. This was also the period of the Partition, which divided part of northwestern India into the Dominium of Pakistan (a country for Muslims) from the rest of India. During the division, although inhabited by many Muslims, Jammu Kashmir remained as part of India.  Thus, Jammu Kashmir became an Indian state, and Ladakh became part of this state.  Although Ladakh is now part of India, it still has a king and Queen, whose official home is at Stok, a palace as well as a museum with historic artefacts of the kingdom.  

The capital, Leh is about 11555 ft above sea level in the Himalayan Mountains; a remote and beautiful landscape to which avid trekkers descend on every year during its short season.  The summer days from June to end of September are as hot as 30 degrees Celsius (or a very dry 86 degrees fahrenheit), while the nights as one nears the end of September can be as low as 0 degrees celsius(or 32 degrees fahrenheit).    

Although Ladakh is larger in area than either of it’s two other counterparts, Jammu or Kashmir, it has a population of only 300,000. Yet most of its vast area is barren land.  Ladakh has two districts, Leh, which is mainly a Buddhist enclave, often referred to as the “Land of magical monasteries,” and Kargil which is predominately Muslim. But because of the birth rate of the local Muslims, in Leh the population is 70% Buddhist and 30% Muslim, whereas in all of Ladakh the population is now 50% Buddhist and 50% Muslim.

A street scene in Kargill

Jigmets Guest house & Hotel, where I stay, has 25 light airy rooms with baths, astounding views, and a large dining room, although I and the other hotel guests eat breakfast every morning outside surrounded by Dolma’s flowering garden.  As for dinner there is no menu, rather, unlike most restaurants everything is made fresh. So patrons must order early in the day to assure their specially made dinner. I love it. A group from Austria requested a traditional Ladakhi dinner, so Jigmets opened their private old family kitchen and put on a great Ladakhi spread, while I, with the rest of the family, watched it being served from the attached other more modern family kitchen.    
Traditional Ladakhi dining room
This Friday, some Indian guests requested a concert of  Indian music for dancing, and again Jegmets will accommodate.  Even with a ‘broken wing,’ I am looking forward to this.  


Friday, August 22, 2014



Oh, Rotterdam, you are lovely.  There is a feeling of cosmopolitan style, I did not find in all the villages I had previously visited during my boat trip.  Yes, they were charming and historic hamlets much different from anything I might experience at home (that of course is one of the main reasons for travel), but Rotterdam has a spunky zest to it that many cities lack.  Although it was badly bombed during WWII, the citizens rebuilt their city using exceptional public planning.

As I explained earlier, I arrived with a respiratory infection and my hosts Betsy and Tommaso went out of their way to make me comfortable.  They live in an enormous building of apartments which was once Rotterdam’s old tax building.  Originally, the area that was converted into Betsy’s apartment  must have had 20 ft ceilings because it has been converted into a spacious two storey flat with wonderfully high ceilings, deliciously private nooks and crannies, yet with an exquisite feeling of openness.    

Betsy & Tjuli

They tucked me in, in an alcove off the living room, around the corner from the dining room, kitchen, half bath and porch.  While they were settled in in an upstairs suite of office/den, bedroom and bath.  An apartment of privacy and friendliness.  Betsy’s cat Tjuli, who is 17 years old, would come down stairs in the morning making an early visit to me, which I looked forward to daily.  

Rotterdam is designed for people, particularly in regards to modes of transportation.  There are canals with locks in front of Betsy’s building to protect the boats docked in one of the many inland bays of the city.  Right near her door, there is a wonderful trolley system stop,which ends at the new central station down the block from the city centre shopping streets.  A few blocks away from her apartment is the underground system, and along all the roads are parallel bicycle paths for the unbelievable amount of bike traffic that fills this city daily. (Depending on the city/village, 27% to 46% of the locals use bicycles as their mode of transport.)
Boatss in a protected Rotterdam habor

The most amazing thing about where Betsy lives, is that it is located only about a mile’s walk/ride from the Art Museums Center, which includes four of the city’s main museums as well as a lovely park and four houses built in the1930s that were deemed to be exceedingly modern for their time, and still are.  The Huis Sonneveld is open to the public.  Built in what is called the Neiuwe Bouwer style, a branch of International Modernism, it was finished in 1933 for the Albertus Sonneveld family. Mr. Sonneveld was a director of the Van Nelle Factory.

Living room
When the Sonneveld family moved in, other than their clothes, the family left all their belongings in their former home. The new house was filled with newly designed items that related to it’s functional modernistic design. These items and furniture are still on display in the house.  I found the house sterile, but for those of you who really admire extreme modernism, you will love this house.
Sonnoveld house

Dining room

Although one of Rotterdam’s main museums is an Architectural Museum, the city of Rotterdam itself is a living museum of avant garde architecture; its library, with its outer yellow tubes, the cube houses, a village of 45 degree tilted houses in which special furniture had to be designed to fit in the inner spaces, the building with what I considered upside down windows (I don’t know the name), the Central train station, locals call the jaw, and many more.

45% angle houses

Central Station

Apartments with upside down windows

Rotterdam library

Public art is everywhere; a tree with with a hand extended out of its trunk to shake, beautiful stone rabbits in various positions, mythical reptiles, and a bronze looking rubber tube man to describe just a few. 

One of my greatest pleasures was the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, This world renown art museum has a collection of art works that include Titian, Durer, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and best of all P. Bruegel’s  The Tower of Babel, as well as six Hieronymus Boschs.  Note: Bosch is one of my most favourite artists, and as there are only about 30 of his paintings left in the world, I was in ‘seventh heaven’.  I did ask the museum floor guard if I could just tuck the Bosch painting, THE PEDDLER, under my arm and take it home, but he said no.  Poor sport, I’d say! 

During my visit, I was lucky enough to view a special exhibit by the English artist, Paul Noble who some consider a modernist Bosch. His intricate graphite drawings are a depiction of Nobson Newtown, which is built on his mythical site of his old town, where in Mobson has left some ruins, sculptures and archaeological excavations. Although the observer sees no people, he has created a whole fanciful civilisation, in which there are “sculptures (which) turn our thoughts to mediaeval paintings of the Virgin and Child or the abstracted figures of Henry Moore, … or balloons, mud or turds” (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen - Paul Noble show brochure).

Meanwhile, Betsy, Tommaso, Tjuli and I had a wonderful time going on a bicycle ride to dinner at Olijventuin Restaurant. I riding side saddle with Tammaso, and Tjuli in Betsy’s bicycle basket. Requesting a table for four, we each had our own seat, Tjuli, the cat as well, we dined on the most marvellous soups and Italian tapas.  We ended dinner with a wonderfully pleasant apple dessert, which did the fruit justice.  
Riding to dinner - Tjuli waiting in the basket for Betsy

One afternoon Betsy and I went off to lunch at Spirit, a vegetarian restaurant which was also delicious.  The choices were overwhelming and again the whole menu, as well as the Pumpkin soup, (I really like good soups - something rare to find in my area of the States) was outstanding. 

Just part of our Tapas at Olijventuin

Betsy in the kitchen

One of Betsy's Best Creations

Yet, Betsy’s Best One and Only (Betsy claims she never makes the same recipe twice - she needs a website) Recipes at home wowed me the most whether soup, quiche or dessert.  Every dish  I ate at Betsy’s was a delight.   

Some outdoor art

Outdoor serpent

Is it Rubber Man?

All in All, my visit to Rotterdam was as wonderful as food and as enjoyable as my hosts,
Betsy, Tammaso and Tjuli.  Thank you, all three. 

next stop: LEH, LADAKH - INDIA

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Dordrecht, at the intersection of the rivers, Oude Mass, Noord and Merwede, all favourable trade routes, was given it’s city charter from the Count of Holland in 1220. Thus Dordrecht became the first city of Holland, and a trading centre.  It has no canals but is surrounded and inundated with small harbours and deep inlets that have become boat marinas chock full of boats both power and sail. Therefore, the city grew up around these yacht havens and because of this invasion of boats has expanded into a reasonably large community. 
a large barge

One of the many harbors

Local bridge

One of the many harbours

Marina bridge rising

Same bridge in down position

A cool double ender

 Wandering throughout Dordrecht, I found that it was a mix of very old buildings, as well as renovated and newer construction, which I found a little disconcerting.  

I got off the boat and immediately visited the Huis van Gijn Museum, a period house on the Nieuwe harbour maintained in an late 1800s style.  Generally I don’t care for period houses, but It is really the most remarkable house of it’s type, I have ever visited (Sarah you would be ‘period house’ heaven.). 

I also visited the Local Dordrecht museum, which kindly gave me free entry because it was so late in the day.  There were many bucolic and pastoral paintings. These paintings from the 1600s on included works by Albert Cuyp, a native son, the painters Julius Israel and Jan Maris both of whom I had heard of or seen their works before.  It also had a wonderful painting of a mother cat and her kits - cats are reputed to be the hardest animals to paint - these were delightfully well done.  

After the museums, I wondered the town snapping pictures of interesting buildings and stopping to have an afternoon glass of Prosecco.  I found Dordrecht an interesting city, but unlike the others we visited, a city of beer, not ice-cream.  Fortunately, I was sated with ice cream for dessert at dinner on the Ahoy.

Sun Room

Shots inside the Huis van Gijn Museum.

Leather Room

World Map

Play room
Currently we are cursing on the Moord River on our way 
to our last stop Schoonhoven.  The banks are quite industrial along the river, yet occasionally we pass greenery and then a stand of what look to be quite modern expensive houses with modest to large landscaped grounds.  

We also pass an area called Kinderdijk, where I thought I counted at least 20 windmills, although I have read there are only 19? - We had to stand on the wooden bench on the back deck and still got what I considered an unsatisfactory view. - “Kinderdijk is situated in a polder… at the confluence of the Lek and Noord rivers. To drain the polder, a system of 19 windmills was built around 1740.” (Wikipedia) To keep the area evenly drained. This group of mills is the largest concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands. The windmills of Kinderdijk are one of the best-known Dutch tourist sites and were designated a UN Heritage site in 1997. The term Children or Kinder-dike: Historically, in 1420, there was a great flood and a cradle was seen floating in the water. A cat was straddling it to keep it steady.  When rescuers reached the cat, they found a baby snug and dry lying inside the cradle.  Thus the old folktale, The Cat and the Cradle  Now two turbines do the windmills’ work. One of my companions explained that at least one of these mills were used to create wind power for mustard factory prior to the industrial revolution. 

As we travel the landscape becomes less commercial and more green countryside.  We pass a car ferry going back and forth across the river and soon we enter the Lek River on which Schoonhaven is located.  We are again surrounded by verdant, flat lowland edged with reeds and wild flowers on one side and grazing cows on the other. 

Schoonhaven is the silver capital of the Netherlands. It has a an interesting silver museum, typically dutch buildings and very good ice cream.  It also has a lovely green park full of a multitude of different kinds of ducks.  When they saw me they all came running.  But when they realised I had no treats, they retreated with disappointment written all over their little duck faces.  There was not much else happening in Schoonhaven.  After enjoying it’s main beauties back, I went to the boat.  
This was our last port and the next day off I went from Utrecht to Rotterdam, by then with an upper respiratory infection to be kindly taken in by Betsy and Tommaso, and their cat, Tjula, all of whom helped in caring ways to nurse me back to health.  More about Rotterdam in my next post.

Just a comment about The boat trip and Holland (the Netherlands).

Regarding the boat trip; although it was nice, I think if I were riding a bike and enjoying the countryside, I would have enjoyed it more.  Having lived on a sailboat for many years, I was used to our stopping at a port and leisurely staying until we had seen all of the area that interested us.  Sometimes this was a day or two and sometimes several weeks.  On an organised cruise one can not do that.  Whatever length of time you have in port is all you have or you ‘miss the boat.’ The whole concept of a biking/sailing vacation for bike riders is a wonderful one and I would suggest it to those ‘easy riders’ and families who love bike riding with a passion.  Although the Ahoy is retiring and selling their business, there are also other boats throughout Holland that do this kind of holiday - if you are interested just look on the internet.  The other problem for me was dietary.  I am not a bread/meat eater so breakfast and lunch were challenges. Dinners, even without eating the meat portion were very good and filling.  

Relaxing on deck with the Captain
Captain's wife and first mate

Now to Holland: In the past, I had only been to Amsterdam, which is a lovely city, but I wanted to get more of a feel of the country.  What I discovered was that Holland is really a country of waterways, rivers, boats and bicycles.  Just as there are roads throughout, on each side going in the same traffic direction, there is always a companion bike path.  In what I saw, the land was mostly lower than the roads, bike paths and canals. Amsterdam is a city built below sea level.  I found the Dutch a hard working, industrious, kind people.  But why wouldn’t they be, always having to keep ahead of the encroaching sea, building great dikes, and waterway projects to constantly protect their people and their country from flooding.  I question their future with the rising tide of global warming.  Yet, after they have survived this long, I guess we wait and see what engineering magic this persevering society comes up with next.