We flew from Dubai and into Rome to drop our large bags in Rome at at our usual B and B as we only wanted to take hand luggage to Dublin. We also had dinner with Maurice’s brother and wife who had arrived the day after from Perth. We met at Piazza Navona and had a great dinner at “Mamma Rosa’s”. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday, twenty six degrees and there were thousands of tourists in the city.
Maurice and I flew to Dublin the following morning to a cold fourteen degrees and the weather over the next eight days was
mainly very cold, windy and raining.
We stayed at the Royal Marine, a lovely old hotel in Dun Laoghaire (pronounced Dun Leary) and our friend Mary from Meath came
and met us to have a lovely dinner overlooking the water at an Italian restaurant called “Toscana.
We met up the next day with Maurice’s German cousin and her husband to have another good Italian meal at “That’s Amore” in Monkstown.

The seaside walks along the coastal promenade at Dun Laoghaire, Sandycove and Glasthule are beautiful but warmer temperatures without cutting wind and rain would have been nicer.
Maurice’s sister Maura and her husband had also arrived in Dublin so it was nice to catch up with them as well as many other
cousins, spouses and children who had come from the USA, UK, Germany and Australia to celebrate his cousin Caroline’s 70th birthday. She had arranged a bus tour for twenty six of us over the wicklow mountains to Glendalough but unfortunately it was a wet, cold and very windy day and only the braver ones walked down to the lake while the others of us that wanted to remain warm and dry went to the bar. We had an excellent three course meal at the hotel.
After four days we moved to the “Windsor lodge” a very convenient and comfortable B and B where most of the other overseas cousins were staying.

The party for eighty people on a cold but fine day was held in her daughter’s house which luckily had had an extension done so that most of the guests could be seated inside.
The following day we were collected by Maurice’s german cousins and went down again to Wicklow to the “Wicklow Heather” in Laragh, an atmospheric old restaurant for lunch with Paul another cousin from the McCarthy side of the family and we then went on to Kilmacurragh National Botanical gardens which were spectacular with their amazing displays of Rhododendron and other colourful bushes and flowers.

We had a wonderful family reunion and celebration with far too much eating and drinking. Back to Italy on the 12th May.

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Getting through to airside at Srinagar airport is a lengthy business. We realized that the security would be tight but that was an understatement. After having to firstly have our bags xrayed quite a way from the airport terminal and then again when we arrived at the terminal we had to fill in departure forms. They then practically turned all my bags inside out and we were frisked three times and had all our small wrapped items unwrapped. We checked in and luckily they checked our baggage through to Abu Dhabi but although it was a codeshare flight with Etihad from Delhi to Abu Dhabi they did not have the facility to issue us with a boarding card for the following flight. Luckily we enjoyed a very pleasant one hour flight to Delhi and were served us a beautifully presented tasty meal and drinks in the half hour before we started our descent.
We were told to just go to the transfer desk in Delhi and then go to the lounge which we wanted to do as we had about seven hours wait in Delhi.
Things didn’t go according to plan. The transfer desk sent us up to departures where Etihad were to give us a boarding card however the flight had not opened and the security man told us to wait for three hours before we could even get to the counter. We sat in the Costa coffee shop and then at the specified time went and found an Etihad person who did give us a boarding pass and we could finally get into the lounge where we stayed for three hours.

We had forgotten what the airport was like in Abu Dhabi and it was archaic with having to walk down the aircraft steps to buses and be transported to the terminal which had no travelators and huge queues for immigration. We managed to be processed in over an hour and found the bus to the city and then a taxi to our hotel. We got to bed about 3am after starting from Srinagar at 9am the previous day.

Our friend Tina who is working as a nanny for the Royal family in Abu Dhabi met us about 10.30am and we spent about three hours chatting at a cafe at a local mall before heading to the grand mosque which was a spectacular building with amazing
chandeliers and inlaid marble work. Tina and I had to put on Abayas with the rest of the women before we could enter the mosque. We all agreed that we actually preferred the grand mosque in Oman to the Abu Dhabi one.
We were all tired by the time we left the mosque at six o’clock as none of us had had not much sleep and Tina had flown in the previous day from Switzerland so we caught a taxi back to our hotel, collected our luggage, said our farewells and then caught a bus to Ibn Battuta in Dubai and then a taxi to Alan’s house. We had met Tina in Bali two years ago then caught up with her in Stroud in England last year and then in Abu Dhabi.

Mary the housekeeper let us in and Alan flew in again two days later. We spend our week in Dubai relaxing, walking to the
beach and having a swim. Since six months ago they have really made changes to encourages holiday makers to Dubai by installing showers, toilets and kiosks at the beach and an 8 kilometre rubberized jogging path which Indian workers sweep
every morning. There is ever more construction and a bridge being built so that the existing creek is extended through to
the gulf. We found a very good new Turkish restaurant called “baba iskender” and went with Alan, his daughter and fiancee to
a French Moroccan tapas restaurant with very tasty food. The only expediation we made was to the local coffee shop and supermarket and to the Mall of the Emirates a couple of times. The temperature was very mild (about 30degrees) when we arrived and slowly built up to 41degrees but it was a pleasant dry heat.

We noticed many more African workers this time and together with Indians and other foreign nationals they make up more than 90 percent of the population. The local Emiratees are in the minority. Since we were last there six months ago the UAE has brought in National Service and our friend Salim was in the process of doing his nine months in the army.
On the 2nd of May we took off for Rome to visit my aunt, have dinner with Maurice’s brother and his wife who arrived the same day for a European holiday and to leave most of our bags at our lovely B and B ready for our flight on Aer Lingus on the Monday for a week in Dublin for a 70th birthday party and family reunion with Maurice’s sister and husband and cousins and spouses flying in from England, Germany and the USA.

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A word about Kashmir – we found it extemely safe. We stayed on Butts Clermont houseboats located on the very quiet upper Lake Dal where they were the only houseboats after the village of Hazratbal. We walked into the village a few times and felt completely safe.
The driver we used and recommended by the Butts was well informed and if there were any troublespots he knew where and when to stay away from them but we saw no violence or agresssion by the Indian army. There were many soldiers standing around in the city and all throught the countryside. The Kashmiris feel that they would be better off without the army there and are very proud to be Kashmiri. They treat other Indians almost as coming from another country.
We ventured into the city on a couple of occasions and only encountered very friendly and helpbul Kashmiris. There were a couple of checkposts going up to the Mughal garden high on a hill and towards Sonamarg but on both occasions we didn’t have to show any paperwork and were waived through immediately. The militancy from 1990 to 2006 deterred all tourists bar some journalists and Kashmir has not recovered from the conflict with many media reports exaggerating the danger to visitors.
The whole time we were in Kashmir we only saw another western looking couple in the Shalimar gardens and a small group in in the carpet factory. The locals are really hoping for a return of foreign tourists as the tourist season is only six months of the year and constitutes their livelyhood and they otherwise struggle to make a living. There are no factories or manufacturing in Kashmir other than their textile industry. As in other parts of the world local cottage crafts are also slowly disappearing as a lot of young people do not want the labour intensive work or to work on the land or on the water. This coupled with the worst floods last September that had experienced in their lifetime had made for a disastrous time for the locals.

We overnighted in the Eaton hotel located in the domestic terminal 3 of Delhi airport after waiting fruitlessly for our last bag to appear. It had been left behind in Kuala Lumpur and we were told it would be sent to Srinagar the next day. The hotel was super and a five minute walk from the check in counters so very convenient. We flew north to Srinagar and had beautiful views of the snow capped Himalayas before we landed in Srinagar.
The houseboat was a 3/4 of an hour away from the military airport where we landed. The very loud roar of the Sukhoi and Mig jets nearly deafened us in the airport and as we left the airport.
We drove through Srinagar where there were many derelict houses and many newly constructed ones. Many old houses had very interesting wooden architecture. We were told that the heritage laws do not allow for a derelict wooden building be demolished and a modern one erected in it’s place so there are many disintegrating wooden buildings because either people cannot affort to rebuild them or the younger generation want to live out of town in a more modern house.
The flood of September severely damaged a lot of the city and water levels had been up to the second storey of many buildings.
The unusually late rains this year and melting snow had caused the water level to rise by inches every day and this causes major problems for the Butts and their houseboats.

Arriving at Butt’s Clermont houseboats was like coming home. Mr Butt senior and junior and several staff were there to welcome us and Mr Butt even gave me a big hug and showered me with petals. I think he was grateful to have guests again. For many years after the conflict of the nineties and sporadic ongoing incidents they lost most of their business and their number of houseboats had diminished from nine to four. Many celebrities and heads of state stayed on the houseboats and Mr Butt proudly showed us his memorabilia room full of framed prints of former guests from Joan Fontaine to Lord Mountbatten, George Harrison and Michael Palin. We also found number 17 guestbook with glowing reports from guests from all over the world.
Mr Butt explained to us that from 1990 when the conflict was at it’s worst for nearly sixteen years there were no tourists and the Indian army even set up camp in his “Garden of the Breezes” built by former Mughal King Akbar. They suffered greatly under the militants who would come and demand money and threaten them.
The Kashmiris we spoke to cannot understand the actions of the militants and just want to live in peace. Kashmir is part of India, Pakistan want it and a few Kashmiri militants want a separate state and a minority of Kashmiris want to join Pakistan.

The houseboats were originally owned by a British couple (the Fosters) who had them constructed because they could not buy land in India and wanted somewhere to escape the heat of Delhi in Summer. When they left India they left the houseboats and contents to the Butt family who had been textile merchants. They then changed course and ran the houseboats. It is now third generation with father and son working in the business. The houseboat was charming with beautifully carved wooden panelling, Queen Anne tables, writing desks and chairs and heavily embroidered curtains and lounge suite. It was like stepping back in time.

The four houseboats were located on their own in Naseem Bagh on upper Lake Dal alongside the embankment with a spectacular view over the lake to the snow capped mountains behind. This was unlike the other part of Lake Dahl where we passed hundreds of houseboats all jammed together. We had our very efficient and wonderful butler Ramzan who had been working there for 43 years. We just needed to press a button and he would come and see to anything we wanted. He spoke excellent English told us that tourists, especially Indian ones were starting to come back to Srinagar. We were served a two course tasty lunch and kava tea (green tea made with crushed almonds, cardamon and cinammon) then went for a walk to the village about ten minutes away. The stalls there were an interesting array of fruit, vegetables, meats and fruit and breads. Kashmiris eat a lot of meat and Mr Butt was disappointed that we only wanted vegetarian food. We went past the local mosque and went into a small shop selling Kashmiri shawls and hand embroidered bags and coats.
The shop owner “Raja” was a lovely man who was not pushy but showed us all his wares. We didn’t buy anything but that didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest which was very refreshing. We walked back to the houseboat for afternoon tea which was brought on a tray with fine bone china cups and saucers, tea pot and included some pastries.
The evening meal brought from the kitchen on the bank opposite our houseboat consisted of soup followed by rice and paneer, potatoes and capsicums in delicious spicy sauces and chappatis and a creme caramel for dessert.
We did try telling Ramzan that we never ate so much especially at night and didn’t want any dessert and asked if we could just have some soup and chappatis in the evening but the following night we were served just as much food minus the dessert.
Mr Butt did say that he wanted us to just forget watching what we ate and just enjoy the food. It was all delicious but a hearty breakfast, morning tea with pastries, three course lunch, afternoon tea with biscuits, a three course dinner and “Kava” or Kashmiri tea of almonds, cardamon and cinammon many times a day was just too much so they finally acquiesed to our wishes.

The temperature when we arrived was 19degrees, sunny an warm, in sharp contrast to the 35degrees and humidity of Cambodia. It dropped considerably at night so that the staff brought us hot water bottles and put them in the bed.
We could stipulate when we wanted each meal and what time we wanted to bathe. The bath water was heated by a chip heater located just outside the boat so we had to give prior notice to have hot water. The staff were muslim and were up early for morning prayers so the fire was lit early.

We were hoping that Maurice’s bag would be delivered the following day but it was not put on a flight from Kuala Lumpur until the next day and then it would come to Srinagar a day later so we ventured to the local market and bought him some underwear and a set of thermals. The locals wanted to know from where we came and when we said Australia they all mentioned the world cup and what a good cricket team we had. We saw many cricket games being played the day we arrived and it seems the Kashmiris are as enthusiastic about cricket as the rest of India.

It drizzled most of the day so we went to a recommended carpet wholesaler and after being shown a large number of carpets while sipping kava we decided on two woollen carpets featuring a tribal design. The workshop was full of workers hand weaving beautiful silk carpets and the owner was lamenting the fact that it was a dying craft because he could get young people as workers. His team were all older men. We got the driver to drop us back at the market where we went back to Raja and bought a couple of embroidered cloth bags and walked back to the houseboat. Mr Butt had lent us typical Kashmiri robes and me a shawl and a beanie to keep warm which amused the locals at the market to see us wearing them.
At 5pm the local masseur and barber arrived to give Maurice a massage.

There was always something to see on the lake. The fishermen or boatmen and a lot of wildlife. A lovely little bulbul bird came to the window several times a day and a vibrantly coloured kingfisher perched on a pole outside as well as several kites swooping and diving on the lake in front of us as well as ducks and other birds. The atmosphere was one of complete peace and serenity once we were back on the houseboat. There was no TV, radio or phone. The WIFI was by no means reliable so it did make for enforced relaxation and we read, chatted to Mr Butt or the staff or simply stared at the lake.

It rained all that night and into the morning so our driver took us into Lol Chowk to do some shopping. Maurice’s trusty Keene’s boots had finally died so he bought some new ones and gave his old ones to Shakeel the driver who was very pleased with them. We stopped off at the local market and bought a few bits and pieces and then retreated back to the very warm houseboat. Ramzan our butler had rigged up a chip heater in the loungeroom which warmed the room in minutes. The rain continued and into the next night but in the morning the clouds were higher and we saw the sun again so we set off to see the various mosques and the old town. Srinagar has seven bridges crossing the river which is very fast flowing at the moment. The poor people here have had awful flooding in September last year some of which reached to the second storey of some buildings. Then the unseasonal heavy and continued rain caused major drainage problems and flooding in March so they have had a really hard time of it. Even at the houseboat of which there are now four, the staff have been putting in extra stakes to secure the houseboats. The lake is much higher than usual for this time of year and the larger two and three bedroom boats are about a metre and a half higher making it more difficult to get on board.

Shakeel our driver took us to their largest mosque which was unlike any we had seen with square turrets and filled with pine columns which were about 20 metres high. Over 30,000 can fit inside the mosque. We drove to another part of Srinagar town and we parked the car and walked to see other places of worship where in one place there was a mosque with a hindu temple and sikh temple nearby. We were the only non Indians on the whole of our walk and the object of much talk and chatter. Many young and older Kashmiris were interested from where we came and an old man crossing me in the middle of a bridge asked where I was from, what I did for a living,what was my name and was I enjoying Kashmir. The sun stayed out for the rest of the day and we were grateful to be warm again.

We were offered tea in many shops whether we bought anything or not and there was no pushiness on the sellers part. The wifi on the houseboat was not great but there was a good little internet cafe five minutes away.
The pink peach blossom in the park not far from us was absolutely beatiful. The little Bulbul flew into our houseboat when the door was left open and would go straight to the grapes on the table.
Mr Ramzan was a gem, very courteous and friendly and gave us a wealth of information about the lake and the history of the houseboats and the whole region.

There are many very old and large Chinar trees on the property and dotted all around Lake Dal. The leaves look similar to maple leaves and their design is used extensively from wood carving to material and even the shape of flower beds in the Shalimar Garden on the opposite side of the lake to our houseboat. The gardens were built by Shah Jahan who constructed the Taj Mahal and are well laid out and there were a lot of peach trees in blossom and spring flowers everywhere.
There were stepping stones in the water features and Shakeel tested them before I stepped on them but I stepped a bit soon and ran into him and we both nearly ended up in the water. How we didn’t I don’t know but the water was very cold so I was very glad we didn’t. We headed off just as the Indian tourists started arriving.

We left the gardens and went on to the Indira Ghandi Tulip Gardens a little further on. It was 28kilometres to circle around the lake. These gardens were very extensive with water features dotted about and a few gardeners tending the beds. Entrance to the local attractions was only 50rupees or $1.
We then drove a little way up the mountain, through the army checkpoint and Shakeel parked the car so we proceeded for 2-3 kilometres on foot up the road to “Pari Mahal” a terraced arched garden built into the side of a mountain by Shah Jahan’s eldest son in the mid seventeen century. It was a pleasure to go for a long walk after all the sitting and eating.
There was also an army lookout on one corner of the building. The army were dotted all over Srinagar and the surrounding area but all were very friendly even if they looked a bit fierce with their guns slung over their shoulders and many wearing flak jackets. The seem to be near every bridge, mosque and major intersection. The fort high above the town is out of bounds for tourists and locals alike.
We had wonderful views from the garden there across the lake to Srinagar and Hazratbal where the houseboats were mooored.
Butts Clermont houseboats were the only ones on upper Lake Dal so it was very peaceful except for the call to prayers by the sufi mosques in the area where prayers were sang over the loudspeakers for up to 2hours in the mornings. Unlike the other mosques we have heard, the congregation answer singing their prayers which is sometimes pleasant to listen to but not necessarily at 5-6am.

The following day we set off with our driver Shakeel and Mr Ramzan for the two hour drive to Sonamarg, a mountain retreat for winter excursions and Summer vacations for many Indian tourists. The road there had only been open for a week so we were lucky to make the trip there. We passed many new houses or old houses with new shiny corrugated iron rooves.
There were normally pony rides up to the glacier in Sonamarg however because of unseasonal heavy snowfalls the pony rides were replaced by toboggan rides. We instead walked up to near the glacier after the snow plough had cleared a small path and then it was easier walking on the softer snow. It was a beautiful sunny day and not really cold. We both had a bit of a headache and were sleepy because of the high altitude of about 8,500ft. We stopped on the way back near the river to have a picnic which Mr Ramazan had prepared with fried chicken, cheese sandwiches and boiled eggs.

Like most of India there were no road rules and the cars and buses honk their horns incessantly and some of the old auto rickshaws very sturdy buses belched out black smoke.

We decided to use the boatman Lasser with his “Happy Journey” shikara to do a two hour leisurely trip around some of the lake where he gave us a lot of information about the vegetable farmers who grow bullrushes for three years and then when they are firm they can walk on them them and grow vegetables in root blocks from the lakebed. They use the sludge from the lake as fertilizer and therefore grow pesticide free, organic vegetables. Most of the farmers could not plant anything because the floods had caused very high water and most of the gardens were under water. We saw clumps of tall branches tied together and these were used to cultivate marrows. They hope that the lake water recedes enough in May to enable them to replant.
Lasser took us through the wetlands on the lake where where there were a great variety of birds and he had excellent knowledge of each bird species.

There were hundreds of people in Hazratbal for their Friday market and prayer at the mosque holding the most people in Srinagar. The market was set up on the outskirts and in the centre of town so we walked there and spent an hour looking around the market with so much fresh produce. We went back to “Raja” the friendly shop owner who sold me a beautiful sheepskin and fox fur trim coat for the extremely reasonable price of $62 which I will use in Ireland and the UK and in Roccamandolfi if it is still cold when we go to get the van.

We left Srinagar on the 25th April a day before our Indian visas expired. We had an eight hour transit in Delhi before flying to Abu Dhabi to meet up with our friend Tina.

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The countryside on the outskirts of the Capital looked very arid with few trees but with many small fish/prawn farms close to the road. We passed the mighty Mekong River and as we drove further north it looked even more arid with many of the rice fields already harvested and burnt off.

The trip took us about 8 1/2 hours with two half hour stops on the way. When we set off we thought that the road was quite good for the first half hour and then we hit the bone jarring potholes for about a third of the trip. I thought I was lucky as we sat in the second last row with the only window on our side that could be opened so it was good for opening briefly to take pictures but it did not have a good seal so that when we hit the dusty potholes a cloud of red dust would fly in over us. It was also a pity that the driver had not learnt where the gears were and there was much scraping of them when he did attempt it. Otherwise it was a pleasant journey with little variation apart from a few smallish towns on the way and a very large lake. The houses dotted amongst the trees were mostly on stilts with either animals or machinery underneath.The more affluent looking ones had painted bamboo screens on the front of the house and stainless steel or fancy railings on their staircases. Most houses had enormous pots outside their houses filled with water.

It started to sprinkle as we entered Siem Riep but we were whisked away by a tuk tuk driver Mr Shut Soeun who fitted all the luggage and us into the trailer and took to our hotel about ten minutes away for USD3. We walked around the corner and over the river to a lovely training restaurant for under priviledged youth and it was very pleasant sitting under the trees to have our tapas dinner. It was one of four such restaurants in the country run by one organisation. They also had a small shop which sold mainly recycled innovative products.
We chose our hotel because a friend from Perth was also going to stay there but didn’t turn up coming so we decided to move
hotels (walking up three flights of stairs was a bit much) to the Royal Crown which was a much nicer hotel and central to the
markets, river and many restaurants. We decided to employ Mr Shut Soeun to take us around the Angkor Archaelogical park for
the four days that we went out to the various temples of Angkor Wat, Bayon, Banteay Srea, Ta Keo etc.
He suggested that we not go temple sightseeing after we changed hotels as it was a bit later in the day and the three day pass (valid over one week) costs $40 and we wouldn’t get the best value from the pass that day. We instead went to see the
markets and the artisans of Angkor who employ a lot of disadvantaged and handicapped people to make all sorts of goods from
soapstone sculptures, silk items, porcelain to lacquer work and woodcarving. Soeun dropped us later to the Khmer Touch Cuisine restaurant where we had a delicious dinner and walked back to our hotel via “pub street” with it’s many bars and nice restaurants. The streets of Siem Riep were very clean as were the roads out to the Archaeologial Park. The French influence is still noticeable in many of the buildings.
Some of the roads in town including the one in front of our hotel were red earth which were watered to keep the dust down. It made for a lot of cleaning inside for the staff.

We set off the next moring at 6.30am to explore the temples of “Angkor Thom”. We liked Bayon temple very much as well as the
better known Ta Prohm temple where the film Tombraider was shot, not that we had seen it. There were hundreds of stairs to climb at many of the temples we visited with some very steep and narrow ones to boot but we managed them all. There were very good resting huts in the park and many refreshment stands.
We found the temples all quite different and the surrounding very tall and unusual trees made the whole area a fascinating one. The entire park is densely forested in many parts with a lot of shade and red earth roads. There was ongoing reconstruction at a few temples. One was undertaken by the Chinese and another by the Indians. How they reconstructed parts of the temple was to number every stone block which had fallen in a heap. These were then entered into a computer and the computer then made a jigsaw puzzle fitting the blocks together.
There were some long walks to some of the temples and a few small stages were set up with men playing Cambodian instruments. They were mainly amputees (landmines) and they were well supported by the tourists. They organised the tourists very well by having east/west or north/south entrances so not everyone was walking in the same direction and we found no congestion at any of the sights. It was the low season so that may have helped. There seemed to be a lot of Chinese and also Cambodian groups around. They do advise you not to venture off the beaten track as there are still landmines in the countryside.
Soeun was a very good driver and most of the drivers are very polite and there is virtually no blowing of horns or drivers getting impatient. Everyone just seems to wait their turn. The weather was very pleasant about 34degrees and 60percent humidity with a gentle breeze blowing. After we had covered about six temples in about five hours we decided we needed some lunch so Soeun dropped us at a great little cafe that we found called the “Little Red Fox cafe espresso” which served excellent coffee and food.
We walked back to the hotel stopping at a wonderful spa and had an hour’s very professional and luxurious reflexology massage for USD12. Our legs and feet very much appreciated that before we walked the short way back over the river to our hotel. The river runs right through middle of the main town with shops, restaurants,and hotels on both sides of the river with it’s overhanging trees.

When we decided to come to Cambodia we didn’t realize that we would be in Siem Riep for Khmer New Year which is a 3day event starting from the 14th April depending on who you talk to. A lot of workers take the whole week off and we saw many enormous stages being set up for the holiday. They were expecting up to half a million people to hit town, mostly locals who came home for the holiday or wanted to experience New Year in Siem Riep. There were many decorations and colourful lights to mark the occassion along the streets and in front of buildings.

Our driver took sick so the next day he sent us his friend Phanet to drive us to Banteay Srea and various other temples in that area which were over an hour away. We started out at 9am which was a much more civilised hour. We had a good tuk tuk ride there passing many rural houses and even some rice crops and a much greener landscape. Some of the houses were decorated with colourful stars and balloons.
The temples in that area were all quite different from the temples we had seen on the previous day and luckily with not so
many steps. Phanet dropped us in town about 2pm and we walked around the old market area with it’s French colonial buildings.
That night we ate at another nice garden restaurant (Georges Rhumerie) where we ate Creole,French influenced food. The owner and chef hailed from Reunion island. After dinner we walked back into the old market area where the streets were packed with Cambodians enjoying an enormous street party.

We had a lay day on the Wednesday and got up a bit later, went for a good hour’s walk around the town, had breakfast and then
tried to sort out flights which was proving difficult for dates and times that we wanted. We abandoned that and headed back to town where we bought me a very lightweight pair of trousers and then proceeded to find a little place in a small side street called “Ecstatic Pizza”. We were sitting close to the front of the restaurant and I saw who I thought was our friend Tom from Perth who we were suppose to meet in Phnom Penh. I wasn’t sure as he had sunglasses and cap on but went up to him and sure enough it was him. An amazing coincidence that we found each other. He had not told us that he was coming to Cambodia and we thought he had gone on a fishing trip instead so I didn’t bother emailing him that we had changed hotels in Phnom Penh and he thought he would surprise us instead and couldn’t find us so he came up to Siem Riep anyway. Such an amazing coincidence especially as we were going to go to another cafe for lunch but it was closed and he just happened to be walking along the same little side street!

On Thursday we decided to go and see the sunrise at Angkor Wat so were up at 4.30am for a 5am start with our trusty driver Soeun. It only took about twenty five minutes to arrive there with a hoard of other tourists, mainly Cambodians who were still in Siem Riep from Phnom Penh and from other area for the New Year. After photographing the sunrise we went to the side entrance instead of the front where everyone was heading and were lucky to see a lot of the temple with very few people to contend with. The rest of the day was spent doing last minute shopping and having massages and then to Khmer Touch Cuisine for a meal with our friend Tom.

Soeun took us to the airport on Friday afternoon 17th April to catch our business class MAS flight to Delhi via Kuala Lumpur. We told him that we would be back in Siem Riep which was such a friendly and easy town in which to explore and within easy reach of the wonderful temples to the north of the town. We hoped that the very friendly Cambodians would not lose that trait once tourist numbers rose in the years to come.

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We were collected at the airport by Mr Huot who dropped us at our hotel “La Rose” where we were met by a party of staff who asked if we would like to be upgraded to their new “Suites hotel”.
Of course we didn’t say NO and were whisked off in their 4wd Lexus to the other property which was very opulent with superb staff. Every time we entered the hotel we were met with a cold towel and greeted profusely with our names (well they probably were our names but the pronunciation was very innovative). The level of English comprehension by the Cambodians in the hotel and on the street
was very limited and we had to explain things in a very simple way.
The city had a very comfortable, open feel to it and although we were advised that traffic would be bad, it didn’t seem too bad travelling in the tuk tuks or Remork as they are known in Cambodia. They are much more spacious than the autorickshaws in India but instead of one vehicle they are a covered trailer pulled by a motorbike. We were recommended to go to “Kabbas” restaurant (one of the 300 odd in the city) and drove around for about 40minutes with our lovely driver who didn’t know where the place was after
being shown the location on the phone. After stopping several times to ask directions which had us going backwards and forwards, I spotted the place virtually in front of us while we were stopped to ask further directions. He wanted no extra money and was most appologetic – a lovely fellow called “Gi Vom”

We opted for a tuk tuk ride around the city the morning after we arrived to get our bearings. The hotel was located in a very central area just down the road from a large park with the statue for their independence at it’s centre and a ten minute walk to the river and Royal Palace which was similar to Bangkok’s Royal Palace in size and opulence. We visited the National museum with similar architecture but was a rich terracotta colour with many beautiful ancient life sized sculptures and an interesting virtual tour of ancient times
around Angkor Wat in the north. Wat Phnom with it’s enormous white stupa was surrounded by a leafy park and a large clock with even a working second hand.
There were only a few high rise buildings with many more under construction. There was much controversy apparently over a very new hotel across the river called the “Sokha” built by a Vietnamese of dubious reputation which now spoils the views from the Royal Palace to the other side of the river. The city was very clean on the whole with people collecting rubbish along the roads. We decided not to do the trip out to the “killing fields” or the genocide museum
as we had lived during that era and the subsequent revelations of the killings after 1979 and what Pol Pot did to the nation was enough for us.

The central markets were dominated by a huge domed hall full of very bling jewellery. Long corridors with stalls either side selling every type of goods ran from the main hall and surrounding these were the fresh food markets and eating stalls. Maurice purchased a new polycarbonate ultra light overnight bag for USD35 which was
way below what they wanted for one in Bali. The ice cutting/making stall was fascinating with a truck laden with dripping enormous ice blocks which were then dropped into a delivery shute to a worker who then stack the ice ready for cutting with a circular saw or dropping into what looked like a leaf crusher to be stored as crushed ice.

We were taken to a “safe” local restaurant near the river for lunch where the fresh vegetable rice paper rolls were delicious. Our driver then drove us to the Russian market(couldn’t find out why it was so named) which was a maze of open stalls selling mainly clothes, textiles (their main industry in Cambodia) and souvenirs.
We had time for a quick rest before being collected by Sonya Duck an Australian living in Phnom Penh who runs “Urban Forage” food tours. We started at Phnom Penh Towers rooftop terrace for cocktails and to see the sunset over the city. From there we ventured into the local food markets and started with tastings of local desserts which we found to be delicious, very unlike a lot of Asian desserts. We progressed to sample delicious pork ribs (not for Maurice the vegetarian or pescatarian really) and then to try the delicacies of fried crickets and water beetles and some kind of grubs. I think if I hadn’t had my cocktail first I wouldn’t have tried these but when in Rome and after a couple of drinks…..
The next stop for our nice group of eight with Mr Smiley (obviously his real name!)and another driver was a local restaurant with an enthusiastic band and circulating beer waitresses from the local Angkor beer company who replenished our drinks with firstly a large chunk of ice dropped in the glass. Later in the evening a group of “marlboro girls” in their red and white uniforms offering samples of cigarettes. We hadn’t seen that for a number of years anywhere else!
The menu apart from crispy fried frogs (which were quite tasty) was relatively tame – squid, morning glory vegetable with oyster sauce, spicy prawns, tofu and mixed vegetables. Mr Smiley and co driver joined us and there was much toasting which is done with one hand touching the other arm and shouting cheers in Cambodian.

I opted to do a cooking course in our hotel and was the only person doing it so had very personalized attention.
We made rice paper rolls with peanut and chilli dipping sauce, Fish Amok (which is not a very hot spiced dish) and banana and sago pudding. There was too much food for one so Maurice was allowed to join me for lunch.
A lot of the Khmer food is coconut based and a lot of emphasis is placed on a balance of flavours – sweet, hot, sour and salty. Cambodians like things very sweet and will even put spoonfuls of sugar into their beer.

We encountered few dour people in Cambodia – they were all very welcoming and smiling and the market sellers were not at all pushy and enjoyed the bargaining. They seemed a gentle, patient people in general with no honking of horns or impatience when driving. Sonya told us that in her three years in Phnom Penh she only saw one
incident of anyone raising their voice and that was to apprehend a thief that a group of people then nearly beat to a pulp. She told us that a lot of young people are not happy with the ruling party but the older generation after what they had been through during the Pol Pot era (1975-1979 where he annihilated more than two million people)
just want to have a peaceful existence. Cambodia has elections coming up in eighteen months so that might see a change.
The King is claimed to be gay by unoffical sources but the reason given by the authorities that he hasn’t married was that he is devoted to his position like a monk. The majority of Cambodians are Buddhists and there are many temples and newly contructed temples around the city and in the countryside.

Before going to dinner we opted for our free one hour massage in our hotel and Maurice had a traditional Khmer massage (no oil) which he said was one of the best he had ever had. Mine (with oil) was good too.
We walked on our last night in Phnom Penh to “Malis” a restaurant located a couple of streets away in a lovely garden setting and ponds filled with koi. They served very interesting Khmer food.

We used two tuk tuks to where we were to take the bus (no station as such)to Siem Riep. It was parked with many others beside the night market. One took our luggage and we took another one. Our motorbike had a flat tyre so we walked the last bit to the bus. The driver was most apologetic. The bus to Siem Riep which can take anywhere from 7-10 hours (because of traffic and/or roadworks) was very comfortable – recliner seats with adjustable leg rests and
plenty of leg room. A nice surprise.

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The rain continued on the 12th March when we arrived at Pondok Bambu in Candi Dasa. It was easy to relax at the property just watching the waves crashing over the breakwater in front of us with the island of Nusa Penida in the background and the east coastline of Bali to the right.
The only drawback in Candi Dasa was if we left the hotel which was located on the main road which also ran through the middle of town with a constant stream of trucks and vehicles thunderering up and down especially in the morning and evening.
There were very few tourists in town and instead of being asked if we wanted a taxi every few metres we were occasionally asked it we wanted “sailing in a boat”.
We found goods and services like massages and clothing quite cheap in Candi Dasa with a good hour’s massage costing the equivalent of $7.
Pondok Bambu is owned by a very personable middle aged Dutchman “Gerco Scheeper” a former marine who won 6 million euros in the lottery in 2000 and who came to Candidasa and purchased the property and who had since built himself a house in the jungle and a large restaurant across the road called the “Crazy Kangaroo” in memory of an Aussie friend who had died. They have a very professional dive outfit and specially built boat for such trips.
The property is right over the water and such a relaxing spot especially as there were only four other rooms occupied. We were joined by friends Robert and Gay from Sydney and we relaxed, swam in the sea and pool and took a 20 minute boat ride down to the “white beach” where we swam in crystal clear water and had fresh fish for lunch and lazed by the ocean. We were also lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins on the way there. Ketut who has taken us a few times before in his boat charged us approx $40 for the trip and waited for us for four hours and then took us back to our hotel.
We visited some of our favourite restaurants – Vincents and a little family run “Warung Boni” set amongst the banana trees and on the edge of the hill.

We were told about an upcoming cremation ceremony near Bug Bug village about five kilometres from Candidasa so Gay and I ventured off with a driver to see some of the ceremony. When we arrived at about 3pm there were hundered of men, women and children all dressed in traditional costumes and sitting around chatting. Some children were gambling, playing a roulette type of game and some of the women were finishing off the very decorative fruit offerings. We were told that the actual ceremony would only start at 6pm and finish about 3am the next day so we decided to leave after about an hour but just as the car got from the parking area to the road, the temple police stopped us and said that the main procession was making it’s way down from the village to the temple and we would have to wait for half an hour. There must have been about five thousand people in this procession which we watched from the side of the road with many people carrying offerings and some men carrying huge bamboo boxes also full of offerings. Others were leading calves on ropes along the road. It took nearly an hour for the procession to reach past us towards the temple and we could then leave to go back to Candidasa.
The people came from all over Bali back to their village for this important cremation ceremony. They never seemed to mind foreigners watching or even taking part as we saw a few westerners in traditional dress bearing offerings. There was also a bit of a fair atmosphere with stalls selling clothing, watches, food and live birds and bunnies.

On the 18th March the four of us caught the fast boat (an hour and a half) to Gili Trawangan, the largest of the Gili islands off the coast of Lombok. We decided after two days there that although the “Pearl Lounge” was an excellent place to lounge and eat, we would not be going back there. It is definately a backpacker’s paradise with booming music every night.

They did however have the best pizza at “Pizzeria Regina” (just like a real Italian one – not thin and crispy!). We saw Robert and Gay off and left the following morning on the public fast boat (85,000 rupiah) to Gili Air where we were welcomed back at “Chill out bungalows” by English Vinny and his Indonesian wife Suzi. The harbour is just a bit far to walk with bags so we were scalped for $10 for a 5 minute “cidomo” horse and cart ride but the rest of the two weeks we went for walks around the island which was very relaxing given that there are no motorbikes or cars allowed except for the odd electric motorbike and some of the drivers appeared to be about five years old.
We had two very relaxing weeks swimming in the crystal clear water, walking every morning and doing yoga nearly every day.
There were so many fish of every colour which could be seen very close to the shore. Some days we walked around the island and saw very few people which made a pleasant change from Bali and Gili Trawangan.
The beach was set up every night with tables and chairs so we sat listeneing to the water lapping on the shore while we ate our dinner with a pleasant breeze blowing every evening. It was hot and humid during the day but we could just take a dip if we felt hot.
We watched more TV than we had in the last three years since starting our adventure and we saw some interesting films and a particularly good English series “The Bletchley Circle”.

The “Chill Out” bungalows was such good value for money. They served a three course breakfast (if you wanted it all) with some or all of the following for breakfast – a choice of fresh fruit juice, tea or coffee, fruit and yoghurt,pancake with honey, eggs and toast all for $8. There was a choice of about eight types of fresh fish every night. I had BBQ’d barracuda one night which was very tasty but the chargrilled tuna and vegetable kebabs we ate nearly every night were just delicious.

They were on a large skewer and came with some salad, more vegetables and either chips, baked potato or rice and choice of four sauces for $5.
We reluctantly left the island to Gili Trawangan and then caught the fast ferry back to Bali for a few days to collect the rest of our luggage and do last minute essential shopping and go to some of our favourite restauants before heading to Cambodia on the 7th April.

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We had an overnight stop in Chennai and Kuala Lumpur and the luxury of travelling business class on both legs, however, a bout of food poisoning didn’t let me enjoy the trappings of the lounge and
cabin.
We arrived in Ubud on the 8th February to an hour long wait at immigration and an increase in entry fee to the country. I had thought that Indonesia was going to do away with payment for visas on arrival but instead they had hiked the price up to nearly fifty dollars each. Apparently the former won’t take place until January 2016.
The departure tax has also gone up to twenty dollars and extending a visa by one more month to seventy dollars each. I considered it a bit rich as we contributed to the economy paying for accommodation, meals and incidentals. Maurice had stocked up on our store of Vegemite which was just as well as we found that a 225gm jar cost more than $13 in Ubud.
There is also a ludicrous procedure now for a visa extension. You get a 30day visa on arrival and at least a week before your visa expires (this was always the case)one now has to go to the immigration department in Denpasar and have a picture and fingerprints (all of them) taken before they will grant an extension. It will put a lot of people off extending for another month – us included.
It is a real bother and an expensive exercise for a return trip to Sanur to the immigration office from Ubud. No one even at immigration could tell us why this extra procedure and inconvenience was necessary. We did point out that to leave the airport they sight you and your passport. Maybe they need a safeguard as we look all the same to them?
The traffic seemed to get worse every year with more vehicles and noisy smelly motorbikes tearing up and down everywhere. The main street in Ubud was blocked solid in the afternoons with people movers and enormous buses carrying busloads of Chinese and Korean tourists. They seemed to have lunch, visit the market and then traipse along the footpaths with their identical hats and spacial unawareness.
Having said that were lucky that we are in a nice quiet villa away from the road and we could still be close to some lovely rice fields although they are diminishing rapidly in the name of progress in and around Ubud as more villas, restaurants and shops are built.
People remained friendly and Bali is one of the few countries where the locals smile and say good morning even if they are not trying to sell you something. Even if you buy nothing, the little Balinese shop assistants are obliging and pleasant. Many eating establishments are still very good value and much cheaper than Australia. We only found it expensive coming from India where general living expenses were still extremely cheap.
I did a lot of walking down to town in the five days that Maurice was in Perth to see a sick friend.
It did get a bit wearing being asked if you needed a taxi every few steps or the more lazy ones just save their voices and just hold up a sign with “taxi” written on it.
I ventured into Ubud a few times but walked most of the time up and down the hills there and back which was good exercise. I timed my walks very well as on two occasions I just made it in the door before outbursts of torrential rain. The third time I wasn’t so lucky getting totally drenched with sneakers full of water but it was still pleasant walking in the warm rain.
I was happy to see some young and some not so young craftsmen working on statues and reliefs in the renovation of a temple. The very young and teenagers still dress traditionally to go to the temple which is refreshing to see.
Our friend Carol came up to stay with us and Maurice arrived the next day from Perth to enjoy relaxing taking dips in the pool,walking to town,shopping and dining out.

A rabid dog had bitten several people and several dogs not far from where we stayed.
It was caught and destroyed along with another dog and the humans would have had the course of anti-rabies injections.
Luckily that happened rarely in that area.
Another unusual occurrence was on Kuta Beach where a two metre snake disturbed beach goers and had to be caught and transported far away.

There seemed to be a lot more thunder and lightning and heavy rainfall while we were in Ubud, more so than last year. We therefore spent many evenings watching the $1 videos that we bought in town. Some excellent films were – The Imitation Game, The Water Diviner, The theory of Everything and The Good Lie.
Steve, our villa manager also recommended a dentist not far away so we had check ups and Maurice had some work done for a very reasonable price.
I cooked every quite a lot and it was a nice change from always eating out although we had some nice meals at Indus, Il Giardino and the Bridges restaurants. We had two lots of visitors from Perth this year. Carol came up for a few days as did Tony and Michelle who also visited us in Pondicherry. It was nice seeing friends from home again.

We also spent an inordinate amount of time (necessary when dredging the internet) researching our upcoming travels to Greece, Turkey and Morocco and booking ferries, flights and some accommodation. We were advised when we could go and visit the immigration department in Sanur to have our photos and finger prints taken and went for a coffee in Kuta first. The torrential rain persisted and the streets soon became rivers. The water did seem to drain away fairly quickly into the black volcanic sand below.
We moved to the villa next door for our last four days in Ubud and it was virtually identical to the one in which we stayed for the month however the living area and kitchen were open areas.
We travelled to Candi Dasa – a favourite spot of ours on the east coast on the 12th March to start our next month by the ocean between there and the Gili Islands off the coast of Lombok.

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I had to add some more photos of our time in Pondicherry. I had misplaced these photos and found them again. Friends from Perth joined us for a week and we did a couple of half day trips. One to Auroville in the lovely old Ambassador car to see the Matrimandir and later to Chidambaram temple further south.
Auroville which is a non-denominational town of approximately two thousand people was planned with fifty thousand inhabitants in mind but this never eventuated. The people who wanted an alternative lifestyle did turn it from a red earth desert into a green landscape with millions of trees. It resembled the Australian bush in some places. The buildings there are hidden amongst the trees and there are many establishments making things such as compressed mud building bricks and many sustainable energy projects. The amazing golden domed matrimandir is the centre of the town and with prior arrangement you can go in and contemplate or meditate inside the amazing structure.
Christmas the week before was colourful with beautiful saris and floral creations and a Christmas lunch for friends and relations of the owners.
The local markets had an amazing array of foods, some in vast quantities. They should not be missed on a trip to Pondicherry.

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We landed in Pondicherry to take up our “Basil and Sybille Fawlty” roles for the Gratitude hotel for two months, helping out
the owners while they pursued their various jobs and interests. Kakoli who lived full time at Gratitude was one of the driving force behind saving the heritage buildings of Pondicherry which gained force after the collapse of the town hall in November.

We took a flight from Calicut or Khozikode on the west coast on the 11th December and had a spectacular view over the beautiful Keralan mountains. We were collected by a pre ordered taxi and we had two stops to make in Chennai before travelling the three hours down to Pondicherry. Chennai is not a very attractive large city and the ongoing (many years) of installing a metro rail system made for impossibly long traffic jams. It took us over two hours to complete 20 kilometres leaving the driver very frustrated. We needed to get my computer looked at which only took the technician 15minutes to take the back off, clean it up and reprogramme a couple of things which cost the vast sum of 300 rupees or $5.50. The second stop was to take my camera to be repaired. The Olympus service centre took the camera, told me it would investigated that evening and couriered to me the following day (3hours to Pondicherry) at a cost of 200 rupees or $3.80. We were most impressed by both the service agents,their quick and efficient ways and their friendly attitudes. I know in Australia it would have taken much longer and cost a awful lot more.

Pondicherry like the rest of India is an assault on all the senses. It is however in a juxtaposed way with a marked difference between the French heritage area on the east side of the canal and the much more frenetic Tamil side of town.

There is the incessant honking of horns (no stop signs) at every intersection or “cutting” as many locals call it and the calls of the door to door sellers, the pungent odours when crossing the canal from the more sanitised “white town”. There are wonderful aromas of fresh samosas and other delicious foods being cooked at the roadside, the sight of beautifully restored houses and buildings and the derelict crumbling ones with trees growing from their rooves. There are also the sobering sights of the very poor living on the streets, some in what appear to be communities.
There is such a variety of food with the French cuisine and fresh seafood to the spicy and aromatic Chetinnad cooking of Tamil Nadu.

Both sides of town have their share of beautifully restored buildings – the French heritage buildings with their concrete
pillars and the Tamil ones on the other side of the canal with their carved wooden pillars.

It was lovely being close (two blocks away)to the sea with it’s wide promenade at the seafront. It was a pleasure to walk along it in the morning to see the sunrise and in the evening after 7.30pm when the road was closed to traffic until 7.30am each morning. A rock seawall separated the sea from the promenade.

Rubbish removal remains a problem with most of it just strewn over various parts of both sides of town but seems to be collected daily on the French side whereas there remains more neglected rubbish heaps on the Tamil side of the city.

We were warmly welcomed by the staff at the “Gratitude”. Our role was a guest relations and staff relations one whereby we helped with the breakfast, had breakfast with the guests and answered any questions about Pondicherry. Most of the questions related to what to see and where to eat. There were only a couple of guests when we arrived but that number quickly rose and it was full from the 20th December until well into February. The peak season in Pondy is from December to the end of February when cooler weather with pleasant breezes from the Bay of Bengal invites people from the northern, colder parts of India at that time of year and from much hotter Chennai.

As usual there were many interesting people staying at “Gratitude”. A girl from Pakistan who had great trouble getting a visa because of the tensions between Pakistan and India. She had to nominate each place she was visiting and report to the police station at every stop.
She was attending a wedding in Jaipur and just transited Delhi, however as she had written down Delhi on her visa application
when she arrived in Jaipur they would not let her stay and made her fly back to Delhi to get an official stamp before letting her proceed to Jaipur. As we finished this discussion an Austrian professor who was staying at Gratitude arrived and asked if I was also from Pakistan!

Our first few days were very relaxed and Gratitude, a tranquil haven with a leafy central courtyard was very pleasant.
To cross the canal into the Tamil part of town one noticed the change in pace and traffic. Sundays were particularly crowded in MG road (Mahatma Ghandi) with a market the length of the street. The local so called “Big Bazaar” or “Goubert Market” was a fascinating place to visit with virtually everything on sale in vast quantities from fish, fruit,spices, flowers and vegetables to letter boxes and household items. I couldn’t get over the mountains of flowers and corriander for sale and wondered what they did with all the excess every day.

I occasionally risked life and limb on the back of a motorbike to buy food for the Gratitude.
The pace really picked up with Christmas and New Year as a lot of Indians took their holidays over that period . A lot of them book at the last minute and we could have sold the rooms a hundred times over with people wanting to book for the next day or even ringing when they were on their way into Pondicherry.
Most only stayed for a couple of days whereas as a rule the Europeans tended to stay longer. Pondy is many hours drive from
anywhere and most people were exhausted by the time they arrived having flown into Chennai from many destinations in India and abroad.

It was much nicer for me when we had guests staying for a longer period like Nidhi a very talented screenwriter from Mumbai and her sister in law Anjum, and Linda and Monica who happened to live half an hour away from Maurice’s cousin in Germany and Nick and Kate lawyers from Sydney. They invited me out and I could enjoy their company which made a pleasant break from staying at the hotel.

I prepared a Christmas lunch (with the help of one of the staff) for 15 of the owners’ family and friends and that went down well with five kilos of plum pudding that we had brought from Ireland for the day.
Our dear friends Tony and Michelle from Perth arrived for a week’s stay which was a welcome relief as we could spend a bit of time with them and show them around a bit. We went to the “Dupleix” hotel for New Year’s Eve after confirming that the music would not be techno or blaring like we had had in Chennai the year before. For about $50 a person we had a wonderful array of seafood, fish, chicken and vegetarian fare with wonderful desserts and unlimited wine or soft drink. A French couple provided wonderful music for the evening.
We had a trip out to Auroville, a very different community about half an hour away to see the Matrimandir and to Chidambaram temple a couple of hours away. Our nice little guide that we hired was very hard to understand and he kept asking me if I had understood what he said. I did say yes although with his thick accent some of it was unfathomable but he was very enthusiastic.

After a month Maurice flew back to Kerala for a three week stay for more treatment for his rheumatoid arthritis which worked a treat and he came back a week before we were due to leave, pain free. It meant that I was on my own for those weeks which were fairly hectic with a six o’clock start and sometimes late finish but it was all in all a worthwhile experience although exasperating at times and a tiring one.

We tried out a few of the restaurants in Pondicherry even finding an Italian couple who produced fresh homemade pasta. I suffered a few trials and tribulations with the staff which made us appreciate how troublesome running a place of that kind could be. I also had some middle of the night awakenings and a few problems to be solved as well as writing procedures and generally cleaning up the back of house areas.

We didn’t need an alarm clock at Gratitude as the noisy crows woke us up every morning. They were a real pest and picked over all the garbage on the streets before it was collected by the rubbish people. There were packs of dogs around the French quarter but they were in the main a tranquil and well fed lot and most slept very soundly during the day and only seem to get agitated if other dogs encroached on their turf.
We fed one who slept under the owner’s car when we had leftovers and he became quite friendly by the time we left. We hoped that they would continue to feed him. There were also very cute tiny chipmunks who would vacuum the courtyard for any croissant crumbs that I saved them but who disappeared at lightning speed if you came anywhere near them.

The Ashram has many sites in town and they run many businesses in the city.
There was a major incident the first week we were in the city with a family of seven being evicted after a ten year battle to stay in the Ashram. They threatened if evicted to commit suicide and the whole family went and threw themselves in the sea with three of them unable to be saved.
There were many theories as to why they were evicted but afterwards people threw stones at the Ashram and had a general strike and wanted the government to take over the running of the place.
It was a sad time and there was a large police presence around the Ashram and we were advised to close the front windows in case of any trouble.
Everyone luckily calmed down and we didn’t notice anything different up our end of town.
I had changed my views on beggars after reading Rohinton Mistry’s “A Fine Balance” which was a graphic depiction of life in India pre and post partition. The beggars had a beggar master who obviously took their takings but who also looked after the group to ensure their own income. Their did not appear to be many professional beggars in Pondicherry rather just poor people living on the street or beside the canals. Instead of always giving them money which some gratefully accepted I would buy a couple of doughnuts or pastries and give them those instead. They all looked as though they needed a good feed.
Some homeless people just bedded down anywhere on a spare piece of pavement and most of the ones I saw had a blanket or cover that they wrapped around themselves with the odd dog curled up beside them. Many of the cycle rickshaw and auto rickshaw drivers slept curled up in heir vehicles, their only home.

We went and bought the fresh croissants (which all the guests enjoyed)every day getting there by 7am (a 15-20minute walk away) but we didn’t mind as it allowed us and then me some exercise every day. The walk took us along the promenade by the sea and then via the Governor’s mansion opposite a nice park and over the odiferous canal to the “hot bread” shop.
Nidhi joined me for the time she was at Gratitude which made for a nice morning walk and she introduced me to the juice shop across the road while we waited for our croissants. I ventured later to trying their onion samosas for 2rupees which were delicious.

Maurice and I went out to Auroville one day to the “Tsunamika” day which was attended by thousands of school children as well as tourists and locals. It was to celebrate 10years since Tsunamika was established. The project has focused on the fisherwomen who were traumatized by the Tsunami disaster. The initial aim of the project was to help the women overcome the trauma they experienced, by getting them involved in some creative handicraft work which could channel their energy in a constructive manner. For this purpose, 480 ladies from 6 coastal villages were given handicraft
training to make a small doll using left-over fabric from Upasana’s products. The project team then bought the completed dolls from the fisherwomen and began distributing them widely as gift items. The doll, known as Tsunamika, quickly became very popular, and soon helped establish a strong emotional bond and identity among the people who had made her, as well as among those who received her. Soon the project evolved into a livelihood option for nearly 180 ladies, who began receiving income for every doll they made. At the same time large numbers of people volunteered to distribute Tsunamika worldwide, and the entire project became a demonstration of “gift economy”. Within a period of just 18 months, with donations coming in from around the world, the project became self-sufficient to run on its own income.

The 14th until the 17th of January marked the Tamil Nadu harvest festival called “Pongal”. The first day of the festival saw many small fires outside houses to burn any old items no longer wanted. The second day saw beautiful “Kolams” or chalk drawings in front of most houses, businesses and hotels. The city had several Kolam competitions with hundreds being drawn along the promenade. It was a shame that the first for the season was washed away with rain as soon as they were done. The second competition was more successful and the Kolams remained for a couple of days.

A group of us went along to day three of the “Pongal” celebrations to a small town where there was going to be a procession of decorated tractors and carts with bullocks with their brightly painted horns. We saw a number of these but left before the procession started as they were waiting for a local MP to arrive to begin the festivities which meant that it would have been nightfall and we didn’t want a drive back in the dark. The fourth day was party day with thousands of locals all in their finery parading along the promenade.
One night we went along to a traditional dance performance by two Dutch/Indian brothers called “Arangart Tanjore Quartet Bharata Natyam”. They were wonderful dancers who were passionate about not losing the traditional dance forms.
We were lucky to get to the show as the autorickshaw driver who we thought knew where we were going – didn’t and after him asking a few people as to the whereabouts of the venue – just walked off and left the four of us in the rickshaw. He did eventually come back and we found we were only a few metres from where we should have been.

I took Nidhi along to “Aquarelles” art gallery where Maurice and I had seen some lovely watercolour artwork. I ended up buying two paintings from two of the very talented artists.

The Gratitude is regularly visited by many Indian architect students and tourists alike as a fine example of a renovated
heritage house. Some arrive in groups and are quite noisy so it is a constant job of keeping them quiet while there are guests around. There are also walking tours for mainly French guests of which there are many. Many of the local Tamil people speak some French rather than English as it was a French colony for so many years.

I had quite a lot of practise with my French and some with German and Italian although the majority of people visiting Pondicherry are Indian tourists,then followed by the French and a handful of English, American, Australian and a few Scandinavians, Germans, Italians and Russians.
The 26th January apart from being Australia Day for me was also Indian Republic day and a lot of the businesses were closed for the long weekend holiday. We had 100 percent occupancy, so with me and the owners who had returned from their sojourn in Delhi made twenty one people for breakfast.

It took me a while to get used to the staff when I asked them to do something, shaking their heads ear to ear for “yes” which for me meant “maybe”. The difficulty was when asked a question which involved more than “Is the room ready” I had to take the

staff to the reservations manager Vijay who spoke English and Tamil so as to translate for me. I wished that I had more time to learn some Tamil rather than just “hello, how are you” and “very tasty” for the delicious food we had.
We went invited to Vijay’s house one night for a lovely dinner and to meet his wife, son, mother and niece. He lived in a quiet village about 1/2 hour away from Pondicherry. On the way there we saw a huge rally for two political parties (elections were coming up) and we wondered why there were so many thousands of people attending the procession. We were told that people got a meal and were paid for their support. No wonder there was so much enthusiasm.

We had a frightening incident the week before Maurice got back. I and all the guests, the security guard (who normally slept)and the owner were awakened about 1am to a very loud explosion and crash. I expected to see part of the building lying in the courtyard but there was nothing untoward as we all ventured out into it. Three of us climbed a ladder up onto the roof to inspect the solar tank thinking it may have been the cause but there was nothing to see there either. I looked over the wall which was a common one with our hotel and an old metal water heater in the bathroom of the guesthouse next door had exploded in one of the guestrooms and gone through the asbestos roof and landed in their courtyard (just next to ours) along with the toilet, basin, door and many other things from the room. There was a woman asleep in her bed just metres away in the bedroom and it was a miracle that she wasn’t hurt. She would have however got an almighty fright as we all did and she was much closer. I don’t think anyone slept much after that. I know I didn’t.

Another commotion the following week resulted from a monkey walking into the breakfast room and overturning the milk powder (leaving a footprint) and breaking a cup. He obviously didn’t like the tea or coffee we served and left. Two days later there were two monkey on an inside staircase who managed to frighten one of the cleaning ladies. After that episode we closed the door to the terrace in the afternoon and also the glass doors in front of the breakfast room. They could still get in from an opening in the lounge area but at least it was a deterrent.

Prices for food varied greatly from the wonderful”Kamatchi” biryani veedu local restaurant where you could get a delicious meal for about $3 to the more expensive upmarket hotels in the French quarter serving more western fare. The prices there were still at least half of what we would pay in Australia. We mainly ate what the cook had prepared for us for lunch and dinner which was always tasty but occasionally we ventured out for the odd meal.

Our money went an awfully long way in India. I found an excellent tailor (the pictures I took of the tailor’s shop would not inspire you) who did a wonderful job of turning the silk sari I bought (they are all six metres long) into a top and a long lined coat for about $12. Maurice had shoes fixed for next to nothing including a tip to a wonderful smiling cobbler. We have found in India a “can do” and obliging attitude which although understanding that everyone has to make a living, is a refreshing thing to find when in so many countries the attitude can be so different when something is not vital to their survival.

I’m afraid that this was a very long post with many photos but the experiences of two months in one place in India were too
much to fit into a short one.

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We arrived into Calicut about 8pm on the 17th November and got a taxi from the prepaid service at the airport. It wasn’t really prepaid as the man gave us over to a driver and told us to pay him 500 rupees (about $10) for our half hour ride. Our taxi was an lovely old Ambassador car, no airconditioning and wind up windows. The”Raviz Kadavu” hotel was a much nicer hotel than where we had stayed previously so we had a good night’s sleep and then ventured with their driver to downtown Calicut to the local Vodafone office to get a sim card. In order to obtain one we had to provide a photocopy of Maurice’s passport, a photo of him and a letter from the yoga villa to state that we were staying there. They then check everything out before they give you access to the sim card which seems to take anything from three to ten days.

We had a delicious lunch with the driver at our usual”Metro Manor” hotel and then we had a more than usual hair raising drive up to the mountains with a crazy taxi driver who obviously had a death wish. We didn’t want to be part of that so Maurice shouted at him to be a bit more careful especially as the drive took nearly three hours.
The winding road up to Udayagiri which stands at about 1000 metres was being dug up for desperately needed road improvements
so we were transferred to a jeep to travel the last couple of kilometres.

It had been a year since we had been there and they had made many improvements to the villas and were building two more with
magnificent views down to the plain below. The plants and trees had grown considerably after a heavy monsoon season. It was
much cooler than at the same time last year and there was much haze and cloud and only a couple of decent sunrises. we needed
something warm to wear in the early morning and in the evening.
We were only six guests for the first few days – Bernard and Marie from Reunion island, Shoba from New Zealand and Ravilla from Russia. They were all lovely and we got on well. Once the couple from Reunion had left Reshma arrived from Mauritius. Guests usually stay for between 3-4 weeks depending on the treaments they receive.

The internet was unfortunately not working so I walked down to the next town a few kilometres away to find that their internet was also not working so I tramped back up the mountain, a wasted trip but very good exercise.
They did offer to take me to a town 20 minutes away so the next day I set off on foot for some exercise down the mountain and was collected on motorbike (no helmet for me) to the internet cafe which had fast internet access.
Three of us and the manager ventured one day down to Mananthavady a larger town 45 minutes away for a shopping expedition where we all managed to find some nice Indian style clothes to buy. On the way we saw a modern ambulance which had the words “oxygen” and underneath “freezer” written on the rear door. We wondered that if the oxygen didn’t work the freezer may take over?

Maurice had many mud all over treatments and poundings to reduce the calcification in his joints for his rheumatoid arthritis. Some may think it was hocus pocus but the natural treatments work for him and he doesn’t take any drugs which take their toll after a few years. I did the weight management programme (story of my life!) and it consisted as well as limited food to powder poundings and massage with medicated oil. Friends have asked us what we did all day but as most of the guests concur we didn’t have much down time and some of the treatments were rather taxing which left them feeling quite exhausted. A typical day was:

6.15am Pooja (ceremony)
7am Yoga for an hour and a half
9am breakfast
Treatments which are staggered from 9.30am onwards which take 1-1 1/2 hours
1pm Lunch
2.30pm Walk 1 1/2 hours
4.30pm Yoga 1-1 1 1/4 hours
6pm Dinner
7.15pm Pooja
After treatments, walk and yoga we usually are in bed by 8.30pm

Maurice and I didn’t attend the pooja sessions but managed most of the other yoga sessions. The staff were very obliging and caring and were a happy group group of people who looked after us well.

Ravilla and I went with the doctor, yoga master and manager down to the other Ayurveda villa location one night to listen to the staff
singing some Malayalam folk songs. It was about 45minutes drive away and we drove through the Tholpetty wildlife reserve which encompasses hundreds of kilometres through the western Ghats.

We saw about six elephants on the way there and then after dinner and the performance we stopped to look at a couple more
elephants who had two babies. We were very quiet but one elephant obviously didn’t like us being quite so close (they were near the roadside) so trumpeted and started to run towards us. The driver took off quickly thank goodness. We then saw two groups of deer let by a stag with giant antlers. It was the most wildlife we had seen in our four years of visiting there.
There were tigers in the reserve but the closest we got to seeing one was some droppings at the top of the mountain behind the villas. They were distinguishable by the amount of hair therein similar to other cats.

The locals we met on our walks always smiled as we greeted them and the children always wanted to know “what our good names were”.

The three weeks went very quickly and Maurice had a lot of success with his treatment and I lost 6 1/2 kilos so was very
happy. Our Russian friend Ksenia arrived a couple of days before we departed and it was nice to see her again.
We were driven much more sedately back to Calicut to overnight there and then flew on Spicejet to Chennai on the 11th December.

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