Archive for the ‘India Home Life’ Category

Up North day 6 – white water rafting

June 24, 2013



And so my birthday present, a white water rafting trip.


We deliberately chose a short, beginners course as neither of us had rafted before. Unusually in India the whole operation was professional right down to the safety briefing, but even so the trip was not without incident.


We were about 20, divided 8, 7 and 5 in three boats. At least that’s how we started out. Although it is June and daytime temperatures are warm, the water in the Zanskar River is fed from the snow melt, so it is icy. Everyone needed to be fitted with wetsuits, as well as helmets and life jackets, before we could begin.

Wet suit and Rapids

Wet suit and Rapids

Indus meets Zanskar

Indus meets Zanskar


We were in the front boat of 5, with a German and an Indian couple. Also with the boats was a kayaker, to help rescue in the unlikely event anyone fell in. Bear in mind this was a beginner’s course. All was going well through the second set of rapids when suddenly the kayaker blew his whistle hard. Our guide looked back and blew, too. We all looked back and boat three, with 8 people, was upside down and everyone was in the water. Some were clinging to the boat, others were stranded upstream, and some people had already been washed downstream to our boat and boat two.


Somehow we gathered everyone up, and found all the paddles, too. With some boat redistributions, we were on our way again. Martin wished it had been us who ‘turned turtle’. Strange sense of humour, my husband.

Reason for the raft flipping? The people in the bows are the ones who give the lead to the rest of the paddlers; they have to act promptly to the commands of the ‘pilot’. The two guys in the bows of Raft 3 had been too busy yakking to each other to a) listen to the briefing and b) to busy yakking to each other to hear the commands.


The rest of the raft was uneventful, so once we reached the calmer waters of the Indus I went for a swim. The whole thing was great fun and I would like to do it again, perhaps over a longer course.


Oop North day 5 – nearly 3 1/2 miles above sea level.

June 24, 2013

Second day on the Enfield and a trip up the Khardung La. at 5,602m, it is the world’s highest motorable pass. It is 34km from Leh to the top, and according to Lonely Planet you can do the journey up in 1.5 hours.

5,000+ meters

5,000+ meters

Don’t know what they were driving- some kind of rally car- it took us 4 hours up and 3 hours back. To be fair, it’s still early in the summer and come September 90 minutes will be an OK time, plus a bike with a pillion isn’t exactly going to travel at speed anywhere on these roads/tracks.

The next 14km were hard going. It is Tarmac road up to the permit check but rough surfacing beyond. Lots of pot holes, bits of road washed away, and ice-melt streams. Plus we got stopped for an hour just short of the top, for blasting a way through a rockfall or something, which rather messed up our acclimatisation by forcing us to spend more time at altitude than we wanted.

New jacket and an hour delay

New jacket and an hour delay

We made it, and stayed long enough for two cups of tea before heading down.

If anything the journey down was harder, especially for me pillion. Our Enfield at home has a back rest, whereas the hire bike did not. Two sore hands from gripping the back of the bike were the result. Very pleased to be back on the Tarmac.

One scary moment on the descent when the brakes did not bite properly as we traversed some road rubble. A few wobbles but we stayed upright. Thrilled and exhausted to be back in Leh.

Made it.

Made it.

Whose stupid idea?

June 24, 2013

Up North day 4, part one – monastery hopping in the Indus Valley

We have hired an Enfield for the day, to make our way East of Leh, along the Indus Valley. There’s a good Tarmac road and the valley contains two of the areas most important monasteries, Thikse and Hemis.

Martin, Bullet and Thikse Monastery

Martin, Bullet and Thikse Monastery

But first there’s a problem. Our home Enfield is old, with the gear change on the right. The hire bike is new and the gear change is on the left. Martin goes for a fairly lengthy test drive before deciding he can cope and letting me get on board.

Off we trundle, first stop Thikse. It is arguably Ladakh’s most easily recognised monastery, really a monastic village, with school, restaurant, hotel and a monastery, all clinging to an East-facing crag. The main chamber has a 14m high Buddha, impressive and colourful, but not as atmospheric as the smaller, older Protectors’ Temple and the one used for most pujas.



I have wanted to see Thikse since I first came to India. While not disappointed, the spirituality of the temples is spoilt for me because, despite all the signs asking for silence, Indian visitors do not turn their mobile phones off and keep talking loudly to each other even when in the temples. I think I must just accept that, unlike Buddhism, Hinduism is not a quiet religion. No doubt the Dalai Lama would have something to say about practicing tolerance and patience!

On to Hemis, beautifully situated across the opposite side of the Indus, at the end of a wooded valley. Less famous (and therefore quieter than Thikse), it never the less has its own 8m high Buddha and an attractively painted central courtyard. It is best known as the monastery where papers were discovered that suggest Jesus spent some time before beginning his ministery in Kashmir, and that his teachings were influenced by Buddhism.

Hemis is worth a visit for the setting – very peaceful.

Up North day 4, part two – whose stupid idea was this?

To reach Thikse then travel on to Hemis, we used the main Indus Valley road, which runs north of the river. At Kazu we crossed the Indus, as Hemis is on the south bank. We had noticed on the map that there was a smaller road running along the south bank of the rivers, so we decided to use this to retrace our steps and see some more villages. Not one of our better decisions.

Desert and Oases- The Indus Valley

Desert and Oases- The Indus Valley

Yak Yak

Yak Yak

The road was OK to start with, but then it began to deteriorate, big pot holes and areas where all the Tarmac had been swept away but snow melt. We coped for a while, but the bike handling was increasingly tricky. Eventually, we were confronted with a stretch of water. It did not look too deep and we could see a path through, so we rode through. Made it – phew. Perhaps not. A short distance further on there was more water. Only this time it was deeper and we could not see what we were riding over. Nothing ventured, we rode in. We got wet! But cold water is just, well, cold water. Wemade it to Stackna, where there is a very narrow, rickety bridge back to the main road. I think if you walked across this bridge, you would not ride across it. But we did and we have the film to prove it.

All that remains to be said is that Martin’s bike handling is excellent. And six hour as a pillion is at the limit of my stamina.

Oop north

June 24, 2013

Up North day 2 – Leh here we come


Made it on the 5.15 am flight to Leh. Gorgeous mountain scenery most of the way, over the Rohtang La

Ladakh Greens Hotel

Ladakh Greens Hotel

, well worth the early start to see the mountains at sunrise. Great welcome in Leh, at the airport and the hotel. Views of mountains all around, and a garden full of lilac trees, irises and proper grass. Martin cannot keep up with all the new birds.


But the best bit is the altitude. At 3,520 meters, Leh is into altitude sickness territory. So everyone keeps telling us to take complete rest today. As if  we needed any encouragement!


The mountains north of Leh

The mountains north of Leh

Up North day 3 – around Leh


So, a chance to test our acclimatisation and explore the city. There’s a lot of uphill, but we seem to get our bearings. Once we understood our maps. I have Lonely Planet India on my Kindle, but the maps are the weakest link. We bought a paper map, but this did not always match the streets.


Did manage to find a cafe for a morning coffee, hidden down an obscure side street. Reaching the roof terrace involved a vertiginous set of steps with no handrail. I cautiously ascended, the woman with the two Expressos positively bounded up. I guess there is a knack.3 Leh Town and Environs martin (16)


Stayed in town for lunch, then walked out into the countryside, only to find that the Women’s alliance are not doing their film on Ladakh any more. Back to the hotel past the Ladakh Apricot store. The best dried apricots I have ever had.

Back to the hotel for a lie down. Don’t want to overdo it, you know.


Christmas in Goa – first, catch your coconut

December 25, 2012
Dennis' Christmas Star 2012

Dennis’ Christmas Star 2012

We are preparing a vegetarian Christmas dinner for Maggie and Mal (Martin’s sister and brother in law). Alison is cooking beetroot, while Martin has been despatched to the back terrace to crack and shell a fresh coconut (we now get our own supply from the trees in the garden).

‘Oh b****r’ from Martin outside. Alison wanders out to find that, in dealing with the said nut, Martin has tipped a large piece over the edge of the terrace onto the corrugated roof of the downstairs storage area. Several attempts to reach it with one of Little Ted’s long handled brooms merely serve to push it further out of reach.

Phase one of Operation Retrieve Coconut involves Martin climbing part way up the stairs to the top terrace, for better reach. When unsuccessful, phase two involves him climbing over the balustrade and balancing precariously off the side of the house without touching the roof below. Phase three involves a cautious step onto the corrugated roof. Cautious because we were not sure it would support his weight (and it’s made in India, therefore not entirely trustworthy).

Curtorim Church Christmas 2012

Curtorim Church Christmas 2012

Finally successful in pitching the coconut piece off onto the ground below, Martin then climbed relatively gracefully back off the roof, up the balustrade and returned to the safety of the terrace, all without losing his lunghi. And we retrieved the coconut before the local pigs, water buffalo or dogs got to it.

I don’t remember cooking Christmas lunch in the UK being quite this stimulating. Happy Christmas, everyone.

Bulbul – The Great Escape

October 13, 2012

This blog from June. Second breeding attempt of 2012.


All three eggs successfully hatched and Mr Useless was set to work on foraging for feedstuffs. He’s quite good at this although inclined to go for the biggest berry or the biggest insect, which the fledglings can have trouble getting down their gullett. The humans stand and gawp at our activity. To get rid of them we freeze and they seem to get bored with the immobility and wander off.

Twelve hours too soon the largest of the three tries out his wings, and reaches the window ledge. Hardly pausing to get his breath, he’s off again. Not strong enough to gain any height he hits the roof of an extension building and lies winded. He stays there not moving for an hour or so. Then another attempt, again, no height and he crashes against a wall and makes his way to a corner on the ground. Later he’s spotted by a human who has come to clean the yard. She packs some grasses into a small box and lifts the chick into it. Later still, as the sun is setting another human takes the box and  it is returned to near the nest. Half an hour and a few insects later, he’s ready to have another go. This time he can keep enough height to reach the safety of shrubs. No 2, follows shortly. No 3 (the runt) decides to leave this escape business to the following day.

So now it’s a case of shepherding the three of them until they can fend for themselves. Had to see off the crows, the kingfisher (Halcyon Smyrnensis) and some squirrels who were showing too much interest in the youngsters.

Fontainhas urinal

August 21, 2012

Private Urinal

This blog dates back to the beginning of June. Due to business pressures we’ve been ignoring blogs, but now we have returned from our annual visa run to the UK, the dust is settling and hope to keep the diary going.

The British Business Group organised a members’ event which we joined on Sunday evening. Arriving in good time we had 30 minutes to kill before the start of a guided walk through Fontainhas. We eventually found a dingy little bar which was open and enjoyed a beer and then were late for the start of the walk.

Fontainhas is a small area of Panjim which still retains a sense of what Panjim must have been like in the last century or so of the Portuguese rule in Goa. We last had a look in 2008 and are pleased to have seen that the rot has been reversed and a good attempt at preservation and conservation is under way… we guess without much help from the government. The most obvious change is that the people who live there now appear to be taking pride in their surroundings. Many of the buildings are now painted in one the four basic colours which were enforced during Portuguese rule. Each building had to be repainted biennially after monsoon.

There are still buildings being abandoned and we suppose this is inevitable in view of the mud construction; maintenance costs must be onerous. Mud and monsoon don’t work well together. Talking of which we have a slightly early start to monsoon this year… a nice downpour last night… first rain since November.

Our guide Jack was informative and fun. We didn’t get round  to asking him why a gentleman’s urinal had been installed behind a light wrought-iron gate opening on to the street in what was the quirkiest building on the walk. The walk finished with a view of a garish pink 1910 Hindu temple half way up a hillside. It’s been recently refurbished and the lighting is, well,remarkable.

A meal at the well restored and maintained Panjim Inn wrapped the evening up.

Villager stoned to death.

March 22, 2012

‘Gaondongrim local stoned to death.’

It should be headlines in the media but here in Goa, the size of Cornwall, the ‘incident’ merits the same level of attention as ‘Locals teach tattoo parlour owner a lesson on waste’.The culprit was forced to clear all the garbage from where he dumped his. And ‘Navelim farmers protest construction of concrete wall.’ (A small gathering upset by the result of zero application of planning laws.)

Surely a human being being stoned to death merits more media attention than this? We do wonder about values here sometimes.

A Somali stoning

Electioneering engineering

March 17, 2012

Goa’s Chief of Police was sacked recently, because he had used an official car to take him on unofficial business. This happened despite the fact that he had sought and gained the correct permissions for the use of the vehicle. However the government subsequently re-wrote this particular rule and back-dated it to before the ‘crime’ was committed. So despite having made some unusually good progress in the sorting out of corruption, drugs, sex trade etc, and generally being straight and incorruptible, he still had to go.
So although we could guess at the reason for his sacking, for instance getting to close to nailing a corrupt politician, the real reason became clear when we read that between the Chief of Police’s going and his replacement’s coming, the government (illegally) moved their ‘own’ policemen into strategically important positions. These policemen include at least two who are being investigated for some serious malfeasance.
This is all part of the charade for the March general election. Long live democracy and we look forward to seeing what action the Indian Government will take with regard to these blatantly illegal actions.
This might sound like a moan, but actually it is all great fun and part of Indian life. We don’t see this kind of thing changing much in the near future despite a current Gandhi like figure, Anna Hazare, causing a few ripples within the Indian middle classes.