A Tale of Four Cities

June 19, 2017

The cities in question were the four we visited last month when in Spain.  But first a little digression.  I always smile when filling in my address on an online form.  Usually there is space for two address lines and then the next one says ‘city’ – so I ‘promote’ Rothesay to city status.  Then I feel I should apologise to my fellow residents because we all chose to live here and not in a ‘city’!

Our trip to Spain was a concentrated sight seeing feast of Andalusia but we started with a short visit to Barcelona.  This was very specifically to see again the wondrous Sagrada Familia.  We last viewed it about 16 years ago and knew that much more of the building has been completed since then.

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Sagrada Familia dwarfing the surrounding city.

When we were last there it was even more of a building site, with really only the eight giants towers in place.  This time the main sanctuary is almost complete. It has been consecrated (in 2010 by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI) and is already used occasionally for worship.

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The huge, elegant, soaring pillars.

To stand inside this amazing space is to make you feel at the same time very, very small, and also in awe of the  immensity of the human brain able to design and build such an incredible building.

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Exquisite detail on the enormous doors.

Antoni Gaudi who designed the Sagrada Familia was in charge from 1883 until his death in 1926 but others have continued to bring his visions to reality.  Gaudi was very influenced by nature and passionate about conveying the teachings of the Gospels and the Christian Church so every detail whether large or small has meaning.

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Stained Glass Windows

The sun streaming through the glass simply filled the sanctuary with multi coloured light – it felt like standing inside a rainbow.  I loved the stained glass – no depictions of  saints, the Holy Family or Bible stories – all abstract, but a very carefully planned movement of colours.

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In most ways it has the form and shape of a traditional cathedral but just on an awesome scale.  Modern building technology and new materials allow for the heights both inside and outside to be greater – very clever geometry means that the supporting pillars appear slim and elegant.

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I used my binoculars frequently to look at the details and the sculptures on the two main facades – the Nativity and the Passion.  Sagrada Familia is now estimated to be completed by 2026.  I pray that I will still be fit enough to return then.

Whilst in Barcelona we made a quick return visit to another of Gaudi’s masterpieces – La Pedrera with its iconic chimneys.

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The other three cities we visited were all new to us.  In Cordoba we were introduced to another building ,equally as awesome as the Sagrada Familia but from a different era – La Mezquita, a mosque begun in AD786 which was frequently extended during the next six centuries until it had over a thousand pillars.

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Just a few of the forest of pillars.

The 10th century Mihrab in an octagonal chamber has some of the finest Byzantine mosaics in existence.

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In 1523 about 60 pillars were removed from the centre of the mosque at the behest of Emperor Carlos V and a huge Christian cathedral built inside and to this day it has been a place of Christian worship.  My guide book says “La Mezquita’s identity as a mosque is inescapable – notwithstanding the cathedral insensitively placed in its centre like a huge spider in its web.”

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Cordoba Cathedral

The next photograph shows how refurbishment work has been done in places on the outside to show how glorious it must once have looked.

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I loved the narrow streets of Cordoba – sometimes only a few feet wide, and sometimes just enough space for a car to squeeze along with its wing mirrors folded in.

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It was hot in Spain so we were very grateful for our cool hotel, housed in a series of very old buildings with a number of inviting little courtyards to relax in.

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Not sure how authentic the ‘ancient broken Roman pillar’ was but the oranges were real and were virtually falling off the trees as we watched.  As well as the ‘formal’ sightseeing at La Mezquita and other places we had the huge privilege of being in the right place at the right time.

Cordoba was holding its version of Gardens Open Day – La Fiesta d Los Patios d Cordoba, and we discovered the most beautiful garden gems normally hidden from sight behind the whitewashed house walls with their lace covered, ornately barred windows and solid wooden doors.  We had a sketch map outlining a route around the neighbourhood and like many local people we popped in and out of the riotously coloured and lovingly cared for private patios.

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Hours of watering every day!

That is two of my four Spanish cities – Seville and Granada will follow soon.

The End of Another Year

December 27, 2016

It is the few quiet days between Christmas, with its weeks of anticipation and preparation, and Hogmanay with its reflections and shenanigans.  I realise I haven’t blogged as much this year and posted nothing at all in the last three months – no real reason but lots of excuses – so I will, as tradition dictates, finish 2016 with a quick review of September to December.

Three times we had ‘little’ holidays – two within a few hours driving time and one a short haul flight.  When we visit family or friends in the south of England we usually just shoot past the Lake District en route for somewhere else but in late September we stayed on Ullswater for a few days of glorious autumn sunshine.



MV Balmoral

The sister ship of the PS Waverley came to visit in Rothesay, so of course we had a wee sail on a rather chilly, grey day.  A nice ship but in my eyes without the personality of her sister.

Another weekend at the end of October we had reason to visit Pitlochry for a few days  when the autumn colours of the trees was quite spectacular.


In amongst all the trips away life on Bute continued in its fascinating way – the dwindling numbers of tourists and the starting of winter activities underlining this time of transition between the seasons.  There was a good dry spell of weather and the farmers gathered their harvest in.  We celebrated at church with a service and a scrumptious lunch.


He didn’t have to do all the dishes by himself!

At the beginning of November we jetted off seeking some winter sun – and found it very pleasantly warm in the south of Tenerife.  The Hotel Bahia del Duque was beautiful, peaceful and with a choice of restaurants.


The perfect terrace for breakfast and afternoon tea.

There were a number of swimming ‘pools’ scattered down the hillside, all beautifully set in the landscaped gardens.


There never seemed to be anyone in the water when we strolled past en route for our daily amble along the esplanade to the next village along the coast.  It was a very luxurious place and we even had our own wee plunge pool – I could manage three strokes from corner to corner.


The young lady in the next photograph had gone to a lot of trouble to get comfy whilst she sunbathed.


This short break set us up nicely for the whirl of activities that arrive with December.  Each of the organisations we are members of holds a Christmas party or dinner ( I try to avoid turkey until Christmas day, while Colin chooses it every time) – lots of fun and laughter and good company.  There were also concerts and special church services.

The Fundraising Committee at the United Church of Bute held a Cake and Coffee morning in mid December and I helped mount a display of Nativity Sets in the sanctuary at the same time.  It was amazing – 18  depictions of the well known story but each one different and having its own story to tell (bought in different countries, some very old and some fairly new etc).


My sister brought this set from Russia many years ago.


Beautifully carved; hand knitted by various members of the congregation; very old.

The whole church was beautifully decorated.


…. and even some cakes were suitably festive.


Would I be tempting fate by making a New Year Resolution four days before 2017?  I’m not promising but I will try not to leave such long gaps between my blogs next year.

The weather has been very wild for the last ten days – storm Barbara followed swiftly by storm Connor.  The inevitable disruption to the ferry services over the whole of the west coast of Scotland has been immense.  We personally were not affected as fortunately none of our family’s comings and goings were scheduled for ‘no service’ days but many folk around us suffered  anxiety and the last minute rearranging of already complex travel arrangements.  I hope my readers have had a joyful and Happy Christmas.


Christmas Day 2016 on Ettrick Bay

Etosha National Park, Namibia

July 23, 2016

The last section of our holiday was spent in the north of Namibia in amongst the wildlife of Etosha.  We were based at Ongava Lodge very close to one of the main entrances to Etosha.  We arrived late in the afternoon and were immediately taken out on a game drive. The rules had changed now – no more hopping in and out of the vehicle to inspect things up close, we had to stay in the car at all times; after dark we even had to be escorted from the bar / dining area to our room.

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This young male lion was purposefully leading two much younger cubs – the guide reckoned he was about 4 or 5 years old and was ‘babysitting’ the others.  The adults could be seen way up ahead heading out hunting.

The light was fading fast when we found this trio.

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Not the best quality photo but it was getting dark.  I was very surprised and  very excited when we were told we could get out and walk closer to the rhinos.  The driver of the next vehicle had a rifle and escorted a dozen of us a good bit closer.  We all took photos and the guides in whispers explained what we were seeing.  After my adrenalin rush began to subside I began to think what should I do if the rhinos charged – run, stand still, no trees to climb, could I lie down and pretend to be already dead?  Of course my fantasies were totally unnecessary – not sure how much the rifle was for show or if it would ever really be needed.

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The gun was real – but would he ever use it?

For the next two days Jeremia took us into Etosha National Park.  I am struggling to find the words to describe the awesome sights we saw.  Although I have seen countless wildlife documentaries the real thing was so much better than I expected.  Such a privilege to sit quietly and simply watch.

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Little and large

Colin unexpectedly fell in love with the giraffes – driving along we would spot a long neck  appearing above the tops of the trees and be subjected to an imperturbable gaze through those beautiful long lashes.

Beauty …………

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….. and the beast (literally).

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Etosha covers 20,000 square kilometres of northern Namibia and is scattered with about 60 waterholes, some natural and some man made.  There are gravel roads between the waterholes and vehicles are not allowed to go off road.  This protects the animals and allows them peace while they drink and move about.  It is such a huge place and the wildlife so abundant that sometimes we would have a waterhole to ourselves or at most a couple of other vehicles.  I think the most important aspect to me was that the animals totally ignored us, never even glancing up.

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The Batchelor’s Club at Okaukuejo

This is a group of young males.  Within the park there are three ‘resorts’ – fenced areas with accommodation, restaurant, shop and administration / security offices.  The above photograph was taken from a seating area at the resort.  It is the humans who are fenced in here and the animals completely free to roam, as it should be.

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Dusk at Ongava Lodge 

When we returned to the lodge in the late afternoon it was such a pleasure to stand on the veranda with a cool beer and continue the animal watching.  The waterhole was lit at night so even a nocturnal toilet visit involved animal watching!

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I loved the mix of animals at the waterholes.  Jeremia explained how they all coexisted without any obvious strife – except for lions of course, although even then the other creatures kept a wary eye open but knew if the big cats were likely to be hunting or not.

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Springbok, ostrich and oryx.

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In the centre of Etosha is the Pan – nearly 5,000 square kilometres of totally dry, hard baked clay and salt, seemingly visible from outer space.  Driving along a bit of the edge was like any shore line with grassy, low, sandy dunes but instead of welcoming cool water beyond there was glinting hard whiteness as far as the eye could see.

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The dot in the middle is an oryx, a long way ‘offshore’.

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My new best friends.

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Rietfontein Waterhole, Etosha

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We watched this ostrich having a thoroughly good dust bath, finishing off with an exhilarating shake – just like the wee sparrows in the garden in Rothesay.

All the time we were taking photographs at Rietfontein we, and all the animals, were aware that a few hundred yards away resting in the shade of the trees were two lions.  I have debated with myself whether I would have liked to see them hunting or not – have concluded that in spite of how exciting that would have been, I would really rather not see the gory details.

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Lions in the shade.

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I have kept my promise and not shown you the ‘hundred’ photographs of elephants we took.  Our trip to Namibia was awesome, so varied in the different areas we visited and made extra special by  our very knowledgeable, friendly and caring guide Jeremia.

Well, just one more picture of a few of the elephants of Namibia –

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All Creatures Great and Small – in Namibia

July 17, 2016

I mentioned in an earlier post about how good our guide, Jeremia, was at spotting wildlife.  Driving along a dead straight, gravel road, across a featureless plain at about 50 mph he notices this.

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Namaqua Chameleon

This little fellow was only 6 inches long and quietly sitting by the edge of the road absorbing the early morning sun.  After a few minutes with us watching he got up and started to move across the gravelly sand surface.  After only a few strides he looked like this –

Namibia Select 090616  - 133and when the chameleon was about two yards away the only way we could pick him out was by the tiny shadow his body was creating.  The camouflage was perfect.

Namibia Select 090616  - 136We saw lots of ostriches and learnt that several females over a period of about ten days will lay their eggs in one communal nest.  Two dominant females from the flock will then raise the entire brood – so all these funny little scuttling chicks are not brothers and sisters.

I hadn’t thought about it in advance but being in a very arid country meant that there were very few insects about – far too hot in the daytime and too cold in the evening, although in a couple of places we had mosquito nets over our bed and we took antimalarial tablets for the northern most part of our journey.  The beautiful red dragonfly was by a pool at a restaurant.

Namibia Select 090616  - 138Namibia is a very large country with a very small population.  Apart from in the two towns of Windhoek and Swapokmund the only people we saw were those working in the tourist industry.  From reading the guide books and visiting the museum in Swakopmund I knew a little of the country’s history, the European colonisation and the movements of indigenous peoples, and Jeremia was keen for us to visit two groups of local people who with support from his company were trying to improve their own lives.

Namibia Select 090616  - 142This extended family group of Himba people were making and selling beaded jewellery.  The women’s hair was utterly fascinating – many tight, narrow plaits thickly coated with ochre mud, with the ends combed out into bushy ‘tails’.

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At the Hairdresser

The woman having her hair plaited was sound asleep.  We made a donation in respect of taking photographs of the people, but with Jeremia translating for us we discovered that they had a $50 and a $10 American notes which they had no way of exchanging for Namibian dollars.  After checking the exchange rate on Jeremia’s mobile phone we were happy to help.

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The other main ethnic group were the Herero people and their appearance  was totally different.

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Buying Dolls from a Herero Woman

These ladies wore full length, very colourful cotton dresses – the Herero national costume.  The story is that the early Victorian era Portuguese settlers were unhappy with their almost naked house servants and covered them up with flowing dresses.  Today, long after the days when styles of clothes could be imposed on folk, and even after independence, the Herero people choose to continue the tradition.

As we approached the Damaraland area we started seriously looking out for elephants.

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I didn’t know that an elephant puts its back foot directly on top of its front foot print – so at first glance it could be a two legged creature.  I have also added to my skill set that I can tell how old a pile of elephant dung is!

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About 24 hours old.

Unfortunately no sightings before we reached our next accommodation at Damaraland Camp, another luxury tent.  On the first night here, all 16 guests were taken by torchlight away from the main camp to a wonderful barbecue party in a ‘boma’ out in the rocky desert.  Boma is the Afrikaans word for a stockade, and that is exactly what it was.

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Waitresses at the boma

We sat around a huge camp fire and later ate our meal by oil lamps.  The waitresses were a huge entertainment as they described each course of the meal, and the wines, firstly in English and then in the native ‘click’ language.  When a word could not be translated into click they improvised with miming and gestures – ‘lamb’ had much baaing, and if something was going to be particularly delicious there was much tummy patting and eye rolling. Great fun.

The next morning our elephant tracking practice paid off.

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Only the first of many.

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Over the next two days we saw many family groups of elephants browsing the trees in the dried up river beds.  Such a joy to simply sit and watch these magnificent creatures – they totally ignored us.  One afternoon we visited the world famous rock carvings at Twyfelfontein, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Twyfelfontein, Namibia

The animals carved on these 20 or so slabs of rock are thought to be about 5,000 years old. As well as the instantly recognisable giraffes, wildebeest etc there is a sea lion on the far right – 100 miles from the sea.

On the last morning at Damaraland we were up at 5.30am to be taken for Bush Breakfast to watch the sunrise.  This was a stunningly beautiful location but quite chilly until the sun rose from behind the mountains.

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The staff singing a farewell song after breakfast.

On our way north we visited a petrified forest in the Aba-Huab Valley.  The trees are calculated to be about 260 million years old and are so perfectly preserved they look as though they were felled only a few years ago, and they are very, very big – over 30 metres long.

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You can even see the bark in places.

Dotted in amongst the fossilised trees were many Welwitschia plants, probably the strangest plant I have ever seen.  They grow in the most inhospitable place and some are thought to be as old as 2,000 years.

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Welwitschia plant

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Termite Mounds

In this post I have deliberately not included the many other animals we saw in these few days but instead concentrated on some of the other things we saw and experienced.  The final post of the Namibia adventure will be wall to wall animals, which is exactly what it was like in Etosha National Park.

To be continued ……

Where are the Elephants then?

July 8, 2016

It was to be a few more days and many more amazing sights before we saw any pachyderms – and then from an unusual angle.

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The only sound was the bubbles in the tonic popping.

The next morning we headed off early to drive all the way to Swakopmund, with many stops on the way to admire the changing scenery.

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Hot Air Balloons at Dawn

I would love to do that but Colin is not so keen and we didn’t really have any time to spare. Jeremia, our guide and driver, was constantly on the look out for anything interesting to show us.  We stopped at a small town called Solitaire for coffee and fuel,  a fascinating place.

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Rainfall Statistics

Only 6mm of rain in the whole of April and very little in the first three months of the year. The very unusual 479mm in 2011 caused some amazing sights with flash floods and ‘permanently’ dried up river beds having water in them for the first time in living memory.  Would love to have seen that.

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An Austin Eight in need of just a little TLC

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Jeremia, as well as being proud of his country, was also very proud of the company he works for – Wilderness Safaris.  He was very keen to take photographs of Colin and I together and would spend time getting us arranged in the perfect spot with the logo on the Landcruiser in prominent view.

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Gaub Pass, Namibia

That little patch of blue was the only open water  we saw, apart from the waterholes in Etosha.  It was in this area that two young German geologists hid, and lived off the land during the first few years of WWII – highly recommend the book The Sheltering Desert by Henno Martin. We gradually turned towards the coast.

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near Walvis Bay

This beautiful view was a lagoon at the edge of an industrial site at Walvis Bay.  While staying in Swakopmund, a delightful holiday resort, we had two special trips.  Firstly a mini cruise to see the huge Fur seal colony – thousands of them, all strung out along the water’s edge.

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Swakopmund’s German roots are still evident.

We changed transport mode for our second trip.

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I was so excited I could have flapped my arms and taken off without the plane!  This was such a privilege – soaring like a bird for a couple of hours over the amazing landscape.

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Swakopmund golf course

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Dried river beds

The pattern of the scrubby bushes, seen above, clearly show the route of this dried river and all its tributaries.  Being photographed from above creates the impression that the ground was flat.  It is a smooth rock surface but with higher ground between the dried water courses.

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This is the way to learn about geology.

We flew down a part of the infamous Skeleton Coast – hundreds of miles, dead straight, huge Atlantic rollers crashing onto the wide strip of sand which just morphed into the never ending desert.

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Skeleton Coast, Namibia 

The name, of course, comes from the fact that many, many ships have foundered on this inhospitable coastline.  I was intrigued to learn that the vast majority of seamen who have lost their lives here died of thirst rather than drowning.

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The Zeila foundered in 2008

Due to modern navigational and weather forecasting aids shipwrecks are rare today.  The next day we drove up the coast and had difficulty finding the Zeila again because of an atmospheric great fog bank drifting on and off shore.

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Zeila shrouded in fog.

Earlier I mentioned our first sighting of elephants  – can you spot them in the slightly out of focus photograph below?  I was being joogled about in the wee plane and shaking with excitement.

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There is a mother and baby elephant just below and to the left of the white vehicle and five more off to the right.  We took hundreds more photographs of elephants – much better ones to follow, but this was the first.

…. to be continued.

The Indian Adventure Continues

March 29, 2016

After the acute disappointment of the cancelled NID my emotion over the next 24 hours was mainly anxiety.  Whilst we were in Karnal, although we saw none of the civil unrest directly, we did see much television and press coverage.  The main road between us and Delhi was blocked.

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We were safe in Karnal but everyone was keen to get back to Delhi to continue with holiday arrangements or to catch flights home.  Oh the blessings of modern communication technology!  Janine, our group leader, was in frequent touch with the British High Commission in Delhi, the Foreign Office in London, contacts in the Police and Army made through the local travel company who provided our coach, driver and guide, etc etc.

Sometimes we were told the road was open, sometimes the message was – it is too dangerous to travel.  The police and army were so busy coping with the riots that they could not provide us with an escort.  Personally I did not feel threatened – the unrest and rioting was about a caste dispute with the Government over the allocation of reserved jobs – but many empty vehicles were being set on fire on the road.

We eventually left Karnal about 10.30 am but about halfway to Delhi we found that the road had again been closed.  Our driver got us off the highway immediately and to our very good fortune, and by chance, took us to an Ashram nearby.

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Janine, with a phone to each ear, at the Ashram gate.  This was the Rishi Chaitanya Ashram in India.  They did not really want us,  as our presence upset their tranquility, but they took pity on us as we needed refuge. We spent the next 8 hours or so in this totally unexpected, peaceful, safe place.  We were impeccably behaved guests, doing exactly as our ‘minders’ instructed – phones off (except Janine’s), no photographs, keep together in designated area, as quiet as possible.

The ashram was a huge place with accommodation for 500 people on retreat or studying although there only seemed to be a handful about that day.  We had access to their small coffee shop and places to sit in either the sun or shade.  Soon after we arrived we were taken to the dining room, where after removing shoes and washing our hands we sat cross legged on the floor and were served a delicious meal on metal trays.

Although the anxiety of not knowing quite what was going to happen to us next was there all the time it was really quite pleasant chatting quietly or reading in such beautiful surroundings – quite frustrating not to be able to take photographs.

We were offered overnight accommodation when the messages from the authorities continued to say it was unsafe to travel.  This we accepted but shortly after the evening meal the advice came that the road was open, but no guarantee could be given that it would stay that way or for our safety.  We made the collective decision that we would set out again for Delhi and left at about 9 o’clock.

This was when my anxiety turned to feeling just a little bit scared – because the lights inside the coach were switched off and the curtains tightly closed.  I didn’t like not being able to see out.  Colin was tall enough to see  through the bus windscreen and gave me a running commentary of zig zagging through the area of the earlier road blocks, passing burnt out and still burning trucks, cars and buses, and broken glass covering the roadway.

Two hours later we arrived safely at our hotel in Delhi – 20 weary but jubilant Rotarians, safe and with quite a story tell when we would get home.  We crowded into the bar and some of the senior staff from Creative Travel, our Indian tour agents bought us all beers to celebrate our safe return.  Everyone we spoke to in Delhi was puzzled about the dispute and acutely embarrassed that we as guests in India had been caught up in the disruption.

After a surprisingly good sleep we spent the next day enjoying the sensory overload of a day’s sightseeing in Delhi. Some photographs at last –

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We waited in traffic queues while some just squeezed through –

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– only Dad has a crash helmet!  Hope the little one  has had his polio drops.

The Red Fort is awesome in its size, amazing colour and variety of palaces and buildings inside.  We had an excellent guide for the day.

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The main entrance to the Red Fort.







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One of the red Fort palaces.







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Exquisitely decorated pillars and ceilings.

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The Palace of Colours

It was hot and sunny and the air was thick and hazy with pollution – fortunately neither of us suffer with breathing problems.  In the grounds of the Red Fort there were plenty of trees and other shady places to sit – but we had too much to cram into one day to dawdle.

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Next was the inevitable rickshaw ride which I loved.  We were quickly taken off a wide road and squeezed our way through a couple of narrow alleys.

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This allowed time for some ‘window’ shopping in the alley of ‘wedding shops’.

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Seen from the rickshaw.

Our next visit was to Jami Masjid, the enormous mosque where 20,000 people can pray in the great square courtyard at the same time.  Huge and beautiful.

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At the Jami Masjid Mosque 

Another stop was at Humayan’s Tomb – built in 1565 this was the first great example of a Mughal garden tomb and the inspiration for the later Taj Mahal.

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Humayan’s Tomb

In a state of weary sight seeing overload our last visit of the whirlwind tour was to the Qutib Minar complex.  The antiquity, history and complex, beautiful carving on all the buildings we had seen seemed to come together here.

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It was a very short trip to India but the memories I have been left with are a very complex mix.  The scale of India is awesome – its history, people, problems and aspirations falling over each other into a kaleidoscope of thoughts and memories.  I personally experienced joy, distress, happiness, fear, horror, but, ever the optimist, I saw also a hope for the future –  especially if the threat of polio can be eradicated for ever. I would happily go back again anytime.

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How Time Flies

March 25, 2016

It has been quite some time since I last posted anything here.  No real reason or excuse for that.  Life has been unfurling as before – sometimes mundane and sometimes soaring.  We had a very good Christmas, an exceptionally ‘jolly’ Hogmanay / New Year celebration (with  14 folk to dinner in our temporary ‘Banqueting Hall’ aka the basement storeroom), and survived all the named storms.

Today is the return to our normal mainland port for the ferries – 24 weeks of the much longer journey to Gourock causing much disruption to the normal pattern of island life while the Wemyss Bay Pier was being rebuilt.  I’m looking forward to seeing the beautiful station again.

A few weeks ago we undertook a much longer trip when we flew to Delhi for a short visit and a very good reason.  As part of a group of 100 UK Rotary members and partners we were taking part in the National Immunisation Day (NID) against polio.  This turned out to be the most amazing experience for lots of different reasons.

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After some briefing meetings in Delhi our subgroup of twenty headed 130 kilometres north to an industrial town in Haryana Province called Karnal.  We were to help with publicising the  immunisation day and then with the administering of the oral vaccine.  The yellow polo shirts were certainly eye catching.

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Unfortunately, circumstances totally out with our control caused some major changes of plan. Civil disturbances occurred, mainly elsewhere in Haryana Province, but this led to the imposition of Public Order Restrictions.  Sadly this meant that the NID in the Province was cancelled. The local Rotary Club, our hosts – Karnal Mid Town – very quickly organised some alternative visits for us where we would be safe.

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Firstly to a very large school to judge a poster drawing competition (winner top row 2nd left).

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We then met another group of artists at a Day Centre for people with ‘mental handicaps’.

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I enjoyed myself here with a bit of ‘Bollywood’ dancing with my new best friends, although it could be mistaken for the Hokey Cokey in the photograph.

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The next day we visited a Health Camp set up in a sort of community centre in a poor suburb of Karnal.  These camps are organised and funded by the local Rotary in conjunction with a nearby private hospital four or five times a year.  It provides drop in access to a range of medical services e.g. GP, cardiac specialist, gynaecologist, pharmacist with free medicines, dentist etc.

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Under more normal circumstances the UK Rotarians would have been out in the surrounding streets encouraging people to bring their under fives into the camp to have the oral polio vaccine.  There is a good system in place in India for all tiny babies to receive polio and other vaccinations from their health care workers, and polio is really almost eradicated.  BUT the battle is not yet completely won as a combination of parents relaxing and thinking there is no longer a need for immunisation, ignorance, illiteracy and poverty could mean that cases of ‘wild’ polio will begin to reoccur.

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We all had lots of small gifts to hand out to the children – making us very popular indeed.  On the day of the postponed NID (it was to be rearranged for 15 days later, sadly after we were home) we visited a tented shanty village – a very emotional, gut wrenching experience.  This was exactly the type of place we should have been setting up a Polio Booth.

I make no excuse for the large number of photographs which follow – I hope they tell a story I can find no words for.  This village houses the families of itinerant labourers who are working on the many surrounding building sites.  It will not be permanent but may be here for quite a few years.

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This was poverty indeed but not abject poverty – there was a dignity, no begging (the men were all away working) and obvious attempts to care for their children.


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With no running water or electricity it is very hard to wash the clothes.

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Children are always fun – and theses ones were very well behaved too, instantly lining up when told there might be some small gifts to come.

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In the blink of an eye these 8 grew to a crowd of about 30 – we gave out our toys, toothbrushes and pencils but I so wished we could have given the under fives their polio drops.

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Every child in the world knows what to do with a balloon ……

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…… under the watchful eyes of the Mums.

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I question the slogan on the middle girl’s sweatshirt as they step over the open sewer.  Although visiting this village was upsetting I did come away with a feeling of hope.  Karnal Mid Town Rotary Club provide a rudimentary school here.  The children are getting at least a very basic education – they chanted the alphabet for us in English and then counted up to 20.  In return I managed to persuade my fellow visitors to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for them.  The little faces were inscrutable!

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This woman looked so ill and careworn – I couldn’t decide if she was the children’s mother or grandmother.  They lead such a hard life.

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This collection of cowpats is laid out in the sun to dry – they can then be used for fuel for cooking.  What right have I to feel smug when I send the plastic bottles and old newspapers to the recycling.

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An entrepreneur at work.  It was a very quiet coach load of Rotarians who returned to our five star luxury hotel that night.

The next day we set out to return to Delhi, and what should have been a 2 – 3 hour drive down the main road south turned into quite a scary epic but I will return to that story another day.