Hand dyed and beaded chiffon scarves? 

As we drove into Mandalay, a city set out on a grid system, our taxi driver got a teensy bit lost and we ended up pretty much in the right area but pretty much down the wrong roads.

We drove through a couple of narrow streets, fairly modern houses built right up to the roadside. One caught my eye on the right: there seemed to be a family run cottage industry in the small parking space/courtyard, involving a boy and girl, maybe about ten or eleven, and a middle aged woman, maybe their grandmother or an aunt. It looked as if there was a small scale dyeing bath. There were some long scarf sized panels of chiffon, beaded, over the dye bath. The boy had placed some wooden frames with the beaded chiffon panels pinned in place on the other side of the street. To dry? To advertise them? 

Realistically, they would have dried very quickly in the sun so maybe they were not drying after all. Unless some sort of graduated dying technique was in place. And one of them was lighter in colour. So maybe it was and advertising display.

I should have asked the driver to stop. I do not know what they were. For all I know, they could have been expensive hand beaded work for a swanky international brand. I missed my chance. Sand slipping through my fingers. No cat killed by curiosity here. No second chance.  Damn, damn and damn.

All I need to make my life complete is one of these scarves, but, in the words of the song,  it’s too late now. 

Rangoon to Inle Lake on the JJ Express overnight bus 

It’s time to leave Rangoon (or Yangon, as it is now known) for Inle Lake by an overnight bus, twelve hours bus terminus to terminus. The bus station is manic, sellers everywhere. If I was in the market for children’s clothes, there are women laden with brightly coloured clothes on hangers. People wandering around with plastic baskets, peddling all sorts of wares. There are some fruit stalls – the black grapes are almost the size of golf balls and look delicious, but there is nowhere to wash them. The travel staple, bananas, curiously not for sale. 

I quite fancy a beer to take with me – third day in Burma and no beer thus far: it was Gordon’s gin and tonic last evening. The restaurant the previous evening served no alcohol. The mini market with the beer is about three minutes walk and I am nursing a knee injury so decide this is not such a good idea as I’m not really up for weaving through the crowds and do not want to leave the comparative luxury of the JJ Express (JJ stands for Joyous Journeys) waiting room. The plethora of staff are working hard, selling and confirming tickets, all transactions conducted manually and efficiently, inspecting US dollars for any damage before accepting them, putting large luggage items into areas according to destination, someone making hot very sweet coffee and offering it in paper cups to waiting passengers. The loos are not the worst by a long stretch for Asia either, not award winning, but loo roll and running water for hand washing score well. 

This is the VIP bus. Large seats, a fleece blanket on each seat, foot rests, a bottle of water in the seat pocket and a snack box of a cheese pudding bread (think baked brioche/doughnut, filled with a small dollop of sweet vanilla custard) and a moon cake (think small round thing with artificial red glazed topping). 

The bus terminus is near to the quietish international airport: I see one aircraft land. Small. Propeller. Like all the domestic flights here. No thanks, and hence the bus. 

We leave at 6pm. It’s been chucking it down with rain most of the day and now it’s a dull grey dusk. There will be little to see along the way as night falls sharply here, and early. 

After three hours, state highway I think, the LED interior lights of the bus play a little wake up pattern for those dozing and we pull into a service station for a thirty minute break. We race for the loos, grab some food, or in my case just a beer, a can of icy cold Myanmar beer. First of all, I use it to help cool my knee injury, then glug it down. Divine. Almost as good as the, no doubt authentic, Louis Vuitton Damier Ebene upholstered chairs in the service station. 

We don’t speak a word of the language, it is dark, we don’t know whether the bus will be crossing mountains or travelling along minor roads to reach our destination. We don’t know when the next loo stop will be either. 

We stop a few more times along the way for ten minutes or so at a time. Forget corporate themed service stations of Europe or the 7:11 shops of the rest of Asia. There are plenty of spotlessly clean loos, but a strange assortment of items for sale. Huge bags of onions, anyone? 

The drivers sit out front for a cuppa and a quick fag. I notice that there are cigarette boxes with lighters on each table. You must be able to buy cigarettes individually if that floats your boat. 

We carry on through the black night. There is nothing to see. 

Eventually, dawn breaks and misty hills come into soft misty focus. This looks like imagined Burma. 

The light increases and the hills dip away behind us. We stop at a checkpoint where all foreigners have to pay US $12.50 or 12,500 kyats to enter the Inle Lake area. 

Everyone is half asleep. But it is good for everyone to have been woken up here because in about ten minutes time, it’s the end of the bus journey and a swarm of taxi drivers and boatmen will noisily descend upon the new arrivals to offer their services to reach hotels dotted around the lake. Prices are high. This is a bit of a local cartel and our first experience of feeling like cash cows. Meanwhile, on the other side of the street, young Buddhist monks are walking to their school, serene in their carmine coloured robes, looking at us all, overladen with things we don’t really need.

We get a taxi to Inle Resort and Spa, a nice drive along a country road, lots of agricultural workers in pick up trucks heading out to the fields, bison carts, scooters, bikes, cars, signs pointing to the various hotels along the way. 

We are warmly welcomed and the room is waiting for us. Overlooking a natural pond, set back from the lake. It’s a nice room and a totally relaxing place for the next three days. I do not actually leave the hotel for these three days because of the knee injury so no messing about on a boat for me nor seeing the lakeside villages. 

 But a sun lounger is set up on the jetty and I get a great view over the lake and the hills behind right until sundown. 

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And then dinner, garlic herby fish parcels cooked in banana leaf with a cone of steamed rice. It is sublime and quite delicious. The ice cold beer is good too.

Dharma Ya Zi Ka Pagoda, Bagan, Burma

So, I sit here on a bamboo chair in a thatched roof open air shop, mosquito central as sunset approaches. I get a Coca Cola Zero as there is no beer and a paper fan to shoo away the little flying critters that are ready for a sunset feast on my very pale foreign skin.


As people drive by on scooters, the shopkeeper asks if they want Coca Cola or water. Her stock comprises a polystyrene chest with some previously chilled soft drinks and a few tee shirts, half heartedly hung along a washing line at the front of the shack. This is really not the sort of place where you’d remind yourself you needed a tee shirt. There is a sugar cane extractor, no sign of any sugar cane though and I am not sure that I’d risk sugar cane juice as rumours that abound in India of the the cane being soaked in non-potable water are now in my psyche. First world wuss. 



There is some music playing, locals hum along. Then some speech. Not sure who. And back to the rather anthem-like music. 

A six year old, okay he may have been eight, drives by on a scooter with a passenger riding pillion. Cars and taxis deposit tourists near the temple that’s considered prime for sunset. More local looking sightseers pile out of a shared pick up truck, similar to a Thai song thiew. There are too many to count, but I estimate there were at least twenty people getting out of it and going into the temple precinct. 

I am a bit of an attraction sitting here, but not sufficiently so for the herd of golden labrador coloured cattle to deviate from their route home. A man comes by for some betal nut. The shopkeeper goes to a little wooden stand that I had not even noticed, paints the paan leaves with a whiteish gum, drops a few crumbled herbs (or is it tobacco?) on the leaves, then crushed betal nuts. The leaves are rolled up into little cylinders and neatly packed into a small cellophane bag. A lot of people in this country chew betal nut, judging by the number of red stained teeth you see. In fact, dentistry looks like it is not high up the list of priorities here.




A couple of horse carts go past – these are a popular way of seeing the temples at Bagan. Then the tuk tuk laden with the twenty odd people leaving the temple. Some of the shopkeeper’s colleagues or friends sit behind – it smells as if they are eating noodles, enough to make me very peckish. A dog wanders towards me – it’s been thrown a crust by a tourist and wolfed into it nervously. It really could do with a good meal and, probably, some worming tablets. I am really cross with myself for having thrown a croissant in the bin earlier and not having thought to bring it with me to fling to a dog along the way. Or a bird – three jay like birds are having a scrap over a scrap. 


The shack shops opposite are taking in their stock. Stalls are packed away, tee shirts are folded up, there’s a bit of what sounds like banter exchanged between traders – I suspect they may all be related or from the same family. Their stock is fairly similar. 
I become an end of day opportunity, not the washing line of tee shirts, but a concertinaed set of postcards, some tourist DVDs and a copy of George Orwell’s “Burmese Days” appear from nowhere and I am given a sales pitch. I don’t buy, but now I wish that I had. The shack is in quite an apparently good location, but most people just drive up to the  temple for the sunset view and then beat a hasty retreat. It is low season, it is a poor country for those without connections, me buying a copy of that book may have made a difference to them that day. But I did not. 



Time to pay the bill and take a quick sunset look at the golden pagoda…..

Bangkok, last summer, written during the Qatar Airways flights, reminiscing about the posher days of air travel in the 1960s & 1970s

This was written in August 2015 onboard a Qatar Airways duo of flights, shortly after a bomb had killed some worshippers at a shrine in Bangkok, as we were heading there for what was another fabulous Thai holiday. The next one is just weeks away…..

Well, it’s got travel in the title and that what’s happening now. I am reminded of 1976, a summer holiday trip as a sixteen year old to America for its Bicentennial and my dad, fairly well travelled by that time, saying that he never imagined as a child in the 1930s/1940s that he would ever travel on an aircraft. I think he said it during that fight, also confessing to his earlier fears of leaving his seat during a flight in case it upset the balance of the aircraft and threw it into freefall spin.

This was an escape from the great drought of 1976 and should have been  a flight to Toronto which got diverted to Detroit or somewhere nearby because the Canadian air traffic controllers were refusing to speak English in the lead up to the Montreal Olympics, and international  flights were all diverted into USA airports. We travelled under police escort in coaches to Toronto (only for us then to double back on ourselves as we were heading to Ohio for 4 July Bicentennial celebrations). I have always been a fan of protest, quite liking that the air traffic controllers were using the summer Olympics to protest – a bit of a fail though as I think they still have to land those iron birds in English.

Oh now, it’s the third flight of the year east. I live in East London and like being east so much that travel plans usually head in that direction too. Why change what is good?

The event of travel has changed so much. It really was a big deal then. In the 1960s, as a child, I would get a new outfit for a flight to the USA. So would my mum – I have a recollection of her at Heathrow, back in the day when it was called London Airport, in a dress and matching coat, looking not unlike Jackie Kennedy (before she was Onassis). There was a large silver purple stoned brooch which set off the orange and purple striped dress (I still have the brooch). So, looking like we were dressed as guests at a wedding, we would get onto our Pan Am, TWA or Aer Lingus flights. 

The Aer Lingus flights stopped off in Shannon, famous back in the day for its duty free hall, huge blocks of Kerrygold cheese and smoked bacon. I expect it did a line in alcohol too, but I have no recollection (and probably had no idea what alcohol was then – gasp; who can believe that?). I recall a Pan Am flight where mum asked for an orange juice for me and they said that orange juice was reserved for vodka-orange cocktails. Glad they went bust, payback for denying me a juice. I think they gave me 5 cigarettes with my inflight meal though – I mean, I was about seven or eight. It wasn’t a special children’s meal, just the regular meal which came with five fags for everyone.

So, back to now. You travel in comfy clothes, you do not dress up, you pray unsuccessfully to the upgrade gods as you queue to check in, unless you are checking into that once a year Christmas treat flight that you have cashed in all your air miles for plus paid a top up fortune to travel club class, and go through the ordeal of mad security overkill airports, seeking an hour or two of escape in an airport lounge with a bit of gin and some olives, assaulted by shopping opportunities that tempt you to give up your hard earned for a premium brand handbag at 20% discount. You have been at work all day before you get to the airport, doing your holiday notes for your colleagues, keeping your fingers crossed that there is not a work crisis that day as your fuzzy brain didn’t get to bed until at least 2.30am the evening before as you packed and went round the house switching off various appliances that you think will otherwise spontaneously combust, hoping the Piccadilly Line will not fail you, sending last minute texts to neighbours in the hope that they will keep a better eye on the house than the emergency service linked burglar alarm can do.

And then, you step onto the aircraft, entering the world of well groomed and shiny aircrew, finding the bijou space which will be yours for the next 6, 8 or 12 hours. Depending upon the quality of the airline you have got your deal on, you may get a copy of Hello Magazine or a hot towel before takeoff or a boiled sweetie. Perhaps a glass of champagne or some Armagnac after dinner. Or not.

And, 16 hours later, after a short stop in Doha, you’ll be there, the City of Smiles, Bangkok, just a few days after the city was rocked by a major bomb blast. As ever, we are thrilled and privileged to arrive here.

Friday 12 August 2016

In a surreal twist, having delayed posting this by almost a year, yesterday and today there have been more bombs, causing death and injury in Thailand. My thoughts are with the affected. The country’s tourist economy will be rocked still further. A real catastrophe in a country where tourism supports a significant percentage of the population and their families.
I am still looking forward to five days in Thailand in the next few weeks. Others will be put off though.

We’re jammin’, we’re jammin’, we’re jammin’ 

It’s a wee bit early for jam making, but I wasn’t really too sure what else to do with these two punnets of blackcurrants. Of course, I had to eat some and that meant less than the 300 grams they started out. Then some weight loss removing the stalks and hairy bit at the other end. 

But, if you have 300g, a clean boiled jam jar, and about 35 minutes to spare: 

Quick jar of blackcurrant jam. 300g fruit, about 200ml water, simmer til liquid begins to reduce, add 300g sugar, boil. 

Delicious as dip for a plain ring dooughnut. Or for an out of season toasted hot cross bun

Time for some bag stuff……

Well, I thought that this blog would combine, as its name suggests, a bit of stuff about bags and a bit of stuff about travel, both slight obsessions on my part. But trying to work in a bit about handbags is not quite as easy – I could show the bags that I have bought on my travels as I usually come back with a pile of them, locally sourced, local designs and manufacturers whose styles will work back in London. A bit too show and tell. Limited interest too as I think handbag obsessives are a bit anoraky or possibly show up on spectrum disorder charts, rearranging their collections by size, brand or colour. Closet librarians too. 

But, I have discovered a group on social media, specifically where people can swap and sell a particular brand of handbag. It just popped up as a suggested group and, bingo, I have been sucked right in. There are a few ground rules, no fakes or you are banned, honest descriptions with faults identified, first person to offer the price gets to buy. For selling or swap offers, no self promotion or bumping the thread to the top of the list. It seems to work and no one tries to be too subversive. 

It is a cathedral of understanding there. People understand the need to top up the collection, and ooh and ahh at individual photos of new purchases or a single photo of an entire collection. I am noticing that quite a few collections follow a similar colour palette – I am wondering whether this makes me a bit odd as I buy a mix of colours, whatever colour takes my fancy. And the number of bags and purses which some people have acquired definitely gives me rank amateur status.  As a slightly competitive obsessive, I may have a bit of serious catching up to do. But I am not a single brand sort of person, which makes me wonder if these major players  also  belong to  other  groups too and can display an equal quantity of different brands. I really am an amateur.

But, I am learning more about the brand, picking up knowledge about discontinued styles, limited edition colours or leathers. I may yet become good enough to go on Mastermind. And, such a nice bunch of people too, happy, jolly and helpful, a good standard of literacy too compared to some of the other social media groups to which I belong. Oh dear, that does sound a bit snooty! Dyslexia aside, perhaps there is a correlation between the ability to write a sentence or to run spellcheck and the earning capacity to fund the purchase of bags at up to a grand a pop. Perhaps our educators could improve literacy standards by sternly reminding the kids they teach about this little observation. Stick in at your spelling and punctuation and you shall be rewarded with designer handbags opportunities. 

Disappointingly, there seem to be no men as members of this group, well none that seem brave enough to post updates or comments.  Members happily report the thoughtful surprise gifts bought by their partners and husbands, but the men seem to stay well away from this group. It is spectacularly female. And quite fast and witty – poor old Madonna had a bit of a stage prang involving a costume, on a live awards ceremony broadcast too. Within a flash, someone had posted an advert for the sale of a cloak whose neck fastener needed some attention, potential buyers to contact Madge.  



The advantages of a fractured ankle….

There seem to be few that I can think of. Being tied, figuratively rather than literally, to the sofa is not the most enjoyable experience of one’s life. Whilst not exactly longing for the the crush of the daily fight that is known as the Central Line, I am, strangely, missing the morning tactics involved in deciding whether or not to get on that tube or to wait for the next one. Risk analysis in action.

Of course, when normal Central Line service is resumed, I shall perhaps look back fondly at these sofa days.

Armchair travel can be quite a big thing for us all. Armed with a subscription copy of Conde Nast Traveller, I am readily transported to the finest hotels in the most exotic locations, the adverts for non-travel related luxury goods only adding to my armchair luxury lifestyle. A digital edition of National Geographic makes me feel quite worthy and, despite its relative lack of luxury escape, can also send me in a direction of travel (oh, how I am missing management speak too, who’d have thought?). Unable to get to the front door without a bit of effort, I can be experiencing what’s new in shopping in Delhi, restaurants in Oregon and hotels in Frankfurt.

And the reality is only the touchscreen click of finger away. That plus a credit card.

The sofa days have provided a good opportunity to book trips for the summer and next Christmas and to finalise the hotels for a trip at Easter (the orthopod assures me all will be fine then), but these are all things that I would have done later on in the year and would actually have enjoyed chasing down the best deal then rather than now.  

And dealing with insurers has been a revelation. I knew that I would have to let them know about this incident, ironically having managed to get myself back to Heathrow in one piece saved them a fortune on the previous trip. I waited to call them until after the visit to the fracture  clinic so I could give them details of the most recent x-Ray situation and report back what the orthopod had said in reply to my direct question about whether it would be healed for the forthcoming trip. My very friendly insurers were happy with that advice, do not require it in writing, and will cover the trip because it was booked before the incident.

And then the insurers ask the killer question – have you booked anything since this incident? Oh yes, a flight in August to Bangkok with a side trip to Burma to be arranged and I have booked a trip to India at Christmas (and have booked same airline, same dates, same accommodation as the recent fateful trip, joking to the orthopaedic consultant that I should book an appointment with him in a year too just in case I fall down the same pothole). The nice friendly insurers say that they cannot cover me for these future trips because I have booked them during the currency of a fractured ankle. They can charge me £x amount now as a policy excess charge which will cover me. I point out that they are covering me for a trip at Easter, about 4 and 8 months before the trips for which they will not cover me. I have a fractured ankle. Fractured ankles usually heal. I confirm that I am not awaiting surgery for this fracture either. The ankle is expected to be better by Easter. A fracture does not usually recur unlike some other medical conditions.

They do a bit of computer jiggling and put me on hold. Yippee. As long as the fractured ankle has healed by the time that I go on either of these future trips, they will cover me for any trouble I land myself in (or new pothole into which I fall). Unless I am travelling against medical advice.  There is no need to confirm anything in writing and they do not require any medical certification. She laughs when I remind her how much money I probably saved them on the last trip by deliberately not seeking medical attention there, having successfully self-diagnosed what was wrong, adding that I was only thinking of them!  

So, back to the sofa to start mugging up on Mandalay and Bagan or Yangon. Nice choices to make.

 

The perfect strawberry daiquiri at sunset or later

Roll up, roll up. This is a challenge and a half. They are all good, all three, almost neck and neck, but I have to make a decision and pick one out, probably by, er, necking a few more of them down.

Something a bit Alice about this challenge. Drink me. Drink me.

Every day, I see the man on the beach who sells trays of strawberries, walking from beach shack to beach shack, selling to the kitchen staff and to those in charge of the cocktails.  Occasionally, sun worshippers, often strawberry pink themselves, respond to the passing call of ‘strawberries, strawberries’ and buy a box to enjoy at their sunbed. Me, I wait.

I wait until sunset approaches. It wouldn’t be decent any earlier. As part of the preparation, a decision has to be taken from a sunbed, whether to stay and slink up to a table at that shack just ahead of the sunset, predicting the time when it will not be too late to get a table facing right out to sea and the sunset, or whether to go elsewhere, not knowing how many other people have decided to go there too. Tough holiday decisions, I know.

The classic sunset choice has to be Boom Shankar at Colomb Bay, a ten minute stroll along the beach from Patnem, not allowing for distractions en route. There is a bit of a stampede for the tables overlooking the bay as the sunset view is one of the better sunset views on this planet, even without a strawberry daiquiri to mark it. But timing is all and it’s a bit uncool to be the first there. But you don’t really want to be sitting further back as you just don’t get the full panorama. There’s a happy hour too – I think you get a 20 rupee saving per cocktail. Not much to write home about, but an approximately 15% discount does equate to one free in eight, far better than a Cafe Nero coffee loyalty card. Boom Shankar, the undisputed original purveyor of the strawberry daiquiri in the area. A frozen cocktail, served, overfilled, in an old fashioned glass – you have to make a quick start on it before the overfill starts to melt and soaks the tablecloth. It is difficult not to make a quick start though. Rich in crushed strawberry content, I used to think this was the best in the world, easily beating a Manhattan bar’s offering at almost ten times the cost. But it is a bit like a grown up slush puppy, a bit on the sugary side, fairly light on the white rum taste. The view is unsurpassable though, more so  if there are a couple of local kids having fun and messing about in a rowing boat on the bay when the sun sinks to its final levels.

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The second strawberry daiquiri in my top three is from Tantra, a Patnem institution with welcoming staff and, in the style of Cheers, a bar where everyone knows your name. I am not sure how they know my name, but they do. Definitely like being in your local, even if the view and setting is a million miles away from any local hostelry in this city. Served in a large tulip shaped stemmed glass, packed with strawberry purée and any strawberry lumps which have got stuck in the chopping blades of the blender, there is a good acidic kick from the squeezed limes too. An underlying taste of white rum finishes this one off nicely. You sometimes get a strawberry pushed onto the rim of the glass, not quite as often though later in the evening. I think they get so busy that they forget. Occasionally, depending upon the number of tulip shaped glasses already in use, it’s served in a highball glass. The combination of the sharp limes and the rich strawberry content make this one feel like a health drink, not at all sweet as far as cocktails go, and it is rude not to have a second. I don’t think I’ve ever had one of these as a sundowner though – it tends to be a gin and tonic or a beer as it would feel a bit too Del Boy to have a cocktail there that early! No photos of a strawberry daiquiri here though as it’s always a later evening drink, just a sunset view of the local lifeguard hard at work and a boat watching the sunset.

396575_316252901752020_1446787145_n[1] From phone 750

For beauty and looks, head to April 20. A fine strawberry daiquiri, the most expensive of the trio, served in a classic cocktail glass, always with a large whole strawberry set into the rim of the glass. Elegance in a glass.  This is one to contemplate before sipping. No rustic lumps of strawberry left behind in the purée, a good balance of flavours and a high rum content too. Not overly sweet, but missing the contrast of the sharpness of the limes marks it down just a notch from Tantra’s offering. Again, it is difficult not to have a second. This one feels wholly appropriate at sunset, an upmarket restaurant feel rather than a beach shack, looking out across the beach, maybe an on the hoof football kick about taking place, a standoff of local dogs seeing who can bark the loudest or a show-off doing some beach yoga poses or a bit of juggling. And, occasionally, a sunset to die for, not perhaps quite as breath taking scenery as that from Boom Shankar.

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So, there are winners all round. Boom Shankar for the setting, Tantra for the taste, and April 20 for the presentation and style. And they do all taste fabulous in their different ways.

I may think about tasting some others next visit, purely in the interests of my research.

Bagging a tiger (Or, with apologies to Michael Rosen, We’re Going On A Tiger Hunt)

Well, no one expected it to be easy. These big cats are just about as rare as hens’ teeth, even if recently published statistics show a very slight increase in their numbers throughout India.

It is probably not the best time of year for tiger spotting, nor quite the best place either, and the thought of a week or two’s sunshine and lazing on a Goan beach helps push the tiger mission towards the recesses of my mind. I can imagine one of those tigers rather enjoying a bit of sun basking too, perhaps not on my beach though. But the time comes to leave the beach and head out to the boonies and to keep our eyes pealed.

Driving through the Western Ghats is exciting, a mix of countryside and forest, a lot of anticipation. I am ready to shoot at any point – you don’t want to miss the opportunity. Our driver says that there are big cats in these forests, that people he knows (or knows of, more likely) have seen them. I think we are getting a tall tale. If they are inside the forest today, they are staying there firmly and avoiding straying onto the roadside. The only wildlife that we see from the car is a rabbit and I am not going to bother shooting it. To be fair, there are a few troops of monkeys along the roadside, probably trying to look cute in the hope of being thrown a few treat bananas from a passing vehicle. Otherwise we see only domesticated animals, goats, dogs, and oxen. Where are those tigers? I know they are there. Come on, just pop your head through and make yourself known so I can shoot you quickly. We give up. Well, at least until tomorrow.

Tomorrow becomes today and we are all over Hampi, driving to every corner of the temple complex, shooting away, but keeping a serious lookout for one of these big cats. Surely there must be one here? We spend all day driving and looking and, finally, in a split second, approaching sunset, I see one, not even in hiding. In the car park no less. I get a great shot.

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Having come to India to see a tiger, it seems unlikely that there will be more. But, never one to give up too easily, we watch the road on the way back  like hawks. Nothing gets past us. But no big cats. After about 4 hours, we decide to stop for a drink and, blow me down, if the little roadside café doesn’t have exactly what we had been looking for, right by the counter, guarding the Fanta. Lean and mean, staring right at me. This really is too good to be true. Another shot.

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And so, it is off to Bombay, two tigers bagged in the space of a few days. This is really a high water mark and I do not expect any more sightings, especially in the city. An early afternoon taxi safari from The Taj Mahal Palace to The Four Seasons is a bit of adventure, jolting along in stop start traffic. Unexpectedly, a big cat. There, right in the city, looking out from the parcel shelf of a car, the driver quite possibly unaware of its presence and any danger posed. A tiger in a traffic jam. I manage to shoot it from the backseat of my safari vehicle. .

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Exhausted and overcome by the sight of three big cats, three more than I was really expecting if truth be told, I know that there can be no more. I decide to shoot other things with the Nikon instead. I think that city bus destination signs will make for an interesting set of photos, but cannot get out there and shoot these (twisted ankle, feels like it has been caught in a gin trap, turns out to be fractured) but I do get a totally unexpected bonus sighting, a tiger on the windscreen of a school van, parked just outside the hotel. A final shot.

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And then, gin and tonic in hand, the fascinating news that the tiger population in India is really on the increase, up about 30% in the last three years. Way to go. But possibly why I have seen quite so many.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/20/india-tiger-population-increases-endangered-species

Patnem Beach Road, Goa, a place where little happens

Patnem Beach Road is somewhere where nothing really happens, the narrow road leading between the main road, itself a small road, and the steps down to the beach. A place for tuk tuks to wait for people heading off to another beach or into nearby Chaudhi for an ATM or a pharmacy.  But, the more you walk up and down this little road, the more you notice and the more that does actually seem to happen in a very small understated way. 


Early morning, it’s more or less all closed, just an optimistic tuk tuk driver or two hoping that you want a tuk tuk in the opposite direction to which you are walking. Sleeping dogs. There are always sleeping dogs. The little shops which have evolved along much of the road are still closed, covered up in heavy duty plastic sheeting, often bright blue, the occasional flower garland or lime and chilli combo hanging from a rusty nail, vibrant in the early morning sunshine and against the blue plasticised background. The shopkeepers will remove the plastic later, also then beginning their almost constant task of sprinkling water on the road in front of their establishments to reduce the sand and dust. One or two of the posher shops have hardboard doors instead of plastic sheeting or even some windows.

Sometimes, the laundry/tailor opens fairly early and the tailor always has time to look up from his sewing machine outside and say good morning to any passers by. His wife, the launderer, decorates the threshold each morning with a ringoli, first of all chalking an outline of the pattern for that day, then neatly dropping differently coloured sands into the correct area to form a beautifully complex patterned graphic on the ground, all from sand and swept away at the end of each day. She is such an artist, so modest about her creations too. I always intend to make a photo collage from ringolis across the years when  I get home, but just never seem to get around to it. 

And this year, for the first time, a fruit shop too. Two actually. One is more of a stall than a shop, but its entrepreneurial owner offers a sideline in laundry.  The shop further along the road makes its entrepreneurial statement with a juice extractor to supply ready whizzed concoctions to those who have become too beach lazy to peel their own fruit or to eat it whole. 

On New Year’s Day morning, I noticed one of the traders burning a lamp just opposite his shop, part of a religious ritual and not one that I had come across previously. He was quite happy for it to be photographed. 

And the bigger tailoring shop closer to the beach steps has a quite scary display collection of dummies dressed in examples of the available tailoring. Some of the clothing would not look out of place as stage costumes in a retro 1970s pop opera, pure Jesus Christ Superstar or Hair! Still, there must be a market.

And some evil road potholes, a fall into one of which caused me to fracture my ankle. Boo hoo. 

But, otherwise, nothing really happens here, nothing much at all.