Friday, November 28, 2014

Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up With the World's Most Powerful Man.
Nick Davies
448 pages
Faber & Faber 
ISBN: 9780865478817

Hack Attack is Nick Davies'account how he spent years researching the full truth of the phone hacking scandal. He exposes the obfuscations, cover ups and outright lies not just by News of the World and News International (Murdoch's UK arm of his media company) but also those in the police, politics and even the Department of Prosecution.

On the surface it's a crime story. One of criminal behaviour and and the attempt to cover it all up. And that alone makes compelling reading But beneath that is a cautionary tale about the downsize of global free trade. What happens when a company becomes too powerful and generates fear among those who should be watching and regulating them: Government and law enforcement.

While the Leveson enquiry uncovered a lot of the wrongdoing and criminality inside Murdoch's UK division, those at the top who are ultimately responsible for the running of that company escaped pretty much without penalty

Ultimately Hack Attack is quite chilling. What happens when a large company operates in a moral vacuum. The attitude at News International, from the top down was (and possibly still is, succeed, lift circulation, boost profits and do whatever you can to grind opposition into the ground, no matter what the cost.. And that cost is very high. The trail is littered with lives destroyed, families shattered, careers ruined and lives lost.

Reading the book I kept asking myself. Did these people have any conscience? It appears not. Hacking the cell phone of a murdered child. Targeting those who tried to stand up to them by threatening them with exposure of some past indiscretion, whether real or fabricated.

Even while Murdoch was facing the Leveson enquiry there were back channels in the government trying to aid him in his endeavour to become the biggest broadcaster in the Uk 2nd only to the BBC in his attempt to completely take over BSkyB, Britain's pay tv provider. That he was unsuccessful is a small victory.

If I was able to be in a room with Murdoch and just ask one question, it would be. Does he have a conscience? Does he care about those whose live have been ruined in his company's relentless pursuit of profit?

I think the most breathtaking thing about it is Murdoch's sole motivation appears to be expansion. His desire to Influence governments has no idealism. It's about supporting the political party who will best enable him to become bigger..

How big is big enough? It's never big enough. Own the universe and they'd still want more.

The thing is if it wasn't Murdoch it would probably be someone else.

I think the old Chinese Curse "may yo live in interesting times" may have come to fruition.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book Review: ST KILDA BLUES Geoffrey McGeachin

Paperback304 pages
Published May 23rd 2014 by Penguin Books Australia

The 3rd in the Charlie Berlin series. Geoffrey McGeachin is a two-time Ned Kelly Award winner so I had high expectations for this book.

Set in Melbourne in 1967, there was a lot to like about it. Lots of references to places and things that were part of my adolescence. Charlie's two children are now pretty much grown up. His daughter is in Israel discovering her Jewish heritage and his troublesome son is serving in Vietnam.

The daughter of a wealthy German builder goes missing and Charlie, who is on the outer with the powers that be is asked to do an unofficial investigation. All this is done to the backdrop of an enquiry into police corruption and Charlie isn't sure he can trust his partner. He also comes to believe that the girl's disappearance may be connected to the deaths of some other girls. Could Melbourne have its first serial killer?

Add to the mix the fact that Charlie thinks he recognises the missing girl's father. During the war he witnessed an SS Officer execute a young girl. The officer had a missing middle singer and so does the father of the girl.

Geoffrey McGeachin is a two-time Ned Kelly Award winner so I had high expectations for this book.

I found myself somewhat disappointed in a few aspects of ST KILDA BLUES. It started promisingly enough with dual threads of both Charlie and the background of the yet un-named killer. The investigation for the most part was fine. However, I guessed whodunit quite some time before it was revealed and the end of the investigation felt rushed and not really satisfactorily resolved. 

There was also a plot line added after the reveal of the murderer that had Charlie and his wife travel to Israel and Germany. This came after the main plot and felt tacked on. It certainly had nothing to do with the main storyline. It's a pity that couldn't have been woven into the investigation somehow as the information was fairly interesting but totally irrelevant to to the rest of the book.

So we had the main investigation, the corruption of police, the question whether or not the father of the missing girl was a war criminal and a thread involving travel. I won't say the purpose of that exactly because that would be a spoiler, but all in all there was perhaps a little too much going on in the book that weren't directly related to one another and justice really wasn't done to any of them.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

TO the spammer who leaves a comment every day.

STOP NOW. I'm never going to approve those ridiculous comments advertising whatever. Every morning without fail there is yet another one. Does this nonsense work? I don't see how. I wish there was a way to stop it.

If there are any marketing experts out there I'd love to learn how anyone thinks this is how to promote stuff.

That is all.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Welcome to Sri Lanka and victims of a scam.

Arrived in Sri Lanka at some ungodly hour of the morning. Made more tedious by the fact that I was still feeling unwell and had transposed 2 numbers on my visa application when filling InPassport details.  After many minutes of scrutinising immigration  sent me back to an office where I sat with other similarly blighted souls. Eventually I was told Id have to submit a new application and take it to the counter. This all took an extra half hour by which time Mick and Bern had collected all the luggage fortunately. At last released from the clutches of the airport we met our guide, Janaka.

A couple of hours rest, lunch in the dining room of our hotel which overlooked the harbour and time to venture out into this new country.

I suppose it had to happen at some stage.

Sunday afternoon in Colombo.   The place pretty much shuts down so it was pretty quiet. And hot. We were appreciating that the street was quiet and that it was actually clean with no open drains, no smell of stale urine and actually a footpath. We were standing on a corner debating which way to go, waving away tuk tuk drivers who were very persistent; probably the most we've been pestered all trip when a gent came over to us, asked if he could help. He offered some suggestions where we could go for sightseeing.  He talked about gemstones and how he knew a place that had good ones and they were having an exhibition and it was worth going. We thanked him politely and told him we weren't interested and he went on his way.

We kept walking and not long after another guy approached  and asked us if we were staying at the Oriental Grand.  "Don't you remember me? I was on the front desk."  We didn't but not surprising as we had been exhausted after a sleepless night.

He said there was a nice park nearby and he was going in that direction anyway.  He'd show us and set off at a clip.  He was a bit ahead of us and was talking to Bernadette telling her he had relatives in Australia. I missed chunks of the conversation so didn't pick up on everything. Next thing there was a tuk tuk and they were getting in.  I was a bit suspicious but said nothing. After showing us a Buddhist temple and asking us to put 1000 rupee in the donation box (still suspicious but the donation box was genuine and it was a Buddhist temple, he began telling us about this gemstone exhibition alarm bells were ringing.
We went there and yes, the jewellery was stunning (and expensive) as we got the hard sell. It all fell on stones ground and we left them no better off financially than when we arrived.after that our "helpful" friend lost interest in us and dropped us off near our hotel.  Then demanded 4,000 rupees for their trouble! That's between 30 and 40$ no way!  For the distance 500 would have been generous.  I told him I want paying test much. Our guide expressed outrage that theis price was being rejected and the driver feigned anger. "  $40. Not paying that"

"Madam, this is Sri Lanka. Rupees not $"
Still the same amount though and I wasn't paying it.
As it happens the QE2 is here filled to the gunwhales with well heeled passengers who may have thought $40 was nothing. By this time I was very cross that not only had we been scammed but they wanted so much money for not very much service which we hadn't wanted anyway. And told these two that there might be some rich QE2 tourists about but we weren't among them and just because we were visiting their country didn't mean we had wads of cash to throw around. In the end Bernadette face them 2000 rupees, about half they were demanding. And they went off probably happy. I wasn't though.  Told her she had  been generous. Bern said it was worth it just to be rid of them. I'd probably gave continued to haggle these scam artists. I'm convinced though that we'd been tagg teamed and that the first helpful gent who went merrily on hiis way will get a cut.

As for Tony who claimed to work here. I mused out loud whether to report him to the hotel but the others vetoed this saying his mates might work here and we didn't want our possessions interfered with.  We check out today and begin our tour with our guide who is a lovely man whose none begins with a J which none of us can remember.  If I see "Tony" on duty though there may be words said.

In the end, it's all part of the experience.  It only cost us $20. Or at least Bernadette $20. If it was up to me, I may well have been still standing in the street haggling over the cost of their scam.

It's Groundhog Day in hell

Ok. Here's the thing. India is insane and it makes travellers insane too.
We had a 6.35 flight from Goa. If we thought the system there was confusing it was nothing compared to Mumbai International departures.

We fumbled out way through Goa and got on the right plane by sheer good luck I think. We landed in Mumbai where luckily we didn't have to check our bags. They're going right through. We hope.  So off the plane and into a line for international transfers. It moved slowly as hand luggage had to be screened before getting onto the transfer bus.  Then a jolly 20 minute ride through Mumbai. Feeling rather smug right now because after all we had plenty of time. We hadn't eaten since about 8 am but once through customs, security and immigration we had time to spare.
The bus deposited us in the road outside the terminal which had us wondering about the point of security screening before getting on the bus.

Mumbai international is an impressive building but that's about the only thing that is.  We couldn't see any signage so we asked.  That way said helpful lady on information desk.  We trudged over to security where a very chatty lass patted us down and waved us through. Right we thought plenty of time we'll have a quick look at duty free and time to eat. That was nearly 2 1/2 hours ago. We still haven't eaten.

What's the problem?immigration that's what.  We rocked up after a brisk 15 minutes in a glacier like speeding queue. Only to be told our flight isn't in the system yet.  Come back at  10. Only 10 minutes away. What the hell.we got back in line at the end of the queue again. Flight not in system. I was told 11. Bernadette told midnight. We waited some more. Then a man in airline uniform assured our flight Was in the system .back in queue once more. Flight not in system. 3 times now.  We talked to 2 English girls whose flight was apparently about to board who weren't allowed through because flight not in system.

So here we sit in no mans land between security and immigration. We can't go forward and we are told we can't go back out either. There are no toilets in this airport twilight zone hell and we are starving. We are debating whether to get back into the ever increasingly long line.  Oh . And there is no way of finding out if your flight is in the system unless you get in line.  So do we get in line for the 4th time and hope like hell that by the time we get to the front our flight will be there or do we wait until midnight and hope likehell that we don't miss our flight because it's taken so long in line.  It's beginning to feel like Groundhog Day. This way lies insanity.

Update. We got through on 4th go in the line. Even then Bernadette and I went through and the bloke Mick copped tried to tell him flight not in system. Mick muttered something about how many times he'd been in the line and pointed to us waiting on the other side. Man left his booth without explanation while I watched steam come out of Micks ears. Then he came back and stamped his passport. At last. Goodbye India. Leaving the country proved to be more frustrating then getting the visa to go there. And that's saying something.

Oh and the squits returned last night. Siiigh

Sent from my iPad

Sleeping (or not) on a train and swimming pools in Goa

The overnight train from Mumbai to Goa was uneventful.  Sleeping on a train if you're not paying an arm and a leg is never going to be particularly restful, but when you have a little man going up and down saying "coffee, coffee" at regular intervals it becomes almost impossible.  By the time the sun came up I was ready to murder him.

We alighted around 9am hot and tired and boarded a bus for our hotel.   At this point in time all anyone wanted was to get to the hotel and rest. But it was not to be yet.  It was a fairly long drive punctuated by a visit to a local fish market and a vegie market. After several weeks we arrived at our hotel and flopped down in chairs for the usual ritual of handing out of keys.  Rooms, refreshing showers and beds would soon be ours.  But no.  This hotel didn't do things that way. We had to check in one by one, fill out forms and give our passport details. After several months we finally got to our rooms.  A demonstration cooking Goan fish curry for lunch. Not sure how enthused everyone was about this. Tiredness had taken its toll.

 After a short walk to the beach it was decided  to hit the swimming pool as the sand was so hot you felt your feet cooking.  There was also a little bit of an undertow.  Never has a pool been more welcome.
Evening meal came with entertainment. 3 African acrobats.  Given the limitations of space and budget they were very impressive.

The pool was the main attraction of this stay, interrupted the next day by a visit to a couple of Old Goan Churches with a guide whose English was almost incomprehensible.  He gave us facts and figures I suppose but as we couldn't understand a word he said we have no idea what they might be. We just nodded from time to time.

A visit to a spice garden was considerably more informative. The young woman walked us around the exhibition garden.  We learned that the apple part of the cashew nut is made into alcohol named Feni (or fenny as our hotel cocktail menu called it.). A tasty lunch and back to the main attraction: the pool!

That evening we had our farewell dinner, followed by cocktails at one of the beach bars
 With Ravi keeping us all entertained with stories.  It had been a fun two weeks with wonderful travelling companions.  A very harmonious group who were missed on the next leg of our trip.

Early morning starts and high tea in Mumbai

What can be said about early morning starts? 5 am should not be allowed to exist.  We had a flight to Mumbai.  The hotel had thoughtfully supplied breakfast in a brown paper bag. It consisted of 2 hard boiled eggs, a very  sugary fruit drink and a cheese sandwich.

A word about cheese and the Indian subcontinent. Apart from curd and paneer they don't really do cheese.  So forget about vintage cheddars, camembert or a nice stilton, in this part of the world cheese means that shiny bland plastic wrapped cheese slice found in kids' lunch boxes.

The flight was uneventful, thanks we suspect in large part to Ravi who we came to realise was swanlike in his endeavours.  Calm on the surface but paddling furiously underneath where no one could see.

Mumbai. Largest city in India with a population roughly the size of Australia's.  If we thought Delhi was noisy , it had nothing on the horn honking of Mumbai.   Melbourne taxi drivers of Indian extraction have my respect if they ever drove a taxi in Mumbai.  Melbourne must be a doddle in comparison. Nerves of steel, the reflexes of a cat and the ability to practically make conversation with a car horn are all essentials for taxi driving in Mumbai.

The thing that makes Mumbai a bit easier for tourists than New Delhi is that the streets are wider and are all named.  We will remember Mumbai for a couple of institutions; both involving food and drink.  The first is Leopolds cafe.  It's decorated in a rather quirky 50s style.  Apparently it has been around since the 1890s.  The other is the hotel The Taj Palace which shot to world fame as being the site  of that infamous terrorist attack a few years ago.  This is a pity because it truly is magnificent and apparently the owner has a policy of admitting just about everyone regardless of scruffiness because he himself was once refused admission to an upmarket hotel, which is how we came to be enjoying that most British of Institutions; a high tea.  The room overlooked another famous Mumbai landmark, the India Gate and the Water.   When you think of high tea it calls to mind cucumber sandwiches, scones, jam and cream and perhaps a couple of cakes. There was that.....then the buffet. Never seen so much food. Decisions, decisions.  We made such pigs of ourselves that we disappointed Ravi somewhat that evening by barely touching the food he had ordered at the kebab place he took us to. It looked nothing special. Very basic indeed but we were told from 11.30 pm or so you could see Bollywood stars roll up in their fancy cars and order meals to go.

Another specialty of the place is goat brains. This didn't really appeal. The texture rather than the flavour as it was sort of mashed and rather gelatinous in texture.  I have never seen someone shovel down a dish with as much gusto as Ravi.  Funnily enough he made little effort to persuade us to try  this dish and once one plate was consumed he would order us another which he would then eat.  Good to see a man enjoying his grub  even if it us spiced mooshed up goat brains.

Back to the hotel for a late night departure on the train to Goa.  But oh no.  Dan had bought a painting. Admittedly not a very expensive one but he had left it at the kebab place.  Much drama ensued as a taxi driver was despatched to retrieve it. But alas despite a phone call to explain the situation the cafe  people wouldn't give it to the driver so Dan and Emma set off in the taxi to retrieve it.  I don't know what the whole exercise cost him but it must have added significantly to the cost of the painting.  This became something of an albatross around his neck as for the rest of the trip he was constantly asked by group members if he had rembered his painting.

Henna, retail therapy and a pool!

Our stay in Udaipur was one of the most atmospheric to date. Our hotel overlooked the lake and the rooftop swimming pool also with a lake view was brilliant.

We did a vegetable market walk with the bloke who was to conduct our cooking class the next day. He swaggered around the market ordering this and that,taking samples for us to try at will and had his assistant, a tiny man who must have been all of 5 foot in his shoes racing about after him.  Our cook had a little book. It was a child's cardboard picture book with photos of vegetables in it with their names in English.  But it was his little Igor- like assistant who caught our imagination. Whatever the cook paid this little man it probably wasn't enough. One can only hope that one day the little man will have a kitchen of his own to work in.

When you travel you do tend to get a bit jaundiced and cynical about things with labels like "cultural show" so despite Ravi's assurances that this was very good, there weren't really  any high hopes for this night's offering but it was truly spectacular.

Women in brightly coloured outfits with swirling skirts danced and spun about creating a wonderful feast for the eyes. There was a little puppet show with a great deal of humour that needed no language, but the star of the night was a rather stout matronly woman who did a stunning line in balancing pots on her head. Just when you thought she couldn't add more pots she did.  If you ever visit Udaipur don't pass up the opportunity to see this cultural show it is worth every rupee of the inexpensive admission cost.

Next day was a visit to the City Palace. As spectacular as these are, after a while they do all tend to blend into one another.  This one contained silverware and antiques.
Then it was tine for our cooking class. Unlike the other classes, this time we had to participate.  Despite trying to break a cup Bernadette acquitted herself pretty well as did the rest of us.

Lunch consumed, there were decisions to be made. Bern decided she wanted to do a trip to the monsoon palace. She was the only one who did, so it was with some trepidation that we awaited the promised taxi that the guy who accosted us in the street had ordered. We were on the verge of giving up on its appearance when it turned up.   With horror stories about rip offs and dire happenings to lone female travellers in that part of the world we stuck around and made a note if the number plate. We were slightly reassured by the tourist sticker on the door though as we had seen those before.

Bern thus despatched to parts unknown it was time for some retail therapy.  The purchase of a couple of pairs of loose cotton trousers for the princely sum of about $8 each proved a wise one. I've practically lived in the beige ones ever since. They are light, comfy and easy to wash and dry quickly. Why can't we get clothing like this at home instead of tight clingy stuff that showcases every bit of fat a woman has?

The afternoon was rounded off with a henna tattoo.  Alas now long since washed off. Heading back to our hotel who should we see but Bern, returned safe and sound in one piece.

The evening brought a boat ride on the lake followed by dinner in a rooftop restaurant.  The best way to dine it has to be said.

We all enjoyed Udaipur so much that we were reluctant to say goodbye.

A Night ( not a knight) in a castle

Next stop: a night at a heritage hotel in a Rajistan  village.  Ghanerao Royal Castle has seen better days.  In need of a coat of paint, real estate agents might call it a renovators delight but you can still see remnants of what it used to be and in its heyday must have been truly magnificent. Every room was different. Some had murals on the wall and all had big old furniture.

The rooftop terrace was like an open garret with cushions to sit on. how the maharajahs must have lived.

On the way to the castle we stopped at the village of Ranakpur, home to one of India's most impressive Jain temples.  It had hundreds of columns.  Jains have something in common with Sikhs in that they will feed all comers.  The thing is though that it's considered very bad form not to eat everything you are given so you have to judge when you've had enough and refuse any extra servings.

Upon arrival at the castle we had a walk through the village where we were mobbed by kids wanting us to take their photos, they also clamoured asking for pencils which appears to be a standard form of payment for photos. They were eventually shooed away by some local grown ups but not before a local trader profited greatly from us buying boxes of pencils for the kids.

In the evening we had another cooking demonstration.  And one of the few meat dishes we encountered to date.

Dinner was in the dining hall where we were informed the maharajah used to eat.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Another 6 hour drive to Jodhpur and Ravi thoughtfully bought some deep fried post-brekky Snacky things: kachoris and jalebis. Not great when you feel like death warmed up.  Even the smell made me feel ill. Only two people ate them. Dan and Bern of the cast iron stomachs, and Ravi of course.
Jodhpur is known as the Blue city because some of the houses in the Old City are painted Blue. It's a mixture of lime and indigo and is said to repel insects.  An audio tour of the mehrangarh Fort followed.  Afraid to say I didn't follow the tour of the 30 something stops.  Just skipped to the end and wished for death.  
Mick was very happy there as he said it contained a lot of sharp  pointy things. I'll take his word for it.

Our accommodation was lovely. The Polo Heritage recalls the days of the British Raj. Walls decorated with polo trophies and teams of days gone by.  Theresa and I dibbed out of the Old Town market walk. She was coming down with a sore throat and my digestive woes continued.  I'm told the market was good and Mick retuned bearing packets of spice mixes, crowing about the lhassi and food. I noddded weakly and probably turned green.  The tuk tuk ride back was a hair raiser. It's one thing to experience traffic from a bus, even a small one. Another entirely to have a truck bearing down on you in a little tuk tuk.

Dinner for me was tea and toast.  Late start next day, but a little revived I managed an early morning swim.


Off now to Jaipur. Home for the next 2 nights. Long 7 hour bus ride. We stopped on the way at the deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri.

One thing about long day trips you get to know your fellow travellers and see the teeming life of India along the way.

Free afternoon. A walk through a food market. The colours of spices are so much more vivid here. I guess it's because they get them so fresh.

Evening was at "uncle Sam's". Home of a self proclaimed celebrity chef (we'd never heard of him and wondered if he was so famous why he lived in such a modest apartment)
Still the food was delicious so we're not complaining.

On the drive to the amber fort we stopped at looked at the Palace of the Winds. It's lovely but it's just a facade. Makes you wonder why.

Amber Fort next stop. Bit of a climb had us wishing we could make the journey up the hill on elephants, but we were told there was a 45 minute wait. Oh well, the walk did us good.

Lots of touts and hawkers. One little scene saw us witness police come tramping in armed with rattans, shields and helmets to remove them. One lad saw them coming, deftly tucked his postcards under his shirt, turned on his heel and marched briskly out. We thought it was overkill. And one of the Muslin caretakers wasn't impressed either. He raced out,waving his arms about and loudly gave them what for. They then rather sheepishly went back out the gate and removed their boots and re-entered. Somehow they didn't quite have the same authority in their socks.

Moustaches are a bit of a thing in Rajistan and we saw some impressive ones. One old boy Saw Mick's face fungus, nodded approvingly and shook his hand!

After lunch a visit to a place selling jewellery. I refrained . Bern wasn't so strong. Then a textile place. Bern and I had a go at block printing. The professionals have nothing to fear from us.
Spent more,than I'd intended as there were some stunning things there. They offered drinks including rum and coke. We thought they were kidding but not so. Bern got a bit excited over that. There is a photo somewhere called women shopping and it show Mick, Eric and Adam sitting in a row with rums in hand looking rather bored. At least they had the rum to console them and their credit cards.

A Bollywood movie was next. The Raj Mandia cinema has a capacity of 1200 and is rather lavishly decorated in a sort Art Deco revival style. The movie was A comedy. Just enough English words scattered in to give us the gist.

Some of us left at interval in Favour of food. A few dodgy tummies by this stage. I blame the stuffed chilli. I'm not sure,the choice of Dominos was a good idea though.

Agra and worlds most famous building

5am start to the day. What is there to say about them?  Can live without them. On board the train to Agra at 6. Breakfast on the train. We were treated to a new delicacy. Spiced buttermilk. What does it taste like I hear you cry.  Well think of skim milk on the turn flavoured with curry powder.  One of the few things we've had so far that we haven't  liked. (Except for Bernadette but she's from Adelaide!) Resentments have started in the group because those sitting at other end of compartment got Rose lhassi which is my favourite.

Upon arrival we had a visit to the red fort. It is a very impressive construction. Those Moghuls sure knew how to build. The red fort was our first introduction the possibly the most famous and photographed building in the world: The Taj Mahal. We could see it from the fort.

A visit to a carpet place showcased the colours of India. How we wanted to buy one but budget, lack of anywhere suitable and the thought of carting it around for 3 weeks prevailed.

Lunch was tasty as ever. "Snacky lunch," Ravi called it. The phrase has stuck and entered our lexicon as have a few other of his sayings.

Whatever you've heard and read about the Taj Mahal, it is all that and is truly magnificent. I won't even try to describe it. Nothing I can say would do it justice. One thing though, if you visit and decided to go into the tomb for whom the Taj Mahal was built, your time would be better spent elsewhere. The lines are long,even for "high value" visitors. This is basically anyone who Isn't Indian. You pay a much higher entrance fee. Once inside the bottleneck of the door all you can do 
is shuffle around the dimly lit tomb which echoes and amplifies sound accompanied by the sound 
of whistles which are used by security. Someone wanders where they shouldn't or attempts to take a video when you haven't paid the extra fee, they use the whistle. With the numbers of 
people there it can get very noisy.

Sunset at the Taj is wonderful. Followed by a cooking demonstration at a restaurant. Complete with very noisy Japanese tourists who made it difficult to hear the cook

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Today was Golden Temple day. We saw it last night lit up and today in the sunshine. While the temple perhaps isn't as spectacular during the day, the colours are. Sikh men wear the most vividly coloured turbans and are very handsome. Especially the young men. Clear skin, beards and the most beautiful liquid brown eyes and the women wear gorgeous colours. Loose fitting tops and comfortable long pants. Eminently sensible in hot weather. It made me wonder why on earth Australian women are inflicted with clinging short tops and fitted garments in the summer.

We also saw behind the scenes. The philosophy at the Golden Temple is one of service. They will feed anyone and everyone for free without discrimination. This is done by volunteers. Our guide, Shiv told us on an average day they serve 50,000 meals; more on weekends and holidays. You can imagine the industrial scale needed to achieve this. We saw a chapatti making machine. The dough fed into a vat which somehow breaks them into chunks ( think scones) Then along a conveyer belt through a series of rollers which result in the end product, a flat round cooked chapatti. They also make them by hand on fire heated griddles. We were given a turn in cooking some. Well sort of. Didn't actually get to see one through from go to whoa. We saw huge cauldrons of vegetable curry, dhal and one cauldron of chai. They are served on metal plates and the clatter of these plates when being handled in such quantities is staggering. I've been to quieter rock concerts.

Before that though there was a visit to the monument at Jallianwala Bagh. You see the word Bagh a lot in place names. It means garden which in many cases is historical and/or is merely a patch of open unused land. This commemorates the scene of an infamous massacre in 1919 when many unarmed men. Women and children died after Brig. Gen. Reginald Dyer ordered his troops to open fire and shoot to kill. Depending on which account you read between 300 and 1500 lost their lives that day. In some places you can still see the bullet holes in the buildings. There is more to the story which is a fascinating one but I don't have time to recount it here. It is worth looking up though.

One other thing. We are often stopped by total strangers and asked if they can take photos with us. Our guide informed us that while westerners do visit it's not in numbers so great that we aren't a source of interest for some. There seems to be no particular group who does this. Young, old, male female, it makes no difference. The strangest one was an older lady with few teeth accompanied by some younger women and a couple of kids. We duly lined up with them. "No'" Said the guide they don't have a camera they just want you to take a photo." He shrugged as puzzled as we were by this. He duly took the photo and we showed it to them and they trooped off happy!

I think I love these puzzling little occurrences as much as the colour and sights of India.

It was back to the hotel for a couple of hours before heading off to Wagah which is the border with Pakistan. Every night they have the oddest border closing ceremony. The crowd is exuberant and noisy, hundreds and hundreds of them. Singing, chanting and dancing. Then formalities begin. Much posturing. Think the minister for silly walks run rampant on a military parade. Funniest thing I've seen in a long time, these impeccably turned out men and women, all chosen for their height it appears goose stepping and stamping all over the place.  

There is also a man in a dazzling white track suit and black cowboy hat who seemed to be emcee/cheerleader and microphone holder for the soldier whose job it was to stand stiffly to attention and emit a long loud noise at intervals. The best description of this comes from Mick who reckons he sounded like someone had his nuts in a squirrel grip. He seems to have been chosen for this role by the length of time he can sustain this noise without taking a breath, which alas wasn't as impressive as his counterpart on the other side of the border. This mutual serenade was synchronised. Almost like I can hold my breath longer than you contest.

Upon our return we decided it was time to eat. Now we'd been to the main restaurant the night before and we didn't fancy a big meal so headed to the rooftop bar and swimming pool. This pool appears to never be used but it doesn't prevent it bring the source of full time employment for several souls.  

We took our seats and a rather scared looking young man diffidently approached us with a menu. This made a change because we had the distinct impression that when guests do turn up to avail themselves of these facilities the 3 or 4 guys employed to take care of them seem to be at a loss what to do. The diffident young man took our drinks orders and sloped off only to return shortly after with older man with little English who informed us that we couldn't have drinks or anything else. Something about dancing was mentioned but as the only other patrons in the place were two 40 something turbaned Sikhs we couldn't for the life of us work out who was going to take part in this bacchanalian orgy of dancing.

So down to the dimly out "sports bar". When I say dimly I'm not exaggerating this windowless hidey hole is so dimly lit that one has to peer very closely at the menu. Another slightly disconcerting aspect of this venue is that the scatter cousins all have faces of what we presume to be sports people which was the cause of some amused speculation as to whose face each of us was sitting on.

The joint was really jumpin last night all of 6 of us at one time. The lone bloke on the bar stool. The two bespectacled middle aged men sporting large 70/s pimp spectacles ( or if you prefer spects and goggles as one shop sign calls it.). This put the staff to customer ratio at about 1:1)

Drinks came with the ubiquitous peanuts and yummy chilli pappadams. We have discovered that if we take our time with drinks and chow down on the nibbles they will be replaced. In our case last night we devoured 3 plates of yummy pappadams before taking Pity on the ever hovering staff member and ordering food. Sometimes it's fun to order something when you have no idea what it really is ("quotient of spiced chicken" in Paris springs to mind). In our case crispy dragon chicken sounded too exotic to pass up. Alas as is often the case the reality didn't live up to the fantasy. it was basically crumbed and deep fried chicken strips and the delightfully red looking sauce was tomato. Never mind it was tasty enough. As were the marinated veggies cooked in tandoor oven.

Today we return to New Delhi We have the morning free before returning on the Shatbadi Experess. The thing is our hotel is in what is basically a business area on a busy road which we were advised by our guide not to attempt to cross. Perhaps we will avail ourselves of the travel desk. Mind you if the English of that person is the same as the guy manning the icecream counter in the hotel foyer then we're in trouble. I was intrigued by the "swiss exotics" flavour and pointed to it. "What flavour is that?" I enquired.
"Icecream." He replied helpfully.
" yes, but what flavour?

"Icecream." Clearly proud of his achievement at bring able answer a question in English.

I smiled faintly and thanked him. I know when I'm beaten.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Golden temple at night and hassling hotel housekeeping.

Right. We're back from visiting the famous Golden Temple. What a beautiful thing at night. Covered in gold leaf and lit up. Our guide is a very personable young man named Shiv. Well his name is longer than that but he said, " call me Shiv."

Shiv used to work in call centres but left that to be a tour guide which he enjoys much more because "In this job people actually want to listen to what I say"

To enter the temple compound you first have to remove your shoes and socks and put on a head scarf. Then wash your hands and finally walk through a shallow pool. Amritsar is like Mecca for Sikhs and it is a welcoming place. How rare in this day and age to visit a place like this and not have to endure lines for bag checks and/or scans.its all taken on trust which is very refreshing. Sorry but going through my mind was the thought I hope the previous wearer of this scarf didn't have nits and how often do they wash these things anyway?

Shiv is knowledgeable and articulate and knew all the best vantage points to take photos. The mysterious ceremony was the putting to bed of the holy book. Every night they remove it from the temple in a gold palanquin and carry it to another building amid much chanting accompanied by blasts of a large curly horn which my googling tells me is a narsingha; a war horn. The palanquin is festooned with garlands of flowers and carried to its sleeping place to be put to bed. Literally. Where it's kept looks like a room containing a bed and they even tuck it in with a white sheet and cover it with a cloth.

We spent some time after that wandering around the complex taking photos and even having our photos taken. We were approached by a man either a wife and little girl and asked if we would have our photos taken with them. No idea why, another of India's unexplained mysteries. Finally. We are exotic.

Upon return we discovered that Bernadette's bed still hadn't turned up. So off to reception. They duly installed it promptly. However we are concerned. We may get kicked out. Bernadette has developed this unhealthy compulsion to ring housekeeping for towels, coffee mugs and extra tea and coffee. After she hung up, she realised that there were 3 towels in the room and guiltily stashed it under our bed. So to sum up, the count is standing at 6 towels, 2 big coffee mugs and 3 tea cups along with 2 coffee sachets,5 tea bags, more creamers than you could poke a stick at and a partridge in a pear tree. Ok so I made that last bit up up. Oh and let's not forget her request for fresh milk earlier as well.

We don't have an early start tomorrow. Shiv isn't meeting us until 11 so we can have a lie in, take our time with showers and have a leisurely breakfast. Bernadette is pathetically keen for us to take showers, the more the better I suspect in order to assuage her guilty conscience over the surfeit of towels in our room.

Off On my way! to gave a cup of tea and another of those lovely cookies which were waiting for us in our room. Which is lovely by the way.

Of train trips, senior singalong and mobile ringtones

Today was our first (I suspect of many) train trips the Shatbadi Express to Amritsar.   6 hours. So about the same length of time it took in the now infamous sardine tin.  Only roomier.  We were told by the bloke at hotel reception in Hotel Sunstar Grand that the Shatbadi Express is one of the best trains in India.  It was, shall we say characterful.  A slightly scruffy grande dame who has seen better days but fairly comfortable.  The window alas was so grimy that it was like looking at the world through a thick fly screen. Never mind.

Our adventure into the wider world commenced at  5.30 am when Bernadette's mobile alarm went off, and off and off. She had it on snooze and couldn't be bothered turning off.   Mick asked if she could please stuff it under her pillow. He was heard to make snarling noises.

Downstairs to be met by taxi driver who drove us through the quiet early morning traffic.  Street people setting up for the day, doing their ablutions, dogs stirring themselves. An Ox  at the intersection pulling a very large cart of...what?  Perhaps calling the early morning traffic quiet is a misnomer because it is anything but.  The car horn isn't merely a manifestation of anger in India, it is a form of self expression. Everything from get out of my way, to hello, I am here can you see me.
Delhi railway station us a bit of a traffic bun fight vehicles from all directions converging into a
bottleneck all trying to get as close to the station as possible.

Upon getting out the driver asked us when we were returning and vowed to be at the ATM in front of the station to pick us up.  We waited for him to put his hand out for the fee but he didn't.  This nonplussed us somewhat.  Did he get paid on the return journey or was this a complimentary service provided by the hotel.? This will be the first of many puzzlements I suspect and if you thought that
was confusing you ain't heard nuffin yet

We strolled into the entrance and began perusing the arrival and departure boards looking for our train when a tall youngish man brisked up to us.  "Where are you going? " Amritsar we chorused. He asked to see our ticket and then with ticket in Hand began briskly walking away with the words
"follow me"  we scuttled after him struggling to keep up as this was a man with a purpose and frivolities such as looking back to see if we were still behind didn't figure in his thinking.  He took us to the right spot on the right platform then announced we had a Long wait. Listen buster we spent an hour and a half on the Tarmac in the sardine tin. 20 Minutes is nothing to us. We sneer at 20 minutes. For some reason Mr Brisk decided Bernadette was our pack leader, either that it or he fancied her because he asked if she liked tea. " yes," replied our fearless non appointed leader  then he was off again leaving us with no choice but to dash after him because he still had our
 tickets! So at the other end of the platform is the canteen.   He pushed his way in and re emerged
with 3 paper cups of foamy chai.  And what chai it was. It was superb.  We had no idea how much they were and what payment he might have been expecting. He handed over the teas ushered us to seats said goodbye and he was gone leaving us wondering who the hell he was.  About 10 minutes later he re- materialised and said "come to the train". And once More we were off and racing. He came on board with us, saw us to our seats, shook us each by the hand and raced off on his next urgent mission. Who was that unmasked man ? We spent quite some time speculating but we never did find out. Best guess Is perhaps he is employed to assist bemused looking western tourists.

So the train trip began.
 the men from Doon's (presumably the catering company with the contract to feed travellers on the "air conditioned chair carriage") distributed large bottles of water. Then Came morning tea:hot water, tea bags and two Mini Marie biscuits in a sealed bag followed about an hour later by breakfast.  Two
spiced veggie patties of some kind, two slices of bread in a sealed bag., butter and jam.

This duly consumed we settled down the read our complimentary copies of the Times Of India.  This has to rate as one of our favourite newspapers ever.  A peculiar mix of formal English and slang. I ask you, how many of papers can you think of that would use the eord "tizzy" in a headline. It read "unclaimed bag throws cops into a tizzy".  How can you not love a publication like that?  In a story
about school bullying it breathlessly informed us that the boys "were hurling.  the choicest of abuses" never has a newspaper kept us so entertained for so long.

We  also had the singalong seniors. This merry little band, while we were waiting outside a station for goodness know why decided it was time to sing. Led by a jolly man in a flat cap they sang and clapped numerous songs in Hindi.  After we started moving again flat cap gave way to pleasant looking man in a hideous green plaid blazer who earnestly began telling a story of some kind. We

heard the names Queen Victoria and Elizabeth mentioned.  Was he a professor giving a history talk to a school for seniors? He was so serious, but no it was a joke. Hilarious at that because most of the carriage was laughing except us, the only westerners in the joint. We smiled uncomprehendingly  and wished we could speak Hindi because judging by the reaction, the joke must have been a doozy.

We got to Amritsar on time and were met by "my man in Amritsar" we've begun referring to him as Myman because he didn't introduce himself. So at the hotel a swarm of staff descended upon us divested us of our meagre baggage, ushered us to  a seat, plied us with mango juice and spectacularly tasty cookies while they took our passport details.  We were then ushered up to our room whereupon much consternation came upon the land. We booked a triple room only there was one King sized bed. There was a small settee which we figured had to be a sofa bed but no. An exploration of every nook and cranny failed to reveal the 2nd bed. We asked the porter when he showed up and with his limited
English pointed to the small, glass topped coffee table. wot? Was Bernadette expected to curl up like a cat and sleep on that? Eventually light dawned as the porter explained to these apparently senileuncomprehending  fossils that, no try roulette move the coffee table and install the bed later. ( note: it is 7.20 pm with no sign of the promised bed.  Just as well we are off out soon to see great Goldn Tempke at night and he "ceremony" whatever that is. We've not been told. That's half the fun of here that glorious confusing uncertainty and the entertainment factor of letting our imaginations run wild with speculation.

Food remains amazing. We had wonderful late lunch in thr upmarket restaurant,  starters, rice, two mains, ranit as, bans bread wnd the ubiquitous Kingfisher beer all for about $60. Not each. Total cost of the lot.

One thing we've noticed about India apart from the horn. That's the ever present mobile ring tones. Where ever you go, whatever you do it is to the soundtrack of ringtones. There's no escaping them.

Ipad typing finger tired now. Shall rest and report back on our journey into thenight later

Toodle pip.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

PostScript about the prat.

The prat.  This is the fellow traveller whose obliviousness to others makes life difficult.  The god of airline travel gave me my own personalprat this flight. One on one exclusive service.  I'm sitting in my seat when without warning the seat in front of me whizzed backward at a rate of knots and stayed there the entire flight making it next to impossible for me to lean forward and retrieve my bits and pieces from under the seat. I got pretty adept at hooking my bags with my foot. But it did give  dining a  peculiar challenge and put ne up close and personal with the in flight entertainment system. Of course the prat, a young man of Indian extraction couldn't wait to turn his phone on the second he could.  From his seat emanated a stream of whistling. His hundreds of friends doubtless eager to hear from him.   That annoying dog whistling sound. Of course he's a prat so he would necessarily have chosen sounds that make it hard to suppress homicidsl rage in others.

It's now early morning and we are all luxuriating in thr bliss is being able to stretch out.

Micks cleaning his teeth in te bathroom, which is large in high ceiling end but has properties uncannily like an echo chamber. Unfortunate when dhal has featured heavily.  I haven't had the heart to inform Mick yet who from this day forward is to be known as mr farty pants. This makes me very happy that my extended visit was in thr middle of the night accompanied by Micks snoring.

Oh henceforth Mick is to be addressed as Mr snoring farty pants. Bernadette has just asked me if the beer I consumed has not worn off.

Eternity in a sardine tin.

We're here!  Let the eating commence.

Bernadette said she's never had more uncomfortable flights.  The first leg which commented at 12.45 am was 8.5 hours and while the seats were wide and there was elbow room, they seemed very upright and didn't recline very far and were deeper than some. End result was wrong shape for shorties.  There was no footrest bar and ended up with sore knees.  Hour and a half layover in KL where we wandered around the gate lounges like zombies. Called to our flight.  Looked to be only part full. Oh goodie. perhaps we can spread out a bit more, especially Bernadette who was sat next to a mum and bubs, we waited in our seats,then some people trickled on.  Must be a delayed flight somewhere.  Then some more, then more.

 Turns out a flight from New Zealand was delayed and there were 44 people and 66 pieces of luggage to load.  They wandered up and down the very narrow aisle trying to find spots for their hand luggage.  They sat down, we sat there. Just when we'd think everyone was on board more would come and do the same. Meanwhile the natives were getting restless and they too began perambulating the extremely narrow aisle.  It was like a boulevard. There was stripy man. A young man in jeans and striped tshirt who was so attached to his hand luggage that he felt compelled to visit it every 10 minutes or so and have a rummage. There was also old man Beanie who if he ever had a mouthful of teeth had long since mislaid most of them.  The purpose of his peregrinations were never ascertained.

Older lady who visited her travelling companions too. And of course there were the loos.
Only at the back of our not very big but very squeezy plane. A word about this . I don't  know what model plane it was but seats were configured 2 rows of 2 seats. With a narrow aisle, this is the type of aisle where if two people want to pass the poor aisle seat passenger is either treated to an eyeful of crotch or someone's bum in their face.  This then was to be our home for the next 22 thousand hours. Ok so it wasn't that long, it just felt like it.  At one point Mick questioned whether the trickling passenger phenomenon was
because there was some hidden back door and they were just passing through. The staff tried to be helpful but they would march up and down the aisle opening and closing overhead lockers looking for spaces for the many, many pieces of carry on. Didn't seem to dawn on them that leaving them open so they could see the contents rather than opening
and closing them all the time in search of increasingly elusive space might be more efficient. After an hour and a half of this we finally took off with a rather testy sounding pilot
exhorting us to "try and enjoy the flight". And we did. Try that is, but we failed.  The food
was pretty good but drink selection was limited to apple juice, orange juice, Pepsi and water.  There was beer and wine but they were only in evidence during meals and even then tucked away.  I decided after a bit to ease up on the juice as, after all we were headed to India and all its implications and compounding potential digestive issues with vast quantities of fruit juice didn't seem the wisest idea in the universe.

So finally on our way. Time to numb the brain with a movie. Off to the latest releases section of in flight entertainment.  Under construction. hUh?  Where's the Desolation of Smaug I had planned to watch this leg? Tried again, nope. And I'd watched all the eps of Big Bang Theory on previous flight.  Most of the rest was Hindi movies which was too much effort for my weary brain which totters towards feebleness at the best of times.  So I contented myself with the flight map as we slowly inched our way to India. Did you know
there's a place called Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh? No I didn't either. Another feature of the
Malaysian airlines in flight map is the compass which tells you where Mecca is in relation to the nearest inhabited town below.  We flew over Burma with its green jungles and almost unpopulated western coastline.  Over Bay of Bengal . No wonder Bangladesh is so prone to catastrophic flooding. The Delta looked like veins and capillaries stretching into the sea.

Bernadette who was wedged in next to mum with bubs did get another seat, next to me. Hurray. Finally we can gave a chat.  As we took off she said, " now is when the wing falls off". I gave her a look. She grinned.between attempts to doze she regaled me with stories airline disasters.  I gave her the glare. That didn't work either. I told her you can go off people rather quickly. That didn't stop her. Even threats of physical violence didn't deter her.  Some day, in some way I shall get my revenge.  After 45 years we landed.   One of the others. Can't remember if it was Mick or Bernadette wondered out loud if  the car and driver engaged to take us to our hotel were still there. They were.

As for Malaysian airlines, well years ago when they were known as MSA the joke was that it stood for Miserable Service again.  Look it wasn't horrible but we have had better flights. And given a choice we would go with someone else.

So what's Delhi like?  Well don't really know yet. The drive from the airport was fun. I volunteered to sit up front with the driver.   They drive on the left here. Well most of the time. The rules seem simple. Bikes give way to cars. Little cars give way to bigger cars who give way to bigger cars who give way to buses who give way to trucks who give way to big ass trucks. Simples.  

Road was busy and congested.  "Wouldn't want to break down in this!"I commented to the driver. Oh this is ok. You should see it peak hour.  Ohh kaaay.

We got to the hotel and haven't ventured out. It's clean and comfy, but not flash. The staff pleasant and attentive and I Love kingfisher beer.  I know this coz I had 3 bottles of it.  It comes in 650 ml bottles which might explain why I woke up at 3 am with a thumping headache.  And can't get back to sleep which is why I'm inflicting this epic tome on the Internet.

Dinner on rooftop.  Dhal, stuffed paranthas, vegie pakoras, afghan chicken, spiced Pilau. Kingfisher beer for 3 total cost about $40.  Not flash but if this is what the food is like the rest of the trip then bring it on!  

In a couple of hours we are off on early morning train to Amritsar.  The bloke from the company we booked the trip with rang us at the hotel.  Turned up when he said get would, was friendly and helpful and Gave us the business card of his company and said "my man in Amritsar will meet you at the station". My man in Amritsar. Can't make up my mind if it feels like a spy movie or if I've been transported back to the British raj. One thing. The Indians know about good customer service.

Ps. The menu items. I know the spelling may seem odd. It's how they were spelled on the menu.