Sunday, February 27, 2011

Of Garden Visitors of the very special kind..

The seasons are changing, and its wonderful to see evidence of that change all around.
Its amazing what a little bit of sunshine and a little rain can do. All around I see hints of colour breaking through otherwise brown ground. The first blossoms of, if I may say spring.

The garden is bustling with activity. And if not for the cold I would be able to camp out more easily trying to get a few pictures..
And today I did spy the magpie. After days of watching from my window I finally got the pictures I was looking for. They don't seem to be shy birds. But they did seem determined to not give away pictures of themselves easily. Stupid woman with the camera they must be thinking.
So its become ritual to spot a magpie these days. I search them out and when I find one am happy.

Today the action moved to the garden. It was not just the magpie that I managed to catch, but it was definitely the magpie I was after... :)
Am happy and thinking maybe I need a new set of lenses :)..Wishful thinking!

The Cheerful Boatman..

Haggling about marked up prices is nothing new to a tourist. The minute you are marked as an outsider, partly because of appearance , you know that almost anything you may buy is much more expensive than it seems. And so ensues a game of cat and mouse, where you come up with a random number , your idea of what you think is the right price...

This time we played the game on the shores of the beautiful Hongzhou lake. And our boatman Tao with whom we seemed to be negotiating a ride spoke with animated gestures :). Finally we settled on a number and we were off...

The void which briefly surfaced because of the absence of language, (we speaking English and he Chinese) quickly disappeared because of his cheerful disposition.. When language failed us he did the smart thing and broke into song. It was lovely. The cool waters, the swish of the boatman's oar , and his merry voice breaking the hot summer's air..
When he found the need to explain things about the lake , he continued where he left of in song in Chinese, pointing at objects , and we nodded ; empty nods devoid of understanding :).

When we got off after a long boat ride, what stayed with us was the voice of our Boatman Tao.. :)

-Meena Venkataraman

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Untiring Porter..

It was on our trek to Roopkund. We were clearly not suited to this environment. Long walks  up and down hills, the height steadily increasing, our lungs burned from a lack of oxygen..

On this day in question we  lumbered up , our bags with our supply of water and small eats hanging heavily over our shoulders. There were times when I've wanted to throw them away, imagining somehow that it would render me weightless and that I would be able to skip effortlessly uphill..As if to make light of all our efforts, we would then see the untiring porter, with as much as 15-20 kg hauled on his back walk lightly up the mountains. His pace never suggesting that he was in any sort of hurry. But try and keep pace with him and you would know how much effort it takes to do that up here in the mountains...

We spent one night talking of ghosts. The setting was perfect. In the middle of nowhere, by the light of the fire on which our freshly prepared meals had just been cooked, huddled up inside the tent, Weary from the days exertions..Our little camp group, diverse as it was had stories to tell.. Stories about people being lured out of tents up here in the mountain, of lights going off and a presence creeping up, of unimaginable evils lurking ready to spring up on a lonely traveller, Of pictures with hazy auras around human forms.
And so our cook proceeded to explain how he had encountered a ghost, a phantom in the form of a porter.. An apparition who asked for Bidi.  Turning around, the porter who had held the bidi seemed to have disappeared , into the thin mountain air.. Just like that!  And so we went to bed, my imagination working overtime, my rational side trying to quell the fear steadily raising ..

The next day, we began early. One hour into our trek, I was slightly ahead of the rest of the group. I passed a turn and froze. There perched on the rocks were the smiling forms of two porters. 'Namaste' they called our politely. Namaste I responded quietly and with an uneasy smile , the conversation of the previous night playing out over and again inside my head. My more rational side clearly annoyed with my reaction goaded me to stop being so stupid.. But fear is not really a rational thing!
They asked about my camera. I briefly hesitated not knowing how to respond and half expecting them to evaporate. Then I decided to put them to the test. I walked up to them showing them some of the pictures I had just taken... And then they asked if I would photograph them. I quickly did and showed them what they looked like through my lenses , silently noting that they had passed the camera test for ghosts (as my wild imagination had decided that ghosts always appeared fogged up on pictures :D..)
I promised to send them pictures. And they wrote down their address in my little notebook.
The rest of the group caught up and after some idle chit chat we were gone.

- Meena Venkataraman

Travel Portraits..

There so much that slips when you wish to articulate a travel experience.
Spent most of yesterday looking at pictures of some of the places I have been to recently.
As I did I realised how much I had left out of my travelogues. And so to make up I decided to feature some of favourite travel portraits. As always people are very integral to any travel experience and there have been so many wonderful people along the way; some met in fleeting, some over coffee, Some co -passengers on long journeys along dusty roads, some locals eager to share the best of what their land has to offer...

and so here goes..

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Mallards..

A pair of Mallards (photographed during one of our walks in Castlecombe)

The Mallards are beautiful birds. A common sight along the small ponds and water bodies of the UK, their vibrant plumage is a perfect contrast to the clear waters along which they seem to so effortlessly glide..
This twosome of the gorgeous male of the green head and the brown and tawny female , was caught during one of our walks in Castlecombe..
At first sight it does appear like the male wears the prime colours, but as I stare at them I can see how intricately brown and beautiful the female is. The mallards cannot be hunted in the breeding season, and a decline in their numbers has resulted in their addition to the Amber list . This means that their numbers have reduced by 25 to 50 % over the past 25 years.
We stand watching the graceful couple roam the waters and after a while we are on our way..

-Meena Venkataraman

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

BBC Languages...

I fell in love with Spanish a while ago..  But as far as learning it goes , progress has been slow..
But I did find some wonderful resources on my search for easy ways to access the language..
One such site is BBC languages.

Its a 12 part course with a lesson every week. It focuses on the conversational method of learning, which in my opinion is one of the most effective. Too often a language learnt in a classroom does not automatically equip the learner with the fluency that comes from just speaking it on a regular basis.
What I liked most about the course is the content. For instance, one of the lessons is about hauling a cab and checking yourself into a hotel. In the conversation , you are asked for your passport as part of checking in... On my recent visit to South America, this bit was repeated verbatim.. and as my face lit up in understanding, we proceeded to check in :)

So if you are looking to learn a language and time doesn't afford you a class, then this is a very good option to consider..

Meena Venkataraman

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Scenes from La Paz..

Of newspaper clippings and war heroes who live on..

Unfortunately we had no clue what was on print. We only had an inkling that it was something interesting when a couple of people got the paper and stood engrossed, some walking away slowly like they had been taken over by the content...


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