Saturday, November 29, 2008

England: A Breeding Ground for Terrorists?

To hear that many of the terrorists involved in the Mumbai operations may have originated in Hartlepool, Bradford and Leeds adds to the disillusionment of the last few days. Islamic areas in England which also bred the London bombing attacks. The UK authorities are also guilty for these horrific atrocities. The myth that England is a classic example of a successful multicultural country is shown for what it really is. A myth.

Heading down to Delhi tomorrow and flying to Kathmandu on the 2nd December for five weeks of play so this blog is likely to be only sporadically developed. I´ll try and check in when I can.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai Will Recover

India continues to reel under the atrocities in Mumbai. It transpires that a warning email had been sent by the Indian Mujahideen warning that Mumbai “are already on our hit-list and this time very very seriously." The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), the main opposition party, immediately tried to score political points claiming the ruling Congress Party were unfit for government. Yet such attacks are so sporadic in nature (New York, London, Bali, Madrid) that no-one can predict where the next target is. There was an excellent editorial in The Tribune written by H.K. Dua who was asking for unity across the country and indeed further afield.

Whilst there seems to be a strong link with Pakistan, that does not necessarily mean that the Pakistan authorities were complicit in the attack. Pakistan quickly condemned the attack and have promised to bring any culprits to justice. I hope they follow through on this.

Mumbai is well known for being a resilient city and will recover from this atrocity, but it will take time.

We are flying down to Delhi on Sunday and will be staying in a small, inconspicuous and unassuming guest house.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mumbai Massacre

The stories coming out of Mumbai today have been shocking. Whilst there have been several bomb attacks going off sporadically around India in recent months, nothing quite as violent and certainly nothing so co-ordinated.

A previously unknown orgnasation, the Deccan Mujahedeen, has claimed responsibility. It is thought they have links with Students' Islamic Movement of India, outlawed in the country. Young South Asian culprits were seen from CCTV cameras, looking very jovial, and clearly happy to show their faces. British and American citizens seem to have been particularly targeted, leading to possible links to external organisations. The death toll is thought to be over 100 and 900 people injured. Amazingly 9 terrorists are thought to have been captured.

The severity of the situation is highlighted in the postponement of all international cricket competitions. Indians are totally nuts about cricket and a tournament with Australia, South Africa, England and Pakistan was due to start on 3rd December. Lucky for England! They are currently being hammered in the one day test series 5 - 0!

Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, claims everything will be done to protect Indian citizens and the perpetrators brought to justice. How do you protect over a billion citizens?

Mumbai is the heart of the Indian economy and markets have been closed throughout the day. Many questions have been raised over security at the top hotels, as well as the Indian Security and Intelligence Agency.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fly The Flag

There is a growing campaign that is encouraging Tibetans and Tibetan sympathizers to fly the Tibetan flag to generate awareness and dialogue. This is being organised by the Raise Tibetan Flags Campaign (RTFC) which has just set up a tea-shop and offices on Jogiwara Road.

The Tibetan flag is one of the more wacky designs to be found, and , perhaps not surprisingly, full of symbolism.

The six red bands in the dark blue sky represent the original ancestral tribes of the Tibetan people.
The snow - clad mountain in the middle is symbolic of the Himalayas with the rising sun behind it.
The pair of snow lions represent the victorious accomplishments of a unified and secular life.
The swirling jewel between the snow lions represent self-discipline of correct ethical behaviour, embodied in the 10 exalted virtues and the sixteen modes of conduct.

We have a large Tibetan flag adorning our window. It would be great if you would “fly the flag” and show you care. You can even print it off this page!

More details on this campaign can be found at

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Beggars - Part 2 - South Indian Beggars

There is a small horde of migrant beggars on the streets of McLeod Ganj. They are invariably carrying a young baby in their arms and request food. Feeling somewhat sorry for one of these women, and also more comfortable that she wanted food, not money, I walked with her to the grocers´shop. I bought her some rice and powdered milk which cost over 100 rupees. I saw her her in the street just a few moments later approaching other travellers. I asked to see the food products I had just bought for her and she could not. I presume she must have sold them back to the shop and cashed them in almost immediately. I feel somewhat resentful to all of these women now, and fortunately they know better than to approach me.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rabies Epidemic

There have been four recorded cases of rabies in Dharamsala this month already. The latest victim was an Australian tourist attacked by a ferocious dog on the streets. All bite victims have to be rushed to Chandighar within 12 hours as there is no provision for medication at the local hospital. This is not easy as Chandighar is about 7 hours drive from Dharamsala. I´m trying to give all animals a wide birth at the moment. However we did have an unexpected night visitor on our balcony - a grey tabby amazingly found its way up. It mewed all night outside the window and I was faced with no other choice but to rescue it. A real hero under such circumstances.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tibetan Parliament in Exile Update

We attended the feedback meeting today with 200+ others organised by Talk Tibet. Unfortunately it was all in Tibetan – not a language I have grasped yet! I am thus very grateful to the Tibet International Post ( for their coverage of the specially convened meeting. The 500+ delegates clearly still support the Dalai Lama and his efforts in developing a Middle Path. This will continue, passed by the majority of attendees – Tibetans should have their own autonomy in Tibet. However, if the Chinese continue to stall in talks, the Tibetan community will start advocating complete independence and self-determination from China. The proverbial ball is still very much in the Chinese court. If nothing else, democracy of the Tibetan people in exile has prevailed and the Dalai Lama´s actions vindicated by the Tibetan people.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Kenneth Williams

I am just re-reading the Kenneth Williams Diaries. A real master of character acting and a huge variety of comic voices at his disposal, his career spanned several generations. He acted with some of the best including Richard Burton and Orson Welles, and struck up several friendships with the likes of Joe Orton and Tony Hancock (although the latter relationship subsequently turned sour).

Williams´diaries (a compilation of 41 volumes found on his shelves at the time of his death) are an incredible insight into some of his inner-most thoughts and can often be too personal for anyone´s liking – he regularly notes his self-masturbatory experiences (referred to in rhyming Cockney slang as “The Barclays”) and other bodily functions. His own self-hypocrisy, troubled mind and faltering relationships with others spans more than three decades and is an excellent read. His suicide over 20 years ago has done nothing to diminish his cult status. A very strange and dislocated person.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Living on a Film Set

Walk around the quiet streets of Mcleod Ganj and you invariably walk into a film crew. With continuing meeting about developing a “new” approach to resolving Tibet, the media have hit town big time. Such media attention can only benefit the Tibetan cause.

Discussions continue all day at the Parliament building and will continue until Saturday lunchtime, although I am unsure of what conclusions can be reached. There will be a feedback meeting for the community on Sunday which I will check out. Meanwhile President Bush will be speaking to Hu Jintao in Peru about human rights including the Tibetan situation.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Keep Himachal Pradesh Green

Catch the bus from Lower Dharamsala to McLeod Ganj and you will notice many signposts at the roadside. They are encouraging the community to develop their environmental conscience. My personal favourites include “A Thing of Beauty is Joy Forever”, “Divinity In Nature” and “Nature is not a Place, it is our Home”. This does not deter some locals from tipping rubbish wherever and whenever it suits them. I fear it will take a long time for the culture to change.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Life Without A Washing Machine

For the last five months I have been hand-washing my clothes. It is the first time I have never had access to a washing machine in my home. It is a tiresome chore and takes ages. With so much dirty laundry from our trip, I couldn´t face the rigmarole so I took it to the “Premier Laundry Service” next to the Megastore. For US$4 they washed and cleaned 6 shirts, trousers, boxers, 3 pairs of socks and a sweater. Smelling sweetly and immaculately folded, I have learnt an important lesson; damn the expense!

Ed. Note: Apart from on my return from Nepal I am regularly washing my clothes by hand. I am trying to tell myself it is a cathartic experience!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


There is a quietness around the village at the moment. On Mondays, most of the village is closed. However, even today the streets were deserted. Although there is a winter cold and crispness in the air which may be slowing the traffic of tourists in the village, there are also talks being held throughout this week in the Tibetan community about developing a new course of action in the quest to develop a new approach in the liberation of Tibet.

The Dalai Lama, clearly frustrated with the lack of dialogue with the Chinese government, has asked for the Tibetan community to find a way forward. His Holiness is not attending these debates. Last week, David Miliband, the UK foreign secretary, recognised Chinese sovereignty in China for the first time, thus further legitimizing China´s claim.

The Guardian quoted Zhu Weiqun, a vice-minister of the Chinese Communist party's United Front Work Department, "if one day, [the Dalai Lama] really seizes power, he will without any compunction or sympathy carry out ethnic discrimination, apartheid and ethnic cleansing." What planet is this guy from?

Zhu said there had been no progress in last week's talks, blaming the Tibetan side. He described the current system as "perfect" and in need of no revision, adding: "There is no other way."

It´s all looking pretty grim.

Monday, November 17, 2008

From Pushkar, Through Delhi, Up To Amritsar And Back Home Again

Despite the presence of thousands of camels, they don´t come cheap. A top quality one will cost Rp80000 and the cheapest model won´sell under Rp20000. Fortunately I have had no requests for one, and even if I found a cute one for myself, transporting one back to McLeod Ganj would be impossible.

Pushkar is a very religious place and you need to be culturally sensitive if you wish to avoid the wrath of locals. As previously mentioned, no-one is allowed to take photos of the lake and the bathing ghats. Other frowned upon activities include: -
No kissing in public
No alcohol
No meat (including eggs) are allowed in town – however I did get my first avocado since South America!

We successfully met up with our friends in Delhi and I am now the proud holder of 5 packets of Juan Valdez. Unfortunately I had a bout of vicious Delhi Belly and was unable to eat anything, including medicine!

On to Amritsar and out train made excellent progress into the Punjab. However the train failed to reach its destination due to a farmers´ strike plus road and rail blockage. We spent K.´s birthday with a morning at the Golden Temple followed by witnessing the outrageously extravagant and nationalistic border-closing ceremony at Attari. This is an event not to be missed if you are in the vicinity. Some pics can be found at

Delighted to be back home in Mcleod Ganj despite the cold– it really is so much nicer than facing loads of people trying to fleece our money.

Pushkar Collage

Several people have complained that they are not able to access the picasa albums through their server. I have therefore put a collection of a few favourites, although there are many more higher quality pics available for those that can access the picasa gallery.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lord Brahma

Brahma is the Hindu God of Creation. He is a major deity often depicted with four faces and four arms and legs.

It is said that Brahma wanted to perform a yagna (self-mortification) at Pushkar Lake. When his wife, Sivitri did not show up for this special moment, he married another woman on a whim. Not surprisingly Sivitri was pretty pissed and vowed that Brahma would not be worshipped anywhere else. And so it was!

My friend S. tells another story. Vishnu and Brahma were arguing about who was the more powerful. Shiva stepped in to settle the argument. He created a fiery phallus and challenged them to find the end. Vishnu buried downwards whilst Brahma went skywards. Despite his best efforts, Vishnu gave up. Brahma saw a lotus flower fluttering past and claimed he retrieved it from the top of the hot rod. Shiva knew this was a lie and punished Brahma accordingly.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Made To Measure

If you ever find yourself at Laxmi Market, check out my new tailor at Sunita Handicrafts. Mr. Sampat Lal Prajapat has made me made to measure 100% cotton shirt and trousers for Rp450. I paid Rp400 for my first Indian suit back in 1989. Together with my new camel leather shoes at a bargain Rp320, I´m looking good!

Those photos keep on coming, and if you are not already "camelled out" have a peak at

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Fair Continues On

As I feared, my sleep deprivation continues. The music and/or chanting around the lake was broadcast throughout the night. No wonder I was up at 4.20am this morning!

Yesterday at dawn I walked around the lake, whilst this morning I headed to the Camel Fairground, with about 50 other keen photographers. The light wasn´t as spectacular as it was yesterday, so I took up the offer of breakfast with some musical desert gypsies. I politely sipped some chai whilst they treated me to a special personal concert. I managed to get a cracking recording on my new mini MP3 player which I´ll use for another Windows Movie Maker feature when I return home.

I was seriously accosted by two rather stunning gypsy girls who decorated my hands with henna “for luck”. It was horrible, but they certainly didn´t feel lucky with the 40 rupees I gave them. They wanted RPs1000!

Some more pics have just been uploaded onto picasa. I hope you enjoy them!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Camels Abound - Pushkar Fair

It is said that Lord Brahma dropped a lotus flower on Earth and Pushkar floated to the surface. Although the temples are not ancient, there are hundreds around town dedicated to Brahma. Around the holy lake there are 52 bathing ghats. The great Mahatma Gandhi was cremated here. Photography is strictly prohibited around the ghats and lake

We finally made it into Pushkar at 11pm last night – a journey time of only 51 hours!

Up at 6.20am for the opening day of the festivities and it really was awesome. The sights, sounds and smells cannot be captured in the photos, however hard I try. The whole town is clearly ready for the party and music echoes all around the lake.

You can keep track of some of the latest photos that I am taking during the Camel Fair at

Check out the slide-show feature in the browser! Please note all photographs are copyright on Picasa.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Last Orders - A Camel Anyone?

If you need a camel, the best place to purchase one is at the camel fair and festival in Rajastan. Every year in the small oasis town of Pushkar , in the heart of the Thar desert, the nomads with their camels in tow descend from miles around. Trading begins in earnest at the start of Kartika (the 8th lunar month of the Hindu calendar). Kartik Purnima (the full moon) is noted as particularly auspicious, and devotees come to bathe at the ghats of Pushkar lake. This colourful event guarantees an interesting palette for photographers and probably very little sleep. The festivities will last for over two weeks. We´re heading down for this magnificent event, along with a predicted 200,000 others and will share some favourite pictures when and where I can.

After the festival, we will pass through Delhi and then head on to Amritsar to pay homage at the Golden Temple before returning McLeod Ganj in the last week of November. With visa renewals required in December, K. will head home to Singapore, whilst I will do the Kathmandu run via a brief stopover in Benares. Come join me for breakfast at the Everest Steakhouse in Thamel in early December! I´ll be hanging out there for a while. If I can locate him, I hope to meet up with Lost Johnny for a hike in Jomsom over Christmas before returning to India in the 2nd week of January. Postings will probably be erratic throughout this whole period. Will you survive without your daily dollop of ketchup? Coleman´s English mustard may help.