Thursday, April 30, 2009

Caught In The Middle of Elections

Hoorah for the 2424 Express from New Delhi station! It left exactly at 2pm and arrived in to New Jalpaiguri just after 11am – just one hour late! However the ticket wasn´t cheap; Rs1635 in 3AC is a lot!

Unfortunately I did not get very much further.

It´s election day in this part of West Bengal – one of the poorer states of India. Communist flags are decorating every street corner. No buses or jeeps are moving today, so i´m now holed up in the hole that is Siliguri – what Lonely Planet charitably describes as a “vibrant, crowded trading hub”. It lies about 8kms away from New JPG reachable by taxi for RS150 or less. I decide to go with an honest-looking cycle rickshaw driver for Rs100.

However, I´ve been on the road long enough to know that you can always find moments of serendipity, even in the most rank of towns.

I head to the slums underneath the bridge on Hill Cart Lane and spend a pleasant hour going around. I´m invited for a chai at the local polling station and then mobbed by the children. It never ceases to amaze me how warm, friendly and happy these poverty-stricken people can be, despite literally being surrounded by shit.

After my misfortune at not reaching Darjeeling today I treat myself to a sumptuous dinner at the Eminent restaurant at what looks like one of the best hotels in town – The Hotel Conclave. Chicken tikka butter masala served to perfection with roti bread served hot, fressh and thin. Add on two fresh lemon sodas and it came to a very worthwhile RS200 (US$4).

I´m staying at the new – looking Hotel Mount View on Hill Cart Lane, opposite the bus stand. The beds are poor, the mattress very thin and I just saw a cockroach the size of my fist emerge from the sink. At Rs250 for a single, it´s overpriced. It boasts a fan and TV. There are 12 tv stations, all in Hindi, and 6 of them are showing cricket!

Buses cost Rs65 to Darjeeling, tickets sold at counter 13. A jeep will cost Rs95 with the first departure at 5am.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In and Out of Delhi

One of the disadvantages of living in Dharamsala is if you want to explore other places in India, the chances are you have to go via Delhi.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with the capital city. There are some interesting and cool places to see, great restaurants and plentiful coffee shops, and it is also fantastic for shopping and book browsing.

Yet like many, I hate coming through it. A lot has to do with the hassle of a wide variety of touts out to try and screw as many dollars as they can. Shooing them away quickly puts one in a negative mood. If it is of any consultation to Delhi new-comers, it´s a damn site better than it used to be. I first came here 20 years ago this month with SRN and offered us our first taste of India – Man, were we shell-shocked!

Roads have been mended, cars, vans and rickshaws have been forced to clean up their engines and a very efficient, cheap and ever-expanding Metro has been installed. ATMs and coffee shops abound around the whole city. Long gone are the days of spending the day in the bank to try and change a travellers cheque.

Fortunately, if you are making an exit by train, life is too easy. Ignore whatever you are told by taxi and rickshaw drivers (no, it has not moved or been burnt down), and “helpful” travel agents, head to New Delhi station. Go to the main entrance at the centre of the terminal and head up to the second floor. There you will find the International Tourist Bureau. Pick up a reservation form and if you don´t know all the train details, make your way to the “May I Help You” counter. Within five minutes the woman at the counter has given me all the details of getting up to Darjeeling. I sit on a comfy sofa by the booking desk with blaring aircon (it´s 42 degrees Celsius outside) for another 10 minutes until I´m called over. The transaction is complete within a further five minutes. I get the last ticket for tomorrow´s overnight express. Almost all the customers are of Indian extraction.

This miracle of an office is open from 8am – 8pm, Mondays to Saturdays. It closes at 2pm on Sundays.

Please note you must bring a passport or copy to make your reservation.

Touched By A Nun - The Bus to Delhi

Feeling pretty smug with myself at having secured seat number 1 on the night bus to Delhi (aisle seat behind the driver to maximise space for my 3 metre long legs), the smile is quickly wiped off my face as I find I am sitting next to an enormously large, 50 something year old Tibetan nun. I greet her with the traditional “tashi dilek”, and try and wedge myself into my seat. This is just not possible so I turn my body 90 degrees to the seat and my legs drape into the aisle. Unfortunately this blocks the door to the driver´s cabin, and his serf keeps on having to exit the cab for cigarettes, water and pan. My legs are quickly turned to a perculiar magenta colour.

My neighbour quickly falls asleep, and her head lolls over to my shoulder. I try to grin and bear it until she starts salivating on my sleeve, at which point I lose my compassion and jolt my shoulder away. She moves her head onto the other side and returns to the land of nod. However now she is grabbing sporadically at my upper thigh which I ignore, and then gropes at my groin which I don´t. I twist my body further now looking like some weird contortionist.

At about 9.30 there is a pungent burning smell inside the bus, and the driver pulls over. There is no oil in the tank. We are in the middle of nowhere, but the serf is sent scurrying off into the night. He returns half an hour later in car, and we are soon on the way again.

The Cityline Bus leaves the McLeod Ganj´s new bus stand at 6pm and costs Rp440. It takes about 12 hours and the last stop is the Tibetan refugee centre. It makes a half hour dinner stop at about 10pm. If you are desperate to go to the toilet, the driver usually cooperates.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Village of Culture

Now the tourist season in McLeod Ganj is here, there are cultural events taking place in the village every week. Traditional Tibetan music and dancing are performed twice weekly at the Yongling school hall, down the stairs from Jogiwara Road. The performances feature songs, music and occasional stomp dancing from East, West and Central Tibet and lasts about an hour.

In the above photo you can see the energetic and dynamic Dorje Tsering performing on a tungna, a traditional Tibetan string instrument which is plucked with a plectrum.

Live shows can be seen at 6pm on Thursdays and Sundays. Admission is free, but donations are requested. CDs are often available for purchase.

Religion, Superstition or Exercise?

I shared a moment with a young Tibetan in Bhagsu. A graduate of the Tibetan Children´s Village after leaving his entire family in Tibet as a seven year old, he is a now about to graduate from high school and wants to go to college to study Chemistry, Physics and/or Mathematics. He asks me if it is possible to obtain a scholarship in England.

The Tibetan teen is curious of my opinions on both religion and politics. Do I like Muslims? What do I think of American foreign policy under George W.? Will Obama be better?

I ask him about Tibet. Would he like to go back there one day? He complains that they are “very backward”. He goes on “they don´t understand religion; they are tied to superstition only”. I try to find out what the difference is, but he is unable to explain this coherently in English. I try to probe further. I ask him if he practices prostrations. He does. I ask him if this is equally superstitious. “Think of it as exercise”. Fair dos, but personally I´d rather play football or tennis any day.

Having been fortunate enough to have visited Mount Kailash – the holiest of all mountains in the remote deserts of West Tibet. I was both shocked and amazed at the devotees who made the journey through prostrations, some taking five or more years to make the journey. Me? I cheated and took a 4WD.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Happy Birthday 11th Panchen Lama

Today marks the 20th birthday of His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama. As I have previously blogged, Gedun Choekyi Nyima was recognised by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the the 10th Panchen Lama, and was immediately arrested alongside his family, and has not been seen since. He became the world´s youngest political prisoner.

There was a memorial service held at the main temple today. There were about 100 monks and 80 high school students from the Tibetan Children´s Village. I took these photos for Contact magazine during a two hour speech and prayer ceremony.

An official statement in both Tibetan and English was distributed and released from the Tashi Lhunpo monastery, the Holy seat of the Panchen Lama in Shigatze, Tibet urging all to put pressure on the Chinese government to immediately release the 11th Panchen Lama.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Meditation and Maitri

I recently attended a Tibetan meditation course run by Ani Jangchup Chokyi, an American Buddhist nun and student of the Venerable Chongyam Trugpa Rinpoche.

The course was held on the outside balcony of nearby Hunters Hill and sponsored by the Karma Kagyu Trust.

It really was quite easy to follow. Simply make sure you are sitting with good posture (a straight back), lower your eyes to a spot slightly in front of yourself, Focus on your exhalation of breath and let your mind run in whatever direction it chooses. She stressed the importance of being non-judgemental about your thoughts – known in Tibetan as Maitri. Now how easy is that?

Jangchup Chokyi recommends a meditation sandwich: start and end your day with thirty minutes of meditation.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Swat Valley and Sharia Law

Pakistan is one of the best kept travellers secrets, especially for those who have spent any time in the North West Frontier Province.

I have been fortunate to have travelled twice to this area back in the 90s. My Danish friend Michael lives in Madyan in the heart of the controversial Swat Valley. He co-owns the simple, but comfortable New Caravan Guest House in this small, but very beautiful village.

Like in many typical Islamic villages, men hang around on the street, chatting and drinking chai for hours on end, and women are very rarely seen. Yet this does not mean that women travellers cannot enjoy their travels in this area. I met up with Tanya, a young blond American woman in Madyan. She wore a Punjabi trouser suit and a headscarf, and was loving it. She was given free armed protection from concerned locals and enjoyed free entry to the women´s domestic quarters wherever she went – simply not possible for us male travellers.

Throughout the day, one can hear gunfire echoing around the valley; predominantly testing new guns that are made and bought in other villages. It is easy to regard the area as lawless, but this is simply not the case. Sharia law has governed this area for hundreds of years, it is not a recent invention.

To illustrate my point, I want to share an anecdote from Martin, an 18 year old Danish guy who was travelling on a local bus with another woman traveller. A local man was eyeing up the woman and kept brushing his leg against Martin´s travelling companion. Incensed by this local´s actions, another male passenger passed Martin his imitation Colt 45 and demanded Martin shoot the assailant - "he has insulted your wife". As you can imagine, Martin was shocked by the experience and didn´t take up his fellow passenger´s offer. The troublemaker was subsequently thrown off the bus to much abuse.

Traditional law has been firmly entrenched in Swat valley and the Pakistan government is right to recognise this. The existence of the Taliban who only started their insurgency in this area in December 2008 is unfortunate for many, not least Swat valley residents who rightly fear for their lives.

Whether we agree with Sharia law or not, it is no good Hilary Clinton bleating on about lawlessness. Sharia law does not mean the Pakistani government support the Taliban; simply they respect local Swat valley traditions.

If anyone has a contact for Danish Michael, I'd love to hear from you.

Editor´s Addition
: i am delighted to receive news directly from Michael who is alive and well. He left Madyan in 2002 and is now based back in Denmark. Fida and his ever-expanding family now live in New Caravan Guest House. 07/04/2010

Banned by China?

I have been surprised that this blog has been accessible in China. LJ suggested it would probably avoid being censored as it is an English Language blog.

However, through tracking software, I know that on 10th April Ketchup With Aubs was visited by a person at the Da Qing Information Centre in Harbin, through a Google search of Gedun Chokyi Nyima – the Tibetan candidate for the position of Panchen Lama.

Since then, I have had no hits from China which is unusual – I usually get two or three a week, and indeed a new “follower” from China now subscribes to these blog-feeds.

With an impending visit to Hong Kong coming up, will I be granted a visa to enter Shenzhen? I am concerned.

Editor´s Note: Hoorah! I have just received hits from Guangzhou today 26/04/09

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

World Earth Day in McLeod Ganj

Following Saturday´s clean up of Dal Lake and the Tibetans Children´s Village, today´s World Earth Day marked a clean up of Temple Road and outside Yongling school.

As on Saturday, it continued to be a hot, sticky and smelly experience.

Many of Saturday´s helpers were not in evidence today, but were replaced with a new collection of international travellers, plenty of members of the Tibetan Women´s Movement and some school children who had classes cancelled for a while to help with the cleaning operations.

My group today included Tibetans, a Belgian woman, an American, an English woman and Thiago, a real cool Brazilian guy, making it a truly international experience.

To celebrate the end of the day, there was a showing of “An Inconvenient Truth”, the Al Gore green documentary. More´s the pity that Bush ended up with the presidency. And all because Jed Bush cheated in Florida!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

We´re No Monks

K. and I recently watched the film “We´re No Monks” directed by Pema Dhondup, a Tibetan graduate from UCLA film school in 2004.

It tells of the frustrations of four young Tibetan refugees living in McLeod Ganj who have lost patience with the Middle Path. They decide to take direct action and kidnap the Chinese Ambassador to India to draw attention to the Tibetan cause. It´s a great movie made even more interesting as we know almost all the locations used.

Dhondup says he shot the film on a "zero budget. Everything was donated, no one was paid".

Much of the funding came from benefactors such as Wilderness Films, a New Delhi production company that makes documentaries for the National Geographic and Discovery Channels. It was shot in what Dhondup calls a "neorealist style" meshing fiction with real life, using real crowds, including a scene which shows the Dalai Lama's convoy moving through the town.

While all the Tibetan actors in the movie are amateurs, one well-known Bollywood actor, Gulshan Grover, appears as the ubiquitous policeman trying to maintain order despite the boisterous, nocturnal social life of dancing, dope smoking and drinking of the disenchanted exiles. He gives a great performance.

Aub´s Verdict: Definitely worth watching, if somewhat protracted in parts

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mass Debating Monks

Pop along to the Tsuglag Khang temple early in the afternoons and you can often witness mass debating monks around the courtyard.

Highly ritualized and stylized, debating is an important part of daily monastic life, providing an opportunity to discuss philosophical matters. One monk sits on the floor, whilst his debating partner stands over him. The standing monk will put forward his idea in a loud voice, his arm circles overhead and claps his hands together for each point that he is making. The sitting monk comes up with his counter argument.

The courtyard echoes to the shouts and claps, and makes an interesting spectacle.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Words – a lot of them about nothing

I have just completed the autobiographical “Words” by Jean Paul Sartre in which he describes his early childhood. Having lost his father before ever gaining a conscious memory of him, JPS was highly indulged by his mother and grandfather. No wonder his writings are so self-indulgent!

His Oedipus complex oozes through in his verbose and constipated childhood. He “knew” he was going to be a writer from the age of five, and he notes not having a single childhood interaction until he was nine.

Having totally failed to complete his trilogy, although I had valiant stabs at Nausea and The Age of Reason. He is an author I find impossible to get into. I had the same problem with Joseph Conrad.

Aub´s Verdict: More indulgent moribund piffle

Keeping It Green

I met up with Lobsang, my editor from Contact magazine asking if I could take some photos for the Voluntary Clean-Up around McLeod Ganj to celebrate World Earth Day which is taking place on 22nd April.

Now this is not something that I do every Saturday morning, but armed with my camera, I joined up with about 60 people at 10am at the bus stand. Clearly the organisers did not expect such a big turn-out and the bus was packed both inside and on the roof, while cars and motorbikes ferried the stragglers.

The group was made up of predominantly of non-locals, a sizeable Tibetan contingent and a few local Indians; ironic as this is probably an exact reverse of the litterbug culprits. Germans, and Australia were particular well represented, but the international group I was working with also included a Norwegian, two Americans and a Latvian. Split into 10 teams the bus dropped each group off at various points between he Tibetan Children´s Village and Dal Lake which lie to the west of McLeod Ganj.

Volunteer clean-ups have occurred on a regular basis over the last 10 years, but this was a new area for them. It was a completely dirty and smelly made worse by a break in the irrigation pipes that turned the ground muddy despite the burning sun overhead.

Many bags of garbage were separated into dry and wet waste where possible and lots of old clothes and shoes left in the sun to dry out and take to local charities.

Despite only being attendance as a photographer I lend a hand – although made more difficult by having to lug my camera bag around, and only equipped with sandals on my feet.

The unpleasant job is lightened by the look of astonishment and bemusement on the faces of Indians who are passing us in cars, with looks of pure wonder at these “foreigners” doing the work of Untouchables. I felt like inviting them to join in!

I am interviewed on camera by the local news-team. Filled with loads of clichés and platitudes, I certainly won´t be surfing the TV tonight!

It is a shame that it is left to volunteers to clean up the mountainside. Surely this should be left in the realms of local authorities? Indians in particular, need to be educated in environmental awareness. I also liked the approach in Shimla, whereby heavy fines were introduced and implemented for littering. People would think twice before throwing out their garbage on the streets and on the mountainside.

Getting back to the village at about 4pm I am totally dehydrated and hungry, but I don´t dare to go into a café, shop or restaurant as I stink.

There is another clean-up session on Wednesday targeting McLeod Ganj itself. I hope that our efforts earn a lot of good karma.

Friday, April 17, 2009


I have been interested in orchids since my Hong Kong days, where I turned my Island penthouse into an orchid shrine. Moving on to Bogotá, my mate Susan kept me in supply of several interesting South American species.

I only have one specimen here on the balcony and it is blooming gorgeous!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Elections in the World´s Largest Democracy

There are a registered 700 million voters in India making it the World´s largest democracy. The elections start today and will take more than four weeks to conduct. Results won´t be known until the middle of May.

Acts of violence remain few so far, but there are fears that the growing number of Maoists who are calling for an election boycott could cause trouble.

Early polls are predicting a move away from the Big Two – the governing Congress party and the pro-Hindu party, the BJP. Regional political parties are likely to hold the key to the next government in what is known as the Third Front. However they have no obvious consensus.

Keep up to date with the Indian elections. via the BBC.

Of course "democracy" is a rather loose word. Try telling the Indian Booker Prize winners Arundhati Roy and Aravind Adiga that they live in a democracy - they won´t believe you!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Great British Bobby?

Police violence continues in the UK. After the notorious “Tibetan beating” by the Chinese police on Youtube, LJ sent me this link that shows serious brutality against the “New Age” travellers during what became known as the “Battle of Beanfield” in 1985. Police attacked a procession of vehicles by entering the field where a travelling convoy were being contained, methodically smashing windows, beating people on the head with truncheons, and using sledgehammers to damage the interiors of their coaches.

Journalists witnessing the atrocities (some of which were arrested themselves) demanded a government inquiry which never transpired. Some of footage mysteriously “disappeared”, but you can see some of the aggro here.

Following the release of video footage of protests at the recent G20 conference thankfully two police officers have been suspended and there has been further calls for a complete overhaul of policing techniques. About bloody time!

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the “Hillsborough Disaster” in the central England city of Sheffield, where poor crowd control and general incompetence at a football match resulted in the death of 96 innocent football fans. Despite all the evidence collected that pointed to police incompetency, no-one from the police have apologised for their actions. BBC Radio 5 produced this excellent memorial programme this week that documents the pain and hurt of the thousands who were effected by the ordeal. Click here to listen.

The Great British Bobby is a myth.

P.S. I was told that Youtube capitulated in a request from the Chinese government to remove the video which showed the beating of Tibetans by the Chinese police.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Indian Record Breakers

Any nation that has cricket as their national sport shows a weird eccentricity on humongous proportions. Invented by the English, it remains probably the most obtuse and anally retentive bat and ball game in world sports. Not surprisingly, India are nuts about it! The wacky nature of Indians make an already colourful country iridescent.

Take, for example, these special, talented and unique Indian record holders.

Mr. Har Praka Rishi holds the record for drinking tomato ketchup. He consumed a 500g bottle in 39.33 seconds. He recently had all his teeth removed for his next feat; holding 749 straws in his mouth. The previous holder of this obscure record could only boast a paltry 450!

Mr. S Ramesh Babu from Bangalore is the record holder for cutting a cucumber into 120,060 pieces. This Science graduate runs seminars on reaching one´s full potential.

My favourite Indian record breaker though is Mr. B. B. Nayak of Mumbai. He holds the record for taking 43 kicks to the groin. The British comedian and raconteur Paul Merton alleged to have helped him with this feat. His wife, when interviewed, appeared non-nonplussed by her husband´s achievements. Mr. Nayak plans to become the new recorder holder for smashing baseball bats over his shins. Best of luck Sir!

The latest world record holder from India accomplished yet another amazing feat on Thursday. Ms. Anandita Dutta Tamuly, a 28 year old from Assam ate fifty one "ghost" chillies - recognised as the fiercest in the world. Her two minute endeavour was cheered on by that foul-mouthed celebrity chef Gordan Ramsey for his new global food series. Not content with just eating them, she smeared the seeds into her eyes. OUCH!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Aub´s Top Recommendations in Shimla

Check out the Harry Potter film set that is the Viceregal Lodge
Get lost amongst the alleyways of the Middle Bazaar
Spend the sunrise at Scandal Point and along the Ridge. A great place to people watch at any time of day
Enjoy a espresso machiato at Coffee Day on The Mall
Enjoy a sunset snack at the Fiesta Food Court, next to Hotel Willow Banks and Spa. A grilled chicken and cheese sandwich with coleslaw and fries, plus a glass of limca will set you back Rp135.
Stay at the clean and friendly Spars Lodge. The steamed trout is awesome and they boast some of the softest towels in India!

Shelter and Sustenance in Shimla

Taken from Lonely Planet´s “Our Pick”, I´ve been staying at the clean and quiet Spars Lodge close to the State Museum. At Rp615 it is more expensive than I normally like to pay, but having checked out some of the surrounding hotels and guest houses, it really is good value, even if it is a bit of a walk into the centre.

The best meal I have eaten in Shimla has been the Lodge´s Grilled Trout with veg and a choice of potatoes in a lemon butter sauce. Rp250/300/350 for small/medium/large fish.

Whilst the food has been fair/good, I did not find anything excellent.

I did try and check out the exclusive Oberoi Cecil´s dinner banquet. After all, this town has a reputation for Raj extravagance. However I´m told they are very busy this week and “cannot accommodate” me. Maybe it´s because I´m looking a bit like an an unshaven ageing hippy. Lonely Planet quotes the set dinner at Rp780. The hotel does looks packed with elderly Yorkshire couples and American tour parties.

Tara Bhojnalya offers both veg and non-veg Indian and Chinese snacks and mains. The chicken tikka was succulent although overly garnished with coriander for my tastes. It lies to the west of the Mall opposite the junction with Cart Road.

The Dim Sum Chinese restaurant on the western side of the Mall offers an interesting menu of Chinese veg and non-veg dishes including chicken in orange and plum sauce and garlic butter chilly prawns (Rp230). Prices for mains cost Rp125 up. I had the golden fried lamb chops which was a little overcooked and heavy on the ginger and Five Spice.

I couldn´t resist the Domino´s take away. Good 10” pizzas will cost fromRp220 for veg and Rp280 for non-veg.

I have been enjoying breakfasts at Indian Coffee House also on the Mall. Looking a little worn, the waiters are still dressed up to the nines. A little touch of the Raj. A cheese omelette, two buttered toasts and a black coffee can be had for Rp60.

The Coffee Day Café has branches in many major cities and larger towns throughout India. An assortment of hot and cold coffees and a variety of sandwiches and snacks are also available. An espresso will set you back Rp29. There is also a Barista which is currently being refurbished.

The Fiesta Food Court is on the Eastern side of the Mall next to Hotel Willow Banks. Another nice terrace, particularly pleasant at sunset. The do veg and non-veg snacks. I can recommend the grilled chicken and cheese sandwich with fries and coleslaw. Throw in a Limca and it will cost you Rp135.

Himani´s boasts an excellent roof-top bar and restaurant with a prime people-watching location. A must for beer-drinkers, but if you are tea-teetotaller like myself, they do a mighty fine sweet lassi. Smoking is positively encouraged!

The Honey Hut offers a variety of honey-based drinks and snacks. The honey lassi was okay, and their honey softy ice-creams are a Rp10 bargain. A variety of liquid golden amber are sold in jars.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

St Michael´s Cathedral and Lower Bazaar

This afternoon I checked out St Michael´s Catholic cathedral on my way to the Lower Bazaar below the Mall. The cathedral dates from 1885 at the request of Lord Ripon, the then Roman Catholic Viceroy. Originally named St Michael´s and St Joseph, no-one seems sure why his name was dropped. Both saints are honoured on stained glass windows.

What a contrast between the Mall and the Lower Bizarre! The maze of small alleyways was crawling with shoppers. The bustle and noise reminded me this is a thriving town rather than just a hill-station and a popular place for Indian honeymooners.

Everything is up for sale - from haberdashery, shoes, food, fruit and veg. Chaos abounds in true Indian market fashion!

The light in the late afternoon was gorgeous today.

Some more photos can be accessed here.

Jakhu/Jakoo Temple

Dedicated to Hanuman - the Monkey-God, little is known of this temple´s history. First written evidence appeared in the journals of Captain Alexander Gerard in 1817. One popular legend claims that Bhagwan Hanuman dropped a sandal here whilst searching for the Savini plant, to cure the mortally wounded on the battlefield in Lanka.

Situated at an altitude of 2455 metres to the East of the Ridge, it is a steep climb up. I decided to hike, but you can ride a horse up for about Rp400 of a taxi will set you back Rp250 return.

The hiking path can be found to the left of the church. A sign at the bottom of the path from the Temple Trust asks the hiker to “Test Your Physical Fitness”. It claims that for those aged under 30 will score the following times:-
Less Than 30 minutes - “Absolutely Fit”
30 to 45 minutes - “Fit”
Over 60 minutes - “Unfit”

Those over 70 are “Fit” if they can climb the trail at all!

The path heads up steeply through monkey-laden pine forests. My drink seller insists I borrow a stick for a “mere Rp30”. I arrive at the top without assault from monkeys in 24 minutes. "Superhero Fit" status methinks.

There are a couple of cafes at the top.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Himalayan Bird Park

Found opposite to the entrance of the Viceregal Lodge, this small aviary boasts a few geeese, and lot of chickens, which seem to often squabble with a few colourful pheasants. One of these pheasants is the camera-shy Monal Pheasant (photo below), the official state bird of Himachal Pradesh. It´s plumage is even more beautiful than the mythical Norwegian Blue.

There is also a display of some rather warped examples of taxidermy. Moth-worn exhibits include ibex, assorted dear, a brown bear, leopard and snow leopard.

Admission costs Rp20 with an additional Rp10 camera charge. It is open Tuesday to Sunday between 10am - 5pm. It is closed on Mondays.

Himachal State Museum and Library

I felt as this was the State Museum, I would ignore Paolo Coelho´s travel advise and visit this state showpiece.

The museum boasts an impressive collection of a variety of stuff including weapons, embroidery, jewellery, temple carvings, brass statues, etc. from the region set in several rooms on two floors.

Coins, dolls and stamp collection, don´t really do it for me, but I particularly enjoyed the wall relief, wall paintings and Mogul miniatures.

The museum is open from 10am every day apart from Mondays when it is closed. It lies west from Scandal Point along the Mall. Admission for foreigners is Rp50 with a very hefty Rp100 for cameras.