I have finished at Oxford and I am currently based at my parents house for most of the duration of my UK trip.
I’d be lying if i was to say it is pretty weird; clearly in their eyes their little boy is home and can’t spoil me enough. Meals are various and completely free-flowing, and i am banned from doing any household chores.
I left home for university at 18 and have thrived ever since. Naturally independent with an interest in cooking and “doing my own thing” i have not been based in Britain since 1991.
A recent survey released this week in the UK however states that one in three males (and one in five females) aged between 20 – 50 live with their parents.
One wonders if this is a question of excessive house prices, the economic recession, a pure love of their parents or just can’t be bothered to move on.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
a Painted Lady resting up in my parents garden after it's huge migration
Millions of exotic migrants are breezing into Britain, but the tabloid press can rest easy: these new arrivals are painted lady butterflies and the only resources they will devour are nectar and thistles.
In what could be the biggest influx of butterflies into Britain in decades, millions have flown into Britain from the deserts of North Africa. Up to 18,000 were spotted sailing on the breeze across Scolt Head Island on the north Norfolk coast: 50arriving every minute according to Natural England nature reserve staff.
The mass migration began in May when large numbers were seen off Portland Bill in Dorset. Since then, UK’s highest mountains, biggest cities and thickest forests have proved no obstacle: thousands of painted ladies have turned up everywhere, from central London to Dumfries and Galloway. Several look rather pale and faded, but so would you after flapping your way here from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
Painted ladies reach British shores every summer, but the last major migration was in 1996. This year, rumours of an impending invasion began circulating in late winter. A Spanish scientist, Constanti Stefanescu, reported seeing hundreds of thousands of them emerging in Morocco in mid-February after heavy winter rains in North Africa triggered the germination of food plants devoured by its caterpillars.
Aided by favourable winds and unimaginable reserves of stamina, large numbers were seen in Spain during April. A few weeks later, they had reached France.
When they settle on garden flowers they are as striking as their less adventurous relatives, the red admiral and the small tortoise-shell. Certain weeds should be very afraid: painted lady caterpillars feast on thistles before emerging as an immaculate new generation of adult butterflies in August.
"It's really quite wonderful," says Matthew Oates, the National Trust's adviser on nature. "It may be that thistle-cutting or spraying is unnecessary this summer because the caterpillars will defoliate them for you."
Come September, the painted ladies will be off again: the British-born generation will begin an epic reverse trip, drawn by a mysterious calling to the hot, distant land of their mothers and fathers.
The painted lady butterflies can cover more than 2000kms in less than one month. Pretty incredible stuff.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Kita is your archetypal 60s Love Child. His Israeli father and German mother met in Goa on the overland trail in 1966. Born in Manali a year later, Kita spent his first eight years living in Manali, Goa and Kathmandu, before attending an Indian boarding school.
Tall, blond and blue eyed, Kita speaks fluent Hindi as well as a couple of local dialects. He speaks English with a mix of an Indian and German accent – although he has never lived in Germany. I met up with him on my recent puja in Spiti and then caught up again in Dharamsala.
His parents now live back in Europe, pissed off with the continual renewal of their Indian visas. Kita has spent the last eight years in Goa. In November last year, he was one of the first to be able to take advantage of a new law, stating that as a person born on Indian soil, he is now entitled to a permanent right of abode, land-ownership and business rights.
Witnessing the shock of the Indian-China border guards was a gem, especially as he retells the story of his new visa in Hindi.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Written in 1903, Robert Dunn tells the story of a failed hike up Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America. Led by “The Professor” Frederick Cook, described by the author as “a fearful combination of stubbornness and indecision,” the trip is doomed for failure. Dunn was a 26 year old Harvard graduate and gold prospector.
The expedition team is hastily thrown together with almost zero mountaineering experience, and Dunn is unable to hide his hatred of almost all his companions. He is also openly anti-Semitic and “Simon” the only Jewish member of the team is made to suffer at almost every turn.
The 15 horses are in poor condition even at the start of the trail and spend much of the time running away from the trekking party. Mosquitoes and gnats bombard the group who sometimes fail to travel even 5kms a day. The party fail to get above 4000 of McKinley´s 6194 metres.
Frederick Cook gained notoriety for falsely claiming to be the first explorer to reach the North Pole and the summit of McKinley.
Aub´s Verdict: Wild!
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Whenever one travels abroad, whether we like we like it or not, we become ambassadors for our country of origin. Even though I have been in a self-imposed exile from Britain for almost 20 years, I am seen as an Englishman and I am judged accordingly. Invariably, “where are you from?” is the first question asked – or indeed “what is the name of your good country?” on the Indian sub-continent.
Now don´t get me wrong, some of my favourite cousins are Israeli. However the hordes going around town are a complete nightmare at times. Like so many towns in Asia and, more selectively, in South America, Hebrew signs can be found on the streets. Many of the restaurants here offer “Israeli salad” and hummus. I´ve even found falafel on the menu in an Indian restaurant! A real home away from home.
Loud, boisterous and cliquey, they show few manners or respect to locals or other travellers. At the Dalai Lama´s teachers they are often without transistor radios and are thus unable to hear the translations provided. Thus somewhat bored, they regularly shout to each other during the proceedings irrespective that others are trying to follow the teachings.
Fortunately, most Israelis prefer to ghettoise themselves in Bhagsu, 4kms out of town, but often descend to Mcleod Ganj´s excellent restaurants. They often seem intent on promoting anti-Semitism wherever they go!
Most Israeli travellers have come straight out of the army and, understandably, intent on having a good time. Sometimes too much! A group of mum’s in Israel are putting pressure on both Indian and Thai governments to tighten up visa access. Too many Israeli travellers have returned to Israel with drug habits and/or psychotic neurosis. Good on these Israeli mums! To assist this new political lobbyists, the Indian government will only issue one six month visa per year to an individual Israeli.
Personally, I am trying to be more empathetic with these travellers for I cannot imagine the pain and suffering of being forced to be conscripted to do military service.
I await your comments and abuse!
Monday, July 13, 2009
Back in March I drew reference to Paolo Coelho where he claims that we don´t need to speak the same language to communicate when we are travelling.
Like the true Brit that I am, my foreign Language skills are minimal. I have a few Cantonese phrases that I can use in Hong Kong, a few Hindi words and crappy Spanish (I can understand South American Spanish quite well, but my spoken Espanol is shite!). And I certainly don´t speak any Himalayan dialects.
Yet, whilst hanging out in Keylong, I came across a large group of women (about eight aged between 30 -50 years old) sitting out on the roadside near the communal water-pump. Now in neighbouring Pakistan, in any small village, town or city, it is a very common sight to come across men “just hanging out”; never women. Even in India, it is quite unusual.
I ask them if I can take their photograph and they agree in a giggly sort of way. I keep up the blather as I take five or six photos in quick succession, and they are keen on seeing the results. I pass the camera around so they can see the results in the monitor. I tell them they are too beautiful, and this word is clearly recognised by one of these women who translates it for the rest of group. Much hilarity. One of the women starts touching up my ever-present silver bangle and she asks if I can give it her as a present. No, it is for my wife I say pointing to an invisible wedding band. Even more hilarity at this one, and a couple of ladies are obviously sharing a couple of crude comments. I blush furiously, which causes even more laughter.
This exchange lasts about 20 minutes and we understand each other perfectly.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
It´s will soon be time to revisit the spires of Oxford for my dissertation tutorials. Actually, as the university is Oxford Brookes, it is modelled on a 1960´s sanatorium in some field outside the attractive City of Learning.
This trip ties in nicely with the renewal of my Indian visa. Hassle, but necessary. Surely the embassy in London is more organised than Kathmandu? I´ll let you know – I am flying to London on Sunday for five weeks.
I love London; I still have a lot of family and friends in UK, but I am scheduled to be there for over a month – more than two weeks longer than I usually can bare. Gulp! Expecting to frazzle!
Blogs will no doubt be sporadic, but tweets will be common. You can sign up for Twitter from Ketchup with Aubs
I´m heading to Delhi tonight and will arrive in London on Sunday evening.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
In a process that has taken almost ten months, I am now in possession of my full astrological chart from TIMA – The Tibetan Institute of Medicine and Astrology.
Inspired by Michael Palin from his BBC TV series Himalaya in 2004, who is seen walking into the Institute and walking away with his chart. He was particularly impressed that he was an elephant in his past life.
How times have changed!
I visited the Institute back in August who in fairness warned me they were severely back-logged and the process would take about a year. All they requested in my first visit was my email address which I wrote in a huge ledger and they would contact me. I did so sceptical that I would hear from then again.
I was therefore somewhat surprised when I received an email from them in February requesting my time, place and date of birth. It costs US$50 to process payable through Paypal or Western Union. I write back informing them I am still in Dharamsala and they agree to accept a cash payment of Rs. 2502.50
Place and date of birth is no problem, but there is disagreement between my parents on the exact time of birth. No problem say the Institute providing I can give them a ball-park time in a range of 2 hours. Great! They inform me it will take about another three months to process.
The postman delivers the chart to me this week. It´s quite interesting and detailed, but i´ll share some of the stuff with you – my gentle reader.
It tells me I´m a Fire Sheep for my lunar calendar shows my birth is the 14th day of the 12th month.
According to my Natal and Elemental Signs, I must be affectionate, intelligent, but quite capable of stupidity (so true!) I must also be very creative, talented, loyal, stubborn, short-tempered, uncommunicative and “desirous of good food.” Only parts of these seem accurate.
It also tells me that Fridays are my Soul – Days, Mondays are my Life- Force Days, but Thursdays are my Foe Days.
It also offers me some future predictions. It informs me of excellent health and a long life beyond the age 82.
The chart predicts misfortune between the ages of 48 – 52 both financially and within relationships, but these will improve up until I reach 66 years 6 months and fourteen days. I´ve been warned!
Although detailed and quite interesting, I am very disappointed that there is no information on my past lives which was my prime reason for pursuing the chart in the first place.
TIMA is based on Khara Danda Road, Dharamsala or check out their website.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Following concerned friends´advise, I went back to the Men Tsee Khang Tibetan clinic in the village. I show the doctor the toe and he prods it a couple of times and then takes nine different pulses from my lower arm. He writes out the prescription which I take to the pharmacist´s counter.
Some of the six medicines he has prescribed what looks like old friends (little brown pastels that I took for my persistent cold), but I am given a couple of new things as well. One is a salmon pink powder that I need to take with warm water after lunch, and the other is known as Rinchen Jumar 25.
This is known as the Precious Pill and contains 25 different ingredients including coral, pearl, lapis lazuli, saffron, nutmeg, crocus and sativus linn (I thought this one might be a cannabis derivative, but it transpires that it is a Japanese radish). The pill was first formulated by the ancient Tibetan physician Shasandhara Lakhsmi who himself was a great advocate for this wonder-pill.
It suggests in directions of use that it is beneficial to repeat the mantra of the medicine Buddha “tadyatha aum bhaishjya maha bhaishjya raja sa-mud ga-te svaha,” but I am not sure I can even get my tongue around this one.
I have been given complex instructions to take the various medications throughout different times of the day and night for a week. I am told not to drink too many cold drinks and to avoid tomato ketchup.
It must be a Precious Pill as I am charged a hefty RS230 (US$5).
Monday, July 6, 2009
Yesterday was the birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Now aged 74, birthday celebrations were held at the main temple, even though the Birthday Boy was not in attendance – he is currently in Paris to collect an honoury citizenship award.
HHDL continues to work tirelessly to promote the Tibetan cause despite his recent ill-health over the last few years. Compare the global awareness of the Tibetans´ plight compared to those of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. Like the Tibetans, this Islamic minority group have suffered horrendously at the hands of the Chinese government. Yet their fight is little-known, making the global news when they hold an insurrection which they are organising with increasing frequency and ferocity. BBC report at least 140 people are feared dead from Sunday´s uprising.
Forced into politics from a very young age and living in exile for 50 years, HHDL has faced much greater difficulties than any of his 13 predecessors (or previous incarnations). It has been increasingly reported that he has lost the support and backing of the younger Tibetans in exile. However, whenever I speak to the younger exiles, they have nothing but respect for him.
HHDL has made it clear that it is up to the Tibetan people to decide if they want a fifteenth Dalai Lama on his death. However, any successor would not have the additional burden of being the political leader, the role being passed to the democratically elected leader of the Tibetan (in Exile) parliament.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
During this pre-monsoon heat, I have been cooling off with fresh apple juice. It doubled in price since I started travelling in India – but at Rs40 per large bottle, it´s still good value an en excellent alternative to water or fizzy drinks.
Over the last year I have come to develop a degree of patriotism to Himachal Pradesh, the national state of Dharamsala (and also Manali, Shimla, Lahaul, Spiti and Kinnaur). The state prides itself on the growth of temperate fruit. It is said that 50% of all Himachal Pradeshans are involved directly or indirectly with the apple industry. Yet the history of the apple is a relatively short one.
Samuel Stokes was an American who arrived in India in 1906. He purchased an estate in Thanedar, just outside Shimla, and in 1919 he put an order for apple saplings. As the orchard prospered, Stokes gave apple saplings to poor farmers in the area. Farmers in the state have never looked back.
Plum and litchi juice are also available.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
I´ve broken my toe. As a devoted football fan, I know quite a lot about metatarsal injuries, made extremely fashionable by English football´s biggest export – David Spice in the 2002 World Cup finals.
It bloody hurts and has turned a very weird colour.
I´d love to say I got it trekking the slopes of Spiti valley or coming off the tractor on the Kunzum Pass, but I can´t
Rather unceremoniously, I dropped my large bag on my foot that I am busily packing. My toe (the one that stayed at home on my right foot) ended up in a totally unnatural 90 degree angle to my sole, that I had to put back into place. It was totally disgusting. Good job in a state shock; it didn´t hurt as much as it should have done.
The usually reliable Times of India reported on this interesting if rather sick story this week:
ROHTAK: In a gut-wrenching case, four persons in Palwal town were reportedly caught feeding on a partially-cremated human body on Thursday night.
According to sources, horrified by what he saw in the night, a watchman of the cremation ground raised an alarm. Soon a crowd gathered and thrashed the cannibals before handing them over to the police.
The police on Friday booked Santram, a municipality worker, his son Sunil, Ramesh and Kamal under various sections (trespassing on burial places with the intention of wounding feelings of any person, insulting religion, defiling a place of worship with intent to insult religion of any class and wanton provocation. The accused were produced before a local court, which sent them to police remand for five days.
The police said Chhawender Singh had left the cremation ground at Alawalpur road after the funeral rites of his mother. He paid some money to a boy, Sunil, and asked him to take care of the pyre that was still burning. Sources said late in the night, Santram, his son and two others arrived at the cremation ground and started drinking.
Ajay, the watchman, noticed that one of them had pulled a half-burnt body off the pyre. Then what he saw was bizarre: the men had started eating parts of the body. Ajay and his mother then ran out to inform cremation ground management committee member Krishan Kumar Bhutani about the incident. Soon, a crowd gathered at the scene and beat up the accused. It was after the arrival of cremation ground committee members that the four were handed over to the police.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
SRN is an East Londoner and another high quality friend of mine - indeed i am blessed with several! No really … this guy is a top gadgey! I met him during our undergraduate days in Bristol, a fantastic small city in the west of England.
He was also my travelling companion on my first trip to India in May ´89. Whilst I was on the road in Spiti, SRN sent me a 20th Anniversary email which I have inserted below.
Twenty years ago today I was stranded at (until now) an unknown Indian railway station after getting off the train to buy a cold drink.
I think we were travelling between Mount Abu and Udaipur?? I'm guessing as I can't really remember. I got back on the train and found a much more comfortable carriage, than the third class one we were on. However I did not realise that the train would split, so that you went (I think) to Udaipur and I went somewhere else.
Whilst waiting about ten hours for a train to get back to you, I bought with the limited money I had an English language paper which showed two significant headlines - the Ayotollah dying and Tiannamann Square massacre.
I've attached the only photo I took whilst there -I've just noticed the
sign saying Chittaurgarh - I've looked this up on Google Earth, so I know
after 20 years know exactly how lost I was!!
I remember this event well, although i´m pretty sure we were travelling from Ajmer to Mount Abu. Both young and naive, I was somewhat concerned for his well-being. We were meant to be travelling together for a few months, and in the days of pre-email and mobile phones thought I´d lost him for good after just a week. I studied the rail map and presumed that he had got waylaid in Chittaurgarh. Checking out the city in Lonely Planet it noted that there is a stunning five hundred year old fort, and a protest outside a factory where there was one disgruntled worker who had been standing on one leg for over 20 years. I had strong visions SRN would be offering his support to the sole protester – maybe acting as a human crutch?
We did successfully meet up again at the railway station in Mt Abu where shortly after I contracted my first dose of amoebic dysentery (now an old friend) from the first “decent” restaurant we ate in. As the only “foreigners” in town we were mobbed by holidaying and honeymooning Indian tourists – it was totally horrendous.
As you can tell from his photo, SRN is a natural photographer and his photos he took on his Olympus was the inspiration for me to use an SLR camera. When we were squatting in Leytonstone, East London we even managed to set up a small dark room where we would many an enjoyable weekend in front of the enlarger and chemicals.
The High Court in Delhi today decriminalised homosexuality to consenting males over 21. It doesn´t seem to have included lesbians. This overturns a 148 year old ruling claiming homosexuality as “unnatural” in article 377 of India´s Penal Code. It defines homosexual acts as "carnal intercourse against the order of nature."
Prior to this ruling, homosexual acts were punishable by a 10-year prison sentence.
With classic Indian love of bureaucracy (a left-over from it´s Colonial past), it has taken eight years to come through the legal process, and it is seen as likely that an appeal will be launched to the Supreme Court.
In a country where traditional social and gender roles remain conservative, even heterosexual relationships between young Indians is still frowned upon. This has led many young Indian males to have very tactile relationships with each other. It is common to see to young Indian guys holding hands and/or hugging each other. It is not uncommon to see a hand caressing an ass or groin - especially notable in Indian yuppies on trains.
In what is now fashionably termed bromance in the West, this is not always a platonic relationship, although the two consenting males would be very unlikely to deem this as homosexual activity, “just something young healthy guys do”.
It is believed that 8% of gay Indian males are HIV+
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
At altitudes of over 4,000 metres, there are not many natural resources to use for home construction. Yet the architecture in Spiti is beautiful if somewhat time consuming.
Mud and soil is expertly mixed with water. This goo is then kneaded by hand for several hours; all air-bubbles must be completely removed . They are then shaped into bricks and left in the sun for two weeks to dry out.
The brick constructions are then plastered over and white-washed. Textures are sometimes added. The doorways and windows are then elaborately decorated with contrasting colours seen as a reflection of opposites in Tantric Buddhism.
Of course the highlight of Tibetan architecture has to be the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Construction began in the 7th Century and with it´s thirteen stories, was for hundred of years the World´s tallest skyscraper.
the beautiful Potala Palace - for many years the world´s tallest building