About Aline Dobbie
Aline Dobbie is the author of four books on India and the travel editor of India Link International magazine. She returns to India annually where she writes with affection and insight as she was born and grew up in India; but she also covers other countries and is an inveterate traveller. Aline is married and a mother and grandmother and lives in Scotland in the United Kingdom with her husband Graham. She has a deep commitment to wildlife conservation and in particular Tigers, Elephants and Rhinos. Her own website is www.thepeacockscall.co.uk.
Latest Posts by Aline Dobbie
We spent the holidays in Mumbai at two very beautiful luxury five star hotels and then on the 2nd of January we flew off to Nagpur to start a ten day journey through Madhya Pradesh. ‘MP’ as it is known is famed for being the location for the great ever young story The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling and I grew up on those stories as a young child in India and was familiar with the various characters that are of course animals…that is apart from Mowgli the child in the forest brought up by wolves!
It is a couple of hours drive from Nagpur, which is actually in the adjacent state of Maharashtra, to Pench National Park. I had previously visited Bandhavgarh, Kanha, and Panna National Parks which are also in MP but never Pench so I was eagerly anticipating this visit. We were guests at a very new resort called Tathastu. I use the word resort carefully because it is designed as a resort with several facilities that a wildlife lodge would not readily have.
The owners, however, are very keen on responsible tourism and have planted hundreds of trees and bushes and an Ayurvedic Garden and their own organic vegetable garden. They have luxury tents, a couple of ‘constructed caves’….with all mod cons and a couple of tree houses. Along with those there are luxury villas for bigger family parties and those who might attend conferences here. Yes, they have built a completely sound proof conference hall and a lovely indoor heated swimming pool and there is a Spa being constructed too. So yes it is a resort and with the aim of hosting small conferences of executives and others who seek special places in which their staff can be trained and achieve team spirit…or just relax. If all those who come also learn to appreciate and respect and love the Wild Places of India…in this case Pench then I am happy too…..I write as a child of India myself.
Just to remind the reader about the central characters of The Jungle Book….the Walt Disney film was first released in 1967 but is now having a digital remake of that animated classic which will be in cinemas on 15th April. The essential story was that of abandoned village toddler found and raised by a pack of wolves. The story you may recall involves mischievous monkeys – the Bandar-log, the friendly Bear Balu, the enemy is the savage tiger Sher Khan, Mowgli’s great support the Black Panther (leopard) Bagheera. The mother wolf is Akela (which means in Hindi the lone one) the slimy character of Tabaqui the Jackal, the wondrous Hathi – the Elephants and Kaa the Python and other characters.
Sher Khan was seen as the baddie when Kipling wrote the book way back in 1894; but now in India Tigers are most precious and whereas when I was born in India nearly 70 years ago there were 40,000 tigers there are now only about 2,500 in the whole sub-continent. Tigers if left to themselves breed easily and are truly magnificent kings and queens of the food chain and the most beautiful of the big cats. So, whether people admit to it or not most wildlife tourists are mad keen to see tigers and leopards if possible, plus sloth bears plus all the other lovely creatures of the Indian jungles. The great danger to Tigers is poaching which is fuelled by the unwise (I mean stupid) mythology of their body parts having aphrodisiac qualities for Orientals like the Chinese and Vietnamese. Poaching has decimated tigers for decades now and that great danger extends to the Asian Elephants and the Rhinos in India.
Indeed HRH Prince William is doing all he can to give global prominence to the poaching threat to all three creatures and will be visiting India in April. As if The Jungle Book being re-released was not enough I can tell you that there is a most wonderful Children’s book just published called Global Gang and the Land of the Tiger which has a most exciting story which is all to do with poaching and I also recommend that for young readers. I gave it to my grandchildren at Christmas.
On our first safari the first afternoon we came across a pair of Paradise Flycatchers which was astonishing and a delight. We saw chital deer, sambar deer, owls, wild boar, jungle fowl, gaur, mongoose in all the forest and glades and water holes, some peacocks and other birdlife….but the tiger remained elusive. We had three drives, one at crack of dawn the next day and another in the afternoon but no – the tigers of Pench were having the week-end off. Then it was suggested that if we would go out on Monday morning it could be arranged. We did.
Immediately that morning the park somehow felt different and there was a sort of buzz and expectation and then it started….the roaring, it got louder and was continuous. One tiger venting his frustration or communicating, then a second joined in. It was so thrilling and the Naturalist was considering where to take us in the jeep – I had never heard tigers roar like that in the wild, it has a curious exciting sound that thrills and threatens. They decided these were two male tigers who were part of a trio of three cubs, now grown and they were communicating with their other more dominant brother.
I held on for dear life as the jeep was swung into action and we sped up to where we felt was closest to the roaring. Then….suddenly there was a tiger cautiously appearing out of the lantana undergrowth…..we held our breath, would he come near us or just slink away, but No! He kept coming out and lo and behold he was followed by his brother. Well that was astounding as adult male tigers do not normally remain together. We were filming away and just enjoying the moment. These magnificent tigers came out to within 25 feet of us and walked together slowly and then crossed the road in front of the lead jeep, we were one behind and then paused on the other side and looked at us. It was mesmerising. Truly beautiful.
Thankfully both our cameras did us proud and we treasure that visual memory as well as the photographs. Tigers of India, Tigers of Pench, thank you!
We left with promises to return soon and had a long drive ahead and were only too glad when eventually we arrived at Reni Pani which is on the periphery of Satpura Tiger Park. This too I had never as yet visited despite invitations from five years ago. Reni Pani is a delight, a carefully well maintained small set up and Graham and I were in our element. The viewing veranda of our little house almost immediately gave us a view of a chital hind and her faun, a racket tailed Drongo bird and then a little later a pair of Golden Oriels….that was as outstanding as the Paradise Flycatchers for me.
That evening we went in the jeep on a safari to see small creatures in the buffer zone. We were so fortunate and saw plenty of small jungle cats, rusty spotted cat, civet cat and hares but I could not really take good photography in the dark with headlights. It was an interesting experience followed by a good meal and then a comfortable bed. Reni Pani is kept as close to nature as they can but it does have a lovely pool and a library and good food and service.
The next morning we were up before the sunrise to go on the lake and we both loved this. The sunrise was spectacular and the birdlife rich and varied. We breakfasted on a flat rock having landed from the motor boat. The Satpuras are ‘seven hills’ and the range is very beautiful. This park is not known particularly for tigers but is famous for Sloth Bears and Leopards. That afternoon after a glorious shower and rest just enjoying the Lodge and its grounds we again set off in the jeep, passing the various villages until we arrived at the lake/dam where we boarded the launch for entry to the main Park.
It is a beautiful place and in no time we saw the pug marks of a tiger and there was much expectation but it was not realised. However, the big plus was the long sighting of a mother Sloth Bear and her two cubs. They foraged around in an ant hill for about half an hour so we had plenty of time to enjoy the sighting. There was bird life and then wonderful close range of Gaur, the biggest bovine in the world. They are mighty creatures, but are not bison…they are usually quite shy so it was lovely to get close to quite a group of them.
Sadly we had to depart the next morning whereas I would have loved to stay for another night at least.
We are all Custodians of our great wild places, be they in India, Great Britain, Europe, North America, South America, China or Australasia, Malaysia and Indonesia and indeed Russia. When one has a wonderful wildlife experience there is a sense of great enrichment….we need to all feel like that and do our utmost to help conservation keep these wonderful animals safe from the predation of greedy humans.
Crete – the offspring of three continents and the nesting place of ancient civilisations – indeed it can be seen as the cradle of western civilisation and thus enthralling.
Crete is the fifth largest Mediterranean island and is part of Greece but it is buffeted by the Western winds, the northern winds and those that come up from the Sahara and North Africa. It sits proudly in the Mediterranean but is facing the extreme of the Aegean Sea on the north coast and the Sea of Crete and facing the Libyan Sea on its southern coast. For those of us brought up on the Greek myths and legends it boasts the birthplace of Zeus the father of gods and people….and is the birthplace of the Minoan civilisation in the centuries before BCE.
A land of extremes, wild mountains and gorges, lush plateau and stunning beaches dotted with attractive towns and ancient cities now reduced to careful heritage sites; the springtime brings forth the blooms of its floral kingdom and then the summer and autumn produce the bounty of olives, a major crop, vines and their wines, and other fruits and vegetables. This is a destination for travellers from April through to the end of October. The herbs that flourish in Eastern Crete are the beautiful aromatic thyme, savoury prickly burnet, oregano and others that exude their aroma and perfume and draw the travellers to want to purchase oils and soaps that will once they return home remind them of a sunlit happy time.
Honey is another major product and totally delicious. For me the idea of busy bees, after all iconic from the Minoan civilisation and their ornaments, working away with the herbs and flowers peculiar to Crete and producing the elixir of life….Cretan honey for the millennia is not only an awesome thought but also comforting….we are just specks in history but these important little creatures and their work endure after we are gone.
Briefly one should say that the story is that the mighty Zeus Cretagenes ‘secretly coupled’ with Europa….who allegedly gave the name to a whole continent and the result was Minoa the famous king of Knossos and ruler of the island. In all the centuries that followed there have been Arab rulers, the Venetians and the Turks….the Island has had a tumultuous past and is now quite content to be the proud largest island of Greece. During World War II the People of Crete played a heroic part in helping to defeat the Nazi forces that were sweeping through Europe and their tales of struggle, bravery and great stoicism in the face of calculated cruelty I salute. The British worked hard with them to secure peace but to this day the ‘wounds’ of that troubled desperate time are to be seen for a discerning eye.
Arriving at the Heraklion airport and driving to Agios Nikolaos on modern good roads showed us wonderful scenery and the promise of the sea and beautiful beaches. This town is charming and has the wonderful position of being in the middle of a stunning bay – the Bay of Mirabello – the name speaks for itself. Ag Nik as it is known for short is in the province of Lassithi which is the eastern province of Crete. I loved the Bay and every morning I would rise and watch the sunrise and see the pink light bathe the beautiful Mirabello in its morning blush. Lassithi is perhaps not as visited as some parts of Crete but repays closer inspection. Beach if you want, wonderful heritage sites if you choose, walking and climbing if that is what takes your fancy and a warm welcome with good food and drink for all the time you are in Crete. I like a town that is small enough in which to walk around and get the feel of the cafes and bar and tavernas, discover boutique shops, watch fishermen, watch people and just…..relax. The beaches are Blue Flag Beaches which is important for family health and this is a perfect destination for young and old.
We visited Lato which is considered to be Crete’s best preserved Classical-Hellenistic city; indeed it is considered to be one of the most important Doric city-states in Crete. We are talking of a city belonging to the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. It is a short drive from Ag Nik and one has to be able to walk up the hill to reach it. From there one has a splendid panoramic view of the mountains and valleys surrounding Lato which was fortified, and its houses were built on terraces.
It had an agora, prytaneion and temples in addition to a rock-cut theatre. This hard to reach city in those ancient times then was deserted and civilization appeared to move down to the coast to what is now Agios Nikolaos. Not very far away is an ancient hillside village of Kritsa. We visited there and enjoyed meeting the locals and their shops and village stores.
Close to the village is the historic little church of Panagia Kera, which was dedicated to the Virgin; it was probably built in the Byzantine period and expanded during the Venetian era of rule (13th century AD). All its wall surfaces were decorated with noteworthy frescoes. Even now they are impressive for the visitor but it is nice to reach there when there is no other party or coach tour as it is very small and one needs space and peace to admire and appreciate its antiquity.
We were given a tour of the Vassilakis Estate Olive Oil factory. Olive oil production is very important to Crete and the explanation of its processing was interesting. We are inclined to just take any virgin olive oil or olive oil off a supermarket shelf but here the specialities of their olive groves was explained and how like a good wine a good olive oil stands out. Naturally I bought some of their excellent olive oil soaps as a memento!
Driving down to Plaka we passed Elounga which is now very well known for its luxury villas and hotels to which world famous celebrities travel for ‘their place in the sun’. I can truly see why. Plaka has now grown and progressed but for me who read the world famous book The Island by Victoria Hislop whilst on Crete I see in my mind’s eye the village as it was pre WWII. We had a most delicious lunch of delectable dishes and enjoyed the ambiance of the popular restaurant. Then it was a short walk to a boat to take us to the Island of Spinalonga
Spinalonga is an islet situated in Elounda Bay. On top of the ruins of an ancient fortress dating back to the Hellenistic period the Venetians built a strong fortress consisting of two zones; the first followed the outline of the coast while the second was built on the rocks of the islet’s summit. Construction on this islet began in 1579 and it was constantly invaded and exploited by whoever became dominant. Muslims settled on Spinalonga in 1715 and it continued to flourish with further building. By 1881 the resident population reached 1,112 and it became the largest Muslim trading centre of Mirabello. In 1903 the Cretan State established a leper colony on the island and its first 251 patients settled there in 1904. Originally only lepers from Crete were made to go and live there but once Crete became part of Greece in 1913 lepers from the rest of Greece were deported to this little island.
The State was obliged to give these sad unfortunate people a small income and medical treatment but it was when people afflicted by leprosy in Athens and other cities were also sent here that the island began to receive more care and attention. The well connected men who became lepers from the mainland were not prepared to live out their lives without appropriate support from the authorities. The story of this place is best understood by reading the book The Island which I believe was also made into a film.
During the WWII the German occupation left the island alone and the people of Spinalonga survived largely unscathed only dying from their illness. Post war medicine progressed and researchers found a cure for leprosy and by 1957 happily those who were still resident were cured with medication and the island was officially closed down and the people returned to their previous lives. I have had to write this superficially but the story is both moving and with a cheerful end. Now because of the book and the film the people of Greece and all other tourists come here to see the island and Spinalonga still speaks to you. During my childhood in India I had encountered leprosy in extreme forms in public places so the story resonated deeply with me and I felt the Island’s atmosphere myself.
We visited a business called BioAroma which harvests the many herbs and other plants and manufactures 100% natural cosmetics. This too was interesting and for me particularly with a sound knowledge of India and its ancient Ayurvedic science and use of plants and herbs I found strong similarities.
Agios Nikolaos provided very good restaurants and entertainment in the evenings. Lake Voulismeni is the lake inshore of the harbour at Ag Nik and some say it was originally an ancient sink hole; whatever its origins this calm little lake provides a happy location for more cafes and places to eat, drink and watch the world go by. I liked it.
We drove to the extreme east of the island and visited The Toplou Monastery and Winery. This was a charming experience but also with its serious side. The Abbot graciously came out to welcome us and talked through our Guide. It is a fascinating old place that might look a little forbidding until one goes through the bougainvillea laden arches and encounters the charming outer courtyard and further courtyard. I loved it and looking at its Chapel and the art therein and then talking with the Abbot was moving. He talked about those from the Monastery who had been shot during the WWII and we reflected on the cruelty and scars of that time. The frescoes in the refectory were a delight and looking out from its high balconies on the fairly arid landscape it made one think of the centuries of men who have sought wisdom and peace and solitude in this place.
However, after a glorious sticky pastry we went and saw how the Monastery has progressed into the 21st century with a winery and is making some lovely wines. I particularly loved the sweet desert or aperitif wine and we bought ourselves a bottle.
We went to the wonderful beach of Vai and were really ready for an outstanding lunch right by the beach with the most beautiful views. Vai is strange but glorious. The area is covered naturally by wonderful palms the seeds of which must have come from Africa in the last centuries with the various invaders. They grow luxuriantly here and on the beach which is beautiful therefore it has a most exotic ambience. A graceful curving beach, lush palms, sunshine, a glorious lunch of Cretan cuisine……what more could one desire?
We visited beaches on our return journey and also passed the site of Ancient Itanos. We did not have the time to further investigate but this incredible ruin has two acropolises and had a strong presence from the Classical-Hellenistic period. Its important harbour was a resource for the Ptolemaic fleet. There is much to see here but we were expected in Sitia.
Sitia is another nice port town with pleasant views and much to commend it. The Venetian fortress of Sitia was built in the 13th century AD at the site of a Byzantine city which itself had succeeded the city of Eteia or Setaia. The Turks captured it from the Venetians but there is still much to see. There is also an archaeological museum encompassing 4,000 years of history.
For those who would play golf there is now a Crete Golf Club; the course has been built in an exciting desert style design and the designers have made every effort to protect the environment with modern water treatment plants and large untouched areas. The Crete Golf Club lies approximately 24 km east of Heraklion international airport; this means ardent golfers could find a lovely balmy place for their sport right into late October and from early March!
We ended our stay with one night at a five star hotel right next to the wonderful Archaeological Museum of Heraklion. I am so glad we did. It is outstanding and having chosen to stay adjacent to it we had no difficulty spending several hours in there. This recently renovated museum does the great pre civilisations and civilisations of Crete proud and I most strongly recommend some time spent there. The opening hours are 0800 to 20.00 until end of October which makes it really worthwhile at the end of a stay in Crete, to spend the last afternoon in this excellent place. It is only by seeing its wonderful collections that one truly appreciates the great antiquity of this beautiful island: sunshine, warmth, plethora of beaches, great archaeological sites, mountains, valleys, spring flowers, birdlife, good food and wine and the warmth of the people of Crete…..Go and Enjoy this fabulous island!!
More information can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org | www.dimosagn.gr and http://www.visitgreece.gr.
When the aircraft arrived over Guwahati and was circling prior to touch down I could see in that silvery light of the early morning a huge river – indeed, the mighty Brahmaputra. This sacred river which is the only male sacred river in Hindu mythology is considered the ‘son of Brahma’ and I was excited. In all my life and travels inIndiaI had never yet been close to or on theBrahmaputra. In my childhood one did not travel except for family transfers and when I was a teenager after the Chinese Army invaded Assam it became a prohibited place; now however the whole North East of India is really trying to place itself as a good and different tourist destination and so here I was about to touch down in Assam for the very first time!
The airport at Guwahati is clean and pleasant and we were met by a smiling Dipankar on behalf of Assam Bengal Cruises. Guwahati in the early morning on a Saturday was a sleepy place and quiet and with very few people around so we – that is Graham and I – were able to see a lot and Dipankar was determined to have us driven around and appreciate his city. It reminded me of a lot of Indian cities of my childhood when the population had not yet soared to stratospheric levels and the wide streets and municipal buildings are gracious and there is aStrandalongside the river. The population is 2.5 million people who were not much in evidence that morning.
Our first stop was up the Nilachal Hill to see the holy Kamakhya Temple. Yes, well with respect I am always more appreciative of what are known as ‘unliving temples’ and heritage site temples because I in no way want to watch animals being sacrificed and abhor that sort of voyeurism. Interestingly later in the day one of the female tourists on the cruise went on at some length about how awful it is to enact animal sacrifice in this day and age….and though we had only just met I asked politely ‘well then why did you watch?’
There is a note about this temple which people may find of interest – I did take plenty of photographs of buildings, holy men and devotees and live animals – I think Guwahati is the place on which the imaginary Surpur is based in Gita Mehta’s wonderful though tragic book Raj. I had only just managed to read that book whilst in India and there were so many descriptions that seemed to fit it – Graham then read it on my insistence and we both agree that it is a very fine book and though fiction very informative in so many ways.
So, having paid my respects to the temple we went to somewhere that meant infinitely more to us both; The Guwahati War Cemetery for those who died in World War II. Graham and I were deeply moved by this peaceful well-kept place and spent a long time paying our respects to the Fallen. What especially struck us and made us feel a little better is that there was no deference or preferment – the dead from the rank of brigadier down to the waterman in all religions are laid there; Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jew. All these souls interred in a peaceful garden on a slight slope and in the morning sunlight it was very moving.
For those of my generation whose late fathers fought in that war and returned safely it was a time to give thanks as well for what we had had – our childhoods and stability and security which so many others were deprived of – and have we learnt, no, but we remember the end of that war with respect. The Cemetery Keeper is a nice young man and we said our good byes and went to join the ship.
We arrived at the ghat and boarded the MS Charaidew by embarking on her country boat which she takes with her on her journeys and from there we embarked on the ship herself. We were early and received a very fine welcome and were taken to our cabin and we asked for breakfast. We had woken at 0400 hours and had light refreshment in Kolkata at the ITC Sona, brought by a thoughtful butler, but now it was after 10.00 hours and we were hungry and thirsty. What better, fresh orange juice, papaya with nimbu (lime) followed by tomato omelettes and goodAssamtea. Pratick is the very friendly Manager of the cruise and he has charming Staff who all hail from the north eastern states and were so friendly and helpful and eager to please.
The top deck of the Charaidew is where one spends one’s time relaxing and enjoying the changing scenery of the river and its banks and life – both human and animal. It is spacious with cane chairs in white with green cushions and I soon realised that is the Assam Bengal livery – green and white. The cabins are currently also decorated in those colours and everything on board has been manufactured either in Assam or nearby using local materials such as bamboo for panelling and floors and furniture and local soft furnishings. The ensuite shower room has an excellent shower which produces scalding hot water with power so one might be ‘adventure cruising’ but not having to do without the essentials like a flush w.c. and good vanity basin provided with toiletries and the shower.
There is a ‘dhobi’ (laundryman) on board and clothes are returned the same day in excellent order – but then I would not ask him to process something too special and delicate. The beds are comfortable and serviced daily and bottled water is provided, as is a torch because at 23.00 hours the generators are switched off and there is no current for electric lights which results in perfect tranquil peace moored up to a huge silt bank of the river. The generators are switched on at about 0600 hours every morning. There is an electric plug for hairdryers which is essential.
The lounge is a pleasant area with a bar that operates in the evening and on the top deck there is usually fresh tea and coffee served and cool drinks available in the chill cabinet on an ‘honesty box’ arrangement for the drinks. The dining room is on the lowest deck and guests are seated as they wish on long tables with buffet style service. The food to our way of thinking was outstanding, given the limitations of being on an old river boat on theBrahmaputra. The Chefs produced excellent food with their versions of western cuisine but particularly with lovely curries and accompaniments. All the guests thought like us and the staff was very attentive and appreciated that we complimented them on the food.
However, I am getting ahead of myself. I am now going to return to the River! India is a land of rivers and many of them are considered sacred rivers. I think immediately of the Ganges (the Ganga), the Yamuna, the Godavari, the Chambal, the Narmada, the Tungabhadra, the Kali, the Bhagirathi, the Mandovi, the Periyar and the Cauvery and the Krishna – all rivers that I have known through living near them or visiting different parts of India. But the Brahmaputra, this is big.
The Brahmaputra originates as the Yarlung Tsangpo in the Jima Yangzong glacier near Mount Kailashin the northern Himalayas. It then flows east for approximately 1,800 kilometres (1,200 miles) at an average height of 4,000 metres (13,000 ft). This makes it the highest of the major rivers in the world and at its easternmost point it bends around Mount Mancha Barwa, and forms the Yarlung Tsangpo Canyon which is considered the deepest in the world.
The river enters Arunachal Pradesh and it makes a very rapid descent from its original height in Tibetand finally appears in the plains where it is called Dihang. It is then joined by two other major rivers the Dibang and Lohit. From this confluence it becomes very wide and is called Brahmaputra. It flows through the entire state of Assamand is sometimes as wide at 10 km (6.2 miles) and in flood it can reach 22 km in width.
Definitely to the observer it seems to be much less polluted than the other major rivers of India but it also has challenges in that the petroleum refining units contribute considerable pollution along with riverside industries of all types. The main problem of the Brahmaputra is that it constantly floods and even more so now with so much deforestation.
The results of these almost annual floods is devastation and loss of lives. By the point at which it conjoins with the Ganga it flows into the huge Ganges Delta – the largest delta in the world – which serves both India and Bangladesh and in its lower course the river is both a creator and a destroyer depositing huge quantities of fertile soil, but also causing disastrous floods that wash away everything in their path as is often seen in Bangladesh particularly. For me the huge white silt banks of the river were a new experience and astonishing in their size; at night in the moonlight one could be forgiven for thinking they were icebergs not silt/sand!
Lounging on the top deck in a rattan chair or on the wooden loungers placed for maximum sun one just watched the world go by at a sedate pace. On my first morning I had hardly sat down when I saw a large grey living beast in the water and realised excitedly that it was a River Dolphin. Subsequently we saw masses of them but I am afraid however much I tried my photography of these fast moving creatures did not work but it was such a pleasure to see them and we decided that actually like most others of their kind they like to show off and are inquisitive. Knowing how depleted theGangais of the Gangetic Dolphin it was really heartening to see so many on so many occasions. That first evening as the sun moved into a glorious sunset and the dolphins played and the boat was finally moored to a silt bank it was very special.
The second day started early for me with a cup of tea and I went up to watch the sunrise. Later after breakfast we cruised upstream and then the party disembarked on to the country boat and went off the visit a typical Assamese village. This was both interesting and good fun and the villagers made us shyly welcome and some little boys showed off (as little boys are prone to do anywhere in the world) and we saw that latrines had been built for the village houses to counteract the habit of leaving human waste all over the place. This will be a hugely beneficial addition to village life as the incidence of various diseases will automatically fall I imagine with better hygiene – it is always sobering in India to see this sort of development and realise that the youngsters own cell phones before they have been introduced to a flush w.c.
Most of the guests, indeed I think all of them, were having a wonderfully relaxing time and we were taken on a sunset trip to see the outskirts of Orang National Park, and then very early the next morning on the fourth day we visited Orang National Park arriving by the country boat and scrambling up the silt bank. The jeeps were waiting and we had a comprehensive tour of the park but without too many dramatic sightings. However for Graham and me the memory will be of the abundance of scarlet silk cotton trees and indeed some with yellow and others with orange flowers. These have featured in our childhoods and were looking marvelous. There was some good bird life and a few deer but nothing really dramatic though it was enjoyable. It was thoughtful that tea and coffee was provided on the country boat at the end of our jeep safari when we were all thirsty.
On day five we cruised to Tezpur and visited the 6th century Da Parbatia temple and then explored the town by cycle rickshaw. The municipal gardens called Cole Park have several medieval stone carvings saved from sites all over the region. The garden is very well cared for and there was an absence of litter and it was a pleasant experience.
One of the highlights of the trip for us was the very excellent barbecue that the staff arranged on the sand and I think everyone enjoyed that. The next morning we went for a short walk at sunrise before casting off. On day six we continued upstream and passed below a huge modern bridge across the width of the river to moor at Steemer Ghat (which is oddly spelt as you might observe).
In fact it was quite a wild place with a small village nearby the gardens of which were filled with bright scarlet ram shorn poinsettias and in the afternoon we drove to Kaziranga’s Eastern Range for a jeep safari; this is little visited and though enjoyable with one or two good sightings of rhino was a little disappointing. Of course the silk cotton trees were there flowering in abundance! The next morning we set out early and arrived for an elephant ride which was excellent at the Central Range.
We saw plenty rhino close up and other animals and enjoyed the interaction with the domestic elephants and their calves. We were then driven to a lodge on a nearby tea estate for an excellent breakfast which had the most sublime puris as part of the menu. After a rest and breakfast we then visited a tea estate and the shop nearby that sells the various delicious types of tea.
CRC means curled rolled and chopped and orthodox is the other variety. Graham and I are enthusiastic tea drinkers and like leaf tea particularly and now that teapots are sold with fine mesh baskets internally it is so easy to return to leaf tea. I recall with amusement how people of one’s parents’ generation initially disapproved of tea bags – and with good reason because most of them seem to have the dust of tea in them whereas some of us grew up with really top quality tea being served daily.
We then visited another tribal village where the livestock was plentiful with somnolent pigs and their piglets and poultry and kid goats all interacting with young children and shy mothers around their homes.
Heading back to the Diphlu River Lodge providing much-needed top-class accommodation at Kaziranga National Park, which is of course a World Heritage Site. The position of the lodge is second to none: only the boundary river separates its extensive grounds from the National Park itself, and the jungle views are exceptional.
I saw a coven of Adjutant Storks, may be a coven is not the right description but they looked amusing all standing huddled together! Assam Bengal Navigation runs the lodge to the same exacting standards of the river cruises on the Brahmaputra and the Hugli, while their Bansbari Lodge atManasNational Parkon theBhutanborder offers simpler but comfortable accommodation for another wildlife experience. I loved these particular lodges as the interiors were really well thought out with good touches like – a jug of fresh cold milk in the bedroom’s fridge – I talk constantly about this to luxury properties as most of us discerning tea or coffee drinkers hate UHT in little packets! It was an eureka moment at which Graham chuckled.
KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK, ASSAM
The National Park covers about 430 sq km, bordered on the north by the Brahmaputra River and on the south by the Karbi Anglong hills and is home to the endangered Rhinoceros unicornis; the park has the largest number of one-horned rhinoceros in the world which roam its swamps, grasslands with tall thickets of elephant grass and areas of mixed deciduous and tropical semi-evergreen forest. It is home to a wide variety of other animals and birds, and the open vistas make it relatively easy to see many species of wildlife in a day; naturally I would have loved to spot a tiger but that did not happen though other Charaidew passengers have been lucky in the past. I had enjoyed my two visits; the one to theEasternRange and the early morning elephant ride in theCentralRange but that afternoon was the best.
Four of us set out for the Western Range with Babu the naturalist. Everyone else seemed to want to take it easy. When we arrived at the Park one of our party asked Babu ‘So tell me…how many rhinos will we see now?’ Babu paused and said laconically ‘Sir maybe 35 to 40….’ At which we four looked at each other and talked about bets and exaggeration.
Yes, well, Babu knew what he was talking about and we had the most glorious and successful afternoon in which we saw a number of wonderful animals including a monitor lizard, wild elephants and swamp deer, wild buffalo, a number of different types of eagles and kites and then rhino.
Oh yes, rhino and rhino and rhino – in the distance, in the nearby swamp and really close up. In all we saw 36 rhino whilst in the park and on the way home we spotted two more. You can imagine Babu was grinning, and so apparently was I when I returned and blurted it all out to another friend. For us the vista of rhino and buffalo and swamp deer with the odd wild elephant near a shallow lake as the sun was setting is a special memory that gave the four of us great pleasure at the time; Kaziranga is not easily reached and needs dedication on the part of the traveller but well worth the effort.
That evening was the last one for most of us and so a special effort was made by the Staff to look very beautiful or handsome according to gender and so we the guests also put on glad rags and had a superlative dinner with beautiful menu on each place setting. This cruise was a splendid experience and one I recommend; if possible for the wildlife enthusiast I would suggest a couple of nights at Diphlu River Lodge at the end before travelling to your onward destination. As it was most people took the transport back to Guwahati the next morning but we moved onward to Jorhat by car for one night.
More photos of the trip can be found here: https://plus.google.com/photos/105833357733916819450/albums/5450792094692793057.
Tiger Trails is in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in the very heart of Central India and two hours south of Nagpur; it is one of India’s most exciting and best protected Tiger Reserves, as yet little known, and with the most visible tiger sightings.
We flew into Nagpur from Bengaluru and were efficiently met by Aditya Dhanwatay the owner of Tiger Trails in February, where we soon learned it had rained, and flummoxed all in that out of season period! Tiger Trails is a pleasant lodge in the Buffer zone of the Reserve with its own water holes which naturally are a great draw to the animals….and I mean all the animals from small to the big cats and the gaur. Being so close to the Entry Gate there is no queuing to enter the Park and the surrounding area is of interest and we went for a guided walk on our last evening as the sun was setting. Dominated by teak forest and bamboo, it’s a rugged landscape comprising cliffs, caves, marshes, perennial lakes and boulder strewn streambeds that cater to a host of biodiversity, not least the Tiger; there are more than 75 to 100 by last count including 24 cubs born last year.
Other prominently spotted wildlife are the Indian Leopard, Indian Wild Dog, Sloth bear, Gaur, Ratel and a variety of mammals and over 280 species of birds including raptors like, Crested Serpent Eagle and Grey Headed Fishing Eagle. Tadoba is special also for rare Indian Owls, like Jungle Owlet, Spotted Owlet, Indian Scops Owl, Brown Fish Owl, Mottled Wood Owl and the Great Indian Horned Owl. Many of these can be heard near our waterhole cottages.
Aditya has a committed Staff with a fine Naturalist Dhamendra and he himself is so knowledgeable. We loved our four nights here and were privileged to see a tigress, bear and a host of other animals. The jeeps are excellent; the accommodation is good but simple, the food is the local cooking with a delightful chef who made both vegetarian and non vegetarian well and then demonstrated his jalebi making expertise one night in front of us – I was in heaven! Camp fires on the terrace, pleasant public areas, sumptuous food, great wildlife observation (along with hides adjacent to the Lodge) – we had a most rewarding time. Below, is breakfast on the terrace.
Nagpur is well served by air routes to Mumbai, Delhi and other big cities and we flew on to Delhi. I particularly loved the heritage link with the past; the Gond kingdom was encompassing of what is now the wildlife park and there are the pillars still in place to show how communication was achieve all those centuries ago. Tadoba has much to offer by way of wildlife, wild beauty, tigers, birds, and a sense of good camp ambience.
Useful Background Information:
Tadoba in 1955 was only 116.55 sq. kms. Today, in 2015 the park stands at 1854.25 Sq. kms. The understanding of the Tadoba park management was that more protected area was required for the growing population of Tiger in Tadoba. In 1995 the first steps to include more adjoining forest areas was initiated with the 508.85 sq. km Andhari Forest block added to Tadoba; thereafter the park name became Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, with a combined size of 625.4 sq.km. Then in May 2010 the State Government notified another additional area of 1,103.34 sq km Tadoba buffer zone. This was done by adding 901.66 sq km with Chandrapur and 76.17 sq km with Brahmapuri was brought under the administrative control of Tadoba field director for better wildlife management. Last year in 2014, 125.51 sq km dense forests leased out to Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra (FDCM) was finally been brought under the control of Tadoba field director for better wildlife management.
The Tadoba Success Story…
The park management, right from the outset, has been determined that the future of the National park rests with of the surrounding Gond communities. It needed to create an economic vibrancy in the villages surrounding the park, so that the villages could benefit from the park. Nature Tourism along with the local communities was established as one of the ways of going forward. All the new Nature Tourism initiatives were planned along these lines to create employment opportunities for the surrounding communities. The park was successful in creating tourism as a conservation tool by empowering the local tribal people around the park as stake holders. It launched the concept of VEDC (Village Eco Development Committees) funded by CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority). The first set of villages chosen to be part of the VEDC were the ones closest to the park. These funds are given to each village as seed money for a period of three years, to start tourism initiatives that bring economic vibrancy in the villages surround the reserve.
A moratorium was placed on more than 51 vehicles entering Tadoba’s core, while empowering the Junoana and Devada villages outside core areas to erect a gate and collect fees from visitors who chose to avail of a specially-created wildlife route managed by the village Eco-Development Committees (EDC). Additionally, local youth were trained as wildlife guides. With 15 more routes planned in the protected buffer, these areas promise wildlife sightings comparable to those in the core. The experiment seems to have succeeded. Seeds have been sown for livelihoods that sustain people, while benefitting the tiger.
The Park management wanted two new tourism initiatives to create sensitization towards nature for the park visitor. Hence they started walking trails of about 100 kms in and around the park, covering different habitats, from meadows, Riparian forests, to deciduous Teak and bamboo forests. These areas, namely Agarzari, Junona and Dewada were newly opened up for nature visitors for the first time. Even the regular visitors to Tadoba were amazed at the variety of landscape and wildlife sightings these new ranges offered. For the avid birder each of these walks can reveal more than 120 species of birds. Tadoba, offers some wonderful wildlife experiences. It is also one of the few parks that are open all year round, offering visitors an opportunity to visit in the monsoon season – this extraordinary active time for all manner of plants and animals, yet otherwise closed to keen nature lovers in most other parks of India.
Thickly clad hills form the north and western boundary of the Tiger Reserve. Half way along the western boundary of the Park, the hills contour, to form the Chichghat valley where the TigerTrails Jungle Lodge is located. It is ringed on three sides by the Park Forest and is adjacent to the Khutwanda gate. To the south is the Irai Lake, approx. 20 kms in length and forming the southwestern boundary of the Tiger Reserve. The Lodge, cottages, ancillary buildings and all human supportive infrastructure, is restricted by intention to 2 acres only. Surrounding this, are natural forest, ponds, waterholes, forming an oasis of greenery. The highlight of forest conservation and wildlife protection and its effect on predators and prey in the Tadoba and Mohurli forests, along the western boundary, is the daily activity of 9 adult Tigers and 2 cubs and a range of wildlife, as living proof.
Habitat Regeneration: Barren / Degraded to Natural Forest:
Initially the Chichghat valley was a degraded, barren and deforested land, with stunted trees and a silted Tadoba Stream flowing through only during monsoons. The stream would flow at tremendous velocity during the monsoons, flooding the valley, and carrying away all the valuable silt into the Irai Lake. Over a period, the river was desilted to original depth. We found three natural springs, which were clogged and closed. We cleaned the openings and allowed the three ponds to drain into them .
The water table, which was around 30-40 feet deep from the surface, is today around 8 feet. Because the entire valley was used by the villagers for obtaining firewood, most tree were stumps. These stumps were allowed to grow. With massive plantation of local forest species, recreated the natural forest, and grasslands. Plant Nurseries were established with the help of neighboring Tribal people. They were encouraged with seeds, and plantations techniques. Depending on the type of plants the saplings were transplanted, in natural habitat. Grasslands were cleared of weeds and shrubs. After years of compaction under sustained cattle grazing, ploughing was necessary. The silt and sand from the river was mixed with FYM and spread out. The grasslands were seeded and today it is a green and fertile place and very welcoming to wildlife lovers.
Above, a painting in the lodge.
Udaipur first penetrated my conscious when I was a young teenager at boarding school in Winchester England. The geography teacher was a wise lady whom I respected greatly and she knew that I lived in India and thus she gave me the task of mounting a small exhibition of the journey our HM The Queen and HRH Prince Philip were making around India.
The year was 1961. Udaipur…the Maharana and the palaces and lakes all came into my knowledge and I resolved to visit one day. Well that wish was fulfilled in November 1997 when we visited India; it was my husband’s first experience of India and he too was enchanted. Then we returned briefly in 2008 but this year we had the real pleasure of really experiencing Mewar and Udaipur in late February.
On this occasion we drove from Ranakpur and its famed Jain Temple down to Kumbhalgarh. I had never been to this amazing fort and this was thus an experience to be savoured. The southern area of Rajasthan comprises Bhilwara, Chittorgarh, Udaipur and Rajsamand districts known as the Land of Mewar.
The fundamental reason for great pride in this royal house is that the rulers of Mewar defended their ‘motherland’ against the relentless and continuous invasions of Muslims and Moghuls. The valour, sacrifice and dedication to their land is unique and legendary.
Above, Sunset Udaipur
The history of Mewar is so rich with tales of courage, determination, devotion to duty. The rulers inspired the people of this land to fight against slavery, injustice and subjugation. The rulers of Mewar believed in the concept of Ram-Rajya i.e. a Divine Kingdom. Rana Kumbha was a true man among men and the fort of Kumbhalgarh was built by him and it remains a massive monument to his life and work.
Interestingly he was the only ruler who established, strengthened and expanded the territories of Mewar. He strove for peace and harmony and made a huge contribution to the Arts, Architecture, Music and Literature as well as the concepts of Learning encapsulating philosophy and pursuit of knowledge.
Rana Kumbha embarked on building this massive fort on the high hills of the Aravali range (apparently the oldest mountain range in the world) and his thought was to protect his lands from the Muslim invaders and other warring factions. It is sobering to realise that the walls of this fort are second only in length to that of the Great Wall of China.
Below, a panoramic view of the Fort.
As one approaches by car the valley is a delight. There is evidence of prosperity among the farmers and the oxen are still being used to walk the wheel round for grinding or producing water from the wells. It is almost as if time has stood still. Yet the youngster are in school uniforms and attending schools or loitering around as teenagers do the world over! The trees and vegetation plus the fields full of grains make it green and attractive and so I was full of anticipation.
We were to stay two nights at the Aodhi Hotel which belongs to the HRH Group of Hotels. It is a most pleasant place built out of the local stone and apparently was the first in the present Maharana’s line of hotels. HH Maharana Arvind Singh Mewar is a man who saw that modern India would benefit from heritage tourism and set about making his properties and land attractive to travellers. Rajasthan evokes exotic, colourful, historic, and diverse attractions from semi desert to jungle to fertile valleys and the Aravalis and lakes such as at Udaipur.
The hotel is set on the side of the hill and one has good views of the fort’s great entrance on the horizon. The property is full of birdlife which enchanted me and quite a few cheeky monkeys who would bounce about on the roof of our covered veranda and look at me…..I just kept the mesh screen door firmly shut to keep their inquisitive looks as just that!
The peacocks called at sunrise and sunset, the parakeets chattered as did the Seven Sisters (Jungle Babblers) and the Tree Pies. The bedroom suite was most comfortable and the swimming pool is a delight.
There are several places in which to eat – though only one restaurant – but they can serve you by the pool, or on a terrace or in the restaurant. The food was good and the service eager with the redoubtable Dhul Singh heading the waiters. Of an evening there was some Rajasthani music and dancing beside the pool to entertain visitors.
Above, Peacock of Udaipur
We went to the Son et Lumiere our first night which was a good experience and it would be even more so for foreigners if it were to be in English. The history and struggles and fortitude of the people of Mewar comes through loud and clear. The following morning we went and did a tour of the Kumbhalgarh Fort with a knowledgeable guide.
He was passionate about the place and hoped the fact that it is a World Heritage Site would compel the Archaeological Survey of India to ensure that this great heritage building is well maintained and kept in pristine condition. I have photographed the place comprehensively. Many decades ago the Maharana gave the fort to the Government of India. UNESCO World Heritage Sites have reputations to maintain and I fervently hope that all necessary precautions will be taken to maintain and enhance this magnificent great fort.
The fort is situated on the peak of the Jarga mountain at a height of 3766 ft. It is 80 kms from Udaipur. Truly the story of the maharanas and Kumbhalgarh is magnificent but without writing a whole long history I cannot give you the details here, suffice to say from the early medieval period right through the centuries this royal line fought and maintained its position and safeguarded its lands.
The maharanis of the various rulers were courageous women who committed jauhur which is self-immolation on occasions when their men folk were defeated or killed. The concept of falling prey to ravishing marauders could not be contemplated and the story of these great women walking into the flames is …well a true legend.
As with most great historic forts or citadels Kumbhalgarh experienced severe challenges and despite heroic fighting was once overcome by Moghuls under Akbar. Maharana Pratap was as courageous and far sighted as Maharana Kumbha but he too experienced hardships and defeats; he is generally considered to be the Bravest Maharana of Mewar and he had been enthroned in 1572 AD; however when Akbar was successful and overcame the defenders thankfully Pratap escaped capture and death. After his passing in January 1597 his son Amar Singh made Udaipur the capital of Mewar and the long line continued as it had from 734 AD.
We left Aodhi and drove through the valley and reached the big interstate highway and were easily in Udaipur within an hour and a half.
Above, Aodhi swimpool
We were warmly welcomed at the Fateh Prakash Palace which is on the shores of Lake Pichola. We were given a lovely spacious suite and felt very comfortable and eager to experience all that Udaipur has to offer. But ….first lunch on the Terrace overlooking the lake and its sublime view of the Lake Palace, the Jag Mandir Island and the surroundings area.
HRH Group has two hotels at the lakeside and Shiv Niwas Palace has a lovely courtyard with elegant pool and poolside dining. The bougainvillea on the palace walls are a true delight covering everything in their startling magenta colour. We watched the sunset over the lake…..it was a stunning evening and nothing could have matched it and thankfully my photography worked well. Later on we went and watched the Son et Lumiere over the City Palace. Again a good experience and this time in English so we were fully able to understand the long history of struggle, determination, commitment and success right up to the present day. A good supper of Thai prawn curry was just the ticket for us both!
HH Maharana Arvind Singh of Mewar, Custodian of Mewar was in his office the following day and we had a good chat. We had met previously at the lovely wedding of the princess of Dungarpur to the heir to the house of Rajkot which had taken place in Bengaluru in late January.
Now we talked of Udaipur and Mewar. I worked out that HH was two years older than me and therefore must also have been a teenager when The Queen visited in 1961. Time passes and history has to be preserved and made available to travellers and tourist in this modern age. In that respect all of us who are responsible be we royal or writers are custodians of our shared heritage.
The City Palace, the Classic and Vintage Car Collection, elegant boutiques, the Palki Khanna restaurant in the courtyard of the City Palace there is so much to see. What impressed both Graham and me was that so many Indians are enjoying their own heritage whereas in 1997 there were very few Indian tourists. India has a huge burgeoning middle class who are able to afford to visit their own country and this is really good to observe and the Indian Tourists are very welcome now all over the world.
That evening, we went to the Jag Mandir Island by way of a boat trip on the lake and were welcomed and had a very good tea. There is a small hotel on the island but good facilities for hosting a wedding.
The Spa is very good and the place is charming. It is worth recalling that allegedly the great Shah Jahan was given sanctuary here by the then maharana when he had ‘severely displeased’ his emperor father…Shah Jahan you will all know went on to build the beautiful Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife. We left the Jag Mandir Island in a launch specially sent for us and I have a lovely memory of the gloaming as we call it here in Scotland, of the light fading and the twinkle of the lights surrounding the buildings of this little island and the great palaces and hotels on the shores of the lake.
We dined outside at Shiv Niwas and I chose European food and was rewarded with a beautiful seafood risotto and lobster. The restaurant at this palace is really nice and with caring staff and we lunched there again next day. On a previous visit we had been to and thoroughly enjoyed the Car Collection which is elegantly housed in the city with a very good restaurant alongside. There is also another HRH hotel alongside. We took the opportunity to visit the studio of some Pichhwau artists whose work is exquisite and continues the long tradition of Rajasthani artwork.
Udaipur has much to commend it and I advise people to allow at least two nights for this city to really enjoy it. The airport was enlarged in 2008 and there are several flights throughout the day. Another alternative would be to drive down to Dungarpur and spend a couple of nights at their lovely palace and then perhaps drive on to Ahmedabad along the big interstate highway to see the sights of Gujarat and depart by international airline from there. Those who would like to pursue the story of Gandhi….Bapu, the Father of the Nation of India would enjoy visiting the famous Sabarmati Ashram and other heritage sites of Ahmedabad.
For me saying ‘phir milengi’ (au revoir) to regal Rajasthan after two weeks was sad…..but there is always the next time with lots of pleasures and experiences in store! Enjoy.
Dubrovnik is a city that captured my imagination way back when I was very young. It had the same sense of romance and history that it shares with Venice, Prague, Krakow and places like Lucca in Italy. That it was designated a World Heritage Site is a great relief because in our living memory the city and its citizens had experienced severe challenges….which thankfully are now well behind them all.
We visited in September 2014 and I do recommend that time of the year for its warmth and sunshine and the sea is also still warm enough in which to swim and relax. We took a small apartment for ten days but actually a week is a good length of time.
Between emerging as a settlement in the 7th century and its conquest by Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th, Dubrovnik repeatedly held a significant position beyond what could have been expected of this tiny city-state. Its diplomatic expertise was legendary, its political stamina extraordinary; its merchants, trading throughout the huge Ottoman Empire, enjoyed privileges denied to other Western states. A politically skilled and commercially enterprising ruling class took every opportunity to maximise the Ragusan Republic’s wealth.
But Dubrovnik also faced the extreme dangers posed by Venetian plotters, Ottoman aggressors, a terrible earthquake in 1667 and, finally, Napoleon. In modern times, the city has survived the besieging Yugoslav army in 1991-92, which heavily damaged but did not destroy Dubrovnik’s cultural heritage. The roof tops demonstrate how much had to be restored or rebuilt and the ancient graceful little city in the sunshine is a memory I will treasure.
Whether you visit for the total experience or just one concentrating on heritage, or you want to position yourself for sand sea and leisure or indeed go out to the Adriatic Dalmatian Coast for the sailing you can be assured of a good time. I loved the position of our apartment which overlooked the Bay and the lovely island of Lokrum and we accessed the medieval city through the Ploce Gate. There are three gates, the western Ploce Gate, the northern Gate and the Pile Gate on the east. I consider our view day in and day out with sunrise and stunning sunsets was superb.
Croatia has about 1200 islands and some of them are large and others are tiny but in terms of heritage and nature and eco conservation there are good developments here and as for the sailing….well we observed all the lovely craft that entered the bay be they large or small. Cruise ships are a feature and as someone said to me there was a day in 2006 when about four or five of them all came together and that must have been a nightmare because logistically it is a tiny citadel and the influx of all those thousands would have been a great challenge. I believe there is a directive that only two cruise ships are allowed to anchor in the Bay these days, but then some are virtual behemoths! Others I quite fancied that also have sails as a feature and a more select number of passengers.
The Old City Walls are an absolute essential to experience provided one is fit and well. We walked into the city on a sunny morning when significantly there were no cruise ships and were on the walls at 08.45 hours….thus we could enjoy 75% of the walk alone or with very few companions….whereas on cruise ship days and later in the day one could see ‘crocodiles’ of people and that must have been very hot and thirsty work.
As it was we were glad of a long cool fresh orange drink above the Maritime Museum and then we went back to our apartment for the swimming togs for the afternoon spent on Banje Beach which literally was just down the stairs for us.
There are high class restaurants and ordinary bistros and cafes and some are really impressive in their service and standard of cuisine and others are underwhelming. However, sitting in the early morning sunshine with a cappuccino and perhaps an omelette or continental breakfast people watching is enjoyable. The beer is very good and local wines in carafes are good value. We enjoyed the calamari, and some good pork and others just fed their pizza hunger….some very good pizzas they seemed to me but I am wheat sensitive so cannot indulge.
The Maritime Museum was particularly impressive as Dubrovnik by virtue of its position has dominated that part of Europe and the Republic of Ragusa had a rich and eclectic maritime heritage with early maps, maritime scientific instruments and models of ships plus perhaps the earliest surviving charts of the oceans and the archival photography of the shipbuilding was very interesting. For anyone interested in naval architecture, sailing or boat building this is a must…even for this uninitiated sailor!
We went on a boat trip around the walls and in the Bay which was interesting because the boatman talked of the time of war in the early 1990s and showed us buildings that had been blasted by the Serbs from their gunboats, but thankfully now the whole area has become the backdrop for a great many scenes of the globally famous saga Game of Thrones!
We then visited the lovely Island of Lokrum which is a delight. Take your swimming costume and towel because the swimming is very good and safe and the walks are lovely. The island is home to a huge number of peacocks that have no predators so are happily colonising the whole island and add a touch of the exotic.
The first mention of Lokrum was in about 1023 AD. According to legend Richard the Lion-Heart was cast ashore here after being shipwrecked in 1192 while returning from the Crusades. He actually came ashore in Lokrum but at the request of the people of Dubrovnik he agreed to build a church in the city itself. The name of the island of Lokrum is derived from the Latin acrumen, sour fruit. The Benedictines commenced gardening in this little idyll and then the Emperor Maximillian Ferdinand continued the tradition in the 19th century. In 1959 a Botanical Garden was started and continues today. This is a lovely day trip which I recommend heartily as the swimming is good and varied and there are some good café restaurants in shade, or you could take a picnic…but the cafes are charming and the peacocks come along and potter around you.
In Dubrovnik the Stradun, which is the main street off which open many narrow lanes leading to other small squares and alleys, there is very often live music and various music festivals take place. On Saturday and Sunday and one day in the week there is an open air market which is fun and some of the produce is totally yummy. We adored the candied orange peel which is sold in strips in bags and is so moreish….plus lovely syrups and eau de vie.
The Croatians and People of Dubrovnik make you feel welcome though sometimes the sheer numbers of tourists can be overwhelming….which I suspect is the result of the fame of the series Game of Thrones.
We made an excursion to Montenegro and so enjoyed that day out as well. The tiny country of Montenegro is less than one hour’s drive and is truly beautiful with a sort of combination for us of the mountains of northern Mallorca…the Tramuntina and the sea lochs of the West Coast of Scotland. There is also a rich history to this tiny country and we drove along the coast to the walled town of Kotor.
It too is a UNESCO World Heritage site and deservedly so. The town is known for its nautical tradition and the merchant navy and indeed many Montenegrin sailors have gone out to other lands and sailed the seas. The little citadel abounds with both Catholic and Orthodox churches and the major landmark is St Tryphon’s Cathedral from the 12th century.
After the most delicious panna cotta and coffee in a lovely restaurant we walked around and enjoyed this gem of a place but then bundled back into the coach to go down the coast to see the beautiful St. Stefan Island which is photographically world famous and I was able to take some good photos too. Sadly it seems to have become the playground for Russian oligarchs and others whereas it origin was the island home of five fisher folk families….
And one can no longer actually visit as a tourist. Then we stopped in Budva and looked around. This is where old meets modern in a challenging way to my eye but apparently Montenegro is the destination for those who need serious dentistry at moderate prices – it had become a haunt of the Russians who now seem to be changing their minds. We found a most excellent restaurant down on the marina and had a leisurely lunch.
Returning from Montenegro was lovely in the westering sun; the sunset that evening was totally stunning and I was able to capture it on the return and when we arrived back.
Dubrovnik, has number of luxury five star hotels, most of which were situated right on the water’s edge beneath where we lived. We frequented the Excelsior on three nights and found its food, service and welcome excellent. It has the most wonderful Spa and inside swimming pool as well as a pool right down by the water’s edge and is in a stunning position. I have happy memories of seeing the new moon come up over the Bay of Dubrovnik whilst the sun set behind the citadel with a warm breeze, a chilled beer in my hand and the prospect of a good delicious meal ahead. A truly lovely place.
For more great photos, see my collection from the trip.
Mallorca in Spain, is so well known to so many people yet there are those who have never yet been and have an idea that it might not be what they wish for a holiday.
We recently returned after a nine year absence in May this year and were delighted with our week; indeed the time was too short for both relaxation and discovery which is what we both like to do.
Our favourite destination is Puerto Pollenca because it is a well maintained charming town with superb beach and bay and also close to other interesting places like Pollenca and the old town of Alcudia. Primarily we want to relax, absorb the sunshine, walk to the markets, swim in either the pool or in the sea and eat good food. The surrounding area for scenic drives is beautiful.
However Mallorca is now recognised as a major cycling destination and all the good apartment complexes and hotels provide facilities for the biking fraternity. Moreover the island has plenty of wide good flat roads for the biking teams to practice and enjoy.
Presumably they also like the challenge of the Tramuntana Mountains from time to time! Also to be found along the Bay of Puerto Pollenca are the ardent sky surfers and windsurfers who launch from around the area between the eastern end of Puerto Pollenca and the western end of Alcudia.
Sailors and motor yacht enthusiasts love Mallorca with its many lovely marinas and safe harbours. Some of these marinas are for the luxury motor yachts and are the haunt of the celebrity crowd.
On this occasion we stayed at the new luxury OD Port Portals Hotel at Porto Portals which is a fashionable small marina west of Palma. There are two pleasant beaches and the smart shopping and restaurant area is a favourite with the yachting crowd.
Urban life in Mallorca developed from the time of 123 BCE following the conquest of the island by the Roman Consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus and the area known as Pollentia became a large urban development between the 1st century BCE and the 3rd century largely because of the strategic location between the bays of Pollenca and Alcudia. Indeed it became the most important city in the Balearics during the Roman period.
Today, we can visit those Roman remains beside the old heritage town of Alcudia. Do not confuse that with the modern town which is full of high rise hotels and apartment blocks and provides the form of holiday that is essential for some but not what I look for whereas Puerto Pollenca and Pollenca are a delight with their respective markets.
Puerto Pollenca’s in on a Wednesday and Pollenca’s on Sundays. The old town of Alcudia however is charming and to be recommended and has some boutique hotels and charming restaurants and designer boutiques.
Moreover we found two of our favourite restaurants are thriving and I recommend L’Aup near Pollenca for its delicious food in a garden environment and Restaurante L’Ovento at Alcudia Port for its stunning fish and old fashioned personal service – both are family owned restaurants and it is a pleasure to see local Mallorcans come in and relax.
Palma the capital city is charming and I would recommend it for a City Break perhaps in the low season. There is much to see including the wonderful cathedral La Seu which was started in 1230 but not completed till 1601. The Palau de L’ Almudaina is the Spanish Monarchy’s royal palace close by and the Passeig des Born is like Barcelona’s Las Ramblas. You have to walk ‘The Born’!
We had previously experienced the old-world wooden train from Palma to Soller and it is really worth doing. The little train journey shows the beautiful valley of Valle de los Naranjos (Valley of the Oranges) and it is an old town with charm built on the wealth of the citrus trade. From Soller one takes a heritage tram down to Port de Soller.
Long ago this was the main outlet for the produce grown in the valleys and terraces grown around Soller. These days it is a beautiful harbour with lively shops and restaurants. From here one can take a bus back to Palma so it makes a very pleasant day out.
Lluc is a revered place of pilgrimage since the foundation in 1250 of the Monestir de Lluc. Today Lluc is a large ensemble that includes a church, choir school, the old Augustinian monastery, a small museum, accommodation for pilgrims and a restaurant and souvenir shop for visitors.
Deia will be forever associated with the English writer Robert Graves who lived there in 1929 and he is buried in the cemetery beside the parish church at the top of the town. It is very fashionable these days and several celebrities own homes in the vicinity.
The mountain range in the north west of Mallorca is the Serra de Tramuntana and if you rent a car this is an exhilarating drive taking you from Palma up to the peaks and pines of this craggy mountain range. The highest point is Puig Major and one can then proceed to Pollenca and Puerto Pollenca.
On this occasion we had rented a self-catering small apartment which had its own communal swimming pool. It was very well equipped with comfortable beds and excellent hot shower and in a splendid quiet location yet close to the promenade and the beach. We did look however at one or two small villas and found a couple to our liking for another occasion; certainly for whole families the villa option is essential along with a hire car.
We found that hiring a car for three days was adequate as the rest of the time we just walked. Puerto Pollenca also has a rather nice small nature reserve right in its heart and we find that because it is such a favourite destination for English speaking tourists everything is very easy to achieve.
In the past on a longer vacation, we drove all over the island but in a week one is really looking for gentle pursuits on foot. I did swim and enjoyed it and the young families around us for the half term break were having a lovely time. The beach also has provision for the disabled to enjoy the sea and actually enter the shallow water on a specially provided vehicle – the Lifeguards have responsibility for this equipment.
Roast suckling pig, paella, seafood, lovely duck with cherries, good wine and homemade flan and other sweet delights are the ingredients for a lovely evening meal – or the gorgeous ice-creams – in a lovely temperature that might just need a light jacket…..at lunch one can put together glorious olives, cold meats, amazing salads and sweet Mallorcan oranges together with cherries and strawberries and honey almonds…..beautiful Mallorca, we will be back!
All photos Aline Dobbie.
Spring has sprung as they say and the milder sunny weather has returned to Scotland. We live in the beautiful Scottish Borders which have gentle hills and valleys and famous rivers like the River Tweed running through – the Tweed is world famous for the salmon that are spawned and live and then leave the river and go to sea and return to spawn again and this river is the haunt of serious fishermen and women for both trout and salmon.
The hills are alive with sheep and bird life, the fields full of young cattle and the air on a summer’s day is mellow with the sound of contented livestock and the curlew’s cry in the sky.
Peebles is a most attractive town to visit south of Edinburgh and it is an easy drive of 25 miles with many lovely little restaurants and coffee shops in which to assuage your hunger and rest your feet. Peebles has a nearby castle called Neidpath standing proudly right on the banks of the Tweedand the River Walk is a delight.
At nearby Innerleithen Traquair House is a wonderful old mansion that is reputed to be the oldest inhabited country house in Scotland. I can declare an interest in that over 40 years ago I used to rent the cottage that is now the very attractive tea room and it is full of interest and charm. Jedburgh, Kelso, Melrose, these are all fine Borders towns and worth a visit and one can see the ruined Abbeys that are so evocative of times past.
Abbotsford is the historic house of the great Sir Walter Scott the 19th century writer who helped to create the romance and myths of Scotland and this fine old house is very close to Melrose which is famous for its rugby.
Another area of Scotland that we love particularly is Argyll and the area around Oban. That region is in the Highlands of Scotland but with wonderful coastline and sea lochs (lakes), and little villages and hills and valleys; there are superb historic gardens to visit with ancient castles and keeps and other heritage sites. It is a sailor’s dream area and much loved by ‘yachties’ and the marine wildlife are abundant as are the birds.
From end of April to end of October Scotland is a wonderful country to visit, the early months show you her beauty in Spring which turns into Summer and then by late September the Autumn colours prevail and they can be truly stunning and rival Canada or the East Coast of America in their vivid array. Further north from Oban there is yet more stunning country and the Western Isles which are easily accessible by ferries which ply to and fro across those waters.
Ferry Tickets can be bought in a group to make it economical and indeed last year we went by ferry from Oban to Mull and then drove across to Iona which needs another tiny ferry ride. The historic and beautiful tiny island of Ionahas great Christian traditions and heritage and is really worth visiting. On a good day the sea around is an azure colour with the white sand, the yellow gorse bushes and bluebells in May – outstandingly beautiful.
Tobermory is the colourful town in north Mull from which you can take a ferry to Ardnamurchan and then again it is wild and stunning Scotland with so few people. The lack of people would be the great find I imagine for most visitors! Deer, seals, otters, and birdlife – these are in abundance for those who have patience and are quiet and respectful of wildlife. From Mallaig one takes a short ferry ride to the famous Isle of Skye.
Yet again wonderful vistas open up with much to see and do. One can access the mainland by the Skye Bridge and visit Plockton which is enchanting heritage village and then drive down and visit the famous Eilean Donan Castle at Dornie – this could be the most photographed castle in all Scotland at the confluence of three lochs.
This must be the most romantic of Scotland’s castles and is beautifully presented and has a wonderful visitor centre as well. There are small hotels and guest houses and B & Bs in which to stay very comfortably mostly with their ensuite bedrooms (which I find essential) and a very good breakfast of your choice provided each morning.
Above is the chapel at Dawyck.
Other places I strongly recommend are Pitlochry, Dunkeld, Aberfeldy, Inverness, Perthand the area around Loch Tay. Around Oban the most wonderful and huge loch (lake) is Loch Awe which we love and visit regularly, but Loch Tay is also very large and has lovely areas around it with interesting things to visit and enjoy. Everyone has heard about Loch Ness and the mythical monster therein.
I have not even touched the Far North of Scotland, or indeed the East Coast, or the Kingdom of Fife with St Andrews the original famous home of golf, but in one short article that cannot all be achieved adequately.
In 2014 Scotland and Glasgow plays host to The Commonwealth Games, The Ryder Cup and the anniversary of the Victory of the Battle of Bannockburn 700 years ago. In early August HM The Queen will along with the nation commemorate the start of the Great War of 1914-1918 in Glasgow Cathedral and in September Scots vote on whether they will stay within Great Britain and the United Kingdom or become independent…..I am passionately for remaining a proud nation within Great Britain and the United Kingdom.
Most visitors might start their visit to Scotland by arriving in Edinburgh by plane, train or car. It is a most delightful city with so much to intrigue and entrance.
Edinburgh is not a big city and I think that is part of its magic; certainly as a teenager when I returned for tertiary education that was the feeling I experienced which made for a sense of security.
Moreover, because there are four universities and other colleges of education the city is alive with thousands of young people, many of them from overseas; indeed Scotland now has many thousands of foreign students studying at her various universities four of which are considered ‘ancient’ i.e. very very old, the oldest of which is St Andrews on the coast of Fife together with Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, but there are modern institutions that have been designated as new universities and these provide a plethora of courses for overseas students.
The new Missoni Hotel joins The Balmoral and The Caledonian and others as a luxury destination and there are also good boutique hotels like Channings, The Howard and others.
Edinburgh is full of good B & Bs which can suit many budgets. Most tourists find the whisky centres of great interest and a visit to the distilleries in the Highlands & Islands can be very rewarding! Knitwear and designer wear for the cold can be found in lovely specialist shops and there are Harvey Nichols and Jenners as well as designer shops on the famous elegant George Streetwhich are a delight. George Streethas many restaurants and cafes; some of these are beautiful conversions from erstwhile bank properties.
In decades past, Edinburgh had numerous grand bank buildings which are now mostly superfluous as so much business is now done on the telephone and internet banking so they have become gracious restaurants that particularly at Christmas are decorated and give one a really festive feel. Indian restaurants abound as do Thai and Chinese along with good budget priced French and Italian and Mexican.
In my personal opinion Edinburgh Castle, St Giles’s Cathedral (in which we were married), The Palace of Holyrood House, the Royal Mile which is the ancient street between those grand buildings, the Royal Botanical Gardens of Edinburgh, the New Town of Edinburgh (which is not new at all as it is over 250 years old, but just not as ancient as the Old Town!), Princes Street Gardens and Arthur’s Seat are some of the main attractions.
At Leith which is the port for Edinburgh and had its own ancient history the Royal Yacht Britannia sits at anchor and is a worthwhile attraction and nearby there are many restaurants in which to eat and rest your weary feet. Every year in July HM The Queen and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh make a week long visit to the City and undertake engagements in Scotland. The Royal Family value dearly their country seat at Balmoral Castle which is personally owned by HM The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales has the nearby mansion of Birkhall.
He is a keen gardener and the castle grounds and the mansion both have lovely gardens which people visit when the Royal Family is not in residence. At the end of the famous three week long Edinburgh Festival (which takes place in August and early September) there is always the most stupendous firework display which is set off with the background of the castle. On a fine dry night it is nothing less than stunning accompanying grand classical music being played in Prince’s Street Gardens.
The City’s streets are awash with pedestrians and there is always a good festive atmosphere. The fireworks display also takes place on New Year’s Eve and that is the Winter Festival which also lasts for three weeks over Christmas, but it could be very cold and may not be that attractive to some visitors for that reason!
The Castle itself is fascinating and is now often used for grand events and government functions. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is always a wonderful event and usually booked out months ahead of the three weeks duration. Foreign armies and relevant bodies take delight in also participating in this annual and stirring event when the skirl of the pipe bands, the skills of the armed forces and others are shown to perfection against the backdrop of the amazing Edinburgh Castle.
Below the west coast of Scotland and Traquair House (in that order)
Top photo credit: equivocality.com and Edinburgh Castle shot from wikipedia.org.