Monday, 24 December 2007


Sometimes life throws things at you when you least expect it and you have to rise to the challenge. Now is one of those times.

I'll be back very soon, but need some days to come to terms with loss and change.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

What do you want for Christmas?

How about a new iron? What about a model like this?

On my way past the ironing shop, I spotted that the iron had just been opened and was was cooling, ready for the next load of coals and the next batch of ironing.

This is one of the things I will really miss when I leave Chennai. You think I could introduce the idea in Scotland? Somehow I can't see it catching on,....................

Friday, 16 November 2007

Diwali in the jungle

In order to get the most of my break, I left Chennai before daylight for my break in Madhya Pradesh.

Fast forward, two hour flight to Calcutta, 1600 kilometre train journey to Jhansi, and then another 200 kilometres to Panna National park, where we stayed on the banks of the River Ken.

Matching flowers and butterflies outside our cottage.

which itself is nicly set apart from other buildings - not exactly a cramped resort!

Vegetation of Panna National Park
This gorge in Panna is dry in winter, but becomes a spectacular waterfall during the monsoon season.
KIng's view - perfect spot for a cup of tea and watching the sun set over Panna National Park.
A jackal watches us on the track.
The trees are full of these langour monkeys if you take a moment to stop and look

The yellow mark on this picture is the body of a woodspider - you can just make out the black legs - it is HUGE - the legs are 1 - 2 feet long.

The scratch marks tell us that this is a favourite tree of the sloth bear.
Langour monkeys and their designer hooped tails

Sunrise in Bandavgarh as we trail another elusive tiger

Grasses and Fort area of Bandavgarh

Wild boar family

A female spotted deer tries to warm up in the early morning sun.

a sambar deer (I think) watches us pass

Tiger pug marks so fresh that they are on top of the recent jeep tracks.

Another langour watches us
while this young langour hides from the camera

sun sets in Bandavgarh

All in all - a perfect way to spend Diwali, in the jungles of Madhya Pradesh.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

A special invitation

We left our lodge at 5.20 in the morning just as the inky darkness was beginning to lighten in the eastern sky. The waning moon and a few lone stars could be seen through the trees as we climbed into the open jeep, in our cosy woollens and we set off towards the park entrance. As we drove eastwards the sky developed a purplish rosy shade in the promise of approaching sunrise.
As we drove over the rough dusty track, we were joined by other jeeps, all joining in our bid to reach the jungle before the sun did.

At the park gates, the sight transformed into an eerie queue of jeeps, drivers and guides rushing to get forms filled and deal with the park paperwork before we could move any further forward. Shouts of jeep numbers and guide names came from the Park Office and as passes were collected the jeeps lined up at the gates revving their engines in anticipation of the 6 am opening.

Amazing all paperwork seemed to be completed fairly quickly and as the sky turned grey blue the gates opened and the jeeps drove off. My first feeling was one of mild disappointment – I had a romantic notion of driving through the jungle without being in a convoy of jeeps. However, in a matter of moments the park system became apparent and jeeps split off in different directions. I later learned that there are a number of routes and jeeps are allocated routes which they have to follow, to ensure that the popular parts of the park are not overcrowded.

We headed first to a waterhole to see if there was any sign of life or activity – meaning tiger. Nothing. No pug marks, no jungle noises, nothing. So we didn’t wait, and headed off along the allotted route towards a lovely glade. The guide told us that this was one of the tiger’s favourite spots and that he had been spotted in the hill behind us the previous evening. He predicted that if we waited then we could well see him pass through. We approached a good spot to wait, when the guide shouted excitedly. The driver took off – they had spotted another jeep with the people inside standing up – a sign of something interesting. Off we sped towards the spot, ;my jungle hat flying off in the haste. Confession – actually it was not my hat – it belongs to hubby. Dilemma – return for the hat or head to possible tiger spotting? We couldn’t turn right away anyway, so passed the spot where the other jeep was waiting, to find out that they were looking at pug marks which were fairly recent, but no tiger. A quick detour to pick up the hat, which was promptly confiscated by hubby! We then waited for a while. They guides know the signs though, and told us that the monkey calls in the distance were one of alarm, telling us that a predator was near. We stopped and listened for a while and gradually heard a new call taking over, of “whoooop, whoooop”. The guide told us that this is the call is the call of happy monkeys. So much to learn. I was quickly becoming an expert! Whoooop means happy, chuup chuup means look out and don’t get eaten today.

We moved on and quickly new pug marks were spotted – this time very fresh, and on top of jeep tracks. The prints were really clear and followed the track for some time. This surprised me and I asked why. Apparently the tiger has a soft side – his paws are sensitive and the soft pads can be easily hurt by the sharp grasses and undergrowth of the jungle. Injury or damage to the pads will impair his hunting ability. Additionally, in winter, the nights are cold and the grasses wet so it is not very comfortable for tiger paws to walk on. So the sandy tracks are both comfortable and warm and provided us with a great clue of where he was headed. The prints told us that it was one of the male tigers who was near us – his rounded prints are characteristic of the male, while the female has nice pointed prints as if she has been for a pedicure. The guide then saw something else – “look, look, tiger sitting down print”!! and indeed it was a tiger sitting down print – a very clear impression of a huge rear haunch and even a clear impression of his tail in the sand. Is he really that big? The apprehension mixed with sense of amazement was really acute and I could almost feel nauseous with excitement.

We drive on, our experts keeping their ears sharply tuned and we stopped every time we saw fresh pug marks, and noted which direction our tiger friend was heading in, and which tiger they belonged to. “This is the territory of a mother and two cubs of 30 months” we were told as we passed through a grassy area. We stopped again and listened, but no sign of alarm or activity.

We headed towards another area, when the guide suddenly became agitated – “Sambar deer alarm call – very near” he whispered. We stopped, looked. Looked again. Through the trees and bamboo we could see a female Sambar deer looking in our direction, standing stock still and calling in alarm. She suddenly turned and fled into the distance. We knew he was near. The jeep crawled forward, then slightly back, and then at some invisible signal stopped. In front of the jeep, through a thin bamboo thicket, the most incredible sight materialised in front of my eyes like some kind of optical illusion. It was his huge head I saw first, in total disbelief. There, only a few feet from me, was a large male tiger – B2 – just sitting lazily behind this bush, his paws crossed as if he was a domestic cat sitting in front of the fireside. He looked to me as if he had been amusing himself by counting the jeeps going past and remaining unobserved. The moment was one of total magic. We watched him as he pulled himself up on his paws, clearly not amused that we had spotted him and spoiled his game of tourist spotting, and he slowly ambles out from behind the bush, onto the track, behind our jeep and into the jungle on the other side. We watch him, spellbound, through tears of wonder and amazement, trying to capture the moment on cameras incapable of understanding the enormity of the sight. He slowly slopes off into the jungle, away from us until he gets to a certain point where he turns and starts off in a direction parallel to the track. The experts know he is heading to a nearby watering hole, so we slowly follow the track. He watches us for a bit longer before he heads off again towards the watering hole. By the time, we get to the nearby stream, more jeeps have arrived. The jungle drums have sounded out our sighing and we are quickly joined by others. Sure enough a few moments later, B2 again appears at the stream, but at a bit of a distance. The eye can see him clearly, his dramatic colours show up clearly through the jungle, but amazingly the camera cannot distinguish these colours. Perhaps this is similar to the sight of the other jungle animals and why his camouflage is so good. But he has left a distinct and clear impression on my own personal memory card, even if the camera one is not so effective. He doesn’t wait long at the stream and soon disappears back into his jungle, though many of the jeeps wait patiently to see if he will come back. We later learn that he doesn’t return. He knows better and he has had his game already with the strange humans and jeeps.

It is an incredible feeling, seeing this powerful and beautiful beast in his own territory and we are lucky that we have been able to join his morning game.

We continue on our trail alongside the Bandavgarh Fort, the jungle is now teeming with life all around us. Spotted deer, Sambar deer, so many languor monkeys with their designer tails which stand up independently in artistic hoop shapes. We pass a mess of leaves and branches on the ground, a sure sign of languor in the trees above us. Glancing above, the trees are full with these monkeys whoooop whooooping and having fun. On the ground they have the company of deer, their friends. They hang around together in the jungle. The deer eat up the mess that the monkeys make - leaves, fruit and branches and they listen closely for any predators, warning the other if they hear any sign of danger. We see a sloth bear, an extended family of wild boar with their new cropped hair style seemingly for Diwali, a jackal couple in the sunshine on the track, peacock and peahens, many birds including bright fluorescent green parakeets, brilliant yellow golden oriole, and honey birds. The jungle is busier than Chennai in the morning rush hour.

We head to “centre point’, a spot just the other side of the Park Boundary, where tea, snacks and pakora stalls are set up for the hungry and cold tourists. The jeeps gather and the human folks share stories. It seems that we have been very lucky, having a close sighting. I am mildly disappointed that the photographs are less than spectacular, but then the clear image in my own memory is sharp and dramatic. We have warm tea and soggy pakora in the jungle’s edge as the jeeps draw in from nowhere. At the sight of what looks like a small football stadium on the back of a jeep, I am very thankful that I am not on one of the big fancy tours, but am part of a very well run outfit (King’s Lodge, Bandavgarh). Their speciality is that every couple or family has a jeep and naturalist dedicated to them, along with the compulsory Park Guide, so the experience is perfectly matched to the visitors, and the level of information is outstanding.

Tea finished, and refreshed, we return to the jungle trails. The pressure is off. We have been lucky and seen the tiger, and many other game and birds, but still there is that curiosity of whether we will be lucky again in the remaining hour or so before the Park closes at 10 am.

We drive further along the trail, round the edge of the Fort area amongst beautiful jungle landscape and dramatic rocks in the distance. We pass more tracks, and many more of the friendly langours in a really relaxed fashion.

The guide suddenly hears something – “that direction, Sambar deer alarm call”. We turn back and in a different direction, and follow another path towards the calls. We can now also hear the chuup chuup alarm of the languor, in the trees very close to us, and slight further away, the Sambar deer call. We stop and listen, holding our breath in the noisy silence. We wait, the calls continue – they are very near, and regular, and then we hear a growl. “Tiger”, the guide says simply. I am again in a state of amazement. We can just about hear him breathe, and I scrutinise the trees and bushes carefully, again waiting for the magical sight to materialise in front of me. Our ears prickle at every sound, and eyes study every feature around us. I can just about feel his breath on the back of my neck, or is it the sheer intensity of the experience. He’s there. We know he’s there. And he knows that we know he’s there. But the seconds tick by, and although the alarm calls continue, slowly they become less frequent, and more distant. This time the tiger has won his game. He was probably sitting there quietly and patiently until we had to move on before the Park closed, and we leave his territory. We had been guests of his habitat, and had a brief insight into his life and his world by some special invitation.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Back from the jungle

Just back in Chennai after a wonderful visit across the central part of India, staying in the National Reserves of Panna and Bandavgarh in Madhya Pradesh.

We had close up encounters with so many birds and animals in tiger territory .......... here is a quick preview of our experience.

Friday, 2 November 2007


The rains have stopped for a while - but I can't say the same for myself.

The past three weeks have taken me from Chennai to many other places in intense succession - Port Blair, Delhi and now Calcutta, covering around 5,000 miles. Having only a day or so in between journeys the laundry pile has taken a life of its own and I wake up wondering where I am today. And I couldn't be happier!

The latest trip to Calcutta is for a rare experience - a holiday! This afternoon hubby J and I will jump on the train to Madhya Pradesh and spend Diwali week in the national parks letting tigers spot us.

When I get back there will, I hope, be photos to post and tales to tell, including the ones I haven't shared yet.

Northern squirrels

I was in Delhi last week and able to observe the behaviour of squirrels in the north of India. Fascinating!

I had been amazed by the squirrels in Chennai - and particularly by the unexpected noise they make - Toot tooot tooooot!!

However, while breakfasting at my guest house in Delhi last week, I found it really relaxing to watching the northern squirrel cousins going about their daily activities. But most of all, I was astounded to discover that they really do make a totally different noise. they chirrup and chatter just as I had expected their southern relatives to do. I wonder if this is a localised language issue? Do the southern ones speak squirrel Tamil and the northern ones squirrel Hindi? Can the Delhi squirrels understand Edinburgh squirrels? More and more I see the need to study this further.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Retreating monsoon is arriving!

So, monsoon has arrived in Chennai!

Yesterday the skies were unusually grey with the heavy and fully black monsoonal clouds and through the day the rain was constant. With the result that by the time dark fell, my road had transformed to a river incredibly quickly. The pavements are uncomfortably high for walking, but for some time they were able to keep the water at bay. Finally though, the persistence of the rain falling brought the water levels above the pavement levels. There seems to be a bit of an incline on my street, so the water at one end was much deeper than the other.

This morning, the river is still there but the rain had eased during the night, so it had receded a fair bit. Heavy winds and the high water had thrown a few trees and rubbish around.

A new view from my window.

But life in Chennai contines pretty much as normal.

The waters are receding quickly, and at least today I can get out, but there is more rain forecast over the coming days, so it could be waterlogged for a time.

It is important to see this in perspective though. This year India, and other parts of the region, have seen devastating flooding and although the rains have subsided, the damage and after effects have brought terrible destruction and disease. In the south east of the country we are only now seeing our monsoon season, and although the rain is presently disruptive and destructive, it is not on the scale that we have seen in the north where relief efforts are still underway.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Dictionary corner

I have to share some wonderful new Indian English words or expressions which I have learned recently. I have added their definitions according to how they appear to be used….

oracy - proficiency in speaking (like literacy, numeracy..)
analysisation - carrying out an analysis
fill upping - the process of ensuring gaps are met
capacitation - training
unless and otherwise - until
suggestive steps - proposed (suggested) action plan
botheration - challenge or inconvenience

And my favourite was the description of a six sided shape (clearly an impressive one)
- hectacular!


I just love inflight announcements. I sit eagerly while the pilot tells us how at many feet and metres altitude we are flying, how many miles and kilometres per hour, our flight path, outside temperature…….……..

“Ladies and gentlemen this is Captain Sharma, your gorgeous pilot. We are happy to welcome you aboard our flight PDQ 007 to Delhi. Our flight time is an estimated 2 hours and 15 minutes. We are climbing to our cruising altitude of 34,000 feet or lots of metres above sea level and our speed is several squillion miles per hour. We will be flying over Bangalore, Hyderabad and Jaipur before holding over Delhi for a further three hours or until air traffic control clears our landing. The outside temperature is minus 45C, but we are maintaining a comfortable temperature of 23.4C inside the cabin for your comfort. Weather in Delhi is reported at a pleasant 42C with a slight easterly breeze and en route we expect a little turbulence over Lucknow if we get a bit lost. Please relax and enjoy the flight and I will be back later to update you on our arrival time”.

I love it – yes it is pretty meaningless and to be honest, does it make a difference to the flight to know how high, fast, cold the plane is? Nevertheless I listen attentively, soak up all the minute details and watch carefully out of the window to make sure the pilot makes sure to remember to put the flappy wing things up and down as required and worry when I think he has forgotten.

When I first visited India, the flights would consistently disappoint me – everything was fine, except for the total lack of in flight announcements. I was not even convinced that there was a pilot on board as there was complete and consistent silence from the cockpit on every single flight. I wondered if the cabin crew and auto pilot got the flight from A to B. I became resigned to this and gradually tempered my disappointment at the lack of information about my journey. Until one fine day, on a flight from Mumbai to Delhi, when I heard a crackle from the intercom and a male voice started to speak. There were no male cabin crew so I was immediately alert and puzzled. Sure enough, the voice said

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking”

Puzzlement turned to panic – there was clearly an emergency, hijack or some other terrible crisis. I sat anxiously while the Captain continued

“I am pleased to tell you that Pakistan is out for six and India has started to bat”.

Whereupon the whole plane load of passengers burst into applause, cheering and shouting while my panic returned to puzzlement.

This was my first experience of the importance of cricket in India. I had known it was important before but didn’t realise just how much. Since then other examples have consistently reinforced this.

In Delhi airport departure lounge, sitting quietly reading and waiting for my flight announcement I nearly jumped out of my skin when the whole place erupted in cheers and squeals of excitement. A few moments of disorientation later, I realised that a decisive move had taken place on the cricket match being screened in the lounge.

Delhi airport departure lounge two years later - walking into the lounge intending to buy a cup of tea, I was put off by the huge long queue. Approaching the coffee stall I realised that the queue stopped about six feet away from the stall – and consisted of a crowd fixed on the screen, yes, showing the test match live. Incidentally the crowd appeared to include a number of folks employed in various functions in the airport.

More recently, I spotted a group of men playing cricket at a playing field on the outskirts of Chennai – not unusual in itself, but they were clearly keen given that I was passing before 6 am!

And finally, recently relaxing at home very late one evening, I heard a massive explosion very nearby. Although there are some security incidents in the large cities, Chennai feels very safe, so I was saddened to hear the crashing sound. But it continued for ages, and it slowly dawned on me that this was no explosion but celebratory firecrackers on an unprecedented scale – the whole of the country was celebrating that India had won the ICC World Twenty20 Test Match in a nail biting final

So maybe I still don’t understand cricket and its rules, but I am very clear about one thing – cricket in India is top priority!

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Hail storm in Chennai?

This afternoon we heard the thunderous start of a downpour and a colleague and I ran to the window to breathe in the refreshing rains.

The rains started crashing down and more colleagues started rushing outside to see - and for many for the first time in their lives they saw HAILSTONES!


Monday, 24 September 2007

Happy news from the Darjeeling hills

and the winner of Indian Idol 2007 is.......


Phone calls and sms text messages pouring in gave the result a good two hours before the TV announcement - (I discovered that the Grand Finale was not quite live) - and Darjeeling was rocking and celebrating way into the night. Brilliant news!

Sunday, 23 September 2007

vote Prashant - for Indian Idol 2007

Apparently Darjeeling is going wild as I write this - Prashant TAMANG is in the final two of Indian Idol and being from Darj the place is going ballistic as the final is being screened...........

This takes me back over four months to when hubby J was away doing 11,111 korua (circumabulations round the stupa) in Belakyppe Gompa (Monastery), near Mysore. He phoned every day to give me the day's total and I would keep the tally. This was actually really important as J has a tendency to fast forward everything and fast forwarding korua would be really bad for his karma so I was circumambulation counter in charge! Increasing though, our telephone conversations became increasingly focused on Indian Idol which was gathering momentum even back in May. The funniest thing was that apparently the hot topic of discussion in the gompa was who to vote for that evening in Indian Idol and the lamas were all lobbying for their own favourite!! Apparently the evening korua was when the discussion reached its peak and when the air was filled with their om mane padme..... text 2525... om .....for prashant... mane, no vote for Amit mane.... - what a wonderful image it conjured up!

So now that Prashant is in the final, (and we are Tamang) it would be pretty amazing and fitting if Prashant is indeed the winner..................

Friday, 14 September 2007

Pondy Proper

As promised earlier, here are some impressions of Pondicherry.
Pondicherry is a Union Territory in India and was formerly a French Enclave. This means that the town of Pondicherry is a fascinating mix of India and France which can actually can verge on the disconcerting. However, it makes a lovely break and a total change from Chennai for a weekend away.
The architecture is distinctly French, and there is at least one French School (Lycee) and other signs of French Administration. the French Quarter feels quite Mediterranean and so the sight of autos, rickshaws and saris feels quite strange. The street signs are standard issue French street signs, in Tamil and French.

There are numerous vestiges of France transposed on top of typical life in India in evidence in Pondy. For example, the Ambassador car below, outside one of the heritage houses, complete with French Tamil Street sign.

The Policemen have funky bright red French style caps and uniforms.

At the seafront you can see Indians playing the French game of boules

But despite all these French features, it is definitely India! There are lots of giveaway signs - like this Temple elephant

Evening gossip and mango stalls on the seafront .

Bikes and bananas in peaceful co-existence.

and random shops selling organised rows of underwear.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Claim your free oxygen

"In Pondicherreee"

Would be my suggested final line to round of the rhyming sign. Which incidentally, is where the sign is to be found!

Friday, 7 September 2007

Pondy Bazaar

One of the best things about Chennai is Pondy Bazaar. I think it must be best possible shopping street in the world - where else in the world could you find a street lined with stalls, shops, roadside outlets - and even cars selling cuddly toys and tigers!!

anything you can ever imagine in stainless steel

All manner of fruits and vegetables, and even sugar cane

and don't worry if you don"t have a spot to sell your wares - just find a few bikes and set up stall on top off them.

I think you can probably get anything you could ever possibly need or want in Pondy Bazaar!