Monday, 24 December 2012

Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary

We're on the last stop of India Tour 2012.  There is no doubt in my mind that I will be back. I always doubted that I would like it here but India is so much more than Delhi and Mumbai.  Even those places had their charm.

Right now we are on the edge of Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary. There are Kingfishers, egrets, snake neck birds, heaps of cormorants and a few others I don't know the names of. Not to mention butterflies, flowers and a curious lake otter that bobbed up to say hi this morning. It is paradise here in Kerala.

View of our room
Snake neck bird - crane? stork? 

This morning we took a tour to taste a toddy. If I'm not sick from that tomorrow then I know my system has adjusted to Indian microflora. A toddy, or coconut palm wine, is an alcoholic drink made from coconut flowers mixed with "mud" and allowed to ferment.  I have to say ours didn't taste fermented enough so we'll see how that goes.

We enjoyed a lovely canoe ride and then walk back to the village, stopping along the way to look at local flowers, agriculture and of course the beautiful friendly people.  Once you smile they are all smiles.  It is a beautiful life here despite the lack of easy access to fresh (safe) water. It is getting better but I have seen countless people take sips from the river while bathing. 

A walk through the village
Tonight we have tea and watch the flying foxes but for now it is a pool and spa day. Love it here. The service is outstanding, people are friendly and in the country, the scenery is lush and beautiful.  Now I see why people fall in love with India.

Tea time

Sunset view while having tea

Sunrise from the yoga platform

Hotel walkway and cabins

My view for the next few days

Monday, 10 December 2012

Kerala Backwaters - WOW.

Kerala region brands itself as God's own Country. They are not wrong.  Since time is running short, here's the photo travel tale.  first stop was a beach side resort called Marari Beach Resort. It is located on the coast of the Arabian Sea. This beautiful resort has been eco-friendly since the 50's. I got my first Indian Ayuvedic massage. Now there is an interesting experience.  I'll save that one for an in-person tale.

Flying into Kerala

In the Butterfly garden
Marari resort grounds

Then it was time to hit the backwater in a rice barge houseboat.

We had one of these bad boys overnight. But to get into the smaller canals/villages we had a smaller canoe. The only downside was the diesel. Hopefully they will convert because the local people rely on the water for bathing, washing, cooking and fishing.  They are being overrun by this oily slick on the water.

Of course no cruise is complete without a Kingfisher waiting for the sunset.


And sunset did not disappoint.  Lovely evening with an equally peaceful morning.  Time to head back to land for the last leg of India tour 2012.


Friday, 7 December 2012

Amazing Race around India

Where do I even begin? Since Chandigarh and the ag show we have been to Delhi, Mumbai and are now on the road to the beach resort in the Kerala region.  I can’t say it has been smooth sailing. We missed our flight check in time by a couple minutes flying out of Chandigarh so had to book onto another flight 3 hours later for a very late arrival in Delhi for a 10pm supper. Out of Delhi to Mumbai the flight was delayed by “technical difficulties” resulting in a near riot from some of the passengers and another 3 hour delay for a 3 am arrival to the hotel. And today another 2 hour delay due to more “technical difficulties”, which quite frankly starts to become a bit concerning, for arrival into Cochin at rush hour turning what should be a 2 hour drive into a 3 ½ hour journey. It is no wondered people meditate in this country.  So travel is not all glory. But now the real holiday begins.

And last complaint then I’ll get onto some fun stuff – you would think that I would be caught up on writing and work because of all the airport waiting time but you require a mobile number to get the password to get onto the internet.  Because why would you make access to the Internet easy at an international airport in the business hubs of the country.  There’s a little work to be done related to efficiencies and conveniences.

Ok – recap of the last week. Agro Tech was huge. Lots of interest around Canadian food products and lots of progressive farmers in the region. That said, lots of work on the previous mentioned efficiencies is also in order. Met a lot of really interesting people.   The hospitality in the region is outstanding and Chandigarh turned out to be a really interesting place. First planned city in India which just means that the chaos follows a grid pattern, the traffic and the cows however are still generally all over the place. We said good-bye to our armed guard, Victor and driver. I still can’t remember the driver’s name so would resort to Mr. Singh (the Indian version of Mr. Smith).  In fact, I’ve been completely hopeless with names. I’m not great at it to begin with so add in an accent, rapid fire speech and a three syllable name that I’ve never heard of before and it turns into a lot of smiling and nodding.

In Delhi I went down for the count. I was starting to feel a little off in Chandigarh so by morning in Delhi I definitely knew something wasn’t right. ‘nough said.  I’m still not 100% but getting there through the power of pharmaceuticals and probiotics.  Delhi was a bit of a surprise in terms of greenery. They have large forests throughout the city – protected green spaces. We didn’t see a lot but did a bit of shopping (beautiful scarves and clothes), drove past the Red Fort and old Delhi then headed to the airport for our delayed flight.

Mumbai – also a surprise.  Gorgeous old building but really run down. For some reason I pictured it to be more Hong Kong like with tall high rises. Maybe up in the Bollywood area. But it was a mix with many of the old buildings crumbling away.  We stayed at the Taj Mahal – the same Taj that was attacked in 2008.  It is spectacular with stunning flower bouquets and marble floors. Wow.

Again, not a lot of time for sightseeing but lots to see on the way to a meeting at the Canadian Embassy, to dinner and to the airport.  Dinner last night was with a celebrity chef’s restaurant up near Bollywood by the Beach.  Chef Vicky dropped by and ordered up some of his favourite appetizers for us. Supper in India doesn’t happen until 9 or 10 pm, lunch around 2pm. Makes for some really late nights and early mornings.  
But we are now at a Ayurveda beach resort with 7am yoga on the beach.  Unfortunately we are on the move again, headed to the houseboat at noon and then the next day to a bird sanctuary resort. It really is Amazing Race style with about the same luck with communication sometimes. It is frustrating at times because I want to see as much as possible but nothing happens quickly. So time to get my zen on.  7 am is right around the corner.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Head for the Hills

Yesterday was a déjà vu.  I was up early and ready to head for the mountains with my travel mate and then got the news that she was down for the count with "something".  The food microbiologist in me kicked in and tried to figure out if and when I would be hit as well but we determined it was the ice in her drink. Long live bottled beer I say. So I did what I've done before and headed off on my own to Shimla - an Indian Banff.

The drive alone was entertaining. And by entertaining I liken it to any terror ride in Disney World plus the Amazing Race.  Switch back highway complete with sheer cliffs, passing on a blind curve and random cows (those make it really exciting). 

But we finally reached the village of Shimla; the summer capital of British India. Cute place. Outlawed smoking AND spitting in public. Love it.

The biggest challenge of the day was making sure the driver knew where to pick me up. The biggest issue is that drivers will say "okay" when they really mean" I have no clue what you are saying you crazy person". I try to be clear but there are only so many ways you can say the same thing and point at the map.  The biggest problem this time was he couldn't believe I wanted to walk 2 km when I had a perfectly good (and paid for) car. But after 10 minutes I finally figured what is the worst that could happen and left the driver at one end of the mall, hoping to see him two hours later at our meeting spot. Clearly it all worked out.

So I walked the Mall to my lunch spot overlooking the Himalayas (so unreal) and finally met my driver at our appointed place.  I think he was more relieved than me because my parting words were "don't lose me". Clearly he understood that. Or the desperate tone.

The town was really unique and steep. They actually have an elevator to take to from the Mall back to the main traffic street. A very sketchy and small elevator.  But all in all, a very good outing.  I'll wait until I'm home to post the video.

Langur monkeys


The start of the walk along the Mall

The Mall shopping area - and yes I did some Christmas shopping
My view at lunch


Yes this is a work trip and the conference starts today BUT I've never been one to miss a chance to see what's around be it Vietnam, India or Nebraska.  So with a little downtime I've been able to take in some famous sights around Chandigarh.  The one highlight that I really wanted to see was the Nek Chand's Rock Gardens.  This 40 acre park is the coolest man-made park I've ever seen.  You can get the full story on line but here are a couple signs from the garden about the start of the garden or this website (

The whole park has been constructed into one giant art project. The walls have been built and inlaid with natural and man-made recycled materials with sculptures and shaped rocks everywhere. He even shaped roots and branches.

When I read about this park I just thought it would be a few thousand sculptures scattered throughout the park so this labyrinth of rock walls and waterfalls was outstanding.  But the sculptures were really the highlight and very creative.
But the sculptures weren't the only highlight it seems.  Add two foreigners and a bus load of school children and the park no longer is the attraction. It started off in a polite orderly fashion but degraded into pushing frenzy once the boys got involved.  

I would like to go back in the morning if I get time.  We lost light right at the best part at the end. 
Plus every time I stopped kids would gather to get another photo so it would be nice to go back minus the fans.


Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Day in the Life

One of the reasons I love foreign work trips, other than the obvious benefits, is a chance to see some real life action on location.  It is great to see the highlights like the Golden Temple, but real life is equally entertaining.  For example, yesterday we headed out for our farm tour at about 9:30 from Chandigarh.  In theory it was supposed to take us 1 1/2 to get to Ludhiana, a distance of 100 km.  We have a driver supplied by a company that caters to business travellers.  What could possibly go wrong right? Especially since we drove from Ludhiana to Chandigarh the night before.  Well we take off and within about 20 minutes we realize we are not on the same highway we came in on.  We question the driver, who doesn't really speak English, why we are on this road.  The answer: it's faster.  Ok then and we settle back into our discussions.  After about an hour, we are in the middle of farm country with no sign of the highway.  The driver stops for directions for about the 5th time and the person points to a dirt road headed to a very small village.  Since our farm tour begins AFTER we get to Ludhiana, this is not a good sign.  We head down the kidney busting dirt road to the little village and after several stops for directions, complete with scraping against the car that just stopped to help us, the driver finally pulls onto a main road with the signs stating it was 61 km to Ludhiana and 34 km to Chandigarh.  After 1 1/2 hours we managed to get 34 km from our original destination. To add to our delay, the driver managed to pick a road that was lined with grain trucks pulling up to the grain depots at harvest time AND the towns along the way had parades to celebrate the Guru Nanak's birthday. To add one last complication, there are no hotels to stop at for a bathroom; a must for women travelling.  Men, it appears, can just pee by the roadside, which has been demonstrated numerous times throughout the trip.  Finally we roll into Ludhiana, 3 1/2 hours late and dying to find a hotel before our meeting.  Turns out the poor driver isn't even from the area, he was dispatched by his company from Delhi and despite the official language being Hindi, we are in The Punjab, so he appears to have difficulties communicating. 

Fortunately, the people in this area are gracious and hospitable, forgiving our late appearances and treating us to food and drink upon our arrival.  Tons of food and always chai.  We did get our farm tours in.  Small plots of land, three crops a year, heavy reliance on irrigation by pumping water from the rivers.  The problems arise with power to operate the pumps since summer brings with it a high power demand with spotty supply.  Good opportunities perhaps for alternative energy pumps in the region.  The area produces high yields of grain, mostly wheat and rice, but due to inefficient shipping and storage, a lot of food is wasted.  So certainly opportunities to improve the system as long as it fits with the realities here.  All in all, it was an educational day out and about.

Wheat being transferred to the grain terminal

The Grain terminal

Planting - wheat mixed with phosphate; hand bombed


Insomnia pays

Quick update before we head out to the country.  On day one of the trip I had the most amazing dinner and then headed to bed after the 36 hours of travel ordeal. However I am learning that having curry before bed doesn't necessarily lend itself to drifting off to sleep. 

At 3 am, right on cue, I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep so I read my book thinking I would eventually get tired again. Little did I know my travel mates were also awake concocting a plan to head out to the golden temple for morning prayers. At 4am I got the knock on the door and so the day began.  It was completely worth the early start. 

Because it was a temple, we had to ditch our shoes and take on the cold marble floors (really cold) with bare feet.  I have to say I am not particularly proficient with getting my head covered. I'm not sure why but I end up just about hanging myself.  This lack of ability was a bit of a problem when we went back to the temple later on in the day.

After the sunrise we headed out for a walk and got sidetracked by a scarf and shawl store where we proceeded to make the guys first sale of the day well worth the effort.  Loaded with bags we had to head back to the temple for Bonnie to meet a contact.  As Kim and I were standing in the entrance trying to decide what we would do during the meeting, I remembered I should have my head covered.  So instead of putting my bags down, I attempt to get the scarf unwrapped from my neck and up over my head with one hand, resulting in a very awkward display of attempted modesty. I finally succeed only to have some old guy come up to me and scold me because during all of that my shirt lifted up and exposed my belly. Now we are not talking a lot of exposure, just a little flash of fish belly white.  As I'm still trying to figure out where I went wrong, three women in saris walk by and if you can recall that set up, there is a lot more skin showing than what I flashed. I'm slightly bitter about the exchange. But lesson learned - shirts will be tucked in from now on.

The area is celebrating Guru Nanak's birthday which means parades and fireworks. People in the region are known for their hospitality and love of a party. I can relate to that.