Monday, September 30, 2013

The Golden Temple Of Amritsar

Hearing that we were to do an 11 hour bus trip day from Chandigarh to see one of the most beautiful temples in the world loomed as one of our most anticipated days on our India tour - to see the Sikhs' holiest shrines. A really special place to see, and take in.

Once our bus arrived, a little behind schedule, we walked through the bustling streets to get to the entrance, and figured out pretty quickly what we needed to do to enter, respectfully. Each of us needed to cover our heads, and remove our shoes and walk through a foot bath for this very religious site.

Stepping down to the marble walk all along the holy water tank and drinking in the stunning view of this temple square was breathtaking. So beautiful, and unique. A feeling of peace, and a hustle of prayer, reverence, with the contrast of the chants and songs of prayer broadcast constantly floating across the complex.

Given the eventual timing of our trip, and the plan for the whole day, many of us used the time of our visit to this special place by wandering around this holy pool, and taking in the view, the feeling and the significance of the site. Observing families in prayer, and visiting this most important temple to them, was incredible, and a lesson in a religion that I know little about.

One of the other features of the Golden Temple - and one which Fi and Dave made a concerted effort to experience in our short visit - is the meal served every day to 60,000 to 80,000 pilgrims and visitors alike. The notion that the Sikh's invite one and all to eat together, as a mark of unity, to people of all religions, creeds and nationalities, is a beautiful idea, and surely one the notion of religion should be about.

This special visit drew the envy of so many people for the rest of our time in India, and will always be etched in our groups' collective memories as an amazing moment of our travels, and a powerful lesson in the people, peace and humanitarianism of the world.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Project 52: Friday Afternoon

This particular Friday I was in Sydney, soaking up the sunshine and warmth on the decking on my friend's "mansion" (as I call it!). A glorious afternoon of catching up, talking travel and footy, ready for the last round of AFL football for the year, before the finals.

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Eureka! Bird’s Eye Of Melbourne

The tallest building in Melbourne, and indeed in Australia*, is the Eureka Tower, and a visit to the Skydeck on Level 88 gives you a view of Melbourne afforded to the birds in flight, and helicopters…and not many others!

Sitting along the cluster of buildings in Southbank, this Skydeck is sitting on the top layers of the distinctive yellow section of the building's design - this is actually 24 carat gold plating! - is the highest viewing platform in the Southern Hemisphere.

Andrea, Dean and I took Cooper and Charli up to check out the view of Melbourne, and experience Skydeck and the Edge. Riding up the elevator was fast, effortless and without any more than an ear-popping effect. Less than 40 seconds!

Then we were on the Skydeck, and started the circuit around to take in the incredible views.

There are 30 viewfinder spots all around the Skydeck, each pointing at a landmark in Melbourne. It is clearly marked, so you know what you are looking at, and there are also viewfinders at the same points at little people height so they can see what you are seeing. Such a great idea!

The viewfinders also have mirrors inside, giving you a kaleidoscope impression of the sights below.

From these we got to see the buzz going on down at Federation Square and Flinders Street Station. A viewfinder pointed out Southern Cross Station for us, Flemington Racecourse, and the Shrine Of Remembrance. We could see trams cross Princes Bridge across the Yarra River.

We could also clearly see the Arts Centre spire directly below us, and the mighty Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Tennis Centre, and the cluster of buildings that make Melbourne city unique.

The Skydeck also has The Terrace, which lets you outside on a corner of the building, to feel the air and wind from right up there.

From here, you could see all the way to the Dandenong Ranges, and also out into Port Phillip Bay. Down along St Kilda and the marina, plus out to Geelong and all the port activity in between.

We could pick out Government House in the middle of the Botanical Gardens.

On the other side of the building we could see the sun glint off the Rialto Building.

The views really are spectacular!

Once we had completed our lap of Level 88 and taken in the views, we lodged our tickets for The Edge. Unfortunately it was a 60 minute wait by this time – we so should have lodged this and received the pager for our turn when we first got to the level – that’s my tip for all visitors, especially with little people. Our little people got over the wait pretty quickly, having completed the lap of windows and seen what there was to see. The Edge gave out yellow wrist bands that stated “I survived The Edge” – there were a couple of moments there where we were not sure we were going to survive the wait for The Edge, let alone the plunge out of the side of the building.

For the adults, there was coffee at the Kiosk. Caffeine with an incredible view!

Finally our pager went off, and we were each given shoe covers and directed into the glass cube. Once all ready, the cube rolled outwards from the building, and then the glass turned from frosted to clear, showing that we were hanging out over nothing!

I had wondered if the kids would be scared about this part, but they took in the view some 300 metres above the roads we had crossed to get to the Eureka Tower all in their stride, and could see the people on the footpaths below. Photos were taken by the Edge operator, before the cube slide back into the building.

The views from the top of the Eureka give you a view of the city like no other, the full 360 degrees of our amazing Melbourne and all it's goings on.

I was provided with a Family Pass to attend the Skydeck and The Edge as a blogger, and we purchased an extra ticket so I could take my favourite family along. Words, photos (except The Edge one, which was purchased in electronic format), and tip about beating the wait, are all mine!

*Notwithstanding the spike of Q1 on the Gold Coast. Q1 is 323m, and 78 storeys, and Eureka is 297.3m and 92 storeys high.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Cricket In Mohali - 3rd Test In India

So, while we were wandering around Agra seeing the sights like the Taj Mahal, the Australian Cricket Team were meant to submit some homework - reportedly a review about how each of them thought the team could improve. Four of them didn't complete it, and in a stunning move, were suspended from playing in the next test, including a couple who we expected to be a chance to be called up, and also the Vice Captain.

"Homework-gate" gave significant weight to the talk on tour about the issues of culture within the Aussie Team. The apparent divide between the playing group, the personalities, and suspected feuds. The shock of the suspension though, was big. How ridiculous! Especially how badly the team was going with a full squad to pick from!

After all the controversy of the build up, we woke on the morning to Day rain! Which did not go away for the whole day. A forced travel rest day in the end, as we all waited back at the hotel for any positive news about a possible start of play. But eventually it was called off for the day, with no play at all. A very much needed day of rest, a total bonus, after all the travel so far. It meant we got to explore the Section 17 area of Chandigarh, the shops and the buzz of people and life!

Day 2 we got the chance to head across town to the suburb of Mohali, to the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium. Convincing auto rickshaws to go that far was a bit of work, and we certainly didn't know if they were going the wrong or the long way, but we all managed to make it there in the end!

The Aussie's won the toss, and set out to make a good day of batting. Luke presenting the Flaggy Greens to the new Waving The Flag tour members, and we took our seats for some cricket.

Runs from Cowan, Warner and Smith had us a little happier at the end of the days play, finding a pub across the road from our hotel with very cheap beer! (No girl's loo though...ahhh, you can't have it all!)

We chose Day 3 to be our Chick Pink Day, and upped the ante with our India-styled tunics bought from a women's stored in Section 17. Getting them was quite the experience for us, and getting treated a little more favourably by the security staff on the gate when we were dressed like this, made it all the more fun.

Our attire for the day also started many conversations with the locals. I could not resist getting a photo with this gent on our pink day, given his gorgeous turban! He enjoyed the chat, and had been to Melbourne before, so we had much chatter to fill a few overs of time with!

The Aussies batted on till just before Lunch, posting 408. Then the Indians were in, and we watched debutante Dhawan pile on the runs to finish the day on an impressive 185!

St Patrick's Day fell on Day 4, and also Trish's birthday, which promised to be a fun day. After downloading a picture of a shamrock onto my photo in the morning, I commissioned one of the lads always eager to paint our faces with India flags to try his best. A green shamrock on my cheek, to be sure!

Luck, and tons of skill, was with the Indians again on this day on the field, and the runs kept coming. They finally succumbed to our bowling efforts well into the last session, making 499. Effective dashing all hope for the match for the Aussies.

We found a bar with a kangaroo as the logo that night, and had many beers, toasting the birthday Sheila.

The last day was a forgettable one for the Australians, losing our remaining 7 wickets, and then we watched as the Indian batsman made the winning 136 runs - a win by 6 wickets.

The most entertaining part of our time in the stands was to watch the Number 1 Indian Fan, and his little copiers/followers. All painted, loud and mouthy, these three kids kept us pretty distracted from the carnage that was going on out in the middle.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Project 52: Friday Lunchtime

Back to the kind of work role that involves being out of the road completing visits to clients, albeit within the suburbs of Melbourne and mainly homevisits in this role. Within my locum role, and because I have begged to be kept busy rather than idle, I am currently out and about from the office around 2-3 times per week.

Heading back to the office from one of the outer suburbs on this particular Friday, I remember being pretty pleased with the progress and goals set at the visit I had just completed - and loving the fact that, with the aid of an interpreter, I had conducted a visit in Spanish!

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Project 52: Friday Morning

The view from the front gate from my last housesitting assignment, as I set off to walk to work. At that house it was just a 9 minute walk to my current locum gig - and I could see the tops of the Melbourne CBD buildings from right there. Perfect spot, and a lucky friend-of-a-friend connection set it up.

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Nek Chard's Rock Garden

We were told on arrival that one of the best things about Chandigarh, one of the "don't-misses", was a rock garden. A collection of things made from junk. Art. This I had to see!

After the other sights of the city, and truth be told, feeling pretty under-whelmed by them all, we reached the entrance to the Garden. Adorned with mosaic of bits of tile, the walls of the outside of the Garden had heron-like birds perched on top - clearly made from concrete and tile pieces.

The tiny window low down in the wall accepted our rupees, and we walked in, bemused at what we were about to experience.

The first sections within the maze of Chard's vision create tunnels and low doors, and areas of waterfalls and bridges, platforms and walls of electrical plastic. Originally a dumping ground for industrial and urban waste, there is nothing Chard has not found a use for. The list of materials used include toilet porcelain, discarded street lights, auto parts, play marbles, crockery, human hair recovered from barber shop floors, and broken bangles.

The biggest area, called the Third Phase, is an amphitheatre of mosaic tiles, with a series of archways with swings to play on, a mini-train running around, and a collection of laughing mirrors. Little set up scenes of stories with quirky figures, trees sculpted from concrete. I couldn't make this up if I tried!

The little guys at the top of the post are made with broken toilet bits. The ladies next up owe their colours to the abundance of bangles on Indian girls' wrists. Many creatures are made from these. Amazing! Chard's apprentices have been doing some concrete sculpting for the skirts of the next figures. Plates and bowls make up the background for the guys below.

Enchanting, bizarre, and a world of laughs and surprises. You can see more of my photos from our hours of wandering and marveling here. Definitely one of the most peculiar travel sights I have experienced.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I Am A Girl

As we anguish here in Australia about the lack of female representation on the parliamentary Cabinet makeup of our new government of the day, opportunity, recognition and the glass ceiling are sadly not the only battles girls all over the world face, every day, just for being a girl.

Carly and I went along to the very limited screening of the powerful documentary I Am A Girl at the start of the month, and got a window into a breadth of so many serious, damaging and oppressive issues for girls in very different parts of the world, for being a girl.

Six girls, reaching the point in their lives where they are on the cusp between childhood and becoming an adult, were captured by Australian documentarian, Rebecca Barry. These girls face the vulnerability that being a girl present them in today’s world – child marriage, sexual violence and slavery, high maternal mortality rates, depression and anxiety, the struggle to access education, and the threat of online exposure.

Set out very much like Babies in terms of a group of girls picked out across the world to spotlight, these girls however share their own stories, and tell us, the viewers, of their hopes and dreams, fears and challenges.

Aziza could well one day reach her goal of becoming the first female president of Afghanistan. Wouldn't that be wonderful! She toils at the barriers to receiving an education, with the support of the memory of her father, and amid the chores she needs to do to ensure her family have water.

She was told of the story of Malala in Pakistan, shot in the head for trying to access education by the Taliban, after her story was filmed, and was given the choice to no longer have her story aired due to safety concerns about the same happening to her – she refused, asserting to tell her story, as it is, as she is, and with her hopes and dreams boldly shown. Leadership, resilience and bravery, right there!

We join Habiba in Cameroon as she prepares for her wedding day. She talks about it being her choice, and that she has been so lucky to have been allowed to make the choice. She will need to give up going to school once she is married, and she speaks of her hopes for the union.

Kimsey in Cambodia is the most harrowing of stories, as we find her mid-argument with her mother, about the care of her daughter, and how she was making the income for the family. She then shares the story about selling her virginity, the price and the bargaining, and the arrangement with the man who bought it for some time. For such a meagre dollar amount. She talks of the trauma of that transaction, and how now, prostitution is her only way of making some income. She is in a place where no other options seem available.

The poverty is confronting, but the abuse she suffers from her customers, her mother, and her boyfriend is more so. The hopelessness, and then endless cycle, is heartbreaking. A story I have heard all too many times, when I worked with young women and girls in Phnom Penh.

Katie, by contrast, talks about her level of privilege and comfort, living in Sydney and going to a good school. She talks of opportunity and the support of her family. And yet, depression and issues around self worth drag her down to the depth of suicidal ideation.

Self-described “ghetto” dweller, Breani, is a vivacious young lady intent on taking photos of herself, posting them on the internet to gain ‘likes’ and positive feedback, and also working on a pop-rap music aspiration. Fame and acceptance is what she is seeking. Vulnerable and innocent, she is.

Watching Manu arrive at a hospital in PNG in preparation to give birth, and watch as she starts her labour journey, surrounded by screams from other women in the same physical pain, giving birth on the floor of a busy, chaotic hospital ward, blood smears between curtained-cubicles, is distressing. She talks to the camera before her day of becoming a mother about how sex was so vaguely talked about in her household, and that whilst there was some mention of a safe sex message, there was no actual instruction that she felt she received. Therefore, she was pregnant after her first time, and becoming a mother, despite her and her family having schooling completion plans for her.

PNG is the country with one of the highest maternal mortality rates, and in watching the film, you could feel the whole cinema hold their collective breath as Manu goes through this experience.

Our screening included a Q&A session with Barry, which allowed many of the details above to be fleshed out and further stories of these girl's journey be shared. We also learnt of the work ahead to have this film screened more to reach a bigger audience - they have just announced that there are now extended sessions in more cities for the week ahead, with the hope of greater demand as word spreads. You can also host your own screening, as a fundraiser, if it fits within your cause.

Certainly a film that needs a greater audience, an important carrier of the story of the plight of girls around the world. Of pain, of hope, and a spark of more awareness and advocacy. See it! Demand it be shown at your local cinema! These girls' stories will amaze you. Inspire you. Educate you.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

You Can't Kill Ideas

We came across this tank with a message in Leisure Park, on our walk among the sights of Chandigarh. It was just sitting on the edge of the park, with it's markings of peace and defiance. This felt like such a different India from down south!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sights of Chandigarh

Once we had arrived in the capital of Punjab, and marveled at our flash hotel, we set out to explore the tops sights of Chandigarh - based on the LP and the recommendations of the hotel staff.

Our first stop, all on foot, was the Rose Garden, which was very close to where we were staying. Now, after being in India for several weeks at this point, the sights of well manicured gardens, and the space put aside for roses and grassy areas, was quite a surprise. A refreshing delight!

After the mayhem, the noise and chaos, of all the places we had been to to the south of this destination, we were amazed at the wide streets, the order of the traffic, and the lack of rubbish in the area of this Northern city. The weather was also cooler, and so much more bearable out wandering around for most of the day.

After being wowed at the sight of over 1500 rose varieties, and then the other gardens along the way, such as the Bougainvillea Garden (which was actually out of season, but a well kept garden nonetheless), we took in the War Memorial.

Further up, and after figuring out a confusing round-a-bout, we reached the Capital Complex and the High Court Building. Billed as the top sight in the's fair to say we were underwhelmed!

I am sure this building of concrete and coloured tiers was a marvel in it's day - say 1950s - but we were pretty stunned that this ranked so highly!

Out past the carpark of the Capital Complex, we found the symbol of the city, the Open Hand. The sculpture is a message of peace, and said to display an 'open to give, open to receive' message. It also moved according to the breeze, and thus faced a different direction depending on the environment around it.

Also within the Capital Complex, we walked through the High Court Museum, again listed highly in the LP. We also had a former Magistrate Judge in our party, which added some interest, and the volunteer guide inside delighted in showing him all sorts of things! We took a look at the cuffs used to arrest the man who assassinated Ghandi.

From here we went to Nek Chand's Rock Garden - which was A-MAZE-ING!! I'll save that for a whole post - it was that good!

I loved the fresh feel of the interactions with the people, mainly men, out and about. There is something totally free and easy up in this Northern area! Even the police officers were friendly!

Later on in our little over a week stay here, we had drinks by the Sukhna Lake, and saw the Open Hand imprinted on the island in the middle, and the paddle boats. Would have been worth a ride out on the water, if we'd had known about it during the rained out day of the cricket!

Chandigarh was such a respite from the rest of India! A delightful stop to be included on the tour.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Project 52: Thursday Evening

This was the Thursday night I flew to Christchurch for the weekend, for a wedding. I was packing when I took the Project 52 photo, and this included my dress for the big day, freshly drycleaned, the wedding invitation, my passport and airline e-ticket confirmation.

In addition, I had my compression stockings, clexane injections, and a newly acquired travel needle disposal tube. See, after my post about Clexane For Travel, Post-DVT a work colleague of my Mum's passed this on to her for me to test out. How cool! No more dilemmas if there is no safe deposit in airports now!

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Project 52: Thursday Afternoon

In the middle of my crazy MIFF week, I took an afternoon off to squeeze one more movie in, based on a couple of recommendations. It's so decadent seeing a movie in the middle of a week day! The movie was Wadjda, and it was amazing - totally worth skipping work for!

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Train Travel From Agra

As we moved on the train from Agra through to Delhi and then on to the train to Chandigarh, there was a noticeable shift. The landscape became more rural, less built up. The air became lighter, cleaner, and cooler. And the increasing presence of the enchanting and colourful turbans meant we were entering the land of the Sikhs.

Our hours on the train whittled away, punctuated with regular station stops, and chai wallahs and samosa sellers walking through selling their wares.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Development Verses Tradition

One of the sessions I went along to last month for the Melbourne Writers Festival was hosted by One Just World, and was a discussion about international development, and it's role in supporting or harming a community's culture and language. A panel discussion, the members were drawn from Timor-Leste (Abel Guterres, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, to Australia, New Zealand and Republic of Fiji), Indonesia (Butet Manurung, co-founder of SOKOLA and author of The Jungle School), and Australian academia, in linguistics (Simon Musgrave, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics at Monash Uni) and economics (Stephen Pollard, formerly of the Asian Development Bank).

The discussion centered around the difficult balance between helping and harming; between good intentions and wanting to go into Developing communities to help, and the impact of that action on the community's unique culture, customs and language.

The notion of swooping in, meeting a donor's or NGO's own agenda, can have such ripple effects on a community. The English language was identified as a dominant language in Development, associated with power and success; but can encourage a dilution of culture and a dying of unique languages.

Abel pointed out that in fact, those of us who are monolingual with just English are in fact the world's minority, with most of the world's population having more than one language. Simon talked about Rwanda as an example of the fact that homogeneity of language does not actually lead to peace. Betut reminded us that if a language dies out for a community, than much of their culture and customs die with it. Preserving cultures and languages is so crucial to Development, and working with communities in a mindful, respectful and sustainable manner.

Participation, education and informed choice were highlighted as the keys to sustainable and meaningful Development for the very people such work is aimed to help. Abel talked about how without having villagers being part of a project being delivered, by them being part of the digging of the trenches needed, when the Aid organisation has moved on, the village is not personally invested in what remains to keep the project functional, to repair it and build on from it. Ensuring people are part of the growth, the change, and the development, is crucial.

The Economist in Stephen reminded us all that 'Development is all about people'. Abel talked about how communities already know their own needs; they know what they need to move forward. Agencies need to ensure that they are involved and empowered to be part of any development, to ensure the community's culture and customs are maintained, whilst making sure the intervention done is what is wanted, needed, and will be an ongoing help to the people.

These discussions really made me reflect on International Development, and how such movement and "assistance" may impact the communities I visited in Burma. Walking through the hillside villages towards Kalaw the reality of the isolation and self-sufficiency was all encompassing. Apart from groups of trekkers like myself, and a couple of trips into town to get supplies across the month, these communities have very little contact with the wider world. As I walked through, it struck me whether they would want intervention to change their ways of life. Yes, they work the fields for their families, and have so very little in comparison to the Western world. But they were also so friendly, content, welcoming and good-natured. They have no electricity at night, but they all come in together to prepare and share the evening meal. The children do their chores before walking to school, and live a pretty safe existence.

Walking through these villages, we went through at least three areas of different tribal languages. What impact would a roll-in of Development have on such communities – the dominance of English, introduction of Western customs, potentially the religious affiliations of NGOs...

It also brought back the mixed feelings I had when I was in Phnom Penh earlier this year, after my time there 10 years ago. So much has changed there for the Khmers, and yet so much of the undercurrent of poverty, oppression and fear is still there. Has International Development really done what it set out to do for Cambodia?

This session has reignited my want to be more involved in International Development, in meaningful, collaborative, capacity building, participatory discourse – in work, in conversations, in thoughts and current issue awareness.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Charlotte and Ollie's Wedding

A month ago I got to be present at a very special day, when Miss Charlotte become a Mrs! I travelled across to Christchurch for the weekend, and enjoyed the most lovely of Winter weddings.

Out drinking with the groom and his side of the guests the night before, I was impressed that Ollie took himself off home, and to bed, at a very decent time. Good lad!

The ceremony in the afternoon was at St Andrew's at Rangi Ruru, which is where Charlotte and her sisters went to school. Attended by her three sisters, Charlotte was stunning!

A moment in the ceremony where the pastor made a mess of his lines, and Charlotte's good grace and humour had everyone laughing, made for a memorable service.

As many of the fur-clad guests streamed out of the chapel, we made our way further into the school campus to Te Koraha House, which was the boarding quarters in several of Charlotte's school friends' day.

First drinks were served in the front room, with champagne and then mulled wine. Mingling and meeting people, before the gathered guests were invited into the dining room to be seated. I was placed right next to two of the girls who reminisced about the Great Wasabi London Birthday of Charlotte's, all those years ago! Ha!

Once the bride and groom had been announced, and had taken their seats, half of the speeches began, starting from the witty MC, and then Bridesmaid and Best Man, and Father of the Groom.

In line with the winter wedding, first up to the table for us was soup, being green pea and delicious. Even for a pea-hater like me!

More speeches followed including from the Father of the Bride, which was a highlight. Daddy B is such a great man, and father, and is so proud of his daughter, and that really shone through. The Groom was in there too, but of course, the Bride stole the show with her killer speech. She was funny, and heartfelt, and vivacious – all the things we love about her.

I remember participating in a beer boat race around this time, which just proved that I cannot scull a bottle of beer. Clearly seated with my kind of people! The pinot noir was delicious, though!

Dinner was then served, with a choice of sea or land Winter Pies. Pulling in the hunting theme from the Groom’s hobbies, the invite had suggested that Ollie would be out hunting and catching guests orders for the day! Ha!

One of the long tables was cleared and the band started, and the night kicked off. Charlotte and Ollie had told me that they were not going to do a bridal dance, mainly because they usually get carried away on a dancefloor, and end up falling over together, with their dream of pulling off some Dirty Dancing style lift - however, when they did happen to meet on the dancefloor at the right time, the two of them danced to I Wanna Dance With Somebody, which seemed totally fitting. And they totally pulled off the romantic and flamboyant dip!

The band was great, and held everyone on the floor, dancing and laughing and having a great time. Punctuated by visits down to the hall to the dessert buffet!

There was one particularly lovely moment I spotted, when Charlotte and her three sisters all danced with their Dad on the  dancefloor. So lovely. Her Dad is a groover, and they were having such a great time!

A lovely night, and special day, I am so overjoyed to be part of Mrs Charlotte's big, beautiful day!

Monday, September 09, 2013

The View From Mehtab Bagh

The park across the Yamuna River is the perfect spot for one more view of the Taj Mahal, and we took in sunset here. The sun sets with the light hitting the white marble, seemingly making it change colour as it goes down.

The garden was part of a series of parks along this side of the river, built by Emperor Babur, long before the Taj was there. You now need to pay an entry, and are restricted from getting down to the river's edge, but the park is well maintained now, making it a pretty peaceful place to sit and stare in awe at the monument to love across the river.

It also seemed, at the time we were there, to pull just a small crowd, and so it was a really lovely, quiet end to the day in Agra.

(I have let that photo hang over the edge on purpose - it has to be big to be fully appreciated!)

This park is also the site of the much rumoured Black Taj, the mirror mausoleum that Shah Jahan was going to build for himself, before his son imprisoned him at Agra Fort. But no trace of such plans, or foundations, have ever been found. Perhaps one more of those fierce rumours of the history of Agra.

The garden lines up perfectly with the Taj, and this side of the river also affords you a full view of the symmetrical mosques on either side, and complete vision of all four minarets around the dome of the Taj.

The Taj is such a special place to visit, and take in from all angles possible. One of the most beautiful, magical and breathtaking places I have been to, in all of my travels.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Project 52: Thursday Lunchtime

On this particular lunchtime I ducked down to the post office from work to send a pair of undies to New Zealand. Part of Miss Charlotte's hen's party for that weekend, her bridesmaids had asked everyone, including those who could not attend, to send a pair, and she would have to guess whose they were as she down champagne. Anyone who knows Charlotte knows her obsession with such things. I sent a pair of the most boring of undies, cos she has always be on at me about such things! Ha!

I heard many stories from the crazy day, sounds like the girls had a ball, undies and all!

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Project 52: Thursday Morning

When I was housesitting in Prahran, this was my breakfast view, into the little courtyard of light and huge tropical plants. Like a little jungle of peace. The house was gorgeous - an assignment I found from the House Carers website, and was chosen to caretake through an interview process. Living the dream of not renting, and living almost how the other half live!

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Election Day In Australia - Do We Even Realise How Lucky We Are?

I woke up this morning to an article about the issues about the July election held in Cambodia and tweets about the peaceful protest gathering in Phnom Penh about their election.  A stark reminder how very lucky we are here in Australia to have the freedom to attend our polling booth today, and freely and safely lodge our own vote for the outcome of a parliamentary election.

I was going to complete my vote at an early polling booth near work during the week, until I stumbled upon the website which mapped out the election sausage sizzle locations, and found that the primary school near where I am housesitting was a one of the ones where I could get a snag after completing my two ballot papers.

Because not only are we free to vote as we decide, we Aussies make the best of our compulsory democratic duty by having a BBQ, and schools get the chance to fund raise through stalls.

As I walked down, I felt such a sense of community. Here I was, walking along ahead and behind other groups doing the same - families, housemates, singles - about to participate in our democratic right, and have a say in the leadership of our great and lucky country.

An opportune house just near the school was holding a garage sale. The line to vote was massive when I finally made it through the gauntlet of aggressive pamphlet holders, hoping that somehow forcing into my hands a flyer for their party would influence my vote. I completed my numbering on the green and white paper, and felt a sense of pride as they were lodged. How lucky we are!

All around the world people die trying to access a right to vote.  People are killed for political stances. Communities are bribed to vote in certain ways.

1.4 million eligible Australians were not registered to participate in the election today (according to Channel 10 coverage just now). And countless Aussies have had a whinge on social media and to anyone who would listen about having to vote - for taking an hour out of their weekend for the right to have a say. I heard many people talk about doing a protest vote, or an informal vote on purpose. Imagine explaining that to someone in a land like Burma, who long for their vote to be safe, and honoured.

Polling closes shortly on this side of the country, and the counting begins. Australia holds it's breath for the outcome...

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Baby Taj

The hidden gem of Agra in India is affectionately known as the Baby Taj - but it's more delicate and much smaller model of the move iconic monument to love up the river, and was commissioned by a woman. The main tomb here is for Mumtaz Mahal's (for whom the Taj Mahal is built) grandfather, Mizra Ghiyas Beg, and was built by his daughter some 10 years before the Taj.

It sits on the banks of the Yamuna, tucked away on the other side to the Taj, and does not get many visitors as a result. Which means you can explore the gardens and the rooms of tombs, with their exquisite detailed lattice-work and detailed designs, at peace and your own pace.

Itimad-ud-Daulah - the Baby Taj's real name - was the first monument built with the Rajasthan white marble, and the layout has very familiar features. The four directional red sandstone gates, the minarets, but with a jewelry box design for the centre piece.

We had a pretty leisurely wander around the gardens and then in through the many rooms inside, with just a handful of other people there at the same time.

The designs all around the outside and inside the tomb rooms are worth the time to take in - so elaborate and intricate. So beautiful.
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