Friday 23 May 2014

We've decided that it's time to revisit India, a country we have come to love over five or six previous visits. Annette has more depth in India than I have, since she taught voluntarily for several months at a school in Bihar in the North East, one of the poorest, least visited states. Together we did the Golden Triangle but our favourite destination is Fort Cochin, in Kerala. The picture above is of Annette standing in the garden of the 'Delight Homestay' owned by David. (Kerala is a Christian state and therefore Christian names proliferate). From the rooftop of Delight one can see a large open hard-dirt square which is used variously as a parade ground for soldiers, religious festivals, a marketplace, but more often than not, by boys practising their cricket skills. On any one day there might be a dozen different groups of boys playing their individual games. They play from dawn till dusk, give or take the school hours for those who attend. It is no wonder the country produces such good cricketers. I usually take a couple of dozen practise cricket balls to hand out the boys, who are often playing with boxwood bats and moth-eaten tennis balls. They invariably say, 'Thank you, Uncle,' which is delightfully polite and makes me feel good - which, let's face it, is of course one of the reasons why it's such a pleasure.

This time we are going to Gujarat (where the new Indian leader hails from). We know nothing about this state, which is situated above Goa. It will be exciting to explore a new region, but one which has a certain familiarity to it. There will be temples to see and Hindu gods to reconnect with. My favourite is Ganesh, the Elephant-headed bachelor, who got his ears and trunk when his father Vishnu believed him to be an intruder in his house and decapitated him. My understanding is that the severed Ganesh was given the head of the first animal he came across, which happened to be the largest beast in the land. All the Indian gods have creatures they ride on, to carry them from one place to another, and Ganesh's mount is a mouse. A rodent with broad shoulders?

India has some wonderful wild life, which is one of the many reasons I love the place. The number of colourful birds is amazing and given that a good proportion of the human population do not kill living creatures, fear of humankind is often absent, which allows one to get close enough for a good picture. I have just spent two years trying to get a photo of a kingfisher here in Suffolk and only managed it recently by incredible luck. (I'm not a bird watcher, I'm a bird taker - often only later finding out what I've taken.) My India kingfishers were taken sitting outside a roadway cafe, as the birds kept landing on a wooden fence. Interestingly, Gujarat is the last refuge of the Asian lion. What? Yes indeed, it was only when I was reading my Lonely Planet I discovered there is such a thing as an Asian lion. Now it would be great to see and photograph one of those in the wild and this time I will make sure I have enough juice in the camera. We saw two wild tigers when we went to the Rajastan - and my camera batteries were exhausted. It is ever thus.