The Journey Pt. 24 – So Long Ceylon – Sri Lanka it’s been good to know you – Photos

The Journey

Posted on  by Opher

            Sri Lanka – Ceylon, The pearl of the orient, the teardrop of India – probably a teardrop of joy as it was such a friendly exciting place.

We had quite a day – tearing round the streets in Tuk Tuks, interacting with elephants, king cobras, monkeys, weird ducks, pythons and egrets, visiting mosques, temples and shrines, lakes, palaces, parks and McDonalds, walking miles and being lurched around at great speed in a local bus.

We ate curry in a small café and drank glass after glass of coke, cream soda and iced chocolate shakes to combat the dehydration from the humid heat.

The bus ride on the local bus was an experience. You jumped on as it was moving and hung on for grim death as it hurtled through the streets wrenching you from side to side. Fortunately we were packed in so tight that you couldn’t fall over though getting off was extremely difficult – five miles for less than 15p


Colombo was a great city – not so crowded, chaotic or dirty as Chennai. The people were elegant and friendly but less colourful.     

We saw snake charmers with king cobras and pythons, people with monkeys on lead and temples with elephants. I was extremely torn. I do not like the way animals are used to attract tourists and make money but at the same time they looked well and the animals were beautiful. To be d        

The red mosque was extremely beautiful – what it must have looked like prior to the entire city being built around it. The Buddhist temple, on the festive day, was full of worshippers, offerings and incense and packed with an array of the most incredible assortment of things from stuffed elephants to vintage cars. It was more of a museum than a temple. I have rarely seen so many Buddhas but some of the engraved teak murals were spectacular as was the array of Buddhas and stupas and lavish ceiling paintings.

At the market there were guys mending your shoes while you wait, sitting there in the dirt with a box of needles, glue, thread, spare soles and bits and bobs – so resourceful.

Up in the Hindu temple near the port the breeze from the sea was cooling, the wonderful murals were illuminating, the acolytes, all dressed in white, friendly and smiley, the huge stupa splendid against the rouge of the setting sun. What a fitting end to a day of bustle, wonder, excitement and fun.

Ceylon it’s been good to know you.

Next stop Maldives!


The Journey Pt. 23 – Indeed it’s India – Chennai and Kanchipuram – Photos

The Journey

Hello again from the Bay of Bengal where spectacular sunsets with great black heavy thunder clouds regale the horizon.

We’ve hit the imponderables of India – the land of colour and disparity where answers are difficult to come by.

At the end of our trip a cordon of soldiers with stony faces and semi-automatics escorted us back on to the ship. I wasn’t sure if they were there to protect us or prevent us fleeing to join the throngs on the subcontinent. It made quite a contrast to our reception where a band of consisting of strange Indian pipes and drums regaled us as pretty maidens applied garlands of fragrant flowers, and welcome blessing with spots of ochre on the forehead coupled with a splash of water, But then India is a land of contrasts.

Driving through Chennai (Madras) one is struck by the splendour of the old colonial building, and some new ones, and the swathes of corrugated slums. There were down and outs lying in dishevelled hopelessness on the pavements amidst the mandatory piles of litter, dirt and rubble and the young girls, and even older women, laughing and looking so radiant in their gaily coloured saris with flowers in their hair– the desperate eyes of beggars and hawkers and the smiling faces of the kids and families who stopped to talk and ask for photos.

With the incessant honking of horns, the ubiquitous mad rush of traffic and sea of people all busily roaring off somewhere at speed, one was left to wonder where it was going? It was the same story throughout Asia – too many people, too much poverty, too much pollution and destruction and no easy solution. Where would you start?

However I did see a glimmer of hope. There were slums being cleared and flats being built, new flyovers and an underground transit system – but more importantly there were lorries with the slogans – One Family One Child and We two Ours one. If there is to be a solution for humanity and beleaguered nature it surely has to lie in that – we need to decrease our numbers. Another of the trucks had a sign about Health & Safety that I thought might be suitable for Rich – Safety doesn’t happen by accident.

India is so different – not just the people and noise – but the cows wandering in the streets, the gaily painted trucks, dilapidated old busses crammed with people, the whole families on motorbikes and bright besaried girls riding side-saddle, the goats, bikes, occasional bullock drawn cart, old pedal cycles, ocean of honking Tuk Tuks, street vendors with melons, sugar cane juice, fruit and sweet candies, pedal carts laden with goods, and the dirt and squalor. There is nothing quite like it. It has energy.

The heat is intense. The sun seared and the sweat dripped. They have three seasons – hot, hotter and hottest. We had arrived in the hottest following a drought caused by a failed monsoon. A street cobbler who repaired my shoe for a dollar asked me how I found the heat. I said I perversely liked it. He laughed and asked where I came from. I told him England. He asked why we white people liked the heat when black people who lived in it found it oppressive. I told him that it was probably because I came from a cold country and it was a novelty. He laughed and thought me a mad Englishman. I looked round for mad dogs.

We drove out of Chennai and sped for two hours through the countryside to Kanchipuram – the sacred city of a thousand temples. Well that was a myth. There were no longer a thousand temples – If there ever had – but there were certainly a lot. One thing you notice about India is the proliferation of temples. Probably poverty breeds the need for hope? We only visited two. The first was old – a large granite construction one thousand five hundred years old. The other was a lot newer being a sandstone structure only one thousand two hundred years old.

We were lucky enough to be visiting during a festival time so there were lots of loud bangs, ceremonies, candles, fire, water and coloured powder.

The big temple was thronging with gaily dressed people, with garlands and offerings. The carved granite columns created quite different scene to anything I had seen before. There were shrines, statues, some garish, and bright streamers. There were animals living in the temple  – I saw crows, monkeys, dogs, cows and squirrels. The people were friendly and seemed pleased to see us – asking for photos and practicing their English. There were some beggars and sellers of wares but they did not pester us too much.

The second temple was small and almost deserted. It was compact with carvings and inlays of gods and dancers. There were carvings of cows strategically placed on walls, at the corners of the building and in a separate shrine. Cows are holy – no beef on the menu here! It was a very beautiful piece of intricately carved architecture that reminded me of Ankor Wat.

I’d packed a lot into a day and returned with over nine hundred captured images!! There was so much to see and record – so much wonder, beauty and decay! I think that tells the story – India – the land of contrasts, overpopulation, superstition and colour – sits on a knife-edge – which way will it fall?

My last shots were of a flotilla of orange jellyfish, crows roosting on the aerials and a bright red sun setting in an orange hazy sky behind two black skeletal derricks. What would future sunrises reveal? Fare well India.

The Journey – Pt. 22 – Fucking about in Phuket. Photos

The Journey

Thailand was similar to most other places in Asia with its families on mopeds, bundles of electricity cables, friendly people and colour and bustle. Something had to be different. It was a tourist destination for young kids with surfing and snorkelling, beach parties, nightclubs and freedom. We didn’t want that. We weren’t here long enough to chill or sample the action. We wanted to see what was there. I wanted to head off to see the fabulous rock formations on the beach on James Bond Island but it was too far and expensive. We put that aside for another time.

As we nosed into the harbour the island looked green, tropical and affluent with its big houses on the hillsides and sandy beaches. A huge Buddha sat on a hill in the distance.

Heading off on foot in the heat, down the road, away from the expensive tours and hustling cabbies, we teamed up with friends and grabbed a taxi in a quieter area to take us round. We settled for the giant Buddha on the hill. On the way we stopped off at another lavish temple with fire crackers and sonic booms. It was a lavish affair of reds and golds with hundreds of gold Buddhas, paintings and grounds. The temple was wonderful as usual. Extremely extravagant and full of incense clutching adherents.  

I hadn’t realised what the strange beehive structure was that I was standing next to until the attendant threw in a lighted bunch of fire-crackers that went off with such a racket that it made us all jump out of our skin. It was an echo chamber designed to enhance the noise. It transformed loud bangs into fearsome explosions. Somebody should have warned us!

We set off for the hill, up the winding road past restaurants and elephants, cyclists and little four wheel motortrikes. The Buddha on the hill, that we had spotted from the boat, was big – extremely big. We walked around the base as a troupe of young Buddhist monklets were escorted past in their orange robes – obviously about to be indoctrinated.

The views were incredible. The green hills, coated with thick carpets of rich tropical forest, undulated down to the sea. The city sat in the bay below. The sun bathed us in its radiation, the rocks were melting, the air thrilled and the sweat dripped so that we were constantly replenishing fluids. Birds sang and flitted and there was that tropical scent in the breeze – of flowers and decaying vegetation – sweet and fecund. It felt serene. We climbed up the steep steps and looked up at the massive idol. We went into the space under the statue where there were numerous shrines and then we walked around the outside to peer over the landscape and look at the various other shrines, butterflies, trees, orchids and wildlife.

It was lunchtime and our taxi driver knew where to go to get a fish meal – probably one of his relatives. We ended up in an isolated place by the side of a lake where fish and crabs in big tanks looked mournfully back at you as if they already knew their fate. After a beer or two to ward off the heat we consumed our fish and crab, without thinking too much of those sorrowful eyes, and settled back in our seats to take in the surrounds. There was a rafted fishing village in the centre of the lake which was probably the source of our meal.

We then had a lazy wander round Phuket taking in the colourful shops and decaying old buildings. The market was interesting as usual with its array of colourful fruit and vegetables and live fish in bowls. I can never quite get used to the meat displayed in this heat.  

Another great and tiring day in the heat!

This Indonesia/Java/Borneo bit has been marvellous. The people have all been extremely friendly and helpful, public transport great, taxis dubious but cheap, food wonderful and it has been exceedingly hot and humid! My skin seems to be changing colour! I’m getting used to this warmth and travel! Only another 4 weeks!! Plenty of reading, writing and viewing still to do!

Well here we are amazingly on day 42. It has been extremely busy despite the fact that I have quite forgotten how to cook, clean, repair or even make my own bed.

We are now at sea heading for India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

India – here we come!!

The Journey Pt. 19 – A sling for Singapore – Photos

The Journey

Arriving in Singapore was great, apart from the lengthy customs clearance. After the overcrowded bustle of Vietnam with its poverty, decay, masses of scooters and pollution it was quite a contrast to arrive in a city that was clean, well-organised, well looked after and so full of interest. The MRT was cheap and provided the means to explore Little India, China Town, the Arab quarters and the Marina bay area with its fantastic super trees and modern architecture juxtaposed with the old colonial buildings. They’ve done a great job. It is an amazing city that we wouldn’t mind going back to. We cable carred, trained, bussed, walked, boated, ate, drank and saw the sights!

It is obvious that huge amounts of money have been poured into Singapore. It is a complete contrast to most of the rest of Asia and Indonesia. One is left with the impression that unless the overpopulation problem is solved soon something drastic will happen – the collapse of the ecology of the area? A virus pandemic? Mass starvation? There’s a tipping point. Something bad is about to go off. But Singapore appears immune. The modern buildings and infrastructure nicely complement the old. The underground takes away a lot of the traffic and it seems almost serene. It seemed like a modern city not suffering stress and decay.

First stop was Little India with its shops of spices and trinkets, flowers and tourist goods (including a gruesome pile of dried lizards, fish and other exotic creatures – killed for tourists), peacock statues and brightly coloured housing and shops. The gaily decorated Hindu temples, which were in the midst of ceremonial celebrations, with their flowers, ceramic gods, paintings, offerings, foods and smells were a delight on the eye. The women in their brightly coloured saris and a street sculpture of equally bright parasols provided a real splash. The cows and half naked priests harked back to ancient times as the throngs flocked to worship.

Then it was the Arab sector with its mosque and another set of worshippers in different garb and different customs but equally adamant that their book and ways are the only way; the true word of god – whatever he may be.

I did not concern myself too much with the esoterics of fictional deities but focussed on the art and architecture, which was sumptuous, before searching for the blue cheese flavour ice-cream I had enjoyed on my last visit. Like god it was nowhere to be found.

Next stop was the Buddhist Temple which supposedly had a fang from Buddha as an artefact. Something to get your teeth into. It was also full of worshippers in yet another set of garb, incense, chanting and idols, but at least there were no gods here.

We made our way over to the Marina Bay and the hotel that is a ship on three towers with the amazing array of surreal sci-fi Eco Trees.

They round the bay past the Lion spouting water to the centre and the dock area with its conjunction of old colonial and new. Never has such a marriage worked so well. Night was falling and we settled at a table overlooking the water to partake of beer and crab – an ideal combination.

Then it was back to Marina Bay for a sight of the Eco Trees performing as they danced with their light show!

The next day we boarded the cable car up to the top of the hill, for a view over the surrounding area, and then over to Sentosa Island with its funfair, artificial beaches and tropical forest with a backdrop of ships queuing up for the container port! On the second cable-car ride we went straight over our ship!

By the time we got back a storm was coming through. The sky darkened menacingly and warm rain splashed down in great globs. It created quite a scene as we pulled away. We were leaving a great city. We loved it.

Next stop Kuala Lumpur.

Journey Pt. 15 – So Long – Hong Kong – Photos

We were leaving a whole section of our journey behind us as Borneo, Java, Indonesia and the Philippines faded away in the yellow glow of the evening sunset. We were heading over the China Sea to Hong Kong. It was hot and humid but the breeze created by the motion of the boat was cooling and pleasant. I stood at the prow and looked down into the water below the same as I had done day after day. Perhaps they did have different properties, temperatures, salinity or acidity? We give these oceans names but I could not really tell the difference between The Java and China Seas. Sometimes they were aqua marine blue, sometimes slate grey and sometimes green; it depended on the light and sky. What they did appear to have in common was a lack of animal life. Apart from a half dozen sea snakes and three boobies we saw nothing – no whales, dolphins or sharks. I suppose there are some still around somewhere. We can’t have killed them all off yet – or can we?


Hong Kong was a reprise but we had never arrived by ship before and were on deck at dawn to watch the cloud wrapped islands slide by as we made our way into the bay. It looked misty but the clouds were few and it was promising. We were struck once more by the sheer number of high-rise tower blocks. They spring up like mushrooms – many more than on our previous visit. This is an area of high population density.

We had a dragon dance to welcome us but we missed it, stepping off the gangplank as the dragon was taking off his head. The sun came out to welcome us and we had a clear idea of what we wanted to pack in. We caught the free shuttle-bus into the centre. After that it was subways, buses, trams and boats and walking – lots of walking. Underground, over ground wombling free.

Walking across the road we found ourselves enveloped in the wonderful Nunnery of Chi Lin with the exquisite Nan Lian Garden all soaked in Zenness like an oasis of peace in the midst of the urban melee. We spent far too long wandering through the serene landscapes  but they were captivating – a small red and yellow pagoda with arched bridge in the lake, the manicured trees and shrubs, orchids, rocks of wondrous texture, shape and colour, flowers, crested blue birds flitting in the bushes, relaxing hues, shapes and curves, the temple complex. It made for an island of green peace so detached and beautiful that it was hard to imagine that we were in the midst of the overcrowded city.

Travelling the subway the first thing that struck us was the Asianness of the place. It had changed in the fifteen years since our last visit. Back then there were a mixture of races and western faces were common. Now we stood out as a rarity. All around us was a uniformity of Chinese faces – and very friendly they were too. Apart from that it was the same well-ordered bustle – totally different to the more chaotic nature of the places we had left. It was just as hot and sticky though.

We emerged in the centre with its familiar mixture of old colonial buildings and new skyscrapers. We were heading for the Peak and were keen to do it the traditional way on the old funicular but as we were now late the queues were long so we waited in the heat.

We hit the peak where the buzzards circled and looked down at the city. After some lunch we chose the bus to take us back down. It was a crazy ride round the mountainous bends, through tropical greenery with views over the bay, as Ayrton Senna hurtled along throwing us from side to side. A bit more exhilarating than the journey up.

Next stop was the sea and we sampaned around Aberdeen harbour, with the fishing boats and buzzards and a trip out to the brightly coloured floating Jumbo restaurant passing herons eating fish and fishermen showing off their catch. It was hot and sunny.

We ate, drank and walked miles. In the evening it was some amazing Chinese acrobatics and feats of strength and agility. I’m sure one of the guys was completely made of rubber.

Day two in Hong Kong was rather different. It was cloudy with drizzle and had dropped to a freezing 22 degrees requiring many more clothes! What are we going to do back in England? I’m getting used to shorts and T-shirt.  We ditched our plans for a reprise of the mighty Buddha at Lantua. It was too misty for a journey of that length. Only slightly daunted we strode forth for further adventures only to valiantly stride straight back – Liz forgot the map and I forgot my underground pass – the wonderful Octopus cards that give you really cheap rides everywhere if you are a senior! So the day started badly. We eventually set off and checked out the serenity of the nunnery again plus a much more boisterous and gaudy temple nearby – the Wong Tai Sin Temple . They seemed to be in the midst of ceremonies and was a hive of activity with incense, prayers and incantations. Even the crested birds and turtles seemed more manic. Wong Tai Sin had gone for a different theme to that of the Nunnery. This was full of fearsome statues, gaudily painted, bright colours and business. Contemplation was not the intent. Perhaps that is why it was more popular.

We walked a hundred miles down Nathan Street, sampled Chinese cuisine and then signed off with a visit to the mist enshrouded waterfront.

We head off to Vietnam and Halong Bay!

Journey Pt. 12 – Borneo – Banda Sera Begawan – tropical city with stilted village, mosques and temples.

The Journey

We have just crossed the equator heading for Borneo!  As usual there is the same silly pageant on deck with people dressed up with seaweed and gowns, covering volunteers with shaving foam and  dunking them in the swimming pool. The Captain asked Neptune for permission to cross the equator. It was a farce. Yet it was a farce with a history. At one time, back in the days of yore, this was a solemn ceremony. Sailing was dangerous. The seas could be terrifying as mountainous waves swamped ships and little wooden craft were tossed about like toys. Back then they believed the Gods created the storms and needed pacifying. We see in the Odyssey how sacrifices were made. Back then gods such as Neptune were real. Now, we look back at those beliefs as daft. The ceremony is now ‘a bit of a lark’. 

There were amazing feats of creativity on deck as the chef did the most amazing ice carving in no time at all!

We were back into the northern hemisphere. Just 50 days left!

Borneo is hot. 31 degrees!!! We headed off to the local town and boarded the local bus. The locals were extremely friendly and interested in these Westerners joining them, fascinating for us. It was a 30 minute journey, bumping along and hurtling down the roads. Around us was the lush tropical rainforest. We were heading for Banda Seri Begawan – the capital city.

Off the bus we walked along the waterfront looking over to the stilted town and back towards the impressive bridge. Then it was straight off to see the wonders of the Mosque. There was a fantastic reflective water pool in front complete with large colourful tiled ship. As mosques go it was a beautiful example. They build to impress and Muslim architecture, ceramics and abstract art is extremely beautiful.

The next stop was the stilted water village. We took a local boat and he took us round the village, out to the mangrove swamp, complete with crocodile, and over to the Royal Palace. The village was extensive with stilted hospital, schools, fire-station and police station.

Back on land we headed for the shopping mall to cool off with air-conditioning and a local cinnamon and honey ice-drink with tapioca – very different.

Refreshed we set off to check out the Chines Temple. The gruesome warriors, demons and gaudy red, blue and gold, bells, dragons, drums, idols, incense and bonsai trees all part of the rich pageant. It all goes into the rich tapestry of religion. You have to wonder at what people believe.

Hot, and sweaty again we headed back to the boat on the local bus.

Quite a day!!

Off somewhere else tomorrow!! Just have to plan a five-course meal in the restaurant for today. It’s a hard life but we’re not wilting yet!!

Journey Pt. 10 – The manic majesty of Bali – Photos

The Journey

Next stop was Bali.

We started the day by getting up at first light to watch the coast glide past with a huge volcano on the horizon. As we came into the harbour we passed a big flock of snipe, egrets in the trees, hundreds of fishing boats and the beauty of green mangrove swamps.

Bali is a land of friendly people, temples, beaches and idols by the million. We were welcomed with a gamelan symphony and smiling girls in full costume.

We’ve been before but wanted to have a couple of days to visit the fabulous Ulu Watan temple, Ubud, the cliffs and fabulous beaches that we hadn’t got to before.

Our first task was to negotiate a price with one of the hundreds of guys assaulting our ears. We managed that and set off on a hectic death defying taxi ride through manic streets of motorbike madness. Whole families were crammed on one bike appearing to be carrying the whole of their possessions and would weave in and out of cars seemingly without regard to any discernible traffic laws. All good fun, though quite exhausting to watch. I can’t imagine what it feels like to drive through. You must get used to it.

We arrived in one piece at Ulu Watan temple which was very picturesque jutting out into the sea. Our driver accompanied us and I noticed he selected a long twig that he carried with him. I soon found out why. As we went along the cliff there were groups of monkeys whose favourite sport was to jump on people and make them squeal and run off with anything they could get their hands on. The stick came in handy. I noticed they kept a wary eye on it as our driver brandished it and they left us alone.

To calm our nerves we took a coffee break with the famous coffee made from civet poo.   

We scorched our way, with horn honking, overtaking and ducking in, jumping queues and lights past the rice fields to Ubud. It had become even more manic since our last visit but we had another look at the fabulous Royal Palace. Complete with butterflies, epiphytes, spiders in webs and gold doors.

Then it was another temple where celebrations and prayers were taking place to the sound of gamelan and other Balinese instruments. The temple was adorned with brightly coloured cloth and various offerings. The women helpers were all dolled up in their finest, looking coy and posing for the camera.

We finished the afternoon with a mad dash through the crowded streets to reach Jimbaran beach in time for a beer and to watch the sun go down. It did not disappoint. It was one of the most magical sunsets I have ever seen. Supposedly people travel the world to experience it. I can see why. More psychedelic colours!!!

That night was Balinese dancing and music. Those girls can control every part of their body independently from their earlobes, nostrils and eyes to their little toes and fingers. I think I even saw one of them using the follicles on her head to interpret the music.

The next day we headed off to the beautiful beaches famous for their surfing and then off to the Jimbaran beach for a fish feast – clams. grouper, prawns and squid cooked in spicy Balinese sauce. Delicious.

   The big problem for Bali is that there are simply too many people. They are threatening to destroy what they have as their most precious asset. It’s becoming a rat-race.

Tomorrow we depart for Java and Borobudur. We’re blissfully knackered! The manic magnificence of Bali is in our blood.

Journey Pt. 11 – Java – The beauty of Borubodour – the huge temple complex – Photos

The Journey

Arriving at Semarang we were greeted by a golden far Eastern dawn and disembarked to the sound of first a modern Jazz quintet and then a group of traditional musicians and dancers. They were wanting to make an impression.             

On the 18th day of our trip I’d found myself in the Jacuzzi on the top deck having just consumed a very nice wheat beer. It was 30 degrees but a cool breeze was making it rather pleasant as we crossed the warm waters of the Java Sea under blue skies (just two tiny white clouds to add to the panorama). I was wondering if some of you were getting sick of receiving these missives. But I figured that all those that were simply wouldn’t open them.

Never mind.

Only another 53 days to go!!

Our next stop is Java – Semarang and the Buddhist Temple of Borobudur! Can’t wait!! I love temples, cathedrals, mosques and other religious architecture. They remind me of the folly of human beings.

We travelled by coach across the lush tropical plains with their great flat paddy fields under the shadow of active volcanoes in the Ring of Fire! It was exciting stuff. Our coach was hurtling along with a police escort blasting a way through the traffic. That’s the way to travel.       

Borobudor was impressive – a great huge edifice that reminded me of Ankor Wat – though different. Ten levels of steep steps, hundreds of cones containing Buddhas and a central Stupa. All those Buddhas trapped in their stone cages like flies in a glass – staring out for hundreds of years. What changes they must have seen – or not – most of the time they were covered in ash. But they’ve patiently waited to be dug out. Some have been stolen from their nooks but a lot remain. The temple is remarkably restored. The whole place once stood in the middle of a lake and was badly damaged and covered in ash from volcanic explosions!

I’m glad they dug it up! It was very impressive – certainly one of the many wonderful things in the world to marvel at. The amount of energy and creativity that mankind indulges in when engaged in superstitious beliefs or the mysteries of the universe. It seems to bring out the best in us. All about power though really. There was a lot of power here!

The whole world has now become a tourist trap where every natural wonder, animal and plant, piece of human history, creativity or endeavour, is calculated for profit and served up on a smorgasbord for consumption.

Then it was lunch – a delicious spread of Javanese cooking to the sound of gamelan accompanied by dancing girls.

The Javanese people were so warm and friendly. They smiled and waved, wanted their photos taken with us and the kids wanted to talk with us in English. Quite a delight.