Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Cherry Top Wwoofing

My first Woofing experience in Australia this year. A Wwoof (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) host offers members the chance to visit and exchange their cultures while doing volunteer work for their food and accommodation. A chance to experience the real Australia, its people and way of life. Lasting friendship often arise from these visits. Some hosts I have visited on two or more  occasions. The learning that occurs is truly amazing. Since 1999 I have visited more than 50 hosts in 6, or 7 countries. It is especially wonderful to find that one belongs to the same "tribe", talking the same language, sharing interests, outlook, likes, and other passions. Cherry Top was, for me, in the first rank. I was loath to leave. John and Lesley built the two houses on their farm themselves. Kevin McCloud and his programme "Grand Designs" inspired them to keep at it until they had built both properties with their own hands. Found materials, auctions and other sources kept the costs down. Now they have a thriving business in Lilydale, just north of Launceston, Tasmania, in an area of stunning scenery. A diverse range of produce from berries, apples, grapes, peaches, a bee hive, nuts pulses and vegetables from the farm and home cottage garden. Delightful vegetarian dishes of a cordon bleu standard had me salivating before each meal. Needless to say I have brought away a stack of recipes.
The Hunger Pot is very rare. Dating from the 1848 Irish Potato Famine. It was a time of mass starvation in Ireland, where the majority of people was solely reliant on this cheap crop. Approximately 1 million died and a further 1 million emigrated from Ireland. The Corn Laws, absentee landlords and land acquisition contributed largely to the humanitarian disaster. It became a rallying point for Home Rule and United Ireland movements. Laws that restricted Irish Catholics in the professions, education and land ownership. Huge food exports over this period are astonishing! Relief fundraising from India, Australia, the Pope and even from the Choctaw tribe in the USA.

The iron pot was set in many towns and was filled, thus making
sure everyone had a bowl of food daily. Land evictions, I need to add were part of the mix. Earl Lucan, (Lord Lucan's family), one of the worst offenders, evicted. He owned 64,000 acres.

John Gallagher is Irish by background.

Emily interviewed me for her YouTube page. http://youtu.be/Yr4jLVoXnLQ    Going walkabout. Emily

In the evening we had home made music. John and Emily,
who was also wwoofing at the same time as me

I picked lots of borloti beans, which I later removed them from their pods

Bottled peaches

Harvested Enis variety of hazel nuts

The farm tractor, a 1956 Fordson

Friday night was pizza night, with freshly pressed apple juice

A basket of peaches

The tree house, where I liked to have a mug of tea

The aroma of basil pervaded the kitchen garden

Apples ready to harvest

Huge organic chestnuts, with a fresh windfall every morning

A selection of veg and fruit for the farm shop

Every morning the chooks (Oz for chicken) would appear at my door

The windmill which pumped the water

A view from outside the door of my wooden sleeping cabin

Lovely fresh air and plentiful nature around my cabin

Medlar, the best tasting fruit you are unlikely to have heard of, looks like a giant hosehip

Roma tomatoes, especially good in Italian dishes and it is also blight resistant

John busy in the kitchen, wearing the traditional Melbourne chef's hat

Lesley about to serve up one of her vegetarian creations

Every evening a beautiful sunset would close another wonderful day

A huge iron Hunger Pot from the time of the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840's

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Kolkata (Calcutta)

Kolkata is India's second largest city, with a  population of over 16 million. Immediately on arrival at the huge station of Howrah, one realises that it is one stage poorer than other large cities. Bodies wrapped in old blankets litter the passenger areas. There are no safety nets in India! As well as yellow Morris Oxford taxis three wheeled motor rickshaws and cycle rickshaws, there are also tuli rickshaws (pulled), with scrawny men pulling the shafts of the machine. Exhausting work in thick traffic pollution.

"Company rule in India" refers the the British East India Company, establishing itself here in 1757, after the Battle of Plessey. The British governors here privatized what had been government business, tax collection, etc. BEC ruled India until 1857, when they had to be bailed out by Britain, having gone bust (so we have had earlier bailouts funded by taxpayers) owing to a famine. The debt was now on the British taxpayers. They were the original corporate raiders. At one time time they had an army of 260,00 men, larger that Britain.! They ruled the country longer that Britain, which granted independence in 1947. (see William Dalrymple "The East India Company: The original corporate raiders" (via google).

However, very many fine building were constructed over the period. Magnificent, solid, mostly in a state of disrepair, elegant, showing how opulent life must have been here over the 200-year period, Grasses and trees growing out of walls, faded and grimy. Wide streets, with light blue and cream iron railings line the finer boulevards, grand old gentleman's clubs, a racecourse and of course cricket grounds. Surprisingly the largest and best kept building is the massive Queen Victoria Memorial.

There is not the usual two prices system that operates in most of India. Touts are not pestering continually, so it is great to just wander, using Google Maps to retrace steps and discover places and things. The Metro allows you to get to areas quickly and cheaply. People are more relaxed and happy here. Seats on buses and metro are offered to older people! Respect for the old! Here one does not feel invisible, as in England. Much more to see and explore than any other city, by far. I was genuinely sad to leave. "Airbnb" booked the home stay, where there were five other travellers, A great deal of conversation over breakfast and evenings, thus getting ideas of what and where. $6.00 a day including a free breakfast!

Food was magnificent, not just cheap, but much more fruity and gently spiced, often using jaggery (palm sugar). Recycling creates work. Cups of chai are served in small earthenware pots, which are broken after usage. The cups are hand made from river mud. Meals are often served on pressed leaf plates, also creating work, as well as being green. Frequently I used the tuli rickshaws to push money towards the poorest.

Queen Victoria Memorial

Dilapadating building

The making of statues on the roadside

Continually I was bowled to see colourful flower displays een in the seediest of places. India = colour. The flower markets in full colour took place too early and too far for me to be able to get too, unfortunately

One of the regularly repainted items in Kolkata, dating from imperial days, the iron railings lining the streets in the central area of the city

Just one of the many fine buildings in the city which appear all over and unexpectedly

Tuli rickshaw wallahs at rest

Street food

A ferry on the Hoogly river

On board a larger ferry, which I used to use when visiting temples on the other side of the river

The peeling paint and dirt covering of walls reminded of pictures of old french farmhouses

One of many temples passed while on a ferry. The atmosphere was polluted and smoky.

Tuli rickshaw wallah

                                     The Marble Temple, of which pictures were forbidden

                                                                      Old building

Kolkata still has battered old trams operating. I nearly came a cropper on one of the tramlines while riding as pillion on a motorcycle in busy traffic

The bicycle is probably the main means of transport in the city. Heavily laden and very strenuous work

A fruit display on a street corner

                                                         My personal rickshaw wallah

A 25p meal served on pressed leaves, freshly cooked, with second helpings. One of my tastiest meals in three months

My return to Delhi was by 1st class a/c on the Rajdhdani Express from Howrah Station, Kolkata. 20 carriages long. "RAJDHANI EXPRESS - FULL JOURNEY IN FIRST AC". £31.  1,447km. Three meals, served by a waiter wearing white gloves and a very comfortable sleep. The gauge is wider than in the UK and thus more steady.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016


Rishikesh is a magnet for spiritual seekers, mainly Hindus. Today it styles itself as the "Yoga Capital of the World". The Ganges is fast flowing at this point, with two foot bridges to cross by. Forested hills surround the town, with a raw wind blowing down through the valley. Pilgrims and tourists mix easily. Orange clothing is the most predominant colour, being worn by sadhus, holy men and con artists. A regular here for over 30 years told me that about 1 in a 100 is genuine. Beggars obtain money from the pilgrims. Westerners have a choice of over 30 styles of yoga, teacher training and practice, including Hasya Yoga (laughing yoga), crystal healing, humming and many other new age things. The town has grown significantly since my last visit on that memorable day, "9/11". White water rafting, hiking and the gateway to treks in the Himalayas are now just someof the further attractions. Ashrams, restaurants, religious items and warm woollen clothes, made mainly by Nepalese, crowd the traffic free street to other temples. A procession of people pass by all day. I enjoy just sitting at a cafe, with a masala tea, people watching. There are so many slim, fit looking women striding to and fro to their yoga, with a sticky mat under their arm, dressed in baggy colourful clothes, a shawl over their shoulder and maybe some beads too. It is a place of smiles and "namaste" greetings. Most visitors buy a shawl to keep warm in the chilly evenings, the sun at altitude during the day is most penetrating. Thick hand knitted beanies and socks in yak wool, which help to maintain body temperature at sunset. Temples and ghats are where you see religion in operation. Colourful ganga aarti, the floating of little lights twinkling on the river at night. Here I had the most comfortable bed that I have slept in during my 3+ months in India.

A display of  Madhubani Art originals, which often use eye catching geometrical patterns, and  religious symbolism. Natural dyes and pigments are used, twigs, fingers, matchsticks are used to apply the paints. In 1934 a British colonial official "discovered" some paintings on mud walls after an earthquake. In fact the art form had been lay in the hands and skills of poor villagers for over 1,000 years. This art enthusiast recognised their similarity to the works of Picasso and Jean Miro. Traditionaly they are done by poor women in Bihar State and Nepal. I bought two. One of the reasons I visit India so frequently is its arts and crafts, which are so different to the highly "monetized" western art.

A line of beggars who obtain a living from pilgrims

One of the two footbridges over the Ganges

Beads for tourists

Some of the yoga trainings on offer at justone school

Street of shops, cafes, pilgrims and travellers

A "sizzler" of steamed and roast vegetables, £1.50!

Moneys look cute, but they are a pest at all religious places, snatching food and bags. I met a person who had their phone taken, but managed to recover it. No solar panels as they break them. They raid unexpectedly when relaxing on a roof top.

I cannot ignore a bookshop

A view across the footbridge to two temples.

Riverside buildings

A peaceful ashram courtyard