CRUISING SLOWLY UP THE HOOGHLY

The era of cruising is upon us with more and more retirees booking holidays on gargantuan ocean liners. Competition is stiff as cruise companies try to outdo each other with waterslides, bowling alleys and robotic baristas to mix your cocktails. Such gimmicks do not appeal to me and the thought of 3000 passengers fills me with horror. Having sailed around the world on cargo ships in my younger days, my idea of a cruise is a small ship plying an inland waterway, mooring here and there to visit historic sites and observe village life. And scouring the internet I found the perfect one. A seven day cruise up the Hooghly River from Kolkata on the RV Rajmahal carrying 50 passengers accommodated in 18 twin and 4 single cabins. There was no single supplement – a bonus for the solo traveller – and as luck would have it, we were just a small group of seven accompanied by an excellent tour guide.

50 METRES LONG, THE  RV RAJMAHAL OPERATED BY ASSAM BENGAL NAVIGATION, BEGAN SERVICE ON THE HOOGHLY IN 2014.
OUR CAPTAIN AND FIRST OFFICER ON THE BRIDGE OF THE RV RAJAMAHAL
HERE WE ARE LEAVING KOLKATA WITH THE ICONIC HOWRAH BRIDGE SPANNING THE HOOGHLY. 100,000 VEHICLES AND 150,000 PEDESTRIANS CROSS IT DAILY
Tender from the Rajmahal moored in Barrackpore, Bengal
THE HOOGHLY IS SHALLOW NEAR THE RIVER BANK, SO WE TOWED A TENDER, HERE MOORED IN THE OLD BRITISH CANTONMENT OF BARRACKPORE.
OVER COCKTAILS EACH EVENING, WE HEARD OUR SIGHTSEEING ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE FOLLOWING DAY
Chandernagore, old French town on the Hooghly
A SCENE IN CHANDERNAGORE, A FORMER FRENCH POSSESSION WITH TRADITIONAL COLONIAL STYLE ARCHITECTURE AND AN 18TH CENTURY CATHOLIC CHURCH.
IN KALNA WE VISIT A UNIQUE SHIVA TEMPLE MADE UP OF 108 SHRINES. THE OUTER CIRCLE WHERE WE ARE SITTING HAS 74 AND THE INNER ONE A FURTHER 34.
IN THE VILLAGE OF MATIARI WORKERS BEAT OUT BRASS WATER POTS, TRAYS AND OTHER ITEMS USING METHODS LITTLE CHANGED FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS
VILLAGERS IN MATIARI HAVEN’T HEARD OF COAL OR WIND POWER. COW DUNG IS COLLECTED, DRIED THEN USED FOR COOKING AND WARMTH
BENGAL IS CHILLY ON WINTER MORNINGS AND SOME ANIMALS WEAR COATS. AMONG THIS GROUP WAITING FOR A DRINK WAS A SMALL BLACK GOAT WEARING A FROCK
A  RURAL WOMAN ROLLING BIDIS, THE CHEAP CIGARETTE SMOKED BY THE POOR MADE FROM TOBACCO FLAKES WRAPPED IN LEAVES FROM THE INDIAN EBONY
MINIATURE TERRACOTTA TEMPLE IN BARANAGAR CARVED WITH GODS FROM HINDU MYTHOLOGY AND SCENES OF LIFE IN THE MID-EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
VILLAGERS CROWD ONTO A FERRY TO CROSS THE HOOGHLY AT ITS BROADEST POINT. THE RAJMAHAL IS VISIBLE THROUGH THE RIVER MIST.
EITHER SIDE OFTHE HOOGHLY ISCULTIVATED WITH DATE PALMS, TURMERIC AND MUSTARD. HERE FISHERMAN LAY NETS NEAR FARAKKA WHERE I DISEMBARKED AND CAUGHT A TRAIN BACK TO KOLKATA: 560 KILOMETRES.
ASSAM BENGAL NAVIGATION OFFERS THE 7 DAY CRUISE TO FARAKKA WHERE THE HOOGHLY JOINS THE GANGES, OR A 14 DAY VOYAGE ON TO PATNA IN THE STATE OF BIHAR.
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Simply the world’s best breakfast

My career as a travel writer has taken me to more than sixty countries where I have enjoyed many memorable meals and while I don’t know about you, breakfast for me is the best meal of the day. A hearty and healthy breakfast can set you up until dinner time, especially when you’re travelling.

Several breakfasts stand out from my experiences ‘on the hoof’ as it were.

Unforgettable was beluga caviar for breakfast in Babolsar, a Caspian Sea resort in Iran. But equally memorable was a simple plate of fried egg and paratha when I awoke starving, one morning in Baltistan, a mountainous agency in north east Pakistan. Another breakfast I enjoyed was one Christmas in Bruges when the hotel served smoked eels for Asian guests. And loving eel, I have to confess to scoffing the lot before they came downstairs. Though many years ago now, I recall a splendid petit-dejeuner in a belle-epoque hotel overlooking Lake Geneva. Then just recently I found my pick of global breakfasts at the Grand Hotel in Kolkata.

While I’d travelled all over India, I had never been to Kolkata and as much as I wanted to visit the dowager city, I wanted to stay at the Grand, pleasure dome of society during the British Raj and jewel in the crown of the Oberoi hotels chain.

The surprise of this  majestic old hotel with its splendid location and attentive staff was the awesome breakfast devised by its executive chef, Saurav Banerjee, who presides over Oberoi’s restaurants enjoying a reputation for the best cuisine in town.

THE OBEROI GRAND  ON JAWAHARLAL NEHRU ROAD, KOLKATA DATES FROM THE 1870s.
SAURAV BANERJEE, EXECUTIVE CHEF AND MASTERMIND BEHIND THE SCENES. HOTEL GUESTS ARE INVITED TO HIS DAILY DISCUSSION ON BENGALI CUISINE
MORE THAN FIFTY DIFFERENT ITEMS FEATURE ON THE HOT AND COLD BREAKFAST BUFFET TABLES IN THE GHARANA RESTAURANT AT THE OBEROI GRAND.
TROPICAL FRUIT JUICES ARE PRESSED DAILY. MANGO MILKSHAKE (BOTTOM RIGHT) WAS MY IDEAL WAY TO START A DAY IN KOLKATA.
LASSI, SMOOTHIES AND AN ABUNDANCE OF FRUITS INCLUDE PAPAYA, PINEAPPLE, GUAVA, DRAGON FRUIT, BANANAS, MUD APPLE AND WATERMELON.
DELICIOUS GRANOLA BARS, FLAVOURED YOGHURTS AND MISTI DOI, A SWEET CURD WIDELY EATEN BY BENGALIS ARE MADE USING CREAMY BUFFALO MILK.
WHAT TO CHOOSE FROM THIS INVITING SELECTION OF CROISSANTS, DOUGHNUTS, MUFFINS AND BANANA BREAD? ALL ARE BAKED IN-HOUSE.
SUCH A VAST SPREAD WAS SERVED ON NEW YEAR’S DAY THAT BREAKFAST MOVED UPSTAIRS TO THE  OBEROI BALLROOM.
TRADITIONAL BENGALI BREAKFAST DISHES INCLUDE IDLI (RICE-FLOUR DUMPLINGS) AND SABUDANA KITCHIDI ( SAGO COOKED WITH PEANUTS, GINGER AND OTHER SPICES).
MORE FAMILIAR THINGS SUCH AS OMELET OR BACON AND EGGS ARE PREPARED BY ONE OF THREE ATTENDANT CHEFS
HERE I AM ENJOYING  POORI BHAJI AND HASH BROWNS WITH A SAMBAL SIDE DIP. NOTE THE MANGO MILKSHAKE.
COMPLIMENTARY PASTRIES FOR ANYONE WHO SLEEPS IN AND MISSES BREAKFAST ARE A THOUGHTFUL TOUCH BY CHEF BANERJEE.

 

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GREAT MOMENTS STAND OUT IN TRAVEL …

WHEN I WOULD THINK, WELL THIS IS WHAT I’VE COME TO SEE AND THE PHYSICAL AND AT TIMES THE PSYCHOLOGICAL DEMANDS OF THE EFFORT TO GET HERE HAVE BEEN MORE THAN WORTH IT.

The sight of the Grande Recife as our flight from Sydney approached Noumea, capital of the Pacific island of New Caledonia. The year was 1960 and it was my first holiday outside Australia so you can imagine my excitement! I spent days snorkelling in the great lagoon.

Pass in the Grand Recife off Noumea New Caledonia

While still a schoolgirl, I was captivated by a photo in the National Geographic of the source of the White Nile at Jinja. I vowed that one day I would see it for myself. This is the photo taken ten years later. I think it emphasizes that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Source of the White Nile near Jinja, Uganda

The foggy evening as I waited in the Star Ferry pier in Hong Kong for the night ferry to Macau. It was 1969 and the night was heavy with a sense of adventure. I stayed in the old   Hotel Bella Vista and played roulette in the floating casino, the only casino at the time.

night-ferry-to-macau

The awesome sight of Cheops, the great pyramid, when I drew back the curtains of my room at the Mena House Oberoi Hotel in Giza was one of the great moments of my travels. Egypt itself is special. I have been there at least half a dozen times.

Tour guides ride camels past Cheops pyramid Giza Egypt

The mysterious scratching sound made by the giant leaves of the coco-de-mer rubbing together in the Vallee de Mai on Praslin. On a visit to the Seychelles in the late 19th century, General Charles Gordon declared if there be a Garden of Eden on earth, it is here.

vallee-de-mai

 

On my 39th birthday in Peshawar, in the North West Frontier of Pakistan, I boarded the legendary Khyber Mail for a fascinating journey up the Khyber Pass. I was the only woman passenger with hundreds of tribesmen going home for the Muslim festival of eid ul fitr.

Khyber Mail in the pass Pakistan

The sight of the soaring dunes, originally known as the Wahiba Sands, took my breath away when I visited them from Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman. The Bedouin woman in the photo had left her tent to bring in a stray goat for the night.

HUge sand dunes in the Sharqiya Province of Oman with a Bedouin woman searching for a stray goat

I cannot leave out the moment I was introduced to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth when I covered the British royal tour of the Arab states in 1979. Here she is meeting the sheikhs in Abu Dhabi. I was the only woman photographer on the tiring 17 day trip.

Queen meets the sheikhs in Qatar

Even though I used to pass it several times a week when I lived in London, the sight of Westminster Abbey, constructed more than two centuries before Captain Cook discovered Australia, always sent a frisson of excitement down my spine.

The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, London - "Westminster Abbey" at night.

This was the end of the road in Morocco when I had driven from Tangiers as far south in the Sahara as I could go. I mentioned this remote café in the book I was writing on Morocco. That’s my little car parked outside. I drove it more than 2,500 miles.

The terrible Cafe Lemsid, in the Western Sahara of Morocco

 

 

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