Our family

Entries in India (16)


Bengaluru, India

Possibly the worst thing to be written on a Supreme Court building anywhere

The Bull Temple

Bangalore Palace, built as an imitation to Windsor Castle

Holi, the festival of colour. We all got inked that day...


A colourful people

One of the true pleasures of India has been the vibrant colours that assail the senses every moment.


The roads of India

Driving in India is not for the faint-hearted. I've driven on lower quality roads in Australia and more packed streets in Europe, but the roads of India are unique. To say that the road has mixed vehicles is an enormous understatement. At any given time there are trucks, cars and motorbikes zipping at high speed down the highways, while tractors and enormous wheat-laden transporters slowly clunk along. But on the same roads there are camel-drawn carts, boys riding horses, random cows standing and chewing cud, a flock of goats crossing by or maybe an antelope running across, a group of a hundred pilgrims walking to a temple or the occasional elephant. Might is right on the Indian road, with the give-way laws essentially being for the smaller vehicle to try to avoid being hit by the larger. Our guide in Agra told us that the cows directed traffic; if so they leave somewhat to be desired.

Our driver may have been the most aggressive on the road, forcing himself between high-speed trucks with centimetres to spare and hitting the occasional motorbike, but by no means was he alone in the chaotic high-risk process of weaving through the unusual traffic of Indian roads. We saw at least one fatal accident, where a truck had tipped over turning a corner and ploughed into the small stalls that line the road, and several other occasions of buses run off roads or tractors having their loads tipped onto the road. Perhaps it is not surprising that 13 people die every hour on Indian roads, with 150,000 fatalities a year. And with more and more Indians buying cars, the road toll will probably continue to rise by 8% a year. 


Indian medical scams

There are a lot of excellent clinicians in India, struggling to provide top level medical treatment under resource-constrained conditions. Listening to the work of Dr Revathi Raj at Apollo Speciality Hospital in Chennai was inspirational, the work they do under such limitations is amazing. The financial constraints cut both ways, with equipment and medicines limiting in the hospitals, and with much of the population unable to afford even a basic level of care. India runs on private health care, which kills the rural poor, especially young girls. A poor rural family will use up a substantial proportion of their income on a single doctor's visit, so they tend to wait far too long to see a professional. If the sick family member is a young girl, they tend to wait even longer - a death sentence in serious cases, and part of the reason why the sex ratio is reversed in India compared to Europe. Access to medicines is higher, because generics are allowed even for medicines under patent in the rest of the world and no prescriptions are required. But quality is variable due to under-regulation of the generic industry and self-prescription has created an enormous problem in drug-resistance.


Under these conditions, unsafe alternative practices have sprung up, such as this street in Delhi where "dentists" sit by the side of the road and wait for customers. We saw one customer visit and receive the only treatment available - sit on this stool why I pull your sore tooth out with a pair of pliers.

At least these patients where getting some treatment, even if it resulted in many toothless grins. Other street practioners are simply scam artists, such as this street rekki I saw in Chandigarh:

Homeopathic clinics were especially rife, setting up shop all over Delhi and scamming people too poor for real medicine.

Even normal pharmacies stocked large shelves full of junk like this:

It makes me especially angry when fake medicines sit on a shelf next to real medicines, picking up credibility by association. A pharmacist is meant to be a medical professional providing a service, when they sell fake drugs they show themselves to be unconcerned about the welfare of their customers, and concerned only with their wallet.


Amer Fort, Jaipur

View over the outer courtyard from the women's point of view.

Elephant traffic jam


The Maharajas of Jaipur and their enormous pajamas

Today we are in Jaipur, the Pink City.

We visited Jantar Mantar, an observatory complex built by command of the Maharaja Jai Singh II between 1727 and 1734. I had expected a squat tower with a domed roof, with perhaps some complex iron instruments inside, but rather it was an enormous outdoor complex, looking surprisingly modern. The builders came up with some very creative ways to turn a sundial into a high precision instrument, include the Samrat Yantra (The Supreme Instrument), which at 27m tall is the world's largest sundial, and is capable of a resolution of 2 seconds.

After seeing Jantar Mantar we went to the City Palace. The palace complex showed just how decadent the Maharaja lifestyle was, and indeed, continues to be, as they still live in the palace today. Due to their support for the British during the Sepoy Rebellion, the Maharajas of Rajasthan were in a unique place to negotiate with the government of India at independence, and essentially the new government had to bribe the Maharajas with an annual payoff for perpetuity. This allowed the already decadent Maharajas freedom to indulge in every fancy while ignoring their people, leaving Rajasthan desperately poor and uneducated. It wasn't until 1970 that Indira Gandhi finally stopped subsidising the ultra-wealthy.

My favourite part of the City Palace was seeing the enormous gold-threaded pajamas of Maharaja Sawai Madhosingh I (ruled 1751-1768). At 250kg and with a waist nearly 4m in circumference, these were some impressive pajamas. Even a pair that he wore when he was two years old showed a staggering waistline, indicating that he must have had some type of genetic mutation resulting in his weight, rather than being from a corpulent lifestyle. Trivia point: Madhosingh I was known as "the healthiest Raja", which I'm guessing was either a title he insisted on to rebutt the obvious, or was given to him as a euphemism for obese: "well, your a healthy looking boy, aren't you?"

The black coal kohl under the baby's eyes is an Indian tradition to ward off the evil eye


Project Tiger: Ranthambhore

For the last two days we have been in Ranthambhore, one of the original Project Tiger reserves.

We have been staying in Khem villas, which I could not speak more highly of. It is a luxury tent eco-resort, owned by the family of Fateh Singh Rathore, who was single-handedly responsible for turning Ranthambhore into a Tiger Park. The family has been the driver of enormous social and environmental change in the region, building schools and hospitals to help the local people, while reducing the impact on the environment by sponsoring birth control (note: in this regard at least, rural India is more progressive than the Republican party in America), growing seedlings for tree planting for wood harvesting, improving the cattle stock by funding intercrossing with high yield breeds and creating low-tech alternatives to wood burning (harvesting the methane of cow dung for gas-powered stoves). The camp has all the allure of camping, with none of the inconveniences, and staying would have been a delight even without the safaris.

The morning safari in Ranthambhore was, quite simply, one of my top travel moments. We took a jeep through the dry forest hills of Ranthambhore in search of tigers, and even though we were unlucky not to see any tigers, we saw an abundance of wildlife. One of the oddities for me was seeing mixed herds of spotted deer and peacocks grazing the dry forest, on the alert for tigers. Surely no animal looks more out of place in its native habitat than the peacock. The peacock just looks like an artificial absurdity, bred to wander the lush green lawns in front of decadent palaces. But these are not artificially selected animals, bred to extremes like breeds of dog. On the dry arid plains they graze, their psychedelic blue feathers and enormous tail a triumph of sexual selection over natural selection (and indeed, just common sense). I wonder what evolutionary advantage peacocks have that they are able to overcome their self-induced disadvantages against competitor species? Why haven't they been rendered extinct by competition with a similar species capable of camouflage and proper flight?

Gray langur

Spotted deer buck

Scenic view over tiger habitat

Spotted deer family

Sambar on the move, the favourite prey of the tiger due to their large size and poor vision

Rufous Treepie, a very friendly bird that delighted by its investigations of jeeps and hats for any crumbs of food


Baby spotted deer, also known as "Tiger chocolate"

Little green bee-eaters

Juvenile crocodile basking by the lake

Indian gazelle

Hunting for Tigers

Black-faced langur with infant


Birding in Keoladeo National Park

For all the glory of the Taj Mahal, the highlight of my visit to India so far must have been bird-watching in Keoladeo National Park. Once a private hunting reserve of the Maharaja (with the shooting records of visitors still inscribed on a trophy wall), Keoladeo is the best place in India to see birds, with a spectacular density of local and migratory birds, and habitats ranging from dry woodland to wetlands. Everywhere we looked we saw scores of birds of dozens of different species, from tiny rare wrens and bee-eaters to hidden owls, countless waterfowl and the large charismatic storks, herons and eagles. We also saw many blue bull antelope, several sambar deer and two cheeky little mongooses. It was a wildlife experience second only to the Galapagos Islands.

Peahen in flight at dawn

The Peacock wakes up with the sun


Indian gray mongoose

Nilgai (blue bull antelope) foal


Sambar deer

Greater egret

Indian Pond Heron

Painted stork in flight

Black-headed ibis

A nilgai grazing in the wetlands

A flock of spoonbills

Glossy ibis

Collared scops owl

Brown-winged jacana

Painted stork chicks

Indian pond heron

Night heron

Intermediate egret (yellow-billed egret)

Painted stork

A clutch of painted stork chicks

Spotted owlet

Nigali bucks


Fatehpur Sikri

Shahanshah Akbar-e-Azam, third Mughal Emperor of India, 1542-1605

A positive aspect of Shahanshah Akbar-e-Azam: When he built his capital at Fatehpur Sikri he incorporated religious tolerance into the city, deliberately using themes from Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Catholicism and Zoroastrianism into the buildings, and respecting the teachings of each religion (tough, considering each has direct contradictions within it, let alone between them). It is probably safe to assume he still hated atheists though.

A negative aspect of Shahanshah Akbar-e-Azam: After slave labourers spent 12 years working in a near-desert to build this icon of religious tolerance (1571-1583), Akbar only spent two years living in it, moving the capital in 1585, after finally realising you can't have a major city in a near-desert.

Lydia's new hobby: taking photos of families after they have taken a photo of us.

Overheard at Sikri: "Look at that man holding a baby! If he was Indian he would never be allowed to touch a baby with his hands" (translated from Hindi by our guide)


The Taj Mahal