Passionati

Travel

Don Alney re-interprets the Bombay Skyline

My father, Don Alney, working from the top of an “old Bombay” skyscraper has interpreted a skyscape that portrays Bombay, Mumbai -whatever the hell you want to call it – and has tremendous truth to it. It shows the immenseness, the density, the construction, the obscenity (read: Ambani private residence which is the massive structure to the right of the image) and much more. Part Blade Runner, Part Dhobi Ghat – to me. I see the work of a man that is taken with a scene that shows the globalization of India, the massive divide between the rich and everyone else, and the romance of a city that has its own stories, its own fairy tales, its own tragedies, its own myths. This is a side of the city that is separate, in its solace and in its growth skywards, and yet only a tiny fraction of what happens there.

Duncan Alney is equally inspired by Wyclef Jean, Brian Eno, and Kieslowski. He’s living the American Dream with his wife Angela and their cats Boogie, Pookie and Zooie.


The Cold of the Rain and the Warmth of a Tree

A Tree that Sheltered Me by Don Alney

The safari was over. The blue of the sky began to fade as light clouds began to gather overhead. My guide and I just about managed to hurry through our light, lunch packets, when suddenly the rain came as a cool surprise. The remarkable fragrance of a first shower of rain on parched earth. It smelled of dry earth suddenly moistened, of limes and clean, clear, mountain springs made of snow water, falling from the glowering sky. Then the raindrops got bigger, colder, and we were obliged to run for the deep shelter of the forest at hand. We leapt over green-moss logs and darted amongst the trees. The forest sprang up in wet murmurs overhead, every leaf ringing and painted fresh with rain water. And suddenly, we reached a hollow tree. It was vast, and we squeezed in, warm and cosy from the falling rain. We stood there a while, the first coldness from the rain causing me to shiver. Standing there with my bearded guide, I listened to the rain, the soft embrace of the world in the velvet clearness of falling water. The whispers in deep grass evoked odours of old, wet wood and leaves that had lain a hundred years, mouldering and sweet. The rain beat hard on the trees for a few minutes longer, and while everything was cold outside, everything was tree-warm and hidden away, inside.

Then as suddenly as it had begun, the rain stopped. As we stepped out my guide stopped, and with a gesture, silently motioned me to listen. It was a moment before the new silence shocked me into an awareness of the ambience beyond my immediate world. I became aware of the suspension of water in all the intricate branches of the trees above. The clouds drifted away to unveil the deep blue sky in great quilted patches. The forest, gently dripping its wetness on us, we stood for a while, silent and motionless. The patter of the raindrops gradually gave way to bird song and animal calls. Very gradually, the jungle reverted to its usual rhythm, taking up the thread of its normal life from the point at which it had been fleetingly interrupted by the rain. I took off my hat and shook the water it had soaked, in a spray that wet my guide and me. We laughed and I followed him back to the tourist lodge.

by Don Alney

If you enjoyed this check out Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

*The title of the piece is a line taken from William Blake’s “Tiger Tiger Burning Bright.”

Don Portrait

Don Alney is a freelance travel writer and photographer, seeking the ‘forever moment.’ Email don d at vsnl.com. Check out this stuff here.


Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

What the hand dare seize the fire

India’s population has crossed the billionth milestone. In this teeming milieu, Corbett National Park’s 525 square kilometres of priceless virgin forest and grassland are a blessing to the tiger. Mercifully, its numbers are now imperceptibly rising, despite poaching. It is also a windfall for all the other wild creatures that dwell in Uttaranchal’s lush and abundant ecosystem. The incredible variety of wildlife and beauty of Corbett Park is difficult to match, and here I was in this wonderland, to see, experience, photograph and write about its most renowned denizen, the tiger. The possibility of spotting one in the middle of the day is not impossible, but it is rare as the beast generally hunts during the dark hours. However, two fruitless, wasted weeks later, I was advised that my best bet to photograph wild tigers was to go deep into the parkland or the heavily wooded groves, on elephant back. So the next morning I hired yet another guide, and mounted on an old elephant, we delicately picked our way through the thick underbrush. The mahout assiduously prodded the beast with a metal instrument to nudge and direct the pachyderm.

Several hours later, we had seen no signs of a tiger. Then unexpectedly, the warning bark of a sambar ― an animal of the deer family, splashed in all directions. His warning silenced the denizens of the grassland and the few trees it sported. A palpable pall of silence abruptly spread over the land as all creatures within hearing knew that a tiger was in the vicinity.  The sambar is at the top of this predator’s menu along with the chital, and the stag directed its warning at his female harem, foraging in drifting groups. A few fleeting moments of nervous tension shrouded the shrubbery, and the creatures now frozen and hiding in the tall grass. Birds, beasts and even our tiny group of humans remained stock still, listening with thumping hearts to the slightest sign of danger.

Suddenly my guide grabbed my shoulder and pointed. My eyes followed the silent direction of his index finger, searching desperately as I waited with bated breath, thrilled at the faint hope of spotting a tiger. One moment there was motionless silence in the undergrowth, and then, abracadabra, a single magnificent male tiger stood there in all his glory. An iconic symbol of raw, brute power. In the next instant, his mate joined him. Today was indeed my lucky day. However, the tiger was not looking for prey. He nuzzled the tigress and then, in a single, soft, smooth, silken motion of affection, he stroked his arching body against hers. Armed with a long lens, the motor drive on my camera purred in empathy with the purring of the majestic beasts. My cup of joy filled to overflowing, as the regal pair moved out of sight, and every hidden creature of the grass jungle drew its first deep breath, as it realized that the king had already fed and was not hunting, today.

The male tiger (c) 2010 Don Alney

The Tiger Couple (c) 2010 Don Alney

by Don Alney

If you enjoyed this check out Candy and the gardens of Joy

*The title of the piece is a line taken from William Blake’s “Tiger Tiger Burning Bright.”

Don Portrait

Don Alney is a freelance travel writer and photographer, seeking the ‘forever moment.’ Email don d at vsnl.com. Check out this stuff here.


What would you do with 4 months of vacation?

Beach? Porch? School? Talking to friends? What would you do with 120 days?

The question is simple: what would you with 4 months of vacation? The answers were all over the place. Travel and actualizing aspirations seemed to dominate the answers. Read on. What would you do? Where would you go? How would you feel?

Carissa Newton I would pack my flip-flops, music, lots to read and head to a beach!

Melissa Higgins piece of cake. I would spend the 1st three months working and one recuperating. month 1: kenya, because it’s rapidly becoming a second home to me and I want to nurture and grow my company’s economic dvlpmt projects there. month 2: haiti. for the past year I’ve been yearning to get to know the country & its people, and dig my heels in there. the need is higher than ever & before too much longer the focus will turn to rebuilding villages & economies. I want to play a role in that. month 3: afghanistan. I’m mildly obsessed with the country and am seriously entertaining tackling farsi & pashto so I can better learn how to empower women there. month 4: round up my beloved but geographically scattered family on the beaches of southern thailand. this will be my chance to unwind with them & come full circle as I connect my new discoveries with my roots. that’s all. 🙂

Heather Blume I’d write a book. Wait… that’s what I’m doing 🙂

Melissa Halpern Here’s my selfish answer: Follow U2 on the 2nd leg of their 360 tour which begins June 6 in Anaheim and runs through October 8 with a show in Rome. And since I’m assuming this is paid vacation, I might actually be able to afford tickets for one third of the 36 shows. Wait, better yet, I’ll use the money to make a generous donation to help end world poverty and Bono will ask me to travel with the band to show his gratitude. It will be then that he falls madly in love with me and decides to…sorry, you didn’t ask for our wildest fantasies, did you?

Benjamin E Sutton Easy! I would pack up all of the music gear and head to my cabin in the middle of the woods and spend a month recording an epic album. I would then drive to Kentucky and go on another bourbon tour…. hit the places I missed last time. That will probably take a week or two. I would head back to the album for 3 weeks (bourbon in hand) and finish the Mini-Wood-Album. I would fish for a week, followed by a week of nothing. Absolutely nothing but taking it easy. I would head home and feed my dogs. (Not that they were not fed while i was gone, but I would like to do it for a bit.) While back, I would sit in front of the office I work at and eat popcorn while I watch people come and go. I would not rub my extended vacation in their faces, but simply want to eat popcorn in front of the office. Let’s see, I have a little under 2 months left. What would I do? I have some family in Canada so I will head that way and spend a week in Toronto before heading to Sudsbury for a few weeks. I would try to find a bear to pick a fight for. If I find the bear, I will run away; if not, I will tell stories of how I tracked bears in the woods to fight. I would come home and hang with friends and family until I had to return. Oh, and I would probably try to hang out with the girlfriend on the last day and apologize for not taking her with me on my epic journey.

Sindy Thompson Wolthoff I would catch up on life! Talk to people, see things, orgainize my house and everything else. And at the place I am in life right now..it would take 4 months!!

Vonda Skinner You need to specify 4 months paid or unpaid vacation. If it was paid, there would be an endless amount of things to do. If it was unpaid, I would be counting the days until my “vacation” was over, to go back to work. 4 months vacation, sounds like unemployment.:)

Anil J N Shukla Do what I do…. I travel to far off distant places. Lonely Planet and a backpack to get you around. Make friends with the locals and see the country the way they do.

Renee Lewin Williams Go to Haiti, and help however I can!

Sarah Zike Finish my Master’s.

Christophe Samuel a month each with family in India, US (touring LatAm / East Africa) Australia & NZ; and a month rehearsing for a new play

Serge Bhachu Train for and climb Mt. Everest.

Sudipta Banwar Karnik eat, drink, sleep, travel …

Jeanine Gresham Cater Spend the time to seriously map out my own business – not sure what exactly;) but a supplementary business that could grow and allow me to be my own boss.

Rajina Utreja-Lustig Travel to many exciting destinations. Eat, drink, and be merry! No stress and no obligations.

Emily Chew Off the top of my head, I would: spend quality time with my family & record some of their stories & music; totally take advantage of experiential learning (Spanish language immersion, sea kayaking, swimming, drumming or piano lessons, etc.); volunteer, garden, cook; visit friends and go on spontaneous adventures in their cities; write about and photograph it all. Hmm, maybe I’d need 4 months a year for the rest of my life. Is that an option?

Annie Hernandez Agree!

Roger Williams Beat Borderlands on my Xbox.

Laura Johnson spa and once I’ve recouped from daily life, prolly adventure!

Colleen Daugherty Asia

Roger Williams Emily, it is Europe!


Candy and the Gardens of Joy

I was on assignment in Kalimpong, a sleepy little town in West Bengal, tucked away in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas. I had already covered most of the places of Buddhist interest required by my editor, and was near the impressive gates of the incredible Jangsa Gomba Dechan Choling Monastery with its colossal prayer wheels, polychromatic prayer flags, and its large population of novitiate monks of all ages, sizes, and smiles. With no restrictions on photography, the monastery is a photographer’s answer to many long and fervent hours of prayer!

Just then, I noticed the quartet of young novitiates and one not-so-young monk, looking at me rather quizzically. I smiled and waved to them. Without a moment’s hesitation, the sombre faces broke into broad, ear to ear smiles, at the exact moment that my camera viewfinder met my eye. I must have run off half a dozen frames before I lowered my instrument.

Buddhist monks in Kalimpong by Don Alney Copyright 2009

Buddhist monks in Kalimpong by Don Alney Copyright 2009

The youngest of the lot, looked at his mentor, said something in Tibetan, got a nod of approval, lightly skipped down several steps, and stopped before me. I smiled, wondering what he wanted. He extended his tightly balled fist towards me. It unclenched, and resting on his grubby palm were two, rather sorry looking pieces of candy. With a very serious face, he popped one into his mouth, and with outstretched palm, looked at me expectantly. With an equally poker face, I accepted the proffered gift with all the grace that the occasion merited. I stripped the slightly moist wrapper, popped the soggy candy into my mouth, and proceeded to suck it, with many slurping sounds of apparent relish.

My young benefactor’s face broke into a smile and his face lit up. Blissful. Radiant. With a final wave of goodbye, I entered the gates of the monastery, suddenly aware of a strange new spring in my step, and a catch in my throat. Making my way up the steps, I realized that little things really do count in life. One is tempted to dismiss them, but they are the seeds of daily joy that grow and enrich the gardens of our lives.

Don Portrait

Don Alney is a freelance travel writer and photographer, seeking the ‘forever moment.’ Email don d at vsnl.com. Check out this stuff here


Escape to Jaisalmer, India’s fortress city in 5 minutes with Don Alney


Don Alney travel story Entry Way

Peerless and irresistible, the fortress-city of Jaisalmer towers tall and proud, in lonely grandeur. To me it is reminiscent of a many splendored phoenix, arising from the burning sands of the Thar Desert, and ready to soar into the pale blue of the desert sky.


Jaisalmer possesses some of Rajasthan’s most exotic yellow stone mansions, most of which are situated along a lane which, seen in the early morning sunlight, seems carved out of burnished gold. Built during the 18th and 19th centuries, the delicate latticed windows and skilfully carved walls, the superb stone carvings and the architectural magnificence of these havelis, are the siren songs that have lured countless tourists to Jaisalmer. Of its many lovely mansions, there are three, which are sheer poetry, in stone. However, the indisputable piece de resistance is the celebrated Patwon-ki-Haveli. The beauty and the grandeur of these mansions narrate a saga of hard sandstone yielding to the chisels of skilled sculptors, brought all the way from Jodhpur. The magnificent buildings soar five storeys in their ochre-gold splendour. Their graceful pillars, remarkably designed corridors, elegant chambers, delicate latticework windows and breathtakingly carven balconies make Jaisalmer a thing of beauty, — and a joy forever.


Don Portrait
Don Alney is a freelance travel writer and photographer, seeking the ‘forever moment.’ Email don d at vsnl.com. Check out this stuff here


A DAY ON KERALA’S ENCHANTED WATERWAYS

A small house boat - Kollam

It is claimed that Kerala is the third most popular destination in the world. It has something special to woo every visitor, — from lush green forests, beautiful blue hills, superb wildlife sanctuaries to clean, golden beaches and palm fringed backwaters. My prime focus is on the placid beauty of Kerala’s southern Backwaters, which are unique and exclusive to this state. It is a luxuriantly verdant, somnolent and wet landscape which, mercifully has not yet been assailed by the style gurus, and transformed into a model of 21st century chic.

The Backwaters are instrumental in shaping the life style of its inhabitants and in addition, provide an extraordinary means of transportation. Kerala’s ancient, unusual geographical legacy has remained largely unchanged over the slow passage of many centuries. It is a labyrinth of shimmering waterways consisting of countless dreamy lagoons, gently curving waterways, wet and vividly green paddy fields, swaying palm trees, and a singularly gentle, happy people. I happily surrender to the siren song of this unique corner of India. I am equally delighted to find a conspicuous absence of the hassle and aggression that invariably confronts most tourists, in Northern India. The coastal Kerala I know is friendly, laid-back and fun, and its people have learned to harmonise with nature, and live off its generous bounty.

My cruise from Kollam to Alappuzha is a singularly exhilarating eight hours journey through places exploding in a thousand shades of green. It is my first, fascinating encounter with a verdant Venice, where nature, instead of man, has created the glory.

I hire a small houseboat, which has a single bedroom with an attached toilet and shower, an open upper deck for lounging, and a kitchenette. For company, I have two oarsmen and a cook, who minister silently and unobtrusively to my needs. On enquiry, I learn that most Kettuvalloms or houseboats, are built in the nearby boat-building town of Alumkadavu. Originally, these were used as cargo carriers, but have since been ingeniously adapted to fashion some of the most luxuriously furnished means of transport. A few of these giant crafts are 80 feet in length. Constructed with great skill and care, these houseboats consist of two bedrooms with attached bathrooms, an open lounge, a kitchenette and a crew comprising oarsmen, a cook and if required, a guide. The cuisine available on board is enriched with exotic tropical vegetables, fruits, cereals, seafood and herbs. The meals are garnished with the distinctive aroma of pepper, cardamom, chillies and cloves, — spices that lured explorers like Marco Polo and Vasco da Gama from across the seas. It is a holistic, natural fare and follows the tenets of Ayurveda, but is tailored to suit individual preferences.

Our little boat whispers through calm waters, along shallow lakes with shorelines thickly wooded with coconut palms. These are frequently dotted with cantilevered, Chinese fishing nets. I am informed that this system of fishing was imported into Kerala from China during the 13th century, while Kublai Khan’s marauding Mongols were ravaging much of Asia.

I sit on a deckchair, a straw hat shielding my eyes from the sun. The soft, soothing murmur of calm waters and swaying palms gradually unwinds my tightly coiled nerves, and I willingly surrender to the magic of the waterways. With the silent grace of a swan, our craft moves smoothly along narrow, sun-dappled canals. Through half closed eyes, I see coir, copra and cashews being loaded into boats. I watch peddlers in small canoes moving from canal to lake, to lagoon, to canal, vending their wares from house to house. I lazily observe and marvel at the picture perfect, simple and smooth lives of these happy people who fish, and play and plant and harvest and sing, in a seamless, unending cycle of simple needs and simple solutions.

A small group of children swim near the shore. They wave out to me and I wave back. I note that one of them is scarcely three years old. At my look of enquiry, one of the oarsmen laughs and remarks that here, life revolves around the water, and children learn to swim before they walk. Often they learn to manage a small boat before learning to cope with a bicycle. I laugh in response, and throw a handful of cellophane wrapt sweets, onto the shore. The children whoop in delight and scramble ashore after the goodies. I chuckle and reach for the glass of chilled beer thoughtfully placed at my elbow, by the smiling boat attendant. I convey my thanks with an appreciative smile.

While my eyes take in the rustic life passing by, my palate is pampered with backwater delicacies, by the houseboat chef. The lunch consists of kappa, meen curry and rice. The hot red fish curry with steamed tapioca is not only mouth watering, but makes my eyes water, as well. However, that does not stop me from taking a second helping. Cool, tender coconut water and a scoop of its soft white flesh, go a long way in soothing my outraged tongue. The meal is rounded off with a generous helping of payasum, a sweet, rich milk delicacy prepared with vermicelli, dried fruits in a rice paste. It is Kerala’s favourite dessert, and is prepared in scores of flavours and garnished with raisins and fried nuts. A brief half hour siesta on the deck, and I feel revitalized, with all the batteries of my body and mind fully recharged.

I find it incredible when, in quick succession, I pass a church half hidden in a thick grove of coconut palms and, barely a minute later, a temple nestling close to a mosque. I have known for a long time, but never really appreciated the fact that Kerala is a crossroads of various faiths. It is a place where Christians, Moslems and Jews planted their first markers in India. Later, I shall see a plethora of beautiful churches, mosques and temples, and in Kochi, an incredibly beautiful 16th century synagogue. It is a remarkable lesson in happy co-existence.

Evening draws near and the western sky puts on a magnificent display of colour and light as the thin, scattered clouds, are tinctured with numerous shades of gold, crimson, coral, mauve and deep blue. As the sun sets in a blaze of colour, I realise that the magic of the backwaters reaches the pinnacle of its glory, in the shimmering hours before dusk.

From somewhere not too faraway, the wind carries the rich strains of a boatman’s song. My heart joins in his song and, nursing a glass of single malt in hand, my thoughts drift in a euphoric half trance of serenity. The world prepares for the night hours as the sky reluctantly relinquishes its rich palette of colours, while the dark velvet of the night tiptoes across the firmament.

My mind is lost in wonder at the incredible numbers of stars swarming across the night sky, and my heart is overwhelmed by the lyrical sounds of the night. Stillness blends with stillness, and the darkness whispers to itself. I feel overwhelmed by a sense of intense serendipity within and around me, as I continue my enchanted voyage.

Life can be so simple. And beautiful.

© DON ALNEY

Website  www.donalney.com

Facts File

GETTING THERE:

By Air: Airports at Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode link Kerala nationally and internationally.

By Rail: Connections are available from all important cities in India.

By Road: Services from all tourist centres in India. The Kerala Road Transport Corporation and private bus services provide transportation to just about anywhere in Kerala.

BOAT TRIPS

The normal State ferry leaves Kollam for Alappuzha daily. The State Water Transport Service Ferry also departs from Kollam at the same time.

For those who desire more space on board, the Alappuzha Tourism Development Co-operative Society operates boats that leave on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The backwater trip starts in the morning. It takes a little over eight hours. Shorter trips are also organised from Kochi.

SHOPPER’S PARADISE

Kerala’s unique shopping offers include the renowned Aranmula mirrors. These are fashioned out of metal and produced at Arunmula, a small town near Alappuzha. The mirrors are made with a special alloy of copper, brass, lead and bronze. Once upon a time, these were an essential part of royal households. However, today these ornamental mirrors are rare, and only two artisans and their families still make these priceless objects de art.

Other souvenirs include carved wooden figurines, bell-metal products, handicrafts, coir-products, and antique arts including paintings, brassware and wood works.

While shopping, do not forget to nibble at the piping hot banana chips sold straight from the frying pan, and available at most roadside kiosks.