Tony’s Story – Burma and India, World War 2.

Tony’s Story – Burma and India, World War 2.


Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September, 1939. Tony was 19 years old, and was living at home with his family at Four Winds, Pebsham Drive, Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex. That day Tony was assisting the family to improve Pebsham Drive to enable vehicle access.

Text in Italics are direct quotes from Tony’s memoirs and diaries.

“As soon as the announcement from Prime Minister Macmillan ended, the air raid sirens started to wail, scaring the pants off us, imagining Hitler was operating another blitzkrieg and was going to bomb the living daylights out of all and sundry. It was a false alarm – quite an anti-climax.”

During the next 12 months, what was known as the phoney war, passed with very little happening on the South Coast, apart from the odd bombing raid. Rationing commenced. Tony was an apprentice electrician with the Bexhill Corporation Electricity Department, and during this time had been assisting with the installation of air raid sirens. All employees were given basic training on arms and sentry duties. They were issued with Canadian Ross rifles, which Tony was sure had not seen service since the Boer War. “Thank goodness we never had to fire them as I am sure they would have blown up in our faces.

“This state of affairs ended at 5.20am on 10 May, 1940 with an all-out assault on Belgium by the Germans. Slightly over a couple of weeks later we were facing the Dunkirk evacuation. As far as we were concerned, things were looking pretty dodgy, with Jerry just 20 miles away across the English Channel.

By this time, Tony and the love of his life, Audrey, who were sweethearts (in the vernacular of the day), had been talking about marriage. Audrey was very much part of the discussion around whether to wait for Tony to be drafted into the Army, or for him to volunteer for the RAF Electrical Maintenance Section immediately. As Tony said, “really there was only one option”.

In May1940 Tony presented himself at the local recruiting office in Bexhill, and volunteered for the RAF Electrical Maintenance Section. After a few weeks Tony received orders to report to the training station at RAF Bicester, Oxfordshire in 2 days time. Unfortunate timing, since Tony and Audrey were to be married on 28 August, 1940 in three weeks time. Tony obtained compassionate leave (Friday 27th August 4.30pm to 11pm on Sunday 29 August), enabling them to marry at Battle Abbey, Sussex as planned.

At RAF Bicester, general training occurred “Square bashing, arms drill, learning how to salute an officer correctly, how to avoid certain NCO’s, and generally endeavouring to keep out of trouble. Slowly but surely, we were kicked into shape.”

More weapons training and bouts of Aerodrome guard duties followed. Bicester Airfield was attacked by the enemy on 13 October, 1940.

“I was caught out on the airfield during a German strafing raid – bullets and canon shells flying everywhere. Not too healthy. There were a number of casualties and a few aircraft sustained damage, but all I got was a damned fright.”

Tony was then posted to the RAF Technical Training School at Ross-on-Wye for four months of electrical training. At the end of that course, Tony was posted to an aerodrome at Wyton, Cambridgeshire, a heavy bombing station, where he worked on four engined Lancasters and two engined Wellingtons.

On 5 October, 1941 Tony received notification of an overseas posting. He was given seven days embarkation leave, and was posted to No. 17 Fighter Squadron (Hurricanes), at RAF Catterick Camp in North Yorkshire for assembly.

Off to War

Tony departed from England on HMS Duchess of Bedford, which had been requisitioned for service as a troopship at the outbreak of World War 2. The Duchess of Bedford sailed from Liverpool and the Clyde on 12 November 1941.

“and we boarded the HMS Duchess of Bedford, which was to be our home for the next eight weeks. So here I was at age 21 setting off into the ‘wild blue yonder’ leaving behind a war torn Britain, a wife and a 9 month old baby son. What were my feelings? Very mixed. On the one hand leaving Audrey and Clive in England, which apart from the bombing raids, was still in great danger of being invaded by the Hun. On the other hand, here was a young man who had never travelled much further than London, off to god knows where, but obviously to visit foreign climes; yes very much mixed emotions indeed.”

The Duchess of Bedford set sail that evening and joined a large convoy which formed off Oversay. Destroyers formed an escort. Tony was very seasick when the ship entered the Bay of Biscay, and ended up in the ship’s hospital after passing out on deck. It was rumoured that they were heading to North Africa, but –

“After a day or so we turned west and later south By this time we were about three-quarters of the way to America. The reason for this was to avoid German submarines as much as possible. There were a number of alarms and the escorting Destroyers would speed off and at times drop depth charges, which created a noise like somebody hitting the side of the ship with a monstrous sledgehammer.

Our first port of call was Freetown, Sierra Leone, on the West Coast of Africa, mainly to refuel and take on fresh provisions. For most of us it was the first sight of an ‘exotic’ foreign country and contact with ethnic people, even if it was only from the ship’s deck to the ‘bum boats’ of the natives trying to sell us fruit. We were not allowed ashore, and we sailed from Freetown on 28 November, 1941.

Sierra Leone was a British Colony, and its support was critical to the Allies during WW2. RAF West Africa Command was based there from 1941-45 for example. Sierra Leone did not gain its independence from the UK until 27 April, 1961.

“On Sunday 7 December, 1941 an announcement was made over the ship’s tannoy, that the Japs had bombed Pearl Harbour and that the USA had declared war on both Japan and Germany, A quite momentous turn of events that would ensure that the war, in time, would be won by the Allies.”

The Duchess of Bedford’s next port of call was Durban, South Africa where she arrived on 18 December 1941. Shore leave was granted.

“To us, Durban looked like a fairyland. A beautiful city and after dark, a blaze of lights – something we hadn’t seen, due to blackout, for a couple of years. And the shops and food – everything available providing one had the cash – which we did not. The people were great, two or three of us would be picked up from the dock gates and shown the sights or taken swimming finishing up in their homes for meals and evening entertainment.”

Tony had been invited to one of these generous people’s home for Christmas dinner, and was very much looking forward to it. This was not to be – when he awoke on Christmas day, his ship was at sea, having sailed late on 24 December, 1941. The convoy separated into 3 detachments, the Duchess of Bedford was unexpectedly in the convoy heading for Bombay (now Mumbai).

“I learned since that our original destination was the Middle East – Egypt, but new orders were received in Durban requiring the 17th Squadron to proceed to Rangoon (now Yangon) in an attempt (futile) to help prevent the Japs invade Burma.”

The Japanese had commenced their invasion of Burma on 11 December 1941.

The Duchess of Bedford docked at Mumbai on 6 January, 1942. Tony was completely enthralled with the great sub-continent of India from that moment. The troops, by then clad in their tropical uniforms, complete with solar topee and baggy khaki shorts, were disembarked, and quickly hustled onto a troop train, bound for Calcutta (now Kolkata).

“Be assured, if one has not travelled on a troop train, ‘one has not lived’. A more uncomfortable way to travel would be hard to find. Wooden slatted seats, toilet facilities a hole in the floor, and the whole train chock-a-block with Airmen. We ate, slept and endured these conditions for five days and four nights, with temperatures of between 80degF to 100degF.”

Little time was lost in transferring us onto a troopship lying alongside the dock on the Hoogly River (the great river which serves Calcutta (Kolkata), for transport across the Bay of Bengal to Rangoon (now Rangon), capital of Burma (now Myanmar). This troopship was much more comfortable than the old Duchess of Bedford, especially the sleeping arrangements. Calcutta sits 70 miles upriver from the Bay of Bengal, and large ships had to steam fairly slowly down to the delta due to the ever shifting mudbanks. It took us three to four days to reach Rangoon. Rumours of Jap subs didn’t help, as shipping had been sunk in the Bay.


The troopship arrived in Rangoon on or around 10 January, 1942, as the Japanese troops neared Rangoon. The troops were soon entrained and taken to Insein, a village a few miles north of Rangoon, where they were billeted. Insein was only a couple of miles or so from Mingaladon airport, from which No. 17 Squadron were to operate with their Hurricanes – only …. when they arrived, the Hurricanes were not there.

“Both Rangoon and and the airfield had received attention from the Jap bombers, leaving what buildings there were on the airfield a little worse for wear, and the runway was dotted with filled in bomb craters.

The only aircraft around were the ‘flying tigers’. These were flown by the American mercenaries in the pay of the Chinese General, Chiang Kai-shek. These pilots were real tough cookies and were paid US$1000 for any Jap plane destroyed, and US$500 for any plane damaged. As our aircraft had not yet arrived, they asked if we could help them out with servicing their aircraft, which we did, until our own planes flew in from India a few days later.

Wonderful! We now had three aircraft, Hurricanes, to fight off the Jap invasion. Also our C.O. had arrived with one of the planes, and being an ex Battle of Britain pilot, he soon got things moving pretty smartly. Actually, there was little choice as both Rangoon and the aerodrome were being attacked on most days, and nightly, if there was a good moon.

Over the next few days more planes arrived, bringing our strength up to seven, and that was our lot! But at least we were making sure the Japs were not getting it all their own way. On the other hand, we were taking our losses. We worked like hell to keep our planes flying, day and night as our C.O. wanted ‘standby’ for night flying against Jap night bombers. He asked for minimal runway lighting to mark takeoff and landing points, so we rigged up small car light bulbs on poles, fed from an aircraft battery. Great fun standing half way up the runway waiting for planes to take off so the lights could be switched off before the Japs spotted them., I vividly remember one night – we could hear the Japs around, and standing by these confounded lights waiting for a night fighter to take off, and as it left, the ground bombs were dropping at the end of the runway. Off went the lights, pretty smart and yours truly was diving for the nearest slit trench, landing on top of the duty officer. Had to renew damage to the lights in the morning, while ‘coolies’ filled in the craters on the runway.

Japanese pilots who considered their plane would not make it back to base or to a safe landing, would endeavour to crash land on the ‘drome’, preferably onto our aircraft, which were protecting bunkers. This happened on several occasions, but I can only remember damage to one aircraft, and that was to one of the Flying Tigers planes.

Most times they smeared themselves along the runway and then we had to pick up the pieces. I picked up a severed hand after one crash, one of the few pieces that was identifiable. Another time I was watching this Jap fighter making a slow approach to the runway, just as if he was making a landing. Half way up he suddenly veered onto a bunker, and stayed there. The pilot was quite dead.

Believe it or not, but in these early days of the fighting, the Japanese Officers flew in full dress uniform, complete with sword. Saw one who bailed out of a bomber which had landed quite close to our runway. The Indian Army boys on guard duty at the airfield were after him pretty smartly. Wonder what happened to the sword?

On 7 March 1942, the British evacuated Rangoon. The surviving aircraft were flown out, leaving the ground crews to make their way north towards the Indian border. As the retreat has been well documented, I shall only write of Tony’s experience. No 17 Squadron was ordered to move north to Akyab (now Sittwe) approximately 889 km by road today. The ‘road’ they took was just a cart track through the jungle. Just as well they did not know what they were in for.

It is almost impossible to visualise the suffering of the retreating forces, struggling through the jungle in intense heat and plagued by insects and illness, with Japanese forces not far behind. Dengue fever, malaria, sores and ulcers caused by insect bites and ever present diarrhoea, heat exhaustion and prickly heat rashes affected so many of these men.

Their vehicles kept breaking down – everyone mucked in to try to keep them going. Changing wheels, filling with petrol, swapping batteries and all sorts of repairs. Many got beyond repair, so were unloaded and abandoned.

“One of our main concerns was rations. All water had to be boiled, and that soon became the responsibility of each person. We formed ourselves into small groups, and lit fires when the rain allowed. We did manage to find a small number of purifying tablets, but they did not last long. Food was also a problem. Not only was it in short supply, but there were hundreds of natives on the retreat, and they were not backward in stealing our grub if given the chance. Justice was short and sharp.”

Each day was worse than the last. They knew that the Japanese would be following up behind, and they had several scares as they were getting closer. More and more vehicles had to be abandoned. The remaining trucks had more to carry, until all that could be carried was petrol, food and people. With the exception of firearms, all personal gear had to be abandoned.

By this time we were in a rather sorry state, with clothing and especially footwear virtually rotting off us due to the heat and humidity.

After about a month of this horror, they saw the sea, and their destination, Akyab. They were hoping for a ship to India to get them out of the situation that they were in.

“If there was no ship, to get us out of this hellhole and across to India, it meant more ‘jungle bashing’ – to where? Chittergong. I don’t think we would have made it.”

As luck would have it, there was a small ship at the wharf. There were hundreds of people hoping to get aboard, but only British forces were going aboard. All Tony had were the clothes he was wearing, and his firearms plus he had managed to keep the leather writing case Audrey had given him shortly before he left England. One of his granddaughters still has that writing case.

Just prior to boarding the ship, the Japanese bombed the airstrip, but for some reason did not bomb the ship. Tony said that they were very grateful for that small mercy.

The Japanese landed in Akyab on or around 4 April, 1942.

Tony’s hopes for a decent meal on the ship were dashed when he discovered that the only food onboard was porridge and weevil infested ship’s biscuits, but there was tea, of a sort. Tony found a spot on the top deck for sleeping, among hundreds of others. He got the first good night’s sleep he had had for weeks.

“On the morning of the fourth day we were approaching the river delta, the entrance to the Hoogli River, and onward back to Calcutta, which we had left, it seemed, years ago, but in fact it was only four months. Four months of my life, which I am hardly likely to forget, and havn’t.”

Tony was extremely traumatised by the experiences he had in Burma, and became very emotional whenever the topic was raised. By the late 1990’s though, he was able to talk about these experiences, and to record them in his memoirs.


No 17 Squadron was disembarked at Calcutta and were taken in trucks “to some terrible old Indian Barracks at Dum Dum, which were close to the Calcutta Airport. We were issued some blankets, and directed to sleeping quarters, which contained a ‘charpoy’ (an Indian bed made of timber and string, and usually alive with bedbugs), for sleeping on.”

Fortunately they only had one night in the barracks. The next day they were taken in to Calcutta and billeted at La Martiniere Boys School. They were still sleeping on charpoys, but a de-bugging programme was initiated. The charpoys were soaked in kerosine, or later, were dropped into a large tank of boiling water.

Re-kitted and at a loose end for a week or so, Tony was taken to Firpo’s Restaurant on Chowringhee Road in Calcutta for a meal and drinks. Tony was introduced to ‘chota pegs and pani (whisky and water). It must have felt like paradise.

A spot of rest and recreation leave at one of India’s hill stations was granted to personnel just back from Burma.

“So we packed our kitbags and rolled our bed rolls and were taken to Howra Central Railway Station,where we boarded a train to Shillong, in the north-east province of Assam, a beautiful village in the foothills of the Himalayas. It was nice and cool after the heat of Calcutta. I spent a couple of weeks doing little but eating and sleeping, a little football and some very enjoyable walks in the mountains. All too soon it was back to the heat and humidity of the plains and Calcutta.

Tony applied to undertake his Group One training at the RAF School of Technical Training in India.

“Meanwhile life in Calcutta resolved into a routine of work, maintenance and ‘off time’, with letter writing and seeing the sights of this great big sprawling metropolis. During the days of the powerful East India Company, Calcutta was the capital of India, and was a place where the sons of the English gentry were sent to make their fortunes. Viewed the site of the Black hole of Calcutta, the Victoria Memorial and over the Hoogly River to the Eden Gardens, the site to this day of the Calcutta cricket test matches.”

Tony was posted to the School of Technical Training at Quetta in Baluchistan, northern India, now in Pakistan. Quetta is around 5,000ft above sea level, and getting there entailed a three day journey by rail, taking in various gauges of railway line. Tony started the journey wearing his tropical kit, but as the altitude changed he had to change into “standard Blues”. It was snowing when he arrived in Quetta.

“From a temperature of 90F to 100F down on the plains to this, and I did not have a greatcoat – mine was lost in Burma. I was not a very happy Airman.”

After successfully completing his training, and passing the examinations, Tony was initially posted back to his old unit in Calcutta. A posting to 81 R & R (re-fuel and re-arm) at Fenni in Assam, on the Burma border followed.

“This was at the time the Japs were making an all out effort to invade India from Burma, and they were really knocking on the door of the Indian border. Bloody battles were being fought by the 14 Army at Kohima, where for quite a time they were surrounded and in dire danger.”

The journey took four days, firstly a train from Calcutta, then a day and a night on a ferry on the Bramaputra River, followed by a train from Chandpur, which dropped Tony at Fenni. He then travelled by truck to the 81 R & R Unit.

Their unit was used on front line airstrips, for re-arming, refueling and carrying out minor airframe, engine and electrical repairs and inspection work, to keep the planes in the air.

“The Japs were trying to push through this area, and for a while things were pretty hectic. We were kept very busy servicing a wide range of aircraft, including a number of American fighter bombers. I recall one Boston which had electrical problems with its undercarriage – after repairs were completed, the pilot suggested I should accompany him on a test flight.”

Tony was moving around in this area for about four months before being posted to Chittagong, now the capital of Bangladesh. The journey of 80 miles from Fenni took 13.5 hours over mainly cart tracks. Tony’s Unit was linked up with 83 R & R Unit. Chittagong was closer to the front, and the Units were much busier.

“I worked on various aircraft – Beauforts, Blenheims, Hurricanes and Mosquitos – the latter being constructed of wood. In between times I was running the CO into Chittergong. There was a picture house in ‘Chitters’ so we would pop over after work once a fortnight for dinner at the services club and see a film afterwards.

In July 1943, Tony was posted to Secunderabad as an Electrical Instructor at an Indian Technical School of Training. Despite this new posting, his ‘overseas’ service was coming to an end. He was due home at the end of 1943, after a period of three years service, so he was quite happy to be moving to Secunderabad.

The first leg of the journey took him to Calcutta, where he spent a couple of weeks catching up with friends before a berth on the train to Secunderabad became available.

“I found that my Indian students were all University graduates, so there were no language issues. They were also competent with electrics, which was just as well, as I was instructing them on advanced bomb selecting, arming and firing circuitry, which was quite a complicated program.

I have little recollection of Secunderabad – I was too busy counting the days to my recall to the UK. I was also anxious, as things can go horribly wrong in the services, and I could find myself back on the Burma front instead.

On 30 November, 1944 Tony was very relieved to receive his posting order to Bombay, where he was to report on 17 December, 1944. He was on his way home, although he was still a little anxious. He left Secunderabad on 13 November, 1944 on an overnight train to Bombay. He spent two long weeks in a transit camp in Bombay before boarding the ‘Blighty Boat” home.

Going Home

On 10 December, 1944, Tony left India, on the troopship Mooltan.

“Pulled away from the dockside early the next morning to great cheers from the troops onboard, only to anchor in the Bay half an hour later, which wasn’t so well received. I slept on a mess-deck table that night, and had a great night’s sleep. We finally lifted anchor at 10.30am on 12 December, 1944, so we were really on our way home. We were in convoy with six other ships, all large Troopers and four escorting Destroyers.

Ten days were spent sailing north, through the Arabian Sea, into the Gulf of Aden, and finally into the Red Sea on the approach to the Suez Canal, with land on both sides. The troops were disembarked at Suez, changed from their Tropical uniform back to their blues.

“There had been rumours that on disembarkation at Suez we would probably be shunted into a transit camp , and could be there for weeks. We arrived at Suez at dawn on 21 December 1944, and were greeted with the news that we were going to tranship immediately, much to our relief.”

They boarded the Strathmore, a smaller ship than the Mooltan, and more crowded on 21 December 1944, and on 22 December, 1944, Tony wrote in his diary “.. and now I am on what I hope is the last bloody troopship I shall ever see. I have volunteered for mess orderly duties as that will keep me off guard duties.”

The Strathmore sailed through the Suez Canal on 24 December, taking approximately ten hours, arriving at Port Said at 6.30pm. Christmas day was spent anchored out in the Bay – Tony reported that they had quite a good Christmas dinner and were provided with half a bottle of beer each.

Gibraltar was the next port of call, where the Strathmore arrived on 31 December, 1944. The next morning they left Gibraltar at 10.30am, sailing in a convoy of fourteen other troop ships, with a large escort.

“We had some submarine activity during the afternoon, with quite a number of depth charges being dropped, with the destroyers whipping about all over the place. Rumour was that we would be docking at Liverpool, which we did, but the ship ‘stood off’ at anchor for a couple of days before docking cards were dealt with. When we finally disembarked on around 8 January, 1945, we were soon heading for the railway station, and our train home. I had to go via London, catching the southern railway train down to Bexhill Station.”

Tony was reunited with his family that night, and commenced his disembarkation leave. His overseas service now complete, he was posted to Stony Cross, near Lyndhurst, Southampton. Tony was finally released from the Air Force on 23 May, 1946. He had never been required to travel on another troopship.

Tony with his medals – approx 1946 (one of Tony’s great grandsons now proudly owns the medals.)

After the War.

Tony had fallen in love with India, and wished to return after the War. Tony had raised this possibility with Audrey while he was still in India. Audrey did not wish to live in India. Their correspondence at the time illustrates the difficulties faced by a young couple, when one had seen and experienced things that the other could not imagine. Tony had matured well beyond Audrey’s level. She and their son Clive had lived with her parents throughout the war, and her life had not changed greatly by comparison. Tony had travelled. He knew that there was more to life than living in the same place in England where they had been born, and where they grew up.

In the end, it was a wise decision not to go to India. Tony did not give up the idea of leaving England though, and finally he convinced Audrey to immigrate to New Zealand, which they did in 1958. They had a very happy and successful life in New Zealand – neither of them ever wanted to return to England to live. They never referred to England as home – it was always “the old country.”

When Audrey died, Tony moved to Australia, where his family all lived. Although he enjoyed his life in Australia, his 40 odd years in New Zealand with Audrey was, he said, the best years of his life.


Tony and Audrey wrote to each other every day, sometimes up to three times a day. Their letters survived, and for the rest of their lives, the letters were stored in a heavy leather suitcase that Tony had acquired in Calcutta. The letters came to New Zealand with them, and to Australia with Tony.

These letters together with diaries, ration books and miscellaneous papers are in the Imperial War Museum’s Collection in London, reference “Documents 19712 “Private Papers of Mr & Mrs A Cowlard”.

The leather suitcase is still going strong, and is in the possession of Tony and Audrey’s eldest granddaughter.


Part 2 – Sour Cherries Tour – Budapest

Part 2 – Sour Cherries Tour – Budapest

You will find Part 1 of the Sour Cherries Tour of Budapest here Part 1: Sour Cherries Tour – Budapest.

Accompanying one of the Sour Cherries, I attended a service in St Stephen’s Basilica. It was the first time I had ever heard the mass being celebrated in a language other than Latin – which shows I had not attended mass since the early 1960’s. I understood, more or less, what was being said in Latin. I do not understand Hungarian at all, but I still picked up parts of the service because of the rituals. The music took me to paradise.

St Stephen’s Basilica is relatively new, having been completed in 1905. The Basilica is named after St Stephen, the first King of Hungary. The marble, statues, mosaics and paintings and beautiful stained glass windows make for a very decorative interior. The reliquary in the Holy Right Hand Chapel displays St Stephen’s right hand, which apparently gets taken out of the Basilica to form part of a procession on August 20 each year. The main Altar, under the very impressive dome, is dominated by a life sized marble statue of St Stephen, flanked by paintings depicting scenes from St Stephen’s life. Attending a service also meant viewing the interior sans crowds of tourists, who were all queued up awaiting the opening of the doors after the service.

I lit a candle in Jonathen’s memory. Maybe I didn’t pay enough or possibly the candle only stays alight for true believers.

On exiting St Stephen’s Cathedral, we discovered a Gluhwein stall right outside, enabling a restorative beverage to be had before embarking on further adventures.

The buildings in Buda and Pest are quite well preserved, and examples of many styles can be seen. The styles include Baroque, Art Noveau, Art Deco, Bahaus, the dreaded Soviet style and in Pest some Medieval. The exterior of the Hungarian Parliament is neo Gothic and the Dohany Street Synagogue has elements of neo Moorish, Hungarian folkloric and Jewish Styles. Strolling along Andrassey, the Sour Cherries felt that we could, with a bit of a stretch, imagine ourselves in a Boulevard in Paris.

(Photo credits for most of these images – Stephen Collins – Sour Cherry extraordinaire.)

Budapest seemed to have a huge number of statues in the city. As with most cities, I found very few statues of women. Are they written out of history, or were there so few women worthy of a statue. I favour the former – women have been written out of history over the centuries – writers, artists and scientists, to name a few. Generally the only women depicted anywhere are Empresses, Queens and the like. There are a number of statues of Queen Elizabeth, a Hapsburg Empress and Hungarian Queen. The liberation statue on Gellert Hill depicts a woman, holding a palm frond – the Lady on the Hill. There is a statue of a woman riding a horse drawn chariot representing Peace, in Heroes Square. Below her are 14 sculptures of men who made significant contributions to the history of Hungary – so no women made any such contributions!

There are rather a lot of male heroes, from the very large statue “Brother in Arms”, in Pest to Heroes Square and the Millenium monument in Buda, which symbolises the anniversary of the founding of Budapest in 896AD. Soviet era statues have gone to the statue graveyard, Momento Park, so at least one is spared from the sight of huge Stalins’.

Images of many more statues can be found here Part 1: Sour Cherries Tour – Budapest.

One of the special pleasures of travelling in Europe is “coming across” an exhibition of great art. I have come across a Carravagio exhibition in Rome – in one of the old villa’s, with hand painted signs pointing the way, for example. In Budapest the Wild Cherries came across an exhibition of El Greco paintings in the Museum of fine arts. I have always enjoyed El Greco, and love the El Greco elongated figures, so was very happy to see the El Greco sign on the museum while we were visiting Heroes Square.

Photo credits – Stephen Collins.

Budapest is not just a city of fabulous architecture and sculptures. There is a very definite fun side to the city. While Christmas did provide a seasonal boost, it did not account for a gin corner here, an upside down bathtub containing ceiling lights there, and a fat policeman statue of no particular artistic merit for example.

Innovative ceiling light.

Five days in Budapest is not enough. This Wild Cherry could easily have spent another five days in the company of my fellow Wild Cherries, wandering along the banks of the Danube day and night, visiting many more museums and galleries with many more cocktail bars and restaurants to investigate.

Budapest turned on a most memorable sunset on our last evening in the city – a fitting farewell to the Wild Cherries from a beautiful city.

Farewell Budapest, farewell fellow Wild Cherries.

Part 1: Sour Cherries Tour – Budapest

Part 1: Sour Cherries Tour – Budapest

December 2022

Fun, pure fun for several days in a row, was something I thought I would never experience again. The plague had taken away any idea that there could be any fun to be had. Living on prison island, I had almost forgotten how liberating fun can be until I joined the Sour Cherries Tour of Budapest.

A very dear friend from another life who now lives in London, invited me to join the Sour Cherries Tour of Budapest during my first escape from prison island in the Antipodes after covid. I had not previously visited Budapest, and I had never attended a Christmas market in Europe, so I jumped at the opportunity.

Three sour cherries assembled at Heathrow, where much toasting to the success of the tour occurred. More toasting on the flight to Budapest ensured a very happy relaxed arrival in Budapest, where the fourth sour cherry was awaiting our arrival.

Having grown up with the Blue Danube Waltz – even performing as a skater in a school version, I had been somewhat disappointed to discover that the Danube in Vienna was far from blue. I was so hoping that the Danube in Budapest would be blue. Well, it was and it wasn’t. I got my Blue Danube at night. During the day it was many shades of grey.

The four Sour Cherries were a diverse group, all very different, in age and nationality, and not one of them lives in the country of their birth. Chief Sour Cherry is an Australian who lives in London. Deputy Chief Sour Cherries are variously a New Zealander living in Sydney, but whose heart is in London (the elder of the tribe), an Irishwoman, living in Oxford and a New Zealander, living temporarily in Germany, but based in London. By way of explanation, the Chief Sour Cherry is the “Chief” as he was the organiser. The Deputy Sour Cherries are “Deputies” as we were very enthusiastic participants.

The elder of the tribe and the Irish Sour Cherry were staying in the same hotel in Pest, in an obviously touristy street

The Central Market Hall, the main produce market in Budapest, was located at the end of the street close to our hotel, so was an obvious first destination. The ground floor was the foodhall – I never knew that there were so many varieties of paprika. The fruit and vegetables all looked superb. The first floor is more touristy, and the contained a vast array of stuff that only tourists would buy, such as the I (heart) Budapest mugs, caps and T shirts. There were numerous leather goods stalls, some of which stocked items of a reasonable style and design. Some of the glassware was lovely, and there was a great variety of ceramics. I acquired a beautiful blue crystal champagne glass to replace a broken glass. I could have sworn it was identical to the set it was joining. It was not, but it didn’t matter. As the Chief Sour Cherry remarked, far more interesting than a matching set. One stall contained “Herend” porcelain. If I was planning to acquire Herend, I would have visited the Palais Herend, and undoubtedly would have paid a great deal more, but I would actually have acquired Herend.

I was looking forward to my first experience of Christmas Markets in Europe. Whether or not the markets in Budapest are up there with the best, they were certainly magical for me. A smorgasbord of of food, Gluhwein, Hungarian arts and crafts, and some of the loveliest festive lighting I have seen. I indulged in Gluhwein – nothing better to bring on the fuzzy, warm and happy experience of enjoying Christmas markets with friends.

The festive lighting, was quite innovative in some areas – cars and shoes in one area. Shop fronts were decorated, some with changing coloured lights, and there were so many Christmas trees of all shapes and sizes.

Just a few of the many Christmas trees.

Wandering around the Christmas markets, the wild cherries came across a ferris wheel. No, not me, I don’t do ferris wheels. So pleased that the majority ruled, and we boarded the ferris wheel. Budapest by night from the ferris wheel was magical.

Budapest has a lot more to offer than Christmas Markets. Walking around Buda and Pest is easy, give or take a couple of rather steep Hills in Buda, and walk we did, generally only occasionally resorting to a bus or taxi when running short of time.

I have read a lot about the Holocaust and visited many Holocaust museums and memorials over the years, but I had little specific knowledge of the fate Jewish people in Budapest. A visit to the Dohany Street Synagogue, with its memorial gardens and Holocaust Museum in the basement, and to a memorial on the banks of the Danube, sent me on a journey of discovery. I found that prior to World War II approximately 200,000 Jewish people lived in Budapest. In the early years of World War II around 5,000 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria arrived in Budapest, and from 1942, approximately 8,000 Slovak refugees sought haven in Budapest. Until the German occupation in March 1944, they remained relatively secure. A ghetto was established in November, 1944. From December 1944 to the end of January 1945 it is estimated that up to 20,000 Jewish people from the ghetto were executed on the bank of the Danube, and thrown into the river.

Budapest was liberated in February 1945 by Soviet forces.

There are numerous memorials in the garden. The one I found very moving was a sculpture of a life sized weeping willow, designed by Imre Varga. Each leaf has the name of a person murdered during the holocaust. Descending into the basement of the synagogue felt a little like descending into hell. The graphic photographs and commentaries accompanying them of Jewish people murdered in the streets was extremely confronting.

“To the memory of Victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-45” is the sign on an an extremely evocative memorial on the banks of the Danube. Around 60 pairs of women, men and children’s shoes, made of iron, were scattered along the promenade. I felt the despair of wearer’s of those shoes. I felt the evil of the militiamen – murdering men, women and children because they were Jewish. I felt despair that there are people today who deny the holocaust ever happened. To read more about this memorial go to

A day in Buda, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, commenced with a walk over the Liberty Bridge, constructed in the art nouveau style and a visit to the Castle Hill District. Catching the Castle Hill Funicular to the Royal Palace saved us a walk up the hill. First things first. The large cauldron’s full of hot aromatic Gluhwein, accompanied by a very large sausage could not be resisted.

Fortified and feeling fuzzy, warm and happy it was time to explore the medieval Castle District with its narrow winding streets, The Royal Palace is comprised of several buildings. The first castle was built on the site in the thirteenth century. The Baroque Palace, which now covers most of the site was built in the 16th century. I know little of the history of Hungary and its Kings and Queens. I am not generally interested in the interiors of places once occupied by royalty – I don’t wish to see the opulent manner in which these people lived. I do enjoy viewing the architecture, and love to see the monumental sculptures commissioned by the various occupants of these places. The Castle Grounds contained a satisfactorily large number of sculptures.

Matthias Fountain a Neo Baroque sculpture, with Art Noveau decoration. Hunting Scene.

The Hungarian National Gallery is situated in the Royal Palace. We did not have time to explore the gallery properly, but we managed to see the exhibition of Janos Vaszary (1869-1939) (Vaszary re-discovered), which included 24 previously unknown paintings. None of the Sour Cherries had heard of Vaszary so the entire exhibition was a discovery. The artist utilised a variety of styles including early impressionistic work to art deco style and proved to be well worth viewing.

Walking from Buda Castle along the banks of the Danube towards the Fishermen’s Bastion, the Wild Cherries were proposing various theories as to what fishing had to to with a Bastion high on a hill. Maybe it was a fish market in earlier times, although that did not seem logical – why would people lug quantities of fish from the river up to the top of the hill.

The Bastion of today was built between 1895 and 1902, and is in reality a viewing platform, although the architecture is in the style of early medieval times. The original Bastion was part of the defence of the Castle, and was named after the fishermen’s village below.

Entering Holy Trinity Square after climbing what felt like several hundred stairs, we found ourselves surrounded by the Bastion with its fairytale towers to our right, and St. Matthias Church slightly to our left. The Square also contains a large statue of St. Stephen astride a well dressed horse. Refreshments were required before any further exploration could possibly be undertaken. Hooray for the Gluhwein stall.

Above Left: The final staircase to the Bastion. Top Right: St Stephen on his well dressed horse. Below Left: Gluhwein stall.

The panoramic views across the Danube to Pest are magnificent – The Hungarian Parliament looking beautiful by day and night is a standout. As the evening got darker, the little lights draped over all of the Bastion Towers and walls started twinkling and glowing, completing the fairytale look.

St Matthias (Matyas) Church was erected on the site of an earlier church, and was rebuilt in 1470. Over the centuries the church was the site of coronations of Hungarian Kings. It was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Turks and utilised as such for around 150 years until reverting to a catholic Church. Architecturally St Matthias is a traditional gothic church. The interior is rather more exotic. Stunning frescoes, in tones of orange/brown decorate the walls from floor to ceiling.

After all that splendour it was time for cocktails.

Wherever I travel, I seek out images of St George killing the dragon. Budapest did not let me down. I found two, a tiled one being in the street I looked along, from my hotel room, on the wall of Saint George Martyr Serbian Orthodox Church. The other was a statue by the stairs to the Fishermen’s Bastion – a replica, the original is in Prague. To read about my obsession with St George images, and the places I have found them go to Myths and Legends – in search of St George and the Dragon. What has fascinated me has been the way in which artists from many countries over many centuries have depicted the dragon.

The sour cherries had some memorable meals due to the research efforts of the Chief Sour Cherry. We also found ourselves in fabulous cocktail bars, and sampling local wines. In order to repay this meticulous effort, the two kiwis’ became the entertainment one evening by performing a very creditable Haka.

So on that note, Part 1 of the Sour Cherries Budapest tour ends.

Egypt – Cairo and Luxor

Egypt – Cairo and Luxor

Part 2, Luxor

We arrived in Luxor from Cairo late at night not expecting to see much of interest in the dark. We were wrong. Driving along the Corniche, alongside the River Nile we could see a lot of activity on the river, which was well lit along the shoreline. Cruise boats of all sizes, mostly lit up, were moored alongside the river bank, side by side. A lot of cruise boats – some looking quite derelict. Felucca’s were bobbing about on their moorings, and small brightly decorated passenger boats were chugging in and out across the river.

The Temple of Luxor loomed up out of the darkness on our left alongside the Winter Palace Hotel, where we were staying. The Winter Palace, a historical British Colonial era hotel looked magnificent. A gin and tonic, on my balcony overlooking the Nile was called for. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the balcony door open, so I sipped my gin and tonic, looking at the activity on the river through the window, and wallowing in the luxury of my very grand room.

The early morning view from my room may not have had the same impact as pulling the curtains aside and seeing a pyramid, but it was nevertheless spectacular. Watching the hot air balloons rising up from the West Bank was magical. Viewing the mountains across the Nile changing colour as the sun rose reminded me of my hot air balloon experience on my previous visit to Luxor. Hot Air Ballooning – Nile Valley

There have been many occasions on which I have contemplated that perhaps I should have studied archaeology. Visiting the tombs, temples and monuments of the Theban Necropolis, I also thought that studying archaeology and becoming and Egyptologist would have been a perfect way to spend my life.

Driving past the Colossi of Memnom, the entrance to Amenhotep III mortuary temple, on our way to the Valley of the Kings, I noticed that excavations had uncovered more of the mortuary temple than had been apparent on my last visit.

The landscape around the Theban Necropolis is that of a desert. A perfect setting for Tombs and ruins of Mortuary temples and palaces. We had several tombs to visit in the Valley of the Kings, and those of Nefertari and Titi in the Valley of the Queens.

Each of these tombs could be the subject of their own story, describing the art and history depicted. Egyptologists, Archaeologists and Historians, among others, have written more erudite accounts than I could ever hope to do. What follows is a mainly pictorial record of our visit to the Valley of the Kings and Valley of Queens.

Rameses IV, 20th Dynasty (1153-1147BC) was the first tomb we visited. Ramses IV Mummy is in the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo, having recently been moved from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. See Egypt 2022 – Cairo and Luxor part 1 to read about our visit to NMEC.

The following images are from the Tombs of Rameses IX 19th Dynasty, 1126-1108BC and Rameses I, 19th Dynasty, 1295-1294BC.

The tomb of Nefertari (19th Dynasty), in the Valley of the Queens is reputed to be the most spectacular of all Tombs in Egypt. Nefertari was the chief Queen of Rameses II. Nefertari’s Tomb had not been open on my previous visit to Luxor, so I was very happy to discover that it was open when we were visiting. We were very fortunate to have the Tomb almost to ourselves, and although the there is a time limit of 10 minutes to visit the Tomb, we were able to stay longer. The wall paintings were indeed as spectacular as described.

Pharaoh Hatshepsut (New Kingdom – 1473-1458BC, 18th Dynasty) was a woman. So how did this happen? She became Regent for Thutmose III, her stepson as he was a child when he became Pharaoh. Rather than co-rule when he came of age, she ultimately proclaimed herself Pharaoh, and ruled in her own right.

After she died, an effort was made to remove her from history. Her images and titles were erased, and statues of her were destroyed – possibly by Thutmose III, though late in his reign. She was lost to history for around 3,000 years. Unfortunately for the erasers of history, they could not totally obliterate her, and archaeologists and historians ultimately pieced together her history from remaining images and statues. The story varies, but the basic facts remain the same.

Powerful women have frequently been written out of history, as was Hatshepsut, even in modern times. Discoveries by women scientists have been attributed to men and women often pretended to be men to be taken seriously. Hatshepsut had herself portrayed as a male Pharaoh in statues. Did she do this in order to be taken seriously?

Her Mummy is one of the Mummies transported in a grand parade from the Egyptian Museum to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation in Cairo.

Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple at Deir el-Bahri lies at the foot of a mountain, and appears to have been hewn out of the mountain, although it was not. We approached the Temple along a long causeway, which had once been lined with Sphinxes, and unlikely as it seems in this arid landscape, there were trees and gardens.

The source I used for the dates of Pharaohs is The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Edited by Ian Shaw.

What better place to plan one’s own Tomb, and journey into the afterlife than a botanic garden. How fortunate for me that Matty B had chosen the Winter Palace Hotel, in part because it has its very own botanic garden. The garden was started in 1886, and covers some 33,000 square metres. It now contains more than 50 varieties of trees, some of which are over 100 years old. It also has a very magnificent pigeon house. A perfect place to relax at the bar beside the pool. I had planned to have a swim, but after lunch by the pool, indolence overcame me, so I just indulged myself and ordered a glass of wine and watched less indolent people swimming, while enjoying listening to the birds and thinking about my journey to the afterlife.

When you come towards the end of a perfect day, what do you do. Well for us it was a gin and tonic on the terrace of the Winter Palace, overlooking the Nile and watching the sunset.

We visited the Karnak Temple twice, once by day and then for a sound and light show in the evening. Karnak Temple feels like a vast open air museum, and covers about 2sq km. It was built as a cult centre by Seti I (1294-1279BC), dedicated to the god Amun, extended by various Pharaoh’s and completed by Rameses II.

Sphinxes, with the body of a lion and head of a ram, line the entrance to the first Pylon of Karnak Temple. They look very impressive, and when lit up at night are quite lovely.

The site contains sphinxes, temples, obelisks, sanctuaries, columns, pylons, some impressive statues and a lot of tourists.

The great Hypostyle Hall in the Temple of Amun-Ra contains 134 columns, the centre 12 being 20 metres tall with open capitals so large they could hold around 50 people. The columns represent papyrus stalks, and they are topped by very large papyrus flowers. Cleaning of several of the columns was recently completed, which has revealed the engravings and colours in greater detail than I had previously seen.

Three obelisks survive on the site, two erected by Hatshepsut (one of which had been partly destroyed by an earthquake in antiquity, leaving only one third intact, the intact portion having been re-erected in April 2022 in its original position) and one by Thutmose I. Hatshepsut’s obelisk is 30 metres in length, and is said to be the tallest in Egypt. The obelisk of Thutmose I is 21.7 metres in length. Hatshepsut’s re-erected obelisk is 11 metres in length. By day the obelisks are impressive, by night they are magical.

I had been looking forward to the light and sound show at the Temple. On my previous visit to Egypt I had experienced a light show at Luxor Temple, and a sound and light show at Abu Simbel, both of which I enjoyed. The light part at Karnak was spectacular, as was walking through the site lit only by the colourful lights. The sound part not so spectacular. The sacred lake, constructed by Thutmose III, looking back towards the Temple of Amun-Ra was the venue for the show. The magic melted away at the commencement of the sound part. The sound part, with supposedly ancient voices narrating the achievements of some of the great Pharaohs and stories of their gods, was what I would call cheesey. Another critic described the performance as “highly Kitsch”.

I have to confess that we had attended a performance in German, which perhaps sounded more dramatic than the English version, although I doubt it. How beautiful the experience would have been if the sound part was classical music, perhaps Verdi’s Aida. The lights around the lake were however beautiful, and if I concentrated on those visions, I managed to block out the dramatic sound parts.

To banish the cacophony of the sound show, which was still reverberating in my head, I wandered into the hotel garden to relax, and have a quiet drink. The trees and plants in the garden were spectacularly lit up, and also decorated for Christmas.

Luxor Temple is connected to Karnak Temple by a 3km long processional Avenue of the Sphinxes. The Avenue is thought to have been commenced in the New Kingdom (1550-1069BC) possibly by Amenhotep III (1390-1352BC) and not completed until during the Late Period (644-332BC) during the 13th Dynasty by Nectanebo I (380-362BC) (dates quoted are again from The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt). It is believed that the Avenue was built to celebrate the annual Opet Festival, which promoted fertility.

After being covered by sand and silt for centuries, the Avenue was fully reopened in November 2021, with a Grand Parade.

What an incredible feeling it was to walk along this Avenue reflecting on the processions of times past. Parades of the Gods, out of sight inside their sacred boats, feasts, coronations, Pharaohs in their chariots providing entertainment for the commoners, who would have been chanting, clapping and cheering. There were no commoners clapping and cheering us – clearly a procession of 2 tourists is little consequence.

Above left and centre: Sphinxes. Right: At Luxor, looking toward Karnak.

In the absence of commoners cheering and clapping we decided to terminate our procession and turned back towards the Temple of Luxor.

Although Hatshepsut was responsible for a lot of the initial construction in the Luxor Temple most of her buildings were replaced. Amenhotep III constructed parts of what can still be seen today. The Temple was added to over the years, including by Tutankhamun, and completed by Rameses II. The Temple was dedicated to the dieties Amun-Ra, Mut and Khonsu. The facade is very impressive. The Pylon is flanked by two seated statues of Rameses II – each being 14 metres tall. There are four standing statues, also of Rameses II. There was originally two obelisks, but one now stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

Facade of Luxor Temple.

Left: Seated Statue of Rameses II. Right: Two of the Standing Statues of Rameses.

The first court of the Temple (Peristyle court of Rameses II), is surrounded by 74 papyrus columns, with many standing statues of Rameses II and a large seated statue, with a small statue of Nefertari standing beside him.

The mosque of Abu al-Haggag, constructed during the 13th century, and still in use today is in the eastern corner of the first court, on the site of an earlier Coptic Church. Quite a surreal experience to hear the call to prayer (adaan in Egypt) ringing our across the court.

The court of Ramesses II is exited through the Colonnade of Amenhotep III which is lined by seven pairs of open flower papyrus columns, which leads into the peristyle court of Amenhotep III, with its double rows of papyrus columns on three sides. If that grandeur is not sufficient, that court leads into the hypostyle hall, which has 32 papyrus columns in four rows of eight columns. So many columns, such splendour and so impressive that the pomp and ceremony of the time had a magnificent backdrop. Imagine the procession from Karnak, along the processional avenue of the Sphinxes, entering Luxor Temple. Karnak Temple had its own very impressive columns, but how good would it be to arrive at Luxor Temple and seeing more splendid columns.

Sailing on the Nile in a felucca is the stuff dreams are made of. We planned a late afternoon sail, to round off a magical long weekend in Egypt. That did not happen. We were advised that there was not going to be a breeze that evening, so perhaps we should consider an earlier sail, like now, while there was a breeze. Right then, lets do it. A felucca was hailed (just as I might hail a taxi). Clambering over several moored boats, we managed to fall into the felucca – well I fell, Matty B, jumped. All good. Except there was no breeze. Feluccas were being towed by motor boat across the Nile. We did manage to move a few hundred metres – maybe we had a big fish towing us.

It was still magical, the magic maybe assisted by the felucca operator producing a sheesha. Perhaps our felucca operator had a better offer for a late evening sail.

Another wonderful sunset viewing, followed by one final walk around the garden, and a drink in the bar, ended what had been a perfect long weekend in Egypt. One final view of the Nile from the plane taking us back to London was a bonus.

Part 1 – Cairo can be found at Egypt 2022 – Cairo and Luxor

Articles about my previous visits to Egypt can be found at Siwa Oasis Egypt., Alexandria – Egypt and Hot Air Ballooning – Nile Valley

Egypt 2022 – Cairo and Luxor

Egypt 2022 – Cairo and Luxor

Part 1 – Cairo.

A very special long weekend with Matty B.

I fell in love with Egypt some years ago when I spent 3 magical weeks exploring the country “from Alexandria to Abu Simbel” in the company of a very special Egyptologist, who had attended primary school with Adam Ant – Matty B’s older brother.

I was determined to learn more about Egypt, and acquired a large number of books about Egypt, from history to coffee table pictorial publications to novels – modern and historical. Unfortunately I am a bit of a travel tart, so my attention span moved on to Iran, Eastern Turkey, Hittites, Mesopotamia, Caucasia, the Balkan States, Russia and Iceland – to name a few distractions from Egypt.

Nevertheless, a return to Egypt had always been a dream – though diminishing over the years. Imagine my delight and excitement when Matty B proposed a long weekend in Egypt during my visit to London in 2022.

Matty B could only manage four days away from family and work. For me, a return to Egypt was so magical, it didn’t matter . The best plan was to fly to Cairo late on a Thursday evening, stay in Giza overnight to visit the Pyramids in the morning and spend the rest of the day in Cairo, then fly to Luxor that evening. Matty B had booked us rooms at Mena House with a view of the Pyramids. The Pyramids are lit up at night, and I had planned have a glass of wine looking out over the Pyramids on arrival. That did not happen due to our flight from London arriving three hours late.

I woke on Friday morning to Matty B’s message “hello pyramids”. Diving out of bed to open my curtain, I was quite overcome to see a pyramid looming through the early morning haze – seeing the pyramids for the second time was just as overwhelming as seeing them for the first time.

Breakfast, with not only a view of a pyramid, but to see its reflection in the pool, was a very special experience. I almost forgot to eat.

Matty B and I had a lovely morning in Giza, viewing the pyramids, the Sphinx, the desert and the camels. We also saw, from a short distance, the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) – I had been hoping that it would be open when we visited, but the opening date is now sometime in 2023. The building looked most impressive, and when it finally opens it will be worth another visit to Egypt. GEM will house over 4000 artifacts from Tutenkhamun’s Tomb, along with other collections from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and other museums around Egypt. As GEM is only 2km from the Pyramids, I would be very happy to stay at Mena House again – this time for longer than one night – visiting GEM and seeing the pyramids .

With only an afternoon to spend in Cairo, we had to make every moment count – and we did.

As we had so little time in Cairo, we had considered that we could not do justice to a museum visit. I had spent many happy hours in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir on my previous trip to Egypt, and been quite overwhelmed by the largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities in the world, but we did not have that many hours.

A visit to Egypt without including at least one museum, no matter how little time we had did seem a touch of a sacrifice. We decided that whether or not we could do it justice, we must visit the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, (NMEC) which opened on 3 April 2021. Its collections cover all Egyptian history from prehistoric times to the present day, not just pharaonic time.

The NMEC also contains 20 royal mummies – 18 Kings and 2 Queens dating from the 17th dynasty to the 20th dynasty. The mummies had previously been in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square. In April 2021, in a most spectacular performance – the Pharoah’s Golden Parade – the Mummies were transported from the Egyptian Museum to NMEC.

Descending down by way of a sloping walkway into a dark walled dimly lit hall is supposed to give the feeling of entering a tomb. It didn’t feel like that to me, in part due to the cacaphony emanating from the large number of excited happy schoolchildren, enjoying their heritage. They clearly did not see the sign requesting silence in order to show respect to the mummies.

The display and the signage was excellent and informative. The history of each King and Queen was displayed beside their Mummy. There were some CT scans, and exhibits of items considered necessary for life after death. A most impressive display. I am however torn between feeling so privileged to be able to see the Mummies and learn about the Kings and Queens to feeling that the display of the Mummies is a gross intrusion. The Kings and Queens went to a lot of trouble to prepare for their afterlife, and their tombs were sealed up – they would not have suspected that they would be displayed in this manner. Does it matter? It certainly ensures that they are remembered and after all what better afterlife could you have, being seen and remembered by so many people for so long after death.

LED screens on the floors and walls at the entrance to the Royal Mummies tombs give changing displays. There is a moving frieze above which show pictures of the Royal Mummies – seen left and centre below. Photo credit for image on the right Egyptian Museum Collection.

The Main Hall of the NMEC exhibits items which illustrate the evolution of Egyptian civilisation from Predynastic times through Pharaonic, Greco-Roman, Coptic, Islamic and up to modern day Egypt. In the time available we could do justice to what appeared to be a very comprehensive display of items from each of these periods. contains images from the various civilizations, and a link to Pharoah’s Golden Parade, and is well worth a visit.

Images below: Left Mamluk Minbar from the Cairo Mosque of Abu Bakr bin Mazhar: Centre Islamic door of wood inlaid with ivory: Right Detail from door – the only photos I had time to take in the Main Hall, NMEC.

NMEC contains a lot more than we could see, including an Egyptian Textile Hall. An archaeological site beside NMEC contains a dye house, which dates back to at least AD969-1171.

Naguib Mahfouz is an Egyptian Nobel Prize winning writer, whose work I was introduced to by the special Archaeologist. I have since read a large number of his books, starting with the Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street) set in the Colonial period from 1917 and following three generations from World War 1 until 1952. On my previous visit to Cairo I shared a shisha at El Fishawy, where Mahfouz was said to be a regular, so I was happy to discover that we were having lunch at the Naguib Mahfouz Cafe in the Khan el Khalili – dedicated to the writer after he won the Nobel in 1988. He apparently also frequented this cafe.

Entering the Cafe, we were greeted by Tarboosh wearing staff. The Cafe although modern had an exotic feel, with its old Arab style decor. There were photographs of Mahfouz on the walls, some said to be of him writing in the cafe. The experience was so special that I cannot remember what we ate.

I was looking forward to revisiting the Mosque of Muhammad Ali which is situated inside the Saladin Citadel (a medieval Islamic era fortification) on the site of the Mamluk Palaces. The building of the mosque was commenced by Muhammad Ali Pasha in 1830 and was completed by Abbas Pasha in 1848 after the death of Muhammad Ali.

The mosque was constructed in the Ottoman style and is somewhat reminiscent of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The central dome is surrounded by four small domes and four semicircular domes. The windows around the dome, the ceiling decoration, the chandeliers and the lighting made for a vision splendid. The mosque has two Minbars – the original made of wood with green decorations, and the other made of marble. The Mihrab is most impressive, being three stories high.

Several bridal parties were being photographed in the open Courtyard. Apparently they come there for photos and celebrations – they actually enter into the marriage contract elsewhere.

The clock tower on the north western side of the courtyard contains a clock which is said to have been presented to Muhammad Ali Pasha by King Louis Philippe of France in 1845-46. In return, the Pasha presented to the King an Obelisk of Ramses II from the Luxor Temple. The Obelisk stands, rather sadly, in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. We were told that that clock had never worked, although there had been some attempts to repair it, none had been successful. There is some dispute around the facts – another story is that the presentation of the clock was not connected to the gift of the Obelisk, which had in fact been given to the King prior to the presentation of the clock. Whatever the truth, the clock doesn’t work, and the Obelisk looks totally out of place in the middle of Paris. I would suggest reverse presentations occur. The Obelisk would look so much more at home in Luxor.

No matter how little time is available, a visit to Cairo would not be complete without a visit to Coptic Cairo. Copts were converted to Christianity when St Mark arrived in Egypt in 62CE. Before Islam, the Coptic Orthodox Church was the dominant religion in Egypt, and we were to visit the Coptic St Virgin Mary’s Church, better known as the Hanging Church, (so called because it was built on the southern gate of the Roman Fortress) first built in 690AD.

Entry to the Church is through a courtyard, the walls of which contain modern mosaics depicting biblical scenes. I love old mosaics, particularly Roman, Greek and Byzantium mosaics, although I enjoy viewing all mosaics, and those in the courtyard were interesting. I have written about mosaics previously on this site – see An Obsession with Mosaics and Mosaics: Villa Romana del Casale – Piazza Armerina, Morgantina, Sicily.

I have always enjoyed Coptic Art, the typical features of which are also apparent in Byzantine art. The icons are superb, and those in the Hanging Church are no exception. people generally full front on with flat faces, round wide eyes set well apart, thick dark eyebrows and often appearing rather out of proportion.

I was keen to visit the Street of the Tentmakers – Sharia Khayamiya, which I had missed on my last visit. Traditionally famous for creating applique panels by hand to decorate tents and pavilions, the artisans now also cater for tourists, creating quilts, cushion covers and wall hangings, still hand made. There are very few artisans creating this work these days, as the demand for tents and pavilions has lessened, however those who still do can be seen hand stitching items in their stores.

The Street of the Tentmakers is one of the last medieval markets in Cairo. I found the architecture as interesting as the art of tentmakers. Overhanging latticed balconies bought to mind the female characters in the Cairo Trilogy – women watching life without being seen. The medieval gate of Bab Zuweila was impressive, as was the lighting of a mosque. The motor bikes, the donkey carts and the sheer mass of humanity in the area was not impressive. We risked life and limb to progress a metre in the area.

Fighting our way through a mass of humanity we finally found our driver. So ended a magical day in Cairo.

If you have enjoyed reading this, you may like to read my posts on my earlier trip to Egypt – visiting Alexandria, the Siwa Oasis and hot air ballooning in Luxor.

Marrakech, Morocco.

Marrakech, Morocco.

Marrakech – what a joyous, interesting, dynamic and exciting place to visit. It is a vibrant city, full of colour, activity, beautiful architecture, palaces and wonderful gardens. Its history is fascinating.

The Medina quarter in Marrakech is a UNESCO World Heritage site. What better place to stay than in a Riad in the Medina. The Riad Le Clos des Arts was my choice of accommodation. I arrived in Marrakech very late at night, and as motor vehicles (other than motorcycles) cannot enter the Medina, I was very grateful to find that the Riad management had arranged to have someone waiting at the car park to escort me through the narrow winding lanes to the Riad.

The Riad Le Clos des Arts was a perfect choice. My room was on the ground floor, and felt exotic. Meals were served on the rooftop, near the pool. Sitting there on my first morning listening to the call to prayer from several nearby mosques, contemplating a breakfast of fruit and home made yoghurt, home made bread, savoury and sweet pastries, raw honey, butter and olive oil, cheese and eggs, I was in a very happy place. Where did we ever get the idea that cornflakes or even worse, porridge, was a suitable breakfast.

The Riad, on one of the narrow laneways in the Medina led, via other little laneways, to the Rue Riad Zitoun el Khedim, which in turn led into the Place Djemaa el Fna which is a large square and marketplace in the Medina quarter. After breakfast on my first day in Marrakech, I ventured forth to the Square, which was once a destination along the Sahara Caravan route. The camel trains carried cargoes of spice, ivory and slaves from Timbuktu.

The Square was proclaimed by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001. Juan Goytisolo in a speech defending threatened cultures, delivered on 15 May 2001 said:

“The spectacle of Djemma el Fna is repeated daily and each day is different. Everything changes – voices, sounds, gestures, the public which sees, listens, smells, tastes and touches. The oral tradition is framed by one much vaster – that which we call intangible. The Square, as a physical space, shelters a rich oral and intangible tradition.”

A spectacle it was. Entering the square was an almost surrealist experience. The noise, the kaleidoscope of colour, the activities and the sheer number of people, locals and tourists, required a couple of minutes of contemplation before exploring further. There were numerous market stalls, musicians, henna artists, acrobats, young men with chained performing barbary macaques, snake charmers, fortune tellers and storytellers. The macaques and snakes are protected species in Morocco, but clearly not very well protected.

Although snake charming is a tradition which dates back hundred of years, it is not a tradition that I embrace. Snakes feature in the worst of my nightmares. I am terrified of them and I did not wish to go anywhere near the snake charmers – particularly after an experience in India when I inadvertently stood beside a basket containing a cobra. Seeing that cobra raising itself out of the basket a few inches from my leg was among the most terrifying experiences of my life, and I didn’t want a repeat performance.

The snake charmers were everywhere and impossible to avoid. Even worse, the snakes were not in baskets. I gave them all a wide berth, did not watch and certainly did not take photographs. Unfortunately that did not stop one of the snake charmers from approaching me to demand money for watching their show. I was fortunate that he did not have a snake with him. I was horrified to see snake charmers chasing after people and throwing a hapless snake around their shoulders – apparently because they had been watching a show close up, and had moved on without making a donation.

By night, tables, chairs and food stalls transform Djemma el Fna into a huge outdoor eating area. The smell of the food cooking was very enticing, the aroma of spice filled the air and the noise was greater than it had been during the day.

Marrakech has the largest traditional market (Souk) in Morroco. I had a guide accompany me when I visited the souk, for which I was grateful. I saw a great deal more of areas that I may never have found on my own – or if I had, would never have found my way out.

Whilst in the Souk, I noticed a sign to Le Jardin Secret – the Secret Garden. I had to see this garden, so memorised where it was and returned later to visit it. The garden dates back to the Saadian Dynasty, more than 400 years ago. It had fallen into disrepair by the 1930’s, and abandoned. It was restored, and opened in 2016. Stepping into this garden from the teeming masses in the Souk was like ascending into paradise – calm and peace in the middle of chaos. There are two parts to this garden. A Paradise garden which is a classic Islamic garden, and an exotic garden, the latter representing the Christian garden of Eden.

My first day in Marrakech had been filled with activity, and as evening fell, I was very tempted to stop at one of the stalls which had appeared in the Place Djemaa to try some of the food on offer. There was obviously no wine being served, and since I felt that wine with dinner was called for, to celebrate a most exhilarating day I decided to dine at the Riad. I had just assumed that the Riad would serve wine. It didn’t, but I was served the best Tagine I have ever tasted. Perfectly cooked lamb with a glorious mix of spices. Eating on the rooftop terrace, with the lights of the Medina spread out below and the sounds of the night filtering up was heady enough. Wine was not required. I knew that wine was available at the big hotels, but had seen nowhere during that day where alcohol could be obtained. Research was required for the next evening. In the event, no research was required. At the end of the meal, a waiter approached to tell me that there was a bar, not far from the Riad, where I could get a glass of wine. He marked my map with the location of the bar. My pre-dinner destination for the rest of my stay.

In a laneway, branching off a laneway, which in turn branched off the laneway in which the Riad was situated, I came across the Musee Tiskiwan. This museum contains a collection of North African objects and artefacts of everyday life of the Berber, Sahara and North African people. I only came across this museum because I had got lost on my way to visit the El Badi Palace. I had the museum to myself, and apart from a nagging worry that I may never find my way out of the laneways, I was very happy to have found it. The exhibits were excellent.

Fortunately I found my way out of the laneways and found the El Badi Palace.

Construction of the Palace by Sultan Ahmed al Mansour began in 1578. By the time it was completed it contained over 300 beautifully decorated rooms (gold, turquoise and crystal) a vast courtyard with sunken gardens and reflecting pools. When the Sultan Ismail Ibn Sharif moved the capital from Marrakech to Meknes at the end of the 17th century, he stripped the El Badi Palace of its treasures. Today, the palace is in ruins, but the scale of the grandeur can be imagined when contemplating the size of the courtyard, and sunken gardens. Climbing up onto the ramparts provides extensive views over Marrakech, and to the Atlas Mountains beyond. Storks have claimed the top of the palace walls for their nests – which are huge untidy affairs.

I love Minbars, so was very pleased to find the Koutoubia Minbar, the work of 12th century Cordoban artists, on display at the El Badi Palace. The Minbar was removed from the Koutoubia Mosque in 1962. Like most Minbars I have seen, the Koutoubia Minbar an exquisitely decorated work of Islamic art.

The Saadian Tombs are a short walk from the El Badi Palace – or would have been had my sense of direction not failed me woefully. In my defence, it is difficult to navigate areas where streets are unmarked, the red earth walls surrounding buildings all look the same, and I did try to take a short cut through a pleasant looking alleyway, which became rather grim and felt sinister, the further I got into it. My stroll became a power walking experience.

The alleyway at the point where the power walking began

The entry to the tombs is through a rather nondescript laneway, which emerges into a lovely courtyard garden, which contains two mausoleums, which externally give no hint of the beauty of the rooms. The tombs in the mausoleums house the remains of seven Sultans and around 62 family members. The Saadian’s ruled Morocco from 1549 to 1659. The tombs were sealed off and hidden after the fall of the dynasty, and were only rediscovered in 1917.

Although the queue to see the tombs in the mausoleums was long and slow moving, there was plenty to enjoy in the gardens, including tombs of less important people. A workman was repairing patterned stone mosaic tiles in the courtyard – I acquired a small tile for a reasonable price – one which was being discarded – or so the workman said. That tile is now affixed to one of my art poles – bit of a comedown for the tile, from Marrakech to suburban Sydney.

I am not a patient person in queues. I have been known to walk away from something I really wished to see – the cut off the nose to spite the face syndrome. Thank goodness I did not walk away from the Saadian Tombs. The beauty of their decoration was a little like the decoration in the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Carrara marble, ornamental vaulting decorated with gold, zellij tiles – geometrically patterned stone mosaics. The first of the two mausoleums contains three rooms. The hall of Twelve Columns is the most ornate of the rooms, and contains the tomb of Sultan Ahmed al-Mansur. The Mihrab Room contains a prayer niche facing Mecca, and the Room of 3 Niches. The smaller mausoleum is much more simply decorated, although its lower walls were decorated with beautiful faience mosaics.

The Saadian Tombs are historically significant and so exquisite, that I wanted time to contemplate what I had learnt and what I had seen. It was time to find the bar, rather improbably called the Kozybar. It was nearby, and its balcony provided great views across the El Badi Palace, the storks nests on top of the walls and across rooftops to the Koutoubia Mosque. It was a perfect place to relax The wine was excellent.

Strolling back to the Riad, I missed the laneway turnoff, and ended up in the Djemaa El Fnaa, which had become one giant outdoor restaurant. I blame the wine for my navigation fail.

I visited an extraordinary botanical garden, Le Jardin Majorelle which was created by Jacques Majorelle over a period of 40 years, from the early 1920’s. Majorelle was an avid plant collector, and the garden contains 300 species of plants from 5 continents, and include banana trees, coconut palms, bougainvilleas and groves of bamboo, along with many varieties of cacti and succulents. The plantings are enhanced by fountains, marble pools of water lilies, and channels of running water.

Le Jardin Majorelle is the most colourful garden I have ever visited – not just the plants and flowers but also from the bright berber blue, orange, purple and yellow plant pots lining walkways, and the Moorish Art Deco Villa in the gardens, also painted berber blue and yellow.

I felt as if I was a detail in a magnificent painting (like the donor in the corner), and indeed Majorelle was an artist – it is said the garden composition is that of the composition of a major painting.

The Villa and Gardens had been abandoned after the death of Majorelle. They were acquired by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge in 1981, which saved them from demolition and re-development.

I spent my final day in Marrakech visiting the Bahia Palace, then wandering around the Medina.

The Bahia Palace was built between 1866 and 1867, and sits on 2 acres of garden. The Palace contains 150 rooms, all beautifully decorated. Some of the rooms contain zellig tiled fireplaces and floors. There are carved cedarwood and stucco lintels, and highly decorative ceilings. Stained glass was used in some rooms, said to be the first time it had been used in Islamic Moroccan style buildings. Visualising the plain light coloured walls and ceilings any house I have lived in, I felt deprived.

From the Bahia Palace, my wanderings took me to the Kasbah Mosque, built in 1190, the Koutoubia Mosque, built in 1158, (and the main landmark in Marrakech with a Minaret of 77 metres) the Koutoubia Gardens and along many laneways, alleyways and streets.

A glass or two of wine at the Kozybar, enjoying watching the storks coming back to their nests and the sun setting over the High Atlas Mountains was a very fitting conclusion to a trip which stimulated all the senses.

If you enjoyed reading this, you may wish to read about my day trip from Marrakech over the High Atlas Mountains to Ait Ben Haddou at

Tivoli – Italy

Tivoli – Italy

Gardens of Villa D’Este and Villa Adriana Archaeological Site

Gardens of all kinds attract me like a moth to flame. Grand, monumental, historical, famous, botanical, natural or pruned to within an inch of its life, or beautifully designed small domestic gardens – each of these types of garden are places in which I find peace, joy and happiness.

Happiness is an Archaeological site to explore.

Tivoli, a small town about 30km from Rome, contains two UNESCO World Heritage sites – Villa D’Este, which has a very grand monumental garden, containing more fountains than I have ever seen in one garden and Villa Adriana (Hadrians Villa) which is an archaeological site.

Gardens of Villa D’Este

Visiting the gardens of the Villa D’Este was a most joyful and happy experience. I felt as if I had gone down a rabbit hole and entered an architectural wonderland. The garden is on several levels, covering around 4ha, with tree and hedge lined avenues, gardens with around 51 fountains, with hundreds of jets, water spouts and over 60 waterfalls (numbers not verified, but I can verify that there were more fountains, waterfalls and water features than I have ever seen in one garden.) Sculptures and cherubs abound, all making this garden feel like a giant fantasyland. Iris and roses were flowering profusely adding splashes of colour.

Villa d’Este was designed and laid out for Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este by Pirro Ligorio. Work on the Villa and its gardens commenced in 1550 and took 20 years to complete, and is a splendid example of a High Renaissance garden.

Wandering along avenues, and down stairs and paths, my exploration of the garden felt like a never ending journey through paradise. One of the more fantastical fountains is the Rometta Fountain which is meant to represent ancient Rome.

I loved the tree lined Avenue of 100 fountains, so called because there are around 100 carved fountain heads, through which water falls into a long canal.

The garden covers an area known as Valle Gaudente – the Valley of Pleasure. What an apt place to create a garden – my visit was a pleasure – although pleasure is only a small part of the experience. Emerging from the rabbit hole, back to my reality was a less than optimum experience.

Villa Adriana – Hadrian’s Villa

Hadrian was born in 76CE and was the Roman Emperor 117CE to 138CE, when he died. He is buried in the Castel Saint’Angelo in Rome.

He was responsible for building projects throughout the Roman Empire, with the Pantheon in Rome being his most substantial achievement. He was also responsible for the building a defensive wall, (Hadrians Wall) marking the northern limit of Roman Britain.

I have visited the Pantheon on numerous occasions and seen a few of the remains of Hadrians Wall. During the dark days of the plague, to assist motivating myself to get out of bed, I completed a virtual walk alongside Hadrians Wall, which during the course of the walk, provided extensive views of the wall.

How could I resist a visit to the ruins and archaeological site of one of the places Hadrian called home.

The Villa complex was built between 118CE and 121CE over 120 hectares. As befitting a Roman Emperor, it was opulent – clearly no humble abode – as the plan indicates.

Plan Hadrian’s Villa – Photo Credit Alamy.

The Villa was Hadrian’s retreat from Rome. Wandering around the site I could imagine the grandeur, despite the ruins. Reflecting Hadrians scholarship and extensive travels, the complex of seven classical buildings were based on Greek and Roman classical architecture. The pools, canal, baths and sculptures complete the “international” style of architecture.

The remains of the various water features and sculptures give a better idea of how grand this country retreat was. Makes my family’s country retreat, a bach at the beach on the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand, seem like a squalid hut.

The Serapeon of Canopus was supposedly an Egyptian style canal. There was a Theatre with a round colonnaded pool, baths and Hadrians swimming pool – the Poercile.

Above: Serapeon Canopus

In Hadrians day, there were extensive gardens – landscaped, wilderness areas and farmland. Today very little of the area contains gardens. There are large expanses of grass, numerous varieties of trees and shrubs, and some large areas of wildflowers, which on the day I visited were a glorious mass of colour.

My visits to archaeological sites have always proved to be a great learning experience. I research before I visit, and research and learn in more depth after a visit. The visit to Villa Adriana was no exception.

When I came to the end of my day in Tivoli, I was happy to be returning to Rome and its glories – if I had been returning home, the black dog would have not have only been breathing down my neck, it would have been perched on my shoulder.

Gujarat, India. Part 2

Gujarat, India. Part 2

Dasada, Little Rann of Kutch, Patan, Modhera and Ahmedabad

Dasada and the Little Rann of Kutch

Dasada is a small rural town, and a gateway to the little Rann of Kutch. The Little Rann is a salt desert, and part of the Great Rann. Despite its name, it is a very large salt desert of approximately 30,000 square metres.

I love camels. I was very happy to see camels, camels and more camels around Dasada. Camels alone, camels pulling carts, camels with beads around their necks, all looking as haughty and superior as only camels can.

The Rann Riders Resort, near Dasada is a perfect place to stay to explore the area, for many reasons. The resort is eco friendly. The owners very actively assist the local communities. They care about conservation and sustainable tourism.

My accommodation at Rann Riders was a Kooba house of the Bajania, which I loved. There were also Bhunga structures of the Rabari shepherds. There are other options, but I loved my little house.

A jeep safari, run by Rann Riders into the the Little Rann, proved to be a magical and inspirational experience. The people from Rann Riders have a superior level of care for the environment, and knowledge of the geology and of the wildlife which inhabits the area. I felt so privileged to see Asiatic wild ass – an endangered species. The birdlife would make the most experienced birdwatchers feel that they had died and gone to their heaven. My visit was not during the optimum bird watching time, but I still experienced the joy of viewing the few remaining flamingo’s in what was left of the wet season water.

Among the local people Rann Riders were assisting were the Mir, a nomadic people, who were living in temporary “homes” nearby. The Mir women created artwork with beads, and sold their creations by the roadside of their temporary dwellings. Rann Riders, on their website, acknowledge that, with the design intervention of some of their guests, (see below*) the Mir women were able to create jewellery, using their beads, which people would buy.

I shall never forget these beautiful women and children, and shall always feel so privileged to have met such resilient women.

Patan and Modhera

The drive from Dasada to Ahmedabad takes about 2.5 hours – or it would were it not for the need to stop and explore stepwells and temples along the way.

Stepwells are unique to India, and are subterranean water storeage and resource systems. These wells were constructed in Gujurat from around 600AD, and later spread to other parts of India. Stepwells evolved from pits in the ground to multi levels of elaborately carved sculptures – artistic and architectural masterpieces.

The Rani-ki-vav is a UNESCO World Heritage site at Patan, on the banks of the Saraswati River. It is constructed in the form of an inverted temple, and has seven levels of stairs, each level containing beautiful sculptures – said to be about 500 principal sculptures and many more minor sculptures. It was not difficult to descend down the levels and although the climb up was more onerous, I spent time on each level examining the sculptures, so really only ascended one level at a time.

Detail of a very small number of the sculptures.

The Modhera Sun Temple is a shrine dedicated to the Hindu sun god, Surya, and was constructed in the early 11th century on the banks of the Pushpavati River. The Temple is made up of three parts, Gudhamandapa – shrine hall, Sabhamandapa – assembly hall and Surya Kund – stepwell.

The temple is an excellent example of Solanaki style architecture, magnificently carved inside and out with gods, goddesses, birds and beasts and flowers. I could easily have spent more time examining these carvings in order to learn more about the gods and goddesses.

The Surya Kund contains several platforms and terraces, which include numerous small shrines. This stepwell was much easier to descend into, and particularly to ascend than was the Rani-ki-Vav. The Surya Kund would not provide relief from the heat as the Rani-ki-Vav does since the platforms and terraces are more open to the sun.

Modhera Sun Temple. Rear Shrine hall: Front Assembly hall.


Ahmedabad, situated on the banks of the Subarmati River is the largest city in Gujurat, is named after Sultan Ahmed Shah, who founded the city in 1411. Ahmedabad was an important business centre during the Mughal period, and was home to Mahatma Ghandi for several years. His home is now a museum, the Subarmati Ashram. Ghandi arrived in Ahmedabad in May, 1915. He started spinning at the Ashram in 1918. “The spinning wheel and hand-woven cloth or khadi gradually became emblematic of Ghandi’s economic, social and political ideals. He believed that the demise of handicrafts and cottage industries, in particular the art of spinning, had led to the decline of village life..” (Ghandi, Peter Ruhe, Phaidon – page 68).

The Ashram was far from serene, with large number of people viewing the interior and many more relaxing in the grounds on the river bank. Not a place for quiet contemplation

Ahmedabad is India’s first World Heritage City. A heritage walk through the old quarter of Ahmedabad showcases the various architectural styles, which blends Hindu and Islamic influences including Islamic monuments, and Hindu and Jain Temples. The carved wooden houses are unique, and athough one should not covet thy neighbour’s ox (or whatever), I certainly coveted these houses.

The streets in the old quarter provided the opportunity to observe day to day life in that area. People in temples and at shrines, women making bread, a woman ironing and cows and goats milling about.

I was a little startled to observe a palanquin, covered by fabric to ensure the occupant was not able to be observed, passing by. It reminded me that Ahmedabad has a large culturally significant muslim population. It occurred to me that if I had a palanquin when I was a teenager in a gossipy New Zealand village it would have saved me from those lace curtain twitchers in that village.

A palanquin passing by.

The Sidi Saiyyed Mosque is a beautiful building, built in 1573. It has an exquisite Tree of Life stone latticework covered window, the beauty of which adds to the architectural splendour of the mosque.

Having “collected” photographs of doors in many places I have visited over the years, I managed to add to my collection in Ahmedabad.

The Calico Museum of Textiles in Ahmedabad contains superb textiles dating back to the 15th century. It was founded in 1949, and contains a magnificent collection of antique and modern Indian textiles. Even a most unpleasant bossy attendant did not totally diminish the experience, but she certainly did not make a wise career choice.