Saturday, June 8, 2013

Incredible India!

Rajasthan incorporating New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. Pics & words by Barry Greville-Eyres


Men in uniform on the streets of Jaipur - music on the move! Rajasthan is culturally rich and has artistic and cultural traditions which reflect the ancient Indian way of life.

Rajasthan is pre-eminent in quarrying and mining in India. The Taj Mahal was built from the white marble which was mined from a town called Makrana. Jodhpur or red sandstone is mostly used in monuments, important buildings and residential buildings. The two materials are decoratively combined, with exquisite effect, in the picture above.




A Palace with a view! An impressive garden and water feature seen from the Amber Fort
Intricate designs at the Amber Palace - Jaipur

The blogger's travel companions ... remarkable ladies capable of bringing any man, beast or behemoth to its knees!


Rajasthan attracted 14% of total foreign visitors during 2009–2010 which is the 4th highest among Indian states. It is 4th also in domestic tourist visitors. Endowed with natural beauty and a great history, tourism is a flourishing industry in Rajasthan. The palaces of Jaipur and Ajmer-Pushkar, the lakes of Udaipur, the desert forts of Jodhpur, Taragarh Fort (Star Fort) in Bundi, and Bikaner and Jaisalmer rank among the most preferred destinations in India for many tourists both Indian and foreign.


Toasting the wannabe Maharajah! A superb day out with Elefantastic Elephant Tours - Jaipur - highly recommended!


The Taj Mahal attracts a large number of tourists. UNESCO documented more than 2 million visitors in 2001, including more than 200,000 from overseas. A two tier pricing system is in place, with a significantly lower entrance fee for Indian citizens and a more expensive one for foreigners. Most tourists visit in the cooler months of October, November and February. Polluting traffic is not allowed near the complex and tourists must either walk from parking lots or catch an electric bus. Lists of recommended travel destinations often feature the Taj Mahal, which also appears in several listings of seven wonders of the modern world, including the recently announced New Seven Wonders of the World, a recent poll with 100 million votes.

The Taj Mahal "crown of palaces", is a white marble mausoleum located in Agra. It was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in loving memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It’s widely recognized as "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage". It is regarded by many as the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Islamic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish and Indian architectural styles. The construction began around 1632 and was completed around 1653, employing thousands of artisans and craftsmen primarily from Persia/Iran. While earlier Mughal buildings were primarily constructed of red sandstone, Shah Jahan promoted the use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones, and buildings under his patronage reached new levels of refinement.


The calligraphy on the Great Gate reads "O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you."  It was created by calligrapher Abd ul-Haq in 1609. Shah Jahan conferred the title of "Amanat Khan" upon him as a reward for his "dazzling virtuosity."  Near the lines from the Qur'an at the base of the interior dome is the inscription, "Written by the insignificant being, Amanat Khan Shirazi." Much of the calligraphy is composed of florid thuluth script, made of jasper or black marble, inlaid in white marble panels. Higher panels are written in slightly larger script to reduce the skewing effect when viewed from below. The calligraphy found on the marble cenotaphs in the tomb is particularly detailed and delicate.

The minarets of the Taj Mahal, which are each more than 40 metres tall, display the designer's penchant for symmetry. They were designed as working minarets — a traditional element of mosques, used by the muezzin to call the Islamic faithful to prayer. Each minaret is effectively divided into three equal parts by two working balconies that ring the tower. At the top of the tower is a final balcony surmounted by a chattri that mirrors the design of those on the tomb. The chattris all share the same decorative elements of a lotus design topped by a gilded finial. The minarets were constructed slightly outside of the plinth so that, in the event of collapse, (a typical occurrence with many tall constructions of the period) the material from the towers would tend to fall away from the tomb.


Albert Hall - Jaipur boasts an excellent natural history museum built in 1886 by Sir Swinton Jacob and has a rare collection of artifacts and craft items such as metalwork, ivory carvings, pieces of jewellery, textile, pottery and paintings. 


A night out at the Rajasthan Cultural Centre - authentic vegetarian cuisine


Monkey Temple on the outskirts of Jaipur


Worshippers at the Monkey Temple


Behind the fa├žade of Hawa Mahal or "Palace of Winds" in Jaipur. The Gurjar Pratihar Emphire acted as a barrier for Arab invaders from the 8th to the 11th century. The chief accomplishment of the empire lies in its successful resistance to the foreign invasions from the west. The Chandra Mahal can be seen silhouetted against the skyline. 

Rajasthan, known as "the land of kings," covers 10.4% of India by land area and is located in the northwest of the country. Jaipur is the capital and the largest city of the state.   


Rajasthan's formerly independent kingdom created a rich architectural and cultural heritage, seen even today in their numerous forts and palaces (Mahals and Havelis) which are enriched by features of Islamic and Jain architecture.

Rajasthan is famous for its forts, intricately carved temples, and decorated havelis, which were built by Rajput kings in pre-Muslim era Rajasthan. Rajasthan's Jaipur Jantar Mantar,  Dliwara Temples, Chittorgarh Fort, Lake Palace, miniature paintings in Bundi, and numerous city palaces and havelis are an important part of the architectural heritage of India. Jaipur, the Pink City, is noted for the ancient houses made of a type of sand stone dominated by a pink  or red hue.

A memorable pic of the gals at the Hawa Mahal - Jaipur!

Madhavendra Palace which overlooks the city of Jaipur.


Perfect symmetry at the Madhavendra Palace

Domestic tourists appreciate local sights and delights!

Exquisite gardens at the Amber Palace


Home visit and authentic Rajasthan cuisine, features of the Elefantastic Elephant Tours experience.

Originating for the Marwar region of the state is the concept Marwari Bhojnalaya, or vegetarian restaurants, today found in many part of India, which offer vegetarian food of the Marwari people.

Rajasthani cooking was influenced by both the war-like lifestyles of its inhabitants and the availability of ingredients in this arid region. Food that could last for several days and could be eaten without heating was preferred. Scarcity of water and fresh green vegetables have all had their effect on the cooking. famous dishes include bajre ki roti (millet bread) and lashun ki chutney (hot garlic paste).

Rajasthan's economy is primarily agricultural and pastoral. Wheat and barley are cultivated over large areas, as are pulses, sugarcane, and oilseeds. Cotton and tobacco are the state's cash crops. Rajasthan is among the largest producers of edible oils in India and the second largest producer of oilseeds. It is also the biggest wool-producing state in India and the main opium producer and consumer.

Welcome to my Rajasthan boudoir!  The state is known for its traditional and colourful art. The block prints, tie and dye prints, Bagaru prints, Sanganer prints, and Zari embroidery are major export products from Rajasthan.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

An Idjit's Guide to Surviving the World's Hottest DevZones

Text and pictures by Blogger 

Friends and gatekeepers - young Iraqi men keen to contribute to building a new nation

Risk Management Consultants or Personal Security Details - by no means an 'optional extra' but a fact of life in conflict affected countries

This personal, tongue-in-cheek piece intends to ‘illuminate’ the often non-committal Rambo-esque; dry, compartmentalized and deadly serious side of development work (including ‘life support’ – the burgeoning safety and security industry that rolls on, as a necessity, from the Iraqs, Timors, Afghanistans, DRCs, and Sudans to others waiting in the wings) that most people on the 'outside' find so difficult to understand and relate to. It also aims to demystify many of development assistance perceptions that prevail …. Exotic locales; swanning around on the old man’s yacht; outrageous salaries; rip-roaring parties with wild women; endless, sun-drenched days with frosted glasses of amber brew; extended vacations …..

Good humoured South Africans never in short supply and always game for a tipple and chat

It’s the airport terminals and in-bound flights, to devzones, that are the most fascinating and telling. They are often characterized by a deafening silence, grim-faced men mainly and occasional women where one can sense the effort and see the toll that it exacts, especially on the ‘heart-on-the sleeve men’, as they steel themselves to change gear and persona. They become displaced persons, existing in a ‘transient twilight zone’ of fluctuating emotion, guilt, adrenalin and for the younger bucks - testosterone. Separation, from family and loved ones, ushers in its own anxieties. A very few quaff down their parting drinks knowing full well that the next few months will be pretty parched. Scattered thoughts, anchored in the future, mindful of missing important, upcoming milestones and those less so – preparing, again and again, for alienation from familiarity.

Rotations or tours of duty, that range from 6 weeks to many months on end – some as long as a year, surreptitiously sap the vitality and resolve of most. When one strips away the hype; false bravado and BS; idealism and romanticism; no matter what one says ….. it’s a tough and often lonely gig‼ One can only imagine how high attrition rates actually are… hard wearing in so many respects …..

In addition to the more obvious occupational health and safety (OHS) hazards including pesky insect-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever; stomach and parasitic ailments; respiratory tract infections courtesy of poor air quality/pollution; hair loss and greying; weight gain through inactivity and ever-changing eating habits; nagging insomnia; and the potential of physical injury particularly in conflict countries there are also the more sinister, psycho-social risks associated with abnormal environments. 

An extract from a previous posting Moving from Red to Green sheds some light on life-after-work in Baghdad's infamous Green Zone. For those so inclined, there is also a hectic ‘expat’ party scene rotated through various embassies and company compounds with copious amounts of alcohol and snack foods. They are aberrations as with men outweighing the fairer sex, every woman is in ‘red and beautiful’, has her night – day and way as they hold court over ambitious, restless and hungry hunters. Having attended a few of these events my fascination, for this side-show sub-culture, soon faded as ‘worn’ events, conversations and people began to roll into one. The Alpha-male set, with its own strict pecking order, ranges seemingly from: senior diplomatic staff / corporate life support managers / project directors and managers able to ‘keep’ women and/or offer employment opportunities for the ‘nomadic groupies’; to jaded, know-it-all senior citizen/geriatric consultants 60s plus – who are perhaps best placed spending time with their grandchildren; to Iraqi vets who seek to entertain and impress nubile and less so ‘newbies’ with their own brand of ‘war stories’ to blatant opportunists, and to the dull, wallflowers like yours truly.

Coping strategies that work for most include:  

  • Routine, routine, routine … conflict countries or environments are often fluid and dynamic, where routine and predictability are often disrupted by security concerns and restricted physical movement. Typically, a ‘laager’ or 'circling of the wagons mentality' best countered by developing your own personal routine which helps to ground and centre one in the prevailing reality;
  • Develop hobbies and interests, solitary or sociable, beyond work – a 24/7 work orientation is not sustainable and a healthy work-life balance is essential;
  • Refresh home-based relationships regularly using information and communication technologies - they are vital life lines that provide purpose and meaning in an often 'crazed' world;     
  •  Exercise is the narcotic/life style of choice and an important cure-all, particularly in the hottest devzones;
  • Keep your wits about you and heed the advice of experienced colleagues and security professionals;

Balls, baskets and blast walls in Baghdad!

  • Develop and maintain an excellent sense of humour;
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff ….not to say that one should compromise on personal values, integrity, ethics and standards;
  • Maintain perspective at all costs;
  • Grab as much rest and down time as possible but at the same time WORK and PLAY HARD; 
  • Engage fully in the total environment with an emphasis on BALANCE;
  • Give, to local communities, as much as you take through any form of volunteerism;

Embracing frienships, national custom and tradition

  • Beware the expat curse and whereas it is wonderful, warm, fuzzy and relaxing to be ‘cocooned’ by all things familiar there is also the real danger of losing perspective by relying, too much, on the 'expat world' which is fraught with its own dangers and complexities. An expat, over-reliance often results in a 'separation' from the national context with an associated we-them orientation.  In so doing, one relinquishes opportunities to discover an entirely new world of relationships; cultural diversity and appreciation - depth and insights that are so integral to operating as an effective development practitioner. Maintaining a safe and professional distance, on the the relationship front, with country nationals as well as expats, is very prudent. This avoids relationships escalating into  'incestuous' interludes that only serve to feed the rampant rumor-mill irrespective of veracity. 

Ex-patting in moderation.....

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dili 2 Kabul

Words and pictures by Barry Greville-Eyres 
Dili - Baucau Timor-Leste - still so much unfinished work....
The contrasts and milieus could not be more marked and adjusting from a sub-tropical island paradise, with unfettered personal and physical movement, to a landlocked Asian, age-old frontier battle ground with real security concerns and severely restricted access requires a manual mind shift in more ways than one. The United Nations Integrated Mission to Timor-Leste (UNMIT) withdrawal was all but completed by December 2012, whereas the 2014 NATO/ISAF drawdown in Afghanistan is slowly switching into gear amid news reports and speculation that there will be a follow-up support facility of sorts.  
A prized pic - evocative and captivating at a recent meeting with members of the Lashkar Gah Provincial Council - Helmand

 With the onset of spring, after a relatively mild winter, the ‘fighting season’ is well underway. Many Afghan experts (if there is such a thing) paint a low road or worst case scenario post-2014. In spite of the lull before the proverbial storm, I revel in the ‘here and now’ and prefer to be blissfully miss or uninformed – speculative and emotive energies are best re-directed towards doing a meaningful and constructive job day in and out. We have our very own ‘patch’ to take care of and its important to do so remaining focussed, objective and ever hopeful. 

The cut and thrust of conquest - epic battles fought over centuries

Omnipresent is the staggering/monumental history of Afghanistan and the greater region – the cut and thrust of conquest – melange upon melange of marauding invaders painstakingly plodding across limitless lunarscapes or sweeping off the steppes on horseback or elephant. One cannot but feel breathless and humbled by the broader geo-political significance of the Middle East and Asia. From a western perspective, to marvel at how the puzzle emerges, with clarity and understanding, piece by piece. 

History, repeating itself, with systematic monotony

 Initial forays eastwards from civilization’s cradle, the Fertile Crescent – Mesopotamia and at the centre of it all and the primeval constant … the overwhelming desires to conquer and endure. Small tribes and communities ‘exiling’ themselves from the Silk Road, the infamous east-west thoroughfare, in flight and fight mode often retreating into mountainous refuges to be lost and re-discovered as a consequence of ever-changing alliances.

The Silk Road
From the benign spread of Buddhism (5th – 8thcentury AD); to Islamic ascendency and its exquisite accoutrements including poetry, arts, culture, music, infrastructure, agronomy with formal settlements, towns, cities, and mosques (8th – 12th century AD); to the Mongol invasion where sedentary, formalized settlements, places of worship and advanced, century old irrigation and farming systems were obliterated, following a scorched earth policy, from the landscape in totality.

This is so vividly depicted by Sergei Bodrov, in his epic film Mongol - Temujin, which renders a rousing account of the life and times of Genghis Khan – founder, Great Khan, and emperor of notorious Mongol empire (1162 – 1227). A Mongolian proverb - Do not scorn a weak cub; He may become the brutal tiger – immortalizes the legendary Genghis Khan.

Spring time in Kabul with bio-physical barriers blighting the urban landscape - blast walls and barbed wire in the foreground and surrounding snow-capped mountains behind

Tagged as the 'Graveyard of Empires' Afghanistan remains at the mercy and epicentre of regional warmogers including Russia, Iran and Pakistan. A brief interlude of Afghan peace and prosperity (1929 - 1979) was shattered by an all out Soviet invasion numbering approximately 80,000 troops. What followed was a ludicrous attempt to exert power and control over the centre - Kabul and over  20,000 diverse and isolated villages populated by battle-hardened freedom fighters resisting an other-worldly ideology, imposed by nonbelievers. Toss into the mix US-backed mujahideen forces and what resulted was a conflagration in which over a million Afghans lost their lives mainly due to land mines. This was followed by the 1990s Afghan civil war, the rise and fall of the fundamentalist Taliban government and now, the ongoing UN Security Council-ISAF/NATO concocted Operation Enduring Freedom.

Renewal, reconstruction and economic development feature prominently as hopes and expectations, of the Kabul government for 2013 and beyond, by many Afghans

The agricultural sector needs to be restored to its former glory - the economic engine that powers, nurtures and drives life in Afghanistan
Celebrating success and progress in Kabul - recently contructed high rise, high density accommodation units

Snow-struck in Kabul's Green Village - one of the countless compounds providing secure accommodation for the posse of civilians working in the capital city
Kabul-based compound accommodation

Gypsy Kings and Queens in Kabul

Kabul 2 Dili brace yourself......


Dollar Beach - Timor-Leste premier snorkeling site with pristine coral reefs on the outskirts of Dili
Old stomping ground and drinking hole on the Dili waterfront ..... unforgettable!


Old tramping ground - iconic Cristo Rei made to look infinitesimal when viewed from the ring of mountains habouring Dili and surrounds

Sheilas and blokes that made up Dili's vibrant expat and development assistance community

Stairway to health, happiness and heavenly Cristo Rei!