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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Chasing the Portugese ..Malaca

Chasing the Portuguese :Malacca  

on April 1511 eighteen Portuguese ships had  sailed from Goa on the west coast of India which was a Portuguese colony .
Alfonse de Albuquerque headed the mission and reached the straits of Malacca and took over the sultanate ofMalacca and  ruling it till 1641 when the Dutch would take it from them, they would then rule till 1798 and then the British would till 1946 and then it would become part of Malaysia .

The Portuguese would go on to china to take over Macau and Timor in Indonesia as their colonies from Malacca  .

.Having born to a family from Calicut with links to the zamorins who fought the Portuguese bitterly and later having lived for a better part of my  life in Cochin with a rich Portuguese history and several visits to Goa I was eager to visit Malacca specially after I went to Macau recently .

It was almost like chasing the Portuguese !

History is infused in our souls we just need to reflect back to understand our  present,
 one needs to savor the past  to the living of the present
Places like Malacca are visible signs of such history where the sites, the people, the architecture ,the cuisine have all been churned through the mills of time  ,
Travelling to such places become full only when we digest this perspective,
our imagination should be allowed to float back in a time machine when the very streets would have thundered with the clopping sounds of horseback Portuguese and their war cries or their elegant courts and buildings or the fine food that was served or the nimble feet which danced in those courts
So this month when I was in Kuala Lumpur I made it a point to make a quick trip to Malacca .
Express luxury buses  sped one in two hours from KL to Malacca a distance of 148 km
 I had to reach Tasik Bandar Selatan bus station of KL in its outskirts to get them so  I took a taxi
Cab drivers have always been excellent conversation material for me,
  this young man who drove me  was into philosophy of life ,I was spellbound by his convictions and clarity of thought .

TBS stand was  constructed like an airport ,the bus was spacious roomy and comfortable ,and we reached Malacca.
 I hopped into another cab  to take me to the historical tourist center, he left me in a square dripping with history
There were buildings , churches , flowing river ,cemeteries ,museums ,and busy traffic all around and it was thronging with tourists  children romantic newlyweds and colourful rickshaws waiting for custom ,
the buildings were mostly Dutch in origin some were Portuguese specially the St Pauls Church in Bukit st Paul ,
I made the climb to the small hill and it offered a magnificent view of the port city
the breeze was soothing as I explored the red sandstone buildings standing with dignity
the church of st Paul with a part of it a wreck a
I ventured into a contemptory museum of artefacts belonging to the Governors of Malacca
The real Portuguese settlement was some distance away I heard
On descending the hill I saw the epitaphs and memorial stones of the Dutch cemetery
 If one had time one could read the stones in detail and paint a picture of the life lying below in death but I just had none
I came down to enter the famous legendary Jonker walk
This was a road lined with shops ,Chinese temples restaurants mosques and churches .it was crowded and busy and by evening it would be a restricted area for vehicles turning into a hawkers paradise and a walkers delight
I walked the whole length my senses filled with colour sounds and delighted with the cacophony
There is always so much life in such market places where one could observe people and their myriad body languages and goods strewn in such array that the market is a microcosm of the macro world,
I love to sit in a sideway café in such places sipping  my cafe latte and biting  into a cookie while I watched the world go by 
.I was just part of the furniture with my camera recording for posterity and my mind being imprinted by millions of sensory pings .

I prefer to to travel to places of special interest like Malacca alone as any company would break the spell
By the time I retraced my steps from the far end dusk was slowly descending down and lights were twinkling the street quickened its activity and came into more of its life as it became a pedestrian paradise ,hawkers expertly unfolded their temporary awnings and the roads narrowed while new shops became open it was like the metamorphosis of a butterfly from a larva as Malacca unfolded its beauty to the beholder
Hunger pangs were hitting me in full force as I had skipped my lunch so far for a scrawny cookie and coffee and I looked around for a Portuguese speciality restaurant,the place was full of Chinese ,Malay ,nyonya places to eat but the Portuguese had clearly stayed away
 I even entered an upmarket quiet restaurant  attracted by its ambience but made a quick diplomatic exit when I saw a menu which would never satiate a glutton like me as it was for nibblers and for a price that would empty half my wallet too
Finally I did land one by providence in a side street
After a satisfied tucking in of fiery chicken vindaloo and rice which any self-respecting Goan cook would not feel ashamed of, and  washing it down with an ice cold sprite to cool my burnt insides 
I let out a belch to pollute the Malacca air and quickened my pace to a cab which took me back to the bus station and uneventful trip back to KL



Frank Serpico was a New York Policeman in the seventies ,he was initially in the uniformed division later moving into the plainclothes division ,
These detectives usually wore disguises or dressed as peddlers hawkers drug addicts and winos or respectable businessmen masquerading to find out truths ,
Serpico was a master in this and started excelling in his job but he finds out most of his colleagues were getting regular payoffs from the organized crime network in the city he knew that crime could be wiped out of New York and was not done so because the police were corrupt ,
he desists from taking shares offered by his colleagues and reveals the happenings to the commission investigating police corruption and naturally becomes singled out by his compatriots .
there are even attempts to ease him off ,his personal life gets entangled in his stress and his fiancée leaves him with a broken relationship
Once during a drug bust he gets shot in the face as the others fail to protect him ,
he recovers gets police medal and a disability pension reveals all to the commission and later retires to somewhere in Switzerland to lead the rest of his life as he is a marked man in USA .
tis story of a honest police officer brave and good in his job who stood for the right but got victimized was written as a story and later filmed .
Al Pacino does a great job as Serpico himself initially full shaven and then as a handsome bearded young man and later ona as a stressed out bearded bedraggled man at his wits end .
the music and BGM are excellent
a most watchable film for me and I want to keep this as a last film for 2014

Monday, December 29, 2014

Swell Sydney

The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney took off at 11.30 pm ,it was a bit cramped for the long haul but we settled down with our  tablet entertainments ,in the morning as we descended I looked out to see the famous landmarks of Sydney but found it nowhere in the flight path .

Sydney Airport was nothing much to talk about as we passed through immigration after a long wait ,we took a cab to Parramatta a suburb where we would be staying for around four days as we had some work in that area .
It was here in 1788 that the early immigrants from England had arrived most were inmates of crowded British jails for Sydney was initially a penal colony .
They found out that the natives of Australia the Aborigines had been living here for centuries ,slowly the plains of new south wales attracted more immigrants ad Sydney  became what it is today a bustling modern city with the iconic Opera house proudly showing its profile facing an emerald sea and inlet to its  famous  harbor and its  coat hanger shaped memorial bridge

The bridge is another iconic marvel of engineering a delight to watch it standing with dignity amongst the cruising ships and flying gulls

West mead in Parramatta was more of a residential area with a lot of expatriates notably Indians ,we had booked into Wesley lodge opposite West mead Hospital ,the hotel was comfortable but had no lifts or room boys and one had to lug the heavy bags to the third floor which left us exhausted ,it was summer in Sydney and the whole of down under and it was warm and a bit humid too  but by afternoon it became cloudy and cool .
 I walked to nearby west mead railway station  .
Sydney is well connected to all areas by the train network  ,there is  a monorail in downtown near the tourist circuit of Darling harbor and circular bay and also a free shuttle bus ,one could go around the city for sightseeing in the hop on hop off bus too .
Buses ply the city and there are plenty of cabs to choose from ,one taxi driver a sardarji from India was quite vocal about life in Australia which he considered as a fair place for immigrants who are treated well and have security for the future .
Since I had a lot of time in my hands I purchased an opal card which is an all purpose top able railway card ,

Opal incidentally is one of Australia's well known precious stones and Sydney has several designer opal stores which does huge business ,its said the impurities inside an opal determine its value and those with a reddish hue fetch the best price !
The trains are neat and well kept and half full but for the peak hours .designed Disabled friendly
 one could bring a bicycle inside too and ride away simply .most are double deckers too
Travelling in a city train is a wonderful way to explore any city ,so I passed through several suburban stations and got a peep into the lifestyle of Australians ,in thirty minutes we glided into the Central station and I alighted at the Museum station into the thick of things
I walked a lot through several well known streets like the Elizabeth street ,Goulburn street ,King street George street etc ,
many heritage buildings adorned these streets and modern high rises mingled with them  .
The Sydney tower towered above all this and the Hyde park gave welcome relief to concrete .
 Just near the park was the st Andrews church and I walked into its hallowed expansivity and tiptoed my way to a seat as a special mass was going on and I was given permission to go in ,I seated myself listening to the baritone voices of the septuagenarian priest and other speakers  
 The deep chimes of the church bell rhymed well with the intonations from the tall organ and  created a spiritual spell enlivened by the colorful stained glass  windows adorning its gothic magnificence ,
I managed to take some pictures too but created an unwelcome noise as inadvertently I dropped one of the lenses !
with the grace of the supreme my lens was intact and the frowning priests did ignore my impolite interruption .
After leaving the church I observed the fine machinations of an E toilet in the park and later bit into a juicy ice cream as I walked further ,
Reaching the circular quay I walked into the familiar sight of the opera house and memorial bridge
Seeing iconic sights in any place  is like greeting an old friend ,one gets a deja vu feel ,
this  happened earlier to me when I saw the Blue mosque or the Hagae sophia in Istanbul or the Blue mosque in Beirut or The Taj Mahal in Agra
 The sun was at its brightest as I fitted my 700 mm lens to take distant shots of the memorial bridge spanning across the Sydney harbor ,
The bridge though thought of in 1815  needed another hundred years for it to be started  and it was in 1932 it was  completed ,it was based on the design of the hell gate bridge in New York
J.C. Bradfield was considered as the father of the bridge .
Today Bridge climb is considered as part of an  adventure tourism ,anyone healthy can do so paying 50 dollars , safety gear and clothing is provided and people are taken in a group harnessed to the railings to  prevent falls .
 They slowly lumber up the arches to reach its peak where photographs of the climber is taken in the backdrop of the city and the opera house ,I could see a batch climbing up gingerly through my telescopic camera lens .
The Opera house is the other Sydney icon  and was designed by the Swedish architect Jan Urzon and the performing art facility was opened in 1973 becoming an UNESCO world heritage site in 2007 ,
it has a concert hall with 2679 seats  ,an opera theatre ,a studio ,playhouse and many food outlets and bars  facing the sea
It received the Pritzker Architecture prize in 2003 and was opened by queen Elizabeth II in 1973 .
The posters of shows in the opera House
Around the opera house one could walk gazing at the huge ships and water expanse ,I found several joggers sweating their runs in the pre afternoon heat .Australia incidentally with its very sportive outdoor population also has high incidence of skin cancers as exposure to the sun in people with low melanin pigmentation under their skins put them to potential risk .As I saw the sunny shiny rippling bodies of the joggers I prayed that they continue to have a healthy life .

Seeing all these people running made me no not feel guilty but hungry so I got into a hot dog place and had a spicy Kangaroo burger and bit into its crunchy chewiness
I then moved away from the circular bay and wandered a long distance amongst crowded streets
taking a breather in a park I gazed upon a three year old playing all by himself with his toys near a fountain ,in a distance sat his grandparents watching him benevolently ,there was also an old man gazing at me gazing at the child ,all of us were relaxed and able to observe other humans ,something which is missing from our lives these days .

downtown Sydney was full of shops and heritage buildings .
I reached   Darling harbor with its IMAX movie theatre ,Discovery center ,Aquarium ,wild life zoo ,Madame Tussauds wax exhibits

the aquarium  was impressive specially the Australian manatee in it called Dugongs  which are large sea living mammals known for their vegan diet of lettuces and lettuces only .
The Sydney tower which was also in a walkable distance rose up and we went up to the observatory floor for an aerial view of the city ,
A jolly  Santa Claus tall and  boisterous mostly  an actor I think was the other person in our lift and he hugged us both telling that he was taking us to heaven itself  .Santa took a photo with us and gave a copy telling that it was for his Indian friends ..

The Sydney tower rising 309 meters into the sky has been there for last thirty years is the tallest building in Australia and has the Sydney eye from where one could observe the city and its landmarks ,the sky walk is a glass bottomed walk with a balcony and by paying 8 dollars more to the 25 dollar ticket one could get there iof course after wearing the safety gear and harness .


 Views from Sydney tower ..eye of Sydney




 Morning saw us in the Bondi beach the well know beach of Sydney ,Bondi known for its topless views did not give any such sights sadly to my disappointment and we walked into the trekking trails ,these were well planned paths rising up and down gently across steep gorges ,over undulating high rocks sculptured as art pieces by the sea ,while  parrots flittered amongst the bushes and sea gulls flew in elegant swings over the pristine turquoise waters where fluttering sails of yatches bobbed up and down and one could see surfing sun tanned bodies merging with the tall waves .
the trails continued for a long distance and if the weather was cool it would be great to walk the whole distance but this was mid morning of a Sydney summer so we had to cut it after an hour or so .

Manly beach was another well known beach town off Sydney where millionaires built their homes and the sea side was lined with designer shops and liquid refreshments ,seeing  a very muscular aborigine in the early days by the whites gave the place this muscular name !

Dinner with friends in a salubrious residential locality gazing at a furry Artic pet dog the size of a leopard but tame and loving unbelievably .
A visit to the Muruga temple in Westmead was also an interesting one

 Rain was drizzling as dusk fell ,we hurried through the maze of roads to reach the Kings wharf as were scheduled for a dinner cruise alongside Sydney harbor ,We did manage to reach the wharf in time a bit wet in the process with just one umbrella to shield us from the rain ,we got into our priority front row seats and toyed with our welcome drinks getting friendly nods from neighboring tables as the big cruise slowly glided away into the sea .
The sights were beholding as we moved amongst the memorial bridge ,the opera house and the tall skyscrapers along the banks ,we clicked away with our cameras and joined the selfie orgies in the deck !as the rain increased we rushed back to watch a Broadway like show by chorus girls and a senior magician  showing his cute table tricks all along tucking into a reasonably tasty fare  .
The clinks of the glasses mingled with the guffaw of the passengers while uniformed stewards balanced so nimbly their delights on outstretched hands as they sallied along curtseying politely .
The Sydney cruise is a no miss event indeed .

Next day morning we left to the Blue mountain tour .
Australian tour coaches are wonderful comfortable cozy with large windows for viewing the scenery ,with a toilet and WIFI and above all a one man guide ,commentator ,Radio jockey manager CEO cum driver who had an excellent sense of humour conducting the trip in perfection .

The blue mountains are a range of hills and mountains and valleys about 50 km off Sydney ,it was so named because of the blue haze created by the abundant  Eucalyptus trees there .
initially convicts were sent there as it was thought that the hills were insurmountable slowly the convicts and later others settled here
When Europeans arrived in Australia, the Blue Mountains had already been inhabited for several millennia by the Gundungarra people , now represented by the Gundungurra Tribal Council Aboriginal Corporation based in Katoomba, and, in the lower Blue Mountains,we watched them display their dances skills in making fires the traditional ways and took photographs with them again they are also professional in their shows speaking in good English and eager to be friendly .
We then saw the famous three sisters sandstone rock formation ,
it is said a tribal chief had three lovely daughters ,the chief also was a magic expert ,once when he away from home he became aware of danger to his daughters from his enemies and by remote control turned them into stones so that they could not be harmed and planned to turn them back on return unfortunately he got killed before he could return and it is said that the sisters are still waiting for their father ,after listening to this story the rock formation do look more like the three sisters .

The Katoomba scenic Railway is a 300 metre steep railway lined with toy like coaches its a remnant from the mining era and one tumbles down at great speed it was fun more like an amusement park ride ,after coming down we went up by the hige cable car which could hold more than 2p people ,we saw the three sisters as we went up

We said goodbye to Sydney the next day and flew to Cairns and the Great Australian Barrier reef

.that's for another day !

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