Wild in the streets: Thekkady, India

Thekkady, in Kerala State, is best known for its closeness to one of south India’s main wildlife sanctuaries, Periyar National Park. Visitors hope to sight wild elephants and tigers, as well as other fauna.


My visit purposely coincided with Kerala’s  biggest annual Hindu celebration: the 10 day Onam festival. Days and nights were punctuated by music, song and ritual. The streets went wild.

This is my contribution to Tiffin’s A-Z Guidebook, this month starting with the letter ‘T’.

A-Z Guidebook Badge

Munnar memories

Strolling through the tea gardens

The road trip in India’s south, from Kerala’s tropical coastal lowlands to Munnar in the mountainous Western Ghats (reaching 2,695 metres or 8,842 ft) is an adventure.

A road that in most countries is two lanes, becomes something else here in India. However, there is a certain logic to what appears to be complete chaos.

Larger vehicles – trucks and buses – travel in the middle of the road, straddling the white line that theoretically divides the two lanes. On each side, space is taken up by the next largest road users – cars, utilities and vans. To their sides, motorcycles and auto rickshaws pass or are passed, on both the outside and inside. Meanwhile, bicycles, pedestrians and animals – goats, cows – are relegated to the road verges, or a rarer foray onto the sealed road.

After a long 9 hour drive from coastal Varkala, peering down precipitous drops off the edge of the road as a distraction from the adrenaline-inducing road focused experience, it’s bliss to arrive at our accommodation near Munnar, a yoga retreat located in a 300 acre spice garden. Rising at 6am, 90 minutes of yoga follows in the outdoor open-sided pavilion that begins in darkness and ends with the day breaking, as mists slowly rise to reveal mountains, steep valleys, waterfalls, rain forest, and tea gardens. Yoga’s Sun Salutation (surya namaskar) makes perfect sense here. Meals are south Indian vegetarian,  which are filling and delicious, with Dosa, Uthappam, soft Idli, and sometimes toast.

A spice garden walk takes you through cardamom, pepper, coffee, and other crops, to encounter women in brightly coloured saris harvesting cardamom, and swapping smiles, gossip and laughter. Neighbours grow other spices; ginger, garlic, nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves. A longer walk takes you downhill to the rushing river, wildly pushing through boulders and rapids.

At a higher altitude, a walk through tea gardens provides a picture of neatness and symmetry as they cover the slopes, like a vertical carpet.  Up here there is a chance to catch sight of a house from another era – a bungalow established by the British during the colonial period to house the owners of the tea estates. Many now serve as holiday accommodation. Further, into the hills, wild elephants graze near the road.

This is my contribution to Tiffin’s A-Z Guidebook, this month starting with the letter M.


Graffiti: street art or vandalism?

Graffiti has been around for centuries. The Romans in Pompeii and the Vikings in the Orkneys showed a distinct bawdy tone in theirs. Graffiti can portray the spectrum of artistic and linguistic expression, from brilliance and innovation to blind rage, loss, despair, and garbage. It can be political, apolitical, satirical, sardonic, funny, sad, artistic, whimsical, ribald, or just plain vandalism, depending on the viewer.

Graffiti is usually defined as illicit drawings scribbled, scratched or sprayed on a wall or other surface in a public place. Authorities are often ambivalent about graffiti, but recognise that prohibition usually doesn’t work. Sometimes therefore, limited acceptance occurs. In Melbourne, the city council authorises controlled street art that has become a major tourist attraction. In Valparaiso, Chile, the local authorities have at times commissioned and encouraged street art, although recent moves in Chile suggest a negative approach through plans to regulate graffiti by punishing parents for the actions of their children.

On my daily train commute to work in Melbourne, I was always amused by the slogan painted on a bridge beside the train track: ‘Don’t vote, it only encourages them’


Here are some recent photos taken in inner suburban Brunswick, Melbourne.


Valparaiso was once the major port on the South American Pacific coast for ships crossing the Straights of Magellan/Cape Horn to and from the Atlantic Ocean. When the Panama Canal opened in 1914 Valparaiso lost most of its maritime port trade and declined. The city is now having something of a resurgence, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s renowned for its colourful housing, lanes and stairways, its ascencores (funicular railway system) linking the steep residential neighbourhoods with the port, and has some truly noteworthy graffiti.

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Even an old car can become a canvas in Valparaiso
Even an old car can become a canvas in Valparaiso, as the old graffiti behind it fades away


I left the previous photo at a wonky angle to allow those with Spanish skills (or who want to translate) the chance to read the sign. Deposed former President Salvador Allende’s image appears on the red door, and I’ve written more about Chile and Allende here.


If you might be offended by strong language or sexual connotations, don’t look at the next photo.

Graffiti in Fort Kochi, India
Graffiti in Fort Kochi, India

Rome 2008

I’ve left the worst for last. Without claiming to be the arbiter of good taste, for which I am grossly underqualified, I share the general view that some graffiti is bad. In Melbourne, crude scratches mar the windows of many expensive new train carriages, and pathetic and meaningless swirls of paint appear in the wrong places. However, generally in Melbourne and elsewhere, there is a level of respect for older buildings and surfaces.

I haven’t selected Rome as my candidate for a bad graffiti award because of dislike for the city, as it’s one of my favourites. I was dismayed to visit in 2008 and discover that large numbers of classic centuries-old stone buildings were indiscriminately and unattractively sprayed, with no message, appeal or communication. Perhaps that was the point: a sign of urban decay, despair, powerlessness? It was the year of Silvio Berlusconi’s return to political leadership as prime minister for the third time, surely evidence that Italy had fundamentally lost its way. Of course, there may be other factors not readily apparent to a visitor.

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