A new life for abused elephants at Wildlife SOS, India

Think back to the last time you had a paper cut. Painful, right?! Or got punched in the face by a bully. Now imagine a lifetime of such pain and abuse – relentless, day in day out, and a million times worse. That is the life of a captive elephant.

So while that elephant ride may seem innocuous, the reality behind how the elephant got there, is anything but.

Taken from the wild at a very young age, tortured into submission by a horrendous ‘breaking of the spirit’ process (which involves beatings, starvation, confinement and other forms of subjugation), and then for decades – chained, forced to work, poked and prodded with sharp hooks, blinded even sometimes. The elephants suffer grievous injuries on their spines from carrying people, on their legs from being constantly chained, on their feet from walking on hard terrain (like concrete / tarred roads), not to forget the emotional and mental trauma. These magnificent creatures have no escape till the day they drop dead. The Asian elephant is listed as ‘Endangered’ by IUCN. Yet an estimated 16,000 elephants are in captivity across 11 Asian countries; of which about 3,500 are in India alone.

I recently visited Wildlife SOS (WSOS), an absolutely remarkable non-profit in India that rescues and rehabilitates captive elephants. I had met the WSOS founders, Kartick Satyanarayan and Geeta Seshamani, way back in 2014, and was in awe of the fact that they had rescued every single ‘dancing bear’ (over 620 in all) from the streets of India. In this 400-year old barbaric practice, sloth bear cubs were snatched from the wild and their muzzles pierced with a hot metal rod (without anesthesia), to insert the control rope, and their wounds were not allowed to heal. When the handler tugged the control rope, it would cause an insane amount of pain to the bear, making it writhe in pain, which was seen as ‘dancing’. In addition to rescuing the bears, WSOS also rehabilitated the owners of the bears – a nomadic community known as kalandars. They were provided with monetary support, alternative skills training, as well as education for their children, in exchange for a written promise that they would not indulge in the trade again. This holistic approach, along with the herculean efforts involved, lead to the surrender of the last ‘dancing bear’ in 2009 and the practice was completely eliminated in India.

The rescued bears are housed and cared for in 4 different centres across India, the largest one being in Agra. So whenever you plan to visit the Taj Mahal, I highly recommend that you add the WSOS Agra Bear Rescue Facility (ABRF) to your itinerary. I could spend forever watching the antics of those adorable bears!

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Kajal, a rescued bear at ABRF, enjoying a snooze in the sun

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Chottu relishing the honey his caretaker has smeared at the very top of his ‘enrichment platform’

Back to elephants! During my visit to the WSOS Elephant Care and Conservation Centre (ECCC) in Mathura, not too far from Delhi/Agra, I got to spend time with the rescued elephants housed there. The elephants are extremely well looked after, and what is truly commendable are the efforts made by the WSOS team to understand the personality and likes-dislikes of each elephant, in order to make them as comfortable as possible.

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Do not disturb! It’s sugarcane time!

I loved every second of my time at the ECCC – the walks with the elephants, the feeding sessions, watching them play with their enrichment toys and how they interacted in their small groups. This experience was (once again!) a reminder of the fact these animals possess an incredible intelligence, that we as humans need to learn to respect.

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Phoolkali (in front) & Maya, two of the several elephants rescued by WSOS, out for their daily evening walk

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I often wondered what the elephants were thinking or what they could remember of their horrible past

These elephants still bear the scars (both physical and mental) of their decades in captivity but now thanks to WSOS, they will live out their lives being free, and just being elephants! ❤️

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Bijli (L), Chanchal & Laxmi (R) enjoying their time together

Tourist demand for riding elephants is a major contributing factor to elephant captivity. There’s a lot we can do to change that:

  • Don’t support elephant captivity in any form – don’t ride them anywhere or watch them in a circus or feed a begging elephant. The same holds true for all other wild animals as well.
  • Create awareness: Use every opportunity on social media (or any other form of media) to speak up for elephants and other captive animals
  • Volunteer: Organizations like WSOS welcome volunteers. If you love working with animals, especially elephants, this is an experience you will never forget! At WSOS, you can also divide your time between the ECCC and ABRF. Read more here http://wildlifesos.org/volunteer-with-us/
  • Donate: There are so many ways you can financially support organizations like WSOS. Organize a bake sale to fund raise or buy their merchandize (https://www.armtheanimals.com/collections/wildlife-sos-collection) or pick something else that works for you from these options (http://wildlifesos.org/donate-2-2/) Every little bit counts!

South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony (1950-2012) in his book ‘The Elephant Whisperer’ said “…..until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.” Amen to that!

If you’ve visited an organization that rescues captive elephants (or any captive wildlife for that matter), please leave me a comment with your experience. I would love to visit them someday 🙏🙏🙏

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Namaste 2018! 🙏 🙏 🙏

After spending 4 incredible months in India, it is only appropriate that I should welcome the new year with a ‘namaste’. I traveled through some spectacular landscapes in the northeastern, north and central parts of the country, with a few days in neighbouring Bhutan and the Seychelles.

Let’s talk about 2017 for a moment. I lived out of a suitcase for most of the year. First, the big move from Singapore to Amsterdam at the end of February. Just in time for the tulips!

Then as soon as we were settled into our new home in Amsterdam, I flew to NYC to visit family, followed by an unforgettable vulture-watching trip in the Spanish Pyrenees (blog post follows soon).

Before I knew it, I was on my way to India, to visit a few non-profits that I’ve been meaning to visit for the longest time. I wanted to experience the country meaningfully, through the eyes of these organizations that were doing remarkable grassroot level work. And in the process, gather enough information to write about them, as well as the social issues they are working to address.

As you can well imagine, at the end of the 4 months, I have a ton of content that I need to sort through. But any publicity these organizations can get, will mean a lot to them and their beneficiaries. So I need to get cracking!

In 2017, I had 15 articles in print, more that I’ve ever had in the 4 years that I’ve been writing! My deepest gratitude to the editors of PASSAGE, Lens Magazine, Holland Herald & ACCESS magazine, who published my work this year. You can read most of my articles at this link https://noroadbarred.wordpress.com/in-print/

And finally, my resolution for 2018 – to blog a lot more and be more active on social media. So for starters, I’ve created a Facebook page for the blog 🎉🎉🎉 

More content and more interaction! Here’s the link…..

https://www.facebook.com/noroadsbarred

Don’t forget to like the page and share it with your friends too! And if you haven’t already liked ‘No Roads Barred’ on Instagram and Twitter, please do that too.

As Dutch will say, ‘Dank je wel’ (thank you) – for joining ‘No Roads Barred’ on its crazy journey over the past few years! Can you believe, the blog turns 4 in April???!!! 😮😮😮

Wish you an incredibly fabulous year ahead, filled with exciting adventures and novel experiences. May your roads never be barred!

Cheers,

Anne ❤️

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An oasis in Mumbai’s concrete jungle – the Sanjay Gandhi Nat’l Park

Growing up in the western suburbs of Bombay (now Mumbai), the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) was the venue of my annual school picnic for many an academic year. But despite the yearly visit to the park and its proximity to my parents’ home, I had no inkling about the ecological value of this ‘national park’, till very recently.

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Map of the SGNP

As one of the few national parks in the world located within city limits. I’ve been told SGNP is 35 times the area of NYC‘s Central Park. But the comparison is quite unfair – the former is a naturally occurring forest, the latter a man-made park. But I digress!

In a space-starved city like Mumbai, the SGNP is a refuge for the city’s inhabitants. You have to be at the entrance gate at 6am to see the incredible number of people who use the park for their morning run/walk or simply just to socialize.

Having lived away from India at a stretch of nearly 7 years now, every trip back to Mumbai has included a quick visit to the forests of SGNP. Home to nearly 600 species of fauna and over 1,300 species of flora, SGNP is best visited in the monsoons when the foliage is lush, the streams are gushing and the verdant hillsides are streaked with small waterfalls. Sadly, most of my recent visits to the SGNP have been in the last quarter of the year, when the forest is dry and appears sparse as compared to its monsoon avatar.

The most remarkable aspect of the SGNP is that it has the highest leopard / carnivore density anywhere in the world (40 individuals in an area of 104 sq.kms.), in a city that also has one of the highest human population densities in the world. This unique cohabitation of humans and a big cat species, has garnered a fair bit of international attention, including that of the hallowed National Geographic, which thankfully has helped the leopard’s cause.

I’d be ecstatic if I spotted a leopard (from a reasonable distance of course!) but the creatures being nocturnal in their habits, are impossible to spot during the day. I’ve had to make do with leopard droppings and their pee markings, along some of the trails I’ve visited in the park.

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A section of the Bamboo Hut Trail, which stretches about 12kms (start to finish)

The SGNP website (https://sgnp.maharashtra.gov.in) has lots of great information about the park and its flora and fauna. Sign on to the SGNP FB page (https://www.facebook.com/SanjayGandhiNationalPark/) for updates on upcoming treks and workshops. You may also contact the Nature Information Centre of the SGNP for a special tour request (https://sgnp.maharashtra.gov.in/1127/About-NIC).

Also within the SGNP limits are the Kanheri Caves, a spartan (yet stunning!) cluster of Buddhist rock-cut caves, some which date back to the mid-3rd century BCE. There are a 100+ of these caves and the exact number differs based on which source you refer to. However, all sources agree on the fact that the name ‘Kanheri’ comes from the Sanskrit word Krishnagiri, meaning ‘black mountain’, alluding to the basalt mountain from which the caves are carved. Once a major Buddhist centre, the complex is a protected archeological site today. Best visited with a knowledgeable guide.

The forests of SGNP also support two (of seven) lakes that provide potable water to Mumbai – Tulsi Lake (completed in 1897) and Vihar Lake (completed in 1860). The forests serve as a catchment area for these two lakes and play a crucial role in ensuring water supply to the city.

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View of Tulsi Lake (in the foreground) and Vihar Lake (partially visible in the background)

Both lakes can be clearly seen from Jambulmal, the highest point not just in SGNP but also in the entire city, located 468 meters (1535 ft) above sea level. Given the key role the lakes play in the city’s water supply, direct access to them is restricted and requires special permission.

The SGNP is revered as the ‘green lung’ of Mumbai. However, it is no match for the rapid development in this bustling metropolis. Hopefully, Mumbai’s citizenry will continue to value this last vestige of forest, and preserve the city’s fragile and last remaining connection to nature.

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View of the concrete jungle beyond park limits

I leave you with a few pictures of the fauna I’ve seen along the Shilonda and Bamboo Hut trails of the SGNP……

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A Green Bee-eater enjoys the sun

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A male Purple-rumped Sunbird, a species endemic to the Indian subcontinent

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A Long-tailed (Rufous-backed) Shrike

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A female Chestnut-shouldered Petronia, also known as the Yellow-throated Sparrow

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The Southern Plains Gray Langur, known locally as the Hanuman Langur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A handsome male Chital, also known as the Spotted or Axis Deer. The metre-long antlers are shed (and re-emerge) annually.

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A Brahminy Skink (also known as the Keeled Grass Skink) hidden in the foliage…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The nest of the Crematogaster Ant (made with dry leaves, saliva and mud) resembles a pagoda and is hence called a ‘pagoda ant nest’

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The maze-like exterior of the Harvester Ant nest prevents the entry of water into the dwelling

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The Baronet Butterfly

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The Blue Pansy Butterfly

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The Oriental Common Sergeant Butterfly

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For the Dutch love of birds!

6 incredible months have flown by since our move from Singapore to the Netherlands. Over the past few months, we’ve enjoyed watching winter turn into a very colourful spring, and spring turn into the much-cherished summer. And by way of our birdwatching trips, the Hubs and I have managed to explore a little bit of our new home country.

To commemorate this milestone, I’m very pleased to share my article which appears in the Autumn 2017 issue of ACCESS, a magazine aimed at the international community in the Netherlands.

This article revolves around the Dutch passion for birds and birdwatching, with fantastic insights from Remco Hofland, President of the Dutch Birding Association, as well as from Arjan Dwarshuis, the 2016 Global Big Year record holder. Last year, this bird-obssessed Dutchman traveled to 40 different countries and observed a staggering 6,852 bird species in a span of 366 days.

Hope you enjoy reading the article! Please click on the image below to view the PDF.

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(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

 

And wherever you are in the world, happy birdwatching! 🐦🐦🐦

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An Experience of Rural India in Dehene, Maharashtra

My Dehene village guide, Raksha, is a remarkable young girl in her late teens. She could barely contain her excitement as she lead me to the spot outside the village, where peafowls from the nearby forest aggregate every morning. For me, as a birdwatching enthusiast, that would have been ‘the’ spectacle to witness!

Rural experiences like these, have been made possible by a Mumbai-based social enterprise and responsible travel company – Grassroutes. Dehene is one of several villages that Grassroutes works with as part of their rural tourism program.

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A mist-covered section of the Western Ghats, as seen from Dehene

An idyllic village at the foothills of the Sahayadri mountains in the Maharashtra state of India, Dehene is located a mere 120kms from Mumbai. During off-peak hours, it could take anywhere between 3.5 to 4 hours (approx) to get there by car, from the city.

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Rice fields….

An estimated 70% of India’s 1.23 billion population lives in rural settings and a majority of this rural population is well below the poverty line. The affliation between Grassroutes and Dehene village has created several livelihood opportunities for the villagers – many people in the main village have received training as guides (like young Raksha) and several households are involved in some way with the rural experiences that Grassroutes offers in the village (for e.g homestay hosts, meal preparation etc). This arrangement has enabled the villagers to supplement their agricultural income, and to a large extent, has addressed their need to migrate to cities for work.

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This ‘aaji’ (grandmother) demonstrated how rice is pounded, winnowed, ground and ultimately, made into a ‘bhakri’ (a type of unleavened bread)

There are about 40 Hindu Maratha houses in the main village and the nearby tribal settlement consists of nearly 500 households.

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Path to the tribal settlement of Dehene village

Furthermore, for every tourist visiting Dehene, Grassroutes contributes a specific amount to the village kitty, to be used strictly for welfare initiatives. Grassroutes implements a similar model in all of the villages it works with.

As for me, having lived away from India for almost a decade (I was born and raised in Bombay, now Mumbai), every trip back is an opportunity for me to learn more about the country of my birth. This day-trip to Dehene turned out to be a great initiation to rural India.

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We met this friendly tribal lady en route to the forest. Her herd of cows were grazing nearby….

There couldn’t have been a better time to visit Dehene. The southwest monsoon was working its magic on the village, and the hills beyond were bursting with every imaginable shade of green. Dehene is often referred to as the ‘Land of a 1000 waterfalls’ as these mountains are streaked with a multitude of streams gushing down its slopes.

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Greenery everywhere you look….

It is heartwarming to see people living in such close harmony with nature. The villagers recognise the nutritional or medicinal value of ‘wild’ plants, build houses with available natural materials, make disposable plates/bowls by stitching-up dried leaves, and so much more. Solutions to so many of our urban problems lie in studying the environmentally-friendly lifestyles of our rural counterparts.

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Communal lunch at the temple, served in a disposable plate made of dried leaves stitched together

To experience Dehene in a leisurely manner, I would highly recommend an overnight stay. Sadly, I was there only for the day. So no photograph of peafowls for me! 😦

As the old adage goes, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’. I leave you with these images from my brief (but extremely memorable) time in Dehene village…..

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A nutritious breakfast of ‘Kande Pohe’ (rice flakes sautéed with finely chopped onions, spices & peanuts)

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I first noticed this tribal lady as she skilfully carried two filled pots of water on her head and managed another in her hand. Imagine doing this everyday, multiple times a day – bare feet that too!

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Despite her extremely hard life, the lady from the previous picture, was happy to be photographed with her adorable grandchildren

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A tribal house with walls made of karvy sticks held together by a plaster of cow dung mixed with mud

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These tribal ladies were on their way to catch crabs for their next meal

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Even after being provided with subsidised gas stoves, the villagers continue to use the ‘chulah’ (firewood stove) as they prefer the taste of food cooked on it…

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A real treat for sore (city) eyes!

 

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Of humpback whales and dolphin pods, in NYC

As incredible as this may sound to some, for the past few years, humpback whales have been making a regular appearance in the waters off New York City. Once driven to the brink of local extinction during the city’s whaling years, the whales are said to be back in these waters, after nearly a century.

One of the key reasons attributed to the return of the whales is the decades of efforts invested in cleaning up the city’s waterways. This improvement in water quality has led to an increase in the numbers of marine microorganisms like zooplankton and algae, which in turn has rejuvenated the entire food chain. Thriving numbers of menhaden (also known as bunker), a small fish that feeds on these microorganisms, has enticed the humpbacks to return to NYC’s waters to feed. Other initiatives like enforcing catch limits for industrial fishing, have also helped maintain the number of these small fish.

The last time I saw a whale in its natural setting was in Kaikoura (NZ), over 11 years ago. Kaikoura is one of the best places in the world to see sperm whales all year round. More recently, in 2016, I wrote about a sperm whale carcass that had washed up on the shores of Singapore, possibly the victim of a ship strike in the South China Seas. The skeleton of this female sperm whale found a final resting place in the local natural history museum, and is used to educate visitors about the many dangers faced by these behemoths in today’s waters, the main ones being ship strikes and plastic pollution.

During my recent visit to NYC, between visiting family and meeting old friends, I managed to squeeze in not one, but two (!) whale watching trips (on two separate days, of course).

The journey from my hotel in Tribeca, to Riis Landing from where the American Princess ferry departs for its whale watching tours, took about two hours. Getting to Riis Landing can seem a little daunting for a first-timer to the city, so I’ve included directions at the end of this post.

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View of the ocean from the ferry

 

Catherine Granton from Gotham Whale, the naturalist on board, was terrific with educating visitors on onboard about whale protection programs like ‘See a spout, watch out’ as well as simple things one could do in daily life to protect the oceans, like not using plastic bags or straws. Here are some more easy to do tips for protecting the ocean.

Gotham Whale lists 59 different individuals in their Humpback Whale catalog but sadly, none of them made an appearance on either of my tours. I sat staring at the horizon, recalling every image of lunge feeding humpbacks that I had seen on social media, hoping the scene would unfold before my eyes any second…. but it didn’t! 😦

I’m completely aware that we cannot control nature, but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed. We did see plenty of bottleneck dolphins though…..

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A surfer off Rockaway Beach, cannot believe his eyes as dolphins swim by him!

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More bottlenose dolphins! Empire State Building is in the background.

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A close-up of the bottlenose dolphins 

 

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Another pod of dolphins swims by

There have been some spectacular humpback whale and cownose ray sightings on the trips after mine. Hopefully, the city will continue to control shipping traffic and pollution in these waters, and some day in the future, there will be another opportunity to see NYC’s humpback whales. Till then, fingers crossed!

 

Directions to Riis Landing: Take the A train to Far Rockaway and disembark at the 67 Beach Street station. Walk out of the station, past the line of stores, towards the Shop ‘n Save/YMCA and take the Q22 bus from outside the YMCA. Get off at the very last stop, Fort Tilden and walk back to the main road (where the bus turned). Cross the street and walk to your left for a few seconds. You will see the Riis Landing signboard, right opposite the main entry gate of Fort Tilden.

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The Riis Landing entry gate

 

Bonus tip: There’s a food truck outside Fort Tilden, Breezy Dogs and Shakes, that’s a real lifesaver after 4 long hours at sea! Refuel there before heading back.

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‘Forbidden Porcelain’ at the Prinsenhof Museum, Delft

My first experience of Delft was a gloriously sunny Saturday in May, spent walking around the town square; with some serious efforts invested in climbing the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk, the second tallest church tower in the Netherlands.

On my second trip to Delft, I spent the day at the Prinsenhof Museum, browsing through the ‘Forbidden Porcelain: Exclusively for the Emperor’ exhibition.

This exhibition centers around the exquisite porcelain that was made specially for Chinese emperors by the imperial kilns of Jingdezhen, but which was later discarded and destroyed, as it did not meet the high standards expected of royal wares. I was very fortunate to have the company of the museum’s Curator of Decorative Arts, Ms. Suzanne Kluver, who shared her in-depth knowledge of the subject.

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The opening panel of the ‘Forbidden Porcelain: Exclusively for the Emperor’ exhibition

It is the first time that these reassembled porcelain wares, originally made for Chinese emperors, are being seen outside Asia. Several of the artefacts in this exhibition are on loan from the Archaeological Institute, Jingdezhen, China.

In an article for the Jul-Aug’17 issue of PASSAGE, the bimonthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore, I share about my visit to the Prinsenhof Museum, and briefly explore the centuries-old connection between Chinese porcelain and Delftware.

Please click on the image below to view the PDF of this article.

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(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

So if you happen to be in Delft (or in the vicinity), do consider visiting the ‘Forbidden Porcelain’ exhibition at the Prinsenhof Museum. The exhibition runs until 9th July 3rd September 2017.

Here are some pictures from the Prinsenhof Museum that could not be included in the print article….

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Entrance of the Prinsenhof Museum

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Bullet holes from the 1584 assassination of William I, preserved in a wall of the Prinsenhof

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Sunlight streaming through a window in the basement of the museum

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Loved the look of this window!

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A lamp post adorned with the trademark blue & white delftware designs, on the premises of the museum

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A seat in the Prinsenhof garden embellished with beautiful pieces of delftware

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Delighted in Delft!

To say I’m enamoured by Delft, would be an understatement! Since our move to Amsterdam 3 months ago, I’ve made 2 day trips to Delft, and my fascination for the town has grown exponentially with each visit.

The town’s name is said to have its roots in the word delf (meaning canal), which in turn came from the word delven (meaning digging). The name Delft is probably in reference to the digging of the Oude Delft, the canal around which the town developed in the 12th century.

On my first visit to Delft, I had the pleasure of darling hubby’s company, who of course, wanted to do something adventurous. So we resolutely climbed 376 steps in an ancient, spiral staircase, to reach the top of the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) tower, for some spectacular views of the town. Of course, there was lots of huffing and puffing involved, along with several short breaks.

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At a height of almost 109m, the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk is the second tallest church tower in the Netherlands

What made it even more interesting was that the staircase was just about wide enough to accommodate one normal sized person. So the experience of squeezing past people of all sizes going in the opposite direction from you, without losing your footing, was an adventure in itself. Definitely not for the claustrophobic or clumsy, I tell you!

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On the way to the top…

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On the way down…

But the view from the top was well worth the effort!

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View of the Delft Town Hall (the erstwhile Stadhuis) & the Markt (market square) from the tower of the Niewe Kerk

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View of Delft town from the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk

The ‘Father of the Fatherland’, William of Orange is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk. He was a key leader in the Dutch revolt against Spanish rule, enabling the formation of the Dutch Republic. In 1584, he was assassinated in his home, now the location of the Prinsenhof Museum. The bullet holes from the assassination are well preserved in the museum.

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The mausoleum of William of Orange, in the Nieuwe Kerk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The preserved bullet holes in the wall of the Princenhof Museum, where William of Orange was assassinated in 1584

Nieuwe Kerk may seem a bit of a misnomer today given that its original construction began in 1381! But back in the day, there was already a church in town, St. Bartholomew’s Church, now referred to as the Oude Kerk (Old Church). The Oude Kerk’s 75m tower tilts slightly, earning it the nickname ‘Leaning Tower of Delft’. Famous Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer is buried in the Oude Kerk, though we did not manage to spot his gravestone amidst the several Dutch luminaries buried there.

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View of the Oude Kerk from the Nieuwe Kerk tower. The lean of the Oude Kerk tower is not very apparent from this angle.

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A street image of the Oude Kerk, with the visible lean in the tower

Delft’s historical position as one of the main ports of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) has had an undeniable influence on this quaint town. The Chinese blue & white porcelain imported into Delft by the VOC in the 17th century led to the creation of a local adaptation, now famous worldwide in its own right as ‘Delftware’ or ‘Delft blue’. Many stores around the market square, sell Delftware souveniers, in every conceivable shape and form.

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An artisan paints a souvenier plate in one of the Delftwares stores. When the plate is fired in a kiln, the black paint will change to a bright blue.

On my second visit to Delft, I spent a considerable amount of time at the Prinsenhof Museum, browsing through their permanent collection as well as visiting the ‘Forbidden Porcelain‘ exhibition, which is on till 9th July. More about that and Delftware in a subsequent blog post.

For now, I leave with you with a few more pictures of this absolutely delightful Dutch town….

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Tulip extravaganza at Keukenhof, South Holland

It is impossible to live in Amsterdam in spring and not hear the name ‘Keukenhof’ tossed around a fair bit. This being my first spring in Amsterdam, I was not going to let my allergies stop me from visiting this floral wonderland.

The literal translation of Keukenhof is ‘kitchen garden’. It is said that in the early part of the 15th century, the Countess Jacqueline of Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland, gathered fresh produce for her kitchen from the woods surrounding her castle. Soon enough, the area began to be referred as ‘Keukenhof’.

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The main entrance to Keukenhof

Over the centuries, the area went through a series of transformations and today, Keukenhof serves as a platform for Dutch floriculture suppliers to showcase their best, spring-flowering bulbs. In the current edition of Keukenhof (held from 23rd Mar till 21st May 2017), an estimated 7 million flower bulbs were planted in the 32-hectare park, by nearly 100 suppliers.

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One of the many stunning tulip patches

Visiting Keukenhof is a highly sensory experience. Interestingly shaped flower patches, the vibrantly coloured tulips, cultivars with flowers in every conceivable shape, a medley of floral scents – all  dazzle the senses. The many passerine birds that dart furiously across the shrubs and trees, provide a cheerful background symphony.

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Vibrant colours everywhere! 

Beyond the periphery of Keukenhof, are privately owned tulip fields. These fields are harvested by end-April, so be sure to go early if you’d like to pose amidst long rows of brightly coloured tulips. I went mid-May and sadly, missed seeing the tulip fields in bloom.

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Harvested tulip fields as seen from the viewing platform of the Keukenhof windmill

I have however, seen the tulip fields from a distance, during a train ride from Amsterdam to Delft. A real feast for the eyes, despite the distance and the speed of the train.

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View of the tulip fields in Lisse, from the train

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Another view of  tulip fields from the train

On the subject of tulips, few people know that these flowers, so synonymous with the Netherlands, are not actually native to the country. They were introduced here by botanist Carolus Clusius in 1493, when he served as Director of Leiden University’s Hortus Botanicus, now the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands. To cut a long story short, it was those very tulips that birthed the Dutch tulip industry.

The name ‘tulip’ is widely believed to be derived from the Persian word dulband, meaning turban; possibly in reference to the shape of the flower resembling the male headwear that was popular in the Middle East, India, and parts of Africa, in those times.

Back to present day! Both Keukenhof and the tulip fields are located in the town of Lisse, an easy day trip from Amsterdam. The connectivity via public transport is excellent. For exact directions, click here.

During the 8 weeks that Keukenhof is open, there are several events and activities – a delightful Flower Parade, flower shows, flower arranging demonstrations, guided tours and the likes. You can read more about that here.

I leave you with a few more pictures from my visit to Keukenhof….

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Windmill at the edge of the gardens

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Chessboard display at Keukenhof

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Filed under Europe, Netherlands

Above the treetops at MacRitchie Reservoir Park, Singapore

Up until a few months ago, I was living in sunny Singapore. Since then, I have moved continents, to the land of canals and krokets, Amsterdam, and find myself trying to make sense of a very fickle spring.

When I think about my time in the Little Red Dot, I’m happy I was able to capture different facets of the city, via my articles for PASSAGE, the bimonthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore. So here is, the last of these nuggets from the city I called home for nearly 6 years.

My article in the May-June’17 issue of PASSAGE encapsulates my many wonderful memories of the MacRitchie Reservoir Park in Singapore. Please click on the image below to view the PDF of this article.

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(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

I’d like to reiterate that when visiting any nature reserve/park, please be extremely respectful of the environment. Loud chatting or music will disturb wildlife and ruin any chance of spotting them. Going off-trail to get a picture damages the ecosystem that nurtures these species. As the old saying goes…

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.

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You can read more about the wildlife/natural history of Singapore in the following posts:

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Pasir Ris Park

Birds of Singapore

The Wallace Trail

Singapore Botanic Gardens

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Filed under Asia, Singapore