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Iraq


Craque des Chevaliers

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Iraq


Craque des Chevaliers

These travelogues deal with my entry into Iraq on foot, from the Kuwait side of the border in 2012. The next item deals with a trip to Shiraz in Iran in 2008 and the final piece from 2003 details a rail journey from Chennai in south India to Hyderabad.

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Iraq (2012)

The following notes were first published on the Motley Fool UK website.

Not that many people here anticipate doing this, but given the dire reports about Safwan elsewhere on the net, I thought I’d flag how different reality can sometimes be. 

FWIW FCO travel advice (not for the faint-hearted) is here:
http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-adv...

I used the Safwan crossing because I wanted to get to the southern Iraqi cities from Kuwait and could not get direct flights to Baghdad from Kuwait. I also fancied the road-trip. Since I started I’ve heard that there are now direct flights between Kuwait and Najaf (southern Iraq) but they are very expensive.

I crossed the border as a pedestrian, with a taxi dropping me off on one side and me picking up a taxi on the other side.

Overall the trip took 1 hour to get to Safwan from Kuwait city, another hour or so at the border and a further 4 hours from Safwan to the Iraqi city of Najaf. The drive is through the, mainly featureless, Iraqi desert. There are some, but not many, burnt out vehicles on the way (no military hardware). I recommend having some evocative soundtracks with you. On all legs I had good quality cars, which really helped. There are only motorway services as you come towards Najaf, so best to have some snacks and drinks. We drove at high speed and I did not have the heart to ask the drivers to stop for a picnic. Though, occasionally, 
there were those circular seats with umbrellas in the middle. In the middle of nowhere. Most weird.

You pass the Rumaila oil-field (in the distance). The only evidence for American presence is a blast barrier with Camp Clear II painted on it (going to Iraq) and one painted with Camp Cedar on the road back to Kuwait.

Going into Iraq, the Kuwaiti taxi dropped me off at their end. I phoned through to my waiting taxi at the Iraq end. The person answering spoke no English or Urdu/Hindi (widely spoken in Gulf countries) and was not very responsive perhaps a wrong number?

I got out anyway and asked the Kuwaiti driver to wait for 30 mins. I went to the first (Kuwaiti) border post and was told that Iraqi side was 4kms away and would need to take a bus to get there. I was worried, in case the Iraq guy wasn't there and the Kuwaiti one went home. The border is in the middle of the desert and does not look like a nice place to stay for very long. I went back to the Kuwaiti driver and asked him to phone the Iraqi driver and see if he could make some sense over the phone.

They talk.

The Kuwaiti driver said it was ok. From here on, I'd remember to just get whoever I was with at the time to phone ahead and speak to the person I need to make contact with.

I get on the Kuwait border bus. I am the only passenger.

Driver and his friend are Indian, ask where I am from etc. They tell me not to tell anyone I am British. This is not the first time that this happens. The colour of my skin is used by all Iraqis to convince themselves that I am not really British. A couple of policemen also pointed to the word "Ireland" on the front cover of the passport and said that I should tell anyone I was Irish. Luckily my name is a sectarian get-out-of-jail-free-card (in southern Iraq anyway).

We get to Kuwaiti immigration and bus driver is worried, says that it takes ages if you arrive in Kuwait by air and leave by land.

It takes 30 seconds. It helps that I am the only pedestrian crossing the border. But there is a steady stream of articulated lorries.

I walk to first Iraqi police post.

I tell them I am on a pilgrimage to Iraq's holy cities. Seems to work. They assign a porter to me. I decline, but they insist, this turns out for the better.

The porter takes me to baggage check place. I get a receipt.

I go to Iraqi immigration. Am told to wait. 10 minutes later I go into a room with an official who speaks some English. He looks at the passport and the visa entry form. Again I have read they don’t issue visas on the border and the trip has been a gamble that the Iraqi travel agent organising the visa who assured me that they do, knows better.

The immigration officer makes phone calls. He writes on the visa entry form. He asks for US$82. Hmm. I only have $100 bills. I offer Iraqi currency, but he refuses. I hand over the US$100.

We go into another room. He gets out ledgers that he diligently fills out. Throughout my stay whenever I come across paperwork to be done, the person doing it inspires some confidence.

He opens a safe and puts my money in. He does the paperwork. Some policemen come in as well as lots of food. They have guns. One starts to question me about who I am and where I am from. He wants to know whether I am a Muslim. I point to the other visas on the passport. This trip will involve lots of questioning by large policemen often sitting on ostentatious sofas in portakabins.

My explanation seems to reassure him.

The visa is now ready and I am told to go outside and have my photo taken.

Once this is done. The guy who made the visa comes back and gives me change for the US$100 bill.

Another boy (porter) comes and takes my bag. I ask the immigration officer to phone through (on his own phone, since mine won't work) to the taxi that I am coming and tell the young boy to take me to that taxi and no one else! I am prepared for lots of touts offering their services and I won't know which taxi has been arranged for me! The immigration officer does all this.

I walk out into Iraq and the taxi is waiting there and everything is ok.

On the way back I go through a similar experience.

Iraqi driver takes me to the border and tells me that he can’t go into the transit area. This will involve paying 10000 dinars (about US$8) to another driver who will ferry me to the different checkpoints. I did all this on foot the last time! Still it will mean someone watching out for me. So I agree.

Can’t seem to get in touch with my Kuwaiti colleague who should have a car ready at the other end. I get the Iraqi driver to phone through and after various attempts this seems to work.

Iraqi immigration officer wishes me “ziarat qabool” (may your pilgrimage prayers be answered).

This time I also notice the trench that is the “border”.

Re-entry into Kuwait is straightforward. Again there are only a handful of people to be processed.

At the car-park in the Kuwait end, there is no car waiting for me and I am accosted by touts. I phone my Kuwaiti contact and get him to talk to the touts. They are reassured that I have someone coming for me and stop bothering me.

Indian bus-driver lets me wait in his air-conditioned bus.
Car arrives and I go back to Kuwait city.

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Shiraz


Tomb of Cyrus, Shiraz, Iran

Shiraz


Tomb of Cyrus, Shiraz, Iran

Shiraz (2006)


Very close to Dubai, lots of history, very cheap and few tourists.

The plan had been to break a journey from Hong Kong to London, in Dubai and then take a 40 minute flight to Shiraz where I'd spend three days. I went in early May 2006. Weather was cool in the early mornings, and pleasantly warm during the day.


Costs / Basics


Dubai/Shiraz return about £100
Two star equivalent £25 per night incl. breakfast
Day-long taxi hire about £20
Entrance costs to sights – piddling amounts
Food etc. very cheap, mineral water easily available
Travel Guide: Bradt ISBN:1841621234
Farsi phrase book: Lonely Planet ISBN 0864425813


Arrival
I took the Iran Aseman flight from Dubai to Shiraz paid at the airline's office in the terminal ('cos I missed my original flight with another carrier, but that's another story). 

It's a fairly short flight, about an hour, but you do get nice kebabs for the meal. It is on one of those aging Tupolevs which have a tendency to crash, though. 

Shiraz airport is small, sleepy, and a breeze to get through. Personally I am developing an affinity for small regional airports compared to massive international hubs. Chennai airport in south India is far more civilised than Delhi or Mumbai.

All the other passengers seemed to be Iranians. I was a bit of a curiosity for the immigration staff. Not least when they asked where I was staying and I said that I was still thinking about it.

The luggage carousel was next to the immigration counter and the exit a few of yards further on. On the way, I made up my mind to stay at the Eram Hotel and asked the driver to take me there. 

In London, I'd bought a copy of the Bradt guide to Iran and had emailed all (four) of the Shiraz hotels listed in it. Two had replied – one offering US$95 (Homa Hotel) per night and the other $45. I opted for the $45. Not least because I had also asked both about sightseeing and how much a full-day's taxi would cost. The Homa had said that they could arrange for an English speaking guide for US$22 per day – add on the cost for transport and this was starting to look pricey, so I opted for the Eram. 

Along the way the driver asked whether I wanted to go to Persepolis etc. He would charge 300,000 riyals per day (16,000 to the £), so between £15 and £20. He was driving a Mondeo equivalent Peugeot – so I asked him to come into the hotel with me so that we could conduct negotiations with the hotel staff helping out with translations. He really wanted me to start the next day and I preferred to do my sightseeing within Shiraz first – so I kept his number and left it at that. The hotel staff also preferred me to use their recommended taxi service, they said because it offered better security, obviously because they got a commission. Given the grief I'd give them about sightseeing tips, I settled for that, about the same price as the first chap, but a smaller car.

The room was tidy, bed firm and the adjoining bathroom clean. The television showed international channels. This hotel tends to attract European students, the pricier Homa, from what I could tell, gets pretentious Iranians.

I am small so the 1 foot gap between the sink and toilet to get through to the shower area was not a problem, towels were rough though. Not speaking any Farsi, or knowing anyone locally, the only solution for working out where to go and how was to take up residence at the reception desk. I needed to check how much could practically be covered in a day and how I could get between places – checking the prices to be given to taxi drivers was also useful. Luckily the hotel is walking distance from the main sights in Shiraz, so that made the first day much easier. 


Shiraz
The plan was to take pictures in the early morning light. So I arrived at the Arg Karim Khan Zand at 7.40am the next day, only to be told that it opened at 8am. This is a fairly impressive citadel 5 minutes walk from Eram hotel. The entry fee was 8,000 riyals (50p). The walls are impressive and the title 'citadel' seems apt. The courtyard after you enter is nothing to write home about, but the ceilings inside the buildings are interesting – albeit some are in a pretty sad state of repair – though there is some obvious repair work going on. A resulting problem is that now you can't be sure whether something that looks nice was originally that way or is a modern rendition. Personally I find it more satisfying where some of the paintwork has been 'renovated', but some of the old stuff remains, so that you can see what it really used to look like as well as how it looked when it was first applied. The coffee room is very pleasant (attended by a very disinterested teenager) and sited in the old hamam (bathhouse), seems to have been 'authentically' renovated. An American couple were being shown around by a local guide and apart from that I saw only school kids.

 

Some of the rooms had a photographic exhibition showing Shiraz at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. One sticks in the memory, not least because I took a photo – it shows a criminal tied to a cannon – which will then be fired. That period was the end game for the Qajar dynasty and there are pictures showing the social and political changes taking place, people starting to wear western clothes and riding about in cars.

I found an architectural model showing the Arg in relation to other buildings nearby, which was useful for getting my bearings for the rest of the morning's sightseeing. 

Outside the Arg I walked over to what Bradt refer to as the Bagh-I-Nazar. This is described as 'a small octagonal reception Pavilion of Karim Khan Zand'. Now Bradt says that, it used to house a small local museum. However the only building that matched this description was a museum, looked quite nice as well – but it was closed. No one nearby seemed to be entirely sure whether this was the Bagh-I-Nazar and I decided to move on. 

The Masjid – I – Vakil, a 1773 construction was supposed to be walking distance. Bradt say that it is out of bounds to foreign tourists, but I was able to get in without any problems. There is some reconstruction work going on though – with one of the workmen willing to give impromptu guides (in Farsi) – but he usefully did point out the foundation stone. It's a very large mosque with massive dusty stone pillars and a large courtyard with grass growing between the paving stones. It's difficult to imagine that just next door is a heaving market with hundreds of people. As usual with these places the only other tourists seem to be Iranian school children and the odd Europeans. 

Next to the mosque is the Vakil bazaar (18th century, whose rents paid for the mosque). Like bazaars in other cities this is covered, with two of the original four caraveranserai remaining. These were places for traders and travellers to stay, now they seem to be used as offices and warehouses. In Nishapour (north eastern Iran) I had seen a caravanserai converted into a museum and in Isfahan into a kitsch hubble/bubble tea shop.

The people at the hotel reception had said that the next place on my itinerary, the Masjid – I – Nasr ul Mulk could be accessed by going through the bazaar – Bradt seems agree. Helpfully she says this, 'exiting the bazaar by the carpet quarter, turning right and right again', only problem is you can't tell where the carpet quarter is and while I could have a pretty good go at asking for a carpet in Farsi, how do you say 'quarter'? The only solution seemed to be to ask for the mosque itself. I must have asked half a dozen people before I wandered into what seemed to be the back streets of a residential district of the city. I must say that like the rest of the city it was very clean, but eerily deserted. I managed to keep walking as if I knew where I was going (by this stage I'd have had a few mutinies on my hands if I had had the family along with me).

I came across the odd cleric in all of this and thought that they must know. The last one I asked seemed to be totally confused when I said the name, which was surprising because he must have been as old as the mosque itself. Anyway he asked someone who might have been able to speak English to help me and having said the name of the mosque a couple more times he realised that my 'Nasir' ul Mulk was actually 'Naseer ul Mulk' – which he did know and pointed me in the right direction.

Going into the lane housing the mosque, my heart sank, the doors were shut. As I got nearer, one of them seemed to be a little ajar, so I thought I would try my luck. It opened! What if I wasn't supposed to go in? I guess I could always play the dumb tourist. Bradt says that this 1876-1887 construction is rarely visited by tour groups. But it is very pleasant and obviously when I got there it was very quiet. This allowed me to take pictures in peace. There is also a little museum adjoining it, with more photos of 19th century Shiraz.

Having paid £6 for dinner at the hotel, for a couple of nights in a row (soup, salad, lentils, chicken kebab with rice), I decided to go somewhere less pricey and found a burger bar along the road from the hotel. £1 for some roast chicken, with naan bread and salad. As usual I was having dinner at 5pm so it was a bit early, but the owner was very hospitable. 

I asked for some tea, they didn't have any but suggested that there was a teashop in the basement of the shopping centre next door. I made my way there and found it a little difficult to explain what I wanted. Luckily the owner of the first shop had sent someone behind me and he explained to these people that the foreigner wanted some tea and I was served. Peculiar experience – all the customers were seated along the walls of the shop, smoking hubble/bubble pipes, and I was the only one drinking tea. 

The second time I went to the burger bar, the owner was very generous with the portions and refused to take payment. Apparently he'd worked for 20 years in Germany for Siemens and had come back to Iran to raise his family.

Persepolis

The person at the entrance said it was a bit early, when I arrived, (between 7 & 8 am) but let me in anyway. The site dates from 515BCE and construction was started by Darius the Great. Demolition was in 330BCE by Alexander the Great who was taking revenge for the Achaemenid attack on Athens.

From a sightseeing perspective this is a tricky site (IMHO). I found it quite difficult getting my bearings from the guidebook. In the end I took lots of photos and by cross-referencing with the pics taken by the University of Chicago's 1930s excavation team (on the net and the most comprehensive I have come across -http://oi.uchicago.edu/OI/MUS/PA/IRAN/PAAI/PAAI.html) – I can now place most of the images.

As you walk around the site the key is to appreciate which of the halls you are in and how it relates to the others. Not always easy because the walls are missing. There are some modern contraptions dotted around the site (e.g. for a son et lumiere show) which create some clutter, but it's a lot less obtrusive than what they'd need if this was more heavily visited.

The stonework is fairly well preserved and you do have to keep referring back to the guidebook in order to appreciate what the different figures signify. The local signage just tells you where you are and some of the background to each of the halls. Although the site was fairly empty, I felt secure enough to leave my camera bag lying around as I concentrated on taking picture. 

After about an hour or so the ubiquitous parties of school kids began to arrive and by 9am (when I left) the first coach loads of European students were being given their intros to the site.

In the hill overlooking the palace complex are the Achaemenid tombs. There was not an obvious path that I could see, so it meant a long clamber over some tracks. You can't see anything of the tombs themselves but the walls have carvings and you get a good view over the whole Persepolis complex. I took the shorter route back – but it was very steep.

There is also a museum attached to the Persepolis complex, but there's not a lot there. Overall it's easily worth the time and trouble getting there.

A few kms away are some more Achaemenid tombs at a place called Naqsh-I-Rustam. These are carved into cliff faces and at the bottom of each are scenes depicting key events from the lives of the kings buried here. The scale is impressive. Naqsh-i-Rajab (nearby) is similar but on a very much smaller scale.

The next site that can be seen on the same day I am not sure was worth the visit. 

Pasargarda is 115 kms further on and is the site of Cyrus the Great's tomb and various other buildings. Bradt says that the buildings are 'on a more intimate smaller scale'. Flippin' pile of stones if you ask me. Or to put it another way your imagination really has to go into overdrive as you try and work out what the buildings must have looked like. Bradt gives a two page description of the site and nowhere does she say that this is best suited to those who are really, really into archaeology.

As for Cyrus' tomb itself, it's covered in scaffolding.

 

Bishapur

This is 125kms west of Shiraz. Bradt says that the scenery is dramatic and to some extent it is. You drive on the side of one longish 'mountain' and see the valley below (including crashed vehicles), as well as the mountains on the other side. 

Bishapur is a palace town complex dating from 266CE. To be honest there is not a very great deal left, the French having taken away the most impressive stuff to the Louvre. As you stand looking at the site you don't actually see a lot. It's only by walking around and looking down that you actually see the stone remains of rooms (not even entire buildings). Some paths have also been excavated. Apparently the site is much larger than what has been excavated.

Two buildings of note are the royal audience chamber (lots of columns which look obviously restored) and the Anahita temple. The latter has some accessible interior chambers, for which you need a torch and I did not have one. I went a little way in by taking pics with the flash on my digital camera to see what lay ahead, but after a few yards lost my bottle and headed back. 

Apart from the main path access to the rest of the site is over thorny scrub, but there did not appear to be any creepy crawlies to worry about.

Leaving the site I went to the river bank nearby to paddle, see more rock reliefs and shared a water melon with the driver for lunch. A couple of years previously my family had gone onto see the statue of Shapur which is in a cave, accessed by walking up a mountain. But I was too tired by this stage to do that and headed back to Shiraz.

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South India


Mausoleum of Tipu Sultan, Bangalore, India

South India


Mausoleum of Tipu Sultan, Bangalore, India

South India (2003)

I've spent the last couple of weeks there because of work, what follows are some personal impressions on what is going on in some parts of South India.

My entry into India was through Chennai (Madras) which is on the south east coast, for anyone who wants a stress free entry into India that airport is much better than Mumbai or Delhi. It's in the state of Tamil Nadu and one of the features of the state is that apparently everyone can speak English, which is also handy.

Work involved meeting various businesspeople and what struck me is how Indian companies are overcoming key problems of 'Indianness', certain manufacturers are able to make auto-components to international standards and I understand are starting to export cars to the UK. Hearing that is one thing but seeing the clinically clean factory, the management eating with the shop-floor workers and the phenomenally detailed planning systems you realise that this is not the chaotic and dusty India that tourists see.

The leather industry was interesting insofar as their recognition of China as a threat. Different companies seemed to be going about coping with it in different ways. One company had decided to compete in a niche, another had focused on innovative design and a third had decided to outsource production. All three methods were seen as offering the firms some ways of differentiating themselves from the Chinese factories that they had visited where you could get, say 5,000 workers in one factory – something they felt could not be done in India: too many greedy politicians who would then want their cut from such a large enterprise. 

Talking to a condom manufacturer I was told the prices at which these sold in India, literally pennies. There were clearly grey market/arbitrage opportunities here I felt. However he did say, I am sure, that one of the reasons such an activity would not work was because their company (a well known international brand) sold different sizes in different countries. So it's true…

I had, somewhere, come across the argument that while these developing countries could make cheap goods, developed countries such as Britain still had the designers who would do the value added part of the work. One of the leather manufacturers told me how he employed young Indian designers fresh out of an Indian design schools who had developed lots of innovative designs for his products and which had sold very well in large well known American and British stores. He felt that their exposure to western culture via magazines and cable TV, together with a wider Indian culture that still has an affinity towards Britain, was a good enough substitute for actually living in the UK. He also felt that the Chinese would be less able to follow this path.


Hyderabad

I had a weekend free and decided to take off to Hyderabad, which is 700km from Chennai and a 14 hour overnight journey. The railways were also a pleasant surprise. A £20 return ticket got me a second class a/c sleeper with clean starched sheets and fairly clean toilets vs. about £100 for an air ticket. I sold out early from Ben Bailey so these price differences matter. 

The train ride itself was wonderful, on the way out I was so excited that I hardly slept. When I was eleven my mum had taken me and my brother from Karachi, in Pakistan, to Lucknow in India by train. And I still have fantastic memories of the trip: people shouting 'garam chai' (hot tea) on the platforms and also selling hot hard boiled eggs, which in the cold of the night were just fantastic. This time they sold not only tea but also coffee. But the sellers on the platforms have been done away with as the railway company serves (it's own tea I think) in the carriages. And I could not see the hard boiled eggs anywhere. 

Indian railways were also selling pre-packaged meals themselves, 50p for a dinner that was way better than the rubbish British Airways were serving up on their flights. Is it just me or do other people get the impression that the person in charge of BA catering is an accountant who mulls over the content of every meal trying to work out whether they can possibly take away something without the customer realising? Singapore Airlines, Cathay and Emirates are so much more generous in comparison. 

Pulling into Hyderabad I saw something I had not seen for years, the British Leyland roundel. It was fixed to an Ashok Leyland factory – which still makes trucks. This is a feature of Indian business. Old British industrial company names keep cropping up in the names of joint ventures – the British company may have died off and be forgotten in the UK, but ironically enough the name lives on in India. In the case of auto-components some of these company may well be exporting to the UK. Talking of roundels, Indian railways seem to be using something very similar to London Underground's for their station names.

Hyderabad itself has lots of historical monuments and I spent a morning at the Golconda fort – the size of small town. Entry fee for foreigners is £2 I think – which compares very well with the £5 that they try and charge you for entry into Castle Urquhart (on the shore of Loch Ness), which I had been to a few weeks previously, which struck me as a con so I did not go in, perhaps someone can comment whether it is actually worthwhile. Those canny Scots have built the fence around Urquhart so that it's almost impossible to take pictures, unless you pay to go in.

My host negotiated the accompanied guide down from £3.50 to £2. Personally I don't begrudge these people the higher fees that they charge – quite rightly they figure that given the prices of the cameras etc we carry a quid here or there should not really matter.

On the way back from Hyderabad one of my co-travellers was someone with a military background who introduced himself to me and the other passengers in our sub-compartment. Clearly he wanted to get a conversation going, the others did not seem interested, so I thought I'd give him the chance to tell us more about himself.

He was taking his daughter to Chennai to sit an exam for Singapore Airlines scholarship programme. They would pay for the last two years of her schooling as well as all university fees in Singapore. In return she would have to work for them for a few years. He was very proud that she had got this far. Although the transfer of 'business process outsourcing' jobs from the west to developing countries may suggest that lots of employment opportunities are being created there – the impression I had was that there are still lots of qualified people who are underemployed and underpaid. One of the leather manufacturers had told me of hiring qualified engineers as supervisors – knowing full well that they were overqualified for the posts and he was hoping that they would move on having benefited from the break he had given them.

The crease in his trousers was amazingly sharp and before retiring he would change into a shalwar kameez that was similarly well starched. In contrast I was wearing sandals and a dark pair of trousers that usefully hid lots of stains. Being a slob, I was wearing tight fitting Indian pajamas underneath, so changing would be easier. His bed making skills also put mine to shame. Perhaps I should have stayed longer in the combined cadet force at school. 

You can still open the doors on the carriages and keep them open as the train moves. When the train stops you can get off and wander around, for me it's just an amazing feeling that you've been on the ground and seen a place and life, however briefly, that you never knew existed. 

Passenger lists are pasted outside each compartment which is very handy, but not so handy if there happen to be sectarian gangs looking for members of a particular community to cut up. I was in the South when the Mumbai bombs went off but did not feel less safe as a result. Though coming from the UK I felt I was walking on eggshells at various times, trying hard not to do or say anything that might offend – I stuck to a vegetarian diet throughout for example. People's recognition of sectarian differences is palpable. 

Hyderabad was a surprise. Large avenues and the most freely moving traffic I had come across in my visit. Hyderabad lies within the state of Andra Pradesh, apparently its Chief Minister, Chandrababu Naidu, had passed an ordinance that allowed the state to buy private land upon payment of compensation and this had allowed the state to widen the roads – something other states still have not been able to manage. In turn initiatives such as these had encouraged overseas investors to set up shop in its 'hi-tech city'. In Tamil Nadu the chief minister Jayalitha had undertaken something similarly radical by passing a law dealing with water harvesting. Water shortages had become chronic in that state and harvesting (collecting the water that lands on the roof of your property) had been seen as a possible solution. Until her initiative no one had had the political will to do anything.

Living in the west it is all too easy to think of places such as India, and for that matter China as homogeneous land masses. On closer inspection you find that some regions/states are radically different to others and in the case of India a lot seems to depend on the inclinations of the Chief Minister. Unfortunately in some states they have been accused of fomenting sectarian violence.

Bangalore

In contrast to Hyderabad, Bangalore (in the state of Karnataka) was a surprise, given how much we hear about it, I had expected a much more modern city. However, Bangalore has some very impressive gardens, laid down originally by Haider Ali (no relation). 

I had found it curious in a previous visit to the south that my hosts would introduce me as 'Haider Ali' with the same nudge, nudge, wink, wink as if I were an American named Napoleon Bonaparte visiting France. I knew that Haider Ali had been an eighteenth century southern Indian warlord who (with his son Tipu) had fought against the British and put up some pretty stiff resistance, with French help. Clearly he was held in high esteem, even though his son had ultimately lost. This time I decided to visit his mausoleum and fort in Seringapatnam, which lies on the eastward road between Bangalore and Mysore (his son was known as the 'Tiger of Mysore', which in those days had also been a large state). The timing would be good too, since a couple of weeks earlier I had been up the William (Mel Gibson, Braveheart) Wallace memorial in Stirling. The wide appeal of the two rulers, from what I gathered, lay in their ecumenical approach to governance – articles given by them to Hindu temples are still in use today. Lessons here perhaps for various rulers in the region.

The road between Bangalore and Mysore was great, a dual carriageway would have been better, but there were no potholes and the surrounding countryside was very lush, with rice paddies and sugar cane in abundance. We stopped a bullock cart and the driver snapped a stick of cane, which I then chewed for breakfast.

And that's the surprising thing about India the breakneck developments that have taken place coexist with life being lived in another century. I would not be surprised if there were social tensions as a result of this.