Sunday, July 15, 2018

China: In Search of the Past: Part 1: Hong Kong

I avoid red-eyes like the plague, but there we were, off for Hong Kong, only hours after my 23-year-old daughter and her second-graders finished the countdown to summer break! Eighteen months ago, we'd traveled to India and Sri Lanka for my WW2 research. Now to continue in China.

Around dawn Sunday, approaching the glamorous "new" Lantau Island airport, I recall my many hair-raising descents past packed tenements into funky old Kai Tek, on the Kowloon (mainland) side. Hong Kong Island, across the harbor, gives its name to this vital metropolis that still mesmerizes me. It pains me that for the first time we won't be staying here.

But with tomorrow's early flight, I've booked a seaside hotel not far from the airport--and the former shipyard that is now Disneyland. The view is not bad!

A high point of Asian travel is the breakfast buffets. We feast on luscious fruit, omelettes, parathas, spicy noodle soup. After my fifth cappuccino, I'm ready to enter the local time zone. We plan to "cruise" through it by ferry. Easy. We think.

Given the humidity, most people are happy for the air-conditioned "fast" ship, but the close air makes us drowsy. I am revived as we move into the waters of my beloved Victoria Harbour.

At Hong Kong Central, we board another closed ferry to Cheung Chau, a pedestrian-only island where I passed significant time many moons ago.

Along the busy waterfront, we join the Sunday crowds, many with hand fans or little battery-operated ones. But, although bludgeoned by the heat, we are here, and I hope to catch a memory or two.  

One block inland, we find brief shelter under a grand old banyan.

It's even hotter in the narrow, shop-lined back alleys. I look around... from which of these lanes did Shirley Lamb recognize my laugh, in which basement restaurant? (But that's another story.)

Later, I discover the library and, in the children's section, a "Giant Biography" of George Washington. Now a Chinese territory, Hong Kong maintains her outward-turning spirit.

Wilting, we return down the waterfront, admiring this cool windsurfer. 

Heading back to Lantau, we find cheap passage on the open-air "slow boat." It's a great pleasure to sit and feel the salt breeze.

Ready to put our heads down, we're even more grateful to return to our hotel in time for a glorious sunset over the South China Sea.

Early tomorrow we're off to southern China--and the magnificent Detian Transnational Waterfalls on the border with Vietnam.

Next Stop: Nanning, China

Sunday, May 27, 2018

In Search of the Past: Part 13: Mysore: Princely Palaces and the End of the Road

Still thrilled about the tiger we sighted in the Mudumalai Reserve, we leave for the former princely state of Mysore. En route, we see prize buffaloes being bathed in milk for Pongol, South India's "Thanksgiving" celebration.

Our first stop is the 18C summer palace of the "Tiger of Mysore"Tipu Sultan, who ruled much of South India during a long struggle with the British East India Company.

Inside, wall paintings depict great battle scenes between the "Red Coats" and the ruler's troops, including those of his French allies, on war elephants, camels, and horses.

Surrounded by fine gardens and a deep veranda, the teakwood palace is a small jewel, faceted with intricate carvings, moldings, and archways. We are enveloped by rich colors, floral motifs, and detailed frescoes. 

While the Summer Palace is refined and gemlike, the Mysore City Palace overpowers with grandeur. Beyond the gates, we tour the former royal abode, a world of staggering wealth and opulence.

In the garden with some new friends.

Every Sunday, Mysore Palace dazzles with a world-famous light show. We circle around for another gate with the perfect view, then wait for dusk.

Mysore Palace Illuminated.

The gate.

And the palace temples.

We are not alone, joined by mostly Indian crowds, families who have traveled here to see the breathtaking sights. As we must leave tomorrow for Bangalore and the airport, we celebrate with them the grandeur that is India.

Dear India: See you next time!

Monday, May 7, 2018

In Search of the Past: Part 12: Mudumalai National Park: Tigers!

Tiger Reserve entrance, Mudumalai website
We set off from Ooty at dawn, eyes peeled for elephants and other wild creatures known to roam the roadside. We head further uphill amid foggy greenery, following the narrow winding road through the NilgiriBlueMountains and down toward the plains. 

36-hairpin turns later (!), we near the  MudumalaiLand of Ancient HillsWildlife Reserve. Our excitement mounts. Here lives India's largest tiger population!

Photo, Mudumalai website
Entering the park, a former princely game reserve, our driver slows to a creep. Within moments, we spot a wild gaur--Indian bison.

Next, Mr. Peacock, flaunting his stuff.

This langur looks like he's waiting for a ride. As you can see, these creatures are in command of the roads.

We're told crocodiles live down there... maybe they're enjoying an early lunch. (Hikers are not allowed in this reserve; you can imagine why.)

Our first elephants. 

Elephants, Mudumalai website
We hit a roadblock, passengers hanging from their vehicles, peering to the right. The word spreads: TIGER! There is a rustling in the brush, the passage of a dark figure, but too swiftly for a photo. He retains his mystery, but at least others have sighted him. 

Tiger, Mudumalai website
The following is from the park's visitors center.

Too soon we reach the end of the wildlife reserve, back to big, bustling India.

Next stop: Mysore: Palaces and the end of the road