Passage to India – Morning Rituals

Kolkata Ghat-0330


The morning bathing in the Hooghly, a branch of the Ganga, is an important ritual. Never mind the trash. The river is all important and takes care of all.

Kolkata-puja-0348Meanwhile in a quieter part of the ghat, a worshipper performs a puja at a small shrine.

Safe travels everyone,

Grover from Kolkata


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Passage to India – In the Kolkata Flower Market

A friend wrote that she thought I had been enhancing the colors in my images. I’m sure it looks that way sometimes but in fact the colors here are so vibrant that I usually have to work to keep them under control. Like any modern photographer using Lightroom, I surely do work with brightness and contrast with a dab of clarity, but I never have increased the color saturation; sometimes I even have to lower it a little.Kolkata Flower-00503

Kolkata Flower-0357Kolkata Flower-00506Safe travels everyone,

Cheers from Kolkata, India


Technical note: images from a Canon EOS 1200D shot in RAW and edited in Lightroom 5.  Lens 10-18mm Canon.

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Passage to India – The Charnel Ground

I went to the cremation ground in Puri today. I was deeply moved and it helped me to reflect on our own lives and deaths.

I’ll only show one photograph because it seemed that my taking lots of photographs was disrespectful. That said, as I was leaving, two more bodies had arrived at the gate and one entire family was having its photo taken with the deceased, whose head was being held up so it was more visible.

“Incredible India”

This is the cremation ground just across from the beach. The small fire on the left is the last of someone’s funerary pyre. The fellow with the pole is poking some body parts back into the fire. I watched another one being started nearby, complete with a ceremony I didn’t understand.

Cremation Ground, Puri

Cremation Ground, Puri

It was not quite what I had anticipated, which by itself should teach me to not anticipate anything in this country. People wandered through yakking on cell phones (mobiles) since there was a walkway here between streets. There were the usual dogs and cows, and hawkers too.

Wood Stash

Wood Stash

This is the hardwood used in the cremation. As you can see the whole affair is tucked in between beachfront hotels.

It was a good experience. Actually none of my adventures here can be said to be bad. It’s just life and death in another manner than our own. And that realization has been important to me.

Safe travels everyone, and keep your minds open while you’re at it.


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Passage to India – A Short and Sad Life

Beach Dog - Puri

Beach Dog – Puri

I see the street dogs and the beach dogs here and I am saddened because I know they will have a short life. Except for a few families who treasure their dogs, most of the strays are ignored or poorly treated. There are large numbers of them here on the beach and  I see many who have just had a litter of pups, but the pups are nowhere to be seen. Others suffer from mange and have ticks as large as your thumbnail. This is one of the few things about India I don’t like.

“Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, did you enjoy the play?”


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Passage to India – Thoughts on Pondicherry

Pondicherry (Puducherry) has a distinct French colonial flavor.  A settlement was established by the French as early as 1674 although the place was taken by the British twice after they came to dominate India. The French finally turned the Puducherry area over to the Indian government in 1954, seven years after India won her independence.

It’s a colorful place with a mixture of architecture. Beautiful tree lined street are seen in the French half nearest the waterfront.Reduced Blog-00227

Reduced Blog-00231


In the east is the commercial Tamil district with its bustling markets, scooters and motorcycles by the hundreds, and little side streets often devoted to just one trade.Reduced Blog-00240 Reduced Blog-00244 Reduced Blog-00223 Reduced Blog-00251I found the usual street dogs here including this one whose sleeping quarters were nicely decorated.Reduced Blog-00218Finally a note about the weather. The photos above were taken on the only sunny day during the five days I was there. The monsoons had begun and finding a bit of dryness was difficult. This is the rooftop restaurant at my boutique hotel L’escale (highly recommended by me). The rain is driving in from the Bay of Bengal.Reduced Blog-00215


I love this place. I would have spent more time had the schedule allowed and visited nearby Auroville. As it was I backtracked to the Nilgiris and Ooty.

Until next time, safe travels everyone,





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Passage to India – The Ooty Train, Part II

Railway Coach

Railway Coach

The 1st Class coach was the oldest in the three-car set but was placed at the head of the train. The Inspector must have taken pity on me, or smelled a railfan, and assigned me the seat in the very front. I really did have the best view.

Head End

Head End

You can see the layout of the coach with the gauges for the vacuum brakes and the lights and the brake handles.  On the signs you will notice the train designations and the names Mettupalayam and Udagamandalam. The first is in the valley and the other is the official name for Ooty. View from the Train

View from the Train

The view above is only from about three thousand feet but already all of us were cold. The surroundings were impenetrable jungle. Later some light rain settled in.

The scenery is varied and as you approach Ooty the tea plantations begin to appear. Click on any image to enlarge.

The trip is long, about three-and-a-half hours, with steam on the first section and diesel on the last.  Finally you reach the unattractive town of Ooty, once a jewel and now frankly a mess. This photo of the station doesn’t reveal what is behind. More on Ooty later.

Ooty Station

Ooty Station

And now for the railfans, a selection of images:

Until later, safe travels everyone,


Posted from Chennai

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Passage to India – The Ooty Train, Part I

This is unashamedly for my railway friends, but you’re welcome to read it too.

From the hot plains of Tamil Nadu to the “hills” the Ooty train rises to over 7000′ on a spectacularly built rack railway. Properly called the Nilgiri Hills Railway, it was built by the British over a hundred years ago to allow the administrators from Madras (now called Chennai) to escape the heat by heading up into the mountains.

It is a meter gauge, rack railway.

Rack rail

The teeth between the rails are engaged by a set of matching teeth in the locomotive. Although the locomotive looks somewhat normal, it has special gears inside the frame driven by separate cylinders.

Engine Teeth

Engine Teeth

Steam Engine

Steam Engine at Mettupalayam

Rack Gear

Oooty Engine Deck 2

Engine Footplate

The railway grades are too step for regular adhesion (steel on steel) working hence a rack system is necessary. Here is part of the 8% grade.

Steep Gradient

Steep Gradient 1in 12.5

The three coaches are pushed by the locomotive and there is a guard on the front platform signaling and whistling as needed. He can also engage the emergency brakes.

Guard's Platform at the Front of the Train

Guard’s Platform at the Front of the Train

Part Two coming up. In the meantime check out this YouTube I uploaded.

Safe travels everyone,


Posted from Chennai, India

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Passage to India – Colors Part One

Since there are  so many books on India that relate to cultural differences, I’ll not go into much of that here. I’d like to comment however on the things that strike me personally as unusual or significantly different.

One surely notices the vibrant colors, everywhere. Here are a few examples shot in Mumbai, Fort Cochi and in Jew Town (yes, really, it’s on the map).

Women on Platform

Women on Platform

These women are also showing the various clothing styles from skinny jeans to saree.

Poster Saree

Posters Everywhere

The high end shops always advertise the saree in their posters.

Seat Cover

Seat Cover

Street in Jew Town

Street in Jew Town

Pink Saree

Pink Saree

I’ll have more of this later on.

The internet here in Pondicherry has been intermittent so my postings have been few. Things will be worse for a couple of days until I get back to Chennai (Madras) later in the week.

Safe travels everyone,


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Passage to India – Tuk Tuk Heaven

There are many small delights for me in this great country and one of them is riding in a ubiquitous tuk-tuk. Small and breezy, their easy availability and low cost means that a short ride is a pleasant if rather noisy experience.

Tuk Tuk Ride

Tuk Tuk Ride

I went for a morning walk in the Juhu Beach district, which is where my hotel is located, and after about two kilometers in the heat decided I’d had enough exercise and hailed a tuk-tuk for a ride to the Santa Cruz railway station a few more kilometers away. The cost for the ride was only about thirty cents. The taxi ride back by comparison was a beastly dollar. Although where in the U.S. could you ride for a few miles in a taxi for that price?

The tuk-tuk is a small two or perhaps three passenger, three-wheel contrivance power by a small two-stroke engine and driven up in front with motorcycle handlebars. In Mumbai all taxis and tuk-tuks are powered by CNG so the pollution is nearly nonexistent.

That is not to say that there is no pollution since the main item of safety in Mumbai and elsewhere is the horn. And the horns do blow constantly; sometime I think it is a recreational activity. The brakes are another safety item in this madness of traffic where marked lanes means nothing at all. Cars, tuk-tuk, bicycles, motorcycles fit in wherever they can. “Tailgating” is a word unknown here. There was a sign on the causeway that said, “Lane Driving = Safe Driving”.

Overall, once the fear of immediate death has passed, riding in these remarkable machines is a pleasure.  I learned on the Great Interweb that someone is actually importing them to the U.S.A. which means that they will now have to comply with our safety regulations. It would certainly be fun to own one.

Safe travels everyone.


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Passage to India – The Joys of Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic

In the world of Virgin Atlantic what most would label “First Class” is called in a particularly British way “Upper Class”. The question under discussion here is whether or not it is worth it for long-haul travel.

After a crowded and cramped coach flight from Sacramento, California to Chicago, Illinois, followed by a rat-maze through O’Hare, I was ready to relax. Enter the lounge experience. Although Virgin does not have a lounge of its own at O’Hare, one is kept happy at the Air France lounge. Complimentary food and beverages as well as comfortable chairs are enjoyable, away from the noisy concourse.

On boarding the plane, I found I was the first of the first-class and after finding my seat/bed I went forward and was invited into the cockpit. That just doesn’t happen everyday. A good start, I thought to myself.

Cockpit of A300

Cockpit of A300

The seats on Virgin and some other airlines convert into almost real beds. I don’t mean just recline; they fold over and become a flat bed with pillow and duvet. I slept for several hours of the eight hour trip. Traveler’s note : one thing I will do next time is use the provided earplugs, since even up front the noise of the plane can be disturbing.



The lounge at O’Hare cannot compare to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Heathrow. It is simply beyond words. I enclose here some shots of the facility from the V.A. website. For one thing, and I believe that it may be unique to Virgin, is that one is made to feel welcome by a really polite and informed staff. There is a full bar and food service. And showers! Yes, even showers if you need to freshen up. Massages are also available. Whew! Check the link above.Clubhouse

The flight to Mumbai from London was also excellent but I found that I was asleep from the moment we were airborne until somewhere north of Baghdad. It was interesting to note that due to the current regional conflict, the route diverges northward into Turkey for more than it normally would so that at no point are you flying over Syria or Iraq.

I arrived at Mumbai’s new international terminal, completed only a few months ago, just after midnight on the third day of travel, but that is a tale for another time.

Mumbai International

Mumbai International

To answer the question, “is it worth it?” Heck yes, and I would go as far as to say if you can wangle any flight that will let you visit the Virgin Clubhouse at Heathrow, then that alone is worth it. My overall experience with Virgin Air so far is Two Thumbs Up.

I purchased discount tickets online so it wasn’t nearly as expensive as it might have been. But beware and check the reviews for some of these discount vendors though. In the end it cost me only about twice of a full fare coach ticket. There is also a Virgin Atlantic category called Economy Plus which should be fine a a short trip that is not overnight. Not just extra legroom but real, wide, reclining seats that are comfortable.

Save travels everyone – the Indian journey continues.


Cockpit of A300

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