Half a day in Kargil, North India

It’s not the greatest endorsement for a town when your guide puts a phone call through to his mother only for her to advise him to leave the place immediately. That’s what happened when I was in Kargil in the north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir last year.

CoffeeGulmargOther things happened during my 16-hour stay. A war nearly broke out. Mind you, I knew that was on the cards before I arrived. The previous day I’d wandered into a cafe in Gulmarg near Srinagar, ordered a coffee (Nescape 3-in-1 served in a heart-covered cardboard cup), and unfolded a copy of The Times of India to discover the front-page headline, “After 14 years, Pakistan opens its guns in Kargil”.

So why did I still go? Well, if you want to get from Srinagar to the former Tibetan kingdom of Ladakh (and I did), you have to go to Kargil. It’s the midway point on the only road. Plus, my guide said he had no concerns at all about continuing our journey as planned. (Clearly the apple fell a long way from the tree…)

In the end, everything was fine; in fact, Kargil – which is no stranger to armed conflict – proved to be in a relatively mellow mood, despite the skirmishes a couple of kilometres away on the disputed border. It was a perfect afternoon, too, and while my stroll through the streets threw up plenty of reminders of the region’s problems, the town actually grew on me.

Will I be booking myself and my family into a Kargil hotel for a two-week stay any time soon? Dear god no! But there are worse places. (Dras, just down the road, for starters. Yikes.)

Here are some pics.

Kargil01 Continue reading

China flashback: metalheads and mohawks

I recently read about a John Cage composition for organ called As Slow As Possible, a piece of music that is currently being played live in a church in Germany. The performance began in 2001 (though the first actual chord wasn’t struck until 17 months later) and will take 639 years to finish. The next scheduled change of note is in October this year.

And I thought: that’s about as slow as my book on China is coming along. Continue reading

Travel: more memorable moments of 2012

Part two of my best bits and bobs from last year’s peregrinations. (Click photos to zoom.)

6. Bali, Indonesia
6. Bali, IndonesiaWhereabouts: Bali’s Bukit Peninsula
Mood: Windswept
Day five of a fantastic holiday in Bali with my family found us poolside at a villa complex called “The Edge”, a place I had grudgingly accepted the task of reviewing for work. This stint in Bali was our first outside the well-trodden haunts of Seminyak and Ubud. I loved the Bukit Peninsula for a change, especially with its 180-degree view of relentless, pounding surf, and even more especially for its total lack of retail outlets. Continue reading

Travel: memorable moments of 2012

Plenty of travel opportunities last year, thankfully, including regional stuff out of Singapore (three trips to Malaysia, three to Thailand, one to Indonesia), and a handful of journeys further afield. Here are some of the bits I enjoyed the most. (Click photos to zoom.)

1. Loubressac, France
1. Loubressac, FranceWhereabouts: On a rural road between hamlets
Mood: Invigorated
Travel highlight of the year was a toss-up between a brilliant first-time trip to India, encompassing Delhi, Rajasthan and Agra, and an eight-day hike in the Dordogne Valley of France’s southwest. This photo was taken on day five of the latter, near the village of Loubressac. After a torridly wet start to the week (70km of squelching boots), the early morning fog signalled glorious weather ahead. Continue reading

Reflecting on 2012 (or: Nope, not quite famous yet)

Hang on. What happened? Or rather, what didn’t happen?

I didn’t get famous, that’s what. I can’t understand it. I wrote a book and it got published. I thought the logical progression from that point was to lie back, let the shower of riches begin, and enjoy a life of fame and fortune. Sicily, It’s Not Quite Tuscany has been out for nine months. NINE MONTHS! I should have been relaxing on a Majorca beach way back in August.

It gets worse. Look what I discovered the other day when I plugged my name into the search facility of a website: Continue reading

A Christmas proposal from China

Eleven years ago today – Christmas Day, 2001 – I asked my girlfriend to marry me. Gill was living in Brisbane but holidaying with her family on the Gold Coast at the time. I was 8,500 kilometres away in northeast China, having relocated to a city called Changchun for work a few months earlier.

How do you propose to someone on the other side of the planet? By email, of course. The hitch is that it’s not an especially romantic method of popping the question – a bit like the guy I read about who proposed to his girlfriend while they were pulled over at a Mobil service station.

My task, then, was to find a way to make it more than just an average email. Continue reading


So, the newly re-elected POTUS was in Southeast Asia last week, and his trip included a much-discussed-and-dissected visit to Burma. Political ramifications aside, I think that country is going to need a whole lot more hotel rooms in the near future to accommodate the tourist boom. Lodgings were few and far between when I was there in late 2010, and with the recent “opening up”, plus the Lonely Planet stamp of approval, and the buzz about the first-ever US presidential visit to the place, I’m guessing that Yangon International Airport will only get busier and busier.

(I have a soft spot for that otherwise uninspiring airport, by the way, because it’s where I first heard that my book had been accepted for publication.) Continue reading

Outstanding! Hurrah! Thanks in your sweat!

Bad book review got you down? I suggest you start a blog. In no time at all, you’ll be on the receiving end of a whole bunch of relentlessly cheerful and laudatory spam messages. These messages are bound to lift your spirits, singling you out for your brilliant writing skills and giving you a great big virtual slap on the back. Sure, the English is stilted – even nonsensical at times – but the sentiment is clear. And here’s the great thing: no matter how vigilant you are about deleting these messages, they just keep stacking up, day after day, night after night. I’m told that this phenomenon is referred to in the industry as Black Hat SEO, but hey, whatever. It’s awesome! Hurrah!! Here, then, is just a small sample of the hundreds of exclamation-mark-laden eulogies I’ve received in recent weeks (because, you know, I deserved them): Continue reading