Nature Observations (lockdown 2021)

leaves

 

We often talk about time as if it is real, yet according to Albert Einstein and many scientists, time is only an illusion. Time is subjective and personal, and everyone has their own concept of time. In Zen Buddhism, the founder of Soto Zen, Dogen Zenji (1200–1253), also wrote about time or ‘uji’ in Japanese, which is usually translated as ‘Being-Time’. The most common interpretation of the two kanji characters is: “time is existence and that all existence is time.” According to Dogen, we are time, and time is us. Time is a complex subject, and I don’t intend to dwell on it here, but personally, the lockdown has made me become more aware of my relationship with time.

During the pandemic, my digital calendar and paper planners were mostly blank for about 2 years. I had no work events or social engagements to attend, and no upcoming holiday to look forward to. I am sure that many people experienced some sort of anxieties when all the short and long term plans suddenly came to a halt. And with so much ‘time’ on our hands, how were we going to spend it?

Perhaps for the first time in life, I did not have to check my watch, clocks and calendar frequently. I stopped planning, and after a while, time became ‘insignificant’. I could ‘waste’ it day after day without feeling guilty about not being productive enough. When I finally let go of ‘time’, I felt liberated. I learned to slow down and live each day as it comes.

Instead of obsessively checking the clocks for time and calendar for dates, I began to observe time through plants and flowers when I went out for walks during the lockdown. Nature became the measuring device for me.

 

Winter

Perhaps it is a misconception to think that flowers do not bloom during winter. In fact, there are many evergreen shrubs and flowers that thrive in the winter like Snowdrops, Hellebores, Eranthis, Primrose, and Viburnum tinus Eve Price etc. During my lockdown walks, I would come across some blooming flowers despite the cold weather. With less distractions and stimulations, I found joy in identifying unknown plant species during my strolls around London.

 

Hedera colchica  Algerian iris

Hellebores

japanese skimmia  Iris foetidissima

First left: Hedera colchica/ Persian Ivy; First right: Algerian iris; 2nd row: Hellebores; bottom left: Japanese skimmia; Bottom right: Iris foetidissima

 

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of winter plants or flowers are the array of vibrant colours. There are bright pinks, reds, violets, and yellows – these are colours normally associated with spring/summer, yet they can be seen during the winter too. Time passes quickly when you place your focus on the surrounding nature rather than on yourself – the lockdown probably created an environment for introspection, yet too much of it would make us too self-focused due to less interactions with the outside world.

 

Red twig dogwoods  red maple leaves

img_5079

Eranthis   Mahonia

 Viburnum tinus Eve Price

Viburnum tinus Eve Price  Hellebores

First left: Red twig dogwoods; First right: maple leaves: 2nd: snowdrops; 3rd left: Eranthis; 3rd right: Mahonia; 4th & Bottom left: Viburnum tinus Eve Price; Bottom right: Hellebore

 

Euonymus europaeus  Chaenomeles

Chaenomeles

WEIGELA PINK POPPET

Magenta Hebe

First left: Euonymus europaeus; first right & 2nd: Chaenomeles; 3rd: Weigela Pink Poppet; last row: Magenta Hebe

 

Crocus tommasinianus 'Ruby Giant'

Erica carnea, the winter heath

Clematis armandii

Primrose – Primula vulgaris

First: Crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’; 2nd: Erica carnea/the winter heath; 3rd: Viburnum tinus Eve Price; 4th: Clematis armandii; Bottom: Primrose (Primula vulgaris)

 

My favourite time of the year is autumn and spring. Around late February and early March, the day light hours would last longer, which means spring is in the air. The gradual increase of sunshine and day light makes a huge diference to the ecology and humans. We start to notice daffodils blooming everywhere, and seeing the golden yellow colour covering the parks immediately uplifts our moods and spirits.

 

daffadils  daffadils

daffadils

daffadils

daffadils

Daffodils

 

On the grounds, there are daffodils, and when we look up, we would see seas of sumptuous white and pink magnolias over our heads. Magnolia shrubs seem to be ommonly planted in people’s gardens in London as I tend to see them a lot when I walk around my neighbourhood.

 

Magnolia  Magnolia

pink magnolia

Magnolia

White and pink magnolia

 

For those (including me) who yearned to go to Japan but couldn’t for the last few years, the joy of viewing cherry blossom seemed to have become a distant memory. Yet London is also a good place for sakura viewing; even though it is not as spectatular as Japan, the number of Japanese cherry trees being planted in the U.K. have been increasing over the years. As far as I am aware, there is only one white-flowering cherry tree (Prunus x yedoensis) standing alone the middle of an open field in Hampstead heath, and when it blooms, it is quite stunning. The next obvious place to view sakura would be Regent’s Park, both inside and on the outer ring.

 

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

A white-flowering cherry tree/ Yoshino cherry (Prunus x yedoensis) in Hamspstead heath

 

cherry tree

cherry blossom

cherry trees

cherry blossom

Cherry trees in Regent’s park

 

The lesser-known sakura viewing spot is the residential neighbourhood, Swiss Cottage. The open space in around Hampstead theatre and Swiss Cottage library features rows of white-flowering cherry trees (Prunus x yedoensis) and pink-flowering cherry trees (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’). When the flowers are in bloom, they do look quite spectacular and make you feel you are in Japan for a second. Since it is a recreation space, it may even be possible to have a viewing picnic party there (weather permitted).

 

cherry blossom

cherry blossom  cherry blossom

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

The stunning pink-flowering cherry trees (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’) in Swiss Cottage

 

In spring, we would often see a lot of beautiful camellias in various colours, especially Camellia japonica, which is the predominate species of the genus. Besides that, we might be able to spot some ravishing rhododendrons or azaleas ( particularly at Kew Gardens) blooming in people’s gardens.

 

Camellia Japonica  img_5512 

camellia

img_5643  img_5321-min

img_5727

Camellia – Top & 2nd rows: Japonica Camellia

 

rose

Rhododendron

Rhododendron

buddleia

primrose

First: rose; 2nd & 3rd: Rhododendron; 4th: buddleia; botton: primrose

 

If you are not a fan of showy ornamental plants/flowers, there are plenty of wild spring flowers that are captivating too. Personally, I am quite fascinated by gorse/ulex (commonly seen around the UK especially in Scotland), which is an evergreen shrub with bright yellow pea-like flowers and spiny leaves. The flowers are eible and can be used as a medicinal tea, as well as a natural dye, producing a yellow colour on the fabrics.

 

Forsythia

gorse

Top: Forsythia; Bottom: common gorse

 

Spring is also the season to enjoy various lilac/blue/violet flowers like Ceanothus, Periwinkles, wisteria, lavender and bluebells. Ceanothus are popular garden shrubs in the UK, and their lilac flowers are particularly impressive.

However, when it comes to popularity, wild bluebells certainly rank quite high up on the list. Besides cherry blossoms, the bluebell seasons are highly anticipated by many too. It is quite easy to spot bluebells in spring, but the best places to view are still in the woods. Whenever I see a stunning carpet of blue in the woodlands, I would feel instantly quite ecstatic. There are two main types of bluebells in the U.K.: the British bluebell, (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), and the native ones are being protected by law as they are under threat now.

 

Ceanothus Yankee Point

Ceanothus Yankee Point

Periwinkle

bluebell

bluebells

bellflower

Top & 2nd: Ceanothus; 3rd: Periwinkle; last three: bluebells

 

When I immerse myself in nature, I could see the cycles of nature and life. Flowers bloom, wither, and are replaced by other species as the seasons change. When there is a beginning, there will be an end… though the cycle will continue to repeat itself indefinitely. It does not matter if we can’t figure out what ‘time’ is, the more important thing is to live in the present. We are now living in a more precarious and unpredictable world, hence we ought to enjoy each day as it comes. If you feel down/ stressed/ anxious, why not head outside and spend time in nature to get lost in time? I highly recommend it.

 

Lockdown walks in London (Winter/Spring 2021)

hampstead heath

Hampstead Heath, 28th Dec 2020

 

It is January 2023, and I have not updated my blog for about 2 years. Although a lot has happened in the past three years, everything seems like a blur to me now. How did I pass my time during the lockdown days? When did the lockdown end? I don’t recall much now. Luckily, I did take many photos during that surreal period, and now I am looking at them trying to recall my weekly activities. After being stuck in Hong Kong for most of 2020, I returned to the U.K. at the beginning of Dec 2020, just days before the second/ third lockdown was announced by Boris Johnson. In hindsight, I would not have returned if I had known that there would be another lockdown. However, I was lucky to have missed the initial lockdowns in 2020, and only had to endure four months of lockdown in London, which turned out to be not as challenging as I had imagined.

 

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath  hampstead heath

winter

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

Hampstead Heath from winter to spring

 

For months, I did not take any public transport and I walked everywhere. I walked to Camden Town, Hampstead Heath, Paddington, Oxford Street, Regent street, Covent Garden, Kings Cross etc. I saw a London that I have never seen before – deserted. Yet it enabled me to appreciate the city’s beautiful architecture, especially around Oxford Street. Perhaps the hardest part for me during the lockdown was not being able to meet up with friends (apart from a couple who live near me), and I had to rely on the weekly farmers’ market for some human interactions (not via zoom or Facetime). And over the few months, I became rather obsessed with cooking – though as much as I enjoyed creating new dishes, I was completely sick of eating my own cooking by the end of the lockdown.

 

primrose hill

primrose hill

primrose hill

primrose hill

Primrose Hill

 

Walking around London during the lockdown made me notice the surroundings more – I started to see all the architectural details that I had missed in the past. Usually I would not look up while walking down Oxford Street as I am more concerned with avoiding the crowds around me. Yet without crowds or heaps of tourists, I was able to saunder down the streets and appreciate the historic architecture in the city.

 

Regent's Park

Regent's Park  Regent's Park

Regent's Park

regent's park

Regent’s Park

 

Oxford Street and Camden market are places that I would normally avoid as I don’t really like crowded places. However, during the lockdown, it gave me joy to wander through the empty (and rather eerie) Camden market. Meanwhile I also felt sympathetic towards the shops and businesses, and was particularly sad to see my favourite eateries/cafes in the neighbourhood close down due to the pandemic.

 

chalk farm

camden town  camden town

camden town

regent's canal

camden tow

camden town

camden town

Camden Town and Regent’s canal

 

At the end of winter, Hampstead Heath and Regent’s park were becoming as packed as Bond Street before the pandemic, and I started to change my walking routes. Instead of going to parks, I did more walks along the Regent’s canal. I headed east towards Kings Cross and west towards Paddington along the canal… these walks lasted only a few hours but they were uplifting especially on a clear and sunny day.

 

kings cross

kings cross

Kings Cross’s Coal Drops Yard

 

Two years on, it seems unlikely that we will experience another lockdown soon (fingers crossed), and what I miss most about that period is the sounds of nature ( like birds chirping while walking down the streets) and cleaner air. The pandemic made many of us (city dwellers) evaluate our relationships with nature and our cities. It is hardly surprising that many Londoners decided to move to the countryside during/ after the pandemic. Nature has healing power, which is why so many of us turned to nature during an anxious and unpredictable period.

 

abbey road  abbey road

covid

Little venice

Little venice

paddington

paddington

paddington

Top: Abbey Road; Second: Maida Vale; 3rd & 4th: Little Venice; 5th to bottom: Paddington

 

According to a report commissioned by the City of London Corporation, London is the greenest major city in Europe and the third greenest city of its size in the world. The metropolis contains 35,000 acres of public parks, woodlands and gardens, hence 40% of its surface area is made up of publicly accessible green space. Our public green space is precious, and I hope Londoners will continue to cherish and protect it.

 

london  bbc

regent street

carnaby street  carnaby street

oxford street

riba  riba

Regent Street, Carnaby Street, Oxford Street; Bottom: RIBA

 

mosque

img_5138

img_5153

img_5162

img_5169

Top: The London Central Mosque; Regent’s Park’s Outer Circle

 

covent garden

covent garden

Covent garden

 

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

A long walk around Chorleywood and Hertfordshire in spring

Six years on: Peng Chau revisited

Hong Kong skyline

ferry to peng chau

peng chau

 

After my trip to Japan was cancelled due to COVID19, I was stuck in Hong Kong for many months… and like many locals, I felt rather claustrophobic after spending days on end indoor. Luckily, unlike the U.K. and many Western countries, there was no lockdown in the city, hence it was still possible to roam around town – at your own risk.

When the covid cases dropped and the hot summer was over ( I found it hard to cope with Hong Kong’s humid summers), I was able to do more outdoor activities again. I decided to revisit Peng Chau after a six-year gap (see my earlier blog entry here), as I thoroughly enjoyed the island’s tranquil and unspoilt environment. Has the island changed over the last six years? Yes, certainly, but currently it is still less ‘developed’ than other islands such as Cheung Chau and Lamma Island.

 

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

 

One notable difference from my last visit was that there were considerable more visitors due to the global travel restrictions. Stuck within the small city, many lcoals are starting to appreciate nature and fresh air, and they are desperate to get out of the urban jungle – who can blame them? In the past, Peng Chau was probably the least visited Outlying Islands in Hong Kong as it is the smallest and the least commercial. However, the pandemic changed everything, and even Peng Chau has become a hot spot for local tourists.

When I visited six years ago, the island’s eateries were divided into two categories: big seafood restaurants or small cha cheng tengs. Western-style cafes were almost non-existent, let alone bars… now there are a few more cafes including a cosy Island Table Grocer Cafe (9 Peng Chau Wing Hing St) and a tiny Japanese tea room, Daruma Chaya (38 Wing On Street).

 

peng chau

peng chau daruma chaya

peng chau  peng chau

 

There was not much to see at the dilapidated Grade III listed former leather factory six years ago aside from a plaque commermorating the island’s once booming manufacturing industry. But over the past few years, a local resident, Sherry Lau, rented the 4000 square metres factory and began to convert it into an art hub filled with junk collected from the island. An alleyway off the Wing On Street would lead you to ‘My secret garden’, featuring some interesting junk art, street art murals, and an antique shop (also an Airbnb). It is very unusual to see junk yards like this in Hong Kong, and I am glad that Ms Lau took the initiative to transform the derelict space into something so unique. It seemed very popular with local tourists as it certainly was a selfie hotspot during my visit…

 

peng chau  peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

my secret garden

peng chau

peng chau  peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

‘My secret garden’/former leather factory

 

Since Peng Chau is a very small island (0.99 square kilometres to be exact), it is easy to walk around the island within a few hours. I went up to Finger Hill first, the tallest point of the island, but the view here is a bit disappointing, so don’t get your hopes up too high. Personally, I prefer walking along the Peng Yu Path, a coastal path where you would pass by many empty sandy beaches with Hong Kong’s skyline as the backdrop.

 

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau  peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

 

One significant change took place since my last visit and it is the new addition of residential developments on the island, notably the row of luxury residential houses overlooking the sea near the pier. I can’t say that I am surprised by this because property development is contantly taking place in Hong Kong. But I am wondering if the island will lose its charm as more (wealthy) outsiders move here. Will the island become another Discovery Bay, which is full of expats, upmarket restaurants and bars? Six years ago, I was charmed by the island’s unspoilt, low-key and calm environment, but I wonder if this is under threat now – I sincerely hope not.

 

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

 

When I headed back to Central at around 5pm, the waiting area at the pier was completely packed and social distancing was all out of the window. And to my surprise, every seat of the ferry was taken despite the fact that this was a weekday afternoon… Not being able to travel meant that bored Hong Kongers are seeking out local sights to visit, and hiking has become one of the most popular activities during the pandemic. It would be fine if people respect nature and the environment, but many of them don’t, which is very frustrating. I think the pandemic has made many people realise the importance of nature in our lives, but outdoor ettiquette needs to be followed too.

I wonder how Peng Chau is going to evolve in the future, especially if more people are looking into moving out of urban areas after the pandemic. Perhpas its limited infrastructure is stopping people from moving here, I guess only time will tell.

 

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

papaya  plant peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

Peng Chau’s tree, plants and flowers

 

 

Spice walk & tour of the Windermere Estate, Munnar

munnar

tea plantation munnar

tea plantation munnar

tea plantation munnar

Tea planations in Munnar

 

If you love nature, you would definitely love Munnar. Aside from tea plantations, I recommend doing a spice walk to learn about local spices and plants. After an inspiring guided walk at a spice garden before the conference, I was keen to do another one. At the Blackberry nature resort, the manager organised a guided spice walk for me in the morning to explore the surrounding area.

Unlike the previous walk, which took place within a spice garden, this walk focused on wild plants and spices. On this walk, I saw coffee plants and raw coffee beans for the first time, and tasted tree tomato (Tamarillo) picked from a tree. Often we forget that tomatoes are actually fruits, partly because they don’t taste as sweet as other fruits. Yet the tamarillo I tasted was quite sweet and juicy, hence I tasted more like fruit than vegetable.

 

spice walk munnar  spice walk munnar

spice walk munnar  spice walk munnar 

spice walk munnar

spice walk munnar  spice walk munnar

tea   coffee bean

spice walk munnar

spice walk munnar  spice walk munnar 

spice walk munnar  spice walk

 

Besides wild spices and plants, Munnar is also popular for bird-watching. There are many bird-watching and photography tours that attract bird lovers from around the world. There are about 142 species of birds are reported from Shola-Grassland and 162 species from Chinnar-Marayur plateau. I don’t know much about birds, but I do love hearing them chirp and sing every morning from my room at the resort.

 

bird watching munnar

munnar birdwatchers  spice walk munnar

flowers munnar  flower munnar

flowers munnar  flowers munnar

flowers munnar

 

After learning that the nearby Windemere Estate is set up in a 60-acre of tea, coffee and cardonmon plantation, I went and asked them if I could join their daily two-hour tour of the plantation. Even though the tour is for guests only, they kindly let me to join without charge.

Inspired by the Scottish Highlands and old plantation houses, the Windemere retreat is a boutique retreat with only 18 rooms. I particularly liked the cottage-style accommodations and garden full of colourful flowers.

 

windermere estate munnar

tea

windermere estate munnar

windermere estate munnar

windermere estate munnar  windermere estate munnar 

windermere estate munnar

windermere estate munnar  windermere estate munnar

windermere estate munnar

windermere estate munnar  windermere estate munnar
In the middle of the estate, there is a semi-open Chai Kada (tea shop) where guests can relax and enjoy chai or coffee. I was kindly offered some coffee brewed from the beans grown at the estate before the tour – the first Keralan coffee of my trip.

 

windermere estate munnar

windermere estate munnar

windermere estate munnar

windermere estate munnar

 

Sadly the coffee harvest season had ended and there were barely any coffee fruits to see. However, the guided tour around the estate was really interesting and I felt like I have gain a lot of new knowledge in just two days.

My extended stay in Munnar finally came to an end, and it was time for me to move on and head down to the sea. Munnar is truly a paradise for nature lovers, so I would love to return here again one day.

 

spice walk munnar  spice walk munnar 

spice walk munnar  spice walk munnar

 

 

 

Blackberry Hills – a tranquil eco resort in Munnar

blackberry hills resort

 

I was due to leave India for Hong Kong after the Aranya conference at the end of February, but at the time, COVID-19 was starting to spread in Hong Kong, hence I decided to prolong my trip at the last minute. Luckily, the airline did not charge me for the change due to the circumstances. Looking back, I guess I was extremely fortunate because there were very few cases in India then, and I managed to enjoy another 2 weeks traveling around Kerala.

Since I was feeling quite exhausted after the conference, I wanted to relax and recuperate in Munnar for an extra few days. There are a numerous resorts in Munnar and it was not easy to pick one. After a bit of research, I booked the eco-friendly Blackberry Hills nature resort and spa, which is about 20 mins’ drive from the town centre.

Built on the slope of a hill, the resort offers a magnificent views of the Western Ghats. I knew I had picked the right place when I saw the surroundings and view.

 

blackberry hills resort  blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

 

There are 16 cottages over 15 acres of land, and the hotel kindly upgraded me to a larger room with sitting area and a balcony facing a mini forest. This balcony was where I spent most of my time, and it was probably the most tranquil spot during my journey.

Every morning I would hear birds chirping and chatting to each other, which was a joy. In the afternoon, I also saw two Malabar Giant Squirrels (Ratufa indica) jumping from one tree to another. I haven’t stayed at other resorts in Munnar, but I think this resort is perfect for nature-lover and the eco-conscious travellers.

 

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort  blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

Malabar Giant Squirrel

 

There is one restaurant at the resort, which serves Indian and international dishes. The view from the restaurant is splendid, and you can easily enjoy a long lunch here. There is also afternoon tea tasting session where guests can taste different types of tea like green tea, cardonmon tea and masala chai etc.

 

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

 

Besides the stunning environment, I also enjoying chatting to the friendly and hospitable staff. When I asked the manager about an odd-looking fruit growing within the resort’s grounds, he said he wasn’t sure but would find out for me. A day later, after enquiring his botanist friend, he told me that the fruit is called tropical soda apple (solanum viarum). Interestingly, it is is a perennial shrub native to Brazil and Argentina, and an invasive species. The colours of the golf-ball-sized fruit resembles a watermelon, but it is toxic. Yet no one has any idea how this South American plant end up growing in India…

 

blackberry hills resort  blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort  tropical soda apple (solanum viarum)

 

The resort occupies an entire mountain side, and there is a trekking trail that leads all the way down to the nearby village cum tea plantation called Attukad. However, due to hot weather, I abandoned trekking downhill and opted for a late afternoon walk westwards recommended by the restaurant manager. He told me that there is a great sunset spot about 45 mins’ walk west of the resort, and he was right. The sun setting behind the tea plantations and mountain was truly beautiful.

After extending an extra night, I ended up spending 4 nighs at the resort, which enabled me to recuperate fully. I believe that nature has healing powers, hence being surrounded by trees and mountains worked wonders for me, and I was very energised after my stay.

 

munnar  munnar

munnar

munnar

munnar

munnar

munnar

munnar

munnar

 

Streetscape of Fort Kochi

fort cochin

fort cochin

The famous Chinese fishing nets

 

In February, I was lucky enough to travel to Kerala before lockdowns began around the world. It was an extraordinary trip and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I feel grateful that I was able to make this trip, and I hope I can visit India again when it is safe to do so. My month-long trip begain in Kochi, the capital of Kerala. With only three nights in town, I decided to spend the initial night in Fort Kochi and then two more nights at a B & B in Fort Vypin (accessible via ferry from Fort Kochi).

Kochi (also known as Cochin) has been a major port city since 1341, and it is the most densely populated city in Kerala. The historic Fort Kochi is an area within the city which used to be a fishing village in the Kingdom of Kochi in the pre-colonial Kerala. In 1503, the territory was granted to the Portuguese by the Rajah of Kochi, after Afonso de Albuquerque‘s military forces helped him fight off the forces of Samoothiri of Kozhikode. The Rajah also gave them permission to build Fort Emmanuel near the waterfront (hence ‘Fort’ is used in its name), which was later destroyed by the Dutch. Fort Kochi remained in Portuguese possession for 160 years until the Dutch defeated the Portuguese in 1683, and subsequently destroyed many Portuguese Catholic churches and convents. The Dutch held Fort Kochi in their possession for 112 years until 1795, when the British took control by defeating the Dutch. After over 500 years of foreign control, the area finally gained its freedom when India became indpendent in 1947.

 

fort kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

 

My first impression of Fort Kochi was that it doesn’t feel very ‘Indian’. Perhaps it is due to the Portuguese and Dutch architecture, the tree-lined streets and abundance of nature; the pace here is also quite slow and relaxing, which differs from my image of many Indian cities. The minute I arrived at my accommodation, I knew I would love it here.

Since I arrived very early in the morning, and check-in wasn’t possible yet, I had some time to wander around. Actually I didn’t make any plans on where to visit in Fort Kochi, and I thought it might be fun to just go with flow and see.

There isn’t an enormous amount of must-see sights in Fort Kochi, which meant that I didn’t have a jam-packed itinerary and stroll in a more idle manner. Although Kerala is considered a popular tourist destination in India, I didn’t see heaps of tourists in Fort Kochi excpet for solo/small groups of independent travellers.

 

fort kochi

fort kochi  fort kochi

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

 

Although it was quite hot, I still chose to walk as I think walking is the best way to see a new place (this may not apply to the US). Wandering around, I was captivated by the enormous old trees, as well as all the exotic plants and flowers everywhere, which certainly help to beautify the area.

One of the most famous attractions in Fort Kochi is the Chinese fishing nets. When I spoke to the locals, they told me that the city name Kochi/Cochin originated from ‘co-chin’, meaning ‘like China’. Apparently, the 10m high stationary lift fishing nets were introduced by Chinese explorers who landed here by ship in the 14th century. This way of fishing is unusual in India and unique to Kerala. Each one is operated by a team of up to six fishermen, and it is quite fascintating to watch them operate the nets. However, since it is more touristy in Fort Kochi, I recommend taking a short boat ride to Vypin where you can watch them without street vendors and tourists around (see my other blog entry).

I also recommend a morning stroll along the beach/waterfront (less crowded and not as hot), where you can see old canons, steam boilers and a huge art installation made of recycled plastic bottles which addresses the issue of plastic waste.

 

fort kochi

fort kochin

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

 

Since the pace is quite relaxing here, I naturally slowed down my pace. When I am not rushing around, I am able to observe the quirks and surroundings more. Even though the colonial days are long gone, the imprints are still there. The area also has a bohemian vibe, and the streets are cleaner than many other Indian cities. It is easy to understand why this area draws many tourists as it feels more like Portugal than India. And if you love colonial style architecture, this is THE place to visit. In my next few posts, I will write about the beautiful churches, cool shops and street art etc.

 

fort kochi sign

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

fort kochi post box  fort kochi

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

fort kochi

 

 

Flowers & Nature

 

fort kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

 

 

Birds and animals

 

fort kochi

fort kochi

cat fort kochi  fort kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

 

To be continued…

 

Autumn/winter wild food foraging in Hampstead Heath

hampstead heath

 

Although wild food foraging is nothing new, it has become quite popular in recent years. I think this is due to our growing interest in sustainability and back-to-basics lifestyle after decades of consumerism. As we know, endless purchase of consumer goods and fast fashion does not fulfil our lives, nor does it make us happier.

Yet how can we change our behaviour/lifestyle living in metropolis like London? Besides buying less, recycling more and shopping at the local farmers market, we can also attempt wild food foraging. After a fascinating funghi foraging workshop in Hampstead Heath a few years back, I was keen to learn more about foraging but never managed to do so until I enrolled onto a wild food foraging course with Jason Irving from Foraging Wild Food.

Jason is an experienced forager, herbalist and ethnobotanist. He used to work as head forager at UK’s leading supplier of wild food, Forager Ltd, for two years. Next year, he will be doing his PHD research in Central America, and our one-day course was the last one of the year.

 

hampstead heath

lime tree  lime tree

Lime tree (Tilia spp.)

 

The sun and blue sky made us feel slightly better for being out and about on a cold late autumn/winter’s morning. Since I live not far from Hamsptead Heath, the heath is like my back garden where I would visit in all seasons. However, I had no idea about the vast array of wild food available here besides funghi. The 3-hour walk around the heath was flabbergasting for a newbie like me. I learned a lot about the usage of many seeds and leaves, which not only can be used as herbal medicine, but also in cooking and beverages. Jason also made us a cake and hot drink from wild fruits and herbs, which was surprisingly delicious.

 

Hog weed seed  common sorrel

Left: Hog weed seed; Right: Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

 

Although I made some notes and took photos on the day, I don’t think I would be able to differentiate all the edible plants and seeds after just one course. There is still much to learn, and I guess getting a foraging book would be a good start. Since there are many foraging courses available in London, I probably would do another one in the summer when more herbs and ripe fruits are ready to be picked.

 

Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata)  Hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo)

Left: Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata); Right: Hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo)

 

Although wild food foraging can be fun, there is also the danger of picking poisonous plants without knowing (we often hear that with funghi-picking). Therefore, it is important to do more research or pick with someone more knowledgeable at the beginning.

 

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)  Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Left: Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) Right: Elder (Sambucus nigra)

 

The issue of global food shortages reminds us that we cannot take our food supply for granted anymore. What if one day we find ourselves in supermarkets full of empty shelves? If this happens, then how would we survive? Wild food foraging is not only about survival skills, it is also about sustainability and reconnecting with nature. If we undertstand the origin of each ingredient that goes into our food, then we are likely to appreciate it more.

 

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioca)  img_4958-min

Left: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioca); Right: Beech (Fagus sylvestris)

 

Sadly, over-foraging has also become an issue in recent years. I was told that many Eastern Europeans would mass pick edible funghi and sell them to restaurants for commercial gains despite the fact that it is illegal to do so. Even the head chef of Noma –often voted as the restaurant in the wold– was accused of illegally picking wild mushrooms in Hampstead Heath 10 years ago.

 

sweet chestnut  yarrow

Left: Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa); Right: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

 

Wild food foraging can be a satisfying and uplifting experience, but if we disrupt the eco-system by over-picking, then we are doing more harm than good. At the end of the day, it is crucial to find a balance. If we don’t respect our environment, we may regret it one day when it is too late.

 

hampstead heath

hampstead heath  hampstead heath

hampstead heath

 

Stunning coastal walk: Dover to Deal

dover

 

I have attended many group coastal walks/hikes in the past, like Seven Sisters (from Seaford to Eastbourne), Hastings circular, and Newhaven to Brighton… the coastal walks/hikes around the South East England are extremely popular with many meetup walking groups due to its proximity to London, and of course, the spectacular views.

It was a sunny September Sunday, and I joined my regular meetup walking group on a walk from Dover to Deal. The fine weather was a huge draw, so places filled up quickly. We took a high speed train from London to Dover and arrived in just over an hour. It is amazing that we could enjoy the sun, sea, and panoramic views in less than 80 mins from London. I think we all got quite excited when we hiked up to the top of the clff and saw Dover Castle. Interestingly, all our networks switched to the French ones when we reached the top of the cliff, which shows how close we are from France!

 

dover

dover castle

dover cliffs

dover cliffs

dover cliffs

idover cliffs

South Foreland Lighthouse

 

Compare to some other coastal walks, this one is relatively easy and linear. The distance is 10 miles (16 km) and takes about 4 hours. The first part of the walk offers the most breathtaking views of the white cliffs, and passes by South Foreland Lighthouse, a Victorian lighthouse built in 1843 on the South Foreland in St. Margaret’s Bay.

About half way, we descended down to St Margaret’s Bay where we had our lunch break. There is a pub at the bay that offers lunch, but many of us chose to have our packed lunch on the rocky beach while listening to the waves and seagulls.

 

st margaret's bay

st margaret's bay

st margaret's bay

st margaret's bay

st margaret's bay

 

The last half of the walk was fairly easy as we descended down to Deal’s seafront. We walked past two histoic landmarks: Walmer Castle and Deal Castle. Like most group walks, we ended the walk at a pub for a drink before heading back to London.

 

dover

dover

deal

deal

deal

deal

deal

deal

deal

deal

deal

 

I highly recommend this coastal walk and I think it would be even better if you can combine it with visits to the castles en route. Since it is easily accessible from London, it would be a perfect day trip with friends or family. I had a brilliant time and would definitely want to do explore this area more next time.

 

sunset

Watching sunset from the train

 

 

LCW 19: Creative Inspiration Walk – Text in the City

black friar pub

 

How many of us pay attention to the text and typography around us in the city? When we are rushing around the city, we tend to miss what is right under our noses. During the London Craft week, I joined the “Creative Inspiration Walk: Text in the City” organised by The Goldsmiths’ Centre and City of London. The two-hour walk explored the city’s lettering heritage and craftsmanship focusing on engraving and carving of text.

Our meeting point was Blackfriars station, and right opposite the station is the Grade II listed Art Nouveau The Black Friar pub built in 1875, and remodelled in about 1905 by the architect Herbert Fuller-Clark. Much of the internal decoration was done by the sculptors Frederick T. Callcott and Henry Poole. I have always been fascinated by the facade of this pub, especially by the mosiac y the mosaic type and wonderful metal signage outside. Although this stop was not part of the walk, I thought it is apt to include it here.

 

The Blackfriar pub

The Blackfriar pub

The Blackfriar pub

The Blackfriar pub

The Black Friar Pub

 

The first stop of the walk was located in the new concourse of the station. Fifty four stones from the original Victorian station, each engraved with destinations served by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR), have been preserved and relocated. The stones list destinations as diverse as Bickley, Marseille, Gravesend and Venice, as the LCDR advertised Blackfriars’ links to towns and cities of the south east, and the business capitals of Europe via cross-channel steamers. These blocks were removed from top to bottom, one-by-one, by chiselling the mortar joints between each stone. The lightest stone weighs 54 kg and the heaviest stone about 120 kg. The lettering on the sandstone was gilded with 24 carat gold leaf before it was rebuilt in the new location.

 

The 54 inscribed stones inside Blackfriars stationThe 54 inscribed stones inside Blackfriars station

The 54 inscribed stones inside Blackfriars station

 

From one of the station’s platform exits, we were led to a rather grey and gloomy concrete square outside of the brutalist British Telecom owned office building called the Baynard House. Surprisingly, in the middle of the empty square stands The Seven Ages of Man, a 22-foot cast aluminium sculpture by British typeface designer, stone letter carver and sculptor, Richard Kindersley. The sculpture was commissioned by Post Office Telecommunications and unveiled in April 1980.

Inspired by William Shakespeare‘s pastoral comedy As You Like It, in which a monologue is spoken in Act II Scene VII Line 139. The speech compares the world to a stage and life to a play and catalogues the seven stages of a man’s life, sometimes referred to as the seven ages of man.

The high column features seven sculpted heads, stacked in totem pole fashion, on top of each other. The youngest is at the bottoms and it gets older as you progress up the column; on the pedestal, Shakespeare’s verses are inscribed around it.

This is a fantastic piece of sculpture, but its odd and hidden location is unlikely to draw passerby’s attention (unless they look up from the street level). It is certainly a hidden gem in the City of London.

 

The Seven Ages of ManThe Seven Ages of Man

The Seven Ages of ManThe Seven Ages of Man

The Seven Ages of Man

 

We then walked towards the river bank, and under the Millennium bridge stands The Millennium Measure designed by British sundial maker, hand-engraver & sculptor, Joanna Migdal in 2002. The Millennium Measure measures is the gift of the court & livery of the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers to the City of London in commemoration of the millennium. It comprises a 3 sided, 2 metre (2M = 2000MM) rule depicting two thousand years of history of the City, the Church and the craft of scientific instrument making. The initials ‘MM’ stand for ‘Millennium Measure’, ‘millimetre’ and ‘two thousand’ in Roman numerals.

 

london river

sundials

Millennium Measure Millennium Measure

Millennium Measure Millennium Measure

Millennium Measure

The Millennium Measure

 

Although I have walked past St Paul’s Cathedral many times before, I have never paid much attention to the public art outside of it. To my surprise, on the pavement at the western end of the churchyard is a floor-plan of the pre-Fire Cathedral with an outline of the present one superimposed on it. Designed by Richard Kindersley (see above), the 7m long installation is made of various Purbeck marbles and Welsh Slate. The outlines were created through the use of waterjet technology, which enabled the stone to be inset in a manner which would either be impossible or prohibitively expensive if done by hand. The inscription around the border was hand carved into the stone, noting the Great fire of London in 1666 that destroyed much of the medieval City of London.

On the other side of the Cathdral at the west end of the Festival Gardens, there is a bust of the English Poet and Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, John Donne by the sculptor Nigel Boonham. Underneath the bust feature lettering by one of UK’s foremost letter carvers, Andrew Whittle.

 

st paul's cathedral

Richard Kindersleyst Pauls cathedral Richard Kindersley andrew whittle

andrew whittle

st paul's cathedral  st paul's cathedral

 

On the northside of the Cathedral, there is another installation by Richard Kindersley called People of London. It is a memorial to the people of London who died in the blitz 1939 — 1945. Carved from a three ton block of Irish limestone, the memorial has large carved letters and gilded around the edge reading: “REMEMBER BEFORE GOD THE PEOPLE OF LONDON 1939 — 1945”. On top is a spiral inscription written by Sir Edward Marsh and used by Churchill as a front piece to his history ‘The Second World War’.

 

People of London

People of London

People of London memorial 

 

Not far from St Paul’s, we visited the enchanting Christchurch Greyfriars Church Garden, which is situated on the site of the Franciscan Church of Greyfriars, established in 1225. Destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 it was rebuilt by Christopher Wren, but later destroyed all but the west tower in WWII. It was decided not to rebuild the church and some land was lost to road widening in the 1960s. The present rose garden was laid out on the site in 1989 with rose beds and box hedges outlining the nave of Wren’s church, with wooden towers representing the pillars that held up the roof.

At the garden, a new public art installation (2017) was created to commemorate Christ’s Hospital School’s 350 years presence in the City of London, 1552-1902. The installation is a 2.4m long bronze sculpture by renowned sculptor, Andrew Brown, casted at The Bronze Age Foundry in London. It was selected following an open competition organised by the City of London Corporation, and it is positioned close to where Christ’s Hospital was originally founded in Newgate Street.

 

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img_4394-min  img_4391-min

 

Nearby, there is another well-hidden small garden called The Goldsmiths Garden. It is located on the site of the churchyard and medieval church of St John Zachary, which was damaged in the Great Fire. The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (also known as the Goldsmiths’ company) had acquired land here in 1339, and built the earliest recorded Livery Hall. After part of the Company’s property was demolished in WWII, the site was first laid out as a garden in 1941, redesigned in later years. A central fountain was installed in 1995 and the ‘Three Printers’ sculpture (1957) by Wilfred Dudeney was relocated from New Street Square in 2009 in the sunken garden.

Commissioned for New Street Square by the Westminster Press Group, the sculpture represents the newspaper process, with a newsboy, a printer and an editor. The printer (the figure on the left) is holding a “stick” which contains the metal type spelling out of the sculptor’s surname. This piece is Britain’s only public monument to newspapers. However, when the area was redeveloped, the sculpture was removed and ended up in a scrapyard in Watford. Luckily, It was rescued by the writer Christopher Wilson, who persuaded the Goldsmiths’ Company to reinstall the sculpture.

Another interesting feature at this garden is that several golden leopards heads can be seen at the entrance. The leopard’s head is actually the company’s symbol. There is also an arch presented to the Goldsmiths by the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths. Designed by Paul Allen, the arch incorporates the London Assay mark for gold in the shape of individually made leopards heads.

 

The Goldsmiths Garden

The Goldsmiths GardenThe Goldsmiths Garden

The Goldsmiths Garden

The Goldsmiths Garden

'Three Printers' sculpture formerly in New Street Square, installed in St John Zachary Garden, May 2010.

The Goldsmiths Garden

 

A large (but easily-missed) metal memorial ‘Aldersgate Flame’ stands outside of the Museum of London was erected in 1981. On the face of the memorial are enlarged facsimile extracts in cast bronze of Anglican clergyman, evangelist, and co-founder of the Methodist movement in the Church of England. John Wesley’s account of the events of Wednesday May 24th 1738, as described in his original printed text of the first edition of John Wesley’s Journal. On the back of the Memorial are the names of the three local tradesmen concerned with Wesley in the production and marketing of the Journal.

 

Aldersgate FlameAldersgate Flame

Aldersgate Flame

 

I am not sure how many Londoners are aware of the competition-winning sculptured stone bench (erected in 2006) at the circular Smithfield Rotunda Garden. Designed by Sam Dawkins and Donna Walker from Edinburgh University, the bench is inscribed with text and quotes relating to the history of the area, and the carving process was managed by apprentice stone masons from Cathedral Works Organisation in Chichester.

However, it is hard to read the inscribed text, and the bench looks out of place here. Most passerby would ignore it and choose to sit on the wooden benches instead, which is a shame.

 

img_4427-min  img_4428-min

 

Finally, before finishing at the Goldsmiths’ Centre, we stopped at Turnmill Street in  Farringdon, outside of a building to look at the inscribed letters above. Built in 1874, the building was formerly the premises of Ludwig Oertling, whose firm ‘manufacturers of bullion chemical and assay balances and hydrometer makers’ remained there until the 1920s. Although the premise is now occupied by Spanish restaurant, the inscribed lettering remains above it.

 

long lane

farringdon

farringdon station

Farringdon

 

As always, I learned a lot about London’s history during the two-hour walk, which is why I love joining guided walks in different parts of the city. It also encourages us to observe more as we wander around the city. There is so much to explore in London, and all you need is curiosity and awareness.

 

 

Mumbai’s art deco and modern architecture

Indian Merchants Chamber

Indian Merchants Chamber was designed by Master, Sathe, and Bhuta and built in 1939

 

Before my trip to Mumbai, I was not aware of that the city has the second largest number of art deco buildings in the world, after Miami. In 2018, the Oval Maidan precinct which showcases 94 heritage buildings in Victorian Neo Gothic and Art Deco styles was lised as an Unesco World Heritage Site. This new status confirms the importance of these historic buildings officially, and subsequently ensures that they will be preserved in the future.

Originally, I had signed up for an Art deco architecture tour led by the team behind the non-profit organisation Art Deco Mumbai, but the tour was cancelled a few days beforehand, so I opted to ramble on my own.

Mumbai (or Bombay) became a global trading centre in the second half of the 19th century, which led to the construction of ensembles of public buildings around the Oval Maidan open space as part of the new urban planning project. The Art Deco movement came to Mumbai in the 1930s and continued up to 1940s. The first generation Indian architects were drawn to its futuristic & modern look, but they added some distinctive Indian design elements which resulted in a style that is referred to as IndoDeco.

 

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dsc_0114

Regal cinema

 

There are two conspicuous Art Deco cinemas in this area: Regal and Eros. The Regal cinema was built in 1933 and designed by Charles Stevens, the son of the famous architect F. W. Stevens (who built the Victoria Terminus). The cinema was the first air conditioned cinema in India, so it probably was the ‘in’ place to go for the English expats living in Bombay at the time. Designed by Shorabji Bhedwar, the streamline Modern Eros Cinema opened a few years later, in 1938, and has a seating capacity of 1,204 people.

 

Eros Cinema mumbai

Eros Cinema

 

When you walk down Esplanade Rd, you would come across some magnificent buildings (though many are likely to be blocked by the constructions of the new metro system) and one of them is the New India Assurance Building. This monumental concrete office building was designed by architects Master, Sarhe and Bhuta, with assistance from artistic designer N.G. Parsare in 1936. This Art Deco style building is clearly influenced by Egyptian and Classical art ( since Egyptian themes became fashionable after King Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922) and features some remarkable carved reliefs on its facade.

New India Assurance Building

mumbai art deco

New India Assurance Building

 

Further up the road, I tried to take some photos of the HSBC building but was stopped by the security guard and only managed to take one at the front entrance. This colossal building built in 1942 was designed by Australian architect John Ritchie and assisted by L Palfi combining both Art Deco and Classical styles. The building originally housed the Mercantile Bank of India established in 1853, but it was later acquired by Hong kong & Shanghai Bank in 1959 and now it has become the Head Office of HSBC in India.

 

mumbai art deco

HSBC building

 

The Industrial Assurance Building

The Industrial Assurance Building on Churchgate Street was also designed by Master, Sathe, and Bhuta.

United India Building

United India Building

United India Building was designed by Iyengar & Menezes.

mumbai K R Cama Oriental Institute

K R Cama Oriental Institute



mumbai art deco

Designed by Gregson, Batley & King in 1935, Dhunraj Mahal in Cobala was the former palace of the Raja Dhanrajgir of Hyderabad. The prodigious building was the most expensive residential development of its time.

 

Hornby View mumbai

Hornby View building

 

mumbai art deco

art deco mumbai

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art deco mumbai

art deco mumbai  mumbai art deco architecture

 

There are quite a few books on Mumbai’s Art Deco architecture, but I came across an illustrated book called Bombay Deco published by Storycity and I bought it because of its colourful and detailed illustrations. The book is a visual celebration of Mumbai’s heritage and architecture, while showcasing the talents of the book’s Indian illustrator, Tanushka Karad.

 

Bombay Deco

Bombay Deco

 

Besides Victorian and Art deco heritage buildings, there is a mishmesh of interesting buildings wherever you look in Mumbai. The incoherent styles make the city look more diverse and beguiling.

 

mumbai

mumbai architecture

mumbai

mumbai architecture

mumbai

mumbai

 mumbai

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mumbai

 

Patterns

 

mumbai architecture

mumbai

patterns mumbai

mumbai architecture

mumbai

mumbai

mumbai gate

mumbai gate

Mumbai International airport

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, Mumbai

 

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