Friday, 11 September 2015

Mardi Gras 2015

This post has been due for a long time. So I told to myself, better late than never and here it is.
Aari and I don’t like crowds and Noisy gatherings- we try to avoid it as much as we can. But 7th of March was something that I did not want to miss- the Sydney Mardi Gras parade. A parade to celebrate among others; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and intersex pride.

Interestingly, it would be the first carnival that I would ever attend (the closest I have come to a carnival would be the annual parades of the Dasara festival in Karnataka and Ganesh festival in Mumbai). I wanted to be there to show my support to a section of society that has been discriminated against, for illogical reasons that I can only call as bigotry.

It was a Saturday and the parade was to be held in the heart of Sydney along the Oxford Street.  Aarina, was not sure if she could take the crowds and loud noises and asked me to go alone and she would be there in spirit ! Public was strictly discouraged from bringing their cars and hence I took a train to St. James  station, a very prudent decision indeed.

The moment I exited Hyde park, where St. James is located, I was taken into a world of colour, music and laughter. I was just in time for the commencement of the parade and could see a lineup of tableaus, set up on various vehicles charged up for the parade.

I walked the entire stretch of the Oxford street and could not find an inch of place from where I could view the parade. The first and second row along the Oxford street was completely taken; terraces and balcony’s were overflowing with people. I kept walking along the street, when someone in the crowd moved from their position along the street and I managed to sneak in that slot. I did not move from here for the next three hours. It was not the best of the views, but at least I could see and cheer.

The first in line were the bikers- a cavalcade of Harley’s, with its characteristic Vroooom sound, set the noisy crowd alight. The cheering was so loud, that I felt it could even drown the sound of a jet liner taking off.

The Mardi Gras parade in Sydney started in the late 70’s when a small, motley group of people, walked along the oxford street, demanding equal rights- irrespective of sexual orientation. The next tableau was of these very people, who are now called the ‘First Generation’ 78er’s.

The long spectacle of tableaus then started, one more colourful than the other, one more cheerful than the previous. Although I am tempted to enumerate many of these colourful montages, I must refrain from doing so, to maintain the brevity of this post- but I hope the photographs convey what, words fail to do.

It was heartening to see not only many local clubs and organizations but also multinationals like Google and Air BnB having their own display’s. The surprise to me was a display, by a local parish and choir- A case of compassion overcoming religious ideologues perhaps.

Well, it was also during this week, that there was hullabaloo in the Indian media over the use of the word ‘lesbian’ in one of the movies! (rabble-rouser’s don’t need much to incite crowds) and I was pretty much dismayed by such a development in India; but what delighted me was to see a very big Indian flag- proudly fluttering during the parade. Whoever was carrying it has my standing ovation for the act.

Well, the atmosphere of the place was great. There was a lot of cheering, dancing, hugging and kissing around. I could see smiles all around the place, you just had to look into someone’s face, and sure enough there would be a warm smile.  I have probably never seen such a loving crowd ever before. Well, I must also mention that there was a couple standing next to me and the guy was carrying his not so petite girl on his shoulder, so that she could see the parade from a vantage point. Yes, he carried her for the entire duration of the parade- which neared three hours.
Well, for the entire duration of the parade, I felt I was in a very different world; a better world in fact.  As I walked back home, I had a sense of hope- that someday, as humans accept other humans for what they are, rather than what they want them to be- the world will be a much better place to live in.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Australian Museum, Sydney

We chanced upon this museum during one of our unplanned noon wanderings in the city! This is the oldest museum in Australia established at its present location in 1849. We were taken up by its sheer size! Being a Natural History museum, it covered a vast array of subjects and we felt lost, not knowing where to begin with, this despite two wings of the museum being closed for expansion and renovation!

The museum itself is a lovely maze of floors connected by spacious elevators and grand stairways. They have a decently stocked rooftop cafe too!

We headed straight to the section on “Skeletons” since that was what intrigued Del the most! Since skeletons are not really something that interests me, I kept nudging Del to keep moving on just when he spotted a cycle which he could ride on with a skeleton by his side! The delight on his face and the spring in his step racing towards the cycle would make anyone believe that it was one of a kind of a discovery in the museum itself!

The dinosaur section was engaging with interactive displays, as well as, miniature set ups for those interested in trying their hand at excavation. Infact, during our visit, a large piece of sedimentary rock was kept on a huge table, and the entire area cordoned off with yellow tape with a little board requesting visitors not to touch any of it and that a team of young researchers were working on it. It was wonderful looking up at the huge dinosaur casts!

Coelcanth - Living Fossil
It was exciting seeing a living fossil, so called because the Coelcanths were thought to have become extinct about 90 million years ago. However, in 1938, a living Coelcanth was netted in the Indian Ocean!

It was enchanting looking at the different birds of Australia. They were stuffed and well preserved which made them appear to be alive, seemingly posing, so that we could have a good look at them! A couple of artists equipped with various kinds of pencils and pieces of lead made themselves comfortable on the floor, lost in the sketching of the different birds and mammals on display. There were plenty of insects and reptiles too!

Cone shells - Stinging shells
Since Del and I love collecting shells, we were attracted towards the exhibits displaying them. We were stunned when we read that live cone shells could be very dangerous to the extent of immobilizing humans with their lethal venom, unfortunately for which no anti-venom is available!

Ten day old Polar Bear cubs
Another area which caught my eye was the section on Mammals. We were moved looking at the two ten day old Polar bear cubs who died in the London Zoological Gardens and were acquired in 1924.

Eastern Quoll
Also, fascinating to look at was the Eastern Quoll, which became extinct from the mainland in 1963. This quoll was hit by a car and acquired in 1948.

Marsupial Lion
Then there was the extinct marsupial lion (a crafted exhibit I assume) who is closely related to the wombats and koalas.

An extensive collection of books sits in their library with an adjoining section housing the various kind of equipments and articles used by our early ancestors. Also sections of cupboards with narrow drawers holding various specimens of insects, eggs etc. were on display. Many young scientists and researchers were busy at their computers examining specimens, researching matter etc.

It was interesting seeing a 2800 year old mummy in a coffin having a lovely display of artwork, probably indicative of the status and position of that person in society.

Our visit concluded at the mineral section of the museum, an outstanding collection by Albert Chapman.

Even two whole days wouldn’t suffice to do justice to this rich institution, let alone a couple of hours! Be that at it may, we were content with an opportunity to spend a noon at this amazing place!

- Aarina

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Madame Tussauds Museum, Sydney

At the entrance of the museum, we were greeted by a rather cheerful lady and, as part of the protocol for many of the tourist attractions like the Aquarium, Sydney tower, the train ride at Blue Mountains etc., we were made to pose for a couple of photographs.  These photographs were then photoshopped on certain images of the exhibits within the given attraction and kept for purchase at the Souvenir store at the exit.

Like most other touristy attractions, this one too was accompanied by loud music, the only solace being that it wasn’t crowded. Hence, we were at our own pace when it came to admiring the life size statutes.

There were many interactive exhibits where one could sit on a chair or a sofa opposite the statute, or wear a hat or pose for a cricket shot with a bat and helmet on or use a golf tee and play along with a ball and yes, there was a hole and a golf buggy too!

It was interesting seeing statutes of political figures, pop artists, actors, sports persons, a couple of scientists and doctors, all of them in their life size versions.

Del was thoroughly enjoying himself, lost in posing with every statute that had some kind of prop available to entertain himself. I was feeling rather amused and entertained myself at the kind of joy and delight on Del’s face as he posed alongside the statues! The little child in him was certainly out and at play!

The final section of the museum was very informative with a lot of matter on the making and painting of the statues, the techniques and instruments used for the same etc. Workshops too were being conducted for those interested in preliminary sculpting and painting.

- Aarina

Friday, 10 July 2015

Wildlife Sydney Zoo


A train ride to the Circular Quay Station, followed by a ferry ride from the Circular Quay wharf to the Darling Harbour wharf, followed by a pleasant and an interesting walk by the promenade took us to the Sydney Zoo. We enjoyed our ferry ride on the open section of the upper deck of the ferry with the sun beating down and the breeze in equal completion to cool us down. However, fifteen minutes later, the heat from the sun seemed to drain us out and we were forced to move into the sheltered section of the ferry. Our ten minute walk along the darling harbor was exciting; we were impressed seeing the various yachts anchored alongside with advertisements about hosting wedding receptions, corporate events etc. for those whose pockets ran real deep!

At the zoo, with our multiple pass on us, our entry was quick. After being rather enchanted at the Aquarium, we were excited about this visit, but were soon met with great disappointment! There were a number of school students who as part of their school excursion had to learn about the wildlife in the various exhibits, make notes and supposedly, periodically, fill up their worksheets. This process by itself seemed quite a spectacle with children sprawled all over the floor, with some leaning against the walls, a few others walking and learning from the touchscreen device placed besides the various exhibits. All of this, accompanied by a lot of chatter and banter with an intermittent, “Please be softer”, by one of the many teachers, in addition to, the music that was being played rather loudly in the background, once again, the kind of music depended on the wildlife in the given section!

The zoo was not really big with most of the animals looking sad and sluggish. Having said that, the effort put in to maintain such a space with trees and with certain sections having access to the open is truly commendable! There were koalas one could touch and be photographed with, kangaroos could be fed and touched; all of these activities strictly conducted by the staff only.

Talks on the different wildlife present in the zoo are conducted through the day. We may have spent less than an hour trying to get a glimpse of some of the wildlife while learning interesting and amusing facts, one of them being, “A Koala Joey’s first solid meal is their Mother’s poo.”

It was a hurried visit, had we known better, we would have definitely given this place a miss!

- Aarina

P.S. Since Delson is back to work and isn't around to edit the images, for those who are following our blog will notice a drastic difference (unfortunately for the worse) in the images posted because I am truly at an amateur in this art or rather any art! Do pardon my shoddy work!

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

China Town and Paddy Market

We felt our trip to Sydney would be rather incomplete without a visit to China Town.

It was nice walking through a Paifang which is a Chinese styled arch, on a clean street which is accessible only to pedestrians and lined by restaurants on either side. Although, it was crowded, there was an old world kind of charm to the place; walking past eateries with every person trying to woo you to walk into their restaurant.

We finally settled for the New Tai Yuen Restaurant where we were treated to food by Don. It was great knowing that the staff were aware about a gluten free diet. They altered my order accordingly to accommodate my diet request. For the first time, I enjoyed sipping on hot green tea in the cold from tiny little tea cups just before a meal! With the exception of me, although everyone else at the table was quite adept at using chopsticks, my awkwardness prompted one of the staff to suggest that we could all eat with the usual cutlery! Ah! Such a relief! Ever since my visit to this restaurant, I have been meaning to learn how to eat with chopsticks. Hope that day dawns quicker than sooner!

After an enjoyable meal, we stopped for dessert at Yogurberry. Well, this needs special mention because I goofed up here, overfilling my large cup with frozen yogurt, wondering how will I get through all of it when the sweet lady standing behind the counter with an expression that read, “I don’t know what were you thinking!” politely said, “Now that is a loooooooooot of Yoghurt!!!!” (with eyes wide and the head nodding up and down in disbelief)! Well, all I can say is that I am grateful for a husband who can actually consume large portions of food. Having said that, Del you need to know that I still stand by my opinion of reducing the portion size of your food. The trash can is always an option you know!

We then headed into Paddys Market which felt much like the Crawford Market area of Mumbai. There were stalls all over with all kinds of stuff being sold. Del couldn’t resist from purchasing a Didgeridoo, a musical instrument used by the Aborigines. I was successful in containing him from buying more boomerangs and every other weapon that was on display to be sold! Not to forget the Samurai swords that were on sale which drew both Don and Del hoping that they could get their hands on one! Prohibitive prices or Custom issues or common sense, or a combination of all the three, I do not know which of it finally prevailed!

It was wonderful touching the Kangaroo fur and rather amusing to see the kangaroo’s scrotal sacs as part of the keychains on sale! Our two little nieces were excited wanting to see, touch and own everything possible! It was fun listening to the younger one warning the older one against asking us to buy anything for the two of them, gently reminding her about Alvi’s instructions, while at the same time, trying to work a deal with Don, “If you buy this for me, then you do not have to give me pocket money for the rest of the year etc. “

Walking past the stalls with the constant background chatter of such delightful conversation and Don’s admirable patience with the kids added to the fun. After a couple more buys, we decided to call it a day and headed back home.

P.S. Unfortunately, no photographs clicked on our visit to these places.

- Aarina

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Sea Life Sydney Aquarium

Del and I, together with Don and the kids headed to the Aquarium. We took a multiple pass which covered four tourist spots: Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, Wildlife Sydney Zoo, Madame Tussauds Sydney and Sydney Tower.

The Anzac Bridge

We travelled by the family car which wasn’t the wisest of things to do because we spent nearly forty five minutes looking for an empty parking slot! On reaching the aquarium, it was a long queue to get the hard copy of the tickets to the four points (bookings of which we did online). Another hour was spent waiting for the tickets! The kids and I spent that time on gorging on some fries from their café. Finally, after receiving our tickets and a well presented pamphlet on the Aquarium, we were allowed entry into the Aquarium.

Being a Sunday, the place was crowded with lots of kids yelling, accompanied by a lot of WOAH’s and AAH’s! In competition with these kids were the Asian tourists, being as loud as one could get! But these were not the only sounds! Added on to this was the background music that was playing within the Aquarium, the kind of music depended on the section of Sea Life that one was observing then! For example, the sharks, the coral reef, the glass tunnel aquarium; all of these had their own set of music. Having poor tolerance to loud noises, this indeed did pose a problem for me. It was total cacophony and madness! So my first impression of the place was not just distasteful, but it was bad enough to make want to leave! But I wanted to see my sea buddies, I came for them and I persisted!

Having said that, as hard as it was for me, the real joy was in losing myself in those living exhibits! Fishes are said to have a calming effect on the mind and these wonderful creatures too had the same on mine despite the surrounding crowds and noise!

The Aquarium housed many varieties of fish; big, small, tiny, colourful, plain; sea horses, sharks, platypus, fairy penguins and the list goes on. A lot of information was contained on the touch screen displays kept next to these exhibits. Besides, various interactive boards with questions were put up all through the Aquarium.
Jelly fish, with psychedelic colours

The highlight of our visit to this place was the glass tunnel. We truly enjoyed standing there as the sharks swam over our heads at such close quarters! It made me realise how big these fish were! 

Aari was totally taken into another world at the underwater glass tunnels

There was the Dugong (a mammal which lives in water) whom I fell in love with and who seemed to enjoy human company. It swam in areas which had the most number of people. 

The much loved Dugong

The most hilarious sight was the two big sized sucker fish that were involved in a tiff, where each was trying to bite onto the other’s tail until one of the bigger fish intervened! 

How I wish I could remain with the Dugong a tad bit longer, but it would be very unfair to the other tourists, as well as, the locals, all of whom were here for the very experience!

Our visit did end on a thrilling note considering it was my first experience in a glass tunneled Aquarium! We exited through the souvenir store where we picked up an item or two for ourselves as part of the memories that we hope to create.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Day 5- birds birds and birds at the Hunter Wetland centre

We began our day on a skeptical note; I wanted to head to the museum while Del wanted to spend the day at the Hunter Wetlands Centre! With the constant rain, although I felt the museum was a safer bet, we still headed for the Wetlands, hope against hope to have some good bird sightings!

The day started with heavy showers.

However, as soon as we reached the Centre, the rain suddenly abated, as if the rain Gods took pity on Del and fulfilled his ardent desire to be with the birds! It must be said, that this indeed is a feature of the weather at NSW, unpredictability at its best! At the Centre, with a map in our hands and mosquito repellent cream applied over our exposed body parts, we made our way to the birds.

It was sheer joy seeing different species of birds, especially, the swans who kept crossing over the path  from the BHP pond to the Brambles pond to and fro! The little chicks of the ducks were the cutest of all! They were tiny and yet so elegant in their moves in the water!

We first embarked on the Discovery Walk to see the various birds among the different swamps. It was inspiring to note that from being a dump ground, this forty five hectare site was converted into a Conservation Centre by the dedicated effort of many people.

It was amazing to see ducks 'freckled ducks', a species of endangered ducks, which are also called the dinosaur ducks. These were the earliest ducks to evolve in the chain of evolution, all present days ducks and geese came after these ducks.

The endangered Freckled Duck

We also took the Rainforest walk, much of which seemed to be in the hot sun than rainforest foliage! Nevertheless, we enjoyed ourselves!
Various aboriginal sculptures that adorn the  centre

(Noon Session)

The Centre has a café, as well as, barbeque facilities. Visitors are encouraged to bring in their own food and to spend the entire day away from the city’s hustle and bustle and in the company of nature and its sounds. Feeling the leaves and breathing in the scents emanating from the crushed leaves of the aromatic plants, the grass, the soil and being one with nature is highly recommended.

After our well-deserved break for lunch, we worked on completing the remainder of our Discovery Walk. We spent some time at the Egret Tower observing the different species of birds living in harmony together. At the tower, there was an interesting note with words to the effect, “The Egrets make enough noise, and we don’t need to add to it!” The tower also exhibited drawings and paintings by children artists.
At the 'Egret Tower'

Soon it was time to head to the Visitor Centre as the place closes by 4pm. By the end of it all, our muscles were stiff and our legs refused to move. We were very grateful that the rains took a long break right until we reached our Motel, and before we knew it, the skies once again began celebrating with tears of joy!

We were delighted that through our five day trip, the weather Gods were very kind to us. The days that went by were indeed a kind of a journey that helped us connect to ourselves!
A few of the more than 35 bird species that we managed to spot. 

Day 6 : Return back home.

This was the day when we returned home, content over our travel and joyous over the opportunity of being able to explore another continent miles away from where we usually reside!
Our drive to Sydney from Kurri Kurri was about two and a half hours long via the Pacific Motorway and the Great Western Highway.