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Archive for September, 2019

Australian passport holders headed for Britain

While the vote in favour of Brexit could be interpreted as a protest against the number of foreigners living and working in Britain – and Poles in particular – those who visit on holiday are quarantined from that sentiment. If the British economy takes a pounding post Brexit, the British government would not want to stifle tourism by making it more difficult for Australian passport holders to visit. Therefore it is unlikely that the current rules will change.

Australian passport holders headed for Europe

Most of continental Europe is part of the Schengen Area, which was established to allow the free flow of goods and people within Europe, borderless travel in other words. Britain is not part of it. Australian passport holders are permitted to enter the Schengen Area and travel freely without a visa for up to 90 days within a six-month period. That’s likely to stay the same.

Australian residents with British passports

More than a million Australian residents hold current British passports. In 2014, British residents made more than 40 million trips to Europe, spending over £16 billion. If the GBP continues to wallow against the euro, Brits will have less to spend when they travel to eurozone countries, leading to less travel. It seems unlikely, therefore, that European destinations favoured by British residents would further dampen enthusiasm by restricting entry. Therefore I’m predicting that Aussie residents with British passports will continue to find the European door open.

Michael Gebicki

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Freycinet National Park, Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania. Geographe Bay Marina near Busselton, Western Australia.

Sunrise at Bear Island off La Perouse, NSW.

Recherche Bay, Tasmania.

Apple orchard, Huon Valley, Tasmania.

The Hazards, Freycinet, Tasmania.

Neck Beach, Bruny Island.

​We could have been French. On the shores of Botany Bay, where then Lieutenant James Cook first stepped ashore on the continent in 1770, is Frenchmans Bay, a beach named for one of the great might-have-been moments in history. French explorer Comte de La Pérouse landed here just days after the First Fleet in January 1788.

The French count stayed for six weeks in the area now known as La Perouse, building a stockade and establishing a small garden, before setting sail again for the south seas, never to be seen again. There’s a monument on the headland and the museum in the historic 1881 Cable Station tells the story of the expedition, its encounter with the First Fleet and the mystery surrounding its disappearance.

In 1791 Bruni d’Entrecasteaux left France on a search and rescue mission to locate the lost La Pérouse. His journey took him across the Indian Ocean to Tasmania, then called Van Diemen’s Land, and into the South Pacific before returning to France via the south-western coast of Australia. He failed to find La Pérouse, but he did discover a vast amount of Australian coastline, leaving behind a rich legacy of French place names including D’Entrecasteaux National Park (parks.dpaw.wa.gov419论坛), a wild and untouched place on the south-western tip of Western Australia that hasn’t changed much since Bruni put it on the map. Most of it is inaccessible unless you have a four-wheel drive, but it’s popular with anglers, campers and bushwalkers who come here for the long white sandy beaches flanked by imposing cliffs almost 100 metres high, hexagonal basalt columns that came from a volcanic lava flow 135 million years ago, jarrah and karri forests and wonderful wildflowers in spring.

Further east along the coast the pretty seaside port of Esperance (see visitesperance苏州美甲美睫培训学校), famous for its dazzling white sand beaches and brilliant turquoise waters, was named after one of the two ships on the expedition. The 30km Ocean Road Loop along the coastline just out of town is one of the country’s most beautiful short drives.

In Tasmania Bruni’s name lives on, in Bruny Island south of Hobart (see brunyisland.org419论坛) and the D’Entrecasteaux Channel that separates it from mainland Tasmania. South of Hobart, the town of Huonville on the Huon River in the Huon Valley – the apple growing capital of the apple isle – was named in honour of the Admiral’s second in command, Captain Huon de Kermadec.

Recherché Bay (see farsouthtasmania苏州美甲美睫培训学校) near the far south-eastern tip of Tasmania is named after his other ship, La Recherche. The expeditioners set up a temporary village and scientific observatory on the edge of the bay and stayed for several weeks in 1792 and again in 1793, and the remains of a vegetable garden planted by the French not only as a resource for other sailors, but “for the benefit of Indigenous people – a gift from the French people to the natives of the new land”, were unearthed by archaeologists in 2003. Surrounded by World Heritage wilderness it’s just as wild and isolated now as it was back in 1793, when d’Entrecasteaux wrote: “It will be difficult to describe my feelings at the sight of this solitary harbour situated at the extremities of the globe, so perfectly enclosed that one feels separated from the rest of the universe. Everything is influenced by the wilderness of the rugged landscape. With each step, one encounters the beauties of unspoilt nature… Some of these trees seem as ancient as the world, and are so tightly interlaced that they are impenetrable.”

The next major French exploring party to spend time in Australia was the Baudin expedition, with orders to try and find out if there was a strait between the New Holland (West Australia) and NSW and to claim Southern Australia, which they called Terre Napoleon, for France.

They hit the west coast first, and Cape Naturaliste and Geographe Bay near the wine producing region of Margaret River are both named after the two ships, Le Naturaliste and Le Géographe. Several places on the north-western coast still have French names including Faure Island and the Peron Peninsula, named after the expedition’s zoologist who gathered more than 100,000 specimens creating one of the most comprehensive Australian natural history collections of its type. Francis Peron National Park (see parks.dpaw.wa.gov419论坛) is part of the Shark Bay World Heritage Area near Monkey Mia (home of a celebrated pod of wild dolphins that come into shore to be fed by visitors each day), which claims to shelter the largest number of species ever recorded in one place on the planet – from a cliff-top vantage point on the tip of Cape Peron you might be lucky enough to see turtle, dugongs, dolphins and manta rays.

Baudin headed next to Tasmania. The Freycinet Peninsula (see discovertasmania苏州美甲美睫培训学校419论坛) on the east coast is named after the one of the two Freycinet brothers on board the ship. They named many more places along the south coast of Australia west of Wilson’s Promontory, only to discover that Matthew Flinders had beaten them to the rest of the coast when they ran into him in what is now known as Encounter Bay (see tourismvictorharbour苏州美甲美睫培训学校419论坛) near Victor Harbor on the Fleurieu Peninsula (named by Baudin) in South Australia; Baudin heading west, Flinders heading east.

England and France were at war at the time (François Peron is believed to have prepared a secret espionage report for Napoleon on ways to invade and capture the British colony at Sydney Cove), but despite this the meeting between the two scientists was friendly – Flinders was welcomed aboard Le Geographe, and he shared charts and swapped travel tips, like where to find fresh water on nearby Kangaroo Island and the Eyre Peninsula. Flinders named the bay after the get-together and you can explore its edge aboard the historic Cockle Train (Australia’ first railway see steamrangerheritagerailway.org) between Victor Harbor, Port Elliot and Goolwa. Outside of school holidays the train only runs twice a week (usually on Wednesday and Sunday) so a good alternative if you’ve got bicycles with you (or walk a section of it) is the 30km Encounter Bikeway – from May to October you may be able to spot whales as you ride.

Between them, Flinders and Baudin were responsible for around 70 per cent of the names of Australia’s coastal features, and even though the French maps were published three years before Flinders’, many of the French names were later supplanted by the English ones chosen by Flinders by virtue of the fact that he got there first, but only just.

Once again, the French had only just missed out. If La Pérouse had only been a few days earlier Australia Day might well be celebrated with croissants and crepes, rather than beer and a barbie – but at least it would still be on the beach.   AKAROA, NEW ZEALAND’S ONLY FRENCH SETTLEMENT

Our Kiwi neighbours  share our French connections, with several  French navigators and naturalists naming and charting the coastline. In 1840 a ship of French settlers aboard the Compte de Paris arrived on the Banks Peninsula (named by Cook, after his botanist, Joseph Banks), around an hour’s drive south-east of modern-day Christchurch, to establish a French colony, only to find that the British had arrived first and had already claimed sovereignty.

The 60 or so settlers decided it was too far to go home, so stayed on to establish the harbour-side town of Akaroa (see akaroa苏州美甲美睫培训学校), which still has French street names, and local restaurants pay homage to French cuisine. The architecture is a blend of British and French, with beautifully restored historic cottages brightly painted and festooned with flower boxes, and the main street is lined with quaint galleries and craft shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. The waters of the bay are a safe haven to the world’s rarest and smallest dolphin, the Hector’s dolphin.

According to the World Wildlife Fund there are only around 7000 Hector’s dolphins left in the world and they are only found off the coasts of New Zealand, with the biggest populations found in the Akaroa area. Swimming-with-dolphin cruises, along with kayaking and sailing trips to see penguin and seal colonies, are big drawcards. But if you really want to savour la belle vie, head to one of the wineries overlooking the harbour. The first French settlers began making wine here almost as soon as they arrived, and the tradition is still going strong. It’s easy to believe you are somewhere in Provence as you sip a chilled rose or cuvee blanc and gaze down at harbour below – Provence with a Kiwi twist that is.

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Time for a break on the Singapore twilight cycling tour. Photo: Tony Loo East Coast Park Singapore cycling.

Clarke Quay Singapore twilight cycling tour.

Clarke QuaySingapore twilight cycling tour.


“And this,” says Tony Loo, as we round a corner and pedal onto Singapore’s Marina Promenade, “is why we love the evening cycling tours. It’s nice and cool and the views are beautiful.” “Nice and cool” and “beautiful” are not words visitors often use when describing Singapore, a sprawling megalopolis anchored in the steamy tropics.

But Tony, a proud Singaporean and co-founder of Biking Singapore (whose rides are designed to offer a different perspective of the city-state), is spot on. The heat, so sweltering an hour or two ago, has been sapped, ever so slightly, by a sea breeze, and the views, set against an inky sky, are mesmerising.

Cycling along the waterfront, dodging walkers, joggers and groups participating in synchronised stretching and yoga sessions, my eyes dart from the lit-up skyscrapers of the CBD to the space-age architectural beacons that have sprouted here in recent years. The lotus flower-shaped ArtScienceMuseum and the Marina Bay Sands resort, whose rooftop, straddling its three towers, resembles a giant’s surfboard, are especially attention-grabbing.

As luck – or Tony’s good planning – would have it, we’re just in time to watch Wonder Full, the light and water spectacle that illuminates the marina every evening (wowing onlookers at 8pm and 9.30pm). Something Tony has no control over is the weather, and as we’re about to set off towards the glitzy “supertrees” of the Gardens by the Bay attraction, and the Marina Barrage dam – an engineering marvel that separates Marina Bay, a freshwater reservoir, from the open sea – we’re caught in a biblical downpour. Our ponchos are no match for it, and it’s a reminder that, however much Singapore evolves, its rainforest-like climate is unlikely to change.

Seeing my sodden state, Tony asks if I’d like to cut the tour short, but I’m fine. Cycling through the rain is a blast; a real adrenalin buzz, particularly on a scenic waterfront promenade out of bounds to vehicular traffic. And besides, not everywhere in Singapore is a cyclists’ nirvana. Although the Park Connector Network links 300 kilometres of trails around the island, including on the California-esque East Coast Park, there are few Amsterdam-like bike paths in the built-up centre. The first part of our tour saw us jostling with peak-hour traffic as we pedalled from our starting point, Clarke Quay (whose British colonial-era spice and rice warehouses have been transformed into bars, eateries and malls).

Tony did his best to make himself heard above the revving car engines, though, unfurling enlightening anecdotes about Singapore past and present. The population has more than tripled in the last 50 years (it’s now 5.5 million) and land is at an increasing premium, so much so that the historic, 200-hectare Bukit Brown cemetery is being dug up to build new highways, homes and shopping centres. In fact, across Singapore, an island smaller than Cape Cod, more than 100,000 graves have been exhumed for redevelopment projects. “Singapore is so packed that the dead have to give up their space for the living,” says Tony, who explains that this limited space is one of the reasons why we’re riding foldable Vert bikes.

“Most people here live in small apartments, with very little storage space, so these bikes are perfect. You can also carry them onto the Metro or put them in the boot of your car.” At various points of the tour, we park up and go walkies.

Chinatown is the atmospheric highlight. Perhaps more than any other district, it’s emblematic of Singapore’s melting-pot culture; its aromatic lanes are home to Chinese markets, restaurants, shophouses and Buddhist temples; hipster cafes, speakeasies and boutiques, as well as the Muslim Indian Jamae mosque and Sri Mariamman Temple, where we took off our shoes, delved inside and witnessed a spine-tingling, drum-and-bell-fuelled Hindu ceremony. As the city’s lights and neon crackle to life, the scent of food increasingly flavours the air. We cycled towards Lau Pau Sat, one of the city’s countless hawker centres.

Each evening, Boon Tat Street, which flanks this evocative Victorian landmark, is closed to through traffic. Plastic tables and chairs are set up.

Waitresses entice punters with ice-cool bottles of Tiger Beer. And vendors barbecue skewers of chicken, mutton, pork, beef and prawns, to be dipped in satay sauce. “We call this Satay Street,” said Tony. “And one of the stalls (stall 8) runs a satay challenge. You eat as many sticks as you can in 20 minutes – and if you beat the record, your meal is free.” My interest was piqued – until Tony revealed the record: 150! You certainly work up an appetite on this 12-kilometre, three-and-a-half-hour cycling tour, but probably not that much. TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

yoursingapore苏州美甲美睫培训学校GETTING THERE

Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Emirates are among the airlines that fly from Melbourne and Sydney to Singapore. BIKING THERE

Biking Singapore offers a range of cycling tours (day and night). plus bike rentals. The evening tour is priced from SGD95 ($94); bikingsingapore苏州美甲美睫培训学校

Steve McKenna was a guest of Singapore tourism

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The first challenge is hammering your tee into the sun-baked earth. Next, careful with that tee shot. Unless your ball encounters one of the rare trees along the edge of the “fairways”, there’s no turf to slow down an errant shot. The club’s website notes “bare patches exist”. In fact bare patches are just about all there is to this 18-holer. The greens are sand, which makes for interesting putting. Luckily there’s a bar in the clubhouse.  MIN MIN LIGHT

In the Channel Country of western Queensland, the Min Min Light is a ghostly luminance known to follow travellers late at night, often appearing in their rear vision mirror. Although the town of Boulia is most often associated with the light, the phenomenon has been reported across outback Queensland and NSW, with origins dating back to Aboriginal stories from pre-European days. Sceptics suggest the phenomenon occurs more frequently when the observer has spent several hours in the pub. LAKE EYRE YACHT CLUB

Water from the rivers of Queensland’s Channel Country rarely reaches Lake Eyre. When it does the eccentric band of yachties of the Lake Eyre Yacht Club in Marree rejoice, and 2016 is a boom year. According to club Commodore Bob Backway, boats had not been on Lake Eyre since 2011 but the recent rains primed the Queensland rivers that feed the lake. The club held its fifth regatta in April 2016, not on Lake Eyre itself but to the north-east, on Lake Poondulanna. A total of 17 yachts competed for the Rear Admiral’s Mug and given the relative proximity of the Mungerannie Hotel, the lake proved a wise choice.  LIONS DEN HOTEL

Whether you’ve come south from Cooktown or north from Cape Tribulation, by the time to you’ve reached the Lions Den you’re ready for a drink. Decor at this pub on the main coast road between Queensland’s Mossman and Cooktown includes a unique collection of skulls, beer bottles from around the world, lots of corrugated iron, memorabilia left by past clients, enough graffiti to fill a book, a saucy picture or two and atmosphere you could carve.  There’s a lion too, and don’t miss the jungly Rousseau-style mural above the pool table.  CROCODILE HARRY’S UNDERGROUND NEST

Even the locals referred to “Crocodile” Harry as colourful and slightly weird, and in Coober Pedy that’s a high bar. Originally from the Baltic, Harry pursued a career as a crocodile hunter with some vigour, but his dugout home in low hills a few kilometres from Coober Pedy bears witness to his true affection – the female form. In sculptures carved from the walls of his underground home, images and second-hand undergarments, Harry’s fondness for women is liberally illustrated, and not much is left to the imagination. Harry passed away almost a decade ago but his obsession endures in his cavern of Saturnalia.  WILLIAM CREEK HOTEL

Most country towns have a pub or two but the William Creek Hotel is all there is to the town of William Creek. Decor is an unintended museum of work and play in the Outback – stock whips, cricket balls and dangling from every beam, caps and t-shirts commemorating the visit of Fiona from County Durham, Sven from Sweden and Alison from Dubbo. When you leave look both ways before crossing the road, the main street doubles as a taxiway for aircraft.  PINK ROADHOUSE, OODNADATTA

Rising out of the Simpson Desert like some gaudy leftover from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the Oodnadatta Roadhouse is a study in pink. Out the front of the all-pink roadhouse is a pink Volvo and pink canoes, inside there’s a pink phone box. The burgers are worth a long drive and you can borrow the keys to the railway station – once the northern end of The Ghan, and the lifeblood of the town. SUNSET AT THE PRAIRIE HOTEL, PARACHILNA

Half an hour before sunset the crowd that gathers every evening in the bar of the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna shuffles outside for the best show in town, and about two nights out of every three mother nature obliges, drawing a technicolour curtain across the desert sky that has cameras clicking frantically. Located on the western edge of the Flinders Ranges, the Prairie Hotel has attained legendary status for its bizarre sense of humour and a menu heavily reliant on feral food.  PRINCIPALITY OF HUTT RIVER

Although it lies almost 600 kilometres north of Perth, you’re no longer in Australia when you set foot in the Principality of Hutt River. Back in 1970, after a fight over the wheat quota from his 75-square kilometre farm, the self-styled H.R.H. Prince Leonard decided that Western Australia was not part of the legally constituted Commonwealth of Australia and so he seceded. So far, the Australian Government has not seen fit to send in the troops and Prince Leonard has made his principality a tourist attraction, with its own passports, flags, currency, postal system and military, while members of the “Royal Family” can be found in the souvenir shop. CANAPES WITH CROCODILES, MOUNT BORRADAILE

“No trailing fingers over the side of the boat please, the crocs take that as an invitation. More champagne?” The sunset cruise on Cooper Creek at Mount Borradaile, a 700-square-kilometre chunk of western Arnhemland, is an odd juxtaposition. It’s a free-range kingdom with sea eagles, jacanas doing a stiff-legged dance across the lily pads, clouds of whistling ducks and magpie geese erupting from the soggy grassland of the floodplain and big saltwater crocs warming themselves on the muddy banks, and yet there are canapes to go with the bubbly and learned references to the Aboriginal rock art sites on the reddening hunk of sandstone that gives Mount Borradaile its name.

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The eighth century fort of Gwalior. Photo: John Golder Men in traditional dress in Jaipur. Photo: John Golder

Magnificent Jaipur. Photo: John Golder

The Maharaja’s Express. Photo: John Golder

Waiting in India. Photo: John Golder

Mystical Varanasi. Photo: John Golder

People do a lot of waiting in India. Waiting for work, waiting for a blessing, waiting for things to get better. Often they are waiting for a train.

Here are some people waiting on a platform: an elderly man with a waterfall beard cascading from his wizened face; a young mother in a mustard-yellow sari holding a bamboozled infant wearing eyeliner; a little boy striding purposely past them to the end of the platform, curling his toes over the edge, and pissing onto the rails, a perfect golden arc glinting in the morning sun.

Above them, hand-painted signs cover the walls; around them, a scratchy tannoy voice babbles updates from the network. Nearby, a dog quivers with fleas, restlessly shifting on the concrete as though expecting a relative to return on the next carriage.

Everyone is waiting for something, but they are not, in the ordinary sense of the word, waiting for my train. The Maharajas’ Express is the best train in India by some measurements, and the best in the entire world by some others. A grand, burgundy monster too big for many rural stations, it is owned by the Indian government and has been designed to carry foreigners, and to be seen and photographed by locals. For the onlookers on these platforms, the Maharajas’ seems to say: wait long enough and you too could make it on here.

I’ve come on board for the Indian Panorama program, a 2300-kilometre sampler of northern India. It starts in Delhi, and over eight days and seven nights introduces its guests to the country’s Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and British heritages.

Each carriage (the number varies depending on the occupancy for the trip) is assigned a personal butler, young men who seem to possess a Batman-like ability to appear from nowhere to offer help. Some guests develop a not unreasonable theory that the butlers are stored in the ceiling and deployed the moment they sense a minor inconvenience.

For many, being waited on like is a treat, but I find it more than a little uncomfortable. Having an Indian house boy is, for this Brit, an incredibly awkward business. The only silver lining for me is that my butler is called Mahipal, which is more-or-less pronounced My Pal, allowing me to feel as though we’re something like equals. “Thanks for that My Pal”, “Oh don’t worry about it My Pal, I’ve got it.”

The key to enjoying the Maharajas’ Express, for me anyway, is to pretend as though you’re in some kind of elaborate improv and that none of this is real. When they literally roll out a red carpet at a village station and the music starts playing and beggars in rags are shepherded to the side so you can stride past … that’s all just pretend. Actors in convincing garbs. But, wow, haven’t they done a good job with how it all smells? At almost every stop the platforms are decked out in garlands of fiery marigolds. Often there is a band. Always there are locals staring. You have to slide into the role pretty quickly.

Thankfully the substance of the Indian Panorama itinerary is so rich that a lot of this pantomime is forgotten. The first stop is the spectacular pink city of Jaipur, then on to Ranthambore National Park where we casually see wild tigers from the jeep, as though they aren’t stealth experts and one of the world’s most endangered creatures.

That afternoon we visit Fatephur Sikri, an abandoned red ruin, once the home of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the domain of several hundred rose-ringed parakeets, whose vibrant green feathers seem to bounce out of the ochre sandstone. Our cameras flutter like their wings.

Several of the passengers on board have also travelled on the fabled Orient-Express, and compare the Maharajas’ favourably. It may not have the prestige of its older rival, but it has considerably larger cabins and every night of the trip is spent on the train (on the Orient-Express’ London to Venice route, just one night is spent on-board).

Not that people don’t occasionally lament being on the train through the night. It’s rarely quiet, occasionally the old tracks cause the carriages to rock violently, and some trick of the half-conscious brain leaves several passengers feeling as though we are travelling too fast towards some unknown disaster.

This being India, the train driver also uses the horn. A lot. Sometimes to alert signalmen further up the line, sometimes to try to cajole people into getting out the way. Its mega population means there are 1.2 billion potential problems in India these days, and that’s not including the holy cattle.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine how the staff can do much more, given the format is essentially the same as it was in 1853 when the ruling British ran India’s first locomotive.

The food is unanimously excellent, too, but, while the Europeans are familiar with many of the Indian dishes, for the Americans much of it is a new experience. And for a small Japanese group of four, whose food at home is diametrically opposed to this, negotiating the thalis is like walking through a chilli-laden minefield. Noting this, the chef and his unseen team start cooking separate dishes for them.

It’s that kind of service that leaves people so fond of the Maharajas’ Express, and undoubtedly the sort of thing that’s led to it being crowed Leading Luxury Train at the World Travel Awards for the past four years. The attentiveness is possible because of the mammoth number of staff: most remain invisible but, once you total everyone working on the train, there are between 70 and 80, far more than there are passengers.

Many of the places we visit – Agra, Varanasi, Lucknow – are familiar to outsiders, at least by name, but none of us have heard of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh. We know nothing about it before we arrive, but that soon changes thanks to our guide, the garrulous Mr Singh.

As we walk around these UNESCO-backed Hindu and Jain temples, he starts every anecdote by pleading for “our kind attention”, before launching into a colourful dialogue about ancient practises, tyrannical emperors or Buddhist principles.

“May I have your kind attention? Who are you?” He asks no one in particular. “You are not only a body. You are a blessed being!” Some of the passengers nod attentively, others wander off to take photographs of the near-pristine sculptures that adorn these 1000-year-old temples.

“Nothing is new under the sun,” Mr Singh says. “Look at these carvings! See the monkey business between man and woman? The woman worried about her muffin tops, the man reaching for her? Nothing is new under the sun!”

We get a new guide almost every day, all with excellent English, most with a good sense of humour. (In Jaipur: “See these milk urns? The writing says how much water they have added to the milk and sometimes how much milk was added to the water.”) A couple of times, however, it feels as though we don’t need any guidance at all.

The first time it happens is at the Taj Mahal, the grandest jewel in India’s crown, the “tear-drop on the cheek of time”, a place so photographed and mythologised it seems almost unnecessary to try to capture it. Perhaps it’s enough to say that, as far as the death business goes, this is about as beautiful as it’s possible to be.

The other time is in the holy city of Varanasi. Death looms large here, too, death of the here and now, with 24-hour public cremations taking place on the banks of the Ganges. Above the ceremonies, black kites swoop ominously over buildings that seem to be crumbling into the holy river, yet, for Hindus, there is no better way to enter the afterlife than here, returned to ash by the holy river.

Watching the ceremonies from floating boats, the passengers of the Maharajas’ Express are divided about whether or not we should be here at all. The deceased loved ones are dipped into the sacred water before being transferred, wrapped in bright robes, to the pyre. A prayer is chanted, a flower placed, thousands of bells ring, the sound tinkling over us like rain.

Personally, I’m glad to witness it, to see that the departed – some of them so light their stretchers are lifted as though empty – are indeed loved ones, perhaps even more so in death than in life. Mark Twain wrote of Indians: “It is a curious people. With them, all life seems to be sacred except human life.” I can’t say how true that is, but visiting Varanasi I saw that at least human death is sacred.

On the last morning it’s we who have to do the waiting, held at a signal outside Delhi as the rush-hour traffic snakes its way hither and yon. As I eat my final breakfast in the dining car, a local train pulls up next to ours. The people on board are in second class, without air conditioning or virtually any comfort at all. I stare at them and they stare back for longer than I can bear. But before I look away, a trick in the windows’ reflections seems to project me into their place, and I hope that they, somehow, can see themselves in mine. TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

incredibleindia.orgGETTING THERE

Air India is the only carrier with direct flights from Australia to Delhi, the capital of India, airindia苏州美甲美睫培训学校. Alternatively, fly to Singapore or Hong Kong and make a connection, or overshoot India and double back with Etihad, Emirates or Qatar. TOURING THERE

The Maharajas’ Express offers itineraries across India, except for during the crushing heat of summer. While some itineraries head south from Delhi to Mumbai, the Indian Panorama program takes in many of the most important historic and cultural attractions in Northern India, including the pink city of Jaipur, Agra and the Taj Mahal, and the holy city of Varanasi. Prices for their eight-day program start from US$5980, full board and including house drinks. See the-maharajas苏州美甲美睫培训学校

John Golder was a guest of the Maharajas’ Express.

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