The five P’s when visiting India

As featured on ABC Open -

This beautiful land of mythic gods, rich traditions, deep religious beliefs and a passion for musical cinema is my childhood home. Its where the only social welfare one has is their family and friends, which makes for a wonderfully caring community.

India is my childhood home and a place I love returning to almost each year to enjoy the food, family and festivals. But over the past twenty years in Australia I guess I started to notice that I had become ‘westernised’. Let me explain, I started to notices things that were different in Indian then back home in Australia, not better or worse but just different!

Firstly, walking down the busy streets of most big cities in India one can’t help but notice the first P… the smell of urine (Piss), it seems to be something that everyone else ignores like it’s nothing. But for the first few days in India I definitely notice it, and then after a few days, much like my jet-lag, it disappears, and so does my sense of smell! Peeing on a public wall is not uncommon in India, as the corrupt city councils use the government funds to line their own pockets rather than building sufficient public toilets to cater for the ever growing population.

Secondly, the enormity of this country with it’s almost 1.5 Billion (That’s one 1 with 9 zeros behind it, just to give you a sense of scale!) people is the second P…Population! It must be so difficult for the average Indian to get some peace and quiet, here in Australia we take our personal space for granted. It’s not unheard of to head down to the local park or a section of beach and find that you’re the only person for miles in any direction. Forget about that in India, no matter where you go there are people everywhere, now that can be a great thing when you want to head out for a meal at say 2am in Mumbai , everything is open cause there are enough people to make it worthwhile to keep these places open. But try getting on public transport in a city and you will soon get to know cologne the guy next to you is wearing, or rather not wearing!

Thirdly, and very unfortunately is the Pollution in the major cities, I remember a few years ago flying into Mumbai on an early morning flight as the sun was rising. I was sitting in my taxi asking the driver “it looks like rain today doesn’t it?” to which he replied in his thick Indian accent “No sir, that’s just the grey haze of pollution that always lingers over the city in the mornings”. Much like many South East Asian cities that feel like you have smoked a pack of cigarettes after a day of shopping, Mumbai and Delhi are also quite polluted. However, I did notice in New Delhi the government actually took action to reduce pollution in the city by converting all its public buses to Bio Gas (Renewable gas) and after a couple of years one really can tell the difference in the air quality. So, things can be changed, if the government decided things are bad enough.

The next P is one that almost every foreigner I have met who has visited India has agreed to which is how Pushy people can be in public. But this is one ‘P’ I totally understand because when you live in a country with over a billion people as one needs to have a certain forcefulness in order to get ahead, which in westerns eyes can come across as pushy or even rude at times. For example after a long day’s work a guy/girl is heading home and they know the bus is going to be packed with other commuters, so they have to make a decision about either pushing their way onto the bus or wait for the next one and miss out on dinner with the family, or be late to a night school class or even later for that hot date! Under those circumstances, I can totally understand how Indians need to be pushy on the road while driving in line at a supermarket. It always makes me smile when I form a queue behind a person at a store and then I see five other people come in from all directions and walk right up to the counter totally ignoring the line! It’s how I know I’m in India… Survival of the fittest!

Finally, and most importantly is the last P the People, the people of this country are so welcoming to guests and can instantly turn around ones opinions about the previous 4 P’s with their warmth, affection and insistence on the fact that you must eat and drink something if you come to their house. It reminds me of when I visited the home of one of the students that I taught as a volunteer in Bangalore. The house was tiny and there was almost no furniture in the room except for an old TV. But the father of the child quickly ran out of the house and down to the corner store and bought me a banana and a soft drink while getting nothing for themselves. I knew they were struggling and that the father had not worked in months but they still wanted to make sure their guest was comfortable. That’s what keeps me coming back to India despite, the smell, the pollution, the overpopulation, the pushy people and all the rest. I recommend India to anyone who wants to experience heaven and hell living comfortably side by side. Go with an open mind and lots of Gastrostop!

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Lost in the Giants Playground – Namibia (South West Africa)

This article has also been published by ABC Open at:

Scenario – LOST in 35+ degree heat in the Kalahari Desert with no water, no maps, no mobile phone reception, no people around except for my girlfriend and my dog. Both of whom were unsurprisingly unhappy with me by that stage!

We were on a driving vacation in Namibia and wanted to see all the beautiful natural sights of this wonderful desert filled country. One of the highlights we read about was called the “Giant’s Playground” which we were told was a 20 minute drive from the small town of Keetmanshoop. So we thought it might be a great detour on our way to the capital Windhoek. When we go there, it was a landscape nothing short of Martian!

Almost square boulders stacked one on top of another in little pyramids. Millions of years ago this area was a volcanic pit, with lava flowing out of little spouts all over the place. But over the millennia the lava hardened and the loose dirt got swept away by the desert winds and what was left was the core stone under these volcanic stacks. Almost like the skeleton of a volcano.

This being Africa, signage for the walk around this ‘maze’ was randomly painted on the rocks and tiny signs were scattered around, most of which had fallen over. We didn’t think much of it and started wandering around, thinking we were following a walking path, until 45 minutes later when we decided it was time to get back to the car as it was nearing midday and we were getting hot and tired.

We soon realised that we couldn’t find the car, or the car park for that matter, we had wandered off in some direction and when I climbed up on one of the rock stacks I couldn’t see anything other than more rocks in all directions. We started to panic as this was off season and there was only one other car in the car park when we arrived and we didn’t even run into those people and unlike Oz, there are no rangers around to help lost tourists like us. But we tried to stay calm and kept walking hoping to find some signs that would lead us back. It had been another hour and a half and it was about 1.30pm and we were really getting tired and not to mentioned frustrated. So while my girlfriend tried to keep our dog Chanel cool by getting her to sit under a bush I was as always busy taking photos while looking for a way out.

Finally we saw an electricity pole in the distance and started walking towards it and that lead to a fence which we followed for another 30 minutes until we found ourselves back at the entrance to the Giants playground. The mood was tense by that stage, as I was leading us and I knew once we got back in the car ,I would never hear the end of it! But finally we saw the car park and ran to the car and grabbed the water bottle and turned on the air-conditioning and go the hell out of the Giants Playground.

But I would totally recommend it to anyone visiting Namibia, definitely a must see, but take a gps.

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Charity in Australia

I was just reading an article in The Big Issue today, and much to my surprise it said that ozzies were one of the least charitable in the world! It made me think of a simple way to change that statistic.

Here’s a small charitable suggestion to those who don’t want to monthly commitment of a world vision kid or any other green peace thing. On every pay day on your way home pick up a copy of The Big Issue , it’s sold by the homeless and only costs $5 . You will directly helping that person n you might even make a friend as these guys love a chat if you have the time. Not to mention that the articles are of a high quality written for free by reputable writers. It makes for a good toilet reading and with a stack of them in your bathroom your friends will think you give a ‘shit’ ;0)

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Joondalup Arts Exhibition 2011

This year I again submitted an exhibit into the exhibition and based on my past experience I tried to find work that had more substance and a deeper meaning. Hence, I selected this shot I took while visiting Melbourne. It was around about the time the Financial Crisis had hit the US and was all over the news. This shot was not staged so it allowed me to capture a natural look of curiosity on the ‘suited man’s’ face. The ‘music man’ in the background made me think of the effects of capitalism and how the perpetrators are not the ones that face the ramifications of their actions. As in most of the CEO’s of the large companies that went bust walked away with millions while families lost homes and jobs as an indirect result of their actions.

Photograph Located in Australian Gallery within my Gallery of Work.

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Good Karma Between The Beach & the Bar!

Have you ever been so moved by the good work volunteers were doing in a town while you were on vacation and said to yourself “I would love to do something like that while on my vacation”. Well volunteering on vacation is becoming more and more popular these days with many people spending as little as a day or even up to a week out of their vacation giving back to the community.

I am not talking about becoming a saint and devoting a whole holiday towards charity work, but if you do want to do that then great Karma to you! But for the mere mortals who appreciate how lucky they are to be able to be on vacation and want to give something back then there are many options available to you from teaching English at a village school through to building a hut for a community. It all depends on where you are vacationing and how dirty you want to get your hands.

I was planning my latest trip to Vietnam & Cambodia later this year and it occoured to me to maybe put the camera and the beer down for a few days and help out in the community if I could. So I did some research and found that there were many agencies that organise volunteering programs across the globe.

For example: The Global Volunteer Network (GVN) is  reputalbe organisation to find projects that you could get involved in while on vacation. There are a lot of websites out there they aren’t as reputable because the Volunteer Vacation industry has become a money making venture for tour operators and the as I call it the ‘Karma Dollar’ is becoming big business with people forking out big bucks to go and volunteer thier time. Sounds ironic but people are paying to work for free!! ha-ha But what one pays for is usually the security of knowing that the program is organised well and you are taken care of while you are at these locations and that the work load is reasonable and not slave labour.

GVN Foundation has special United Nations Consultative Status which gave me a little more peace of mind while deciding which organisation to approach for my Karma points.

Some of the suggested qustions you should pose any organisation that you are looking at volunteering through are:

  1. What is the level of interaction with local residents?
  2. How much guidance from tour/organization staff will I receive?
  3. What type of physical labor is involved; e.g., will I be mixing cement or lifting heavy bags?
  4. What contingency plans are in place in case I need to take a break from volunteering? If I need to leave the trip, in the event of an emergency or political unrest?
  5. What activities and tours are included in the price?
  6. How much downtime is built into the trip?
  7. And if you want to, what percentage is tax deductible?

So I hope this blog puts a seed in your head about adding a bit of a volunteering component to your next vacation. Every hour helps and is much appreciated by the less fortunate community you help. And a a bonus you most likely will see a part of the country that you would never have discovered on your own, you might meet other like minded people from around the world that might open a door to your next adventure……!

Here are some more useful links that might help:

So Get a bag, Get a Ticket and Get out there and meet Real People!

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‘A Visual Journey’ Exhibition Will Tour the East Coast in May/June 2011

Exhibition Dates:

  • Brisbane : Wednesday 26 May to Wednesday 1 June 2011 - Venue: TBA

  • Sydney: Friday 3 June to Friday 10 June 2011 – Venue: TBA

  • Melbourne: Tuesday 14 June to Tuesday 21 June 2011 – Venue: TBA

This exhibition is the culmination of the past 4 years of the artists’ work. In order to truly experience and understand the cultures of these nations Ryan lived and worked there as a local for approximately 12 months in each country. Ryan has now returned home to Australia to share his experiences through his lens.

“I want to share share my experiences in order to promote Cultural Integration in Australian society”. By exposing… our society to different cultures, languages, religions, and customs one can better appreciate foreign cultures and develop a more inclusive society our country.

Background Information on artist:

Ryan Michael is not a traditional artist, as he was a successful Investment Banker until just four years ago. He had completed six years of university study to get into the Finance industry. However, after five years of being a successful banker Ryan could no longer ignore the internal pull he was feeling towards the arts. As luck would have it, he was given a camera around that time and as they say, the rest is history.

For more information about the artist, an interview or photographs please feel free to contact Ryan on 0414 531 882. Ryan now works fulltime as an Artist and runs his own PR & Marketing business.
After successfully exhibiting this exhibition in Perth, Ryan is now taking his exhibition on tour to the east coast of Australia. This tour will spend a week in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. More cities could be added at a later date.

You can become a friend of Ryan Michael on Facebook by clicking on the following link:!/pages/Ryan-Michael-Galleries/123587247677585

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The Golden Triangle..India!

For those who have not yet had the opportunity to visit the sub-continent but have always wanted to, I encourage you to add the Golden Triangle to your list of must do’s.

The Golden Triangle, whose points are represented by the cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, is a favourite route for visitors to India. This journey not only takes you to some of India’s most beautiful treasures like the Taj Mahal and the Hawah Mahal but its also a journey back in time to the days of princely India and the opulence of the Mughal empire. It puts into perspective the more recent colonial legacy of the British Raj and the vibrant life of modern India when trying to work out where will India go from here. This trip is a heady mix of Multi-national sky scrapers in Delhi which are full of call centres competing for attention with the ancient forts and monuments.

I suggest organising a driver driven car to take you around the triangle. Don’t worry having a driver is not as expensive as here. You will be able to hire a car with a drive for a week including 3 star accommodation and breakfasts for approximately $1,000 AUD. If this seems to expensive for you, that’snot a problem as there are many ways for you to get around from city to city. You can catch a coach or join someone else’s tour. Ask at your hotel tourist information desk for other tourists who are going in your direction and see if he can ask them if you want to share the costs of the car rental. If your lucky you will make some new friends and your holiday might take a more exiting different direction than you originally planned.

I do not recommend that you drive yourself in a car or two wheeler across states unless you really want an adventure. The reason i say this is not because I am conservative and don’t like a challenge but in actual fact its just to save you a lot of time and paperwork. What i mean is, in India there are tool’s and taxes that need to be paid at every state and city border crossing. Not to mention all the toll roads, and the streets without proper signage and the numerous pot holes. So save your sense of adventure for when you arrive at the city you wanted to visit and then walk around the streets tasting exotic foods and chatting with locals instead.

The reason I recommend a driver is because these guys do this trip day-in-day-out and they know the roads, the tools and the sights like the back of their hand. Plus they will take you exactly where you want to go and will skip anything that doesn’t interest you. I feel that this means of doing the Golden Triangle allows you to do things at your own pace and based on your own interests. For example, I spent an extra day in Agra on the spur of the moment as I wanted to take sun rise shots of the Taj and since I had my own driver and car I was able to do that. I also had prepaid hotel vouchers that allowed me to show up at these hotels without any prior notice and I would be given a room. I noticed that lots of the large tour groups only had a limited time at the Taj and many of the other monuments because they were on a tight schedule.

I suggest that its better to visit less places and see them properly than to rush through cities like a Contiki tour (not that im against tours , but I am :O) and not remember where you saw what until you return home and decipher your photos from the trip.

I wont tell you about each monument in all of these cities as a simple google search will give you that info, but if there is anything specific you would like to know, please do not hesitate to contact me directly on and I would be happy to help make your adventure as memorable as they have been for me.

Life is a book, fill it with Chapters that you would like to read about when you are old and grey….

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America, This Years Hot Travel Destination!

I was just chatting to my travel agent the other day about what is the hottest destination this year for Australians. And without missing a beat she said AMERICA! She said its probably because of the strong ozzy dollar and the fact that everyone wants to visit the US of A at least once, and what better time to go than when the Ozzy dollar is the strongest its been in nearly 20 years. 

I have been fortunate enought have my father living in Chicago for the past 15 years. This has allowed me to go on long trips to the states on a relatively low budget as I usually crashed at friends, family or dads place where ever I went.

I find it very difficult to describe the vibe of America as a while as its too vast a country with soo much diversity in its people, cultural habbits, lifestyles and climate. I find its to be comparable to the variety one finds in Europe but with much newer buildings and bad accents! ;o) The great things about this country is that it really has something for everyone, with surfing beaches in California to Ski Fields in Colarado, to the desert in Arazona and the big city life in New York, to mention just a few.

I will focus on a couple of my favourites in this blog as the country could easily fill a book, and if you have vistied some of the book stores. It really has tons of books talking about so many different things to see and do around the country.

Let me start with my favourite city in the USA, its capital Washington D.C. Yes, its a man made 25 Square killometre area that has been manufactured to look like the jewel in the country’s crown. But thats so American and we know that they are not shy about doing things on a grand scale.  As you know I am a bit of a history buff so this city is especially great, especially if you have kids and want to show them some amazing things in one of its many beautiful museums. For example, the Air & Space Museum has some fantastic objects on display including the Wright Brothers Plain, Apollo 11 Space Module and many other cool things.  

If Muesums are not your things, why not walk down the ‘mall’ you know the grassy strip where Forest Gump spoke to the large crowd of hippies before he ran into the crowd to meet his Jenny!

The city is beauitfully landscaped and has large monuments and sculptures scattered all across its gardens and open spaces. For the military minded, the war memorial is a must visit. Its a beautiful memorial with a wall with polished black granite that has ingraved every single known person who has died serving the country from WW1 right through to the present day soldiers who lost their in Afghanistan and Iraq. What ever your views might be on these wars this memorial makes you see the real human cost from these conflicts. And even though the names of the soldiers are in very small font this black granite wall goes on-and-on for time. The walk down the wall reading the names does make one contemplate life and its worth in our society.

But now on to the brigher side of things, depending on the time of year one can take a tour of the White House which is must see, I was unlucky each time I have visited it has been closed but my sister has done the tour and says its a must see. And you never know your luck, President Obama might pop out of the Oval office to say G’day!  

The good thing about Washington D.C. is that its so close to New York City. Its only about a  3 hours flight which is good as D.C. can be quite expensive a city to stay in. And not to mention that once you leave the beautiful showie parts and get to the ‘real’ D.C. its still one of the most dangerous places in the US. Until Johannesburg took the title of most dangerous city in the world in the late 90′s D.C. was the murder capital of the US. But dont let the statistic scare you as the city is very culturally diverse and it was the first place I ever ate authentic East African food with tried Cassava (A root vegitable used instead of rice, and is a rich source of Carb’s).

If your planning a trip to the US, I suggest picking a region like the North-East (New York, D.C, etc) or Southern California (San Fransisco, LA, etc) and you will get a lot more out of than than trying to rush across this vast and wonderful land.

On your next vacation, take a break from planning and go with the flow for a change…..

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From Bratwurst to Quad Bikes – Namiba

A little bit of Namibian History for those interested….

I love history and always make sure I go visit the national museum in any of the countries that I visit. I did the same in Namibia and went to the much run down but adequately stocked national museum in the centre of the capital Windhoek.

There I found out that Namibia was once a German colony and used to be known as the German South-West Africa until the end of WW1 when it was taken over by South Africa as part of the British Empire. Which is why Afrikaans(A Germanic language spoken in South Africa) is also widely spoken in Namibia. Namibia only gained its independence in 1990 and is now a member of the British Commonwealth.

Windhoek, even though it is the capital, is a small town of about two hundred and fifty thousand people, mind you the country has a population of just over 2 million people. We actually found it quite hard to find a busy street in the whole country, so if your looking to ‘Party like a Rock Star’ this is not the country for you. But what this country is great for is its friendly people who speak pretty good English and are not bad to look at either ;o)

One can find some nice authentic German restaurants serving Bratwurst and a variety of German dishes but the cost is a bit higher. It is a trip to find German street names, people speaking German and eating German food in the middle of Africa but that’s what we found in Namibia and we loved it.

We decided to head west from Windhoek to the coastal holiday towns of Swakopmund & Walvis Bay. Both the towns are similar and about 10kms apart and Walvis Bay is as close to a party town as one can get because there are many backpackers and tour groups that bring people here to see the Dunes, or rather the sand Mountains that go right to the ocean. We had a ball exploring the sand dunes ourselves. Mind you we did get bogged a couple of times when we got off the road so I recommend renting a 4WD for this part of the journey, or even for the whole trip through Namibia if you can afford it. We went quad biking in the dunes and I loved the African attitude to someone who doesn’t know how to use gears on a bike. The guy gave us a two minute lesson and said well just follow me….and off we went! So much for our Australian health and safety or public liability rules… in Africa they expect us to use our common sense… what an awesome concept!

Oh did I mention my partner broke her wrist going off the edge of a sand dune….ironic! So guys, the lesson here is, if you are going to have an adventure get some insurance… That was an expensive trip to the emergency room. Luckly its Africa and not Europe where the exchange rate would have hit me harder.

Have a go…don’t say next year!

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Traveling Through Namibia

If you are lucky enough to visit the African continent, make sure you add Namibia to your list of countries to visit. If you are someone who likes the Australian outback then Namibia is definitely a country for you. Its mostly desert and sparsely populated for an African nation.

We decided to make it a driving holiday for no other reason other than the fact that we wanted to take our dog Chanel along with us! It was the best decision we could have made as got lost several times and found interesting new places we wouldn’t not have found any other way.

But I must post a WARNING: Its very handy if you have some car maintenance skills, as you will be in places along the way where you will not see another person for hours. So if you break down then you better be able to help yourself as we didn’t have mobile phone coverages through many parts of the journey. We were very unprepared and relied on luck when we drove across the country and thank god our car didn’t give us any trouble throughout the whole trip. But out trip could have gone a very different way if we had broken down in the desert.

Visa’s for Australians Citizens are required but can be purchased at the border for less than $40AUD. We didn’t have any issues at the border as they were used to having holiday makers from South Africa come through regularly.

It might be an obvious suggestion but avoid visiting Namibia during the summer time. We were there during spring time (October) and it was great as we had temperatures in the mid 20′s during the day which allowed us to walk around in the desert without worrying about dehydration. 

As this is my first blog…I will look to see if what I am writing is of some interest to my readers and I will build on that…. 

Travel not to see but to experience!

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