Bhutan : # 11 Bhutan Crafts

The Zorig Chusum School of Traditional Arts in Thimphu is a teaching institution where the arts and crafts of Bhutan are taught to the next generation of craftspeople.  The continuation of this important part of Bhutanese culture is therefore ensured.

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P1000642  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000642 © DY of jtdytravels

All signs in Bhutan are in English. Because there are many Bhutanese dialects,

English is taught in school and is the main language of communication.

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P1000643  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000643 © DY of jtdytravels

Learning woodcarving techniques requires time and infinite patience.

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P1000654 © DY of jtdytravels

Many sewing machines are used by the students to refine their embroidery techniques.

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P1000655  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000655 © DY of jtdytravels

Heavy-duty scissors are used to cut leather templates required to shape each piece of

embroidery and each colourful silk hanging.

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P1000656  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000656 © DY of jtdytravels

The school room was colourfully decorated with examples og the student’s work.

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P1000665 © DY of jtdytravels

Students in the painting class draw the outlines that will later be painted.

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P1000667 © DY of jtdytravels

Working with clay is an important part of creating idols used in Buddhist worship.

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P1000668  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000668 © DY of jtdytravels

Senior students create very complex and intricate statues.

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P1000669 © DY of jtdytravels

This piece appeared to have been damaged and sent to the school for repair.

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P1000650 © DY of jtdytravels

This finished piece is being painstakingly repaired.

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P1000673  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000673 © DY of jtdytravels

 

Most, if not all the crafts, have a five year apprenticeship.

Senior students, like these, have a desk of their own with good window light.

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P1000674 © DY of jtdytravels

Palettes are generally messy but intriguing and colourful things.

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P1000677 © DY of jtdytravels

These girls are happily working in close proximity to each other.

Perhaps they are not very far into their apprenticeship.

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P1000679 © DY of jtdytravels

Extreme concentration is evident in this photo.

Note the thimble – made simply from a piece of cardboard.

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P1000683 © DY of jtdytravels

The National Library and Archives of Bhutan is near the Crafts School.

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P1000684 © DY of jtdytravels

This lidded wooden bowl is intricately painted.

It depicts various aspects of Bhutanese culture and the environment.

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P1000689  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000689 © DY of jtdytravels

The institution stores many valuable manuscripts including these Bhuddist mantras.

Carefully wrapped in silk cloth, the parchments are held between outer wooden protective boards.

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P1000690 © DY of jtdytravels

Taking photographs of statues of the various Buddhist deities are forbidden in temples.

However, in the museum this was allowed.

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P1000694 © DY of jtdytravels

Although the protective glass caused annoying reflections,

the intricate detail of the statues could be seen.

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P1000695  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000695 © DY of jtdytravels

Scholars at the Craft school aim to be able to make intricate works of art like this one.

P1000696  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000696 © DY of jtdytravels

Some of the colourful and grotesque masks made for the tourist trade.

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P1000871 © DY of jtdytravels

Full-sized masks are used in many of the dances performed on festival days.

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P1000872 © DY of jtdytravels

It was good to experience some of this Bhutanese dancing and music.

More anon

David

Photography   Copyright  ©  David Young of jtdytravels

More of our travels stories and photographs can be found on

www.jtdytravels.com

and

www.jtlifesgood.wordpress.com

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Bhutan #8 : Sosokha and Legends of a Divine Madman

After a rather uncomfortable afternoon and evening, I was feeling much better by the next morning and ready to join in more exploration of the scenic Punakha Valley.  We planned to travel south along the Mo Chhu to the fertile Lobesa farmlands and make a stop at the village of Sosokha.  This village makes the most of the tourism and souveneir trade associated with the ‘Divine Madman’, Lama Drukpa Kunley.  The phallic symbolism, so prevalent in rural Bhutan, grew up around the legends associated with this rather wayward monk’s life in the 1500s.  The Chimi Lakhang Temple, built in his honour in the 1500s, is a 25 minute walk through rice fields from the village.

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P1000339  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000339 © DY of jtdytravels

On the drive south, we passed by the beautiful Punakha Dzong and were promised a visit there on the way back.  I just hoped the weather would hold.  The forecast threatened rain and this was one place in Bhutan that we did not want to miss out on or, indeed, have our visit spoiled by rain.  But the itinerary, as planned, had to be adhered to, no matter what… that’s the nature of group tours, is it not?

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P1000454  ©  DY of jtdytravels

P1000454 © DY of jtdytravels

However, we did demand that the bus at least stop at the entrance to the Dzong when we noticed a group of women singing.  Sometimes you just have to take the moment when it presents itself!  And this is where we heard the Talo singers performing those special songs from Talo which, by centuries old tradition, could, until recently, only be heard at the Talo Festival in March.  The songs were, in my view, quite durgy, but they are obviously of great import to the locals.

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P1000458  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000458 © DY of jtdytravels

Hanging over a fence watching the ladies sing, were a group of locals.  Now I don’t know, and I shouldn’t make assumptions, but it appears from their faces that they are perhaps not too pleased, or at least surprised, that these songs are being performed outside of Talo and outside of Festival time.  Or maybe they were just listening intently to the words which, of course, I didn’t understand.  Whatever …, there’s not a lot of smiling.

This was just one of those small moments of happen-stance that can occur when travelling if we are willing and able to stop and take in what is actually happening around us and not just follow the scripted itinerary.

Our next stop was Sosokha.  And before we go on with the photos, let me warn you that it can be somewhat embarrassing, for those of us who live outside of Bhutan, to walk into a village such as this where every house, restaurant, cafe and shop is painted with a large and quite explicit phallic symbol.  They are just a fact of life here.  Bhutanese tradition has it that these symbols will drive away the evil eye and malicious gossip.

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P1000465  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000465 © DY of jtdytravels

Various paintings and window decorations, including a phallic symbol, are common on village houses such as this one in rural Sosokha.  However, this symbol is now not often seen on modern houses in the capital city of Bhutan, Thimphu.  That’s perhaps just another aspect of this country becoming more in tune with the outside world.  And this symbolism is not generally part of the decorations on most monasteries and dzongs which are revered as places of worship.  But, just about everywhere else in Bhutan… yes, it’s a big and very obvious feature.  Some are ‘gift-wrapped’ with bows and the like, others a little less ornate but most seem to arise to the occasion!

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P1000461  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000461 © DY of jtdytravels

A local cafe, suitably embellished.  No malicious gossip here, please.  Although, what we can gossip about are the myths and legends that underpin how this symbol became such an important part of Bhutanese custom.

Oral history in Bhutan infers that the phallus was an integral part of an unorthodox form of animistic and shamanistic religion called Bon which existed in Bhutan before Buddhism became the state religion.

And although there are many legends, myths and stories surrounding the use of this symbol, most of them refer to Lama Drukpa Kunley, a monk who lived in the late 1400s and early 15oos.  Referred to as the “Mad Saint” or “Divine Madman”, he was known for his bizarre lifestyle and total lack of inhibition and for his ‘shock-treatment’ ways of teaching.  He’s said to have used poetry, song, dance, humour, drink, and, not least, sex to teach his contemporaries the great lessons of life. He was a great seducer of women and apparently sired many children across the countryside, although he was never married.  I’m not sure how he would be viewed today in a time when monks have adopted a celibate lifestyle!

According to some, the mere mention of Drukpa Kunley will, ‘invariably, draw a mischievous smile on the face of most Bhutanese men and a red tinge in the face of many Bhutanese maidens’.  He is possibly partly responsible for the very strongly male dominated Bhutanese society, something which may change with the modernisation of the country.  (By the way, the current changes in Bhutan are termed modernisation NOT westernisation… there is a difference!)

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Book Cover

Book Cover

Above is a photo of the cover of a book about the life of Drukpa Kunley.  He was, it seems, a relentless critic of the common man, be that man a monk or a farmer.  He mocked both secular and religious establishments, was not bound by commonly held views of morality and conventionalism, and spoke out against what he saw as the narrow-mindedness of people who do little more in life than ‘stake out and defend their own insular existence’.  He now has legendary status.

Our walk from this village of Sosokha would take us through farmlands to Chimi Lakhang Temple, the so called ‘Temple of Fertility’, which is dedicated to Drukpa Kunley.

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P1000469  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000469 © DY of jtdytravels

On that walk, I was reminded very strongly of the paintings of Monet!

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P1000470  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000470 © DY of jtdytravels

But a slight turn in direction and I was firmly back in Bhutan!

Mountains, rice fields, a chorten and prayer flags – all so very Bhutanese.

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P1000471  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1000471 © DY of jtdytravels

Along the way, we came upon this test field of the various varieties of rice already released in Bhutan.  Research into rice growing and improved farming techniques is one of the key on-going programs in Bhutan today.

According to a report on the economic impact assessment of the rice research program in Bhutan,  D. PEMA CHOEPHYEL, Director of the Council for Research and Extension in Bhutan, states that rice is “indispensable in the Bhutanese diet and culture; without rice, hunger remains insatiable and divine offerings stay unfulfilled.  In the good old times, there was enough rice for every-one, even a little extra for trading with neighbouring Tibet.  Now, Bhutan needs to import (some) milled rice annually.  The situation would have been worse if not for the national rice research and development program.

The remarkable journey of rice research in Bhutan began in 1984… and has… come a long way, starting from scratch to now building a redoubtable national research system that has started paying rich dividends.  This report attempts to document the impact in the country.  As uncovered in the study, we are proud to note that rice production has been increasing steadily over the years, improved rice technologies have led to an increase in national rice output, farmers have been adopting improved technologies with high net returns, and household food security has improved markedly.”

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P1000472  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000472 © DY of jtdytravels

A view back to the village across the rice farms.

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P1000473 © DY of jtdytravels

Closer to the temple, we came across a handicraft shop, selling, amongst other souvenirs, various representations of the famous phallic symbol.  Many Bhutanese tourists as well as international visitors, come to this temple.  It is one of the most visited temples in all of Bhutan so the people of the village do a good trade.  I wonder what the mad monk would think of this use of his name and his lifestyle for commercial gain.

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P1000474  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000474 © DY of jtdytravels

As usual when travelling, I looked for something suitable to hang on our Christmas tree.

I decided on one of these small dolls.

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P1000477  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000477 © DY of jtdytravels

Although archery is the main traditional sport of Bhutan, Khuru is another popular game played with the aim of striking a small target.  Unlike archery, Khuru requires only a relatively simple kit of darts and target and can be enjoyed in any village field.  We stopped for awhile to watch a group of young men show off their skill at this sport.

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P1000478  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000478 © DY of jtdytravels

The dart has to be thrown over a long distance at a very small target.

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P1000480 © DY of jtdytravels

As we neared the Temple, a group of monks approached us.

They wore the typical red robes of Bhutanese monks.

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Black Chorten at …. (photo from web)

Chimi Lakhang Temple (photo from web)

The Chimi Lakhang (or ‘No Dog’) Temple was built late in the 1500s, in honour of the mad monk. Legend has it that Lama Drukpa Kunley earned this honour by subduing a demoness at Dochu La.  She, it is said, had been demonising the locals and he probably subdued her in his usual seductive way, using his ‘flaming thunderbolt of infinite wisdom”… now there’s a fancy euphemism for you if ever I heard one!  He then killed the demoness, who by then, legend affirms, had taken the form of a dog.  After saying “No Dog”, he then buried the remains of the dog under a mound on, presumably, this hill. And then he’s said to have built the black chorten seen on the right in the photo. 

This temple is also referred to as the ‘Temple of Fertility’ and infertile couples come from all over Bhutan to receive a blessing to help them conceive a child.  Since the mad monk was known for his uncontrolled lust and womanising, one of his greatest gifts to countless beneficiaries of his lust was: children; the gift was life itself.

And there you have it, a couple of  legends associated with this temple.

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P1000483  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000483 © DY of jtdytravels

Nowadays, the monastery associated with the temple, is a place of education for young boys since monasteries are one of the best ways for poor people to have their boys educated in Bhutan.  The boys don’t have to stay as monks once educated but they can choose to stay on if they so wish.  I wonder what the future holds for these two?

And just before we leave this famous temple with its various legends,

here’s your flower for today…

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P1000482  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000482 © DY of jtdytravels

… a beautiful waterlily in a pond by the temple.

Now you didn’t expect that, did you?

more anon

David

All photography © copyright David Young

Thanks to Jennie for the research for this story

More of our travels stories and photos can be found on

www.jtdytravels.com

and

www.jtlifesgood.wordpress.com

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Russia : Kamchatka : #10 Bystrinsky Nature Park (a)

After the long, 400km drive from Petropavlovsk, it was a relief to know that we would be walking for much of the day, exploring Bystrinsky Nature Park.  This was a more forested area, so we hoped to find some different types of plants.

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P1110788   ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110788 © DY of jtdytravels

I had thought that it might be a cold night at Ichinsky Camp when I saw how much snow was on the mountain behind the campsite, and I was right.  It was cold.  When I got up at 06h30, I noticed that the small bottle of water for hand washing at the entrance to the mess tent had a frozen surface.

I’m not one to usually feel the cold, but when I’d gone to bed at around 22h30, I’d put on a tee shirt under my polo shirt.  This was topped with my woollen jumper and then my fleecy top.  I wriggled into my sheet sleeping bag, then into my sleeping bag proper and then covered the lot up with my towel and wind/waterproof jacket.  I was as snug as a bug in a rug even though I could barely move, all trussed up like the Michelin man.  I made only one foray into the cold at 01h30 – the cold was obviously having its effect!  I slept well though.

And another thing that concerned me.  The first sign of that head cold, the one that I’d been trying to avoid, had reared its ugly head and I had a sore throat.  Would it develop, I wondered?  Probably.

A bit after eight, which was nearly an hour earlier than the programmed time, our crew appeared.  They would have heard us up and about, and ready to go!  They had probably wanted to sleep-in and I can perhaps understand why when it’s that cold in the middle of their summer.  I don’t even want to think about their winters!  Some hot porridge warmed us and there were the usual two types of bread, cheese, jam, cold meat, tea and coffee.

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P1110802 © DY of jtdytravels

We set off about nine and drove for awhile.  Was this what we’d come all that way to see?

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P1110834 © DY of jtdytravels

The truck pulled up in a scrubby, treed area.  Now it was time to walk, each at our own pace, although we did have a time and a place to meet again further down the road.  The same willow and poplars predominated.  What had seemed rather boring from the truck as we drove by, proved to be anything but boring.  Although I didn’t find many flowering plants that I hadn’t previously photographed,exploring this area at walking pace produced some interesting finds including a half a dozen different caterpillars with as many different toadstools and mushrooms.   I don’t know their names but I can share them with you and hope you feel as though you are out there exploring with me.

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P1110805 © DY of jtdytravels

My first mushroom find.

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P1110808 © DY of jtdytravels

What a fascinating mushroom cap!

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P1110810 © DY of jtdytravels

A delightful natural garden of fungi and moss.

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P1110811 © DY of jtdytravels

These looked edible but one is never sure…. so best leave them alone.

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P1110813 © DY of jtdytravels

This intriguing flower, Aconitum sp., is one species of a large group of Aconitum plants which are aptly named Monkshood or, sometimes, Devilshood.  Also known as ‘Queen of Poisons’, the botanic name Aconitum comes from the Greek, meaning ‘without struggle’.  Toxins, extracted from the plant, were used as a poison to kill wolves and leopards in times passed and for that reason it was also given the common names of Wolf’s bane and Leopard’s bane.

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P1110814  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110814 © DY of jtdytravels

This was bear country so we had to keep eyes and ears open …

just in case we disturbed a bear enjoying the berries;  be we so lucky!

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P1110812  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110812 © DY of jtdytravels

Demar, our crew’s gofer, followed along at the rear of the group with a flare in case we were bothered by a bear.  He also had a shrill sounding whistle and some fire-cracker bungers.  But, unfortunately or otherwise, they were not needed.

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P1110820  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110820 © DY of jtdytravels

There were a variety of berries in the scrub to entice bears to forage, however, if humans eat these berries, Lonicera chamissoi (Chamisso’s Honeysuckle) they will be violently ill.  There were signs that they gave bears an upset tummy, too!

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P1110933  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110933 © DY of jtdytravels

Juniperus sibirica, is widely distributed in Kamchatka.

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P1110819  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110819 © DY of jtdytravels

There were other things to avoid besides bears.  This hairy caterpillar for instance.

Hairs on caterpillars usually equate to pain when touched!

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P1110826  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110826 © DY of jtdytravels

This one didn’t look in the least offensive and seemed to pose for its photo.

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P1110841  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110841 © DY of jtdytravels

What a handsome specimen of caterpillar.

However, I guess that red ‘tail’ may be a something of a warning.  Best left alone.

P1110830  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110830 © DY of jtdytravels

And this one was almost architectural in its design and well camouflaged as a dead leaf.  Its head is at the bottom of the photograph which could confuse any predator.

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P1110822  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110822 © DY of jtdytravels

Talking of architecture, what about this magnificent mushroom!

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P1110842  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110842 © DY of jtdytravels

This one more like the ones in the parks at home in the autumn.

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P1110880 © DY of jtdytravels

Occasionally, it was good to stand up, stretch the back and legs and enjoy the scenery.

A protruding volcanic plug stands out against the skyline.

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P1110847  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110847 © DY of jtdytravels

The prickles of roses were another hazard to watch for in the scrub.

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P1110854  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110854 © DY of jtdytravels

Bumblebees at work on a Kamchatka Thistle,  Cirsium kamtschaticum.

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P1110865  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110865 © DY of jtdytravels

Equisetum hyemale, or Scouringrush horsetail,  is a rather fascinating plant.  It’s quite common in Kamchatka where it sometimes forms thickets which were used in days past to pasture horses and cattle.

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P1110863  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110863 © DY of jtdytravels

The intricate structure of the horsetail rewarded a much closer inspection.

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P1110867 © DY of jtdytravels

Yet another elegant mushroom in a damp, mossy spot.

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P1110874 © DY of jtdytravels

You need to get down low to enjoy the beauty of these tiny mosses.

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P1110870  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110870 © DY of jtdytravels

A tiny forest of moss sporangia.

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P1110873  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110873 © DY of jtdytravels

A young Mountain Pine,  Pinus pumila, growing amongst the rough scoria rocks.

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P1110881  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110881 © DY of jtdytravels

The weather looked to be closing in but it was not too threatening.  We had not yet reached our meeting point and there was still time for some more exploring.  So off we went again to see what we could find.

More of that anon

David

All Photography Copyright  ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

More of our travel stories and photos can be found on:

www.jtdytravels.com

and on

www.jtlifesgood.wordpress.com

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UK: Cornwall: The Mining Coast

The ruins of copper and tin mines can be found all along the west coast of Cornwall from its southern tip at Lands End north towards St Ives.  We set off on a damp and extremely cold morning in June (it was supposed to be summer) to find some of those mine sites.

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P1150414 © JT of jtdytravels

This coast and the nearby inland moors are often shrouded by a mist that adds to the mystery of this once very busy mining area. The noise of mine heads and crushing hammers that boomed out across the whole area are now silent.  The smoke and steam from the engine houses rise no more.  Only ruins of the past remain to remind us that here men, women and children worked long hours in often very dangerous conditions to mine ore.  And some of those miners were David’s forbears.  We needed to learn more.

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P1150337 © JT of jtdytravels

Parking the car near the old Levant Mine, we were stunned by the beauty of the area and by the number of wild flowers that adorned this long disused mine site.

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P1060338 © DY of jdytravels

Thrift was again in abundance.  It’s probably the most common plant of the coast.

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P1060340 © DY of jtdytravels

Being common, it’s often overlooked.  But each flower is a delight.

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P1150329 © JT of jtdytravels

Walking here is very picturesque with chimneys and the ruins of mine workings rising from the landscape.

Any one who enjoys walking holidays would do well to consider this coast.

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P1150331 © JT of jtdytravels

There were carpets of yellow Vetch and Silene everywhere.

There are no trees here and most plants grow low to the ground,

in an attempt to shelter from the wild winds that often lash these shores.

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P1060343 © DY of jtdytravels

These tiny flowers are well worth the effort of getting down low to enjoy them.

The plant name is unknown to us.  Any help?

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P1060334 © DY of jtdytravels

But we hadn’t come just to enjoy the wildflowers and the scenery.  We’d come to learn something about the mines.  We began by visiting the National Trust owned Levant Mine where some buildings and a steam pump engine have been restored.  A guide is available to explain the workings and the history of these mines.

A large part of Cornwall is made up of slate and greenstone intruded by granite and over 150 other minerals have been found in this ancient geological area.  Of most importance were the ‘veins’ of tin and copper ores found within fractures in the granite.

For about 2,000 years, copper and tin mining has been part of Cornwall’s history.  Much of the very early mining was ‘stream’ mining for ore found on or near the surface or in streams.  Mining families were somewhat self sufficient as they also farmed the fields whose boundaries had been laid out hundreds of years before.   Gradually, the mines became ‘beam’ or ‘coffin’ openwork mines in which ore close to the surface was dug by hand.  By the mid 16th century miners were working the alluvial deposits in the inland valleys and the ore loads that could be seen in the coastal cliffs.

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As miners began to dig down into the cliffs, it became ever more obvious that here was the real wealth.  But to get to this ore would require underground mines – and that would require money that the poor miners did not have.  All this coincided with a growing market for minerals as the industrial revolution changed manufacturing processes.  For the established land owners and gentry, and for outside investors, there was wealth to be made in Cornwall.   And so, in the the late 1700s and early 1800s, many new mines were opened in Cornwall.  St Just, the only market town in this isolated coastal area, now became more important.

It was soon realised that the richest veins were down very deep and some even extended out under the sea. With much more profitable ore loads on offer, the Levant Mining Company was formed in 1820 by twenty investors, or ‘adventurers’ as they were called in Cornwall.  With a capital of ₤400 divided into 80 shares, these investors shared in the profits of what became a very successful mine.  Many of them were not even Cornish men and had never been into a mine.  They had no real idea of the hard work involved to provide them with their ever increasing wealth.  There was a great divide between the investors and the miners.

Underground mining was very dangerous in extremely difficult conditions.  Miners, and their women and children who also worked for the mines, took home very little pay and lived relatively short lives whilst the ‘adventurers’ became ever richer.

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P1240316 Cartoon by Emma Metcalfe

This is one of the cartoons from a little book that I bought at the mine, “A Family Guide to Mining in Cornwall” written by Lucia Crothall.  It tells the stories of a real miner, John Harris, who began working underground at the age of ten.  John became famous in Cornwall for the poems he later wrote about his experiences.

The words of the cartoon reads: “It is smelly, hot, down here.  No toilets, nothing but blackness to see and its hard to breathe in the dusty atmosphere.”

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P1240304  Cartoon by Emma Metcalfe

While John and other boys like him worked with the miners underground, above them, in their fine houses, the owners wined and dined and lead the good life.  This great divide between the rich and the poor was seen as ‘normal’; part of the mores of the time – each one born to their place in life.  But that would change over the years as miners began to take on the idea of unionism, which of course was resented by the owners.  It was, in fact, against the law to speak of unions and many a miner who spoke his mind was imprisoned or transported to Australia as a convict.  It would take years of outspokenness by many brave men before conditions would change in favour of better conditions for the miners.

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P1150340 © JT of jtdytravels

As Levant Mine was developed, it was found that the richest lodes of ore were not only deep under the ground but they extended far out under the sea.  As each lode was mined out, the shaft was dug down further to find the next rich vein of ore to be mined.  Some of the working ‘levels’ that ran off from the shaft extended out over a mile under the sea.

In time, the Levant shaft went down to 350 fathoms (2,100 feet or 640 meters) – Cornish mines were always measured in fathoms, one fathom equalling 6 feet.  So not only did the miners have to climb down a long way, but then they had to ‘walk’ a long way through cramped, rough tunnels before they even began their ten to twelve hours shift.   Above their heads they could hear the rumble of the sea as it churned the sea bed, particularly in stormy weather.  Water posed the constant threat of flooding.  But no matter the conditions, they had to work to feed their families.  Despite the conditions, and maybe because of their ability to overcome hardship, over the years they became very proud of their skills as miners.

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P1060344 © DY of jtdytravels

For years, the only way down into the mines was by means of a series of wooden ladders.   From the story of John Harris we learn that when he was twelve, he started to work deep underground with his father.  To begin the descent into the mine, a rope was attached between the father and son.  They then had to climb down over 60 ladders in all, in the dark, to a depth of 200 fathoms (1,200 feet or 366 meters).  As they went, John often grazed his legs and arms against the rocks.  Down at the work level, all was blackness.  Their only light was a candle which had to be bought by his father from the mine shop.   John said, “I hated it in the dark, dangerous underground.”

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P1150941 © JT of jtdytravels

John’s father used a spike and hammer to make a hole to take some blasting powder, an activity that often caused injury in mines.  When the rocks were blasted away, John’s task was to put the loose pieces of ore into a wooden barrow (like the one above that was found on another mine site.)  He then wheeled the barrow, in the dark, along the rough ground of the level to the shaft.

There, he loaded the rocks into egg shaped buckets, called kibbles, to be hauled to the surface by a horse powered winch.  One day the chain broke and a bucket filled with ore crashed down right beside John.  Another day the roof above where he was working suddenly collapsed with a deafening noise filling the tunnel with dust.  John was filled with the fear of being trapped.

At the end of working hard for ten to twelve hours in those cold, damp, very dark conditions, John and his father had to climb back up all those wooden ladders to get back ‘to grass’.  Many times it was recorded that an exhausted miner either lost his footing or his grip on the rungs and fell to his death down the mine shaft.  Those climbing up beneath him were often taken down as well.

Death walked beside each miner each day.  But the mateship of miners and their loyalty to each other became legendary.  ‘One for all’ was their motto and there were always men ready to help search for fellow miners trapped underground.  But the death or maiming of a miner mattered little in the eyes of most owners.  Miners were expendable.  If they didn’t like the working conditions, they could go without work.  There were plenty of others who needed work to try to feed their families.

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P1150348 © JT of jtdytravels

There was not a lot to a miner’s life except work, smoking his clay pipe, drinking ale to slake his thirst and begetting more children to become workers to help feed the family.  While boys went below ground with the men, women and girls (the bal maidens) and small children worked above ground.  There are also accounts of women, often stripped to the waist in the heat and dust, working below ground pulling the carts of ore back to the shafts.

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P1150349 © JT of jtdytravels

On the surface, the work of the bal maidens, small children and men too old, sick or maimed to work underground, was to sort and break up the ore with hammers before taking the broken rock to the noisy stamping crushers.  It was hard, rough work for very little pay; a few pence at the most.

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P1150330 © JT of jtsytravels

During the mid 1800s, Cornish engineers and innovators harnessed the power of steam to develop steam engines that helped to make the mines more efficient and improve safety standards.  These engines were housed in buildings like the one that has been restored at Levant. There were, at one time, 2,500 of these engine houses in Cornwall.  Most are now in ruins; reclaimed by nature.

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During our guided tour of Levant Mine, the beam engine was powered up for a short time to demonstrate how it had changed the way mines worked and how much deeper a mine could go if engines were used.  These engines made it possible for ore to be lifted to the ground mechanically instead of by horse drawn winches. They also made it possible to pump out water much more efficiently.

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P1150344 © JT of jtdytravels

But steam engines required coal to burn and for that the mine owners turned to the Welsh collieries.  Crushed ore was shipped from Cornwall to the big smelters in Swansea in Wales and the ships returned laden from Wales with coal.  Wales and Cornwall now shared much more than just their Celtic origins, their belief in the preaching of Wesley and their love of singing.  (That’s another story!)

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One of the benefits of the steam engines was that the ever inventive Cornish engineers, like Richard Trevithic, improved the ways that mines worked.  One of these inventions was the ‘man lift’.  Using the movement of the pumping shafts, miners were able to move up and down the shafts in small stages of about ten to twelve feet.  This made descent into, and ascent from the workings, easier and safer.  Because of that, they were able to work longer and harder at the ore face thus improving profits.  It was a win-win situation.

However, there were times when these lifts were not maintained properly and miners crashed to their deaths below when the man lift broke.  It happened at Levant in 1919 with the deaths of 34 miners.

Times became very hard for the miners and their families in the 1840s because food was scarce and costly in Cornwall; there was a potato famine and the Corn Laws sent the prices of wheat well out of the reach of poor miners.  Times were becoming harder for the mine owners too.  Copper and tin were found in places like Malaysia and South America and, in 1850, in Burra, South Australia.  As prices fluctuated for the Cornish minerals, many mines became unviable.  At the same time, both Cornish miners and Cornish engineers were highly sort after by these overseas mines; the Cornish knowledge of mining was well known.  Many miners left Cornwall including David’s Great, Great, Great grandfather, William Ellis, who sailed with his wife and young children to start a new life in South Australia.  When gold was discovered in Victoria, they moved there to mine for gold in Castlemaine.

As word of gold finds in Australia and California became common knowledge in England,  thousands more miners and their families sailed from Cornwall across the world in the hope of making better lives for themselves.  And among those who sailed to Australia, were David’s Great, Great Grandfather, Thomas Bray and his brother James.

Unknown to each other whilst living in Cornwall, these two Cornish mining families were joined together in Australia when William’s grandson married Thomas Bray’s daughter in Victoria in 1889.  These families were never to return to Cornwall.

Apart from the cost and the length of a return journey ‘back home’, there was no reason for a miner to return to Cornwall.  By the end of the 1800s and early 1900s most of the mines were closing and Cornwall was left to reinvent itself.  And that reinvention eventually came in the form tourism.  Over time, as road and rail began to penetrate further into the scenic Cornish countryside, the lives of the Cornish miners, fishermen and smugglers became the stuff of legends and that gave the impetus for the growth of museums.  Many hotels and guest houses were built to house these visitors.  Cornish families opened their homes as B&Bs.  And to sustain their way of life, wealthy families were forced to open their gardens and houses to the public.  Many properties were given to the National Trust.  We, like thousands of visitors every year, enjoyed this new Cornwall even while we were learning more about the lives of David’s ancestors, the Bray and Ellis families.

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P1150442 © DY of jtdytravels

After our visit to the mine, we had much to think about as we turned inland once again to explore the narrow flower filled roads of the moors.  Staying away from the main tourist destinations, we were beginning to fall in love with Cornwall, its narrow roads, its small villages and its very friendly people …to say nothing of tasty Cornish pasties and afternoon teas of warm scones, home made strawberry jam and thick clotted cream.  But more of that anon.

Jennie and David

Photography  Copyright  ©  JT and DY of jtdytravels

UK: Cornwall: Trelissick # 3 Rhododendron Walks

One of the best known features of Trelissick is its collection of Rhododendrons which come into their own in Spring.  Many of them continue to flower into late Spring and we were able to enjoy these, the very essence of a Cornish garden it seems to me.

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P1150148 © JT of jtdytravels

One of the best Rhododendron species to grow well in the upper part of the garden, where the ground is thinner and drier, is the rich red ‘Gwilt King’, a hybrid of Rhododendron griersonianum.

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P1060262 © DY of jtdytravels

When a touch of sunlight catches these flowers, they seem to glow.

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P1150140 © JT of jtdytravels

There were still plenty of new flowers to come even in mid June.

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P1060267 © DY of jtdytravels

Rhododendron buds are elegant and deserve just as close a look as the more showy flowers.

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P1150196 © JT of jtdytravels

Along the Rhododendron walk, we found this moss covered seat.  Whenever I find such an empty seat, I’m reminded of UK friends who enjoyed exploring gardens with me in years gone by but who are now no longer here for me to sit and have a chat with.  I love the memories of the good times we spent together in gardens such as these and am grateful for those special times of friendship.

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P1150141 © JT of jtdytravels

Walking on, we found several other Rhododendron species in flower.  Many of these were brought to Trelissick Gardens from the famous Bodnant Gardens in north Wales by Ida and Ronald Copeland when they lived here.  I don’t know their species names but each and every one of them was a delight.  I hope you enjoy our photos of a selected few of them.

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As well as Rhododendrons, there were still some azaleas in flower.

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P1150084 © JT of jtdytravels

My favourite is the Mollis Azalea. It reminds me of my wonderful Mum!

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P1060253 © DY of jtdytravels

Other trees in flower were Cornus, or Dogwoods.

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P1060253 © DY of jtdytravels

Have you ever really looked at the centre of a Dogwood flower?

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P1150122 © JT of jtdytravels

In amongst the borders are plants like Aquilegia, cottage garden and border essentials with their delicate nodding flowers and delightful lacy foliage which is a rare blue-green colour. They are a beautiful foil for other larger, heavier plants and , although the fresh foliage starts growing in early spring, the flowers develop just in time to fill in when spring flowers begin to fade.

They are commonly known as Columbines or, a name I love for these beauties, Granny’s Bonnets . 

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P1060190 © DY of jtdytravels

This delicately petalled Roscoea cautleyoides is another Asian plant that’s grown in this garden.  Although it’s a member of the ginger family, which has mostly tropical species, this plant comes from the mountain regions of  Sichuan and Yunann provinces. 

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P1150070 © JT of jtdytravels

Another delicate white flower is the bell of Polygonatum or Solomon’s Seal.  Once classified as a member of the Lily family, this plant is now classified as a member of the family Asparagaceae.  It’s hard to keep up with these classification changes at times!

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P1150082 © JT of jtdytravels

Most Cornish gardens make some use of the lovely Astrantia along the borders of the garden.

The flowers range from white to a deep wine red.

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P1150082 © JT of jtdytravels

If we look closely we’ll see that this one has a visitor – a tiny green beetle.

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P1060249 © DY of jtdytravels

Another plant used to great effect in this garden’s borders is the Geranium, commonly known in UK as Cranesbill.

I love the veined petals. There are many colours for gardeners to use and they flower for a long period.

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P1150052 © JT of jtdytravels

A flower that adds a wonderful dash of colour to any border is Alstroemeria commonly called Peruvian Lily.

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P1150201 © JT of jtdytravels

Time was getting away from us and, reluctantly, we followed this man and his grandson back to the carpark. I hope they had enjoyed their Trelissick experience as much as we had done.  But we still had a long way to go to Sennen Cove near Lands End where we were to stay for the next three nights.

Apart from visiting a quiet Cornish beach for the weekend, our goal in going to that southern part of Cornwall was to learn more about the kind of lives lived by David’s forbears working in the tin and copper mines from the 1600s to the 1850s when some of them made the big decision to emigrate to Australia.

More of that story anon.

Jennie and David

All photography copyright ©  Jt and Dy of jtdytravels

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UK: Cornwall: Trelissick # 2, Fal River and Woodland Walk

The woodland walk between the Trelissick Gardens and the River Fal is densely planted to help protect the gardens from the wild Cornish winter winds. On a calm day like the one we enjoyed in mid June, it was hard to imagine those harsh winds.

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P1150091 ©  JT of jtdytravels

It’s a very pleasant path with its glimpses of the river through the trees.

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P1150090  ©  JT of jtdytravels

The tiny flowers of Pink Campion, a member of the Silene family, are common along such pathways as well as along roadsides and in hedges all across Cornwall.

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P1060207  ©  Dy of jtdytravels

The common name of this lovely flower, Bastard Balm, does not really fit with its beauty!  Its botanical name is Melittis melissophyllum but its common name comes from the fact that it imitates the members of the Balm family, the Germanders.  The flowers can have pink or purple centres. They are native to Southern England from New Forest to Cornwall and in South Wales. They grow in shady habitats like this woodland margin.  I’ve seen them before on my walks in the English and Welsh countryside in years gone by and I really enjoyed finding them again.  I felt sorry for the people who just marched along the path without stopping to enjoy the beauty of these tiny woodland flowers.  Maybe they’ve seen them before; but maybe not!

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P1060206  ©  DY of jtdytravels

Foxgloves are a favourite of mine. They were in hedgerows and along roadsides wherever we went in UK. They are also used as garden plants to good effect and there are now some differently coloured hybrids.  I love to look deep inside the flower; no two are the same.

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P1150046  ©  JT of jtdytravels

These tiny, delicate white flowers with their fine green veins on the petals, are sometimes hard to see amongst the dense greenery.

I should know their name but have forgotten!  Any help welcome.

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P1150098  ©  JT of jtdytravels

Cow parsley was everywhere along the Cornish roadsides and was particularly lovely along this pathway.

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P1150094  ©  JT of jtdytravels

This spectacular tree on the banks of the river stopped us both in our tracks.

It’s magnificent.

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P1060208  ©  DY of jtdytravels

A break in the trees brought us this river view with the bright yellow of rapeseed on the hillside.

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P1150096  ©  JT of jtdytravels

Yachts were moored in the safety of the Trelissick Estate’s bay.

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P1150100  ©  JT of jtdytravels

A small beach borders one of the farm paddocks. Watch out for the cow pats!

Did these cows produce the wonderful clotted cream that’s served in the cafe?

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P1060215  ©  DY of jtdytravels

Looking back, a slope leads up to one edge of the gardens.

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P1150105  ©  JT of jtdytravels

We walked on until we came to a steep, grassy meadow where people’s feet had made a track back up towards the house.  It was rather a steep track, so we rested half way up for me to catch my breath and for us to enjoy the view.  The rest also gave us time to think about the origins of Trelissick House and Gardens, a place that is very well known in Cornwall.  Indeed, it’s considered to be one of the great gardens of the world.   But there are many such great estates in Cornwall.  So,where had the money come from to build these mansions and huge gardens?  The answer is fairly simple; copper, tin and clay mining.  In the case of Trelissick, two of the former owner’s fortunes had come from mines in Cornwall.  One was Ralph Daniell whose father had been known as “guinea-a-minute Daniell”, owner of copper and tin mines.  Another, Ronald Copeland’s family, were porcelain makers of Spode-Copeland fame and that business relied on the fine china clay mined from the pits in Cornwall.

One of the reasons that we were in Cornwall was to research David’s family, some of whom had worked in those mines.  Along with thousands of other miners, men, women and children, they worked for a pittance and for long hours, in difficult and very dangerous conditions whilst the owners grew ever richer on the produce of the miner’s labours.  It’s true, of course, that the owners invested their money in developing the mines and that they gave people work.  But it was the miner’s hard labour that paid for these estates.

So yes, while we do enjoy visiting the big estate gardens, we also know that they came about at the price of hardship in the lives of so many miners and their families, some of them David’s ancestors.  To us, the gardens are a kind of living memorial to those workers.

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P1060246  ©  DY of jtdytravels

The Grecian styled Trelissick House, together with the fairy castle water tower, were built by Ralph Daniell’s son in 1825.  After the Daniell’s became bankrupt, there were several other owners before 1928 when the house and gardens were bought by Leonard Cunliffe, Deputy Governor of the Bank of England.  He passed it on to his step daughter, Ida Copeland, who was married to Ronald Copeland (of the famous Spode Copeland Porcelain company).  It’s still the Copeland family home today.

However, the current generation of the Copeland family are now leaving Trelissick;  moving out to a smaller house.  In the process of their downsizing, they have auctioned off (on 23rd and 24th July 2013) most of the furniture, art works and collectables that represent generations of their family’s life.  Pieces for sale included an entire collection of Spode-Copeland ceramics which tell the complete story of the Copelands and their pottery manufacture over the last 200 years.  Reports of what has been called ‘one of the greatest house sales in living memory’ in UK show that many of the prices fetched at auction were well above the estimated value.  We know that the National Trust hoped to buy as many pieces as they could so that those pieces can be kept in the house when it’s opened to the public in the future.  We hope they were successful.

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P1150164  ©  JT of jtdytravels

And after that rest and contemplation, it was time to climb further up the hill and enjoy the view from the house.  It was not the sunny day as shown in the National Trust brochures, but it was impressive none-the-less.  A bite of lunch was next on the list and then time to explore some more of the garden…. and that’s for the next episode of the Trelissick story.

Jennie and David

All photography copyright © JT and DY of jtdytravels

Fiji # 7 : Orchids of the Garden of the Sleeping Giant

The Orchid Garden of the Sleeping Giant was a complete contrast from the experiences we had been enjoying on our island hopping journey on ‘MV Reef Endeavour’.  Here, in a plantation of some 20 hectares, over 2,000 orchids are grown. Not all were on display, because the garden was still recovering from the cyclone, but there were enough to make for a magical walk through a lush green forest at the foot of the mountain of the Sleeping Giant.

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P1130856  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

While predominately a show place for orchids, these gardens also contain many native Fijian plants,

as well as plants from other tropical areas.

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P1130859  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

A welcome site at the garden entrance is this stunning Bismarckia Palm, endemic to Madagascar.

It really enjoys the hot wet summers and less wet winters of Fiji.

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P1130882  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

The gardens were begun in the 1970’s by the late Canadian born actor, Raymond Burr, famous for his acting personas of Ironside and Perry Mason.  For Burr, Fiji was his second home, away from the Hollywood spotlight.  Apart from enjoying time on his secluded ‘hideaway’ on a small Fijian island, Burr and his partner, Robert Benevides, bought this plantation to house their private collection of orchids.

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P1050157  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

Burr hybridised an estimated 1,500 varieties of orchids before he left Fiji in 1983.

Fortunately for visitors to Fiji, this garden has not only been maintained

but has been developed into one of the major orchid gardens of the world.

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P1130953    ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

The paths through this botanic wonderland enter through a mesh-covered walkway.

It’s lined with cultivated orchids growing in pots perched on rock walls.

They are surrounded by perennial epiphytes and other plants such as low growing ferns and gingers.

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P1050160  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

While not all of the orchids were on show, there were indeed many to enjoy.

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P1050164  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

They come in an amazing variety of colours and shapes and sizes – all beautiful.

 I’ll add a selection so that you can wander along this path with us.

We hope that you enjoy them as we did.

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P1130877  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

The orchids also had a  large ‘supporting cast’ of delightful plants bedded amongst the rocks.

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P1130880  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

The bright red flowers of Anthurium added a dash of colour amongst the greenery of ferns.

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P1130888  ©  Jt  of  jtdytravels

Bromeliads were well represented too.

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P1130966  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

Butterflies added to the delightful experience of wandering in this orchid rockery.

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P1130915  ©  JT  of   jtdytravels

But the real stars of this garden were the orchids. And there many more still to discover.

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Occasionally something unusual like this wasp takes the attention away from the orchids.

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After a leisurely wander through the orchid rockery, the path came to the top of a rise with an open vista towards the hills. Here there’s a delightful feeling of wildness, with the forested foothills of the Nausori Highlands in the distance. It’s these hills that give the garden its unusual name, as the corrugated ridge above the gardens is said to resemble the body of a sleeping giant.

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P1130919  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

And from here, a boardwalk leads down into the cooler shade of the valley.

And we’ll explore that part of the gardens in the next episode.

Jennie

All Photography ©  JT and DY  of jtdytravels

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Fiji # 3: Gunu Village, Naviti Island

 Gunu Village, tucked away in a wide bay at the top of Naviti Island, was the first of the isolated island villages that we visited on this trip.   Like most Yasawan villages, it is only accessible by boat.

P1130680

P1130680  ©  JT of jtdytravels

Backed by a line of steep hills, the village is almost invisible on the shoreline.

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P1130681  ©  Jt of jtdytravels

As we sailed closer, the village seemed to emerge from the trees.

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P1130720  ©  JT of jtdytravels

On shore, our crew prepared the lovu for our evening meal –

a traditional Fijian ‘feast’ of  fish, pork and vegetables cooked on hot rocks covered by sand.

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P1130682  ©  JT of jtdytravels

While they did that, we made our way through the village.

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P1130688  ©  JT of jtdytravels

Nothing is wasted when it comes to building shelters.

The cooking area is outside on the left behind the small boy.

I wondered about the old wheelchair by the front door.

The terrain of sand and grass paths is not very conducive to wheelchair mobility.

P1130687

P1130687  ©  JT of jtdytravels

This was an innovated use of clam shells as building material.

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P1040974  ©  JT of jtdytravels

This little fellow’s extended tummy was a reminder to me that too many little ones die too young in these isolated villages, far from medical help and often from nutritious food.

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P1130705   ©   JT  of jtdytravels

Some very old trees on the shore line framed our ship, the MV Reef Endeavour.

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P1130689   ©  JT  of jtdytravels

The left side branches from this gnarled and twisted tree had not survived the wrath of Cyclone Evan which hit these islands of Fiji in December 2012.  Note that David is wearing a sulu, a material wrap, as he enters the village. Fijian village culture requires that the shoulders and knees are to be covered and no hats are to be worn.  It’s always so important to respect the wishes of the hosts when we are guests.

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P1040992  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

The foreshore of the village with a rainbow was very picturesque. But you can see how the whole top section of this old tree has been broken off by the winds.

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P1130704  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

While many island homes are now built of concrete blocks with tin roofs, this is one of the traditional houses using coconut as the main building material and thatching for the roof.  But there is a modern touch with the solar panel on a pole (right) that provides electricity – a very new addition in the village.

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P1130700  ©  JT of jtdytravels

Church is a very important part of the life of these villagers. Many are Methodist.

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P1130714  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

While most of the dead are buried in a village cemetery outside the village, Pastors and Village Chiefs are sometimes buried in a place of honour in front of the church.

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P1130710  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

There are not many flowers grown in a village like this, but these adorned the special graves.

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P1040971  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

This is a typical view in this village –

a small tin roofed dwelling, a new solar panel and trees that have been broken by the cyclone.

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P1130712  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

Another view of dwellings that have been restored after the cyclone.

These houses are beside an open area that is used as the rugby field… rugby is the sport of choice!

Note again, that each house has a solar energy panel. These were provided by AusAID.

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P1130702  ©   JT  of jtdytravels

Gunu village was given support after the cyclone through the  Pacific Community-focused Integrated Disaster Risk Reduction or PCIDRR for short!  According to its web site PCIDRR is “a community based disaster risk reduction (DRR) initiative, funded by theAustralian Government Aid program, AusAID, and implemented through the National Council of Churches Australia (NCCA) and the church networks in the four countries in which it is implemented – Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tonga. Its goal is to create safer Pacific island communities, more resilient  to disasters, so that people may achieve sustainable livelihoods and have more control over their lives.”

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P1130697  ©   JT  of jtdytravels

Apart from the church, the village also has a community hall where the villagers can get together and where they can entertain guests like us.

The ‘shell and craft’ market is always a feature of a village visit.

And the smiles are free!

David took some beautiful portraits of some of the younger members of the village community.

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P1040987  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

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P1040982  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

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P1040986  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

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P1040990  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

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P1050007  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

As the light began to fade, the crew unwrapped the lovu and prepared our dinner to be eaten in the community hall. Personally I have a real issue with this way of ship’s passengers being fed in the village. The meal is not shared with the village people. Although the food is provided by the ship and cooked and served by the crew, and the village is paid for our visit, to me there is something wrong about eating in front of others, especially when the village people are poor and when food is so scarce on these islands.

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P1130731  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

Inside the hall, before we ate, there was the traditional Kava welcoming ceremony with the men of the village. Later the floor was cleared and the village people sang and performed traditional dances for our enjoyment – always a lot of fun.  They then invited the visitors to join them on the dance floor before we wended our way back through the village to the beach to be taken back to the ship.

These village visits are indeed a highlight of a Captain Cook Fiji cruise.

Jennie

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Burma / Myanmar #11; Inle Lake

Our next destination was Inle Lake in the heart of the Shan Plateau. It’s a beautiful freshwater lake, 900 metres above sea level, the second largest in the country. It’s 22km long and 10km at it’s widest point.  It’s a relatively shallow lake with an average depth of just 2 metres but can be deeper in the rainy season. The whole lake and the surrounding villages belong to the Nyaung Shwe Township. Approximately 70,000 people live in either the four small towns and numerous small villages that border the lake, or in pole houses on the waters of the lake. Although several different ethnic groups live in the area, most are devout Buddhists of the Intha ethnic group.

(P1100290 © JT of jtdytravels)

The lake is about 35 km from Heho. For much of the way, the road is bordered on both sides by water. Small bridges give access to the houses – and also provide the clothes line! Many fences are made of woven bamboo slats. In this area we were to see just how important bamboo is in this country.

(P1100306  © JT of jtdytravels)

The Shan Hills rise behind the water ways. These are the main watershed for the lake. As more and more of the hillsides are turned into farm land, more run off threatens the lake with silt build up.

Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery  (P1030203 © DY of jtdytravels)

One interesting ‘photo opportunity’ along this road is the red painted, teak-wood building of Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery.  Over 150 years old, it sits in the water on strong stilts. An interesting architectural feature is the oval windows, some covered with stained glass but mostly open or shuttered. Peeking through the windows we could see some mirrors, mosaics and ornate carvings, some gilded with gold.

( P1030211 © DY of jtdytravels)

These young novices are celebrating shinbyu, a special rite of passage when a boy enters a monastery for about a week as a novice monk. While there, they learn the discipline of a monk’s life and the basic tenants of Buddhist faith. Just as regular monks do, they have to wake up early and wash with cold water.  Their beds are mats unrolled onto the wooden floors.  They have just two meals a day, and eat only food that has been given as alms. But, as Sunshine told us from his own experience, a boy gets hungry. He told us of running home one afternoon to raid the pantry and of being caught in the act by his mother. She didn’t scold him; she just asked him to think before he acted. He went back to his monastery chastened – and still hungry!  Most of these boys will go back to their homes at the end of the week, although some may stay on in training as full time monks.

Sunshine suggested that this week spent away from their families in a monastery teaches young boys the values of their society, the need for them to embrace responsibility for their actions and the ’cause and effect’ of their actions upon themselves and others around them. It is an important tradition.

Nyaung Shwe; Mirror-tiled stupa  (P1100949  © JT of jtdytravels)

We soon arrived at the small town of Nyaung Shwe, the main ‘gateway’ to Inle Lake for tourists. It has a river channel running through it that connects it to the main lake some kilometres away.  Near to where a bridge crosses the river channel, is an impressive mirror-tiled stupa. The boats lined up by the edge of the channel are the commonly used, local long-tailed boats. These boats are driven using a very, very noisy single cylinder diesel engine connected to a thin, lengthy rudder that resembles a long tail.

(P1100951  © JT of jtdytravels)

It was quite amazing to see, in such a small town, this intricately decorated stupa using mirrors and glazed, coloured tiles .

Nyaung Shwe (P1100315 © JT of jtdytravels)

Nyaung Shwe consists of one main road with many side streets and a few parallel roads. Its a popular destination for back packers and ‘budget’ tourists who can’t afford the ‘higher end’ lakeside hotels.

Long-tail boats at Nyaung Shwe dock.  (P1020469 ©  DY of jtdytravels)

Nyaung Shwe serves as a marina for the numerous long-tail boats that carry tourists across the lake. We were soon to experience riding in one of these not very comfortable and very, very noisy boats. But we did have a modicum of comfort. Unlike the boats the locals use, the tourist’s boats have small chairs and take only four passengers in each boat. Riding in one takes a little time to get used to the balance.

Riding through the channel to the lake  (P1100342 © JT of jtdytravels)

There’s a few kilometres to travel along the channel towards the main lake.  Because of the constant wash of small boat traffic, there are wood and bamboo and pole fences between water and houses.

A river side laundry!   (P1020472  ©   DY of jtdytravels)

All along the channel, we saw women doing their washing, and having a chat. While I don’t advocate changing my washing machine for this method of doing the laundry, we do miss out on the neighbourly chat!

A lovely old building by the river (P1100928 © JT of jtdytravels)

I wondered what stories this old building could tell.  My love for renovation was rekindled when I saw it. With some TLC and skill….

Dredge boats in their dock (P1100931 © JT of jtdytravels)

Because the channel is the major ‘road’ between the lake villages and the town, it needs constant dredging to keep it open. These are the boats used for that task. We saw one in operation but no photos.

A ‘floating garden builder’ with a load of weed. ( P1100930 © JT of jtdytravels)

This was the first ‘leg rower’ that we saw on our visit to Inle Lake. The men of the lake villages row their long dugout boats by standing on the back and curling a leg around the pole to paddle. The reason for this is that there are many patches of rather tall grasses and water hyacinth in the lake and the men need to be able to see over them. It looks extremely tiring and not too good on the back! This man has a load of water weed that will be used to help build up the floating gardens in the lake.

Fishing; Inle Lake style  (P1020491  © DY of jtdytravels)

When we finally reached the main lake, the water was flat and still, perfect for the fishermen to try their splashing technique to bring fish to the surface and move them towards the nets that have been cast.

Part of our group whizzing by  (P1020498  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

This long boat has four of our group on board. As it was beginning to look like rain, they had donned their rain ponchos while the water was relatively quiet. They are not easy to get into while sitting down!

Rain clouds on the horizon  (P1100364 © JT of jtdytravels)

Rain clouds gathered ominously over the hills as we motored passed floating rafts of water weeds.

(P1020477  © DY of jtdytravels)

This building just seemed to rise out of the floating weeds. The hills were now lost in rain.

Inle Lake pole rowing fisherman  ( P1100350  © JT of jtdytravels)

We slowed down so that we could get quite close to this fisherman without disturbing his work.

(P1020503  © DY of jtdytravels)

One of the lake’s small villages, built on small islands and surrounded by water and water weeds.

A local long tail boat  (P1020485  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

As the rain begins to fall, a local long-tail boat whizzes by. There are quite a few more passengers on the local boats than on ours – they don’t have the benefit of chairs! They are born to life in boats.

(P1100375  © JT of jtdytravels)

Sunshine finally gave in and put on his bright pink poncho. Ours were blue – a much less exotic colour.

(P1100383  © JT of jtdytravels)

As the rain began to clear, we went by the bamboo and thatch houses of another pole village. Beyond, you can see just how far up the hillsides the farms have gone – more run off and silt for the lake.

Rain gone – time to do the washing!   (P1020506  © DY of jtdytravels)

In this village, the ‘laundry’ is a small bamboo platform just above the water level underneath the house.

Floating veggie gardens   (P1100409  © JT of jtdytravels)

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(P1100394  © JT of jtdytravels).

As we neared the further end of the lake, there were some larger, restaurants and guest houses.

A pole house restaurant   (P1100424  © JT of jtdytravels)

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The Golden Kite Restaurant   (P1100402  © JT of jtdytravels)

This was our lunch stop – a rather late lunch, to be sure. We were in for surprise. Around Inle Lake, the Golden Kite Restaurant is considered to be the best to place to come for pasta and pizzas!   The owner is really proud of his Italian cooking – and it does make a change from Burmese cooking. The majority of the staff here speak some English well and we enjoyed our stop off here. From the deck I took some video of the various water craft going by.

Typical bamboo and thatch pole house   (P1100399   © JT of jtdytravels)

Back on board our boats, we continued further south towards the end of the lake. This house is typical of the houses we saw. Sturdy timber poles lift the houses out of the water. The flooring is bamboo, the walls are woven bamboo and the roof is thatch. The walls need renewing about every fur years. This one has a few new wall patches or sections. The roof looks like its ready for renewal.

A bamboo pole laundry   (P1020509  © DY of jtdytravels)

In almost every house, the laundry is a couple of bamboo poles set just above water line. There’s no running wear or electricity in these houses. Cooking is done on a small pottery brazier on the floor. People in these villages are born here, live here and die here. They are real water dwellers.

Along narrow water ways to the next village  (P1100426  © JT of jtdytravels)

Towards the end of the lake, the open waters give way to narrow ‘lane ways’, between grassy, reedy ‘hedges’. These are the village roads and need to be negotiated with some care. There are signs of electric it being added to some areas here but the supply is quite sporadic and unreliable as yet.

A small museum and art gallery   (P1100427  © JT of jtdytravels)

I was surprised to see this garden oasis on the lake. A small island has been transformed into a garden and art gallery. It’s on my list of places to visit next time! But it was not on the plan for this group tour.

Our next destination; the weavers village   (P1100434  © JT of jtdytravels)

We were on our way to this village – the only place in the world where the thread-like centres of lotus stalks are turned into beautiful ‘silk’ thread and woven into light and lovely scarves and shawls.

And that will be the focus of our next journal entry.

Jennie and David

Photography © JT and DY of jtdytravels