What Pegman saw – Shahi Qila

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Shahi Qila

I sought respite from the intense heat in the shade amongst the ruins of Shahi Qila.

I sat on a cool stone and after a while drifted off into an uneasy slumber.

I heard the rhythms of a tabla, the rising and falling notes of a sitar, and singing.

“Go to Burhanpur, and visit Bhulbhulaya, 

My Royal Palace, on the banks of the Tapti River.

Seek out my love. 

Prepare her a luxurious bath of warm soothing waters,

Scented with Khus, Saffron and Rose Petals,

In my Royal Hammam. 

When the evening sun turns orange and it’s fading rays throw fiery shadows on the painted ceiling, 

Light incense sticks and gather inspiration in the fragrance of their ethereal oils.

Then as she bathes, whisper my name,

So that at last, I can be reunited with the Empress Mumtaz Mahal Begum,

My chosen one, my true love.

In doing so, I will grant you fortune and everlasting happiness,

For as long as you shall live.”

I woke up with a smile and his name on my lips.

Emperor Shah Jahan.

What Pegman Saw is a fascinating weekly flash fiction challenge that takes as it’s prompt a ‘Pegman’ point on Google Maps.

Once again I culled my story from history. Fascinating insights.

The Bali Run

The Bali Run

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We went to Bali for the first time some months after the 2002 bombings. Tourists had deserted this jewel of an island and tour operators were eager to stimulate visitors to return to the island. This was a golden opportunity because as a family of four, for reasons of economy, we had always picked local holidays or trips in popular destinations in Europe for our holidays until then.

When I noticed a great last minute offer for Bali, it was actually cheaper than going to Tenerife or Tunisia and much cheaper than renting a cottage in the UK, once all the costs had been weighed up.

So I booked the holiday and a few weeks later we headed for Bangkok before flying on to Denpasar. In Bangkok, we just had the time to visit the Grand Temple and make the drive to the Floating Markets and Rose Garden to watch a cultural show. It gave us the opportunity of acclimatising to the heat and humidity.

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When we arrived at our hotel we were surprised to find the hotel almost empty. Around the pool, there were free loungers and no lines at midday for the lunch buffet.

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Just outside the hotel we met a lady who proposed to take us around the island to visit the sights. We agreed on a price and asked her to come and pick us up the next day. Unlike many other destinations, the Balinese are laid back and although business is business, you are always greeted with a smile.

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This way we were spared the organised bus tours and could take the time to appreciate the countryside at our own pace. Stopping when we wanted to with no pressure to be back for a specified time.

Our guide told us her name was Mary, but I think that was just for our sake. She spoke some English and we had interesting conversations as we drove from temple to temple and from beach to beach. It was about as perfect as it could be and although we were far from home and had children to look after,  we felt surprisingly safe and secure.

Bali is a wonderful island to visit and we ended up visiting five times over seven years. There is a lot to see, the hotels are comfortable and well equipped and the Balinese are so welcoming that you just want to come back just one more time.

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The second time we visited I had successfully lost weight. For most of my adult life I’ve struggled to maintain a healthy weight with varying success and I tend to go from one extreme to the next. This time I was feeling great.

Next to the hotel, the Ramada Bintang Bali in Kuta, there was private beach and we loved bathing in the cool waters just before sunset after a busy day sightseeing.

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On one occasion, and I can’t remember exactly how it happened, my son and I broke into a run and ran barefoot along  the beach, our feet leaving traces in the sand. I can still feel the wind in my hair, taste the salt on my lips and see the smile on the face of my beautiful boy. I’m sure it was only for a few hundred yards at most but for me they are unsurpassable moments that I still cherish years later.

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Recently, after a few years of being unfit and carrying excess weight, I’ve decided to work at being fit once again and start living life to the full.

I’m training to go from couch to 5K and beyond, and when I start to run again, I’m sure that my thoughts will return to these memories with fondness.


This is the eighth part of a series of travel tales.

  1. How I went to Brazil

2. Flight over Table Mountain

3. The Tracey Arm Surprise

4. The Lone Piper

5. My Vanuatu Swim

6. Breakdown in Peru

7. It Takes Two to Tango

8. The Bali Run

9. Almost the Northern Lights

10. I’ll Love You To the End of the World

my500words : day 29 : Flight Over Table Mountain

Flight Over Table Mountain

It’s strange.

Many of my adventures seem to happen when I’m tired.

My wife and I were bound for a twenty-two-night cruise from Cape Town to Sydney on the Queen Mary 2 and had taken a flight from Heathrow to Cape-Town.

We arrived early in the morning and transferred from the airport to the hotel and caught a brief glimpse of Table Top Mountain behind a shanty town on the outskirts of Cape Town.

The coach, with forty-odd other passengers, dropped us off at the Hotel, and we all fought to claim and transport our suitcases  for the check-in.

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The fatigue from the flight led to frayed tempers, and the foyer was alive with irate passengers most of whom just wanted to find their beds for a few hours sleep.

We weren’t boarding the Queen Mary until the next day so theoretically the day was free to do whatever we wanted.

Check in was delayed as the rooms wouldn’t be ready for an hour or so and we took a seat and waited.

It was a beautiful day. The air was clear and the sun was shining. It’s rays illuminated the foyer, and a warm breeze wafted through the open doors. It was such a welcome change from the cold murkiness of the late January day we had left behind us in London.

I didn’t want to stay seated too long because I was afraid of falling asleep. It would be better to wait until we could go up to our room, shower and then slumber.

I got up and walked around the foyer, trying to shake the sleep away.

Then I spied a brochure advertising helicopter rides over Cape Town, the coast and of course Table Mountain.

I grabbed it to take a look. The photos were, of course, fantastic and when I looked out again from the foyer at the cloudless sky outside, I thought as we only in Cape Town for the day it would be such a shame not to seize the occasion.

I took the brochure to my wife, and she read with a big smile.

There was no need to say more.

There was a contact number on the back of the brochure, and I asked at the desk if they could arrange a tour later in the day.

A few minutes later, all was arranged, and we would be picked up by car from the hotel and taken to the airport for our flight, and transferred back to the hotel afterwards.

There was just enough time to check in and spruce ourselves up before the car arrived.

I think I might have closed my eyes during the drive to the airport as I can’t recall the details.

We received a warm welcome from the staff at the airport who gave us the customary safety briefing and ushered us, a few minutes later, into the helicopter. It was perfect as there would be just the two of us with our pilot.

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We braced ourselves for take-off but it was so smooth that our bodies were unaware that anything had happened.

The air was clear; the colours were vibrant and with our headphones on, the sound of the rotors was muffled. Microphones enabled us to chat between ourselves and with the pilot. He told us that he was French, and as both of us are bilingual, we spent the rest of the flight ‘en français.’

I’ll let the photos describe our flight as I think that they convey the magic more than my words could describe.

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It would have been extremely difficult to have had a better experience than the one we enjoyed that day.

Later, after touchdown, we chatted some more with the pilot and crew back in the reception while we waited for the DVD of our flight, filmed in HD from several onboard cameras.

Rather than go straight back to the hotel we asked the driver to drop us off at the waterfront.

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We shopped in the market to get some fancy dress for an upcoming African Ball on the ship. I took more photos, while we drunk a coffee on a shaded terrace. We listened to a local Zulu Band who were selling their music on handmade artisanal CDs.

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I even danced a little with them afterwards, Zulu style.

We were fabricating memories by the bucketload.

The cherry on the cake was the boat ride from the quay to the hotel, winding along the canal and up to the hotel.

Back at the Hotel, we just had the strength to sit out on the terrace and order dinner and a nice glass of South African white wine before going upstairs and falling into bed, totally exhausted.

On our way up to the room, we saw clouds rolling over Table Mountain like a stream.

What a day!

(813 words)

This is the second part of a series of travel tales.

  1. How I went to Brazil

2. Flight over Table Mountain

3. The Tracey Arm Surprise

4. The Lone Piper

5. My Vanuatu Swim

6. Breakdown in Peru

7. It Takes Two to Tango

8. The Bali Run

9. Almost the Northern Lights

10. I’ll Love You To the End of the World

my500words : day 27 : Breakdown in Peru

Breakdown in Peru

I was slowly getting acclimatised to the altitude on our trip to Peru. We had been based in Cusco which is at 11,000 feet for a few days and my chest wasn’t as tight as it was on arriving and I was no longer struggling to catch my breath.

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I remember the first evening when we arrived in Cusco from Lima. Our guide had recommended a restaurant just a few minutes from the hotel. We were promised a buffet and a local show.

My wife and I set off on foot because we were told it was only a few blocks away. Walking even short distances at eleven thousand feet, when you are not used to it, is arduous and it took us much longer than expected to walk to the restaurant. Although it was on a fairly gentle incline, we were exhausted when we walked into the restaurant, well before we ate from the buffet and watched the show.

We had a great evening but even walking downhill to the hotel was difficult and I felt like an old man in slow motion, walking slowly and often gasping for breath between steps.

But two days later the frequent headaches had subsided and I felt a lot better.

The next day we had a very early breakfast before six am. It was still dark when we climbed into the coach and set off. We climbed a steep hill through the favelas of urban Cusco on our way to the Sacred Valley, a few hours drive away. It was far too early for conversation so we half awake as the coach trundled through the countryside.

When dawn broke I was surprised to see many villagers in national costume. In other countries that I’ve visited, national costume is worn mostly either for special occasions or for the tourists. In Peru, however, national costume is still worn quite naturally, every day of the year.

Our destination, that day, was Ollantaytambo an Inca archaeological site, in the Urubamba Province, some 60 kilometres or so from Cusco. Along the way, we stopped off at a mountain village to see how the baby alpaca wool was dyed with plants and minerals and had the opportunity, of course, of making a few purchases.

I seized a photo opportunity and left everyone to appreciate the show while I took my camera and headed along a path, just outside of the village.

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When I travel in a group, I strive to be the first or the last member, so that I can seize photo opportunities that don’t include people in the photos.

I love taking portraits, but landscape photos are marred, in my opinion, when there are people in the shot.

The air was crisp, and the early morning sun pale as I walked along the path, immersing myself in the countryside. As usual, I was searching for interesting angles. Photography is one of my favourite ways of discovering. It encourages me to be inquisitive and attentive to my surroundings. The actual photos are often unremarkable, but I get a lot of enjoyment from taking them.

I took a few photos and had a few memorable moments before rejoining the party in the village. I even bought a baby Alpaca scarf from a smiling woman on a market stall and she let me take a portrait or two. It was magic.

Then we headed to Ollantaytambo and were able to enjoy our plastic ponchos in the rain as we visited the archaeological site.

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Ollantaytambo is only at 9,500 feet but we were still suffering a little from altitude sickness and decided not to climb all the way to the top of the hill for a view of the village and enjoyed it from half way up.

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We all met up in the coach after the visit for the two-hour trip back to Cusco.

We were exhausted.

As we climbed the mountain pass that separates Ollantaytambo from Cusco the sun was setting and the light was slowly fading.

Just after the summit, we heard a loud thud and the coach lurched and leant over to the side. The driver turned the engine off and we all looked out of the window to see if it had collided with another vehicle. There wasn’t another vehicle in site.

The driver and the guide talked for a minute or two before they announced that the back axle had broken and the coach couldn’t pursue its route.

We were stranded in the middle of Peru at 12,500 feet. The highest we had ever been in Peru.

Thinking back to that incident now, I had made a tandem jump the previous summer from 10,000 feet and there we were, 2,500 feet higher.

I asked the guide if I could seize the opportunity and take some photos a short walk from the coach and he said that it wouldn’t be a problem because he had a few calls to make.

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I set off, very slowly over the road and into the fields to take some late afternoon photos. Most of the other passengers stayed in the coach.

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When I had finished taking photos I returned to the coach. A few people had been able to jump onto another tour bus back to Cusco and the guide informed us that a replacement coach was on its way from Cusco to pick us up.

Within the hour, we were back in another small coach, on our way back to the hotel. As it was smaller it was able to take a few short cuts along the mountain roads and we all arrived just behind the other coach.

After an excellent meal, we retired to bed, ready for another excursion the next day.

A visit to Machu Picchu, the chance of a lifetime.

(967 words)


This is the sixth in a ten-part series of travel tales.

  1. How I went to Brazil

2. Flight over Table Mountain

3. The Tracey Arm Surprise

4. The Lone Piper

5. My Vanuatu Swim

6. Breakdown in Peru

7. It Takes Two to Tango

8. The Bali Run

9. Almost the Northern Lights

10. I’ll Love You To the End of the World