Rookwood cemetery

Why do we sweat the small stuff? We grumble and complain our way through the list of things we don’t agree with, capriciously casting opinions and rationalising the let downs. We are fierce protectors of our sensitivities and sometimes I wonder if harmony comes naturally at all. But time waters it all down and I for one, hardly remember the detail of many a life changing moment. When we’re all going to one day lay silent in the ground, why do not laugh through life and take it all a little less seriously? The first of many thoughts I kept mulling over as we wandered through the scattered headstones at Rookwood Cemetery. An entire life, every word, every touch, every wild moment, etched in the few letters of a name and surrendered to stone.

It’s good to visit the dead. Unless you’ve had the heartache of burying someone, there’s probably little reason to spend an afternoon walking through a cemetery. And yet, the cemetery at Rookwood in Sydney, is somewhat of an incredible experience, for the eyes and the spirit. From the glazed charcoal ornate Russian Orthodox headstones embedded with portraits and carefully placed beer bottles, to the old small crested headstones popping out of the grassy slopes, every cluster of graves is the story of generations. Thick granite blocks with Chinese family names in magenta, black and grey line the curve of the road opposite the names of those lost in war. Different lives, different deaths, living under the same sun and now laying under the same earth. 

In death there is quiet, a light hush in the breezy air and a sober respect. I wonder at how terrible we are at respecting life and often the people who create our world, and yet we step foot in a cemetery and we feel an ethereal sort of grace for all who have passed. And I think that’s beautiful; it makes the passing of life something honorable and pure. We have come from energy and like a whisper, we disappear, falling back into the energy of the universe. Stopping to read the inscriptions on mottled stone and standing in the middle of a stranger’s family history, I think that maybe life could be honored the same way. 

Remembrance wall

Rookwood Cemetery is the world’s largest operating cemetery from the Victorian era and the largest in the southern hemisphere. Right on the brink of Sydney’s western suburbs, 314 hectares of expansive garden grounds are the resting place for almost 1 million souls from all denominations. That in itself makes for moments of reflection and wonder. It was just over 200 years ago that the first burial ground in Sydney was established that would evolve into Rookwood Cemetery. Who could have imagined then, when Governor Macquarie set aside some land near the Colonial brickworks that prayers would one day be whispered for the Armenians, the Indochinese and Italians together? It’s hopeful and uplifting.

One patch of Victorian headstones, weathered by time and perhaps with no one left to care for them, have overgrown with tall grass and dandelions. Loose soil and wind have let them collapse against each other. With the smell of eucalypts all around and branches falling across the gravestones, I saw a small stone arch and though the date was hard to read, I saw the words “beloved” carved at the centre. Nothing may be known today about the woman laid to rest there, where she was born or how she died, but someone simply wanted her to be remembered forever for what she was most; loved. Seems to me that’s the last prayer for us all. 


Photography inspirations

photography inspirations

Delhi doesn’t inspire me. As a photographer my eyes are always searching for something different to shoot. That’s why I love urban photography so much. You only have to stand on a street corner for life to tumble by in the most unpredictable of expressions. But in India, where I’ve grown up with gypsies bathing their children in tubs on the street, kids performing roadside acrobatics and grubby smiling faces pushing balloons for sale on the corners, the streets of Delhi have become sadly predictable. And yet, every now and then, like today, the spontaneous, vibrant and spirited side of the city gives you a taste of something more.

As a street photographer the energy that pulses through Delhi brings a diverse and fragmented culture, as best told by the kids on the street. Many live in backstreet villages and these were the photographs I was eager to take. Within moments of finding my way down the narrow laneways of Bhatti village, one by one, the kids curiously peeled away from their games and started inquiring why I was shooting. I’m used to being asked why I’m taking photos on the streets and I’ve learnt that people don’t object when I tell them the photos are a part of my college work. Within moments they wanted me to click their pictures and in chasing their smiles, I was meandering deeper into the village to high pitched cheers and yelps.

Soon the kids grew in number and quickly became my guides. They took me to the houses of Aunts and Uncles to take their photos. Simple two roomed mud huts with charpoy’s sitting lopsided at the front doorways. They offered me fresh chai. They warned me away from one particular alleyway for the pack of wild dogs known to fight in the dusty, forgotten lane. I managed to get a selfie surrounded by their warm, open faces. One young boy even asked me to photograph his chickens. This is the thing about village life; despite its perils, their hearts are big and bountiful.

I felt like the Pied Piper. A band of kids streamed alongside me as I kept taking pictures. They told me of the monkey menace causing disruption and I offered some advice. With all the usual rush and urgency of combing ponytails and collecting books their mothers were calling them for afternoon school. I went to the local store, bought them a few packets of biscuits, said my goodbye’s urging them to stay on at school and study hard. As I drove away, I caught a glimpse in the rear view mirror of the kids smiling and waving behind me. I clicked over 100 snaps that afternoon but I cherish that selfie the most. Delhi does not inspire me, but these smiling faces do.

The great ocean road

It’s hard to turn away from the seascape on The Great Ocean Road journey, but the hinterland that winds towards the Grampians Mountain range compensates with an ocean of green. In the heart of the Grampians National Park is the tiny township of Halls Gap. When we arrived it was late at night, the rain was splashing hard on our windscreen and if not for our 80’s playlist, we would have felt quite alone on a road so empty and dark that even the broad mottled tree trunks and overhanging branches had a ghostly feel. But when you awake to the chatter of native birds and find yourself at the foot of a sunlit escarpment, the morning views make the drive worth it.

Breathe in the mountain air

Halls Gap is the well known gateway to the Grampians National Park and a central spot for exploring the broader region. The Grampians mountain range is rich in indigenous rock art sites and is renown for sandstone escarpments, patches of wildflowers and an abundance of wildlife. Be careful though, at the first sign warning us of wallabies crossing, it was by a breath that one hopped across the road in front of us and escaped. Throughout the park, bush trails lead to gushing waterfalls like towering Mackenzie Falls and slender Silverband Falls.

Room with a view

The flat rock of The Balconies lookout offers views of the Victoria Range, while Boroka Lookout reveals glimpses of Lake Bellfield. A relaxed morning meandering through grassy hilltops, vineyards and sheep farms, the Grampian region is a world away from the coast. The soft grey open sky, rolling countryside, the earthiness of hand picking grapes and artisan cafes, make the region so vastly different as a weekend getaway.

Turn back time

The Ballarat cafe we found ourselves in was styled with old typewriters, classic novels with well-worn pages, tarnished maps and a re-run of settler’s life screened on the wall above the fireplace. It was partly due to being 3.00pm on a Saturday with little else open that we found ourselves there, but as a testament to the heritage of the town, the Turn Back Time café turned out to be an ideal setting for a walk through Victoria’s history.

It’s about a 90-minute drive and 150 years away from Melbourne CBD; that’s what it feels like walking through Sovereign Hill, the open-air museum helping travellers relive the ambitious gold rush period. The mid 1800’s were shaped by the rush of immigrants grappling for riches in the Goldfields on the outskirts of Ballarat marking a boom in prosperity and population in the south-eastern corner of Victoria.

In review

Serene bushland lookouts, wine-tasting, adventure or marvelling at nature’s wonders, the bushland drive, inland from The Great Ocean Road is an explorer’s wonderland. The surprising part is that it can all be experienced on one weekend trip. Fair to say it’s a lot of driving and trekking but the mountain villages, indigenous history, seafaring stories and remarkable natural wonders are waiting to be discovered and retold. It’s all the diversity of Australia bundled together in one glorious corner.

Twelve Apostles

Check out the best things to do in Melbourne city.

jai ho ho ho

No one goes to India just for Christmas. Germany maybe, for the gingerbread houses or Canada for the cosy winter days, snowy window ledges and warm cups of milk chocolate. But India loves a festival and Christmas here is as spirited as anywhere else. The open roadside markets with handmade prayer offerings waving in the breeze hang alongside gilded Santa costumes and stringy tinsel. And why wouldn’t India embrace the traditions of Christmas. After all, it’s a culture that lives through family and loves through food.

It’s Diwali that’s always been the heart of India’s festive season, but with stacks of plastic Santa masks weaving for sale through the traffic, Christmas is not far behind. December is also wedding season in India so the roads, markets and houses are full. For us, this Christmas ushered in family visiting from overseas and a houseful of happiness. As a season, it’s as jolly and full of spirit as Christmas anywhere, with elf caps and foam snowflakes sold by the dozen at traffic lights across the city. 

On the streets though, Christmas looks a little out of place. Standing next to toy bikes, pet pigeons and paratha stalls, the assemble of all things Christmas makes quite a spectacle. Naked sadhus and meandering cows, not quite so much. It’s not that there’s not a vast Christian or expat community living in Delhi, just that you’d be forgiven for thinking that when the British left they’d have taken Christmas with them. On the contrary, there are thin Santas roaming malls everywhere. 

In a country where such diversity is everywhere, people celebrate everything. Christmas Eve, we were on the sightseeing trail, visiting Hindu temples, following their stories of how Ganesha came to have the head of a small elephant and wandering through the ruins of tombs from the Mughal Empire. By morning the stash of presents beneath the well-trimmed tree was like a miracle on 34th street. We didn’t know whether to lay out milk and cookies for the reindeers or the roadside cows. It’s as irreverent, beguiling and heartfelt as only India can be!

Discover Melbourne

Melbourne cityscape

Melbourne is the kind of city that could be plonked anywhere in the world. Not characterised by an open blue harbour or a canopy of tropical skies,  Melbourne has done pretty well at creating itself as the best that a city can be; interesting, historical, creative and a little bit whimsical. It’s just the right size, is jam-packed with urban personality and is full to the brim of interesting things to do. Here are our four favourite ways to discover Melbourne city.

1. An eye for art

Being the art capital of Australia has become Melbourne’s tagline. It’s certainly become known as one of the best street art cities in the world. What started off as graffiti, has fast become the signature for Melbourne’s art scene. Expressive, creative and compelling, street walls have become a vibrant canvas of energy and freedom. Here are some of our favourite places to experience Melbourne’s famous street murals and art.

    • AC/DC Lane and Duckboard Place
    • Hosier and Rutledge lanes
    • Union Lane
    • Centre Place
    • Stevenson and Tattersalls lanes
    • Drewery and Sniders lanes
    • Finlay Lane
    • Blender Lane

2. Discover Degraves

For the curious traveller, the twists and turns of Melbourne’s alleyways and narrow streets lead to endless discoveries. With their stone walkways, street lanterns and handwritten signs, the backstreets, laneways, arcades and even the gaps between buildings are full of interesting stores and eateries that leave you wanting to poke your head through every doorway.

To catch Melbourne’s Euro-inspired heritage, ornate architecture and upscale shopping try Block Arcade, equally famous for the delectable and ornate high tea served at the Hopetoun tea rooms. If it’s the “hole in the wall restaurant” street you’re looking for, visit Centre Place, with its street side seats and great afternoon coffee spots.

Just off Centre Place and connecting Flinders Street and Flinders Lane is the cities’ Parisian influenced Degraves Street, where it’s as easy to get a glass of red as an espresso. On the corner of Flinders Lane and Swanston Street is the charming Cathedral Arcade, with its central dome harking back to 1925. If it’s an afternoon of leafy street side dining you’re looking for, Hardware Lane is a must for authentic Euro cuisine and atmosphere.

3. Market mooching in Melbourne City

Tourist guides will tell you Queen Vic Market (QVM) as one of Melbourne’s most historic landmark markets and the largest in the Southern Hemisphere is a must-do. We won’t because for us the best sightseeing in Melbourne city is an afternoon treasure troving around the cities markets. The trick is finding out the best ones to explore, so we’ve picked our 3 favourites:

St Kilda’s Arts and Crafts Market has a long history and even longer line of artisans along the esplanade. In summer, markets run till twilight where you’ll find over 130 stalls of handcrafted and homemade goods and services, delicious food and the ambience of one of Melbourne’s most iconic suburbs.  

The South Melbourne Market in Coventry Street sounds as quaint as when it first started in 1867. Today it’s an enticing blend of European delicatessens, authentic handicraft stalls and popular everyday wear. Right on the corner is a fresh produce stall overflowing with colours and flavours and is a favourite location for locals and tourists alike. Take in the aroma of African coffee, spicy gooey dumplings and fluffy hot gozleme. Yum!

Ever been enchanted by those movie scene’s where book lovers spend a lazy Saturday afternoon browsing through a book market, casually flipping the well-worn pages of a favourite novel? Federation Square’s Saturday book market is stacked to the brim with titles on travel, history, art, cuisine and children’s classics and runs from 11 am – 5 pm each Saturday.

4. Let them eat cake and everything else 

Within the walls of Melbourne’s meandering alleys and festive restaurant streets, the food choices are plentiful. You couldn’t possibly sample them all, but here’s a handful of recommendations to zing your taste buds, after all, there’s a reason it’s home to Australia’s Masterchef.

Let’s start with Time Out’s Restaurant of the year, the Carlton Wine Room, an upmarket yet highly inviting blend of top-shelf wine with a delicious, fresh uncomplicated menu. Melbourne’s Asian food scene is about street spice and fusion flavours; enter Red Spice Road. This funky CBD eatery is a food journey from Thailand, Malaysia, China and Vietnam.

For a totally different food experience, try the expansive beer garden and rotating food trucks at Thornbury in Northcote. What used to be the old Morris Minor factory (very cool) is now home to the tastiest street food trucks (super cool) from Brazilian Bites, Mr Burger, Korean Fried Chicken, Vietnamese, Thai and Greek quick bites. If ethical eating is your thing, Melbourne’s favourite vegan Italian restaurant, Smith and Daughters in Fitzroy serves up delectable lashings of traditional meat inspired Italian dishes without a grain of guilt.

Let’s finish off with a little dessert; from tangy gelato, creamy macaroon’s or indulgent chocolate, dessert bars have popped up all over Melbourne. Brunetti’s in Lygon Street is alive with the ambient buzz of outside buskers, animated guests and an “I want more than one” cake menu. It’s a little bit of the buzz of Melbourne’s Italian heart with a dollop of sugar on top.

Want to read more about Australia’s best-loved cities? Read The Insiders Guide to Exploring Sydney here.

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