“There are backwaters and then there are backwaters, an entire hidden river system teaming with life that you won’t find on any poster or the pages of a magazine. From our low flat boat, we boarded one smaller and gently glided through the narrow rivulets and channels, taking in the bright tropical foliage, coconut palms and soft leafy vines spilling over the water’s edge. The backwaters are a river by another name, unless you see their intimate counterpart; these are the quiet, tranquil waterways, so still that when the boatsman cuts through the surface, the soft thick ripples make the water look like a bolt of silk rolled open.”
Thank you to Little India Magazine for publishing our story on the hidden backwaters of Kerala, wonderful to work with you!
“For three years I called New Delhi home. In a city that is a living breathing reflection of India’s cultural heart, I guess as an expat I stood out. Though we foreigners may wear the clothes, soak up the festivities and get our feet dusty wearing sandals all year round, unless you’re one of those fortunate souls who can thoroughly imbibe the deep-seated culture, you’re still somewhat of a surface dweller. We enjoy all the wonderful offerings that India has to give, but still replying under our laughter “thora–thora” (“little by little”) when someone asks if we can speak Hindi. The truth is that not only do foreigners mostly never grasp the language, it’s thora–thora to most things about the Indian culture that many will never truly understand.”
We often think of holidays with an excitement that’s measured in distance, the further away the destination the more captivating and inviting. When we think about the joy, the breath of fresh air and the revitalisation that a holiday can bring, maybe we don’t have to go so far. That doesn’t mean glamping it up by sleeping outdoors on a hot night and then running inside to make a cold coffee and blow-drying your hair, but it could make for a wonderful and liberating experience to dust off the shackles of domestic humdrum and do what so many people come to your hometown to do every year; take a holiday.
Whenever you frequent a tourist hotspot, like Sydney’s Opera House, for example, you’re surrounded by a sea of eager hop-on-hop-off travellers. There’s a melodious mix of languages singing in the air, worn out flip-flops and backpacks gathering sand and salty spray and the thoughts of a job or any sort of routine quickly evaporate. We’re all surrounded by places that are dream destinations to others and it makes both us gals laugh to think of all of the times (no matter where you are in the world) visiting tourists see more of your city than most people do who live there a lifetime. Granted, it may feel that where you live doesn’t offer the same air of mystery or exotic charm and it’s easy to overlook the charisma and attraction of your own backyard. So, can we spend a day, or a weekend discovering the charms that others find irresistible? Absolutely!
We all take weekends away, but maybe to revive our spirits, our escape can be a little closer to home. It could be just a day (preferably a weekday) spent sightseeing and soaking in the vibrancy of a favourite suburb or beach or even an undiscovered corner of your city. I did it one day; picked up a book I’d struggled to find the time to read, grabbed a hat and comfy walking shoes and headed by train for Newtown. As a city of villages, Sydney is connected by a network of suburbs with their own lively identities that emanate charm and cool. Newtown, like many inner city neighbourhoods, is effectively one long street alive with an eclectic mix of street-side cafes, hipster op-shops, bakeries, Japanese homewares and hand-made jewellery stores. The shops topple over each other in terrace style and there’s no shortage of sidewalk entertainment to keep the mood peppy. Browsing through shops selling trinkets, eating in cafes with a book for company or stopping to watch an impromptu pan flute quartet, really you could be anywhere in the world.
Maybe you’ll take a walk through the grounds of an ancient monument, or a temple packed with history and presence, spontaneously exploring the soul of a sacred site. For years I had driven down the same road in Delhi and it was only one day when we decided to spend a day taking a heritage walk through an Archaeological park that I recognised I’d driven past the nondescript entrance countless times. When we walked around the winding pathway we found ourselves in a landscape of weathered stone tombs, carved archways leading to deserted prayer halls and a skyline of timeless, silent minarets. These are the treasures that we easily overlook, yet others will travels miles to wander.
And there are a few more pro’s to add to the list; no connecting red-eye flights, hire cars and tours to organise and with this kind of 24 hour getaway, going solo can add to the flexibility, indulging your curiosity a little more. It’s not for everyone, but it can be a wonderful time out and a spontaneous quick-fix to rebalance life. The trick is to let go of everything else, which is usually what we do on holidays so well. We allow our minds to rest and our spirits to breathe. We park all the responsibility and routine and simply live in the moment.
It was while sitting on one of the hospital beds in the far corner of the ward that she looked up and saw the thin grey apparition drift past, wearing a billowy long skirt and then disappear. “Something just brushed my leg,” she said quietly to me, “it was like a chilled breeze.” A pale light from the glow of the Harbour cast soft shadows through the old french windows and the shape of the wartime hospital beds became clearer as our eyes adjusted to the dim evening light. Our guide at the Q Station Ghost Encounters tour became a little disoriented and said he clearly felt the activity in the room as well as a stifling cold feeling on his arm. But as he was full of animated stories and close encounters, I think the presence of the young Matron who died in the very hospital she had cared for so many in, gave our tour and her the collective appreciation everyone was hoping for.
Manly’s Q Station is the revamped Quarantine Station of Sydney, rich in a dramatic history in the first settler’s story with chapter after chapter theming disease, suffering, sickness and death. Even the opening scene is horrifying and it’s no wonder that over 200 years later, the site is alive with ghostly tales of tormented souls and unreleased energies. If it were a book, you’d turn to the first page and read with despair that when the First Fleet landed in Sydney’s Harbour, they unknowingly brought with them smallpox and passed the disease onto hundreds, if not thousands of the local tribespeople, almost wiping out a civilisation. The site of the Q Station is built on this sad legacy and ironically operated as a quarantine station from 1832 to 1984. The idea behind it was that settlers arriving in the colony who might have an infectious disease, would be kept in quarantine until it was considered safe to release them. In truth though, our rudimentary and misinformed medical practices most often did more harm than good. There are tales of dozens of small coffins being buried in the hillside from doctor’s transferring smallpox infected blood to healthy children to prevent them catching the disease, a case of attempting to prescribe an antidote gone horribly wrong, yet that was the thinking of the time.
It was no surprise that the other gal felt the presence in the hospital ward and saw the ghostly figure; after all, her childhood home was openly shared with a spirit that everyone in some shape or form had experienced. Her families’ large three story house in Jangpura, Delhi was full of tales of shifting furniture, flickering lights and a heavy presence that followed everyone in the home. When friends and family were visiting, they too could feel something that made them uneasy, though the sight of a chair or bed literally crossing the room was reserved only for her family. Even when we’re in Delhi with them now, there is no shortage of colourful chronicles of ghostly experiences and wonderful tales being told. It was such a known and accepted presence that the stories of Jangpura keep the spirit of the house alive. I guess that’s just what the night-time tours at Q Station are all about.
It takes about 3 hours to meander through the original rooms, wards and cottages of the complex, set into the Northern Head of the Harbour and now also home to a hotel and restaurant. In the cover of night though, it’s easy to fall back in time and just for a moment feel what life was like for the sick and suffering patients, the doctors, nurses and Quarantine caretakers who found themselves in a new world that was a turbulent, oppressive and mostly unknown. As we stood in a small, white weatherboard cottage close to midnight trying to imagine the lives of the families who lived there, we heard about the spirits who roam there still; the young girl trapped in the bathroom, the gruff tall protective man with her and the tales of tourists touched by their energies. Maybe our ghostly encounters are in response to our susceptibility and openness, they feel our sensibilities and we feel theirs. Whether or not you actually see a ghost, a few hours at Q Station understanding its history, spirits and otherworldly encounters will absolutely give you the chills and leave you wondering what else is on the other side.