Monday, 29 October 2007
Over the weekend I was out at Anyer, west Java, which overlooks the Sundra Straits between Java and Sumatra. The islands of Krakatau lie in the Sundra Straits and I had a glimpse of them on Sunday morning. Later the same day, Krakatau started bellowing smoke and spewing ash. Was she angry at me or someone else ? Here is a report from a local paper.
The authorities had issued warnings of a possible eruption of the Anak Krakatau (Child of Krakatoa) volcano in the Sunda Strait after it spewed ash and smoke. Several small eruptions have been detected and prompted the Vulcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Centre to raise its alert status to the second level. A giant Krakatoa eruption of 1883 that killed tens of thousands of people was the largest explosion in recorded history.
Sunday, 28 October 2007
Baldrick the incorrigible star in Blackadder said " War is a terrible thing."
Never a truer statement.
My father fought in the 2nd World War and was on that terrible battle for Monte Cassino as part of New Zealand's 23rd Battalion.
Recently my brother and his wife visited Monte Cassino and laid five roses there, one each on behalf of his five children. Private James William Godfrey McKerrow fought gallantly on Monte Cassino and saw a huge number of his friends die around him. He was wounded, but able to continue fighting. Dad spoke little of the war, but would often get nostalgic at Christmas time as he remembered the Christmas he spent in a trench on Monte cassino. He told me how there was a half day cease fire and he and his comrades crossed the frontline to celebrate Christmas with the German soldiers they had been trying to kill for the past few months. Dad said. " they were good men like our soldiers, fathers and sons like us. " He said rather sadly to me, " I wondered then and still do now, why we were fighting ? "
My Dad told me how they swapped precious gifts such as chocolate, sweets, canned meat and cigarettes. They also sang songs in tehir own languages.
I have worked for the Red Cross for 35 years and have seen first hand the Vietnam War, the war that created Bangladesh, wars in Ethiopia, India/Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Tajikistan. My Dad's words turn over in my head, " Why were we fighting ? "
Thursday, 25 October 2007
Like most New Zealanders, I was gutted by the All Black's failure in the recent Rugby World Cup final. I have expressed my views publicy that it was a leadership failure on the field. It was clear to me that the All Blacks were not used to being in a losing position, and no strong leader stepped forward in this sudden-death crisis situation. There was no Ernest Shackleton to lead and rescue the team. In the article posted below, Spiro Zavos calls for the resignation of Graham Henry to resign and for Robbie Deans (pictured above) to replace him. This is sound logic and at this point I rest my case and close on the debate for the 2007 RWC.
Caravan must move on - so must Henry
By SPIRO ZAVOS - The Dominion Post | Friday, 26 October 2007
When Alan Jones coached the Wallabies and his team was beaten he would say: "The dogs are barking but the caravan moves on." It's a useful mantra for New Zealand rugby.
First, the barking. I supported Graham Henry from the time of his appointment as All Blacks coach. So these thoughts about the 2007 RWC failure are hindsight reflections.
It is clear the reconditioning programme failed. The All Blacks were not noticeably bigger or faster than their opponents in the World Cup. Players were injured, like Jerry Collins, who rarely get injured.
I was told by someone who knew what he was saying that players complained of being tired after their reconditioning. Also, by taking them out of the Super 14 for six matches, Henry ensured that they played too few matches in 2007. Senior players were lucky if they played 12 matches this year. They were underdone for the quarterfinal against France.
The rotation policy was fine, up to the end of 2006. Henry promised it would not be put in place in 2007. But even in the tournament it was maintained. Henry should have played his main side three times in the pool rounds, as the Springboks did. J P Pietersen played every minute of the tournament. Most of the Springboks played all their matches.
This is all hindsight, of course. While journalists are expected to be prophets of the past, coaches are paid to get it right. Graham Henry did not. Jake White, probably an inferior coach, did.
Enough of the barking. Now for the caravan moving on.
Those of us who endured the last two weeks in Paris without a New Zealand or Australian side to support cannot understand the polls that show Kiwis want Henry to continue. Those grumpy All Blacks fans stranded in Paris, if my chats to them are any indication, would vote to move Henry on, say to a director of coaching job for the NZRU.
It is so obvious that the next All Blacks coach should be Robbie Deans that John O'Neill, the perceptive boss of the ARU, has been trying to get in first and snatch him away from New Zealand rugby. Players who excelled under Deans have played poorly this year for the All Blacks. Daniel Carter is a case in point. Deans has created a winning style of play. He has the knack of getting his teams up for must-win games as the Crusaders' success shows.
The best-qualified New Zealand coach, in terms of success in his coaching career, should be All Blacks coach. That was Graham Henry in 2004. It is Robbie Deans in 2008.
Tuesday, 23 October 2007
Here is a poem from my book on Afghanistan about a mountain roadman. I met this man at about 3,800 metres in the Hindu Kush mountain building a high mountain road with an old and worn shovel. It moved me greatly. Bob
Flesh against wood and metal
His mettle against mountains of rock
Now broken in body and spirit
He who carved these roads aloft
His face was as worn as his shovel
Building roads in the Hindu Kush
And his ageing back bent double
From all the boulders he'd pushed
His reward but a sear of flour a day
Received humbly in callused hands
As he prays, "Allah O Akbar"
His reward can't be in this land
Anjouman, Badakhshan, June 1995
It is published in my book, Mountains of our Mind - Afghanistan, published by tara press, New Delhi. The book can be purchased through the website www.indiaresearchpress
Saturday, 20 October 2007
I got up just before 2 a.m. Jakarta time to watch the match. In some respects, I wish I had of stayed in bed. No tries, and an old style kicking game. Not the type of match that will have children round the world asking Santa Claus fof rugby balls instead of the latest video game or Barbie doll.
I enjoyed the closing ceremony and the presentation the most.
There were long banners in South Africa's colours and scintillating fireworks. The Springboks lifted President Mbeki up onto their shoulders where he gleefully brandished the cup aloft. And then they went skipping about Stade de France, showing off the Webb Ellis Cup while South Africans cheered in Paris and many other cities and dorps about the world.
Throughout the length and breadth of South Africa shouts resounded that were part joy and part relief because, heavens, it was close. Car horns blared, toasts were drunk, cheering and laughter broke out, revelry was on the cards - it was the biggest national party since 26 June 1995.
Congratulations South Africa. You have the William Webb Ellis trophy for four years.
I thought Victor Mafield was the most outstanding player on the field and deserved man-of-match.
I wonder what thoughts ran through All Black coach Graham Henry's head as he watched the final early moning in New Zealand. I hope he learned that rugby is about doing the basics well and moulding a group of talented players into a team, a strong, cohesive unit. Henry to my mind put too much emphasis on the sizzle of the game, and not enough on the basic ingredients.
Ah, well I think I will watch Lewis Hamilton win the world Formula One title this eveing and give rugby a break for a while.
Thursday, 18 October 2007
A view of the crater at Mount Kelud at the Kediri regency, East Java September 23, 2007. Mount Kelud volcano.
Yesterday I came back from having a look at the dormant Krakatau volcanoe in west Java to the news that Mount Kelud in East Java is threatening to erupt. The PMI, Indonesian Red Cross are assisting those who have evacuated and are on standby in the event of an eruption. Nervous moments of waiting.
Indonesia on top alert for volcanic eruption
17 Oct 2007 10:04:44 GMT
KEDIRI, Indonesia, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Fears of an imminent eruption prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents near Indonesia's Mount Kelud on Wednesday, but many flouted the order and stayed at their homes around the rumbling Javanese volcano.
The alert on the volcano, one of Indonesia's deadliest and located 90 km (55 miles) southwest of its second-largest city, Surabaya, was raised to maximum late on Tuesday, meaning it could erupt within 24 hours.
Authorities had ordered the evacuation of more than 100,000 people from a 10-km (6-mile) zone near the 1,731-metre (5,712-foot) volcano, a statement from the National Agency for Disaster Management said.
"The volcano is still on highest alert. I advise people to stay in the shelters and to be patient," Surono, head of Indonesia's Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation, told Reuters. Another official said the number of volcanic quakes had dropped from up to 500 on Tuesday to 61 on Wednesday morning, but said that did not mean an eruption could be ruled out.
"In fact, it may erupt in two or three days after there are less quakes, because the volcano may be storing energy for a blow out," said Saut Simatupang, head of the vulcanological survey.
In Kampung Anyar, about 7 km from the crater and within a zone deemed by authorities as dangerous, many villagers were at home.
"It's not certain if Mount Kelud would ever go off. My parents and my siblings are at home at the moment. I'm going off to see some friends," said Marsudi, a resident in the village, who evacuated and then returned to his home.
"Whenever we're asked to evacuate, we will do so. But we came back simply because nothing happened."
In another timber plantation area closer to the crater, three workers dressed in sarongs planted teak seedlings.
"We are not afraid, because the signs weren't there," said Sumilah, adding that she believed signs of an eruption included loud noises made by grasshoppers, starless night skies, very hot weather and dark rain clouds.
Residents sheltering in the district of Kediri complained of inadequate supplies of food and water.
Many were also reluctant to leave behind possessions untended, particularly their animals.
An estimated 350,000 people live within 10 km of the volcano, growing coffee, sugar cane, pineapples and papayas on the rich volcanic soil or feeding their cattle on the slopes.
Sigit Rahardjo, a spokesman for the Kediri district government, said some people were likely to return to the shelters later in the day.
"Last night we managed to evacuate 28,000 people, but some have returned to their homes because they think it's not going off."
When Kelud last erupted in 1990, at least 30 people were killed and in 1919 about 5,000 died as it ejected scalding water from its crater lake.
Indonesia, which sits on a belt of intense seismic activity known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, has had a series of major volcanic eruptions over the centuries
Friday, 12 October 2007
The loudspeakers on the Mosques in Jakarta have been announcing with verse, sermons, prayers and song all thoughout the night that Ramadhan is over and the Eid celebrations have started. Fireworks could be heard all night long.
In Indonesia we have a long holiday and I have decided to leave tomorrow to visit one of my life long ambitions, to visit Krakatau volcanoe. I read of this catastrophic erution which occured in 1883, as a child and finally I have the chance to visit it.
Krakatau volcano lies in the Sunda strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra. In about 416 A.D., caldera collapse destroyed the volcano and formed a 4-mile (7-km) wide caldera. The islands of Krakatau, Verlaten, and Lang are remnants of this volcano. The eruption and collapse of the caldera in 1883 produced one of the largest explosions on Earth in recorded time (VEI=6) and destroyed much of Krakatau island, leaving only a remnant. The official number of people killed in the 1883 eruption is somewhere around 36,000. Almost all of these folks were killed by tsunami that washed nearby shorelines. Krakatau had been obviously restless for long enough before the big eruption that there was nobody around when it occurred, however, the folks living on nearby islands and coastlines - many of which couldn't even see Krakatau - didn't evacuate and were killed.Since 1927, small eruptions have been frequent and have constructed a new island, Anak Krakatau (Child of Krakatau).
Saturday, 6 October 2007
Joe Rokocoko's worst fears are realised at the World Cup.
I was stunned this morning. How did an invincible team like the All Blacks get beaten ? I have been crowing on my blog and to friends about how the All Blacks would win the rugby world cup this year.
Our Gods fell to earth in Cardiff. They are men after all.
The best rugby writer of all, David Kirk explains the hurt, the pain many of us are going through but asks us to spare a thought for the players and management.:
The All Blacks didn't play badly, but they didn't play well enough. For long periods of this test match they played better rugby than any other team in the competition is remotely possible of playing.
Their ball retention, their pace and audacity was often a joy. That they couldn't turn this into points and a comfortable victory was a testament to the sustained intensity of the French defence and their own inability to stop trying to create the perfect form of rugby and just win the match.
It is unbelievably frustrating to sit here in Cardiff and review this match.
If you look at the All Black scrum it was clearly superior to the French scrum. The lineout functioned well and the continuity play was excellent.
Kelleher played as well as I have seen him play. Carter in the first half was all class, making the right decisions, kicking well, firing out his flat passes, putting McAllister into the gap for his try.
Collins, McCaw and Soalio clearly outplayed their opposite numbers and while they had few real opportunities the outside backs did all that was asked of them.
No one played badly. If no one plays badly in a great All Black team they should win. But they didn't.
The glory of sport. The despair of not knowing what more you could have done.
It is not fair to quibble about selections after a match like this. Who knows what other players would have done in the same circumstances?
It is to my mind true to say however that the rotation policy has not worked the way the coaches and selectors would have liked.
For all the endless hours of training and honing of different combinations so they work on the field, some combinations simply work better than others. Some players simply gell in a way that means the pass sticks or the gap is found or the better decision is made.
With the margin of error so fine at World Cups it is the team management's responsibility to find those combinations and stick with them. I am old-fashioned I know, and really a long way from the intensity and nuances of professional rugby, but I think playing the best team regularly is important. It is possible to have too much talent.
France certainly played well.
The brought a simple game plan to Cardiff and a lot of heart.
They picked a fullback who could kick the ball back and a forward pack that would compete everywhere. They were particularly effective on their feet driving lineouts and mauls and in stifling the All Black midfield.
Perhaps most impressive of all was their lack of mistakes. They were under the hammer time and time again in the second half and they held their nerve. No penalties, no cheap points.
It is a shame that the match turned on refereeing decisions. Wayne Barne's decision to show McAllister a yellow card and his missing of the clear forward pass which led to France's final try determined the outcome of the match.
The players deserve better than to have refereeing decisions determine the outcome of matches.
But the All Blacks always knew they would be refereed more closely than other teams at the World Cup.
It comes from setting the pace. If you are doing things faster and better than other teams, referees will always be looking to see if there is some judgement they can make on this seemingly superior ability.
Did the All Blacks adapt effectively to the circumstances of the match? Could they have done more?
The answer is yes but there is no one area of the game, no easy, obvious lack of quality or technique to put our fingers on.
They could have kicked the ball out more often when the French returning was proving effective. They could have given themselves more targets to drive on in midfield, taking the French midfield backs out of play and leaving forwards to defend. They could have used more inside balls.
All perfectly clever in hindsight but all counting for nothing.
In my view this group of young men deserved better.
They did the work, they thought the thoughts. They were ready but when their hour came round at last it was not to be.
Many will not get a chance to play in a World Cup again. So if you think you are in pain, frustrated and sad, think about what this All Black team and management must be going through.
In the end their only failure was in their collective lack of capacity to kill a match stone dead when ahead.
No doubt this is a lot harder under modern laws than it used to be.
And for this All Black team we may well ask, is it a failure to want to stop playing? Is it a failure to want to embrace a style of rugby that is nerveless and an aspiration to play a game that is beyond what has gone before.
The answer is no for gods and yes for men.
Unfortunately in Cardiff our gods became men.
Friday, 5 October 2007
When I was 12 years old, I used to travel to a remote part of my province, Otago, in Central Otago, at a place called Buccleuch, now obviously named after the Scottish Lairds Buccleuch. The latest Lord of Buccleuch had his heirloom stolen. Is there a more beautiful painting than this ?
A £30 million Leonardo da Vinci painting stolen from a castle four years ago is believed to have been recovered by detectives.
Although the painting has yet to be formally identified, officers from four crime enforcement agencies are confident that it is The Madonna With The Yarnwinder which was stolen from Drumlanrig Castle, near Thornhill, in Dumfries and Galloway in 2003.
The painting belonged to the Duke of Buccleuch who died last month at the age of 83. He was devastated when thieves stole his 16th century masterpiece. Until now, attempts to recover it had failed despite a £1 million reward.
A spokesman for Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary described the inquiry as "fast moving" but declined to give any further details about the investigation. He confirmed that the other agencies involved included the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and Strathclyde Police.
Wednesday, 3 October 2007
Top photo: Rikhy Ram right, me on the left.
Lower photo: Sidhbari, HImachal Pradesh looking at the Dhaula Dhar mountains
Over the years I have visited Sidhbari at least six times and I am planning to go back in January next year. Here I describe my first visit in July 2003,
I got back Tuesday night from Sidhbari in Himachal Pradesh where one of my friends, Anuj Bahri, (bookseller and publisher) has a house overlooking the Dhaula Dhar mountains, Norbulinka Tibetan Institute, Gyuto Monastery and only 30 minutes from Dharamsala and 50 minutes from McLeod Ganj. A very famous Hindu temple is nearby on a river bank and not far away is the Chinmaya Mission Trust where Swami Chinmayananda, a very enlightened Swami, lived until his death.
Anuj's house also overlooks a spread-eagled slate-roofed village surrounded by beautifully sculptured rice fields on sickle-shaped terraces. Women in bright coloured clothing often or not yellow and red, work in the fields.
It was fun to travel and live with Anuj for a few days in an Indian village where you have the 'real local village people' living side by side with 'the pretenders' - artists, writers and other interesting people who have left big city life behind to come to the tranquillity of this green, fertile mountain region to write, paint and find the 'truth,' or to get screwed up in thought and mind by not finding it.
But like every house in India, you need a Bamri: cook, watchman and bottle washer, who brings a character of Baldrick proportions into the household. A Sad Sack figure with sallow cheeks and missing teeth, looking as if he is in the advanced stages of TB. However Anuj assures me he is not ill, but has made a skeleton of himself through his regular encounters with local village women who cheat him of his hard-earned money, with the promise of marriage. His first wife deserted him and the proposed second, ran away with his money. Now he is on the prowl for a third.
Bamri; bumbling, clumsy and likeable, brought a sense of humour that only a hill village man can do.
The day after I arrived I met Rikhy Ram who worked 26 years in the Indian army intelligence service as a photographer on border patrols and spent most of his time in the mountain region of Bhutan, Sikkim, North Eastern Indian border areas and these local mountains.
On 8 and 9 March 1959 Rikhy was in Tawang Gompa when the 14th Dalai Lama crossed from Tibet into Arunchal Pradesh via Bhimla. He was part of the group that ensured the team crossed safely. I later found out that the 6th Dalai Lama was born in Tawang Gompa which is now inside India and not far from the border of Bhutan.
He later spent 3 years on the Tibetan border between 1973 and 75. He climbed 3 peaks in Bhutan, Chomolasari, 23,997 feet, not far from Phari Dzong, which is across the border in Tibet, He also did the first ascent of two other smaller peaks, Kungphu 22,300 ft, Chachiphula 20,702 ft(formerly called Yala) and Wagyala (20, 163 ft).
It seems his work was intelligence of a sort, or as I would say in my parlance the 'modern great gamer'; checking the borders between the Tibet/China and Bhutan and India, getting good photographic information. In later life he worked in Himachal Pradesh in the Pir Panjal and Dhuala Dhar, mapping mountains on foot and through aerial surveys. Interestingly enough, he was in the Congo from 61 to 63 and was a member of the search and rescue mission which helped bring the body of Dag Hammarskjöld, the then Secretary of the UN, from Angola back to Leopoldville. He also spent four month in New York and I am sure he wasn't working for McDonald's although Kohli in his book 'Spies in the Himalayas' would believe this suggestion.
Anuj and I had lunch with Rikhy in his home where he lovingly brought out old and worn maps of all the areas he had worked in and the maps were neatly, and lovingly, made into a book, and all carefully arranged and numbered. The maps on Bhutan were particularly interesting with all the places he stayed and visited, the peaks he climbed and the routes he took, all neatly marked in red dotted lines.
As he unfolded the maps, he unfolded his past locked in his heart and mind for years. Sharing journey's with a fellow mountain wayfarer over a map doesn't need a common verbal language because maps and markings tell a story visually. Remnants of curries and dahl had in mountain camps were evident by the stains on the map which only added to the inuendo behind the intrigue. I am sure no one will ever know precisely what Riky did. Maybe he didn't know exactly the nature of his missions, planned in Lurgan Sahib's house in Shimla.
Not far from Anuj's house lives Khosa and his wife Lakshmi, a famous Indian artist, A Kashmiri pandit, whose painting represent the journey and transition from this life to the metaphysical and he gets a lot of his inspiration from the Upanishards,(sp) early Hindu literature and Rumi the famous Islamic Sufi poet. Anuj's immediate neighbour is a Gorkha, Onkar, whose grandparents moved from Nepal to Himachal Pradesh. On the first night we arrived an impromptu party started as Onkar arrived, then Khosa. At first Onkar turned up at his nose at the wine I had brought, saying "that's a woman's drink, we drink whiskey or rum here."
But as the night wore on, there were lots of empty bottles of the "women's drink" I had brought from my local wine shop in Delhi as Khosa drifted into a spirit-inspired trance where in front of our eyes, he made a transition journey to the metavinacal, a journey even Bachhus would have envied. In his trance, we couldn't communicate with him and Anuj had to escort him home to ensure night-flying Nun's from the nearby Tibetan Monastery, didn't capture his Hindu spirit.
We spent one day going to Dharamsala and onto McLeod Ganj where the Dalai Lama lives. Dharamsala is a typical dirty hill town but once you leave the town, and climb up towards McLeod Ganj, the landscape becomes quite spectacular when looking down to the lowland rice fields shrouded in morning mists, and then upwards, nestled on a tree-clad ridge at over 7,000 feet, is McLeod Ganj, the residence of the 14 th Dali Lama. We spent time at the Tsuglagkhung complex where the Dalai lama lives, visited the temple, watched the monks in their daily debating contests and generally imbibed the ambiance. For a head of state, a people who are exiled in a foreign country, the Tibetan's have established a powerful cultural and economic presence in this area.
However, I made the mistake of visiting the Norbulinka Monastery the day before which is a superb piece of Tibetan architecture, with a Japanese Buddhist influence which gives an air of tranquillity stemming from a combination of elements, the gardens and its trees, waterfalls, streams and the sky and recent rain puddles, and, at the end of a shady walk, is a wonderful temple with a huge golden Buddha. A photo of the Dalai Lama is placed over a covered pulpit from where he delivers sermons when he visits. The elevated situation of McLeod Ganj was impressive, but I found little of inspiration. Norbulinka radiated more of the aura I had expected.
Other interesting places close to Anuj's house in Sidhbari is a place called YOL, which stands for 'Your Own Lines' and was the place where Italian prisoners of war were transported to during the second world war. You can still see they houses build out of stone. Another special place not far from McLeod Ganj is a small English-built church called ' St John of the Wilderness.' It was built in 1853 and many famous soldiers, explorers and surveyors are buried here. James Bruce, Earl of and Elgin and Kilcardine K.T.G.C.B.G.M.S.I. VICEROY AND GOVERNOR GENERAL OF INDIA was buried here and a memorial erected by his wife.
A number of other young British soldiers in once bloody, now romantic battles of a past long gone, have either commemoration tablets of graves. One that I recall was Lieutenant R.D.Angelo 'who died at Wano, Wazirstan 30 November 1894 of wounds he received in action against the Mahsuds.' (I am sure many of their descendants are still rabble-rousers)
It took me back to the lines from Kipling
'A scrimmage in a border station -
A canter down some dark defile -
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail -
The Crammer's boast, the Squadron's pride,' Shot like a rabbit in a ride !
As I work in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, I am fascinated by the mountain river systems. With partition, these mighty rivers had international boundaries pushed on them. Punjab - the land of five rivers were originally referred to as the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas, but with partition, the Beas flows only in India, so to keep the name Punjab correct, Pakistan added a fifth river to replace the Beas, the Indus. I have crossed the Indus, Jhelum, Chenab and the Ravi, so it was a thrill to travel for more than an hour alongside one of the main tributaries to the Beas River, and to cross it twice to and from my trip to Sidhbari.
This is definitely my favourite spot in the whole Himalaya.
Monday, 1 October 2007
A few years ago I visited Helsinki in summer. I used to walk every evening by the waterfront and see ferries leaving for Stockholm, Tallin, in Estonia, and Travemünde and Lübeck in Germany. It was very pictureque and romatic.
It inspired me to write a poem
Ungainly ferries plying to Poland Estonia and Sweden
As history drips from the Laps of the Finns
Music, feet and soldiers shaped your nation
The winter war, Sibelius and Nurmi’s wins
Was it Meto’s stoic medal and feats
Who etched your courage on skis
Blood and bursting lungs surged while others
Flew from the jumps through trees
You gave women the vote a century ago
Now their strength and leadership shapes
You country’s new wealth and power
What a difference diverity and respect makes/
Helsinki 12 June 2004