Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2014 - Part 1

So we're in the middle of the 2014 Phuket Vegetarian Festival, I have been sticking to "the diet" since September 23rd and have managed to find the time and effort to visit a few shrines for festival events. Maybe my enthusiasm for the festival is not what it was, and (without going into to many details) it's been a hard couple of months. I have spent 5 weeks in England in 2 separate visits, the second time arriving only a couple of days before Mum passed away. And my Dad now has dementia, plus he fell over and broke his hip a couple of days after Mum died. Not the easiest time. Got back here to Phuket just 10 days before the festival started and straight back to work, so I have been a little tired. One of my main motivations over the last few years has been photography, trying to get better photos of the vegetarian festival, but earlier this year I sold my camera and have been only using an iPhone for quite a few months now! Well I picked up my Dad's old Panasonic Lumix G1 from England, it's a bit of an old camera, but I have been trying it out this week.

September 23rd the festival began in the evening with the raising of the Go Teng pole at the shrines around the island, the pole is where the gods are said to descend into the shrines. I was working so missed the ceremony this year, but you can see photos from 2011 here. I did go to Kathu shrine (my local) in the evening to snap a few photos and then into Phuket Town to get some food.

Prayers at Kathu shrine

Flags at Kathu shrine

(above) at Kathu shrine, 23rd September

Vegetarian dinner at Kopitiam

(above) Starting "the diet" .. dinner at Kopitiam in Phuket Town, 23rd September

Normally I east whatever I feel like, including lots of meat and I drink plenty of beer. So sticking to the alcohol-free vegan diet for 9 days is quite a challenge. The key is to eat a good variety of food, not just 9 days of spring rolls, and find a few restaurants where you know you can get something good. And drink plenty of juice or ice tea instead of beer :) I wrote a page about the Food at the Vegetarian Festival last year. A few photos below of some tasty dishes ...

Vegan Fried Rice

Yentafo (vegan style)

(above) 3 of my meals this week ... fried rice, "mee hoon" noodles and yentafo noodles. All vegan and all tasty.

Note : After October 3rd I will certainly be back on the meat and beer :) But this current diet is certainly good for a change and good for a clean out!

On September 25th, I was at Naka shrine in the morning. Got there a bit late really, 6:45am. I think 6am is a better time if you want to see what goes on at the shrine in the morning of a street procession. I'd not been to Naka shrine before and thought it might be quite small and quiet. Wrong! It was packed and my first view inside the shrine showed that it might be hard to get a photo, with a line of backpack-wearing "pro" photographers taking up much of the space. I find some of these photographers rather pushy and slightly disrespectful - all that matters is the photo. They shove cameras to within inches of pierced faces and have no qualms about getting in the way of obvious amateurs like myself!

Want to get a good photo? Good luck getting in front of the pros with their big backpacks.

I was there for about an hour and did manage to get some decent photos with the Lumix camera. As faces get pierced all around the grounds of the shrine, it's hard to know where to look, and you can't see it all at the same time. Here's a few pics from the 25th ...

Look to the skies

Beating the rhythm of the shrine

Face piercing taking place

On September 26th after a day at work, I headed into Kathu village in the evening for an evening procession of the birth and death gods, or are they the gods of the living and the dead? Something like that. Statues of the gods are carried through the streets by teams of young guys and most of the Ma Song from Kathu also join the parade (no piercings on this day). It takes place just after dark, starting about 6:45 - 7pm. In the shrine before the procession, the young lads sit and wait for their walk through the firecrackers and people light incense and candles for an evening prayer.

Young lads ready for the parade

Lighting incense at Kathu shrine

A team of very young lads lead the way carrying flags on bamboo poles ...

Younger kids ready to lead the evening parade

And then they're off! Hard to get great photos here. The procession keeps moving pretty quick, there are firecrackers going off randomly everywhere, it's dark and I just kind of point the camera and hope. It's all noise and smoke for 10 minutes and the procession heads through the village .. then a 25 minute wait and the procession passes again heading back to the shrine.

Evening parade of Ma Song and god statues in Kathu

Walking through the firecrackers

Over the weekend (27th and 28th September), well, I should have maybe woken up early one morning and visited a shrine, but yesterday and today I set the alarm for 5:45, woke up, turned it off and decided that sleep was better than pierced faces. But for sure in the next few days I'll be heading out a couple of times for street processions, firecrackers and pierced faces. The next 3 days feature processions from Bang Neow, Jui Tui and Kathu shrines. And there are evening events too such as bladed ladder climbing and fire walking. Schedule Here. There will be a "Part 2" next week. See you in Phuket!

Back to Oregon Dairy Country Restaurant and Buffet, Lititz, PA

This is the third time that we have been to Oregon Dairy Country Restaurant and Buffet in the six years when we first found it. This is a small buffet that shares a building with a supermarket in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Since our second trip there a year ago, it has been in the back of my mind to go back again and since we were in the area for several days we could go here and go to the "

New Realizations

I have joined hands with some talented bloggers to form team 'Inspirati' and compete in BlogAdda's Game of Blogs. This is an episode (episode 7) of a continuing story across the blogs.

You can read first episode here. 
You can read the previous episode here

New Realizations (Episode 15)

As Aryan walked past Roohi's apartment, his head turned involuntarily to steal a glance. He felt a pang of guilt as he saw the tightly shut windows and doors. The

Duttas were an island, closed from the world, isolated in their grief.
'Sorry, Shekhar. I hope you will forgive me for what I have done to you,' Aryan murmured as he walked past them.
The grief of parents losing their kid is one of the worst miseries, Aryan knew. He had seen his boss suffering from that grief for a long time now. A suffering that

was so profound and so prolonged that it had compelled Aryan to agree to his boss's request even thought it was completely illegal and probably immoral.

'What could I do?' Aryan asked himself. He owed everything to his boss. He was his friend, philosopher and guide. He had taught everything that Aryan knew.

So when his Boss had tracked Roohi and had decided to kidnap her, Aryan just went along. Aryan needed to be convinced of just one thing - there won't be any

harm to Roohi. And his boss had assured him completely of that. Aryan had gone over the plan with his boss at least a dozen times to convince himself of that.

But the scheme that they had carefully planned, artfully implemented, had fallen apart. He did not know where Roohi or kamla was. And worse, he had not been

able to talk or meet his boss and find out any information. He had waited patiently so far, hoping that his boss would call him and tell him that everything was fine.

But as time passed and the call did not come, he had decided to act himself.

He took his mobile and called a name stored as 'X'
"I had warned you not to call me." The man at other end said as soon as he picked the call.
"I am worried about Roohi." Aryan said.
"So am I. I am trying to get in touch with kamla." The man said.
"You said that you trusted her." Aryan said.
The man remained silent.
"If we don't get to know about Roohi, then I will..."
"What will you do?" The man interrupted.
What could he do? There was nothing he could do without endangering his own safety, Aryan knew.
"That's what I thought?" The man said and cut the call.
Aryan put the phone back his packet an walked downcast.
'What could he do? What could he do to save Roohi without harming himself?' Aryan wondered

"I want Roohi, I want my daughter back." Tara said to Shekhar. Roohi's name had become a chant with Tara. She spent every waking moment uttering Roohi's

name as though the power of saying her name again and again would itself bring Roohi back home.
Shekhar said, "Don't worry! We will get back our daughter. I am doing all I can."
And some more, Shekhar thought. Tara's vast experience in the media world, the old media comprising of T.V and newspaper, had not helped thier cause. For

them, Roohi was just another kid, another statistic.
But Shekhar's work as a freelancer, and the associated experience in the social media. Shekhar and his widely connected freelancer friends had spread

Roohi's name and photo far and wide using blogs, facebook and twitter had come in handy. Shekhar hoped that someone, somewhere might see Roohi and

then remember her from the tweet or post and get back to them.
It was a small hope, but nevertheless a hope.

"I want Roohi, I want my daughter back." Tara's mumbling brought Shekhar back to earth.
As he saw his wife's face, swollen because of incessant crying, Shekhar grudgingly admitted to himself that all those retweets and likes may not change anything. Save the Tiger campaign had netted a million likes, but the tigers had dwindled to less than a hundred.

"Is there any update from the police?" Tara asked. "If anybody can save our daughter, Inspector Tawde is the one."
Shekhar looked at Tara wondering how she had said what he was just thinking himself. Tawde had come very close to catching Roohi near Tawera hotel. If he had come a second earlier, if the visarjan procession had not been there, their Roohi would have been with them by now, Shekhar thought. As Shekhar thought about that day and Tawde, he realized how much that miss had affected Tawde himself. The inspector looked beaten and lost after that close miss. As Shekhar mind wandered, the thought of the call from Tawde came to his mind.

"That call!" Shekhar said aloud. "I can't believe how drunk Tawde was."
Tawde talked utter nonsense in the call and even said Aryan would never forgive him if he came to know that Roohi had gone.
"Why would Aryan not forgive Tawde?" Shekhar asked himsel.
Suddenly it struck like a flash to him and then he understood everything, just like that.

To be continued....
You can read the next post in the series here.

Me and my team are participating in ‘Game Of Blogs’ at #CelebrateBlogging with us.

Swimming with the Elephants

I have a friend ,B-Bie , whose friend is the director of the Kanchanaburi Conservation Elephant Camp, and we were invited to spend the day interacting with the elephants ,Molee , Tom Moon , and Tom Boon. We were to walk in the fields and jungle , cut corn, and feed them , and take them to the river for their daily bath. We did all this and what a great day we had , never in my life have I had such a experience. So , to make a long story short, I was standing on the bank of the river watching folks and the trainers giving the elephants a bath , when all of a sudden, I don't know what come over me , I pull off my cloths and jumped in the river and swim out to Molee and she let me on her back ,and then and there I was swimming with the elephants, what a RUSH. If ever you get a chance to do the same " do it " I felt just like Tarzan of the movies, and comic BOOKS of my childhood . Have you ever done a something so all of a sudden? I hope so . Life is full of surprises.
 This was a day to remember

                                           Mollee and Me

Long arms of law

I have joined hands with some talented bloggers to form team 'Inspirati' and compete in BlogAdda's Game of Blogs. This is an episode (episode 7) of a continuing story across the blogs.

You can read first episode here. 
You can read the previous episode here.

Long Arms of the law (Episode 7)

In the police station, Inspector Tawde sat alone looking at Roohi's case file. The papers were lying haphazardly on the table in front of him: the couple's statements, transcript of maid's interview, photographs of the victim's bedroom. It had been more than fifteen hours since Roohi had gone missing and there had been no ransom call. Tawde took Roohi's photo from the papers and held it in his hand.
Where are you Roohi? In a van to Calcutta, drugged and gagged? In the heartless streets of Mumbai lonely and hungry? Or peaceful and sleeping... six feet under?
Tawde went over the case details in his mind trying to spot something he might have missed.

The clock in the police station struck aloud, startling Tawde.
Nine 'o' clock. Sixteen hours now!
Tawde remembered the the English cop shows he usually saw late in the night in television. Invariably, there was a scene where the detective, a blonde in high heels and tight blouse, would say to her partner, 'Twenty fours after the kid goes missing, the chances of rescue drops below ten percent.'
And Tawde would always shake his head in disbelief and say, 'Man! I wish I had one partner like that - blonde and hot'.
Smiling whimsically at the memory, Tawde picked the phone to call Shekhar. On his way to his house, he had decided to drop in at Shekhar's house one more time and talk to the maid. The hot detective in television channel was right: the rescue chances did drop below ten percent after twenty four hours.

"I wanted to talk to the maid one more time. Nothing particular, just wanted to check certain things. Shall I come down now?" Tawde asked Shekhar on the phone. Tawde had gathered from the case files that the maid worked full time and stayed with Shekhar's family.
"The maid, she is not at home. She got a call in the evening that her uncle is serious." Shekhar said.
"What? Your maid runs out on the day your kid disappears, and you didn't bother to tell me?" Tawde asked.
"She didn't run out." Shekhar said. "She said she would come back tomorrow." Shekhar's voice was not confident anymore.
"Did she give an address?"
"Not the full address. But she said her uncle's house is in Ambedkar nagar."
"There are dozen Ambedkar Nagars in the city." Tawde said and slammed the phone down.
He ruffled through the papers and found the maid's mobile phone number. But when he dialled the number, he heard a robotic voice telling that the phone was switched off in three different languages.
Impatiently, Tawde punched another number in the phone.
"I want a trace on a mobile phone. It is offline now, but stay with it. I want to know as soon as it comes online." Tawde said into the phone.
"Where would you be Sir? At home, or.." Tawde interrupted him.
"I would be sitting right next to you, making sure you sit on this job." Tawde put the phone down.
As he exited the station, Tawde felt like kicking himself. He had not leaned hard on the maid because she had stayed with the Duttas and he did not think she had another associate. But it looked like he had made a mistake, a mistake that might prove too costly for Roohi.

Kamla paced nervously in the dim lit hall. She had a mobile phone in her hand, but it was switched off. She had switched it off after she had left Shekhar's house at four in the evening, as they had planned before. Until then, everything had gone according to the plan. A plan that had been hatched three months earlier. She had bided her time, lured the kid out, drugged her and had handed the fainted kid to her accomplice, who had locked her up in this house. Then she had gone back to the house and waited till the dust had settled so that the police did not suspect her. It was vital that she had to go back to the house, because the police should not put an alert for the kid all over the state immediately. Once she got the signal that the arrangement had been made to take away the kid to another city, a phone call that her uncle was ill, she had left Dutta's house and switched off her phone immediately.

But after that everything had gone wrong. Her accomplice, an addict who can't stay away from booze, had gotten drunk and got involved in a brawl. That too, right in front of the house where Roohi was held captive! A beat cop, who was coming along that way had stopped the brawl and had brought her accomplice right into the house. Panicked, Kamla had marched the kid through the back door and fled. Just when Kamla thought she had escaped narrowly, Roohi had given her a slip. Looking wildly around everywhere, Kamla just managed to see Roohi boarding a bus. Kamla had run behind the bus and boarded it at the last moment. What followed was a cat and mouse chase; kamla remaining out of sight of Roohi, but following the kid till she got another opportunity to nab the kid when no one was seeing. The chase had taken her across the city. Finally she had managed to catch the kid in the beach, drugged her again and brought her back to the hideaway place. The offshoot of all that chase was that she had missed the rendezvous at nine 'o' clock. The van which was supposed to take Roohi and her out of the city had gone before she reached the rendezvous point.

As kamla paced the hall, she knew she had no option but to break the rule they had all agreed. She had to make a call and risk getting tracked by the police. But she had an ace up her sleeve. She opened her purse and took a brand new SIM. She switched on the mobile, put the new SIM and typed in the number she knew by heart.

"I missed the first bus." Kamla spoke the code word they had agreed before. There was a momentary silence at the other end.
"Next bus in another hour. The same point, by the side of the three star hotel." A guttural voice said. "And switch off the phone after the call."
The line went dead.

"We got a hit!" The operator monitoring the phone yelled aloud. "Not the number you had given, but the same phone that had used that SIM before."
Inspector Tawde smiled triumphantly. Not many knew that the police could track by IMEI number as well. They thought that if they had changed the SIM, they were in the clear. But the Police could get the IMEI number from the old calls and and track that as well. So police could track the maid, even if she had changed the SIM, as long as she used the same phone.
"I hope the call is long enough," Tawde said looking at the computer monitor.
The circle on the screen, indicating the likely area of the phone, narrowed slowly. But before it pinpointed a location, bold text blinked in red letters, "TRACE INCOMPLETE. CALL DROPPED."
"It is from Ambedkar Nagar," the operator said.
Tawde sighed, the maid had told the truth after all. But it was not going to be help, even narrowing the location to correct Ambedkar Nagar.
"That is like four thousand houses," Tawde said.
"Maybe not," The operator said. "After the recent terrorist attack, we have forced the telecom operators to give more data."
Tawde looked at the operator in disbelief. It sounded like a dialogue from the late night cop show on television.
"The phone talks to the tower all the time, even when no call is being made." The operator said as he worked on his keyboard.
"So now you are going to get all the data from all the towers!" Tawde asked incredulously.
"Oh, no! That will be tera bytes of data. We can ask the log from few towers at a time. So if we know the rough area where the phone is, then we can ask the towers in that area.." The operator said.
"Don't waste time. Just get the data. " Tawde interrupted.
"I am already on it," The operator said without looking up from the keyboard. "I have to get data from one tower at a time. I will need five minutes to find the phone's location. That is, if the phone remains powered on till that time."

After the call ended, Kamla held the power button pressed for ten seconds to switch off the phone. A warning message came on the phone asking whether she wanted to turn the phone off. She was about to click on YES button, when she heard the moaning sound in the adjacent room. She dropped the phone on the table and hurried to the room where Roohi was. She did not want to chase Roohi again all over Mumbai. The drug seemed to have worn off and Roohi was trying to remove her gag. Kamla hurriedly retrieved the spray from a corner of the room and applied it to Roohi's nostrils. Roohi slumped again on the floor. Kamla dawdled in the room looking at Roohi to make sure Roohi had really fainted. Roohi had.

Kamla came back to the hall and looked around. She had to be by hotel in one hour. She set out to clean the room of things that could be traced back to her. But she had forgotten the phone, which remained on the table, powered on, talking to the nearest tower.

"We have got a location," The operator said after five minutes. The circle on the screen had narrowed to corner of the Ambedkar Nagar.
"That still looks like four hundred houses. That is three hundred and eight too many," Tawde said.
"Maybe not," The operator said. Tawde looked at him again. This was sounding more and more like the late night cop show on English channels.
"You see, the phone is talking to two adjacent towers. Sometime to the one on north, and sometimes to the one on west." The operator pointed to the two towers on the computer screen. "That is because, it is seeing almost the same power levels from both the towers. So a small change in the power level makes it shift from one to the other."
"So the phone is right in the middle of the two towers!" Tawde said.
"You are right, if there is no congestion from other phones. But we have to account for congestion, which is not easy."
Tawde groaned.
"Do not worry. We have the most advanced application to model the consgestion." The operator said tapping at the computer keys.
He peered at the screen for few seconds and then said, "According to this model, there are eight houses in two streets who could see both the towers and shift between them depending on congestion." The operator smiled.
"I owe you one!" Tawde said and picked his phone. He called his team and asked them to assemble at the Ambedkar nagar. Tawde figured that given the light traffic they would be on spot in fifteen minutes.
Roohi! Please be there. I just need fifteen minutes. 
But a minute after Tawde walked out of the computer room, another operator who was sitting in a corner slipped out of the room and made a call.

The phone call startled kamla. She realized that she had got distracted and not switched off the phone. She picked the phone and saw the number. It was from her contact.
"Hello." She said, slightly tensed that her mistake had been found out.
"You had not switched off the phone. The police has traced you." The guttural voice said. Kama cursed silently.
"You have to leave the house now. Come to the same spot in fifteen minutes. By the way, that will be the last bus. If you miss it, you are on your own."
The line went dead.

Couple of minutes after the call, Kamla stepped gingerly out of the back door of the house. On her shoulder, was Roohi who was completely drugged. Roohi was heavy, but the hotel was just five minutes away and kamla hoped she could manage the weight. Avoiding the main roads, She walked through the by-lanes of the slum towards the hotel. She could see the orange lights of the express way to the airport and beyond and the red neon light of the three star hotel just outside the edge of the slum.

Five minutes later Kamla had reached the edge of the slum. A small steep ascent stood between her and the express way, where she was supposed to be picked up. Kamla stood at the bottom and took a deep breath. Then she climbed up the ascent. As she was half way through, she saw a white van pulling up and Kamla panicked.
She is going to miss the rendezvous again

"Stop!" She yelled hoarsely. But she was so out of breath that the voice barely came out. She started running up the ascent.
Up on the main road, the van started rolling.
"Stop!" Kamla shouted aloud. The van moved a couple of inches, and then stopped.
Kamla climbed the rest of the ascent and ran to the van.
As the van door opened, and she was about to throw Roohi in, Kamla froze. There was something wrong! It was then she saw the familiar yellow lettering. It was a private taxi to the airport.
"I am sorry, I mistook for someone else." Kamla said and turned back.

Cyrus just couldn't wait to get out of Mumbai. He felt like a fool, flying in to stake his love and within twenty four hours breaking up with the very same person. As he checked out of the hotel and boarded the taxi, he thought of the huge bill on his credit card.
"Twenty thousand for the flight and hotel," he cursed himself. "And what has it got me?"
He was still thinking about it, when he heard a feeble voice from the side of the road yelling to stop.
"Stop," He said to the driver and peered into the darkness. He didn't see anyone. He asked the driver to go. But as the car started rolling, he heard the voice again, this time much louder. Cyrus asked to stop the car and opened the door. He saw a woman, with a child on her shoulder, coming up the ascent. She was at the vehicle's door even before he could see who they were. She seemed in hurry, almost about to throw the kid in, when she turned abruptly saying that she had mistaken for someone else.

Cyrus closed the door and asked the driver to go. But as the car slowly skidded, the neurons in his brain fired. He had seen the kid in jenny's photo! He dialed jenny's number.

Inspector Tawde stood like a beaten man. Minutes earlier, his team had reconnoitered the street and picked the suspect's house. But even before he entered the house, he knew that the suspect had escaped. He could tell from the hurriedly cleaned empty house.
His phone rang. An unknown number!
"Hello!" He said into the phone.
"I am Cyrus. I got your number from Jenifer. I just saw one of the missing kids, the one who was reported as missed today morning. A woman is carrying her."
That must be Kamla and Roohi!
"Where are you?" Tawde asked.
"I don't know. I am new to Mumbai. I stayed in this hotel, Hotel Tawera. Let me give the phone to the driver."
"Wait!" Tawde shouted. He looked about him and saw the red neon lights of the hotel Tawera at the edge of the slum.
"I will be there in couple of minutes. Keep the woman and kid in sight." Tawde said before cutting the call.
Then Tawde started sprinting towards the hotel, sprinting hard and fast like they showed in the cop shows in late night television.

To be continued....
You can read the next post in the series here

Me and my team are participating in ‘Game Of Blogs’ at #CelebrateBlogging with us.

Another Visit to Yoders

After my previous visit to Yoders, we made another trip to the area several weeks later. We had several nights that we could go to buffets and the last night was open - we had not gone back to Yoders yet. I was not sure that I wanted to so soon after the last somewhat disappointing visit. We could go to Yoders or go for a second dinner in the week to Dutch-Way. I was feeling that after so many