Why Do We Wear a Poppy Today?


On November 10, 2017, our friend’s daughter, Ann Maria, a Grade 6 student, invited me to her school to attend the Remembrance Day Memorial Service. On reaching the school’s auditorium, I was greeted by Ann’s teacher and said she was expecting me as Ann had spoken to her about me coming.

All the students of the school and staff were present and it was a solemn ceremony, paying tribute to all the soldiers, veterans and their families. The theme was to Remember the soldiers and Veterans and also who laid down their lives to bring peace to Canada. The children enacted various scene from the lives of soldiers and read passages from bible and also a few lines remembering the soldiers.

The most inspiring and heart touching moment for me was the recitation of the poem “Why Wear A Poppy?” by Don Crawford. Don Crawford turned this poem, handwritten in pencil and on two sheets of foolscap, in to The Perth Courier one morning in the early 1960’s, in which it was printed a few days later. Since then, “Why Wear a Poppy?” has appeared in a multitude of weekly newspapers and magazines, including Legion Magazine in Canada, and foreign publications like Australia’s Anzac Appeal and Scotland’s Claymore magazine.


Such events at schools are sure to develop the students into good citizens and also instil respect in them for the soldiers and their sacrifices to ensure peace and prosperity in Canada

Fishing @ PEI


In the summer of 2010, we decided to travel to the Eastern most province of Canada, the Prince Edward Islands (PEI). PEI is located close to the Eastern Canadian coast in the Atlantic Ocean. The Confederation Bridge links Prince Edward Island with mainland Canada. The 12.9-kilometre bridge opened on 31 May 1997. One can also reach the island on a ferry. There is no toll on the bridge or charges on the ferry while entering PEI, but on leaving one got to pay.

The island is named after Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, the fourth son of King George III and the father of Queen Victoria. The Island is 224 km long and from 6 to 64 km wide with a total area of 5,660 square km. No place in the province is more than 16 km from the sea and the highest point is 152 metres or 466 feet above sea level. The island has three counties: Prince, Queens and Kings. The Island is formed from sedimentary bed rock of soft, red sandstone which produces the rich, red soil. The redness of the soil is due to the high iron-oxide (rust) content.

Agriculture remains the dominant industry, especially potato farming in the red soil. The province currently accounts for a quarter of Canada’s total potato production. In the PEI, fishing, particularly lobster fishing as well as oyster fishing and mussel farming, is second to farming as an occupation and is a highly regulated industry.


The lobsters are fished using a lobster trap. Lobster traps are constructed of wire and wood and an opening permits the lobster to enter a tunnel of netting. The size of the opening depends upon the size of the lobster to be caught. The majority of the newer traps consist of a plastic-coated metal frame.  Traps are usually constructed in two parts, called the ‘kitchen’, where there is bait, and exits into the ‘parlour’, where the lobster is trapped from escape. Bait fish is placed inside the trap, and the traps are dropped onto the sea floor. A long rope is attached to each trap, at the end of which is a plastic or Styrofoam buoy that bears the owner’s license number and is identified by their colour coding. During the fishing season, the traps are checked every day by the fisherman and re-baited if necessary.

The activity that really enthused us was the lobster and crab fishing tour, operated by Captain Mark Jerkins and assisted by his younger brother Codi. Captain Mark runs this tour in July and August at the end of the fishing season. During the tour we experienced what the lobster fisher folk undergo. It involved locating a buoy, hauling a trap and banding a claw of the lobsters. The claws are banded to ensure that the lobsters do not fight with each other and lose their claws. Watch how Cody holds the lobster’s claws in the image. Outside water, if not handled properly, these claws will fall-off as they are really heavy.


As per Mark, this Lobster is about 40 yrs old.


Everyone took a turn at the boat’s wheel and learned how to use modern technologies to fish for lobster. Captain Mark also shared his personal experiences while fishing for lobster and also how this fourth generation lobster fishing family makes their living on the water. At the end of the tour we were treated to a sumptuous dinner of lobsters and crabs.


More than 1,200 lobster fishers set out for these waters to haul in lobsters during thefirst fishing season in PEI that runs from April 30 to June 30 each year. Setting Day marks the start of the eight-week lobster fishing season. The annual event starts at 4:45 am when the fishing communities across the island come out to cheer on their local fishing fleets as they head out to the sea. The first lobster boat that leaves the wharf is that of the most veteran fisher and his crew and other boats follow and the wharf roars with the sounds of engines, cheers and silent prayers. Some harbours invite local clergy to bless the boats and crews during this annual spring rite.

PEI’s lobster industry strongly believes in sustainability and would never jeopardize their rich resources for short term gains. Its fishery is strong because of the aggressive and sustainable management strategies implemented throughout its history. The Canada government’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) sets minimum legal sizes to sustain the lobster fishery and fines fishermen caught with smaller lobsters on their boats.

The smaller lobsters called the ‘Canners’ are unique to the PEI, where the warmer temperatures cause the lobsters to mature quickly. These small lobsters were canned in the earlier days and so they got their name. Minimum size of ‘Canners’ is now set to 72 mm and they weigh between 250 and 375 grams. This is where the marine-scientific community believes the population is sustainable, as 50% of female lobsters in PEI’s waters would have reproduced at least once by the time they reach this size. In other regions, the minimum legal size is 81 mm. The waters are colder there and it takes longer for the lobsters to mature – when they do, they are much bigger. The ‘Market’ lobsters are about 81 mm and weigh more than a pound. They are used in the restaurants and are exported live to the United States.


The Island’s 27 crab fishermen are engaged in the trade.  Their allotted annual quota for PEI fishermen is about 600 tons which include snow crab, rock crab and spider crab.


In PEI, during a  tuna fishing season (mid July to mid October), each licence is allotted  one tuna and the captain owns that fish, to conserve Bluefin tuna population. According to Captain Mark, he stays in the high-seas until a Bluefin Tuna  weighing about 400 kg is caught.  Tunas are fished using ‘tended line’ method where a baited hook is attached on a line, connected to a powerful motor on the boat to reel in the catch.  At the hook end Captain Mark ties a kite which flutters in the air and goes down once the fish bites the bait.  The line is now pulled in and if the tuna is not large enough, is released and the operation is repeated.


95 %of the Bluefin Tuna is exported to Japan. A fish can be caught on a Monday, trucked to Halifax on Tuesday and arrive by plane in Tokyo on Thursday.  A fish that fetches about $25,000 at the PEI Wharf may fetch half a million dollars in the Tokyo’s fish market auction.

The fishing industry being regulated stipulates that there is a need for a licence to fish lobsters. The licenses are passed on from generation to generation and it is not that easy to get a new license as the DFO has put a cap on it. With each licence comes stipulations regarding the harvesting season dates, area they can set their traps, the number of traps permitted, the minimum and the maximum size of the lobsters that can be caught. Any violation of the stipulations will lead to hefty fines and also suspension of the license for three days. There have been hardly any violations reported as a three day suspension during a sixty day harvesting season will prove to be big loss.

The fishing community along with the DFO officials and the environmentalist have succeeded in maintaining the equilibrium of the fragile eco-system and also ensure optimum market value for their catches.

 

From Bog to Bottle – Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh


On October 24, 2017, we travelled to Bala in Muskoka Region of Ontario to visit Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh. Johnston and his wife, Wendy Hogarth, now run the oldest commercial cranberry farm in Ontario. The farm was founded in 1950 by Johnston’s father, Orville, and his wife June.

The early settlers from Europe called it ‘crane berry’ as the shape of the blossom resembles the head of a crane. Over time, they dropped the ‘e’ and the fruit came to be called cranberry. Captain Henry Hall was the first to successfully cultivate cranberries with the first documented harvest occurring in 1816 in Dennis, Massachusetts, USA. William MacNeil planted Canada’s first commercial cranberry farm in Nova Scotia in 1870.

Cranberry is a native fruit of Canada. The vines on which the cranberry grows is very hardy and can easily survive a Canadian winter. The fruit is packed with antioxidants and other healthy plant chemicals. Cranberry got a boost in the early 1990s when scientists at Harvard University found that drinking cranberry juice was a natural way of preventing and relieving Urinary Tract Infections (UTI). Then came research that said cranberries helped to keep the arteries healthy, are a good source of vitamin C and may even help to prevent cancer. This resulted in most retail grocery stores selling cranberry and various other cranberry related products like juices, crasins (dried cranberries), sauces, capsules, etc.


The cranberry vines grow in bogs. These bogs evolved from deposits left by the glaciers more than 10,000 years ago. These deposits were left in low lying areas lined with clay. The clay prevents materials from leaching into the groundwater. As the glaciers receded after the ice age, they deposited peat, sand and moss in these low lying areas, creating a marshy land.


Cranberries thrive best in these bogs, which consist of alternating layers of sand, peat, gravel and clay. Cranberry vines produce horizontal stems called runners that may grow up to 2 meters long and spread profusely over the bog’s floor. The runners spread along the ground and would rise only a foot above. The fruit grows at the lower side of the runners and hence picking it is a difficult job. Cranberry growing season extends from April to October. Thus it is often the last of the fruits to be harvested in Ontario.


Many people believe that cranberries are grown in water. The berries are mostly depicted floating on top of the water during harvest. The vines flower in early spring, but the chill of the Canadian Spring may damage them. To prevent this damage, the bogs are flooded to ensure that the blooms and the tender buds are not exposed to the cold. The vines need to be irrigated all through their growing season.


There is an extensive network of pumps and pipelines, coupled with water reservoirs controlled with floodgates all through the farm for irrigation. Most of the irrigation and flooding is carried out from these reservoirs with the water flowing down due to gravity.


Come harvest time in the Fall and the bogs are flooded again to facilitate picking. The cranberry fruit has four air pockets and hence they float in water. Once the bogs are flooded with about 2 feet of water, the vines holding the cranberry fruits rise up.


A water reel picker now rakes the fruits off the vines. The cranberry fruits float up on the water surface as the picker moves ahead. This method ensures that the vines are not damaged while picking.


The red berries floating on top of the water are swept together with the help of a floating hosepipe and pumped into trucks to be taken to the packing plant for further processing.


The truck carrying the cranberries from the bogs empty them into a hopper. From here begins the packing journey of the cranberries. The cranberries now travel through a conveyer belt up to the Vibrating Table of the Air-Cleaner. The table has holes, adequate enough to let the cranberries pass through. The vines are collected here. From this table, the cranberries fall through a wind tunnel. The wind clears all the leaves.


The cranberries again travel up a conveyer belt to the Dryer. The dryers houses a huge fan which blows cold air on to the cranberries. As the cranberries move from the top step to the bottom one, the forced cold air dries surface moisture off the fruits. This process last about one hour.


The dried fruit is delivered to fresh fruit receiving stations where it is graded and screened based on color and ability to bounce. These berries bounce because they have four air-pockets in them. An early cranberry grower named John Webb had a wooden leg – and he couldn’t carry his cranberries down the stairs. So apparently he dropped them instead. The story goes that “He soon noticed that the firmest berries bounced to the bottom but the rotten ones stayed on the steps.”

Most of the cranberries are red, but there are white ones too. They are surely ripe ones. They are white because they did not get enough exposure to sunlight. The anthocyanin (red pigment) that gives red colour to these berries have not come out to the surface. Cooking or freezing these white cranberries will turn them Red. At the Johnston’s farm, they convert these white cranberries into their speciality product – White Cranberry Wine. It has become very popular and are an immediate sellout.


The bogs are also flooded in winter to form a protective layer of ice over the vines. Sand is then placed on the ice, where it falls to the bog floor in spring, allowing the vines’ long runners to set roots. At the Johnston’s farm, they convert the bogs into a 10 km skiing and skating trail that wind around and through the 350 acre farm.

The Johnstons run a Shop at their farm, open all year around. The shop sells fresh cranberries during harvest season and cranberry products like wines, crasins, jams, jellies, preserves etc through the year. The products are hand made by Mrs June Johnston and is sold as ‘Mrs J’s Preserves’. Mrs Johnston also and wrote a cookbook and is also available in the store.


The farm also offers a tour of the farm aptly named ‘ Bog to Bottle Tour’. The tour commenced with a briefing about cranberry, its history, how the Johnston’s farm was established etc. Then we moved to the bogs to see how cranberry is grown and harvested. the tour gave many interesting insight into cranberry and its cultivation.


The tour ended at the shop with wine tasting. We tasted their famous Cranberry Wine, Blueberry Wine, Red Maple Dessert Wine and also their signature White Cranberry Wine. At the end we picked up a few bottles of wine to be taken home.


As we bid goodbye to the Johnstons Farm, rain clouds had formed up in the sky. As we drove through the countryside, a huge rainbow appeared in the horizon. Might be wishing us all the luck for our next journey.

Butterfly Conservatory @ Niagara Falls

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When Air Vice Marshal TD Joseph (Joe) and Sophie Joseph visited us in May 2016, how could we miss a trip to the Niagara Falls.   Niagara Region has much more to offer, other than the falls, like Niagara Gorge, Welland Canal, and Wine Country.  (Please click on each one to read about them on my earlier Blog Posts).

The place, a nature lover should not miss is the Butterfly Conservatory, filled with beautiful free flying butterflies, a tropical wonderland located on the grounds of the Niagara Parks Botanical Garden. It really is a near ethereal experience.

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Whenever I see butterflies, my mind races back to the nostalgic memories of our childhood in Kerala, India.  Kerala is home to more than 500 birds, 330 butterfly species from the largest butterfly in India, Birdwing, with a wingspan of about 25 cm to the smallest, the Grass Jewel with only 2 cm.  It is also home to 68 species of dragonflies –   the most common types being Malabar Torrent Dart, Yellow Bush Dart, Pied Reed Tail, and the Long-legged Clubtail.  Many writers and poets were fascinated and inspired by these romantic creatures that they became subjects of some great contributions to Indian literature.

As kids, we enjoyed the sight of butterflies and dragonflies fluttering around, especially after the monsoons (June to August) and during the Onam Festival (end August / early September), when the flowers would be in full bloom.  We chased and caught a few of them.  We used to catch these little beauties and tie a small thread to their tails so as to control them and make them take short flights.

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We would prompt the dragonfly in our captivity to pick up small pebbles. We increased the size of the stones until the dragonfly could lift no more.  This sadistic game ended with the death of the dragonfly, when it severed its head from its torso.

Advent of rubber cultivation and extensive use of pesticides in Kerala for over three decades have driven these beautiful creations of God from our farmlands.

Thumbi Thullal (Dance of Dragonfly) is a dance performed by women of Kerala as a part of Onam celebrations.  About six to seven women sit in a circle and the lead performer (called Thumbi meaning Dragonfly) sits in the middle of the circle. The lead performer sings melodious fast paced songs and other performers clap their hands and sway to the melody.  Gradually the tempo of the song increases and the lead performer brushes the floor with her hair as if she is possessed by a spirit.  It usually ends with the lead performer fainting or playacting so.

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Back from nostalgia. At the commencement of the Niagara Gorge, about 10 km from the spectacular falls is the Butterfly Conservatory.  This glass-enclosed conservatory is home to over 2000 butterflies.  This state of the art facility is designed to have a tropical environment within a Canadian climate characterised by both warm and cold weather.  The mechanical and electrical systems maintain optimum environmental conditions for the butterflies and plants while accommodating comfort needs for its visitors.

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Around 45 different species of butterflies can be found fluttering in this rainforest setting spread over 11,000 square feet. The exact number of butterflies and species fluctuate on a day to day basis.  The butterfly conservatory accommodates as much as 300 visitors per hour.

The self-guided walking tour of the Butterfly Conservatory begins with a short, informative video presentation that is close captioned for the hearing impaired.  After this, one is allowed to explore the area and spot different species of butterflies as they fly all around you. The setting has a lovely pond, waterfall and a series of meandering pathways amidst several tropical plants with lovely flowers.

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The jungle vegetation and delightful fluttering of hundreds of beautiful butterflies are unusual and a very uplifting experience.  Everywhere there are exquisite butterflies floating in the warm, moist air or spreading their iridescent wings on leaves and flowers.  One can even catch them mating.

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It is a great place to see beautiful butterflies up close but you are not allowed to touch them, because if you touch their wings they get damaged and they cannot fly anymore and may die.  One may photograph them, but surely they need to be kept out of harm’s way.

The Conservatory currently hosts species such as Monarchs, Swallowtails, Owls, Mosaics, Red Lacewings, Blue Morphos and Small Postmans. The green house setting also hosts goldfish, turtles, beetles, toads and Eurasian quails to help regulate insect population.

The best part about the tour is that you can actually get the butterflies to land on you. Some might be even willing to rest on your outstretched hand. Visitors are encouraged to wear bright clothes, wear perfume or cologne and move slowly if they wish to have butterflies land on them.

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Plates filled with fruits are kept at certain places to attract butterflies who like to feed on these and you can watch them doing so.

Most of the butterflies have been imported from farms in tropical countries while some have been raised in a greenhouse behind the conservatory.  The tour is not only entertaining but also educative.  One can watch the metamorphosis process and the life cycle of a butterfly in real time.  One can also observe the butterflies come out of their cocoon, dry their wings and take their first flight.

Adjacent to the Butterfly Conservatory is the Floral Clock.  This unique and stunning display is a very popular stop and is photographed almost as often as the Falls.  The planted face is maintained by the Niagara Parks horticulture staff, while the mechanism is kept in working order by Ontario Hydro, the originally builders of the clock.

The Floral Clock is 40 feet wide, with a planted area 38 feet wide, making it one of the largest such clocks in the world.  The Tower at the back of the clock, houses Westminster chimes that chime at each quarter of an hour.  There is a 10-feet wide water garden that curves 85 feet around the base of the timepiece.

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If you are lucky you may come across the Niagara Parks Commission’s gardeners crawling along the special aluminium ladder they lay across the face of the clock, in order to plant and tend the clock face. Designs are created a year in advance to allow for the proper preparations. Tin dividers are built and installed to prevent soil slippage caused by the slope of the face of the clock. The clock is stopped during the planting process.

The floral design is changed twice each year.  Spring designs are made up with Tulips, Forget-Me-Nots or similar plants, therefore, do not last long.  It is followed by Violas planted in late Spring to provide a colourful design.  From the latter part of May, traditional carpet bedding material is used until frost occurs. The summer designs in general are made up of approximately 24,000 carpet plants whose foliage rather than their blooms provide the necessary contrasting colors. Flowering plants are not suitable for summer planting because the plants that are used must be kept trimmed to form relatively sharp contrasting patterns and not be allowed to grow up and interfere with the movement of the hands. For this reason reddish, green and yellow Alternanthera and Santolina form the background and markings of the various dial designs from year-to-year.   California Golden Privet and Blue Festuca Grass may be used for contrast. In winter, the summer design is perpetuated by using rock chips of various colours.

Anyone planning a visit to the Niagara Falls on the Canadian side must include these little wonderful sites in their itinerary.  Always remember that the falls are better viewed from the Canadian side as one can hardly see it from the US side.  So, always obtain a Canadian Visa in case you are visiting the Niagara Falls.

A Symbol of Religious Harmony: St Mary’s Church & Sri Bhagavathy Temple of Manarcaudu

During the first week of September 2017, I visited our ancestral home at Kottayam in Kerala State of India.  The last time I was at our ancestral home in the month of September was in 1971, prior to my joining the Sainik (Military) School at the age of nine.

St Mary’s Church in Manarcaudu village, the village adjacent to ours, celebrates the feast of the Nativity of Virgin Mary on September 8. The first eight days of September   are observed as Eight Day Lent by the devotees. This occasion attracts thousands of pilgrims from all religions, Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

On the sixth day of the Lent, a historic procession called Raaza is taken out.  The Raaza is accompanied by traditional drums of Kerala – Chendamelam and caparisoned elephants.  Thousands of devotees from far and wide participate in the celebrations, carrying Muthukkuda (Royal Umbrellas), lavishly decorated umbrellas with silk parasols and silver crosses.

On the seventh day of the Lent, the ceremony of Nada Thurakkal (opening of the sanctum sanctorum) is held.  This enables the devotees to have Darshan (Holy Viewing) and venerate the Holy portrait of holy Mother Mary with child Jesus in her hand.  Such ‘darshan’ of the portrait is then closed after a week.

On the eight day of the Lent, Pachor (a sweet dish made from rice, milk and jaggery), prepared by the church, is offered to all devotees.  In the evening of the eight- day lent, the culmination of the festival is marked  by a spectacular display of fireworks. After the fireworks, parish members perform traditional art forms like Margam Kali –  a group dance  by women – and Parichamuttu Kali –  a martial dance by men – with songs  tracing their origins to the evangelistic activity of St Thomas.

A granite cross known as Kalkurisu (Stone Cross) is located at the rear side of the church.  Lighting candles around this stone cross is an important ritual in this church.  Many  of the devotees who come to the church to take part in the Eight Day Lent, after taking a ritual bath, roll themselves on the ground around the cross and light candles there.  It is believed to have a miraculous cure.

There are two ponds next to the church, one on the northern side for women and on the western side for men.  Taking bath in these ponds is believed to have miraculous healing powers.

In the centre of the hall of the Church burns the Kedavilakku (the eternal lamp or lamp that is never put out).

The rituals, the structural architecture, traditions and customs, all point to the natural amalgamation Indian Hindu culture with the Christian belief that the Syrian Christians of Kerala follow.  Christianity in Kerala is believed to have been established by St Thomas, a disciple of Christ, in the first century.

Rev. Joseph Pit, an Anglican Missionary who visited the church in 1836 was surprised to find a large crowd of pilgrims in the church and its premises.  He chronicled that “I heard that some Christians observed a special lent for a week in the name of St. Mary in Manarcaudu. They observed it in the church by avoiding certain items of food, taking daily bath and by attempting to make themselves holy….. More than 2000 pilgrims had assembled in the church and its premises.”

 

 

About 400 meters from the St Mary’s Church is the Sri Bhagavathy (Goddess) Temple.  According to local folklore, St Mary and the Bhagavathy are sisters.  At the temple’s annual festival, the priests carry the Goddess around the village on top of an elephant to receive offerings from the people. The Goddess on this journey stops at the Church to meet her sister Mother Mary.  When the Goddess arrives at the church to meet her sister, the congregation of the church receive the Goddess and makes a donation to the temple – money and a tin of oil for the temple lamps.

The devotees coming to Manarcaudu, the Hindus pray at the church and the Christians at the Temple for the blessings of Mother Mary and the Bhagavathy.  They believe that the pilgrimage is incomplete without a visit to both the sisters.

 

Bermuda : So Much More Than the ∆


Map Courtesy Bermuda Tourism (Not to Scale)

During the third week of September 2017, we travelled to Bermuda for a week’s vacation. Bermuda is Britain’s oldest and smallest British Overseas self-governing (except for external affairs and defense) overseas territory. It lies 1000 km East of USA in the North-West Atlantic Ocean. Bermuda is about 56 square km in total land area, a cluster of six main islands and 120 small islands.


We landed at LF Wade International Airport, the sole airport connecting Bermuda only to Canada, USA and UK. It is named in honour of Leonard Frederick Wade, Leader of the Opposition, who passed away in 1996. Bermuda is home to registered corporate offices of many multinational business entities, particularly for investment, insurance, reinsurance and real estate companies. Tourism is the other major industry.

We drove to the Hotel in a Taxi. Being a British territory, all vehicles are Right-Hand drive unlike the Left-Hand drive ones in Canada and USA. The electric power supply is 110 Volts and not 220 Volts. Please click here to read more about it.


As we drove through, the pastel coloured houses with slanting white roofs caught my attention. The roofs are designed to harvest rain. The steps slow down heavy rainfall helping the gutters to collect the water and store it in a tank under the house. The tanks get topped up regularly with every rainfall and every home is self-sufficient for water. There is no governmental or municipal water supply system in Bermuda.

Bermuda is not blessed with any fresh water source like lakes, rivers or ponds. The lakes and waterholes hold brackish water, hence unfit for human consumption. As Bermuda gets abundant rainfall, well distributed all through the year, the early settlers were forced to harvest rain.

The design of the slanting white roof has multiple benefits. It is mostly made of limestone and hence is heavy and not easily shifted by hurricanes or heavy winds. The white paint help reflect ultra-violet sunrays, thus keeping the homes cool.


Image Courtesy http://www.bermuda-online.org/shorts

Bermuda is the only country where the national dress for men is known by the country’s name. It is worn by male Bermudians and visitors from all walks of life for business and  parties. It is a colourful shorts, worn three inches above the knee. Bermuda Shorts are not uniquely Bermudian, but were originally worn by British military forces. It was designed as a light attire for the British Military while deployed at British garrisons in tropical and sub-tropical colonies of the erstwhile British Empire.


We spent five days in Bermuda, swimming and relaxing on its beaches. The beaches are characterised by its pink textured sand and turquoise blue water. We also enjoyed Kayaking in the serene quiet waters.


We visited the Crystal Caves on a guided tour- a journey of amazing natural beauty – on pathways of floating pontoons spanning a crystal clear underground lake, about 50 feet below ground level.

Mark Twain, one of the first visitor to this wonder of Mother Nature wrote in a letter “The most beautiful cave in the world, I suppose. We descended 150 steps and stood in a splendid place 250 feet long and 30 or 40 wide, with a brilliant lake of clear water under our feet and all the roof overhead splendid with shining stalactites, thousands and thousands of them as white as sugar, and thousands and thousands brown and pink and other tints.”


Crystal cave was discovered in 1907 when two young boys were attempting to retrieve a lost cricket ball. They saw the ball dropping into a large hole. As one of them went deeper and deeper into the hole to fetch the ball, he realised that it wasn’t an ordinary hole. It was leading to some wondrous cave.

The owner of the property Mr Wilkinson was immediately informed. He then used a rope and lowered his 14-year old son through the hole. At a depth of about 120-ft and using a bicycle lamp, his son for the first time saw the wonder of the caves. The hole through which the boys entered is still visible.


The dramatic formations of stalactites and stalagmites which are crystal-like pointed structures naturally formed out of limestone rocks, offer an awesome view. A stalactite is an icicle-shaped formation, with a pointed tip, that hangs from the ceiling of a cave. It is produced by precipitation of minerals and lime from water dripping through the cave ceiling. They grow at a yearly rate of about 3 mm.


A stalagmite is an upward-growing mound of mineral deposits that have precipitated from water dripping onto the floor of a cave. Most stalagmites have rounded or flattened tips.


When a stalactite touches a stalagmite it forms a column as seen on the Right side of the image, which will surely take thousands of years.


Different chemical elements along with the limestone give different colours to the stalactites and stalagmites. Iron and other minerals, as well as acids from surface vegetation, combine with calcite crystals to add shades of red, orange and black.

Crystal Cave, just like other caves in Bermuda, formed, when sea level was considerably lower than now. When the Ice age ended and glaciers melted, sea level rose and inundated the beautiful cave formations.


We Visited HMD Bermuda (Her Majesty’s Dockyard, Bermuda) after a 30 minute ferry ride. This base was the principal base of the Royal Navy in the Western Atlantic between American independence and the Cold War. After the closure of most of the base as an active Royal Navy’s dockyard in 1957, the base fell into a state of disrepair. Storms and lack of maintenance caused damage to many buildings. Beginning in the 1980s increased tourism to Bermuda stimulated interest in renovating the dockyard and turning it into a tourist attraction. The Naval Air Station located here was called HMS Malabar by the Royal Navy, after the Indian princely state, now forming part of Kerala State.

Bermuda Triangle, for sure everyone must have heard about it; it did not engulf any of us. It is surely a myth. Even if it is not, I have no place there. I would better stay in Bermuda.

Musings in the Mist – A Journey of an Indian Army Brat – from Childhood to an Army Officer


This book is authored by Major Shona George, Regiment of Artillery, Indian Army, a personal friend.  Rather, his father Late Colonel Raju George, again from Artillery and I shared many hours  discussing various subjects ranging from military, history, religion, faith, parenting, philosophy, etc.

The book is fast paced and gripping.  It is a about 160 pages –  short enough hold your interest and cover the essentials, but long enough to get into your mind with a detailed account of what an Indian Army Officer – Sam Kapoor goes through.

The language used is simple, with adequate explanations about other language words and also military terminologies.  The book is as expected, divided into three sections.

The first dealing with Sam’s childhood of growing up in the Military Cantonments – a gypsy life – natured in Assam and nurtured in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bengal, Rajasthan, Delhi, Nagaland – rather most Provinces of India Union.  The life of a kid maturing to an adult through his teens is well etched. The language and narration keeps up with the innocence of a kid, with all the pranks, comical situations and activities the youngsters indulge in.  This chapter depicts the growth of Sam into a leader, through his various childhood activities.    Turning into adolescence –  a university student in Delhi  – and the hiccups everyone faces, interaction with friends, crushes, infatuations and ultimate love for a girl has been essayed out with its essence intact.  Ultimate dilemma of Sam to choose between his dream of becoming an Army officer like his dad and his love gives a cinematic twist to the narration.

Sam as a newly commissioned Lieutenant serving in Siachen Glacier – the highest and coldest battlefield in the world – forms the second part.  It is real fast paced, fascinating and will surely touch your inner cord.  What goes through Sam’s mind, without any dilution has been well explained, especially what Sam goes through losing the soldiers under his command.  The irony every Army Officer faces while breaking the news of loss of a soldier to his parent, carrying out the last rites  of an officer whom he met briefly, digging out a soldier trapped under an avalanche  – could not have been explained better.  At least I can vouch for it having been through similar situations.

Third part of the book deals with the operations in Kashmir Valley, dealing with terrorists.  Here again the author has done justice bringing out what goes through Sam’s mind as a military leader.  This I am sure is an experience most Officers of the Indian Army in the last three decades would have been through.

This book is a must read for all those who follow the Indian Army, its Officers and Soldiers.  The reader will surely end up with a feeling of patriotism and leave you with a hair-raising and spine-chilling sensation.

A prescription for sure of all those self-claimed Desh-Bhakths.

The book is available on Amazon.in, eBay and Flipkart. The ebook version is available on readwhere.com and the international edition is available on Amazon.com.