Shad’s big adventure (part 3)

The Taj Mahal is one of the great wonders of the modern world and although I’m not normally given to romantic notions, the thought of visiting this beautiful marble structure brought out the philosopher in me.  I was looking forward to contemplating the vaulted dome and drawing inspiration from the ornate spires that extended up from the walls but unfortunately as is often the case in life, things didn’t quite go as planned.  I managed to survive the turbulent taxi ride through the narrow cobbled streets and despite the lack of pavements and alarming number of cows, dogs and people mingling with the traffic, we didn’t hit anything.  My coping strategy was not particularly brave, I simply shut my eyes until the raucous honking of car horns was replaced by a rhythmic humming of a single car engine.  When I opened my eyes I found we had reached a long empty highway and the taxi driver thought it was his turn to shut his eyes.  I meowed like mad, nipping him on the ear periodically in order to ensure he stayed awake and by the time we reached our destination my nerves were run ragged.

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With renewed enthusiasm, I hopped out of the taxi and made my way towards the huge ivory-white edifice looming before me but an orange man with a loud shirt kept smiling at me, throwing me compliments and trying to make conversation despite my obvious unwillingness to participate.  This smooth operator was an unofficial tour guide trying to sell me his exclusive VIP services and apparently despite his mastery of English, he could not comprehend the word ‘no’.   After scaring me into agreement with his tales of evil pickpockets and ferocious muggings, I let him escort me more as my personal bodyguard than anything else.  Apparently the palace was commissioned in 1631 by Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor of India, after the death of his wife Mumtaz Mahal during the birth of their 14th child.  It was built on the banks of the Yamuna River and took 22 years and 22,000 labourers to construct.  When Shah Jahan died in 1666, his body was placed in a tomb next to that of his beloved Persian princess.

As I wandered around the palace and its surrounding buildings, I admired the way the walls and ceilings were decorated with artistic calligraphy, elaborate geometric forms and detailed depictions of flowers and vines carved into the stone inlays.  Bizarrely, there was a distinct lack of signposts or information boards throughout the complex which proved to be a potential problem when I realised that my tour guide had abandoned me.  Thankfully my superb sense of smell enabled me to navigate my way through the crowds of tourists as I trotted towards the exit.  I should add that despite my remaining on full alert for pickpockets, it appears the only crook on site was that dodgy tour guide.  I waved goodbye to the police officers guarding the outskirts of the palace and spotted my crazy cab driver with a friendly smile on his face and a bowl of water in his hand.  I gave him an appreciative purr and gulped the fresh water hoping it would give me courage for the wild ride back to my digs.

Shad’s adventure at sea

With the wind in my fur and the rhythmic splashing of the water hitting the sides of the boat, I felt like nothing else mattered except the wild spirit of the open seas and the marine-life that lived within it.  I couldn’t believe that an ordinary black moggy like me was about to head out to sea and witness nature, in its own environment, and on water too.  How brave am I?!

Lundy Island

I was sitting in a rigid-hulled inflatable boat with orange sides and wooden benches to seat 12 people, courtesy of a great bunch of guys at Bristol Channel Charters in Ilfracombe, Devon.  As we chuntered out of the harbour to the wide-open sea, John held on to me and the skipper pulled back the throttle, much to the delight of the passengers who whooped and cheered as we zoomed along at 20 knots  towards Lundy Island.  John shouted “I feel the need”, and someone else cried, “The need for speed”.  (Famous quote from an iconic Tom Cruise movie made in 1986 for those of you too young to remember).

 

The shimmering sapphire sea twinkled all around and there was not a cloud in the pale blue sky as the shoreline disappeared behind us and an outline of the island emerged in the distance.  Suddenly the engines stopped which could only mean one thing – something interesting had been spotted.  We floated for a couple of minutes before the crew pointed to one of the best sights I’ve ever seen, dolphins hopping in and out of the water.  What a privilege to see these magnificent, inquisitive creatures playing and interacting with us, so friendly and trusting.  The boat engines started again and as we moved slowly towards them, they swam alongside us, weaving back and forth across the bow, leaping and diving.  This is known as porpoising – spectacular jumps alternated with swimming just under the surface of the water in a high-speed surface piercing motion.

 

We continued our journey towards the island which is only a mile across by 2 or 3 miles long and surrounded by high jagged rocky ridges.  According to the crew, there is a population of around 25 on the island, as well as a few thrill-seeking visitors that come to climb the sheer cliffs.  We took a tour of the island and as we cruised past the west side, the skipper said that there was nothing but ocean between us and America.  It brought to mind images of the first settlers that sailed across the Atlantic, possibly wondering they might fall of the edge of the world!  The seals favoured the eastern and southern aspects of the island which were dotted with rocky pillars and ledges perfect for the seals to bask in the sun, much like this seal splayed on its side like a mermaid.   Some of the seals were so well camouflaged that it was hard to spot them until they moved.  They were quite curious but kept their distance, poking their marbled grey labrador-like heads up out of the water to watch us, like some kind of sea-faring meerkats!

 

A friend of mine told me that his elderly owner went to Lundy Island way back in the 1940’s and saw a rich variety of bird-life there.  Unfortunately many of these birds have disappeared, but we were lucky enough to spot a handful of puffins in the water sporting their distinctive orange beaks.  There were also razorbills,oyster-catchers and guillemots, as well as kittiwakes, a small silvery gull with black wing tips and a yellow beak.

 

As we began the 12 mile or so boat trip back inland, I wondered how these animals survive in the wild and couldn’t help but admire their tenacity and resolve.  It makes me think how lucky I am to get my dinner out of a packet from the supermarket while nature’s wild inhabitants work so hard to be self-sufficient and make the most of the limited resources their environment provides.  But despite all the effort of surviving in the face of dangers such as predators or human threats, those dolphins had the time and the inclination to play with us and show us their beauty and agility.  I was most definitely impressed.