Aladdin in New Delhi

Come on, Delhites!

Wake up!

If you haven’t ready been to see “Aladdin”, do so now!

Judging by the tragically more-than-half-empty auditorium last night, people are not exactly flocking to see this great musical production.

In the short speech of thanks after the show, the director Shruti Sharma specifically thanked us all for coming “on a Tuesday”.  I do hope she hasn’t had to make a similar comment about every other day of the week.

I really & truly hope for the remaining shows that the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium is packed, and (sorry for saying this) packed with a more appreciative audience than ours last night.

When we arrived, the delightful crew of ushers (more anon) told everyone to move further down towards the stage, regardless of where our purchased tickets were.  There were stickers on row after row after row of seats, indicating they were empty.

How disheartening for the cast, especially since they went down into the audience at times to sing, and so would have been confronted by rows of empty seats.

Perhaps we just got a particularly dull & unappreciative audience, but my goodness me, were they stinting in their applause.  A cast of super talented youngsters sang and danced their hearts out, and there was scant applause, and when we stood up to give them their much deserved standing ovation at the end, we were asked to sit down by the people behind us.

Anyway, this review isn’t actually about the people sitting around us, arriving late, checking their mobiles during the show, hardly applauding – no, begone with such dull, unappreciative souls!  This review is about the amazing singing and dancing and the enthusiasm of this talented cast.

The show was great fun, and there were moments of sheer magic – the magic carpet for one.

We were a group of 6, namely 2 sets of parents with their 2 daughters, both in their late 20s (bet you thought I was going to say they were little girls, right?! :P) and let me tell you, these 2 young ladies, die-hard fans of the 1992 film, a staple of their childhood, were very excited and also very intrigued at how the magic carpet scene would play out.

Just let me say that it was brilliantly done (I won’t spoil your surprise, don’t worry).  A super moment that did not disappoint.

It is invidious to single out individual actors, in what was a great all-round ensemble effort, but the show stopper is the Genie, played by Mantra, and he is an absolute knockout.

Weaving Hindi into the script, with local jokes and references, he is absolutely fantastic.  His arrival on stage created an instant buzz, and his portrayal of the Genie as slightly camp was hilarious.

Good fun.

An insight into just how much wonderful singing and dancing talent there is here in India – for this is an entirely Indian cast.

So, if you haven’t already seen Aladdin, what are you waiting for?

Hurry up & go, and PLEASE applaud and show these hard working artists that you appreciate their talent.

Oh yes, the ushers.  Remember I mentioned them at the outset?

Every one of these smiling youngsters greeted us with a courteous “adab”, welcoming us to the venue as though into their home.  Same on the way out, hoping we had enjoyed the show, and thanking us for coming.  Delightful touch 🙂

Disclaimer

We paid for our tickets, and no-one connected to the show knows that I blog and write reviews.

Another Hound Café in Bangkok

In Bangkok last week, our family had the usual issues of finding a mutually acceptable restaurant for our complicated dietary set-up.  Namely:

1 carnivore who is highly allergic to any seafood.  Even a hint provokes rapid & very bad reactions

+

1 carnivore who will eat some shellfish but is still a tad worried about allergies

+

1 vegetarian

+

1 pescatarian

Another Hound Café, located in the plush Siam Paragon Mall, came up trumps.

Billing itself as Italian with an Asian twist, the café is stylish and quirky, with excellent service.  We all ate well, and we all had interesting, different, not your usual run-of-the-mill food.

Plus they have the coolest “chandeliers” ever.

Super stylish bread basket, too:

The café’s justifiably popular oyster platter starter (below) was divine.

4 huge oysters served with very interesting dipping sauces, a bowl of fried shallots and cha-om tips (climbing wattle).

A vegetarian version of the cold Japanese salad (below) was declared a resounding success:

Everyone was happy with their food, and we all tasted as many of the dishes as our complicated dietary requirements permitted.

Below is a simple-sounding spinach tagliatelle dish was excellent.

Good food.  Polite efficient service.

We paid our own way, and I didn’t tell the staff that I blog and review.

Personally recommended.

 

White Magic Adventure Travel does it again!

It is almost 5 years since I was introduced to the best climbing and trekking company in India – there you go, colours nailed firmly to the mast! – and the high standards of WM never cease to amaze.  And impress.  And reassure.

I just returned a few days ago from climbing Banderpoonch, a 6316m peak in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand.  We made it to 6120m, before Avilash Bisht, one of the owners & founders of WM & our leader on this climb, made the decision to turn us all round, since the remaining approx 200 vertical metres were, in his expert opinion, just too difficult and risky for us.

And it is for moments like that – when Avilash, in consultation with his brilliant team of Sherpas makes a tough call – that I love and respect White Magic Adventure Travel.

Safety is their undisputed #1 priority.

There was absolutely nothing to fault about our expedition.

Nothing at all.

WM carried out another perfectly organised trip, despite potential obstacles.  Like Avilash having a serious family emergency a couple of days before departure.  Sanjeev Rai seamlessly  took over the reins, and it was a joy to meet such a serious and competent young man.  Sanjeev guided us from Dehra Dun to Uttarkashi to Forest Camp to Base Camp to Camp One, when Avilash finally joined us, after a mammoth trek up the mountain.  Now THAT is called devotion to duty.

We were a team of 7 climbers + a Liasion Officer from the IMF + Sanjeev, Avilash, the one and only Mohan, a cook & an assistant cook, and  4 sherpas.  Plus teams of porters to ferry our luggage and supplies to and from Base Camp.

Everything was flawless.

No sooner arrived in camp, than our tents would be up in a jiffy, along with a mess tent and toilet tents  – ladies & gents –  such luxury.

Every need was catered for, from loads of good, nutritious food, to twice daily monitoring of our oxygen saturation levels, from clean water for drinking to warm water to wash our hands in before meals.  WM runs an efficient set up, with every member of their staff pitching in for any and every job, and always with a smile.  Imagine the luxury of being woken up every morning in your tent with a cup of “bed tea” –  though, actually, I suppose “sleeping bag tea” is a more accurate name. Even at Summit Camp, sleeping on the ice, we were woken up with tea and a smile.

We were treated to a delicious birthday cake, carried up from Base Camp to Camp One, for Vandana, one of the climbers.

We had a celebration cake on our last night under canvas.  Don’t miss Banderpoonch iced onto the cake!

We had pakoras and endless cups of tea, soup to keep us warm, popcorn, Maggi – the cooks kept producing delicious food, regardless of the altitude. Heck, Avilash & Sanjeev even made us a thermos of coffee in the dark and cold of summit night, to give us all that extra kick to keep on going.

I am a diehard White Magic Adventure Travel fan, and cannot envisage travelling with any other climbing or trekking company.  Ever.

Our climbing party of 7 stands testament to the loyalty WM engenders.  We were all repeat clients and we spent most of the descent planning and discussing our next climb –  a discussion that has continued on our WhatsApp group since we all, reluctantly, got back to our daily city lives

I cannot recommend White Magic Adventure Travel too highly.

Safety, skilled staff, the kindest team of Sherpas going, good equipment – I have nothing but praise for this company.

Would I use them again?

Of course!

As I said, we’re already planning our next climb…

I paid my own way, and even though the guys at WM know I blog, they have never, ever once made mention of the fact.  Total class act.

Here are just a few moments from a lifetime of memories:

Waking up to a view like this from your tent (above & below) is too, too fabulous.

Forest Camp (below)

Picnic lunch on the go (above).

Sanjeev checking the route (& looking pretty damned impressive as he does so!)

Mohan (below) the heart and soul of every climb I have done with WM.

THE POST

Last night we saw Darkest Hour.  Today, The Post.

A veritable embarrassment of riches. 2 amazing films, back to back.

At the risk of sounding as though I’m writing those slightly corny one-liners that are quoted on movie posters, The Post is a triumph.

The film is a brilliant re-enactment of those not-actually-that-far-off days of the Pentagon Papers and then Watergate.  The major theme of the film, the necessity of a free press, ready and able and allowed to expose the wrongdoings of government is stunningly contemporary, when you think of President Trump and his campaign against the press.

The film also taps into another historical seam that is bang-up-to-date, namely the attitude to and treatment of women.  In my Delhi cinema today, there were cheers when Meryl Streep raises her hand to stop yet another man from interrupting her.  There were also cheers when Ben Bradlee’s wife explains why she thinks Katherine Graham is brave for taking the decision to print the Pentagon Papers, in a world where women are ignored and – if noticed at all – are interrupted and patronised. 

It was these fascinating links to Trump and to the #metoo movement that made this film so compelling on different levels.

As one expects with a Steven Spielberg film, The Post is beautifully filmed, and with faultless period details – oh, Meryl Streep’s clothes, how perfect are they? The scenes on the print room floor, of the type setting and the columns of newsprint winding their way up and down the factory floor in an almost balletic way, are visually stunning.

There is not one single thing to dislike/criticise/wish were otherwise in this movie.

Everything is perfect.

From the splendid performances of those two giants of the cinema, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, down to the hippie crowds protesting in the street, to the young women on the court room steps, looking respectfully and admiringly at Katharine Graham – every detail is perfect.

Tom Hanks is as electrifying and convincing as ever.  His Ben Bradlee is a driven, energetic, kind, principled man.

Meryl Streep…well, what can one say?  I am totally in love with Ms Streep, and am unable to think of a single performance of hers that hasn’t been perfect.  She is talented, versatile, intelligent, principled, gorgeous (and, I like to believe, just so darn nice).  As a human being she makes sense and talks sense, and I have always admired her hugely.  As an actress, she is beyond talented.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a fan.

I am thrilled to learn that I am not alone in lusting after the kaftan Ms Streep wears in the party scene – when she makes the decision to go ahead and print.  It is a gorgeous confection and there is a Vanity Fair article praising it – here’s the link, which describes this white and gold kaftan as the best movie dress of 2017.

Loved the movie.

Loved the timeliness of it.

Before I wrap up this gush-fest, just have a look at this, below:

Makes you thing, right?

Loved the film.

Totally recommended.

DARKEST HOUR

Other than the irritating “Cigarettes are injurious to health” warning which stayed on the screen almost all through the movie, I had nothing to fault in this fabulous film.

So this review is actually going to be little more than a song of praise for outstanding acting, wonderful period detail and the creation of amazing tension, even though we all know the outcome.

Gary Oldman is extraordinary as Winston Churchill, brilliant orator, quick-thinking, irascible, insensitive to those around him who love and like him, and a street-fighter of note.

His outsmarting of his War Cabinet through his emotional speech to his Outer Cabinet, in which he liberally quotes people he just met on the Tube is a classic moment, demonstrating his amazing oratorical skills.  The Tube moment is, apparently, fiction.  But it makes for good cinema.

Kristin Scott Thomas as Clemmie is sublime, looks utterly fabulous in those chic 1940s clothes and brings out a more vulnerable, likeable side to Winston Churchill.  Clementine was clearly the ballast for her husband and although Ms Scott Thomas’s screen time might be limited, she fleshes out Clemmie’s character so perfectly that we feel we do indeed know her.  When she toasts her husband on becoming Prime Minister, it is a masterclass in how to deliver a rebuke with love and respect.

Lily James as Churchill’s secretary Elizabeth Layton is gorgeous., with that winning smile of hers.

Oh dear, that’s hardly a deep-insight-y kind of thing to say, but Ms James really is so lovely, and makes Ms Layton into a delightful, vital part of the PM’s life.

Samuel West, Ronald Pickup, Ben Mendelsohn – they are all perfect and visually perfect, Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI in particular is wonderful.

The atmosphere of England in the late 30s and early 40s, when it was a world of privileged white middle-aged men, with hardly any women and ne’er a non-Caucasian face visible is superbly re-created, with the scenes in the House of Commons bringing home, if ever one needed a reminder, of how Britain has evolved over the decades.

Having said that, the only false note was, for me, the presence of a black Londoner on the Tube.  I’m no historian, but I just cannot see Winston Churchill sitting and chatting like that.  Maybe I’m wrong.  That scene was just a tad too PC for me.

But that minor criticism aside, this is a stunning film, and I cannot praise it too highly.

And, as a matter of interest, is it an Indian thing (I live in New Delhi) to have that tobacco warning on the screen each time a character lights up? Which is almost all the time.  Or do other countries do this as well?

INDIA & THE WORLD:A HISTORY IN NINE STORIES

In Mumbai last week, I went to the marvellous exhibition “India and the world: A history in nine stories” which is on at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya – or, as it says on their own website “(Formerly Prince of Wales Museum of Western India)”.

Although the exhibition will travel to Delhi later this year, I very much wanted to see it in the splendid surroundings of the beautiful colonial-era museum.

At the risk of sounding bossy – please do go see this exhibition.

Trust me.  You will not be disappointed.

It is superb, and the way objects are displayed and explained is world-class, weaving history laterally across countries and religions through 9 stories.

The concept of the exhibition is fascinating, allowing us to see Indian artefacts in a global context, across civilisations.  We see how Indian history ties in, for example, with the history of Rome or Greece or Mesopotamia, and you can stand and compare contemporaneous sculptures or pottery from across civilisations, as they are exhibited together.

Take a display like this one, above, in which images of emperors across different civilisations are placed side by side – a Kushan king from India’s Uttar Pradesh, the Roman Emperor Hadrian and Alexander the Great.

Quite extraordinary.

This is a rare, very privileged opportunity to see treasures from the collections of the British Museum, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya itself, and Delhi’s National Museum, as well as objects from smaller regional museums and private collections.  In other words, access to objects you would otherwise never get to see.

All the stops have been pulled out:

“It is the largest such collaboration for even the British Museum, which has never before lent so many objects for a single show.”

https://scroll.in/magazine/858303/an-exhibition-tells-the-incredible-history-of-indian-civilisation-through-nine-stories

Stunning.

The exhibition is on in Mumbai until February 18th and then it heads to Delhi in March, for 3 months.

Every single object on display is remarkable.  But there were some special favourites.

How divine is this little Harappan era agate bull, below?

Tiny, gorgeous, perfect.  Dates from1800BC.  Too lovely.

Loved this juxtaposition, below, of two religious icons:

Loved the slightly cross-eyed elephants in this Golconda painting:

And this was fun, below.

The British Museum’s Roman copy of the original Greek Discobolus, dating from 100AD:

And a 2012 Chinese reinterpretation, complete with Mao suit:

Details of the dates and timings can be found on the exhibition website.

Disclosure: I paid for my ticket + Rs100 for a photo pass, and no-one at the museum knew I blog.

Xiaomi MIJIA PM2.5 Smart Detector Air Quality Monitor

So shocking is the air quality in Delhi, where I live, that a Christmas present of a PM2.5 detector was a great hit.

Our son brought us the Xiaomi MIJIA PM2.5 Smart Detector Air Quality Monitor from China, where he lives, and it is the easiest gadget to set up and use.  Literally just charge it – it uses a standard micro USB –  and you’re A for away.

There is a light that is green when the PM2.5. level is within acceptable norms, and a red light which we have seen far more of, sad to report.

On/off button.  All very easy-peasy.

Since it is super light, you can easily carry the detector with you.  We did, taking it to the Andaman Islands, to test the air quality there, and also testing the air on board our Vistara flight.

Pretty pure, I have to say, as you can see from the photo below:Back here in Delhi, we move it from room to balcony to room, watching in horror as the levels shoot skywards whenever we step out onto our plant-filled balcony.

There’s a full technical review online & I took the liberty of quoting from it regarding the monitor’s vital stats:

“The PM2.5 detector is a pocket-friendly device that easily fits into the pockets as the device weighs 100 grams and measures 62 mm x 62 mm x 32 mm in size. There is a built-in 750 mAh battery that can last up to 2-3 hours on single charge.”

In my other blog, christinepemberton.me, I shared a short video of our monitor recording the changing AQI level as I walked out onto our balcony – the video shows you just how super easy it is to use & interpret the data.

A useful addition to your house, especially if, like me, you live in a polluted place.  It gives you real-time, personalised info, and you can plan your course of action accordingly.

Eating at Cafe Lota in the Delhi Crafts Museum

Finally.

Finally I got my act together (thanks, Catriona) and not only visited the Crafts Museum after aeons, but also had lunch in the absolutely adorable Cafe Lota, situated just at the entrance to the museum complex.

Been meaning to go there forever, and it was every bit as charming as I’d heard.

Like the whole Crafts Museum complex, there was a distinctly retro feel to the place.  A calm, unhurried, un-pushiness, which was balm to the soul.  Here’s a link to a post I wrote about the Crafts Museum.

It’s also about shopping, too 🙂

I decided that if ever I should be so lucky to live in a home with a large courtyard studded with trees, I think I’d like to make a similar space as Cafe Lota has done.

You sit under trees, but are roofed in.

The food was interesting, and that is meant positively.

Indian, but Indian nouvelle-cuisine-y with interesting things on the menu – like mushy pea rotis which, as a Tyke, I obviously had to have.

I’ve never been a chaat fan, after a horrid experience in what was then Bombay in the lovely early days of getting to know India.

Scarred for life, I swore off chaat for decades.

The occasional try over the years didn’t make me change my mind, and yesterday’s dish was fine, but actually, I’m still not a fan.

Catriona loved it, so it’s clearly me.

We had sole cooked in mustard which was heavenly, so heavenly I forgot to take a photo.

And then this mushy-pea bread, makhana and lotus stem combo:

Nice, different, interesting, but a tad awkward to eat, if I’m being honest.  But yet again, the fault is all mine.

Loved the vibe, loved the feel of the place and will definitely plan a return visit.

Great service – un-pushy, un-hassle-y, smiley.

I paid the bill myself, and did not mention that I blog or review.

Victoria & Abdul

Oh dear.

What a let down.

The story, that of the unlikely friendship between an ageing Queen Victoria and her Indian servant, is not only a delectable one, but the additional fact that Abdul Karim’s diaries were only recently discovered is also thrilling.

Add the incomparable Judi Dench to the mix, and we should have had the blockbuster to beat all costume-historical-sweeping-blockbuster-epic-y thingies.

Except we don’t.

Judi Dench is her usual incomparable self.  Not one word of criticism about her performance.

She is absolutely perfect as Queen Victoria.Perfect.

But for the rest of the cast…yet again, at the risk of repeating myself, what a let-down.

Stellar names delivering flat performances, with Eddie Izzard a notable exception.

I haven’t read the original book, nor do I know enough about that period of British & Indian history to speak with any authority, but I’m pretty sure that an Indian servant like Mohammed would not have slightly cheeked off the British, used words like “bloody” and been so, well, so 21st century in his open disdain for the British and their way of life.

Also, and I may be over-estimating Queen Victoria, but would she really not have known the background to the Koh-i-Noor?  One of her prized pieces of jewelllery?

And now let’s move onto young Ali Faizal, who plays the charming, handsome and likeable Abdul Karim.

Great eye-candy, totally, but what a sadly one-dimensional portrayal.

The actor is utterly charming, and you like Abdul unwaveringly, but other than smiling sweetly and affectionately at HM, what else does he do?

Victoria and Abdul
Judi Dench (left) as Queen Victoria and Ali Fazal (right) as Abdul Karim

Lovely visuals, as one would expect, but that was it.

Didn’t care about any of the other characters, they were all so 2 dimensional.

Liked Ali Faizal.

Loved Judi Dench.

But left the cinema feeling slightly cheated.

This movie could’ve been fabulous.

Could’ve been epic.

Instead, it was formulaic, and even a little silly at times.

But, having said that, it is still worth seeing for the wonderful Judi Dench.

Testing the underwater housing for iPhones

On a recent scuba diving holiday in Thailand, we all tested out the housing for my iPhone7, first in the hotel pool and then during a week’s diving trip.
Result?
A resounding success and such fun to use.You simply place the phone inside the housing (above) and snap it tightly shut, using the black catch (below).  It really is that simple.
It is also super-simple to use, with just a couple of things to be done to your phone before use – basically, you need to put the camera icon in the centre of the screen, at the bottom, so you can access it via the housing.

And that’s about it.

You can video, slow-mo, the works, and there’s a fitting so you can put it onto a grip, as I did.

This case was bought in China, and comes with spare O rings.  The box is well-padded, meaning the housing is safe from scratching etc during the time between diving trips!

The photos and videos were way better than I would’ve thought, so, yes, an all-round success story.

There are housings easily available online for different phones, so am only including a couple of links, since these both appear to work on the same principle as mine in the review.