Greetings From Delhi

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Back in Delhi

Last Monday night, I flew from London Heathrow to Delhi via Jet Airways. I took a random punt on this airline and it was a pretty lackluster experience. The aircraft was quite old and backdated. I had an aisle seat in the middle aisle row of seats. The two seats of the four in the middle were vacant. On the other end of my row was an old Sikh who got very drunk and disorderly and later incurred the wrath of the airline staff who refused to serve him more whisky. There sadly was nothing entertaining, charming or witty about him and he was a constant pain and drone for most of the flight. I spent the majority of my flight either taking advantage of the in-flight entertainment system or listening to my iPod.

Delhi was just as I had envisaged it to be when the plane landed at Delhi airport. The entire landscape from the runway was blurred by thick blinding smog. As everybody began to disembark from the plane, I realized that I couldn’t find my navy blue retro cotton scarf. Amongst the mess of used airline blankets and headphones, I couldn’t see it. I again looked in my bag. No luck. I broached this to the airline staff but it was a futile quest. Ah fuck it, I concluded. Lets get out of here.

I waited over an hour just to change £30 into Indian Rupees at the Thomas Cook bureau de change at Delhi airport. The recent demonetization events in the country involving the sudden withdrawal of all R500 and R1000 notes, representing over 80% of the country’s money supply, compounded with the tough restrictions on how much money one could withdraw or exchange meant that one was by law not supposed to exchange more than R5000 a week. I was with a group of other fellow travelers including a group of Peruvian tourists who’d just flown in from Hyderabad and they were equally dejected by the whole thing.

I decided to take the modern metro airport express direct to New Delhi station instead of haggling with a cab driver. At the entrance to the station there was a security check with austere Indian police in charge. The express train blazed through vacant and baron swathes of outer Delhi. The heavy smog made all the surrounding scenery translucent and vague. Many trees were either dead, dying or suffocating by the smog, pleading desperately with the gods in vain for rain. They would have to wait until at least June next year. At the top of the smogged skyline was the sun, heavily veiled to resemble one of those glowing white coated energy saving lightbulbs rather than a piercing brilliant white hot glow. People had to have lungs of steel to live in this city.

Arriving at and exiting New Delhi metro station gave me my first official taste of India since the last time I arrived here almost 10 years ago. All the famed filth and fury slowly began to unravel and reveal itself to me. As I made my way towards the entrance of the main bazaar thoroughfare of the legendary tourist ghetto of the Paharganj district via the hectic and high pressure New Delhi Railway station, I bump into two long-term travelling backpackers. Both look like they’ve allowed India to get under their skin and truly connect and flow with the rhythms and current of this fascinating, multi-faceted, mind blowing, full power wild soup. Peter is from Germany and his partner Olga is from Russia. They both met in Rishikesh. Peter had in fact traveled to India by bicycle from Germany. In Iran he was involved in a road accident and this delayed his trip as he recovered in a Tehran hospital.

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The Paharganj district of Delhi

We all walk together through the mess of the main Paharganj bazaar as Peter tries to find a Post Office and I try to find the Hotel Vivek. Not much has changed along this main thoroughfare of mayhem since I last graced this road as a fresh faced 23 year old backpacker. Back then I foolishly didn’t book accommodation for my first night. Furthermore, I got overcharged by my taxi driver from the airport with hardly any past travel experience under my belt. I had thrown myself in the proverbial deep end. Arriving in the Paharganj all those years ago was like arriving in the middle of some bombed out extra-terrestrial mess on another planet in another galaxy. I was always getting harassed by unsavory touts and constantly trying to avoid being hit by a passing motorbike or rickshaw. I carried my heavy backpack with no reservation, not knowing which hotels to enter or avoid. I remember settling on a veritable fleabag of a place which had these soulless dirty busted rooms for around the R200 mark a night. My current room at the Vivek is no great shakes and the mattress is pancake-thin but this is like the Best Western compared to that place. Before I check into the Vivek, I say goodbye to Peter and Olga. Perhaps I’ll bump into them next at a temple somewhere in Sri Lanka? Who knows.

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Back in the Paharganj after an almost 10 year absence 

Instead of going to bed, I dump my things in my room and re-enter the Main Bazaar. I walk back towards New Delhi station and onward towards Connaught Place. It is here where I discover a marvelous open air secondhand book stall. Mountains of books are piled on top of each other like mini towers of Babel. By now I find myself feeling the undesirable effects of Delhi’s air pollution. Its not only my mouth which feels like one great field of ash and dust. My eyes are stinging like I am walking through clouds of sulfuric acid. I need a bottle of water sharpish and some vitamin C tablets to phase out the carcinogenic mess of free radicals manifesting inside of me. What I’d give for an incubator of premium quality South Pacific air!

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A great secondhand bookstall by Connaught Place 

As I trudge around Connaught Place, the sun has already gone down. There are impossibly long lines of people outside every functioning ATM hoping to withdraw some limited Rupees. It doesn’t matter that the current daily limit has recently been increased from R2000 to R2500, I can see more chance of pigs flying than achieving a successful and hassle-free ATM withdrawal. Yet I fortunately have another option for getting cash in the form of my scarce supply of hard currency. I genuinely feel sorry for the locals who have been affected by this.

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People queuing up outside an ATM in Connaught Place hoping to withdraw some scarce Rupees 

I look for a street vendor selling bottled water. I find one offering me R20 for a liter bottle. He even says that he has change for a R2000 note as he palms me nineteen R100 notes along with the rest of my change. I am extremely grateful to him. For the most part, carrying around one of the recently issued R2000 notes is like carrying around a King Cobra. I can’t take it everywhere.

I chat to some random locals in Connaught Place. The people I speak to genuinely want to chat and the conversations never turn to money. For dinner I pay a visit to Hotel Saravana Bhavan for some delicious South Indian food. There are already people waiting outside with their names on the waiting list. I sign myself up and wait around 20 minutes before I am allocated a seat. I am seated opposite a middle aged Delhiite. When the time comes to order I go for the Thali Special. All this glorious food hits the spot. Afterwards I take a rickshaw back to my hotel to rejuvenate.

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Outside Hotel Saravana Bhavan

 

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The Thali Special at Hotel Saravana Bhavan

The next day I wake up at 11am after over 12 hours of sleep. I exit the hotel just before noon. A secondhand book shop catches my eye in the Paharganj. The owner even has another larger shop around the back bursting with books. I conclude that this must be the best stocked book shop at least here in the Paharganj. I purchase a secondhand copy of a book of teachings by the great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi.

For me the heart and soul of Delhi is its old city around the high pressure Chandhi Chowk. I took a metro train over there. It is a monumental sight, like nothing I’d ever experienced before. When I was last here, it was a mind-blowing and overwhelming experience. As soon as I exit Chandhi Chowk metro station, a bicycle rickshaw driver decides to stick himself to me like glue. He becomes a magnificent liability. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’ve missed this chaos. I finally manage to break free of him by very diligently crossing the carnage of Chandi Chowk traffic where there is something resembling a pavement on the other side. I spot a peanut wallah and purchase a small bag for 10 Rupees.

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Chandhi Chowk

At the end of the main Chandhi Chowk thoroughfare is the monumental Red Fort. This exotic clay-red juggernaut of a fort was constructed during the height of the Mughal period. I enter the outside grounds but I do not go inside as I’d already visited the fort during my last trip to Delhi. Soon I get chatting with an affable local named Satish and we have our photo taken together by the entrance.

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In Chandhi Chowk

 

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With Satish outside the Red Fort

Chandi Chowk may be hectic but for an even more glorious, full powered and disheveled experience, nothing beats the labyrinth of bazaars, streets and hidden alleyways around the nearby Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque.

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Old Delhi street scene 

Like the Red Fort (and the Taj Mahaj in Agra), it was designed by Shah Jahan, a famous Mughal emperor whose reign was often said to be the golden age of Mughal architecture.

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The magnificent Jama Masjid

The streets and bazaars around this jewel of a mosque are special to me. We may be living in the digital age, but walking these streets I feel very much connected to the past lives, energy and spirits of this part of the city. This is ancient Delhi at its finest.

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One of the streets surrounding the Jama Masjid

One particular memory of this area which never escapes me are the reams and reams of black electricity wires tangled and coiled like snakes everywhere and hanging by the most fragile of threads. Seeing these wires so naked and exposed is like seeing my body with much of my skin removed and all my arteries transporting blood around my body for all to see; I am still alive and going but mess around or damage them in any shape or form, and it’s curtains.

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Notice the mess of electricity wires

I spend a long time sat down on the steps at the top of the Jama Masjid watching this fascinating maze of life. I simply observe it and don’t attempt to make any sense of it. I am so happy to be here and the longer I sit here watching it all unfold in front of my eyes, is the moment I know that I am truly in India. It’s marvelous to be back.

 

By Nicholas Peart

12th December 2016

(All rights reserved)

POETRY CORNER: ‘Lifting Me Higher’

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Lifting me higher
as low grade red mines
over-sprout green, thick and moist
a one way ticket from madness
although no certain destination
I feel calm
zero/numb

I don’t overstretch my luck in abundance
I have no heavy and overly lofty desires
to be a universal, ubiquitous never satisfied sun king
too much; turbo balls smashing
only my anonymity is king

Life on a snake-oiled tightrope line
Devils square rooting on blind fast loop
So far my classic neurones keep the elusive glass
white and bright
even at my lowest ebb
when all I see is dust and empty boxes

Yet the moon is always there
So is my imagination
Dogs keep barking
as the cricket symphonies pump and power the stars
and matter I’ll never know

 


By Nicholas Peart

Originally written on 15th February 2015

(All rights reserved)

 

Image source: http://www.time.com

POETRY CORNER: ‘Junkyard Sacrifice’

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Breakdown still 1 (2014) by Nicholas Peart

 

well I would talk forward
in candle phone motion
on the arm a hit to lift off
till we make the star spangled banner in the sky positioned to face

the padded floor of consistency moving and changing at a height only you could predict
no one will ever know

amazed by the sight
shamed by the lack
of tangible potential area
I want to feel…
a funtime waiting
from the source of the shield… the source of real mankind
the route of chance
a destination
we don’t look back
once the needle plays
all the points A to Z
(the comedown back to alpha)

television
wireless
all our material possessions:
a ride
that’s all it is…
just a ride
to the apple of the universal broken heart…

through the mirror we’ll see and find ways to mend

with what’s left…
with haste…

with passion…
combined thought control…
sealing the wings to complete
the spiritual circulation to the next level eyes forming from the back of the head now connecting to the constellations we’re all a part…
purer…
the strait of unity constructed
from the backbone rubble of the past…

and how it shines

blinding the moons all turning
so surreptitiously their duty

then morning another ball

to do the job
its oyster
of many years
in between…
and a mere crumb of these years are yours and mine

 

By Nicholas Peart

Taken from the poetry collection In Arctic Measure (poems 2004-7)

(All rights reserved)

Photographs from Liverpool’s Chinatown

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The Chinatown quarter of Liverpool has a very interesting history. It has the unique distinction of being the oldest Chinatown in Europe. During the 19th century when Liverpool was a thriving and increasingly prosperous port city through the booming shipping industry, and when Britain was an enormous colonial power, it was trading with most of the world.

The seeds of Liverpool’s link with China go back to 1834 when the first ship from China arrived in Liverpool to trade products such as cotton wool and silk. Yet it wasn’t until the creation of the Blue Funnel Shipping line in the 1860s by Alfred Holt and Company, which employed many Chinese seamen, when the first real migration of Chinese to Liverpool began. This shipping line established robust trade ties between the cities of Liverpool, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

The Chinese seamen who stayed on in Liverpool settled by the docks on and around Cleveland Square, where the Holt Shipping Company built boarding houses for them. This was the beginning of the original Chinatown in Liverpool. Around the 1890s, some of the Chinese settlers set up their own businesses mainly for the sailors who worked on the Holt shipping lines.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, there were around 6000 Chinese seamen in the British Merchant Navy with a quarter of them in Liverpool. Much of the original Chinatown around Cleveland Square was destroyed during the Second World War. Liverpool was already by then a city in economic decline.

The Chinatown one sees today in Liverpool was only established in the 1970s on Nelson Street as its official street, although it extends along Berry Street up to where the bombed out church, St Luke’s, is located. On these two streets and some surrounding streets are a plethora of Chinese restaurants and some supermarkets such as Chung Wah and Hondo. The imposing and ornate Chinatown Arch at the beginning of Nelson Street was officially opened in the year 2000 on Chinese New Year. The arch was constructed from an estimated 2000 block components manufactured by the Shanghai Linyi Garden Company Ltd and shipped over to Liverpool from Shanghai along with twenty specially selected Shanghai craftsmen to build the arch.

 

Text and Images by Nicholas Peart 

19th October 2016

(All rights reserved)

 

 

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Photographs from The Barras

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The Barras*

The Barras is a popular weekend market in Glasgow in Scotland and the biggest in the city. It is located in the East End district and right by the famous Barrowlands concert venue where many well known bands and singers have played.

The genesis of the market goes back to the early 20th century where traders would be selling their products from handcarts (‘barras’).

Many different types of items can be found here. It is a great place to hunt for bargains. You may get lucky and find a rare vinyl record for a few coins or a scarce out of print book or perfectly fitting tweed jacket in excellent condition for a fraction of its real value.

Most of all, it is the atmosphere and energy here which is the main draw for me. If I find something I really like for a good price, that is a bonus.

After the market, head down to the nearby Saracen’s Head pub (or ‘Sarie’s Head’) for a Tenants and (if you are feeling a brave) a Buckfast tonic wine.

 

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Text and Images by Nicholas Peart

18th October 2016

(All rights reserved)

*Image source: yelp.com

Photographs from La Goutte d’Or

La Goutte d’Or is a district in Paris and a raw and vibrant slice of this city. The vast majority of its population is made up of people from the former French colonies most notably North African countries such as Morocco and Algeria and West and Central African countries such as Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and the Congo.

This is a very interesting part of the city to explore, especially if you’ve already experienced many of Paris’s more obvious highlights such as the Eifel Tower, the Louvre, the Champs Élysées etc.

For bearings one could carve up the district as being the triangle with its points the metro stations Barbés Rochechouart, La Chapelle and Château Rouge.

The Rue Goutte d’Or has a couple of good and traditional North African restaurants to eat at. I particularly recommend an establishment called Agad’Or, which serves a substantial portion of Couscous Maison (daily homemade couscous with a soupy vegetable stew with chicken or meat and a medium baguette) for only six euros. Opposite Agad’Or there’s a cheap little boulangerie/patisserie where you can pick up a generous pan au raisin for only a euro. The Rue Goutte d’Or is in many ways the heart of the North African community. The first wave of North Africans arrived at the beginning of the 20th century and a more substantial wave of North African immigrants arrived here in the 1950s (during this time countries such as Morocco and Algeria were French colonies) mainly to work in the automobile industry.

Turning left up ascending Rue Polonceau, on your right there is a hole in the wall Congolese restaurant. I know almost next to nothing about the DRC or the traditional cuisine from that part of the world. Yet I was curious and intrigued. Maybe another time I’ll take a punt on it.

A little further up Rue Polonceau on your right is Rue St Luc which will take you towards the large church St Bernard de la Chapelle. On 23rd August 1996, the church hit international headlines when around 300 undocumented immigrants who had taken refuge at the church (including a few who went on hunger strikes) over a long period of time were expelled by force by the police.

On the corner of Rue St Luc and Rue Cavé, I stumble across a corner art gallery/work space which is currently showing a small but intresting exhibition on the history of public graffiti art in the streets of Paris beginning with the legendary early 1980s French graffiti artist Blek Le Rat who became an enormous influence on later more well known graffiti artists such as Banksy.

On Rue Cavé, there is a lovely lush garden representing an oasis of Eden like tranquility and blissfulness amongst the gritty streets. The street was named after François Cavé, who was a significant figure during France’s industrial development in the 19th century. What’s more, he provided bread to many of the residents of La Goutte d’Or.

If Rue Le Goutte d’Or is the heart of muslim North Africa, Rue Myrha is christian Sub Saharan Africa. Here I spot a small Senegalese hole in the wall eatery called Touba Resto which serves traditional Senegalese dishes daily such as maffe (a delicious peanut based stew), yassa and thieboudienne (the national dish of Senegal consisting of fish, rice and tomato sauce). At no46 Rue Myrha is a small ramshackle shop called Binta which sells herbs, barks and an array of intriguing traditional artisan products from Mali. It is packed to the gills with stuff and I can barely motion my way around especially with my cumbersome rucksack. There are many shops like this including quite a few informal fabric and clothes shops were one can see people sewing and making traditional garments. There is a also a world music shop called Pala Pala Music but unfortunately it was closed.

Walking onto the Rue des Poisonniers and the junction with Rue Dejean is the Marché Dejean with fruit and vegetable traders, fish mongers etc. It is a hive of activity. Around here I also see shops and people from other parts of the French speaking world such as Caribbean countries like Haiti and Guadalupe. This is the area around Chateau Rouge metro station. I find this part of Paris really alive and a great place to just watch life go by. I love the history and the infamous cafés of St Germain and the Left Bank (which I’ll be touching upon in another post) yet here is real life warts and all.

 

Text and images by Nicholas Peart

28th September 2016

(All rights reserved)

 

 

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On the Rue La Goutte d’Or

 

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The Moroccan restaurant Agad’Or

 

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Couscous Maison at La Goutte d’Or

 

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Another North African restaurant also located on Rue La Goutte d’Or

 

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Halal butchers on Rue La Goutte d’Or

 

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Hole in the wall Congolese restaurant on Rue Polonceau

 

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St Bernard de la Chapelle church which police stormed in August 1996 to forcibly remove many undocumented immigrants who for a long time had taken refuge at the church

 

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A beautiful garden oasis on the Rue Cavé.

 

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A Senegalese restaurant on Rue Myrha

 

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Pala Pala world music shop

 

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This shop sells traditional herbs, bark and crafts from Mali

 

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On Rue Dejean in Château Rouge

 

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Château Rouge

 

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Château Rouge

 

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Château Rouge

 

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Haitian shop in Château Rouge

 

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Senegalese and Togo restaurant

Photographs from Bo Kaap

The Bo Kaap district is a fascinating and unique part of Cape Town with an incredibly rich history and culture. It is located on the slopes of Signal Hill, to the west of the city centre. From the top of Bo Kaap on a clear blue day, one is rewarded with an amazing view of the mother city and Table mountain. The first thing that attracts one to this area are its multi coloured period houses, which are a delight to photograph. It’s not uncommon to often see large tour groups and many tourists and travellers with their cameras. I’ve also fallen under its spell.

The residents of Bo Kaap have a very unique, exotic, complex and painful cultural history. When the Dutch first arrived in Cape Town in the 17th century as the Dutch East India company, they brought over slaves from various parts of the world where they had trading posts such as in South and South East Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and other countries in Africa like Madagascar. These slaves were known as Cape Malays (even if many were not of Malaysian descent) and the residents of Bo Kaap are descendants of these slaves. The takeover of the Cape Colony by the British from the Dutch in 1795 and the subsequent abolition of slavery gave the former Cape Malay slaves a newfound freedom including religious freedom. The Bo Kaap area is predominantly Muslim as can be seen by the mosques in the area and the residents refer to themselves as Cape Muslims.

The Bo Kaap is home to some important historical landmarks. The Bo Kaap Museum is the oldest house in Bo Kaap, dating back to the 1760s, still in its original construction. The museum is small but definitely worth a visit. There is a room dedicated to the history of the area. In another room one can watch a short documentary film featuring Bo Kaap Malay residents talking about the history of the area, their experiences of living here and their feelings on how the area is changing. The nearby Auwal Masjid is the oldest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere established in 1794.

If you want to sample some delicious Cape Malay cuisine, Biesmiellah restaurant serves excellent and authentic Malay dishes. The bobotie and prawn curry are very good. Directly adjacent to the restaurant, there is a cheap takeaway place which sells mutton curries and also small snacks like samosas and chilli bites. The Rose Corner cafe is the place to go to buy spices if you want to have a go at making some traditional Cape Malay dishes. The small corner shop called Jordaan Superette close to where I was staying on Jordaan Street sells delicious homemade chocolate biscuits.

In the past few years prices for property in Bo Kaap have been increasing at an unprecedented rate and many of the original Malay families who’ve been living in their houses for generations have been tempted to sell up. Yet many defiantly are staying put not swayed by the increase in value of their homes. On a sunny Sunday afternoon (or any other time of day) you will see local families relaxing by their front yards. If you are in the neighbourhood, a simple ‘salaam alaykum’ greeting goes a long way.

Cape Town Free Walking Tours, located on Green Market Square in central Cape Town, does free walking tours 2-3 times daily and is a fantastic way to get to know the area and it’s interesting history.

During my time in Cape Town, I stayed for close to a week in one of the Bo Kaap houses located on Jordaan street. From there I went for several strolls through the neighbourhood and the result is the many photographs (I hope not too many) I took, which I am featuring below.

 

by Nicholas Peart

6th August 2016

(All rights reserved)

 

 

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The heart of Bo Kaap

 

 

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The heart of Bo Kaap

 

 

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The heart of Bo Kaap

 

 

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Georgian style houses

 

 

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The Bo Kaap museum and the oldest house in Bo Kaap

 

 

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Inside the Bo Kaap museum 

 
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The Auwal Masjid: the oldest mosque in the southern hemisphere established in 1794

 

 

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Keeping up with the Finklesteins

 

 

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Your’s truly

 

 

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Rose Corner Cafe – sells great spices and other Maley culinary delights

 

 

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Biesmiellah Restaurant: excellent Malay Cuisine. Try the bobootie or prawn curry

 

 

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My neighbourhood on Jordaan street

 

 

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My temporary residence

 

 

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Nurul Islam mosque

 

 

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