News: Collapsed flyover, Kolkata. 31st March 2016

Collapsed Flyover - Kolkata - 31 March 2016This flyover was under construction in a densely populated area of Kolkata. Early this morning a section collapsed in five seconds and trapped people underneath. Many people came to the rescue and to remove rubble by hand. Large machines could not get near.

So far eighteen people are feared to be dead. The cause is not known and will be investigated. There is a suspicion that the materials used by subcontractors were inadequate; builders say it was an “Act of “God”.

On a recent visit to Central India I saw many other such flyovers being built over the centre of large towns.

The world’s largest chandeliers

Durbar Hall - Scindia Palace - Gwalior

Durbar Hall – Scindia Palace – Gwalior

20 years ago, I discovered that my great-grandfather Henry Elworthy, a farmer’s boy from Devon, emigrated aged 16 to Calcutta in 1864 to work for F &C Osler a top line crystal manufacturer in Birmingham. There are many stories here but this is about the world’s largest chandeliers, installed in the Durbar Hall of Scindia Palace, Gwalior and built by Jayajiroa, Maharajah of Gwalior, in 1874. Of course I had to see them.

Each weighs around 3 tonnes and to test the strength of the roof, the Italian engineer Sir Michael Filose insisted on building a mile long ramp and coaxing 9 elephants on top to roam around for a week! There are 274 lamps in the larger chandelier and spare bulbs have to be made specially in Calcutta. The palace is vast, unusually in the Italianate style, the design researched by Filose by visiting European cities in advance as he had no architectural training. There are 400 rooms, 40 of which are devoted to the Museum.  The courtyard must be at least as large as two football pitches.

Nearly all the lighting, candelabra, and metalwork was supplied by Henry as Osler’s agent for Rajputana and finished in time for a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1875. Our hosts, staff of the Scindia Palace Museum, even turned on the lights for us. Have a look at some of the collection and note the banquet hall with its silver Basset-Lowke railway to take the brandy round after dinner:

Bizarrely I learnt that the great grandson of Filose had visited just three months before. Another world then and now, as ever India continues to surprise.

Durbar Hall with lights - Scindia Palace - Gwalior

With the lights on

Crystal balustrade

Crystal balustrade Colour pics: Jean Thomas





If you haven’t seen it please look at Youtube: “Dr Shashi Tharoor MP – Britain Does Owe Reparations” and then read John Keay’s article about ‘Dreaming Spires..’. Something to think about! As ever I have my views but would be interested to read yours first.

The Salt of the Earth

Postscript to Paris – Saturday 14 November 2015
I posted the unfinished piece about Paris at and went to bed completely drained, despondent and almost desperate for the human race. Now the news is everywhere but at the time I was astonished by the power of the story as it emerged through sound only. Continue reading

Paris – multiple terrorist attacks

As I write this I am listening to the radio at night. Only two hours ago there was a report of a shooting in a restaurant close to the Stade de France where France was playing in a friendly football match against Germany. Several people were shot dead, currently believed to be 40.

Since then there have been five more shootings across Paris and it seems like a coordinated terrorist attack. Continue reading

Snow Leopard


Snow Leopard, Darjeeling

There are just a few thousand snow leopard left and mainly distributed along the Himalaya, they are endangered. A few years ago I was taken round the Himalayan Mountain Institute in Darjeeling by a young experienced mountaineer, he has retired now because he has a son and his wife says he must be responsible. This has not diminished his enthusiasm and he gave a very stimulating tour of the museum. At the time the snow leopard conservation project was well under way but not open to the public although I was allowed access to see the Red Panda and this wonderful leopard. The site is open to visitors except for the breeding section. Here is a link that gives current information about Project Snow Leopard.


As I awoke today Sky news announced a massive earthquake somewhere in Pakistan, Afghanistan and North India. Clearly this was a big one and as it turned out during the day the epicentre was near Jurm, Badakhshan, Afghanistan and recorded as 7.5 on the Richter scale. It was enough to stop the Metro in New Delhi for fifteen minutes, 1200 miles away, but much more seriously at least 280 people nearer to the source have been killed so far. That number is likely to increase.

With the wonders of modern Internet, when it’s working in North India, we were able to establish within just a few minutes that our friends in Kashmir were safe.


Nepali family - PatanI heard last night that much of the Durbar square in Patan had been smashed in the appalling earthquake that hit Nepal recently. Anyone who has been to this extraordinary land-locked country will have been impressed by its beauty, the generosity of the people and the dire poverty.

Let us hope that the many international tourists and world heritage organisations will dig deep to restore as much as possible of this amazing place. Here is just one photograph of a typical family who are bound to have been affected.


Loot is an Indian word and William Dalrymple has just published an excellent article in the Guardian about a part of the brutal looting reign of the [English] East India Company. He cleverly links this with modern India and worlwide multinationals. A new book is promised next year.

Carving against the grain

Num panel and detailHouseboats are serious business in Srinagar, Kashmir and in two senses. In good times they are full and profitable but in the 20-year conflict they were largely left to decay. Then there is the puzzling law. No new houseboats are allowed at all and repairs are bounded by heavyweight bureaucracy, even a permit from Central Government. Meanwhile many of these iconic boats are starting to decay.

Recently there have been newspaper articles about the decline in woodcarving which is a major feature of these boats – “Kashmir’s famed woodcarving a dying art” says one paper. I have witnessed the resurrection of one of these boats and so here are some illustrations for the record.

The num or verandah on Mascot 1 Continue reading

Trip to Mohra: part 1

It has been some fifteen months since my first and brief visit to Kashmir. In the meantime there were the disastrous floods but now it is autumn the light is bright, the chinar trees have turned a purplish red colour and there is mist over the water in the morning rising to a gentle haze across the valleys. Continue reading