Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Gardens (Better Late Than Never II)

Alright I definitely have to get more organised about posting my photographs after a session/trip… Because here we go again. Posting from the back log – This time from my visit to the Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Gardens (again sometime in 2016 while I was living in England). Hopefully from now on I learn my lesson and post more regularly. As a bonus though, this post is particularly Otter-heavy… So gets ready for the awwwws : D

Compared to the other Wildlife Parks and Zoos I had occasion to visit the Cotswolds was definitely one of the better ones. Being somewhat out in the country meant that it had large spaces and bigger enclosures for most of the animals, and a really large selection too. Though if you’re a “completionist” like me be sure to pack a lunch and some comfortable walking shoes, because it will take you all day to check out the park… and there are many animals you’ll want to visit repeatedly depending on the time of day.

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Chester Zoo – March 2015 (Better Late Than Never?)

Pardon the date in the post. As it should make evident, I took these pictures a while back on a visit to Chester Zoo in England. The trip was a fun from what I recollect. Unfortunately it was also cold and shaky hands make for bad photography. So while it was somewhat memorable, it wasn’t all that successful.

Still I’ve picked out a few worth publishing from the batch. Certainly a few gems in there I’m happy to add to the collection. Hopefully next time, if there ever is one, I’ll do the Zoo and its “Islands” justice.

I wish I had more to say on the visit. But time and other factors nudge me away from reminiscing. So hopefully these few shots speak for themselves.

What A Marwell-ous Day At the Zoo

Right, well, another Zoo post… I’m really making a habit of these aren’t I? Well… No regrets!!! : D

Here are some of my favourite shots from a visit to Marwell Zoo, in the English county of Hampshire. Tickets were quite affordable, compared to say ZSL, but then it was quite a drive away to get to. It wasn’t the sunny day one hopes for on a visit to the Zoo, but then it is England ; p

Quite honestly, Marwell was amazing. The animals had great enclosures and I’m sure during the summer it must be quite a sight to see many of them roaming in shared habitats. If you love near by or are planning a trip in that direction, take a day and go. You won’t regret it.

A Day at Whipsnade Zoo

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog you’ll know that I like, once in a while, to try my hand at photography. Now, I am by no means a professional. Barely even an amateur. But I do manage to get the odd picture or two that I can look at years on and feel quite pleased with.

One of my favourite things in the world to photograph is animals, and while I’d much rather photograph them in the wild, being a city a boy I rarely get the opportunity. So it is a delightful treat when I convince a friend to accompany me to the local Zoo.

Knowing of my love for the furry, slimy, scary and cuddly, a very dear friend decided to take me to Whipsnade Zoo, located in Bedfordshire. And I must say, if you haven’t been, you really should try to get out there. It is just breathtakingly gorgeous and seeing so many of the animals roaming in their large enclosures really warmed my heart. Many of the smaller herbivores were even roaming free about the whole compound, which was an especial treat! It may not be the great plains and jungles many of them are accustomed to, but it’s nice to see them being treated well. Or as well as can be hoped.

I hope some of these pictures inspire you to patronise this establishment for yourself. And take it from me, if you’re a real animal buff, get the ZSL Membership – 3 trips to either Whipsnade or the London Zoo and it’ll have paid for itself.

Paging Mr. Fish… An Evening at the London Aquarium

After many months of planning to do so, my friend and I finally made it to the London Sea Life Aquarium, located on the seemingly ever buzzing South Bank of the River Thames. Often when you build up something in your head, especially if it is a fond childhood memory, you’re in for some disappointment… But not this time! Despite a rather interesting episode where we were quickly ushered out of the building due to a “fire alarm going off”  (I have my doubts – especially because of the constant PA announcements for “Mr. Fish” to “come to the telephone” – that’s gotta be employee code!) we had a brilliantly exciting time exploring the rather extensive collection of sea and amphibious creatures at the Aquarium. We even topped off the whole adventure with a carousel ride (my first in like a decade!) and a jaunt through the rain to a whiskey house that ended up being closed.

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It’s Adventure Time!

No matter how much time you’ve spent in London, there are always new things to learn about this amazing city, and one very interesting way to do it is with the ‘Alternative London Tours’ offered by Insider London.

Yesterday the brand new batch of LUIP Student Ambassadors and the few of us from last year who are staying on as alums had the most terrible fun running about the city on our very own amazing race style adventure. Engaging both our minds and our sense of discovery, it was a most memorable and mirth-filled day – even the lack of sun and healthy dose of English rain couldn’t dampen our spirits as we ran about investigating clues, snapping pics and incessantly tweeting.

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Sunny Sunday Stroll

What better way to spend a beautiful day like today than walking around London basking in the sun! So that’s what my friend and I decided to do. We began our journey at the Soho Flea Market where we briefly enjoyed a performance by duo Lilygreen and Maguire (who were quite wonderful) before getting some tasty milkshakes at Ed’s Diner. From there we meandered about Trafalgar Square, walked up to Buckingham Palace (which is a lot smaller than I remember!) and then walked through beautiful Green Park. I managed to get some nice shots so I thought I’d share them before I lie down for a nice lazy sunday siesta : )

A Plea Against Fear

Mere hours ago a stranger walked up to me on the street and threatened to kill me.

A provocative way to start a story I know, but I’m not really in the mood to sugarcoat this. Walking along with my earphones in I was enjoying a pleasant walk from my friend’s place to the bus stop when a man in a blue hoodie approached me and began to say something. I paused my music so as to inquire what he was saying. He began to ask me if I was “That f**ker’s brother?” Unsure what he was talking about, I simply replied “No”. He then began to walk away, but no sooner had he taken a few steps ahead that he turned around and began to berate me once again. “You’re one of those c*nts that killed that guy didn’t you?” he said, “You think you’re gonna get me?!” I was speechless. I have had “encounters” before when people have made derogatory comments in my direction, but they have usually been in passing, usually by someone who has had one pint too many. But this man did not seem intoxicated, he seemed angry. He repeatedly lunged at me while repeating accusations that I was “one of those arabs that did that thing“. When I replied that I was Indian, he retorted, “You got the same f**kin brown skin don’t you, you f**kin c*nt!” At this point I slowly started backtracking as he angrily walked on. The last words he yelled at me, as he thankfully kept on in the opposite direction, were “You better watch yourself. Because I am going to slit your f**kin throat.”

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You ARE Welcome – Why Aspiring Students Need To Re-Think Not Applying To The UK

Last month the BBC news, through a correspondent in Mumbai, did a piece stating that more students from India are re-thinking coming to the United Kingdom to study because “[They] don’t feel welcome”. Now its true that frequent (or at the least more frequent than preferable) changes to Visa rules and the recent problem with the London Met has led to a feeling that coming to the UK to study as a full-time student may be more trouble than its worth. Well on behalf of myself and other students studying here in London, I’d like to tell you that this is not the case, but I do agree that the process for applying for a Tier-4 Student Visa can be quite frustrating, so here are a few tips from my own experience to help you along the way – a lot of these tips may apply to you specifically for Post-Graduate Degrees or if you’re coming from India, but even if you don’t fall in those categories, read through, hopefully they will help:

  1. Get Ready Early: Most of you will hear from your desired Universities between January-March, so that actually gives you a lot of time to get your application ready, but most of us tend to think, “arre yaar, bohat time hai!” (Aww man, there’s plenty of time) and we let a lot of the stuff slide till a month or so before our Term starts. Don’t! There are some documents which you need to get closer to the application date, such as your Bank Statements and Health Certificates, but get the rest of it done early and you’ll be a lot less stressed later on.
  2. Clarify your doubts: In India the applications are not made directly to the Embassy, rather you go to a collection agency that accepts the documents and passport on your behalf and then forwards them to the Embassy. The problem here is that the people looking through your documents when they collect them aren’t going to make any decisions, and they may not actually know the specifics of each required document. So if you’re not sure if something is just right, email the Embassy early on and ask for clarification. In my experience, they are quite about responding, but since they probably get bogged down by a lot of queries around the same time, make sure and give them enough time to respond.
  3. Read the Fine Print: The consideration process, unfortunately, is very detail strict. That is to say, that it works on a point/list system – so if a document isn’t exactly how it’s supposed to be you might get an automatic rejection. Now there is an appeal process, so it can be corrected, but prevention is better than cure. I was rejected myself because the required funds were in the account I linked to my application for 20 instead of the required 24 days – you can imagine that I was quite peeved about this – don’t let it happen to you.
  4. Dealing with D.U: Dealing with the bureaucratic procedures of Delhi University or one of the many other Universities in India,can be a bit slow and annoying. So remember to apply for the required provisional degrees or certificates right away, should something go wrong and you need to re-apply.
  5. Back-Track: My approach to dealing with deadlines is to look at the final one and then move backwards in terms of what I need to do and how long it will take. Try this. Make a timeline so you can track your progress and know what needs to be done. And put it down on paper – I’m sure you’ve got a great memory but at some point something will fall through the cracks and you’ll just end up shooting yourself in the foot.
  6. Don’t Panic: The worst thing that you can do to yourself is freak out. Just be sure to read all the information thoroughly and make sure your documents are in the proper formats and proper letterheads. Make a list so you can tick stuff off – trust me, it’ll help you feel more prepared as the process continues. Keep everything together and create bundles so you don’t end up tossing your room around last-minute. And breath.

But it’s not just about the Visa – You should also know what you’re through the process for. Studying in the UK, particularly in London, can be a very rewarding and eye-opening experience. And there are many reasons to come study here, some of which you may not have considered, but may be more important than you know – some of these may be targeted specifically at Law students, as I myself am currently doing my LLM at Queen Mary, University of London and so that is the experience that I’m speaking from:

  1. Cultural/Social Life: London has an infinite amount to offer when it comes to Music and the Arts. It has several Museums that are dedicated to niche topics and issues, which may give you an outlook you never encountered before. It has a host of venues that offer something for everyone, making it easy to immerse yourself in new cultures and experiences. And there’s really no point going abroad to study if you don’t make this an important part of your time – don’t just go to a new country to bury your head in a book – live and grow!
  2. Networking: The exciting part of studying in a Metropolitan city is that you will have access, both through and independent of your university/college, to immense networking opportunities. As a student of the University of London you have free access to several events every month, whether they are organised by your own college or one of the other ones. These can be a great place to meet people from various backgrounds/jurisdictions, which not only provides you with perspectives towards your field you may have not considered before, but future professional also contacts from around the globe.
  3. A Cure for Homesickness: London has a significant Indian, Pakistani and Bengali presence, so if you feel homesick or want to celebrate your favourite religious or cultural rites or just want some authentic native cuisine, you will not go wanting. Walking around in Southhall you’d almost forget that you weren’t back home in India and the city even had an immense Diwali celebration in Central London last year – I suppose these are the benefits of having had a vast number of Indians migrate here during/after the British Raj ; p
  4. Working Opportunities:One of the main complaints that people are making is the changing of the Visa rules that earlier allowed Indian students to stay on in the UK for two years to look for work post-study. Admittedly this is a significant factor, but people are under the wrong impression that the UK has taken away the opportunity all-together. Students can still apply to stay on by changing their Visa from a Tier 4 to a Tier 2 visa and they need not fly back home to do so. Yes it is more difficult than earlier but Prime Minister David Cameron, during his recent trip to Mumbai, assured the public that genuine students wishing to come to London to study would be given Visas and also allowed to stay on if they secured proper employment.
  5. Getting Around: London has one the best public transport systems in the world. From 6 am to about 12:15 am you can easily get to any part of the city using the intricate system of Underground or Overground lines. And if you’re out having a late one with friends, no need to worry, certain bus lines run 24 hours so no matter which part of the city you’re at, you can still get home safely – having taken the bus home at 4 am more often than I’d like to admit, I can vouch for that ; p
  6. The People: Possibly the most important – the people here are friendly and considerate. Sure they have their eccentricities, as any culture does, and you need to learn the everyday etiquette or you may annoy someone – but other than that people are always happy to hear you out and point you in the right direction. Coming specifically to the LLM Department at Queen Mary, they were immensely helpful in getting us settled in and helping us ease into our courses. The college provides a lot of academic and non-academic support and they make it a concern to make sure that students don’t get bogged down or fall through the cracks.
  7. Opportunity to Travel: Another great thing about studying in the UK is that the rest of Europe is just a bus or train ride away. Yes you have to get a Schengen Visa, but it’s not that difficult if you’re residing here full-time. I recently applied for an Irish Visa and got in just 7 days. I was even exempted from making any payment. Later this year my friend and I are planning to go through France, Italy, Spain, Hungary and the Netherlands on a proper back-packing trip – I can’t wait!

Well I don’t want to prattle on forever. I hope I’ve given you prospective applicants out there some food for thought. It’s understandable that a lot of people are going to Australia or the US for their degrees now, but personally I’m really happy I made the decision to come to London. I just feel so much more at home here. And its close enough that once in a while my family from back home still comes and visits. Good luck to all you applying for your visas. And remember – Relax! : )

What Are The 39 Steps?

Based on the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock (which in turn was adapted from a novel by John Buchan) The 39 Steps, playing at the Criterion Theatre, is just simply brilliant, both conceptually and in its execution.

The entire cast comprises of only 4 people playing scores of roles. It is genuinely baffling to see them move with such lightning speed and never once miss a beat. Using fast costume changes and excellent comic timing the players keep the stage in constant movement, giving the play a quick pace that is enjoyable and at the same time creates a sense of action and drama. The script is genuinely witty and it doesn’t have to stretch very far to get a laugh. The combination of comic timing and straight-faced humor had me in fits for most of the 100 minutes of run time. But even though the plot revolves around murder, espionage and mystery, that doesn’t prevent the players from breaking the fourth wall once in a while and including the audience on the joke – a technique that if used minimally and subtlety can be good for quite a few roars.

The most remarkable thing about the play (apart from the 4 player cast) is the amount they manage to do with as little as they use. There are no set changes to speak of. Each new scene is set with the use of props, which there aren’t that many of. Brilliantly, the actors themselves do the work of generating most of the “special effects” – no wind machines, just sound effects and actors flapping their jackets; no elaborate props, just four chairs and a steering wheel to simulate a car – at times it almost feels like the plays we used to put up in college, with little or no budget. The difference of course is they have an amazing way of playing along with the joke, which makes it all the more easier to appreciate the scene and laugh along.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Hitchcock references, or shall I say homages. Some are quite evident, for example when someone looks straight at you and says “Vertigo!” but others are possibly a little more subtle. Keep and eye and an ear out for them when you go see the show.

And you simply must go see it. To quote the official site “Book Now and avoid incredible disappointment” The 39 Steps

An amusing story to close with – The friend who I went to the show with got herself some ice-cream in the interval, as she always does. The only flavor they had was “Hazelnut and Caramel”, which didn’t sound too appealing to her, but she was coaxed into trying it. After trying it myself I turned to her and said, “that just tastes like Butterscotch”, to which she responded, “Oh my god you’re right. It does… Maybe they don’t have Butterscotch in England, maybe Hazelnut and Caramel IS Butterscotch”. I was so amused I just had to share this brilliant observation!