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Having, in several trips, followed the Silk Road from Xian and Urumqi in China across Tajikistan and Uzbekistan our next visit had to be to the Caucuses.  So in May 2019 we purchased an organised tour to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia from ExPat Explore.  If this is all that interests you you might want to skip straight to Azerbaijan. Click here...

 

Geology and pre-history

In geological terms the Caucasus Mountains are very new, resulting of the collision of the Eurasian and Arabian plates that began around 200 million years ago and remains ongoing, generating regular earthquakes and occasional eruptions. The mountains and valleys were glaciated less than 20,000 years ago and are geologically unstable, with high rates of active erosion.  So the rivers run grey with silt and pebbles.

 

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Georgian landforms

 

There are two roughly parallel ranges, like a diagonal slash, with the north-western end on the Black Sea and south-eastern end on the Caspian Sea near Baku.  Since prehistoric times they have created a difficult to cross physical barrier between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. 

In an early anthropological theory, based on linguistics, it was argued that the Caucuses Mountains must be the origin of the 'Caucasian Race'.  Today 'Caucasian' is not considered to be an actual race but a broad medical classification, meaning a white person.  Nevertheless modern genetics seems to confirm that white skin is a relatively recent genetic adaptation, enhancing vitamin D production, allowing humans to first inhabit inland areas of northern Europe and Asia, about 12,000 years ago.  So all of us with white skin might feel some affinity to these lands.

Until the ice melted a little over ten thousand years ago at the end of the last glaciation, the upland areas were effectively uninhabitable by modern humans. The more mountainous areas still experience heavy snow in winter, limiting agriculture to grazing.

Yet the convoluted twists of these mountains created many separate habitable valleys so, in relative isolation, the early inhabitants developed into many separate communities. Today these groups have coalesced, or have been coerced, into a handful of modern countries, each with several ethnic identities.

As fanatical sporting loyalties demonstrate, the human animal is genetically driven, by survival evolution, to join like-minded groups. Over time these mutually supportive groups develop a common language; and with language comes common beliefs and common cultural traditions.

History shows that these divergent groups don't need much encouragement to make war on each other to: capture sustaining resources; to avenge past insults and injuries; or to honour alliances against a perceived common threat.  This is rarely more evident than in the Caucuses.

 

 


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Travel

Hong Kong and Shenzhen China

 

 

 

 

 

Following our Japan trip in May 2017 we all returned to Hong Kong, after which Craig and Sonia headed home and Wendy and I headed to Shenzhen in China. 

I have mentioned both these locations as a result of previous travels.  They form what is effectively a single conurbation divided by the Hong Kong/Mainland border and this line also divides the population economically and in terms of population density.

These days there is a great deal of two way traffic between the two.  It's very easy if one has the appropriate passes; and just a little less so for foreign tourists like us.  Australians don't need a visa to Hong Kong but do need one to go into China unless flying through and stopping at certain locations for less than 72 hours.  Getting a visa requires a visit to the Chinese consulate at home or sitting around in a reception room on the Hong Kong side of the border, for about an hour in a ticket-queue, waiting for a (less expensive) temporary visa to be issued.

With documents in hand it's no more difficult than walking from one metro platform to the next, a five minute walk, interrupted in this case by queues at the immigration desks.  Both metros are world class and very similar, with the metro on the Chinese side a little more modern. It's also considerably less expensive. From here you can also take a very fast train to Guangzhou (see our recent visit there on this website) and from there to other major cities in China. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Skydiving

 

 

On the morning of May1st 2016 I jumped, or rather slid, out of a plane over Wollongong at 14,000 feet.

It was a tandem jump, meaning that I had an instructor strapped to my back.

 


Striding Confidently Before Going Up

 

At that height the curvature of the earth is quite evident.  There was an air-show underway at the airport we took off from and we were soon looking down on the planes of the RAAF  Roulette aerobatic display team.  They looked like little model aircraft flying in perfect formation.  

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Opinions and Philosophy

Australia and Empire

 

 

 

The recent Australia Day verses Invasion Day dispute made me recall yet again the late, sometimes lamented, British Empire.

Because, after all, the Empire was the genesis of Australia Day.

For a brief history of that institution I can recommend Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World by Scottish historian Niall Campbell Ferguson.

My choice of this book was serendipitous, unless I was subconsciously aware that Australia Day was approaching.  I was cutting through our local bookshop on my way to catch a bus and wanted something to read.  I noticed this thick tomb, a new addition to the $10 Penguin Books (actually $13). 

On the bus I began to read and very soon I was hooked when I discovered references to places I'd been and written of myself.  Several of these 'potted histories' can be found in my various travel writings on this website (follow the links): India and the Raj; Malaya; Burma (Myanmar); Hong Kong; China; Taiwan; Egypt and the Middle East; Israel; and Europe (a number).  

Over the next ten days I made time to read the remainder of the book, finishing it on the morning of Australia Day, January the 26th, with a sense that Ferguson's Empire had been more about the sub-continent than the Empire I remembered.

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