Last week I returned home from Swaziland and was horrified when the pilot announced it would be 2 degrees on landing in London. My hopes for good weather for my weekend ahead were further dashed when I got back to Scotland and it was snowing.

My trip had been meticulously planned months ago – a finely tuned schedule between photography assignments on different islands. Incredibly, on my departure from my home town of Drumnadrochit the sun began to shine and soon I began to feel quite warm in the fleece I had decided to wear that day. It was just the start of several days of clear skies and warmth which amounted to 17 degrees and even a bit of sunbathing on the beaches of Morar.

After a beautiful shoot at the standing stones at Callanish on the Isle of Lewis I headed via the stunning beaches of Harris towards my ferry southwards. It would have been a crime not to have stopped and taken a shot at this viewpoint on Harris overlooking Luskentyre beach.

The Calendonion MacBrayne ferry leaves from Tarbert on the Isle of Harris and crosses over to Uig on the Isle of Skye in about 1 hour and 40 mins. With 15 mins to spare before leaving, I nipped out from the ferry queue and managed a quick purchase of a gorgeous Harris tweed coat in the nearby Harris Tweed shop. I dislike like shopping as a rule, but for Harris tweed I can usually make an exception.

I was aiming for catching the evening ferry onwards from Skye to Mallaig that evening but with no particular need to get there quickly and a promising evening for photography on Skye, I decided to stop for the night. The beauty of having a travelling home…

The next morning I got up early, about 5am to the most beautiful, still early morning on the Isle of Skye. Finding a little bay all to myself is my idea of heaven. The sounds of birds and grasshoppers was so clear I had to incorporate it into the little video I made from my journey.

And so finally onto the ferry from Armadale which is in the South of the Isle of Skye and crosses over to Mallaig. It’s a quick way over to the other side for me and an alternative to driving all the way round. Plus, on a day like yesterday, it’s just a real treat to sit back and enjoy the calm waters and sunshine.

Next stop was the silver sands of Morar, known being the setting for the film Local Hero. This is a stretch of mostly connected white sandy beaches with turquoise clear seas along the coastline between Morar and Arisaig.  On a clear sunny day you can feel more like you are on a caribbean island than the west coast of Scotland! I was only due to be in Morar for a small wedding shoot during the day but the weather tempted me to stay one more night, enjoy a fabulous sunset, a rather nice day on the beach and one of the coldest dips in the sea I have had in a while.

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Great result at the Scottish Master Photographers awards in Dunkeld at the end of Feb. I won the Monochrome award, Overall general photographer of the year as well as the main title of Scottish Photographer of the Year 2017.

The best part is that I won these awards with my travel work from India and Loch Ness.

My travel & landscape photography is my real passion in life. I am so driven by it that I spend every spare minute I have working by choice. I choose to spend a lifetime on ferries, freezing cold sitting outside waiting for night timelapses that often fail to produce a decent images, I get up at unearthly hours when the forecast looks good and I spend days alone in my van waiting for the right conditions. It is what makes me feel alive and fulfilled. So when it gets recognised, it’s twice as brilliant for me:-)

Here are the winning images;

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I was delighted to find out that my image of a snowy Loch Ness received a commended award in 2016 Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year. I was out photographing in the midst of a snow storm in Feb 2016 and shot this image just after the snow had stopped. You can see from the way the snow is still lying on the branches how recent it was. It pays to stay out even when it looks like a total white out!

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I was delighted to be asked to be featured in the upcoming edition of Cameracraft magazine for my landscape photography. It is the March / April edition and I love the description they use for the my work;

“Margaret Soraya’s portfolio will get everyone buying flights to Scotland”

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” Outside of a collegiate environment, as adults we still largely obsess to fulfil the idea that living in a constant state of unrelenting work is good.

The obsession is a quiet, subconscious, subtle cultural meme that we all inherently understand as members of our society.

And so we spend a significant portion of our lives tirelessly racing to an imaginary finish under the guise of “productivity” — only to realize that the finish line never comes.

Before long, we forget that life itself is about experiencing the journey — not racing to the finish.

And considering that we take so many measures to prolong the length of our lives and increase the quality of them, wouldn’t it logically follow that we ought to slow down each and every day, and escape this senseless “race” mentality? ”

A quote from Dave Ursillo which I love. So why use it in a post about a trip to Morocco? Simply because the thing that struck me most during my time in Morocco was the attitude of the people towards time. Everywhere you looked locals were standing around in groups, talking, sitting at the side of the road for hours for no apparent reason.

These shots are of the fishermen in Taghazout where we stayed. It soon became clear that only a small portion of their days was spent actually fishing.

I wonder whether we have a lot to learn from Moroccan fishermen…

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There’s nothing like the complete lack of mobile signal and wifi on the Outer Hebrides to make you sit back and just enjoy being.
My favourite place ever is on these remote Islands off the west coast of Scotland. They are a little slice of pretty much undiscovered paradise. Beautiful, empty beaches, fabulous scenes around every corner and unique island feel to every place along the way. I have no idea why so many people have yet to visit. Well, I do and I could guess at the unpredictable weather and having to cross over by ferry. It is these barriers that mean most of the time I get to have my own private beach whenever I go.
I have spent time on all of the hebridean islands and work quite frequently on the Isle of Lewis and Isle of Harris. Mostly, I stay in Harris as I love the beaches down there but this time, my work brought me to stay in Lewis for a few days.
It was straight off the ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway and we headed straight out to Cross in the north of Lewis. I was scheduled to do a shoot for House Beautiful Magazine and we somehow hit lucky with clear blue skies and a hint of warmth in the air. So it was a fun afternoon on the beach photographing the family for the magazine. The forecast was for a clear, cloud free night so I have already decided to head out to Callnaish do try something I have wanted to do for ages. Photograph star trails over the standing stones.
I was beaten to it by another photographer and unable to start unless there was complete darkness, so had a cup of tea and settled down in my van for a while. When he had left, I set up my cameras to run for the next couple of hours and retrieved them at 12pm. One of the issues with star trail photography and Scotland is the cold and dewy air. This ruined the last section of the shoot as the lenses fogged up, but the first part was successful enough to create a fabulous image and also a nice time-lapse movie.
The next morning we woke up to yet another fabulous sunrise. I am pretty sure Lewis didn’t know what had hit it. Maybe just consolation for a summers worth of rain. It seemed a shame to leave when the weather was so good, so we stayed on an extra day and shot at Dalmore beach before heading back onto our ferry home. Till next time!
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Gently swaying in my hammock under the coconut trees I do very little but watch the Arabian sea rolling in and listen to the sounds of the waves mixed with exotic bird calls. The coconut picker is in the garden and he takes out his machete and swiftly cracks a newly picked coconut, makes an opening to drink from and brings it over to me. Whether it’s my empty stomach, the heat or just the freshness of the coconut, this is the best thing I have tasted this year.
I am at Shinshiva in Kerala in the south of India, well known for its Ayurveda retreats. Ayurveda is an ancient Hindu medicine which relies on natural healing methods of body and mind including massage, yoga, meditation, medicated oils, diet, herbs and lifestyle. In fact, at Shinshiva, all medication is home-grown in their own garden. I travelled to India after years of chronic migraines that western medicine has no answer for apart from pills that relieve or suppress symptoms.
During my hours of research in the middle of the night last winter I googled migraine retreat and stumbled across an article written for the Telegraph about Shinshiva. It only had to mention migraine treatment alongside the phrases healing, repeat visitors, debilitating migraines and no migraines since visiting and I was already booking my flight.
I am collected from my hammock by a therapist and taken to my initial consultation with the doctor. A treatment plan is made, followed swiftly by the start of Panchakarma (purification and detoxification ) which is marked by drinking medicated ghee every morning. Yes, it really is as dreadful as it sounds and it gets worse each day as the volume increases and so does the taste memory. Purification begins four days later.
The idea behind this is a cleansing of toxins from the body. Ayurveda has been described as an MOT for the body – a complete oil change. It certainly is that. It is said that you don’t get sick for a long time after visiting and whilst I write this, I realise that I haven’t suffered with a cold since my return last year.
Purification results in astonishing weight loss simply because there is nothing left in my body at the end of the day. Thankfully, that is the worst of it over and after Panchakarma it is time to gently return to healthy eating and just enjoy being in the warm, safe and peaceful grounds of Shinshiva.
 A lady arrives from Germany that night. She is visibly  tired, emotionally wrought and stressed to the max from her life back home. Within days she is transformed physically and emotionally. It is interesting to watch people arrive pale, exhausted, tied up inside with stress and just a few days later they become changed. Many of the clients here are women in their forties and fifties suffering from pain conditions and stress.
One of the wonderful things about the journey here is that Shinshiva is filled with interesting, mostly single, travellers from around the world. It quickly becomes a place where friendships are made as we bond over the experience. There are tales of healing so incredible that they can’t be made up. It is a place for those with an open mind and a willingness to try a different kind of medicine.
 The days begin to follow a pattern now. 6.30am yoga on the terrace overlooking the beach before the heat of the day sets in.
Breakfast for me is pineapple juice. The food is all freshly prepared or squeezed to order here. My whole relationship to food changes over the course of the stay and I leave not only a stone lighter, but with a much healthier outlook on what my body needs.  My favourites include banana curry, mushroom curry, fresh salads and the fruit platters. The food comes out of the kitchen at a decidedly slow pace. But when you have an open air restaurant that overlooks a beach and absolutely no hurry to do anything else and it becomes a pleasure to wait for food. Life slows down here in every single way.
 After breakfast I line up to check in with the doctor and find out when my treatment will be. Treatment is the name given to approx 2 hours of massage by dedicated therapists. You must forget any ideas of western massage and leave your shyness at the door if you are to survive and enjoy the experience. My favourite treatment is Shirodhara where warm oil is continually dripped onto my forehead for half an hour. I am generally asleep within 10 minutes. Good sign? I think so. I am less comfortable with other massages such as an oil bath which is given whilst lying on a wooden table.  But today I am told I am due to have a foot massage. Wonderful – my favourite kind.
My therapist asks me to lie on the mat that is laid out on the floor and I am suddenly a bit confused. She takes a rope that is secured to the ceiling and ties it around her shoulders and I am increasingly confused. As I feel her foot beginning to massage my back very firmly, it all falls into place.
After two to three hours of massage a day my body is beaten into relaxation mode, my hair is resigned to never being oil free again and my mind is more relaxed than it has been in years. Shinshiva is no spa holiday or luxury retreat. But for those who are at the end of their tether looking for answers for pain, suffering from stress or just needing a health boost, it’s worth every penny and every ounce of medicated ghee.
 As my energy returns after purification, I venture out more. I step outside the well secured serenity of Shinshiva and the real India suddenly hits. Hot, dusty noisy roads, continual beeping, scooters weaving in and out, tuc tucs laden with goods, homeless sleeping in the road and ladies making their way to market. I love that it is possible to see real Indian life here and not to be cut off in a resort. I begin a daily walk down to the beach and it is a real treat to step foot in the warm Arabian Sea.
I have waited for almost a year to write down this experience. I always said that I would write about the experience once I’d had time to see if there was any effect. They say that it can take a while for the treatment to work after leaving. I returned home feeling much more vibrant and re energised but still having migraines. Then they started to gradually decrease and two months later, have disappeared.
Coming from chronic weekly migraines, the change has been incredible. I have a belief that western medicine is limited and is failing so many chronically ill people. Specifically those with long term pain conditions, simply because it treats symptoms rather than addressing underlying issues. I write this whole heartedly wanting to encourage those who are at a loss for answers to consider this as a possible route to better health.
Stay at Shinshiva
What I loved about Shinshiva is that you aren’t hugely penalised for being a single traveller. The basic rooms are perfectly fine and are in a larger shared building. Bungalows are a bit nicer and have their own small gardens / terraces and some have better sea views than others. The grounds are peaceful and well maintained with hammocks everywhere to lie under the coconut trees. You can enquire online via their website shinshivaresort
Out & About
Tuc tucs are cheap – it pretty much costs you £1 to go anywhere within half an hour of the area. You can walk down to the beach but it’s a pretty steep hill so if you are having treatments it is better to plan on getting a lift back up. The local main street is about 4 mins walk away and there is an unreliable cash point there which works on some days. Better to bring cash with you if possible. Shinshiva will organise trips out anywhere you’d like to go. If you can get a group together it becomes cheaper. I took a trip down the backwaters twice as it was so relaxing and interesting. Everything is reasonable; a backwaters trip cost appoximately £35
How to get there
Flights go from London to Thiruvananthapuram, mostly with a stop in Dubai. Costing around £390 – £480 and you can fly with Emirates or Air India amongst others. Shinshiva will organise airport pick up and drop off with extreme efficiency.
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