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Archive for the ‘Trip Reports’ Category

Gross National Happiness

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

It’s incredibly refreshing to be traveling in a country where you’re not

Bhutanese Man Outside Memorial Chorten

Bhutanese Man Outside Memorial Chorten

besieged by begging children; hassled by vendors selling cheap souvenirs; and affronted by shopkeepers who are always  able to offer you a “good” price. And, the locals still enjoy having their photo taken.

Today was an amazing day of experiences as toured around the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu. First we watched part of an exciting archery tournament. Then we visited an art school where children were studying painting, wood carving, sculpture, metal-smithing, embroidery and other art forms.  A stop at the Takin nature reserve gave us a glimpse of the Bhutan national animal which is purportedly a cross between a cow and a goat (it’s a long story). Then it was  visits to the the textile museum, national handicrafts museum, Zilukha nunnery, paper-making factory, Memorial monksChorten and the highlight for me, a visit and walk around the grounds of the Tashichhodzong. We had our first real glimpse of Bhutanese monks and were treated to the sounds of chanting.

All this in one day you say? Even though Thimphu is the largest city, everything is a mere 5 – 10 minute drive away.

The jetlag is catching up with me and I’m off to sleep to ready myself for our upcoming drive to Punakha. We’ll be traversing over the Dochu-La pass (10,000 ft.) and have been promised spectacular views of the Himalayas.

Bhutan..here I come!

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

I’ve been accused of being rather blase about my travels. After traveling Dzong-flowersfor more than 25 years as part of my profession, international is no longer a novelty and I simply take it for granted…until now. Bhutan is a destination that has intrigued me for years and I am completely and utterly excited that I am hoping on a plane tomorrow to head that direction. It’s been interesting to announce this trip to family and friends. First, they usually give me a strange look and either ask “which country is that in?” or “isn’t it over by….” to my most favorite reaction provided by my dad. When I told him I was going to Bhutan…he paused…then asked me where the heck Bamboo was!

The next 12 days will be a whirlwind of long flights, rushed sightseeing, and many, many hotel inspections – all in the preparation of finalizing a special tour itinerary to offer to our alumni and friends in the fall of 2010. I hope to have the opportunity to blog while traveling, so stay tuned!

Home…And Missing India Already

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

img_2184I love traveling and yet, I’m always excited to return home too. It’s such a contradiction to miss some of the little things about home like being able to use tap water and knowing that the electricity will most likely run continuously throughout the day. Yet, once I’m home, it’s these same quirky things I will miss about the country I’ve just visited!

The flights home went well until San Francisco. Due to weather issues there, I missed my Seattle connection by minutes and spent four additional hours there trying to find a nice quiet place to make phone calls to family, friends and colleagues to let them know I’d returned safe and sound. Charlie, my beloved canine companion, was excited to see me and just as expected, led me over to the counter where his treats were kept so that I could begin making it up to him for leaving him for two weeks.

img_2057Already, I miss the chaotic scenes and sounds of India and only hope that some day I will return to explore more areas of this truly incredible country!

The Final Drive

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

img_21881It was incredibly sad saying goodbye to six of our group members last night. They were all getting up very early in order to catch their morning flight to the Maldives where they’d have four nights to enjoy the tropical paradise. Five of us departed later in the morning in a small van for our last experience of India driving. On the way, we stopped at the world’s largest market for the buying and selling of silk cocoons. This explained what was in the huge burlap bags we saw being balanced on bicyles in the area. And one last photo stop…we had not had a chance to photograph one of the beautifully painted ox carts so Sandhya was on the hunt to make it happen. And she did. Of course, the cart was on the highway along with all the cars, trucks, motorbikes, bicyles and pedestrians. All that was missing was a roaming cow.

img_20421I will dearly miss the friendly, kind people of India. It’s very hard to describe how warmly welcome we all felt throughout the entire trip. From the smiling children all hollering “ello ello,” to the assertive street vendors trying to sell us their wares, to every individual we each had the pleasure of meeting…my heart is filled with many memorable interactions. With her encyclopedic knowledge and endless patience, Sandhya was the perfect teacher and host. I’m only disappointed that her “students” often failed to remember everything we learned. I’m using the heat and humidity defense! Our driver somehow managed to take us safely up and down windy roads and through all the confusion of the roads and then also had a smile ready for us when we returned to the bus, along with handwipes – how thoughful! Our bus driver’s assistant (if you’ve ever been to India, you know how vital this person is) assisted in our safe journey and always make sure our bus was clean and comfortable. Finally, my travel companions – enough cannot be said for this fun and img_2164sometimes entertaining group of individuals that accompanied me on this UW alumni trip. Hopefully I will once again have the pleasure of welcoming them aboard another tour.

Well, it’s time to leave for the airport for my grueling flights home. From Bangalore, to Singapore, to Seoul, to San Franciso and then Seattle. Wish me luck!

Coming to an End Soon…

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

img_2075It’s hard to believe that our trip is actually coming to an end soon. We’re in Mysore now and will be celebrating our last night together in just a few hours. This morning, Sandhya spent some time on the bus recapping our last two weeks. Were other travelers also amazed at how much we experienced in such a short period of time?

Incredible India can amaze and frustrate you at the same time and it’s so full of contradictions. One moment we’re driving past a large, modern looking university and the next moment our driver is honking the horn and trying to drive around an oxen driven cart – complete with driver talking on his img_2044cellphone! As we were driving by a village today, I overheard someone say that everything probably looked exactly the same 500 years ago. And yet a few short miles away, you have Mysore, the modern capital of the state of Karnataka. We’ve gotten to know only three of the numerous states in India and they have all been so different. One would need many trips to India in order to truly experience and appreciate all her wonders.

You can imagine my relief that we are all finishing this trip healthy and safe. Not a one of us has had any stomach problems except for the occasional indulgence of too much wonderful food. After the terrorist incidents in Mumbai, I was very pleased that the majority of the original group of travelers continued with the trip. The sentiment expressed by most was that anything can happen anytime and anywhere – such is the world we currently live in. We’ve certainly seen our share of security at our hotels and some of the main tourist sites, but not once has anyone expressed any concern for their safety.

If you were to ask each individual what his or her trip highlights were, pauline-elephantthe answers would most likely vary immensely. One of mine was the blessing I received by a temple elephant. I never imagined how soft an elephant’s trunk would feel on top of my head!

Our Adventure Continues…

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

elephantOn the way to Cochin, Sandhya spotted what she thought might be a special festival taking place at a small temple. Once again we enjoyed a serendipitous stop along the road. It’s been these non-itinerary experiences that have sometimes been highlights of each day. We listened to the temple “band” while marveling at two impressively decorated elephants that were getting ready to be paraded through the community.

When I read that we had a performance of a local martial art on the afternoon’s agenda, I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting anything too exciting…boy was I ever wrong. It turns out that ‘Kalaripayattu’ is a 2,000-year-old martial art that is the forerunner of sunset1Karate, Kung-fu and possibly even yoga. The demonstration kept us spellbound for over an hour and the physical strength and flexibility of the performers were quite incredible.

A sunset cruise, followed by an outdoor, waterside barbeque topped our day.

Enjoying Bird Song While on the Commode

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

img_21151There were twitters of nervous laughter in the group when Sandhya advised us that while our next stop was a 5-star resort, the bathrooms were “interesting.” Imagine our delight in discovering that we all had bathrooms that were exposed to the sky. Rather than going on the 7 a.m. bird-watching walk this morning, all I had to do was sit in the bathroom to enjoy a glorious chorus of incredible bird songs.

No one wants to leave our current home – the Coconut Lagoon. We arrived by boat and cruised up the 007small canal to the reception desk of our eco-tourism resort. Everyone has their own small cottage done up beautifully with old wood and other natural touches. After a marvelous lunch (I overheard one traveler says it’s the best food so far) we enjoyed a few hours of free time and then a relaxing sunset cruise.

pauline-005

Today, our morning was spent cruising the inlets and canals of the backwaters of Kerala and then finally stopping at a private guest house for a cooking demonstration, followed by a delicious lunch.  No one was disappointed that we were free the rest of the day to enjoy the pool, join a walk to the village or even have an ayurvedic treatment. Being a strong believer that massage is good for one’s health, it’s become a tradition of mine to try a local massage in the countries I visit and India was to be no exception.  Well, let’s just say “that” experience is worth a blog posting all by itself!

Elephant Rides & Hip Replacements

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Wow – what an exciting day! Looking back it’s hard to believe that we experienced everything we did all in the space of driving to our next hotel. Our drive took us from the state of Tamil Nadu into the state of Kerala. On the way we stopped to see how local bricks were molded and baked; pauline-0011were surrounded by smiling children with their small outstretched hands each hoping to receive a postcard that one of the couples had brought along to pass out; witnessed the making of rope out of coconut husks; joined a local, roadside “sari ceremony” celebration complete with dancers, drums and women carrying platters of fruit; heard the fireworks that marked the ending of a Sunday church service; cruised on the lake in the Periyar Nature Reserve searching for elusive elephants; and then the highlight – riding on an elephant at a spice farm. We discovered that if you’ve had double hip replacements, you pauline-002probably don’t have the hip flexibility to straddle a rather wide elephant and you risk getting “stuck” in the process. Some of the facial expressions that were made as travelers got onto the elephants were absolutely priceless and we laughed all the way to our hotel. Just another day in South India.