Indonesia Tour part 2- Denpasar to Surabaya

After a short plane ride we landed in a place I had never heard of before: Denpasar. It is located on the island of Bali and serves as its international airport. It is a gateway to Indonesia. After all of the paperwork the Israeli passport holders had to do in preparation, we were a bit concerned as to how much bureaucracy we would meet. Answer: NONE. We showed our passports and proceeded to baggage claim. From there we walked a might distance (at least a kilometer, most likely two) to the domestic terminal for our flight to Surabaya. There actually were complimentary shuttles, but we walked.

Arriving in Surabaya, I had no idea what to expect- certainly not a beautiful hotel- spotlessly clean with gigantic, well-appointed rooms. Surabaya is on the eastern end of the island of Java, the same island where the capital, Jakarta is located. However the distance between the two is  662 kilometers (411 miles). Our tour did not take us to Jakarta.

Surabaya was the location of the only official synagogue in Indonesia. The synagogue was built in 1948 and demolished in 2013. On its site stands a 17-story hotel.

What brought us to Surabaya was the chance to see Mount Bromo, one of many active volcanos- this one able to be reached by horse and climbing steps. On our way, we stopped in a typical Javanese Indonesian village.

Mount Bromo is beautiful!

We traveled to the Mount Bromo area by jeep since the approach is across a long stretch of sand- which we accessed on horseback.

Then we climbed about 200 steps- on uneven rocks covered with ash from a recent eruption (2 weeks before!) Getting to the top was a real accomplishment!

Walking down was no easier…

By the time we returned to the hotel we were exhausted. But we were looking forward to our next day’s flight to Yogyakarta

Indonesia Tour

If you are an American- or if you come from pretty much any country but about 8 in the world, you can fly directly to Indonesia and enter with no problem. However, if you are an Israeli with only an Israeli passport, there is a significant amount of paperwork that must be done in advance. In addition, one cannot just arrive in Indonesia. One must fly to at least one intermediate spot and have your passport processed and the visa affixed at the local Indonesian embassy, and then you can enter Indonesia. Although for our fellow travelers who had only Israeli passports it was a bit of a hassle, for us, it meant that we would be spending two days in Singapore- a place we had visited before and really enjoyed.

Singapore is clean, beautiful, and well run. People are happy, polite, and helpful. We visited a few wonderful sites there- although we had been before to the orchid garden, it is such a magical place that returning there was a real treat.

We also loved visiting the Jurong Bird Park where we saw magnificent birds from all over the world- most flying free in huge cages that went on for tens of meters or more.

We went to Marina Bay where we saw the famous “Merlion,” symbol of Singapore.

and the architecturally fascinating Marina Bay Sands Hotel/Casino/Convention Center, designed by Moshe Safdie (the same man who designed our city, Modiin.)

We ate at the Chabad restaurant and saw the beautiful synagogue center. And we visited Gardens By the Bay- an enormous park containing two huge glass buildings filled with trees and plants and flowers from all over the world. It’s mind boggling!!

But after two magnificent days, it was time to take off for Indonesia and really begin our adventure.

India

So many times when I say that we lead tours to India, I get the response from people that they don’t have any desire to go to India. They tell me that it’s dirty, smelly, and the people live in poverty. They have never been there, but they “know.” I, who have been there by now about 15 times, know a bit more.

The landscapes in India are breathtaking- from the foothills of the Himalayas in the north to the rich farmland of Punjab, to the rugged desert climate of Rajasthan, to the exquisite backwaters of Kerala. There are palaces and fortresses of unbelievable beauty. But all of this is just the background to India. Because India is its people- their love of life, their kindness, their smiles, their caring, their gentleness. The women in their modest clothing are almost regal- whether they are dressed in gold and diamonds for an extravagant wedding or whether they are working in the fields or carrying filled baskets on their heads.

But mostly it’s their kindness, their devotion, their caring. They live happily among roaming cows and bulls and buffalo, monkeys, dogs, peacocks. And just as we see when we visit the Galapagos, the animals are for the most part calm and quiet because they are not threatened.

The people we work with in India have become like our family. They are warm and friendly and accepting of us. They are respectful of our religious needs, helping us without having to be asked.

So as I sit here for – how many weeks has it been?- in my living room and think about what I miss most, my first answer is, of course, my children, grandchildren, and extended family- and my second answer is my family in India.

Jodhpur

Jodhpur is a city in the Indian state of Rajasthan, the land of palaces and maharajas. It is known as the “Blue City” because houses of the Brahmans, the highest caste in India, were painted blue. From the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort which was, of course, also a palace, once can look down upon the city and see all of the blue homes.

In addition to the fort, there is a magnificent white Cenotaph, a building dedicated to the memory of one of the Maharajas. Indians are traditionally cremated and their ashes spread in the water of a river- so there are no actual tombs in this memorial area. There are some exceptions to the rule of being cremated- chiefly little children, very pious people, and those with communicable diseases. There is a very interesting article on it here:

Jodhpur has a number of famous products. Among them are fine textiles and spices. Some of the finest Masala spices are mixed and sold in Jodhpur. You can read about the spice girls of India here.

Mehrangarh Fort

Mehrangarh Fort

Detail of the Fort

Detail of the Fort

An inner courtyard

An inner courtyard

A Miniature painting

A Miniature painting

This type of painting was called a miniature not because of its size, but because of the fineness of its detail. This is an art form that is Rajasthani.

A ceiling in one of the rooms

A ceiling in one of the rooms

Inside the palace

Inside the palace

The Blue City

The Blue City

Dreamy Landscape

Dreamy Landscape

The Cenotaph from the outside

The Cenotaph from the outside

Inside the Cenotaph

Inside the Cenotaph- note the sun coming through the translucent marble!

There is so much more to see, but we must go on to our next destination…

 

 

Incredible India!

What do you think about when you hear “India?” Most people think of the Taj Mahal- a dreamy, almost mythical place. Some people think of dirt and poverty. I was one of those who had no desire to visit India, but when my husband and I found ourselves with round trip tickets to Mumbai, how could I say no?

What a surprise I had! Our three week tour of India not only filled me with the most magnificent sights and sounds, but introduced me to a culture and people who were so very special that all I could think of was how much I wanted to return.

Being tour guides, we are among the luckiest people in the world… the company that arranged our tour, India Kosher Travel,  was willing to hire us to lead tours to India!

I want to share with you some of the amazing places we visit and sights we see on our tours to India.

Our tour begins in Udaipur, a very beautiful city in the state of Rajasthan, that is blessed with lakes and gardens and a magnificent city palace. It is the former capital of the Mewar Kingdom. Because of the beauty of the city, it has become a favorite resort of the Indian people as well. Some of the most magnificent and extravagant weddings take place there- using the City Palace and an island in Lake Pichola as venues for the wedding- both of which are lavishly decorated for the weddings by hundred of people. These weddings are attended by thousands of guests and the partying goes on for days!

Entering the City Palace

Entering the City Palace

Mural on the wall of the City Palace

Mural on the wall of the City Palace

On Lake Pichola

On Lake Pichola

Lake Pichola from Maghar Ghat with a view of the Monsoon Palace

Lake Pichola from Maghar Ghat with a view of the Monsoon Palace

Fountain in garden in Udaipur

Fountain in garden in Udaipur

Next time- traveling to Jodhpur!!!

TaVan, Vietnam- once again

I previously wrote about TaVan, Vietnam, here. After the story I wrote in 2009, I received a letter commenting on that posting. I wrote about it here

The correspondence with Eddie about Tu, pictured below
Tu

led to a friendship, albeit over the internet, with Eddie, who has a homestay home, Lucky Daisy, in TaVan, near SaPa, Vietnam. He also has a delightful coffee house, Buffalo House, in the village of TaVan where he and his beautiful wife provide coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and the warmest, friendliest experience you can imagine.

I stopped there with my group a couple of weeks ago and although Eddie was away, his sweet wife, Hien was a most gracious hostess who offered me a very special surprise…

Tu today

Tu, all grown up, and her precious baby!

Guilin 2

On our way to YangShuo, we pass rice fields. Depending on the time of the year, they are watery patches, watery patches with a few blades sticking up, verdant lush green, yellowing at the top (almost ready for harvesting), or just harvested fields. They are exquisite no matter what the time of year. This one is partially harvested.

Rice fields

Rice fields

Once in YangShuo, we board a boat for a cruise on the Li River which has some of the most beautiful, breathtaking views of anywhere on earth.

Li River

Li River

Li River

Li River

We return to West Street for some really excellent shopping. Here it is before the tourists arrived.

IMG_0136-1

One of the other places we go when we visit Guilin is Longsheng where we see the rice terraces and two groups who are counted among China’s 55 ethnic minority people.

Rice terraces

 

 

Here we see one of the Yao women, known for their long hair, demonstrating how she piles her floor-length hair on top of her head!
Doing her hair

next step

Finished!

Come join us on this or one of our other fabulous trips!

Guilin

I was shocked to find that I never wrote a post about Guilin! Guilin is one of the gems of China. A small(by Chinese standards) city, located in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, it has a population of about 600,000 with an urban area of about 4 million. I is the home of many of China’s 55 ethnic minorities which make up about 7% of China’s population.

Guilin’s income comes mostly from tourism, and a look at its sights explains why. It is a beautifully landscaped city, named “Forests of Osmanthus” after its city flower, the osmanthus. Osmanthus flowers are used to make perfumes and wines.
One of the most famous places in Guilin is Elephant Trunk Hill.

Elephant Trunk Hill

Elephant Trunk Hill


There are a number of other sights nearby that are fun to see
The Elephant Bridge

The Elephant Bridge


Elephants to ride on

Elephants to ride on


There are a number of lakes in the city. Over them are a variety of bridges and the area around them is landscaped beautifully. People love the sun and moon pagodas by day
Moon and Sun Pagodas

Moon and Sun Pagodas


and by night.
Moon and Sun Pagodas

Moon and Sun Pagodas


Although they look very ancient, both were built in the 1990s and are not real pagodas, but places where one can go to the top to look out or eat dinner.
Another beautiful sight in Guilin is the Reed Flute Cave, a magnificent cave that resulted from the Karst formation that is all around the city.

Inside the Reed Flute Cave

Inside the Reed Flute Cave


New York skyline inside the cave

New York skyline inside the cave


Of course we can’t leave out the gorgeous YaoShan, Yao Mountain. The chairlift to the mountain is 20 minutes of relaxation and beauty!
Chair lift to Yao Mountain

Chair lift to Yao Mountain


View at the top

View at the top


From Guilin we love to travel to YangShuo and from there take a cruise on the Li River. It is beautiful! On the way, we see rice fields. But more about that next time…

Trek 2013 – Tsetang Tibet, Day 3

We woke up in the morning to another beautiful day in Tsetang.  However, before we finished breakfast, it had already started raining.  It was a fairly light drizzle, so aside from needing to wear our rain gear, it didn’t interfere with the day.

And an amazing day it was!

We started off at Traduk Temple, an 8th century temple and monastery.  It was finely decorated.  Having been destroyed and refurbished many times over the years, the wall mural is only about 20 years old.
Wall mural

While researching the temple, I found this wonderful video (click on the word “video”) of the restoration showing the traditional Tibetan way of working on such structures.  Tibetans have songs they sing for specific types of work and in this clip, you see them working almost as if they were a chorus line of singers and dancers in a show.  It is not a performance.  It is how they work!

Later we went on to Yumbulagang Palace. It is the first palace built in Tibet, according to legend, in the 2nd century BCE. Tibetan folklore holds that the first Tibetan king Nyatri Tsenpo was seen descending in this valley from a ladder from heaven. Herdsmen told the story and he became the first king. Over time, the palace retained its significance and it became the summer palace of the 33rd king Songtsen Gampo and his wife, the Chinese princess Wencheng.
The palace

Riding up to the palace

The palace was high on a hill and the local people took advantage of the opportunity to profit. There were horses that one could ride to the top, guided by the people who owned them. Sadly, never having sat upon a horse, I had no clue as to how to mount one, and so after I almost caused the poor animal to fall on his side, I decided to walk up the mountain. My faithful husband and a few of our travelers walked with me, but most went up by horse. You can probably see them in the distance in the picture above.

The palace

The rooms inside serve as places of religious rite and pilgrimage rather than as rooms in which people dwelled. However, we did see some monks having soup, noodles, and yak butter tea in some of the rooms.

Here we are on the mountain with the palace behind us. Our raincoats were bought for us by kind travelers on a former tour who wanted to be able to find us in a crowd.

From the top of the mountain we were able to see the first cultivated field in Tibet. It is called Zortang. It is considered to be a very special field and until this day, there are farmers who will sprinkle soil from Zortang on their own fields to ensure a good harvest.

Here is Zortang

Zortang

and yes, it is small.

Later in the day we made our way to Lhasa. But that’s a story for another day.

Trek 2013 – Tsetang Tibet, Day 2

On our second day in the Tsetang area, we went to visit a Buddhist Temple, something we did quite a lot on this tour. Although one may think that they all look alike, we were amazed to see real differences among them. But we didn’t even have to get to the temple to begin enjoying our Tibetan adventure that day.

As we drove along the road, we saw a cow beauty pageant. Well, of course, not really, but we did see cows adorned in various manners. We thought it interesting and picture-worthy.

Cow fashion show IMGP0911 IMGP0912 IMGP0914 IMGP0917

Of course, it was only after we all had taken our photos that our local guide explained that many of those who owned the cattle were involved in other labor- whether farming or construction or any of a number of jobs, and that they hired people to tend their cattle while they were at work. The adornments on the cattle were to identify the ownership!

After a short ride, we arrived at the Samye Monastery. It was located in a small town. We saw people approaching the monastery and temple with offerings. Mostly they had either thermoses filled with yak butter or vegetable oil that would be burned in the temple or with grains that were burned outside of the temple.

Women walking toward the temple

At the time I photographed them, I didn’t even realize that the woman in the foreground had a parrot on her hand! Notice the aprons in the front of the skirts. This is the dress of the Tibetan women. The skirts all have attached striped aprons. These are for married women only.

Waiting by the entrance

Here are some people waiting by the entrance. Notice that one has a stick on which there is a circular attachment. This is a portable prayer wheel. Every time the wheel turns, it is as if the prayers on it have been said.

Inside the fence

The Samye Temple

Here are the offerings being burned… such an unpleasant odor in a place where the air is otherwise so very clear and clean.
Burning the grains

Here is a look at the wall surrounding the temple/monastery complex. At the top are miniature stupas! A stupa is a structure in which there are sacred relics, often the ashes of monks. I assume these were for decoration and did not contain any relics.

Wall with stupas
This is the town just outside Samye Monastery. Notice that although it is far from any large area of population, they took pains to make sure that it has the appearance of a traditional Tibetan town including intricate artwork and attention to detail.

Samye

a door

And a taste of home in Samye, Tibet

Holyland brother restaurant

Next time: the Teletubbies visit the first palace in Tibet. Don’t miss it!

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