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.

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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.

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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!

Trek 2013 – Tsetang Tibet

We arrived in Tibet fairly early in the day. Unfortunately, seven suitcases- including all four of ours- didn’t. While we were trying to find the right office in the airport, we found our guide, Jim. Jim was our guide throughout or journey in Tibet and to say he was excellent would not even give you a hint as to how good he was.

Jim had never guided a kosher group before and so when my husband started explaining our requirements in terms of being in the kitchen at all times when food was being prepared, using our own utensils, cutting boards, pots, pans, etc. etc., he had a bemused expression. It turned out that his bemused expression was one that we saw a lot both in relation to us and in relation to the other Tibetans and Han Chinese people we encountered throughout the time in Tibet. His light and easy manner, his warmth and bemusement served all of us very well going through the numerous checkpoints, negotiating with the kitchen staff, and helping us deal with hotel reception desks. He was completely with us from very early in the morning until very late at night with never a word of complaint. He was willing to help us in any way we needed him. Having him with us was a wonderful gift.

The first thing he did was to deal with the airport bureaucracy. It finally turned out that our luggage had been put on the next flight which meant that we spent some unexpected time in the airport near Lhasa. That was not altogether unfortunate since we were coming from near sea level in Beijing to an altitude of 3,570 meters (11,710 ft). For us to have some time to just sit and relax as our bodies began to adjust to the altitude was a good thing.

Once we had our luggage, we headed toward Tsetang. On our way, we stopped at the Mindroling Monastery, the first of several monasteries we visited during our time in Tibet. Although there were similarities, each one was unique. One of the first things we saw was this
Rest rooms at Mindroling Monastery
Yes, a beautifully decorated restroom. Unfortunately, like all of the public restrooms in Tibet, the toilets are Asian toilets and unless one has been squatting from early childhood, one may find them, shall we say, challenging. They also were not always sweet-smelling. Our travelers tried to avoid them whenever possible.

Outside of the monastery, we saw a woman filling water from a communal tap.

Woman at well

The monastery itself was a complex of buildings, as they all are. This one was also undergoing major renovations.

Mindroling Monastery

The complex as seen from the roof of the main building

Atop the roof of the monastery
It was a beautiful sun-filled day with the skies so very blue after the smoggy skies of Beijing. Despite the relative lack of oxygen, the air felt very good to breathe!

We left the monastery and drove along a rural two lane road until we arrived in Tsetang, a lovely town with a surprisingly nice hotel.

Our hotel in Tsetang

Tune in to the next episode where we answer the question on everyone’s mind: “What does the well-dressed cow wear when she goes out for a walk?”

Trek 2013- Tour to Beijing, Tibet, Nepal, & Bangkok. part 1

This summer we had an incredible opportunity.  We were able to travel with a group of people who we knew from previous tours who shared our love of adventure and who we knew we would enjoy traveling with- to a place we had not yet visited.  We all knew two things: that we were trailblazers, and the tour was not going to be easy.

Our tour began in Beijing, a city my husband and I have visited many times and which we really enjoy visiting.  We were lucky enough to arrive as the lotuses outside the Summer Palace were blooming and they were a beautiful greeting for what turned out to be a miraculous tour!

Outside of the Summer Palace

Outside of the Summer Palace


 

Dragon boat at the Summer Palace

Dragon boat at the Summer Palace

Over the next few days we visited the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, and the Great Wall. Each place is really amazing and we derived a lot of pleasure from showing these sights to our friends.

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square


Inside the Forbidden City

Inside the Forbidden City


The Great Wall

The Great Wall


The Great Wall

The Great Wall


But all of this was just a prelude of things to come. The rest of the story is as magnificent as our intrepid travelers who were as excited as we were to go where relatively few tourists have gone.

So join us on our adventure, but first, you must get a good night’s sleep because we had to rise long before dawn for our flight to Tibet!

Cusco and the Sacred Valley, Peru

Join us in November for this amazing tour!!!
One of the most beautiful places I’ve visited is Cusco, Peru.


It is located in the Andes, amid snow-capped mountains, and it has been well preserved and exudes its native charm. There are no tall buildings in Cusco. It is a real treat to visit by day and by night, it is almost magical.

When we ventured out of Cusco, we saw magnificent Inca ruins, usually remains of their temples which reflected their reverence for nature. They built temples in caves, at tops of mountains, at springs of water, and they built temples out of huge rocks. They took into account the movement of the earth and position of the sun at the equinoxes and solstices. And even today, there are celebrations based on these events. A couple of years ago, I was there at the winter solstice in June and there were great festivities.

Outside of Cusco is also the Sacred Valley, a rich and fertile valley along the Urubamba River. In it, the people raise corn and potatoes.

One of our stops there is Chinchero, a colorful village.

Aside from the setting, Chinchero offered us the opportunity to see how the lovely tapestries made locally are produced. We watched the process from the preparation of the wool to the dyeing process (using all natural dyes) to the weaving.



Chinchero, remote as it is from commercial centers, is no amateur in exploiting its advantages. There is a lively market that sells not only local products, but also a wide variety of goods that are brought from outside the area.

One other wonderful place to visit is Maras. There we found salt evaporation ponds terraced along a mountain. Each pond or several ponds is owned by a local family that takes the salt from it and sells it. The water comes from deep in the mountain and trickles out into these ponds.
This is what they look like from a distance.

As one walks beside the ponds, the beauty of the setting and sound of the trickling water combine to make it a very relaxing visit.

We look forward to every visit to this special part of the world!

Getting ready for China

Although I am currently getting ready for China, I am having the experience I always do when I am getting ready for any of the tours I guide- whether to China, to Vietnam/Cambodia/Thailand, or to Ecuador/Galapagos/Peru. There are about a million pieces of data: information, equipment, communication with providers of services, scheduling, purchasing, packing, communicating with the travelers- that swirling around in my head simultaneously. At this point in the preparations, I am unable to think a full thought or make a complete sentence because there is a conference going on in my brain at which the pros and cons of all sorts of things are being discussed: what sights should we add? what food should be bring along? what written materials shall we distribute? how do we get people to meet at the initial gathering of the group as they arrive on 7 different flights on two different days? In discussing these things with my husband, I find myself starting in the middle of a thought and am sometimes so wrapped up in what I am thinking that a solution he offers, no matter how logical and obvious it should have been to me, is something I hadn’t even thought of. Sometimes I wonder why I do this.

Then I remember: I love traveling. I long to see China again. And mostly, I love seeing my travelers being amazed, sometimes astounded, by the sights I show them. For two weeks, my husband and I work harder than one can imagine, day and night, but for two weeks, we are able to provide one incredible experience after another for our people- the sights, the entertainment, the experience of being with a group of people who are there to see and to enjoy something totally new.

So as I prepare, I also remind myself that in under two weeks, a wonderful adventure begins!

Two of our travelers enjoying the Great Wall of China

Machu Picchu

When in Peru, one of the most beautiful and impressive places to visit is Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu was an Incan city whose location had been unknown until 1911 when discovered by Hiram Bingham. Hiram Bingham was educated at Yale (BA) and at Harvard (PhD). He was appointed a lecturer in South American history at Yale. After Bingham discovered Machu Picchu, he and his team excavated and extracted somewhere between 4,000 and 40,000 (depending on who is counting :-) ) artifacts– including mummies, ceramics and bones. He later served as the Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut and after that, as a US senator.

Machu Picchu is a very beautiful location, accessible by walking the Inca Trail (about 4 days’ journey) or by railway. Our travelers, for some reason, seem to favor the railway. We pass through the Sacred Valley on our way. The valley is so named because it was a rich and fertile source of food. The Incas, using clever agricultural methods, domesticated and cultivated over 1,500 varieties of corn and more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes in the Sacred Valley.

Method for acclimating plants to altitude

There is a lot to see in the Sacred Valley and I will write about it in the future, but first, let’s go to Machu Picchu. Here you see my colleague Rita and me relaxing on the train on the way to Machu Picchu.

The ride is very pleasant and lasts under 2 hours, and we arrive at Aguas Calientes. We are greeted by the requisite Peruvian market,

but we restrain ourselves because we are ripe for adventure. We ride a small bus to the top of the mountain (about a 15 minute ride)

and this is what we see:

Everywhere we look there are magnificent structures framed by lush mountains.

The sights we see are incomparable. The city was built by the Incas some time around the year 1400. These stones were transported without the benefit of use of the wheel, which the Incans did not have. They also did not have animals capable of hauling these huge boulders. It is thought that they must have used large numbers of men who pushed the boulders up inclined planes.

The truth is, to truly enjoy it, you must see it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed!

Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and Peru

Girl with her pet, in Cusco, Peru


Come join us on a magnificent tour.  It is not only beautiful and exciting, but people find it to be a spiritually significant tour as we see the unspoiled creation of the Galapagos Islands, not to mention the Amazon Rain Forest and amazing Machu Picchu.

 

Details of the itinerary and the cost are on this page….