Bhutan – The Kingdom of Happiness (Part 1). In and around Thimpu!

A few years ago, the topics during a tea-time confab were Gross Happiness Index, Bhutan, Himalayas and Taktsang Monastery. Like a seed planted grows into a tree, this discussion intrigued me a lot and my fascination to witness the Bhutanese way of living increased by the day. All the enthralling aspects of Bhutan and my all time obsession with nature, and mountains in particular, I added Bhutan travel to my bucket list.

Come 2016, life showed a direction towards pursuing my travel dream. And yes, I visited Bhutan, the Kingdom of Happiness.

Pristine landscapes, spectacular views, amicable people and their spiritual way of life, rich heritage, comforting food, and everything else so heavenly qualify Bhutan for a Utopia. Nestled in the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is full of never-ending range of hills, verdant plains, meandering perennial rivers, meditative sounds of the Buddhist chants and colorful prayer flags tied everywhere reminding us that nature and spirituality are inseparable.

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Though the pictures don’t do justice to the real beauty of this paradise, and my words can’t describe the magical experience, I shall try my best to give a brief of how and what it was. Our tour was of four days covering the two major cities of Bhutan, Thimpu and Paro. A further long stay will give you much time and opportunity to explore the country better.

First two days in Thimpu

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The Memorial Chorten

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The Memorial Chorten or Memorial Stupa was built in the honor of the third King of Bhutan Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. It does not contain human remains, but just a photograph of the King. It is circumambulated in clockwise direction like other religious structures. We spent about an hour in the Chorten witnessing the annual recitation of ‘Seven Line Prayer’ to Guru Rinpochhe. The whole milieu was sacred and ingenuous.

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Buddhists chanting peace mantras. Prayer wheels with “Om Mani Padme Hum” written on them

We later visited the Great Buddha Dordenma, a 169ft gigantic Buddha statue and the Takin Preserve. Takin is the national animal of Bhutan.

Rest of city tour had viewing gorgeous vistas and visiting the important places of interest like Changlimithing multi-purpose national stadium, National Institute for Zorig Chusum (Arts and Crafts school), Authentic Bhutanese Crafts Bazaar, National Library of Bhutan etc.

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National Institute for Zorig Chusum trains the Bhutanese youth in 13 native and traditional Bhutanese arts like wood carving, statue-making, painting, weaving, tailoring, embroidery etc. Some of the finished products are also sold for good prices.

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Authentic Bhutanese Arts and Crafts Bazaar, Thimpu

The shops had a unique collection of handcrafted house decors, clothes, book marks, key chains, Bhutanese masks, Bhutanese musical instruments, hand bags, jewelry and many more. The place was a kaleidoscope of colors.

Tashichho Dzong

Tashichhoedzong build by the first Dharma Raja, is a Buddhist monastery and fortress on the banks of Wang Chu River. There are thirty temples, chapels and shrines within it. It is the office of Bhutan’s civil government and Kingship together. A few kms near the Dzong is the King’s palace, the Dechencholing Palace. The photograph below is an aerial view of the Dzong and its surroundings.

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Bhutanese Cuisine

Coming to cuisine, red rice and buckwheat are Bhutan’s two main foods. Red rice in Bhutan has an earthy flavor. The Bhutanese make soups and stews out of various vegetables and meats (yak meat being a specialty).  Ema datshi, which is their national dish, is spicy made with large, green chili peppers in a cheesy sauce. It is one of their major comforting and widely made dishes. Momos (dumplings) are also quite famous. Butter Tea (also called Suja) is made of the Bhutanese Tea Leaves, Water, Butter and salt. The Bhutanese also include various spices like ginger, garlic, turmeric, caraway etc in their cooking.

Dha/Archery and Traditional Dresses Gho & Kira

The National game of Bhutan is Dha or Archery. We made sure we wore the traditional dresses of Bhutan (Gho for men and Kira for women) and played archery amidst the serene hilly terrains.

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The Kira
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Playing Dha or Archery wearing a Gho
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Making of the arrows

Bhutanese Architecture

Traditional Architecture remains prevalent in Bhutan. Throughout its history, Bhutan has mainly followed the Tibetan tradition of Buddhist architecture. Any new structure construction is supposed to abide the rules. Read more on the Architecture of Bhutan in wiki here.

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Touring Bhutan is not only a way to escape in the tranquility of nature, but also a fun trip getting to know their unique culture and tradition. It opens your heart to simplicity, variety and spirituality.

Revive your body and awaken your soul, go visit this magical Kingdom.

More on the remaining itinerary in next blogs. I will take through our Paro city tour and the sacred mountainous passes.

So..have you ever been to Bhutan? Please share your experiences, and blog links. Thanks for reading. 🙂

What rain brings.

Monsoons remind me of Visakhaptnam aka Vizag, my home town. I have lived all my childhood waking up to a kaleidoscope of greens, thanks to my dad, an ardent nature lover who thought we should live as close to nature as possible.

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I am being a little biased by mentioning only the rosy things here, else I should also go on about the rainy season woes 🙂

Monsoons in Vizag bring a burst of vibrancy and a splash of lush green to an already verdant view. Our home being at foot hill of the Eastern Ghats and a bit sloped, we experience lovely and fresh water streams gushing on a heavy rainfall day. The sight of monsoon clouds hovering over the majestic hills shrouding and revealing them is in deed salubrious.

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And oh, not to forget the tiny pools of water collected on our terrace top, I remember jumping into them and splashing water all over myself. All those little birdies singing at the top of their voice and, freshest flowers and leaves with rain droplets raise your spirits high and make you live in the moment.

Over time I have captured these scenes in my camera and though they don’t do justice to the beauty of this rainy paradise, they keep these special memories alive. So well, I have a lot of rainy tales to tell, but for now please enjoy viewing these photographs.

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So, will you tell me what you love about rains, apart from petrichor? 🙂

The Swimmer in me.

What is life when you don’t do things you longed to? Do you ever think what is holding you from doing them? Is it that may be they are not your thing? Or are you just procrastinating to a ‘some day in future’?

I ask these questions often to myself. Then I realize I have a lot of things queued up in my list and I am just whiling away the time doing things unwanted and unneeded, and so wasting opportunities. That is what I call ‘getting distracted from your purposes’.

One such thing in my to-do list that I have longed for was to be able to swim on my own (no supports). Life has given me not-so-many and not-so-few opportunities to learn swimming, but I never really could. I tried a few times and failed because life happened. And when I was ready for it, I did not have a proper guidance. I could swim with the support of an aqua belt, I could do laps. But what is the fun when you are not doing it on your own? I never liked the experience.

And well, like they say, things happen only when it’s the right time, I got a rare opportunity to learn swimming. And yes, this rare opportunity knocked my door just like every time when I was really tied up with the busiest responsibilities of my life and when I am not at all ready. But well, when you have to do it, you have to do it…and I finally learned to swim!

I swam alone, and I swam with myself…not like Phelps of course, but like myself. I will master it some day. But for now, I made a start and I am elated. 

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But, more than the proud feeling of becoming a successful swimmer who can swim in freestyle, tapping my legs, moving my hands, holding my breath and crawling forward making a stroke, what I love about swimming is the liberating feeling that I get.

Swimming takes you to a totally different world. It enlivens you and bails you out of stress. It is an exhilarating experience. It is therapeutic to get lost in the waters and feel lighter. Swimming is like to meditate.

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As I learnt the techniques, I realized swimming is logic and philosophy combined with self-confidence and trust in the science behind it.

Some rules of thumb to swim (not expert tips but major philosophy), from my diary.

  • Believe in the science.

When you stretch your arms and leave your legs to float, believe in the science. Believe in the Principle of flotation and the Archimedes Law. In lay man’s terms, since you are pumping up your lungs with air, you are like a balloon and you weigh less than the water you displace, hence you WILL float (automatically). When you believe in the science, you have no room for fear and you learn the floating technique easily. So, do not force yourself into the game foolishly, instead understand the technique.

  • Face your fears

Why face the fears, when you can not try and run away? Well, yes, you can do it. But how far can you run away and how many times? I love this quote by Nelson Mandela. “May your choice reflect your hopes, not your fears”. Think about it when you can swim but not sit on the banks to watch others having fun. Remember, the moment negativity creeps into your mind, the game is over. Shun it and move forward.

  • Move or Land – don’t be of two minds

When you have started to move forward, keep going. Do not be indecisive. It will confuse you and scare you. You either move forward, or land. Landing in water is also a technique to be learnt. Improper landing can sprain your legs and can get water into you.

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And of course it is absolutely important to master breathing technique and learn the proper posture to become a good swimmer and be injury-free. Bubble (inhale with mouth and exhale with your head in the water, repeat) every time in between laps to relax yourself.

I am hoping to learn the different techniques going forward in life. I am hoping to swim every summer, in pools, in lakes, in rivers and in seas?!

So, why not give it a try today if not already? Embrace the waters and embrace yourself. Find a new world and a new joy. Make a start today!  I hope you will have a happy and safe swimming! 🙂

 

 

Remembering the woods of Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.
                                    – Robert Frost
It is a humbling experience to live in the placid woods – the crisp weather, the forest sounds, the sun peeking through the tall trees, the howling of the gentle wind and all that ambiance coming alive straight out of a fairy tale. One such remarkable experience is what we had living in a quaint little cottage in the deep woods of Pinetop-Lakeside, a popular summer resort in Arizona.

The cottage we rented

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We were up to a lot of shenanigans ranging from swinging, playing cricket, singing and yelling near the bonfire and running wild in the woods.

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About the town- Pinetop-Lakeside

Pinetop-Lakeside boasts of its exquisite natural beauty and is surrounded by the White Mountains, the Apache/Sitgreaves National Forest, and the Fort Apache Reservation. Since we were visiting only for a couple of days, the available recreational activities like hiking, biking, fishing etc were not in our to-do list.

Fools Hollow Lake

After spending one whole day goofing around the woods and experiencing life in the cottage, the second day we went to relax by the Fools Hollow Lake. It is a recreation lake park near the city of Show Low, a few miles away from our cabin.

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It was in deed difficult to say good-bye to such a pleasant vacation, a vacation full of life. Like they say “Get lost in nature and you will find yourself”, even if it was only for two days, I did gather enough memories for a lifetime to look back and find myself whenever I get lost. Now, this is what I called Nature Therapy.

Did you ever take a walk in the woods?

In and around my maternal ancestral village, Munganda – In pictures.

Tucked in lush green fields of Konaseema, an area in the Godavari delta of the East Godavari District in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is my maternal ancestral village, called Munganda (Originally, Muni-khanda, The Land of the sages). I left half of my heart there, as most of my childhood memories are associated with it. I get reminded of my Grandma’s heart-warming meals, delightful conversations with my Grandpa, those verdant farm lands, the pristine weather, beautiful breezy evenings, the scenic bank of River Godavari, the dainty local flowers, swaying coconut trees, freshly produced coconuts, pineapples, bananas, jackfruits, toddypalms, and many more.

So, let me go down my memory lane and present to you a few photographs in and around my village, that I have taken over time. This is my humble attempt to let the world know of this picturesque and peaceful small village and its surroundings. I also take the opportunity to reverence my ancestors and their legacy.

Below are photographs of the Godavari River and its bank in the nearby village of Gannavaram. There is an aqueduct over the river connecting the two villages of P.Gannavaram and Lankala Gannavaram, originally constructed by the British, and later a new one was constructed by the Indian Government due to its ageing. It is named after Smt. Dokka Seethamma, a great humanitarian. Please read more about her here.

Below you will see the vast coconut and paddy fields. It is in deed therapeutic to get lost in this peaceful arena and to breathe the fresh air. Imagine the fresh and earthy smell on rainy days…even the fields get lusher.

I will take a moment here to thank the farmers, for I am alive today only because of them. Below is a photograph of my Grandfather with his assisting farmer, who is more like a family for us.

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And below is a photograph taken at Antharvedi, a convergence point of River Godavari and The Bay of Bengal. There is a launch pad that takes you around the waters.

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Here is a photograph of my very own Grandpa, an erudite and a venerated gentleman in his village. And, that is his favourite and a very old Radio Transistor. He is not just a retired Teacher, but an outstanding and inspirational one apart from being warming and amicable.

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He has worked very hard through-out his life and career to keep up the high standards and for the betterment of his family and the village. This is a photograph of his dearest bicycle, that has kept his company through thick and thin. He traveled miles and miles on this and has a lot of memories attached with it. I couldn’t resist capturing it in my camera forever.

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I am really blessed to have him as my Grandfather, for he has really been the light of my life and has given me some of the most memorable and enjoyable childhood days. I will be disrespectful if I don’t mention about my Great Grandfather, Sri Pulya Umamahesawara Sastry garu, who was a great Vedic Scholar,  (Abhinava Pandita Raya, Vaiyyakarana Kesari – 10 titles twice Rastrapathi awardee). Here is a link to his biography, in our mother tongue Telugu.

And..finally is the photograph of my all time favorite Grandma’s Brinjal Curry (Vankaya Kharam kura in Telugu). Nothing can ever come close to tickling my taste buds as this dish, she is a master chef. It is very close to my heart, hence the photograph 🙂

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On a final note, I dedicate this blog to the village most fascinating to me and to my ancestral legacy. May the villages and the farmers in India flourish and prosper. 

You can also read about Munganda on wiki here.

 

Oregon – A dream destination, through my lens.

Labor Day 2013, it was time to another vacation. This time, it was the four of us, myself, my husband and two travel enthusiast friends. The moment we all decided to go somewhere, I knew the destination was Oregon that I had been longing for. Our travel itinerary was Phoenix->Portland to and fro and each time we had one stop in Seattle.

Day 1: Crater Lake National Park, South-Central Oregon.

My jaw dropped at the view of the gorgeous deep blue Crater Lake. I am sure it has the clearest waters I have ever seen in my life. Every single gaze at its depth, color and vastness felt like I was basking in Heaven’s Love. It was over a little cold during that time, and we all wore light fall jackets. The zephyr, the calm and clear waters, the blue-est ever sight I saw was a total feast to eyes. Yet another travel destination got checked off my bucket list. Some pictures from my DSLR are here.

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Day 2: Into the wilderness of Oregon.

The next day we went on hiking some of the really verdant trails that lead to beautiful cascades and awe-inspiring scenery. It was therapeutic driving by the nature and getting lost in its unfathomable beauty. We pulled over time to time to take some pretty photographs. You can see below the beautiful Umpqua river scenery that we encountered as we drove through the Umpqua National Forest and the Rogue-Umpqua National Scenic Byway.


Below are a couple of photographs taken at the Clearwater Falls.

Photographs taken at the Watson Falls hike. It was a 270ft hike to reach the top of the cascade. Tried some long exposure shots.

 


Day 3: Along the rugged Pacific coastline, the PCH drive.

The third day, the last of our trip was completely dedicated to a drive on the PCH. The rugged coastline of Oregon, the majestic Pacific Ocean and the sights along the drive were breathtaking. We covered some of the famous locations along the coastline, relaxed in between, felt the choppy ocean waves,  gathered some travel souvenirs and made some great memories. Below are the photographs taken at The Heceta Beach Lighthouse (claimed to be the most photographed lighthouse in the USA), Thor’s Well, Sea Lion Caves and Cape Perpetua.


The Beaver State is one of my most memorable vacations. Its abundant natural beauty that is most enchanting and spiritual cast a spell on me. If I get another chance, my next time visit to Oregon will be a longer one and I would love to explore more of its beauty.

Hope you enjoyed this short write-up of our 3-day Oregon trip. See you later!

Odisha – A Three Day Tour

One of my memorable travels in India is the trip to Odisha that I took with my parents. Odisha is one of the Eastern Coastal states of India. It’s surrounded by the Bay of Bengal on the East.

Our tour was a short 3-day one in the month of October and the weather was extremely pleasant.

Our itinerary was like this.

Day 1: Chilika Lake

We took the train to Balugaon Railway Station from Visakhaptnam. It was an overnight journey. We got down early in the morning and took a taxi to the village of Satapadi. There, we checked in to a nearby OTDC Tourist Lodge by the Chilka Lake side. It was a decent lodge, not really fancy and plush but was hygienic and spacious enough to serve the purpose. We freshened up and headed out for breakfast. We did not want to waste time by going out into the city, so quickly rushed to the near-by street food vendor. I still remember the idly that was served. It was paired with some hot and delicious white vatana and potato masala curry.  After eating sumptuously, we headed to the lake.

Chilika Lake is Asia’s largest salt-water lagoon and is separated from the Bay of Bengal by a sandy ridge. It’s area is about 1,100 sq km and is a home for a wide and unique variety of flora and fauna. Read more about the lake here.

There were different boat ride packages by the Dolphin Motor Boat Association, and we took the Dolphin Sight Seeing and Nalaban Bird Sanctuary package. We saw some amazing sights on the lake; of fishermen fishing in the early morning sun and a lot of birds, possibly cranes hovering by the catamarans. The boat first took us to the Kalijai, a famous Kali Temple located on a small island on the lake. Highly revered by the local populace, the deity has been venerated in the local folklore and legends. Our next destination was the Nalaban Island within the Lake. It is a Bird Sanctuary under Wildlife (Protection) Act. We couldn’t go further into the sanctuary, as during that time there was a temporary ban to enter in order to protect the birds…also, it was just the beginning of the right season. We could climb atop the watch tower and the view from there was splendid. Later, the boat sailed for quite some time in search of the dolphins but we were not lucky enough to spot them. Next was the third and the last destination before returning to the marina, the Chourbar Shiva Temple. Tucked away in the greens on a small island by the lake, this Shiva Temple is small and very peaceful.

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Day 2: Around the city of Puri, and the world famous Jagannath Temple.

After reaching Puri from Chilika Lake by taxi and bus, we checked into a hotel nearby the Puri Jagannath Temple. In the morning we headed out to roam around the Puri city. We went to the Puri Beach and got the glimpse of a beautiful dawn on the beach. The fishermen were making their way into the sea and could get some cool photographs of them. We took camel ride on the beach and it was super fun.

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Our next destination was the Govardhana Matha. It is one of the four cardinal mathas founded by Adi Shankara in the 8th century CE. After spending some time in the Matha, we headed to have lunch and take some much needed rest. Later in the evening, we made our way to the Puri Jagannath Temple, one of the Char Dham pilgrimages and is very famous for its Ratha Yatra. The Gods Jagannath, Balabhadra and the Goddess Subhadra constitute the main trinity of deities worshiped at the temple. I was particularly surprised by the temple’s unique ‘Bhog/Prashad’ (food offered to God) tradition. In this temple, we could buy our own choice of Prashads which is called as Bhog, take it on our own and give it to the temple priest for offering to the God. The various foods that go into the Bhog Thali are made in the temple premises, and one can just walk by and buy them. We saw a lot of monkeys lingering and playing in the temple area, they were harmless and friendly. Overall, the tradition and culture in the Jagannath temple is very distinct and interesting from the other Temples I visited. We also got to taste the famous Odisha cheese dessert Chhena poda that was sold on the streets near the temple.

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Day3: Bhubaneswar

On the third day we headed to Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha. We first went to theLingaraja Temple, an outstanding specimen of the Odisha style of building the temple. Then, we visited the Odisha State Museum which had a good collection of antiques and specimens. It was our last stop before heading to the Bhubaneswar Railway Station for our return journey.

Overall, it was a very good and pleasant experience visiting Odisha. Though it was a short trip, we could get a mix of both spiritual and entertainment experiences as well as getting to taste the amazing cuisine of Odisha.