Friday, December 30, 2011

Best of the Best Travel Experiences of 2011

So the year is finally winding down. I can't really say that this year has not been good for travel. Because it has! It totally has. Probably, the most travel I have ever done in my life. I mean, I did decide to bite the bullet and go backpacking for six months. And I will say that it has been the best year ever. There, I said it. There were highs and lows, of course. But it's all good. It's all part of the adventure. I had the most rewarding experience, the most exhilarating, the most delicious, etc., etc.

As a way to commemorate all of them, and as my yearender of sorts, I decided to do my 12 best of the best travel experiences of 2011. Here we go.

1. Most Jampacked Trip

We only had four days to explore one of the biggest countries in the world, which happened to be one of the oldest civilizations in the world. So what are we to do? Jampack it all, tourist-style! In all four days, we covered two huge, and I mean, huge cities, three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, our first winter experience, a high-speed sleeper train experience and a super high-speed Maglev train experience. We went to China.

Great Wall, Mutianyu, China

(See more posts about China: China: Beijing, Forbidden City, China: Great Wall at Mutianyu)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Holy City of Amritsar and the Golden Temple

On our way down the mountain from Dharamsala, we figured we did not want to bus it to Delhi for another 14 dark, ass-numbing hours. We did our research and found a city worth breaking our journey in. Again, this was a part of India different from the rest of it primarily because of religion. We decided to stop by another one of India's holy cities on our way back to the capital. This holy city is not Hindu nor Buddhist. It is Sikh. And it is called Amritsar.

Golden Temple, Amritsar, India

I realized looking back that Michael Palin also stopped by Amritsar in his BBC series, Himalaya. First, we went to Dharamsala, it being our contingency plan having missed our train to Jaisalmer. Now, we were heading to Amritsar on a whim. Later on, we will be following his itinerary in the Nepal Himalaya. And that wasn't planned as well! Freaky.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: India-Pakistan Wagah Border Ceremony

(Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features the bizarre India-Pakistan Wagah Border Ceremony.)

India-Pakistan Border Closing Ceremony, Wagah, India

Now here's a real treat for borderholics. When in the holy city of Amritsar, India, one of the more touristy things to do is to head to the India-Pakistan border in the village of Wagah at sundown. Wagah, split right in the middle between the two countries, is the only road border crossing between the rival countries. And every sundown, the village gets packed with people on both sides as there takes place a bizarre military ceremony between the India Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Seeing the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala

If you, like us, found yourself in Dharamsala, India, with the rare chance to see the Dalai Lama, the most famous Buddhist in the world, the living incarnation of the boddhisatva of compassion, then better seize the opportunity. You are most likely just spending a few days in this little Tibetan town in northern India, just like the Dalai Lama himself, who circles the world seeing heads of states as well as Tibetan refugees scattered all over the globe for the better part of the year.

But the question is, how? How does one see the Dalai Lama? It's simple really. Here are seven simple steps to seeing the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India.

Portrait of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Museum, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

Step 01:

Check if the Dalai Lama is giving a public audience (most likely, a lecture) anytime soon. You can do that by going to Yes, His Holiness has a website. If he is giving a lecture, check if it is open to the public. We had the good fortune of being in Dharamsala when a group of Korean Buddhists was also there for a lecture with the Dalai Lama, a lecture which they had earlier scheduled and opened to the public. I assume by now you get that the Dalai Lama is a very busy man so if you have the chance to see the Dalai Lama, take it.

Step 02:

Secure yourself admission into the Dalai Lama's lecture. No, they will not accept walk-ins. Security is very tight in and around his residence and the main temple, the Tsuglagkhang Monastery. So better have proper identification when you go see the Dalai Lama. First things first, make sure you have two passport-sized photos and a photocopy of your passport. If you do not have them, then McLeod Ganj is littered with ID photo stalls and shops. Walk in and have your photo taken and your passport photocopied. Simple as simple can be.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bungy Jumping in the Nepal Himalaya

Bungy jumping was something I was determined to do on this six-month trip. Hey, I was jumping out of my comfort zones anyway, so why not jump all the way. Plus, ever since two friends of mine, Angelica and Cindy, went bungy jumping a year ago, I knew I wanted to put myself on that ledge, like they did. My original plan was to go bungy jumping in India, in a place called Rishikesh, but the travel gods had other plans and I had to tweak my northern India itinerary and forgo Rishikesh.

Good thing there was another outdoor adventure facility along our way which fortunately enough offers bungy jumping. This outdoor adventure facility was in Nepal. I knew I had to go bungy jumping there. Else, it will be a while before I get the chance to go bungy jumping again. And wouldn't you know it? The facility's name is The Last Resort. I know, scary when I first heard it. Why would an outdoor adventure facility name itself that way? As soon as I got over the name, I signed up to go bungy jumping. The Last Resort has an office in Kathmandu's tourist district, Thamel. We signed up there and booked a day trip for around 86 USD. The cost will include, apart from bungy jumping itself, a round-trip bus to the outdoor adventure facility and a buffet lunch.

Bungy Jumping in Nepal

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Backpacking Story So Far

Another month has come and gone and yes, I am still on the road. Traveling. Clearly, I have a lot to be thankful for. I left home October and even though it has only been a couple of months since, I feel like a lot has happened already. And I'm only in my third country on this trip!

Unlike other monthly wrap-ups I have done on this blog, this one will sum-up, not the best content in the travel blogosphere (which are plenty), but rather the goings-on in this small world I call my travel life.


I started in Singapore, seeing, well, more like tasting it, through a few friends who have become locals there. Bash it all you want, Singapore to me remains to be the tiny 700 square kilometer island where you could sample all the best foods (and therefore, cultures) of Southeast Asia.

You Like Satay

A few days after that, we flew to India, keen on seeing desert landscapes, mad urban sprawls, and peaceful temples. I got to see the last two, but due to Indian transportation misfortunes, we had to forgo Rajasthan. We, instead, opted for mountains and found Tibet in the heart of northern India.