We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. ~T.S. Eliot
My travels in 2014 are now but fleeting images, memories that exist only in closed eyes, cherished remembrances and more than 10,000 photos. I want to make the memories more tangible. I want something I can hold to remind me of all of them. For this reason, I am wearing a 108 bead, bone white, mandala, also know as the Buddhist Rosary, that I picked up in Kathmandu.
I wearing it in the traditional way on my left wrist. Buddhists wear these to aid in their meditation life. I wear it to trigger meditative thoughts on my travel life. I’m also wearing a saffron colored scarf I negotiated to purchase at a little shop in Bodh Gaya, India.
Mandala and Scarf
The mandala isn’t something I wear every day. And it is a memory of a single trip not from the many that have fed my soul, grown my soul, to paraphrase the Grinch, from one that was 2 sizes too small to 3 sizes larger.
I want something that is always on my person as a remembrance of the travels this past year, the travels of all my past years. It has to be something that can reflect the past while simultaneously like a silver backed mirror, seamlessly growing toward the future like a magic looking glass.
My idea is not original but, still, I think the idea is so awesome that it is worthy of replication. I want a full back tattoo that is the outline of the world with each country I visit colored in and a pithy saying on top or bottom. My variation would be to have each country filled in with either the flag of the country or, where the design of the flag is highly complex, with the colors of the flag of that country. The first sitting would have all previously visited nations filled in then, when I visit other countries, have them filled in while in that nation by a local artist. With the current political climate though I don’t ever expect too many colors decorating the Middle East portion of the map.
Not all political unrest is cause to avoid a country. In fact, a little political unrest can result in interesting adventures.
As the clock took one tick past midnight to kick off 2014, I was enjoying myself in sunny and warm Thailand. It was a country in the midst of protests against the government that preceded a military take over months later. I walked through the heart of the protest march on my way to an excellent Thai dinner without fear. I enjoyed the energy exuded by so many people rallying around a cause, wished I could understand the language as the leaders, from a platform, spurred on the legions of Thai people listening with rapt attention (and eating the free food supplied by the organizers).
It was appropriate that I kicked off the year outside my native country as the year was destined to be the most traveled year of my life. I traveled 80 thousand miles in 45 plane segments covering 7 countries (Thailand, India, US, Nepal, Switzerland, Germany, and Sri Lanka, 2 US states (Illinois and Wyoming), and 10 Indian cities (Pune, Chennai, Madurai, Jaipur x2, Abhaneri, Bodh Gaya x2, Khajuraho, Agra x2, Lonavala, and Delhi).
I returned to my home in India (Blogs) from Thailand (Blog1, Blog2, Blog3, Blog4). I had been enjoying living in India for the past 9 months with another 15 months planned before returning from my assignment to the US. The plan was to be shortened a few months later or I would have added at least one more Southeast Asian country to my 2014 list. Living in India was one of the best life decisions I have ever made. Besides giving me the opportunity to easily travel in South Asia, I was blessed with new experiences on a daily basis. The only part I would have changed was to have had my fiancé living there with me.
Tour of India #1
She did visit me in India early in the year. We undertook a first major tour of India covering cities in both the Hindi speaking North (Blog
) and Tamil speaking South (Blog
) of the country. The history and diversity of India is on par with the best in the world from the splendor of Taj Mahal
to the magnificence emanating from the ancient Meenakshi Temple
in Madurai to the other worldly atmosphere at the Galta Monkey Temple
and the engineering marvel that is the Chand Bhaori Step Well
. We but scratched the surface of the history India has to offer and plan to visit again to take in more of its wonders.
We were hoping to get married within view of the Taj. We were in the planning stages for a simple ceremony, her, me, and an officiate. When we tried to arrange it we were told it would cost $2000 USD. We declined. It was something that would be expensive at $50 US. We were not about to be swindled by the locals because we happened to be from the USA.
My next trip was a solo adventure to Kathmandu (Blog1
) in Nepal. Having learned to negotiate the various places in India, I went to Kathmandu without fear, with only wide eyed enthusiasm. There is a freedom when traveling alone that I thoroughly enjoy. Given a choice, I would travel with my fiancé because she notices things that escape my eye and is just plain fun to travel with. Second to her, it would be to travel on my own, unencumbered, without a plan, experiencing life on a whim.
Nepal is a Buddhist country with heavy Hindu influences. My driver had a Buddhist Mandala hanging from his mirror and a Ganesh idol on the dashboard of his car. I asked if he was Buddhist or Hindu. He responded he was both just to be safe. Like India, I found an acceptance of religious diversity in the country. I find this a very welcoming characteristic of the people. True, it’s not universal as the occasional sectarian violence shows. But, it is a pervasive mindset among the populace.
Switzerland / Germany
My next two countries were Switzerland and Germany both for work. My initial and lasting impression were, “it’s so clean!” and expensive. Anyone that visits India quickly discovers it’s not a very clean country. Dust is everywhere and the people tend to use the streets as one big trash bin. The two aspects of India I never quite grew used to were the garbage in the streets and the extreme poverty.
In the heat of the summer, I found cheap air fare to Sri Lanka via Chennai. The reduced air fare was all the incentive I needed to plan another long weekend in yet another exotic locale. I had never previously considered a trip to Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and probably would never have visited the country in my lifetime had it not been so accessible from India. Reading that Sri Lanka was a Buddhist archeological hot bed triggered me to seek out a trip to the small country.
Most people visit Sri Lanka to enjoy the beaches particularly near the capital of Colombo. I did stay there on my final night in the country. I had requested a room with a view overlooking the Laccadive Sea partly to satisfy my hunger of capturing the sun setting
on a watery horizon. To my utter surprise I was upgraded to a suite overlooking the rolling sea. It had a private balcony with a jacuzzi and another jacuzzi in the bathroom. The only downsides were that I only stayed there one beautiful night and the humidity was so high that everything felt damp in my room.
My quest was to hit the interior and explore the cultural triangle
which is heavy with Buddhist history. I made it to Sigiriya where I walked up over 1200 steps to reach the top of the former city. The trek included a side bar of ancient frescoes
that I found mesmerizing.
I also explored the breath taking ruins of Polonnaruwa home to buildings in various stages of decay and the four amazing Buddha
statues of Gal Vihira
. These massive statues are in pristine condition. I sat for over an hour staring at them and the tourists while I snapped picture after picture hoping for at least one winner in the glaring afternoon sun. My biggest surprise of the trip was the large number of monkeys
on the island. My favorite monkey picture was of a macaque
sitting with eyes closed in what appeared to be a meditative posture.
My friends in India love the monsoons. In fact, it seems most Indians love playing in the monsoon rains. This is something I didn’t (still don’t) understand. I was determined to have a monsoon experience to help achieve some understanding for their joy in the rains. This took me to The Machan in Lonavala for a long weekend. The Machan is a room in the trees overlooking the cloud forest
. Its location ensured I would be exposed to copious amounts of rain along with enough scenery to practice my photography. I tried, I really tried to enjoy the incessant rains but was never able to turn that corner. Some cultural nuances are definitely outside the realm of my understanding.
I went to the US for a couple of weeks to visit my family and wife to be. She and I took a short trip to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks
in Wyoming. These are magnificent parks teeming with wildlife and geysers. I took over 1000 pictures many which I was sure were winners. I had herds of buffalo up close and a buffalo standing on a ridge with a storm brewing in the background. I had a bull elk crossing a stream then climbing a ridge where it posed head held high with a forest back drop. I took pictures of geysers, colorful algae laden pools offering up opportunities for abstract renderings, and countless other images of the glorious nature in the National Park. One of my favorites was a waterfall with a green streak near a rock just over the lip of the falls.
On the 2nd to the last day of the trip, I swapped out my camera’s memory card because the primary card was filled to capacity. That was the last time I ever saw that card along with the 1000 pictures it contained. I was devastated and walked around in a funk the evening before we flew back home. The only positive I can glean from the lost picture experience is that I have an excuse to visit Yellowstone again. This time I will know the best places so the pictures should be even better.
For over a year, I tried to visit Bodh Gaya, the place where the Buddha found enlightenment. Every time something thwarted with my plans. That is, until October 2014 when I visited it twice in the matter of 3 weeks. The first was with a friend who was in India on business. For him, Bodh Gaya was a pilgrimage. The second was with my daughter when she visited India the same month.
Buddhism is huge in this part of the world. The Buddha was an Indian prince named Siddhartha who was born in what is now Nepal. He found enlightenment (became the Buddha) at Bodh Gaya from where the belief system spread throughout Asia with fingers making in roads all over the world. Bodh Gaya is the well spring of Buddhism, the source
of the belief system.
I am not a Buddhist but have a mind that is open enough to find peace in the Buddha’s teachings. I wold love to visit the source of every religious belief system for the historical as well as the spiritual contexts.
Tour of India #2
My final trip, my last hurrah
, of the year before moving back to the US was a 2nd tour of India. This trip would also mark the end of my time living in India. This trip was with my daughter and her boyfriend. A few of the places we visited, I had visited previously. Those were the Taj Mahal and Bodh Gaya both on my daughter’s must see list. We also visited Jaipur and the Khajuraho Temple Complex.
In Jaipur, we visited a little town of Galta where we spent over an hour feeding monkeys. It was here that a white cow tried to gore me. Thankfully, it had flat tipped horns so my chest skin and arm only suffered bruises instead of being pierced. The two of them spent three hours in communion with an elephant. They were able to feed, ride, and wash the magnificent beast. I spent that time happily playing photographer to their experience.
I was blown away by Khajuraho. I wish we had spent another day or two visiting the many temples. As it was, I visited the main temple complex twice. There are three temple sub complex within the overall complex. The temples were in magnificent shape. This was easily the best kept set of inactive temples I had seen in India. The buildings hosted thousands of stunning carvings including many depicting scenes from the Kama Sutra. Everywhere I looked there were these amazing figurines carved into the exterior and interior of the temples. An added bonus was the beautiful grounds on which they resided.
There are only two ways I can see surpassing this amazing travel year. The first is if my plans to move to Switzerland with my company in two years works out which would open all of Europe, Scandinavia, and Northern Africa, to long weekend trips. The other is to retire and live the nomad life spending time in moving from country to country.
What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from. ~T.S. Eliot