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A Day To Remember: Trekking in India’s Periyar National Park

When you are on the road for a year, every single day is different.  Some days however, become permanently imprinted into your memory forever.  One those days for me was when we went to Periyar National Park. This could have been our last adventure! I am not exaggerating, keep reading.

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It was a beautiful sunny day in South India, and we had signed up for an all day trekking tour at Periyar National Park. This is one of Kerala’s most popular national parks due to its beautiful nature and wildlife. People flock to this amazing park, lured by the possibility of spotting wild elephants, deer, boar, and perhaps even tigers!

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At 8:00 am sharp we met our guides and the rest of the trekkers. After some brief introductions, we were sitting on a bamboo raft ready to paddle across the gorgeous lake.

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Jason worked very hard to paddle us across this huge artificial lake that lies within the national park. Riding the bamboo raft was an incredible way to enjoy the beauty of the forest. It was both peaceful and fun.

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While on the bamboo raft we were very lucky to spot some wildlife. In the far distance we noticed a group of water buffalo.

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Due to the distance, it is extremely difficult to see but we also saw boar.

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Once we reached land, we trekked for several hours hoping to encounter some wildlife up close. Aside from a few deer, we didn’t really see too much. But, I did hold these super heavy antlers that were found in the wild.

Our tour was almost coming to an end. We had been out all day and now it was almost 4:30 pm, and everyone was feeling a bit disappointed since we never saw an elephant. When the group was pretty much convinced we were not going to spot an elephant, an incredible thing happened. Are you thinking, we saw a wild elephant? Yes, you are partially right. Let me explain.

We were hiking in a straight line, and I happened to be near the front. We were about to turn the corner, when our guide told us to immediately stop. Through the bushes we could see some gray and hear some rustling noises. Yes! It was definitely an elephant! Carefully following our guide’s instructions we all moved away from the elephant. Soon we were in an open field about 50 meters away from that grayish wild animal we had spotted seconds before. We had a clear sight of the elephant and other elephants too!! What? There wasn’t just one elephant, or two, or three, there were seven elephants!! Unbelievable!!

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Now, this is where things got really crazy. The elephants immediately noticed our presence and began kicking the earth with their legs and trumpeting! Then the 6 adult elephants encircled the small baby elephant. What were they doing? Trying to protect their baby or discussing politics? I don’t know! But, the next thing they did was stand in a line facing us with the baby elephant behind them. I think they were telling us to move away. I turned toward my guide, who was holding a rifle in his hand. He looked terrified. There was so much fear in his eyes! My heart skipped a beat. Seriously, it did. The guide was yelling at everyone to run as fast as they could away from the elephants or else they may attack!

I was starting to feel nervous; after all I was wearing orange. I would definitely be an easy target if those elephants started a stampede. So naturally, it would be wise for me to run for my life, but I didn’t. Why?

This was the part that made me the most petrified. Jason was so thrilled about the seeing the wild elephants, he kept taking their pictures despite the fact the guide had told us to run. Everyone had already left except him and of course me. I couldn’t just leave him behind. I kept yelling at him to run as my stress level continued to increase at the speed of light. Finally, he ran! In fact, he ran pretty fast! Yup, I was the last one to enter the safe zone! What can I say, I am just a slow runner!

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Oh, the adrenaline rush. I was terrified and excited simultaneously. Check out our video below, if you don’t believe me!

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These were our wonderful guides, who succeeded to keep everyone safe!

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So what happened with the elephants? They were probably laughing at us. No, seriously they realized we weren’t a threat and went about their merry day.

Any words of wisdom from me? Yes. Don’t wear orange when you go trekking in the wild.

A Wonder of the World: The Taj Mahal

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One of the most famous landmarks in India is the Taj Mahal. Ever since I was in elementary school, I had always wanted to see this marvelous white marble mausoleum. It was almost about 15 years later, that I finally had the opportunity to visit the Taj Mahal.

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Jason and I arrived into Agra, India around midnight by train from Delhi. We were told by our driver, sunrise would be the best time to see the Taj Mahal. However, we were too exhausted to wake up so early, so we planned to visit during noon. That was a huge mistake.

Although Agra is home to one of the wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal, the city itself is very dirty and crowded with beggars. Walking up the street to the entrance of the Taj Mahal was an adventure in itself. We were continually harassed by beggars and young children trying to sell various merchandise. It wasn’t very pleasant. It felt like we had to overcome all sorts of obstacles in order to reach the treasure at the end of the road. Thus, it was only after dealing with all the chaos in the streets, we finally arrived to the gates of the wonderful Taj Mahal.

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I was extremely eager to finally see the Taj Mahal. I had waited for this moment for nearly 2 decades! As I turned the corner, and set my eyes on the beautiful Taj Mahal, I was in complete awe. I knew it would be beautiful since I had seen numerous photographs of it before, but to see this extraordinary masterpiece in person was unbelievable! I remember just standing still for a few moments and being captivated by all its beauty. It seemed so grandiose, symmetrical and perfect to me. It was the real deal right infront of my eyes, not just a photograph or postcard. When a dream you have been imagining for years actually comes true, the feeling is priceless.

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The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor named Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Today it is the burial place for both Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. It is also an excellent example of Mughal architecture. It was designed using a combination of elements from the Persian, Islamic, Ottoman Turkish and Indian architectural styles. Beautifully intricate marble designs are present everywhere on both the interior and exterior of the Taj Mahal.

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Even though the Taj Mahal is famous for its white domed marble mausoleum, it is actually an integrated complex of structures. For example, at the far end of the complex lies this grand red sandstone Taj Mahal mosque.

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This gorgeous Mughal garden and various pathways lie in between the gateway and mausoleum.

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Visiting the Taj Mahal is worth every penny. It is one of the most beautiful structures I have seen in all my travels.

A Homestay Experience in Madikeri, India

Madikeri, is a beautiful hill station in India’s Karnataka State. It was here, in Southern India, we decided to do a homestay. As travelers, we really enjoy talking and learning from the locals. So, when the opportunity to spend two days and a night with a local Indian family arose, we were thrilled.

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The area surrounding Madikeri is a trekker’s paradise. We spend two days with our host, trekking through these beautiful landscapes. Along the way, our host shared insightful information about the various plants and species inhabiting the lands. This was some of the best trekking we had ever done. Aside from the views, what made the trekking very special and memorable was the connection we had built with our host.

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Living and spending time with the locals was a lot of fun. We ate all our meals together with the family and shared stories. We even had some time to hang out and play with the kids. They showed us their schools and village. It was interesting to observe how the locals lived. It gave us a better sense of what life was really like in a village. When I needed to take a shower, for example, I was given a huge pot of hot water. This was way people bathed in this village, there were no showers.

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Our host family was extremely kind and welcoming to us. This experience left us with great memories and the desire for wanting to do more homestays in our future travels.

Video: Just having some fun while trekking!

Horseback Riding in Udiapur, India

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Our first trip to India was only for 2 weeks. During this trip we managed to make our way to Udiapur. This city, which has become a very popular tourist destination, is located in the state of Rajasthan in western India. Although Lake Pichola, the artificial fresh water lake, and the Lake Palace were beautiful, our most memorable experience was doing horseback riding for the first time ever in Udiapur’s countryside.

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We were given a quick lesson on how to guide our horses. Once were we seated on our horses, we rode through some villages. The villagers were so happy to see us riding the horses and were waving at us with such joy.

We rode the our horses for a few hours. I didn’t want the journey to end. I particularly liked the horseback riding because it was a very relaxing way of viewing the beautiful and peaceful countryside. It was also nice to escape from India’s hectic and crowded city life for a bit. Lastly, the villagers left a real impression on me. I was awed by villagers’ happiness and good spirits despite their state of poverty.

The Shadows of Indian Society

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The train pulls out of the Chennai’s station and into the early morning sunlight. I am exhausted, it has been a long night. With my heavy backpack on my shoulders, I sit uncomfortably on a second class seat. There are Indians everywhere on the train; some are fast asleep while others are gazing quietly out the windows. I close my eyes. I desperately need rest.

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Soon however, I am awakened by a horrid smell. The stench is so unbearably awful. I open my eyes. As the train, continues to roar down the tracks, I stare with disgust at the fields of waste. There is filth everywhere. It seems like a abandoned dumpsite. I am wide-awake now and what I see next makes my heart sink with pity. From behind the huge piles of trash, I see dark figures slowly emerging. They look like shadows to me.

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They are the shadows of Indian society, the forgotten people, the unfortunate, the poor. They live in the slums, next to the train tracks and dumpsites. As I see the slums now, I begin to wonder how many people live in the slums? How dirty and crowded it must be. How hard it must be to wake up every morning, in such an unpleasant environment. With barely any shelter, food, or possessions, what kind of life can one really live? Could there ever be any happiness in living such a life? I close my eyes again. All this is too disturbing for me to see.

However, with my eyes shut, I still cannot stop thinking about the slums and its people. How could the rich justify living happily, when their fellow brothers and sisters are rotting away in misery? Why isn’t the government trying harder to help the poor? Shouldn’t this be the first priority of this nation? Perhaps, I don’t understand the complexity of India’s affairs and problems. But what I do understand is, something is really wrong, and changes need to be made.

A Sacred Site for Sikhs: The Golden Temple

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This is Harmandir Sahib, better known as the “Golden Temple” in Amritsar, India. It has become a holy place of worship for Sikhs. And, it is remarkably beautiful. I absolutely had a lovely experience visiting this sacred site. The moment I stepped inside the temple area, I was overcome by a sense of serenity and happiness. Aside from the mellow sounds of prayer, the water and massive space surrounding the temple created a very soothing atmosphere. It was a haven away from the hectic narrow and chaotic streets of Amritsar.

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Dedicated Sikh worshipers line up in an orderly fashion to have the chance to enter and pray inside the Golden Temple. The inside of the temple was just as beautiful as the outside, only much more crowded. Worshipers sat on the floor, chanting hymns and praying passionately.

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Amazingly, free food and drinks are provided to anyone who enters the temple area. The Sikhs have a strong community of dedicated worshipers, who volunteer their time to make food, clean dishes and do other chores around the temple. The above photo shows worshipers, peeling and cutting onions. I was impressed at how the Sikhs worked together so harmoniously and efficiently. It appeared that everyone did whatever they could to help out their community and keep the Golden Temple a very special place.

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We stayed at the Golden Temple for the whole day. Experiencing the Golden Temple at night was also a treat. The temple’s reflection in the water looked stunning at night.

Kerala’s Backwaters in Alleppey, India

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These are the serene and pristine backwaters of Alleppey, India. Upon entering the backwaters, it felt like time had slowed down. The weather was gorgeous. The vegetation was plentiful and luscious. It was a beautiful place in time for me.

We shared our kettuvallam (a houseboat) with a lovely Australian couple, while we enjoyed our two day and one night tour of the backwaters. Together, we reveled in the beautiful scenic views of nature, good conversation, and chess games.

As a treat, we were offered a plateful of fried bananas as snacks. It was the first time we had ever eaten fried bananas and they were absolutely delicious. Eating fried bananas in the backwaters of Kerala, what an experience!

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Picking Tea Leaves in Darjeeling, India

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These Indian women work very hard to diligently pick tea leaves at the tea plantation sites in Darjeeling, India.

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After touring the nearby Happy Valley Tea Estate, I learned that a great amount of effort is put forth not only by the women picking the tea leaves outside, but also the workers who work in the tea factory. It was a very educational trip that left me with a deeper appreciation for tea. By the way, the green tea I drank in Darjeeling was wonderful!

Kerala, India’s Kathakali Dance

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These talented artists prepare for their upcoming Kathakali dance performance in Fort Kochin, Kerala, India.

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Aside from the elaborate costumes and make-up, the actual dancing was very impressive. This was one of the most entertaining and memorable dance dramas, I have ever seen. I was amazed by how the artists used only body movements and specifically their eyes, to tell the entire story. What is the most memorable dance performance you have seen?

Riding a Steam Locomotive to Darjeeling

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A group of local women gather outside the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway station to relax. This is a small town located in the state of West Bengal, at an elevation of about 6,710 ft (2,045.2 m). When we visited in mid-April, the temperatures were fairly cool. Riding this steam locomotive up to Darjeeling was a very unique and memorable experience due to the small size of the train and the picturesque views of the Himalayas.

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