Make your next destination India, Thailand or Bali
Story & Photographs by Lisa A. Muehlenbein
When it comes to exotic Eastern destinations, India, Thailand and Bali will satisfy the wanderlust within. All three offer the beauty of the past, the opportunity for staying focused in the present, and experiences that will shape the future.
As the world’s second most populous country, India is essentially made up of many sub-countries. As a “melting pot,” each area has its own original food dishes, dialects, languages and customs — as well as the traditional Indian customs and Hindi language. The variety that each state contributes adds to the country’s great diversity and rich character.
India is a vivid expedition through all of our senses. The brilliant colors of the décor, silk saris, 23-karat gold jewelry and colorful flower arrangements add to its visual appeal. Distinct flavors of spicy curries, the intensity of yellow saffron and the appealing aroma of chai tea appeal to the foodie within. Beautiful kirtan (call and response) chanting, a harmonium being played and Bollywood music bring the sensory journey full circle.
Holidays are prime travel season throughout the world, and an Indian holiday not to be missed is the festival of Diwali, also known as the Festival of Light. For five days, and in coordination with the moon on the darkest day of its cycle, Diwali typically occurs between mid-October to mid-November. Flickering candles and lamps light Indian homes and stores while fireworks illuminate the sky in celebration of the light driving out the darkness and the victory of good over evil. It is an amazing experience to celebrate Diwali on the banks of the Ganges River. Here, the evening and morning pujas (cleansing ceremonies), sunrise meditations and open-fire cremations celebrate all phases of life and invite a sense of renewal to all.
No visit to India would be complete without traveling to Agra and experiencing the Taj Mahal, one of the new Wonders of the World. To call the Taj Mahal breathtaking is an understatement. Construction began in 1631 and took 22 years (1631-1653) and 22,000 workers to complete. Fashioned out of marble and onyx inlay, the spectacular structure was designed as a mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal, the third wife of Emperor Shah Jahan. During her 14th pregnancy in 19 years, Mumtaz had a dream that she would soon pass away. She then shared three wishes with the emperor:
1) Take care of my children.
2) Build a beautiful mausoleum for me.
3) Do not take any other wives.
Soon after her dream, Mumtaz went into labor and died during childbirth. Of all of his wives, she was considered the most beautiful. The name “Taj Mahal” translates to “Place of the Crown.” The marble is white; however, in the morning it appears pinkish, milky white in the evening and golden in the moonlight. The beauty of the Taj Mahal and the story of Emperor Sha Jahan’s endearment for his wife remind visitors of the message of the Taj to all mankind: “Pure love is the soul of life.”
Adventurers continuing east may encounter Thailand’s stunning golden Buddhist temples, night markets and spectacular beaches. Hidden in alleyways, side streets and main thoroughfares, the orange-robed monks of the temples welcome visitors to pay homage with small donations. Removing shoes and covering shoulders are a must upon entering and paying respect to the beautiful temples.
While luxury shopping opportunities abound in the bustling city of Bangkok, smaller surrounding towns and islands thrive on their night markets. Many of the night markets take place on Friday or Sunday nights and offer everything from foot massages ($6 USD for one hour), clothing, jewelry and food. Many fresh fruits and desserts can be found at the night market. However, the most intriguing entrées include delicacies such as squid (and just about everything else) on a stick and deep-fried insects.
Traveling from one town to another is relatively inexpensive when choosing a local Thai airline, which makes visiting smaller outlying islands like Phuket and Samui quick and easy. The water surrounding the islands of Thailand is crystal clear turquoise, and the beaches glisten with white sand. This striking combination has lured many movie productions here, including “The Hangover II.” Famous for Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie “The Beach,” Maya Beach is absolutely stunning. James Bond Island, a tall vertical rock jutting out of the ocean, was featured in “The Man with the Golden Gun.”
While the beaches and shopping are marvelous, travelers looking to share their compassionate side will enjoy a trip to The Elephant Nature Park. Located inland in Chiang Mai, this sanctuary is where the beauty of these incredible creatures can be celebrated and supported through rescue and volunteerism. Visitors can help feed and bathe these gentle giants as well as learn the stories of how they were rescued.
Roughly 1,800 miles southeast of Thailand, the Indonesian island of Bali beckons to surfers and nature lovers alike. Beautiful beaches, verdant rainforests and rice paddies are in abundance here. Kuta, a beach on the southern tip of Bali, is known for some of the best surfing on the island. If scuba diving or snorkeling is on the agenda, the eastern coastline of Amed offers coral reefs, a sunken Japanese freighter ship and schools of eye-catching fish.
Heading away from the beaches and into a lush rainforest, visitors will find the city of Ubud, made famous in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Eat, Pray, Love.” Using mopeds as the primary mode of transportation, travelers have easy access to shops, bars, restaurants and spas. Retreats, temples and festivals make Bali an ideal location to find bliss. If getting back to nature is on the agenda, head to Monkey Forest, situated on a Hindu temple and nature preserve. Bananas are available for purchase, and the monkeys are happy to accept. However, the park strongly encourages visitors to be mindful of their own belongings; the monkeys can have “sticky fingers.”
Whether vacationers are looking to feed their minds with rich history and culture, fill their bellies with culinary delights or nourish their soul with inner peace, India, Thailand or Bali will satisfy the adventurer within.
“I travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape me.”