Scuba diving certification has been high on my personal bucket list for over a decade. So when I decided to visit Thailand and saw that scuba ranked high on the list of things to do, I realized it was finally time to go for it! So now I will be spending the next several days…
I spent eight amazing days in Malaysia. I was impressed with many things, including the general sophistication of the cities and the kindness of the people. However, it is the geographical beauty, the delicious food, and the fascinating culture that sticks out most in my mind.
The geographical beauty
By far, the lush landscape and stunning hills of Cameron Highlands was my favorite. Cameron Highlands is about 200 kilometers northeast of Kuala Lumpur, and definitely worth a visit. It’s easy to catch a bus from KL airport and it only takes about 5 hours. Highlights of my visit in that area included a day touring a tea plantation, dining at The Ye Olde Smokehouse, and trekking through the ancient Mossy Forest. The waterfront area of Penang also took my breath away. Make sure you take a ferry over to George Town. It takes about 20 minutes and the view is spectacular.
Eating Malaysian Food is an adventure in itself. A lot of the seafood is sold whole, with the eyeballs still on! It was a little shocking to me. Most of the time I really had no idea what I was eating and because of the language barrier I couldn’t understand what they were telling me about the menu. Apparently that isn’t an unusual event because they would then hand me a picture menu and I would just point at something and hope it was good. The “point and eat” approach worked in my favor every time except once when I was served a dish with every piece of what I assume was chicken, was nothing but gristle. Yuck!
Cameron Highlands has been a feast for my senses. Every day I discover a new plant, fruit or vegetable that I have never heard of or seen before. Cameron Highlands is a lush tropical paradise located approximately 200 kilometers northeast of Kuala Lumpur. The elevation ranges from 3,600 ft. to 5,200 ft. above sea level and the mean annual temperature is about 64 °F. During the day, the temperature seldom rises over 75 °F. It has rained hard every day that I’ve been here. The first day I was here it was sprinkling lightly and a local man was walking in front of me with an umbrella. I noticed he glanced up to the sky and then started to run. I took that as a sign so I ran for cover too. I’m glad I did because soon the sky opened in an utter deluge, but typically the sun comes out afterwards and everything smells so fresh!
Mossy Forest is an ancient forest that they say is millions of years old. In some places of the forest the moss is several inches thick. It’s a dark and damp rain forest that reminds me a lot of the Olympic Peninsula in my home state of Washington. It looks like something out of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. It’s not easy to get around in it. You have to climb over ancient stumps and giant twisted tree limbs. Our guide said that 70% of the plants in the Mossy Forest are medicinal. In fact, it’s where Tiger Balm originated. Thank goodness, the plants are all now protected.
India changes people. If you don’t believe me, just ask Deb Jarrett. She was an American, turning 40 and needing a change her life. She loved to travel, so she volunteered with a charitable organization called Cross Cultural Solutions and signed up for a few weeks in India. Fast forward nearly a decade later and she is running her own nonprofit, rescuing animals from the harsh streets of India and an important part of the Dharamsala community. Dharamsala is probably best known for being the town of residence of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.
I met Deb while on a trek in the Himalaya Mountains on our way up to Triund. It was hard to miss her big radiant smile and 3-legged dog named Jack. After only a 5-minute conversation we became friends. Her commitment and passion for helping others, whether they be 2-legged or 4-legged beings, inspires me to be a better person.
The beginning of Dharamsala Animal rescue
When she first came to India for a few weeks as a volunteer working with women and children, she was astonished at the mistreatment of animals, in particular, dogs. There was a poor little sickly one in the corner of the temple where she was working and no one seemed to care about it. Deb, being a woman of action, contacted a vet for assistance, and well the rest is history.
I had an extraordinary time visiting a real Indian farm in Southeastern Goa. Dudhsagar Plantation is a guesthouse spread on about 50 beautiful acres. They have 5 cottages scattered amongst the agricultural paradise and employ around 14 people. The farm is owned by Doris and Ajit Malkarnekar who started it over 30 years ago. Doris is from Germany and still lives there. Ajit is Goan. Their son, Ashok, was my host. His wife actually lives in Indonesia. I found it fascinating that both couples are international and live apart most of the time. I guess when running a large plantation, you do what you have to in order to keep the place running smoothly. In fact, I’ve met many people in India that live apart from their spouses in order to meet obligations of extended family and work. It’s not terribly uncommon.
Beside the 5 cottages, the grounds also have a fair sized swimming pool and open air common dining room. It has a thatched roof and is situated just outside the main house. The food was delicious and featured many of their farm grown fruits, vegetables and spices.
Ashok gave me the grand tour and I was captivated by every amazing detail. Their main crop is coconuts and they harvest 3 to 4 times per year. They cook with their own homemade bio gas, which is basically methane made from liquefied cow dung. Cow dung is a popular fuel in India. Traditionally, many homes dry cow dung discs and cook with them year around. Sometimes it takes a little getting used to because the smell of burning cow dung mixes with the aroma of the food and is a little pungent for western senses, but food cooked on biogas does not have this odour.
Everyone is always talking about Goa like it’s some sort of exotic dream vacation destination, so I had to find out for myself why it’s so popular. I’ve only spent three days here and I never want to leave! Goa is heavenly, and my accommodations are sheer paradise!
What and Where
I’m staying at a charming home stay called Olaulim Backyards, situated on 3 lovely acres located about half an hour outside of Panjim. Panjim is the capital of the state of Goa. Home Stays are popular in India and one of my favorite types of places. They are typically a cheaper alternative to a hotel and provide a “no frills” style of accommodations. However, Olaulim (the name of the village) Backyards is an extraordinary exception.
I arrived after dark, weary from a day of travel. Pirkko Fernandes, co-owner and hostess, met me with a smile at the car and introduced herself. She is originally from Finland but has lived in India for over 20 years. Her hospitality and graciousness were evident from the very beginning. I felt like I had just arrived home. She showed me to my cottage and I was immediately impressed with every beautiful detail. The bed was soft and actually had sheets (unusual for India unless staying in a 4 or 5-star hotel). The bamboo accents and soft golden lighting instantly helped me relax. The bathroom was an open air style with a 6-foot solid mud wall around it, thatched roof and a concrete floor. It makes you feel like you are part of nature yet still have all the comforts of home. I really had no idea though what a charming and beautiful place it was until the next morning.
I awoke to the sounds of birds singing cheerfully outside of my cottage. I could hear the unmistakable sound of a peacock calling in the distance and wind chimes making soft music in the cool morning breeze. I made myself a cup of coffee and then headed out to the pool area to meditate, do some yoga and watch the sunrise over the bay. It was the perfect start to an incredibly relaxing day.
It was a month I will never forget! While listening to the eerie and beautiful sounds of traditional India music being played before us, and looking around for the last time at many of my new yogi friends, I was overwhelmed with emotions. My time at Rishikesh Yog Peeth had changed me forever. I Taught…
This 200-hour yoga teaching class has been extremely intense. It’s 3 ½ hours a day of lecture and 4 hours a day of yoga. Fortunately, Rishikesh Yog Peeth has some of the best yoga instructors in the world! They know how to keep it interesting and how to pick us up when we are feeling…
Yesterday, while doing yoga alone on the shores of the Ganges river, and later browsing through the products in the local ayurvedic store (India’s version of naturopathic remedies) it occurred to me. I’m turning into a hippie, and I’m okay with it! I’m not sure if it’s Rishikesh, my introduction to yoga, or both, but…
It’s not all hard work at Rishikesh Yog Peeth. We are now in our third week of a four week course and we’ve made many new friends along the way. There may even be some romance blooming amongst some students (shhhh). We have a lot of fun between classes and on the weekends, so you can hear laughter ringing through the halls on a regular basis. The ashram obviously tries really hard to build a sense of family and to create some fun memories for everyone. Here are just a few things that we’ve enjoyed, along with a short interview with a couple of my new friends.
Trek up to a temple for an early morning blessing
A large group of students went on a short hike up a mountain to a temple to receive a special blessing from a spiritual leader. My weekends have been busy with Kirti because we have only a few days left to enjoy each other’s company for a while, but it sounds like the group had a wonderful time. Many of the students here are clearly enjoying the spiritual aspects of the program.