Posts Tagged ‘mountains’

Pai in the Sky

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Have you ever landed somewhere and just immediately felt at home?  That’s how Pai made me feel.  Like what I’d been looking for for several weeks.  Yes, the beaches and islands of Thailand are amazing, but there is something about Pai that is unique.  It is small and laidback, the Thai are super laid back anyway, but the atmosphere here lends itself to go at one’s own pace, no need to worry about anything, no need to make plans.  My accommodation was a bungalow, next to a river, with beautiful green mountains on the horizon.  The guest house offers a funky bar playing ambient music where the masses can gather.  There is a common kitchen and dining area as well, which offers for social interaction, as well as allowing artists to show their work.  It makes for very homey surroundings.

I hadn’t known much about Pai, but I met two Australian girls on my flight from Phuket to Chiang Mai who had been before and mentioned that that was their final destination.  It sounded like an interesting alternative to Chiang Mai, the city of more than 300 temples, Thailand’s third largest, and while the old city area is contained and doesn’t feel so much like a big city, on the whole, it is busy and spread out, and unlike Pai, you cannot see the mountains in the distance.  My initial plan was to take a massage course in CM, so I investigated that option in Pai and found that there was an accredited school which had been there since the 80’s.  So, after 2 days in CM, my mind was made up.  If I’d stayed in CM, I would have become bored and spent way too much money, so after 3 days, I headed to Pai.

The day before heading to Pai, I did a visa run to extend my stay for another 15 days.  Depending on where you are in Thailand, and what you want to do, these runs can be made to anywhere in the region.  You just need to cross the border and come back in.  My run was to Myanmar.  Interesting, one cannot obtain a tourist visa at Myanmar’s border, but you can cross over for 24 hours just to take care of your Thai visa.  For me, the whole process took about 15 minutes.  See, I was on a tour that makes the visa run one of the stops, so, I was literally stamped in and out and back into Thailand in no time.

The tour was different and funny.  The first stop was a hot spring which was literally a pool about 6 feet in diameter that was in the middle of a parking lot, blocked off by a railing, with a fountain spouting from the center.  The last stop was at a tribal village, in which the tribes people don’t even live anymore.  They dress up in costume and sell goods to tourists.  The one stop I did enjoy was the White Temple in Chiang Rai.  The construction of this temple began only 15 years ago, so it is very modern in architecture and art.  It is medieval in that there are skulls and skeletons, and hands reaching to the sky with nails painted red and black in the midst of a sea of white.  The mural in the temple is by one of Thailand’s premier artists.  It was extremely different as it depicts super heroes, world leaders, modern technology, and even the disaster of planes flying into the Twin Towers.  The whole thing is a bit eerie and weird, and unconventional in comparison to the other Buddhist temples I’d seen.  For pictures of Chiang Mai/Rai, click here.

The drive to Pai is on a beautiful mountain road with over 750 switchbacks.  The road is flanked by jungle and mountains, and if you are one who gets motion sickness, this is certainly a trip on which you would want to take an anti-nausea med.  It takes almost 3 hours to go the 130 miles from Chiang Mai to Pai, and upon arrival, everyone is relieved to have made it without getting sick.  The main town is very small, one can easily walk it in an hours’ time.  The streets are lined with restaurants, bars, and cafes, as well as art galleries, book stores, and souvenir shops, yet none of it in a cheesy-touristy way.  Maybe because there is a clear combination of expat and Thai culture, maybe because Pai is a major destination for Thai tourists, or maybe because no one is hawking their wares, they just allow things to happen as they will.  There is a huge night market featuring tons of delicious food options, artists, performers, and vendors.  It is part of what makes Pai what it is, allowing visitors and locals alike to share in the nightly fun, social activity.

A big piece of the culture here is to light floating lanterns. It is often done in celebration or to mark an auspicious occasion.   They act like a hot air balloon, you light the wick and the heat from the fire causes the lantern to rise high into the sky.  It is a beautiful thing to see, especially when there are several of them floating at one time.   It was something I really wanted to do while there, and on my last night I lit one with my friends from Sweden.  We had a nice two day reunion, and this was a sendoff for all of us.

In addition to all that Pai offered, I enjoyed it because it gave me an opportunity to do whatever I wanted to.  There were no plans or deadlines or expectations of other people.  I got back into my yoga practice after five weeks (my cracked rib was finally healed) and practiced every day, I read and wrote every day, I practiced my new massage theory on willing bodies, I slept as late as I wanted, ate when and what I wanted (and with that I have to add, great healthy food, juice and tea bars in Pai), and for the first time in a long time felt like all my time was my own.  For those of you who are parents, or employed for that matter, I don’t know how you do it.  🙂  For pictures of Pai, click here.

So, Pai is one of those places I could see going back to.  I could even see staying there for a season.  See, I know I could make money.  It is the sort of places that lends itself to a yoga practice, but that is lacking there.  And every time I was offering a massage, there was interest from others.  And in doing those things, I would be doing what I love, and not have to do too much of it, because it is Thailand after all, and the cost of living would be easy to meet.

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Posted in Food, Massage, nature, travel, Yoga | 5 Comments »

Up in the Mountains

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

I’m back in McLeod Gang, the Tibetan enclave which is a suburb of Dharamsala, as well as the place where the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetan refugees reside.  I’m sitting on my hotel room balcony, watching the rain fall; it’s been raining for 24 hours straight.  Actually, it’s pretty much been raining since my arrival 6 days ago.  I was lucky to have a couple short breaks, and actually saw the sun for a few hours one afternoon, but it brings me back to Kundapura and the arrival of the monsoon.  It’s a shame because it really is beautiful up here in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh.  The view here in McLeod is lined with Tibetan prayer flags.  If only I could see them, naught for the fog.

Thankfully, when I was here almost a month ago, it was different.  There was some rain and fog, but the monsoon had not yet fully hit.  Like all of India, HP is short on its rainfall, having a 30% deficit this monsoon season.  Yet, that made for a drier visit for Dore and I, and allowed for us to be able to walk around, see sights such as the Tsuglagkhang Temple Complex (the main Buddhist Temple and home of the Dalai Lama) and embark on a stunning hike through lush forest loaded with rhododendron trees (unfortunately not flowering, but this is their native habitat) and more shades of green than I even knew existed, to a boulder strewn waterfall of crystal clear freezing cold water.

McLeod is an interesting place.  For the most part, you would not know you were in India, until the horns start honking, but you could be in Tibet or other parts of Asia.  There are always monks dressed in red and gold robes walking the streets and sitting in cafes , some sort of organized talk about the refugees or Buddhism to attend, and then the tourist aspect which adds a bit of Western flavor.  There is a huge Asian influence to the food here, and it is amazing.  There is a fantastic vegetarian Japanese restaurant which has delicious sushi, I’ve found a wonderful veggie Tibetan restaurant with hands down the best momos ever, and there is a superb Chinese restaurant which you know makes all its sauces from scratch.  I’ve been doing a lot of eating since the rain doesn’t allow for much else, or that’s my excuse anyway.

Actually, regardless of the rain, I’ve made a few visits to the Tsuglagkhang Complex, just to be in the atmosphere.   When Dore and I visited last time, we were lucky to arrive towards the end of Sangha and witness the monks in prayer, chanting and playing their myriad of musical instruments: drums, horns, bells, cymbals.  This visit, I haven’t made it for that, but there seems to always be a gathering of monks, there are always devotees engaged in their personal prayer practice (which honestly seems like a form of exercise where they move from a standing position to a prostrated position and then back up again with a push up), and of course there are the prayer wheels.  I haven’t counted them.  Possibly a hundred of them surrounding the Tsuglagkhang Temple, adorned with the Tibetan mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum,” The Jewel in the Lotus.  I have spun many of them sending prayers out in several directions, although always spinning in a clockwise direction, even though I’m not sure why this is the rule.  For pictures of McLeod Gang, link here.

When Dore and I left last time, we headed next to Manali, a short distance as a crow flies, but a 9 hour bus ride through curving mountain roads.  This was a warm-up to the 18 hour bus ride from Manali to Leh.  We stayed in Old Manali; a town which seems to have been built for tourists, yet still has some charm, set next to a rushing river in the mountains.  Here, I mostly relaxed, practiced yoga, shopped, ate.  One day did a hike up to have a look at the beautiful view, and another day the 3km walk to Vashisht, another tourist enclave on the opposite bank of the Beas River.  I made a connection in Manali for when I return to study Ayurvedic massage.  It really is a beautiful relaxed place, one I would like to visit again.  Link here for more pictures of Old Manali.

Next destination Leh, which I have already shared a little about in my last blog, but which had another special aspect for me.  The Dalai Lama was not in McLeod Gang when we were there, he was touring Ladakh, and happened to be in Leh at the same time we were.  We were lodging at a homestay and the family was going to see the Dalai address his audience, which was open to the public.  I asked if I could tag along.  There were probably 10,000 people there to hear him speak.  It felt a little like being at a music festival; the excitement in the air, people camped out on blankets, the anticipation of what one might witness.  There were several sections partitioned off; some for monks and nuns, another for old age, and then one for foreigners directly next to the podium.  Here one had a perfect side view of the Dalai Lama, and English translation over a speaker about one sentence behind what his holiness was saying.

It was really amazing to see this great leader, who is known to be a very charismatic speaker, address an audience.  At times, serious and profound, at others light-hearted and comical.  And then, of course, compassionate.  He stopped the Ladakhi translator at one point to ask if someone would assist an elderly woman attempting to navigate through the crowd.  Always present, always aware.  Something special to have witnessed.  He spoke of compassion, to bring more of it into the world.  Of evil and why it exists.  He made a joke that if there’s a hell, there has to be people to go there.  He spoke of the self, that it exists not on its own, but as a part of something greater, without beginning or end.  And he spoke about Tibetan Buddhism, that some say it is not really Buddhism, he says that those people must not know Buddhism.  It was a very thought-provoking and meaningful morning for me.  For pictures of Leh and His Holiness, link here.

So, my main observation about my time in Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh is that the Tibetan influence on this part of India gives it a distinctive feel and flavor, unlike anywhere else I’ve been in India.  Being a white woman is no longer a spectacle, possibly because the Tibetans don’t care, or because there are many more Western tourists here.  Regardless, it feels really nice to not be on display anymore.  And the whole atmosphere is different.  Much more chill and laid back.  Smaller towns, higher altitudes, fresher air, cleaner water, cooler temperatures, pine laden mountains, yaks and sheep, apples and pears and apricots…oh, the apricots.  Just different.  There is something to be said for mountain living.  Not that I have ever done it.  I haven’t, but I am certainly intrigued after my most recent experiences.

Well, this will be my last blog from India.  I’ve been taking a Thai Massage class which commences today.  Tomorrow, I embark on the 12 hour bus ride to Delhi, and in three days, I will find myself in Sri Lanka.  After four months here, I am looking forward to the excitement and adventure of a new place.  I’m also looking forward to being where it is sunny and warm again, maybe relaxing on a beach for a few days.  And I’ll be easing myself into SE Asia, since Sri Lanka has lots of Buddhist and Southern Indian influence.

So, with a Namaste, Namaskar, Hadi Om, Julley (whatever your flavor isJ), I bid you farewell from India, and look forward to greeting you with Sai Ram or Ayubowen from Sri Lanka.

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Posted in Massage, nature, Spiritual, travel | 6 Comments »