Travelling is a very personal thing, and so is packing. For those of you who have mastered this unique art, well done! To the others (and I include myself in this category),why not take a leaf out of Marie Kondo’s book ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’?She devised the famous KonMari Method and is a pro organiser with a minimalist inspired approach to tidying. *Check out her 6 basic rules for decluttering your home below.
I have discovered that the KonMari method is also perfect for packing. Simply take out any item that doesn’t bring you joy when you make your final pack, and hopefully this will lighten your luggage.
On my two recent trips to Japan I traveled mostly by train and often had several flights of stairs to
maneuver to get to platforms. Once I was on the train I discovered that the luggage storage was usually overhead (particularly on the Shinkensen or bullet trains) and I needed to be able to do this myself rather than relying on the kindness of strangers (Japanese people are reserved and don’t usually offer to help). It is a struggle either way, but less of one if your bag is light. On the first trip I had 17kgs which was too heavy and during the second trip I had reduced it to 14kgs, which was about right.One of my travelling companions on my first visit had a suitcase of around 25kgs. This person was a novice traveler and we all nearly broke our backs juggling to pick it up to store it overhead. He ended up buying another bag and splitting the contents. I have discovered that aiming to sit around 15kgs is a good rule of thumb.
Travelling further afield to India, if you are taking an internal flight to a regional area (e.g. Delhi to Dharamsala), the airlines will restrict your check in luggage to 15kgs and usually charge for each kilogram over 16kgs. This can become a costly addition to your holiday if you are taking a few of these internal flights. The same applies for domestic flights in Australia – if you learn the art of packing lightly then there is no need to pay for luggage (e.g. when flying on Jetstar) and the bonus of not having lengthy delays waiting for bags.
From my years of travelling, I have discovered that having less weight to carry around on the road saves your back and your head if you have your suitcase carefully coordinated. I prefer travelling in winter and this has a distinct advantage. You don’t sweat – so that means you can wear the same thing more than once. Rotating different tops and bottoms along with colourful scarves also means that you never get bored. Scarves, shawls and sarongs are great multipurpose travel items and can be used for so many things – to provide warmth, as something to sit on, an emergency towel or blanket or to cover up when visiting religious sites. Wool underwear is another amazing addition as it dries quickly overnight.
Summer it is a bit different but does have one advantage as you can also get wash and wear outfits that you can wash at night time and hang out to dry under some tropical night sky.
I completely understand why Marie Kondo is so famous. Next time you are about to set off on that holiday you have been so eagerly awaiting, pick up every piece of clothing that you are thinking of taking and if it doesn’t bring you joy (or practicality) leave it at home. It is definitely a case of less is best. I am certainly going to try this approach, having just booked myself a flight for 5 days with carry-on luggage only.
The minimalist approach to packing lightly is an art form and something I am embracing, and I hope you will too.
*What is the KonMari Method?
The KonMari Method is Marie Kondo’s minimalist inspired approach to tackling your stuff category-by-category rather than room-by-room. There are six basic rules to get started:
Commit yourself to tidying up.
Imagine your ideal lifestyle.
Finish discarding first. Before getting rid of items, sincerely thank each item for serving its purpose.
We are excited to announce the introduction of a new service – unique ‘Meet Your Insider’ sessions, facilitated via Zoom for a our clients. These individual sessions may help you to decide if a trip is for you and is an opportunity for you to get to know your insider guide.
We will publish a time once a month starting in April for anyone wishing to take a trip to India, Japan or a bespoke experience in Australia please let us know if you want to join us so we can send you the link (it will be early evening in Australia).
Your Insider in India – Vikas Kumar
You will get to meet Vikas, our insider in India. Vikas is our Tour Manager in India and has been guiding tours since 2011. He starting as a trekking porter then guide whilst he was at school, leading people in the Indian Himalayas and he is passionate and knowledgable about the area. Since then he has lead many tours throughout India including women’s and photographic groups, Buddhist Pilgrimages and specialist trekking groups. Vikas grew up in Dharamsala and still lives and works there with his family.
Your Insider in Australia and Japan – Sharon Thrupp
Sharon’s life has been consumed by travel. She got her first insider experience travelling in her home country of Australia, and after this taste of life on the road she set off further afield and spent many years living and working in New Zealand, England and Scotland.
Sharon then spent several years volunteering in the Himalayas – both in a rural village in Nepal and in Dharamsala, India; the home of the Dalai Lama. It was in Dharamsala that Sharon started her travel business – she was an insider in India and wanted to share her knowledge and passion with others.
Nowadays Sharon splits her time between India and Australia, and continues to share her vision of life as an insider as the business manager of Ekno Travels. Sharon leads tours in India, Australia and Japan; with a unique focus on Buddhist pilgrimages and walking tours. Sharon currently enjoys volunteering at Chenrezig Buddhist Institute doing what she loves best, facilitating creative writing courses with a unique Buddhist perspective.
‘One of the things about being an Insider is that it creates lifelong memories of the people you meet along the way and the places you bond with. These are the experiences that help you delve deeper into another destination and create the memories that will last for a lifetime.’
Pilgrimages are a part of nearly every religion. When followers set out there is the hope of finding virtue and gaining merit. Buddhistsvisit places where a spiritual master once spent time, taught or meditated – and this presence is felt often by those who visit that very place.
I have been on and lead many pilgrimages, mainly in India, and I find them to be particularly powerful events. I especially felt this way in Bodhgaya, where the Buddha meditated under the Bodhi tree and found enlightenment 2500 years ago. This is the most sacred place in the world for Buddhists and you can feel it is a very special place, with Buddhists from all over the world walking around in the Mahabodi Stupa in a clockwise manner. It is a truly mesmerisingand rewarding experience, especially as Buddhists believe that merit is accumulated when you take undertake a pilgrimage.
So, when the idea of undertaking a pilgrimage to Japan came up I jumped at the opportunity. Japan is well known as the home of the Shingon Esoteric sect of Buddhism and I was delighted to be asked to lead a pilgrimage to this fascinating country. I asked my good friend and co leader in many pilgrimages, Venerable Kartson from the Chenrezig Institute.
The dates were decided and before we knew it we were all meeting in Osaka – Rob, Pam, Phil, Lesley, Paula, Yaki and I. After arriving at our hotel, we found a small restaurant in the downtown area and got to know each other.
We got down to business on the second day, heading to Nara by train with our guide. Nara is the old capital and is
the most sacred place in Japan for Buddhists. I was blown away as soon as I walked through the gates and marvelled at all the moss covered tōrōs (traditional lanterns made of stone) that line the walkway up to the main temple of Todai –ji. The Daibutsu-den (temple) is the largest wooden building in the world, housing a spectacular 16-metre tall image of the Rushana Buddha in bronze and gold.
The main attractions however were the many deer that roam around the park. They were very friendly and cute, and we couldn’t stop ourselves from being the ‘patting the deer’ tourists. We were also lucky enough to witness a wedding in one of main Shinto temples. It seemed very special to be a quiet observer.
Returning to Osaka we had time to take in the beautiful Osaka Castle. As we arrived late we got to witness the beautiful evening shadows on the surrounding grounds, what a picture it was.
Our next destination was Koyasan. The journey to get there was full of anticipation as we had to get a train from Osaka, a cable car and finally a bus. We then reached our destination, a Shuboko (temple)where we wouldbe spending 2 nights. We were fascinated by the cable car, run very efficiently and safely as most things are in Japan. It was thrilling heading straight up the mountain almost vertically.
The town of Koyasan turned out to be a beautiful little town sitting high in the mountains amongst many large trees. The town itself felt old, very old. Our accommodation at the temple were large tatami rooms with beautiful bedding folded in the corner. A yakata (robe) and jacket were folded up in the other corner, complete with a round tray with cup and a pot of green tea. Dinner turned out to be equally fastidiously prepared, with around 10 different dishes on our trays (all of which we wanted to eat mindfully as it was so beautifully presented). Japan has its own temple cuisine known as Shojin Ryori,which is the traditional dining style of Buddhist monks. It grew in popularity with the spread of Zen Buddhism in the 13th century as the cuisine is made without meat, fish or other animal products.
The founder of Mt Koya was Kobo Daishi Kukai (774-835) a Japanese monk, and the son of a regional aristocratic family in the southern island of Shikoku. In 815 Kobo Dashi was granted the area of Koyasan by the Emperor at the time to build a monastery. The monastery still flourishes 1200 years later, and we had the good fortune of visiting the monastery whilst staying in Koyasan. It was a beautiful old monastery and one got the sense that it was significant not only for the historical perspective it offers but also for care paid to the raked stone garden by the volunteers who took loving care of the place.
Kobo Dashi is buried in a large mausoleum at the cemetery close to town along with 200,000 other monks and feudal lords. The cemetery is full of tombstones which are a mixture of stone statues with faces and others without. Some statues have had their faces painted and wear red hats and bibs and appear very life like. It is one of the main attractions of Mt Koyasan and no visit is complete without a walk through this large area of dead souls.
We were invited to the fire ceremony early the next morning which consisted of monks and nuns chanting and praying while feeding a small fire with wood. An English-speaking monk came and welcomed us, explaining the ceremony before inviting us to breakfast. Breakfast turned out to be as elaborate as dinner the night before.
Heading back down the hill, our cable car journey was just as thrilling as the one on the way up. We were on our way to Kyoto where more adventures were in store. As we were travelling the whole journey by train, we were on and off local trains before getting on a fastintercitytrain to Kyoto. After living in Australia where everything is so far away, and in India where everything is so slow, the speed and lack of distance is a delight. It felt a bit like being in a time capsule.
There is so much to see in Kyoto, where to start? Our wonderful guide Tomokolead us toHigashiyama, Kyoto’s most
popular sightseeing district, so that we could take in some of the city’s most famous highlights. We started near Sanjo-dori Street, before visiting Shoren-in Temple. We were also lucky enough to visit the vast Pure Land temple and garden of Chion-in, which few tourists visit. Bringing back memories of Mt Koyasan, we headed through the graveyard before heading up to the awe-inspiring bell of the temple. We then headed to thepicturesque Maruyama-koen Park, full of young women dressing up in Kimonos taking selfies. It was a very colourful sight and of course I couldn’t resist my own selfie, with them.
Next, we explored the beautifully kept narrow lanes of the Gion district, secretly on the lookout for Geishas (who usually go around in pairs). I was reading an article recently which said that Geishas have become a target of tourists mobbing them wanting selfies, which has made them more reluctant to move around as freely as they have done in the past.
Our second day in Kyoto starts with a train ride then a walk to Tofuku-ji, a little visited temple complex, before heading to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. We were fortunate to witness a magical ceremony with monks of all ages dressed in their robes of many different colours. We watched as they marched into a courtyard one by one as local women sand in the background. It felt surreal as all the monks, in perfect lines, walkedsombrely from the entrance to another temple.
Tomoko then lead us through the narrow streets and alleys before started to climb the northern slope of Mt. Inari, home to Fushimi-Inari Taisha. Here we entered a world of vermillion torii (Shinto shrine gates), hidden shrines, strange stone figures and according to some, legions of ghosts and spirits. The endless red torii gates weaved up and down the slopes and it was a beautiful thing to walk through them on the cobbled stones. This was something that I had always wanted to do ever since living and teaching English in the northern part of Honshu Island back in 2003.
After all that walking we found a little artists café to rest in. We were led into a tatami room with low tables and cushions to sit on. The room overlooked the garden which was very green and overgrown but seemed to match the whole place. It was the perfect natural picture to frame the perfect room, or was it the other way around? The coffee turned out to be equally as good and the matcha (green) tea cake was to die for. I can now see why Kyoto gets 50 million visitors per year.
Next morning, it was time to head south to our next destination, Kii Tanabe, the first point of call for our Kumano Kudo pilgrimage walk. The ancient pilgrimage trail is of the emperor’s and is UNESCO World Heritage protected.
We arrived and immediately headed to the office to get our last minute instructions for the walk. It is well organised for tourists, with locals speaking English and handing out extensive maps and bus timetables to get us around. We also received our Dual Pilgrim books to collect stamps along the Kumano Kudo. The Kumano Kudo and the Way of St James in Spain (also known as the Camino de Santiago) are both UNESCO World Heritage pilgrim networks and came together to share knowledge and to respect each other’s unique spiritual and cultural heritage.
That evening we decided to head into town for a bit of local cuisine and ended up in a tiny restaurant/bar. Our waitress had limited English, but she didn’t need any as she was the most outgoing person we came across on our travels. She ordered food for us, bought us beers and oolong tea and generally entertained us, only for us to meet her at the train station the next morning. She was very excited to see us again. Ven Kartson gave her a small koala bear souvenir and she screamed and clapped her hands in delight.
We left by bus for the start of the walk, having left our bags back at the hotel to be delivered to the next destination. One of the great advantages of travelling in Japan is having Takkyubin or luggage delivery services which we took full advantage of.
Our plan was to get the bus and start walking at Takijiri. We arrived and headed up the mountain, our map telling us we had a 300-metre climb but only 4kms till our next destination, Takahara. The route was made of stones and steps and was straight up. We grunted and groaned most of the way, stopping to catch our breath and admire the tall trees in the ancient forests as we went. It was welcome relief to get to Takahara so that we could stop, catch our breath and admire the scenery. We also found an outdoor café that served the most delicious homemade cakes, which bought smiles to our faces. Onwards we pressed, though equally beautiful old growth forests, up and more up then down and more down, arriving at Chikatsuyu by around 5pm. Our brochure told us that we had walked 13kms, but our fit bits and phones told us we had actually walked double that!
We decided the next day to do a shorter walk, given that some of us had a few blisters and sore legs from that mammoth first day. We caught an early bus to Hosshinmon-oji and the plan was to walk to the main temple of Kumano Hongu Taisha. We started in an old growth forest which eventually gave way to open fields and houses. People were selling their wares on covered tables outside their homes, the goods ranging from salted plums, mulberries and knick knacks.Most of the produce was sold on an honesty system where we put our money in a box. It was a very enjoyable way to spend the day in the fresh air with easy walking. We reached the very old temple of Hongu Taisha and wandered around. It was Saturday and there were many local people visiting the temple as well as a cultural performance to sit and absorb. We also visited the very large Ura-torii which rises out the rice fields with stark majestic splendour.
We then headed to Yunomine-oji, an onsen (hot bath) town where we would be spending the night. Being an onsen town, we were excited to get there and soak our weary bodies in the hot, sulphuric water. Yaki and I decided to do as the locals do and each have a communal bath in the town whilst the others soaked in the onsen next door to where we were staying which was set in the river. Our hostess for our nights’ stay presented us with a beautiful dinner, including special hand made biscuits wrapped in cellophane.
As a group we decided to take the bus to our final destination, Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine and Nachi Falls. The
temple complex at Nachi is one of the best places to see the blending of the older Shinto religion with newer Buddhist practices. The main worship halls for each are immediately adjacent to one another. It is immediately obvious how this location became a focus for the veneration of nature that is common to both religions. Pilgrims have been coming to view the Nachi waterfall — the tallest in Japan –since well before either religion was an established presence. The photogenic pagoda with the waterfall in the background was the final destination for our pilgrimage.
We then headed to Ki Katsuura where we would be staying the night. It is a beautiful fishing village and on finding our ryokan we discovered that we could go to the onsen across the harbour if we dressed up in the yukatas, complete with local slippers and green bags from our rooms. The green bags were our passports to get a free ride across the bay and a free onsen. It was in a cave and fronted onto the ocean. What an experience, sitting in the hot tub watching the waves crash over the wall of rocks just in front of us. Our final dinner was made up of local fresh seafood and lots of local delicacies.
What a fitting way to end a magical trip. We weren’t ready to head home yet, and we were all off to Tokyo for a final
explore – having completed 167,000 steps according to my phone but that’s another story!
Thanks to Venerable Kartson (Yaki) for his valuable insights, research on Shingon Esoteric Buddhism, meditations and a whole lot of travel fun. And thanks to Rob, Paula, Pam, Phil and Lesley for sharing the journey and being great travelling companions. I’m looking forward to doing it all again next year!
Pilgrimages are a part of nearly every religion. When followers set out on a spiritual journey there is the hope of finding virtue and gaining merit. For Buddhists, there is the focus of visiting places where a spiritual master once spent time, taught or meditated – and this presence is often felt by those who visit that very place.
The four most significant pilgrimage sites for Buddhists are – Lumbini in Nepal (where the Buddha was born), Bodhgaya (where the Buddha attained enlightenment), Dhamekh Stupa in Sarnath (the place of the first turning of the wheel after the Buddha was enlightened) and Kushinagar (where the Buddha died or entered Parinirvana). The last three places are all in India, making it a very significant pilgrimage location for Buddhists.
I have been on and lead many pilgrimages, mainly in India and Nepal, and find them very powerful experiences. I have found my visits to Bodhgaya especially enlightening. This is where the Buddha meditated under the Bodhi Tree at Mahabodhi Stupa and became enlightened some 2500 years ago, making it the most sacred place in the world for Buddhists. The main focus of Bodhgaya is the magnificent Mahabodhi Stupa. Buddhists travel from all around the world to circumambulate (the act of moving around a sacred object or idol) the Stupa in a clockwise manner or to sit and meditate under the actual Bodhi Tree. Even when just generally sitting in the enclosure people report feeling the vibrations from the Stupa. Every step and movement of the pilgrim becomes filled with a sense of spiritual progress, just by visiting the Stupa.
Bodhgaya is the most powerful Buddhist pilgrimage site in the world and is visited by Buddhists from many countries – in particular by people from the Himalayan regions of Tibet, India and Bhutan. Pilgrims also visit from as far afield as Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos in the hope of receiving blessings for the highest achievements of their spiritual path.
When the Dalai Lama first visited the Mahabodhi Stupa in 1956 he wrote ‘when I finally stood in the presence of the seat of enlightenment, I was profoundly moved. Reflecting on Sakyamuni Buddha’s great accomplishment in this place, I also could not fail to remember his overwhelming kindness to all sentient beings.’ These powerful and enlightening thoughts are within reach for all who visit this spiritually significant site.
A trip to India and Nepal is usually on every Buddhist’s bucket list. You can take a pilgrimage with an organised group as the main four Buddhist sites are within driving distance from each other (you will need around 5 days to do this). The best time to travel is during the winter season between October and March each year.
Other famous sacred places for Buddhists include other parts of India, including Ajanta and Ellora Caves (see above) , South India, Mount Kailash in western Tibet, Borobudur in Indonesia, Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, Nara in Japan, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar.
Buddhists believe that merit is accumulated when you take part in something religious, with discipline and faith, because in doing so you shape a proper attitude within. So with the right attitude, any journey to a sacred place can become a pilgrimage.
(Source: Newsweek 23/4/2007)
Author: Sharon Thrupp regularly runs Buddhist pilgrimages to India, Nepal and Japan through Ekno Travels. www.eknotravels.com.au
Holidays and retreats in your own backyard can be as fun as travelling to somewhere exotic. No hurrying to get to the airport in time, lining up for check in for an hour then enduring that exhausting over night flight only to do it all again when you get there and on the way home.
Sometimes it is good to take a break close to home. I did recently, in my own backyard yard, the Scenic Rim. I went on a retreat at Mt Alford. The air was clear and crisp, the noise from cars non existent and the resident wildlife in abundance. This combined with outdoor yoga, drinks by the fire, lots of laughs and good home cooking for fuel, it was a perfect way to charge the batteries without all the extra fuss and stress of air travel.
We can organise your perfect retreat – find that venue that suits your needs, organise transport and help with the preparation. With many years of working with groups in India and the subcontinent, it is time to arrange them in our own backyard also.
Contact us for off the beaten track ideas/retreats etc. There are many hidden gems out there.
Thanks to @robynmoller for the photo of @rachelhodder
Come and share our passion for India with Ekno’s popular and knowledgeable insider guide, Vikas Kumar, as he takes you on two incredible journeys in 2019 – Inside Rajasthan and Hidden Gems of the Himalayas.
Those who know Vikas are forever touched by his deep love for his country; which is combined with a thorough knowledge of India’s people, culture, political landscape and everything else in between. As he is a true insider you will get to share in his world and his India, ensuring you are in for a rare and rewarding insiders experience.
20 – 31 January 2019
A$2950 per person twin share
Includes attending the world renown Jaipur Literature Festival for two days as well as exploring this famous ‘Pink City’. Other highlights of this bespoke tour include:
Exploring the colourful chaos of Old Delhi,
Marvelling at the majestic Taj Mahal and Red fort in Agra,
Wandering through the holy lakeside town of Pushkar and exploring your inner hippy,
Enjoying the stunning views from the Mehrangarh Fort in the blue city of Jodhpur,
Bespoke Indian experiences such as elephant and camel rides, yoga lessons and Rajasthani cooking classes
Features two of the most spectacular Hill Stations of Northern India, Shimla and Dharamsala. You will experience hidden gems such as exploring old Raj houses, staying at working tea estate, cooking your own lunch with a local Gaddi sheppher family, circumbulating the Dalai Lama’s residence and so much more. Other highlights of this once in a lifetime tour include:
Enjoying the many sights and wonders of Delh,
Traveling to Shimla on the world famous ‘toy train’,
Visiting the heritage village of Pragpur and staying in a palatial country manor,
Hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas,
Experiencing a visit to the stunning Golden Temple, Sikhism holiest shrine, in Amritsar
As with all Ekno experiences, we select our hotels and locations with an eye on combining luxury and comfort into one fabulous experience. With Vikas as your guide you will not only discover hidden experiences unique to India, but you can also relax safe in the knowledge that your security is foremost in our minds. But don’t just take our word for it, see what some of our satisfied clients have had to say about Vikas:
‘Vikas is a remarkable tour guide. Well organised, fun and with such an inspirational life story! It was great to have him interpret and explain situations, history and culture. I can’t actually speak highly enough of him – one gem of a tour guide.’ Rosalyn Johnson, New Zealand
‘Local guide Vikas was a brilliant choice, always open to chat about India and arrange some extra wishes. He was tireless, always living the slogan – “In India, everything is possible!” It was just an amazing, brilliant, fantastic journey every hour of the way. I really fell in love with the country and I can’t wait to return!’ Mario Becker, Switzerland
As a traveler all my adult life, I have realized there are many different stages of travel in ones’ life. It all started with school trips (travelling with big groups of fellow students) then starting to travel to safe destinations ie in Australia and New Zealand, either by yourself or with a friend. The next big adventure was to head off to work in the UK then backpacking around Europe, Africa and Asia with a tried and tested formula of a backpack, not much money, a Lonely Planet and a good dose of spirit for anything that came along.
By then, you had the travel bug so travel was a necessity for life so I spent my working life, saving up to keep travelling in between part time study or renovating houses. By then I would travel with friends, walking or doing something adventurous in Nepal, New Zealand, Canada, Africa and other parts of Australia. The accommodation would usually be a tent or huts in the wilderness and hire cars or buses. My forties and half of my fifties were spent in this way so pretty much for 30 years I did the same sort of travel.
However hitting my late fifties and early sixties, things have dramatically changed. I need comfort and safety, both in equal doses. I particularly need a comfortable bed, one that just isn’t a slab of form on a wooden bed but one with decent springs and thick top. Long car, train and bus travel has been replaced by air travel and safety has become a priority. I want to have the surety that I am safe wherever I travel. The security of travel knowing that there is someone looking out for you, particularly in India. From being met at the airport (particularly in Delhi) where the chaos begins as you leave the airport doors, through to getting into the car to take you to your hotel, the experience intensifies. Having lived in India for 13 years and have travelled far and wide either on my own, leading groups or with a couple of friends then safety is always high on my needs list. As one of my friends recently said ‘India never turns off’.
Keeping this in mind we at Ekno Travels are experts at providing custom made, safe travels (particularly for women).We understand safety, security and the need to be independent also, so if want to travel independently, pick one of our itineraries or customise one of our trips by adding or removing as many elements as you like.
As an alternative you can also start with a blank page and we will assist you in designing your own fully customised itinerary. You can travel with one of our guides or have one of our local guides at your chosen destination show you around. Our office has your back…being in touch with your driver and guide and of course you. Talk to us at email@example.com so we can give you some expert advice on where you want to go, what you want to see and when you want to do it. India will be an incredible experience.
The Dalai Lama’s teachings in Dharamsala are up there on one of the all time experiences to put on your bucket list.
It has a famous person at centre stage – the Dalai Lama, all the pomp and ceremony of an ancient culture, lots of Tibetans from the Amlas (mothers, grandmothers) and their children and grandchildren in their long, silk brocade tunic with a matching (or not) blouse underneath. The men are also there in their traditional extraordinary, long armed coats covering their trendy jeans. All this is decorated with silver amulets, coral and turquoise beads. It is interesting mixture of the traditional versus modernity of jeans, t-shirts and American sports shoes.
The teachings which are on Buddhist Philosophy can be difficult to understand. The Dalai Lama is a very skilled teacher who has spent a lifetime absorbed in this ancient Philosophy, cuts through it all, and gives very practical advice on how to use it in everyday life. He has the uncanny ability to tell us when we need and feel as though he is talking to us directly. With his deep, powerful voice the words that are delivered cut deep into your heart and soul.
The audience for the teachings is a mixture of cultures, ages and races. From the local Tibetans to people who have travelled far and wide to be in the Dharamsala temple grounds it is an eclectic mix who all come for one common purpose, to get a glimpse to the Dalai Lama and to hear his words.
The teachings happen in his temple grounds. There are no chairs (you have to bring your own) and the teachings are in Tibetan with the language of your choice through an FM radio. As it is in an open space, the teachings can happen in all kinds of weather; it can be either freezing cold or blistering hot. It is also a huge, cultural experience. Tibetans treat it as a special occasion and dress up for it and sit, listen and socialize in the breaks. The kids run around as if they are at a picnic.
The Dalai Lama comes and goes to his house in the same way, through the gates at the end of the temple. If you are cheeky enough, you can manaevour your way to the front and get up close and personal with him (surrounded by his body guards though). It can be a very moving experience particularly making eye contact and having him stop to talk to you and your neighbours.
We, at Ekno Travels are locals of Dharamsala, so we have put together 2 itineraries to coincide with the 2018 teachings in 4-7 September, 3-6 October 2018 See itinerary here. Hope you can join us.
Katie, Cam, Jason, Sharyn, Sonia and Chris are six friends who met up over the Christmas period last year and decided to achieve 2 things – to hike the iconic Great Ocean Walk and to lose weight. Aged from their mid to late 40’s they set out to achieve these twin goals with determination and motivation as they knew there would be a huge reward at the finish line. Through a variety of diets and a pretty solid regime of walking every day for training, they have now achieved both of these goals.
Between the six of them they lost a staggering 64 kgs, an average of just over 10 kgs each. This in itself is a huge life changing achievement. They felt energised, empowered and above all inspired to take on one of Australia’s great natural wonders.
The friends were now ready to tackle to Great Ocean Road and chose to do so with the added comfort of one of our fixed group departures. This meant that all of the hard work of organising transport, accommodation and catering was taken care of before they had even set foot on the trail. They knew that after a hard yet rewarding day of walking they would be able to return to the comfort of their holiday home where they had comfy beds, hot showers, fully catered meals and a roaring fireplace waiting for them. Throw in a few optional extras like a glass of wine and a massage and they were set to have a truly memorable experience.
The friends not only walked the Great Ocean Walk with ease but went on to hike an impressive 74kms in 3 days. With their already increased fitness levels and a strong determination to complete their mission the group had a wonderful time taking in the many sights and delights along the way. Group leader Sharon Thrupp was on hand to offer support and motivation, and local expert guide Alan provided his unique insider knowledge as the team explored the majestic coastline.
Well done team! What a huge effort. According to Katie, they are already planning their next adventure – both to keep the weight off and to have another truly memorable experience.
If you are feeling inspired, why not set your own weight loss and exercise goals? You may surprise yourself and then be able to take the next step … a walking holiday to test the new you! You can get your own private group together or join on of our organised groups for the Great Ocean Walks here
15 – 23 November 2018
A$1900 per person twin share – A$1750 if you book by end of June If there is one thing that India does well, it is knowing how to throw great parties and festivals. Festivals in India are a mecca of bright colour, rich culture and unique spiritual traditions. One festival has all of that as well as an added bonus – camels!
The Pushkar Camel Fair is held each November on the full moon and is one of India’s most highly-rated travel experience. This is truly a spectacle on an epic scale, attracting over 200,000 people along with thousands of camels, horses and cattle. Why not take this once in a lifetime opportunity to witness the all the sights, sounds and carnival atmosphere of one of the last great traditional melas (festivals) in the world?
Pushkar is situated only an hour away from Jaipur, the capital city of the desert state of Rajasthan. It is also a deeply spiritual town, with the only temple in India dedicated to the Hindu god Brahma. This tour will also visit India’s famed ‘golden triangle’ which includes a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra as well as the pink city of Jaipur.
Our Pushkar Camel Fair tour brings together some of the most culturally significant sites in India for one spectacular nine day holiday. For those eager to explore North India’s diverse heritage and culture, this is the adventure for you. Come as part of a group or travel on your own with our help if you wish. Treat yourself to something very different, you won’t be disappointed.
Wonders of Delhi
Magnificent Taj Mahal in Agra
Once in a lifetime opportunity to witness the colour, spectacle and carnival atmosphere at India’s greatest tribal gathering
Holy lakeside town of Pushkar
Colourful bazaars of the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur
Unexpected beauty and charm of the Amber Fort in Jaipur
The Kumano Kodo, or Kumano Ancient Trail, is a pilgrimage route to Kumano, part of the mountainous Kii Peninsula which stretches south from the Kansai cities of Osaka, Nara and Kyoto. The well-maintained trail threads its way through deep valleys, mountains and small villages to offer a wonderfully-varied hike over four days. Stay at comfortable family-run inns with excellent food, soak in natural hot springs, and visit the shrines along the way. The pilgrimage routes to the three great Kumano Shrines – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha, and Hayatama Taisha – were popularized during and after the Heian Period (794-1185), when the Imperial family and nobility began to seek salvation in sangaku shinko (a belief in the supernatural power of mountains), rather than through common religious practices.
For a true insiders experience, join us led by Buddhist monk Venerable Kartson (Yaki Platt) and Ekno Travels founder Sharon Thrupp. This once in a life time tour will include walking the ancient trail, a temple stay at Mt Koya and visits to the culturally significant cities of Nara and Kyoto.
We will depart Brisbane and arrive together in Osaka before heading for Nara (the first permanent capital of Japan), full of historic treasures and wonders – including some of Japan’s oldest and largest temples.
Next is Mt Koya which is home to an active monastic centre founded twelve centuries ago as well as being the headquarters of the Shingon Buddhist sect. Situated on a small plain at the top of Mount Koya, the Monastery is a deeply spiritual complex of temples, halls and pagodas. Surrounded by a thick forest of massive cedars, it is a serene place for reflection and contemplation. There is also a women’s pilgrimage circuit which you may wish to complete during your stay.
Next we travel to historical Kyoto, full of shrines and temples, followed by walking the ancient pilgrimage trail of Kumano Kodo at the most stunning time of year with the autumn leaves in full colour.
Our walk is very flexible with several shortcut options. Without the short-cuts we will walk 54km over four days, however with two insider guides supporting the group you will not be alone, whichever option you choose to take. The walk can be strenuous at times, but you will have the luxury of only carrying a day-pack each day.
A must for Buddhists and non Buddhists alike. Full itinerary
Intoxicating, crazy, exasperating, wonderful, beautiful, daunting, overwhelming, fantastic. India is all these things, and more. (Lonely Planet)
How can you possibly prepare yourself? Having lived, worked and traveled frequently throughout India, I have put together 10 of my best travel tips for women so that you can get the most out of your travels in India.
Try to get fit and healthy before you embark on your journey. Make sure you have good gut health. I recommend you take good pro-botic before you travel as that will ensure that any nasties will stay away. There is a product on the market called grapefruit seed or citrus seed extract; you will need 10 drops a in bottled water each day This will help with any tummy bugs. Both products can be found at a local health food shop or online.
India can be dusty and dirty and in some of the bigger cities there can be pollution (depend on which time of year you are there). Bring a facemask which can be worn in the bigger cities. The ones that will keep 80% of the pollutant particles out are 3M (the company) and the number of the mask is N95.
Pack lightly as India has a lot of stairs and uneven roads. I recommend you bring a solid suitcase on wheels. If you are travelling on an internal flight, most of the airlines will only allow 15kgs per passenger and 7kgs as carry on. This rule is usually enforced and you will be required to pay the excess luggage fee around $10 per kg extra (which is payable by you).
If traveling between September and December then pack light, cotton clothes. Make sure that your necklines aren’t too low or your skirt lengths too high. Bare arms are permissible. In some temples, your head has to be covered so bring a scarf (lightweight if it is hot). A scarf is invaluable when travelling as it can cover up, use for protection against the sun and also make your outfit be dressier. Don’t bring high heels and leather soled shoes – As the pavements, roads, surfaces are very uneven, bring flat ‘sensible’ shoes, either walking shoes or if it is hot bring travelling sandals which can air your feet as well as provide protection.
Don’t bring any expensive jewelery and keep your money tucked away safely. Either bring a handbag that you can cross the strap over your body or keep your handbag zipped up. India is a poor country so best not to tempt dishonesty.
India has its own time, slow! It is country where everything works slowly and this can take some adjustment. Whilst planes run on time (mostly) and your days activities will leave on time also, things can take longer than you are expecting. Have patience! It is the journey not the destination that is important.
Whilst we are not used to tipping in Australia, it is encouraged and accepted in India. People you will come across whilst travelling won’t earn so much money so tipping is a good way to show your appreciation for a job well done, it also helps subsidize their otherwise low wages. The average tip in a restaurant would be around IR100-IR200 per bill. For groups it would be a bigger tip. It is a good practice whilst you there.
Don’t drink from the local tap or brush your teeth under the shower. Have a supply of bottled water or there may be places which say ‘drinking water’ as the water supply has been filtered (see above also for grapefruit seed extract). Only buy food from recommended places – mainly good restaurants. Don’t eat off the streets especially cut fruit and try to stick to vegetarian food in India. It can be questionable about how the meat is prepared and cooked.
Beer and wine are served in up market restaurants and may not be available everyday of your tour. In this case, you may have to have a couple of ‘alcohol’ free days on your trip – particularly in out of the way places. Wine is expensive in India.
Men will stare at you in India, mainly on the streets. Your interactions during your travels with be mainly with men. Men work in the hotels, shops, drive the cars/buses you will be travelling it. The women are mostly invisible except on the streets shopping. Keep your interactions with men in a slightly standoff manner and ignore the stares. They are not used to seeing women in larger groups by themselves.
Finally, India is a country of men (where the women can often be invisible). It has a strong patriarchal system, a modest and conservative country as far as women are concerned so it is courtesy to adhere to some of these tips in particular about the dress and behavior.
Vikas Kumar (our Tour Leader) performed Pind Daan Ritual last week on the banks of the sacred Ganges in Varanasi. The ritual was following the death of one of our Leaders (Amber Chand) whose mother, Asha Chand passed away at the age of 95 in the UK recently. Pind Daan is a mandatory ritual which is to be performed after death. Pind Daan gives an ultimate relief to the departed soul and paves way into the world of peace.
Amber describes her mother as a wonderful, most beloved soul. Born in India, lived in Uganda after marriage, and then in England for the reminder. The first Indian woman lawyer in East Africa. Twice a refugee – first during partition (1947) and then after Idi Amin (1971-79), the African dictator expelled her family out Uganda. She was a wise soul, Amber lovingly remembers.
We are proud of you Vikas Kumar to offering to perform this important Hindu ceremony as it is considered a a great honour to perform this ceremony by someone not related to you. May you rest in peace Asha.