Pilgrimages are a part of nearly every religion.  When followers set out there is a hope of finding virtue and gaining merit.  For Buddhists, they visit places where a spiritual master once spent time, where he taught or meditated and his presence is felt often by those who visit that very place.

I have been on and lead many pilgrimages mainly in India and find them particularly powerful events, particularly in Bodhgaya, where the Buddha found enlightenment 2,500 years ago.  He meditated under the Bodhi Tree at Mahabodhi Stupa and became enlightened.  This is the most sacred place in the world for Buddhists and you can feel it is a very special place with Buddhists from around the world walking around in a clockwise manner.  It is a memerising experience as Buddhists believe that merit is accumulated when you take undertake a pilgrimage.

So when the idea came that it would also be a worthwhile to undertake a pilgrimage to Japan, the home of another sect of Buddhism, Shingon Esoteric.   I asked my good friend and co leader in many pilgrimages, Ven Kartson from Chenrezig Institute.  The dates we decided were 12-22 October this year.

We all met in Osaka – 5 of participants – Rob, Pam, Phil, Lesley and Paula and Yaki and I.  We met at our hotel and found a small restaurant in the downtown area to get to know each other.   We sat outside on the footpath and there was a distinct chill in the air.

We got down to business 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 by all the moss covered tōrōs (traditional lantern made of stone) that lined the walk way up to the main temple of Todai –ji.  Its  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 deer that roam around the park.  They were very friendly and cute and we couldn’t stopped ourselves being the ‘patting the deer’ tourists.  We also witness a wedding in one of main Shinto temples.  It seemed very special to be quiet observer. Nara 1

Returning to Osaka we had time to take in the beautiful Osaka Castle.  As we were there late got to witness the beautiful evening shadows of 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 then a bus to our destination, a Shuboko (a temple) in the town where we were spending 2 nights.  We were fascinated by the cable car, run very efficiently and safely as most things are in Japan.  Every detail is attended to, a man in a immaculate blue uniform wearing white gloves was at the helm.  It was thrilling heading straight up the mountain almost vertically.

The town of Koyasan turned out to a beautiful little town sitting high in the mountains  quaintly amongst many large trees.  The town felt old, very old.   Our accommodation at the temple stay were large tsumati rooms with beautiful bedding folded in the corner.  A Yakata and jacket pristinely pressed was 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 fastidiousily prepared and we have around 10 different dishes on our trays all of which you wanted to eat mindfully as it was so beautifully presented.  Japan has its own temple food 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. Japan-1

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 1,200 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 but for the amount of care paid to the raked stone garden and 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 which have had their faces painted and wearing red hats and bibs and were very life like in some cases.  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, praying while feeding a small fire with wood.  An English speaking monk came and welcomed us, explained about the ceremony and then invited us to breakfast.  Breakfast turned out to be as elaborate as dinner the night before.  The flavours and presentation as exquisite as the night before.

Heading down the hill, our cable car journey was still as thrilling as the one of 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 then a fast intercity to Kyoto.  It is always amazing 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 feels like being in a time capsule.

There is so much to see in Kyoto, where to start?  We find our hotel, settle in and time to meet our guide, Tomoko.  She is a delight, friendly and leads us to the nearest bus stop on our way to Higashiyama is Kyoto’s most popular sightseeing district. We take in some of the city’s most famous highlights, starting near Sanjo-dori Street and we walk to Shoren-in Temple. Then, we enter the vast Pure Land temple of Chion-in and enter the garden there, which few tourists visit. Bring back memories of Mt Koyasan, we head through the graveyard before heading up to the awe-inspiring bell of the temple. As we head into the  picturesque Maruyama-koen Park and continue into  Yasaka-jina Shrine, it is full of young women dressing up in Kimano’s taking selfie’s around the shrine.  It is a very colourful sight and of course I couldn’t resist my own selfie, with them.Yasaka-jina Shrine, Kyoto

Next is the Gion district to walk around the beautifully kept narrow lanes, secretly on the lookout for Geisha’s (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’.  This has made them more reluctant to move freely around 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 then onto Kiyomizu-dera Temple.  We were fortunate to witness a magical ceremony with monks (of all ages)  all dressed in their robes of many different colours.  They marched into a courtyard one by one to local women (dressed in black) singing.  It seemed as though they were ranked according to their seniority.  It felt surreal with all the monks, in perfect lines, walking somberly from the entrance (where we standing) to another temple.

Tomoko, our guide lead us through narrow streets and alleys before starting to climb the northern slope of Mt. Inari, home of 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.  Something that I had always wanted to do every since living and teaching English in the northern part of Honshu Island back in 2003.

We found a little artists café to have coffee and sit down after all the walking.  We were lead into a tatami room with tables and cushions to sit on.  The room overlooked the garden which was very green and overgrown but seem to match the whole place.  It was perfect natural picture to frame the perfect room or was it the other way around .  We all oh-ed and ah-ed about this gorgeous setting.  The coffee turned out equally as good and the matcha (green) tea cake was to die for also.   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 Walk. The ancient pilgrimage trail is of the Emperors and UNESCO World Heritage protected.  Japan-5

We arrive and head immediately to the office to get our last minute instructions for the walk.  It is well organized for tourists, with locals speaking English and handing out extensive maps and bus timetables to get us around. We also receive our Dual Pilgrim books to collect stamps along the Kumano Kudo.  The Kumano Kudo and the Way of St James in Spain (Camino de Santiago) are both UNESCO World Heritage pilgrim’s networks and came together to share knowledge to respect each others’ unique spiritual and cultural heritage.Start Kumano Kudo

That evening we decide 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 had come across on our travels.  She ordered food for us, bought us beers and oolong tea and generally entertained us, only to meet her at the train station the next morning.   She was very excited to see us again. Kartson gave her a small koala bear souvenir which 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 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 to stop, catch our breath and admire the scenery from Takahara.  We found an outdoor café that served the most delicious homemade cakes which bought a smile 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 it that we walked 13kms but our fit bits and phones told us we had actually walked double of that.

We decided the next day to do a shorter walk and given that some of us had a few blisters and sore legs from the mammoth first day.  We caught an early bus to Hosshinmon-oji and the plan was to walk to 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 ranged from salted plums, mulberries and knick knacks.  Most of the produce was sold on an honesty system where we put our money in the box. Some of the villagers came out to greet us and take our money.  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 and a cultural performance to sit and absorb.  We also visited the very large Ura-torii which rises up out the rice fields with stark majestic splendor.

We headed to Yunomine-oji, an onsen (hot bath) town where we would be spending the night. Being an onsen (hot bath town) were excited to get there and soak our weary bodies into the hot, sulphuric water.  Yaki and I decided to go native and each have a communal bath in the town while the others soak 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 and she had made us special buiscuits wrapped in cellophane.  Japan-6

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 and other.  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 headed to Ki Katsuura where we would be staying the night.  It is a beautiful fishing village and on finding our Ryokan found out that we could go to the onsen across the harbour if we dressed up in the Yukata’s, 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 wave’s crash over the wall of rocks just near you.  Our final dinner was made up of local fresh seafood and lots of local delicacies.

A fitting way to end a magical trip.   We weren’t ready to head home yet and we were all off to Tokyo taking a few days break – 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 Rob, Paula, Pam and Phil and Lesley to share the journey and being good 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.Kushinagar

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.Ajanta Ellora

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.

 Inside Rajasthan

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

Visit itinerary

Hidden Gems of the Himalayas

15 – 26 April 2019

A$2750 per person twin share

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

Visit itinerary

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 tour@eknotravels.com.au 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

Pushkar Camel Fair Tour 

15 – 23 November 2018
A$1900 per person twin share – A$1750 if you book by end of June

Pushkar-Camel-Fair-2018-2If 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.
Tour Highlights:
  • 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

https://eknotravels.com/tours/pilgrimage-to-japan/

 

 

Why go for a group?

Jump the queues — often tour groups have tickets pre-arranged to major or busy attractions meaning you don’t have to wait in crazy, boring long lines to get into an attraction.

Everything’s done for you — it’s all organised on your behalf, including how you get there, what you see and where you stay. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

It’s super social — if you’re on a multi-week tour you get to know your other travelers.

Local expert — most tour groups provide you with a host or guide knowledgeable about the area you’re travelling in/to.

It’s all inclusive! Once you’ve paid your fee for the group tour, all you’ll really need is spending money (note: look to what meals are included as sometimes not every meal is covered in the fee).

Skill up — choose a tour group that has some kind of ‘learning’ aspect involved (like cooking school, a local craft workshop etc).

Big and small — there’s SO many group tour providers to choose from and you can go as big or as small as you want (check out the “tour capacity” to see how many you’ll be travelling with).

You don’t need to group it the entire way — consider something like adding a small five day group tour in the middle of a trip.

What are the pitfalls of group travel?

Follow the flag — a big downside to being a part of a group is that you’re a member of a really conspicuous pack, so you don’t blend in and can be a target of pesky street vendors.

Odd man out — group tours can be a bit like travel Survivor if you don’t like you’re fellow travellers you may want to have yourself voted off the bus stat!

Everything’s done for you — the downside to having things organised for you is that the choice of where to eat and stay is taken away from you.

I want OUT! Group tours do offer some free time but you’re on a schedule, so this will be the first thing to get cut if there’s a scheduling issue.

 5 golden rules for group travel

Check the total capacity of the tour so you know if you’re joining a big beast or a petite bunch.

Read up on the itinerary — make sure you’re covering the things YOU want to see. If it cover 3/4’s of what you wanted to see then it’s a great option.

Try and travel with a companion — that way if you can’t stand the other travellers you’ll have someone to talk to and you can share your accommodation with them.

Choose a tour group that has an ethical or sustainable ethos.

Find a tour group that facilitates a lot of free time so you can go off exploring yourself, also meaning you spend your traveler cash with locals and inject some money into local economies.

  • Taken from an interview of Chris from Lonely Planet.  You can read the full interviewhttp://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/drive/group-travel/9371388

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.

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

 

Vikas Kumar performing Pind Daan ceremony in Varanasi December 2017
Vikas Kumar performing Pind Daan ceremony in Varanasi December 2017

 

“India, incredible, intoxicating and almost impossible to imagine” which is how this cover of this months Qantas magazine. Step beyond..with a great photo of the Chand Baori, in the village of Abhaneri.

 

Abhaneri is a village in the Dausa district of Rajasthan state in India. It is situated at a distance of 95 km from Jaipur, on the Jaipur-Agra road.

Abhaneri was originally named Abha Nagri, which means “city of brightness,” but due to mispronunciation, the name was changed. The city is now in ruins, but it attracts tourists from across the globe. Chand Baori consists of 3,500 narrow steps over 13 stories. It extends approximately 30 metres into the ground making it one of the deepest and largest stepwells in India.

 

Spiti Valley in India is a very remote location with limited tourist infrastructure.  This makes this part of the world a little-visited but rewarding destination. Voted as number 8 of the of Lonely Planet Best in Travel Regions 2018 this is a must for adventurers who want to see and experience extreme beauty, remoteness and never to be repeated landscape ever again. From the ancient Monasteries of Tabo, Dhankar and Ky, you will also be able  take a glimpse in the exotic life of these remote and isolated communities of Kaza and the small villages that make up this beautiful valley.  SpitiValleyTour2018

As one of their writers describes the Spiti Valley  – “Imagine an arid land set high in the Indian Himalaya, a high-altitude desert punctuated by small patches of green and miniature villages of white, flat-roofed houses perched below stark rocky hillsides and jagged snow-covered peaks. Picture high passes blocked by snow and ice for half the year, and scattered stabs of colour from fluttering prayer flags and precariously perched Buddhist monasteries.
John Noble, Lonely Planet writer  

There has never been a better time to come and enjoy this amazing place.  Get there before it becomes popular!