Zanskar Travels

Top of the World

Last year I saw a travel video about a beautiful remote place called Zanskar, in the Himalayas of India, bordering Tibet.  I knew when I saw this beautiful isolated place, that I would have to go there, so my travel plans have begun!

This trip is not for the ordinary traveler but for people who want to venture out of their boxes and far away from tourism or the well-trodden path, but prefer to experience rugged, raw nature where earth meets sky, and the life that you know has been left far behind.

In Zanskar, you can trek some of the highest mountain ranges on earth, visit spiritual remote Buddhist monasteries, camp under endless skies, or trek on a frozen river.  The journey to Zanskar requires several flights, long distant drives and lots of hiking.  If your dream is to explore where very few venture, Zanskar may be calling to you.

Through my initial research and travel inquiries, I have recently met a tour guide through Zanskar Travel, that offers to make each travelers dream come true.  They specialize in individualizing each trip, so whatever you seek, whether it’s to experience a new culture, hike some of the highest mountain peaks on earth, or seeking spiritual enlightenment, they will create a truly unique experience for you in personal ways that is rarely found anymore.

One of my goals is to travel to some of the of the most beautiful remote places on earth and although my next trip is hiking Death Valley, my trip to Zanskar is starting to become a reality.  I would love to hear from anyone who has traveled here or has plans to do so in the near future.

 

For more information about Zanskar Travel contact:

http://www.zanskartravel.com/

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Tolantongo

Mexico’s Interior World

After traveling on three flights, three buses, and covering thousands of miles, I finally arrived at Las Grutas Tolantongo. This off the beaten place had been described as the womb of Mexico, a rare location where you can enter into and become one with the earth elements. Tolontonog is unknown by many Mexicans, as it’s so rural, that mostly locals venture into the valle de Mezquital in the state of Hildago.

Everyone said I was putting my safety at risk by traveling by bus to such a remote place, but I knew I had to go there, a magical place of thermal hot springs, underground caves, and waterfalls. I also knew that fear would not prevent me from reaching my destination.  My passion is traveling off the beaten path and having new experiences.  Although with this trip, there were so many unknown factors, I knew I had to feel the fear and go anyway.

A good friend and travel companion of mine was also interested in traveling to Tolontongo, so we were excited when we booked our flights to Mexico.  It was only after we booked the flights that we discovered that there was no direct path there, and the hotel that is owned by approximately 160 Mexican families, did not take reservations.  We simply had to show up that morning and see if we could get a room. It was taking a huge risk after such a long journey, but we were willing to take the gamble, making the journey even more spontaneous into the unknown. The more we read about the place, the more obstacles we found. Neither one of us spoke Spanish and assumed that there would be English speaking people along the way to guide us (we were wrong).  I did have an English to Spanish app, but because we were unable to get wifi or connection most of the trip, I was unable to use it.

Several people expressed their fears about me traveling in rural Mexico, which then caused my own fears to surface, but I did not want to live a fear-based life, so I released the fears and followed my own intuition and trusted that I would be safe.

After three connecting flights, we finally landed in Mexico City and spent the night in a sleep pod in the airport, a space capsule type hotel, which was a new and interesting experience. In the morning, we traveled by bus to Pachuca, in northern Mexico. Communication was a struggle right from the beginning as we could not find anyone who spoke English. Somehow we managed to communicate that we wanted to travel to Ixmiquilpan, a city that we could not pronounce, our next destination.

A lovely older woman who spoke only Spanish attempted to help us find our bus in Pachuca. We laughed and used hand signals to express our destination in hopes of getting on the right bus as the bus station was huge and had hundreds of buses coming and going. The second bus we boarded had only a handful of passengers on it so we sprawled out taking several seats, but the bus stopped sporadically along the way, picking people up and soon became crowded.  I sat back in my seat and watched rural Mexico pass me by, fascinated by all the street vendors that climbed onboard to sell their food and wares along the way. Mexico is a colorful and lively place with street cafes and shops dotted along the countryside.

When we reached our next destination, Ixmiquilpan, the woman motioned that this was our stop.  We grabbed our bags and backpacks and followed her as we weaved our way through winding busy streets with colorful buildings, street vendors, and aromatic food stalls.  I quickly discovered how helpful and kind-natured Mexican people are as the older Mexican woman actually lead us to another bus that would drive us up into the mountains to our final destination, saving us mucho taxi expense. I was so grateful to this woman, that I thanked her numerous times, hugged her, and pulled out some money as a gift of appreciation, which she attempted to reject.  I was later horrified to discover that I had only given her a very small amount, the cost of approximately three bags of potato chips!  I hoped that she knew my intention was well meant.  Tip:  When traveling internationally, learn the value of the currency!  I thought I was giving her a monetary gift of value, but sadly gave an insulting amount of money.

We jumped onboard our final minibus which took us high up into the mountains which were breathtakingly beautiful.  The roads became dirt and pot filled and we watched nervously as we drove by the side of the mountainside cliffs continuing to climb higher into the mountains.  The bus ride was fun with lively Mexican music and happy local people traveling to their own destinations along the way.  Eventually, we arrived at Las Grutas, a magical hidden world of underground thermal caves, hot springs, and waterfalls.

Because it was the weekend, it was a busy time for locals, so we put our name on a list and waited.  Eventually, we found out that they had one room left, so we made our way down the mountainside to our hotel which was a basic room, no tv or wifi.  We immediately put on our bathing suits and jumped into the tranquil blue river, feeling the warmth and purity of the natural mineral waters.

The next two days we explored the area only to discover several thermal caves that we did not know about.  Hot waterfalls poured from rocks deep within the caves.  There were several dark caves that connected to the larger cave and several people ventured in by swimming with headlights or flashlights.  We both experienced holding onto the back of a man that worked there, as we swam deeper into a watery black cave, against the current, only to discover another secret world of waterfalls and bats!

We spent several days swimming in the natural mineral waters, hiking up and down the mountainside, and swimming in the waterfalls.  We felt one with the earth and the people and learned how to go with the flow, both in nature and symbolically in life.

We later discovered hot springs that are built into the mountainside.  They were warm and relaxing and had a heavenly view of mountains, passing clouds, and green foliage.  We then walked across a long suspension bridge that wobbled and wiggled high above the valley, crossing waterfalls and connecting to more hot springs and underground thermal caves.

Our days were spent renewing our spirits with the natural beauty and elements of this magical place.  It provided a well-earned retreat, an escape from the world around us and helped us to totally be present.  We were also able to connect with some wonderful people along the way.  On the way back we met a fabulous American woman who was traveling alone and also spoke Spanish, so thanks to her, we were able to travel easily back to Mexico City and to the Airport without all of the communication problems that we experienced on the journey there.

Leaving Las Grutas was difficult.  I have traveled to several beautiful places in the world, but Tolontongo was a place where I truly was able to go within myself and within the earth where I found healing, peace and experienced the magic of Mexico.

If your looking to travel off the beaten path and can let go of control, scheduling and planning, then take a trip to Las Grutas, it’s an experience where you quite literally go with the flow!

Mexico City

Mexican Sleeping Pods
If your traveling through Mexico City and need a nap or want a new sleep experience, try one of their new sleep pods located in Terminal 1 of the airport. They cost approximately $35.a night and include WiFi, TV, and air. Showers and lockers are also included along with complimentary socks and earplugs.

There is a huge variety of food stalls and restaurants nearby to feast on.

Pros and Cons

The pods are comfortable and clean and the mattresses and pillows are made of memory foam.

If your a light sleeper, use ear plugs (I didn’t although they provided them) and it was like the night of a thousand and one doors. Because these pods are located in a busy international airport, people are coming and going 24/7. All I heard all night long were doors opening and closing. Other than that, I really liked the pods.

Izzzleep Aeropuerto Terminal 1

 

Las Vegas Nights – Red Rock Canyon Days

Want the best of both worlds?  Las Vegas offers the excitement and fun of a modern city and Red Rock Canyon provides a beautiful natural escape where you can hike, bike or Segway through one of the most alluring places on earth.

You don’t have to be a gambler to enjoy Vegas as there are a thousand ways to have fun and enjoy the city without gaming. Vegas offers a rich stimulating world of entertainment where you can zip line out of a giant slot machine, ride roller coasters on top of buildings, or simply sit at a cafe and watch the world pass by.

Red Rock Canyon offers a serene escape into nature where you can tune out, be still, and find inner bliss far away (but not too far away) from the city lights.

If you are looking to experience both the excitement of the city and the serenity of nature, book a trip to Las Vegas. It offers the perfect balance of fun and entertainment, and an escape into beautiful red rock canyons where you can leave the city far behind.  A perfect blend for those who want it all.

24 Hours in Asheville

Traveling solo, I recently spent 24 hours in Asheville, NC.  Not sure what to do alone, I contemplated several options, but then came across, “Asheville Wellness Tours”, and thought that would be an interesting way to spend an afternoon.

Asheville Wellness Tours provided several alternative experiences including the art of tea drinking, essential oil and herb making, meditation in a beautiful salt cave, sound therapy with gongs and Tibetan bowls, and honey tasting at a local specialized shop.

The tour began with a 45-minute session at Asheville Salt Cave, a golden womb-like cave filled with beautiful pure pink salt crystals.  We were lead into meditation as we rested on pillows and bolsters on the salt covered floor, listening to sounds of the waterfall, breathing in negatively charged ions, turning inward and away from the chaos of the external world around us.

Following the salt cave, we walked to Skinny Beats Sound Shop and was lead into a sound healing session with gongs and Tibetan bowls that took us on a vibrational journey that was beyond words to describe. I was given a “taster” of sound healing that I knew I would have to return to.

Next, we were given an introductory explanation of herbs and essential oils at herbiary, which offers natural remedies for every kind of alignment imaginable, including emotional and psychological disorders.

From the herbiary, we walked to Asheville Bee Charmer, for honey tasting, where I was given several different types of honey to try, including sage honey, a favorite of mine.

Lastly, we ended the tour at Dobra Tea, where we shared in Japanese style, “Clear Communication Tea.”  This tea was reported to promote clear communication with our inner self, exactly what I needed! The Wellness Guide explained that the tea ceremony involved inhaling the aroma, before tasting the tea, and encouraged us to share an authentic wellness intention that we wanted to incorporate into our daily lives.

The tea ceremony was a perfect ending to an adventurous day in self-exploration and holistic wellness.  My guide was an inspirational and enthusiastic yoga instructor who did a wonderful job guiding me through the city and sharing all that Asheville has to offer.

When the tour finished, we parted ways, and I decided to explore the streets of Asheville on my own.  Quite unexpectedly, I came across an interesting young man sitting on the street writing poetry.

Ben was plucking away on his vintage typewriter.  A sign, “NAME A WORD or TOPIC.  GET A POEM”, hung from his table. Being a creative writer myself, I couldn’t resist. I contemplated what word to select, and finally decided on the word “therapy.”

Ben sat in silence for a few moments, and then inserted a piece of paper into his old typewriter and began typing.  Once in awhile, he would stop to ponder, rubbing his head in contemplation. Ben was oblivious to the ongoing foot traffic of people that were walking past him as he pounded away on his typewriter, lost in a world of words.  After about 10 minutes, Ben completed my poem and asked if he could read, “Therapy” to me.

I was amazed at how insightful and creative the poem was, especially considering that it had been written on the spot. Ben’s poem touched upon the heaviness we can carry in life, referring to our emotional pains, and “to unpack the boxes long locked-up.” (poem below)

After reading my poem, Ben told me that he had been in San Francisco years ago, and had traded a book for a Lynn Gentry poem. Ben was busking for his upcoming wedding, which explained another sign he had, “Wedding Funds”.  I thanked Ben for his creative, insightful poem, and thought how clever he was, using his gifts and talents in a way that inspired other people.

Asheville has a lot to offer in terms of the unique, alternative, or creative. If you’re looking to explore Asheville, check out Asheville Wellness Tours, who offers several options including hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains, followed by Yoga, and if you have a love for words or poetry, don’t forget to look for Ben, who can be found in front of Woolworths, on Haywood Street.

Links:

Asheville Wellness Tours

https://www.ashevillewellnesstours.com

Ben is starting his own upcoming blog:

Strangers Poems Project

 

T H E R A P Y

Sit within a circle

& spin a thread of narrative–

 

we are here to help you

with the heavy lifting—

 

to unpack boxes long locked-up,

to turn & turn each artifact

 

over in our hands, to examine

without judgment each dog-earned page

 

within the books that weigh

so much. trust is a rope ladder

 

which we are still building,

you hold it from the top & choose

 

when it’s to be lowered. but human

help comes with limitations. take

 

the next train west & sit among

the redwoods. five hundred years

 

of listening unmarred by loose lips.

we wait & learn the craft of patience

by example.

Adventures in Community Service

There are numerous volunteer organizations that we can join or different ways that we can give back, but how many of us actually give up our time to make a difference?

On a recent trip to Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to do many fun-filled activities including, white water rafting, zip lining above the rainforest canopy, soaking in hot springs, hiking up a volcano and doing yoga.  Costa Rica offered me a lot of new adventures as well as connections to an interesting diverse group of people; but it also offered me a different type of activity, a community service opportunity, that at first, I declined to decline.  My immediate thought was that I wanted to have fun and do my own thing, but after some contemplation, I changed my mind.  It was a decision that changed my views about life and the importance of giving back.

My yoga group had been given the opportunity to paint a local’s house in exchange for a homemade Costa Rican meal, made and prepared by the owner of the home. Although I have painted the inside of my own home on several occasions, I had never painted the exterior of a house and immediately felt overwhelmed.

We all piled into a minivan and traveled for miles on rugged dirt covered roads to a nearby village, where we parked outside of our destination, a dilapidated blue house desperately in need of new paint.  We jumped out of the van and covered ourselves with plastic raincoats as we split into groups and started painting different areas of the house.  I chose the side of the house that had a large termite nest on it. The paint was watery, thin and runny.  We painted all day in the moist, humid rain, and even painted around the large termite nest, per instructions of the owner!

At the end of the day, when we had finished painting, the owners invited us in, where they prepared a wonderful, tasty meal of rice and beans, followed by some freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee.  We then heard their personal stories.  The man whose house that we had painted, had been severely injured one day as he walked along the roadside and a large metal rod fell off a passing truck, causing him significant injuries.  Since then, he had been unable to work.  I felt grateful that I was able to help him, a complete stranger in need, who had no health insurance and no means of providing for himself or his family, other than to rely on friends, family, and neighbors.

With full bellies and heartfelt goodbye’s, we all piled into the minivan and headed back to our resort, as I sat in contemplation about how I almost turned down this opportunity to help someone in need, and if I had, I would have never had known how gratifying it was to give back to community.

You don’t have to travel to Costa Rica to help someone in need, but you can start right where you are!  Sometimes the smallest gestures can make the biggest difference in someone’s life. There are also many organizations that specialize in specific areas of needs, so whatever your passion is, there is a volunteer group out there waiting for your help.  If you’re not ready to join, then you can give back through random acts of kindness, a smile, a thank you, a kind word…

Be open to giving, you never know how you can change someone’s life or make a difference. It’s a win-win situation!