I first visited India in the 1980s. At the time, I was told of a mystical city in the desert that was so isolated you had to take a camel caravan to get there. While this may have been an exaggeration, Jaisalmer, the mystical city, was so remote that it seemed impossible at the time to get to. My dream was to one day get to the city, and in finally, a quarter century later, I made it.
Deep in the western part of Rajasthan, which is mostly desert, not far from the Pakistani border, Jaisalmer was once a booming merchant city on the trading route from India to Europe. Because of its strategic location, it was a walled city, more like a fort. Filled with twisting alleyways, Jain temples, palaces, small galleries, stalls of crafts, rooftop restaurants and old merchant mansions turned into wonderful hotels, the city retains its medieval allure and is a wonderful place to stroll, sit, stay and eat.
Cars are not allowed in, but cows reign supreme. Alleyways are so small that when you see a cow coming down the alley, best move to the side and let it pass. This is a delightful, mystical wonderful place, and certainly worth the long ride to get here.
I stayed in a 450 year old haveli or mansion, with five rooms, and still owned by the original family. It was all a wonderful experience…I even joined a camel caravan in the desert. Enjoy the photos.
These are photos of our journey to the ‘lost’ city of Mrauk U, in western Burma. I say ‘lost’ because it is really quite off the map… First you fly to the provincial town of Sittwe on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, not too far from Bangladesh, and then you board a small boat to go upriver some 7 hours until you come to this amazing town of ancient temples in the middle of…well,…nowhere.
Mrauk U was the last royal capital of the Arakan Empire that flourished some 600 years ago, and is filled with temples and pagodas dating back to the 15th century. The most revered is Shittaung Pagoda, built to comemmorate the defeat of the Portuguese back in 1535. It is famous for its amazing collection of 80,000 Buddha figures.
Unlike Bagan, home to hundreds of towering temples and pagodas in central Burma, Mrauk U is still a functioning town. So, a visit here is really like turning back the centuries.
Enjoy scenes along the river as we wend our way up to Mrauk U, explore the market and town, and visit the centuries-old temples with a few human interest shots included as well. Do note our trusty politicians posing with Burmese heroine Aung San Su Kyi.
After a few days of Arakanese adventures, we reverted to true form and found our way back to paradise: Ngapali Beach—one of the great unknown, untouched beaches left in the world. Not a jet ski in sight!
Did you know there are at least 25 different ways to tie a scarf? In this surprisingly entertaining Youtube video, a young Thai woman deftly demonstrates how to wear a silk scarf in all 25 ways!
I know this is a large email, but hope you will enjoy it. I was lucky enough to be invited to a cremation ceremony in Bali, held only once every 3 or 5 years. It was fascinating, and colorful…not grim at all.
Just to give you an idea…
Three villages gathered their dead from the last few years, brought them to the cemetery where they first prayed, and then transferred the remains to various vessels, some of them large lavishly decorated animals. Others are more simple.
The most colorful part was the procession carrying the remains from the two neighboring villages, accompanied by local musicians. You can see the floats and the band in the pictures, as well as the long procession of women carrying offerings.
After all have gathered and the remains have been placed in the vessels ( I am not sure what to call them!), wood and favored artifacts of the deceased are place around the vessels and finally lit.
The following day, the ashes were taken to the sea, placed in green coconut shells and floated out to sea, as Balinese believe we come from water and go back to water when we die.
The photos are not in order, but I have included descriptions.