Hidden in the trees of a small hilltop along the coastline in between Koh Samet and Laem Mae Phim Beach is Chao Pho Tho Kong Shrine. It's one of the more than 40,000 temples scattered across Thailand and easy to drive past without even noticing. However Chao Pho Tho Kong Shrine is definitely worth visiting if you are in Rayong province, even if only for the amazing view.
The entrance to the temple and several small, colorful, elaborately decorated shrines are located at the base of the hill. Grab a handful of incense sticks, light them using the flame and then proceed to place three incense sticks at each of the three small shrines (in clockwork order starting from the shrine located furthest from the hill). The remaining incense are for the giant Buddha.
After finishing proceed up the stairs to the rest of the shrine. Even before this specific shrine was built, local fisherman have long since used this spot to pay homage before going out to sea.
As beautiful as the shrine is, don't forget to spin around 180 degrees and soak up the amazing view of Koh Samet island.
Having a great significance among the devotees of Hindu, Chardham Yatra is a famous Hindu pilgrimage tour in Uttarakhand. It is believed that the yatra washes away all the wrong doings and sins of the devotee and opens the door to salvation. It is certainly a must-visit destination for all the travelers who are spiritual at heart.
Large numbers of devotees frequent this holy and auspicious yatra and pay homage to these shrines every year from all round the globe. There is a belief among the devotees that visiting these shrines removes all the sins a person has committed, including even those of the past life as well. The Yatra renders the tourists a sense of belongingness, purity of heart, and act of self-realization in life.
Chardham Yatra in Uttarakhand comprises visiting four sacred pilgrimage sites including Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. This yatra is highly popular and can be covered in 10-11 days. Let us give you the details and explain the importance these pilgrim sites commonly known as the Char Dham.
Yamunotri Yamunotri is the originating point of the river Yamuna, which sanctifies scores of pilgrims and travelers who take a dip in its holy waters. It is positioned in Uttarkashi at an altitude of 3164 meters. Yamunotri is the place where a traveler can experience both hot and cold environment. The environment of Himalaya is purified and gets frozen because of the cold tides of the glaciers in the Yamuna River. The bordering sides of the region are kept warm by the thermal springs that are also known as Kunds of Goddess Shakti.
It takes a complete one-day tour from the major towns of Uttarakhand to reach Yamunotri. These major towns include Rishikesh, Dehradun and Haridwar. It is a 13km trek from the town of Hanuman Chatti to Yamunotri. Moreover, there is also a 6km walk from Janki Chatti. The months of September to November and then May to June are best for exploring this sacrosanct shrine.
Importance of Yamunotri It is the originating point of the sacred Yamuna River. Moreover, the temple of Goddess Yamuna is also situated in Yamunotri.
Gangotri Gangotri is the originating point of the holy River Ganga. It is believed that King Bagirath performed prayer to make Ganga come down to earth and bless humanity. Gangotri lies at an elevation of 3200 meters above sea level in the district of Uttarkashi. Hordes of Hindu devotees visit this place to wash their sins and acquire moksha. The sacred Gangotri Temple was built in the 18th century. This 20-feet long structure is made of white granite. The devotees can visit this pilgrimage during the months of September to October and May to June.
Importance of Gangotri The Ganges is said to be the source of purity and thus, prior to visiting the shrine, devotees take a consecrated plunge in this great river.
Kedarnath Kedarnath Temple is positioned in the Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand. It lies at an elevation of 3584 meters above sea level. The region is bordered by the Mandakini River. Kedarnath is said to be the most sacred abode of Lord Shiva. It is also among the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. This Jyotirlinga were dropped at the Mandar Hills where the temple is perched.
The temple was built by Adi Shankaracharya and was named after King Kedar, who was the emperor in Satya Yug. The area experiences heavy rainfall during the winters and thus, the shrine is open only between the April-end and Kartik Purnima. The idols of Kedarnath Shrine are brought to Ukhimath during winters and these idols are worshipped in Ukhimonth for the next six months.
Importance of Kedarnath The well-known Jyotirlinga shrines are must-visit places where Lord Shiva emerged as a blazing column of light. For this reason, scores of pilgrims visit this sacred place to look for blessings of Lord Shiva. This shrine of Lord Shiva is among the Panch Kedar shrines as well.
Badrinath Badrinath Temple is certainly an ideal insignia of devotion of humankind and humanity. It is positioned at an elevation of 3415 meters in the Garhwal Hills on the shores of the river Alaknanda. This famous shrine of Char Dham is devoted to Lord Vishnu. As per mythology, Lord Vishnu meditated at this spot for thousands of years under the Badri tree. Thus, the place is given the name Badrinath.
The idol in this shrine is made of Shaligram Statue and is shown in a thoughtful pose. This pilgrimage destination is an ideal place for Vaishnavites. It is supposed that Adi Shankaracharya built this sacrosanct shrine in the 9th Century. The devotees can easily access this place from Rishikesh, Kotdwar and Haridwar.
Importance of Badrinath The temple of Lord Vishnu, also known as Badri Vishal, is located in the region. The great saint Adi Shankaracharya attained moksha in this region. Thus, Badrinath holds great significance among the Hindu devotees.
An important pilgrimage circuit in Uttarakhand, Chardham holds a significant place among the Hindus. A trip to these shrines renders tourists a spiritual and tranquil experience and leads them to emancipation.
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Houston, Texas, is a humongous city that often overwhelms visitors and leaves them uncertain where to go, what to eat and what to see. Luckily, as a native Texan, I've spent a great deal of time exploring the city and finding some of the most unique, hidden, offbeat and off the beaten path destinations — some of which not even local residents know about.
Museums related to our own mortality are always intriguing, despite sometimes being a bit macabre. All that aside, this is one of the most captivating and engrossing museums I have ever visited. From the history of embalming to an entire collection of hearses to a coffin built for three, you really never know what to expect around the next corner.
The late John Milkovisch was confronted with a conundrum. His house needed to be painted, but he didn't want to do it. His solution? Cover the entire thing with over 50,000 beer cans. He started in 1968 and didn't finish until 15 years later. While the place is definitely quirky and a must-visit for any beer enthusiast, one can only assume that Mr. Milkovisch must have passed away from cirrhosis of the liver.
Located just outside of Houston in Sugar Land, this magnificent Hindu temple seems out of place, as if it has been transplanted here from somewhere in India or Southeast Asia. In fact, it is the first traditional Hindu temple in the United States. Be sure to come hungry as the food here is the best and most authentic Indian food in all of Houston. For visitors unfamiliar with visiting religious sites such as this, please do not forget to take off your shoes before entering.
If you are a fan of Thai food then this little restaurant should not be missed. It is a favorite of local Houstonians who all know their favorite dishes by the letter and number combination, such as H5 or S11. The original owner of this restaurant is lovingly referred to as the Thai Soup Nazi (a reference to the Seinfeld episode about the Soup Nazi); however, he passed away in 2010. Luckily, the restaurant remains relatively unchanged and the food is still as delicious as ever. Plus, it is BYOB so how can you go wrong.
From the mid-1950s until his death in 1980, local Houston postal worker Jeff McKissack created this impressive monument to honor his favorite fruit, the orange. It covers an impressive 3,000 square feet and will suck you in from the moment you begin walking along the maze of pathways. Nowadays, it has become a folk art favorite not just of local Houston residents but art lovers across the entire USA.
Gujarat is one of the most aggressively marketed states in India from the tourism point of view. So when I got a wedding invite from a friend (with Ahmedabad as venue) I seized the opportunity with both hands. And Gujarat hasn't let me down. The trip itself was short but quite memorable.
We spent a day in Ahmedabad and got a taste of the famed Gujarati Thali. The meal was sumptuous and I ate more than my fill. Ahmedabad is like any another bustling Indian city. A mix of the new and the old, of the organized and the chaotic. Chaos on the roads makes me feel right at home and Ahmedabad sure felt like home!
From Ahmedabad We left for Diu via cab and after spending the entire day on the road arrived at Diu in the night. The roads were good for the most part. A portion of the road passes through the Gir National Park and we were able to spot some deer on the roadside! This stretch of the road presents some of the most beautiful scenery you will see in Gujarat. The arid landscape was bathed in a golden hue with a pure blue sky as the backdrop. I had never imagined that a thorn and scrub forest could be a thing of such beauty!
After checking into the resort, we headed straight for the beach. The beach wore a deserted look. There were only a handful of people on the beach. The sea appeared to be calm and there were no roaring waves splashing ashore. However sunrise was beautiful! Light in a thousand hues of red and orange bounced off the glimmering waters of the Arabian sea. A sunrise had never felt more captivating.
After a leisurely stroll on the beach and a quick breakfast we left for our next destination: Somnath.
Somnath is a temple town close to Veraval and is famed for the Shiva temple situated there. This temple has been looted 11 times by Afghan invaders but it has bounced back each time. Somnath is a 90 minute drive from Diu and the road isn't particularly good. Somanth is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas and is a highly regarded pilgrimage spot for Hindus. The temple itself is majestic but what struck me most was the efficiency with which it is managed. Unlike some other temples there are no VIP darshans. Everyone gets to do the darshans and it was all very well managed. The highlight of the darshan was the 'Aarti' and we were lucky enough to witness it. The Arabian sea forms the southern boundary of the temple and the view of the ocean from the temple is something that will always remain with me. Unfortunately photography wasn't allowed within the temple premises.We left for our next destination, Gir National Park, soon after collecting 'Prasad' from the temple.
The drive to Gir was the same scenic drive that we had experienced earlier. The unforgiving sun at Somnath Temple was tempered by the cool breeze from the forest. We quickly checked into our resort and then queued up for the most exciting event of the trip -- a Jungle Safari through the forests of the Girnar hills. After about an hour of queuing up we got our permits for a safari on Track #3 of the park. With high spirits and soaring expectations we entered the jungle.
Fifteen minutes into the safari my senses were totally over powered by the sights and sounds of the jungle that surrounded us. I went quiet and started absorbing the beauty of the landscape that was unfolding before us minute after minute. The diversity in the landscape was unbelievable. One minute we were passing through a lush green jungle and the next moment we would be in an arid landscape adorned by thorny scrub and bereft of greenery. We spotted a few specimens of the deer and antelope family but the big cat did not oblige us with an appearance. The disappointment of not able to spot lions notwithstanding, the jungle left us mesmerized with the sheet beauty it possesses. I will definitely be back for another shot at the lions.
Gujarat has impressed me and left a longing to return and resume my explorations from where I am leaving off.
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Written by Abhigya Verma
I am the type of traveller who loves to get off the beaten track. I head to a destination keen to see the famous sights and the not to be missed attractions, but the highlights for me are always the ones you can’t plan. The experiences you cannot predict in advance but end up enjoying because you are open to having them. The highlights that occur because you take the road less travelled, you engage in conversation with the locals, you travel on local transport or you try food you have never eaten before.
My “memorable moments of insignificance” in Myanmar seemed endless, but here are a few of my favourites.
Whilst most of the highlights of the Inle Lake region are accessed via boat, there are a number of hiking trails starting from Nyaungshwe that provide the opportunity to explore the nearby hills and villages without other travellers. Breathing in the fresh air and enjoying the stunning scenery in relative solitude is an incredibly energising experience and the few interactions we had with locals who were returning with their cows from the morning market in town or who lived in the small and isolated villages we passed through, provided the icing on the cake of a magical day.
I joined a local guide on a hike that provided countless moments that were as unforgettable as they were insignificant. We hiked to a cave monastery to meet a 70 year old monk who had lived there on his own for twenty-five years. He spoke no English but greeted us with tea and a plate of snacks as the three of us sat in comfortable silence. We unintentionally interrupted a formal meeting between the elders of two nearby villages who were discussing the proposed marriage between their children, but immediately called a break to make us tea. And we met a local woman who sat cutting kernels from corn cobs, a task she performed every day, who wanted nothing more than her photo taken.
But the highlight of the day came from the simplest moment of all. As I was walking along a narrow dirt path a small boy who looked to be around four years of age, ran out from the trees and stopped in front of me. He shyly handed me a small hand-picked flower as he watched my face intently. I smiled and replied with the Burmese word for thank-you (jez-u-beh) and felt my heart warm as his face completely lit up and he turned around and ran back into the trees as quickly as he had arrived.
I carried the flower with me for the rest of the day.
Mrauk-U via insmu74
After a long but tiring day exploring the Bagan temples, I decided to spend the next day with no itinerary and started the day on a bicycle at an intersection where a right turn would take me to the popular Bagan Temple area. I turned left.
After half an hour of directionless cycling I came across a narrow dirt path and decided to follow it to what I later learned was the village of West Pwa Saw. As I cycled past a row of small wooden houses, sometimes sharing the path with dogs, cats, cows and goats, I looked up to see two small children running as fast as they could towards me. They stopped abruptly a metre in front of me, excitement turning to apprehension until I greeted them with the one Burmese word I knew, min-gala-ba. Their faces lit up, they giggled and they pointed to my camera.
Hence began a day of short, insignificant, but incredibly memorable local interactions with the villagers.
Whilst playing with the children, I noticed a woman in the distance holding a small boy who was waving me over with her palm facing down. The more traditional ‘come over’ wave that we use (palm facing up with fingers curling towards you) is a form of aggression in Myanmar so I was relieved to receive a friendly invitation and walked towards her. She didn’t speak any English but invited me into her home, offered me some nuts to chew on as she made some tea and asked if she could paint my face with Thanakha (the local sandalwood paste worn by woman and children in Myanmar). We sat together in comfortable silence exchanging nothing but smiles, as she shared a piece of her culture with me.
As I left her home I found an old lady standing outside with her little grandson, patiently waiting for me to walk past her. Word had spread – there was a foreigner in the village and all the locals wanted to come and play!
Again she spoke no English and again she offered me nuts to chew on as she made me some more tea. Through our game of charades I learned that she had five children, nine grandchildren, had a small shop at the front of her house, was 65 years of age, had lived in the same house her entire life and had never left the Bagan area.It wasn’t long before we were joined by her family and neighbours and suddenly I was surrounded by two of her daughters, four of her grandchildren and two of her 70 year old neighbours. It felt like a secret society meeting for women – and I was the guest of honour! I binged on tea as we explored different communication techniques, finding charades to be the most effective (and enjoyable) and exchanged details about our lives.
I am often reminded whilst travelling that not having a common language does not prevent communication. This memorable afternoon was proof of that. We didn’t need words to understand that we whilst we came from different countries and led different lives, we still had some things in common - we were all women and we were all human beings.
Local bus stations in developing countries are usually hectic, aggressive and stressful but often provide some great people-watching opportunities and local interactions. The bus station in Monywa, from which I was boarding a bus to Pakkoku was no exception.
After awkwardly stumbling from the trishaw I had arrived at the station in, that was basically a bicycle with a chair attached, I sought out a local vendor selling bottled water to prepare for the bus ride ahead. After handing over what I thought was the equivalent of the £0.15 due for the large bottle of water, I started walking away only to hear the sound of footsteps and call of ‘lady, lady’. I had given him a 200 Kyat note instead of 100 and he, an honest vendor, had change to give me!
Being the only foreigner in a local bus station has inevitable consequences and I was immediately targeted by beggars, vendors and even nuns asking for donations. One dishevelled looking woman was holding a small, thin and dirty child and kept tugging at my sleeve. The heart breaking conflict I feel in these situations never gets any easier, knowing giving money to beggars is not the long term answer, but feeling helpless and selfish at the same time. Feeling rather useless, I suddenly remembered I had a bottle of bubbles in my bag and I took it out and started blowing bubbles in the direction of the child. His sad little eyes opened wide in terror as a bubble floated towards him and I feared my attempt at a little fun may have been a tactical error! But as it popped on his nose and he screamed in delight, I breathed a sigh of relief. I handed the bottle to his mother and watched her blow bubbles at her giggling son whilst for a few minutes she simply enjoyed the moment and forgot her troubles. I left them to it and boarded my bus.
A few minutes later I heard a knock on my window and looked out to see the mother (still blowing bubbles) waving at me and say jez-u-beh over and over. She eventually walked away and my heart warmed a little with the knowledge that a small bottle of bubbles had made them smile for a few minutes. I thought I’d seen the last of them until I heard knocking at the window again and saw her reach up to hand me half of the orange she had been eating, with tears in her eyes – her way of saying thank you.
One of the most entertaining conversations I had in Myanmar was by the side of the river in Monywa. I had just returned from exploring Hpo Win Daung Caves, paying ten times more than the locals for the ‘special’ tourist boat across the river which I was forced to take, which turned out to be the same type of boat the locals were piling into but with me as the solo passenger.
I was looking for a motor-trishaw to take me to a few sights in the afternoon and it didn’t take long for one to find me instead. The driver only spoke a few words of English but seemed to understand where I wanted to go. Our challenge began when we tried to agree a time to meet. He kept holding up three fingers, I kept holding up two whilst pointing to ‘2 o’clock’ on my watch. Before long we were surrounded by another ten men who were offering to help translate our conversation, despite none of them speaking any more English than my driver.
Every time I tried to say ‘can we meet at 2pm’ he would nod in agreement and then hold up three fingers. I tried a game of charades, I pointed to my watch, I imitated taking a nap and eating lunch first, but still he held up three fingers as he nodded in what he thought was agreement. Finally, a man joined us who spoke a little more English than the others and translated something to him in Burmese before explaining to me that he was nodding in agreement to the 2pm meeting time and was then telling me the trip would take 3 hours. When the penny dropped and we finally realised we understood each other, the crowd that had grown in size starting cheering, slapping each other on the back and high-fiving me!
Before I left for my lunch and nap, our newly appointed translator asked ‘how will you remember him, we all look the same to you don’t we?’ I started to feign offense at his question before I realised he was right and I pointed to the word ‘Dunlop’ that was written on the shirt of my driver. “Mr Dunlop” I said, “I will remember this is Mr Dunlop”. The crowd burst out laughing and kept repeating “Mr Dunlop” as I realised I had inadvertently given my driver a new nickname.
Sure enough, my driver was waiting for me at my hotel on time, shook my hand and re-introduced himself as Mr Dunlop whilst proudly pointing at his watch as he said “2pm”. It was the start of an incredibly enjoying afternoon with my driver and new friend.
Using charades to have conversations with non-English speaking locals can be useful and entertaining. When you are using charades to ask for a hair wash at a salon that also has scissors it can also be risky.
After arriving in Monywa and making my way into town from the station, I found a pleasant and relatively cheap room at one of the few hotels that are registered to accept foreign guests. I enjoyed a plate of chicken noodles for lunch and the first can of coke I had seen in the country and with the burst of energy supplied from my sugar fix I started to wander along the streets to explore this quaint little town.
When I came across a local hair salon, my girlie DNA came to the forefront and I realised how long it had been since my naturally curly hair had felt clean, straight and soft. How do you ask two young employees who don’t speak English for a wash and blow dry without ending up with short hair instead? Charades of course! Once we established scissors would not be necessary, they had a five minute conversation before deciding to charge me the equivalent of £4. I suspect the conversation went something like this:
“What do we normally charge foreigners?”
“I have no idea, we’ve never had a foreigner ask for a wash and blow dry before!”
“Well, what would we charge a local? 500 kyat? Yes? So let’s charge her ten times that amount!”
Ten times that amount was still only £4 so I happily accepted the price and sat back to enjoy what felt like an extravagant treat, sitting in silence for an hour, being pampered and having clean hair for the first time in weeks. It was only when I paid and opened the door to leave that I realised a foreigner having their hair washed at the salon was not a common sight and I had attracted a crowd who smiled at me as I left, touched my hair and said “beautiful, beautiful” over and over! I returned the smiles and stayed outside the hair salon for another half hour enjoying some banter and conversations with some of the friendliest people in the world.
It doesn’t take much to have a memorable moment of insignificance. Turning left instead of right led me to an unplanned afternoon of charades with the local women of West Pwa Saw. A small bottle of bubbles raised a smile on the face of someone who had previously been tugging at my sleeve in desperation. Negotiating a trishaw ride led to a round of applause and a new friend.
To cover the entire Gujarat one require more than 10 days by road. The roads are good but distance to be covered is greater than that. Oh and just a heads-up, the best time to visit Gujarat is from November to Mid March. Anyway, on our road-trip we opted for the southern part of Gujarat and decided on the following locations:
Once I moved in Gujarat, the roads made me more comfortable and the journey of 2000kms became more pleasurable. The roads were good atmosphere was ok (too hot in days but being a Rajasthani, we were used to this) specially near the beach.
Ahmedabad, a growing city is near to Gandhinagar the capital of Gujarat state (province). we remained in the outer area called Sarkhej, dotted by various five star hotels and malls it remain overall a good experience. But if you are in Ahmedabad, you cannot miss two things for sure, One is there food and another their ice-cream parlors. Gujaratis are found of food and have various variety to offer specially in the snacks category. Just walking in any store and you have endless option. My favorite is Phaphada with Papaya and the world famous Khaman-Dhokla.
Our next stay was at Dwarka, A religious city where Lord Krishna had ruled. It was his kingdom which sunk at the time of his death. The temple is old and is counted in the four DHAMS spread over the country and is also included in seven gracious temples of ancient. Anyways, It good to be there if you are religious and follower of Hinduism, otherwise the city can be dropped out as there is not much to do and not much to see either.
The next destination thereafter was Porbandar, the city where Mahatma Gandhi was born. His house is still intact and now has been converted into museum. Well we just stayed there for lunch and did not explored the city so not much to say about the city.
From there we moved to Somnath, again a religious city (Lord Shiva) and the best part of the journey was the coastal highway and trust me it gave us some amazing views.
Somnath has a long history of being looted and rebuilt. Many rulers specially Islamic rulers have come and ruined the temple and after some decades it was rebuilt by the kings ruling the area. The temple is good and is located on the shore. a peaceful and relaxing place. The history of the temple can be known by visiting the light and sound show organized at the backyard of the temple every evening. The best place to stay in this city was the VIP guest house of the temple which is built by Kokila Ben Trust (Reliance Group) and is run by the temple authority.
Next day we moved to Gir Forest National Park – the home of the Asiatic Lion. While crossing the countryside we cam across various mango farms and were very lucky to find mangoes on the trees. We halted at one of those garden and ate the raw mangoes. The mango in this area is known for sweetness and is being exported to various countries. They were really amazing.
Gir Forest National Park is always a fantastic wildlife destination known as the only place in the world where you can find Asiatic Lions freely roaming in the jungles. Show Me More!
After Gir we moved to Diu (a union territory not in Gujarat) and relaxed, enjoying the pleasant sunset there. We also entertained ourselves with a few water sports. And debated never returning back home.
After this we returned to Ahmedabad and completed our Loop. On the way we also visited Lothal, one of the ancient cities still rich in culture. The overall experience of Gujarat was good but not great. The goverment is doing well in advertising but still needs to work on the development and execution of increased tourism.
For those that have read this blog before you know that I am a big proponent of getting off the tourist path and doing some exploring wherever you happen to be. That happened recently while in Manila where I noticed a very large compound surrounded by a 8 foot tall solid metal fence painted bright green. The buildings inside where very ornate around the rooftops and appeared to be some type of Chinese Temple.
Never one to be to shy I knocked on the small gate and a gentleman working inside answered. I asked if this was a temple of some kind and he stated it was a Taoist Temple. Then I brazenly asked if I could come in and look around. He stepped outside onto the street and looked around and asked where I was from. After I told him he smiled and waved at me to hurry inside.
He seemed kind of nervous and I asked if he was sure I could come inside and look around. He stated I could look but to not take any pictures inside the main temple. The outside prayer areas were okay though.
I was inside the compound about 6 or 7 minutes when a vehicle pulled up to the compound and honked its horn to be let in. The vehicle pulled in and the driver looked at me, smiled and went to the parking area but that's when the worker got really nervous and said I should leave. I gathered it was one of the head guys and although he smiled wasn't too pleased the worker had allowed me in.
While I was there the worker and I took turns asking questions, me about the temple and he about where I was from and about me. It was interesting, beautiful and really cool.
That is why I love exploring places on my own. You never know what you might happen upon or who you might meet.