Special Six: Memories of Delhi

It was ten years ago that I first visited Delhi. The trip was a celebration of sorts for having survived a very stressful year. I had convinced my mother, who had also had an equally stressful year albeit for different reasons, to accompany me. Perhaps because this was the first multi-day holiday trip that my mother and I were taking without any other family members and perhaps because it really felt like we were celebrating overcoming adversity, this trip remains my favourite travel memory. We enjoyed doing all the touristy things that the first time visitor to north India, on a package tour, would do on their travel around the Golden Triangle. This is the first of a series of posts on my Golden Triangle trip memories, starting with my favourite six from our time in Delhi.

  1. Staying at Hotel Broadway

The tour operator had booked us at Hotel Broadway situated on a dusty and tired looking road close to Delhi gate. The hotel did not look promising on the outside but the room that we checked into turned out to be a delight. Room number 46, was decorated by Paris-based artist Catherine Lévy, and was such a fun, eclectic and quirky room to be in. A blue sofa with red and yellow birds stitched on it was placed at one end of the room, with a low table from a nursery serving as the coffee table. I enjoyed writing in my travel journal each morning at the writing desk, which was a table generally found in canteens, and sitting in a revolving chair that was probably from a barber’s shop. The small radio fitted into the wall above the writing desk had strobe lights fitted on. I also liked the bedside lamps, which were an optician’s rectangular eye testing lamps, with the alphabets on its screens. The bathroom had a travel theme and it was covered with blue tiles and each tile with a picture of a different place from around the world. My favourite though was the ceiling fan, which would measure your luck each time you switched off the fan. We loved staying in this room and were disappointed when we were not given the same room at the end of our tour as well.

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2. The ‘do rupiah’ kahani/ story

My mother and I discovered that the Delhi gate bazaar was just next door on our first evening in the city and we decided to explore the maze of tiny crowded and colourful streets filled with bright-coloured clothes, sweet shops filled with fly-ridden sweets, food carts selling pani puri, odds and ends shops selling gifts and souvenirs etc. My mother asked me if I had any small change and I gave her the ten rupee note that I had on me.

When I gave her the ten rupee note, she was like a child with her first ten rupee note at her first carnival. She happily bought an incense stick box and a packet of chips and was left with a 2 rupee coin, which she was determined to spend at the bazaar. We were walking further down the bazaar, when we saw an apple cart and she decided to spend her 2 rupee coin buying an apple. The apple-seller said that one apple was 3 rupees and she said ‘nahi, do rupees’. She was looking at an apple, when she suddenly started rooting through the apples on one corner of the cart. I was getting a bit worried and embarrassed because the cart owner started grumbling about it. She finally exclaimed gleefully as she picked up her two rupee coin, which I then realized had fallen into the cart.

I have always marveled at my mother’s ability to tap into her inner child and experience the moment with a child’s carefree and happy attitude. Especially even amidst painful life experiences. Being of a more serious disposition, I didn’t always appreciate this attitude especially during my teen years. However, I have learnt to value and treasure such moments with my mother.

3. Visit to Raj Ghat

During our first morning in Delhi, the guide who was a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, discussed the suggested itinerary for the day with us and asked if we had specific places we wanted to visit. I expressed an interest in paying our respects at Raj Ghat so that is where we went first.

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We bought some marigold flowers from the flower seller at the entrance and walked through the peaceful park to the memorial. The place where Mahatma Gandhi had been cremated, on 31st January 1948 on the banks of Yamuna river, had a marble platform and a burning lamp at one end.

As we drove away from Raj Ghat, I noticed the road was lined with memorials of cremation places of other Indian leaders like the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru.

4. A quick glimpse of India Gate

Having watched the republic day parades of India on TV, while living in Madras for a couple of years as a child, I had to stop by India Gate on our drive around Delhi.

Designed by Edwin Lutyens, India Gate is a war memorial to the 82,000 Indian soldiers who died during the first world war. The canopy behind India Gate once had the statue of King George V, but was subsequently removed.

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From India Gate, one could see Rashtrapati Bhawan, the President’s house, and the Parliament House. We were told that both the President’s palace and India Gate were built in perfect alignment and that they were of the same height of 42.5m. The Parliament house were two identical buildings on either side of the road leading to the President’s palace. I liked the symmetry of Lutyens’ design of the administrative centre of New Delhi.

5. Lotus Temple, the Baha’i house of worship

The Lotus temple was a pleasant surprise to my mother and I. What we liked most about the temple, considered the mother temple of those of Baha’i faith, was that not only was it open to people of all faiths, who were free to read scriptures of any faith within the temple, it was forbidden to have any sermons or ritualistic ceremonies within the temple. Everyone was asked to be silent within the temple premises. It made a huge impression on me.

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6. Exploring Qutb Minar

Of all the ancient monuments and buildings we visited in Delhi on this trip, the one that made the most impression on me was the aesthetically pleasing Qutb Minar. It was simply a beautiful masterpiece. The Qutb Minar was built upon the ruins of the old city, with the foundation laid by Qutb al-din-Aibak, the founder of the Delhi sultanate in the 13th century. However, it was only completed by his successor after his death.

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Qutb Minar and the Alai Darwaza gate

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Ala-ud-din Khilji started the construction of the Alai Minar in early 14th century, as he wanted to build a monument that rivalled Qutb Minar. However, he died before the first storey was completed and work on the monument was discontinued.

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Alai Minar

The iron pillar with its Sanskrit inscriptions was brought from its original place to the site during the building of the Qutb Minar complex. Some of the translations indicate that the pillar was raised for Vishnu to celebrate the victory of a King in the 4th century.

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Iron pillar

The UNESCO heritage site is impressive and it was interesting to see features of the older city peeping out of this ancient monument complex.

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Since that first visit to Delhi, I have visited a few times and explored the city more. While several of my Indian friends seem to prefer other Indian cities over Delhi, I continue to find the city fascinating.

I would highly recommend reading Khuswant Singh’s Delhi for those who have visited or are interested in visiting Delhi.

Have you visited Delhi? Which experience do you treasure most from your first visit to the capital of India?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful WednesdayFaraway Files #4Weekend Travel Inspiration and The Weekly Postcard]
Wanderful Wednesday

Untold Morsels
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 Travel Notes & Beyond

A photo tour of Sigiriya

The first time I visited Sigiriya is more a memory of my parents than mine, as I was around a year old at that time. They keep recounting the story of how one of my father’s colleagues had offered to carry me up the mountain, during an office trip with family, as my parents had their hands full with my siblings. I think their memory of Sigiriya is associated with the subsequent scare they received when my father’s colleague took off running up the mountain, after I was handed over, and my parents feared that I was going to be dropped.

My own memory of Sigiriya is a more pleasant one as it was a trip I took with my friends during the first year of my undergrad years. It was a fun trip though I remember it being terribly hot and crowded, as we climbed up the rock. I think the climb is best experienced early in the morning.

Sigiriya, the UNESCO heritage site, is a rock fortress built in the 5th century by King Kashyapa whose story is reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Macbeth complete with greed for power, murder, revenge and battle. However gory Kashyapa’s life might have been, the ruins of the fortress he built are a marvel to see as are the gardens, which are among the oldest landscaped gardens in the world.

Some of the unique features of the rock fortress are the mirror wall and the frescoes. The mirror wall is said to have been highly polished enough to see one’s own reflection during the King’s time but subsequently became a place for visitors to scribble verses. Some of the earliest verses scribbled on by visiting vandals date back to the 8th century. While those ancient verses have become part of the treasured archaeological site, today’s scribbler could find himself or herself in jail. The famed Sigiriya frescoes are the remains of murals that survived time, exposure and vandalism. Only a handful remain in the cave though it is believed that there had once been thousands of them.

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View of Sigiriya from Kandalama Hotel, 2010

This post is a photo tour of Sigiriya, as seen through the lens of my friend, Nishanie Jayamaha, during her more recent visit. Nishanie tells me that she finds the engineering aspect of Sigiriya a marvel, some of which are still in working condition. She especially mentions the hydraulic technology that was used to pump water from ground water sources up to the pools at the top of the rock.

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View of the rock from the fountain gardens, photo credit: Nishanie Jayamaha

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Photo credit: Nishanie Jayamaha

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Photo credit: Nishanie Jayamaha

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Photo credit: Nishanie Jayamaha

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Sigiriya frescoes, photo credit: Nishanie Jayamaha

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Surviving Sigiriya frescoes, photo credit: Nishanie Jayamaha

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Ruins of the palace at the top of the rock, photo credit: Nishanie Jayamaha

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Photo credit: Nishanie Jayamaha

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Photo credit: Nishanie Jayamaha

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View of the water gardens from the top, photo credit: Nishanie Jayamaha

Despite the dark and ugly history behind the creation of Sigiriya, the ruins of the ancient city remains an architectural marvel and one of the most visited sites in Sri Lanka.

Have you visited Sigiriya? What feature of the ancient rock fortress fascinates you the most?

[I am linking this post to The Weekly Postcard]

Travel Notes & Beyond

Special Six: Tastes of Lijiang

When I revisited the UNESCO Heritage site, the old town of Lijiang in Yunnan province of China in 2013 with Yuan, we tried out a lot of the local Naxi cuisine. Someone once told me that for every person, one of their senses tend to dominate more than the others when it comes to memories. So much so that for some, smells or tastes can unlock an entire treasure trove of memories. While I do feel that a particular sense tends to dominate in a particular context, I don’t feel that that same sense is dominant across all travel memories. I feel that it could vary. Some of my travel memories are connected to sounds or music that I was listening to during that travel and listening to that particular song(s) back at home can bring back the entire details of that particular travel memory – the place, the weather, the people, the conversations etc. This trip to Lijiang was connected with the tastes and flavours of Lijiang cuisine and perhaps the sense of taste was heightened because I could not participate in the conversations in Mandarin around me.

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So, I am sharing the six special tastes that made up this visit.

  1. Street food night market

The evening Yuan and I arrived in the old town of Lijiang, we checked into our guesthouse and made our way to the night street food market to try out local delicacies. The street was packed with people and the range of local snacks on display was something to behold. I was happy that my friend was not only Chinese but knew the region well enough to recommend local specialty food. This is where I had my first taste of Er Kuai, which is a compressed rice cake, and loved it.

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2. Breakfasting on Lijiang baba

When Yuan returned to the guesthouse from her 10 Km morning run on our first day, she brought these  local pancakes for breakfast. They are called Lijiang baba and are a pan fried pancake. There are varieties of these pancakes but the one I tried was with eggs and spring onions. I loved them so much that I went to Naxi Snacks, the shop where they made these, each day for breakfast.

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3. A bowl of fresh rice noodles in chicken broth

Yuan insisted we try out the fresh Yunnanese rice noodles in chicken broth which is a local specialty and which she said could not be found elsewhere in the country. I think Yuan would have been happy to have had this for all her meals during our time there. I had to put a lot of the coriander, spring onions and chopped chilli in my bowl to make it more flavourful for my palate.

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4. A Naxi feast

A friend of Yuan’s, Anna, whose family we would be staying with during the next leg of our travel, invited us over to a dinner party with some of her friends. They treated us to a Naxi feast.

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5. Steam pot Chicken

When we returned to Lijiang from our stay with Anna’s family, we went out for a farewell dinner with Anna. We decided to order the steam pot chicken, another specialty of the region.

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6. Yunnanese veggies

For our last meal in the city, Yuan and I decided to try out more of the vegetarian dishes at Alily, a cafe that we had walked past often and wanted to try out. The spiced lotus root was a great balance to the spice-less tofu and greens soup.

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Have you tried out Yunnanese cuisine? What has been some of your favourites or what would you like to try out?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #3]
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Oregon Girl Around the World

A morning walk in Edinburgh

I had planned to have a full weekend in Edinburgh but unfortunately, having missed the train I had booked months in advance, I had to take the coach from London. Buying a train ticket on the day of travel in the UK can be incredibly expensive, as I found out that day. This meant that I spent Saturday on the road, reaching the city only in the evening. I was too tired to go out for one of the Edinburgh jazz and blues festival events taking place around the city that week.

So, my experience of Edinburgh was the early morning walk I took on a Sunday morning in July last year. Given that I was out early, there was hardly anyone on the road and despite the heavily overcast skies and the occasional drizzle, I enjoyed my walk in solitude.

I started at Greyfriars Bobby as I wanted to start my walk from this special place, which happened to be close to where I was staying at Grassmarket. The story of the little Skye terrier who sat guarding his owner John Gray’s grave for 14 years had touched me and I had wanted to visit the little fellow’s grave. I first came across the statue at a water fountain in front of the pub named after the dog. I walked into the church and came across the grave of Bobby at the entrance and quite near the grave of John Gray.

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Statue of Greyfriars Bobby

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Grave of Greyfriars Bobby at the entrance of the church

I walked over George IV bridge and onto High Street, part of the streets that make up the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. While St. Giles’ Cathedral considered Edinburgh’s principal place of worship for centuries was closed at that time in the morning, I did revisit later in the morning for the choir. The statue of Adam Smith, the pioneer of political economy and the author of the seminal work ‘The Wealth of Nations’, was close to the cathedral.

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Statue of Adam Smith, Father of modern Economics

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St Giles Cathedral

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Along the Royal Mile

At the end of the Royal mile, opposite Holyrood Palace, I came across the new Scottish parliament building inaugurated in 2004.

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New Scottish Parliament with Arthur’s Seat in the background

I walked a little bit along the slopes of Holyrood park before I decided to turn back as the paths were becoming more slippery and my legs were beginning to protest.

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View, from Holyrood Park, of Holyrood palace and Colton Hill in the distance

I decided to walk back along Cowgate road, which was the street along which cattle were herded along during market days in medieval times. It was along this stretch of road that I passed this narrow street called Old Fishmarket Close. I had read about the interesting story of Maggie Dickson, a famous resident of this close, in the Scotland Magazine. Maggie was a fish hawker who had lived on this street. She had been tried in 1742 under the absurd Concealment of Pregnancy Act of 1690, for having tried to conceal her pregnancy, and sentenced to death. Though the doctor declared her dead after her hanging, moans were heard from her coffin as she was taken to the graveyard. She was allowed to live as her recovery was seen as an act of God.

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Old Fish Market Close

Later in the morning, after breakfast, I decided to head towards the Scottish National Gallery and browsed through the collection. While I was enjoying my coffee on the terrace after finishing my tour of the gallery, I noticed that the monument to Sir Walter Scott was just close by. So, I walked up to the Gothic structure. I think I climbed up to the third level but not all 287 steps to the top and fourth level, as my fear of heights was beginning to kick in.

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Edinburgh Castle

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View from Scottish National Gallery

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Scott Monument

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View of National Gallery from the Scott Monument

I  had also wanted to visit the Scottish Storytelling Center, which had caught my eye, during my earlier morning walk. The bookshop of the center was open and I enjoyed going through the Scottish themed books. The Storytelling Center is an arts venue, which also hosts the International Storytelling Festival in October.

All too soon it was time for me to head towards Edinburgh Waverly Station for my return trip to London and not wanting to miss my train again, I made it to the station with lots of time to spare.

Hope you enjoyed the morning walk around Edinburgh with me!

Have you visited Edinburgh? What was your favourite experience of the city?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and City Tripping #50]
Wanderful Wednesday

MummyTravels

Special Six: Kunming Highlights

The first time I visited Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in southwest China, it hardly made an impression on me because I was only there overnight with the APLP team and we were busy with our presentations on our mini-field studies. We also had stayed at a hotel in the modern part of the city, which was not so interesting to walk around. I revisited Kunming in 2013 and met up with a couple of my APLP friends from China, who had not joined the 2012 visit as they had naturally chosen the NYC/ DC field study option. This time though it was a lovely experience as the accommodation and places to visit were suggested by my friends. These are my special six experiences and recommendations for the traveler to this city.

1.Stay at the Lost Garden Guesthouse

We stayed at the Lost Garden guesthouse near Green Lake. It was a lovely guesthouse, which had a restaurant serving delicious food.

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Breakfast on the rooftop , Lost Garden Guesthouse

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Duan, Yuan and I

2. Walk around Green Lake

With our proximity to a lovely lake and park, Duan and I spent a lot of time exploring different parts of the park in the early morning hours, while Yuan ran her daily 10km morning run around the lake. The park established in the 17th century has lots of lovely places to discover.

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3. Day trip to Xishan Forest Park (Kunming West Hill)

This was a special trip recommended by Duan so the two of us took the cab to the base of the hill and then took the cable and then the chair up the hill.

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We walked around the trail leading to the Dragon’s gate, where every visitor stopped to touch the gate. The adjacent Datiange (Mansion of Heaven) is one of the most visited of the Longmen grottoes along the hillside. This grotto has relief carvings on its wall of Kui Xing. According to mythology, Kui Xing was a highly intelligent human being whose services the Emperor refused as he was repulsed by his appearance. When Kui Xing threw himself off the cliff, a dragon saved him and because of that, he became the God of imperial examinations and official documents.

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Longmen/ Dragon gate

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Kui Xing, the God of examinations

4. Visit Guandu old town

Guandu old town is a short drive from Kunming so we decided to explore the old town. What I remember most from exploring the town is the rose flower cake bakery that we came across. Rather the smell of the pastries being baked drew us and we indulged ourselves in this Yunnan specialty snack. Of course, we got some boxes for home.

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Edible roses

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Rose cakes fresh out of the oven

5. Drive to Fuxian lake for lunch

A colleague of Yuan invited the three of us for a drive to Fuxian lake, the deepest fresh water lake in Yunnan province, for lunch. She explained that this area was famous for its fish and fish based meals, among the locals. So, we had the local specialty fish soup for lunch.

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6.Try out one of the group exercises in parks

Whichever park I visited in China, I always saw groups of people going through various exercise routines. Green Lake was no exception. While I was hesitant to join a group without having talked to the people beforehand, my friend didn’t hesitate and joined in the activity.

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Have you visited Kunming? Which of these experiences have you tried or would like to try out?

[I am linking this post to City Tripping #48 and The Weekly Postcard]

MummyTravels
Travel Notes & Beyond

A canal cruise in Amsterdam

What would you do if you had a couple of hours in Amsterdam? I once found myself in this city, for a few hours, on my way to visit friends in Rotterdam. I chose to visit the Van Gogh museum and then take a canal cruise.

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Amsterdam central station

Not only do I love going on boats and never miss an opportunity to go on a boat trip in most places I visit, I simply had to take a canal cruise within the 17th century canal ring area, a site under the UNESCO heritage list. This post is a photo tour of things that caught my eye during the cruise.

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Hope you enjoyed the photo journey of my canal cruise in Amsterdam! The next time I visit Amsterdam, I would love to stay a few days in a houseboat.

So, what would you do if you had a couple of hours in Amsterdam?

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Travel Notes & Beyond

Special Six: Shangri-La Experiences

Shangri-La city, in northwestern Yunnan province, is considered to be the inspiration for James Hilton’s novel ‘Lost Horizon’ so much so that the official Chinese name of Zhongdian was changed in 2001 to Shangri-La. The city’s traditional Tibetan name is Gyalthang or Royal Plains. I had the privilege of visiting this beautiful city at the foot of the Himalayas, for a few days, with half my APLP cohort in 2012. It was tragic to hear that a devastating fire destroyed most of the historic old town of Dukezong in 2014. The place has been rebuilt and while I haven’t visited the city since the fire, I did check whether some of my favourite places survived the fire.

My experience of Shangri-La was special and the following are six experiences I recommend to the traveler to this city.

  1. Early morning walk to temple

This was my favourite part of my stay in Shangri-La.

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Taku turning the wheel of the golden temple, photo credit: Mami Sato

2. Visit to Shangri-La Thangka Academy

The Thangka academy is a place where aspiring artists are trained in the traditional Thangka art. It is a wonderful experience to visit the center, and learn of the years of training that the artist goes through as well as see how the colours are mixed etc. There is a shop attached to the center, where you can buy local handicrafts including Thangka artwork.

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3. A Hike to the 100 chicken temple

This temple apparently received its name from the chickens roaming around, though I didn’t seen any chickens on the afternoon I visited. It is a short hike but has steep inclines, which can be a bit difficult for those with mobility issues especially when combined with the change in altitude from Beijing to Shangri-La. I did make it to the temple at the top but when the group decided to go on a further hike through some woods, I decided to turn back with my room-mate and we went back into the old town for some tea.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Taking a break and enjoying the blue trumpet gentian flowers, photo credit: Mami Sato

4. A visit to the Songzanlin Monastery

I was too tired to go on the third hike, which was a longer one. The photos, taken by those who went to the Ganden Sumtseling Monastery, also known as Songzanlin Monastery, were amazing. I would highly recommend visiting the Tibetan Buddhist monastery, founded by the 5th Dalai Lama in 1679, which is the largest in Yunnan province.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

Songzanlin Monastery 2

Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

5. Stay at Karma Cafe and Lodge.

Our group was split up to stay at three guesthouses. I was delighted that I had the opportunity of staying at this traditional Tibetan house, which had lovely gathering places on the first floor. The verandah space, where breakfast was served, had great views of the temple and the indoor gathering space around the fire place was really cosy. The restaurant also served great local food.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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6. Eating at Tara Gallery cafe and bar

We had a couple of meals here and enjoyed the fusion of Indian, Yunnan and Tibetan food.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

The old town is a lovely area, with its narrow streets, and where vehicles are not allowed. Though the shops are targeted at tourists, they are fun to explore. The Yunnan Mountain Heritage Foundation‘s Handicraft center, at the edge of the square and away from the tourist centre, is a non-profit organization that supports local cultural heritage, handicrafts and eco-tourism in Diqing prefecture and is worth visiting.

Shangri-La is also a great base for mountain hikes and treks, especially for those interested in going on the old tea horse trails. Do read Jeff Fuch’s The Ancient Tea Horse Road before going on one of the old tea horse road treks.

Hope you enjoyed the photo series of my recommended special six experiences in Shangri-La! Which of these experiences would you enjoy?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday, hosted by Lauren on Location, Snow in TromsoThe Sunny Side of This and What a Wonderful World; and

the newly started Faraway Files, hosted by Untold Morsels, Oregon Girl around the world and Suitcases and Sandcastles]

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Faraway Files - Untold Morsels