Did You Know?—Musings on India

Photo: Mark Downey © All rights reserved | Taj Mahal at dawn

A Look at India’s Place in Intellectual Advancement

By Jane Klein, Asia Transpacific Journeys‘ Writer/Publications Manager

India has been an intellectual epicenter for over two millennia. This was recently underscored when physicists created a fourth state of matter, the Bose-Einstein Condensate, named for Satyendra Nath Bose, and his more famous German counterpart. In 1924 the Indian physicist Bose made calculations on light particles, and collaborated with Einstein who extended the theory, predicting a fourth state of matter. Utilizing their calculations, Boulder-based Americans shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 2001 for making atoms “sing in unison” to form a state of matter that was neither solid, liquid nor gas.

Bose was too far ahead of his time even for the Nobel committee to recognize, but they have honored other Indian intellectual contributions in the fields of physics, medicine, economics and poetry.

Mohandas (also Mahatma, “Great Soul”) Gandhi founded a new type of politics called Satyagraha, literally “persuasion through truth.” He is thus one of the chief architects of modern nonviolent resistance. This social force not only brought the British Empire to its knees, it formed the philosophical basis for the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. and dismantled apartheid in South Africa.

The most influential Indian in history is Siddhartha Gautama, who founded Buddhism in the 5th century B.C. In the two-and-a-half millennia since, Buddhism has spread throughout Asia, Eastern Europe, and most recently to small pockets in North America. Whether termed religion or philosophy, Buddhism has exercised an intellectual, philosophical, social and political influence of the most profound order throughout world history.

The brilliance of India is perhaps most conspicuously apparent in the magnificent architecture found throughout the country. From the world famous Taj Mahal and the sublime temples of Ranakpur, to the innumerable fortresses and palaces that comprise a brilliant legacy, its clear to even the uninitiated that one is beholding masterpieces of the building arts.

Its well known that Indians have been excelling in the high tech industries in recent years. This is due to a world-class education system that emphasizes math, engineering and the sciences. Indians are recruited around the world for their ability to innovate and invent.

From music and dance to ayurveda and yoga, India’s achievements in many fields of human endeavor are tremendous. But if you really want to wrap your mind around its contributions to world culture, try lunch at your favorite local Indian restaurant. One bite of palak paneer scooped up with an onion paratha, and youll be an awed worshipper at the altar of her genius.

Did you capture that one-in-a-million shot on your recent trip to India? Do your friends and family ooh and aah when you show them your best India travel photos? Then enter your photos in our “Share Your Experience – India Travel Photo Contestand you could win an Apple iPad! (16 GB with Wi-Fi).

A Postcard from the Field: Mumbai Through New Eyes

India travel notes from Jarrod Hobson, one of Asia Transpacific Journeys’ Travel Specialists

Last month I returned from an interesting trip to India. Despite the exceptionally hot weather I once again fell in love with this country and its one billion residents.

A colleague and I were invited on the maiden voyage of the Maharaja’s Express. The train journey began in Delhi and ended in Mumbai (Bombay). Along the way we saw the Taj Mahal, opulent forts and palaces, took jeep safaris to remote villages and rode camels in the desert to a catered dinner. Oh yeah, I also mastered elephant polo!

Jarrod Hobson with a new found friend

Asia Transpacific Journeys‘ motto is “Journey Beyond the Ordinary™,” and I had the opportunity to check out an area few get to witness. Visiting the Dharavi slums of Mumbai—where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed—may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the day ended up being a highlight of my travels to India.

Once in the slums you realize what India was like before mass tourism. For example,one thing many people will notice when traveling in India is that there is constant begging. It’s a nuisance because many people want to help the poor but know it’s impossible to do by giving in to this practice. In the Dharavi slums the people have no concept of begging. The people here are from all walks of life and all religions. They live in harmony despite their religious outlooks and views. Indeed, this tour felt like a breath of fresh air because of the peaceful harmony.

The overall cleanliness was what stuck out the most. The residents support themselves by recycling everything in sight. Therefore it is very clean once you get inside the slums. From the outside it looks like a place you would really want to steer clear of. Once inside you cannot take pictures because the people would not know what to think of it. These people live in an area that has narrow lanes that cannot accommodate vehicles or motorcycles. Therefore, you also have relief from the continuous fear of being run over by a Bombay cab driver. The lanes are clean and well maintained. Children play and the people are industrious and happy.

The real estate where these slums are is very good property. Investors are buying up the land and starting to develop the land for the emerging Indian middle class. It’s a shame knowing that the experience I had will not be possible in the near future. National Geographic has also recently published a great article about the slums I visited.

I walked away from the experience thinking, “this is the type of tour that really makes me feel I’m taking a ‘journey beyond the ordinary™.’” There is a section of the slums where they produce pottery. It’s amazing quality that can be bought for a song. I ended up buying a couple of clay pots and unfinished candle holders. This weekend I’m going to help my 2-year-old son, Tucker, paint them with his little paint set. It’ll be nice to have a token from this experience. And all for about 5 cents!

We’d love to hear about your travel to India. Enter our photo contest—your photos of India could win an Apple iPad!

Photo of the Week :: Asia Transpacific Journeys’ India Travel Contest

This week’s photo was taken by Jay Dorfman.

“Shot during recent journey to Kumbh Mela. As the largest religious gathering of people in the world it is a feast for the camera lens. – Jay Dorfman

Jay Dorman Image

Jay Dorfman © All rights reserved

If you’ve captured that one-in-a-million shot on a recent trip to India then enter your photos in our “Share Your Experience – India Travel Photo Contest” and you could win an Apple iPad! (16 GB with Wi-Fi).

See all the other wonderful India travel photos that have been submitted on our Online Photo Contest Album.

Deadline for submission is July 31, 2010. Winners will be announced by August 31, 2010.

Photography Tips for Your Trip to India

Pushkar Camel Fair © Stacey Schultz / Asia Transpacific Journeys

By Stacey Schultz, Marketing Director and Travel Enthusiast with Asia Transpacific Journeys

Aside from the obvious (i.e. your camera) here is my list of the top 5 invaluable extras you may not have thought to bring with you while traveling in India. I hope they help you capture great images, but most importantly, I hope they help you make more meaningful connections with the people you meet.

Villager in Udaipur © Stacey Schultz / Asia Transpacific Journeys

#5 Speak the Language. Most recently one of our clients used the Lonely Planet Mobile Phrasebook app for their iPhone on a trip to Japan, using it to have the phone ask questions to locals. Not only was everyone mesmerized by this talking gadget, it also allowed people he met along the way to type in their questions in Japanese and have it translated in English. You can be sure this will be on my list for my next trip to India, once they come out with the app in Hindi! Short of this, learning a few phrases such as “Hello” and “Thank you” in the local language goes a long way in making a connection.

#4 Get in Front of the Camera. I’ve always found that when I give something first, I get a lot in return. On my last trip to India, I gave several trustworthy looking children my camera, securing it safely around their neck with the strap. Of course, do this with caution, as they could run off with your camera. However, I’m a trusting individual and found they had so much fun photographing me smiling and being funny, that when I got my camera back they were more than willing to be models for me. Who knows, I may also be inspiring future photographers!

Children in Udaipur © Stacey Schultz / Asia Transpacific Journeys

#3 Share Faces from Your Travels. On a recent trip to India I made a photo book from my other travels. This featured my favorite faces from travels as far flung as Laos and Vanuatu. The reason I chose faces is that I feel everyone relates to a smile or a kind expression. You can have very professional looking books made using iPhoto or many other online services such as kodakgallery.com. As I met locals I wanted to photograph, I first shared this book with them, then asked if I could take a photo of them to include in my next book. My experience was that they were very flattered to be part of my personal project.

#2 Shake it Like a Polaroid Picture. This is a bit time consuming when you are on the go, but bringing a portable printer is the 21st century version of the Polaroid photo, minus the shaking. You can now get very small, battery-operated printers that plug into the USB port of your camera. Printing a photo you just took pays big dividends when you are able to give the memento to your new friend. It’s so hard when traveling in India to make promises to send photos you take back to a local, even given the best of intentions. Now you can share your photos on the go.

Boy in Samode © Stacey Schultz / Asia Transpacific Journeys

#1 An Extraverted Travel Companion. While traveling in India with a friend, she naturally engaged with everyone we met. In one instance we came upon a woman bringing well water back to her village in a pot carried on top of her head. My friend, gesturing her intent, asked if she could help carry the water for this woman. Soon a crowd had gathered, she entertained, and I took photos. I usually start shooting everyone, including my friend, to capture the scene and get everyone used to the presence of the camera. Then I’ll start zooming in on the subject I’m most interested in, for instance, the colorful woman in her sari or the young child in a fit of giggles. The result is I’ve captured a candid moment and a great memory of my trip to India. I once traveled with a professional magician, true story, and he was priceless. As he did magic tricks, I took photos, and they remain some of my favorites in my personal collection!

The most important thing, however, is to walk away from your trip to India with wonderful memories of your time there, whether recorded on your camera or simply in your memories. I know photography helps many travelers (like myself) form a deeper connection with the people they meet, and we see this daily through the many photos our clients share with us upon returning from their trips to India. If you’d like to share your own photos of travel in India, we’d love to see them! http://www.asiatranspacific.com/atj/india.photos.aspx

A Staff Postcard from the Field: Blissed Out in Bhutan

Bhutan travel notes about remote Eastern Bhutan from Marilyn Downing Staff, Asia Transpacific Journeys’ Founder & President

I have just come in from 7 days trekking for one night of ‘deluxe’ accommodations—at least as far as they offer in this remote area of Bhutan—then back out for another 4 days of exploration. I have had the adventure of a lifetime thus far and can’t wait to share some stories. It has been one of the most extraordinary trekking experiences of my traveling life.

We currently have 6 clients here in Bhutan—all very happy indeed. By the time you receive this message, I will be back on the trail with the yaks.

Marilyn Downing Staff

On this trip to Bhutan, Marilyn is trekking through the yet-to-be-opened-to-tourists Sakten Wildlife Sanctuary, the only reserve in the world that protects the habitat of endemic animals and the cryptid yeti (also known as the Abominable Snowman). She is also trekking from Tashi Yangtse to Lhuntshi, a road-less area inhabited with Himalayan mountain people living very traditional lives, with little exposure to the outside world. Speak to one of our Travel Specialists if you would like more informtion on trekkig in Bhutan.

Photo of the Week :: India Travel Photo Contest

This week’s photo was taken by Andrea Perullo.

“I had just walked out of the Taj Mahal and was greeted by these women in their colorful saris.  I think the colors of the saris with the Taj Mahal as the backdrop is absolutely breathaking.  It actually brought tears to my eyes!” – Andrea Perullo

Photo: Andrea Perullo (c) All rights reserved

If you’ve captured that one-in-a-million shot on a recent trip to India then enter your photos in our “Share Your Experience – India Travel Photo Contest” and you could win an Apple iPad! (16 GB with Wi-Fi).

See all the other wonderful India travel photos that have been submitted on our Online Photo Contest Album.

Deadline for submission is July 31, 2010. Winners will be announced by August 31, 2010.

Get Two Free Nights in Sydney While Exploring Australia by Exclusive Private Plane

Take the trip of a lifetime this summer and explore incredible Australia by private plane. Reserve your space on the June 16 departure of the Great Australian Aircruise and receive two nights in Sydney (for two people) at no additional cost, an AUD $1,200 value.

  • Two nights accommodation in a 5-star centrally located Sydney hotel
  • Breakfast
  • Airport transfers

This trip to Australia circumnavigates huge swathes of the island-continent, to provide a sweeping overview of Australia’s most dramatic landscape formations—aboard a small, low-flying aircraft. Discover UNESCO World Heritage areas; see sacred Aboriginal sites; encounter profuse wildlife in their native habitat.

To learn more about this trip to Australia, watch this video or visit our web site for trip details.

India Travel Photo Contest

Photography is a means for many travelers, including many of us at Asia Transpacific Journeys, to form a deeper connection with the people they meet. We’ve seen this through the many photos our travelers share with us upon returning from their trips and wanted to begin to create a larger community of passionate travelers with an ongoing photo contest featuring different destinations, the first being photos showcasing travel to India.

So starting in May, we are encouraging everyone to share their personal experiences of travel in India with us, revealing the insights and connections to the local culture that they have captured in their photos.

Submissions will be accepted on our site through July 31st. The winner will announced by August 31, 2010 and will receive a new 16GB Wi-Fi enabled Apple iPad!

Enter today >>

Postcard from Our Traveler: Violinist Aaron Meyer’s Musical Trip to Myanmar

By Aaron Meyer, Asia Transpacific Journeys' Traveler

I returned to Myanmar, 14 years after my last trip to Myanmar when I spent 6 weeks there in Dec 1995/Jan 1996 as a backpacker. Big changes had occurred in this isolated and amazing country. I joined my parents on a very well organized tour by Asia Transpacific Journeys; in fact my sister and Asia Travel Specialist, Rebecca Mazzaro, planned our entire trip, which was amazing!  I am a violinist by profession and specialize in combining world music with my contemporary/progressive original music. I bill myself as a Concert Rock Violinist, whatever that is…(www.aaronmeyer.com). I mentioned to my sister that I would like to visit any schools and reach out to students and share my music with them and also learn about any local music. My sister suggested that I visit a local music school in Yangon where students were learning to play western instruments.

I arrived in Yangon a few days after my parents and visited the music school. I performed for students at a very unique makeshift music school. Instruments were limited but there were approximately 10 violinist, 3 violists, 4 cellists, and 2 bass players. The quality of the instruments was very poor and the students lacked strings and other supplies but they played nicely and seemed to enjoy performing. Most importantly they lacked regular teachers to teach the students. I had an instant connection with the students. They wanted to learn as much as they could. It is not very often that they get to meet a professional musician from anywhere outside of Myanmar. It was really exciting to share music with the students and hopefully inspire them. I know the students were very interested in my style of music and how I incorporated the violin in a band with drums, percussion, and electric guitar. All I could think about was, I need to come back here and spend a month with these students. I plan to do this in the future. The people in Myanmar are amazing—so friendly and inviting.

Off I went to Bagan, the land of many temples, to connect with my parents and start our journey together exploring Myanmar. On my second full day of travel in Bagan, our guide, Golden, told me that they had organized an opportunity for me to perform for some children in an orphanage. The children were bussed into the town of Bagan and I played several songs for the children. These are the opportunities that really get me excited. I love connecting with local people wherever I go and music is a bridge between cultures. Music has no barriers and certainly crosses the language barrier. The children were bopping their heads to the music and looking at the violin as they had never seen a real violin before. I learned later, that one of the older orphans, 14 years old, was learning to play the guitar. When I heard this, I was again inspired to return and work with students who want to learn more about music in Myanmar.

Our next stop was a trip to Inle Lake, one of the most magical places in the world, where villages of people live out in the middle of a huge lake in the Shan State surrounded by beautiful mountains. The easiest way to get around here is by boat. We pulled up to a school over the water in our water taxi where I would perform for about 200 young Inle students in a small classroom on stilts over the lake. None of these kids had ever heard or seen a violin before. When I pulled out my violin, they had no idea what this unidentified object was. I played 3 songs for the kids and their favorite part was clapping at the end of each song. All I could think about was this is history in the making—for me a National Geographic moment. The most exciting part of the program was when I gave the violin to my father, a very accomplished violin teacher for young students in Philadelphia, PA. My Dad played Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and as he played all the children started singing the alphabet song. It was so neat hearing the children from Inle Lake sing along with an American violinist. And this song and the English alphabet was something that the children had already learned in their classroom. Then he played a classical introductory violin song, at first very boring with no emotion. He then played the same song, where he added more character to the music by changing the volume and adding crescendos.

He told the children he was going to try to scare them with the music by playing very soft, then really loud. As he proceeded to play, the children totally picked up on what he was doing and started laughing hysterically. We had so much fun with these students through music. It was a total magical experience. We really didn’t need any words to communicate with the students because we had the music. No matter where one goes in this world, music is the universal language.

I have performed several times in Southeast Asia including 2 solo appearances with the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra in Thailand. I do plan to travel to Myanmar this coming December and January and spend some time working with violin students. I would encourage anyone to visit Myanmar for the people and the natural beauty. Asia Transpacific Journeys was a tremendous help in setting up our trip and these amazing magical musical opportunities.

To learn more about trips to Myanmar, visit Asia Transpacific Journeys’ website or contact one of our Asia Travel Specialists.