Bhutan’s dark secret to happiness

Bhutan's dark secret to happiness

Citizens of one of the happiest countries on Earth are surprisingly comfortable contemplating a topic many prefer to avoid. Is that the key to joy?

On a visit to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, I found myself sitting across from a man named Karma Ura, spilling my guts. Maybe it was the fact that he was named Karma, or the thin air, or the way travel melts my defences, but I decided to confess something very personal. Not that long before, seemingly out of the blue, I had experienced some disturbing symptoms: shortness of breath, dizziness, numbness in my hands and feet. At first, I feared I was having a heart attack, or going crazy. Maybe both. So I went to the doctor, who ran a series of tests and found…

“Nothing,” said Ura. Even before I could complete my sentence, he knew that my fears were unfounded. I was not dying, at least not as quickly as I feared. I was having a panic attack.

What I wanted to know was: why now – my life was going uncharacteristically well – and what could I do about it?
“You need to think about death for five minutes every day,” Ura replied. “It will cure you.”

“How?” I said, dumbfounded.

“It is this thing, this fear of death, this fear of dying before we have accomplished what we want or seen our children grow. This is what is troubling you.”

“But why would I want to think about something so depressing?”
“Rich people in the West, they have not touched dead bodies, fresh wounds, rotten things. This is a problem. This is the human condition. We have to be ready for the moment we cease to exist.”
Read more “Bhutan’s dark secret to happiness”

Welcome to Ulaanbaatar (Ulan Bator) in Mongolia

Welcome to Ulaanbaatar (Ulan Bator) in Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar or Ulan Bator is the capital and the largest city of Mongolia. A federal municipality, the city is not part of any aimag (province), and its population as of 2014 was over 1.3 million.

Located in north central Mongolia, the municipality lies at an elevation of about 1,310 metres (4,300 ft) in a valley on the Tuul River. It is the cultural, industrial and financial heart of the country, the centre of Mongolia’s road network and connected by rail to both the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia and the Chinese railway system.

The city was founded in 1639 as a nomadic Buddhist monastic centre. In 1778, it settled permanently at its present location, the junction of the Tuul and Selbe rivers. Before that, it changed location twenty-eight times, with each location being chosen ceremonially. In the twentieth century, Ulaanbaatar grew into a major manufacturing centre.

Mainstream tourist guide books usually recommend the Gandantegchinlen Monastery with the large Janraisig statue, the socialist monument complex at Zaisan Memorial with its great view over the city, the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, Chinggis Square and the nearby Choijin Lama Temple. Additionally, Ulaanbaatar houses numerous museums, two of the prominent ones being the National Museum of Mongolia and the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum. Popular destinations for day trips are the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, the Manzushir monastery ruins on the southern flank of Bogd Khan Uul and Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue.

Welcome to Ulaanbaatar (Ulan Bator) in Mongolia

Important shopping districts include the 3rd Microdistrict Boulevard (simply called Khoroolol or “the District”), Peace Avenue around the State Department Store (simply called Ikh Delguur or “Great Store”) and the Narantuul “Black Market” area (simply called Zakh or “the Market”). Ulaanbaatar presently has three large cinemas, one modern ski resort, two large indoor stadiums, several large department stores and one large amusement park. Food, entertainment and recreation venues are steadily increasing in variety. KFC, Round Table Pizza, Cinnabon, Louis Vuitton, Ramada and Kempinski have opened up branches in key locations.

A 309m tall tower called the Morin Khuur Tower (Horsehead Fiddle Tower) is planned to be built next to the Central Stadium. It is scheduled to finish in 2018. Other future skyscrapers are the 34-floor Shangri-La Phase 2 luxury hotel project (construction ongoing and scheduled to finish in 2015) and the 41-floor Mak Tower being built by South Korean “Lotte Construction and Engineering”.

Discover the best things to do in Tel Aviv, Israel

Discover the best things to do in Tel Aviv, Israel

Spend some time in ‘The Bubble’ and discover the best things to do in Tel Aviv, including restaurants, bars, hotels and attractions.

With an influx of 2.5 million international visitors every year, Tel Aviv is one of the most visited cities in the Middle East. A lively 24-hour carousel of activity, Israel’s second city – though many locals consider it the country’s first – has things to do for everyone.

With inbound Jewish influences from the East Coast of the United States to Ashkenazi Eastern Europe and the Mizrachi Yemen – and in recent decades, a large number from Russia – Tel Aviv is a cacophonous mixtape of heritage. As such it offers an exciting melting pot of cuisines, cultural traits, accents and worldviews. Palestinian and Arab influences are most evidently assimilated in what was once the sleepy port of Jaffa – the Arab town from which a Jewish suburb first relocated in 1909, before expanding into one of the most exciting metropolises on the Mediterranean.

In contrast to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv is avowedly a secular city. It is known for its 24-hour nightlife and is seen as licentious by many Israelis who live outside of ‘The Bubble’, as proud hedonist Tel Avivim refer to their town.

Discover the best things to do in Tel Aviv, Israel

Perched on the Mediterranean coast, and blessed with a strip of perfect white-sand beach that runs almost the length of the city itself, there are plenty of things to do by way of wild party nights and lazy, sunny afternoons. You’ll find an array of modern restaurants, clubs, cafés and bars dominating the blocks by the beach and the centre of town.

Taxis are relatively cheap but traffic periodically chokes the city and the best way to explore is usually on foot. This will give you more opportunities to mix with the Tel Aviv locals who are arguably one of the city’s greatest selling points.

Museums and Attractions

When travelling through Israel’s cultural capital, the journey can be as invigorating as the destination. One place to make sure to explore is White City, home to 4,000 Bauhaus buildings built in the 1930s. The largest collection of such architecture in the world, the area is so unique that it has been placed under UN preservation – sign up for a guided tour from the local Bauhaus Center.

Another area to visit is the port town area of Jaffa, which is home to many Israeli artists and dozens of contemporary art galleries. Keep your eyes peeled for converted warehouses, which host performances and installations that rival any on the international stage.

It is impossible to miss the city’s abundance of incredible street art. Make sure to stroll down Allenby Street or Rothschild Boulevard to take in the stunning graffiti. For a different kind of wall art head to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art where you will be greeted by two giant Roy Lichtenstein panels in the entrance foyer. The museum’s permanent collection includes everything from Old Masters to Israeli art and ranges in specialism from architecture and sculpture to photography.

Finally, be sure to wander around the Suzanne Dellal Center, a must see for any culture junkie. The dance complex was established in 1989 and continues to be host many of Israel’s greatest social and cultural voices.

Museums and Attractions Details

Bauhaus Center 99 Dizengoff Street. +972 3 522 02 49.
Tel Aviv Musuem of Art 27 Shaul Hamelech Boulevard. +972 3 607 70 20.
Suzanne Dellal Center 6 Yechieli Street. +972 3 510 56 56.

Tiger’s Nest in the mystical country Bhutan

Tiger’s Nest in the mystical country Bhutan

For the majority of travelers, the mystical country of Bhutan is not commonly a place that tops the list of places to visit, but this is certainly not because it lacks in feel or substance. This is truly one of those “hidden gems” that we so often hear about with much more to offer in terms of memories and experiences then your typical drop and flop all inclusive beach vacation to Cuba.

Why wouldn’t you want to visit a country where Gross National Happiness is deemed more important then Gross National Product? If you happen to be the type of traveler that revels in the unknown and relishes the exotic, then I highly recommend setting your radars on Bhutan, also known as the “Dragon Kingdom”.

Tucked away in the Eastern Himalayas, the mountain kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked state in South Asia that is bordered to the South, East and West by the Republic of India and to the North by the People’s Republic of China. It derives its own distinct cultural flavour and vibe by combining elements of Indian and Chinese culture. Before delving into detail on specific activities and must see attractions comes the small detail of actually arriving in Bhutan from whatever country you reside in.

Tiger’s Nest in the mystical country Bhutan

The most convenient way to access the country is by Druk Air, the national carrier. Druk Air flies a few times each week from gateways in India, Nepal, Thailand and Bangladesh making it easy to connect with other major airlines around the world. Visitors to the country famously have to pay a minimum of US$200 per day, making it one of the world’s most expensive countries to visit, but this fee is all-inclusive, you don’t have to travel in a group and you can arrange your own itinerary if you wish. What you won’t find in Bhutan is backpacker-style independent travel so couch surfing hostel lovers will have to look elsewhere for their dream destination.

If the thought of tediously constructing a complex and satisfying travel itinerary for you or your companions is not exactly your idea of fun then why not leave it to the experts and choose one of the already available circuits created by the industry leader in adventure travel, G Adventures. With an intimate small group feel and over 22 years of experience you can trust that you are getting the vacation that you need and deserve.

Depending on the type of traveler that you are, you can choose between the two trips that are offered by G Adventures based on the service level and level of accommodation that you prefer. The “standard” level ten day “Bhutan Adventure” gives you the cultural immersion that you desire while giving you the best bang for your buck and the twelve day “Spirit of Bhutan” “comfort” option allows for a bit more of life’s luxuries for the discerning traveler who seeks a softer landing at the end of the day. In my opinion, the highlight of either one of these options being the expert local guide that will accompany you throughout the journey making the experience more authentic and consequently more meaningful.

Accommodations in Bhutan have no star ratings unlike in the West, however all tourist hotels, lodges and guesthouses are graded by the tourism council of Bhutan. The more traveled destinations such as Western and central Bhutan usually have higher standards on a par with star-rated properties. In the less traveled areas of eastern Bhutan, modest but adequate accommodations are the norm. It is not large chain hotels and pampering spas that attract visitors to the dragon kingdom each year it is the pristine and peaceful nature of the land and it’s people.

For lovers of Asian culture that want to dig deeper, Bhutan is riddled with monasteries and Buddhist temples to wander through and explore. Perhaps the most well known monastery worldwide is the Takstang Monastery also known as the “Tiger’s Nest” which is precariously perched on the rock towering 900 meters above the valley. After hiking to this particular monastery you are awarded with not only photographs and memories to last a lifetime but a feeling of inner serenity and peace that will peel away the hardened layers of stress caused by everyday life in the Western World. The effort of getting there is well worth the reward of being there.

The Bhutanese people have gone to endless lengths to preserve the way of life of the “last Shangri-La” and both the land and the people have been blessed with an invaluable and spiritual cultural legacy. Bhutan is a unique blend of the old and the new and it is currently straddling the ancient and the modern world. Those fortunate enough to visit this country describe it as a unique, deeply spiritual and mystical experience. Bhutan offers to the world a country packed with awe inspiring sights and unparalleled trekking routes, all served up with a dash of culture, history and religion.

Secret Beaches of Phuket, Thailand

Secret Beaches of Phuket, Thailand

Phuket’s beaches are world-renowned and tourists flock from across the globe to visit the famous beaches at Patong, Karon, and Kata. So much so that many people complain these beaches have lost their charm. They say Phuket can no longer claim to be an idyllic tropical island getaway.

The beaches are too crowded. Sun loungers line the entire length of the beaches, sometimes in rows three or four deep. Jet skis, banana boats and parasail boats plough through the water while vendors ply their wares up and down the beach. They say Phuket is finished as an island getaway destination and only caters to the party crowd.

These people have not spent enough time exploring Phuket. There are more than 40 beaches around Phuket Island and there is something to suit all tastes. If you want a beach with good holiday facilities but not too crowded then Nai Harn, Kamala, Surin, Bang Tao and Nai Yang all have good hotels and restaurants yet do not draw big crowds. If you really want to get away from the crowds then Nai Thon and Mai Khao beaches in the north of the island are usually very quiet.

Still all these beaches are well known in Phuket and firmly in the tourist travel guides. In this article, we will look at some beaches that still remain undiscovered to most tourists. We will not even include Laem Sing or Yanui in this list. They are both charming beaches but they have become well known and usually have plenty of visitors. Some of the following beaches are not even known to many of Phuket’s residents. These are Phuket’s secret beaches.

Secret Beaches of Phuket, Thailand

Banana Beach

This beautiful beach is in the northern half of Phuket between Bang Tao Beach and Nai Thon Beach. It is a lovely two-hundred meter strip of sand, studded with rocks in the middle and ringed with trees. It is a good swimming beach and there is some great snorkeling. There is no accommodation and just a single beach restaurant with a handful of sun loungers at the southern end.

There are usually only a handful of visitors at this beach. The majority of them arrive by longtail boat from other beaches but in fact, you can see the beach from the coast road above and there is a trail down.

Pansea Beach

Right at the northern end of Bang Tao Beach is beautiful and peaceful Pansea Beach. There are two up-market resorts here yet the location retains its refreshing tranquility. Just offshore is Kala Island (or Kata Island depending who you believe) which shelters the shallow bay from waves so it is always calm. The waters are too shallow for swimming and when the tide is out you can walk to the island. It is a great beach for paddling and ideal for children to play. There are no refreshments here so it is a good idea to bring a picnic.

Pon Beach

This secluded little beach is in the headland north of Patong. The locals know it as Nai Yair Beach. It is amazing how few people find this beach considering it is located so close to the hordes at Patong. There is nothing here but a couple of rural shacks and a few grazing cows. It is a sandy beach but not good for swimming due to the rocky seabed. There is some good snorkeling.

There are usually a couple of locals renting sun loungers and selling refreshments. They can also provide you with a small barbecue to cook your own. There may be a small charge for crossing the private land to reach the beach.

Paradise Beach

In the headland south of Patong, there are two beautiful beaches that remain relatively unspoiled. They are not as undiscovered as the other beaches we mention on this list but still a break from the heaving masses at Patong. The first is Paradise Beach. Right at the tip of the headland, you can reach it by road (track) or boat.

It is a beautiful beach with overhanging trees. There is no accommodation but there is a restaurant and there are plenty of sun loungers. The beach is not the best for bathing due to the rocky seabed close to shore but there is some excellent snorkeling. There are usually plenty of people around but still it is surprising how many people in Patong do not know this beach is here.

Freedom Beach

You can only reach this stunning beach by boat. It is in the headland south of Patong all the way around and back towards the Karon Beach side. Still it is well worth the boat ride with fantastic bathing and snorkeling.

There are a couple of restaurants and plenty of sun loungers under the trees. The locals take great care of the beach and it is always pristine. Plenty of people do make this a day trip from Patong but the beach is never crowded and again it is surprising how many people in Patong do not know this beach is here.

Nui Beach

This beach is most known for how difficult it is to reach by land. Located between Kata and Nai Harn, the only way to reach it by land is down a two-kilometer dirt track that is almost impossible to traverse in a car. You can just about do it on a motorbike but it is better to walk or let one of the locals take you down on their ATV for a small fee.

It is also known as the most expensive beach in Phuket because you have to cross private land to reach it and they charge 250 baht for the privilege. This fee does get you a sun lounger and drink. When you do arrive, it is a beautiful secluded spot with good swimming and snorkeling. There is a rustic restaurant overlooking the beach but no accommodation. It is never crowded.

Ao Sane Beach

This beach is in the headland at the north end of Nai Harn Beach. You need to go through Le Meridian Phuket Yacht Club’s car park to reach it but they do not stop you. There is a restaurant here and some budget bungalows by the beach. There are usually a few people around but it is never busy.

It is actually a series of three small beaches split by little rocky headlands. None of them is good for swimming due to rocks and corals close to shore. There is some excellent snorkeling.

Laemka Beach

This little beach is at the southern end of Phuket between Rawai and Friendship Beach. It is not signposted and a little difficult to find but a beautiful spot. The Evason Resort and a small bungalow resort are nearby but still the beach remains quiet. It is one of the few southern beaches where you can have a swim and there are nice views out to the southern islands.

Ao Yon Beach

Nestled deep into Cape Panwa is Ao Yon Beach. This is the best beach on the southern side of Phuket. Although it is well developed with residential property, there are no hotels or restaurants by this beach. It is home to Phuket Yacht Club and there are always plenty of boats moored in the bay. It is a beautiful stretch of sand and a good bathing beach. It is usually very quiet and a real getaway.

Japan: From Kyoto to Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Kyushu Island, Korea

Japan: From Kyoto to Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Kyushu Island, Korea

From Kyoto

Thanks to its perch in the relatively high latitudes, northeast Asia is the only part of the region that enjoys four distinct seasons-a climatic oddity that makes it curiously familiar for Westerners traveling in Japan, Korea, and parts of northern China. Cherry-blossom time is perhaps the best season to visit Japan (though beware of the crowds), and fall the best for Korea (where the colors easily rival those of New England). In China’s north and Russia’s far east, high summer or midwinter are best-warm sunlit evenings in July or magnificent snowy vistas in December.

Forget Tokyo as a base: Its monstrous international airport, Narita, happens to be so inconveniently sited-at the very least, two and a half hours from the average Tokyo hotel room-that it is actually the very last place to choose. By contrast, Osaka’s handsome new airport proves a very good jumping-off point and is well connected to its neighbor cities, and not least to the exquisite old Japanese capital of Kyoto-which means that you can spend a meditative morning communing with the stones in Ryoan-ji Temple or strolling the Philosopher’s Walk from Eikan-do to Ginkaku-ji before setting out, via what is called the new Kansai airport, on your adventure.

There ate–two further practical advantages to Osaka. First, flights from the Kansai field to Tokyo land not at the far away Narita but at the much handier Haneda Airport, only minutes from Tokyo’s city center; and second, Osaka-where there is a brand-new Imperial Hotel that is well worth seeing-is nearer to the major centers of South Korea, essential destinations for anyone wanting to have the full picture of what northeast Asia is all about.

To Tokyo

This, of course, has to be the prime destination, but it is invidious to offer specific sites of pilgrimage-the Imperial Palace, the Ginza, the 5 A.M. auctions at the Tsukiji fish market. Better to suggest things to do, such as Kabuki theater (marathan sessions are held at the Kabuki-za Theater in Ginza), or No drama (at the nearby Ginza No-Gakudo), or simply the amazing nightlife in such areas as Shinjuku or Roppongi. Whereas in smaller Japanese cities and towns it’s a good idea to have the (incredibly expensive) experience of staying in a local inn, a ryokan, in Tokyo you are better advised to stay at a Western-style hotel, of which the Seiyo Ginza and the Imperial remain among the best.

To Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji and the nearby hot spring region of Hakone are well within the two-hour range for train journeys from Kyoto. You climb the mountain (in Japan they say the wise man climbs it but only the fool climbs it twice), taking about four hours up, two down; warm clothing is essential if you climb at night-as you should, in order to witness goraiko, the sunrise, from the summit.In Hakone, where you can stay at astonishingly costly hotels like the Fujiya, one ofthe oldest Western-style hotels in the country, the attractions are legion-lakes, mountains, mud baths, ancient forests, and, if you’re lucky, morning views of Fuji-san looming over all.

To Kyushu Island

Here is where you come to know Japan best of all, however, by experiencing her traditions and her curiosities rather than by seeing her cities and her sights. But doing this demands same valor on the part of the casual visitor-nowhere more so than in the sampling of the onsen, the open-air bath. Try Beppu, where you can either bathe in a variety of types and temperatures of water or be buried up to the neck in hat sand on a volcanic beach. In Yufu-in, inland and near-by, the scene is more genteel and more beautifully and classically Japanese, and there are plenty of smaIl hotels with adjoining baths.

Also on Kyushu is the reborn town of Nagasaki-famous for its role as the first open city in pre-Meiji Japan and as the second city to be devastated by the American nuclear attacks in 1945. Hiroshima, two hours by train southwest of Osaka and still on the main island of Honshu, is equally well worth visiting.The two other main islands of Japan-the small and temple-filled Shikoku and the large and largely agricultural Hokkaido-are less frequently visited. For those with time (six weeks if on foot, a day if by bus), there is a memorable pilgrimage route that takes in all 88 temple site s on Shikoku; and for those with wintertime energy, the skiing around Sapporo is excellent. The Shikotsuko Hokkai Hotel here offers one of the few affordable Japanese ryokan experiences in the country.

To Korea

From Osaka Airport, it is quick and easy to reach Seoul, Pusan, and, with a little more effort, the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. While the sight of the Cold War, still very much alive and well at the armistice village of Panmunjom, may enthrall some, the little-known countryside of South Korea remains spectacularly beautiful: The unforgettable temple of Haein-sa near the city of Taegu is among the most notable places.Within locked rooms and guarded by monks lies one of the original Buddhist woodenblock libraries, the Tripitaka Koreana, carved in the thirteenth century; and the temple itself sits in a dreamlike panorama of misty mountains of unparalleled beauty-the perfect spiritual link to the fragile loveliness of the Kyoto temples.

Balinese Dances and Dancers

Balinese Dances and Dancers

Balinese dances is a very ancient dance tradition that is part of the religious and artistic expression among the Balinese people of Bali island, Indonesia. Balinese dance is dynamic, angular and intensely expressive. Balinese dancers express the stories of dance-drama through the bodily gestures including gestures of fingers, hands, head and eyes.

There is a great richness of dance forms and styles in Bali; and particularly notable are those ritualistic dance dramas which involve Rangda, the witch, and the great beast Barong. Most of dances in Bali are connected to Hindu rituals, such as the Sanghyang Dedari sacred dance than invoked hyang spirits that believed to possess the dancers in trance state during the performance. Other Balinese dances are not linked to religious rituals and created for certain purposes, such as Pendet welcoming dance and Joged dance that is social dance for entertainment purpose.

During the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage convention in 29 November to 4 December 2015 in Windhoek, Namibia, UNESCO recognizes three genres of traditional dance in Bali, Indonesia, as Intangible cultural heritage. The three genres includes Wali (sacred dances), Bebali (semi-sacred dances) and Balih-balihan (dances for entertainment purposes). The Balinese dance has been proposed since 2011,[3] and officially recognized in 2015.

The three genres are represented by nine dances, which describes its function and living tradition in Balinese community, they are:

Wali Sacred Dances

Rejang (Klungkung District). Sacred ceremonial dance by a young women in traditional ceremonial dress,

Sanghyang Dedari (Karangasem District). Sacred trance dance to counteract negative supernatural forces. Performed by two young girls.

Baris Upacara (Bangli District) religious dances conveying heroic spirit danced by even numbers of male dancers.

Bebali Semi sacred Dances

Topeng Sidhakarya/Topeng Pajegan (Tabanan District). Performed by masked dancers to neutralize the evil spirits.

Gambuh dance drama (Gianyar District). Formerly royal theatrical performance, now accompaniment to ceremonies, by 25-40 dancers.

Wayang Wong dance drama (Buleleng District). Combines dance, epic drama and music.

Balih-balihan Entertainment Dances

Legong Kraton (Denpasar City). Exquisitely beautiful dance by 2 or 3 girls. Developed from Sanghyang Dedari, and Gambuh.

Joged Bumbung (Jembrana District). A popular social dance by couples, during harvest season or on important days.

Barong Ket “Kuntisraya” (Badung District). Represents a fight between two mythological characters, Barong in the form of a lion symbolizing goodness and Rangda, an evil witch.

Ulun Danu Temple in Bali

Ulun Danu Temple in Bali

Bali Golden TourBali Ulun Danu Beratan Temple is a temple dedicated to the goddess of the lake is Ida Batari Dewi Ulun Danu on the edge of a huge crater. The dominant shrines are Meru’s (pagodas) dedicated to the lake goddess and the gods of Mount Batur and Mount Gunung Agung, the largest volcano in Bali. The temple was built in the 17th century in worship of the main Hindu trinity, Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, as well as the lake goddess, Dewi Danu.

The sight and cool atmosphere of the Bali uplands have made the lake and this temple a favourite sightseeing and recreational spot as well as a frequently photographed site. Ulun Danu Beratan Temple, literally ‘the source temple of Lake Beratan’, is easily the island’s most iconic sanctuary sharing the scenic qualities with the seaside temples of Uluwatu Temple and Tanah Lot Temple. The smooth reflective surface of the lake surrounding most of the temple’s base creates a unique floating impression, while the mountain range of the Bedugul region encircling the lake provides the temple with a scenic backdrop.

INSIDE 2 ULUN DANU TEMPLE | LAKE TEMPLE | Bali Golden TourUlun Danu Beratan Temple mostly called as a Ulun Danu Temple but not to be confused with Ulun Danu Batur Temple, which is on the rim of the caldera at Batur Lake. It is especially important for the Balinese. Only here can you get holy water of a particular variety. The water is collected from the lake itself, directly in front of the temple. Visitors have to wear a sash and not go near. Bathing is forbidden.

The lake is the ultimate source of water for the rivers and springs that irrigate central Bali. It is therefore of the utmost importance. The temple priests say that the lake is fed by springs located at each of the wind directions. Each of the springs is the origin of water for that particular region of central Bali. So, farmers from North Bali collect their holy water from the northern spring of the lake and so on.

Ulun Danu Temple lies by the western banks of Lake Bratan in the Bedugul Highlands at a level of 1239m, is one of the most picturesque and most photographed temples in Bali. Ulun Danu is inside the caldera of the now extinct volcano Gunung Catur. It is one of the main sources of irrigation in the Balinese highlands, and so the temple is dedicated to Dewi Danu, the lake goddess.

Bali: Path to Happiness

Bali: Path to Happiness

Everyone in Bali smiles. Big, broad, beaming smiles. And all that’s necessary to evoke it is eye contact. Even when they may be preoccupied with weaving their scooters through traffic or carrying a heavy, flailing pig across the road, you only have to hint at a smile from your own lips and the response is immediate and electrifying.

“Transport?” queried a smiling young man on a sidewalk in Ubud, an artsy town in the south-eastern hills. It’s a frequent offer on the streets of nearly every town in Bali. Everyone with a car will offer you a ride for a small price. You may say “no thank you” seven times on Monkey Forest Road in Ubud. But what’s heart-warming is that you will always receive an enthusiastic “Welcome!” in response.

As one of Indonesia’s luxury destinations, Bali is a truly service-oriented society and economy. Away from the resorts on the coast, there is less commercial zeal and more genuine friendliness. Culturally, Bali differs from other Indonesian islands, and indeed is an exception in this predominantly Muslim country with its Hindu-Buddhist history. It is this history that shapes the Balinese approach to life and the Balinese landscape.

Exploring the surroundings of Ubud on bike is perhaps the best way to take in the beautiful landscape, with all its rice terraces, temples, villages and cackling roosters. I signed up for a daytrip with Arung from Bali Moon Group. We began with a morning stop at an eclectic orchard growing everything from mangosteen, papaya and peanuts to cacao, coffee beans and tea leaves. Arung also introduced us to salak, a fruit with a brown, snake-scaled skin that looks like a nut inside and tastes like mixture of apple and pear.

Bali: Path to Happiness

After an invigorating ginger tea we were driven up to the edge of Mount Batur. The mountain bikes were unloaded and we were ready to start off downhill back towards Ubud. Arung had assured us back in the office that it was “all downhill”, but some of us were taken aback by how steep downhill can be. And the road was just a rocky path. One of the English girls on the excursion already wanted to make use of the trailing van service that carried our backpacks, but was persuaded to stick with it since it would get easier.

Our reward, when it began to level out, was a school full of excited children running towards the road to greet us. Six and seven year old boys were exploding with excitement, seemingly overwhelmed by such an unexpected visit from strangers. “Hallo! Hallo!” they squealed, vying to make eye contact with any one of the cyclists and jumping for high-fives. Wide-eyed awe and giggles rippled through the crowd as our group responded to their eagerness. It felt like the Tour de France. A few boys ran with the bikes until they were out-paced or came to the end of the village.

We cycled along rice paddies, many of them flocked by ducks feeding on leftover grains. In the rolling countryside I could hear the lovely sound of bamboo music and wind chimes everywhere. We passed through several more villages, all laid out on a sloping north-south axis and flanked by walled enclosures that are the typical Balinese. Each had an elaborately carved gateway and immediately behind it a wall, the aling-aling, to keep floating evil spirits from sweeping in through the open gateway.

In one village an old man on a moped scooted up beside me to ride tandem and indulge in conversation. His smile was wide, his questions direct. “Where you from? Where you stay? Where you go?” He exudes a pride in managing dialogue with a foreigner and brushes off the cajoling of youngsters. As we neared the open countryside he veered off back into his village and signalled his final sentence with a wave,”The Balinese people welcome you. Good time.”

Everyone, just everyone, genuinely wants to have contact and wish you well. When we came to the end of our cycle we were invited into a family home. The residential compound had sleeping pavilions for extended family members, a fountain in the middle, a temple and a low table for us to share dinner. A typical Indonesian meal is a selection of hot and cold plates, with spicy meats, peanut sauces and sautéed vegetables. Everyone was exhausted from the combination of heat and pedalling, and completely ready to feast on the buffet.

Dalai Lama: Tibetian A to Zen of Life Principles

Dalai Lama: Tibetian A to Zen of Life Principles

Live one day at a time and make it a masterpiece. Dalai Lama

A- avoid negative sources, people, places, things and habits
B- believe in yourself and succeed
C- consider things from every angle
D- don’t give up and don’t give in
E- enjoy life today, yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come
F- friends and family are hidden treasures, seek them and enjoy their riches
G- give more than you planned to
H- have major league fun
I- ignore those who try to discourage you
J- just do it
K- keep trying no matter how hard it seems, it will get easier
L- love yourself first and most
M- make it happen
N- never lie, cheat or steal, always strike a fair deal
O- open your eyes and see things as they really are
P- practice makes perfect
Q- quitters never win and winners never quit
R- read study and learn about everything important in your life
S- stop procrastinating
T- take control of your own destiny
U- understand yourself in order to better understand others
V- visualize it and focus
W- want it more than anything
X- xcellerate your efforts
Y- you are unique in all God’s creations, nothing can replace you
Z- zero in on your target and go for it