Gardens at the Lama Temple – 雍和宮

Beijing witnesses immense colorful foliage during autumn. I was pleasantly surprised to see the variety of colors, being splashed by the canopy of tress. It’s like an artist decided he would paint each boulevard with a different shade of green or with various shades ranging from yellow to red.

The lush green foliage of early Autumn is refreshing and looks exuberant. Not only does the canopy of the trees provide solace from the sunlight, but it also is a splendid delight to any onlooker. The vivid colors fill you with a sense of calm & imbibes a sense of appreciation towards the wonders of nature.

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Lush green canopy adorns the boulevard at the Lama Temple.

When I walked along the Boulevard at the Lama Temple – i could not resist but notice the lush green foliage at the immaculately manicured garden. The strategically placed tress along the path, with brown trunks had centuries of stories embedded in them. It looked as though several years ago a gardener with an immense foresight was meticulous in designing the landscape, and visualized how the imperial gardens would eventually span out over the decades.

CanopyAutumn Colors at the Tibetan Lama Temple.

Apart from the enticing 16th century architecture – these colored luscious trees effortlessly draw the attention of the photographers and nature lovers.The birds camoflaged within the foliage, make a surprise appearance. The chirping of the  birds is music to the ears, the version of the songs they sing take prominence over the faint but persistent chants resonating all around.

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Jiuzhaigou Valley

The picture above does not do any justice, to what you see for real. No camera could capture the exact feel of the place. Jiu Zhai Gou literally means ‘Valley of nine Villages’. These 9 Tibetan villages enclose some of the worlds most scenic landscapes.

Jiu Zhai Gou located in the north of Sichuan province of China, belongs to the Min Mountains. This is geographically located at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, outrageously famous for its multi-level lakes, numerous waterfalls and crystal clear lakes with varying color.

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The famous Mirror Lake

While in China, i dint know about this national park, until about 2 days before I arrived there 🙂 I took a train from Xi’An to Chengdu & that’s when a journalism student said he was travelling all the way from Beijing to Chengdu, and then would further travel to JiuZhaiGou. I wondered what this fantasy place was all about – he showed me an unflattering brochure and said that this is the worst way to advertise the place – I’d have to look it up online & i did! I was flabbergasted when I saw the website of the Jou Zhai Gou national park.

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The crystal clear – 5 Flower lake @ JiuZhaiGou

I took a bus from Chengdu to JiuZhaiGou – the terrain is marvelous. The view from the bus is splendid as you cut through the length and breath of the Min Mountain range and reach the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. The small towns along the way have ethnic people serving hot tea and small homemade eateries.

The temperature in JouZhaiGou is extremely low, with a mean temp of -3 degrees C in winter and about 16 degrees C in summer. It could get extremely chilly at night. You have to be at the entry gate to get your ticket to the National Park as soon as 6:45am – the lines are already quite long by then 🙂

I met Makki from Japan for the second time on the trip & she came up to me as asked if i remembered her. We previously met at the Panda Research center and i was glad to see another solo traveller and we took off together to trek the national park. We wore hiking boots and layers and layers of warm clothing 🙂

The lakes were breathtakingly beautiful, the water crystal clear and the waterfalls were splendid. I took a lot of photographs as I dint know what not to click 🙂

The Mirror lake was fascinating as you could see the reflection on the top & the visibility was up to several meters in-depth. The Panda lake was gorgeous with vivid colors, the 5 flowers lake was so transparent – i could see the bottom with logs and all the pebbles on the bed of the lake!

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The waterfall was like a wide curtain of several waterfalls – it’s really like a dream. One has to visit this UNESCO world heritage site. It is classified as a AAAAA scenic area by the China National Tourism Administration.

I am so glad I visited JiuZhaiGou – Would love to go back again.

Tourists dont know where they have been & Travellers do not know where they are going. 🙂

Good Samaritan – Be one!

Raise you vibrations to attract the good, and only the best will be filtered your way.

When travelling, one has to be vigilant at all times. You got to keep your bags in check, your documents and the currency you are carrying. Not to forget, the constant improvisation on the ever effervescent contingency plan.

Before I set off for my first Solo Trip, I was a nervous wreck, I was freaking out. For the first time in my life I experienced ‘Cold Feet’. I now understand what the Brides, Grooms, Parents-to-be or anyone else feel when they have a panic attack. I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t eat, I had constant headaches days before my travel.

That’s when my friend KK came to my rescue, he said “Nam, don’t worry! You will be fine, you have traveled before and its gonna be a walk in the park for you. Just relax, breathe and GO!” Honestly I dint believe a word of what he said, for I was thinking of almost cancelling my ticket! Yes! I panicked probably because I was travelling to a non-English speaking country for the first time ever. KK said “Just be positive, and only the good ones will come your way. Be good and you will attract only good people. But stay vigilant and be street smart”.

I finally relaxed and took it one step at a time, I remembered to count my blessings and keep looking for the good. And many Good Samaritans came my way! From my first pit stop at a transit in KL, I had encounters with amazing good hearts. Yes good people have good souls, you can sense it, it feels good – very good to be around them. I met a person from Switzerland who was in KL to see the Petronas – we soon became friends as she was also a solo traveler, we shopped and had lunch together. We had a fantastic time.

When I reached my destination I had several encounters with Good Samaritans. This travel taught me many things, one of them was that there are angels all around. Look for good and you will find it. Help comes in various unexpected ways.

One morning after breakfast i saw that a couple left the restaurant but they dropped their Subway card on their way out. I knew this was a lifeline, I handed it to them and they were grateful for the gesture and asked me what my plans were for the day and instantly tore off a bunch of sheets from their immaculately filed travel file and gave it to me. To this day I don’t know how I would have managed that day ‘without’ that info. It was so detailed and it was ‘absolutely necessary’ and the universe just filled the jigsaw puzzle for me. I was overwhelmed.

Help comes in various forms, every single day we need to remind ourselves that, ‘The Best is YET to come’.

Golden Mantra: Do unto others what you would have them do unto you!

Bell Tower @ Xi’An 西安市

The city of Xi’An in the northern province of Shaanxi is a city full of visual delights. I have to agree with a friend of mine, that until you visit a place you can’t tell what the place is really like. For, you could read endless articles, but only when you set foot in that city can you tell, if the place has a soul.

One  of the most gorgeous sights as soon as you land in Xi’An is the magnificent view of the Bell Tower. It’s so exquisite and wonderful to a traveller, who has set foot in Xi’An for the very first time. It’s bound to take your breath away. This is a sight so very pleasing to the soul that it’s comforting on various levels. Just the scene of the lit up Bell Tower and the view of the Drum Tower to the far west makes the trip worthwhile.

Xi’An definitely is a city filled with surprises. People are helpful and it’s a place of tranquility and calm. The weather in November was beautiful, the breakfast is the famous Dumpling with a nutritious drink made of a bean. The energy in the city is warm, laid back and I instantly connected to it. The welcoming atmosphere instantly puts your apprehension at ease.

The Bell Tower a structure of Brick & Timber – 40 meters high was apparently built for a purpose.

A famous legend about the Bell Tower:

A dragon found in the river running through the center of Xi’An would cause massive earthquakes and kill hoards of people. An official from the Xi’An administration ordered the blacksmiths to make iron chains thousands of feet long and restored the Bell Tower. The laborers toiled day and night in an attempt to suppress the dragon & to seal it from causing further harm. Since the Bell tower was established earthquake never occurred in Xi’An again!

This was one of the most fascinating tidbit about the rich Chinese culture. The Bell Tower, in the ancient times, served the purpose of signifying the time of day. But in today’s world, it’s a prominent landmark, the Muslim Quarters and the ever famous food street starts from the west wall of the tower.

It’s looks beautiful in all its Grandeur, being lit up so immaculately with colors so vivid and full of life.  It’s a tower with a purpose, beauty, class & radiates an aura of possessing a rich cultural heritage. 

The Great Wall – 万里长城

My father is extreamly passionate about history. He had a strong affinity towards the rich culture and heritage of the Ming dynasty. As a child I would often hear stories about the Great Wall of China. When I was 7 years old, the playground in my school looked massive, an endless expanse! You can imagine my shock when I heard of a fortified wall that was tens of feet high and boasting to measure 10,000 miles long!

The Great Wall at Badaling.

My dad filled me in with the details about the disciplined soldiers, the watch towers, the famous silk route, and the wall being an important trade route. The most important aspect he emphasized upon was the fact that this was a wall to keep off the invaders & avoid attacks from the northern tribes.

I guess what Paulo Coelho says in ‘The Alchemist’ is in fact true. The Universe does conspire in you favor and helps you achieve what u truly desire. When I used to see pictures of travellers on the Great wall – I used to always wonder when would my turn come? I always fancied being on the Great Wall with a lot of delight.

When I reached Beijing it was the most magical feeling ever, because the Great Wall at Badaling was just an hour away by a very posh and convenient train ride costing just 6 Yuan!

China is amazing with tourism, the connections from the metro to the bullet trains is a seamless transition. I ventured on the Great Wall alone and I had the most beautiful time ever. The weather was perfect! Temperature ranging around 8 – 14 degrees and I was secretly thanking the universe for such a wonderful chance to be at the Great Wall.

When you are up there you can’t ignore the fact that, tremendous effort was taken to build it – for every feet of the wall is precise. This great fortification built of Stone, Brick, Earth & Wood all along the norther terrain of China. The grandeur is mesmerizing. I was filled with awe and wonder, as to how this great venture was humanly possible.  It really is Something!!!

This Wonder of the world scaling the endless mountainous terrain of northern China is intimidating and inspiring. I would strongly recommend a visit to the Oriental Mainland China – as you will cherish it forever.

Aries at HuaShan 华山

Aries are the pioneers of the zodiac, a cardinal sign full of rigor, enthusiasm and energy. This fire sign denoted by the ram is apt, as the ram is unafraid  to enter new unknown terrain and excel in the conquest. Need a new kick-start for a new idea you know who to get in touch with! The ram likes to scale heights and is usually scaling the mountains. Maybe that’s why we three musketeers from different countries ended up at Huashan, to scale these majestic peaks. Michael from Germany, Nimrod from Israel & me from India were climbing up HuaShan with a relentless strong will to hike up all the way and back.

IMG_1706 A pretty steep climb at HuaShan

Hua Shan is one of the 5 sacred mountains in China, has a long history of religious significance. The terrain is quite tricky with vertical climbs and it could be quite exerting even for a seasoned climber. Off late, my fitness regime had taken a hit, and although i knew going up HuaShan involved climbing, I dint really expect what was to come:)

To reduce slips and to ward off unforeseen danger, there are meticulously carved steps with railings and chains for support all along the way. While climbing HuaShan one cant help but appreciate the effort that was taken, to enable the climb with comfort and ease.

The view is breathtaking and weather very pleasant, as you will be hiking among clouds. There are cable cars to reach the peak too. But we chose to climb all the way up. Throughout my climb I met many people who warmly greeted us with Ni Hao & would encourage through sign language us to climb further – they would flex the biceps and tell us to be strong 🙂 You can have a pit stop at various cafes along the way.

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At the South Peak – the highest point.

We climbed up the west peak to a monastery, where we camped the night and in the morning we trekked to the Death Trail – a 50cm wooden plank that is mounted perpendicular to the mountain wall. This trails enjoys a reputation of being the Worlds most dangerous hiking trail. It’s a 2 way traffic up here on this narrow plank, and your safety is in the harness and you have the control as you got to hook the clamps as you cross this wooden plank.

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The famous death trail – Its a 2 way traffic up here! 😉

The view from here is magnificent and gorgeous. You do feel a sense of accomplishment while you have done this climb. It is definitely a must visit while in Shaanxi Province. Its one of the highlights of visiting this section of Mainland China.

We took a bullet train from Xi’An to Huayin, just outside Huayin station we had a wonderful meal and set off to the base of Huashan in a cab. On the way back there is a free bus service from the base of Huashan to the city & we took a bus back to Xi’An as we missed the last train in the afternoon by a few mins.

Back in Xi’An we had sore muscles for the next 10 days. That was by far the most beautiful pain & I loved it because every step I took reminded me of the arduous climb and it brings a smile right back even now 🙂 Aries – the Ram belongs to the mountains – Did we 3 Aries pick Huashan, or did Huashan tempt us to scale it?

Biang Biang Mian!

Biang Biang Mian – from the exotic Shaanxi Province of Mainland China is considered a speciality noodle dish, which is scrumptious and makes you come back for more!

Biang Biang Mian is an enigma in itself, famously known as the Belt Noodle – considering its length and thickness.

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Biang Biang Mian is served in a bowl tossed in aromatic sauces, topped with lots of hot peppers to beat the cold Xi’an chills, a generous sprinkle of grated garlic, lots of freshly cut cilantro topped with marinated and barbeque meat of your choice. This is an absolute delicacy, the aroma is rich and the dish only beats the expectations one might have after just looking at it.

It was introduced to me during my backpacking trip to the Famous city of Xi’An by a dear friend Nimrod.  The first comment was about the Mandarin Symbol for this scrumptious dish – it consists of 58 strokes – quite complex even for a seasoned Mandarin writer.

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This is the Mandarin symbol for Biang Biang Mian – its pretty complex with 58 strokes!

The noodle is handmade and makes one wonder about the precision of every other inch of this noodle that transformed itself to perfection from an innocent lump of dough.

Xi’an is a beautiful city, famous for the terracotta warriors, apart from this archeological site the city has lots more to offer! The weather was beautiful and the best place to taste Biang Biang Mian is at the food street, east of the Bell Tower wall.

I hope the food lovers do get a chance to taste this dish and its worth every penny!