Bhaktapur, also known as Bhadgaon, is an ancient Newari town located in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the district houses the famed Durbar Square, Nyatapola Temple, and Kailashnath Mahadev Statue.
Bhaktapur also gives travelers the opportunity to explore musical spaces and gain insight into the world of women drummers. Traditionally, drumming was exclusively a male occupation in the Nepali culture. However, one woman named Indira Machimasyus set out to change the structure. She learned the art of drumming from a German musician and ethnomusicologist and has since performed in Europe, India, and Australia. Indira plays different drums, made of wood and goat skin, and has encouraged many women to follow their dream and passion for music.
Sodha Travel is proud to offer custom Nepal tours that include Bhaktapur and an exclusive performance from Indira Machimasyus. Nepalese instruments are generally played during ceremonies and festivals, including weddings, welcoming occasions, and Bratabandha, a rite for Nepali Hindu boys. In addition to the energetic recital, learn more about the traditional drums and why the art was solely a male domain in the local community. This private and sacred exploration of musical spaces is available all year round. Contact a Sodha Travel Destination Specialist to reserve this and other private Nepal tours.
Located in Southwestern India, Kerala is a scenic region of palm-fringed beaches, hill stations, tea plantations, backwater canals, and wildlife sanctuaries. It is the most literate state in India (93%) and the first state to become 100% internet connected. Also, Kerala is considered the birthplace of Ayurveda, a traditional and holistic form of medicine.
Custom tours to Kerala are a wonderful way to experience the beauty and diversity of the region without a large group. Here is an introduction to a few of the destinations we recommend in Kerala:
Munnar/Thekkady – A cool and often misty hillside retreat that offers tea plantations, bungalows, trekking, hiking, and cycling; To the east rises 8,842-foot Ana Mudi peak, India’s highest mountain south of the Himalayas
Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary – Rehabilitated poachers now guide adventure itineraries around this preserve and Periyar Lake, including night treks, bamboo rafting and Periyar Tiger Trail
Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary – Part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, Wayanad has two rainforest reserves in the Western Ghats Forest
Cochin – A principal seaport with Portuguese, Arab, Indian, Dutch, and Chinese influences; Attractions: Kathakali Dance, St. Francis Church, Chinese Fishing Nets, and Jew Town
Alleppey – “Venice of the East” – A canal-laced city offering backwater canal cruises on traditional boats called kettuvallams
Kumarakom – A backwater town located on Vembanad Lake and known for the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary
Trivandrum (Thiruvanathapuram) – Kerala’s capital built on seven hills; 8 miles south are the pristine beaches of Kovalam
Sodha Travel is pleased to offer unique and private Kerala tours that are often not included in standardized tour packages. Three of our specialty Kerala programs are listed below:
Discover the Ancient Landscape of Muziris (Cochin)
Muziris, also known as Jerusalem of the East, is an ancient harbor nearly 3000 years old. The first Jewish, Christian and Islam settlements in India were here during 961 BC, 52 AD, and 629 AD respectively. The archaeological and historical data gathering on Muziris provides evidence to show that it was a veritable business and cultural center, with far reaching international associations. Presently Kodungallur, located 19 Miles North of Cochin, this ancient port was first occupied around 1000 BC and continued to be populated till the 13th century. This full day tour is a fantastic insight into what is literally the cradle of several religions. Apart from the first Jews of India, this is the port where the Apostle of Jesus Christ, St. Thomas, landed and introduced Christianity to India much before Europe embraced the religion. It is also the site of Cheraman Mosque, considered the first Muslim house of worship in India. In addition, it houses a famous Hindu temple, dedicated to the Goddess Bhagavath.
Rediscover Matancherry (Cochin)
Meet Markose, a former rickshaw driver who now gives travelers an exclusive tour of Matancherry. During the walking tour, Markose will give an insider view to spice warehouses, artists, painters, photographers, hidden shrines, boutiques, cafes and restaurants. This program is a rare heritage experience in the streets of Matancherry.
Dance with the Gods (Wayanad)
In the mystical world of the ritual art of Theyyam, Gods communicate directly with the followers. Dancers invite the Gods and Goddesses to posses their bodies and descend on Earth. This ritual is one of the least discussed and best kept secrets of Northern Kerala. Through dance, the divine solutions are offered to the villagers, who come to witness the unity of spirituality and humanity. The Theyyam performers generally belong to the lower class community. This is rare, since only in Kerala do lower-caste tribals and upper-caste Brahmins share an important position during worship. Theyyam is an experience to be cherished for both its sanctity and history.
I received an interesting phone call the other day from a woman who was considering traveling to India. She asked me only one question: “Allison, why should I travel to India?” Usually, travelers have already decided on India as their next destination, or they inquire about specific elements of traveling to the region. I appreciated the simple and direct question, though I had to find a way to summarize why I believe India is a travel-worthy destination. (Really, I could spend hours on the topic!) Here was my abridged response:
Affordability: India remains one of the top fifteen most affordable destinations in the world.
People: Indians are some of the friendliest people in the world and enjoy engaging with foreigners.
Communication: Many Indians can speak at least conversational English and internet/cell/wifi service is now widely available.
Diversity: India really offers something for everyone, including history, culture, architecture, adventure, yoga, cuisine, beaches, Himalayas, backwaters, national parks, shopping, festivals, music, dancing, religion and spirituality.
Discovery: With less than 9 million annual tourists, India is still considered an undiscovered country.
Tell me, why would you select India as your next destination?
Last post, I was excited to announce our newest women-only tour: Colors of India. Just a few days ago, we also added a new Featured Tour: Legacy of Leh/Ladakh. Ladakh is a remote region in Northern India, located between the Himalayan and Kunlin mountain ranges. Historically a Buddhist kingdom, Ladakh was strategically placed at the crossroads of major trading routes. The region is commonly called “Little Tibet” and many travelers have discovered this destination as an alternative to visiting the disputed territory of Tibet.
Start your 8-day journey in Delhi, visiting the Red Fort, Raj Ghat, and Humayun’s Tomb . Then, fly to Leh and experience one of the few remaining abodes of Buddhism in South Asia. Here are just a few highlights:
- Hemis, the largest monastery in Ladakh
- Leh Palace, modeled after the Potala Palace in Lhasa
- Thiksey, an 800 year old gompa with panoramic views of the Indus Valley
- Lamayuru Monastery, currently housing 150 resident monks
To spotlight this spectacular region, reserve Legacy of Leh/Ladakh during the month of February and receive $50 off registration. For more information on Leh, check out our February edition of The Sodha Traveler.
The Sodha Travel team wishes you much love, joy and peace this holiday season!
In recognition of the holidays, our office will be closed on Monday, December 26 and Monday, January 2. We look forward to an exciting and memorable 2012, as we explore our world and connect with our community. Cheers!
Every March/April, we start receiving daily phone calls from travelers who wish to experience the Pushkar Festival. Located in Rajasthan, Pushkar is a small town that houses over 400 temples, including the only Brahma temple in all of India. Every November, over 50,000 camels are decorated, raced, and sold during the Camel Fair – one of the largest livestock fairs in the world.
The 5-day festival occurs on the banks of Lake Pushkar. In addition to camel races and livestock sales, there is also music, dancing, and exhibitions. Locals construct temporary bazaars to sell textiles, jewelry, clothes, and handicrafts. The desert landscape is transformed with vibrant color, energy, and festive tourists. The population of Pushkar is approximately 15,000, but during the festival, it exceeds 200,000.
In addition to hotels and inns, there is also the option to stay in tented accommodations. But this is not your everyday camping! The tents feature attached bathrooms with running water, furniture, carpet, and even heat and A/C. Many of our travelers appreciate the opportunity to camp under the stars in luxurious cottages like the royals of the past.
For more information on the Pushkar Fair, there is a great article by Shilpa Shukla in Little India, World’s Largest Cattle Fair. Please contact a Sodha Travel representative and we will be happy to answer your questions.
Many travelers are aware that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is considered the busiest travel day of the year. However, this year there is the strong possibility of an even longer delay at airports. Several groups have announced plans to encourage travelers on Nov. 24 to opt-out of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) full body scanner machines and opt-in for TSA’s enhanced pat-downs. As a result, security check-point delays may occur at some airports.
The following information has been prepared by Sodha Travel and the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) to help ease your passage through airport security:
TSA has recently expedited the deployment of new Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines, also known as body scanners, to help detect concealed metallic and non-metallic threats on passengers. In addition, TSA has recently enhanced its pat-down procedures for passengers that require secondary screening. In response, some consumer groups and bloggers have voiced privacy and health concerns. Yet Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has assured the public in an op-ed article in USA Today that these “machines are safe, efficient, and protect passenger privacy.” She has further noted that these machines “have been independently evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, who have all affirmed their safety.”
Airport Security Holiday Travel Tips
- Prepare your 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag of liquids before arriving at the airport
- Monitor local broadcasts for announcements of security checkpoint delays at local airports
- Pack all your coats and jackets in your checked baggage when possible
- Do not wrap gifts
- Check-in online
- Check your flight status online
- Review TSA’s Security Procedures for “Getting through the Line Faster“
- Wear easy to remove and replace shoes
- Plan to arrive to the airport earlier than normal
- Approach the initial security check-point with your drivers’ license/passport and paper boarding pass or electronic boarding pass in hand.
- While waiting for the next available security screener / metal detector, remove and place in bins:
- all metal (i.e. belt buckle, coins, eye glasses, etc.)
- plastic, zip-top bag of liquids
- items from your pockets, including mobile phone
- laptops from bag and place in separate bin
- Do not engage in trash talk about security or do anything else to call attention to yourself – this will only make it worse.
- Remember, if you are selected for an enhanced pat-down, you have the right to request it be done in private
Travel safely, enjoy the feast with family and friends, and Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Sodha Travel!
Sodha Travel wishes all of you a Happy Diwali! Diwali is a national holiday in India and a significant festival in Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Although it is commonly referred to as the Festival of Lights, its spiritual interpretation is the “awareness of the inner light.” Happy Diwali and a prosperous New Year to all!
On August 9th, I will be presenting Highlights of India: A Destination Guide in Tigard, Oregon. Join me as I explore popular travel destinations in India, including Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Mumbai, Kerala and Darjeeling. I will also share travel tips and resources for visiting the country, including visa requirements, vaccinations, and social etiquette. For those of you living in the Portland area, I invite you to attend!
Date: August 9, 2010
Time: 7 – 8:30pm
Location: Community Room, Tigard Public Library
It is almost time for Holi, the Festival of Colors! Holi is a Hindu celebration that occurs at the end of the winter season on the last full day of the lunar month Phalguna. As bonfires are lit to signify a devotion to Lord Vishnu, the God of Preservation, people gather and throw colored powder and water at each other. Depending on the region, the festival can last up to sixteen days. This year, the main day of Holi is on March 1.
Holi received its title as the ‘Festival of Colors’ from the Hindu God Krishna, who is a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. Krishna enjoyed playing pranks, including using colored powder and water on the villagers. Here is a local bin of powder in Delhi:
Many travelers are not sure what to expect during Holi, and for good reason. Many kids make a game out of throwing powder on the foreigners – even hiding in the trees to sprinkle handfuls of red, green, blue, and gold powder on the heads of unsuspecting tourists. Some people also mix bhang in the food and drinks. The celebration is truly a spectacle in the streets, as people come together to remove sorrow and make life more colorful.
Wishing you and your family a Happy New Year 2010! It is that time of year when many of us make plans and promises for a better tomorrow. For some, these plans include traveling to a new or favorite destination. For me and the family, the travel bug becomes stronger every year!
Although Sodha Travel focuses on travel services in India, Nepal, and Bhutan, we encourage you to contact us if your travel plans include alternate destinations. Our global network of operators can coordinate tours and custom packages in other countries, including Egypt, Italy, China, Japan, and Morocco. If you wish to travel to an area we do not serve, we will gladly suggest alternate contacts who can assist with the details.
Cheers to new travel experiences and friendships in 2010!
The Sodha Travel family wishes you much peace, love and joy this holiday season! Our office will be closed on Thursday, December 24 and Friday, December 25. We will resume regular business hours on Monday, December 28.
Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage that occurs four times every twelve years. The celebration dates are according to Indian astrology and calculated based on the zodiac positions of the Sun, Moon, and Jupiter. Kumbh Mela rotates among four locations: Prayag, Allahabad; Haridwar; Ujjain, and Nasik. Starting January 14, 2010, Kumbh Mela will take place in Haridwar.
The common accommodations during the event are tented campsites along the Ganges River. With less than a month until the celebration, there are limited sites remaining so please let us know if you have interest in attending this holy gathering.
One of our clients recently returned from Northern India and sent us the following:
“I saw so many people decorating their homes with lights and decorations for the Christmas holiday. I suppose I always viewed India as a country that practiced Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism, but it was a surprise to see so many getting excited about the holiday. Are there really that many Christians in India?”
- Bill K.
Approximately 2.3% of India’s population is Christian, equating to almost 28 million people! (This is even more than the 1.9% who follow Sikhism.) Also, many Indians enjoy celebrating Christmas in the secular tradition by sharing gifts and decorating their homes. It is becoming more widely celebrated as Western traditions permeate the society. Fun fact: Because Christmas trees are rare, many instead decorate their plants or buy small house trees for the occasion.
We appreciate the festive observation, Bill! Please send your comments, stories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
We apologize for the delay in recent blogs: April and May have been a focus of family in our office, both in the United States and India.
Many of our clients ask for an online resource to find all things Indian. We strongly recommend www.indogram.com – it lists Indian movies, groceries stores, events, community organizations, etc. Just click on your city and enjoy what Indian culture has to offer!
And don’t forget, if you are located in or around Portland, Oregon, the India Festival will take place in Pioneer Square on August 17, 2008. For more information, visit www.ica.org
Thank you for your support of all things Indian!