Tag Archives: vacation

6 Tips For a First Time Trip From India to San Jose

When traveling abroad, there are many important steps to ensuring that the trip goes perfectly. A trip between two countries so culturally diverse and far apart requires a lot of planning and research. If you are a cultural native of India, there will be many customs and attributes to American culture which will be surprising and take some getting used to. The below six simple steps will allow you to plan and enjoy a successful and beautiful trip to the United States. 

1: Visa Process – The dreaded United States Visa application is one of the most difficult and important processes when planning a trip to America. You will most likely need to acquire a business and/or personal visa (labeled B1/B2) which is valid for 10 years. Unlike most other countries, the visa application process for the states requires the attendance of an in-person interview. You will need to fill out an online application on the US government website to get started first, then pay the initial visa fees, and apply for an interview date. You will then need to attend your interview date with the correct and required documents. I would also suggest bringing some cash, but nothing else is allowed into the interview. Once this process is completed, payment must be made for the visa to be delivered, and it usually will arrive within a week after it has been approved. 

2: Travel & Health Insurance – One major difference between healthcare in India and the United States is that the whole system is very procedural. Though the privatization of the whole system has made healthcare expensive in the US, it is necessary to have the correct documents and insurance in case of emergency. You cannot simply walk into a pharmacy and ask to be treated; you must have the correct paperwork, and without insurance; an emergency could leave you with a very deep hole in your pocket. 

3: Pick your Priorities – The United States is an exceptionally large country, and even state by state there is simply too much to see and do! However, it is important to pick your priorities. Figure out a certain number of things that are ‘must-dos’ for you and write them out into an itinerary of sorts. I would recommend not booking more than one ‘big’ thing in a day, and not to simply stay one night in each hotel before moving on. If you do this, you might see everything; but you will be too exhausted to genuinely enjoy it! 

4: Space out your Trip – Similarly to the aforementioned ‘picking your priorities’, spacing out your trip is equally as important. As travel writer Asana Thala at Australia2Write and Write My X said, “Ensure that your trip is well-spaced out and that you are not rushing between your ‘big’ priorities, and actually enjoying them.  It is better to do less, well.”

5: Be Aware of American Customs: American customs are vastly different from Indian customs, and the cultural norms are remarkably diverse.  Lifestyle Blogger from Britstudent and NextCoursework, Harriet Amy noted, “One major difference is the tipping culture. Waiters at restaurants, doormen at hotels; basically, everyone who ever does anything for you will expect to be tipped.” Another divergence is fashion, you will be shocked initially at some of the clothes that people wear; it will take some getting used to. 

6: Enjoy! – The last step is simple! Just enjoy. Take all your research and planning, all the prep work that you have done, and just enjoy. Take in all the sights and try not to stress about anything too much. 

As long as you make sure that you plan ahead and organize all visa, travel, and medical pieces before you leave, and have researched your travel plans and written out a draft itinerary; the basic structure is there. There will be a transition period for you to get used to American customs, and find your ‘feet’ in the USA, but hopefully, these six simple steps will be stepping-stones to you enjoying your trip to America!


Michael DeHoyos is a lifestyle and travel blogger and editor at the Thesis writing service and Write my case study. He often helps companies in their advertising action plans and sales strategies and enjoys contributing his talents to numerous sites and publications. He is also an author for Origin Writings.

A Memory, 2020

My best memory from 2020 isn’t necessarily my happiest. This year I felt no simple, one-note emotions. And so my best memory is one that encompasses the complexity of a harrowing year, glutted with loss. 

I returned to India at the end of December 2019 after a ten-year absence. On New Years Day I was in Chennai, after the drive from my family’s home in Pondicherry. I brought my three children along for this trip, now pre-teens and teenagers. They were toddlers on our last visit. 

Sunset in Pondicherry - Image taken by Author
Sunset in Pondicherry – Image taken by Author

As we drove from Pondy to Chennai, I devoured every scene of this country I’d missed for nearly a decade. The thatched huts, the overloaded lorries, a family standing in impossibly green grass, flanked by their taciturn cow. A woman posing for a selfie on the side of the road while balancing a great steel pot atop her head. Coconut groves, rice paddies, pilgrims wearing red saris that matched the blazing flowers on the nearby Poinciana trees. 

I went to the temple on New Year’s Day. Our driver guided us through a maze of people, thousands of them, a fact I can hardly contemplate now. That profusion of humanity is something I love and miss about India, and it’s one of the cruelest aspects of this pandemic—the inherent peril of India’s ubiquitous crowds. 

But at the beginning of this year, I could relish the throngs. What a different world it was.

Past the entrance of the temple, people waited in line to see the various deities. They pushed and complained, or fanned themselves with folded newspapers. Our driver presented an inscrutable, flimsy paper enabling us to advance in the queue. 

I stood at the front of the line, ready to receive my blessing, when an old woman, no higher than my elbow, strong-armed her way through the clot of people, shoving me aside. I let her pass. She was cracked and broken-earth old. And beautiful—in India such advanced age deserves reverence. 

In creative writing classes, instructors often advise us to “tell it slant”, a concept denoting the odd and intriguing detail that makes a story memorable. On this trip to India—my last real trip of 2020–the entire visit felt “slant”. From my uncle’s hilarious stories to the old woman at the temple, to the rickety stand on Marina beach selling dubious curry shrimp pizzas. 

Our prayers finished, I made my way back to my shoes, left outside the temple entrance. It had rained, and puddles collected on the uneven pavement, slimy on my bare feet. An old woman implored me to buy a garland of jasmine flowers. Another hawked damp, battered children’s books. 

As I exited the temple and approached our car, oblivious to what awaited us all just a few weeks away, I noticed a tiny, emaciated stray kitten, shivering as it crawled to one of the puddles. It lapped up the fresh rain. I wished I could hold the kitten in my hands. I doubt it survived more than a few more days.

But the image of that forlorn creature stays with me, slant indeed, and painful. In this year, so thick with loss and missing, I feel a kinship with that poor animal, stumbling forward, searching. When this is over I will have lost three semesters’ worth of connections with my students, along with the birthday parties, dinners, and the celebratory plans I had for my debut novel’s publication. 

And then, just weeks ago, the worst news of all. I lost my beloved uncle—the one I’d just visited in India for New Year’s. None of us could say goodbye to him. He could not even die in his hometown because the ICUs in Pondicherry were full. 

I often think the world provides me with poignant images that have little meaning for me in the present, but are planted in me to decipher later for some future lesson. And indeed, throughout this year my mind has returned to that kitten—now gone, I’m sure—because I feel so much like that creature these days. Stumbling forward, relentlessly aware of my fragility, but still grateful for whatever reprieve life offers. And sometimes, that reprieve is memory itself—of a time when life was easier and less freighted by loss. 

The pandemic will be over, and hopefully soon. I will return to India. My uncle will be gone, his flat in our family house empty, and I will be consoled instead by the palm trees and mangroves, frangipani flowers, bougainvillea, and other Pondicherry flora in which my Botanist uncle delighted.  And I will think back on that kitten, that New Year’s Day, when fragility belonged to something else, and not to me, or us.


Samantha Rajaram is the author of the novel THE COMPANY DAUGHTERS and lives in the Bay Area. 

Top Untouched Vacation Destinations

These days it can be tricky to find genuinely untouched travel destinations. In the age of global tourism, cheap flights and increased curiosity and adventurousness on the part of travelers, many places that were once inaccessible are now must-see vacation spots. 

However, there are still plenty of undiscovered destinations just waiting to be explored, and a vacation to these truly untouched locations offers a uniquely special experience. A chance to get away from the rest of the world, and explore the hidden corners of the world, is not to be passed up. So take a look below at some of the best and most undiscovered places in the world, and plan your vacation before everyone else does!

The Antarctic

While hardly hidden, the Antarctic remains one of, if not the most, untouched landscape on the globe. With its vast, icy tundras, enormous jagged mountains and extraordinary wildlife, it is one of the most extraordinary, unique and frankly alien places to visit, and an experience you will not soon forget. Part of its charm, and its undiscovered nature, comes from how hard it is to get there, but with an Antarctic cruise you can explore its staggering natural beauty in comfort and style.

 

Playa del Amor, Mexico

Mexico has a great claim to have the best beaches in the world, with thousands of miles of pristine coastline on the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Playa del Amor, hidden away on a tiny island just off the coast of Nayarit state on the Pacific coast is probably its most picturesque stretch of sand, a remarkable spot formed from a volcanic crater, and accessible only by swimming! The sea is warm, the diving and snorkeling is out-of-this-world, and the beach is absolutely picture-perfect.

Bazaruto, Mozambique

Halfway between an island and an estuary, Bazaruto is a little slice of paradise just off the coast of Mozambique. With a landscape of sand dunes eroded by the Limpopo River to form an island, the crystal clear waters, ebony-white sand and almost total lack of tourists make Bazaruto a special place to visit. Whether you want to get up close and personal with dugongs, sea turtles, reef sharks, and moray eels, go fishing for marlins and sailfish, or just relax in a hammock and gaze out to sea with a cocktail in hand, this is the perfect place.

Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan

Precariously perched high above the valley of Paro in Bhutan, Tiger’s Nest is a remarkable temple complex that clings to the side of a mountain, almost defying physics in its construction. Legend has it that in the 8th century Guru Padmasambhava flew on the back of a winged tiger to this spot, where he meditated for three years, three months, three days and three hours before choosing the site to build his temple. Whatever its origins, it is a truly stunning place to visit…as long as you can manage the five-hour trek to hike there and back!

 

About Andrea

Andrea is the author of Weekend Wander Club, a blog on the mission to take big trips with little amounts of time- to make traveling with full time jobs feasible. Andrea did not grow up traveling to big and grand places. Her parents were both born in other countries and grew up abroad, so hearing about other destinations, in addition to growing up in one of the most diverse places in the US (South Florida) it nurtured a healthy craving to see the world for herself. 

 

_

 

Jamaica Ya Man! Travels to The Land of Bob Marley

Negril, with the longest, continuous stretch of white sand beach in Jamaica, is where the ganja cookie crumbles at a laid-back pace. My husband and I flew into Jamaica’s Montego Bay airport and drove to Negril, about two hours away. Adult-only hotels are tucked into rocky overlooks. Nudist beaches make suntans seamless. Smooth sands give silently beneath bare feet for miles and miles. The white velvet spreads into the ocean where fish dart around in the warm, clear waters. Music drifts down the beach like ganja smoke filling the lungs. Euphoric Negril is a playground of the true lover.

We stayed in the Charela Inn, that is situated right on the beach – one that the owner and hotelier Daniel Grizzle has zealously safeguarded.  Together with his wife (now deceased) the couple forced the Government to shelve plans to mine peat in the Great Morass area in the 1980s, which, according to scientists, would have ruined the legendary seven-mile beach and turned the area into a desert.  

The Charela Inn itself is very attractive and in the center of all action. Each room has either a private patio or a private balcony. Our room overlooked the freshwater pool. The white sand and crystal-clear waters of Negril’s beach, which made it to underwater photographer Tanya Burnett-Palmer’s Top 10 List for CNN Travel, were just steps away.

The best snorkeling spots for beginners are offshore and not accessible from the beach. As someone who cannot swim, I was worried as I scrambled into Captain Mike’s glass-bottom boat. We zoomed to the middle of the ocean where the live corals sway and Captain Mike led me gently into the waters. As we floated together, he pointed out brain corals and sea urchins. Angelfish, boxfish and goatfish nibbled at my fingers as they ate the breadcrumbs offered to them.

I could have snorkeled for hours enjoying the stunning underwater landscape made by the coral in a rainbow of colors. Some of the most common coral and reef species include green- and purple-base anemone, red cauliflower-, flowerpot-, star- and bubble coral.

Is Life a Jerk for the Vegetarian?

Much to the delight of my vegetarian husband, we discovered that Rastafarian food is Ital or vegetarian, with lots of green vegetables, no milk, no meat and no salt. Perfect at breakfast is ackee, a fruit that obligingly pops open when it is ripe. Ackee looks and tastes like bhurjee or soft scrambled eggs when cooked with onions and tomatoes. Collard greens look-alike callaloo, and doughnut look-alike “festival bread” or dumplings complete the breakfast.

An experience in color and flavor is created by combining bright orange squash, with yellow curried ackee, and yellow plantain.  Scallion, thyme, garlic, onion, pimento, tomato and curry powder are all common seasonings in Rastafarian food.

For meat-lovers, jerk-seasoned grilled chicken, pork and fish are served with a spicy sauce. Fish prepared escovitch-style is seasoned, fried and marinated with a peppery, vinegar-based dressing made colorful with julienned bell peppers, carrots and onions. Goat and other meats are curried too. Beans cooked with coconut milk and vegetables are served with rice. Standard sides include steamed plantains, yams, sweet potato and breadfruit.

Fruits are plentiful in this tropical paradise. We sampled a variety of mangoes at the local market.  In addition to a local one called “Julie” there were East Indian varieties. Sadly, a mango called “Bombay,” which we were told was the sweetest of them all, was not available. Nesberry, familiar to us as sapota or chickoo, also made a delightful snack.

Red Stripe beer, brewed in Jamaica, and rum are the alcoholic beverages of choice on the island. A number of souvenir shops offer rum tastings. “The locals have small shots of rum through out the day,” said the shop assistant at one, where we stopped for a sample. Soursop, a member of the sitaphal or custard apple family, added tang and smoothness to a cocktail with rum and coconut cream. We washed our day down with chilled coconut water sipped from the shell and sugarcane juice freshly squeezed by the roadside.

MONTEGO BAY

The Bennetts

We drove back from Negril to Montego Bay where we stayed in “Polkerris,” a well-appointed and luxurious bed-and-breakfast, owned by the Bennetts.  Jeremy Bennett came to Jamaica in 1962, fell in love with the island and his partner Clarissa, whom he married in 1970. Needless to say, he never left. The Bennetts host guests in their beautiful country house, which is just a ten-minute stroll from the restaurants and clubs of the Gloucester Avenue Hip Strip, Doctor’s Cave Beach and the Aqua Sol Theme Park. As a guest put it, you really will feel like you are visiting your rich relatives in Jamaica.

Tale of the East Indian and the Rastafarian

The National Museum West in downtown Montego Bay is a treasure trove of information about the history and culture of Jamaica. With respect to the Rastafarian story however, the Museum tells an incomplete tale.

Classified as both a new religious- and social movement, the Rastafari culture developed in Jamaica during the 1930s when Ras (Chief) Tafari was crowned the King of Ethiopia. The Indian cultural influence on the Rastafarian movement is undeniable. A Kingston couple Laxmi Mansingh and Professor Ajai Mansingh outline the connection between the Rastas and the Indian culture in Home Away From Home: 150 years of Indian presence in Jamaica. The Rastas are vegetarian, family-loving people, who worship the Goddess Kali. They wear their hair like the sadhus of India (devotees of Lord Shiva) and like them, smoke marijuana, which the Rastas also call ganja.

The first Rasta, Leonard P. Howell, took the spiritual name “Gong Guru” or Gongunguru Maragh (Gangunguru Maharaj), say Stephen Davis and Helen Lee in their book The First Rasta: Leonard Howell and The Rise of Rastafarianism. The name Gongunguru is a combination of three Hindi words – gyan (wisdom), gun (virtue), and guru (teacher). Howell started a community called the “Pinnacle,” which was especially known for the cultivation of cannabis, which has religious significance for the Rastafarians.

In the early to mid-nineteenth century, the British recruited Indians – from the tribes in the hills of Eastern India and from the Central provinces of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh – into the sugar colonies. For the indentured black population, the new Indian laborers seemed kindred spirits; their struggles had the empathy of the Rasta. Solidarity was soon established between the communities, both of which were brutalized economically and politically. The Rastafarian culture appears to be a result of the synthesis of these cultural interactions.

The Jamaican dancehall music – which also reflects the merging of East Indian and West Indian influences – is based on themes of survival, suffering and struggle, that inner-city black Jamaicans face on a daily basis, albeit in a more aggressive idiom than the Rasta-inspired reggae. Songs such as “Suhani Gyul” bring a smile to one’s lips as they seek their inspiration from old Bollywood songs and produce a Chutney remix – Arti & Zoelah’s Wine Up on Me.

Bob Marley
The author shopping

The Jamaican motto is: Out of Many, One People; unfortunately, both Indo-Jamaicans and Rastafarians downplay each other’s influence, as they look outside the borders of Jamaica towards their mother countries – India and Africa.

Interestingly Edwards, the black security guard outside Ivans Bar, who after careful consideration, decided we were Indian, went on to share that his great-grandfather was Indian.  He proceeded to tell us the story of Bahubali and so immersed was he in the whys and wherefores of the movie that when our taxi came Edwards was very disappointed to see his audience leave.

How to Speak like a Jamaican

English is the official language of Jamaica, but the majority speaks a form of English Creole or “Patois” (pr. patwa). Patois was derived out of a need to communicate between peoples who did not share a common language, the English masters and the slaves.

Here are standard greetings that can be heard around the island:

  1. Waa gwaan? –     What’s going on?
  2. Waddup”       –     What’s up?
  3. Yo                 –      Hey!
  4. One love       –      An expression of unity, love and respect for all.
    One love, my brudder. One love, Sistreen!

From the time Christopher Columbus first set foot on Jamaica on May 6th, 1494, the island has seen increasing traffic year after year. All-inclusive hotels attract tourists in large numbers. “Enjoy the white beaches and chilled attitude before the island is run over completely,” says our driver Phillips as we head back to the airport, “Fo you can be shore that is coming.”

Yaw so nice, Jamaica!

~To book your room at the Polkerris in Montego Bay, please visit: www.montegobayinn.com.

~Guha Shankar’s book “Imagining India(ns): Cultural Performances and Diaspora Politics in Jamaica” provided good insight.

~Phillips, our fabulous driver in Montego Bay, can meet you at the airport and drive you around.  He can be reached on Whatsapp at 1 (876) 447-0904.

Ritu Marwah is the Features Editor for India Currents and an avid traveller.

 

 

Destination Bali

Bali is a very devout, sacred Hindu island—a shining green emerald etched into the equatorial heart of the primeval, volcanic Indonesian archipelago. Bali continues to maintain its ancient cultural links to India—it is an adamant and joyous outpost of Hindu reverence and religion. A ring of high, coastal perimeter temples guards their sacred, secret island both from invaders—and from the omnipresent forces of lurking, local black magic practitioners. The Balinese are secure under this divine benediction: everything that they do is done under the protection of the gods. The Balinese will never give up their deities, sacred religious foods, village priests, cycle of offerings, village ceremonies, temple anniversaries, and extravagant, traffic-stopping processions.

Local Balinese women in brightly colored, pink and yellow lace kebayas and silken sarongs parade through the narrow village streets in breathtaking, traffic-stopping, single ceremonial file. They balance heavy, six-foot-high, layered-fruit offering towers (banten tegeh) on their heads while enroute to visit another village temple.  I took a one-day class at Ubud’s Puri Lukisan Museum on how to construct the offering tower (the trick is in a hidden, vertical interior stand and sharp bamboo sticks to affix the fruit in even rows!)

There are elaborately carved, strategically placed paras stone temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, Lord Brahma, and Lord Vishnu in every single village on the island—long referred to as “the island of ten thousand temples.” The Balinese will invite you to come to their homes to share their ceremonies, home art galleries, village cooking, and weddings. Royal cremation ceremonies showcase Bali’s devotion to the Hindu divinities.  Everything else stops—time itself ceases and freezes solid—whenever a massive, elaborate cremation ceremony must be staged to honor (and consecrate to the flames) a king or member of the royal palace of Ubud. Indian tourists to Bali will be warmly welcomed, and you will find much that is familiar in shared roots and religion—but with a delicious Balinese cultural twist!

Delicious traditional Balinese food served on a leaf plate
Delicious traditional Balinese food served on a leaf plate

“Spiritual growth and health tourism” options are abundant in the rice-field-ringed, traditional village heart of Bali. Ubud is the cultural capital and sacred healing center of Bali, blessed with an abundance of yoga studios, spas, herbal healing sanctuaries, beauty and massage treatments,  traditional healers, local village balian, jamu sellers, beauty regimens, natural beauty products, Balinese dance performances, health meditation teachers, and holistic intuitive healers.

Shadow Puppet Performance
Ubud is the perfect setting to see a wayang kulit shadow puppet performance—a spiritualized art form which still holds tremendous power in Bali and Java. The highly trained dalang (puppet master) assumes formidable supernatural powers (he is almost in trance) during the entire wayang performance. Sequestered behind an oil lamp-lit screen, he re-enacts ancient familiar scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana legends (spliced with contemporary, often comical, Balinese social and political commentary).  He uses and manipulates his own large, ornate, powerful collection of carefully crafted and blessed, magically charged puppet characters. Behind the glow of the ancient oil lamp, he is an otherworldly spiritual force to be reckoned with—and treated with great care and deference. The wayang kulit can typically go on for hours on special ritual occasions.  Young Balinese couples will still hire a wayang group to stage a performance at their home wedding ceremony to entertain the guests.

Behind the scenes of a Wayang Kulit Puppet Show
Behind the scenes of a Wayang Kulit Puppet Show

Balinese Wayang Kulit shadow plays take place in conjunction with temple celebrations or other religious gatherings. The first time that I saw the wayang was in Ubud in the 1990s—I was captivated and entranced by both the ink-black, night-time, rubble-strewn performance space and the sacred ritual subtext of the experience.  The purpose of the wayang is to bless the occasion by inviting ancestral spirits to visit the location.  Bountiful offerings are presented before, during, and after the performance, which may last from three to four hours. Balinese wayang is not an all night performance as it is in Java. Plays usually begin sometime between nine and eleven o’clock. The Balinese dalang takes on the role of priest, performing acts of offering and cleansing. Mantras are recited before and after the performance. A primary purpose of the shadow play is for the dalang to make holy water—to be used for prayer and to bless the area and the participants. Holy water is prepared by adding flowers to water from a high stream, and reciting mantras with incense and sprinklings of rice (abundant offerings are also presented).

Natural Spas
Luscious-smelling, organic spa products manufacturers are clustered in the environs of Ubud—offering their own brand of authentic, village boreh scrubs.  These poultices originated in the golden age of Balinese rice cultivation. Tending the bright green, terraced rice field rings, the farmers were constantly exposed to the raw elements. They labored under the heat of the sun—standing fast against tropical gusts—while mired knee-deep in damp earth, irrigated, mirror-like flooded paddy fields, and pools of water. This gave rise to assorted muscular aches and pains. The cure was a restorative boreh powder—a combination of medicinal roots, spices, and bark crushed into a healing pack. Bali’s ancient, indigenous boreh—a healing and warming paste used for sickness—warms the body, enhances blood circulation, relieves aching joints and sore muscles, and enhances skin elasticity.  The fresh herbal aromatics also relieve headaches, colds, flu, and runny noses.  It is commonly applied to the forehead and temples, shoulders, back, foot, knee, and legs. Following a harsh day hoeing in the fields, the boreh provides welcome warmth to cold rural legs and feet. After the farmer washes up, eats dinner, and gets ready for bed, the pack will be applied and left in place throughout the night (especially during the cooler rainy season). It will be rinsed off in the morning. This warming sequence is also applied in modern, “traditional spa treatments,” with boreh described as a body warmer, beauty scrub/body scrub, healing paste and exfoliant all at the same time—both remedial and cosmetic.

A Balinese spa with a natural spa bath
A Balinese spa with a natural spa bath

A healing boreh product is usually composed of fresh coconut oil, flowers, aromatic roots, cardamom, cinnamon, wild ginger, galangal, cloves, pepper, nutmeg and rice powder. All ingredients are milled into powders and blended with warm water for immediate use. The archetypal bark and cloves blend has a pleasant odor (brown rice acts as a glutinous viscous base). The paste is applied to areas of ailment and then left to dry. In the villages, you can see the typically rugged Balinese elders with patches of dried boreh on their temples, arms, and legs. Different ailments may call for alternate or additional ingredients such as sandalwood, mesui, and sitok (other indigenous tree barks), coriander, bengle (a type of plant widely used in local and Chinese medicine), and an extensive list of herbs. Older Balinese (even with a mild cold) will send a child to purchase a list of herbs and spices from a small, traditional warung stall across the village road, or simply gather some home-grown roots and leaves from their back yard gardens and fields.

A relaxing, rejuvenating day spa indulgence is another integral element in Ubud’s arsenal of healing, happiness, and wellness choices. I recommend the Tamarind Spa at Murni’s Houses in Ubud for the ultimate in luxurious, body-pampering bliss. It lives up to its beautiful name—a place for magical caretaking, delicious scents, and the ultimate in body and soul rejuvenation. Most spa products in Bali are natural and contain local Balinese herbs, plants, flowers, and spices grown in Ubud’s equatorial, tropical highland Garden of Eden. The native plants used in the Tamarind Spa all grow in rich, local volcanic soil. The village of Ubud (obad means “medicine” in Balinese) is the source of many of the Tamarind Spa’s superior concoctions—a naturally fertile area lush with emerald green leaves, roots, barks, and herbs.

In Bali, spiritual income is as important as physical income: the use of raw, organic spa ingredients benefits the local farmers. Honeycomb may come from area bee keepers, and seaweed is brought over from Bali’s pristine sister island, Nusa Lembongan. The high quality of the fragrant ingredients enhances the Spa’s body and bath treatments, scrubs, facials, massages, and exfoliants. You will stare—with love and longing, and anticipation—at your beautiful, fragrant bar of soap sitting on the treatment room ledge. It awaits your every pleasure. This is the type of soap that you bond with—that you build an intimate relationship with—an indulgent delight! You may find yourself lingering in the gorgeous hot shower in a fragrant haze. Your skin feels soft, silky, smooth, and relaxed—like everyone and everything else in Bali.

A private and serene area of a Balinese spa
A private and serene area of a Balinese spa

For the ultimate Balinese spa experience, you must take the famous, flower-filled, mandi lulur bathtub extravaganza—which originated in the sumptuous royal palaces of Java to preserve the beauty of the pampered royal princesses. You will luxuriate for an hour in a warm, gleaming tub filled with fresh flower petals, red hibiscus blossoms, and vivid marigold flowers and sip hot ginger tea from small, elegant, celadon-green stoneware cups. It does not get any better than this.

The nearby Tjampuhan Hotel and Spa on Jalan Raya Tjampuhan (near the old Dutch suspension bridge) is another well-established, wellness destination in Ubud. It offers a unique Romanesque grotto setting decorated with traditional Balinese carvings and stonework set into the river valley. Hot and cold whirlpool baths compete with multi-level, gladiator-like natural, tree ringed pools: I lingered here all afternoon in amazed bliss. The cliffside day massage beds are unique in the world: clients can relax “en plain air,” accompanied by the relaxing sounds and sights of the rushing river below. I had hours of fun watching a beautiful, brightly colored, yellow and brown striped snail slowly crawl up the rocky wall of my open-air massage space.

Yoga and Healing
If you want to recover, grow, and find inner peace, you must come to Ubud. Ubud’s organic/healing sensibilities run deep: some of the finest and most creative yoga studios in the world make their home in the sanctuary of this bustling, rice-field bracketed Balinese village. Linda Madani’s Intuitive Flow yoga studio is perched high above the stone stairs leading up to the bucolic, beautiful local village of Penestenan. A Canadian expat, Linda, has done advanced spiritual training with a member of Ubud’s royal family, Cokorda Rai, in ancient Balinese yoga and healing techniques. Her gorgeous, Intuitive Flow yoga space has a wrap-around view of the lush countryside below: classes with Linda are a life-changing, life-enhancing, “spiritual yoga” odyssey.

Bali has a worldwide reputation as a monastic refuge of restorative healing, renewal, and health. The massive Bali Spirit Yoga Barn studio on Jalan Hanoman in Ubud is relaxing, friendly, comfortable, earthy and unpretentious. Here, you can nourish your body, mind and soul. The Yoga Barn has five yoga studios with wooden walls and floors, blessed by a myriad of carved Ganesha statues. The multi-level Yoga Barn is nestled in an oasis amidst lush rice paddies, an organic farm, and a jungle ravine: it is a Balinese architectural miracle of local green grasses, lotus ponds and bamboo.

A center of spirituality, the Yoga Barn offers delicious organic vegetarian food, a yoga clothing boutique, and a full roster of mind and body-opening yoga classes, retreats, yoga festivals, and yoga teacher training courses. The instructors are international “yoga teachers in extended residence” in magical Ubud (from the United States, Australia, and beyond). It is a very liberating experience to enjoy your yoga practice in this special, supportive, transformational environment: “If you hug Ubud, it will hug you back!” I bought a special seven-day pass to the Yoga Barn, and was in residence there from morning until night for one of the best weeks of my life!

I finally learned the meaning of the all too common “monkey mind” expression: like an overactive macaque, our unquiet, unsettled thoughts are always jumping from tree to tree!  Nor will I ever forget Bodi Whittaker’s “bliss ball” teachings—straight from Byron Bay, Australia. Hold your palms body-width apart, facing each other in front of you.  Imagine that there is a large round bliss ball between them.  You can feel the very palpable, joyous positive energy running between your hands. Use it as an open-ended source of happiness, peace, and enlightenment. It works!

Vivienne Kruger, Ph.D. is the author of Balinese Food: The Traditional Cuisine and Food Culture of Bali, 2014.  Vivienne Kruger launched her own tour company and is leading fabulous, fully guided two-week tour groups to Bali.  Please visit www.balinesefoodculturaltourstobali.blogspot.com for complete information and booking.