India–Land of Extremes

Bob Travels to India

temple in India

The Parmarth Niketan Ashram

The journey to India from the Dominican Republic spans two to three days, depending on flight connections. We decided to break the trip into three sections, prolonging our arrival in Rishikesh. In total, the journey lasted three days.

Once in Delhi, we realized that our hotel didn’t accept check-ins after 10 pm. As it was close to 1 am, we needed to adjust. With bags in tow, we set off to find a taxi in hopes of securing a hotel room. That is when the lessons began. Not knowing the best way to hire a taxi in Delhi, we headed for the curbside. Immediately a number of local men approached us to take our luggage and lead us to a taxi. They loaded our bags and waited for a tip. The driver asked what amount of money we wished to spend for a room, then proceeded to drive us to a very sketchy part of town. He delivered us to a dilapidated building with a hotel sign hanging outside the entrance. We paid four times the normal amount for a horrid room. Neither of us slept well on that 7-hour lay-over.

Our friend later said that our experience was a common scam in Delhi. To avoid this, order a ‘pre-paid’ taxi from inside the terminal organized by the police department. That way, travelers to India can avoid unpleasant surprises.

Live and Learn to Adjust to Chaos in India

Our friend’s motto, ‘When in India, learn to adjust’, quickly became necessary. The first word that comes to mind is chaos; nothing feels organized or regulated or patterned. The narrow local streets are filled with people, dogs, motorcycles honking; and nearly colliding with pedestrians, and always, cows. Trash and cow dung are everywhere with their inherent stench and filth. Riding the breeze, the fragrance of cooking spices and incense has its moment, too. The big picture emerged as if life itself had gathered all the smelly filth and cooking scents; whipped them together with an onslaught of dissonant sounds; stirred in the myriad spicy aspects of humanity from beggar to saint; and dumped this colorful dish onto one single plate called India! For the first few days, all of our senses were inundated and overwhelmed with this cacophony of smells, sounds, activity, and color.

Rishikesh, a World unto Itself

Temples and ashrams fill the landscape. Everywhere one looks, there is either an ashram, temple or yoga center. Rishikesh is a destination spot for many spiritual seekers and those looking for enlightenment. The town (and India in general) is rich with history and rituals dating back thousands of years. There are stories and rituals for every part of life and living. The local ashrams engage in lavish ritualistic events both morning and night. My particular favorite is called Arti; a celebration on and to Mother Ganges. It involves letting go of our problems and toils of the day and showing gratitude to the Ganges who brings life to all. Many people visit here for weeks to months solely for the yogic and meditation practices. Our friend introduced us to a local priest and his wife who maintain a temple of Ram. He is the third or fourth generation of temple keepers. The priest and his wife invited us for lunch one day. Since then we have become friends. They are some of the most giving people i have ever met.

The streets of Rishikesh are lined with shops of all kinds from fruit and vegetable cart vendors to jewelry, book, internet and pharmaceutical shops. You can find most anything you want, and, at a reduced price. Large papayas can be purchased for 50-60 rupees (approximately 75-80 cents USD), Internet café connections are 30 rupees per hour. Some bargaining and price haggling is acceptable and useful, but beware of scams and overpricing simply because you are a foreigner.

If you are a sports enthusiast, Rishikesh offers some excellent white water rafting on the Ganga. Northern India is famous for its trekking —  whether you are on a pilgrimage or interested in tackling difficult trips into and around the Himalayas. You can arrange any level of trekking with local companies. Just outside the town in the Rahji Reserve you may possibly view tigers, leopards, deer and even elephants in their natural environment.

One can find almost any cuisine here ranging from a German bakery to an honest to goodness Italian pizza restaurant. To avoid intestinal problems, stay away from un-boiled water and food that doesn’t look freshly cooked. This is much more important in the summer months when certain bacteria flourish.

Rishikesh is home to many events including an annual international yoga festival which draws thousands to its banks on the Ganges. We experienced a holiday called Holi where people smear colored powder on others and engaged in special lunches and dinners with family and friends. It is a day when people can let down their usual responsibilities and play.

Within a Day’s Ride

Many fascinating places to visit are within three to four hours from Rishikesh. Our new friends took us to some famous Hindu temples just an hour from the town. At one Shiva temple, a constant fire has been maintained for thousands of years. At another, Sadhus (holy men) live in caves and smear themselves with white ash from the fires they tend. Our friend, the priest spent years hiking the hills above Rishikesh. He found and purchased a piece of property which overlooks the town and much of the Ganga Valley. The views are stupendous.

Three hours from Rishikesh is another Shiva temple which strategically sits at the confluence of two rivers which is the official beginning of the Ganga. The Ganga itself flows from its beginning in the mountains all the way to the Bay of Bengal, while nourishing the nation.

The Mighty Himalayas in India

The Mighty Himalayas

Another hour beyond this confluence we entered a tiny village of approximately 50 families. At the top of the village we spent two nights in a relative’s house which affords an outstanding view of the Himalayas. Tears filled my eyes upon first seeing this incredible mountain range, a place I have longed to see my entire life. I spent many hours sitting and gazing at those magnificence mountains – the rooftop of the world.

While walking through the little village, we met some of the locals who invited us to see their gardens and sit for a visit and some chai (tea). They were friendly and charming. We all fell in love with these villagers immediately. Upon leaving we invited them for afternoon tea and snacks. The next afternoon, half of the village showed up.  Women, teenagers, and children, all curious as to who these foreigners were, filled the tiny house. They brought musical instruments with them. After chai and snacks, they provided us with a concert of songs and dances of their local area. In total about 30 of them crammed into this 10×15 foot room, enlivening the place with songs and exquisite dances.

After the party was over, they invited us back down to their houses where we spent the remainder of the afternoon chatting and snapping hundreds of photos. The women showered us with gifts of oranges, limes, daikon radishes, and walnuts grown in their back yards.

None of us wanted to say goodbye. We felt welcomed and perfectly at ease with these individuals. They found a place in our hearts and minds, never to be forgotten.

That night the priest and i sat up alone talking about some of the extraordinary events we experienced in our lives even though we come from entirely different worlds.  I made a friend i will not easily forget.

North to Kashmir

Leaving Rishekesh to travel to Srinagar, Kashmir requires three short flights. Security is rigid so make certain your passport and visa are current and ready. Due to the recent difficulty in Brussels, security for us was even tighter. Allow yourself a full two hours before your flight’s departure.

Srinagar is situated in a large valley surrounded by steep mountains, with the Himalayas in the background visible on clear days. March and April bring rains, leafing tree buds, and flowers to the area. On Lake Dal one can rent a room on a house boat with a cook and a butler (prices vary according to the tourist season).

The town itself is rich with artisans, mosques, and temples. Some of the world’s highest quality Kashmiri rugs, coats, sweaters, and scarves can be purchased from local vendors. Saffron is grown locally; price varies with quality. Price bargaining is accepted and almost expected by local salesmen. Be prepared to be approached by vendors selling everything from postcards to hand-crafted wood items.

Some of the local attractions are the tulip and Mughal gardens that can be accessed for 20 rupees (about 30 cents US). The marketplace harbors anything from fruits and breads to kitchen wares, to clothing, and extraordinary silk rugs which can take up to 6 years to produce.

Shikara, the local water taxi in India

Shikara, the local water taxi

Various day trips can be arranged with the houseboat owner. One such adventure is a boat ride around Lake Dal and an adjoining lake/canal system in a craft called a shikara, similar to an Italian gondola. The trip includes 4 or 5 stops including a visit to a Muslim mosque. Usually a packed lunch is provided for each traveler. Other day trips available are excursions to temples and the Mughal Gardens. One temple overlooking Srinagar is the Temple of Soloman constructed in the mid-seventeenth century. Once the taxi deposits you at the top of the hill, take the 262 stone steps to the temple. The views of Srinagar are commanding.

Leaving Srinagar via the airport requires patience on the part of the traveler. You and your bags are searched and scanned three or four times. The military presence is very strong and can be unnerving. The boarding process has no structure as everyone scrambles for the gate.

South to Delhi

Flying over and in to Delhi is an eye-opening experience; it is huge. I imagine that 3 or 4 Los Angeles basins could easily fit into this city. Delhi is home to 18,000,000 residents. There are actually seven Delhis. This time, with the help of our friend, we easily secured a pre-paid taxi which delivered us into the heart of Janparth, the British section of New Delhi. Here one finds modern hotels, restaurants, fashion shops, and central parks.

If you are brave and adventurous, you may attempt a journey into the older sections of town, where, on Sundays, you will discover a flea market that goes on for kilometers. If you desire quiet and peaceful surroundings, old Delhi is not your place. Even on Sunday afternoons, there are literally millions of people roaming the streets.

When leaving India by air, allow yourself at least two to three hours as getting through security and customs can eat up much of your time.

All in all, India is a land of extremes with every possibility of life crammed onto a single plate for the seasoned traveler to digest. Namaste.


Robert Munster, Author, goes to India

Robert Munster is Editor of The Author of Living on Intuition, Goes to IndiaVacation Rental Travel Guide and author of three books, Still Surfing, Living on Intuition and Who are We Really? He lives part time in the Dominican Republic and part time in Maine, while pursuing his passion to surf, write, travel, and garden.

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VILLA PAPILIO-Seget Vranjica, Croatia, Europe

Out of the Blue Sky

By Deborah S. Nelson, Author/Publisher VRTG

VillaPapilla

It is always truly exciting, while simultaneously unnerving, to defy gravity. Every time I fly, it dawns on me that I have cheated the law of gravity. This tends to shake up my concept of reality. Perhaps this is what jet lag really is. The flight to Croatia not only defied gravity, but defied time as well. I landed six hours into the future when I arrived at the Split Airport just minutes from Villa Papilio.

My trip to Croatia came from out of the blue. People in the know tell us that Croatia is the next, up and coming travel destination in Europe. After nine hours in the sky and a total of 21 hours in transit, I landed in Split, Croatia. Gordon Svalina, from Starac Management Company, picked me up and drove me to my next writing destination. Coincidently, it turned out at Villa Papilio, I once again, found myself high in the sky.

As we approached the villa’s long driveway, Gordon kindly reassured me that we would make the steep climb. I once lived in Colorado and was accustomed to switchbacks snaking up high mountain peaks; however, with no switchbacks, this road pointed nearly straight up — a concrete path headed right for the sky. Villa Papilio was situated near the top of the tallest hill in the area, a hill that seemed to touch the sky.

Villa Papilio Translates to Villa “Butterfly”

The villa, built in 1992, in a classic Mediterranean style, is rated five-stars by the Ministry of Tourism, Republic of Croatia. Later, I wondered how a five-star rating could fully rank this holiday rental with all its special extras far beyond what is offered through a typical hotel concierge. Villa Papilio aptly takes its name from the Croatian word for butterfly — a colorful winged insect which flits to and fro in the bluest of skies. Flaunting its beauty with nature’s choreographed dance moves, the free-spirited butterfly deftly avoids capture. Like the butterfly, Villa Papilio cannot be captured with a simplistic five-star rating.

Upon arrival we were warmly greeted by the owner/manager, Yelka Matijas, who speaks fluent English, a result of having been a business woman for 20 years in the United States. When going to a foreign country, it is reassuring to hear your language spoken. That was my first welcome gift. Next, I discovered many extras personally extended by Yelka. Her generous extras included fresh virgin olive oil, red wine, and fresh roses as often as needed (all of which are grown on her properties). Domestic wine was religiously served in the evenings in an elegant decanter. I was off to a great start in Croatia. With three elements in place: English Spoken Here, local red wine, and the spectacular view, I was at peace in this strange, new place in the sky, called Croatia.

Architectural Work of Art

The villa itself is a terraced work of art. Nestled into the top of a steep hill, the highest level is a rooftop terrace with outdoor cooking area and the most stunning view of all. Underneath, is the bedroom level with four en-suite bedrooms. The next level down is the main floor which houses a large stainless-steel gourmet kitchen, a dining area plus a formal dining room, and a warm and cozy living room. All of these offer large terrace areas with spectacular views. Lastly, the ground floor of the villa includes another en-suite bedroom, an indoor pool, a second kitchen and TV area — very casual, fun, and cozy. Three of the bedrooms overlook the Adriatic Sea with their own private terrace.

Especially unique is the waterfall wall at the end of the driveway, which sets an elegant outdoor ambience right away. This waterfall enhances the largest terrace wall which abuts the property’s hilltop. I could not decide which item is the greatest architectural showpiece of the villa. Is it the waterfall in the front entrance area, the polished granite staircase, or the brass elevator? Perhaps the blue sky views from the top of this rocky perch is the greatest wonder of all!

The actual house makes up the first four terraces. Many more terraced levels below include a small vineyard, rose gardens, and vegetable garden; all of which seems to encompass at least an acre of land, perhaps more. Every nook and cranny serves its own function. All the terraced gardens are meant to serve the guests. Each group staying at the villa can access organic vegetables, wine, and fresh roses which are thoughtfully included in the villa package. With its five en-suite bedrooms, the Villa Papilio can easily sleep ten persons in luxury; but it certainly could feed and entertain up to 30 persons for a special event.

Blue Sky Views

The sky views are absolutely memorable in Mediterranean areas. Croatia lies east of Italy across the Adriatic Sea. The clouds look soft and puffy; the skies are painted a magnificent, electric blue. On cloudy days, even a spot of blue sky is captivating. The air, water, and food in Croatia are crisp, fresh, and healthy.

One gets the feeling that the people live very long lives here. Later, I found this to be true. Just looking at these beautiful sky views every day is enough to make me wonder if I have arrived in Paradise. I have to ask myself if I am alive. It is so beautiful here. There are many breathtaking views: the rock-bound hills laced with lovely stone homes topped with reddish terra-cotta roofs. The joyful songs of many different species of birds plus other natural sounds add to the quiet, peaceful ambience of this area. When someone says, “I’ve got a piece of blue sky I want to sell you,” it normally refers to a real estate ‘rip-off.’ However, if you could actually isolate and sell me a piece of this blue sky, I would gladly buy it.

Food Haven at Seget Vranjica

Yesterday we munched on brunch in a tiny seaport at a lovely spot called Villa Mediterana, a hotel/restaurant. This is where I received my first education about food in Croatia. After eating, we were given the entire tour of the restaurant. First, from the inside of this totally elegant dining area was the vista which overlooked the sea. Then we were taken into the kitchen where we met the chef. Next, we were escorted outside to see the outdoor oven. Finally, the owner took us out to the organic garden. He was so excited about showing us all the vegetables in the garden, insisting that everything was completely organic. The food we had eaten was the best in the area. I ordered a thick steak with a fried egg on top. The meat here is amazingly juicy and tasty, due to the cultural and natural style of raising and harvesting the food. Of course, the salads and vegetables are completely fresh. Eating vegetables here is a completely different experience than in The United States. They do not taste the same! If you want to vacation and know that you are eating fresh, homegrown organic food, Croatia is absolutely the place to go.

Trogir — Not to Be Missed

The historic city of Trogir is situated on a small island between the Croatian mainland and the island of Iovo. It is an amazing complex and lies 27 kilometers west of the city of Split. Trogir boasts 2,300 years of continuous tradition. Originally created under the influence of the ancient Greeks, followed by the Romans, and then the Venetians, Trogir has a major assortment of palaces, churches, and towers, as well as a fortress on a small island. In 1997 it was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Trogir is the best-preserved Romanesque-Gothic complex not only in the Adriatic, but in all of Central Europe.

With all this history, Trogir carries on tradition with an elementary school in one of the buildings nearby, which also houses many shops serving tourists and locals alike. We took our time to amble through an ancient Corinthian fortress area. In one of the outdoor seating areas near the shops, we finished the day with two-scoops of gelato. Do not miss the main complex of Trogir with its outdoor street market filled with colorful trinkets for purchase, mostly Italian clothing, souvenirs, and designer shoes. This delightful mix of the ancient history mixed with contemporary niceties can be found at Trogir, when you stay at Villa Papilio. Surrounded by tall buildings, I still managed to snap a photo of a piece of blue sky that peeked through the many rock fortresses. I love my blue sky even inside of a mighty, protective fortress.

Cappuccino Shops

One of my favorite things to do is just to sit and drink a warm and yummy cup of cappuccino. Being neighbors with Italy, finding cappuccino in Croatia is no problem! However, the first place we tried, we requested additional milk to take it down a notch. It was so strong; more like a thick Turkish coffee than cappuccino. The next day we drove into Kastel Sucurac a town closer to Split, and located a cappuccino shop named Kamonica, owned by my host’s cousin.

The cappuccino was excellent, and went well with the treats we enjoyed from the pastry shop next door. The shop included a pleasant outdoor seating area. We had a wonderful time with our chocolate truffles and cappuccino.

Split, Croatia

Although Villa Papilio includes all the amenities you will need, you may want to venture into Split or, at least, to the town center for a half day or evening, about half an hour’s drive. In Kastel Sucurac just outside of Split, is a major shopping mall called Emesetta, for groceries, cell phones, or just to shop for shoes and clothing. The main grocery store is called Interspor. We went with Gordon to stock up on groceries and solve cell phone issues. I also bought a pair of amazing lightweight shoes from one of the stores.

Renee and I took an evening off to journey into Split, where we enjoyed some drinks, dessert and local live music. We ambled through the Diocletian Palace where there are many restaurants and nightclubs situated in the nooks and crannies of the ancient, protected area in the center of Split. Our meandering came to a stop when we randomly sat down at one of the outdoor restaurants. I ordered a hazelnut dessert that was absolutely heavenly. The problem is, I don’t rememberwhat is was called or where I found it. The hazelnut dessert spot will have to remain a fond food
memory!

In this center of Split we found a well-preserved historical area with many shops and restaurants sitting near the sea. This entire area was walled off with a massive door so that ancient enemies coming into port were kept at safe distance. In the evenings there is local, live music in the center of the ancient palace. We were happy and satisfied with a drink and the entertainment while sitting on red pillows provided on the steps around the square. Here we relaxed, as the bright afternoon sky silently and gradually transformed into deeper and darker hues of sky blues, backlit midnight blues, and then to deep navy blues — to make way for the star-filled Anatolian night sky.

My Host

Yelka Matijas is a kind and attentive hostess, making every effort to give guests the privacy they require or to be handy when needed. As the owner/operator living in the area, she is nearby if anything else is desired. At times, when Villa Papilio is used for small events, she is able to supply catering, a chef, and any other extras that may be needed. The most wonderful thing about Yelka is that it is in her heart to serve. With her fluent English, there’s no difficulty in being understood. She is a lovely, kind-hearted woman with only her guest’s comfort and happiness in mind. I am delighted to have met her as my first acquaintance in Croatia. The extras she gives are high quality gifts to be cherished. Throughout my visit, I couldn’t help but notice her favorite, and oft-repeated, expression: “from out of the blue sky.”

Category Placement

We have placed this property in the Super Romantic Vacation Rentals category due to its stunning view, five-star designation, and the extra amenities included. The elevator, the indoor and outdoor pools, the hot tub downstairs, the gourmet kitchen with terraces, the bathrooms and TV’s in each en-suite bedroom qualify this villa for Ultra Luxurious Vacations Rental category as well. The size of this villa also lends it to Family Focused, and Retreats and Events Vacation Rentals. For availability and reservations at the Lauren Berger Collection you may call her at (888) 522-1099, (239) 671-2920 or (646) 629-9669.

Comments Welcome: Make a comment below (our writers work hard…give them some love!) on any of our Live Reviews by Travel Writer Cindy White, Deborah Nelson, or Renee Fontaine, and get a FREE Digital version of The Vacation Rental Travel Guide when it is hot off the press!