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India with Acanela Expeditions

One of our favorite kind of trips are relaxation and wellness.  To be specific, our favorite countries that are famous for their yoga retreats, wellness activities and overall good health are:  India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, and even Peru.  Experience for yourself one of these retreats to India & Sri Lanka, as you read the journal of our dear friend Susan who has has traveled with us to many locations around the globe, writing about her experiences...

"Close your eyes and imagine what a yoga retreat in the Cardamon hills of southwestern India might look like, smell like, and taste like.  What are your feelings, your inner sense as you sit looking out over the dense jungle vegetation, layer after layer of hills and mountains in the distance.  The local equivalent of crickets are buzzing, bird songs you’ve never heard. The grounds are manicured by local Indian gardeners.  Hibiscus, calla lilies, roses.

We took our shoes off to enter a simple building of grey rock, white walls, and orange roof tiles.  We each were offered a wet washcloth soaked in lemon grass oils.  Next, we drank a “tea” of refreshing ginger, lime, and mint juice.  Our rooms are simple, and beautiful, with a balcony and a view out over the tea and spice plantations below.  

The food here is strictly vegetarian and the activities include yoga, bird watching, waterfall, spice and tea plantation walks.  This is otherworldly beauty, and a deep sense of peace.  We all want to stay for a week, as two nights is too short and we want to enjoy every minute."

We drove up into the mountains—from sea level to almost 4,000 feet, passing monkeys in the jungles, looking out over spice plantations and waterfalls, stopping to go on an elephant ride, watching women harvest the bright green tea bushes, manicured in rows on the hillside.  And now, the retreat.  

Tonight we went for a walk through the tea plantations and our tour guide told us all about the process.  We had watched the women trimming the tea bushes, actually harvesting the top bright green leafy layer.  The remaining leaves are a darker green.  So, the plant, even though it could become a tree, remains a bush by the harvesting twice a month and then the once-every-three-year pruning to keep the bushes in a bush form.  There are rows between the dense green foliage, where the women who harvest the tea can walk.  They make about $10 -$12 dollars a day, which is actually a pretty good salary here for the lower class.  Caste systems, although abolished, still exist in the way people treat each other, the jobs they can have, who they can marry.

Have you ever watched women weave traditional saris?  The designs were beautiful—with white cloth and large gold borders.  Saris can be purchased here, according to quality, varying from between 100 and 100,000 rupees.  There are 60 rupees per dollar.  Interestingly enough, when we arrived, rupees were unavailable at the banks or ATMs.  The 500 and 1000 rupees were withdrawn from the market due to misuse of these bills in Pakistan.  Today, we waiting for about a half hour in order to retrieve 2000 rupees from an ATM.  There were long lines everywhere.

There are 1.25 billion people in India and 321 million people in the US.  India has three times our population and the land mass is only about a third of ours.  Did you know that China has the most population with a total of 1.3 billion, then India, and the next most populous country is the US?

It is so wonderful to travel and learn new things, experience new sights, broaden your mind and heart.  It helps you to ask new questions and to see the world as a vast place with many different ways of doing things beyond your own everyday routine at home.

At the same time, the travel to India was long, fatigue comes in waves, and sometimes life can be dirty and messy here.  Nonetheless, it has been delightful.  

I always love the jungle, tropical flora and fauna.  Here, people are more wealthy than in northern India.  This is because of the tea and spice plantations, the increased level of education, and the larger Christian population.  In the north, people are primarily Hindu or Muslim.  There we saw children begging on the street or sitting at night on the sidewalk with their families.  Not here. The beauty of nature in these Cardamon Hills is magnificent.  So, life is good.

 We ended the day with another cooking class, and, after an abundant lunch, were not able to eat much.  It was delightful to get to know the Indian family who hosted us in their home. They were wealthy by Indian standards with a five bedroom home, air-conditioning and a flush toilet.  We finished off our trip to India by dipping our feet in the Arabian Sea, visiting the church that was built by the Portuguese in the early 1500's, visiting a Jewish synagogue, and shopping in the spice and sari market.  I purchased a traditional handwoven sari, bordered in gold.

This morning we rose at 4:00 a.m. to get ready and be driven to the airport - we were sad to say goodbye to our Driver Biju, who was so wonderful to us in India.  We had several hours to relax before boarding the plane for Sri Lanka.  Sri Lankan airlines had some fun new features on the plane.  On the screen in front of you, you could watch the scenery go by below the plane and the scenery in front of the plane--I guess on something similar to GoPro cameras.  We saw the water below us and then the lush greenery which is Sri Lanka.  

Upon arrival, we greeted our bus driver Andrew, cheerful and friendly.  We drove on narrow side roads through gorgeous scenery, mile after mile of bright green rice paddies, surrounded by coconut palms and jungle growth and, in the distance on both sides of the road, mountains rising above the jungle floor.  The peaks of these mountains rise 8,000-9,000 feet.  Men were working out in the rice paddies, manual labor accomplished with a simple hoe.  The fields were dotted with white egrets. 

We arrived in Pinnawalla just in time to see the elephants crossing the road.  These are "orphanage elephants," rescued when they are lost.  They are fed and cared for and twice a day, they walk through the streets and are taken down to the river to bathe, splash and be splashed by a big stream of water arching over the river.  They are led down to the water and taken back across the road by men with long sticks who make sure they don't bother the tourists and don't stray from the water.  These elephants were having the time of their lives!  There were a couple of baby elephants guided by the adults, playing in the water.  What a unique experience.  

After driving again for a couple hours, we arrived at our beautiful resort hotel, complete with a pool, walkways to separate "villas" and an abundant buffet for dinner.  

Today we will climb a large rock called Sigiriya, an iconic landmark.  This was a 5th century AD fortress where the ancient king ruled, complete with a lion's paws entrance and beautifully painted murals, still intact.  On the top of this massive rock fortress, terraced gardens are still grown, watered by some of the original cisterns.

Next, we enjoyed the ancient caves of the Golden Temple of Dambulla, the walls covered with murals depicting the life of Buddha. And, to end the day, we went on a guided tour of another spice and herbal garden to witness a cooking demonstration and eat lunch.  Delicious."

-Susan Manser