Thursday December 14, 2017

A Sunrise Trek of Mount Batur in Bali

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I miss mountains. I miss hikes and fresh air and the thrill (and chill) of high places. So when I realised I had a long weekend ahead of me at the beginning of March I decided to do something about it.

Bali is only a 40-minute flight away from Surabaya so I resolved to do a sunrise trek among Bali’s volcanoes in order to sooth my soul.

Gunung Batur is 1717m, one of the several volcanic cones in what seems like a giant dish with water in its bottom. It was formed in an eruption in 1917 and has been active as recently as 1994. There are lots of tours there so once I’d arrived at my lovely hotel in Ubud (The Saren Indah, highly recommended for a relaxing break), I asked them to sign me up (I’m getting lazy in my travel habits out here), and then relaxed for the rest of the day, in preparation for my efforts.

The pick-up was 2 am. I’d indulged in lovely Balinese cuisine and a glass of wine before going to bed early, managing about four hours of sleep before my alarm went off. I rolled out of bed, pulled on my hiking gear and grabbed my new, lightweight rucksack. The car arrived and in I climbed, the first of three pickups around Ubud. Then we drove for about an hour in dozy silence, up towards the start of our trek at Toya Bungkah. But first, we stopped off at a little place that provided us with banana pancakes and coffee, and our ‘second breakfast’ for the summit (ultimately banana sandwiches and a boiled egg). Then we drove a further 15 minutes to meet our guide.

As I said, there are lots of tours, so it was no surprise to draw up to a huge car park filled with tired looking hikers gripping bottles of water and flashlights. We were organised into groups of four, given a flashlight if we didn’t have one (I’d remembered my head torch, naturally!) and sent on our way.

Our guide was, appropriately enough, named Dante, as in Dante’s Peak. The irony did not escape our group. He set a cracking pace, which was fine to begin with, but the route quickly became steep and is, by alternates, rocky or sandy. I was quickly reminded that I am not as young or fit as I was. Two months of battling an ear infection had stopped my gym visits early in January, so I quickly got out of breath compared to my younger, fitter companions. Additionally, although the ear infection was no longer rife, the aftermath of slight deafness continued, and I found myself feeling a bit dizzy the higher we climbed, which was a concern when I repeatedly stumbled. Dante, however, kept us going and made frequent rest stops.

Each rest gave us a wonderful nighttime view across Bali. The silhouette of Gunung Abang opposite us on the other side of the lake dominated the landscape, matched only by banks of cloud that regularly lit up with orange lightning. The sky was clear and the stars were out in abundance, lighting our way.

At one point we had a long rest while our guides prayed at a shrine before the steepest ascent to the summit. Bali is a Hindu country, although Balinese Hinduism is a unique blend of beliefs. They believe that spirits are everywhere and good spirits dwell in mountains and bring prosperity to people. Sadly, some groups were ignorant of local customs and failed to wait quietly while their guide prayed. It always disappoints me when people ignore local customs, as it takes very little to learn about and appreciate other people’s cultures and beliefs.

Mt. Batur is always busy, but especially so at weekends when groups of students are able to complete the walk. One thing that kept me moving against all the odds was the desire to get way from the shouting, music playing hordes and breath in the space and silence of the volcano. I’d positioned myself at the front of our group, knowing the slowest should set the pace, but I could feel the youngsters stepping on my heels behind me, perhaps not as used to walking in groups as I am. Still, I slogged on, determined to outpace them. It was more easily said than done, I can tell you.

We arrived at the summit in good time; it was still dark and clear when we arrived at the already crowded lookout. The sunrise wasn’t far behind us. The sky quickly took on a lighter glow behind Abang and the cloud-banks surrounding it. As the light increased, so did the cloud as heat and cold met. So the sunrise wasn’t a spectacular as I could have hoped. But never mind. I was high up (1717m); I was cold (such a nice feeling after constant heat and humidity – I even got to wear my favourite Rab feather down jacket and enjoy a hot chocolate from the food station near the top!); I had space around me, even though the top was crowded with snap happy student groups. I was happy to be there.

Once the day had well and truly begun and we’d been at the top for nearly an hour, we turned around and made our way back. The steep top was quickly managed, as it was mostly sand and, therefore, quick to descend using the ‘dig your heels in and slide’ method. We stopped briefly at the crater, active in 1994, and gazed at the still blackened landscape below it. We felt steam rising from fissures in the ground and dodged tourist savvy monkeys, greedy for anything they could get their hands on.

About half way down we diverted from the original route and took what could pass for a road to the bottom. It was certainly accessible to traffic as we dodged motorbikes laden with passengers and goods. It was also a good deal easier to walk after the rocky slog we had endured on the way up.

Dante discovered I was an English teacher, and, while teaching me some Indonesian phrases such as ‘kaki ku kaku’ meaning ‘my legs are stiff’, he grilled me in English grammar and the finer definitions between maybe and probably (amongst other things)!

Soon enough we were back at the car park fulfilling the ‘two hours up two hours down’ prophecy everyone had warned me about. Reunited with our driver we were quickly on our way, although the drive home seemed to take forever and I was desperate to get back and take a shower after my exertions. I had sensibly booked a massage for later that afternoon and, I have to say, it helped work out the stiffness really well. Of course, I was still rather sore for a good couple of days afterwards, but it was definitely worth every step. I had got my mountains fix, with added stars and lightning clouds and a tiny bit of sunrise, to make everything well in my world.

This article was first published at wattonswanderings.wordpress.com Image- yuwest.org

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Womanly Advice for Female Solo Travelers to Ensure Personal Safety

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Female solo travelers
Female solo travelers . Pixabay

Oct 1, 2017: One must explore the unexplored areas and conquer the fear of traveling alone. It is often said that traveling is not for women. Nevertheless, the prevailing trend tells that the women solo travelers are breaking the glass ceiling by traveling alone boldly.

Here are some points listed down by Jai Dhar Gupta, CEO at MACE India and Nirvana Being, and Reecha Upadhyay, an advocate of human rights policy that may help female solo travelers :

1. Plan your trip well in advance and book your accommodation promptly

2. Beware of strangers! Talk to different people and make friends, but never tell anyone where you are staying and other personal information

3. Keep all your travel related documents safe. Take photographs of your documents and save them in your phone, in case you misplace the original.

4. Do not give people around you the impression that you are traveling alone. Roam confidently without giving anyone a suspicion

Also Read: 9 Beautiful Countries Where Indians Can Travel Without Visa

5. Personal safety is always paramount, and hence women must carry defense mechanism with themselves, for example, a pepper spray or personal safety alarms.

6. Keep your money at different and unexpected places rather than keeping all your money in one place

7. Solo travelers must try to blend in the with the culture of the destination. Do not try to gage the attention by wearing scant clothes or talking strangely. Respect their cultures and seek to maintain the decorum.

8. You must never leave home unprepared. Always do your homework before visiting a place. Try to gain as much information as you can about the place.

9. Learn to say no to people. Always trust your instincts, if you do not get positive vibes from anyone, then don’t go with them. Prevention is better than cure, so always maintain distance from such people.

Prepared by Naina Mishra of Newsgram. Twitter @Nainamishr94

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Indonesia’s Culture and Religion have a Major Indian Influence

India has imparted a great influence on Indonesia's culture and religion.

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The world's largest Buddhist complex Borobudur in Indonesia.
The world's largest Buddhist complex Borobudur in Indonesia. Pixabay.
  • One of the largest Hindu complex Prambanan was built in Indonesia in the 8th and 9th century
  • Indonesian 20,000 Rupiah currency note has Lord Ganesha’s picture inscribed on it
  • The influence of India on Indonesia’s demography is immense

New Delhi, August 28, 2017: Indonesia’s culture and religion demography have a major Indian influence. According to the found pieces of evidence, the relationship between both the countries date back to 1st century.

HISTORICAL BONDS

Bali Wayang Kulit shadow puppet Ramayana Hanoman dramatic show in Indonesia
Bali Wayang Kulit shadow puppet Ramayana Hanoman dramatic show in Indonesia. Wikimedia.

The historical ties between Indian and Indonesia date back to the time of Ramayana. One can easily find the name Yawadvipa (Java) in this epic. It is clearly inscribed in the holy book that Sugriva, the chief of Rama’s army had sent his army to Yawadvipa, the island of Java, in search of Sita.

It was in the 1st century, that Bali Yatra has started. In ancient times, the traders from India used to sail to Bali, Java, Sumatra, Borneo for the expansion of trade and culture. The spices of Indonesia especially nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves first attracted the Indian traders in the 1st century.

The earliest evidence of this historical bond is in Ujung Kulon National Park, West Java. An earlier Hindi archeological relic of a Ganesha statue from the 1st century AD has been found on the summit of Mount Raksa in Panaotan Island. The traces of Indian influence is most evident in great numbers of Sanskrit loanwords in Indonesian languages. This is just a few pieces of evidence. There are several other pieces of evidence as well, mentioned eSamskriti report.

The process of acculturation had happened centuries ago when the localities of Indonesia had adopted the elements of Indian culture in their own way. The Indonesians were influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism. The existence of the world’s largest Buddhist complex Borobudur and the largest Hindu complex Prambanan near Yogyakarta in Central Java proves the acculturation.These two complexes were built during the 8th and 9th century.

Much later Arab traders brought Islam to Indonesia and today the majority of the population of Indonesia is Muslim. But still, Indonesians had preserved their culture. The ties with Hinduism and Buddhism hasn’t weakened.

CULTURAL TIES

When one visits Indonesia, one can easily feel the essences of Ramayana and Mahabharata in Indonesian culture. The enactment of Indonesian culture of Ramayan happens every evening in a hall opposite to the magnificent ancient Hindu temple complex of Pambanan at Yogyakarta.

In the entire Indonesian archipelago, the largest bastion of the Hindu religion resides in a fabulous picturesque Indonesia’s island state of Bali. Although Bali is a multi-religion territory consisting of Buddhist, Muslim, Christianity, the predominant religion is Hinduism. They have adopted Hinduism in their own way, and it is called as Agam Hindu Dharma. It was originated from Java and is a blend of Shivaism and Buddhism. Their religion and culture is an intrinsic part of their life.

In this Hindu ritual dance, Balinese dancers in Indonesia is dancing on stories from Hindu epics and mythology.
In this Hindu ritual dance, Balinese dancers in Indonesia is dancing on stories from Hindu epics and mythology. Wikimedia.

Bali is perhaps known for its dance, drama, and sculpture. Here, artists are placed at the highest level of social hierarchy. Almost in all the towns and interior villages, art and craft is an inseparable part of people’s life.

Traditionally, Balinese in Indonesia use their talents in arts and crafts for religious purposes. Most of their splendid work seems to be inspired from the Hindu epics. Here, the statues of various Hindu gods, animals, human form, and mythical figures have a symbolic value. These statues deliver a message of religious ethics for the Hindu inhabitants in Bali. Mask is also considered as a sacred object in Balinese Hinduism in Indonesia.

The phenomenal Balinese dance forms are extremely expressive and dazzling. They are usually based on Hindu epics but pepped up with local influences, mentioned NewsRepublic report.

Among all the marvelous dance forms in Bali, the dazzling Kechal dance is held at a major temple complex in Bali. Barong dance involving lion or dragon(Barong) representing good taming the witch(Rangda) representing evil, is a must watch dance form.

While describing his enchanting experience in a NewsRepublic report, Uday K Chakraborty said that in Indonesia, the Balinese marriage rituals had many similarities with the traditional marriage ceremonies of Bengal.

ndonesia's 20,000 Rupiah currency note has Lord Ganesha's picture inscribed on it.
Indonesia’s 20,000 Rupiah currency note has Lord Ganesha’s picture inscribed on it. Wikimedia.

Lord Ganesha’s picture inscribed on Indonesian 20,000 Rupiah currency is a live example of the stunning influence of India on Indonesia.

Today also, Bali Yatra is celebrated as a festival on the day of Kartik Purnima in Orrisa, people float artificial boats made of paper, cork, colored paper and banana tree barks in the river and water tanks as a tribute to ancient sailors.

In Indonesia, particularly in Bali and Java, one can experience India’s incredible influence on Indonesia.

-prepared by Shivani Chowdhary of NewsGram. Twitter  @cshivani31

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If you are a Devotee of Lord Krishna, these 10 Lesser Known Facts Will Surprise You!

Here are 10 interesting facts about Lord Krishna that many people don't know

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Lord Krishna
Radha Krishna Painting. Pixabay

New Delhi, August 15, 2017: Lord Krishna is unquestionably the most honorary character in the Hindu mythology. He was one of the most charming Gods who was also the 8th avatar of Vishnu. Krishna was not only a mischievous butter thief but was also the charioteer guide of Arjun in Mahabharat who played a remarkable role by helping the warrior to find the right path in the battle.

10 interesting facts about Lord Krishna that people are unaware of-

1. Krishna had 108 names

2. He had 16,108 wives. Startling, isn’t it?

3. The most misconceived notion we have concerning the color of Krishna. The color of Krishna’s skin was dark but not blue as we see on screen

4. He resurrected his Guru Sandipani Muni’s dead son back to life

5. He acted as the war cry for the Pandavas in Kurukshetra during Mahabharata

ALSO READ: Krishna Janmashtami 2017- Hindus in India and Abroad Gear Up to Celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna 

6. He was linked to the Pandavas in Mahabharata

7. The matter is subject of discussion that whether Radha, Krishna’s companion, was cited at all in ancient scriptures

8. The relationship of Radha-Krishna was used to condone premarital sex in modernized India

9. Wonder what led to Krishna’s death? Queen Gandhari cursed Krishna after witnessing the massive toll in Mahabharata which eventually led to his death and the destruction of his dynasty

10. The death of Krishna was the result of numerous curses and his own act of adharma against Sugreev’s brother, Bali in Ramayana


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