“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

20 July 2014

Namdroling Monastery of Bylakuppe

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Namdroling Monastery

After Coorg, the long and winding downhill and uphil road led us to a Tibetan settlement called Bailkoppa or Bylakuppe, which is known for its sandal groves. Bylakuppe Tibetan settlement consists of a number of small camps, monasteries, and nunneries and the most famous among them is the Namdroling Nyingmapa Monastery.

Tibetans took refuge in this settlement after China took over Tibet. In 1972, the refugees settled at Bylakuppe near Kushalnagar. It was also the time when Namdroling Nyingmapa Monastery or otherwise known as Namdroling Monastery and alternately called the Golden Monastery, was re-established in 1972 by His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche. Later on, His Holiness the Dalai Lama consecrated the spot and bequeathed the name "Namdroling Monastery."

It is known to be the second largest Tibetan settlement outside Tibet. Home to over 7,000 monks, nuns and and students Namdroling Monastery is the largest teaching center of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism in the world and is renowned as a center for the pure upholding of the teachings of the Buddha.

Namdroling Monastery of Bylakuppe
Buddha Shakyamuni (Founder of Buddhism)

Namdroling Monastery of Bylakuppe
Buddha Amiyatus (The Buddha of Long Life)

Namdroling Monastery of Bylakuppe
Buddha Padmasambhava (Also known as Guru Rinmpoche)

The monastery not only attracts large number of young Tibetans seeking enlightenment and education, but also draws tourists from all over India and abroad.

Getting inside the huge compound transports one to another world. Its sprawling grounds where silence is revered and preserved are themselves a place for quiet meditation. The temple is considered sacred thus, anyone who would go inside the Golden Temple would have to remove any footwear (socks are allowed), and needs to observe silence.

Namdroling Monastery of Bylakuppe

Namdroling Monastery of Bylakuppe

Namdroling Monastery of Bylakuppe

One cannot only admire the artistry inside but everyone is encouraged to some meditation or prayer or just sit idly and observe moments of silence.

The 40-foot tall golden Buddha statues are the major attractions of the monastery. The statues of Buddha (Center), Padmasambhava, and Amitayus dominate the altar, while the temple walls and columns are decorated with colorful paintings depicting gods and demons from Tibetan Buddhist mythology. The altar is adorned with fresh flowers, candles and incense sticks.

Namdroling Monastery of Bylakuppe


Namdroling Monastery of Bylakuppe


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04 July 2014

Eat, tour, do activities and have fun with locals

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Traveling with Locals
Dining with locals of Inabanga, Bohol

Just before the sun descended behind the mountains and pine trees and not too long after we have traveled the dirt road that forks to the right from the asphalted Halsema Highway we finally reached Sitio Labey in the town of Tublay, in Benguet province. We settled in one of the modest homes that served as our accommodation for the night. Half an hour later, a gong sounded from afar. It seemed it was a signal that they have been waiting for that everyone in the household, except us, hurriedly dressed up for the seemingly important event.

Our host family summoned us to get ready as well because we were going to a dinner at the house located at the foot of the mountain across the rice paddies. Without saying a word, the man of the house started preparing a torch out of the chopped saleng  (a local pine specie known for its combustible properties, that is also a threat during hot summers as they tend to burn easily and create a forest fire). We would use that torch to light our way to the dinner venue. I was puzzled why we were going to another house for dinner.

As soon as we arrived, people in the community started to arrive in trickles, then in groups. We were told that it was the eve of a wedding day, and a canao was being held in honor of the soon to be wedded couple and was also a thanksgiving and fellowship of sorts.

The next best thing was to partake of the food they have prepared. The bride's family butchered a large pig for the occasion. The pork was sliced into bite-size pieces and sauteed with garlic, onion, pepper, and salt and simmered in its own lard until the meat was cooked and oily enough to be served to the guests. Heaps of steaming rice and scoops of the oily meal were put on the plates. We took our share and ate with our bare hands. The cooked pork tasted okay even sans the fancy ingredients and sauces. I learned that the Igorots cooked their pork that way. At the start, the taste was good, but as you finish your plate, you begin to feel you have had too much of it.  Be that as it may, we were filled up.

The mood was festive and the bride's family was able to feed all the guests that night. Guests were also allowed to bring home bigger chopped half-cooked meat.

I learned that in any family occasion or important community events like this, the whole community is invited. You will know this once you hear the gong that signals the time to come and gather as a community. Tradition has it that even if you live at next mountain or hill, as long as you can hear the sound of the gangza or the gong, you are invited. At the time, no written or verbal invitation was needed for one to partake and have fellowship with relatives and other members of the community.  

This happened in 1991 when I had my first field work outside Baguio City to conduct a training of a community association in the village of Labey. This never happened again, but this experience is still vivid in my mind. I was barely out of college then, and that very first adventure sparked my desire to work with the nonprofit organizations and at the same time travel more and commune with people and learn about their culture.

Traveling with Locals
Our host in Taal Volcano community cooking Tawilis for lunch.

I am blessed to have a job that allows me to travel to different places--communing with the local people I work with, have a taste of their local cuisine, and do some activities together. Years later, I have been into far-flung communities and met innumerable people.

The jolly old and young men and women in Sitio Ilaya in Inabanga, Bohol will always be remembered for their sense of humor, delicious food and of course, their irresistible and unforgettable bahalina. The ever-hospitable people of Taal lake and their deep-fried and crunchy tawilis and many more encounters along the road will always be a delightful experience,

One does not have to have a job like mine that brings me to different places and doing activities. Any one can have the experience eating, going places and doing activities with locals.

One can say that I can do these stuff during my travel because it is part of my work. However, anyone can actually do this if you can choose to go beyond the touristy side of traveling. Foreigners and Filipinos alike would always be delighted to try and experience communing and eating with locals.

However, one of the challenges of traveling is the unfamiliarity of places we go to. We barely know the local local people and trying to experience and live like a local would sometimes be more than challenging than doing the touristy stuff.

This problem may no longer be especially in the Philippines. A travel website, Withlocals, will be launching in the Philippines soon! Withlocals aims to connect travelers travelers around the world through unique travel opportunities and home dining opportunities. This gives the chance for Filipinos to be ambassadors of tourism to both foreign and local travelers. More importantly, this becomes an opportunity to many travel junkies to earn as well. This new way of travelling and earning money at the same time sounds exciting, right?

Withlocals, is encouraging Filipino travelers to be part of this growing community--either as a traveler or a host who can offer dining opportunities both at home or seek out unique dining opportunities in your respective location. One can also be a local guide that will show the guests around or allow the guest traveler to live like a local. How does it work? If you think this is for you, then, what are you waiting for? Sign up now for a free account. Who knows, you might also be traveling soon and you might want to be hosted as well. Withlocals, offers partnerships with travel websites as well.







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24 April 2014

Stopover | A glimpse of downtown Coorg

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around coorg

After the photo walk, we left Solitaire Exotica for yet another interesting place in Bylakuppe, but dropping by downtown Coorg was irresistible. Coorg is known for its spices, coffee and tea. I did not like spices and knowing we have roasted coffee available in the Philippines, I settled for some green tea that I can brew back home.

Coorg or Kodagu looks like a small town but only because the establishments and places of interests are scattered in the vast geographic location. Coorg is known for its touristy places like the Omkareshwara Temple, Madikeri Fort, Madikeri Palace and the Raja's Seat. Going around Coorg, one needs to have a private vehicle or try India's ubiquitous rickshaw, as the places of interest are quite distant from each other.

Interestingly, Coorg is a multi-ethnic and multi-religion town that is home to Roman Catholics, Hindus and Muslims. This explains why I saw some people with palms and coming out of a building that happens to be a church. It was a Palm Sunday, I realized.

Interestingly, too, and unlike other parts of India, Coorg places high importance of women. Women are highly educated and a man who likes to get married does not have to place a dowry. And more importantly, India's caste system is not applicable here. How cool is that!?

It is also the lone town in India where anyone can own a gun without applying for a license. Traditionally, when a son is born, a single gunshot is fired in the air. But when a son dies, they fire two gunshots.  They also have a festival dedicated to firearms. I have not seen a gun store while roaming around, though.

Here are some photos of our quick stop-over in Coorg:

Coorg downtown

Coorg downtown

Coorg downtown

Coorg downtown

Click this LINK for more downtown Coorg Photos. Below is the map of Coorg.



View Larger Map






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20 April 2014

Photowalking Coorg

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Photowalking Coorg

For the past days I was in India, the schedule had always been hectic and waking up in different places every day was a given fact. No matter how much I liked to linger on, just like what I ought to have during the morning walk in Udupi, it was not just possible with the limited time. I still had three days left and this would be my last time to have a morning walk again in India so I had to make the most out of it in Coorg. Gladly, this was on a Sunday and we had our own sweet time to to savor and enjoy.

Photowalking Coorg

Also known as Kodagu District in the state of Karnataka, Coorg is known for its coffee estates that boasts of sophisticated coffee production technology. It is the second biggest coffee producer in India. However, we did not come here for coffee. We were just passing through after a trip from Udupi and a short educational trip and dinner of chicken burger and fries at the KFC in Mangalore--a welcome relief from South Indian spicy entrees from morning till night, and quite a respite from spice-induced tummy growls.

Even the night before, my mind was already set--to do a photowalk and to see the things lurking in the dark when we arrived in the middle of the night. It was also a time to be alone and detach myself from the whining about the food, the food and the food!

The traveler and explorer in me had to shrug these things off because I cannot simply allow myself to take part in this growing discomfort. I had to take a breather and just enjoy everything around me. To me, there were more important things about the "exotic-ness" of the exotic food.

As a frequent traveler, I have learned that to be able to survive in a new place, one has to appreciate culture that go with the "taste". Everything is a learning experience--no more, no less. I guess that explains a lot, too, why I like some South Indian food.

The next day, my motivation was high--simply to to cherish everything around me, no matter how mundane or how familiar things would be.

Photowalking Coorg

Indeed, after seeing some familiar things, there is nothing spectacular about it. Tagaytay is even better than this, I thought. There are also guard dogs that bark and chase you. Same trees. Same grass. Same flowers. Perhaps, better buildings.

But the inquisitive traveler in me pushed me look for something unique in this place. From a single step, I took a hundred more or so--and I was not disappointed. Indeed, there is something different and amiable about this place. It is not the usual resort on the hills. Add to it the fact that this place was something new to me.

Photowalking Coorg

While one can see the usual trees, familiar shrubs and flowers, barking and chasing dogs, and the rest of nature, quiescence pervaded the place. In rural Philippines, one can see a lot of people roaming around the streets by this time. I realized I was almost alone on the road, save for one rickshaw that passed by and the barking dog that almost chased me.

The other discovery is the rooted-ness of Hindu religion in nature. While one can regard a tree an ordinary living thing, some trees in trees and even pebbles are venerated in India. Usually they venerate banyan trees as incarnation of Krishna. A simple and lifeless stone represents a bull that is considered holy--and no one is allowed to step on or touch trees in a sacred place of worship like this.

Photowalking Coorg

Photowalking Coorg

Photowalking Coorg

And of course there were a few things I took fancy while seeing through my lens.

Photowalking Coorg

Photowalking Coorg

Photowalking Coorg

Photowalking Coorg

Overall, the early morning sweat and the chasing dog were all worth it.




This is the 5th leg of my
Please come back for more stories while exploring and learning about the State of Karnataka in India.













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19 January 2014

Bucketlist: A holiday cruise


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It has been my long-time dream to go on a holiday cruise -- be it in the Far East or somewhere more culturally diverse and visually engaging. I would long for that day when you are just on board and enjoying a company of your loved ones and other people who only wanted to savor the art of loafing and traveling.

Virgin Holiday Cruises gives a traveler an idea about a dream holiday cruise. Not only does it provide the details one needs but also gives the options on where you would want to spend on a next holiday, wherever you are in the part of the globe. Not only that, a star-studded cruise is also a come on! Elton John aboard? Whoa!

Cruising in the Far East might augur well for those living in the cold countries experiencing the polar vortex. It is time to escape the cold [read: freezing] weather and bask under the sun.

 Here is an info graphic about Virgin Holiday Cruise package:

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27 December 2013

2013's Top 10 travel stories

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In the tradition of sharing my most read travel stories that started in 2012, I bring to you, again, the most read (if not loved) posts in The Pinoy Explorer in 2013.

This, however, is not limited to posts made in 2013. Rather, this is a compilation of stories that made impact on the readers. Expectedly, old posts would occupy the top spot, but it is not always the case. Six (6) articles from 2012's Top 10 popular travel stories were "dropped" this year, and replaced by equally interesting travel stories.

What are the Top 10 Travel stories in The Pinoy Explorer? Read on.

Note: The title have links to the original article. To view a photo slide show, just click on the photos that will lead you to my Flickr photo stream.

1. The ugly truth about the Paradise Island of Boracay remains on the top list since it was published on February 23, 2013. This is a proof that The Pinoy Explorer readers are not callous to the over-development of the Island of Boracay, and perhaps the exploitation of pristine environment, as well as the plight of the indigenous peoples--be it in Boracay or not. I consider this the most influential post I have made since I started "advocacy-filled" travel stories after the issue on SM Baguio and my brief sojourn in the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, which shares the limelight as 2nd and 3rd most read, respectively.

I hope, this post is not forgotten in the passing of time. If you care about the Ati community in Boracay, please do share this post and educate more people about their plight. You may also like their FB page provided in the article.





2. 10 ways to appreciate and enjoy Baguio City sans the SM City-Baguio now occupies the second from its third spot last year. This story simply says that there is more than the usual fare that any mall can offer. Literally, it encourages everyone to go out, stop, and smell the flowers. It is Baguio, for Heaven's sake. Go away from the malls! Baguio City outdoors can never be boring. Trust me.




3. Exploring the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was already popular when it was published but it did not get the numbers to make it to the Top 10. Out of nowhere, this post jumps to the 3rd most popular. Based on the searches and inquiries, perhaps, this was a topic in class where many graduating engineering students would like to visit. As I mentioned in this blog, getting in here is like Discovery Channel experience.




4. Lang-ay Festival of Mountain Province is one of the best and authentic festivals I have witnessed. There were no fancy costumes and played up and borrowed music and choreography--just the real thing. I wish to see this again in the future. This did not make it to the top 10 last year but it jumps to the fourth position this year.




5. When "It's More Fun in the Philippines" clicks, and when it doesn't used to be on top of the list last year. Nonetheless, gives the reader an idea what it takes for the Philippines to truly live with the expectations of the buzz meme. After two years that this campaign was launched, is it really "more fun in the Philippines?"




6. Religious pilgrimage sites and Visita Iglesia in the Philippines is another "new entry" to the top 10. It is a collaboration among several travel bloggers who shared their articles and photos to make this travel story come true. This is not a complete compilation of the pilgrimage sites, but nonetheless, informative for the believers on what place to visit this coming Holy Week.




7. Revisiting Barangay Calima is not your usual travel story about any usual travel destination. My visit here was work related. I have been here twice. In the first visit, I did not have much time to photograph or move around. This time, I thought I should give it a shot. Residents of Brgy. Calima were just ecstatic seeing their "unknown" barangay being featured here. Who would not? Social networking shares here and their made it clinch the 7th spot. They say there is a nice falls farther out there. I hope I have the third time to visit it.




8. Bohol: Heart of the Philippine Islands used to be on the second spot, but I think this post will bring it back to its former glory after Bohol has been declared safe and open to local and foreign tourists after the earthquake. Why not? It still has nice beaches and historical "ruins" site, and most of the most amiable people in the Philippines! Go, visit Bohol!




9. PTB Blog Carnival | The Visayas roundup is another list for those who are raring to see more of the Visayas. After the typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) ravaged the region, there may be less attraction, for now. But based on this interactive map, one can still enjoy the Visayas. Support their tourism industry. Visit Visayas!



View Visayas Roundup in a larger map


10. Ticao Island | Mangrove Walk at Bongsanglay Mangrove Natural Park is a story about one of my best travels so far. I got to volunteer documenting the flora and fauna of the Bongsanglay Mangrove Natural Park, and I got to enjoy the pristine nature, and most especially, I became "grounded" again in development work after communing with fisherfolks. This is not your usual travel destination, but it is all worth exploring it! Now, I am excited to see the 2014 calendar that PFEC has published--that features some of my photos.




I hope you like the Top 10. It wouldn't hurt much if you share this article, too, right? Look for the tiny sharing links below this article.






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21 December 2013

KLM: Take full control of your trip with your mobile

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Gone were the days when you have to lose a half day's work just to buy an airline ticket. Back then, it was just too cumbersome taking a trip to the airline ticketing center, travel offices or spend more time calling customer representatives to get the flight details, that sometimes ends up with some clerical errors on your name or worse, your flight details.

I have experienced this when airline ticketing was still in its Jurassic era. In my conversation with the customer service representative, I remembered it so well that I booked for a Friday afternoon flight, but upon picking up my printed ticket from the airline office, I learned that I had a Saturday flight, instead. It was just too much a hassle have my ticket changed again for this simple miscommunication between me and the customer service representative.

I am glad that we are now in the digital era and quite relieved that airlines operating in and out of the Philippines are now online that allows you to have your ticket booked instantly -- at your fingertips.

Also, with social networking still on the rise and continue to control our lives, we sometimes overlook that fact that mobile communication devices right before us and right in our hands, are now more powerful and can make our lives a lot easier.

As part of their campaign, KLM recently "launched a crowd-sourcing challenge in Asia, in which it asked video creative to communicate the wide variety of mobile and online services it offers. KLM received many creative and out-of-the- box ideas. The contestants didn't only deliver these ideas, they actually made the videos themselves. This resulted in some very funny videos, all communicating that one important message: with KLM, you can take full control of your trip with your mobile."

 

When you are flying from Asia to the any part of the world, learn more about KLM destinations and the KLM online services.

Note: This is a sponsored post.




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08 November 2013

Baguio City | The Diplomat Hotel scare

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Diplomat Hotel

The veins in my temple were throbbing more as we entered the building. As I explored the interiors, the searing pain was becoming more unbearable. This headache started while exploring the Laperal House, but I was hell-bent in demystifying this so called "haunted" place.

The interesting-ness of former Diplomat Hotel came to the fore only when this was abandoned after it was razed by fire in 1987. Honestly, this was my first time to enter the compound. This used to be a hotel when I was still a college student in Baguio City, and known to be a residence of Tony Agpaoa, the faith healer. It was a private place, so there was no chance to visit it during my days in the City of Pines.

Diplomat Hotel

Only after the death of Agpaoa that ghost stories came out. Stories narrated about headless apparitions of black and white images at night. When it was still operating, the employees and guests also claimed that they have been hearing strange sounds. Residents around the area recounted stories about hearing the banging of doors and windows, dishes clattering, and screaming in the middle of the night.

Urban legend has it that these strange and ghostly phenomena are those of its former occupants as well as the terminally ill patients of Agpaoa. Before it was bought by Agpaoa, it was owned by Americans who settled in Baguio City in the early 1900s until the Dominican priests built a vacation house on the top of this hill in 1911, thus the name Dominican Hill.

What made it more convincingly scary was the fact that it was not spared from the shelling by the Japanese Army Liberation Forces. Baguio City's history would tell that refugees fleeing from the Japanese soldiers took refuge inside the vacation house, only to become victims of Baguio bombing. This brought a lot of damage to the building, that a reconstruction was an option. The reconstruction was finished in 1948. Accounts also tell that nuns and priests were also beheaded during the war that it was believed to be the reason for headless apparitions.

Diplomat Hotel

Now, it is called "The Baguio Dominican Heritage Hill and Nature Park". At the time of my visit, it was undergoing major renovations and reconstruction. It is now supposed to be a restaurant/ coffee shop and a venue for events like wedding receptions, baptisms and conferences.

Despite the presence of mortals in its hollowed halls and chambers--some students rehearsing for what seemed like a stage theater play, and us, travel bloggers--I found the place very, very lonely.

Diplomat Hotel

At noontime, it was sunny but chilly and was very inviting for some quiet "me-time"! But this feeling of loneliness did not escape me. The wind hummed and leaves and pine needles rustled in harmony with this feeling of loneliness. This feeling crept inside that made my head throbbed more until it was no longer bearable that I had to get out to focus instead on the exteriors--and take some fresh air.

Diplomat Hotel

While I felt better outside, the dense feeling did not spare me. The gardens are as lonely as the interiors--not because of the near absence of people in the place. Occasional murmurs and laughter filled the place and mixed with the gentle humming of the wind and rustling of pine needles, but still loneliness enveloped the building and its surroundings.

Be that as it may, I still find the place beautiful. It is the highest point within Baguio City (aside, of course, from the nearby Mount Cabuyao in Tuba, Benguet), that one can literally enjoy a 360-degree view of the city. I can't say if there are ghosts in this place. I just find it lonely, that's all.

Diplomat Hotel

By the way, my headache was not brought by any supernatural cause. I just lacked sleep, felt physically drained, and suffering from fatigue due to long hauls. A paracetamol tablet cured it. [Smile!].

If I have more chances to visit again, I would visit this place for some quiet time...over a cup of coffee. Wanna join?

____
See more photos at Baguio City | Diplomat Hotel




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