Category Archives: Travels

India–exploding with life!

If you fancy yourself as a real world traveler, then a trip to India is a must!

My wife Lydia and I and a few friends happily found ourselves in Jaipur, Rajhasthan a charming, quaint and ancient city near Delhi in the northern part of India a few years ago. We were there to attend a conference and see some sights during our free time. It was around October and the weather was just right, not hot and not cold. A light shirt was all I wore while we explored a few places in this ancient land.

When one steps out of the plane and into India, be ready to leave behind most of your western concepts and attitudes about a lot of thing from food, smells, hygiene, accents, sense of order, clothing styles, etc. India is India, an ancient country and one of the cradles of humankind. And the sooner you can adapt to the fact that this strange land and its customs and traditions have existed and flourished way before you or even western civilization were even born, the sooner you can dive into its rich, vibrant and fascinating culture.

Jaipur is known as the Pink City because its palaces and buildings are all in the shade of pink as it has been for centuries. There are numerous tours and excursions within the city that one can sign up to. I remember visiting the different palaces—the City Palace, Galitore, the Amber Fort, and many more—each one a must see! The Jaigahr Fort was a real standout perched on top of a mountain. We needed to ride elephants to go up the long, winding entrance. The royal fort had rooms of palatial grandeur and opulence, some studded with jewels on its walls.

Our tourist guide explained that centuries ago, the royalty in India were so obscenely rich that visitors were offered bowls filled with jewels for the picking when they entered their palaces, no different from the way one would pick peanuts from a bowl! And if that weren’t enough, the same palace had a saffron garden as big as a football field and it was there because the king wanted the sweet smell of saffron wafting into his chambers with the tunes played by musicians throughout the day.

We also had a great time exploring Sariska National Park, a wildlife sanctuary 107 km outside of Jaipur. We stayed at the Sariska Heritage hotel, former palace built for English royalty who loved to hunt in the colonial days. In the morning, we woke up early and rode an open jeep to drive through the forest in the hope of seeing tigers. To our surprise, we were invaded by a host of wild white monkeys whose idea of fun was grabbing our bags and things as we sped away!

India is a land of contrast, or at least in seems so to western eyes. While the palaces are opulent, there is a lot of poverty almost everywhere. Beggars, lepers, street people can be seen sleeping all over the sidewalks at night. And yet, in some strange sense, I got the feeling that in a real way, things were exactly as they should be. As I gazed everywhere, I saw a placid people who seemed resigned to their karmic place and at peace in what would normally be a depressing existence, at least through an outsider’s eyes.

Shopping in Rajahasthan is cheap and a lot of fun. One can buy carpets, brass, crafts of all types that are unique and beautiful. Books and medicines, due to government lifting of copyright restrictions are also dirt cheap in India.

If you are into gastronomic pleasures, Indian food has a lot to offer as well. I remember bringing a lot of ‘emergency food’ with me when I got there just in case I did not like the local fare, only to discover 5 days later that I had actually gained weight eating all that great cuisine. Just make sure you bring bottled water at all times when exploring outside your hotel. People are generally very friendly and even helpful. Oh, and make sure you always bring a camera.

Per square meter, there is more life in India than one can find in most places anywhere in the world. I remember standing by the sidewalk and together with about 100 commuters waiting for the bus. I also saw vendors selling vegetables unmindful of the cows that were eating their produce. I also gazed at a snake charmer, a monkey trainer by the side, a few beggars, hawkers selling textiles, brass, a Saddhu (religious renunciate) in some sort of trance, and doves on top of a pole, and so many more. Quite simply put, India is just exploding with life.

If you want a destination that you will not forget, Rajastahan in India is it. By the way, we were not able to visit the Taj Mahal for lack of time. But despite that, we experienced and saw more than what we ever bargained for.

My travel itch

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 7, 2014 – 12:00am
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Illustration by REY RIVERA

I am having a severe case of travel itch right now.

I feel cooped up in my own life these days. My responsibilities are just too many. I sit on the board of 2 organizations which meet quite often. I will be starting a teleserye in 2 days and will play a role that demands my presence in many scenes. I just started a new album. I am also fighting a cold while I am scheduled to attend tons of social obligations this Christmas season.

I look at my schedule and I feel tired already. It seems to me that I cannot possibly miss out on getting good sleep every night till December 22 if I want to fulfill all obligations with enthusiasm and presence. It makes me feel stressful just thinking about it.

I wish I could just ride a plane and take off and skip all these things I have to do.

I have relatives who travel in and out of the Philippines about 40 to 50 times a year. It is the nature of their businesses to do so. I think that is a bit too much for me. I would be happy to have around 10 to 15 travels inside and outside the Philippines every year. That would be nice, easy and pleasant.

My last plane ride was to London last August. I loved it. It was my third trip to London but it was the first time I really enjoyed myself there. I traveled alone. The weather was sunny for almost 5 days. Aside from a few obligatory meetings I had to attend, I planned my own agenda and itinerary. It was great. I went to places I chose to go, at my own pace and leisure. I changed my mind when I felt like without disrupting anyone’s plans. It was total freedom.

Some people get stressed planning a trip. The packing, planning an itinerary and the idea of leaving home can stress them out. Not me. Many times, I pack my stuff the day before or the day I leave.

I don’t stress about forgetting to pack something. Except for my passport and money, I know that I can buy whatever I have left behind like shavers, vitamins, underwear, dental floss, etc. in the place I am going to. I am more focused on the unknown adventures travel will be bringing me to. The experience of a new place, meeting strangers and seeing the great sites, the food I will eat, the hotel I will stay and the experiences I will have can really turn on my creative juices.

In traveling to a new place, you must allow yourself to experience the unknown and allow yourself to be pleasured, challenged, be inspired by what you see, hear, taste and feel. It hits all your senses.

The only time I was in Madrid, I took a bus to anywhere at 2AM and got down where I saw lots of people in the street. I made sure though that I had the hotel calling card to help me get home. I followed my curiosity. I just walked around, checked out a bookstore, listened to street artists busking away, and ate some local food being sold on the street. I went home at around 5 AM tired but happy.

I almost always enjoy a new place whether I am on tour with some people or traveling alone. Aside from the gustatory, visual, aural and physical pleasures one experiences when traveling, there are also the intellectual and spiritual dimensions, and of course the emotional.

It is great to get soaked up in the history of a local setting. I like monuments, statues, visiting museums, and meeting the local residents. I also try to scan the local papers just to catch the present concerns of the citizens who live there. It makes my curious mind appreciate how a certain place and how its people have become what they are even if my appreciation may be a bit on the shallow side.

Emotionally, one can feel a certain connection when you meet and talk to locals, engage in conversation, even if it is just small talk. Sometimes, it may go beyond that when you feel a human to human contact through acts of kindness.

In Tokyo, I found myself lost in the train. I asked a total stranger where I was and how I could get to my real destination. She spoke no English and I hardly knew any Nihonggo. The kind woman actually went out of her way and took me to the right train platform. She then tried her best to explain that I should get off on the third stop from where I was. She waited with me till the train arrived until I was on board. SSoon after she e bowed, waved goodbye as the train left.

There are places that can attract you in a spiritual way. India and Nepal are just two of them. Knowing that the Buddha actually walked certain streets that I was walking on was quite a profound experience. Entering a place of worship of another religion can be quite inspiring and can evoke a feeling that crosses all cultural, religious and spiritual borders. Every culture must have had a God experience at some point which they honor with religious practices and devotions that have become part of their traditions.

I remember watching a cremation in Kathmandu where I saw a whole family attending to their father’s final rights. It was quite moving. I watched with great respect at how the eldest sun lit the funeral pyre. This practice and tradition says a lot about the Indians. These rites must have come from their own understanding of a lot of things—human relationships, death as a passing, the nature of the human body, God and the afterlife to name just a few.

My wife felt the same way when she visited the Holy Land. Someday, I will visit there, too.

As I write this article and stare at the calendar before me and see how busy the next few weeks will be, I heave a sigh. It’s a lot of work ahead.

Luckily I have two Davao concert shows next week, and one in Zamboanga on the 20th. I guess those will do for now till I get a chance to scratch the travel itch, and once again enjoy travel without any work obligations.

Travel in a world of epidemics

By Jim Paredes

A lot of people I know were so intimidated by the swine flu that some of them actually canceled their trips to the US and Hongkong and other places a few years back. And now there is ebola!

I do appreciate and understand that people do worry about epidemics and possible contagion. It is a small world now that is so interconnected that diseases originating in some remote place can now spread rapidly everywhere. And it is always good to take precautions.

As someone who travels constantly, I try to stay on top of news about what can make my journey a less than pleasant or safe one. But would I cancel on a place just because there are a few sick people there? Naahh… Not me. Well, except for ebola-stricken places. But it will take more than a few cases of some exotic diseases to put a damper on my travel plans. Maybe a string of bombings, or a sudden increase in prices could keep me at home. But not a few people with sniffles.
Nevertheless, here are a few things that we can do as precautionary measures every time we travel.

1) Always wash your hands. Do this many times a day whether traveling or not. Even the use of a keyboard in some internet café in any city can be cause to take precaution since it has been proven that keyboards used by many people are breeding places for lots of bacteria. Your hands touch your nose and eyes all the time and so it’s good to keep them clean.

2) Take vitamins when you ride a plane. There are no real studies that say that being cooped up in an airplane with people who may be sick can infect you. But it is a fact that people who travel a lot are greatly affected by jetlag, and that can only be stressful on one’s body. A limited study also suggests that on the whole, travelers are more likely to catch cold than non-travelers.

3) If you wear a mask, change it everyday. A mask made moist by your breathing can also be unhealthy for you since it can be a breeding place for bacteria.

4) Avoid foods served in unsanitary conditions. Diarrhea, food poisoning are common experiences among travelers. Through the years, I have learned to be more circumspect about what I eat. It is alright to eat exotic foods particular to a place, but one must be aware of how it is prepared. It is not impolite to ask questions generally about how food is prepared. Street foods are exciting and cheap. Common sense is important to determine if they were prepared safely.

When unsure, bring your own bottled water or source your drinking water from your hotel and carry a thermos.

With a few common sense tips, one can still travel and still feel reasonably safe.

Road trips

(Note that I have a new category for my writings about my travels. You can simply click the ‘Travels’ on top to access them. YOU will also see them on the home page).

By Jim Paredes

Road trips are fun to do. I’ve taken lots of them. I like long drives with the family. I enjoy the changing scenery that a drive along a winding road especially in the countryside can bring on.

I have done many 200 to 300 kilometer drives to find great vacation spots to spend a few nights on. The thrill of discovering a new place makes me high.
But the most extreme road trip I have ever taken was in 1975 when my buddies and I drove a total of 16,000+ miles around the USA and Canada. We went from the West to East of the US, then up to Canada in Montreal and then crisscrossed the great Canadian Flatlands and the Midwest before coming back to the West coast again.

We were actually on tour as a singing group with other artists and we were there to perform for the various Filipino communities big and small all over North America.
It was also our first time outside our native Philippines and the whole experience was amazing. I remember how thoroughly exciting and enjoyable it was to be in a new place every so often, sometimes as often as every other day.
We were in a big van and the open road was an enticing thing to see everyday. Meals were at diners and fast food places along the side of the road. Home was anywhere we rested for the night before driving again. The trip took us to obscure places that a few people have heard of like Mystic, Bakersfield, Kamloops, Medicine Hat, and many more. It would be so exciting when we would get to the big cities like LA, or Chicago, Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, New York, etc..

The great thing about these long drives like the one we had which stretched for three and a half month was witnessing the changing of seasons, accents, and architecture and fashion as we traveled cross countries. I remember discovering how delicious cherry pie was while I was in California. When I got to Mississippi, I went to a diner and ordered a slice of cherry pie. I knew there was something wrong when the waitress stared at me with a totally confused look. She could not understand me! It was then I realized that the people in the Midwest spoke with a really accented twang. As soon as I said ‘pah’ instead of ‘pie’, she understood, nodded and brought my order!

Autumn in Ottawa was just absolutely pretty especially to someone from the tropics who was being exposed to more than two seasons (rainy and dry) for the first time. The changing colors of the trees and landscape were pure poetry.

But it was the winter that really thrilled us. I remember parking our van by the road where one of the performers traveling with us took of all his clothes and ran in the snow to have a picture! It was crazy and magical. Snow to a first timer is beautiful beyond words. A place called Banff in Calgary, Canada is a good place to see and admire the season of winter.

A road trip this long can get tiring after a while. By the end of the second month, we made sure we had days when we weren’t cooped up in the van and were free to explore the town or city by ourselves. Too much of the same company can lead to friction.
Driving never tires me out. I have not lost my love for road trips even now in my 60s. I still would like to drive across Australia one of these days. Darwin, Cairns, Alice Springs and Adelaide are places this traveler would like to meet someday.

My Ayurvedic adventure

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 30, 2014 – 12:00am

Balanced humours, digestive fire, tissues of body and excretory functions and the clear consciousness, sense organs and mind indicates a healthy person.’ — Susrutha Samhitha, 400 BC

Last Monday, Mae Dolonius, a good friend, invited me to the opening of the Shanti Ayurveda Center in BF Homes, Paranaque. It was the second clinic they were inaugurating. The first one is on Xavierville Road in QC.

Ayurveda is the oldest system of health and medical treatment known to man. It has survived for more than 3,000 years and is widely practiced in India. In Europe, the US and other countries, there are schools and wellness centers that teach Ayurveda even if it is not as widespread and popular as Western medicine.

I had heard about Ayurveda but have not had any real experience with it. One time, I had what was advertised as an Ayurvedic massage in a hotel in India. It was okay, nothing great, and I did not feel any real benefits. I learned later on that it was more of a spa treatment being passed as the real thing.

When I got to the opening, Mae noticed I had a cold and cough and referred me to an Indian doctor who works in the facility. The Ayurvedic doctor asked me a few questions and then gave me a powdered concoction inside a Ziploc bag. It was made of ground ginger, pepper, sugar cane and some herbs. He told me to take less than half a teaspoon every two hours.

I took one dose and almost immediately, I felt my throat itchiness go away and my nasal passages open. It was the best, fastest-acting medicine against cough I have ever experienced. I continued taking it for the next two days and my cough was practically gone.

Ayurveda has a holistic approach to healing. Its aim is to balance the body, mind and spirit to achieve well-being. As far as I gathered and understood from the talk I had with the doctor and the mini lecture that followed later, its approach to healing is all-natural — all its medicines are derived from nature and its processes.

“Ayur” in Sanskrit means life, and “veda” means science and knowledge.

There are three body types called doshas. There are the Vata, the Pita and the Kapha. It is believed that each person has a dominant dosha that defines his body type. After I answered a questionnaire, Dr. Ciga told me that I was primarily a Pita (active, energetic, creative, restless) with a sprinkling of Vata.

After your body type is determined, they can proceed with what treatment you should get and choose what medicines, spices and herbs you should use.

Last Tuesday, I started the three-day treatment. Dr. Ciga, the resident Ayurvedic doctor from India, recommended Abhiyangha, which is known to be Ayurveda’s main healing tool. It is also called the “Mother of all Massages.” It is a massage customized to your body type complete with herbal oils to “detoxify, nourish and revitalize” the body tissues.

They made me lie down on a special wooden table. It had no mats. Where parts of your body need a cushion for comfort, they put a folded towel. I was worked on by two very coordinated masseuses. Unlike spa treatments and regular massages, there was no pressing, no kneading, or pounding on my body with clasped hands. There was only the pleasure of rubbing and scrubbing motions on my richly oiled body for 40 minutes. They claimed that this type of massage has far-reaching effects on the body, mind and spirit. More on this later.

After the massage, I spent the next 20 to 30 minutes having the Shirodhara. They covered my eyes and continuously poured a stream of warm oil on the middle of my forehead going about two inches in left and right directions. It was a strange sensation at first but ultimately its magic worked on me making me feel very relaxed. I fell asleep and woke up very refreshed.

I had the same two treatments for the next two days. On the second day, I felt my body and spirit lighten up considerably. I felt more calm, concentrated and positively focused. It was a wonderful feeling. The other benefits I felt were better blood circulation, smoother skin, more vitality and better sleep. On the first night, I had a very good sleep, and also on the succeeding nights.

When I finished the three-day treatment at the Shanti Ayurveda Center on Xavierville Avenue, I noticed that I felt stronger, healthier, calmer and more centered. They also offer three-, seven-, 14-, and 21-day programs to help you detoxify your body and achieve the mind and spirit balance you need. I can only imagine what that feels like.

The Shanti Ayurvedic center is not a spa, but more of a healing place. No sweet music plays in the background when you get the massage. All you hear is the gentle sound of water flowing in a fountain in the garden. The room does not have air conditioning but it is pleasant. The oil they use for the Shirodhora treatment is saved and used only by you in your succeeding treatments.

I am glad I did not research much about Ayuverdic treatments and decided to experience it without any prior knowledge or bias. I simply said yes to the invitation and I am writing direct from my own experience.

As I said earlier, Ayurveda’s approach is holistic. Their aim is to cleanse and balance all the forces within us with the Universe. It is both a practical and spiritual approach to healing.

An Ayurvedic proverb goes, “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use.? When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”

In the same breath, Ayurveda believes that:

“As in the cosmic body, so is the human body.

As in the cosmic mind, so is the human mind.

As in the macrocosm, so is the microcosm.”

You probably will not hear a Western-trained doctor say such things. But in Ayurveda, they like to cover everything.

* * *

Shanti Ayurveda is at 56 Xavierville Ave., Loyola Heights, QC, (02)952-1845, and Block1, Lot 81, Lourdes St, Teoville Subdivision BF homes Paranaque City. Call (02) 621-5073.


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