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Fab Asia Travel

    Fab Asia Travel

    The Story of the Taj Mahal

    The Greatest Love Story

    Location: Taj Mahal

    Once upon a time there was the greatest love story.  It happened a long time ago in a far-off beautiful land of precious gemstones, tigers, elephants and a Mughal King named Shah Jahan.

    Now if you are Shah Jahan you are the ruler of a great land in what we now call India.  If you are Shah Jahan you are the fifth King in a line of great rulers of the Mughal dynasty, with a spectacular palace fort in what is now called Agra.

    As ruler of this empire, you have the world on a platter, food and comforts at your disposal, as well as courtesans and as many wives as you might want.  You believe you have everything you need, until one day, as you are walking through the Meena Bazaar you spy a beautiful girl selling silks and glass beads.

    You are only 14 years old but you are smitten and you want this girl for your wife.  She is called Arjumand Banu and is a Persian Muslim Princess.  And she will be your wife, five years later when you come of age.

    You will name her Mamtaz Majal, which means “Jewel of the Palace” and you are madly in love.  She is your favorite wife and you lavish her with anything she can possibly desire.  You love her not only for her exquisite beauty but her intelligence, management skill and humor.  You love her often, and she bears you 14 children.

    But your world will come crashing down when Mamtaz Majal dies after giving birth to your 14th child.  On her death-bed you promise her you will never remarry and you will build a monument in her memory.

    You will mourn your beloved for two years and then undertake the most ambitious and remarkable construction project of its kind to date and you will spend the next 22 years building the grand Taj Mahal “Crown of the Palace”. The white marble mausoleum, still so stunning nearly 400 years later continues to bear witness to your great love as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

    In the mausoleum your one true love Mamtaz Mahal will lie, and you will join her many years later.  But only after spending the last few years of your life imprisoned in your own palace by your own son.  After spending more than 32 million rupees (one billion dollars) to build the Taj Mahal your son imprisons you when you begin construction on a similar mausoleum for your own tomb, just across the river where you can spend eternity next to your beloved wife.

    But your dream of another mausoleum will never come to fruition.  You will die, broken-hearted and be laid to rest next to your one true love inside the Taj Mahal.

    The greatest love story.  The story of the Taj Mahal.

     

    Fab Asia Travel

    Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

    Remembering the 2004 Tsunami

    Location: Sri Lanka

    Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

    Remembering the 2004Indian Ocean Tsunami

    Top someone’s former home. Bottom high water mark at the bar

    Last year on the 13th anniversary of the devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami we were in Phuket Thailand. It was difficult to find any sign of the disaster
    remaining in Thailand, where about 5000 people perished.

    Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

    Top afterthe Tsunami. Bottom today.

    But it’s still very much apparent here in Sri Lanka.  Here 50,000 people died on December 26, 2004 including 2000 who died here in the town where we are living when the train they were riding was swept away.

    Right here where our little Castaway Cottage now sits, a families home was destroyed. The concrete slab only remains, a memorial of sorts.  The family, our Airbnb hosts, survived and moved forward, in the resilient way the Sri Lanka people seem to.

    Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

    Top after the tsunami and bottom today

    Our tour guide we had on our five day tour was in Colombo on that day.  Luckily the waves did not affect Colombo on the West Coast of Sri Lanka.  Many more lives would have been lost in the largest city in the country.

    We visited a temple and the Monk told us how on that day the temple washed away.  Still today signs of rebuilding part of the school there.  Resilient.

    Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

    Left memorial to the train victims. Right a close up of artists rendition of disaster.

    There are subtle reminders often; a memorial to fifty lives lost in Yala National Park;  a high water mark at a beach bar in Hikkaduwa; empty buildings and hotels still not rebuilt; trees growing where families once thrived.

    Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

    For perspective, that’s me standing on the bridge.

    The most public memorials in this area are for the train victims.  Two memorials are built- one by the resilient Sri Lankan people with an artists version of the devastation on the train that day.  The other, a gift from the Japanese – a giant Buddha statue next to the train tracks where so many lost their lives.  This beautiful statue marks where the second wave hit.  The most devastating wave to strike – and to kill.

    Remembering the 2004 I Dian Ocean tsunami

    Countries affected by the tsunami.

    Day to day life goes on around these memorials, despite the fact everyone here was touched by this event in some way and will never be the same.  But these resilient people easily get my vote for the friendliest of any people we have met on our travels.  Kind, polite, happy, resilient.  Lucky.

    Fabulous Sri. Lanka

    Note – we leave Sri Lanka in a couple of days and will be heading next to India for a brief five day stop. More from India when we can.  Thanks for following.

     

    Fab Asia Travel

    When I Am 58 I Will Wear an Orange Kaftan

    Fashion Over Fifty with Fab Comfort

    Location: Sri Lanka

    So it’s my birthday.  Fifty-Eight.  Fabulous Fifty- Eight.  Spending this one in fabulous Sri Lanka, where Fab style has a different meaning.

    Fashion over fifty with fab comfort

    My new Kaftan

    And so I decided it was time.  I may look like a walking circus tent – or maybe not.  But I have found in my travels and in My Fab Fifties Life,

    Batik going on the fabric

    comfort trumps fashion every time.  Especially when it’s 200% humidity.

    I now own a Kaftan.  And not just any Kaftan – I had one made to my specification.  The fabric created, hand painted and then dyed. I wanted orange.  Bright colors look best with my Fabulous Grey Goddess hair.

    Coming out of the dye vat

    I wanted long to the ground and to cover my shoulders.  You see in so many countries we travel to, women must cover; legs, shoulders, midriff.  This will be an easy thing to throw on for visiting mosques and temples, historic sites or walking around town or to a restaurant. Or just going to the beach to watch the sunset. It fits this life – this Fab Fifties Life.

    Fashion over fifty with fab comfort

    Hello 58!

    I love that I met the women who were responsible for making the batik and dyeing the fabric.  I love that I met the man who sewed it.  He was so darn sweet I wanted to buy everything in his shop. In fact, I bought another dress too.  Not a kaftan, but also with sleeves and covering my knees.

    And best of all, guess what?  These made to my specifications, hand batiked and dyed dresses cost me $20 each.  Fabulous.

    Happy Birthday to me.  It’s gonna be another amazing year.

    Fab Asia Travel

    Top Six Delicious Things to Eat for Breakfast in Sri Lanka

    Location: Sri Lanka

    Step away from the bacon and eggs.  Give a rest to the omelette and toast.  Wondering what to eat for breakfast in Sri Lanka? When in Sri Lanka eat like the locals do with these six delicious Sri Lankan breakfast specialities.

    1. Hoppers – I could eat these all day, and actually you can eat them for more than breakfast.  There are two kinds of hoppers (see below for the second), but my favorite is the “crepe” like hopper.  Made with a batter in a bowl shaped griddle, the hopper holds the bowl shape to cradle a fried egg inside.

      Hopper with egg on the right and curry and dhal on the left

      Absolutely delicious and a perfect little boat for your egg. These hoppers can also be served at breakfast (or later in the day) filled with curry and dhal. So good.

    2. String Hoppers – made from thin noodles and formed into little nests, the string hopper is delicious with yellow lentil dhal, so healthy

      Lots of goodies on this plate including egg hopper, string hopper and Pol Sambol

      and good for you.  Experienced eaters of string hopper can put the dhal inside and eat it almost like a taco. This takes some practice, so I enjoyed my string hopper with dhal on top and eaten with knife and fork.

    3. Pol Roti – You’ll find Roti everywhere and at any meal, but at breakfast it is usually coconut Roti.  Roti is a delicious unleavened flatbread found in many countries including India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Maldives, Bangladesh and Malaysia.  Made

      Pol Roti with butter and katta sambol

      with coarse ground flour, coconut, water and salt and grilled and served warm.  We have eaten it spread with butter as well as spread with Katta Sambol.  I’m in love with Katta Sambol.  Usually I don’t like spicy but this delicious chili paste is perfect with Roti and

      Katta Sambol

      other dishes and has just the right amount of heat.

    4. Pol Sambol – another spicy concoction served at many meals but we have enjoyed it often at breakfast.  Used as a condiment (like Katta

      Coconut used for Pol Roti

      Sambol), Pol Sambol is  grated coconut, lots of garlic, lots of chili powder, red onion and lime juice.  Wow.

    5. Milk Rice – the first time I ordered this I was expecting something like a porridge.  But no.  Milk rice arrives in a small block or triangle and is sticky and dense like sushi rice.  Milk Rice, also called Kiribath, tastes similar to a rice pudding.  We have eaten it sweetened

      Milk Rice and Katta Sambol

      with coconut milk or savory with onion mixed in served with Katta Sambal.

    6. Toast Sandwich – this is the closest thing to a western breakfast.  A cooked egg placed inside white bread, spread with an onion garlic mixture then cooked on a sandwich press.  It’s a cross between french toast and omelette.  Good and easy finger food.

    There you have it.  Enjoy the local cuisine when you travel.  You discover so much about a place through its food.  Sri Lanka is delicious.

     

    Fab Asia Travel

    For All the Tea in Sri Lanka – Where Did Your Cup of Tea Begin?

    Fab Asia Travel – The Island Of Sri Lanka

    Location: Sri Lanka

    Sri Lanka. The name means “Glittering Island” or “Shining Island”. It’s a perfect description for this beautiful spot in the blue Indian Ocean just off the coast of India,  home to the famous Sri Lankan tea known as Ceylon.

    Contoured Tea fields in Newara Eliya

    I love it here. The beaches are clean. The water is warm. The food is interesting and the history – well it’s quite remarkable.

    Like many Asian and African nations we have visited, Sri Lanka is no stranger to bloodshed, violent colonization and civil war;

    • The Portuguese arrived in the early 1600’s
    • The Dutch colonized and enslaved natives in the late 1600’s
    • The British ousted the Dutch, killed the royal family and everyone associated with them, and enslaved more people while launching the tea industry in the late 1800’s.  During this period the island was known as Ceylon.
    • Independence from Britain came in 1947 and the country changed its name to the Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka.
    • A civil war raged between the majority Buddhist Sinhalese and the Indian Hindu Tamil minority between 1983 and 2009 during which time the Tamils tried to create an independent state in the North and East of the island.

      Tea grows on a low bush

    All of this for power and control. It’s a recurring theme everywhere we travel, resulting in many lives lost.

    Today though, Sri Lanka seems stable. The tea industry is booming and results in 2% of the gross domestic product (tourism is also booming).

    Ceylon Tea (also known as black tea and English Breakfast Tea) is growing in popularity worldwide. Green Tea, now popular for its health benefits, is also growing in popularity.  Both come from the same plant – the Ceylon Tea plant from the Camellia Sininses family.  The differences between Black and Green Tea, as well as the more expensive White or Silver Tea is the parts of the plant used and how it is processed.

    Tea leaf – only the new supple leaves are used

    We took a private tour of the Glenloch Tea Plantation and Factory in the mountainous Nuwara Eliya area of Sri Lanka on our six-day tour with Sri Lanka Brothers Tours. Our time at Glenloch was really fascinating.  I learned so much;

    • Before the British planted tea they tried coffee but the crop was wiped out by the coffee leaf disease, also known as coffee blight.  The first tea-plant arrived in Ceylon in 1842 but it wasn’t until 1867 that Englishman James Taylor began the first tea plantation.
    • Sri Lanka’s climate and soil are perfect for tea growing.  Three kinds of regions now grow tea – low, mid and upper.  Each region produces a different product from the same plant due to the different growing conditions and soil.
    • Nearly all of Sri Lanka’s tea becomes an export. Local people are left with “tea dust”, literally the left overs from the floor and machinery sold locally.
    • The Sri Lanka Tea Board founded in 1976 runs a tight ship with inspections and tastings

      “Withering” is done in this drying troughs

      of all tea to preserve the highest quality product and the reputation of the industry.

    • Tea leaf picking in Sri Lanka is ALL done by hand (unlike most other countries) and done by women.  Many women spend their entire lives in the tea plantations.  Their daughters and granddaughters follow in their footsteps.  It’s a back-breaking and arduous process.  Only the new growth and the first two leaves get harvested.  Each plant requires picking every seven days.
    • Making the picking even more difficult is the steep slope the plants grow on, often in terraced plantations that follow the natural contour of the mountains.

    Me with our guide learning the difficult job of picking

    Glenloch is one of the few factories that has a special permit to allow tours.  The Sri Lankan Tea Board is fastidious about cleanliness and health standards, so only a few factories are open to visitors.

    Glenloch has been in operation since the 1800’s and is now the fourth largest tea factory in the

    Conveyor built with black tea

    world.  One of the founders of Glenloch was Sir Thomas Lipton.  During our tour some of the original machinery was on display. Much of it was man or horse powered back in the day.  Today’s process uses automated technology but still employs many people. In fact over a million  Sri Lankans are directly or indirectly employed with the tea industry.

    Walking into the factory you are surrounded by the sweet and earthy smell of tea.  It is a lovely aroma and permeates the factory.  Our lovely Sari robbed guide took us through the factory and explained the steps to turn leaves to tea;

    • The women pickers bring their days harvest to the muster shed for weighing. They are expected to pick 15 -20kg a day.
    • Immediately the leaves are spread on large troughs in a process known as withering where circulated air from below dries the leaves.  This takes about 24 hours.
    • The leaves are then sent to the roller.  This machine, now automated but formerly horsepowered, mashes the leaves into a black pulp. This process releases the enzymes in the tea.
    • Here the green tea follows a separate process of steaming instead of rolling.  This process halts the oxidation and keeps the green color.

      Ready for auction

    • The black tea is then sent to a fermentation area where the temperature and humidity level dictates how long the fermenting process takes, anywhere from 20 minutes to five hours.
    • Next the tea proceeds to a dryer to stop further fermentation before going through a grading process for size.  Larger tea particles are more highly prized.
    • The tea is then put on a conveyor belt and packed in to large paper sacks  (in olden times it was a very heavy wooden tea chests) and shipped to the auction house and brokering companies for shipment around the world.

    Four kinds of tea

    Following our tour we had a tea tasting where we enjoyed the darkest black tea, a medium black tea, green tea and the special white or silver tea.  This last tea is very expensive, made essentially by using only the buds of the plant, dried in the sun but not steamed or rolled or fermented.  This tea has a unique and light and nutty flavor.

    For me however, my favorite was the black tea, but during this tasting I found I also enjoyed the green tea.  I’m not usually a fan of green tea, but maybe I need to drink more Sri Lankan Green Tea – it was really smooth and delicious.

    Women working in the tea plantation

    So how about the next time you make yourself a cup of tea (black, green or white), take a moment to think about where it came from.  The remarkable journey from high in the mountains of Sri Lanka to your tea-cup.  And give a little prayer up for the women who picks the leaves, day in and day out, to make your lovely cup possible.

    Sri Lanka – Shining Island.  Fabulous.

    Want to learn more about tea around the world?  Read our blog about tea in China here.

     

    Fab Asia Travel

    When the Dog Bites

    Location: Thailand

    Note – Hi Everyone!  We are still on a blog sabbatical as we work on some upgrades and cleanup of My Fab Fifties Life.  In the meantime, here is a repost of a blog I posted a year ago today from Thailand.  That was a memorable day to be sure! We will be back with some fun, new, fresh blogs real soon!  Happy New Year!

     

    Well as I’ve said before, Mama said there will be days like this.

    We had an excellent Christmas Day here on the island of Samui, Thailand.  Very relaxing and lovely.

    Today, December 26th, we vowed to get up and run, since we had taken the last five days off from running.  We headed down the hill to a flat area near the beach.  I told Arne I wanted him to stay with me until we passed a house where three dogs had growled at us the other day.

    So as we walked down the hill, we passed another house with three dogs, one very nasty and viscous  looking, but all behind a tall secure fence.

    About 20 yards past the house, suddenly we heard a noise and turned to see all three dogs flying down the hill, the vicious one in the lead teeth barred.  Someone had opened the gate and released them and immediately they came after us. In clear attack mode.

    At the hospital emergency room for the first in a series of shots

    The mean one took a bite. Leaving a broken wound on my husbands thigh.

    The dogs retreated and we stood there in shock and shaken.  My husband was not gravely injured, but the only way back to our apartment was to walk past that house again.

    We both got a big stick.

    As we approached the house the three dogs were back behind the gate.  We hollered and yelled trying to get someone’s attention but no one came.  We walked back to our apartment and immediately went to find the proprietors of our Airbnb.

    Of course they were horrified. They told us there had been some problems with these dogs in the past.  They walked with us down to speak to the owners.  The conversation, which was in Thai, seemed to lean towards the fact that we shouldn’t worry because they had vaccination records for the dog.

    That didn’t cut it for me.

    I asked for an explanation as to why they let the dog out right as we walked by? The answer was the dogs needed to poo.

    That didn’t cut it for me.

    They offered to pay for the doctor.  Duh.

    Our Airbnb owner told us where to go for the doctor so we headed out.  After three tries we ended up at the Koh Samui hospital emergency room where Arne was treated by beginning a series of both rabies and tetanus shots that will take place several times over the next month.  At a total cost to us of around $150.  I expect the dog owner to reimburse us.  Time will tell.

    Additionally our Airbnb owner wants to go with us to the Tourism Police to help us file a report. This will start a process against the dog and the owner.

    We will go there tomorrow.

    Here is my philosophy on this – Dogs shouldn’t bite. Plain and simple. I don’t care what country it is. I am as much of a dog lover as the next guy, but owners need to be responsible to train and monitor their animals.  And there are no second chances.

    Here in Thailand elephants and monkeys are regularly trained and used for both work and entertainment.  I know many people feel strongly against such uses of animals. You won’t see me riding an elephant for tourism purposes, but  I am also not going to condemn something that is a centuries old practice in a country where I am only a visitor. That doesn’t mean I will participate or support the practice.

    But when it comes to dogs that bite, in a neighborhood with pedestrians, children, scooters, cyclist – I draw the line.  Even as a visitor from another country. There is no room for error and no second chances. This dog must to go.

    Fab Asia Travel

    Aboard the Mekong Sun

    A spectacular end to Chapter Five

    Location: Laos

    Spending a week on a river cruise really wasn’t within our budget. But we took a gamble that we wouldn’t regret it and signed up to join the only river cruise out of Luang Prabang, Laos that we could find.

    The Mekong Sun is run by a German company but it never occurred to us we would be the only non- German speakers on board. Surprise!  But much of

    The Mekong Sun

    the Lao crew and most of the German/Swiss guests as well as our tour guide were multi-lingual and so we always were in the loop. And it actually made it

    In Luang Prabang

    kind of fun!

    What a great week we had and what a perfect way to say farewell to Southeast Asia.  We are in love with Laos and the gracious and shy people, the gorgeous and sunny scenery and the mighty Mekong.

    We spent our first night in Laos in the absolutely

    Maison Dalabua

    beautiful Maison Dalabua hotel. We walked around small colonial Luang Prabang and had a delicious Lao meal at Manda de Laos, perched on a historic lily pond.  Early the next morning we got up to participate in the alms-giving for the local Buddhist monks. This daily ritual provides the monks of several local monasteries their daily meal. The

    The alms ritual

    monks walk silently through the street while the faithful (and tourists) hand out rice and other foods. It was a special experience.

    The next day we boarded the Mekong Sun, a beautiful wooden vessel with 14 rooms. It was a real nice size and our room was very comfortable.  Because we were the only non-German speakers they hired a special English-speaking guide. So on this first day all of the guests went off

    Young Hmong girl escorts us back to the Mekong Sun waiting on the sandbar

    on a guided tour of Luang Prabang with the cruise director – except Arne and I.  We went off on a personal tour, just the two of us with our own guide.

    Throughout the rest of the week we all stayed together and there really was no problem with the language.

    96 year old Hmong woman

    We enjoyed getting to know other guests, especially during meal time when everyone laughed and talked and enjoyed the delicious food.  The food was both abundant and amazing!

    Highlights of the week included a tour to see silk

    Colorful silk woven scarves

    weaving and paper making – traditions the Lao have endeavored in for centuries.  We also enjoyed a very interesting museum located in the former palace where the last Lao king reigned (under the watchful eye of French occupiers) until the 1950’s.

    One of the most special things we did was visit a

    School children In Hmong village

    Hmong village along the Mekong.  The Mekong Sun company has adopted this village and on each cruise they collect donations and then provide the village school with needed supplies.  During our visit we presented them with two new chalk boards and lots of books, pens and paper.  The people were so sweet and friendly.

    That Kung See waterfall

    We visited the absolutely gorgeous That Kung See waterfall, where limestone in the water reflects with the sun giving the water a surreal turquoise color.  I swam in the

    Swimming in the falls

    brisk water and it was just like the blue lagoon.

    We toured  an elephant camp where we enjoyed

    Elephant camp

    feeding the elephants.  Some of the guests took a ride on the beautiful beasts, but this is a practice we personally don’t agree with so we just watched. I really love

    Learning how the Hmong women carry the load

    these amazing intelligent creatures.  We then visited the cave of 1000 Buddha’s before hiking through the jungle and learning a great deal about the flora.

    Each night the Mekong Sun pulled into a protected area on the river and tied up for the night  before

    Our spirit strings

    Our giant bonfire

    serving the amazing sit down final meal of the day.  On one evening we left the boat and went into a small village where the local shaman blessed us each in a ritual that involves tieing string around our wrists and chanting over us.  I felt the magic.

    Preparing to launch our lucky lantern

    That evening when we returned to the boat the crew had set up a BBQ on the sand and had a huge bonfire.  We ate and sang and danced and then lit paper lanterns for good luck and watched them sail off into the upper atmosphere.  Perfect night.

    On our final night we were treated to a Laotian

    Lao performance onboard

    dance performance on board the boat followed by a delicious farewell dinner.  The next morning we said farewell to all our new friends, to the amazing Mekong River and to Laos – our new favorite

    Sunset view from our onboard cabin

    destination.

    We have no regrets about going over budget for this cruise.  It was a great way to end our time in Southeast Asia . We will return.

    But until we do – it’s farewell to Chapter Five – the longest chapter yet of The Grand Adventure.

    Chapter Six here we come!

    New Zealand here we come!