Asia travel

Temple trekking in South India: Haute Travel

Meenakshi Temple in Madurai

Meenakshi Temple in Madurai

India is a country full of many wonders, from the food to the culture, from the people to the wonderful scenery.  Similar to America, you can experience many season and terrains in India, from mountains to beaches, and many more.  I have been visiting India since I was young, and have had my fill of the urban cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai.  I now have made it a point to visit somewhere new every trip I take to India.  In my last few trips, I began my exploration of the South, starting in Kerala and making my way across and south, to some of the major Hindu temples in the country.  Even if you are not a Hindu or do not know about Hinduism, these are some brilliant and wonderful sites to see all over South India.

A few notes about temple trekking in the south – you may need to leave your camera/smartphone in the car for most of the interiors (or risk checking them with your shoes), and some have strict dress codes as well (long maxi skirts or saris for women, traditional dhotis for men).

Here is a review of some of the wonderful temples you can trek to and some simple itineraries to get you there.

Trek 1: Kerala and the southernmost tip of India

kovalam beach

kovalam beach

A few years ago I visited Kovalam, an Ayurvedic beach haven in South India.  After a few days soaking up the sun and exploring the backwaters, we headed south to check out some of the lovely temples in the area.

We started by driving all the way south, to the southernmost tip of India at Kanya Kumari.  This is a must do trek, as it is the point where 3 oceans meet – the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.  There is a sacred Hindu Temple for Devi Kanya Kumari, where you can worship and dip your feet in the place where the three oceans meet.

kanya kumari temple

kanya kumari temple

Heading even further south by boat, you can enter the unique island memorial for Sri Vivekandanda, a prominent figure in Hindu culture. This is not exactly a temple, but a lovely memorial to see on your southern trek.

vivekananda rock memorial

vivekananda rock memorial

Heading back north to the city of Trivendrum, you can visit the very popular Sri Padmanabhaswami Temple, a Vishu temple which has gained much fame for a massive (20+ billion dollar) treasure they discovered there.  In the days of occupation and war, kings hid their wealth away from invasion, and this time in a temple.  This temple gets packed with pilgrims, so pay an extra donation for a spot in the front (donation is called darshan).

Sri Padmanabhaswami Temple

Sri Padmanabhaswami Temple

This trek took us about 2 days to complete, with a day of rest in Kovalam.  Definitely a Haute Trek.

Trek 2 – Southwestern India and Rameshwaram

Our next trek took us to the southwestern part of India, starting off in Madurai – the temple city.  Madurai has hundreds of temples, large and small, with the largest being the Meenakshi Amman Temple, in the center of the city.  This temple is truly beautiful, and massive – covering around 45 acres.  The city was literally built around this temple.  You will be amazed by the large goprums (towers) on the various corners, where you can enter the temple walls.

goprum of the Meenakshi Temple

goprum of the Meenakshi Temple

They will let you take your cell phone into Meenakshi, but you can only photograph certain areas, such as the hall of 1000 pillars, when you buy a photo pass.

hall of 1000 pillars

hall of 1000 pillars

The next stop on our journey was south again, towards the sea.  We stopped in the small town of Uthirakosamangai, and visited the Shiva Temple there, famed for it’s emerald Shiva statue, which is covered in sandalwood paste most of the year.  No matter how small the town in South India, you can still find massive temple complexes, built with such technique and precision, giving homage to the old kingdoms and kings who built them, of the past.

goprums at Uthirakosamangai

goprums at Uthirakosamangai

Finally we headed further south, to Rameshwaram, a sacred spot for hindus, and one of the closest parts of India to Sri Lanka.  This is where the final epic battle of the Ramanyana began, giving homage to Shiva again. This is an amazing location to visit, on a key off the Indian mainland.  You arrive via a bridge over the water, with expansive and lovely views.  We even caught the express train heading south!

bridge to Rameshwaram

view of the temple at rameshwaram, from my car

view of the temple at rameshwaram, from my car

Outside the temple doesn’t look as grand as some others, but inside it contains the longest walkways of any temple in India, spanning nearly 600 feet!  No photos allowed, but it was an amazing site to see and visit.

Hope you enjoy these awesome temple treks in South India, and are inspired to take on some Haute Travel in India yourselves!

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A beautiful week in Bali; city by city: Haute Travel

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a lotus pond in Ubud

A week in Bali is not enough, but it is a great start to understanding and appreciating this lovely island paradise.  Bali is part of the Indonesian archipelago, situated near the equator.  The climate is tropical, lending to Bali’s designation as a great vacation and honeymoon spot.  But what we didn’t know is that this small island is not small at all, and is in fact a conglomerate of various cities all with their own unique flavor.  The currency is the IDR (Indonesian Rupiah) and is about 1 dollar to 12000 rupiah.  This can be a very affordable country to visit, minus the flight and accommodation costs of course.

We also chose to rent a private car with driver on most days (this is the best way to explore Bali), which was about $50 a day (we used Baliblisstours.com, but recommend looking into others if you need more of a tour guide).

This was our basic itinerary, but what I can tell you is I will have plenty to do when I go back someday!

Bali week-long itinerary:

  1. Drive through Denpasar to Ulawatu
  2. Exploring Kuta (where we stayed)
  3. Wandering through Ubud
  4. Surfing in Canggu
  5. Luxury lifestyle in Nusa Dua
  6. Home for a day in Kuta
  7. Saying goodbye to Bali

1.  Denpasar to Ulawatu

After a morning in Denpasar, we had lunch on the beach in Jimbaran (a must do if you are in the area, as you can sit right on the beach).  Our driver took us to a spot which was probably not the best, but the fish was fresh and we enjoyed our first taste of Balinese food (a mix of Thai/Chinese/Indian spices on chicken or fish, served with rice is the staple).  We then ventured south at the recommendation of a European living in Bali, who said – check out the temple at Ulawatu.  The Balinese are predominantly Hindu, so many of their temples are for the various Hindu gods.  We headed south after a drive through the bustling city of Denpasar, down to the south western tip of the island at Ulawatu.  There we explored the lovely temple on the cliffs and took a long walk on the cliff walk, before heading off to explore a local beach.

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Temple at Ulawatu, right on the base of the cliffs

After sweating it out on the cliffs. we headed to the secluded and beautiful Padang-Padang beach.  This beach was found through a narrow path in the rocks, and gave way to a peaceful beach with great views and beach surf if it strikes your fancy.

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Padang-Padang Beac

2.  Exploring Kuta

After a day of exploring, we headed back to the bustling Kuta (our home for the week) where we navigated our way through throngs of people to make it to dinner at Al Dente, a semi-Italian spot serving just about anything an Aussie fancies (why an Aussie, well Bali as I learned is a major vacation spot for Aussie’s looking to getaway, so nearly everything caters to them).

Kuta is a coastal town, noted for its nightlife, and was one of the busiest beach cities I have visited.  The positives about staying by Kuta are easy access to lots of food, great beach, lots of shopping and nightlife.  The disadvantages are similar, there are several non-Indonesian food options in Kuta, but it does remove you from the Bali experience to eat McDonald’s for lunch.  The beach is home to tons of hawkers, so you can’t sit in peace at all, though the beachfront is absolutely lovely. Speaking of hawkers, it is often difficult to walk down the street where people are constantly asking you to buy something.  The Kuta nightlife seems to attract a younger crowd, which could take away from some of the class you feel in other parts of Bali.  Still, home was home for us, so we enjoyed what peace we could at our hotel, and learned to drown out the sounds of the city. We had some awesome massages in Kuta ($4 – $10 per hour depending on where you go, we loved Soma Massage), and experienced some great local food as well (Rainbow Cafe and Fat Chow were some favorites).

3.  Wandering in Ubud

The next day we had a lovely drive through the central Bali rice paddy’s on our way to Ubud.

rice paddies of Bali

rice paddies of Bali

Ubud is is home to the more peaceful side of Bali, where you find many a yogi and plenty of rice paddies to explore. We started off with a visit to the Monkey Forest, where we encountered several of our ancestors, and explored this beautiful sanctuary in the city.  It was truly lovely, but I was sad to peer into an canal and see lots of plastic trash.  Unfortunately, though Bali is beautiful, even it is not immune to the destruction of man made trash.  I wish to go back some day and see this place a bit cleaned up, but still, I managed to enjoy it.  A few notes on the Monkey Forest – leave all your food behind unless you want monkeys all over you, and steer clear of wearing a full skirt as the monkeys tended to grab them.

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Monkey Forest in Ubud

We next made our way to Pura Saraswati, a gorgeous temple to the goddess Saraswati (Hindu faith), again right in the city.  It’s amazing to step off a busy corner and end up right in this lovely lotus garden facing a lovely temple.  We managed to sneak through the nearby hotel, but you may have to go through cafe lotus or Starbucks (yep) if you want to catch a glance of this serene spot.

pura saraswati

pura saraswati

After a morning of wandering through the city, we decided to take a detour to eat lunch in a local rice paddy.  This was my favorite meal in Bali, at Warang Padi Organik – a lovely restaurant a bit out of the city, serving Indonesian food in a tranquil rice paddy.  I could have spend all afternoon in this peaceful place, a must do if visiting Ubud.

lunch at padi organic

lunch at padi organic

After lunch, we continued to explore the very lovely Puri Lukisan museum in Ubud, and partook in some shopping.  I had hopes of attending a yoga class here (at the Yoga Barn, one of the most well known spots to do yoga overlooking rice paddies), however I missed the last class.  Another thing I wish I experienced in Ubud was an evening of Balinesian dance, but again was distracted by other pursuits.  When I am back in Bali, I will hope to stay in Ubud and explore this lovely city a bit more!

4.  Surfing in Canggu

Early the next morning we tried our hand at surfing in Canggu.  What I learned in Canggu is that I am definitely a first timer, and surfing is not as easy as it looks.  Our guide, not knowing we were 1st timers, took us to a reef break (where the water is deeper and the waves stronger) at Canggu.  Canggu is a favorite for surfers, and especially Russians (interesting).  After a quick breakfast and a lesson on the beach we ventured out. I wiped out a few times before catching one wave, though not realizing it.  My brother on the other hand had a much better time of it, as he caught a few waves and even rode one out to the shore.

Lesson learned about surfing, try a beach break on your first time, it will likely be a much more rewarding experience.

my brother catching a wave in Canggu

my brother catching a wave in Canggu

After our morning surf outing, we headed back to Kuta for some R&R and more massages (I tried to get as many as I could).

5.  Luxury Lifestyle in Nusa Dua

Our next outing was intended as a day of snorkeling in the clear water at Nusa Dua, however we caught up with some storms, so we ended up spending the day driving around and grabbing lunch on the beach.  Nusa Dua is the Cancun of Bali, loaded with huge luxury resorts, and designed to show the western version of Bali.  We had lunch at Bali Nusantara, which was highly rated on Trip Advisor.  This spot had an awesome beachfront location, and lovely setting, though was very much a well designed restaurant versus a local treasure.  Even our daily gelato stop was double the price here, which is pretty typical for resort living.  For those of you traveling to Nusa Dua only, while you have lovely beaches, try to get out an explore the rest of the Island, as you will have much more of a real Balinese experience.

the lovely Nusa Dua Beach

the lovely Nusa Dua Beach

Bali Nusantara Restauran

Bali Nusantara Restauran

6.  Home for a day in Kuta

We spent our last day in Bali at home base in Kuta, taking time to enjoy the pool at our hotel and the local area.  It was a relaxing day, filled with more massage, and we attempted to explore some nightlife, but found it pretty dead due to the low season.  It was the perfect way to end a week in Bali, and prepare for our next adventure.

Sunset at the pool - Sheraton Kuta Bali

Sunset at the pool – Sheraton Kuta Bali

Being a first-timer to Bali was great, but I am looking forward to more excursions in lovely country another day.  This basic itinerary helped me understand, only at the surface, a bit about this lovely country.  Bali is definitely a Haute Travel spot, and one worth booking a trip to very soon!

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Escape to Asia, the Itinerary: Haute Travel

Epic Pic of the Great Wall Snapped by my dad in the 1980's

Epic Pic of the Great Wall Snapped by my dad in the 1980’s

Up, up and away!  I’m off again, this time to explore some new spots in Asia, namely in China, Hong Kong, Bali and India, and to escape some of my winter blues.  While some of my trip may be moderately chilly, it will be nothing compared to the lovely midwest and her negative degree days.

Here is the itinerary for the journey, and I will be updating you as we go.

3 weeks in Asia

  • 2 days in Beijing (to see the Great Wall and Forbidden City)
  • 4 days in Kong Kong (to hang out, live like a local, and absorb the coolness of the city)
  • 5 days in Bali (to get zen, learn how to surf, and find peace or love – ahem Eat Pray Love style)
  • 5 days in South India (to visit some historical spots and make a pilgrimage)
  • 4 Days in Jaipur (to explore the land of the kings)

I am getting super excited, and simply cannot wait to see the Great Wall, party in Hong Kong, Surf in Bali, or explore India some more.  Would love to hear from your about tips and ideas for the trip, just email me or mention them in the comments!

Anyways, off to pack!  Asia here I come!