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Inimitable and enigmatic, India awaits

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By Anita L. Sherman

At one point in my travels, I found myself sitting on the patio of a small hotel overlooking pristine white beaches taking an afternoon rest. I was in South Asia. Among those lounging about was Sir Arthur C. Clarke, notable for his science fiction blockbuster 2001: A Space Odyssey. I later learned that he relished this part of the world and came as often as he could. As we comfortably chatted, a praying mantis landed on my knee. As I was about to brush it off, he told me that I was very lucky that it had chosen me to visit. So, I let it sit there awhile although I am not a fan of insects – particularly rather large iridescent green ones with triangular heads. But, I took a lesson from Clarke and the culture around me and treated it with respect.

In India, guests reach a near god-like status and are very welcomed. The country is large and divided into nearly 30 states with as many languages.  India is complicated and affects people in different ways. While it may be teeming with humanity, its history, mystique and charm are undeniable. There’s lots to love.

I’m a romantic so I opt for the ‘love it’ option. What’s not to love about the Taj Mahal? Aside from the fact that it is constructed with white marble, it is architecturally a magnificent structure combining Indian, Persian and Islamic styles of architecture. The architect, Ahmed Lahauri, had a vision of paradise in his pristine structure that took more than 20 years to build. And it is reported that it took more than 20,000 hands to create, from laborers and stonecutters to painters, embroidery artists and calligraphers to name just a few.

The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s most symmetrical structures. Its four sides are perfectly identical. Yet, it has its moods, like a woman, like a lover and viewed at different times of the day, you’ll see its creamy white turn to a pinkish hue. With its marble and tile, the Taj Mahal has a tremendously reflective character. It’s a particular attraction with a full moon. Sunrise is spectacular.

Speaking of symmetry, I’m reminded of one of my favorite poems by William Blake.

Tiger. Tiger. Burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye.

Could frame they fearful symmetry?

Among the world’s cats, while fearsome, the elegant and sleek beauty of the Bengal tiger is unrivaled. Sadly, most of the world’s large species of cats are on the endangered list. So, a visit to Ranthambhore National Park gives hope, learning about the Indian government’s Project Tiger, a conservation program launched in 1973 during the administration of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Its mission is to sustain a viable population of Bengal tigers in their natural habitats. The government has set up a Tiger Protection Force to not only combat poachers but fund relocation efforts to minimize human-tiger conflicts. If you’re an animal fan like myself, you’ll enjoy seeing a host of animal and bird life from crocodiles to sloth bears and black storks to serpent eagles – bring your camera – suspect you’ll see a tiger or two as well.

If ever there was a movie that would entice you to India, in my book, it’s got to be The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with a cast of characters that, in many ways, captures much of the heart and soul that is India – romantic, chaotic, well meaning, funny, colorful, ritualistic and honorable. The movie is set in Jaipur – known as The Pink City – and when you see a couple of soon-to-be star-crossed lovers from the film scootering through the narrow streets of pink-colored buildings, you’ll know why it’s called that – most of the structures are a shade of pink.

Crazy for color? Dhulandi (Holi), known as the “festival of colors” is a Hindu festival celebrating the triumph of good over evil and the changing of the seasons. Out bad winter and welcome spring! It’s held in The Pink City. Dancing and parading with a troupe of dhol players – traditional wooden drum played in South Asia – participants will splash each other with water and powdered colors of red, yellow, blue and green. It’s a vibrant burst of living color to be sure as family and friends come together to laugh, dance and feast. Residents of the city put in a lot of effort and heart into this unique festival not to be missed if you are vising  Jaipur during this time. Truly a memorable experience.

holi festival colorsWhile the Taj Mahal is no doubt at the top of the list when it comes to regal structures, there is no shortage of forts, mosques, palaces and temples to dazzle and delight. Amber Fort overlooks the Maota Lake. A network of palaces and courtyards winds its way up a hill.

Magical and mysterious, India is full of surprises. One such place worth a visit is the town of Fatehpur Sikri, a complex of intricate structures made of red stone clay, this town is in the Agra District of Uttar Pradesh. It was built in 1571 by Emperor Akbar, partially abandoned when he left for a campaign in Punjab and then completely abandoned in 1610. Standing more than 175 feet high and massive in structure and design, the Buland Darwaza, marks its entrance. Let your imagination do some spinning. Why would you totally leave such a place?

When you visit Delhi, be sure to see the Lotus Temple, so named because of its flowerlike shape. It is a Bahá’í House of Worship open to all regardless of religious affiliation. Aside from its architect Furiburz Sabha winning many awards, it is surrounded by lush and alluring gardens, well worth a look see.  Modern in design, while in stark contrast to many of the ancient structures, it speaks to a side of India today that is forward thinking yet at the same time honoring the rich legacy of this country’s rich past.

While small in stature, Mahatma Gandhi was larger than life. An Indian activist and leader of the Indian independence movement against British rule, he led his cause using nonviolent acts of civil disobedience. Not only did he lead India to independence, he inspired worldwide movements for civil rights and freedoms around the world. You can learn more about his life at the Mahatma Gandhi Museum in New Delhi.

Mixed in with so much to see, there’s lots to hear, smell, taste and touch as India is alive with exotic foods, colorful markets and bazaars and the teeming life of the streets.

Oh, and you can be lucky enough to visit without a praying mantis landing on your knee.

Good things come in small packages. Traveling in a smaller group insures that you will have a more intimate experience and the flexibility and freedom to explore. Biotrek Adventure Travels offers just such a package for the discriminating vagabond.

Visit www.biotrekadventuretravels.com or call 540-349-0040

Anita Sherman is the community editor for the Fauquier Times, a freelance writer and a sometimes-itinerant traveler. You may reach her at anitajustwrite@gmail.com

Mesmerizing Landscapes Await in the land of the long white cloud

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By Anita L. Sherman

I’ve always felt that knowing a few quirky facts about the place you are going or have been too adds to your travel experience conversations. After all, let’s face it, most of us are envious when we know someone that has booked a trip, particularly to places deemed exotic. No matter what shade of green you don for your envy attire, it won’t match the iridescent glimmer of New Zealand’s landscapes. You might as well add this charming country to your bucket list and throw your green ensemble away. You won’t need it. You’ll be living it.

But, I digress. I was distracted thinking about the overpowering beauty of New Zealand. About a third of the country is comprised of protected national parks. What I meant to share was my taste for kiwi fruit, Punakaiki, Paparoa National Parkgranted a subtler shade of green but nonetheless delightful. Years ago, when I was in Australia, my hosts introduced me to pavlova, a meringue-like dessert, in this case, layered with finely sliced kiwi on top. I’ve always been a fan of this fruit, but it is not native to New Zealand as many think it is. It is named after New Zealand’s kiwi bird, but its origins hail from China. You’ll find this luscious, succulently sweet fruit in New Zealand’s fusion cuisine.

I’m also a huge flick fan. I cherish a good film. And I loved Lord of the Rings. Suspect you know where I’m going with this. All but one scene of the Lord of the Rings films was shot in New Zealand. The marketing side of me says that you’ve basically got a 12-hour long infomercial for the country’s landscapes, i.e. Middle Earth.

Officially home to the Lord of Rings movies, New Zealand broadcast the first weather report in Elvish language in 2012.

When you arrive in Auckland, don’t be alarmed by the number of volcanic cones. There are 50 of them, but most are extinct. You can see Mount Rangitoto from the harbor. It’s the most prominent.

White cNew Zealand snow-capped mountainsapped mountaintops. Lots of them. When you travel with Sunny Reynolds of Biotrek Adventure Travels to New Zealand, Fox Glacier is a stopping place. New Zealand is the third closest country to Antarctica, only after Chile and Argentina.

I grew up in Portland, Oregon. Really like living in a postcard with the views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier as a backdrop. An hour gets you to the mountains and an hour west gets you to the Pacific Ocean. Sand in my toes, salty wind in my hair, screeching seagulls and the ocean with its ever-changing moods. These are the ingredients for my nirvana, so yet another notch for New Zealand. No matter where you are in this country, you’ll never be more than 80 miles from the seaside. My kind of big water connection. New Zealand may look like a small country on the map but it has the 9th longest coastline in the world, with a length of 9,400 miles.

While I doubt that you would want to pay the extra baggage fee to bring your golf clubs and your travel itinerary may not include an 18-hole detour, there are more than 400 golf courses, more per capita than anywhere else in the world.

What’s that musical, ‘on a clear day you can see forever.’ Sacred to the local Maori, New Zealand’s Blue Lake is the clearest lake in the world with visibility up to 80 meters deep. That’s roughly 262 feet.

I’m also an advocate for taking big leaps…not like jumping out of a plane without a parachute…not a death wish…but calculated risks are fine. Like risks that entrepreneurs take on a regular basis. One such enterprising New Zealand fellow is Alan John, “A.J.” Hackett who spent a brief time in jail in 1987 for a jump off the Eiffel Tower. But he sprang back and inSkyline Queenstown, New Zealand 1988 created a site on the Kawarau George Suspension Bridge in Queenstown noted as the world’s first commercial public bungy. He is also given credit for launching New Zealand’s adventure tourism industry. In 2017, as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours, he was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to adventure tourism. Way to go A.J.

Oh, to be inspired. Hackett has a list of daring jumps to his credit. His idea for “bungee” came from cultural jumps performed in Vanuatu where their idea of safety is tree vines tied to their feet. I’ve done the walk between trees deal hanging on to a rope rail but jumping from a bridge with springy cords. Not sure.

What I am sure about is the allure of New Zealand destinations, places like Waiheke Island, Waitomo Caves, Rotorua, Abel Tasman National Park, Punakaiki, Dart River Wilderness Safari, and Milford. Really, there are no bad itineraries. The range of scenery is breathtaking whether you are walking in a rain forest or hiking a mountain or visiting a glacier or beach combing.

The Maori’s name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, ‘land of the long white cloud.’

I’m an adventure advocate. I like going places, seeing new things, taking the road less traveled, all that high energy, high enthusiasm stuff, the stuff of stories. The stuff you write about and share. And travel trivia, I like that too.

See you in New Zealand!

Good things come in small packages. Traveling in a smaller group insures that you will have a more intimate experience and the flexibility and freedom to explore. Biotrek Adventure Travels offers just such a package for the discriminating vagabond. Visit www.biotrekadventuretravels.com or contact 540-349-0040

Anita Sherman is the community editor for the Fauquier Times, a weekly columnist for the Culpeper Star Exponent, a freelance writer and a sometimes-itinerant traveler. You may reach her at anitajustwrite@gmail.com



Morocco On My Mind

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By Anita L. Sherman

I’m a writer and keeper of journals. When I went with Sunny Reynolds with Biotrek Adventure Travels to the Galapagos Islands a friend gifted me a small, leather bound book for notetaking and jotting down impressions. I can look back, read a few lines and remember that particular magic moment.

Those once in a lifetime moments uniquely offered when you make that decision to go on an adventure. How you experience those unforgettable moments matters. What you are seeing, smelling, hearing and tasting has much to do with where you are and how you got there.

Speaking of unforgettable moments, let’s talk about Morocco, a destination planned for October of this year. I was chatting with a good friend of mine recently and mentioned Morocco. His eyes lit up and he said, “wow, I can think of a lot of movies made in Morocco.”

Of course, Humphrey Bogart’s portrayal of Rick Blaine immediately came to mind in Casablanca, but that filming never left Warner Brothers Studio except for some shooting at Van Nuys Airport. However, having dinner at Rick’s Cafe is definitely worth the memories. The restaurant and piano bar are designed with architectural and decorative details reminiscent of the film – watch for shadows cast on the white walls from the light of luminous brass fixtures. The food is excellent and, of course, there is a pianist on hand to add some music as time goes by in Casablanca.

There are, however, dozens of films that were produced in this North African denizen of medinas and souks.

Morocco has spectacular year-round weather. The sun shines just about all of the time. It has a range of landscapes from its fantastic deserts, many with massive fortifications, to its labyrinth-like and beautiful cities to its coastal towns. Filmmakers have been drawn to Morocco and Morocco, in turn, has been very hospitable to them, making it a good match. With Morocco as a backdrop, this country continues to be a dream destination favorite for mystery and adventure aficionados as well as romantics.

I know that some of my earliest images of the beauty of this land came from watching Peter O’Toole, clad in flowing white robes, with his dazzling blue eyes, looking out over oceans of pristine desert in Lawrence of Arabia filmed in 1962.

Author’s impressions of Morocco can be found in works like Marrakech the Red City, which contains George Orwell’s impressions of Marrakech.

Credited for being the first travel guide of Morocco, is In Morocco, written by American novelist Edith Wharton in 1920. Her work contains vivid encounters with the wild Berber tribesmen in the Medina of Marrakech and in the houses of the gentry with their restricted role for women. She also talks about the harems of Rabat and Fez.

A Year in Morocco by Peter Mayne will give you a glimpse into life in Marrakech and is useful for understanding some of the foibles, customs and pitfalls of setting up a home there.

American novelist Paul Bowles loved Tangiers. He spent 52 years living there and he wrote about the city he cherished in Travels: Collected Writings. His novels and short stories include Morocco often and he recorded Berber Tribal music which is now preserved in the US Library of Congress.

Oh, I mentioned Peter O’Toole’s blue eyes and white robes for a reason. You’ll see a lot of blue and white in Morocco in terms of a color theme.

And shades of blue. Shut off from the world for nearly 500 years, Chefchaouen is one of Morocco’s best kept secrets – it’s an all blue city and now open to visitors. Talk about magical charm and mystery, this hilly Moroccan outpost will grab at your heartstrings. Where’s my journal.

There are a number of theories as to why these buildings are bedecked in blue whether to mirror the surrounding sea, as a color of optimism and happiness, tranquility or perhaps deeper religious or cultural meanings. You’ll see men garbed in blue in the desert as well and blue fabrics and blue prayer mats.

Whatever the reason, Chefchaouen is dazzling and worth the several hour jaunt from Fes to get there.

Oh, those handsome men wrapped in blue in the desert are often with one-humped Arabian camels called dromedaries. They will be your cruise ship of choice when it comes to navigating the seas of the Sahara Desert and sand dunes of Erg Chebbi.

Sunny tells me that her favorite spot in Morocco is Essaouira. This medina is walkable. It’s also blue and white and has an active fishing port. Oh, and that 50s movie Othello was shot there, a fan favorite for Orson Wells.

Also, walkable but perhaps more challenging is the largest medina in the world, the old capital of Morocco, Fez. With more than 9,500 narrow streets, it is possible to lose your way. I didn’t say getting lost, because winding your way through this labyrinth is a travel adventure. One piece of advice is that you might want to keep your sunglasses on as you shop – merchants may spot you looking and assume you’re ready to haggle. No set price tags in the souks of Morocco’s medinas.

Another celebrity that has put Morocco on the map is fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. Featured in the 1997 Chelsea Flower Show in London, the Majorelle Gardens, that he formerly owned, has become another ‘go to’ stop in Morocco. The buildings, of course, are cobalt blue but splash that canvas with bright orange nasturtiums, pink geraniums and yellow lemons. More than 15 different birds have made the Majorelle Gardens their home. They enjoy flitting from bamboo groves and date palms to lily covered pools.

So, your pre-travel diet should consist of watching a few flicks filmed in Morocco to get a sense of flavor, spend some time reading what others have already written about Morocco and finding a friend in a journal.

It’s also important to choose the right travel guide, someone who has walked where you will walk, seen what you will see and share what she has learned. Unless you have unlimited time, your resources are best devoted to an expert who has paved the way for your journal of unforgettable moments.

See you in Morocco!

Good things come in small packages. Traveling in a smaller group insures that you will have a more intimate experience and the flexibility and freedom to explore. Biotrek Adventure Travels offers just such a package for the discriminating vagabond. Visit www.biotrekadventuretravels.com or contact 540-349-0040

Anita Sherman is the community editor for the Fauquier Times, a weekly columnist for the Culpeper Star Exponent, a freelance writer and a sometimes-itinerant traveler. You may reach her at anitajustwrite@gmail.com

A Perfect Safari

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Tall giraffe eating We had a great guide, itinerary, accommodations, and we had luck, all coming together to create the perfect safari. We saw lions, but not just lions.We saw lions in trees. We drove right under the famous tree-climbing lions of Lake Manyara National Park. We saw leopards. Once again, we were lucky. The leopard had cubs! We saw a cheetah with a kill, had elephants walk right past our vehicle, and watched a massive herd of wildebeest throw themselves from the riverbank and forge the river. We waited in the land cruiser, all of us buzzing with anticipation, as we watched lioness circling a buck she had already injured. We all knew the ending to this story but that changed nothing. The power and patience of the lioness was beautifully matched by the regal stubbornness of the buck. We moved on, aware that we would be passing by this way later that day. When we returned, the two were still locked in this dance neither willing to give in to the other. We were patient, we were in the right place, and we got lucky. All of this set in the breathtaking African Savanna. While on our Safari I learned many new bits of information on these many different varieties of gazelles, antelope, and birds, elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, as well as the gorgeous environment in which they live. I have condensed our two-week Safari into the best photos and the most interesting facts!

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The Red-footed & Blue-footed Boobies are a crowd favorite.

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After 38 tours to the Galapagos, I can confirm that the Galapagos Boobies are an inspiration for our nature lovers and photographers. The Nazca, Red-footed and Blue-footed Boobies are conspicuous for their bright colors and size respectively. We get more questions about this bird than any other on the archipelago. Most of these are in regards to the brightly colored feet.

Boobies have both amazing and practical feet, which get their color from carotenoid pigments. Blue and Red-footed boobies collect these carotenoids through their diet. These two species of boobies store concentrated pigment in their feet. The brighter the feet the healthier the bird.

These entertaining birds not only stand out visually but literally march to the beat of their own drum, dancing to find mates. They do things their own way, incubating eggs by covering them with their feet! It takes from 42 to 55 days to hatch the eggs.  Older chicks feathers can be so fluffy they often appear larger than their parents. These birds are both beautiful and charming; they are a memorable part of our tour.

First Time to India

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We know it can be intimidating to make plans when traveling to another country. Especially when the language and culture are so different. With Biotreks small group tours (no more then 10), and our expertise in paving the way, you can be rest-assured that your ultimate vacation is going to be wonderful. We take the time to know our clients, deeply familiarize ourselves with the country and pick the best experience for you. Here are some tips from Lonely Planet for your first trip to India.

Enjoy our video …India at a Glance