Discover Three Thousand Year Old History in Sri Lanka

When you think of Sri Lanka, you may picture a tropical island dotted with sandy beaches, wildlife reserves filled with elephants, coconut groves, spice and tea plantations. Surely, the small island located just south of India merits all these, but there’s also three thousand year old temples, palaces and caves to explore.

Here are some places in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka that are must see:

Rangiriya Dambulla Cave Temple

This UNESCO World Heritage Site also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, dates back to 1st century BC. Burial sites in the area indicate that prehistoric Sri Lankans lived in these cave complexes 2700 years ago.

You must ascend over 100 stone steps to see the complex of 5 caves carved into a 160 meter rocky hill. Inside you can see 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of gods and goddesses, along with various cave inscriptions. Every inch of the roofs of the caves are covered with colorful murals (many still intact) covering an area of 23,000 sq. ft. You will feel insignificant in the presence of one of the largest statue of Buddha spanning 15 meters located inside the first cave.

Hotel Tip: Stay at Habarana Village by Cinnamon in Habarana for luxurious village style retreat near the spiritual sites. The hotel organizes village tours including bullock cart rides and traditional meals by the river. 

Sigiriya

Also know as Lion Rock, this ancient rock fortress is the iconic image of Sri Lanka in posters and tourist brochures. According to the ancient Sri Lankan chronicle the Culavamsa, this site was selected by King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) for his new capital. You can see this example of urban planning by climbing up the  massive column of rock nearly 200 meters (660 ft) high. On the way, see a gateway in the form of an enormous lion, the palace ruins, painted frescos, and a swimming pool. On top, enjoy spectacular views of the canopy and gardens surrounding the complex, with giant white Buddha status propping in the green.

Hiking Tip: The best time to climb Sigiriya is early morning when it’s not too hot or late afternoon so you can see the sunset. The best photos of the rock are aerial shots, but you must obtain permission to fly a drone prior to your visit. 

Anuradhapura

Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Anuradhapura was the first capital of Sri Lanka from the 5th century BC to 9th century AD. The ancient city, has 16 square miles filled with monasteries.

Pay respect to the oldest historically documented tree on earth (over 2,200 years old). The Bodhi tree is considered to be the island’s oldest Buddhist shrine, as Buddha got enlightened under it (the sapling comes from the original tree in India). A large white stupa as well as small alters surround the complex. Look for impressive white ‘dagabas’ (relic chambers), stone carvings, rock sculptures and more.

Temple Visit Tip: It is necessary to cover arms and legs; remove shoes, hats and sunglasses when visiting holy sites in Sri Lanka. You will find the locals typically dressed in white, a symbol of purity. While it’s ok to take photos inside the temples, it’s illegal to take a picture with your back towards Buddha. 

Mihintale

This is where Buddhism was first introduced to Sri Lanka and is therefore regarded as the cradle of Buddhism. On this rock are many shrines and dwellings, originally used by monks. A grand stairway of 1,840 steps made of granite slabs 15 feet wide, leads to the summit from where one could get a splendid view of the surrounding countryside.

Polonnaruwa

There are mostly ruins of temples, palaces and stupas to be seen in this medieval city, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After a brief perspective at the museum, visit the Royal Palace complex including the Kings Palace and Audience Hall, the Quadrangle with its concentration of ancient heritage and the spectacular Gal Vihare complex of four massive images of the Buddha, cut from a single slab of granite. Some of the best examples of the Hindu influence – the Temples of Shiva, intricate statues of Hindu Gods, fascinating Buddhist temples, the Lankatileka and Watadage, the Galpotha, the Lotus bath, the Kiri Vihare Dagoba and the remains of a former Temple of the Tooth are other impressive sights.

Temple of the Tooth

This is one of the most important shrines for Buddhists and pilgrims from all over Sri Lanka come to the hill town of Kandy through the year, offering trays of lotus flowers and sweets, as they pay respect to the tooth relic of Lord Buddha. While you can’t actually see the tooth (the door encasing it is opened once a year), you can admire the beautiful carvings and splendor of the palace-turned-temple located on the lakeshore. Spend some time walking the temple ground, listen to the drummers dressed in traditional costumes and peek into the museum for some historical facts. There are two ceremonies performed each day so make sure to time your visit accordingly.

Kandy Tip: Kandy is a popular tourist town, mainly because of this temple, access to hiking areas, trendy restaurants and lots of shops selling tea, gems and souvenirs. Stay at Cinnamon Citadel by the river and reserve a special Sri Lankan curry lunch overlooking the city at Theva Residency.

The above sites can be visited in 2-3 days and give valuable insight into the belief system of the Sri Lankan people. If you are the kind of traveler interested in ancient history and culture, add Sri Lanka to your travel list.

Booking Tip: To avoid the hassle of making hotel reservations, public transport and finding guides, contact The Holiday Place for a custom made itinerary in Sri Lanka. They can arrange a private driver with knowledgeable guide, tickets to the monuments and hotel reservations. 

Do you have a travel tip for Sri Lanka? Post your comments below…

St Lucia’s History and Saltfish Recipe

If you manage to leave your resort in St Lucia, one of the neat places to explore the heritage, culture and beauty of the island is at Greenwood Terrace. This historic home has been converted into a museum, garden, cooking school and offices of local tour company, Barefoot Holidays.

When you first enter the 2-story building, you will see artifacts and items donated by St Lucians dating back 100 years. Some of the memorabilia show documents of the first black seaman from St Lucia, pictures of nobel laureates, top chef Nina Compton, past presidents, women leader, actors & cricketeers.

You can also try on the St Lucian national wear for women – Mouchew/ Madras. The headpiece is designed out of a square or rectangle material cut specifically for this purpose. Worn over the forehead, it is creatively folded with a peak extending from the base. You can tie up to four peaks based on your courtship availability. One Peak – I am single. Two Peaks – I am married. Three Peaks – I am widowed or divorced. Four Peaks – I am up for anyone!

Outside there are over 260 types of flowing plants, fruits and traditional herbs and 23 species of birds on the property premise. Marketing manager, Shirlyn shows me trees full of moringa, avocado and mango, which she often picks after her office hours for a quick snack.

In the back, there is a traditional St Lucia village hut, the kind her parents generation lived in, she tells me. You can also see a clay baking oven, a chicken coop, and platene – a large traditional cooking pot used for making sugar and farine (a by -product of cassava – an Amerindian dish).

Of course, I had to taste some of fruits and herbs I had seen earlier, so Shirlyn presents me a Lucian snack box with candied fruits, nuts and spiced rum. There is a cooking studio setup for those who want to learn Creole cooking and classes are held couple of times a week or on request.

The resident chef shows me how to make Accra (fish cakes) made with cod that are very popular for breakfast and appetizers.

Here is the recipe for you to try this St Lucian dish at home courtesy of Barefoot Holidays.

Fish Cakes (Accra) Recipe

Ingredients:

  • ½ lb. Saltfish (or dried salted cod)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. Baking powder
  • 2 tbsp. Finely chopped green seasonings (combination of fresh thyme/oregano, chives/spring onion/green onion, shadon beni/cilantro)
  • 1 tsp. Minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. Finely chopped onion
  • Hot pepper to taste
  • ½ cup water (approx.)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 cup vegetable or canola oil for deep frying

Directions:

Scald saltfish, remove bones and flake fish finely. Keep aside.

Combine flour, baking powder, green seasoning, garlic and onion in a large bowl. Mix the fish with the flour. Add pepper and water to make a soft mixture and mix until smooth. Add salt to taste.

Heat oil in a large frying pan until really hot. Drop the batter into the hot oil using a large spoon and deep fry for 3-4 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm with hot sauce or banana ketchup.

An Evening With a Maiko

If you have walked around the streets in Japan, you may have spotted a beautiful lady dressed in a kimono with white painted face and her hair pinned up in a bun. Perhaps she was a Maiko or a Geisha, an integral part of Japanese culture and society. In the western world, perception of these women has been misconstrued.

According to Aileen Adalidgeisha (aka geiko or geigi) which translates to English as “performing artist” or “artisan”, is a high-class professional and traditional female entertainer in Japan trained in various forms of art. Meanwhile, a maikowhich translates to English as “dancing child”, is an apprentice geisha. A geisha is usually hired to attend to guests (traditionally male) during banquets, meals, parties, and other occasions as she demonstrates her skills through various ways such as dancing to a tune played with the shamisen (a stringed instrument), initiating games, doing the art of conversation, and more. There are fewer than 2000 Geishas in Japan today. They were over 80,000 in the 1920s.

According to Japanese culture, any random person cannot visit a ochaya (tea house) unless they have been formally introduced through a third party and invited. There is no money exchanged in the beginning, so this ensures guarantee payment at the end of the year. However, these days private parties and tourists can arrange meeting with a geisha at a ryōtei (traditional Japanese restaurant).

I met Maiko-san at a restaurant in Kyoto. We had a private room inside the restaurant, minimally decorated with tatami floors, and a low table with a window overlooking a small zen garden. After the waitress came to take the drink order and poured me a glass of plum wine, a beautiful young woman dressed in an exquisite red and white kimono walked in. Her makeup made her look like a doll with a static expression. Her hair was neatly piled up on her head. She greeted us (me and my guide) softly in Japanese. A man who entered the room with her played music on a boombox and she started dancing in slow rhythmic motions. It was mesmerizing!

Then she sat down at the head of the table. One of the duties of a maiko is to have conversations with the guests and entertain them. We were told we can ask her anything. She did not speak English, but understood practically everything I asked. Nevertheless, Nobu-san, my translator facilitated the conversation.

Maiko-San told me that she was 17 years old. She came from a small town in northwest Japan which was hit by tsunami. She chose this line of profession at 15 because she had a strong interest in Japanese culture and wanted to follow the career path of a geisha. In Kyoto, she enrolled in a teahouse where she still undergoes a vigorous program of learning music, dance, origami, personal care and more. It is intense with long hours and little time to be a teenager. She cannot go out much (especially when she is in her garb) and gets to visit her family once a year. Her master/ big sister is 80 years old and she will need to repay her through her earnings.

Training to be a geisha can be quite expensive. The master at a tea house will invest in the lodging, meals, classes, dresses and pocket money of the young girl until she graduates.

Only a fraction of girls who come to the program with her will graduate.

Then she showed us how to do origami and gifted little swans made of paper napkins.

Maiko-San told me on her days off she likes to go to Starbucks and try out their seasonal drinks. Japan is very innovative for that! When I was there this summer, they had introduced a “chocolate cake frappuccino.” We talked about all the places I visited in Japan and the foods I had tried. As we got our meal (she does not eat with guests), I would ask her to describe to me what I was eating. Though she is not allowed to own a phone, she felt quite comfortable using my iPhone to looks up Japanese foods I was unfamiliar with. I felt I was chatting with any other Japanese girl, a bit shy but curious, and matured for her age.

The experience costs $500 for 2-hours plus cost of food and drinks at the restaurant and can be booked through a travel agent. This experience was arranged for our group by Flo Tours and their Japanese partners.

Given the chance, would you sign up for an experience to be entertained by a maiko or geisha? Leave your comments below…

Myths of Bhutan Revealed

Up until recently, when I visited the tiny country of Bhutan, it remained a mystery to me. I pictured this magical place where the entire nation practices Buddhism, animals roam free through the protected forests, and everyone is happy and content all the time. Some of the movies I watched also suggested that one becomes very peaceful and all the illnesses go away when you go to Bhutan.

As an eager journalist, I wanted to find the facts for myself. What I discovered was very different from everything I knew, which is generally what happens until you actually travel to that destination.

Here are some of my questions answered…

Is everyone in Bhutan Buddhist?

Technically, Bhutan is a Buddhist country. Majority of the population is Buddhist, followed by Hindu. Though the influence of Buddhism is strong in many areas, not 100% of the people observe all its beliefs and rituals. About 15% of the population are Buddhist monks. There are both male and female monks in the monasteries.

female monk in Bhutan

Do Bhutanese eat meat?

If you look at the traditional Bhutanese menus, they tend to have a lot of meat dishes, including pork, beef and chicken. The government does not allow killing of animals for consumption. In fact, you can get arrested and fined if you slaughter an animal for food, fish from the rivers, or even accidentally kill a stray dog. Therefore, the meat you find in Bhutan is imported, mostly from India.

Though the Buddhist belief does not allow consumption of animals, many of the Bhutanese people do eat meat.
bhutan food

Is everyone in Bhutan happy?

In 2016, the World Happiness Report published by the United Nations ranked Bhutan as the 84th happiest country. According to the domestic survey done to measure Gross National Happiness in Bhutan, 90% of the population reported that they were happy. Now the definition of happiness can be subjective. In Bhutan, you will find a lot of poverty and access to very little resources. Infrastructure is undeveloped, there is high unemployment, work is mostly in agricultural sectors, and practically everything is imported into the country. One might question, how one can be happy having so little? In fact, while walking around shops, I didn’t particularly find anyone smiling or laughing with joy. Most people went about their day very seriously and responded only when spoken to.

Perhaps the people in Bhutan are happy because of their culture which embodies the teaching of Buddhism. There is strong emphasis on living as a community, helping each other, doing good deeds and finding happiness from within.

Is there any crime in Bhutan?

Though Bhutan is a peaceful country and quite safe, there is some petty crime especially among the youth. You can find instances of pick pocketing, theft, domestic violence and an occasional murder as well. When I asked one of the judicial officials regarding this, he mentioned that most cases of crime are committed by adolescent boys, perhaps overcome by peer pressure, alcohol or just hormones. Crime in Bhutan is significantly less than other countries.

Is Bhutan a mountainous country?

Given that the country is half the size of Indiana, there is unimaginable diversity in nature. Valleys, subalpine mountains, rivers, and plains are spread through the country, making it hot and rainy in the south, and dry and cold in the north. 60% of the country is protected as forest land under a strict regulation for maintaining the environmental impact. It is home to many animals including leopards, tigers, musk deer and takin. There are also some of the highest peaks in the world found in the Himalayan mountains of Bhutan, making it a great destination for trekking and mountaineering.

punakha bhutan scenery

The highest point in Bhutan is Gangkhar Puensum at 7,570 metres (24,840 ft), which has the distinction of being the highest unclimbed mountain in the world

Can you feel the monarchial presence in Bhutan?

Bhutan’s political system has recently changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. In 2005, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck transferred most of his administrative powers to the Council of Cabinet Ministers and allowed for impeachment of the King by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly.

In everyday life, you can feel the presence of the monarch though. Pictures of the royal family, including the current 36-year old king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema are displayed at homes, shops, museums, hotels, etc. They make ceremonial appearances at festivals and assemblies, and give motivational speeches to the kingdom on the importance of education, giving back, and following one’s customs.

How much freedom do the Bhutanese people have?

In 1999, the government lifted a ban on television and the Internet, making Bhutan one of the last countries to introduce television. They believed that exposure to the western world makes people unhappy as it encourages desire and greed.

There are few bars and clubs in Bhutan, mostly frequented by young people. Certainly not a destination for party lovers.

happiness wine in bhutan

Traditions supersede freedom of expression. The King requires everyone to wear the national costume to work, school and temples. Only during free time, one can choose to dress as they like.

Women and men have equal rights in Bhutan. Even in jobs involving manual labor, such as construction and agriculture, you can find women working alongside men. Respect for women is also an important part of Buddhist culture. Bhutanese men perform domestic duties including cooking. Traditionally the groom moves to the bride’s family home after marriage.

people of bhutan

What shocked me most about Bhutan?

The poverty in Bhutan was very noticeable from the moment I landed in Paro. There were dirt roads right outside the airport, and lots of garbage on the streets. I guess I was expecting this enchanted land with forests and mountains, where everything is squeaky clean, and the people in a constant state of eternal bliss.

Bhutan facts

5 Cities in Jamaica You Must Go To!

Jamaica is a wonderful island known for its white sand beaches and reggae music. The country is a perfect destination for a family vacation, wedding celebration, outdoor excursion, or culinary tour. Here are some of the most important Jamaican cities you must visit:

1. Kingston

Kingston, the capital, is Jamaica’s bustling metropolitan city and is considered the cultural district of the island. It’s mix of jungle, modern business, and original colonial architecture makes the city a must-see for any visitor. Kingston is located in the Southeast corner of Jamaica far from the northern resort towns, which speaks to why Kingston is known as the most authentic city on the island. An interesting tourist destination located in Kingston is The Bob Marley Museum, which is coincidentally the departed reggae star’s former home in Jamaica. All of the rooms in his home have been meticulously preserved to display Bob’s life as accurately as possible, including his personal recording studio, closet, and award showcase. Also, the “One Love Café” in the museum boasts some of Bob’s favorite meals.

bob-marley-museum

2. Montego Bay

This Jamaican destination is perfect for the traveler who loves relaxing on the coast with a piña colada in their hand. Montego Bay, or simply “MoBay” by the locals, is home to many famous and luxurious beaches. The city is the second largest on the island and is located in the Northwest corner where it holds many hotels, restaurants, and a cruise ship port. For the beach bum, Doctor’s Cave beach is the most popular beach in Montego Bay and is known for it’s clean and beautiful waters. Interestingly enough, one can also experience a winter wonderland in the city while enjoying the tropical paradise. CHILLIN at Coral Cliff holds the island’s only ski lodge and ice bar!

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 7.50.54 PM

3. Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios, or “Eight Rivers,” was initially a historic site and is now a thriving tourist city. Columbus Park is located just outside of Ocho Rios and is where Columbus supposedly first landed in Jamaica. There is also a port here for cruise ships and interesting scuba diving spots. Even though there are not actually eight rivers in Ocho Rios, there are many beautiful waterfalls in the area. The most well known is Dunn’s River Falls, which receives thousands of visitors each year because of its resemblance to a giant staircase. Tourists can actually climb the waterfalls with a guide in about an hour!

Dunns_River_Falls_C-1024x784

4. Negril

About an hour drive from the Montego Bay Airport lies the quiet resort town Negril on the westernmost shore of Jamaica. A relaxing and popular attraction is Seven Mile Beach full of soft white sand and palm trees for as far as the eye can see. For the more adventurous visitor, a must-see spot is Rick’s Café on the coast. Not only can you taste a great Jamaican meal and party at their nightclub, but you can cliff dive off the rocks. The highest platform jump at Rick’s Café is 35 feet and ensures the thrill of a lifetime.

 

5. South Coast

The South Coast in Jamaica is a hidden treasure dripping with luxury. Any traveler should definitely visit the Bubbling Spring mineral baths known for their healing powers. The spring is fed by water that is filtered through limestone, and contains substantial levels of magnesium, potassium, chloride, sodium, iron, and manganese. Hungry? Schedule an outing to the Bloomfield Great House. It’s an expansive 200-year-old coffee plantation house that was recently renovated into a breathtaking restaurant.

2911To learn more about Jamaica, attend Go Eat Give Destination Jamaica on April 23, 2015 at Stir It Up Atlanta.

6 Must Try Food and Drinks in Indonesia

Indonesia is a country brimming with sights, shopping, and fabulous food. As a country known for its diverse use of spices, its cuisine is one of the most colorful and vibrant of any in the world. Here is a quick overview of some of the most traditional and popular foods of Indonesia, and some of what you can taste at Go Eat Give Destination Indonesia on March 26th in Atlanta…

 1. Gado Gado

Gado Gado is a traditional Indonesian dish suitable for every foodie, including vegetarians. The dish, translated to “mix-mix,” is a blend of various vegetables, tofu, and tempeh in a peanut sauce. It is sometimes served with crispy crackers as a snack, or on its own as a side or entree with rice.

thumb_600

2. Saté

An Indonesian dish the is well known in the West and is similar to a shish kabob. Sate consists of different kinds of meat roasted over coals on bamboo skewers, and is often times paired with a peanut sauce. The meat may include chicken, beef, pork, tofu, and more. Saté originated in Java and was a creation of the Indonesian street vendors, but has spread around Indonesia and to neighboring countries.

dsc08500

3. Kerak Telor

This dish is a crispy Indonesian “frittata” made with sticky rice, shrimp, coconut, shallots, and spices. Duck or eggs are commonly added to the meal based on the customer’s preference. Kerak Telor is one of the most popular street foods in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, and derives from the Betawi culture. The dish also is said to resemble the western omelet though its spice and crispness set it apart.

dsc03312

4. Rendang

Rendang originated in Pandang, a city in Sumatra, and is one of the most flavorful and iconic dishes of Indonesia. It is referred to as “West Sumatran caramelized beef curry” by culinary experts and was named the #1 most delicious food in the world by CNN International readers. The dish is made with beef, which is marinated, in a special curry for hours. Rendang can also be served dry as a soft jerky, but this is reserved only for special occasions.

Beef-Rendang-Served-with-Steamed-Rice

5. Cendol

Cendol is a traditional Indonesian dessert drink that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen or tasted before. The base is made up of coconut milk, palm sugar, and shaved ice, and is mixed with various kinds of jelly noodles. The noodles are made out of red beans, rice, or even grass jelly. Iced cendol with durian fruit and chocolate milk is also popular in Indonesia.

cendol-2-upload

6. Bintang Bir Pilsner

If you ever find yourself in Indonesia during a night out, you’re bound to run into someone drinking Bintang Beer. It was introduced to the country by the Heineken brand during the 1930s under the original name Java Bier, and later took on its’ current name in 2006. Bintang means “star” in Indonesian, and the Bintang bottle features a red star that is reminiscent of the classic Heineken bottle. Additionally, the taste of Bintang is said to be very similar to Heineken with its’ malt and hop flavor.

4578304983_3de8ff1218

A “Culturally Fresh” Lebanon

 

Go Eat Give had the pleasure of welcoming a new group of attendees to Destination Lebanon at Nicola’s Restaurant last week!  The Greening Youth Foundation, a non-profit that works with underserved and underrepresented children to create overall healthy communities, attended the event bringing 15 students from Grady High School in Atlanta. And, this will not be the only time that Go Eat Give will host the Greening Youth Foundation. We are excited to announce that Go Eat Give has decided to partner with the Greening Youth Foundation to create a new program entitled “Culturally Fresh”. The aim of the program is to help raise awareness of international cultural and environment issues among the youth in the southern United States.

11038900_779277635487261_3696025393480791821_o

The night started off with appetizers – hummus and baba ganoush, and a Q&A session with Lebanese born Nicola, who was an educator himself before he opened his restaurant about 31 years ago.  The students were full of enthusiasm and asked him lots of questions about his life growing up in Lebanon and immigrating to the United States. In addition, they had to complete a treasure hunt assignment on Lebanon. The assignment included questions about the typical Lebanese diet, interesting facts, and history of Lebanon.

11024795_779278698820488_3123363106531738582_n 11025142_779278362153855_6326654438967557818_n

The second course included stuffed grape leaves, fried artichoke hearts, traditional fattoush salad, tabbouleh, and kibbee, which were all delicious. Later, the main dishes served were kafta with Lebanese rice, chicken a la beef, and chicken with artichoke hearts.  Dinner was especially exciting since most of the students from Grady High had never tried Lebanese food before!

11038689_779278988820459_1901030529401934710_n

The bunch also had a unique opportunity to hear from Mr. Hrair Balian, Director of the Conflict Resolution Program at The Carter Center and adjunct professor at Emory Law.  He is also Lebanese born, specializes in Middle East conflicts, and speaks English, French, and Armenian.  Hrair discussed the culture of Lebanon, including how it evolved through time due to the influence of other countries and how this evolution has created the rich diversity of Lebanon’s population.

After the speaker and discussion, we were able to taste baklava for dessert (my personal favorite!).  Baklava is a rich and sweet pasty made of thin layers of filo dough and filled with nuts and honey.

Lastly, the students got a lesson in Dabke dancing from Nicola.  Typically there is a dabke leader, and the group joins hands together and stomps to the beat.  We had a blast, and theentire crowd at the restaurant got together for a line dance around the room.

11038684_779280208820337_9125515352180069608_n

We are very excited about the future of Culturally Fresh and truly enjoyed the students joining in on the food, friends, and fun.

9 Places to Visit in Lebanon

Lebanon is a beautiful country in the Middle East, bursting with history, great food, and great culture.  It being a classic traveler’s destination, how can you decide where to go and what to see?  Since planning a trip can be quite the task, Go Eat Give has named the nine must see cities in Lebanon for your touring pleasure:

1. Beirut

This capital city of Lebanon is nicknamed “The Paris of the Middle East,” and is bustling with things to do. Along with great shopping and beautiful scenery, Beirut has a rich cultural history to explore. There are many museums and sacred religious sites there, such as the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George, the National Museum of Beirut, and the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque.

Beirut

2. Baalbek

Baalbek is located on the western end of Lebanon and is home to some of the most well preserved Roman ruins known to mankind.   The city dates back over 9,000 years and was previously known by the name of “Heliopolis,” or The City of the Sun, during the period of the Roman rule. Jupiter, Venus, and Bacchus are all believed to have been worshipped at the Baalbek temples.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

3. Jeita Grotto

Located in the center of the Nahr al-Kalb valley in Jeita, Lebanon, the Jeita Grotto is an amazing sight. The interconnected limestone caves, which can only be accessed by boat, span around nine kilometers in length. To make the grotto even more intriguing—it was a finalist to become one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

Lebanese journalists and photographers tour the Jeita Grotto by boat during a media day to campaign for the selection of the Jeitta Grotto as one of the seven natural wonders of the world

4. Sidon

This is a Lebanese town that is filled with old history and remarkable sight seeing.   Located on the western coast of the country, it was one of the most important Phonecian cities and is now known as an active fishing town. Sidon is home to the largest Lebanese flag and also the Old Souk, a famous marketplace.

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 11.21.55 PM

5. Tyre

Tyre is another city in Lebanon that contains very interesting ruins and historic sites. One main attraction here is the Roman Hippodrome—an ancient stadium for chariot and horse racing! The Tyre Coast Nature Reserve is also the largest sandy beach in the country.

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 11.24.41 PM

6. Beit ed-Dine

Beit ed-Dine is a town famous for its’ magnificent Beiteddine Palace (shown below). This one-of-a-kind palace was built in 1788 and hosts the annual Beiteddine Festival and Beiteddine Palace Museum. Interestingly enough, after Lebanon’s independence in 1943 the palace was officially renamed the “People’s Palace” since it had been created by the people’s hard work and will.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

7. Faraya

Lebanon is known for it’s interesting climate, and this town is the perfect example why. Above this village lies the Mzaar Resort, which is a ski resort. The resort is only about 20 miles away from Beirut, meaning you could experience warm weather and winter all in the same day!

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 11.28.17 PM

8. The Cedars of God

Cedar trees are sacred and known to have covered Mount Lebanon in the past, but The Cedars of God is one of the last forests left in the country. This was caused by persistent deforestation by Lebanon’s ancestors, such as for shipbuilding and construction. The snowy area has great hiking and beautiful views.

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 11.28.24 PM9. Deir el-Qamar

The name of this Lebanese village can be translated from Arabic into the “Monastery of the Moon.” It’s home to many important religious sites such as Saydet El Talle and the Mount of the Cross. This village is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 11.28.30 PM

Sati – An Ancient Hindu Practice

Sati, meaning “good wife” in Sanskrit, refers to a very interesting and ancient Hindu mourning ritual, which generates quite a bit of attention due to its historically radical means of an end. Sati is a ceremony that was practiced after the death of a woman’s husband, during which the mourning woman was required to be burned alive in order to show mourning and devotion to their lost spouse. It began around the 10th century B.C. The ceremony was first practiced by the wives of kings, until it gained popularity in the Hindu religion and was practiced by other regional groups.

It use to be part of the Hindu religion that if a married woman’s husband was to fall ill and die or perish in battle, the spouse was expected to immolate; or end her life as an offering, to the spirit of her deceased husband. When this act was being carried out, the woman would also have to do so on top of the husband’s funeral pyre. If a woman refused this act, she was typically sought after, and more or less forcibly convinced to agree to its completion. After a woman went through this ritual, she was then revered and idolized by her community as a holy woman, as well as an object of worship.

source: Wiki Commons
source: Wiki Commons

A Greek geographer by the name of Strabo who traveled to India with Alexander the Great noted that the majority of these women were in fact, happy to burn in sacrifice of their husbands. The few who did not see this act as honorable and refused to die, were shunned and seen as outcasts of their community. According to historical data, the practice of sati came about because marriages were typically formed by love (as oppose to arranger marriage) in ancient India. When these marriages would take a turn for the worst, the woman would often poison the man and continue on to find a new lover. To put an end to the murders and to protect the women’s virtues, a law was enacted that stated that a woman who was left without a husband was required to burn alive in order to join him, or to be cast out of the community and live out the rest of her days as a widow.

"Sri Rani Sati," an oleograph print published by S. S. Brijbasi, Bombay, c.1960's
“Sri Rani Sati,” an oleograph print published by S. S. Brijbasi, Bombay, c.1960’s

While this bit of ancient history seemed desolate and painful, it was done out of respect for the sacred bond of marriage and love. In the Hindu religion, marriage is a sacred bond that binds two souls together for more than one lifetime. Even the Hindu gods and goddesses lead married lives and respect the duties and bonds that come with the Hindu concept of love and marriage. Although this ritual seems violent in our Western culture, it originated out of love, respect, and dedication between spouses.

The act of sati was banned in 1829 in India, and as late as 1920 in Nepal. This practice was also not necessarily limited to India, but was seen widespread throughout Asia, and remote, bordering parts of Europe.

Going Beyond Bangkok at Destination Thailand

Go Eat Give’s October event, Destination Thailand, allowed me to experience Thailand in a multi –dimensional way that I hadn’t been exposed to. Before Destination Thailand, my knowledge about the Southeast Asian country was slim, as the closest cultural thing I knew about Thailand was the pad thai that I would order during cramming for midterms and finals during college.

Before the event commenced at the Thai restaurant, Zen on Ten, I met guests who were excited about the event as they were preparing their first trips to Thailand. They then got the chance to meet with other guests, members of the Thai Association of Georgia, who shared their travel recommendations of the best places to visit in their homeland.

The owner of Zen on Ten, Tom Phing laid out a buffet which included some of the best Thai cuisine with vegetarian som-tum ( a spicy green papaya salad), fried wonton, crispy vegetable rolls, panang curry with beef, massaman curry with chicken, vegetarian pad thai, thai fried rice, and steamed rice. The food was the prefect combination of sweet and spicy, typical of Thai cuisine. Once all the guests had their food, the show began.

10610821_707884602626565_3908628591468325607_n
Owner of Zen on Ten, Tom Phing (red shirt), helps unveil the Thai buffet for the evening
10250050_707884855959873_5718985183786821669_n
Guests help themselves to the Thai buffet

Auraree Montroy and Vivian Sihachack, dance instructors from the Thai Association of Georgia, performed a traditional Thai dance, Thepbantheong (Angels Delight). The dance is performed as a welcoming gesture and expresses blessing for honored guests, which were our entire guest of the evening. The dancers were adorned in traditional Thai clothes of bright silk patterns and gold jewelry, which moved elegantly as they dance barefoot with their delicate hand movements.

After the dance performance, the master of ceremonies, King Tantivejkul, Chairman of the Thai Association of Georgia, gave the audience a lesson in Thai. We learned a few Thai words including the most important Thai word, sawasdee, which is used a greeting or farewell. Saying sawasdee, is accompanied by the wai, similar to the Indian namaste, and which is done with a slight bow and the hands pressed together like in prayer, and a smile. Our Thai guests performed this gesture many times through the night, which is symbolic of respect. King also told us that pad thai was influenced by Chinese culture and didn’t become popular in Thailand until World War II. I was surprised that the most popular cuisine in Thailand was less than 70 years old!

10689914_707886412626384_3421024528505158315_n
Divya and I salute the wai with the dancers from the Thai Association of Georgia
1932452_707885965959762_7213138605869371794_n
Head-to-toe view of our dancers in traditional Thai clothing: bright silks adorned with gold jewelry

After Mr. Tantivejkul lesson, our keynote speaker, Dr. Sutham Cobkit, professor of Criminal Justice at Kennesaw State University, took the audience to Thailand with his speech, “BKK is Far Beyond the Capital of Thailand”, which was as informative as it was funny. Dr. Cobkit, highlighted that BKK to him, meant far more than the airport code of Bangkok. For him, BKK symbolizes Thai culture with the acronym, Buddhism.Kingdom.King. Dr. Cobkit spoke of the importance of Buddhism in Thai culture, which has influenced the positive and respectful attitude among the Thai. Dr. Cobkit continued that although Westerners may see bowing to someone as a submissive act, it is quite the opposite and represents love and respect. Dr. Cobkit shared his own experience being a monk in Thailand, with photos of him bald during his month long career as a monk. I didn’t know much about monks, so I found this part of his speech interesting as he shared how monks beg for food, as they are not allowed to cook.

For Kingdom, Cobkit spoke about Thai history. Thailand used to be the Siam Kingdom and was the only country in Southeast Asia that hadn’t been colonized. The Thai people are very proud of their history and how they resisted colonization. The pride of their kingdom also extends to the second K, for King. The king of Thailand, Rama IX is the longest ruling king in the world. I learned from Dr. Cobkit’s speech that the Thai people revere him as he is unlike any other king. During his reign, he as worked alongside farmers extensively throughout the country on public development works and through the pictures of him in the presentation, it was hard for me to distinguish him as the king from the other Thai people. It was remarkable to see a king act so humble.

Dr. Sutham Cobkit giving his speech
Dr. Sutham Cobkit giving his speech

At Destination Thailand, I learned about the rich culture in Thailand and what makes the Thai people proud of their heritage. It was a beautiful to witness many Thai people coming together at Destination Thailand to teach others about their culture and offer a glimpse of their homeland.

1898275_707888232626202_5590568643095480684_n
Sucheta and Kelly with members of the Thai Association of Georgia