October 18, 2020

India: The Great 40ᵗʰ Reunion Sightseeing Adventure

Asia ›   India ›  

By Mac C. From New York, USA

Travel Stimulus Check Entry # 4 of 5

Four months after our 40th class reunion, one classmate contacted 5 of us and said, "While here, you all told me that you had wanted to visit India, but never had. My wife and I would like to guide you there." What an offer!! But, what a risk! We hadn't spent time together in 40 years save one recent weekend, our partners had never laid eyes on one another, and our hosts were proposing to take 10 retired, relative strangers to India for a month. What could possibly go wrong???

Everyone immediately said, 'YES!'

Our host, a native of Calcutta, and his wife, a native of Mumbai, had also never undertaken such a project. Despite any misgivings, they persevered, and over the ensuing year, put together the most amazing and ambitious itinerary for a month-long journey – with no detail left out. We would travel from Delhi in the north to Kerala in the south, with many stops in between.

We met in Delhi from 5 separate geographic locations. After a welcome breakfast and introductory lecture (one of many to come), we had some basic idea of what we were in for.  

With a population of about 1.3 billion people, a child is born in India every 2 seconds. There are 29 States and 7 Territories, and they are all very different, with different languages and customs. We were in for a whirlwind trip through many of them and can only share a few of the hundreds of highlights of the trip.

A few days in Delhi let us experience the grandeur of the city by day and night. With no time to lose, we hit the streets. Inside the Red Fort, we started to get accustomed to the scale of things we would see in the coming days – big. Very big.

It was the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's birth, and the park and monument to him were humbling. A black marble slab memorializes him with an eternal flame on the top and the words “Oh God” in Hindi on the side - the last words he spoke after he was shot just outside his house in 1948.

One of the unforgettable highlights of the whole trip was a topsy-turvy wild ride through the markets in tuk-tuks. The market area is enormous and packed cheek by jowl with vendors, customers, and goods in transit via every means of conveyance imaginable. Despite the congestion, everyone was quite cheerful. We only saw the spice, paper goods, and wedding supplies "districts." Wedding supplies are a multi-million dollar trade, as are (seemingly) tiny spice shops who do the majority of their business online. We tried to drink in as much atmosphere as we could.

For our next stop, we head East to another corner of the golden triangle in Rajasthan. At Agra, we visited the Taj Mahal – a monument that many of us felt was ‘the prettiest thing we’d ever seen.’ After an extensive restoration, it looks new, and one cannot stop looking at it from every angle. This tribute to love is a true wonder.

From the first glimpse Until sunset, when the semi-precious stones begin to sparkle all over in the fading sun…..Being there was a thrill.

The Amber Fort and the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur, the Pink City, were two more impressive structures – both ages old and well preserved with enormous, ornate carving and decoration. Plenty of mirrors and stained glass throughout, with wonderful vistas of the city beyond, were seen.

From the primitive to the advanced – we stopped at the Jantar Mantar Observatory - a collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments built in 1734, but which could easily have been built yesterday, in appearance and science. It features the world's largest stone sundial and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

From Jaipur, we headed out west to the "Golden City" on the edge of the desert. The imposing Jaisalmer Fort takes a full day, visiting palaces and more temples within its vast walls. The Patwon Ji Ki Havelis area - five intricately carved homes formerly belonging to wealthy merchants-was a wonder. One has been completely restored and is open to visitors.
(houses Jaisalmer)

The scenery completely changed as we left Jaisalmer and rode out to the Damodra Desert Camp. We enjoyed a camel ride at sunset and played at dune surfing – quite fun and easy to learn with a soft landing!

Dusting ourselves off, we headed south to Udaipur, "The City of Lakes." The City Palace was built over a period of nearly 400 years, with contributions from several rulers of the Mewar dynasty, starting in 1553. Inside are 11 ‘small’ palaces built of granite and marble, small being a relative term. It is perhaps the largest structure I have ever been in. Because is was built over a 400 year period, there are many styles of architecture to be found. In general, doors are short, and hallways narrow to slow and confuse any possible intruder. One famous mogul was known for disguising his horse as an elephant to not look weaker than his enemy.

From Udaipur, we continued south as the temperatures rose, and the scenery became more verdant; we entered Kerala, the most restful part of the trip. Still, there was an abundance of activity, including visits to an elephant sanctuary, the Pongala Festival Eve celebrations, riverboat cruises, and some yoga and ayurvedic treatments to prepare us for the final onslaught of Mumbai.

One fun memory was when my husband tried to mail a package from the local post office on the day of the Festival of Pongala – an annual festival where 3,500,000 (yes, million!) women congregate from all over India.   As a result, the local post-mistress was off at the festival and had left her brother in charge. Unfortunately, he didn’t know how to process a package for Europe, and so put my husband on the back of his motorbike to drive to the nearest branch where someone did know. Mission accomplished! This was typical of the kind and over-the-top service we got wherever we went.

Our final stop was Mumbai, which wasn’t as overwhelming as it might have been at the beginning of our trip. By now, we were well acclimated. We enjoyed so much wonderful food in every city, but had a very memorable thali meal consisting of a dozen individual dishes at one of the best known local places, with the owner explaining each dish, even showing us the raw ingredients for each. There were two rounds of all these small plates - and there were seconds for anyone who could manage them. As if!

With our whirlwind tour of India complete, there were many emotions, most of all, the unspoken gratitude we felt to our hosts who managed to fit what seemed like a one-year trip into a one-month timeframe – without any casualties along the way. It was as though we had been taken around on a magic carpet – driven by two people who both know and love India to its core.

Only one word comes close to describing India, and that is ‘kaleidoscope.’ The whole experience of this wonderful country is an assault on all the senses and more. The sights, sounds, colors, smells, and experiences all set to the traffic, and human interaction music is unforgettable. We experienced universal cordiality and politeness. We have made fast friends for life, having ‘taken a chance’ on this invitation. We can only thoroughly agree with the slogan – Incredible India!

January 30, 2020

Mountains of Kazakhstan

Asia ›   Kazakhstan ›  

By Milosz Pierwola (

With a name that translates to “Land of Wanderers,” this is one of the last places on earth where you can truly feel like an explorer. Welcome to Kazakhstan! The 9th largest country on earth that boasts a total population less than the city of Istanbul. From majestic limestone cliffs to mysterious car-sized stone spheres, to mosques carved right into the mountainside, Kazakhstan’s geology and intriguing culture will inspire anyone with the love of travel to add it to their wish list.

A combination of the world’s largest dry steppe region, deserts, and mountains – all historically the hardest places for humans to settle down​, Kazakhstan was a mystery to me before landing in the country.​The famous Silk Road is what put the region on the map, literally. As a result, it became a strategic territory to control and inspired innovation in travel​ over many generations​. ​Historians believe humans first domesticated horses​ here​, though the vehicle of choice is none other than camels. In fact, the culture continues to deeply worship the “Ship of the Desert,” and you are bound to find some no matter where you go.

As we leave the city, it's impossible to miss the ​impressive sculpted mountains coming into view. Eons of geologic time mark millions of layers that tell the earth's story; their sides carved as if by a Renaissance sculptor. From a distance,​ the cliffs appear to sail across on seas of sand, but the closer you get the more interesting they become. It was in these mountains that early tribes would seek shelter and discover resources. One particularly famous mountain is the site where a great Kazakh leader was trapped by invading forces, the Ustyurt Plateau. It was in the caves ​here, which you can explore, that it is said he discovered a freshwater spring and survived. The mountain is so famous, it now appears on the 1,000 Tenge note.

Kazakhstan barely gets any rain and mostly bakes in the unforgiving sun. Pair this with the fact that the entire region was under a massive ocean at one point, and you may start to understand the incredible natural beauty of the country. Also what made some of the oddities you can find here. Take the Torysh Valley, for example, otherwise known as the “Valley of the Balls.” As you drive along a vast sandy plain, an odd large stone begins to surface every once in a while. Soon, you notice that these dark stones compose a line that cuts the desert in half as if deposited deliberately… but, they’re not just stones. These are large balls; near-perfect spheres of hardened rock, evenly wrapped in layers that flake off like cracked eggshells. Though theories exist on how these formed (or who they were formed by), it is still largely a mystery and you are encouraged to come up with your own explanations.

As we climb back into our 4 wheel drive vehicles, we make our way across the steppe to a set of cliffs the ancient Kazakhs used for more than a refuge for the elements, they also used it for worship. Kazakhstan is one of the few places on earth where entire mosques were carved into the raw stone. The Shakpak Ata mosque, for example, is entirely underground at a site with a unique limestone features. Before you even go in, the walls on the outside appear to be alive, resembling an organic network of seemingly breathing openings. These features are integrated into the mosque, serving as decorative walls that encase tombs, rooms, and prayer sites. Inside is equally impressive with multiple rooms, a roof opening for a fire, and beautiful writing carved into the walls. The mosque has carpets that remain on the site for any visiting worshipers who need to spend the night, and a tradition of removing your shoes upon entry.

But don’t worry! That’s not where you’ll be staying, traditional housing as you travel is yurts! Large circular tents constructed with a complex wooden frame, ropes, canvas, and rugs, are s​e​mi-permanent features of the landscape. These structures have a rich history as their construction is tied to Kazakh beliefs. The crowning piece of a yurt called a shanyrak and appears everywhere in Kazakhstan. Each part of a yurt has deep meaning for the Kazakh people as they maintain their traditions to this day. As night falls on the desert, the sun sets behind the cliffs, and the sky is blanketed by a sea of stars.  

Kazakhs are known for their hospitality. It is a tradition to make sure travelers are offered the best fare when they visit, including entertainment. One more performance you may be lucky to see when you visit Kazakhstan involves falcons and horses. A sport that is very popular in Kazakhstan is bird hunting (not hunting birds, but hunting with birds). A trained falcon is kept blinded until the prey is spotted, at which point the blinders are removed and the falcon takes flight. It traps the prey until the hunter catches up, and is fed a tasty treat.

Now for the finale, a sport called Buzkashi, which is similar to a game of basketball; except instead of running the players ride horses, and instead of a ball the players use a “sheep.” This is a team game where players start at the edge of the playing field and race to pick up the sheep from the center. Traditionally, a sheep was used, but in recent times it has been replaced by a large leather bag with holds where the legs would be. Once a player has the sheep, he must take it to his circle and drop it in the center for the win. Sounds easy, but now imagine an entire team of players swarming you on horses trying to knock you down, rip away the sheep, and stomping up a mess of dust in the process.

Back in the city, I'm grateful to have visited Kazakhstan. What the country lacks in population, it more than makes up for with its vast unspoiled beauty and treasures. Visiting for the first time feels like you're discovering it as you go from via off-road vehicles, to horses, to camping in yurts under a galaxy of stars!

June 21, 2018

Monsoon Moto: Adventures in SE Asia

Asia ›   Singapore ›   Thailand ›  

By Bryon Dorr (

​What keeps me traveling is the adventure found along the way. Our next destination is our first trip to Asia. Timing as it was, we’d be going during the monsoon season. Let the adventure begin... ​

We decided that South East Asia would be an excellent introduction, as it is relatively cheap, with well-worn backpacker routes making it easier to get around. With some money saved up and a month carved out of our busy work schedules, it was time to scratch the surface of this new continent.

Bangkok would be our hub, as cheap fares from the US are easy to find and regional flights on Air Asia are incredibly inexpensive. It’s a dense expansive city with lots to see and do. To explore the city, we walked miles and miles a day, utilized all sorts of public transit, including taxis, tuk-tuks, trains and the unique urban water-taxis. The street food is fantastic, and cheap, while more upscale food options can get quite pricey.

One of our favorite stops on this trip was a few days in Chiang Mai. We, of course, walked a ton and used the local tuk-tuk services, but also rented a scooter to see the temples outside of the city and find adventure. Driving a moto in SE Asia is an adventure in and of itself, one I found to be an enjoyable challenge. But our hearts were set on outdoor adventures in the mountains, as we got our fill of the congested big city within a few days. Within an hour of Chiang Mai, there is excellent rock climbing and whitewater, both of which were easily accessible by scooter. We also visited one of the elephant sanctuaries, but it’s important to be picky here, as many treat the animals poorly under the veil of claiming to be a sanctuary.

After our time in the wilderness, we visited one of the most modern, clean and vibrant cities/countries in the world, Singapore. The city was non-stop action and full of both natural and man-made wonders. Be sure to visit the Marina Bay Sands, to check out the opulence, and the Gardens By The Bay, to immerse yourself in one of the most well-curated plant displays in the world. Have a pint at LeVeL33, the world’s highest urban craft-brewery, which overlooks Marina Bay. It’s best to go at night, as the city lights are spectacular.

We finished off our SE Asia adventures with a week exploring​​ Bali by scooter. We visited rice patties, world-class surf beaches, active volcanoes, remote mountain temples, monkey forests, sea turtle sanctuaries and so much more. The almighty scooter made it all possible, and made the trip that much more adventurous.

One of my favorite moments of the whole trip was following a route suggested by Google Maps, which led us deep into some completely flooded single-track muddy trails. It was an environment not well-suited for a small scooter with slick street tires. We laughed and slipped in the mud for over an hour before popping back out onto the main highway. I think the locals in this remote corner of Bali probably laughed as much as we did!

Between the friendly people, fantastic food, impressive temples, and beautiful and diverse landscapes, SE Asia should be a top choice for your next travel destination. We barely scratched the surface of this sprawling region, and look forward to exploring more of it soon.

December 14, 2017

Everest: Up In Smoke

Asia ›   Everest ›   Nepal ›  

Milo Sporting His Tan Men's Travel Shirt & Green Convertible Travel Pants at Everest Base Camp!

Editors note: The title is in reference to the Himalayan Stove Project, which Clothing Arts is proud to support. They provide clean burning cookstoves to families in Nepal, eliminating indoor pollution from traditional open fire cooking. Read more at the bottom.

By Milosz Pierwola (

Traveling with a purpose. I have always wanted to reach Everest - it was as if my bucket list already had this destination by default. Mankind’s highest stepping stone towards the heavens. Crowned by the highest mountain range in the world, Nepal attracts the world’s greatest explorers. I found myself in this fantastic world and it wasn’t just checking off a box, but I was here to wander off the beaten path.

My mission was to reach remote settlements in the Khumbu near the famed Everest Base Camp trail. I was brought on board by the Himalayan Stove Project to photograph and film the impact of the program, as well as to study it’s operation. My guide, Pasang Temba Sherpa, was responsible for managing operations for the entire region. He can only be described as a legend; a Sherpa guide for 30 years and grandson to one of the men who built the famous Tengboche Monastery.

Everest humbles you. It brings real perspective to the sparse population of Sherpas that live in this environment. They have survived here for millennia, through earthquakes, avalanches, floods, and events that were never recorded in history. They carry with them a legacy of the unconquerable, and each time you meet them on the trail, you always receive a warm smile immediately followed by a friendly “Namaste.”

Over the course of 19 days, there is no photo that can convey the magnitude of these mountains; they appear infinite in number and only grow in size, rising one behind another as if the earth was lifting itself up into the sky. In spite of the elevation, dense forests carpet their slopes well into the trek, and bleached white glacial rivers thick with stone dust cut across them, humming gently in the background. At times the landscape is so vast and the air so clear, it almost appears as if it has existed in this state forever. Quiet, unchanging, and undisturbed.

Clothing Arts is Proud to Support the Himalayan Stove Project:

The Sherpas on the slopes of Everest cook and heat their homes using open fires inside of their kitchens. These fires produce thick suffocating smoke that causes a host of debilitating issues; this has been deemed as the #1 Environmental Hazard by the World Health Organization. The solution has been largely ignored until George Basch created The Himalayan Stove Project in 2011. He witnessed firsthand the conditions and was stunned that nobody ever did anything about it. And so, since its inception, HSP has delivered over 4,100 clean burning, fuel efficient stoves with chimneys that have helped clear the air for a calculated 40,000 people.

The caretakers and protectors of this fantastic land now need our protection. The Himalayan Stove Project is presently collecting for its most ambitious goal of delivering the 5th container of stoves (hundreds of stoves per container) to Nepal, and every donation helps get us closer to this goal.

Make a Donation to Himalayan Stove Project