Lust List – Top 5 romantic destinations!

It’s that day of the year again that people literally love or hate, Valentines Day!  Whether you buy into it or not, it’s everywhere, so I figured I would embrace the day and share with you my Top 5 LUST worthy destinations for romance!

I’ve also been planning some splendid honeymoons lately, and have found some spectacular locations for you and your loved one to lap up the luxury & indulge in some alone time, from the cliché (yet undeniably lust worthy), to the off the beaten track, here are 5 of my faves!

Lake Louise – Canada

Lake louise 1

What can I say? I’m a sucker for the snow, and to me nothing says romance like an  embrace in the mountains. Snow falling softly, crisp mountain air, a warm crackling fire, blankets to rug up in, a bubbling outdoor Jacuzzi and glass of mulled wine or a hot chocolate… tell me this isn’t romance bliss!

The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise knows how to do romance. Often found on the prestigious Conde Nast Traveler “Gold List” for hospitality excellence, It’s set amongst souring mountain peaks, glaciers, waterfalls and on the iconic emerald lake.

From a sleigh ride for two around the lake to ice skating hand in hand. A picnic hike into the mountains or a couples massage at their award winning day spa. Star gazing by night or Après & afternoon tea for two after a day of skiing…. the opportunities for romance are endless, and the mountains are sure to bring you closer to the one you love.

Santorini – Greece 

Canaves oia 1

This is a no brainer, and Santorini has been listed as one of the worlds most romantic destinations for decades, but it’s certainly one that’s got to be seen and experienced to believe.

Iconic Oia sunsets, private yachting, gourmet dining, wine tasting, donkey rides (if your romance needs a little adventure) .. the list goes on, and my favourite property in which to experience it all from? Canaves Oia Hotel.

A luxury property, set into the Cliffside with elegantly designed suites for you to enjoy this spectacular destination. A member of ‘Small luxury hotels’ of the world’ this property is small in size, but big on bliss and I can imagine you relaxing poolside, set against the traditional white buildings, overlooking the sea. Can you?

The Daintree – Australia

Australia has wonderful diversity when it comes to romantic escapes. From the outback to the city, the beaches and the mountains… but nothing whispers romance like tropical seclusion and walking barefoot on a pristine private beach, miles from anywhere.

The Daintree rainforest, Queensland offers the opportunity to get lost in the moment, and the private islands and eco lodges will whisk you away into your own private love bubble. Experiences like sailing, diving, snorkelling, hiking, wellness programs and fine dining, will ensure that there is something for even the most active ‘I can’t sit still’ couple.

One such destination is the Bloomfield Lodge, a beautifully remote, captivating, boutique property, on the fringe of the World Heritage Daintree Rainforest in Far North Queensland. It’s one of Australia’s most exclusive getaways, and the Eco lodge combines luxury accommodation with gourmet dining, and is also a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. It was also recently ranked No1 in Forbes Magazine as the ‘Worlds Best Remote Hotel’… and with a range of accommodation options there is something for everyone.

Bora Bora – Tahiti

Tahiti would be on the list of almost any ‘bride to be’, as her dream Honeymoon destination, and having planned countless visits for my clients, their reaction is always the same… ‘Breathtaking’, and Bora Bora is always described to me as if they have stepped out of a dream and into reality, so it’s somewhere that certainly has to be experienced to be believed.

Bra Bora is an island in French Polynesia, and is surrounded by barrier reef and a shimmering aqua lagoon. In the centre of the island lays an extinct volcano rising to two peaks, Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu. This volcano and lagoon set the backdrop for one of the romantic destinations you could visit, and a trip to Bora Bora wouldn’t be complete without a stay at the stunning St Regis, Bora Bora.

One of the most exclusive resorts in the region, they proclaim to match blissful Polynesian paradise with flawless signature service, and by all accounts they do! Another property to make a regular appearance on the Conde Nast Traveler “Gold List”, the St Regis, Bora Bora provides a tropical paradise with a contemporary Asian flair!

If the stunning location isn’t enough to transport you to world of bliss, their selection of romance activities certainly should. From the Miri Miri day spa to a private island photo shoot. Champagne sunset cruises, personal dive trips and much much more, it’s a haven that will leave you speechless from the moment you arrive.

Taj Mahal, Agra – India

While I admit this isn’t the 1st place you think of when you think of ‘romantic destination’s, and surely the likes of Paris or The Maldives would be ahead of India on my list, but nothing has moved me more in my travels, than standing in front of the ‘Taj Mahal’ .. The worlds greatest declaration of love. I thought it would be a miss not to have this on my list.

You’ve seen pictures of her in books, magazines and in movies all your life, but nothing can quiet compare to that moment you walk through the arch way, and see her standing there in all her glory. Time seems to stand still, and every image you’ve seen of her vanishes away, as they in no way do her justice. There is an awe and a kind of magic that seems to radiate from her and despite the tens of thousands of people swarming around you, it sort of feels like it’s just the two of you. To share that moment, with the one you love would undoubtedly bring you together, and while most women would nudge their partner and ask ‘would you build something like this for me?’ it’s undeniably one of the worlds most romantic buildings, and perhaps a little less cliché than the Eiffel Tower in France or the Sydney Opera House.

For your stay in Agra, romance it up at the beautiful The Oberoi Amarvilasm Agra. One of Agra’s most luxurious properties, you can wake up to the view of the Taj Mahal from your room, and watch her dance in golden light of the morning sun.

The resort will leave you and your loved one feeling like an Emperor or Princess, in surroundings of pavilions, manicured lawns, reflection pools and a selection of dining choices that will fulfil your appetite after a day or two exploring Agra.

So take your partners hand, wake up to the Taj Mahal, and share a moment under the archway at the greatest monument of love in the world.

That completes my choice of 5 Lust Worthy Romantic Destinations, but the list could go on and on. Everyone’s idea of romance is different, and could be as simple as a candle lit dinner at home, dressed in style. I’d love to hear your ideas of your favourite romantic destinations, as I’m always planning honeymoons and looking for fresh inspiration.

As for today and the dreaded V DAY…If you are lucky enough to be with the person you love, do more today than send a card because you have to. Simply celebrate what you have and never take it for granted. Then plan your next romantic getaway, and let me know if I can help 😉 hehe

Happy Valentines day to all of my loves…. You know who you are xxx

Kate x

Looking for travel inspo? Tell me where you want to go!

I had so much fun last week doing my BLOG by request, that i thought I’d do it again! Last weeks post took us to New Zealand, so let’s see where you want us to go this week.

Like i said, i’ve been to almost 50 countries so i’ve more than LIKELY been to where you want to go, so I’m taking suggestions!!

Tell me where YOU want to be inspired about & I’ll write about it.

Alternatively, if YOU have your own travel blog and would like to feature a destination on MyTraveLust, i would love to hear from you. Submit your article to kate@richetravel.com.au by Friday the 24th of Jan, and I’ll choose a great destination to feature on the blog.

I can’t WAIT to hear from you and hopefully i can continue to inspire your LUST for travel!

Is a ‘Bucket list’ the new ‘New Year’s Resolution’ ?

With 2014 coming at us FAST, I figure it’s a great time to reflect on my year that was 2013 and set some goals for the new year. It also got me thinking about New Years Resolutions v’s Bucket Lists. I wonder,  Is there more value in creating a full list of goals, dreams & desires with specific items to achieve and aim for, rather than some a random resolution that you declare and then generally (in most cases) fail to follow through on? Or is a Bucket List just another way for us to say all of the things we WANT without any specific goals to help us get there? hmmmm

I don’t know about you, but I’m CRAP at new years resolutions. Admittedly I’ve never had any nasty habits to try and kick like smoking, drinking excessively or eating shit, but I normally jump on the band wagon and make one or two random statements like ‘ I WANT TO EAT BETTER’ or ‘I WANT TO TALK MORE AND TEXT LESS’ and of course it never happens.

This year was kind of different though, and i went for a different angle….

As 2013 kicked off, with another 30 something birthday looming, I started freaking out!

While I was grateful that I was surrounded by the love and support of some amazing family & friends, and I had been fortunate enough to travel the world, something was missing. I had no direction, I lacked passion for what I was doing, I was wallowing in regret and guilt from the past and held genuine fear and anxiety for the future. I was stuck in a hole that I’d created in my mind and I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to dig my way out of it. It was blatantly obvious to me (and everyone around me) that something had to give…… but finally I was ready (well kind of ready!).

It seemed too late for me to be making ‘New Year’s resolutions (and they never seem to work anyway) so on the suggestion from a friend I created a bucket list!

I know the term ‘bucket list’ sounds morbid, as they are generally a list of things to do ‘before you die’, but I was keen to look at it as more of an inspiration list. So, to get started I created a list of 101 things I wanted to do that would help me live the life I love.

The list would be made up of things that I either wanted to see, experience or achieve, and traits that i wanted to live by. This also includes items on my list that would involve others or directly benefit other people, as i know that part of how i see my future is a life of generosity and gratefulness.

I felt that having a list (that is no way comprehensive) would help me find some focus, direction and motivation to start living for now, and create opportunities to share these experiences with people I love. I figure that even if i achieved just one thing, it would mean that I’ve done SOMETHING for myself, that I’d wanted to do (otherwise it wouldn’t have been on the list!).

While I’m still putting the list together and am not quite ready to share the whole list with you yet, below are some of my favorite things I’ve been able to tick off this year. By sitting down and looking at what i really wanted to do, it inspired me to get out there and start doing some of them… Without that list, i may have still done one or two, but i wouldn’t have had anything tangible to go to when i was looking for some motivation.

So, here ya go!

1. Get my scuba diving certification ✅

Congrats, you are now a diver!
Congrats, you are now a diver!

I’ve ALWAYS wanted to Scuba Dive, but as usual I’ve just never had the time to do it. After some serious dive envy and seeing people around me get their certifications, I figured it was about time I threw myself in at the deep end (so to speak! HA), so I headed to the clear (but chilly) water of Shelly Beach, in Manly (Sydney) and completed the 3 day course over two weekends.

I loved the silence and stillness of being underwater, as there wasn’t anything to think about other than my breath (oh, and what hand signals we’re what, and I had a few gauges to keep an eye on, but other than that…. silence!). I felt absolute peace being underwater. No fear, just excitement and I was surprised at how easily I dropped down to depth with a calmness that I haven’t felt for a long time.

Achieving my certification not only allows me access to a whole other world of marine & plant life to discover, but it completely opens up new travel destinations that are more dive specific… and i can’t WAIT to get out and explore some of them in the future.

2. See the Taj Mahal ✅

The beauty herself!

As per my last Blog Post, India had been on my list since i was little and I finally made it!

While India is full of magical sites, and experiences that cannot compare to anywhere else in the world, there is something special about the Taj Mahal! She was better than you could ever imagine!

You’ve seen pictures of her in books, magazines and in movies all your life, but nothing can quiet compare to that moment you walk through the arch way, and see her standing there in all her glory. Time seems to stand still, and every image you’ve seen of her vanishes away, as they in no way do her justice. There is an awe and a kind of magic that seems to radiate from her and despite the tens of thousands of people swarming around you, it sort of feels like it’s just the two of you. She is majestic and that moment took my breath away and brought a tear to my eye.

3. Go on a yoga retreat to India ✅

Beautiful sunsets at Basunti!
Beautiful sunsets at Basunti Retreat, India!

Yoga had become a huge part of my life in 2012/2013, and i have tried to maintain a regular practice. I am lucky enough to have 2 amazing Yoga studios close to home in Wollongong, Ray of Light Yoga in Bulli, and Younga Yoga in Wollonong, and I’ve gained so so much from attending classes with the various teachers I’ve met, but I wanted to explore it a little deeper.

Yoga in India is like something out of a dream, and i was lucky enough to attend Basunti Retreat, with Lucy Roberts on a 7 day retreat. It was blissful, educational and i was surrounded by inspirational people and a stunning setting, which brought it all together perfectly. Most importantly the retreat awoken my passion for Yoga and the possibilities it could hold for the future. More personal development in my own practice, learning, traveling and perhaps one day sharing this knowledge and passion with others. We’ll see….

If you want to read more about it, check out the post http://mytravelust.com/2013/11/05/magic-in-the-motherland-basunti-yoga-retreat-with-lucy-roberts/

4. Hike Nepal (Everest base camp) ✅

YEW! Base camp.

Like India, Nepal and hiking Everest Base camp was a big thing that had been on my ‘to do’ list for some time, and Yep i finally achieved it this year and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life!

Not only was Nepal itself one of the most beautiful, fascinating, and friendly countries I’d been to, but achieving something as physically and mentally demanding as hiking to Everest Base camp was a proud and satisfying moment…. and that first glimpse of Everest’s shadows appearing through the clouds at sunrise was another moment that I’ll remember forever.

Check out my post http://mytravelust.com/2013/11/21/to-everest-base-camp-beyond/ for more about this amazing hike.

5. Try stand up paddle boarding &  SUP YOGA ✅

SUP Yoga! * Note.. Image is not me! Lol
SUP Yoga! * Note.. Image is not me! Lol

This one seemed basic compared to the other items i was able to tick off my list this year, but my bucket list isn’t all about big trips, and grand experiences. I want to learn and discover things in my own backyard as well, as it’s often the little things or moments, that end up being the most special.

Paddle boarding on a flat bay or lake was easy enough and good for my core strength, but doing it in the surf was another matter all together…. Something that i definitely need to practice!

I’d also seen images of SUP (Stand up Paddle board) YOGA, and THAT’S what i wanted to do. Taking the boards out at Balmoral, and giving it all a crack was a laugh, and after a few wobbly moments it was time to take some of my Yoga moves to the board… and to my surprise i was able to manage a few. I certainly intend to explore this further also, as it’s a cheap and fun way to spend an hour or so on a weekend… (Stay tuned for photos the next time i get out there!)

21. Do a DSLR photography course ✅

Capturing Street Art, Sydney.

Photography has always been a hobby of mine, and people had often remarked that i had a good eye for it… so it was something i was keen to look into. I had some limited experience with a DSLR camera from High School, but I knew there was more to it and it took a mate to basically sign me up, to get it done, and I’m glad i did!

Not only did the course give me more knowledge on the camera and the basics of photography, but it took me out of my comfort zone a little and back to learning a brand new skill. You kind of forget what it’s like to be new at something, when you’ve been in the same job for a while and it was an awesome experience.

It also took me to the streets of Sydney where i was able to discover some amazing street art, that i never would have seen otherwise. You also forget how much there is to discover in your very own back yard, so it definitely opened my eyes to that.

I’ll definitely be progressing through to the next course, and anyone interested should look into the Australian Centre of Photography in Paddington, Sydney.

6. Go on the Violet Junk, Halong Bay – Vietnam ✅

Taking it all in. The view of Halong Bay, from my balcony.
Taking it all in. The view of Halong Bay, from my balcony.

Another travel ‘Bucket List’ moment, and this time a little bit of splurging and a stay on the beautiful Violet Junk, on Halong Bay.

Being in Travel opens the eyes to new experiences everyday, and this is something that caught my attention a while back, whilst planning Vietnam journeys and seeing colleagues add it to their own Vietnam Itineraries.

It’s a traditional Vietnamese Junk (boat) that cruises on the UNESCO, World Heritage listed, Halong Bay. Exploring the spectacular bay made up of over 2000 limestone Islands, we we’re able to discover fine food, wine, and activities like bike riding, hiking and kayaking all from the comfort of a boat with just 6 luxury cabins (personal jacuzzi and all!)

The perfect way to see Halong Bay, and something that i am now suggesting to all of my clients for their own Vietnam travels.

7. Scuba dive Great Barrier Reef✅

Scuba Diving… Tick!

After obtaining my Padi certification this year, it was time to explore somewhere a little more exciting than the beaches of Manly, and living in Australia, it was obvious that The Great Barrier Reef would be my choice!

A weekend away, with 2 days out on the reef ensured that the underwater world I now had access to truly came to life! Getting up close and personal with the fish, Coral and all kinds of sea creatures helped to confirm my new love for exploring the deep, and has now only dampened my appetite for more.

8. Great Wall of china ✅

The Great Wall of China! (Well, kind of)

One of the perks of my career is the opportunity to visit some amazing destinations for ‘work’ and this year i was able to finally tick China off my list, with a visit to Shanghai for ILTM (The International Luxury Travel Market). I hopped a flight up to Beijing after the event and although it was a foggy, rainy day i got to climb the Great Wall of China!!

I did an ‘Urban Experience’ day tour with ‘Intrepid’ as i was on my own, and wanted to meet some people to share the experience with. The walk along the wall itself was interesting with people from all walks of life exploring the various sections. There we’re mad hikers with their hiking boots & waterproof gear, then there we’re girls in heels and pretty umbrellas tip toeing through the puddles and navigating the steep stone steps… definitely an eye opener, that provided a few laughs.

It was a surreal moment being up there, and a bit of a shame that i couldn’t see the wall stretch out across the horizon, but it was still fabulous and a great moment to tick off my list!

9. Cycle in Vietnam ✅

Exploring one of the Islands on Halong Bay, by bike!

While i hadn’t ever really defined exactly how much cycling i wanted to do in Vietnam, i knew that it was a great way to see the various towns and cities as it allows you to immerse yourself a little bit and get a little closer to the action… SO i made sure that wherever we went in Vietnam that we had some cycling on the itinerary.

All in all we cycled in Halong Bay, Hoi An and Nha Trang and got to see lots of the smaller back streets, and remote locations that truly highlights the pulse of the country. We went out to remote herb farms, and farming communities that can only be accessed by bike… A beautiful way to see the sights.

10.  Sunset or sunrise over Angkor Wat, Cambodia ✅

Angkor Wat at Sunrise, Cambodia.

Another one for the ultimate bucket list (especially for a traveler!) Sunset OR Sunrise over Angkor Wat in Cambodia!

A UNESCO World Heritage site, and the worlds largest religious monuments it’s a site that was built in the early 12th century. With Cambodia being a relatively new tourist destination, there are around 1.7million visitors to the Angkor Temples annually, and it’s a number that will continue to grow.

We we’re able to visit the site without the crowds at sunrise, with the fabulous tour company Trails of Indochina. It was a 4am wake up call, but the early trip out to the site was well worth it. A clear view of the fabulous temple, with the sun peaking over the temple with a clear blue sky emerging in the dawn of the new day. We had time to explore the sites early while all the other tourists returned to their hotels for Breakfast, which meant we also avoided the midday heat, and we’re back at the hotel in the pool by the time most other companies we’re out there talking guests through the various sites.

A truly spectacular site, and worth visiting in the near future before mainstream tourism envelops Cambodia.

11. Start a travel blog or photo journal of my adventures ✅

My Blog… MyTraveLust!

Well here we are reading my BLOG MyTraveLust!

It was something I’d wanted to do for a while, and the 3 month trip i embarked on this year was the perfect opportunity to start my blog. I know that i have alot of knowledge about travel to share, and i wanted to capture some of my travel memories, and if nothing else keep a personal record of my trip and share this with you.

I’m still so new to the blog world, and am learning more and more every day, but i hope you are enjoying it so far. I hope to continue the growth and development of MyTraveLust in 2014, with a vision for it to become not only a place for me to share my passion but for you to gain even further inspiration and use it as a tool in planning your own travel adventures.

12. See an intimate gig for one of my fave bands!

Music is a huge part of my life! I have been to more gigs than i can count, and the radio, ipod or spotify is always on. I don’t watch TV… I listen to music, and it was out of sheer LUCK this year,  that I was able to score tickets to see Kings of Leon at The Enmore Theatre in Sydney! A venue that holds less than 2000 people (which for a band as big as Kings of Leon, is as intimate as you can get!)

They we’re out here for a 1 off show for Triple M, and we’re playing just one MASSIVE Gig at Sydney Harbour that you had to win tickets too. Missing out on that (and admittedly it was not my scene) I lucked out when i heard an announcement for a last minute GIG for Triple J. Stokedddddddddddddd I scrambled for tickets, and with an ease that i didn’t know was possible when securing tickets online these days, we scored standing tickets…. and it was honestly one of the BEST concerts of my life!

Not only we’re we up close and personal with Kings of Leon, but they have such a massive range of albums with hit after hit being smashed out, and it was non stop sing alongs, dancing our butt’s off and ultimately just the sheer JOY seeing one of my fave bands, up close!

So, there you have it, my fave bucket list moments from 2013!

In the end i find the idea of a Bucket List a little more promising than having a single (or list of ) New Years resolutions, as it gives me a tangible list of things that i can look to for inspiration at any time of the year. I do however intend on creating a personal mantra for 2014 to live by, to go along with the things i want to see, do, learn, achieve and discover.

One of my beautiful Yoga teachers Morgan Webert (From Qi Yoga in Freshwater, Sydney) has just posted some info on creating a Yogic New Years resolution, which comes from the heart and aligns with your life purpose, so i will definitely look into this for my 2014 resolution. http://yogawithmorgan.com/2013/12/29/how-to-set-a-yogic-new-years-resolution-from-the-heart/

Either way having some ideas about how you want to live and what you want to achieve is a great thing, so hopefully this will inspire you to create a list of your own, and get out there. Live your life and do things that make your soul shine. Life is too short, so take control and whether it’s a big dream or a small moment with a loved one… you should make it happen.

Kate x

The beautiful madness that is India!

Beautiful India

My Mum and Uncle travelled extensively through this fascinating country when I was little, so India always had a presence in my life. From the fiery curries they used to cook (sometimes so hot you couldn’t even eat them!), the silver jewellery Mum would wear, the smell of incense constantly burning in our house, and the endless stories and black and white photographs my uncle would share, there was always a hint of India somewhere.

As I got older and began my own travels, India had always been on the list and since taking up yoga it’s a destination that I certainly longed to visit. It was both a chance to see the sights that my mum and uncle loved so much, and to also get a deeper understanding for the spiritual side of yoga and practice in the country it all began.

My 2 weeks in India we’re a whirlwind, and with 1 week being my beautiful Yoga retreat I had just 8 days to see some of my ‘Must See’ sites. Luckily I had the help of a wonderful company LUXE INDIA who got me through it from woe to go, and in style I might add. I’d arranged an action package 8 days of sightseeing with Varanasi, Delhi, Agra & Dharamshala being my picks for this trip (aware that there is way too much to see in just 1 week).

I had my travelling companion locked in (Jodes from my Flight Centre days, who had longed to see India as much as I had) and my visa sorted…. Ummmmmmmm VISA?

With the crazy busy life I was living, I literally ran out of time to apply for my visa in Oz before departing for the first few weeks of travel through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & the UK.. (They always say travel agents are great at sorting out everyone’s holidays, but their own!) Anyway, I did some research and realised that I could get my India Visa in the UK. Sweet right? Well… what I didn’t read was that it takes 3 WEEKS if you aren’t a UK national, and I had exactly 1.5 WEEKS….. Shit.

After tears, tantrums, contemplation (I was seriously considering the 72hr / $2000 return trip to Australia to get it) and wondering what the hell to do, I took a chance (on the hot tip from some guy, that worked for a visa processing company) and lodged the application.  He’d said that the visas we’re coming through in around 8 days, and I had exactly 10, so what choice did I have? I prepared myself to miss my Everest base camp trek if it didn’t come through in time, and crossed my fingers… Fortunately, through some sort of miracle my gamble pulled off and it was in my hand 1 day ahead of time, and so I was off to INDIA!!

1st stop… Varanasi.

They say Varanasi is one of the most confronting cities in India, and even for a seasoned traveller like me, I can see why. (It probably wasn’t the smartest idea to make this the 1st city I visited, but at least now I have some great advice for my clients!)

I’ve racked my brain trying to come up with a descriptive word, that is well… descriptive enough to paint a picture of the sensory overload that I experienced, and I can’t! All of the sights, smells and sounds kind of smash together like a multi car pile-up, but somehow it all combines to create a feeling that is magical and kind of hypnotic. I’d been there less than an hour and I knew I would either love it or hate it.

Here is a glimpse of my initial observations of Varanasi on my first evening. We had been to the banks of the Ganges to witness the evening ritual of an Arti Ceremony (the Hindu ceremony of offering)…and finally returning to the sanctuary of the hotel.

Evening Arti ceremony, on the banks of the Ganges.
Evening Arti ceremony, on the banks of the Ganges.

I’ve been in India less than 6hrs, and I’m not going to lie… This place is madness and I’m not sure if I like it (yet!)

From the minute I stepped off the plane it’s been a sensory overload, and I have no idea where to look first! On one hand I have the stunning women dressed in brightly coloured saris & men carrying their goats on motorcycles (hmmm) to glance at, and then there are the countless beggars lining the streets, and so many people with no awareness of personal space (why would they… there are 1.3 billion people here). Then, there are cows, cows and more cows AND not to mention the cow dung that paves your path through the narrow lanes to the Ganges ….Crazy!

And then there is the noise! The never ending, always persistent honk of the horn. Ahhhhh!

Despite the severe culture shock, and the fact that I barely felt comfortable leaving the hotel without a guide, my couple of days in Varanasi we’re fabulous!! The Arti ceremony is truly beautiful, and a morning boat tour of the Ganges gave you a glimpse of daily life as a Hindu in India. You’d hear the distinct sound of beating of drums, as family processions made their way to the river banks, people brushing their teeth, The old, young, men & women all joined together to bathe and welcome the morning, and give offerings to their Deities.

The burning Ghats we’re an eye opener too, with funeral piles and processions taking place morning, noon and night. Rituals and spirituality that I’m just not exposed to in the west. I LOVED IT!

Ganges at Sunrise
Bathing rituals
Sunrise boat trip on the Gange River
Morning ritual
Morning ritual

Next stop, Agra!

Agra was on the itinerary for the sole purpose of visiting the beauty herself, the Taj Mahal. You’ve seen pictures of her in books, magazines and in movies all your life, but nothing can quiet compare to that moment you walk through the arch way, and see her standing there in all her glory. Time seems to stand still, and every image you’ve seen of her vanishes away, as they in no way do her justice. There is an awe and a kind of magic that seems to radiate from her and despite the tens of thousands of people swarming around you, it sort of feels like it’s just the two of you. She is majestic and that moment, took my breath away and brought a tear to my eye.

The beauty herself!

We sat in her shadow, learning about the love story that brought her to life… True love cut short, after the death of Mumtaz Mahal during the birth of her 14th child. Her grieving husband Shah Jahan swore to build a mausoleum so grand in her memory that it took him 22yrs to complete, with stories of obsession where he would cut off the hands of the architects and artists to ensure nothing was replicated.

The Taj Mahal is one of history’s greatest declarations of love that leaves every woman with just one question…‘Why doesn’t my husband/boyfriend do that for me?’ And the answer my guide gave? ‘You’d have to die first!’

Leaving the Taj Mahal I took one last glimpse back, and said my goodbyes. Having the opportunity to explore her at both Sunset & Sunrise was a true ‘pinch myself’ travel moment, as sunset unveiled her shimmering in Golden light, reflecting from the white marble domes… and sunrise had her radiating a soft pink tone that bounced from the symmetrical towers of the complex. I’ll never forget that first glimpse, and it’s something everyone should have on their bucket list!

Sunset at the Taj Mahal
Sunrise at the Taj Mahal
Sunrise at the Taj Mahal
One last glimpse ..
One last glimpse ..

After Agra, it was off to Delhi where we explored the frenzied streets of old Delhi by rickshaw, and visited Jama Masjid, the congregational mosque built back in1423. We cruised past the Red Fort, and visited Humayun’s Tomb which was the 1st garden tomb on the Indian Sub-continent.

All the stories about Delhi you hear are true. It’s crowded, loud, chaotic and smelly, but after Varanasi it was a piece of cake! It did get tiring trying to stand your ground when yet another driver or guide takes you to their ‘families’ silk, statue, carpet, perfume or jewellery store (and EVERYONE has a family business in India). Clearly they get commissions when you buy something, and while you tend to be polite initially and humour them with questions, and wander around the store… by the end of our visit and yet another battle with a driver you have to say NO! (Unless you are genuinely interested in purchasing any of these items!).

In Delhi we stayed at the uber glamorous Dusit Devrana which was brand new and a stark contrast to what stood behind us outside the gates. Sleek and modern with polished concrete floors, curved walls, manicured gardens, and yoga platform and delicious guest bathrooms (I love a good luxury bathroom!), it was heaven! A true LUXE experience to end our 8 days of madness in India, before I headed to Dharamshala prior to the commencement of my Yoga retreat.

Dharamshala and McleodGanj up in Northern India, felt like another universe! With the dramatic Dhauladhar Mountains as your backdrop, it gives you the feeling that you’re more in Tibet or Nepal than India.

It is a busy bazaar town, that is home to the Dalai Lama and a large Tibetan community who’ve fled Tibet, and living in exile in Northern India.  If you’re lucky you can see the Dalai Lama, however he wasn’t in residence at the time I was there.

There is a beautiful waterfall and snow-capped mountains surrounding  the area, which would offer wonderful hiking experiences, and it was clear that backpackers and travellers alike like to call this place home, with a quite a young, hippy kind of vibe. With yoga studios, meditation retreats and all sorts of traditional classes to immerse yourself in, it’s somewhere that I’d definitely love to visit again sometime in the future, but for now a couple of days had to do… and next stop was my Yoga retreat at beautiful Basunti in the Kangra Valley. (Follow link for Blog post: http://wp.me/p3LBgc-4B)

  

And that my friends, is my glimpse of India and all the feelings and emotions it evoked. All in all it was an assault on my senses and a spiritual awakening.

My initial feelings about India we’re true… I’d either love it or hate it, and I can honestly say that I fell in love with the beautiful madness that is India!

Kate xx

Luxe India confirmed… 1 week to go!

Luxe India confirmed... 1 week to go!

ow! Today is exactly 1 week until my departure and I’m pretty frantic. I’m not sure about you, but despite the fact that traveling is second nature to me by now, I have a tendency to be a little too blasé.

Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to work and my clients I’m as thorough as you can be. Crossing my T’s and dotting my I’s, but when it comes to myself… forget it! I almost need the services of my own ‘Travel Stylist’ to ensure I am organised on time.

Despite having already run out of time to get my India visa prior to my departure (Lucky I have some time up my sleeve in the UK, so I’ll be able to arrange it there), something I have done is finalise my week’s sojourn through India.

With just 8 days between my Nepal trek (more on that later) and my India, Yoga retreat (yep, that’s right Trekking and Yoga!) I contacted the very knowledgeable team and our personal contacts at Luxe India to get me organised and they have planned the lot. (See, I told you we have contacts everywhere!).

The thought of travelling within India as a solo female traveller was a little daunting and kind of freaked out my parents (It wouldn’t be the 1st time!), so i had a few clear requirements for my journey.

Firstly I wanted to ensure that I would be safe, yet not guarded or kept too far from the sights, sounds, smells and experiences India is renowned for.

Of course I wanted an opportunity to take in the ‘must see’ sights that I’ve always dreamed of. These are the sights our clients always visit, so of course it’s important to experience them 1st hand.

Lastly, I wanted to include some particular areas of interest that I have researched that may be a little further off the beaten track. (Well as far off as 8 days travel will get me!).

So, after sharing my small list of travel ‘musts’ with the team at Luxe India ensured that they have created an itinerary for me that is perfect for my journey.

From witnessing Aarti ceremonies on the banks of the Ganges, to a visit to the Dalai Lama’s residence, where if I’m lucky an opportunity of an audience with him at McLeodganj where a large Tibetan population live … my trip covers all of my requirements and more!

What’s even MORE perfect is that one of my gorgeous colleagues Jodie has now decided to join me. So, now we are 2 female travellers experiencing India for the 1st time. It’s a destination we’ve both longed to visit for our entire travel careers, so the fact that we get to do it together couldn’t be more fitting.

So, stay tuned for updates later in October where I will share first hand the experiences I have of Luxe India and everything that a country as diverse as India has to offer.

For now, it’s back to the packing, washing and other mundane tasks that I always seem to leave until the very last second.

What’s your pre trip routine like? Are you a little ‘too relaxed’ like me or do you pack and plan a month ahead? Share any tips you may have for me.

Katie x