India | Moon Travel Guides https://moon.com Trip Ideas, Itineraries, Maps & Area Experts Sat, 18 Nov 2017 00:01:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9 https://deathstar-650a.kxcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/cropped-moon_logo_M-32x32.jpg India | Moon Travel Guides https://moon.com 32 32 125073523 Five Women Share Their Experiences Living Abroad https://moon.com/2015/11/five-women-share-their-experiences-living-abroad/ https://moon.com/2015/11/five-women-share-their-experiences-living-abroad/#respond Fri, 13 Nov 2015 17:43:54 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=33814 Making the move abroad is filled with practical hurdles, like finding a place to live and to work, but what about making friends, becoming part of the community, thriving in your new home? From Japan to Mexico, here are the thoughts and experiences of five women on making the cultural transition to living abroad.

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I never imagined myself living outside the United States until I took an extended trip to Mexico in 2001. After eight weeks exploring pre-Columbian ruins, ordering tacos at street stands, and strolling through bustling open-air markets, I’d fallen in love with Mexico’s warmth and color. Young and exhilarated, I blithely decided to extend my stay indefinitely.

But, as I soon learned, visiting a country and moving there are two very different propositions. Living in Mexico required far more elbow grease and patience than a vacation did, as I navigated both the complex and the mundane aspects of my new life, from immigration paperwork to Spanish-language job interviews. In the end, I loved the intermittent culture shock and ongoing challenges, and Mexico became my home.

Born in Germany, Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey, author of Moon Living Abroad in Australia, is a veteran expatriate who lived in both England and the Middle East before moving to Australia when her husband was transferred for work. Though she finds living overseas “positively addictive,” she agrees that it’s a challenge. “You need to be a quite adventurous and interested person,” says Lemmin-Woolfrey. “If you don’t like a challenge then it can be quite difficult. After all you have to start all over again each time: everything from finding a dentist, to not recognizing the money and brands in the stores, to settling your kids and finding new friends.”

Tackling the essentials—food, housing, work, visas—is a constant across the world. Making friends and building meaningful relationships is a more elusive part of the equation, but no less important. What does it take to feel at home in another culture, sometimes halfway across the world? The answer varies from person-to-person and country-to-country, but, many expats agree, assimilation isn’t necessarily the goal—nor is it often possible. I spoke with five women who lived in countries across the world, and asked them to share a few tips and insights about living as an expatriate in their adopted country.

Moving World Artwork, Heathrow Terminal in London.

Moving World Artwork, Heathrow Terminal in London. Photo © Jim Linwood, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Ruthy Kanagy, Japan: On Being a Good Neighbor

Ruthy Kanagy, author of Moon Living Abroad in Japan, was born in Tokyo and raised in Hokkaido, though today she makes her home in the Pacific Northwest. Kanagy tells me that foreigners are no longer seen as exotic in Japan, as they once were, and many Japanese “have experience living overseas and are well acquainted with foreign politics and cultures.” Nonetheless, Kagany recommends foreigners be proactive in connecting with locals in Japan. Rather than rent an apartment in the popular expatriate enclaves, Kagany suggests that a very simple way to “blend into Japanese society and become a neighbor, is to live in areas where Japanese do.”

Once there, she suggests you reach out to your neighbors by dropping by their home with a small gift, as is often done in Japan, or joining the neighborhood association to get involved in the local community. Good advice anywhere in the world, Kanagy says, “The easiest way to make friends is to have a common interest.” A good place to start is one of the many neighborhood community centers, where you might find “classes in Japanese arts like flower arranging or tea ceremony, sponsored hikes, or ballroom dancing.”

Learning to speak Japanese is also key. “The rewards of living in Japan and making friends is proportional to speaking the language,” Kagany says, noting that the Japanese study a foreign language in school and are very sympathetic to the challenges facing those learning a new language. “The more you make an effort to speak Japanese, the more people respond,” she adds, emphasizing that there are many phrases and expressions (like those used after a meal, for example) in spoken Japanese that are easy to learn.

Michelle Weiss, Mexico: On Sharing Studios and Speaking Spanish

Michelle Weiss, a native New Yorker, lived in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for over 15 years. Weiss notes that the large, long-standing American community in San Miguel can ease the transition for many expatriates. “For people moving to places that have significant long-term expat communities, it is not so much that they can successfully integrate but rather that they can live in a place that accommodates their foreignness into the weave of everyday living,” she explains.

However, Weiss was able to build relationships outside the expat community by connecting to people with common interests and learning to speak Spanish fluently. “I think I was able to integrate to a high degree. My friends were Mexican. I speak Spanish,” says Weiss. “We ate the same food, listened to the same music, shared studios and professional and creative endeavors.” Speaking the language, says Weiss, isn’t just about communication, but about truly understanding the nuance of Mexican culture. “To really integrate into the culture, it is essential to speak the language,” Weiss says. “Even though many Mexicans do speak English, you will not be privy to their true selves, to the depth and subtle nuances of their culture.”

At the same time, Weiss doesn’t believe the goal is assimilation. “It isn’t necessary to leave one’s cultural experience behind to live in another country,” she tells me. “You can deepen and broaden your experience by allowing your past experiences to color your present.” However, she adds, “It is necessary to bring a sensitive and open mind, a willingness to adapt. And most importantly to always have respect for that which is different or unknown.”

Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey, Australia: On Enthusiastic Expats

The mix of professional opportunities coupled with the warm, outdoorsy lifestyle are what bring a lot of newcomers to Australia, where the expatriate community is both large and well-integrated. In fact, Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey tells me, “The vast majority of Australians are immigrants, be it first or third generation, and the mix is fantastic here: People are either visiting, studying, or working here from all over the world, and a lot are here to stay.”

With previous experience living in Europe and the Middle East, Lemmin-Woolfrey has a strong frame of reference when she says it’s “relatively easy to integrate” into the local culture in Australia. In the Middle East, Lemmin-Woolfrey found the more tight-knit expatriate community provided a “support net of people who know what you are going through when you have just arrived and are struggling with the most basic of basics.” In Australia, there is a less structured expat community, though newcomers often make connections through international schools and activities. Lemmin-Woolfrey recommends sports as a way to inspire new friendships: “Pick a team, go out and play, and you make friends in moments.”

Margot Bigg, India: On Jus Sanguis

Margot Bigg moved to India from France, after falling in love with the country on an extended visit. She lined up a job in Gurgaon, near Delhi, at a time when most expatriates in India were “young single people looking for an overseas adventure, most of whom were willing to put in long hours for low wages in return for the experience of living in such an awe-inspiring country.” India’s expatriate community has only grown in the years since, though Bigg notes that Indian law has made it more difficult for foreigners to settle in India without a considerable salary.

Bigg says the environment in India is “usually pretty positive” for foreign residents, though she notes that “few foreigners become a part of society, especially if they don’t have ancestral ties to the subcontinent.” India’s nationality laws play a role in the separation of foreigners. Biggs explains, “India’s citizenship model is jus sanguinis, meaning that ancestry—rather than place of birth—is the decisive factor in determining what it is to ‘be Indian.’”

Shannon Aitken, China: On Waiguoren and Opportunities

For native Aussie and author of Moon Living Abroad in Beijing Shannon Aitken, making local friends was key to a positive transition in China. “Personally I found it really easy to adapt, but I have to say that a lot of that was because I got a job almost straightaway and immediately found friends who helped me,” she remembered. “If you have a patient Chinese friend or colleague who is willing to show you a few things when you get here, it’s much easier.”

Aitken paints an appealing portrait of life in Beijing, where expatriates are treated with kindness and respect. “On the whole, the Chinese are incredibly welcoming to foreigners. They love it when foreigners can speak Chinese and are interested in the Chinese culture,” Aitken explains. The professional opportunities have also drawn a “huge variety of expats” to Beijing, including “families, usually here because the father or mother work in an international or diplomatic organization that has brought them over; university students here to study either Chinese or an MBA, lots of entrepreneurial people; and then people like me who come over themselves seeking cultural experiences and who hunt out jobs and a lifestyles on their own bat.”

She notes, however, that few foreigners plan to stay on China long-term, telling me, “There is a point that most people never seem to cross, no matter how fluent your Chinese, how long you’ve been here, or even if you end up marrying a Chinese person. You’ll always be a waiguoren, a foreigner.”

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Expats Abroad: Emerging Opportunities https://moon.com/2014/05/expats-abroad-emerging-opportunities/ https://moon.com/2014/05/expats-abroad-emerging-opportunities/#respond Wed, 07 May 2014 18:21:27 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=12543 An estimated 232 million people live outside their country of origin. Author Julie Doherty Meade examines expat communities in China and India in the first part of her "Expats Abroad" series.

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Fishing at Jade Belt Bridge, Summer Palace, Beijing.

Fishing at Jade Belt Bridge, Summer Palace, Beijing. Photo © Dimitry B., licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Across demographics, financial factors are usually key components in a decision to move overseas, and changes to the global economy have resulted in fluctuations to immigration patterns worldwide. According to data released by the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs in September of 2013, an estimated 232 million people live outside their country of origin, as compared to 175 million in 2000. The UN also found that migrants from developing nations are settling in equal numbers in both developed and developing regions, a change from recent decades.

Although it wasn’t just the job market that inspired Aitken to relocate to Beijing, the opportunities the city offers professionally are a large part of what has kept her there for more than seven years.In many emerging economies, longtime residents have witnessed the growth and diversification of the expatriate community around them. For example, after the worldwide financial crisis of 2008, employment opportunities in the United States and many European nations declined sharply. Shannon Aitken, a professional writer and author of Moon Living Abroad in Beijing, first came to China from Australia on a charity cycling tour with Oxfam. Attracted to Beijing’s traditional culture and the opportunity to learn Mandarin, she says she chose to settle in the Chinese city because she “wanted to be able to work professionally but still experience something quite foreign to [her] Australian life.” Although it wasn’t just the job market that inspired Aitken to relocate to Beijing, the opportunities the city offers professionally are a large part of what has kept her there for more than seven years.

“I originally intended to come for one or two years,” she explains. “The thing with Beijing is that opportunities keep coming up. You work on a project here and think to yourself, I’ll go home after this is over, but then just when you’re getting into that mindset, someone puts another job on your plate.” Aitken notes that even though “the true golden days for foreign opportunity are gone, there really are still so many opportunities here that you might not get back home.”

The result is a highly diverse expatriate community that ranges from families who come on diplomatic posts to entrepreneurs, university students, and executives. Most foreigners stay in the city for around three years, but Aitken says, “I no longer find it surprising when I meet someone who’s been here for 10 to 15 years.”

Like China, India’s economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, and it has also attracted professionals and entrepreneurs looking for opportunity outside the United States and Europe. Margot Bigg, a freelance journalist and Moon Travel Guides author who lives in Delhi, has noticed a change in the types of foreigners seeking opportunities in India. After the 2008 financial crisis, Bigg says, “Suddenly, there were a lot more mid-career people eyeing India as a possible place to start over, many of whom brought their families with them.” Of these, some were new to the country, while “others had Indian parents or ancestry and knew a bit about the culture already.”

The new influx represented a notable shift from the type of expatriate that chose India in the past. The previous expat population was made up of generally “young, single people looking for an overseas adventure, most of whom were willing to put in long hours for low wages in return for the experience of living in such an awe-inspiring country.”

Since 2008, the climate has lost some of its sheen for foreigners: India’s GDP growth has slowed, and the government made any foreigner earning less than $25,000 ineligible for a legal work visa—“a fortune by local standards,” explains Bigg. Despite those stumbling blocks, there are still many opportunities for executives and other skilled foreigners continue seeking jobs in India’s information technology, manufacturing, and finance sectors, adding their numbers to the entrepreneurs, adventurers, and writers typically drawn to the country.

Read the Introduction or Continue to Part Two

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Movies to Inspire Wanderlust https://moon.com/2014/03/movies-to-inspire-wanderlust/ https://moon.com/2014/03/movies-to-inspire-wanderlust/#respond Mon, 10 Mar 2014 23:51:24 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=11414 Author and film expert Laura Martone shares a few popular and classic films that highlight specific destinations around the world—and may just persuade you to start packing. (Also, discover the movies that inspire us here at Moon!)

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Movies to Inspire Wanderlust

At the start of every year, feverish anticipation descends upon Hollywood. It’s awards season—a flurry of televised shows and much-coveted parties meant to celebrate the best of the previous year’s films. From the Golden Globe Awards in mid-January to the Academy Awards earlier this month, the 2014 awards season is filled with glamor and accolades. As the co-director of two film festivals, I’m always curious about the nominees, the ultimate winners, and, admittedly, the films that should but don’t get recognized.

Of course, as a travel writer, I’m often most impressed by films that manage to tell a compelling story while sparking my interest in the places featured on screen. Although films like Gravity and Captain Phillips probably won’t encourage most people to head into disaster-prone outer space or the pirate-plagued ocean, plenty of movies over the years have definitely inspired wanderlust in me and, undoubtedly, my fellow travelers. Here are films that highlight specific destinations around the world—and may just persuade you to start packing.


Sideways (2004)

In this Oscar-winning dramedy, two wayward, middle-aged men embark on a weeklong road trip through central California’s wine country, a region rife with golf courses, well-regarded wineries, and delectable restaurants. Filmed just north of Santa Barbara in and around the Santa Ynez Valley, this flick has enticed many a wine lover to recreate the movie’s tour of Santa Barbara and the Central Coast. Visit Firestone Winery—yes, that Firestone of The Bachelor fame—where you can take a tour of the giant barrel room and get a look at California winemaking behind the scenes. The Hitching Post II has been a local favorite for decades, but the restaurant’s upscale take on classic Santa Maria-style barbecue hit a new high upon appearing in Sideways, when patrons snagged so many souvenir cocktail napkins that the restaurant’s owner couldn’t keep them in stock. Get your own with a glass of their house-label Highliner pinot noir. The best way to experience this region is by car, as Jack and Miles do, stopping frequently to drink in the perpetually sunny skies, rolling golden hills, and sprawling live oaks that adorn the landscape. (Download a map of locations featured in the movie here.)

The Beach (2000)

In this Danny Boyle-directed adventure, a twentysomething traveler and his two new companions follow a strange map to a secluded island paradise in Thailand. While many dangers—from gun-toting marijuana growers to unexpected shark attacks—plague them in the wake of this decision, they do temporarily find that the “paradise” does live up to its legend. Actually shot in Thailand, the film features verdant jungles, secluded lagoons, white sand beaches, swaying palm trees, and underwater caves—all of which entice travelers annually. To experience this magical place for yourself, head to Koh Phi Phi Ley, the second largest island of Thailand’s Phi Phi archipelago, and now part of Phi Phi National Park. Essentially a ring of steep, foliage-enshrouded limestone hills, the island encloses two shallow bays, Maya Bay and Loh Samah, and a shallow inlet, Pi Ley. Maya Bay, where much of The Beach was filmed, is popular among snorkelers and scuba divers. However, the island has undergone quite a transformation since the film’s release: visitors will now encounter permanent facilities, such as restrooms, campsites, and a snack bar, and the beaches can be a lot more crowded these days.

A River Runs Through It (1992)

Based on Norman Maclean’s semi-autobiographical novella, this Robert Redford-directed drama focuses on the two disparate sons of a Presbyterian minister in rural Montana. Like Maclean’s story, the Oscar-winning movie takes place in and around Missoula in western Montana, though it was actually shot near Livingston and Bozeman in the southern part of the state; for example, Redeemer Lutheran Church in Livingston served as the father’s church in the movie. However, the reason the film inspires me to travel exists outside any of the buildings—the landscapes are truly phenomenal, particularly the crystalline, forest-lined streams that feature prominently in the numerous fly-fishing sequences. Many of these outdoor scenes were filmed on the nearby Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Boulder Rivers, and the latter two are particularly popular among fly-fishing enthusiasts today. Given the natural beauty and enviable serenity of this untamed wilderness, it’s no wonder that the state has long been known as Big Sky Country.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Several movies underscore the diverse state of Michigan, from the gritty streets of Detroit to the wilds of the Upper Peninsula. Perhaps no film, however, is as well-regarded as Somewhere in Time, a passionate love story that was shot almost entirely on Mackinac Island, a nostalgic locale that sits at the convergence of Lakes Huron and Michigan, between the state’s two peninsulas. To this day, fans of the movie flock to its principal backdrop, the Grand Hotel, a gorgeous, many-columned edifice constructed in 1887. Resembling an enormous hilltop mansion, the hotel even welcomes non-guests who want to explore its historic public rooms and well-landscaped grounds (for a small fee).

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Unlike the other films on my list, the first installment of Peter Jackson’s epic, Oscar-winning trilogy wasn’t shot in the place it represents. The story’s setting is the fictional world of Middle Earth, but most moviegoers know that the entire trilogy was staged in Jackson’s home country of New Zealand. This remarkable locale is filled with picturesque lakes, rivers, valleys, meadows, glaciated mountains, jagged volcanic rock formations, and deserts, all of which were utilized in the three movies. Predictably, the films have inspired many people to venture to New Zealand, where they can visit “backdrops” like Hinuera Valley (which doubled as Hobbiton), Kaitoke Regional Park (Rivendell), Mavora Lakes (Amon Hen), and Tongariro National Park (Mordor). Although you can visit all of these locations on your own, you might appreciate taking an official, two-hour tour of the Hobbiton movie set near Matamata on the North Island of New Zealand. Here, you’ll be able to see several gardens and structures, from hobbit holes to The Green Dragon Inn, that were built for the Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as The Hobbit films.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)

Inspired by the bestselling nonfiction account by John Berendt, this atmospheric mystery focuses on a magazine reporter and his unlikely friendship with a murderous millionaire, but the real star of Clint Eastwood’s film is the town of Savannah, Georgia. With its moss-covered trees, scenic squares, atmospheric graveyards, and eccentric denizens, this coastal town routinely lures culture lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. The movie features several recognizable locales and has inspired many people to plan a trip to this historic destination. If you’re one of them, be sure to visit the Mercer Williams House Museum, which was once the home of Johnny Mercer’s great-grandfather and later housed restorationist Jim Williams, the focus of Berendt’s book. To follow in the film’s footsteps, take a narrated tour of the Bonaventure Cemetery (a memorable backdrop in the movie and perhaps the city’s most famous graveyard), stroll amid the shady walking paths and athletic areas of Forsyth Park, and enjoy a meal in Churchill’s Pub.

Runaway Jury (2003)

Based on a John Grisham novel of the same name, this riveting thriller pits a mysterious juror and his girlfriend against a man who manipulates court trials involving gun manufacturers. Naturally, as with many films shot in and around New Orleans, this one takes full advantage of my hometown’s iconic settings, such as Café Du Monde, the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, and a quintessential French Quarter apartment. Like Cat People (1982), The Big Easy (1986), Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994), and many other movies, Runaway Jury captures the unique essence of the city and may just convince you to experience it for yourself.

Evita (1996)

Based on the popular Broadway musical, this popular, Oscar-winning biopic illuminates the life of Eva Duarte, a B-movie actress who eventually became the controversial wife of Argentinian president Juan Perón. Partially filmed on location in Buenos Aires, this energetic film highlights several historic sites in Argentina’s capital, such as Casa Rosada on the Plaza de Mayo, where Evita (played by Madonna) sings “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” to a riveted crowd. Fans of the film may also recognize the town of Pilar, which is part of the greater Buenos Aires area, as well as the Estacion Retiro in the city’s Federal District. This Renaissance-style train station played itself in the film, not long before being declared a national monument in 1997.

Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)

Based on an autobiographical book by Frances Mayes, this sumptuous film is the ultimate inspiration for both short-term travelers and expat wannabes. It’s the enviable tale of a writer who, in the wake of a gut-wrenching divorce, impulsively purchases a run-down villa in Tuscany. Filled with zany, memorable characters, the movie also serves as a love letter to Italy, highlighting the cities of Florence and Rome, the Tuscan town of Cortona, and the seaside village of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. The climate, scenery, history, and cuisine of the country are all exalted in this life-affirming story.

Perhaps the most sought after adventure in life is to travel—to take a hiatus from reality and escape into an unknown world brimming with exotic foods, interesting culture, and picturesque views. Book-turned-movie Under the Tuscan Sun has captivated audiences since its release in 2003. Sloping valleys and decadent foods fill the screen and motivate everyday people to forgo their typical hustle and bustle and claim their own small piece of paradise. Audiences get just a taste of Italy’s old-world charm, captivating architecture, and divine landscaping. The allure of someday sipping espresso in a corner café along the cobblestone streets of Tuscany is almost impossible to ignore!

Ashley Le Sage, Receptionist at Avalon Travel


Naturally, these aren’t the only films that have inspired my yen for travel. Whenever I watch Dr. No (1962), I feel a sudden desire to fly to Jamaica, and 50 First Dates (2004) always finds me craving a trip to O‘ahu. Meanwhile, The Blues Brothers (1980) routinely makes me miss Chicago, and not surprisingly, Midnight in Paris (2011) makes it hard not to yearn for the Arc de Triomphe, the Cathédral Notre Dame, the Musée du Louvre, and all the other romantic aspects of the jewel of France. Even Mary Poppins (1964) sends me back to the picturesque streets of London, despite the fact that it was actually filmed at Walt Disney Studios! Of course, any number of movies can entice me to visit the bustling cities of Los Angeles and New York.

So, which films give you a reason to plan your next vacation?


Moon Staff Picks

Here are four films that inspire us, encourage us to hit the road, make us remember our favorite journeys, and remind us how truly wonderful traveling can be.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

In Alfred Hitchcock’s winner of the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, John Robie (Cary Grant) and Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) fall in love while zipping along the winding roads of the French Riviera in an electric blue convertible. In addition to showcasing the staggering hills and pastel homes above the Mediterranean, this classic film pays homage to such landmarks as the Nice flower market and the Cannes Carlton Hotel. From the sprawling villa where ex-cat burglar Robie tends to his vineyards to the white sand beach at Cannes where he and Frances sunbathe and banter, To Catch a Thief could convince anyone to take a trip to the South of France!

Anna Gallagher, Publicity Assistant

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

Take an old tour bus, add two drag queens and a transsexual woman, put them in the Australian Outback, and you have the cult classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The film features a road trip from Sydney to Alice Springs, a small town in the heart of Australia. Along the way, viewers get a taste of the Outback towns Coober Pedy and Broken Hill, in which much of the filming actually took place. Of course, nothing beats the gorgeous views of King’s Canyon when the trio climbs it in full drag regalia to fulfill a lifelong dream. Their ultimate destination is Lasseters Hotel Casino, a real hotel where you can book a room with views of the Todd River and the mountains of the MacDonnell Ranges. I can’t watch this movie without wanting to hop in my car (or better yet, buy a bus) and drive off to parts unknown.

Cat Snell, Operations Assistant

Once (2006)

For me, the movie that always evokes the strongest travel memories is the indie musical Once. The film takes place in Dublin, where I spent the better part of a two-week literary study tour of Ireland in 2006. When Glen Hansard belts out “Say It to Me Now” and plays his ragged acoustic guitar in front of Dunnes Stores in the opening scene, I imagine that I’m back in Dublin, walking along the red brick road and people-watching as I dip in and out of boutiques and coffee shops.

In one scene in the film, Hansard even chases a pickpocket into historic St. Stephen’s Green, one of the first sites I visited. Many of my favorite memories of my trip took place in Temple Bar, and every time I watch Hansard and Markéta Irglová walking together through this district, I remember the nights spent with my fellow travelers—drinking beers, talking about all of the sites we’d visited that day, and declaring how we’d never feel quite ready to leave Ireland and head back to the States…

Jesse Wentworth, Associate Publicist

The Fall (2006)

One movie that never fails to whet my appetite for travel is The Fall, a film directed by Tarsem Singh that was shot on location in some of the most colorful and awe-inspiring sites in the world. The Fall tells a story of a journey through many fantastic lands—the high dunes of the Namib Desert, verdant rice terraces in Bali, lush botanical gardens in Buenos Aires, and the ruins of the Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom, Cambodia.

But the majority of the film is a wonderful tour of sites in the director’s home country of India. We first meet one of the characters in the City Palace in Jaipur, a major landmark built in the 1730 that features walls, ceilings, and frescoes that are elaborately decorated with intricate carvings and paintings. The film then takes us throughout India, from the “Gate of Magnificence,” Buland Darwaza, to the Emperor Akbar’s tomb and Agra Fort in Uttar Pradesh. I always marvel at the Mehrengarh Fort overlooking the Blue City of Jodhpur, the iconic Taj Mahal, and the stunning architecture of Chand Baori, a “stepwell” built in 800 AD. One of the oldest landmarks in the state of Rajasthan, this massive irrigation system collected and stored groundwater in the arid region, and also served as a gathering place for the local villagers.

The entire movie is a visual treat, and it’s sure to make you want to pack your bags for distant lands that seem like they could only exist in your imagination.

Carrie Hirsch, Marketing Associate

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Christmas Celebrations in Delhi https://moon.com/2013/12/christmas-celebrations-in-delhi/ https://moon.com/2013/12/christmas-celebrations-in-delhi/#comments Mon, 09 Dec 2013 21:44:01 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=9674 Christmas is not the most feted day of the year for most people in Delhi, but it definitely does not go by unnoticed. Author Margot Bigg discusses holiday celebrations in India.

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In a home with a parquet wood floor, crepe paper is strung from a ceiling light with a decorated Christmas tree in the foreground.

A North Indian home decorated for Christmas. Photo © Margot Bigg.

Christmas is not the most feted day of the year for most people in Delhi, but it definitely does not go by unnoticed. The Christian population in India’s capital is relatively small (especially if you compare it to South or Northeast India), and most people are still recovering from the festival season, a long slew of Hindu celebrations that take place every autumn (Diwalli—arguably the most important festival of the year—Navratri, Karva Chauth, and Kartik Poornima, to name a few). By the time December 25th rolls around, most people have also been to their fair share of weddings, as the festival season overlaps with the traditionally auspicious matrimonial season in India.

In Delhi, like pretty much everywhere else in the world, merchants with any business sense at all recognize that the Christmas season is a great time to cash in on the spirit of giving.But Christmas is still a national holiday in India, and most people do a little something to celebrate. On the days leading up to the holiday, the roadside vendors that normally make their living selling mosquito-electrocuting tennis rackets and tangerine-hued dusting cloths switch to selling bright red Santa hats that everyone—from local children to businessmen—sports with shameless abandon. Variety stores break out their stashes of Chinese-made Christmas ornaments and plastic evergreens, and bakeries make room for little blobs of fruitcake amongst their shelves of bone-dry cashew cookies and sliced white bread. In Delhi, like pretty much everywhere else in the world, merchants with any business sense at all recognize that the Christmas season is a great time to cash in on the spirit of giving.

But unlike many other places I’ve lived, Christmas in India still retains much of its true spirit. I don’t mean that the entire focus is on the nativity story or that Christmas is seen strictly as a religious holiday; what I mean is that the holiday is generally viewed as an excuse to spend some time at home with the people you love most, and hopefully have a good time doing it. And while your typical North Indian Christmas season may be void of ugly sweater competitions, raucous office parties, and maxed out credit cards, it still has a festive, family-focused feel to it. Presents are not central to the celebrations, and outside of Christian communities, giving gifts is not all that common. (It’s actually more common during Diwalli, the festival of light, which has unfortunately become increasingly materialistic over the years.)

Social and familial bonds are integral to daily life in India, and any festivity that gives people the opportunity to deepen their social ties (and maybe have a party in the process) is welcomed by most communities with open arms. Christmas is no exception.

World Holidays - Delhi Banner

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Catching the Travel Bug https://moon.com/2013/06/catching-the-travel-bug/ https://moon.com/2013/06/catching-the-travel-bug/#respond Wed, 19 Jun 2013 22:14:43 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=4409 Tom Vater shares his experiences in Tenerife and Delhi that truly got him addicted to traveling.

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View down to a chaotic street full of market stalls and pedestrians.

The chaotic streets of the Paharganj area of Delhi. Photo © McKay Savage, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

In 1987, I traveled from the UK (where I was at college) to Tenerife, a Spanish island off the coast of Morocco. I hit the road with two good friends. We had almost no money, so we had to decide whether to get a hotel room or a car. We opted for the car and slept inside or underneath this tiny little Spanish SEAT for the next three weeks. We explored every corner of the island; climbed the highest mountain, the volcano Pico del Teide; had the car broken into; got arrested for vagrancy; were chased by dogs at night; washed ourselves under resort swimming pool showers—access sometimes provided by girls we met; and drank with the brothers and cousins of famous football players who had opened bars on the island. I understood then that one can see the world on a modest budget and that one doesn’t need much to carry around. (This became especially obvious after the car had been burgled and most of our clothes were gone!)

In those first hours in India, a new world—a wonderfully overwhelming montage of light and darkness, chaos and order, of massive, epic sensory overload by exposure to a culture quite different from my own—began to form in my mind.Several years later, I traveled to Delhi for the first time. This was 1993, and the trip was a life-changing experience, an epiphany. I was in my mid-twenties and had a small grant from the British Library to record the music of indigenous people in Asia.

After my plane landed, I remember coming down the stairs into the immigration hall. The smell that assailed me was incredible—a mixture of sweat, spices, bidis, tobacco, cheap coffee, urine, marijuana, floor cleaner, perfume, and fuel.

Once I had located my luggage, I headed out of the arrivals gate. I will never forget the sight: a huge crowd, densely packed, leaned into the banisters in front of the gate. All these people, hundreds of them, were men, and all of them wore mustaches and inscrutable expressions. It was after midnight. What were they doing there? They clearly weren’t waiting for friends, loved ones, or clients. They weren’t holding up signs. Who was in charge? This became a defining question in the minutes and hours, days and weeks following my arrival.

I took a two rupee bus driven by an ancient Sikh who looked like a stand-in for Gandalf, complete with the long white beard. With great skill, he kept his ancient vehicle from swerving into the many sleeping cows that lay in the middle of the road. The bus dropped me behind New Delhi railway station by a disused piece of wasteland. It was mid-winter, pitch dark and very cold. The hotel I was headed for lay on the other side of the station, but I didn’t know that then. Like most travelers arriving in a city for the very first time, I was vulnerable and disoriented. On the dirt-strewn ground in front of me, men were standing around burning oil drums in an attempt to keep warm. They surrounded me, smiled and shouted, cajoled and laughed. Then one of them offered to take me to my hotel in his rickshaw and charged me double the regular fare. The men on that piece of wasteland were genuinely alarmed that I had temporarily joined their precarious lives and did their best to guide me safely to my destination, for a modest fee, rather than for my wallet, passport, or neck.

In those first hours in India, a new world—a wonderfully overwhelming montage of light and darkness, chaos and order, of massive, epic sensory overload by exposure to a culture quite different from my own—began to form in my mind. Traveling around the country in the following weeks, I had to improvise often to get where or what I wanted, usually with the help of locals. Almost every encounter, barring those with touts in tourist ghettos, proved to be fascinating and positive.

Six months after that first trip to India, I returned to Asia permanently, continuing my collaboration with the British Library for several more years across India, Thailand, the Philippines, Nepal, Pakistan, and Iran, steadily planting the seeds to my writing career. The travel bug truly got me on a winter’s night in Delhi.

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Agra, Delhi, and Jaipur: Like Nowhere Else on Earth https://moon.com/2013/06/agra-delhi-and-jaipur-like-nowhere-else-on-earth/ https://moon.com/2013/06/agra-delhi-and-jaipur-like-nowhere-else-on-earth/#respond Sun, 09 Jun 2013 22:36:45 +0000 http://publishing.wpengine.com/?p=1259 The North Indian cities of Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) are collectively known as India’s Golden Triangle. Even a brief visit to this region will give you a good feel for the country’s regal past, not to mention plenty of amazing memories of your own.

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At a market, a woman carries a large basket balanced on her head.

Photo © Nathalie Hedstrom.

With its shimmering white marble domes and perfect symmetry, the Taj Mahal is among the most stunning marvels on the planet as well as the world’s most magnificent emblem of love. Photos cannot do justice to this architectural masterpiece. A stroll along the reflecting pool that cuts through the lush grounds of this breathtaking mausoleum transports you back to a time when bejeweled royalty feasted on richly spiced delicacies and terraced fountains flowed with rose water.

In an ideal world, everyone would get the chance to see India at least once. This intense country is like nowhere else on earth. You could spend lifetimes exploring its extraordinary landscapes, architecture, and cultural traditions. The North Indian cities of Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, are collectively known as India’s Golden Triangle. Even a brief visit to this region will give you a good feel for the country’s regal past, not to mention plenty of amazing memories of your own.

Stepping onto the streets of Jaipur is like jumping into the pages of an illustrated fairy tale. Elephant processions, grandiose forts, chivalrous men with mustaches that stretch extravagantly, and starbursts of color contrast against the starkness of the golden desert.

India’s liveliness, color, and contrasts strike visitors almost immediately.The vibrant gateway city of Delhi can seem hectic to the first-time visitor, particularly because it’s constantly thronging with people. That said, once you get into the groove of things, you will discover that this sprawling metropolis is one of the most history-rich spots on the planet. Stroll through Old Delhi, where hole-in-the wall stores crowned with colorful hand-painted signboards are set against a backdrop of sky-piercing sandstone mosques and forts that date back centuries. Drive down Central and South Delhi’s broad leafy avenues alongside luxury cars and the odd oxcart, past 500-year-old tombs and Raj-era buildings that blend neoclassical architecture with Indian aesthetics.

India’s liveliness, color, and contrasts strike visitors almost immediately. However, most leave with a much deeper impression of India, one that’s illustrated by the stories of the people they meet and the adventures they have. Whatever your Indian experience ends up being, it’s sure to have a lasting impact on the way you see our world and its people.

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India’s Golden Triangle: A Spiritual Sojourn https://moon.com/2013/06/indias-golden-triangle-a-spiritual-sojourn/ https://moon.com/2013/06/indias-golden-triangle-a-spiritual-sojourn/#respond Tue, 04 Jun 2013 17:50:46 +0000 http://publishing.wpengine.com/?p=1279 Divinity plays a role in even the most mundane aspects of day-to-day life in India, and this spiritually rich land has been attracting seekers for generations. Here are some of the most significant spiritual sites in and around Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra.

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Stone steps lead up to the yellowish stone walls of the Amber Fort.

Amber Fort near Jaipur. Photo © Koen Photos licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

Divinity plays a role in even the most mundane aspects of day-to-day life in India, and this spiritually rich land has been attracting seekers for generations. The following is a list of some of the most significant spiritual sites in and around Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra.

Delhi

India’s capital is home to numerous holy sites for people of all faiths. The shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya, Nizamuddin Dargah, is an important site for Sufis, and even the nondevout are likely to find the evening Qawwali (devotional music) performances moving. The Sikh temple, or gurudwara, of Bangla Sahib is another significant holy spot in Delhi, and the water that comes from its large outdoor tank is considered holy. The Hindu goddess Kali is extoled at South Delhi’s Kalkaji Mandir, and for centuries people have been making offerings to this terrific manifestation of female divinity at this very spot. The large IS KCON Temple nearby is the Delhi base for the ISKCON organization (a.k.a. the Hare Krishnas). Just behind this temple is the Baha’i House of Worship, also called the Lotus Temple, a beautiful, silent place of worship and quiet reflection that is open to all.

Agra

Agra is better known for tombs and archaeological sites than for places of worship, although there are a great number of mosques and temples. The holiest spot for Sufis in the area is arguably the Dargah of Salim Chisti at the Jama Masjid in Fatehpur Sikri. The twin towns of Mathura and Vrindavan, north of Agra, are significant to devotees of Krishna, who is said to have grown up here. The Banke Bihari Mandir is Vrindavan’s most famous temple.

Jaipur

Jaipur is more known for its royalty than its religion, although the city is home to a couple of significant spiritual sites. Amber Fort’s Sheela Mata Temple is an important stop for Hindu visitors to the palace, as it is believed that the goddess idol kept here was found after a local king located it in a prophetic dream. Galtaji is another important site that houses a number of temples, including one dedicated to the sun god Surya, as well as tanks containing holy water.

Rishikesh and Haridwar

On the banks of the Ganges River, Rishikesh and Haridwar are among India’s holiest cities. Evening aartis (prayer ceremonies) are held along the banks of the Ganges in both cities, when hundreds of tiny candle-containing boats are floated across the waters. Both cities are home to hundreds of temples, including famous ones such as Haridwar’s hilltop Mansa Devi Mandir as well as Neelkanth Mahadev, a forest temple dedicated to Shiva at the end of an 13-kilometer trekking path from Rishikesh.

Pushkar and Ajmer

Pushkar is one of India’s holiest towns and is considered by some to be the earthly abode of Brahma, the creator in the Hindu trinity. The city is full of temples, and most of its residents are of the Brahman, or priestly, caste. Pushkar is most famous for the Jagatpita Shri Brahma Temple, one of the only Brahma temples in the world. It sits on the banks of Pushkar Lake, which attracts pilgrims from across the Hindu world who come to bathe in its holy waters. Ajmer’s Dargah Sharif is the shrine of the founder of the Chishti order of Sufism and is probably India’s holiest spot for South Asian Muslims.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Taj Mahal, Delhi & Jaipur.

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North India’s Architectural Marvels https://moon.com/2013/05/north-indias-architectural-marvels/ https://moon.com/2013/05/north-indias-architectural-marvels/#respond Fri, 31 May 2013 19:42:03 +0000 http://publishing.wpengine.com/?p=1262 North India is home to a vast array of architectural treasures, from the spectacular Taj Mahal to the recent Baha’i House of Worship.

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After dusk, the lights in the palace illuminate the stone walls and reflect in the water.

Jal Mahal, the water palace. Photo by cprogrammer licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

North India is home to a vast array of architectural treasures, many of which fuse a variety of influences, both domestic and imported. Agra’s famed Taj Mahal, with its gargantuan onion-dome roof, its glistening white marble inlaid with semiprecious stones, and the perfect symmetry of its construction, is arguably the most spectacular of them all. It’s no surprise that this bedazzling tribute to romantic love is among the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Jaipur’s water palace, or Jal Mahal, is yet another of the city’s stunners, blending Rajput and Mughal architecture with a few Bengal-style elements.Near the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort is yet another architectural masterpiece. It was built primarily of red sandstone, although there are also plenty of white marble structures inside its walls. Many of the buildings are prime examples of the convergence of Hindu and Islamic styles of architecture and silently illustrate the way the meeting of the two philosophies shaped the culture of the region for centuries to come. Just outside Agra, the now abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri is filled with magnificent Mughal-era architectural treasures. The most stunning sight is the massive Buland Darwaza, believed to be the largest entryway in the world. The red sandstone gate sits atop a perilously steep flight of stairs and features intricate black and white marble inlay work.

As India’s capital, it is only natural that Delhi is home to many fascinating architectural wonders. It has an amazing selection of Lodi-era tombs; those found in the city’s verdant Lodi Gardens are among the city’s most spectacular. The 16th-century Humayun’s Tomb is considered the first major example of Mughal architecture. The highly ornamental architecture and adornment of Old Delhi’s Lal Qila (Red Fort) borrows from Indian, Persian, and Western European schools of design to create a style that was unique to the era of architecture obsessed Shahjahan (who also commissioned the Taj Mahal).

Delhi also has its fair share of more recent architecture. One notable example is the Baha’i House of Worship, known colloquially as the Lotus Temple, built to emulate the sacred flower from which it takes its nickname; it features 27 marble-coated “leaves.” The more recent temple at the Swaminarayan Akshardham Complex is made of intricately carved pink sandstone and is supported by 10-meter-high pillars.

Much of the architecture of Jaipur incorporates Rajput, Islamic, and British elements. The pink-sandstone Hawa Mahal is among the city’s iconic structures and features nearly 1,000 tiny latticed windows in an arrangement often likened to a beehive. The windows are positioned in such a way that breezes can pass through, cooling the building’s interior. Jaipur’s water palace, or Jal Mahal, is yet another of the city’s stunners, blending Rajput and Mughal architecture with a few Bengal-style elements. It sits right in the middle of Man Sagar Lake and can only be accessed by boat. The 19th-century Albert Hall was modeled after the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and is among the world’s finest examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture, a style that blends Indian and Mughal styles with the neo-Gothic architecture that was all the rage in Victorian England.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Taj Mahal, Delhi & Jaipur.

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Taking a Trip of a Lifetime with Margot Bigg https://moon.com/2013/05/margot-biggs-idea-of-a-trip-of-a-lifetime/ https://moon.com/2013/05/margot-biggs-idea-of-a-trip-of-a-lifetime/#respond Thu, 30 May 2013 22:59:04 +0000 http://publishing.wpengine.com/?p=1523 Margot Bigg, author of Moon Taj Mahal, Delhi & Jaipur, discusses why India is her dream destination.

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View of the Taj Mahal across the river.

Photo © Daily Travel Photos.

What really sets a trip of a lifetime apart from just a trip is that it changes the way you see the world, forever. To me, a trip of a lifetime relates to an experience you’ll never again be able to emulate. The destination might be somewhere you know you’ll only get to see once, perhaps because it’s far away or expensive to get to. The style of travel might also be something special—for example, most of my travel is of the budget variety, so a luxury cruise for me might be a trip of a lifetime, even if it’s to a destination I’ve seen many times before.

Once you’ve been to India, you’ll never see the world in the same way again.There’s an old adage that most people who have been to India are familiar with. It goes something like, “There are two types of people in this world: those who have been to India and those who haven’t.” Once you’ve been to India, you’ll never see the world in the same way again. I know my adoration for India makes me a bit biased, but there is truly nowhere else like it on Earth. It’s one of the most history-rich places I’ve ever been, and the “Golden Triangle” of Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) has some of the most stunning, varied, and well-preserved architecture I have ever come across, anywhere.

The Taj Mahal is undoubtedly the world’s most romantic and stunning monument to love and easily one of the most iconic structures in the world. Plus, once you’re in the region, you can easily go on a tiger safari, spend a weekend at a yoga retreat, or immerse yourself in the urban life of Delhi, one of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing cities.

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Learning Patience on a Trip to India https://moon.com/2013/05/learning-patience-on-a-trip-to-india/ https://moon.com/2013/05/learning-patience-on-a-trip-to-india/#respond Wed, 22 May 2013 22:50:18 +0000 http://publishing.wpengine.com/?p=1515 A serial traveler from a young age, Margot Bigg hadn't seen much of the developing world before she set foot on Indian soil. Her first trip to India completely transformed the way she saw the world and taught her how to relax and go with the flow much more than she ever thought possible.

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Moon author Margot Bigg stands in the foreground with the stunning form of the Taj Mahal behind her.

Moon author Margot Bigg at the Taj Mahal, what she calls “undoubtedly the world’s most romantic and stunning monument to love” and a location worthy of being a “Trip of a Lifetime.” Photo © Margot Bigg.

My first trip to India completely transformed the way I saw the world. I’d already spent a fair bit of time traveling abroad by the time I first set foot on Indian soil, but except for a trip to Egypt and a night of drinking in Tijuana, I had very little experience with the developing world. I’m also a very impatient person; I talk fast, walk fast, and am most comfortable when things happen with speed and efficiency. However, in India things happen when they happen, and time and time again people would tell me to “just chill.” Circumstances consistently forced me to relax and go with the flow much more than I ever thought possible.

Circumstances consistently forced me to relax and go with the flow much more than I ever thought possible.During this first trip, I rode in the non-air-conditioned section of an overnight train from Varanasi to Jaipur. The already long train ride ended up being delayed by an additional 20 hours. Had this happened in the West, people would have been furious or demanded alternative transportation. While there was certainly a fair bit of annoyance on the part of my fellow passengers, people were accepting of the change of fate and took the time to catch up on sleep, read or socialize. This experience, and the many seemingly frustrating experiences that would follow, taught me that patience, acceptance and a general ability to roll with the punches can make difficult situations easier to deal with.

My family played a major role in turning me into a serial traveler. My father is British, and I spent much of my childhood going back and forth between the US and the UK. Long-haul flights on the now-defunct Pan Am feature heavily in my early childhood memories, and my transatlantic youth provided great training for a lifetime of globetrotting. At an early age, my mother taught me how to live out of a carry-on, how to minimize jet lag, and how to communicate with people with whom I didn’t share a common language. It’s to my parents that I owe my curiosity about the rest of the world, and it was they who instilled in me the confidence to go out and explore this incredible planet of ours.

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