The Remarkable India


The Remarkable India

I honestly believe that some of the most difficult questions I have been asked in my twenty years of living and breathing on this wonderful planet earth would be “What was your favourite memory from your travels in India” or similarly, “What was your favourite place?” and “Who was the most inspiring person you met?” I struggle to come up with only one answer to these questions, purely due to the fact that India is the most vibrant, exotic and overall CRAZY place I have ever been, and I’ve formed so many incredible memories of this country. However, I shall do my very best to attempt to reflect on my absolute favourite memory of India right here and right now!

India, in my opinion, is quite easily the most extraordinary country that one could have the pleasure of visiting. This country is raw, down to earth and extremely (can I say extremely two more times?), extremely, extremely chaotic, which made me love India even more.

Day 1! Cruising through Delhi on our auto-rickshaw

Day 1! Cruising through Delhi on our auto-rickshaw

Despite the craziness and the hustle and bustle that comes with India, everything just runs so smoothly! Cars zoom past one another from lane to lane, yet not one scratch can be seen on any vehicle. You gaze out from your auto-rickshaw and witness elephants, cows, monkeys, pigs and hundreds and thousands of dogs roaming the streets. Mothers holding babies, daughters walking to school, fathers on their bicycles and everyone in between smiles and waves frantically at you as you stroll down the street – India takes the prize with flying colours for the most welcoming country, in my eyes. Sensational spicy aromas of butter chicken simmering in a huge pan on the sidewalk wafts through the streets (and this was an absolute dream come true scenario for me). All these little things made me love and appreciate India even more. It’s a simple fact that anyone who steps foot in India will fall in love with the place! I was astonished by the wisdom of India’s people, their integrity and their focus on the importance of family and community. In retrospect, I don’t think there have been many times where I have felt more welcome in someone’s home than when I was in India, for “Guest is God!!” they all proclaim.

New friends in Agra!

New friends in Agra!

I travelled India for a period of two weeks during my trip to Asia in February with my friend Liv. As cliché as it may sound, India really did open my eyes to the world, making me realise how privileged we are here in Australia. Additionally, it made me realise that all my worries about travelling to this country were absurd. People in Australia instilled thoughts in my head, suggesting that India was an unsafe place to travel, but in actual fact for the vast majority of the time I could not have felt safer.

A day after we arrived in Delhi, Liv and I flew to Bagdogra Airport in West Bengal, which is in North-Eastern India. It was here that we would commence our trip through West Bengal and into Sikkim, kindly recommended by the one and only Alex from here at ATMA.

So I’ve been sitting on this for a days now, and I can now safely say that this portion of the trip was a definite favourite. West Bengal and Sikkim were some of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. The Himalayan backdrop and the towering Mt. Kanchenjunga, which accompanied us on our journey through West Bengal and Sikkim was the cherry on top! Our first stop on this expedition was Darjeeling, a town famous for its tea plantations. It’s safe to say that I consumed my fair share of tea here, and struggled to fit four extra large packets of Darjeeling’s tea leaves into my already full-to-the-brim suitcase – but I did it, perhaps one of my greatest achievements. Darjeeling was absolutely freezing, but I think the inside of our hotel room at night was about thirty degrees colder than it was outside – yet the eight layers of wool that I covered my body with was just sufficient enough to keep me warm! However the view we woke up to in the morning was worth the cold – rolling tea plantations for miles on end, and a misty haze hovering above it.


Darjeeling’s Tea Plantations

Darjeeling’s Tea Plantations

After three days in Darjeeling, we drove up winding mountain roads to Pelling, entering Sikkim! This was definitely the most exciting part of the trip for me as I distinctly remember waking up one morning after five days of constant fog, to a squeal from Liv – “YOU CAN SEE THE MOUNTAINS!!!!!!” I struggle to recall a time where I have jumped out of bed faster, and I immediately saw through the window Mt. Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world, right outside our window. For the remainder of our time in West Bengal and Sikkim, Mt. Kanchenjunga followed us wherever we drove, and I honestly felt like the ultimate fan-girl every time I gazed up to it. We only stayed one night in Pelling, and next visited Gangtok. In Gangtok we guiltily (actually not so guiltily – no regrets) treated ourselves to a pizza, pasta and two serves of garlic bread upon arrival. We absolutely loved the Indian cuisine but couldn’t pass up on the opportunity that was, you know, garlic bread. Liv and I both really loved Gangtok. We visited numerous monasteries, purchased even more scarves, and consumed more vegetable curry pastries than humanly possible.



Mt. Kanchenjunga captured from my bed in Pelling

Mt. Kanchenjunga captured from my bed in Pelling

I loved Ganghook because it was such a peaceful place, in fact, that whole of West Bengal and Sikkim was. Picture hundreds and thousands of colourful Buddhist prayer flags attached from one tree to the next, from one building to the next, decorating paths up mountains and the streets of the town. This portion of our journey was polar-opposite to the hustle and bustle that the rest of India brought with it. West Bengal and Sikkim literally was a breath of extremely fresh and welcomed air. It felt amazing to get out into the mountains – I would absolutely recommend West Bengal and Sikkim to anyone! After our adventure here, we were ready to take on Agra and Jaipur and everything it had to offer, but that’s another story.

Buddhist prayer parks in South Sikkim

Buddhist prayer parks in South Sikkim

I came across this quote in Jaipur:

The land of dreams and romance, of wealth and poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great grandmother of tradition. – Mark Twain

I think it captures India perfectly.


Six Reasons to Put Sri Lanka on Your Bucket List


Six Reasons to Put Sri Lanka on Your Bucket List

Below is a great article from a good friend of Atma, Suji Upasena. Suji runs tours following the same moral and ethical guidelines as we do. If you are keen to see Sri Lanka there is no better option. Her tour can be seen here

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you must have heard of “Ceylon Tea”? Bet you’ve even had a cuppa or two. Ever wondered where it originates from? If you said Sri Lanka, you got it right.

This little tear drop shaped Island located just South of India on the Indian Ocean used to be known by many names including Ceylon.

Ceylon is the name, British Colonialists gave it when they conquered the country and took over from the Dutch. This little Island has a fascinating blend of influences from its Portuguese, Dutch and English colonisers, reflected in its architecture and culture.

Obviously, being colonised has also left behind its fair share of issues; most notably the ethnic divide which was a residue of the “divide and conquer” policy practiced by the colonisers and which arguably created the root cause of the civil conflict which plagued the country for 26 years. Thankfully the civil war ended in 2009, and Sri Lanka has been thriving since.

With its natural beauty and the high-speed development of infrastructure with the end of the conflict, Sri Lanka is well on its way to becoming one of the most sought after travel destinations.

I. If you love being awed by breathtakingly beautiful landscapes, you can’t bypass Sri Lanka. It’s hard to believe that so much diversity can be packed into an Island that’s about the same size as Tasmania (Australia). But that’s as far as the comparison to Tassie goes. The tropical coastline boasts gorgeous white sand beaches, which turn into molten skylines for breathtaking sunsets by evening.

Further inland and you will find large lakes in the ancient capitals built by the Kings and rain forests filled with endemic species.  The hill country is filled with hauntingly beautiful misty landscapes, stunning waterfalls and rolling hills covered with tea plantations.

Driving through the countryside, you will see Rice fields which stretch as far as the eye can see glistening in the sun.

Sri Lanka is a paradise waiting to be discovered. 

II. Mouth-watering food might not be a strong enough reason for some to travel half way across the world (but it certainly is for me). Sri Lanka grows some of the most delightful spices including cinnamon and nutmeg and you can taste these in local dishes.

The curries have their own unique flavour and the cuisine has influences from neighbouring South India as well as the colonialists from Portugal, Holland and the UK. Whether you are a foodie or not, you will find something to please your palate in Sri Lanka.

Traditional cooking is very wholesome and nutritious with everything made from scratch. Exotic veggies worth trying are drumsticks and okra.

Traditional foods such as milk rice; that is rice cooked in coconut milk and served up with savoury sambols & curries or string hoppers which have a texture similar to rice sticks and are very light and airy are all worth trying.

Wattalappam, a Muslim influenced delicately spiced coconut custard is a delicious ending to any meal. Another popular dessert in Sri Lanka is curd (similar to thick Greek yoghurt in texture) made from Buffalo’s milk and eaten with treacle.

III. If exploring the culture and history on your travels is your thing; you will probably be delighted to know that Sri Lanka is home to 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The ancient Capitals of Sri Lanka provide a glimpse into an era of prosperity and sustainable living during the time when Sri Lanka was ruled by Kings.

Ruins of ancient palaces, well-preserved rock cave temples and climbing the awe-inspiring Sigiriya Rock Fortress, hailed as the 8th Wonder of the World, will keep you engrossed for a few days.

IV. Lately, with rising concerns about using wildlife for entertainment, Sri Lanka is a great place to see wild animals in their natural environment. Sri Lanka is home to several wildlife parks, which are dotted around the country. The two best known wildlife parks in Sri Lanka are Yala and Wilpattu. Although, in the recent past, with the growth in local and foreign tourism there has been some overcrowding in these.

However, there are plenty of good wildlife parks to see elephants in the wild such as Uda Walawe, Wasgamuwa and Minneriya.

Depending on what time of the year you visit, leopards and bears can be sighted in certain parks. Elephants, crocodiles, wild boar, buffaloes, birds, deer and other animals can be seen all year around in most of the parks.

Mirissa on the South Coast is a favourite spot for whale-watching as is Trincomalee on the East Coast. Kalpitiya on the West Coast is teeming with dolphins during certain times of the year.

The variety of adventure activities that Sri Lanka has is surprisingly broad for a small country. You can take your pick from kayaking, white water rafting to trekking or climbing Adam’s Peak, a sacred mountain believed to hold the footprint of Buddha.

There are also some great spots for scuba diving and snorkelling off the South West Coast line as well as on the East Coast. Arugambay, one of the best surf beaches in the world is located on the South East Coast of Sri Lanka. 

VI. Sri Lanka has world-class spas and retreats. If you are travelling to de-stress and detoxify Sri Lanka is a must-try destination.

Ayurvedic Spas which offer massages, herbal and steam baths and detoxifying diets are also very popular amongst locals and tourists alike. 

These are scattered across the country and range from the very high-end ones located in five-star establishments to more affordable ones. Do your research to ensure that the spa or retreat is one that meets your specific needs. A predominantly Buddhist country, Sri Lanka has its fair share of meditation and yoga retreats. Most genuine meditation retreats will not charge any fees but will request a “dana” or donation in order to meet its running costs.

There you have it, six reasons to put Sri Lanka (Ceylon) on your bucket list.


Five Ways to Be a Conscious Traveller


Five Ways to Be a Conscious Traveller

Below is a great article from a good friend of Atma, Suji Upasena. Suji runs tours following the same moral and ethical guidelines as we do. If you are keen to see Sri Lanka there is no better option. Her tour can be seen here

“With great power comes great responsibility” that line from Spider Man that actually stuck in my head.  Maybe we can’t all climb walls or deal with bad guys with quite the same finesse as Spider Man.

But as human beings, we all have a responsibility towards the planet and all beings on it. The state of the world is ultimately affected by our individual actions and our state of mind. Making conscious choices when we travel has the potential to have enormous positive impacts on communities, animals and the planet.

For example, thanks to a petition by World Animal Protection signed by over half a million people, Trip Advisor has stopped selling tickets to the world’s cruellest tourist attractions.

Imagine the positive impact on wildlife from that action alone. You don’t have to be an economist to understand the simple logic; if there’s no demand, there will be no supply – eventually. As consumers we all have power. We can choose to use our currency to make conscious decisions.

Here are five ways to be more conscious of communities, animals and the planet on your travels.

Five Ways to Be a Conscious Traveller

I. Be conscious of animal protection

Unlearn things from your childhood and approach this with fresh eyes. Educate yourself about the horrific animal abuse that is coming to light at tourist venues which use wildlife for entertainment. The World Animal Protection campaign on “Wildlife not Entertainment” is a great place to start.

Besides, nothing quite beats the thrill of seeing animals in the wild anyway.


II. Support small and/or responsible businesses

Keep this in mind when it comes to booking accommodation, tour operators and hiring cars. Chauffeur-guides usually offer excellent value and service vis-a-vis the bigger car hiring companies.

While 5-Star luxury resorts sound glamorous, there are other ways to spread your tourist dollar more equitably and more responsibly, while still enjoying an incredible holiday. However, some 5-Star resorts, go above and beyond in meeting their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) obligations and can be a special treat to stay in. Do your research.

III. Shop consciously

There’s so much you can achieve by merely making conscious shopping choices. This is a list that will keep expanding as we get more and more educated about what’s happening around the world. At the end of the day who wants to be involved in exploiting child labour in the cocoa industry if you can avoid it?

Boycott products containing animals parts. Buy locally-made where possible, it will be cheaper and you will be able to pick up some pretty cool stuff which is unique to the country. Don’t haggle with street vendors, the few dollars you save may mean the family missing out on a meal for them. By being mindful of your choices, you can actually feel good about holiday shopping which is something most of us love doing.

IV. Have meaningful or authentic interactions

Use your imagination and social skills here. Some suggestions are engaging with a local project, visiting an orphanage etc.

Find other meaningful ways to interact with the local community like taking a bus or train instead of a taxi and experiencing life as a local. Take it from someone who’s tried it, your holiday will be a richer and more rewarding experience!

V. Spend time in mindfulness

You probably have your own favourite thing to do to take you to that place of utter contentment and peace. Being on holiday is a great time to try a bit of meditation or take a couple of yoga classes.

Visiting sacred sites can be truly awe-inspiring and quieten the mind. A long walk along the beach or a peaceful trek in a rainforest are also great to truly unwind and reconnect with yourself. I’ll leave it to your imagination to find other options.


Is Travel the Best Personal Development Hack?


Is Travel the Best Personal Development Hack?

Below is a great article from a good friend of Atma, Suji Upasena. Suji runs tours following the same moral and ethical guidelines as we do. If you are keen to see Sri Lanka there is no better option. Her tour can be seen here

There are as many definitions of personal development as there are gurus. I want to make it clear right away that I’m no personal development guru – far from it. For me, personal development is having a heightened sense of self-awareness that enables you to make conscious life choices.  Is travel the best personal development hack? I can’t answer that question for you. It depends. There are many ways to get where you want to be. It just turned out that travel played a significant part in my journey (no pun intended). 

I started travelling when I was 17 years old. Now, that I’m older, I look back on my life and know that travelling changed me like nothing else could have. Travelling teaches you things that you would never learn in a classroom. As Mark Twain said “… broad, wholesome, charitable views of men, cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth, all one’s lifetime“.

It opened up my mind to the limitless possibilities that exist when you weave knowledge and experiences from other cultures into your own narrative. As my life story and worldview changed and expanded, I lost my sense of identity in the best way possible. No longer tied to a culture, a religion or a place, my sense of self, became a floating, ever-changing concept. Not only did I become comfortable being an outsider, I embraced the freedom it gave me, to do my own thing and become whoever I wanted to be. Learning on the go to make conscious choices is the gift of travel

I had the kind of childhood that is best described as happy. Parents who were loving, kind and supportive. Tons of books (I was a bit of a bookworm and often preferred reading to company). Extended family, whom I adored, including a Grandma who doted on me and cousins, uncles and aunts ever willing to entertain me. Naturally, when I first left Sri Lanka at age 17, I missed my friends and family and pined for them.

But, very soon as I started meeting new people with very different values and lifestyle choices my old life and way of thinking started taking a backseat. I also started exploring my spirituality. My Buddhist upbringing; observing rituals & inconsistencies between practice and faith made me question the value of limiting oneself to a particular religion at a very young age. I became immersed in another life, one that was far more exciting, challenging and fulfilling than my safe and predictable existence playing monopoly on rainy days with my cousins in Kandy, a little town in Sri Lanka.

As they say “we travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us”. My new existence constantly challenged my belief system and my old way of life. I picked up quickly that there was no one way of doing anything. Even the concept of “culture” seemed too simplistic. Individuals varied so much within one culture that I was starting to question the validity of so-called cultural stereotypes.

Travelling transformed me from a shy bookworm into an adult with a purpose. I started thinking of myself as a World Citizen. Bit by bit, I was starting to get the answers to those pesky questions we all seem to ask ourselves at some point; “who am I?” and “what do I want to do?”.

Suji 2.jpg

I meditated, read books and had experiences that seemed to be guided by universal synchronicity designed to help me become more of who I was meant to be. It was the start of my personal development. As I traveled around Asia and Europe, I was absorbing knowledge and experiences both consciously and unconsciously. The more I traveled, the more I learned to navigate my way through different cultures, knowingly intuitively what to take on and what to discard from my ever changing sense of self. Reading Eckhart Tolle‘s book, A New Earth took everything to a whole new level.

I am still learning and growing through travel. I find it enormously relaxing and rejuvenating. What better way to spend time than exploring different corners of the earth, trying out new food and meeting amazing people?

The recent 10-day Vipassana retreat I did in Blackheath, made my life purpose even clearer. While I try to bring more presence into my own life and travels, I feel that part of my purpose is to also positively impact the travel industry so that it is conscious of local communities, animals and the planet.

In this impermanent experience that we call life, it is worthwhile to step out of your comfort zone and take a journey into yourself. Travel can be a great catalyst for this.