The most amazing man-made structures in Asia

Bhutan’s Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Photo: Belle Jackson

Faster, higher, longer and older: there’s no doubt Asia plays the one-upmanship game when it comes to architectural statements.

It’s
a tough call, making a list of the top 10 architectural statements in
Asia. You could go crazy on weird shopping malls or kooky skyscrapers,
or totally old-school with a list of heroic monuments and temples.

I’ve
earmarked some of the newest, such as Shanghai Tower and Singapore’s
Gardens by the Bay, and sought balance with some of the oldest and (in
my eyes) most beautiful, such as Indonesia’s Borobodur and the
Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Uzbekistan.

To read the full list, click here. Would love to hear your thoughts/additions to the list, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers’ Traveller sections.

Luxe lodges, tennis scores and the magnificent Magna Carta: Takeoff travel news

Havana, Cuba, one of the New7Wonders Cities

A special congratulations to Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, who made it through to the Australian Open quarter finals last night! Read more about what he’s up to, below.

NEWS: Seven new wonders

Vigan, Doha, Havana: how many of the New7Wonders Cities
have you visited – or could hit on the world map? The New7Wonders project let
people vote on modern day wonders, from cities to natural features, to
determine our modern-day Pyramids.

The final list of top seven cities is Beirut
(Lebanon), Doha (Qatar), Durban (South Africa), Havana (Cuba), Kuala Lumpur
(Malaysia), La Paz (Bolivia) and Vigan (Philippines).

“La Paz in Bolivia is the
highest capital city in the world (and) the city’s buildings cling to the sides
of the canyon and spill spectacularly downwards while Durban, South Africa’s
third largest city, has really come alive since its World Cup makeover in
2010,” says says Fiona Hunt, managing director of Adventure World. “Cuba, stuck
in a colourful, colonial time-wrap, is a truly fascinating and incomparable
city,” she adds. “The list demonstrates how people are seeking out unique,
off-the-beaten track and largely untapped destinations.” See new7wonders.com, adventureworld.com.au.

KIDS: How to make lunchtimes cooler

Whether your kids are braving the frigid temps of the Antarctic
or the sultry climes of an African safari, these cute meal and lunch sets are
great comfort for those who like to travel with familiar friends. Armed with
your polar bear, team the melamine table setting (cup, bowl, plate and cutlery)
with the Lunchie, an insulated bag that keeps food just right – warm or cold –
with a water bottle on the side.

Made by New York based Skip Hop for kids on
the move, there are a range of animals from bugs to zebras, some with matching
backpacks.The Skip Hop Lunchie costs from $24.95, and Mealtime gift set costs from
$39.95, from David Jones. See davidjones.com.au.

TECH: Mapping the Magna Carta
This year is the 800th anniversary of King
John’s sealing of the Magna Carta, a peace treaty, statement of liberties and
the creation of the rule of law. Follow the story across England, from Salisbury
Cathedral to London’s British Library, Runnymede in Surrey and Lincoln Castle,
William the Conquerer’s stronghold where the Great Charter was signed.

Six new
self-guided trails create two- and three-day itineraries through English towns
and cities, tracing the document’s history and visiting the four original Magna
Cartas. See magnacartatrails.com,
visitengland.com.

FOOD: Italy for the Epicurious
There is more to Italian cooking than just lasagne
(although that’s an extremely good start). Let your guide show you on this
15-day tour of Italy, from Rome to Venice, with Tuscany, Modena and Assisi also
on the itinerary. The Country Roads & Vineyards of Italy tour
includes tasting Brunello di Montalcino with its makers, watching
Parmigiano-Reggiano being produced and finding yourself in vinyeards of Soave,
as well as Insight’s Signature Dining experiences. Feed your cultural soul with
a private tour of the Vatican, a gondola ride in Venice and a stay in the
Tuscan Villa San Paolo in San Gimignano. Costs from $5389
a person, twin share and departs September 2, 2015. Phone 1300 301 672, see insightvacations.com.
AIRLINE: Kyrgios in full flight
Canberra teenager Nick Kyrgios is best known as the tennis
player who thumped world number one Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon last year. The
19-year-old, who has a Greek father and Malaysian mother, is now the newest
ambassador for Malaysia Airlines. “While I was born and brought up in
Australia, I’m really proud of my family culture and very close to my Malaysian
family,” he says, adding he has flown with the airline since he was a boy.

The
airline has 81 direct flights to Malaysia from Australia and New Zealand, and
onward to 60 destinations including London and Paris via its A380. Kyrgios is
currently ranked 50th in the world and kicks off his first full year of tennis
at the opening of the Australian Open, in Melbourne, tomorrow. The Nick Kyrgios Summer Spectacular
airline deals will start on January 21. See
ausopen.com, malaysiaairlines.com.


LODGES: Luxury with a green edge

Get ready for a dose of lodge
lust: the National Geographic Society has created a global collection of 24 boutique
hotels that are dedicated to sustainability and luxury, and includes three of Australia’s
most unique properties.

The lodges range from Bhutan to British Columbia, and
include Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef and two resorts owned by
Baillie Lodges, Southern
Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island and the tented camp Longitude 131°, which faces
Uluru. 

Southern Ocean Lodge, South Australia

The properties were rigorously vetted for their
sustainable tourism practices prior to inclusion. “These lodges demonstrate
that sustainability and a world-class guest experience can go hand-in-hand,” says
Lynn Cutter of National Geographic. Guests booking a stay at either Baillie
property through National
Geographic Unique Lodges of the World will have
exclusive experiences including private dinners and cooking classes using
indigenous ingredients. See nationalgeographiclodges.com.

Edited by Belinda Jackson, Takeoff is published in the Sun-Herald‘s Traveller section every Sunday. 

The ever-growing travel list: lodges to love in Peru, Tanzania, and Brando in French Polynesia

I’ve confessed already to being a list tragic, and now I have yet another new travel list, thanks to National Geographic
Their new Unique Lodges of
the World collection has 24 good reasons to get out of town and head for the wilderness. 
I stayed in Zhiwa Ling Hotel in Paro, at the foot of the Tiger’s Nest  monastery in Bhutan, and it’s absolutely charming, with the most spectacular views from its windows, as you can see. Minimalists would have a hard time in this hotel, which is decorated in wildly colourful Bhutanese motifs, and built in amongst the rooms is a temple made from 450-year-old timbers from the Gangtey Monastery, and its resident monk. It’s also the country’s sole 100 percent locally owned five-star hotel.  
It’s also pleasing to note that Australia is punching well above its weight, with three beautiful properties on board. 

The full list of lodges is:
 

·      
Fogo Island Inn, Canada
·      
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, South Africa
·      
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, Peru
·      
Kapari Natural Resort, Greece
·      
Kasbah du Toubkal, Morocco
·      
Lapa Rios Eco Lodge, Costa Rica
·      
Lizard Island, Australia
·      
Longitude 131°, Australia
·      
Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador
·      
Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, Canada
·      
Pacuare Lodge, Costa Rica
·      
Rosalie Bay Resort, Dominica
·      
Rubondo Island Camp, Tanzania
·      
Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, South Africa
·      
Sayari Camp, Tanzania
·      
Southern Ocean Lodge, Australia
·      
Sukau Rainforest Lodge, Malaysian Borneo
·      
The Brando, French Polynesia
·      
The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana, United
States
·      
Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia
·      
Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa, Chile
·      
Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa, Chile
·      
Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa
·      
Zhiwa Ling Hotel, Bhutan

For more
information about National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, visit www.nationalgeographiclodges.com.  

The real trip advisors reveal their tips for travel in 2015

Mesmerising Myanmar: Ancient temples and an increasingly
modern infrastructure are the drawcards. Photo: Getty Images.

So – what’s the next big thing? Travel experts
reveal their tips for the coming year.
With an
eye on the hip pocket, we’re looking at hometown holidays in 2015, say travel
industry’s chiefs. And while Asia is back on top as our favourite playground,
Myanmar continues its stellar orbit as the region’s shining star.
Gary Bartelings, Captain’s Choice
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Gallipoli for the centenary, on unusual train journeys, South America,
Antarctica and our new Australian tours by private plane.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Iran and Myanmar. For safe and trusted, a British
Isles cruise or a train journey through Switzerland.
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
 An unsettled world and the weakening
Australian dollar.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
Chichen Itza in Mexico, Rio, Easter Island, Tahiti, Angkor  Wat,
the Taj Mahal and the Serenas, well as the UK and Europe.
Fearless
prediction?
Keep
travelling, so people across cultures, religions and countries can connect
peacefully. See captainschoice.com.au.
Simon Westcott, Luxe City Guides 
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Myanmar: infrastructure is improving and there’s a sense it’ll all
change fast.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Bhutan: because it’s not going to change fast. A
purer and more controlled experience awaits.  
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Travel safety: the perceived threat of increased
terrorism and infectious diseases.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
London, Florence, Marrakech, Taipei, Tokyo and the USA.
Fearless
prediction?

 Wifi flights will become the norm. See luxecityguides.com.
Alan Alcock, Wendy Wu Tours
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Japan, now great value for money, and India.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Sri Lanka, which is rapidly healing after its
terrible civil war, the idyllic Maldives, and Myanmar for quaint, rustic
antiquity.
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
The potential spread of terrorism to our region, health
issues such as Ebola and the value of the Australian dollar. 
Where are
you packing your bags for?
 Vietnam, Japan and Mongolia.
Fearless
prediction?

Self-drive three-wheeled tuk-tuk tours in India! See wendywutours.com.au.
Tom Walley, Flight Centre Australia
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Philippines: budget carrier Cebu Pacific Air has just kicked off a
service departing Sydney four times weekly.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
London, for the Rugby World Cup! 
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Airfares have never been more affordable and
unless the US dollar drops significantly, the only issue is choosing where to
go. 
Where are
you packing your bags for?
Whistler: snowboarding is my passion. We will thaw out on Hamilton
Island. Fearless prediction? Aussies are in a golden era of travel with more
accessible prices, services and routes. See flightcentre.com.au.
Sue Badyari, World Expeditions
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Hiking and biking Cambodia, trekking the Patagonia Ice Cap, Arctic
cruising to see the Northern Lights, Nepal’s Manaslu Circuit, walking Spain’s
Camino. 
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Trekking the Altai mountains in Mongolia, hiking
and biking in China, cycling Puglia, Italy. 
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Flight availability in peak seasons, more freak
storms and volatility in weather patterns due to global warming.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
Italy’s Gran Paradiso Trek plus a self-guided cycling holiday from
Slovenia to Croatia!
Fearless
prediction for 2015?
The Great
Himalayan Trail – a five-month trek traversing Nepal’s high passes. See worldexpeditions.com.
Ann Sherry, Carnival Australia 
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Cruising Europe, Alaska, and the Baltics. 
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Asia, cruising from Japan and Singapore, visiting
Vietnam and Cambodia, and even Indonesia’s Komodo Island. 
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
The falling dollar, sharpening travellers’ focus
on value.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
Stradbroke Island, maybe an African safari and a PNG and Solomon
Islands cruise to test new destinations.
Fearless
prediction?
Weekends
at sea with Australia’s best food and wine. See carnival.com.au.
Caroline Kennedy, Cox & Kings Australia
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Italy and Greece for the food, wine, history and sites and Norway for
the Northern Lights.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
ANZAC centenary commemorations in Gallipoli, with
or without ballot tickets.
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Global safety issues and natural disasters.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
I would like to do The Ultimate Travelling Camp in India.
Fearless
prediction?

Experiencing destinations in 3D, such as enjoying the view from your
(prospective) hotel’s balcony. See coxandkings.com.au.
Anton Stanish, Stayz Holiday Accommodation
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
The Gold Coast, Darwin and fringe CBD; homeowners are realising the
viability of short-term rentals while travellers can immerse themselves in the
local neighbourhood.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Dunsborough, Western Australia. Definitely a new
hot spot.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
A holiday rental in Cape Kidnappers, New Zealand, near golf courses,
vineyards and beaches. 
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Low-cost air carriers continuing to open up new
markets, particularly in Asia.
Fearless
prediction?
Holiday
rentals becoming bookable online, like hotels. See stayz.com.au.
Karin Sheppard, InterContinental Hotels Group 
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
South-east Asia and the Asia Pacific, for snorkelling safaris, stunning
beaches.   
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
On ‘staycation,’ exploring your own city. Sydney’s
Double Bay has new eateries, bars, shops and the new InterContinental Sydney
Double Bay. 
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Truly personalised and local experiences. 
Where are
you packing your bags for?
Japan’s Cherry Blossom Festival, a diving holiday to Fiji and skiing in
Queenstown. 
Fearless
prediction?
More
marketing aimed at locals through social media, and brands rewarding guests for
publicising their trips via social media. See ihg.com.
Dave Boyte, Skyscanner
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Safe, affordable Nicaragua, Central America and Mykonos, Greece. 
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Colombo, Sri Lanka is reinventing itself as a cool
foodie paradise. Flight searches to Bhutan are also on the rise.  
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Online travel companies becoming mobile savvy, as
travellers use mobile phones to research, plan and book holidays.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
The coolest little capital, Wellington, and Tasmania.  
Fearless
prediction?

Meta-search websites – websites that aggregate information from all over the
web into one site – being an essential planning tool. See skyscanner.com.au.
This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Traveller.

2013: a year in the world

Sri Lanka masks

Happy New Year!
By now, most of you in the northern hemisphere should be scrounging around for the asprin or box sets of Dr Who – or, judging from Facebook, run a marathon or some other such oxygen-sucking activity. Here in the southern hemisphere, there are thoughts of work tomorrow. Ugh. Let’s not go there.

It’s raining here, the Christmas pudding is back on the boil and it’s time for tea and reflection. The tea is Russian Earl Grey, from Harrods, which seems a good way to kick off a year in the world…

…I’m not going to win points for originality, but I fell in love with London again: the cheesy, the touristy, the lot, from Harrods to London Bridge.
The city’s on a high, with energy levels up there with the London Eye. The Tate Britain has
just opened after a £45-million renovation, the Shard glimmers over
Southbank, the grungy quarters have reinvented themselves as edgy design
destinations, cashing in on their bad old days, when the High Street
might be known as the Murder Mile… it was all fabulous (except the serious cold snap, but hey, that’s London in November).

Leopard spotted in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka


For sheer sell-your-pants-off stories, Sri Lanka left all other destinations in the shade. It didn’t hurt that the Lonely Planet named it one of 2014’s must-visit countries.The food, the fabulously quirky fantastic shopping, the leopard spotting and the warmth and security of the country all stitch together for a great holiday destination, without overwhelming the sub-continental novice.

This was also the year I learned to make gnocchi, rekindling a post-Aitkin love of pasta.
The destination: the King Valley, in northern Victoria, just a shade
under our modest little Alps. The teachers: the Pizzini and the Simone
families. Forget milk and honey, this is the land of pork and prosecco.

The year 2013 also finally brought a return to Egypt, this time
to bring the Small Girl to her other spiritual (and ethnic) home. I saw
how a population can survive when all the news reports we see tell us
they are being gassed in the streets and chased by tanks. They just keep
going on: going to work, to school, to the market. And they just keep
hoping the generals and the politicians – the big men – treat them
better than pawns on a chessboard.

Fashion parade in Thimphu, Bhutan

I know Egypt will recover, hopefully
soon after the next presidential elections. But in the meantime, Tahrir
Square, the scene of the revolutions, is lush and green, well maintained
and clean. I have never seen it look better. So there is some good come
out of this whole, messy Arab Spring.

The most unexpected experience was attending Bhutan‘s first indigenous fashion parade, beneath the stars in the mountain kingdom. Visiting two tiny countries at either end of India – Sri Lanka and Bhutan – was an eye-opener as to the powerhouse of the sub-continent, and how these tiny nations fight to maintain their identities in the face of ‘a billion shouting Indians’ (their words, not mine).

This year and next mark a flurry of solar activity, resulting in the best showings of the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis.

Deck 9, Midnatsol,

About the same time as I was teetering on a rolling deck of the Hurtigruten, somewhere in northern Norway,
trying to take a photo that wasn’t just a series of squiggles, the
Southern Lights, the Aurora Australis, were reportedly putting on a
great show in Tasmania, about an hour’s flight from home. With another winter of high solar activity ahead, maybe that’s next year’s goal?

Here’s wishing you peace and happiness for 2014 (with the Year of the Horse promising prosperity, to complete the trifecta).

The big six: west Bhutan lodgings

The richly decorated Zhiwa Ling Resort, Paro
Photo:Belinda Jackson

Looking for digs in western Bhutan? Here’s six of the best, from farmhouse to five star.

Note that the
government of Bhutan requires Australians and other foreign visitors to pay a
daily tourist tariff which varies on the group size, and covers meals and
3-star accommodation. Pay extra for luxury hotels. The tariff, based on two
people travelling, costs $US277 a person a night, through Bhutan & Beyond, bhutan.com.au.

ZHIWA LING RESORT, PARO 
The country’s first Bhutanese-owned five-star hotel is built
in the traditional style from local stone. It’s a wildly colourful showcase of
Bhutanese artwork, spectacular knotted rugs and handmade furnishings. The views
from its 45 suites are of blue pine forests and layers of mountain ranges. It’s
located near the trek to the iconic Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery, and a
lookout to the sacred Jomohari mountain. From US$184 a person a night plus
the daily tariff of US$277 a person, including all meals. See zhiwaling.com
AMANKORA RESORT
PUNAKHA VALLEY
Walk across a chain-metal bridge over a glacial river and
you’ll come to a traditional Bhutanese farmhouse that is the centrepiece of
Amankora’s eight-room luxury lodge. The rooms are classic Kerry Hill designs:
warm timbers, hero baths and big picture windows overlooking the orchards and
rice terraces of Bhutan’s royal family. This is the smallest of Aman’s five
Bhutanese lodges, 10 minutes from the Punakha Dzong, one of the country’s most
photogenic fort-monasteries. From US$900 ($1006) a person a night, plus the
daily tariff of US$277, including all meals, beverages and laundry. See amanresorts.com
GANGTEY GOENPA LODGE

GANGTEY VALLEY
Bhutan’s newest luxury lodge is perched above the
16th-century goempa (monastery) from which it takes its name. The Gangtey
valley spills out through the picture windows, a rich curve of farmland hemmed
in by the Himalayas. The 12-room lodge had its soft opening in June and is a
short walk to the important Gangtey monastery and its beautiful village. The
monastery holds a large tsechu (religious festival) each September/October. The
Gangtey Nature Trail (1½ hours) is an easy amble through spectacular
countryside. From US$273 a person a night, plus the daily tariff of US$277 a person,
including breakfast, easternsafaris.com
GANGTEY FARMSTAY 
GANGTEY VALLEY
Potato farmers Nangay Pem and her husband Phob Gaytshey got
electricity only 18 months ago in their two-storey traditional farmhouse. There
are four guest bedrooms and an altar room upstairs, while the family lives on
the ground floor. Join the family for dinner in the kitchen, seated on the
floor around the bukhari (wood stove). The couple’s daughter, Sonam Wangmo,
speaks good English, but you don’t need a guide to translate how to play
archery or to watch Phob Gaytshey, a lay monk, performing his morning prayers.
 It’s polite to bring a small gift: perhaps kids’ books or a bag of
groceries. Included in the daily tariff of US$277 a person. 
HOTEL PHUNTSHO PELRI THIMPHU
Set off the main street of Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, it
seems like everyone in town is staying at this well-run, three-star hotel. Snag
a corner room for warm sun and views up to the hills behind the city. There’s a
great little salon at the entrance, good for soothing pedicures using local
herbs, and a Thai restaurant is coming, thanks to an influx of Thai tourists.
Meals are buffet-style Bhutanese food and its Turkish spa soothes weary hikers’
bones. Nearby, Cousins restaurant specialises in excellent momos (steamed
dumplings). Included in the daily tariff of US$277 a person.  
HOTEL YUOLOKE
GANGTEY VALLEY
With raked ceilings and more timber than a pine forest, this
three-star hotel serves good local food, including the classic red rice and ema
datse (sliced chili with white cheese). Set in front of its flashier sister,
Dewachen Hotel, it overlooks the valley which is a haven for endangered black
necked cranes, which winter here October to March. Out of season, the nearby
Crane Information Centre will get you up to speed on the revered birds, which
are celebrated with and a festival every November.  Included in the daily
tariff of US$277 a person.  
The writer was a guest of Bhutan & Beyond, bhutan.com.au 

Colour my world: the textiles of Sri Lanka

Barefoot’s design house, Sri Lanka.

I have fondled hemp throws in Morocco, lusted for
Kashmiri embroidered cushions, gone cammo with Arabic scarves, and when
my husband told me not to buy any carpets in Iran I deduced the man was
obviously delusional: I was going to Persia, home of the rug. He’d given
up by the time I announced the Sri Lanka trip.

In my defence,
textiles are surely the ideal souvenir. They usually pack down easily,
they’re not fragile, they are useful and, importantly, they are a direct
link to a country’s culture.


I showed him photographs of women working on traditional handlooms
and waxed lyrical about the colours of the country: peacock blue, russet
red and saffron yellow.

“You
have to use bright colours in Sri Lanka because of the sunshine,” says
British interior designer George Cooper, who has lived in the southern
seaside town of Galle for the past decade and stamped his mark on a
string of villas along the coastline.

“In England and France, muted colours work, but you have to up your palettes here.

Traditional batik.

“The colours are more primary. They’re simpler.”

The country’s
textiles were born in the time of legend, says Sri Lanka-born,
Melbourne-based textiles artist Cresside Collette. She’s talking way
back: as far as the Ramayana, the Indian epic from 3000BC; in Sri
Lanka’s royal chronicle, the ancient Mahavamsa, even the queen is
spinning yarn.

Cresside, who recently led a new textiles tour
through her home country, says the main industries are weaving,
lacemaking, embroidery, dyeing and batik. Don’t expect the massive
factories of Bangladesh or India: Sri Lanka’s textiles industry is
small, secretive and, in some instances, even dying out. You’ll need a
knowing local on hand to help eke them out.


Luckily, I have Cresside’s tips and my friend Andrea, a writer, guide
and friend of the arts, who has a flair for design. Happily, she’s also
an English-speaking Dutch burgher – an exotic, ethnic blur of of Dutch,
Portuguese and indigenous Sri Lankan: the woman is a strolling atlas.

In
Galle, the Portuguese element is obvious in the southern province’s
reputation for its cotton lace. Intrepid Portuguese were blown off
course from the Maldives and landed here in 1505. “There’s a strong
sense of Lisbon through the lacemaking,” Cooper says.

One morning,
as I leave my hotel, the luxurious Amangalla, a quiet man sells me a
beautiful child’s white cotton nightdress. Strips of handmade lace
decorate the chest, hem and armholes, and although a delicate white
dress is a green light to my rambunctious daughter for wildness, I have
to buy it. I’m undertaking a classic transaction that’s been taking
place for centuries: Amangalla’s own history notes recall local
Sinhalese women sitting tatting on its verandah, making lace to sell to
tourists until the 1970s.

Waxing a batik. Photo: Alamy.

Andrea translates for me the story of
Manikku Badathuruge Priyani – or Priyani, for short – an internationally
recognised lacemaker. Now 53, she first sat down to lacemaking when she
was five, the fourth generation in her family to do so. Her work is
stocked in local handcraft stores including Lanka Hands and Laksala, and
each year, in her tropical home, she tats snowflakes that are exported
to Finland as Christmas ornaments.

Priyani has a cabinet full of
awards for entrepreneurship thanks to her own one-woman campaign to
preserve the craft by visiting stay-at-home women and disabled women,
giving them knowledge and small orders. You’ll spy Galle lacemakers’
work on the silver screen in Jane Austen movies Persuasion and Mansfield
Park, yet she’s not optimistic about the future of lacemaking.

“It’s
hard to sustain and is dying out rapidly because of the lack of
resources to preserve this craft that has survived for hundreds of years
and preserves our Portuguese heritage,” she says, echoing the time-old
complaint: “Young people are not interested.”

In contrast,
handloomed fabric is enjoying a renaissance, as we Westerners fall in
love with the seeming simplicity of design and clarity of the colours
employed by Sri Lankan designers. Treadle looms weave bright tableware,
and rolls of fabric are on sale in the country’s high-chic shops.

In
KK Collection, Cooper’s interiors shop in Galle, I unfurl cotton
handloomed fabric from its roll. The cotton is woven in villages near
the capital, Colombo, hand-dyed into smart stripes using vegetable dyes,
which creates variation that is frowned upon by puritans but loved by
those of us who see humanity in its imperfection.

Loom weavers at work. Photo: Cresside Collette.

On her tour,
Cresside visits the cloth weavers of Dumbara Valley, Sri Lanka’s
indigenous weavers, who draw on the countryside for inspiration. In
little Henawela village, the traditional motifs of elephants, deer,
peacocks and snakes gallivant along agave fibre stained with plant dyes
and woven into mats. All cotton used in Sri Lankan fabrics is imported,
mostly from India. Sri Lanka is about the same size as Tasmania but with
a population of about 20 million, and while its rumpled geography is
fine for delicate tea terraces, it defers to India’s vast plains to
produce raw cotton.

The bright interiors of another indigenous
design house, Barefoot, are a celebration of all that’s wild and lovely
on the island. In 1958, Barefoot’s founder, textiles designer Barbara
Sansoni, began teaching village women weaving and needlecraft. Under
principal designer Marie Gnanaraj, they now create vivid, high-quality,
hand-woven and hand-dyed fabric while earning a living wage, and their
beautiful fabric, toys and fashion are exported all over the world,
including to Australia.

While I love a good shop, show me the
creator and I’m sold. You’re bringing that person’s skills into your
home. Cresside ventures in to the village workshops around Kandy that
specialise in mat weaving, silversmithing and wood carving, and on to
Matale Heritage Centre, between Kandy and Matale.

The centre is at
Aluwihare, the ancestral home of batik and embroidery artist Ena de
Silva, dubbed Sri Lanka’s grand dame of batik. Her signature pieces are a
wild batik ceiling in the Bentota Beach Hotel and a set of banners of
heroic proportions, hanging in front of Sri Lanka’s parliament. De Silva
is widely regarded as one of the major catalysts in Sri Lanka’s craft
revival: her women’s co-operative operates out of Aluwihare, where local
villagers balance wax and dye to create traditional batik. Their
embroidered cushions and toys are for sale and lunch is also available.

The
time is right for such tours, as Sri Lanka itself awakens to its own
riches. The Colombo National Museum has just opened a new textile
gallery, and there’s an international appreciation for the social
consciousness that guides much of Sri Lanka’s home-bound textiles
workforce.

When I finally, regretfully, leave Sri Lanka, Andrea
and I exchange gifts: flowers and wine for my friend, while she presses a
handmade paper bag into my hands. Inside is a long scarf, dyed strong
fuchsia, grassy green, blood red and a deep royal purple. It is
hand-block-printed with a black motif of stylised flowers and bordered
with strips of gold.

The scarf encapsulates all that is Sri Lanka:
its blazing palette, ebullient nature and the rich embellishment worthy
of a culture of tradition and vivacity.

The writer was a guest of Banyan Lanka Tours and Sri Lanka Tourism.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION
banyanlanka.com; srilanka.travel

GETTING THERE: Singapore
Airlines has a fare to Colombo for about $1125 low-season return from
Sydney and Melbourne including taxes. Fly to Singapore (about 8hr) and
then to Colombo (3hr 40min); see singaporeair.com. Malaysia Airlines
flies via KL from $975 return including tax; see malaysiaairlines.com.

TOURING THERE: Cresside
Collette will lead Active Travel’s next Sri Lanka Textiles & Crafts
tour July/Aug 2014. From $4842, 15 days. 1300 783 188, see activetravel.com.au.
Her next tour is a 20-day tapestry tour of Europe, from London, September 2, priced from $5950. See tapestrytour.blogspot.com.

FIVE MORE TEXTILES TOURS

Burmese Lun-taya acheik, globetrottinggourmet.com

MYANMAR: Join
textile designer and weaver Morrison Polkinghorne from Yangon to Bagan
and Mandalay, where handloomers create weaves at an inch (2.5
centimetres) a day. The tour coincides with Waterfestival. Departs April
next year, from $4500, 14 days, see globetrottinggourmet.com.

LAOS: The
20th-anniversary Laos Textile & Culture tour is escorted by the
head of textiles at the ANU, Valerie Kirk. From Hanoi into Laos’
mountainous villages, the birthplace of Lao weaving, to Luang Prabang
and Vientiane. Departs January 15, next year, from $4375, 17 days, see activetravel.com.au.

INDIA: Gujarat
Tribals + Textiles is a five-star tour through western India exploring
the clothing, jewellery and fabrics of Gujarat’s indigenous people.
Departs January 26, next year, from $US7250 ($8095), 15 days, see mariekesartofliving.com.

MOROCCO: From
Marrakesh to the imperial cities of Rabat and Fez,through museums and
palaces, experiencing Amazigh (Berber) food and hospitality. Departs
September 28, next year, from $3180, 15 days, see culturaltours morocco.com.

BHUTAN
With
textiles artist Barbara Mullan, travel from Paro to the annual Thimphu
Festival, pausing to admire striking architecture and the view from high
mountain passes. Departs each September, from $4290, nine days, see worldexpeditions.com.


This article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald & The Age newspapers (Australia)
Belinda Jackson

Some like it hot: a chilli reception in Bhutan

Whipping up suja for breakfast on the farm.

They breed ’em tough in the mountains, so when the mountains in question are the Himalayas, you can expect a level of resilience not found in us soft seaside dwellers.

While the temps may be freezing on the mountains, the Bhutanese like it hot in their bowls. There’s no better example than national dish, ema datse. If you need to polish your Bhutanese, ema = chilli, datse = white cheese.

“You don’t come to Bhutan for the cuisine,” warns an old hand before I fly over. “Just name a vegetable and add datse,” jokes a local, reinforcing the theme: and thus a restaurant menu may well read: ema datse, kewa datse (potatoes & cheese) and shamu datse (mushrooms & cheese).
 
Take a look at the picture of ema datse, below. The green things are chillis, with the seeds left in. According to Tshering, my guide, these are the mild ones. The real hotties are tiny and bright green. Often, they’re served in a small, fresh salad, esay, that comprises chopped green chillis, red onion, ginger and coriander. The chilli mix is scattered over the chilli & cheese, to add flavour.

ema datse: chilli and cheese ‘stew’.

That’s not to say the Bhutanese are the world’s top chilli monsters: Tshering tells me of a Mexican group he led, who were delighted to discover the country’s crazy chilli culture. “They kept asking for more, and hotter,” he says. In the end, they broke him: they out-chilli’d him. He had to give up.

Kids start their path down the road to hellish fire when they’re about three or four. They start with the ‘mild’ large green chillis before working up to the little green devils, which the adults eat without working up a sweat. No wonder the Bhutanese are generally trim: they spend all their time walking mountain roads, then give the metabolism a turbo-boost with chilli served at at least two of the three main meals.

The Lonely Planet’s little list of phrases at the end of the book
include’ Di khatshi du‘ (‘this is too spicy’) and ‘Nga zhego ema dacikha
miga
‘ (‘I don’t like food with chillies’ – hello, have these travellers no self-respect? It’s like going to Iceland and saying you don’t like the cold).

Farmhouse fare: dried beef and
turnip stew. Chewy, but tasty.

In contrast, one morning I breakfasted with some farmers, and was reassured to find they, too, eat cereal for brekky. Rice is roasted and popped to become dzow, sort of like Rice Bubbles. But instead of plain cow’s milk, it’s served with suja, tea made with butter and salt, which is frothed vigorously in a pot with a bamboo stick and quite red in colour (see Namgay making it, in the first photo). Not so much like Rice Bubbles.

They’re also big on local red rice, a short-grained, nutty rice, and buckwheat pancakes are a common carb as well.

Bhutan has just finished a no-meat  month which sees the country’s butchers shut shop and no meat on the menu, though tourist hotels are usually exempt (and the Bhutanese fill their freezers full of meat in advance, so I’m not quite sure of the benefits).

And, interestingly for the observant amongst you who were wondering about meat-eating Buddhists, they do eat meat, but they don’t kill it: it’s all killed in India and transported in.

I *heart* momos.

Apparently you lose less karma by just eating meat than you do by killing it as well. Take from that what you will.

The little landlocked country, wedged between India’s northern provinces
and Tibet, takes its food cues from nobody but
itself, though you’ll also find simply delicious momos, Tibet’s little steamed dumplings of minced beef or shredded vegetables, which I last ate in Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile out of Chinese-occupied Tibet.

These ones in the photo were made in a momo specialty restaurant in Thimphu, and I also tried a larger version, which was really a knot of dough steamed and served with a blob of minced chilli and a bowl of kewa datse.

A note: despite the walking, the high-altitude and the copious amount of chillis I ate, I have not come back waif-like.

This morning’s headlines from Bhutan: chillis, archery and elections

A Nepali-Bhutanese vegetable market trader.

Plummeting chili prices upsets Tsirang farmers: chillis (a national staple) have fallen from Nu 150 to as little as Nu 15. The Bhutanese currency is the Ngultru, which is tied to the Indian dollar. Nu 53 = AUD1.

Alcohol liver disease top killer (140 people died from it in the past year, making it the top killer). 

Full out to file in nominations: candidates for the upcoming national elections have till today to complete their registrations.

And the Film Association of Bhutan archery team defeated Dhen Truk 11 in two straight sets in the Silver Jubilee archery tournament.

According to the daily zakar (kind of like horoscope), tomorrow is a good day to conduct daily rituals only. It’s also a bad day to start military training, to hand and take over office, to shift house, start new business, marry or sell land.

It is also a good day for rituals (laza) for those born in the tiger and rabbit years, generally a good day (sogza) for those born in the monkey and rooster years, and a bad day (shedza) for oxen and dragons

Fags are going to pot and booze gets the boot in the healthy kingdom of Bhutan

Punakha dzong

It’s been a while between posts, because it’s been a while since internet. Hell, it’s been a while since electricity.

But what it lacks in power (ironic considering it’s selling hydro-electricity to India) Bhutan makes up for in enlightening ideas.

Here’s a few to consider:

Politicians
must retire at 65 years, even the king. In any case, you’ve got to be able to get into the administrative offices, such as the Punakha dzong, pictured, a building
accessible only by what can be described as a rather beautiful ladder. Can’t get up it?
Can’t go to work (lordy, think of some of our Aussie fatties trying to edge their way up this one!)
The first
Sunday of the month is car free in the major towns. It used to be every Tuesday, but was overturned by public demand. Tuesday’s obviously a biggie for reform as…

…Tuesdays are ‘dry days’ which means no booze is sold in the country (except in tourist hotels). The locals just brew arrak – like whiskey – from barley at home. Wait, isn’t barley a
superfood?

Pot grows
wild on the roadside, the government encourages school children to rip it out.
Selling
tobacco is illegal and you pay 200% duty on any imported fags. This is the
place to go when you’re contemplating quitting. I haven’t been hanging around the bars, so I have seen only three guys smoking; and two of them were hunched over like they were behind the school toilets, and the others were in a snooker hall, flagrantly ignoring the ‘no smoking’ sign.