The majestic glory of their temples, the unique attributes of their diverse tribes, and the colourful contrasts of their varying cultures; these words only hint at the wonders of East Asia. Shobha Rani transports us to the land of mysteries and many histories as she reminisces about the journey she and her friends made through the far-flung countries of Taiwan, Mongolia, Korea, and Thailand.
Nothing beats a trip to a land of many curiosities, and when it’s planned and accomplished in the company of a large group of friends and family, then it’s truly a holiday. Our “little”group of friends included Indira Subbarami Reddy, Sucharitha and Dr Jayachandra Reddy, Manjari and MP Rajmohan Reddy, Samrajyam of Reddy Labs, Vasantha of Shantha Biotec, Kantha, Hemalatha, and Uppsala and Dr Krishnalatha from Singapore. From the family, it was Ramavathy and Dr K.S.N. Raju, Rani, Chairperson of CII, Vanitha Datla, and Dr Haritha, a psychologist from California.
After checking into Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel in Taipei – the capital of Taiwan – we set about exploring the City of Smiles. We visited Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, a landmark of Taipei City, and walked through the garden with beautiful flowers, miniature hills, plants, ponds, and waterfalls. We witnessed the changing of the guard, followed by the National Palace Museum, which is well worth visiting; its interesting artefacts and priceless treasures were moved from the Forbidden City in Beijing to Taipei. We also got to see the famed Jadeite Cabbage and the meat-shaped Jasper stone.
On the next day we visited the majestic Wen Wu temple and then spent some time at the Formosan Aboriginal Village, which included a ski gondola ride. The stroll through the Aboriginal Park and its villages provided us a glimpse of the traditional homes, clothing and food of the native Taiwanese. The Amusement Isle’s rides and carnival-style attractions were a delight, as were the cultural performances of the aborigines.
A few of the don’t-miss spots included the Eslite Spectrum mall, Songshan Creative Park, and the 509m, bamboo-shaped Taipei 101 skyscraper, with upscale shops at the base and an observatory at the top.
The Mongolese revere Chinggis or Genghis Khan the conqueror, as a national hero who ruled over the largest contiguous empire in history. A giant statue of Khan on his horse is erected54 kilometres from Ulaanbaatar. At 40 metres high and made from 250 tonnes of stainless steel, it is the world’s largest equestrian statue that can be viewed from within. The trip to the horse’s head was worth it, as we were granted a panoramic view of the beautiful, desolate Steppes of Mongolia.
We then visited the Turtle Rock formation, a symbol of the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. While the younger ones hiked to the Aryabal meditation temple, we made sure to sample a traditional Mongolian meal in a ger, a portable, nomadic round tent which also serves as a notable symbol of Mongolia.
With stony hills as background, our ger camp overlooked one of the picturesque Terelj valleys. It was an exotic experience to spend a night in a typical Mongolian ger in this nomadic land. With Ulanbaatar as its capital, the country is famous for its cashmere and leather.
Sublime South Korea
Seoul is the business and cultural hub of South Korea, where skyscrapers tower over Buddhist temples. We absorbed it all from the N Seoul Tower, built atop a peak in Namsan Park. The teahouses and shops of Insadong gave us a taste of Korean flavour, which we further experienced with a visit to the grounds and museums of Gyeongbokgung.
The street food was one of the best things we experienced in Myeongdeong, a shopping area very popular with both locals and tourists. Plenty of street food, such as grilled octopus topped with sauces and bonito flakes, soft shell crabs and Ddalgi Mochi, a rice cake filled with fresh strawberry and red bean custard, were but a few of the irresistible treats that we sampled.
We travelled on the bullet train from Seoul to Busan, a popular coastal town humming with busy shopping streets and a skyline crowned with glitzy skyscrapers. There were plenty of night markets serving up scrumptious snacks in an atmosphere of chaotic excitement and fun.
Finally, our 10-hour layover in Bangkok allowed us a glimpse of the city as we got to see the Golden Buddha and the Reclining Buddha. I was mesmerised by the Grand Palace complex and Wat Phra Kaew – the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha is a highly revered statue of Buddha in meditation, carved from a single block of jade.
The exotic nations of Taiwan, Mongolia, Korea, and Thailand are a cultural kaleidoscope of incense-shrouded temples dating back to dynastic times, blending seamlessly with a neon street life that will beckon me time and again. -- Shobha Rani