Expat Journeys: Six months in Asia

Six months ago we moved to India and embraced an opportunity to learn more about Asia and her people.  They are as unique as any we’ve met in the West, and yet we share many of the same values: honor, patriotism, pride, and family.  In this short photo essay we’ll take a look at eight different locations visited during the last six months.

Agra: History in real life.
Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal, despite its many tourists, was magical. Seeing the mausoleum and hearing the stories of its construction amid a foggy morning stroll made for a surreal moment.

Our first trip from home was to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, a quintessentially Indian landmark, the Taj Mahal.  Despite its 7 million plus tourists, it remains an awe-inspiring sight.  The Taj’s history is like a Hollywood script, taking visitors back to 1648, when Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the tomb for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.  The most interesting story is the one about Shah Jahan cutting off the hands of his construction workers so they could never again produce anything as elaborate as the Taj.  There are different interpretations, but our guide insisted it was metaphorical: the Mughal emperor forced everyone into retirement, paying them a stipend for life so they would never reproduce the famed mausoleum, effectively cutting off their hands because they could never work again.  Fact or fiction, the site is inspiring.

Delhi:  A city of surprises. 
Father and Son
Just before this photo was taken, this father and son were napping on a rooftop among drying rose pedals above the spice market.

There is no place in Delhi that feels small.  With her population of over 18 million people, it’s difficult to find solitude.  The spice market in Old Delhi is a symphonic display of perpetual movement and a perfect example of the city’s energy. But among her hectic vibe and crowded tourist attractions lie hidden gems: people as colorful and genuine as the shop owner in Helena, Montana or the keepers at the Tom Cobley Pub in Spreyton (United Kingdom).  Child and adult, merchant and drover, they happily share smiles, stories, and tea, making visitors welcome in an other worldly environment.

The Philippines: Shared history and generous people. 
Philippines
The Filipinos are extremely giving, inviting us to join them on their only afternoon off work.
Manila
The Philippines shares a tight bond with the West, its people suffering under Japanese rule during World War II.

Friends once mentioned that their favorite place so far is the Philippines.  It is easy to see why.  The Philippine islands are tropical, the food is excellent, and the people are amazingly friendly.  Perhaps our history, a time fighting together during World War II, gives Westerners and Filipinos a shared experience which helps us relate to each other.  Whatever the reason, the Filipinos have a powerful presence that does not overwhelm their fun-loving, natural willingness to share.

Nepal: Spirituality and history. 
Kathmandu
Nepal’s people have struggled with earthquakes and challenging governments, but remain deeply spiritual.
Buddhist Monastery
Nepal’s history is inseparable from its religious devotion.

Kathmandu is crowded, noisy, dusty, and ranks poorly for air quality; however, it is balanced by a rich history and beautiful people who continue to rebuild from the devastating 2015 earthquake.  Despite the destruction, there is much to see and do.  Kathmandu’s rich spiritual history is seen in her architecture and felt through her people.  We loved it so much we are returning to Nepal for an 8 day trek on the Annapurna trail.

Kenya: Mother Nature and Kenya’s people make this a must-do.  
Kenya
Kenya’s amazingly friendly people are her greatest gift to visiting travelers.
Giraffe
Safari’s in Kenya are a surreal drive through open, wild lands.

Kenya was an all too quick trip where the agenda included relaxation and safari.  It was unimaginable sitting in front of our tent—Sweetwaters Serena Camp was really more luxury accommodation than roughing it—watching the sunrise as giraffe, rhinoceros, and warthogs arrived at the nearby watering hole.  Although we could easily sit all day reading and watching from our porch, our four game drives put us within a few feet of white rhinos, elephants, baboons, and one hungry lion.  While experiencing this much of nature was awesome, Kenya’s people—intelligent, educated, jovial, and friendly—made the experience truly memorable.

Hong Kong: Accessibility, amazing street food, and visually explosive color.  
Hong Kong Cat
The flower market in Kowloon was home to more than just flowers.
Big Buddha
The journey up to the largest sitting Buddha in the world included a tram ride and hiking.

Hong Kong is a welcome invitation to enjoy a cosmopolitan city at its finest.  It is clean, easy to navigate via the MTR (subway), and just doesn’t feel like a city of 7 million people.  An added benefit: the street food—from egg tarts to eel, it is hot, flavorful and safe.  Walking by a hole in the wall restaurant allowed us to enjoy piping hot noodles at a table with locals.

Thailand: A chance visit for a freediving class turns into a relaxing vacation. 
Thailand Sam
Sam, owner of the Kata Bai D hotel in Kata Beach, is a truly engaging Thai host.

Thailand was a chance to take a class in a location at the top of the bucket list.  On our last day before moving toward Patong, Sam took us and two other guests for seafood in Rawai.  He negotiated for fresh food from the seafood vendors and had it prepared at a restaurant across the small road.  Before we knew it, we were gorging ourselves on grouper, crab, scallops, and the biggest prawns ever seen.  Sam then took us sightseeing and to a secluded beach for the sunset.  Sam and Kata Bai D represent all of the best things about visiting this tropical paradise.

India: Hyderabad and home.  
Golconda
Golconda Fort, Hyderabad, former home to the Qutb Shahi dynasty.  Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah later renamed Hyderabad after a dancer with whom he had fallen in love.
Goseva Child
One of a group of children playing at the Sri Krishna Goseval Mandal (cow sanctuary) near our home in Hyderabad.

Hyderabad is a city of 7 million people and it feels every bit of it.  But the adventurous traveler will find a combination of history, culture, and colorful people.  Our house is our sanctuary, so it’s easy to stay home and relax rather than brave the Hyderbadi hustle and bustle.  But searching out those pockets of beauty is time well spent.

It’s difficult to say which place is our favorite: Kenya’s friendly atmosphere, Hong Kong’s food scene, Nepal’s spirituality, Thailand’s helpful people, the Philippines hospitality, or India’s color.  Each is a brilliant destination in its own right.  One constant among them all: people made the difference between a good experience and a truly awesome one.


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All photos and drawings are those of the author.  Copyright can be found here.

8 thoughts on “Expat Journeys: Six months in Asia”

  1. You, my friend, are a mover and shaker! Very impressed with how much you have done and all the travels you have had thus far. I admire your sense of adventure and thirst for culture! Keep it up.

    1. Thanks for the comment. We’re enjoying the travel and I do like the write. It’s a little ironic, since I write way more now than I did when my job was research and writing :).

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