Amala Stories

Postcards from Montenegro

written by Amala

Dear Friends,

Allow me to share my first experience of Montenegro! Though I always get nervous on flights, a large part of my restlessness came from my excitement about visiting this rising gem of the Balkans. From the plane, I could see the arid plains of Podgorica framed by distant mountains, and from the other side, I caught a glimpse of that dramatic coastline of Boka Bay. Montenegro leaves little to be desired, with its undulating coastlines, spectacular landscapes and historical landmarks; its rich history seeping through museums and architecture; and of course, its unique and delectable wines, many of which you can only taste on site.

1-min

A flat terrain slowly changes into a breath-taking mountainous one  as we drive along the Morača River Canyon.

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As the pride of Kolašin, Biogradska Gora National Park is one of the oldest forests in Europe with trees over 500 years old.

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Delight in some local gossip over a simple but satisfying meal of homemade breads, cheese and jam.

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As an impressive landmark, Ostrog Monastery sees up to a million visitors annually from all walks of life and beliefs.

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There might have been a surplus of switchbacks on the drive, but I still managed to capture the beautiful Boka Bay.

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The gorgeous Bay of Kotor is home to pretty villages and a town with plenty of stories about its maritime history.

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Aman Sveti Stefan has to be one of my favourite stays. Its narrow cobblestone alleyways really captured the imagination as they brought me to a bygone era.

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The medieval town of Budva is dotted with lovely beaches and high-end restaurants.

Uncover the authenticities of this beautiful land to find out what makes it so special. Please give us a call for more information.

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Our Rajasthani Home Away from Home

written by Isabelle de Braux

The first outstanding scent I encountered came with a breeze through the opened windows of my car. A strong herbal aroma, yet delicate, it smelt like I was deep in nature. “It’s wormwood,” my friend answered, “it’s what people use to make vermouth and absinthe”. I got off the car and walked into the fields to get a lungful of all that wormwood around me. This particular scent, a fragrant blend of pine, sage and mint, guided our journey as we explored Mongolia on horseback and foot.

1. Local Man-min

We entered Shahpura Bagh through a small gate and waved at the smiling security guard, and then all at once, the view opened up to a sprawling land of rich green fields and flowers. It felt like an oasis. It was not only quiet but calm. Staff seemed to glide instead of walk and there wasn’t the urgency you usually witness in busier hotels. Maya, our host, was the epitome of this calm, greeting us upon our arrival with the type of kind confidence that says, “don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.”

It felt like I was stepping into the home of a family friend. A family friend who loved oak working desks and paisley throws. There was so much warmth and character in everything, from the sitting areas in the lobby, to the charming bedrooms to the dining room – all cushioned by the genuine smiles of the staff.

4. Shahpura Bagh_Aerial-min

Within minutes, we were by the pool gulping down some of the best samosas I’ve ever had. Which leads me to one of my other favourite memories of Shapurah Bagh—their meals. Rajasthani cuisine stands apart from other regions in India because of its warring history and dry lands. An emphasis was placed on food being consumable hours or even days after being cooked. The distinct climate also made the lands inhospitable for a lot of fresh produce. Consequently, you see re-appropriated ingredients everywhere. Poppadam, for instance, a common staple, was not only served as a crispy snack and accompaniment, but also drenched in sauce, quite like a flat wide noodle. Shahpura Bagh does this well, in fact. In a similar way, many other cooking elements had dual uses. At one point on the journey, I got a hold of some Rajasthani baati, wholewheat flour rolled up into a ball and cooked on the ground in cow dung. I had no qualms, I thought it was exquisite. It was earthy and smoky with zero stench of dung.

5. Village Visit_Cooking-min

Throughout the rest of my sojourn at Shahpura Bagh, I started to understand the conscious initiatives they were putting forward. On our way to visit their farm, we stopped by a local school where rows of adorable young schoolchildren sat at their desks, repeating one after another, words in English. Having long aided the cause of social welfare and education of the town, the Shahpura family now continues to donate a portion of its earnings to the upkeep of the schools. From buying stationery and textbooks, to maintenance, these contributions make sure the kids are getting an education in a safe environment.

Later that night, while we whetted our appetites with pre-dinner cocktails, I met a guest who spends three weeks a year at the property, volunteering as a teacher at the school. It seemed like a very giving, selfless experience with only one downside – leaving those adorable schoolkids after three weeks.

6. School Visit_Kids-min

We also drove out to the property’s 140-acre orchard farm, home to trees centuries old. “Let me show you my favourite one”, says our guide, and points to a mammoth of a tree, with a trunk that looked like a bunch of small trunks having a party. It had, in fact, through its parasitic nature, morphed into a mega-tree. By choosing to preserve land, nourish it, and use it without exploiting it, Shahpura Bagh creates valuable learning experiences based passion and respect.

7. Village Visit_Tree-min

One other thing I learnt is that the best milk you will ever have in your life will be from a Shahpurah cow. On our final night, my colleague and travel buddy fell ill. “Do you take milk”, Jay, Shahpura Bagh’s owner, asked her, “I will send you something to make you feel better.” Shortly after, we were sipping on a simple concoction of fresh milk and turmeric. The turmeric, though not overpowering, gave an earthy aroma to a milk that was almost sweet to the taste. It was no surprise they grew the turmeric on the farm as well. The next day we were told that the milk was from their most prized cow, and I was that much sadder to leave.

By that time, we had the strong desire to lend a hand, to give something back ourselves. Fortunately, the estate accepts donations from their guests, so we were able to do so. We know that our contributions are going to a good place. What Shahpura Bagh provides is a well-rounded experience. You learn how the town lives and develops, and how we can all play a part in its growth.  This is the kind of travel we want to support, the kind that you can continue to support long after returning home.

8. Village Visit_Kids-min

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Juhan

written by Anand Pereira

Back in 2013, my friends and I decided to take a spontaneous trip to Sri Lanka. So spontaneous in fact, that we booked our flights four days before flying out. As a group of three guys on a small budget, getting from Colombo to Trincomalee was the only thing on our to-do list. Our first plan of action was to find a driver and with the help of the internet, we found Jehan, who we recruited to guide us around safely on this 10-day journey. Everything seemed to have come together perfectly, until we got on the road.

We arrived just after midnight and looking back, I am not sure whose bright idea it was to start the trip with a 7-hour drive across the island but I’m almost certain it wasn’t mine. Seeing as it was night time, the roads were pitch black. With no streetlamps, the only light guiding us came from the car’s headlights. Within minutes, Jehan was speeding down the two-lane road like a madman in a hurry. I looked over at my friend and saw the same panic-stricken face I had on too. These were the same narrow roads where elephants are known to cross, and every other minute, Jehan was blinded by the glaring lights from giant trucks—the deafening horns didn’t help either. What we thought was going to be some time for R & R turned out to be a series of near-death incidents.

Several hours later as the sun began to rise, we finally caught our breaths, wiped the sweat from our palms and leaned back into our seats feeling utterly exhausted—but dear Jehan did not seem fazed at all, he turned towards us and casually asked if we managed to get any sleep!

What a cool cucumber, but lesson learnt—don’t wing it in Sri Lanka.

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Amala Stories

Scent of the Steppes

written by Isabelle de Braux

1-min

The first outstanding scent I encountered came with a breeze through the opened windows of my car. A strong herbal aroma, yet delicate, it smelt like I was deep in nature. “It’s wormwood,” my friend answered, “it’s what people use to make vermouth and absinthe”. I got off the car and walked into the fields to get a lungful of all that wormwood around me. This particular scent, a fragrant blend of pine, sage and mint, guided our journey as we explored Mongolia on horseback and foot.

Walks from the dining ger to our own ones feel a lot longer at night when it is dark and cold, but it was always comforting to know that a toasty place to retire to was waiting for us. The camp’s staff would never fail to welcome us back to our gers with warm wood-burning fires. The smell alone was enough to lull me into sleep, as it lingered like a watchful guardian before vanishing slowly as the fire burned out.

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A traditional Mongolian dinner was prepared to bid us farewell. “Wear clothes you don’t care about”, they warned, “because the smell will linger long into the morning and beyond”. The pungent smell hit us like a slap in the face as we got close to the dining ger—not as gentle and comforting as burning wood, nor as fresh and fragrant as wormwood—it was the smell of a boodog, a whole goat being grilled on an open fire and getting cooked in its own skin. As a pungent mix of spice, meat and ash, the meal was in theory, delicious, but in practice, needed some getting used to.

But this is why we travel in the first place, for the experience and the memories—to get whiffs of nature growing beneath your feet, for the familiar comfort of a roasting fire, and even the unfamiliar within culinary traditions of a long enduring culture. I travel so I can take these scents home with me.

5-min

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Amala Destinations Picks

Top 10 things to do in Bhutan

written by Amala

1. Observe the Himalayan Snow Peaks

1_Mt. Everest

A window seat on the left side of the plane might offer some amazing views of the Eastern Himalayan range during your flight into Bhutan.

2. Hang Prayer Flags

2_Prayer Flags at Tiger's Nest

Spread prayers and goodwill in the wind by hanging prayer flags—an ideal spot is by the waterfall high up at Tiger’s Nest.

3. Taste the local cuisine

3_Farmhouse Lunch
3_Bhutanese Cuisine
3_Momos

Ema datshi (chilli-cheese), buckwheat pancakes, momo (Tibetan-style dumplings) and yak butter tea are just some of the many Bhutanese dishes and foods that will offer both the novel and familiar for your taste buds. Have a meal in a Bhutanese farmhouse with a local family!

4. Snack on the local cuisine

4_Snacks

Popular Bhutanese snacks like zaow (puffed rice), jellied cow skin, dried yak cheese and fresh betel nut will stave off the munchies.

5. Savour the local brews

5_Wine

The Bhutanese beer, Red Panda, is just as thirst quenching as any of the world-renowned ones while the traditional Ara might offer an unusual route to merriment. Those in the mood for something sweeter should get a taste of the Paro-brewed stone fruit wine, comparable to the Japanese Umeshu in flavour. And last but certainly not the least, the infamous K5 local whiskey, a smooth and light blend to suit most palates.

6. Watch an  archery match

6_Archery

Bhutan’s national sport is also a favourite pastime among the Bhutanese. A duel between archers is quite a common sight in Bhutan and you will find they take their targets pretty seriously. Look out for the cute little victory dance they do when they hit the bullseye!

7. Hike up to Tiger’s Nest

path-to-choekhor

Elevate your sense of wonder with a hike up 500 metres (1,640 feet) above the valley to see the most famous temple in Paro.

8. Soak in a hot stone bath

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Have a lovely soak in a stone-heated wooden bathtub in the serene tranquillity of the woods after a day of activity.

9. Light butter lamps

9_Butter Lamps

Lit butter lamps represent the illumination of wisdom. They also focus the mind and aid meditation.

10. Prayer Wheels

10_Prayer Wheels

Turning these wheels with inscribed mantras clockwise is said to have the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers. One good turn deserves another!

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