It’s not a typical Trini Indian Wedding unless these 9 things happen

It's not a typical Indian wedding unless these 9 things happen If you’re ever in Trinidad and Tobago, don’t miss the bacchanal of a typical Trini Indian (usually Hindu) wedding. Here are 9 things that may happen while you’re there.

1. The wedding lasts a long time.

Unlike traditional Western-style weddings that wrap up in one day, Hindu weddings in Trinidad and Tobago are marathon affairs. The wedding ceremony will be long and seem never ending so bring something to keep you busy, especially during the frequent wardrobe changes of the blushing bride or dulahin.

2. Guests, please dress to kill.

Ladies, now is your time to shine. Literally. Go bold with blinding, sequined shalwars, gharasas, and saris that you can pick up at any Indian expo that dot the big island. Guys, wear whatever you want.

3. Maticoor night is when ladies “get away.”

If you’re invited to Maticoor night on the Friday before the wedding ceremony, prepare for some raunchy action. On Ladies Night, mommies, aunties, and grannies can get very creative with baigan (eggplant) to show the bride what she can expect on her wedding night.

4. The groom arrives in style.

On the day of the official wedding ceremony (usually a Sunday), the groom or dulaha will arrive at the bride’s house in style, in a souped-up Benz, Audi, or traditional bull cart garlanded in marigold flowers, accompanied by a banging entourage that includes a music truck and full tassa band.

5. The plates are biodegradable.

At the wedding meal, take a freshly washed banana leaf, find a seat at the table, and wait to be served handfuls of silky paratha roti,  huge dollops of rice, dhal, vegetable curries, even dessert (sweet rice) on any free space on your leaf-plate. Go easy on the mother-in-law. This homemade pepper/chili sauce can be lethal. When you’re done, fold your leaf and throw away in the bin/bag provided. Now isn’t that easy and environmentally friendly?

6. There’s always tassa.

Learn how to throw waist to the beat of tassa. Don’t worry, you’ll hear the boom and crashing cymbals from a mile away. If you’re young, single, and female, you will be pulled on the dance floor and you will be expected to rotate your hips and wine down to the ground to the throbbing drum beat.

7. The rest of the playlist is nothing short of eclectic.

The hired music truck will blast Bollywood songs, chutney, dancehall, soca, and 80s rock until the wee hours of the morning. It will be more bass than song so that everything vibrates, even your teeth. Car alarms will go off nonstop. The rest of the evening will be punctuated by the DJ shouting, “Wheel!” P.S. if you weren’t invited to the wedding and you call the police to shut off the music on a Sunday night at 10pm, the DJ will say, “I is a registered DJ and I playing until 1am!”

8. Drinks are stored in car trunks.

If it’s a strict Hindu wedding, that means no alcohol on the premises. However, leave it to Trinis to find a loophole. If you see a group of men standing around the back of someone’s car parked right in front of the bride or groom’s house, you know they’re knocking back Forres Park or Johnny Walker from styrofoam cups. Drunkies may end up dancing in the middle of the road or fighting in a drain.

9. It ends in (happy?) tears.

When it’s time for the bride to leave her family, expect to see her mother clutching her dramatically and bawling her eyes out while the dulahin fights back tears and tries not to smudge her fahbulous eye makeup.

Photos: © Live Lyfe Photography

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Liebster Award Love

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Guess what? I got nominated for an award! I know it ain’t no Nobel Prize but the great thing about the Liebster Award is that it’s given to bloggers by bloggers. Liebster in German means “sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.” It’s basically a pay-it-forward movement that gives new bloggers the exposure they crave and asks them to pass on the love. Thank you These Traveling Feet for nominating me! Here are my answers to those questions you asked.

1.What made you start your own travel blog?

I decided to start my own travel blog after a trip to the UK for a uni reunion/ friend’s wedding. It was the first long-haul trip I had taken in years since I had returned home after living in the UK for four years. The trip made me remember how much I loved traveling and sharing my stories with anyone who cared to hear them. I thought a blog was the perfect platform so I started Hot Foot Trini with Blogger in 2011. I then decided to shut down the Blogger website and migrate the blog to my own domain and website in 2016.

2. Were you raised to travel? Or did you decide to be different and explore the world?

Travel was never a big thing with my family but my parents encouraged me to read. A lot. Reading inspired me to travel across borders and time and paved the way for me to actually travel when I had the means and money to do so.

3. What/Who inspires you to travel the world?

I like the challenge of travel. It forces me to wake up and really live. It taps into my survival skills and most of all, my common sense.

4. If you can be anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

I would go to Iceland because it’s one of the most literate countries in the world and Reykjavik is a UNESCO city of literature. I also love the wild, open landscapes of that country. I could definitely be inspired to write more there.

5. What is your favorite travel essential?

My travel journal.

6. Is there a city you’ve been to but hate?

Hate is a very strong word. Initially, I was intimidated by Kolkata because my husband and I arrived in the city in the early morning. It seemed empty and desolate. However, when we started venturing outside over the next few days, we realized that it wasn’t scary, just different, and we soon adapted to the Indian way of doing things.

7. What is the best accommodation you’ve ever stayed in?

The best place we ever stayed was Kuniga-so on Nishinoshima in Japan’s Oki Islands. Our room was so clean and overlooked a beautiful port. The food was also really fresh and we got to see fireworks from the hotel during our stay!

8. And the worst?

The worst was in Kolkata. The staff clearly did not know we were coming. When we arrived at three in the morning, the gates were locked and we were shuffled into a sunless room that had not been cleaned. It definitely did not look like the picture on the website. There was also a tiny window with a huge, noisy generator in front of it.

9. What is the most amazing thing you’ve seen while traveling?

I’ve seen too many amazing things that it’s hard to narrow it down. Honest.

10. What is your least favorite thing about traveling?

Travel delays and wait times.

11. Do you have any tips for new bloggers?

Don’t write all your blog posts like personal diary entries. Dig deeper and write about topics and issues you face during traveling. It makes for better reading.

Right! That’s done so now I’m going to reciprocate. It’s all about the journey so here are my 11 questions to my nominated bloggers: Travelgal Nicole, Thrifty Family Travels, Jayraini, Sindi’s Suitcase, Little Discoveries, and The Bohemian Style. To read more about the initiative, here are the official rules regarding the Liebster Award 2017.

  1. What was your longest travel journey abroad?
  2. What was your shortest travel journey abroad?
  3. Describe your worst stopover.
  4. Describe your best stopover.
  5. How much was your cheapest flight ever?
  6. Describe your worst flight ever.
  7. Describe your best flight ever.
  8. Who is your best layover buddy?
  9. Describe your best experience with immigration/border control in a foreign country.
  10. Describe your worst experience with immigration/border control in a foreign country.
  11. How many flights have you missed?

Looking forward to reading those answers!

 

A wedding at Izumo Taisha

The couple exits one of the halls at Izumo Taisha, surrounded by a tiny cluster of relatives. The bride steps on the path in a swath of white and holds her head carefully, under the weight of her domed headdress. She looks demure, apart from her crimson lips.

The wedding coordinator places her hand on the small of the bride’s back, guiding her along. The groom trails behind. As he turns the corner, I sputter, “Omedetou.” He quietly acknowledges the nosy gaijin. Soon afterward, the couple and family members stand neatly and smile delicately, waiting for commands from the photographer.

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Japanese Wedding, Izumo Taisha

Izumo is known as the Land of the Gods.  Izumo Taisha in modern day Izumo, Shimane, is a popular wedding shrine because it’s dedicated to Okuninushi, the god of all things unseen, marriage, and relationships.

Close to Izumo Taisha is Inasanohama Beach. Here, Bentenjima, a tiny shrine, perches on a single rock. Instantly, it reminds me of Temple in the Sea in Trinidad. The coastline here is windswept, reminiscent of the choppy, muddied waters of Columbus Channel along the southwestern coast of Trinidad. Legend states that all the gods in Japan meet at Inasanohama during kamimukaesai, the 10th month of the lunar calendar.

Further along the Shimane peninsula lies Hinomisaki lighthouse. This white, stone structure looms over the promontory, keeping a watchful eye on the boats out at sea. Shops selling souvenirs, dried fish, and grilled squid line the deserted lanes that lead to the lighthouse. A wrinkled old woman peers out of her shop. “Dozodozo,” she tells us, waving her arms over a blue tray of colorful shells of dried sea creatures.

Families flock to the lighthouse on the chilly winter evening. Young boys frolic close to the cliff’s edge. The ocean is a clear sapphire close to the rock walls. Seagulls rest on stretches of harsh, brown rock. Too soon, night falls and drenches everywhere in darkness. The shops and restaurants draw their shutters down and we must leave.

Photos: © Live Lyfe Photography

Did you ever visit Izumo? What did you think about it?

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Spending New Year’s, Japanese style

In Japan, New Year’s is way bigger than Christmas. In fact, no shōgatsu (New Year festival) is complete without a ritual visit to the local jinja (shrine).

Kunito sensei, the school nurse, invites Jesse and I to visit her family jinja. Hiyoshi Shrine in Yodoe claims to be the only shrine in Japan located directly opposite a railroad crossing.

As we cross the wooden train tracks and ascend the stone steps into a forest clearing, it feels as though we have left the wardrobe. Time stands still. Single black lamps dot the snow-blanketed landscape, giving the shrine a distinctly Narnia feel.

The compound is hushed and deeply shadowed by tall evergreens, heavy with recent snowfall. Occasionally, the branches above shudder and giant heaps of snow thud to the ground. The air is clean and cold. Tiny snowflakes hang in the air for seconds, then drift softly to earth. It’s as though we’re trapped in a giant snow globe that someone’s just shaken.Spending New Year's Japanese Stylewww.hotfoottrini.comUsually, when you enter a Japanese shrine, you will notice shishi (lion dogs) or kitsune (foxes). This one is guarded by shishi as well as saru (monkeys), their mossy faces partially hidden by clumps of snow.

The main hall of the shrine is a beautiful wooden structure with crossed beams that stretch up to the heavens. Its architecture strongly resembles that of Izumo Taisha. The interior is dark and spare, save for shinobigoma (straw horse) and a fluttery, paper-covered object. Omikuji fortunes for the new year line taut strings outside the main hall.

There are also miniature shrines scattered everywhere. Each pays homage to a different god or kami. The snow muffles our claps and clinking coins as we bow, shuffle around the shrines, and go up and down the muddied pathways.

Afterward, we head to Amenomanai (which means “heavenly pure water”), a natural spring source in Yodoe. Its water comes straight from Mount Daisen and even though it’s winter, the water is not too cold. Amenomanai is the only place in Tottori prefecture classified under Japan’s 100 remarkable waters. In a small pond near the spring, a  single rainbow trout swims under the snowflakes, nibbling the fish food we offer.

A water wheel stands nearby, covered in moss and snow. For a moment, it looks like the abandoned Arnos Vale water wheel in Tobago. Icicles hang like clear daggers from the thatched roof of a nearby hut. The snow continues to fall softly, bringing a sense of magic to the time and place.

We return to the family home for a traditional New Year’s lunch: sake studded with gold flecks, ozōni, and osechi ryori. Kunito sensei serves two types of ozōni: a sweet one (typical in Yonago) and a savory one (typical in Nanbu). Both include generous helpings of mochi, round rice cakes that are like sticky dumplings. The osechi ryori is served in lacquered boxes and includes neat servings of grilled tai (sea bream), pink and white kamaboko (fish cakes), delicate yellow kazunoko (fish roe), glossy kuromame (black beans), tazukuri (small sardines), and datemaki (egg custard rolls).

The new year already feels different. It’s as though we’ve distilled some intangible essence at Hiyoshi shrine and Amenomanai, something that helps us understand this strange and idiosyncratic place called Japan.

Photos: © Live Lyfe Photography

Did you ever experience New Year’s away from home? How did you feel?

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Spending Christmas abroad

For many Trinis, spending Christmas away from home is nothing short of sacrilegious. No one disagrees with Susan Maicoo when she sings, “Oh yes! Trini Christmas is de best!”

Spending Christmas Abroadwww.hotfoottrini.comFirstly, why would anyone want to skip the food: rum-soaked black cake, meaty pastelles, pineapple-studded ham, roast turkey, sorrel, wild meat, ponche de creme? Then, there’s parang music and carols on the radio, Soca Santa on trucks and fire engines, Christmas Day services that finish at sunrise. And oh! The preparations for the Big Day: dressing the Christmas tree, putting up new curtains, whitewashing the palm tree trunks and rocks that circle the Julie mango tree in the front yard, licking the bowl clean of raw sponge cake batter, trawling the Christmas flea markets and city streets for bargains, buying Red Delicious apples by the box. Children looking forward to Christmas treat in primary school, Sunday school, and in the villages, comparing and trading snacks, balloons, and toys. The annual pilgrimage to the big malls to see which one had the best Christmas decorations. Was it the elves and cottony snow at Long Circular, the sparkly Christmas trees at Trincity, the blood-red poinsettias in Gulf City, or the giant baubles hanging from the roof of West Mall? 

But I did. I skipped Christmas at home a couple of times.

First snow

Christmas was the first time this tropical girl saw snow. On a road trip from Toronto to Montreal, my uncle stopped the car and woke us up to see piles and piles of white stuff gleaming along the highway. Tiny flowers frosted with ice. Sunlight sparkling on the white. It was so still. Then, on Christmas Day, there wasn’t any real snow, only flurries that melted as soon as they hit the window panes.  That didn’t stop me and my cousin from making a snowman or rather, snow creatures: solitary heads with twig hands and stone eyes, that lay flat on a picnic table in the backyard. We were so proud.

A very British Christmas

There were times as a uni student in the UK when I couldn’t afford to go back home for Christmas so I spent the season with my friends and their families.

In the flat, before everyone went North or South for Christmas, we strung fairy lights and paper chains from the ceiling, made Christmas cookies, mulled wine, mince pies, and roast dinners, and sang along (sometimes, terribly) to the entire Lion King and Les Miserables soundtracks. There were Christmas markets too, stalls selling mini Dutch pancakes flecked with powdered sugar, chocolate and banana crepes, pork sandwiches smothered in warm applesauce, and real glühwein.

Ellie was adamant that I should spend Christmas as I did at home so together with her Uncle Bill, we went to Coventry Cathedral on Christmas Eve. I know they meant well but we left before the service ended because I couldn’t understand the complicated traditions. Plus, the church was rather cold and I was rather sleepy.

On Christmas Day, we popped Christmas crackers to don silly hats and read silly jokes. Afterward, we stuffed ourselves with roasted meat, roasted vegetables, and Yorkshire puddings smothered in gravy. But Christmas dinner was all about Ellie’s masterpiece, the trifle. Thick layers of custard, jelly, whipped cream, and cake, sprinkled with chocolate shavings. Surprisingly, no one (except Uncle Bill and I) touched the traditional Christmas pudding: doused in brandy, set alight, then served with warm custard. I loved it because it reminded me of a Trini black cake. After the meal, we didn’t go to bed like in Trinidad. We went walking! To Kenilworth Castle, sliding down the green hills and skipping between the ruined stone walls on a cold, gray Boxing Day.

Then, in London, when everyone left during the Christmas break, I headed North to celebrate the season with Dan and his family. Just like at Ellie’s, after Christmas dinner, we galumphed around Manchester’s suburban fields and muddy roads, chatting about philistines and Sigmund Freud. The cold air whipped my nose into a runny mess but I was happy moving about the landscape. Although Dan’s family also asked whether I wanted to go to church for Christmas, I chose to spend this holiday watching a play about an imaginary rabbit called Harvey.

Another Christmas I spent at Becky’s house in Kent. We watched Christmas shows on the telly and played party games with her grandparents and younger nieces and nephews. However, later on in the day, I started to feel ill and felt so bad that I took the train the next day back to Leamington. Becky later told me that her grandmother wanted to know whether the “island girl” was okay (bless her heart!)

Spending the holidays in rural Japan

Spending Christmas in Japan was different. People still went to work on Christmas and Boxing Day even though the department stores were stuffed with Christmas decorations, lights, and fake snow.

Kunito sensei invited Jesse and I over for a holiday dinner where we drank lots of sake, shared our first Japanese Christmas cake, and chatted to an old guy who had climbed snowy Mount Daisen that morning (he had pictures on his phone to prove it). Ayaka, Kunito sensei’s daughter, was the perfect diplomat, switching seamlessly from Japanese to English and back again so that everyone at the table knew what was going on. I also practiced my Spanish, chatting with a neighbor who had lived in Mexico for many years.

On Christmas Day, I took the day off work and Jesse and I went to Mount Daisen. We left the mud and sludge of Yonago for the crisp, white blanket on the foot of the mountain.  It was eerie, the quietest we had ever known Daisen to be. For Christmas Day dinner, even though we couldn’t bake Christmas treats because we didn’t have an oven, we invited our friend, Fernanda, over for Trini fried chicken and fried rice, fresh strawberries and the most Christmasy-looking pastries we could find for dessert. She brought fresh bread rolls, wine, cheese, and presents and we passed Christmas in a very quiet yet sublime way.

Photo: © Linc Designs

Have you ever spent Christmas abroad? What was it like?

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The Oki Islands, Japan

 

In Japan, the Oki islands of Shimane Prefecture are not as famous as Okinawa but they still pack a punch.

Located only a two or three-hour ferry ride from Matsue or Sakaiminato, Oki’s four inhabited and 180 uninhabited islands are so geologically unique that they became a UNESCO supported Geopark in 2013. These islands are awash with a rugged natural beauty, created over years of volcanic activity, erosion, and weathering. Of the four large islands, there’s Dogo and three Dozen islands: Nishinoshima, Nakanoshima, and Chiburijima.

Oki Islandswww.hotfoottrini.com (2)The Oki Kisen ferry  from Shichirui Port is an experience in itself. There are no seats, only large, carpeted sections. In true Japanese fashion, you must take off your shoes and sit on the floor.

For some of the best Oki beef on the islands, head to Oki Gyu Ten on Nakanoshima. Oki cattle are raised on the islands. The beef is tender and delicious. Bet you didn’t know that Oki calves are sent to Kobe where they eventually become the famous Kobe beef.

You can rent bikes from the tourism office in Ama to explore the island. Cycle to Rainbow beach which is very close to the town’s port. Further inland is Oki Shrine, which was built to honor Emperor Gotoba, who was exiled to the Oki islands during the Middle Ages.

Back at the port, climb aboard the Amanbow underwater viewing boat. Here, you can see under the sea from square portholes cut in the boat’s sides. It’s like looking into a giant aquarium.

Nishinoshima is the most popular of the Oki islands. Its mountainous landscape is dotted with hundreds of Oki cattle and horses. Head to Kuniga lookout for sunset to see Kannon Iwa or Candle Rock. The dying sun drops directly above the rock so that it looks like a flame atop a candle.

The coastline here, one of the top 100 walking tracks in Japan, is perfect for gentle ambling and dipping your toes into the ocean. One of the highlights of the coastal walk is Tsutenkyo Arch. Here, the wind and waves have stripped the land into a dramatic, multi-colored arch through which the ocean flows.

Stay at the retro-feel, family-run hotel, Kuniga-so on Nishinoshima. Dinner includes everything imaginable: Iwagaki oysters, white squid, scallops, pickled abalone, sashimi, fish stew, soba salad, and Oki beef slices. Some of the rooms overlook Urago Port. If you go in the summer, you can watch the fireworks over the bay from your room!Oki Islandswww.hotfoottrini.com (1)Near Urago, visit Yurahime Shrine which honors Suserihime or Yurahime no mikoto, the goddess of fishing and maritime safety. Every autumn and winter, thousands of squid flood the inlet in front of this shrine. According to local legend, when the goddess was returning to Oki by boat, some squid in the inlet nibbled her fingers. She was quite offended so every year, several squid return to the same spot to apologize for their terrible behavior. P.S. Lots of restaurants in the area, like Asuka, serve squid dishes like ika don (bowl of rice topped with cooked squid) and ika kare (squid curry).

Oki Islandswww.hotfoottrini.comAlso, check out Matengai Cliff. To get there, you should rent a car or bikes (if you’re feeling fit enough) to climb the winding road uphill. There are wild horses and cows here, nibbling the grass all day. If any of the animals seem menacing, grab on of the free bamboo walking sticks provided to defend yourself. Also, if you go in summer, wear sunscreen! The coastline here is surreally beautiful: large masses of grassy headland jutting out into the cobalt sea.

There are also great beaches on Nishinoshima, particularly Sotohama and Mimiura. Sotohama has a wide sandy beach and clear water for swimming. Mimiura is a bit more tricky to find because it’s hidden behind a dense pine forest. The cove is small but perfect for camping, kayaking, and snorkeling.

Still want more? Here are the top 10 things to see and do on the Oki Islands.

Full disclosure: This trip (transport and accommodation costs) was made possible by the generosity of Nishinoshima Tourism Association. The post and photos, however, are entirely the products of Hot Foot Trini and Live Lyfe Photography.

Photos: © Live Lyfe Photography

Did you ever visit the Oki Islands? Was it worth the trip? Share below!

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11 insider tips to survive the Taj Mahal

Because many Trinis at home and abroad claim Indian roots, India is a popular destination. For many, it’s a dream to visit the “motherland,” the home of ancestors who came to the Caribbean to work on sugarcane fields as indentured laborers. The Taj Mahal is usually on their bucket list.

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Commissioned in 1632 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to memorialize the death of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj is now a UNESCO Heritage Site and one of the seven new Wonders of the World. Although the white marble mausoleum, the mirror-image mosques, and manicured grounds are stunning, here are some insider tips to help you better enjoy the Taj Mahal.

1. Go at sunrise or at night.

The Taj Mahal is located in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, about 200 miles from Delhi. Agra is an old, chaotic, and expensive city and it’s not worth staying here overnight. Instead, take a day trip from Delhi. If you can get there for sunrise, even better: fewer crowds, better views. The gates open at 6:00 and close at 19:00. The Taj is also open for night viewing on the day of a full moon as well as two days before and after the full moon. P.S. The attraction closes on Fridays and during Ramadan when the complex opens for Muslim worship.

2. How to get there.

The drive along the privately-owned, 165 kilometer-long Yamuna Expressway from Delhi will be smooth but long. The six-lane tolled highway of “golden miles” leads straight to Agra so take your camera, some tunes, or a book to help pass the time. You will stop for breakfast. Don’t dawdle. The longer you stay, the more tourists will pile into the restaurant. Remember to carry a small packet of tissues or toilet paper to the bathroom. Always.

3. You don’t always need a guide.

You don’t need to hire a guide but you can if you really want to. At any of the four gates to the Taj Mahal, you will be harassed by touts and vendors who will push all kinds of souvenirs in your face: snow globes, flutes, postcards, and key chains. Don’t engage. Just keep walking.

4. Dress for the weather.

When I visited during the off-peak season and post-monsoon, it was still unbearably hot and humid. Dress in loose, cotton clothes, wear sunglasses, and ration your water supply. A bandanna or handkerchief will come in handy to mop the sweat off your brow.

5. How to get in.

For the tourist admission price, you get a souvenir bag, small bottle of water, and some disposable shoe covers. Before you enter the compound, you will have to undergo a routine security check. There are separate lines for men and women. The guards will check your bags for lighters, sharp objects, flammable stuff, food, mints, books, newspapers etc. Water in transparent bottles, cameras, mobile phones, and small purses are allowed. However, you can’t enter with a big bag or tripod. Also, you cannot take public transportation straight to the mausoleum. Instead, you can walk from the visitor parking lot or use the electric bus or golf carts provided by the visitor center.

6. How to survive the photogs.

When you enter the grounds, ignore the “photographers” with Nikons around their necks. They make all the tourists pose for the same awkward shot. For example, they will take a picture of you appearing to touch the tip of the Taj Mahal’s onion dome and will do the same for everyone else. Boring!

7. Keep calm.

Don’t get angry with the crowds. Although I visited during the off-peak season, it was still swarming with visitors, especially locals. Get used to hearing the security guards blow their whistles sharply when they want people to clear off or move along. Walk away from the stereotypical spots to get different angles. Or, surrender to the crowds and inject local flavor into your pictures. After all, good travel photography should reflect the reality rather than the fantasy of a place.

8.  Don’t get into a debate about marble.

Although it was brought in from Makrana, Rajasthan, the local government calls it Agra marble. P.S. Real marble is translucent and allows light to shine through.

9. Use those shoe covers (you paid for them!)

Slip those shoe covers over your shoes before entering the mausoleum. Why go through all that trouble? Let me tell you why. When I was leaving the tomb, I saw two men arguing because one of them had stolen the other person’s shoes. Who wants to deal with that hassle? After you leave the building, you can just throw the shoe covers away.

10. You are not allowed to take photos inside the main building.

Inside the monument, you will see marble tombs of Shah Jahan and his wife. These are empty. The bodies are buried at a much lower level, away from the public gaze.

11. Just do the Taj Mahal.

If you choose to hire a local guide, don’t mindlessly agree to go everywhere he recommends. For example, he may want to take you to a jewelry shop to show you the star of India or to a workshop to show you Agra marble. Don’t feel pressured to buy since the guide usually has an arrangement with the business owners to receive a commission on anything you purchase.

Photos: © Live Lyfe Photography

Did I miss anything? If you’d like to share your own Taj Mahal tips, feel free to add them in the comment box below!

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11 insider tips to survive the Taj Mahal

 

 

Traveling with a passport from a country no one’s heard of

Have you been traveling for a while and every time you cross a border, someone looks at your passport and scratches his or her head? Are you accustomed to shelling out lots of dinero to get travel visas to visit certain countries?

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If you answered yes to the above-mentioned questions, guess what? You’re not alone! As a Trinidadian with just a Trinidadian passport (there are Trinidadians who have dual citizenship but that’s another story), I have had my fair share of travel woes. However, I haven’t let that stop me from trying to explore the world beyond my islands’ shores. Read about my experiences in Wanderful: Please stop telling me that my country does not exist.

 

Have you had similar experiences? Share in the comments below!

Photo: © Live Lyfe Photography

The story behind the Temple in the Sea, Trinidad

Did you ever listen to the words of the song, “The impossible dream?” Little did I know that the words I sang applied to Siewdass Sadhu, the folk hero of the fishing village where I went to primary school.Temple in the Sea, Trinidadwww.hotfoottrini.com

Never heard of him? Let me fill you in. Sadhu migrated to Trinidad from India with his parents at the turn of the 20th century. At the time, Trinidad was a British sugar colony so he and his family came to the sugarcane fields in this part of the Caribbean to work as indentured laborers.

Sadhu and his family settled in Barrancore and worked on the Waterloo Estate in Central Trinidad. After fulfilling his indentureship on the sugar estate, Siewdass returned to India many times. He visited Hindu temples there and vowed to build his own in Trinidad.

In 1947, he purchased a plot of land near Waterloo Bay from the estate owner, Caroni (1937) Limited, and built a temple on it.Villagers freely held prayers in this temple for four years. Then in 1952, Siewdass was ordered to demolish the building. He refused and was fined and jailed for trespassing on state lands. His temple was then torn apart by the colonial authorities.

You would think this would have broken his spirit. Not Siewdass Sadhu. Shortly after his release, he declared that he would build the temple in “nobody’s land,” the sea, where no one could destroy it.

Sadhu got broken bricks from the brick factory in Barrancore (now known as Brickfield) and dumped them into the ocean to create a path stretching some 500 meters from the coastline. Every day, for seventeen years, he carried buckets of cement, gravel, sand, and stones on his bicycle to build the path. Then, he filled steel oil drums with concrete and tied them with steel to make the temple’s foundation. People laughed at him and called him mad. In the end, he built a simple structure with a prayer room, kitchen, and a small room for guests.

When I visited the temple in the late 1980s and early 1990s with my classmates, this story seemed too good to be true.  At low tide, we walked the pathway of barnacle-covered boulders and tires to reach the temple. The air was thick with the smell of mangrove mud. The building appeared quite small and solitary against the wide, gray Gulf of Paria. Inside the temple was empty and abandoned. Our faces fell.

Near the temple, children dug for oysters in the sticky, gray mud, amid the hibiscus flowers, deyas, and religious murtis that washed ashore from the cremation site nearby.  Then in 1994, the government finally decided to rebuild the temple in honor of Sadhu.

Today, colorful prayer flags line the tiled pathway to the temple, flapping rhythmically in the sea breeze. All you can hear are black birds quarreling in the mangroves and the water lapping the mud flats. Boys squeal with laughter as they help their fathers prepare nets for the evening’s catch. It still smells strongly of mud. And the blue and white temple still stands, a testament to one man’s realization of the impossible dream.

Photos: © Hot Foot Trini

Have you ever been to the Temple in the Sea? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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The bucket list: must-see places in Trinidad and Tobago

If you’re Trinbagonian or yearning to travel to Trinidad and Tobago in the south of the Caribbean, here are some must-see places and things to do that should be on your bucket list. Castara, Tobagowww.hotfoottrini.com

1. Go turtle watching.

If you’re into nature and animals, then you will love this experience. Imagine witnessing a mammoth leatherback turtle laying her eggs in the sand on a wild, windy night. The moment is nothing short of breathtaking. Go with responsible, local guide groups like Nature Seekers, based in Matura. You can also spot leatherback turtles at Grande Riviere in Trinidad and Stonehaven Bay/Turtle Beach in Tobago.

2. Go beach hopping in Trinidad.

Big sis, Trinidad, and little sis, Tobago, are blessed with miles and miles of sandy beaches. In North Trinidad, think beyond Maracas and head to Las Cuevas, Tyrico, Blanchisseuse, Balandra, Salybia, and Grande Riviere beaches. In the southeastern part of the island, drive through the Cocal, a coconut plantation that runs parallel to Manzanilla Beach. Stop at the boardwalk, then continue to Mayaro to dig for chip-chip (tiny clams) and to rent a beach house for the weekend. In South Trinidad, bubble a pot at Quinam, Granville, and Columbus Bay.Mayaro, Trinidadwww.hotfoottrini.com

3. Go beach hopping in Tobago.

Tobago is so much more than Store Bay and Pigeon Point. Drive along the Leeward coast and hit the Grange/Wall, Englishman’s Bay, Castara, Bloody Bay, and Parlatuvier. Then head to the Windward coast and take a dip in King’s Bay or Speyside. In the most northern tip of the island, be sure to check out Pirate’s Bay, in Charlotteville.

4. Hike the Northern Range and the Main Ridge.

If you’re craving an unspoiled piece of paradise on any of the two islands, head to the hills! In Trinidad, the Northern Range offers many beautiful waterfalls, rivers, and clearings, only accessible by foot. For beginners, head to Rio Seco Waterfall, where water cascades into an emerald pool in the deep of the forest. For more experienced hikers, head to Paria Beach and Waterfall or do an overnight hike from Matelot to Blanchisseuse. Remember to keep a clean scene, carry lots of water, and wear sturdy shoes. In Tobago, the Main Ridge Forest Reserve runs within the island’s interior and offers many nature trails to explore. It also claims to be the oldest forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere (protected since 1776).

5. Hit the lighthouse and forts.

One of the most exciting places in Trinidad is Galera Point/Toco Lighthouse, located on the northeastern tip of the island. Here, a piece of rock juts out between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a sight and sound to behold as the waves clash and crash in the holes in the rocks below. Tobago, on the other hand, is a treasure-trove of forts. Head to Fort King George near Scarborough, Fort Milford near Crown Point, Fort Bennett on the Leeward Coast, Fort Granby on the Windward Coast, and Cambleton Battery in Charlotteville for superb views of the coastline.Bake and Shark, Trinidadwww.hotfoottrini.com

6. Sample the street food.

Both Trinidad and Tobago are blessed with a diversity of cheap street food. Sample hot doubles, corn soup, chow, pudding, bake and shark, Indian delicacies, and crab and dumpling. Read more about each dish in my article, 10 unforgettable street foods to try in T&T.

7. Mount Saint Benedict.

Even if you are not Catholic or especially religious, many Trinis can attest to the beauty of “the Mount.” Step into the church to experience a rare oasis of calm in the always busy East/West Corridor in northern Trinidad. Outside, enjoy expansive views of the Caroni plains while having a spot of tea at Pax Guest House. Or, stay overnight at the guest house and go hiking and bird watching in the Northern Range. Don’t forget to pick up some fresh Pax yogurt before you leave.

8. See the sunset at the Temple in the Sea.

Although located right next to a Hindu cremation site, the Temple in the Sea at Waterloo in Trinidad is well worth a visit. The story behind the construction of the temple is nothing short of inspirational. Siewdass Sadhu, an indentured laborer in Waterloo, initially built a Hindu temple on land but it was destroyed by the British colonial government. He then decided to build a temple in the sea, where the colonial authorities could not reach it. It took several years and today, a new temple stands on the site.

9. Go zip lining.

Imagine being suspended from a metal cable up to 100 feet in the air and flying through the rainforest canopy at lightning speed. If this sounds right up your alley, head to Chaguaramas for zip lining tours, which include dizzying views of Macqueripe Bay.

10. Go bird watching.

Trinidad and Tobago is literally a bird-lover’s paradise. There are so many species here, from tiny hummingbirds and to regal scarlet ibises. In Trinidad, Asa Wright Nature CentrePointe a Pierre Wild Fowl Trust, and Yerette are known for bird watching. If you’d like to see the scarlet ibis, one of the national birds, in its natural habitat, take a guided tour or go kayaking through the Caroni swamp at dusk. In Tobago, spot rare species on Little Tobago or in the Main Ridge Nature Reserve.

Photos: © Hot Foot Trini

Did I forget anything? Share your suggestions!

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