Indian Visa Application with CKGS

     After years of imagining and preparing myself, I declared 2016 as the perfect time to finally set foot in the land of Incredible India. And to make the trip more amazing I’ve decided to also visit Nepal, a country known for hosting the tallest mountain in the world, Mount Everest.

But before anything else. . . I need a visa! US citizens can obtain a visa on arrival in Nepal but India is a different story.

     Nowadays, you can easily apply for an Indian e-tourist visa online via https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html. The application must be submitted 4 days prior to your trip and is only valid for single entry. Very convenient, though it won’t be practical for anyone planning a side trip to India’s neighboring countries. Yes, you can reapply for a visa but it wouldn’t be too practical unless you have plenty of time for paper work and processing. To avoid any problems, it’s better to have a multiple entry visa on hand upon arrival to India.

     This is a post summarizing my experience in obtaining my Indian visa. Please note that I applied as a United States citizen living in Southern California. Indian visas may be obtained in the US through Cox & Kings Global Services. My experience below might be different from yours. The application process is based on residency status, location, and other varying factors. Before filling out the application form you must first read the application guideline by visiting CKGS. You need to know which forms to fill and which documents to attach with your application. You also need to know where to send your application form. It’s necessary to follow every step otherwise you’re risking delaying your application process. A minor mistake can cause a huge delay! Trust me, I heard tons of horror stories.

09/20/2016: Filled out the online application form. I received a temporary ID on the same day. Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 12.24.13 AM.png

09/21/2016: Mailed my application form using Fedex overnight shipping.

Here’s a list of documents I sent along with my application form.

  1. Passport Copies (2)
  2. Driver’s License
  3. Passport Photos (2)
  4. Application checklist
  5. Visa Additional Particular Forms
  6. Payment Receipt
  7. Application Form 
  8. Original Passport

At the end of the online application form you will have an option to pick your mailing service of choice. It’s easier to just pick CKGS’ Fedex shipping option. Once you paid, you will be able to print a shipping label. All you have to do is go to FedEx and find the right envelope. The people at FedEx can help you with this. Before mailing, please make sure you have all your documents printed, use the application checklist as a guide. I paid $155.25 for the entire application process including shipping.

09/22/2016Received an e-mail stating that CKGS received my package. I’m really impressed by their quick e-mail updates.

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 1.10.57 AM.png

09/26/2016Visa application in-Transit to consulate, received a tracking ID for checking the progress of my application. con.jpg

09/28/2016: Application was returned to CKGS. Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 1.24.18 AM.png 

On the same day, I received a Fedex tracking number for my package.

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 1.27.53 AM.png

09/29/2016: I got my precious passport with a shiny 10 year multiple entry Indian visa attached to it. 🙂IMG_4828 copy.jpg

 

 Over all, an amazing experience with CKGS. Filling up the application form was tedious, but following the guidelines helped me get my Indian visa with ease. For anyone wishing to go to India please check if you really need one and if you do, don’t wait the last minute to obtain your visa. Give yourself at least two months before your trip. By doing so will allow you enough room for possible delays. 

US Passports & International Travel
Cox & Kings Global Services
Indian Government/ ETA

 

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Borobodur: First Sunrise of the New Year

Well, hello September! We are now 3 months away from the holiday season. I’m already scrambling for ideas on what best way to celebrate Christmas and New Year. Hoping it will be as unforgettable as last year. I always look forward to the first thing I do on the first day of the New Year, and that goes beyond watching fireworks display.

It has been a dream of mine to be in a magical place while watching the first dawn of a New Year, and just last year, Indonesia fulfilled that dream. At 4:30 in the morning, after a sleepless night of celebration; eating durian, walking around Yogyakarta, watching fireworks and all, my bf and I headed to the city of Magelang in hopes of watching the first sunrise of 2016 at Borobodur. A beautiful buddhist stupa and temple complex dating from the 8th century. The largest Buddhist temple in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

yogyakarta
Salak, durian, and sweet bread as a pre NYE snack, courtesy of Wayang Homestay

We stayed at the Wayang Homestay in Yogyakarta, about 45-60 minutes away from Borobodur. Yogyakarta is not a far bus ride but if your goal is to catch the dawn, it’s ideal to hire a driver or sign up for a tour. The complex won’t be open until 6:00 AM, it’s better to be there 30 minutes before the opening time.

Another good reason to arrive early is to secure your picture taking spot. As you can see below, it can get crowded. After all, it’s one of Indonesia’s most visited attraction.

crowd

Manohara  Hotel offers sunrise tour (gain access before the public opening time) and sunset tour, both, with discounted tickets to in-house guests. For more information about Manohara Hotel please visit http://manoharaborobudur.com/. If staying somewhere else just inquire at your hostel/hotel concierge. The Wayang Homestay offers affordable accommodation and tour options. Click here for more information.

Armed with a flashlight and a raincoat, we started our walk inside the temple complex.  It wasn’t raining in Yogyakarta but the weather quickly changed in Magelang. It was pouring!

We waited…and waited! No sun! Everything was gray and gloomy. Nevertheless, I thought the gloominess was charming. I fell in love with the temple against a foggy forest backdrop. Even the heavy clouds I found idyllic.

fog

And finally, a hint of orange surfaced from the clouds.

Borobodur_WEB

I was hoping for more sunshine but I can’t complain about this view. The clouds, the fog, and the wet temple floors added more mystery to this already mysterious place.

borobodur1

After a few minutes of rejoicing, everything went back from being orange to gray. It was once again gloomy and raining. I was disappointed in the beginning, but then I realized how fortunate I am to be standing in one of the greatest Buddhist architecture in the world.full_borobodur

Borobodur is a complex architecture, it’s goal is to visually show the teachings of Buddha. The base of the temple is filled with intricate friezes depicting the consequences of living a life engulf by earthly desires; greed, lust etc.

stairs
Borobodur has 9 platforms. Having hand rails along the stairs provides relief to people who has fear of heights, me.

Apart from the base, each platforms leading to the very top stupa has wall friezes that shows different steps on how to achieve total enlightenment.

wall

wall3Borobodur is designed in a way where it’s visitors can take a religious walk to enlightenment; and exploring it’s platforms, under a gloomy weather, feels just like that. Make sure to explore the temple in a clockwise manner, gradually ascending from the base to each platforms.

At the very top of Borobodur is a center dome surrounded by smaller stupas. The central dome symbolically pointing to the heaven is said to represent the total state of blissfulness, Vimutti widely known as Nirvana. The final and highest goal of Buddhism.

top
Central Dome

My seemingly religious exploration of Borobodur took about 6 hours. We left the complex nearing lunch time, it was drizzling and the temple still surrounded by fog.

outside
Fog Wrapped Around Borobodur

And even if the weather was gloomy and the sun didn’t fully come out of it’s hiding, it’s still a dream come true. Spending the first day of 2016 at a magical place like Borobodur. Everyday is a special day but a New Year marks a fresh start. Why not celebrate it by watching the first sunrise at your favorite place, or better, your dream place. What about you? Where would you like to be on the first sunrise of 2017?

 

Beautiful Sequoia National Park

I want to start this post with some of my favorite photos from this trip along with my favorite sayings/quotations. If you would like more information,and photos, about my experience in the Sequoia just keep scrolling 🙂 Enjoy!


“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”

Albert Camus
Big Trees Trail
Big Trees Trail

“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.”

William Wordsworth
BigTreesTrail2
Big Trees Trail
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
— Rachel Carson
Fog1
Crescent Meadow

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

Albert Einstein
meadow
Crescent Meadow

“Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.”

Anthony J. D’Angelo
moss

“Even if one tree falls down it wouldn’t affect the entire forest.”

Chen Shui-bian
sequoia

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

John Muir
Moss2
Crescent Meadow

“Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley.”

Theodore Roethke
TharpsLog_1

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Frank Herbert

Conclusion

My First Visit in Sequoia
My First Visit in Sequoia

News about flash floods and  stranded vehicles on the 5 freeway (near Grapevine) was all over the media just two days before my trip to Sequoia. I was very close to canceling the trip but I’m glad I didn’t. Hours before driving, the rain stopped and the road condition was reported to be safe for traffic.

Bear
Bear Hill

Sequoia National Park BigTrees_DSC4150  is a 404,064 acres park situated in the Sierra Nevada, only 3 hours away from Los Angeles.
A true hiker’s paradise, Sequoia is home to magnificent hiking trails–you have more than 1000 choices. There are short and long trails for everyone to enjoy.
Some of the top-rated Sequoia hikes include; Big Trees Trail, Crescent Meadow Loop Trail, Congress Trail, Tokopah Falls Trail, Hazelwood Nature Trail, Alta Peak Trail, and the High Sierra Trail to Bearpaw Meadow.

My favorite trail :)
My favorite trail 🙂

The hiking trails provides out of this world experience to one of the most amazing tree groves in the world, you’ll get to enjoy flora and faunas of different colors, majestic trees of small and medium sizes, and of course, there’s the General Shermanlargest tree in the world.

General Sherman. So tall even my wide angle lens had a hard time capturing it!
The General Sherman.
So tall even my wide angle lens had a hard time capturing it!
General Sherman from another angle.
General Sherman from another angle.

The entrance fee to the park cost $20.00 per vehicle and $10.00 for individuals traveling on foot, motorcycle, or bicycle. Both passes are valid for 7 days. The park also offers annual passes for both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. For more detailed information please click here.

Accomodation

There are plenty of accommodation choices near the park. My boyfriend and I stayed at the Sierra Lodge, we got a very clean room with king-sized bed, bathroom, and a balcony. The hotel offers complimentary beverages and pastries for breakfast. I highly recommend this place, it was a bit dated but the hotel feels very homey and actually very clean! Below are some photos of the reception area. Biggest fail for not taking bedroom photos.

They have books in
They have books and maps on the front desk.  And a bear!

The biggest plus for me is its close proximity to the park, only 3 miles away from the southern entrance. There is only one thing I hated about this place, although there are designated parking spots for each rooms, the parking entrance leading to the lot is too small. Other than that, this hotel is perfect for couples and families. Rates start at $68.00 a night. To book rooms visit http://www.sierra-lodge.com. You can also find them on Agoda, Hotels.com, or Priceline.

FOG + Hiking

I am no fog expert but I am definitely a fog lover!

On the way to Tharp's Log we saw this amazing tree almost covered in fog!
On the way to Tharp’s Log we saw this amazing tree almost covered in fog!

I think fogs can add emotion to just about anything, it can make a boring hike interesting and it can definitely make any photograph dramatic.

Look at all the clouds!
Look at all the clouds!

The rain was pouring throughout the night before my hike to the Sequoias. I was excited and nervous at the same time. Nervous because of the possible park closure caused by mudslides. Excited because with every rain comes an amazing fog phenomenon! The rain didn’t tamed down until 9am the next morning. We started heading to the park entrance by 10am. The entire park is safe for visitors with only one closure, the Crystal Cave. 

There are many hiking trail choices in the park. One of my favorites is the Crescent Meadow hike, this is where I experienced the fog phenomenon I was looking for. 

The Gem of the Sierras
The Gem of the Sierras

 

 

 

 

Another one of my favorites is the Big Trees Trail.  Right by the trail is Ed by Ned, from afar it looks like one giant tree with one trunk. But it’s actually a formation of 2 trees that grew very closely to each other. Just look at the top and you’ll notice the two trunks. Twin trees! 

Say hi to Ed by NEd. Looks like one giant tree from afar. But it's actually a formation of 2 trees grown very closely to each other. Twin trees!
Say Hi to Ed by Ned.
Me posing with the trees
Me posing with the trees
I felt really small walking around the Big Trees trail. It was a gloomy day but we experienced a little bit of sun shine along the trail. The lights hitting the big trees made its reddish trunk more dramatic.
BigTreesTrail
Big Trees Trail
TharpsLog_1
Big Trees Trail
TharpsLog
Tharps Log described by John Muir as a “noble den”

And finally, our hike ended at Tharp’s Log. A cattleman named Tharp started a small cattle ranch in the Big Forest area. He then built a cabin, equipped with window, fireplace, and a door, out of a fallen log. The log was hollowed by fire through fifty-five feet of its seventy-foot length.

 

Exploring Antelope Canyon

I just got back from my trip to Arizona, it was a long drive from Los Angeles but worth every mile of the trip. My itinerary includes a supposedly 2 nights of camping at Lone Rock Beach Campground, a tour of Lower Antelope Canyon, and of course, a photo shoot at the majestic Horseshoe Bend.

LONE ROCK BEACH CAMPGROUND

I’m giving this campground an 8/10. It is a big area and reservations are not required. Arrive early if you’re camping around the busy months of the summer. There are plenty of space for RVs and tents, but if it’s crowded you might not get the best spot–depending on your definition of a best spot. I like my tent close to the water and away from the toilets. Speaking of toilets, the vault toilets are clean, maintained, and equipped with toilet papers.

Our campsite! We have a total of 4 tents. See how close we are to the lake?
Our campsite! We have a total of 4 tents. See how close we are to the lake?

The first night of our camping trip was amazing. The moon was full and everyone was having fun. We can hear a combination of sounds coming from guitars, radio, and people singing. There was music everywhere! An over all great experience. I slept like a baby!

LakePowell
Full moon tonight.

The next night was a different story. Right when we left the campsite for our tour of the Antelope Canyon the clouds started rolling inn and rain started pouring. We can see lightning everywhere! Four people in our group decided to go back to the campsite and the rest continued with the original plan of kayaking on Lake Powell. The kayak tour took about 3-4 hours. Right after leaving the lake, our phones were immediately bombarded with messages. One of which was my friend’s distraught voicemail.

Once back at the campsite our old spot was gone! Our tents were nowhere to be found! I thought we lost them but thankfully our friends (the awesome ones who decided not to go kayaking) packed everything up. According to my friends, the tents couldn’t handle the strong wind and rain. We lost a flash flight and undies? But all these, the good and the bad, surely made this trip one for the books.

The rain was gone, too exhausted to set the tents up for the second time we headed out to Page, AZ and ended up  spending the second night at a wonderful “campsite” called Clarion Inn, teehee!

Before camping, please check the weather! I repeat, check the weather! Don’t make the same mistake me and my gang made. 

Click here for more information about Lone Rock Beach Campground. 

KAYAKING ON LAKE POWELL

I love kayaking. I had my first taste of kayaking in an open ocean environment. Hence, I find Lake Powell more relaxed and quite easy, the water is calm and you don’t have to fight giant waves. Though from time to time you do have to deal with boat traffic. You don’t have to hire a guide in order to explore the lake, but it is a huge lake and shouldn’t be underestimated.  My group and I paid $90.00 for a sunset tour with a company called Kayak Lake Powell. The tour takes about 3-4 hours and includes snacks and drinks. The guides were amazing and very professional. As the tour goes on they gave us important facts about the lake. It was a very learning experience, also very fun. I highly recommend this company. They also offer kayak rentals, expeditions, and bike rental. For more information about Kayak Lake Powell visit http://www.kayakpowell.com.

Lower Antelope Canyon

The Lower Antelope Canyon is as cool as its Navajo name Hasdeztwazi or Spiral Rock Arches. The shapes and curves down the canyon will stretch anyone’s imagination. Just have a look at the photo below, can you see the baby?

Can you see the baby? I sure do :)
Can you see the baby?

The positioning of the sun changes the colors down the canyon adding a very dramatic effect. Time your visit if you can, it’s best to go when the sun is high up and there is enough light reaching down the canyons.

Inside the Canyon
Inside the Canyon

In order to see the canyons you will have to sign up for a tour with a Navajo guide. You can’t just show up and explore on your own. For this trip, I signed up with Ken’s Tours. The cost is $20 plus an $8.00 Navajo permit fee to be paid upon entering the parking lot. You can easily make reservations online by visiting http://lowerantelope.com/. This amazing company also offers a photographer tour; 2 hours in duration and costs $42.00. A DSLR and a tripod is required. Make sure to check the weather before your trip. Keep in mind that during the monsoon season the canyons can get dangerously flooded causing the tours to get cancelled without early notice.

Horseshoe Bend

Cost: FREE

How to get to Horseshoe Bend: http://horseshoebend.com/how-to-get-here/

Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend

Antelope Canyon is about 15 minutes away from the Horseshoe Bend which makes it the perfect stop before or after your canyon tour. From the parking lot leading to the rim you have to walk/hike for 3/4 mile. Depending on your fitness level, the walk can be grueling especially during the summer months. Bring water and walk slow, I can guarantee you the view is worth every step.

One thing i wish I did on this trip was to take sunrise photos at the bend. We just didn’t have the time and the willpower to wake up before sunrise. I guess this is another reason to come back! So next time you’re in Arizona or Utah don’t hesitate to go camping and explore Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon, and the Horseshoe Bend. Enjoy the photos!