TRAVEL GONE WRONG: WHY 4 MONTHS OF NON STOP TRAVEL MADE ME HATE TRAVEL!

TO TRAVEL NON STOP FOR 4 MONTHS NON STOP! That was my travel fantasy when I was still working in Navi Mumbai in a 9 to 5 corporate job (Fine, make that 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. job). Sitting at my desk all day, I would dream of packing my bags to never return. My day dreaming would be assaulted with more official excel sheets (some of which I used surreptitiously for making my travel plans for next few months). Circa 2016! As I mentioned in an earlier blog, 2016 was a magical year for me travel wise.

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Me at Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang

Thanks to my new freelance lifestyle, I had the freedom to realize my dream of traveling non-stop. I had accepted a bit too many professional invites for Press Trips and planned many of my personal travels as well. So from August 2016 to November 2016, it was non-stop travel for me for 4 months. Between this period, I showed up at my brother’s house (I was staying with him till then) only for few hours. I would be back home only to wash and change clothes, rest or deliver already delayed projects before starting my next travel. I remember before my Amazing Trip To Ladakh, I took a post midnight cab to home, picked fresh clothes, unpacked and packed my luggage again and leave before 5 a.m. to catch flight to Leh. Within those few hours, I crazily packed my bag, answered mails and even submitted assignments. As I was unpacking and packing I realized much of my room resembled a war zone. I wasted a lot of time to find my things. Because I had had no time to organize my life!

COMPLETE GUIDE TO PARO TAKTSANG AKA TIGER’S NEST MONASTERY IN BHUTAN

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Offbeat Bhutan : Cycling in Unseen Thimphu

Since November end to present day (February 2017), I have been declining Media Trips because I want to concentrate on my writing, earning and other pursuits in life.  I will start traveling again hopefully towards the end of February 2017. Till then, I just want to be at peace. I used my sabbatical from travel well to write more articles for print travel magazines and newspapers, to burn lot of food every day in my kitchen (I am a hopeless cook), play with my friend’s dog, catch up on movies and dining with my friends, organize my desk. I caught up with food festivals, film festivals, book fair and restaurant hopping in New Delhi too. I had spent quality time at 2 of my friend’s quiet homes and offices to write pending blogs. The month of December was most productive as I wrote around 20 blogs in December alone, most of it on Jordan and Bhutan etc. I also managed my finances and raised pending bills and earned more. I further augmented more wealth for me by landing up for assignments for me. On one of the days, I wrote 4 articles in a day! And oh, I caught up on a lot of sleep too. It was a creatively satisfying phase and I hope to repeat it again.

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Click to read about the mystery behind Penis paintings on walls of Bhutan near Chimi Lhakhang

I have realized that I can’t be location independent. I realized that my fantasy was just a fantasy! When I actually tried to live my fantasy of traveling non-stop, I ended up cancelling my own trips. After being on road and in air for so long, I had realized that I do like a base to come back to. (Coz बाबा को base पसंद है). I also realized that no matter how much I love travel, it is not the only thing I want to do. I was itching to read lots of books, even newspapers (I am known for reading 2 months old newspaper even when not traveling), catch up on Bollywood and world cinema (I saw 15 Iranian films in between), meet old friends, spend time with parents and nephews and nieces. On most of my travels in this period I carried books to read. Not even once did I get time to read those thanks to my packed schedules during travel. I talk to my parents in Lucknow daily on phone since 2008, when I left home. I had to request them to hang up because I was too tired (mentally) to even talk)

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I went to a remote village Sehore in Madhya Pradesh to see how Delhi girl Sanjana Kaushik is changing lives in rural India.

Even places like Ladakh, where I had planned 16 days trip started to make me restless. Even though it was my first time in Ladakh, I was constantly craving to get back home. This, when I don’t even like Delhi or Ghaziabad, my adopted home since 1 year! I realized I started to enjoy travel less and on every travel, after a few days, there were moments when I just wanted it to end right there. Perhaps if I was a newbie traveler, I would have still enjoyed it but after having traveled to more than 150 destinations in India since 2008, most of it solo travel in shoestring budgets, I was near saturation. I didn’t want to kill travel for me and since December 2016 I took a strict sabbatical from Travel. Not very long ago (Till just a few month ago), I used to crave for such a trip. From being Fired for travelling too much in 2015 to Tired of travelling too much in 2016, I had seen a paradigm shift in my travel aspirations within a year, a bit too fast. Henceforth, my focus this year onwards is to choose my official trips carefully.

  • I don’t want to travel for more than 10 days in a month.
  • I also want to travel more and more with parents, friends.
  • That said, I realized how much I crave to go back to my original Solo Travel Style. I did manage some amazing Solo Travel experiences last year. I hope to plan some epic solo travels for myself this year.
  • I want to choose my Press Trips more carefully. I should be charged up about the destination before committing.
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Taj Balloon Festival near Taj Mahal Agra was the highlight of my trips.

This break from travel was also important because I finally shifted to my own rented apartment in January 2017. When I shifted from Navi Mumbai to Ghaziabad to stay with my brother in November 2015, I knew I would move out within a year. But I was unable to even find time to go apartment hunting because I was hardly seen at home. Much of January was spent in organizing my life and cutting the clutter. From August 2017 to January 2017 (staying at 2 of my friend’s homes) I was literally living out of suitcases and backpacks wearing the same set of clothes over and again. It was fun and challenging but also cumbersome.

Before Ladakh in September, a Media Trip to Bhutan for 10 days happened to me in August. After enjoying Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Haa Valley at leisure, I spent quality time with parents at Mussoorie and Landour.   September was marked with 16 days in Ladakh. After Ladakh, I made a solo trip to Mumbai, Bangalore and Agumbe, Ikkeri, Kaledi, Shimoga, Jog falls in Karnataka. It was a mix of flights, rickety buses and sleeper class trains. My train to Mumbai from Delhi was not even sleeper class. It was an overnight Chair Car journey in Gareeb Rath.  September was indeed my busiest month.

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Did you know about the Corn Village Bhutoli in Mussoorie? Mosaic Hotels helped me find!

By the time it was October, I had started cancelling my own travels. Never before had I stood at a railway platform with my backpack and cancelled my own tickets. As I sat in metro to Nizamuddin railway station, I was boggled by the amount of work pending. The horrific visions of messy desk and room nagged me further. Upon reaching, I just cancelled the sleeper class train ticket to Surat on my cellphone and returned back to home. I promised myself to travel to Surat next winter to sample the seasonal dishes Ponk and Oundhiyo. Never before in my life had I done something like this. I even cancelled my much awaited trip to Kolkata on Durga Pooja in October. I had wanted to do it since eons. When I was so close to realizing that dream, I cancelled the ticket myself because 1) I was tired and 2) I had so much of freelance work pending). Before this, I explored Madhya Pradesh (Satpura, Bhopal, Pachmarhi, Sanchi, Sehore and Bhimbhetka.) for 7 days. I also stayed at parents’ home in Lucknow for sometime during Diwali. I had plans to visit nearby Ayodhya, Faizabad and Varanasi but I was too tired and just wanted to chill at home and eat some comfort food made by mom. November was all about hot air balloon ride near Taj Mahal and a quick trip to Boat Festival in Goa. I almost said no to these 2 invites. But it was so tempting I had to go. This was the time when I started to slow down. In reality, my 4 month long non-stop travel thus had brief moments of rest at home, thanks to the cancellations.

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Alongwith Naropa Festival, I also attended the Ladakh Festival in Leh.

I don’t know if I will travel like this again (Though I still have some crazy travel plans) but for now I want to take it slow. Kudos to those travelers who spend months on road! Before this trip, the most I had travelled at a stretch was one month in Nepal in 2015 (Everest Base camp Trek and Kathmandu). I remember I was itching for a base even then.

It taught me that we should all understand what personality types we are and make travel plans which suit our personalities. I would love your views on this. Does the same thing happen to you as well or do you love living out of suitcases and backpacks? Do let me know in the comment section below.

This song from the Bollywood film Lootera sums up my current state of mind well.

ना उड़ने की इस दफा ठानी परिंदो ने भी वफा जानी. शिकायते मिटाने चली; सुबह बेदाग है!”

(“Having decided not to fly, even the birds learned to stay this time! I answered all the complaints; the morning is spotless now!”)

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I took some time off from Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart and went to see Sanchi Stupa. Mesmerised, I spent all day here.

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Spotting Gaur aka Bison and other wildlife at Satpura National Park, Madhya Pradesh

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#MyGration Story – Migrants of Ladakh!

Picture above – What you see here are the people from Dha Hanu Village, 160 kms northwest of Leh. They are called Brokpa aka Drokpa and are billed as the last Aryans in the valley. It’s said that their ancestors were once a part of Alexander the Great‘s empire. Look closely and you will see blue or green eyes, brown hair and fairer skin. On special occasions such as this, you can find them wearing a ‘flowerpot’ on their head.

Once an isolated region of India few knew or cared to know about, Ladakh is now a popular destination for many. Tourism since the 1970s has opened up opportunities for people not only from the state of Jammu and Kashmir but also from other parts of country, including far away states like M.P. and Maharashtra. A renewed interest by tourists in the last one decade has kick-started lot of development in the region and it is only going to grow in future. Some of it is bad, some good.

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Muslims performers from Turtuk near Indo – Pak border.

Bhojpuri speaking workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar toiling it in construction work and restaurants, Punjabis selling comfort food (Read Chola Bhatura, Kadhi Chawal) to Thukpa weary tourists, Kashmiris selling carpets and oddly, fruits and vegetables and Nepalis working in hospitality industry make Ladakh a polyglot place. Not something which I expected before I visited Leh. Internal Migration is also rampant. Many people within Ladakh region travel to Leh and other touristy places in season to make the most of it. During winters, they either retreat to their villages and “do nothing” or take up seasonal jobs (Driving, cooking etc) with army in inhospitable sub zero conditions.  But then such migrations also took place even before the tourism boom. Many Punjabis and Muslims from Kashmir had settled here mainly for trade. Ladakh was also an important destination when it was the part of ancient ‘Silk Route’

These migrants made my stay in Ladakh interesting. The dark skinned laborer from Bihar who stopped my car en route to Pangong Tso for water and food looked incongruous in the empty; often gloomy landscapes of Ladakh. Happy Singh, a Sikh from Kashmir persuaded me to have ‘langar’ (Community meal) at the Gurudwara with much warmth and a big smile. It could have been any place in Punjab. Another Sikh man sold books and other Ladakh merchandise in Leh at his store ‘Book Worm’(Next to Hotel Lingzi) for the past 20 years. Then there was the Maharashtrian who listened to Marathi songs from the movie Sairat every time I crossed his path. One of the journalists who accompanied me took me to his middle aged uncle’s home who had a second home in Leh (bachelor’s pad?) and was a contactor with the army.

They had all re-created their smaller versions of their hometown in whatever way they could. But they all also blended well with a culture much alien to them, bound together with that thing called Indianness.

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Gulzar and Abdul – Swag mode on!
  • Gulzar Ahmad from Srinagar comes to Leh every year in March or April to sell fruits and vegetables. “Profit in these months is more in Ladakh than in Srinagar. Foreigners mostly buy fruits from the shop but the main clients are the locals.” The shop is rented and so is their accommodation. They share the houses with others from Srinagar. However they keep mingling with the locals and people from the Buddhist society. Every shop had a back up. Abdul Majeed is the backup of Gulzar in this case. The shops close down from December to February. So between March and December, the duo take turns to visit their hometown Srinagar.

2-  Shaikh Ameez from Maharashtra

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Shaikh Ameez – There was something so Marathi about him that I couldn’t resist talking to him. I miss Maharashtra and how!

Shaikh Ameez, 19, hails from Aurangabad, Maharashtra. I heard him speak Marathi one night near Leh Main Market. I have been a migrant myself, never settling at one city. My 7 years in Mumbai made me fall in love with all things Maharashtra. The next day, I couldn’t resist asking him where in Maharashtra he belonged to. “I have lived all my life in Aurangabad (Near Mumbai). It is my first visit to Leh. This is actually my chacha‘s (Paternal Uncle) shop. My main agenda to come to Leh this April was not to sell jewelries and precious stones but to see Ladakh.”

 How much of Ladakh have you seen? It has been 5 months that you are here.”

“I have not had time to see Ladakh. Now that end of season October is coming, I will keep some time aside to visit places in Ladakh. I have studied till class 12th and want to pursue medical courses now. Also I am looking forward to meet my parents again. I miss them and my friends.”

Indulging myself, I ask him, “Do you miss vada pao too?”
“No I am not a foodie.”

I took offense and anyways moved on after exchanging some pleasantries in Marathi.

3- Mr. Nazeer and Manjoor from Srinagar

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Mr. Nazeer and Mr. Manjoor. He would say hi to me almost daily!
  • A friend of mine bought a nice Kashmiri style Poncho (A steal for Rs. 450) from Nazeer. I happened to accompany her so he used to wave at me every day when I passed his shop in Leh Main Market. We exchanged monosyllabic greetings and went about our business. My 15 days of stay at Leh made me curious of his story. He runs this shop on rented space from May to October, he told me. Shawls, dress material, Kashmiri dress, paintings, silver and gold jewellery, Pashmina sweaters, Thangkas and many metallic handicrafts vied for my attention as he told me, “Business in Leh is not as good as it is in Goa. In October I will move to Majorda in Goa. Here people come for adventure and not so much for leisure. Hence the less inclination for shopping. My family is in Kashmir, so I will visit them for 20 days before I head to Goa in mid November. My cousin Manjoor Ahmad Anchari helps me run this shop.”

Note – I found the products at his shop nice. You can find him in his shop in the season time. Shop name – Tibetan and Zanskar Arts. Phone – 9596568525 (Nazir Ahmad Anchari). Email – tibetan93@gmail.com

4 – My namesake Monty from Satna, Madhya Pradesh

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Monty – The Mr. Sunshine smile and a namesake!
  • Story of Monty was similar yet different than Mr. Nazeer (See previous story). His genuine sunshine smile stood out in the erstwhile gloomy Hundar which looked like a ‘Ghost Town’ with not many people visible on streets.

Me, “What’s your name?”

“Monty”

“Waah, my nickname is also Montu. Sometime they call me Monty too.”

“Haha, same here. I have been called Montu by some.”

“So, what is Monty doing in Hundar?” (close to Nubra valley and Pakistan)

“I come here every April and manage Ibex Guest house. In October I move to a bar in Morjim beach in Goa and work there full time till the season is over. But before I move between the two places, I visit my family in Satna (Madhya Pradesh).  I learned, many workers in hospitality industry work like that, even those workers from Nepal who work in small time restaurants in Ladakh”

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Ladakhi women wearing a Perak headdress!

I am sure if I had more time (16 days are not enough?), I would have unearthed more such stories from Ladakh. It is always enriching to know the stories of the people behind the smiles you see every day on your travels.

The view from my #SoulWindow is eye opening!

It is a part of a series which I run on my blog. You can follow the hashtag #MyGration story on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter too. (Links below). To read other migration stories on my blog, pls see the tab MyGration Story.

I was in Ladakh for 16 days. I was invited as a part of the media team to cover the Naropa Festival, the once in 12 years ‘Kumbh of the Himalayas’. Check out the exclusive pictures and read about it here.

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Kashmiri men making Kulcha Bread at one of the many bakeries in the narrow lanes behind Leh Main Market.

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NAROPA FESTIVAL – KUMBH MELA OF THE HIMALAYA!

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A woman from Dha Hanu Village. They are billed as the last Aryans in the valley and are called Drokpa or Brokpa.

Music of cymbals, drums and trumpets waft in the air dramatically, spiritual chants adding to the aura of the place. Thousands of Ladakhis drop their conversation unceremoniously and glue their eyes on the elaborate ceremony.  His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa,  spiritual head of the 1000 year old Drukpa Order, revered as Naropa’s reincarnation, dons the Six Bone Ornaments. There is a strange meditative stillness in the air. Many people had gathered here, struggling under the scorching sun, only to witness this historical event. What made it extra special is the fact that Naropa Festival commemorates the millennial birth anniversary of Naropa.

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The crowd at the Naropa Festival never failed to swell!

It was my first time in Ladakh and the occasion could have not been any better. It is not every day that you are invited for an exclusive Press Trip to witness the Kumbh Mela of The Himalayas – The Naropa Festival. As I arrived at the festival venue near Hemis Monastary of Drukpa Lineage, from a distance, I saw a ‘well disciplined’ mob of thousands dotting the landscape. Soon, I passed audience, many of whom braved the sun with their colorful umbrellas, nuns sitting with patience and waiting for the action to begin, families camping in the hills nearby, often seen praying, chatting and passing on ‘tsampa’, a local dish to each other.

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The stage was set. The background was grand Naropa Palace, huge artificial lotus and dragons flanking on its stairway. Brown barren mountains filled up the canvas, sometimes revealing the snow stained mountains behind. For 7 days, this place was where all roads of Ladakh led to, what with Ladakhis from far away regions filling every inch of the campus.

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Local Ladakhi women wearing a Perak head dress

Though Ladakh hosts many festivals round the year, but Naropa festival, celebrated every 12 years, is the most important and holds a sacred status. Once the ceremony got over, the six bone ornament was put on display under tight security. Thousands lined up everyday for that one glimpse. It is the physical legacy of Saint Naropa– left behind after his liberation.

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Ladakhi Musicians performing. Naropa Palace in the background!

Saint Naropa (1016 – 1100 CE). He introduced a rich alternative tradition in Buddhism.  Much of his teachings are still followed across Ladakh and has helped shape the values, culture and identity of an entire race. Six yogas of Naropa, one of the fundamental pillars of Vajrayana Buddhist tradition, is his legacy. He was also the Chacellor of nalanda University in Bihar. Being a fan of the ruins of Nalanda, it was interesting for me to learn this. The Dakinis (sky dancer) offered Naropa, upon enlightment, the six bone ornaments and flew into the sky. It is now donned by His Holiness, every 12 years in front of a race who adore him.

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With great power comes great responsibility. His Holiness, Gyalwang Drukpa has millions of followers worldwide, many of whom had come to Naropa Festival to see him live. Men, women and kids hold hands and bow every time he passes through. It is a healthy mix of veneration and love of his followers for him. Over one week, I could see the camaraderie, mutual faith and good humour he shares with his ‘fans’. He would rejoice, clap excitedly at live Bollywood performance and local performances alike and then he would use the platform for conveying social messages.

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His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa with His Eminence N.N. Vohra, governor of J & K launching a religious book.

On the last day of the festival, as I arrived from an hour long walk from Hemis Monastary, just in the nick of time, I caught him addressing his people live. He spoke passionately about gender equality, animal welfare, environment, education, cleanliness and the need to rise above religious boundaries. I have not seen a spiritual leader talk like these ever. In a previous address, the chief guest His Eminence N.N. Vohra, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir divulged details of his recent long cycling expedition to an attentive audience of thousands. “Do you know, that His Holiness has arrived at Hemis Monastary for this festival not on plane, nor in car, but after a grueling cycling expedition of 2500 kilometres with 200 ‘Kung Fu’ Nuns over the period of 2 months! The purpose of the expedition which began in Kathmandu on 3rd July was to instill in people the values and raise awareness on gender equality, peace, cleanliness and environment.” He said with pride as the audience thundered with claps.

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He has taken upon himself to promote universal harmony and inner peace by integrating the spiritual tenets of love and appreciation into daily life. A secular global NGO founded by him – Live to Love (www.livetolove.org) helps him achieve the humanitarian goals. I was so impressed after visiting the charitable Dog shelter and the ‘3 Idiots’ School that I have decided to pen a separate blog on these. And oh, there is also a place I visited which is known for the holding the place in the Guinness Book of World Record for ‘most Trees planted’  It was a part of his ‘one million trees’ campaign. His Holiness ended his sppech with an announcement of a 10 day long Eco Pad Yatra (Eco walk) in the remote regions of Ladakh. This spiritual leader bilives in actions and not mere words. He sets an example everytime he picks up a plastic bottle from the road in front of his followers. Many have been embarrassed, emotional and many even shed tears when they see their spiritual guru doing that. I have always believed that if one has the power to engage with a large number of followers, one should indulge in socially relevant and beneficial causes. They have dubbed him a ‘Rock Star Monk’ not for nothing!

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Entertainment goes hand in hand

The Naropa festival was not always about spiritual activities. Many local and Bollywood artists enthralled the audience from morning to evening. Plays, Cham dances, folk songs, Bollywood and international music concerts, laser light show, regional dances, musical jugalbandis etc kept the audience engaged. For me many of the dances were exotic as I had seen them for the first timite. My favourite was a Nepali song and dance, A Ladakhi song and dance, an Australian duo and a Ladakhi instrumental session.

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Shreya Ghoshal enthralling the audience!

Among the Bollywood performances, shows by singer Shreya Ghoshal, musician Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy was my favourite. Hollywood actress Michelle Yeoh talked passionately about her association with Live to Love.

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Michelle Yeoh talking about her association with Live to Love!

The 7 days spent in Naropa festival will stay with me for a lifetime. I am back in Delhi, but the music of cymbals, drums and trumpets still resonate in my ears!

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Shankar Mahadevan and Loy had the audience in splits. It is not easy to breathe at such high altitude, Shankar still did what he does best – sing the song BREATHLESS to an amazed audience!

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WARNING : COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

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The Grand Naropa Palace