Two weeks and over 700 miles through southern Asia provided amazing sights and adventure for CGTN Video Editor Chris Bach. Here is a first-person account of the wonders he experienced.
”Adventure is worthwhile.” Aristotle.
Adventure: noun- An exciting or very unusual experience.
What is life if not for adventure? Seeing new places. Trying new things. Meeting new people. Sure, you can sit at home, go to work, pay your bills, later, rinse, repeat. I, for one, love the opportunity to explore. See what’s out there. Go to places that I’ve only heard or read about. And most definitely go off the beaten path.
I told my father one of the places I was going on this most recent adventure was Bhutan and he said, “Boo-what?”. “Bhutan, dad. It’s a small country in Asia, south of China.”
It would be the third stop on my visit to Asia. The third of three wonderfully different, unique and amazing stops spanning two weeks of what I can best describe as bliss.
First stop: Tibet. Tibet is an autonomous region of China also often called “the Roof of the World”.
At roughly 4,500 meters (14,763ft.) it is most definitely up there! It felt like the entire region from Lhasa to Tingri, is filled with friendly, kind, smiling, happy people, all eager to greet you with an exuberant “tashi deley!” (hello).
From climbing the 432 steps to the top of the Potala Palace, to the many monasteries there and along the way, all the way to Everest Base Camp and Rongbuk Monastery (the world’s highest monastery at 4980m), the easiest word I can use is “WOW!” Clear blue skies! Glaciers! Mountains! Mt. Qomolangma (Everest) is a sight to behold. Seeing it on TV or in magazines does it no justice.
Our guide, Jigme, informed our group that we must all have excellent karma to be here and see it on a day when it was not shrouded in cloud cover. If you are up for the travel, and can maintain an open mind about the world, Tibet is a place that should be on everyone’s “Must Visit” lists, no question.
There was one point during our travels when I pulled Jigme aside, while stopped at a crystal blue lake and cloudless sky, and told him, “I am so relaxed, I could just stand here all day looking at this.” That, is what travel is about. Finding peace. Finding happiness.
On to the next stop, through Nepal to Kathmandu. Now, I’d be lying if I said that all adventures are perfect and nothing bad or out of the ordinary happens, and this adventure was no exception.
After crossing the border into Nepal, we were faced with a 10-hour bus ride to Kathmandu. I can live with that. However, the “road” I would best describe as, “putting 4 wheels of various sizes and shapes on a bus and then traversing over a bumpy, nearly washed-out dirt path. Truly an adventure.
I pointed out to a fellow uncomfortable traveler that, “it COULD be worse! It could be raining!” Our 10-hour ride turned to 12, but even that had pluses. Beautiful waterfalls along the way. Tree covered mountains. Small villages with more, happy smiling people. And when the bus broke down in hour 11? Stars in the sky like you can even begin to imagine, or I to describe. “WOW”.
Kathmandu is not Lhasa. It is a wholly different creature, unique unto itself. A very crowded city, but not without its own unique charms. From the Monkey Temple (Swaymbhunath Stupa) to Bhaktapur. The scenery is both beautiful and heartbreaking.
In April of 2015 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck near Kathmandu. About 9,000 people lost their lives and 600,000 structures in and around the city were destroyed or damaged. That destruction is still evident today as the city, with the aid of other countries (from China to Germany to South Africa) is rebuilding.
Many of the ancient temples and other structures are being rebuilt using the “old ways”, so now, three years later, it is still a slow, laborious process. What remains though, even propped up or with pieces in other buildings awaiting to be re-affixed, is awe-inspiring. The woodwork alone on some of these buildings is breathtaking, especially knowing that it was all done by hand centuries ago.
And some has already been reconstructed, like the beautiful Boudhanath Stupa, one of the largest spherical stupas in Nepal. Adorned with prayer flags and marigolds, one can’t help but be taken aback and utter another “WOW”.
For all the bumps and knocks of the bus ride, Kathmandu was worth the aches!
And finally, the last stop, Bhutan. With a population of roughly 750,000, the country is only slightly smaller than Switzerland, but oh, what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in beauty. Like Tibet to its north, it boasts clear blue skies and mountains and just such a sense of calm and peacefulness that one can’t help but just smile the entire visit!
From Thimphu (the capital) to Paro just a sense of inner peace. My two most favorite experiences here were our morning stop at the Dochula Pass, where clouds rolled in as we visited the 108 memorial chortens, or stupas, built in honor of 108 Bhutanese soldiers who died in a 2003 military operation. The clouds were not of the “Oh, it looks like rain” variety, but rather the “We are 3,100 meters up, the clouds are coming to ME!” Needless to say, our potential view of the Himalayan range was obscured. Eerie, yet spine tingling.
My final, and perhaps MOST favorite experience for ALL the trip was on my next to last day. The hike to Taktsang, or The Tiger’s Nest Monastery. 3,120 meters up, it is a hike. Halfway up is a tea house to rest and, well, have a cup of tea to fuel you the rest of the trek up to one of the most magnificent, as well as sacred Buddhist temples. The “WOW” s were endless. Human beings brought up the side of a mountain all the materials to construct this. Not once. Not twice, but THREE times!
Most recently, in 1998 fire destroyed the structure and its contents. It was rebuilt, much like Kathmandu, using the old ways. There are no cable cars or simple steps. The awesomeness of seeing this monastery is jaw-dropping. To think how it was reconstructed, let alone originally built, is just overwhelming to the mind. And I got to go. I even got blessed by a monk! What better way to end and adventure with a trek like this!?
Now, I had told my guide when we met in Paro to be prepared that I say “WOW” a lot. On our way to the airport for my long journey home, she confirmed that, “yes, you DO say ‘wow’ a lot”.
If you have a bucket list in life, and traveling the world is a part of that list. Put Bhutan on it. And Tibet. And Nepal. Take the adventure off the beaten path, we all need some “WOW” in our adventure of life!
“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher
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