Tibet Experience Still Possible Via Innovative Tour Operator

The borders of Tibet are now completely closed to foreign tourists, after being severely limited for much of the summer. With no indication of when they will reopen, plans to visit have been put on hold for many. The good news is that travelers can experience much of what Tibet has to offer without crossing borders.

As a decent substitute, tour operator JOURNEYS International continues to offer travel to areas where cultures deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhism still thrive unrestricted by government oppression or control.

Culturally Tibetan areas of Yunnan province in China; Ladakh, India; and the high Himalayan valleys of Nepal and Bhutan are being visited and offer some distinct advantages, especially over not going at all.

Within Tibet, pictures and literature about the Dalai Lama are strictly forbidden. Outside of China, the Dalai Lama is revered and celebrated as a living God. Monasteries and temples within Chinese Tibet are essentially maintained as museums, not as religious institutions.

In Chinese Tibet it is dangerous for locals to talk openly with tourists. In the Ladakh region of India and in Nepal and Bhutan, Tibetan Buddhism is practiced much the same now as it has been for hundreds of years. Visitors are free to discuss spirituality and religion with local people, and often meet Tibetans in exile who will talk openly.

The season is also much longer, and fewer permits and restrictions apply.

For more details on specific trips incorporating Tibetan culture and themes into travel programs see the JOURNEYS webpages for Nepal, Ladakh, Yunnan and Bhutan.

[Flickr photo by ~FreeBirD®~]

Daily Pampering: Luxury tours through the Himalayas

Interested in seeing India with an expert? Forget the five-star hotels and populated cities of Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Mumbai, Shakti is offering a chance to see the most remote and beautiful regions of India as seen through the experts who know them best.

Shakti was created from Jamshyd Sethna’s passion to share his beloved Himalayas with travelers looking for authenticity within luxury. Travelers venture into unexplored territory, and walk village-to-village walks in the awe-inspiring Indian Himalayas. Travelers walk three to 10 miles a day, stay overnight in village houses complete with Egyptian cotton sheets and cashmere throws, and enjoy freshly prepared meals from a personal chef all the while taking time to experience the meditative qualities of India. The expertly experiences are offered in three distinct areas of the Indian Himalayas:

Ladakh: live in villages, learn local customs, and experience Himalayan mountain life up close and first hand. 7-night stays start at $3,535 per person, based on two to three adults. Dates through Sept. 30.

Sikkim: prayer flags, colorful monasteries, and the presence of Mt. Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain, set the background for this tour. 4-night stays start at $1,880 per person, based on two to three adults. October 1 – April 30

Kumaon: walk through forests of grey pine, cedar, and rhododendron, and pass through villages and by small shrines to Hindu gods. 3-night stays start at $1,245 per person, based on two to three adults. October 1 – April 30

Prices for the Shakti village experiences are inclusive of all taxes, accommodations, meals and beverages, activities, English-speaking, well-educated local guides, porters, a private chef, and vehicles when necessary. Prices depend upon the specific itinerary and number of travelers in the group; flights are not included.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Trekking the Himalaya in India

When adventure travelers set out to hike the Himalaya, they traditionally go to Nepal to take on the Annapurna Circuit or make their way to Everest Base Camp. Some will venture to Tibet or even Bhutan to get their high altitude fix, but many forget that the Himalaya run into India as well, and they offer the same amazing views and cultural interaction.

Travel writer Stan Sesser recently made the journey to Ladakh, India, and wrote about his experiences for the Wall Street Journal. The quaint little villiage, which looks more Tibetan than Indian, sits at 13,000 feet and is a two hour hike from the nearest road. But despite it’s remote location, Sesser round ancient Bhuddist temples, hosbitable villagers, and towering, snow capped peaks.

Sesser says he paid $688 to a local trekking service to gain access to the region, and for his money he received a guide, a cook, a horesman, and five horses to carry their gear along a 40 mile mountain trail. Over the course of the next five days, he and guides explored mountain passes ranging from 10,000 to 16,000 feet, passing through villages that don’t appear on maps even to this day, and remain virtually unchanged from the way they were centuries ago.
Traditionally, trekking the Himalaya in Nepal or Tibet is best done in April and May or again in October and November. During the summer months the monsoon sets in, and the torrential rains makes it impossible to venture into the mountains. But that isn’t the case in India, where the high mountains cut off the rains, providing excellent trekking from June through October.

Sesser does note that trekking other parts of the region have become uncertain affairs, with the Taliban causing problems in the Karakorum of Pakistan, the Chinese locking down access to Tibet, and political unrest in Nepal. But he says that makes Ladakh all the more appealing. Few trekkers visit the area however, and of those that do, only a very small percentage are Americans.

If you’re looking for a trekking region that is truly off the beaten path, then head to this remote corner in India’s far north. You’ll get plenty adventure, a dose of unique culture, and views that will take your breath away for more reasons than just the altitude.

Sounds of Travel 12: I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)

Here at Gadling we’ll be highlighting some of our favorite sounds from the road and giving you a sample of each — maybe you’ll find the same inspiration that we did, but at the very least, hopefully you’ll think that they’re good songs.

Got a favorite of your own? Leave it in the Comments and we’ll post it at the end of the series.

“King of the Road,” my first Sounds of Travel pick, evokes the spirit of independence. It’s an ode to the traveler who strikes out alone without a care in the world.

“500 Miles” by the Proclaimers, however, is a tribute to traveling with another. In my case, this travel often has been on foot– literally.

My husband is a walker. He has great big feet–size 14. When I met him when we lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of the first things I noticed is his need to walk. He has a way of striking out into the world in great big strides wearing boots that could double as door stops. Not long after I met him, I was hoofing it to keep up.

One of our first forays into mega walk travel was on a camping trip into the Gila Wilderness in southern New Mexico.

“How far are we going, exactly?” I wanted to know when he suggested such a venture. It’s not the walking I mind– it’s the carrying stuff. “It won’t be that far,” he said. “By the way, there are a couple places we’ll have to cross a stream.”

“Okay, sure,” I said, not mentioning my phobia about wading through water–or rather, I did have a phobia about wading through water. After crossing the stream at least 14 times, I was cured.

That walk was just the beginning.

“How about a trek in Nepal?” he suggested as our first Christmas vacation while we were living in Singapore. “We’ll hire porters to carry our stuff.”

That trip took us from Jomsom to Pokhara. Two other couples went with us. It’s not the going up a mountain that hurts all that much if you go slowly. It’s the going down that is hell on knees.

Then it was the 9-day trek in Ladakh, India through the Markha Valley.

“There are pack-mules AND porters to carry stuff,” my husband said to entice me. The only time I whined a bit was when I noticed how dry my skin was becoming in the thin mountain air. “I don’t know if my skin can take much more of this,” I said, thinking that in another week I’d look one hundred.

“Why don’t you ask the women here what they do?” my husband said, casting his gaze towards a group of women in the distance who were wrestling with rubble and dirt while hoeing a field. He’s sympathetic that way.

Still, whenever he slips on those massive Red Wing boots of his to head out the door, calling for me to come with him, I know it will be an adventure–one that I wouldn’t be taking if I wasn’t willing to share the road.

The first time we heard “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” we were on a date seeing the movie “Bennie and Joon.” The song was the movie’s theme song and Johnny Depp was one of the stars.

When we got married, three weeks before we moved to Singapore, this song was the recessional at our wedding. For a traveling pair who walks, it seemed to fit. Whenever I hear the Proclaimers belt out this song in their jaunty, Scottish Irish fashion, I see images of all the places my husband and I have passed by from the simple walk in the neighborhood to the expanse of a spectacular vista.

One of my two most favorite images of the miles we’ve traveled is of my husband winding through the streets of the Old Quarter in Hanoi with our daughter perched on his shoulders high above the crowd when she was three. My other favorite image is of him strolling through the streets of Bangkok swinging our then 3 month-old son in his Graco car seat carrier like our son was a purse.

Yep, he’d walk 500 miles–and 500 more. Honestly, I would too.

Click here for previous Sounds of Travel.

Converse All-Stars: You can still walk miles almost 100 years later

When I went on trek in Ladakh, India, most people who went along were outfitted to the gills in the latest, greatest, newest hiking clothes and shoes for such an occasion. One person, however, wore a pair of Converse All-Stars–the basic low cut version. Nothing fancy and he didn’t even lace them. I can’t remember if he wore socks. Probably not.

He walked unhurriedly for nine days along the trail that lead up the mountains through the Markha Valley. As he walked, he chewed tobacco and cheerfully shot the breeze. His shirts, by the way, were very nice cotton, pin-stripped button down Oxford cloth. His pants– blue jeans. He tied a red bandana, pirate-style around his head and was never without his Ray Bans. I was proud he was in my group that lolly-gagged behind the rest. We took in the scenery and each others company, while the over-achievers sped ahead for who knows what reason except for wanting to be first. (It was hard not to delight in the gasping heaves and moans when altitude sickness kicked in for some of them.)

The Converse All-Stars said, “Kick back. Don’t worry.” I was happy to follow their pace. None of the five of us in the pack that brought up the rear suffered from altitude sickness. We were walking too slow for that, and my friend never got a blister that I can recall.

Converse All-Stars, also called Chuck Taylors or “Chucks,” first made their appearance as basketball shoes in 1917. The company, though, is celebrating its 100th year. It was founded in 1908.