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®~]

Great American Road Trip: St. Cloud, Minnesota, yak meat and Hoopers’ Christmas Tree Farm

When we pulled into the driveway of our friends’ house in St. Cloud, Minnesota, as part of our Great American Road trip to Montana, we didn’t have any plans except to visit. The last time we saw them was at our house in Columbus, and since then they had moved from State College, Pennsylvania to St. Cloud.

As with any visit, there’s always something new to find out. about the town where friends land. People who live there know the insider info that may not show up in a guidebook. Such was the case when I found out were were having yak meat for dinner.

I’ve been to Nepal where yaks seem as common as cows. While there, I never had yak meat. As it turns out Hoopers’ Christmas Tree Farm in Cold Spring, Minnesota has a herd of 60 or so yak making this the largest yak herd in the eastern part of the U.S. Who knew?

Our friends have toured the farm and loved it. John Hooper, the farm’s owner has worked with The Yak Company in China as a consultant. While there, he lived with Tibetans and, as a result, acquired an interest in Tibetan culture. My friend says that the ranch reflects this exchange.

Hooper sells his yak meat at various farmers’ markets in the area. We ate yak sausages, hot dogs and marinated meat. All quite delicious. Here’s a link to the page that tells all about yak farming.

Photo of Hooper and one of his yaks is by Lucille Guinta-Bates who was kind enough to email it to me.