Archive for the 'Ancient Culture' Category
TotalAdventure flew from Colombo,Sri Lanka to Kathmandu, Nepal on March 14th. It was a comfortable 3 hour flight, almost entirely over smoky India – hard to see much from the air.
I was greeted at the airport by my colleague and guide Shahadev Shrestha – CEO of Everest Pioneer Trek Nepal Ltd. We met at the Adventure Travel World Summit In Anchorage, Alaska in 2016. I was planning a trip to Nepal in 2020, but of course worldwide lockdowns and border closings made that impossible. Now ,in 2023,TotalAdventure finally arrived. For the next 9 days I would explore the ancient cities of the Kathmandu Valley and climb thousands of meters on the challenging stair trails in the high hills leading to the Annapurna Range.
The first day was spent in the city. Monkeys are city dwellers also.
Nandi The Bull. Nepal is both Hindu and Buddhist.
Gods Are Omnipresent – Kathmandu is a city of lively prayer. WATCH THE VIDEO .
One of the Nepali national dishes is Momo. This special Momo, a type of dumpling, has chicken and is extra spicy. Nepali food has more meat than Indian, but cow beef is forbidden.
Monkeys Love Ice Cream ! The extreme cold causes them to eat it slowly.
In Old Bhaktapur – What lies behind these mysterious doors ?
Lord Buddha is ever calm and wise.
Ancient palaces have been restored over the past two decades.
A life of prayer and piety lead to desirable conditions for reincarnation.
A visit to the Burning Ghats sees reincarnation in action. When a Hindu departs, they are cremated within the next day, if not sooner. The ashes go into the water ,while the spirit rises into the Heavens, soon to return in a new life.
The oldest son prays before his Father.
A Holy Man reads scripture.
The price list translated from the original Nepali.
In Kathmandu TotalAdventure stayed at Kathmandu’s most iconic hotel – the Yak and Yeti. It was originally a palace.
The pool is spectacular. In addition there are clay tennis courts,a state of the art gym and sauna, as well as world class international restaurants and bars.
Manager Robinson Maharjan with Shahadev Shrestha.
Though quaint, i t’s nice to read an old fashioned local English paper, even though we can get the same news 24/7 on our electronic media.After your passport, your phone is now the most important travel item.
Now, it was time for the adventurous part of the Nepal Adventure. We boarded a 25 minute flight to Pokhara. The drive is 12 to 15 hours due to major road contraction, even though it is only a little over 100 km.
We stayed at the Mount Kailash Resort in Pokhara. One can see this beautiful Himalayan view on clear mornings.There is a great swimming pool and spa to recuperate from a strenuous trek in the nearby Himalayas.
The trails in Ghorepani Poon Hill are nearly vertical – sometimes a 60 degree grade. Instead of rods, because the grade is impossible for cars, there is an extensive network of stairs . All transport is on the backs of humans and sometimes small agile horses. SEE THE VIDEO ! There are many simple guest houses in a network of villages. Your morning eggs and coffee was carried up on someone’s back. As a result prices are higher than the lowlands, but still quite reasonable.
Mt.Fishtail 6,993 Meters 22727 feet – has never been climbed. It is extremely dangerous and the Nepali Government does not grant permits.
TotalAdventure’s Permit, secured by Everest Pioneer Trek.
TotalAdventure details and routes.
Annapurna – 10th highest mountain in the world – 8,091 Meters, 26,545 feet. Nepal has 8 of the 10 highest mountains in the world. Mt.Everest is farther Northeast and takes 2 weeks just to get to base camp – remember – cars are not an option.
The proprietress of our lodge with Shahadev and our porter Raj Kumar.
The snow lasts all year at higher elevations. It actually snows more in the summer, as that is monsoon. At our level around 3000m ,we had some light snow in the early mornings.
Mt.Fishtail In The Clouds.
The videographer at work.
After 3 days of climbing – from 2200 meters to 4000 meters , it was time to return to Pokhara. After a day of relaxation – we returned to Kathmandu – where I flew on to Qatar and the USA
We had a farewell dinner at the Yak and Yeti before I caught my 2 AM flight to Qatar. Pictured are Shahadev’s family, wife and daughter, along with an old college colleague of mine, Beth Brewster. We first met on a school trip in Mexico over 40 years ago. Beth has been in Nepal over 25 years. and is in charge of Giving Asha. The organization provides help to marginalized women and children in Nepal. Nepal has a great tourism industry, but there are still many poor. Please donate on the page.
Everest Pioneer Trek just launched three new adventures on TotalAdventure.Travel Click in the top left page of TotalAdventure Magazine or directly link to the trips from these links :
TotalAdventure arrived in Colombo in the early morning hours of March 2,2023. It had been nearly three years since the first attempt to travel to Sri Lanka had been made, The Pandemic made travel in 2020 impossible, until late in the year when a two week quarantine was imposed – a traveller would have to spend two weeks in a government approved hotel and then be tested. Upon release, travel within the country was still restricted and many temples and other public places remained closed. In mid 2021 the quarantine was dropped and TotalAdventure booked the flights and obtained the visa. Three days before departure the quarantine was reimposed and so TotalAdventure cancelled. In early 2022 TA once again booked – only to be stopped on a false positive of a required covid test. Now – with the world once again open ( more or less) I flew from Miami to Qatar and then on to Colombo.
The Business Class upgrade was very welcome for the 5 hour DOH-CMB leg, after 15 hours in coach from Miami.
Colombo is a mix of Colonial buildings of the British Raj, modern high rises and temples dating back centuries.
The food is amazing. Go to local places like the Curry House. Stay away from tourist locations that have bland imitations and western dishes.
My lunch was very spicy, varied and delicious -everything fresh. Sri Lanka is not as vegetarian as India. The food is eaten by hand . This dish was about $ 3.
Traditional with modern – the bizarre building in the background is reminiscent of Pyongyang.
After a day and a half in Colombo, it was time to head in-country. The 4 hour train ride from Colombo to Kandy cost 350 rupees – about $ 1. On top of a country station lives a monkey family – obviously influenced by 1980s. punk fashion.
Kandy is home to the Temple of the Tooth – Lord Buddha’s Tooth !
Like The Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia, one cannot view the actual Tooth, but just have faith that they are very close to it. It sits in a gold box in a vault behind the altar.
TotalAdventure stayed at the Queen Hotel – a charming relic of the Empire. Inside, little has changed – slowly moving fans, British food like mutton chops, cool gin and tonics at the bar.
Hotel Message – keep balcony doors closed, lest mischievous monkeys come in and steal your belongings – they love cameras and jewelry.
After a long and colorful train ride – standing room only for 7 hours,TotalAdventure arrived in Ella The train goes as high as 8000 feet, 2500m – where we viewed the high, cool misty tea plantations that stretch for hundreds of kilometers. . You can see the journey in the VIDEO at the beginning of this article. The town of Ella , at about 1900m, is warmer than the mountaintops but much cooler than sea level. 75/25 in day and 61/16 at night. The countryside is exotically amazing, while the town caters to tourists and their money.
From Ella TotalAdventure hired a car for the ride to Udawalawe National Park – home to several large elephant herds. Elephants are well protected in Sri Lanka – there is very little poaching. However elephant rides are still permitted in some tourist areas – Do not engage in this cruel practice ! The magnificent creatures suffer greatly – as strong as they are ,their backs are not built for carrying heavy loads. Since they naturally refuse this activity – they are beaten into submission to force them.
At the watering hole. A great place for a swim on a hot day – which is every day of the year in Southern Sri Lanka.
Highly intelligent sentient beings. The Hindu Elephant God Ganesh is the God of Wisdom.
Besides the National Parks – elephants live in the wild in many forests throughout Sri Lanka.
From Udawalawe the driver took me to the tranquil Indian Ocean village of Talalla. Monday,March 6th was a Full Moon – and in Sri Lanka every Full Moon Day is a Holiday ! The surfing here is fairly good ,though onshore winds make for some afternoon chop. The hotel was quite nice as you will see in the VIDEO.
As wave conditions were not optimal, and not much to see while snorkeling, TotalAdventure moved on to Batticaloa on the East Coast the next day. Finally, a town with no Westerners ! Above, Nandi the Bull.
Whereas the South and West are more Buddhist , the East and North is more Hindu. There is also a large Muslim community.
Commerce and Holiness Come Together.
Batticaloa is home to the Laughing Fish, or Singing Fish who reside in Batticaloa Lagoon, seen in the VIDEO. In reality, they probably croak, which can be heard in some tropical bottom feeders.
A delicious place even for carnivores like myself. Food is flavorful and filling ,unlike Western oriented vegan food – more bland and unvaried. The hotel was very comfortable, with a beautiful pool. There were giant ballrooms, hundreds, of rooms and a huge restaurant. I was one of 5 people there.
On the way to Trincomalee there were several beautiful mosques. TotalAdventure did visit one in Batticaloa that you can see in the VIDEO. Sri Lanka is 70% Buddhist, 13 % Hindu, 10% Islamic and 7% Catholic.
TotalAdventure went further up the coast to Trincomalee – where Lord Rama sits high on the cliffs looking out into the Indian Ocean at Thirukoneswaram Kovil .
Ravanna prays from atop the cliffs.
All Powerful Kali – Goddess of War.
TotalAdventure Becomes Holi.
A clifftop treat of healthy refreshing juice. About 75 cents.
Many world times – none of them right. Sri Lanka i in a half hour time zone.
In A Seaside Temple.
The final destination before returning to Colombo was Sirigiya Rock Fortress. According to TripAdvisor :
There’s a reason UNESCO ranks Sigiriya as the 8th Wonder of the World.. Sigiriya is a stunning ruins of a castle build atop a tall rock mountain. An engineering marvel, water was piped from the pools at the base of the rock mountain, all the way up to the castle.
200 Meters or 625 feet doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s half an Empire State Building at a 60 degree angle.
Ancient City high above the jungled plains.
It’s lunchtime above the pond on the fortress top.
Some similarities with Mexico and Central America.
An ancient swimming pool ?
200 Meters Below. The climb up was great practice for climbing the stairs of the Himalayas in Nepal , right after Sri Lanka. What I thought would take hours only took about 45 minutes.
The dry (relatively ) jungles spread out below.
TotalAdventure had hoped for one last train ride – to Colombo. Alas , the train engineer for the Trincomalee to Colombo run was sick that Sunday, so once again I had to hire a car – $ 80 as opposed to $ 2.
A Final Night In Colombo – And It Was Off To Nepal In The Morning ! Mini – Shanghai Tower.
Axum Is One Of The Holiest Christian Cities On Earth. It Is Home To The Ark Of The Covenant – The Tablets Of The Ten Commandments Held By Moses.
In Middle Ages Europe ,In The Time Of The Crusaders, there was a tale of a paradise called The Land of Prester John. A land of unimaginable riches, and home to the Holy Grail. Somewhere near Ethiopia, though the Crusaders never got beyond Jerusalem.
A Truly Ancient Land.
Egyptian emissaries erected stellae in the Fourth Century, though quite a few have fallen.
Sunrise in the Land of Prester John.
The modern Church of Maryam ( Virgin Mary ) near the Ark Of The Covenant.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church claims to possess the Ark of the Covenant, or Tabot, in Axum. The object is currently kept under guard in a treasury near the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion.( Wikipedia) Ark of the Covenant was brought to Ethiopia by Menelik I with divine assistance, while a forgery was left in the Temple in Jerusalem. ( Wikipedia.) Melenik I was the son of King Solomon and Queen Sheba.
A Peaceful Dove – An Apparition ?
An Ancient Stellae Field.
A Cantankerous Camel.
Brutal Punishments For Sinners.
Rugged Trees For the Dry Climate.Tigray only gets a few showers in the summer.
One of the best restaurants in Ethiopia – in Adrigat.
Lamb and Beef so fresh you can eat it raw.
Hotel In Adrigat. Did not stay there.
Captured In Battle.
Debri Damo Monastery. Accessible only by rappelling up the cliff.
Even monks 80 or 90 years. old can do it. Once they can’t, they stay.
Two Fascinating Weeks In Ethiopia then came to an end. TotalAdventure moved on to nearby Eritrea, though it took two flights to get there. TotalAdventure would especially like to thank Awaze Tours for making our private journey possible. Also Special Thanks to our driver Engdu ! Ethiopia is not an easy country to navigate and Awaze helped make all this incredible experience possible.
Priests Enact The Carrying of Boxes Which Carried The Ark Of The Covenant From Jerusalem To Axum, Ethiopia.
TotalAdventure, a Catholic, went to Ethiopia to explore the origins of Christianity. Dismayed by the ever increasing commercialization of Christmas throughput the world, to the point where religion is barely mentioned ,we decided to go where Christmas is not commercial at all, but a joyous occasion celebrating the arrival of Christ on Earth. Like much of the Christian Orthodox world, Christmas is on January 7th and Epiphany 12 days later on January 19th. Because this year,2020 is a Leap Year Timkat was on January 20th. In the West Epiphany is celebrated as the arrival of the 3 Kings, one from Ethiopia. In Ethiopia Timkat celebrates the Baptism of Jesus Christ. In Gondar’s Emperor Fasilides Baths. After many hours of prayer and singing, male participants will dive in , re enacting the Baptism.
Christianity arrived in Ethiopia by the 4th Century. Traditions and mystical celebrations changed little by the time Ethiopia was effectively cut off from Europe and the Holy Land by the 12th Century. The ceremonies we see here, especially in the video above, are the closest to Original Christianity.
As darkness falls on Timkat Eve, the momentum builds, with prayer, chanting and singing.
Another palace of Gondar.
The Three Kings.
TotalAdventure returned to the Fasilides compound by 5 AM. The Faithful were fervently at prayer.
Monks Sing Around The Baths as they have all night.
Sahle-Work Zewde, the President of Ethiopia, Came From Addis Ababa To Take Part In The Ceremonies.
Blaine Zuver, Director of TotalAdventure, Is Interviewed For the Ethiopia Herald. Story Here.
Part of The President’s Security Unit. Many soldiers were on patrol as well.
At last , after sunrise, the clarions blow and joyful adherents of The Lord re enact The Baptism.
Timkat 2012 ! (2020) The Ethiopian Calendar is 8 Years Behind The Western Calendar.
A Very Unfortunate Incident Occurred At Timkat. Bamboo bleachers are constructed each year so the crowds can get a view above the walls surrounding the Holy Pool. They are built to accommodate perhaps 200 or 300 people.
Just before sunrise the overloaded structure collapsed. Ten people were killed. More than 200 went to the hospital, some paralyzed for life. The ceremony was disrupted for about an hour, then went on.
In The Twelfth Century King Lalibela Decreed A Holy City Known As New Jerusalem – To Be Built From Solid Rock. Above Is Beti Gyorgis – St.George ,One Of Eleven Churches Carved From The Earth.
The Light of Jesus Shines Upon A Monk.
Days Spent In Prayer Unchanged From The Fourth Century.
Very Little Restoration Has Taken Place. Due To The Arid Climate And Solid Rock Construction, Lalibela Remains Much Intact.
Envy Of The Crusaders Who Sought Ethiopia, But Couldn’t Find It.
There Are 2 Masses Per Day, At Dawn And At Noon,Each For Two Hours. No Eating Or Drinking Is Permitted Beforehand ,Not Even Water.
While Ethiopia is being “Discovered ” there are few crowds.
Rock Church From Above.
An Approach To Church.
Exterior of Compound.
Light Of Jesus.
Outside Lalibela- A Church Built In A Cave.
St.George From Below.
Holy Waters – A Bit Stagnant.
No Assembly – Just Carving !
Lalibela Houses. Only Recently Did The Town Receive Electricity.
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Kyrgyzstan was the final and most adventurous country on TotalAdventure’s Central Asia Expedition. Through membership in the Adventure Travel Trade Association we were introduced to Visit Kyrgyzstan. Visit Kyrgyzstan took us to amazing places impossible to get to on one’s own. Please view the video above to experience our amazing voyage.
We drove from Almaty, Kazakhstan to Karakol. We visited a Uighur inspired mosque, as Xinjiang is only about 150 km distant.
Also, a Siberian style wooden Orthodox Church. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, most Russians have left independent Kyrgyzstan.
Our first overnight stop was in a yurt village on the shores of Lake Issy Kul, a Mile HIgh ( 1607 m) and 182 km in length, ( 114 mi) .
Issy Kuul is an alpine lake in the Tien Shan Mountains, which lead into the Himalayas. Those mountains are 40 miles away.
We also explored an abandoned heavy water nuclear processing plant built in Soviet times.
The next day we went to watch Eagle Hunters. Traditional in the highlands of Central Asia, including Mongolia, young eagles are adopted and trained to hunt in a way to bring the prey to their masters, and they are given large amounts of meat in return. The prey is often rabbit or fox. Rabbit is valuable for its’ delicious, nutritious meat and fur good for making gloves. Fox skin also is prized..
The Eagles stay with their families until they are about 15 and are then returned to the wild. Eagle and master bond closely, much like people and dogs. An Eagle lives to 65 to almost 100 years of age.
The Real Adventure Begins. Four Days Journey In The Tien Shan Mountains To Lake Song Kul.
Visit Kyrgyzstan designed a trip to meet the needs of TotalAdventure. We tend to move quickly, with little time for rest. However, it would make a great trip for adventurous travelers in reasonably good physical shape. Our first day was from outside a town to small rugged yurt camp. The second and third nights were at camps with more comfortable yurts and even hot water showers heated by gas. Visit Kyrgyzstan is the exclusive provider for TotalAdventure in Kyrgyzstan.
Meals are hearty and tasty.
Hot meat dumpling soup . High in the mountains the weather is cold even in summer. Daytime temperatures were in the 50s ( 12 -14 C ) and close to freezing at night. 0 c Warm clothing is essential, but extreme winter gear is not required in summer.
Comfortable Yurts with woodburning stoves.
Kumis – Fermented horse milk with a small amount of alcohol.
Lake Song Kul. Elevation about 10,000 feet, ( 3076 m) Mountains still snow covered on July 1. Snow falls from October to May, year round in higher elevations.
Lake from a high vantage. Our highest point was around 12,500 feet, going over a ridge. Some areas were so steep the horses had to be walked.
My Horse enjoying a well deserved lunch.
Our Leader, Ernist. Also featured – the Go Pro that shoots the videos.
Our last . day was spent in the capital city of Bishkek. before returning to the USA via Istanbul.
Kyrgyzstan is a country that has overcome tremendous challenges posed by the Superpowers that surround it and adaptation to a market economy. Sustainable adventure travel and ecotourism as a big part of the economy. TotalAdventure and Visit Kyrgyzstan look forward to working together to bring travelers to this amazingly beautiful part of the world.
TotalAdventure Presents “Long Lost Laos” A Video Narrative Of Last Summer’s Voyage.
The TotalAdventure Team flew Qatar Airways from Miami to Saigon (HCM) Vietnam .On the way we had an 8 hour layover in Doha. On the way back we stopped over for two days. The above video is a compilation of the two visits.
Qatar is the wealthiest nation in the world, per capita. But tradition prevails in the desert lands outside of Doha.
It’s a 13 hour flight from Miami. 15 hours going back.
Right off the plane from Bangkok , we went riding the high sand dunes south of Doha. You can experience the adventure in the video above.
We went right dawn to the waterway that separates Qatar from Saudi Arabia, other than the narrow land bridge. The border between the two US Allies is currently closed. That’s a Saudi Army post about 3 km in the distance.
Back in the city , we went to Souk Al Waqif.
A delicious lunch of Sheep’s Head.
And Foul – a delicious Fava Bean stew.
Modest, yet colorful fashions.
Saffron and other exotic, expensive spices for sale.
The Architecture is Amazing.
Qatar Grand Mosque .
Al Zubara Fort.
It’s hot outside in July. That’s 117 F !
TotalAdventure would like to Thank Mr.Ahmed Nasser Al Rayes , Chairman of the Al Rayes Group for making our excursion in Qatar so flawless, exploring the majority of the country in a very short time. The Al Rayes Group owns 83 companies ,and is a leader in tourism investment.
While Hue remains a warlike image in the minds of many Americans, due to the 1968 Tet offensive, it is a city at peace .
Sampans glide the river.
Evil spirits are kept at bay.
Street Food is incredible !
Making honey at the Pagoda.
Dinner by the Pearl River.
Like everywhere else in Vietnam , Da Nang has changed immensely since TotalAdventure’s first trip in 1993. 50 story buildings, many of them luxury hotels, dot the skyline in a city known as a large US Army base in a major combat zone, especially in the late 60s.
We climbed to the top of the Marble Mountains ,where we took in the view of China Beach , an R&R spot for the US Troops, and the South China Sea.
While the Marble Mountains were surrounded by US Troops, the caves within them were major operating bases for the Viet Cong. This large cave was a hospital for the wounded. The Americans could not penetrate. Instead, they bombed the mountain from above, finally opening these holes after months of round the clock raids. By that time it had been vacated. The cave is now a Holy Shrine.
Da Nang restaurants have excellent seafood. This is apparently stonefish, which if stepped on means immediate death or loss of a leg.