Journeys in Asia Two…..

Over the years my travels have taken me to many parts of Asia, from the refined culture of Japan to near “the roof of the world” high in the Himalayas. I have been fortunate.

I truly appreciate the various, and oh so diverse, peoples that I’ve encountered.

As a young American I tended to lump “Oriental” people together when in fact from the eastern reaches of Japan, Korea and China to the Southern Asian cultures of Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and on to India the peoples could not be more different from one another.

I love the cities of Asia, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Bangkok, Singapore, Hanoi. Each has a distinct flavor. Tokyo, originally known as Edo, while huge and dense with population is spotlessly clean. I have never once felt fearful there, no matter the time of day or night.

Tokyo has an essence that is all its own. Its people are urbane, assertive and good-natured. The food in Tokyo is wonderful and as cosmopolitan as can be imagined. It’s neighborhoods are distinct, each with its own attractions. From the bars and night spots of Roppongi to the youthful exuberance of Harajuku to the shopping of the Ginza and Shinjuku, Tokyo has it all. But to me Tokyo’s biggest attraction has always been the refinement of Japanese design. From elegant hugely priced hand woven silk Kimono’s to porcelain tea and sake sets, all things of Japanese design are distinct, have an air of rarity and are lovely.  

On the other hand, there is Hong Kong, a city teaming with a diversity of peoples that is hard to imagine. For 99 years, until 1986, a British Colony, Hong Kong is mostly English speaking and attracts visitors and residents from all over the globe.

While famous for “Cantonese” food there is no combination of ingredients or flavors that cannot be found in Hong Kong. From the street vendors to the elegance of some of the world’s greatest restaurants, there is not a cuisine that is not represented there. Also famous as a shopping mecca Hong Kong’s roads are lined with shops selling jewelry, watches, designer clothes, bags, shoes. You name it and it can be found in Hong Kong and it can be found twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Hong Kong never seems to close or quiet down.

As much as I have loved my time in Asian cities I have found much of myself in the time I’ve spent in Asia’s magnificent countryside’s. I truly appreciate beautiful natural scenery and far away settings and have found both during journey’s out of Asia’s cities. From the foothills surrounding Seoul and points deeper into South Korea’s inland, to the plains of India, to the mountains of Nepal, the flora, fauna, and various terrain’s with their magnificent vistas; when in those environments the senses always seem to come alive in the most wonderful way.

While I always had success doing business with the people of East Asia; the Japanese and the Koreans especially, I had never really been able to “crack the nut” of business success in my dealings in India. I don’t really know why except that I guess I had a greater affinity for the people of eastern Asia. And, too, this was the 70's and 80's and before India jumped on the globalization train.

The people of India had always been an enigma to me. My frequent trips to India’s commercial centers had been brief. Typically I’d arrive on a Sunday night and be out and back on my way to Hong Kong, Japan or Seoul by Thursday (or to Bangkok for the weekend!). I suppose that I really never gave doing business in India a fair chance of success.

It was when I traveled to India as a tourist that India opened its wonders to me.

Traveling to India requires openness, willingness and stamina! The sheer mass of India’s humanity assaults and the poverty overwhelms. But once those challenges are met, India’s beauty emerges.

I’m often asked to describe India. I respond this way; close your eyes and imagine a beautiful shop filled with gold, incense, candles and opulent silk fabrics. Now imagine that you have to cross over an open sewer to enter it. That’s India to me. Many can’t get passed the open sewer. But if you are able then India opens its richness to you.

I’ve traveled through India’s cities and to some of its farthest reaches. From Bangalore and Chennai (Madras) in the south, to the plains of Rajasthan. I've visted Dharmasala, the home of His Holiness The Dalai Lama, and waded into the masses of humanity known as Delhi, Mumbai (Bombay) and Kolkata (Calcutta). India’s cultural soup never ceases to amaze.

On one journey during the summer of 1994 I traveled to Ladakh in India’s extreme northeast[i]. Ladakh, sometimes called “the last Shangrila” is actually behind the Himalayas on the Tibetan plateau. Its principle city, Leh, is at an altitude of about 10,000 feet and for some it takes two or three days just to acclimatize. Because of its remote location and the closing of mountain passes for about 9 months of the year, Ladakh can only be visited between late May or early June when the snows melt until the end of August or early September when the snows begin to return again.

If you are an adventurer like me it is certainly worth the effort to get there. Tibetan Buddhist monks living in ancient monasteries harmoniously coexist with Indian Hindus and Muslims. And as the town of Leh lies along what was once known as “The Great Silk Road” the population is dotted with Afghani traders of other nationalities too.

The Himalaya’s are geologically relatively young and have not been worn down by time and weather as some of the planets older mountain ranges have. This makes the terrain spectacular. It soars. Its angles are steep and its colors range from deep dark purple reds to ochre and yellows. Its beauty is really hard to describe.

Rudyard Kipling wrote in his well known poem The Explorer “Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges—Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!”

I have frequently found it there behind the ranges. I have gone there whenever I could. Go!

But it is in the beauty of the Sherpa people of Nepal’s Solu Khumbu region that I found a part of me that I hadn’t realized existed.

Based upon my history of my relations with Indian businessmen I had some resentment toward India. Because of this I was surprised that I was somehow drawn back there. So in 1994 I used up a bunch of frequent flyer miles and made my way there, via a sojourn in Nepal.

Kathmandu was still the city that was discovered by hippies during the 60’s and 70’s (the city has changed a lot. Now its Thamel district has been taken over by girlie bars and brothels, a shame, because it was charming and mostly unspoiled in 1994), a mix of ancient temples and “pie shops”  selling cheap meals that catered to trekkers getting organized for their journey’s into the Himalayas. My favorite was “Mike’s Breakfast”. His pancakes were a famous treat!

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