Our Travel Inspiration, Dec. 30

After a wonderful week off for the holidays, we’re glad to be back for another week of Our Travel Inspiration. Please follow along with us each Monday for our carefully-curated selection of current Asia and travel-related news stories.

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Share-worthy pieces on Asia this week:

Travel tidbits that caught our fancy:

We’d love to hear your feedback—please comment below. And please come back next Monday for more of Our Travel Inspiration!

Our Travel Inspiration, Oct. 21

Asia Transpacific Journeys is excited to announce our new weekly blog feature, Our Travel Inspiration. Designed to inspire our fellow travelers, each Monday we will be posting a travel quote that speaks to us followed by a carefully-curated selection of current Asia and travel-related news stories that we are excited to share. We hope you will follow along with us each week!

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Asia in the news—these stories caught our eye:

Stay in the know with these trends in travel:

We’d love to hear your feedback—please comment below. And please come back next Monday for more of Our Travel Inspiration!

New Things: Eastern Bhutan Opens to Trekkers

At long last, Bhutan’s far east is taking visitors. For years the kingdom’s remote Merak and Sakten valleys have been largely off limits to outsiders, but the government is easing restrictions – somewhat. Starting next month, a handful of new operators will be permitted to lead small groups into Bhutan’s easternmost reaches.

If you ask us, Asia Transpacific Journeys is the way to go. The Colorado-based outfitter’s custom treks will take you deep into the stupa-specked land of the Brokpa people — one of the last remaining traditional Himalayan cultures — with a guide, cook, and horseman. For seven days, you’ll hike through pristine alpine valleys and forests, visiting with yak herders and farmers along the way.

“Virtually everything in their lives is handmade of their own indigenous materials,” says ATJ Founder Marilyn Downing Staff, who scouted the area in May and is pictured above with the Brokpa. “It’s very rare to find a culture like that in this day and age.” (From $395/day.)

By: Catharine Livingston, August 2010

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Click here to read the full article. To find out more about creating a custom trip to Bhutan, call Asia Transpacific Journeys to speak to a travel specialist at 800-642-2742.

Recipe: Bhutanese Dumplings

During our trips to Bhutan, we have developed a craving for momos. Momos, or dumplings, are a Bhutanese staple that originated in Tibet.  Momos are usually stuffed with meat or cheese. Several of our favorite Thimphu restaurants are known for their cheese and veggie momos, which inspired this recipe.

Buckwheat Dumplings with Bok Choy

Ingredients
Filling

•     1 large head bok choy stem removed and quartered
•     3 tablespoons poppy seeds
•     1/4 teaspoon Chinese Szechuan peppercorns
•     2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
•     Fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
•     1 small red onion peeled and chopped
•     1/2 cup crumbled farmer cheese (Monterey Jack may be substituted)
•     1 teaspoon chili powder
•     1/4 teaspoon salt
•     1 stick unsalted butter
Dough
•     2 cups all-purpose flour
•     1 cup buckwheat flour
•     1 cup water
•     Flour for dusting

Directions
To make the filling, steam the bok choy for 5 minutes. Drain and squeeze dry.

Pulverize the poppy seeds and peppercorns with a spice or coffee grinder.

Add the onion and chop finely, about 10 seconds. Chop and mix the bok choy, poppy seed mixture, garlic and ginger, cheese, chili powder, and salt until combined. This may be done for about 10 seconds in a food processor.

Brown the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat, stirring, about 4 minutes. Cool and strain through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Add to the filling and mix well, (or process until combined, about 15 seconds.)

To make the dough, combine the flours and water and work until the dough forms a ball. Dust the ball with flour.

Cut the dough into 8 pieces, dust with flour, and wrap 7 pieces in plastic wrap to prevent drying out. With a rolling pin or pasta machine, roll out the pieces into sheets, dusting with flour occasionally to prevent sticking. Place the dough sheet between sheets of plastic wrap. Roll out the remaining dough in the same manner.

Cut the sheets, 1 at a time, into 4-by-2 inch rectangles. Place 1 teaspoon of the filling in the center of each rectangle. Brush the edges lightly with water and fold the rectangles over to make squares, pressing the edges to seal them well.

Cook the dumplings in batches in a saucepan of simmering water until tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Or fry the dumplings in very hot peanut oil. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Marilyn Downing Staff

Join company founder, Marilyn Downing Staff, at Boulder’s City Club on June 17th for an evening of Bhutanese inspired food and a slideshow presentation. RSVP required. Click here for details.

Marilyn just returned from 3-weeks of travel to Bhutan, trekking through the most remote areas. To read more about her experience, check out our posting on May 19, 2010.

A Staff Postcard from the Field: Blissed Out in Bhutan

Bhutan travel notes about remote Eastern Bhutan from Marilyn Downing Staff, Asia Transpacific Journeys’ Founder & President

I have just come in from 7 days trekking for one night of ‘deluxe’ accommodations—at least as far as they offer in this remote area of Bhutan—then back out for another 4 days of exploration. I have had the adventure of a lifetime thus far and can’t wait to share some stories. It has been one of the most extraordinary trekking experiences of my traveling life.

We currently have 6 clients here in Bhutan—all very happy indeed. By the time you receive this message, I will be back on the trail with the yaks.

Marilyn Downing Staff

On this trip to Bhutan, Marilyn is trekking through the yet-to-be-opened-to-tourists Sakten Wildlife Sanctuary, the only reserve in the world that protects the habitat of endemic animals and the cryptid yeti (also known as the Abominable Snowman). She is also trekking from Tashi Yangtse to Lhuntshi, a road-less area inhabited with Himalayan mountain people living very traditional lives, with little exposure to the outside world. Speak to one of our Travel Specialists if you would like more informtion on trekkig in Bhutan.

Interview with Traveler and Award-Winning Photographer Dimitra Stasinopoulou

Among the things that make our jobs so rewarding are the special people who travel with us. Dimitra Stasinopoulou has been to Asia four times with Asia Transpacific Journeys, and photography is her means of connecting with local cultures. She has traveled with us to India, Bhutan and Papua New Guinea and has published books about her travels. But the books are not for sale—Dimitra gives them away. She has given away nearly 10,000 books so far.

We called Dimitra in her native Athens to talk travel, photography, and how she finds joy in “giving the books away.”

ATJ: What drove you to begin photographing people and producing such beautiful books?

DS: “Five years ago I was 52, I quit my job at Chase Manhattan Bank in Athens, in order to be involved in the pharmaceutical business my husband has in Romania. This was a big change in my life. I was feeling depressed there until I bought a camera and began taking pictures, mainly of the local people and their life. I had never photographed anything before. This was like opening a door for me, to really see the people. I published a book called Romania of my Heart. In this book I tried to express my love for this country that has moved me with its genuine character, its beauty and its boundless hospitality. The 4,000 copies printed have been offered as a gift both in Greece and Romania. For this book they gave me the UNESCO prize, since, as they said, it has deepened the friendship between our two countries. The book was officially presented to Greece by the President of Romania. After distributing the book I received many letters, but what I cherish the most is the Romanian people, who, as they told me, felt again proud for their country. It was a labor of love and they understood it. It changed my life.”

ATJ: In your book, Bhutan—Smiling Faces From the Roof of the World you take many portraits and seem to have a gift for engaging people. Can you comment on that?

DS:  “Communicating with people for me is the most interesting and rewarding experience. In Bhutan my eyes opened to a completely different world. It is so peaceful and the people are so innocent and welcome you wherever you go. I believe they understood that I really liked them and that I wanted to communicate with them. It was very special.”

ATJ: How do you go about getting someone’s permission to take their photo?

DS: “I never ask. I just engage. If you ask, then they freeze, everything changes. With my photography I try to really see the person. I smile and they smile back. That’s the permission. My camera does not come between us, it helps me to really see their heart. They feel this too.

I don’t look for perfect light or position. I don’t know how to adjust the camera for this type of thing. I just try to communicate with people.  Even if I knew I wouldn’t have time enough to adjust the camera since it is only a second that you capture.”

Dimitra Stasinopolou © All rights reserved | Girl at Pushkar, India

ATJ: You also just published an amazing book of photographs called India—Unity In Diversity. Can you highlight some of the differences and similarities between photography in India and Bhutan?

DS: “Bhutan is unique. There are so few people living there. They have had very little contact with outsiders. India is quite different, India has a billion people, it can feel overwhelming at times. But, everywhere I went in India, I met an unparalleled cultural heritage and magnificent people, sometimes sad in their poverty, but always positive and peaceful within. Hindu people are the most compassionate, sweet and calm people anyone can come across. Violence is never part of their emotions. It is these people, with their disarming innocence, in reality, that represent the biggest treasure of the country. Take the slums—the people are smiling, beautiful, clean and hard working. I decided to attempt to capture with my lens the human dignity of the Indian people, their sweetness and their optimism. The qualities of these people are so strong that conditions of life are a secondary matter.  I am really exhausted after the India project but I will always remember Indian people and their smiles.”

ATJ: Do you have a favorite place or destination for your photography?

DS: “It’s very difficult to say. Every country has its own beauty. Bhutan is special, very quiet and calm. The people are smiling all the time. You must be there to feel the peace. It’s one of the happiest places on Earth.  India is also exceptional, Papua New Guinea is unique.  Every place has its own beauty.”

ATJ: Do you use all digital technology or also film?

DS: “I only use digital. That’s how I started and I think it is unique, if a person like me that knows absolutely nothing about cameras is able to take good pictures.”

ATJ: What type of camera do you use?

DS: “Canon. I started with a Canon EOS 30D, 50D and now I shoot with a Canon Mark II 5D. I am used with them and also very pleased. I don’t think I will ever change.”

ATJ: Can you give a tip or two to aspiring photographers?

DS: “Shoot from the heart. Don’t think about the quality of the picture. Engage emotionally.  Share with other people. Today’s technology is so huge, a picture can be fixed, but it should be as close to reality as possible. No Photoshop, don’t try to turn the sky blue. The technical things are not important to me.”

ATJ: Do you have any other books planned?

Dimitra Stasinopolou © All rights reserved | Boy in Mt. Hagan, Papua New Guinea

DS: “Maybe the next one will be for Papua New Guinea. I am also going to China’s Silk Road with Asia Transpacific Journeys in May. Maybe China will be the next one. I don’t know yet.”

ATJ: Where can someone buy your books?

DS: “They are not for sale. I give them away to people I love, to people I admire, to friends, so that they pass them on to their friends, and of course to people I meet while traveling—fellow travelers and local people. It’s the biggest gift to give myself, for me to be able to give to others. For example in Romania while I was at a diplomatic reception I gave a local woman who was attending the coat check the book Romania Of My Heart. She thanked me so sincerely, and said she had been working at that coat check for 30 years but no one had ever given her a gift before. When she said that to me she gave me a gift to remember and treasure for the rest of my life. She and I both made a friend that day.

It’s so personal. I put my soul in these books. I couldn’t sell them or connect them with money. I don’t think a professional photographer would spend thousands of hours putting a book with more than 950 pages together. It’s a huge effort, it takes months. It could never pay. A publisher is now asking me to reprint the Bhutan book and sell it to India. If that happens I will donate any money away to charity. I know I am very lucky I can do this and I also know that so many other much more talented photographers could have made an even better book if they had the means. I believe the most important things in our life are given free, so what I am doing is the minimum I can do. I am a happy person doing this now.”

ATJ: Thank you so much Dimitra, it has been our sincere pleasure to talk with you.

DS: “I want to make a comment about your company. I feel I am the luckiest person on earth to be able to discover Asia Transpacific Journeys out of so many companies existing. I really believe you are working in such an exceptional way that you are also the ones to be credited for the books, at least for Bhutan and India. You organize things in such a way that you made me discover the best of each country. The personnel is so friendly (especially Rebecca Mazzaro with whom I talk the most) and well informed and always understood what I am looking for and guide me accordingly. I am always traveling alone, and in the beginning I thought it wouldn’t be easy. Most of the times the rest of the group are Americans, but they all are so very kind with me, making me feel at home with them. These pictures are a wonderful keepsake of our trips together. I am honored to have traveled with them and feel so privileged to have them as my friends. I thank you from my heart for existing and enabling me to make my dreams come true.

Since English is not my native language it is not so easy for me to express what I feel but I hope you understand.”

Dimitra in Ladakh

Dimitra Stasinopoulou is the recipient of the International Aperture Award for her photography and the artist behind three books of photography. Her book on Romania was awarded a UNESCO prize. She picked up a camera for the first time five years ago.

A Staff Postcard from the Field: A Journey to Taksang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery

Travel to Bhutan

Taksang Monastery

Notes from Paro, Bhutan from Kirsten Louy Nasty, Asia Transpacific Journeys’ Operations Manager

We awoke early to a cool, still morning. The sun had not yet peered from behind the mountains.  After basic morning ablutions, we headed to the dining area where we had requested an early breakfast and more importantly, an early coffee.  We picked up a picnic lunch consisting of cheese momos, emma datse (cheese and chilies sauce) with rice and vegetables, grilled chicken and hot tea, from a local restaurant.  After parking our Land Cruiser at a monastery just above Paro town, we adjusted our pack straps, tightened our hiking shoes, checked our belongings and remembered to dab on sunscreen before the rays began to cut through the thin mountain air onto our skin.

Our posse of 5 intrepid hikers followed a windy one-lane hiking trail up, up, up through brush, branches and moss-covered trees. We quickly rose above the layers of incense and wood fire smoke from below, and above the townspeople preparing for their busy day in the fields, at the market or business. We could not hear them; the air was quiet. We ascended above daily life on a pilgrimage; a mission to find the famous Taksang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) by a path less traveled, swooping in from behind and sneaking up on it, as if on the back of our very own winged tigress.

After ascending 3,000 ft in 3 hours we came upon a high meadow with views of the Himalayan peaks and the valleys below; the layers of valleys extending far beyond. Our picnic lunch was our body’s fuel and the breathtaking view, our soul’s reward. We paused to take it all in.  The furry-faced yaks with clanking neck bells turned to watch us.   Then onward down, down, down we continued until a turned corner revealed a gem of a structure clinging to the side of a cliff wrapped, as if a precious gift, in bands and strings of colorful prayer flags. Its gold paint glimmered in the morning light.  A Tiger’s Nest it was, and we had landed. It looked as if a strong wind or one move from the mountain and earth could hurtle it into the crevice below, but for over 300 years the monastery has strongly held its precarious position on the side of the mountain; a testament to the faith and vision of those who built it.

Our small group witnessed that day of the beauty of friendship, of the land, of humanity and of history. We stopped to say hi to the inquisitive yaks, to spin prayer wheels and to let peace soak in. We walked on the earth and shared stories while breathing the air deep into our lungs. We enjoyed food and drink together and we viewed an awe inspiring structure which continues to sacredly store spiritual stories and, which conveyed to us, the meaning of Bhutan.

Visit our site for information on group travel to Bhutan or creating a custom private trip to Bhutan for just you and your family or friends.

Asia Travel Photography Contest

Asia travel photography contest judged by National Geographic Traveler photographer Bob Krist

Asia travel photography contest judged by National Geographic Traveler photographer Bob Krist

Our travelers crossed time zones, date lines, and oceans to experience an Asia tour or South Pacific Asia vacation— where they may have found a fabulous photo opportunity around every corner. We asked previous travelers with Asia Transpacific Journeys to submit photos of their travels with us. We started with 109 beautiful entries, our staff narrowed it down to 20 semi-finalists, and then we asked National Geographic Traveler photographer Bob Krist to select the winners.

He noted that “Great color, story telling, and strong compositions made it very hard for me to pick only three. Obviously, your travelers are exploring their destinations with an appreciative eye and a knack for going beyond the postcard views.”

Here are the winning entries and Bob’s commentary on the photos. Congratulations to our winners and thank you to all who participated. These photos truly define a journey beyond the ordinary™.

1st place, boy riding camel at sunset in Pushkar, India (Annie Katz )

1st place, boy riding camel at sunset in Pushkar, India (© Annie Katz )

“This is a wonderful moment, and very carefully composed. Notice that the low angle the photographer chose fully silhouettes the camel and rider against the sky. The moment is captured perfectly, and the position of the camel and rider is just right. The setting sun behind this great silhouette just adds that extra sense of ‘moment’ to an already strong photograph.”

2nd place, women on a wall in India (Susan I. Cohen)

2nd place, women on a wall in India (© Susan I. Cohen)

“Another great job of ‘seeing.’ The repeating patterns of the women sitting in a row, plus the great light and color, makes this a very strong graphic and story-telling picture. It’s carefully composed—there are no distracting backgrounds. The photographer has done an excellent job of eliminating all extraneous elements, and distilling the composition to a powerful, simple graphic.”

 

3rd place, two boys watch a ceremony in Bhutan (Scott Carroll)

3rd place, two boys watch a ceremony in Bhutan (© Scott Carroll)

“A wonderful ‘storytelling’ shot. The photographer looked beyond the obvious shot (that of the ceremony, whatever it was) and looked around the “edges” of the event to see how it was affecting the onlookers. Beautiful light, two very different expressions, and subjects who are totally into the moment. A great moment and a careful composition.”

‘The Cultures of Buddhist Asia—Japan, Laos, and Bhutan’ Named One of National Geographic Travelers’ Tours of a Lifetime

Three Faces of Buddha
“From the raked rock gardens of Kyoto to the temple architecture of Laos to the traditional paintings of Bhutan, explore how Buddhism informs three different cultures in this ambitious journey inspired by a longstanding interest of the operator’s founder. Highlights include an overnight in a shukubo (traditional Japanese temple lodgings) and a hike to the cliffside Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan. The outfitter has knocked off $400 from last year’s rate. Asia Transpacific Journeys: “The Cultures of Buddhist Asia—Japan, Laos, and Bhutan,” 17 days; $9,995.”


View the National Geographic Traveler article or visit our site for The Cultures of Buddhist Asia—Japan, Laos, and Bhutan Small Group Trip details.

Client’s Trip to Bhutan Marks Travel To 307 Countries

One of our most well traveled clients, Ray Woods, is nearing his goal of completing travel to all 319 countries as designated by the Travelers’ Century Club (TCC). Membership in this exclusive club is limited to those travelers who have visited 100 or more countries in the world. Well past that goal, Ray’s recent trip to Bhutan with us marked his 307th country.

So far, only ten members have finished the list. However, the club is formed on more than the basis of checking countries off a list. It’s a social club uniting passionate travelers worldwide. In fact, back in 1960, the club officers selected the slogan “World Travel…the passport to peace through understanding.”

Congratulations Ray! Enjoy your final 12 destinations.

“Asia Transpacific Journeys has been outstandingly good….going to remote places in Asia. I have learned to trust them…also knowing that they deal with airline changes and other obstacles well.”
- Ray Woods