To Asia, With Love (and Other Emotions)

Shelley with Ultadanga kids

My time in Asia challenged me, rewarded me, made my heart ache and churned out a stronger person. I learned more in the last 11 months than I have in the last 11 years, and that’s no hyperbole. I became more familiar with the world and with myself. As it turns out, I’m a nomadic homebody. My style is to hunker down in a city and get the lay of the land instead of moving every three days. Maybe when in a state of constant change, it’s comforting to know where you can go for a reliable bowl of pho or a cup of REAL coffee.

Surprisingly I did make it to 12 countries (if you count Tibet and Hong Kong as separate from mainland China, which I do). I’ve had 7 telephone numbers, taken 13 flights, crossed 2 borders overland, added 31 stamps to my passport, secured 10 visas and spent about $24,000. Below is a snapshot of my feelings about each country: what I liked, what I didn’t and how I sum them each up. India is longer than the rest because I spent the most time there and it had such a profound effect. Ladies and gentlemen, I present my view of Asia in 2,000 words or less… Continue reading


Lhasa to Nepal and Everest Base Camp

Entering Qomolangma National Nature Preserve

We hit two monasteries before leaving Lhasa- Sera and Drepung. At both we were able to witness robed monks in action. Unfortunately monasteries that once educated 1,000 monks at a time are now only operating at a capacity of 300 due to limitations by the Chinese government. Since many have historically expressed anti-government opinions, this is a way to keep them “in check”. Continue reading

Lhasa, Tibet: Land of the Gods

Local Tibetans with prayer wheels

I arrived at my hotel room in Lhasa around 5pm and was grateful to find it empty. My roommate from Mumbai, who I had yet to meet, wasn’t there, which allowed me to wash 44 hours of train riding off me in undisturbed peace. That was preferable to greeting him with, “Hi, nice to meet you, pardon me while I hop in the shower.” My experience with Indians based on my time in Kolkata is that they’re pretty conservative, so I was surprised he wanted to share a room with a woman. I know Mumbai is more progressive, but still. In India, many hotels won’t even rent rooms to unmarried couples. Once I did meet Vivek, however, I learned that he previously worked in NY as a banker and had traveled quite extensively. Ok, maybe this won’t be so awkward. It was also a reminder that the more I travel, the less I realize I know. He had come to Lhasa a few days earlier so he knew his way around and had already scoped out a few restaurants- perfect. The next night we found ourselves at a little Korean joint eating bibimbap and soon tofu soup. I was actually bummed I hadn’t thought of coming to town before the tour started as I found that two days in Lhasa weren’t nearly enough. Continue reading

Beijing and my 44-Hour Train Ride to Tibet

Great Wall of China 1My grandma made me go to China. On Easter, I Skyped with my mom and she put my grandma on the line. There was no “How are you?” or “Happy Easter” greeting. Instead, she got on the phone and asked, “Why aren’t you going to China?” Uh, I wasn’t aware I’d ruled it out! I told my grandma I was actually thinking about going to China, Tibet specifically. “Oh you HAAAAAAAAAAVE to go to Tibet! How wonderful!” I definitely have my grandmother’s travel gene. By the end of the conversation she had threatened to sell my belongings if I didn’t go to Tibet. My grandma was 92 at the time, going on 93. How could I NOT go? Even if she did use shady blackmail tactics. Continue reading