My 21 Most Emotional Travel Experiences


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Africa » Egypt » Sinai
November 12th 2010
Published: March 14th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

For more of my photos, or to buy my book, please visit www.nickkembel.com

I am quite frequently asked to cite my favorite country, a terribly ambiguous question roughly akin to asking somebody to choose his or her favorite person in the world. Other people want me to tell them a travel story, but I am seldom able to deliver adequately on the spot. But with the space allotted here, I have enumerated 21 of my most emotional worldly experiences. Most of them border on the sublime, surreal, or even religious, and combined they form the pivotal or core moments that have defined my pilgrimage through the world to date. Some brought tears to my eyes; others forever and irreversibly altered my sense of self and resulting perception of the world around me. This is a little long so I don’t expect the reader to actually get through all of it; perhaps you could just choose and scroll to a few entries. But for me to simply recall these experiences and commit them to writing is gratifying beyond belief.

1. Ascent of Mt. Sinai for Sunrise, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt
2. Friendly people, Iran
3. Encounter with a Rastafarian Poet,
Belize
4. Barkhor Square, Lhasa, Tibet
5. Prayer Protest in the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel
6. The Sikh Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab, India
7. Sleeping on a Muslim Family’s Houseboat, Kashmir, Northern India
8. Hike along the Great Wall, China
9. The Taj Mahal, Agra, India
10. Awakening experience, somewhere in the mountains, South Island, New Zealand
11. Ascent to Everest Base Camps, Tibet and Nepal
12. Sleeping in the Jungle, Palenque, Mexico
13. Diving the Great Barrier Reef, Australia
14. Family of Buddhas, Bangladesh
15. Horse Trek into tribal region, Ethiopia
16. Jumping Cat Monastery, Inle Lake, Burma
17. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
18. The unexpected, Iraq
19. Yoga at Rishikesh, India
20. Staying with local family, Northern Pakistan
21. Anticipation, travel planning, getting there, and most importantly, coming back home to the ones you love

1. Ascent of Mt. Sinai for Sunrise, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt



After getting my fill of Egyptian ruins and aggressive hassle along the tourist trail down the Nile River, I ventured east to the Sinai Peninsula, a land of barren landscapes and biblical history. Mount Sinai, the purported site of Moses’ ascent and divine communication that produced the 10 commandments, has been a pilgrimage site for thousands of years. Like most, I chose to ascend the summit at night to avoid the murderous daytime temperatures. Beginning around 2am, I descended on a plateau and my eyes adjusted to an incredibly eerie nighttime scene: hundreds of Egyptian men in robes tending to an equal number of disgruntled camels, and no clear sign of the supposed path that takes me through this disjointed mess of grunting animals and cell phone lights (the Egyptians are no different than the rest of the world in their addiction to mobile technology).

The route to the summit became increasingly steep, and the scenery increasingly vertical and dramatic, rendered even more mysterious by my ability to make out only outlines of cliffs and mountains lit up by the sea of stars above. Approaching the summit the path thinned out, condensing the stream of pilgrims to single file. Perhaps a hundred or so people congregated on the peak; among them I could make out a group of Franciscan monks as well as a number of Christian pilgrims who sang hymns as the sun slowly but decisively erupted from the distant horizon and splashed a multitude of vibrant colors on the world as we could see it, perched from this immense rocky peak. Despite feeling no particular allegiance to the biblical importance of this site, I was profoundly impacted by the intensity of it’s raw natural beauty, the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that accompanies a pilgrimage of sorts, and by the unified energy shared by the people on the summit. Before descending I found an isolated pocket of the peak and placed an ear to a large stone to see what I could hear. I heard emptiness; the hum of pure, raw, natural, and enduring existence, present everywhere in the world but somehow made more apparent in this place that so many people have traveled so far to visit.

2. Friendliest people in the world, Iran



Don't let the western media have you believe otherwise. The people of Iran are the friendliest I have encountered anywhere in the world. For the two weeks I spent in the country, my daily travel budget was less than 20$ because local people kept inviting me into their homes, buying me tea, and treating me to dinner. In the capital Tehran, a friendly local that I met on the train insisted that we go back to my hotel, refund my payment, and stay with his family. Days passed before I managed to escape, having take in a local wedding, met all of the family's relatives, and been loaded up with gifts, including a necklace that the man's mother acquired on a pilgrimage to a Shi'ite Muslim center in Iraq. Everywhere I went the Iranians were all smiles, and the women, despite having some of the strictest fashion customs in the world, were more enthusiastic to approach and chat with me than anywhere else I have been in the Middle East or Central Asia. But they didn't want to just talk about menial things, but rather gender politics, ideas regarding Iran in my home country, Islam and modernity, etc. The world may want to isolate Iran, but Iran is not isolated. It's people are acutely aware of what is going in the world, and desperate to meet anybody who has a mind open enough to go visit them. Normally I prefer to keep to my own on my journeys, but in Iran it was impossible, so I just said 'yes' to everybody, and I was welcomed with open hearts everywhere I went. For more, see here: http://www.travelblog.org/Middle-East/blog-450156.html

3. Encounter with a Rastafarian Poet, Belize


On my last night in the Central American/Caribbean nation of Belize, I was staying in a hotel on the coast near the border of Guatemala feeling restless and unable to sleep so I went for a walk to find a quiet spot on the sea to contemplate. I encountered Reuben, an eccentric but peaceful Rastafarian poet and artist who was out doing just the same thing. We began conversing and then went back to his place, a shack of sorts filled with all sorts of artistic projects and sculptures, with extremely minimal living quarters and amenities. Reuben read his poetry for me, and I felt privileged to receive what was essentially a private performance of spoken word reggae. We smoked and talked, and Reuben completed and then sold me one of his projects; a handled drinking mug carved from wood and bamboo. Reuben claimed that water actually tasted more pure and delicious from his mug. And I don’t know if it was the material, quality of construction, or just the love and positive energy that was invested in his work, but when I took the sip of water that he offered me in my new cup, it actually tasted sweet, and more pure than any water I have ever tried before.

4. Barkhor Square, Lhasa, Tibet



Like many people in the west I have always possessed a particular fixation with Tibet and Tibetan spirituality, but I became more involved than the average person when I chose to focus my university studies on the region, and also set up and coordinated a student based non-profit organization dedicated to raising money and awareness for the situation in Tibet. Immediately upon completion of my thesis I traveled to Tibet, and I maintain that this visit was my most emotional travel experience to date.

I flew directly into the capital, Lhasa, a city once completely isolated from the rest of the world, but currently being exploited and growing at a disturbing rate. Despite suffering some minor altitude sickness upon arrival, I immediately checked into a hotel in the Tibetan core of the city, the Barkhor Square, and went to visit the Jokhang Temple, the spiritual heart of the Tibetan world. Hundreds of pilgrims, many of them having just walked across mountain passes for months, fell before the entrance to the temple, doing repeated prostrations. Even young children mimicked their parent’s actions in a very cute display of religious devotion. I went right to the front of the group, sitting amongst them and trying to get a feel for their passion. Elders smiled at me in a manner that was heartwarming, children approached me with water guns, and a family of Tibetan nomads poured me multiple cups of (disgusting) butter tea.

Tibetan devotional practice includes circumambulation, a clockwise meditational circuit around important religious sites. Streams of hundreds of pilgrims circulate constantly through the inner periphery of the Johkhang temple, lighting yak butter candles and incense in the various rooms. As a traveler you are not expected to join in the procession, which takes a good half an hour to complete because it is so packed, but to do so is a very intense experience. There is also a pathway around the outside of the temple, lined with shops and stalls, where a constant flow of pilgrims circulate humming mantras, spinning prayer wheels, and some of them touching their forehead to the ground with every step. One night I was walking the circuit, when suddenly I observed a spontaneous gathering of people around a Tibetan man chanting a stunningly beautiful traditional song, possibly political in nature and outlawed. In his voice I felt immense sadness and passion, and for a few moments I felt bound to the other observers. Then it finished as quickly as it had begun and the group dispersed, since any sort of demonstration in the Barkhor (which is full of cameras and undercover Chinese military) is immediately quelled. I was moved to tears by the experience.

In a second overpowering experience, I visited a blind orphanage near the Barkhor after being invited by a traveling journalist who was there to document the handover of a large donation of money from Hong Kong. The children spoke with me and touched my arms and face, a way of ‘seeing’ me. They showed me their classrooms and computers with blank screens and voice commands. I didn’t stay very long, but long enough to experience an overwhelming effect on the depths of my soul, in the context of a surreal journey to one of the most mystical places on earth.

5. Prayer Protest in the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel



Perhaps the most contested square kilometer in the world, the Old City is to Christians the place where Jesus walked the Via Dolorasa to his crucifixion, for Jews it is the site of the sacred Wailing Wall, the only remaining portion of the ancient Second Temple of Jerusalem, and for Muslims it is the seat of the Dome of the Rock, where Mohammad is thought to have ascended to heaven with the Angel Gabriel. I did not feel entirely comfortable in this unstable and unbelievably controversial little walled city, but to peer from the rooftop of my hotel at night over one of the most diverse and important religious skylines in the world was an otherworldly experience. In the daytime I wandered the ancient streets, and I also took the time to journey from the Muslim quarter north of the city to Bethlehem in the highly unstable and impoverished West Bank, which involved crossing through the controversial wall that is being built around Palestinian communities in order to cut them off from one another and from the outside world; a wall that is regarded by most of the world as a violation of international law and akin to South African style apartheid. The portion of wall that I saw was completely covered in graffiti; mostly desperate pleas for hope and peace.

Back in the Old City from my hotel window near the Damascus Gate, the entrance to the Muslim Quarter, I observed a silent protest take place. Recently an Israeli soldier had been kidnapped (a major event in the lead up to a massive series of attacks on neighboring Lebanon), and now in retribution the Israeli authorities had been cutting off power to sections of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as restricting movement for Muslims in and out of the Old City, where many of them lived or wanted to worship. It was time for prayer and so a mob of Muslims took over the street to prostrate themselves as a dozen or so Israeli officers pointed guns at them. I was blown away by the experience, but I also noticed that to the local people around me, they barely looked twice because this was just another everyday experience for them.

6. The Sikh Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab, India



The Golden Temple is the most spectacular religious complex that I have ever visited. It offers free vegetarian meals to the masses 24 hours a day (this is India; we are talking like tens of thousands of people fed every day), free beds for international pilgrims, the constant sound of traditional music and chanting from the Sikh Holy Book over loudspeakers, an ultra-serene marble causeway built around a large calm bed of water, at the center of which lies the glimmering temple itself, clad entirely in gold leaf, and accessed by a floating bridge. The temple is the focal point of the Sikh faith, a religion that reformed and adopted aspects of Islam and devotional Hinduism, with an emphasis on the equality of humans, universality of god, and interesting practices like the communal vegetarian feast.

I spent an entire day and night inside the complex. Before you enter, you check your shoes in, and then cross a small stream of water as a form of purification, and simply to clean your filthy feet (this is India after all…). Here you enter a sort of palace gate and descent down on the sacred pool. The marble causeway floor gets very hot during the daytime, but Sikh guards dump buckets of cool water on it to make it more bearable. The guards might appear intimidating with their large daggers tied to their waistbands, but throughout my visit I was greeted and welcomed by them, asking me to enjoy my visit and feel comfortable. I met an Indian boy and he gave me a tour of the complex, the most interesting part of which was the enormous kitchen, where hoards of volunteers cooked massive cauldrons of dhal and patted chapattis over open flames. Out in a courtyard hundreds of people chopped garlic and cleaned dishes. At night I was given a bed in a dorm room, admittedly a little dirty, but probably more comfortable than the marble floor outside where hundreds of Indian families lied huddled together on mats placed out on the floor. The devotional hymns played all night, with the golden temple reflecting under the moonlight on the sacred pool water. For more on my most recent visit to the temple, see here: http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/India/Punjab/Amritsar/blog-457473.html

7. Sleeping on a Muslim Family’s Houseboat, Kashmir, Northern India



Kashmir is a highly disputed region bordering Pakistan in northern India, and probably the most ‘unsafe’ place I have ever roamed into. Culturally it is more Central Asian than Indian, and the people are mostly Muslim. I arrived on a night train from Punjab state to Jammu, and exited to the oddest scene in India: no people. No stalls, no rickshaws, no beggars. A solitary army vehicle passed by. I wondered what I had gotten myself into…I eventually found the area of the city to catch rides north to Srinagar, capital of Kashmir and once a very popular hangout on the hippy trail across Asia. The long journey up was stunningly beautiful, and also stunningly dangerous, with many cliff-side turns and overturned vehicles visible on the valley floor far below. The road was also studded with huge propaganda signs declaring local pride for Indian ownership of the disputed region. We passed many military vehicles, tanks, and army convoys en route, and I had the opportunity to share my seat with some very young soldiers in the Indian army who were very keen to exchange e-mail addresses with me and stay in touch in the future.

Upon arrival my guidebook was so out of date that it was useless; apparently the authors didn’t visit the region this time because it was deemed unsafe for travel. I couldn’t find a cheap hotel and ended up meeting a young man on the street who let me stay in an extra room in his house. A 10-year-old boy in the family was ‘assigned’ to accompany me when I left the house. He told me how 6 months earlier a bomb had landed on his school and he saw many of his classmates die. The next day the family arranged for me to stay on a houseboat on Dal Lake, once a very popular thing for backpackers to do. On the houseboat I relaxed and read books for several days, and mostly just hung out with the family. I spent a lot of time with a boy named Imran, who really enjoyed my music and I let him keep some of my CDs. I enjoyed simple meals, and fragrant fresh cardamom and cinnamon stick tea. The family was devoutly Muslim, and their household was overflowing with love, tranquility and nurturing. I observed a bearded father rocking his infant daughter to sleep, whispering into her ear, hoping to provoke a first word. I felt so far away from home but so close to this family, a family so different but so similar to my own; a family like so many in the world that just want to live their lives peacefully and have nothing to do with the violence that surrounds them.

8. Hike along the Great Wall, China



Most people visit the Great Wall at the highly touristy and reconstructed section of Badaling just out of the Beijing city limits. I however chose to venture further, to a remote section three hours north-east of the city where you can actually hike for four hours along a more genuine portion of the wall, left in it’s raw and crumbling state of decay. It was winter time and the air was icy cold upon arrival, but there was not a single other tourist to be seen for the duration of the walk, and the views were everything that a person could hope for when visiting one of the most famous and incredible monuments in the world, with uninterrupted views of the wall snaking through valleys and scaling the sides of mountains as far to the horizon as the eye could see. We passed dozens of watchtowers, steep vertical sections where the wall was like gravel below your feet, and finally, we emerged to an eerie scene before the terminal village of Simatai: a zipline that for 2$ could drop you from the edge of the Wall and across a small lake, hundreds of meters below, to a small village, saving you the final hour long descent.

9. The Taj Mahal, Agra, India



The Taj Mahal was as exquisite and stunning as you could imagine. I spent an entire afternoon and evening there, much more time than I normally allot myself at a famous monument or touristy site. But what kept me there was the opportunity to interact with Indian people, many of whom had traveled down from Delhi or other parts of India. In a country where hassle on the street can be really aggressive and overwhelming, it was a great relief to chat with Indian people who were also in sightseeing mode, relaxed and in a state of pride given their location at the most beautiful and famous landmark in their country. I spoke with academics, upper class families eager to get their shy children to interact with a foreigner, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, elders, and boys my age. I admired the building from every possible angle, and then I retired to my hotel in an adjacent neighborhood, where from the empty rooftop restaurant I could admire the uninterrupted view over the housetops to the Taj Mahal with a cold Kingfisher beer at sunset.

10. Awakening experience, somewhere in the mountains, South Island, New Zealand



When I was 19 years old I left North America for the first time on a six month adventure, the first two and half months of which were in the awesome island nation of New Zealand, a land of stark contrasts and immense natural beauty, where mountains rise directly from the sea and glaciers, volcanoes, hot springs and beaches coexist like close neighbors. It is a small country, and I hitchhiked from the tip of the North Island to the tip of the South Island. The latter is known particularly for its lack of people and abundance of natural beauty. I spent weeks of my trip hiking in the mountains. On one hike in particular, I ascended from a small glacier town to a hot springs located high in a mountainous valley. At night you could lie out in the hot water, observing the stars above and listening to the sounds of rocks crumbling down the valley walls around you. The next day I ascended higher yet, to a valley completely devoid of habitation and people. I sat on a large stone, overlooking an immense plateau surrounded in all directions by grand peaks, and I had an unexpected moment of personal realization. It came at a time in my life where I was still very young, but full of passion, and with my whole life before me. This was the first time I had truly been alone; away from my parents, my country, and sitting here face to face with a panorama of sheer and unadulterated natural elegance. I was already so free and prone to existential leanings, at a time in my life when I was still in need of guidance or direction. Many ideas manifested before me, and I made a pact with myself and the world to further explore these feelings and to continue to do so through travel, particularly to beautiful places like the one before me. In particular I solidified an already latent desire to visit the Himalaya, a dream which took me about 5 years to execute.

11. Ascent to Everest Base Camps, Tibet and Nepal



I first approached Mt. Everest on the Tibetan side, where you virtually drive right up to the base of the mountain, at a dangerously high altitude where the air is thin and every step takes most of your energy. The camp is quite spread out and before even arriving you are accosted by poor Tibetans hoping to host travelers for the night in their yak skin tents. You are provided with a bed on the bench that lines the wall of the tent, huge blankets, a simple menu including beers that don’t even need to be refrigerated because it is so cold outside, and a central stove to keep warm. I even ascended past base camp a few hundred meters closer to the Everest massif itself, before turning back due to the feeling that my head might explode…
Weeks later I again approached the same mountain but from the Nepal side, where you need to first take an exhilarating small plane ride into the Himalaya, and then trek for 8-10 days, passing Sherpa villages, Buddhist monasteries and some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the world in order to approach base camp. Here you cannot stay in the base camp proper but in a nearby guesthouse, the highest permanent human habitation in the world. At this altitude one’s body and mind function at a slower pace, giving you a vague sense of feeling dumb and physically very uncomfortable. Before daybreak I woke and scaled an adjacent peak for a view of sunrise over the highest mountain in the world.

12. Sleeping in the Jungle, Palenque, Mexico



Chiapas, southern Mexico was the site of the Zapatista Revolution, a pivotal struggle that many regard as the beginning of an organized post-modern and unified global struggle against neo-liberalism and oppression of indigenous people. It is also home to the spectacular Mayan ruins of Palenque, buried deep in the jungle. When I visited the ruins I stayed at a small hotel in the heart of the jungle. My room had a large screen window, which opened to a small pond and dense bush. After dark I sat by the window and listened to the overwhelmingly diverse and blaring sounds of the jungle. Many creatures came to the pond in the night, but I could only hear, not see them. I closed my eyes and absorbed the multitude of sounds, cacophonous yet somehow unified, some of them lonesome, some in groups, some rising, some falling, some crushing the leaves as they walked, others slithering, and yet others gurgling. So many strange and unidentifiable sounds save for the grandest of them all; the booming barks of packs of howler monkeys, rising in unison and overpowering the entire symphony of auditory utterances of this jungle bursting with life.

13. Diving the Great Barrier Reef, Australia



To date I have logged over 20 dives in some of the great diving regions of the world: Indonesia, Thailand, Belize, and the Red Sea in Egypt. However, nothing has yet compared to my first series of dives on the largest living entity on the planet, the Great Barrier Reef. I stayed aboard a ship for 2 days and we did multiple dives, including a night dive with sharks. I saw manta rays, pet an enormous Napoleon Wrasse that was known to hang around the ship and interact with divers, swam with a school of over a hundred fish each half the size of myself, and in a most unusual experience I observed an extremely rare clear shellfish which contains a sort of electrical current not that dissimilar in appearance to the one you can see inside of a light bulb.

14. Family of Buddhas, Bangladesh



At the tail end of a long venture through the Middle East and South Asia, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, lonely, and homesick. I had a very rough arrival in Dhaka, where I got lost in the chaotic sea of cycle rickshaws. Finally out of the city, I experienced the opposite ended of the spectrum: a peaceful boat journey in Sundarbans National Park, in the middle of nowhere. For days I sat of the roof of the boat, contemplating the scenery and chatting with Bangladeshi families.

My loneliness did not subside, however. A Bangladeshi woman, mother of 2 and healer, could read my feelings. She guided me through a meditation. Subsequently, I became very close with her two daughters, Saadia and Saeema. They are young teens but mentally and spiritually they were wise. The whole family draws me in, and I feel like I am with my own family and two sisters. Under their influence, I am forced to deal with some issues from my past; complexes or guilt, jealousy, and regret. Saying goodbye is the hardest, and the emotions developed do not subside for a long time. For more, see here: http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Bangladesh/Dhaka/Dhaka/blog-478133.html

15. Horse Trek into Tribal Region, Ethiopia



My decision to visit Ethiopia was spontaneous, and I picked up a cheap flight from Cairo. I arrived unprepared, with no itinerary, and not even a travel book or map to get around. It took me a few days in the capital to get organized and also adjust to some massive culture shock, having arrived in one of the most impoverished nations in the world. I had always been drawn by Ethiopia, due to it’s curious cuisine, ancient Christian history, influence on Rastafarian spirituality (Rastas believe that Haile Selassi, a modern Ethiopian monarch, was a divine incarnation of biblical descent), and memories of an Ethiopian refugee that my grandparents once hosted in Canada.

About half of my stay in Ethiopia was dedicated to a horse trek in Bale National Park, a forested region inhabited by the Muslim Oromo tribe. Yusuf, a member of this tribe and my guide for the trek, was the same age as me, and for the following days I spent all of my time in his company, conversing about the dramatic differences between our lives, countries, and cultures. We trekked through surreal landscapes, visited the huts of various tribes, and cooked food that my guide gathered from the outdoors or purchased from families. We also had the awesome opportunity to observe wild baboons. Overall, it was an incredibly rare and unique experience.

16. Jumping Cat Monastery, Inle Lake, Burma



Not necessarily an emotional experience, but after observing a group of monks who have trained housecats to jump through hoops, at a monastery floating in the middle of a beautiful lake surrounded by tribal villages and floating markets, how can I not put it on my list?

17. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala



The panorama that opened before us as we descended from the mountains to lake Atitlan was breathtaking. It’s navy blue waters are flanked by three enormous volcanoes, its shores are dotted with Mayan communities where natives speak traditional Mayan dialects and not Spanish, and a network of tiny motorboats ply the lake’s waters between villages. My first stop on the lake was a splurge, the exquisite Casa del Mundo Hotel, where for 30$ you can get a beautiful little log cabin built into the side of a hill, with a fantastic view across the lake to volcanoes from your bedroom window. During the day I suntanned, jumped off small cliffs into the lake, and wandered to nearby Mayan villages. At night they cooked a communal feast and I drank wine all night with other guests.

Next I moved on to San Marcos La Laguna, a village that has gained a powerful new age following, and is a sort of Mecca for hippies and spiritual travelers, with organic cafes, crisscrossing paths through the forest between establishments, as well as yoga retreats and other spiritual courses. I myself took a few yoga classes at a quirky retreat called Las Piramides, where the meditation room was a huge wooden pyramid accessed through an underground tunnel. However, I spent most of my time relaxing on my private rooftop patio overlooking the lake. The hotel itself was built into the side of the hill and the wall of my shower actually consisted of the hill’s natural stone. One day I also journeyed from the lake up to the mountain village of Solola for the weekly market, where hoards of Mayan villagers dressed in ultra colorful traditional clothing congregate for commerce and trade. Overall, the Atitlan region was magically picturesque and incredibly conducive to a peaceful state of being.

18. The unexpected, Iraq



Abandon all of your ideas about Iraq. This is the 'New Iraq'; the semi-autonomous region in the north called Kurdistan. After one of the easiest border crossings I have ever made, which was free and included a cup of tea, I encountered a rapidly modernizing, developing, safe, and extremely friendly pocket of the Middle East. The Kurdish people have been to hell and back, Iraqi Kurdistan is looking up and visitors are welcome. I was invited into homes, offered meals, and in the chance that I met anybody who spoke English, interesting conversation. I didn't meet or see a single other traveler though, which made it all the more adventurous. I can also report that emo hairstyles are also catching on in the oldest living city in the world. For more, see here: http://www.travelblog.org/Middle-East/Iraq/North/Arbil/blog-447539.html

19. Yoga at Rishikesh, India



Rishikesh is the yoga capital of the world. It was made famous in the west when in the 70’s the Beatles spent some time there in an ashram, a sort of spiritual retreat. The city is built around the bank of the Ganges, an incredibly sacred river, but closer upstream to the source in the Himalayas than other holy cities like Varanasi, where people go to bathe or to die and be cremated in the stream, so that at Rishikesh the water is much cleaner and more inviting for a cleansing plunge, which I had been hesitant to do at Varanasi for fear of contracting disease. Meat and alcohol are banned in Rishikesh, though mobs of Hindu sadhus, wandering ascetics who have abandoned all material things, congregate on the streets and the banks of the Ganges to smoke hashish, discuss philosophy, meditate, and do yoga.

Everything in the city revolves around yoga, and opportunities for instruction abound. I spent a week in the city, taking part in three different intensive yoga classes simultaneously, each in a different style. During my stay I also took the time to visit Tashi, a young Tibetan refugee who I had corresponded with and assisted financially for some time. I met her in the company of her aunt, and when the aunt and I left, Tashi was crying and the experience was very emotional for all of us. At the tail end of my stay in Rishikesh I came down with the worst case of food poisoning in my life, and I was bound to my room for 48 hours, with a complete inability to absorb food or even water, and all of this amidst a brutal heat wave where temperatures soared to just under 50 degrees. On the final day I recovered and still made my looming flight home from New Delhi. This was India’s final defeat on me, completing a month long journey that involved getting robbed, sorting out a massive visa problem in New Delhi, and dealing with more harassment and hassle than I ever thought possible. However, as you may have noticed, India holds more entries than any other country on my humble list, and more so than any other place in the world it begs me to return, which I will do in approximately 6 months time.

20. Staying with local family, Northern Pakistan



On the northwest frontier of Pakistan, tensions are high and bombs are going off almost daily. My flight into Peshawar is rerouted to Islamabad, and instead I head up into the high mountains on the Karakoram Highway to China. In the back of a pickup truck/bus, a 16-year-old girl (the first female I have spoken to in the country) invites to her family home in the tiny village of Altit, suspended on the edge of a high valley. We disembark and walk for 30 minutes down a small mountain road littered with autumn-colored leaves. Her family home is like all the others in the village, small mud-brick dwellings with a woodfire stove at the center and attached bedrooms (one for the boys of the family, and one for the girls).

At night we sit around the stove, where the women press flat chapatis. The children in the family sit cross-legged with their backs to the walls, working on their homework and giggling amongst themselves. The heat from the stove keeps us all warm. The farther has cooked ibex, a rare high mountain animal that he hunts, a dinner prepared especially for me. I do not tell him that I am vegetarian and force the meal down. The next morning everybody goes off to school and work, and I move on to my next hotel which, in comparison, is bland, lifeless, and freezing. I will never forget evening spent with that family. For more, see here:
http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Pakistan/Northern-Areas/Karimabad/blog-456707.html

21. Anticipation, travel planning, getting there, and most importantly, coming back home to the ones you love



For more of my photos, or to buy my book, please visit www.nickkembel.com






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14th March 2009

National Geographic
You should either be taking photos for them, or writing for them. Yet another amazing entry from one amazing dude.
28th October 2009

Check this out. http://www.travelblog.org/Forum/Threads/21106-1.html
12th November 2009

Well done....
You, young man, certainly have a future in writing!!! My fingers and toes are crossed we will continue to hear from you. Would feel deprived if your emotional travel experiences end with just 17. Work on the next sequel please. Btw, I like the way you posted the last photo and a simple heading without any text. Speaks volumes!
14th November 2010

Can't wait
Nick, Your book should do very well and I look forward to buying it. Happy travels and please keep publishing blogs for us to read. MJ

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