This summer is the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan "Liberation" and the 3rd anniversary of the 2008 uprisings in Tibet. To forestall more unrest, the Chinese have closed Tibet to tourists from June 25 until at least the beginning of August, perhaps later.
Fortunately, a wonderful alternative exists for travelers. High in the snowcapped Indian Himalayas lies Ladakh, often called "Little Tibet." Ladakh boasts a culture and ecosystems similar to those of the neighboring Tibetan Autonomous Republic, as well as thriving Buddhist traditions and intact monasteries.
Summer is a time of festivals in Ladakh, including the Hemis and Dak Thok festivals celebrating the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche). To experience these colorful celebrations, join us on our 'Festivals, Monasteries, People, and Waters' or 'Taste of Ladakh' trips. Spend time talking with the Ladakhis, get a sense of the vibrancy and exuberance of their monastic life, as well as their flourishing arts and culture, and gain an appreciation for the harsh life on the "top of the world" across the Himalayas.
Ladakh also played a pivotal role in preserving Tibetan Buddhism. When the 9th-century king Langdarma tried to wipe out Buddhism in Tibet, the religion survived in the west in what is now Ladakh. From there it later spread back into Tibet.
Visiting Ladakh now and Tibet after it reopens is a wonderful way to understand the similarities and contrasts of life in these two worlds.
Traveling with a family or multigenerational group involves a lot of coordination. Here are some tips for making the experience as smooth and easy as possible.
1. Lock in rates by booking a year in advance. Prices for hotel rooms and other services frequently rise from year to year, but by reserving early you can avoid many of the rate increases - sometimes we'll be able to negotiate lower 2011 rates even if you're not traveling until 2012.
2. Remember that larger groups need more rooms, meals, airline seats, and other spaces. The further in advance you can book, the more likely it is you'll get what you want.
3. To keep hotel costs down for your group, consider booking triple and quad hotel rooms instead of singles and doubles.
4. Be flexible with your travel plans. Often shifting your arrival and departure dates by as little as a few days can get you significant discounts.
5. Remember that not everyone will want to do the same thing at all times, so choose itineraries that offer flexibility for different interests, such as lodge stays, adventure cruises, and other programs that include a wide range of activities.
Beth and Stu Finklestein took advantage of a school break to bring their daughter Julia and son Sam on a culture-filled Southeast Asia exploration.
Curiosity about the world and an openness to other cultures are among the greatest gifts you can give your children or grandchildren. What better way to do so than through travel? Family vacations are no longer just about camping trips, amusement parks, and beach resorts. These days families are seeking out special experiences in a wide range of destinations. Whether it's trekking, a wildlife safari, or cultural exploration, travel is a great way for extended families to spend quality time together while creating memories to last a lifetime.
At Myths and Mountains we welcome the opportunity to work with families and other groups. Some of our itineraries are specifically designed for multigenerational appeal, such as our "Kids and the Equator" program in Ecuador. We're also happy to customize itineraries to meet the needs of family groups - we've recently arranged everything from family reunions to the Galapagos to wildlife safaris in Africa to family gatherings at an Indian tea estate. No matter what your needs, we'll work with you to create the experiences that fits your family's ages and interests.
Advance planning is essential for larger groups. Book early to enable us to secure the hotel rooms and other reservations you need, particularly if you are traveling during busy periods such as school breaks.
Bob Weissman invited 31 of his nearest and dearest to join him on a holiday aboard the LEGEND ship in the Galapagos.
Every year our Myths and Mountains staff spend time traveling in our destinations, scouting hotels, researching new places to visit, and ensuring that our suppliers continue to maintain the high standards our travelers expect from us. Our operations coordinator, Julie Ganski, recently returned from her first Myths and Mountains site inspection trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos. She came home filled with enthusiasm for these amazing destinations. Here are some excerpts from her field reports:
Arriving at Cafe Cultura, our hotel in Quito, was mystical. It was drizzling rain, green and lush like entering a secret garden laden with a foggy mist. The room was gorgeous and enchanting, with fresh roses everywhere. From Quito we traveled north to the Equator and then on to Otavalo. The best thing about the journey was the surprises our guide showed us along the way. We stopped to sample chirimoya - an incredibly sweet fruit unlike anything I'd ever tasted - from a roadside vendor and hand-rolled pastries at the best bizcocho place in Ecuador. We also visited Huarmi Maki, a women's center in Peguche. It was really interesting to learn about the traditional food preparation, dress, and methods for weaving sheep and alpaca wool without machines. Upon arrival at the beautiful Hacienda Cusín, we enjoyed an afternoon horseback riding adventure in the lush green Andes.
Money often presents one of the biggest challenges in preparing for an international trip. Will your credit card work overseas? Can you use your ATM card? Should you carry lots of cash? It's always best to be prepared, so that you don't find yourself in a foreign country without the financial resources you need. You can count on Myths and Mountains to make sure you have all the information you need before you go.
In Bhutan and other Asian countries, things operate very differently than in North America. Just because the ATM in your bank at home works, does not mean that the ATM in Bhutan will accept your card. In fact, it won't. Just because you have a platinum American Express Card does not mean that the antique store in Thimphu will allow you to buy that beautiful basket. In fact, it won't. Bhutan will sometimes accept Visa, but no other credit cards, and travelers cannot use local ATMs. Myanmar does not accept any credit cards and has no ATMs at all. In other countries such as Nepal sometimes the ATM works - but invariably, when you need it most, it doesn't!
For countries such as these, the best thing to do is to bring dollars in cash and change them into the local currency. If you are nervous about carrying a lot of money, break it into two packets and put them in separate parts of your travel gear. Then hope you remember where you put everything!