Tag Archive | "Nepal"

The Interview: Lisa Kumari Conlon of Above the Clouds

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Lisa Kumari Conlon of Above the Clouds

Interview by Everett Potter

I met Steve Conlon of Above the Clouds years ago. He was a pioneer in the field of adventure travel, taking people on extended treks in the Himalayas. Now his daughter, Lisa Kumari Conlon, is literally following in her father’s footsteps. She has trekked alongside him in the Himalayas and now she’s the new generation at the helm of Above the Clouds. Lisa graduated from the University of Vermont in 2007 and completed her MBA this year from Champlain College, all the while traveling, trekking, exploring and adventuring. I met her in Manhattan earlier this year.

EP)  You’re the second generation of a family business. What was it like growing up in one of the first families of adventure travel?

Growing up the way I did – with an American father and a Nepali mother – and traveling so much, shaped who I am.  A lot of my childhood memories are in airports, other countries, trekking, totally different cultures and traveling in general.  It forced me to have a very broad-spectrum acceptance of what “normal” really is.  People eat differently, dress differently, families live differently, people have more or fewer opportunities, sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t – and all of that is okay. Traveling to places both old and new has enabled me to keep learning and growing.

My early exposure to places like Nepal also helped me to deal with the everyday ups and downs of life with a calm center, realizing that what might seem like a big problem to people here really isn’t such a big deal when put in perspective. I feel privileged to have had that early exposure to the world, and excited to now be in a position to share that knowledge and love of travel with fellow adventurers.

But, far and away the biggest impact of growing up traveling as much as I did is that I seem to have either inherited or grew into a pair of very itchy feet – I’m always looking for the next great trip!

Lisa Kumari Conlon on Viedma Glacier in Patagonia

EP) You become an adventurous traveler as a kid, I’m guessing?

From the perspective of any of my peers growing up, my life certainly appeared adventurous, but to me it was just normal.  From the time before I was two years old we would take trips from our home in New England to my grandparent’s home in Nepal. It entailed a drive to the airport, a flight through Europe and onto India, a lay over (a few in fact), a flight to Kathmandu, another flight to Biratnigar, a 7-hour bus ride and a hike to get to the house – and to be honest it all seemed rather normal to me. That said, my parents always made sure we took some “traditional” vacations, like regular summer vacations to the Maine coast and a trip through the Rockies; but, trekking the Himalaya and Andes, or rafting in the Yukon were much more the norm for us.

One way that my childhood shaped and prepared me to be very adventurous is in terms of food. I love new foods and I’ll try pretty much anything! My grandmother in Nepal cooked dinner over a wood fire from ingredients she grew, cultivated and harvested and I’ve still never tasted anything better.  It taught me to be open to trying new things.

EP)  How would you define the essence of an Above the Clouds trip — how does it differ from what your competitors offer?

When you truly understand the essence of a place, from an insider’s perspective, and have a sense of how it looks and feels to the first time visitor as well, you’re ideally positioned to design trips that open the door to that place in a way that’s different from the cookie cutter stuff that you see everywhere.

For example, in the Mustang region of Nepal, our trips are guided by the nephew of the king of Mustang, providing our groups with entrée to places and homes (including the Royal Palace) unavailable to those on other trips.  Every other trip but ours walks up to Lo Manthang, the capital, then turns around and walks back out to the airstrip at Jomsom.

In addition to retracing your steps on the way out, and walking into the wind, which is heavy with sand, you’re then dealing with the very real possibility of your flight out of Jomsom being canceled, which I understand you have first hand experience with.  After working so hard to attain the state of mind that you get at the end of a long trek, to have it wash through your fingers due to the stress caused by worry that you’ll miss your flight home, is, in our opinion, unacceptable.  So we chopper all our groups out from Lo Manthang, saving people those problems as well as an extra week of their precious time.  And seeing the route you spent a week hiking along from an eagle’s perspective is an unforgettable cherry on the cake of a great adventure.

Trekkers crossing Cho La Khumbu, Nepal. Photo by Steve Conlon

EP)  Why should someone choose an Above the Clouds trip over that of another operator?

We realize that our trips aren’t for everyone.  If someone is looking to check off destinations on their bucket list, we might not be the ideal company for them.  If someone is looking to dig beneath the surface of the destination, and get their hands dirty, figuratively speaking, we’re a good fit for that kind of traveler. 

EP)  Do you attract recreational trekkers, hard core types, or those who seek cultural immersion? Or all of the above?

It’s really hard to pigeonhole our travelers, especially demographically.  There seems to be a psychographic profile to our travelers, not easily defined, but one characteristic would be the notion that education didn’t stop when you picked up your diploma, and pushing your boundaries is the only way to keep growing and the best way to feel fully alive.  And while one of those boundaries in our business is certainly physical, the more interesting and rewarding areas are cultural, emotional, mental, and even spiritual.

When I started this job my father explained to me how we are “Dream Merchants”.  People take their dreams very seriously and it is our job to take them just as seriously. Listen to what people dream of and what they believe achieving that dream will do; believe in it and find a way to help them experience what they didn’t know was possible.  Since then I’ve always thought that what all our clients have in common is that they are the Dreamers of our day.  We believe that there are parts of the world that touch your soul, that have the capacity to change you – our clients believe what we believe, and it’s our job to share some of the magic that has kept us connected to these parts of the world.

EP)  Tell me about someplace that you go as a company, a place where you’d gladly drop everything and go this afternoon for an extended stay?

Such a hard question! It changes daily to be honest. In general, I’m only home for about 2 weeks from any given trip before I begin to plan my next trip and I almost always measure my life by the next upcoming trip.  It’s just the way I am.

So today, if I could pick up and go for a few months I’d be off to Bhutan.  As the world has become smaller and more homogenized, Bhutan has masterfully walked the tightrope between holding on to its traditions and making its peace with the outside world.  Being there helps me to stay grounded and centered, and provides me with inspiration and lessons for maintaining my own center when I have to return to my desk and the world back home in Vermont.

Trekkers approaching Jaljale Himal backdropped by Kangchenjunga, eastern Nepal. Photo by Steve Conlon

EP)  What destinations are new for Above the Clouds this year?

We ran a small, exploratory group to Kangchenjunga Base Camp in northern Sikkim in 2010 with Steve (my father) and Jamling Tenzing,  Based on that, we’re running our first regular trek there this November, with both of them leading it again.  According to Jamling, fewer than 100 trekkers have been on that trail since the Indian government opened it a few years ago.  There are precious few places like that left on the planet, but we continue to search them out, and this one’s a real treasure.

EP)  Where are you scouting for future trips?

We are in the process of scouting some trips in Myanmar, which is becoming more open now. We’re extremely interested in exploring the northwest corner of the country especially, which has some really rarely traveled villages and really remote areas to trek. I’m beyond excited about it!

Trekkers (center) work their way up the ledge trail above Tsaile, Mustang,Nepal. Photo by Steve Conlon

EP)  Do you think adventure travel is becoming less adventurous and more focused on creature comforts?

Adventure travel most certainly has changed, but it has done so in tandem with the global changes that have been going on, especially in the last decade or two. As the world gets smaller and more interconnected there will inevitably be changes; just think about what a miracle it was that Hillary and Tenzing made it to the top of Everest 50 years ago this May – and then compare that to what climbing the world’s tallest mountain today entails: $50K permit, fixed ropes, set ladders, insurance, full staff, other folks carrying your gear etc…

One big change we’ve noticed is because people today have less time than ever before, so trips are shorter, requiring more efficient travel planning, often requiring the use of things like helicopters to minimize the trip length.  Another big change we’ve noticed is the preference for private trips over group trips, again a sign of changing cultural values in today’s world.

EP) With all of your travels, where do you find your center of gravity?

I’m fortunate to live in the beautiful and laid-back state of Vermont.  Still, work can be hectic and stressful at times, so I grab my climbing shoes, trekking boots and some good friends and head out into the Green Mountains, which are right outside my front door.

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Slideshow: Above the Clouds with Steve Conlon

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Above the Clouds
Above the Clouds

Steve Conlon founded Above the Clouds 30 years ago, in the early days of adventure travel. Nepal is where he made his mark. Here are some of his favorite shots in a lifetime of adventure. In this photo, trekkers in eastern Nepal, approaching Jaljale Himal, with Kangchenjunga in background.

Yaks beneath Manaslu, central Nepal.

Yakherder huts on Jaljale Himal, dwarfed by Kangchenjunga, eastern Nepal.

Himalchuli, Nepal

Trekkers crossing Cho La, Khumbu, Nepal.

Trekkers at Kangchenjunga Base Camp, Sikkim, India.

Trekkers approach well-camouflaged Buddhist chortens, Dhakmar, Mustang, Nepal.

Trekkers (lower left) dwarfed by Kangchenjunga (upper far left) and other peaks of Sikkim.

Slide 9
Slide 9

Trekker entranced by The Towers, Torres Del Paine, Chile

Slide 10
Slide 10

Trekkers (center) work their way up the ledge trail above Tsaile, Mustang, Nepal.

36 Hours in Nepal

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Jomsom Airport, with the 23,000 foot Niligiri in background

By Everett Potter

On a recent Sunday morning, I arose at 4:45 am in the dusty village of Jomsom, Nepal which sits on the northern edge of the Annapurna range at about 9,000 feet. I had spent nearly three weeks traveling around Nepal with Dr. Antonia Neubauer, founder of the adventure travel company, Myths & Mountains. More important, Dr. Neubauer also founded READ (Rural Education and Development), a stellar organization that has built libraries throughout Nepal, India and Bhutan. I had seen half a dozen of these libraries in the Nepalese countryside, testaments to community work, willpower and planning in a country where such things are in short supply.

But now it was time to go home.

I intended to make the 20 minute flight from Jomsom to Pokhara and then fly from Pokhara to Kathmandu. I would spend the night in Kathmandu, and then fly the next day to Seoul, overnight, and then continue on to New York via Korean Air the next day. A long trip, yes, but there are no shortcuts, especially in Nepal.

 

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The flight into Jomsom

Three days earlier, I had taken the flight into Jomsom. It was the best flight of my life, a 20 minute thrill ride right through a pass in the Himalayas, close enough to the Annapurna range (26,000 plus foot peaks) that it seems as if  you’re in an Imax movie (with only slightly higher admission).

On this Sunday, I walked to Jomsom airport before 6, with my dusty, dirty luggage, which contained a few souvenirs, including a small piece of yak bone I had found while trekking to Kagbeni. At the airport, I waited in a cement room (amenities limited to matching his and hers pit toilets) behind locked doors along with a few westerners and a large group of chanting Indian pilgrims. They had flown up on a pilgrimage to Muktinath, one of the holiest Hindu shrines, which lies a few hours from here. We waited as the morning stillness gave way to a slight breath of air that shook the bush outside. Four hours later, that bush was bent sideways. By 10 AM in Jomsom, the dust-laden wind is usually blowing 30 miles per hour or better. This day was no exception.

 

Hindu pilgrims from Muktinath awaiting the flight. Photo by Marcus Hanbury-Aggs

 

At 10.01 , after no news or announcements, the police unlocked the doors and told us to go back to our hotels, all flights had been canceled for the day. A storm around the Annapurna range had produced winds that were so strong that the plane from Pokhara had to turn back after a mere eight minutes in the air.

There is a morning flight window into Jomsom of about four hours. Then the wind rises and goes crazy, gusting 50 miles an hour (or better) for the rest of the day and planes can’t land. In fact, it is sometime difficult to walk, and you’re instantly coated with desert dust.  You just drink Everest beer and take anti diarrhea medicine and huddle in a hotel lobby to pass the time between trekking.

Now I was fortunate to be traveling with a smiling Nepali named Lava Thapa, who works for READ. Lava had gone off the day before on a pilgrimage to Muktinath, the holy Hindu shrine, and had filled an empty plastic water bottle with “holy water” to bring home to Kathmandu. He was good companion, an impromptu guide, and invaluable, considering that my Nepali is pretty much limited to “Namaste” and “beer.”

But I was faced with a serious problem. There was no way to make the next day’s flight from Kathmandu to Seoul and then NYC if I had to wait another day in Jomsom. And it turns out you can wait for days in Jomsom for an aircraft to arrive. So Lava and I made a hasty decision. We would get a car and driver to take us to Pokhara, a 10 hour journey by road (it’s a 20 minute flight), a road that had been completed six months earlier.

“Completed” turned out to be wishful thinking. There was much talk of this road in Jomsom, which will eventually bisect the Himalayas and link India and Tibet. All I can say is that at this point, it’s unlikely to be heavily trafficked. On a given day, I saw a dozen vehicles, most of them local, around Jomsom.

Hearing us speak English, a laid back Englishman (an ITV cameraman on holiday from London) named Marcus Hanbury-Aggs and an elderly Dutch couple (he a double for Van Gogh, albeit with both ears) gathered around us and the five of us resolved to pool our resources and travel together.

It was after 11 when we left Jomsom, after negotiating for a four wheel drive vehicle to take us to Ghasa. From there, we would need to negotiate for another vehicle as far as Beni. At Beni, we would need to haggle for a third vehicle, to take us to Pokhara. From Pokhara, it would still be at least six hours to Kathmandu.

 

Off we go, passing optional, but typical. Photo by Marcus Hanbury-Aggs.

 

All of this was predicated on a best-case scenario of actually being able to drive. Flat tires and breakdowns are common in Nepal. But so are roadblocks, which can last hours, days or even a week or more. Most are political in origin, though some are because of workers gripes. These roadblocks effectively shackle the country, a country still in some considerable political turmoil. If you’re dumb enough to try to break through the roadblock or outflank them, the road blockers have been known to drag you from your vehicle and set the car on fire. So making the flight from Kathmandu the next day looked doubtful indeed.

We drove on a road that was a “road” in name only, a tooth-jarring four wheel drive trip where we forded rivers and drove a single track along a cliff side. “Road,” I was discovering, can quickly become a euphemism for body slamming in Nepali.

The edge of the road -- and eternity. Photo by Marcus Hanbury-Aggs.

 

After two hours of this we had to stop at a checkpoint and I was made to buy a trekking permit, a bureaucratic hassle because I was now in the Annapurna conservation area. I wasn’t trekking, I was a passenger. But I was also a foreigner in a place that required a permit. That was 30 minutes of paperwork and extra money in the middle of nowhere, handed to a teenager with a uniform and a badge.

 

The less than inviting Ghasa. Photo by Marcus Hanbury-Aggs.

 

Then the real fun began. The driver took us another mile and then stopped at a shack in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of idling, scoffing teens and beat-up vehicles. This was Ghasa, and here we had to negotiate a new ride for the next leg. The dispatcher was an arrogant young man who took an instant dislike to Lava. He denied us passage on an outdoing bus. Then he demanded a small (local) fortune for the five of us to rent an entire bus.

“Ke garne?” said Lava finally. It’s a Nepalese expression that means, “What to do?” Indeed, what to do when you’re stranded in the middle of the Himalayas? It was a five day trek to Pokhara from here. We were surrounded by towering mountains that vanished into the clouds. This guy had us.

The Kali Gandaki Gorge. Photo by Marcus Hanbury-Aggs.

 

So we ended up hiring a small Indian bus — and spent the next three hours terrified on a single lane “road” that had been carved along the edge of what many claim is the world’s highest gorge, the Kali Gandaki Gorge. At it’s deepest, it’s nearly 27,000 feet from river bed to mountain top, with the waters of the Kali Gandaki River rolling over boulders the size of office buildings. To our west was Dhaulagiri (26,794) while to the east were the Annapurna mountains, dominated by Annapurna I (26,545).  We’re talking rock and dirt “road,” where the speed is zero to eight miles per hour, in a shabby, beaten Indian bus that lurched and shuddered as we eased first one tire and then another over boulders embedded in the loose soil, with a carved cliff face looming over us on one side and a 2,000 to 3,000 plus foot drop on the other, with barely space for one vehicle.

The remarkable Lava, gazing at the edge as we rolled along. Photo by Marcus Hanbury-Aggs.

 

Naturally, since this was Nepal, there was traffic coming the other way on blind curves, including similar buses with people on the roof, hanging on to roof racks, because too many more were jammed inside. Every vehicle was a sea of faces plastered against the windows, usually with Nepali pop music blaring. Our driver was no more than 17 (there are no older drivers in Nepal, it seems; no need to wonder why). It was the kind of experience that appears buried in back pages of the International Herald Tribune, the proverbial Asian bus doing a belly flop into a gorge. I was too stressed out to actually enjoy the staggering scenery. It was truly staggering, but mortality seemed like a more pressing issue.

 

We came upon work crews  — men with shovels, others sitting on the ground with small hammers, painstakingly breaking larger rocks into smaller stones. In other places, large boulders sat like sentinels beside the road, ample evidence of a recent rockfall or  slide. Some were larger than the bus.

 

My food consumption that day had consisted of a granola bar and two well chewed Immodium D. I reached out for my water bottle, which I had been sipping to ration water. I saw two bottles and grabbed the one that I thought was mine as we were thrown about the inside of the bus. I unscrewed the cap and was about to drink when Lava said, “No, no. That is mine.”

He was adamant.

 

“I thought it was mine,” I said, with some irritation. I was parched, dehydrated actually. What did it matter?

 

“No, no, it is mine, that is the holy water from Muktinath.”

 

I had been a milli-second from drinking Lava’s “holy water,” in a country where the favorite plumbing pastime is to build outhouses next to the riverbanks, in water in which cattle and donkeys frolic. For the rest of my days, this will be a standing definition of “good karma.”

 

The author, in blue shirt, shaken, not stirred, in Beni. Photo by Marcus Hanbury-Aggs

 

We crawled along, tipping and lurching for hours, on the edge of this gorge. After what seemed liked days, we came to Beni, a flyblown place crawling with mules, children and battered vehicles, a market town with drivers hustling rides. Again we had to negotiate for transportation, and this time we got a taxi, a 1973 Toyota Corolla that must have had several  million miles on it and had lost its’ shocks in a previous incarnation. But the driver, wearing his topi, the national hat, was cheery and welcoming, and off we went.

But in some ways, this was even scarier than the Kali Gandaki Gorge. There, everyone is crawling. Here, on a battered and bashed road, we began an aggressive cat and mouse game on blind curves with trucks and cars and motorcycles and overloaded buses. This went on for hours and hours and you reach a point where you actually become accustomed to passing on blind curves. It’s expected – why not? We made it to Pokhara by 9PM, a town filled with bars and trekkers hotels that seemed the more surreal for its jollity and devil-may-care transients sitting in cafes and bars.

 

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Pokhara


We were exhausted, and made the decision to sleep at a hotel and continue to Kathmandu in the middle of the night, before the tumultuous traffic that rings the city had fired up its engines.

I drank the best beer of my life and we ate dal bhat — rice and lentils– our first meal of the day, at 9:30, barely able to speak, and slept for a few hours. We departed for Kathmandu at 3AM with yet another hired car and driver. It was pitch black, delightfully cool and still as we drove. Twenty minutes into the ride, we had only seen one other car on the road. That’s when Lava decided to tell me that bandits sometimes stalked the route in the middle of the night.

“They use guns and take everything, your mobile, your watch, your money” he said. “They stop you with their car, saying they need help, then they point guns at you.”

Great.

Now every pair of headlights coming toward us was a potential bandit. The fact that many of them appeared to be heading directly for us until the last minute didn’t help matters.

Dawn began to break and the clock was ticking. I needed to grab a stored bag in Kathmandu and leave for the airport by 10. And as I had already learned, nothing happens in a hurry or on time in this country.

We hit two Army checkpoints, each one outfitted with the requisite surly and suspicious young soldiers, who peered in the car, looking for Maoist insurgents or worse. As the sun broke through the mountain haze, we passed a fiery riverside cremation, with two dozen mourners crouched on large river stones. Not mine, at least. At least not yet.

Then we fought our way up mountains and down mountains past Indian-made (Mr. Tata has much to answer for) trucks belching huge clouds of black soot into the air, passing each other on blind turns as we crawled, wove and dodged them like bullets. By this time, I had been thrown around so many vehicles I felt like a punching bag. We dodged chickens and pedestrians and school children strung out along the road, past traffic jams of Indian trucks bringing goods to Nepal, wedging our way past lazy drivers and sleepy drivers and angry drivers, as the day grew hotter and the traffic become engulfed in a perpetual thick, rank, diesel cloud that sickened me as much as the lurching vehicle.

Finally, we crested a mountain, or hill in Nepali parlance, since anything less than 14,000 feet isn’t granted “mountain” status here, and looked down upon the hazy, chaotic city of Kathmandu. After 16 hours of hard driving, I hadn’t been that happy in ages.

 

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Kathmandu.

 

We arrived in the perpetual pandemonium of Kathmandu at 9 am. An hour later I was on the way to Kathmandu airport, on time for my flight. But as I went through security, there was another roadblock. Every single item in my luggage was checked and a pair of 20-somethings with attitude and badges, this time wearing policemen’s uniforms, grilled me about something they joyfully ripped out of my luggage and held aloft.

 

The yak bone.

 

One of them took it and made a stabbing motion.

Now why hadn’t I thought of a yak bone as a potential weapon?

 

Because I don’t think that way. But they did. Or were they grinning because it was sport to confiscate things? But to have traveled all this way and then be held up, within sight of the aircraft, was beyond ridiculous.

 

The  words “Korean Air flight to Seoul now boarding” had a transcendent effect. I asked for a Korean Air representative. He duly arrived and the deadly yak bone was discussed in great and heated detail. The police held tight to it. Words were exchanged. Then, with a grudging shrug, the Korean Air rep was handed the yak bone. He placed it in a special bag, sealed it, told me not to worry and took it away.

 

Hours later, I landed in Seoul. The bag with the bone was the very first thing spat out on the luggage carousel in Seoul, beating even the luggage tagged “First Class”. It now sits on my desk, benign, a stark white reminder of my 36 hour hejira from Nepal.  Better yet, I’m sitting at my desk looking at it, not on the edge of eternity on the Kali Gandaki Gorge.

 

The Interview: Steve Conlon, Above the Clouds

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SteveConlonAndTheKingofMustang

The King of Mustang and Steve Conlon.

I met Steve Conlon about 15 years ago, after a friend traveled to Nepal with him and his company, Above the Clouds. She had enormous respect and confidence in Steve as a leader and a creator of authentic experiences in the Himalayas. He’s still at it, as he explained over a lunch with Jamling Tenzing Norgay (yes, his dad summitted Everest with Hillary) in New York City this past year. Now his daughter Lisa has joined him in the family business. Steve is a pioneer in the adventure travel world and I decided it was time to let him talk about how his extraordinary company began.

Steve, tell me about the beginnings of Above the Clouds?

In 1982, I was managing a local trekking agency in Kathmandu.  As my Nepali wife,  Muna, and I prepared to move to the US to raise our soon to be born son, several Sherpa friends came to me and suggested, “Why don’t you start a trekking business when you get back home, and I’ll handle your groups over here.”  And that’s just what we did.  Our son was born nine days after we landed, and Above the Clouds was born later that same day.  Once again, necessity, combined with a fierce passion, was the mother of invention.  In the five years I lived in Nepal, I had visited 65 of the country’s 75 districts, and that enabled me to develop some innovative itineraries that gave us a leg up in Nepal and proved to be foundational to our growth.

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Memorable Hotels in 2009: The Red House Lodge, Kagbeni, Nepal

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View of Nilgiri and Annapurna range from The Red House. Photo by Everett Potter.

The Red House Lodge Kagbeni, Nepal

   
The village of Kagbeni, Nepal, is an ancient trading town on the old
salt route between Nepal and Tibet. The town is a warren of mud-walled
buildings, some topped with crude turrets, an architectural style
reminiscent of North Africa as much as Asia. The setting, however,
could only be in Nepal. Prayer flags flap in the incessant wind and
lammergeier (vultures with 10 foot wingspans) soar on the updrafts. The
town is set high above the banks of the Kali Gandaki River, which flows
down from the Tibetan plateau. The peaks of the Himalayas, especially
those of Nilgiri in the Annapurna Range, provide a sensational
backdrop. In the heart of this medieval town is The Red House Lodge, a simple
guesthouse frequented by trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit and those
heading north.

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The Interview: Jeff Greenwald, Ethical Traveler

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Jeff Greenwald is a veteran traveler, journalist, author (Shopping for Buddhas, The Size of the World) and arguably the most persuasive guy around for ethical travel. In fact, he co-founded Ethical Traveler, “a global community dedicated to exploring the ambassadorial potential of world travel.” I heard Jeff speak at the Adventure Travel Summit in Quebec in October of this year and later on, had a chance to ask him some questions.

Okay, so what exactly is Ethical Traveler?
 
Ethical Traveler, which I co-founded in 2003, is the first international alliance uniting adventurers, tourists, travel agencies and outfitters — everyone who sees travel as a positive force in the global community –  into a single action group. We work to maximize the positive impacts of travel, and band together in the service of human rights and protection of the environment. Our mission — and I admit it's ambitious –  is to empower travelers to change the world. We're working to create a shift in the way travelers view themselves, and their influence within the global community. The time is right, I think. Travel is now the world's biggest industry — even bigger than oil. There's a growing ability   and maybe an imperative –  for travelers to play a more active role. Our core belief is that motivated travelers, mindful of our planet's social and environmental concerns, can be instrumental in creating a better world.

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