Destination: Bhutan

Video: Lisa Napoli in Conversation with Eric Weiner

World Hum contributors Lisa Napoli and Eric Weiner spoke in front of a live audience recently in Santa Monica. Napoli, of course, is the author of “Radio Shangri-La,” about her experience in Bhutan. Weiner wrote “The Geography of Bliss” and “Man Seeks God.” Their wide-ranging discussion touched on Bhutan, happiness, authenticity and spirituality, among other things. This 30-minute video has some highlights.

Into Sacred Air

Into Sacred Air Photo: Goran, Flickr, (Creative Commons)

In an excerpt from "Radio Shangri-La," Lisa Napoli makes the climb to Bhutan's Taktsang Monastery

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Interview with Lisa Napoli: ‘Radio Shangri-La’ in Bhutan

Jim Benning asks the author about her memoir and how the Himalayan kingdom changed her

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World Travel Watch: Commonwealth Games Concerns in India, Elections in Cuzco and More

Larry Habegger rounds up global travel news

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Jersey Girl

Jersey Girl REUTERS/Christine Grunnet

Abbie Kozolchyk finds herself on an unlikely quest to buy soccer jerseys from Bolivia to Bhutan

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From Bhutan to France: Gross National Happiness

On the intersection of place, politics and culture

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Fox Seeks Optimism in Bhutan

We haven’t seen much of Michael J. Fox on television in recent years, but now the former Spin City actor has surfaced—surprisingly—in Bhutan. Following in the footsteps of World Hum contributor Eric Weiner, Fox visited the Himalayan nation this month to investigate the country’s vaunted Gross National Happiness policy, as part of a television special on the nature of optimism, due to air in May. 

I’m wondering what Fox uncovered given that Bhutan marks its one-year anniversary as a democracy this week. As we’ve seen elsewhere in the world, that transition can trigger a less-than-optimistic mood in the general populace. I haven’t seen much coverage of how things are going in Bhutan; perhaps it’s time for a Geography of Bliss sequel.

Six Great Women Travelers in Asia


March is Women’s History Month, so this seems a good moment to call out a few of history’s great women travelers. Because so many 19th- and early 20th-century adventurers found themselves drawn to Asia, I’ve narrowed this list to women who made their mark on that continent, fording the Indus River or crossing the Tibetan Plateau, in defiance of social norms and often at great risk. These are the women I wish I’d been in another life. Herewith, my top-six list of the most intrepid Western female travelers to take Asia by foot, camel or donkey.

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On Asia: Points East

On Asia: Points East iStockPhoto
Shibuya, Tokyo. iStockphoto.

If this is indeed the “Asian century,” count me as an early adopter. I’ve quit two full-time jobs to explore the world’s most diverse continent, and they were the two best decisions I’ve ever made. To an Asia hand, the lavender fields of Provence might be pleasant, but it’s the chanting of novice monks, the mystical tinkling of the gamelan, a bowl of spicy dan dan noodles that really get the blood pumping. I’m drawn back, again and again, and I don’t know if I’ll ever kick the habit.

My (unlikely) introduction to Asia began in arid, post-Soviet Uzbekistan in the late ‘90s. As soon as my conference in Tashkent wrapped up, I hopped a bus to the Silk Road city of Samarkand, where blue-tiled madrassas dazzled against an azure sky. They were like nothing I’d seen, a window into an ancient time when Tamerlane traipsed across the steppes.

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Interview with Michael Buckley: Searching for Shangri-La

Frank Bures talks to the author of a guide to a place that may or may not exist

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The Road to Happiness

Frank Bures gets lost in Eric Weiner's "The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Place in the World"

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Bhutan Opens Up to Tourists, Globalization and Matt Lauer

Photo by babasteve, via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Only seven years ago satellite television was banned in Bhutan. Since then, the landlocked kingdom squeezed between India and Tibet has opened itself to waves of outside influence. “Today, globalization is officially sanctioned,” Somini Sengupta writes in the New York Times, “and it is rushing in fast.” The Today Show’s Matt Lauer dropped in last week with cameras rolling during his “Where in the World is Matt Lauer?” jaunt, and Hollywood types such as Uma Thurman and Cameron Diaz are reportedly frequent visitors. Non A-listers are making their way to Bhutan, too, and Thuji Dorji Nadik, joint director in the Department of Tourism, told Reuters reporter Simon Denyer that the arrival of the masses has put the country in danger of becoming a victim of its own success.

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Vanuatu Tops “Happy Planet Index”

And the nations with the world’s largest economies finished down the 178-nation list. Way down. Germany ranked 81st, Japan 95th and the United States 150th. The New Economics Foundation, which bills itself as a “think-and-do tank,” says its inaugural Happy Planet Index “moves beyond crude ratings of nations according to national income, measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP).” The new index, they say, produces “a more accurate picture of the progress of nations based on the amount of the Earth’s resources they use, and the length and happiness of people’s lives.” A BBC News story quotes Richard Layard, director of the Well-Being Programme at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance, as saying that the index “was an interesting way to tackle the issue of modern life’s environmental impact.” Layard continues: “Over the last 50 years, living standards in the West have improved enormously but we have become no happier.” So which countries besides the island nation of Vanuatu are happiest? Colombia and Costa Rica round out the top three. Burundi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe finished at the bottom.

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Road Tripping Across Bhutan

Outside magazine’s June issue features a compelling article on Bhutan, the isolated Asian kingdom short on airports, stoplights, and tourists, but apparently not short on happiness. Senior editor Stephanie Pearson joins Robert Thurman, ordained Buddhist monk and friend of the the Dalai Lama, on a road trip across the landlocked nation in search of her own inner contentment. Following in the footsteps of a Buddhaholic and joined by a gaggle of psychonauts and budding bodhisattvas, she describes a society seeking to find its own sort of peace between ancient traditions and the pull of modernity. For travelers with bigger budgets as well as a hankering for a blend culture, adventure and spirituality, Outside includes several tour operators that arrange Bhutan trips from the United States.

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Tags: Asia, Bhutan

A Brief History of Adventure Travel

Yahoo! adventure guru Richard Bangs covers the history of adventure travel in just 874 words today in a New York Times piece. I’ll summarize in 86 words: First adventure travelers were merchants on expedition. Many accidental discoveries. Ericson, North America. Columbus, the Caribbean. Modern adventure travel began 35 years ago. Treks in the Nepalese Himalayas. Maoist revolutionaries emerge. Adventurers go to Bhutan. In the ‘70s, Afghanistan, Algeria and New Guinea. In the ‘80s, the Nile, Mount Ararat and Bali. Religious-based terrorism drives out adventurers. In the ‘90s, the Alps. Euro rises. Everyone goes to Thailand. Tsunami hits. Libya, Mozambique, Nicaragua and Panama become popular. For now. When in doubt, there’s always Costa Rica.