So many expeditions that we read about today are focused on visiting some remote place, usually in an effort to raise awareness (and usually funds!) for a cause. While those are certainly noble endeavors, and regular readers know that I don’t shy away from writing about them, sometimes it’s nice to see an expedition that is being undertaken for the exploration and sheer sense of adventure. The Search4Pardise expedition, led by Arita Baaijens, is a perfect example of just such a journey.
Baaijens is certainly no stranger to challenging journeys. Born and raised in the Netherlands, she spent much of her life caught up in the daily grind, just like the rest of us. However, in 1990, she quit her job as a consultant, bought a small caravan of camels, and began a nomadic life, spending most of the past twenty years wandering the Sahara Desert in Egypt and the Sudan. During that time, she has written a number of books, become an accomplished photographer, and a member of the Royal Geographical Society.
After spending the better part of two decades in the desert, Arita is turning her attention elsewhere. She intends to travel through Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia, on horseback, in search of the mythical and mystical Kingdom of Shambala, a place that holds deep meaning for Buddhists around the globe.
The legends that surround Shambala are fantastical to say the least. They speak of an idyllic place, hidden somewhere in the vicinity of the region that Baaijens and her team will be exploring, that is said to be a veritable paradise, although there is some debate, even amongst scholars, if Shambala is an actual place or a state of being. The Dalai Lama is one person who does believe it exists, but in order to enter this “Pure Land,” one needs to have achieved an enlightened state. And like all good myths, there are accounts to back it up, including some explorers claiming to have found the place, hidden away in a maze of canyons and mountains somewhere in Inner Asia, although no one can ever seem to remember the route in.
Arita is in the process of finishing up a 10 week long reconnaissance expedition in advance of the real exploration mission that is set to go down in 2011, when she will return to the remote, and largely uncharted, Altai Mountains to really begin the search.
For centuries, man has tried to find “paradise” which is defined quite differently in many cultures. It is interesting that even now, in the 21st Century, we continue that search. It should be interesting to see if they find anything on their journey, as it is quite possible that the Shambala myth is based on some ancient, and mostly unknown, civilization that existed in that part of the world hundreds of years ago.
I’m definitely intrigued.