ArchiveCategory Archives for "Nepal"
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Nepal.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Nepal.
Kathmandu is famed for its holy sites, celebrating and preserving the sacred history of Nepal. Here are five of the most breathtaking
This enormous temple still welcomes Buddhist pilgrims every single day and is considered as the centre of Nepalese Buddhism. Within this UNESCO World Heritage site lay the remains of Kassapa Buddha and the richly-appointed temple is steeped in history and legend.
Situated atop a peak overlooking the Kathmandu Valley, visitors on foot can expect to tackle 365 steps to reach Swayambhunath Stupa. The Monkey Temple lives up to its name, so expect to see plenty of wild monkeys however you make the trip to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Once again listed by UNESCO, Changu Narayan was badly damaged by the 2015 earthquake. Thankfully, it remained standing. As the oldest temple in all of Nepal, Changu Narayan is famed for its wonderful collection of ancient art and a small museum that tells visitors all about its fascinating history.
Set in the breathtaking surroundings of Durbar Square, this awe-inspiring temple isn’t fully open to non-Hindus, but even the limited access on offer makes it an unmissable stop for any travellers. Towering over the square, its 16th-century pagoda architecture is sure to stop you in your tracks.
Although non-Hindus can’t explore the interior of the temple freely, this vast sacred site hosts regular festivals, like Maha Shivaratri in celebration of the god, Shiva, that attract thousands of people. Rich in legend, the holy site can trace its origins all the way back to 400 BCE.
Holi, or the Festival of Colour, as it has come to be known, is primarily a Hindu festival and it’s celebrated with wild parties and crazy colour fights all over India and Nepal in areas with large Hindu populations. You’ll know you’ve found one when you spot the revellers who look like they’ve walked through a rainbow waterfall.
Holi is a celebration of the victory of one’s inner good over evil but has basically become a frolicking free-for-all involving coloured powder and water. In a joyous and raucous street fight, participants throw powder and water at each other using the bright, exuberant colours to signify the start of spring, the power of love, and the generosity of humanity.
Just try to resist the truly jubilant spirit of the festival – everyone, and we mean everyone, comes together to play, laugh, forgive and give thanks. What’s not to like?
Canada – Bolstered by the wave of positivity unleashed by its energetic new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and with dynamic cities that dominate global livability indexes – plus its reputation for inclusiveness and impeccable politeness – the world’s second-largest country will usher in its sesquicentennial in 2017 in rollicking good health. Marking 150 years since confederation, the birthday party promises to be heavy on bonhomie and highly welcoming to international gate-crashers. The weak Canadian dollar means visitors should have plenty of pocket money to spend on Canada’s exciting fusion food and mysteriously undeerrated wine.
Colombia – Decades of civil war and violent crime meant Colombian passport stamps were once for hardcore travellers only. Fast-forward to the present day, and the lost years seem but a dust speck in Colombia’s rear-view mirror. There are no world wonders here, but the country’s mix of vibrant culture, nature and hospitality is a rich tapestry woven by welcoming arms. More than a decade into its dramatic about-face, this South American jewel is even expecting a visit from the world’s No. 1 Catholic. When Pope Francis kisses Colombian soil in 2017, it will mark the Andean nation’s first papal visit in 30 years.
Finland – Long fought over by Russia and Sweden, Finland finally gained independence in 1917, The Finns will celebrate their centenary with gusto: expect everything from outdoor concerts and communal culinary experiences to sauna evenings and vintage travel poster exhibitions. There’s even anew national park: 27,000 acres around the village of Hossa, studded with pine forests and crisscrossed with rivers. With the country also playing host to the World Figure Skating Championships and the Nordic World Ski Championships in 2017, there’s never been a better time to discover Finland’s proudly unique culture and landscapes.
Dominica – Locals joke that if Christopher Columbus rose from the grave and returned to the Caribbean, Dominica is the only island he would still recognise. One glimpse of its prehistoric ferns and deserted shores, and you’ll see what they mean. For decades, an absence of shiny white beaches has helped keep at bay the resort development that has swept through other parts of the Caribbean, Coconut palms are the only skyscrapers you’ll see here. Visit before Dominica gets its first large-scale chain resorts in 2018, which will pave the way for anew era of tourism.
Nepal – Even natural disasters can’t keep Nepal down for long. The 2015 earthquakes caused devastation, but what is most striking from a traveller’s perspective is not how much was lost but how much remains. Landmark temples crumbled, but others came through with just the odd tile out of place, and whole swathes of the country escaped serious damage, including most of the popular hiking trails, Nepal has all the skills required to repair monuments and infrastructure, but what it does need is income. By visiting Nepal now and supporting local culture and people, you could help a nation rebuild and bounce back even stronger.
Mongolia – In 2017 Mongolia will raise the curtain on a b rand- new capital – city airport, a state-of-the-art facility that symbolises the rapid modernisation of this country of steppe nomads. Ulaanbaatar has been the biggest beneficiary of an economic boom – the capital’s transformed skyline bristles with glass and steel towers. At the centre of this development is a £380 million Shangri-La hotel complex, to be completed by 2017. Beyond the city lies Mongolia’s stunning and sparsely populated countryside. Lake Khovsgol, known as the Blue Pearl of Asia, is an undoubted highlight. In 2015 the lake was connected to Ulaanbaatar by paved road, cutting driving time by 10 hours.
Mynmar – Change has been a long time coming in the nation also known as Burma, but the election of the first civilian government in half a century has all eyes on the future. No-one is pretending that all of Myanmar’s problems have gone away, but things are moving in the right direction, and Southeast Asia’s most secretive country is now poised to receive an influx of travellers. Visiting comes with challenges, but the reward is a window onto a vanishing Asia, where the difficulties of travel are part of the appeal. You’ll find a land with more stupas than office towers, where life moves to the timeless rhythms of chanting monks and monastery bells.
Ethiopia – With its own calendar (where else can you get 13 months of sunshine?), timekeeping, script, language, cuisine, church and coffee, Ethiopia is as exotic as countries come. And whether you’re hiking through the Simien Mountains to see wildlife that roams nowhere else on Earth, climbing to a church carved into a remote cliff face in Tigray, or boating across the waters of Lake Tana to visit an age-old monastery, you’ll be overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape. In 2017, new airline links will make the country more accessible than ever; be one of the first to get on board.
When you’re standing in the shadow of the world’s highest peak, it’s impossible not to look up and feel an immense sense of wonder, amazement and inspiration as the wind ruffles your hair and the cold braces your skin.
Being face-to-face with Everest, the towering icon of adventurous spirit that stretches a tremendous five and a half miles above one of the world’s most diverse and profoundly beautiful countries, you’ll also struggle to think of Nepal without thinking about its mightiest mountain.
Everest is home to some of the planet’s most extreme, rugged and stunning terrain, and trekking to base camp is one of Earths greatest challenges, but also one of its ultimate rewards. Months of training – both physical and mental – have also seen some of the world’s greatest climbers make it to the famous summit.
Of course, you don’t have to reach the snowy peaks of the world’s highest mountain to experience the beauty and diversity of Nepal. The nation’s rich cultural identity can be discovered in the gently undulating valleys and beautiful rural hamlets that sit well below the flags and tents of base camp.
Take Lumbini, the pilgrimage site to the south of the country famed as the birthplace of Buddha – a site of incredible cultural significance that fills the nation with a spiritual legacy altogether different from the natural wonder of the Himalayas.
Beyond the country’s sites you’ll find Nepal to be one of the world’s friendliest destinations. As you explore its vast cedar forests and hillside villages you’ll experience warm greetings from the locals, and the call of the Danfe, the colourful national bird of Nepal. From the busy, temple-filled streets and valleys of Kathmandu to the serene lakeside oasis of Pokhara, Nepal is a place of vivid colour and splendour that gives you a trip that’s perfectly poised between adventure and relaxation.
So, whether you’re discovering the spiritual home of Buddhism, escaping from the frenzied pace of the modern world or trekking the mighty Himalayas themselves, in Nepal, you’ll unearth bliss, serenity and the pure authenticity of being with every single step you take.
My heart felt like a Tibetan gong, beating down the seconds to my last moments. I clutched the staircase’s handrails as tightly as my perspiring hands would allow and boarded the 19-person Twin Otter aircraft. There was no turning back; the infamous 35-minute flight from Kathmandu to Lukla was imminent. A bamboo hamper filled with cotton balls was shoved into my lap; I took two swabs and buried them deep in my ears as the aircraft accelerated.
Lukla’s Tenzing-Hillary Airport has one runway, which is used for both take offs and landings. The History Channel, along with countless other authorities, has dubbed it the most dangerous airport in the world. Upon arrival a pilot is received by an airstrip that slopes 12° upward and is only inches from the edge of a cliff. Once the pilot touches down, he or she has 527m to bring the plane to a stop before the airstrip reaches a near-vertical mountain wall. (By comparison, a Boeing 737 requires a minimum of 1,418m for a successful landing.) There are only two types of commercial aircraft capable of negotiating the short runway, and without radar or navigation equipment at Lukla, pilots rely on their line of sight to land. If clouds roll in unexpectedly, they’re flying blind, which is why if there’s any doubt about the weather, planes are grounded.
Our pilot earned our applause as our flying metal sarcophagus touched down safely. The first thing to do in Lukla was get our TIMS (Trekkers Information Management System) card and a Sagarmatha National Park entry permit, which my partner Sylvie and I did at the park’s registration booth, a short walk through the town. Two ‘missing person’ posters hung on the windows – trekkers who had simply disappeared. We had hired a porter to come with us on the trek, although in hindsight we felt we would have been fine by ourselves.
My bag felt light despite being jam-packed with unwieldy winter clothing, camera equipment and extensive first-aid. The first day’s hike, starting at the relatively low altitude of 2,860m, snaked along an established path with tree-flanked foothills on one side and modest settlements with unassuming homesteads dotting the other. This was the undulating landscape of the Dudh Kosi Valley, where countless frighteningly long single-stay steel suspension bridges guided us back and forth over the raging river below. There was congestion at these single-person-width bridges as villagers and herds of mules carrying goods from Lukla patiently waited their turn to cross. Most of the supplies arriving in Lukla are transported from Jiri on the backs of animals. Before Lukla airport was built, trekkers and mountaineers also had to hike from Jiri, adding more than a week to their already lengthy venture.
Unlike every other hiking trail I have tackled, the main purpose of the path from Lukla to Everest Base Camp is not recreational. Although hundreds of adventure-seeking trekkers use the route every month, it is firstly the highway linking remote Sherpa communities together. After being bashed by a porter’s 40kg load a couple of times, I quickly learnt trail etiquette – a porter always has the right of way. They get compensated based on the weight of their load and for how far it is transported. Every item, no matter how insignificant, must be conveyed in this manner: everything down to rolls of toilet paper and cans of Pringles must be supplied via arduous week-long backbreaking hauls.
By the time you arrive at Meghauli Serai, your expectations are high. This better be good, you think, because, boy, has it been a schlep. If one is going to make the journey— Delhi-Kathmandu at the crack of dawn, a disorienting transfer from Tribhuvan international to domestic, a several-hour wait for the 30-minute 20-seater flight to Bharatpur, which turned even this seasoned flyer queasy and claustrophobic and, finally, a bumpy hour-long ride to the hotel gates—one expects it to end in something special. And it does. The first moment of arrival-relief will probably differ for each traveller. For some, it will be the Downton Abbey welcome by a very warm staff with cold towels. For others, the handicraft-dense lounge-lobby area, or the sight of the large infinity pool.
Those things weren’t lost on me, but I didn’t quite get there till I had closed the door to my private villa, walked through the bedroom, stepped off the deck, past the private plunge pool, and stood among the tall swamp grass, looking out over the Rapti river to Chitwan National Park on the other side. That view is worth the schlep. We are in Nepal’s Terai plains. Being the sort of traveller who becomes passionate about middle-school geography each time I find myself in a distinctive landscape, I am able to report that the Terai is characterised by riverine grasslands and sal forest. What that means for non-nerds is that it is a sensory knockout. Its flat expanse feels freeing and inviting and fills you with the urge to roam. And the light. There’s something pre-21st century about the light here, warm, hazy and hay-coloured. So when I stand at the edge of the river, contemplating the dense sal and the tall grass and the water hyacinth, I feel lightheaded, vaguely drugged.
Among the best things to say about Meghauli Serai is that, for the most part, it gets out of the way and lets you take in your surroundings. General Manager Ritesh Bhatt tells me that all Taj Safaris properties (of which this is the latest, and first outside India) aim to do just that. And though this one was already a bit more built up than Taj Safaris would have liked by the time they took it over, they’ve done a pretty good job disguising that. There is a touch of pantomime to the way the villas mimic village huts, but the earthy colours and the vegetation and the light most of all have the effect of making the whole spread fairly unobtrusive. The place doesn’t scream luxury resort, which is nice, though I wouldn’t push it as evidence of Taj’s efforts toward sustainability either (it’s run almost entirely on generators and the four air-conditioners in my villa would have stayed on day and night had I not kept turning them off).
The pool area and glass-fenced deck overlooking the river are the most hotelly bit, and the high-rise block of 13 rooms is a bit of a sore thumb, though press photos show the views from those rooms, which are pretty’ spectacular. The villa, one of 16, is where the hotel shines. Plush, with pleasantly understated decor with local accents, its main room is dominated by a large, supremely comfortable four-poster with a dreamy canopy of mosquito net. The bed faces the sliding doors to the deck, so waking up with the curtains open to the view, if you’re not in a rush to catch an early morning safari, is its own must-do. You could really just spend all your time moving like a cat from spot to idyllic spot: bed, deck, pool, daybed, floor, the charpai in the little courtyard off the bathroom and the sunny steps leading down to it.
But there really isn’t that kind of time—I only barely manage to try’ out all of the three bathing options (indoor shower, outdoor shower, bathtub) — there’s wildlife to be seen. The main event at Meghauli is a trip into Chitwan National Park, which is home to the Indian rhinoceros, sloth bear, several kinds of deer, the leopard and the tiger, among others. The hotel can arrange jeep, elephant and walking safaris. That last is a special feature, as there are apparently only a handful of wildlife preserves in the world that allow people in on foot. Chitwan is far less overrun than most national parks in India. Vegetation is thick and sightings are frequent.
We spot a peacock dancing for some unimpressed peahen, a group of spotted deer at a salt lick, a monitor lizard (which is basically a dinosaur) creeping slowly between tree branches, and many, many rhinos. Rhinos wallowing in the river, barely discernible in the distant swamp, running through the scrub and, in one heart-stopping moment, striding straight down the path toward the jeep. I’d never really thought much about the rhino until I found myself staring down one the size of a small elephant. What an amazing, weird, otherworldly animal. They don’t seem like flesh-and-blood beings at all; more like whimsically designed armoured vehicles. I wish I could have seen his skin up close, though, for the jeep’s sake, I’m glad I didn’t.
The safari lasts all morning, and is pleasantly gruelling. I’d heard much about Taj Safaris’ all-knowing naturalists, and had expected somewhat meatier commentary than I got. Our naturalist was very jovial, obviously knowledgeable and had a flair for theatre. I guess our group just gave the impression of being not-very-hardcore. Bhatt, genuine and generous with his time, was candid about the range of visitors to Taj Safaris properties—he has headed two others—saying naturalists could tailor the safari to all sorts. There were those who would come halfway across the world just to see a particular bird only found here, and make several trips into the park during their stay.
And there were those who would come because a safari was the latest thing to do with the kids and talk about later with the colleagues, and that was fine too. What he wants is for every guest to leave with a story—and he’s constantly dreaming up different ways to make sure they do. An unexpected highlight was an evening boat ride, following the Rapti down to where it meets the Narayani. On a sandbank at the confluence, hotel staff had set up a low table and a little bar. A crisp white wine went down beautifully with the sun. This is what Meghauli is about: being out in capital-n Nature, pampered to bits. The sunset picnic is also where I ate my favourite thing the entire trip: achari aloo and a local sweet puri, unbelievably delicious.
The rest of the food at Meghauli was pleasant local Nepali fare, which I was glad for while I ate it, but don’t remember much about. What I do remember is an idyllic breakfast on the final morning, accompanied by a pot of coffee that was startlingly good for being instant. (Bhatt assures me this will not long be the case; he is planning to outfit the place with local teas and fine coffees and boutique bath products so far only sold in Silicon Valley.) I spent a long, peaceful hour with fruit and muesli, alone on the deck, looking out over the river and the grass rippling in the breeze, shoring up calm for the long journey back.
Population: 106,000(Solu Khumbu district)
Foreign trekkers per year: 35,000
Main town: Namche Bazaar
Languages: Sherpa (similar to Tibetan), Nepali
Major industries: tourism, mountaineering, agriculture (yaks and potatoes)
Unit of currency: Nepali rupee (Rs)
Cost index: set meal of dal bhat (rice and vegetables) Rs 400 (US$4), lodge room for a night Rs 300-700 (US$3-7), porter-guide Rs 2000 (US$20) per day, permit to climb Mt Everest US$10,000
We don’t really need to sell you on the mountain glories of the Khumbu region; just a whisper of the word ‘Everest’ and everyone in the room snaps to attention. The chances are that if you love the mountains, you’ve always considered walking to Everest. It’s the ultimate goal of the vertically inclined, a classic journey in the footsteps of Tenzing and Hillary into the planet’s most jaw-dropping mountain arena, home to the world’s highest peak but encompassing so much more.
Now that Nepal’s Maoist uprising is firmly behind it, trekkers are once again rediscovering the region’s remoter trails. For an alternative to the standard .
First there’s Marina Bay. From the now-iconic, boat-shaped Marina Bay Sands resort to otherworldly eco-park Gardens by the Bay, this new entertainment precinct is like a funfair for the whole family. And then there’s the city’s new crop of swanky hotels – between the W Singapore, Parkroyal on Pickering and the Sofitel So Singapore, it’s difficult to keep track of the latest openings.
To coincide with the anniversary, Singapore set to usher in a number of new attractions in 2015, including the National Art Gallery and the Singapore Sports Hub, which will host the 28th Southeast Asian Games. And with more than a dozen MRT (metro) extensions currently in development, it’ll soon be easier to get around. Even Changi Airport, named the world’s best at the 2014 Skytrax awards in Barcelona, will receive two new terminals (and a third runway) in the coming years.
Base Camp route try the high-altitude Three Passes trek or adventurous Mera Peak expedition. If you want something more authentic, tread the old-school approach routes to Everest from Jiri and Tumlingtar, along parts of the 1700km-long Great Himalaya Trail.
Already popular, the trails to Everest are only going to get busier in future seasons. 2015 marked a half-century since Major Jimmy Roberts organised the first commercial trek in Nepal, so hurry up to dust off those trekking boots. Why trek to Everest? Well, as Mallory famously quipped, ‘because it’s there’. And because life is now.
Fancy floats, fire-breathing dragons and pyrotechnics collide at February’s Chingay, Singapore’s biggest street parade.
Have your wallets (and elbows) at the ready for the Great Singapore Sale, which sees retail prices slashed from the end of May until the beginning of July.
July’s Singapore Food Festival provides ample opportunities to sample the city’s top grub, and learn how to cook classic Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes yourself.
It’s already Singapore’s main event, but you can expect National Day, on 9 August, to be celebrated with ultra-extravagant fanfare in 2016, as usual.
Mani Rimdu is the most famous Sherpa festival, celebrating the victory of Buddhism over the local Bon religion with three days of colourful masked dances. The big celebration is at Tengboche Monastery (November), with a quieter alternative at Thame Monastery (May).
Tibetan opera, masked dances and home-brewed chang (barley beer) add a buzz to the Sherpa New Year festivities in February.
The magician and Tantric master Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) is revered as a second Buddha throughout much of the Himalaya and his birthday is celebrated with religious processions and prayer ceremonies during summer’s Dumje festival (June or July).
Pack your head torch for the sunrise views of Mt Everest and the Khumbu Icefall from 5545m Kala Pattar.
Beat the Base Camp crowds and acclimatise slowly by taking a side trail to the stunning scenery of the Gokyo and Chukkhung valleys, or to the Sherpa villages of Thame and Khunde.
Attend one of the daily talks on altitude sickness at the Himalayan Rescue Association in Pheriche ¬it might just save your life.
Sherpa safety and working conditions, after 16 Sherpas died together on the Khumbu Icefall in 2014. With 60 flights a day arriving at Lukla airport in peak season and 200 people queuing up to attempt Everest on a good day, overcrowding on the trails is an ever-pressing issue. Finding a sustainable way to deal with the waste produced by so many trekkers and porters in such a remote region is a complex problem, though solar-powered technology is making a difference in many trekking lodges. Since 2014 each Everest climber is now required to carry 8kg of waste off the mountain.
Air safety is another concern, after air crashes in 2010, 2011 and 2012 killed dozens of trekkers and Nepali staff en route to or from the region.
At Everest Base Camp you are breathing in only 50% of the oxygen available at sea level.
Over 3000 people have summitted Mt Everest since Tenzing and Hillary reached the top in 1953: the youngest aged 13, the oldest 81.
The local Sherpa people are what make trekking in the Everest region such a joy. Many of the lodges you stay in will be run by a retired summitteer and most families have at least one member employed as a climbing porter or trekking guide. Sherpa culture also gives the region its distinctly Tibetan flavour, adorning the grand landscapes with stupas, prayer flags and stones carved with Buddhist mantras.
Fans of the bizarre will want to hike up to Khumjung Monastery to get a peek at its yeti scalp. Nearby Pangboche Monastery had its famous yeti hand stolen in 1991, but a replica is now on display.
Royal Chitwan, 360 square miles that were once the private hunting grounds of the king of Nepal and his guests, is now one of the finest protected forests and grassland regions in Asia. Boat and jeep safaris and treks by foot, led by naturalists and expert guides, explore the river kingdom and its prolific wildlife and bird species, said to number more than 500.
But the best treks are a more traditional affair: A cadre of gentle elephants and their skilled mahouts are ready to take you in search of the great one-horned rhinoceros or the near-extinct royal Bengal tiger – of the hundred breeding adults left in Nepal, about fifty live in Chitwan and the adjacent Parsa Wildlife Reserve.
Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge, a cluster of stilted treetop-level thatched huts, sits within the parklands. In the early morning, it’s like a chapter out of Kipling’s The Jungle Book; at night, candlelit dinners (Tiger Tops has no electricity aside from solar- powered fans and reading lights) are simple, reminiscent of the safaris of Nepalese aristocrats and the Raj’s great white hunters, who didn’t confine their shooting to photographs.
Elephant polo matches – once the sport of maharajas and kings and today an eccentric relic of colonial days – are resurrected during Tiger Tops’ annual international tournament in December.
The only hotel with the good fortune to sit on the south side of Lake Phewa (royal ownership may have something to do with that), the Fish Tail Lodge has guest rooms with heart-stopping views framing all 22,946 feet of Machhapuchhare (Fish Tail Peak).
Its backdrop is nothing less than the Annapurna massif and some of the youngest mountains in the world, more than 26,000 feet high. The only way to reach the hotel is by rope ferry, manually operated by a round-the-clock raftsman.
If you have the clout of such former guests as Prince Charles or the emperor of Japan, you can ask for Room 17 – the view doesn’t get any better. Otherwise, loll in a hammock in the gardens that bloom year-round by the lake (the country’s second largest), head out in a boat for some lazy drifting, and on cloudless days gaze into the calm water for a mirror image of these Himalayan Matterhorns.
A glassed-in restaurant offers nonguests the same sensory experience, even if they can’t be around for the unmatched sunrise spectacle for which the lake setting is famous. Undoubtedly a tourist town, Pokhara’s rhythm is peaceful and slow. Many visitors here are gearing up for (or recovering from) short and long treks on some of Nepal’s most popular trails.
Surrounded by Tibet on three sides and governed by a Tibetan royal family, Mustang – a kingdom within a kingdom – survives as one of the last remnants of ancient Tibet. Although nominally integrated into the kingdom of Nepal in the early 1950s, it remains largely autonomous, and much of its medieval cultural fabric has survived.
In fact, Mustang is said to be more like Tibet before the Chinese occupation than Tibet itself, filled with ancient walled fortress-villages and monasteries hewn from the rock, displaying a muted natural palette of grays and variegated rusty reds. Like much of the Tibetan plateau, the landscape is rugged and austere, a dramatic high-desert terrain flanked by towering peaks, including the snowcapped Annapumas to the south.
Though Nepal opened to tourism in the 1950s, Mustangs sensitive position along the Tibet border kept it off-limits until 1992, when the Nepali government began admitting a trickle of foreign tourists. Ironically, Mustang was well traveled in the past, its ancient trade routes dating back more than 1,000 years.
Its treeless vistas must have appeared distant and extraordinary to European traders returning from China with their precious cargo. They would have been as hard pressed as today’s trekkers to explain the otherworldliness of it all.