Searching for Paradise

Searching for Paradise

Posted: Sep 20, 2010 08:06 am EDT

I am an experienced traveler. I have a university degree and therefore I cannot be totally stupid. I also can count: one, two, three and so on. Yet I miss trains and airplanes because my mind does not register departure times printed on a ticket. I call this defect Calculitis and wonder if I am the only who suffers from it. I just missed my plane to Siberia!

Shambala, Siberia

That is how Arita Baaijens new Expedition starts, the one in search of Paradise, Shambala in Siberia! For the initiated, Arita is one of the best known camel and desert explorers on earth today. A true explorer who mostly travels solo, speaks the language and searches for the truth, the meaning of life. After spending a major part of her exploring years together with camels, she has now upgraded herself to using horses on her new Expedition called Searching for Paradise.

I am using horses for the trek to Lake Akkem--a sacred lake at the foot of Belucha mountain and the purpose of my trip. I couldnt reach this lake two years ago due to bad weather and I desperately want to visit it this time. A valley close to the lake provides a gateway to Shambala, Paradise according to followers of Roerich--a Russian mystic, painter and writer--who searched for Shambala in the 1920s.

Arita left Amsterdam the 7th of July, bought horses and wrote this entry after her first few days of trekking:

Altai horse

Altai horses are incredibly strong. They stay outdoors all year round. If well-trained, they cross deep rivers, step into mud up to their belly, climb steep mountain paths and high mountains passes. With you on their back, if you so wish. What a difference with camels.... No bad words about camels--they can do things horses cannot--but I must admit that horses have extremely powerful legs, soft fur and they can read the thoughts of the rider. What I dont like about horses are their hooves and iron shoes. I prefer soft camel feet--they can knock you down, but at least the blow wont kill you.

On September the 10th she and her friends reached Lake Akeem and Arita reports this:

Seen from a high mountain pass Akkem Lake shines like a jewel set in green pastures. After 5 days of traveling--a faster route exists, but we took a detour--we arrived in Akkem, Altai at White Lake. Locals consider this lake "dead" and the lake well visit next Kucherla "alive". I liked the view from above and looked forward to seeing the lake from up close. But once there, I noticed lots of backpackers who were camping on the bank of the lake. And I wanted the place to myself, but there was so many people around, Akkem felt like a tourist resort. Although attractive and beautiful, somehow the magic was gone.

The shamans stone

Two days ago, she found the Shamans Stone!!! (Shaman is a kind of a spiritual witch doctor, Siberian style)

Sitting on the Shaman's Stone you are recharged with energy from the cosmic "beam". The energy channel is cleansed every year in July by people dressed in white. Believers walk to this place barefoot and they sit or lie on the stone for hours--eyes closed--receiving high voltages of energy.

Her quest to find Paradise continues!

Arita Baaijens grew up in the bible belt of the Netherlands, close to farms and wood lands. She escaped her native town Ede to study biology at the Free University in Amsterdam.

In 1990 she gave up her job as a consultant in environmental affairs, bought camels and ever since has explored the desert of Egypt and Sudan during the winter months with her small camel caravan.
Baaijens feels most at home in the desert; the silence, the peace, the endless plains, the sobriety, the hardship, the scarce human contact - all far preferable to the noisy chaos of the West.

In Egypt she mostly travelled solo. The solitude had a significant impact and changed her outlook on life. In the barren landscape of sand and rocks one cannot fill the time with economic and cultural activities. The confrontation with nothingness' can be quite scary. But it can also be a blessing: when there is nobody to rely on you discover your true strength. Arita Baaijens transformed fear for the unknown into a positive force.
After years of travelling in the empty desert of Egypt, Baaijens went to Sudan, a land of nomads. She made spectacular treks through the inhospitable northern Sudan, which borders on Chad, Libya and Egypt. Curious about the backgrounds of famine and ethnic conflict, Baaijens made several journeys in Darfur. Her travel companions were all men - her guide and armed protectors lead her in her voyage of discovery to virtually unrecorded ruins, hidden springs and lost cities.

The contrast between the rich' westerner who can afford the luxury of travelling through the desert for pleasure along with the Arabs she employs is a rich source of lively anecdotes. Suspicion becomes trust, hostile eyes turn kind and full of admiration and friendship.

After the war broke out in Darfur Baaijens returned twice to find out what had become of her former travel companions. Some had joined the janjaweed; one of her former guards refused to kill his own people and had left the area. That guide was still working in the desert, bringing camels to Egypt. After listening to all the stories Baaijens came to the conclusion that a man always has a choice, even in wartime.
After two decades of sand, camels and Arabs, Arita Baaijens has broadened her horizon. She found a new challenge in southwest Siberia where she will buy horses and explore the remote Altai mountains in Russia, Kazachstan, China and Mongolia. This new project is called Search4Paradise.

#Trek #topstory

"'Revolution in Cairo!' was the first thing I heard upon my return from a short desert trip. It was Friday 28 January and I had arrived in a small village in Fayoum Oasis, where my saddles and equipment are stored."
Image by Arita Baaijens courtesy Arita Baaijens, SOURCE
Arita is trying to figure out the meaning of life at the same time as she is in search of Paradise, hidden away in a remote corner of Siberia
Image by Arita Baaijens courtesy Arita Baaijens, SOURCE
Sitting on the Shaman's Stone you are recharged with energy from the cosmic "beam". The energy channel is cleansed every year in July by people dressed in white. Believers walk to this place barefoot and they sit or lie on the stone for hours--eyes closed--receiving high voltages of energy.
Image by Arita Baaijens courtesy Arita Baaijens, SOURCE