About Me

So what happened before February 5th 2007?  This page gives the background on how I ended up where I am:

I was always a curious kid.  In preschool and kindergarten it was dinosaurs, then rocks and geology in elementary school; then physics in middle and high school. The fundamental nature of how the world was made up intrigued me.  My interests did not immediately translate into scholastic aptitude and early on in school I struggled.  Subjects like spelling, reading, basic math did not come easy to me and they still don’t.  However the higher concepts such as upper level math and forming arguments through logic did.  My relatively good auditory memory allowed me to compensate for my lack of speed in reading which was and is still slow. As long as I paid attention in class, most of the time I could get by without reading the assignments.  I astounded my teachers at how I could be almost illiterate when it came to spelling yet still manage to write thesis papers that made sense and used a wide vocabulary.  I’m eternally grateful I grew up in the first generation with computers, especially spell check.  This propensity towards scientific “geekdom” was tempered by my other primary interest growing up, basketball, which occupied much of my free time through high school and college.  Being the son of a Mughal (the empire that built the Taj Mahal in India) historian I grew up with a balanced education in the humanities.  Objects that my parents had gathered on their journeys around the world prior to my existence adorned the house of my childhood.  I was as familiar with the names of the great Mughal emperors, Babar, Akbar, and Shah Jahan as the son of an auto mechanic would be with carburetor, gasket, and drive shaft.

Although my parents had traveled the world at a time when it was less common to do so, during the time my sister and I were growing up, our journeys were confined to the states; the states between California and Iowa to be more precise.  Most often our summer vacations consisted of driving via the national parks of the western U.S. to and from Iowa where both sets of my grandparents and a number of aunts and uncles lived.  While my sister always wanted to know when we would get there, I loved the journeys, camping and hiking in the national parks which contain some of the most stunning geographic scenery anywhere in the world.  My father was always an enthusiastic amateur photographer.  My early training in photography came on these trips as I ran around helping him to spot good angles for photographs, while my mom and sister waited, not always patiently.  Over the course of my childhood I visited almost every national park between Iowa and California.  Technically my first journey abroad was a road trip of this type through B.C. and Alberta, Canada to a family reunion in Saskatchewan.  Although Canada is an incredibly beautiful country, at the risk of drawing hate mail from my Canadian family members and readers, it seemed to me to be culturally little more than the northern United States.

My first real trip abroad, or overseas to please the Canadians, came after I had graduated high school.  My father was taking a group of students to India for a semester, and my mother, sister, and I could all go along for free.   For me it meant delaying my entry to Luther College for a year, and my sister would be home schooled for the semester we were in India.  Since our flight was routed through London, we were able to visit my aunt and uncle in Germany and my other aunt working at the US embassy in Prague before heading on to India.  On the way back I arranged to have a two month layover in London to backpack through Europe.  Looking back, it was that first trip to India in 1994 that has more so than any other one event shaped the way my life has unfolded since.  There is something about the connection of India and my family.  I think my father would also agree that one of the most influential events in his life (I won’t say most since I think my mom may have strong case for that one) was accepting a Fulbright scholarship to India after he finished his bachelor’s degree in history.  Neither my father nor I were the first to have our lives shaped by this land, just one in a long line of visitors over the centuries, who has been unknowingly seduced by a country whose borders may be geographical but whose grip on the soul knows no boundaries.

It wasn’t love at first sight; it never is with India, a country which pushes its entire dizzying kaleidoscope of complexity in the face of a first time visitor.  Looking at India is like looking at sun, overwhelming and painful to stare at it directly, all of its colors combined into one blinding light, but send it through a prism, reflect it off a surface, and the colors, complexities, and beauty of its components emerge.  Blinded by the sun that is India, I stared out of the window on that first bus ride from the Madras airport mesmerized and appalled by the mass of humanity, poverty and filth that lay outside the window, unable to see the colors amidst the intensity.  At the time of that first trip I was much more excited about the European half of the trip than the Indian one, although it was the Indian half that generated the most thought, and shaped my views.  It’s a country that forces you think about the meaning of life, what’s important and what’s not, and to re-examine one’s own belief systems, especially for me at the young but maturing age of 18.   It’s not something that happens immediately and I didn’t notice it so much at the time, but looking back I can trace the thoughts that eventually led me to develop my own philosophies about what was important to me and how I should live my life to those four months in India.

In addition to the cerebral aspects, that trip is where I really fell in love with the adventure of life on the road.  My first trip on my own was going from Madras (now Chennai) to the ancient remains of the Vijayanagar Kingdom at Hampi, a relatively out of the way place in those days requiring multiple bus and train transfers in areas few foreigners ventured on their own.  It was baptism by fire as far as international travel goes.  After a few trips in India on my own, navigating Europe for a few months afterwards proved to be a cinch.

I returned from that trip with a third love, travel, to go along with basketball, and science.  I would have to wait to indulge this new passion while I concentrated on the latter two. In the fall of 1995 I entered Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, playing on the basketball team and studying physics.  Despite my math and physics majors, computer science minor, I still managed to take at least one non-science class each semester, taking classes in philosophy, religion, and history to round out my schedule.

When it came time to apply for graduate school, I applied to all schools in California, anxious to leave the Midwestern winters behind and return to the sunshine of my West Coast upbringing.  A chance conversation with a graduate student at Northwestern University (where I was involved in a summer research program for undergrads) prompted me to apply to the University of California, Santa Barbara as well as Stanford, University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Diego.  The student had mentioned he almost went to UCSB and they had a very good materials program there, so I looked into it since I knew Santa Barbara would be a nice place to live.  I ended up choosing UCSB.  It’s interesting how such a significant decision affecting the people I would meet and the field I would study can hinge on a seemingly insignificant piece of idle conversation.

With Luther ending in May on a semester system and UCSB starting on a quarter system in late September I had a four month long summer.  I finally had the opportunity to travel back to Asia.  I opportunistically cashed in mutual fund stock I had bought with surplus funds from my summer jobs and which had done very well for me during the dot com bubble of the late 90s and I took a three month trip to Asia, spending two months in China and a month in Thailand and Cambodia.  When I left I thought, like most Americans, that a three month trip was a long time; I soon realized it was very short.  I met people on that trip who had been traveling years at time, and I resolved that some day I’d like to travel without time constraints with the complete freedom to choose the path which seemed most interesting to me at the time.  The trip also boosted my confidence as a traveler and with India and China under my belt I was certain I could go pretty much anywhere.  It was also the trip where I started to develop myself as a photographer, shooting slide film on my dad’s old all manual Pentax screw mount.  I’m sure I could have gotten better pictures from that trip had I carried a more modern, easier to use camera instead of a relic from the sixties, but as far as a learning experience goes, it was invaluable.  Having to set all the parameters myself necessitated the understanding of what they did, and taught me patience as well as how to set up a shot.

I enjoyed graduate school at UCSB.  I enjoyed the people I met.  I enjoyed nights out on State Street.  I enjoyed my research. I enjoyed working for my advisor who is not only an incredibly smart scientist but a well rounded and grounded individual who knew there was more to life than just the lab.  I enjoyed mountain biking in the hills above Santa Barbara, and going wine tasting in the nearby Santa Ynez Valley.  It was a comfortable life but the call of the road was still out there.  I was able to indulge my wanderlust somewhat with trips to Burma over Christmas of 2001, to Peru to hike the Inca trail in spring 2003, and to Egypt in the spring of 2004.  Another way to indulge my love of travel while furthering my progress toward a degree and save me money as well was to attend conferences and visit collaborators in interesting places.  I managed a couple trips to Germany, and trips to Japan, India, and Canada in this way in addition to domestic destinations.  As I progressed though graduate school I continued to enjoy my research and work in the lab but I became less certain of what I wanted to do after I graduated.  The typical choices for someone with a Ph.D. in semiconductor materials  are to either get a job in industry, or pursue the academia route, most often initially though a post doc with the aim of eventually becoming a professor.  The people I knew who got jobs in industry made good money in the neighborhood of $100,000 a year, but invariably within 6 months disliked their jobs. However they were hooked on the money to support their cars, new condo or house, and comforts of the professional world, working long hours and eagerly awaiting weekends, at least those who did not have to work on Saturday as well, and their two weeks of vacation a year.  I had a vision of myself in that life and choked with disgust as I saw the years fly by, the next the same as the previous, dull and ordinary.  Above all I wanted an interesting and adventurous life.  I didn’t need much money; I just needed to live, to experience, to grow.  There are of course many ways to do this and having an interesting and engaging life does not necessitate travel, but for me at this particular time I knew my route to this goal would be through seeing and experiencing the world.  As for academia, as I neared my graduation date, I was not ready for it.   I enjoy working in the lab and doing research well enough, but at this point what excited me, made me feel alive, is the rush I get hopping on a bus not knowing what awaits me at the other end, not completing an experiment with a great result.   As I became closer to finishing, I became more and more certain that the time for me to take the long trip I had wanted was now.  I had the money having lived frugally during grad school and, again riding a stock market bubble, having pumped money into the market after 9/11.  I was free of attachments, not much in the way of possessions, no relationship; certainly if ever there was a time, the time was now.  I cashed in the frequent flier miles I had racked up on all those conference trips throughout graduate school, and booked a flight to Hong Kong.  Five days after I had filed my thesis I was flying high over the Pacific and so my journey Across Asia began.

-Micah Hanson, February 2009

17 comments to About Me

  • Neil Shigeoka

    Micah – You are an inspiration!

  • pascal

    Hi Micah,
    I really enjoy your website/blog. Last time I went to India was 1995 !!! I’m planning to go back, and this time to Ladakh at the end of Aug. So if you had any recommendations for 4 weeks of hikking/backpacking/trekking overthere, what would you recommend (which specific areas/routes I mean) knowing that I don’t like crowded places. Thanks for your feedback.

    Pascal (Toronto)

  • Thanks Pascal,

    I’d be happy to help what kind of trekking did you have in mind? Are you going to bringing your own tent and camping gear ect? Are you going to be trekking alone or with others? Lot’s has changed since 1995 but don’t worry it will still feel like India. You can send me an email directly at micahhanson33@gmail.com if you like.

  • wow! I’m gonna be another trekker like you, soon – soon!
    I’ll try my BEST,sir
    my word for it!
    You’re my “bright star! How steadfast thou art!”
    hello, hello, my regards!
    your journal – oh ma gosh, what a find! what a find!

  • Hi Micah,

    first of all: THANK YOU SO MUCH for your invaluable tips and insights!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It’s the only source I found that really provides what I was looking for!!!!!!!

    Just one urgent question: Is it possible to buy gas cartridges for camping stoves in Leh?? Or do I have to use a Kerosene stove??

    Would appreciate a quick reply as I am leaving to Leh next week.

    Thanks so much
    Cheers
    Aneesha

  • Yes it is possible to buy gas cartridges but only in Leh.

  • Kelly

    Hi Micah,

    I was browsing through the independent hikers guide and ended up checking out your blog. Thanks for the info on hiking in Ladakh and Tibet.

    Your photos are very impressive. They reminded me of my 19 month trip abroad of beautiful scenery, mountains, culture and friendly/happy locals.

    Are you planning to publish a novel on your journey?

    Keep up the great work!

    Kelly =]

  • Kirti

    Micah,

    Are you in Ladakh right now?

    Kirti

  • Menashe

    are you the Micah Hanson I met in Yunan, China 1999? If you are, we walked the Tiger Leap together. You used to carry to cameras :-)

  • Yeah great to hear from you. I sent you an email.

  • I was now in Jammu heading back to Delhi.

  • Thanks Kelly,

    Its been brought up by others. Not sure what I’ll do.

  • Jess Kinsey

    I have fond memories of your visits to Iowa! I hope you are well!

  • Have been reading your blog for a while and am now ready for a trip to Ladakh myself. I have a few questions for you. I could not find an email link but through this post you should have mine. I am debating between climbing mentok kangri, chamser kangri, stok kangri, or kangyatse or perhaps just hiking/trekking in the region.

    If you get a chance please shoot me an email.

    Thanks,

    Ranjan

  • Hi Micah,

    Came across your blog while I was searching for info on Stok Kangri. Plan to trek there next month.
    Your story is very inspiring. I wish someday I can undertake a 1-2 year backpacking/biking trip across all the states of India.
    If you don’t mind, could you tell me whether there are any means of funding such travel on the go… for example temp jobs, contributing to travel magazines, etc.? Any ideas?

    Thanks!

  • Sharon, Canada

    Hi Micah,
    I am interested in what camera you used for most of the time you traveled (after you ditched your dad’s old one!). Would you share that information? I am 64 year-old retired woman now, but I first traveled in 1977-78 with a nine-month trip through India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and Greece. Like you, it resonated with me for years after and it completely erased any fear or apprehension I had about being in the world out there. I repeated that India trip (along with Sri Lanka and Bali) in 2010. Things had really changed, including me, but every trip is an entity unto itself and has its great and beautiful moments. After a trip to Thailand and several others to Mexico, Cuba and Nicaragua, this year I am going to Vietnam and Myanmar. Your photos are breath-takingly beautiful and you write like a charm! All the best to you and wishes for many more happy vagabond years.
    Sharon

  • Hi Sharon, thanks, must have been an impressive trip back in the late 70s, good timing, you just made it to Iran and Afghanistan in the nick of time prerevolution, preinvasion. Enjoy Vietnam and Myanmar, I went to Myanmar in 2002 loved it. Since I’ve gone digital I used a Canon DSLR started with the 20d, moved to 50d, and currently have the 5d mark 2. Though I would say lenses make a bigger difference on the images than the camera body. You can find a complete list of the gear I lug around with me here: http://www.micahimages.com/blog/?page_id=2

    Happy travels, Micah

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