Two Year Reflections

The following is an excerpt from a letter I wrote my Grandma having just completed two years of travel in Asia:

I recently reached the milestone of two years on the road in Asia.  Milestones, despite their arbitrary nature, are often convenient points to look back and reflect on what has passed, and so I’ll take the opportunity provided by this letter to do a bit of looking back myself on the last two years of my travel and maybe a few stabs at what it has meant.  I hope it will be a more interesting read than a mundane list of places on a map whose names are inconsequential to their significance.

It has been a fascinating two years, and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to see so many places and things that remain merely idle dreams for so many.  But more so than the places and sites, it is the people I meet along the way that makes traveling more than just a series of images in some sort of fancy three dimensional film.  I was recently in Bangladesh during their first election in 7 years, and the most peaceful and fair election in the country’s short but turbulent and often violent history.  Talking with the people there, it was incredible to see the enthusiasm and optimism for a better tomorrow.  On election day people would proudly show me the ink line on their thumbs denoting they had voted.  I see in these people the antithesis of apathetic Americans who take for granted and don’t even bother to exercise the rights and opportunities that these people thirsted for.  So many of the people I meet will never have the chance to visit another country much less America.  I feel the responsibility that comes with the knowledge that, rightly or wrongly, people are often judged on their country of origin and I will be the face of the American people for many of the people I meet, a face that is in need of a positive ambassador given the unpopularity of the previous administration’s policies throughout the world.  I do my duty and try always to be kind and considerate, hoping to convey that there is really not that much different between them and myself.

I am constantly astounded by the generosity and hospitality of people, who welcome me into their homes, and share their limited resources.  In Bangladesh I met a blind son of a government official and a couple of his Burmese refugee friends who helped me visit some areas of the country I would otherwise be unable to go.  They are in the process of setting up an NGO to help the people of Bangladesh’s long neglected minority Buddhist and Christian tribes.  I stayed for nearly 2 weeks in a village in Nagaland, a tribal area in the far northeast of India, with a girl’s family I met there, observing and being a part of the village lifestyle.  While hiking in the Himalayas on a particularly cold night, I was invited to sleep in a tent by a group of porters from an expedition that was camping at the same place I was.  They shared their warm food with me, as I was hiking with only dried fruits and nuts.  These are just a few examples of the countless acts of hospitality that have been bestowed on me while traveling the last two years.

I’ve slept in village huts, nomad tents, monasteries, a hammock on the beach, a cave in the mountains, the home of a “living Buddha,” the tent city of a Mount Everest expedition, the floor of a classroom in rural Rajasthan, and countless guesthouses, homes, and hotels throughout Asia.  I’ve covered thousands of miles by bus, train, car, truck, boat, motorbike, bicycle, and foot.  Despite all this, I still wake up every morning excited to find out what will happen today, who will I meet and what will I see.  Every day is an adventure and an education.  For nearly 8 years I studied the fundamental aspects of nature making some of the smallest man-made structures in the world.  Now I’m studying the world on a larger scale, yet all of it still made up those same atoms which I learned to carefully arrange using the forces of nature as my tools.  The awe inspiring mountains, the pupil in the stare of a curious child, the carved stone on a temple wall, and even the brain from which emanated the idea to carve the stone in just that way, all of it just rearrangements of these same small particles far grander and more intricate than any of the crude structures I managed to produce.  But just as I was able to change the outward appearance of material by merely rearranging the positions of its atoms, so too all that outwardly seems foreign, exotic, and different is just change in the arrangement and all is fundamentally the same.  Knowing the commonality I can still appreciate the artistry and complexity of the arrangement, while feeling the splendor and simplicity of its common fundamental nature.  I think anyone who has traveled extensively would agree that while it is often the perceived differences that drive them initially, eventually it is the commonality that crosses cultures and continents that truly intrigues them.

My travel is natural extension of my curiosity about the world, the same curiosity which led me into science and now leads me to wonder what’s around that corner, how do people live in this tiny section of the map.  These last two years of traveling have been a mere continuation of that lifelong uniquely human endeavor we call education.  As of course anyone who has studied anything will tell you, the more you learn about anything the more you realize you don’t know.  Thus there can be no end, only a journey so we must enjoy the process not the destination, taking pleasure in the thrill of not knowing as much as in the satisfaction of discovery.  So I enjoy the exhilaration of not knowing what’s coming next, what will I see, who will I meet, what will I discover, as much as who I met, what I saw, what I learned.

Enjoying the journey.

-Micah Hanson, February 2009

8 comments to 2 Year Reflections

  • Sonu

    Micah .. I loved reading through it. I am glad you are one of the very very few who have realized “what’s important and what’s not”.

    You have inspired me a lot. I will also be on the road from March, don’t know how long, but I know I will. For there is Life out there.

    I would love to meet you. Do let me know if you drop by to Delhi or Bangalore sometimes.

    God Bless (Gob being the one in your philosophy)


  • Was lovely reading your blog. Very inspiring and keep it up!

  • sathya

    nice blog and travelogue. good work keep it up..


  • Good job on your website and journals!!! I came across your website while looking for treks in Ladakh. I would like to do Zanskar and Markha valley on my own. Would you recommened a female to travel alone in this region? I’ll be doing EBC on my own and I know it’s safe.
    I agree with you on Indian tourism department charging higher fees to foreigners. That’s not fair.

  • Thanks On trekking alone its all about what risks you feel are acceptable. Obviously its always safer when your with another person, and unfortunately in the world we live in you tend to be a little more safer if your a man than a woman. That being said Ladakh and Zanskar is probably a b place where the distinction between the sexes women generally don’t get harassed like they do in other places in India. Markha Valley would be quite easy to do on your own an you will likely meet people along the way if not in Leh. Across Zanskar is a little more difficult but mainly for some of the remote areas the trail passes through but again during the main season you are likely to see others. It would be better to go with someone but I’m not going to say you can’t do it alone. Neither trail is anywhere as close to as busy and developed as EBC.

  • Wish you MILES of smiles..

  • Rakesh laxkar

    Dear Micah
    i am that person you visit with hindoli and eating lunch my home with my faimaly thali and lashi .you come again my house your sister and your frineds and take a break fast with me .you know ya forget .iam very happy for reading your blog and seen picture

    Rakesh laxkar

  • Great to hear from you, Hindoli is one of my favorite places in Rajasthan. Thanks to your hospitality.

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