Story by Manos Angelakis
Photos courtesy of Quark Expditions and all Tibet photos by Songtsam Luxury Hotels and Lodges
Before I pay the Ferryman
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river ran,
through caverns measureless to man, down to a sunless sea.
(Kubla Khan) Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772–1834
While I was studying English literature at school in Athens, Greece, the above mentioned romantic Coleridge poem, plus “Lost Horizon” a story by James Hilton and “Plain Tales from the Hills” by Rudyard Kipling, were required reading.
“Lost Horizon”, is the origin of the legend of Shambhala a.k.a. Shangri-La, a fictional, mystical, utopian valley located high in the mountains of Tibet. And Tibet eventually became part of my bucket list of places and things to experience during my lifetime.
I have been lucky enough to scratch-off - i.e. fulfill - many of the things I wanted to experience before I have to pay the ferryman to cross the river Styx:
Being in the King’s Chamber at the Great Pyramid of Giza -- I spent an entire night in there in the ‘80s and it cost $10,000 in baksheesh (i.e. bribes) for a group of 10 to the appropriate authorities and guards, but it was well worth it; another night was spent at the Korykion Andron, the mountain cave above Delphi where the original site of the Pythian Oracle is thought to have been; a visit to the Shaolin temple in Henan; tea ceremony at the Jiufen Tea House, in Taiwan, and the Okura Hotel’s Tea Pavilion in Tokyo; Stonehenge and the Tower of London; Venice; Istanbul; the Marrakesh Medina; Ukonkivi Island, in the company of a Saami shaman in Finnish Lapland; the Malta Hypogeum; formal afternoon tea at Claridge’s in London; a recording session at the Abbey Road Studios (in 1993 I recorded and mixed sound-tracks there for a series of award-winning productions); dining at L’ Espadon Restaurant at the Hotel Ritz, in Paris, and an upfront in-person visit with the Mona Lisa at the Louvre; a stay at the Oriental Hotel’s Author’s Suites in Bangkok; a climb up the Glastonbury Tor; cocktails at the Peninsula Hotel’s lobby in Kowloon; dim-sum lunch in Hong Kong and at Din Tai Fung in Taiwan; cup of espresso at Florian in Piazza San Marco; dinner at 11 Madison Park and Per Se, in New York City, lunch at Pandelis Locandasi in Istanbul’s Misir Bazaar, dinner at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Catalonia, Noma in Copenhagen, Azurmendi near Bilbao and Arzak in San Sebastián; spending a night at the Stanley and Livingstone Hotel at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe; two weeks in Lima, Cuzco and Machu Picchu; seeing opera performances at the Met, in New York, and the Staatsoper and the Volksoper, in Vienna; and more recently seeing the Guernica, Picasso's masterpiece in Madrid, and a visit to El Greco’s Home in Toledo.
Up to now, a few experiences are still eluding me: a trip to Antarctica, a fresh beluga caviar lunch by the Caspian Sea, a visit to Bukhara or Samarra, and a journey to Tibet.
An Antarctica cruise on Quark Expedition's new vessel “Ultramarine” is already in the works with a voyage at the end of February 2022. Articles in LuxuryWeb about the trip will be published in April or May 2022.
Iraq and Iran (Persia) are still in major turmoil, so I don’t expect to have a beluga caviar lunch by the Caspian any time soon and, hopefully, I will not have to attend an appointment in Samarra in the near future (see W. Somerset Maugham’s story The Appointment in Samarra).
Tibet though, is becoming much more of a possibility, thanks to Songtsam Travel.
The Songtsam Luxury Hotels and Lodges; 13 unique properties all located across the Tibetan Plateau and the Yunnan province of China were founded by award-winning documentary film director Baima Duoji. They present a collection of luxurious, Tibetan-style, boutique retreats that follow the guiding principle of living in harmony with nature and the unique culture of the Tibetan region. Each lodge offers between 9 and 50 guest rooms and is situated near an authentic village or in a natural setting far from busy tourist areas. Rather than restore or build in the middle of a city, Songtsam prefers to offer guests a view from afar, a chance to pause, to “step back” and observe the culture more clearly, with the calm and serenity that is the essence of Tibet. The Songtsam Lodges are pioneers in the field of sustainability and eco-tourism without compromising their high standards of hospitality.
The lodges are built as brick/wood/stone structures using regional materials and the skills of local master craftsmen. The beauty of each lodge is in the architectural details. Indigo windows open to snow-capped peaks, balconies overlook dense forests and light and color explode everywhere. From walls painted peacock blue, to fish-fin shaped façades and grand courtyards, these features pay homage to nature, Tibetan culture and ancient wisdom.
We hope to visit Tibet in the very near future and articles on the trip and these unique hotels and properties will be published upon our return.
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