Washington, DC, October 31, 2006 – Tracing a legendary journey to the most fascinatingly different peoples and pockets of cultural diversity in some of the world’s most splendidly isolated places takes time, inside access and imagination – all three of which will be in generous supply on Smithsonian Journeys’ epic adventure: “Vanishing Cultures Around the World” private jet expedition, September 29 – October 20, 2007.
From the Sami nomads of Finnish Lapland to the wandering tribes of the Mongolian Steppes to the Naxi matriarchs of China’s Himalayan foothills, to the highlands of Papua New Guinea, to the Buddhists of Bhutan – proud, isolated communities are fighting to keep alive their unique languages, arts, traditions and memories, as the accelerating pace of globalization threatens their existence. Mingling with people and exploring places as exotic as they sound is a rare privilege for explorers both intrepid and well heeled – made possible by highly customized travel via private jet that bypasses commercial airline routes and schedules.
Embarking from Europe on a flight path that will touch down in captivating, out-of-the-mainstream locales in Asia, Oceania and Africa, Smithsonian Journeys’ guests will enjoy the personal comforts of a private Boeing 757, custom-designed and outfitted for a maximum of 88 guests (fewer than half the aircraft’s usual passenger capacity), a crew of 17, including an accomplished private chef and expedition physician. In-flight lectures prepare participants for unforgettable excursions accompanied by a trio of notable scholars and expedition leaders who enhance each segment with expert commentary, including insights into the origins, artistic heritage, and challenges facing these rare cultures.
As director and curator of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, ethnomusicologist Dan Sheehy shares his devotion for preserving global rhythms and musical traditions with fellow explorers. Jack Daulton taps his passion for cultural conservation in lectures on the art and architecture of non-Western civilizations, further enhanced by his rich personal experiences, including his role in recovering a purloined, 1,000-year-old sculptural treasure. Rounding out the team of onboard experts is James Rosenthal, whose “big picture” perspective flows from 34 years as a career diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Services, including numerous overseas postings and a stint as a U.S. Ambassador in West Africa.
This grand exploration begins in Finnish Lapland, home to the semi-nomadic Sámi people, reputed to be the oldest surviving inhabitants of the Scandinavian Peninsula. Learn about the community’s endangered Inari Sámi language – practiced by only 400 people – and explore a pastoral lifestyle revolving around reindeer (even their colorful garments are woven from looms made of antler). Maximize your time with a visit to the renowned Siida Museum, an excursion to a reindeer farm, and an evening of Sámi joiking, the yodel-like singing of historical poems, a custom dating back 2,000 years. Individual choices abound: opt to cruise to Ukko Island, where archaeologists recently excavated Iron Age remains, or meet skilled artisans of traditional bladesmithing, weaving and silverwork. Two days in Armenia, the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion, include a visit to the Echmiadzin Cathedral, one of the world’s first churches and a UNESCO World Heritage site, and to the Garni Temple, Armenia’s only pagan monument.
Upon arrival in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, throat-singing musicians welcome explorers with a lively performance. The legendary land of Genghis Khan remains one of the last strongholds for horse-based, nomadic cultures. Visit the Gandan Monastery, one of the few Buddhist temples to survive the 70-year communist regime, and meet a local family living in a traditional ger home. In Lijiang in southwest China, meet the Naxi, a matriarchal society known for its lyrical music and pictorial language. On a guided expedition to the Old Quarter, witness sorcerers presiding over religious ceremonies; tune in to local musicians playing centuries-old lutes and zithers; and marvel at enchanting performances by Dongba dancers adorned in handcrafted costumes. On this three-day sojourn to the historic Silk Road trading post, individual options include a visit to the world’s deepest gorge (Tiger Leaping Gorge), or a journey to dramatic limestone pinnacles (the Stone Forest in Kunming).
Departing Asia for Australia, Arnhem Land is where 40,000 year-old Aboriginal oral and music traditions thrive. At this remote locale – permitting fewer than 1,500 visitors a year – meet members of the Gunbalanya tribe, who impart lessons of their ancestors and their strong affinity with nature. Bushwalk with your guide to hidden rock art caves, and join a spiritual Corroboree dance ceremony. Flying to one of the last true frontiers, in Oceania’s Papua New Guinea, the Western Highlands nourish some of the planet’s oldest agricultural communities, tended by the Stone Age Melpa and Nebilyer tribes. The colorful Huli, known for their striking wigs of human hair, reside in the picturesque Southern Highlands, a lush habitat for 13 species of birds of paradise; while in the Sepik River Basin, meet talented artisans and go inside intricate spirit houses that line the river’s banks.
Back on the Asian continent, expeditionary members are immersed in the traditions of the earliest known people of mainland Southeast Asia: the Khmer of Cambodia, who ruled for more than 600 years, building the mythical Angkor Wat, a masterpiece of Asian architecture abandoned and lost to Cambodian jungles for four centuries. In the kingdom of Bhutan, which only opened to the outside world in 1974, the journey spotlights the Ngalop, the primary ethnic group in Bhutan, and the first people to embrace Buddhism centuries ago. In this 200-strong monastic community, a true highlight is a meeting at the 17th century Paro Dzong monastery with the revered Datong Tulku Rinpoche – believed to be a reincarnation of the famous monk Bami Yeshi Yang.
On the African continent visited next, spend two days in Ethiopia, Africa’s oldest independent country – seeking out Lalibela’s monolithic churches, carved directly out of the underlying bedrock in the 12th century. Unique for Africa, Ethiopia was never colonized, and retains a distinct form of Christian Orthodox culture; about half of the country’s 70 million people are Orthodox Christians. Fittingly, this 22-day celebration of remote cultures concludes in Mali, with the cliff-dwelling Dogon and their deep knowledge of astronomy and creation stories. Explore the great city of Timbuktu, a major Islamic center in the 15th and 16th centuries, and ride camels through the land of the nomadic Tuaregs, “the blue men of the desert,” tracing the paths of these earliest inhabitants of the Sahara, who dominated ancient camel caravan routes.
Smithsonian Journeys’ “Vanishing Cultures Around the World” private jet tour is available for $44,950 per person, based on double occupancy, and includes: Roundtrip private jet travel from Copenhagen, luxury accommodations, meals, ground transportation, excursions and activities, services of several Study Leaders, expedition leaders, on-board physician, onboard chef, baggage handling, gratuities and emergency evacuation insurance.
Smithsonian Journeys, the travel program of the renowned Smithsonian Institution, is the largest museum-based travel program in the world, and is unflinchingly dedicated to the life-enriching experiences of educational travel. Every year more than 250 inspiring itineraries to all seven continents are led by eminent Study Leaders, a Smithsonian Journeys hallmark. For more information, visit www.smithsonianjourneys.org.
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