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The Himalayas famously draw intrepid travelers hoping to experience some of nature’s grandest offerings: towering, snow-crusted peaks that loom dramatically over the valleys and plains of the Indian subcontinent. But, as I saw on a recent trip to Nepal and Bhutan, this storied landscape is more than awe-inspiring geography; it’s also home to an incredible array of wildlife and a dynamic mix of cultures and communities.
Our adventure began in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, a refuge for greater one-horned rhinos, gharials (a narrow-snouted cousin of the crocodile), and a host of other species—including tigers. And while the thrill of finding fresh tiger tracks was as close as we would come to seeing one of the big cats, we happened upon another remarkable sight: a rhino mother and calf sunning themselves on the muddy banks of a watering hole.
Our time in Bhutan was just as inspiring. Respect for nature is written into the country’s constitution, which mandates that 60% of the country remain under forest cover. While exploring centuries-old Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples, I could feel the connection of the Bhutanese people to the natural world around them. Fluttering in the cool mountain breeze were strings of blue, red, green, yellow, and white prayer flags, representing sky, fire, water, earth, and air. The flags are hung at high elevations so the wind can blow through them, carrying their blessings across the landscape.
It was at one such sacred site on a high mountain pass, as the wind whipped through the trees and the sun shone on the tallest unclimbed mountain in the world, that I understood: In the Himalayas, the spirit of nature is alive and well.