“Searching for paradise is about loss, a longing for something once possessed but lost.
That also counts for me. That I do not know what the missing puzzle piece looks like or what to look out for is paradoxically a great advantage. According to an incomprehensible but universal law, not knowing makes the chance of discovery greater. Musing, my eyes wander from the notebook into the distance, beyond the airplane window, to where the horizon dissolves into cornflower blue.”
After wandering for nearly twenty years with camels through African deserts, explorer Arita Baaijens leaves for the Altai Mountains in southwestern Siberia in search of legendary Shambhala, an earthly paradise in a maze of glaciers and gorges. Tirelessly she travels by horseback through mountains and forests where bears and wolves live. Along the way she meets biologists, shamans and prophets, but paradise remains elusive, even after years of searching.
The biologist in her becomes intrigued by the faith of local residents in animate nature. How do landscape and soul affect each other? What distinguishes fantasy from reality? The adventurer goes to investigate, but the answers disturbed her more than reassured her. However, this unexpected turn also puts her life back on track.
The quote that begins this section comes from the prologue of my latest book. This prologue is dear to me because it’s where a life full of adventure comes together, including doubts and questions that gave rise to my impossible mission: searching for a paradise that does not exist.
While writing I discovered that ruthless landscapes have played the leading role in my life for almost thirty years. As a passionate person I’m attached to intimate friendships, but if I must choose between the knight in shining armor or a vagabond’s existence in vast, empty landscapes, I choose the latter. My answer reflects a pleasant madness that seems to exclude free will. What am I looking for in the remote Altai Mountains, but a horizon that never gets closer? “Search for Paradise” tells this story. I take the reader on an exciting journey full of unlikely events that actually occurred. And just as real is the paradise that I eventually found. Or did it find me?
Arita Baaijens is an explorer, biologist and author. She has received international recognition and awards for her research on landscape and is a member of the Royal Geographical Society, Explorers Club and Wings WorldQuest (Women of Discovery). Her published books include “A Rain of Eternal Fire”, “Desert Nomads” and award-winning “Desert Songs”. “Search for Paradise: a Search for Truth and Reality in the Heart of Central Asia” was published in January 2016 by Atlas Contact and made possible with support from the Dutch Foundation for Literature.