Meltdown in Mumbai

With each step forward I drew more and more attention from the mangy dogs and ragged people inhabiting the sidewalk of this two-block street. My heart began to pound and the muscles in my shoulders tightened as the many pairs of eyes stared at me, wondering what I was doing there. It was just before 8 a.m. on Saturday morning on Nowroji Fardonji Road somewhere in the middle of downtown Mumbai. The streets were just beginning to stir. I knew I wasn't too far from my hotel, but it felt a world away. I scanned the street for the designated meeting spot, but I saw no signboard, no logo for the non-profit through which I'd optimistically arranged to tour Dharavi, India's largest slum, home to more than a million people. At this point, I'd been working and traveling in India on my own for the better part of two weeks. Though...

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Myanmar Diary: The Real Burma Superstar

Myanmar is located at the crossroads of South Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia, so it’s no surprise that Burmese food is a dazzling blend of Asian flavors. Some dishes are overtly influenced by the country’s larger neighbors, India and China. Others call to mind the freshness and zing of Vietnamese, Thai, and Indonesian flavors. The markets we visited were like a feast for the senses: peanuts drying out in the sun, the pungent aroma of dried fish, rows and rows of colorful fabrics for longyis (the traditional Burmese wrap skirt), heaping mounds of red chilies, where only slight color differentiates mild from your-mouth-will-be-burning-for-days. I’m not unfamiliar with Burmese cuisine, as I’m lucky to have a few Burmese restaurants in my backyard, such as San Francisco’s renowned Burma Superstar....

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Myanmar Diary: Bird’s-Eye in Bagan

My heart skipped a beat as we slowly rose up into the sky, gliding through the air with the wind blowing us upwards. As we rose higher and higher, more and more brick temples and stupas became visible as Bagan’s Plain of Temples, a collection of over 2,000 temples more than 1,000 years old, spread out before us. The early morning sun made the brick stupas and temples appear redder. Everywhere I turned, temples and stupas dotted the landscape—in backyard gardens and along roads. There were small ones, only a few feet high, and looming in the distance, temples hundreds of feet high. There were stupas of every size, shape, and variety, each with a name, and a unique story. The Irrawaddy River was like a border, framing the landscape, and in the distance glittered the golden tip of the Paya Ananda. Seeing everything from the...

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Myanmar Diary: Making a Monk Laugh

Myanmar is a country that is devoutly Buddhist. There are said to be more stupas, the dome-like shrines that contain Buddhist relics, than people! And indeed, seemingly everywhere I turned, the tip of a stupa soared up from the landscape. I happened to be in Myanmar on Tazaungdaing, the full moon festival celebrated in Tazaungmon, the eighth month of the Burmese calendar. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Tazaungdaing marks the end of the rainy season. It was truly a magical experience, as it had been raining heavily before I arrived at Shwedagon Pagoda, stopped when I was there, and then started immediately after I left. I chalked it up to good karma. Shwedagon Pagoda, the holiest and most breathtaking pagoda in Myanmar, was abuzz with activity....

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A Life-Changing Adventure in the Desert
GeoEx in Sudan

I am lying in the middle of the road somewhere in the middle of the desert about 100 miles north of Khartoum, Sudan. I feel like I am lying in a frying pan because of the beating heat of the afternoon sun. Next to me is an SUV with blown-out windows and broken doors. I smell fuel leaking out, but I cannot move and every breath I take is like someone stabbing me in the chest. I feel like I am passing out and Leonard Cohen’s song “Closing Time” plays in the back of my mind. The thought that “this might be it for me” begins to take hold. After all these years and extreme adventures in Tibet, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Arctic, and other wild places, my last breath will be in the desert of Sudan. Somehow I find myself at peace with dying; I just do not want to be paralyzed or to die in a fire. A few minutes before, we had stopped at a roadside restaurant to have a quick lunch. Then we were on our way again, bound for a camp called Dongola in the...

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Don George, Editor

Don George is Editor in Chief of Wanderlust: Literary Journeys for the Discerning Traveler. He has been Travel Editor for the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle and Salon.com, and Global Travel Editor for Lonely Planet Publications. Don has published eight books, including Travel Writing, A Moveable Feast, The Kindness of Strangers, and Tales from Nowhere. E-mail him at [email protected]

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