Looking for Paradise
Truth and reality in the heart of Central Asia
About landscape, spirit and soul
Arita Baaijens’ twenty-year obsession with the African desert has been dis- placed by her search for Shambhala, the mythical earthly paradise somewhere in the immense Altai. As she travelled through the rough mountainous region, she discovered paradise – not so much in the Altai as in herself. Looking for Paradise is her account of her travels, both within and without herself.
The Altai crosses the borders of Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and Russia, and is one of the last places on earth where nature is still pure and unsullied, barely touched by tourism. Shepherds and shamans believe that nature in the Altai is imbued with a life force. Baaijens, a down-to-earth Dutchwoman, doesn’t believe in ghosts, yet she was so carried away by the natural landscape there that even she became aware of this force which, at a volcano in Mongolia, overwhelmed her to tears.
‘I am convinced,’ she wrote, ‘that my tears are about the blank patches on the scientific map, the undiscovered regions, the immensity of which our minds, even after three hundred years of Enlightenment, cannot grasp.’
She longs for ‘a less chilly world, one where there is room for the unsayable, the wild, the untamed and the miraculous.’ That longing is what drives her quest for paradise: ‘The quest for paradise is about longing, about something we once had and lost.’
She begins to see that there is another reality for which our language has no words. In the Altai there are, for instance, more than fifteen words for ‘soul’, each with a different, specific meaning. She discovers that things are often not what they seem, that there are other ways of observing and other ways of being aware. We can experience existence in the same way that we experience beauty, comfort, the glow from music; such experience is beyond our understanding, and yet is no less real for that.
Looking for Paradise is a finely written, important plea for a way of living that involves feeling, intuition, fantasy and instinct, a way of experiencing a deeper reality.