Published: 18.02.15

About Shangri-La, New Guinea and the meaning of life


The soothing rain is knoсking upon the roof. Simon`s wooden house hastily hammered together fell into a deep sleep. Two of our guides and a whole team of porters are sleeping in the next room. Judging by the rumbling snor, everybody are exhausted. Now, in a relative safety, the men finally dared to relax . Only Simon is quietly walking around the house, checking the locks on the doors and windows. I can hear the creaking of the floorboards under his feet. We are his guests and he care of us.

I'm lying on a straw mat, right on the wooden floor in a room with no furniture, having wrapped in a dirty and damp sleeping bag. The candle is burning down in the corner of the room, and  next to me  my best friend and the most important companion in my expeditions - Svetlana is snuffling heavily and sweetly. Now I start realizing that everything is over.... but my brain and my body is still on the alert, and I’m listening to any sound beyond the walls of the room. Only yesterday just at this time we were thinking how we were giong to ascape from the aggressive tribe at night in a pitch darkness, in the  midst of the impenetrable jungle.

We are hurriedly packing our bags for the expedition. In a couple of hours we are going to New Guinea. The trip won`t be easy as we are going to live in the trees in the very middle of the tropical rain forest either in the houses of Korowai tribe or in our tents. Under such conditions, we need  a lot of useful staff: waterproof bags, a supply of dry warm and comfortable clothes, rubber boots , two pairs of convenient shoes, a stock of personal hygiene means,  medicines for all occasions, disposable tableware, food, thermoses, penknives, flashes, sleeping-bags, towels, a set of packages of different sizes. The clothes become damp immediately at the place where we are going to, and it is almost impossible to dry it up. Wounds and cuts heal hardly there. And it is necessary to calculate and think over each detail of luggage because during the expedition we will rely and entirely depend only on this stuff.

The local tour operator intimidates us, telling about dreadful diseases, the poisonous jungle and wild people. But we are determined. Moreover, this trip is going to become a turning point in my career as a travel-photographer, I am  going to shoot a documentary film this time. For this purpose I am taking a professional operator and a huge number of various audio, video and photo aquipment with me.

Our point of departure is Bali. We are waiting for night flight with two stops and one transfer.

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Oh, my Goodness, I have never had such a difficult flight yet! I caught a viral infection before the travel and during the flight I was suffering from hight temperatura and  nausea. After a 10-hour fly I am completely exhausted. I fall on a bed in my room in Baliem Pilamo hotel in Wamena. But we have such a busy schedule that I have no time for the rest. I hardly force myself to get up, check the equipment and ready to continiue my way again. Today we are visiting the hills of NAPA and getting acquainted with Dani Tribe`s customs and culture.

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Even despite a terrible weakness, I feel an emotional lift. I have been going to it for so long that no circumstances that can break my determination. In general, visiting New Guinea was almost unrealizable dream for me for nearly 10 years. And during these long years I was eargely looking at the map of this island and soaking any information about it.  I remember how a few years ago I came across the book “Lost in Shangri-La” of Zukoff Mitchell. I read it with such a great interest! And now I am standing in the Baliem valley or as it is called in the novel “The secret valley” and can't believe my eyes: how precisely, according to the colonel Ray T. Elsmor, the author described this place! But for me the most surprising thing is that practically nothing has changed during this period.

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The same flat green countryside framed by the high mountains shrouded  in thick white clouds and the same small huts with tiny well-groomed gardens. It’s unbelievable  but the same naked men with holim on penises and the same naked women in short grass skirts inhabit this valley. The only innovation is a small airport due which the travelers can visit this place.

By the way, the first tourists arrived here in the early 80th. And our friend Asike Haluk from the Dani tribe tells us how he saw a huge “steel bird”  for the first time, it happened 25 years ago. Since then almost every day  he makes a two-hour way from Pidgima village to the airport to greet "white alien", so strange for him. Asike has been living all his life in the village; he has seen a huge number of planes already, but he hasn’t got inside the plane yet.

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Asike immediately won our hearts and we decided to take him with us. He was so delighted that right here got into the trunk of our car. The native asked only some packs of local cigarettes for his help. And I gave him a Russian nesting doll- matryoshka. It was worth seeing how the old man laughed exploring these wooden rosy beauties!

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 It is hard to define Asike's age. The natives don't keep chronology, don't celebrate birthdays and don't know how old they are. The local guide and Daniss`s loyal friend Alfit Kulu supposes that Asike is about 56 years old.

 Asike is deaf and dumb, but he understands everything with a help of gestures. Due to his congenital defect he is considered the `holy fool` in his village. His wife left him, and he has no children. I ask the elderly Dani if I agreed to marry him, what bride price he would give to my family then. Without hesitating Asike says that he is ready to give me 40 pigs. It flatters me very much as the cost of pigs reaches 5000 dollars here. Even according to our standards the amount is absolutely heavy and prohibitive. So Asike is considered a very rich man in  the village.

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