The four things travel has taught me: Jono Lineen



At a gathering at the Dalai Lama's monastery in the Himalayas, ahead of me in the queue to meet him was a young Tibetan woman. As she reached the lama and presented him with a gift, she collapsed, thrashing and screaming. The Dalai Lama grasped her in a bear hug and she relaxed into him. She was a Lhamo, a Tibetan female oracle, whose deity had been awoken by His Holiness. She was carried away by attendant monks and there I was, in front of the Dalai Lama. Smiling, he took my outstretched hand, looked me in the eye as if absolutely nothing had happened and for a moment I was a child again.


A young accountant in charge of the finances of a battle-scarred Sierra Leone hospital I was managing during that country's civil war came nervously to me and said he believed some of the staff were stealing the rations issued to malnourished children in the intensive care unit. I couldn't believe it; we started keeping closer records and it was true. I had to release someone. The next day the accountant came to work with a cast on his broken arm and bandages on his face. He had been brutally beaten by the former employee, although he wouldn't admit that to me. All he said was, "Those kids deserve as much care as we can give them."


I was a teenager and riding my bicycle across Canada. I probably hadn't showered in two weeks and was sleeping rough. In the village of Kitwanga on the Skeena River I threw my sleeping bag under a bridge and fell into an exhausted sleep. The next morning at sunrise I heard rustling by my head and leapt up expecting the worst. Beside me was a young Irish man in a clerical collar holding a tray of coffee and biscuits. I had pitched camp beside the local church. He had seen my sleeping bag and decided to help whoever was there. He then invited me in for a full Irish breakfast of bacon and eggs with soda bread and fried tomatoes.


I had just walked to the glacial source of the Ganges River 4000 metres high in the Himalayas and was returning down the moraine slope when Vashist, a Hindu sadhu, appeared out of nowhere, and other than the flimsiest of leather loincloths, naked, a spectacular sight considering the temperature was close to zero. Vashist craved the "eternally satisfying experience" and had moved to a landscape alive with Hindu significance. He had lived for two years in a cave close to the glacier and expected to stay as long as was needed to attain Moksha or liberation.

Jono Lineen was born in Northern Ireland and moved to Canada as a young boy. He spent almost 20 years travelling the world working as a forester, mountain guide, ski racer, humanitarian relief worker and writer. He is a curator at the National Museum of Australia. His books include River Trilogy, Into the Heart of the Himalayas and his recent release, Perfect Motion – How Walking Makes Us Wiser (Ebury Australia, $34.99). See