THE SECOND GENERATION BLAZES NEW TRAILS

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1 A Journey for Two Lifetimes THE SECOND GENERATION BLAZES NEW TRAILS R Steve Conlon on trek in East Nepal, contemplating Kangchenjunga (28,169 feet), the world s third-tallest peak. 64

2 TRAVEL TIME by DEAN WHITLOCK PHOTOS COURTESY OF Above the Clouds This story, like most great adventures, starts with a journey the first of hundreds. In 1972, photographer Steve Conlon visited Nepal to trek the famous Himalaya and meet its people. He returned several times once for more than five years became fluent in the language and married Muna Gurung. When he and Muna came to the United States in 1982, with their first child due any day, Steve s parents urged him to find a more settled career. He met them halfway by founding Above the Clouds, one of the first adventure travel agencies in the country. That was only the beginning of the journey. 4 Summer 2013 / Best of Burlington 65

3 Thirty-plus years on, the Conlon family is still helping others to follow in their footsteps, on trails being blazed by the second generation of avid travelers. Steve and Muna s daughter, Lisa Kumari Conlon, joined the staff in 2007, and last year she became the COO, while Steve began a gradual transition to a semi-retirement centered on his photography. Befitting a family with travel in its genes, Lisa is already exploring new directions. What won t change is the passion behind every step they take. As Much About Cultures as Mountains From its very first adventures, Above the Clouds has been just as much about the people and cultures it visits as the mountains and trails. Yes, they will take you trekking through the Himalaya in Nepal and Bhutan, but you can also visit tiger reserves in India, ranches in Patagonia, ancient fortresses and monasteries, busy markets, and isolated villages never noticed by other tours. And you will travel with guides who are personal friends of the Conlons and have been working with them for decades guides who introduce you to their families, invite you to dinner at their homes, and provide a personal glimpse into their culture that you can t get any other way. Above the Clouds offers standard itineraries to their select destinations, but most of their clients 66

4 R Left center: Looming Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. As the fort looks out over the city, it s hard to imagine what it must have felt like to be an invading army. Above: Punakha Dzong in Punakha, Bhutan. The architecture in Bhutan is both unique and spectacular. Bottom, from far left: Lisa looking out over the border between Nepal and Tibet in Mustang, Nepal. The Black Hat Dancers during a festival in Paro, Bhutan. Rooftop camping in Tsarang, Mustang, Nepal. Summer 2013 / Best of Burlington 67

5 R Above: View from the Above the Clouds home office in Hinesburg, Vermont. Right: The Conlon family on trek, Lisa is 27 and has been trekking in the Himalaya for over 20 years. about 80 percent, in fact choose a custom tour with special departure dates, a limited group, and helicopter tours or side trips even farther off the road less taken. Our trips are not for everyone, Lisa explains. They re for people looking to dig beneath the surface of the destination. Their alumni agree, as testified in the Above the Clouds blog: Perhaps the best... was the ability to meet local people and have a meaningful connection with them that remains after our trip has concluded. We are in regular contact with four people from these countries. Each guide was outstanding and gave us an understanding of the local history, art, and culture. They also focused on what we wanted to learn and do, and they did it taking our rhythm into consideration.... We met people with varied backgrounds and had an opportunity to see a segment of India that it would not have been possible to see with a group. (Richard and Dorothy Dorsay.)

6 Summer 2013 / Best of Burlington 69

7 70 Born with Itchy Feet Lisa Conlon inherited her father s itchy feet and has lived a life that only made the itch hotter. She celebrated her second birthday at her grandparents farm in Nepal, which you could reach only on foot. She walked her first trek at age five and has since trekked in Nepal, Bhutan, Norway, France, Italy, Peru, and Patagonia. She majored in political science and South Asian history at UVM, considering a career in international politics, but she spent the year after graduation touring, guiding, and just bumming around. She realized she couldn t imagine a life that didn t have travel and trekking at its center.

8 R Above: UVM Summer Nepal Class 2012 pauses for a group photo in Mustang, Nepal. Left: Masks and kids in Thimphu, Bhutan. Our clients are the dreamers of our day. They share our belief that there are parts of the world that touch your soul, that have the capacity to change you. Exploring New Ground And not just travel for travel s sake. She is the happy child of an intercultural marriage, with an inevitably global perspective that she is already applying at Above the Clouds. Ideas for new trips are beginning to surface exploring the connection between yoga, meditation, and trekking, for example. She has also dug into her academic background, partnering with her UVM advisor, professor of South Asian history Abigail McGowan, to offer a summer class in the remote area of Nepal called the Kingdom of Mustang. The class focuses on how really remote areas of the globe experience rapid integration Summer 2013 / Best of Burlington 71

9 when something like a new road is introduced, and what that does to the environment, cultural preservation, and the impact of globalization on the area. It s been great we started the second class in May of this year! Lisa is already looking for a second school to partner with and exploring ways to expand the concept to non-students. Creating the class, she explains, taught her how much she is fascinated by finding ways to share the parts of the world that I love through a lens that I believe in. It was one of the first passion projects I came up with, she says, and ever since, I ve really seen the difference that passion makes. I love what I do, the places I get to go, and the people that we get to work and interact with. I am very thankful for the global view that I got from my parents. I feel privileged to have had that early exposure to the world and excited to now be in a position to share that knowledge and love of travel with fellow adventurers. Dream Merchants That difference in approach to travel and culture is the essence of what Above the Clouds does. Steve Conlon described their job to his daughter as dream merchants. And she believes it. Our clients are the dreamers of our day, she says. They share our belief that there are parts of the world that touch your soul, that have the capacity to change you. It s our job to share some of the magic that has kept us connected to these parts of the world. Perhaps this blog post by traveler Jane Lang says it best: I look back at the pictures I took and I reread my journal entries... and I still cannot believe I did it. I DID IT! w Above the Clouds P.O. Box 388 Hinesburg, VT (800)

10 Summer 2013 / Best of Burlington 73

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