Soulful Travels with Social Entrepreneurs
Welcome to our new transformative travel series—featuring beautiful travel stories from remarkable social entrepreneurs around the world. This week, Harjit takes us on a journey through Asia and New Zealand, with her stunning photographs and a deeper perspective.
Beyond the beautiful photos, we believe travel can be such a powerful force for good in our world—for our self-growth, to foster compassion and understanding, and to feel more connected to one another. We are delighted to share travel experiences through the lens of social entrepreneurs, who themselves are making such a positive impact in our world.
We hope you'll enjoy Harjit's heartfelt experiences, travel tips and the story of her company, Jewelled Buddha. First stop, the Himalayas!
Please tell us about the natural splendor of the Himalayas and the beauty of its people.
The Himalayas are truly spectacular. I would recommend everyone to experience it at least once in their lives. To really immerse yourself in the mountains I’d recommend trekking. I trekked the iconic two week Annapurna Circuit back in 2014. It’s still the highlight of my travels around Asia and really had an impact on me. Apart from losing a ton of weight and getting super healthy, it taught me a lot about myself.
The Himalayas are incredibly diverse. You trek through stunning rice terraces, alpine forests, past gushing waterfalls and raging rivers. The mountains rise magnificently with each step you take and to see their beauty up-close is something that never leaves you. It’s a privilege just to be there. It was a great way of putting my life in perspective at the time, as I’d left my corporate job to travel. Being here felt empowering and to this day I try not to sweat the small stuff. At night, I’d stare at the silhouette of the moonlit mountains against a backdrop of star-filled skies. I think I just spent two weeks consumed by wonder and disbelief! Meeting various people from different ethnicities also made me realise that we have more in common with each other than we think. We all essentially want the same things for ourselves and our loved ones.
China and Tibet
When traveling through China and Tibet, what made the most impact on you emotionally?
I wasn’t sure what to expect from China. With its vast landscapes, sky-scrapers and ancient towns, it was an eye-opening experience. The people were so friendly often wanting to talk to us or take pictures with us. Even in small towns where we would be stared at, I found offering food and trying to speak the language normally broke the ice! Though I found Chinese very difficult to grasp and resorted a lot to hand gestures much to their amusement! What shocked me was how much development and change took place and at break-neck speed! There seemed to be so much tearing down of history only for it to be rebuilt in a modern way.
This urge to replace the old with the new was also evident when we went to Tibet (now referred as the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China). I’d always wanted to see Tibet before the political issues took away its authenticity. Arriving in Lhasa we were confronted by fast food places and a heavy Chinese police presence. It was sad to see the Tibetan culture being diluted and brought home the struggles of the Tibetan people. Saying that, we spent eight amazing days touring Tibet and its monasteries and ended the trip at Everest Base camp. What can I say, we were lucky to experience a perfect view of Everest. Breathtaking!
What was most remarkable to you about New Zealand?
I don’t think I’ve ever come across a country so idyllic. There was perfectionism in everything. From the beautiful sandy beaches to the what seemed like manicured landscapes. Even the sheep looked well groomed! New Zealand took our breath away. We took a road trip all the way around the South Islands starting in Christchurch and ending in Kaikoura. It was an amazing three weeks staying in idyllic hideaways and experiencing golden savannahs, majestic mountain scenery and stunning wildlife.
You experienced the spiritual life of Indonesia… what was that like?
Indonesia was so unlike anything I had expected. It’s incredibly diverse, has great history and offers a mix of experiences owing to it having thousands of islands. We of course ended up in Bali where we lost ourselves in the bohemian lifestyle, temples and lush scenery. But there was one place I’d always wanted to go. Sulawesi. It’s a mysterious almost other-worldly place and renowned for it’s elaborate funeral ceremonies and buffalo sacrifice. The Torajan highlanders practice an ancient religion known as Alok to Dolo, which has its roots in animism. I was lucky enough (or not depending on your point of view) to witness a funeral ceremony. Though challenging to watch animals being sacrificed, it was beyond educational and I learned a great deal about an ancient religion and people I would never have come across in my lifetime.
In Myanmar, what were the feelings you had while visiting the Temples of Bagan?
Bagan was like being transported to a time of ancient kingdoms and civilisations. Dusty gravel roads, stunning temples and unspoilt scenes of farmers working in rice fields. There was romance to Bagan of days gone by. The Temples of Bagan at sunrise didn’t disappoint either. As dawn broke we saw hundreds of mist-covered temples appear and as the sun finally came up casting an orange glow over everything, I was blown away by the tranquillity of it all. The icing on the cake was when some hot air balloons were released in the distance and it was photography heaven! Utterly sublime.
Of all these experiences, which cuisine did you most enjoy?
I have to say Malaysia has great food! With its diverse mix of people and the influence of Chinese and Indian flavours, you really can’t go wrong. I remember just constantly thinking about what I was going to eat in Kuala Lumpur. I’d recommend going to Sri Paandi in Little India to taste their mouthwatering Chilli Crab, Also Jalan Alor in the heart of KL, has a great atmosphere at night. It’s a great place to hang out, have a beer and dive into some morning glory and chicken wings at Wong ah Wah.
Jewelled Buddha - Handcrafted fashion from faraway places
Your company Jewelled Buddha is deeply connected to Asia and the well-being of women in local communities. Please tell us the story, introduce us to your ethical product line, and share your stories of positive impact with us.
The inspiration for Jewelled Buddha started whilst I was travelling. I had recently quit my 9-5 corporate job and feeling somewhat dissatisfied with life, my husband and I decided to take the big leap and backpack around Asia for a year. Throughout our travels we came across women artisans weaving fine textiles. At the beginning I hadn’t planned on setting up a business, but a few months into my travels I could feel a change in perspective occurring. Witnessing how people lived, exploring different countries and living out of a backpack, gave me a deep appreciation of what I had and of my life. I realised I didn’t need so much stuff in my life and it inspired me to think of a more ethical approach to life and people.
After a challenging period of transition when we returned to the UK, I set up my business. Jewelled Buddha partners exclusively with social enterprises and brands who share our respect for people and the planet. We have a sophisticated edit of luxury fashion accessories and clothing from around the world. Our tagline, Style Made To Empower, inspires people to choose ethically produced fashion and empowers marginalised artisans to earn a sustainable income breaking the cycle of poverty.
Our product line includes upcycled fashion accessories such as one-of-a-kind sari scarves, sari necklaces and bags made out of recycled plastic bottles. We also have a collection of hand-loomed capes, scarves and shawls handcrafted in the Himalayas, and a new range of hand-woven cushions and throws, and Turkish hand-woven Peshtemals.
Working with various social enterprises enables artisans, (the majority of which are women), to earn fair wages that enable them to lead independent lives free of social stigma and gender inequality, and to look after the education and health of future generations in their families.
Visit Jewelled Buddha to learn more.
P.S. We would love to hear your stories too! Have you been to Asia or New Zealand? What did you love most? Please comment below, we'd love to know! :)