Saturday, 26th September 2020

Paul Spencer Sochaczewski

Curious Encounters of the Human Kind – Himalaya

Posted on 07. Oct, 2015 by in Books, Curious Encounters of the Human Kind

Curious Encounters of the Human Kind – Himalaya

Curious Encounters of the Human Kind – Himalaya
(India, Bhutan, Nepal)
True Asian Tales of Folly, Greed, Ambition and Dreams

Buy the book:
Amazon US
Amazon UK

Explorer’s Eye Press. Geneva. 2015.

ISBN: 978-2-940573-05-9      Kindle
ISBN: 978-2-940573-03-5      Print on demand
ISBN: 978-2-940573-04-2      Ingram



This is the third book in a five-book series of unusual (and true) personal travel tales..

What’s a girl to do when a Hindu god doesn’t return her mountain?  Would you risk your life by hugging a tree?  How do you find a nameless young girl you first met (for five minutes) twenty-six years earlier?  For environmental consciousness should we trust the international-bureaucrats or a Bhutanese farmer?  Does the Himalayan yeti illuminate the dark side of our souls?  Why do we share a need with Tibetan refugees to “rid the land of demons”?  How do “often frothy” phalluses protect Bhutanese villagers?

This is the Himalaya region as you’ve probably never imagined, full of curious people, startling happenings and unexpected moments of humanity and introspection, giddiness and solemnity, avarice and ambition.


Editorial reviews 

“In the great tradition of Asian reporting.  The humanity of Somerset Maugham, the adventure of Joseph Conrad, the perception of Paul Theroux, and a self-effacing voice uniquely his own.” Gary Braver, bestselling author of Tunnel Vision

“The spirit of Kipling in contemporary Asian journalism.  This collection is essential reading for anyone who wishes to pass beyond even the unbeaten track, right to the heart of Asia.” John Burdett, author of Bangkok Eight, Bangkok Tattoo, and Bangkok Haunts

“A fun, and funny, introduction to some of the most interesting people, places and sights of South and Southeast Asia.  A must-read for all serious travellers.” Jonah Blank, author of Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God: Retracing the Ramayana through India and Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity Among the Daudi Bohras

“If anyone can pull off something as innovative as Curious Encounters, it’s Paul Sochaczewski. Expect pellucid writing, insightful irreverence and universal truths elegantly presented, in a genre that defies categorization.” John Keay, author of When Men and Mountains Meet, India: A History, China: A History, and Mad about the Mekong

“Most of Paul Sochaczewski’s curious encounters start out as intelligent travel writing, exploring hidden corners of Asia and characters very much out of the ordinary.  But this series works on a more complex level, he frequently zooms in out of left field with a curious tangent, a sensitive reminiscence, a provocative opinion, a new way of looking at events that already are beyond most “normal” travelers’ tales.  I read each story feeling refreshed, enlightened, and curious to see what the next stage of Sochaczewski’s journey will bring.” Judith M. Heimann, author of The Most Offending Soul Alive: Tom Harrisson and his remarkable life and The Airmen and the Headhunters: a true story of lost soldiers, heroic tribesmen and the unlikeliest rescue of World War II

“Constructed on a base of strange but true personal travel adventures, Curious Encounters adds elements of history, an edgy sense of humour, mysticism, political-incorrectness, current affairs and memorable characters you’ll wish you had the pleasure to meet on your travels.  Consider each book in this series like a good curry — the result is more than the sum of its parts; each tale has its own zing.  Travel with these books to the little-visited corners of Asia, and savour them.” Jason Brooke, director of The Brooke Trust

“Paul Sochaczewski skips about Asia like a Monkey God hopping from mountain to mountain, bringing back life-prolonging peaches while annoying the gatekeepers. Whatever you do, follow him on this journey!” Lee Chor Lin, director of National Museum of Singapore, former curator of Asian Civilizations Museum-Singapore, author Batik: Creating an Identity

“In this series Sochaczewski explores the hidden corners, the forgotten people, and their surprising tales.  All the personal traveler’s tales in these volumes are captivating, all filled with humor, drama and insight, with an edgy take-no-prisoners voice; you won’t find anything else like this on the bookshelf.” Jeff McNeely, chief scientist, International Union for Conservation of Nature

“Sochaczewski is a world-class searcher, reporter, and observer who has criss-crossed Asia for forty years, pausing in the most unlikely places and finding extraordinary people.  The essays in this insightful and witty chronicle present a rich tapestry of eccentric nobles, self-serving naturalists, scoundrels who will make your teeth ache, celebrity monks and memorable folks whose stories are too good to be true.  But they are.” Christopher G. Moore, author of the Vincent Calvino novels, and Heart Talk

“The Curious Encounters of the Human Kind series is a delicious stew of improbable characters and intriguing stories, served up in thoroughly pithy style, and with a hearty dash of irreverent humour.” Tim Hannigan, author of Raffles and the British Invasion of Java and Brief History of Indonesia: Sultans, Spices, and Tsunamis: the Incredible Story of Southeast Asia’s Largest Nation

“The Curious Encounters series is proof positive that a writer/traveler can immerse himself in Asian cultures and yet remain objective enough to write extremely entertaining and often irreverent articles and colorful stories about what he has experienced.  From Indonesian mystics to Burmese white elephant hunters, the descriptions are spot-on.  There is something in these articles and stories that reminds me of the writing of Paul Theroux — not as cynical, perhaps, but the author is just as able to look at events with a clear, unsentimental and yet sympathetic eye.  You won’t regret a moment spent reading these tales which perfectly capture the allure and spice of the places visited.” Dean Barrett, author of Memoirs of a Bangkok Warrior

“What a discovery!  Paul Sochaczewski is that rarest of writers, who knows that the real “Asian miracle” isn’t malls or computer geeks. In his years traveling the continent he has discovered an eternal assemblage of arcane explorers, putative emperors, frivolous mystics, sacrosanct elephants and, yes, miracle workers. When Sochaczewski finds them, in Javanese palaces or sacred forests protected by spirits, they are caviar (or sweetened bird’s nest) for his fascinating portraits. A book for everyone who knows that the Mysterious East is alive and well, and more how-about-that-wonderful than you perhaps imagined.” Harry Rolnick, author of The Chinese Gourmet, The Complete Book of Coffee, and Spice Chronicles: Exotic Tales of a Hungry Traveler

“I never tire of living vicariously through Paul Sochaczewski and his writing adventures. He keeps finding these wonderful details that miraculously open up entire worlds to be explored.  Paul is the last of the Great Hunters, only instead of trophies, it is stories he brings home for our admiration, wonder and delight.” Mark Olshaker, Emmy-winning filmmaker, author of Einstein’s Brain, The Edge, and Mindhunter



Twenty-six years on, searching for the girl whose eyes said “I’m going to surprise you.”

It takes chutzpah for an Indian villager to stay angry at one of the most popular gods in the Hindu pantheon, but Padhan Patti feels she has a good reason.

How does the male reproductive organ, “exuberant, slightly askew and sometimes frothy,” protect villagers?

A friend returns to his birthplace on the Tibetan plateau to chase demons and seek cosmic explanations.

Should we trust the international-bureaucrats or the farmer in Bhutan for eco-solutions?

Chipko women’s movement keeps on huggin’.

The Indian Army controls the world’s highest golf course, bringing a breathtaking set of challenges.

Chasing a wisp, a legend, a key to who we are.


Sample Chapter (excerpt)

How does the male reproductive organ, “exuberant, slightly askew and sometimes frothy,” protect villagers?

phallus NABJI, Bhutan

“I can make you a new phallus, no problem.”

“But we’re leaving in the morning.”

“Trust me.”

Figuring that we could always use a bit more protection against demons in our house in Bangkok, I ordered a flying phallus sculpture from Karma, a village artist in central Bhutan.

This seemed to be a practical, and economical, form of Asian homeowners’ insurance.  Of course there was no guarantee that the wooden phallus, once imported to Thailand, would have the same anti-demon properties that it provides in this landlocked, traditional country, but I figured it was worth a ten dollar investment.

After all, phalluses — sometimes simple and stylized, often ornate and anatomically-correct — adorn many houses in Bhutan.  And these phalluses must do a good job since Bhutan is famously pacifist, the people are largely content (this is the home of Gross National Happiness, after all), and the landlocked kingdom is relatively free of the troublesome domestic dramas that afflict other Asian countries.

Mind you, I already had an ample dose of good luck.

Our small group was trekking along the Nabji-Korphu Trail in the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park.  Only a handful of trekkers are allowed to camp at each of the park’s six campsites and we had the area virtually to ourselves.  I spent hours sitting on a rock next to a river, watching electric blue kingfishers dart into the clear mountain water; alone in one of Asia’s most interesting and beautiful protected areas.

But if a little good luck is nice, then surely lots of good luck and protection would be even better.

* * *

            Throughout Asia folks rely on cosmic bodyguards that might come in the form of mystical tattoos, amulets, incantations and making of merit.

The Bhutanese, however, choose the male reproductive organ to ensure that a home is free from evil spirits and slander.

These phallus images, called po in Dzonghka, Bhutan’s national language, are sometimes painted on the outside walls of Bhutanese houses, sometimes carved from wood and hung from the eaves of their sturdy stone and timber dwellings.  Dasho Karma Ura, head of the Center for Bhutan Studies, describes these phalluses as “exuberant and gifted penises, always slightly askew and sometimes frothy.”

The man who generally gets credited with popularizing the good-luck-phallus craze was a 15th-16th-century Buddhist yogi named Lama Drukpa Kunley. He was to phallus-popularity what Brigitte Bardot was to the bikini.

Unlike the gentle and placid approach of mainstream Buddhist missionaries, Drukpa Kunley proselytized through anarchy, shock and awe.  He believed that only by spotlighting the absurdity of all fixed, man-made rules, and by forcing the student to abandon all ideas of predictability and emotional security, can people become wise enough to understand the “crazy wisdom” of Buddhist enlightenment.

Drukpa Kunley, enfant terrible of Buddhist missionaries, seducer of women (including his own mother, but it was for her own good, he argued), famously subdued the female demons of Bhutan with his “flaming thunderbolt.” He exemplified the tantric belief that carnal relations can be the gateway to enlightenment, and was not hesitant to enlighten as many women as possible.


(To learn how the flying phallus adventure turned out I invite you to buy the book)


Buy the book

Available as Kindle (ebook) and paperback at To order please click here