1694. Discovering a Shangri La

Andeer Travel Blog

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Then next morning, the Traveler wakes up refreshed and eager to start his new day in Switzerland. No rain, slugs, mosquitoes or cold to spoil his night's rest... it looks liking camping while hiking through this wonderful—but expensive—country is going to work.

He the trail follows the valley as it narrows into a gorge. There is also a road—but the road spends most of its time underground, so there's little to spoil the natural beauty of this place. On one stretch the trail does hook up with the road—literally. On a very steep part the trail becomes a metal bridge attached to the road—but hanging below it so drivers and hikers don't have to look at each other. No where else in the world does a country invest so much money in providing independent walkways fort people.

After a while the river turns into a narrow lake far below, it's tranquil clear waters reflecting the tall pine trees and cliffs around. Actually... not a lake... a reservoir. At the end of it is a dam and power plant.

Above the power plant, an army of men are at work, repainting the electric poles. Here in Switzerland, not only have people used amazing ingenuity to harness the power of their rugged terrain, but they also work hard to maintain and restore what they have built.

After the dam, the gorge opens up once again. The forest ends and open fields begin. The Traveler has reached yet another Shangri La. Another mini-world, seemingly cut off from the rest of the world. Maybe 5 kilometers long and only 1 or 2 wide,his valley hosts multiple villages.

Villages where it seems people are prospering and living comfortably.

How is this possible? The Traveler wonders. To the east and west are inhospitable mountains. To the north and south are narrow gorges. Almost anywhere else in the world where the Traveler has encountered isolated mountain communities, he's found people living a very harsh, basic existence. What is different about this place?

Elsewhere in the world, people are abandoning the harsh mountain life for easier life in the cities and open plains. But not here in the Andeer Valley. As he learns later, the population is actually growing here.

The Traveler ponders on this as he strolls down the trail to the first village, Andeer. Behind him is a small hydroelectric dam, providing power for this valley and surrounding valley.

Around him, steep grassy slopes are being cultivated. Grass is being grown to feed the cattle in the winter. From these cows the get milk and produce high quality cheese to be exported. He passes small factory that makes tiles and stonework. Here in a tiny valley you have a diverse economy that is some how able to compete in a world ruled by huge corporations and mass streamlined production.

How do they do it?

He's already seen a couple of clues. First of all, people work both hard and efficiently. Just working hard is not going to cut it in this modern age. They also pay heavy taxes—but those taxes go for things that are for the collective good. Like these roads that tunnel right through the mountains. In reality, Andeer is not isolated from the rest of the world.

You can just get on the road, and within an hour or two you can be halfway across the country—or in a neighboring country. Having a central government that actually serves the people and spends their money carefully is crucial.

Another reason might be that village folks aren't a looking for an easier life. Farming these steep slopes is very hard work. Many of them have the option to move elsewhere and get jobs that aren't so physically demanding. But they choose this life.

Yes... and there are certainly other factors as well. Switzerland doesn't just prosper because people produce good quality cheese and watches. It also hides a lot of dirty money for a lot of questionable people. Yeah, that certainly helps pad their national treasure chest. But, looking at the valley like Andeer... it's clear that hard work, efficiency, ingenuity and love for their land are the primary reasons this place prospers.

And I think this could be called a "Shangri La". Even though it obviously is dependent on the outside world for its prosperity... I think that, if it were suddenly cut off from the outside world, people would manage. They would survive. They would be able to live off the land once again.

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photo by: nathanphil