GBA Lifestyle News
By Adele Wong | July 20th, 2016

Adrian Bottomley, founder of bespoke travel company Whistling Arrow, takes adventure-seekers to the remotest regions of China, Nepal and other parts of Asia for weeks-long treks and expeditions. He tells us about his wildest adventures, and his favorite countries in the whole wide world.

What is your background?

I graduated from the London School of Economics in the early 90s, and like most of my contemporaries, gravitated towards the financial world. I specialized in structured derivatives in my jobs until those products blew a big hole in the global economy and the music suddenly stopped. By then I’d had enough, and it was time to pursue my dreams rather than the almighty dollar.

From finance to adventure travel — that’s a big jump. Why and how did you start Whistling Arrow? 

I started Whistling Arrow seven years ago in Hong Kong. My aim was to create truly original, expeditionary style trips to some of the hidden corners of Asia. But “truly original” is hard — it requires very intrepid trail-blazing guests, so we have scaled it back a touch in recent years and now settle for “highly distinctive” instead. In short, we don’t do humdrum or Everest Base Camp treks.

What was one of the coolest expeditions you’ve ever been on?

I have been lucky enough to have been on quite a few. Just recently, a friend and I trekked deep into the remote jungle home of the Stone Korowai in Indonesian West Papua to document the tricky cultural transition the tribe is undertaking as they move down from their towering treehouses and into government-sponsored villages. It was a real seat-of-your-pants adventure. But my favorite was probably pioneering a new trekking route around three spectacular 6000-meter-plus peaks in Yading, eastern Tibet, a few years ago. We have now run the expedition commercially three times, but the stunning mountain scenery en route never fails to amaze. Last June, we also found large clusters of the rare Himalayan blue poppy above 4,000 meters, which was an added bonus.

You weren’t kidding when you said “highly distinctive.” So, what does your latest expedition entail?

Our next expedition will be a mule-assisted trek to circumambulate sacred Mount Kawa Karpo (aka MeiliSnow Xueshan), which straddles the border between Yunnan and Tibet. The trek will take 12 days and for the first week it will re-trace part of the epic journey taken by Alexandra David-Néel — in particular, her crossing of the fabled Dokar-La Pass. She became the first foreign woman to reach the capital of the “Forbidden Kingdom” in 1924.

Let’s face it: the explorers and adventurers of today rarely make first forays like the one recounted in David-Néel’s famous travelogue, “My Journey to Lhasa,” but to trek in her footsteps, as well as those of the devout Tibetan pilgrims, is still a uniquely inspirational and spectacular adventure.

The Kawa Karpo Kora trek
The Kawa Karpo kora trek

What is your favourite country in the world?

For adventure, it is definitely the Himalayas. I love the mountains and find a powerful solace in them — one that is strengthened by my interest in the spiritual and cultural traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. If I had to choose one part of the massive range, it would probably be eastern Tibet. For pure rest and recuperation, it would have to be Italy. One word: Pizza.