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Expedition Unknown – Shangri La Found – S02E22

imageFrom our previous outing, Josh has hooked up with Mark Aldenderfer who is documenting thousands of caves carved into the side of the mountain face. Within this remote region he has discovered temples and paintings left on the cave walls from hundreds of years ago.

But there are more discoveries ahead as Mark finds a rock tower that turns out to be a burial chamber. Inside are remains, bleached white by the sun. They are within an area described as a sky burial. The deceased is brought here and their body is returned to the earth as it were. The remains are left out until only the bones remain. It sounds a bit grim, but the practice and the location are still being used.

In Lo Manthang, Josh stops at a small temple to meditate. It is another remote location and the idea is to remove all external distractions. The idea of achieving peace and harmony is a common theme.

This is also the location Mark has been lead to with dozens more caves that haven’t been explored. Not only are they extremely remote like the others, but they are also 100 feet or more off the ground. Josh and the team have to use rock climbing gear just to get into them.
The others were dangerous, but these appear to be even more so.

What Josh finds is a series of interconnected chambers, a small city within the rocks. From the pottery and animal hides as well as the charred ceiling from cooking fires, this was a heavily occupied area. It’s conceivable that hundreds of people lived in these caves away from any form of attacks and dangers.

As Josh is heading back down, he makes an exciting discovery. Another wall of paintings using the same pigments and styles they’ve seen before. It turns out to be a Buddhist chant, one that has shown up on other temples in the area. Mark believes the people would live in the caves to preserve the small amount of farmland, which is set up as a series of terraces. They would use the land for crops, then store and protect it in the caves.

For their final destination, they are taken to an extremely remote temple. They have to use horses to make the final leg, but even the horses have to be lead up the incredibly steep and narrow winding paths they find.

And this is no ordinary temple as the location is kept a secret, known only to a select group of people who protect and watch over it. One of their party is a monk who literally holds the key to open the door.

The temple is a holy meditation shrine with vivid paintings on the wall, with masks and carved statues. It’s incredibly detailed and adorned for such a remote location. But the inner sanctuary holds even greater discoveries. They enter a room filled with carved deities, the protectors of the monastery. Each is painted in vivid colors and highly decorated. These deities are also holding weapons, armor, swords, shields and even crossbows. Each one is most likely hundreds of years old and a fantastic treasure on it’s own. It’s amazing that things exist in such a staggeringly remote location. And clearly many people have visited this shrine and left their mark on it.

So is this Shangri La? Is this Utopia? If your looking for something along the lines of the Seven Cities of Gold, then no. But, if the Utopia is that of meditation, enlightenment, one with nature and it’s surroundings, then I believe this to be the spot. It’s remote, away from war, away from distraction, disease would be minimal and it’s hidden among the clouds where a person can live simply off the land and meditate on their spiritual well being.

It may not be as glamorous as the tales make it out, but it fits the description pretty well.

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Expedition Unknown – Search for Shangri-La – S02E21

imageAs we get to the end of Josh’s travels for the season, we’re off to Nepal in search of the famed Shangri-La. The term has come to represent a paradise, a mythical city of Utopia where people don’t seem to age, suffer from disease and the idea of war doesn’t exist. But is such a place merely the imaginings of a fiction writer or can there be such a place?

At first, as Josh meets with some monks, it appears Shangri-La may be another word for Shambala, which might not be a place you visit with your mortal body. It is more of a state of being, a state of consciousness achieved through meditation.

But there may be more to it as Josh is told of the Sky Caves in the Mustang Valley. Hundreds of caves have been carved into the rock walls and they are almost completely unexplored. However, there is a small fuel crisis to overcome and nothing says skirting the law like black market fuel and a helicopter.

With that problem solved, they meet with Mark Aldenderfer who has been studying the area for years. He believes there are around 10,000 cave openings and they have perhaps been able to explore 300 of them. Not only do they not have the resources to explore every  one of them, but each opening is over 50 feet off the ground. You don’t merely walk into one, you climb using rope and harness. So they’ve been able to locate the caves, but they are still undiscovered.

For the caves they are able to enter, Mark takes Josh into a monastery carved into the rocks. It’s complete with mummified snow leopards, hand carved statues and paintings. It’s an extremely intricate temple that very few have ever been able to see.

It would have been used as a place of worship as well as a place of healing, a hospital to create medicines as well as perform ceremonies for those who had passed.

The next stop is the small village of Chhoser, where Mark is able to secure some supplies and some additional workers. The supplies are a couple of ladders which they strap to the trucks and do their best to climb the steep, icy and crumbling paths they call roads.

At their destination, they lash the ladders together and make their way inside another set of caves. What they discover are walls covered in detailed paintings. The art is most likely 500 years old, but since it’s painted right onto the unstable sandstone, entire murals have slid off and turned to dust. Interestingly, some of the locals have seen identical paintings in temples hundreds of miles away. It would seem the people moved from location to location meditating and creating works of art on the walls.

As Josh says, it’s disappointing to know that within a hundred years, those paintings may be nothing more than dust on the floor, the messages and signs of the artists to disappear.

But is this Shangri-La? Is this the Utopia of legend? Perhaps not, but it does speak to the ideal of peace of meditation. In this type of seclusion, one could find harmony with the world. However, there is another stop on the journey that may be closer to a Utopia.

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Expedition Unknown – Nazi Atomic Secrets – Part 2

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When we started the episode, Josh was looking for evidence that Nazi Germany had taken possession of million of dollars worth of art and gold and hid them away in secret bunkers. While those treasures remain to be discovered, it’s becoming clear that the Nazis built a series of underground structures and the stories of treasures being buried and tossed overboard are true.

We pick things up on Lake Fuschl, where Josh and Wolfgang located what appears to be a champagne bottle. Wasting no time, they hook with a dive team and head into the water. The team quickly finds a bayonet blade, most likely from WW2, as well as a grenade. These are pretty spectacular finds and solidify the idea that relics were thrown into the lake to hide them from the Allies. But in a cruel twist of fate, Josh isn’t able to locate the champagne bottle they had in the grasp of the ROV. It was larger than life on the screen, but unfortunately will remain buried for the time being.

From Lake Fuschl, Josh heads to Gusen and a concentration camp with tunnels built using slave labor. It’s claimed there could be five miles of tunnels, but Andreas Sulzer disagrees and believes the number to be much higher at 25 miles worth. To prove his point, he shows Josh documents listing more pieces to the complex. He’s already found an entrance that many said couldn’t and didn’t exist. And with Josh in tow, they visit this entrance which lies just beyond the rifle range.

What we get is an entrance complete with stairs and rusty SS helmet. Unfortunately, it needs to be cleared, not only of debris, but the flooded lower levels. However, due to some legal snags with the government, Andreas is forbidden to do any more digging. The tunnel is at their very feet, but action is slow about what to do next. That is a crime in its own right.

Andreas takes Josh to another entrance and it is his strong belief that these tunnels are connected and go off in even more directions. Oddly, this entrance gives off high radiation levels so it’s not safe to enter. This radiation could be from the atomic lab believed to be housed here.

In another spot Andreas knows of, there are some sandstone tunnels, a whole network of them. And as they push forward, the radiation levels continue to climb. Do these tunnels link into a massive series of structures built under the camps? Were they close to putting together atomic bombs? From the little bit we get to see, there is certainly a lot that needs to be excavated and cataloged. These tunnels lead to something and it would be amazing to see what it is.

While Josh hasn’t uncovered stolen art, or trains full of gold bars, it certainly cements the idea that the Nazi war machine worked overtime to build bunkers for suspect projects and house stolen goods. It’s hard to know for sure what the intent was, but it’s a pretty safe bet, none of them were used for the betterment and advancement of mankind.

I thought this was a fascinating look at what they’ve been able to uncover and what’s left to explore. It’s not about finding gold or returning stolen art, it’s about understanding the past so hopefully we never make these kinds of mistakes again.

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Expedition Unknown – Nazi Gold Train – Part 1

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As the Expedition Unknown journey continues, we find ourselves in Munich, Germany on the hunt for hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions of dollars worth of lost treasure, stolen by none other than the Nazi regime and secreted away in miles worth of underground tunnels and bunkers.

The story goes, during the reign of Hitler, countless pieces of gold, jewelry and art were stolen to find the war machine and enrich the lives of the Nazi elite. Recently, in the apartment owned by an art dealer working for Hitler, a cache of stolen goods was recovered with an approximate worth of $700 million. It is believed that several billion dollars worth are still unaccounted for, including a vanished train car full of gold and truck loads of gold headed for Austria.

It’s also believed Hitler worked on secret projects such as constructing nuclear weapons. To be honest, it all sounds scary as hell.

Josh begins his investigation in the ruins of Project Riese, a series of underground structures. At first, it seems a little on the “Hollywood” side, a little Indiana Jones, but this stuff is real. Josh goes to where the gold train disappeared and low and behold, there’s plenty of man made structures. The team he is with lowers a camera down one of the shafts which drops straight into a mine tunnel.

They can’t enter this tunnel, but within another we can see left over machinery and a guard station. Much of the complex hasn’t been mapped so they’re not sure what they’re dealing with. They have found closed off rooms and pipes that lead nowhere, which sounds a little bizarre and sinister. Are these torture rooms, heavily fortified storage, or something completely mundane?

What we can see is a series of off-shooting tunnels and remnants of rail tracks. A huge amount of effort went into making and using this complex for the long term. If they put down carts and tracks, they were storing something pretty heavy.

Josh heads to Austria where he drives the best car he’s ever been given on these shows. But he’s off to investigate a more serious matter and it’s the idea that high ranking German officials used the lakes to hide their personal fortunes. Lake Fuschl could be the resting place of Hitler’s personal books, plus jewelry and gold. A fortune in wine and champagne might also be in the drink.

Using an ROV, Josh helps Wolfgang take sonar images of the area. It seems a little far fetched, but the ROV picks up something. There is a small boat on the bottom of the lake. As the ROV moves in for a closer look, they snag a champagne bottle. Not just some wayward bottle tossed in, but a full champagne bottle with cork intact.

What started out sounding like the stuff of Urban Legend and stories surrounding the myth and mystery of the Nazis, turns into some tangible evidence to support the truth of it all. Josh has definitely found buildings and tunnels that fit the stories and now he might have discovered proof of riches dumped into the lake to keep them from the Allies.

But it’s not over yet, Josh continues his investigation in Part 2 of this adventure. And it gets pretty damn interesting.

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