Zara Fleming is an independent art consultant, researcher and exhibition curator who has specialist knowledge of Buddhist art. She first visited Bhutan in 1976 and has been returning ever since. She has been responsible for the Tibetan and Nepalese collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum and Assistant Projects Director in Europe for the Orient Foundation.
We asked Zara to share her thoughts on what motivates her to do what she does, who inspired her, which place she is happiest, her best travel advice and more…
1. What was your earliest childhood ambition?
I am not sure which came first to become a farmer (as I was brought up on a farm and loved looking after the animals and living the outdoor life) or to travel to Tibet and the Himalayas. From the age of 7, this was my ambition (I had a teacher who told us about the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile which had happened that month (March 1959) and according to my teacher I was very moved…….and got the school to raise money for refugee children. We also had a colouring book with a picture of the Himalayas and a Tibetan lady with a yak and I knew then that this was the place I really wanted to explore. I now live on a sheep farm in North Wales and travel frequently to the Himalayas.
2. What motivates you to do what you do?
The joy of living and the pleasure I get from sharing my love of the Himalayas and Buddhist culture with others. This could be through travelling, lecturing, organising exhibitions or researching a client’s Tibetan object. I also love initiating or contributing to small scale health and education projects in the Himalayas, to give something back to my friends in the Himalayas – who have given me so much.
3. Who has inspired you to do what you do?
My first teacher (Mrs Pipe) was hugely influential by introducing me to Tibet and by instilling in me the importance of being true to myself. The inspiration for travel and adventure came from my grandmother, but also later from Peter Hopkirk who encouraged me to become a travel guide and lead the first British tour to Tibet in 1981. And last but not least I am inspired by the many Tibetan lamas whom I have met, who have introduced me to a path of wisdom and compassion.
4. What ambitions do you still have?
Whilst I am still physically fit, I would like to trek and explore various parts of the Himalayas which I have not yet been to – and be able to introduce more people to this inspirational part of the world and to a Buddhist culture which I love so much.
Whilst my mental powers are still OK, I would like to write a book of my travel experiences. And although not a real ambition, my aim each day is to think less of myself and to make other people happy.
My immediate ambition is to take my husband to Bhutan later this year, as we got engaged at Takstang in November 1976 – to celebrate 40 years of being together and to thank him for his patience when I travel solo.
5. What matters most – ambition or talent?
A combination of both, talent is doing something you are good at and enjoy and ambition is the driving force which gets you where you want to go. But you also need enthusiasm!
6. If your 20-year-old self could see you know what would she think?
When I was 20, I was somewhat shy and naive and although I had trained in museum studies and still wanted to go to the Himalayas, I did not have a future plan. Looking at me now, I think she would be somewhat amazed that I had ended up with a career that combines my love of Buddhist art and travel in the Himalayas.
7. If you had to rate your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Eight or eight and a half.
8. In what place are you happiest?
Where I feel at home and this is where my heart is, which is either in the hills of North Wales or the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, preferably surrounded by those I love.
9. Do you consider your carbon footprint?
Definitely, as the earth is a very precious place and we should look after it for future generations. However, I wish I had wings so I could still travel eastwards without increasing my carbon footprint!
10. How often do you travel?
I usually lead 3 or 4 group tours a year and together with other travel for lectures, project work or fun – I am probably away for 3 – 4 months of the year.
11. The one essential you travel with?
Apart from my passport (and a copy), my much travelled small red rucksack, a comfortable pair of boots and a pot of Vicks (good for colds, smells etc!)
12. Your best piece of travel advice?
Travel light, go with the flow and don’t just look “at” the places you visit, but look “into” and immerse yourself in the local culture. Expect the unexpected and always have a sense of humour.
13. What advice would you give to young ladies wishing to follow in your footsteps?
Follow your dreams, but work hard and enjoy what you do and never never give up. If you believe you can do it, you can. And treat others as you would like to be treated.
14. If you could do it all over again, is there anything you would change?
Not that much. It has been a privilege to have led the life I have and yes there have been downs, but hopefully I have become a better person through them. If anything, I wish I had written more whilst travelling.
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