Rajasthan on Horseback
When film producer Alexander Souri's first expedition of "Relief Riders" trotted into a remote Indian village last fall, the caravan of nine Marwari horses, four pack camels, 50 goats, and 15 people caused quite a stir. "Across India it became front-page news," says Souri, 35, whose inaugural Rajasthan Relief Ride delivered supplies like antibiotics and eye drops by horseback to five villages in northwestern India, and had doctors on board for impromptu clinics. Hardy travelers can join the next cavalcade on a 15-day journey carrying goods deep into the Thar Desert. You'll saddle up in Mukandgarh, about six hours from New Delhi, then ride about 20 miles per day, camping or staying in 400-year-old forts en route to Jaipur.
High Point: Seeing villagers receive knowledgesuch as AIDS educationplus food and supplies that they desperately need.
Low Point: Watching people wait in line at the clinics for hours in the midday heat.
Travel Advisory: Three to five hours per day is a lot of time in the saddle. Be sure your skills (and your posterior) are up to the task.
Outfitter: Relief Riders International, 413-329-5876, www.reliefridersinternational.com
When to Go: February, October
Sri Lanka is serious about protecting its endangered elephantsthe penalty for killing one is death. On this eight-day loop around the island, starting and ending in Colombo, you'll witness the slow recovery of the speciesthousands of these mammoth mammals now roam the jungles of Yala National Park. En route to the two-day park safari, you'll visit Kandy and Polonnaruwa, two of Sri Lanka's oldest cities, and an elephant orphanage, and stay at an Edwardian manor house amid the tea fields of a former British hill station.
Outfitter: Big Five, 800-244-3483, www.bigfive.com
When to Go: October to March
Red limestone cliffs front the sapphire-blue surface of Lake Nam Tsho, where Tibetan pilgrims gather at a shoreline dotted with migratory cranes and geese. Any amateur could produce stunning images here, but you'll have expert guidance from Bill Chapman, whose photographic book The Face of Tibet has a foreword by the Dalai Lama. Starting in Lhasa, the 15-day adventure takes you on a challenging trek over 16,900-foot Kong La Pass. You'll bunk in nomad camps as you make your way to the riding competitions and colorful dance performances of the Nagchu Horse Festival.
Outfitter: Myths & Mountains, 800-670-6984, www.mythsandmountains.com
When to Go: August
In the five years since East Timor won its bloody battle for independence from Indonesia, few travelers have ventured into the world's newest nation, where the tourist-free villages, coffee plantations, and verdant rainforests rival any in Southeast Asia. On this 15-day trip, you'll hike up the country's tallest mountain (9,724 feet), sail to a nearby reef-ringed island, watch villagers weave their traditional tais (sarongs), and spend your nights in humble guesthouses and thatched-roof seaside bungalows.
Outfitter: Intrepid Travel, 866-847-8192, www.intrepidtravel.com
When to Go: May to November
Minya Konka Trek
In the shadow of 24,790-foot Minya Konka, spend 19 days exploring Tibetan villages, Buddhist temples, and a high-alpine landscape where rhododendrons and wildflowers line paths leading to hot springs and crystalline lakes. The trip centers on a 12-day trek that tops out on a 15,150-foot mountain pass before dropping into the Yunongqi Valley, where you'll sip butter tea in a village home, then set up camp nearby.
Outfitter: Geographic Expeditions, 800-777-8183, www.geoex.com
When to Go: April, September