MIR Spotlight: Tour Manager Michel Behar

MIR Spotlight: Tour Manager Michel Behar

MIR’s Tour Manager Michel Behar is an encyclopedia when it comes to all things Central Asian – not to mention the world. But how did Michel develop such a love for travel? And seriously, how many tours has he actually led? Travel folklore says it’s in the hundreds.

Registan Square in Samarkand, Uzbekistan is one of Michel's favorite photo ops<br />Photo credit: Michel Behar

Registan Square in Samarkand, Uzbekistan is one of Michel’s favorite photo ops
Photo credit: Michel Behar

HELEN: First, how many languages do you speak?MICHEL: I’m Dutch, so I speak that. Plus Russian, Italian, Turkish and Hebrew. OK, so I know 12 languages! Once, in order to take an advanced course in Arabic in 1987, I rode on the roof of a wooden colonial British train from Egypt to Khartoum, Sudan to get to a language class I wanted to take. That’s how much I wanted to learn.

Michel Behar leads a tour, back in the time of analog clocks <br>Photo credit: Aimee Halleen

Michel Behar leads a tour, back in the time of analog clocks
Photo credit: Aimee Halleen

It seems Michel Behar can talk to anyone - even animals like this camel in Turkmenistan<br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

It seems Michel Behar can talk to anyone – even animals like this camel in Turkmenistan
Photo credit: Michel Behar

HELEN: Anything special spark your love for travel?MICHEL: A road trip with my dad. I was 12 years old, and we drove behind the Iron Curtain, through Bulgaria and Romania, and on to Istanbul where my dad once lived. I vividly remember middle-aged men carrying giant pieces of furniture tied with ropes on their backs in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. And I’ll never forget women in the fields of Bulgaria waving to us.

12-year-old Michel Behar with his dad on a 1976 road trip to Turkey  <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

12-year-old Michel Behar with his dad on a 1976 road trip to Turkey
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Michel Behar in Moscow's Red Square, late 1980s Photo credit: Michel Behar

Michel Behar blending in at Moscow’s Red Square, late 1980s
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Michel Behar in Hunza Valley, Pakistan in 2009 <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Michel Behar in Hunza Valley, Pakistan in 2009
Photo credit: Michel Behar

HELEN: Where have you led tours?MICHEL: All over the world. Working with MIR, I’ve led tours to all but of MIR’s 35 destination countries. My favorite places, in order, are the five ‘stans  of Central Asia, South Caucasus, Mongolia, and Iran

Before I joined MIR I led tours to the Middle East, survival tours in the Sahara, hiking trips in South America. Then I headed to Pakistan, India, and the Far East, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf. All these travels, all these countries: If anything, it’s really given me better comprehension of world history.

Women in Kyrgyzstan, a name perhaps derived from "kirkkyz," or 11 girls <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Women in Kyrgyzstan, a name perhaps derived from “kirkkyz,” or 11 girls
Photo credit: Michel Behar 

Castles and cows of the Caucasus Mountains <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Castles and cows of the Caucasus Mountains
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Mongolian woman, her backdrop a portable home called a "ger" Photo credit: Michel Behar

Mongolian woman, her backdrop a portable home called a “ger”
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Mosques, madrassahs, and mosaics in Khiva, Uzbekistan Photo credit: Michel Behar

Mosques, madrassahs, and mosaics in Khiva, Uzbekistan
Photo credit: Michel Behar 

HELEN: How many tours have you led?MICHEL:  Lots! I’ve lost track, but it’s 200 to 250 tours at least. I’ve led tours to 95 countries.

HELEN: Wow!!!
A slightly sunburned Michel Behar (lying down) with his MIR group in Persepolis, Iran <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

A slightly sunburned Michel Behar (lying down) with his MIR group in Persepolis, Iran
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Michel Behar (in green shirt and obligatory tie) with MIR tour group in the South Caucasus <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Michel Behar (in green shirt and obligatory tie) with MIR tour group in the South Caucasus
Photo credit: Michel Behar

HELEN: Don’t be modest. What do MIR’s tour clients say about you?MICHEL: I’m uncomfortable saying this about myself, but here’s what clients have said or written that they appreciate about me in their tour comments:

  • My infinite energy, impromptu visits and photo stops
  • The way I can tie things together and put in context what we see and experience
  • My language skills
  • They say I’m the most informative tour manager they’ve ever had
  • And most important: I wear two different neckties depicting art every day!
Michel Behar – wearing one wild and crazy tie! – with a costume maker in Linul, Romania  <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Michel Behar – wearing one wild and crazy tie – with a costume maker in Linul, Romania
Photo credit: David W. Allen

Nothing's left to chance: Michel Behar at Bukhara's Summer Palace, diligently preparing for a tourPhoto credit: Michel Behar

Nothing’s left to chance: Michel Behar at Bukhara’s Summer Palace, diligently preparing for a tour
Photo credit: Michel Behar

HELEN: Any travel lessons?MICHEL: Two really important lessons:

  • First, chain reactions. Travel has taught me how chain reactions of events shape history. The desire to prosper and expand led to the establishment of trade routes – like the Silk Route – but also to conquests and defeat. It’s exciting to read about emerging, thriving, and vanishing nations.
  • The second,  hospitality. Hospitality can be found all over the globe, and we can overcome prejudices by meeting other people and studying their civilizations. 
Hospitality and good conversation start with breaking bread and drinking tea in Central Asia <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Hospitality and good conversation start with breaking bread and drinking tea in Central Asia
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Breaking bread, singing and sharing stories are rich elements of any Georgian table <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Breaking bread, singing and sharing stories are rich elements of any Georgian table
Photo credit: Michel Behar

HELEN: Anything else?MICHEL: My travel lesson is also a family lesson. It turns out my great-grandfather smuggled some of the czar’s crown jewels out of Russia at Lenin’s request to finance a Communist headquarters in Amsterdam. He was one of the leaders of the Dutch Communist Party, and sent exotic postcards from Moscow. Now I understand why I’m so drawn to Russia! By the way, I found stories about my great-grandfather in some Dutch history books. Just last winter I found an article about him and his smuggling adventures in a 1919 New York Times article.

Peterhof Grand Palace near St. Petersburg, one of Michel's favorite places in Russia <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Peterhof Grand Palace near St. Petersburg, one of Michel’s favorite places in Russia
Photo credit: Michel Behar

HELEN: Can you sum it up? What jazzes you about travel, and being a MIR Tour Manager?MICHEL: Here’s my credo:

  • Exceed people’s expectations
  • Crack up from laughter
  • Hear “Wow!” at least once a day
Laughter's the language - and an icebreaker, too - on Michel's MIR tour of Eastern Turkey & Georgia <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Laughter’s the language – and an icebreaker, too – on Michel’s MIR tour of Eastern Turkey & Georgia
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Dancing to the music and moves of Silk Route dancers from long ago in Ashkabad, Turkmenistan <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Dancing to the music of the Silk Route from long ago in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Photo credit: Michel Behar 

Hand to heart, a universal greeting in Central Asia <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Hand to heart, a universal greeting in Central Asia
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Helen: Wow! That’s your “wow” for today!Michel, thanks for sharing a bit about what makes you tick – especially when it comes to travel – and thanks for being part of MIR for so many years.

 Travel to Central Asia with MIRMichel Behar leads many MIR tours, but perhaps his favorite – and one for which clients speak glowingly of him – is MIR’s Journey Through Central Asia: The Five ‘Stans, offered April through October. You can also explore Central Asia on MIR’s other group tours, or book a custom private journey.

(Top photo credit: Helge Pedersen)

 

PUBLISHED: June 25, 2014

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