Friday, 30 May 2008

Japanese techno DJ playing music from his Gameboy in a warehouse in an arty district of Hong Kong. There were a lot of strange bleeping noises!

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Monday, 26 May 2008

Buddhist stupa, Swayambhunath

Celebrity friends in Kathmandu

In preparation for our travels Amy and I spent a long time watching travel documentaries which celebrate our contemporary travel heroes. People like Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, whose gruelling motorcycle rides across the world in Long Way Round and Long Way Down, are our generation's Marco Polos. And it just so happened that last night, we were lucky enough to find Charley Boorman and Russ Malkin (the producer of the 'Long Way' series') staying at our hotel in Kathmandu!

Russ and Charley had just arrived in Kathmandu and they told us that they are filming a new travel documentary called 'By Any Means' which will follow Charley as he attempts to travel from Ireland to Syndey by (ahem) any means necessary (and avoiding air transport). Unfortunately, they've hit the same problems as us with Tibet, China and Burma (we can't go to Tibet because the Chinese are refusing to let foreigners into the country, we can't fly to Chengdu in China because of the earthquakes and we can't fly to Burma because of the cyclone), so they're having to fly to somewhere north of Hong Kong.

There's a photo of us grinning like star-struck idiots with Charley and Russ. You can catch them both (and witness the moments before and after they met us in Kathmandu) on By Any Means which is due to be aired on BBC2 in Sept this year (although this could change). Don't they have nice smiles?

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Rhinos at Chitwan

We spotted these guys when we were riding atop a big ol' elephant called Motty. Our first wild rhinos. Up close, rhinos are smaller than I expected. I thought that they'd be about the size of a Land Rover, but in actual fact, they're closer to the size of a Smart Car.

Three interesting facts about elephants

We were fortunate enough to have a very informative guide in the National Park. While Amy was playing with this baby elephant, he told us three very interesting facts about our big-nosed friends.

  1. Elephants have over 40,000 muscles in their trunks alone (a human has about 600 muscles in their whole body!)
  2. Elephants have six sets of teeth in their life time (we have two, remember?)
  3. Elephants are totally risk averse. They will never do anything risky ever. 'Which is why you never ever see elephant doing bunjee jump or white water rafting' (sic).

Stupid stupid stupid strikes again

We've just spent the last three days in southern Nepal in Chitwan at the Nature Reserve. Although we nearly didn't make it, due to a road block half way through our journey (yes, another one) caused by striking students who were angered that the Nepalese government hadn't provided the textbooks they were promised.

Fair enough I suppose, but can you imagine what would happen if a bunch of students in the UK decided to stand in the middle of the M25 and cause a 4 hour traffic jam? The police would have a field day....

Anyway. We got there in the end and had a beautiful cottage in a huge garden (see photo, with the delightful Adrian) on the edge of the park. Adrian wasn't feeling brilliant most of the weekend, poor boy, but we managed to see 3 crocodiles (of the man-eating variety), rhinos and a gazillion elephants (both tiny baby and some VERY large adults).

Fare evading sheep

What the flock?! These cheapskate sheep
were riding on the top of a bus to avoid paying their bus fare. Naughty.

Thursday, 22 May 2008


Here she is.

She's the peak roughly in the middle with the flat top. To the left is Nuptse (7879m) and to the right is Lhotse (8501m).

Worth walking for 4 days, I reckon.


Tengboche was our final destination. At 3880 metres, it boasts one of the most spectacular views in the world, with good reason. Although when we arrived on Sunday afternoon the whole hill was shrouded in thick cloud. You could only see a few metres in front of you (those of you with us on Snowdon know what I mean!) so we were disappointed not to see this fantastic view.

After an afternoon of watching monks chant in the beautiful monastery and drinking the local brew, Rakshi (like Japanese Sake) we were early to bed.

At 5am, we opened our curtains and were rewarded with the most amazing view I have ever seen. There was Everest in all her glory, along with several other magnificent snowy peaks.

We were surrounded on all sides by the biggest mountains on earth (photo of Everest to follow...)


Towards the end of our trek, despite our best efforts to stick to a budget, we realised we were running worryingly low on money. Remember that where we were, it was a 15 day trek to the nearest ATM machine and nowhere does anyone accept MasterCard. So this was slightly alarming, especially as we had been so careful to work out exactly what we'd need each day before we left.

On our penultimate night in the mountains we had only enough money for our accommodation and a very simple meal, if we were to have enough to get us through the following day. Alcohol was an extravagance as it was so expensive (due to the man power required to get it there), but a necessity if we were to get any sleep that night in our freezing cold little room. So we pondered what we might do. In desperation we dashed out of our lodge in the hope of finding a wee corner shop (they do exist!) that might sell something we could actually afford with our meagre funds.

As luck would have it, the nice lady in the tiny store had quarter bottles of Bagpiper whiskey for only Rs. 150 per bottle (approx 1 whole English pound), so like dirty tramps we sat in the dining room of our lodge surreptitiously swigging from the bottle for the rest of the evening. Quite apt behaviour for two people who hadn't washed for several days.

Namche Bazaar

Namche is a small town nestled in the side of a mountain at approx. 3400 metres above sea level. It's the main stop-off point for all trekkers and climbers on their way to Everest and various other destinations within it's vicinity.

Due to it's altitude it is a popular place to take a rest day to acclimatise. An atmosphere of anticipation hovers over the town as everyone prepares for what is yet to come - for some, the possibility of summiting the largest mountain on earth, but for us it was just the hope that we might see it. Excitement enough, I reckon!

Another reason to stop off in Namche is their amazing Yak sizzlers, which we indulged in more than once...

The call of nature

We have encountered many different toilets since we left the UK, as I am sure you can imagine (but probably don't want to).

The most amusing by far though (to us at least), were the ones we encountered while trekking over the last few days. From the outside these toilets appear to be small garden sheds.

When you step inside, there is a hole in the floor, and next to this hole, a neat pile of leaves. I was relieved, upon seeing these, that I had taken my own toilet paper. But I realised what they were actually for when I read the polite sign on the back of the door asking: 'after using, please put leafs (sic)' which made me laugh so much I nearly fell down the hole.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

The praying landscape

The people of the Everest (also known as the Khumbu) region are predominantly Buddhist. As a result, we were frequently coming across prayer wheels, Mani stones (slabs of stone with Buddhist scripture) and Chortens, which are huge rocks also covered in Buddhist texts. They mostly say the same thing - 'Om Mani Padme Hum', which means 'salutations to the Jewel of consciousness (the Mind) which has reached the Heart's lotus' - powerful stuff!

The prayer wheels (which Adrian particularly enjoyed) must be turned clockwise to banish evil (seemed to work - we're back in one piece after all!), and you must walk around any Mani walls or Chortens clockwise too for the same reason.

On a wing and a prayer

One poor Nepalese lady on our flight into Lukla was so convinced we were all going to die on our approach that she wept uncontrollably for half and hour (perhaps longer) and was so weak with fear that she had to be carried off the tarmac by two men.

We, on the other hand, found the whole thing pretty exciting, but only because we had been fore-warned of the hairy landing we were about to experience - vital information which saved us from a fate similar to that poor woman.

Cockpits are usually the private domain of pilots and giggly air stewardesses. So we were pleased (at first) to find that on our tiny ancient twin propeller plane (known as a Twin Otter - seriously), we were sat virtually in the cockpit and could see straight out of the pilot's windscreen. Something that's a lot more pleasant at take-off than landing.

Lukla airstrip is a very short (450m) runway which sits on a ridge on the side of a mountain. It was originally built by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay as an emergency airport for the local hospital, also built by them. The runway itself is on a slope so that when a plane comes into land it touches down and the upward slant of it helps the aircraft stop before smashing into the mountainside at the end.

It requires perfect visibility to land on this airstrip as no instruments are accurate enough to guide a plane onto it (this lead to our return flight being delayed by five hours).

Now imagine being up in a tiny plane watching it speed into a massive mountain with a little tarmac runway on it at 200mph. Pretty exhilarating stuff!

To give you a better idea of what I'm talking about, here's a video that I took of our plane lifting off again just after we landed (that really is the end of the runway you can see there - after that is a sheer drop):

To Everest and back

For the last six days, Amy and I have been trekking up in the remote Himalayas, in the Everest region.

I won't bore you with details of tranquillity and stunning scenery. Instead I'll attempt to summarise an overview with some brief bullet points just to give you an idea of what we've been up to. After this dry introduction, we'll post some photos and write about some of the other more interesting elements of the trek.

  • We flew into the remote Lukla airport - a tiny airstrip in the Everest region of Nepal, six days walk from the nearest road.
  • From here we trekked for four days (we had to have one rest day to allow for acclimatisation so we didn't suffer altitude sickness) up mountains to Tengboche monastery where we hoped to catch a glimpse of Everest. Then we trekked for two days back to Lukla to catch our flight back.
  • A typical day of trekking consisted of us waking up at 5am, then walking for about 5 hours (stopping at little tea houses for food or tea to fuel us) .
  • We were pretty high up and reached an altitude of 3840m (roughly four times the height of Britain's highest mountain).
  • The whole region is incredible - there are only two transport options: walking or yaks. No wheeled vehicles of any kind, whatsoever.

This photo here is of Kongde Ri (not Everest), the first high mountain we saw. If you want to find out more, feel free to leave a question for us.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Bye! We're off to hunt for the Yeti...

We're off bright and early tomorrow morning to catch our second Yeti Airways flight, this time to the tiny mountain village of Lukla where we will begin our 6 day trek through the Everest region.

Needless to say, we're both very excited about this. It's by far and away the longest trek I will have done - I just hope I'm up to it! Ha - if I can do Walk the Wight three years in a row I can handle anything!

We'll be out of touch now until next Wednesday but hope to return with some pretty amazing photographs so watch this space.......

Monday, 12 May 2008

The Yeti exists! an airline... (Our tiny plane to Kathmandu):

Nepalis strike again!

This is a picture of our Dutch friend Vincent with some political protesters at a small border town in Nepal. You see, we just had a very frustrating encounter with the political maelstrom of this small Kingdom (soon to become Republic). Now that the newly elected Maoists are in power, we were hoping to avoid all of this unrest, but Nepal is just not that simple.

So we crossed the border near Darjeeling into Nepal, psyched up for a 16 hour bus ride from the border to Kathmandu only to be told by immigration that a strike had been called that morning. A senior Maoist leader had been killed in an accident on a bus when he fell out if its doorway and was run over. The family of the deceased are currently demanding 1.5m Nepali Rupees from the bus company for funeral costs and have blockaded the road from this border town into the rest of Nepal until they are paid.

So having just entered the country we were stranded in a tiny border town with nowhere to go. Luckily we found a hotel room and we stayed in this miserable, dusty town last night hoping that the strike would be lifted this morning and we could catch the first bus out of town (at 4.30am).
We rose at 4am and threw on our backpacks and headed out on to the dark streets only to find out that the strike was still going on and that things had taken an ugly turn (or so we were told) - the protesters had kidnapped a bus driver to increase their bargaining power.

We decided, with this indefinate situation on our doorstep (literally) , to splash out and catch the first flight to Kathmandu (on Yeti Airlines!). The only problem was that with no cars, buses or motorbikes being allowed on the roads, we had to burden two poor bicycle-rickshaw drivers with a two hour ride with us and our bags on the back to the airport. Poor fellas.

Anyway, our 16 hour bus ride was replaced with a 25 minute flight (with excellent service) through the Himalayas and we're now in Kathmandu and are very excited by the prospect of affordable wine.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Aching to climb

I feel old! My shins, back and arms ache. But it's not without good reason. You see, Darjeeling, as well as being famed for it's delicious tea, is also 2100m high up in the Himilayas. From our hotel bedroom window, we can see the lofty snowcaps the summit of Mount Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest mountain (only a few hundred meters shy of Everest's height). Being so high up, it's a wonderful relief from the 40C heat of the rest of India and it's also the home town of the legendary sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who along with Edmund Hillary who died earlier this year, were the first known people to summit Mount Everest.

Now, back to my bones. Being up in the mountains, I couldn't resist the opportunity to go rock climbing. Despite my almost complete lack of experience, I happily found the phone number for the well-respected Tenzing Norgay Climbing Club here in Darjeeling and made an appointment to meet some of them at the Tenzing Rock where they train the next day (yesterday).

So yesterday I met two climbers who happened to be Indian climbing champions. In fact they had recently represented India climbing in Iran, Hong Kong and Macau. They lead a roped climb up Gompa Rock, one of the tougher rocks to climb here in Darjeeling. It's a 30m stack which turns into a completely vertical chimney at the top, virtually smooth with only a thin crack for any holds for my hands and feet. I made a fair effort to get 70% of the way up the rock but after four attempts on the final stretch, I lost all strength in my arms and failed to make it to the top.
But it's left me inspired, determined and try more climbing.

(Oh - a couple of other things to update on. I broke one of the caps of my front teeth on the train to Darjeeling with a sachet of ketchup got the better of me. I now look like a dumb country hick but have a dental appointment to make me look more respectable when we arrive in Kathmandu. And I bumped into a guy called Sebastian here who was a volunteer for one of my PR stunts in London to break to world record for the world's longest phonecall. What a small world it is...)

In the pool at the Taj Ganges Hotel - a naughty treat!

Friday, 9 May 2008


Where to begin?

I am struggling to know where to begin, it's been so long! We haven't really been near computers for enough time to be able to update this in ages..... But here's a quick rundown on what's been happening:

After our safari we had 48 hours on a train from Kerala to Delhi ready for Mum's arrival at the end of April. We had a brilliant and eventful week - as the photos show we went to Agra for the Taj Mahal, etc, Jaipur for the beautiful Amber Fort (I have never seen so many elephants and camels wondering around), Ranthambore National Park for another safari and a suite in a fantastic hunting lodge with stunning views.... Back to Jaipur and then back to Delhi to say a tearful goodbye to Mum a week later. During this time my camera broke (cue broken heart which sort of repaired itself when I shelled out more than I could afford for a new one), we had a violent encounter on a train, a four hour delay on another train, the temperate hit FORTY FOUR.... it was one adventure after another.

After Delhi we caught another overnight train to Varanasi. For those of you who don't know, Varanasi has the Ganges running through it which is the centre of the life of everyone who lives there. They bathe there, do their laundry, cremate their dead, teach their children to swim - everything. Consequently it's one of the dirtiest stretches of river in the world. If you ever visit do NOT ask your hotel to do your laundry, you know where it'll end up!

Seeing as most Indians go there to die/say goodbye to their dead, it is a surprisingly lively and vibrant place. Adrian and I were blessed by a holy man (see above!) and we met some amazing

Now we're in Darjeeling. We've been here since Wednesday and although I've been in bed most of the time with 'flu (poor me) we love it here. The scenery (when the cloud clears) is breathtaking and it's cooler which is a welcome relief. Tomorrow we're off to Nepal!

Sunday, 4 May 2008