22 December 2019 | Christchurch, New Zealand
16 December 2019 | Christchurch, Canterbury, NZ
28 November 2019 | Christchurch, SI, New Zealand
19 November 2019 | Picton, Marlborough, NZ
04 November 2019 | Collingwood, Tasman, South Island, NZ
04 November 2019 | Collingwood, Tasman, South Island, NZ
29 October 2019 | Nelson, South Island, NZ
22 October 2019 | Christchurch, Te Waka o Māui, New Zealand
15 October 2019 | Scarborough, Queensland
05 October 2019 | Scarborough marina, near Brisbane, Australia
16 August 2019 | Southport Spit, Gold Coast, Australia
06 August 2019 | South Stradbroke Island, Gold Coast, Queensland
15 July 2019 | Boatworks, Coomera River, Gold Coast
25 May 2019 | Biggera Waters, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
12 April 2019 | Coomera River, Gold Coast, Australia
02 April 2019 | Southport, The Gold Coast, Australia
16 March 2019 | Southport, Gold Coast, Australia
09 March 2019 | Currigee, South Stradbroke Island, Gold Coast
21 February 2019 | Santa Barbara, Coomera River, Gold Coast, Australia
04 February 2019 | The Broadwater, Gold Coast, Australia
Farewell to Kathmandu and the Himalayas
29 November 2011 | Kathmandu
Alison and Geoff - cool but sunny
Picture shows view of the Langtang Himalayas from the air as we left Kathmandu airport. A tremendous panorama from Everest to Dhaulagiri was on display floating above the clouds
We have now completed our final trek in Nepal with some 30 days of ascending and descending the magnificent ranges that make up the Himalayas. These last few days took us into the Himalayan foothills up towards Tibet. We walked virtually straight out of Kathmandu city and climbed high into the Helambu area to the villages of Chisopani, Thodong and Kutumsang. The weather was once again marked by clear blue skies right through the day, especially above the valley smog. A huge panorama of snowy peaks lay in a long line before us. Distant views of Everest and Makalu in the East, closer views of the Langtangs and - to the west - our old friends Manaslu, the Annapurnas and Dhaulagiri, could be clearly seen from these mountain villages and from every ridge top in between.
There is some wilderness in this area, protected at least on paper by the Langtang and Shivapuri National Parks, and we saw deer and quite a few birds. We didn't spot one of the rare and shy red pandas in it's bamboo habitat but we did deviate for a couple of days from the main trekking route and didn't see a trekker or a trekking pole for a while, which was a nice change. By this time, even at 2500m, the temperatures were plummeting at night and soon the trekking season would be over with the passes covered in snow and the lodges closed, so it was time to return to the comparative warmth of the lowlands.
However, the return from this tranquility was rudely interrupted by the most turbulent bus ride of our lives. It started well enough from the foothill valley village of Thimbu and even the bumping and lurching along the tractor track was bearable but within an hour or so of the big smoke the bus was so full we could hardly breathe. The conductor was shielding passengers from actually toppling out of the doorway as we ascended and descended the ridges of the Himalayas to enter the Kathmandu valley. Just before Bhaktapur a number of passengers happily got off and the ones sitting on the roof were hustled inside to replace them and the door hurriedly shut. We came to the conclusion that buses overfilled and carrying passengers on the roof was not on in the nation's capital and judging by the numbers of riot police that came into view as we entered the city, no one would dare to break the law.
The last day or two we have been browsing around the streets and temples of Patan and Kathmandu. The city is more than bustling, it's downright crowded, with hardly a space to walk on its grubby streets, let alone cross the road, but we couldn't leave without visiting the world heritage sites. It is quite sad to see that the nation's capital has really fallen behind in the world as a vibrant capital as it is so neglected and lacks comfortable infrastructure. If any one hankers for a return to a minimal state and nineteenth century style laissez-faire capitalism, perhaps a trip through the peopled areas of Nepal might give you a taste of what could be in store!
To be fair, Nepalis have suffered arrogant, greedy do-nothing governments for a very long time, as well as the Maoist insurgency. With the fighting over, the royalty almost annhilating themselves while the remainder were put into rapid retirement, the former insurgents are desperately trying to establish peace in the country amidst incessant squabbling over tactics. Let's hope thay actually set some time aside to give a long, hard look at the pressing needs of the country and its people.
Rumble in the Jungle
21 November 2011 | Kathmandu
Geoff - cool but sunny
Picture above shows mum and calf one horned rhinos cooling off at Chitwan in a mud pool.
For more pictures of Nepal's wildlife see the photo gallery on the right
Back in Kathmandu after a long, jolting and overcrowded overnight bus ride across Nepal from the far Western lowlands. After our jaunts in and around the Annapurna range we jolted yet again down for a visit to Nepal's two key lowland wilderness and wildlife areas in the Terai not so far from the Ganges floodplain in Northern India. These were Chitwan - not far South of Pokhara - and Bardia, in the far west and far harder to reach. Although we weren't too sure what to expect (certainly not snowy peaks, anyway !) these trips turned out to be one of the highlights so far of our Nepal visit. At Chitwan we walked far into the park with a guide, floated down the Rapti River on a dugout canoe and spent a couple of hours roaming around on the back of an elephant. It was quite surprising how the deer, monkeys and rhino almost allowed us to get so close that we could almost touch them they were almost oblivious to the elephant's presence. We saw three Indian rhinos - a mum and calf in a pool and an old fellow quite close to the guest house we were staying in crocodiles of two types and a lot of deer and monkeys.
Further away, in Bardia, far fewer visitors gave us a much more personal experience and we spent several days walking all day across the grasslands and forests, and rafted for a day down the Karnali River. Wildlife was similar although our last afternoon culminated in an exciting sequence.
We tracked a large male tiger and a female with two cubs along the river bank, their fresh tracks interspersed with rhino and wild elephant prints. Just as we spotted a female rhino and her calf across the river we heard that a tiger had been seen just ten minutes up river. Together with a few others including two or three guides armed only with stout bamboo sticks (!) we crouched behind some bushes listening to spotted deer whistling alarm calls from a thicket. As the calls stopped and we had given up hope of seeing the tiger emerge onto the river bank again we heard a tremendous crashing just behind us in the forest. The guides shouted "rhino - run" and everybody rushed around in all directions. Three elephants with their mahouts then appeared - they must have spooked the rhino. Our guide led us off in what he said was a safe direction back to the park headquarters - passing fresh leopard prints, wild elephant dung and a large crocodile sunning itself on the river bank.
What a great place - it seemed separated in both time and distance from the human dominated places we had come to experience everywhere else in Nepal.
Our guide for the five days at Bardia, Gotham - a local Tharu man with 17 years experience was a great window onto not only the world of nature but his home - the human world that lay alongside the wilderness. On the last morning he took us on a slow amble around the rice paddies and mud and thatch village huts calling on his family and friends and talked about his life and the jungle. It was sobering to hear that he had to work 7 days a week in the dry season - with no employer's insurance - every day risking life and limb taking tourists for a glimpse of big - and small - animals.
Everywhere we have been in Nepal the guides and ordinary Nepalis generally have been happy to share their knowledge, culture and opinions about life in their country.
Walking slow, walking high, in the shadow of giant peaks
11 November 2011 | Pokhara, Nepal
Geoff and Alison; sunny and clear
Pic shows Macchapuchare's nigh on 8000m towering above the Modi Khola gorge in Nepal's Annapurna Himal Range.
For many more pictures of life in the Himalayas seen through a lens, see the "Photo gallery " on the right.
10 of the world's highest mountains lie along the border of Nepal and its neighbours - Tibet and India. These are giants. Put a Mont Blanc or a Mount Cook on top of itself and you get the likes of Annapurna 1, Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, Everest, Makalu and Kachenjunga. It was to walk in the shadow of some of these giant peaks which drew us - and many others - to Nepal.
Thanks here to Alistair and Vivienne from the NZ yacht Largo Star whose shared tales and vivid photos of high passes, daal bhat and friendly people in a dusty Egyptian marsa last year inspired us to make this trip. They are at home doing much more mundane things right now, probably wishing they were in Nepal!
Our second long trek into the Himalayas took us to the so called Annapurna Sanctuary. This is a bowl shaped area at the head of the Modi Khola River overlooked by the Annapurna Himal - the same peaks as we had traversed on the circuit trek - but on the wetter, southern side. The sanctuary area is better protected than the rest of the Annapurna Conservation Area - the tourist development has been capped, the locals see the area as sacred and don't permit mules or meat to be taken past a certain point and the forested valley sides are more pristine. Culturally, as with so much of the Northern area of Nepal we traversed the lower rice growing Hindu village lands into the region of higher buckwheat and potato growing Tibetan Buddhist villages.
Unfortunately for us - and many others - the post monsoon dry season refused to develop as it normally does at this time of the year and we found the skies shrouded in thick fog and cloud for the first seven days walking in to the peaks from the entrance point - the village of Naya Pul. Brief clearances in the sanctuary itself were being reported by passing returning trekkers for an hour or two in the early morning revealing the peaks so we persevered.
The lodges here were simpler, more crowded and more uncomfortable than in the Marsyangdi Valley - a result of the limit on development. Some unfortunate people had to sleep on dining room tables or clamber into freezing cold tents for the 14 hour long nights because of lack of space. Because of the strange, foggy weather everywhere in Nepal the planes in and out of Lukla well to the East of the Annapurnas meant nobody could get out of (or into) the Everest Base Camp trek and at one point over 3000 trekkers were stranded waiting for clearing weather at Lukla.
We puffed our way out of the forested Modi Khola gorge and into grassland above 3700m while snow fell from white skies to arrive at the sanctuary after 5 days walking in and up but early the next morning we also saw the huge mountains revealed in all their splendour. Torrential rain on our way down the valley was followed by a magic weather clearance and our four day retreat out to the starting point was in perfect blue skies and beautiful scenery - the background dominated by Macchapuchare (Fishtail), Annapurna South and Himal Chuli.
Yaks and yetis in the Annapurnas
29 October 2011 | Pokhara, Nepal
Alison and Geoff - warm and sunny, but hazy
Picture shows fresh snow on Annapurna 2 on the Annapurna Circuit.
For more pictures of Himalayan life and scenery as we saw it see the photo gallery on the right
We finally emerged from the mountains of the Annapurna Himal that form the background to the Annapurna Circuit trek. We managed to wind and clamber our way up the steep rocky trails and sometimes we were almost down to a crawl but we finally made it up to 4000 m up the valley of the Marsyangdi River, with the fear of altitude sickness and frostbite calling us to retreat to altitudes where us humans really belong. One man collapsed and died at 5000m and the whirring of rescue helicopters daily reminded us that 16 days away from civilisation in an unknown mountain world was probably enough. It made crossing the Atlantic seem really comfortable.
(Update - 8th December - re reading this blog today after getting an email from our friends on "Just Jane" half way between the Canaries and Barbados in mid- Atlantic. O.K. walking in Nepal is MUCH more comfortable than an Atlantic crossing!!!)
Basically, we walked for eight days up the river valley to the Tibetan Buddhist village of Manang, above the pine forests, and in yak territory, staying at simple trekking lodges along the way (there was no need to camp for the first time in our walking history). The trek starts quite low down in green foothills where rice terrraces alternate with thick jungle and rises to brown, dry lands where Tibetan prayer flags, prayer wheels, chortens and gompas stand out starkly in the harsh uplands. The weather was outstandingly clear most of the time with beautiful blue skies and the white capped peaks emerged and disappeared well above us at each turn in the river valley. Manaslu at 8100 m and Annapurna 2 at just under 8000m were the two highest peaks often constantly in view.
Then - snow fell heavily and unexpectedly for a day at Manang, blocking the Thorung La pass over to the Mustang region and stopping the flow of booted feet with temperatures plummeting to minus five, so we made a slow retreat down hill. Our companions along the route amounted to 200 trekkers a day, numerous mule trains carrying supplies to the trekkers lodges, human mules carrying trekkers personal belongings - including their tooth brushes. One young, strapping Dutch lad was seen carrying just his teddy bear (!) while his wizened, old porter carried everything else.
These human mules carried eggs, sofas, live chickens, watches and sun glasses as well as plate glass, water containers, camping equipment (we carried all our own stuff and had no guide - it really wasn't necessary on such a well worn trail). Quite a different world from the Lycian Way, Stewart Island circuit and other long treks we have done around the world. We really saw the mules and the humans as slaves. The yaks were spoilt in comparison, as they are so valuable.
We are now off to the Annapurna Sanctuary trek for 10 days where avalanches can be a risk factor.
We've managed to keep to $25 a day quite comfortably. There are no 3 star lodges and they are all much the same in standard and price.
08 October 2011 | Kathmandu
Alison and Geoff; Clear skies - cool
This shows one of Kathmandu's busy old town streets.
Now into our first day of travel after a complicated series of plane connections from Crete to Kathmandu via Athens and Istanbul. Making plans today and getting permits before starting on the Annapurna Circuit in a day or two.
Kathmandu even after the cruise ship mania in Crete seemed a little chaotic to say the least! It's even more of stark contrast to rural Greece, which seems so orderly in comparison. Not sure if we could stand more than a few days dodging just about everything and anything that moves.