Sunday, 23 August 2015

Scotland: JOGLE

Comic characters in bronze, Dundee
May 18 2014: I've decided to walk John o'Groats to Land's End again, but, this time, by a different route. So, after a brief pause in London, I head north.
Friday 23:  Departing John o'Groats I overnight in Wick before carrying on to through Berriedale where I'm fortunate enough to see Grey Atlantic Seals basking in the afternoon sun.
Tuesday 27: Today I detour from the coast to Rogart Station where old railway carriages have been turned into a hiker's hostel, a real delight.
Wednesday 28: I find myself sidetracked by the Glenmorangie Distillery. I'm not usually a spirit drinker but a wee dram warms the heart. I've not been here since my student days, it's not changed much.
Friday 6 June: Having followed the East Highland Trail from Inverness over Slochd Mohr and through Aviemore I continue on the Cateran Trail until I arrive in Dundee where I'm greeted by Desperate Dan, a comic character of The Dandy, fondly remembered from my childhood.
Monday 9: South of St Andrews I meet up with family for a spell then continue down the Fife Coast Path and over the Forth Bridge to the capital, Edinburgh.
Thursday 12: A rest day allows me to see some fantastic works in the National Gallery before continuing along the coast on the John Muir Way to the English border.
Monday 16: South of Edinburgh, high on remote cliffs, I bump into a hiker walking towards me. Somewhat incredibly, I know him. It's Adam Short who I first met walking in Spain. I'm only walking the length of Britain, he's walking around it. Yes, that's right, around the coast!
Slideshow of Scotland.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Mai Hong Son Loop & Chiang Rai

Sculptured hands symbolise desire
Wednesday 23 April: It's hot. I've been travelling northwest from Chiang Mai to the laid back town of Pai for a couple of nights but no hill-tribe trekking as it's so hot and muggy. Now I'm in the lakeside town of Mae Hong Song with a hilltop temple and great views over the town. Colourful little Swallows swoop across the water picking-off the bugs, it's a delight.
Monday 28: I've looped back to Chiang Mai then northeast up to Chiang Rai and some fabulous temples. Wat Phra Kaew has an adjoining museum with a fantastic bronze drum known as a frog or rain drum that was once used in rituals. It's astonishing that you are allowed actually play the thing. It makes a wonderful noise for such an old instrument - it's from the 5th century BC.
Tuesday 29: An half hour or so south of Chiang Rai is the stunning White Temple, Wat Rong Khun. The approach bridge to the shimmering white temple spans a moat filled with hands reaching skyward but the real gems are the frescoes inside the temple (no photos). Painted by artist come architect Chalermchai Kositpipat who is also responsible for the frescos in the first Buddhist temple in Britain, Buddhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon. Fantastic stuff.
 Slideshow of Mai Hong Son Loop & Chiang Rai.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Thailand: Chiang Mai

Ancient temple, Wat Chedi Luang
Sunday 13 April: It's Buddhist New Year in Thailand and the water festival of Songkran is in full-flow. Visiting Chiang Mai's temples is fantastic: the solid teak Wat Phan Tao, the extensive Wat Phra Singh and the massive, if damaged chedi, of Wat Chedi Luang.
Thursday 17: I enjoyed the Nepali cookery course so much that I've decided to take a half-day lesson in Thai cooking here in Chiang Mai. First, we are taken to the little local market where we are shown the various different ingredients that we will be using. Next, it's back to the kitchen where the ingredients have been cleaned and pre-prepared so all we have to do is chop, crush, mix and cook. We have a choice of what we would like to cook so I opt for spring rolls, Thai green chicken curry and, my favourite, fried chicken with cashew nuts.
Slideshow Chiang Mai.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Back in Kathmandu

Nepal's staple diet, Dal Bhat
Friday 4 April: I've arranged an afternoon cookery course and am going to learn how to prepare Nepal's national dish, Dal Bhat. Sherpas and porters eat this twice daily, once mid-morning as a late breakfast and again in the evening at the end of a days work. If it's good enough to get them up mountains it's good enough for me. The main elements are dal (a sort of lentil soup), sag (steamed spinach), a lightly spiced potato and vegetable curry, rice (of course) and chili pickle which is mixed-in on the plate to get the right level of spiciness to suit your taste. It's a great course run by Social Tours.
Sunday 6: To break up my journey back to India I overnight in the Village Lodge at Lumbini, Buddha's birthplace. It's a relaxing place to stop and the proprietor kindly offers me a lift to the border for a small fee.
Monday 7: Back in India and a three-hour shared taxi ride to Gorakhpur where I have a 2nd class sleeper booked back to New Delhi.
Tuesday 8: Overnight in New Delhi.
Wednesday 9: Depart India for Thailand.
Slideshow of Back in Kathmandu.
Slideshow of Lumbini from January 2012.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Tamang, Langtang, Gosainkund & Helambu Trek

Sacred lake, Gosainkund trek
Tuesday 18 March: From Kathmandu I get up at dawn to take the 'Super Deluxe Express' bus, which is not quite as described, for the steep winding torturous nine-hour ride to Syrabrubesi.
Tamang Heritage Trail
Wednesday 19: From Syrabrubesi it's all uphill to Ghatlang (7,342ft), a pretty but basic Tamang village set high on a hillside among terraced fields. It has a Medieval feel about it as the Tamang share their homes with their animals, people on the first floor, cattle, goats and chickens below. This is where I first meet Nina from Germany and a French couple, Pierre and Elodine, playing with the local children. In the afternoon I walk up to a lake but there's not much to see but there are fine views back down over Ghatlang.
Thursday 20: From Ghatlang it's down, then up, to Tatopani (8,553ft) where naturally hot spring water tubs (no photos) sooth aching muscles, fantastic.
Friday 21: I'm walking with Nina, Pierre and Elodine now and we head ever upwards past pretty little terraces to overnight at Nagthali (10,383ft). It starts snowing during our afternoon stroll so we retreat to our cosy lodge for the night.
Saturday 22: By morning the snow is six-inches deep so it's difficult and dangerous trying to follow the steep path down. Fortunately a group of trekkers with a Tamang guide catch us up and are happy to blaze the trail for us. By the time we get to Thuman (7,670ft) the snow has cleared and it's a difficult muddy section steeply downhill through dripping woodland and across the Bhote Koshi (river) to Lingting for a lunch stop, to avoid the rain, then steeply uphill again to Bridim (7,346ft).
Sunday 23: From Bridim (7,346ft) we take the high trail to link to the Langtang route at Rimche (7,874ft). In the afternoon we happen across a wedding party taking the groom, on horseback, to his fiance's home where he will await her appearance later in the evening. We are offered, and accept, complimentary food and hooch - the celebrations last until morning.
Langtang Valley
Monday 24:  Fron Rimche (7,874ft) the ascent continues along the Langtang Khola to Lama Hotel (8,104ft) and more steeply upwards to Langtang village (11,220ft).
Tuesday 25: From Langtang (11,220ft) it's only a morning hike to Kyanjin Gompa (12,401ft) where there's a monastery and a cheese factory selling delicious Yak cheese.
Wednesday 26: From Kyanjin Gompa (12,401ft) we climb Kyanjin Ri (15,649ft) for great mountain views in the distance, spectacular views of glacial moraine and of the village below. On the ascent I'm lagging behind the others. It's not age or fitness, but altitude. The thin air is affecting me badly on this trip.
Thursday 27: From Kyanjin Gompa (12,401ft) we retrace our steps back down the valley.
Friday 28 March: From Lama Hotel (8,104ft) we continue to retrace our steps down to Bamboo Lodge. It's below here, just beyond a wobbly bridge, that we say goodbye to Mina, who is heading back to Syrabrubesi and Kathmandu. She's a music journalist and I'll miss English conversations with her (Later I listen to some artists Mina recommended - Laura Marling is the pick of the bunch). Pierre, Elodine and I continue to Thulo Syabru (7,152ft) then onto Sing Gompa (10,662ft) and Laurebina Yak (13,208ft) on the Gosinkund trail.
Gosainkund Lakes
Saturday 29: From Laurebina Yak (13,208ft) it's down then up to Gosainkund (13,451ft)
Monday 31: From Gosainkund (13,451ft) it's up through deep snow past four icy sacred lakes to Laurebina La (15,124ft) the pass which eventually leads to the basic lodges at Phedi and the slightly better ones at Ghopte and the Helambu trail. Again I'm struggling with the altitude and am glal to reach Ghopte.
Helambu Trek
Tuesday 1 April: From Ghopte it's all downhill on the Helambu trail through Tharepati, Magan Goth, Chipling and Cisopani.
Thursday 3 April: Eventually we drop down to the outskirts of Sundarijal where a local gentleman befriends us and, before we realise, has paid for a round of Tongba (hot millet beer) and some snacks. We try to pay but he insists. So all that is left to do is fit in a barber-shop shave before jumping on a bus for the half-hour ride back to Kathmandu where we say our goodbyes.
Slideshow of:
Tamang Heritage Trail
Langtang Valley
Gosainkund Lakes
Helambu Trek

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Nepal: Kathmandu

Festival of colours, "Happy Holi"
Monday 10 March: Arriving in New Delhi I immediately take my pre-booked 1st class sleeper to, Gorakhpur, near the Nepalese border.
Tuesday 11: Entering Nepal I stop overnight at the border town of Bhairawa where Hotel Glasgow is rather less appealing than it sounds.
Wednesday 12: Continuing by daytime bus I eventually reach Kathmandu, knackered.
Friday 14: I'm planning a long trek so I head first to Shonna's Alpine Designs where her Brummy husband, Andy, kits me out with a down jacket, three-season sleeping bag and down bootees for those chilly evenings (yes, I've shopped here several times before).
Saturday 15: It's the Hindu festival of colours weekend, known as Holi, where all and sundry are splashed with water and slapped with coloured powder to the chanting of "Happy Holi". It's a chilly day and the water is cold but there is no choice but to put on a happy face. Annoyingly the trekking permit office is closed until Monday but Kathmandu is a pleasant place to spend a few days.
Monday 17: Permits and passes acquired I'm off at first dawn tomorrow.
Slideshow of Kathmandu.
Slideshow of Kathmandu in April 2010.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Krabi & Phuket town

Flaming wok, Krabi night market
Tuesday 25 February: The small town of Krabi is one of my favourite destinations in Thailand. It's away from the tourist hoards, the food is fantastic, boat trips to spectacular beaches and islands are easily organised, and, well, I just like the place. The seafood at Tuk Tuk Kitchen in Krabi's cool riverside night market is both spectacularly prepared and delicious.
Thursday 27: Once again I take the enjoyable four island boat trip, my last chance to soak up the sun before heading to much cooler climes.
Sunday 1st March: I take a look at the town's temple then a tuk-tuk trip to the local fossilised beach.
Monday 3: Onto Phuket town where the food is again the main draw card.
Tuesday 4: Downtown Khao Keang, near the local bus stands, is the best restaurant for local seafood fare while Markinny Mate is great for western fare from an Ozzy trained chef who has set himself up here. Fantastic value.
Slideshow of Krabi & Phuket town.
Slideshow of in and around Krabi from December 2013.
Slideshow of Phuket town and Krabi from February 2012.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Thailand: Nakhon Si Thammarat

Wat Phra Mahathat's main stupa
Monday 24 February: Back in Thailand, once again, I head south for some beach time but en-route I stop off at the historic town of Nakhon Si Thammarat in the rarely visited southeastern province of the same name. The main draw here is, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wat Phra Mahathat. With a multitude of stupa the main central one is topped by a golden spire, impressive.
Slideshow of Nakhon Si Thammarat.