Tag Archives: Asia

Mountains, prayer flags and red powder (part 2)

People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things – Sir Edmund Hillary

Not that I am extraordinary or want to be. As a lowlander (living below sea level) I just am a bit afraid of the Thorong La Pass. At 5416m altitude it will be the highest point I ever set foot on. And I am not sure I can make it. So, the morning of the crossing of the pass I am sort of scared. We get up in the dark, have a small breakfast and take off at 4am. My legs have no power, I feel tired and realize I have to climb 1000m to get over it. With -12 degrees Celsius my sugar aids (Cola & Snickers) start to freeze. But then, as soon as the sun starts lighting up the tops of the mountains around us I get the power. After a bit more than 2 hours we are there, Thorong La. It makes me emotional, what a sensational feeling and how colourfull are all the prayer flags. I am on the top of my world and still mountains are towering above me. This place is extraordinary!

And then down, down, down. 1800m to Muktinath (15km). The views are incredible and so different. This valley is much more desert-like. Small, Tibetan-style towns are build on bare rock. Maybe it is the season, but hardly anything grows here. Just in the river beds there is some agriculture. Interesting to say the least, and we are walking in it. Our senses stimulated by this environment. Of course, the past 7 days we mostly climbed up, so now we mostly go down.

We hike to Jomsom (20km), where we take the bus to Ghasa. It is the most boring part of the circuit, so skipping 30km on a very bumpy and dusty road is a good thing. From Ghasa we cross the river and follow a nice track through some beautiful Nepali landscapes, away from the dusty road. First stop is Tatopani. A busy little town, renowned for its hot waters (tato pani). Heavy rains tell us the monsoon starts early this year. Luckily we hike in the morning, thus making sure we are in our tea houses in time.

The next stops are Sikha (8km), a small town in a lush green valley, with view on the Annapurna range in the background, and Ghorepani (8km). Ghorepani is starting point for the Poon Hill trek and touristic. Many guesthouses, many tourists and excellent views on the Annapurna’s and Dhaulagiri mountains. With the flowers of the Rhododendron in the foreground this is magical. The next morning we get up before sunrise again and hike up to Poon Hill (3200m). The sun rises slowly, illuminating the mountains in a mystical glow. Even though our guide says it is not a good sunrise, I love it. We go down, have breakfast and descent to Birethani (21km, 1050m). 85% Of the way are stone steps down. It leaves us not only with great memories of splendid views, but also with pain in our legs which the locally produced ‘moonshine’ Roxy cannot cure either.

The last hiking day is a short one. We go to the bus stop in Nayapul to take the bus to Pokhara. A small thriving city (2nd in Nepal) next to a nice lake, where we slowly acclimatize again. Now not to the altitude, but the hectic life. We are close to the main street, full with shops and restaurants. What a lot of noise… We rent a bicycle to make a nice cool cycle tour along the lake to Pame and further. In the evening we have a farewell dinner. Part of the group will stay here for some days. It is time to say goodbye to a magnificent trip with a magnificent group.

The next day we drive back to Kathmandu, check in into our hotel and go shopping. Just one more day. We spend it with some of our group on the Monkey temple (Swoyambhunath Stupa) and in Bhaktapur. Hinduism and Budhism go hand in hand in these places. Monks are praying, prayer flags colour the temples and stupas and the Hindu gods are coloured with red and yellow powder. These places are both World Heritage Sites and heavily damaged by the earthquake a few years ago. Sad to see, but still nice to also see tourists. With the fees money is raised to rebuild the historic monuments. It will take a lot of time due to many rules and regulations, but they will get there.

And me… I will be back for sure. I have travelled a lot in my life and realize I now have found a country I really like and possibly even love. This feeling needs more exploring!

“I will go anywhere, as long as it is forward”- David Livingston

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Prayer wheels and Dal Bhat (part 1)

To travel, to experience and learn: that is to live – Tenzing Norgay Sherpa

In March 2018 one of my longest travel dreams came true. I traveled to the highest mountain range in the world, the Himalaya’s. No, it is even better, I hiked for 2 weeks between the giants in the Annapurna range and experienced the nature, the silence, the great food and the lovely people of Nepal.

After my flight I arrive in Kathmandu. A chaotic city with many, many cars and motorized bikes trying to find their way. It is too crowded in rush hour and very interesting to see ruminating cows lying in the middle of this chaos. Their holy status protects them from being hit. My taxi finds his way to my hotel through this chaos and it is there where I meet my group of trekking buddies. I am excited, this is where it really starts.

The next morning we drive per bus and jeep (facing the traffic chaos again and also the challenging dirt roads) to Besi Sahar and finally Syange. We check in in a tea house with view on the beautiful waterfalls. It isn’t all that bad. The food is good, the bed is good, the surroundings are very nice and the company interesting. After the first night sleep, we still drive for some 45 minutes to Jagat, the starting point of our trek. Finally we can start walking. It is one of the longest days to start with. We will go all the way to Bagarchhap (2100m), roughly 21 km in a nice valley, along a rough and winding river. For me the scenery is very spectacular. We trek as a group and even our porters stay with us most of the way.

The next days we go to Chame (14 km, 2700m) and Upper Pisang (17 km, 3320m). The scenery changes with us climbing higher and higher. We keep on following the river, it’s sound has a calming effect on me. We see the first snowy tops of the Lamjung Himal, Manaslu (8156m) and Annapurna II (7937m). This is what I wanted to see. At lunch I eat my first Dal Bhat, and it tastes good. I love this country, everything just fits me in a way…

Slowly but steadily we gain altitude with every step we take. As we reach the scary 4000m in Manang, it is mandatory to do an acclimatization hike in the afternoon. We then just go up a few hundred meters, have a chat, enjoy the view and scenery and go back down to the tea house. All to prevent AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Another thing is to drink a liter of fluids per 1000m height. It is tough, but in the end it helped me. I had no symptoms whatsoever.

After Pisang we arrive in Manang (18 km, 3500m). My heart is pumping a bit more by now as the oxygen level goes down. The craving for sweetness is not less though. In Manang we find a number of bakeries with the most fabulous pies and pastry. Chocolate brownies with real grinded coffee in this magical setting… this must be heaven. We stay here for 2 days to do some acclimatization again. First we go up to the stupa on the hill behind the tea house (3650m), the next day we cross the river and hike up (3850m) to some holy viewpoints with many prayer flags and beautiful views of the glacier and its lake. Along the way I turn every praying wheel, chanting ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’. For good Karma I am told, but I also ask for nice weather. You never know.

Day 5 we hike to Yak Kharka and cross the 4000m line. The line where the oxygen levels are reduced to 50% of normal (at home). The afternoon hike goes uphill again (4150m) and introduces us to the yak. Yak are big, hairy cattle which are roaming around, just like all other cattle in this country. A bit more wild though, so we take a bit more care.

In the meantime, temperature goes down as well. The nights are freezing and the down sleeping bag finally comes in handy. So far we are Lucky with the weather, so at daytime hiking in shirt still is comfortable. Last stop before the highest pass is Thorung Phedi (9 km, 4500m). Nothing much, but the setting is absolutely impressive. High mountains all around us, it is the end of the valley. We see snow, impressive peaks and still enjoy beautiful weather (twisting the prayer wheels pays off). The afternoon hike (4800m)shows us the first bit of tomorrows track. We will start in the dark, so we won’t be able to see it then.

The first part of this trek is amazing. We have seen so many different landscapes, met very friendly people, eat some delicious Dal Bhat and walked many kilometers. And it isn’t over yet… (more to come soon).

Climb mountains not so the world can see you, but so you can see the world – unknown

Part 2 >>
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The land of smiles

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กาเข้าฝูงกาหงส์เข้าฝูงหงส์- birds of a feather flock together

So true for me and my 3 friends. We met in 1989 when we went to the NHTV, a tourism education in The Netherlands. Who could have known that we would celebrate our 20th anniversary in 2009 in Thailand. Not strange, as there is one thing we all love very much: travelling.

To Thailand we were going. Why, I have no idea, but we all agreed instantly. We booked flights and off we went. From Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and Phuket for 3 of us. Our last friend decided to fly over Bangkok to Phuket. She would arrive a day later. But we did not go to Phuket. Nonono, Railay was our destination for the first week. Railay? Yes, somewhere on the other side of the bay of Phuket. When the ferry anchors and a small wooden canoe picks us up to bring us to the beach we feel like we have arrived in paradise . Yes, there is no proper harbour, just a beach. Pristine white beach. And palm trees, and amazing rocks, and… simply lovely. Our hotel is on the other side of the peninsula. It is  bit cheaper than the resorts at the landing site. Soon we learn why…

The hotel is ok. Not special, but ok. Is is sort of clean, except when one of my friends goes to the bathroom at night and sees a huge cockroach. Hahaha… right. Our side of the peninsula (East) is a bit less of a paradise. A mangrovey beach with many tiny crabs, a muay thai boxing arena and cheaper restaurants with surprisingly many transvestites walking around. The first few days we enjoy the laid back atmosphere. We eat banana pancakes, go for a canoe trip to Phra Nang beach and the special fertility cave (filled with all kinds and sizes of wooden phalluses :-D) and see many, many beautiful sunsets. Railey beach faces West, so seeing the sun set in the sea, with the traditional canoes with the bright coloured ribbons floating around, is just beautiful.

We go for a day trip to Koh Phi Phi Don, passing the beautiful cove if the movie ‘The Beach’ and spend a day on this amazing island. We realise everything has been washed away in the 2004 tsunami, killing 1000 people on the 2 Phi Phi islands. We hike the evacuation route and visit the monument, both leaving a deep impression. The next day we go diving and I see my first shark. I initially thought seeing a shark would scare me, but nothing is more true. I swim to the shark to take a picture and obviously it got more scared of me than I of him. We see turtle, nudi’s, corals, clown fish…

On our last day in Railay we hike to the Ton Sai beach, through the ‘jungle’, passing the diamond cave. We enter hippie country, with all its colours, flavours, smells and laid back people. It has been a lovely week, with so many highlights. And it was not over yet. We make a stop of a few days in Bangkok. Lovely, lovely Bangkok. Kao San Road, a busy road with a happy holiday flavour until late at night, is close to the hotel. The next day we take a boat to visit Wat Phra Kaeo, an impressive buddhist temple with the huge emerald green jade Buddha, the colourful stupas and scary demon guards.

The last day we go on a cycle tour with Co van Kessel. Guided by a Thai and a Dutchy we cycle the backroads. Straight through China town, passing small alleys and the market. We head for the Chao Praya river. Crossing it and sail over the ‘klongs’ to the outskirts of Bangkok. There we step on our bikes again to cycle over small paths, meeting lovely people, seeing lovely things until… we get to a highway. We have to cycle there as well, crazy… at the end we pass a golden, sitting Buddha in Wat Kalayanamit. Possibly you have to be Dutch to be able to survive a cycle tour like this. For me… I loved every second of it.

We visit the famous Wat Pho on our last day. It is huge and famous for a giant 46m long golden Buddha. Smiles are everywhere, nothing can confirm this more than at the end of the trip when we experience one more highlight: the karaoke taxi ride with Mr. Thawin. This guy is so happy and cheerful, you will forget every bit of worry when you take a ride and sing with him. He is the face of this country, this land of smiles!

ขอบคุณ – thank you.

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Diving Sulawesi

What can be nicer than diving on nice locations, looking for critters and most of all nudi’s! I was happy to be able to travel to Sulawesi and in particular Pulau Lembeh and Pulau Bangka to do soe very nice diving. What as on my wishlist? Lots of colourfull small animals living in the sea. And Lembeh is according to many the best place to go to. Well, the hotels were already top to start with.

Lembeh Strait

This is the place, muck, bit of coral, small walls… but most of all critters! And for me a heaven full of nudibranchs, or better nudi’s. In many shapes, sizes, colours. We made many dives, on each dive seing something new. The camera was flashing and even more flashing. For me, imagining the large numbers of species, in many sizes, colours but most of all, shapes. Small animals with deadly poison, larger ones mimicking something else. And mother nature makes this. Gives it a purpose and bright colours. How boring are we humans?

Bangka

Bangka was different. The diving maybe less spectacular at first, but we had the hotel to ourselves. Very relaxing, together with scruffy the dog, some rather large monitor lizards, a large whale carcass and the memory of a little dugong who died there. The sea was rough, the Island beautiful, the people friendly and relax was the word. Dive in the morning, read a book on the porch, hike the old coconut plantation, find some cashew nuts and do another dive. The dive guide managed to show us a seahorse of just 5 mm. Well, we did not see it really. There was this small blak curved thingy and zooming in on the camera later on learned it was a mini seahorse. And then… diving the Sahaung pinnacle. Wow, just wow. So much soft coral, white tip reef sharks, nudi’s, and a spectacular rock formation resembling a buddhist tempel. Simply amazing. One tank of air was not enough!

Yes, people are not made for flying and living underwater, however…

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever – Jacques Yves Cousteau

See some more pictures on http://www.scubajo.nl/pictures.htm.