Mar 162015
 
 Posted by on March 16, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with:  1 Response »

I spent the past week or so in Pokhara, Nepal’s second city after Kathmandu, a fairly relaxed city with a smallish population. It sits on a lake and has sporatic views of the Himilayas, most notably the scarey looking Machhapuchhre occasionally sneaks a peak between the clouds. Machhapuchhre, or Fishtail,  has never been climbed,  not because it is hard, which I am sure it is,  but because it is Shiva ‘s mountain and Shiva will get very angry with anyone who attempts to climb it.

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Machhapuchhre

I have been to Pokhara before, many years ago, and I did the Jomson Trek downhill after flying there from Pokhara. The major difference since I was here last is that Pokhara is a lot bigger. Not that it has really developed, it is just there is a lot more of the same stuff. There are more hiking stores, more dodgy travellers bars, more bakeries, and more guest houses.  The backpacking scene can be quite dull in travellers ghettos like Pokhara, it is as though the scene got trapped somewhere between 1965-1975, and I am sure they were good years, but somehow I think I would prefer a large 21st Century Indian city with all its contradictions, than a backpacker ghetto with all its re-hashed predictability.

There is however, a bunch of stuff to do around Pokhara, such as hiking, paragliding, mountain bike riding, kayaking, and motorcycling. I have done a couple of these things;  motorcycling and mountain biking, a lot of fun, but the bike trails are mostly made for walking, not cycling, so imagination is required.

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Minimalist travel

Also, I rode  to Tatopani on a motorcycle the other day, which is only 90 KMS away, but took too many hours. Tatopani is situated at the beginning of the Annapurna Circuit and the road to it is dusty, treturous, bumpy, and very, very slow. It is possible to ride all the way to Jomson on the new road (there was no road when I was last here way back in 1997), but the motorbikes and the road are crap and it is more hard work than fun.

The road in many ways has weakened the adventure of the Annaupurna Circuit, it is a pretty ugly road, especially on the Jomson side, and there are not many ponies and porters carrying goods up the mountain anymore  (only jeeps). Still, there are lots of other treks that compete with Annapurna and the Himilayas are a lot bigger than a dusty old road.

Mar 092015
 
 Posted by on March 9, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: ,  2 Responses »

I spent the past 2 weeks hiking to Manang and back on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. It is a spectacular trek; one of the world’s greatest high altitude treks. The village of Manang is at about 4000 meters, well above the snow line and yes, it snowed alot.

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I had planned to go over the Thorung La Pass which is above 5000 meters, but Annapurna said no. The first few days were tough walking and it got a lot harder when it started to snow above 3000 meters. Walking in snow is hard work, especially with a pack as you have to be very sure footed otherwise the path gives way and you sink deeper into the snow. It snowed for about 5 days when I was in Manang, thus no one could leave the Tillcho Lodge where we were staying.  A few people got sick, so no less than 3 helicopters came and rescued everybody in the guest house and took them back to Kathmandu.

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But 3 of us decided to stay, the other 2 are walking over the pass as we speak, but I walked back down again as the sun came out and the view was spectacular and I didn’t really want to spend any more time at the guest house waiting for the Pass to clear.  The walk back was pretty special and I walked for 2 days in the snow, or about 40 KMS, then got a jeep for the remaining 50 KMS. The jeep was way fun and took about 7 hours to traverse the last 50 KMS of steap cliffs, valleys, rocks and mud.

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Whilst stuck in the guest house, which was freezing except for the common room with a roaring pot belly stove, I managed to read Ramachandra  Guha ‘s India after Gandhi, so it was an incredibly productive time as that history book is even tougher than the Annapurna Circuit.

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I’m back in Pokora now and have a couple of more weeks in Nepal to go on some more adventures. I will go mountain bike riding tomorrow and the day after,  will hire a motorcycle and see how far I can make it up the other side of the trek. I might make it to Jomson but Tatopani has some pretty cool hot springs.

Feb 282015
 
 Posted by on February 28, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , ,  1 Response »

At the moment I’m a place called Manang on the Annapurna Circuit in the Nepalese Himilayas. I hiked for 6 days to get here; it takes about 15-20 days to do the complete Circuit which involves hiking over the Thorung  La Pass which at 5400 metres, it perhaps the world’s highest. It has snowed pretty heavily over the past couple of days which means that the pass is inpassable for the next few days, which doesn’t really matter because Manang is pretty damn special. Manang is at 3500 metres and is in a valley surrounded by 5000-7000 metre mountains. The Annapurna Circuit is a cultural trek,  which makes it pretty easy as there are guest houses in Nepalese villages each night of the trek. And I have been enjoying the apple crumble! Many of the trekkers I have met treat the Circuit as some sort of endurance test, but I think I will take my time and explore the mountains a little more as I have all the time in the world.

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Feb 142015
 
 Posted by on February 14, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , ,  5 Responses »

I have spent the past week in Rishikesh in the state of Uttrakhand in Northern India. It is relaxed and chilled here,  a backpacker backwater of the 1960s hippy trail. The town is surrounded by mountains on either side with the clear and fast-running Ganga slithering between it connected by two wobbly suspension bridges.

The dominant theme here is Yoga and spiritually along with the convenient interpretation of these pursuits by glassy eyes, naval gazing Westerners young enough to know better. Still, when in Rome, do as the locals , so I have been indulging in some of the local Pancake Therapy. I have found the pancakes on this side of the Ganga much better than the ones of the other side. And as a seeker of truth, I know there are many more pancakes to sample and I have yet to find my pancake Guru. If the pancake is made at sunrise, dipped in the Ganga, stretched and chanted at, and mixed with special lassie, then it is well on the way to reaching the zenith of pancake nivana.

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Rishikesh, India

Yesterday (after a pancake) I did my first ever Yoga class with a charming young glassy eyed yoga instructor. I went to the 6 PM class, but there was no one else there, it was just me and the slinky, smiley, skiney, instructor. Admittedly as a yoga nubile, I did find it a challenging , especially the breathing bit, and I almost passed out . I had spent the previous day trying to book the Kafka express train online and as a consequence, had smoked two packets of cheap Indian cigarettes  But after an hour or so of hard-stretching, breathing, peddling and chanting I emerged enlightened by the experience, so much so that I walked thr 3 Kilometers downstream to the second suspension bridge to seek another pancake.

Feb 102015
 
 Posted by on February 10, 2015 travel, travelogue 1 Response »

Today I work up with hives! But I wasn’t sure that it was hives. I thought that it might be rabies. Or even Malaria. Or perhaps even Typhoid. What are the symptoms of Typhoid again? I was worried because I had spots all over me and I spent half the night scratching.  I threw my blankets on the floor because I was convinved it was fleas. Or perhaps bed bugs. And it was cold. Rishikesh isn’t quite warm as yet.

And I looked at my bed and I blamed the 1960s.  It was all the dready people that had been in my scruffy little room before me. It was their fault! And the Beatles. It was their fault too. They didn’t wash enough. Where’s a Modernist when you need one? They wash two times a day, sometimes more. And they floss. The world according to a Modernist is divided into cleanliness, a hierarchy of cleaning products without a Brahman in sight.

In the morning I got out of bed and opened my door overlooking the Ganga and contemplated  upgrading to the ten dollar rooms. No bed bugs in them. But what are bed bugs again? Perhaps it wasn’t bed bugs, perhaps it was hives as the scratching was moving and the bed was long gone.

So I look up ‘hives’ on the internets and all the symptoms match. And it says it is caused by ‘environmental conditions’. I ponder environmental conditions for a moment. This could mean anything. This is India. It is all environmental conditions. It could have been the smokey Sardu I talked to last night, or the cheap thali I had for dinner, or the permanently oily massage, or all those sickly sweet teas I had in Agra that I got from Robbie the friendly chai walla. Or it could have been the cow that sniffed my crotch whilst hunting for decent coffee (still looking) or the sleeper bus/boat I took to get here that promised everything including sleep.

The article I read on hives said remove the underlying conditions and the hives will go away. But where do I start? Perhaps with the British. It is their fault. They took all the cleaning products and left Indian Modernity to fend by itself. Or Nehru, the architect of post colonial India and Pakistan. Diving India info Hindus and Muslims was bound to end in tears and distract people from cleaning my room.

And so I am still scratching (seriously). I have an Indian itch that just won’t go away and the more I scratch it the more it persists. Damn!

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Feb 102015
 
 Posted by on February 10, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »

Budget Travel: London

Independent travel (or backpacking) is undertaken by many thousands of people each year, and for the majority of travellers in Europe and elsewhere, London will possibly be included as a exciting stop-off at some stage (I’ll be there soon!). However, many independent travellers dread the possiblity that London will drain your wallet due to how expensive the city can be, especially if you are unaware of the transport options.

London’s transportation system is vast and extremely efficient, but some modes of transport do come at a hefty cost. The famous London cabs for instance are renowned for being very expensive, especially if you get one into Central London from one of the airports (see the Daily Mail). So, what are the budget transport options when arriving in London?

Use the underground tube!

If you are arriving at London’s main airport, Heathrow, then a simple and inexpensive way to get into town is via the underground tube. Trains go directly to Kings Cross and other stations in Central London and operate throughout the day and night. Tickets are affordable and day tickets allow unlimited travel around London (and here is a map if the underground)
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Get the bus..

Buses are the least expensive form of transport and operate from the airports. They are also a good way to see the London scenery, including the infamous traffic jams (be warned!).

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You can hire a car at the airport

Car hire may be seen as a luxury for independent travel, but is possibly the most cost-effective way to travel across the UK. At Gatwick Airport, at both the north and south terminals, there are valets that will conveniently pick hire cars up for you (see: Parking4Less ).

Common places that are visited near London include Oxford, Cambridge and Brighton, and hire cars are a good way to visit these places or go further afield.
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Feb 022015
 
 Posted by on February 2, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with:  No Responses »

I have been away for almost one month and after a few cluttered days in Kolkata, I am now in one of the most intense and colourful cities anywhere in the world; Varanasi on the Ganga. This is my fifth trip to India and my third tine in Varanasi. I first came here circa 1993 and I am now retracing many of the steps I took during that initial life-altering introduction to India (including reading the same hippy-trail books!)

During my first trip to Varanasi I recall running around in the morning desperately searching for a decent coffee that wasn’t instant Nescafe brown Ganga puke. And, yes, I did the same thing yesterday. There are cool looking expresso machines here but many of the cafe owners simply use them to heat the milk or water and then place a spoon of instant coffee in the concoction (thus I have been getting killer headaches from coffee withdrawal…a uniquely Melbourne problem perhaps).
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Some of my greener travel companions have asked how India changed since I was first here some 20 years ago, but I’m not completely sure. It depends on what century you reference (as I ride to the train on a peddle driven rickshaw, book the train ticket on a shiney new Samsung Tablet, and have an intense conversation with a young Bengali on whether the Queen stole the Star of India diamond, whilst watching thousands of muddy people throw idols of the god of learning and knowlege in the Ganga in a religious ferver).

And he past three nights I have been sitting on the pissy-smelling concrete rooftop of the hotel where I have been staying with a charming young architect from Poland calls Tomesz. We can see the misty Ganga with wooden boats beneath us, chanting and chimes as the soundtrack and the menacing sound of the Varanasi roads as base . We have been drinking exactly 3 cans of beer berween us which we got from a secretive establishment about 1 kilometer walk away called “chilled beer”. I am sort of glad that the Indian masses (and I mean masses), haven’t discovered alcohol because it must be easier to land a jumbo at Heathrow than control a vehicle on a Varanasi road.
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The perspectives gained in India are always hard to communicate. Especially to those from counties such as my own that can never be anything other than Modern.

Today I am on a train to Khajuraho to see some temple porn.