Sunday, May 24, 2009

Nepal, Varanasi and North India

Here are a whack of pictures from my travels over the last month. Enjoy!

The incredibly short runway at Lukla airport, 2800 meters.
The first and only Starbucks I've seen on this trip, on the way to Everest of all places.

Look closely and you can see how the Sherpa people carry all of their gear on their heads. Crazy. I met one man carrying 90Kg.

The stunning mountain town of Namche Bazzar, 3500 meters. There are no roads up here so everything has to be carried in.

Dawn at Namche Bazzar.

Sam, Me, Tamara, Chris and Jess. Sam and Chris were two stellar Canadians we met on the plane to Lukla who were on their way to summit Everest. By far two of the best people I've met on my trip.

The highest camp, Gorak Shep, elevation 5100 meters.

Of all the days we decide to go up, we arrive on the day a bunch of Brits decide they're going to set the world record for the 'Highest Cricket Game'. British people do some really weird things.

I must say, Cricket is incredibly boring.

An early (4AM) start to catch the sunrise over Everest. This is looking back down the valley we came up over the previous 8 days.

Kala Patthar, 5550 meters. So so awesome.

So we celebrated with some whisky.

Sunrise over Everest, the peak on the left.

Everest and Everest Base Camp below left next to the ice flow.

Later that afternoon we walked to Base Camp.

And had some delicious apple pie!

The walk back through some enormous valley's was impressive.

The streets of Kathmandu.

Kyaking on the lake in Pokhara, Nepal.

A flash storm in Pokhara, I watched lightning strike less than 100 meters away. THAT was scary.

Bathing the Elephants at Chitwan National Park, Nepal.

Sharing the roof of a bus on our way out of Nepal.

Varansi, India. By far the craziest most intense place I have ever been in my life. This is the holy Ganges River, where people from all over India come to cremate their loved ones. Let me just say the water is pretty sick and there is nothing in this world that would get me to jump in there.
But thousands of people bath and swim here everyday. It's holy water.

But aside from watching dead bodies be carried through town and their smell that penetrates the city from being burned on the ghats, and if you can get passed the endless harassment and the dozens of cows and cow shit you have to avoid in the narrow streets that are just wide enough people (and dont forget to keep your head up for oncoming motorcycles) and if you make a point not to look at the dead bodies that wash up on shore after they've been sunk in the Ganges (children, pregnant women and suicide victims can't be cremated) then Varanasi is a really beautiful place.

And the Puja festival performed on the ghats every evening is pretty cool.

Ahh Rishikesh, a quiet hill station in the North, the place where the Beatles came to chill out and write the White Album. Definitely a great place to escape.

I was God awful sick from the food in Varansi so Mama Jee took care of me at her guesthose with tea and thali.

And when I felt better we when rafting on the Ganges, here at the mouth of the river the swimming was pretty stellar.

The Golden Temple in Amritsar. Very beautiful although the constant bombardment to have my photo taken with Indian tourist was really trying.

The India-Pakistan border closing ceremony. This was like going to a sporting event. 'Hindustan! Hindustan!'

The Golden Palace at night.

My last stop in India before returning to Delhi was Dharmsala, the place where the Dali Lama keeps his Tibetan Government in exile.

Outside the Dali Lama's temple. This place was really really beautful. A nice tranquil and spiritual place to end my journey of India.
I leave for Singapore this evening and will start the SE Asia leg of my trip. First stop: Tioman Island, Malaysia. Man I can't wait for the beach!

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Well, first off I'm sorry for not posting in a month, I feel like I've done so much and there is so much to tell!

The trek to Kala Patthar and Everest Base Camp was simply amazing and by far one of the best experiences of my trip so far. We flew from Kathmandu to Lukla where the elevation is about 2800m (thats about 10,000 ft to you Dad). This airport is insane. The runway is maybe 300m and it's on a very steep slope up a ridge that they use both for slowing the planes down when they land and for airspeed when they take off. A little hair raising landing here? Bah, I love that shit! From there we climbed for 8 days to reach the highest camp, Gorak Shep, elevation ~5100m. Gorak Shep is the hub for day hikes to Kala Patthar and Base Camp. The weather couldn't have been more perfect.

Base camp, at ~5350 meters, I have to say, isn't much. The walk there was stellar, a trail is cut through an enormous moraine and you're only a few meters away from the ice flow, often walking over buried ice along the way. The camp is nothing more than a bunch of tents full of mountaineers and their guides and due to the size of the surrounding mountains, there is no view of Everest from here. Seeing the ice flow they have to cross to reach Camp 2 however, was impressive. This is the most difficult part of the accent and they will have to cross it 3-4 times. To put it simply, it was massive. We had apple pie at the German bakery they constructed made our way back.

At 4am the morning after we arrived in Gorak Shep, we left to summit Kala Patthar (elevation 5550m/18, 200ft) and catch the sunrise over Everest. This was by far the most spectacular place I have ever been. The sky was very dark blue, the darkest I've seen, and there wasn't a cloud to be seen. Kala Patthar is completely surrounded by many of the tallest mountains in the world. Everest was certainly not the most beautiful mountain, but seeing the sun rise from behind it's peak was breathtaking.

To put things in perspective, mount Robson in BC is just under 4000m, Everest is 8900m. At Kala Patthar, we were only a few hundred meters short of the highest mountain in Canada (Logan) and the surrounding mountains were still several thousand meters above us.

The weather was great, it was definitely cold at night but certainly not as cold as our trek in India. The climb was somewhat difficult but I loved every minute of it and enjoyed carrying my own pack this time. I was eating three solid meals a day but I still think I lost over 10 pounds.

Food was expensive. A bottle of water, that might cost 30Rp (50 cents) climbed up to 300Rp ($5) at Gorak Shep. But I understand it, there are no roads or anything so everything has to be carried in by the Sherpa people. These guys and girls are amazing. They carry the loads on their heads, many of them over 50-60Kg. I met one man carrying 92Kg on his head. Unreal.

The trekkers atmosphere was great. We met tons of people from all over the world from all age groups. But by far the funniest (or weirdest) thing we saw was the world record attempt at 'The Worlds Highest Cricket Match' held at Gorak Shep. This was funny. I will never understand, nor do I want to understand, how to play cricket. British people do some really strange things sometimes.

Oh, and no altitude sickness! I think Jess and I were probably still acclimatized from our trek in India 2 weeks earlier so we felt great the whole way up. But I'd say more than 70% of the people we met had symptoms, including our travel companion.

So, after 9 days of climbing, we descended in 3 very long and tiring days back to Kala Patthar and caught an early morning flight out to Kathmandu. We spent a few days there exploring more of the city and then moved on to Pokhara, a quiet lake town and the general starting place for the popular Annapurna Circuit, something I hope to do one day when I return. Pokhara was a nice place to relax for a few days. Jess then took off on a kayaking trip and I went to the jungle on safari in search of Tigers. Didn't see any, but I got to play with elephants in the water and managed to spot a few crocodiles and rhinoceroses.

Nepal was amazing and I loved every day that we spent there; all 30 days of our allowed visa. I'll save my next post for describing the shear insanity and chaos that is Varanasi.