Tag Archive for 'Trekking'

A trek through the valleys of Bhutan

Rebecca Stephens in The Independent:

To my right, a man sat with shaven head and full-length earth-red robes; to my left sat a woman, shaved and dressed the same. I look ahead and then to the back of the Airbus A319. Apart from our party of 10, the plane was packed with pilgrims returning from a two-week Buddhist retreat in Kathmandu. We all shared a destination, however: the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. This small nugget of largely forested, mountainous land lies sandwiched between China and India, and recently became democratic.

An hour or so into our journey from Kathmandu we turned left past Everest. The aircraft began a slow descent – wingtips virtually touching the mountainsides – to the country’s only airstrip, at Paro. I stepped out into crisp mountain air. This was a world away from the vibrant, polluted, monsoon-drenched Nepalese capital. It felt more like Switzerland, or Austria: calm, unrushed, organised.

A charming young man with Bollywood looks greeted us with a “namaste” and a handshake. He ushered us to a comfortable minibus that drove us slowly along empty roads, past willows and apple trees, to a small lodge in Paro’s broad, fertile valley. We were to stay a couple of nights here. Then we would set off on foot north-westwards towards Chomo Lhari, a 7,314m peak on the Tibetan border. We would cross two 4,800m passes and then travel back in a broad horseshoe sweep south and east to the capital, Thimphu. More:

Last footfall in Nepal

In The New York Times, Ethan Todras-Whitehill on the Annapurna Circuit trek:

The path is wide, the terrain easy, yet I keep losing my footing, tripping over stones and my own feet because I can’t watch the trail. My eyes refuse to leave the white mountain filling the sky before me, the 24,786-foot Himalayan peak Annapurna III. It dominates the horizon as surely as a sunset does, but with millenniums-old glaciers ringing its crest like a necklace of diamonds, it feels more dazzling than even the brightest setting sun.

Just over a third of the way through the legendary 150-mile Annapurna Circuit trek, circling the Annapurna massif in Nepal, I have finally reached a height where no smaller mountains obscure my sightlines to the peaks. Ahead, four days on, lies Thorong La, a daunting 17,769-foot pass, the high point of the circuit and start of the trail back down. But I’ve already reached euphoria. Annapurna III is too everything — tall, close, imposing, beautiful — to be true.

Everyone who’s been to Nepal tells you the Himalayas are big. But nobody prepared me for the reality of breathing hard at altitudes already near those of some Rocky Mountain peaks, only to see a mountain rise another full height of the Rockies above me. More:

Great Himalayan Trail: trekking’s holy grail

From The Guardian:

Have you got six months off? Do you fancy a long walk? If so, World Expeditions may have just the holiday for you. They have become the only trekking outfit to offer a guided trip along the first completed section of the Great Himalayan Trail (GHT).

Stretching for 1,700km along the length of Nepal, the GHT will take you a mere 157 days to complete. You’ll see eight of the world’s 14 peaks over 8,000m, including Everest, and cross passes reaching up to 6,000m, climbing a total of 150,000m. That’s a Snowdon every day for half a year. Oh, and it will set you back £20,500.

The GHT isn’t the world’s longest long-distance footpath. The Continental Divide Trail in the US is 5,000km and the Trans Canada will be three times that. But this steroidal version of the Pennine Way looks like being the most coveted of all. Eventually, the trail’s originators hope it will stretch from the mighty 8,000m peak Nanga Parbat in Pakistan, considered the westernmost outlier of the Himalaya, to Namche Barwa in Tibet. It will connect five Asian countries – Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan. More:


K2: A trek to danger’s doorstep

Distant and mysterious, the mountain is perhaps the most feared and respected climbing peak in the world. A traveler journeying there discovers an icy world as perilous as it is beautiful. Graham Bowley in the New York Times:

One day last June, I roped up to a porter and we leaped over crevasses until we reached the side of K2, the second-tallest mountain on earth and one of its deadliest. We scrambled up a few hundred yards to the Gilkey Memorial, a rocky, sandy promontory at K2 Base Camp that commemorates climbers who have died on K2’s dangerous slopes.

The air was loud with the sound of ravens. Metal mess plates, punched with the names of some of the fallen climbers, tinkled gently in the breeze. About 12,000 feet above us, the top of the mountain was hidden by cloud; only its vast toes of black and brown rock were visible, stretching down onto the frigid boulder-strewn rubble of the Godwin-Austen Glacier a few hundred feet below.

It was just below freezing. Descending quickly, I tried not to look at the warren of rocks around me where some of the bodies, blasted by storms down K2’s slopes, were buried. Parts of some of the bodies were visible, and occasionally I glimpsed a piece of ripped climbing suit or an old boot, or smelled something sickly on the air. More:

And they didn’t return

India’s Kullu valley, also known as the valley of the gods, is a favourite with backpackers and trekkers. But over the last few years several foreign tourists have mysteriously disappeared or have been found dead. From the Indian Express:


On July 21 this year, Amichai Steinmetz checked out of the guesthouse in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, where he had been staying. Amichai, who holds both US and Israeli passports, and his Israeli friend were to go trekking from Khirganga, a hamlet in Parvati valley of Kullu, to the forests of Bunbuni. According to Amichai’s friend, they separated soon after they began, agreeing to reach Bunbuni from different routes, and planned to meet again in Khirganga the same evening. Amichai never returned. His friend says he didn’t meet him at Bunbuni either.

On Monday, August 17, a US Embassy team arrived from New Delhi to meet K.K. Indoria, Superintendent of Police, Kullu. The team, which included an officer of the diplomatic security service of the US Department of State, had come to inquire about the Amichai case.

Twenty-four-year-old Amichai is the 19th foreign tourist to have gone missing in Kullu (mostly from Parvati valley) since 1992. That’s an unsettling statistic for a tourist haven that is called the ‘Valley of Gods’, whose valleys and ridges offer a favourite setting for trekkers and tourists. Apart from the list of missing foreigners, official government records say 57 foreigners have died in the region between 1998 and 2009. Most of these deaths are attributed to accidents or drug overdose. But there have been murders too. Like that of Martin Young, a British national who died in a murderous assault in 2000. Similarly, Alessandra Verdi’s death in 2001 was described as murder. The Italian tourist’s body was recovered from the Parvati river bank. More:

[Image: Fabrice/Travellerspoint]

Slipping from Shangri-La

Ted Conover at the Virginia Quarterly Review [via 3quarksdaily]:

The line of forty walkers moved quickly, which was good for keeping warm but bad for keeping my balance. Because we were walking on ice, a frozen river. The Zanskar, walled in on both sides by a towering gorge, is the only winter link between villages in that Himalayan valley and the outside world. And it’s only a link for a little while, in deepest winter, when its surface freezes enough to support human footsteps.

The mountain village of Reru

The mountain village of Reru

Zanskar is part of Ladakh-the eastern, Buddhist part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. At more than 11,000 feet above sea level (with peaks as high as 23,000), the area has long been defined by remoteness. The valley has the feel of a cul-de-sac, because there is only one real road in and out-a dirt track from Kargil, an untouristed and predominantly Muslim town just a couple of miles from the disputed border (or “Line of Control”) with Pakistan, to Padum, the main town of Zanskar. Summers are short there, and the Kargil road is only reliably open four or five months a year, from the end of May to early October. After that, snow makes it impassable and the valley gets very, very quiet. But for a few weeks each winter, when the ice is strong enough, the river provides the Zanskaris another way out-an ice road, a forty-mile trail upon the frozen surface called the chaddar.

The walkers were teenagers, mainly. They had maxed out the educational opportunities in Reru, a village with the area’s largest boarding school, and were taking advantage of the cold to get out of Dodge-to make their way to larger boarding schools in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, and in Leh, the capital of Ladakh, not far from the end of the chaddar at the confluence of the Zanskar and the Indus. They also were taking advantage of scholarships, offered by Europeans sympathetic to young Tibetan Buddhists in this poor part of the world. More:

Trekking in style in Bhutan

The best way to see one of the world’s most beautiful countries is on foot. The four-day Druk Path trek isn’t for everyone, but the rewards are great. Bruce Einhorn in BusinessWeek:

It was quite an entourage. A dozen mules, lugging the tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, gas stoves, and enough food for both humans and animals for four days. Managing the animals were three pony men. The group also included two cooks, two campground managers, and one guide in charge of keeping everything in order. Oh yes, and two guests: my wife and me.

We were gathered on the edge of Paro, a small town in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, as we were about to embark on the Druk Path, a four-day trek that would take us through forests of blue pine, past monasteries of whitewashed stone that look a bit like Swiss chalets, above the tree line to yak-herder shelters, along snowy ridges with stunning views of the high peaks, and finally down to the valley of Thimpu, a bustling town of government ministries, international aid-agency offices, small museums, and tourist shops, which is the closest Bhutan has to a city.

[Photo: Uma, a traditional-style hotel in the hills above the Paro Valley in Bhutan.]


A kingdom in the mountains shares its secrets

Susan Emerling in The New York Times:


When American curators arrived one spring morning at Norbugang Yu Lhakang, a Buddhist temple in a remote village in western Bhutan, they found a group of monks sitting on the floor in bright robes, chanting. They had been there since 6 a.m., intent on creating the right ambience for a divination ceremony.

The question before them was whether a small 18th-century gilt bronze sculpture – a female personification of supreme Buddhist wisdom – could make its way to the United States for a traveling exhibition of Bhutanese art.

It fell to the sculpture’s owner, a Bhutanese businessman whose family had had the piece for generations, to roll the divination dice. Tremulously, he rolled a two, a six and a nine.


The guide to Bhutan

Bhutan has always been beautiful, but now it is beautiful and luxurious. Tom Fordyce in The Times, UK:

monastry.jpgIt was a disturbing scene. Three half-naked men, all wearing hideous carved masks, were running towards me, brandishing wooden phalluses the size of monkey wrenches. On my right, a shaven-headed monk mumbled a monotone mantra while striking a pair of discordant cymbals.

Overhead circled a large flock of ravens, getting closer with every lap. From the ancient monastery to my left came another man, wearing what appeared to be a welder’s mask, a sheen of oil and not much else.