Wednesday, 14 December 2011

When Two Worlds Collide

I first saw this video back in London, when I was sitting at my desk and dreaming of my impending trip. I got sent plenty of videos at work, as everyone does, but this was one of the most moving things I had seen in a long time and I wanted to share it with you. Something about it makes me happy inside and epitomises what i think about people, travel and exploration (something that has been both backed up, and challenged on this trip so far...more to come on this in due course).

Inevitably naysayers will make comments about the white man ruining the innocence of the tribe; coming in and making irreversible changes etc. but I personally only see humanity in these scenes. Who are we to say that this tribe should remain as they are without ever knowing about the outside world, or indeed that we should go in and shake things up? Ultimately evolution and change, adventure and discovery are all part of life and the reason that civilisations have changed and evolved all over the world through time. This is no different, and no better or is purely discovery and the passage of time.

What this video says to me is that what really matters is that people are essentially kind, happy and good to one another. Instincts are predominantly for good, something that I am constantly reminded of as we travel through foreign lands experiencing overwhelming kindness from strangers, often much worse off than ourselves. This is something we should all remember in today's world. As long as we can respect each other's way of life, learn from and embrace our differences, then adaptation and change is no bad thing. We would not be where we are today without discovery and evolution. I love the stages of wariness, to fascination, to elation in this video. It truly made me feel good about mankind when I watched it. I hope you feel the same.

Monday, 12 December 2011

An Introduction to Mountain Biking...

Beautiful medieval Bhaktapur
...courtesy of Chris Woodcock!

As those of you who know us well will be aware, Chris is the sporty one in the relationship. I do my best but pushing myself to the limits physically has just never really been my thing. However, that is the joy of all relationships and travels of this type. You are exposed to experiences that you would never otherwise have and take on challenges that you never thought were possible. I introduced Chris to the joys of trekking (see his blog on our wonderful trip (and the topic of rubbish!) here) and he introduced me to the pain of cycling up mountains. I thought I'd be OK since I used to cycle to work in London most days. In hindsight I'm not sure that the Himalayas, the most unforgiving mountain range in the world, was a great place to begin my foray into the world of off road cycling  but there you have it...thrown in at the deep end is sometimes a good place to start.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Namaste Nepal!

"Stand behind the yellow line" shouted the guard at Chinese customs in Kodari, the Himalayan border town between the People's Republic of China (aka Tibet) and Nepal. Our passports and Tibetan permits were being checked for the third time that morning and our bags thoroughly searched. I'm not sure for what exactly since whatever we might have had, we were taking it out of the country anyway; not their problem any more. Formalities finally over, after two hours of waiting around, Chris and I finally said goodbye to our lovely Tibetan guide Lakpa and set out on our own over the 'friendship bridge' that crosses the Bhote Koshi river, the natural divide between the two countries. Two Chinese soldiers flanked the bridge on either side  ceremoniously marking our exit.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Roof of the World

'Tibet'...just the name of the place ignites a flame of curiosity, enthusiasm and interest in everyone we meet. Everyone seems to want to go there and everyone has an opinion. For most it conjures up the image of a country that has endured years of turmoil and tyranny at the hands of the Chinese, a mysterious land that wants only to be permitted to live peacefully, in a Buddhist governed serenity; an ancient way of life that has been all but destroyed by the evil Maoists. The Chinese would argue that this life was in itself is a dictatorship of sorts, that they are freeing the Tibetan people from their religious shackles. I had always wanted to see it for myself and, as far as is possible, make up my own mind.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Om Shanti...Ommmmmm!

This week Chris and I have spent several days in the holy mountain town of Rishikesh, immersing ourselves in Yoga practice twice a day, detoxing on pure veggie food and tea (apart from that illicit bottle of whiskey - oops!) and generally relaxing to a slow pace of life that is rarely experienced in hectic India.

8am Hatha Yoga session followed by breakfast. Sitting on our sun-drenched balcony, followed by 2.30pm Ashtanga Yoga session, followed by lunch, a nap, dinner and an early night. It's been quite nice getting into a routine and with views such as the below to savour, we have thoroughly enjoyed our time here. Yoga is now set to be a firm fixture in our daily activities throughout our travels in this crazy land - expect us to come back fully flexible Yogis - a bit like this dude (hmmm...)!

View from our balcony

A position Chris and I will master by the time we come home...

Friday, 18 November 2011

Om Mani Padme Hum

This week I spent some time in Bodhgaya (amongst other places), the most important of four main pilgrimage sites for Buddhists around the world. It was here that Gautama Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment, under a Bodhi tree, and the surrounding landscape is dotted with foreign Buddhist monasteries, each exhibiting their own local architectural style. The most impressive of these was the Thai Monastery and temple, topped with a glitteringly adorned gold leaf roof and set in tranquil and beautifully maintained gardens, a haven away from the chaos outside the temple gates.

The actual tree under which Buddha's 6 year path to enlightenment culminated is no longer here (the original is actually now in Sri Lanka and a cutting has been planted here), but a beautiful temple has been built to mark this holy place and hundreds of pilgrims flock here annually to meditate and pray in the extensive gardens. Things were particularly chaotic at this time as everyone was preparing for the Dalai Lama's visit in December.

The Mahabodhi Temple is a beautiful place to sit and contemplate life, a peaceful oasis in an otherwise dusty and noisy town. I spent a couple of days here wandering around the various different monasteries (all very different in look and feel) and taking in the unique vibe and spirituality of the town.

Thai Monastery and Temple

Mahabodhi Temple

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The People's Republic of Food

Beijing is an assault on the senses, a culture shock in the truest sense of the word. Arriving by train into the centre of the city brings this swiftly home. People are just everywhere, throngs of people pushing, shoving, laughing, spitting, picking their noses; everywhere you go in the city you are accompanied by a seething mass of humanity. Perhaps related to this, everything feels big and sprawling. The roads are all at least six lanes wide, the train stations are as vast as airports, and boy do they love a big square in which people can gather and gawp in awe at the majestic greatness of the Republic. The cities feel spacious and generally more low rise, growing outwards rather than upwards as in Europe and America. Our time on trains and buses outside of the city indicates that this outward development is showing no signs of stopping either. Subtlety is not a Chinese trait; neon signs, strings of bright red lanterns, honking horns, blaring music and all this in a language that is as alien to Chris and I as can be. Luckily the Chinese are extremely friendly in the majority and a smile and a few gestures always seemed to do the trick even if they did roll their eyes and sigh at us and our painful attempts at Mandarin pronunciation.

Chris and I are not ones for seeing sights for sight's sake. Don't get me wrong, the Forbidden Palace is stunning, the Great Wall really is 'great' (in the words of Mary Hurd) and Tiananmen Square, well, please see above about epic squares. However, for me, experiencing cities is much more about wandering through the streets, sitting in the cafes, bars, restaurants, meeting the people, popping into the local random shops (kitsch rubbish galore) and, well, 'living'. Actually, on this visit in particular, all that really meant eating and given that we had much time to kill whilst planning our escape from the madness of the impending week long national holiday we did plenty of it.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Small things that bring great joy

It's been a bit of a nothing week this week. Plenty of bus and train journeys, and plenty of chillage in the bars and restaurants of Kathmandu. So I thought I would share one of my favourites pictures of the trip with you instead of a foto Friday 'what's been going on this week' update.

The topic of children has come up a lot recently. Once when Chris and I met the inspirational Garry Goddard,  who set up his own children's charity in Nepal about 13 years ago helping to reunite displaced kids with their parents, and then again on a bus ride to the Indian border where I met an Australian woman who had been volunteering in an orphanage in the Kathmandu valley. The topic has also featured heavily in the books I've been reading ('Stones into Schools', and 'Half the Sky'). I have heard so many heart-breaking stories with children at the centre of them that it made me think, paradoxically, of a happy little chappy we encountered in a rural Tibetan village. I had been playing hide and seek with him and just managed to capture the perfect shot (I think!) of that moment with him, darting between the trucks and jeeps. His smile was so readily given and genuine, his giggle so infectious that it really did create a small moment that I will never forget. As ever, it's the small things that really make an impact in life.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Land of Plenty

Ok, so I've been lazy on the updates. It had to happen at some point and Nepal was finally the place to make Chris and I go 'wow', and simply forget ourselves in trekking, biking, laking and safari-ing. There will be many many more blogs to come on our time here but here are a few photos of the highlights to make up for all the lost foto Friday's I've spent away from the internet.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Reaching for the heights!

Last week I was unable to post because, yes you guessed it, we were in Tibet and the Chinese firewall was still a hindrance. We took a record number of photos in Tibet (925 on an 8 day trip), so as you can imagine, picking just one is a bit tricky. Nevertheless, I have done so.

Chris and I hadn't planned to visit Everest base camp as we'd heard it was a pretty touristy place to go, both on the Nepalese and Tibetan sides, and that there are some much more impressive and beautiful mountain ranges to explore. However, our itinerary simply took us that way so we didn't have much choice. We were both pleased that it did. There is something very surreal about looking at a mountain peak that is only about 3000-4000m higher than you are, that actually looks pretty small up close, and thinking, 'wow, that is the highest point on the planet'. It was surprisingly thought provoking, and the walk up there, at 5200m quite literally took our breath away!

There are many more photos of our trip over the Roof of the World which I will upload soon (having trouble with the connection speeds here) but for now here is a cheesy one of Chris and I at EBC, in front of the 8848m peak that is Mount Everest.

Gotta love those matching hats!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

In the footsteps of Chinggis Khaan

Our train pulled into Ulaanbaatar just as dawn was breaking over the city. Expectations were low based on the various accounts we had heard about the place, and all we wanted to do was organise a tour as quickly as possible and get out to the infamous Mongolian Steppes. We were in luck. As we stepped off the train we were met by a rep from the hostel we had been planning to go to, as well as a Dutch couple also in search of companions with whom to adventure. The hostel organised tours and had one leaving the next day - perfect! What a welcome change to be greeted with a smile, some helpful good news and to hear some laughter after our stint with the grim faced Russians!

As Chris and I ran around the city seeking essentials for the trip (woolly hats mainly - you will have seen how cool we look in matching ones in the photos) we were struck by how much we liked Ulaanbaatar. Yes, it is polluted and smelly; yes, it is chaotic and crumbling; yes, there are pickpockets on every corner, but it is alive! The contrast to Russia is tangible; people smile, they laugh, they say hello to you and communicate with their eyes if they can't speak your language. The chaos of the city could well be unappealing to some, but for me, it simply spells out growth and opportunity. Everywhere you look something enterprising is happening and I honestly find it very exciting. Ulaanbaatar is also incredibly cosmopolitan; it has good restaurants, enticing cafes, glamorous department stores - it is a city on the up and the evidence is all around. We both had a good feeling about the place and were excited for the eight days ahead.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Foto Friday - Two weeks in One

You may or may not have noticed that there has been a distinct lack of activity on the blog of late...Chris and I are in China/Tibet and it is proving pretty hard to get around the Great Chinese Firewall.As a result I missed foto Friday last week.

I have finally managed to get onto blogger so here are a couple of pics from the last two weeks...we will upload many more snaps and posts as soon as we get to Nepal in the next week or so.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Train Tripping on the Trans-Mongolian

The train
It was one wintry London evening many months ago, over a few glasses of wine and dinner chez Mr and Mrs Tuppen, that we first contemplated embarking on this Trans-Mongolian adventure. Holly and Nick's inspiring stories of green travel around the world (check them out at, and through Russia in particular, struck a chord. All we knew at that point was that we were going away, we didn't really know where to start and an epic train ride sounded just the ticket to get us on our way.

Friday, 16 September 2011

First Foto Friday!

Welcome to Foto Friday!

Every Friday I will endeavour to post my favourite photograph of the week, or the one that best sums up our experiences and escapades over that time period. If I've been particularly snappy happy then you may get more than one!

We have just got back from an 8 day adventure into the Mongolian wilderness and so, this week, you have got 8 for every day on our trip. We saw so many things that I couldn't choose just one. More on these adventures to follow in another post soon.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Gadgets and gizmos galore

Right, so I am now going to show my incredibly geeky side by sharing with you a few of the technological bits and bobs that are transforming our trip. I hope I can be forgiven since a lot of this stuff is pretty cool, and I do (did-eek!) work in technology afterall. Having been on a similar round the world adventure about five years ago, I am pretty excited by how much things have changed 'on the road' and how many gizmos, gadgets, and apps there are now to make life even easier for the travelling nomad:

Thursday, 1 September 2011

First impressionskies of Russkie

View of St Petersburg from the Azimut Hotel sky bar
Vodka, fur coats, big hats, and snow...these were all things that I associated with Russia and about as much as I knew about the country when Chris and I first decided to start our trip here...that, and bits and bobs about the Cold War and Soviet Union that I learned years ago at school. As a result, it all felt a bit surreal last Tuesday morning when Chris and I woke up at the crack of dawn to make our way to Heathrow with our enormous and jam packed rucksacks. Why exactly had we chosen St Petersburg as our first destination!? Not quite sure either of us knew but it seemed as good a place as any and even though it has taken a few days for it all to sink in (and it still hasn't entirely) we are now extremely pleased and excited to be on our way...