A Travellerspoint blog

The Famous 10

10 people, 8 nationalities, 4 islands and the best weeks of my life

sunny 30 °C

As I’m writing this post, I’m sitting on the deck of our thatched bamboo bungalow gazing out across the ocean, the beach a mere five metres from where I am sitting. Piercing the distant horizon sits the silhouette of Balis perfectly shaped volcano. My hair is still wet from snorkelling the reef that lies directly in front of our bungalow. A cold beer sits in my hand as I wait for the sunset. Welcome to paradise.

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Warning: The following post may contain traces of sentimentality

After I’d booked the plane ticket to Bali I was feeling slightly nervous. Taking off to a new country with a bunch of people I’d only just met, what was I thinking? Though I am realising that with travelling spontaneity is the best way. When we arrived in Bali I met the remainder of our travelling group for the first time. Ten solo travellers from eight different countries and four different continents. Together we would become greater than just 10 people, our legend spreading to all corners of the globe. We would become the FAMOUS 10.

We were an eclectic bunch. Erik the relaxed Swede (“Fake Swedish”), Sarah the smiley German (“German Cow”), Cesar the charming Mexican, Hakan the Turkish born German “(Hans”), Marieke the Dutch blonde beauty (“Paprika”), Nicola the bouncy French guy (“French cow”), Aro the tanned Zimbabwean girl, our fearless Dutch leader Joel (“Papa smurf” or “The Blonde Angel”) and myself (Imaginatively known as “The Australian guy.”) We also had two other important travelling companions in the shape of Joels guitar and “The CactAxe,” my guitar, and between them and our 3 guitarists made for many an enjoyable evening.

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The last section of my trip in India was mainly about the soaking in the culture. Really as the Famous 10 we didn’t see much culture, not much of the “real” Indonesia. This was more about fun and being social.

We spent a couple of days in Kuta before jumping the ferry to Lombok. Not much to say about Kuta. It could be anywhere, a fairly soulless place. Full of Aussie surfer boys spending their nights drinking and their days doing the topless strut; that peculiar way of walking with their arms hanging slightly away and behind the body to emphasize their chest muscles. Kuta has never interested me as a destination, in fact that was why Indonesia was never on my initial plans for this trip. I figure if I want to sit around getting pissed with a bunch of Aussies I may as well stay home. Saying that though I did enjoy our couple of days there, two big party nights (including the world cup final night) which were a lot of fun, and the beach is also quite nice. But a couple of days was more than enough.

Although Kuta was completely Westernised the transport to Lombok seemed typically Asian. We were split between 2 minibuses for the journey to the port. Ours took 1.5 hours to make the normally 45 minute trip due to traffic jams. We still had a while to wait for the next ferry to leave, which was lucky as the 2nd minibus with the rest of the group which had left before ours took 3 hours to make the same journey, just making the ferry with barely a second to spare. A few hours on the ferry and a cramped minivan ride left us in Lomboks main tourist hub, the small town of Sengiggi.

The next day we all rented motorbikes and went for a tour rounhd the island. It’s the first time I’d ridden a bike since the odd trail bike experience as a young teenager. It was a blast, and I’m sure will become a regular method of travel later in the trip. I was a touch shaky at the start, but soon found the groove, and the temptation of speed is hard to resist. Lombok is rich with spectacular scenery; stunning beaches, jungles and soaring volcanoes.

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After a lazier beach day we made our way to the Gili Islands. Ah, the Gili islands. I’d heard stories about paradise and about backpackers heaven, but I was a little sceptical. Sure they sounded great but paradise and heaven? Well for me, these stories were all true. I hadn’t expected to spend two weeks on two tiny islands, and it is still damned hard to leave!

The Gili Islands are three tiny islands hanging off the side of Lombok. Surrounded by reefs and plenty of marine life they offer a fantastic underwater playground. The lack of any motorised transport means walking, cycling or the odd pony cart are the only way to get around the islands. Some nice beaches, plenty of coconut palms and almost perfect weather complete the picture of tropical “paradise."

Our first stop was Gili Trawangan. Trawangan is known as the “party” island of the three. It is the busiest and most developed. It’s not to say this is a modern resort town, it still has a lot of atmosphere, beautiful beaches and some spectacular diving and snorkelling. And with all night parties, no police on the islands and the prevalence of a certain green plant and a certain type of fungus, it really is a 20-somethings version of Disneyland and has something for everyone. But Trawangan was really about being social, hanging with the Famous 10 and meeting some amazing people from around the world. We did see more than one sunrise during our time there (and not at the beginning of the day...)

I also finally tried diving for the first time, getting my Open Water certification on Gili T. Diving was spectacular and again will certainly be something I’ll be doing a fair bit more of later in the trip. The marine life, the colours, the coral and the feeling of being underwater was fantasitic. I’ve never spent as much time in the water as I should have, and now I’ve “discovered” the underwater world I’m loving it, and can’t wait to get back in the water for more diving and snorkelling. The dive school was also a nice place to hang around, good instructors, good fellow divers and relaxed vibe. I ended up spending quite a bit of timing just hanging there relaxing.

After a few days on Gili T we realised we had made a name for ourselves. Talking to someone at a bar and I’d mention I was travelling with a group of 10. It became a common answer, “Oh! You’re with THAT group.” Ten people from around the world turned out to be quite a novelty.

It was certainly a change for me from essentially travelling on my own to travelling with 10. Nothing happens quickly, and in Bali and Lombok we really did spend almost every making minute as a group. Just leaving the hotel and finding places to eat can be an exercise of patience. It was nice though not organising everything. Joel, our Blonde Angel Papa Smurf became our de facto leader, happy to book boats, buses and hotels for the group. And between his charm and the size of the group we did get some good deals.

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It's hard to describe the amazing times with this group. We all realised we were sharing something pretty special. An amazing group of people, and memories that I am sure we will cherish till we are old and withered. Such a diverse and interesting bunch of people all working amazingly together. It was an emotional day when the group first split up. Three of us were staying on Gili T one more day while most of the group headed to one of the neighbouring islands, Gili Air. Cesar was finishing his dive course, Marieke was hanging with some French friends and there was more I wanted to do on Gili T. It was surprisingly hard seeing the group heading off on the boat that day. Standing there on the shore with Marieke it felt unexpectedly emotional. As it was it was rather silly as we all saw each other again in a couple of days, and most of us will catch up again in other parts of South East Asia.

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After a days good snorkelling and a final big Gili T style party (probably the best of the week) we too headed to Gili Air the next evening. As seems to be pretty common on the Gili Islands no-one had left Gili Air and we had a Famous 10 reunion, one final night sitting by the beach playing guitars till the wee hours of the morning. The others left again the next morning, and for the third day in a row I sent people off on a boat (the day before had been a couple of Swiss and German friends.) Cesar and I decided to stay for one more night on Gili Air, and ended up staying five days. What can I say? These Islands get under your skin.

Gili Air is much more relaxed. It still has it’s fair share of places to sleep, eat and drink but it’s much more spread out. This is a true tropical paradise. Cheap beachside bungalos, good snorkelling and nice chilled out people. I loved my time on Gili T but I found I was surprisingly busy. There wasn’t all that much “down time” between my dive course, partying and socialising. Just walking up the beach was a very social affair, talking to people met the night before. Air is the sort of place it’s easy to lose hours sitting by the water strumming the guitar or walking barefoot around the island.

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One thing that surprised me about the Gilis was the lack of Aussies. With it’s close proximity to Bali (2 hours on the fast boat) most people here on the Gilis have jumped from Bali. Though it’s mostly Europeans visiting here. I guess most of the Aussies just go to Kuta for a couple of weeks of partying and surfing.

But now the time has come, time to leave paradise. My Indonesian visa is running out, and really I haven’t seen much of the country at all, just a tiny pocket. I could extend my visa, but I can feel the Phillipines calling. And I’ll definitely be back...

So long Gili’s, you will forever have a special place in my heart, right next to the Famous 10.

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Posted by nomadSteve 01:05 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

The Malaysian black hole

How to loose a week in KL

semi-overcast 30 °C

This was written on the plane from Kuala Lumpur to Bali...

A week ago I would have been surprised if you’d told me I would be sitting on a plane to Bali. But that’s the best thing about having a long time to travel, going with the flow. Kuala Lumpur was somewhat jarring after India. KL is an ultra-modern westernised Asian city, the skyline dominated by shimmering cloud-busting monuments of modern capitalism. Everything seems slick and well oiled, from getting through customs to a bus into the city.

I arrived around midnight, and after India (most of which shuts down by about 10) I was expecting troubles finding a place to stay at this hour. No need to worry however, I used the lonely planet (a rarity for me) and picked the most interesting place there (amongst the description lots of couches and bedbugs.) The place was busy when I arrived. As I would later find out midnight in Le Village is the equivalent of early afternoon... As I was checking in I told the guy at the counter my name. I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder and a voice “No it’s not, his names the cactus!” which was my Kathmandu nickname. I’m realising the travelling world is small, as two people I met in Kathmandu were staying there, and I’d just missed a few more who had just left.

I was only planning to stay in KL a day or two, and then head to one of the islands on the west coast of Malaysia for some relaxing beach time. Suddenly I’d been there a week. Not that KL is an enticing destination, but the hostel was like a black hole, sucking travellers in. A very very social place. Many people staying there have been there weeks, or are back after other jaunts around SE Asia. Not much else to say about my first visit to Malaysia, lots of socialising and jamming (you can hardly turn around in this place without knocking a guitar.) And I’d got into the standard routine of late nights and even later mornings (or afternoons.)

So why Bali you might ask? Simple enough answer, I met a good crew heading to Bali in the hostel, and after a few Thai rums, I was easily convinced. I woke up the next morning with a hangover and a plane ticket....

So long Malaysia, next time I shall see more of you... As long as I can escape that black hole in Kuala Lumpur...

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Posted by nomadSteve 20:46 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Nine wtf moments from the subcontinent.

Those moments that only one phrase comes to mind...

As I am finishing up my time in the subcontinent I thought I'd do a post or two summing up my 3 months here. Coming from the West India in particular is full of moments of surprise. From the first time you see a local squatting over a street gutter to the first time your faced with a narrow lane in a major city blocked by a massive cow, there's barely a single day that goes by when you don't think "What the ....???"

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  • The swearing mute
    I was sat a street-side Dhaba (local restaurant) waiting for my meal. A small boy came up, asking for money. He was brandishing a laminated piece of paper. "The child giving you this piece of paper has no tongue and cannot speak. Please give money to help with their education." Begging in this part of the world is problematic, full of scams and treachery. Giving money to beggars exacerbates these problems, and there are usually better places to put your charity. Also I was skeptical, this little guy was making a point of not opening his mouth, and I'd had an identical approach while I was in Nepal. This kid kept hassling for money, holding out his hands, grabbing my arms, pulling my shirt. I kept saying no and waving him away. Finally after about 10 minutes when my food arrived he turned to leave. After two steps he changed his mind, spun around, gave me the finger and yelled "F___ you!" So much for no tongue...

  • The Delhi rubbish slum
    I'd seen a documentary on one of these slums a few years ago, but the sight was still a shock. One of those moments that the poverty really strikes you. I was arriving into Delhi on the bus, which had stopped to drop off passengers on the outskirts of the city. Next to the road was the biggest rubbish tip I have seen. Surrounding the mounds of rubbish was a shanty town composed of rough huts made from scavenged rubbish from the dump. Hundreds of figures could be seen trawling through the mountains of filth trying to scavenge anything they can sell. To only a few hours later be riding the modern gleaming Delhi subway full of mobile-touting brand name wearing Indians is certainly a tough contrast.

  • The perving holy man
    The saddhu (Hindu holy man) was sitting next to me in the cafe, quietly smoking hash from his chillum. He had that typical stoned look, blankly staring at the opposite wall, quiet and still, seemingly not taking any notice of the world at all. A Russian couple I'd been chatting to decided to leave. On the way out the girl, a picture of Russian beauty dropped some money on the floor and bent to pick it up. The saddhu, woken from his stupor leant across towards me and nudged my arm, smiling cheekily and gesturing towards the Russian girls behind, then giving a wink. Only in India will you get a stoned holy man telling you to check out a girls arse...

  • The mutant testicle
    There are really two India's. The gulf between rich and poor is extreme, with the ancient caste system locking people into their relative positions. On the streets the Dalit castes (known as "Untouchables") are seen begging and performing menial tasks. They often wear rags and are covered in dirt, pride completely destroyed. These encounters can be the toughest things to handle in India, and Also the most disturbing. One day in the street I aw a guy hobbling toward me up the street. He was covered in dirt, sporting long, unkempt and knotted hair. He was wearing an unusual one piece sort of lightweight overalls, which were frayed, full of holes and ripped from the shoulder down to below his waist. As he was wearing no underwear his tackle was dangling in broad daylight, including one frighteningly enlarged testicle, the size of an orange...

  • Debris covered Delhi
    Arriving in Delhi I was confronted by an unexpected sight. Complete destruction of the streets surrounding the train station. The streets were covered in rubble, the surrounding buildings half demolished. A cloud of dust hung in the air, with debris and eruptions sparks falling on the street. This was no natural disaster of terrorist attack however, but Delhi's preparation for the upcoming commonwealth games. The aim to widen some streets and remove "unsightly" buildings from popular areas. It does seem surprising however that this is happening now, with the games in October. Major bridges and infrastructure are still half complete and the games village is a very unsightly messy building site. Will they be ready in time?

  • The drug-dealing communist
    Kathmandu Nepal, during the strikes. The shops were only allowed to open two hours per day, 6-8 in the evening. The Maoists patrolled the streets, enforcing the curfew. We were heading back to our hotel just after 8. Up ahead a single particularly angry looking Maoist, waving a large flag, was reminding shop owners to close. As we passed he leant in towards us and in a whisper "You want to buy some hash?" Everyones a dealer...

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  • The little box that goes fzzt
    The power system in India is prone to outages and is rather unstable. I was sitting in a rooftop cafe, enjoying a meal with friend. Suddenly there was a huge flash and a large crackling sort of pop. A shower of sparks cascaded from a nearby power pole and all the lights in the surrounding blocks went out. Nice bit of fireworks to go with the meal.

  • Official play fighting
    Another one from the strike days in Kathmandu. Everywhere around the city groups of police, usually decked out in full riot gear, patrolled the streets. We passed one group of about 20 police. The ones at the front were all serious, their gear in perfect order, marching in unison, their faces resolutely determined. However the two at the rear of the groups were more casual. Their masks were up, body armour hanging open, laughing and joking and having a play fight with their bamboo sticks and shields. Sums up the people of Nepal really.

  • The Bomb
    Now this isn't really about India, but it still surprised me. It happened on a train through the middle of the Thar desert in Rajasthan, Western India. As the train pulled away from Pokoran station, I awoke from a short sleep, with vivid memories of a dream. The dream was set in the desert, low sand dunes and sparse rough vegetation sweeping to the horizon. Suddenly in the distance the ground was hurled into the air, a burst of sand soaring skywards. This burst of sand kept expanding, covering kilometers of the desert, as a burst of bright light shone from the centre of the cloud. A few seconds later the sound and shock-wave arrived, tearing across the landscape.

    This was quite an unusual dream for me, but I didn't think much more of it until later when I was reading the guidebook. The town of Pokoran is rather infamous as being the place where India became a nuclear power in 1998, detonating three nuclear devices beneath the desert just out of town... The subconscious can be scary sometimes.

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Posted by nomadSteve 03:01 Archived in India Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

Falling into India

How I started India

sunny 48 °C
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I’d been warned about India. Some even called me brave. “It’s harder than Nepal, busier, dirtier, hotter, crazier.“ I was told it was madness to head to India during the summer months and make the first stop Varanasi. So it was with some trepidation I made the jump from Nepal into India...

I arrived at the border with a German buy I met on the bus from Chitwan to Lumbini the day before. We arrived at the border early. The only way to describe the Nepal-India border is porous. Streams of locals flow through the border, you're still hounded by rickshaw drivers and even with shop stalls in "no mans land." We would have missed the Nepal immigration office if a rickshaw driver hadn't alerted us, and the Indian office is a few hundred metres into Indian territory.

Once the formalities were complete we began the process of finding transport. We quickly decided to drop a few extra rupees and get a jeep straight to Varanasi, saving taking the local buses and changing in Ghoratpur. However our driver was waiting for more passengers. He had said we’d leave by 8, even if they got no-one else. At 8:30 out driver wandered off down the road. At 9 I went looking, finding out from an Indian border official he’d popped to Nepal for breakfast. Cheaper apparently, most of the locals do it. I went looking for other options. I met a British couple, who were also heading for Varanasi, but they were heading on the bus, not as quick or direct as the jeep, but at least it would leave soon. This was the first time I met Tom and Rachel.

I went back, grabbed the German and our bags and we sauntered back up the road towards the bus. I noticed an Indian had spotted us getting our bags from the jeep, and rushed towards the Nepal border. Half way to the bus, we bumped into Tom and Rachel coming the other way, who had decided to find our jeep. The bus driver was demanding more money, even though they had pre-booked a ticked. The argument had escalated to the point where he had challenged Tom to a fight. By then our driver had been informed of our "runner" and had run back so he didn't loose his fair. We'd even found two more for his jeep for him while he had breakfast. After a bit of rushing around we were off. It turned into a good trip, a comfortable and comparatively short ride to Varanasi.

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Varanasi. Busy, crowded, hot and oozing culture. A place which challenges your views of life and death. Varanasi is steeped in culture and one of the worlds holiest cities, and an important pilgrimage site for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. According to legend, Varanasi (often known as Benares) was founded 8000 years ago by the Hindu god Shiva. Apparently Historical records show a bustling city had formed by around 200BC, and Varanasi was already an important pilgrimage site when the Buddha visited 2500 years ago. Certainly makes Australia look rather juvenile. The lifeblood of Varanasi is the river Ganges, running through the centre of the city. Stretched along the banks are a series of ghats, steps down to the river for the thousands of Hindus that bathe in the holy waters daily. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims from all over the subcontinent flock to Varanasi to bathe in the Ganges. It is the goal of all Hindus in India make the pilgrimage at least once in their lives. You wouldn’t catch me in the heavily polluted Ganges though. I don’t imagine it’s awfully good for your health.

We made for a guesthouse in the old city of Varanasi, a confusing maze of narrow twisting laneways, that only never seemed to go for more than one block. Often you have to push past the holy cows that inhabit these alleys, and watch your step to avoid the piles of shit that cover the streets. People were saying I was mad to head to Varanasi during the peak of the summer heat. The temperature was hitting 48 degrees, and it was humid. Though I found I could still function fine, and most importantly still enjoy myself.

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As it is a holy city, the rules against Ganja are loose. Marijuana is taken as a gift to Shiva, and for the saddhus, is an important aid in meditation. In fact the government runs Bhang shops. These mainly sell bhang, a product derived from marijuana that is usually taken in lassis, the ubiquitous Indian youghurt drink. These shops also sell ganja and hash. The usual dealers still harass you in the streets, however their tactics are often more inventive. One guy came up to Rachel, then reeled back with a look of shock on his face. “Oh my God! You need Hash!” Another suddenly threw something to me as I was walking down the street. Turned out to be a quite large bag of hash he wanted to sell me.

One of the more unusual parts of Varanasi, at least from a western perspective is the burning ghats. The old and sick from around India come to Varanasi to die. Open air cremation on the banks of the river is said to break the cycle of reincarnation, a good thing in the eyes of Hindus. As a westerner this process can be rather confronting. We tend to hide from death, keeping these things behind closed doors. Not in India. Bodies are brought to these ghats covered in shrouds, the bodies carried through the narrow crowded laneways of the Old City of Varanasi. To be pressed up against a wall with a freshly deceased body being hauled down the road only 10cms from your face is certainly something that wouldn’t happen at home. The bodies are taken to one of two “burning ghats” in Varanasi and washed in the river. After the relevant prayers and family goodbyes, the body is placed on a large funeral pyre of logs and cremated.

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These ghats are busy 24 hour a day operations, always with multiple cremations in progress. This is the most confronting part of the process, once the shrouds and clothes are burnt from the body. I won’t describe in detail, but this is something most westerners don’t see. It certainly made me think about the nature of life and death , and our place in the world as just another animal. I did feel out of place though, like I shouldn’t be there, so I didn’t hang around. This is after all a place for grieving families (only the males though attend the burning.)

Whilst there were certainly differences, I think that Nepal is quite similar to India. I suppose India is a bit dirtier, busier and crazier; but the difference from a big city like Kathmandu is not as great as I’d been led to believe. And have certainly enjoyed all my time in India.

After Varanasi we made the jump to Agra and the Taj Mahal...

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Posted by nomadSteve 06:02 Archived in India Comments (1)

The easy way down

The Himalayas - Take two

semi-overcast 0 °C

So there I was standing on the edge of the rocks, looking across the steep expanse of snow in front of me . I slowly put one foot onto the iced up snow, grinding my foot to get a good purchase on the slippery surface. I headed across the slope, trying to kick small steps into the icy snow, which is somewhat harder in sandals than good boots. About 5 metres out from the rocks, disaster struck, my right foot slipping down the hill. Next thing I knew, I was sliding down the icy slope, gaining speed rapidly. My body was running on a mixture of fear and adrenalin. I tried to stop myself with my hands and feet, to no avail. Digging my uncovered hands into the rough icy snow only succeeding in leaving my hands cold-burnt and blistered. About half way through the slide, the fear had gone, leaving just the adrenalin. I had a blast. Luckily the slope slowly flattened out near the bottom (before the cliff below,) so I managed to pull myself to a halt, hollering as I leapt to me feet, “Yee-aaah!”

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I was back in the Himalayas, India this time. Staying in the lazy town of Vashist, a few kilometres from Manali. Manali is a large mountain station, hugely popular with Indian tourists escaping the summer heat. Most foreign tourists head to the nearby towns of Vashist or Old Manali. These are both lazy places. With spectacular views, plentiful relaxing cafes and with the region being India’s hash production capital a lot of people spend a lot of time here doing a lot of nothing.

I arrived early in the morning, after a gruelling overnight bus from McLeod Ganj. I settled into a rough but cheap and homely little family run guesthouse. Whilst of course I expected the mountains to be cooler, the morning was freezing, windy and wet. Just like the Tasmanian winter I’m escaping back home. I met up with Tom and Rachel again (I's been travelling with them on and off since I arrived in India), who mentioned they were planning a guided three day trekking trip up into the mountains. I decided to tag along. The day before the trip we headed to town and I decided to look at Tattoos. It was something I’d been thinking of for a long time, but I just decided to do it. Overall it was less painful than I expected and I now wield a circular tribal tattoo on my right shoulder.

The travel agent organising our trip told us very little information. Luckily we were prepared. It would be very easy for people to get caught out. No advice on what gear to bring, or warning about possible altitude sickness. I felt it was a good thing I had already done high altitude trekking in the Himalayas. For the trip we had a guide and porters carrying our camping gear and food/cooking gear. It was a new experience for me, and did make me feel somewhat lazy. But I was glad I wasn’t hauling hear for some of the latter parts of the trip. And the food was certainly a cut above the usual camping fair I've had back home.

Our destination was Bhrigu Lake. A Hindu pilgrimage site not far as the crow flies from Vashist. Only another 2400m higher, at 4350m altitude. We drove a few kilometres from town to start the trek, gaining some elevation as we went. The first days walking took us steeply up through open grasslands and wildflowers. In fact it felt distinctly un-Himalayan, more like the alps. Of course I wouldn’t really know, as the closest to the alps I’ve been is the Southern variety in New Zealand. The weather on the first day was cold and drizzly. The higher we got the more the wind cut through you.

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The first nights camp was in a small rounded glacial valley; beautifully green, covered with fresh spring grass and surrounded by snow-covered hills, with wild horses roaming the small valley. We shared our campsite with another group of Swiss trekkers. It was lucky we had packed warm our warm gear, as the night was bitterly cold. The guide and porters did a fantastic job on the meal, a fantastic Dal-Bhat like Thali, one of the best of the trip so far (and I've had more than a few now.) The only downside that night was that Tom aggravated the ankle he sprained a few weeks before on the Great Wall of China.

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The next morning the sun was out, signalling almost perfect weather for our “summit” day. The ground was nicely frozen as we set out, quickly hitting the first snowy slope of the day. After my trekking in Nepal I had thought i wouldn’t any more serious trekking and got rid of my shoes, my sandals are good and hold up to most of what I can throw at them. So I did look a little silly, pushing through snow with socks and sandals. Though they performed admirably, doing extremely well in the snow. This first slope however was the easiest of the day.

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After walking up a small rocky ridge for some spectacular views, we headed further up, encountering more snow. This was much harder, traversing iced up snow. I led this section, slowly inching across the snow, though I almost did a couple of times, i didn’t slip. Tom and particularly Rachel had a tougher time that I did (go the sandals) with the guide stepping into help. After a short rest I set out first across the next slope. This was the largest and steepest yet. Very icy and slippery, with a long way down if you slipped. After my previous effort I was feeling rather confident, some may say overconfident...

And of course thats when I slipped....

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The others gazing at me from the top of the hill decided the original route was probably a bit precarious without crampons and walking poles, so they all followed my lead and slid down the hill (though they sensibly donned gloves for this manoeuvre). From here we sidled further around the lower slopes leaving us with two options. A section of fresher snow may provide us a way straight up the steep slope, quite a long way up (and long way back down if we slipped). The other option was to head further around the hill and follow the rocks up the slope, though some icy traverses were necessary, and below these was a steep slope followed by a drop off, not a safe prospect.

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The guide sent me up the slope first. This was a tough slog, and I had to push myself hard to keep up the pace. Steep and long, it seemed to go forever, an endless stretch of white. This sort of trekking is killer on the ankles, and mine began to argue about the rough treatment. Eventually I reached the top, struggling for breath in the high altitude, collapsing on a rock, letting out a holler, and a string of obscenities at the slope that I had just conquered. I lay panting for minutes till I could breathe normally again.

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By this stage Tom was really suffering with his sore ankle, each step a struggle. A few years ago I did my ankle whilst bushwalking on the east coast of Tasmania, and had to spend quite a few long hours limping out of the bush. One of my more painful memories. It was hard to just watch from the top, knowing what pain he must have been in, but nothing could be done, going down and helping him with his pack on that slope would be extremely risky. Eventually he struggled to the top, and we stopped for lunch.

We did however still have one more large snowy slope to negotiate. While we ate lunch, our guide teamed up with the guide of another group who had followed us and they carved steps into the icy snow. I was feeling keen at this stage, so went ahead and helped them with the steps, before once more sliding down a hill (on purpose this time) and retrieving Toms bag. After scrambling up a pile of rocks we hauled ourselves to the top, rewarded with some spectacular views. It was a short stroll from here to our destination, Bhrigu Lake.

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Bhrigu Lake is a small perched glacial cirque lake. It was perfectly circular and covered in a layer of ice, the surrounding hills deep with snow. Rachel and I wandered down to the lake to poke at the ice, though the edges had melted and you could at least wash your hands in the holy waters of the lake, said to be able to heal any ailments and grant wishes. I’m not convinced though, as I’m still waiting for my naked Norwegian girls to appear though. We were lucky though, as two of the swiss girls fell into the water when the ice below the snow they were standing on cracked. Luckily it was only shallow.

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The way down from the top was steep and hard on the legs. Pushing past the snow line back through the green fields and wildflowers to our campsite for the night. As this was next to a forest our guides constructed a very nice fire for us all to sit around. Certainly nice after the freezing night before.

The last day we started later, again heading very steeply down through pine forests, before emerging into the back of Vashist. Calves and knees were aching by end, as including the afternoon before we had descended 2400m in only a few hours of walking. Good pain though. Theres not a lot to say about the rest of my time in Vashist, I met some good people, but really didn’t do a great deal. That night the weather hit, and it rained for the next two days. Cold, wet and windy again. Unseasonably cold for this time of year. We were lucky we got our trekking in as this brought a huge dumping of snow on the mountains. I finally said goodbye to Tom and Rachel. This was the end of their trip, and they made a beeline for Delhi to catch their plane back home.

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My original plan had been to head further into the mountains to Ladakh, over the 2nd highest road in the world. The season is short there, with only a small window when the road is passable. They had opened the road for only one day, but this dumping of snow brought a halt to that, closing it for another week two. I didn’t really want to spend another two weeks in Vashist waiting for the road to open.

So I changed my plan and decided to head south. Back to the heat.

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Posted by nomadSteve 00:25 Archived in India Tagged foot Comments (0)

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