RICHARD'S TRAVEL HIGHLIGHTS
Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China.
After a short train journey from Hong Kong we arrived at a deserted terminal in the midst of a renovation project. We exited the station through what appeared to be the back door, and entered an uninhabited commercial zone. The skyscrapers and the infrastructure were in place, but the people were not. We found our way to the metro, purchased our plastic buttons and stepped into what we hoped was the right train going in the right direction.
The carriage was clean, comfortable and empty, apart a few bemused schoolkids and the occasional curious pensioner. No spitting, which was a relief. Where were the teaming masses that we had expected ?
30 minutes later we dragged ourselves and our 30 kilo backpacks off at the central railway station, made our way to the escalator, and headed for the exit. Another world was waiting for us.
This was where the people were. Tens of thousands of them. The square in front of the station was the size of six football pitches laid side by side, and the every inch was packed with people. Then the heat and humidity hit us, intensified by the cloying pollution that cloaks every Chinese city and its inhabitants. We could see no sky, no cloud, no sun, just a dirty bleached cover without any real form.
This was the day our travelling really began.
Langmusi and the Tibetan grasslands, Gansu Province, China
The bus finally crawled into town just after 9 pm. We had been making good progress, but due to an unknown mechanical failure, we had been restricted to a maximum speed of 30 kmph for the last leg of the journey. There were no street lights, no-one to be seen, and the Tibetan café serving anything you want provided its Yak, appeared to be all that was open. After ordering my Yak soup with noodles and a bottle of Yak beer, I stepped outside for a smoke. As Jakki stepped out to join me a horse and rider hurtled past at full gallop. If only the bus could have matched his speed.
This was definitely not like any place we had been.
A one street town, with sword carrying, horse riding, Yak fur clad Nomads, Bon worshipping Buddhist monks, high heeled Chinese tourists and DIY karaoke. The Wild East.
The town was circled by craggy peaks and rolling hills, upon which the infamous Sky Burials take place. The dead are fed to the vultures, who, with the help of nature, spread the deceased over the surrounding hills.
The next leg of the journey was across the grasslands, high up on the edge of the Tibetan plateau. Grass covered plains stretched to the horizon in every direction, the emerald green punctured by the occasional group of nomad tents. And, of course, Yaks. The isolation here was tangible, but it felt liberating. There was no TV, no 7-11’s, complete peace & total tranquillity. Weeks pass without notice. Wouldn’t want to live there, though.
A 5am start after a night in the worst hotel imaginable. Our tiny room slept four; smashed windows, damp, unwashed blankets and broken beds. The toilet block was truly disgusting, the stench and filth so bad that no-one used it. Some unpleasant encounters were had in the pitch black of the night.
The walk along the desolate valley towards base camp was slow. We were at 5400 metres, and oxygen was in short supply. The mist slowly receded and as we rounded the final bend, the cloud broke completely, revealing Mount Everest, Chomolungma, the Goddess Mother of the World.
The morning sun reflected off the snow covered slopes, the peak breaking the clear blue sky. An amazing feeling, to be on the roof of the world, looking up the highest point on earth, an awesome and beautiful vision. I would say breathtaking, but due to the altitude we didn’t have any to spare.
The Hansada Yoga Ahsram, Janagal, Nepal.
Up at six in the morning for a full yoga workout, 2 hours of meditation and lectures on spiritual philosophy. No alcohol, no tobacco, no hot water, and a diet of vegetables, rice and dhal. Sounds like a nightmare, but at the end of the week I felt fantastic.
Guru Panchasheelji, two Yogis, plus a cook and a novice, run the Ashram, all serving and supported by the local community. Various guests come and go; recovering alcoholics, local politicians, kids from the nearby village, the mentor to the Crown Princess of Thailand, any-one who has issues, problems, needs advice or just wants to start the day with a bit of yoga and relax in the Himalayan foothills.
It’s easy to be spiritual when you have a great climate, beautiful scenery, and no stress, but I hope I am able to keep hold of some of the knowledge and insight I discovered in that week. Not all journeys start at the airport.
If you really are in need a holiday, this is the place to come.
Ohm Shanti !!!!
Angkor Wat and the Khmer.
There are many ruins at Siem Reap, Angkor Wat being just one. Some, like the enormous Buddha faces at the Bayuo rise high above the jungle canopy. Others are barely visible, hidden by the dense foliage, the jungle still claiming possession.
The massive face of King Jayavarman VII, carved high above the huge Angkor city gates, watches over all who enter. Intricate carvings at Angkor Wat depict worship, war and trade, so detailed you can count the teeth of the courtesans.
We spent 2 days exploring here, but it could have been a month. Sometimes we were fighting the tourist hordes, others it was just us, the ruins and the jungle. Most of the temples are relatively un-restored and because of this, and despite the tourists, they have a very special atmosphere, a real sense of the people who lived and died here 1000 years ago.
These testaments to the past greatness of the Khmer make their recent history even more disturbing. The people of Cambodia were possibly the friendliest we met and until very recently were committing genocide on themselves. We saw very few people over 40 in Cambodia, but we did see many amputees. The countryside is littered with unexploded mines and bombs, courtesy of America, Vietnam and sadly, themselves.
As a tourist, and that is what we are, there is not much you can. We gave blood, tipped big and stayed on the paths.
Wudan Mountain, Hubei Province, China
After breakfast in a high-class brothel and a short but sweaty train ride we arrived in Shiyan. The Chinese think westerners are stupid and smelly, and after trying to buy tickets for a non-existent train in the heat and humidity of central China in August, we knew why.
We washed in the hotel across from the train station and with directions from the staff, headed off to catch the minibus to Wudan Shan, one of the 7 sacred mountains of China.
There is no limit to the number of passengers that minibuses are allowed to carry. We had more people in a 12 seat minibus than you would normally fit into a London double-decker. Plus we were not actually sure it was the right bus.
After a 4 hour journey along a deserted, but beautifully manicured motorway we were deposited at the side of the road. Fortunately, someone was waiting to take us up the mountain to the hotel. Unfortunately, he had just picked up his new car and could not work the demister. We had a terrifying 40 minute drive up the twisting mountain road, the driver being unable to see through the windscreen. He was able to chat on his mobile. Maybe he was taking precise directions.
The next morning we set out for the 2,200m peak. It took 3 hours, climbing the ancient stone steps through the mist shrouded forest that covered the mountain slopes. We passed through each of the 7 gates to heaven, before, exhausted, we reached the Taoist monastery perched at the top of Wudan mountain. Smoke billowing from huge incense burners mingled with the mist as we looked back down the mountain through the clouds. Despite the obvious encroachment of the modern world – plastic bins, pot noodles and satellite dishes, it felt like we had stepped back in time to some mystical place of legend. It felt like a sacred mountain.
Sailing, Phang Nga Bay, Phuket, Thailand
It was the final day of our coastal skipper training and we were heading back to the Marina on Phuket after anchoring over night at Kao Lak.
We reefed the mainsail, just in case, and and had settled in for an uneventful journey home when the weather turned. The rain came down and the wind picked up.
Before long we were soaked to the skin, battling a 20 knot wind and 2 metre waves. The gusts nearly took us over a number of times, but thankfully Graeme, our instructor, was in charge of letting out the mainsheet. There was little room for error, as Jakki found out on an attempted jibe, nearly taking out the boom on a 360 degree spin. We were sailing as close to the wind as we could, but once it was behind us we had the yacht at full speed, riding the tops of the waves.
It took us 8 hours to get the Hunter 295 back to the marina and safety. We were exhausted but exhilarated. Not exactly G&T’s at sunset, but we didn’t sink (unlike 2 other boats in the area), although we did break the boat (a bit).
The 3 months we spent in India were not all good. In fact, at times I hated the place. The culture can be, from a western view, almost despicable, but we saw and experienced some amazing things there. Every negative is balanced by a positive.
Here are my favourite things to see and do in India:
The Tal Mahal, the most perfect, beautiful building I have ever seen..
Rajastan: the massive forts and opulent palaces, the old towns with their the narrow streets and smells of exotic spices and the fabulous colours of the silks and saris.
The ruins at Orcha – a reminder of the days of the Raj.
The Kailasa temple at the Ellora caves in Maharashtra, cut from solid rock.
Drifting along the backwaters of Kerala by houseboat.
The erotic temple carvings at Khajuraha.
The warmth of the people, sharing food, exchanging gifts.
It’s a bit of a cliche, but it is very true - If you want an experience, rather than a holiday, go to India.