Category Archives: trekking

Camping in memory of Ho Chi Minh


Sometimes you just know that you are flogging a dead horse…  No amount of cajoling, coaxing, threatening or inflicting sheer terror is going to breathe life into the corpse.

When a class of 15-16 year olds (grade 10…) looks and acts more lifeless than me (after a week of battling the worst bout of gastroenteritis I have succumbed to in just over three and a half years of exploring the great beyond divorce), something is seriously amiss.  Whilst the girls were at least minimally attentive and not shy of some input, the boys were basically overwhelmed by persistent inertia… M’s head immediately settled on the desk upon his late entrance into the classroom and no matter of gentle – or otherwise – prodding got more than a grunt out of him.  Normal behaviour for a teenager, you say… only Vietnamese teenagers buck the trend.  They are, on the whole, a very polite, well-behaved, eager-to-learn bunch and make teaching a pleasure…

In their defence, I admit that watching a Youtube video of daredevil Danny MacAskell enjoying an endorphin high whilst doing awe-inspiring stunts on his mountain bike, may not have exactly produced the same adrenaline rush in the classroom.  Especially as the video was merely a prelude to a reading exercise analyzing tenses such as past simple, present perfect and present perfect continuous…  Lesser things have been known to drive teenagers to distraction and into oblivion in an English classroom.  I should know, I once sat on the other side and I can assure you, we did not even have the likes of Youtube videos to liven up the monotony of conjugations and verb patterns…

‘It’s the ‘camping’,’ H assured me, hovering just above a comatose state.  ‘We’ve been busy getting everything ready at school…’  His eyes glazed over, the mere effort of one sentence sapped him.  We shelved the grammar, my capitulation inevitable.  I relented, ‘OK, tell me all about it…’


Being a rather nosy specimen of the human race, I already had a pretty good inkling of what ‘camping Vietnamese-style’ entailed…  Only a day earlier, I had witnessed the transformation of the nearby city square and put out feelers about what exciting event was about to unfold.  Normally a quiet, peaceful area, occasionally frequented by teenage cyclists on their way home from school and early morning or late evening exercise fanatics making ample use of the street-gym-apparatus, that day every corner was beset by youngsters wielding massive bamboo poles and erecting intriguing structures…


Of course, I enquired about the goings-on at the English Centre where I work.  Surely, someone would be able to give me the low-down and all the details…  ‘Well,’ B in the office started, ‘to be quite honest, I have no idea…  It’s the camping… Something to do with 26th March springs to mind.’  It was a start indeed… Like all good traditions in any country, Wikipedia and the internet probably could shed more light on folklore than the locals who live and breathe it.

Surprisingly, even cyber-space was particularly tight-lipped about this auspicious occasion, but as it transpires, the ‘camping’ is an annual event, celebrated nationwide on or around 26th March to commemorate the inauguration of the Youth division of the Communist Party, in 1931.  Founded and initially led by Ho Chi Minh himself, the Ho Chi Minh Youth Union is the largest social-political organisation of Vietnamese youth.


Participating groups – either in the town square or in schools – pitch up against each other in exciting and fun-filled competitions, such as building the most spectacular and eye-catching entrance to their tent, hence the bamboo poles…  Cooking skills are also hotly contested and there are even prizes for organizing the most exciting game such as tug-of-war, or possibly even for piggy-backing the girls across the square after performing manly acrobatics on bamboo poles under the watchful eye of Ho Chi Minh himself peering out from the inside of every tent… It is camping after all, and after dark, swarms of teenagers circle campfires whilst singing suitable songs and daring a bit of flash mobbing, and at least some of the lucky  ones will be enjoying a sleepover…  Teenage adventure as it should be.


Although the origin of the camping event may be largely lost on today’s Vietnamese teenagers, it is clearly one of the highlights on their calendar..  And who can begrudge them the fun, because just like their Chinese counterparts, the burden on Vietnamese students to do well, work hard and even harder, and build a successful future is immense.   More classes after more classes, a diet of relentless studying.

So what if the past simple and present perfect continuous send my students to sleep?? They probably earned and needed the rest….  At the end of the day, grammar or camping?? No contest at all!!

Another country, another mountain to climb: Mount Fuji.

Mount_Fuji 1

Mount fuji 2

Was I interested in climbing Mount Fuji, my friend M. asked.  When have I ever  turned down such an invitation: travel, hiking, reaching the pinnacle of a mountain?   Not exactly sure of the precise location of Mount Fuji, it certainly sounded exciting enough, so I accepted without hesitation.

Japan had not been one of the ‘must-see’ destinations on my travel itinerary, but my original brief of three years ago – collecting as many stamps in my passport as possible within the next five years – gave me plenty of room for indulging in sudden whims.  Plus, as the Japan trip would follow close on the heels of my Tibetan adventure, the 3776 m altitude of Mount Fuji would be a mere trifle.  My body  would already be very well adjusted to the lack of oxygen at higher altitude moving from the heights of the Tibetan Plateau to the summit of Mount Fuji in a matter of a few days…


With my return flight from Lhasa to Shanghai booked for early Friday evening, I reckoned I had allowed ample time to catch my flight to Tokyo on Saturday morning…  Unfortunately, whereas the punctuality of trains in China is a feat to be admired, the same does not apply to air travel.  Flight delays are a common, daily occurrence…  and it was no surprise our plane took off late from Lhasa so we missed our connecting flight in Xi’an.  At least our flight was not cancelled; we were lucky.  In the end, I made it back to Shanghai in the small hours and arrived at M.’s  doorstep around 2.30 am.  Just enough time for a quick chat, repack my bags for the next trip, and a very short nap before setting off for the airport again for our 9.00 am flight to Tokyo…

Tokyo did not impress: yet another metropolitan city full of skyscrapers and dazzling lights with just more sushi on offer than other similar places around the world.  At night the brazen neon glare shielded a possibly star-studded sky; it was hard to know with so much light pollution.  Japanese technological brilliance opened a window on a future world flashed with colour and make-belief and heated toilet seats…   The humble toilet was definitely in a league of its own here, with gadgets and devices that pamper, sprinkle and spritz, make flushing noises on demand or provide soothing background music turning something rather uneventful into a totally different experience…  What a contrast to Tibet and Lhasa where we considered ourselves fortunate to be visitors before too much progress and modernisation will inevitably erode its traditions and unique character …. and its ablution facilities with a view to die for.

Nevertheless, Tokyo was clean, contemporary and easy to navigate.  Its metro and train systems were overwhelming at first glance with a spider web of colours crisscrossing the underground map  – not unlike London’s metro system, just on a much grander scale. The vast, enormous stations took some getting used to, but people in Tokyo are friendly and hospitable and English is widely spoken, so there was always help within reach.

And then there was Mount Fuji, of course, the ultimate goal of the trip.  Located about 100 km south-west of Tokyo, on clear days, its iconic shape is often visible in the distance, and in the winter the snow capped peak of the still active volcano forms a magnificent backdrop to the city.  Luckily for us, Mount Fuji last erupted about 300 years ago, and there were certainly no rumblings that might have interfered with our plans…

Tokyo is hot in July, with temperatures soaring well above 30 degrees Celsius.  I had packed accordingly: shorts, strappy tops, floaty dresses and sandals plus indeed a few essentials needed for the climb to the summit of Mount Fuji such as hiking poles, a pair of leggings that I could wear underneath my shorts, an additional thermal layer that I could hide under my fleece…   I had reluctantly accepted M’s offer of a pair of warm gloves and a woolly hat, but refused the padded ski jacket. I felt totally prepared for Mount Fuji and did not want to cram my backpack with unnecessary clobber.  I like to travel light…

I was not in the slightest bit perturbed  when our ‘Mount Fuji Tour’ coach stopped at a hire shop to give everyone the opportunity to stock up on extra clothes to stave off the cold.   ‘Wimps,’ I thought, surely it would not be that bad to live through near zero temperatures for just a couple of hours, or even less.  I had braved the Peruvian Andes near the snow line, I had barely shivered on Poon Hill in the Annapurna Range and had felt quite comfortable in a pair of long trousers and long sleeved t-shirt at 5000m on the Tibetan Plateau…


After a quick lunch and stocking up on much needed water, chocolatey high energy snacks and other hikers paraphernalia we set off.  Our trek started at the Fifth Station, already at an altitude of 2300 m, and would take roughly six hours…  Six hours???  It did not seem that far…but our two guides were adamant we would reach Ninth Station around 7.00 pm and spend the night there after dinner..


Not only did the guides make sure we followed the correct path, they also set the pace…  We walked slowly, painstakingly slowly to allow our bodies to gradually adapt to the increasing altitude and avoid anyone falling victim to altitude sickness.  But even if we had been in more of a rush, the sheer number of people on the often narrow track made it impossible to speed up.  We plodded along relentlessly on paths strewn with basalt pebbles, worn smooth over time and reminders of the last eruption of the active volcano we were treading on.  We clambered on all fours over huge rocks, hoisting and pulling ourselves up on ropes at the side.

All the while the temperature kept dropping as huge misty clouds started to envelop us.  Daylight was fading and in shady corners on the mountain, pockets of frosty snow stubbornly  clung to life.  The warmth of my fleece was suddenly very comforting and I definitely felt relieved after having the chance to put on my leggings to cover my bare legs…  Had I maybe been just a tad too optimistic about how cold it might get at the top?

At exactly 7:00 pm, we arrived at our lodgings, a small hostel at the Ninth Station located at 3,580m above sea level and a mere 200m below the summit.  After a quick dinner, we took to our Japanese style dorms: thin mattresses on the floor with an arrangement of duvets to wrap around us, sleeping about 7 in a row…  Washing facilities were a ‘short walk through the fresh air’ away and, admittedly, I was immensely grateful for the heated toilet seats that had seemed such an unnecessary extravagance in the heat of Tokyo.  And, the lodge had a small supply of warm clothes to rent which I gratefully took advantage of; somehow the cold near the top of Mount Fuji felt very bitter and temperatures would definitely dip nearer sunrise.


After having barely any time to sleep or rest, we started our final climb at 2.00 am: an endless string of bobbing headlamps trailing towards the peak.  There was a real chill in the air and not even the effort of the last push to the top had anyone breaking out in a sweat, regardless of the many layers we were wearing.  At the summit,  tea houses were already in full swing, selling warming drinks and soups to keep us going in anticipation of the appearance of the sun.   We scattered across the top, everyone vying for a little space at the front to catch the best view and take the best photographs of the sun’s dawn reflection in the lake.  We stood only meters away from Mount Fuji’s caldera, the crater left at the top of the volcano after its last violent eruption and we posed next to the sign at Mount Fuji’s summit before retracing our steps downwards, first to the lodge for a well deserved breakfast and then onward, back to Fifth Station where the coach would pick us up.


If the ascent had been long and arduous because of the altitude, the descent was tricky because of the loose volcanic rock and debris which made the path slippery and treacherous.   Definitely a case of gracefully sliding along and using both walking sticks to avoid too many falls…  We made it in just under four hours, legs wobbling like a jelly…

Would I recommend climbing Mount Fuji??  It rather depends…  If you are looking for photographic thrills, there are much better views of Mount Fuji from the surrounding areas, plus the snow cap in wintertime adds more drama.  However, if you, like me, have a box to tick, then you just grit your teeth and put up with the monotony of staring at red volcanic rock for as long as it takes you to haul yourself up the mountain and back down again…

So where to next??  Base Camp Everest?  Mount Kinnabalu??  We’ll see…  I have another twelve months to decide…

Playing at being ‘Jane in the Jungle’.


Finally, the time of procrastination is at an end…  Back in China, almost settled into my new apartment, and knees as operational as they will get: time to don the hiking boots and explore the great outdoors of Hangzhou and beyond!!

Over the past twelve months, I have been on a fair few trips in China, mainly with organisations that cater well for the expat community…  Cash-rich (relatively speaking) and time-poor, weekend trips are often the only option for us, with longer trips reserved for Chinese national holidays or the long summer break when everyone hankers after an opportunity to escape China’s pollution and insanity, as well as Hangzhou’s oppressive heat.

Recently, a new travel group has burst onto the scene, this time based in Hangzhou itself.  Capitalising on a gap in the market for low-cost trips for eager low-budget travellers such as students and English teachers, they offer day trips for the adventurous and hike-loving,  all within easy reach of Hangzhou…  give or take a few hours of sitting in a coach… So my last few weekends have been fairly action-packed on a quest for the hidden gems and thrills of Zhejiang Province.


Noodle Village

After an early start and a tedious drive battling with holiday traffic in China, we reached the ancient noodle village of Panzhoujia…  If we had expected to take part in the noodle making ceremony, we had arrived in the wrong season.  Tea leaf picking was the more urgent, and clearly more profitable business rather than entertaining hapless tourists with draping over-long noodles over the extended chain of arms…  Of course, we – all twenty of us –  had a little go and carefully stretched one noodle between us before having the pleasure – and it was a pleasure – of eating the famed noodle soup trying to fish out the meters-long noodles…

20170403_131356 (2)

The 3-D Village

Chinese people have a knack of spotting business opportunities where we might see none… Derelict and remote buildings nestled against a hillside would hardly attract our attention, but how better to entice the masses than by decorating walls with 3D paintings and calling it the ‘3D Village’…  And when a visit to this place coincides with the spring extravaganza of rapeseed flowers on the hillside terraces, you can be guaranteed of an influx of visitors and a healthy supply of traffic jams..

Authentic Hangzhou

Real adventure can definitely be found in and around Hangzhou with the Hash Harriers – the running/hiking group with a ‘drinking problem’.  Admittedly, I have so far stuck to hiking the trails rather than running, but a slower speed means more chance to take in the often spectacular scenery.  A recent night hike revealed Hangzhou’s West Lake in its nocturnal glory, a blaze of colour reflected in the water.  And of course,  there is more fun to be found off the beaten track, clambering over rocks and sliding down muddy slopes, experiencing some of the few remaining authentic nature areas that escaped a Chinese makeover…   Nothing beats a bit of a ‘Tarzan and Jane’ exploit!!


Tianmen Mountain challenge… walking the glass plank…

And then there was the challenge of the ‘Coiled Dragon Cliff Walkway’, built along the edges of Tianmen Mountain’s summits, clinging to the sheer vertical cliffs. Part of the cliff-hugging walkway had a makeover last summer and those who dare can now brave a walk over the 100m long tract of crystal clear glass looking all the way down to the bottom of the cliff… It is not for the faint-hearted and requires a bit of stamina as the walkway is only reached after climbing 999 steeps steps.  Not a mean feat on warmer days, but the views of the valley and the surrounding nineteen peaks are awesome and certainly worth the effort.  And the scary looking bridge suspended between two peaks???  Luckily, it looked more flimsy from a distance; it was clearly well-maintained and in good condition to make sure that visitors do not come to a sticky end…  At the end of the climb, we found a delightful little pool, fed by fresh water streaming downhill…  How could anyone resist the temptation of dipping their feet in???



The dangers of courting danger…


They say that your life flashes before your eyes when you find yourself in a scrape that could easily have a sticky end…   I can assure you this is not the case.  Instead the air explodes in  a firework of colourful expletives, closely followed by desperate appeals to a merciful God:  ‘Please, let me not break any bones!!’


‘Tiger Leaping Gorge’, Yunnan Province, China


With a little imagination you can see the tiger’s eye and nose, crouching, ready to pounce

We were on the last of our hikes, the one we had not been warned about.  ‘Tiger Leaping Gorge’ – a scenic canyon on a primary tributary of the Yangtze River –  indeed featured on our itinerary, but we were assured that after our initial two days of strenuous trekking, we could retire our walking boots and gear.  As it was towards the end of our week’s adventure in the most beautiful province of Yunnan, with its snow capped mountains and spectacular mirror lake, I had put on my last clean t-shirt.  Crisp and white, unworn and fresh from Wal-mart, on its first outing, not a stain or blemish in sight…  Too late to fish out my proper walking trousers or a more suitable t-shirt, I settled for the essentials: changing my footwear and leaving behind my hiking poles.  Better not to carry anything in your hands, as it would be a hindrance on the way up, the guide argued.  Anyway, what could go wrong during a one-hour descent into the gorge and a two hours ascent on a well-worn path?



‘The First Bend of the Yangtze River’, near Lijiang.

Earlier in the week, in the Meli National Park, we had tackled punishing steep climbs, when the high altitude sucked out all our energy and everyone struggled to catch their breath on the sharp inclines.  Our efforts and hard work were rewarded by awe-inspiring scenery and the sheer excitement of a mission successfully completed.  Nothing could surpass the glow of the awakening sun settling on the snow-capped mountains… Unless maybe glimpsing the arch of the rainbow thrown across the mountain range by a scattering of early morning raindrops.










Nestled between the high peaks of the  Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (5,600 m) and Haba Snow Mountain  (5,400m),  the Yangtze courses through the ‘Tiger Leaping’ gorge in a series of treacherous rapids, deemed too perilous to navigate, and flanked by almost vertical, sheer  2000 m cliffs.   It is by far the most dangerous stretch of the river, and only two teams of rafters and sailors are known to have survived the attempt to pass it. Exhilarating to be so close to this, we thought, as we edged nearer the turbulent waters.  We eyed the wobbly bridge spanning the gap across the river to a large body of black rock outcrops jutting out from the gush.  A perfect spot for a group photograph.






Just a few hundred metres along, another suspension bridge hovered over the thundering river,  a temptation hard to resist.  A small group of us ventured into its direction, in pursuit of yet another envy-inspiring picture to post on WeChat or Facebook and to revel in the dare of watching the water crashing underneath.  I stopped briefly to take a few shots, but clearly lingered too long whilst all the others in the group disappeared around the bend and into the distance.  Not a soul in sight.  I stuffed my phone in my pocket and tried to catch up with them…







To this day, I cannot fathom what happened.  I have traversed many rickety bridges and walked gingerly on narrow ledges, always checking carefully I have a sure footing.  Maybe I was in too much of a rush and threw caution to the wind, blasé about having tramped over too many shaky and ramshackle constructions.  Maybe I just thought there was a wider crossing over the crevice in the rocks.  Perhaps I slipped on the curved surface of the tree trunk spanning the gap.  Or maybe part of the wood gave way…  When I surveyed the area later on, there was certainly evidence a chunk of wood had recently broken off.  In the end it did not matter, because whatever the reason, I found myself tumbling down the rock face, down towards the rush of the Yangtze River eagerly waiting at the bottom.

To begin with, I dropped down feet first, then on my back, my fall softened by sturdy bushes and plants and cushioned by a backpack bulging with my fleece and waterproofs.  I watched the mocking leaden sky peeking through the foliage.  No time to panic, my only concern: no one had seen me fall… the path in front of me and behind had been empty.  OMG, I kept on thinking!! ‘Oh no, oh my God,’ as I kept on slipping further down.  How did this happen to me? ‘How the hell am I going to get out of here…  oh, shit…’  The welcome respite from some branches that held my weight was short-lived as they quickly and suddenly gave way..  And I continued downwards, where greenery was scarcer and bare rocks protruded menacingly.  I hit my head on a rock, more aware of the sound than any pain..  How far was I still from the river?  How high was the path above the river?  How many more rocks would I crash into??  What would happen if I broke my legs or an arm?? Please let me not break anything!!

After an eternity of seconds, I came to a rest on a ledge extending from the vertiginous rocks, still conscious and able to check my vital signs: my phone was still in my pocket and working! But I watched, shaking,  as my water bottle escaped from my backpack and rattled further down, sneering with every bounce.   No time to wonder about the dull pain in my left ankle and having yet again hurt my left knee; no point in worrying about the bump on my head.  I needed to get out of there, quickly and on my own… Not once did I cast a backward glance to see how close I got to the river or how wide the little ledge was.  I scanned the wall looming in front of me, peering through the shrubbery to see how high I needed to climb…

At lunchtime, the Spanish pilot in our group of travellers related a story about a man who spent two days crawling out of a ravine after he crashed his car and broke both his legs.  We talked about the extraordinary willpower it must have taken and how he would have dealt with unimaginable agony.  Where does the strength come from?   Of course, with both my arms and legs sufficiently intact,  I was not in any such predicament, but the adrenaline rush that accompanies a stressful situation blots out the pain and turns jellified joints and muscles into incredibly strong steel rods.   I did not try to use my phone or even check whether there was any reception.  I felt the might of Hercules speeding through my veins and used all my resolve to haul myself up, hoping the plants that protected me from the worst on the way down,  were anchored deeply and would support me out of the crevice and back onto those wonky pieces of wood.  I probably only tumbled down 5 or six metres,  not enough to call the air rescue team…

Finally reaching the ‘safety’ of the path, I felt the sticky mess on the back of my head.  Hands covered in blood, red and green stains on my new t-shirt, I must have looked a sight.  Luckily, the cut was only superficial as my walking hat had shielded me from more deeper wounds… and I only saw the rainbow of bruises on my body when I got back home two days later.  It could have been so much worse.. but I never made it to the second bridge over the Yangtze River, feeling definitely a little too shaky after the experience.



And as if I had not had enough adventure for one day… instead of meandering along the winding slope to the top of the gorge, we made our way up via an assembly  of ladders fixed against the  sheer  90˚ rock face.  Definitely the quicker way up, but safer????  We ‘only’ had  a few hundred rungs to go, so  I grit my teeth and got on with it…

In the future, I shall look at wobbly, decaying bridges and dicey river crossings with the respect they deserve and just maybe not be so flippant about them…  Courting danger can be dangerous indeed and good endings are not guaranteed!!

Conquering the Great Wall of China


dscn3007-2The notice at the entrance said it all: ‘This section of the Great Wall is not open to the public’.  Not that this deterred our tour guides.

We were joined by a wizened, wiry and axe wielding  Chinese man who forged a path for us through the dense bushes and overgrowth.   When the climbing became too steep, he fashioned himself a walking stick from a sturdy branch and lead us to the section of the wall we would explore.  No such luxury as sticks for us, humble trekkers…  None of us had quite prepared for this kind of journey, only ever seeing pictures of the official Wall of China where throngs of tourists and locals jostle for a bit of space on the proper steps of the Wall…  But we had signed up for a ‘Camping on The Great Wall’ adventure, and an adventure it was certainly promising to be…


We finally reached the Wall to start our ascent.  Whereas the more touristy parts of the wall have been carefully restored to former glory, the part we visited had not yet benefited from a make-over and was showing definite signs of long periods of decline and neglect.  We  clambered over rocks and boulders, over roughly hewn steps disintegrating with passing time.   Facing a sheer wall offering very narrow ledges to support our feet certainly gave some of us the jitters.  ‘Where on earth was the rope to hold onto??’ grumbled the Germans in the group… ‘What about health and safety??’ crossed our minds…  As there was no alternative on offer and no one wanted to chicken out, there was only one way to go: upwards and onwards.

This section of the Wall may not have been ‘open to the public’, but we met other hikers keen on avoiding the hordes of tourists.  And even the locals got their penny’s worth as they had set up a stall midway to the turrets and sold bottled water and iced beer.  Welcome refreshments during our arduous trek.


On reaching our final destination, we were awarded with spectacular views of the surrounding hills and a sumptuous BBQ courtesy of our tour guides and the local ‘sherpas’ who delivered our tents and supplies to the top of the wall.  We drowned our walking aches and pains with local beers and warmed ourselves by the heat of the campfire whilst dancing the night away..  There was very little point in aiming for an early night as the flimsy mats underneath our sleeping bags were hardly covering the hard slabs and spiky rocks at the top of the wall and were certain to keep sleep at bay.




And the promise of a dazzling sunrise over the mountains??  The early morning fog blanketed the surrounding hills, adding a dash of mystery, but blocking out the early sun rays.


Luckily, our journey back to modern civilisation was a lot easier… it appeared that there was a much less challenging track leading to the wall, the one used by the locals and the porters who carried up our tents and food..  But I suppose, using that one on the way up would have detracted from the ‘adventure’ and the accomplishment we felt at reaching the top of wall…

Sampling the ‘atmosphere’ of Yellow Mountain.


The weather forecast for the weekend sounded grim: drizzle on Friday, rain on Saturday and more rain on Sunday.  Not quite the best prospect for a hike into the mountains!  But as Jeff, my companion for the trip, argued: they are mountains after all, whimsical, just like the weather.  We were not going to be put off by a little bit of uncertainty about whether to stuff our backpacks with protection from the unrelenting sun or from the unrelenting downpours.  Umbrellas and waterproofs bulged our bags;  sunglasses dangled at the front and a wide-brimmed hat  would come in handy whatever the weather would throw at us.  So we bought our bus tickets and off we went on our four hour jaunt to the foot of the Yellow Mountains, one of the most famous and beautiful mountainous areas in China and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990.

Our arrival did not go unnoticed and a posse of hotel employees was on hand to point us in the  ‘right’ direction.  Our smugness at having our accommodation sorted out the night before soon evaporated as the cheap hostel of our choice was a whopping 80 km away.  So after a brief discussion at the hotel reception, we settled for a nice, comfortable twin room at the price of 100 Rmb shared between two.  Definitely less than a taxi fare to the hostel.  Even adding the non-refundable hostel cost to our night, we did not even spend £10 a head for a soft bed and a hot, gushing shower…  Luxury, affordable luxury indeed!!


In our room devoid of a window we were oblivious to the weather antics outside and only at breakfast caught a glimpse of what Noah must have been facing in his Ark… If there is such as thing as sheet rain or curtains of rain, this was it.  I may have missed out on the monsoon experience in India, but this made up for it!!!!  No way was this walking weather.  We dawdled and ate more breakfast.  We made for the shops stocking extra weather- and water-proof gear and settled for the canary lookalike outfits with ‘blue-footed booby’ matching booties.  And waited… and waited for the worst of the storm to ease.

Eventually the biblical deluge slowed into a trickle, and dressing the part, we set off to the bus which would take us to the cable car.  Although I would have been happy to tackle the millions of steps to the top of the mountain, my companion was more keen on exploring the views at the top… He had been before and the sunset and sunrise unfolding over the eerie mountain landscape were definitely the highlight of the trip, he assured me.  Plus we were planning to walk down the mountain on Sunday to take in the scenery on our descent.



We did indeed have a great few hours hiking on Saturday …. and the views of the rugged mountains and protruding rocks with  fanciful  names such as ‘The Immortal Pointing the Way’, ‘The Eighteen Arhats Worshipping At South Sea’ and ‘Ladder on the Clouds’ …  ???  My photographs of the veil of mist draping the landscape are absolutely awesome and breathtaking  …  How did Jeff phrase it?  Atmospheric …  and so it was.  But just here and there the fog lifted gingerly and the drizzle dried up to tease us with a fleeting glance of what was lying beyond the grey murkiness.  And the sunset?  It was probably magnificent, but hidden behind the cloud deck.  We did not even bother to set our alarm for the 5 am sunrise event…

Luckily, the weather was more merciful on Sunday.  As the rain had dulled to a mere dribble, waterproofs could be binned and we followed the throng of Chinese visitors on the steps downwards, bemused at the few people whose idea of visiting Yellow Mountain involved sitting on a chair being carried upwards by wiry, strong men.  On the other hand, it does give an income to some of the less fortunate people…


Most of the locals disappeared once we passed the cable car; they opted for the easier route to the bottom of the mountain.  So we had the paths mostly to ourselves, or shared them with the brave ones hiking up from the foot and with the porters who cart up all the supplies as there is no other way of bringing goods to the hotels for the tourists and hotel staff…

And on the upside… As we missed out on the spectacle of an awesome sunset and sunrise, and actually seeing the impressive rock formation of Mount Huang, we are already plotting our return in October  when all the trees are cloaked in their autumnal shades.  The great thing about Yellow Mountain is that every season has its charms and one visit is never going to be enough…



I have not yet finished with the Himalayas!!!


Day 5 (Friday)  – Leeches continued (Landruk to Dhampus)

I wake up early, far too early, it is only quarter to six. But nature calls and I untangle myself from the comfort of my sleeping bag to make my way to the ‘toilet and shower’ block. This is rather a grand label for what is essentially one toilet and one shower!  Not a problem for me as I am the only guest of the establishment, but  I hate to think what happens when there is a full house.  Queues for the shower AND the toilet?

Clouds hide the mountains...

Clouds hide the mountains…

Early morning revelations.

Early morning revelations.










As I glimpse in the direction of the hills, I am rewarded with another mesmerising sunrise over Annapurna South, the mountain which was hidden behind yesterday’s afternoon cloud deck.  Most mornings the sky is clear until the sun starts warming the morning dew and wispy clouds ride across the glittering mountains.  And as the day passes, rising moisture darkens the sky until it can no longer hold onto the water and the afternoon showers begin.















We continue our walk along the Nepalese Flat,gently meandering through woodland areas and always watchful for leeches. Often the path turns treacherous where yesterday’s heavy rain has made the algae covered rocks very slippery and havens for bloodthirsty leeches.  So we catch a few on our boots and even in our boots where the tell-tale bloody patches on my socks give away their presence. I am still not keen on picking them off by hand, but can remove them with a stone or a leaf but am freaked out when at our morning tea stop, the tea house owner spots one on my neck and swiftly takes it off.  I need strong tea after that, ginger tea with two teaspoons of sugar!

No leech to be seen, but the unstoppable flow of blood a clear sign it was there as some stage...

No leech to be seen, but the unstoppable flow of blood a clear sign it was there as some stage…

For my final tea house stay I am spoiled by having a room with TWO double beds and my OWN bathroom with working, hot shower!  Plus a socket in the room so I can charge my iPad whilst I am reading or writing and I do not have to sit idle in the dining rooms where usually they provide the one and only charging point for guests.  The small luxuries in life that we take for granted in the West!

So I make use of my bathroom and have a brainwave.  I wash my walking trousers, which I have been wearing for the last five days.  They are no longer fresh…  I hang them on the washing line outside my room, and then the real Monsoon arrives.  It rains bucket loads, I can no longer see the hills and feel my trousers getting damper by the minute.  Maybe washing them was not such a good idea after all as they will probably not be dry by tomorrow.  It looks like I will be walking the British Flag!  At least it will be easier to spot the leeches on my bare legs than on my trousers.IMG_5195



Day 6 (Saturday):  The Last Leg (Dhampus to Pedhi to Pokhara)

Once more I get up early, at the crack of dawn…  To me 5.45 am is the crack of dawn; to my guide this would probably be more like midday.  When he is not busy taking tourists into the mountains, Namal lives a homely, Nepali life, which means getting up at 4.00am to get food for the cattle, milk the cows, look after the chickens, collect firewood to heat the home and provide fuel for cooking and help his wife with preparing breakfast and getting the children ready for school… But I get up early with the promise of a spectacular panoramic view over the Annapurna range.  Only this time the heavy rains from yesterday and during the night have not done their usual trick and the sky has remained misty, wrapping the mountains in a dense blanket of cloud.  A little later, they lift here and there to reveal a glimpse of what lies beyond and I grab my camera to quickly snap shimmers of The Fish Tail and Annapurna South.

Today we finish the last leg of our trek and it is downhill all the way.  We have the luxury of Nepalese Flat first (a gentle downward slope), but soon are back on the steps of rocks and boulders which are extremely treacherous after the rains. So no time to worry about leeches! But on sound advice from the internet I have sprayed my socks with Jungle Strength Mosquito spray which is supposed to keep the leeches at bay and maybe they are right as I don’t spot any unwelcome guests today.   We follow small streams bordering green paddy fields and feeding the thirsty rice plants: nature’s irrigation system works perfectly well and the fields are a-swimming.  It only takes us an hour to get to our destination, much sooner than the two hours predicted in my itinerary and we wait for our ride to town.

6.6 6.5 6.4

Whilst sipping my usual ginger tea, a local guide decides to strike up a conversation, but being somewhere in his mid thirties and clearly the worse for wear, it does not take long for the chat to head into familiar territory. After the obligatory questions about name and country, things veer into the unwanted direction, and ‘No,’ I tell him, ‘I do not feel the feel of love for him…’  He seems unperturbed as once a year he has this woman or girl who comes to see him, for you know what.  ‘Marriage?’ he carries on. ‘There is a wife, but well, that’s just the wife… And divorce will cost me money. So things are better this way. No harm done…’  Life in the mountains certainly appears very simplistic indeed, but I wonder about his bravery once the alcohol has worn off… It is a relief when our taxi appears and I can escape.

After a refreshing shower at the hotel and clean clothes, I head into town and eat the most delicious Dal Bhat (Nepali rice and additions meal) and cannot resist a relaxing massage afterwards.  Maybe not the most relaxing experience after all as the masseuse seems to give the most intensely painful muscles of my legs a good workout.. but I am sure it can’t do any harm…

But no matter how much my muscles ache, I will be back.  One day, one day soon, I will aim for Base Camp and who knows, maybe I will aim for Everest Base Camp…  Anyone can do it, so they all say.  Now that is a challenge….