In February 2019, I took the trip to Tanzania to attempt to trek up Kilimanjaro. One of the largest freestanding volcanoes in the world (as it says on the sign) and definitely the highest mountain in the continent of Africa, at 5895m, the trip would take me higher than my Everest Base Camp trek.
Choose the longest route you can
afford/find. None of the routes are great
for acclimatisation options, as not that many opportunities to climb high,
sleep low. The routes all seem to have a very large final day climb, with the
most popular route from Barafu climbing 1200m for the last climb. That’s a lot and
a reason why so many turn back. So look
for opportunities to spend time as high as possible.
Check the reputation of the local company. Kilmanjaro
trips are big business and not every local company spends the money needed to
kit out and pay the local team enough.
Read the kit list. Follow the kit list. It’s
there for a reason! And if your company
does not provide a kit list, consider somewhere else! For most, Kili is a one
off, it’s a challenge for charity, or a tick on a bucket list, and many will
never need the kit again so will either skimp on it or decide not to take
it. If you can’t afford to buy, then
look to hire or to borrow. I’d suggest
these are the key things you need to focus on:
Sleeping bag. It gets cold, really cold, so make
sure you will be warm at night. You’re unlikely to sleep brilliantly with the
altitude, but don’t make being cold a factor too. Use a liner as well, and warm
night clothes to stay warm
Down jacket. You spend a lot of time not
walking, hanging around camp. The jacket keeps you warm. You could always add
extra layers but that is also extra weight.
Gloves – mittens are definitely best for the
summit night. I had 2 pairs of gloves
but it was not enough, I borrowed mittens and put them over my base gloves and
I was fine.
It rains and they will stop the wind too. Essential.
Nail brush. There’s so much dirt and dust, your
hands get filthy so extremely useful
Hand gel. Buy your usual amount and buy another
bottle. It’s essential for all stops and
eating opportunities. Also take moisturiser for hands, as it dries them out
Painkillers and general travel medicine. I was surprised that some had not brought these
(or had not brought enough) and they had to ask others. Take headache tablets!
Your guides should be making sure you are doing this. If they’re too
fast for you, then raise your voice and ask.
There’s always going to be someone faster than you, but that does not
mean you need to keep up with them. Another reason to pick a longer schedule,
it gives more time and hopefully you’ll never need to rush too much. There’s nothing wrong with splitting up
groups if needed to allow pace to suit all the team.
Take your preferred snacks for summit night. Your
appetite will be low (it’s high, it’s dark, your body clock is all over the
place) and you’ll find it difficult to eat, so have something with you that you
know you like – both sweet and savoury.
uphill, lots of uphill. If you have no uphills near you, then find stairs. Go for long walks, to build up your stamina.
This is about having legs to go for long periods of times and legs than can go uphill
for ever. So think about body strength as well. Lunges and squats are your
Practice with walking poles; don’t turn up
having never used them. There’s videos around, but just getting our there with
them, trying them on flat and up and down hills will give you a confidence with
using them. They do help with saving energy when used correctly and with maintaining
stability on the up and down hills.
Most of all enjoy yourself. I can guarantee that at some
point you’ll wander why you did this. You’ll be tired and hungry and grumpy. You
may be hurting and miserable. You may be cold and feeling terrible. But think
about what you are doing and what you have done to get there – it’s an achievement
and you should be proud. Even if you don’t make the summit on the last push,
you’ve still got our there and tried.
In February 2019, I took the trip to Tanzania to attempt to trek up Kilimanjaro. One of the largest freestanding volcanoes in the world (as it says on the sign) and definitely the highest mountain in the continent of Africa, at 5895m, the trip would take me higher than my Everest Base Camp trek.
Slowly, slowly we got into line and headed out through camp.
It was all uphill and we were completely reliant on the guides to keep us on
the right track through the campsite.
You caught glimpses of other groups, of other tents, but in general you
had no idea where you are. Paths wound
different ways between the various clusters of tents and I can imagine it would
be easy to get confused – in fact, we apparently did later, a halt was called
and the guides gathered to discuss, eventually deciding on the right way.
We’d been put into various groups, based on predicted speed,
with each group an assigned guide. If we
had gotten separated, we would at least have the group. For most of the climb, this was not needed,
we managed to stick together. The groups
meant that for most of the time you stayed in the same order, with your vision filled
only with the backpack or heels of the person in front. You just plod on,
following in their footsteps, a long conga line heading up the hill.
The plan was to stop about every 2 hours, although the times
varied as we tended to stop at specific areas.
Short stops, just time for a quick drink, a bite to eat, even if few of
us had much appetite at this time of night, at this altitude. We’d all been issued with a snack collection,
gels and bars, some cake, some sweets. I
brought most of mine back down – but if you have your favourites, take them
As we started out, about 1am, the clouds were gathering and
it soon started to snow. Just lightly,
with a light wind, but it did not stay like that for long. More and more snow came down, the wind got
harder. Often all you could see in the
torchlight was reflected snowflakes, staying close to the person in front was
important. Trudge, trudge, trudge, up
the zigzags of the path. The wind appeared
to be coming from the East, directly into your face for one zig, then into your
back for the next zag.
I remember looking at my watch no long after 4am. The first
glimmers of dawn were still at least 90mins away. The now was coming down hard
and sticking, my hands were freezing and my breathing was heavy. This was the lowest point, but I kept focusing
on just one step and the next– I knew if I could make it to dawn, then my
chances were good.
In my memories, it was dark and then it was light. I know I looked up as the sky was slowly
lighting up, but did not take much in of surroundings. I just started feeling more confident that
this was doable. We started to hear
voices. People were above us and had made
the crater rim, or had walked around from the other routes up. But it was still snowing. At this point, as the sun was rising, our UK
guide spoke up and let us know we may not get everything we wanted. The snow was sticking and the paths were
getting slippy. He was concerned that if it didn’t stop, then we would have difficulty
getting back down, he needed to raise the risk and let us know that he may end
up turning us back. Risk management
here, let us know, let us take in the reality.
We heard and we agreed to abide by the instructions. And all eyes kept looking out for breaks in
the clouds, hoping it would stop snowing.
And as we kept going, the clouds started to part. Blue sky was seen, small patches at first, then larger ones. The sun was shining on the snow – everyone got their sunglasses out. (although I forgot to apply suncream, so red faces later). The snow stopped and we made our way to the crater rim and the first summit sign at Stella Point. There were still plenty of clouds, drifting around
Time for photos at last, I’d taken none on the way up – we’d done the steeper uphill parts, all that was left was ¾ mile around the crater edge, a gentle stroll at lower levels. It was now we started to separate out. Energy running low, breathing hard, there was nothing to do but plod further and keep looking ahead. I ended up on my own for the last part, with just a guide behind me, who eventually took my pack for the last bit. gain memory plays tricks, it can’t have been that slow! But it was – my watch shows it took 75 mins to go that distance, an interrupted walk of steps and rests. The group spread out, as they rested, as they took photos, as they plodded on.
As you approach the last bit, you watch the successful
trekkers get their photos, in groups, on their own and then head on down. Talking to the others, there was a lot of
similarity in feelings. Relief, pride,
satisfaction and tears. We’d done
it. And so had the rest of the group, we’d
done it together.
No group photos for us, but we took turns to grab photos for
those who were there. I was in the first batch to get there, and watched the
rest make their way up the final stretch.
Our photos done, it was too cold
to wait around, so about half of us headed back down to Stella point, ready to
head downhill. A little more time on the
way down to take more photos, but there was an urgency to leave, to get back to
a little more air, a little more warmth.
My chest and throat were starting to feel really tight and I
started coughing a lot, with wheezing on every breath. When I got to Stella Point, the main thought
in my mind was to head down quickly, and this was agreed with the head local
guide, who sent me on down ahead of the others instead of waiting around for longer. Which means I missed the drama behind me.
A couple of the team were feeling nauseous, and there was
some vomiting. Worse, and far more dangerous, was one of them started to get
disorientated, staggering on their feet and not talking sense. They’d been fine on the summit, they’d taken
my photos, but by the time they’d started the walk down, altitude sickness had
them in its grip.
The medical kit was split across the guides, but not all the
boxes had all the drugs. Yells and waves
from above and my guide and I sat and waited – one of the team came running
down and got some additional drugs…before running back up and administering
them. They checked me out, but my symptoms were stable and we were doing the
right thing, so we carried on down as fast as possible – which wasn’t that fast. It took us just under 3 hours to get back to
camp, with my downhill speed. You take a
slightly different route back down; with the sun on the slope, a lot of the
snow had gone and the ground has softened.
It was sand and scree so there was a lot of controlled sliding on the
way back, the quickest way to get down.
You keep going, on and on. At this point you’ve been going
for 10 hours or so; the sight of tents ahead raises the spirits. Yes, you’ll soon be able to rest and have
tea! Those hopes are soon dashed though,
the tents you glimpsed were Kosovo Camp, not Barufa and there’s far more path
Eventually, gratefully, I was there.
My breathing was still wheezy, I had no voice, but nothing was getting
worse. Time for liquids and a rest, time to lie in sleeping bag in the sun and wait
for the rest – who proceeded to trickle down in 3 groups.
Our illest member was already there. They’d been “carried”
down, supported and moved down by guides and then more help from porters who’d
made their way up following a call. Drugs had been administered at the top and
more were provided now. Thankfully,
everything was working in the right way.
1200m lower and all symptoms were receding. A few hours later and there was no trace of
them, except a small headache.
Not so mine, I was still wheezy and coughing. Drugs were provided for a number of options,
the general agreement was it was altitude induced bronchitis, the lungs had
been triggered by the cold and reacted. That definitely appeared to be the
case, I had my voice back the following morning and over the next week it slowly
The day was not yet finished though, we still had to make
our way down to the next camp, this time Mweke Camp. This is a further 1500m of
descent, heading directly out of the park instead of back around the
mountain. The 3 of us who were not fully
fit headed out first, along with another team member, this time with porters to
carry our bags.
Barafu to Mweke Camp
Elevation Loss: 1500m downhill (approx.)
We all had the memory of the pre-trip report saying this
walk was pretty straight forward and fairly level. We all think that the speaker was referring
to the final bits of the track we’d do the next day, as this was by far the worst
section of the mountain. Most of it was
rocky, slippy, lots of steps down and extremely eroded, especially from Millenium
Camp downwards. Extremely hard to
negotiate and no one had fun. It took
our group 4 hours; we were overtaken by another bunch of the team at one point –
and our member who’d been the illest was feeling well enough to join them, whilst
we carried on at my slow, not breathing very well pace. If I went too fast and got
out of breath I ended up coughing, so we
went at a pace that kept the breathing easy.
At some point, about 30mins out I think, it started to rain.
And rain even harder. The rocks got
slippier and visibility was getting worse as it got darker. Finally we made it
to the camp, heading down the path another 10minutes to find our space. Mweke was very similar to the first campsite,
in that we had little space and the tents were all very, very close. The
majority of us were now here, but one group of 5 were still on the track. By radio, we established they were only about
30mins away, but that was in normal conditions, not in the dark and rain.
Porters were sent back up to help – with extra torches, and they were soon making
their way to the tents. There’d been a
few slips and slides, but everyone was in one piece.
A quick meal and time for bed. It had been a LONG day, awake
at 2330 and it was now about 2030. 11 miles covered, 14.5 hours walking, 1200m
up, 2700m downhill. That’s a LOT of effort in the team. We had one final effort the following day, but
our time on the mountain was nearly over
Sun 17 Feb
Mweke Camp to Mweke Gate
Elevation Loss: 1400m downhill (approx.)
Time to finish this and get to the hotel. The last stretch was fairly straightforward,
some rocky sections but much of it had been worked on. The guides had a cunning plan – the lead
local guide and the UK guide would run ahead and sort out the signing out – in the
same way the first day was busy, this would be also. So they headed out,
jogging, and the rest of us plodded after them.
e were back in the jungle now, trees all around us, but occasionally there
was a break and we could see the mountain, now snow covered, shining in the
The group definitely spread out now, I think it was about
45mins between the first and the last, but there was no rushing to be had. Legs
were tired, brains were tired and it was better to take it slowly then risk a
fall. This time my downhill appeared to
be OK and I kept up with the first group, so settled down to wait with a beer.
Once all there, the bags and kit all loaded, it was time for
the farewell ceremony. Some groups had
obviously done this at the previous camp, this company does it at the
gate. The team all gathered, the local
crew sang the goodbye song and the tips were handed out by category. And it was
done. We’d finished our walking. All that was left was to head home.
First port of call was the hotel. Excellent service here, we all got a room for
the afternoon, to shower, to rest, to sort out the bags. Then food, a little shopping for some in town
and we were finally, finally done. We piled back into the van and headed to the
airport for our evening flight back to the UK via Amsterdam.
In February 2019, I took the trip to Tanzania to attempt to trek up Kilimanjaro. One of the largest freestanding volcanoes in the world (as it says on the sign) and definitely the highest mountain in the continent of Africa, at 5895m, the trip would take me higher than my Everest Base Camp trek.
I’d booked with Jagged Globe last summer, once some of the
job stuff had settled out and had been training for the climb for a few months. As ever not quite enough, but more than I had
my Nepal trip.
JG do a pre-trip meeting, so I’d travelled up to their offices
in Sheffield a couple of weeks before the trip. All but 3 of the group also
made the trip; we sat through some talks about the trip, about altitude
sickness and about kit, before doing a couple of walks, one in Sheffield, one
out in the Peaks. An excellent idea,
allowing the team to meet before the trip and get to know each other in a low stress
Sat 9 Feb
An early start to the day, with a 0630 flight from Heathrow.
I’d gone out the night before, to avoid having an early taxi – and I’d taken
the opportunity to get an upgrade to the flight, as a treat for myself. Not all the group were at Heathrow – many were
starting from their local airports and we met up in Amsterdam, where we also
met Jamie, our guide, for the first time.
I say we met up – bad weather in Amsterdam meant that there
were flight delays and one of the groups did not arrive in time. They got to Amsterdam too late and had to
stay 24 hours. There was some discussion
whether or not they would join us, but they ended up taking a slightly shorter
day one trip and met us at a second camp.
They’d have one less day to acclimatise, but luckily it did not matter.
A reasonable flight to Kilimanjaro Airport, with KLM.
Getting through immigration took a long time though. Not all the team had got
visas in advance – nor had they got cash to pay for them so there was quite a wait
to get things sorted. I was first
through and started to gather all the bags, but total wait from start to finish
was about 2 hours. I’d definitely advise
you to get a visa in advance if you can, otherwise have the right amount of
cash (dollars) available.
A hour’s journey by road to the hotel, some food and drink
and we were finally in bed for about 1am – once I’d sorted out the mosquito
(all my time, distances and elevations were through my Garmin. Time and distance usually relatively
accurate, elevation less so)
Sun 10 Feb
Lemosho Gate to Big Tree Camp
Elevation Gain: 402m
Max elevation: 2785m
A planned early start, with breakfast for 0730. The intent was to leave for 9, but we were
about 40mins late once all the admin had been done. The road trip this time was about 3 hours, as
we drove to the other side of the mountain for the sign in point at Londorosi Gate
(2250m). Once there, lots of waiting. We
had to sign in, then wait for the porters to organise themselves, split the gear
and get weighed in.
For a group of 14 trekkers, we had 1 UK guide, 6 local
guides and 46 porters. Yes, a LOT. Unlike
Nepal, there is no infrastructure of tea houses and everything has to be
carried with the team. So that’s tents for everyone; gear; mess, cook and toilet
tents; cooking equipment; food (although we did have a re-supply of this); and
all the safety gear. There is a weight
limit which is enforced and checked as you go up the mountain, hence the need for
so many people.
Due to the late start, we were one of the last teams to
leave the check-in area – back into the van for
drive to the actual start, at Lemosho Gates (2100m) , another 30 mins.
Here, the porters’ loads had to be weighed again before being let onto the mountain.
We slowly followed them, a 2 hour or so trek through
rainforest. The last uphill led us out
onto Mti Mkubwa, or Big Tree Camp (2650m), where the team had not yet got
themselves sorted, with the final tents being put up in the dark. It was a very cramped camp, in amongst trees,
with tents overlapping at times. You could tell that not everything was working
well, as the vegetarians had not been catered for either, but first day
complications soon got sorted out and the rest of the camp sets ups and cooking
went well. A meal of cucumber soup and spaghetti bolognaise set the tone for
the meals – soup, starch/sauce, followed by fruit usually.
As usual on trips like this, not the best of nights, especially
as my airbed developed a leak that we could not fix in the trip, but enough
sleep was eventually obtained.
Mon 11 Feb
Big Tree Camp to Shira 1
Elevation Gain: 814m
Max Elevation: 3534m (camp sign said 3610m)
Today was a little longer, starting off in montaine forest
and heading up through scrub to “moorland” as the sign at the next camp said.
We’d still not seen the mountain (it was behind clouds on our first day) but by
the end of the day had still only had tiny glimpses.
We started to hit some proper uphill in this stretch, and
the introduction of “pole pole” ie slowly slowly. Although it wasn’t as slow as
some liked, the group starting to break up into smaller groups. With the number of guides available, this was
not a problem. In general, we managed to
stick together over the days, but some days were harder than others. For some it was the uphills. For me, the
downhills were when I got split off, especially with lack of depth perception
and the need to check steps down for distance.
We had our first documentable incident today, a near
miss. Not far out of camp we caught our
first glimpse of local wildlife, a bunch of monkeys. As we stopped to watch,
another, either accidentally or on purpose, decided we were under there tree
and suddenly a large chunk of branch came crashing down. luckily it missed us
all, but could have done quite a bit of damage if we’d been under it.
Out of the forest, into more scrubland, the growth getting
shorter and shorter. We got to the
campsite at Shira 1 (3610m) at around 2, in time for tea and lunch, before resting
for the rest of the afternoon, mainly indoors.
It had started raining around noon and carried on for most of the rest
of the day. A pattern was set for the
weather, clear in the morning, clouding over in the afternoon, which carried on
for the next few days.
Today our remaining 3 team members had arrived. They’d been driven up a different way to a
trail head which meant they had less than an hour to walk. They had still had their adventures though –
the Land Rover they were in finally bit the dust, and they ended up hitching a
lift on top of a lorry for the last stretch!
Another pattern emerged as well, the early nights. The routine tended to be dinner around 1930,
then in the tent for abut 2030, read for a bit and then sleep. Although then the sleeping pattern tended to
be sleep through to 1 and then doze for rest of the night. Not the best, but it was generally OK.
Tues 12 Feb
Shira 1 to Shira 2
Elevation Gain: 473m
Max Elevation: 3890m
Awake at 0645 and suddenly, the mountain was actually there.
The skies were clear (we had a frost)
and the peak now loomed in the distance.
We could now see what we were facing.
It was still in the distance, we had a plain to cross before we got to
the real foot of the hill, but it was definitely there.
Everything gets packed up before breakfast – the porters
want to start taking things down, so day pack and carried luggage needs to be ready
to go. Breakfast throughout the trip
always started with “porridge” – not sure it was oats, but definitely some kind
of grain and probably water. Then eggs, or fruit, or pancakes. Always tea, lots of tea, usually taken with
Today we started to see a few health issues. Definitely headaches, and some stomach issues. One thing that is drummed into everyone was
always, always use sterilising hand gel before hands go anywhere near the
mouth. We had no serious issues with
stomach illness, but it was more about the change of diet and routine than an
infection. We were also provided with sterilised water throughout the trip – although
I was carrying tablets, I did not need to use my own, as they made up large
batches for every stop. The water is
collected from the mountain – sometimes from miles away in some camps, so we
often came across porter groups coming and going from collecting water.
Today was another “easy” day, 4.5 hours walking but less
climbing as most of it was across the plains.
We were heading to Shira 2 camp, with a posted altitude of 3850m, only
200m or so higher than previous camp. But it’s a key 200m increase, as the vegetation
gets a lot, lot less.
Unlike Nepal, it was not as easy to climb high and sleep low
on this trip, due to the nature of the terrain; we did make a detour to climb
Cathedral peak, at 3872m – so not actually that much higher, but it was a “peak”. We were in mists and clouds at this point, so
the views were not that good. This
involved some scrambling and a little walk along a ridge line
Wed 13 Feb
Shira 2 to Baranco, via Lava Tower
Elevation Gain: 738m
Max Elevation: 4634m
Woke up today to one of the best views; the tent looked out
over the plain, with Meru peaking out of the clouds in the sun, and behind me,
Kibo covered in ice. After breakfast, there was a little bit of reorganising needed. Jamie decided to take a look at the bags and
see what we had – and move quite a bit out of the backpacks into the luggage
bags. Some because they weren’t needed,
others because they thought they could not fit in the bags (if you take a down
jacket out of its stuff bags, it’s a lot easier to squeeze in!)
There was definitely a little bit of guilt brought out at
this moment in some of the team, as things were put into the bags carried by
the porters. Having 46 people carrying
stuff for you is a lot to take in (in Nepal, we had only 4, as no camping kit
needed). From what we had seen, the guiding
company we were using locally (Keyes Hotel) do pay well for the job and Jagged Globe
do provide kit. There’s a promotion
route for porters. Not sure of the usual
path, but each level had a specific tip requirement – the carriers, the serving
team, the kitchen team, the different guide levels. I hope the toilet man was paid well! Groups all had portable toilets, put up at each
stop in its own little tent. The toilet
man carried this and managed it, emptying it our regularly into the camp drop
toilets (which were NOT a nice environment). Our guy was excellent – and mainly
invisible – keeping the facilities faultlessly clean and tidy.
Today we definitely had an up and down ahead of us. We would leave the Shira Plain and head up to
Lava Tower (4600m) before heading back down to Baranco Camp (at 3900). So
again, little altitude gained in our overall walk, but at least the chance to
get some acclimatisation in. And now we
were moving less towards the mountain and more around the main cone, moving
anti-clockwise around to the path to the summit.
The paths were slowly getting busier as various routes
combined, so groups were passing up and we were passing some groups, depending
on pace and on stopping routines. Today
was a packed lunch day, which we took on the way up to Lava Tower. When we got to the Tower, we saw that quite a
few groups had had lunch there, with mess and toilet tents all brought up to
that location. We saw this on a few
days, with lunch breaks all catered, but our team either had shorter day or
carried lunch with them.
Going down the 700m to the next camp took quite a while.
There were some quite steep bits, along with a lot of gravel and it was quite
busy. The group did split up into
smaller groups, although not too far, with about 5mins between the front and
back. Baranco is a very large camp site
and as usual, we appeared to be quite a way from the sign in point!
The usual evening routine, this time with a chat about the
challenge of the next day – the Baranco wall, which appears to get quite a lot
of bad publicity and cause some concern
Thurs 14 Feb
Baranco to Karanga
Elevation Gain: 380m
Max Elevation: 4205m
Looking at the numbers it does not look like it should take
as long as it did. Just over 5k not that much elevation gain across the walk to
Karanga Camp – at 3995m not really that much higher. We’re again travelling around the mountain,
not up it.
Bit we did have the Baranco wall to cope with. How the team
approaches this seems to depend on where you are spending the evening – not everyone
stops at Karanga camp, instead carrying on an extra 4k (or 4hrs or so) to Barafu
Camp (at 4673m). Those teams started the climb early. Others were like us, less
to do that day and so could start later.
If you have the time, I’d definitely recommend taking as
long as possible to do the trek. Although the profile is not brilliant and
causes issues because you don’t do a lot of high/low days, the longer you can spend
on the mountain is better.
We started as late as possible…we sat and watched the
trekkers tackling the wall, a snake of people. There were 2 main bottle necks
we could see that cause lots of jams, it appears there was a lot of slow
progress and waiting around for this part of the day. Once the lower choke point had cleared, we
headed across camp to the climb, which means we had a steady walk up with no waiting
The Baranco wall definitely has the most challenging terrain,
a path that makes its way up a cliff space. But there’s no real climbing and
only a couple of difficult scrambling points that you need to concentrate on.
And the guides are excellent at making sure there are no issues at all. We all
made it up with little difficulty, taking just under 2 hours for just over a
mile of distance. The rest of the day
was a steady down, a steady up and down and then one last steep scramble up to
In general, I was coping with the altitude, but the days
climbing had caused by back to get tight and that niggled me through the rest
of the trip.
Fri 15 Feb
Karanga to Barafu
Elevation Gain: 610m
Max Elevation: 4640m
This was an extremely short day, under 3 hours, as we made
our way to the highest camp of the trip.
We started out at nine and made camp before noon. Today was all about
resting and sleeping, for tonight we were heading to the summit. Over lunch, and again over dinner, we discussed
the organisation for the final climb, the kit needed and the timings. The plan was to have dinner around 1830 and
then “breakfast” for 2330, with the intent to start the climb before 0100 on
Barafu camp definitely felt the largest, the tents are
spread out over a large area. There’s a higher camp (Kosovo) but most people
appear to stop here. All you could do
today was pack your things and then rest. There was a lot of repacking!!
I managed to get some sleep in both sessions, which felt good. A wake up call at 11:30, breakfast at midnight and then we were ready to go.
As the year slips into autumn, I thought it was time to get back out into the hills. After some time spent looking at options, whether to fly or not, whether to drive, I decided on a visit to Garmisch Partenkirchen, just a 3 hour train journey from Nuremberg. It’s got mountains and lakes, hills and gorges. Seemed perfect for a walking weekend.
I booked a hotel just by the station, easy to get to Reindl’s is perfectly placed and has a good reputation, although the initial impressions were a little off – I’d arrived around 10 and there was no longer anyone in the kitchen, so no food possible. But luckily, this was the only misstep during my stay.
Looking down from the top of Zugspitzen
Awakening on Saturday, the skies were grey. Not what was forecast, I was expecting sun, but luckily this arrived a few hours later. One last check of the weather report and today’s plans were finalised. First, a tip up the mountain! Zugspitze is the highest peak in Germany. I’d briefly considered hiking up to the top, but there was not enough light/time available and the huts were shut, so that was not the best option. Instead, I took the easy way – a train. Just behind the main station, you can find the Zugspitzbahn, a hourly train that can take you almost all the way to the top. It’s not cheap though – 53E to get you there and back. It starts off like a normal train, until you get to Grainau, when it changes to a cog train, to get up the incline. Further on, from Eibsee, they’re also rebuilding the cable car, replacing the previous version that was built in 1963. The new car is going to be able to take nearly 3x more people (120 instead of 44); it will be quicker than the train with far better views!
Looking down on Eibsee
But for today, just the slower train (the total trip is about 75mins) that heads up and then though the mountain. The train takes you to Zugspitzplatt, on the southern side of the mountain. From there, you transfer to the Gletscherbahn cable car (you can do this as many times as you like, it’s covered in ticket price) for the final section up to the top. During the winter, the Zugspitzplatt looks like to be a ski centre, with plenty of lifts to take you back up the slopes.
For my visit, most of the top of the mountain was a building site, as they upgrade the cable car station connecting to Eibsee. However, you could still get around enough of it to take in the views. To the north was the view back down to Eibsee, to the south and east the Glacier, the ski slopes and more mountains, to the west were the mountains of Austria.
You can also take the final climb to the top of the mountain, by leaving the terrace, down the stairs then up a small via ferrata route to the top. Quite a few were doing this (I did part of it, not feeling like the final scramble). I wonder if there are many accidents because it’s a long way down!
Reversing my route, I wandered around the station area for a bit; they’ve installed a few information boards, there’s a chapel and you can just wander around, or eat and drink in one of the 3 or so restaurants there (there’s also a couple of restaurants at the very top). Back on the train and this way I get off at Eibsee – the ticket covers you breaking up the journey. More bars and restaurants on the lakeside near the station, but my goal was to circumnavigate the lake, a trip just under 5miles. It’s a wonderful path around the lake, a sparkling clear body of water, with mountains all around. There were lots of people doing the same walk – I’m guessing in the summer it gets completely packed. Even families with pushchairs were doing it, although as most of it is not paved, that looked a hard job!
Zugspitzen from the Eibsee
Back at the hotel it was time for some cake – they offer free cake in the late afternoon – and then spa time. There’s a pool and a sauna suite available (wet and dry saunas, plus a steam room). Then I ended the day with a superb meal at their restaurant. (actually I ended the day watching F1, but that is proabably not everyone’s choice). They do a good fixed price menu option and is obviously a popular place, as it was nearly full, not bad for ‘out of season’.
Sunday arrived and as forecast, it was raining. After breakfast and checking out, my plan was to stick closer to home – the famous Partnachklamm (Partnach gorge), a 700m long, 80m deep gorge that was declared a natural monument in 1912. By the time I was ready, the rain had stopped and luckily, did not come back when I was out and about. It’s an easy walk of a couple of miles to the gorge, out of the hotel, follow the river along the Geologischen Lehrpfad “Die Steine des Alpenraums”. Basically, that’s lots and lots of rock examples. Each sample is labelled and usually has information, although it’s only in German.
Past the Olympic stadium and the ski jumps that are in regular usage. Given the sizes of the jumps, from small to Olympic, I assume they teach ski-jumping here as well. You keep following the river, which can take you right to the gorge. But not that path for me, I’d decided I’d go up into the hills and come back down the river, so I branched off and started the climb. You follow a narrow road up to Partnachalm before dropping back down the side of the valley, along a steep and winding path.
In the hills
It was here I started getting traffic, as many seemed to have the same idea, doing the route in the opposite direction. The gorge costs 5E, but on this day, there was no-one guarding the top of the gorge path (not sure if there would be on busier days) so you just start the walk. All the way along, a narrow path has been carved/blasted out. Parts of it are tunnels; there are no lights so you rely on windows (or phone torches).
Entrance to gorge
Blue water and bronze leaves
It is marvelous and magnificent. At this time of year, there are swathes of beech leaves, that glow like wet copper on the rock. The water is milky blue and rushes down, drowning out most conversation. Fully recommend this as an outing from Garmish, it’s amazing. At the bottom, you need to pay your money. Most people travel up the gorge and then appear to come back down, with the fitter ones heading up the valley to walk down the other way.
That was it, time to get back on the train north. A superb weekend away, in an area that is an outdoor
enthusiasts paradise; hiking in the summer and snow sports in the winter.
After all that effort making our way up, it was a lot quicker getting back down to our starting point.
Back down the valley
Friday 23 Dec
The best views of Everest from this valley are from Kala Pattar; watching the sun rise over the mountain was the plan for the morning. But not for me. I decided that I needed the rest, the cough was still plaguing me and chest hurt – getting up before dawn to breathe in ice cold air was not a good idea. It was not a late lie-in though, we were still out the door before 8 to walk down. The distances downhill were planned to be longer, there are fewer days to get back to Lukla. Our target was 1100m lower, the lodge where we lunched on Monday, 4 days ago. Eight hours later, by a different route to the one we used to go up, I made it, one of the last. The day had not been a good one for me, lack of sleep, accumulated tiredness meant today I was really slow, not wanting to miss a step. A hard day, I was glad to get to the cozy dining room and get hot food, before being able to sleep all the way through to 8!
Boiling water using solar power
Saturday 24 Dec
Today we ran out of weather luck. We’d had blue skies and sunshine all the way up the valleys, but today, the clouds came over, it was grey and dull, the mountains were hidden, no views for us today. A new route again, we travelled on the east side of the river, our target Tengboche Monastery after a shorter walk of only 4 hours. Lunch was the ‘famous’ pizza, which was pretty good, a change from the usual. Time to relax before a visit to the monastary, to listen to one of the ‘services’ a series of chants. Finally, as we were leaving, the clouds broke in places and we Everest came back into view, floating over the clouds.
Floating above the clouds
Today also brought us one of the funniest episodes; a local herder had 3 yaks who became very, very interested in 3 cows that were grazing outside the lodge. The poor man was trying to get his yaks away and he’d run after them, herding them one way and the other before one of the yaks would break off again and he’d have to start again. Finally, one of the guides joined in and between them they managed to separate the groups and get the yaks moving down hill!
Sun 25 Dec
Christmas Day. Waking up to look out and watch the sun rise, te tips of Everest and the surrounding mountains glowing as the sun caught them. This has to rate as one of the best hotel views in the world.
Dawn light on Everest
Another long day planned; all the way down from Tengboche and then back up the next mountain, finally connecting with the good path into Namche. A break for lunch – no turkey here, but a cheese sandwich and chips were very welcome. Down the long hill and keep moving along the valley to our lodge for the night. I’m tired now, I want a shower and non-carb based food. It’s becoming a slog, retracing the steps. I think jumping on a helicopter at Namche would have been an ideal end of trip treat!
Mon 26 Dec
Last day! 7am wake up, eggs for breakfast then the long trudge to Lukla. Traffic jams all the way back – there’d been a delay in flights, creating a backlog of people and now they were all making their way up. Again, a reminder how lucky we had been with the lack of crowds.
People and donkeys queuing
Along the river, cross the river, along the river, repeat. Long breaks, we’re nearly done now. Finally, our final lodge. Drop the bags, off to find a bank for a little more cash. A visit to ‘Starbocks’ for a welcome hot coffee, free wifi and cake. Sit and while away the afternoon, watching snow fall where we have just travelled. Realising how lucky we were with the weather.
That’s the end of my diary. An early flight out in the morning, back to the Kathmandu hotel to pick up the luggage left. I had an extra day at the hotel, the safety day just in case we could not fly out of the mountains, which can often happen. Very little was done, just chilled out. The back home, flights via Delhi home for 30 Dec, in time to
lose out the year.
This trip had pushed me harder than any other. I’d underestimated the fitness needed for the uphills; I had the stamina to take the long days but not the leg strength needed. Downhills were hard, that’s confidence more than anything else. Not sure I’ll ever be too good at that! Despite all of that, it was an amazing trip, in a fabulous country and I’d love to do it again.
Today was the big day, our final ‘uphill’ day. We had one of our earliest starts, up at 5:30, out the door at 6:30 as dawn was breaking. Off we went, heading to Gorek Shep; minimal plants, moss and lichens with occasional grass clunps. Glacial moraine, rocks and dirt, and increasingly, ice. There’s a path of sorts, a way though, but it’s ephemeral, disappearing and changing over time. The ground moves and there’s no fixed way. We pass a few coming down the way, on their way back from their trek. Nods and smiles – they’ve achieved their goals, now it’s our turn.
Heading up along the valley
A few hours later we arrived at Gorek Shep, a small cluster of buildings that caters for trekkers. Time for breakfast number 2. Time to leave behind things, only taking the essentials as we head out for the last section, planned between 2-3 hours.
Sign posts to Base Camp
The start is easy, a flat sandy section, then gradually heads up, alongside the glacier, through more rocks and dirt. Up ahead, you can see the target, a bowl of mountains, the end of the valley.
Now down to the glacier, and a warning to make it quick – rock falls are possible, we need to keep an eye out. Across we go, to the ‘photo opportunity’. The cairn that gets built every year for visitors, that gets festooned with flags. We’d made it, we’re at 5,380, a vertical climb of 2.5km since we landed at Lukla
Cairn, flags and memories
Silence, except for the ice cracking and groaning, the occasional bang as snow and ice break off . The slopes to slip down to the valleys. We’re the only ones there, everyone else had left and our small group had the place to ourselves. Deep blue skies, black and white mountains, the jumble of the Khumba Ice fall as it tumbles down lip of the mountain, and above us, the tip just barely visible, is Everest, tantalising us as it’s done ever since we first glimpsed it on the way up the hill to Namche. You don’t go to Base Camp to take a good look at Everest, you go for the journey and the challenge. Everest is just the beacon that guides you.
Done, Made it. A quiet sense of achievement. On my first day in the mountains I didn’t think I’d make it, but here I am, goal reached.
So what now? There’s no quick way back, we have to cover all the miles again – at least it’s ‘downhill’!
Back down the valley to be reunited with our gear. Gorek Shep was the most basic of all the lodges we stayed at – and the most expensive. It’s just a few tourist lodges; everything has to be carried up, so things are kept to a minimum and charged for at a premium. We’d were told they’d tried ‘western’ toilets, but they froze too often and cracked..so squat toilets were the only ones available (most of the other lodges we were had got sit on loos, even if no proper flush). But we had food, a bed, and some warmth with the dung fire. One final check of stats – HR106, %O2 83. Looks like my body coped fine this time. Time for bed!
I’m guessing by the time I finish this report on my Everest Base Camp trek it’ll be a year old? Anyway, let’s start this again. When you last read an installment, we’ made it to Namche Bazar and had just finished our first acclimatisation day. Next we were heading further up the valley.
Leaving Namche Bazar
Sun 18 Dec: Namche Bazar to Phaortse
Early mornings started in earnest; up at 6:30, out walking by 8:15. A long hard day ahead, multiple terrain, following a slightly less followed track. Blue skies and warm weather at least made it pleasant to walk in. Before we hit the trails though, we had to escape Namche Bazar, about 20 minutes walking up through the town, lots of steps. One area appeared to be a staging post for yak trails; with one batch starting out as we went by. Possibly the most dangerous part – I was saved from a knocking by a rapid reaction of a guide as one of the yaks suddenly decided to change path and head at me! Once out of the town, we found the nicest part of the trail, well made and wide, hugging the hillside. Another 20 minutes, we went by the man responsible, someone who seems to spend his days making the path, accepting donations from all the trekkers. Beyond that point, it got a lot rougher.
Porters and Loads
Looking towards Phaortse. the blue roofs in the distance.. The wide path to the left
We climbed all the way to our lunch stop, at 4375m, a lovely place where we could look down on our evening stop. After lunch, at 4375m, the path got narrower, rockier and edgier – a lot more edges. We went down and down…and at this point it was really brought home how I hate downs. Distance judgement off, never quite sure of step, head down focusing on my feet, never looking around. The a break, a river crossing and uphill again. The paths up to the village are so dusty, you’re continously breathing it in and everyone is starting to develop a cough from this, which continues for the trip, not helped by altitude. The village of Phaortse is different from any places we stop off, less touristy with fewer lodges. narrow walled paths between fields. Finally our lodge, owned by an Everest Climbing Sherpa – the certificates are in the common room. Dinner (dhal bat) and obs (HR96, %O2 87) and early bed.
The trek from Namche Bazar to Phaortse
Mon 19 Dec: Phaortse to Dingboche
Looking back at Phaortse
We were out the door early today, 7:45. Altitude was really starting to bite, with many of the group not having to slept well. Up out the village, around a muntain and then one horrible bit down. I have to admit to having a little cry when I got to the bottom of that path, a stress release given how terrified i was all the way down. For me, that was the worst path of the whole trek, not something I’d like to repeat! In general, today was a slow day for all. The effort was telling in the legs, it was a hot day and the path was difficult. We’d split up by lunchtime, with 15mins between front and back – but as they kept telling us, going at own pace, slow and steady, was best way to deal with the effort needed and the altitude impact.
So far, I’ve been fine with symptons (except for breathlessness) but some in the group having bad headaches and dizzyness. We’re being reminded to drink lots, which is made more important with the temperatures. A long day, only reaching the lodge just before sunset, when it’s time to change from tshirts to full thermal kit – it gets cold! Time for food and obs – my HR is 119, struggling a little, %O2 83. Unfortunately, the day has proved too much for AF, – a %O2 of 64. That’s serious. Rechecks and concerned faces all around. Decision is drink lots of warm water, rest for now and check again in the morning before decision made.
Sunset from Lobuche
Phaortse to Dingboche
Tues 20 Dec: Dingboche Acclimatisation
Acclimatisation walk at Dingboche
Unfortunately, AF did not get much sleep – I was in the next room and heard her couging a lot. Very very early, I hear lots of coming and going from the room, checking things out. No improvements, so a decision was made to evacuate her down the mountain when she could still walk, even if she needed support – accompanied by 2 guides and a porter. A guide was back for lunch, reporting that she was feeling better at lower altitude, after food and drink and was now on her way further down under her own power. So now we were down to 6 – AF’s boyfriend had been told to stay with us and finish the trek.
Today was our 2nd acclimiatisation day, so a late start of 9am was allowed. Today’s route is simple – straight up 400m or so to about 4800m, then down for a late lunch before lazing (and drinking) the rest of the day away in our suntraps of rooms, gloriously warm. I needed it, as I now had a touch of the cold that had been brought into the group, leading me to have a very poorly chest. At the end of the day, HR was down to 106, %O2 up to 86.
Acclimatisation Dingboche walk
Wed 21 Dec: Dingboche to Lobuche
Now onto the final stretch. An easier start to the day, as we travel along a glacial valley, a fairly horizontal walk compared to some. Plenty of yaks grazing, minimal steps to go up and down.
Mountains and valleys
It’s a short morning, by 11:15 we were at our break stop. today, just soup and lemon tea. At this point we joined the more regular route and started to run into a few more people on their way down the large hill next to the lunch stop. Making my way up it, I regretted the lack of carbs at lunch, something a bit more solid would have sat better. 🙂 In addition, throat was extremely sore, with cold air and coughing, so all in all, not a happy person this afternoon.
At the top of the hill, a rest and a chance for contemplation in a filed of memorials to those who had died in the mountains, many on Everest.
Field of memorials
The final stretch was more glacial valleys, relatively steady slopes, far more opportunities to take in the scenery. A few cereal bars had made me feel a lot better and I really enjoyed the atfernoon ‘stroll’ to our lodge at Lobuche, for an early stop around 2:30. Here we had more company than usual; we’d been meeting up with a couple at most of the night stops, but there were a few more here. Lobuche apparently is lodges only, no permanent residents.
The meal menu was the usual, a choice of dal baat, fired potatoes or fried noodles, sherpa stew or the occasional momo. By this point I’d kill for steak and spinach! Today’s stats were HR118 and %O2 86.
Despite having little to do on my first morning in Kathmandu, my body clock still woke me up at 6:30am, which was probably a good idea given the next few weeks of early mornings ahead of me. Lazy breakfast and a brief wander around Kathmandu before heading towards the briefing, which is the time to meet my travel companions for the next 2 weeks.
In the group we had 3 from New Zealand, 1 from Australia and 3 from London (including myself). An 8th person was supposed to be joining us, but never turned up. We did initial introductions, filled in paper work, got a briefing on altitude sickness and an overview of what we would be experiencing in the next few weeks. Then off to buy last minute things before meeting up again for dinner and early night. first day was very low key.
The start of the next day was less so; meet up time was 5:15am, we were booked on a 6:15 flight. Now we started to see the type of peple we were traveling with. Four of us were early (that would include me), 2 were bang on time and the last? The last had to be got out of bed and helped finish suitcases as they’d heard 5:45 somehow! No matter, it was a short ride to the airport, some random security, a pick up of our hand written boarding passes and then we wait for them to call the planes.
Unloading at Lukla
Lukla flights tend to be first thing in the morning; the turbulence and visibility gets worse later in the day. So you have planes doing a shuttle run every morning, with very quick turnarounds. We were on the first flight out. grab your seat, any seat, a quick briefing and off we went. No cockpit lockign here, we could see right through the window. The airport has a reputation – you land uphill, into a cliff, quick get unloaded and the plane picks up the next lot and flies back down the slope.
Our bags were grabbed by our guides and we headed off to breakfast before starting the first day hike.
Lukla (2840m) to Phakding (2610m)
Lukla to Phakding altitude
You’re reading that right, the first day is downhill. It’s a try out day, a day to check your gear and how you are coping. Total distance is about 5m, but you have the start of some altitude and a few uphill sections to try out your legs. It took us about 4 hours and we were in the lodge in time for lunch. For the rest of the day we chatted and lazed around; after dinner it was the first of our early to bed days, which tended to be a theme as we headed up the mountain.
Phakding (2610m) to Namche Bazar (3440m)
Phakding to Namche altitude
the first day’s hike definitely lulls you into a sense of false security. This isn’t too bad you think..welcome to Day 2 which quickly disabuses you of this notion. We carry on walking along the river valley, crossing over various suspension bridges, back and forth on both sites of the Dudh Kosi River. You pass through lots of litte villages, all catering to tourists in some way. And you’re learning the best way to avoid yaks (and variants) and donkeys. Yak and donkey trains take priority. They’re the goods movers of this part of the mountains, more so than people.
We’re still in wooded country, trees and rhododendrons. but we’re getting glimpses of snow covered mountains ahead. Finally we catch a glimpse of the famous double suspension bridge. The bridge is amazing, the thought of what lies ahead less so. An 700m climb straight up towards Namche. Ouch, seriously hurt. slowly, slowly, one foot at a time. Lots of steps, lots of dust and loose stones, the paths are not the easiest. You can really feel the reduced oxygen available by now, you’re out of breath almost with every step.
We do get our first glimpse of Everest though; a view point perfectly aligned with the valley beyond. Just the tip – although that’s all we usually see, just the top of a mountain hidden behind others.
Finally, finally we reached Namche and climbed up more steps. The whole village is built around a bowl in the hills, so there are steps everywhere to get between levels. Never has a lodge been so welcome! And food, I’m not yet bored of the choice of potatoes, rice or noodles.
Another lecture on Altitude sickness, a reminder to start taking Diamox and a time for measurements – HR (120) and O2 (88%). These would be taken daily to assess our adjustment.
A day in Namche
No advancement today, time for acclimatisation. We go for a further up the hill, to the National Park Headquarters and the famous status of Tenzing Norgay, with more views of Everest. The weather was blue skies again, something we had a lot of during our trek. It was surprisingly warm, we were all in a single layer for most of the daytime Then back down in time for lunch (fried potatoes and cheese for me). This was our final chance to buy any trekking gear, or to stock up on food. Also more chance to find out about the team. Myself and T are the least experienced in the bunch – and possibly the least fittest. Despite the training I’d done, it was not enough. R is definitely the fittest and you could see at times over the trip his frustration that he needs to stay with us slow people, but that is the risk when you come along with a random group. We all charged up phones etc and took a chance for a hot shower, the last one we would see for a while.
Tenzing Norgay and Everest
Another early night, but not after my stats were checked. HR had come down to 96, my body was adjusting; the O2 was still at 88%. I was happy – sleeping the previous evening was not easy, i really thought that I was not going to be able to go further. My first time at altitude and all you can do is follow the rules – walk slowly, drink lots of water, take the pills and hope your body adjusts.
After 6 months of preparing, getting equipment and trying to get fit, my trip to India and Nepal was ready to go. Rubbish was put out, heating turned down, everything washed up and the final elements added to the suitcase. it was time to head off for 3 weeks, my first Christmas and New Year away from the family. The first part of the trip was a few days in India before I headed off to Nepal.
The bag was hurled to work for the last Friday and the hours ticked by through the day. I’d finished off everything and it was only the last bits of admin to do. But finally it was time to head to Heathrow and my plane. A slight anxious moment at checkin, a frown at the screen. Had I failed in my plans? Was my visa OK? But everything was OK, I was away, security, lounge and finally time for boarding. Drinks provided and pyjamas, I was all set for the overnight flight to Delhi.
My journey was set up with Intrepid Travel, so all connections and hotels were arranged through them, starting with airport pickup. After a long flight, I made the mistake of not joining the long queue to pick up currency, it caused issues later when I tried to get cash – India was still suffering from the currency change that had been called and there was little available. Once in the car, we did not go that far, but there were still times I had my eyes closed, lane markings appeared to be advisory only! Definitely not a place I’d be comfortable driving in. Arrived at hotel and my first travel issue. I had no booking. A few phone calls later, nothing found. Eventually, he accepted my paper version of the booking confirmation and cleared it with the company later. One of the reasons i always print out (2) copies of everything when I travel!
The hotel was fairly basic – the travel company was mainly aimed at backpacker types – but it did for the night. A few hours sleep, and then just food and repacking. We had 2 blackouts during the afternoon, with the generator kicking in after a few minutes each time.
The next day, another issue. the hotel wanted cash for the bill (my food). I had no cash. Eventually got them to take card. Luckily, that was the last of any issues, everything else went well. Once that had been sorted out, I met up with my guide for the morning, we were going on a quick tour of Delhi, just a couple of places to get a flavour of the city.
The first stop was the Jama Masjid mosque, built by Shah Jahan (a name I was going to become familiar with over the next 2 days). Apparently the open courtyard can hold 25,000 people! So shoes off, a flowery robe put on and time for a wander and photos. A guess on a clear day you would have a good view over Delhi, but the haze was strong.
Jama Masjid Mosque, Delhi
Next on the list was a short walk to a Sikh temple, more shoes off, this time a scarf to cover the forehead/top of head (not just me, the male guide too)
Sikh Temple, Delhi
Our final stop of the morning, via pedal rickshaw, was a spice market, apparently an old brothel. Now it has all been converted to shops and houses, even the central square.
Spice market, Delhi
The morning was just a small taste of Delhi, 3 quick stops with very good, knowledgeable guide who had a lot to say about the places we visited and India and Delhi in general. My first impression and definitely culture shock for me; my travels have never taken me to this part of Asia or to any countries like it.
I was handed back to my driver and we headed to the next stop – the long 200 km drive to Agra for the other main attraction on my stay, the Taj Mahah. The main reason for doing this little trip before heading to the Himalayas was to get over jetlag; I reasoned that if I was travelling via Delhi, I should take a look at one of the main attractions.
The driver was excellent through the Delhi streets; I’d (sort of) stopped flinching at every beep of the horn, of which there were many, and I had time to look around me a little more to see the different lives, from upmarket flats to a small spot on the side of the road. Such wide contrasts. Street markets consisting of piles of shoes or clothes or produce with people many deep around the piles. Are there spotters or do people not take things when they easily could? Long stretches of road with clothes hung to dry along the central reservation fence. Once out of the city, the drive was along toll roads, it could have been England – fields, hedges, yellow flowers. A few hours later and we arrived in Agra and I started to my animal count – cows, horses, goats and even camels were seen.
Just a hint of the Taj Mahal, there was heavy haze and there was no clear view. Because of that, it was not going to be a dawn trip, but a more sensible hour of 9:30 pickup. We managed to get there before a main rush; on the way in, we were straight up to the ticket office, by the time we came out, there was a long queue.
Taj Mahal, Agra
Another great guide, knew all the best places for photos, wanted to make sure I got all the classic views, although was a little surprised I didn’t want my picture on ‘that’ bench along with everyone else. He was good at fending off the ‘official’ photographers and other vendors.
Taj Mahal, Agra
A low walk up the gardens, plenty of photo ops and then up to go inside the building itself. As foreign tourists, we got the cover up booties instead of having to take off shoes to enter the building. Inside was actually a little disappointing; not as much to admire as the actual building itself. Outside definitely better than inside.
Taj Mahal, Agra
In the afternoon, time for a visit to the Agra Fort, the 3rd building associated with Shah Jahan – he was imprisoned here by his son for 8 years.
A return now to the hotel for the rest of the day; if I wanted to go and explore, the driver would be available to me. i took that as a strong hint to not to wander around alone. I wasn’t going to do that, i realised I did not know enough about how the country works to be comfortable doing that. Beer and food in the hotel, plus a ring side view of the wedding parade that went by.
My final day in India was a long travel day. Pick up was at 8; the driver doe this trip between Delhi and Agra all the time, taking groups up and down. He does it 2-3 months at a time and then returns north to see his family for a few months. We first traveled to Fatehpur Sikri, the capital of the Mughal empire from 1571 to 1585 (when it was abandoned due to lack of water).
Another new guide to take me around; unfortunately, this one was not that good, i got the key points but that was it. the guides do appear to have a fixed script and tend to want to go through it; this was the least fluid and the least likely to change based on my questions, he stuck to the script.
We parked the car, then got on the bus to the palace. The first of the money transactions took place – the bus, my ticket, the guide ticket at the end, the bus and then the parking. If India is to continue to drive to be a cashless society, as I saw from the press and the large promotion of mobile pay, then it has a long way to go before these transactions get altered.
After the palace, the long drive back to Delhi, getting back to the hotel about 4, an hour waiting around and then off to the airport for my flight to Kathmandu. Eventually got into my hotel there at 11:45, tired and ready for bed.
I was not comfortable during my trip to India; I partly expected this from what I knew about the place, a reason I’d never visited before. Too chaotic for me, I prefer a little more order. It’s not on my list of ‘must go back now’, although I’d be open to explore a little more at some point. But even so, I did enjoy the trip and loved what I saw.
After spending the first day of my bank holiday weekend in Worcester, on the Sunday I explored the town of Gloucester. A day similar to the previous in that it took in Cathedrals and museums. First of all was Blackfriars Priory, founded in 1239, dissolved in 1539 and bought by a local alderman who turned it into his house. It was still lived in until the 20th century. the main church now has had all of the floors and rooms removed, just leaving the shell.
The centre of Gloucester is pretty compact and just a couple of street away are the docks (GLoucester used to be a fairly large port on the Severn). The former industrial area has been turned into a shopping and pedestrian areas, with a couple of decent museums.
The first one I visited was a military one, that told the history of the Gloucester regiments, along with a lot of local stories. After a good wander round that, it was back to the other side of town to go round the cathedral – on a Sunday the opening hours for tourists are shorter, due to services. Just round the corner is the House of The Tailor of Gloucester, as in Beatrix Potter fame.
At Gloucester Cathedral, there was another volunteer tour guide, this time for a tour round the crypt. My favourite story of that was of Robert Cuthose, the eldest son of William the Conquerer, who dies before he could succeed his father. During the WWII, his burial statue was stored in the crypt, on top of a large storage box that had been sent up for London – the Gloucester vaults were deemed to be fairly safe. At the end of the war, the box was revealed to hold the throne of England – so the Prince had ended up ‘sitting’ on the throne. The other royal burial in the cathedral was Edward II, a not quite successful King who ended up being deposed and disposed of. Edward was not the eldest, he only inherited when his older brother died – Alphonso, a name that cold have been interesting as an English king :-).
This was the first half of my weekend away, a chance to go and tick two cathedrals off my list. Worcester is only 40mins by train from my base in Gloucester, but trains were only every 2 hours, so I had to make sure I kept to good timings.
I was hoping to take a quick look at the Guildhall, built in 1721, but it was closed for a private function. I only got to see the statues of the Charles 1 and 11 outside.
A short stroll down the High Street to Worcester Cathedral and it turned out I was just in time for a guided tour. It was a quiet day and there were only 3 of us on it, but we got a good trip around the history of the place. Although weirdly, the tour guide missed out two of the key burials in the building which was surprising given their impact on British history. First of all, Arthur, Prince of Wales was buried there, who died in nearly Ludlow. If he hadn’t there would have been no Henry VIII, no reformation, no Church of England and no Elizabeth 1. It would have been a very different country.
The second burial was of King John (well, most of him, his heart was buried in Newark where he died). Without him here would be no Magna Carta. I’m pretty sure that the changes associated with that may have come about eventually, but John was the catalyst. Arthur had a very ornate chantry for his burial, but John was placed right there in the chancel in front of the alter.
Although the foundations are Norman and a lot of the fabric is medieval, the cathedral has been extensive restored and there is a lot of George Gilbert Scott around the place
Just round the corner from the cathedral, there was the remains of the Royal Worcester Porcelein works, with a shop and a museum but it looks like the rest of the place is being turned into houses.
Heading back into town, I took a Tour around the Tudor House, run by a local community group, with a series of rooms set up to illustrate the house through various ages as it was occupied by a variety of trades such as weavers, tailors and bakers. In the 1800’s, it even had a bowling alley.
The final visit of the day was to the town museum, which had a lot of interesting displays, including one of Worcestershire Sauce through the ages. I was disappointed there was no history of Worcester display, as I tend to like learning about the towns like that.
Canada is one of the few F1 circuits that offer access on the Thursday before the race meet starts. You don’t even need to have a race ticket to access the track. So off we went to hang around the pitlane for 3 hours – along with a lot of other people! But it was not that crowded, the circuit had done this plenty of times before and had the organisation sorted. A queue, a bus to the pitlane and then the chance to queue up for driver autographs or just walk up and down the garages.
Neither of us wanted to get autographs – the queue was long, you never knew who you would get and neither of us tend to collect them – so we just went straight to the cars, taking lots and lots of photos. We also saw quite a few drivers heading out for their track walk.
Back into town and a bit of tourism – the Notre Dame Basilica. Built by the Francophone community, it’s completely different to the churches I usually visit, with the English reformation stripping out all the decoration back to the raw stone. I prefer the unadorned grandeur, but I can see the reasoning behind the decoration.
We ended the day with a trip to Crescent St, which is blocked off and turned into a F1 party street, with lots of sponsor stalls and events. This is supported by the official sponsors; a few blocks over on Peel St seems to be slightly more unofficial, with non-sponsors getting into the act. Both a fun places to wander around! We bumped into a few F1 fans we knew from Twitter and ended up with a few drinks.
Wednesday was another travel day. I met up with Sofia at the train station and we jumped on the 5 hour trip to Montreal. Definitely not as much beautiful countryside as out last train trip (Prague to Budapest) but pleasant enough. The plane trip itself would have been cheaper (we went business), but when you add on costs to get to and from airports, the time for that, the time waiting, the train was a far more pleasant and convenient experience, when you add in the large seats and the free drinks and meal.
The rest of the day was basically eating, a few drinks and a lot of lazing around! The hotel was to the north of the town centre, near the Village and the Latin Quarter, with a high level of students and good, cheap places to eat. The row of pink balls all along this section of the street gave an indication that this was the ‘Gay Villiage’ – or that could be just because that is what it was called on Google maps!
The day started with coffee and chat. Gaming, game design, trademarks, AI, the future of humanity, startups, population growth and Malthus. Just your everyday small talk 🙂 A great chance to talk about different things, that I don’t have chance to think about in my everyday job.
Next, off to the airport for my next phase of the trip, heading up to Toronto. Newark airport was pretty painless, except for the need of Air Canada to charge for bags – why not just put it in the original price. They were not overjoyed at my insistence of paying cash though. Especially as there were a lot of crumpled dollar bills!
My original plans for Monday night fell through, so instead I headed to Canoe, a gorgeous fine dining Canadian restaurant, where the tasting menu included things like elk, pickled maple leaves, stinging nettle puree and coniferous cream. The chef makes a point of using local ingredients as well as bringing in his influences from Japan, with the desert of rice cake, green tea custard and red bean sherbert. I sat at the kitchen table and watched the chefs rush to meet the demand of a full restaurant, which was pretty good for a Monday evening. I absolutely adored this meal!
Tuesday dawned foggy and damp but the sun quickly came out and the humidity went up. The first thing to do was sort out a phone sim for the week – despite the wifi ubiquity around and about, the F1 circuit won’t have that, so need to be able to connect there.
Then a walk round town before meeting Jeremy for lunch and catching up about the last 6 years or so since I saw him. More walking and another catch up, this time with Rick – it’s probably been 8 years since I last met him.
Great to spend the first few days of the hols just catching up with old friends, before heading off to Montreal to make new ones!
It’s another holiday! This time to the continent of North America, with a combined trip to New York, West Milward (In New Jersey), Toronto and Montreal for the F1.
An easy trip to Heathrow and all the way through the security ended with a slightly worrying beep of the machine as I went to board. Had my ESTA run out, what was the problem? It turned out to be a nice surprise instead as the computer had said yes and I was given a lovely upgrade to World Traveller Plus – bigger seats, small cabin, Yes, a good start!
Food done, sleep done, no issues with immigration, remembered how to use the subway and made my way to my hostel for the evening – where possible, I’m sleeping cheap and eating expensive! The Chelsea International is probably your typical hostel, standard welcome, rooms with lockers, basic functional place. But, clean, tidy, secure and works fine.
A quick lie down and then out for my a meal, at Craft. I thought about the tasting menu but decided it was too much after a day of travelling so settled for American Wagyu Carpaccio, Monkfish and chard, finished with Banana Tartin with Peanut butter icecream. Enjoyed it and everything was well sourced and well excuted, but the nothing outstanding. Waiter was great but some of the servers not so much – my starter got delivered to wrong table..
Next morning, I jumped on a 90minute bus ride out to the wilds of New Jersey, to see a friend from my New York days. Breakfast at a 24/7 diner than out to the stables to see his horses and spend some time helping out building a fence for the stables, which is a rescue centre relying on volunteers to get things done. It was quite a change to be out in the sunshine doing physical work instead of sitting in an office all day.
We finished the day at a local sushi (local in these parts being a 20min drive away!). And at that point an early night to chase the jetlag away was needed.
The dry (if overcast) weather that I had for the day round Pompeii did not hold for the rest of my stay and there was plenty of rain around. For the rest of my trip I’d planned walking round Naples, Churches and Museums. My Lonely Planet guidebook had a good walking day set out and that’s what I sort followed!
I started off at one of the city gates, the Porto Nolona. To get there, I’d jumped on the Metro, which is surprisingly modern and clean (given the rest of the city). The city had got various artists to design the stations and they were all pretty nice!
The walking tour took me round ancient streets and churches. Having visited a lot of Uk cathedrals, visiting those in places like Italy, which never went through the Reformation, is always slightly disconcerting. Colour and pictures and paintings? What is this! I’m used to them being plain, with the stone only forming beauty. The sheer number of images is mind-blowing, especially when you see some of the painters. The Caravaggio Le Sette Opere di Misericordia was particularly wonderful. So much to see and wander round, I never got to all of them.
The history of Naples in the 20th century is not the best, a town beset by a lot of corruption. But I think it may have been responsible for the historical legacy of the old town centre, with it’s lanes and small roads, the surprise squares and statues. It was not modernised at all and is fascinating to wander round. Certain streets are home to specialists, such as Via San Gregorio Armeno, which is full of presepi makers – figures for nativity scenes.
I made sure I had time to try the local speciality – PIZZA! I went to Pizza Gino Sorbillo, generally regarded as one of the best places in town for pizza and it was brilliant – both the busy restaurant and the food 🙂
At this point, I decided it was time to head inside for slightly longer as it was getting a bit wet. As I walked towards the Archaeological Musem I was totally bemused by the attitude of the locals to the rain. It’s as though this was a once in a lifetime event and they had no idea how to deal with it. Just a little sprinkle had people heading for cover. It’s not as though you couldn’t get umbrellas…for most of the weekend, you couldn’t go a block without seeing opportunistic salesmen.
The Musueum was great, with lots of Roman art and lots from Pompeii. Again, I think it would have been great to be able to see the artifacts in situ as such, how did they display the various artworks alongside the everyday objects. The mosaics were amazing, to think these were basically floor coverings. the Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Room) was also fun – flying phalluses with bells on! Seriously, what were these for?
I was back at a museum on Sunday, this time the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte. Loads of paintings from masters, including Raphael, Titian and my favourite Caravaggio. There’s a LOT in this place and it’s well worth getting the audio guide, even if the translation seems odd at times and the narrator has difficulty with some of the names. As well as the art collection (most of it came from the mother of Charles VII of Bourbon), you also get to wander round the royal apartments.
I really enjoyed my time in Naples, there’s so much to see and I only touched the surface. I’d like to go back to see Herculaneum, to see more of the museums and sights and spend more time wandering around. That said, Naples does not give the impression of being welcoming – it’s in the architecture. It’s all closed and square, with shutters, with lots of grafitti, with no glimpse of what is behind the walls. I never felt unsafe, but the streets themselves seem to tell you to watch out and don’t bother them. I fully recommend it though, but probably go with friends and be prepared.
Last week, off I went to Naples for a long weekend visit. With so many cities in Europe to visit, Naples may not be the first on the everyone’s list, but it has plenty of attractions, the main one for me being Pompeii. The others were food (practising my carb-loading for running) and the art. I managed to squeeze all of these in!
First up was Pompeii, on what turned out to be the driest day of the weekend. A brilliant place and going at this time of the year meant that for much of the time I was wondering round the places and streets on my own, with plenty of time to sit and take up the atmosphere. You could definitely feel the volcano looming over the town. There’s always a worry that it may erupt again, but there are many more ways of monitoring so I don’t think there’ll be the same massive surprise as there was in 79AD.
Dotted around the site were some of the plaster casts that had been taken during the 19th century excavations. You look at them, in some of them seeing the expressions on their faces and can imagine the terror they must have felt as they realised there was no way out of the town.
Interesting that over the years, people have not changed. There’s still grafitti, the sports in the arena, the plays and music in the theatres, the places of worship, bath houses, swimming pools and fast food shops. It’s all there, we haven’t changed that much.
The fast food shops were great, with the inbuilt counters with spaces for the food containers. Not that much different from today’s canteens. What I found interesting is that the concept of the shop as the front of the house which just had a shutter pulled down out of hours was still found in Naples. So many of the shops there were literally rooms behind a shutter, no glossy window displays for them.
One thing that has changed is our public attitude to sex. The brothel had a lot of people going through it, all wanting to look at the wall pictures that are still perfectly recognisable as various pictures. In the Archaeological Museum back in Naples there are a lot of other pictures and objects (flying phalluses with bells on were my favourite) showing that there was a very different regard for sex.
Pompeii is well worth a visit, although in summer it is supposed to get really hot and unpleasant to walk around. It’s huge, I spent at least 6 hours walking around and quite a few of the places were closed for work – they’re still digging it up and working on it. I think the only thing I’d like would have been to see some of the places kitted out completely, a few replicas, to understand how the houses/places worked and how the objects that I saw later in the museum would have fitted into the lives.
After the touristing of the last 2 weeks, the last 2 days were basically travel. First of all we travelled from Hiroshima back to Tokyo via Shinkansen, the bullet train. We were staying in the Shinjiku area, so wandered along to the park Hyatt (as all the reviews say, made famous by the film Lost in Translation). We were too late for afternoon tea, but had a drink and watched the darkness fall across the city from the 41st floor. Pity the weather was so bad, as I guess it looks wonderful with clear skies!
Then the travel home.Up at 5. train to airport, 12 hour flight. And miracle of miracles, the tubes actually working to take us both back to our respective homes. At the airport we were offered a deal for one of us to be bumped down to economy (for miles or pounds) but the answer was definitely no! I’m guessing somebody said yes at some point – maybe the deal got better, given that the cash offer was less than the premium we had paid!
Flying across Siberia
That was it. it’s over, we are home. No more travel. We loved Japan, Sofia and I, and want to go back. There’s so much more to see.
Today feels like our last full day in Japan – tomorrow is travelling back to Tokyo and getting ready to leave.
We’re still in Hiroshima and the plan today was to walk round the Peace Memorial Park and visit the museum and memorials there.
First was the A-bomb Dome. As a concrete building, it was one of the few remaining standing in the centre of Hiroshima and has been left (after much deliberation over the years) as a permanent reminder. It is preserved in the same state of disrepair as it was after the bombing.
Wandering around the rest of the park, there are many more memorials. To students, to Koreans, to all the victims. The cenotaph contains a record of all the people who have died, all those who experienced the bomb, updated every year on 6th August as the aging survivors die.
The Children’s Peace Memorial probably had the most activity around it, as large groups of schoolchildren queued up to take their turn. Each class bought paper cranes, 1000s of them, connected and threaded into other shapes. We saw one group line up, the nominated student read from a book to the memorial, then the whole class sang.
Finally, they presented their assembly of paper cranes to be added to the collection. After posing for pictures, they left to make way for the next group.
The Memorial Hall winds underground, leading to a circular mosaic of tiles, one for each person impacted, making a picture of the flattened city after the blast.
This is where the records are kept, the written and video stories and screens show the never-ending scroll of names and pictures.
The Peace Memorial Museum is split into two parts. The first examines the history of Hiroshima, of Japans involvement in the wars in the area and how Hiroshima was a main staging post. It factually goes into the politics and decisions made about why the bomb was used and why Hiroshima was chosen as the target.
The second section was the stories of the victims and the survivors. How the city was destroyed, remains and artifacts of the day. One such as these steps from a bank, forever scarred with the shadow of the person who was sitting there at 8.15am on 6th August 1945, waiting for the bank to open. It’s an image that stuck in my mind when I read Hiroshima by John Hersey in the 80s, when the Cold War always meant another nuclear attack was still thought possible and the Protect and Survive information was out there.
That was our visit for the day. A lot to think about, too much. So we had lunch in the sun and discussed other things. Like do Japanese schoolchildren actually spend anytime in school as they always seem to be on trips. At every single location we have been there have been school parties, in lines, in groups, being shouted at my teachers/guides with megaphones or filling in the ubiquitous workbooks. They all want to say ‘hello’ to us foreigners and giggle.
Or how the stereotype of Japanese tourist with the ever-snapping camera is not just behaviour when they’re abroad but it’s magnified here. If we ever thought we could not take a photo, maybe because we were in a shrine, no matter, we just copied the actions of the other Japanese tourists.
Tomorrow, back to Tokyo for the last night then we board the plan for London. Where I believe it’ll be cold and wet!
An early start to the day as we headed to the station to catch another Shinkansen, heading further west to Hiroshima. It takes just over 2 hours (discounting the standing at stations) to travel the 224 miles, speeding through the countryside. Except it wasn’t really countryside, as you’d call it in the UK. There’s no rolling fields, it’s all suburban. It seems that except for the mountains, everywhere we have seen has been built up, the trip was an endless strip of city and suburbs. There’s an occasional field, sliced into strips, some with cereal or rice, others cultivated with a variety of plants, like an allotment. In one small section, there were longer sections of fields, but every couple there were groups of 4-5 houses. Japan has a population if 127m, that’s over twice the UK, but a population density nearly 3x as much. And if you can’t build in the many mountains, that means they’re nearly all squeezed into the coastal plains. We saw no real farmland- where do they grow the rice? And definitely no animals in any of the fields. Just houses and more houses.
Arriving on Hiroshima we jumped onto a local tram, dropped the bags off and then nipped back to the station to get a train out to Miyajima island. Well, a train to catch the 10min ferry ride across the sea to the island. We were there to see the floating shrine. Unfortunately, it wasn’t floating today, as we arrived at low tide.It basically stuck up out of the mud.
Before we got there, it was time for me to try the local delicacy – BBQ oysters. Well, grilled oysters as they are called, but they’re basically cooked on a BBQ. Served with a squeeze of line they were great.
We headed onto the beach for a quick paddle and to stare at the torii. This is usually photographed sticking out of the water, we got sand and barnacles.
The shrine is quite small really, bridging across the two sides of the bay. As we reached the middle, we got caught up in what looked like a marriage – the first marriage by interpretive dance I’ve seen. Well, it looked like a marriage party and I assume the ceremony took place elsewhere, but we just say the man in the mask do 10 mins of dance to drums, flutes, kazoos and a broken bagpipe. (I don’t know what the instruments actually were but that is what they sounded like).
More photos, more beach wandering and the ferry took us back to the mainland.
We tried one of the izakayas this evening, a sort of pub that serves a mix of food. This one was the first one we had been too with no English, so it was a matter of point and hope. I ended up with a mixture of rice in stock, chicken cabbage and egg, which I am informed via Twitter was ‘oyako donburi’ . Very nice it was too.
Tomorrow we head to the Atom Bomb dome, as listed on the signs.
Finally, my sign of the day. Everyone needs an emergency Escape Mouth.