28 Apr 2013

Pingyao: Ming & Qing Dynasty Kitsch

Pingyao is one of the cities China is most proud of.  Its visitor information says that it owns more “AAAA” tourist attractions than any other Chinese city, and it is “one of the 50 most worthful places for a foreigner to enjoy in China” (Pingyao City Leaflet).  Surrounded by 14th Century city walls and containing almost 4,000 original Ming and Qing buildings, Pingyao is certainly a treasure trove of architectural history.  Almost unique in China for having survived the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) virtually unscathed, Pingyao has been less successful in avoiding the influences of tourism.  Its location, in the tourist trail between Beijing and Xi’an, means that its ancient shop fronts now vie for your attention with legions of stalls selling everything from bongo drums to Chinese silk dresses.  Nevertheless, we spent a couple of relaxing days there enjoying the relative peace and quiet after Beijing.  



27 Apr 2013

A Chinese train journey: Beijing - Pingyao

In recent years, China has pumped a staggering amount of money into its railways (the controversial QuingHai–Tibet line alone cost $5 billion).  Unfortunately precious little of it seems to have found its way into the class carriages.  In the absence of any other choice, we bought the cheapest “hard seat” tickets for the twelve hour overnight journey to Pingyao.  We can certainly confirm that they are not called hard seats for nothing!

Trying to find our seats in the already packed 150 seat carriage was a challenge, made none the easier by the fact that they were already occupied.  After some persistent ticket pointing and gesturing, we managed to move the offenders on.  Then came the next problem of actually getting into our seats – the rows of seats faced one another, and left only enough room for the passengers to sit with interlocking knees.  In a situation like this, apart from the obvious discomfort of sitting upright for twelve hours, one’s fate is largely decided by the person sitting opposite.  Judging by the panel of characters facing us, we were in for a long night.  

25 Apr 2013

Beijing: Our First Impressions of China

1,300,000,000 people are never going to be inconspicuous, but in China the presence of humankind is overwhelming.  Not surprisingly, Beijing is no exception.  Such is the scale of this city that walking is barely an option.  Although less high rise than we expected, Beijing makes up for this with shear urban sprawl – vast multi-lane highways plough the city from which innumerable hutongs (alleyways) radiate like arteries,  pulsating with rickshaws (mainly electric), taxis, shops, food stalls and …people. 


17 Apr 2013

Pokhara: Happy New Year 2070!

Happy New Year!  The end of our trek coincided with the Nepali New Year festivities in Pokhara.  The Nepali calendar is 57 years ahead of the Gregorian one, meaning that we would be ringing in the year 2070.  As John pointed out, since we would be 94 and 87 years old respectively in the UK in 2070, it seemed prudent to celebrate this one while we could.  

With a few hours to kill before the celebrations began, we decided to go for some post trek pampering in the form of his and hers “deep tissue” massages.  These were far more painful than any aspect of the trek itself – two plump Nepali women applied elbow, knees and thumbs to maximum sadistic effect, before walking on our back and contorting our arms and legs.  This lasted one hour. 

Relieved to leave these two helpful harridans behind, we headed to the park where the fun fair had already begun and music was blasting from the stage.  In a country that pays scant attention to health and safety, there is always something a bit unsettling about fairground rides.  So we decided against the pirate ship and Ferris wheel and instead focused on the food stalls (spicy noodles and vegetable pakora) and the musical acts.  In typically friendly Nepali fashion, some of the local dragged John into a traditional dance. Flip flops did nothing for his usual (lack of) co-ordination.

16 Apr 2013

Annapurna Circuit: Part 3


Day 11: Thorung Phedi - Thorung La Pass - Muktinath

We set off at 4am and started up the hill.  It was pitch-black and the only light was coming from our head torches.  The path was slippery as the water had frozen overnight – Tsering fell over at one point but he was ok.  We plodded for an hour until we reached the high camp where some people had stayed but we had decided to sleep at the lower altitude lodge.  

The walk after that camp was long and became gradually slower as we ascended the various minor peaks – this was mostly because Josi was setting the pace!  The path was mostly in the snow which was deep in places and hadn’t been trodden by many.  But worst was the wind and the cold – after two hours both John and Josi couldn’t feel their fingers (John cursing the £3 gloves he had bought!) and it was a gruelling plod to the pass, which we reached at a very respectable 8am.  The views were fascinating and we were now standing at our highest point on the trek - 5,416m! 


15 Apr 2013

Annapurna Circuit: Part 2


Day 6: Upper Pisang - Manang

Today it was a beautiful and relatively easy walk up the valley which afforded us great views of Annapurna II, III and IV.  On our walk we met two Russians from Kransnoyarsk – they couldn’t believe we had been there and were very curious to know why! 

During our walk we saw prayer slates which are written in a language that only the Buddhist monks can understand.  Although we didn't know what they said, both the slate and the writing was beautiful.



14 Apr 2013

Annapurna Circuit: Part 1

Surprisingly, Josi was the one to originally think about completing the Annapurna Circuit.  As John was a seasoned mountain trekker & climber, he was thrilled at sharing his love of mountains with Josi.  The Annapurna Circuit is a trek within the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges of central Nepal. The total length of the route we chose was around 250km and would rise to an altitude of 5,416m on the Thorung La pass, touching the edge of the Tibetan plateau.  We were excited to see the culture, people and, of course, the mountain scenery including 2 of the 14 8000m peaks. We would see the Annapurna Massif (Annapurna I-IV), DhaulagiriMachhapuchhre (“Fishtail”), ManasluGangapurna and Tilicho Peak.

Highest altitude:          5,416m
Total elevation gain:    14,000m