Diary of a Himalayan Adventure
Hannah May writes
We arrived at Delhi airport at 7am and after settling into the hotel we found the energy to go on an adventure in an auto rickshaw to the tourist office to get a map. Not that exciting I hear you say... you clearly have not been driving in India. It was an experience. The only two rules of the road here seem to be; use your horn whenever possible and only give way (grudgingly) to cars that are bigger than you.
Our rickshaw driver first tried to convince us that all six of us would fit in one very tiny three wheeled tin can...we would not. We then sat in two rickshaws through the crowded and very interesting streets of the city. You see just about everything here; bikes, cars, whole families on a moped and cows wandering around in the middle of a busy roundabout! All this and several near death experiences for the bargain price of 60p. Anyway, that was quite enough excitement for one day, so we got the metro back to the hotel.
On our first full day in Delhi we went to see a few famous landmarks - India Gate, Gandhi's tomb, the Mosque in Old Delhi and then onto biggest Hindu temple in the new part of the city. Some of us then grabbed some cycle rickshaws and were taken on a tour of the backstreets and market's of Old Delhi.
After the hustle and bustle of the city it was lovely to escape on the first train out to Rishikesh on Monday morning. Rishikesh is a sacred city for Hindus which sits alongside the Ganges in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is tiny, but very busy and yet again full of cows! The first day we went white water rafting and jumped off a big rock. Not strictly in the spirit of the place but fun anyway!
However, our dip in the river did have a strange effect on Himalaya 22 and we have all gone a bit hippy. We arose serenely at 6.30am everyday to do an hour and a half of yoga and developed a liking for floaty and interesting clothes! We also got some sitar and tabla (Indian drum) lessons from two very talented brothers as well as seeing the most amazing Hindu ceremony by the side of the Ganges.
However, the peace and calm was shattered on Wednesday when we started 'The Day of Death'. To cut a long story short, we did a seven hour hike up a bloody big hill to an ashram. It hurt, we moaned, but the sense of achievement was considerable, especially when Martin told us (with the help of his space age watch) that we had in fact climbed the equivalent of Ben Nevis! We felt it was only fair that after this we were able to indulge ourselves a little by going up to a local restaurant to have cooking lessons and a very big slice of banoffee pie, apple pie and chocolate cake. This momentous day has since been christened 'Pudding Day'.
On Tuesday we went to Huyunaman's tomb which is pretty amazing. It was built for one of the old Mughal emperors and I think it is just about the quietest place in the city. However, the highlight of my day (and quite possibly the whole trip) was our trip to the Regal cinema. We went to see Aksar, the Bollywood epic containing 'seduction, suspense, scandal". Nicole and I can now quite safely say it is our favourite film. We didn't get the finer nuances of the script but rather handily the important lines like "You dirty rotten scoundrel" were said in English. The plot was the most outrageous thing ever committed to celluloid and ended with a covered up murder with a ceremonial sword which was uncovered with the clever use of a secret camera, a bouncy ball and a glass of wine. All this in Hindi with several song and dance numbers. Brilliant!
Yesterday, we ventured off to Agra at 4am to see the Taj Mahal. Again, absolutely amazing. Not really how I expected it but brilliant none the less. We sat on the lawn and watched the sun set on it before nearly missing our train due to an impromptu parade by the locals complete with marching brass band.
We are now in Diu, a little beach resort in Gujarat relaxing with a few Kingfishers and a BBQ. Life couldn't get much better and we are all making the most of it! Soon we are off to our development project where we will be helping to renovate a village school, so we need all the relaxation we can get! We'll write again to update you as soon as we can!
Hannah May writes
Our trip to Diu on India's west coast has been fantastic. It was owned by the Portuguese until 1961 so has a distinctly European feel to the architecture, albeit with Indian ramshackle charm.
It took us an age to get here. First by sleeper train, and then three public buses and a rickshaw. This had the benefit of taking us off the tourist trail. When we stopped at one bus station a crowd of about 80 Indian men formed, staring at us through the window. On another leg of the journey, Bethan's family photographs were passed around the entire bus and a 70 year old man in a white turban asked to listen to her MP3 player!
We eventually arrived at the old converted church we were staying in to be greeted by a cold beer, BBQ and bed, which happened to be on the roof. The romantic setting did lose some of it's charm however, when at 4am when we woke up freezing and had to sleep in Bridget's room on her yoga mat!
The next day, we rented the ricketiest bikes on the whole of Diu and set off to explore the island. We found a nice beach and went for a dip, Indian style. Basically getting your kit off in public is a big no-no (unless you want to be ogled, groped or chased down the road with a broom) so into the sea we go fully clothed! More beer and another BBQ followed along with loads of silly drunken games. Next day we took the bikes further afield across the island to a little fishing village and a secluded beach. We frolicked in our swimwear to our hearts content (not in the village you understand!) and then had our most expensive dinner to date, at a beastly £2.30 a head!
After another day of cycling and swimming, we made the trip back to the station and boarded the sleeper train for Jodhpur. Unlike our journey in plush A/C comfort to the beach, we opted for S class this time. We were awoken several times by burps and belches, every time we stopped several Indians decided to chat next to our bunks. At one point an Indian gentleman decided to sit on Georgia while she was still sleeping! Having said that, it was still a laugh, just quite a tiring one!
We got to Jodhpur early and went to explore. It's a great place, full of beautifully decorated rickshaws and everyone seemed really friendly. There are people, traffic and of course, cows everywhere. As well as having a look around, we also bought our clothes for project. We are now visions in fake Reebok shorts and bad T-shirts, ready for work on Friday.
We are actually staying in Mandor in an amazing little guest house run by a lovely family who say we must treat it as home. It's from here we left for the first day of project, a 10km cycle away! We were greeted by garlands and crystalised honey, the village elders dancing to some traditional drums, women dressed in brightly-coloured saris balancing pot plants on their head, hundreds of children and a camel!
We were then shown the classrooms we are going to renovate. They were in a pretty sorry state, literally a dark empty room, with peeling walls and nowhere for the children to sit. The project involves us constructing some desks and chairs for the children to sit at and wiring in fans and lights to two classes, building a new kitchen and stove and painting the classrooms. It's absolutely fantastic to see how happy they are to have someone coming to help and we are all excited to get started.
Over the next few days we got stuck in to the project. The wall of the kitchen went up very quickly and the desks started to take shape. The kids are used to us now and are very cheeky. They are also extremely helpful and have been sawing, drilling and painting. My new best friend Laxshman helped me paint the desks cherry red, he did it with aplomb but unfortunately his skill didn't quite match his enthusiasm.
Work ground to a halt for a couple of days as the whole of India celebrated Holi, a major religious festival. Basically, everyone gets two days off work to throw paint at each other. You start off pelting brightly coloured powder, then everyone moves onto squirting water pistols so it turns into paint, these then get abandoned in favour of buckets. When the paint runs out, you start throwing mud! Lovely and Sanjay from the guest house also had a special paint, an Indian concoction of dubious origin which they slap on your face. It's bright pink and doesn't come off for about a week. Nicole and Lucy still have pink hair!
When we got back to project we continued with our tasks until three of us were taken on a wander round the village with one of the elders. This culminated in us being shown into a house and being shown how to make chapati, drinking tea and then being dressed up in saris! No Westerners apart from VentureCo have made it to the village before. They find us quite amusing anyway, but with the dressing up they went into overdrive! I had my nails painted by a rather over-excited 15 year old, was squeezed into an attractive peach number, draped in jewelry and given the tika mark usually reserved for someone who is married! All this was accompanied by uproarious Hindi laughter. It was so nice to se the women on their own for once, especially in their homes. Being at the village is a fantastic way to experience an Indian way of life you would not usually see.
We have taken a couple of weekends away to Pushkar and Udaipur, both of which have been great fun, allowing us to explore the surrounding area. We have one last week of project left before we travel onto Jaisalmer and our camel safari!
Billie Coverly writes
Goodbye lovely guest house, hello hot stuffy train! We were all up incredibly early as we had to sadly leave the Mandor Guest House and to catch a train to Jaiselmer.
After a long journey we were all pleased to arrive at our hotel which was named Hotel Paradise' Several people even said 'Welcome to Paradise' as we walked in, so it must have been true! It was in a spectacular location, within the walls of the old fort and high up, so that we could see out over the desert, which was where we would be trekking in the following days.
On Saturday morning, we all crammed into a Jeep and set off for the desert to meet our camels. We clambered aboard our camels in a most un-elegant way and set off for the horizon...Camel riding is fantastic fun for about the first 20 minutes and after that it's quite fun but very painful. Having said that, life could be worse; kicking back on a camel while watching the desert landscape drift by and listening to my music, I can cope with that.
Post-lunch camel trekking, for me, could have been better. After a combination of eating too much (my fault I know but the food was good!) and a little motion sickness, I felt quite ill but, thought I could still cope with sitting on a camel. It turns out I was wrong! On the plus side I can now claim I have been sick off the side of a camel - more than once! I would also like to report that everyone else was still having a great time and on arrival at camp all went off diving down sand dunes.
After an amazing night spent camping under the stars, all alone, except perhaps for the wild dogs and dung beetles, we set off for our second-but-last day of trekking. We were aching slightly by now, but bumped along on top of the camels which were actually running today because they were carrying a lot less! I think I would describe this as one of the most painful but hilarious things I have ever done. There are no stirrups to speak of so you just cling on to the reigns, grip with your thighs and hope for the best!
We arrived back at our hotel early that afternoon and after a bit of relaxing went off to explore the fort and to do some serious shopping. This is a must whilst in Jaiselmer, the textiles are beautiful. The following day we left Jaiselmer on another train. This time bound for Bandhavgarh.
Bethan Buck writes
So we left Yuksum at 8am after comparing the weights of our bags - we were all apprehensive about trekking and having to carry all of our stuff which was really tough for the first few days but we got used to it quickly. The first day was a hard six hour uphill haul through early monsoon rain to a little shack where we spent the night. To make the day easier we gave each other parts from Lord of the Rings. When you have a lot of time to think without any distractions apart from a landscape with a strange likening to Lord of the Rings, that is what happens.
The second day was really short, but very steep. After only a few hours walking we got to a small mountain village. We were camping in the garden of an old couples' house and that afternoon with time to kill, we ended up sitting out of the rain in the kitchen of the tiny house. We taught our guide and a few of the porters to play Cheat (Gullatoua in Hindi) and in return they taught us the Hindi/Nepali numbers as we played.
Then we literally spent hours with the porters teaching each other magic tricks, card tricks and drinking the Tomba, it was really good fun. We soon retired to bed and fell asleep to the various farmyard sounds around us.
The third day started very amusingly with Nicole falling head first and rolling all the way down the hill by the toilet. After that, it was another long day, halfway through which we got to snow. Our imaginations took a new turn and we were now in Narnia - and it really did feel like it. It got snowier and snowier until we reached a point where it was four feet deep snow on an empty plain. We made snow angels and a snow man and had the biggest snow ball fight ever. It was awesome but very very cold and we soon carried on trudging through the thick snow. It seemed to go on forever, but eventually we got to where we were camping (yes, that's right - camping in the snow).
It was the coldest most uncomfortable night ever, we tried to amuse ourselves by helping the cook make Momo's and reading to each other from Roald Dahl's short stories. However, we had very little sleep that night. The only highlight for me being my 'squattie' wash with Hannah and a bowl of hot water in our tent. We spent the whole time sitting frozen cold in our underwear in collapsed hysterics, it's strange what you find funny when you are in that situation.
Early the next morning we were woken to climb a peak a few hundred feet higher than our camp to see the view. It was really stunning, but the walk was hard work and a few of us were getting the first signs of acute altitude sickness. After a fairly romantic breakfast on the side of a mountain in the falling snow, we got ahead of the yaks and started our walk through the thick and fast setting snow. We carried on for hours and then started a really big downhill fall to cross the river, which was stunning. We then had a big climb to get to the next camp site - on a snowy field in the middle of the most breathtaking mountains - we were right near the peaks and just above us rose the top of a mountain over 6000 foot high.
The next morning we slowly made our way to our final destination, our base camp if you will. It wasn't so snowy here as the sun had been shining. Although as soon as the tents had been put up, a crazy blizzard began and after spending an hour and a half in the tent, we came out to see a complete winter wonderland. Everything was covered with snow and the river which ran by our camp looked amazing. As the snow clouds cleared, our peak was revealed to us; at 4600 feet high it touched the sky and was really really beautiful.
The next morning we were up and ready to leave camp at 4am to climb the mountain in time for sunrise. We set off in the dark and as it gradually got light, we struggled our way up the tough snow thick peak. The climb was definitely worth it and we got there just in time to see the sun hit the peaks surrounding us. We stood absolutely frozen, staring in awe at the view before messing around in the snow until our tummies started rumbling and we could no longer feel our toes.
The next day was a long hard walk through jungle terrain again, though uphill this time and then a very long and steep down hill. By the evening, we had reached where we had stayed at the old couples' garden although this time we got places in a little youth hostel type place nearby.
By the evening we were tired, so we got into our thermals and layers and began brushing our teeth on the balcony, Suddenly, from within the dining room, we heard the guys start to sing. We peeped round the corner and saw that they were beginning to dance too. We watched from the dark doorway when all of a sudden, we were dragged into the room and danced and sang for hours. They sung us Nepali songs and we sang them Queen. The evening was great, the dancing was so much fun and the mountain drinks were out in force again!
It was now time for our last day of trekking. We started earlier then usual and walked until dusk. It was really good fun, up and down hill through the remaining mountains. We stopped for lunch at a waterfall where we had a dip and washed our hair in the icy cold water. Back in Yuksum, we were taught a card game by the non-English speaking yak men. It was very amusing and the night soon began. Pema and Nazir returned from the village with yet more mountain drinks and a lot of singing and dancing.
So, I made it into Nepal! After several bumpy Jeep rides and a night at the border, we found ourselves in Chitwan National Park. It was very hot, very beautiful and very empty. We were practically the only tourists we saw while we were there as many people are still fearful of coming back. That suited us fine as we didn't have to queue for anything and had the whole place to ourselves. The night we arrived started with a quick talk of the animals of the park, also known as; a simple guide to the vast array of things that want to kill or maim you. Only last week the guide who spoke to us had been chased up a tree by a rhino and attacked by a bear!
We went to bed full of confidence and awoke early the next morning. feeling even better when we realised our guides were armed against the marauding wildlife, with a big stick. Not ones to run from danger, we started the day in with a walking safari. We took a canoe down the river, with our guide telling us how crocodiles aren't generally seen at this time of year. Then we paddled past a five foot Gahrial croc, eyeing us up from the reeds.
From there we wandered into the park, surrounded on each side by six feet of elephant grass and way too many rustling noises! Just as we were starting to relax, we heard a splash, a snap and a kind of growl. We pushed through the grass just in time to see a marsh mugger slip from the bank (where it had made a half hearted attempt to eat our guide) back into the water. This was all quite exciting until we realised we actually had to walk a cross the river on a precarious log. Whilst I was walking across I could see bubbles coming up from the bottom of the water. We all survived without seeing the marsh mugger again and continued into the forest just in time to see a rhino disappear into the grass! Bethan missed this as she was with our other guide who was throwing pebbles at the previously mentioned crocodile. It resurfaced and snapped at them before swimming away, allowing us all to have a minor nervous beakdown.
The rest of the walk passed without event or death and we got back to the hotel just in time to get changed ready to bathe an elephant! We rode it down to the river (no mean feat, when there isn't a saddle) where it got in, sat down and we all fell off. Not content with getting us wet that way it also squirted itself, and us in the process, before settling down for a wash. We got to scrub the beast (not everyday you can say you have exfoliated an elephant) before walking back home again. I can safely say that it was just about the most fun I have ever had and we enjoyed it so much we went back the next day.
In the afternoon we did a safari...by elephant! We trogged around in the grassland and saw two rhinos chilling in a pond; we got about two or three metres away from them! They are really funny looking, all big, fat, armoured and scary with two hairy little ears sticking directly out of the top of their heads. To be honest, before I saw one I don't think I actually appreciated that they looked that odd. When you see a photo of them, they look a bit made up!
Next day we got to go to the elephant breeding centre and fed them biscuits. They are really funny, one had an itchy eye so scratched it with her trunk! They are kept locked away at night but get to roam the forest in the day because they need to get the huge amount of grass and 200 litres of water they need to drink a day from somewhere. However, in order to make them come back at night they basically make them addicted to salt! They can't resist it so come back every night for their fix.
In the evening we found our way to the local bar (they extended happy hour for us!) and we all got drunk on Monkey Glands and Jungle Smiles. The barman rang all of his friends who turned up and we yet again started a disco, like we do everywhere else. We didn't go to bed until 2am, a decision we all regretted when we were up at 5.30am the next morning to watch birds. I don't even like birds, but still we all enjoyed it and managed to have a quick nap before visiting the crocodile breeding centre (which also oddly housed a man eating tiger) and having a bit of a Jeep safari. We again spotted two rhinos, but our guide seemed more intent on pointing out the spotted pigeon in the tree above it!
In between all of this, we managed to squeeze in a spot of shopping, as usual. I bought more souvenirs than was strictly necessary and learnt to play Bagh Chal (a Nepalese board game) from a bored local. All in all I had a brilliant time and was very sad to leave for Kathmandu, where we are now. Having said that, it's pretty cool here and it means we are leaving for a trek soon!
Bethan Buck writes
Adrenalin is still pumping from scaling the world famous Chola Pass! While ice-axes and crampons were not necessary, pure hard determination and unwaivering resolve were essential to our successful passage through this utterly real mountainous terrain.
The following day we spent a leisurely morning enjoying views and photo opportunities. The weather was clear and crisp, and we appreciated an easy walk to our next destination, Labuche. En-route we heard a mighty thunder and turned to see an awe-inspiring avalanche cascading down the nearby mountainside next to us.
During a small break, Hannah, Nicole and Bethan campaigned for Martin to pay us each 1000 rupees to consume a large yak poo. There was much discussion but in the end he refused as he feared for our health.
On arrival at Labuche and after ten days of filth, Bethan, Lucy, Nicole and Hannah cracked and washed their hair in the bone-chillingly cold stream under the concerned supervision of Gopi. That afternoon in preparation for base camp, we crafted a banner from Hannah's travel towel and Bethan's spare scarf. Four hours of slaving later and we had the marvel before us.
After Jangbu, our porter decided to run the Everest marathon. An idea was then hatched that perhaps Martin too could run the marathon (him being the fit specimen that he is!) There was much excitement for the marathon and base camp as we prepared to move on to Gorak Shep in the wee hours of the morning.
Awoken at 5.15am the next morning, we travelled to Gorakshep on empty stomachs awaiting to see if the sky would remain clear for the morning. After a hearty breakfast, the sky is clear and blue and Gopi made the executive decision for us to do Kala Pathar and postpone Base Camp for a day. Slowly we made our way up the sloping black rock, calves burning, hearts beating as we fought the altitude. Morale was low as we had to leave Lucy at the halfway point due to injury but as we gained height, the view of Everest seemed to be drawing us to the top.
At the 5600 metres, we reached the top of the world, as far as our expedition was concerned. The view was magical. We could see the ice fall stretching out below us and the summit of Everest stared dauntingly down upon our awestruck selves. In the distance below, we could see the tiny colourful dots of base camp and we knew that tomorrow we ourselves would be standing in that very place. To stand there and think that so many couragous men and women had embarked on the ultimate challenge that is Everest. Not that we would be doing the same...but at least we could see their tents.
Everything that we have been working towards over the past four months is culminating on this very day - base camp day. Hazardous rocks, jagged ice and overall fatigue due to excessive games of rummy; Himalaya 22 persevered through all the elements and every obstacle thrown their way. As we work our way through the slowly melting glacier, we see the gutted corpse of the infamous helicopter materialise on the horizon contrasted against the fierce khumbu ice fall. We make our way past the loaded yaks and sherpas packing up base camp. The climbing season is over, but we still manage to see a team decending through the treacherous ice fall - the most deadly when climbing Everest.
From base camp we can see the enormous serac and jagged crevasses that have claimed so many. After about an hours photo shoot, Martin and Bridget manage to surprise us with a champagne shower and we realise that Himalaya 22 has come quite a long way."
Lucy Child writes
Having had a very successful trek to Everest Base Camp, we all arrived back in Kathmandu. After a couple of hours kip, everyone put on their team shirts and we had pre-dinner champagne in the Kathmandu Guest House garden to celebrate making it to base camp and back again in one piece.
Dinner was at the famous Rum Doodles, a must for anyone trekking around Nepal, especially if you've done Everest as you get to eat for free. Included with the meal is a free cardboard foot which you can deface in any way you feel appropriate, so we thought that seeing as Martin is probably the least artistic of the group he should draw portraits of us. They were spectacular and I hope future Venturers check the foot out to see Martin's talent. The next few days were spent preparing for the last resort and the highest commercial bungy jump in the World at 166 metres!
Finally the day had come. At 6am we left the guest house (wearing the team shirts) and took the four hour bus ride to the resort. Seeing the bridge for first time was stomach churning, the realisation that we would be jumping off a 200 metre bridge had suddenly kicked in.
We were met by the bungy master (a big Nepalese man who looked way too chilled out for my liking!) who weighed us, the heaviest jumps first, and told us it was easy, just jump. Nicole was the first to jump and she sure did it in style and made it look oh- so-easy. The order after her was as follows; Will, the most scared, Martin, who screamed like a girl, Bethan, looked terrified, Lucy, wasn't sure why she was doing it, Hannah, loving it, Billie, way too chilled and Georgia, annoyed she had to go last.
After the jump came the gorge swing, which is jumping off the bridge freefalling for eight seconds then swinging through the gorge. Only Martin, Nicole, Hannah, Bethan and Georgia did it but it looked amazing. The next day was canyoning, abseiling down seven waterfalls, one being 40 metres high. A lot of fun but not when the wetsuits came off and the leeches came out!
The evening was a dance party, which we seem to start everywhere we go! Tuesday was a free day. Bethan, Martin, Will and Georgia mountain biked to the Tibetan border while the rest of us sunbathed by the plunge pool and had saunas in the evening.
Wednesday was our last day and we all started the day with another bungy and a gorge swing, Billie and I decided we had to do the swing while Martin, Bethan, Georgia and Nicole did another swing and bungy. Hannah decided to only do the swing and not the bungy, hanging upside down was not on her to do list that day! White-water Rafting was though, which was great. The river is one of the hardest white-water rivers in the world, so it was amazing when it started raining as it made it harder to see what we were doing!
Now back in Kathmandu, we are all preparing to travel on or go home and are feeling scared about both! It has been the most amazing experience of my life.
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