Top Three Festivals in Bhutan

August 22, 2016

bhutanBhutan is a vibrant a happy country and its festivals are famous throughout the world.

Known locally as ‘Tshechus’, the festivals are incredibly flamboyant, bright and fun and many tourists base their Bhutan trekking experience around certain festivals.

The word Tshechu actually means ‘10th day’ and all monasteries and temples hold their Tshechu on the 10th day of the month, however, the month varies from temple to temple.

Tshechus are incredibly important in Bhutanese culture and entire cities, villages and towns will attend their local Tshechu.

Communities gather at Tshechus to dance, socialise and take blessings. It is believed that you must attend at least one Tshechu a year and watch a masked dance to wash away your sins.

For tourist, Tshechus are really amazing events to witness. Their colour, vibrancy, hustle and bustle makes them one of the most exciting things to see in Bhutan! Below we have listed our top three Tshechus in Bhutan.

Paro Tshechu

The Paro Tshechu is by far the biggest and most popular spring time festival in the country. Thousands of local people join the festivities to celebrate and re-enact the most popular historical legends in Bhutanese culture. Tourists all speak highly of this festival and the intricate masks, awesome food and vibrant feel of the event makes it so special. The Tshechu culminates when the spiritual leaders unroll the four storey high thangkha (Buddhist religious scroll). The scroll celebrates Guru Rimpoche and is supposedly over 350 years old!

Jambay Lhakhang Drup

The Jambay Lhakhang Drup is one of the most flamboyant festivals on the Bhutanese calendar. The festival runs over five days with locals taking part in many of the masked dancers. The highlight of the festival is the fire ceremony which sees many locals running underneath an extremely big flaming gate made from local grasses. Another highlight that tourists tend to enjoy is the midnight dancers in which masked performers dance naked around the stage! The performance is meant to increase fertility.

Black-necked Crane festival

The Black-necked Crane festival is always held on the 11th of November each year to celebrate the arrival of the endangered Black-necked Crane to the region. Hosted within the courtyard of Gangtey Gonpa, the dances are mean to raise awareness to the bird’s plight and strengthen the bond between animal and man and raise conservation awareness. The festival is in the beautiful Phobjikha Valley where the cranes arrive each year from the far north.

For more information on Bhutan see this great guide:

3 Reason To Visit Antarctica This Year

July 27, 2016

AntarcticaAntarctica is a land detached, a land of harsh and remote beauty. Anyone who travels to the White Continent cannot help but be enthralled.

As the 2016/17 Antarctic tourist season approaches, we thought we’d share our top 3 reasons to visit Antarctica this year.

The landscape

The moment Antarctica comes into view from your ship you’ll understand why Antarctica is drawing more and more tourists each year.

The landscape is best described as unearthly. There is no preparing visitors for the sheer vastness of the ice and the gigantic size of the icebergs (some of which dwarf your ships).

Blue hued icebergs sit in the water like sculptured masterpieces and the sheer walls of glaciers shoot out of the sea like skyscrapers. If you’re really brave, you can do some camping and hiking in the interior and really experience the cold, weather-beaten landscape for yourself.

The Wildlife

Whilst the landscape is from another planet, the wildlife is the best on the planet!

The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most incredible places on earth for wildlife and tourists can expect to see seals, whales, seabirds and a variety of penguins!

There is almost nowhere on else on earth where you can feel the spray from a whale’s blow hole, stand amidst a king penguin colony or kayak next to a seal. If you’re okay with the cold, you may even consider doing some scuba diving!

The Cruise Itself

Whilst most cruises stay within calm waters and offer up pools and cinemas, Antarctica cruises are not like this. In fact, the cruise from the southern tip of South America to the Antarctic Peninsula crosses one of the most notoriously rough passages on earth – the Drake Passage!

The crossing is generally seen as a right-of-passage for Antarctica tourists and the experience can be one of the most unforgettable of the whole trip (or the worse depending on your capacity to deal with sea sickness!).

Once in Antarctica the waters are generally calm and you sip champagne on the deck whilst viewing towering icebergs and lounging seals. You’ll also be treated to frequent on-board lectures by Antarctic experts and enjoy a daily zodiac trips.

Antarctica trips start from around $5,000 per person for a 10 day trip.

Finding the best golf ball for a beginner

June 29, 2016

golf-balls-beginnersThere are so many things that make up a golf ball. Compression. Layers. Dimples. And obviously price. Where do you start in finding the best golf ball?? Especially for a beginner!

I love the game of golf and have been playing for years. I must’ve started when I was 10 years old and have always tried playing at least once a month. There were times when I played once a week and got my handicap down to a 7. My lowest handicap ever. Now I’m 42 and I chop all day long. I’m playing off a 19 handicap now and I still actually like the beginners golf ball – something that can help me as much as possible. One golf website I visited spells out all the pros and cons for you in plain text and offers a handful of best golf balls for you if you are just starting the game. Or are just not a great golfer, but try get as much enjoyment out of it as possible!

This is a really interesting video, which shows what is inside a golf ball.

My whole family plays golf and my best mates. My brothers are good players with them all being single figures and can whack the golf ball properly! I can’t actually compete. In both score or distance off the tee! BUT when it comes to my mates I clean up. They are dreadful. My best mate Mark barely gets the golf ball out the shadow and also uses a putter that Noah handed down to him. Basically if you blow at it the putter face will crack. Poor guy. He also likes to address the ball with his hands practically lying on the ground so heaven knows how he actually makes contact! However we do actually have a lot of fun when getting together and playing golf.

Another of my mates is a good player although he struggles to actually find the bottom of the cup! It’s almost a case of the closer he gets to the hole the more he panics and stresses! That is because of the thing called “expectation”. If you’re 2 feet away from the hole you are almost expected to make it, not possible to miss. That’s where your mind plays tricks and you bugger it up properly. The further away you are the better. Less expectation!

Anyway I’ll send them both to to start by finding the best golf balls for beginners so they can start to get their games right and actually improve!

Island Peak – A Trekking Peak That Requires Mountaineering Skills

May 6, 2016

island-peak-climbSo for the past three weeks I have been in Nepal trekking around the Goyko and Khumbu Valley region. The trek was amazing!!

We spent two weeks sojourning through the incredible Himalaya, with special highlights of hiking up Gokyo Ri, crossing the Cho La Pass and sleeping a night at Everest Base Camp with one of the climbing expeditions. Suffice to say it was the most incredible trekking experience I have had to date.

The culmination of the experience though was to be the ascent of the 6,192m Island Peak – a trekking peak in Nepal.

I had done quite a bit of research on the trek but nothing could have prepared me for the actual experience. The route prior to 2015’s devastating earthquake looked relatively straightforward – a crossing over a glacier with a 150m ice / snow headwall climb (at 40-50 degrees) followed by a knife edge summit ridge approach.

All of these characteristics remain, but since the earthquake the glacier has opened up to large and ominous crevasses, which necessitate a ladder crossing. Let’s just say this was frightening, but thanks to our awesome Kandoo Adventures team we managed to all get across safely.

But after the glacier crossing we were faced with a headwall that resembled a crazy patchwork of broken ice, similar to an icefall / not a smooth ice wall!

The change has occurred over the past 12 months due to the earthquake and climate change.

Ascending up this type of surface was extreme and really difficult. Descending was worse. Thankfully our experienced team of climbing sherpa were along each step of the way to make the experience safe. Without them I don’t know how we would have reached the summit ridge, which itself has been sheared and shaved by weather conditions that now mean climbers traverse along the ridge as opposed to walking along it.

All in all, our Island Peak experience was an epic, but very well worth it. We all agreed reaching the summit was the hardest thing we have ever done, but by far the most rewarding.

All I recommend to future trekkers is that they have some climbing experience before taking on Island Peak. It is most certainly not a trek. You need to be comfortable wearjng and walking in crampons and using a jumar to ascend a steep ice wall, that is completely broken in places. You also need to be able to abseil or rappel down a steep face.

We used the amazing Kandoo Adventures to get us to the top of Island Peak – check them out here: This free guide site also gave me some great Island Peak information

I’m Officially Addicted to Golf!

golf-beginning-againSo after a 10 year hiatus from playing golf, I recently got back into the game. And now I’m addicted again!

For some weird reason I started playing golf when I was 12 years old. If I recall correctly we had a student living with us at the time and he was really into golf. One day he invited me to the driving range and the rest is history. I was hooked!

I quickly became a decent golfer and by the age 15 I was playing in competitions for my province and had made the first team at my school … which was a big deal as most of the other players were 17 or 18 years old.

But when I turned 18 and discovered partying, girls and alcohol, I slowly lost interest in spending 5-6 hours of my saturday hitting a small white ball around a very big field. By the time I was 23 and left South Africa I had all but given up golf. In fact when I left SA I didn’t even take my golf clubs – they are still stored in my parents garage!

But recently I was invited on a golfing weekend with some colleagues. Initially I was apprehensive. “Would I still be able to hit the ball?” “Am I going to make a fool of myself?” “Would I still have the touch around the greens?”

I quickly got over myself and said Yes!

Well, the long and short of it was that it was an amazing weekend of golfing in Spain. What an incredible destination with awesome golf courses. From the moment I stepped up to the first tea and made contact with the ball I knew I was hooked again. Sure I was a little rusty, particularly around the greens, but I still had the ball striking and long game to carry me through.

On the last day I broke 80, which was a major surprise. My colleagues now think I’m a complete ringer.

So I’m back into the game! Now I need to get all the golf equipment, which ain’t cheap and sign up for a golf membership.

Off to the driving range I go!

Trekking Routes in Nepal

August 28, 2015


Famous for its trekking, the mountains of Nepal attract thousands of hikers a year. The two most popular regions in Nepal to trek are, by far, the Everest region and the Annapurna region. Both regions offer several trekking route options that all offer something different and unique. This article is going to look briefly at each option and what you can expect on the trek.

Everest region

Everest Base Camp

Drawing over 30,000 trekkers a year, the Everest Base Camp trek is by far the most popular trek in Nepal. Following in the footsteps of Hillary and Tenzing, you arrive in Lukla and follow the Khumbu valley trail towards Base Camp. Your trek takes you past Sherpa villagers, cultivated fields, stunning vistas and up onto the peak of Kala Patthar where you will get the best view of Everest in the region! The trek culminates at Base Camp where you can get some close up views of the infamous Khumbu Icefall.

Gokyo Lakes Trek

This is a great option for trekkers that want a slightly longer route. The Gokyo Lakes trek is far less crowded and really allows you to get off the beaten path. There are three holy lakes that are a beautiful emerald green and reflect the surrounding mountains like a mirror – beautiful. Not only do you get the stunning lakes but you also pass over the dramatic Cho La pass which gives you some incredible vistas.

Annapurna region

Annapurna Circuit trek

Described as one of the best treks in the world, the Annapurna Circuit trek is a truly once in a life-time experience and should not be missed. Beginning at Besi Sahar the trek rambles along through meadows in sub-tropical conditions before rising into the higher alpine section and then passing over the famous Thorung La pass with its stunning vistas. You then descend down into the more arid region of Mustang before continuing back to your start point.

Poon Hill trek

The Poon Hill trek is an ideal option for beginner trekkers or trekkers that have less time on their hands. Poon Hill trek consists of a small circular rout that takes you to the summit of Poon Hill where you are rewarded with incredible views of the Annapurnas, Dhaulagiri and Machhapuchchre.

Annapurna Sanctuary trek

This beautiful lodge-based trek takes you up to the summit of Poon Hill on the same route as the Poon Hill trek where you get the amazing vista views of the surrounding landscape. It then takers you down into the deep valley where you follow the river along with towering mountain on either side of you forming the ‘sanctuary’.

Machu Picchu Trail Options

August 1, 2015

machu-picchu-trailsThe famous Inca Trail is one of the most iconic hiking routes in the world. However, this is not the only route up to Machu Picchu as we will discuss here.

Firstly, of course, is the Inca Trail itself. This route is so popular that it can only be completed with a licensed trekking company. There are a limited amount of permits each day and these book out fast – so make sure you book at least 4 months in advance!

There are three Inca Trail routes. The first is the ‘classic’ Inca Trail which takes 4 days and covers a distance of 45km.
The second is the ‘short’ Inca Trail route. This only takes two days and covers a distance of 13km.

The third is known as the ‘Salkantay’ or ‘combo’ route. This is the longest route and takes 6 days with a distance of 65km.

Read about the Inca and their trails here.

Alternative Machu Picchu Routes

Now that we have covered the most popular routes let’s look at the lesser known routes to Machu Picchu.

The little known ‘Lares’ trek is a 4 day long hike that covers a distance of 33km. This trek is a great way to meet the locals and immerse yourself in the local culture.

The most popular non-Inca route is probably the ‘Salkantay’ trek. This is a 5 day trek over 55km and offers up incredible scenery allowing you to get close and personal with Nevada Salkantay!

Another trek for the thrill seekers is the Inca ‘Junge’ trek. This is a great downhill cycle trek – incredibly fast (60km) and nice easy walking trek (15km).

The ‘Choquequirao’ trek is a very versatile hike and can be shortened or lengthened at will. At its longest it’s a 65km 9 day trek that runs past the impressive Choquequirao ruins.

The ‘Huchuy Qosko’ trek is a fairly short 3 day trek over 20km. This short trek has great scenery and passes by the Huchuy Qosko ruins which a worth a visit!

The last route is the ‘Vilcabamba’ trek. This particular trek would suit experienced hikers and is probably the toughest trek up to Machu Picchu. 62km over 5 days, the trail is beautiful and diverse.

Click here to find out more on Machu Picchu treks or check out this Machu Picchu online guide.

Getting to Kilimanjaro – Flights and other ways!

July 13, 2015

get-to-kilimanjaroAre you travelling to Kilimanjaro to climb the Roof of Africa?

If so you are probably wondering what is the best way to get to Kilimanjaro. This question is obviously highly dependent on where you are coming from.

In this short article we have set out how you can get to Kilimanjaro from most of the main hubs around the world.

The most convenient and closest airport to the mountain for trekkers is Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO), which is situated just south-west of the National Park, and approx. 1 hour from Arusha and Moshi.

Unfortunately there are not many direct flights to Kilimanjaro airport, and none from the US or UK.

The most convenient way of getting to Kilimanjaro if you are flying from the UK, US or Europe is to go via Amsterdam, and then catch a direct flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport via KLM. This flight leaves Amsterdam in the mid morning and gets to Kili around 8pm.

If this flight doesn’t work for you there are two more direct flights from the Northern Hemisphere – one departs from Doha, using Qatar Airways and the other from Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. The latter doesn’t leave everyday and departs and arrives at unsociable hours – 2am and 3am respectively.

If you are willing to fly to Kilimanjaro International Airport indirectly then you could look at flights via Nairobi in Kenya or Addis Adaba in Ethiopia. There are flights with Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airways that fly from many of the world’s major hub airports to these destinations. Once here you can catch a connecting flight using Precision Air of Kanya Airways to Kilimanjaro.

From the United Kingdom, you can also get a British Airways flight to Nairobi.

Please be aware though that flights via Nairobi and Addis Adaba often suffer from delays, which can mean you miss your Kilimanjaro trek date. Also there are frequent reports of lost or delayed baggage so make sure you wear your key equipment, like your hiking boots and jacket, and carry some of your key information in your carry on luggage.

You can find complete information on how to get to Kilimanjaro on this page.

If you are still looking for a tour operator, I recommend Kandoo Adventures. Or if you a solo female trekker check out Ladies Trekking in Kilimanjaro.

Things to bring to Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit

March 31, 2015

annapurna-circuit-packing-listWhen pondering what to pack for a trek to Everest Base Canp or on the Annapurna Circuit, clothing should be addressed separately. Your possessions, all told, should amount to no more than 33-and-a-bit lbs when flying to Lukla or Pokhara. When you see the planes and the airport, you will appreciate why. So avoid overpacking. This is recommended by TAAN.

Inevitably, you will go for days between showers and you will perspire (horses sweat, gentlemen perspire and ladies glow). You must accept that you will smell somewhat “fruity,” which is easier considering that everybody else will, too. The necessary toiletries are hand sanitiser, shampoo, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, a razor for males, deodorant, SPF50 sun cream, wet wipes because water will be too cold for washing, a generous supply of toilet paper considering that there is little chance of finding any at a tea house, and a small medical kit. This latter should include ibuprofen, imodium, nail clippers, neosporin, plasters, surgical tape and diamox for altitude sickness. 12 diamox tablets can be purchased in Kathmandu for around $4, which is rather less than the cost of a prescription in the United Kingdom. When performing your ablutions, you will of course require a towel, which should be quick-dry.

In the way of electronics, you are likely to feel the need for an iPad for uploading photos, an iPhone which will function periodically, headphones, a camera and chargers. You will save yourself some money if you have a solar-powered battery pack rather than a charger.

A Steripen for water purification is a very good idea, as water purification tablets usually take half an hour and have such a lovely taste. You will need a small bag which will be carried by your porter, a daypack with cover you will carry and two water bottles of which one is Nalgene style for easy Steripen purification and one Swix style which is metal and can be taken to bed, heated. It is also wise to bring a Camelbak that fits inside your daypack and enables hands-free hydration. A sleeping bag liner or silk sleep sheet will prevent blankets or a sleeping bag from reeking to excess. Undertaking a mid-night bathroom run and reading after lights-out are occasions when you will feel the need for a headlamp, and the former will surely come to pass owing to that confection of mountain air and diamox tablets. A book and playing cards will keep you occupied of an evening. You will wish to have a written record of your doings, so bring a journal and pen.

On a final note, chocolate, granola or energy bars will provide a mid-hike power boost. Trekking poles will be a lifesaver during steep ascents. A face mask will be useful – the trek can be dusty.

Here is a link to a brilliant Annapurna Circuit Packing List, and here is another link to a great Everest Base Camp Packing List.

Don’t Consider Taking the Inca Trail without Hiking Poles

December 24, 2014

inca-trail-trekking-polesRay Jardine is the famed and highly-opinionated US rock climber who, with his companion, was the first to free climb the West Face of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley and designed and produced a kind of spring-loaded camming device that revolutionised rock climbing in the late 1970s. He is against the use of trekking poles, considering them unnecessary given correct training and exercise and less important than an umbrella.

Many Inca Trail guides, however, disagree, as do innumerable books. You may start out regarding hiking poles as goofy, but once converted, you would probably take them with you to the supermarket if only your spouse would allow it. Purchasing poles can be injurious to your pocket if you opt for sophisticated, height-adjustable poles constructed from lightweight (= costly) composite substances.

Rather than being just another way to sell more gear, hiking poles have been used by travellers for centuries. They were “multi-tools” before the term was invented. They can be used to pitch a shelter, probe stream crossings or defend against wild animals and bandits (perhaps not an issue on the Inca Trail). No woodsman would ever be without one. They can be hired, although in such a case, they will not be in an immaculate state. Trekkers often concede that they will use poles when their back, knees, legs or whatever gets worse, but prevention in such a key respect is massively better than cure.

There are downsides to sticks. Firstly, they represent extra weight. Ski poles are on the US Transportation Security Agency’s list of items prohibited as carry-on luggage. Also, umbrellas are indispensable on the Inca Trail, but it would be awkward to combine the use of one and a stick and no umbrella will last long if used as a stick. Similarly, you may wish to keep your hands free to use a camera and you will certainly need to do so to use handholds on rockfaces or a map. At least you will have no need for an ice axe. You should devote some attention to walking technique when using poles, as detailed at Peter Clinch’s Hiking Poles Page. Failure to do so could reduce the poles’ effectiveness.

One factor concerning poles that is oft-neglected is they they require more kundlini, or energy, if you can’t speak Sanskrit. Yours arms were not designed to prop you up, so they perform this task inefficiently. But while more energy is used, by creating more contact points, the load is more evenly spread around your body and your legs are not doing all the work. It all depends on whether you have more concern for your knees or your whole body.

The upside of sticks is that they improve your balance and reduce the load on your knees by as much as 25 percent. They are indispensable for people with knee problems. The steeper a hill, the more welcome will be poles, as they will put you into 4×4 mode to work against gravity. They greatly assist in tackling vast sets of Incan stairs, and will be 1,500 of those along the way. They help you to balance on climbs and water crossings. They are like having a handrail all along the trail. They are a godsend when the terrain is wet, rocky or slippery and guides speak of “ankle-breakers” and “knee-destroyers.” The terrain of the Inca Trail is sufficiently rugged to make hiking poles or merely a stick close to a necessity.

On a final note, trekking poles with metal tips are not permitted on the Inca Trail because they damage it. They loosen the soil, and farmers have long known that loosened soil erodes faster than compacted soil, which is why farmers often prefer “no till” or at least a minimum of it. Rubber tips can be purchased from any camping shop. This is an important point: poles are the first thing inspected at checkpoints after your permit and passport.

For a complete packing list see:

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