Honey I’m home

It feels really strange being back in blighty, simply because it doesn’t feel strange.  It doesn’t feel like I left at all in fact.  I was met by Nanny and Mum and my Aunty Sue at Heathrow, equipped with a homemade glittery sign attached to a fly swatter!

ImageThey met me with the requested welcome committee supplies of a flask of green tea, but I got a box of macaroons to boot.  We then headed to Nanny’s for some crumpets and Marmite, the staple foods I had been missing.

ImageI’m already enjoying the creature comforts, the simple things in life, the water from a tap luxuries and the distinct lack of cockroaches.  My sleeping pattern is all over the shop. I was up at 5am in Kathmandu and didn’t get to sleep until 1:30am in England, so only 1 hour sleep in 25 has turned me upside down. Very excited for the summer so it feels good to be back.

 

 

Goodbye Asia, thanks for having me

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I found this nice passage in the journal of a travel writer describing their experiences in Tibet. Its unusual for me to relate to such cliched travel tales of ‘finding yourself’ but this trip has given me a level of self assurance I could never have imagined when I set off. My creativity has been restored beyond my wildest dreams and the yoga helped to assert fearless expression of my true self. I’m so contented and bewildered by my travels and its rekindled my enormous wonderlust. I cannot wait to venture to other continents and the southern hemisphere in particular.
So I guess I should attempt to surmise the first half of 2013 and the first continent in my travels.
I’ll work chronologically in order to try and remember it all.
Thailand
My first stop was a return to Thailand. I eased myself in gently by going back to somewhere familiar. But this time instead of going east to west, I went from south to north. Learning to dive was sensational, such a completely new experience and night diving will probably remain one of the coolest things I’ll ever do in my life. I’m still fairly certain that my most memorable night in 5 months was spent celebrating Chinese New year in Chinatown in Chiang Mai. The land of the Thai is also the place I met the best travel partner I could’ve hoped for so it is probably held in higher regard due to those extra brownie points.
Laos
Laos was our next destination, sadly a very brief whizz through but we took our sweet ass time getting there on a slow boat down the Mekong. Laos was also the setting of the infamous wedding ceremony at a bowling alley with an ordained Canadian! I’m still wearing the ring to date. Not sure if that makes it legit.
Vietnam
We then flew into Vietnam. I was really apprehensive as this nation had been at the top of my to see list for some time. So I really didn’t want to build my hopes up and get disappointed by an anti climax. I didn’t in the slightest. It was everything I hoped and more. The moody mists of Halong Bay were enchanting and Hanoi was a beautiful unexpected gem. The progressive heat increase as we headed south was accompanied by a series of nightbus adventures. Learning to surf in Hoi an was a big highlight but I loved being the navigation passenger on the back of a motorbike just as much. The red sand dunes in Mui ne were gorgeous and made for an exceptional photography opportunity. The war museum in Saigon was a humbling experience. The food was sensational but I was one banh mi away from being a certified fatty! Saying goodbye to someone I had been so inseparable from was one of the most gut wrenching emotional moments of my life. But we had a strange sense of assurance that we’d definitely see each other for future adventures. How right we were!
China
I cannot express my sheer amazement of how I actually ended up in China. It was always such a complete pipe dream but it came true. None of it would have been possible without the sheer brilliance of my visa assistant and personal guide and translator, the wonderful mister Nelson. I am so grateful to him for all his help and truly in awe of his talents. My reflections on China were extensive enough to warrant its own post. But in summary hiking the Great Wall blew my mind as did swimming in the Olympic park. The panda cubs in Chengdu turned me into a complete girl and my day spent in the peoples park was probably the most surreal thing in my life. Zhangjiajie was the best last minute decision. The landscape is so diverse. The sezchuan food hotter than I could have ever conceived and the green tea as superb as I dreamed it would be. Thousands of kilometres on nighttrains paid off. This nation was well worth the whistle stop tour.
Hong Kong
I don’t feel that my brief 24 hours in Hong Kong give me a license to make any significant comment. But the memory of a morbidly obese big beautiful internet host chain eating tins of tuna will probably stay with me for ever. The image is probably etched into my retinas and the stench forever burned into my nostrils. Amazing michelin star dim sum more than made up for it though. I could tolerate the miserable weather there with humility but I towed the line with the lighting bolts surrounding the plane as I left. That I really could have done without.
India
I don’t really know where to begin on my 2 months in India. It was a complete battery on my senses because they were permanently stimulated. I tried to not have any expectations for the yoga teacher training but it really tested my patience. I knew I was committed enough to achieve certification and I’m genuinely proud of myself for my accomplishments during such a heatwave along with all of other incredible people I met during my time in Rishikesh. In hindsight I should never have travelled so quickly through central India in such extreme heat but it was worth it to complete the bucket list. I feel great having only having one bad bout of illness during my whole time there. As debilitating as it was and how mortified I was  throwing up at the border ceremony, I am grateful to have made it to the mountains. Seeing the Dalai Lama teach in his own home was really surreal, purely for how normal it felt. I’ve always been moved by his smile but witnessing it in person is truly heart warming and I’m forever grateful for such a good view! Dharamshala proved inspirational in terms of compelling me to research the history and current situation of Tibet and I’m really looking forward to getting my reading hat on. I’m still flagergasted by Delhi’s relentless attempts to screw me over. Every person is constantly trying to squeeze an extra few hundred rupees out of every conceivable situation. Its exhausting but the brilliance of the goodies makes up for it and restores your faith in human kind.
Nepal
My final destination is a very brief stop in Nepal. But brief is a good thing. Its so hot and humid and rains cats and dogs every day now the monsoon is on its way. Spending a week under the supervision of a teacher and painting thanka in pokhara has been an incredible experience. As was avoiding getting struck by lightning on a lake whilst kayaking, could have done without that vigorous heart exercise. Seeing the fishtail mountain range was superb but hiking in the heat made me glad that I didn’t push myself into a mammoth trek. Kathmandu is in a sunken bowl with the surrounding mountains so the pollution hangs in the dirty air. Not a great fan of that, so its making me all the more excited to fly home.
So in summary I don’t know whether learning to dive and celebrating Chinese New year in Thailand, slow boating and getting married by an ordained Canadian in Laos, learning to surf in Vietnam, walking a stretch of the Great Wall naked or seeing panda cubs in China, avoiding the big beautiful tuna eater in Hong Kong, becoming a certified yoga teacher or projectile vomiting to an audience in India, or learning to paint whilst hiding away from the monsoons or seeing Mount Everest from the sky in Nepal was the highlight of my trip. Either way I’ve had an absolute ball and shared these memories with some incredible folks, and for that I’m truly grateful. Asia has been a real treat and I’m sad to say goodbye to this fabulous continent but here’s to an equally amazing English summer. Tutty bye Asia. Thanks for having me.

What to do?

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Having arrived in Pokhara and being greeted by the rains it was essential to find a wet weather plan. A plan that didn’t involve a leech fest.
I saw a painting in Dharamshala and fell in love with it but it was far too big and too late in the day to commission one so I let go of the pipe dream.
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However a studio with similar work resides just a few doors down from my guesthouse so I made some enquiries. Low and behold myself and Manoj are now working collaboratively on a piece. So the picture above gives you some insight into my new home for the next week. I have only 7 days until I leave town so we’re really up against the wall but I’ll document the ongoing process.
It all starts with the anally retentive geometry to get the proportions and alignment right so I’m back in heaven again after chakra club closed down.
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You must get all of the precise measurements correct right down to every millimeter otherwise you have to start again. Luckily there was only one learning curve but I wish it could have been learned on rough paper!
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Now everything is sketched out and ready for colour and its crushing watching all of your hard work being painted over to create the base coat. But fear not all is well the outline still shows through enough.  The canvas is quite rough for fine line work so we had to paint over the plastic finish acrylic with an emulsion to get a better base. I’ve used a yellow ocre base coat for warmth as I want the colours to be subtle and natural. Some of the thanka works are really bright garish patterns using uv paints. This is a more contemporary adaption to suit the hallucinagenic loving market. I’ve opted for the 300 year old traditional route only using soft and peaceful colours that come from the earth.
This is the progress limit for day 3 with a Beatles backcatalog soundtrack. Most of the linework is done and the shading in the lower half is starting to take place. Really pleased to see how its coming together.
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I had joked about needing a project to get some focus here otherwise the days just disappear with nothing to show for it. This at first seemed like I’d bitten off more than I could chew. But I’m really glad I bothered.
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After day 4 we are now finished. It was worth the patience invested, it looks fantastic. Sadly the picture doesn’t do it any justice as it looks really stark but I’ll try and get a good shot up later.

NepAldershot

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By the time I made it to Kathmandu I was a complete zombie. A man one seat across from me was sick on the nightbus to Delhi so I finally made use of the facemask to protect me from the smell. I’m so glad I opted to fly in rather than take the 3 day local bus option. Although I’ve managed to get charged twice for the same flight so it’ll be a barrel of laughs trying to claim that back at present.
Kathmandu is really polluted so I continued with my face mask accessorising. I got on a bus to Pokhara after just one night in the capital to try and make the most of the tranquility of the mountains. Lakeside is much more relaxed and the view from my balcony as you can see above is stunning.
I’ve embarked on a time consuming project that’s preventing me from seeing my new environment but as its raining cats and dogs most days its probably for the best that I have something to focus on. More detailed post on that to come.
We decided to kayak around the lake in tandem. Little did we know there was only one in town to hunt down. Ganesh Kayaking stocks the only 2 man kayak as all the solo boats are flown in. The kayak we took was shipped in especially for a sponsored expedition. Turns out that an American climber and a sherpa summited Everest then paraglided down from base camp and spent 29 days making their way to Calcutta by this very kayak. A bit of an intimidating act to follow as it belittled our efforts of making our way around the lake but at least we knew it was a sturdy vessel. Which was extremely fortunate as the black clouds engulfed us from all angles and lightning bolts struck the waters surface with unbelievably loud cracks.
After 6 hours of exercise I have reignited my tiger balm obsession for my shoulders and dead arms.
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But this is the lake we navigated so as you can see it was totally worth the aching and fear of electrocution.
We hiked up to Sarangkot to view the fishtail mountain range. It involved a full on physical geography discussion about cloud formations which was right up my street. Luckily enough we were just in time for the cumulonimbus to clear the view leaving only a few wispy stratus clouds. The view of the highest peak (just short of 7000m) was spectacular. Check out those glaciers…
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It was a great day for paragliding and lots of people were flying really close to each other so my heart was in my mouth for the entire climb and descent.
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I have noticed that most of Asia deems shoes that make the sound of a squeaky toy suitable footwear for public transport and dress their infants in them. They are wrong. It is unacceptable. Especially on hot sweaty buses on winding mountain roads. Made it back to Kathmandu in one piece. 24 hours left in Asia. Mixed emotions doesn’t even cut it.

Take me to the mountains

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This will be a mammoth post as this is the longest period of time I’ve spent in one place in 5 months outside of Rishikesh.
Mcleod Ganj is absolutely fantastic. I’m so glad I made the journey up here.
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The mountains are beautiful and the weather is much cooler. So much so that it was possible to trek up to Triund, 2900m above sea level and return on the same day.
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We had an absolute blast, a gang of four of us from the teacher training course, so we giggled all the way. There was an abundance of goats. One of which was repeatedly trying to kiss my mouth whilst we had a chai break! We made it back down within a split second of the thunderstorm starting. We’re so lucky because it poured intensely and I never appreciate slip and slides back down.
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We had a big discussion along the way about our hiking technique, noting our use of a dominant leg. This is the result of that the following morning. Luckily I am fortuitous enough to have moved in with the amazing Sabrina who was able to work her physio therapist magic. Once upon a time this level of hiking would’ve had me knocked out for days but thanks to the yoga my body bounces back quite well.
I had a great day horse riding in the mountains up to the holy Dal Lake and the Tibetan children’s village. My horse was so responsive to even the slightest command which was useful when you have sheer drops mms to your left throughout!
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I prepared for the talks from the Dalai Lama by going to another Buddhist teaching from Gen Gyatso at the Tushita Temple. It gave me a nice introduction to catch me up to speed. His mobile phone rang whilst he was talking and he was profusely apologising whilst cracking up with laughter retelling a story of how he said to a monk long ago that one day this would happen because he still doesn’t know how to use it. Priceless!
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Sabrina and I made it to the talks. Its wonderful seeing his holiness in the flesh. Sadly the translator has been translating into English in segments rather than concurrently so we have been missing out on big chunks of material. There was some really interesting concepts on the need for secular ethics but we didn’t receive the full translation. It is a great shame as I’m sure I would’ve found this fascinating so I’ll have to grab his book entitled beyond religion for my impending flights.
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I’ll also have to do some further research into the Free Tibet movement. I caught a great documentary at the Tibet museum next to the temple complex but I don’t feel knowledgeable enough having seen the one exhibition. So more reading on the cards once I get home.
I really don’t feel ready to leave here yet but my flight awaits me tomorrow in Delhi so I have the first night bus in 3 months on the cards. A takeaway sandwich from next door should soften the blow mind.
As I’ve said before the hardest part is always the goodbyes. Sabrina has been incredible. We’ve become quite the elderly lady duo. I will miss her dearly but look forward to a RYP gathering in Berlin. I also have to leave behind my faithful hound.
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He’s the most handsome puppy and he is rather reluctant to let me leave. He keeps profusely biting my trousers everytime I walk away. I can’t quite believe we’ve gotten this attached. If there was any chance of shipping him to England I would do it for sure.
From one set of mountains to another. Just one more sleep (hopefully I’ll get some on the bus) until Nepal and only 2 more weeks until the big flight home.

Kate vs. Food

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This is a snapshot of the enormous set meal I had at the Japanese restaurant. A not for profit vegetarian set up on Jogiwara Road. Now many people have told me that I really should write a food blog. Mainly because I often have elaborate conversations about food and have even been known to use the adjectives gelatinous, glutenous and stodgy in the same discussion. The inner fat kid inside me would really indulge in this. However these are the reasons why I really shouldn’t.
I’ve been staying in Mcleod Ganj, home to some of the best eateries for a little while now and all my self control left with the taxi that dropped me here. Worst of all I’m staying at Kunga guesthouse attached to the phenomenal Nicks cafe. The staff here are fantastic and the food is delicious. They make their own fresh pasta, pizzas and gnocchi, so a mere few steps from my room is a whole world of temptation. One of the yoga teachers in Rishikesh warned us that this place is a black hole. Self practice goes out the window and all you do is eat all day apparently…he was spot on.
You can find any type of cuisine here imaginable. The newly opened Korean place on Bhagsu Road is out of this world. Yesterday we visited the vegan Maya cafe in Daramhkot. Their smoothies have to be devoured with a spoon as it is too thick to drink through a straw!
I had the most delicious beverage of my life at The Commonground. A scrummy hot white chocolate with cardamon and cinnamon.
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The restaurant next door, Lhamo Croissant, bakes fresh daily and the smells wafting in is pure torture. I was very well behaved though and had the club salad there the other day, a salad big enough for 3. It contained home made hummous, delicious English cheddar, boiled egg and tuna. Served in a pyrex dish bigger than my head. All topped off with a delicious fresh dressing and bread straight out the oven.
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However last night I had a tuna melt sandwich. Which is 2 bloody doorstep sandwiches! We then shared a piece of banana chocolate cake and a slice of lemon tart. Complete guilty pleasure.
I had my first pizza in 4 months. A Hawaiian to boot. My favourite flavour made in a wood fired oven. It was ridiculously huge but I managed to eat it due to the severe stretching my stomach has undergone since arriving here.
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The strange thing about staying here is that you completely defy your body’s instincts. You eat beyond being full and intentionally chose unhealthy things you wouldn’t normally pick. My logical reasoning is that the food really is genuinely incredible. Whatsmore its a quarter of the price you would pay for it in the west. So your brain tells you its a reasonable decision, in fact a sensible one because you could never afford this opulence back home. Needless to say I’ve indulged myself along with everyone around me. But my goodness its been an utterly delicious week. Its a good job I’m leaving this godforsaken town for Nepal tomorrow. The hiking may just with any luck counteract this gluttony.
Now for some food-related comedy gold…
Old monk rum balls in a jar. A local sweet delicacy.
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Some ingenious marketing from the Drum Stick Restaurant. Ridiculous logo but a delicious crispy pork with pok choy.
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And finally. Have you ever seen a pug eat a whole tomato? Well you have now!
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Why would anyone in their right mind want to go traveling?

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I really can’t comment too extensively on Amritsar as it was an arduous 24 hour challenge of mental strength and will. When skeptics of the traveling lifestyle query as to why you like traveling so much, you often find yourself coming across extremely positive, glowing about all of your exciting destinations. My time in the Punjab supports the skeptics. It proves that traveling isn’t always a breeze and can be really hard work both physically and mentally challenging.
I took a night train (sleeper class) from Delhi. It was scorching and i walked the ran length of the train twice before jumping on to find my seat due to wrong advice. I woke up in the morning feeling terrible. I put it down to dehydration abduction drank as much water as I could.
I arrived at the train station and had to climb down the train ladder with my backpack on down to the tracks and squeeze between the other trains feeling rough as hell. I made it to the golden temple hoping to find the accommodation. I couldn’t. Noone understood my incomprehensible slurring so I found the nearest hotel and checked in. I had a room on the top floor hotter than I have ever known on earth.
By now I had drank litres and overdone it on the electrolytes and started throwing up. I still hadn’t eaten anything so slept as best aim could. I was determined to go the Indian Pakistani border ceremony. I dragged myself there sharing a rickshaw with 3 guys from Kashmir. I got the VIP gallery and watched the proceedings with little amusement. The pantomime esque foot stomp under normal circumstances would’ve at least raised a smirk. As soon as it finished I made an escape and proceeded to projectile vomit everywhere…with a full audience!
I could only sleep that night by soaking my pajamas in luke warm water and laying under the fan. The heat was indescribable. The fan simply moved hot air around.
After a full night of puking I decided to get out of town as soon as possible. Nobody was interested in trying to help me. The only assistance I could get was from a guy in reception who wanted to practice his German with me. I gave up and spent a full days budget on a private taxi and headed for the mountains.
I have since seen a lovely fella that I last saw in Delhi. We left at the same time. Turns out he had exactly the same symptoms poor guy. Traveling alone when you are that unwell really isn’t fun but I’m so glad that this is the first and hopefully only occasion in India in 2 whole months.