From our final house in the lower valleys of the Kumaon Hills (read about our walk here), Julian and I were heading closer to the snow line of the Himalayas and, as you can imagine, getting to such a location wasn’t going to be easy. A six hour bone shaker of a drive on eternally winding pot holed roads almost got us there, but not quite. When the road ran out we had to complete the last hour on foot, our bags (shamefully) carried by tiny Indian ladies in bright saris and flip flops.
At the top however, our spirits soared and the journey was erased from our memory when we found Himalayan heaven – set on a plateau, in rural isolation, our lodge came with the most breath-taking 360 views over tiny villages and verdant terraces (that seemed to hug the hillsides a little too precariously), down to the raging Ramganga river and then across to the snow-capped Himalaya.
The scene is hypnotic with rhododendron trees in early bloom, their vibrant red flowers contrasting against the snow-capped Himalayan peaks, whilst neon green terraces dotted with tiny villages cascade down vertigo inducing valleys. This was a daily event on the recent walking trip we (Julian and me) did in the little known but immensely pretty region of Kumaon in India’s northwest state of Uttarakhand.
I’ve been to the Himalayas before – once as a student when I trekked on well-trodden routes between tea houses in Nepal (each stuffed to the rafters with backpackers), the other when I completed the Mount Jhmolari base camp trek in Bhutan where nights were spent uncomfortably under canvas (read about it here). But, this trip was different. This trip had us walking well off the beaten track – in fact the only western face we saw was an ageing hippy leftover from when the area was popular with the likes of the Beatles and Bob Dylan. An area untouched by tourism brought with it encounters that were fresh and authentic. And, as for the accommodation, it was supremely comfortable with not a teahouse or tent in sight.
I first visited Laos back in 2001 and instantly fell in love with its heady beauty: there was a slowness to life that totally absorbed me, the people were the friendliest and most happy I’d come across in all of South East Asia, the luscious landscapes were stunning and being there felt like stepping back in time.
Each time I return to Laos I always worry that development will have ruined this sleepy little country but, luckily that hasn’t happened yet. Yes, Laos is developing but thankfully at a much slower pace than its Tiger economy neighbours (Vietnam, Thailand and China) – the country certainly sits in their shadow when it comes to tourist numbers. This is good because, unlike many places in South East Asia, it means you can still get a truly authentic experience. Don’t worry though, although some areas are difficult to get to and you’ll undoubtedly experience a few bumps along the way, there’s some excellent accommodation to choose from and, as I experienced on my most recent trip, these are popping up in some of the more remote locations so you can actually get off the beaten track without sacrificing on comfort and luxury. Read more
Hitting January can often be difficult: those 6am wake up calls (after long lie-ins over the Xmas period) are a shock to the system; the month usually involves some form of abstinence after the weeks of festive excess which, let’s face it, can be a bit demoralising; and it’s almost guaranteed that the weather will be cold, wet and miserable. However, the one thing that always gets me through January, and is guaranteed to put a smile on my face, is the thought of all the travels I have planned for the year ahead. Travelling (even) more than I did the year before is a resolution I make every year and one that is actually fun and exciting to achieve!
So what travel experiences am I looking forward to in 2014?
After my recent trip around Cambodia taking in rural village life, buzzy towns and the temples of Angkor (you can read about that bit of my trip here), I was in need of some time to unwind before heading back to the UK. A few years ago, if you wanted to tag on some time at the beach after a trip around Cambodia – in accommodation anywhere half decent (and by that I mean not favoured by the backpacking fraternity) and that didn’t require a long day’s drive to get there – you would have had to fly to Thailand. Now however, new internal flights and improved roads have brought with them some rather nice beach accommodation.