Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is chaotic, mesmerising, fascinating and exhausting all at the same time. This slightly bonkers city is an absolute assault on the senses but it’s also utterly captivating and I first fell under its spell when I arrived on the overnight bus from India – a journey that has haunted me for over 20 years!
Now don’t get me wrong, compared to an Indian city, Kathmandu was still a mad old place with the same persistent stall holders and imploring beggars. But it was different. With the legions of trekkers visiting the area over the years, the city had come to cater very nicely for the needs of the independent western traveller – the pizzerias with wood fired pizza, cafés offering salads washed in filtered water and German bakeries with the best tasting cakes, were like nirvana to me after spending months in India living on Dahl!
But then I got seduced by the vibrancy of the city and discovered the pure joy of wandering the maze of narrow streets uncovering hidden temples overflowing with bright coloured flowers, stumbling across little courtyards with medieval-looking workshops where artisans plied their trade by hand, mooching around bazaars selling produce of every colour, shape and smell imaginable and succumbing to religion as it’s everywhere.
Visiting many years later, the city had certainly grown beyond recognition and indeed sprawled to the edges of the valley, almost butting up against the Himalaya that circle it. But, although now very much a busy and hectic developing city, I was relieved to find that Kathmandu still had the charm I fell in love with many years ago, and with much of its architectural heritage subject to preservation programmes, the oldest areas are still a delight to behold. Read more
There’s a local phrase in Costa Rica which is on everyone’s lips, “pura vida”. Roughly translated it means pure life but in reality it means all’s well and life is great and it really is the answer to everything! I reckon that’s why the local Ticos are so warm and friendly and the whole place seems to have a relaxed vibe.
At just two thirds the size of Scotland, Costa Rica is a small country that manages to pack a lot in. It’s a nature lover’s paradise with active volcanoes, adventurous activities, alluring cloud forests and verdant rain forests teeming with exotic birds and other wildlife. There are plenty of beaches too, if you want to throw in some rest and relaxation. There’s enough to see and do to keep everyone interested which is why it makes a great destination for both couples and families.
Here are some of the highlights that I experienced on a recent trip to Costa Rica: Read more
I’d read about the wild and stunning Northumberland scenery and its rugged coastline, but always wondered whether it was worth a trip, especially as there didn’t seem anywhere decent to stay and I was never into Harry Potter, which was filmed up there.
So, when I heard about a medieval pub in a quaint village which was undergoing a smart makeover, I got the long weekend booked. And, I have to say, I’m so glad I did. Julian and I left asking why, as lovers of Great Britain’s big country (not the 80’s band incidentally), we hadn’t been before.
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.