Friday, 29 June 2007
Take care everyone and see you all in the future.......unless you found this page by random and i don't know you.....................probably won't see you.
Friday, 22 June 2007
Monday, 18 June 2007
Sunday, 17 June 2007
Russia is both great and not so great in equal measure. Crossing the border was terrifying in every way. It wasn't manned by civil servants like a normal country but the military and they aren't paticulary cudly. The main problem was that no-one spoke English so we never had any idea what was going on. Some how we hadn't made any mistakes on all our forms and we were allowed through. Petersburg is nice but it is very European in appearance. There are odd Russian touches here and there but if it wasn't for the drunk army soldiers and crumbling buildings you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in Paris. Tomorrow we have an eight hour train journey to Moscow which will be interesting. we can't read our tickets at all but the lovely lady at the hostel translated everything for us so hopefully we'll be ok. met some great people at the Hostel and we've been out with a few of them from our room. A real good mix of backgrounds and you're always bumping into someone new. Backpacking is strange. We're not locals, but we're not tourists. We're very much an underground group that you probably won't notice. We eat with the locals (pointing at the menu always works, if not pot noodles are 6 pence) and we head to the tourist destinations with the tourists (though we can't afford to do more than one tourist thing a day). Ask anyone in the hostel what they did today and they'll answer that they wandered. This is what we do and its the best way to see a city. No metro's or buses. Pick an area and just go. you see so much that way and all of our favourite times have come about by wandering. we wouldn't have seen Petersburg come to a standstill when the traffic lights went down; we wouldn't have seen a crazy dance group bury themselves to their waists in the beach before dancing and we wouldn't have seen all of the fantastic eighties hairstyles and fashions that the russian people enjoy.
Anyway, thats enough for now, i'm of to be shouted at by a supermarket check out girl for not having correct change!
Saturday, 16 June 2007
So this isn't being maintained very well is it. Problem is there is only one computer in the hostel and it is always occupied. Right now there are a couple of austrailians staring at me. i aint going no where yet though, in your face convicts! well until katherine is ready to go back out anyway. Another thing is its hard to devote time to sit down and type when you're somewhere amazing. st petersburg is such a place. it has such grand and epic architecture but they are in such a bad state. what isn't crumbling away is being repaired but with no regard for health and safety. and i mean really. plus they drive worse than bradford. and yesterday all the traffic lights went down causing utter chaos. The streets were filled wth the sound of horns.Only in Russia. Hopefully later i'll be able to type some sort of diary thing as right now it's getting towards midday and we are off to the hermitage which is the russian equivalent of the british museum. I can honestly say though that unlike finland russia truly seems foreign and very alien. Hardly anyone speaks english, everything is written in cyrillic and it isn't overcast. very odd.
i know they're are spellng mistakes here but this is truly a bad keyboard. Oh and russia doesn't seem to have doughnuts but i'm not giving up yet. For those of you that are doughnut watching finland gets a 9/10
Wednesday, 13 June 2007
Tuesday, 5 June 2007
A special thanks to Christopher James Sands for his contribution to editing. Some might have viewed his remarks as petty and snide but I saw them as a mild help. Thank you sir, thank you.
Despite his problems, please do check out his cool piano song and accompanying video on his myspace site.
Arriving back in to Tianjin on the 12th of August we immediately travel back to Beijing. The very next day (13th August) we start our China tour with Intrepid, entitled "Mountains and Monasteries". The trip lasts for 28 days and ends in Kathmandu on the 9th September. Below is an slightly edited version of Intrepid's own itinery for the trip and they, of course, own copyright to it. This is why it's written in such bad grammer.
Days 1-3 Beijing
Our journey commences in the Chinese capital, Beijing, one of the world's most impressive cities. There's just so much to do in this vibrant city! There are no planned activities on Day 1, except for the group meeting, which will be held at 6 pm. On Day 2 we spend a day at the Great Wall at Mutinayu (approximately 2 hrs each way). An incredible feat of engineering, the Wall stretches 6000km westwards from the mountain ridges north of Beijing. It was originally constructed to protect the Chinese empires from the 'barbarians' of the north. On the morning of day 3 we visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, accompanied by a local guide. Other sights that you might want to visit during your free time include the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace and Yonghegong Tibetan Monastery. Or you may just want to spend time shopping in the capital's many markets or get lost in the maze of hutongs (old alleyways) to catch a glimpse of what life is like for Beijing locals. In the evenings there's the option to catch a performance of the Beijing Acrobats or some opera. Late afternoon of day 3 we board an overnight sleeper train to Xi'an (approximately 15 hours).
Days 4-5 Xi'an
Gateway to the Silk Road and the imperial centre of China for 2000 years, Xi'an is now a lively city and great fun to explore. The Great Mosque is a wonderfully serene place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and splurging in the evening food markets is a must! The centre of Xi'an is surrounded by an enormous city wall which can be climbed for a small fee, and is best seen while the sun sets over the city. In the early mornings you can watch performances of ballroom dancing and tai chi. Xi'an is also our base for visiting the amazing Terracotta Warriors. Discovered by a farmer in 1974, these soldiers have been buried for over 2000 years and are all facing east in battle formation, complete with horses and chariots. On day 5 we have a full day free to explore Xian before departing on an overnight train bound for Lanzhou (approximately 13 hours).
Days 6-7 Xiahe
Situated in the valley of the Yellow River, Lanzhou stretches for nearly 30km along the banks of the river. We transfer onto a local bus for a long journey through Linxia to the Tibetan town of Xiahe (approximately 5 hours). A favourite Intrepid destination, Xiahe is home to the Labrang Monastery, second in size only to the Potala Palace in Lhasa. It is a stunning place where many Tibetans come on pilgrimage, dressed in their colourful traditional attire. There is a prayer circuit forming a complete circle around the Labrang Monastery and we can accompany the pilgrims turning prayer wheels. Xiahe is a marvellous place to wander around and gives us a great introduction to the Tibetan way of life. In the afternoon of day 7 we take a private bus to the small town of Langmusi (approx 5 hours).
Day 8 Langmusi
This tiny town, on the border of Sichuan and Gansu Provinces, takes us back in time with its colourful mix of nomads and Tibetan monks, and hardly a tourist in sight. It's a great place to experience Tibetan life and at about 3500m also a welcome acclimatisation stop. Our accomodation is basic and the roads are rough, just the way Intrepid likes it! We tour a working monastery with our local guide.
Days 9-10 Homestay/Tibetan Grasslands
From Langmusi we have a 5-hour drive to Thangkor taking in the Tibetan nomadic lifestyle, beautiful views and the first bend in the Yellow River. In this serene town, we stay in basic Tibetan-style accommodation where luxury facilities are scarce. Day 10 We spend a day visiting monasteries and observing Tibetan life on the fringe of the plateau, as well as visiting a Tibetan school for the chance to teach some English or just play with the kids. There's plenty of free time to relax in the peaceful surrounds, before our descent off the plateau to Go Er Gou, our overnight stay on the way to Chengdu for our flight to Lhasa.
Day 11 Chengdu
After an early start, 5 hours later (by private bus) brings us to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, through amazing scenery, with the chance to see various Tibetan ethnic groups in traditional dress. Chengdu, home of the spicy hot pot, is our departure point from China-proper into Tibet. If we arrive in time there is the option of seeing the famous Chengdu Panda Research and breeding centre.
Days 12-16 Lhasa
On Day 12 we have a 1-hour drive to Chengdu Airport to board our flight to Gongkar Airport, 2 hours from Lhasa. Colourful and historical, the holy city of Lhasa lies in a small valley 3500m above sea level. Lhasa rose to importance over 1300 years ago, when attempts were made to unify Tibet. At this time the grand temples of Ramoche and Jokhang were built to house the Buddha images and religious artefacts brought to Tibet as dowries from China and Nepal. Although little of 7th-Century Lhasa remains intact, the 1600s saw a second stage of renovation and development, which included construction of the Potala Palace. Perched on a hilltop overlooking the town, this massive structure dominates the landscape with grace and dignity, a true wonder of the architectural world. During our time in the heart of Tibet, we visit the Potala Palace, the Jokhang, the huge university monasteries of Dreprung and monastery Sera and the Barkhor pilgrim circuit. There is free time to explore other sights. The Jokhang Temple is the spiritual heart of Tibet and also the most active. Prostrating pilgrims circle the temple endlessly day and night, some of them traversing the extremes of the country by foot to celebrate and express their faith. The Barkhor, the holiest devotional circuit, circumnavigates the Jokhang and houses a market bazaar. Here, Buddha images, yak skulls with ruby eyes, woodcarvings, carpets and prayer wheels are bargained for. Nearby are the Dreprung and Sera monasteries, once home to over 15,000 monks. Afternoon debating sessions with the monks are a must-have experience. The Dalai Lama's Summer Palace at Norbulingka is a nice quiet place to escape the city streets. We have a total of 4 relaxing yet educational days in Lhasa to explore and acclimatise to the atmospheric conditions associated with a high-altitude environment in preparation for our long travelling days ahead.
Day 17 Samye
Departing Lhasa early by 4WD, we travel beside the Yarlung Tsampo River (known in India as the Brahmaputra) to Samye Monastery. Founded in the year 770, under the guidance of the great Indian Tantric master, Padmasambhava (who reputedly flew here from India using his Tantric powers), the monastery has withstood invasions, fires and the test of time to remain one of the most significant sites in Tibetan culture. As Tibet's oldest monastery and one of the most beautiful, it saw the ordination of the first Tibetan monks and also became a translation school unparalleled in Asian history. The monastery is designed on the plan of the Odantapuri Temple in India (present-day Bihar) and mirrors the structure of the universe according to Buddhist cosmology. The main temple represents Mt Sumeru, the mythical mountain at the centre of the Universe. The four 'Ling' temples at the corners of the main temple represent the 4 continents which surround Mt Sumeru. Accommodation in the monastery guesthouse is simple, but perfectly located within the monastery walls, right outside the main temple entrance and filled with friendly and fascinating pilgrims. Spiritually, Samye remains an invaluable treasure in the minds and hearts of all Tibetans.
Day 18 Gyantse
There is time to hear the monks' morning prayer ceremony before travelling back across the river. It is then a long, yet overwhelmingly spectacular drive to Gyantse. From the top of the Kamba Pass (4794m) the views of the Turquoise Lake, 'Yamdrok-Tso' are unforgettable. The road winds down towards it and we travel along its shores, stopping at the small town of Nangartse for lunch, before climbing again to the Karo La and the glaciers of Mt Nojin Kangtsang, reaching Gyantse in the late afternoon. Gyantse, a small town that still retains a feel of 'old' Tibet, was once of major importance as a wool trading centre on the routes between India, Sikkim, Bhutan, Tibet and China. Its imposing hill fortress, Gyantse Dzong, dominates views of the town. It is also the site of Pelkor Chode Monastery, founded in 1418 and housing a room full of monumental golden Buddhas and other bodhisattvas which line the walls of the chapel. We visit the fascinating Gyantse Kumbum on the morning of Day 19. The unique Gyantse Kumbum (meaning 100,000 images), has been designed in layers as a 3-dimensional 'mandala', which is a model of the Buddhist universe. Its 5 stories represent the 5 steps to enlightenment. Making the pilgrim circuit up the 15th-Century stupa is a dizzying phantasmagoria as you wind your way up and around increasingly narrow passages, stepping into an endless series of tiny chapels full of technicoloured Buddhist images - the red Buddha, the green, the orange, the blue and the huge golden Buddhas half-glimpsed in the smoky dim light.
Days 19-21 Shigatse/Sakya
After visiting the fascinating Gyantse Kumbum, we leave Gyantse and follow the Nyang-chu valley towards Shigatse, Tibet's second-largest town and the seat of the Panchen Lama, who ranks second to the Dalai Lama. The Panchen Lama is a reincarnation of Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light. We spend the morning exploring the huge Tashilhunpo Monastery. Considered a second Potala Palace by many pilgrims, it is visited daily by hundreds of devotees, armed with yak butter to feed the lamps, who prostrate themselves around the stupas or walk up to the room that houses the 26m-high, gold-plated statue of the future Buddha. Later we can join the pilgrims on their evening kora (circumambulation) around the perimeter of the monastery. Shigatse bazaar also buzzes with life. Stalls, selling everything from slabs of yak butter to yak wool, prayer wheels and rosaries, line the streets and Tibetans vie with each other to win a sale. Be tempted by the antiques, jewellery and fur hats with elaborate gold brocade designs, or perhaps visit the carpet factory where hand-woven carpets are made to traditional designs. From Shigatse we continue to Sakya, once the centre of political and religious power in Tibet. Many buildings featuring the town's unique architectural style suffered the ravages of the 1960s, but the well-fortified citadel still stands and much rebuilding is in progress.
Days 22-23 Everest National Park
A long but spectacular drive brings us to Rongphu - 5000m and a mere 8km from Everest Base Camp. The view from here is utterly spectacular!Rongphu Monastery is certainly the highest monastery in the world, standing at a towering 4980m with one of the best views in the world. The monastery guesthouse offers very basic accommodation, but the views that surround us more than compensate - lie in bed and watch the moonlight illuminate the mountain. The monastery here was first built in 1902 by the Nyingma Lama and originally housed more than 500 monks. Today, only about 50 monks and nuns remain, sharing the same prayer hall but with separate residences. The nuns here are great fun and will be delighted to have you join their evening prayers. The following morning we can take in the views of the famous mountain from its Base Camp. After lunch on Day 23 we head off on an exhilarating drive along what is little more than a yak track to Tingri, or if time permits, continue onto the small town of Nyalam.
Day 24 Zhangmu
After an early morning start from either Tingri or Nylam, if time permits, we stop at the meditation cave of the famous mystic, Milarepa. Between Nyalam and Zhangmu, the Tibetan Plateau abruptly ends. The colours change, the trees grow and the relative humidity skyrockets as the harsh mountain landscape transforms into green jungle valleys. The photo opportunities here are incredible. Also known as Kasa, the border town of Zhangmu clings precariously to the cliff face, 10km inland from the Friendship Bridge across the Bhotekoshi River (Sun Kosi River). The small town has become the major trading post between Tibet and Nepal. The subtropical oceanic climate endows the small town with warm, humid weather and beautiful scenery throughout the year.
Days 25-26 Dhulikhel
Crossing the border at Zhangmu, we wind our way further down the valley along a road regularly blocked by landslides. Situated at the foothills of the Panchkhal Valley, old Dhulikhel is a close traditional Newar settlement of remarkable architectural consistency with its 4 to 5-storeyed brick mansions built in an almost Victorian style. Arriving at Dhulikhel you may wish to retire to your private balcony, with its horizon-to-horizon view of the surrounding mountains, to contemplate the wonders of the past weeks. We spend a full day here with numerous small Newari villages within walking distance.
Days 27-28 Kathmandu
It's only a short drive to Kathmandu where we have the rest of the day to explore. Kathmandu is an awesome mixture of legend and modern development with a rich artistic and cultural heritage. Narrow lanes lead to small squares and courtyards where ornate carved balconies overlook shrines and temples. Buzzing markets and bazaars are the centre of Nepali life, where stalls and small hole-in-the-wall shops sell everything from bangles to Buddhas to beetroot. Kathmandu has been a travellers' centre for many years, and this is reflected in the international flavour of the bright lights and 'Coca Cola culture' of the central Thamel district.
Get up with the birds to climb to the Swayambhunath Temple. Situated on a hilltop, the instantly recognisable stupa with its Buddha eyes attracts a steady stream of pilgrims, and the views out over the valley are superb. Located in the heart of the Tibetan community, Bodhnath Stupa is the largest in Nepal. The surrounding area is a maze of restaurants and workshops. There is time to walk through the heart of the old city to Durbar Square, home to the palace of the Kumari Devi, who is considered to be a living goddess. Our hotel is just a short walk from both Kathmandu's Durbar Square and from the busy shopping streets of Thamel, where we will enjoy a last night's dinner together as a fitting end to our journey across 'the roof of the world'.
As there are no activities planned for Day 28, you are free to depart at any time.
At 10:30 on the 30th July our ferry for Kobe leaves Tianjin. We arrive at 14:00 on the 1st August after two nights at sea. Hopefully the crossing will be smooth. As soon as we get to Kobe we're jumping on a train to Tokyo where we'll stay for three nights. On the 4th we get a train for the world heritage site of Nikko where we will be staying for two nights. We then travel back to Tokyo on the 6th and stay there for the night before heading off to Kyoto on the 7th. We stay in Kyoto till the 9th, when we head back to Kobe. We stay one night in Kobe before back on a ferry to Tianjin, arriving on the 12th August. Short but hopefully very sweet.
We arrive into China on the 23rd of July (Happy Birthday Vicki and Grandma) at 14:31 Moscow time!!!!!! or 18:31 Beijing time for those of you that see sense. This particular stay in China is only for a week. A week you say, that's not long! and you'd be right it isn't. You see, we've booked a trip round China in a tour group (as China is nigh on impossible to do by yourself unless you speak Chinese and are in fact Chinese) for later on in the trip. However we have a week to kill waiting for a ferry to Japan so we're exploring Beijing and Shanghai, which are about the only tourist accessible cities for Westerners. So for those of you that like dates, we stay in Beijing till the 25th, when we take a sleeper train to Shanghai. We then stay in Shanghai till the 28th, when we take a sleeper train to Tianjin. We are then staying the night in one of the loveliest four star hotels I have ever seen. Brilliantly, this is costing us £15 each. Nice. Then on the 30th, at 10:30, we board a ferry from Tianjin to Kobe.
Onwards, to part 5 - Japan...
Monday, 4 June 2007
We arrive into Ulaan Bataar on the 8th of July after an 39 hour train jouney. Not alot I can say about that. Hopefully it'll be cool but who knows. We're staying in Ulaan Bataar till the 14th as the Naadam Festival runs on the 11th, 12th and the 13th. I Always enjoy watching ten year old jockeys falling off horses so this should be a trip highlight.
The rest of Mongolia is still to be finalised but will involve staying in gers (mongolian yurts) in more remote areas. Yes, we are leaving this late. We leave Mongolia for Beijing on the 22nd of July.
Now onward to part 4...
Right, where was I. Oh yes, Moscow. At 16:06, on the 20th of June we board a train from Moscow to Ekaterinburg, arriving in the next day at 17:45 Moscow time. That's right Moscow time. Although Russia is a large country and has several time zones, all trains are curiously dealt in Moscow time. Its clearly a clever ploy to confuse and annoy the westerners and to be honest it works. Our rather nice sounding 21:00 train suddenly becomes a less appealing 02:00 affair. Damn Ruskies.
Anyway, we stay in Ekaterinburg until the 24th of June, when we board a train to Novosibirsk. Then a sleeper train on the 27th to Krasnoyarsk. Then another sleeper train on the 30th, this time to Irkutsk. We stay in Irkutsk for one night before moving on to Lake Baikal, the deepest and oldest lake in the world. Knowing this is bound to help in future games at trivial pursuit against your gran so remember this and sock one to her. We are at Baikal till the 5th of July, when we return to Irkutsk before boarding another sleeper train to Ulaan Bataar, the capital of Mongolia, on the 6th. If you're thinking thats a lot of sleeper trains you'd of course be right. Sleeper trains mean you don't need a hotel or hostel. I'm the new Alvin Hall. No, not the chipmunk, the slightly famous money guy.
Next Mongolia and onwards, hopefully to be found in part 3...