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Pangong Lake

Leh is a hot spot for starting epic treks and home stay experiences in an extremely remote part of the world. However we spent most of the time in one homestay in Leh itself, venturing only as far as our moped skills/bravey/gas would take us into the immediate surroundings, and eating a lot of momos with some friends back home who we quite literally walked into on the street. The 1 real excursion we did was to visit Pangong Lake, and this was one of the most incredible trips I have ever done!

Pangong Lake is incredibly large, very high up (4,250 ft) and otherworldly beautiful. It borders China and India, with one third of the lake in India, and the rest in Tibet (controlled by China). You drive for about 6 hours from Leh, which is an experience in itself and involves crossing one of the highest motor passes in the world (although on this trip we seemed to come across quite a few of these!). As you drive, the roads get rougher, the landscape bleaker, the temperature plummets, and the military presence increases.

I suffer altitude sickness very easily and classic me, actually fainted in the back of the car at one point. Excellent stuff. The driver had oxygen in the back ready for this kind of scenario, and we were with 2 South Koreans with an huge amount of medicine on them, and an Israeli doctor who all fussed over me a fair amount. The only place to stay are a variety of tent camps and the odd cheaper concrete bungalow. As a group we opted for a fairly nice tent camp with attached bathrooms. I spent a fair amount of time asleep wrapped up in the tent whilst Charlie skimmed stones, but did recover enough to spend a good amount of time staring at the lake and wandering a little way around its shores.

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When you are actually there, it does not look like a lake. You cannot see the end of it, (its 100kms long) and even if you did want to walk and walk, at some point you reach the Chinese border and can’t go any further anyway. The landscape around is utterly bare, making the blue all the more vivid.

Just watching the clouds and their reflections was mesmerising, and the air that high up (whether because I was so light headed or because it was so clean and crisp) makes everything look and feel incredible.

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We had dinner with everyone else staying in our camp – dal and rice – we were famished and seriously relieved when they brought out a huge slow cooker of food.

Full of hot food, we wrapped up under the many blankets provided in the tent, + our double sleeping bag we had brought with us in addition. Waking up the next morning and venturing outside was even better than our first impressions upon arrival. Cue lots more pictures and stone skimming. My memory is a little hazy, as its been a few years now, but at some point we all set off back to Leh, and I am fairly certain I slept the whole journey back.

To anyone in that part of the world, absolutely do this trip!

India to Istanbul

Hello from Istanbul!

…The Asian side to be exact. We arrived at our hostel (the well known hush moda which is fab) at 11 last night and promptly went to the first restaurant for some kebabs and lots of refreshing melon. We’ve had a lovely morning wandering around getting excited by how calm and full of ice creams the area is compared to our last few days of travelling and the ever hectic Delhi.

Our mission to get here started with a less than pleasant 16 hours bus from Manali to Delhi. Our homestay in Delhi was lovely and we had a much better experience of the city than we did last year. We were only there about 24 hours before we left for the airport, experiencing a final classically indian ridiculous traffic jam. We flew to Kazakhstan and from there to Istanbul. The flights were fine, all ran smoothly but each was 5 hours or so long (we were getting very confused about changing time zones etc) and we were zonked by the time we got to Istanbul.

We are leaving on a bus to Canakkale in a couple of hours and starting a loop of turkey returning back to Istanbul in two weeks to rent a flat with two of my flat mates from this year.

I can’t wait to see more of Istanbul when we do, but in the meantime, bring on the beach!

Here are some photos of our amble around the Asian side. So much food! After buying fresh orange juice, a magnum, and loads of cherries I am very very happy!

Xx Fabia.

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Hello from Manali! (Via Leh)

Long time no post.
This is mostly as we spent ten days in Leh being super relaxed and without a consistent internet connection!

Leh really is like nowhere else. It’s a desert mountain climate in the summer, yet the mountains always visible from every direction ringing in the horizon are still topped with snow. These mountains are barren rock faced, as is the majority of the land until a bright green pocket suddenly appears where glacier water has enabled the growth of a village.
Leh itself is built under a ridge with a place and fort complex on top of it. Outside of the main roads, the streets are tiny, stone wall lined, and have bubbling streams running along them with frequent stepping stones – part of an elaborate irrigation system to ensure Leh does not dry up.

The mix of people in Leh is quite bizarre. The locals range from looking Tibetan to Indian and many walked around in the heat in heavy wool shawls and over coats one might associate with Sherpas in Nepal! Then the tourists – vast numbers of Israelis! To the extent that most restaurants offered Israeli food billed first or second after Indian or Tibetan. Then there were a lot of walking holiday types in pro boots and north face kit, many fairly elderly but very tough looking from across Europe. A large number of Tibetan monks thronged the streets too, and we discovered we had accidentally times our arrival with that of the Dalai Lama! Thus Leh was packed to capacity and after our two nights pre booked in a hotel were up we were hard pressed to find somewhere to stay.

Oddly, despite tourism in these summer months being crucial to Leh, many people owning guesthouses or tour shops were oddly useless when it came to business. On our first day we wandered round looking to find a cheap nice home stay/ guesthouse for two days time (when we would have checked out the hotel). Yet the concept of not tomorrow/ Wednesday/ two days time, was greeted with bewildered silence. Additionally, often we would wander off a little cobbled street, past a few cows and donkeys, into an adorable looking guesthouse only to find it devoid of anyone at all who could tell us if they had a room spare.
At last we found space at a place which, as often happens, was right at the beginning of the route we started along yet which we had missed. This was ideal as we moved our stuff across in three lazy 100 m journeys, and meant we could easily go back to the hotel to use their excellent travel desk, quiet roof restaurant, and sofas and chess board.

Our new home – Jamspal guest house – was also home to the fattest most amusing Labrador ever called moti! 20140721-093555-34555264.jpg

After a few days our friend Cam joined us with three of his friends too and stayed at our guesthouse. Cue lots of lazing around, eating momos (Tibetan dumplings) and messing about with baby donkeys at the local sanctuary.

We also visited Pangong Lake, which was otherworldly and probs deserves a post of its own. Half the group braved white water rafting which was epic but that was the one day THE ONE DAY it was not blazingly sunny which was a shame as my wetsuit was a bit big and I managed to single handedly attract most of the waves…

On Friday morning we departed at 4am for the infamous Leh-Manali journey. This is a two day (or one 24 hellish single run through for the demented) journey through the mountains and over some of the worlds highest motorable passes.

To be honest.. The lifeless mountains blended into one and I found the scenery more impressive on the second leg on the descent down into Manali with looming steep green mountain slopes, waterfalls, and wild ponies out of the windows, as opposed to barren barren barren… Snow! Barren barren.. Motorbike!

So now we are in Manali which is perched surrounded by lush greenery and full of yet more Israelis! We haven’t had enough time here to do more than have a brief wander. Tonight we get the sleeper bus to Delhi but first, and finally after nearly two months accumulated travel time in India, we are doing a cooking class!

Got to go xxx Fabia

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Floating in Srinagar Part 2.

We then spent a day and a night on a ‘house boat’ although this term scarcely does it justice. fitted out with chandeliers, ornate wooden carvings and bathtubs it was positively palatial in style and the prowd owner insisted we referred to it as such..

Me- ‘This is a lovely boat!’
Him- ‘No, no no…this is not a boat; this is a palace!’

We had stayed on a houseboat last year on the backwaters of Kerala, but the H.B Floating heaven ,quite literally, blew it out of the water. It even had a satellite TV which meant that I could watch/Fabia could endure the World Cup quarter final between France and Germany. The son of the owner excitablyWatched the game with us. I have to admit that I am surprised by the level of interest in football in India, seeing as the country only boasts one professional player in the whole world. Last summer on the beaches of goa I had a kick around with some mercurial teenage talents, but away from the south coast (and it’s legacy of French and Portuguese influence) the majority of balls have been of the cricket variety. Nevertheless it seems that an Indian interest in football is certainly growing. Earlier in the week I chatted with our aptly named taxi driver ‘Ronaldo’ over the merits of different players. His lack of English didn’t prove a problem as we would fire different players names at each other and gage the others reaction. ‘Messi’ and ‘di Maria’ both received enthusiastic noises although the same could not be said for any of the English players I named.. Football then truly is an international language.

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Arrival in Srinagar

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Hello!

Charlie here. I am writing this from our room in a lovely homestay in Srinagar. We are staying with a very nice Muslim family who are providing us with a delicious breakfast and dinner each day, which must take a impressive self-restraint as they are fasting for Rammadam!

However the 12hr trip from Jammu to our homestay was far less idyllic. The journey can be described in terms of a twisting mountain drive up to a ski resort, but replace snow with sand, wooden chalets with metal shacks and the Highway Code with utter roadside anarchy. Many times I attempted to escape from the chaos unfolding outside our window into a peaceful slumber. However this proved very difficult as, squished in next to the driver, I was periodically greeted by the thwacking of the gearstick into my legs.

Luckily regular signs which warned drivers that ‘After whiskey driving risky’, and ‘if married, divorce speed’ kept us chuckling for most of the journey.

Given that we had spent most of the previous day hunched up and sitting down, (and most of the day before that on a heavily delayed train from Amritsar)
we decided to go for long walk around lake Dal this morning. We spent around 2 hours skirting around admiring it’s beautiful silver mirrored surface which reflected both the imposing mountains which looked down onto it and the colourful local boats dotted along the water front. The walk and scenery gave me a good chance to practice with the canon dslr I bought in the airport. It still feels strange having moved from the 1980’s Minolta (which takes film) of some many past trips to a digital model. With the Minolta you had to be certain that each shot was ‘right’ before you pressed the shutter button as you didn’t want to waste the film. In contrast my new digital companion allows you to be far more ‘trigger happy’. At the same time I do miss the tactile satisfaction of rolling on the film reel after each shot. Anyway that is probably enough niche camera chat for now so back to our day… Throughout our walk around the lake we were engaged in a one-sided war of attrition with local hawkers who were offering (in the strongest sense of the word) paddle boats trips across the lake for varying prices. Hardened from our experiences in India last year we politely refused again and again yet as time passed and we grew increasing tired our defences were finally worn down. However the excursion proved to be far more relaxing and enjoyable than the hawkers methods of selling it. The scenery was beautiful (esp the water lillies) and our boat driver was nice, talkative and funny. A personal favourite was him joking, after having a go with my canon, that he was going to immediately quit his lake job and become a cameraman when we landed back at shore.

We are staying in Srinagar for a few
more days so are looking forward to spending more time on the lakeside and hopefully in a houseboat for one night!

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