A Travellerspoint blog

Around the World in 20 days - third stop Malta

Valletta adventures

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We arrived in Malta late afternoon.
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We checked in, freshened up and then headed out for a dinner cruise around the harbour. We boarded our vessel and enjoyed the sun setting over the beautiful old city of Valletta. Our sailing boat came to a halt and all of a sudden there was a huge bang as a cannon was fired followed by several more. It turns out Constellation Journeys had arranged this spectacle for us.
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The next morning we were supposed to do a boat trip to the Blue Grotto but once again inclement weather meant this was cancelled, we had to make do with a photo stop from the cliff top.
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We then headed to the UNESCO World Heritage Tarxien Temples which date back to 3000BC and are one of the oldest freestanding buildings in the world. Parts of the temple are elaborately decorated. The site was used for rituals, most likely animal sacrifices.
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Lunch was in the picturesque fishing village Marsaxlokk. It is the island's main fishing harbour and full of traditional, brightly painted Maltese fishing boats.
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Our next stop was Valletta, another World Heritage Site. Not long after we arrived at the impressive entrance to the city it began to rain. As we were seeing the sights with our guide it absolutely poured down and we got drenched! We were given the option to return to the hotel which I, along with most of the rest of the group, decided to do. Gerald stayed on and visited the Grand Masters Palace and armoury and then St John's Cathedral which he said was ridiculously opulent. I only got a few photos of Valletta before the rain arrived.
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That night we had my favourite gala dinner of the entire trip. We were transported in restored vintage buses and taken to the beautiful 1530 building of the Knights Hospitaller. We arrived to people dressed in medieval costume, trumpet fanfare and flaming torches. A red carpeted staircase led us into a huge reception hall full of canapes and drinks. Then a velvet curtain the width of the hall was drawn back to reveal our beautifully dressed tables. We were treated to an amazing 3 course meal whilst a live band played for us. It was a magical night.
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Our time had come to an end in Malta and the next morning we were back at the airport and more hilarious outfits from our Qantas crew.
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Next stop, Barcelona!

Posted by bumblebum 23:09 Archived in Malta Comments (0)

Around the World in 20 days - second stop Israel

A journey around Jerusalem

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We landed in Tel Aviv late afternoon, checked into the lovely David Citadel Hotel and had a quick meal before heading off to meet up with old neighbours that are currently living in Doha and happened to be in Jerusalem at the same time as us! Their hotel was just a 5 minute walk from ours so we couldn't pass up the opportunity for a catch up over drinks.
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The next morning we had a walking tour of Jerusalem with our guide Jo Lane (jolanetours.com).
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She was a fantastic guide and really brought the history of Jerusalem alive with her passion and clear explanations. We visited the Western Wall and witnessed the Jewish people praying and placing prayers into the wall.
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We explored the tunnels beneath the Western Wall which brought us out near the Bethesda Pools.
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We followed Via Dolorosa passing by some of the locations of the Stations of the Cross which included the spot where Jesus fell and placed his hand on the wall to steady himself.
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Via Dolorosa led us to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is built on the site where Jesus was crucified. The interior was beautiful - full of huge mosaics depicting the story of the crucifixion, painted ceilings and ornate statues. It also has the stone that Jesus was laid upon as his body was prepared for burial.
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We also walked through the Shuk (muslim market) which was colourful and bustling.
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After a traditional lunch we walked to Gethsemane and walked through the Old City, including the main street which dates back to Roman times and archaeologists are almost certain that Jesus would have walked that very street.
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That night we were all invited into a family home to experience a Shabbat dinner. We were hosted by a very charismatic American man, and his wife, who left America to live in Jerusalem to explore their Jewish faith further. Over 20 years later he is now a Rabbi and an instrumental part in shabbatofalifetime.com which enables visitors like us to learn about Shabbat whilst sharing a delicious five course meal. As Shabbat requires Jews to refrain from using technology we were asked not to bring our phones and cameras so this part of the trip is not documented in pictures!

The next day we had opted to do a day trip to Masada, travelling along the shoreline of the Dead Sea. It was pretty cool to be at the lowest place on Earth after starting this year at Everest Base Camp, the highest we had ever been!
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Along the way we stopped at Qumran where scrolls were discovered in caves in 1947. The collection is considered to be the oldest copy of the Hebrew Bible dating to at around the 4th century.
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Masada rises high up above the Dead Sea but thankfully there was a cable car to take us to the top.
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King Herod had a fortress palace constructed and we got to explore the store rooms, cisterns, stone houses and bath houses which even came with heated floors!
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We were supposed to see a sound and light show displayed on the city walls at the Tower of David but sadly for us it rained for the first time in eight months (the locals were very happy!) so it was cancelled and instead we went for an earlier than planned dinner in a lovely building overlooking the city.
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That was the end of our Jerusalem adventure, we headed to bed ready for our flight the next day and this is what greeted us as we went to get on the plane....a giant baby Jesus!
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Next stop, Malta....

Posted by bumblebum 23:24 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Around the World in 20 days - first stop South Korea

Exploring Seoul

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After reading an article on the Constellation Journeys' inaugural 'Around the World' trip I decided to google the company and discovered that a second trip had just been announced. By the end of that week we had booked our places and begun saving for yet another 'trip of a lifetime'!

As Constellation Journeys are an Australian company we had to start our journey by flying to Sydney. We flew over the night before, ready for our early morning flight to Seoul.

Around 80 of the 200+ passengers, on our very own chartered 747, were passengers that had traveled on last year's trip so we figured we were in for a holiday to remember.

On our first day in Seoul we all went to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) which is the 2km separation point between North and South Korea. First we headed to the look out point but it was very smoggy and not really photo worthy.
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Afterwards we entered tunnel 3 one of the tunnels that the North Koreans tried to make to connect to South Korea. North Korean people are not tall so the tunnels are only about 5ft6 high. We had to enter wearing hard hats and they were well needed. The man in front of me hit his head many times, once so hard he knocked his hat off! Nothing can be taken into the tunnels so there are no photos.
We also had a quick look around the museum and stopped off at the train station that can enable (but doesn’t) travel to North Korea from the DMZ.

After our DMZ tour we had lunch on the 59th floor of building 63 Square in the city. Sadly it was so hazy the views weren’t great but it gave us the chance to get to know some of the other passengers.
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Next we headed for our first optional activity - a taekwondo lesson - which was great fun. We had to wear a uniform then learnt to hit, kick and shout. Our final task was to break a board with our fist. It took me 2 attempts but I did it!
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That night we got to experience the first of our gala dinners. Our special Seoul dinner was on The Floating Island and we were entertained with some traditional Korean dancing whilst being treated to a delicious 3 course meal.
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The next day we visited the royal palace Gyeongbokgung, built in 1395. If you dress up in traditional costume you get free entrance so there were people dressed up everywhere! It was a cloudy day so it didn't provide great photos but the palace was very impressive and beautifully decorated inside and out.
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Next up was a visit to one of the oldest and biggest markets in Seoul with 5000 stalls. We only saw a couple of hundred. There was lots of food including live octopus, pigs head, fruits & veg and lots of other seafood options.
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The afternoon provided our second optional activity, a very relaxing few hours in Aquafield Bath House. The place was huge and had many saunas ranging from 25-81 degrees. Each with different theme - a charcoal room, clay room, Himalayan salt room, mist room and more. We really enjoyed our visit and felt extremely relaxed after our visit.
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We had a fairly early night as it was an early start for our 9.40 am flight to Jerusalem the next morning. That will be the next blog installment!

Posted by bumblebum 23:59 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

An Easter adventure on the South Island

Abel Tasman and Nelson

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This blog is a little overdue as it's all about our Easter adventure to the South Island's Nelson region. We had nabbed ourselves a GrabOne deal for a 3 day self guided tour with the company Wilsons and it turned out to be a great deal!

Day 1:  Nelson to Torrent Bay
We were picked up by the Wilson’s crew from our motel early in the morning ready to start our walk along the easiest section of the coastal track from Marahau (the entrance to the national park) to Torrent Bay.
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We were treated to views across Tasman Bay to Nelson.
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Along the way we did pretty much every little side track leading to pristine bays, beaches and caves, often to collect a geocache or two! We also came across many very tame weka that previous hikers have obviously been feeding.
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We got to Torrent Bay Lodge, right on the beachfront, late in the afternoon.
It was the Wilson family’s holiday home and has loads of interesting history.
We had a lovely three course meal with the rest of our group and all got to know each other a bit more which was nice.
Everybody headed to bed fairly early after a long day of walking. I think with all the side tracks we did about 18km but thankfully the elevation was never more than 110m so very different from our Everest Base camp hiking days!

Day 2: Torrent Bay to Awaroa
We had a lovely breakfast to set us up for the day’s scenic walk to Awaroa.
After breakfast we all got to make our own lunches from a huge selection of fillings, snacks and fruit etc. There was no way we were going hungry on this trip! The day’s walk took us through a varied section of coastal track winding through shady gullies of mature Beech forest, fern grottos and groves of Manuka overlooking coastal vistas.
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We got to cross the swing bridge at Falls River.
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Geocaching along the way meant that once again we took a few detours.
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Late afternoon we arrived at Meadowbank Homestead at Awaroa.
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Another delicious 3 course meal was served whilst we chatted to the other hikers. We ended up chatting to a couple that live just a few kms from us (and have caught up with them since our return home)! Another earlyish night after around 20km of walking.

Day 3:  Awaroa to Nelson
We had to get a boat across the Awaroa inlet to the track to start off the days walk as it was high tide.
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Once again we walked through forests and along beautiful golden beaches but today’s walk was much shorter and we got to our final destination, Totaranui, with plenty of time to relax and eat a leisurely lunch before boarding the ferry to travel the length of the granite coast, back to Kaiteriteri.
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Then it was back on the coach to head back to Nelson.

Day 4
We began the day by visiting the morning market and ended up buying some gorgeous goats milk soaps for the bargain price of $20 for 5 from Purple Kiwi Soap (check out their Facebook page!). They smell divine and are are eco friendly having no packaging and no palm oil, just lots of natural ingredients. We then explored Nelson in our usual way by geocaching. This took us all over the city and to the middle of New Zealand which also happens to be a great lookout over the city.
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Day 5
We woke up to a gloomy, rainy day so we checked out of our Airbnb as late as possible and got a taxi to the WOW and classic car museum. The WOW costumes were stunning and I'd love to go and see a WOW show in Wellington in the future after seeing this display.
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The museum also had an extensive collection of classic cars and we spent quite some time wandering along aisle after aisle before finally heading to the airport.
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We ended up going with the intention of chilling out in the koru lounge to avoid wandering in the rain when we were invited to get on an earlier flight. We jumped at the chance. And there ended our South Island adventure.

Posted by bumblebum 23:40 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Mad fools and Englishmen go out in the midwinter Himalayas

Trekking to Everest Base Camp

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Our Christmas present was an unexpected upgrade on our Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong. Once we finally arrived at our end destination, Kathmandu, we got off the plane as quickly as we could to get in the queue for our visa. We had been warned to get there ASAP as queues soon build up and can take hours.

Kathmandu is typical of many Asian cities - a busy, bustling place with bikes, cars and people everywhere and lots of horn beeping! The electricity set up is a scary looking mass of cables hanging precariously above.
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The buildings look old and many are falling down (presumably a lot to do with the 2015 earthquake) but you can see that once upon a time they were beautiful and ornate. Behind decorative doors, tiny spaces on the ground floor of buildings sell masks, meat, cloth, veggies, musical instruments and more.
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We explored some of the area including Durbar Square with it's cows and pigeons.
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There were supposed to be six of us on our tour but one couple got some bad news and had to get the first flight back to Australia leaving just us and one other couple, Bianca and Luke.

Our tour officially began with an early morning flight to Lukla which was supposed to take off at 6.30am but due to fog was delayed until 7.25am, a very common occurrence apparently. The majority of the flight passed over the snowy tops of the surrounding Himalayas.
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We had a hard, abrupt landing as we set down in the world's deadliest airport with it's extremely short runway with a mountain one end and a brick wall at the other.

As soon as we were off the plane our trek began, there are no cars or motorbikes in this part of Nepal. All things are transported by people, mule or yak. The animals pass in convoy with jingling bells all loaded up with items such as gas tanks and sacks of food. We were encouraged to stand mountainside as they passed to avoid being accidentally pushed off the mountain. Some of the porters carry insane loads up the mountain, we saw men carrying tv's, armchairs, even a large fridge!
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We only hiked for about 4 hours the first day, finishing in Phakding at the Sherpa Shangri La. Along the way we passed many prayer flags, prayer stones and stupas.
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I didn't know it at the time but this turned out to be the last time I would get a shower for the rest of this trek! Thankfully we had an en suite at this stage of the trip as both Gerald and I some how picked up a bug and spent the night taking it in turns to visit the bathroom!

The next day we set off for Namche Bazaar in temperatures of about minus 5 but thankfully the sun was shining. We climbed about 800m over 12km which was tough work as we could already feel some effects of altitude. Along the way we managed to stop and find two geocaches and one of them turned out to be a First to Find for us complete with a gift inside of some buddhist items to keep us safe on our journey.
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Our room was very cold (this was to be the norm throughout the trip) but the view from our room was pretty stunning.
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We had an acclimatisation day at Namche Bazaar but this did not mean a rest day! We hiked up several hundred metres to a look out point with a statue of Tenzing Norgay who was the first to summit Mt Everest along with Edmund Hillary in 1953. We then hiked even higher to have morning tea in a cafe with 360 degree views of the mountains. This also gave us our first sighting of Everest. The altitude along with the steep climb meant we went very slowly, I think we averaged about 1.5km per hour! At least hiking up hill kept us warm in the minus 15 temperatures!
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Tengboche was the destination for our next day of hiking, another day well into the minus temperatures but with lots of uphill climbs we were soon removing layers. We crossed paths with many hikers returning from Base Camp and they all commented on the cold they had left behind!
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We stopped at a monastery just before arriving at our 'home' for the night. The monastery was very ornate and decorated in almost every inch of space but, unfortunately, photos inside were not allowed.
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As we continued we found snow on the ground and the river was completely frozen over.

The higher up the mountain we went the more basic our accommodation became, our guest houses were simply made with plywood. The only time we ever got warm was for about an hour each evening around dinner time when the heater would be filled with yak dung as fuel. As soon as it cooled down we would all head off to bed, the only other place you could keep warm.

On our journey from Tengboche to Dingboche we crossed our last suspension bridge and right by it were the remains of a previous bridge that was taken out by an avalanche. We passed fields ready to be planted and piles of yak dung waiting to be used for cooking and heating. A woman was doing her laundry in the almost totally frozen river! Even if we wanted a shower it wasn't possible as everywhere we stayed the pipes had frozen meaning there was no running water. Being above 4000m meant that everything was iced over and the trees no longer grew. One of the few benefits of trekking to EBC during winter is that the days were sunny and visibility was amazing - all the stunning scenery definitely made the difficult trek more tolerable.
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New Year's Day was an another acclimatisation day and began by waking up to find everything was frozen, the windows, our wet wipes, the suncream...we hiked up around 300m to 4700m. Our guide kept telling us that we were only walking up hills, apparently it's not a mountain unless you go over 6000m! We stayed at our viewpoint for about an hour to help us acclimatise, and mostly sat in silence admiring the 360 degree views of the surrounding Himalayas. We could see many mountain peaks including the mighty Everest.
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Our 7th day of trekking, from Dingboche to Lobuche, was tough. We trekked about 10km, ascended around 500m taking us over 5000m, the temperature was cold but felt even colder as there was a strong wind. We passed through an area full of memorials for those that have died attempting to summit Everest. The scenery became a lot more barren, first we trekked through a dry valley and then ascended a rocky ridge seeing very few people along the way.
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Finally came the day that we were to reach Base Camp. It was without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever done both physically and mentally. We set off early in the morning in temperatures well into the minus 20's. I had had yet another night of very little sleep - a lack of oxygen combined with the very dry environment made it hard to breathe and also made my nose bleed. You need to take a breath for every step you take so it is slow going, we probably went no more than 1km per hour! The journey entailed clambering over loose rocks and the glacier and we had to carefully watch our step the whole way. It was such a good feeling to finally reach Base Camp. We stayed long enough to take a few photos but being so cold we soon began the journey back to our guesthouse. When we got back I sat like a zombie for a long while, I had absolutely no energy left at all.
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The next morning Bianca and I decided to stay warm in our beds whilst the boys got up at 5.30am to climb Kala Patthar and see the sunrise over Mt Everest at 5548m elevation. As I lay in bed the wind howled so hard that it blew the bedroom window open! The boys had to crawl on all fours to reach the summit, took a photo or two and headed straight back down again as it was ridiculously cold and windy. My goal for this trip was to reach EBC and I had achieved that so I did not regret missing out on this extra challenge. As we packed, a couple staying in our lodge were rescued by helicopter. We had seen them heading to EBC as we were on our way back. They had returned well after dark and looked absolutely frozen. For the last few days we had seen many rescue helicopters flying above us - the altitude and the extreme cold seemed to be defeating many.
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We headed to Periche from Gorak Shep and for the first time it seemed like an 'easy' walking day as it was almost all downhill although it still required a lot of rock clambering.
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We had our longest day's walk on day 10 of the trek from Periche back to Namche Bazaar. We covered 22km and discovered that winter had arrived in the area since we had last been there. There was snow on the ground and the temperature had dropped hugely. Our coats and hats stayed on this time despite the fact that we still had a fair bit of uphill trekking. Going uphill this time was not easy but certainly different from the journey there, this time it was just general getting out of breath climbing a steep hill as opposed to fighting for oxygen and wondering how you are going to find enough energy to raise your leg up the stone step! A dog had joined us for breakfast and we gave it some scraps, this meant that it became our best friend and accompanied us on our trek until we had passed several villages.
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The next day was mostly downhill again, back to Phakding, we mostly saw porters carrying their insanely big, heavy loads but very few trekkers now that winter was well and truly here. A free flowing waterfall on the way there was now almost completely frozen.
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Day 12 of the trek was the first time we didn't see the sun, the day remained cloudy and there were tiny snowflakes falling but thankfully they never settled. We arrived in Lukla by lunchtime after an uneventful walk. With all the cloud no helicopters took to the skies, hopefully nobody was in desperate need of rescuing. It was our last night of the trek and we shouted our porter to a meal as he had carried our heavy gear each day with an unfaltering smile.
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By 6.15am we were walking back to the airport but once again, due to fog, our flight was delayed so there was a lot of waiting around in the tiny Lukla airport.
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Everybody on the flight had spent days on end in the same clothes, too cold to get undressed and unable to shower anyway due to frozen pipes. We must have smelt really bad because the air stewardess walked down the aisle of the plane spraying air freshener!

After about an hour on 'dancing roads' (so bumpy you get jiggled around the whole time) we finally arrived at Gokarna Forest Resort. I could not wait to get out of my stinky clothes and stand under a hot shower in a warm room - bliss! After lunch we has a complimentary head, neck and back massage, just what we needed after carrying our back packs for the last 2 weeks. The day finished with a delicious 3 course meal which was also part of our package.

The final part of our tour was a whole day guided city tour to four destinations, firstly Swayambhunath (also know as Monkey Temple) an ancient religious building on top of a hill in Kathmandu - it is a sacred pilgrimage site for Buddhists.
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Next was Patan Museum a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a royal palace of former Malla Kings.
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The third stop was far more emotional, Pashupatinath Temple, a sacred Hindu temple on the bank of the Bagmati River and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple is where cremations are performed 24/7, whilst we were there every site had a cremation in various stages of progress. Once the body has completely burnt, the ashes are swept into the river to flow into the holy Ganges River.
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Our final stop was Shree Boudhanath, another World Heritage Site, and one of the largest spherical stupas in the world at 118 feet tall.
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Our three week trip was certainly a once in a lifetime experience. Trekking to EBC is no easy feat but doing it in the middle of winter takes it to a whole other level. I feel proud that I made it as it was the most difficult thing I have ever done and probably ever will do! It took huge amounts of mental and physical stamina and I have never experienced cold like it. It wasn't always a pleasant experience, there certainly weren't any luxuries along the way, but doing it in winter gave us beautiful, sunny days with amazing visibility. The cold temperatures meant that there were few people on the trek and we often went hours without seeing others. When we got to EBC there was only one other person there, in the peak season we heard you sometimes have to queue for ages just to get your photo taken. It was a challenging but amazing experience but I am certain that my mountain climbing days are over!

Posted by bumblebum 19:06 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

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