Saturday, 28 June 2014

Travel Writing? Don't miss it, out today

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'Must-have book for aspiring travel writers.'
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(Donna Dailey, US and international publications)

Love to travel? Love to write?
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This is a book for you.
Available on Amazon and in major book stores.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Ladakh, the Indus Valley beyond Leh

Ladakh, Confluence of the Zanskar and Indus Rivers ©Solange Hando

Unlike much of India, Ladakh is the perfect place to visit in the summer months when skies are blue and temperatures pleasant. The only thing to remember is the altitude but if you come on the high road  from Manali rather than fly, you'll enjoy a wonderful drive and minimise the risks.

Leh may keep you spellbound but my favourite place is the Indus valley beyond the capital, past the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers. Few visitors venture that far but the colours alone are well worth the trip, land and water glistening like gems in the clear mountain air. 

Seated Buddha in Likir ©Solange Hando

Later, you reach the impressive Likir monastery perched on a hillock above the barley fields. There are myriad shrines and temples filled with holy images and paintings and up on the roof, a 25 metre high seated Buddha framed by the snowy peaks of the Indian Himalaya.

It's an inspiring place where the chanting of monks fills the air with vibes as farmers bring in the harvest while old folks sit in the shade, twirling prayer beads.

Chortens in Lamayuru ©Solange Hando

Those who come here often take a break in Ulektopo, a remote tented camp set among the apple trees, before heading to Lamayuru where tucked into the barren hills, the monastery seems to mark the end of the land.

A row of chortens adds a little colour to this deserted landscape where flat-roofed houses just melt into the earth and the only sign of life may be a monk or a black hairy yak.

Moonland in Ladakh ©Solange Hando

This is the edge of the 'moonland', an eerie mountainscape of eroded clay and sand frothing out of the barren earth like a giant cappucino. No human habitation as far as you can see, just jagged rocks and an empty road far below heading back towards more hospitable lands along the Indus.

Oasis West of Leh ©Solange Hando

For down there in the valley framed by high peaks, marigolds bloom in the monastery and poplars and willows meander across the arid land, just one of many oases in Ladakh blessed by the Indus and the generous snowmelt from the Himalaya.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Could you Be a Travel Writer? Try this Easy Quiz

Like to join me? ©Solange Hando

Do you enjoy:

Discovering places?

Meeting people?

Learning new things?

Can you

Write in simple English?
Take digital pictures?

Are you

Determined, 100%?
Hard-working, most of the time?
Reasonably organised?
Eager to step up and give it your best?

If you answered 'yes' to most questions,  you've got what it takes.
Welcome aboard, we're ready to go.

Here's a great little book to help you along.
Special offer on Amazon , don't miss it!

The Sky's the Limit, Flying past Everest ©Solange Hando

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Khardung La in Ladakh, the World's Highest Road Pass

Welcome to Khardung La in Ladakh ©Solange Hando 

Did you know?
 According to the Guinness Book of Records, Ladakh in northern India claims the world's highest road pass, if you ignore the dirt tracks meandering across the Himalaya.

It's only 23 miles from Ladakh's capital to 'K-Top', but it takes a good two hours and a special permit to drive up to the pass, leaving behind the lovely oasis of Leh as barren mountains suddenly swallow you up in a dark alien world.

The Road to Khardung La, India ©Solange Hando

You leave the last sign of human life at the Pullu checkpoint, apart from the odd biker in search of a challenge and a few truckers eking out a living on the roof of the world.

As the thin ribbon of tarmac zigzags across the slopes, there is no turning back, no crash barrier, but plenty of potholes to test your  nerves and your skills. It's meant to be a one way system, up in the morning and down after lunch, but 'special' permits allow VIPs, whoever they may be, to break the rules.
'Always keep a cheerful attitude', is the official advice so just remember that, if you meet someone coming the wrong way...

K-Top ©Solange Hando

At last, hopefully, you reach the finishing line, having survived the precipitous drops, the overhanging boulders and the odd truck which broke down in front of you. It could be worse, if the snow comes down, it's chaos.

In this bleak mountainscape, the pass brings a welcome splash of colour with prayer flags and shrines and a hut serving hot tea and noodles. Sheer bliss... but before you're tempted to climb up the nearby hillock for the view, take note of the sign ;'avoid running or moving too fast, you have gained 7000 feet'.

Heading for the Nubra Valley ©Solange Hando

Now, a bus has arrived but it doesn't stop. Barely a glance at the pass and off it goes, ghost-like as everyone's sleeping inside and multicoloured bags jostle for space up on the roof. A ray of sunshine lights up a nearby ridge, a patch of blue sky beckons, surely an auspicious sign. All will be well.

Scrambling down from the Shrine on Khardung La ©Solange Hando

But for those who can stop on the pass and climb up to the shrine, what a view it is, glaciers glinting all around, peaks as sharp as razor blades and an ever changing mountain desert of light and shade stretching all the way from Zanskar to the Karakoram. The icy wind almost sweeps you off your feet but it's worth every gasp as you fight to breathe in the rarefied high mountain air.

Meanwhile down in the valley, the sun shines on Leh, a gentle breeze rustles through the poplar trees and on the lower slopes, marmots frolic around in the last courtship dance of the season.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Buenos Aires? Relax in the Parana Delta

Tigre on the Parana Delta ©Solange Hando

Walking along the waterfront promenade in Buenos Aires, you may well wonder what the fuss is all about: is Rio de la Plata  a real river or is it a gulf on the Atlantic coast?

In fact it is a very long estuary made up of two rivers, the Uruguay and the mighty Parana which comes all the way down from Brazil. Head for Tigre north of the city and you reach its delta, one of the largest in the world and the only one, they say, which does not empty its water directly into the sea. 

The Tigre Museum on the Parana Delta ©Solange Hando

For the city folks of Buenos Aires, the delta is the perfect escape for a quiet week-end and plenty of fresh air in rural  surroundings. You can pick up a water taxi or cruiser in Tigre and relax for an hour or two, sailing past the Belle Epoque museum, the yacht club, the market, school, chapel, children waving on the banks.

Heading Upstream ©Solange Hando

But soon, nothing disturbs the peace except the lapping of waves and the breeze rustling through the trees. The city vanishes and you enter another world, lush and green, where houses on stilts mirror themselves in the water and boats bob at anchor along brightly-painted pontoons.

Here, in this mysterious maze of islands and channels, there are no roads, no cars. Everything is delivered by boat from ice cream to the daily post. It's bucolic, romantic, and buzzing at the weekend.

Sarmiento's House ©Solange Hando

It all began in the 19th century when President Sarmiento invited his friends to enjoy the beauty of the delta. The wealthy families of Buenos Aires followed suit,claiming plots of land to build weekend retreats on the islands.

But Sarmiento was a wise man, encouraging wooden buildings, in keeping with the landscape, and boosting the rural economy by introducing wicker plants and nutmeg seeds for which the delta remains well known. He too had a house built of wood, now turned into a museum and preserved inside a glass cube. Pretty unique, I guess.

Peace and Quiet in the Delta ©Solange Hando

In these peaceful tree-clad surroundings, it's difficult to imagine that the delta stretches for 320 km, up to 60 km wide in places, starting between Santa Fe and Rosario before splitting into myriad islands and wetlands. The upper reaches are partly protected by a National Park and there is a Biosphere Reserve north of Buenos Aires.

However, you are unlikely to see much wild life close to the city, where the delta is at its most populated, but out in the wild are marsh deer, river otters, pampas cats and jaguars.

Autumn Colours in the Parana Delta ©Solange Hando

Whatever the developments may have brought close to Buenos Aires, the delta remains a special place, at its most beautiful perhaps in autumn when trees turn russet and gold and the water shimmers just like a painting.

Did you know that Buenos Aires  means 'good air'?
Best place to enjoy it is in the Parana delta.