Sunday, 31 August 2014

Easy Trek in Eastern Bhutan

Eastern Bhutan ©Solange Hando

'Are there bears in the forest?
Of course...
So are you carrying something, in case? Maybe we should find a stick...
No, they'll just go away, I'm a Buddhist, couldn't harm them'.
Thickly wooded hills rose as far as we could see but my only chance, it seemed, was to put my trust in the local gods and the prayer beads in the guide's pocket.

After all, we were heading for the monastery of the Three Gods, two days away, so as we followed the trail snaking up and down through the trees, with occasional glimpses of passes and peaks, it just wouldn't be fair to be eaten by a bear.

Farmers on the way to Trashiyangtse, Bhutan ©Solange Hando

I felt slightly reassured when I realised how many villagers were walking along the same trails, here a farmer and his wife on their way to market, there a young girl returning from the millet harvest, a red-robed Lama striding to a puja or an old woman fetching dead wood for the fire.

 In remote farms here and there, chillies dried on the tin roofs and bells and pans hung from the trees, tinkling at the slightest breeze to scare off 'intruders'. What else would anyone need?

Ready for a Good Night Sleep ©Solange Hando

Well, that was fine in the daytime but when night came, how would we fare in the tents? There was a big traditional house near the camp but only one man lived there and he was a holy man, couldn't do much if a bear turned up.

The only comfort was the constant noise of rushing water, loud enough to cover any rustling in trees or bushes. My heart thumped when something tread on my tent pegs but it was only one of the helpers on his way to relieve himself. Wow...

Early Morning at the Monastery ©Solange Hando

There were no villages or farms on day two, just forest all the way, dark, silent, with the occasional creature vanishing into the undergrowth, 'only a pheasant', said the guide, but I wasn't so sure. Now and then, we'd emerge from the darkness to catch a fleeting glance of the monastery but it never seemed to get any closer.

We reached the top of the ridge just before dark and there it was, with 1000 Buddhas on the walls, flickering butter lamps, offerings and the Three Gods, Compassion, Knowledge and Power. We were in good hands, there would be no bears that night. I slept on the floor, in a vast empty room, and pushed my backpack right against the door.

We woke to a chilly morning and at over 2000 metres, even the young monks were quiet, dreaming of home perhaps or warmer climes.

Bumdeling Wildlife Reserve, Eastern Bhutan ©Solange Hando

The final day was a long lonely walk down through the forest but when we reached the bamboo groves at last, the trail widened and I forgot  the bears. The path was muddy, slippery in places, but rice paddies glistened far below and we could see the milky river, the sand banks, the wild flowers and meadows where the rare auspicious black-necked cranes from Tibet come to rest every winter.

We sat at the water's edge and picnicked on red rice and beans while up on the ridge, the Three Gods kept a watchful eye on a lone trekker and her guide ready to return to the lost valley of Trashiyangtse, basking in brilliant sunshine in the far reaches of Eastern Bhutan.

Rigsum Gompa, the Monastery of the Three Gods near Trashiyangtse ©Solange Hando

Friday, 22 August 2014

Kathmandu Ambassador Garden Home, Traditional Boutique Hotel in Thamel

Kathmandu, the Ambassador Garden Home in Thamel ©Solange Hando

The name says it all: 100 years ago, this was the home of the Ambassador to China, great grandfather of the family who continue the hospitality tradition of their illustrious ancestor in  a beautifully converted building.
Awarded a Certificate of Excellence by Trip Advisor, this cosy boutique hotel is right at the heart of Thamel and with just 18 rooms, an unexpected retreat next door to the big and bustling Kathmandu Guest House.

The Living Room, Ambassador Garden Home ©Solange Hando

Everything here is warm and welcoming, a real home with stylish furniture, traditional Nepali brass and wood carvings, family photographs and artefacts and a shrine to the Ambassador, lovingly tended every day.
There are fresh fruit on the table, colourful sprays of orchids, magazines and free WiFi thoughout.

A Quiet Place to Relax ©Solange Hando

Guest rooms range from Superior to Deluxe, those located at the back quieter than those at the front (closer to Thamel's night life). All are comfortable and equipped with modern amenities, bathrobe, tea and coffee facilities, mineral water, minibar, safe and complimentary daily paper. All rooms have air conditioning and the hotel has its own generator, should the power fail.
The Ambassador Garden Home  is not top luxury but for character and atmosphere, as well as location, you simply can't beat it.

Kathmandu Ambassador Garden Home, the Garden ©Solange Hando

There's a small secluded garden at the back, with comfy chairs tucked in the greenery, a restaurant for Nepali and international fare, dozens more around if you feel like a change, and a terrace where breakfast is served al fresco.
Breakfast is cooked to order and brought to your table and if it's a bit chilly in the early morning, the outdoor heaters are turned on. What more could you ask for?

©Solange Hando

See you there in October...

Saturday, 16 August 2014

So, what's special about Fishguard?

Fishguard Lower Harbour, Pembrokeshire, South West Wales ©Solange Hando

First there are two harbours, the big one where the ferry sets sail for Ireland and this lovely little marina in the lower town, on the other side of  the bay. There are quaint cottages and flower-draped lanes and tales of Welsh women in national dress scaring off  French invaders in the 18th century.

Writing with a View ©Solange Hando

Then, there's the new Writers' Holiday held in the last week in July, a chance for writers of all abilities and genres to exchange ideas, share their experience and attend workshops led by widely published professionals. The six day residential conference takes place in the Fishguard Bay Hotel with en suite rooms, waitress service in the restaurant and a wonderful terrace overlooking the bay.

Nine writing courses are on offer, plus drawing/painting if you feel like a change or wish to bring a non-writing partner. Take a look at next year's programme and if you fancy travel writing, follow the link on Amazon to whet your appetite and you'll be off to a flying start.

But don't wait too long before you book, there are only 10 places left.

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park near Fishguard ©Solange Hando

Now don't forget, this is a holiday, nothing is compulsory and you can relax whenever you wish.
There are fabulous walks along the coast, traditional villages and beaches and to top it all, a Welsh Male Voice Choir to entertain you on the last night.
What more could we ask for?

Enjoy, I hope to see you there...

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Travel Writing? Go Local, Taste the Food...

Want to join in? ©Solange Hando

'Fried spiders, madame? Favourite snack in my country...I've got fat ones and spindly ones, long legs really nice. See this little one, crunchy like a prawn, you try?'
I close my eyes, imagine it's pink, fresh from the sea, and down it goes, reluctantly. I buy a bagful...for the guide.

But if you can't manage spiders, or sheep's eyes, don't worry...
There's plenty of mileage in food for travel writers.
Why? It's colourful, fragrant, tasty, surprising and we all have to eat.
As a feature in its own right or part of the bigger picture, food will add zest to your writing and, believe me, editors love it too.

That's just one of the 'winning ideas' you'll find in this quick and easy guide to travel writing.
Special offer on Amazon, hurry while it lasts... 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Travel Writing? Guess how I started...

Snake Story ©Solange Hando

Do you like snakes?
I don't...
I know they're silky and soft, amazingly graceful, but there you are...

Now, guess how my first travel article got it into print?
I spotted a slot in a magazine for a reader's holiday, wacky picture essential, so I kept on the look-out.

No, it wasn't this little beauty parading in the Costa Rican jungle (that one had fangs) but a host of sacred vipers in Malaysia, posing with  tourists like me in Penang Snake Temple. So I took a deep breath and there they were, draped around my arms, shoulders, hands and one dangling on my head...

Defanged, of course, but the story was sold, with pictures, to Take a Break. One foot in the door and I never looked back.

Now, are you packing for your holiday or planning the next one?
Would you like to write about it and  publish your work?
Whatever you do, don't forget your camera...

These days, most editors expect a complete package, words and pictures.
Give them what they want and you double your chance of success.

Likewise, in just 100 pages, 'Be a Travel Writer' gives you the complete package, tips and advice on writing, pitching and travel photography.
You don't need to be a pro, if I can do it, anyone can.

Enjoy and good luck!