Category Archives: Nature

I’m moving to Koh Tao!

Koh Tao is one of the worlds most popular dive locations. The extraordinary diversity of Koh Tao’s underwater world coupled with the reputation as the cheapest place in the world to dive, is undoubtedly drawing a crowd. Koh Tao boasts between 35-45 dive sites (depending on who you ask and who you know) so despite it’s popularity it hardly ever feels busy. The same applies on land too, with the laid-back atmosphere only an island of scuba divers could pull off, you never feel in too much of a hurry to do anything.

Heading out to the dive boat.

Heading out to the dive boat.

With that being said, I planned on visiting for around 5 days, just enough time to do my Open Water diving course and then I would farewell the islands of Thailand and head north. Only, Koh Tao doesn’t actually let you do this. I started chatting with the instructors and ex-pats that had moved to the island and the funny thing was that most of them had a similar story. They planned on staying for a few weeks or a month and here they were a year later with no plans on leaving.

So, there will be no surprises when I say I’m moving here for a couple of months too. I had been looking for somewhere to lay low somewhere for a while, catch up on a lot of writing and work for this blog, but mainly I was looking for somewhere that I could unpack my bag. Here’s how it happened.

I like long walks along the beach, as long as they go to a dive boat.

I like long walks along the beach, as long as they go to a dive boat.

The Open Water certificate was another bucket list item. Koh Tao was on my radar, so I hopped on a boat from Koh Phagnan with my full moon party hangover and went in search of a dive school. I’d been recommended Sairee Cottage from a good friend of mine so I headed that way. They were about 1000 baht more expensive that other dive schools, as a budget backpacker this is usually the point where I walk away but there were a couple of things that swayed my decision.

The dive office, pool and surrounding bungalows looked immaculate and there was a friendly group of staff hanging around to help me out. I was shown the complimentary dorm room and on the walk up the instructor let it drop that there was plenty of bar work available for westerners and this is what sparked the idea of a long-term stay.

That afternoon I began the Open Water course which was just a couple of videos and an orientation. Walking out from the classroom, I crossed a small road and was at the beach just as the sun was making it’s way for the horizon, showcasing a sunset that I’d rarely, if ever, seen beaten. Yeah. I could probably live here.

Sunsets on Koh Tao.
The following day was divided between the classroom and the pool to learn the basics of diving and the two days after were when the fun was to be had. The course takes you on 4 dives to a depth of 18 metres and we saw blue-spotted rays, barracuda, yellow box-fish, huge groupers, puffer fish and a whole lot that I can’t even begin to name but I’ll be exploring more of the underwater world in the next couple of posts. It was stunning enough that I decided to back it up with an Advanced Open Water course which meant wreck dives, night dives and chance to learn the basics of Navigation.

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So where has this taken me? Well, it all amounted to convincing me to complete my Rescue Diver and Emergency First Responder training and I’ve signed up to spend the next 2 months training as a Divemaster which will mean some opportunity to work once I’ve finished.

I’m on my way to Kuala Lumpur for the weekend to extend my visa and then I’ll be back to diving. Watch this space, exciting things to come.

Photo Essay: Trekking the Markha Valley

After attempting to tackle the Himalayas only to be turned back a couple of weeks ago I know had the Markha Valley firmly within my sights. The Markha Valley Trek is perhaps the most popular trek in the Ladakh region and can range from 4-10 days depending on your starting/finishing point and how fit you are.

We started at Chilling and ended at Chokdo 4 days later. We had orignally allowed 6 days for the trek but we put in some serious hours of trekking each day and managed to race through the trek in time for the Kalachakra Festival back in Leh.

Guides aren’t really neccessary on this trek as it’s quite well marked but I would highly recommend  a book with a basic outline of the route and homestays available. Camping is also available. In saying this we got lost on day 1 of the trek and a leg that should’ve taken 1.5-2 hours took us 4 and had us sliding down a rocky slope, wading up a river knee-deep in water and pretending to be native trackers tracing out old footprints but we got there!

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves as the scenery was simply amazing.

The flags always meant you were close to a tea-tent. Oh and it felt like I was in an arcade racing game.

The flags always meant you were close to a tea-tent. Oh and it felt like I was in an arcade racing game.

Markha Valley Trek in Leh India

There was only one way day…

River crossings became normal on day one

River crossings became normal on day one

Markha Valley Trek in Leh India

Prayer Wheels

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

Wunderschön

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

The two Swiss girls that dragged me through the trek – Team WunderSchnell!

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

The beautiful lady of the homestay in Hankar

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

Multi-coloured mountains.

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

It snowed on the way to the pass at 5200m. Naturally my beard was good at catching it.

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Have you trekked the North of India before? What has been your favourite place?

Trekking the Himalayas in the North of India

Trekking in the Himalayas of India was always going to have it’s surprises. The mountains of the Himalayas is home to some of the most unpredictable and arduous terrain on the planet. India itself also has the reputation of unpredictability. No matter what you do in India, there’s always the ‘Indian Surprise’ – a little curveball to keep you on your toes – and eight days of trekking the Himalayas would be no different.

Taking a break during the trek

Taking a break during the trek

I had just enjoyed 3 weeks in Manali – a welcome to the Himalayas I wouldn’t forget and after tearing myself away I soldiered on north to Kashmir. The trek was supposed to begin in Sonamarg and finish 7 nights later in Naranag passing through some of the great lakes and mountain passes of Kashmir.

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We were greeted with bad news on the first night. Kashmir had record snowfalls this year and was a little delayed in melting, we would have to keep an eye on conditions. The second day was meant to be a move in camp to Nichnai however the group leader had decided it would be best to leave the camp where it was and we would head towards Nichnai on a day hike as part of a reconnaissance trek.

The freshest drinking water going round.

The freshest drinking water going round.

Reaching Nichnai we saw first hand what we faced for the next few days. There was a lot of snow and no way around it. 

Returning to camp we had decisions to make – well kind of. I was happy to put my trust in the expertise of the two trek leaders, they proved to be very knowledgable and safety was clearly a priority of theirs. They had decided it was safe to go ahead for the next couple of days although they admitted at some point we may have to turn back. I’d come all this way, I was willing to give it a shot. The rest of the group – all 20 of them – were not as easily convinced. At one point it was looking as if it would just be me and trek leaders. Eventually 9 others came to their senses and jumped on board. It’s a shame the remaining 10, when faced with challenge and adversity let their fears overcome their logic.

We pushed on to Nichnai (3600m) the next day and set up camp, arriving just before a brief afternoon shower. Ironically enough, even though everyone had been afraid of the snow it was the mud that proved most difficult.

Looking back from Nichnai

Looking back from Nichnai

From Nichnai we headed over the pass – which would end up being our highest point at 3900m – and descended into Vishansar. We set up camp on a beautiful open meadow just 150m from the Lake. Vishansar Lake was still half frozen nestled in-between a horseshoe ring of mountains around one side. A semi-nomadic fisherman who had set up camp by the lake for 4 months invited me in for tea and watermelon (god knows where he got watermelon from).

Sharing watermelon with the local fisherman

Sharing watermelon with the local fisherman

The next pass through the mountains is where  we would run into trouble. The trek leaders, guides and helpers all trekked up to the pass that afternoon and set about clearing a path for the mules. They spent hours up on the pass and returned at 9:30 bearing the bad news that there was just too much snow for the mules to get through. We would have been fine but without our mules it was pointless. We had to go back.

Hiking through the snow

Hiking through the snow

We spent the next day at Vishansar playing soccer, frisbee, horse riding and I went for a short hike with one of the guides in the afternoon. It was good to relax for the day and enjoy the surroundings. We pushed through a huge day of trekking and skipped the Nichnai camp heading straight back to Sonamarg which gave us time the next day to explore the glacier across the valley before returning to Srinagar.

Sunsets at Vishansar

Sunsets at Vishansar

Although we didn’t complete the trek I had an amazing time the scenery was unlike anything I’d ever seen before and I can’t count the amount of times I stopped, looked around and said ‘Shit, this is ridiculous’. The nights were equally impressive and I thought I’d been treated to an interstellar show on the desert safari but the Himalayan skies blew that out of the water.

Have you trekked the Himalayas before? What was your experience like? 

Desert Days in Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer, India’s gateway to the Thar Desert sits in Western Rajasthan about 130km’s east of the Pakistani border, it’s India’s capital for camel safaris. Stepping off the bus you are engulfed and a little overwhelmed by two things – the stifling heat and hot winds rolling in off the Thar Desert and Jaisalmer’s touts, rickshaw drivers and camel safari operators, given that it’s off-season both the heat and the people are as pressing as ever. It’s a whirlwind of people offering cheap rooms and cheap safaris and just 22 hours later I found myself on a camel 70 kilometres outside of Jaisalmer with a Polish couple, our guides Hokum and Salem, and our camel convoy – Johnny Boy, Sonia, Mr. Bean and Papu.

Johnny Boy and I

Johnny Boy and I

 

Camel Safari in Rajasthan

The camel convoy


The camel safaris have long been considered a must do of India (like Hampi) and I can now see why.  The days start early with chai, eggs and toast around the campfire. As the sun peaks it’s head over the horizon we began to pack the camels for the long day ahead. After loading them up with 75 litres of water and all our other rations for the 2 nights in the desert we make our way out into the blistering sun – I should hardly complain I make the journey on the back of the camel and apart from keeping myself on the camel there’s not much I have to do for the next few hours. At around 11 o clock, after 3 hours of riding we stop under the shade of a tree and cook lunch – this is more for our sake than the camels.

‘Camel Kitchen’ – a few pots and pans over a campfire – as the drivers call it cooks up a delicious mixed veg masala with endless chapati’s as well as the obligatory chai (it happens to be the best chai in India). We eat more or less the same meals for lunch and dinner on the 3 days and there was no complaining there – the food was tasty, filling and endless. All of us except the camels followed this up by a nap under the tree.

Camel Kitchen - serving up India's finest Chai

Camel Kitchen – serving up India’s finest Chai

We rest and let the camels wander for a few hours while the sun is at it’s most extreme then our turbans go back on and we venture off in search of a campsite by sunrise. It’s worth noting that for some reason fluoro pink and orange turbans are somewhat of a ‘thing’ out here, even among some of the locals.  The days end in much the same way they start, with chai and dinner as the sun goes down this time over Pakistani border. The air instantly cools and we spend the nights sitting around the campfire drinking desert whisky, telling stories and listening to Salem’s renditions on classic songs. If you’ve never heard an Indian camel driver belt out ‘Hotel Camelfornia’ while playing the water container as a tabla then I seriously suggest you book your camel safari today.

Our camp for the night

Our camp for the night

The long day in the sun and desert whisky take its toll and I retire to bed, a blanket on top of a nearby sand dune. As the campfire burns out the cosmic light show comes to life. The Milky Way spans the sky and I can’t remember the last time I had seen this many stars. As I lay there I remember reading that there are more stars in the universe than all the grains of sand on this Earth and lying in the middle of 200,000 square kilometres of sandy desert is a timely reminder of just how small we are.

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This escape from the chaos of India was exactly what I needed. It was an amazing way to tick off another item on My Bucket List.

Have you done a Camel Safari or a trip into the desert somewhere? What was your experience like?

theboywander