Category Archives: Outdoors

Patagonia.

The land of raging winds. Vast, open fields that go on for miles. Clear streams and lakes with colours unknown. Endless glaciers and peaks that suddenly appear out of nowhere as the clouds part.

Where the weather always has a mind of its own and you may see four seasons in a day. Where the summer brings days that almost never end. A place that remains frozen for a good part of the year, where only a handful of hardy souls can thrive.

And a cliche it may be, but I think I left a piece of me behind.

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Tales from Java: Middle of the night Madness on Mount Merapi

‘Why am I doing this to myself’, I almost muttered out loud as I pulled myself up another steep section on my creaking knees.

It was 3.30 AM and pitch dark with an unwanted drizzle as we continued on our mission to scale Mount Merapi, the most active volcano in Indonesia (literally, ‘Fire Mountain’ in Bahasa Indonesia). Eight trekkers from different parts of the world, with our three guides – all so diverse, we’d look like a Benetton ad in daylight.

We had landed in Yogyakarta that afternoon and decided to trek up Mount Merapi in the night to catch the sunrise at the top. So, after a short(ish) snooze of a a couple of hours in the evening, we were picked up by our travel agent at 9.30 pm to ferry us to the starting point of the trek (about two hours away, including a a bone-jarring last 20 minutes off road).

The first half an hour of the trek was actually a pre-trek, steep walk up to New Selo, the launching point of the trudge up the mountain. The trek itself is an even steeper climb in the dark, with 4 sections of 0.6 km to 1 km, each of which take about 45 to 60 minutes – the killer stretches being the 700 m ones that take 45 minutes to an hour to traverse.

Coming from flat and sea-level Singapore that very morning presented an additional challenge – we weren’t used to altitude and found ourselves panting much sooner than warranted; but things got better as the night progressed and we adapted. The trail soon gave way to loose gravel and rocks and every few minutes we would hear a ‘whooosh’ as someone lost their footing for a bit and slid a few steps down. ‘Are you okay?’, one of the guides would call out and once established that everyone was still in one piece, we would continue our slow ascent; ‘small steps, small steps’, I’d tell myself.

A total of 4 hours later, we found ourselves on the ‘Plateau’ –  a stretch of almost-level ground where hikers pitch up their tents to spend the night. The real summit is another 200 to 300 metres above this – an almost vertical climb with no safety ropes or supervision. Most hikers go up to the plateau and are highly discouraged by the guides from going further. Deciding that the final ascent was much too adventurous for my wobbly knees, we called our climb successful at the plateau as we braced for the strong and chilly gusts of wind that crossed it non-stop.

After what felt like an hour of shivering in the mist, the sky began to be painted with hues of pink, orange, red and the sun finally muscled through the dense clouds to the horizon.

Coming down was a lot more painful than going up, of course – especially on our already-weary legs – there were more than a handful of times that each one of us landed on our bottoms and slid down; but it was a lot quicker too. We were back at New Selo, with its ‘HOLLYWOOD’ like sign, in just 1.5 hours.

Was it worth it? There isn’t another answer to that but a ‘Yes’. Were there times that I felt like giving up – Yes; but I’m glad I made it through – anything else would’ve been a heartbreak.

If you’re planning to climb Mount Merapi:

  • It’s easy to book your tour through your hotel or the multiple agencies in Yogyakarta – rates are pretty standard at about 400 – 450k IDR (~ 35 USD) for the whole deal.
  • You leave Yogya at 9.30 – 10 PM for the sunrise trek. Takes about 4 hours to climb up, 1.5-2 hours to come down.
  • The trek is harder than your average walk-in-the woods. No technical skills needed but you need to use your hands to pull yourself up or lower yourself down in quite a few stretches, closer to the peak.
  • Shoes with a good grip make life easier – running shoes are okay, as long as they have some kind of grip. A jacket / fleece is essential – waterproof is better. A warm cap and gloves can be precious at the top as well.
  • The volcano is very active, so check activity levels online before you book your tour.
  • Carry your water and snacks along with you – it’s a long night and you will feel thirsty and hungry.

Been to Central Java or Mount Merapi yet? Planning to go? Let me know!

More connections to nature here.

 

Look what Spring Brought in…

Bombay (or Mumbai) doesn’t really have spring – we have two seasons for the year – 1) hot and humid; and 2) raining cats and dogs. So I was happy to make this trip down memory lane to pull out these reminders of a spring in Turkey a couple of years back. When we landed in Istanbul in the middle of April on an overcast afternoon, there was a sharp chill in the air. As the next few days progressed, the weather decided to cast aside its dull winter robe and finally take on the full-fledged brightness of spring.

Like I said, we don’t get spring in Mumbai (where I currently live), so I was excited to experience the transition from winter and the newness and freshness of things around me – the aroma of roasting chestnuts left over from the winter, the clouds clearing up to make way for sunny days and bright blue skies and the blossoming of flowers of every shape, name and colour, at every stop of our trip.

P.S. Go see the tulips welcoming spring in Istanbul at the annual Istanbul Tulip Festival in April.  There's going to be millions of them (seriously)!

Onwards to the Mountains – Days 1 & 2 of our Himalayan road trip, Chandigarh to Manali to Jispa

This is the second part of a multi-post series covering our trip to Ladakh, a remote region high up in the Indian Himalayas. You can read Part 1 here.

25th July, Day 1 – Chandigarh (1000 ft) to Manali (8000 ft)

It was finally here – the day we were to begin snailing our way towards the land of the mountain passes, nestled some 12,000 feet(!) above where we were that morning (Bombay a.k.a. Mumbai) – with the usual pre-trip feeling of nervous excitement in the pit of my stomach (:D). Continue reading Onwards to the Mountains – Days 1 & 2 of our Himalayan road trip, Chandigarh to Manali to Jispa

The Jewel of Croatia – annnd it’s not Dubrovnik…

While planning our visit to Croatia this fall, one place that was constantly on my list for the last year or more, was the Plitvice Lakes National Park. In fact, it was the reason I decided to visit Croatia in the first place. Pristine emerald and turquoise-colored lakes, the verdant woods, miles of wooden walk-boards right next to the lakes and the numerous waterfalls – Google it and you’ll know what I mean.

When the actual day of our visit came, it brought with it, forecasts of heavy downpour and fog. If there’s anything that can make your heart sink in a minute second on a vacation, it’s exactly this weather forecast – especially when you’re headed to the great outdoors. Having no reserve day to postpone our visit to, we got on the bus from Zadar and kept hoping that the weatherman would once again (when it mattered) be wrong.

Our prayers were not answered. We got off at the Park in the middle of a drizzle and thick fog and spent the first hour going around in circles looking for the Tourist Information Centre (where we could leave our big bags). That’s the thing with fall weather – it’s always iffy; you could have a beautiful day of sunshine followed by a cold, damp day. However, the colours of the outdoors are at their most beautiful in fall too – the yellows, oranges and reds taking over from the greens.

In the end, the fog did decide to lift for a few minutes now and then, and we managed to catch glimpses of the stunning beauty of this wonder of nature. Here are a few pictures from our day out.