Home – getting back from Ama Dablam

When I made the somewhat difficult call to leave the mountain and get home, I thought I’d make a little video for Jette.

It follows my journey from Camp one on Ama Dablam and continues down through the snowline to Pangboche, Tangboche, Namche Bazaar and Lukla, then on to Kathmandu, Singapore, to Melbourne and then HOME!

At 4:40, due to a cheap upgrade, I was sitting in Business Class, stinking like hell, sipping wine and watching the entire Himalayas slide by.

Nepal slideshow – pre-trek

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Travel Blogger Calendar 2014 – Help elephants, win a $3300 holiday!

grey Travel Blogger Calendar 2014   Help elephants, win a $3300 holiday!

Before I speak about this year’s Travel Blogging Calendar I have three questions for you:
grey Travel Blogger Calendar 2014   Help elephants, win a $3300 holiday!
 - Who loves Elephants?
- Who would love to win an amazing holiday package worth $3300 while helping said cute old elephants?
- Who agrees that I should never, ever, participate in another calendar featuring my naked ass in a freezing lake?
Same here! Feedback on last year’s charity calendar was pretty much unanimous in that we should keep our clothes on, but do it again in some form or another.
Following months of intensive online brainstorming inside our safe bunker (Facebook group) away from the spotlight we have emerged with an amazing idea, a great charity to sponsor and a truly awesome prize to give away…we are like a bunch of determined, cyber phoenixes.

The Travel Blogging Calendar is back, bigger and better than ever. 

This year we are going digital while holding a raffle. Thanks to the awesome people at Flight Network and Ian Ord of Where Sidewalks End we have arranged a prize package including $2000 towards a flight to Thailand, and an 8 day, 7 night tour where you will get a chance to  explore Thailand and meet some elephants at the very sanctuary this initiative is helping.
Even if you miss out on the trip to Thailand, everyone who buys tickets will get exclusive weekly blog updates written by our team of professional blog experts (and me). Each post will highlight different cultural holidays or events taking place all over the globe.

Even if you don’t win, you win…win/win!

grey Travel Blogger Calendar 2014   Help elephants, win a $3300 holiday!The elephants also win as all monies raised will be handed directly to Save Elephant Foundation founder Lek so she can rescue more abused proboscines (I just won by learning a fancy new word!). Our intrepid Jeremy of Travel FREAK paid a visit to Lek on his way through Asia and learnt that this lady is genuinely passionate about these lumbering, loveable beasts.
I think we can all agree that elephants are magnificent; the way they are treated by captors in Thailand, however, is not. Elephants, as you know, are huge. To domesticate them such that they can be treated like livestock, poachers have to instill fear into them – otherwise the elephant would just stomp on the bad dudes and go about their business.
No doubt you are picturing an elephant in some shit-ridden cage being whipped mercilesly. Even the clean, healthy looking guy with bells around his neck (that you took a ride on last holiday) has been through a horrendous breaking process. This is why the incomparable Lek founded the Save Elephant Foundation in 1995. Lek buys elephants from captors (this is a tightrope as she cannot pay so much that people poach them purely to sell to him) and relocates them onto what is as close to their natural habitat as possible. Here they are allowed to roam free. As the website says, ‘there are no tricks. There are no rides.’ Just elephants doing what they naturally do and generally being wicked.  Currently Save Elephant Foundation are at capacity and urgently need funds to rescue more elephants. Read more here.
Now is the time to think about responsible tourism. Don’t just think about how your holiday affects you, think about how your holiday affects the people, places and animals you meet on the way.
“Enough banging on about social responsibility Ben; I will keep this in mind when I explore,” I hear you say. “You had me at ‘cute elephants’ … how can I donate to be in the running to win this awesome prize?”
Click on the link below:


Remember, the more you donate, the more entries you get in the holiday package.


Massive thanks to:

The guys at Flight Network who donated this brilliant prize. We expect this year will be huge, largely due to their generosity. Go over, say hi and tell ‘em I sent you! Say thanks for being awesome to Flight Network

Ian Ord of Where Sidewalks End; his startup tour company is both socially and environmentally sound. We need more like you mate!

Jeremy Foster of TravelFREAK; without your energy and commitment this initiative would not be as amazing as it is.


grey PashupataniSitting here in the lobby of the Hotel Marshyangdi, surrounded by fellow westerners all plugged into various high tech gizmos it is astounding how damn disconnected we have become. To get to the hotel lobby I walked less than one kilometer from Fire and Ice, the Pizzeria where the team met to eat dinner and get to know each other.

grey PashupataniOn they way I was Namaste-d by numerous people, sure most wanted to sell me hash or singing bowls, but some genuinely wanted to say, ‘hi’. The young chap who sold me a shirt yesterday said, ‘G’day’ (he knows my nationality) so I sat next to him on the gutter and we had a brief but pleasant chat about the unusual weather. All the time he was connected with a friend by holding hands. In Nepal this is a sign of friendship, not homosexuality. The guard at the hotel gate saluted me with a wide grin before asking how I was and telling me that Thamel will be really busy tomorrow with a festival. Walking inside the hotel to my favourite couch (with the good wifi signal) I automatically said a friendly, ‘Hello‘ to some Swedish men sitting nearby. They looked at me as though I had thrown glitter over them.

grey PashupataniUs westerners have truly become disconnected. Lost in our own personal ecosystems, sheltered from awkward conversations by music players, iPhone fiddling or dark sunglasses. The same goes for death, we desperately hide from it, we hide from it’s ominous march behind age defying skin creams and shiny new sports cars … when the inevitable happens we efficiently deal with death by dressing it in fine clothes, lathering it with makeup, then quickly burying it. We are desperate to hide from the fact that death is something we all have to deal with someday.

Not so the Nepalese.

After visiting Boudhanath, Bish and I went to visit Pashupatinath, a temple by the river in Kathmandu where locals cremate their loved ones. This was incredibly confronting. Not only were we faced with the sight of bodies being cremated, but we were hit with the smell and the sound, along with the uncomfortable thought that we should have skipped this sight. It is after all a very personal time for mourners. The Nepalese do not grey Pashupataniseem to mind the intrusion though. They seem totally at ease living out their most private moments in public, sharing such a small space with 4 million other people will do that. Not only do they seem okay with visitors, but they actively encourage us. Tickets are sold at the entrance, guides are placed around to shunt tourists to the right viewing places and, not surprisingly, touts line the walls.

A cornerstone of the Buddhist faith is the belief in Karma and re-incarnation. When someone dies their soul leaves the body to be reincarnated as another human (or a cockroach depending on how much good karma they have accrued). This is a massively watered down version, but for now it will do. The body becomes an empty vessel which can be invaded by evil spirits, so it is important to destroy the body as soon as practical after death. Fire is the best way achieve this.

grey PashupataniAfter a death the cremation ceremony begins within minutes or hours. The body is shrouded, adorned with money or flowers then taken to the edge of the river. It is dipped three times in the holy river to purify it then placed gently on a pyr of wood. More wood is added, along with straw, before the first born male lights the fire. It is important that the fire start around the mouth as this is where it is believed evil spirits enter. The rest is a matter of time. After a few hours the body is considered cremated enough. The charred body (called an Astu) is taken by the first born son and released into the holy river. A caretaker sweeps the remains into the river so the soul is free from the physical world. It is customary for the son to then wash himself in the river to purify after the ceremony.

We watched a ceremony from the very start, this is a multi-sensory experience to say the least. Bish and I were uncharacteristically solemn while watching. On the drive back to the hotel I was thinking to myself that maybe I need some time alone, with my iPhone plugged in, to rationalise what I have just seen…

Boudhanath – Kathmandu’s most sacred site

grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred siteWith a second day to fill in before the rest of the expedition crew arrive, Bish and I met Arnil at 10am with plans to visit Boudhanath, the largest Stupa in Asia. Following another frenetic drive we pull up in a cloud of dust near Boudhanath.

Boudhanath is the largest Stupa in Aisa. When you view Stupas from above the layout is the same as the Mandala paintings (like Bish bought yesterday) that act as a roadmap of reincarnation. Boudhanath is teeming with Monks in orange robes turning prayer wheels as tourists poke telephoto lenses in their faces and touts try to sell hash, paintings or handicrafts. It is Mecca for Buddhists and a town unto itself, monasteries radiate out from the Stupa in all directions.

grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred siteWe took a short stroll to the biggest monastery which unfortunately was closed for tourists. However, as a consellation prize we were able to climb a stairwell to gain an amazing view over the whole area. Feeling like a sniper through my camera lens I witnessed a tourist shoving his camera right into the monks’ faces whilst the Monk was praying and turning the prayer wheel, later on I saw him walk right in the front of a group of about 40 monks who were chanting to take a photo…clearly he has not read my Travel Guide Book!

After some more poking around and soaking up the atmosphere Bish and I climbed onto the Stupa itself (yes we checked, it is quite okay to do so) fortunately the monks were still praying and we spent a blissful time on the top, listening to the hypnotic chantings and humming of people preparing for an upcoming festival, which sadly we will miss due to climbing commitments.

grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred site grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred site  
grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred site grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred site




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