Monday, 30 September 2013

Freedom Climbers

Bernadette McDonald is certainly one of the finest writers today on mountain literature which she has proven when first she wrote Tomaz Humar and then Freedom Climbers both of which deservedly won the Boardman Tasker Prize as well as the Grand Prize Winner of the Banff Mountain Book Festival.

The book is about the golden age of Polish Climbers who despite the oppression during the World War II and then under the suppression of communism proved themselves to be the best in the world in the 80’s and 90’s. By the time the Polish climbers started climbing outside Poland most of the bigger and famous mountains had already been climbed by the British, French, and Germans etc. So the Polish climbers excelled themselves in either climbing by new and difficult routes or climbed the high mountains in winters! The Polish climbers gave alpinism a new meaning to the climbs in the Himalayas.

The book should not be considered as a definitive history of Polish Himalayan climbing. The author has concentrated on certain personalities and specific climbs instead of cramming everything in one book and that is what makes the book very readable.

Freedom Climbers mainly covers the lives of the legendary Voytek Kurtkya, who proved that it is possible to climb difficult routes on big mountains in small teams. His climbs included 13 great faces in the Himalaya, six of which were 8000ers; Wanda Ruckiewicz who was the first Polish and the first European woman to climb Everest, she died climbing on the Kanchenjunga; Jerzy Kukkza who was the second person after Reinhold Messner to climb all 14 eight thousanders. But his climbs were considered better than Messner as most of these were either first climbs on new routes or were winter ascents! He died climbing on the Lhotse.

The book also delves on the climbs of Krzysztof (who climbed Broad peak in just 22 hours - fastest climb of an 8 thousander and the first one day ascent) and was the fifth person to climb all fourteen 8000ers after Messner, Jerzy Kuckza, Erhard Loretan and Carlos Corsolio.

Polish climbers proved to be a creative lot and devised a system of ‘trade’ during the communist rule. The items like food and climbing equipment that they got cheap in Poland were sold during the expeditions which fetched them a higher price and from that money either they brought other equipment not available to them or towards payment for their next international expeditions.

The Freedom Climbers by Bernadette McDonald, like Tomaz Humar, is definitely a book not to be missed by all mountaineers as well as persons interested in mountain literature.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Spotting a Seal in Morecambe

I was taking a walk on the pier in Morecambe next to the Morecambe Bay Light House and all of a sudden I spotted some movement and realised that it is a sea Seal which has come to the shore.

A Seal in Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, UK

I have never seen a Seal out in the open before and it was an experience of a lifetime. The Seal sat on the rocks covered with algae barely 20-25 feet away from me and was there for a considerable time and slid back into the water once the water level started going down due to the ebb in the tide. It looked as if it was having a sun-bathing session! I was also able to capture the movements in a small video which I present here.

A Seal in Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, UK

Seals are carnivorous ocean mammals with a sleek body designed for swimming and live in cold regions. They have webbed feet which they use as flippers.

I was talking to a local later on and when I said to him that I have seen a seal here today he first did not believe me. It was only after I showed him the video of the Seal that he said that I am very lucky as in the past several years he himself has never been able to see a Seal despite the fact that he comes on the pier almost daily for a jog.

Morecambe is a small town located on the Morecambe Bay in the Lancashire County in England. It is a popular sea side resort close to the town of Lancaster. I had in fact trekked from Lancaster to Morecambe instead of taking a coach as the walk is always a better way to see a place than a coach or a train. But about that may be I will write a separate post.

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Liverpool Cathedral

The Liverpool Anglican Cathedral is among the largest cathedrals not only in UK but in the whole world. Since the cathedral is located on the St. James Mount it is visible from almost all parts of the City; be it the town centre or the piers. 

The Liverpool Anglican Cathedral

In fact it is better to look at it from some distance as if you get too close to it then you will not be able to capture in completely in your camera frame.

The Cathedral at Liverpool

At 207 yards it is the second longest cathedral in the world after the St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. In terms of volume it is the fifth largest in the world. And with a height of 331 feet it is one of the tallest non-spired church buildings.

Stained glass work at the Anglican Cathedral, Liverpool

The Liverpool Anglican Cathedral is a English Heritage Grade I building which means that it is of international importance. It is also the third tallest building within Liverpool after the West Tower and the Radio City Tower.

Side View of the Anglican Cathedral, Liverpool

This Gothic Revival style building’s architect was Giles Gilbert Scott and was built between 1904 to 1978. Scott was known for blending the Gothic style with modernism. He was also the architect of the Waterloo Bridge as well as the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The famous Red Telephone boxes seen across England are also designed by him.

The huge Central Tower of the Liverpool Cathedral

The Cathedral also has a restaurant for fine dining experience and to relax your tired feet after the tour. The church is made at such a grand scale that even sitting in the restaurant and admiring the rock and mirror work can take some time.

The Restaurant entrance

The site location is so spectacular that the church is visible from all locations and dominates the city and yet withdrawn from the main city. And one can view large portions of the city from the vantage point of the cathedral. The Cathedral is very close to the China town and the Liverpool John Moores University. 

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Edinburgh's Calton Hill - Athens of the North

Scotland as a whole has bountiful natural beauty and within that setting its capital Edinburgh has beautiful buildings and location. I spent two days in Edinburgh recently which actually meant I had very little time to do justice to the city's monuments, buildings, nature walks, gardens and culture to be fully appreciated.

The National Monument of Scotland at Calton Hill, Edinburgh

On my second day I hiked to Calton Hill where several monuments of national importance are located with the National Monument taking the pride of the place. The Calton Hill is just about 20 minutes walk from the railway station.

The National Monument was built from 1822 to 1829 to commemorate the Scottish soldiers who died during the Napoleonic wars of 1803-1815. In 18th century Edinburgh was a known city of intellectual brilliance and beautiful architecture. Many buildings in this city have been built in the Greek neo-classical style. The National monument itself is based on the Parthenon in Athens. The monument could not be completed due to lack of funds. That is why it also has got nicknames like "Edinburgh's Folly" or "Scotland's Disgrace". Architects of this monument were C R Cockerell and William H Playfair. Playfair also designed the Dugald Stewart monument (see below).

The National Monument & the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill as seen from Arthur's Seat

The buildings on Calton Hill gave the city the reputation and the title of the ‘Athens of the North’. The Hill also has the City Observatory, Dugald Stewart Monument and the Nelson's Monument.

Dugald Stewart Monument, Calton Hill, Edinburgh

Dugald Stewart, (1753 to 1828) was a Scottish Philosopher and Mathematician of great repute. The monument in memory of Dugald Stewart was completed in 1831. The monument is modelled on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, Greece and is a circular temple of 9 fluted Corinthian columns around an elevated urn.

The Nelson Monument, Calton Hill, Edinburgh 

Also on the Calton Hill is the Nelson monument, built between 1807 and 1815 in the memory of Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Viscount Nelson and of the great victory of Trafalgar which he achieved over the French and the Spanish. It has a shape of an upturned telescope designed by architect Robert Burn. There is also a monument with his statue in the Trafalgar Square in London.

The Portuguese Cannon, Calton Hill, Edinburgh

On the Calton Hill I also saw a cannon with a lot of history behind it. This Portuguese cannon has travelled the World! Cast in brass in the early 15th century with the Royal Arms of Spain on its barrel the cannon was transported to the Portuguese colonies of South East Asia sometime before 1785. Then the cannon came into possession of King of Arakan in Burma (now Myanmar) and then captured by the British in 1885 during their invasion of Burma. In 1886 the cannon was presented to Edinburgh and placed on the Calton Hill in 1887.

Stewart Monument with Edinburgh City as a backdrop

Calton Hill was formed due to volcanic activity and is now part of the Old and the New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site. The views from here of the city, the Edinburgh fort, the Princess Street and the Arthur’s Seat are spectacular. Besides the monuments the Calton Hill also has a network of paths around the hill for general walking giving the 360 degree view of the city. One of the paths here is name as Hume's Walk after the most famous Scottish philosopher David Hume.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Rafting Down the Ganges

Majority of the persons heading towards Rishikesh go to 'wash their sins' in the 'holy' Ganges (or Ganga). Rishikesh is a small town at the beginning of the hills in the state of Uttarakhand in India.

Time to head to the river front 

But whenever I head to Risikesh it always has to do something with adventure. It is either a starting point for the many treks or  the climbing expeditions that I have done. But this time I went to Rishikesh with rafting as the most important agenda.

Shivpuri Beach - our starting point

I also did two mini treks  - one to the Neergarh Falls where I also did some rappelling and the other to Garud Chatti Waterfalls. I was staying in the Brahampuri area so on the day of the rafting I first headed up river by road to Shivpuri, our starting point. 

One of the smaller Rapids

Once there the raft instructors gave us instructions about techniques to use the paddles, navigate the rapids, how to control the speed and direction and how to use the feet to lock yourself so as not to fall overboard. The instructions are crucial so as to avoid serious accidents later when the raft turns turtle but unfortunately I have observed that people who come in large groups hardly listen to the instructions and are still in their own world.

Rafting near the Brahampuri

At the very first rapid though my raft went without any problems but one of the rafts overturned throwing all its rafters overboard. Luckily there were no injuries and quickly the instructors (two of them were on kayaks as well) pulled them back to the raft.

Near the end of the rafting with Ram Jhula area in the background

The rapids have been given very interesting names presumably by Sir Edmund Hillary himself. Some of the names of the rapids between Shivpuri to Muni ki Reti were Roller Coaster, Golf Course, Double Trouble, Initiation, Club House etc. The total distance from Shivpuri to Muni ki Reti is about 17 kms and there are about six major rapids.

My jubliant team after finishing the rafting at Muni Ki Reti

There are stretches where the water flow is sluggish and one can then jump in the river and swim/float for some time. But do not get complacent by the serene looking river - it is deep and there have been innumerable instances of people trying some fun and resulting in fatal accidents as the undercurrent can sweep you off your feet easily.

Lemonade & snack sellers doing brisk business for the hungry & thirsty rafters

We finished the rafting at Muni ki Reti and all were in a celebratory mood though I could see some of the people were thoroughly tired as they have never paddled before in their life and some of them were shivering because they felt the water too cold when in rapids they were thoroughly drenched or were those who went overboard either accidentally or for experience. The lemondae and snacks sellers did a brsik business as most rafter were thirsty and hungry!

Rafting Over - Time to go home for the raft as well!

It was time for not only us but the rafts also to head home and the rafts were carried by four people over their heads and then fixed to the jeeps to go to our camps.

Best time to do rafting is from September to May. During monsoons the rafting activity stops as the flow is too much as well as the water is muddy. In winters the level is low and if you jump in the river to swim alongside your raft, which I did for a considerable time when I went in March, the water is too cold and you would not enjoy so much.

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Sunday, 1 September 2013

A Walk in the LAKES - The Keswick Walk

The Lake District is considered one of the most beautiful areas in the United Kingdom and within this the Keswick area has inspired several of the Lake poets whose works have shaped our ideas about landscapes.

Boat Landing Site at Friar's Crag

Keswick town is located in Cumbria, England close to the Derwentwater Lake. Keswick means 'farm where cheese is made'. If given an option I like to go for the natural beauty over the cityscape and that is what I decided to do in Keswick as well. I went for a moderate grade walk of Friar's Crag and Castlehead as I had limited time available and a more than moderate trek would have taken longer.

Several rivulets cross your path

I started from the Moot Hall in the market square and taking the Lake Road headed towards the Friar's Crag crossing the Hope Park and Crow Park. Thomas Gray's (famous English poet & scholar) account of Keswick has inspired several of the Lake poets to come and stay here.

A View from the Friar's Crag

The high fells of the central lakeland visible from the Friar's Crag have been made famous by John Ruskin, painter & writer who considered Keswick to be the best in Europe and too beautiful a place to live in!

National Trust Centenary Stone

At Calfclose Bay if you look on your right near the shore you will notice two centenary stones next to the shore. These were placed in 1995 to commemorate 100 years of the National Trust in the Lake District and is a tribute to all those who helped in the conservation of the area.

Trek under the canopy of trees

Normally, Calfclose Bay is where trekkers turn towards either Keswick or Castlehead but I decided to keep on going along the edge of the Derwentwater (no tracks so be sure you are not lost!) and came out near the Youth Hostel and then turned towards Castlehead taking the route along the Great Wood forest.

View of Derwentwater Lake & the Central Lakeland from Castlehead

Now the trek becomes moderate as the walk uphill to Castlehead is steep. But once you reach Castlehead, the highest point close to Keswick, all your fatigue just vanishes by the view one gets.

View of Keswick & Skiddaw Slates from Castlehead

The view from the Castlehead is a stunning 360 degree view. Beyond the Derwentwater lake the fells are smooth whereas on this side of the lake it is craggy and this contrast make the area very beautiful. The Lake District (or just The LAKES as is known locally) beauty was recognised by the government when it designated it as a National park in 1951.

View of Shimmering waters of Derwentwater & Barrowdale from Castlehead

One can take the complete circle of the Castlehead hill also if one wants, which I did. From the top I went towards Keswick crossing the St. John's Church and reached back to the market from where I had started.

At the summit of Castlehead

Keswick is definitely more beautiful, and less touristy than Windermere.

To reach Keswick one can take a train up to Windermere and from there hourly buses are available to Keswick.