Travelling with India’s best adventure tour operator

I know I am spoiled beyond belief – 2 trips to the mountains in almost as many months, but you know how it is, when the mountains beckon…

In late January/early February I went on a high altitude trek in Ladakh with my all-round favourite adventure travel people – White Magic Adventure Travel.  I wrote about the Chadar Trek in a blog post – here it is again for reference.

Then, come mid April, off I set again on a super exciting, super challenging 2 week trip to the mountains of Himachal, yet again with the one & only White Magic Adventure Travel.  Just got back late last night, tired as anything but smiling happily as only a mountain addict can 🙂

The first week, we were taught the basics of climbing.  The second week we attempted Friendship Peak.

And, yet again, the amazing folk at White Magic delivered a fantastic experience, for the 12 of us on the course and then the 8 of us who attempted Friendship Peak.  The weather for our climb was crazy – huge amounts of snow, as in HUGE amounts of snow – knee-high levels, that kind of thing, so we got to within 200 metres of the summit but then turned back.  The snow was simply too deep and too risky to continue.  Avilash felt it was avalanche-prone and indeed on the l-o-n-g descent from 5000m+ to our Base Camp, there were numerous small avalanches happening all around us.

Oh yes, before I go on – one night, as we were all sitting in the mess tent at Base Camp, Avilash very quietly & diffidently told us that WM had just won the Outlook Traveller Award for excellence – recognising WM as the ‘Best Adventure Tour Operator’.  Cheers all round, as we were living this excellence – plans being rearranged to deal with the weather, sick travellers being looked after, oxygen saturation levels being checked twice a day – that kind of attention to detail which bagged them their much-deserved award.

Here, these are photos of the award ceremony:

So, yes, back to our trip.

Difficult logistics, with all that snow at high altitude and rapidly melting snow at the lower levels.  Indeed, when we descended on the last day to Dhundi, where we were based for the training course, the slopes were virtually unrecognizable, most of the snow having melted.

The training course consisted of practical sessions on the slopes in the morning – terrifyingly exciting skills like arresting your own fall with your ice axe, an adrenalin-pumper if ever there was one.  Kami Sherpa would rock up half way through the morning sessions, with tea and juice and biscuits and we were allowed a quick 10 minute tea-break, and then back to work.  (See what I mean about the WM service and attention to detail, by the way?)

After a late lunch, there would be a classroom session – how to wear your boots and crampons, how to pitch a tent, how to tie knots, many of them conducted by the wonderful Tashi, with whom I trekked on the Chadar.

There was not one single thing to criticise on this trip.

Not one.

Fabulous professional service & attention to detail.

Top class equipment.

Great food, including a high altitude sponge caked baked by the brilliant kitchen staff.

I was so knackered after the summit climb, that I slept right through lunch & emerged about 5pm, absolutely starving.  Staggered through the thick snow to the mess tent, where I was fed bowls of Maggi noodles.  That famous WM great service again.

Every single member of the WM staff was a rockstar – special thanks have to go to our 3 trainers, Avilash, Kirti & Tashi.  Kami Sherpa was beyond wonderful on summit night – I think shovelling snow to make me a space to pee, when we were all on a fixed rope, at 4500m, in the dark, goes way beyond the call of duty…

Fab trip with a fab company.

Would I recommend White Magic Adventure travel?

Unreservedly.

Disclaimer: the guys at WM know by now, after 4 trips with them, that I blog, but they have never, ever once asked me to write a favourable review.  This is all 100% genuine feedback.

I paid for my trip.

Testing the SEATOSUMMIT dry sack

Last year, prior to a diving trip to Borneo, we bought a Seatosummit lightweight dry sack from a dive shop in KL.

8 litre capacity and weighing in at only a spectacular 58 grams.

I have just taken my lovely bright yellow dry bag with me on its first “summit” outing – a 2 week trek in the Himalayas in late Jan-early Feb.  The trek, on a frozen river, provided extreme weather day in, day out.  Cold, snow, sleet, and the possibility of having to ford glacial rivers (the latter didn’t happen, thank goodness).  I used the bag inside my daypack, to keep my camera, batteries, spare socks and spare gloves dry.

Perfect.

Everything dry, despite the fact we walked for hours in the snow.

Here’s the link to the Seatosummit website for these dry sacks.

It’s now been used on dive boats in Borneo and up in the harsh Himalayas, and has passed with flying colours.

Personally recommended.

I bought the bag, didn’t tell the shop nor the company that I blog.

White Magic Adventure Travel – THE adventure specialists in India

Yesterday, with great reluctance, I left snowy, wintery, beautiful Leh, and headed back to Delhi, after another stunning trip with White Magic Adventure Travel.

As I unpack and download my photos and generally ease back into city life, I thought I’d put pen to paper (as it were) and give you an update on the travel company that organised this latest adventure.

I have travelled with White Magic Adventure Travel twice before and have written about them in an earlier blog post, but since every trip is different, I felt an update in order.

No surprise, White Magic did it again.

In the face of extreme weather, beyond unpredictable conditions, sickness (that would be me…) we had a fabulous trek on the frozen River Zanskar high up in the Himalayas.

The River Zanskar freezes over in the winter and what has always been the traditional access route between Leh and Zanskar for the locals, has become an increasingly popular trekking destination.

The very nature of this trek means it is extreme in every sense – you are camping on a frozen river bed, and the logistics are nothing short of astounding. Tents, food, supplies – everything has to be ferried by hand, with a team of 20 fabulous porters dragging the food and luggage and baggage on wooden sleds, and then hoisting both sledge and baggage onto their backs whenever the ice was broken and we had to clamber up hills. (More anon).

The trip started in Leh, and it was great to catch up with old friends from previous treks, like dear Tashi Angchuk, Nitesh Sati and Mohan Singh, who has always been a tower of strength.

On day 2 in Leh, I felt unwell – drowsy, no appetite, vomiting – and so after a morning of worried nagging by Sanjeev Ganju and Tashi, I was marched off to Leh hospital and put on oxygen.  I wound up spending the night in hospital on oxygen.

Since my oxygen saturation level had risen overnight, I was cleared for travel the next morning, though Sanjeev made it quite clear to me that at the slightest hint of further sickness on my part I would have to turn back.  And no discussion.

This is one of the reasons I travel with White Magic –  they are safety-conscious in the extreme, and expect you to follow their advice.

Another member of our group came down with a bad stomach so he too was whisked off to hospital, injected and also cleared for travel.

Full marks to White Magic for prompt reactions – and for visiting me in hospital late at night and first thing in the morning.

So, off we all set to drive to our departure point.  Nitesh had done a recce run the previous day so it came as a total surprise to him when we rounded a bend in the road and – whoa! – landslide. The road totally blocked.  No way vehicles could get through.  And so we scrambled over the landslide and walked, while the porters had to offload and reorganise and walk for miles in the sleety cold snowy weather.  Indeed, some of the porters wouldn’t even make to our first campsite until the next day, poor fellows.

[jwplayer mediaid=”3976″]

I shot this video as we left the valley after our trek – and to be honest, the landslide looked even worse than I’d remembered…Goodness knows when it will be cleared.

The Chadar – the ice cover on the river – was so broken in places that after 5 days, the decision was made that we should turn back, having already accepted that our 3 day planned homestay in Zangla was out of the question, since the region was under 5 feet of snow & inaccessible.

Throughout all his process of decision-making and re-working arrangements, plus 2 people turning back earlier, Sanjeev, Tashi Zangla and Nitesh handled things with smooth but firm efficiency.  Cups of tea, warm fires, hot meals – everything went like clockwork, despite all the behind the scenes headaches.

The weather was so extreme that the DC – the local authority – actually closed down the Chadar trek for a few days, banning anyone from setting out, and in addition Leh airport was closed by snow for 2 days.

There was no mobile connectivity, satellite phones are not allowed in India, so the fact that the trek leaders rearranged, planned, re-jigged our trip is nothing short of a miracle.

We were fed copious amounts of food, served gallons of tea and hot mango juice (my latest fav drink, by the way, below)

and slept every night, come snow or high winds, in super-warm double sleeping bags and I, for one, was honestly never cold.  OK, let me rephrase that – it was cold, but I was honestly never uncomfortably cold.  OK, admittedly, one night I did sleep in 2 layers of fleece, I never took my thermal beanie off once – but other than that…

After we turned back from the Chadar, the White Magic team quickly re-organised the rest of our stay.  A welcome night back in the toasty-warm hotel in Leh, and then off we went for a 3 night homestay in Stok village –  all quickly arranged on the go – and never forget the lack of connectivity.

From then on, people started peeling off, heading back to Leh earlier, and with the threat of more snow, some of the group even brought their flights forward.

I didn’t, deciding to gamble on the weather gods and indeed the predicted snow never came, and so I squeezed every last moment out of this amazing trip.

Tashi and Mohan even took the final remaining 4 of us rock climbing, which was super-fun & has now inspired me to tackle new ventures…

[jwplayer mediaid=”3978″]

our kitchen crew baked a birthday cake for Anu, we watched the cricket with our homestay family, our kitchen crew and – I think – a few neighbours, all of us happily ensconced around the heater or “bukhari” – oh, the whole adventure was so much fun, and it was a credit to Sanjeev and his team who took a lot of strain.

Trekking in -15C/-18C is already tricky enough, but when you add landslides, dangerous ice conditions, a lack of connectivity, then even more praise is due to the competent, devoted folk at White Magic Adventure Travel.

I fully and whole-heartedly recommend this company – and the proof of the pudding…I have already signed up for my next trip with them in April.

Mangrove Running Belt

Santa Claus was generous this year, bringing me not one, but two, Mangrove running belts – one black & one a delicious Barbie doll pink.

I’ve used both of them, one per day, for the last week and I’m already a fan.

The belt has an expandable pocket for mobile phones, which makes such sense.  I have an older belt which I can now no longer use with my new phone, because the pouch isn’t expandable, so good call, Mangrove.

In fact, for the last half marathon I ran a couple of weeks ago, I used my older phone just because of this issue.

A clip for car/house keys – also makes total sense.

Head-phones have their own access point, and connect easily and internally to the mobile.

What I like is the fact that the belt doesn’t fully open – you either step into it, or put it over your head.  Presumably the logic is to avoid the risk of a clip or velcro fastener opening/not working, causing you to drop the belt.  Once again – good call, Mangrove.

I heartily recommend them.  

Now you want to buy this running belt, don’t you?
Here you go!  You’re just one click away from a new belt… 🙂

By the way – these belts were purchased, and Mangrove has no idea that I blog.

Testing Reebok’s reversible running shorts

Late September & Delhi is at its worst.

Hot, humid, the fag-end of the monsoons – which explains all that heat and humidity.

So, of course, that is exactly when I decide to buy some new running trousers, and test drive them (as it were) in such an unforgiving climate.

Because I’d just bought some Reebok running shoes, I decided to try out their clothing range as well, and bought a pair of reversible running shorts –  well, more capri-length to be exact.

They are indeed reversible –  grey one side, black the other:

I have subsequently used these running shorts at least twice, if not thrice, a week since then, and 2 1/2 months on from humid September, I am every bit as pleased with them, and they show no sign of wear and tear.

They really do wick away the sweat, as advertised:

The only adjustment I made to the trousers when I bought them, was to cut off the care label, in order to make them truly reversible.  Like so:

 

It was stitched on in such a way that removing it was easy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My only cavil – I do wish there was a pocket.

I bought & paid for the trousers myself, and no-one in Reebok knows that I blog.

They cost Rs 2699 (in late September 2016).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want to buy these running shorts, you can get to Amazon very quickly, straight from this page.  Just click on either of the links below, and they’ll take you straight to their website…but, hey, you know all this stuff, right? 🙂

How good is the new “Juggernaut” mobile app?

Very good, is the answer.

This recently launched app for mobiles here in India, is set to change the way we read, make no mistake.

Without being remotely qualified to write an in-depth technical review of the Juggernaut app, let me just say that it was easy to download, is super easy to use, and the one query I had was replied to promptly by the support team.

Basically, with Juggernaut you can download and read books on your mobile –  & access the same books on a device like an iPad.  (This was actually my query to the support team).

Books are very reasonably priced, and what is refreshing is that the initial titles are focusing on and promoting Indian writers.

But how does reading on Juggernaut differ from reading in, say, a Kindle?

Well, for starters, you don’t have to invest in a separate piece of hardware.  Your smart phone is enough.

Plus, there is an interactive aspect to the app, whereby you can ask the author a question, straight from the app itself, which is pretty cool.

In the interests of full disclosure, I was contacted by Juggernaut towards the end of June, asking as a blogger and, especially, a book blogger, whether I’d like to review books using their app.  The first book that I read using the app, “How to kill a billionaire”, is reviewed in my other blog, and was sent to me, free, by the good folk at Juggernaut.

I was initially a bit of a techno-loser, forgetting to report back to Juggernaut that I had indeed downloaded the app, but once this hiccough (entirely my fault) was cleared up, they have been in regular contact.

So, step 1.

Download the free app.  I now have it on my iPhone & iPad.

You can quickly personalise the app, by going to one of the 23 categories they list & seeing what’s on offer.

Step 2.

Download a book – and here I must be honest, I don’t yet know how smooth the payment mechanism is, but I suspect it will be seamless.  The app as a whole seems to be that way.  Certainly the book is downloaded in a trice, with an instantaneous follow-up email.

This was the first book I read, and I deliberately read it on both my devices, and the transition between the 2 was flawless.  It picked up on one where I had left off on the other.

image

You can increase the font size, as well as the background colour:

image

When you’ve finished, you can chat to the author – haven’t tried, but fully intend so doing – and leave a review.

image

There are many books, all very reasonably priced, and then there are some free books, so (naturally!) I downloaded a couple of these, starting with “Tale of a Tub” which, to my shame as an Eng Lit grad, I haven’t read.

This is how the book is presented:

image

And the acknowledgment that the download is complete:

image

All blissfully straightforward.

In its portability – eliminating the need for even a Kindle – I think the good folk at Juggernaut are definitely on to a winner here.  We all of us carry our smart phones everywhere, and as I have discovered, it’s no different than reading a book than, say, reading an email which we all do all the time on our phones.

What is super exciting about the team at Juggernaut is that they are not only promoting reading, but they are simultaneously promoting writing.

See.  Read this message:

image

Now HOW exciting is this?

So, in summary –  a free app that delivers books quickly and inexpensively to your smart phone.

Clear, nice look.

Simple to use.

10/10.

Would I recommend it?  Hey!  That is exactly what I am doing here 🙂

Travels with my Smith & Canova Power Purse

I have an amazingly resourceful sister who always finds truly amazing gifts for me, and has done for years.

But even so, on a scale of 1-10 of fab gifts I’ve received from her over the years, my Smith & Canova Power Purse comes in as a straight 10.

LOVE IT.

Smith & Canova_7375

My sister bought both daughter dearest and I a power purse, and it was difficult to choose a colour – but in the end, purple won.

Smith & Canova_7378

Basically this is a smart leather clutch which can absolutely be used as an evening bag, AND it comes with a built in power pack and a charging cable.

You charge the in-built battery, off you go, and when your phone needs charging – hey presto.  Done.  On the go.

Genius.

Here are the specs from their own website:

This sleek and stylish rechargeable clutch bag is a must have accessory for a busy girl on the go. It has a built in wafer thin power pack which will charge an average smart phone one and a half times. There are many pockets and card holders inside to carry your other essentials. Made in beautiful soft grain leather and available in a choice of colours.

    • Genuine leather
    • Internal zip pocket
    • 2 internal slip pockets
    • Gold fittings
    • Smith & Canova branded interior
    • Built in discreet 4200mAh power pack with 5 hours charge life
    • Compatible with all Andriod phones
    • iPhone adaptor must be purchased separately

power-purse

power-purse-2

power-purse-1

I take mine everywhere with me, and since it has space for credit cards and several pockets, it is ideal for travelling.

img_6407

And see, sometimes, I can even colour coordinate my Power Purse! (This was in Borneo, last month):

img_6375

And here’s the link to their website.

Jane paid for these (as I said earlier) & certainly no-one in Smith & Canova knows that I blog.

But…how nice that this company is based in the old home town, Leeds.

What are Mabul Water Bungalows like?

Borneo’s Sipadan is a mecca for scuba divers, and on both our visits there we have stayed at the lovely Mabul Water Bungalows.

The first time we visited was in September 2009, for our son’s 21st birthday and we returned in August 2015 for my husband’s 60th.  The very fact we returned is testimony to the quality of the accommodation and the diving infrastructure.

The resort is super pretty, with walkways connecting all the different parts of the resort: the rooms, the main hotel dining area, the dive centre and then onto the “mainland,” which is actually a tiny island, with a few stalls and another dive resort.Malaysia_Mabul Island_P1070984

Malaysia_Mabul Island_P1070983Every room has a bike, for getting around:

Malaysia_Mabul Island_P1070968

The island:Malaysia_Mabul Island_P1070989

One of the stalls, that cater mainly to visitors.Malaysia_Mabul Island_P1071013

And back to the Water Bungalows:Malaysia_Mabul Island_P1070871

Malaysia_Mabul Water Bungalows_3185It is all charming, beautifully maintained and staffed with friendly co-operative staff.

There were a couple of changes in the 6 years between our visits, not to the standard of the rooms nor the resort per se, but 2 changes that should definitely be noted.

In 2009, a majority of the guests were European and virtually everyone was a diver.

Fast forward to 2015, and the situation was very different.  The majority of the guests were mainland Chinese, most of whom were not divers, but exuberant (and rather noisy) snorkellers. Unless you dive on the house reef, close to the resort, the obsessively-selfie-taking Chinese (many of whom seem to swim fully clothed and wearing rubber rings and arm bands) are not an issue.  The menu in 2015 seemed to be a little more Chinese than I’d remembered it from 2009, but I guess that’s inevitable.

It’s also popular with Chinese honeymooners…IMG_2205The second change was the presence, very discreetly, of soldiers.  I used to go for a run every evening, up and down the connecting wooden walkways, one of which juts out into the sea, and one night when I went out later than usual, I came across a group of soldiers.

There has been, sad to report, kidnapping incidents – and worse – involving Abu Sayyaf (a terrorist outfit operating out of the southern Philippines) and these soldiers are now stationed at Mabul to protect staff and guests.  They were very discreet, and always friendly, but you have to know that there is a certain element of risk.

The diving was excellent – that is not under the control of the hotel, of course, but their boats, dive-masters, boat crew, dive centre staff were, without exception, friendly and competent.

On the days when you get to dive on Sipadan, the boat leaves very early, but there is always a light self-service breakfast and – oh joy of joys –  good coffee available, even at dawn :IMG_2222There’s even a house moggy to keep you company.

IMG_2189

We had 2 memorable stays there, both for significant birthdays…which is why being charged Ringit 15 for a broken glass was a silly irritant.  When you have spent a lot of money – the resort is not cheap – to be charged for a broken glass…it wasn’t the money, obviously, just – quite frankly – the pettiness.

But that would absolutely not stop us from re-visiting, nor from totally recommending it.

Be sure to check the security situation before you go, and then make your own decision, balancing the fabulous diving with the possible safety issues.IMG_2128I can’t honestly tell you about rates, because they are a function of season and then there are the diving costs to add on.

Here is the link to their website, where you can enquire about rates.

We paid our own way both times and I did not tell anyone there that I blog.

How healthy are Whole Food energy bars?

This review is written for us by a guest blogger (&, in the interests of full disclosure, a dear friend).

Gautam Chima is a serious cyclist (none of this Sunday morning-India Gate-post a selfie on Facebook stuff for him 😛 ), a musician, a keen angler – in fact we met up in Himachal, on a fishing trip.

Here Gautam reviews an energy bar that he has tried and enjoyed, and even though he writes from the perspective of a cyclist here, it seems to me that this would work equally well for all the trekkers and hikers and long distance runners out there.

Over to our guest blogger:

“Tirath Singh is a road cycling friend of mine, and its an old habit of mine to never ask about anyone’s profession. That conversation is too boring to have, and quite frankly if someone wants to tell me what they do; id rather have them start that discussion!! However, the loophole of this policy is that sometimes I miss out on some really cool things. case in point, apart from being a pretty good cyclist, Tirath is also the “Chef Partner” at Whole Foods India and previously unknown to me , he is concocting some really clever “healthy” food, tailor made to our Indian conditions.

So as it turns out I was looking for someone to sponsor us some granloa bars for a race, and lo and behold, our knight in shining armour, that’s Tirath, sent us a huge cache of granola and endurance bars. Surprise, Surprise! Now being the true-to-my-roots-punjabi, i was really skeptical about the goods. I mean how could these compare to my tried and tested training/racing staple “Nature Valley” bars?! Anyway, “kee farak paenda”, i don’t have to eat them, i just have to distribute them.

Onwards to raceday and while distributing the Whole Food goodies, i realized id left my personal stash at home. Hunger strikes and you eat what you get. Opened up the “Endurance Bar” and down it went, and another , and another! Fast forward a year later, and my Nature Valley stash is still safe and secure, hiding in a cupboard!

So what makes it tick? among all the “healthy” seedy stuff the label displays, its the jaggery and coconut that spins the magic . Dont get me wrong, im no fan of coconut taste in my food; but thats the thing; my butter chicken fried taste buds can hardly tell there’s coconut in there. The Gud and dates hold it all together beautifully , without being over sweet. “YUMMY” is an understatement.

And that dreaded feeling of reaching out into your back pocket, only to find a dried flaky bar disintegrate all over you, as you try to eat it…..no longer a part of my training life! The bar is sticky and comfortably soft in your mouth; and all of us who deal with dehydration on a daily basis , know the awful feeling of putting something flaky and dry in our mouths, mid ride.

Its an instant shot of energy, so delicious that you need to make sure youre not snacking on it regularly! I’ve had these in 3 hours races, and all day climbs, 1 every hour and they keep me going! Ive seen cyclist friends finish their morning hour-long hammerfest with one of these, before heading off to work! Its a formula that is balanced, and well, just works! Also, it feels good to support a local product, knowing its sooo good! I take them everywhere, on a long drive, trekking and even fishing trips.

buy it in their stores, or buy it online. what’s the worse that can happen? you’ll think it was horrid and that i’m getting paid to peddle Tirath’s bars. on the flipside, you may, just may discover a treat that makes training a bit more fun and enjoyable!!

Word of caution : this review is ONLY for the “Gluten Free Endurance Energy Bar”, they have other bars as well but this ones the keeper for me.”

11168088_10152984007127312_4849243521955071206_n

Gluten Free Endurance Energy Bar

Thanks, Gautam.

On the shopping list this goes!

WAR DOGS

“War Dogs” is a fun, quirky film (though with more F*** words than you can shake a stick at) and – absolutely fascinatingly – a film based largely on true events.

2 youngsters – Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz –  become international arms dealers, exploiting a U.S. government initiative that allows businesses to bid on military contracts.  They scour the internet, find the contracts posted online – all in the name of transparency, bid for the contracts, source the merchandise from some of the planet’s murkiest corners, and become overnight millionaires.

maxresdefault (2)

And this is all absolutely true.

To quote the film’s director, Todd Phillips: “To me the guys are heroes…The government knew that they couldn’t source 100m rounds of AK ammo in the middle of a drought after two Iraq wars. So they went to these two kids knowing they were gonna source it in a shady way, and as long as nobody knows, wink wink we’re cool. For me the film is an indictment on the US government and their process of procurement, and the guys are kind of awesome.”

And this is what makes the film such fun.

These 2 youngsters, who rock up to meetings with government officials stoned out of their minds, are super likeable, and you are clearly gunning for them. (Yes, agreed.  Bad pun.)

Miles Teller (David Packouz) and Jonah Hill (Efraim Diveroli) are both excellent, playing the young, hustling, “bro” lifestyle to perfection, though Jonah Hill does tend to steal the limelight.
maxresdefault (1)

The real David Packouz even has a small part in the film.

Well worth watching.

And I learned a little piece of recent, crazy American history.