White Magic in Nepal

I am one very lucky woman.

Freely admit it ūüôā

I have just returned from my 2nd Big Adventure in the hills this year, with the one and only White Magic Adventure Travels.

In June I did the Panpatia Col trek, where I was very below par, performance-wise, and it showed.

But my just-concluded climbing trip to Mera Peak in Nepal saw a re-energised me, and I loved every single moment of this tough, demanding trip.

Mera Peak, for all it is touted as a trekking peak, especially by Nepalese websites, is one tough, long trip, and it should not be underestimated.

An easy walk it is not.

We were 5 climbers (with 2 others sadly dropping out just a matter of weeks before) and of the 5, 3 of us were repeat WM clients.

The 2 who dropped out were also repeat clients, by the way.

We flew from Kathmandu to Lukla to start the trek/climb.

Actually, let me rephrase that.

We drove 5 hours in the middle of the night from Kathmandu to Ramechhap Airport, a place I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

Ramechhap is a very small, provincial airport which now handles the many Lukla flights, and it is a dusty, disorganised, soulless place.

The flights were seriously backed up/cancelled/delayed – you name it, we had it…our pilot was sick, apparently.

So we wasted a precious day in this dustbowl, overnighted in a bit of a flea-pit (though, amazingly it did have wifi) and eventually flew the next morning to Lukla.

From Lukla onwards we camped, walking with our team of expert guides and sherpas, and a big crew of porters. Sanjeev Rai, with whom I climbed Banderpoonch last year, led the trip. We had a lovely local guide, a quiet, soft-spoken man called Chhewang Sherpa – a double Everest summiteer to boot!

Dorje Sherpa and Gumbu Sherpa were too wonderful. They would break camp after our slow departure, quickly overtake us, then shoot ahead to set up the next camp. And always with a smile and an encouraging word.

We slowly ascended and descended our way through stunning scenery, to the higher reaches of the mountain, and it was only after Khare (5000m) that we encountered snow, as we made our way to Base Camp.

From Base Camp, we inched our way up to High Camp (5800m) from where we were supposed to summit.

But it was not meant to be.

Blizzard-like conditions at High Camp, with ferocious winds tearing at our tents and heavy snowfall meant that not one single climber, from any of the groups there, even attempted the summit.

Dinner in my tent at High Camp, while the storm raged outside

Obviously we were all disappointed, but (as is always the case with White Magic) it was a case of safety first.

To have tried to summit in such dangerous conditions would have been beyond foolish, so when Sanjeev Rai, our WM guide, came to tell me at about 12.30 in the morning that things were going to be delayed, I guess I knew, realistically, that our summit was not happening. So I ignored the howling winds as best I could, and snuggled ever deeper into my sleeping bag, resigned to my fate.

The next morning, when I saw collapsed tent, brought down by the strong winds, I said a silent prayer of thanks.

Part of the appeal of the summit of Mera Peak is the amazing view of the surrounding 8,000m+ peaks, but the mountain was not ready to share this view with us, so we trudged back down to Khare, all feeling disappointed, but everyone received that we got out of such a dangerous situation safely.

Hot orange juice after a long day…luxury!

I absolutely love camping, so there were no grumbles from me about tents and sleeping bags, though I know some of the others would have preferred to stay in the ubiquitous tea houses that were there at every night’s halt, right up to Khare.

I never felt cold – I have THE best sleeping bag in the world, my friends – and our portable loo was probably cleaner than the teahouse loos, so I had no desire to change the sleeping arrangements.

Our food was cooked by our own kitchen staff and boy oh boy, did I luck out, with a cook who is quite clearly as much of a potato-holic as I am ūüôā

Tea or coffee served in your tent to wake you up.

3 hot meals a day.

Afternoon tea and snacks.

Popcorn and soup before dinner – we were well fed, and Devi Ram even produced delicious pizzas. Too good.

Tent tea. View guaranteed.
Picnic lunch

Every single member of the crew was smashing and hard working and beyond kind and always cheerful.

Sanjeev led by example, fighting off a bout of fever, and constantly switching flawlessly from English to Nepali to Hindi.

As I did on Banderpoonch, I felt safe with this young man at the helm.

A summit would have been wonderful.

No point denying it.

But this whole trip was fab, and the views all along the way were absolutely stupendous.

I paid my own way, as always on WM trips.

I had requested a personal porter, for whom I paid (obviously) and the wonderfully kind Pemba Sherpa certainly made my trip way easier, since I only carried the lightest of daypacks.

We 5 climbers ended up taking a chopper down from Khare to Lukla, which was brilliant – we all paid our way.

7.5 minutes vs a 2 day hike…

Then 3 of us – all senior citizens – managed to snag a 2nd chopper ride in as many days, down from Lulka to Kathmandu, thus avoiding even more delays and the awful 5 hour drive from Ramechhap.

Great end to the trip.

This was my first experience of travelling with WM outside India and despite a few hiccups, I would 100% recommend this trip.

Just pray to the weather gods to be kind, that’s all.

White Magic Adventure Travel. Simply the best in the business

It’s all too easy to complain, isn’t it?

We don’t like a restaurant/product/whatever and, quick as a flash, we complain, write a snarky Tripadvisor review, or simply badmouth the company.

Good service, however, is a different ballgame altogether.

Once the event is over, we always mean to write and say ‚Äúthank you” or “well done‚ÄĚ but we rarely do. Life takes over, and we forget.

Bit like meaning to write a thank you letter when you were a child, right?

Well, before city life sucks me back into its routine, let me write my own version of a thank you letter to White Magic Adventure Travel, who have yet again delivered a flawless mountain experience, in very trying conditions.

We were 10 trekkers earlier this month, on the high altitude trek to Panpatia Col in India’s Uttarkhand state, and we encountered it all – insane pilgrim traffic, heavy snowfall, hailstorms – you name it, we saw it.

Frozen water bottle

When I tell you that 7/10 of us were repeat clients, it gives you an indication of the nature of White Magic. A thoroughly professional team delivering a top class experience – weather and crazy traffic delays notwithstanding.

Helping the 10 of us was a massive crew: guides, cooks, and 28 porters.

Just some of our hard-working porters

As well as meeting up with 4 different friends from previous WM trips, there is always the joy of meeting up with the wonderful WM guys – Sanjeev Ganju who led the trek, Nitesh Sati, Nawang (all three of them last seen on the frozen River Zanskar) and the one and only Mohan.

It’s a bit like a family reunion, really.

I have a confession to make.

I was woefully under-prepared for this trek.

Under-trained and it showed.

I was the weakest link, always the slowest and the last into camp, but never for one single moment was I made to feel inadequate.

I knew it of course, and felt deeply embarrassed by my own sub-par performance, but the staff could not have been sweeter or kinder or more helpful, and I was thoroughly spoiled, always having someone to lend me a helping hand.

Not proud of my performance, but it brought out the best in the amazing team that is White Magic.

We had lovely new tents for this trip, numbered and we got the same tent each night, making it our responsibility to keep our tent clean. Or not. As we wished. A WM mattress and a rubber ground mat completed the furnishings.

The “usual” big mess tent and 2 toilet tents – this was our little pampered world, with food and hot drinks and snacks and hand wash and daily oxygen saturation tests and lights and even a little heater when it got really cold.

This is my 6th?/7th? trip with White Magic Adventure Travel and over the years and the trips, their standards have not wavered for a second.

Safety is their #1 priority.

After earlier pre-WM travels with a company who should be banned for their shocking dereliction of duty, I cannot emphasise how important this aspect of White Magic is. I have seen at first hand serious accidents at altitude and a cavalier disregard for client safety.

With White Magic Adventure Travel safety will never be compromised and you know it.

And if that means a slow coach like myself taking forever to descend an icy slope, there will be no chivvying, no pressure, just a kindly hand to help.

Health and cleanliness are also vital to keep everyone in good condition, and I saw with my own eyes this time the way a sick porter was looked after and cared for.

Nothing but praise for this company and the uber-hard-working, ever cheerful team.

From bed tea in your tent first thing in the morning to hot soup before dinner.

From hot water to wash to hot lunches served on the go – White Magic Adventure Travel is a class act.

Don’t miss the Twix table cloth, for lunch al fresco

My latest crazy gang ūüôā

And, as ever, our last night of camping cake ūüôā

Such a happy tradition

I think some of the WM guys know by now that I blog, but never once, never, ever has anyone suggested that I write a review for them

As I just said – total class act.

I cannot recommend this company more highy.

I paid my own way (of course) and am already planning my next adventure with them.

White Magic Adventure Travel does it again!

It is almost 5 years since I was introduced to the best climbing and trekking company in India Рthere you go, colours nailed firmly to the mast! Рand the high standards of WM never cease to amaze.  And impress.  And reassure.

I just returned a few days ago from climbing Banderpoonch, a 6316m peak in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand.  We made it to 6120m, before Avilash Bisht, one of the owners & founders of WM & our leader on this climb, made the decision to turn us all round, since the remaining approx 200 vertical metres were, in his expert opinion, just too difficult and risky for us.

And it is for moments like that – when Avilash, in consultation with his brilliant team of Sherpas makes a tough call – that I love and respect White Magic Adventure Travel.

Safety is their undisputed #1 priority.

There was absolutely nothing to fault about our expedition.

Nothing at all.

WM carried out another perfectly organised trip, despite potential obstacles.  Like Avilash having a serious family emergency a couple of days before departure.  Sanjeev Rai seamlessly  took over the reins, and it was a joy to meet such a serious and competent young man.  Sanjeev guided us from Dehra Dun to Uttarkashi to Forest Camp to Base Camp to Camp One, when Avilash finally joined us, after a mammoth trek up the mountain.  Now THAT is called devotion to duty.

We were a team of 7 climbers + a Liasion Officer from the IMF + Sanjeev, Avilash, the one and only Mohan, a cook & an assistant cook, and  4 sherpas.  Plus teams of porters to ferry our luggage and supplies to and from Base Camp.

Everything was flawless.

No sooner arrived in camp, than our tents would be up in a jiffy, along with a mess tent and toilet tents  Рladies & gents Р such luxury.

Every need was catered for, from loads of good, nutritious food, to twice daily monitoring of our oxygen saturation levels, from clean water for drinking to warm water to wash our hands in before meals. ¬†WM runs an efficient set up, with every member of their staff pitching in for any and every job, and always with a smile. ¬†Imagine the luxury of being woken up every morning in your tent with a cup of ‚Äúbed tea‚ÄĚ – ¬†though, actually, I suppose ‚Äúsleeping bag tea‚ÄĚ is a more accurate name. Even at Summit Camp, sleeping on the ice, we were woken up with tea and a smile.

We were treated to a delicious birthday cake, carried up from Base Camp to Camp One, for Vandana, one of the climbers.

We had a celebration cake on our last night under canvas.  Don’t miss Banderpoonch iced onto the cake!

We had pakoras and endless cups of tea, soup to keep us warm, popcorn, Maggi – the cooks kept producing delicious food, regardless of the altitude. Heck, Avilash & Sanjeev even made us a thermos of coffee in the dark and cold of summit night, to give us all that extra kick to keep on going.

I am a diehard White Magic Adventure Travel fan, and cannot envisage travelling with any other climbing or trekking company.  Ever.

Our climbing party of 7 stands testament to the loyalty WM engenders.  We were all repeat clients and we spent most of the descent planning and discussing our next climb Р a discussion that has continued on our WhatsApp group since we all, reluctantly, got back to our daily city lives

I cannot recommend White Magic Adventure Travel too highly.

Safety, skilled staff, the kindest team of Sherpas going, good equipment – I have nothing but praise for this company.

Would I use them again?

Of course!

As I said, we‚Äôre already planning our next climb…

I paid my own way, and even though the guys at WM know I blog, they have never, ever once made mention of the fact.  Total class act.

Here are just a few moments from a lifetime of memories:

Waking up to a view like this from your tent (above & below) is too, too fabulous.

Forest Camp (below)

Picnic lunch on the go (above).

Sanjeev checking the route (& looking pretty damned impressive as he does so!)

Mohan (below) the heart and soul of every climb I have done with WM.

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 РWhite Magic Adventure Travel.  I wrote about the Chadar Trek in a blog post Рhere 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 ūüôā

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 Рhuge amounts of snow, as in HUGE amounts of snow Рknee-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 Рterrifyingly 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.

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 Рdrowsy, no appetite, vomiting Рand 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 Р 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.

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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 Рthe ice cover on the river Рwas 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 Рeverything went like clockwork, despite all the behind the scenes headaches.

The weather was so extreme that the DC Рthe local authority Рactually 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 Р all quickly arranged on the go Рand 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…

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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.