Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What I've Been Doing This Summer: Part II

In between guidebook writing, this summer I've been lucky to be involved in a new TV series for Arte called 'Wanderlust'. The films follow me as I hike a selection of Europe's best long-distance hiking trails, stopping en route to explore local history, learn about regional foods and chat with people I meet along the trail.

The series consists of ten 45-minute films and so far we've filmed five;
* The GR221 'Dry Stone Route' in Mallorca's Tramuntana Mountains
* On the trail of Robert Louis Stephenson in the French Cevennes
* The little-known Saar Hunsruck Steig in south-western Germany
* Along part of the wild South-West Coast Path in Cornwall
* Mountain and coastal sections of the E4 in sunny Crete.

The aim is to give a portrait of some of Europe's most interesting micro-regions by walking its most beautiful hiking trails.

Green valleys of the Saar Hunsruck Steig

Wild rocky coastline of Cornwall

Samaria Gorge, Crete

Lybian Sea from fort above Agia Roumeli, E4 Crete

Lovely village outside Soller, Mallorca

End of a day's hiking at Loutro, Crete

Mountain lake, Tramuntana Mtns, Mallorca

Filming a soundbite on the beach in Cornwall
We have another five films scheduled for next year, with broadcast on Arte in late 2014 or early 2015. We'll keep you posted!

Friday, September 20, 2013

What I've Been Doing This Summer: Part One

Two of the guidebooks I've worked on have been released in the last couple of months: Lonely Planet China and Lonely Planet India.

For the China guide I covered Xinjiang and Tibet, in total about one-third of the country in terms of size.

For LP India I covered Himachal Pradesh and the West Bengal Hills. My personal favourite was definitely Spiti but I also always enjoy returning to Dharamsala after so many trips to Tibet.

My top tips for HP: the Orchard House in Chamba as a super peaceful place to hang out for few days in the foothills and do some day hikes (great trekking opportunities in Chamba Valley!). I'd also recommend taking a few days and walk one of the homestay treks around Kaza in Spiti.

In West Bengal I enjoy the grand old dame that is the hill station of Darjeeling but my favourite place is Kalimpong, partly thanks to Norling at Holumba Haven who showed me some great regional hikes that I was able to squeeze into this edition of the guide. Anyone who has read the travel accounts of Francis Younghusband, Alexandra David-Neel, Charles Bell and Heinrich Harrer will definitely want to savour a beer at Himalayan Hotel, where all of these illustrious travellers spent a night before embarking on a classic Himalayan voyage.

My last tip: I thoroughly recommend a home stay and tea tasting at Makaibari Tea Estate. You can overnight in a homestay with a tea worker, pick leaves with them in the morning, roast them in the afternoon and then take away a packet of your very own hand-picked tea. How's that for a cool Christmas present?

More to come: currently putting the finishing touches to new editions of Lonely Planet guides to Bhutan and Central Asia, for publication in 2014. It's been a busy summer...

 Views of Kangchenjunga from Kalimpong walk

 Freshly picked tea leaves from tea estate in Darjeeling

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Trekking in Zanskar

In September last year I was in India to do the trans-Zanskar trek from Lamayuru Monastery in Ladakh to Himachal Pradesh. It was an excellent 18-day walk, with a tough first ten days (7 passes!), followed by a day's rest in Padum and then a delightful walk through farming villages to the high Shingo-la pass and then down to Darcha and Keylong in Lahaul.

We hired a pony man and four horses for the two of us and camped mostly, though we did stay in homes in Reru and Photaksar villages. All in all a fantastic trek, though road construction is nibbling away at several of the trek days, especially from Honupatta to Singge La, from Hanumil to Padum, and from Padum to Tsetang. Following are photos from the trek, plus a few from Spiti and Kinnaur. Cheers to Andre for yet another fine Himalayan walk.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

One Month in Bhutan

I'm just back from a month in Bhutan in February/March. When people tell me how lucky I am to have the dream job of travel writer I normally roll my eyes and mutter something about how hard it is to get a good cappucino in Lhasa. But when it comes to researching Bhutan there are no excuses; it's simply the best job in the world.

This was my third trip to Bhutan and this time I focused on the centre and east of the country. There are plenty of up and coming places in Bhutan just begging to get in the new edition of the Lonely Planet guide. Manas National Park is now open for business and the four day trek through the forests from north to south looks fabulous. I had a great day hiking to monasteries in the hills above Mongar and did made it out to a fine meditation retreat above Shingkhar and to the remote Luege Rowe and Shugdrak retreats in the Bumthang Valley. I got as far north as Dungkhar, the ancestral home of the royal family, where I ran out of road, and made a fine hike to the fairytale chapel of Dechen Phodrang in Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary in the remote far northeast.

February was chilliy in the Bumthang Valley but it was worth suffering some cold to catch four festivals into four weeks. The Punakha Dromchoe and Tsechu was the most spectacular but also had the most tourists. The Buli tsechu was fantastic because there were only about 50 people there and no foreigners when I was there. The Chorten Kora festival was also excellent and attracted people from Merak, Sakten and Arunachel Pradesh in India. The Nomad's Festival in Bumthang was less authentic but still had some great moments, including some great traditional games and masked dances.

Only another four years to go until the next trip! Now the rather less fun of actually writing the guidebook...

Click on the slideshow below to see larger pics.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Central Asia Media Roundup

Hi all,

Just back from three months in India and I thought I'd share a few books, articles and radio programmes that I think would be of interest to fans of Inner Asia.

First up, and a shameless plug is Great AdventuresLonely Planet's latest photo-led reference book. I wrote sections on watching wolves in Yellowstone National Park, jeeping Tajikistan's Pamir Highway, horse trekking in Kham, tackling a trekking peak in Nepal and trekking to the source of the Oxus in the Afghan Wakhan.

It's great to finally see Odyssey's new guide to Xinjiang: China's Central Asia by Jeremy Tredinnick. Finally this region has got the coverage it deserves. The practical details aren't quite as up to date as my Xinjiang chapter for Lonely Planet's forthcoming China guide, but the scope of the coverage and background information blow everything else out of the water, as is normal for Odyssey guides. If only they would make books that you can actually carry with you on the road - Odyssey, electronic books please!

A more specialist book is Qaraqalpaqs of the Aral Delta by David and Sue Richardson. It's out of the range of most casual budgets but it's a great look at one of Central Asia's forgotten corners. Check out the authors website at

One of favourite recent reads has been Christoph Baumer's Traces in the Desert. I was sceptical about the 'modern-day explorer' nature of the title but it turned out to be a well-researched and engagingly written account of some very impressive trips through Xinjiang, eastern Tibet, Mongolia and Merv in Turkmenistan. If these places appeal, I'd definitely check it out.

Finally I'd like to draw your attention to some Central Asian-related BBC radio programmes that you may have missed. All are available to download or stream. 
In Our Time is a wonderful radio series hosted by Melvyn Bragg. Each programme features a conversation with several academics on a particular topic
The following programmes are required iPod listening:
The second radio series is 'A History of the World in 100 Objects' made in conjunction with the British Museum and looking at moments in history through specific items in the museum's collection. In cased you missed them, interesting tems include:
Be well,


Classic Pamiri Scenery of Gorno Badakhshan

Current Favourite Track