Saturday, December 22, 2012

Himalayan Hike

  Jacquelyn Sy is the author of Meditative Poems of Light and Love and trekked to Kala Pattar at the foot of  Everest with South Col Expeditions ( in November 2012. Soon after returning to Kathmandu  she wrote this inspiring post. Jackie is now in India visiting Amritsar and Varanasi.

My life is made up of seemingly whimsical choices, which through their inspired spontaneity seem to weave certain logical patterns that lead me straight to the right place at the right time. Super good moments in time that make me smile enigmatically and say, "Oh yes, this is where I want to be. This is what I'd rather be doing."

I continue to use this mysterious formula of life, plunging head on to one adventure after another that pop in my way. Once the wheels have been set into motion, there really is no turning back, and I could only kick back, wave my hands up in the air, and gleefully giggle in delight. It is not the result which determines whether I had a great time or not. I plan to have a great time regardless of the result.

Someone once said, "Life is meaningless. It is us who give meaning to life." Life events are fundamentally neutral; it is our interpretations that give it meaning.

Joseph Campbell's excellent translation of an ancient Hindu saying rings true for me time after time after time: "Follow your Bliss and the Universe will open doors for you where there were only walls."

So, what made me go climb the Himalayas? Originally, I had no intentions to do any hard climbing or hiking. I also had no plans to be out in the cold and to go on weeks without a shower. Most of the members of my hiking team were middle aged men, and seeing the Everest up close and personal were in their bucket lists.

I decided to visit Nepal because it was near India. I decided to go to India because when I was in Australia for 3 months earlier this year, the people there, the posters everywhere, and the movies I watched all shouted INDIA. Why was I in Australia for 3 months, some might ask. Originally, I had no means to stay in one of the most expensive countries on earth for 3 months, but through sheer intuitive inspiration, I stumbled upon 2 websites which offered some sort of free lodging. One was a free home stay experience, and the other was a volunteer farming program. I meshed both of them in my itinerary together with some island explorations and National Park treks and hikes, but I digress.

So how did I end up doing an Everest - Himalayan Hike? I didn't know much about it but I knew I wanted to experience the best of Nepal. When I started my research for India, an Indian guy I met on a travel forum had only high praises for a veteran Himalayan hiker who leads various mountain expeditions. His website said the trip I wanted to join was already fully booked. I tried anyway and emailed him directly. The Everest trek looked absolutely daunting but I told myself that if he could squeeze me in somehow then it was the Universe's way of saying I have to go.

I've heard many people say that this was the hardest physical thing they've ever done and it is also for me. What initially started as a sightseeing plan of the Himalayas became a pilgrimage of sorts. More than a week without a shower, climbing strenuously at high altitude, waking up a couple of times at night feeling the thinning of oxygen, ultra-basic toilets   and cold, cold nights.

What I realized was I could survive these very rough days and still manage to look quite human :). I got along very well with everyone in the group. Everybody marveled at my incredible appetite and lovingly shared with me their goodies. I had many memorable encounters and conversations, and at one point even channeled the son of a Sherpa lady owner and gave her a hug and messages from the beyond.

This sojourn cemented the fact that the best things in life are indeed free. And free stuff, I did get. Free chocolates, free accessories, free baby wipes, free Ringpoche blessings & masala from the monks, free mandarin orange from a seller I didn't buy from .... It's interesting how the double meaning of FREE applies to me really well. A member of my group couldn't believe that life just blesses me with free stuff and abundance at every turn. He announced that I was an undercover ninja yakuza out to plunder my unwitting fellow hikers. Har har har!

Coming back to Kathmandu after the hike, I was wandering around Boudhanath stupa one afternoon and heard some chanting. I joined in and sat in serene meditation. When I opened my eyes, a nice lady handed me a heavy bag filled with snacks, fruit and drink. I swear the Universe never lets me go hungry!

During the Everest trek, there were unforgettable glimpses of the full moon faces peeking out of gigantic mountains. Countless peaks with enigmatic names, too many to remember. I was thrilled to find out that Mount Everest's original local name is Chomolungma, which meant Mother Goddess of the Universe. It was hard to believe that I was walking, climbing up and staying on for about two weeks on places that were higher in altitude than the top of Mount Fuji.

Porters with concrete blocks, plywoods, and heavy bags balanced on their heads with string cloths pass by, and I wondered why with just a small backpack, I had to give my all physically to continue up to Kala Pattar's 5,545 meters (18, 192 feet). The yaks stampede on with their burdens, capable of thrusting anyone out of their way with their big horns. Dust and dung whirl in the air, coating my over-exhausted larynx as I catch my breath sharply ascent after ascent at extremely high altitude.

The mountains loomed large, foreboding and ominous, protective and unmoving. The sky draped itself with every wondrous shade of vibrant blue. The moonrise for three nights popping out of its hiding place behind Everest and Nuptse outside my room window were just splendid surprise presents from the heavens. Black ravens floatingly circled the air. Mountain goats made their rare appearances as foolish, dreamy me look behind them hoping for glimpses of snow leopards or yetis. The mountain monastery Thyangboche enchanted our souls with their serenely guttural chanting, opening lotus flowers in our souls and minds, giving me the one long, continuous sleep during the 2-week hiking period. Children with perennially dirty cheeks looked at me squarely, sometimes suddenly cracking into exuberant smiles. I stare at exotic Himalayan women as they stare back at me asking if I was Bhutanese, Tibetan, or Chinese. Exchanging Namastes with fellow hikers along the way. Countless white stupas with Buddha Eyes dot the numerous trails along the way. Humongous, sacred Mani walls loom big in the horizon charged with super currents to give the body its much needed energy to go on. The kindly porters who even though with their back-breaking loads were always day to offer a hand during dangerous icy crossings and slippery, pebbly descents. The monks and porters thought I had a man's name when I introduced myself as Jackie. They are only familiar with Jackie Chan, and Jackie Kennedy is an unknown to them. And there I was in my childhood, wondering why Jackie Chan had a woman's name. It's all perspective, isn't it?

Yesterday, while at Pashupatinath, I saw dead bodies wrapped in orange cloths ready for their cremation rites by the river. A nice, local freelance guide started explaining what was going on to me, and later, I rode on his motorbike as it zipped dangerously along the crazy freeway to the ancient city of Bhaktapur. I had no defenses, no helmets, no armors. Just an intuitive trust that all is well, and I am riding on the edge of adventure of life.

Today, I am writing this sitting in a lovely monastery garden filled with fluttering, chirping birds.. small, jumping squirrels.. and slants of warm winter sunshine. Tomorrow early morning, I'll take my flight to India, and begin yet another adventure. A few weeks ago, a friend commented that my plans seem a bit crazy. I said to him that while that is true, I find that oftentimes, it is when I live on the edge of adventure that I feel the most alive. And to feel alive, to feel the blood flow through one's veins, to face the sunshine with an incredible sigh of happiness in one's heart, well, I guess this is the life I had intended to live when I made the decision to come.

When I was in Mongolia in July, I took the distance and went far off in the heart of mystical Khuvsgul Lake. There I met a shaman from the Tsaatan reindeer tribe. This nomadic, shamanic tribe live with reindeers high up in the mountains. They use reindeer milk, reindeer meat, reindeer hide, and also reindeer transport. This particular young shaman had decided to bring some reindeers down to lower altitude and set up his yurt near the tourist area to make money. He looked at me with yellowish eyes as he puffed out circles of tobacco smoke in the air. Speaking in local dialect to the man who volunteered to be my interpreter, he said, "She will amass more spiritual power and energy when she reaches a high mountain place with lots of snow on top." I looked at him quite contemptuously then, this corrupt shaman who obviously says a lot of crap to tourists. But then, four months later, here I am in Himalayan country, and loads of high mountains with snow on top. Life boggles me no end, and I sit in anticipation to be mystified and swept by it all. Spiritual energy or not, I shall tuck one more incredible experience under my soul, and let it add to the person I have become and becoming still.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"There are other Annapurnas in the life of men"

Maurice Herzog the first man to break the 8000 metre barrier by climbing Annapurna I in 1950 has passed away. 

Famed French Mountaineer Maurice Herzog Dies at 93

France loved him for his indefatigable, pioneering spirit — the first man to climb an 8,000-meter Himalayan peak despite losing all his fingers and toes to frostbite, a man who later went on to scale the heights of French politics.
Six decades after his 1950 Annapurna climb made Maurice Herzog a household name, the famed French mountaineer died Friday at age 93.
The statement from the Elysee Presidential Palace said he died in France but gave no further details. He had lived just outside of Paris.
A photograph of Herzog waving a French tricolor atop the 26,545-foot (8,091-meter) peak in Nepal captured a seminal moment before the grueling descent, during which subzero conditions led to the amputation of all his fingers and toes.
"The marks of the ordeal are apparent on my body," he later said.
Although the 1953 ascent of Mount Everest — by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay somewhat eclipsed Herzog's achievement, Annapurna was not scaled again for some 20 years. Although Everest was the highest mountain in the world, Annapurna was said to be the most dangerous.
His book about the epic expedition, "Annapurna: The First Conquest of an 8,000-Meter Peak," was called "the most influential mountaineering book of all time" by National Geographic Adventure and made Sports Illustrated's list of the top 100 sports books of all time. It has sold millions of copies — the IOC said more than 20 million copies — and has been translated into dozens of languages.
"In overstepping our limitations, in touching the extreme boundaries of man's world, we have come to know something of its true splendor," Herzog said in the best-selling book.
The International Olympic Committee expressed its deepest sympathy to Herzog's family. He had been an honorary member of the IOC since 1995, after some 25 years as an active member.
Tributes came in praising Herzog as an inspiration.
"Our nation will miss Maurice Herzog," said French President Francois Hollande, evoking the historic climb "that is engraved enduringly in our collective memory."
Hollande also praised Herzog's wartime engagement in the French resistance and his second career in public life.
Herzog was "a great figure of the mountains, Haute Savoie and France," said Sophie Dion, a deputy in the French parliament from Herzog's much-loved home region in the Alps.
As a symbol of the place he occupied in collective French hearts, Herzog was decorated with the Grand Cross in France's Legion of Honor last year, the country's highest civilian honor.
Annapurna is ranked the 10th highest peak in the world and has been described as the "world's deadliest peak." Up to 2009, 60 climbers had died on Annapurna, according to climbing statistics website, for a fatality rate of around 40 percent.
Herzog, who was born on Jan. 15, 1919, parlayed his post-Annapurna fame into a career in French politics, first as a minister for sport under President Charles de Gaulle and later as a national lawmaker and long-time mayor of Chamonix, a famous mountaineering town in the French Alps.
He also helped France obtain the 1992 Winter Olympics for Albertville.
Still, later in life, Herzog's legend was tarnished when it came out that he sought to diminish the role of his climbing companion Louis Lachenal — who died in 1955 — by editing his memoirs, which were published after his death. Lachenal reached the summit of Annapurna with Herzog and also lost all his toes to frostbite.
There was no immediate information on survivors or funeral arrangements.
Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed to this report.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Gokyo Lakes, Cho La Pass and Kala Pattar

Join us for a trek of a lifetime covering two dream viewpoints in the Everest region Gokyo and Kala Pattar! April 20th 2013 to May 6th 2013!

 For more details please do visit


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Prayer and Worship Photos

I had posted some photographs on Prayer and Worship on this blog This the second part of the photo-essay.
Tsulakhang Temple, Mcleodganj
Golden Temple, Amritsar
Bodhnath, Kathmandu

Karsha Monastery, Zanskar
Swayambhunath, Kathmandu

Wat Suthat, Bangkok
Tashiding Monastery, Sikkim
Leh, Ladakh
Before Dussehra, Amritsar

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Camping & Trekking Equipment Kolkata

The Adventure Point store in Kolkata - photo Tarun Sachdev

Delhi based Adventure Point ( has opened it's first retail store in Kolkata. There are a number of reputed brands on display like Deuter, N-rit, Salvas, Trek Mates etc. 

The store has jackets, thermals, boots, daypacks and backpacks and a host of other trekking items.

Do visit the location at :
51 Chowringhee Road ( near Bishop's House)
Ground Floor
Kolkata 700071. 
033 40014676

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Photo Workshop with Aquaterra Adventures

I am conducting a photo workshop with Aquaterra Adventures at their resort/camp near Rishikesh on the banks of the Ganga  from Jan 25-27 2013 and again from March 15-17 2013. 

Rishikesh tours and travel

Jan 25-27th 2013 and March 15-17 2013

Day 1
Arrive from Delhi
1 pm to 2 pm lunch
2 pm to 6 pm First Session: Photography Fundamentals and Essentials followed by Q &

Day 2
Sunrise to 9 am: Morning Photo Shoot 3 pm to Sunset; Evening Photo Shoot
7 pm to 8 pm: Slide Show covering photo tips and techniques like Compositions,
Lighting, Exposure, Basic Photo Editing

Day 3
8 am to 12 noon: Photo Critique Session of three photographs taken by each
12 noon to 1 pm: Lunch
Back to Delhi

Master Exposure: Learn how to make a great exposure and forget all the guesswork.
Learn about auto modes, shutter priority, aperture priority etc. It is all about recognizing
middle-tones; exposing for all tonalities - grey, black, and white, understanding
histograms and using them effectively. Understanding exposure is one of the KEYS to successful shooting, and you will master exposure during this course! Also learn about depth of field, different lenses and their uses.

Composition: Learn the fine points of effective compositions - Finding effective
compositions, using lenses effectively; seeking the best perspective; texture, color,
point of view; knowing zones of sharpness; selective focus; and the rule of thirds. This
will also make you think like an artist. From trying to take pictures, learn to make
photographs. Learn some of the fine points from painters and others, who use visual elements to compose beautiful imagery.

Maximizing the Digital Potential: Learn color management, post-processing methods to improve the brightness, contrast, and white balance of your image.

Equipment & Lenses: Know what to buy and what not to buy and learn how to use your gear effectively. Learn from choosing the right body with right features to connect to the right set of lenses. Also tips about photography accessories like tripod, CF cards, flash,
filters, bags, etc., will be discussed. Understand the tools of trade for Close-up and
Landscape photography. This session will also teach you how to manage and take care of your camera gear.

Critique: This workshop also gives you a chance to get your images critiqued. A very constructive critique session which will include technical and aesthetic aspects.

Photography in Practice: Learn what it takes to push your photography to the next level and keep it going.

Bring your camera - DSLR, Point and Shoot, Compact etc. Cameras like Nikon
Coolpix, Canon Powershot are also welcome though it does help to have a capable camera.
If you are a DSLR user you may like to bring your extra lenses as well.
Laptops are welcome though not essential for editing and viewing photographs.

The costs of the workshop are given below for each of the options of accommodation. Please note that these costs DO NOT INCLUDE the cost of travel.

Workshop Fees: Rs 10,000 per person
Accomodation at Atali Ganga - Rs 12,000 per person
or Accomodation at Camp Silver Sands - Rs 4,200 per person

The above costs include all course costs, all accomodation, all meals.

For further details please do visit the links below 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Nikon D5200 Announced

Nikon has just announced the launch of the D5200 a DX SLR which is an upgrade of the earlier D5100 packed with a 24 mp sensor, high ISO capability and muti cam 4800 DX AF with 39 focus points. 

  1. Sensor: 24.1 MP DX
  2. Sensor Size: 23.6 x 15.7mm
  3. Resolution: 6000 x 4000
  4. Native ISO Sensitivity: 200-6,400
  5. Boost High ISO Sensitivity: 12,800
  6. Processor: EXPEED 3
  7. Metering System: 3D Color Matrix Meter II with face recognition
  8. Dust Reduction: No
  9. Weather Sealing/Protection: No
  10. Body Build: Plastic
  11. Shutter: Up to 1/4000 and 30 sec exposure
  12. Storage: 1x SD slots
  13. Viewfinder Type: Pentamirror
  14. Viewfinder Coverage: 95%
  15. Viewfinder Magnification: 0.78x
  16. Speed: 5 FPS
  17. Exposure Meter: 2016 pixel RGB sensor
  18. Built-in Flash: Yes, full CLS compatibility
  19. Autofocus System: MultiCAM 4800DX AF with 39 focus points and 9 cross-type sensors
  20. LCD Screen: 3 inch articulated screen with 921,000 dots
  21. Movie Modes: Full 1080p HD @ 60i fps max
  22. Movie Exposure Control: Full
  23. Movie Recording Limit: 30 minutes @ 30p, 20 minutes @ 24p
  24. Movie Output: MOV
  25. In-Camera HDR Capability: Yes
  26. Camera Editing: Lots of in-camera editing options with HDR capabilities
  27. GPS: Not built-in, requires GP-1 GPS unit
  28. Battery Type: EN-EL14
  29. USB Standard: 2.0
  30. Weight: 555g (body only)
  31. Price: $1,150 MSRP (body only)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Emergency Evacuation Insurance for High Altitude Treks in Nepal

A rescue helicopter leaves Namche Bazar  for Kathmandu

On most of my treks in Nepal, I am asked how does one get emergency evacuation insurance covering helicopter evacuation?

This was quite a grey area for me but after some research and with the help of some friends in the USA and UK, I was able to put together this note which would be useful to all trekkers and climbers.

Firstly, let me say that you cannot get this insurance in Nepal or India. No insurance company in these two countries provides this insurance.

The largest world-wide rescue organization in the USA is Global Rescue, which provides rescue services in every country of the world, without elevation restrictions, for injury, natural disasters, and terrorists’ attacks.  International diplomats and business executives use Global Rescue. It is  however expensive for a recreational trekker/ climber.  

 The second option is to join The America Alpine Club as a member. It  provides limited evacuation insurance benefits, a maximum of $5,000 which  is sufficient for a  helicopter rescue  in Nepal. Their rescue benefit is provided through Global Rescue (described above). You can buy increased rescue insurance through American Alpine Club at a reduced rate. The cost per year is $50 or $75, depending on age or two people can join for  $125.00.

 However, please do keep in mind that Global Rescue (through American Alpine Club) is primarily an emergency rescue organization; it is not an insurance company as such. They keep trained rescue personnel on duty 7x24, helicopters, and jets on standby around the world (including India & Nepal), for the sole purpose of evacuating members in an emergency. Their normal coverage would cover Nepal helicopter evacuation, but would not cover flying you back to the U.S. for medical care if the need arose.
The Austrian Alpine Club (UK) provides  more extensive evacuation/medical insurance. This organization specializes in rescue insurance for Europe and Asia and they have members from the USA as well. Possibly, their insurance benefits are better than the American Alpine Club. The cost ranges from $45.00 to $65.00 depending on age. The  Austrian Alpine Club (UK) will pay for emergency evacuation in Nepal, medical flight back to the U.S or your home country, and all medical bills related to the injury, up to EURO 25,000 so this could well be the better choice.

For more information please do visit the web sites given above. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bhaktapur Photographs

These are some photographs from Bhaktapur in Nepal. For more photographs from Nepal please visit my web site

Kedar Temple, Durbar Square, Bhaktapur

Unnamed Temple entrance, Bhaktapur

Durbar Square at dawn, Bhaktapur

Window of Wood Carving Museum, Tachupal Tole, Bhaktapur

Seller of Paintings, Taumidhi Tole, Bhaktapur 


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