Thursday, June 23, 2016

Arctic Ocean | Photographs from a Flight

Quittinirpaaq National Park
Last week I was on a non-stop fifteen and a half hour flight from San Francisco (SFO)  on the west coast of the United States to Abu Dhabi. It was a day flight and left SFO at 9.40 am. I had a window seat and had fallen asleep soon after departure. When I woke up it was sometime in the afternoon. Most of the passengers were asleep and the plane was dark as the window shades were down. I got up and walked around the aircraft to stretch my legs and drank some water. It is important to walk on such a long flight. When I came back to my seat, I raised the window shade to look outside. What I saw staggered me!

The aircraft was flying over Northern Canada and heading towards the Arctic and it was crystal clear. We were at a height of around 35,000 feet above sea level even higher than Mount Everest (29,028 feet). The entire Arctic icecap could be seen. We must have subsequently flown over the North Pole.  

 It was a sunny afternoon and even from that height visibility was excellent. Despite seeing many of the highest mountains in the world in different avatars this view was really floored me!

I had an Iphone in my pocket and instinctively took it out and began to shoot through the window. I shot for the next half hour until clouds came in and obscured this brilliant panorama. 

When I started editing the photos on the Iphone later I found that the phone itself had identified some of the locations which I was not able to do - simply amazing and I have captioned them according to the Iphone!

The sad part of it was that the rest of the passengers continued to sleep and missed it all!

The flight path  from SFO to Abu Dhabi 

Our altitude at that time

Baffin Island

Ellesmere Island Nunavut

Ellesmere Island, Nunavut

Ellesmere Island

Quittinirpaaq National Park

From Google I found that this was the area where my photographs were taken - it was at the very edge of the Arctic Ocean. Please see the map below.

For some more information on the areas photographed above do visit

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Tiger Mountain Lodge Pokhara

Dusk on the patio - a magical setting
We almost never made it to the Tiger Mountain Lodge in Pokhara. Kathmandu and most of the lower valleys of Nepal were covered in a thick smoke and dust haze which had severely restricted flight movement. The day before most flights had been cancelled but luckily, on the morning of our departure to Pokhara, the haze cleared and Buddha Air flew us into Pokhara, albeit an hour late.

At the airport we were greeted by Krishna, one of Pokhara Lodge’s efficient drivers, with some inviting cold towels and chilled mineral water - a very considerate touch. Krishna told us it would take around 30 minutes to the lodge. We left Pokhara airport and drove east, following the highway to Kathmandu. After about 15 minutes Krishna turned left onto a nondescript lane heading north into the mountains. The road soon narrowed and began to climb - it was an attractive drive with terraced paddy fields, bird calls and magnificent Himalayan griffon vultures soaring high above the valley riding the thermals.

View over Annapurna South and Machhapuchhare looking north
The Pokhara Lodge is superbly placed on a ridge at an altitude of around 1,150 metres east of Pokhara town. The property sprawls across seven acres and has 18 rooms in stone and slate cottages with wooden beams and windows which merge unobtrusively with the surroundings. The cottages are built into the surrounding forest so trees and foliage are right outside every window, framing the mountain views. There are beautifully designed seating areas outside the main bedrooms, with verandas overlooking the white peaks. The large rooms are tastefully furnished – ours had a large four poster bed with ethnic curtains and comfortable cane sofas. Thoughtful details like a torch, an umbrella and emergency lanterns are provided for the visitor. The elegant bed side lamps for reading are also a welcome addition missing in many modern hotels today. And when you return to the cottage at night, a hot water bottle is in your bed ready to warm your toes- a lovely addition in winter! To maintain the natural peace and sanctity of the Lodge there is no television or wifi in the cottages, although wifi connectivity is available in the main lounge and dining areas and it works well.

 A cottage bedroom

The sit out overlooking the mountains
On a clear day the visitor is greeted with an enormous sweep of the Himalaya including the Annapurnas, Machhapuchhare and Lamjung Himal. To the far west lie Gurja Himal and Dhaulagiri and further to the east is Manaslu and Ngadi Chuli. Sadly that first morning as we sipped a cup of iced lemon tea on the Lodge patio, a stubborn band of haze still blanketed the entire range.

Around noon, the sky began to darken as we walked from our cottage to the dining area. Lunch was served in the courtyard overlooking the valley below and the mountains above. The fare was exceptional and presented with a touch of panache. The Nepali ‘alu ko achar” was tangy and tart, and the organic vegetables from the Lodge garden were cooked with a flavour which was both tasty and delicious. While we lunched, the heavens opened and amidst a bout of dramatic thunder and lightning, it even began to hail. It was darkness at noon with the trees bent over in the lashing rain and howling wind. Jhalak Chaudhary, who has been with Tiger Mountain since it opened in 1998, welcomed the rain and so did we. ‘This strong shower will clear the atmosphere and maybe the mountains will be clear tomorrow’ he said. We kept our fingers crossed.

Next to the main living room which features a central fireplace, the Lodge has a small library with a collection of books owned by the late Colonel Jimmy Roberts. Roberts was the founder of Mountain Travel – Nepal’s first trekking company in the 1960s. He led an unsuccessful attempt on Machhapuchhare in 1964, after which the Nepal government put the sacred Fishtail peak out of bounds for climbers. Roberts's library has a very interesting collection of books including some early Himalayan and Alpine journals.

Marcus Cotton, the Managing Director of Tiger Mountain, informed me that one of the best views of the Fishtail mountain is framed through the doorway on entering the Lodge.

Sunset view over Pokhara valley
The rain stopped after an hour and we were treated to a spectacular evening. To the west, the Pokhara valley and the Phewa Tal lake were back-lit by the setting sun filtering through the dark rain clouds. To the east, the hand-cut stone walls of the Lodge were burnished ochre against an angry grey-blue sky. To the north, above a band of cumulus clouds the base of Machhapuchhare appeared fresh with new snow. As we watched in awe, I suddenly noticed a pair of yellow throated martens crossing the path and vanishing into the forest. It was a rare sighting for me, and a bonus to say the least. At dinner Marcus mentioned that a female leopard is often seen around the Lodge in the evenings!

Pokhara at night from the lodge
Dinner at Tiger Mountain is a four-course sit down affair with wine and a change of plates in a style not seen in today's hotels. We savoured a meal of curried apple and mint soup, mixed vegetable salad with a jaggery dressing, piquant pork with mashed potatoes, crunchy beans and zucchini, and finally, homemade chocolate brownies with vanilla ice cream and toffee sauce! After dinner, outside on the stone-flagged balcony the stars were visible and to the west the lights of Pokhara shone against the grey-black hills.

View of Machhapuchhare and Annapurna III from the swimming pool

The rain miraculously cleared the haze and sunrise next morning was crystal clear from our bedroom window. I walked up to the swimming pool and was greeted by Macchapuchhare reflected in the water. From Dhaulagiri to Lamjung Himal the entire range was visible covered with crisp fresh snow. As I photographed the white mountain reflection in the pool, I spotted a Himalayan whistling thrush and a pair of white-cheeked bulbuls foraging in the shrubs nearby. The raucous calls of the Himalayan tree pie shattered the silence of the morning.

Marcus Cotton (right) at breakfast with a guest

Breakfast on the patio was another excellent experience. The Lodge served fresh juice, muesli, yoghurt, eggs to order, sausages, mushrooms and homemade breads of various kinds with homegrown mulberry jam and orange marmalade, washed down with delicious organic coffee.

Tiger Mountain follows a sustainable tourism model and supports the villages around Pokhara Lodge. Local vegetables, spices and fruits are bought from the villagers. Schools are supported with educational materials and teachers, and other programmes include rural health, education and community forestry. The surrounding forests are protected by guards sponsored by Tiger Mountain, and the Lodge tries to ensure that all its operations have the smallest negative environmental impact.

There are a variety of guided day walks in the hills around which offer opportunities to visit the neighbouring villages and forest. Some popular hikes are the Pokhara Valley Rim, and Thulakot and Ramchekot circuit. The Lodge organises butterfly excursions, and bird watching walks with expert naturalists as the area is particularly rich in bird life.

We spent the next morning after breakfast sitting in the sunny courtyard looking at the great white peaks. It was a perfect day after the rain - calm and still. My wife Paula started to sketch the mountains around the valley. Around me in the forests below a multitude of bird calls could be heard, high in the sky soared the eagles, kites and vultures, a butterfly landed close by and flew away as soon as I tried to take a photograph. It was a glorious morning to do nothing and soak in the amazing mountain views.

At dinner on the second evening I met a couple from Britain who had returned to the Lodge for the sixth time. When I asked them why they kept coming back to Tiger Mountain their reply was: ‘The peace and tranquillity bring us back. There is no routine to follow and you can do exactly what you want. The service is so inconspicuous and discreet it is as if everything is happenings behind the scenes. It is most un-hotel like, if you know what I mean. And the views are to die for!’

For a few days rest in the shadow of some of the greatest mountains in the world Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge receives top marks. Unobtrusive and unpretentious, the team go about their work quietly and efficiently, making sure guests are comfortable but never bothered. Personalised service, which has more or less vanished today, is a hallmark of this property. Highly recommended as one of the leading boutique properties in the world today!

The Information
How to reach
The lodge is located on Kandani Danda ridge around 30 minutes drive from Pokhara airport. Pokhara is connected by many daily flights from Kathmandu, flying time is 30 minutes.
Best Time
October to December and March to early May would be the best season for Pokhara Lodge. Although cold, January and February feature some of the best mountain views. It closes from mid June to early September during the monsoon months.
Rooms and Tariff
There are 18 rooms in self contained cottages with verandas overlooking the mountains. US$250 per person per night plus taxes including all meals, pick up and drop from Pokhara and guided walks around the lodge.

Tiger Mountain (P) Limited
GPO Box 2018, 31 Chundevi Marg, Maharajgunj, Kathmandu, Nepal
T +9771 4720580
Kandani Danda, Lekhnath NP Ward #5, Kaski, Nepal

Tel +977 (0)1 472 0580

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Mallory of Everest | June 8th 1924

"And yet as I gazed again another mood appeared to creep over her haunting features. There seemed to be something alluring in that towering presence. I was almost fascinated. I realized that no mere mountaineer alone could but be fascinated, that he who approaches close must ever be led on, and oblivious of all obstacles seek to reach that most sacred and highest place of all." 
Noel Odell gazing at the North Ridge of Everest June 1924 after Mallory and Irvine were lost.

View from the Kharta valley 1921 Reconnaissance expedition

"Higher in the sky than imagination had ventured to dream, the top of Everest itself appeared"

On 8th June 1924, two men left  Camp VI (26,700 feet)  to make an attempt on the summit of Everest. Camp VI  was the highest camp of the British 1924 Everest expedition.

On the same morning, another British climber, Noel Odell, was making his way up from Camp IV to Camp VI. Odell was a geologist and he was collecting fossils from the slopes of Mount Everest. Odell recalls that it was not the perfect morning to climb Everest. " Rolling banks of mist" were sweeping  across the mountain and covering the north face. Neither the face nor the summit ridge could be seen by Odell. There was also a sharp wind which was making climbing very difficult.

Suddenly at 12.50 pm the mist cleared and Odell spotted high above on the ridge, a black dot climbing a rock step, which Odell at that point identified as the Second Step. Soon after Odell saw another black dot following the first black dot. But before Odell could be sure that the second black dot had joined the first,  the mist rolled in and blanketed the mountain and this fantastic vision was lost forever.

The two dots that Odell saw were George Mallory and Andrew Irvine "going strongly for the summit of Everest". Mallory and Irvine were never seen again.

But even today, ninety four  years after the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine, the legend of Mallory is still alive. Books are being written about Mallory, expeditions are being planned to find Andrew Irvine and his camera because Everest experts believe that the camera will unlock the secret of Mallory's last climb.

In this post we take a look at some photographs and other memorabilia from the Everest expeditions of 1921, 1922 and 1924.

“It was a prodigious white fang, an excrescence from the jaw of the world.”

Everest view from the Pang La pass in Tibet
The 1924 Everest expedition members

Andrew Irvine working on oxygen cylinders

"I cannot tell you how it possesses me"

Mallory's watch found in  1999 by Conrad Anker and the team

"Again and for the last time we advance up the Rongbuk glacier for victory or final defeat "

Letter from George Mallory to his daughter

1924 oxygen cylinders at the Planters Club Darjeeling

"...some day you will hear a different story..."


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