Friday, January 24, 2014

New Guidebooks


I have three guidebooks at the printers at the moment. First is the Lonely Planet guide to Bhutan, one of my favourite destinations and books to work on. For repeat visitors there are some cool off the beaten destinations and hikes in the central and eastern parts of the book, which are the areas I concentrated on.




  
Second up is the Lonely Planet guide to Central Asia. For this edition I focused on the background information, from history to outdoor activites. We have two brand new chapters on border crossings and visas, which should help clarify these tricky topics.





Finally we have the eighth edition of the Odyssey guide to Uzbekistan, the definitive guide to the architecture, culture and history of this key Central Asian state.

All three books should be available in a couple of months.

  







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 www.qaraqalpaq.com.
 




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,
Bradley 




Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dark Days in Tibet


      Phuntsholing Monastery, Tibet


After six weeks of trying, I finally managed to get a permit to get into Tibet this May. Made it all the way to Everest Base Camp and the Nepal border, with stopovers at the interesting monastery ruins at Phuntsholing (above). Apart from a few tour groups there were very few foreigners in Tibet, especially outside Lhasa. The permit situation in Tibet has been a mess for the last month and the province was finally closed to foreigners just after I left, after two Tibetans from Kham set themselves on fire beside the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa.

A wander around the Barkhor Square these days means passing underneath the video cameras and snipers on the rooftops and avoiding the riot squad teams walking provocatively anticlockwise around the circuit in the opposite direction to all the pilgrims. Metal detectors and SWAT teams guard the entrance to the Jokhang Square and fire extinguishers are strapped to the backs of all military teams. It's a dark, disturbing atmosphere and one that is unlikely to change significantly until the end of the summer.

I've been to all the places on this trip many times before but there's always something new to see, like this giant thangka that was being made at a warehouse outside Drongtse Monastery for a giant thankga unveiling festival in Gyangtse:


In Sakya Monastery you can now pay an extra Y10 and visit the formerly off-limits library behind the main chapel. The entire wall is made up of ancient sacred texts, printed on leaves of paper and wrapped in brocade;



As is common to most of of my research trips in Tibet, I almost got arrested at one point. It's amazing how sensitive the local PSB can be at certain sights in Tibet. After an hour of negotation, threats, anger and conciliatory slaps on the back we finally got away without major hassle, and more importantly without a fine for our excellent Tibetan guide. So if you are going to Lhatse Choede Monastery and fort, a few miles from Lhatse town on the road to Phuntsholing, make sure it is listed on your travel permit. And certainly don't post a picture of it on your blog...



My favourite monastery in Lhasa, always a delight:



I'm off to Zanskar next for a bit of trekking so I'll post some pics of that on my return.
Be well, Bradley



     Nam-tso lake at sunset

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Marco Polo Reloaded apps on iTunes!

The four Marco Polo Reloaded films are now available as apps on iTunes.



If you don't know, these films follow me as I retrace Marco Polo's route overland from Venice to China via the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
If you haven't been able to check out the films so far, each app contains one of the four films in English, plus some additional behind the scenes photos and thoughts on making the trip.

The four films are:
 * Venice to Turkey
 * Iran
 * Afghanistan & Tajikistan
* Through China

Read more about the apps here, where you'll find links to downloading the films through iTunes.

You can also download a free preview of the Marco Polo Reloaded apps by clicking on this link.
There's also a Q&A with me about the films and apps at the Get Addicted To website.

Thanks!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Travels in Xinjiang



Sorry for the silence, I've been in China for two months, enjoying a life of Uighur kebabs and Tibetan butter tea. The Chinese authorities block Blogspot, as they do Facebook and most other Western social media sites, so I haven't been able to post anything.

Five weeks in Xinjiang brought me back to several of the locations I visited in the Marco Polo Reloaded films (Kashgar and Hotan) and allowed me to trace the Taklamakan Desert along the southern Silk Road, from Hotan on to Charklik.

One of the highlights for me was tracking down the region's great history. Archaeology nuts will like the following faded remnants of Xinjiang's once-thriving Buddhist heritage:



Buddhist stupa surrounded by stupa bases, Yarkhoto (Jiaohe), outside Turpan





Mor pagoda, in the desert outside Kashgar





two-thousand-year-old Han dynasty watchtower, outside Kuqa





Subashi Buddhist ruins, outside Kuqa



I was also excited to finally make it out to the impressive Shipton's Arch, an hour or so outside Kashgar, off the road to the Irkeshtam Pass. Thanks to Ali of Uighur Tour for helping to make that happen.





When in Kashgar, fans of Peter Hopkirk's book 'The Great Game' should visit the former British Consulate at the back of the Chini Bagh Hotel's north building. It's currently a Chinese restaurant and you can wander through through the rooms that were once home to the Macartneys, Shiptons and others:





One side effect from authoring the Odyssey Guide to Uzbekistan is that I can't pass up obscure Timurid tomb. This one near the Xinjiang-Kazakhstan border is a cracker:



Tomb of Teglug Timur (1347-1364), ancient city of Almalik, Huocheng, near Qingshuihe.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Marco Polo Reloaded Updates (Updated July 2012)

Here are a couple of updates on the Marco Polo Reloaded films:

German speakers can now view clips from the Marco Polo series at the website of Marco Polo Reisen.

The main Marco Polo Reloaded webdoc site is now locked to visitors from the US and UK (sorry, it's an international rights thing) but you can currently view the clips at Marco Polo Reisen and some are in English.

Over the last few months the Marco Polo Reloaded films have just been shown in Italy on Rai 5 Italian TV, in Germany on Hessicher Rundfunk, in Canada on the Knowledge channel where Canadians can watch episodes online, and on a three hour marathon event across Germany via satellite station 3Sat. Most recently it was on in July 2012 on German station NDR.

One thing to look out for in June is the unveiling of four Marco Polo Reloaded apps, for iPhone and iPad, which will include the four 52 minute films, as well as some photos and thoughts from the trip. The physical DVDs are even for sale on the German version of www.amazon.com

Thanks for reading. Safe travels for 2012!

Bradley

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Trekking the Manaslu Circuit

Manaslu and gompa at Lho village



Just back from a couple of months in Nepal, updating the Lonely Planet guide to Nepal. The highlight of this trip was a two week trek around Manaslu, the world's eighth highest mountain and Nepal's latest teahouse trek. Also did a quick blast around the little-trekked Tamang Heritage Trail trek near Langtang and had a wonderful overnight at Nuwakot at the lovely Famous Farm, possibly central Nepal's best-kept secret. Highly recommended!

As with the Annapurna Circuit trek, the best spots on the Manaslu trek are actually side trips from the main trail. If you are contemplating doing the trek, I'd strongly suggest adding three or so extra days to include the following detours.



Kal Tal, a tough day hike (3 1/2 hours climb) from the charming village of Prok, just off the main Manaslu Circuit near Ghap.



Views of Manaslu and Ngadi Chuli from Pungyen valley and glacier, the best day trip from Sama



Manslu reflected in pool, Pungyen valley



Looking down the Pungyen Glacier from the ridge above Pungyen Monastery



Views of Manaslu and Birendra Tal from near Milarepa's Cave, a ridge west of Sama village



Views east down valley from deserted village of Mimi, a short hike from Sama village



Heading to Tibet via the Gya-La, a great day hike from Samdo in upper Nupri



Upper valley below the Gya-La, near Fukang Glacier



Porter resting on the approaches to Dharamsala, the last stop before the pass



Crossing the Larkye La



Pongkar Tal & Phingi Himal, a great half day hike from Bimthang




Looking twards Pongkar Tal & the Cheo Himal, near Bimthang

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Afghanistan



Here are a few photos from the Afghanistan leg of the Marco Polo trip. Click on them for bigger images. Brad.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Marco Polo Trip Photos

Following is a slideshow of photos taken from the Marco Polo voyage, stretching along the Silk Road from Venice to Beijing. Click on the photos for a larger image.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Marco Polo documentary on German TV


Less than a week now before the German public TV station SWR broadcasts the first of the Marco Polo films. The films follow me as I retrace the route of Marco Polo from Venice to China via Syria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Western China, trying to reinterpret the places and things Marco saw on his trip 700 years ago.

The five films are broadcast every Sunday at 5.15pm. See the schedule, description and some photos on the SWR website and also here. You can even watch the films online (in German) at the SWR website.

If you can't watch the films live, or don't speak German (!), check out www.marcopolo-reloaded.com, our Web-based documentary of the entire trip, including pictures, video clips and commentary not included in the documentaries. It's online in stages from 2 October 2011.

Until then, you can get a taste of the trip on a couple of Youtube videos. Click below or on the videos to the right of the screen:
Marco Polo Reloaded page

Please do let us know what you think of the clips or the films, either here or on the Marco Polo Reloaded Facebook page, where we'll continue to post links and video clips.


Thanks to Along Mekong Productions for putting together the clips and the web-doc.

Tajikistan

Tajikistan
Classic Pamiri Scenery of Gorno Badakhshan

Current Favourite Track