I’m evaluating a multi-media course on blogging from the folks at Simpleology. For a while, they’re letting you snag it for free if you post about it on your blog.It covers:

  • The best blogging techniques.
  • How to get traffic to your blog.
  • How to turn your blog into money.

I’ll let you know what I think once I’ve had a chance to check it out. Meanwhile, go grab yours while it’s still free.
Remember the old saying “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for a life” Perhaps this is your opportunity.

Wishing you All the Best for the Festive Season.

Shanti greetings going out to everyone once again.

Many people have been asking where the hell I’ve been the past few months. Yes, I’m alive and well, and no, I havn’t been living in a cave in the Himalayas (although I think that would have been time well spent). I have slipped back into Australia quietly and have been slowly touching base with my circle of friends and re-establishing myself into Aussie society again.
Many of you who I have already caught up with keep asking for a final journal, one that kind of rounds up my journey, the changes that it has made to me as a person and the effects that it has had on my life back home.

Paul at home on his favorite couch doing what he loves….reading.

My last few weeks in India were interesting to say the least. I was just easing into some serious Yoga training in Rishikesh when I was struck down with the worst case of food poisoning my body has ever encountered. Who knows where I picked that up but it kept me bedridden for a couple of days and depleted of energy for many days after. No real problem, because there was plenty to still see and do in Rishikesh besides Yoga, but it did keep me from getting down to Agra and visiting the Taj Mahal. I wanted that to be one of the final experiences of my Indian journey, but missing out just gives me an excuse to go back someday, right.


Leaving Delhi for a 2-night stopover in Bangkok was an amazing experience. Going from the cramped, rubbish strewn, lawless roads of India and arriving early morning to the incredibly modern airport in Bangkok, I was fascinated with the cleanliness and space of the Thai roadways and the politeness of their drivers. And, yes, I am talking about Bangkok, that thriving metropolis of hedonistic delights. It just seemed so much more developed and easier than the Indian cities. Imagine the culture shock when I touched down in Melbourne – so much opportunity and personal space to be found here, if nothing else I will always take that perspective from my trip. We really do have it good in this country.

So, now back in Australia. Back in a landscape that was parched and undertaking a slow death by dehydration when I left it back in April.
I remember all too well the week I spent on my families rural property before my departure. The dusty and scorched paddocks and the hungry cries of the livestock that had eaten virtually every blade of grass to within millimeters. Most afternoons I spent climbing trees and reluctantly hacking down the leafy branches in the hope of sustaining the cattle a little longer and quietening their hungry voices for a short while.
And now, with the drought having almost broken over the winter months of my absence, I have returned to soft sunshine, green pastures, spring flowers and a landscape of renewed vitality. I just wish we could have a solid couple of months of the kind of monsoon rain like I experienced in northern India. That would really sort out our water concerns.

Fishing in a fast stream, another unforgettable experience

My first week back in Oz I spent with my parents. While travelling over the other side of the world, I actually felt closer to my family than I have in many years. They were my main connection with home, and I really appreciated their regular contact. In Kashmir I was fortunate enough to stay with a local muslim family who were very loving and dedicated to each other. One evening I spent on their houseboat on Dal Lake conversing with the father, a sufi philosopher and deeply religious man. He spoke about the virtues of a closely bonded family and over the course of the evening I was to change many of my attitudes toward life and relationships. In fact, his words of wisdom and many wonderful quotes from the Koran made me reassess my outlook on some day having my own family and children. Kids always used to seem like such a hindrance to the better things in life, now I actually look forward to a future raising my own. Anyone who knows me well enough would be stunned by reading such a revelation coming from me. Travelling and touching other cultures and structures of belief really does make those sort of enormous changes to a person.

Further changes have come from my exploration of other religious faiths and the important lessons I have taken from them.

Already I have mentioned the lessons of family love from my Sufi Muslim friends. It was an honour to watch their devotion to Allah expressed in music and songs of prayer.
Hinduism taught me that life is a celebration that is filled with colour and vitality.
Buddhism was the closest faith I could identify with. It teaches not to seek happiness from an external source. Happiness is an internal process that can be attained through following consistent meditation practice such as Vipassana. The defining mantra of the Buddhist people is ‘Om Mani Padme Hung’, which translates as ‘Wisdom and compassion are inherently within us all’. It’s a belief that gives me much hope in the future of our world.

 

Yet, after spending valuable time within the Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu communities of India, I found that I was still unable to embrace a structured religion. Never being one for elaborate shrines or ceremonies, I always felt most at peace within myself when I was outdoors in the mountains, the forests and the isolated river banks. I particularly connected with a quote from the guru Krishnamurti – ‘When one loses the deep, intimate, relationship with nature then temples, mosques and churches become important.’ I believe it explains a lot about our human condition and what we have lost as we continue to industrialise and urbanise.

When one loses the deep,intimate relationship with nature then temples, mosques and churches become important


 

With that in mind, coming back to the raw and elemental beauty of the rural area where my family have their property truly took my breath away – I was seeing it with fresh vision, my eyes taking it in as if for the very first time. For far too long I had taken it for granted and now I find myself setting a goal to relocate there in the not too distant future. In fact, I almost didn’t return to Melbourne, such was the draw of the countrysides energy and the promise of a quiet, slower-paced lifestyle. Yet, the quiet life may allude me for a while longer, firstly I wish to return to study and the immediate supporting income that the city can provide. Regular visits to the countryside and hugging a few of the local trees will just have to suffice.

Winter at home in Australia

 


Over my lifetime I have collected much knowledge of the human condition and the skills to balance mind, body and spirit. Continuing study is a worthy investment in my eyes and I believe that will be my path over the next few years. I also have my eye on my parents farm when they decide to sell in the coming years. Between all this studying and saving, any dreams of further travel will need to be shelved. But then, the universe always has a way of course correcting, and if I’m meant to pack up my life and go again then I’m sure the resources I will need will surely fall my way. You just have to believe…

Love, light and happiness going out to all,

Paul

Hi Mum and Dad,

Paul, mum and dad at Melbourne International airport

My flight details for tomorrow are Thai Airways flight TG 999 arriving 8pm.
Debs said customs are taking a while to process people. I’m not sure if they will delay me but hope I won’t keep you waiting for long, and I will be happy to drive back to the farm while you rest.
Thanks so much for coming to meet me, I promise to give you lots of massages!

Love to you both,

Paul

Hi Mum and Dad,

Hope you are well.
I have just been through the worst case of food poisoning in my life. 48 hours of being curled up on my bed, battling a nasty fever and trying to rehydrate my body whenever I could hold any fluid down. Some friends from my guest house have been a big help, getting me medication and checking on me. The owners of the guest house have been looking after me too, with soups and light meals. In fact, if I was to have gotten sick anywhere during my time in India I would have chosen here. A travel hazard with a good ending.
I am up and about again today, although still weakened by the experience, and may continue to rest for another couple of days before I travel to Delhi. It may mean that I won’t have the time left to visit Agra and the Taj Mahal, but sometimes you have to accept that it’s the way it was meant to be. Health comes first!

Love to all back home,

Paul

Shanti greetings going out to all,

As I mentioned in my last journal, recently I undertook an amazing experience in Vipassana meditation.
Vipassana is believed to be one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques. Once long lost to humanity, it was rediscovered by the Buddha over 2,500 years ago. The meaning of Vipassana is to perceive true reality through a process of self-observation and practicing Vipassana is believed to have led to the Buddha’s enlightened state of being.

Before beginning any studies, the law was laid out to us all. This was going to be true monastic living and there would be a strict code of discipline to be followed:
Each morning we would awaken at 4am to begin meditation in the main hall.
All students will maintain noble silence. That means no speech (I have ex-girlfriends who would tell you that would not be so difficult for me!), no sign language, no touch, no eye contact.
No-one is to leave the centre, there will be no contact with the outside world for the duration.
Physical exercise and practice of Yoga, although compatible with Vipassana, had to be suspended for this course.
We could only eat food from the dining hall (simple vegetarian and mostly bland) at designated meal times. There was breakfast and early lunch, but after midday it was tea, peanuts and fruits only.
No reading and writing, all books and journals were confiscated until the end of course.
No music, radio, cameras or any other sensual pleasures (whatever they may be).

One starts by observing the natural breath to concentrate the mind. This is a painstaking process of quietening all thoughts and seemingly endless commentarys that the mind produces. It is a true battle with your ego which doesn’t want to shut-up, it wants to be controlling, a steady stream of inane chatter, selective past memories and future daydreams.
Our group sat for the first 4 days, just trying to maintain focus on respiration, all attention fixed on the point of the nostrils where the breath enters the body. 10 hours of sitting upright in a darkened room with a simple objective – respiration and the awareness of the present moment.
The Vipassana theory is, with the development of this sharpened awareness, one proceeds to observe the chanting nature of the body and mind. Through the sensations of pain, pleasure, pressure, lightess and random thoughts/emotions that emerge and move on again, one experiences the universal truths of impermanence, suffering and egolessness.

I will be honest and admit that the first days of the course felt like a living hell of physical pain and mental frustration. I kept asking myself,
“Why do this to yourself? This is a full 10 days of my journey in India, why don’t I just quit this place and head into the mountains again. Anywhere would be better than here. I can’t keep this up, my back aches, my knees hurt, I can’t sit still, this can’t be good”.
So this is what it’s like to do battle with ones ego. The ego wants to convince the higher self that it can assert itself at any time. But would I let it win? I had been warned of this cycle of thought and that steady patience will see it pass. Only then can the true benefits be reaped.

Then, sometime on the morning of the third day, I had a moment of inspiration that made me believe that not only was I going to make it through, but also receive a taste of truth-realisation.
While seated back at my cushion in cross-legged torture, my thoughts alternating between a dedicated internal focus and the idea of getting the hell out of there, I developed a sudden shift in consciousness. I had reached a dark void in my mind and felt detached from the heavy qualitys of the body that I have always been present and accepted by my naive awareness. Now, my consciousness observed a weightless, vibrating field of energy, a very peaceful and painless state of being. And then the session ended and I was back with my physical body again, yet I believe my outlook may have changed forever.
So, is our reality made of clusters of sub-atomic particles closely organised in rythmic patterns and vibrating at particular frequencies? On the back of that experience I can only say yes. Another step on the path to enlightenment.

On day four we began true vippasana meditation, observing the subtle sensations over every minute part of the body surface, developing a sense of energy movement much like a tingling free flow that gradually overrode all pain.
With continual focus over the following days I began to observe blockages in the free flow, areas of no sensation where I had to work with far more intent and patience until I observed subtle energy movement there. Often this was accompanied by some powerful emotions leaving my body. Anger, frustration, resentment, sadness – they were all in there just waiting to come out, and vipassana was the tool to achieve the release. Strong medicine indeed.
By the last days of the course I was completely absorbed in the practice and could sit for hours on end in complete stillness. And it felt so good, so shanti. I can now understand why people devote their lives to the clergy and monastic existence.
So the big question (at least the one my parents keep asking!) is – will I become a monk? Well, no. I still enjoy booze and fast women too much.
But I have now developed skills that have bettered me as a person and can take with me and use throughout my life.

As I draw towards the completion of my journey in India, I have chosen Rishikesh as the ideal place to gather my thoughts.
Rishikesh is a holy settlement on the banks of the Ganges river, close to its source in the Himalayan ranges so the waters remain clean and unpolluted. It is a colourful place with many bright Hindu temples, yoga ashrams, stoners and holy men getting around in loinclothes, dreadlocks and red spots on their foreheads. All surrounded by sub-tropical jungle and some beautiful sandy beaches on the riverside for cooling off in the holy waters.
There is also a lot of music in Rishikesh. Whether it’s singing from the temples, chanting from the ashrams or flute, tablas and sitar drifting from the guesthouses, these are the sounds that will always epitomise the culture of India for me.

Earlier today I had an incident with an innocent looking cow that was grazing alongside the roadway.
Now, first I must explain that cows are a very sacred animal to the Hindu faithful, and therefore are allowed to roam wherever the hell they want. Often they will block a roadway as they plod along and even lay down on the warm bitumen for a rest. No-one can force them to move and so they act like they really are holy beings and understand that they rule the place.
Anyway, I see this cow ahead turn to slowly approach me. No big deal, as most are quite used to existing in close and ambient contact with people. I usually enjoy giving them a pat and scratch behind the ear as I stroll past.
In the back of my mind I noted something a little unusual about this particular beast – the points of its horns had been cut and filed down. Still, I continued on my way until, within meters, it dropped its head and charged straight at me. Taking a cows horns in the thigh, even a blunt one, is a particularly painful experience, which in my country-bred mind requires swift retaliation. Just as I was about to take the bull by the horns (pardon the pun) and teach this beast a lesson in manners, I remembered where I was. To belt a cow amidst a holy community in India is a sacrilege that would have seen me mobbed and beaten. In order to keep the shanti of the place I had to quickly retreat over a nearby fence with an aggressive cow close on my heels and many smiles and laughter from the crowd of witnesses. Laughing myself (and limping!), I vowed to take my vengeance on the bovine race upon my return to Australia. Looking forward to a big, juicy steak…

Love, light and much happiness going out to all,

Paul

Shanty greetings going out to all,


My travels through the Indian Himalayas are continuing to flow long relatively well. I remain fit, healthy, unscathed and, most importantly, continually inspired and educated by the right people, the right books and the right places.

Once again I must apologise that this journal is now a couple of weeks out of date. I had the intention of sending within days of my time in Kashmir, but was unable to finish my writing before undertaking one of the most challenging, yet rewarding experiences of my life – a 10 day retreat in an ancient technique of insight meditation called Vipassana. In a dark forest isolated from the outside world and almost all sensory distractions, I have been taking my quest for inner peace to another blissful level – but I’ll save the details for my following journal.

I believe the last time I wrote I was on top of the world (literally!) in awesome Ladakh. I will continue with my journey West.

On the morning of my departure from Leh, myself and my two Aussie travel-mates arrived at the chaotic bus station at 5am and with bleary eyes searched for the ‘deluxe’ bus that would take us over the mountain ranges to the exotic land of Kashmir.

An amazing way to travel

We were about to experience another truly Indian enigma: the oh-so innocent switch from the simple comforts of a decent bus (at least one with suspension!) to one of the local rusty rattlers, or as I like to call them – ‘cattle class’.
We were 3 big, robust Aussie lads on a single bench seat made to tightly fit 3 small Indians. Our hips could just fit, but our shoulders were far too broad – two of us could lean back at any one time while the third man would have to lean forward. We took our positions in shifts. Despite the cramped conditions and much to their credit, the lads kept their spirits up and we learned to smile our way through every frequent sharp corner and jolting bump that came our way.
The first day we covered only 200 km in 10 hours on the road, arriving in the evening close to the muslim community of Drass, a region which has the unenviable record of being the 2nd coldest place on earth (I’m not sure who takes 1st place, but here it can get to -60c!). Reputedly, this is also the bed-bug capital of the world.
It was a very short rest for all concerned though, as we were told that the bus will be underway again at 2am as strict controls were in place for the times we could cross the heavily militarized mountain passes ahead of us. On this part of our journey we were traveling close to the Line Of Control which separates the disputed borders of India and Pakistan.
As our driver expertly nursed our jam-packed and ailing bus over the final mountain pass, the landscape evolved quite dramatically from rocky desert vistas to one of the most fertile and breathtakingly beautiful regions I have ever laid eyes on – Kashmir. All discomfort from our long, long ride was soon forgotten as the bus descended into a land of lush, green mountain meadows and ancient pine/fir forests surrounded by towering snow-capped ridges and peaks. This was mountain scenery that matches the very best of Switzerland or the Canadian Rockies, almost fairytale-like in its raw beauty.

Land of lush, green mountain meadows and ancient pine/fir forests.

Yet, because of this natural beauty, Kashmir is also a land with a long history of ongoing political violence. As little as 8 years ago, this area was decribed by the then US president, Bill Clinton, as “the most dangerous place on earth”.
The Indian and Pakistani governments wish to claim Kashmir as their own and since their first conflict in 1947 the region has remained a flashpoint between the two countries. The people of Kashmir just wish for their own independence and has produced powerful militant groups striving for this aim.
This has created a situation of unpredictable danger throughout Kashmir, and wherever I travelled their was a huge military prescence to contend with. The soldiers on patrol are heavily armed and decked out in helmets and body armour, roadsides are lined with razor-wire and there are machine-gun bunkers frequently found on street corners.
Roadblocks and bag searches are common practice, and many times I have been stopped and interrogated. Thankfully, being an Australian is a true blessing here – one look at my passport and these hardfaced soldiers and policemen would light up with a beaming smile and congratulate me on being a cricket champion of the world. Just drop a few names like Ricky Ponting or Shane Warne and they will treat you with an open and friendly respect, often earning a vigorous handshake.

The capital city, Srinigar, is famous for the large lakes it has been built around, and even more famous for the hedonistic houseboats that are anchored around their banks. With their faded elegance, the houseboats are leftover from the British Colonial era, when the English would escape the heat of the southern plains for the cool heights and beauty of Kashmir. Apparently, being unable by law to purchase land here, the clever Brits built these floating palaces for themselves. Filled with antique furnishings, carved wooden facades, delicately coloured leadlight windows and plush deckings for long, lazy days of watching life on the lakes drift past, many may be past their glory days, yet most of the boats have remained well-maintained and quite charming.
Luxurious gondolas slip past carrying what little of the tourist trade remains. These are truly something – a pimped up ride with throw cushions to lie back over and lunch and English tea served on request. My friends and I hired one for the day (with guide and paddle boy), and took a tour of the local lakes and surrounding canals. Around us were large floating gardens of lotus lilies, local fisherman and craftsman plying their trade from rowboats, amazing lakeside architecture and a multitude of birdlife living amongst the vegetation on the waters.

A lone fisherman on a tranquil lake

In many ways Kashmir does have the feel of country that is independent of the rest of India. With strong roots in the Islamic faith, Srinagar shares more in common with the cities of Central Asia. Many men wear long shirts and long beards, many women remain covered from head to toe and wear dark masks over their faces. At routine times of the day, songs of prayer are broadcast from the mosques and, drifting over the breeze on the lakes, these sounds add a dreamy and surreal feeling to an already exotic and colourful place.
Westerners are a rarity on the streets of the old city and I was met with some curious, suspicious and often hard stares while visiting one of the central mosques. My presence seemed to invoke mixed reactions from the locals. Children followed me around as if I was a Bollywood star, then at one point, on a crowded waterfront street, a stone was thrown at my head. Although feeling calm and centred, I also learned to keep my guard up.

I believe the Kashmiris may very well be the best (and most insistent!) salespeople in the world. To be enticed into one of their stores is truly an experience to behold. They will lead you in by the arm, seat you comfortably and serve tea as if you were an honoured guest visiting the inner sanctum of their home. Then, beginning to display their wares one by one in a steady stream, they will watch your expression with a hawk-like concentration until you show the slightest interest or admiration for an item – and now it’s game on and the hard sell begins. An inexperienced and naive traveller can often feel obligated to purchase just because they have been treated so special! I believe it is not uncommon for a customer to walk out of a Kashmiri store with an armload of treasures, their wallets emptied and finances devastated, wonderng what the hell just happened in there!! I have learned early to toughen my resolve, assertiveness is a must with these guys, but so many of the crafts here are exquisite and painstakngly made, and there is much to admire.

After a slightly uncomfortable stay on a houseboat owned by an overzealous shawl salesman, my friends and I moved to a quieter part of the lakes on a beautiful boat owned by a family of Sufi Muslims. The Sufis are the philosophers, mystics and poets of the islamic religion and these were a wonderful, generous and warm family to stay with. Their kindness and goodwill was inspirational, and they shared valuable insight and guidance from their faith. Together we shared a daytrip into the mountains to try our hand at fly-fishing and caught many tasty rainbow trout for a campfire fry-up on the river bank.

Rainbow trout fry-up on the river bank.

Other journeys into the mountains of Kashmir included taking a horse trek for the day from the village of Aru to some amazing viewpoints, and a challenging round of golf on the worlds highest golfcourse near the ski resorts of Gulmarg. With obscure threats of militant clashes and kidnappings in these regions, tourism remains very quiet. I felt fortunate to share the beauty of these places with so few other travellers, often finding myself in peaceful solitude.

After a few days of chilling out in McLeod Ganj as I recover from my intense studies in Vipassana, the next stop on my journey will be to the sacred Ganges River and the famous town of Rishikesh – believed to be the Yoga capital of the world and the place where the Beatles came in the late sixties to study under their guru and produce the most trippiest tunes of their career.

Wishing everyone peace, love, light and happiness. I certainly feel as if I’m brimming with them after my meditations.

Paul

Hi Mum and Dad,

Good to hear from you. I tried sending an e-mail from Kashmir a few days ago but the server crashed just as I completed it! Bad connections up there.
I have just arrived back in McLeod Ganj after my stay in Kashmir. I have never seen a region of such stunning natural beauty, but unfortunately it is tainted by being a near war-zone. Heavily armed soldiers are everywhere. I was continually stopped in my travels to be searched and interrogated, but once they saw I was an Aussie they treated be with smiles and respect.
There are still very few tourists in the area as security forces patrol the streets and mountain resorts, but I felt I had to see the place and it was well worth any risk. In the mountains I went trout fishing and on a horse riding trek as well as playing a round of golf on the world’s highest golf course. World’s highest golf course

In the capital, Srinigar, I stayed on a houseboat owned by the most genuinely kind and friendly family of Sufi Muslims. Many of the wonderful conversations I shared with them has changed my outlook on life.

House-boats
I have had a very long and hard journey over the past 24 hours. The roads were flooded and washed out at some points and we had to detour several times costing many hours. There was also a transport strike near my destination and I had to leave my jeep ride to finish the last stage of my journey on a packed local bus. Not much fun after driving all night! I’m here safely though and ready for some rest. In 2 days I begin my next meditation course but I’ll call before then.
I’m really surprised my books arrived so soon, they told me 2-3 months by sea! Considering I sent it from the isolated Himalayas, I’m impressed. I am preparing a parcel of clothes to send back soon, I need to free up some room in my pack.

Love you both, please give Bella a big hug for me too.

Paul

A warm hello to all, hoping you are all well. A fortnight ago I left the Kullu Valley behind me and embarked on an epic 2-day journey by jeep over the Himalayan ranges and into the high-altitude desert region of Ladakh. The road to Ladakh crosses the mighty Himalayan range and is filled with a raw and elemental high altitude scenery. This is the world’s 2nd most highest motorable road, reaching an altitude of 5328 meters (I would tackle the worlds highest road in the coming weeks – more on that adventure later). The heights of these ranges create a natural barrier from the consistent rain clouds of the south, and as we progressed the landscape changed from lush green fertile hillsides to rock and dry scrub. For much of the way the only inhabitants we came across were nomads, soldiers and teams of tar covered workers struggling with the never-ending task of patching up a roadway where rain and snow-melt causes recurring landslides and washouts.At one stage, detouring widely around a road closure, we found our back wheels became bogged deeply in the loose sand. Digging the wheels out and laying shale rock underneath gave the tires purchase, and with an almighty team effort we pushed the back end of the jeep until it roared out of that hole only to give us a face-full of sand as it skidded across the loose ground ahead of us. Alas, wiping my eyes and rinsing my mouth was as clean as I would get for those 2 days as our overnight accomodation was in a tent camp on a freezing cold mountain plain with no shower in sight.After 20 hours in the jeep, and while still adjusting to the lack of oxygen at these altitudes, we eventually arrived in Ladakh exhausted to the point where I swear I felt like I walked that entire road, and the sight of the bustling settlement of Leh and it’s many comfortable guesthouses was like heaven. Ladakh is known as ‘the land of the high passes’ and is often also called ‘Little Tibet’ due to its similarities in topography and culture with nearby Tibet. Considered one of the coldest and most elevated inhabited regions of the world, Ladakh’s seasonal climate is one of sharp contrast – experiencing arctic cold in winter (minus 20-30 deg celcius) while the shortlived summer is mostly warm with deceptively strong sunshine (30-35 deg celcius, and believe me, it burns!). To visit Ladakh in winter you either need to be a little insane or seriously tough – luckily, in my quest to escape the monsoon, I have arrived at the peak of summer and it is blue skies all the way! Set in an oasis of richly green irrigated fields and surrounded by huge snowy peaks, Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is a lively and beautiful little town. Towering over the town centre is the nine storeyed ruins of an early 17th century palace that is currently under a very slow restoration.
The town of Ladakh

Below, the town is a true maze of little box-like mud brick buildings bristling with brushwood stored on the rooftops for the winter. The colourful main bazaar and open-air refugee markets hold fascinating tiny shops filled with local crafts, curios and artifacts, and keep drawing me back although they are deadly for my budget and my pack is almost near full (I’m still reluctant of sending a package of valuables home through the local post office – believe me, it’s primitive!). Shortly after settling into Leh, by chance I happened to see an Australian friend I had earlier met in the Kullu Valley. He had just undertaken the same long journey the day before me and had met 2 other young Aussies and created a little travel brotherhood. These were good people – wild, adventurous and as uniquely drywitted as only country-bred Aussies can be. I quickly bonded to their group and it was much pleasure that I could once again begin speaking in Australian slang and with the self-deprecating humor that I have found is so often misunderstood outside our culture.Together with a Swiss girl, we organised an expedition with one of the local Tibetan trekking companies, and with a guide, a chef, 7 ponies and their hardworking handler, we headed into the desert valleys for 8 days of mountain climbing and wilderness survival. For much of our trek the trails were fairly easy and we cruised along at a good pace following a small valley stream and enjoying the scenery. Although the mountains of Ladakh are barren, as the sun casts its shadows across their face they become an everchanging myriad of brown, ochre and tan colours. On occasion during our days we would encounter small valley oasis’, with vividly contrasting greenery to the dry valley walls, blooming wildflowers, and barley crops which sustain the hardy local people.
Much of
the stream water here comes from melting glacial ice and appears quite cloudy, but we weren’t going to let that stop us from having the odd swim.

Bridge over freezing cold mountain stream

The waters were so cold that it would make our skin ache but, in the true spirit of Aussie bravado we plunged straight in.On two occasions we needed to cross high mountain passes to reach the adjoining valleys, and the trail changed from a steady incline to a truly challenging climb that saw us ascend to well over 5000 meters. My legs felt like dead-weights and my lungs burned in the thin air, but true effort equals reward and the views were always breathtaking. Due to the dry high-altitude air and harsh sunlight, smiling became difficult and laughing was downright painful as our lips would split with the effort – but we certainly didn’t let it stop us! On our return to Leh, we organised one of the most unique adventures of my trip so far, hiring a jeep for a journey up the worlds highest road, the Khardung La Pass, at 5602 meters. At the top we unloaded the mountain bikes we had stacked on the roof and then rode the way back to Leh, all 40km of downhill at exhilirating speeds, dodging army convoys and other traffic and only slowing for the hairpin corners and best viewpoints. For me, Ladakh has been a welcome return to a region that is rich in Buddhist culture and religion. The district has some incredibly beautiful and ancient monasteries holding the most fascinating historical treasures such as frescoes, delicately painted images, thankas (they are a kind of embroided wall hanging), rare manuscripts and toothless old monks. Many of these monasteries are built into the high barren mountainsides and can only be reached with a journey across difficult and isolated terrain. The effort was always worth it, as in their dark, dusty yet vibrantly colourful interiors I could sense such tranquility and powerfully uplifting energies surrounding me. And the monks, despite their isolation and the simplicity of their living conditions, were always friendly, smiling, peaceful and jovial. Tomorrow, I leave for the exotic Kashmir Valley, my first foray into Muslim country and a return to rich, green pastures. Tales from this chapter of my journey in my next journal. Love and light going out to all, Paul

Paul on top of the world

Hi Mum and Dad, I am really well and hoping you are too. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to send my pictures to you, but believe me I have been trying to! There is only a very limited connection here in Ladakh as it is such an isolated area. I asked a Tibetan friend to send you one pic early in the morning when the connection is best. He would have sent it via his account though and I think it was in large format. When I cross back over the mountains in a week or so I should have more luck with connections so I have to ask you to be patient. I am still staying in the small city of Leh and spending lots of time with new friends exploring the area. There are many ancient monasteries and ruins in the surrounding mountains and all have been very fascinating.

Mountain pass sign on the worlds highest road

Khardung  La,  18.380Ft   Highest motorable road in the world.

Yesterday we took a jeep ride to the highest mountain pass on the worlds highest road and, having earlier hired mountain bikes and tied them to the roof, we unloaded at the top and rode down 40km of mountainside at incredible speeds. It was truly exhilarating. Love to you all back on the farm, Paul

The view from the top of the world.

A cold mountain lake    Hi Mum and Dad, I have safely made it up to Ladakh after a two day jeep ride (10 hours each day!), over the 2nd highest mountain pass in the world at around 5300 meters.  I had a very cold overnight stay in a tent but when I rugged up it was quite comfortable.  The landscape is amazing – unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  This is a high altitude desert and although the surrounding moutains are bare rock and snow,  they change through a multitude of colours as the sun moves across them during the day.I have met some fellow Aussies along the way and we have organised to take an 8 day trek into the Leh region and surrounding valley,  visiting Buddhist monasteries and crossing some high passes. Our guide is bringing 7 ponies to lug our equipment,  surely more than we need but it sounds as if we will be well looked after with quality tents,  food and sleeping gear.  We leave tomorrow so I will be out of touch until the 23rd.I should have many photos to send when I return.                                                                                                                                   
  I’m having a great time and am with good people.

Love,  Paul                                                                                                      Wild horses on the mountain                                                Paul near waterfall near Ladakh   

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.