Saturday, April 14, 2007

++Dusk to dawn at near 5000 meters altitude amidst alpine meadows ++

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The hike has taken all my strength and I feel overcome by exhaustion. I relax while in the kitchen the grandfather is preparing dinner. An old man of nearly 80 years, his leather tanned face radiates much warmth and kindness. He is genuinely proud to have a foreigner as guest at his home.

His wife is herding Yaks still further up the mountain, a 3 hours walk from where his house stands, barely noticable from here.

I notice in spite of the warm jacket I am wearing my body starts to shiver, and decide to draw the warm blanket up to my chin. I sense the deep exhaustion now overcoming me.

With every minute the shadows are getting longer now , my friends calling me to watch the spectacle that follows. Sparrows give their last  concert, the Eagles have long disappeared; the whole area is shrouded in twilight, a breath taking scenery.

My companions have tended to the horse and other animals on the farm. We stand on the porch overlooking the whole mountain range , a truly magnificent view. One forgets time here, a soul searching contest with oneself has begun. And here time has stood still, no materialistic goals, no work related stress, no human misdemeanor, no misunderstanding, no crime, just pure, basic human values. One can not but feel comfort in such environment.

Dinner is ready,  chinese cabbage, the "xiao bai cai", steamed round rice, chicken with vegetables. An excellent meal, the old man proofs his cooking skills. After dinner we converse, many questions are asked about my home and what it was like.

Mountain folks retire early and for a good reason: they must be fit in early morning. We take a stroll in the now dark surroundings and shoot some photos in the dark. Everyone senses the tranquility that has engulfed the mountains by now. A real heaven under the sky. Then the house falls silent, no sound is heard.

I dream of a friend who has passed away, noticing I can converse with him freely here. On frequent occasions did I have such experiences, in serene and calm surroundings in Africa, Asia and Europe. How I wish I could have shown this heaven to those who needed it most. Yet, it is not for everyone to reach such divine places. As one friend put it : "You are blessed to be able to discover this jewel ". One can believe or not, reality speaks for itself.

And the night embraces us amidst a divine calm, with the stars as our guardians..

Next : The day break and descent ...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

++Between realism and fiction , Dege - Western Kham ++

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Dege, Western Kham, Border with Tibet

Long before the sun rises we are up. Behind the mountains it begins to dawn, we are engulfed by the beauty of the morning.

The night had been noisy, with Tibetan lemurs rummaging overhead in the double wooden ceiling, sleeping was difficult. Where we sleep, kitchen, hall and bedroom in one, the typical Tibetan house. Throughout the night I carried a flashlight to spot the noisy little creatures who were after the Chambar, the rye flour stored in the kitchen in a wooden box.

The breakfast is painstakingly prepared with Chambar, salted tea and yak butter, yak cheese, mingled in a cup and bare fingers. The hospitality of the Tibetan  people has no equivalent, we are honored guests in their house, and dare not to refuse their persuasive welcome.

Red Tibetan furniture all around us, wooden tables, an open kitchen furnace, we sit on our bed eating and drinking the salted Lapsang, planning for the day. We will ascend to the mountains staying overnight , where wolves and bears still roam freely. As a result, every Tibetan carries a dagger, richly decorated with Silver and gemstones, according to his social standing.

A car takes us to the school where Mr. Chen's wife is teaching Tibetan kids, in a scenic settlement 30 miles outside the city of Dege. We visit the school, its basic facilities and see only smiling, curious faces. Horses were called in the day before to carry me to the mountain, an almost impossible thought to bear. The means of communication is by word to mouth, as no transport other than by foot or horse can reach to this remote parts in 4000 m altitude.

We start our ascent at 0900 AM and the breathtaking beauty of the valley immediately takes me into a trance. My guide's pace is fast, difficult to follow pace, I grasp for air in such high altitude. Alpine meadows on our way, tall yellow and purple cowslips along the trails, in the mountain meadows make me remember my own heritage. So similar is the vegetation here, I almost forget I am 8000 Miles from home  in a far away location.

The trail is steep, the first plateau reached we stare at the mountains around us, the valley below, fields of rye in golden yellow. The main route to Chamda and to Lhasa, a 5 days journey by car. So vast are the distances here, one needs to shut off his sensing of time entirely for the duration of this journey. Time has no meaning, we are only temporary on this Earth.. Tibetan wisdom comes in many shapes.

The stream we now try to cross is covering the trail over hundreds of meters and we attempt to jump from stone to stone with limited success. Ice cold fresh mountain spring water, a definite substitute to the bottled water in PET packing. Prayer flags with diverse colors line the places where the water is deep, marking the auspiciousness of the location. Mountains and cliffs towering over our heads as we progress into the high altitude dwelling place of my guide's grandparents. Eagles cry, circling above in the clear blue sky, looking for prey.

An hour into the walk we meet our horses, sent to take us on horseback to our destination. I chose not to ride and pack our luggage on the horseback, a white  mare. Noticing the rider's pregnancy I wonder how strong these people must be, living year in year out in such remoteness. No medical facilities, totally dependent on Tibetan Traditional Healing, easier in the summer months, unimaginable in winter when ice and snow cover the mountains.

A two and half hour ride on horseback, she immediately sets off to return back to her home. Astonishing endurance, strength, people here are robust like no other. I encounter the first Edelweiss on my trip, it makes me forget the strain on my body, for too long I was out of practice since leaving my home country. Recalling my Military training, Hauptmann Lukesch, and the 50 Miles we marched in Alpine regions, I think back and realize how time has passed so quickly.

Here in this region I find a variety of plants, wild fruits,  Gooseberries, wild Strawberries, Raspberries in deep red growing nearby. Reminding me of my youth and the Alpine world I grew up with, where we would roam in the meadows after school, using the mountains as a playground, once again I see reflections of my early days appearing with every step I climb these trails.

We zigzag along the rocky paths, it takes all my strength for its steepness. The higher we reach the more spectacular the views, the more you feel yourself free. Only a mountaineer can understand this feeling, perhaps I felt a similar sensation the night I found myself in Beyla, Guinea.

The serpentine paths become more steep, walking dangerously close near to cliffs I realize I made a good choice not to move on horseback. Not being a good rider it would have been too risky, a reckless idea I contemplate.

Well into the afternoon, long overdue we reach the first house on a long stretch of green, rye growing up in this altitude of 4000 meters. We set of at 3000 meters, but the ascent was so strenuous it took me 8 hours to climb. Here in the mountains everyone knows each other, so our arrival had been heralded and we are invited to the first dwelling we see.

Sitting in the dark kitchen with only basic amenities, the lady of the house and her grandson invites me with the same hospitality I am so used to since coming to these parts. All I take is some fresh mountain spring water, trying hard to recover from the climb.

One can not describe the condition of this dwelling place, were it not to hurt the genuine people's feelings. All they have is this, and this is their life. The rye gives them food throughout the year, and represents their staple diet. All houses in Tibetan tradition are built of raw timber, logs of Fir and are painted with a red mixture that contains yak butter. The yak butter helps to preserve the logs for a long period of time. When entering these parts one immediately notices this phenomena without realizing the deeper meaning of it.

I dread to climb further up and really push myself to reach the last 300 meters where the grandfather is anxiously awaiting us. We can see the house further up the mountain and can see the grandfather standing and looking towards us.

The last stretch lasts forever and I take a rest every now and then, grasping for air. When we finally reach, I feel totally exhausted.

Next : Life in the mountains, Dege, Western Kham, Road to Lhasa

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Monday, April 9, 2007

++The oldest City in Europe, Carcassone++

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Carcassonne, L'Aude, France

Traveling the south western Route from Montpellier towards the Spanish border, one will reach the city of Narbonne. This city is the starting point to some of the most scenic routes through the Corbieres, the unknown paradise of wine connoisseurs. With its rich volcanic soil the region produces some of the most exquisite Reds the world knows.

The tour goes through the vineyards, with its hills and Castles, its many wineries and gastronomic outlets. Just follow the road to Limoux and you know you are on the right track.

Stop at one of the many caves to sample the local magnificent elixirs, heavenly and unsurpassed in my opinion. No Bourgogne, nor Bordeaux or the more popular St. Nazaire, can match these great wines of Corbieres. We do not speak of the many attempts to copy, we speak of the home of grapes, the original.

Along the path you will see landscapes which leave a life long memory.

Do stop near the ruins of an old castle, once a major stronghold. Its tower still standing, you will be guided  back to the middle ages.

The city of Limoux is known for its Whites, the famous "Blanquettes de Limoux". Its wines are reputed throughout France, perhaps less so in the New World.

Then, turn to your right, towards Carcassonne. The City of Carcassonne is known to be the oldest standing city in Europe. With its main Chateaux or Castle still standing like in the Middle Ages, its City walls in place, the cobble stone roads intact, one can almost hear the horse carriages been drawn through the narrow streets.

Nowhere is the past so vivid as in Carcassonne. The City holds major medieval events in summer, and Tourists flock here to see these spectacles. Fire breathing, walking on stilts, medieval BBQ's., medieval cuisine will lead  you to a long forgotten time.

The prime choice in accommodation is the "Hotel de Cite", a 4 Star Hotel in the middle of the City, to reach it you must carefully navigate your Automobile through the narrow Alleys and roads.

Your night will be an experience. Remember that mighty and powerful clans lived here once. The interior of the Hotel is made of Fir, the thought of a blaze is not comforting.

An old carriage once used by the Princess is still displayed near the lobby, you are not allowed to mount it.

Take a break in the evening, a pleasant breeze of the Aude region with its scents of harvested Wheat coming from the meadows nearby. Take a seat near the main stage in the center, where since 1200  stage performances were held. Indulge yourself in a traditional  "Cassoulet de Carcassonne", with a glass of red Corbieres, preferably  '92 vintage, dream without realizing where you actually are. For one can not really contemplate the historic importance of this place. Enjoy every minute of this experience as there is none equivalent elsewhere.

The night passes by quickly and we move on, towards an other destination, the mighty range of the Pyrenees.

When we leave, the mighty City walls of Carcassonne lie in our back, the dark shadowed roofs visible till we reach the mountain road. Another time, au revoir, a bien tot, perhaps ..

HR Travels in Europe..

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Sunday, April 8, 2007

++Bush establishes Commands in Africa++

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Bush wants a military command in Africa

President George W. Bush announced in February his plans to create a new military command for Africa, which would be known as U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). The president reportedly said the unit would be up and running by the end of September 2008, however, his administration has yet to say where the command would be located and what it would cost the American taxpayer.

continue to read :

Bush wants a military command in Africa

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Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not;
Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men.
Genius will not;
Un rewarded Genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; The world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and Determination alone are omnipotent.

Heinz blog and adventures

Personality Test

Your Personality is Somewhat Rare (ISFP)
Your personality type is caring, peaceful, artistic, and calm.

Only about 7% of all people have your personality, including 8% of all women and 6% of all men
You are Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, and Perceiving.

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++Yhe Greatest Hunter (part 2)++

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Continue with George's adventures in the bush ...