Himalayan Wonderland

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Updated 27 February 2013
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Himalayan Wonderland

The mountains of Nepal can be shy, hiding behind clouds for much of the time. But when the sky clears it is as if a huge curtain has been opened to reveal one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders. The Himal Massif stretches 800 kilometers across the nation’s entire northern border and is crowned, of course, by Mount Everest at 8, 848 meters. Sandwiched between China and India, Nepal is home to eight of the world’s top ten mountain peaks, as well as Kali Gandaki, the deepest gorge on earth.
Despite an abundance of natural beauty, Nepal is not a destination for the faint-hearted. It is ranked as one of the world’s poorest nations. The population suffers daily electricity cuts of up to 18 hours, minimal water supply, lack of heating and an appalling road infrastructure. If you visit in winter, bring warm clothing as you may well find yourself wearing it in bed, reading your book by candlelight. However, these facts certainly do not deter the intrepid 600,000 visitors each year, particularly during the spring and autumn peak seasons. Summer should be avoided as monsoon rains pound down daily.
What the country lacks in decent governance, it more than makes up for in backdrop, adventure and an upliftingly cheerful populace, no matter the hardship. Nepal is truly an outdoor fanatic’s playground where months can be spent climbing and trekking over the mountains and through the valleys. There is one über-trek, known as the Great Himalayan Trail. This 157-day and 2,500 km hike spans the entire length of the range, its only drawback being a $30,000 (SR 112,500) price tag.
That trek is at the extreme end of choices on offer. In less than a week, a fascinating, yet gentle 20-km trek can be made uphill out of the capital, along the eastern ridge of Katmandu valley. It is great exercise, because the higher you climb, the purer the air.
Starting in Boudha, Nepal’s Buddhist shrine, walkers can follow an ancient trade route between Katmandu and Lhasa in Tibet. Crossing the sacred Baghmati River, which later joins the Ganges in India, the path runs up to Changu Narayan, a hand-carved hilltop Hindu temple with relics dating back to the third century A.D. From here it is a painless trek through villages and fields cut into the hillsides and then a 2-km clamber up to Nagarkot at 2,195 meters, where the famed Himalayan views are seen at their best.
Tourists can find hotels in Nepal that cost anything from $ 1 to $ 500 (SR 1,875), but, for sheer value for money, the Club Himalaya Nagarkot is hard to beat. It boasts panoramic balcony vistas, a spa, pool, sublime kitchen and, most importantly, heating in winter. Complimentary hot water bottles in the evening are a nice touch, too.
Alongside trekking, there is such an array of adventure sports to get the adrenaline pumping that you need to be superman to give them all a go: White water rafting, kayaking, abseiling, paragliding, hot-air ballooning, caving, mountain biking, as well as a new pursuit known as parahawking. This recent addition to the array of flying possibilities entails birds of prey leading gliders to the best air currents, where they are then fed from gloved hands.
Huge brown birds float high in the sky above Katmandu, three-meter wingspans like broad paddles steering them across the Himalayan breeze.
“What is that bird?” I asked a waiter.
“It’s a tchill,” he answered. “A kind of eagle. You want a plane ride?”
One-hour light aircraft trips circling eight kilometer from the peak of Mount Everest have become popular amongst the better-heeled visitor to Nepal, but at $ 180 (SR 675) a flight, albeit with a guaranteed window seat, you’d better pray for good weather and bear in mind that accidents do happen. Needless to say, travel insurance is a must.
Katmandu certainly has its attractions. There is medieval Durbar Square, the harmony of the Garden of Dreams, the hubbub of Thamel Market (pashmina, saffron, elephant dung paper and leather saddles are local specialties) and the wide-open spaces of Ratna Park. Nevertheless, a seriously high level of pollution soon drives the visitor out into the breathtaking Nepalese countryside, bedecked with buttercup, clematis, marigold and chrysanthemum hanging over precipitous gorges and fast, emerald-green rivers, cherry orchards flowering below dense rhododendron (the national emblem) and oak forest climbing the slopes.
Chitwan National Park lies 120 km south-west of Katmandu and can be reached by either bus (6 hours of cheap, hard traveling) or plane (30 minutes of ease and cost). The park is dotted with high-end lodges located in the heart of the jungle or more modest accommodation in the villages along the Rapti River. The waterway abounds with bird life and is also home to Marsh Mugger and Gharial crocodiles, of which 110-million-year-old fossils have been found.
There are Bengal tigers out past the savanna, 120 on last count, roaming the jungle hills that straddle the border with Uttar Pradesh in India. The tigers, as shy as the mountains, are 100 times more likely to see you than you are them, and when herds of deer race out of the undergrowth and gather on paths, you can be sure there is a tiger about. A large population of rhinos are much more likely to be seen, as are pythons, leopards, sloth bears and wild elephants.
Elephants get angry when hungry or when their babies are at risk. It will shake its head from side to side and snort. The Nepalese people hold them in reverence similar to Saudis and camels. Riders steer an elephant by placing their bare feet behind the elephant’s ears, pressing gently to go right or left, with a tap on the top of the head to indicate straight on.
These facts were passed on by a mahout (driver) who guides up to four people on the back of his elephant, Sharingar, a three-meter-high female who lives in a stable in his garden. The safari is an early morning, lumbering plod through the jungle trees and foliage. It is already too late to see tigers. They are already snoozing off their breakfast. Having spent the morning grazing, by lunchtime the elephants are ready for a bath and they casually amble down to the river for a good soak, using their trunk as a shower. Nobody can stop them.
From the jungle in the south it is only 90 km to Pokhara, Nepal’s tranquil lakeside setting with the Annapurna range so close you feel you can touch it. Pokhara is where many treks start and finish so the town has a relaxed, yet energy-driven vibe with any number of hotels, bookshops, gift shops and international restaurants serving cuisine from sushi to momo, a Nepalese dish of stuffed steamed dumplings. For those visitors of a more genteel nature, just lounging by the pool or paddling about on the lake with a mountain view can be enough. An old oarsman, who has rowed Pokhara Lake all his life, reminisced that only 40 years ago he had often seen tigers come down to the water to drink.
The people here have also earned fame. They are the Sherpa, as at ease on the mountainside as a goat, for their spirit, stamina and expertise in leading trekkers and climbers up to some of the planet’s most dangerous viewpoints. The Ghurkha’s courage, strength and honesty have made them a highly valued regiment in the British army. Last year a one-legged Sherpa scaled the Everest, as did an 85-year-old Japanese lady. Both chased the record of eight hours to reach the summit.
Many Tibetan refugees, escaping the 1959 Chinese invasion, found refuge in this region, tending to their yaks on vast Himalayan pastures. One lady, selling handmade cloth bracelets, told me how, as a two-year-old, her parents had carried her across the mountains to escape the People’s Liberation Army. Many Tibetan villages are now scattered throughout Nepal.
A trip to Nepal is an unforgettable experience, hence the reason many people return again and again. If you do visit, make sure to keep an eye out for the legendary Yeti, also known as the ‘abominable snowman’. If you don’t find this creatur, know you will find your wallet full of animals. One rupee is a sheep, five is a yak, 10 an antelope, 20 a stag, 50 a goat, 100 a rhino, 500 a tiger, and an elephant, the king of them all, is worth 1,000 rupees, about SR48. Those animals can take you a long way in Nepal.

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Mariam’s journey to North Pole ‘an inspiration for Saudi women’

Crossing the unwelcoming terrain of the North Pole is not for the faint-hearted. Mariam Hamidaddin’s brave and inspirational journey to the top of the earth was ended by the threat of frostbite. Reuters
Updated 20 May 2018
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Mariam’s journey to North Pole ‘an inspiration for Saudi women’

  • Mariam Hamidaddin was one of 11 women from Europe and the Middle East taking part in the recent Women’s Euro-Arabian Polar Expedition, an initiative aimed to foster greater dialogue and inspire women to push their limits and fulfill their ambitions.
  • Two weeks later and Hamidaddin still could not feel her fingertips. She struggles to cut a steak and needs help to tie her shoelaces. Medics say it could be months or even years before she fully recovers.

LONDON: Mariam Hamidaddin was skiing toward the North Pole in temperatures as low as minus 38 C when she was advised by her team leader to give up on her dream and take a helicopter back to base camp.
She did so reluctantly. Frostbite had taken its toll on the Jeddah-born entrepreneur’s hands, but with no previous experience of such climates, Hamidaddin was unaware of the severity. Only when she was assessed by a Russian medic who spoke pidgin English did she appreciate how close she was to losing her fingers.
“The words he told me were: ‘No chop’ ... which was scary but also a great relief to hear,” said Hamidaddin, one of 11 women from Europe and the Middle East taking part in the recent Women’s Euro-Arabian Polar Expedition, an initiative aimed to foster greater dialogue and inspire women to push their limits and fulfill their ambitions. Team leader Felicity Aston deliberately chose women with no athletic or Arctic experience with the intention of demonstrating that anybody can achieve their goals with determination.
As Hamidaddin discovered, however, having an expert on hand helps. The transition from frostnip to frostbite can be a matter of five or 10 minutes, so it is essential for people in extreme weather to pay attention to their body. The tiniest sign can help avoid severe consequences.
The 32-year-old had followed all the instructions learned during training camps in Iceland and Oman: She kept moving to circulate her blood and had not removed her gloves even once in the Arctic. She felt pain, yes, but the entire team had frostnip, so why should she consider quitting?
Fortunately for her future — and her fingers — the decision was taken for her.

Mariam Hamidaddin was an inspirational member of the North Pole expedition before a doctor’s verdict cut her journey short.


“There was no proper moment where I realized I had frostbite,” Hamidaddin told Arab News after returning to the heat of Saudi Arabia. “If it was up to me, I would have wanted to continue, so I am extremely thankful that I was asked to evacuate because the frostbite gradually got worse and worse.
Basically, the team leader saved my fingers.”
Two weeks later and Hamidaddin still could not feel her fingertips. She struggles to cut a steak and needs help to tie her shoelaces. Medics say it could be months or even years before she fully recovers.
This month on her Instagram feed @InTuneToTheSound, she is posting photos of her journey in non-chronological order. The intention is to be “open and vulnerable and hopefully inspire people.” In a post, a video shows her typing at a computer using only her right pinky finger.
“There is a negative media perception of what a Saudi woman looks like and what she can and can’t do,” said Hamidaddin. “For this reason, it’s important for us to show that what you see in the media isn’t necessary a true reflection of who we truly are.
“It is also important to share our failures as well because when I see success upon success, I cannot connect with that. I am human, I have weakness and I fall, and I need to know that when I fall, I can rise again. Those stories are the ones that will connect most with people.”
With Saudi Arabia women now competing at the Olympic Games, being allowed to attend football matches at certain stadiums and the imminent lifting of a ban on driving, opportunities for women in the Kingdom are blossoming.
Hamidaddin, founder of the Humming Tree, a co-working space and community center that focuses on creativity and wellbeing, said she sees examples of strong, athletic and confident women every day.
“You can see them everywhere — women running, biking, climbing mountains,” she said.
“So we are already there. It’s just a matter of sharing these stories more. We are strong women; we know what we want and we find a way around it. We do what we need to do and we get it done. The fact that driving now is going to be open for us, just makes all that easier.”
Although Hamidaddin’s journey to the North Pole was cut short, the team’s doctor said she could wait out the expedition in the warmth of base camp and celebrate with her team when they reached their destination.
It was an opportunity that, even with frostbite, she was never going to turn down. What she found at the top of the world was a beautiful, dreamlike landscape — and, perhaps fittingly, a perpetual chase to reach her goal.
“Unlike the South Pole, which is a landmass, the North Pole is a constantly drifting landscape. It’s sea ice on top of the Arctic Ocean and it’s always moving, so you are constantly trying to catch it,” she said.
“One minute you’re on top of the world taking a photo and by the time you’re done taking it, well, the North Pole is a few miles away. You have to keep trying to catch it.”