Posts Tagged ‘mountains’


Day 6 Batang to BaiYu – A long walk in the snow with a bike

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Thumb_0013camp and bike before second pass Batang to BaiYu road   

I woke up about 9am a good nights sleep. Looking out the door told me all I needed to know. It had snowed more overnight and it was very cold. The snow had subsided but the sky was grey. I put the kettle on for coffee and porridge then brought the bike wheel in the tent to fix the puncture. It started snowing again and I was glad I had opted to stay in the tent for breakfast. I had some visitors who were either amused or amazed at my presence. We exchanged pleasantries and we wished each other well on our journeys. At midday it was brightening up, I had spent the morning in the tent sipping coffee and relaxing, most of my gear was already packed up so I put the stove away, collapsed the tent and pushed to the road. The snow was ankle deep and I had no idea if it was possible to cycle or not. I spent the next hour pushing and cycling when I could, until I got to the end of the gorge and the valley opened up. The summit was now in sight but it was a lot further than i thought. The road wound up the side of the mountain that was covered in snow.

Thumb_0015the bike on The ascent Batang to BaiYu road

I stopped for some food and chatted with some guys who had come down the hill on bikes. They got back on their bikes wished me luck and I started to push on. Another guy stopped and offered me a lift. It was a tempting offer as now I had resigned to pushing the bike. There were two problems. One I was too stubborn to take a lift and two, the guy was on a small motor bike. He was convinced he could get me, my bike and bags on the back of the motor bike. Trying not to hurt the guys feelings I conveyed that i was quite happy pushing.

Thumb_0014The ascent Batang to BaiYu road

Eventually he accepted I was stupid and left me to push my bike up what remained of the 4000m mountain. The next 5 hours of my life were quite surreal. Alone in the snow. My mind wondered in the silence that surrounded me. Bears, where to camp, when to stop and Liz. I felt like a lucky Joe Simpson, I had my legs intact, food and water but I was struggling to stay focused and meet my 20 minute goals. My solitude was interrupted by two smart 4×4′s coming down the mountain. The well dressed driver rolled down his window. I explained where I had come from and he let out sounds of approval and admiration. The family in the back of the car all leaned over to get a better look at me while the driver dug out a can of red bull and passed it to me. I thanked him and he set off allowing the second car to roll forward and pass another can of red bull. Smiles and thank yous again and the second car sped off.  Alone again I drank a red bull and drew on its caffeine to get me up the hill.

Thumb_0016chris2 The ascent Batang to BaiYu road

I had devised a strap that looped over my shoulder and attached to the bike, it allowed me to alternate between pushing and pulling, giving the different muscles a rest every change. At 7.30 pm I pushed over the crest of a small rise and was greeted by prayer flags.

Thumb_0018the second summit Batang to BaiYu road2

This was the top, i had made it.  Just over 7 hours and only 7kms. I was too tired to appreciate the achievement and after the summit photos, I was getting really cold.

Thumb_0017the second summit1 Batang to BaiYu road

I put on another layer and set off freewheeling down the hill. I built up momentum and elated that cycling down hill in the snow was actually possible. I squeezed the brakes as my speed increased but nothing happened. I managed to slow the bike to a stop using my feet and got off to see the problem. The brake pads were encased in blocks of ice and frozen solid. I chipped as much ice as I could off but they were still stuck. I decided to risk using some hot water from my thermos flask, if I could melt the ice, then I hoped that the heat from the friction of rubber on rims would stop any further build up of ice on the way down. The top of the flask was frozen solid. I twisted with all my strength until the metal top came off the plastic cup. I cursed, the rest of the top was just not going to come off. On the bright side i now had an extra cup for my next tea party. I set off walking down the hill, bike in tow looking for a good place to camp. Unfortunately the road wound down the mountain and the sides were to steep to sleep on. About four hours later I got to the valley bottom and got out the tent. It took me ages to prize the now frozen tent material apart. The ground was frozen solid so I had to use my bike to hold up the tent. At midnight I eventually flopped in my sleeping bag exhausted again. I was hungry and cold but to tired to do anything about it. So spent the night shivering between bouts of sleep.

 Thumb_0012night ride after the second pass Batang to BaiYu Road

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Day 4 Batang to BaiYu – Cycling to the fist summit 4000m+

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

I woke up to clear skies and a fresh but cold morning.  Fortunately I was not suffering any side affects from the night before.  I had breakfast, loaded up the bike and freewheeled back down the grassy slope to the road.  I was feeling positive about the day, it would not be long now I thought, till I reached the summit.  The road went through many twists and turns and i was using all the techniques i had learned in the last few days to negotiate the ice fields, steep sections and isolation.  I did not see another soul all morning, but my morale was high, each bend could only mean getting closer to the top.  After negotiating a small bridge I sat down for some food.

Raod Batang BaiYu before first pass12

It looked like the summit was ahead, light snow and ice on the road and not to steep.  I drained the last of the hot water from my cup and hopped back on the bike. I managed to cycle quite a bit up the hill but slowly it got steeper, my low view point was obviously deceptive and the patches of snow and ice were not helping either.  As I approached what i thought would be the summit, the road wound around another corner.  I emerged from the trees and caught a glimpse of what must be the top.  A few bends later and i was nearly there 500m, i hopped back on the bike and tried to cycle that last little bit.  I came off straight away, i pushed a bit further and then got back on the bike for the last 100m.  I crested the top of the hill and waves of emotion hit me, joy, excitement and downhill!

first summit Batang BaiYu  Road 4000m

It was windy at the top, it made a change to the silence of where i had come from.  I took some photos and set of down the bumpy track that was my road.  The lack of speed and progress over the last few days had an effect on me and i was bombing down the hill at what seemed like a crazy speed given the amount of weight the bike had on it and the terrain i was bouncing over.  I did not care, this was the reward and the bike was handling better than expected and loving it too.

Raod Batang BaiYu after first pass before Shama

I stopped for a short rest and some food, it was mid afternoon now, a few bikes had passed me and we had shared the three questions before parting company.  I continued to bounce down the hill, gaining confidence and speed with every bend.  After negotiating some tricky sections that involved getting off the bike and a few decisions about which road to take, i arrived in the small village of Sharma. 

Raod Batang BaiYu after first pass before Shama5

The locals greeted me with smiles and warmth.  I had read from another cyclist that the people in this village were hostile but my experience was anything but.  We were laughing and joking and one girl who had a baby strapped to her back was keen to try on my helmet, that is always a source of amusement to people.  Most people don’t wear helmets on motorbikes, so having one for a push bike must seem funny. 

Local in Shama trying on bicycle helmet

The locals assured me that i just follow the road out of town and it was still the way to BaiYu.  I set off again passing some horses and soon found myself in a narrow gorge with a river to my right and patches of ice on the road again.  I pushed on until i found a clearing that was good for camping and sat down to have a drink before setting up camp.  A guy pulled up on his bike and sat down.  He gave me a bottle of juice and we chatted about my route and the road ahead.  The conversation lasted for about 30mins, he was a friendly guy but did not really get that my Chinese was limited and that i could not really understand half of what he was saying.

local guy and chris Raod Batang BaiYu after first pass after Shama

Eventually i made my excuses as the conversation seemed like it was going to last for ever and i cycled off down the road.  I did not really want to set up camp there anymore, just in case the guy was not as nice as he seemed, so i plodded on the now pretty flat road, enjoying the ability to blast up the short climbs now i was at least 1000m lower.  I soon found another clearing and set up camp for the night.  I was tucked up in my sleeping bag again just after last light and had a great nights sleep. I had cycled over my highest mountain, about 4200m i think and was feeling pretty good about myself.

See more pictures here

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Finally a blog post!

Monday, December 27th, 2010

If you’ve been following our blog then the last you heard was that we were in Jinghong, Yunnan in southern China! Well we’ve done quite a lot since then, so read on for an update…

In Jinghong, we, and our friends Margo and Ben, stayed with a lovely guy called Ryan and ended up staying for a week after we all got sick with food poisoning. Let’s just say that we all got to know each other rather well after 4 days of vomiting and diarrhea! Poor Chris was hit the hardest and didn’t eat for 3 days (this photo was taken before we were all ill).

Staying at Ryan's place whilst sick

Jinghong is a nice city with a university and palm tree lined roads. I managed to buy a dongle and 6 months of internet access, which a few days earlier had seemed like an impossibility. So that gave us internet access anywhere. Margo and I also bought a pair of long trousers as our journey north meant that the temperature was starting to drop. After months and months of 30 degree heat, this was welcome although a little bit of a shock to the system. Ben did some work on our bikes and managed to find a smaller cog for my bike, which means I’ll be able to grind up those hills in an even lower gear.

We finally left Jinghong on the 22nd Nov, my birthday. The night before we went out to celebrate at the French run Mekong Café, with two French cyclists Sandrine and Damian, Ryan, and Margo and Ben. I had a fantastic evening, with red wine and a surprise birthday cake organized by Sandrine. Margo and Damian poured over maps, whilst Chris and Sandrine chatted away in French with me doing my best to follow the conversation. It was a fantastic and memorable evening.

Upon leaving Jinghong (after a full English breakfast!!) we ended up getting on the highway which wasn’t our intention. The highway itself is ok, it’s nice to cycle on and wasn’t too busy but it has tunnels. Even small cars sounds like jumbo jets as they come up behind you. We were doing ok until we came to a tunnel marked as 2.5km long. We pulled over and put on our reflective jackets, lights, head torches and anything else we could find that would help the traffic see us. The tunnel has a pavement on one side so I decide that I would prefer to cycle on the pavement. The others did too, so we set off. This was fine although dark and occasionally a big hole would open up in the pavement and bit of broken rock and glass would appear. I was relieved to reach the end and we all agreed that we should get off the highway as soon as we could.

We stopped that evening after finding a lovely campsite by a river, with a campfire. Margo and I cooked up sausages over the fire that Ben built, boiled up two pans of potato, which Chris and Margo mashed with expertise of Michelin star chefs, and we also had Heinz baked beans for dinner, what a treat! It was delicious and we all enjoyed it. Chris then brought out more birthday cake and candles, and we sat around the fire so we had a fantastic evening all in all. A lovely birthday with lovely people.

We were aiming now to get to Dali by 3rd Dec, so we had some cycling to do and followed the 213 taking in Puer, Simao, Zhenyuan, Jingdong and Nanjian along the way. The following photos show our encounters and adventures en route…

Beautiful wild camping spots in the mountains. Even though the Chinese cultivate every last square inch of land it was still easy to camp and we found some great spots. One morning we woke up to mist ( or inverted cloud?) below us in the valleys of the mountains. We couldn’t resist a photo.

Ducks being marched along the road, we had to stop to watch, and couldn’t help thinking they seemed like prisoners on some kind of death march.

Groups of kids in villages when we stop for noodle soup at lunch. The children and adults we met in Yunnan were wonderful, so friendly and welcoming, whilst also being surprised and shy. All the kids we said hello or “Ni hao” to would burst with laughter and seemed to find us talking to them or them talking to us, absolutely hilarious!

Tea plantations and impressive terracing. Every inch of space is used here, we’ve seen miles of banana trees, fields of red peppers, bay leaf trees, tea, coffee, they grow so much and the terracing is spectacular and obviously involves a lot of back breaking work.

Dodgy gravely roads. The road we followed runs alongside the imposing new highway being built and as a result this smaller road is also the service road for all the trucks and diggers. With such a lot of heavy traffic the road is in a complete state and for a while we were cycling on gravel, dusty roads, through muddy potholes ad puddles. It was pretty slow going to say the least!

Gorgeous sunsets. In harmony with the morning mist we also got to see the soft sunsets at the end of the day. China may have some problems with pollution, but out here in the countryside the sky is clear and spectacular.

Amazing scenery like the gorge we followed for miles. We were following a river for a long time and in paces the rocks would carve a gorge through the valley creating the most beautiful natural scenery we’ve seen in a while. I’m not sure what we expected China to be like, but we certainly didn’t know it would be so beautiful!

A crazy runway toddler careering down a steep main road. Can’t believe I managed to get a photo of him, but he came out of nowhere, on his own, flying down the hill. Kids here have quite a free rein and health and safety concerns are not the same as the UK!

A poor starving dog. We see a lot of dogs chained up. Often we’re glad as it means they won’t chase us or bite us, however from time to time we see some who look ill, starving and neglected, with no water left for them. We stopped to see this little fella gave him a load of biscuits and then carried on our way. But I now wish we had unchained him and let him go so he could at least fend for himself and find some food.

We stayed in an English school classroom for the night and after dinner with the teachers, we did an impromptu lesson with the children. All quite bizarre after a long, tiring day of cycling up huge hills, but fun at the same time, and the kids were very cool!

We also met Jerry, a great guy who spoke perfect English and made us very welcome in Jingdong. He cycled out of the town with us the next morning before saying goodbye.

The cycling was interesting, fun and I felt my legs getting stronger everyday with all the hills we had to climb, it was never ending! We reach Nanjian on 2nd Dec, about 110km south of Dali and stayed at a hotel for night (after much negotiating and confusion with the receptionist!). The next day we got up early, our plan was to try and reach Dali that night. After yet more noodle soup  we set off and had a flat run for the first 10km. After that we followed another stunning gorge and it was much easier than I had anticipated it was going to be. We met Kathy, a lady from New Zealand cycling around China and stopped to chat with her. I’m interested to meet solo female cyclists as I’ve been working on a women section called Girls on Tour, so hopefully they might agree to be interviewed at some point!

We cycled into Weishan following a flat valley, stopped for another delicious lunch and then continued along the valley floor, with a tail wind for about 25km. After stopping to buy some sugary snacks, we continued knowing that a 17km climb lay ahead of us. We could see the mountains we had to climb and Kathy had told us that once you’re up by the wind turbines then you know it’s the top. We’d been able to see them for the last 20km and they still looked an awful long way away!

The climb began with a well appointed sign, the Chinese are good at letting you know what you are in for! The climb wasn’t too bad to start with, but it went on for a long time and the time ticked away. As we got nearer the top I looked around to admire the scenery and view from up here, and felt incredibily lucky to be able to have such an experience. I knew that I was going back to England in a few days and suddenly it made me appreciate just what an amazing adventure I have had so far and I felt very emotional.  Chris had stopped to wait for me and in the early evening sun he took this photo..

We knew that we would pass the 9000km mark whilst climbing, so near the top as the sun was setting we cycled tother to celebrate this milestone. About 400m short we admired the intense sunset happening all around us…

We hit 9000km and were near the top now after 17kms. It was almost dark and we knew we had a 10km descent to look forward to. Margo and Ben had waited for us at the top, however with the warm sun now gone, it was pretty cold and the way down would be colder. They had put all their clothes on and were preparing to go, we did the same and Chris remarked that we were lit up like Christmas Trees! Off we set. I hate cycling in the dark to be honest and it was pitch black by the time we’d got ourselves sorted, only the car lights provided any illumination. That also has the effect of destroying any night vision that you might otherwise have had. So we set off at a slow pace and tried to stay together. Half way down I had to stop to put on more clothes I was shivering from head to toe! By the time we go to the bottom, warm clothes and all, my teeth were chattering and I was really cold. Not only had we been cycling for 8 hrs, over 100km, we also hadn’t eaten for a while so I was feeling pretty shattered and ready to stop now. Whatever excitement I’d had about hitting 9000km or beautiful scenery, had evaporated and I just wanted to stop, eat and sleep.

We were now in Dali (new town) and need to continue a further 15km north to Dali, the old town, where we had a place to stay. That last few km were fairly straight forward, with lit roads and an easy route, but they passed in a blur. We arrived into Dali old town, happy, relieved and very tired. I would stay here with Chris and the others for a few days before going back to the UK for 2 months. This was my last day of cycling and  the longest day ever for me – 114km!!

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‘Aint no mountain high enough!’

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

As countries go, Laos certainly seems to have more mountains per square mile than any other place I’ve been. The whole country is like a giant version of Tellytubby land, covered with high roads, criss-crossing the ranges. It’s beautiful though.

After our night in the bamboo shelter, we got back on the road and having decided that I felt ok, I wanted to make it to ViengPhoukha that night, where there would be a guesthouse or two and food (of the meat variety)! It was 60km away and we had reason to believe that there were some big mountains in the way:

image

Map my ride elevation map of the some of the route

However, it started ok and we were on empty gravel roads, mostly heading downhill, including an area with a spectacular view of the valley and paddy fields.

valley

We passed through a small village where there were little kids on oversized bikes by the side of the road. Chris cycled by them on the part tarmac / part gravel road.

chris on gravel with kids by roadside (2)

The road meandered for a few miles, mostly flat through more villages with waving kids. I was beginning to wonder if we would be more tired from waving and shouting ‘Sabadee’, than cycling, by the time we reached the Chinese border. In one village, huge swathes of kids above us on the hill sides waved and screamed to us, amazing, I was beginning to feel like a celebrity.

The road quality deteriorates quite badly in places and becomes a bumpy, potholed mudfest. I know that hearing cyclists moan about road surfaces is fairly dull, but with no suspension, riding on a rough surface can make for an uncomfortable, slow ride. Chris, however, would argue that it’s good training!

road quality

So we finally reach a hill, which looks ok, but steep. The road is curving around the hill, so you can’t see how far the climb is, in some ways this is better as it is less daunting – one step at a time. We agree to meet at the top and set off. At first I keep up with Chris, but it’s not long before the gradient kicks in. Our paces differ greatly on the hills, even though Chris actually cycles at a slower speed with more weight. With shorter, weaker legs, I have to pedal faster to keep the bike moving and me from falling off, so it appears that I am exerting more energy in shorter bursts, meaning I get tired out quicker. I wish I had greater stamina and strength. So I pedal, aiming for a certain tree, post or pothole up ahead. I get there and rest for 30 secs, then continue to the next point. It’s slow going but breaking it down into sections make it achievable. We round a corner and continue up. I can now tell that this is going to be a big climb and there is no obvious ‘top’.

After a while, i stop for a few minute to catch my breath properly. On the hillside I can hear voices and chatter coming form the bushes and trees. I can’t see anyone, but it sounds very close. Finally some shouts of Sabadee arrive and I see 4 young women. They climb down and come over to me. In my best Lao I explain that I am going to Laoung NamTha and say how steep it is. They agree and ask me if I am on my own (Nung?)  Meaning: just you? (Shake head, Song!) No two! I say and motion ahead of me to indicate Chris. Ah they nod and look happier. I drink from my water bladder and they are intrigued, as is everyone in Laos, about this contraption. ‘Nam’ I say (water). They are very happy about this. I ask them what they have in their bags, they show me bamboo shoots. I nod and smile, pleased for them. Bamboo shoots are used heavily in cooking.  I set off again, but it’s really steep and I keep stopping – the women must wonder what I am doing, or more to the point why I am doing this at all. How strange for them. I wonder if they think all western women ride bikes up big hills in far off lands. I also think that, at this rate, they may catch me up on foot, however I turn around and see that they have disappeared back into the trees, continuing their hunt for food.

As the climb continues I reach a patch where the tarmac has been dug up leaving a very rough surface. Ahead, I see diggers, trucks and roadworks. By the time I reach them, the road is so bad that I have got off to push. Huffing and puffing as the trucks and machines move up and down, covering everything with clouds of dust. Me included. Then one of the workmen says hello, where are you going? I say Hi but continue, am too out of breath for a chat! A minute later he reverses his machine up the hill and stops just ahead of me, getting out the cab. He’s keen to talk so I stop. His English is good and he is from Thailand. I explain what we are doing and how we spent time in Thailand. Turns out we cycled through his home town, which he is delighted about. I guess not many tourists would go there as it’s not really a big tourist destination. I turn to go now as I know Chris will be waiting. The man rushes into his cab and brings down a big bunch of bananas. He gives them to me. I suggest that I just take one or two, but he insists that I take them all. I take them, very gratefully and thank him for his kindness. I wave goodbye and cycle on up the rest of the hill.

It’s boiling hot now and I am still climbing. No sign of Chris yet so I can’t be at the top. As I go round the corner I see it continue to climb and bend, not as steep but still up. Eventually the road surface improves and it levels out. Chris must be near, so I ring my bell a few times to let him know. Finally as I reach a bamboo shelter by the road I see his bike. Turns out he’s also been meeting people. A couple popped up by the shelter, sat with him for a while chattering away and gave him some freshly picked rice to chew on. We are both amazed at how friendly the people are here, so unfazed by our presence. Sure people who speak some English in SE Asia are usually friendly and come and chat to us, but here in Laos they are happy to sit and chat even if they speak no English and we only speak 10 words of Lao. It’s lovely.

We scoff some bananas and look at the road ahead, there’s more to go yet. My ears are blocked up at the moment and when I yawn I hear them crackle. Despite the difficulty of the climb, I’m buzzing. Those endorphins must be working their magic.

liz mountain top

We get going and the hill goes up up up some more until we finally level out and cycle for a few kms along a plateau. All we can see for miles around are hills and mountains. It’s spectacular (not that photos do it justice!). I’ve been pouring with sweat for hours and the prospect of a nice long downhill is exciting.

hills everywhere for miles

Then we whiz downhill for ages, maybe 10km, finally stopping at the marked boundary for Bokeo/Luang NamTha Province. We are both starving and Chris is particularly low on sugar, I know this as he is pretty grumpy and short tempered, always a sign of hunger.  So we pull out the tarp and I order him to sit down and eat the rest of my chocolate crisp things. I set up the stove in record time and boil some water for noodles. We only have one packet left though and a tin of sardines in tomato sauce. It’ll have to do us for now. Whilst all this is happening, a bus stops full of tourists, who proceed to get out the bus, saying hello and then walk off into the bush. We’re in the middle of nowhere, we think, where can they be going, they don’t have backpacks or anything? However after the number of people we’ve met today popping up here there and everywhere i guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

The coach driver comes to talk to us, turns out they’ve just stopped for a lunch break and have gone to eat their packed lunches. He sits with us while I cook and we ask him where the next village or shop is, what the road ahead is like etc. He’s a nice guy. The tourists come back, they are Dutch but speak good English, as most Dutch people do. We chat with them for a while before they climb back aboard and wave goodbye.

We scoff some more bananas, both feeling better for food and look at the road ahead. The driver reckons there is 3km of climbing to do before we reach the real final top. Then downhill for 20+km to Vieng Phoukha. So we continue up. In one place it’s too steep and I push my bike for the best part of a kilometre. Even the trucks coming past are going really slowly. At this point I tend to daydream and no longer focus on the hill or the difficulty. Having got this far, your know your body can do the work, so your mind is free to wander elsewhere. That said, it’s rare that I achieve this, especially on hills!

At the top top, after passing through a village, we find a small shop and stock up on water, which we were very low on by now. We also buy coke, orange juice and 4 packs of biscuits. One of the men form the village asks to have a ride on my bike. I ask him to trying lifting it first just so he has an idea of how heavy it is. Then I agree he can have a go. After a wobbly start ( it’s in the two lowest gears after the hill) he gets the hang and does a small circuit before handing it back. It’s now 4.30pm and we still have about 30km to do. It’s cold up here in the mountains and rain looks possible, so we start our descent. What can I say, we literally go downhill for 20km! We wind through hills and villages, passed rivers and cows. In many ways the Laos landscape reminds me of New Zealand.

wooden huts at start  of each village

The road eventually flattens out into a valley and we are not far from our final destination. A few more ks, but the last 5 are hard, my legs are very tired now and as the sun starts to set, I just want to get there. The town is meant to be a good size, yet out here it is hard to believe that just round the corner is a big town! We cycle along, side by side, taking the mickey out of each other with daft banter, both in high spirits and attempt to race the last bit. A couple more small hills get thrown in just for good measure and as we reach the brow of the last one, we see the town below us. Hurray, high fives all round. We whizz down and stop at the very first guesthouse sign we see. It’s called Mountain View Lodge and guess what, it’s up another flippin’ hill!

We check in to a small bungalow with views over the town. There is no electricity, but the bed is nice. I take a cold shower in the dark bathroom and wash away the layer of sweat, suncream and road dirt. I’m a bit too cold to face getting my head wet, so my hair stays unwashed. After feeling ill and weak the previous day, I was surprised that I was able to do this today and come to the conclusion that I am either not as ill as I thought or am stronger than I knew! Tomorrow will tell.

We head out to get food and order far too much, but are happily full when we return to our bungalow. The generator is on when we get back so we have some electricity (ie lights). We decided to watch a movie on the laptop. A few minutes into it, the electricity cuts off and shortly after that, despite efforts to keep my eyes open,  I fall fast asleep, shattered but content after a challenging ride through the mountains. 

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Sacred Places

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Recently a fellow twitter asked us what we thought about sacred places and where on our travels had we visited, that would be classed as sacred. This is the reply that I wrote…

I guess it helps to define your own personal understanding of the word sacred (as well as the dictionary definition). To me a sacred place or object is of religious or spiritual importance; or place or object that should be preserved, protected and not be destroyed.

Is it the site that is sacred or the event?

For sacred sites that are of spiritual importance, the place can be significant because of the events or ceremonies that take place there. Or perhaps vice versa – arguably the events take place there because the site is sacred, so which came first? For example take Stonehenge, now the site of mass midsummer gatherings, with a history of druids and pagan beliefs, a strong connection with leylines as well as a great stone structure, with some remaining mystery surrounding it. This is a sacred site, to pagans and archaeologists alike!

Places such as the stone pyramid temples at Chitchen Itza, Mexico and Machu Pichu, Peru also attract the title of ‘sacred’, again due to the impressive feats of architecture and the mystery surrounding the people (Mayan, Inca) who built these places and their use. However whether they ‘feel’ scared when you visit, very much depends on your relationship to them. Is it meaningful to you? Does the location or the experience give you a feeling that is somehow spiritual or ‘sacred’?

Other sacred places are holy sites or places of religious significance. Jerusalem, Mecca, the Ganges river all come to mind as places of religious pilgrimage. What is sacred to one faith may be meaningless to another. Is it possible to visit a religious site as someone of another faith or as an atheist and still see it as a sacred place? Or is it the embedded belief system that makes it sacred?

Is there such a place that every human being can agree is sacred, does this place exist?

Personally, as a I don’t follow any organised religious movement or faith, to me the word sacred refers more to places I feel should be preserved or protected, left unspoilt. Initially I would say that places or structures that are:

  • ancient
  • interesting historically and culturally
  • amazing feats of stone masonry or sculpture
  • give people continuity, by way of a story or idea
  • remain meaningful to people, if only some people
  • provide sanctuary

should be preserved and protected. Two most recent examples we’ve seen would be Prambanan Temple in Java, dating back to 14th century with detailed carving of the Ramayana story around the temple; and Kampheng Phet, a collection of ancient Buddhist temples in Thailand. However on our visits to these places I cannot say that I experienced anything spiritual or ‘sacred’.

Kampaeng Phet Prambanan1Prambanan Temple, Java

So to go one step further and really get to the bottom of what is a ‘sacred place’ I would argue that you have to go back to nature, to the start and visit the great outdoors to really see what is sacred.

On my first trip to New Zealand, with it’s huge majestic landscapes and snow capped mountains, I stood staring out, feeling tiny, insignificant and in awe. Whatever worries I had melted away, they were so tiny when seen on this huge scale and I liked that feeling. For the first time in my life I felt truly ‘connected’ to the earth, it was a fleeting spiritual moment.

Since then I have spent some time at home in the Borrowdale Valley, Lake District; cycling though the empty hills and mountains of Scotland; walking in the Hogbacks rainforest in South Africa; cycling in the Rainbow road and passes in New Zealand. I now know that it big wide open spaces, with huge mountains and rugged pathways, with lakes, gorges, forests and waterfalls along the way, that are sacred places to me.

 

liz 134New Zealand

Ancient and even modern day tribes have always worshipped or feared mountains, so my feeling is not new. In fact many wild places can be described as having a positive energy, with certain sites identified as being a place of ‘good energy’. If you are interested in the idea of energy take a look at Robert Coon’s site on earth chakra sites, energy lines and ley lines, unsurprisingly most of them involve mountains.

So in the end my final definition of a sacred place has to be somewhere that is life-sustaining, a place of beauty, a place of truth, a place of sanctuary and space, but most of all a place that connects you to the earth itself and all your senses simultaneously.

Quite simply, a place that makes me feel alive.

Final Thought

The Aborigines of Australia are known to have many ‘sacred sites’ which to the uneducated may just be a couple of rocks or a small stream. The Aboriginals connection to their land was far deeper than anything we know of today. In the book Songlines by Bruce Chatwin he describes how the white man, wishing to the build a railway line across Australia but avoiding these ‘so called sacred sites’, is trying to negotiate a meeting so that he may identify these ‘sacred sites’. The protagonist says something like “thing is, what the white fella needs to realise is that as far as the Aboriginals are concerned, the whole bloody country is a sacred site! To them, Australia itself is sacred.

I guess once you understand that, then you understand what is truly sacred.

The Three SistersBlue Mountains, Austarlia

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