Why You Should Not Miss Nyepi, Bali’s Hindu New Year — Experience Its Riveting Rituals to Refresh, Reflect, Rejuvenate and Restore

I spent a magical week in Bali during Nyepi, experiencing riveting rituals to rid worshippers of evil, cleanse their souls, bless the environment and restore harmony between the gods, demons, mankind and nature. If you want to immerse yourself in Bali’s exotic culture and its age-old, sacred, spiritual philosophy for life – Tri Hita Karana – then mark your calendar to witness the distinctive Hindu celebrations that commemorate the beginning of the Saka Lunar New Year – falling over six days every March.

The Balinese ceremoniously kick off Nyepi with Melasti, a highly devotional affair in which villagers purify both Bhuana Alit (the small cosmos hosting mortals) and Bhuana Agung (the greater universe) to chase away malevolent spirits and sanctify the mystical deities. With immense orchestration, every Banjar (hamlet) is pre-assigned a precise beach and ritual schedule leading up to the New Year.

I hired a guide and set the alarm for 3:30 a.m. to commence our journey to the seaside to join a festival at Padang Galak in the Sanur area. There was a continuous stream of celebrants with the men dressed in conventional, formal, white attire – each sporting an udeng or elaborate headdress. Meanwhilst, the women flaunted their most exquisite kebaya – a long, fitted, lacey tunic, complemented with a decoratively embroidered under-corset and cinched with a fanciful outer cummerbund. This ensemble was paired with an ankle-length sarong – secured with a wide sash at the midsection, called a sabuk. A convivial, yet sober mood prevailed as about 1,000 neighbours gathered to pay their respects.

Arriving at the Melasti Ceremony at Padang Galak
Villagers Dressed in Their Finest Ceremonial Costumes
Attendees Waiting for the Ceremony to Start at Dawn

Everybody brought offerings. Gold or silver carved bowls were perfectly balanced on the ladies’ heads – brimming with colourful home-made bantens, cakes, fruits, flowers, betel leaves, bits of lime, slivers of areca nuts and rice. The gents hauled all sorts of classic parasols, consecrated sculptures known as pratima, and cone-shaped floats containing their temples’ hallowed paraphernalia – swords, barongs, traditional dance clothes and rangda statuettes.

The Melasti Makeshift Shrine Facing the Sea
A Woman Making an Offering and Burning Incense

These objects were meticulously arranged on a gigantic table in front of the shrine overlooking the ocean, as waves crashed on the beachfront below. Practitioners relaxed in prayer on the cosy platform, as plumes of sandalwood incense wafted overhead. The rhythmic melodies of the beleganjur orchestra’s various gongs, cymbals and drums overwhelmed my senses.

Gamelans, Gongs, Cymbals and Drums Play a Vital Role During Melasti

Sitting cross-legged on an elevated throne, the village’s highest-ranking Brahmin priestess led the puja – chanting mantras, twirling frangipani petals in her fingers, and ringing her prayer bell gracefully. Community elders vigorously flicked holy water and grains on the sacrosanct accessories and devotees to purge negativity and attract prosperity.

The High Priestess Conducting Sacred Rituals During the Melasti Ceremony
In Anticipation of the Communal Purification Prayers
The Final Offerings Being Blessed by Holy Water During Melasti
Villagers Face the Sea During the Melasti Purification Ceremony

During the two-hour rites, the drizzle ceased and the sky slowly awoke. A soft amber glow transformed the horizon, with a magnificent display of radiant tangerine, persimmon, scarlet, crimson and violet. The fiery sunrise gifted us with dramatic views of the offshore isles – Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Lombok – as well as the legendary, misty-crowned Mt. Agung volcano. As the warm morning rays bathed the entire open-air temple, my heart was bursting with gratitude to have experienced this precious, solemn service.

Dawn at Padang Galak
Daybreak During the Melasti Ceremony
Mt. Agung from Padang Galak

Two days later, on New Year’s Eve Day, Pengerupukan, every district excitedly put the finishing touches on their hand-crafted, ferocious-looking effigies – nicknamed Ogoh-ogoh – to celebrate Bhuta Yajna. These grotesque creatures measuring nearly five metres (16.5 feet) tall had been creatively constructed over several months – using gaudy wood, papier mâché, styrofoam, cloth and tinsel. Representing mythological figures, they symbolised adverse human energy and were used to rouse any dark forces lurking nearby, so offerings could be made to be appease them.

A Scary Ogoh-ogoh Mythological Statue Built for the Ngrupuk Parade on Pengerupukan

The major parade in Ubud began with an animated evening street party. The residents jubilantly carried the Ogoh-ogoh on bamboo platforms – relentlessly shaking them as they rotated them, in hope that the demonic spirits would give up and disappear. Time-honoured gamelan bands, drummers and traditionally dressed maidens with offerings added to the merriment. The procession zigzagged for blocks from the Ubud Royal Palace down Jalan Monkey Forest to the football field, where everyone mingled into the night.

The Ogoh-ogoh Procession Leaving Ubud Royal Palace
Villagers Carrying an Ogoh-ogoh Statue to Arouse the Evil Spirits
Gamelan Bands and Drummers Make Lots of Noise to Ward Off the Demons
Villagers Dress in Costumes to Bewilder the Malevolent Elements
Traditionally Dressed Balinese Women
Young Girls Carrying Offerings to Appease the Spirits During the Ngrupuk Parade

Starting at 6 a.m. the next day, the Balinese celebrated 24 hours of Nyepi, a Day of Introspection, when everything came to a grinding halt and the focus was simply on detoxing and renewal. Throughout this period, each citizen practiced the four precepts of Catur Brata Penyepian:

Amati Geni (no fire/light), which means Bali plunges into pitch blackness at night, expelling afflictive emotions – like anger, hatred, jealousy and greed

Amati Karya (no activity), wherein physical work is banned, and all businesses are closed, except emergency public services

 Amati Lelunganan (no travel), resulting in everybody staying at home – emptying the roads, ports and even the airport

Amati Lelanguan (no entertainment), forbidding recreation, talking and social media

Nyepi, a Day of Silence
During Nyepi, Nobody is Allowed Outdoors
When Bali Shuts Down for 24 Hours

Suddenly, Bali’s intense hyperactivity was replaced by sweeping tranquillity. Its people gave back to Earth – hidden away, fasting, meditating and making New Year’s resolutions – in a bid to regenerate the island. As a guest, I was confined to my hotel’s premises, though I was able to enjoy the facilities, dine in the main restaurant, and turn on low lights in my room. That restful day, I tuned into the quietness and noticeably cleaner air – indulging in a holistic reboot with yoga, meditation and massage.

Offerings at My Resort During Nyepi
Practicing AcroYoga During Nyepi
Attending a Cooking Class During Nyepi
Going to the Spa During Nyepi
Lunchtime at the Resort During Nyepi

But, the icing on the cake was after sunset – when the cloudless, moonless heavens majestically showcased the huge arc of the Milky Way. As I lay by the pool, it seemed as if all four billion of our galaxy’s stars were glittering above me, reminding me how tiny we are within the universe’s grand architecture. This awe-inspiring New Year grounded me and left me feeling so connected to the magic of the Island of the Gods.

Immediately following the Day of Silence was Ngembak Geni, a day of contemplation on loving kindness and patience. Though all the hustle bustle resumed, the lion’s share of Balinese extended their rejuvenated purity by dropping in on friends and family to ask for forgiveness and make a fresh start going forward.

Unquestionably, not all travellers will be interested in visiting Bali during Nyepi; but for me, it was a sublime opportunity to submerge myself in the unique traditions and observances honouring the relationship between the divine, society at large and our planet.

Note: Nyepi always begins at 6 a.m. and lasts for 24 hours:
2020 24 March
2021 14 March
2022 3 March
2023 22 March
2024 11 March
2025 29 March

My Journey with His Holiness the Dalai Lama Began with My Visit to Tibet

Who could have guessed that my trip to far-flung Tibet in 2011 would have such an unforgettable impact and serve as a catalyst for me to eventually meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL)?

It all started by planning an ambitious two-week odyssey from Lhasa to Everest Base Camp. I found the many stories about the exotic Roof of the World so enthralling, I decided to experience firsthand this extensive and barren Himalayan plateau – renowned for its remarkable, nomadic history and time-honoured, mysterious, and holy traditions.

The Vast and Desolate Himalayan Plateau
Gyatso-La Pass En Route to Everest Base Camp: The Roof of the World

Throughout the tour, I was captivated with how those ethnic customs were still deeply embedded in everyday life, enlivening this distinctive culture. For example, Jokhang Temple, the holiest centre in Tibet, was teeming with monastics – head-shaved, with flowing crimson and saffron robes – who were reverently murmuring mantras, lighting countless butter lamps, conducting deistic ceremonies, and caretaking this classic sanctuary. At the same time, throngs of devout pilgrims constantly streamed into this Buddhist mecca – prostrating tirelessly in an otherworldly practice to purify their karma and venerate HHDL, their spiritual leader.

Jokhang Temple: The Holiest Sanctum in Tibet
Admiring Jokhang Temple’s Classic Tibetan Architecture
A Temple Assembly Hall Before Daily Prayers and Chanting
Monks Performing Temple Duties
Temple Cleaning: A Primary Monk Responsibility
Devout Pilgrims Prostrating at Jokhang Temple
Prostrating to Purify Their Karma and Venerate the Dalai Lama

Smouldering sage and juniper consecrated the temple entrance. Inside, worshippers crammed together to catch a glimpse of the radiant statues and paintings dedicated to Buddha and a menagerie of bodhisattvas and deities that lined the windowless labyrinth of chapels. I was overwhelmed by the cloying aroma of ubiquitous, flickering yak-butter candles, thick clouds of incense, and the din of chanting and rattling prayer wheels.

Flickering Yak-Butter Lamps

The atmosphere was similarly pious at the cardinal landmark, the Potala – the winter home of 10 reincarnated Dalai Lamas, with golden stupas entombing eight of them. Masses of colourfully ornamented devotees solemnly circumambulated the palace, reciting prayers with their malas to build merit and guard against misfortune. Likewise, Tibetans universally revere Norbulingka, the traditional summer lodging of the Dalai Lamas – from where the current one fled into exile in 1959.

The Potala: The Winter Home of 10 Reincarnated Dalai Lamas
The Red Palace at the Potala Showcases Tombs of Eight Dalai Lamas
The Golden Stupa Tomb of the 13th Dalai Lama
A Colourfully Ornamented Devotee
Solemnly Circumambulating the Potala
Elders Clutching Prayer Wheels and Malas, Whilst Chanting to Purify and Build Merit
Stationary Prayer Wheels at the Base of the Potala
Will a Gigantic Prayer Wheel and Mala Expedite the Path to Nirvana?
Seniors Traditionally Dressed at Norbulingka

I was so curious, ‘Why do Tibetans irrefutably adore the Dalai Lama?’

To get to the bottom of this, Tashi, my guide, provided precious, personal insights into the psyche of the Tibetan people and how HHDL is their guru and connection to their Buddhist faith and values. He also shared details about the complicated, and often downright fraught, relationship with China that has plagued Tibet for ages. He unveiled innumerable sacred shrines, historic monasteries, and ancient landmarks which had been desecrated by the Chinese since the 1950s – in a powerful bid to annihilate Tibet’s extraordinary civilisation, lifestyle and social identity. Contrary to any of my past venturesome excursions, I eyewitnessed an aggressive military occupation, in which armed police stopped us relentlessly to check our travel permits and heavily patrolled most public places to deter rogue behaviour and protests.

Battalions of Armed Chinese Police Patrolling Lhasa
Chinese Police Fully Equipped with Fire Extinguishers to Deter Self-Immolations

It is well-documented that HHDL won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for introducing his Middle Way approach – wherein, Tibet will not vie for independence if its people are given cultural and religious autonomy. Yet, China has continued to assert that he is an enemy, justifying some of the harshest restrictions anywhere on civil liberties. For instance, the government prohibits Tibetans from outwardly worshipping the Dalai Lama – including possessing or displaying any images of him. Additionally, the Chinese officials autocratically limit Tibetans travelling internationally and have banned HHDL’s return, causing profound despair. Consequently, in 2009, monks and locals alike commenced setting themselves on fire – choosing suicide over living under the Chinese regime, with its punishing ethnic, social, economic, and political reforms.

The circumstances could not be further from HHDL’s proposed Middle Way and proved to be my tipping point: I wanted to meet the Dalai Lama.

I wondered, ‘Who is this icon who had globetrotted to some 70 countries, engaging a myriad of leaders along with ordinary citizens?’ I was fascinated with his multifaceted mission – advocating the welfare of Tibetans, teaching Buddha’s principles, as well as discussing global environmental issues and promoting the virtues of non-violence, tolerance, compassion, universal responsibility, cognitive neurology, quantum physics, psychology, and interfaith harmony.

Senior Monks Preparing to Debate Buddhist Principles with Young Disciples to Enliven Their Faith
Dramatic Monk Debates on the Various Doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism
Debating Involves Loud Statements, Extravagant Hand Gestures and Expressive Movements

Stay tuned to read about my subsequent encounters with HHDL and find out how I was ultimately invited to his residence.

Finding My Tribe at Wanderlust

Whether you are a yoga enthusiast, a meditator, a music lover, a foodie, or just a traveller seeking an extraordinary mountain escape, look no further than Wanderlust Squaw Valley – the crown jewel of the summer wellness festival circuit. Last 19 to 22 July, over 10,000 people flocked to Lake Tahoe’s internationally renowned playground to unplug, unwind and tune in.

Squaw Valley: Home to the World’s Largest Lifestyle Retreat

Regardless that yoga retreats have proliferated in all corners of the globe, they all are distinct, catering to different audiences. Nevertheless, Wanderlust remains the Big Dog on the calendar, with its stellar, decade-long reputation and unrivalled diverse collection of sought-after legends. This year’s stars included Chelsey Korus (Vinyasa/Ashtanga/Acro), Briohny Smyth (Fit Flow), Eoin Finn (Blissology to align our energy and presence), Sat Sri Dougherty (Kundalini), and Joe Barnett (Yin). So, whether Savasana is your go-to pose, invigorating flow gives you a glow, or you yearn for yin, this roundup covered all bases with a plethora of classes tailored for virgins and veterans alike.

Wanderlust: The Big Dog on the Summer Wellness Festival Calendar
Savasana After a Vigorous Flow Class

Unsurprisingly, Wanderlust is far more than a yoga sanctuary, hosting a complement of widely acclaimed meditation gurus – namely, Light Watkins, Clio Manuelian, Lauri Glenn, Noah Levine, as well as Aya and Tyler Erin Ward – offering ancient breathwork techniques to tap into the subtle body for overall improved health.

Light Watkins’ Meditation “Finding Your True Bliss”
Feeling Rejuvenated After Clio Manuelian’s Breath, Bandha and Pranya Practice

Another Wanderlust cornerstone is the value of conscious living focused on physical, emotional, and cognitive stability. A range of motivational Speakeasy discussions – featuring foremost thought leaders, coaches, and bestselling authors – invited us to take our training off the mat to nurture compassion and cultivate wisdom. Notably, Kyle Cease, Lauren Zander, and Ken Nwadike Jr. outlined how to lead a mindful, holistic life by integrating yoga, reflection, nutrition, gratitude, generosity, creativity, tolerance, integrity, and a sense of community into our daily lives.

Speakeasy Talks Addressing Balance for Leading a Mindful, Holistic Life

Finally, Wanderlust is lauded for weaving live tunes throughout all its galas, with Squaw Valley famous for its boisterous, sun-drenched pool parties at High Camp. Imagine frolicking in a mountaintop pool, singing along to your favourite DJs, and savouring a bounty of food and drinks – all the whilst encircled by unsurpassed views of the entire Olympic Valley, the lake, and snow-capped peaks. In contrast, after hours were devoted to killer headliners and indie artists delivering over-the-top performances from the massive Main Stage, tricked out, using state-of-the-art electrical, lighting, and sound options. Celebrants grooved under the stars to lively shows varying from funk, hip hop, jazz, soul, RnB, and gangsta rap to folk, pop, and rock ‘n’ roll. More remote stages lured yogis with mellower instrumentals and rhythms, whereas a pulsing disco catered to those craving to dance the night away. Whatever genre, the concerts added the perfect ending to our long, active days.

Squaw Valley Tram Face to High Camp
Sweeping Views from High Camp
A Boisterous Afternoon Pool Party at High Camp
The Main Stage Ramps the Voltage for Its Full House

Notwithstanding my countless memories of summer adventures in the Sierra Nevadas – backpacking, biking, riding horses, river rafting, rock climbing, and camping – I had never attended Wanderlust. So, I decided it was high time to dive into the world’s largest lifestyle retreat and join the Squaw Valley festivities, along with the incredible instructors, talented musicians, and fellow well-being practitioners.

When I arrived at The Village, Ground Zero for the upcoming event, I was greeted by crystal-blue skies and the stunning landscape of the ski resort’s bowls and jagged, granite pinnacles. The industrious back-office and operations teams were putting the final touches on the venue fairgrounds, where the familiar restaurants, bars, galleries, and boutiques had been integrated into our campus. Neighbouring studios, conference centres, auditoriums, plazas, lawns, and meadows had been converted into living-learning spaces, just as tennis courts and parking lots were now embellished with super-comfy pavilions and kiosks –providing all the necessary infrastructure for our mega affair.

Welcome to Wanderlust Squaw Valley
The Wanderlust Campus Integrated into the Olympic Valley
Picture-Postcard Views from Our Alfresco Classrooms
The Village: Ground Zero for the Festival

As the throngs of colourful students and cheerful vendors convened, the energy began to vibrate. The next thing I knew, brightly decorated pop-up food stations began dishing up chef-quality, nutritious fare. Meanwhilst, vibrant fresh juices, protein shakes, smoothies, and a medley of tea and coffee concoctions were being passionately blended at hipster cafes. Nearby, fanciful cabanas housed eclectic merchants meticulously displaying eye-catching, eco-chic clothing, props, boho jewellery, and handcrafted accessories. The overwhelming avalanche of freebies – including organic snacks, probiotic shots, Kombucha, sunscreen, visors, bandanas, decals, pins, thermal bottles, and carry bags – contributed to the carnival ambiance. A unique fiesta was unfolding as attendees mingled, soaking up the California rays and non-stop melodies – all in search of a reboot, some insight and even the possibility of change.

I eventually meandered into The Compass, an alluring, rigged-out marquee, complete with Persian carpets, floor pillows, ornamental lights, uplifting artwork and 5G Wi-Fi. As the logistics hub and central hangout, certainly someone there could provide tips to navigate my full-access pass. Where exactly were all those venues with perplexing names like The Nest, The Shala, The Mothership, The Sanctuary, and The Nook? Was there transportation to my Paddleboard courses? And what on earth is the Happiest Hour? Little did I know that the cowgirl behind the counter with the megawatt smile was the Head Honcho, who would be my genie in a bottle for a hassle-free festival.

Meet Kelly Casey: My Genie in a Bottle for a Hassle-Free Festival

My schedule was a kaleidoscope of inspiration, with an array of prominent masters. However, by far, my most precious sessions were those pioneered by industry entrepreneurs introducing inventive twists to the age-old art form.

Thanks to Sarah Tiefenthaler, I was able to float my yoga on a mountain lake with a Stand Up Paddleboard. Her Vinyasa asanas came with detailed coaching to keep me balanced as the board wobbled unpredictably – slow it down, remember to breathe, stay centred, and gaze at the horizon. Though she challenged my attention, fired my core and encouraged light-hearted exploration, it was virtually impossible to hold my headstands amidst the ever-present ripples.

Think Balance Before You Take to Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga
Inversions on a Wobbly Paddleboard, Really?

Carmen Curtis, founder of AIReal Yoga, had me suspended, hanging in midair amongst the pine trees – solely supported by a silky, hammock. By manoeuvring the fabric, I learnt to twist, turn, swing and hang upside down in no time – defying gravity to deepen my stretches, improve my alignment, and refine my inversions. Cocooned in my broad sling, effortlessly swaying in the breeze, that Savasana was downright heavenly.

Just Hanging Around Upside Down in AIReal Yoga

With Jocelyn Gordon, I rediscovered my childhood love for the hula hoop and became a HoopYogini – manipulating the hoop, using minimal force, to get it to twirl around my waist and hips. Managing even the basic hoop actions was a thorough workout – igniting my glutes, thighs, abs and lower-back muscles. In an attempt to advance to the neck, shoulders and chest, what ensued was pure helter-skelter – pumping me full of endorphins, with many laughing-out-loud moments.

In a Throwback to My Childhood, I Became a HoopYogini

Lastly, Govind Das and Radha’s version of Bhakti Vinyasa combined soulful Kirtan and traditional Indian strings, drums, and pump-organs to accompany their dynamic sequences. The perpetual motion fused with sacred sounds resulted in a compelling asanas series.

Bhakti Vinyasa Complete with a Kirtan Jam

Although I relished my menagerie of workshops, I was also fascinated by others absorbed in their practice. One morning I spotted a dewy meadow sprinkled with meditators in silent contemplation. Midday, I stumbled upon a handful of energetic slackliners nervously attempting their gymnastic swagger, teetering precariously on a thin rope strung across an alpine reservoir. In a secluded courtyard, pairs were engrossed in AcroYoga, playfully trying to find the delicate synchronicity between the Base and the Flyer. Elsewhere, in the shade of an oversized tent, a turbaned Kundalini teacher, dressed completely in white, was leading her charges in chanting and breath-of-fire exercises. The overarching atmosphere was relaxed but supercharged with undivided concentration.

Sat Sri Dougherty Awakens My Kundalini
Joining a Self-Healing Kriya in Kundalini Yoga

That serenity was the antithesis of the pervasive hubbub taking place at The Village. As much as it was entertaining to visit the stalls, catch a vegan-cooking class, muse over an essential-oil tutorial, and spy fun-loving face-painting, hair-braiding, and temporary-tattoo booths, I was equally delighted to encounter zen dens and tranquil lounges – providing the ultimate chill-out zones where I could kick back, cool off, recharge, and rehydrate.

Chill-Out Zones to Cool Off and Kick Back
A Living Lounge to Unwind and Recharge
A Zen Den to Reboot
Endless Supplies of Flow Alkaline Spring Water to Rehydrate

As I reflect on those four magical days, there were many takeaways. I was, no doubt, acutely impacted by the intense convergence of movement, merry-making and introspection – leaving me calmer, with a more open heart and a freer mind. Despite constantly exploring new boundaries and pushing my comfort zone, I had been able to live in the moment and keep coming back to my breath when things were chaotic. What emerged was a renewed commitment to set clearer intentions, address old habits, loosen attachment to outcomes, and stand up to lingering fears.

But, in the end, the real game changer was the unexpected naturalness in engaging with those thousands of strangers – all drawn to the same place, with a joint desire to learn, tackle our physical and mental constraints, and share the miracle of life. Over the days and the many engagements, barriers disintegrated, and unfamiliar people became colleagues, and even friends. In realising my oneness with the crowd, I awakened to an awareness that we are not separate, independent beings, after all – we truly are all interconnected. In that priceless transformation, I had found my tribe and a bright light shone on my path pointing to my True North.

When Strangers Become Friends
The End of a Perfect Festival

Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a Favourite on Countless Bucket Lists — My Unforgettable Experience Ascending the Iconic Landmark

My latest article is being featured on The Wise Traveller – a global travel site providing innovative perspectives and tips to make travel easier, safer, cheaper and more enriching. In addition, freelancers share their travel experiences there, so the online community can evaluate of a variety of destinations and/or escapades.

Click here to access the site and read about my remarkable experience climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge.


Here’s a preview:

After having visited Sydney some two dozen times over the years, I realised that many of my fellow travellers have scaling the Sydney Harbour Bridge on their Things-To-Do-Before-I-Die list. After all, ‘The Coat Hanger’, as it is nicknamed, has become a symbol of modern-day Sydney, renowned globally as the backdrop for the city’s annual, sensational New Year’s Eve fireworks displays (I was even there for the Millennium celebrations, which were unsurpassed). Given that is the largest steel-arch span in the world and the only one whereby you can hike to the top, I decided to embark on this unique Sydney challenge.

The Iconic Opera House Meets the Sydney Harbour Bridge
The Sydney Harbour Bridge

BridgeClimb Sydney holds the monopoly for accessing the highest point of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I chose a daytime permit to be able to marvel at the unparalleled vistas of Sydney’s skyline – overflowing with state-of-the-art skyscrapers, the expansive majestic harbour, and the ubiquitous Opera House – from a bird’s-eye perspective.

What a Day to Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge

To its credit, the operator has a precise indoctrination process, wherein all our belongings (including cameras and phones) are stored at the base, requiring me to wear their over-sized, unfashionable jumpsuits. It seemed overzealous, though common sense told me that they cannot afford for paraphernalia to fall onto the jam-packed rail lines, vehicular lanes, bicycle paths and pedestrian corridors. The 45-minute safety briefing was meticulous, equipping me with all the necessary gear, securely tied to my onesie. The final process was to pass a breathalyser test, making sure I was not tipsy.

I latched my harness onto the safety cable – anchored every 3 metres (10 feet) for the length of the course – and set off under the Bradfield Highway. The initial series of raised iron-mesh catwalks led to the solid-granite South pylon, with its skinny passages and uneven surfaces. There, I met the trickiest part of the circuit, involving ascending an array of four vertical, narrow ladders of 25 steps each, connected by platforms. It took some skill to become proficient in maneuvering the crossovers between the ladders and slipping across the anchors. Grateful for not suffering from fear of heights or looking down onto open water, the latticework revealed the currents surging 88 m (289 ft) below. I took it one rung at a time – gripping the handrails and endeavouring to not be distracted by the pummelling wind and the bustling traffic whizzing by beneath me on one of Australia’s busiest expressways.

A Group of Climbers Heading Out
The Sydney Bridge at the South Pylon

As I popped up on the last deck, I found myself outside again underneath the main arc, with the apex in sight – gifted with unobstructed sightings of the Opera House. When I summitted, 134 m (440 ft) above the gleaming, azure waters of Sydney Harbour, I had the opportunity to admire the legendary engineering triumph spanning 503 m (1635 ft), held together by more than 6 million rivets, that had required almost eight years to build, ending in 1932. Then I took a quiet moment to breathe in the feat from my lofty, tranquil perch.

Ascending on the East Side of the Bridge

The unobstructed, panoramic eastern views were rewarding, stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the stunning beaches of Bondi and Manly, as well as the chic shopping and dining havens of Double Bay and Rose Bay. The picture-perfect afternoon offered breath-taking scenery to the west also, extending from Darling Harbour to the Parramatta River, and all the way to the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains. For tourists, it would be a dream come true to have all the notable landmarks at your fingertips. With a myriad of ferries and sailboats zigzagging across the natural, deep-water harbour and the city bursting with colourful life, it cemented for me that Sydney, is, indeed, the most gorgeous metropolis on the planet.

Mission Accomplished on Top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Celebrating on Top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Following the obligatory, commemorative photos and videos topside, I traversed the impressive arch to the west for the 1,332-step descent. It was a leisurely 90-minute backtrack, with the highpoint being inching down the network of ladders exactly when a commuter train roared by, shaking the entire 53-ton metal structure and adding a little thrill to my day.

Steel-Framed Views of Sydney
The Sydney Opera House from the West Arch

Albeit quite different from other climbs that I have done in the mountains, scaling this magnificent architectural wonder was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and perfect for globetrotters seeking a not-too-demanding, urban outing.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge at Night from the Opera House

Trekking in the Indian Himalayas: The Final Chapter of a 4-Part Series — Our Extraordinary Experiences at Tapovan and the Hair-Raising Descent to Safety

This 4-part blog series is being featured on The Wise Traveller – a global travel site providing innovative ideas and insights to make travel easier, safer, cheaper and more enriching. In addition, freelancers share their travel experiences there, so the community can have a taste of a variety of destinations and/or escapades.

Click here to read my latest article posted on the site highlighting our time at Tapovan, a high-altitude meadow perched over one of the most sacred glaciers in the Himalayas, surrounded by revered summits:


Blog synopsis:

I was captivated by Tapovan, a stunning paradise, tucked away on the Himalayan border shared by India, Tibet and Nepal. This legendary, high-alpine meadow was truly Shangri-La – bursting with colourful flora, meandering creeks, and highly adaptable blue-mountain sheep foraging on the lush tundra. Nonetheless, the bucolic tranquillity was eclipsed by the encircling, uninhabitable backdrop of Mts. Shivling, Meru, Bhagirathi I, II, III and Sudarshan Parbat – all boasting intimidating granite and ice faces, as they towered to more than 6,700 m (22,770 ft). This paradox affirmed the delicate harmony between man and nature – leaving little wonder why babas, yogis and sadhus have chosen this sacred sanctuary for countless centuries for their year-round meditation retreats.

Mts. Shivling and Meru Tower over Tapovan
Bhagirathi I, II, and III, Gaumukh Glacier and Tapovan
Tapovan High-Alpine Meadow in Full Bloom

We relished the opportunity to rest and acclimatise here for two days before forging ahead to Nandanvan and Vasuki Taal – a reward for our formidable, three-day ascent, teeming with countless, inconceivable spine-chilling encounters. We luxuriated in the sunshine enjoying azure-blue, cloudless skies and unobstructed, jaw-dropping views, whilst practicing pranayama breathing to counter our oxygen deficit and soothing our over-worked muscles with alfresco yoga. Refreshed, we set off to Neel Taal, the blue pond renowned for its intense reflections of Meru and the Bhagirathi range. The 60-degree slope meant a two-hour scramble, leaving us panting, only to discover that the recent landslides had obliterated the pool, filling the crater with a jumble of rubble.

Morning Yoga at Tapovan
Neel Taal After the Landslide

Vigilant to not get close to the wobbly edge that was still spewing gravel avalanches into the abyss, we zigzagged our way along the ascending ridge to better size up Shivling – known as the Matterhorn of the East for its near-perfect, conical shape. Alpinists know it is rare to fully view any mountain, which made Shivling enthralling to witness, proudly exhibiting its pinnacle, rivalling a massive, pearly-white tooth. We had the good fortune to meet an expedition ferrying loads from base camp to advanced stations for their upcoming gruelling summit attempt. They were full of climbing chronicles – including the somber news of two Polish climbers who had died a year ago, just a mere 200 metres shy of the prized North Face apex.

As we clambered onwards, we were granted an up-close frontal of Meru Peak – with its magnificent, expansive glacier – certainly a photographer’s dream come true. Though Meru was calling us, the winds began gusting and dark, menacing clouds barrelled towards us – shortcutting our exploits. It was a sight for sore eyes to finally see the glow of the mess-tent oil lamps and tuck into a sumptuous Indian feast of roti (Indian bread), sabzi (fried vegetables), sabji (vegetable curry), dal (lentils), mixed veggie pakora (fried fritters) and rice – whipped up by our camp chef in a bare-bones galley. As the night-time temperatures plummeted past freezing, I cherished his toasty hot-water bottles.

Mt. Meru and Its Glacier
Descending from Mt. Meru to Tapovan Through a Boulder Field
Hanging Prayer Flags at Tapovan
Our Camp Chef and Helper Whipping up Dinner

Daybreak brought an incessant drizzle and thick fog, leaving a conspicuous stream of water running along the inside, front seam of my tent. Before heading out to further explore our playground and its many attractions, the trekking company’s ‘expedition-quality’ digs needed an emergency overhaul to cope with Mother Nature. It took fancy footwork to traverse the super-saturated, boggy terrain. We struggled to make out Mt. Kedar Dome swallowed by the mist. Similarly, Sundervan, ground zero for Bhagirathi III assaults, played hide and seek in the low-lying clouds. Even Tapovan’s third jewel in her crown, the mighty Kirti Bamak Glacier, was veiled in the pea soup. Despite the curtailed vistas, the universal, interconnected web of energy vibrated powerfully in this off-the-beaten-path, exotic utopia. I felt blessed to tune into this expanded consciousness from such a remote hideaway, where so few dare to venture.

My Trekking Party on a Foggy Day

The next morning, our best-laid plans to head farther into the wilderness came to a crashing halt when we awoke to an off-season snowstorm. Despite our best efforts to shovel snow off the tents, by mid-afternoon, it was undeniable we were losing the battle and the lightweight structures eventually collapsed – rendering us effectively homeless.

Homeless After Our Tents Failed

Not one to readily accept defeat, I was determined to scout a dry sleeping nook in the barren wasteland. I had heard tales about an unearthly baba (wise, holy man), who had taken a vow of silence whilst living in solitude, meditating somewhere in Tapovan. After some traipsing around, we found him, and he humbly agreed we could stay with him. Surprisingly, his four-season homemade accommodation was more like glamping than austere cave dwelling – comprised of a hodgepodge of stone walls and a make-shift roof. I was convinced we would be protected in the presence of Mouni Baba.

Spending the Night in Mouni Baba’s Ashram
A Rare Photo of Mouni Baba

Waylaid at 4,463 m (14,640 ft), conditions deteriorated, and a strange phenomenon called thundersnow occurred. It was eerie to hear thunder bellowing overhead and watch the relentless wet powder accumulate. To me, the blizzard was otherworldly and calming; but my hiking partner did not share the vibe and her mounting panic required some intervention. Tapping into my yoga and meditation training, I asked her to chant with me. Sure enough, in time, the anxiety relaxed its throttlehold and serenity was restored. Regrettably, the peace was short-lived, and I was rattled from my blissful state anew by this woman’s high-pitched shrieks. This time, the perpetrator was a tiny field mouse that had snuck in between the rocks. I will never forget the frenzy that ensued out of her unadulterated hysteria, with the critter eventually losing its life. Talk about bad karma – reminding me that we, alone, are each responsible for taming our pesky minds.

Mt. Shivling’s Climbing Expedition

Dawn served up much improved skies and we held council to assess our menu of options. Our guide and porters decided our fate and we were turning back. The rationale was conclusive: our over-rated tents had failed miserably and there was no Plan B for lodging in the hinterland; the weather was frighteningly unpredictable; and my hiking partner had become unhinged by a tiny rodent – not a good omen. So, in a whirling dervish of activity, we broke camp with a single-minded mission for our safe return.

Mt. Shivling After the Snowstorm
Hungry Bharal at Tapovan

It is an age-old mountaineering truth: if climbing up was problematic, then getting down will likely be down-right risky. We had to first inch to the bottom of the unapologetically sheer wall leading to Gaumukh Glacier, that was now uber slippery. It was daunting that the descent did not look anything like the route up, with Akash Ganga now a waterfall tumbling down the embankment, which had been a mere trickle three days ago. The icefield flaunted fresh, gaping crevasses, with a brand-new topping of muck, making it simultaneously adrenaline-pumping and perilous. We had no choice but to re-enter the manic rockfall area, that had lengthened three-fold. It was terrifying to eye the unstable cliffs overhead and contend with raging forces of water gushing down the crags. Once again, this trove of hazards, that each seemed insurmountable, became doable as our most gifted and trustworthy porters graciously guided us with their instinctive grit.

Beginning Our Descent from Tapovan
Akash Ganga Waterfall Tumbling off Tapovan
Halfway Between Tapovan and Gaumukh Glacier
Gaumukh Glacier with the Bhagirathi Peaks in the Clouds
Crossing Gaumukh Glacier with Fresh Crevasses
The Boulder Fields on Gaumukh Glacier
Gangotri Glacier’s Snout After the Storm
Assessing the Extended Rockfall Area After Gaumukh Glacier
Running the Landslide Gauntlet
Crossing Gushing Streams Without Any Bridges

When we straggled into Gangotri two punishing days later, I was filled with immense gratitude. I had just completed this incredible, blockbuster Himalayan adventure. I was privileged to have had the opportunity to explore our planet’s natural grace and its rugged tangle of mountains, rivers and glaciers in such a secluded geography. And, lastly, I was moved with a sense of wonder that my inner strength and intuition kept me grounded in the face of the many challenges presented throughout this magical and spiritual journey.

Gangotri Temple Marks the End of Our Trek
Jubuliant at the End of the Trek
My Hero, the Master Porter
The Master Porter’s Sidekick

Trekking in the Indian Himalayas: Part 3 of a 4-Part Series — The Extremely Challenging Ascent from the Gangotri Trailhead to Tapovan High-Alpine Meadow

This 4-part blog series is being featured on The Wise Traveller – a global travel site providing innovative ideas and insights to make travel easier, safer, cheaper and more enriching. In addition, freelancers share their travel experiences there, so the community can have a taste of a variety of destinations and/or adventures.

Click here to read my latest blog on trekking to one of the most sacred glaciers in the Himalayas, surrounded by revered summits:


Blog synopsis:

There is no getting around it; mountaineering in the Himalayas requires an enormous amount of stamina and planning. Besides being fit as a fiddle for my 10-day, 75-kilometre (46.5 miles) trek, I had to be savvy to cope with the oxygen-deprived air at 4,700 metres (15,416 feet). Being off the grid meant no electricity, Wi-Fi or telco service, so camera-charging options were limited to portable solar panels and power banks. Then there was the task of packing for the highly undependable, monsoon weather that might range from -10 to 25°C (14-77°F), with the chance of fog, rain or snow at any moment. The secret was heat-retention, layering and waterproofing – as well as lots of wet wipes, since showers would be off the menu.

If you have never been on a trek, it is quite unbelievable what all gets hauled up and back, and how those logistics work. Having Nepalese Sherpas really tipped the scales in our favour, as they are adept mountaineers – weathered, surefooted, insensitive to altitude and capable of carrying backbreaking supplies topping 50 kg (110 lbs) each. We needed that muscle to lug all our food, a stove, propane, sleeping bags, inflatable mats, plus an array of tents.

Setting off from Gangotri Trailhead
Entering Gangotri National Park
Our Lead Porter Weathered and Surefooted, with His Back-Breaking Load

Day One

The sun gods gifted us with monsoon-eluding, cobalt-blue skies, as we parallelled the Bhagirathi River, gradually rising through lush pines and junipers – under the watchful eye of Mts. Sudarshan Parbat and Bhagirathi II and III. The route to our camp at Chirwasa was so deserted, I could be fully present to the allure of nature with its mystical essence that has attracted sages, babas, yogis and sadhus for eons. It was magical snuggling into our sacks, undistracted by gadgets, with the primal gratification that we were guests in a very precious and fragile playground.

Setting Prayer Flags to Spread Blessings to All Who Pass By
Our Makeshift Kitchen at 4,500 Metres

Day Two

The forest completely changed as we ascended through silver birch and got our first glimpse of towering Mts. Bhagirathi I, Manda I, II, III and Shivling. Adopting a nomadic rhythm was a bit tricky given the unstable turf – compounded by having to cross overflowing tributaries with rickety bridges consisting of a couple of logs slapped together with twine. The challenges were soon forgotten by the time we arrived at our magnificent above-the-treeline campsite at Bhojwasa. The stillness, punctuated by the constant thunder of the turbulent and sentiment-laden Bhagirathi River, was testimony that we had succeeded in escaping civilisation and venturing into the pristine wilderness. As night fell, countless stars appeared, and I was rejuvenated with a sense of wonder.

The Bhagirathi River Valley from Our Campsite at Bhojwasa
Our First Glimpse of Revered Mt. Shivling
A Rickety Bridge Crossing

Day Three

Halfway to Gaumukh Glacier, we had to navigate a recent landslide that had wiped out the trail. Our stocky porters, defying their short legs and onerous packs, boulder hopped through the chaotic landscape. As I gazed skyward at what was left of the mountainside, I shivered at the thought of running this gauntlet: gigantic pieces of bedrock were precariously hanging overhead; an abrupt drop into the Bhagirathi threatened on the right; and the lingering sound of rubble crashed in the distance.

The Aftermath of the Most Recent Landslide

Compassionately, the mountain men managed to not just traverse the unchartered wasteland, but they returned to help us to safe passage. One exceptionally attentive Sherpa endeared himself to me by lending a firm hand, a reassuring tone and a hair-raising piggyback ride over the insanely perilous stretches. Though I was, admittedly, way out of my comfort zone, I mustered my mental acumen, remembered to breathe and focus on my balance and stable footholds – grateful for my invincible hiking poles, sturdy boots and indestructible gloves.

As exhilarating as it was to eventually reach Gaumukh — renowned as a popular Hindu pilgrimage site – it was also sad to know that the lion’s share of devotees would no longer make it past the rockslide. Astonishingly, the glacier had been pummelled with so much fresh granite and muck that the snout had been damaged and the icy melt into the Ganges River was now emerging from the left side, instead from the centre. Contrary to those picturesque blue-ice masses showcased in Alaska, Greenland and New Zealand, this was black floe shrouded in a thick layer of moraine, comprised of a mishmash of perpetually accumulating mud and boulders.

Gaumukh Glacier and Mts. Bhagirathi I, II and III
The Mouth of Gaumukh Glacier with Mt. Shivling

It was no small feat scrambling up the slope, and, once on top, there was no hint of a path – with crude cairns positioned by preceding adventurers serving as our sole navigation guides. The arduous 2-hour trudge across Gaumukh tested our physical abilities, yet rewarded us with sweeping panoramas of the encircling lofty ridges.

With no time to rest, we single-mindedly focused on the next endeavour: a ridiculously steep, 2 km (1.25 mile), 70-degree pitch leading to our final destination. Unsurprisingly, there was no track – only loose scree – so we had to fight tooth and nail to claw ourselves forward. Ultimately, after our dawn-to-dusk, demanding slog, Tapovan welcomed us to its stunning alpine meadow. The ubiquitous flowers and babbling streams were juxtaposed with unobstructed views of revered Mts. Shivling, Meru, Bhagirathi I, II, III and Sudarshan Parbat. The sheer beauty of Tapovan was astonishing and my heart overflowed with joy as I marvelled at our haven on the roof of the world.

Mts. Shivling and Meru from Tapovan
Our Porters Taking a Well-Deserved Tea Break After the Long Ascent to Tapovan

Trekking in the Indian Himalayas: Part 2 of a 4-Part Series — The Treacherous Drive to Gangotri

Months ago when I was planning my Himalayan trek, I knew just getting to the trailhead in Gangotri would be an arduous journey entailing a propeller flight from Delhi to Dehradun and then driving 275 kilometres (171 miles) on a national highway. However, despite multiple conversations with the trekking company about what to anticipate that day, nothing quite prepares you for your first road trip in the mountains of India.

As a Westerner, it seemed reasonable to expect that the national highway would have some protocols adhering to safety, security and comfort standards. Who would have guessed that National Highway 34 would be largely a one-lane dirt passage teeming with a mishmash of motorbikes, rickshaws, tractors, wagons, trailers, cars, buses and trucks of all sizes? If you haven’t seen an Indian cargo truck up close before, you are in for a big surprise – their imposing oversized bodies are typically chock full with goods and people, whilst their exteriors are garishly hand painted in a colourful kaleidoscope and embellished with vibrant streamers, plastic garlands, sequined scarves, religious symbols and distinctive memorabilia. Their heftiness and sluggish pace fuels the perpetual need to overtake them, which then involves dodging oncoming travellers – a thoroughly intimidating experience, with no emergency shoulders or guardrails in sight.

Truck Art in India

In addition, this year’s punishing monsoon rains triggered landslides and flash floods in northern India, causing our route to be in varying states of disrepair. Though it was promising to see billboards touting that the federal government is funding national highway maintenance, our hearts sank when we found young women – adorned in their eye-catching village attire squatting barefoot roadside in the rubble – crushing stones, one at a time, with only hammers.

North India’s Ubiquitous Landslides
The Recent Landslide on the National Highway
National Highway Upgrade Programme

All day long, we encountered creatures, large and small, freely meandering down the middle of the street, unfazed by the daredevils on wheels or the billowing black exhaust. We were constantly manoeuvring around herds of sacred Brahman cows sauntering or even lying on the roadway, oblivious to the honking horns and screeching brakes. The flocks of goats were less ubiquitous, but since they are smaller and nimbler, they tended to dart in front of us suddenly, barely escaping being knocked down. The troops of monkeys were even more unpredictable as they played in the trees overhead, cheekily jumping onto the roofs of the slower vehicles. The pervasive chaos was unlimited – further including mules toting bricks, peasants balancing lopsided bales of hay on their heads, and countless giggling school children.

Sacred Brahman Cows Oblivious to Traffic
Cows Rule the Roads
Roadside Goat Herder
Traffic Jam in India
School Girls Sharing the Road

Despite the impression that this drive was insanely risky, we never witnessed a single accident and there was a noticeable lack of road rage. Nobody seemed to get worked up about any of the innumerable near misses, and everyone amicably went with the flow, with no rude gestures, verbal insults or physical threats targeted toward other drivers or obstacles.

The bottom line: it was a slow venture, indeed – leaving us exhausted from the 9-hour slog and bewildered at the psyche of Indian drivers. However, it did make arriving at Gangotri all the more exciting, in anticipation of our 10-day trek to Vasuki Taal and back.

Stay tuned for 2 additional articles providing in-depth insights into this gutsy expedition.

Trekking in the Indian Himalayas: Part 1 of a 4-Part Series

Yearning to explore the majestic Himalayas’ lofty peaks, vast glaciers and thundering rivers, renowned for their sheer beauty, ruggedness and spiritual serenity?

Are you willing to forego the world’s highest summits and live without abundant trekking infrastructure – including well-marked hiking paths, regularly spaced villages with tea houses offering home-cooked food, warm beds and Wi-Fi services?

If so, then forget about touristy and crowded Nepal and set your sights on northern India, where the air is crystal clear, the flora and fauna are highly diverse, the trails are relatively unknown, and the power of nature has a mystical essence that has attracted sages, babas, yogis and sadhus for eons.

I chose a 10-day itinerary far off the beaten path in the western Garhwal Himalayas, knowing from the start that this one was not for the faint hearted. It would take a full day to just reach the trailhead from Delhi – involving a domestic flight and a perilous nine-hour car ride on narrow roads clinging precariously to rocky cliffs. Then, I would need two days to acclimatise at Gangotri village, anchored on a lushly wooded mountainside at 3,100 meters (10,200 feet), before heading up the Bhagirathi valley. All of this would precede an arduous 27-kilometre (17-mile) schlepp enroute to Tapovan, a most gorgeous high-alpine meadow at 4,463 m (14,640 ft). Admittedly, the allure was the remoteness, the diversity of the challenging terrain, and the unobstructed views of the extremely strenuous expedition-climbing faces of Shivling, Thalay Sagar, Meru, Sudarshan Parbat and Bhagirathi I/II/III.

The Perilous Road to Gangotri
Gangotri Temple
Gangotri Village
2 Days Acclimatising at Gangotri Village

The route follows the raging Bhagirathi River valley to Gaumukh Glacier – one of the largest ice masses in the Himalayas and a primary source of the sacred Ganges River. Dense forests of silver birch, blue pine and juniper will keep you company for two days, with twisting tracks that constantly reveal surprises: no shortage of waterfalls, gushing tributaries, vertical rock walls, crags, gullies, and snow-clad peaks towering overhead. Along the way, you will see Hindu devotees making a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to the glacier spewing the first drops of what quickly becomes the mighty Ganges.

Our Porters Leaving Gangotri
Meeting a Pilgrim Enroute to Gaumukh Glacier
The Landslide That Destroyed the Trail Before Gaumukh Glacier
Crossing the Landslide That Destroyed the Trail Before Gaumukh Glacier

Crossing the glacier is exceptionally difficult as the black ice and its crevasses are mostly covered by a thick layer of supraglacial moraine comprised of a jumble of granite, schist and gneiss rubble, countless enormous boulders and mud dragged down from the mountains by the perpetual icecap. The final 2 km (1.25 mi) pitched at 70 degrees is nothing short of a scrimmage, with next to no trail at all, forcing you to claw your way up the scree-based incline. However, once you are over the crest, Tapovan greets you with a kaleidoscope of flowering plants, meandering streams, blue-mountain goats (Bharal), and unimpeded vistas of a number of snow-capped pinnacles soaring to more than 6,400 m (21,000 ft).

The Mouth of Gaumukh Glacier with Mt. Shivling in the Background
Bouldering Across Gaumukh Glacier
Halfway Across Gaumukh Glacier
Final 90-Minute Scramble Up to Tapovan Meadow
Mts. Shivling and Meru
Blue-Mountain Sheep Skull in Front of Mt. Shivling
Prayer Flags in Front of Mt. Meru and Its Glacier

You don’t have to be a seasoned mountaineer to venture out of the comforts of your home into this wilderness. Yet, you do have to be in tip-top shape – prepared for long days of hiking and bouldering in oxygen-thin air – and equipped for the possibility of four-season weather any day of the year. You should also invest in an experienced guide or highly reputed trekking outfit familiar with the geography to ensure safe passage across treacherous topography riddled with active landslides, ever-changing glacial debris and super-steep and slippery gravelly slopes.

Stay tuned for 3 additional articles providing in-depth insights into this unforgettable odyssey.