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MCI (P) 134/03/2013

Photo by Gunther Deichmann | Shot with Panasonic GH3

MAR-APR 2014

ISSUE 56

Eco Issue

Sri Lanka | Nepal | Bhutan


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> PLUISWAN SPECIAL TA PLUS:

For a list of our distribution outlets, visit www.sportsandtravelonline.com. Sports and Travel is a publication of Lennox & Ooi Media Pte Ltd (Singapore). All articles published are in good faith and based on bona fide information available to The Publisher at the time of press. The Publisher accepts no responsibility other than that stipulated by law. The Publisher also accepts no responsibilty for unsolicited manuscripts, transparencies or other materials. All rights are reserved and no part of this publication may be reproduced in part or full without the previous written permission of The Publisher. Neither can any part be stored or recorded, by any means. The opinions expressed in The Publication are those of the contributors and not necessarily endorsed by The Publisher. This publication and the name are owned solely by Lennox and Ooi Media Pte Ltd, 242A River Valley Road, Singapore 238299. Email: enquiry@sportsandtravelonline.com. Sports + Travel Singapore is published bimonthly and distributed throughout Singapore. Trademarks and copyrights for all other products, logos and depictions contained herein are the properties of their respective trademark and copyright owners. All colour separation and printing by Stamford Press Pte Ltd. Singapore MCI (P) 134/03/2013


Clean and green

02

This issue, it's all about Eco. And that takes us to some remarkable places, notable for their natural and/or cultural beauty.

the fact that the governments have realised the importance of preservation – whether it’s for the preservation of what they have for future generations, or simply to attract travellers who are more conscious of their carbon footprints – and have mandated the protection of swathes of forests and wilderness, and encouraging (if not funding) rural tourism to boost the self-sustainability of local communities. To kick off, we are starting with the remote Cook Islands; more than just sun and sand, their local culture make them well worth the journey. And bragging rights as one of the most remote atolls in the world. Then there's Nepal, where we soak in the scenery from a bicycle – this is all just a preview of the upcoming Yak Ru (S+T will have presence at this race, so please stay tuned for more details!). We follow up with the wildlife scene in Sri Lanka, where we visit Yala National Park – possibly the best leopard-spotting destination on earth. We also hit southern Laos, itself the quietest corner of South East Asia's most laid-back destination. It sounds trite, but see it before it all changes when the dam begins construction sometime in the near future! And then we follow the equator all the way to Central America, hitting the 3 neighbouring countries of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. While Costa Rica’s the current bigwig in the realm of ecotourism, its neighbours – especially Nicaragua – are becoming rising stars of their own. We end our issue with a trip to Bhutan – a perennial favourite for its well-preserved cultural heritage that’s enveloped with lush Himalayan wilderness and colourful architecture. Look out for our Taiwan Special where we give an overview of upcoming run and ride events for 2014 that you can join in. This goes together with our 3-page story on the best of oceanic exploration from diving to windsurfing and whale watching. Also, do check out our 4-page photo feature on Sri Lanka, with all images shot with the Panasonic Lumix GH3!

Our Team Editor-in-Chief May Lynn Writers Konrad Clapp Samantha Pereira Creative Director Lynn Ooi Designer Marilyn Wong General Manager Aaron Stewart

Media Rep Lennox & Ooi Media Pte Ltd 242A River Valley Road Singapore 238299 Tel 6732 0325 www.sportsandtravelonline.com enquiry@sportsandtravelonline.com Sports and Travel Limited Rm. 1104 Crawford House 70 Queen’s Road Central Hong Kong Tel +852 2861 8746 Fax +852 2961 4800 enquiry@sportsandtravel.com.hk

Advertising Sales Singapore Aaron Stewart, Lennox & Ooi Media aaron.stewart@sportsandtravelonline.com

Hong Kong Chris Ng cng@sportsandtravel.com.hk

Contributors Gunther Deichmann, Montse Castells, Steve van Beek, Sunil Sharma

Special Thanks Cook Island Tourism Dawn Till Dusk Taiwan Tourism Bureau and many, many others!

Until then, Happy Trails! OUR WEBSITE: www.sportsandtravelonline.com OUR FACEBOOK PAGE: fb.com/SportsandTravelSingapore


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09


Far Flung Atoll:

Cook Islands The Cook Islands are part of the vast chain of remote South Pacific islands that acted as successive staging points for the great Polynesian migration (1,500BC - 800AD) crossing thousands of miles of open seas in their double-hulled vaka (canoes). Today, the islands are named for the famous British navigator, Captain James Cook (although the first European contact with the islands took place more than 150 years prior to Cook's arrival). Originally settled by early Polynesian explorers, the Cook Islands consist of 15 main islands clustered in northern and

southern groups, spread across 2 million sq.km. of ocean between New Zealand and Hawaii. The Northern Cook Islands consist of 7 (uninhabited) low-lying coral atolls, while the Southern Cook Islands – where most of the populace live – include 8 elevated, fertile islands, including Rarotonga (home of the capital of Avarua). While Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Atiu are most popular, the makatea islands of Mau’ke, Mitiaro and Mangaia are where you can experience traditional village life.

Titikaveka Lagoon © David Kirkland, Cook Islands Tourism

Northern Group Aerial of Rarotonga © David Kirkland, Cook Islands Tourism

South Pacific Ocean

COOK ISLANDS

AITUTAKI MITIARO

MANUEA Southern Group

ATIU

Avarua

RAROTONGA RORATONGA

There's a lot you can do on the main island of Rarotonga. The surrounding reef offers plenty of opportunities for diving in coral gardens, canyons, wrecks and drift dives, while the lagoon offers sensational snorkelling especially on the southern beaches. Rarotonga's mountainous and forested interior is criss-crossed by excellent hiking trails, including one up to The Needle (413m) and the Cross Island walk (4 hours). Easy walks can be had at Happy Valley which winds through streams and taro plantations. As the main island, this is also the best place to catch most of the cultural offerings, like Island Nights that showcase traditional dancing, music and cuisine.

MANGAIA

GETTING THERE There are regular flights from Auckland (4 hours) and Sydney (6 hours) to Rarotonga International Airport on Air New Zealand, Pacific Blue and Air Tahiti. Accommodation must be arranged prior to arrival. Visit www.cookislands.travel for more.

MAU’KE


THINGS TO DO Whale Watching Every year from July to October, the Cook Islands are visited by over a dozen species of whale – from rare Beaked whales to Humpbacks and their calves – that make their annual 7,000km migration from Antarctica. Peaking in August, whales can be spotted from the main island of Rarotonga in the Southern Cook Islands just off Kavera Beach (on the southwest), and near Avarua harbour (on the north shore) where whales

Vaka Eiva © David Kirkland, Cook Islands Tourism

breach. Various operators run half-day whale watching tours, where pods of acrobatic spinner dolphins can also be spotted. Vaka Races Not surprisingly given the significance the vaka (double-hulled canoe) in the early Polynesians' settlement of the South Pacific, today it remains a potent cultural symbol for the Cook Islands. The islands host numerous canoe regattas annually. The Vaka Eiva ("Canoe Festival") is a 2-week-long roundRarotonga race for the prestigious Pacific Cup. The competition then shifts north to Aitutaki Island for the annual Motu 2 Motu. Vaka Cruises One of the best ways to explore the Cook Islands is by vaka, and while numerous operators run dive and fishing charters, it's the slower pace and cultural connection of these large traditional ships that make it a must. Many operators run half-day trips to outlying islands like Aitutaki and Atiu, as well as others in the Southern Cook Islands.

Polynesian Culture The Cook Islands culture is moulded by its Polynesian heritage mixed with a European influence. Some of this cultural heritage includes the traditional dance of Ura and their distinctive drum music, and the Umukai, a feast cooked in an umu (an underground oven heated with volcanic rocks). Ura dance © Kieran Scott, Cook Islands Tourism

The best way to experience all of this (and maybe a bit of fire-throwing) is to attend an Island Night – some are small intimate events, while others are large spectacular shows made for bigger audiences.

Aitutaki Lagoon, Vaka Cruising © David Kirkland, Cook Islands Tourism

NORTHERN ISLAND GROUP This isolated group of islands – with their pristine coral atolls – is not easy to reach; the best way is to fly there (it takes 3-4 hours) although the schedule is very irregular, and it's hard to get on these flights which usually have waiting lists. Those who do manage to go there will find a string of pristine islands, with black pearl fields at Penrhyn and Manihiki.

AITUTAKI The Aitutaki atoll is most well-known for its pristine lagoon (one of the world’s largest coral lagoons), which offers excellent opportunities for cruising and snorkelling, where you can spot Green and Hawksbill turtles easily, along with giant clams and a myriad of technicolour marine life. Most dive sites feature drop-offs, swim throughs and coral gardens, while humpback whales visit from June till October. The wind conditions at Aitutaki are also ideal for kiteboarding; the sand bars at Honeymoon and One Foot Islands feature flat water and ideal wind chops. On land, you can go on an archaeological safari to ancient marae (sacred sites) and visit WWII sites built by American troops.

ATIU This small island is more famous for its caves, cultural sites, birdlife and coffee plantations than its beaches. Atiu has an extensive cave system, and guided tours are available at Anatakitaki (where you an enjoy a candlelight swim and spot nesting kopeka birds) and Rimarau Burial Cave (with its ancient human remains). You can visit a tumunu where local men gather and drink a home brew (of oranges, malt, yeast and sugar) served in a coconut shell, or go for a coffee tour at one of 2 plantations here.

Anatakitaki Cave © Tipani Tours


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Taiwan

13

Windsurfing in Penghu

TAIPEI

Hsinchu

Turtle Island

Miaoli Taiwan Strait Hualien

MAP OF TAIWAN

Penghu Islands

Pacific Ocean Tainan Taitung Kaohsiung Kenting National Park

Green Island

Taiwan’s east coast at Shihtiping

Orchid Island Eulanbi

OCEAN ACTIVITIES IN TAIWAN

Waves crashing at Kenting

PHOTOS COURTESY Taiwan Tourism Bureau

Whale watching near Hualien

Taiwan may be a vibrant centre of local cuisine and entertainment, but away from the country's urban sprawl lies a breathtaking landscape consisting of steep mountains and lush forests that attract countless travellers, explorers and weekend warriors. While its mountains have been much publicised, the waters around this sweet potato-shaped island also offer plenty of options for exploration, whether you’re into wildlife spotting or a wide range of watersport action.

OCEAN OF OPPORTUNITIES For starters, just a couple of hours outside of Taipei lies Turtle Island (Guishan Island) just offshore from Toucheng town; the only active volcano in Taiwan complete with fumaroles, its waters are the hunting grounds for various dolphin and whale species.

schools of hammerhead sharks that make their way here between January and March every year.

Head further south along the east coast and you'll reach Hualien, the premier spot for whale and dolphin watching, especially between June and August.

On Taiwan's west coast, Penghu Island attracts plenty of windsurfing and kitesurfing enthusiasts, thanks to its reputation as the windiest place in Taiwan (and possibly the northern hemisphere) when the northeast monsoon hits the Taiwan Strait.

For some underwater action, head to Green Island for an exhilarating dive with

If you’re into coral life, both Orchid Island and Kenting (further south on the mainland) offer ample opportunities for divers.


DIVING

For learners, the waters around Taiwan can be more challenging (especially in terms of currents) than in many other countries, but this means that students come out with a few more skills. The rise of internationallevel dive shops mean that it’s easier these days to organise lessons and/or excursions.

The hammerheads found here are mostly scalloped- and smooth hammerheads which travel from the Philippines to Japan and congregate around Green Island as a rest stop from January to March every year. Large schools can sometimes be spotted. As the dive depth is 30-37m, and the fact that the dive conditions require diving in strong currents, only advanced divers with +50 advance-logged dives are allowed on the excursion.

Green Island Once a prison colony, the volcanic Green Island – which lies 33km off the coast of Taiwan – is one of 3 saltwater hot springs in the world.

In addition to dive excursions, Green Island's Blue Safari Diving Center (a National Geographic Dive Center) also offers PADI certification courses ranging from Open Water Diver to Dive Master levels.

Over 300 fish species can be found here, including octopus, moray eels, puffer fish, dragon fish and scorpionfish. Diving is done almost everywhere around the island; the north side features mostly hard corals that are home to nudibranchs and pygmy seahorses, while in contrast, the south side has mostly soft corals.

Kenting National Park Kenting is home to about 60% of coral species found worldwide, and within the marine park boundary are thousands of reef fish and corals.

Unknown to many, scuba diving in Taiwan has a pretty long history. Most dive sites are scattered along the island’s southern coasts (Kenting), and especially at outlying islands like Green and Orchid which offer more pristine waters due to their distance from the mainland. The warm temperatures maintained by the Kuroshio (’Black Tide’) current ensures nutrient-rich waters that feed the marine life here.

Most of the dive sites cater to intermediate and experienced divers – as the current is strong, novice divers (along with snorkelers) are relegated to protected bays.

The best dive site is the Seven Stars area (10km south of Eulanbi), where you can spot pelagic like sailfish, swordfish and mahi mahi (spring/summer), as well as tuna and trevallies (year round). In winter (December to March), you may spot humpback and sperm whales, as well as bottlenose dolphins.

A number of dive shops offer organised dive excursions. A famous site is the 1,200 yearold Big Mushroom Coral, the largest known Pore Coral Mass at 12m high, located on the west side of the island.

The dive sites are not suitable for beginners, as coral rocks, sea cliffs and lava rocks that border the shorelines have swift tides. The best visibility is during the dry season during the northeast monsoon (October to April).

Experienced divers come here especially to dive with hammerhead sharks, which can be found off the southern tip of Green Island.

Orchid Island Home to the Yami tribe, Orchid Island is 65km off the southeast coast of Taiwan. This

volcanic island has possibly the best visibility (30-40m) of all dive sites in Taiwan. Orchid has good wall dives, shallow fringing reefs, a wreck and a Blue Hole swim through that leads to a beautiful reef. Marine life ranges from ever-present turtles, barracuda, grouper and tuna, while the wreck is covered in soft and hard corals. Diving is possible year-round, wth April to July being the flying fish season.

Cingshui Cliffs along the east coast Hammerhead sharks can be spotted offshore from Green Island


As the Black Current and coastal rivers meet in the waters off Taiwan’s entire east coast, it brings in all the migratory fish which the whales and dolphins feed on. From the northern portion at Turtle Island to the south of Hualien, whale and dolphin watching tours can be organised at various fishing ports. Hualien Situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Central Mountain Range, Hualien is most famous as the base for explorations of Taroko Gorge. Along the coast, several ports – like Shiti, Chenggong and Fugang – offer whale and dolphin-watching tours. While whale watching is year-round, the best season is between June and August when the waves calm down.

sperm whales, killer whales and pilot whales are prevalent. If you're lucky, you may catch sight of the rare fin whale (in spring) and the beaked whale. Turtle Island The waters between the mainland and Turtle Island (Guishan Island) are an important fishing ground, as well as a site for whale and dolphin watching. Dolphins near Turtle Island

Lying just 10km off Toucheng town in Yilan county, Turtle Island – shaped roughly like a turtle hence its name – is a mountainous volcanic island featuring seaeroded caves, a lake and rich vegetation. As it is a protected area, the number of visitors allowed on Turtle Island is 250 per day, and permits have to be obtained. The waters surrounding the island bubble with volcanic activity, but despite the amounts of sulphur and acid, it thrives with marine life like crabs.

Taiwan

WHALE AND DOLPHIN WATCHING

15

Spinner dolphins, bottlenosed dolphins, pygmy killer whales and false killer whales can be found in these waters. Pure whalewatching boats can be found at Gengfang Fishing Port. The boats will normally wait on the surface for 1-1.5 hours until these cetaceans appear – the best chances of spotting them would be from April to the end of August.

A wide variety of dolphins and whales may be spotted here, including Wright's dolphins, Freund's dolphins, Spotted dolphins, as well as tiger whales, false killer whales and pygmy killer whales. During spring and summer,

Kitesurfing at Penghu Island

For more information on activities in Taiwan, visit Taiwan Tourism Bureau at http://eng.taiwan.net.tw

Whale watching near Hualien

Windsurfing at Penghu

WINDSURFING AND KITEBOARDING In winter, the northeast monsoon (October to April) sweeps through the narrow Taiwan Strait, creating a wind tunnel with winds of 30-50 knots. This makes the wide beaches of the west coast – from Hsinchu to Tainan – of Taiwan ideal for sports like windsurfing and kitesurfing.

However, the most famous spot in Taiwan for windsufing is Penghu, located at the southern end of this 'wind tunnel'. Luckily, as the flat islands are grouped tightly together, they prevent huge swells from forming, making the conditions ideal for windsurfers of at least intermediate level.

Penghu Island Also known as the Pescadores, the archipelago of Penghu is a collection of 64 flat, dry grassland islands. With over 300kms of coastline, good beaches include Shanshui near Makung (a classic white sand beach), Aimen (Penghu's longest) and Neian, which

is popular for its shallow water. Geologically stunning with its towering basalt columns, Penghu becomes one of the windiest places in Taiwan during winter, making it a magnet for windsurfers and kiteboarders. Windsurfing can be done at Guanyinting near the main town of Makung (with protected sites to launch from), Longmen (ideal for wave jumping in 1-2m-high swells), East Beach (good for wave riding) and Wuni (with low chops ideal for speeds). Windsurfers from all corners of the world congregate here every fall for the 3-day long Penghu windsurfing competition at Guanyinting. If you're planning to learn windsurfing or kiteboarding, the best months to do so are June, July and August, when the winds are at their most serene.


ETHICAL DESTINATIONS LITHUANIA Once the largest nation in Europe during its heyday, Lithuania played a big part during both World Wars thanks to its location between Russia (WWI) and Germany (WWII). Now part of the EU, this southernmost Baltic state has a unique historic heritage that encompasses religious sites (both pagan and Christian), medieval castles and military strongholds at Kaunas and Zarasai. Popular spots include the UNESCO-listed capital Vilnius (home to a rich architectural history), the seaside resort town of Palanga and the spa town of Druskininkai. The remarkable Hill of Crosses (in Siauliai) is a pilgrimage site scattered with over 100,000

crosses placed here by the faithful. Lithuania is ideal for nature lovers: the sand dunes of Curionian Spit are best explored on a bicycle, while the Aukstaitija National Park is home to pine forests and countless lakes and streams, perfect for wildlife watching and water sports. The Labanoras Regional Park features swamps and rivers suitable for canoeing. Tourism homesteads are a popular way to explore Lithuania's countryside; each specialising in a specific theme (like hiking or culture), they vary from small B&Bs to mini resorts.

MAURITIUS A classic beach destination, Mauritius is also lauded for its historic sights, cultural diversity and varied landscape. Mauritius is ideally positioned for game fishing (it's possible to catch marlin and wahoo), and as it's encircled by a barrier coral reef, diving is also popular especially around Flic en Flac in the west coast. The northern (at Grand Bay and Port Louis) and western (Flic en Flac) portion are developed for tourism, but the southeast's wind-battered cliffs have managed to keep major developments at bay.

From the sleepy market town of Mahebourg, you can access the pristine beaches of Blue Bay and Pointe d'Esny, as well as Ile aux Aigrettes, home to rare birds like the kestrel and pink pigeon. In the hinterlands is the magnificent Black River Gorges National Park, home to endemic flora (like the dodo tree) and fauna (like the pink pigeon); the park is accessible via a network of hiking trails. With its gorges and waterfalls, the mountainous central plateau is also ideal for canyoning; Tamarin Falls and Chamarel Falls offer plenty of opportunities.

PALAU No stranger to the diving and snorkelling world, Palau is home to one of the world's most spectacular underwater landscapes which includes coral reefs, blue holes, wartime wrecks, vertical drop-offs and a plethora of caves and tunnels. Its underwater marine life is no less dramatic, ranging from giant clams that weigh a quarter of a tonne to thousands of stingless jellyfish that you can swim with at Jellyfish Lake. With just under 30% of its marine and terrestrial area protected, Palau also houses Micronesia's richest terrestrial life, from exotic birds to crocodiles (in mangroves). In addition,

there are also WWII sites scattered throughout the islands. The Rock Islands are Palau's crown jewel: comprising over 200 mushroom-shaped limestone islands carpeted in thick jungle, they dot the waters just southwest of Koror. Underwater, it's home to some of the most abundant marine life in the world. Scuba divers head straight to Blue Corner (home to just about every type of marine life) and neighbouring Blue Holes (four holes that lead into a large cavern lit with an eerie blue glow from the surface).


With travel becoming the world's largest industry (exceeding the trillion-dollar mark), travellers now have the power to make great changes to developing nations - from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe - by encouraging them to promote human rights, preserve environments and support social welfare. While all nations still have shortcomings, this list was created by Ethical Traveler for 2014, recognising those which have made a genuine effort to do the right thing.

DOMINICA Located in the Caribbean, Dominica is very unlike its neighbouring islands. Known more for its spectacularly unspoiled forests than its beaches, it's also the most mountainous island in the Lesser Antilles. It's not a major cruise stop like its island neighbours, so it's relatively free from package tourists. For a small island, getting around by road can take a while, especially when you're bouncing across the hilly interior. Hiking remains a popular activity; the Waitukubuli National Trail is a 184km route that takes you through lush rainforest and steep

mountain trails, while the Glassy hike (2-3 hours) takes you through farmland before plunging into a deep jungle valley and steep coastal cliffs. The UNESCO-listed Morne Trois Pitons National Park is a must-visit, which is a volcanic area that's home to the Valley of Desolation with its 50+ fumaroles and hot springs, including the famous Boiling Lake (a volcanic lake filled with bubbling water) that's accessible via a steep 8-hour hike. Numerous waterfalls and gorges fill the park, including the twin Trafalgar Falls.

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Other countries listed as part of the Top 10 for 2014 include the Bahamas, Barbados, Cape Verde, Chile and Latvia.

URUGUAY Wedged between Argentina and Brazil, about half the country's population is crammed into the coastal area, leaving the interior dotted sparsely with farms and ranches. Bordering Argentina, Western Uruguay has everything from colonial towns to cowboy country, including the UNESCO-listed colonial town of Colonia del Sacramento (founded in 1680 by the Portuguese) with its quaint cobblestone streets and the hot spring region of Salto and Paysandu. The gaucho (cowboy) country of Tacuarembo further inland has estancias (ranches) sprinkled throughout the rural landscape. Here, you can try a 'gaucho experience' which includes horseback riding

and ranch work in 100-year old estancias. The eastern portion is all about beaches and lagoons that stretch from Montevideo to the Brazilian border, dotted with many beach resorts including Cabo Polonio (for whale watching), Punta del Este (for celebritywatching) and the less pretentious Piriapolis, backed by small mountains. Further inland is the Eastern Biosphere Reserve, famous for its sheer variety of birdlife ranging from flamingoes and black-necked swans (in Lake Rocha) to rheas, harriers and Magellan penguins. As Uruguay means “river of colourful birds”, there’s no shortage of places for bird-watching countrywide.


© Dawn Till Dusk

Sharing borders with India and China, Nepal is moulded by a variety of cultures that these two countries have poured into the region, which include over 60 different ethnicities and languages. The landlocked country’s diverse terrain juxtaposes sprawling grasslands, dense jungles and rolling valleys with highaltitude lakes, cold deserts and alpine summits that make up a portion of the Himalayan region. With few cities, Nepal remains quite rural – which makes it perfect to explore by bike, which is a driving force behind the country's surge in cycling tourism. And with the numerous cycle tours setup in key areas of Nepal, the pit stops will not only have you trying your hand at other adventure sports, riders will also be able to experience the country’s other offerings, which include national parks that are home to protected wildlife, UNESCO-listed heritage sites and cultural hotspots.

KATHMANDU The capital and Nepal’s most vibrant town, Kathmandu is an ideal locale to get acquainted with the spiritual and colourful nature of the Nepalese culture. It is also the starting point for most bicycle tours in Nepal. Cycling through the medieval streets and alleys of Kathmandu, you’ll navigate through the living history that cloaks the capital, from areas like the UNESCO-listed heritage site of Durbar Square, with pagoda-styled palaces that used to be home for some of Nepal’s renowned kings, as well as a stronghold for numerous religious

PHOTOS COURTESY www.nepalsutra.com & Dawn Till Dusk

CYCLE TOURING IN NEPAL monuments like the statue of Hanuman veiled in red robes. The Nepalese spirit which is epitomised through the numerous temples and monasteries almost everywhere are always brimming with locals. These include Kumari Ghar, a temple embellished with woodcarved reliefs and housing the living goddess of Kathmandu (a young girl who is said to be the reincarnation of Hindu goddess Durga), and the Pashupatinath, a temple often clouded in smoke as it practices the age-old tradition of open-air cremations.

There’s also the Swayambhunath, which is overrun by monkeys and perched on top of a hill. Known to be one of Nepal’s oldest temples, Buddhist devotees can often be seen circumnavigating the white stupa (which is painted with Buddha’s eyes and nose) that sits in this temple as it’s considered to be one of Buddhism’s holiest sites after Bodnath (roughly 13km away). Most bike trips around Kathmandu (and the valley) are full-day tours, as there are plenty of hotels dotted around the area, making accommodation easy to find.


Nestled in the second largest valley in Nepal, Pokhara is one of the country’s most naturally scenic cities, as it’s dotted with flowing glacial rivers, cascading waterfalls, underground caves and forest-covered hills backdropped by the omni-present towering snow-clad Himalayan mountains. Considered the adventure capital of Nepal – just getting there involves plenty of uphill cycling – there are plenty of activities to try out, such as zip-lining and paragliding from peaks like Poon Hill, and kayaking or whitewater rafting down the Kali Gandaki River, which will take paddlers past waterfalls like the Devi’s Falls, jungles and numerous river villages belonging to the Magar and Chetri communities.

pilgrimage site dedicated to Lord Shiva) to the Chamare Gufa Bat Cave, an underground cavern that’s home to thousands of Horseshoe bats clinging on to craggy walls. There are also plenty of trekking trails like the World Peace Pagoda trail, which involves a hike up to a peace pagoda (it is one of eighty such pagodas dotted across the world) that sits on a forested hill overlooking numerous lakes and the lofty Annapurna region; or the Eco Village Trek, where you traverse hills and forests to reach the Begnas Village, shared by several indigenous tribes where you’ll get to mingle and stay with the locals in lodges.

CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK

After cycling through several rolling valleys, pine forests and villages, you’ll come to Caving enthusiasts can look to the south of Chitwan National Park (932 km.sq), which Pokhara, as it’s home to a cluster of caves, sits at the foot of the Himalayas and is from the sacred Gupteswar Madadev Cave sprawled over four districts (Chitwan, (a Nawalparasi, Parsa and Makwanpur). Chitwan, © Dawn Till Dusk which used to be hunting grounds for the blue bloods of Nepal, is now a rhinoceros sanctuary as well as Nepal’s first national park. Home to one of the last

© Dawn Till Dusk

communities of the Greater one-horned rhinoceros, this extensive park harbours other protected wildlife like the Bengal tiger, the mugger crocodile and a large concentration of birds (with over 500 different species), which attracts plenty of enthusiastic bird watchers.

Nepal

POKHARA

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There are plenty of eco-friendly activities available in the park; you can hike the Chitwan Chepang Hill Trail Trek that takes you along the grasslands and hidden marshes of the park, or explore villages tucked away in corners of stepped hills. You can canoe down the Rapti River in a traditional dugout to observe the birds and animals that often head to the river’s edge for a drink, or take on an elephant safari that will allow you to get as up close as possible to the wildlife (especially the rhinos). For cyclists using the Chitwan National Park as a stopover, accommodation can only be found outside the park zone in guesthouses or by setting up camp.


ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT The Annapurna circuit – which lies in the western part of Nepal – is dominated by Himalayan peaks, and has long been considered one of the finest treks in the world. The recent development of singlelane roads through this mountain range means that the route is now open to adventurous cyclists. Cycling through the region involves stamina and good fitness, as you’ll have to tackle plenty of high-altitude paths that go up to 5,500m. Many cycling tours that cater to the Annapurna region kick start their routes from the region itself, so the closest entry point would be Jomsom in the Mustang district.

Most itineraries of the Annapurna portion alone would require around 10 days to complete. The Annapurna circuit is snaked with plenty of single-tracks, and as a day of acclimatising is needed (usually at Manang), most tours will begin by weaving through the numerous tribal villages sequestered in corners before passing through scenic landscapes through majestic oak forests and glacial lakes along the deep gorges of Marsyangdi and the Kali Gandaki Valley. Once the acclimatisation is done, the tour then takes off to reach one of the most arduous ascents – the Thorung La

pass (5,416m), which gives cyclists a breathtaking view of the Himalayan peaks that dominate the area. Climbing through a series of dramatic panoramic zones, this tough trip involves long sections of carrying and pushing (sometimes through snow), weaving between two 8,000m-high peaks, Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. After this, it's pretty much downhill. The descent then takes you down to Muktinath, a sacred place for Hindus and Buddhists dotted with numerous shrines and temples, and further down through the jeep tracks of the breathtaking Kali Gandaki Valley.

© Dawn Till Dusk

YAK RU RACE 2014 (2-15 May 2014) PRACTICALITIES There are direct flights from Singapore to Nepal with SilkAir, while Malaysia Airlines and Jet Airways flies to Nepal with stopovers at Kuala Lumpur and Mumbai respectively. To get to Pokhara, the best option is to hop on a domestic flight via Yeti Air, Buddha Air or Guna Air from Kathmandu. The best season for cycling is from the end of September to mid-April, when you can expect clear skies and comfortable weather. Temperatures drop in December and February, but between March and April, rhododendron forests bloom everywhere. A number of outfitters offer cycle tours of Nepal, with popular itineraries taking cyclists from Kathmandu Valley to Pokhara, taking in majestic views of the Himalayan ranges of Langtang and Annapurna along paved and dirt roads, taking around 10 days. The Annapurna circuit itself is quite arduous and requires around 10 days for this portion alone.

The Yak Ru-Annapurna Challenge is one of the world's toughest bike races, covering 240km over five 1-day stages and reaching altitudes of 5,416m. Riders face huge climbs, gusting winds and freezing temperatures, but the pay-off is exclusive access to some of the best trails on earth. Organised by Dawn Till Dusk (Nepal), and supported by the Nepal Cycling Association and Annapurna Conservation Area Project, entry alone is US$2,990/person, for Overall, Men's and Women's categories. For more, visit www.nepalbiking.com.


1. Leopard

A jewel-shaped island on India's southeastern coast, Sri Lanka has been the darling of travellers for a couple of years now. This is not unfounded: for a country so small, it manages to pack in 8 World Heritage sites, and its history dates back to over 2,000 years. Here, intricatelydecorated hilltop temples boast panoramic views over the plains, and verdant tea plantations stretch across the undulating hills as far as the eye can see. Most visitors take the well-trodden circuit that takes in several World Heritage sites (Sigiriya, Kandy, Galle) with a mixture of wildlife-watching (Yala) and tea plantations (Nuwara Eliya).

WILDLIFE PARKS When it comes to wildlife, you can expect to encounter plenty of elephants, along with leopards and rich birdlife in Sri Lanka's national parks. Given its size, Sri Lanka has plenty of national parks encompassing a variety of habitats – from grasslands to marshlands – that house a range of wildlife. This includes Pigeon Island National Park, the only marine park in Sri Lanka whose underwater marine life include corals, reef fish and turtles. Situated in the northeast, the island – with its white sand beaches and coral gardens – lies 1km offshore, and is a breeding ground for rock pigeons. Sri Lanka's best ‘big game’ parks undoubtedly lie in the island's southern portion, especially if elephants are what you're looking for. The best times to spot them are dawn (from 6 - 10am) and dusk (from 4pm - 7pm). Uda Walawe National Park The Uda Walawe National Park covers 30,800 hectares around the Uda Walawe Reservoir.

ALL IMAGES SHOT WITH Panasonic Lumix GH3 [1, 2, 3 & 5 with LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6 lens | 4 with LUMIX G VARIO 14-140/F4.0-5.8 lens] 2. Grey Pelicans

PHOTOS BY Gunther Deichmann

SRI LANKA’S WILDLIFE One of the best places to see elephants (there are about 500 in the park in herds of up to 50), an elephant-proof fence surrounds the park to prevent them from getting out (and preventing cattle from entering). Wild buffalo, sambar deer and leopards can also be spotted here, along with sloth bears, mongooses, foxes and crocodiles. In addition, a wealth of migratory birds make a stopover here, and are best sighted between November and April. Bundala National Park Comprising a maze of waterways, lagoons and dunes, Bundala National Park is a birder's paradise. It's home to about 150 species of birds – many of which are migratory from as far as Siberia (which arrive between August and April). Here, you can find birds ranging from colourful tiny beeeaters to large open-billed storks and flamingoes. The park also has a small population of elephants (along with civets and crocodiles), and 4 species of marine turtles come ashore to lay their eggs between October and January.


Yala is home to a plethora of wildlife, including elephants (over 300 individuals have been recorded), leopards (it has one of the highest leopard densities

in the world at over 30) and over 200 species of birds (including 6 endemic). Block 1 (Yala West) is the most visited area as it contains the highest density of these endemic leopards (panthera pardus kotiya) that are unique to Sri Lanka. While the best time to spot them is during dawn or dusk, male leopards in Yala can often be seen walking the tracks during the day.

closes in September and October). Other wildlife that can be spotted throughout the park include sloth bears, deer, wild boars, monkeys and crocodiles. The coastal areas of the park are also a major nesting ground for marine turtles.

Sri Lanka

Yala National Park The most visited park in Sri Lanka is Yala National Park, a vast region of dry woodland and open grassland, hosting a variety of ecosystems ranging from monsoon forests to marine wetlands. Situated on the island's southeast, it consists of 5 blocks, with Block 1 being the main area for visitors (most of the park is closed to visitors). Besides wildlife, the park is also home to 2 ancient pilgrimage sites, Sithulpahuwa and Magul Vihara, which date back to the 2nd century BC and feature ancient Buddhist temples and dagobas.

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Birdlife here varies from waterbirds to jungle fowl, many of which are migratory. Birds can be spotted almost everywhere – peacocks, herons, hornbills and orioles are plentiful. The highlight here is the exceedingly rare black-necked stork – there are only 10 in Sri Lanka.

The rocky outcrops scattered throughout the park provide vantage points for picturesque panoramas of Yala's dry zone landscape of low scrub and woods, while the southern border of the park features brackish lagoons and dunes.

Despite the large quantity of wildlife, spotting animals is made easy thanks to small grassy clearings and plenty of waterholes around which they congregate. The best time to spot them is between February and July when the water tables are low (the park

A number of safari camps are dotted around the park, with lodges available just outside the border. Realistically, the only way to visit the park is on a safari, which takes you around the park in an open-topped jeep.

5. Sri Lankan Axis deer 3. Green Bee-eater

4. Elephants

PRACTICALITIES Thanks to the influx of foreign visitors, the country has stepped up its tourism infrastructure (from hotels to transportation) to meet the demands. Since 2012, online visas are required prior to entry to Sri Lanka (except for citizens of Singapore and Maldives), and cost US$30 for a 3 month visa. There are direct flights to Sri Lanka from Singapore via Sri Lankan, Singapore Airlines and Emirates, with a flight time of 3.5 hours.


Central America:

Until recently, only hardy travellers ventured into Nicaragua. Having been beset by war, poverty, dictators and natural disaster for decades, it has since reinvented itself as one of Central America's safest countries, and one that's tipped to eclipse neighbouring Costa Rica as an ecotourism hotspot.

Nicaragua Concepción volcano

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Nicaragua is home to the largest area of primary rainforest north of the Amazon, containing 7% of the world's biodiversity. Over 20% of its landmass is conserved in 76 protected areas (more than neighbouring Costa Rica), and its wildlife include many endangered monkeys (howler, white-faced and spider) along with plenty of jaguars, crocodiles and birdlife. Along with its breathtaking landscape of volcanoes and lakes, charming colonial towns, cloud forests, excellent surf beaches and coffee country, Nicaragua is indeed a country that has everything. Granada

GRANADA The oldest inhabited city in Latin America, this Spanish colonial gem (restored by individual owners) is situated on the shores of Lake Nicaragua and a number of homestays offer unique insights into the local life. Granada is an ideal base for trips to the Mombacho Nature Reserve (with its cloud forest), the crater lake of Laguna de Apoyo

and a number of ancient peasant farms offering rural tourism activities.

Green poison-dart frog, Indio-Maíz Biological Reserve

VOLCANO HIKING A great variety of volcanoes line the country from north to south, some with smoking craters, while others are filled with tranquil crater lakes you can swim in. A number of them are open for hikers, ranging from the easily accessible Masaya (a smoking San Juan River crater with several trails through the surrounding reserve) to the local panga) along the Rio San Juan river. highest active volcano in Nicaragua, San Eco lodging is available at Rio Indio Lodge, Cristóbal (1,725m) near León, and the which is set within the wildlife reserve. smoking Concepción which overlooks Granada and Lake Nicaragua.

MATAGALPA

INDIO-MAÌZ BIOLOGICAL RESERVE

A good jumping off point for visiting coffee, tobacco and cattle farms in the area, Matagalpa is set in Nicaragua's central mountain region, making it an ideal place for hiking, birdwatching, horseback riding, as well as wildlife watching.

Situated in the Rio San Juan region, the Indio-Maíz Biological Reserve is a network of rivers flanked by virgin rainforest and is home to more species of trees, birds and insects than the whole of Europe. Home to everything from poison dart frogs to pumas and manatees, it is one of the best natural reserves in Nicaragua. Rainforest hikes, birdwatching, river kayaking and sport fishing (for huge Atlantic tarpon that can grow up to 280lbs), can be explored with indigenous Rama Indian guides who are ex-hunters and experts in the jungle. You can also spot wildlife from boat trips (in a

A number of community-based, old coffee plantations offer hands-on activities; the Majales Farm is a natural reserve with numerous farms in the cloud forest accessible via many trails, and the Selva Negra Private Reserve (a coffee estate and ecolodge) has 14 mountain hiking trails through the cloud forest where you can find plenty of wildlife.


Central America:

Costa Rica

The reigning eco-tourism darling in Central America, Costa Rica features beautiful beaches, along with volcanoes, mountains, rivers and lakes. Thanks to its established tourism infrastructure, adventurers can spot wildlife in the cloud forests one day, hike an active volcano or zipline through the the forest canopy the next and end by relaxing on a beach.

Zip-lining, Manuel Antonio National Park

Three-toed sloth

Costa Rica has a network of well-established national parks and protected areas that cover over 20% of the country's landmass. Its biodiversity – spanning rainforests, cloud forests and dry forests – include an impressive array of flora (including 1,500 species of orchids) and fauna (like the jaguar, Margay and about 800 species of birds). Eco-lodges abound in Costa Rica, providing sustainable hospitality and protecting neighbouring preserves.

Rafting

Scarlet Macaw, Corcovado

WILDLIFE WATCHING Famous for its biodiveristy, Costa Rica's nature reserves are great places to catch a glimpse of classic Central American wildlife like sloths, pumas, tapirs and anteaters, as well as hundreds of species of colourful birds like the exotic quetzal. The Tortuguero Conservation Area is especially famous for nesting sea turtles, while the abundant natural canals and beach ecosystems house protected species like manatees and otters, as well as tapir, puma, ocelots, jaguarundi and the three-toed sloth. Corcovado National Park, the last original

tract of tropical rainforest in Central America, is home to Costa Rica's largest scarlet macaw colony, along with tapirs, giant anteaters and the harpy eagle. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is renowned for its amphibians and reptiles, especially the Golden Toad (which supposedly disappeared in 1989). The tiny Manuel Antonio National Park attracts visitors to its beautiful beaches and hiking trails dotted with coves, and its forest is home to both two- and three-toed sloths, along with a variety of monkeys (howler, squirrel and capuchin).

RIVER ACTIVITIES Sluiced by plentiful rivers, Costa Rica is a haven for whitewater rafting and boating. A boat trip down the lowland rivers like the Sarapiquí and Tempisque is an excellent way to observe wildlife like monkeys and fishing birds that lounge along the banks. For more action, whitewater rafting can be

had along Pacuare, Tenorio and Savegre rivers (all Class III-IV), or head to the wilder Chorro Section (Class IV+) of the Naranjo River, which runs from December to May.

CANOPY TOURS Costa Rica is famous for its number of canopy tours which offer a monkey's-eye view of the rainforest canopy where you can easily spot tree frogs, vine snakes and hundreds of bird species. These are often set within national parks throughout the country, with the best in Monteverde, Arenal and Manuel Antonio. Canopy tours at several private reserves involve strapping on harnesses and pulling yourself along suspended cables to a series of treetop wooden platforms. Plenty more have zip-line options, allowing you to fly through the canopy. An easier option is an aerial tram – a modified ski lift that offers wildlife commentaries. There are also canopy walks which are essentially suspension bridges that span the treetops.


Central America:

Occupying a strip of land that connects Central America to South America, Panama controls one of the most important shipping routes in the world: the Panama Canal. While it possesses ecological diversity chock full of rainforests, mountains, cloud forests and sandy coastlines, it is also home to a number of indigenous tribes who are keen on sharing their culture.

Panama

Resplendent Quetzal

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Strawberry Poison-dart Frog, Red Frog Beach

At the Bastimentos Island National Park in Bocas del Toro, the protected coral reef and mangrove swamps are home to nesting marine turtles; you can dive or snorkel the reefs, spot Strawberry Poison Frogs at Red Frog Beach, or head further afield to Pacific islands like Pearl Island to see humpback and sperm whales.

With over 10,000 species of native plants, over 950 species of birds and miles of coral reef, almost 29% of the country's nature is protected, including the UNESCO-listed Darién National Park and the Bastimentos Island National Marine Park. In addition to guided hikes into the forests and mountains, other eco-themed adventures include rock climbing, kayaking, whitewater rafting, snorkelling with turtles, as well as ziplining through the forest canopy. Eco-friendly accommodation can be found within local tribal communities, or in many wildlife refuges.

BOQUETE A cosy highland village in the mountainous Chiriquí province, Boquete – the 'Valley of Flowers' – is an ideal base for exploring its mountains, waterfalls, coffee plantations, cloud forest and national park. Bridal Veil Mushroom, Pipeline Road

It’s also the base to explore the most famous trail in Panama: the beautiful Quetzal Trail. This 4-5 hour, one-way hike, crossing bridges and cloud forests, is ideal for spotting the rare Resplendent Quetzal with its incredible blue plume, along with other unique local species. For a challenge, you can climb Panama's highest peak of Volcan Baru with the aid of local guides; it's a more ecofriendly way than taking a 4x4 to the top. At the base of this volcano are a number of thermal springs, where you can soak in the waters right next to the Caldera River.

NATIONAL PARKS As a natural bridge that connects North and South America, Panama is home to wildlife from both continents. Lake Gatun's boat rides are a good way to see monkeys, sloths and iguanas, in addition to visiting local tribal communities.

A top birding site is the Pipeline Road, a well-maintained path through the rainforest of Soberanía National Park where you can spot up to 300 species in a single day, including falcons, hummingbirds, and aquatic birds, along with monkeys, sloths, frogs and capybaras. While the Darién province – where the Darién Gap lies – is not a place to be taken lightly (due to the presence of guerillas and traffickers), the rich biome of Darién National Park contains many critically-endangered species, from the Bush Dog to the Central American Tapir, in addition to over 530 birds and undocumented wildlife. Home to the local Emberá and Wounaan people, it offers spectacular opportunities for rugged exploration by foot and dugout canoe, and is best approached with adequate planning and guides.


GEAR GUY: Ken Berg

TREATING In some countries and during any long backcountry adventure, it’s smart to treat your water to make sure that it’s safe. It’s important to know what you are needing to to treat the water for first. The three categories of things that you trying to treat are protozoa, bacteria and viruses. Protozoa include cryptosporidium and giardia (or beaver fever) and can be found even in pristine backcountry areas. Bacteria exist in water in all places and most are not a concern (some are even beneficial) but some can present problems such as diarrhea and campylobacteriosis. Viruses are a concern when water may have been contaminated by human waste. Hepatitis is a common concerns for travellers, but essentially almost any human virus could be an issue.

FILTERS

to 0.2 microns, and simply works like a straw that you can place directly in the water source (no matter how murky) and consume from.

The advantages of filters are that they allow you to start drinking the water right away. These work by having water go through a system that will not allow a certain size of particle to go through. This will eliminate protozoa and bacteria but there are no filters that can come close to the right size to filter out viruses. Because of this, filters are best suited to backcountry use and not most travel situations. To make sure that you’re getting all of the bacteria, get a filter that filters down to 0.2 microns. Filters will get clogged over time and require cleaning. It’s also a good idea to pour water that has a lot of silt (or any other large particle) through a t-shirt or coffee filter first. This will extend the life of the filter and mean that you can go a longer time between cleanings. Also try to avoid stagnant water and instead collect your drinking water from a fast moving part of a river or stream or a deeper part of a lake if at all possible. MSR’s Miniworks filter can filter up to 2,000 litres and it’s more likely you’ll be able to fix it if something goes wrong in the field.

Select models available at Outdoor Life

The easy-to-use LifeStraw Personal is a lightweight alternative, which filters down

PURIFIERS Purifying water becomes necessary when there is a concern about human contamination (viruses). Chemicals (such as chlorine) are very easy to use (in many cases you simply add a tablet into the water and wait) but do take time until you can safely drink (the colder the water, the longer you’ll have wait to make sure that the chemicals have been effective). Aquatabs water purification tablets are easy to use and very reasonably priced, certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 60. They’re approved and used by international aid agencies including WHO, Unicef, International Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres, and Oxfam. UV Purifier The other choice for purifying water is using an ultraviolet light source. Just stick the UV

Ken grew up on the doorstep of the Canadian wilderness, backpacking, paddling and rock climbing in this rugged land. Armed with a degree in recreational studies, he has been working at Canada's premier outdoor retailer for over 10 years, putting gear to the test whether it's cycling in -35ºC winters, running marathons or travelling to the far reaches of the planet.

source into a container of water to purify; the wait time is typically only about a minute. The down side is that most UV purfiers require batteries. You can only treat up to 1 litre of water at a time, and this method will only work in clear water so be sure to pre-filter water with large particles before use. SteriPEN makes a wide assortment of UV treatments. If you’re going to a place where you might not be able to recharge your batteries I would suggest the Classic. It uses AA batteries which you’re more likely to be able to find a replacement for. Other models that use rechargeable batteries will be lighter and easier to use. Filter Purifier The Steripen Family purifer works similarly to the Personal version, except it filters up to a litre of water at a time (which is poured into its container). In addition to removing large and small particles, it also filters out viruses in addition to the usual waterborne protozoa and bacteria.

TECH TRAVEL PROTECTION If data security is your concern (it should be) for your smartphone or laptop, follow these simple instructions: WIFI: Not all Wifi connections are safe. Those that encrypt traffic

(restricted with password) and provided by a trusted source are preferable to any free an/or unencrypted services. Check for encrypted services when in doubt – pick 'HTTPS' or 'HTTP' when web browsing.

VPN: The safest way to surf is to get access to a VPN-client (Virtual Private Network) from your work or home network.

MOBILE PROTECTION: Mobile phone theft may be rare in Singapore, but they are highly sought-after abroad not just for resale value, but for the precious data stored within them. Some security measures

include installing a PIN, remote wiping (where you can erase all data on your phone remotely), and GPS tracking (apps like Find My Phone tracks your phone's whereabouts using GPS signals).

Information theft from RFID-enabled credit cards and passport can happen quickly and often from a distance that won’t arouse your suspicion. Here are some ways to prevent RFID (Radio Frequency ID) theft: CASING: There are wallets and passport holder/covers out there that block RFID, and the good news is that they don’t cost a lot.

METAL/ALUMINIUM: Homemade remedies also work, ranging from using metal tins to (unsightly) aluminium foil.


Bhutan

More popularly known as the Land of Happiness, Bhutan is famous for its unique culture, architecture, stunning scenery and hospitable people. You can traverse through a landscape of lush paddy fields and meandering rivers, witness a game of archery or photograph colourful locals and monks going about their daily lives, all with the backdrop of the soaring Himalayan mountains.

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LEFT & BELOW: Paro Rinpung Dzong – A massive fortress overlooking the Paro Valley, Rinpung Dzong houses 14 shrines and chapels within its white walls. The ornate and colourful courtyard is the site of the annual tsechu (masked festival) that’s held in March or April. It is accessible via a red cantilevered bridge that spans a river. BELOW: Memorial Chorten, Thimphu – Depicting larger-thanlife-sized statues of deities (some of them in erotic poses), the main statue of Buddha is said to grant wishes for the earnest. With its golden spires and bells, it is circumambulated clockwise as devotees recite prayers while whirling the prayer wheels. BOTTOM RIGHT: Lawa La Pass – The pass (at 3,360m) near Phobjikha Valley is where you can soak in the panoramic views Himalayan blue pine forests that include hemlock and fir. The land around the pass consists of meadows of dwarf bamboo where yaks are brought to in winter. At the end of the ridge lies the hilltop Gante Gompa which is surrounded by a tiny village.

Bhutan PHOTOS BY Montse Castells

A PHOTO JOURNEY


LEFT: Taktsang Monastery – From the base of Taktsang, a 3-hour uphill climb (ponies can also be arranged) takes you to the famous Taktsang Monastery. Known as ‘Tiger’s Nest’, it is one of the most visited sites in Bhutan. Located around 900m above the Paro valley on a precarious vertical cliff, Taktsang Monastery was built in 1692 and is credited with spreading Buddhism in Bhutan. BOTTOM: Thimphu Shophouse – Colourful rows of shophouses line the streets of Thimphu. These include restaurants and sundry shops selling daily items, as well as paan (doma). Paan is a mixture of lime, palm nuts, and tobacco rolled up in a betel leaf which the Bhutanese love to chew.

Punakha Thimphu Paro

BHUTAN Phobjikha Valley

TRAVEL PLANNING A minimum daily package for visitors to Bhutan applies, which consists of a 3-star accommodation (or camping equipment), all meals, a licensed Bhutanese guide and all internal transport. This works out to a daily package (for groups of 3 or more) of US$200/person/night for January, February, June, July, August and December, and US$250/person/night for the rest of the year. Part of the fee goes towards free education, healthcare and infrastructure of the country. Visas are required prior to entry, and can be obtained via licensed tour operators in Bhutan or overseas. For more, visit www.tourism.gov.bt.


Bhutan

BELOW: Phallus paintings in Bhutan are traditional symbols that are intended to drive away the evil eye and malicious gossip. Though not generally depicted in temples and dzongs, they are routinely painted outside walls of new houses, usually in rural areas. These symbols have origins in the Chimi Lhakhang monastery (in Punakha), a famous ‘fertility temple’ whose walls are adorned with frescoes and phallus symbols.

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ABOVE & BELOW: Punakha Dzong – Situated in the beautiful Punakha Valley, the magnificent Punakha Dzong (meaning ‘Palace of Great Bliss’) is located between 2 rivers, Pho Chhu and Mo Chu. The second oldest and most majestic dzong in Bhutan, this massive structure was built in 1673 to commemorate the final victory against numerous Tibetan invasions, and recently was the site of the Royal Wedding ceremony of the Fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk to Queen Jetsun Pema in October 2011. Having been destroyed many times by fire, flood and earthquake, the restored dzong now has several new lhakhangs (temple or image hall), over 200 new religious images, and several other treasures.

ABOVE: Lobesa Valley – A view of the Puna Tshangchu river from Lobesa village, not far from Chimi Lhakhang (Fertility Temple). Lobesa Valley is a fertile area where terraced rice paddies spill from the hills towards the river, and the village is a good place to witness a traditional archery game.


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EVENTS: RACE CALENDAR MAY 2014 HomeTeamNS REAL Run 2014 5km & 10km | 18 May, 7am | Sentosa Gateway | Registration: $35 - $55 A race combining offroad trails, asphalt and sand. wwww.realrun.sg

Green Corridor Run 2014 10.5km | 18 May, 9am | Tg Pagar to Bt Timah | Registration: $56 A trail run through the green stretch of Singapore’s rail corridor. www.greencorridorrun.com.sg

Sundown Marathon 2014 10km, 21km & 42km | 31 May, 6.30pm | F1 Pit Building Registration: $57 - $90 A night-run through the city, with training runs starting 29 March. www.sundownmarathon.com

JUNE 2014 Pocari Sweat Run 2014 5km & 10km | 8 Jun, 6.30am | Marina Bay | Registration: $35 - $55 A competitive run through the Marina Bay area. pocarisweatrun.com

National Vertical Marathon 2014 63 storeys | 8 Jun, 7am | 1 Raffles Place | Registration: $30 A stair-climbing race to the top of 1 Raffles Place, 63 storeys high. nvm.ntusportsclub.sg

Heroes Run 2014 5km | 28 Jun, 8.30am | Marina Barrage | Registration: $50 - $60 A superhero-themed costume run, with various choices of paths. www.heroesrun.sg


Sports+Travel Singapore | Issue 56  

Eco Issue | Singapore's free adventure travel magazine. Mar/Apr 2014. www.sportsandtravelonline.com for more!

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