Wanderlust Issue 125 (February 2012) SOUTH-EAST ASIA SPECIAL: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia & Vietnam • Baracoa, Cuba • Greenland • Altai, Russia • Himba, Namibia • Unique accommodation
TRAVEL I ADVENTURE I CULTURE The travel magazine that takes you further
February 2012 www.wanderlust.co.uk
WON D TRIP ERFUL Can S TO
Vietn ada, The Ram & hine
Where to escape it all in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia
Cuba The most beautiful
bay in the Caribbean
Treehouses to beach huts
Greenland Lisbon for free Trekking Russia
Contents FEBRUARY 2012 • ISSUE 125
From the road
6 | World in pictures A Masai Mara storm,
35 | Snapshots Your envy-inducing images
West Papuan underwear and Baffin Island 12 | Shortcuts Icelanders say hello to house guests; the Swiss say non to nudists 14 | Go now! Tunisia or Norfolk next weekend? 16 | 10 things to do for free in... Lisbon. Feel the passion of Portugal for peanuts 18 | Dispatches Top trips to watch wildlife 20 | Hilary Bradt talks... Creature comforts – can you really travel with them?
36 | Letters etc... Emails, blogs, photos and
chat from readers around the world – send in your contribution for a chance to WIN Páramo gear! This issue: good news for hopeful honeymooners, and quaffing hot chocolate and waffles in Brussels
40 | Just Back From… take tips from wanderers who have just returned from India, Nepal and Austria – and nominate your top tour guide of 2011
SOUTH-EAST ASIA’S HIDDEN GEMS
22 | Baracoa, Cuba
Claire Boobbyer explores the mountains, beaches and chocolate of Cuba’s sultry east
44 | Cruising Greenland
Mark Stratton spots ’bergs and belugas on an icy voyage down Greenland’s west coast
57 | The new South-East Asia
Vietnam’s new hilltribe frontier region, Laos’ amazing treetop lodge, Cambodia’s unspoilt islands, Thailand’s hidden corner… we uncover a few surprises in these travellers’ favourites
84 | Dispatches: Namibia
Emma Thomson strips off and settles in to home life with Himba villagers in Namibia
88 | I Want To Stay In A...
Castles, lighthouses, treehouses: let your imagination run wild for the sleep of a lifetime
110 | Russia’s Altai mountains
Forget 21st century technology in the age-old Altai Mountains – Rob Bright finds spiritual enlightenment with just a tent and a horse
WINing z Ampas to… tri io 42 ar e 96 OntR hin The tnam 108 Vie
THE FUTURE Like this map? MAPPING To buy a similar wall map, COMPANY visit www.futuremaps.co.uk 004-005 Contents_SO.indd 4
POCKE T GUID ES
Navigator 97 | How to... tell your Big Dipper from your
Orion’s Belt, sample the world’s best chocolate and avoid the fearsome fire ant 99 | Gear Keep rain at bay with waterproof kit 100 | Health Are you deadly serious about malaria? Plus news on China’s hep C outbreak 102 | Photo tips How to get your pix on Route 66 – or any other road trip for that matter… 104 | Q&A Questions on solo travel, in-flight viruses and patching up that tattered kit
122 | Books Dervla Murphy reviews the first
guidebook to modern Palestine; Noo Saro-Wiwa grapples with modern Nigeria 126 | World music French chanteuse Camille on her bizarrely brilliant (and playfully titled) new album, Ilo Veyou 128 | What’s on: events Join the Wanderlust team at Destinations 2012 129 | What’s on: screen Excess Baggage’s John McCarthy unpacked
of the guide book you
133 | Table Mountain, South Africa Trek, climb, even abseil down Cape Town’s monumental mountain
N | SOUT
P 133 Trave P 135 Short l Icon Table Mou P 137 First Break Sark Slowinntain The Rainb ow Natio 24 hour g down n’s bigge s Sydn ey Get up on the car-free st view Channel and runni Isle ng Down Under
135 | Sark, Channel Islands Slow down on the car-free island of gardens, beaches and horse-drawn traps 137 | Sydney, Australia 24 hours of sun, sea and monumental sights Down Under
© © Vietnam p108
Cape Town p133 Sydney p137
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Masai maelstrom Photographer Paul Goldstein “In 2009 much of Kenya was struggling in a disastrous drought. This wretched barren spell was awful for both people and animals. In the Masai Mara the whole migration was compromised and as the herds disappeared early to supposedly more fertile pastures, many thought the high season would see no ruminants. This storm changed all that. I have seen many spectacular storms, where skies turn from blue to anvil in minutes, but never have I witnessed such a defined deluge. Over three inches fell in under an hour and the next day the herds turned their heads and remained with us for another month at least. I love rain in the Mara. Give me those dramatic inky skies over long, dry dusty game drives any day – you will never hear the Maasai complaining about it.” Wanderlust contributing editor Paul Goldstein is an award winning photographer, Exodus tour leader and part-owner of the Masai Mara’s highly rated Kicheche camps ( www.kicheche.com)
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World in pictures | News | Go now | Things to do for free | Departures
I I I
Places jostling for our attention this month
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Rediscover SOUTH-EAST ASIA VIETNAM • LAOS • THAILAND • CAMBODIA From treetop eco-lodges to quiet islands, a host of new experiences are making South-East Asia the place to be in 2012. Get off the beaten track and explore…
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South-East Asia road listing behaviour regarded as unacceptable in ethnic minority houses. On no account should tourists ‘cook cat or dog meat in the stove’ or ‘leave the suitcase in front of the ancestral altar’. Mindful of these proscriptions, we trekked up from the lodge into the encircling hills. Paths took us along the edge of rice terraces and through bamboo forests, where the leaf mould was paintbombed with sunlight and we passed through sound-clouds of cicadas. After 90 minutes we reached a Dao house high on the side of a hill. A woman in a traditional black-and-red tunic, with shaved eyebrows and a baby in a sling on her back, boiled a blackened kettle on a fire and poured tea for us. It was a beautiful place to live, but also extremely remote. I asked what happened if someone fell ill. Son explained that the family would sacrifice a pig or chicken and cut up what he called strawberry sticks – nine for men, seven for women – to scare away the bad spirits. Tiger balm would be placed inside a buffalo horn and warmed in the fire, then put to the head to draw out the fever. Then the shaman would be summoned. It was then that I realised just how otherworldly were the ways and beliefs of the minority people. Like all minorities, they have suffered prejudice and mockery – Son had plenty of stories of the ‘cheating and kidding’ he suffered from his Viet classmates and is now proud that no one can tell from his accent he is from an ethnic minority. Extreme poverty is still rife in
Ha Giang Footnotes Access city: Hanoi When to go: Mar-Apr Low rainfall, sunny and warm (mid-20s) – an ideal time to visit the north. May-Sept Rainy season and high humidity. Oct-Nov ‘Dry’ season, but it can still rain any time. Dec-Feb Winter, when snow is possible in the mountains. Health & safety: Malaria risk is low but present in rural areas – tablets advised. Diphtheria and hepatitis A jabs also recommended. Further reading & information: Vietnam (Rough Guide, 2012); A Dragon Apparent (Eland, orig 1951) by Norman Lewis, a historical view on Vietnam;
> a sign has been erected at the side of the
‘On no account should tourists cook cat or dog’ many areas. But things are changing. A non-Viet was recently appointed to high political office and there is official support – in the form of subsidies, schooling and healthcare – for the minorities’ distinct ways of life. Tourism is playing its part too. We offered small amounts of cash for the hospitality we received (though it wasn’t always accepted). Men from the minority villages work in the tourist lodges and as trekking guides, and
women make beautiful clothes, cushion covers and so on that they sell to visitors. But in their simplicity and friendliness Vietnam’s ethnic minorities will always give more than they take. Trekking up to the next village, the hollow thock! of my bamboo walking stick answering the tinkle of buffalo bells in the valley below, I felt a strong sense of common humanity with these indomitable people. A comforting thought in a troubled world.
1:1,000,000 Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia map (Freytag & Berndt) The trip: The author travelled with Bridge & Wickers (020 7483 6555, bridgeandwickers.co. uk). An eight-day tour of the minority villages of north Vietnam costs from £1,989pp, based on two sharing, including flights, accommodation, meals, transfers, guide and treks in Ha Giang. Getting there: Thai Airways (www.thaiairways. co.uk) flies Heathrow-Hanoi, via Bangkok, from £796. Vietnam Airlines (www.vietnamairlines. com) flies Gatwick-Hanoi direct; flight time is around 12hrs. Cost of travel: A meal in a Hanoi restaurant is about £6; at a roadside stop in Ha Giang, 70p. Hanoi-Ha Giang is not on a main tourist route; the few available lodges are associated with ‘minority tourism’. They're good value but not cheap. It's also possible to do ‘homestays’ in minority houses for a few pounds (pn). A practical gift to the householder, eg a sack of rice, would be appreciated. Guides and drivers should be
tipped as you see fit, perhaps £5-£7 per day. Accommodation: The Sofitel Metropole (Hanoi; www.sofitel-legend.com) is one of the finest hotels in Indochina; doubles from £169. Three great lodges in minority areas are: Mai Chau Lodge (www.maichaulodge.com), doubles £63; La Vie Vu Linh (www.lavievulinh. com), doubles £19; and Pan Hou Village Lodge (www.panhou-village.com), doubles £29. Food & drink: Street kitchens (just point at what you fancy) are often excellent and always good value, especially noodle soups and plates of fish, pork and tofu with rice: less than £1 for a hearty meal. In minority houses you will probably be offered rice wine. It is offensive to refuse – but advisable not to drink too much! Ethnic culture: Minority people are superstitious and conservative. Keep arms and legs covered, remove shoes if asked, don’t lean on pillars or stand in front of family altars, and be sensitive about taking photos. Gifts and small tips are welcomed. Consider buying handicrafts.
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Silence is golden Some of the greatest Khmer temples lie not at Cambodia’s crowded Angkor but just up the road in peaceful Isaan. Lara Dunston reveals Thailand’s secret corner
Heaven's gate Dedicated to Shiva, the Prasat Phanom Rung temple stands 1,320 ft high
stood, sweating, at the end of the ancient Khmer highway and looked around. Right now, 225km to my south-east, crowds would be jostling between the ruins at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. But here, at the tumbledown temples of Prasat Hin Phimai in Thailand, there were only a few local kids, kicking idly about, and a lone Buddhist
monk, cross-legged on the floor of an interior room, silently meditating in front of a stone Buddha. In the 11th century these two temple complexes were linked by an important trade road later known as the Cultural Route. But now they seem worlds apart. Where are the visitors, I asked a local guide? Has the heat kept everyone away today? “No,” he shrugged, “it’s like this all the time.” Welcome to Isaan: the Thailand that travellers have overlooked. Infrequent public
transport, limited accommodation, few English speakers and more road signs in Thai than not keep all but the most intrepid away. Home to a third of Thailand’s population and covering a third of the country, the rural north-east sees only a tiny fraction of the tourists that destinations such as Chiang Mai and the Thai islands do – and therein lies much of its appeal. If you’re going to take a road trip anywhere in the country then this section, nicely sandwiched between Cambodia and Laos, is the place to do it.
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• Chiang Mai
• Dan Sai THAILAND Nakhon Ratchasima •
All photos by Terence Carter
So, having arrived in Nakhon Ratchasima (known as Korat) from Bangkok by bus late the night before, my photographer-husband and I clambered into the car at 4am and set off into the pitch black morning.
On the king’s road The 12th-century Khmer King Jayavarman VII erected resthouses and hospitals for traders and pilgrims along the zigzagging highway between Phimai and Angkor. Today only smatterings of the brickwork remain
– sadly underused and long since forgotten. As we shadowed the historical route east towards Cambodia’s border, we discovered the reason for their existence – the isolated ruins of Prasat Phanom Rung. Meaning ‘big mountain’ in Khmer, Phanom Rung’s temple sanctuary was built on the summit of an extinct volcano between the tenth and 13th centuries, and is believed by Hindus to be the heavenly home of Shiva. We tackled the journey to this ‘home of the gods’ at an ungodly hour for
m e r i ko ve ng r
• Khon Kaen Prasat Hin
• Phimai •
good reason. The biannual Khao Phanom Rung ‘miracle’ had just occurred: when, as the sun crosses the equator at sunrise, a single beam of light blazes through all of the temple’s 15 cleverly aligned doorways. The illumination over the following days is said to be nearly as magical. And it was. Mesmerised by the beauty of the place I almost missed the sight I had travelled all this way to see, and only serendipitously caught the sunlight illuminating the interior rooms moments before it passed. Apart from a Thai family ambling about taking photos, we were its only spectators. Eight kilometres along the highway lies Prasat Muang Tam, or ‘temple of the lower city’. Driving through lush rice paddies, where farmers work buffalo alongside cowboys herding cattle in green paddocks, we arrived at the quiet village. Inscriptions dedicated to the goddesses of water and rice, asking that she protect the crops, indicated it was a place of worship for the local community as well as for far-flung visitors. Surrounded by shady trees, freshly mown lawns and large moat-like lotus ponds, Muang Tam was captivating. Here again, it was just a few local kids who idled around the ruins. I saw only one tour group of elderly Thai ladies on our entire journey – bliss compared to the tourist stampedes you can find at Cambodia’s temples.
Weaving through backcountry Isaan offers some of the country’s most diverse landscapes; it’s bucolic, once you head off the highway onto the backroads. The palpable silence is remarkable. And there was all sorts of fascinating stuff by the side of the road: from stalls selling fried chicken and Isaan sausage, to extravagantly decorated spirit houses and shrines. En route across central Isaan we stopped at the silk-weaving village of Chonnabot. Once more we were the only visitors in town, yet staff at Sala Mai Thai, the official centre for silk weaving, told me that weekends are busy with Thai ‘Hi-So’ (high society) ladies from > Wanderlust February 2012 | 71
At home with the Himba A new homestay scheme allows travellers to experience the life of Namibiaâ€™s mud-caked Himba people â€“ including braving the lenses of curious day-trippers Words & pictures Emma Thomson
A life in the day Emma (left) tries her hand at milking, to the amusement of her Himba hosts
ake your clothes off,” Simson translated, bashfully. I peeled off my T-shirt and untied my sarong, until I was left standing like a toddler in my underpants. A crimson Simson beat a hasty retreat from the mud hut leaving me with Mama, second of the chief’s eight wives and the woman in charge of the Annabeb Himba homestead in northwest Namibia while her husband is away. She lived up to her name. Sitting crosslegged in front of me, her almighty breasts tickled the tops of her thighs while a two week-old baby lay nuzzling at a nipple. She scooped her fingers around the rim of an amber-stained plastic tub and daubed otjize (a mix of butter, ash and ochre paste) across my chest – her hand was warm, firm and confident. She rubbed it along the length of my legs, arms and back and then handed me a cracked hand mirror so I could apply the final flourishes to my face. I grinned at my bright-orange reflection in the knowledge that I’d be protected against the blazing sun. Mama motioned for me to stand up, rummaging in the dark corner behind her until she found what she was looking for:
a goatskin skirt. It was cool and oily against my skin as she tethered it around my waist. A cloth of royal purple was whipped out and fed through the waistband of the skirt, covering my modesty. Next: two necklaces – one of metal and shell, the other of rope – were produced and passed through the smoke curling from the small fire between us, rubbed with wild sage and strung about my neck. Then, to complete the makeover, rows of metal beads were wound around my ankles and black rubber bands rolled up my shins to sit just below my knees. Mama leant back and gave a nod of approval. I jumped to my feet and struck a model’s pose and she let out a high-pitched giggle. Another wife, Kakuhara, joined us and – with a minxish smile – motioned to knock out my bottom front teeth with a stick and stone to match their own gappy grins.
Home advantages Until recently, interaction with tourists for the Himba – pastoralists from the arid northwestern Kunene region – was limited to an hour’s bartering over handmade jewellery; a meeting that makes both sides uncomfortable and offers little opportunity
for learning. Worse, some communities have been experiencing problems with unofficial tour guides turning up unannounced with groups, walking into homesteads and taking pictures without permission and without offering food gifts or purchasing jewellery. Reliant on the sale of jewellery to buy sacks of pap (porridge) in town, the community is hard pressed to send them away. However, a new initiative by Namibiabased Kunene Tours and Safaris hopes to change that. Their new four-day homestay programme aims to return power to the villagers. They decide when they want guests and when they don’t. It will provide not only a source of income, but also a means of preserving their way of life. Homestays revive pride in tradition among younger generations, who might otherwise be drawn to towns in search of work. It’s much more rewarding for visitors too. Dressed in my finery, I joined the other wives outside, sitting in a semi-circle beneath a skeletal mopane tree and rhythmically shaking the calabashes (carved wooden gourds) hanging from the branches above, which were slowly converting cow milk to curds. I watched for a few minutes > Wanderlust February 2012 | 85
How to | Skills | Gear | Health | Photo tips | Q&A
“Malaria isn’t going down without a fight...” Meet the killer of one million people a year, p100
Travel need-to-knows, from protecting your skin to watching the skies Take my advice
How to find the world’s best chocolate
Hot chocolate A cacao farmer dries his beans under the sun
Martin Christy, one of the world’s most respected chocolate experts, gives us his guide to tracking down the best of the sweet stuff
Taste, taste, taste – Buy a bar or a few bonbons, give them a try. Remember: eat slowly and ‘melt don’t munch’ – your taste buds will guide you.
Go online – Arriving in a new city and want to find the best in chocolate? Do a little research online on sites such as www.seventypercent.com; for an interactive map, try http:// worldchocolateguide.com.
Don’t be fooled by marketing – Everyone tells you theirs is the best. Try to find out the story behind the chocolate – where does the cacao come from? Is it directly sourced? Who really makes it?
Be a little romantic – Paris is the real capital of fine chocolate. Two hours, 15 minutes from St Pancras and you’re in chocolate heaven. Let www.chocoparis.com be your guide.
Don’t forget homegrown – The likes of William Curley and Paul A Young have made London a serious contender as a top chocolate destination. Both offer tastings and workshops.
Combine with Caribbean beaches – Tobago Cocoa Estate, the Grenada Chocolate Company and Hotel Chocolat’s estate on St Lucia are all in beautiful locations with tourist facilities.
Take an organised tour – If you want more help tracking down the best chocolate, try one of Seventy%’s Connoisseur Chocolate Tours, led by yours truly. Trips in 2012 cover the South of France, Tuscany and the real cacao experience: from coast to Amazon in Ecuador. Full details at www. seventypercent.com. Getty
Martin Christy is a chocolate reviewer and editor of online review site Seventy%
Did you know? Most chocolate’s made with inferior cacao from the lower Amazon. The original Aztec/Mayan cacao is nearly lost, but what little remains goes into ‘fine’ chocolate, which has a far superior taste Wanderlust February 2012 | 97
40% Proportion of the world’s population is at risk of malaria
1 mastered? 50 0 9 1 Malaria At last, a malaria vaccine could be on the horizon. Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth talks new developments, and how to stay safe in the meantime
alaria is a massive problem. There are 300-500 million cases a year, and close to one million people die of it annually. The parasite responsible is a master of disguise, readily fooling the body’s defences. The only real hope for eradication is through immunisation – and this possibility has recently moved one step closer.
How malaria operates
Malaria parasites are hard to detect. They go undercover immunologically seconds after entering the blood by way of a mosquito bite. They not only hide inside red blood cells or the liver, but their shape-shifting
The A B C D of avoidance
WARENESS – know if malaria is a risk at your destination (see www. nathnac.org or www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk)
B C D IAGNOSIS –
ITE AVOIDANCE – apply repellent at dusk; sleep under an impregnated net
OMPLY – take the right pills (see prophylaxis info on right-hand page)
report any fever symptoms to a doctor if you’ve also been to a malaria zone
nature means that the body is always several days behind in finding, identifying and mounting a malaria-specific immune response. An ‘unprimed’ or naive body is hopelessly ill-equipped to defend itself. The parasite’s most vulnerable at the moment of infection – when the mosquito bites. But it is only ‘naked’ and vulnerable in the blood for a matter of seconds. Malaria symptoms take at least a week to appear; these include headache, fever, chills, muscle aches and weakness, vomiting, cough, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.
The malaria vaccine?
Huge reductions in cases and deaths have been achieved recently – more than 50% in the worst-hit African countries. This is at least in part due to the activities of the Roll Back Malaria partnership (www.rbm.who. int). This promotes rapid diagnosis and treatment, supply of insecticideimpregnated bednets (to 140 million homes), spraying and other strategies. There is also a vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, which is contributing to a significant reduction in deaths in African children. This vaccine is a long way from being useful for travellers but, in November, Cambridge scientists announced a breakthrough that could be the first step to making a universally effective vaccine.
3 – 5 Million
cases a year
Number of UK travellers who brought home malaria from The Gambia in 2010, most of these between Nov-Dec; roughly 36% had not taken antimalarials
COUNTRIES CURRENTLY CONSIDERED MALARIOUS
DIE OF IT A YEAR, MOSTLY THE UNDER FIVES IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA
Million people a year from non-malarious countries that visit malaria-endemic areas, of whom around 30,000 contract malaria
Risk is less above this altitude, although with favourable conditions malaria can be spread at altitudes up to almost 3,000m
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Altai, Russia 1
I I I
a mythical kingdom where I Discover 1 horses lofty mountains rule 1 I and
Fly UK-Barnaul (via Moscow; 11 hours) 12-15 hour drive into the Altai 1 1
Jun-Aug for good trekking conditions
Four vast nations meet, spacecraft fall from the sky and Buddhism and shamanism mingle: welcome to Central Asiaâ€™s Altai mountains Words & Pictures Rob Bright
Pack your hardiest trekking gear for a genuine wilderness experience – and some almighty views – at the little-tramped crossroads of Central Asia Vital Statistics
Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec ■ Mar-May Still snowy: ski tours are sometimes possible in March and April. May is a transitional month – check before travelling. ■ Jun-Aug The summer is the best time to go trekking, climbing, rafting and horse riding. Days are warm with average temperatures around 20°C (max 35°C) ■ Sep-Feb September remains transitional, so it’s worth checking what’s possible. From October to February the weather is too snowy and unpredictable for walking.
Health & safety Trekkers and campers should consider immunisation against tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), especially if visiting April-October. Check www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk for further details.
Further reading & info Russia (Lonely Planet, 2009; new edition due out in March) In Siberia by Colin Thubron (Penguin, 2000) http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/768 – Unesco info on the Altai’s protected regions
More online Visit www.wanderlust.co.uk/125 for links to more content: Archive articles
Trans-Siberian: a guide to the ultimate train journey Issue 93, Feb 08 A fiery tour of Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula Issue 92, Dec/Jan 08
Russia travel guide
Getting there & around Change in Moscow for a flight to Barnaul. bmi flies twice daily between Heathrow and Moscow (from £247; www. flybmi.com, around 4 hours). Aeroflot (www. aeroflot.ru) and S7 (Siberia Airlines, www. s7.ru) fly from Moscow to Barnaul daily from £326; the journey also takes around four hours. With a package trek you will be met at Barnaul for the 12-15 hour drive into the Altai region (Vysotnik Base Camp is 750km). You can also take a bus from Barnaul to Gorno-Altaisk (5 hrs; around £6) and from here buses run to Altai villages (GornoAltaisk Bus Terminal, +7 38822 22 457). Once in the mountains there are no roads so travel is either on foot or on horseback. For more info on transport and trekking see www.justgorussia.co.uk/en/altai.html.
Cost of travel If you’re on an organised tour you won’t need much extra cash, just for any additional food and drink at the base camp café. It costs extra to have horses carry your kit (from £18 a day). Moscow is expensive.
Accommodation On the trek you sleep in two-man dome tents (larger tents can be arranged). It's possible to upgrade to a cottage in the base camp at the start and end of a tour.
Food & drink A typical dinner might include vegetable soup or stew with the option of tinned meat, salad, cake and plenty of tea. The packed lunch usually has bread with cheese, ham, some fresh and tinned fruit, nuts and some very welcome chocolate.
What to pack You’ll need a three-season sleeping bag, roll mat, windproof and waterproof jacket. For a comprehensive list, check out the GoRussia website. n
Barnaul Byisk GornoAltaisk Ust-Kan
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
The writer travelled with Go Russia – a UK operator specialising in the former USSR (020 3355 7717, www.justgorussia.co.uk). A 15 day trip, including a night in Moscow, trekking, full board on trek, and Russian visa costs from £945 (£1,495 incl flights).
When to go
R un Kat
Capital: Gorno-Altaisk Population: 206,000 (Russia: 140m approx) Language(s): Russian, Altai Time: GMT +7 International dialling code: +7 38822 Visas: Required by UK citizens. A single entry Russia visa plus service charge costs £76.40. Apply in person or by post to the Russia Visa Application Centre (0905 889 0149, http://ru.vfsglobal.co.uk, 15-27 Gee Street, London EC1V 3RD). Alternatively, tour operators including GoRussia can handle the visa process for you, as well as the various permits required for Altai travel. Money: Rubles. RUB47 to the UK£ approx. ATMs are non-existent in the mountains.
Tungur 7ya River
Altaian highlights 1. Mount Belukha The treks across the slopes are breathtaking, while hardy climbers can choose to take on the mountain itself (grade 3A out of 6).
2.Lake Teletskoye A huge, beautiful lake and a great place for a bracing dip after a hot day’s trekking.
3. Katun River Relax alongside it or – better still – whitewater raft down it.
4. Horse riding As an alternative to walking you might want to do as the Altai do and try travelling by horse – either roped up on a horse convoy or, if you have experience with riding, using your own horse.
5. Ukok Plateau Pristine grasslands and the site of Iron Age Pazyryk graves. The landscape is dotted with various kurgans (ritual stone stacks).
6. Gorno-Altaisk Museum Features a reconstruction of a 2,000-year-old Pazyryk grave pit.
7. The Yarlu Valley Site of a monument inspired by Russian mystic Nicholas Roerich.
8. Tekeliu Valley Includes the Altai’s biggest waterfall and breathtaking views.
9. Chemal Busy with tourists in the summer but a good starting point for treks.
10. Chuysky Tract Enjoy beautiful scenery, stone idols and yurts along the main road, which brings you to the edge of Mongolia.
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