Friday, 15 October 2010

Inspired - Dark Side of the Lens

I recently caught this film, Dark Side of the Lens during one of the many hours I spend trawling Vimeo for interesting shorts. It's a beautiful piece and reflects every ounce of passion that I have felt personally at one time or another for climbing. Total dedication, that transcends work, money, the boundaries of one's daily routines. It's the same passion that led to the belief that I wanted to spend the rest of my days working as a climbing filmographer / photographer. Somewhere down the line those ambitions were watered down and eventually washed away.

Needless to say towards the end of 2010, a year in which I spent the first 6-months living in China and Pakistan before returning to England, this film inspired much of what I did with the short I recently made for the Climbing Works bouldering center in Sheffield. Its a far cry from the quality of the cinematography, aesthetics and raw emotions that DSOTL evokes, but I hope there's a little something in there which suggests I learned something.

Dark Side of the Lens



Hardwood

Friday, 6 August 2010

Scenes from Sichuan

I recently completed a short about Western Sichuan in China. The film is a series of short pieces I filmed whilst traveling through the region. On the whole I am quite happy with the film. There's a few glaring issues, such as changes in exposure during shots, camera shake and also I am sure that zooming with a manual lens is just not possible for smooth shots. But overall I feel it captures a lot of my experience in the area.

The scenes are taken from Serxu, Xiewu, Dege and Tagong. You'll notice the film also shows the local Tibetan people cleaning caterpillars. The caterpillars are known locally as Yartsa Gunbu or "summer grass winter worm". They caterpillars crawl into the roots of plants in the surrounding hillsides to die as they are then consumed inside out by a fungus. The fungus is said to have unique healing properties and is prescribed in traditional medicine to cure cancer. Yartsa Gunbu now represent the fastest growing economy in the region, valued weight for weight with gold.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Islamabad - Pakistan - The end of the road

From and including: Monday, 19 October 2009
To and including: Tuesday, 20 July 2010

It is 275 days from the start date to the end date, end date included

Or 9 months, 2 days including the end date

Alternative time units

275 days can be converted to one of these units:
  • 23,760,000 seconds
  • 396,000 minutes
  • 6600 hours
  • 39 weeks (rounded down)

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Nangpa Parbat and Fairy Meadows

July 3rd-5th.
The mountaineering history of Nanga Parbat begins in 1895. A British Expedition led by A.F. Mummery attempt the Southern and Western slopes. Mummery and his two Gurkha companions were never seen again and are thought to have perished in an avalanche.
















The huge Nanga Parbat Raikot face. 8126m

In 1932, 37-years on a German-American party under Willy Merkl's leadership approached the mountain from the North. At 23,000 the push for the summit ended as bad weather closed in.

Merkl returned in 1934. Alfred Drexel died early in the expedition, at the time it was presumed
to be pneumonia, but now it is believed more likely pulmonary edema. The expedition would end in more tragedy as the remaining mountaineers would perish high on the mountain in a ferocious storm. It has been said that the disaster "for sheer protracted agony, has no parallel in climbing anals."

Another German expedition followed Merkl's route in 1937, led by Karl Wien. 7-Germans and 9-Sherpas, almost the entire team, were at Camp IV below Raikot Peak when it was overwhelmed by an avalanche. 16-men died instantly in what remain the worst single distaster to occur on an 8000m peak.

Heinrich Harrer, famous for his travels in Tibet, explored the Diamir Face to find an easier route. His small group concluded there was a viable route. But he was later interned in India as the Second World War broke out.

Finally on July 3rd, 1953 Austrian climber Hermann Buhl as part of a Austrian-German team successfully summited Nanga Parbat. Buhl heroically pushed for the summit despite his teammates had turned back. During his retreat he was caught by darkness and was forced to bivouac standing upright on a narrow ledge, holding a small hold with one hand. Buhl remains the only the only man to have made a first accent of an 8000m peak alone.

Our own journey to Nanga Parbat started with a long ride down the Karakoram Highway from Gilgit. The road is in a terrible condition currently and the cramped conditions at the back of the public bus were not much better. Despite our extended protestations we were lumped in the worse seats. Fortunately Stacey and myself had some interesting company. The Pakistani locals are all so friendly and hospitable it wasn't long before we were chatting away. Exchanging English for Urdu words and having a good old laugh about how Stacey as my "wife" was actually older than me by one-year.We arrived at the imposing Raikot Bridge to find all the jeep rides up the dirt road to Jhel hugely overpriced. Its a long walk up a steep gorge, and the sun was belting down into the melting pot of the valley. But at 5000Rs return the options were limited.

We set off. The start of the walk was incredibly hot and I had my doubts. After 30-minutes a jeep on route down the road pulled up and an Australian called Carlos was impressed if not a little bemused by our plan to walk. "Its 15km up and it just goes and goes" he rattled in his Aussie accent. We explain that we know, but stubbornly explain we won't pay the exorbitant fee to the jeep drivers. "arrrh your pommes" he exclaims and then proceeds to hand over several litres of water and wish us luck for getting there before nightfall.

The march continues through a beautiful gorge. Incredibly steep and unforgiving, I wonder how people have managed to build a road in this impossible environment. As we turned into the gorge its after 5pm and although the sun is now off our backs and we have the pleasure of cooling temperatures our new problem is time. The walk is beautiful and although its a little tough going, climbing 1250m from the road to Jhel, we enjoy it. But in the back of my mind all I can recall is the Lonely Planet guide stating travel in the dark of night is strongly discouraged.

As the light fades and our legs start to grow weary we spot some lights high up in the valley, at last I exclaim my relief at reaching our stop for the night. But as we arrive in the village, 3-local men exclaim that we are still hour and a half from Jhel. We politely decline their guiding services and continue to march with more verve and determination than before. Its dark and theres a sense among both of us, though never spoken, that we should not be walking by headtorch in the mountains of Pakistan. Alas 40-mins later we arrive at the roads end. Initally looking out over the river and onto a small wooden bridge, I become disheartened and worried we are heading into the bush. But a light appears on the other side of the river and we soon realise that its the guesthouse owner. He makes us chai, some delicious pasta and we turn in for the evening in a cosy wooden hut with blankets for bedding and candles for light. Its been a hard day, but very enjoyable.

The following morning we cruise up the trail to Fairy Meadows. Fairy Meadows is a grassy clearing surounded by pine and birch trees at 3300m. Named by Merkl's expedition in 1932 and known locally as Pungadori, translated as 'The tousled beard', after the inordinately long beard of a shepherd who once in times past here tended his sheep. It a beautiful spot, if not a little tarnished by the hordes of tourists that now frequent. We settle in for the day in yet another cosy wood cabin at Raikot Serai and watch the glorious face of Nanga Parbat in awe.
















The beautiful glacier

Nanga Parbat is the 9th-highest mountain on Earth, standing 8126m high. Its name translates as "Naked Mountain". Its know as killer mountain for its deadly record of climbing related deaths. The mountain has an awesome vertical relief over local terrain in all directions.

On day 2 we enjoy breakfast on the lawn watching the face for avalanches. Were not disapointed as a rather large cloud of snow and ice tumbles down the face. Later we walk amongst the beautiful pine woodlands dotted with colorful flowers and small streams on route to view point 1. Looking onto the glacier and listening to the sounds of its steady march down the valley, I get the usual spine tingling reaffirmation that I usually get in the face of the awesome power of nature. What a marvelously terrifying spectacle it is!
















A huge avalanche roars down the face

Friday, 25 June 2010

Turpan to Kashgar

21st-22nd June 2010
Leaving Turpan for Urumqi seemed like a logical option. The closest station to the depression is 45-mins away in Daheyan and my new English companion Alec, from Oxford had seemed confident we could get a train in Urumqi. But our presumption that we could find a sleeper train for the epic across the Taklamakan desert would soon prove very far of themark. On that same Monday it would transpire that most of China's students were traveling home for holidays and in the process booking up every sleeper berth for the nest 2-days. Indeed the only available option for Kashgar in the next 24-hours, was a hard-seat at 10am the following morning.

Our options seemed limited. Alec had a return flight to the UK on the 29th and I felt increasingly homesick and keen to cross the Chinese border to start my last month traveling in Pakistan. Having discussed out options with a friendly security guard at a local hotel, we found a train leaving that evening. It was going down the same line to a smallish city called Asku, 6-8hours from Kashgar. It wasn't perfect but it would leave us closer and with better options for traveling the following morning onto Kashgar.

Short on cash, we had no option but to find a bank before buying our tickets. An hour later, fate would deal us a second shitty hand as we stood in the queue watching the final 2-hard seats disappear on the screen before our very eyes. These were the facts- we would be on the reserve list, for a hard-seat on the worst standard of train in China and for 18-long hours across a desert. It was going to get worse, but I didn't know it yet!

Alec still nursing a terrible bottle of wine, he had bought in Turpan at some cheap restaurant we heading into a nearby restaurant to pass the 2-hours before our train. The food was terrible- the worst oily, indiscriminate slop I had encountered in China yet! Alec had taken a gamble on a BBQ from the street outside and the chef had laid out before him sheep testicles. It was amusing at the time, but we boarded our train hungry tired and dehydrated.
















Alec's gamble didn't pay off!

Steeping onto the train it became clear we were in for an unpleasant time. It was the worst standard of train in China. Some throw back carriage from Russia, maybe 40-years or more old. The seats were hard, red-brown leather. Small fans in the roof provided the "air conditioning" and the toilets were the kind of filthy hole you wince at the prospect of using! Only the poorest section of China's North-West took this ride- forced to take the cheapest option available despite the clearly terrible conditions for an 18-hour journey. Mainly Uighers and other ethnic minorities.

The final card fate would deal arrived at 1am. The sneaking suspicions of this hand had arrived in the restaurant outside the station in Urumqi and finally 3-hours later I found myself hunched over "the worst train toilet in China" throwing my guts up. For the next 8-hours I would become well acquainted with this terrible 4-square feet of mess, vomiting and shitting every last bit of my insides out. I still cant be sure what the problem was. Stumbling back out of the toilets, to my seat I would usually find an Uigher or some other ethnic looking man perched on the terribly uncomfortable 2-feet of seat I had previously occupied. Usually they would give the seat up. But eventually the lines between one persons space and another became blurred, each person searching desperately for some comfortable way to pass the endless hours until Asku. As a group of young Chinese teenagers played aloud some terrible mix of cheesy European pop and even worse Asian equivalents, I curled up amongst the labyrinth of dirty feet on a dusty hard train floor and tried desperately to get a few hours of sleep relief from my sickness.

18-hours later, thrashed and devoid of anything at all human we arrived at Asku. I had actually felt close to death in the morning of that day, but it was now late afternoon and having emptied me of what felt like my soul, the sickness had finally subsided. We booked our tickets for Kashgar leaving the following morning at 5.30am and made our way to a hotel to recover over our short stay. The evening and morning following passed without incident and we finally arrived at the Old Town Youth Hostel in Kashgar at noon on the 22nd June.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Kashgar

22nd-24th June
Our arrival in Kashgar was marked by considerable relief. It had been a long and at times harrowing journey. The Old Town Youth Hostel was perfect. Immediately we had immersed ourselves in a community of travelers and the welcoming hosts provided information and maps- it was all too easy!

Kashgar is a dusty, bustling desert metropolis. It's population is largely Muslim Uigher, with other ethnic minorities and traveling tradesmen in the mix. The difference from Eastern China is striking. Kashgar- like much of Xinjiang feels like it belongs Geographically to the 'Stan' regions more than China.
Walking amongst the Old Town the small streets are lined with dusty primitive housing and buildings. The bazaar and the residential area are one, forming a patchwork of residential and trade buildings. The market is a mix of flat bread and bagel stores, kebab houses, dairy and yogurt outlets, lines of hat stores and stockists of traditional musical instruments. Its an exciting and vibrant place and you can lose yourself for hours wondering the many backstreets and alleys.
















A traditional tandoor burner for heating water

One of the most striking and saddening sights is the destruction of the Old Town. Large dusty brown plots o land have been cleared, waiting for new Chinese housing and shops to land. It seems nothing in China escapes the Chinese 'communist facelift'. Although it can be said that in some parts the attempt is to replace the old with something more 'authentic' and in keep with the Muslim style, the drab concrete mass infecting the rest of China is still evident. On the whole the vision is more likely wide of the mark and in future its likely, I would estimate, that the Old Town will only remain in a small pocket which will attach a hefty charge for passing through.
















The destruction of the old town

Speaking to a few locals it was clear the process was a painful and unpleasant one for the Uighers inhabiting. Many losing businesses and homes, seemingly without any compensation or after thought for the peoples well-being and future.

Wondering through the Old Town and across the river its possible to visit the markets of Kashgar. The experience wasn't quite the explosion of people and vibrant original stands I had expected. Perhaps my vision is more fitting to those found in the North of Africa, such as Morocco or perhaps in more Central Asia parts. But somehow the Markets really didn't excite me, and satire the scene envisioned.

All in Kashgar was a great experience, unique in many ways to anywhere else in China. The culture shock is pleasantly exciting and really I felt more at home here than anywhere in China. If the Old Town can preserve some authenticity and along with it its people some strong tradition, there will be continue to be plenty to offer in Kashgar.

Stay
Kashgar Old Town Youth Hostel
09982823262
xj-echo@163.com
Welcoming and informative hosts, with great location for exploring the Old Town.
35¥

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Dunhuang

Dunhuang
16th-17th June 2010

Located in Gansu province, Dunhuang was a major stop on the Silk Road. Located in a rich oasis containing Crescent Lake and Mingsha Shan- a sand dune mountain. Dunhuang is known as the 'City of the Sands'. It was likely established around 104 BCE.

Geographically speaking Dunhuang has strategic importance in both a military and communication regard, although its importance has wained over time. It is is the major crossroads of the ancient Southern Silk Road, leading to Lhasa, Mongolia and Southern Siberia. It is also the entrance to the Hexi Corridor.

After a 5-hour sticky coach journey through the desert, my arrival at the oasis of Dunhuang was a welcomed sight. Having only an outdated Lonely Planet guide, my knowledge of the cheap digs in town were clearly outdated- the first sure sign of this was the bus station had since print, moved all the way across town. But I still had the Chinese in tow and Rachel and Andy soon found a free taxi to the Feitian Binguan. Sadly the hotel was no longer 30Y (no surprises here). But we got a triple room for 180Y. This is still out of my budget, but it was pretty hot and I am feeling tired of late. The prospect of air conditioning and a good shower was too much to turn down!

After the shower I walked most of the major areas in town. As it was dragon boat festival, the river was alive with people. There was some traditional music being played, at the centre of which was a female vocalist. It was a very involved performance, indeed she had the serious look of a professional, but the quality didn't match. Still the locals seemed to be enjoying it! The river, meanwhile was filled with boats.

Wondering through Dunhuang you soon realise its whole industry is geared for tourism. The streets are vibrant and busy. Walking among the back streets its not hard to find the highlight. The night market is rich with handicrafts and an array of dried fruits and fresh vegetables. The smell of BBQ and rich spices, used by the muslim chefs, fills your nostrils. Lamb is the speciality here- its no secret the BBQs regularly have a Lamb skull adorning the hot grill!

Dunhuang does have something about it. Much as the bright neon lights, endemic across the city threaten to push it over the threshold. It stands firm. The quality of the Mogao Caves and the natural beauty and mystery of the sand dunes nearby, balance the Dunhuang equation.

The caves are quite remarkable. Set into the side of a sand dune. The vaults of time stand side by side for a few hundred meters. Each caves numbered and its contents meticulously studied and recorded. Its understood that Buddist Monks arrived in Dunhuang via the Northern Silk Road, which connected eventually with Kashgar. Over centuries the monks collected scriptures from the West and passing pilgrims painted murals inside the Mongao Caves or 'Caves of a Thousand Buddhas'.

The beautifully intricate murals are considered the finest examples of Buddist art, spanning over 1,000-years. Its believed the first caves were excavated in 366 AD as a place for worship and meditation. In total the murals cover 450,000 Sq.ft.

Later in the afternoon, as the summer sun sets below the horizon its possible to visit the dunes- any earlier and the scorching sun and fierce temperatures make movement out of the shades a bind. From Charlie Jongh's Dune Guesthouse you can easily wonder along the fence to its end and enjoy sunset over the dunes with a beer for free. Although distant, its also possible to make out the Cresent Moon lake and its surrounding buildings from a higher vantage point. The dunes are beautiful and well worth a visit.

Stay.
Charlie Jongh's Dune Guesthouse
Dorm. 30Y
Free internet and good facilities make this a sure fire winner. Its location is a little out of the way. A 20-min steady bike ride or a short bus/ taxi make light of the distance. But its a quite and secluded spot just by the dunes, away from the hustle and bustle and the neon lights of Dunhuang.

Jiayuguan and Yumen

Jiayuguan 15-16th June
Arriving in The Gansu province was an exciting experience. Jiayuguan is a small town at the narrowest point of the Hexi Corridor, forming a pass and the western-most point of the Great Wall of China.

As the comfortable overnight sleeper train rolled into the station, all around as far as the eye could see was desert. To the east the sun was beautifully rising over the Gobi Desert, marking the start of a new day. In the south-west the harsh ranges of the Qilian Mountains rose sharply out of the desert peaking 4000-meters up with a snowy cap. The landscape to the east and west of the train seemed to be clearly different. Towards the mountains of the south-west the landscape was green. I figure the falling snows and the ultimate thaw from the mountains above were the source of this sharply contrasting vista. Off to the east the endless Gobi desert.

Arriving in Jiayuguan I was eager to view the fort in the morning light and coolness. But carry 25-kilos round a steep fort in the middle of a desert just isn't going to be fun. Trouble is Jiayuguan doesn't have a cheap room- anywhere! After an hour searching and finding 80¥ to be the best I was ready to leave my bag at the bus station, purchase a ticket for Dunhuang and make the most of 5-hours in Jiayuguan before the bus left.

From my right a small slight young Chinese girl politely asked "can I help?". Since I have been traveling in China I have met a number of very helpful Chinese people. Who have so much concern for your welfare. Most find the fact I cannot string more than a few words of Chinese together and my unwillingness to spend more than a few ¥ on anything 'unnecessary' to be a sign I could do with some care and attention. Which can be a little embarrassing, but also it's nice and in many ways more polite to allow them to help you in their country.

5-minutes with my new acquaintance, Rachel and I was buying a bus ticket to travel to nearby Yumen with her boyfriend Andy to stay with her parents for the evening. It was a really nice day ahead. I met the parents, made polite conversation with Andy about football. We ate a delicious home cooked meal. They insisted I had a nap and then a couple of hours later we went for a walk.

Turns out Yumen is the location of China's first oil well. We paid a visit to the very first. Set in a deep gorge with a river running through the narrow passage of the arid, crumbling brown earth walls. After dipping our feet in the cold mountain river and wondering for a while we made our way home.

That evening we had another tasty meal, soup noodles and the remains of the afternoon feast. Then we went to look around the town market, bought some beers and crisps and returned to Rachel's to settle in for the evening in front of the world cup. One fine day!

In the morning me and Andy set out for Jiayuguan. Rachel opted to stay with her mother for the morning as she had not been home in some years. Jiayuguan fort is a quite incredible structure. It has all the hallmarks of Chinese history one can hope for. The pass is constructed of three concentric layers: the central area of the inner city, an outer city section and finally a moat. It is 733-meters long and stands an imposing 11-meters high. At each corner of the pass a turret stands to defend the wall.
















Walking along the Walls and looking out into the unforgiving desert surrounding, you really get the sense of power and command. The fort had a fearsome reputation as the last outpost of China proper, before the oblivion of the deserts of the far west beyond. The sense of isolation and hopelessness weighing heavily on those exiled- poets, artists and criminals- ordered to leave through the gates of this fort into the lawless lands of the deserted west is really apparent.

The wall was built during the early Ming dynasty around 1372. Legend surrounds the construction and recounts the meticulous planning of the pass. According to legend, when asked to estimate the number of bricks required, the designer gave him an exact number. The official questioned his judgment, so the designer added one brick to his calculations, which was never needed and was placed on the gates after construction was complete. Over the west tower gate a plaque hangs, the characters read "The Greatest Pass under Heaven".
















After a couple of hours Rachel joined us. I hoped in a taxi for the overhanging wall and left them. The overhanging wall is around 10-mins and 12¥ East of the the fort. Passing through the Gobi Desert and into the black Hei Shan Mountains. It's certainly worthy of the journey. It is everything you expect the great wall to be. Huge, imposing, incredibly long and very steep in parts. As you trace the line of the wall along the contours of the mountains surrounding it's hard to believe that such a structure was built 5000-years ago- especially when you consider how much more extensive it was in that age. China is a remarkable empire and the great wall is the pinacle!


Monday, 14 June 2010

Tagong

Tagong 6th-10th June 2010
Immediately when I arrived in Tagong I had the sense that I had finally arrived in an authentic Tibetan town. The look and feel of Tagong is truely Tibetan. Monks and traditionally dressed Tibetans wonder the lively streets. Lined by numerous eateries and cheap clothing/ jewellery stores- it's the perfect place to pick up a Tibetan piece or two.

What Tagong has also got is Angela and her Khampa Arts Cafe. Angela is an American national who has married into a Tibetan family. Quite unique, if not the only American-Tibetan marriage in the land!? And Angela brings a spot of something unique to Tagong. Her cafe- initially setup to distribute and sell Tibetan art works- now functions as a resturant and cafe hang out. Like the Tibetan jewellery and clothing on sale here the menu is authentic. Grab yourself a Yak burger or some Tsampa, a butter tea or a coffee- it's all there!

What Angela is also providing is the chance to experience a taste of a local Tibetan family life. Via her extended family it's possible to take a 1-2 day horse trek into the surrounding hills and stay with Angelas brother or mother in law. I enjoyed staying with Joyga and his family immensely. The house is small, but the Tibetan people have huge welcomming hearts. By western gauges looking around the hut it appears initally that these people have very little. Filth is but yet there life endemic, the children have a healthy layer of grime upon their bonny little faces. But these people are so rich and happy- in reality they have alot. They understand the land and how to live with it harmoniously- a trait largely missing in modern society.

The homestay is a 2-3hr walk up the valley. The accomodation is very basic- be prepaired to sleep on thick blankets on the floor. The horse trek is 5-6 hours eqch day and ia quite exhausting. But your surrounded by Yaks amongst the great plains and hills of Tibet. It's truely wonderful!



Stay- Jya Drolma and Gayla's Guesthouse
Beautifully decorated Tibetan family home. You feel like you hit
jackpot when you walk through the door.
Left off the town square.
20¥ night

Zhongdian > Xiangcheng > Litang

I left Zhongdian at 7.30 for Xiangcheng. The bus was cramped and uncomfortable. Naturally I was perched right at the back, where the going is pretty rough. But its all part of the experience- the magical landscapes that unfolded throughout the day more than make up for it! The mountains that we drove up and down for the next 14-hours were stunning. Rolling hills into mountain peaks, with roads winding there way through, up and around them to over 4,000-meters.

The bus to Xiangcheng arrived around 3pm. But Xiangcheng is not a pretty place. It seems to be a cog in the Chinese Industrial empire and all around there are mines, hydroelectric schemes and locals working materials. Having met the French contingent on the bus, the 5 of us hoped in a taxi with a girl from Hong Kong and a local.

Xiangcheng to Litang is a further 5-6hours. The first 3rd of which was very comfortable. But we stopped in Sang Dui, where our driver deposited us into smaller 4-WD vehicle. We didn't mind so much and after inspecting the locals and likewise being inspected, we left the town and headed north into an epic boulder field.

The boulder field was huge. It must have gone on for 20-30km. Fortunately we got a short stop and it gave me the chance to run around for 10-mins and scramble up a few of the granite pieces laying around. Again the landscape was thrilling throughout. We arrived in Litang a little exhausted, 14-hours of travelling!

We tucked into some local food, consisting of potato and yak dumplings, yak steak, egg fried-rice, Tsampa and naturally some green tea. Although it was dark it was pretty clear that we had moved into more remote regions. The Han-population was barely noted, instead Tibetans populate the one main road running through town.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Zhongdian

I spent two full days in Zhongdian. It's a pleasant place. But to my surprise it's really more of a city containing an old town sector. On arrival in the North side bus station the breeze-block-cement revolution of China is clear to see. Taking the 1¥, 1, 2 or 3 bus down the main street toward the Old town in the south, the size of the place is evident- 120,000 people live here now and immediately I was a little disappointed.

Despite this, the first thing that struck me about the old town is how empty and devoid of tourists it is. For all the efforts of the locals who have setup nearly every building to sell "rare" Tibetan trinkets and also notably the name change- Zhongdian became Shangrila- the boom that has struck neighbouring Dali and Lijiang has yet to arrive here and the streets feel like a ghost town in waiting.

All the same the old town does retain some charm. The cobbled streets are lined with wooden houses, with a few traditionally built Tibetan buildings on display. Roughly off the back of the old town is the monastery which sits proudly over the maze of cobbled streets. Its certainly worth a visit and is probably the best bit of the old town.

Tibetan Temple, Old Town

Aside from this you can visit the Shangzelin Monastery. At 85¥ its a little steep. But apparently you can walk through the ticket area quite easily, from there its a 10-min walk up to the monastery. Sadly I only saw it from a distance. But the building looks amazing and it seems to be enclosed within its own little town.

Over my two days here, I have come to the conclusion that the best bits of this and future towns I visit will be in the surrounding landscape which is nothing short of phenomenal. On the second day we took a ride to the Napa Lake, which sadly costs 30¥ per person to visit. This seemed like a totally unreasonable fee and we decided better of it. But on the 10km walk back the environ really struck me. The plaines are so vast, the colours so rich and earthy, yak and horses roam the plains, Gompa's top the hills and the clouds- reminiscent of a wild west film really set the scene. I felt truly content on that walk!

Where I stayed:
Kevin's Trekkers Inn, Dorm 25¥
Run by Kevin and his wife, who speak excellent English and can provide lots of information about the area. With a good choice of coffee, some tasty food and free Wi-Fi. Highly recommended.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Leaving Yangshuo

Today I left Yangshuo. Arriving on the 26th March, my stay is a day
short of 9-weeks. Yangshuo has been good to me. The climbing has been
excellent. White Mountain will certainly rank high on the top 5 crags
worldwide list for sometime. While the elusive Lei Pi Shan pump fest
route, Singularity will no doubt burn a hole in my memory for some
months to come. But then nobody leaves a crag with a full tick list-
You just have to remember not to be too precious about these things!
And Yangshuo marks a huge step forward in my steady 6b/c grade, 7b
onsight and 7b+ worked.

But Yangshuo was a lot more than climbing. In my time here myself and
Stacey propped up the ChinaClimb bar, The Lizard Lounge. It was really
a perfect setup- a couple of shifts a week, in return for accommodation
and a paycheck which allowed us to live sustainably. The people of
ChinaClimb were good to us, we have some good friends here now and I
will always feel I have a little place I could call home in this huge
country. Big up China Climb!!!

Of course Yangshuo is not short of good places to eat and drink. In
our time here we developed a little circuit of favorite places to eat
and drink.

On an average climbing day, Gan's Noodles was our first regular. Their
Lanzhuo Style Noodles and Jiaozi (steamed dumplings) are off the hook!
Next up has to be our little obsession with Mamba Milk Tea from the
Ice House. Ask any western person residing in Yangshuo and they all
know 'The Claypot', strange since everybody actually means the place
next door called, 'Earthenware pot'. Regardless the selection of tasty-
fine rice bowls with selected toppings is a sure-fire hit. My
favorite, Eggplant, Potatoes and Green Peppers- 8Kwai- boom! Breakfast
should be spelt 'MC Blues'. As a place to meet friends pre-climbing
and feast first it's hard to beat, "Ba Kwai Omellete Xie Xie"!

We had a number of other places which made up our rest day circuit.
For lunch the noodles behind the Ice House, just down the road from
McDonald's. A serving consists of noodles, peanuts, cabbage, fried
crispy tofu and a protein rich fried egg, served up in a tasty spicy
soup- unquestionably my favorite dish in Yangshuo, 5¥. if your looking
to burn a few hours watching a movie, cruising free wi-fi, writing your
diary or brushing up on your mandarin, Mimosa or Yangshuo 11 Hotel
near Monkey Janes is the spot.

And finally where does one drink!? Pick of the bunch has to be Monkey
Janes. It's mix of rooftop location, 'Beer Pong', suitably loud
popular rock music and the occasional DnB or breaks track make it a
firm favorite. We also had a few drinks, a game of pool and a
Wednesday night quiz at Bar 98.

All in the mix of world class climbing, breathtaking and unique
landscapes, tasty food and a solid community of good people and
climbers makes Yangshuo a very sound destination. I look forward to
returning. 2011!??

Monday, 24 May 2010

Longshen Rice Terraces

23rd-24th May- Yangshuo to Longshen Rice Terraces

The journey to Longsheng got off to a late start, rising at 9.30
instead of 6.30 put us a few hours behind. But it wasn't long before
we were on our way and the morning sun greeted us through the glorious
rich blue atmosphere above us- the odd few White fluffy clouds and
stratus striations so uncommon in Yangshuo in Spring stayed with us
for the remainder of our 2-day excursion.

The journey is quite painless. 15Y to Guilin- 1.5Hr- Regular. 27Y to
Longshen- 2Hr. And finally hop on a bus to either Ping'an or Dazhai.
We opted for the latter as its smaller and far less setup for tourism.

The landscape undergoes a marked change as you approach Longshen. The
sharp rugged karsts give way to rolling hills with lush green bamboo
forrests and plantations covering the sides. Our road cuts through the
landscape with the only other variation being the terraced hill sides
which appear at irregular intervals. A hint of what I am expecting to
view in abundance further up the road.

Dazhai doesn't dissapoint and having wondered up the paths through the
heart of the terraces we find a spot for lunch overlooking vast
surrounding valleys, dotted with farmers diligently tending their
terraces. Dazhai is empty, but it seems setup in anticipation of the
volume of tourists we later encounter at Ping'an, but the fact is when
we passed through we were the only western people in sight.






The terraced valleys are awe inspiring. Its hard to comprehend the man-
power involved in building and maintaining the land. From the Dazhai
side of the rice terraces there are 3 viewing areas. You can walk to
each from the main village in 1.5hrs and between them in less.

Accomodation options are plentiful. That evening we took a bed in
Tiantou village, perched high up in the terraces overlooking Dazhai.
Rooms could be cheaper, we paid 60¥ for a double with bathroom.

The following day we made an early start and walked 30-mins up hill to
watch the sunrise at viewing post 1. You cannot view the sun from it's
low point on the horizon due to surrounding hills. None-the-less the
crisp morning light and orange glow on the hill side to the east is
worth it. The reflections in the terrace water are magical!



We then spent a leisurely morning on our guesthouse terrace reading. I
finshed Philip Pullmans, 'His Dark Materials' trilogy. Which I must
highly recommend to all, Lyra and Wills journey through the three
books is as epic as the scale of the terraces which surrounded me. The
hike from Dazhai to Ping'an is highly recommend. With an early start
you can complete the journey at a comfortable pace with plenty of time
to try to absorb the scale of the landscape, interact with the local
minority people and explore the intricate alleys in the numerous small
villages you pass along the way.

After around 4-5hours you arrive at the upper crest of the valley
surrounding Ping'an. From here there are a further 3-viewing stations.
Buy an ice cream and sit high on the valleyside watching the farmers
work the land before descending down the steps into Ping'an. Here you
have he option to stay in one of the countless guesthouses or catch a
bus back to Longshen. Buses are not very regular so we waited a little
over an hour with a few beers and discussed the days events.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Piling on the pounds in Yangshuo

It's May 11th and I've now been in Yangshuo since late March. 7-weeks ago when I arrived I was weak as a kitten, still recovering from the ugly affair of malaria in India. Hampi had sucked me dry. At the time of my arrival in Hong Kong on the 13th March I weighed 63kilos. At 6ft you can imagine the scrawny wreck that I appeared of the plane in Norman Fosters Hong Kong International Airport. Hong Kong was a welcomed return to order, familiar urban planning and some ease on my fear of the airborne malarial vermin mosquito's of India.

7-weeks later and I weight a more respectable 69kilos, I have a rather long beard and I generally cut a more healthy figure. My tick list is growing and the inspiration for this post was indeed my first 7b send. It feels like my grades are starting to shift in the right direction, after some considerable frustration in Hampi.

Climbs of particular note include Todd Skinners nameless 7b at Banyan Tree. I enjoyed the route immensely, achieving for perhaps only the second time whilst in China a state of relative calm and fluidity on the rock. I can't be sure what to call this state of mind, but its safe to say the feeling is similar to a trance. The moment of concentration and focus is so intense and single minded. By the time you reach the top, its hard to say exactly what happened at which point, but there's a sense that everything was controlled and perfectly executed within the comforts deep, controlled breaths. Its the feeling I enjoy most from climbing.

Another favorite was Devil Sticks, 7a+/b. The sequence of moves on this route were significantly more difficult than anything I found on the Skinners route. A relatively easy lower section with some long moves, leads to the crux. A series of small pinches along a rail, which you layback from sees you establish your feet before moving for the final hold a satisfyingly large finger pocket. The moves require alot of body tension and finger strength and as a result are quite energy sapping. The remained of the route is fairly steady, but quite pumpy. A great route. At the time my hardest send.

Yangshuo really is a great place. The landscape is something other worldly. Quite unique, but at the same time so expansive. I'm told there are some 200,000 karsts in China alone. Which isn't hard to believe, just try counting the number in one photo. But all this means huge amounts of development opportunities remain here. I hope to be bolting some new routes as part of my work for China Climb. More on this later.

Current favorite crags have to be Lei Pi Shan and White Mountain. All my current projects are here. Singularity at 7a+ is a tough route in the middle of Lei Pi Shans overhanging crag. Its difficult and sustained right from the start. The crux, which I have now moved through is a series of bad and awkward holds moving onto a flake which can be gastoned or undercut to establish on good jugs. The route remains sustained throughout though and climbing then becomes engaged in a tufa system. Resting on a superb knee bar at the start of the system, you then move left traversing across and up the tufa to make an awkward clip before reaching into the bowels of the tufa and manteling to the top out aorund the left. Its scary as hell and thus far remains on my wishlist.

White Mountain has a whole host of goodies. The crag resembles the large limestone face of Ceuse. A mix of grey, blue, orange rock, peppered with glorious features and pockets its a dream crag. At some 60-meters high and 200-meters long, the crag has much to offer climbers across the grade, 14 x 6s, 18 x 7s and 6 x 8s including Chris Sharma's testpiece Spicy Noodle at 9a+. Current projects include the powerful Yangshuo Hotel (7b) and I have one eye on The Pheonix (7b+).

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Urban Wall Jam - The Forum Sheffield - 10th December 2007

The Wall Jam hosted some top Graffiti Artists to paint a mural in the City Centre. The event was realized to make creative use of an adjacent redevelopment site, allowing a temporary public display of Graffiti art in a central location and also raising awareness of Graffiti as an art form.


The Wall Jam attracted a large amount of media interest, from student journalists, local newspapers and radio stations and the BBC. Images of the event , taken by myself can be viewed below and a link to the BBC story is also available here.



Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Monday, 12 February 2007

Ben Westbeech. TTC. EPK

The film was produced on behalf of Brownswood Records. The home of Ben Westbeech. Its a live performance from the reputable Tuesday Club in Sheffield.

I dubbed the film as the sound that evening was not so good and the mics did'nt help.

The video can also been seen on Youtube.


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Thursday, 14 December 2006

Pop Levi Tour

Pop Levi is a British musician, in principle a solo artist, taking his band name from his Jewish-English birth certificate. The band produce an exciting eclectic mix of rock infused electronica.

The following collection of images and short films were created while touring with the band through England.






































































































The photos are a selection from various tour dates, which includes a BBC Radio 6 broadcast with Mark Radcliffe. The radio 6 recording was a
little special that day, as it was the first live recording in the new Radio 6 studio.


The films meanwhile reflect the coll
ection of footage over the same period. 3 films can be viewed. The Electronic Press Kit, a live edition of Skip Ghetto and a live recording of Blue Honey at the XFM studios in London.




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The Tuesday Club - 12.12.06 - Aloe Blacc