The Black Forest

Baden Baden, Germany

Here’s a series of photographs from a trip Vic & I made to the Black Forest in early spring.

The journey down there was harrowing. On the Autobahn the slow lane is too slow, the middle lane is too fast, and the fast lane is ridiculous. It was all I could do to keep our tiny rental on the road as cars blew past us. Vic and I do not drive well together to begin with — she’ll insist I’m driving too fast and I’ll insist on ignoring her — so we were relieved when we’d made it to our destination.

A wind turbine in green fields seen beside the Autobahn on the way to Baden Baden Looking up at the church steeples of Bamberg Cathedral
Peering up at a stone clock tower in Bamberg. A jet and its contrails are seen overhead
A pastel-pink church clock tower spotted in Bamberg The old city hall in Bamberg: A tudor-style building sitting alone in the middle of two canals
Tudor cottages and their waterfront gardens along a canal in Bamberg. A black barge moored in front
Hanging branch of a Cherry Blossom tree in Bamberg 'Centurione 1', a sculpture by Igor Mitoraj, depicting a mans head with scalp absent. Seen along the canals of Bamberg
A street leading down to the canals of Bamberg An ironclad postbox painted yellow

Scenes from a brief diversion we made to the postcard town of Bamberg

We stayed in Baden Baden to visit the Friedrichsbad, an old roman bath from the 1800s. The experience was “traditionally german,” which of course meant we’d be naked the whole time. After stripping off in the changing rooms, we proceeded to the entrance where, to my horror, we were greeted by staff who still had their clothes on. I looked about frantically for reassurance that we were, in fact, meant to be naked already. None came. The attendant was unfazed and showed us through to the first chamber. I noted the presence of other naked people there with some relief.

We were cooked for 3 hours in a series of baths and saunas — pausing briefly to be massaged in between. I use the term “massage” here with some reservation. It was a vigorous all-over scraping with a coarse brush. “Punishment” might better describe it. It turns out 3 hours of relentless exposure is enough to convert even the most awkward of nudes. I was pretty comfortable with my own bareness by the end of it.

A grand, gold and silver church organ in Bamberg The green, oxidising iron dome of the Friedrichbad in Baden Baden. As seen from a hill nearby

At right: the iron dome of Friedrichbad, a bath built in the 1800s in response to public demand for nudity. Even the name of the town, Baden Baden, means "Bathing Bathing"

Besides the baths, we made a day trip into the Black Forest which was anything but black in the early spring. I’m a sucker for a good castle and Altes Schloß, an old ruin overlooking Baden Baden, was a classic. We took a long walk through the woods, spotting not much more than a field mouse. There was a decided lack of hooded bandits and swordsmen.

Altes Schloß, a castle ruin overlooking the Black Forest

Altes Schloss overlooking Baden Baden and the Black Forest beyond

A pathway leading around Altes Schloßinto the Black Forest. Lush green trees all around Vic disappearing out of the dungeons of Altes Schloß into the daylight

After settling on a strategy for how to weather the drive home without killing each other, we had a pleasant journey back. It’s been hard to escape Berlin during our time here so we were glad we’d made the effort to get out and see more of Germany.

East Coast Exploration

United States of America

Christmas came and went, and on either side of it there featured a survey of coastal New Zealand. For me to say its beaches are the finest in the world is biased, but to say anything else would be dishonest. They are a delight, and they’d be great for a visit, too, if not for the relentless sun beating down upon them. A sun whose rays scorch the country from head to toe, unhampered by ozone. It was on Waiheke, then, that Vic & I found ourselves soaking in perilous amounts of it. It was a calm scene: the ocean lapping gently at our feet, a bounty of snacks at our sides, yet I was uneasy. We were about to begin a journey through the North American east on our way to Berlin. At this time of year, the east coast resembled more of an arctic wasteland than a tourist destination. Winter, like an ozone layer, is not one of New Zealand’s features, fluctuating instead between mild and milder. I had no training for the bitter curtain of winter we were about to enter, much less a wardrobe for it (would I need my jandals?).

We arrived in New York and travelled west towards Ohio to attend a family birthday. On a tight deadline, our traversal inland allowed just a few nights stay in Philadelphia. Founded in 1682, Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities in the union, a title we saw was well deserved as we wandered through the historic quarters. Despite such an illustrious past, however, there was no mistaking it as a city that had fallen on spectacularly hard times — an aberration it had yet to recover from. Near the river sits Elfreth’s Alley: the nations oldest residential street. This street in particular seemed to me a suitable metaphor for the state of the union at large: several houses for sale, two boarded up, a third cordoned off from the public — a victim of foreclosure — and at the far end, a parking lot. As we caught a bus out of town, I reflected on the utopian summer we had left behind, concluding this grim outlook of mine had more to do with Waiheke than Philly.

The Benjamin Franklin Bridge looms over the Delaware river in Philadelphia
Graffiti near the Delaware river A busking saxophonist performs ballads in Philadelphia's city centre

"Love is who you are, ego is who you think you are" - words from a busking saxophonist on the streets of Philadelphia (above right).

Hard times in Philadelphia: A pier sits, derelict, on the Delaware river near the Benjamin Franklin Bridge
Signs point toward the Delaware river Famous for good reason: The Philly Cheese-steak in all its caloric glory
Coats hang among the autographs in Jim's Steaks — location of Philadelphia's best cheese-steak Dinner is served at the Shaffer household in Cincinnati

From the mysterious Amish couple that climbed aboard to the round of applause as we pulled into Popeye’s fried chicken & biscuits, the bus ride to Ohio was an exposé on American subculture. What was an otherwise palatable Greyhound experience began to splinter as we endured countless demands to disembark at each station, sometimes left for hours as an imaginary cleaning was performed on the bus. All hope of comfort was lost when a passenger’s rectal escapades rendered the air in the cabin unbreathable.

Having earned a doctorate in long-distance bus travel during my time in India, I was surprised that the American transit experience had been roundly beaten by the bare-boned bunk-bed buses of Indian infamy. 15 hours later we were dumped in Cincinnati, shells of our former selves.

The memorial tree of Jack Shaffer, 19212-2011, in French park, Cincinatti An old chevvy sits in the parking lot admist the trees in French Park, Cincinatti

A tree planted in memory of my Grandfather, Jack Shaffer, in French park, Cincinatti. Alone for three years, it now finds company in a neighbouring sappling planted for my Uncle, Mark Shaffer, whom passed away in 2014.

For me, Cincinnati is a place of great familial importance. It is where my mother and her family lived and where many of them remain today. Occasionally you’ll hear it referred to as “The Queen City of the West” which is a nickname earned at a time when, in the 1850s, it was the largest city west of the eastern seaboard. It also belongs to an area in the United States known as the “Midwest”, a confusing concept in that it is neither west nor particularly in the middle.

After a week of celebration in honour of my grandmother’s 90th birthday, we hired a car and made our way back east. The journey took us through Asheville, North Carolina, home to the palatial Biltmore estate. The ostentatious expanse of land surrounding the manor itself is the magnificent realisation of Frederick Olmsted’s vision. Olmsted was the famed landscape architect responsible for the layout of Central Park in New York City, among other municipal parks.

The Biltmore estate in Asheville. An enormous estate of some 8,000 acres (four of which are indoors), it was completed in 1895. Wikipedia refers to it as 'one of the most prominent remaining examples of the Gilded Age' and I would tend to agree

The Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina. It sits in a manicured estate of some 8,000 acres (the house alone boasting four). Wikipedia refers to it as 'one of the most prominent remaining examples of the Gilded Age' and I would tend to agree. The basement presides over a gargantuan 265,000-litre indoor swimming pool; impressive in scale but horrifying in that it had to be emptied and refilled after each use.

Heiress poses for her frontispiece in next month's Country Life Shadows cast by winter sun in the garden of the Biltmore estate
Shadows cast against one of the many pavements winding through the Bilmore estate Investigation of the greenhouses of the Biltmore
Resting infront of Bass pond, Biltmore, Asheville
Pottery by Parry in the River Arts district of Asheville

Asheville houses a small community of artists and musicians. The River Arts district serves as the epicentre of this movement, housing numerous walk-in workshops for pottery, glass and metalwork.

Doorways as art in the River Arts district of Asheville Doorways as art in the River Arts district of Asheville
Strong coffee in Bridgewater, Virginia. A pit stop on the way to Washington

After a night or two spent absorbing the small-town folk music in local bars, I was sad to be moving on from Asheville. Bellies filled with fried chicken and waffles, we departed thoroughly convinced of southern hospitality.

On the way to the capital city, a winding expanse of road opened up before us: the American interstate flew by at 80 miles an hour. We counted the endless procession of cheap hotels and fast-food chains as one might count sheep to fall asleep. Later, night fell and we began to rub necks with the crusade of eighteen-wheelers freighting goods across the nation, doing their bit for the invisible network that keeps the world running.

Our fuel supply began to dwindle so I pulled into a gas station somewhere in the backwaters of Virginia. The hour late and the pumps on prepay, I negotiated a $20 sale of petrol from the clerk. “That should get us a quarter-tank to reach tonight’s destination” I thought. It filled the tank, all 40 litres of it. Welcome to America.

NASA's Space Shuttle Discovery sits in the hall of the Udvar-Hazy Center — a recent addition to the National Air and Space museum in Washington, DC
Wide-angle shot of Space Shuttle Discovery in the Udvar-Hazy Center Close-up of the scars of re-entry on the exterior of Space Shuttle Discovery in the Udvar-Hazy Center

NASA's retired Space Shuttle Discovery sits in the hall of the Udvar-Hazy Center (a recent addition to the National Air and Space museum in Washington). Discovery was in active service for 27 years, ran 39 missions and spent almost a cumulative year in space before it was laid to rest in 2011. It carried over 250 astronauts into space safely as well as the Hubble space telescope. It is displayed as if it had just landed, the scars of re-entry clear to see across its exterior.

A missile to kill missiles: Lockheed Martin's Homing Overlay Experiment in the Udvar-Hazy Center

A missile to kill missiles: Lockheed Martin's Homing Overlay Experiment. Amid concerns of nuclear war in the 1980s, the US military funded the development of anti-missile technologies like this in the hopes that they would provide protection from intercontinental ballistic missile attacks.

An early version of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II at the Udvar-Hazy Center A beautifully restored logo for Pratt & Whitney jet engines at the Udvar-Hazy Center

On the left, the latest addition to the United States Air Force: The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. Next to it sits the engine that enables it to perform such strategic wizardry as VTOL (or "Vertical take-off and landing"). Owing to a steady increase in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, this fifth-generation fighter jet may be the last of a dying breed.

Nose section of the Enola Gay at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Nose section of the Enola Gay. This Boeing B-29 Superfortress was the aircraft used to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan during World War II.

The Smithsonian Institute has achieved for western history what Disney has done for entertainment. Through their efforts in Washington, DC, museums and monuments are found in such concentration that it was surprising not to find one under my pillow when we arrived. This is made all the more impressive when you learn that visitors can revel in the full extent of North American history without paying a single cent. It feels a little weird at first, to get something for free in the capital of capitalism, but sure enough you’re greeted at each museum by staff who seem both proud to share their nation’s past with you and glad you’ve taken an interest.

From slavery to civil rights, nuclear launches to moon landings, the record is laid out for all to see. It is, I think, a brave thing to own up to a past filled with suffering and struggle. For that, I came away with an appreciation for what the United States try to be.

Entrance to the Washington Metro
Quaint and colourful architecture in Georgetown, Washington Phallic & Phenominal: the Washington Monument at night
Abraham Lincoln Memorial, Washington: 'In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever'
The ceiling of the Capitol building dome in Washington, DC. Currently under renovations, only a small central area of the mural is visible through protective sheets

Looking up at the dome of the Capitol building in Washington. Curtains of protective cloth hang from the ceiling as restorative work is done on the dome itself.

A guard paces on duty before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery, Washington The memorial ampitheatre attached to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery, Washington

On the left, a guard is posted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery, Washington. Such tombs commemorate those soldiers who perished in battle but whose remains were never found or identified.

Tombstones amid snow in the Arlington Cemetery, Washington Tombstones amid snow in the Arlington Cemetery, Washington
The Iwo Jima Memorial near Arlington Cemetery, Washington

The Iwo Jima Memorial statue features the iconic raising of an American flag on Mount Suribachi during the second world war. The original photograph, taken by Joe Rosenthal in 1945, came to be one of the most recognisable images of the war in the United States.

We shared the conclusion of our American tour with a particularly despicable bout of winter in Brooklyn, New York. After a few days of perpetually cursing the cold, I almost felt guilty when the storage complex down our street burst into flames: an inferno lasting 3 days.

Speculation spread that a property developer had lit the fire deliberately in order to redevelop the land cheaply — a common practice in the area. Such is the explosive temper of property prices in Brooklyn: a frightening climate of increases where even a dilapidated pizza-hut lot can sell for twenty million dollars. It’s no secret that Auckland faces a crisis of unaffordable housing but in New York the situation is an obscenity.

Murals on the New York City High Line Vines creep up a wall along the High Line in New York City
Colourful window panels in the dim winter sunlight as seen along the High Line in New York City

Above: A collection of scenes from the High Line walkway in New York City.

Views of Manhattan from North 5th Street Pier park Vic poses under the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City
Stumbling back in time: A period piece was being shot in this neighborhood of Manhattan, the streets lined with classic cars

At work even in Retirement: A pair of classic yellow cabs form the backdrop for a period piece being filmed in Manhattan.

With our efforts focussed on exploring what was indoors rather than out, some of Vic’s friends took us to the famed Comedy Cellar for a night of stand-up. An institute of comedy in Manhattan, it is known to be frequented by comedians from Dave Chappelle to Jerry Seinfeld and has played an integral part of Louis CK’s television show “Louie”. As big fans of Louie, we half-hoped, half-joked he would turn up to perform. As we lined up to enter, we nervously eyed a stack of film equipment left on the street outside. This was New York, there was film equipment everywhere and, though we were hopeful, it offered no guarantee he’d be there. Ducking down the narrow staircase, we took our seats and crossed our fingers. It was then that a member of Louis’ film crew tapped us on the shoulder to let us know he’d be on halfway through the night.

As he took the stage, a roar of applause erupted from the audience. In response, he delivered the wickedly honest and deeply cynical stand-up that has characterised four seasons of “Louie” and 30 years of his career. Departing before anyone could have a say in the matter, he left us to appreciate the comedic genius we were fortunate to have witnessed first-hand. A grand note to conclude our journey through the states.

A cold and gloomy day spent inside the Brooklyn Roasting Company The historic Williamsburg Savings Bank building at night in Brooklyn, New York
The inevitable conclusion of minimalism at the MoMA Hand-poured wax at the MoMA
James Rosenquist, 'Spaghetti and Grass'
Water falls into the footprint of the second world trade center in the 9/11 memorial grounds

Water falls into the footprint of the second World Trade Center.

Homecoming

New Zealand

I had the great fortune of returning home for Christmas during one of the most incredible summers New Zealand has put on in years. I rejoiced in my return with a flurry of burgers, home-cooking and drinkable tap water, reflecting that there’s nothing quite like time away to remind you how good the people, places and burgers are in your own backyard.

A lone pohutukawa tree juts out precariously along the coastline of the Orokawa Bay near the beginning of the Waihi beach walk
Pohutukawa in blossom along the coastline of Orokawa Bay near the beginning of the Waihi beach walk Cliffs surround the beach at Waipatiki in Hawke's Bay

On the left and above, Pohutukawa trees bloom along Orokawa Bay near the beginning of the Waihi beach walk. To the right, cliffs surround the beach at Waipatiki in Hawke's Bay.

Sneaking photos in Auckland Art Gallery's incredible light show An exhibit (regrettably I forget the name) on the top floor of the Auckland Art Gallery

No photography allowed, but how can you resist when everything is so stunning? Vic & I break the rules at the Light show in Auckland's Art Gallery.

Goecha La

Goecha La, India

After arriving in Sikkim, I spent the first week of December hiking with a party of six into the Indian Himalayas. Our goal was Goecha La, a mountain pass some 5,000 metres above sea level, which leads to the base of the third highest mountain on the planet, Kanchendzonga. Even though we were aided and abetted by a hard-working crew of guides and porters the experience was incredibly strenuous.

Hiking at altitude is no joke; as the atmosphere began to thin, we found ourselves suffering for even the slightest physical exertion. Above 4,000 metres the effects became very apparent and, even with an approach of slow acclimatization, few of the party were able to avoid its impact. That there are people capable of hiking Everest (8,800 metres) without an oxygen supply to assist them is an achievement that has new meaning.

The Himalayas are a place of absolute magic, often with conditions in weather and landscape changing before your very eyes. This was a dreamland for photographers and explorers alike and I garnered an immense respect both for the enormity of the earth we live on and for those mountaineers brave enough to go out and chart it.

Camping in Tshoka after the first days hike. Tshoka, at 3,400 metres, is one of the last villages we passed through on the way up to the Goecha La pass. The buildings in the background are multifunction; they serve as kitchens, dining halls and quarters for the porters and chefs that accompany the many trekking groups in the region
Camping in Tshoka after the first days hike. Tshoka, at 3,400 metres, is one of the last villages we passed through on the way up to the Goecha La pass. The buildings in the background are multifunction; they serve as kitchens, dining halls and quarters for the porters and chefs that accompany the many trekking groups in the region.
More scenery in Tshoka, the first campsite on the way up The trail up to Goecha La is shared by hikers, yaks and sometimes horses. For a party of six, as many as five or six yaks are employed to cart goods up and down the mountain. While on the road, they provide a valuable source of nutrition in the form of milk each morning. A cup of yaks-milk tea becomes a surprisingly coveted luxury after 7 days hiking
The trail up to Goecha La is shared by hikers, yaks and sometimes horses. For a party of six, as many as five or six yaks are employed to cart goods up and down the mountain and this makes the walk a minefield of manure — some of which you can see in the right photograph above. While on the road, they provide a valuable source of nutrition in the form of milk each morning. A cup of yaks-milk tea becomes a surprisingly coveted luxury after 7 days hiking.
When they aren't inhabited by hikers, the buildings that litter each campsite up to the Himalayan ranges are often left wide open. Here, an opportune pony makes use of the shelter Breakfast is served; The food prepared for us by our support crew was invariably cause for awe. Pancakes, pies and even pizza were unveiled as the days progressed leaving us to wonder how they were capable of producing such delicacies with the meager box of supplies they'd brought up for consumption
Leaving Tshoka: A view of the village from above as we ascended toward Dzongri on the morning of day two
Some of the rather chilly facilities on offer in Tshoka The handsome face of Mount Pandim, a Himalayan peak of 6,691 metres. This photograph was taken from a viewpoint just outside of the Dzongri campsite. As a rule, viewpoints in the region are littered with a generous helping of tibetan flags which can be seen in the foreground
On the right: the handsome face of Mount Pandim, a Himalayan peak of 6,691 metres. This photograph was taken from a viewpoint just outside of the Dzongri campsite. As a rule, viewpoints in the region are littered with a generous helping of tibetan flags seen here in the foreground.
The view from Dzongri after a second day of hiking. The campsite borders on a wide, cloud-filled valley and, as we watched the sun set, it was remarkable to see clouds behave just as waves might against a shore: Lapping gently at the surrounding hills before receding into the jungle below
The view from Dzongri after a second day of hiking. The campsite borders on a wide, cloud-filled valley and, as we watched the sun set, it was remarkable to see clouds behave just as waves might against a shore: Lapping gently at the surrounding hills before receding into the jungle below.
Clouds sweep through Thangsing, the second highest campsite just shy of 4,000 metres above sea level On our way back down from the Goecha La pass we hiked through a series of rolling clouds. From minute to minute it would transition from a hot, sunlit afternoon to this murky affair
Yaks and hikers share quarters at Thangsing campsite. Humble and well-natured animals, the yaks employed by the porters along the Goecha La track are left to roam freely in the evenings Moonrise in Thangsing
On the left: yaks and hikers share quarters at Thangsing campsite. Humble and well-natured animals, the yaks employed by the porters along the Goecha La track are left to roam freely in the evenings.
Clouds sweep through the jungle somewhere between Tshoka and Dzongri The valley of clouds nearby Dzongri campsite
The last gasp of sunlight sets Mount Pandim ablaze on the evening of the third day. Important as a means of acclimatizing to the altitude, afternoon hikes to watch the sunset were also a chance to enjoy the last warmth of the day. Nights in the Himalayas are a bitterly cold experience
The last gasp of sunlight sets Mount Pandim ablaze on the evening of the third day. Important as a means of acclimatizing to the altitude, afternoon hikes to watch the sunset were also a chance to enjoy the last warmth of the day. Nights in the Himalayas are a bitterly cold experience.
Posing infront of Mount Pandim on the morning of the second day Justin, our Sikkimese guide, poses for a photograph at the first viewpoint on the way up to Goecha La pass. His last hike of the year, he looks forward to returning to his family and farm for the winter
The world's highest cricket match: On the fourth night we camped at Lamunay, the highest campsite of the trek at 4,200 metres. At this height, any physical activity becomes incredibly strenuous as the body struggles to oxygenate in the thinner atmosphere. Evidence of a cold night: River water frozen in terraces near Goecha La pass on the morning of the fifth and penultimate day
On the left: The world's highest cricket match: On the fourth night we camped at Lamunay, the highest campsite of the trek at 4,200 metres. At this height, any physical activity becomes incredibly strenuous as the body struggles to oxygenate in the thinner atmosphere.
View from the top: Kanchendzonga, the world's third highest mountain at 8,586 metres. We hiked four hours from Lamunay to get to the final lookout at 5,000 metres, an elevation gain of some 800 metres. While suffering from altitude sickness seemed to be a matter of chance, on the way down most everyone began to feel a hangover from the lack of oxygen
View from the top: Kanchendzonga, the world's third highest mountain at 8,586 metres. We hiked four hours from Lamunay to get to the final lookout at 5,000 metres, an elevation gain of some 800 metres. While suffering from altitude sickness seemed to be a matter of chance, on the way down most everyone began to feel a hangover from the lack of oxygen.
The long road home. After five days making our way up, our goal had been reached and we now faced a lengthy descent
Here's me posing at the top lookout of the Goecha La pass - glad to have completed the last leg Cloud permeates the forest around us as we descend into Yuksum on the final day
We cleared the cloud line on the second day and this afforded us a real understanding of the scale of the himalayas. Despite climbing some 2,000 metres we still faced an endless procession of ever higher mountains. In this photograph I've captured the look back at where we had come from and where we would later return after our goal was reached. As we sat shivering in our tents we reminisced about the warm showers waiting for us in a guest house buried beneath the clouds
We cleared the cloud line on the second day and this afforded us a real understanding of the scale of the himalayas. Despite climbing some 2,000 metres we still faced an endless procession of ever higher mountains. In this photograph I've captured the look back at where we had come from and where we would later return. As we sat shivering in our tents we reminisced about the warm showers waiting for us in a guest house buried beneath the clouds.

After 4 long days of hiking, we finally arrived at our destination: The highest lookout of the Goecha La pass. At 5,000 metres, any physical exertion became a very real struggle. Our efforts were rewarded by an exceptionally clear day and panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain ranges. The biggest reward of all, of course, was in the knowledge that the only direction we had left to travel was downward.

Sikkim

Sikkim, India

It’s difficult to articulate the experience of visiting Sikkim. After 3 months I guess I finally found what I was looking for. A visit inspires great calm — rare where so much of India is burgeoning chaos. Even when the sun is shining, Sikkim is blanketed in ethereal mist that whispers of deep meditation as it passes by. It’s no wonder, then, that there are so many monasteries in its jungle-clad hills. This is Himalayan country and as such the landscape rolls forever upwards until it disappears behind cloud — a testament to the tallness of the earth. I’ve strived hard not to join the crowd of pseudo-spiritual westerners touring India but I couldn’t help catch the energy of the place.

Based in the far north-eastern reaches of India, Sikkim shares borders with an impressive collection of countries: China to the north, Bhutan to the east, Bangladesh to the south and Nepal to the west. Influences from all four cultures are strong and this gives you the feeling that you’ve left India altogether. This isn’t far from the truth, as Sikkim only joined the Indian republic in 1975. By and large they have retained their autonomy (and certainly their cuisine) and one must perform a little dancing to obtain a permit for visitation.

On the road out of Darjeeling, it became very apparent why jeeps are popular in the region. The roads, if you could call them that, are veritable roller coasters of dirt and stone prone to landslide at the merest hint of precipitation. Travelling 10 kilometers can take upwards of an hour yet everyone takes this in their stride. Further to the concept of “Indian time”, the Sikkimese are never in a rush, for how could you be when there is just one jeep out of town each day? If you plan to visit, make sure you do so with plenty of time in your pocket: You will get stuck and that’s all part of the experience.

Valleys peter off into the mist somewhere near Khecheopalri Once the capital of Sikkim, Rabdentse was built and used in the 1600s. Its reign was short-lived, owing to its vulnerable location near the Nepalese border
Lion-spotting in a village just outside of Geyzing Doubling as a ticket office for the Pemayangtse monastery near Pelling, this building contains an enormous prayer wheel. When spun a full rotation, a bell tones and is believed to free the spinner from their sins
A waterfall graces the roadside on the route between Pelling and Khecheopalri Sculpted offerings line a buddhist statue next to Khecheopalri lake
A buddhist chimney billows smoke near Khecheopalri lake
A brightly coloured insect climbs through the underbrush on a trekking path near Khecheopalri