I am an avid Hiker and living in the great northwest with its old-growth forests and in the shadow of some magnificent volcanoes is just pure magic. Here I am attempting to describe 2 of my most favorite hikes in this area.

Skyline Divide – Mt Baker

We have 2 amazing volcanoes – Mt Baker to the North and the more well known Mt Rainier to the south. This hike is set in the Mt Baker Wilderness which is part of the Mt baker national forest. Interestingly Mt baker is not a national park in its own right but Mt rainier is. Both areas are spectacular and Skyline Divide is one of the most picturesque hikes on  Mt Baker.

To access this hike you have to drive towards the cute little town of Deming and then onward to Glacier and after passing the ranger station at Glacier you have to pick up forest road # 37 which goes part of the way along the Nooksack River. This road is rocky and also has some of the largest potholes I have ever seen. However, this road, bad as it is for your stomach saves you a bit of climbing as it switchbacks up to almost 4000feet to the start of the Skyline trailhead.


The trailhead begins in a classic old-growth northwest forest and starts climbing almost immediately, and is pretty relentless though bearable as the large forest of the hemlocks, and silver fir trees provide much-needed shade and a cool breeze on sweaty faces. The flies are usually out in the month of July and August so bug repellent is an absolute must. The trail itself gains 1500 Feet in 2 miles to reach the ridgeline. On the way, we cross a few mountain meadows of pretty aster, daisy, and lupine with purple, yellow, and white hues. Once on the first knoll on the ridgeline, the panoramic sight of  Mt Shuksan, Mt Baker, and the High divide greet you and as you stand mesmerized at this panoramic picture postcard, you also have the open mountain meadows in full bloom. More lupine, glacier lilies, arnica and paintbrushes, and too many other flowers. If you are lucky as I once was you get to see some curious chipmunks and some grouse that seem to make a strange bassoon like sound.  As you keep walking along the ridgeline and continue on to the second and third knolls you seem to get closer and closer to Mt Baker or Kulshan as the mountain is lovingly named by the local Lummi people.  The 6th knoll stands at am impressive  6,563 feet of elevation. At this point, you can almost touch beautiful Kulshan.  To the east are views of Shuksan, yellow aster butte, and the north cascade range in a distance.

I stop, stare, and breathe and take in the beauty of this magnificent place.


Blue Lake 

There are many hikes of unparalleled beauty in the Pacific Northwest and Blue lake is definitely one of them. I have done it twice, once in the height of summer and once just at the beginning of the hiking season where there was a little bit of snow traversing as well. Both times the beauty of this hike is unparalleled. The best part of this hike is that anyone with any level of fitness can do it. It is a classic that should be on everyone’s list.

Located right off Highway 20 in the north cascades national park this hike is close to the Washington pass overlook scenic viewpoint while driving up to Winthrop so access is easy. Highway 20 itself has some of the more scenic views as it winds through the north cascades, among them being the more famous Diablo lake which is an amazing sight on a sunny day.

The hike starts off a nice parking lot on a nice boardwalk which leads into a tranquil forest. From the forest, you come into a meadow with cascading little waterfalls as you step briefly back into the forest after which you see magnificent views of Cutthroat peak and Whistler mountain on the northwestern side of highway 20.

As you keep climbing you will hear the slow trickle of a stream coming down from this magnificent lake.  As you scramble over the last of the rocks and cross over a log the lake comes into view. In the fall you see hues of orange and pink reflected in the pristine water. Before the fall season as the pics show you, see parts of the lake are frozen and there are more white and green colors. Either way,  this is a place to pause, reflect, and stop everything you are doing to just soak in the magnificence of  Mother Nature and the many picture postcards she paints for us.


Recently I completed a beautiful trek in the Khumbu region of  Nepal. My 10-day trek took me to Gokyo- Ri Peak which has one of the best views of Everest on a clear day. For me there was a lot more on the journey itself to this amazing viewpoint and here is my attempt to share that story.

Gokyo lake view

One of the Gokyo Lakes and the Mountains around this Glacial Lake.

After landing in probably one of the world’s most dangerous airports at Lukla, we start our hike to Phakding a little village to halt for a night before beginning a long haul day to Namche Bazar at 3440m.







We leave early after a nice breakfast at Phakding to begin the ascent to Namche Bazaar. We are joined by porters and many other trekkers heading to other treks which originate from Namche Bazar the most famous being the Everest base camp trek ‘EBC’.  We enter the beautiful Sagarmatha National Park to begin our trek up to Namche. I get my first view of the beautiful Dudh Koshi River as it winds its way through the forests of this Park. our ascents in this area often bring us in front of these large suspension bridges over the river, that often have mules, Dzoes( a hybrid version of cattle and yaks used in lower elevations) and porters on them at the same time. My initial dismay at the shaking of these bridges is replaced with complete awe for the animals that navigate them patiently on a daily basis. Even more fascinating is also how their owners control them  by just using a whistle-like sound. The animal leader of the pack keeps the entire line focussed on their long voyage up to higher elevations.

Our other views en route to Namche are of some of the beautiful peaks in the valley and also the large heavy prayer wheels at every little village which take some muscle power to turn. The Buddhists believe these wheels are an extremely powerful tool for praying. Amitabha Buddha has said, “Anyone who recites the six syllables while turning the dharma wheel at the same time is equal in fortune to the Thousand Buddhas.” “It helps to purify the obstacles of life.” Buddhism is very prevalent in this region and most bridges also have prayer flags floating in the wind keeping in line with the Buddhist belief that these prayers are carried by the wind. All through this trek, we see many prayer flags at crucial points on floating bridges and near waterfalls and also see a lot of chortens and mani stones. Chortens are believed to house important Buddhist relics and the mani stones have the Buddhist prayer carved on them.

Mani Stones enroute ( photo credit my friend Julie)  and Buddhist Prayer Wheels at Namche Town

After about 6-7 hours of trekking, we reach the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazar. Namche is quite a large town and is really the gateway to a lot of amazing treks in the Khumbu Himalaya. The hotel we stay at adjoins a cute little bar called the ‘Hungry Yak’ which has the most amazing live music. we also giddily and greedily, as tired trekkers discover the most amazing coffee shops, bakeries, and restaurants as well in Namche. Sweaty hair? “how about a shampoo and blow-dry?” A Shampoo and wash here feels better than staying at a Four Seasons Hotel. Namche also has a large NorthFace store for last-minute purchases. We stay one extra day to acclimatize to the altitude and do a mini hike to Everest Hotel for a magnificent view of Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam. The Everest Museum has information on the flora and fauna in the region and of some of the ascents. Close to the Everest museum is a little museum dedicated to famous sherpas and sherpa families and there is even a well preserved little sherpa home. My favorite part of that home is the very simple prayer room which is both colorful and peaceful.


Sherpa Prayer Room at Namche in the Everest Museum.

IMG_3119  Here against a clear blue sky ( a view of the two peaks on a saddle) Everest on the Left and Lhotse on the left and a Ama Dablam peeking out on the right.

We move on to  Mongla the next day and stop en route at crowded Khumjung for lunch.  Dhal Bhaat seems a good idea but the chinese chowmein comes in a strong second.

Dhaal Bhaat

Nourishing Dhaal ( Lentils) Bhaat ( Veg+ Rice) Photo( taken by Vikram)

Our Hike up to Mongla has spectacular views of Ama Dablam and the sherpa mountain of Khumbila.  Our teahouse at Mongla lay perched on the edge of the mountain and on a clear day one can almost touch Ama Dablam. We tried to stay up to see the night sky but it got cloudy and the mist set in for the night whiting out most of the surroundings.

Our Next stop was Dole and at this point, we bid farewell to beautiful Ama Dablam as we moved upward through some picturesque countryside covered in fall foliage Stone steps lead us further up the trail to cascading falls with a mini-view of Cho-yu and  Tabouche. We also came across a group of Yaks waiting patiently to go up the trail. Yaks are found all over the upper Khumbu area. Once comfortably settled in Dole, We have a warm meal of dhal bhaat and prepared for bed. 



Beautiful Ama Dablam 6812 Meters ( 22, 349 Feet) 

Our Trek from Dole to Machermo starts with a steep climb to an alpine meadow and was quite flat for a while before climbing up again to a viewpoint overlooking the beautiful green valley below. Our jaw-dropping views of Thamserku, Kusum Kangri, and Machermo Peak make us stop and take pictures but after a while, it did not seem enough. We walk down the hill and cross over the river to our lodge.


Our amazing group of super fun people.

One of the most special parts of this trek was the hike from Machermo to Gokyo.  This picturesque trail takes us up 400m while winding its way partly through open meadows and rolling hills with fall colors. Soon we can hear and see the Dudh Koshi River as it comes rushing down from the Gokyo lakes meandering down the hill. There is a huge stone staircase climb before us that is challenging but worth the effort as before us was a welcoming bridge over the river and then the first stunning emerald lake comes into view. Breathless and speechless at the beauty of this lake we are reluctant to move ahead, and I take a short pause here to admire the beautiful chortens and the serenity of this special place, a slice to paradise, a moment of extreme awe and peace. We then build our own mini chortens here in memory of our departed loved ones and then take a moment to silently pause and remember. I feel the healing tears flowing and sit paralyzed for that one moment.




Panorama of one of of the Gokyo Lakes.

We walked on to see the 2 other emerald green lakes and then enter the quiet town of  Gokyo under a line of prayer flags. Ahead us is stunning Gokyo Peak and on the side are amazing snowcapped mountain views. I manage to photograph a resting Dzoe as he takes a mini nap after a hard day’s work.


We reach our lovely Namaste lodge at Gokyo town in time to order a hot tomato cheese sandwich and discovered to our surprise that there is even potato gnocchi on the menu here.  Fitzroy Bakery next door to the lodge offers the best Apple Pie and hot chocolate I have tasted at 5000 meters. Oxygen levels here at close to 5000 meters are definitely at 50-60% lower than at sea level. We hike up a little more later that evening to get our first glimpse of the Ngozumpa Glacier. This is the longest glacier in the Himalayas, stretching around 25km from its beginnings on the high slopes of Cho Oyu another 8000meter Peak.


Our early morning wake up call is for a 4am ascent of Gokyo peak along with several other hikers, a steep climb that boasts some of the finest 360-degree views of many 8000meter peaks on a clear day. As I stand right below the summit I cannot help feeling glad for persevering up the trail to Namche Bazaar early on this Trek. The view has me mesmerized and breathless ( literally also due to  lower oxygen levels:))

This view is from 50m below the summit of Gokyo Peak which sits at a high 5443M

As I sit here now writing this mini account of my experience, I am so grateful for my amazing trekking companions, our guides, our hardworking and ever-smiling porters and the entire team at White Magic Adventures that made all this possible.


Our amazing Guides Nitesh, Dunbar and Madan and our Porters

Finally, I want to raise a salute to the spirit and friendliness of the Nepali people. They are the reason we will return to this special place every year.

Spiritual kyoto

Something makes me want to go back again and again to kyoto. Perhaps it is the beauty of the shrines, maybe it is the lure of all that is old Edo, maybe it is the magical stillness of it’s zen temples, I am still trying to figure out why I take the time to visit this beautiful city again and again.
My favorite temple is Ginkakuji, also known as the silver temple. It is set on a small hill and has a lovely view of the city. What is more exciting though is the walk that runs just outside the temple, also called the philosophers walk, because in the old days, poets and philosophers ruminated about life as they walked there. Particularly beautiful in the sakura season, the philosophers walk is definitely a special experience.

Kiyomizudera or the water temple is another Buddhist  gem in kyoto.”kiyomizu” means clear water in Japanese and the temple has water coming in from 3 mountain streams which are said to confer wisdom , health and longevity to the drinker.

The picture shows you a view from the temple on an autumn day, a very cold one in kyoto!

Kiyomizudera’s pagoda and gate are particularly impressive, and in the height of autumn there is an unparalleled beauty that can be captured with even a basic camera. A panoramic view is what would be best.

The temple complex had several shrines and the more popular one is dedicated to the goddess of love and is called the Jishu shrine.

The beautiful pagoda at the entrance.

Heian Jingu is another spectacular shrine. You cannot miss Heian Jingu as you get close to it’s rather giant tori(or gate) bright orange in color. The shrine itself is also orange and has a peaceful stillness about it as the case with most shinto shrines. If you are lucky, you may see a bride and groom posing for photos or a geisha coming by to seek blessings, but you are more likely to see a geisha in “Gion” kyoto’s  now surviving geisha district.

So many shrines so little time… more on shrines later!

It is hard to describe the beauty if Hokkaido in a few sentences. I am going to try and make an effort. Located in the northernmost tip of Japan, Hokkaido is a large island quite different from neighboring Honshu, which is where most of Japanese humanity exists. Blessed with acres of open farmland, beautiful mountains and hot springs, a trip to Hokkaido transports you to a different planet. When we landed in Asahikawa airport in northern central Hokkaido, we could immediately perceive the difference from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, it seemed quiet here, one could actually hear insects and not the sound of cars. The vastness of the landscape made us feel we were back in the American outdoors- the scale of things was so different.

We visited several flower farms as this is the season to see lavender, and many different varieties of wildflowers. The smell of lavender was overpowering, as was the beauty of the scores of planted flowers! we did not know where to take a picture there were so many pretty sites! we saw many beautiful butterflies! – the flower farm even offered lavender ice cream and soda, which was purple in color but did not taste like lavender(thank god!)

We also saw the amazing Asahidake area, famous for the Daisetzusan national park and Tenninkyo onsen. The Tenninkyo area has a wonderful easy hike to the base of a waterfall which on a rainy day was breathtakingly beautiful. The stillness of the forest, the loud rumble of the waterfall as it sloshed against some huge rock faces was both  humbling and powerful.

The interesting part about travel in Japan is that landscapes vary but there is almost always an onsen or hot spring to be found. A soak in the hot waters of Shirogane Onsen was cleansing and relaxing. What a great way to end the day!

My eternal fascination with vending machines in Tokyo continues. They seem to have the most interesting drinks, never mind that I still cannot read most labels and usually go by color(pink for a strawberry drink, brown for chocolate) , pictures of fruits(hopefully indicate juice) and pictures of tapioca pearls hopefully indicating a tea concoction or coconut milk with tapioca pearls. Jasmine tea is the easiest to identify with a very pretty bottle with a label of jasmine flowers.

There are several varieties of teas. The more common japanese green tea or “matcha” the interesting tasting oolong, and the”good for health” tea with atleast 5-6 different kinds of herbs. My favorite is “afternoon tea” which tastes of regular indian tea without the masalas. Nothing beats holding a can of hot afternoon tea in your hand from the vending machine, on a freezing cold winter morning. Did I not mention that the machines dispense hot drinks on winter mornings? These hot cans make nice hand and face warmers. The location of an average vending machine is also very convenient, on a hot day like today, these machines are life saving refreshment stations!

I walk down my street with renewed vigor after a sip of an ice cold cantaloupe drink!- did I bother to check if it was full fat milk? nope, hopefully those extra pounds fell by the wayside while I ran towards the machine!

Wind chimes festival

I think I am strongly drawn to Buddhist temple festivals. There is something about a Buddhist temple in Japan that makes it special, Maybe it is  the street leading up to the entrance which is always festive, the myriad   interesting shops on the street selling dolls, chimes, purses, toys and senbei(japanese rice crackers) or just the people who are always so beautifully dressed in some beautiful kimonos.  In this case the street was more colorful than usual because of the festival! The Kawasaki Daishi temple holds the wind chime festival once a year. The temple, located in the city of Kawasaki a mere 15mins from Tokyo, by the super fast express is easy to get to. I went there with my kids to see the wind chimes, and was thrilled to see  the sight of Bon dancers with fans gathered at the beginning of the street to start the dance.

The music blared from a large speaker on the temple grounds, and a single taiko drummer beat the drum to keep the beat. Lines of japanese men and women dressed in colorful yukatas with the symbol of the temple moved gracefully along the street as I tried to squeeze past in front of them to take the best picture I could!

We saw the largest and most amazing  Daruma dolls in most of the shops on the street leading to the temple. Having never seen such huge dolls before, we had to stop and take a few more pictures! My girls wanted two of their own! Daruma dolls are a symbol for good luck and are sold with blank spaces for eyes. The japanese draw a single eye to symbolise a wish and then draw the second eye in when their wish is fulfilled!


The dolls come in many sizes, and colors and it is hard to pick just one to take home! My mind was filled with my endless wishes and I was afraid I would end up buying the whole shop!

We moved on to the entrance of the temple to be greeted by a huge display of wind chimes! there were the traditional “daruma” wind chimes each of which looked the same, but had a different sound because of the glass cutting. There were bonsai chimes, cat, fish, sumo wrestler chimes and many more! It was hard to just choose a few to buy, but I managed to pick a few for friends and for us!  What a lovely way to spend an evening!

In Japan, great importance is given to honoring those that have passed on. The Obon festival honors the spirits of ancestors by lighting lanterns and praying at shinto shrines. One of the famous shrines in Tokyo where this is celebrated in a huge way is Yasukuni Shrine in Kudanshita. 29,000 large and small lanterns donated by families are hung along the walkways and the entrances to the shrine.In the evening light these lanterns look spectacular!

As I enter the huge tori or gate of the shrine I watch spellbound as the festival is underway with vendors selling toys, cotton candy and finger food of various kinds. It is hard to make a choice of what to eat, well for me actually it is, because I am a vegetarian, and I grab a corn on the cob:) I walk further into the entrance and there is plenty more to see. Paper lanterns with some amazing art work decorate the inner grounds of the temple.

It is hard to just pick a few paper lanterns to photograph, but I am in a hurry and want to make sure I get the best pictures I can while there is still some evening light.

I walk around the shrine to see the smaller lamps along the sides of the shrine. Around me there are groups of families, friends, senior citizens and teens, all enjoying the evening. I join the line of people bowing at the main altar and think of members of my family that have passed.

From Yasukuni Shrine I head to the moat across the road where lamps are lit in the water by families that hire boats. There is a little stage there where a singer with the most amazing voice is singing some beautiful songs. I even hear a wonderful rendition of “amazing grace” families in boats, crowd around the stage and listen.

This is truly a special way to remember those who have passed on. I will never be able to forget the ambience and the spirit that goes behind this celebration.

if anyone had told me or even asked if I would climb Mt Fuji, the answer would have been a “maybe” but having been in Japan for a year and having seen the mountain many times, that answer slowly changed. For most Japanese a Mt fuji climb is something to do atleast once and having been there I see why. My husband and me decided to attempt the climb over a period of 2 days. We started at kawaguchiko go gome or 5th station where it all begins. Our bus from shinjuku arrived there in a couple of hours. It dropped us at the very busy go gome square where we saw the first of many little groups getting the prep talk to climb the mountain. Having decided to climb ourselves after reading a couple of blogs, we moved on past the groups to find the entrance to the trail. As  expected Mt fuji has its own shrine which is located a little before the entrance to the trail. The shrine is beautiful and has an awesome view of the mountain on a clear day. The day we picked was more misty than clear, which was probably a good thing, because then it is possible we may have abandoned ship before we started.Go gome base station at kawaguchiko

The first part of the hike was relatively easy with some slow climbing until the 5th station. From the 7th station, the climb started getting a lot more difficult with some scrambling over steep  rocks and  huffing up pretty tough switchbacks. On the way we passed some huts which had satchets of an energy drink that claimed to give you the energy equivalent to a small ball of rice. Since energy reserves were seriously on the downhill path, I guzzled down quite a few of those, and felt like an athlete at the start of a race. As we kept moving and rising above the cloudline, the mist lifted and we were able to see the most unbelievable view of the mountain’s volcanic slope. Having never done a hike above a cloudline, this was extra special. The only time I have been standing above the clouds has been in Hawaii’s big island at mauna kia, which is easier to get to than Mt fuji partly because you can drive up.

We finally reached out hut at the 8th station after about 5 hours of cimbing! Our sleeping quarters were a part of a large dormitory of 200 or more beds. Since we were climbing at the end of the season, most of the place was empty. The cook agreed to cook a vegetarian version of the japanese curry and rice that I was supposed to eat. Here is a nice picture of our dormitory.

our beds for the night. We had most of the dorm to ourselves thank goodness! After some very tasty curry and rice with pickles and some great conversation with our hiking companions, an Australian couple, a couple of Americans and 2 Spanish people, we snuggled up in bed at around 8pm. It was hard to sleep with all the excitement of getting this far still we managed to get a short nap in before being woken up by the sound of voices and flashing lights, we realized that groups of hikers were going up to the summit already to beat the crowd coming in a bit later. We decided to exit too.

Boy, what an amazing sight to see a line of flashlights before us. The climb was steep, but in the midst of heavy breathing sounds(as the air thins) we heard the sound of chanting, then we saw them. A group of monks, clad in white with what seemed like  very basic slippers climbing the mountain and chanting Buddhist prayers. The chanting had a mesmerizing rhythm to it, which made it easy to take the next step. Breathing became a bit labored as the air thinned higher and higher up.  It seemed that this did not make a bit of difference to those heavy smokers who decided this was a good place to smoke that last cigarette.

Ah – finally we are at the summit- we enter the last Orange gate to mountain heaven and we know we have made it. The view is breathtaking- we are above the cloud-line and wait to see the rising sun that magically transforms the morning sky! we hug our fellow climbers some from colorado, some from canada and many from tokyo itself. We take a walk around and see Fuji san’s amazing crater, and then realize that it is really very cold at the summit. We rest with a hot cup of cider, it was the best cider that we had ever drunk.

As we prepared to hike back down, we realized how far we had actually come. The summit was a tough hike but going down was going to be harder it seemed. My knees were feeling the impact of the steep downhill ridge. As we literally slid down the steep incline we thought we had made it down to the base in an hour only to find we still had a lot of sliding to do. I began to think of whether I would be able to actually drive the car at my driving test the next day. Luckily it seemed that Fuji san had blessed me and I was to become the  proud owner of a Japanese driving licence.

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