Gary – Live Free Die Travelling Your Guide to Financial Independence and a Life of Travel Sat, 05 Aug 2017 07:43:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Periyar Spice Gardens, Kerala, India Tue, 23 Jul 2013 16:57:02 +0000 There are a number of spice gardens on offer around the Thekkady and Periyar district and you will be offered a number of options from the different tour operators and hotels. The gardens we visited provided a superb short outing and we absolutely recommend adding a visit to your tour. The main photo for this article is a really lush rice paddy field within the garden.


The owner is such a great and informative person

A quick rickshaw ride takes you to one of the many Spice gardens open to public viewing and prevalent in the area. Rs 100 pays for an entrance ticket but the gardens we visited were not like a garden centre in the UK for example, these were eco gardens developed by the owner some 6 years ago and it was he who conducted our visit.


This is as much an educational and informative visit as a simple wander round in a lovely environment. The owner is such a passionate and very well informed personable guy and right from the outset it was apparent that this was not just a walk in the park.

Spices don’t start off in Jars and Packets

We in the western world often think of spices as purely commodities purchased in jars or packets from the local supermarket or for slightly rare instances, from Asian or Chinese retail outlets. The fact that you walk around this eco garden and see the spices growing and sample the tastes before any commercial refinement was really exciting for me. Understanding what a cardamom plant looks like and how the seed pods are harvested and then finding out that cinnamon is in fact the bark of a large variety of Bay tree were just examples of the wealth of knowledge available in this 3 acre garden.

Eco-culture and Sustainability for your honeymoon?

The site is set up for full sustainability and the family and workers live on the proceeds from spices cultivated and sold from garden along with the visitor fees for conducted tours. Speaking with the owner, I found out that he had invested some £0.5m in the land and another £0.5m in the development. This is somewhat surprising in light of the level of tourism to this area however it does at least demonstrate the commitment to make this a viable and eco sustainable project. He even had a tree house development where, amongst others, honeymoon couples could rent this unique accommodation (complete with en suite) for their special occasion…..price? Rs 10000 per night…not cheap for sure but very unique and I am sure it could be negotiated down.

There are a number of other spice gardens in the Periyar area and some of them offer differing standards of accommodation. An example is Camelia Haven Resort which also offers honeymoon packages but in terms of a pure spice garden experience you cannot go wrong with Abraham’s Spice Garden.

Diverse range

Cocoa plants, coffee plants and a fully functioning rice paddy were some of the other elements here but there are simply too many species (recognisable and not so recognisable) to list. The project also generates its own methane from organic waste to run all cooking needs and grows all the vegetables to compliment the spices in the cooking within this eco friendly concern.

Honey too

Honey is produced by the honey bees existing on the wide variety of plants on the site and this is harvested and sold in the project retail outlet at the exit (a low key affair so no pressure sales here) Interestingly there are a variety of bees here which are so small you can barely see them and the hives used by them are only about the size of a hardback book, you will need to look carefully at most of the photos to recognise the hives.

Ayurvedic (like homeopathy) remedies and medicinal uses of spices

The owner understands the importance of the plants and spices in the treatment of ailments which might otherwise require artificial medicine or indeed intrusion surgery to rectify. He is a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner (traditional Indian homeopathy type whole life practice) and explains the benefits of each of his charges.

Methane tank sunk in the ground and running the heaters and driers off the waste products on the eco farm
Methane tank sunk in the ground and running the heaters and driers off the waste products on the eco farm

Experience the taste of India

One of the extremely interesting plants was the allspice tree whose leaf tasted of a fusion of cinnamon, cardamom, clove and a number of other exotic tingles on your taste buds. Chilly plants with fruits smaller than your small finger nail, with a really fiery hot zip to them, were some of my favourites.

The Menagerie

One of the rare breed cows which provides milk for the eco sustainable farm
One of the rare breed cows which provides milk for the eco sustainable farm

Much akin to the community farm experiences in the UK where those not used to farms and livestock have the opportunity to see, feel and touch and experience animals close up; this project is self sufficient in the animal aspects and visitors are introduced to how these breeds allow the project to remain eco friendly and self sufficient. The project has a number of rare breed of cows, rabbits, chickens, quail, goats and a number of other animals and birds (all producing milk eggs or meat and of course the waste products to fuel the methane de-composter) Along with this you will see how the different spices are harvested and dried; all in this small community.


The tour itself lasts about an hour and is worth every penny of the Rs 100 entrance fee. You can purchase all forms of Ayurvedic oils and lotions along with spices, balms and honey all produced in the gardens.

The whole area of the project is some 5-8 acres but the host only takes you around many of the sample plants and trees, the rest is planted out to grow the spice yielding plants and trees to allow for the maintenance and sustainability of this eco aware culture.

Aerial walkway

To get to the rental accommodation and honeymoon suite you use an aerial walkway high above the gardens and get a good feel for the extent of the project and great fun for the kids if they are in tow.Spice_Garden_Thekkady_Keral_India_26

A shining example

This is a prime example of living correctly off the land and using the wondrous plants around us to maintain your health and fitness; a great concept to take back with you and use in some small form back in your home country.

A MUST DO tour if you are in Periyar, Kerala and is an excellent stop gap following one of the other longer more active organised tours in the Wildlife reserve.

Flying to Kathmandu from India Tue, 23 Jul 2013 11:23:25 +0000 The journey from India to Nepal (Kathmandu)is best done by plane but there is also the extended but less comfortable route by train and bus dependent upon where you are leaving India from. I was leaving from Delhi and decided on a flight costing approx £60 one way from Delhi International Airport to Kathmandu Tribhuban International Airport.

The airport is easily accessed using the new and efficient metro from down town Delhi.

An Airport Hotel

In my case I had booked a hotel, The Uppal close to the airport, for the last day of my 6 week India trip. This was an expensive hotel for India and they fortunately provided a courtesy shuttle to the departure terminal, but you couldn’t expect this from all your stays…but worth asking!!

Delhi Airport

The terminal in Delhi is brand new and everything is pretty slick within even a welcome Starbucks for a “normal” coffee after 6 weeks in India!!.

A welcome coffee even though it is a Starbucks
A welcome coffee even though it is a Starbucks

Remember a number of things

  • Print off your electronic ticket otherwise you can’t even get past the guards on the entrance doors
  • UK has progressed to full automation but India is still a little behind on this one. I have watched a number of passengers manage to persuade the guards by pulling up emails on their laptops but if you have no connection there is a chance that you could be stuffed!
  • Most advice and legislation in India dictates that you cannot take any Rupees out of India and yet I was told by the immigration officials that Indian Rupees can be used in Nepal…and that’s exactly what I am doing.
  • To get into Nepal you must have a visa and there is no one in the Delhi terminal who could tell me how much it could cost or what currency I could use.
  • 1 month tourist visa costs $40 or £29 and requires a passport photo to accompany your application…this can be done at the arrivals terminal in Kathmandu but will cost another Rs200 or take a few extra passport photos along with you.
  • You can pay in most currencies but any change seems to given in US dollars. It is not prudent to try paying in Indian Rupees however I reckon this would be accepted or they will send you to the exchange booth to convert it. GB Pounds, Euros and US Dollars seemed to be the best option.
  • Always carry a selection of currencies simply for back up or an instance like this one….I have been carrying US Dollars, GBPounds and even some S African currency for years and only infrequently need to top it up.

Kathmandu Airport

There is a massive difference in standards from the Indian and Nepali terminals so expect the unexpected and much less efficiency in Kathmandu Airport.

As you approach the baggage carousel it may not even be turning and there may not be lights because there is frequent power shedding issues in Nepal.

When you do depart from the carousel in Kathmandu after picking up your bag you may be asked to present your boarding card again because your bag label counterfoil has been placed on your boarding card!! this does not happen with all airlines or at all terminals but is in place to prevent someone simply wandering off with someone else’s bag.…ie thieving it!!! I was really lucky because normally I would leave the boarding pass in the rubbish bag of the plane…be warned.

Onward Accommodation

You need to have an idea of your accommodation in Nepal to put details on your immigration slip so even if you haven’t booked a place do make sure you have a Hotel and address to place on the immigration slip.

One counter at the exit informed me it would be Rs650 for a cab to the centre at the popular Thamel district but when accosted by another desk I was offered a hotel room which I was able to haggle down to £5 for a private room…with cab to hotel thrown in.

If you do not take up a hotel offer at the terminal then you ought to be able to barter the cab fare down to about Rs250 or 350 (and since the majority of tourists head to the same small Thamel area…consider accosting other passengers to share the cab)

In summary this was a seamless and easy transfer from India to Nepal….no problems.

Paragliding, Pokhara, Nepal – Gallery Fri, 12 Jul 2013 18:04:11 +0000 ]]> 1 Christchurch, New Zealand – Gallery Mon, 08 Jul 2013 21:52:22 +0000 ]]> Andy Murray – Not JUST a Sporting hero Sun, 07 Jul 2013 21:54:41 +0000 After his historic win at Wimbledon, Andy Murray is not JUST a sporting hero having become the only Briton wearing shorts to win Wimbledon but has also extended his remarkable charitable attitude to his life by donating all his £1.6m winnings to the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. Beating Novak Djokovic in this historic 3 set match, he has now been recognised for his achievement by many sporting and show business personalities along with the Prime Minister and more importantly by the Queen herself.

Murray’s straight sets 6-4 7-5 6-4 victory over the world number one ranked Novak Djokovic was a tense and exciting no holds barred affair when Murray, from Dunblaine in Scotland, became the first Briton in 77 yrs to take hold of the prestigious men’s singles final gold cup trophy.

From when he surfaced on the tennis radar, Murray was regarded as a lacklustre individual with little character to attach any recognition to but in the past 2 years he has morphed himself into one of the classiest and gutsiest players in the world.

On top of the sporting magnitude of this latest achievement we have witnessed the depth of this remarkably focused 26 yr old when he graciously donated yet another massive sum of prize money to a charity close to his heart.

This documentary has input from a multitude of key sporting critics and is a very descriptive account of how Murray has been affected by the occurrences in Dunblaine on the tragic day whilst he was pupil there. This demonstrates the potential for individuals to rise above deep personal tragedy to reach the absolute pinnacle of their career and affect all others around them…you can almost forget the tennis… this is a story of a person who has seen deep tragedy and come through it…an inspiration. Add to this the fact that Murray’s opponent, Novak Djokovic, in this fabulous Wimbledon final has his own very emotive story to tell….maybe adversity sets one on a set course?

If all highly paid sportsmen recognised their influence on their own supporters and followed Murray’s example then we would perhaps see them in a much better light….Massive respect to this sporting legend at 26… from anyone associated with charities and all those people who will now benefit as a result of this great sporting occasion….keep up the great work Andy.

Sydney, Australia – Gallery Fri, 05 Jul 2013 10:50:48 +0000 ]]> 1 Thulopatal, Everest, Nepal – Gallery Thu, 04 Jul 2013 10:48:11 +0000 ]]> Kathmandu, Nepal – Gallery Thu, 04 Jul 2013 06:00:54 +0000 ]]> Friends in high places – Living with the Tamang Wed, 03 Jul 2013 21:05:41 +0000 A Guest post from John O’Connell: This story begins in North Eastern Thailand near a place called Nong khai on the Thai – Laos border, which is ironically where I am writing this story from now.
In April 2012, on the advice of a friend, I went to work at Sarnelli house, an orphanage in North Eastern Thailand for children with H.I.V. There we taught the children English and generally kept them entertained and content. This experience instantly changed my life and gave it some much needed direction. From that moment on I knew I wanted to do charitable work, I just didn’t know what or where!
However I didn’t have to wait long for my opportunity, less than 3 weeks in fact, as on the same trip in Thailand, on Ko Tao ( an island in the beautiful gulf of Thailand ) I met a young, driven and ambitious French girl named Nelly. We got talking ( or at least she did! ) and she explained to me that she was setting up an organisation called “Nepally Dream”. The organisation aims to send English speaking volunteers to teach English to children in various areas of one of the worlds poorest countries.

And so to Nepal

Not such a bad view from your bedroom balcony!!!
Not such a bad view from your bedroom balcony!!!

I could tell by Nelly’s drive, commitment and passion for Nepal that she would make a success of her organisation. Fate had just dealt me a top drawer hand and I wasn’t about to waste it! Even more so considering that me and my friend Phil only went to Ko Tao on the flip of a coin, my how things could have been different!

Nepally Dream was in its infancy, and in October 2012 it was to hold its first event. It was to be a concert to raise funds for the organisation and was to take place in the South of France and Nelly suggested I fly over from my home in Bolton ( North West England ) to attend the event. Thanks to Nelly’s hard work the event was a huge success.

We discussed the details and to which area I was to be posted and for how long and we both agreed that 6 months in Thulopatal in the remote Dolakha district in the Eastern hills would be the best place for me to go. On my return to the U.K I booked my flight immediately, now all I had to do was wait!

Departure day

The long awaited day ( 6th December ) finally arrived. To say I was a little apprehensive would have been an understatement, I was quietly terrified! I had never been away from home for so long, I had never been to Nepal and I simply didn’t know what to expect, but I was excited, I was doing something I really wanted to do, something worthwhile!

A greeting celebration at the school, scarves and flowers and genuine appreciation are overwhelming
A greeting celebration at the school, scarves and flowers and genuine appreciation are overwhelming

On my arrival in Nepal, I was greeted at the airport with the typical flowers and kata ( blessed scarf ) by Pradeep Tamang. I didn’t know it then but Pradeep was to become my best friend and my bai ( little brother ), he was later to help me with so much from little things such as getting around from place to place and more important things such as projects for the village.

First Days

The first 2 or 3 days were spent in the comfort of Kathmandu’s Thamel district ( the tourist area of the city ), a good way to relax and gather my thoughts I suppose. Then off, to real Nepal.
The bus journey ( around 9 hours from Kathmandu ) was all I had expected, and then some.

On the top of the bus is the best place to be...easiest to jump from if you go off the edge!!
On the top of the bus is the best place to be…easiest to jump from if you go off the edge!!

Beautiful landscapes, remote villages and amazing people made the first 8 hours seem like 3!

And then Terror

But then there was the last hour, leaving the last town before the village ( Mainapokhari ) the road climbs relentlessly up through the Sherpa village of Yasa to Thulopatal, clinging to cliffs while the 40 year old bus bounces up and down and struggles for grip on a road 4×4 enthusiasts in the West wouldn’t dream of attempting, I simply couldn’t believe we were driving up it in a 40 year old bus!

After an hour of sheer terror we reached our destination. The bus pulled up at Laramane, the gateway to the village. I was a little shocked by just how remote it was and how little was there ( soon I was to find this was where we went for our supplies! ) but at the same time I was awestruck by the scenery and humbled by both the warmth and hardiness of the people.Thulopatal_Himilayas_Nepal_5

After being greeted by the villagers and having a swift drink or two in the local watering hole I had a new confidence, I felt at home, I was made to feel at home! As we walked the 40 minutes to the house the scenery was breathtaking, both of the Himalayas and of the local people going about their everyday business and carrying impossibly heavy loads up the terraced hills.

My new family

I was here, at my home for the next 6 months, Salle village, Thulopatal where Govinda, Dhaka, Pradeep, Sashi, Anju, Sanju and Sonny were to become my family.

My new home and family for 6 months
My new home and family for 6 months

The next day Govinda and Pradeep escorted me to ‘Shree Thulopatal higher secondary school’ ( strangely named as the children range from 3 to 18 years old ), this was to be my workplace for the next 6 months, teaching English and occasionally geography to classes 1,3,5,6,7 and 8.

What a welcome!!!

The welcome at the school, oh the welcome! Nobody can do a welcome like the Nepalese! Literally hundreds of flowers and scarves until I couldn’t fit any more around my neck, then hundreds more, from every student, every teacher and more people besides, each one delivered with the traditional “Namaste” greeting with hand clasped together in a prayer like position.

The welcome to the school was amazing but the leaving event was equally fantastic...very emotional
The welcome to the school was amazing but the leaving event was equally fantastic…very emotional

If I didn’t feel comfortable before, I certainly did now! I knew how excited the villagers were to have me there, I was the first volunteer at their school, and they intended to make sure I enjoyed every minute of my stay, and I did!

Christmas in the Himalayas

The first weeks passed blissfully by, each day meeting new people, learning new things and becoming more and more comfortable with my surroundings, also sound in the knowledge that two of my best friends from home were coming to spend Christmas and new year in Nepal.
Spending the festive period with my friends and buoyed by bungee jumping and feeling refreshed I got back to the school and back to business.

Before leaving for Nepal I had organised a fund raising event at home, my thoughts were to leave the money in the bank and once in Nepal I would find the best way to spend it. After working in the school for around 2 months and witnessing the extraordinary resilience of both the students and the teachers, I knew what I wanted to do with the money.

 Funds to help the school

It wasn’t much, nowhere near enough! But the school was, and still is chronically under funded, so the money was to go the school for whatever they needed most. The determination of everybody there would ensure it would be well spent.

Some of the children had a 6 hour round trip to school, this trip was made 6 days a week, with no fuss or complaints, more than this it was made with a feeling of gratefulness that they had the opportunity to go to school at all!

Teaching was a breeze, the kids were hard working , well behaved, very respectful and learned quickly.

One of the classes in Thulopatal School
One of the classes in Thulopatal School

By this stage I had realised that I had to be more careful with my money, so beer had to be replaced by raaksi ( or iraak in Tamang ) a rice or millet based local fortified wine, very cheap and very strong.

Tamang Culture embraced

Different to many ethnic groups in Nepal the Tamang eat meat and drink alcohol freely. They are a mountain people of Buddhist religion mixed with shamanism, unlike their Hindu counterparts the women are treated well and there are few barriers in terms of what you can or can’t do.

Amongst good friend in the "local"
Amongst good friends in the “local”

Tamang people like a drink whether it be irak, ji ( chang in Nepali ) the primary form of raaksi with a pleasant bitter taste or on special occasions ( for those lucky enough ) beer. Iraak and ji are home-made in many households and are different each time. Tamang people, like most Nepali’s are deeply religious and this is shown in everyday life, in both their rituals and habits.

Lamas and Shamans

By this time (February) I was known by everyone in the village, had many friends and even got to witness lamas and shamans at work in local homes, a fascinating experience never to be forgotten, and unseen by all but a lucky few westerners. The shamans get very drunk and high and run through open fires dancing and chanting to rhythmic drum beats and sacrifice animals.

For the visit of one shaman we had to make 12 jungle animals out of mud for an offering, this shaman was called by a family whose mother was sick and many people from the village, including small children were present for the occasion, the woman is well now.


My Nepali father Govinda Tamang has a trekking business based in Kathmandu called Mt. Para Trekking and at the beginning of March he had a party of 22 German people coming to do the Kali Gandaki trek around the Annapurna region of Nepal.

Nepali father and Bolton son
Nepali father and Bolton son

At first I was not sure if I was physically capable of this, but 3 months living above 2000 metres stood me in good stead. The trek was the most unbelievable experience, the group were friendly and the staff, all from the village were already my good friends. The scenery and the nights in the lodges were never to be forgotten!

Back in the village I wanted to give something back. Many of the poorest children at the school had no uniforms, so I asked one of the teachers to make me a list of all the students who needed a uniform and after a successful appeal on facebook and with the help of my family and closest friends back home the village tailor was at work.

Healthcare issues

After this, and during one of my many deep conversations with Govinda, I heard of the villages biggest problem; the lack of adequate, accessible healthcare for the village and beyond; and where it was available, for many it was unaffordable.

The infant mortality rate in the district is 5% ( meaning 1 in 20 children die before their 5th birthday )

So we set to work on researching everything we needed in order to write a proposal seeking funding for a hospital in the village, which is ongoing.

Our organisation, A MUST FOR Dholaka ( accessible medicine, understanding and sustainable treatment for Dholaka ) aims to raise funds and promote awareness of the plight of the local people and especially the disabled community.

My good friend Khrishna, who lives in Charikot, the district capital, is disabled and in a wheelchair due to an accident 12 years ago. He highlighted to me the lack of provisions and facilities for the disabled within the district.

The disabled community are inspirational, they all live together in small wooden shacks, and help each other out all the time.

Khrishna, who is a member of the districts disabled society has even set up a computer centre in his make shift shack for the whole community to use.

Society, Weddings and a Birthday

The next few weeks and months saw blissful days at school, great nights at many different houses, 7 weddings locally and more work on the proposal. Tamang weddings are great, traditional, authentic affairs, with many customs, food, drink and dancing and I was lucky enough to be invited to 7 of them. Some of these weddings were in neighbouring villages and we walked to them from Salle village around 200 strong, men, women and children, an amazing experience!

I was lucky enough to experience my 30th birthday in Thulopatal, in late April. Despite the weather, the villagers turned up in their droves, brought gifts, danced in the rain and even managed to bake me a cake without an oven! Govinda (my Nepali father) provided a goat and it was enjoyed with 128 bottles of local iraak, a truly special day, made all the better by Bose (a great friend of mine) slapping cake in people’s faces, telling them it was an English custom!

Leaving this place after 6 months is not easy...everyone has been fantastic
Leaving this place after 6 months is not easy…everyone has been fantastic

The time was coming when I had to leave Thulopatal and the Tamang people and my leaving was just as special as my welcome, although much more emotional. A party was held at the school and many tears were shed both from the villagers and myself.

I cannot wait for my return in January to continue what we have started and to be reunited with my Tamang brothers and sisters.

Lots to learn

I have learnt a lot from the Tamang people in my 6 months with them and I think all of us in the west could do the same. In some ways they have very little, but in many ways they have so much!Thulopatal_Himilayas_Nepal_12

  • They have hunger, but no greed.
  • They have need, but no selfishness.
  • They have pride, but no envy
  • They have courage, but are not viscous.
  • They have vision, but are not calculated.
  • And above all, even when they have so little, they always have a smile!



John has been an absolute credit to travellers and volunteers alike, has adapted to a tough regime in Nepal and made fantastic long term friends. There are more pictures from the village in the Thulopatal Gallery on this site and you could read what John has to say about volunteering in his response to another post Volunteering Abroad – A Debate.  Take a look and see if you have anything further to add…it will be welcome. Equally, if you have a similar enlightening experience which you would like to recount then just contact me and we can include it here on LIVEFREEDIETRAVELLING.

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Bhaktapur, Nepal – Gallery Wed, 03 Jul 2013 09:32:03 +0000 ]]>