“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine
I never imagined a click of my camera would scare a bunch of Rhinos in the wild like this… what a cute thing they are 🙂
All the countries I have traveled so far are European. I have also traveled to Dubai and Pakistan and I never had to think about vaccinations. Well for Pakistan may be i should have but hey its my home country, so you know I was chilled. When i was planning my trip to Africa few months back though, I did have some idea in the back of my mind that I need to get vaccinated against some diseases. What i didn’t know at that time that its going to become one of the most important part of planning this trip. I booked an appointment at my GP six weeks before the trip thinking its enough time to get a couple of jabs. I was wrong. That 15 minutes appointment turned into an hour. You must be wondering what the hell!. Well it turns out that I needed vaccine against the following lot
- Hep A
- Hep B
- Yellow Fever
You must be wondering why do I need all these? Didn’t i have them when I was young? No i didn’t, well i did, but since I was born in Karachi and I didn’t have any record of my childhood vaccines here in UK , I wanted to get all of them. I did actually got some record from my father about my childhood vaccines. God bless him, you can find records of everything somewhere in a file in his cupboard.
That’s my father and my youngest brother, Crazy haan! 🙂 … selfie-ing while enjoying football worldcup final on tv back home in July, while I was in Croatia with my other half in a hostel for UltraEurope
Anyway back to vaccinations. My father emailed me a scan copy next day, but unfortunately either some of them were expired or needed a booster, and I also thought because they are free why not just get them all :). Me and the nurse spent an hour figuring out the schedule what vaccine to do when, as some of them required more than one jabs, some can’t be taken at the same time and some have to be taken at certain intervals. It was kind of panicking situation, for me atleast. Firstly I was trying to fit in all the vaccines within a period of 6 weeks as I didn’t want to go to Africa missing any of these, especially with the Ebola thing going on recently. Secondly I had the impression that all the vaccinations will be free of charge, covered by NHS.. Right? Well it turns out I was wrong there too. Ok most of them were free but Rabies 3 injections £50 each, there you go £150. Yellow Fever £70, Meningitis £60, my GP even wanted to charge me for Cholera and Hep B, and on top of that Antimalarial…oh my god it was a nightmare, all the budget that I have been planning all these months, just 6 weeks before the trip I could already see dwindling in front of my eyes!…Africa, the land of amazing wild life and contrast, in that time, was the land of diseases for me 🙂 Anyway somehow we manage to schedule and tomorrow will be my last day for a couple of more jabs and then I will be on my way, all super immune like an Africa Tarzan 🙂
The point I am making here is to make travel vaccination an important part of your trip planning. Even if you are going to a place where you think there is no need of vaccine, just make sure you check through an authentic source. It will affect your budget and will require time and planning.
FitForTravel is the site where you can find details of what vaccines are required for what destination. The recommended vaccines here are obviously the ones given in UK as it’s a UK-based website. If you are UK-based, always check on NHS website what vaccines are free. My GP was charging for Cholera and Hep B, but after showing her the website and some debate, she got convinced and I got them for free. She was looking to charge me £80 for Cholera and £105 for Hep B (3x jabs). I mentioned about giving time and planning because there are vaccines like Yellow Fever that has to be taken at least 10 days before entering some countries e.g. Kenya. For vaccines that are not free at NHS, shop around, don’t just believe that your GP is the cheapest option e.g. look for the prices at SuperDrugs, Boots etc. NomadTravel has good prices.
Obviously you can travel without getting vaccinated, and you might think you can get vaccines once you are there but remember it’s for your own safety, why take a risk and there are some countries where you can’t even enter without certain vaccines e.g. Kenya, where they require proof of yellow fever vaccine at the immigration.
The breakfast was a bit funny at Chalet-Mant-Borant. I don’t think it was enough, for some reason you only get one slice of orange…strange 🙂
The morning started out gently from Les Contamines towards Col De Bonhomme
As we were walking I came across a Swiss flag on this hut
For a moment I got confused whether I was in France or Switzerland.
Soon we reached another hut and had a water stop. The sun starts shinning, it started getting hot and while Clare stripped off into her shorts, everybody looked at her interestingly wishing they had a convertible trouser 🙂
meanwhile Christine was testing her shooting skills on myself once again 🙂 with a view looking down the valley back towards Les Contamines. This specific place was some kind of nature reserve. I think the whole trail is a nature reserve 🙂
Even though autumn was nearly there, as we gradually ascend, wild flowers started showing up making the walk even more beautiful. It is then I discovered the micro mode in my camera. After that it was …well I turned into a flower photographer 🙂
Another Selfie, as pretty as flowers 🙂
Hiking past cow pastures
with the tinkle of cowbells as an accompaniment
Spotted Sundog too 🙂
Check out the contrails in the sky. There were hundreds of them
As we took another water break, Flo posed on a pile of rocks, Plan des Dames 2043m
One last ascent to Col Du Bonhomme
looking back while ascending. When you hiking steep and you look back to catch your breath and presented with a wonderful view, Its such amazing feeling:)
View from Col du Bonhomme (2329m)
And looking back all the way to Les Contamines. This green tshirt i bought the day before at Les Contamines. Looking good aye 🙂
Chilling on Col du Bonhomme
From Col Du Bonhomme we made the traverse to the Croix du Bonhomme
Alex and Wasim
Approaching Refuge de la Criox
At Refuge de la Criox (2483m,) we were rewarded with awesome views down into the Vallee des Chapieux.
As we queue up for ordering our lunch, the waiter was trying to explain us the french menu in English
this was my dessert, Walnut Tart and I and had Quiche for the lunch 🙂
Another group enjoying the view
while a shepherd and his two clever dogs were herding sheep
and the ibex were grazing
I tried to be innovative. My Meindl Toronto GTX boots serving perfectly for the last two years now
We then descend to Les Chapieux,
Just before reaching out Refuge De la Nova we came across a water stream and everybody decided to get a natural foot spa. It was a wonderful idea and I loved it. The water was a bit cold but it felt great submerging feet against the rapid flow of cold water in the sun. It took away all the pain and tiredness from the feet.
After the spa we head to De la Nova, our home for the evening.
De la Nova was surrounded by lovely mountain views. Owned by a French couple, it was an accurate version of the local “Auberge”. For dinner we had Lasagna and potatoes. It was also Jacky’s Birthday and there was a great atmosphere at the dinner table. There were quite a few other groups and it was very lively. That night, before going to bed, we had the opportunity to see an amazing display of lightning and thunder. I guess it rained all night too.
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”
We set off early morning after a healthy breakfast at our hotel La Chamonix for our first day’s hiking. We took the local bus to the village of Les Houches, a famous ski resort, which is about 6km from Chamonix.
Group waiting at the bus stop in Chamonix for Les Houches
View from Les Houches
We didn’t spend too much time exploring Les Houches as it was supposed to be a long day. From Les Houches we took a cable car up to Bellevue (1800m). Once on the top we were admiring a 360° panorama over the Mont Blanc massif, Chamonix, its needles and the chain of Fiz and Aravis.
View of the needles from the Bellevue station
View of the Chamonix from Bellevue
Selfie with needles in the background
Our first group photo of the hike. Courtesy of Clare, our group leader
From here we started hiking towards valley of Les Contamines-Montjoie passing by Bioniassay glacier and the Col du Tricot.
I spotted the TMB circuit map and decided to take the picture of it. You could see the red spot showing where we were on the map. We were doing the circuit anticlockwise.
As expected, I acknowledged the fact that the trail was very well-marked.
Here we also come across the Tramway du Mont-Blanc that goes up to the Nid d’Aigle (“Eagle’s Nest”), the starting point of the ascent of Mont Blanc by the famous “Normal Route”.
Alex, from Canada, was very excited as it was his first ever hiking trip. It reminded me of my first hiking day trip from Amberley to Arundel. I could still clearly remember walking through lush green fields with views of hills everywhere. And i know that day changed my life …well i become an avid hiker 🙂
Leaving behind Bioniassay glacier view and walking towards Col de Tricot.
After walking for an hour through a forest like patch, we encounter first suspension bridge :)… there is something about these mountain bridges that excites me 🙂
After crossing the bridge, the views opened up once again and as we walked towards Col de Tricot we had amazing views of glacier Bionassay once again ..or may be it was Plan Glacier I don’t know…it was all beautiful 🙂
After about an hour, we reached Col de Tricot (2120m) where we had a short rest
a couple enjoying the view while having snacks
Wasim came up with the idea of taking one-legged picture 🙂
Sheep wandering 🙂
As we descent into the valley
Some pretty hut in the valley
Lunching time at some hut
I spotted this ancient pair of skis in the hut on the wall
While we were lunching, horses were grazing under the glacier too
Leaving behind the valley and hiking up towards Le Truc
Views from Auberge Le Truc
We then hike down into the lovely Les Contamines
We found donkeys and Alein couldn’t resist to give her regards 🙂
From Les Contamines we climbed up along an old never ending Roman road, some thousands years old, past an original Roman bridge to the hut which was our stop for the night, in the valley leading to the Col du Bonhomme.
We finally reached our hut Chalet-Mant-Borant. Everybody was so tired at this point and glad that it was finished. The Gite or accommodation where we were staying was an authentic mountain refuge. The idea behind the establishment of these “gites” or refuges is that local shepherds would provide food and shelter to anyone in need in the mountains. In use for three generations, this cosy place had accommodation in large unisex rooms equipped with long multi-share bunk beds, inside an authentic renovated “bergerie” (barn)
In front of the hut there was a lovely place to sit around and chill with a view
View from the hut
While I was chilling with an occasional fag with coke, Christine impressed me with her shooting skills 🙂
Happy hikers at the dinner table. The family who run the gite cooked a basic but delicious local dinner for us.
Estimated Hiking Time: 6hrs 30mins
Approximate Distance Hiked: 20 kms
Elevation: Start 1801m; Highest 2500m; Finish 1450m
Before I go on writing about my amazing Tour du Mont Blanc trip, let me tell you a bit about it.
Tour du Mont Blanc aka TMB, is over 100 miles hiking trail in the alps circling Mont Blanc massif. According to National Geographic it is one of the dream trails. And no wonder it is. I did it and I can endorse it. It’s a heavenly experience. You hike through three different countries (France, Italy, Switzerland) and over several mountain passes with some of Europe’s most dramatic glaciers and scenery on display. The majesty of Mont Blanc with the summer flora of wildflowers and alpine meadows has inspired generations of alpine visitors, attracting mountaineers and hikers from around the world for over two hundred years. To me it was not just the scenery but the civilization and food in between that makes it super awesome. Along the way you will go through villages and huts where your cravings will be fulfilled from locally made wines to Swiss fondue, from cheese and French bread to Italian hot chocolates, you can even pick berries on the way and you will always be a happy hiker at the dinner table :). You can soak it in over seven to ten days or go ultra and run it in 3 days, that’s insane though. No matter how you choose to do it, it is an extraordinary adventure and a treat for a novice as well as an experienced hiker.
I flew to Geneva from Gatwick arrived there in the evening. It was an hour drive from Geneva in Switzerland to Chamonix in France. Here I would like to mention that if you are planning to go to France from Geneva, don’t expect Euros from ATMs at the airport. The ATMs only dispense Swiss Franc, don’t know why, but that’s the way it is. Anyway something to remember. Chamonix is where the trail was supposed to start and end. It’s an authentic French mountain town, located at the foot of Mont Blanc. Its was very lively, almost like the Ibiza of outdoors, full of outdoor activity shops and rentals from cheap to expensive brands, with restaurants and bars everywhere. It lies in one of the most picturesque valleys of the French Alps, with innumerable alpine peaks towering around you, pine forests, alpine valleys to explore, and beautiful glaciers spilling from the high massif. The town is home to 10,000 inhabitants, swelling to 100,000 during peak season. You can see the towering peaks of Aiguilles Rouges and Aiguille du Midi. On a clear day you can even see the north side of the summit Mont Blanc itself.
I managed to arrive at the Chamonix Hotel just in time for the important welcome meeting at 6pm. The interior of the hotel was all in wood, giving it a very typical Alpine atmosphere. I met Clare, our tour lead. She gave us a brief overview of what to expect and I soon figure out that our lead was going to be awesome throughout the trip, which was very important for me because a bad leader can ruin your trip. During the briefing I also found out that we were lucky that the weather forecast for the next few days was going to be fantastic as oppose to how dreadful it had been for the last few weeks.
After the briefing and settling in the hotel, we hit the town, picked up some missing bits from a recommended outdoor shop (can’t remember its name) ,walked through the streets and ended up in a lovely french restaurant for dinner. During this time I met all the people in the group and I was pretty happy to find out that everyone was reasonable :)…well you know what i mean 🙂 There were 12 of us. It was a really good mix of different ages ranging from 21-70 from US, Canada, Wales and Japan. Obviously me from Pakistan. Surprisingly I also found out that one of the guys in the group, Wasim from California, his origin was from Pakistan too. I felt excited as it was great to know that there was someone to have banter in my own language (Urdu) during the next 10 days :)..although at this point I wasn’t sure of his personality completely, he turned out to be one of the best fellow hiker you could ever imagine…more on him later 🙂