April 10, 2022
Research Trips are a unique part of how we do things at Be Your Best. These offer unique and innovative itineraries that may never be available again. We take a very small number of people and head into the wilds! We have two very special research trips happening in November in fact.
A month ago however, Shellie and I were doing some solo research and trying out some accommodation in Kathmandu Valley. We were looking for peace and quiet, a little spring birdlife, some flowering rhododendrons, and easy access to forest and trails.
One of the places was super lovely, but not quite right for our tours. The ‘resort’ was operated on the ideals of a small European village, with organic gardens, planted flower beds, charming villas and some great cuisine. There was a lot to love here, but it lacked two major things. Firstly, the food was entirely European without a local Nepali option. When I travel to Nepal I want to experience Nepal, not Belgium!
The second problem was the beds – they were so uncomfortable and deeply impractical and neither of us got a decent night’s sleep the entire stay. Quirky is one thing, but basic comforts are not to be compromised on. The owners were lovely and we had a few good chats, but when I leaned into a discussion of comfort they immediately suggested that people just “need to be more adventurous”. That may be one way to look at it, but Be Your Best is about tours not boot camps.
As a general rule our travellers expect a hot shower and a good night sleep and I don’t think that’s asking too much. If something is broken, let’s fix it! But when the owners don’t actually want to fix things, then that’s a bit of a problem.
These are the kinds of things we can only evaluate by spending time to visit ourselves. We’re not always scoring hotels on their cotton sheet count however! Many places we travel are serviced by “tea houses” rather than resorts, but they’re in stunning locations and offer some great experiences. Access to walking trails, daily flight schedules and local culinary highlights are just some of the factors to be weighed in.
One of the things we’ve learned through this research, for example, is to avoid the “quiet charms” of Kathmandu Valley on the weekends. Domestic tourism is alive and well in Nepal, and bus loads of travellers head for the otherwise peaceful climes of the countryside in search of beer and music. They have a tendency to over do both, and things can get a little messy. We make careful note of when we can and cannot head into the valley in search of nature and meditation.
Our “Manang + Tilicho” research trip this November takes advantage of a new jeep trail deep in the Annapurnas. Manang was previously only accessible by walking, but now it’s possible to access in 4WD vehicles. We’re excited to find out what gems we’ll find along the way. The research trip goes a little slower than a normal tour, so we have time to enjoy locations and find where the best views are. It also means a gentle transition to higher elevations, which becomes critical at the very last stage. Manang is where the road ends. To reach Lake Tilicho, at an elevation of 4,900m, we have to walk a trail for 2kms but gaining over a kilometre in height. That will be a slow day, especially for a fella like me who struggles to climb hills.
We stay a single night at Tilicho, at a guesthouse overlooking the water. We’ll enjoy one sunset and one sunrise, then begin our journey back to Kathmandu. Hopefully if you check back with us later this year you can enjoy some of the photos from that journey. I know not everyone will ever get a chance to travel to this part of Nepal, but you’re all welcome to join us through the magic of the internet.
The second research trip we have planned is perhaps more ambitious, but a lot less arduous. I’ve known about the “Everest View Hotel” for over a decade now, and have always wanted to work this into an itinerary. November 17 2022 this is finally going to happen. The hotel itself is a little bit fancy, but it’s the view that draws a crowd. Nestled across the valley from Mount Everest, the hotel becomes a cradle from which to watch the light change across the peaks all day long. I’ve talked to my guides often about the day walks we can do from the hotel, but we’ll wait and see if we just end up ordering masala chai on the dining deck and sitting with the view all day instead.
Getting to Everest View is normally by walking for 3 days from Lukla, where a modest air strip allows for direct flights from Kathmandu. In our case, we’re going one step further and using a helicopter charter to fly beyond the limitations of Lukla. We’ll fly into Everest View one day, then three nights later fly out again with a quick stop at Everest Base Camp. We’ve come this far, it would be a shame not to take it a step further!
How do you finish off a slow-travel experience that begins with views of Everest and chartered helicopters? How about a visit to the jungles of West Nepal in search of tigers? Bardiya National Park is a special part of Nepal that the locals affectionately describe as “still wild”. It’s the best place in Nepal to see tigers in the wild, and I guess I’ll find out in November whether 4 nights of wilderness is sufficient to ensure some good sightings. I’m under no illusions about my odds for getting Nat Geo worthy photos of the tigers. I’ve shot a lot of wildlife in Asian jungles and it can be very hard to see the big cats for the trees.
There’s more than tigers in Bardiya of course. There’s magnificent birdlife everywhere, there’s rhinos and deer and you can walk with the elephants who protect us humans from the more aggressive tendencies of the rhino. A long time ago we used to include Chitwan National Park in our itineraries, but I had issues with the ethics of elephant riding as managed by the lodges. We were unable to resolve the ethical considerations at the time, and decided to exclude those lodges from our trips instead. A decade later and things in Bardiya are very different to what I faced in Chitwan – guests do not ride the elephants, instead they walk with them. Elephants have a unique relationship with the wild rhino, who respect them and give them space.
We’re staying at Tiger Tops while in Bardiya. It’s the simply the best, and nothing else comes close. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in lodges across Kenya, and I appreciate the experience of a well run safari lodge. They hire the best guides for one thing, so that’s a plus. But a great lodge also gives you the feeling of being connected to the wilderness, not isolated from it. That connection is so important for a safari experience. A morning drive to spot wildlife can be thrilling, but is made all the more special when you return to camp and continue to feel the embrace of the jungle. Butterflies on your veranda, birds calling from tree branches and maybe a spotted deer sneaking through the camp all embellish the moment.
If this combination of Everest and Tigers works out then we hope to offer the experience for many years to come. Or maybe we’ll think of ways to fine tune the trip and make it a little bit better. Because that’s what happens every year with every tour, we find ways to make things better. Research trips are a key part of how we operate, and how we continue to do our best for you.
Take a look at the two new research trips being run for November 2022
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