A quick walk around Mountain Creek

Mt Bogong is Victoria’s highest peak at 1986 metres (6516 ft). With its cap of snow in winter and its summer grey-green colouring of eucalypts and snow plains, it stands as a silent sentinel looking over the high plains, the valleys and the villages which make up this section of the Australian Alps.

The Bogong region is unique in the Australian Alps. Ten of the 11 highest peaks in Victoria are in the area, and there is an abundance of well-signposted walking and mountain biking tracks (both in the foothills and on the High Plains themselves) that keep visitors busy for hours, days and weeks. In addition, the landscape provides a combination of natural and cultural heritage which the visitor can experience. The natural heritage is characterised by Peppermint and Alpine Ash Forests in the foothills, the snow plains and landforms of the High Plains, and a variety of fauna and flora, including the endangered Pygmy Possum. The cultural heritage of the area incorporates indigenous use of the landscape, the huts of the Mountain Cattlemen, and the Hydro-Electric developments which contributed so much to Australia’s post-Second World War development. In some of the villages close to the mountains, Australia’s gold mining heritage can be discovered.

Camping site Mountain CreekThe peaceful Mountain Creek camping ground, not far from the town of Tawonga, provides a base for exploration around the foothills of Mount Bogong as well as for more adventurous walks onto the Bogong High Plains. From Mountain Creek, it is possible to walk through tall forests and ancient ferns, follow well-maintained 4WD or park management tracks, climb to the roof of Victoria by ascending Mt Bogong, Victoria’s highest mountain, explore the Bogong High Plains, or relax at your campsite by Mountain Creek, the choice is yours.

There are a number of shorter walks starting here. The 30 minute ‘Shady Gully Walk’ takes you along Mountain Creek and through Peppermint forests. Keep an eye out for ancient ferns along the route, as well as the patterns cast by light and shade as you walk along the track. Getting closer to the creek you will feel the shadows of the trees and the ferns and see the moss-covered rocks. The shadowy depths of the forest begin to impact on the landscape – the cooler air, the softer gurgle of the creek and the emergent sounds of birds speak for the changing nature of the walk.

This walk can be extended quite easily.  All you need to do is follow well-maintained tracks and the information guides available.

Mountain Creek Alpine National Park

Mountain Creek, at the camping ground

Purposeless walking

I was recently reading an article on the slow death of purposeless walking on the BBC website (available here). In it the author, , interviews authors of books on walking and discusses what walking does and should do. The specific discussion centred on ‘purposeless walking’, walking that’s undertaken with no purpose in mind other than to walk (and, through that, think).

This is contrasted to other forms of walking, such as walking from point A to point B (with a purpose), or walking for fitness, or to work and so on. Interesting examples of the rise of technology – texting whilst walking and following maps with eyes stuck on the phone – highlight the ways technology can intrude on physical activities such as walking.

As Rohrer concludes:

Boil down the books on walking and you’re left with some key tips:

  • Walk further and with no fixed route
  • Stop texting and mapping
  • Don’t soundtrack your walks
  • Go alone
  • Find walkable places
  • Walk mindfully.

Purposeless walking

And all this so very clearly epitomises Rebecca Solnit’s words: ‘Walking . . . is how the body measures itself against the earth.’ (Wanderlust: a history of walking).

What an incredibly powerful sentence. Walking purposelessly. What a great idea.

 

 

 

Notes from a Terrace: the park in A-Block, Defence Colony, New Delhi

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The terrace – 1st floor

As I write this, I’m sitting on the little terrace of my apartment in A-Block, Defence Colony, New Delhi. In the end, the decision was straightforward.The Defence Colony apartment ‘ticked all the right boxes’, as my helpful real estate agent put it, now some 12 months ago. The most important tick beyond the Colony itself was the terrace.  From my vantage point, I look into the trees which line a small park opposite me.

India is such a large country with a broad sweep of history – civilisation after civilisation have left their marks, often etched in monuments, landscapes, temples, cities and so on. So much to see, so much to do, so much to ‘experience’.

But the Defence Colony (or Def Col as it’s known) park is also fascinating.  It’s a point of intersection of people’s lives, relationships, networks and living and the vignettes of people’s lives which unfold tell a lot, away from the monuments. These vignettes are important for travellers who want to understand rather than merely ‘pass through’ to tick off something, somewhere.

The A block park

The park itself is quite small – probably less than an acre I’d say.  It has a perimeter path as well as paths that bisect it from north to south and east to west.  It is essentially a park split into quarters.  The grass is lush, and always cut.  There are gardens and hedges along the paths as well as some trees along half of the perimeter. Seats are dotted about, and at one corner (the furthest corner from my terrace) is a crumbling fountain – a relic of a time when Delhi had lots of water and, I presume, someone to look after the fountain.

There is a man who looks after the park – watering it, weeding it (though I haven’t seen him mowing – perhaps that’s someone else’s job).  He always says hello to me, no matter where I see him.  In fact, even if I don’t see him, I will usually get a ‘Good morning/afternoon/evening sir’ shouted from the park.  When I ask him how he is, he is always ‘very fine’.

There is the woman who walks around and around the park, for her daily exercise, sari flowing.  It takes approximately three minutes to get around the park, and she goes around and around and around. And she’s not the only one.  Many take their exercise there by walking around and around. These are safe places for walking – no cars and motorbikes to threaten you (walkers are very low on the road pecking order). Plus, the park is a respite from the Def Col dogs who rule the streets.  They don’t bite (that often).

Then there is the very old, frail man who walks, supported by his son. He only walks around the end of the park where I am – he probably can’t go much beyond that. But a member of his family is there to look after him, to keep his routine alive.

Recently I’ve loved the frail winter sun and the light of spring – and sitting reading the paper in the park.  People come out like lizards – find some sun, sit and reheat. A favourite is to sit and talk, but also to sleep – stretched out on the grass, perhaps on a rug of some kind, perhaps just on the grass.  Too soon people will be sitting in the park in the deep shadows of the trees so as to get some relief from the heat. The park is a place to escape the inside at least for a little while. We move from the private to the public.

The park is also a place to do homework.  School children often can be seen with their books discussing their homework (perhaps – or their lives, their friendships, their plans, their social activities, boyfriends/girlfriends.  Who would know.  But they certainly use the park for it.  Perhaps it’s an escape from nosy parents, and the homework is a pretext). The park is an extension of the closed-door of the teenager’s bedroom.

Then of course, who could forget the games the park attracts – boys playing cricket, girls playing tag, parents and children playing, grandparents playing with grandchildren, little children learning to ride on the paths.  The park is their the backyard.

Delhi is an amazing city with its civilisational markers throughout. There are various itineraries to be had – 48 hours in Delhi, 3 days, 5 day tours and so on. There is a pulse to the place that is extraordinary.  As one of the world’s great mega-cities, you’d expect nothing different.

But while here take the time to also observe the little things – the interactions of the people who make up this city. See what people do.  You may not have a little terrace, but you can find a vantage point just about anywhere.  All it needs is the right mindset and the time to take your time. Then you will find the threads of our common humanity – the commonalities of interactions and everyday life – that express themselves in families, friendships, pushed boundaries and youth. What a great LoST experience.

 

A quick walk for Autumn – Chalwell Galleries, Mt Buffalo

As I sit and write this, I’m in New Delhi where the temperature is already reaching 42C and summer hasn’t actually arrived. Perhaps it’s no wonder that at various times my mind goes back to Northeast Victoria.  There at the moment the Autumn light and wind and chill have arrived. In mid-June, the snow season will officially open, and this long weekend will see large numbers of visitors up in the valleys – often on wine and food trails – and making early visits to the snow-fields.

It’s one of my favourite times of the year in the Victorian mountains, and more generally up in the mountains of the Australian Alps, where the air will be particularly crisp and clear, with always an outside chance of early snowfalls (which have just occurred actually).  It’s a great time to get some camping and walks in before snowshoes come out of summer retirement.

Mt Buffalo is a great place for this time of year – a little lower than some other mountains, it got its name from early European explorers likening it to a sleeping buffalo as they approached it from the valley floor.  To be honest, I’ve never seen this particularly, and I’ve approached it from plenty of angles, but it does have a plateau and it rises from the valley floor, unconnected to the rest of the Alps. So who am I to question the aesthetics and the imaginations of early European explorers?

Of course the mountain was well known before then. Indigenous movements to the foothills and the plateau tended to be dominated by gatherings to feast on the Bogong moth. These included a range of ceremonies, both within the different groups who came as well as between them. There is still evidence of these gatherings if you know where to look.

Lake Catani

Lake Catani. Notice the burnt snow gums – it’s quite a haunting landscape at various times of the day.

On top of Mount Buffalo is a beautiful camping ground – Lake Catani. It used to be that campsites were nestled in amongst snow gums. Many still are, but now, after significant fires around eight years ago, some of these snow gums have been burnt beyond regrowth – a testament to both the role of fire in these Australian landscapes and, perhaps, to climatic changes which have seen fires burn with an intensity previously unknown.

From Lake Catani there are any number of walks that can be done – some long, some short. Here is a fabulous short one – a walk to the Chalwell Galleries.

This well formed and well signposted one hour walk leads to a deposit of granite rocks and tors, a common characteristic of the Buffalo plateau landscape. The galleries are named after Ernie Chalwell, the stable master at the Buffalo Chalet in the 1940s and 1950s. The Galleries are a granite outcrop with magnificent views of the Buckland valley and out towards Mt Bogong, the highest mountain in Victoria as well as the NSW Alps.

On reaching the galleries, a granite playground can be found. You pass through crevices and chimneys to reach the other side. Or, if you like, you can pass through other crevices and chimneys because, well, because you can.

When you’ve finished playing, reflecting and looking, and you’re ready to get to the other side, you pick up the trail and the walk loops back to Lake Catani.  All along – the way up, the way down, playing at the top – you should keep an eye out for the views to the more classically Alpine-looking Mt Feathertop and the more rounded profile of Mt Hotham and the High Plains. Views of these are found at various stages as you emerge from chimneys and crevices – you get vignettes of the Alps, stretching through Victoria on one side and NSW on the other.  And of course, here are the valley views as you get closer to the edge of the Galleries.

Brian Chawall galleries

Coming down from the Chalwell Galleries. Just over the top, views open up as you reach the edge of the plateau

As a package of things – camping at Lake Catani, then walking to the galleries early in the morning, for example -  it’s really hard to beat.  And of course you can add this to the Big Walk, my post of 10 February 2014 (see here) to really stretch the legs and take your time exploring.

Why I don’t like ‘authentic’ (or ‘traditional’ as well really).

I must confess to being majorly turned off by descriptions of things as ‘authentic’ or ‘traditional’ when travelling.  How many times do you hear descriptions of an experience as ‘authentic’, of people having an ‘authentic’ culture and even (I don’t joke) ‘authentic’ souvenirs (as distinct to ‘traditional’ souvenirs I guess? Or ‘modern’ ones?)

There are a number of reasons I’m uncomfortable with the term.  First, if some experience is ‘authentic’, it means there are experiences that are ‘inauthentic’. But how can that be the case?  All experiences occur and therefore are ‘authentic’ to those who experience them.  The fact that some experiences fit a closer sense of our (travellers) expectation may make them closer to what we want to get from them, and what we want to see or experience, but this doesn’t make the experience any more authentic or inauthentic from the perspective of those who we interact with. It is in the context and in the interpretation of the experience.

This therefore raises the possibility that as travellers (remembering that almost by definition, we are outsiders), our search for an ‘authentic’ experience starts to impose our notions of authenticity onto other cultures. This can be very dangerous in the sense that the cultural exchange occurring between traveller and local begins to get defined by the outsider.

To give an example, I remember someone telling me once about a trip they had been on.  They had paid to have a tour of a long house in a south-east Asian country, and he had paid to stay for one night there. His experience, as he described it, was both positive and negative.

It was positive because he was in the longhouse, he interacted with an extended family who cooked for him, provided local drinks and accommodation in a room.  He was able to observe and experience everyday life of the extended family for the tI me he was there.  The trip to the longhouse by boat was part of this construction of ‘authenticity’.  He took pictures of the family in their ‘traditional’ dress, cooking their ‘traditional’ food, using their ‘traditional’ methods, in their ‘traditional’ house.

It was negative because the family, for all this ‘traditional’ hospitality, wanted to sell him souvenirs, and this was not ‘authentic’.  They also asked for tips, again not ‘authentic’.

Secondly, the search for authenticity has embedded in it, I would suggest, an assumption that cultures are static things. This of course depends on how ‘authenticity’ is constructed, both by the traveller and the local. So when we search for a sense of authenticity, we may well be assuming that authenticity is there for our benefit as travellers and is somehow frozen in a romanticized view of what we want and expect. As soon as we do that, we start to impose a set of assumptions on living cultures and living people.

Of course, this is not always one-way.  I remember working in the buffer of a protected area in South Asia a few years ago, a park that was trying to attract ecotourists.  My concern was the park management’s concept of ecotourism was quite broadly defined – at the time, there was a big push by governments to have ecotourism implemented and, as with lots of things, when you push for a quick implementation you lose the reflection, the dialogues and critical discussions and the cooperation required to make things work well.  So I was a bit worried about that.

A village had just formed a dance/cultural entertainment group to entertain the ecotourists who were to come and I happened to be there during one of their early performances. There were a few people in the audience – perhaps 6 – and they were all westerners.

Group members began to dance, women dancing on their own, men dancing on their own.  There was a description of the dances by one of the group’s members, with the narrative focusing on harvests and long-life and good fortune.

Then, as the night reached its end, the men and the women danced together, and once that had finished, the dancers went and got members of the audience to dance with them. The narrative for this was one of tradition – that this dance was not often seen by outsiders, rarely performed beyond the confines of the small village and family networks within other villages.

And yet, they were dancing with members of the audience.

As you could imagine, there were cameras flashing during the night, but especially when the westerners were brought up on stage. My heart was very heavy.

Afterwards I spoke with some of the members of the group and asked them to describe their ideas for the dance group.  What they wanted to achieve was to both maintain their cultural traditions, but to also generate income for the village and for village facilities.  The group was set up as a cooperative and profits went to village enterprises rather than individual households.

I understood all this, but not about the dance with the audience.  I asked why, if the dance was so seldom done, so special, it was being performed with audience members.  The person I was discussing this with smiled and said ‘Brian, that’s just a story. It’s to keep the tourists happy. We just made it (the dance) up as we went along’.

I laughed at the thought that the audience members, happy in their notion of ‘authentic’ would be showing pictures of dancing that they were privileged to see – dancing that was seldom performed, and they happened to be able to see it.  They would have felt special and would have showed their images and constructed their own stories and narratives of this cultural exchange, not knowing that their stories were based in their own construction of their experience.

And for the dancers, they were dealing with authenticity on their own terms, rather than on the terms of the travellers. They knew what they wanted to achieve – improvements in village facilities.  They found a way to achieve it, and they recognised that they didn’t want or need to sell out their own cultural ideas, values, changes and aspirations, to the authenticity assumed by the tourists looking at ‘the other’. The dancers engaged with the complexities of this exchange, and did it on their own terms.

For me, this is an important story for LoST travel. We need to move well beyond notions of ‘other’ and notions of ‘tradition’ and ‘authenticity’.  As LoST travellers our aim is to recognise the dynamics of our interactions and to reflexively understand the assumptions of our interactions.  For us the focus is not on the journey or the interaction, but on the package of journey, interaction, ethics, assumptions, expectations (and how they’re formed) and our aims for our interactions.