Behind the image 14 June 2014

Himalaya Range PS 01Himalayan range, Uttarakhand, India.

To me, this image gives a real sense of scale.  You can see the middle ranges and their height at the bottom of the image. But these look positively small when compared to the peak above – approx 7800 metres in height (still 1000 metres – 1 km – less than Mt Everest).

This part of the Himalayas has great opportunities for walking and also for wildlife viewing, including possible sightings of the snow leopard.


Behind the image 31 May 2014

Mountain Creek Alpine National ParkThis is Mountain Creek, at Mountain Creek camping site, at the Bogong area of the Alpine National Park, northeast Victoria, Australia.  Here is the starting point for a classic walk which takes you up the Staircase Spur to the roof of Victoria – the top of Mt Bogong (1986m).

This is one of my favourite places – I’ve been coming here for years.  The thing about the Kiewa valley, where this is located, is the ways it’s reinvented itself with a thriving economy now based on recreation (walking, mountain-biking and skiing) and locally grown produce. It’s a living example of the ways conservation, national parks and LoST ideas can contribute to local economies, mosaics of land-uses and community resilience.


Two historic huts at Falls Creek: a quick walk

There are some nice walks to be had in the Victorian Alps High Plains joining up various historic huts.  Some of these huts were originally used by cattlemen who would bring their livestock up onto the plains in search of summer pastures.  Access to the Alpine National Park by drovers remains a political issue.  Cattle have been banned from the park for many years but now their are changes mooted to re-open some parts of the park to cattle again.

Other huts have been used by the development of hydro-power, such a central part of Australia’s post-World War II development path.  Still others have been used by ski-tourers.

Wallace's Hut

Wallace’s Hut

This short walk takes you to two huts – an original cattleman’s hut  (Wallace’s hut), and one which has been used for ski touring (Cope hut).  There is an easy track to follow.

You can begin this along the Bogong High Plains road – the track to Wallace’s hut is signposted at around 7.5 kms along the road from Rocky Valley.  Wallace’s is one of the original huts of the Victorian high plains.

After Wallace’s hut you can continue to Cope hut – one of the original ski-touring huts built in the 1920′s

Cope Hut

Cope Hut

The whole circuit will take around about 2-3 hours or so return.  You can find further information on the circuit here. It’s a nice and easy introduction to some of the history that has shaped, and continues to shape, the landscapes of the high plains.

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.