5 months In Sri Lanka India and Nepal
the backpacking trip of a lifetime. Words by Nick Tearle, Photography by Nick Tearle & Lizzie Sludds

After spending the last four years in the UK establishing myself as a full-time artist, selling paintings and organising exhibitions, my partner Lizzie and I decided to save up and take a long break. A backpacking trip to Asia travelling on a one-way ticket with little planned but the three countries we wanted to see Sri Lanka, India and Nepal travelling mostly via train, plane and motorcycle.

We are not new to backpacking, I had previously lived and travelled in South East Asia for four years and Lizzie had travelled solo for three months through the same countries she had also volunteered in India before.

Sri Lanka

We flew out of Heathrow on December 1st landing in Sri Lanka’s capital City Colombo. We made our way down and around the palm lined beaches and fort towns of the southeast coast before heading up into the jungled hilltop interior and the world famous Sigirya Rock. On the coast, we visited pristine beaches, a turtle refuge, a tsunami memorial centre and enjoyed drinking coconuts in hammocks. We covered most of our trip on the island using trains. One particular journey, between the small town of Ella and the larger city of Kandy has become an Instagram travel sensation in recent years and it certainly did not disappoint. The characterful, open doored blue carriages roll through the lush tropical hillsides at just faster than walking pace. Gazing through the large open windows and doorways, the six-hour journey offers travellers a consistently beautiful vista of rice paddies, national parks, waterfalls and villages. Sri Lanka has great trekking, diving, whale watching and cultural attractions, we spent around one month there staying in a mix of hostels, hotels and homestays. We were sad to leave when the time came but we had already booked a new year’s party in Goa, India.


Sri Lanka Photography Gallery

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South India

If Sri Lanka had been like a short story, arriving in India was like turning to page one of a great and epic novel. We travelled from the fishing port of Kochi, in the south-eastern state of Kerala with its colonial old town charm and backwater boat rides on an overnight sleeper bus to Goa home of the non-stop party beach atmosphere and final destination of the 60’s hippie trail. Another overnight sleeper and we were in the state of Karnataka at the ancient village of Hampi where the sound of the primordial Om chant rings out across the boulder desert and rice paddies from the Virupaksha Hindu temple every morning. We had arrived just in time for the annual festival and were treated to lots of live music, dancing and carnival processions.

Also in Karnataka state the first of our three motorcycle tours began. I’m a biker, I may not be big, hairy and covered in leather but two wheels is my favourite way to travel just the same. Renting a motorcycle in Bangalore wasn’t easy or straightforward but once we had secured a decent Royal Enfield Classic, sanctified our ride with fresh flower garlands draping over the handlebars and headlight we navigated our way through the chaotic traffic of the city and spent the next ten days cruising round the Western Ghats mountain range. We stopped at Mysore, Madikeri, and Chickmaglur. Karnataka is not the kind of place that typically comes to mind when you think of India, the climate here varies a lot once you get up to the hill stations with certain spots often described as the Scotland of India.


South India Photography Gallery

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North India

We flew north out of Bangalore to the more iconic Indian state of Rajasthan. Rajasthan is a desert state of Northern India, famous for its plethora of coloured turban designs, camels, temples and huge forts of imperial history. Here we would again take to the road on another Royal Enfield this time spending fifteen days visiting Jaipur, Pushkar, Ranakpur and Udaipur. In Rajasthan, we experienced the richness of local culture from street musicians and lively wedding processions to chanting sessions at lakeside temples.

From Rajasthan we took an overnight sleeper bus to Agra home of the beautiful Taj Mahal. We took a couple of days to take in this pristine wonder of the world, an absolute must for any visitor to India, before we moved further north into the foothills of the Himalayas to Rishikesh. Rishikesh is a real hippie heaven of a town, full of temples and vegan eateries, set a stride the Ganges river. It was here that the beetles spent their famous Indian retreat. Festivals every evening, yoga and sound baths every day and white water rafting for the more adventurous. This would be our last destination in India and before flying into Nepal’s capital Kathmandu.

North India Photography Gallery

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Nepal really took our adventure to the next level. Nepal is a landlocked country bordered by India and China and is home to the Himalayan mountain range and eight of the world’s highest mountain summits, including Mount Everest. After enjoying ‘Holi’, the annual Hindu festival of colour in the city and securing a permit to enter the Annapurna National Park, we rented another 350cc Royal Enfield Classic motorcycle and planned our 744 km route into the mountains. We left whatever luggage we deemed unnecessary with our hotel staff and tied the rest to the bike.

After navigating the densely populated historic market streets of the chaotic capital, we took the landslide prone, heavily congested Prithvi Highway west through the tropical foothills toward Pokhara, stopping at the charming hilltop village of Bandipur. From Pokhara we headed north to Sarangkot where we got our first view of the breath-taking snow covered mountain range. Our plan was to ride the only road up into the mountains to Muktinath, a sacred Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage site; home to one of the highest temples on earth, Muktinath Temple at 3800m. The journey would take twelve days in total and the road was a mixture of off road mud track, shallow rocky pools and snow covered blind bends. Stopping at Beni, Tatopani, Kalopani, Jomsom and Kagbeni we saw the landscape change from verdant rice paddies, to rocky river valleys, to snow covered mountainsides.

At Tatopani, by the Kali Gandaki river, we encountered goat and yak herders, ate hot steamy Thukpa noodle soup and ‘mo mos’, and heard the meditative chants of Tibetan Buddhist villagers. In the village of Kalopani we tried to keep warm in the unheated wooden lodge as a snow storm came down outside. The following morning, the landscape was completely transformed by two feet of fresh snow. After the road thawed a little, we set off onward and upward for Jomsom and Kagbeni where we visited the Kag Chode Monastery. I was allowed to record the monks as they performed their daily mantras. We hadn’t seen more than a handful of other tourists; all hikers trekking the Annapurna Circuit.

After eight days of riding, we arrived at our final destination the small town of Muktinath. It was the end of the road and felt like the top of the world. There was nothing but snow and mountain peaks in all directions. The only way up to the temple complex was by a caravan of ponies. Pilgrims, having travelled from southern India, some very elderly, were riding the ponies up to the temple site chanting as they rode. A feeling of being present at a truly spiritual place began to grow within us.

At the temple, many bells rang in the wind. Prayer flags cast mantras across the mountainsides and the pilgrims gathered at idols to sing, give offerings and pray. Many bathed in the temple’s pools despite the freezing temperatures; we saw more than one person being carried down by stretcher. We spent as long as we could there in what felt like a moment that could last forever, looking out over the Himalayas in quiet meditation.

With growing news of the Coronavirus pandemic circulating, we made plans to get back to Kathmandu early in anticipation of a nationwide travel lockdown. We returned on the same route via the motorcycle. We were incredibly lucky, leaving on the last flight a day before Nepal closed its doors to inward and outward travel.
As we travelled I made sound recordings of all the interesting environments and events along the way. The first set of these recordings, those from Nepal, have now been made into a field recording album which has been picked up by Insight Music an independent ambient record label. To stay updated on the release of the album please visit https://nicktearle.net/music-and-sound.

Nepal Photography Gallery

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Our fantastic adventure has been featured in the July 2020 online edition of I'd Rather be in Deeping available here: https://idratherbeindeeping.com/

Annapurna: Selected Field recordings from Nepal

I took the opportunity on the trip to make field recordings of all the interesting places we visited. I have completed the first album of these recordings which focuses on the Nepal leg of our trip. The album was picked up by Insight Music - an independent ambient record Label and is due to be released on all major digital streaming services as digital download and physical CD with accompanying booklet.

For more information head to the Music and Sound page.