Forging A New Trekking Route From Dhaulagiri To Dolpo In Western Nepal

In April 2019, our 10-strong team forged a new and spectacular route from the foothils of the Dhaulagiri range towards Lower Dolpo, in western Nepal. Along the way, we encountered some of the most extensive rhododendron forest we have ever seen, experienced wonderful mountain views, and fell in love with this mostly unexplored (we saw no other groups) corner of the Himalayas. It just goes to show, that even in a country as heavily trekked as Nepal, there is always a fresh approach to doing things, and new sights to discover.

Photographing Esoteric Festivals In Yunnan With Private Clients.

Here at Whistling Arrow, we have always had a keen interest in photographing little-known, esoteric festivals throughout western China, Tibet and the wider Himalaya. Yunnan, in particular, has always been one of our favourite destinations, as it is home to a wide variety of minority cultures and festivals. On a custom photography trip we designed for a small group of private clients recently, we once again ventured well off the beaten track to capture celebrations and ceremonies that have rarely been documented by outsiders before. Here are a few photos from our adventure.

Trekking The Wild Lumba Sumba Pass In North East Nepal.

In November 2018, our small group of intrepid trekkers flew by helicopter to the remote village of Olangchung Gola which straddles the wild borderlands of Kanchenjunga and Makalu Barun National Parks, to witness the esoteric, community-based 'phutuk' festival. After experiencing the various cham dances (which are performed in the 'Northern Treasures' tradition of the oldest Tibetan Buddhist Nyingma sect), our team then set off towards the wild and mighty Lumba Sumba Pass (5160m) before descending into the lower Arun Valley. Thanks to Claudia, Sandra, Richard, Raj, Walter and Chris for making it a fabulous trip.

Our 2018 Adventure Trek Through The Wilds Of Western Mongolia

Here at Whistling Arrow, we have just successfully completed our fourth expedition in western Mongolia, where, on this occasion, our team trekked for 7 days through a mostly unexplored corner of Altai Tavan Bogd. These days, it is increasingly difficult to venture into truly wild and unspoilt places, devoid of any other groups, but with imagination, google earth, expert planning and strong local connections - it is still possible. Indeed, designing and leading such unique (and often pioneering) trips is very much part of our DNA. 

 But don't just take our word for it: here is some feedback from two of the team, Ed and Naomi: 

 " Naomi and I have been on many treks in recent years, - however the expedition that we embarked on with Adrian and Whistling Arrow in western Mongolia surpassed them all. It was a real privilege to discover such a remote and unexplored part of the world - and we literally didn't see one other tourist the whole time we were there. Adrian had also thought of our every need - the tents were comfortable, the food was excellent and the scenery was just awesome. Can’t wait for our next Whistling Arrow adventure, wherever that may take us "

An Overland Cultural Adventure Through The Tibetan Borderlands Of Western China.

In our honest opinion, the Tibetan borderlands of western Sichuan (and parts of southern Qinghai) are not only the most scenically spectacular in the whole of the Tibetan plateau, but also - the most culturally interesting. For years now, we have received various client requests to use our expert knowledge of the region to create a unique (and slightly 'softer') cultural adventure that will enable our guests to immersively experience many of the region's hidden gems.  And so, in July 2018 we set off once again, to explore several authentic and eclectic festivals that take place every summer throughout the (historical) eastern Tibetan province of Kham, and design a trip that we will be offering to our clients for 2019.

Please note, that this unique adventure will be limited to just six places (as Adrian and Edward will drive two large 4WD's with three guests in each vehicle) and confirmation of the trip dates will be dependant on the final release of the Tibetan calendar in January 2019. In all probability though, the trip be scheduled for mid to late July 2019, so if anyone would like to pre-register their interest (two people have already done so) then please do get in touch today.

China Exploration: An Expedition Into The Gaoligong (& Meili Snow) Mountains Of Yunnan.

In June 2018 we ran our fourth intrepid expedition into the remote northern Gaoligong Mountains along the border of Yunnan and Burma. On this occasion,  we discovered what can only be described as a 'super bloom', with, in particular, huge varieties of rhododendrons flowering profusely.  In addition to the myriad species of plants, we also found many different birds (with my particular favourite being the fire-tailed sunbird) and perhaps most remarkably of all, a small herd of wild takin.

We never tire of exploring this spectacular hidden 'sanctuary' - so if there are any flower enthusiasts, adventurers or wildlife film crews interested in discovering what is surely one of the most prolific temperate biospheres on the planet, then please do get in touch. Here at Whistling Arrow, we are uniquely positioned to make it happen. In the meantime, below are a few images to enjoy from our most recent trip.

Observing, Filming & Photographing Snow Leopards In The Wilds Of Western China. 

Not many people know this - but one of the best places in Asia (if not the best) to track, film and photograph the elusive snow leopard is in the Tibetan borderlands of Western China. In one particular valley, at certain times of year, clear sightings of the estimated dozens of resident big cats are indeed relatively frequent.

If that were not enough, there are also myriad other mammals in this area, including brown bears, wolves, pallas cats and white-lipped deer. Later this year, probably in late October or early December, I plan to head back to this remarkable valley once again to capture some natural images (as opposed to the one's taken by camera trap below) of the wild snow leopards. If any wildlife photographers are interested to join me on an exploratory trip, please do get in touch.

Why Do You Explore?

It's a very simple question, and one that I was asked recently while giving a private talk about exploration and adventure. At the time, my answer was rather formulaic, and covered a range of reasons - such as the challenge of embracing new and unknown experiences; the thrill of making new discoveries and, particularly these days, the sense of freedom that an extended period of digital detox brings.

But I wonder, is it deeper than that - do some people feel almost compelled to explore? Is it in fact - part of their self-nature DNA? I wonder.

Forging An Epic New Route To The Sacred Peaks Of Yading In Western China

In October 2017, our small team of expeditionary climbers and trekkers forged a new trekking route from the historical Kingdom of Muli to the sacred peaks of Yading. Having previously pioneered and trekked the Yading 'Big Kora' four times before, we were well aware of just how breathtakingly beautiful this region is, but even we were left awe-struck by what we found.

Once again, except for the odd nomadic herder and his yaks, we had the whole wilderness to ourselves. We also identified a number of unclimbed 5000m+ peaks that would present fantastic new challenges for Alpine first ascents. All in all, the trip reinforced our view, that for pure unadulterated mountain porn, these spectacular peaks, lakes and valleys are probably the most beautiful in China. We would even venture to suggest that they offer some of the very best expeditionary trekking in the whole of Asia.

** Please note that we will be running a follow up expedition (open to all) to further explore this spectacular region in October 2019.**

A First Foray Into The Sacred Peaks Of Golok: Eastern Tibet

In July 2017, Adrian Bottomley and Kyle Obermann embarked on a bold reconnaisance expedition to fully traverse the sacred peaks of Golok; a spectacular range that straddles a remote region of present-day Sichuan and Qinghai, in the historical Tibetan province of Amdo.

Categorized by surreal shark-toothed finials and tens of translucent lakes, the massif is also home to many rare wildflowers (including Meconopsis Barbiseta and Primula Euprepes), multiple nesting sites of the endangered Black-necked crane and 40 or so snow leopards. It is also revered as the topographical manifestation of a mandala of Chakrasamavara, the most important meditational deity in Tibetan Buddhism.

Awe-struck by what we discovered, we will be heading back in July 2018 to explore further with a small group of guests. Notably, we will also be collaborating on the follow-up expedition with two local Tibetan monks who deeply inspired us with their grassroots efforts to conserve this unique biosphere for future generations.

Our Latest Custom-Designed Trekking Expedition In Western Mongolia Proves To Be Our Best Yet!

After many months of planning, in September 2017, we embarked on a custom-designed trip into a previously un-trekked region of the Altai mountains along the border with western Mongolia and China (northern Xinjiang). Our clients, many of them who were travelling with us for the second or third time, were a diverse group of friends looking for that unique adventure of a lifetime. The original expedition brief had been a challenging one - to create an intrepid 'first foray' adventure that would offer the opportunity to discover a completely 'unexplored' and awe-inspiring corner of Asia - all in relative comfort and stocked with good wine, whiskey and a couple of Fortnum & Mason hampers!

So, supported by a team of six Bactrian camels, Shohan the eaglehunter (who acted as our camel driver), two local nomadic guides, two cooks, a camp assistant and myself, our team of eleven forged a pioneering route deep into the southern reaches of Altai Tavan Bogd; a pristine wilderness notable for its beautiful, larch-covered valleys, crystal-clear lakes, lunar-like foothills and snow-capped mountains. Over 10 days, we explored new frontiers that had previously been completely off-limits to outsiders, and were rewarded with a spectacular adventure that will linger long in the memory.

As a final treat - the expedition was also featured in the official Fortnum and Mason adventure journal

Our June 2017 Botanical Expedition To The Gaoligong Mountains of Yunnan

In June 2017, we embarked on our third plant-hunting expedition deep into the northern Gaoligong Mountains that straddle the borders of Burma, Yunnan and Tibet. The aim of the expedition was to be the first trekking party to traverse the entire northern section of the range from the Nujiang Valley to the Dulong Valley. While the trip was a huge success botanically, ultimately we were thwarted in our aim of completing a full traverse by deep snow which blocked the descent from the final pass.

This latest adventure only reinforced our opinion that the region is truly one of Asia's best kept secrets - a sanctuary of untouced wilderness that is not only spectacularly beautiful, but is also probably the most prolific temperate biosphere in the world. While the abundance of rare and wonderful flowers will draw us back to these remote peaks again next June, we are are also tempted to undertake an expedition one year in September, which will give us the best chance (when all the snow has melted) of completing a full traverse of the range.

Discovering Rare Wild Poppies (Meconopsis) In Western China / Eastern Tibet.

On a recent reconnaisance trip into the sacred peaks of Golog, a region that historically formed the heartland of the ancient Kingdom of Ling, we discovered a magnificent range of spectacular jagged peaks dotted with dozens of crystal-clear lakes. The mountains are also home to approximately 40 snow leopard, over 170 birds (including the rare Tibetan Bunting and Black-necked Crane) and hundreds of wildflowers.

Rare varieties of flower include wild Primula Melanantha (a beautiful black primula that only grows at around 4800m in just one or two inaccessible spots) and an endemic lilac lily, Meconopsis Barbiseta. Indeed it was probably the meconopsis that stole the show with seven different varieties recorded in relative abundance and, in some cases, throughout the range. They were the aforementioned Barbiseta, Integriflora, Horridula, Racemosa, Impedita, Quintuplinervis and Punicea (aswell as a hybrid of the two - Cookies).

** Please note that we will be leading a small group expedition back to the sacred peaks of Golog in July 2018.**


A Unique & Culturally Immersive Wilderness Adventure In Olangchung Gola, North East Nepal.

In the far eastern corner of Nepal, tucked away in the remote borderlands with Tibet lies the village of Olangchung Gola. The last habitation before the wild and rugged Lumbasumba Pass which connects the giant 8000m+ peaks of Kanchenjunga and Makalu, it is also home to the ancient Deki Chholing gompa and an age-old (and increasingly disappearing) tradition of weaving beautiful woolen rugs by hand and using only natural dyes.

The monastery is also the venue for a seldom-seen, esoteric Tibetan Buddhist festival that takes place every year in late autumn, involving various Cham dances, such as the 'Black Hat' dance as well as a Vajrakila phurba ceremony in the tradition of the 'Northern Treasures' tantra. 

In truth, we are very excited about this region and are designing a new unique small group adventure for private clients in 2018 that will combine the wonderful festival with a trek to a nearby sacred lake, surrounded by 5000m+ peaks. The local Walung people believe that advanced Buddhist practitioners can see their future karmic path reflected in the crystal-clear waters. The lake has previously been completely off-limits to outsiders, so we feel very privileged to be able to share the experience with our guests.

The Kawa Karpo Kora Trek, Yunnan / Tibet: A Fond Yet Sad Fairwell.

The Kawa Karpo Kora trek was once one of the region's great mountain adventures. In recent years it has been compromised by the building of a new road, on the Tibetan side, and the establishment of a police checkpoint near Chawalong which often presents a headache to those of us used to trekking the route without a permit.

Post 2015 , there is sadly also a problem with rubbish, as the trail was overwhelmed with large numbers of pligrims circumambulating the sacred mountain in what was the most recent auspicious Year of the Sheep. Local villagers and authorities have vowed to organize a clean-up but in my humble opinion, the situation is almost beyond repair.

We have successfully lead three seperate expeditions around Kham's most important pilgrimage over the years, but it's now time to move on and discover pastures new. For posterity's sake, here are a few photos, to remember one of our favourite trips.

A Beautiful Trek Between The Nujiang & Mekong River Valleys In Yunnan: Next Stop The Yangste?

The first rule of expedition management is to always have a plan B. On our latest trekking adventure in northern Yunnan and eastern Tibet we decided to explore an alternative trekking route and traverse the Nujiang and Mekong Valleys 40 km further south than our original plan. A big call at the time - the combination of a hair-raising bus ride high above a vertigo-inducing gorge (with our mules riding in a truck behind) and the subsequent crossing of two spectacular high-altitude passes framed by lush river valleys made for a wonderful end to the trip.

It also got me thinking about a follow-up expedition to traverse all three of the parallel river valleys that flow down from Tibet into Yunnan - the Yangste, the Mekong and the Nujiang. It would be an amazing adventure - particularly in late spring when the rhododendrons will be in full bloom. Stay posted. I'm making provisional plans as we speak - most probably for September 2018.

Is Whistling Arrow's Yading 'Big Kora' Expedition The Most Beautiful Trek In China?

Honestly. We think so.

Whistling Arrow originally recced the Yading 'Big Kora' several years ago now and, while things are starting to change on the ground, it is still, in our humble opinion, the most scenically spectacular one week trek in western China/eastern Tibet.  We have successfully completed four commercial expeditions in recent times, three in the month of September and one in June, so we have become something of an expert on this exceptional, esoteric adventure.

The challenging trek takes six to eight days in total and climbs through forested hills to a mountain sanctuary that is stunningly beautiful. The circular route also crosses a number of high altitude passes (the highest being 4,900m), through valleys dotted with wild flowers (including the fabled Himalayan Blue Poppy) and yak herders huts, to witness crystal clear, glacier-fed lakes and mountain views that simply take your breath away.

Approximately 6000m in height, the three sacred peaks are situated in the Ganzi Tibet Autonomous prefecture in western Sichuan and were sanctified in the 16th Century by the fifth Dalai Lama. Local Tibetans revere them as emanations of the three bodhisattvas of Chenrezing (compassion), Jampayang (wisdom) and Chanadorjee (power) and believe that embarking on the ‘kora’ that encircles their majestic, snow-capped summits helps to accumulate merit and purify negative karma.

The trek also has an interesting backstory involving Joseph Rock, the famous Austrian-American explorer and geographer, who first ‘discovered’ the sacred mountains of Yading in 1928. Inhabited at the time by murderous Tibetan bandits, he romantically labeled them the ‘holy mountains of the outlaws’. An extensive account of his travels in the region was published in the July 1931 issue of National Geographic and gave the outside world its first jaw-dropping glimpse of this incredibly beautiful ‘Shangri-La’. Indeed, it is possible that fictional paradise written about by James Hilton in the 1933 novel ‘Lost Horizon’ was inspired by these amazing images.

Here are some of our own images, which we hope, will also help to inspire.

* Please note that while we have no plans to run a fixed-departure Yading Big Kora trek in 2018 we are still able to customize this adventure for pre-arranged groups of at least 4 people. Additionally, we are also be running an a new expedition in the region in October 2019, details of which, can be found by CLICKING HERE*

A Trekking Expedition Into The Altai Mountains Of Western Mongolia

We have designed, managed and lead multiple expeditions into the Altai mountains of western Mongolia over the last few years and the remote region remains one of our favourite destinations. There are very few places in Asia that quite give you the same boundless feeling of open space and big sky and so we continue the hunt for new adventures. One of the most promising areas is an untrekked (previously restricted) range along the China border to the south east - so stay tuned.

In the meantime, here are some photos of our twist on a classic expeditionary route in Altai Tavan Bogd. The adventure took place in late August (the best time in our opinion) and began with a beautiful drive across the steppe to a ger-stay with Shohan - the eagle hunter - and his family where we rode horses and helped to round up his flatulent flock as the sun set over the snowy peaks. With typical, nomadic hospitality we then feasted on mutton, fermented mares milk (it's stronger than you think) and wild berries.

The following day we passed a number of ancient Turkic stone statues and pre-hictoric petroglyphs before camping at the mouth of Baga Turgen. From our campsite, we trekked up to a spectacular lookout with stunning views of across the spectacular terrain that would provide the epic backdrop to our forthcoming adventure; an untouched, wild frontier where seas of grass baked golden by the sun morph into snowy peaks and sweeping glacial valleys.

And so, armed with special permits, we trekked into two 'hidden valleys' to unearth parts of the beautiful landscape known only to local Tuva and Kazakh hunters, including one high altitude lake where we caught a fleeting glimpse of an Altai bear and her two cubs. Traversing the Altai, the expedition then culminated in a hike up the largest glacier in the country and an awe-inspiring 4000m panorama, atop Malchin Peak, over China, Russia and Kazakhstan.

*Please note that for groups of at least four people, we are happy to design customized treks in the region for pre-arranged groups of friends and families.

Hunting For Rhododendron In The Wild Borderlands Of Yunnan, Burma & Tibet.

In May 2015, in collaboration with the New Zealand and Australian Rhododendon Societies - whose detailed trip write up can be read here -  we lead an intrepid team of rhododendron enthusiasts on a unique trekking expedition to explore a spectacular, almost primordial botanical sanctuary at the foot of Mt Kenyichunpo, surrounded by jagged peaks, lush glacial valleys and alpine lakes.

Covered in large swaths of old-growth forest, the Northern Gaoligong Mountains feel like they could hide a yeti. Rugged and remote, the range divides the wild borderlands of Yunnan and Burma and separates the narrow, upper valleys of two of Asia's great rivers; the Nujiang (or Salween) and the Dulong (or Irrawaddy). The abundant precipitation and accommodating microclimate, make this pristine wilderness a veritable museum of biodiversity and the epicenter of plant endemism in the region. It is estimated that the area is home to over 300 plant species found nowhere else on earth. On all of our previous and extensive treks in China (and the wider Himalayan region), we have never encountered rhododendron that bloom on such an outlandish scale. Whites, reds, purples, yellows, oranges, pinks and all the colours in between; the variety of flowers is truly kaleidoscopic.

Designed in the pioneering spirit of George Forrest and Frank Kingdon-Ward, this was truly one of our most hard-core adventures. The only thing more satisfying than researching and planning such a singular expedition - is successfully pulling it off. And to do that, you really do need a great  team. So thanks again to Rose, Pru, Gordon, Dan & Wolfgang for making it such a memorable trip. I hope we can get the crew back together one day.

We are also happy to run this trip again for other pre-arranged groups of aspiring plant-hunters. There are also three other intriguing possibilities for further exploration in the area. Firstly a full traverse of the northern Nujiang and Dulong River Valleys (which we will be undertaking in June 2017). Secondly, a full circumambulation of Mt Kenyichunpo and, last but not least, a trek back into the same location in the month of August, when our local Lisu guises tell us, 'Alpine' flowers are in riotous bloom.