Junbesi.

One kilometre up. Another one down. Toughest climb and hardest descent of my life. Sweat, tears and muscles burning like volcanic lava. At stages the fumes of my depleted energy switched my head into autopilot. I walked aimlessly and without thought. Vacant. Empty. Even desperation and hunger departed my mind. My soul carried me. Hope hadn’t slipped away completely. Bruised worn feet made it through the darkest evening to night. A bed and a meal waited for the day’s end. A great sleep followed. Two different years, two tough challenging experiences. Twice. Twice, the walk carried on.

Yesterday was such a day. A tiring cycle ride to play football. A testing first half-hour. A stretched thirty minutes followed. A near empty final third. And then. And then the ride back. A thirty minutes cycle ride doubled in time. Ten grueling ten kilometres. Sweat. Pain. Tears. Two cups of yogurt and a litre of water. Knackered. Back against the wall. The cycle bad become the rupture machine. A test of stamina and mind over matter. The Junbesi of Dongguan in high humidity and subtropical heat. I crawled into bed following a shower. The kind of shower that involved slumping and letting the warmer than usual water just hit from above. Careless shower. Even sleeping in bed I fed mosquitoes and didn’t care. Exhausted.

Tough moments are there to be overcome.

Yunnan, finally.

Happy New Year. 新年快乐。

I awoke on January the 2nd in Shangri La. The final day of trekking around YuBeng (雨崩) village involved a 500m ascent followed by a 1100m descent to XiDang village. YuBeng translates directly as rain and collapse or avalanche. As Piotr, Oliver and I were ascending we heard a mighty crack in the air and watched an avalanche high on the wide expanse of the Hengduan mountain range. A shelf somewhere near Kawagabo peak slid away. Rather noisy.

On arrival at XiDang, our driver Mr ZhaShiDingZhu (扎史定主), a warm-hearted Tibetan, picked us up. He would take us to Shangri La. Our driver stopped at three historic monuments, two dramatic views and to enjoy a chicken hotpot. It was a good journey indeed. The long road of return was pleasant and a fitting end to a wonderful few days in the mountains. Arriving late to pleasant digs gave us all a chance to rest our weary heads.

A day of gentle cycling and pottering around followed. With hire bicycles from the Boudhi Boutique Shangri La, Oliver and I cycled around old buildings, shops and I stripped down to my underwear as the rear of my trousers underwent a cheeky repair. The shopkeeper wasn’t too perturbed but his wife certainly showed embarrassment.

In Shangri La, Oliver and I bid farewell at breakfast to Piotr. He was off exploring more snow-capped wonders. As he wandered off, Oliver and I meandered and ambled up and down the Shangri La old town. Between gift buying and sightseeing, we ate great Nepali food at the Bohdi Boutique Inn. A most wonderful find. Shangri La beers did their best to quench our thirst and that’s where the trip closed. One simple flight back the next day and we were back to Guangdong. Yunnan was far away but close to my heart.

So, what now?

Farewell 2020. Happy New Year.

Dear all,

All the very best for 2021.

Let’s not dwell on COVID-19 and it’s terrible spread throughout the globe. It’s been a challenging and upsetting year for many. The less said on this eve of a new year, the better. Stay positive.

With trips to Nepal, Thailand (as a Corona refugee), Suzhou and now Yunnan, I’ve been lucky to experience a variety of cultures and religions in different shapes and forms during 2020. All have stood the test of time and all have stories about being adaptable. 2021 for the human race will be no exception. I’ve been lucky to get some travelling in, during this new norm but unlucky not to travel and see loved ones. The future is tingling with uncertainty but when a reunion comes about, I’m certain it won’t be wasted.

Climatic change, political indecision, blundering idleness by an impenetrable elite, racism and divide, disease and worry. Twenty twenty’s themes will carry on into this year as we all live as best we can. The gloom of a serious Sir David Attenborough message should stay with us. As should Amnesty International. Black Lives will always matter. #MeToo? Where changes are needed things will always need to happen. Vaccines and immunisation can only cure so much.

2020 allowed me opportunity. I’ve been blessed to start work at Tungwah Wenzel International School. A few weeks of expensive quarantine and drastically overpriced return flights got me back into China, as others faced even tougher routes to work or pathways no longer open. It’s been a good ride at work so far. I can only see it getting better.

Football for and with Murray’s FC has provided a regular escape from a landscape tinged by trepidation. Having also joined Dongguan Bulldogs, for a few games of tag rugby, and several solo bike rides, freedom has been a privilege.

I’m writing from a cold bed in YuBeng village, Yunnan, China. I’d like to write more but like the new journal in my bag, there’ll be plenty of opportunity and positive days ahead for the writing of new well remembered days. All the best for 2021. Keep hope in your head and heart.

Peace and love x

Optimistic Toddlers?

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

The cure is coming! There will be an end to all of this! The miraculous rays of hope are out there and all across the planet scientists are scurrying about, digging deep for elements and combinations. The manufacturing of the optimistic cure for COVID-19 is deep under way. Do you believe that we’ll win? The future if humanity may be riding on it, but we’re a species who can create great things. Anyway, you’re onto a win. I guarantee it. You have already done something wonderful today. Now, go and find someone and make them smile from ear to ear.

Science has constantly been like a toddler asking too many questions. It looks. It makes an assumptive comment that may in turn resemble a loose understanding. It is a bright toddler though. It then goes to ask its toddler peers. The little toddler grows up far too fast and then starts to collect bits and bobs. Before long it has a Filofax of data. The toddler is now enrolled and fast-tracked into school. Between the extra piano lessons after school and the pre-school Latin classes, our toddler is rampant for knowledge. Soon enough, this toddler is taking tests, is full of excitement and thinks he or she has found the meaning of life. They’re on to something. The latest edition of Children’s BBC’s Play School is released with our toddler’s work to date. It isn’t National Geographic but this kid is really onto something. They’re already rewriting Sherlock Holme and other toddlers are literally tearing the first toddler’s work to shreds. There are bits everywhere. Some of it has found its way into nappies and diapers and cracks that shouldn’t house a kid’s work. This toddler stands out though and is a modern exemplar of the highest standard. Other toddlers and older students can’t compete or find a way to headbutt this toddler off their highchair. The toddler is the epitome and personification of the New Scientist-reading U.K. government right now. They are lining themselves up for either the Nobel Peace Prize or the Oscars. Any flaws or shame will be avoided by glossing over the unsmooth surface and painting over any cracks. A win for ‘the science’ at the very least.

COVID-19 is the new Brexit. These are the defining annoyances of the 21st century for those who are British or inferior. Right or wrong? Emotions are real in the moment, and right now many people are struggling with their minds. This COVID-19 is an annoyance that has been here on Earth for the blink of an eyelash and seemingly won’t go. It will. Just remember that so many people over the history and sands of time have been in utterly dire moments with horrible situations right in their face. What did they do? Something, surely? We’re still here.

The U.K.’s dealings with the COVID-19 cannot be collectively described as horrifyingly abysmal with a dash of utterly extreme rotten hard luck. Boris Johnson, ever-present during so many key moments has led from the front. He didn’t use private healthcare, so BUPA and his care plan wasn’t troubled one iota. He went full state service and utilised the very NHS he has always loved. He and his party have been consistent in telling hard-truths at both daily press conferences and within the Houses of Parliament. Thankfully none of the Conservative party members’ friends have benefited from this outbreak and no deals or contracts have been slotted their way like a croupier would in a bent casino.

Financiers are going extinct too. No matter your belief or state of mind, compare yourselves to others. It is natural to do so. Where are they? Where are you? How are they feeling? What do they have? What don’t you have? Look around you, what’s missing? What’s there and there for you alone? Who is with you? Who is truly alone? What help mechanisms are there? Who started out with nothing and still has most of it left? Be optimistic. Be energised. Be inspired.

There hasn’t been any gross ineptitude by the incomparable leadership of this government. There will certainly be movies made and speeches replayed for the next 70 or so years, about the defining hours of the year 2020. It isn’t the Great War, or World War II, but it will be remembered for the few. Those great few who gave their all and opened the treasury wide open to eliminate social and financial divide. As always, the nation obsessed with calling other nations corrupt is tendering left, right and centre to bat away any claims of British exceptionalism. This is a nation that resolved a growing homelessness crisis and stabilised the care home industry at the right time.

The virus and its associated disease COVID-19 rocked up to these secure island shores of Britain and was left floundered by a questionnaire. All the flights from struggling third world and developing nations such as Italy and Germany were halted. Instead Britain went on the offensive supplying help overseas and partnering with countries in need. Red Nose Day after Comic Relief after Children in Need was not needed. British aid was bolstered by fair-trade loving tax paying corporations and syndicates. “Help!”, they cried overseas in foreign lands. Britain dug deep and exported ‘the science’ and the world was grateful. You could feel bad because other nations and people have it better. Don’t. Don’t look over the garden fence at what they have. Don’t assume they’re better than you. Think on how good or bad things used to be. How can you get back to that? It could be much worse, right?

The concern of the everyday normal people running England has been overwhelming. The openhanded and transparent display of sharing ‘the science’ was praised globally by China, the W.H.O. and the successful President Trump, currently running away with a sweeping presidential campaign. The rise and accomplishment of near-100% testing within the U.K. was credit to Matt Hancock’s half hour of power. As he deputised for Boris Johnson, who was allowed a free weekend away from the spotlight (as thanks from the adoring nation), he practically rebuilt Public Health England so well that Wales, Scotland and little Northern Ireland came begging for the recipe. Even the Isle of Man came knocking. It has been so refreshing to see the love and admiration of down-on-their-luck types on their rags to riches rise into politics and their effect on the population.

Seeing how good it is over there in Switzerland or Sweden and how bleak it is here with you, that’s ony going to erode your mind. Those negative moments will multiply. Forget it. Kick the self-torturing in the dick and move on. Do we always deserve a raise in salary of someone else gets one? You be your judge. Fairness isn’t for everyone. What about those around you who didn’t get a pay rise? What about those who have no opportunity to get a pay rise because they haven’t even got a job? So, your flights and lifestyle changed. It hurts. Did you die? No. Did someone you love get hurt? Hopefully a big no. Be thankful COVID-19 didn’t enter your house. Wait a minute! Be thankful that you haven’t had it worse.

Thankfully hijackings of scientific methodology and terminology has been avoided. The general public have been treated to an open and clear display, free of patronising speech and overbearing experts with words longer than attention span. The steady messages have been clear. NHS workers: Stay alert at home safely and save protected lives or something like this or that: stay at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives. Whilst other nations scramble and scratch to replace their liars, their dealers of death, their wasters, their corrupt and their tyrants, Britain stands firm with reliance and love for the very institutions set up to make us one. Without the traditional household names of Virgin, Epson, Reliance, Yahoo, Facebook, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, Ebay and Delta, we’d really be up a creak without a paddle. Many companies have been on hand to rescue the faltering National Health Service.

Perceptions are tools. Flip a switch to off for pessimism and bang the button of optimism. With that your emotional state will shine. With a little extra focus on what we have as being good, we can focus on how to make things better – and with that share to others on how to improve ourselves as people. As a species we have excelled and have dominated the planet, but now we’re of the mind that we need to bring balance to the world around us. Is it too late? That depends on the contents of your glass. If you look back five years, ten years and twenty years, you’ll see changes and adaptations. It may seem like the road ahead out of COVID-19 road or over the plastic seas is impossible, but look back at the journey, and we’ve got far. A few more steps and new things shall be possible.

For example, just look how far little 126-year-old Manchester City have progressed in 5 years, 10 years, 15 years and 20 years. Yes, there was investment but that’s professional football. Okay, no wins of the Champions League, but that’s work in progress. Look how far that they have moved. That’s motivating and inspiring for City fans. Now compare that to Leicester City, Manchester Utd., Real Madrid, and so on. But, keep in mind City were in the third tier of English football as recent as May 1999. Now it is 21 years later. So much is possible over the next 21 years.

Independent experts have been using their bias and brown paper envelopes globally to distance themselves from independent and pure nations. Within the broader cultures of the planet Earth, we’ve learnt much in recent months, and science, it seems, is s collection of lies spun by flat-Earthers and know-it-all-types alike. A beautiful British common-sense approach is all you need to bat away the virus that refuses to play cricket. Just wash your blooming hands to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’ and all will be fine.

In 2017, I went to Nepal, I walked for many days and didn’t get close to my aim. I returned in 2019 and surpassed my now-based-on-experience-aim. In 2020, I returned to Nepal with a realistic aim of exploring new areas and setting no target for dates and times. It was all about new steps and progress. A bit further, a bit more, and a bit less worry. I may not want to climb every mountain or walk every trail, but I do want to be in a better place tomorrow than today. I’m sure as COVID-19 cures and treatments come about, humanity will be there too.

This week:

Three students entered the classroom of class 3F. Their eyes barely visible as small pools of dark pigmentation above their pale blue facemasks. Their long hair hung too low to be considered a maintained fringe. They greeted with hellos, as if the events of recent months hadn’t happened. Each had hand gel sanitizer strapped to their bags. They shuffled to their desks and sat quietly, awaiting the arrival of further peers.

The new term is well under way, albeit a wee bit later than planned. Around seven weeks of online teaching, and home-schooling was now at an almost end. For most. One student, in Taiwan and a further student in Japan cannot return. The border is closed for overseas visitors – and my student in Taiwan has valuable family time at this time of international emergency. It has been a disruptive period of a few months for students and teachers alike. Thankfully, much is salvageable with some crammed lessons, adapted revision and continual efficient planning. As my colleague Nick is trapped in Serbia, I will take his middle school classes twice a week, otherwise my timetable is not too dissimilar to last semester. The usual seven classes a day has been adapted to eight classes a day for the poor old hard-working students. Morning exercise is earlier in the day and mealtimes are allocated into slots to allow reasonable social distancing.

The reality of social distancing is rather different. As schools in France resume and 70 or so cases of COVID-19 have been linked to them, students elbow for space in corridors and staircases here. I type this having heard passers-by in the road expectorating throats from their mouths onto the road by our school I truly worry about complacency. Masks are being relaxed outside now and inside many places people are far more laissez-faire about wearing personal protective equipment. Yes, China has the virus in a suppressive state, but cases are emerging every now and then. The perfect storm only needs the right level of guards being dropped for COVID-19 to continue its survival unhindered. Personal protection equipment seems to be on the way out here. Is that good or bad?

There is no cure. There isn’t a valid vaccine, but big pharmaceutical companies, nations and leading scientists are working around the international clocks, together or separately, in order to find that final cure. The breakthrough will bring major amounts of money to many – and if available to all, hope for a brighter and more free future. Humanity has had a huge wake-up call to come together yet many are drifting apart. There’s a change coming. We can either sit back and watch it crumble or dig in deep and do something wonderful. Stubbornness and blind faith will only get us so far. Now is the time to manufacture some optimism and stoke up the fire of positivity. The world is a wonderful place, full of great people and during COVID-19’s reign of destruction, it is not a time to lose hope. There is no cure – at present. One day there will be. Right?

On the plus side, this week, I’ve played football for two hours (with great people) and I’ve just finished reading the Jack Reacher novel titled Blue Moon, written by Lee Child. Between the frantic handwashing, panic, worry and speculation, it isn’t easy to find time to switch off, but years of procrastination have prepared me well for…

John Nichols: You Know His Name

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

/vɪm/

noun

informal
noun: vim
  1. energy; enthusiasm.
    “in his youth he was full of vim and vigour
    Origin: mid 19th century (originally US): perhaps from Latin, accusative of vis ‘energy’.

Today I am mostly going to talk about Vimto. Well, maybe not talk, but write. Yes, today, I’ll write about Manchester’s John Nichols and Vimto. When I was at RAC Inspection Services in Cheadle, Stockport, we used to have a fizzy Vimto option on the drink vending machine. It’d pump out gassy and sugar-free purple liquid into a disposable cup, or mug if you remembered to place one down quick enough.

I have always enjoyed Vimto. My Gran and my Nana used to give me steaming warm cups of it when I was too young to touch the top of door frames. Not that the height of doorframes was a prerequisite for drinking the purple-golden cordial. I can even remember having it pumped on draught at the Working Man’s Club in Newton Heath and Morrison’s supermarket in Failsworth. Since those days, I have supped this drink at the Etihad Stadium, in Abu Dhabi’s airport and on Hua Hin beach in Thailand.

Vimto was originally a health tonic. It contains about 3% fruit juice concentration. The key fruits are possibly from Lancashire: raspberries and blackcurrants. There are grapes too. Don’t ask me which valley of Lancashire they came from – I can only assume Bowker Vale. It sounds plausible. Herbs and spices are bunged in too. Preston’s Ellis Wilkinson Mineral Water Manufacturer produced the water early on. It was really a health business on a healthy path of growth.

“My father used to go into work on Saturdays in those days, back in the mid-to-late ’60s, and so there was a fascination. And in those days my grandfather, who invented the product in the beginning, was still around.” – Grandson John Nichols

(John) Noel Nichols came from Shortridge, Scotland to 19 Granby Row, Manchester. By 1908 he had invented his new drink, just off Sackville Street, and around the corner from Back Acton Street. After 4 years his vim tonic was shortened in name to Vimto. The wholesaler of herbs, spices and medicines had found something quite popular amongst local people – especially in the shadow of the temperance movement and the new 1908 Licensing Act. Soft drinks were a new and exciting market. It changed from health tonic to cordial by 1913 and the rest they say is history.

It is not clear if John Nichols would have approved of the Purple Ronnie character or the slightly rude Giles Andreae poems (friend of screenwriter Richard Curtis). These highly marketable poems and colourful animations appeared in the 1990s and set a tone for a trendy drink – as an almost indie alternative to the giants of Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Nowadays the family link is retained within Nichols plc. Grandson John Nichols is the Non-Executive Chairman. His two sons also work within Nichols plc.

“We have a very open, friendly approach and encourage any member of staff to talk to the management team about their ideas for the business. Innovation has been key to our success in developing the iconic Vimto brand and identifying new brands, products and market opportunities.” – John Nichols, interview with Warren Partners.

Vimto Cordial has diversified from its original form, to sugar-free varieties, fizzy carbonated cans and bottles, cherry and strawberry editions. Then there is Vimto Remix. And sweets. Ice-lollies too. With new space needed, Vimto moved to the edge of Manchester into Salford’s Chapel Street, now home to the luxury Vimto Gardens apartment complex. By the year 1927, they then scattered to Old Trafford (then home to the teenage-aged Manchester Utd. F.C. who had by then picked up five senior domestic trophies) before heading back onto Mancunian soil in Wythenshawe by 1971. Nowadays the multi-billion dollar American-Canadian beverage and food service provider Cott Corporation produces Vimto in Leicestershire and Yorkshire. Presumably both exotic locations have better access to grapes. Traditional bottled soft drink manufacturer A.G. Barr in Forfar and Cumbernauld still make the pop too.

Vimto Soft Drinks and Newton-le-Willows based Nichols plc retain the license alongside other favourites like Panda Pops. Under their Cabana name they manufacture a fair range of soft drinks and post-mix solutions – both at home and overseas to around 80 plus countries. Outside of the traditional market, Vimto enjoys huge presence in the middle-east and Arabian countries. It is made in Yemen, The Gambia and the Saudi Arabian city of Dammam City. It is apparently produced under license (since 1979 by Aujan & Brothers) in order for demand around Ramadan and other occasions that demand fasting. Vimto is so international that it is even made by Mehran Bottlers in Pakistan, is once again back in India, and Nepal’s Himganga Beverage Pvt Ltd. There are currently no products available in China or Taiwan or Hong Kong. Macau? No.

Granby Row has a park now, called Vimto Park with a statue to the drink. It’s a very Mancunian statue erected in 1992. Most cities celebrate iconic politicians and movements, but Manchester being Manchester, we celebrate the birth of a soft drink. The artist Kerry Morrison carved wood from a sustainable forest. Again, forward-thinking and considerate!

12th July 2015 Manchester centre and City campus (15)

Anyway, I’m sat in Dongguan, China, parched and thinking, maybe, I need a meeting. Who wants to invest? Drop me a line. During these COVID-19 outbreak time, we need more sunshine. Let’s bring the purple to the red land of China.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Was it Mohandas Gandhi who said that? Arleen Lorrance?

Thanksgiving Day.

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

“And I was taught to feel, perhaps too much, the self-sufficing power of solitude.” – William Wordsworth, The Prelude.

So, my trek in Nepal was over. I’d passed through up to 28 ethnic groups of people, notably Thakali, Gurung, Magar, Chhetri, Bhotia and some Tibetans. I’d seen Annapurna II, Manaslu, my favourite haunt of this trek, Pagunda Danda and other great mountains. I’d passed through areas housing maybe just 45,000 or so people in a short distance and across great swathes of area. The river Marshyangdi had been by my side from beginning to the end, and never more than a few kilometres away from my wanderings. I’d tread along a world-renowned trekking destination that needs great care, for peril lurks at every ridge. Remarkable waterfalls, dense forests, and other climatic wonders had lined the sub-tropical, temperate, sub-alpine and alpine bio-climatic zones. These imposing regions offered diversity in both mammal and bird species, and plants that I’ve never seen anywhere else before, and no doubt will never see somewhere else. The barks of musk deer, the swoosh of vultures, the tweets of life from tree to tree, and flashes of Himalayan Langur will stay in my memories.

I’ve met people connected with agriculture, animal husbandry, tourism, the military, conservation, Buddhist monks and other labouring forces. These stirring moments reminded me why I love to visit Nepal. There have been moments when I’ve looked in shame at crumbling mountain sides, ripped open by new roads, and power lines draping over great scenery. The price of a modern world has cut open a blend of people in need of the new age, with as many in fear of what will arrive. Can these ethnic groups survive the new ways in, and the new exposure to the outside world? Will everything change too fast for some to understand? Will education and investment bring new opportunity? Can the high pressure on natural resources be reduced? Will an unequal distribution of tourism wealth and benefits leave some people behind? Poverty is there, but can it seriously be eradicated? Will Chinese hydroelectric dam projects benefit anyone if they have mostly Chinese workforces? Will Indian investment be reduced as Nepal juggles the money of China over India?

With hunting, poaching, pollution, loss of habitat and humans getting ever closer to wildlife, can the Annapurna or Manaslu parks be improved to reduce these problems? Will climate change, flooding and increased tourism add greater strain to the region? I read that 18% of the world’s plant species can be found in the Annapurna Conservation Area. The project there highlights that 58% of Earth’s birds are present. A staggering 33% of Earth’s reptiles have refuge in the region. Amphibians (20%), butterflies (53%), and flowering plants (18%) represent significant proportions of Earth’s species too. There’s much more to Annapurna than snow leopards and possible yeti sightings…

To have walked through the largest protected park of Nepal was a privilege. I sat down to a cold coffee in Pokhara and stroked my sore head. I decided I would fly from Pokhara to Kathmandu. My friend Jodie was to visit Kathmandu a day or so later. I decided the long arduous coach journey was too much for me. Besides I like to fly and the price wasn’t too bad (732RMB) – and bookable via my Wechat money and Trip.com application. After a few wanders from the now ghostly quiet Pokhara, I was ready to fly.

Before doing so I took in the sights of Pokhara, a bat cave and the Gurkha Memorial Trust. Since joining the British Army in 1815, after showing valour in the battlefield against the British, the Gurkhas have enjoyed great connection with Britain and India. The museum itself was alike almost every museum and trust collection, with cabinets of medals, regalia and factsheets. Photos of hundreds of faces, stories and campaign information could be found throughout the large building. I was welcomed by two former Gurkha soldiers in full uniform and shown to the ticket desk, then set free to enjoy the words of regimental life, the sounds and read about Victoria Cross winners. A history sheet was handed to me and I spent a good couple of hours perusing the displays. I had passed the museum by chance, and prior to walking to Bat Cave in the direction of Mahendra Cave not even know there to be such a museum. I did not expect to be so detailed and well-constructed. The passion of many had created their space to inform, educate and celebrate. Here I learned the name Gurkha comes from the hill of Gorkha, and not from a specific race of people. Better to die than be a coward, is the Gurkha motto. Their history attains to that. Long may they have the welfare and care of those who respect them.

Now, Bat Cave is called that on every sign. I could see signs for the religious Mahendra Cave frequently. Those signs had Nepali Sanskrit and English on. The Bat Cave just had English. Bruce Wayne had no chance of hiding a Batmobile and Batwing in there. Green foothills surround the cave, but before you get there, a gate, with a kind of turnstile not out of place at a 1980’s football ground and a pay booth await. Here they try talking you into hiring a guide. I resisted that. I wanted tranquillity. He handed me a large lamp. I handed that back and shown him my simpler headtorch set. In I went. After a few steep steps, a dip and a ducked head I was in the main cavern. Alongside me were around 70-100,000 horseshoe bats. I dipped my torch and gazed on enjoying the cold humid chamber underground. The floor is slippery, the air is whiffy (it is a home to nature, after all), and my good footwear helped me a great deal. I reminded one small group to stay quiet, and they respected my wishes – and that of the bloody great big sign saying to be silent. There was a tiny passage for an exit, but I doubled back without trouble. I wanted to avoid a bump on the head.

After the 20km round-trip walk, I headed back to Obey Guest House. The family were really very nice. Sushil’s place had been recommended to Srirang and I by Livia on our first brief stop in Pokhara. Each time I’d stayed, I ended up the same room: up the stairs, first right turn, first room. The big clean room had a double bed, coffee table, hat stand, two small chairs, a bathroom with a steaming hot shower and a sink for a proper scrub down. There was a tiny balcony and the door would open to allow me to put my stinking walking boots outside. On the top floor, there are several levels to appreciate the panoramic views and a place to sit with a garden table. The family were really welcoming, warm and friendly. They check on you and make you feel at home. Sushil had washed some of my laundry before the trek, and it was waiting in a bag for me, alongside some trainers I’d left behind. The lodge is a tall pink building up a road from Lakeside. It’s easy to find. There’s Wi-Fi and the family pointed us to a simple and tasty breakfast place at the top of the road. Every morning I awoke to beautiful bird call, and at night I enjoyed peaceful ambience. I had several good sleeps there. Sushil pointed us to the nearby TIMS office, other amenities and gave great advice throughout. If you want to stay somewhere peaceful without hassle and worry, then obey me and look up Obey Guest House.

I do have to apologise to Obey Guest House because I stupidly left my smelly walking boots on the balcony when I left… I hope that they turned them into a plant pot! They probably couldn’t be repaired, and they certainly won’t be now! Sorry Sushil and family!

So, with the wheels lifting off the Pokhara runway, flight YT676, operated by Yeti Airlines departed, I assume. I’d been shuffled onto an earlier departure that eventually departed later. Not to worry. It was a good flight. The flight comfortably descended into the Kathmandu valley and once again I was in the cradle of rapid urbanisation. Here I enjoyed more days at Northfield Café and hotel, met a good man to embroider my travelling shirt, and enjoyed a haircut. With room in my bag, eight Lee Child novels filled my bag and that was that. I was ready to go. Goodbye Nepal. Thanks to Srirang and Livia for great company. Thank you to all of those people I met. See you again.

 


 

Almost 54 days later, I am writing this piece. I should have been in Hong Kong and heading over to Dongguan, China on the 15th of April. Here, I am in Dongguan, preparing to end my time in quarantine. If my PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test comes back as negative tomorrow, I will be allowed to go to Dongguan’s Changping town, to fill in more forms and scan a QR code to show that I am virus-free. I’ve penned a letter to the management and local government officials here. Maria and Waits translated it for me. It’s as per below:

 

二零二零年四月八日
8th April 2020

 

给相关人士 To whom it may concern.

 

诚 挚 地 感 谢 

T H A N K   Y O U   K I N D L Y !

我从心底里感谢你。谢谢你对我的帮助。就像一名优秀的曼城足球运动员一样,我会敞开心扉。我在这里的日子很艰难,但你们更加辛苦。Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you kindly for helping me. Like a good Manchester City football player, I wear my heart on my sleeve. My time here has been tough, but you have been tougher.

当你路过西湖的时候,不管是东莞的这家酒店,还是那片著名的杭州的湖,还是惠州的那座城市,你都一定能够感受到你所做的这一切带给你的荣耀,是你肩负起了这份重任。When you pass West Lake, whether the hotel in Dongguan, the famous lakes of Hangzhou or the city of Huizhou, you’ll be able to think of the pride that you made a difference. You answered the call.

是你让所有人一起团聚;是你给予了爱人、朋友和亲人们一起纵享新时刻的机会;是你,在保护我们,你在照看我们,是你放弃了你们自己的时间,而把精力全部投入到了我们身上。You brought people back together. You gave loved ones, friend and family the chance to enjoy new moments together. You protected us. You looked after us. You gave up your time and gave us all your energy.

你为我打扫卫生,检查我的健康,为我尽心尽力。你让我的肚子饱饱的,并激发了我不知道我能做的锻炼。每当我口渴的时候,你就在那里。You have cleaned up after me, checked my health and waited on hand and foot for me. You have kept my belly full, and inspired exercises I didn’t know I was capable of. Every time I have been thirsty, you have been there.

我是东莞的客人。广东的客人。来中国的客人。你让我很受欢迎。我非常喜欢东莞。这是一座充满希望、想象力和雄心的城市。就像我的家乡曼彻斯特一样,这里也有工业路线,但这里的工业路线也越来越多。I’m a guest in Dongguan. A guest of Guangdong. A guest to China. You’ve made me welcome. I like Dongguan greatly. It is a city of hope, imagination and ambition. Like my hometown of Manchester, it has industrial routes but here too has grown to be so much more.

我们是如此的幸运,生活虽有不便但我们还是在这儿。那些倒下的人、那些逝去的人和那些殉职的人——正是因为他们,我们才能好好地活着。让我们一起为他们默哀片刻吧。We are the lucky ones. We are inconvenienced but we are here. Those who fell, those who died, those who died – it is because of them, we can live well. Let’s observe a moment of silence for them.

 

 

Mr John R. Acton

 


 

TO THE HEROES.

To the NHS staff in the U.K.; and to those health workers, care assistants, doctors, nurses, specialists and all going about in essential jobs right now. I salute you. Keep fighting on. Never give in. You are true heroes. The world needs you. I wish you well. Good luck! This is your hour to shine. Inspire the next generation and those who can and should support you. Look after your neighbours and we’ll find a brighter day. Peace and love!

 

Spiritually thunderstruck.

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

A kind of swishing sound, only just perceivable to my ear, was what I heard. It happened in such a microscopic space of time that I had no time to react. My instinct said the sound was to be alarmed at. My brain had the signal. The computations were in process. It didn’t add up fast enough. As soon as my central nervous system was signalling peril, it struck. It skimmed more than struck, gliding over my head and landing with a thump two metres to my left shoulder. My head had slowed its momentum and the rock landed with a dull thud. The snow around it had remained intact. It sank into a hole maybe a leg’s length deep. As I peered into the hole, one eye was facing up the slope, making sure this rock’s bigger relatives weren’t coming down to flatten me. The slope was still enough. I gave a little more time to viewing the rock in the hole.

It was slate in colour, crumbly around the edges, rough and worn underneath but jagged and unforgiving on the top. The size, well, it was close to that of a red house-brick. I reached down to touch it. It weighed as much as two bags of sugar, if not a little more. I thought to myself, if that had landed on me more directly, I’d be as good as gone. Game over? I assessed my injury. It was a bump and no bigger than two (or three) that I had experienced earlier in the trek from headbutting low roof rafters and doorframes. It’s a habit I have tried to avoid since being a kid, but as my Mum will agree, I am clumsy. It’s in the genetics somewhere.

With that new bump obtained between Bhratang, the beginnings of the huge western face of Pagunda Danda, I just carried on to Upper Pisang. Not much I could do but knuckle down and see how it panned out. Initially that day, I was fine and later that day, I was still okay. The next day, as we departed the lodge and started our walk onwards, I started to feel an ache spanning from the bump back to rear-right of my head. After an hour of trekking that ache became near agony. It was either the rapid onset of altitude sickness, or that injury was playing up. Livia, Srirang and I trekked through deep snow, and eventually Livia and I stretched ahead a little, but not much. As we reached the mani stones, just shy of a very snowed over river with two bridges, I took a moment to try to understand my pain.

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We had opted for the path up to Ghyaru and Humde, because the views would look back across the valley at the Annapurna Masiff. The great mani stones, stood on a ridge overlooking the raging river below, and the smaller tributary that was would have to cross. Many slabs, rocks and smaller carved models carried one simple message, ‘Om mani padme hum. The beautiful artistic Sanskrit writing curved and glimmered in the various levels of light: ॐ मणि द्मे हूँ. Om/Aum/ ॐ [white] is a sacred syllable. Mani/ मणि [green] is a jewel (or bead). Pad/प [sky blue] plus me/द्मे [red] is the lotus flower – a flower sacred to Buddhism. Hoon/hum/ हूँ [dark blue] is the spirit of enlightenment. It can also be found in Chinese as 唵嘛呢叭咪吽 and Thai as โอมฺ มณิ ปทฺเม หูมฺ, amongst many languages and cultures.

Right here, on the pathway, the stone plates featured the six syllabled mantra as a form of Tibetan prayer. Some had clearly been painted, but most were natural earthly colours. Decades and possibly centuries of devotion made up this wall, like many other walls throughout Nepal and other countries. I’ve seen many mounds and cairns in similar fashions. Each one, I believe, offers prayer to the locality and beyond. The time and effort for each creation could be seen. No corners had been cut. Devotion had been placed on each faithful stone. This wall was around about two metres high and sagged just a little. It was long as coach and as wide as a wardrobe. You always walk around a Mani wall, the same way the Earth rotates. Buddhism has rules. Against the backdrop of the Himalayas, spiritualism and nature hugged each other. Lichens and mosses covered what surface they could, and birds occasionally perched on the walls, looking down at the snow, trying to find the little food available. At this moment, I assessed the bridges. Livia and I decided the lower bridge route would be the safest option. We set out.

After crossing the lower bridge, we scrambled upwards a few and awaited Srirang. He chose the upper bridge and we met once again. I walked up one gentle wide path and Srirang and Livia chose a steeper more direct route. They met me as I was sat down. My head was pounding inside – and I felt a little sick. There was dizziness. I ate some biscuits and drank plenty of water. Srirang and Livia were concerned. They suggested a rest and we discussed the injury or whether it could be altitude sickness. We were about 3500m up and we had never rushed the journey so far. Ghyaru (3730m) lay just a few metres upwards. After an hour, I decided I had to descend. Livia and Srirang disagreed but we all agreed, “if I feel better tomorrow, I’d head back up.” With that I scuttled back to Upper Pisang, and enjoyed the views of the frozen lake below on the plains, and the ever-angry flows of the Marshyangdi River. I was welcomed back into the same lodge. Even to this day I cannot recall the name of the lodge. It had a Sherpa-Tibetan family and they were ever so nice. I said about my discomfort and they said that I did the right thing.

After an evening of talking with trekkers on their way from Manang, and a few individuals heading upwards, I slipped off to bed. The dal baht power didn’t seem to be shifting my headache and numerous litres of water made me get up during the night several times. Peeing into a frozen toilet with no water to flush it, isn’t a nice experience, at 4am in the freezing cold. Still, it beat watching celebrities on mind-numbing television shows. I’d also spent hours on Wi-Fi trying to talk with customer services at Trip.com – for the second night running, to see if I could move a flight to Hong Kong, because of the growing seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak in China. Many airlines were cancelling flights and by this time Nepal had apparently closed its borders to China and reportedly banned Chinese tourists. In my anxious mind, it made sense to be proactive and try to remain in Nepal. The border crossings between China and Hong Kong were rapidly becoming fewer too. Why fly to absolute uncertainty?

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I awoke a little refreshed but still with a headache. I made the choice to descend further. I set out just before 11am and walked back. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t relieved. I just had a pain in the head that wouldn’t go away. The walk back was tough as the walk up. The deep snow and occasional blustery winds made it a slog of a day. As I rounded the cliffs and the path led through to The Farmhouse at Bhratang, I spotted a jeep. The driver helped me get to Chame. At Chame, I met a doctor who looked at my head, tested my reactions and concluded concussion. He said no need for emergency treatment and suggested I head back to Pokhara or rest for several days in a warmer village downhill. I was in luck, the jeep driver took me as far as Besi Sahar! Back to the beginning. Here I was dropped at the hotel Manaslu and booked onto the first coach to Pokhara that morning. It felt sad but I had a mix of emotions in my head, anxiety and a head injury.

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The U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised against all travel to China but didn’t state a clear reason why. The outbreak seemed to be mostly confined to Hubei and a few other areas. The U.K. wasn’t even screening passengers on arrival from any Chinese city. Was it really that serious?! Could I return to China or not? Would I have to head to the U.K.? Could I stay in Nepal by extending my visa? I had a tight budget and worry had been with me for days. Worry and concussion are not ideal bedfellows.

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The cumbersome coach clumped along, bouncing and bumping, throwing passengers here and there, and visited countless villages on the route back to Pokhara. At one stop a toothless elderly man sat on a step. He had no shoes on and his clothing looked unkempt. His face crinkled from years of exposure to the sun. He looked at me. He smiled. He gestured with his fingers the shape of a smile, over his face. That’s what it is all about. Experiences, moments and smiles. I smiled back, greeted and waved goodbye as the cumbrous coach continued headlong. I could take much from this journey and experience.

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Looking back at the day where the rock had hit my head, I’d been clicking away like crazy on my camera before that. After that, I’d rarely taken many photos. It clearly marked a change in my behaviour and my general health. The physical and mental challenge had just been knocked out of me. Yet, I experienced many great moments, even on the jeep journey back down. It isn’t every day a herd of goats gets in your way! From then on Nepal would still give me more great moments, but the trek had finished.

So, what next?

Vivid moments on the Earth’s crust.

好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!


Eddie, Eddie give us a wave!

Rest in peace Eddie Large. The comedian born in Scotland came to Manchester as a kid and adopted City. Well City adopted him as a mascot later on in the years and one thing about him and Syd Little, they really were a sweet comedy pair. On his heart problem: “He said, “What stresses you out?”, I said, “football”, he said, “What team do you support?”, I said, “Manchester City”. He said, “That’s it.”” Later he ends the brief video story as, “I don’t blame it on City, but he did.” Rest in peace big man – and condolences to your family. The likes of Matt Lucas saying that Eddie Large offered him support when he started out says a lot. Eddie Large has a large legacy.


Words and actions are being thrown around in these tough times. I love reading and can’t focus because the information that is out there is too much. There’s great and good. There’s sad and devastating. For example, the BBC News footage of the news presenter Jane Hill saying the government expected 30,000 ventilators. Before that, she sounded so bleak, and she shows all the pain in her face, “…and we have been double-checking this, but it does seem to say thirty.” So, so worrying. Even the media are struggling to comprehend this all now. Shandong province, of China, have sent support to the U.K.

“This virus is a disaster. Footballers can live without receiving a single paycheck for a few years, but I feel sorry for the person who wakes up at 6 in the morning and comes back at 9 at night just to feed his family. Us footballers can make a difference.” – Carlos Tevez, footballer

Someone, somewhere, wrote to me, ‘How’s the bat soup going down. & the puppy blamange desert?’At first I wan’t going t reply. There’s so much hate and pain going around. There’s so many xenophobic lines just bashed out on keyboards. I know, because all I want to do is exercise my right to reply or write something. Usually, I hold back. Spread peace and love. I try. I hate hate. But away, I went as per below:

This is obviously linked to wet markets and wildlife trade. China is pushing through some serious laws. They’ve lost so much face, and many lives, many. The world is suffering too. If it wasn’t here, it could have started in Vietnam, Korea, a whole list of countries. The thing is, it is too late to laugh at it all, because it’s on our doorsteps, everywhere, knocking and pushing its way through. We’ll all suffer for this. It is too sad for me to laugh at. Especially, seeing as bear bile is classed as a TCM (traditional Chinese med)… and is sanctioned to treat COVID19.

Sorry, I can’t joke anymore about this. Over here, in China, foreigners are experiencing xenphobia for importing cases into the country, jobs are going for fellow teachers and workers who were needed here. Gallow’s humour is all well and good but there is a time and place. The blancmange is to die for.

This virus and spread of disease may be hell for many. Some will go into lockdown and may never come out. Elliot Dallen imagined spending his last few weeks with friends. Now his final time is slipping away. I can’t imagine the dread he is going through and there are no words that I, or many others can offer for him. I hope he gets the tangible bonds of friendship and family time, he like many, are missing. Life must carry on, right to the end.


 

The journey goes on.

Leaving Chame (2710m) town, we clambered up a wide pathway, below a very steep cliff of a mountain. The rattle and whistle of prayer flags could be heard overhead. The path led out, upwards gently, hugging the valley. Eventually in reached a small village and then another smaller village. Bhratang (2850m) was quite a small village. Not so much a village, more of a hamlet. A small number of houses before modern signs for The Farmhouse. The Farmhouse is an eco-resort, and many note it as being a heaven for apples. I was excited. I wanted to try an apple from here, despite knowing that the orchard much be closed. Maybe, just maybe they’d have one or two apples knocking around in a cold room. I clung to hope. The Farmhouse has a link to both Bhratang Apple Farm and Agro Manang. This is Nepal’s biggest and most famous source of apples. Maybe, they’d have some apple sauce? Some ciders? Apple vinegar? The apples that the bus in Swayambhu, Kathmandu had carried (to Pokhara) had come from here. I’m not a huge apple fan (I could have said big apple, right?) but the smell of those apples on that bus journey was scrumptious.

Soon after I would pass a huge apple orchard with discernible damage from storms. Power lines, trees and fencing didn’t just lean over, it littered the scattered exposed earth. The acres of apple trees leaned towards the south in a way a rugby team would crouch in a scrum. The naked branches of each tree were bound together with reinforced ropes and supports, giving it the view of a kind of wooden graveyard. The towering rockface to the right of the path sparkled in the sunlight, with occasional ledges much like the whole mountain had been carved away by an immense force. The eco-park beneath it and The Farmhouse were closed. There was no chance of an apple tart or an apple flapjack. I refilled my water bottle from one of three gushing springs set in a wall.

The orchard was hidden by fences that could have belonged in Jurassic Park. Warnings about keeping out were everywhere. Every now and then a tree had fell out of the in, and into the road. Bits of electrical pylons dotted the pathways and the odd electrical wiring slung here and there. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but this pile of ruins wasn’t inviting me to look for the scattered rotten apples on the floor. Quite the opposite. I trotted on.

Rounded a sharp-rising pathway from Bhratang, the huge western face of Pagunda Danda became visible. The mountain could easily have doubled as a slate of hill, or a hill of slate. It is so smooth-looking that you wonder if it has been moisturising for millennia. Many people trek the Annapurna Circuit for the biggies, the large peaks but views such as Pagunda Danda alone made my trip well worth doing. I can see the appeal of a scramble and ice-climb up the face, but with melting and sunlight upon it, the risks of avalanches were high.

Avalanches had been noted from just before Chame village onwards. One avalanche field had swept trees, boulders and all in its path down across the pathway. The pathway had been sliced open again and cleared. Either side of the road potato-shaped but basketball-sized balls of frozen snow piled high, with twigs, branches and stumps jutting outwards. On the lower levels of the pathway, fallen electric pylons and rocks the sizes of cars had crashed downwards. The avalanche was not fresh, but it wasn’t particularly old. Looking upwards into the steep valley to a mountain ridge, I deliberated about where all this material had actually come from. It was frighteningly too much for mind to compute.

The second avalanche field I encountered was on the opposite bank of the gushing Marshyangdi River. It was so big that it covered over the river and arrived at the steep base far below my footing. The river had tunnelled through the frozen snow overhead. It was an eerie sight to behold. Just before that field a few tonnes had piled on the sharply-carved Bhratang to Chame road making the area impassable, and causing a huge landslide to make the footpath as wide as a human could walk safely. Just. Below in the river, a carcass of a Toyota jeep sat well-below the narrow road overhead. Later, Livia had found out that back in October, several people were on board as the jeep slipped off the road. Thankfully all had managed to jump clear. A real miracle in the mountains.

The sharp road is but only wide enough for one car. The rock above is barely two metres high. It’s a ledge that commands real respect and no hanging around. A long horizontal slat has ice caps and blastholes in equal scatterings. Walking far from the edge, I could peek at the drop below. Ravine of the week was alongside me for several hundred metres. I felt I needed to be roped to the wall behind me.

The largest path of avalanche destruction lay soon after the perils of the cliff track. A huge sweeping sheath of snow and debris had swept from the southern flank of Pagunda Danda. This casing of ice and power had ripped over the pathway into the river below. A clearly demarked pathway was cut through and lined with pines from nearby trees. The crevices and nooks around which were not safe to linger for too long.

On approach to the well-named Marshyangdi River Bridge, Pagunda Danda’s splendour was there for all to see. This 1500m (4,900ft) elevation is striking. Almost like a vivid piece of the Earth’s crust curved outwards and upwards in a kind of skateboard park half-pipe shape. It isn’t beyond the imagination to picture people skiing down the snow covered silky-looking solid surface or perhaps cycling up the shiny and extraordinary rockface itself. I was reliably informed by a passing guide that once upon a time it once was a lakebed. My imagination could barely see that. Now, local legends believe that mass of rock, known as Swarga (heaven) Dwar (gates) is the route to the afterlife. After leaving your mortal remains behind, you must clamber up this wall to reach the beyond. Few cracks and very little green grew along this gargantuan surface. Its various tones glimmered in the sunlight. Swarga Dwar is heavenly.

I decided I’d walk over the wider bridge. Bad idea. Not so soon after, I had to double back in deep-unbroken snow to the pathway that connected from the smaller chain suspension bridge. Still, the views were worth it, or that’s what I kept telling myself. On crossing the bridge, I noticed that not one, but of my walking boots had worn splits in them. They would remain watertight for that day, but worry set in. How easy is it to buy a pair of UK size-14 boots in the mountains? Was there much demand for European-sized 50 boots in that neck of the woods? Would a repair shop be open in Manang?

The slog up to Dhukur Pokhari (3240m) involved a little bit of that famous Nepali flat (little bit up, little bit down) on the last section. Ordinarily, I’d have enjoyed that, but waist-deep snow and a heavy frame meant I spent a fair bit of time digging myself out and starting up and over again, only to have to dig myself out again. Occasionally, for the sake of variety I flumped over like a dropped teddy bear and rolled around in the snow. These are the moments we hike for – to get in touch with nature, even if gravity is fully in charge. This also gave me time to really appreciate the incredible views. Snow-capped peaks are in every direction and the lower hills around me give glimpses of the fuller Annapurna range. The path had been a zigzagging tour of the under-canopy of pines and firs. The trees had nestled so closely at times that sunlight had failed to melt much of the deep snow beneath the natural green sunshade.

At Dhukur Pokhari, a brightly coloured lodge offering a fruit juice and sun-bathed benches caught my attention. Several trekkers were tucking into what looked like proper potato chips. Would they also have gravy and a nice piece of haddock too? I decided that lunch was needed. Well, actually my belly was rumbling like hell having ran on a trekker’s fuel bar, porridge and omelette for far too long. I greeted the lodges family, “Tashi delek” and took the menu from them. The crisp air, with sunshine beating down on me, reminded me of a winter’s sunny day on Morecambe Bay. I was warm despite the now sub-zero temperatures.

After a lunch of vegetable momos, chips, and allu paratha (potato in a bread), I didn’t enjoy the dal bhat later that evening, but I did have plenty in the tank for the final part of the walk. The steep upwards pathway through to Dhukur Pokhari had burned a fair bit of energy but on leaving the village, the trail was quite smooth, with only a few upward rises, and most of them in the finale of the path.Livia, Srirang and I set out once more and remained together for the final push of the day. The air was much thinner than earlier than day, and a huge radio mast amongst the crumbling old and proud new buildings marked out the final stop for the day. It grew ever closer.

After crossing a footbridge, alongside two twisted bridge remains, the pathway snaked in and out of small bushes and a very hidden abandoned settlement. To the left the river moved away, and fields spread outwards. To the right a new peak became clearer. Pisang takes its name from Pisang Peak (locally called Jong Ri – 6091m high), of which Paungda Danda is its south-eastern subsidiary peak. The so-called ‘Great Wall of Pisang’ was easily visible in the fading sunlight. Pisang Youth Club’s football fields could be made out amongst the snow on our right, as the goalposts gave it away. To our left, a huge sweeping curing avalanched seemed to have completely lost momentum at a stonewall. It was stonewalled just a metre from our footpath. The jagged windswept icy tufts of the avalanche stood in contrast to intact wheat shoots to the avalanche’s left.

Upper Pisang (3300m) is part of the Pisang village. Lower Pisang (3200m) is its slightly lower down and over the valley other half. About 307 live across 105 houses, according to a census in 2011. It seemed on my visit, that far fewer people were here. Arriving at our guesthouse, the lucidly turquoise Marshyangdi River could be seen a hundred metres or so below. If life it what you make it, then right there and then, life was wonderful. To reach Lower Pisang, you don’t cross the bridges, you follow the river and cross a different bridge. The Lower Pisang plains and the buildings looked cold and uninviting because the mountains above cast such a large shadow below.

Upper Pisang has sweeping great views of Annapurna II and ample opportunity to take endless snaps on your camera. The lodge’s family feel is completed by a young girl singing from YouTube videos on a phone. Mother and father, busy cooking occasionally pop out to check on her, and she looked up every time, with full respect and listened to all instructions, in the Tibetan language.

After gaining 600m in elevation and trekking about 14.5km that day, we’d all earned a good night’s sleep. I tucked under my extra blanket and crept into my sleeping bag. I sat up suddenly and took one last look outside at the valley beneath and the few twinkles of electric light. The dark sky and stars made me realise how cold it was, so I slipped back into the sleeping bag and soon fell asleep, deep into a dream…

“Listen as the wind blows, from across the great divide, voices traoped in yearning, memories trapped in time. The night is my companion, and solitude is my guide…” – Possession by Sarah McLachlan

 

Cover image by the angry hungry Hungarian and great trekker Livia (Srirang and I passing an avalanche field the day after arriving at Upper Pisang):

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Rainbow tapestry.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

Last Sunday, I went on a run. Yes, I walked occasionally after the 3km mark, and jogged a bit, but the beach was slanted to the right (east), which is not good when you have right ankle and tendon weaknesses. My right ankle has been suffering instability for year but since late autumn it has been recovering. There is no pain but the super over pronation is inwards and makes it easy for me to roll my ankles and my flat feet. Running is not something that I enjoy nor do I want to do. So, last Saturday evening Gerry and I cycled 20km or so to Cha Am. He was joining the Cha Am Bikini Run (10km run). There were other options such as the half-marathon and a 5km run. As he picked up his bib, to go over his USA flag speedos, I asked if you could run without wearing a bikini or speedos. That is to say, I was curious if you could run in regular shorts and shirts, rather than naked. The gentleman said yes. I asked if I could join the 5km run. I parted with 450 baht and was handed the running number 1143. It had space on it for a temperature check, because of COVID-19 and so on. So, just after 6pm on Saturday, I was to run at 6am the following day. Cheers Gerry!

I crossed the line, sweating and knackered. Just below 36 minutes for the heavy bugger on the old 5K beach run in sun-licked Cha Am. Not bad for someone who hates running. When the world stops worrying and this virus, disease and panic goes away, we’ll mourn the lost and seek normality. Until then, keep hope and do as much as you can in these dark hours. Don’t blame and judge. Be the difference and look to inspire. I entered the 5K run because infectious human attitudes made it appealing. It was a challenge and we as a species are always capable of rising to a challenge. Together we’re stronger. Seeing runners with smiles on their faces and their tribal passion for this sport made me escape the worries of the days ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic is shattering lives globally and I may end up trapped in Thailand for some time. It is what it is. We must find the light of positivity wherever we can. Apinterfood (Hua Hin) has made my day in recent weeks. I’m in Thailand enjoying ice cold Vimto. I wish all around the world peace and love at this difficult time. Vimto has and will bring calm. We need more calm. Less sensationalism, more calm. More Vimto too. Don’t panic buy Vimto. Share the purple love juice. As a wise Mancunian saying goes, “Stay safe our kid.”


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Back to the Nepal trek we go, and the many sounds of the Marsyangdi River. Leaving the cute puppy eyes, and Jagat behind, the first thing we witnessed was a sheep or goat completely cut open. It seemed a wedding or some other such festivity demanded it. The one thing about the hugely multicultural Nepali lifestyle is, you’re never more than a day or so from a regional, local, religious or personal holiday. All are fascinating in a mammoth amount of ways, however, stepping around a bath of blood on the muddy pathway was a bit too much for breakfast. In my eyes, anyway. Not long after leaving Jagat (1130m), Chamche (1385m) was a passing point. A stunning waterfall cast a rainbow in the blowing water spray, commanded a great place to stand and enjoy the view. Many more waterfalls followed that day, cutting and jutting from the high valley sides, but the Chamche Waterfall opposite the Boong Waterfall and Dense Fall Restaurant was a fine way to inspire a good walk.

Switching away from the road, I clambered along a trail pathway that faced into the ugly road over the valley. The road was a continual scar among the awe-inspiring mountainsides and colossal rocks. The dribbled blasted rocks and erosion alongside the scar gave the appearance of a weeping mountain.

IMG_20200130_170616Tal (1700m) was over a hill. By over the hill, I mean very far away and plenty of up, up, up. Not a hint of what Tal would look like because ultimately some very large geological features were doing a good job of screening the beyond. After some really emotional digging in we were back on the pathway, Livia and I, walking with Srirang not far behind. The few restaurants and hotels along the way were closed, and water had to be gained from river feeds into pipes, and then straight into the Life Straw bottle. Clean and fresh. The great sinister and prophesying slopes ahead didn’t encourage but we dug in. On reaching the top we had an eagle’s eye view into Tal, with an eagle flying beneath us over a wide valley plain and lake within the Marsyangdi River. The overlooking stone gate faced onto Tal. We toyed with how long before Srirang would arrived but decided the best thing was to find somewhere to eat. A gent introduced himself, and told us that his lodge was sadly under repair. His friend from Jagat, at Mont Blanc Hotel, had recommended his sister’s lodge. We said, not to worry, and carried on. We went all the way to the farthest point of the village, Paradise Lodge on his recommendation. Here we ordered food and fussed a local dog that followed us. The pumpkin soup and momos were brilliant. Well needed after that wander, The widened-valley stretched across the banks of the river beneath with a stone plain giving home to the village of Tal. Behind it the Tal waterfalls plummeted downwards powering a turbine or two.

IMG_20200131_094804After a cup of milky coffee, the weakest coffee ever, but warm and sweet, Srirang walked up the garden path. He did not have his backpack. He said he’d checked into Tashi Delek Lodge (named after a Tibetan greeting). We retreated back there and dropped our bags in. The girl at the lodge had wide Tibetan eyes, wonderfully smooth hair and a figure to die for. I seldom judge someone as breath-taking at first sight. She was. And, without appearing like a debauched foreigner, I politely thanked her for showing me to the wide room, and she slid away quietly. A man I assumed to be her father, and a woman who was clearly her mother shuffled around the garden and lodgings in the start of the Manang district. Before a wander out, we ordered our dinners and dal bhat was on the menu once again.

We set out back towards Jagat, but only as far as the lake and plain area opened out downstream. A golden looking dog joined us. He, Livia and Srirang were having a whale of a time. I wandered along quietly amazed at the litter amongst the river bed and shore. It is always sad to see a natural place covered in plastic and soggy discarded clothing. Some will have no doubt been trekking waste, but much would have been due to a lack of waste management. Plastic is a global menace. Tal sits on the line of Tibetan Nepal and Hindu Nepal. A clearer division of cultures was visible. Today’s dal baht was the best that I had ever had. I thought about how many argue that the road across the valley doesn’t detract from the beauty of the area, triggered by a motorbike ripping the arse out of the valley’s silence.

IMG_20200130_163546Before dinner, Livia, Srirang and our new Kukura (कुकुर – a dog) – abandoned Livia’s impressive learning of Nepali language and we went to see the waterfall, lit up by several bulbs and enjoyed the setting sun over the snow-capped mountain ranges of the west. To our north up the Marsyangdi River, cold clouds gathered and swirled. To the south, similar clouds menacingly eddied and flowed over distant peaks. We looked at pictures of a spider and Livia, with Srirang set about creating a kind of social media profile photo montage. The day had been epic in terms of the scale and ravines witnessed, with such dramatic sweeping scenery accompanying us along the way. Following steep stones and vast drops, a few photos of an eight-legged critter seemed fitting. The big and small, side by side.

IMG_20200131_104942The following morning blue skies greeted us all. I’d woken around 7am but we departed closer to 10.30am. Why rush? Armed with a stodgy breakfast we set off early, having chewed on buckwheat bread, omelettes and porridge. The beautiful girl waved us goodbye. The river bent north-west, and we followed the banks, as the valleys once again enclosed the Marsyangdi River. After only a short distance the river pointed north, and we looked upstream at gaping valleys. But, first we enjoyed a smooth and calm waterfall on our right shoulders. Livia washed her hair and Srirang rested for a while. I plodded up the stairs slowly at first and then having reached a crest, decided I’d trot on a little. The valley below deepened and over the river the road slipped lower below me. The mountains above me cast shadows and sunlight broke through the occasional pockets of bamboo forestry. Here the plants became more deciduous than before, with the air temperature hovering just below teens in centigrade. Sound thundered up from the deep vaIMG_20200131_121925lley beneath. After passing the first yak of the journey I found the small village of Karte. That was an ideal break point after some knee-stress-inducing steps on the route so far. As my lunch of pumpkin soup and momos was readied, I walked over the suspension bridge and back. By 12.50pm, I was at Karte, and now I had met the sister of a certain doggy back in Tal. Her puppies were nearby too. I sat and enjoyed the views and had a quick gander on the internet, via the lodge’s wi-fi. Here I read an excellent account of this trekking region by Tasha Amy (spotting a familiar dog too).

Somewhere after Karte, I decided to plonk my bottom down and have a short nap. I positioned my feet on a comfortable rock and slid my head back onto my resting backpack. Why rush? I hadn’t walked too much extra before reaching Dharapani’s first few guesthouses. Here I greeted the owners if the bright pink and green New Tibet Guest House. With a view up at a very high suspension bridge, I decided this would be a good place to stay – especially as Srirang, Livia and I had decided this would be the day’s end. I checked in, explored the waterfall over the river, had a wander within the village and waited not too long for Srirang and Livia to arrive. Dharapani has a few houses, and a population of just over a thousand, throughout about 232 houses. It is the gateway to the Manaslu trekking routes and all climbers who want that scap, head througIMG_20200131_161129h here. The so-called Gandaki Zone of northern Nepal. Just across the river a further 102 houses, house about four times as many people as front doors. The village of Thonje can be reached by a swinging suspension bridge. A river valley to the north-east gives Thonje a headland sandwiching it to the north-west by the Marsyangdi River. The north-easterly direction to Tilche and a village called Goa looked cold and uninviting. The name Thonje means ‘pine trees growing on a flat place’ in Gurung language.

IMG_20200201_131727An hour’s climb up a near vertical cliff-hugging pathway is not the best thing to do for a late breakfast. But, it had to be done. That vertical line of suspension bridge was calling out my name. Eventually I reached the steep-faced village of Nache (2300m) overlooking a sweeping plain and several farming stepped fields. I ducked into the Dona Lake & Restaurant lodge for lunch. With views of Manaslu (8163m) I sank a bowl of pumpkin and onion soup deep into my belly. Lovely vegetable momos joinIMG_20200201_140008ed the soup moments later. After thanking the owner and their family, I swiftly wandered around the bend, shuffled by two bulls blocking the path and skipped on forwards. To walk on a very-raised footbridge was my intention. The pathway descended and Annapurna could be seen across the opposite valley and way off into the distance.

Heights sometimes give me the heebie-jeebies. There’s a touch of anxiety and apprehension. It doesn’t freeze me in panic or fright, but I don’t feel completely comfortable. This bridge, the Nachai Tamrang bridge, was one heebie-jeebies instiller of the highest quality. The valley below is deep (more than 412m). After crossing, I passed some loggers and wandered through the cool pine forest interior. The chilly evening air was refreshing and I spent a long time pondering if the pathway would start to go downhill. It didn’t seem to go that way, until I found a landslip of many tonnes of soil. Just beyond it I could see prayer flags, a large chalky-coloured rock and some white-washed painted bricks and wood.

A Tibetan monastery, just about on the map (Coordinates: 28.526666408038352, 84.36179227677985), more than 55 years old received me. I hadn’t expected it. The monk shouted down to me, after his black dog had alerted him of my presence. I returned the call with a greeting, and asked for advice on how to pass the huge landslip in front of me. He kind of pointed and said, “There isn’t an easy way. Take great care”, followed by a gentle chuckle. I’d fathomed out a pathway to my right, and looped it around but again it had to cross the landslip, over a distance of two metres. Aside from that the landslip was mostly 5 to 15 metres wide. It ran down into a steep pocket of bushes and mud for about ten metres. I couldn’t slip far. I could get buried. It could have been dangerous. So, I did what anyone else faced with a lengthy walk back, I winged it. I jumped over the first metre with consummate ease, and pushed myself into the soft earth, to allow for a steady flick into the solid growth by a tree and then shuffled up to the gate at the top.

I talked with the resident monk, and he told me of the story of his predecessor who had been there for 55 years. He showed me damage on a wall from the terrible earthquake years ago, the huge tree grown from a seed by his predecessor. The steep garden reaching up from two buildings featured diversity in its birdlife. The national bird, the Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) foraged amongst the peaceful greenery. Wind battered away at flags, and several thin cats wandered around. I had a guided tour within the small monastery and made a donation. With light fading I bid farewell, and shuffled off downhill for the bridge to Thonje, and then the eventual bridge to Dharapani, back to my lodge across the way from the highest bridge that I had ever seen, just upstream from the skeleton of a sagging bridge and its replacement nearby. The warm cushions and the fireplace alongside hot meals made for a good night of sleep, despite the icy cold temperatures outside. Dharapani will stick in my mind as one of the most pleasant places on this journey.

It had rolling power cuts as during daylight, they turned off the power whilst they fitted new power lines. Several huge boulders, landslides, avalanches and other such damage had created supply instability. Leaning and/or crushed pylons needed replacing for many kilometres. The monsoon seasons, the winter, the dry days, and other erosion factors made life hard for local people. The power and a recently installed internet feed gave a very modern touch, along with the new road creating regular gas deliveries and other luxuries throughout the region. What many take for granted around the world had only just arrived. The old and new. The New Tibet Guest House even had western toilets, complete with fully flushing bits. What wasn’t to like? A warm shower and a sit-down pooh. As many returning trekkers passed me by advising of closed pathways near Manang, I didn’t worry. If I couldn’t go that high, I’d not be too upset. The journey was already wonderful.

 

At Dharapani (1900m), on leaving our permits were checked. It was all very official and the Police here advised that trekking beyond Manang was unlikely for several days. Livia and Srirang looked disappointed but I guessed they’d wait it out. I was on a tight timetable and wouldn’t be rushing up, either way. The journey was magnificent and for me it had no planned end point. Something special always arrives if you let it. Okay, that sounded very Walt Disney, but I truly believe that you can’t force a trek in the Himalayas. Just go with flow. Feel the rhythm, feel the ride, it’s bobsleigh time…So, that day we slipped through Odar ( a village where I was told  a landslide killed a sleeping trekker some years ago) , Bagarchap (2160m – a village once washed away in 1995), Danagyu (2200m – an unappealing lengthy village, with a Buddhist Monastery opposite a Hydro Electric Plant warning about dangers in the workplace and you only having one life…), and spent some considerable time climbing to Timang (2710m). Livia and Srirang took the road, but I was bored of the road and wanted to see more natural settings that dusty rocks and broken lines of earth.

So, here began the tough part of the trek… forests of pine and fir…

 


Life will find a way.” – Ian Malcolm, character in the novel Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton

Back to today’s news. Tragedy. More grimness and COVID-19 panic. More worries. It is making me feel down, actually. I worry. I try to escape.I don’t want to see Chinese people boasting how their great nation beat the virus. It isn’t over. I hope to hell, for many it will be over soon. Yes, great doctors and nurses have done wonderful things. But, leaders and officials have let people down. Still, the late Dr Li Wenliang has been exonerated by his government. Too little, too late? 

A while ago, Boris Johnson said he’d take the virus and disease outbreak – on a Friday. He called a COBR meeting for the Monday. This is the same man who said to sing Happy Birthday twice whilst scrubbing your mitts. USA had a drive-through testing centre made by Google. As foot-tap alternatives to handshakes greeted each other, I couldn’t help wondering how they take their shoes off, which obviously were exposed to things that people touched, and probably, hands earlier in the day… The Ian Duncan Smith virus harms the elderly amongst us and this virus is going all Energizer bunny, on and on, and on. It’s tragic but please stay safe, calm and dish out some Gallow’s Humour. Keep your stuff upper lip. The battle goes on.

“If there’s one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh, well, there it is.” –  Ian Malcolm, character in the novel Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton

Life goes on.

 

Wonder Lost Wanderlust

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

As pensioners and the vulnerable wipe away thoughts of pasta on toast, and dream of times, the better times, when three-ply toilet paper was a thing, Britain slips closer to the abyss. Gone are considerations of single-use plastics and the overuse of carrier bags. Armed with media footage of Australians panic buying toilet paper, Britain laughed at first and then they went out, with little shame and emptied shelves rapidly. Scenes in supermarkets across the lands, far and wide resembled lootings of old, and movies that centred around cataclysmic events. Football fans could not be heard chanting, “We’re fucked and we know we are…” over and over again. Amongst all this Liverpool held a half-marathon. Well Liverpool’s second football team Liverpool F.C. weren’t in action, so why not?

Food bank baskets were frantically emptied and hand soaps pilfered from hospitals across the land. Every man for himself, straight out of 1930s USA had arrived in Britain. The Great Depression reenactment society were even too busy to invite their friends on Facebook to this mass event. Luckily for the selfish amongst Britons, they’d already sneakily arranged their own do. And so, everyone went bat-shit crazy making Overlord of That America, Donny Trump proud as punch. It kept everyone away from his golf courses on Irish and British turfs. Same place anyway, right, Donny? Or is it not?

“And one of the reasons the UK, basically, has been: It’s got the border; it’s got very strong borders. And they’re doing a very good job. They don’t have very much infection at this point, and hopefully, they’ll keep it that way.” – Donald Trump, lover of borders, March 2020.

Community and social care are at stretching point. World relations hang on knife edges and just one stupid tweet can make the retro dark ages look modern and all right here, right now. So, we must each abandon hope, loved ones and become ultra-selfish now. I’m going to panic buy piccalilli, Marmite (in the hate camp, but needs and musts), and head off to an island and start a rhubarb and Rumex obtusifolius farm. Just need to learn how to farm wheat, bake bread and all that. What’re the key ingredients of brown sauce and Vimto? Any good (and uninfected) piggy farmers/butchers out there? Preferences will be given to those who have more skills than Bear Grylls and are of the opposite gender. These are not equal opportunity times. Nor, are they easy, for those apart from loved ones and family. Still, our older loved ones are being told to isolate themselves – and us younger ones are expected to be immune (or bust) according to Shit Donald Trump Boris Johnson… happy days, indeed. Ignore the WHO’s advice of test, test, test and go against the grain of the globe. What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s look for positivity. My Aunty Susan mentioned about a man with a mini bus taking the elderly shopping; community groups setting up help; local shops finding ways to get food delivered to those in need etc. That’s how it should be now. Not just, me, me, me, me, me (please like my blog), me, me, me… and my neighbour back in Manc, offered a note to Mum and co. to help with shopping assistance if needed.

“Panic on the streets of London; Panic on the streets of Birmingham; I wonder to myself; Could life ever be sane again?” – The Smith – Panic

As our brave NHS receptionists, nurses, doctors, cleaners and staff put themselves on the frontline, we must remember each will no doubt have family back home waiting. Their selfless acts may expose their mothers, fathers, children, husbands, wives, partners and grandparents to what is now on our shores. The days of Covid-19 are here. These true heroes are the real line of defence. Not all heroes wear capes, but let’s hope the British government tests them, protects them and provides them with more than shoddy NHS 111 advice or social distancing blurbs.


 

And, now for something completely different…

Walking to Khudi wasn’t the biggest of walks. A commute for many. The tourist bus journey from the day before had been a largely bouncy and claustrophobic affair, with little comfort and a variety of smells that were neither pleasant nor hell. The seats filled fast around the halfway point of the journey and emptied faster on arrival to Besi Beshar. The stop-start nature of the journey had jolted muscles and bones in ways only experienced when falling down hills. The first day of wandering was welcomed with joy. Accompanied by the rapid flowing Marshyangdi River to our right shoulder, off we trotted, up a gentle rise, through a farm field and away we went. The beginning had began.

Unlike the colourful yet featureless interior of the bus, the fresh air of the trail enveloped all senses. A breeze blew through my lack of hair and my nostrils filled with warm spring air. My birds filled with great natural sounds, unlike the bus’s Nepali music blaring out on a setting known as too loud. The dusts that blew through the window on the bus journey seldom visited our walk that day. The repetitive beats of Nepali music were soon replaced by water flowing, leaves rustling and animal cries. Goats? Check. Engines humming? Negative.

Embarking on a journey with beaten muscles is tough. It doesn’t inspire a lengthy trot. The backpack, made by Deuter, had been a secondhand purchase, but it fitted well offering comfort across 55 litres. A zip-on, zip-off daysack sagged from its exterior, making for an odd balancing act but after a few hundred metres it felt part of my super-structure.

Little bit up, little bit down, Nepali flat, actually felt very inappropriate today. The walk was not up at all. Good job! I had read many trekked as far as Tal in one day but I certainly would be going nowhere near there. Gentle and slow, and away we go, was a good motto to begin. The journey is key. You’ll experience more in a long trek and walk, then a rush and a click of the camera. You must always go at your own pace, and if with others, the pace of the slowest – or at least agree where to stop each day, in advance. The region by Annapurna wasn’t a tick-box exercise. It was, to me, a way to explore and see a little bit more, and understand more than I had done the day before. Relaxation, the testing of my physical condition and so on, were just bonuses. Stories for future camp fires or to slap online via a blog would be huge advantages, but not necessarily the aim of the wander.

Here, I was with good company (thanks Srirang and Livia), able to stroll off or amble a tad behind, with my mind. All two brain cells could have a natter and give me some clarity over this, that and the other. So, within a few moments, we’d decided Khudi would be our first port of call. Khudi, and the Maya hotel, right by a road bridge, had a hot spring pond. The chickens loved it. The heat obviously drew in insects and the garden was lush and well-kept. Two separate dining areas looked down on the thunderous Marshyangdi River whilst upstream a kind of footbridge was suspended over the river. The room costs 500NPR (4.21 USD/3.48GBP)and the food was pleasant enough. Dal Bhat daily, with a lovely pickle. I checked out the next morning, happy with my 2800NPR bill, despite it being far higher than the local rates.

The next day involved a bit more trekking – and 20NPR naturally grown bananas (five fresh fleshy ones). After around 10km, the end point was the village of Bahundanda (1310m).

After a snack in Bhulbhule (840m), the trail passed through much dust, passing the ugly hydroelectric dam and the Chinese construction project around there and Ngadi, it was good to escape the hum of engineering and electrical production. The silted river eventually cleared to a bluer and clearer channel. Signs for Wanderlust (also written as Wonder Lost due to an advertising error) appealed because of the words hot and spring. The guesthouse offered us a free room (0NPR, 0USD, 0GBP) on the condition we ate breakfast and dinner there. Deal done. I would check out after two nights with a bill for 3280NPR. I didn’t just eat Dal Bhat, I managed big breakfasts and copious amounts of coffee, the milky kind. As Srirang and Livia rested, I tumbled down a path freely, almost skipping in a happy way. Bats flew around me as daylight faded, and I found two hot springs bubbling away, with an orange rustic appearance. The muddy sludge around each pool shimmered in an unappealing kind of way – an uninviting emerald green stain, flanked by dry looking grasses and rich plants, fed by the rich waters emerging on the surface. The waters gently slipped down a pebbly slope into the raging Marshyangdi River below.

Many people spend one day plodding the road from Besi Behsar to Bahundanda and few stay longer than a night. Bahundanda was so relaxing that we stayed for two nights. It gave Livia the chance to shake off the Coronavirus bug she had, and Srirang and I chance to go over the other side of the valley. Here we clambered up to two villages, Arkhale (R-Kelly?) and Gairigaon. There was plenty of time spent observing a river of goats – they were everywhere, in trees, on rocks, all along the paths and probably on dogs’ backs too. A goat herder carried a small kid along the pathway and greeted me. He could have been a hundred years old. He certainly had no teeth but a very friendly smile, despite his lack of gnashers. On the opposite valley, towering over Bahundanda, was a conical mountain, almost volcanic in shape, and two small hot spring pools at the mountain foot, on the banks of the ferocious Marshyangdi River. Dry terraces, possibly of rice and other grains gave the appearance of monstrous steps to the southern face of the village.

In the distance, I could see a small group, of colourful porters and guides ferrying excessively large backpacks and colourful trekkers behind them. I couldn’t see it, but I guessed at least one, and if not all the porters had sandals or other such ill-suited footwear for lugging weights far beyond their light frames. We descended back to the lodge, and enjoyed our meals, despite Srirang picking up a sprain or strain from some rock-scrambling. Well, we were avoiding bears. Maybe. Possibly. Or, just a little off the beaten track? I’m still finding the many seeds that stick to you, on my clothes now.

The Annapurna Circuit isn’t a complete loop, which is just as well, because 230km is a long walk. After a late check-out from Wander Lost, I left Srirang and Livia, looped onto a blue and white pathway and reached Ghermu around lunchtime. Here, I ate homemade potato momos (soft boiled dumplings), omelette, chapatti and a cup of milky tea. I talked with the owner of the Peaceful Lodge, who was wearing a Chelsea FC jacket, as his other job was to coach the local football team – alongside his other job as porter and guide. He explained more about the local Gurung people and the stretched flat plains of the Ghermu (1130m) village. He pointed out several eagles in the distance and we also discussed vultures and their importance to the circle of life. The day had involved a great little ascent surrounded by farmhouses and glorious scenery. Each slope was tough on the feet, yet farmers and village life seemed to zip uphill at breakneck speeds – carrying baskets of wood, and even rocks to repair a rising footpath.

We stayed a night in Ghermu in a place where I cut my head open on a low beam, twice. The second time did not help at all. Not that the first was any pleasure. A gecko clung to the cold walls, as we sat eating outside and enjoying the calm area. Our cook, who seemed to be the only cook in the village, was the same man from the Peaceful Lodge, earlier that day. Community in action.

The following morning involved a lazy and sluggish breakfast. On descending a steep path down to the footbridge to Syange, we walked through the Late-Mulka Bahadur Curying’s Memorial Gate which proudly had written, “Thanks for your visit.” After crossing the swinging suspension bridge, the west bank of the Marsyangdi river, the Lhasa Guest House and all the other lodges appeared closed. Drills and noise erupted from a nearby waterfall’s foot. A new concrete lodge was being built alongside the Besi Sahar to Chame Sadak (road). The road climbed upwards, sweeping left and right and hugging a few hairpin bends. There were few and far between sections of footpath acting like little breaks from the road ahead. Plenty of milky coffee was had after one particular rise, allowing Livia and I to await Srirang, who was nursing a leg strain, and plugging on despite the pain. A cyclist pedaled on upwards. He stopped and we talked. His intention was to cycle the entire Annapurna Circuit – and he bubbled with his native Dublin accent and enthusiasm. After talking by a roadside lodge and restaurant, he pedaled on, never to be seen by us, until the next time. His touring bicycle made mean work of the steep rocky road. Its handlebars, frame and his back didn’t look too prepared for wet and cold ahead. Brave man.

A cute kitten lolled around our feet and played blissfully as Srirang arrived. We then trekked on. At Jagat we took a wander through the long village before ducking back for the Mont Blanc hotel. The fresh coffee sold it to us. The Hotel New View wanted 2000NPR per night, per person, per room, but the Mont Blanc quoted a fairer 100NPR. A saving of 1900NPR for just ten footsteps. The sun-drenched top floor oozed warmth and I dropped my bag down. I did ask the owner why he had named his lodge after a mountain far away in France. He said he liked the name. It stood out amongst the Three Sisters, Everest, Manaslu, Annapurna, Peaceful Lodges, Tibet, Tashi Delek, and other names that formed a quite predictable list of lodge names.

Hotel Mont Blanc make sure that the guests come first. Welcomed with a warm smile, we stepped inside the lodge. On viewing a sun-baked top floor, it would have made no sense to have said no. The finest cappuccino for breakfast and great food throughout. Try the tagliatelle lasagna with local tomatoes and a hint of spice. I had room 4 on the top floor by the cold shower and squat toilet but wasn’t disturbed. On the ground floor is the hottest hot shower in Nepal. Trust me I have tried a few that claim to be hot. This one does not disappoint. Khusi and his wife pointed us to two different hot springs, both delightful. There’s a nice trek to Chipla on the opposite side of the river and you make see monkeys nearby one of the many waterfalls. A most wonderful place to stay. So good that we stayed an extra night. Try the Dal Bhat for a fully flavoured 24 hour power… ready for the days ahead.

Jagat allowed ample opportunity to feel the serenity and embrace the awe of the valley underneath. Here I dipped in my first hot spring bath, and observed tomato plants growing nearby. Monkeys flipped through trees and the fresh mountain air quenched every need of the day. Rivers, forests, and humanity sat side by side, as did a huge landslip of trash next to a trickle of beautiful waterfall. Supply and demand leaves to much rubbish at lesser accessible places with totally inadequate waste management systems. In the distance, snow-capped peaks peaked between clouds and rocks edged out precariously from mountains upstream. Banana trees, pines, tropical and lesser-tolerant of warmth plants towered around the village, flanked with great wide trees and great slowing green ground-level leaves. Jagat is a tranquil village perched on what appears to be a huge rock. Beneath it the Marsyangdi flows and to the north west side of the village, a stepped waterfall smashes into a pool, misting and swirling outwards.

The trek goes on… just like the news of our not-so-friendly COVID-19…

Pokhara footsteps.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

Kathmandu to Pokhara is a long and winding road. The Beatles didn’t sing about it though. The final stop of the 700NPR bus journey was on the edge of Pokhara (827-1740m) by the sports stadium. We checked in at 0100 on the 21st of January 2020, in the Obey Guesthouse, where Srirang had arranged to meet Livia, the angry hungry Hungarian from last year’s trek. I said hello, looked at the rooftop view and fell into a deep sleep. I slept like a baby. In the morning, a bit later, around 9am, I awoke. I stretched my legs, had a cold shower and dressed. I walked up the three floors to the rooftop. I looked south, trees and rooftops, east, a building obscured my view of more trees and rooftops. I walked up some steps to the next layer of the building. Standing on top of the building, my jaw dropped. I looked north, a little west and east. What a panorama! The prominent views of the tourism capital of Nepal are striking.

Pokhara is in the top left corner of the Seti Gandaki valley, if you look at the valley as football goalpost set. The mountains can rise over 6,500 metres across just 30 kilometres. You can see Dhaulagiri (8167m), Annapurna (6000m to over 8000m over several peaks), Manaslu (8163m), Machhapuchchhre A.K.A. Fishtail (6993m). Meanwhile Phew Tal lake sits at just 827m at the Lakeside area of the city. The moderate humid subtropical climate was just hovering around the low teens of 11°C, which made it feel very comfortable. At night, it fell into single figures. Very comfortable indeed. The World peace pagoda stands to the south, a cave full of bats lies to the north. Resorts, climbing shops, massage houses, spars, restaurants and lakeside boating are everywhere. Temples, shrines, gumbas, and forestry – serve the population that sits under half a million. The sprawling metropolitan city is far bigger than Kathmandu, and it feels far greener. This is a city that has survived much hardship losing the great India to Tibet trading route, following the Indo-China war in 1962. However, tourism has grown since. The British Gurkha Camp and Indian Gorkha (Gurka) camps are here. Many education sites are here. Some major businesses are based here.  The airport (soon to be replaced) and roads have regular and easy to find transport links across the country. Oh, and yoga is everywhere.

For dinner, I ate a masala curry, with roti bread. For lunch, I skipped it. For breakfast I tucked into omlette and a peanut dish with spices. Alu patthar was needed alongside the breakfast – a lovely potato bread. Just like the city of Pokhara, every area and every meal was geared for every kind and every taste. Pokhara’s lakeside area was akin to Blackpool lights in England, but smaller, and much quieter. By now the news of the coronavirus Covid-19 was emerging into Pokhara. Sellers on the streets offered a selection of fruits, “Sir, pineapple? Bananas? Ganga?” I declined all, before later watching City beat Sheffield Utd on my phone, as the temperature hit 2°C.

On the 22nd, we set out to the TIMS office, which doubles up as ACAP (Annapurna Circuit) entry – and the Nepal Tourism Board (all flanked by the ill-fated Visit Nepal 2020). TIMS and the ACAP are essential for trekking the region. The national park has strict control. On the day we visited, we were told that the highest we could trek, was Manang due to heavy snowfall – and missing trekkers on the Annapurna Base Camp trail. Under clear blue skies, and an air temperature of 20°C, we entered the doorway to news crews, cameras and stressed looking trekkers complaining that they were airlifted out of Annapurnas region without choice. They would have to pay once again, if they went in. And, they had to get their insurance companies to pay the helicopter rescue fees. The perils of trekking in full motion. Many trekkers seemed oblivious to the lost reported guides and trekkers. We answered questions with the ACAP and TIMS before passing over 2000NPR and 3000NPR respectively. We’d essentially agreed to take zero risks, and trek only as far as Manang. To me, I was fine. I just wanted to get onto the trail and see the sights, meet the people and enjoy a safe walk with good views. I decided there and then that not reaching the pass or completing the Annapurna Circuit was fine. It is what it is, as my older brother Asa, always says.

Pokhara is a very spaced out city. It’s relaxed and very green. There is so much to see and do. It is at the top of the league in terms of watching people go by, and enjoying the sounds of birdcalls. Nature is all around you, whether it is kites swooping overhead, tropical birds chirping in the morning or the croak of frogs. Then, there are many friendly and cute dogs, cats and the occasional free-roaming cow ambling along the roadsides.

With the terrible news coming out of Wuhan, of a pneumonia-causing virus, I became hyper-aware of people around me. Every sneeze and cough triggered a twinge of worry. The spate of deaths in China may have been a long way away, but in my mind, it could have been much closer. The spread of such trouble, just like heavy snowfall could easily have remained an ongoing worry for our trek.

On the 23rd, we checked out from the Obey Guesthouse (1000NPR per night), had breakfast and caught a taxi to the bus station in Pokhara. We departed Pokhara at 1135 for Besi Shahar at 1700hrs. Besi Shahar is only 760m in elevation. On arrival we stayed at Manange Chautara – Hotel Kailash. 200NPR a night, plus food and drink, we went to bed and readied ourselves for the walk. We were in no hurry, because we could only go as far as Manang. I had to leave Nepal by February the 15th, so that was settled. Take it all in, enjoy the walk. Rather than break the camel’s back, the next day, we walked just 7km to Khudi, staying at the Maya hotel, alongside the river and bridge. On the short 3 hour trek, we’d had brews at the ACAP check point, watched Himalayan Grey Langur monkeys for a while and not rushed at all.

 

The journey had started. How about your journey?

Visit Kathmandu 2020.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

I’m sat here, in Thailand, writing an chomping away on a bag of makok. These fruits come from the Spondias Dulcis flowering plant. They’re sour, and pickled ever so slightly. The tough flesh makes it feel like a beastly olive. I’ve had this fruit in curries before, and always wondered what it was. Now, I know, I like makok. Oh. That’s erm, awkward. I like to eat… No I can’t finish that. Makok is very… No, not there either. The sour pickled green ball is yummy. That’ll have to do. I bet it’d make a mean dip if the chunky seeds were removed. Just don’t name the dip.


 

Finally, I have got round to my time in Nepal this year. 2020 has been marked as Visit Nepal 2020, a concerted effort by the Nepal government to get overseas and overland visitors to bring their hard-earned money into the country – and experience ever-lasting moments that will tease visitors back time and time again.

The landscapes from valley to valley within Nepal can give you sensory overload. My experiences across two visits gave me a bombardment of sounds, sights, tastes and colours. The moment I left Nepal the first time, I wanted to return. This applied to the second time – and has since applied to this third time of visiting.

I touched down in Kathmandu, Nepal once more. This trek was to take in some of the Annapurna Circuit region. With prior knowledge of snowfall being heavy, I purchased some rusty looking blue crampons in the twisting narrow streets of Thamel. I’d enjoyed a great breakfast at the Northfield Café and a good night of sleep at the Northfield Hotel. I was excited and happy to be back in Nepal. My plan was simple. Go for a wander. No aims, no worries. Some passes and some mountains can’t always be seen. It is, what it is. Bumping into Srirang at The Café With No Name, he revealed his plan to trek the Annapurna Circuit with Livia, from Hungary. We’d all met last year trekking the Everest Base Camp route. I had no problems about joining them on the walk this time around. Srirang looked much leaner than last year. He must have been training hard in his native Mumbai city.

Armed with a great salad, and a wonderful pumpkin soup, I tucked into my Panini and enjoyed the feel of this wonderful backstreet café. A ginnel is the route to the small and atmospheric café. All the profits of The Café With No Name are sent to the charity Our Sansar – which benefits street children and brings them into education. Every great coffee or beer you have, benefits someone. That’s maybe why I decided to visit this place every lunchtime I had spend in Thamel, this time round. You can find it down a small alleyway. Look for a chalkboard when you face from the central supermarket looking in the direction of Purple Haze Bar. When you reach the bar, swing left and somewhere by Merry Hotel, you’ll find this treasure of a café. Expect to feel at home on the crate-made tables, and cosy furniture. There’re books to exchange and lots of things to make the eyes wander. The staff are great and so heartwarmingly friendly, it makes you want to live in Kathmandu. Perhaps the world’s dustiest city needs great retreats. This is one such wonder. Expect to feel a great musical vibe and return time and time again.

At Northfield café, that first morning, I sat with a beaming smile on my face. I enjoyed a good hearty breakfast, with the masala omelette filling my belly, alongside a strong coffee. The staff went to turn on the heater, but I was enjoying the cool air. Cold air sharpens the senses. It keeps your wits sharp. It helps me to focus. Heat makes me sleepy and sluggish. I sat watching people drift up and down the street outside. Few shops were open. Shutters sank and sagged to the ground like dull metallic cold blinds to the world beyond them. A few clear western people walked by. Some were spiritualists, hippies long off the bandwagon of Thamel’s once famous Freak Street, trekkers, climbers, cultural tourists and no doubt a few who reside in Nepal for work. There’d be some amongst them feeling enlightened, some caught in the ambience and many sponging up the vast cultures around them.

Looking at the headwear of those passing by, there were knitted ski hats, traditional and regional ethnic pieces, and an equally diverse array of jackets. Some combined with various pieces of formal office wear and others with striking multi-coloured knitted socks. Evidence of around 125 different people and 123 languages mingled with tourism and those from elsewhere. It all belonged perfectly. A tapestry of diversity in a wealth of colour. This intertwined nation coexists with such ease. Poverty and adversity sit only around the corner from the luxury cocktail bars and the bright lights of pocket-sized night clubs.

The tarmac road created less than two years ago, now looks swollen, crumbled and churned. Bits stand out here and there. A vintage Royal Enfield motorbike tackled potholes and narrowly missed  a static scout mannequin outside of a store proudly displaying Gurkha knives, the kukri. Khukuri World Store was a trove of gifts, memorabilia, and shiny things hoping to lure people inside. The scout model held out a Nepal flag, its beautiful triangles coated with the sun and moon, a combination of blue, red and white like no other flag. Next door to this knife and survival gear shop, a sprawl of 100% natural cashmere and yak wool piles spilled over two steps. The Friendly Pashmina Shop had so much stock, it was practically leant against the White Mountain Outdoors shop further along the row. Above which was a White Water Rafting Co., somewhere beneath layers of dust and soot. Dusty raincoats, sleeping bags and long puffy down jackets hung still, half admitting that they’ll never find a buyer anytime soon in that state. A ginnel (tiny pathway) into Nana Hotel looked uninviting between a sodden empty crates and Nepalaya Money Exchange. The shutters of Al Noor Gems revealed little indication of what treasures lay within. I guess even Indiana Jones would be put off by the rusting bulk of metal. The possibility of tetanus for the sake of some fool’s gold wouldn’t be a good gamble.

A hairdresser and the ATM cash machine tussled for space over a few cubic metres as the morning footfall started to increase. School children dressed in an array of uniforms drifted in small clusters or singularly up and down the road. A hooded man, slimmer than a twig, drifted amongst the crowd playing the sarangi (a string instrument) and trying to sell many of the same pieces from his sagging shoulder bag. Along the very same road, powerlines and cables draped the floor as workers fed neat replacements overhead, clearing years of cluttered dangerous cables. Trybal Handmade’s shop’s lights flickered in reply. A call for help and stable feeding. New life, please.

Inside the glass-window front of the restaurant and a little over the shoulder, a family sat enjoying their foods and drinks. The grandmother of the group made gratified noises as two younger women, perhaps in their forties, jostled food around their plates. Three young children ate quietly with great respect for their surroundings. They talked infrequently, warmly and softly, amongst themselves in what I believe was Urdu. I don’t know the language but I recognised one or two words. A smiling waitress with big beaming eyes came over to them and served them tea. The well-kept long hair spilled from her headscarf far beyond the rear of her waist. Her hand glittered with earthly coloured stones, natural and modest yet bold and fitting. The Northfield Café itself had warm earthly colours dominate the walls, and even a real tree trunk shot up through two floors and out of the roof offering a canopy of green amongst the buildings.

Effigies of door gods stand by the glass entrance doors. A piece of A4 paper is taped onto the inside of the door. It boasts of WARM DINING inside, without skimping on the use of capital letters. By now my omelette had vanished and a second cup of coffee had found its way into my hand. Three men joined the large respectful group. The conversation remained tender and calm. The younger children remained as attentive as I did to my coffee.

Two staircases within Northfield Café stretched upwards. Two lobbies spilled outwards giving an aura of space. The energy of the room had a seamless flow. My eyes strayed around the room enjoying the care and attention each member of staff gave to newly seated customers. Each patron matched the calm of the room. The staff both blended in and simultaneously made themselves available. Hidden servants of the spiritual rooms of Northfield Café. The very essence of the symbiosis within the walls. Just like the draw of Kathmandu, I was excited to be back in the Northfield Café once again.

Sticking to food, we visited Gilingche, a Tibetan restaurant, far too late in the day and ate far too much. I had to take a doggy bag home – and fed a dog. I’ve visited here a few times and always enjoyed it.

Following two days in Kathmandu and a few purchases, Srirang and I took a tiny taxi (enough room for knees by your ears), two bags and a squashed driver to the new bus station. Here we purchased our bus tickets to Pokhara. And with a ticket for 17:00 and being told it would take around 13 hours, we departed just after 15:00 and arrived less than 9 hours later. The bus had spent an hour loading with apples on an industrial estate within Kathmandu too. It stopped at the Dal Bhat Power restaurant, around half way – and the scenic route had weaved perilous mountains throughout the foothills of the Kathmandu valley and the lower Himalayan range all the way to the reasonably flat Pokhara area.


 

Visit Nepal 2020 has progressively barred visa on arrivals to many nations. China, as Covid-19 origin, copped for it first. Three missing Nepali guides and four Korean trekkers succumbed to a terrible avalanche that also saw hundreds of people rescued from the Annapurna Base Camp region. In 2014 alone, 40 people were killed on the Annapurna circuit in one sever snowstorm. Nature rules these ranges. Man (and woman) is a guest. On top of this Donald Trump and USA struck Iran’s top military brass with missiles, putting many under the impression that perhaps a global war would follow. Even days after I landed the tragic news of eight Indian tourists died in a room, probably from carbon monoxide poisoning. With a lack of flights, and mobility – or will to travel during a time of pandemic, Nepal’s tourism, imports and other support lines have shrunk. Hotels, trekking lodges, guides and other such avenues offered to overseas clients have receded faster than my hairline (in the last decade). The demand from these avenues to agriculture and industry will slim faster than a diet pill overdose. An already struggling country is facing yet more challenge. I witnessed Kathmandu on my return from Pokhara and the Annapurna regions. It was akin to that of a ghost town. Nothing much happening, but worry and fear. And on top of all this (and more), many have mocked the artistic interpretation of the yeti drawn up for the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign.

Rhino deaths, Nepal may struggle even further. Over half of the money, earned overseas by Nepali workers, comes from Qatar (think World Cup construction), the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain. As the virus hits that region, Nepal has taken actions to keep its people safe and on Nepali soil. It was no surprise to see that Visit Nepal 2020 has been postponed until 2022. I hope to return for Visit Nepal 2022 – and maybe I’ll pop back in 2021, if time permits. But right now, humanity is battling. We must pull together.

But, first a cup of tea…

Thai Pride.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

The fan on the external wall of the bathroom rattled in the wind. Its guards occasionally lifted an dropped with each passing breath outside. The inactive power let the blades of the fan spin around silently. Beyond the cubicle-shaped bathroom an air conditioner whined gently through the thin plastic doors. The shower unit to the left of the toilet pulsated hot water into the mostly cold feeling tiled room. Steam rose and applied condensation to the mirror over the cumbersome ceramic sink. Two towels, used in a rotation of beach bathing, swimming outside and showers within the room hung lifelessly from two polished metal pegs. They faced the sink, a sink surrounded by soaps, cheap bottles of fragrance and shampoos. Not the worst place to have a pooh on a toilet.

“Good times, bad times, give me some of that” –  (Edie Brickell – Good Times)

I’m in a land where music, dance, the arts (I watched a bizarre Hua Hin 2: The Musical at the Cicada market last night), and creativity really flow. There are more things that could be classed as unique, than that of most places that I have travelled. People here really embrace their nation with real love and care. No chewing gum on the streets and little litter. This is a place that really takes pride in itself. The fact that the market is named after an unglamourous insect is a sense of greatness too.

The people of Thailand are visibly in love with their nation. There’s a soft heartfelt passion for flag and monarchy. There’s not a touch of aggression towards it.  Pictures of the Royal hierarchy are throughout the land. Vajiralongkorn AKA Rama X has been on the throne since October 2016 by crowned only as of May 2019. His pictures and that of former flight attendant and now Queen Suthida are everywhere. The apartment we have has one, and one of the previous King and his Queen. Chakra, the weapon of Rama or Vishnu comes from an old Sanskrit word Chakri. It belongs to the Thai King. The monarchy therefore hold the position as the guardian of civilization. Lord Rama co-exists with Ayutthaya (the light of Thai civilization). The respect for the royal family here is tremendous. King Bhumibol Adulyadej composed around 48 pieces of jazz music. Now that’s a contribution to culture! Throughout the lands of Thailand there are countless places funded by the Royal House to improve agriculture, health, and the environment. Unlike many other Monarchs around the globe, here was a King dedicated to improving the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable. Thailand take their monarchy very serious and some of the laws reinforce this. I have no reason to insult these welcoming lands that I have landed upon, so I am unworried about the Articles 490 and 491 of the criminal code govern lèse-majesté. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Their gaff, their rules, as Al Murray’s Pub Landlord would say.

Actually, finding that it is illegal to leave the house without underwear, was my biggest worry! No commando today. Up there with shirtless drivers and vaping (electronic cigarettes). Totally illegal. I’ll just concentrate on showing my Wai greeting – and not my lack of underwear.  On top of this, my shorts must sit below the knee for visiting sacred sites. That’s not a problem. I carry spare trousers (winter ones) for such occasions. Putting your hands together and bowing slightly in the form of Wai, is similar to the hand greeting of Namaste in Nepal. This is great, because I prefer both over shaking hands and not knowing what germs or bogies are now on my hand from the person who shook my hands. The handshake was started to show vulnerability in that no swords could be grabbed easier. With the Wai, there is no chance a sword will appear and eye contact allows you to feel the genuine warmth of a greeter.

Unlike Nepal, the form of Buddhism is a little different. Theravada Buddhism is everywhere and clearly the dominant religion without being practical. A few million Thai Muslims help keep the meat industry rolling.  There’s an odd balance between meat and two veg here. That isn’t a comment on the nightlife, which is globally known for its liberal attitudes. Thailand, so far, is a swirl of saffron-clad monks and neon signs.  Very colourful indeed.  You cant kill. Yet you can eat that of something which was killed by others.  At shrines, fizzy drinks can often be seen alongside other offerings. All very different from the rocks, papers and carvings found within Nepal’s Buddhism. Very interesting contrasts, in my opinion. Here there is a real tolerance to people and their sexuality, choices and lifestyles. It seems very laid back and relaxed. People are people and that’s great. The world is a better place in the land of smiles.

Until next time.

Contagious travels in Hua Hin

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Alright there,

And the drum keeps banging the rhythm to the beat… and the beat goes on, and the beat goes on…

In an era when British comedian Joe Lycett, had changed his name by deed poll to Hugo Boss, to take on the corporate bullies and claim some of the German fashion brand’s name, it isn’t difficult to be reminded that now is a huge time for popularity. Every Tom, Dick and Prince Harry has their 15 minutes of fame. Being a YouTuber can be a lucrative profession. In my mind it ranks down there with unblocking a U-bend on a toilet. But, who am I to judge? I don’t ask for followers or likes. You can take it or leave it, but please keep reading, or I will cry into my cornflakes tomorrow. Again. Tears and milk. Remember that every morning? Well, you don’t have to look far. Hysteria and pain is everywhere. You should have seen my reaction when they postponed the Thai football leagues.

Centuries of studies into the seasonal flu, versus weeks of study into the current SARS-CoV-2  that leads to Covid-19 brings my thoughts to one fact. There are too many so called experts, political or otherwise, tampering with and slinging news at the public in many nations. Okay, some have strong censorship and can control it a wee bit, but right now, go to almost any western media source and there are live streams and blogs dedicated to death tolls and outbreaks. Our minds are at risk of contracting God knows what. I should be sorry for my use of a possibly fictional character to those with a negative disposition to God. I could have used other prophets and so on, but some people are a tad more militant in their replies these days. Thinking of which, a certain Supreme Leader’s Expediency Council member has fell victim to this dreadful outbreak. As have at least two other top members of parliament – and their military leader was taken out by US missiles recently. Expect a power vacuum in Iran then.

Australia burnt at an alarming rate. Many other forest fires popped up around the globe. Then flash flooding and droughts and biblical locust invasions. Wayne Rooney returns against Man Utd too. What next? Armageddon by an asteroid? Well, we’ll all have so much toilet paper stockpiled, it should bounce back into outer space. If not, feel free to land here: 53.4631° N, 2.2913° W. There’s always and has always been something bad going on around the world but rarely do we have chance as a species to really share the plight of humanity. We’ve blissfully hidden the climatic change issue behind the smog of car fumes and turned a blinded eye to the seas of plastic. Hoaxes, lies and damned statistics. What’s the point in worrying? What’s the worst that could happen? Everybody’s dead Dave. There’s even a drought in Hua Hin, Thailand, where I am. The waterfall at Pala-U is more of a dry wall installation. It is a good job Gerry and I didn’t cycle the 75km to see it. Saddle sore and disappointment.

IMG_20200228_173925Hua Hin is a lovely place. I’m told it is a good town for a gentle introduction to Thailand. Less ping pong balls, and more deckchairs. I’ve only been sexually assaulted twice by rather aggressive and overzealous characters. Just being polite and saying no has worked. Oh, and a rather large sidestep whilst removing a hand from up your shorts. And telling someone to put the scissors down. Keep calm and carry on. Since arriving in Thailand, I departed the Bangkok International airport for 294 baht, by an air-conditioned bus to Hua Hin. Gerry had said look out for the Airport and Stamford International University. Here I was escorted by a shuttle taxi van to Chanta Village. On arriving here, I met Eddie and his wife Amy, also seeking refuge from sunny Dongguan, China. They own a place in the village but had let it out until May. So, Eddie and Amy had rented somewhere nearby. Gerry had invited me along to cut the rental costs. 8,300 baht (about 204 quid) for a month each. Although after two weeks we had to move across the road, as the condominium owner was to return (and they haven’t yet, annoyingly). Still, we ended up paying the same, with electricity a little on top. There’s the added benefit of a private room (I started with bunk beds and moved to a room with a double bed) and a swimming pool. Who can complain at that?! And, kitchen facilities, to prepare cheap eats and survive the outbreak.

IMG_20200225_090812To date I have visited Cha Am’s beach and harbour, on a reasonably round cycle ride of about 55km. The journey took in Wat Marikathaywan, some mangroves at Sirindhorn International Environmental park, Cha Am Forest Park (and education centre based along a section of the main road from Hua Hin to Bangkok), and passed by the Thai-Victorian era Maruekathaiyawan Palace. The journey between the latter and Cha Am itself, involved two double punctures to front and rear tyres, that cost 60 baht to repair in a motorcycle garage. All’s well that ends well.

IMG_20200227_152659In the future, I want to ride up and see some caves at Khao Nang Phanturat. An impressive six-armed Buddha denying all senses outside the statue of King Naresuan and Neranchararam temple was worthy of a quick stop – and here a man greeted Gerry and I in the oddest of ways, using his little English to create a conversation that made little sense. Brave and happy man. I won’t laugh at him, because my Thai stretches to hello, thanks and left or right, and forwards. One day, I’ll master stop and some numbers.

wx_camera_1582609364233Around the corner from where we’re staying, and north a bit, you can find the Venezia resort. I’ll avoid a false Venice right now (not because people are avoiding the real one due the bug outbreak). It looks kind of plastic and uninviting. The Cha Am area actually is on the line of where we’re staying, marking a border with Hua Hin. The beaches here are golden soft sands and lovely. Cha Am’s central beach is practically washed away by tidal erosion but good enough for a swim for a few hours like we did. We stopped for a lovely Pad Thai and salad at the oddly-out-of-place-named Apple Crumble restaurant. I had one of the best iced cappuccinos ever. On the beach we chilled on loungers and had a dip, being pummeled by wave after wave, some much higher than 2 metres, but still fairly safe to jump in and through.

IMG_20200228_163705Another day, a solo cycle ride to Pranburi Forest Park, south of Hua Hin allowed me to see an impressive mangrove forest from a wooden raised pathway and appreciate the many crab species from above. The beach views out to sea and the general feel of the well-managed forest park made for a calming meander following a hard slog against the wind. On the return leg of the journey, I swung left into the Ratchabak Park – to witness the awesome standing Seven Kings of Siam. As statues go, against a sunset or sunrise, these are a splendour and a half! The Seven Kings of Siam, sounds like a movie. There should be such a series (if there already isn’t). The history of each king is rich and diverse. Thailand is a rich land of freedom and the Thai history has royally shaped the present. These statues stick out far and wide. They’re sighted in a facility for training NCOs. They’re sacred. People come here on pilgrimage. I’d recommend to anyone to have a gander and learn a little history whilst you’re at it from the magnificent seven.

wx_camera_1583407256590With sweeping views north and south, and obviously out to sea, Hua Hin beach is just the place to get some perspective on the lay of the land. Set down a ginnel from the Hilton Hotel and the main bar and restaurant areas, it is easily accessible with plenty of things to keep you there all day. Sun loungers, massages, deck chairs, juicy fruits and rockpooling are just a few things to busy away time. Then, there’s swimming, running on the fine sands and other such activities. You can see kite-surfing to the north and fishing boats to the harbour a little south. Not the worst way to relax.

IMG_20200219_195613First, Hua Hin Railway Station is a living museum, with active trains and all the electronic boards of a modern station. The royal pavilion is grand. It is unique. It had an air conditioning unit for a reason. Beyond the dramatic Guard’s Room, Police Station and numerous old station relics, you can find an old railway hand-cart in one direction (south) and an old steam engine on a siding (northbound). The evening makes for a pleasant time to take photos and it even feels a tad romantic, even to a solo traveller like me.

IMG_20200221_164711Firstly, I could pan the Wat Khao Takiap temple area for a visit. I won’t. It is worthy of a pre-informed visit. Don’t show me your gums and teeth at my comments. Nor, show it to the monkeys or the many stray dogs. If you have a catapult, or a watergun, consider taking it. Beware of anything shiny and anything sweet. If you value your appearance, blend in. We, the human race, created this shrine, and we fed the monkeys, and all the other animals there. The monkeys bred, and bred and from my recent visit, even the one with a wonky leg was having a go at breeding. There is some serious erosin around the brow of the far temple, so take care. If you’ve got that far, then you have no doubt passed hundreds of (long-tailed?) macaques. They’re not that bad. They’re just surviving and doing a reasonably good job of it too. Respect them, and respect the views. It is worth a wander. Forewarned is forearmed. Don’t feed the monkeys.

IMG_20200302_002456Soi Bintabaht Walking Street is essentially a street full of bars, snack sellers and hawkers trying to flog you Man Utd posters or other cheap tack. However, it is a great place to watch sports on the telebox, natter away to friends, play pool (billiards to some), engage in mindless conversation with strangers and watch people amble by. Yes, it is a girly bar area, but everyone is friendly enough, apart from the lady who wanted to rearrange my downstairs forest, but even she was joking. I hope. There are plenty of sidestreets and ginnels, each offering similar bars or slightly more classy food restaurants. It is very friendly and it is easy to forget that some people aren’t lucky enough to be high-power bankers or run cruise liners. Here the bar staff and friendly strangers can be the most down to earth and real that you can find. Be careful of the scissors though. Snip, snip. I wouldn’t mind but I’m not overly hairy…

wx_camera_1581849088144There are two huge malls here. One shopping centre is called BluPort. Some places are a little expensive (their sport shop sells Manchester City shirts and shorts though with 40 percent off). Plenty of food places and choice. Almost everything is here including a cinema and banks etc. The thing I visited for was the Hua Hin immigration office for visa advice. They’re open from 08.30 to 15.30 Monday to Friday. I found that should I need to I can extend my visa by 30 days, then a further 7 days without leaving the country. Now that’s useful. The other mall or shopping centre is called Market Village. Again, some places are a little expensive (Puma do sell Manchester City shirts though); and some are useful (Tesco Lotus is a fairly big store) and then there’s a Home Depot or something like that (for water hand pumps and so on). Plenty of food places and choice. Electronic goods on the third floor, by a cinema and banks etc. Now, I had left Nepal with very little summer clothing. I’d donated most of my winter clothing and hiking gear to a local charity in Kathmandu. So, on arrival to Hua Hin, I grabbed two pairs of shorts for 400 baht. Since then, I’ve grabbed one further pair of shorts. And one t-shirt. Everything I had was long-sleeved and too hot.  I’m in fully committed survival mode after all.

See you on the other side…

Millennium Bug 2.0: The First Final Post?

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / How do,

Where does one begin? It’s been a long old time since I banged my thoughts and feelings out in words. I expected that I’d be writing after the scheduled holiday in mid-February, but hey, here we are. Not exactly in an apocalyptic world or doom and gloom, but certainly, not an ideal world – if such a thing ever exists.

In February 2014, my Gran passed away. From then on I found writing this blog (transferred on a Bosman from Wix) to be the only way to fill the void from writing letters or talking to my Gran. For those of you still with grandparents, treasure them dearly. They’re often wonderful people with experience and a calming nature unlike our parents and the youth of today. Many have endured severe and harsh times, to give our parents and therefore us the lives we have today. Some have lost more than we can possibly imagine. Some have existed quietly and contently, oblivious to the modern consumerist world of the new millennium. Here we are.

I haven’t tapped a single blog post out since the first day of 2020. There’s a multitude of emotions and a bucketful of experiences that I want to share. I need to dig in deep and find the spot to begin. Okay, so, here we go. I’m sat on a white PVC dining room chair, at a desk too short for my cumbersome long body and legs. There’s a desk lamp wedged against two Siamese designed box lamps. A coaster with the name Thailand holds my glass of diluted butterfly pea cordial. Ten parts water to one part syrup. A stack of novels by Lee Child, and various toiletries are scattered over my desk. The air conditioner behind me hums and brings coolness to the air. My double bedroom curtains are drawn. The heat outside is unbearable. I’m typing on a HP Pavilion laptop computer, bought for just 3990 baht (about 99 pounds, in the UK). It is secondhand and has been mostly worrying with some reliability issues. It is far from new. Will it do the job? We’ll see. But, what is the job?

I’m in exile. Kind of. Well, enforced exile. Sort of. I found myself in Kathmandu with a flight to Hong Kong, knowing that I could have arrived with few options to cross into the mainland of China. A mainland plagued by a coronavirus. If you haven’t heard about this virus, you’re in a different time or incredibly good at avoiding it. The virus originated in Wuhan, Hubei province – a city twinned with my hometown Manchester. I’ve never visited there. I have no intentions to go storming in any time soon. The virus was contained but escaped. It had spread across China. At the time of my flight, nearly a month ago, nothing was certain. Now, about three weeks later, less is certain. Certainty is a far off vision. Borders have closed across the world as the virus spread from China and hit Australia, the Middle East, Europe, South America and North America. Deaths have been recorded in their scores. The virus coupled with underlying issues or poor health makes many very susceptible to death. Its fatal outlook and contagious modes have worried many.

The once silenced Dr. Li Wenliang issued warnings, wafted away by authorities. He is very silent now. The virus claimed him, and dozens of other medical staff have followed. After much worry that the virus was nicknamed Wuhan Virus, or China Virus, the World Health Organisation, dubbed the virus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2) and the disease as Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). SARS-CoV-2 causes the disease and as of today around 3200 people have died globally. Yes, more people have died from seasonal flu, but this virus moves far faster and appears to be far more contagious. The news has been a constant flow of virus cures being worked on, rumours of sufferers being incinerated alive, conspiracy theories, racial tensions and President of the USA, Donald Trump even calling the virus a hoax. There’s nothing worse than a hoax call in the financial and political world. If only, Dr. Li Wenliang had or had not spoken up sooner.

Hand washing to the national anthem, etiquette when coughing, and avoiding close contact with sick people have been determined to be good ways to avoid contracting the virus and avoiding any disease. Numerous countries have shown evidence of community transmission. So, that’s why I did not fly to Hong Kong. Airline advice. That and the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office pretty much flashed the words DON’T GO TO CHINA in big bold letters. You’re on your own if you do. Do I fear the disease? No. It is, what it is. Do I fear being controlled and losing some freedom? Yes. Lock-downs have gathered pace in China and beyond. Okay, I’m prepared to miss Milan Fashion Week or Hua Hin City’s football games, but I’m not prepared to stay in an apartment all day and all night. My mind would rival the virus for ways to kill me. Being stir crazy is not fun.

De facto house arrest star Jiang Yanyong (and possible Big Brother contender), SARS victim Carlo Urbani and Valery Legasov will never be household names. To some they are martyrs, to others they represent hindrance. Li Wenliang joins them on a list of people we should know about, and why, and what the reason they did. The latter for me, I knew little about, but having read that he died 4 years younger than me, and with two children (one unborn at the time of his death), rings in my ears. The truth-loving ophthalmologist even carried on working in the face of danger, silenced by Wuhan Police for making false claims on the internet. So, here I am in Thailand, sat down writing on the internet. Worried more about my conscience than that of a virus. Worried more about friends and family, than this writing being seen as a threat to a nation. Worried more about my job, than my dwindling bank balance. Since initially landing in Nepal, and hearing the early virus spread news – and now, it’s been about 47 days or so. Let’s see where we’re at in a further 28 days. I survived the Millennium Bug and bird flu passed me by. What next? Well, maybe a good writer would write about why he’s touching up the Asian elephant. Not me. 28 days later…

Goodbye for now?

Harry Farthing’s SUMMIT: A NOVEL.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste

34451979._SY475_What’s not to like about a novel that pits those wrapped in conflict against Nazis and Neo Nazis? I picked Summit up in a bookshop on the windy alleys of Kathmandu’s Thamel district. By the time I had picked up the book, I’d already read many travel and, or, climbing books themed around Nepal. The selling point was the capital letters reading as: A NOVEL. The blurb gave me an impression of a thriller tapered with reality and facts. The author Harry Farthing’s personal experiences flow amongst the words. It has heart and science.

The battle of man’s ability of mind and body against the elements – and in this case Mount Everest have thrilled generations for decades. This novel methodically and fastidiously details truth alongside fiction and slaps the reader with two warm characters, each with their own weaknesses and conflicts. The darkness of the early chapters builds upwards like a mound of cold and deathly snow ready to collapse in an avalanche of disaster. Just as I thought that I’d guessed the ending, something unexpected arrived. The central climbing characters of Josef Becker and Neil Quinn both tell the backdrop of Europe full of division in two very different eras. It revels in achievement and defeats equally, highlighting a telling cost for those who seek to go endlessly upwards. The coin is firmly flipped over to reveal a darker side of Everest, so infrequently spoken of, yet somehow there, always there in the shadows.

Beautifully written and meticulously researched, Summit follows two climbers across two continents as their stories and movements intertwine across history, culminating in one final push for the top of the world. This is the author Harry Farthing’s breath-taking debut novel and it certainly has been an ambitious and epic piece of compelling modern fiction. It isn’t hard to imagine a fast-paced stage play, a TV series on Netflix or a movie to follow the book. The novel itself may well be a challenge to adapt, but the pages flick over and over with ease. Those who like mystery, treachery and well-written characterisation should lift up Harry Farthing’s Summit: A NOVEL. There’s a place on my bookshelf now for Farthing alongside such well researched novelists as Michael Crichton et al. Not a bad investment of 500 Nepali rupees. My only regret is not reading this sooner!

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

Leave only footprints. 请只留下脚印

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

Run boy run sang by Bugzy Malone featuring Rag N Boneman is a soulful grime song. It shares its title with Woodkid’s Run Boy Run as featured on the album The Golden Age. There are so many songs that have the theme of escape or running away. Think Everybody’s on The Run, as belted out by former-Oasis man Noel Gallagher. You’ve got to love yourself these days. Bruce Springsteen sums it up with his song, Born to run. Either way, running right now feels as if a knife is embedded deep into my right calf. I’m certainly in no hurry to pick up the top 100 running songs albums or exercise megahit CDs that usually line the shelves in the run up to Christmas.

So, in order to occupy my recovery with a target, I’ve been digging around. And it all makes sense. Everywhere I look there are hints. In recent weeks I have seen shoes presenting the brand of Khumbu. A message appeared in my inbox from Srirang and Livia about their springtime plans. China had a recent movie release called The Climbers, focused on very early Everest expeditions. There was even an email in my junk email box from Everest Windows. On WeChat, I received a message from a Sherpa friend. But, above all that, my heart is longing for the glory of walking amongst the Himalayan mountain range. There is a deep-seething hunger that hasn’t gone away since the day I stepped from the bus onto the soil of the Jiri road in 2017. Seeing those mountains stretching west, east, north and climbing from the clouds of Nepal, on that bus journey has captured me. I read of many people, famous and unknown to the masses, that returned year after year – and everyone I met there had either returned or had immediate plans to come back. Whether it is the spirits of the mountains, the allure of the nature or the warmth of the people, Nepal gets into your skin. A small country with a big heart.

Deep down, my heart is torn. I want to go home and see family for Christmas, yet circumstances have worked against me. My sister Astrid will probably be most disappointed, but she’ll be the first one I’d like to take away in the summer holidays of 2020. I wish I could be there for all my family but I’m selfish. I want to see and do more whilst I still can. There should be plenty of time to make good memories in the future. You can’t have it all. The world is too big and too diverse for one lifetime.

So, Makalu, Manaslu or a trek near to Annapurna called are now on my radar. Makalu is a serious beast and February is noted as being too cold to attempt that trek. Plus, it has an offshoot trek that can get you back onto the path to Lukla – the famous Everest trail. However, that’s proper mountaineering actually – and rope climbing. Not quite the rambling I wish to do, right now. As a route it looks amazing, with diverse tropical valleys, temperate zones and then some serious Himalayan tundra. Plus, you get to see the world’s highest mountain range from a new angle – and all those glorious peaks in between there an India’s Sikkim.

Tumlingtar 285m – Mane Bhanjyang 1440m  – Chichara 1980m – Num 1851m – Sheduwa/Sedua 1500m – Tashi Gaon 2100m – Khongma/Kauma 3760m – [REST/ acclimatisation] – Dobato 3700m – Jark(Yak) Kharka 4800m – Hilary Base Camp 4800m – Makalu Base Camp 4870m – and back again…

Manaslu really seems inviting. There is need for a Restricted Area Permit (RAP) [USD50-100 +15/day over 7 days] because it touches the sensitive regions of the Tibetan-Chinese border. You also need the Manaslu Conservation Area permit [NPR2000] and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) entry fee [NPR3,000]. There are quoted trekking times of 14-22 days, depending on fitness and whether you explore the Tsum Valley. If that is the case then this area could allow time to fly to Meghauli Airport and get over to Chitwan national nature reserve. Rhinos and mountains. Tempting, very tempting.

Soti khola (710m) – 14km Machha Khola (900m) – 22km to Jagat (1340m) – 20km to Deng (2095m) – 19km to Namrung (2900m) – 10.5km to Lho Gaun (3180m) – 8km to Samagaun (3500m) – [REST/ acclimatisation: Pungyen Gompa or Manaslu Base Camp ] – 8km to Samdo (3690m) excursion to Tibet border – 6km to Dharmasala (4450m) – Larkya La Pass (5220m) 24km to Bhimphedi (3590m) – Gho (2515 m), 26km to Tilje (2300m) – 19km to Chyamche  (1410m) – Besisahar – and back again…

The third option is Dhaulagiri’s base camp trek which a friend has recommended highly. Highly being an appropriate word because it will be quite amongst the clouds. Ranked 7th globally, Dhaulagiri (धौलागिरी) stands at a dramatic 8,167m. The massif is the highest mountain within a single country’s borders. Dhawala (धवल) translates to dazzling, white, beautiful and giri (गिरि) is mountain. Its parent peak is K2. From 1808 until 1838 it was listed as the world’s highest point until Kangchenjunga was surveyed. Dhaulagiri I’s peak has a sudden rise. In just 30km of distance it juts up a staggering 7000 metres from the Kali Gandaki River to the southeast. The south and west face have equally dramatic 4000m rises too! The climbing history is dramatic and marked with deaths. The south face has never been completed. Plenty of contours on the trekking routes too. Might be worth further consideration and research

Trek Beni to Babichaur ( 1000m / 3280ft ) 6-7 hrs; Babichaur to Dharapani ( 1565m / 5134ft ) 7 hrs; Dharapani to Muri ( 1850m / 6068ft ) 6.5 hrs; Muri to Boghara ( 2050m / 6724ft ) 7.5 hrs; Boghara to Dhoban ( 2630m / 8626ft ) 6 hrs; Dhoban to Italian Base camp ( 3500m / 11,480ft ) 6-7 hrs; Rest and Acclimatization day; Italian Base camp to Glacier camp ( 4250m / 13,940ft ) 5 hrs; Dhaulagiri Base camp ( 4650m / 15,252ft ) 4 hrs; Acclimatization day; Dhaulagiri Base Camp to French Col 4 hrs; Hidden Valley Camp ( 5000m / 16,400ft ); Hidden Valley to Yak Kharka (4200m / 13,776ft) 6 hrs; Yak Kharka to Jomsom ( 2,715m / 8,910ft ) 7-8 hrs

 

Yesterday, as part of the recovery from my calf muscle tear, I hobbled up Baiyunzhang (白云嶂) in Huizhōu (惠州). It is 1003m tall, and in warm sunshine it certainly felt every metre as high, as we’d started from about 150m. Nick, Milly and Almog made good company on the dry walk upwards. The golden meadow at the summit was worth the wander having stumbled up dry dirt paths and tested my aching calf muscle beyond that of what I should have done. Around the uneven loose sands and slippery pathways birds tweet away and snakes slither through the undergrowth, oblivious to those who walk the well-defined path upwards. Unlike the sun-exposed first and last sections of the path, the middle section is under canopy. Here mosquitoes dart in front of your eyes, more keen on your warm blood than your desire to trek upwards.

Leave only footprints.  [ 请只留下脚印 qǐng zhǐ liú xià jiǎo yìn ]

The trail up Baiyunzhang (meaning ‘white cloud sheer ridge’) is sadly surrounded by so much discarded litter and rubbish. It is sad to see. Passing fellow hikers on the route, they all had bags and pockets. There is no excuse for trail waste. Perhaps we should all greet each other along the route with a phrase, “Leave only footprints.”  [ 请只留下脚印 qǐng zhǐ liú xià jiǎo yìn ]

Huizhou’s other mountains for hiking are: Luofu Mountain (罗浮山), Nankun Mountain (南昆山), Xiangtou Mountain (象头山), Jiulongfeng (九龙峰), Lotus Mountain (莲花山), Baima Mountain (白马山), Wumaguicou (五马归槽), Baiyunzhang (白云嶂), Honghuazhang (红花嶂), Xieyan Top (蟹眼顶), Pingtianzhang (坪天嶂), Wuqingzhang (乌禽嶂), Axe Stone (斧头石), Xianren Village (仙人寨), Guifeng Mountain (桂峰山) and Sanjiao Mountain (三角山).

Next weekend I am looking for a hike in the Shenzhen area. Perhaps Maluan Shan Mountain (马峦山, address: 深圳市区东北方向约50公里的龙岗区坪山街道马峦村 – Xinxiu metro statio) or Dananshan (大南山) or the pretty looking peak of Wutong Shan Mountain (梧桐山, address: 深圳羅湖區梧桐山村 – bus 211 from Cuizhu metro station exit B2). So, with this all in mind, I’m going for a walk now and a little think…

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

Contemptible. Ridiculous.

“A woman in what is still a man’s world” – Right Honourable Harriet Harman QC, Labour MP

Prime Minister Theresa May cried! Grenfell? No. Windrush deportation? No. Foodbank uses? No. NHS cuts? Deaths of homeless sleepers? No. Childhood poverty levels? No. Self-sympathy tears? Yes. And they wonder why some believe those in power are lizards!? Her legacy is, at best, contemptible. No place for her on the positive walls of history are likely. She has until the 7th of June to fix the unfixable.

“She has, just for a moment, allowed her emotions to show” – Ken Clarke CH QC

Party politics is fallin apart, left right, and centre-right. Instead of two huge party rivals with the odd group picking off the spoils of war, we have the most divided United Kingdom ever. Okay, well maybe less than before actual unification in 1284 (Wales annexed by England), 1536 (Wales, legally part of England), 1603 (Scotland joined and Great Britain was born), 1707 (all parliaments acting as one Kingdom of G.B.), 1801 (U.K. of Britain & Ireland) or 1922 (Ireland set free, less the Northern bit) dependent on your view of when we actually came together. And ever since then, we’ve been together-ish. Alienation and independence, devolved assemblies – and the odd campaign for Free Scotland aside. Completely unified. Like Manchester Utd under David Moyes/Louis Van Gaal/Jose Mourinho and possibly Ole Gunnar Solskjær in the months to come (if my bet pays off).

“Tories ‘have nothing to offer the country'” – Nick Boles MP, former Conservative Party member

 

It is sad to see Everest and Nepal grabbing negative headlines too. Two deaths on the south side and one on the Tibet side make for a strong argument for lottery-style permits – or at least a longterm permit scheme, whereby those who climb enter a waiting list or something to avoid congestion towards the peak. If you’re in a queue, it isn’t a challenge worth doing. My condolences to those sho succumbed to the challenge, but they should never be risking their lives in a queue. That’s ridiculous!


 

Sunday, will see the E.U. election results for our local elections. I didn’t vote. It isn’t easy to vote if you are overseas. Also, the E.U. elections to me has always seemed like a waste of time. Doubling up for the sake of it.

Ruptured Earth.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste

Climate change is a phrase we hear all too often, but do we really listen?

“Our planet, the Earth, is, as far as we know, unique in the universe. It contains life.” David Attenborough –The Living Planet (1984)

Sir David Attenborough is the gentle voice of BBC Wildlife’s successful department. Soon he will present what he terms as an urgent documentary. In spring, BBC will air Climate Change – The Facts. Now facts are often questionable and open to interpretation or accusation of being fake news. I vehemently hate that term: fake news. Bullshit is bullshit and fake news is a tosser denying criticism. The world’s population more than doubled since 1950. Prove me otherwise.

“If we [humans] disappeared overnight, the world would probably be better off.” David Attenborough – The Daily Telegraph (12/11/2005)

Sir David Attenborough is 92 years of age. He could retire. He could kick back and count the letters that follow his name (OM CH CVO CBE FRS FLS FZS FSA FRSGS). He could reflect on his two brothers John and Richard, or sit down and listen to his relative Tom in The Tigger Movie. The Attenborough clan permeate the world of stage and theatre. Sir David’s father had once been the principal of the University College, Leicester. It could be said that his family haven’t done bad. They don’t need to work at Primark or Spar to earn a living. Yet no, Sir David, cracks on. He opens debate, he fuels fires which need dousing. The young Sir David would carry his passion to this day for wildlife and nature. However, in recent years he has become a leading voice for global concern. An unqualified expert. The people’s champion for change.

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“This is the loneliest and coldest place on Earth, the place that is most hostile to life.” David Attenborough – Life in the Freezer (1993)

As a primary school student in the 1980s and warly 1990s, I would always hear about the Greenhouse Effect and Acid Rain. Spray deodorant and cans suddenly became friendlier. Keep Britain Tidy campaigns swept through classrooms and eventually the streets of Manchester. Trees were planted, like what Peter, Dan and I planted with BTCV in Highfield Country Park, Levenshulme. To this day, I take pride in seeing that little difference, everytime I walk there. There was talk of a future with mysterious windpower and cars would all be electricy-powered. As time went on, we’d attend seal clubbing classes, where we learnt that seals had no interest in dance music and nor did we get a technique on how to bash the cute creature’s skulls in, essentially we heard of the horrors people go to to make a jacket and a steak. Almost Everyday Shit™ seemed to be up against things not necessarily in our own paved backywards but effecting man (or woman… or other) around the corner, or further afield. Even as far as Hyde or Belgrade. Suddenly, I found myself in secondary school discussing Not Really Quite Everyday Shit™. Teenage boys had to stop grabbing their flacid cocks and the girls had to stop doing whatever it is that girls do. We were the future generation and hope. It was our responsibility. But, evidentally, we fucked up. Not Really Quite Everyday Shit™ didn’t go away. Now the next generation could be the last generation with a chance to fix it. Sir David Attenborough said so.

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“Ever since we arrived on this planet as a species, we’ve cut them down, dug them up, burnt them and poisoned them.” Sir David Attenborough – The Private Life of Plants (1995)

On present day Earth, we can probably divide people into three camps. Within those camps, there can be further division. Division is important. Camp one is classed as the deniers. They’re useless as a voice and obstructive. They possibly have vested interests in wealth. Camp two are the changers. They need to be heard. They seek to make a difference. Competively they can make a lot of noise against camp one. Camp three are too busy, simply looking after number one, or their families or feel unable to make a different. Camp two often feel that they are too selfish and ignorant. Camp one enjoys their silence. Camp three probably recycle but couldn’t be depended on to ask for recycling bins to be installed. The camps are unclear and people fluctuate from camp to camp, mostly due to discomfort, lack of clarity and by way of reaction to Almost Everyday Shit™ changing to something outlying and worrying.

“It seems sad that on the one hand such exquisite creatures should live out their lives and exhibit their charms only in these wild inhospitable regions. This consideration must surely tell us that all living things were not made for man, many of them have no relation to him, their happiness and enjoyment’s, their loves and hates, their struggles for existence, their vigorous life and early death, would seem to be immediately related to their own well-being and perpetuation alone.” The Malay Archipelago (1869) – Alfred Russel Wallace

We’re aware of plastic bottles as a problem. Everyone is. The bloody things are everywhere. I am guilty too. Sometimes, they’re unavoidable for hygiene reasons. I try my best to deposit them in recycling bins or places that I know someone will take them for recycling. But what if say Theresa May [Insert Prime Minister here], Donald Trump (unlikely) or Xí Jingping [习近平] banned disposable plastic bottles at source. The factories. That’d be the place. Keep them away from people. Permit reusable, and deposit-based larger bottles that must be returned, cleaned and recycled by any means. Take away anything below a certain capacity. Plastic must exit the ecosystem. It needs us to remove it. There are many ways to do so.

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“we can ensure that there is still a place on Earth for birds in all their beauty and variety – if we want to … and surely, we should” The Life of Birds (1998) – Sir David Attenborough

History has led us from the past to the present. It was a simple linear transition, unless you are Tom Cruise and his associates. Is Scientology a religion or cult? [Let’s discuss that one day, hopefully without fear of cyber-attack reprisal] Well, we’re here in the Anthropocene. The age of the human. Homo sapiens. Latin meaning wise man. We’re the only living human species. Things change and species often have a limited time on Earth. One thing we know, is that supersizing a meal at the American Embassy isn’t good for us. But, has that prevented overconsumption and stopped deforestation, because we no longer need a bigger paper bag? Have we learnt that overexploitation of lands leads to deserts and not desserts. How much weight does every fish in the sea have compared with that of the plastic in the seas?

“Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, perhaps it’s time we control the population to allow the survival of the environment.” The Life of Mammals (2002) – Sir David Attenborough

Opinion matters. I’m with Sir David Attenborough. Individual action is not enough, “real success can only come if there’s a change in our societies and our economics and in our politics”. The world’s temperatures (ask the Mongolians) may be soaring, and we are the likely cause. Planes, cow farts and all that are the debated and often argued origin. We need to think of ways to cut this crap down. Get on Three Seconds by National Geographic. A video with a message that we should think about. It has 287,319 views compared to The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger’s 90 million plus views. The same honey badger, or one of the 12 subspecies, may be of least concern now on the conservation status but few are seen in Guangdong, and this used to be their ‘hood. Or will we all be another fossilised-brick in the wall, soon enough?

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“The fact that they are solar-powered means that their bodies require only 10% of the energy that mammals of a similar size require.” Life in Cold Blood (2008) – Sir David Attenborough

Perceptions of place matter. If a road is dirty, people and especially lesser-educated people will chuck their crap on it. There’s no snoberry in saying lesser-educated people intended. Some people have never had access to education in the ways that I have – and I for one was never going to go to Harvard or Oxford University, unless they needed a cleaner. This is the way of the world: the haves and have-nots. But, if Billy Billionnaire at Taxbucks Willing Avoidance Trade Specialists Ltd wishes to fund a litter awareness and education programme with the money they denied the state(s) that their Monopoly Conglomerate department sublet, then feel free to do so. Ultimately, your man (woman, transgender or other) on the street will be unaware of that plastic bottle’s effect on the river downstream or the air that they burn it into. We are capable of educating each other.

“If we and the rest of the backboned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if they were to disappear, the land’s ecosystems would collapse.” Life in the Undergrowth (2005) – Sir David Attenborough

Politics is something we’re told to embrace. The complexity of an electorate and their representatives messing up and not knowing where to go, is seen globally. See, Brexit and the Trump administration’s political circus. So, how do we get those in power to focus on saving us as a species and those other species around the world that we could do with saving? As a British person, I know that writing a strongly worded letter to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), down at the U.N. isn’t a bad idea. But, if we all did that, we’d need a lot of recycled paper or energy to power those emails. Would they mark the emails as junk? Possibly. Do they deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007? No. Okay, they did, but having to share it with Al Gore, hasn’t changed much, or anything. The inconvenient truth is that we need mass action on a global scale. We need laws and directives to stop bad things and create things of use. Taking inspiration from conferences and internal flights etc doesn’t help. Bringing a duster and a shovel to an earthquake doesn’t work. We need the masses for the masses. We need actions.

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“Every one of these global problems, environmental as well as social becomes more difficult – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more people.” How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth? (BBC Horizon, 2009) – Sir David Attenborough

Issues will always be a problem. There aren’t rooms for the 14th Dalai Lama to sit in with the Chinese Administration, or Northern Ireland to talk to the Republic sensibly. Turkey and Syria have beef. Israel needs to open up more. The U.S.A. needs to bring home a few fighter planes. The Church of Croydon may have similar problems with death worshipers from Norway. There’s a can of worms out there when two opposition parties have two ideals or beliefs that can’t flex. For us as a planet, we need to shed our differences and share technologies and ideas. Life is finite or infinite in some religions. I ask, does reincarnation, make you less worried or more? If reincarnation were true, there’d be X amount of total individual lifeforms on Earth, continually coming back as X amount of total individual lifeforms. So, in one generation there may be 6 billion people, but many centuries later there may be 6 billion cockroaches because 6 billion people can no longer inhabit the Earth. Does reincarnation stretch beyond Earth too? Does it include every microbateria or virus?

“I never never want to go home; Because I haven’t got one; Anymore” – There Is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths

Proposed adaptations for humanity cling onto some Buddhist thinkings. We must be fully endowed with higher knowledge and ideal conduct. In other words, stay off Twitter. Get over to Bhutan and let’s learn a thing or two. Would controlling our ever-growing population be a good thing? We humans leapt from needing 200,000 years to hit the 2 billion mark as a species, to 200 years nearly touching 7 billion. Surely, that is far from sustainable. The current growth rate of 1.18% per year is expected to drop. Disease, lack of biodiversity, natural resource exhaustion, ecosystem imbalnces, environmental degradation, ocean acidification, global warming, and ecological crisis are terms that we will hear mre often. Overpopulation will test our mettle. Our resolve will lead to conflicts on a more regular basis as we battle the increasing heat and try our best to survive. If we act now, we can reduce that risk.

 

British scholar Thomas Malthus scribbled down in 1798 that we’d exhaust Earth’s resources for food by the mid-19th century. He was wrong. How wrong? Well he could have been out by a few centuries. Since then, expert after expert have delivered messages and issued warnings. Now with meta-analytics, computer models and sound studies based on huge banks of data, we’re creaking on the abyss. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation carry the Latin, fiat panis (“let there be bread”) but there are more Fiat cars being turned off a production line than strategies to ensure bread can be produced sustainably. They say that in the next 30 years we need to produce 70% more food.

“Sometimes when this place gets kind of empty, Sound of their breath fades with the light. I think about the loveless fascination,” Under The Milky Way – The Church

Catastrophies are in motion. Pollen distribution is changing. Glaciers are receding faster than my hairline. The beetles are dying. Bees, the great pollinator of all life, are declining in numbers. The buzz is lessening. Fish are filled with plastic parts and we eat them. The fish are also ingesting our drugs and decanted chemicals into the sea. We’re making them infertile or causing gender imbalances. Every continent is under ATTACK. Every sea and ocean are under ATTACK. Even red crabs get attacked by crazy yellow ants introduced by us. ATTACK. We stamp and kick every stone on Earth and leave our mark, whether intentional or not. We don’t just leave footprints. ATTACK. We carve great big trenches and leave areas vulnerable to landslides, forest fires and things that stop us rolling out red carpets for fire-haired Nicole Kidman. The news will focus on Miley Cyrus losing her home more than that of a village in Syria. ATTACK. We’ve abandoned humanity and embraced celebrity and we’re too blind. Blind, blind, blind, blind, blind… as Talking Heads would sing. Still, a monsoon that washes a village of indiginious people who don’t buy Apple iphones counts less than someone from Yorkshire having to replace a flooded shed’s lawnmower. ATTACK. Right?

Italia 2007 Trieste (30).JPG

To again quote Sir David Attenborough, “Surely we have a responsibility to leave for future generations a planet that is healthy, inhabitable by all species”. Will there be a generation born now, that when they reach adulthood, will no longer be able to see elephants or tigers in the wild? Why can’t a kid from Guangdong see a Giant Salamander anymore? Where does the boy born in Dongguan go to see a South China Tiger? Why do we have WWF for Nature, EDGE, and why do these kind of things tend to be charity and independently backed? Shouldn’t we learn from Botswana, Norway, Bhutan, Namibia, and Tanzania? Lonely Planet did.

“Trade is a proper and decent relationship, with dignity and respect on both sides.” A Blank on the Map (1971) – Sir David Attenborough

But, why bother? A nuclear blast, an earthquake or a volcano can cause more damage globally than a generation of people. Well, nature is nature. It happens. We’re the benefactors of our destiny, and we’re the keepers of our fate. Why not tidy up where we live? You don’t shit in your own bed, do you? Okay, that has happened to one or two of us and on old age, it may happen – but surely, we never choose to do so. I apologise to any purveyors of scat. Not the jazz singing kind – and not the word meaning go away, or the Indo-Pacific fish, that likely has plastic inside its system, either. Nor is it the Special Combat Assault Team, or the badly named Shrewsbury College of Arts & Technology. Don’t google it. Scatter! Why not?

“To suggest that God specifically created a worm to torture small African children is blasphemy as far as I can see.” Metro interview with Sir David Attenborough (29th Jan 2013)

We have the technology to do something. The wind turbines, the solar panels, the recycling plants, the nuclear fuels to shut down the fossil fuels immediately. We have the education to understand blue carbon, and models to specialise schools into specific fields. Imagine a super city, dedicated totally to environmental protection and species conservation. Every country needs one. Similarly, every country needs to consider that populations matter. If we don’t control ourselves, then nature will. Great extinctions usually work. An ice age here and there or a huge weather change. We can prevent that, if we really want. Or we can believe an all-powerful, all-merciful God created a parasitic worm that will eat through a kid’s eye? Let’s get over our beliefs and start doing something about the things we know about: the world is changing.

Montenegro 2011 (7).JPG

“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” Sir David Attenborough (Climate Change Conference 2018)

Potential effects, very much like the warnings on a cigarette packet, include death. Actually, mass extinction and human total extinction are feasible. Extinction means forever. No more. Gone. Hatari and their pink elephant from Iceland will be happy suddenly. Human sacrifice, mass hysteria, or dogs and cats may love each other, as predicted in Ghostbusters. I wonder if in our last days of humanity that we become perfectly self-awakened, and say the words, in the style of Hinx (Thespian’s go-to-man Dave Bautista) from Spectre, “Shit!” The last human may send a Whatsapp message to an otherwise empty group – and with that the power of humanity may fade forever. Or we could start recycling, reusing, reducing and the other bits we usually ignore. As Tommy in Snatch said, “Proper fucked?”

Of course, I’m no expert. It could all turn out swimmingly.

Mallorca May 2013 Anniversary (238).JPG

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

The motions of finality.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

Last Wednesday evening, I watched the excellent Paul Draper, of Mansun fame, now going solo in Guangzhou’s Mao Livehouse. It was an excellent gig, even if returning around midnight to sunny Dongguan was a tad late. One thing for sure, the hustle and bustle of Guangzhou did not leave me feeling in a wide open space. The venue has great acoustics and with Paul Draper’s dreamy vocals, even if Beijing had left him a little sore of the throat. The experience was made all the better by discovering both new songs, and some old songs that I haven’t heard since they probably came out. I’m no super fan of Mansun or Paul Draper – but this gig was my favourite this year. I’ve been to one gig. That being said, I doubt many bands or artists will put on a better show in 2019.


I am tired of hearing that “you must be the best“. I agree and I disagree. Be your best by all means, but don’t accept that being the best of all others is possible. For me that is chosen by popular opinion. On one hand, one person could be good at organising groups or preaching ideals, on the other hand, that person could also be radical and likely extreme. You wouldn’t want Adolf Hitler organising a charity shop. He’d probably do okay on the bric-a-brac section or the novelty homewares. I wouldn’t trust him with the books or clothing. He had a nasty habit of being a bit selective. Similarly I wouldn’t trust Marie Curie in a charity shop. She’d be too busy messing around with polonium – and not obeying health and safety rules. Hitler would be a terrible co-worker for Curie. He’d no doubt fuel the rumours that she was a Jewish homewrecker. Yes, history has often been full of divisive figures. Something that you couldn’t say about Michael Jackson, without fear of a fan getting upset, until recently. Now old M.J.J. the noseless is fair game. Him being dead makes him an easy target, much like the poor boys he probably fiddled with.

So, why should we be the best? To be tainted by our weakness and our mistakes? To fall down on our swords? Does society spit out the mediocre and forget what we offer? Is there fault in wanting to live a simple peaceful live? Are we either astronauts, astronomers or stargazers without need of answers? If a dream is unspoken, did anyone dream it?

I’m often asked why I like teaching. “Hey Mr John, why do you like teaching?” The answers I give are not always the same but usually I say something like, “Ugh. I dunno.” I want to be the one who makes the shy kid speak. I wouldn’t mind being the one who makes the noisy kid pay attention. If someone can make the dreamer join in, why can’t it be me? If you can’t impart teamwork where selfishness was, then I will do it. I like to defrost cold situations. We can all be the one who says hello to everyone, from the cleaners to the parents to the secretary to the delivery man to the security guard and the bosses.

It is important that in teaching, and for the bigger society, that we don’t create a sense of inferiority. Yes, there will always be outstanding people and we need them. We need the differences in ability, and we need the inability in order to thrive. Our faults can be assets. Without negative experiences or bad times, division, or difference, we’d not have Joy Division, Radiohead or the lyrics of Paul Draper, singing Jealousy is a powerful emotion. We need less division and fear of difference. Events in Christchurch this week tell us that. Don’t fear better, don’t fear religions, just accept that difference is wonderful. I take pride in my hometown and the man who stood outside a Levenshulme mosque with a message of peace. Yes, he garnished some publicity, but that furthered his message and no doubt reached the people of communities like Christchurch and beyond. The real people no doubt felt the support. The haters probably struggled and held conflict in their hearts. For every message of love, we can win. Can’t get fairer than that, right?

“To destroy someone, you must observe these rules; At number one; Everybody’s got their weakness; Get people on your side.”
Paul Draper – Friends Make the Worst Enemies

During the hike in Nepal, it gave me a feeling of community and harmony unfelt before. Along the way many single people, groups and couples enjoyed guidance from experienced guides and porters. These local experts are well-trained, respected and hard-working. They don’t cut corners. They work safely and never hurry their clients. You’re their guest and for a moment you are treated just as one of the family. They extend their hands to stragglers and solo-trekkers alike. Do you need a porter? Maybe you like the challenge. Maybe you want a luxury and to have someone lug your backpack to leave you free to explore a little more. The benefits of the guides and porters far outweigh not having assistance. They know the weather. They know the altitude and signs of sickness, and how to acclimatize more carefully. They’re really honest people too – but I’m sure a bad apple is amongst the cart. I’d trust them though. Some pay their porters or guides 2,000-2,500 NPRs per day. Some pay their hired hands’ accommodation and food on top. They’re all fair about their fare from day one. They even meet with clients in advance and explain their terrains. Most guides speak English – and many have learnt Korean, Chinese, Spanish and French. They’re a talented bunch. Having a guide is not necessary but even from someone who twice set out on a challenge without a guide, I would in future throw serious consideration to a guided tour. Maybe in the future Manaslu, Chitwan and Annapurna will call me.


10th February 2019

On leaving Pheriche, we rounded the pathways through Pangboche and looked for a place to stay. No rooms at the inn, and with enough sunlight to carry on, we walked forward to Deboche. With light fading, we arrived into a warm room, a bright view and the setting sun casting purple tints over the surrounding mountain tops. The Paradise Lodge made a a good mushroom pizza and for me Dal Baht wasn’t on a list of foods to eat. The lodge, a stone affair with wooden interiors and a row of protruding beachhut style rooms was far from a grey house. The blue and white paints, and dark green trims made it feel very homely and traditional.

The following morning, we walked the short climb up to Tangboche, and after viewing the grand monastery we descenced to Punkitenga. Here we ate lunch, before walking (mostly) upwards until Namche Bazaar. The culmination of the journey was now in our hearts. The motions of finality were obvious. Less photographs, more savouring of the views and moments and even a tear in they eye, here and there. On reaching a crest of the footpath, my heart vowed to return, as it had done two years previously. One day, I’ll put the boot in, in a hard way. The next walk will be longer. I can feel it. There is a force calling me. The fat lump in my head is erupting in a storm of electronic signals and they all point to a new voyage of discovery in Nepal. Anyone want to join me?

Probably, to be continued….


A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. With this idea in mind, a challenge needs to be on the horizon. Always have something to look forwards to. There are things people want, and things people need, to keep their heads up. On damaging an ankle ligament this last week, I am now looking at deferring my attempt at the Spartan Race. I am now able to move the opportunity in Hong Kong, during June, to a later date in Shenzhen, possibly October. It may or may not be wise. I need to think it over. The right ankle has been strapped up for three days now. It feels more painful and sharp than before. The swelling has dropped from balloon-like levels to just plain bumpy. Instead of running, Muay Thai or football this week, I am contemplating a few hours of uplifting Morecambe & Wise on television. I was feeling my heart run slow, so I needed something fortifyingly enriching. Why wallow in shit when you can lay down and eat fine grapes?

“All men are fools, and what makes them so is having beauty like what I have got.”
Glenda Jackson, Morecambe & Wise Show

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

To be determined.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

https://sunyatsens.com/

I opted not to take headphones with me, or earphones for the trek around Nepal. The soundtrack would be life and nature. However, if I was to take one song on that journey, then I’d struggle. Today, I watched the video of Ting Bu Dong by Sun Yat Sens. The track opens with producer Ryan Chambers on the didgeridoo. Throughout the track he continues flitting between this instrument, an acoustic guitar and backing vocals. Sometimes he manages two of the three. Talented bugger! Some of us can’t even play the spoons. The vocals kick in from Chris Bradshaw, who puts a J between his names. It could mean juggernaut or John, as in Lennon, I don’t know. Rob Laughlin on base, alongside Eric Charette on drums and a session guitarist in Brandane Mullane form the band’s entirety. The reason that I namedrop these guys, because somehow, somewhere and someday these boys could reach high. They’ve evolved since I first watched them at Magic Island Music Festival back in December 2016. They’ve gone from a group capable of pub gigs, to a professional looking, well-marketed and confident outfit. They’re more A-Team than A-list still. That’s a good place to be. With videography by the talented Ryan and drone footage, alongside their graphic design they can do anything they want.

The dreamy didgeridoo-opening has a touch of This Garden by The Levellers, and I’m feeling a touch of Dido in there. It has the played down nature of early Oasis-acoustic tracks without the overpowering aggression of a cocksure Gallagher on board. I’m expecting, “Today is gonna be the day…” but instead the song smashes in some Chinese. Why not? The reggae-indie rap is dreamy. The chorus is clear and takes me back to Nepal on that last walk. Songs that unlock memories and emotion are powerful things. The video showcases life in China, a wandering figure and gives your imagination an opportunity to test itself. Sun Yat Sens and their previous song WeChat was more Feeder and jolliness in style. My students feature somewhere in there around the minute mark. I hope that we all see and hear more of this band soon.

#15 – PYRAMID – GORAK SHEP 1300 – EVEREST BASE CAMP – GORAK SHEP 1800 ~ 12km

 

8th February 2019

We set out from Pyramid (5050m / 16,568ft) to Gorakshep (5100m) and then onwards to EBC (5360m). On Earth’s lands there isn’t much surface area above us at this point. The upper points above 7,000ft (2133m) is only about 7% of the total of Earth’s surface. 29.2% of Earth has land above sea level or uncovered by lakes and rovers. Our oblate spheroid of a planet has bumpy bits. The Himalayas (China/Nepal/India)) with the Karakoram range (China and Pakistan) are the only places to see peaks over 8000m. Only Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan (a country I know nothing about) can be added to those countries for mountains over 7000m. Going to other countries and looking for big mountains is near pointless. Aconcagua (6962m) in the Andes (Argentina) is as close as you will get. Anyway I now found myself above 5164m for a night’s sleep. The highest that I have ever snoozed.

If Lobuche is bleak, then Gorakshep could have meant shithole in English. The smooth mountain top of Kalapatthar hovers over the lakebed that sits by Gorakshep. We arrived, ditched our things at the Buddha Lodge, ate a late lunch and then started the Everest Base Camp trek. The final leg towards a hidden shadow beneath Everest. The lodges are mostly supply drops and shelters. There is discarded waste in piles, banners and tents ripped to shreds scattered here and there. Armageddon refused to stop in Gorakshep on account of it being totally dilapidated and uninhabitable.

The worst night’s sleep ever followed. Firstly, the windows were rattling amd pccasionally flying open. Cracks in some panes threatened to explode. The roof was rattling. Each room had a temperature lower than -25°C. Snow slipped through the edges of the window frames. The lodge shook with each gust. Worse still – we were running out of yak shit. The main lounge room was starting to cool. As I lay my head down headaches came and went. Even if I wanted to descend downwards, this was not the weather to open any doors.

In the lodge a group of three from the U.K. with their The Baton flag slept, alongside Rhys, Al and Spanish Albert. Everyone seemed to endure a restless night of anti-sleep. Hope of making ot through a night without the roof blowing off was broken up by regular piss breaks to the toilet at the end of the cold corridor. The frozen stinking cesspit in the ceramic western toilet was perhaps the warmest thing for several kilometres.

The great thing about having a sleeping bag comfortable to -25°C is that when it finally teeters over that temperature limit, you’re still a little warm. An extra blanket on top helped. The noise of the howling winds did not. Gritty frozen grains pounded the windows outside. It seemed that the outside desperately wanted to be inside. Sporadically the dirt of the outside world slapped the windows like bullets being fired from a gun.


9th February 2019

Morning arrived. Breakfast was devoured. We set out.

Kala Patthar is 5,545 metres (18,192 ft). It might as well be higher. It is no mean feat to get to the top and capture a panoramic view of the Khumbu glacier like all the postcard shops have obtained. A panoramic sweep of clouds in all directions and zero visibility doesn’t sell the same. To quote trekker Rhys from Cardiff, “Well it is the mountains and that means clouds.” It is what it is. Simple. Black rock, as Kala Patthar means in Hindi, might well just translate as bleak rock. I read somewhere that the ‘The world’s highest webcam, Mount Everest webcam, was located here’ on Kala Patthar. In those clouds, you could lose anything – including life! No prayer flags were visible yet needed. No mountain climbing permit was required – making this the highest point to scramble without license to do so.

The Khumbu glacier is supposed, by scientists, to have formed in the last Great Ice Age. That was around 500,000 years ago. On reaching Lobuche (4910m), my legs were feeling equally as old. The Khumbu region stretches from Namche Bazar out to Thame in the west and Gokyo. Gorak Shep, and Chukung mark the northern and western areas.  The Khumbu subregion is a third of the region known as the closely named Khambu. The lowest point is 3,300m high around Lukla. Visibility was so low, that my feet were barely in sight. The gamble and decision to stay an extra day was not appealing. With heavy snow forecast, we headed down – our target, “as far as we can go.” Well, after struggling over the open boulder and rocks fields lining the banks of glacial death below, we dropped into a valley leading towards the Pyramid. We’d later show some pretty bad windburn on our skin – and thankfully we escaped anything more serious.

Having sought cover just before lunchtime, we had cut a path through deep snowdrifts and found shelter. We were the only ones at the Pyramid International Laboratory/Observatory. We hadn’t intended to stay again but we had no choice. After an hour a Chinese man and his porter/guide joined us. They said they were close to death out there. It was believable and no embroidery on their part. Barely two hours later and the blizzard vanished. The whiteout faded to a grey unsettling day. We chilled out in the warm lounge watching cricket, volleyball and eating too much. It passed the time before bedtime. Outside did not appeal to us.

#16 GORAK SHEP – PYRAMID ~ 10km

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10th February 2019

The walk continued as in the spirits of each day before. It was always about just going forwards, and not rushing. Some loose targets and aims were handy but they were never set in concrete. The journey was to be lived. The destination was just for inspiration. Some target Everest Base Camp for status, spirituality or homage. Some push themselves as far as they can go. Some want to do their best. There had never been a race to get anywhere and likewise we weren’t descending fast for the sake of it.

Within an hour, I did not think that I could walk any more. My head was pounding at the rear and I was walking so slow, that deep down I was beginning to worry. Fatigue had turned to exhausation and my mental condition was slipping to the negative. Ten minutes after passing Ishwor, Srirang and Livia on their way up, I had to stop. Here the cough that had been niggling me for nearly two weeks began to rasp at my throat. I tried to catch my breath. A moment later, I was staring at my breakfast on the floor. My nose stang. I smelled terrible. My mouth tasted like a yak’s arse. After a few moments of composure, I explained to Maria we must head down fast – but steadily and for her to keep an eye on me. Barely an hour later and I felt great – reinvigorated and fully oxygenated. Resurrection in a Buddhist land is possible afterall.

We soon appeared at the tombs and monuments, standing tall under a sunlit sky. The spiritual air of the location fell away as we descended the pathway to Thukla. Here we continued over the glacial rover’s stepping stones, banked left and followed a pebble-stoned pathway into the valley around Pheriche (4371m).

I was told by many not to stay at Pheriche when doing this trekking route. It sits deep in the shadows of the mountains around it and on a cloudy day, little light makes it to the village. This day it was basked in splendid sunshine. The Tsola River flowed beneath it. The Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) are based here but we dodn’t stop by. We spent an hour hiding from yaks, by squating by a frozen stream as they passed by and then doubled back. Eventually we joined a British couple, their guide and porter to pass by. The top end of Pheriche village seemed to have a melting-yet-dangerously-frozen-river-road down the middle. That had to be negotiated slowly. Empty buckwheat and potato fields lined the pathways. Following the top end of the village a few kilometres before the lower village appeared. The neighbours there must be quite fit.

Arriving at Deboche (3820m) today we had dropped about 1230m. That’s 1.23km (4053 feet – about 7/10 of a mile). Burj Khalifa is the tallest building at 828m (2717’) tall. It had taken just a few hours. The walk up had been broken down.

#17 0900 PYRAMID – 1600 DEBOCHE; #18 0930 DEBOCHE – NAMCHE BAZAR 1700: ~ 40km
#19 NAMCHE BAZAR – LUKLA ~ 21km
#20 LUKLA: ~ 4km

More to follow.

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

The Great Pyramid of Nepal?

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

It could be argued that too much looking back is bad for the soul. Well my mind is also investigating a possible wander to Détiān pùbù, Bǎnyuē pùbù [板約瀑布, 德天瀑布]. This is located the Daxin County, Guangxi and Vietnam. The Lanning Nandong station may be a useful starting point. The Green City awaits. Then there is Zhēnzhū Tān Pùb [珍珠滩瀑布] too. Oh and Huáng Guǒshù Pùbù [黄果树瀑布]. Anyway they all need further research, and now I can carry on telling the tale of this year’s trek in Nepal.


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4th February 2019

The early morning pathway from Namche Bazaar is wonderful. However, we set off at 1130am, touching the afternoon. Having sat in Namche Bakery eating apple strudel and celebrating Ishwor’s Not-Birthday. Srirang and Livia had checked Facebook and assumed the date of birth he had published was his birthday. Turned out it wasn’t. Not that a candle in some chocolate cake wasn’t fun. We sweet off late having shared a fun morning with a birthday party that wasn’t quite right. We walked for a short time and enjoyed lunch at Kyangjuma in a lodge’s garden that I’d previously ate at two years ago. Thamserku was in clear sight and Ama Dablam lay dead ahead on the trail just beyond the Tyangbuche (3860m) brow and the huge monastery.

The owner of the lodge talked with me about how his dog, that I met two years ago, had been eaten by a snow leopard – and the two similar dogs were that dog’s offspring. We talked about the New Year celebrations in Sherpa culture, his hair being died and general local information. Stupas were soon, once again being passed on the left, as we bid our farewells and descended downwards to a river crossing.

We passed Thunki Tanga, which like everywhere seemed to have many variants of spelling. Funky Thanga seemed the best name. Completing the checkpoint registration, we began the slog of a climb up to Tyangbuche. Here we met Albert from Spain, who had walked from Thame. We also met a Sherpa man who had climbed Everest on several occasions when he was a few years younger. He’d walked from Lukla that day and would head as far as Pangboche. One hell of a jaunt! Our destination would be Deboche – and ideally at the Everest Lodge.

May people refer to this part of the trail as ‘Nepal Flat’. You really speaking only gain about 330 metres of altitude. There are woods galore, steep valleys and on this day the bright sunshine gave lovely sweeping clear views. Everest and Lhotse had been dead ahead for some time, until we sank down to Phunkitenga (see, another spelling!) – and here it was all up for a few hours.

On arriving in a darkened Deboche we checked into Paradise Lodge. I have a few tiny criticisms of the name. It was too cold to consider as a place of nirvana, but the warm log fireplace gave glory, I guess. The twelfth Dal Bhat was adequate for filling the belly.


5th February 2019

Today’s walk bid farewell to trees somewhere just beyond Pangboche and touching Otso village. The trail is the first day of true discomfort. You adjust and pace yourself with much more care now. The air is getting noticeably thinner. You concentrate on slowing your pulse and breathing with more effectiveness. There is touch of anxiety about me. This is where in 2017, I reached. And not much higher.

Deboche to Pangboche and finally Dingboche (4410m) is a photographer’s dream. There are gompas, vast valleys, huge rockfalls, streams and views of Ama Dablam up close. Then, as you climb into the valley that holds Dingboche, you see the mountainous borders of China with Island Peak, and Nangkartshang looming overhead.

My sleep that night wasn’t bad. No headaches and a confidence that this would be the year. Maria wanted to go on today. I insisted that we acclimatise. Over-confidence can be your downfall. Breathing normally is on the cards for tomorrow. Dal Bhat the 13th, was certainly no nightmare. It would assist on the battle against altitude-related doom.


6th February 2019

Coaxing the morning breaths into a steady rhythm, I tucked away breakfast. Last night we met Rhys and Al, who had travelled from Wales to climb to Everest Base Camp for charity. This morning we set off together to go up the neighbouring mountain. Nangkartshang is an unwelcoming rocky mountain lined with grass at first sight. The walk started vigorously. Our bodies would need the climb up, feel the strain and then sleep low. Every step would soon be an exertion and the higher we went, the harder it felt. On reaching the summit and ledges, the views are out-of-this-world yet remind us that we are on this world and we’re quite small. The cold air and clash of bright warm light make for an up and down body temperature. I regret wearing the down jacket – yet later, I was thankful for this piece of clothing.

As we descend the valleys beneath us fill with cloud. It filters from many directions and eventually covers the sky blotting out the fading evening sun. Winter is coming, so they say and the next day we will wake to fine flakes of snow. Everyone at the lodge talks in whispers of a big snow storm in the region over the next three days. A couple, from China, who are descending talk about a Pyramid lodge to stay at. We take the details and set that as tomorrow’s aim. But will the snow be too much? At least the fourteenth helping of Dal Bhat would surely help get me there.


7th February 2019

Dingboche to Thukla started in light snow. The snow eventually faded yet the sky remained jaded. My cynical mind remained open to further snowfall. The great sweeping plains above Dingboche, lay beneath mountains to the right shoulder, and beneath my left shoulder, a drop down to the river valley below. The left side view of Taboche (6495m) and Cholatse (6440m) gave a dramatic slant to the world. Cho (lake), la (pass), tse (peak) are Tibetan words. They’re impressive peaks and highly photogenic. The ravine of the Khumbu glacier folds away as we ascend to Thukla (spelt in numerous ways, as always) and onwards to Lobuche. The climb is gradual and striking. There are remarkable pathways cutting through the snow. But, before the bigger climbs, we stop for lunch at Thukla.

Upwardly walking in clouds and snow is unearthly. It heightens your senses and brings the imagination out. Beyond the cloud could be a sunny day, Godzilla or the Manchester City reserve team. You have very little way of knowing. To quote Meat Loaf, ‘what you see, is what you get’.

The cloud lifted and a strange black square shape could be seen. From this parapet a stream of colourful flags fluttered down. They formed a line stretching to a shrouded stockade to my upper right side. These ramparts appeared to be stones stocked one upon another and squared off with rough edges. The first two stupas formed a gateway from the pathway leading up from Dughla.

To my left, the flag of New Zealand fluttered. Rob Hall, of the famous Adventure Colsuntants was marked here. From the 1996 climbing disaster on Everest was the Mountain Madness Everest Expedition leader Scott Fischer. Both bodies of these remain on the South Summit of Mount Everest. There are others from this and groups of other deadly climb attempts. There are touching tributes, grand notes and plaques. I tried to read as many as I could. I was spellbound. It was sad but also life-affirming. It made me ask questions and think things that I seldom think or have never thought. The cloud drifted out to reveal lines of cairns and stupas. Suddenly, I was in a living graveyard. I felt that I was in a dizzying field of tombs, like the iconic Sad Hill Mexican standoff (which was filmed in Spain) in the the movie The Good, The Bay & The Ugly. Dizzying is a word that I have used lightly before. On this occasion, it felt apt for my vertiginous and flighty state of mind. I thanked the Gods (all of them, that others respect and worship) for people remembering the fallen, doing the thing that loved the most. But, does anyone really want to die doing the things that they love?

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More than 290 people have died attempting the Everest peak – or assisting those who climb it. Official statistics of deaths amongst the trekking population, that go to see Everest, are unknown. It is expected to be around 4-5 people a year, from altitude sickness. Crevasses, mountain sickness, being struck my your own icepick as you fall, avalanches, exhaustion, death by Serac, disappearance, falls, drowning, heart attacks, blood clotting, exposure to the elements, rope accidents, and others reasons for not wanting to climb Everest may have deterred me. For climbers, they must climb. Those lucky enough get to trek and explore wonderful places with blotched histories and wonderful moments. This is the spirit of nature. It takes and it gives.

On reaching Lobuche we step into the Oxigen Lodge and have a brew. We decide the snow is lighter and crack on for Pyramid. It should be around an hour away. Lobuche is a near barren wasteland. It is unwelcoming and borderline unfunctional. This town is notorious with early trekkers and climbers as being the place where everyone inhaled yak shit dust from early fireplaces. It has improved dramatically in recent years but still has a feel of drabness. The frozen toilets, a stream full of ice and a pocket in the snow with a dozen stray puppies gave an air of menace. Here you are expected to tolerate the simplest of simple accommodation – complete with ice. The trite options surrounded by inclines mark the start of the really, really dangerous glaciers – so we didn’t hang around too long.

After about 30 minutes we reached a ginnel, a short passageway to our left. Two clear signs pointed towards EvK2CNR and SHARE. It is possibly mothballed by the Italians, but it seems active. We walk the pathway for about 10 minutes. We had to cut through the reasonably deep snow. On arriving the squat brick building with a glass pyramid looked lifeless. On opening the door, it was far from lifeless. A dozen or so noisy Chinese voices mixed with a few western accents. We met Spanish Albert, Al and Rhys once again. Amongst the crowd were many friendly porters and guides. The lodge manager pointed us to the warmest room on the entire trail and apologised that the solar panels were too deep under snow, so the internal heaters were not working. It was more than comfortable. A bucket shower and all meals were inclusive – for 4000 NPRs per person, per night. That’s £26GBP or there abouts. Luxury in an amazing setting.

The Pyramid International Laboratory/Observatory is a high-altitude research centre. It has the aims of promoting sustainable development within mountainous areas. It is there to safeguard high altitude ecosystems. These areas for some of the most fragile in the changing world. There are works on the wall. I sit reading through them on eating Dal Bhat 15 and trying to find City’s score versus Everton away. The score flashes up. City’s title battle continues. Spanish Albert is also happy. His Barca team avoided defeat against Real Madrid.

#12 DEBOCHE 0830 – DINGBOCHE 1530 ~ 10km
#11 NAMCHE BAZAAR 1130 – DEBOCHE 1800 ~ 12km
#13 DINGBOCHE: Nangkartshang & back ~ 5km
#14 DINGBOCHE 0800 – PYRAMID ~ 11km

To be continued…

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

Namche Bazaar (is the place to find me)

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

Yesterday I played 7-a-side football with my new team Dongguan Raiders F.C. Sporting our bright pink kits we had another victory. Our team has played three games this last week with two wins and one midweek friendly training game against Murray’s F.C. Our team has Chinese, Italian, Serbian, German and Ukrainian players – alongside the token Mancunian. On Saturday, I also joined Murray’s F.C. in our game at Zhuhai against the Guangzhou Phoenix team. We won 8-2. It now means a draw or win against Zhuhai, in Dongguan at the month shall be enough to claim the inaugural Guangdong Super League. Football shall move into the sidelines for me now. I have 88 days to train for my debut Spartan Race. I opted for the killer 13km Super option. That involves 25 obstacles too. It is a challenge. Am I ready? No. Will I be ready? I’ll do my best to be. The trekking in the Himalayas tested me mentally and I feel that anything is possible. The arrival of the next challenge is always welcoming. After that, I’ll need a new challenge. Suggestions please. Of course, I’m still looking back on the time spent in Nepal…


31st January 2019

One week of trekking was to completed today. The walk from Kharikhola, via the Karila Pass (2730m) to Paiya (2730m) started with a reasonably steep climb up towards Bupsa Danda. Here made for a good brew stop and somewhere to enjoy the view. From Kharikhola’s Magar people to panaromic views of valleys and looming landslides, to Sherpa settlements and the Bupsa Danda village itself, heaven could easily have been placed on this spot of Earth. The hilltop is delightful.

From there the trail is up and down, but really gently. In fact it is the closet to a day’s walk being flat on the entire wander so far, and later to come. It feels like deception. At the end of the walk, we settled down a for a night’s sleep in a lodge. Here we met a trekking nurse who volunteers in Nepal, having retired from work in Germany. Her partner and guide, from Nepal spoke German and they were accompanied by several porters. We spoke at great length about porters and guides leaving Nepal for better opportunities. He seemed quite aware that many Nepali people are trapped in Qatar. Political and visa issues have been a problem. He mentioned the reduction in porters has resulted in an explosion in the mule population. The destruction to the pathways in two years was clear to me. A country ravaged by natural disasters, civil war and political turmoil now had to contend with horse-donkey hybrids smashing up a great Himalayan trail.


1st February 2019

Leaving Paiya that morning we headed towards Surke. At Surke, Livia, Srirang and Ishwor went up to Lukla for supplies. We carried on up the pathway to Phakding (2610m) passing waterfalls, frozen streams and increasing numbers of lodges and houses. Around the sacred villages of Ghat, large boulders cast shadows over the pathways beneath. Some sported sproutings of trees and the odd leafless giant. Almost every rock had faces of lichens and bedcovers of moss. Beyond every short mountain towered ridges of snow-capped peaks. Eventually the trail met the main pathway from Lukla towards Everest Base Camp. Here we noted a huge difference in footfall. More people, more often. Now we were in the home straight. The business end of the greatest most popular and well known Himalyan trail. Also, those we passed by on their way up had some similarities. Most looked fresh and clean. Some had minor altitude exhaustion, having arrived a few thousand metres up at the modern and recently legendary Lukla airfield.

Under grey skies we plodded onwards. The pathways seemed to level on this day, and we stopped for lunch at a Sherpa family’s lodge. Reading the family’s walls of certificates and talking to the owners was quite interesting. The owners’ son is a pilot based at Kathmandu – on rescue helicopters. They regularly see him flying overhead. Their daughter is also overseas in Switzerland in the hospitality sector. Mountain people seldom leave the mountains, it seems.

From the moment we passed Surke to the upper levels of Phakding, the numbers of stupas, gompas, murals and mani stones seemed to explode. This region is known as extremely sacred. The Nepal version of the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. Many prayer wheels had been turned, so much so that my fingers became dirty from the dust. The clear signs of mules everywhere to be seen. The most obvious being the pathways under repair.

The modern looking Sherpa Guide Lodge was our stay that night in Phakding. We paid 3000NPRs for a shower each, twin room and food wasn’t much more on top. I’d seen this pine-looking wood and clean-cut brick building under construction two years ago. We were the only guests this time. The daughter of the owner was in charge. The next day she was due to head to Kathmandu to see her parents. The walls featured awards and commendations of her father’s achievements, photos of their family lifestyle and traditional prayers from Buddhism. It was a pleasant place to eat Dal Bhat number nine. The views of the near-Alpine looking region sat outside in total darkness. The roar of the river drifted away as I slipped into a deep untroubled sleep.


2nd February 2019

Phakding to Monjo (2835m) wasn’t too far. A few hours to the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is Sagarmartha National Park. Having a gander at the monthly tourist record really shows how few people explore outside of the peak seasons (March-April & October-November). It also makes me feel like peak season may be a tad too busy to enjoy the freedom of the great trail.

As you enter the Khumbu subregion it isn’t hard to see why the Lonely Planet guide ranks it as the sixth best region to visit globally. This patch of northeastern Nepal has mountain scenery at every turn. Colourful Danfe birds resemble pheasants. The national bird can be seen amongst a whole host of colourful birds, mountain goats, musk deers, and other wildlife. The colourful guesthouses fell away as we entered the park, having paid our 3000 NPRs and a deposit of 1000 NPRs for a new tracking GPS card. Good idea. Less lost people in the Himalayas. Over one of the Dudi Kosi river’s many footbridges and we pass through Jorsalle (2740m), stopping at the last hut overlooking a river below. Here some yummy foods were required. The final hike upwards after luch would be near brutal. Over another bridge, we crossed down onto the river-accompanying pathway, up to some steep scary steps, and then to the final bridges looking up at the Namche pathway. Up the valley, Everest, Lhotse and a face of mountains hid away in clouds. We wouldn’t be seeing their beauty on this day, but Oasis sang, someday we’ll find a brighter day.

The Dudi Kosi river flows from the Mount Everest massif, just east of Gokyo Lakes and flows south, beneath Namche Bazar before heading west of Lukla. It was the same river heard during a night’s sleep at Phakding. Each bridge over the river seemed to always be occupied by flowing mule caravans. They were a bit pongy.

One last push, up the brow and around into the horsehoe-valley of Namche Bazaar (3441m), some energy was needed. Posters for the last edition of the Tenzing Hilary Everest Marathon and stickers offering all manner of expedition group, from nations so numerous the writing and logos blurred into a mesh of hieroglyphics. The downhill marathon is held every May 29th. Count me out. The maximum entry is 250. I’ll let those who want it, have a crack.

Over the last few hundred metres of walk, we met Nawang Chhiring Sherpa. He said that his lodge, Mt. Kailash Lodge, was free to stay at as long as we ate our meals there. He wasn’t pushy and seemed quite welcoming. As he guided a Taiwanese couple up the hill, we talked a little with them. Maria now had Mandarin-speaking company. An easy decision, and in hindsight one with zero regret. We would spend a total of two nights there on the way up and one on the way down. We’d recommend it to everyone too. Srirang, Ishwor and Livia joined us for the second night. The room wasn’t too cold too. Dal Bhat TEN was yummy with a crunchy prawn cracker on the side.


3rd February 2019

If ever I run away to get away from it all and not tell anyone where I am heading, then Namche Bazaar is the place to find me. I’d consider it the picture-perfect position to retire too. This morning, after a full belly, we had coffee and hired some thick down jackets. Following that we enjoyed a leisurely stroll up to the Everest View Hotel. The first of our altitude acclimatisation days was neither taxing nor boring. With lunch at the Everest View Hotel we peered through limited gaps in the clouds at Everest itself, Lhotse and Ama Dablam. To the east the tips of Thamserku (6623m) permeated from the drifting clouds. We’d walked by the sprawling grass runway of a near-silent Syangboche Airport and by yaks patrolling the high pathways. Through snow-lined fields and up a ridge to the mansion-like stairway of the grand hotel.

Thamserku is one of my favourite mountains to observe. Thronged by trees until around the 4000m mark, it was littered with snow and rocks thereafter. It has two almost identical peaks that resemble little horns. It is bulky and broad. With throngs of cloud circling high up, it is very atmospheric.

Excitement seemed to erupt from nowhere. Here I was looking up at vultures! Actual vultures gliding over away from dark cloud, towards gaps in the lighter cloud. Very much like Pterodactyls flying in a Jurassic Park movie, their broad wingspan effortlessly glided into the thickening clouds. Almost as soon as the elation began, it was over. The descent to the Sherpa Life Museum was swift and easy. The museum itself was interesting and full of photos. The colourful way of the Sherpa people is finely illustrated – and it also includes a mountaineering room with photos of those who have scaled summits throughout the region.

The charm of Namche Bazaar is multi-layered. West of the village is Kongde Ri (6187m) and other rolling hills around the basin of the village. Thamserku (6623m) looms to the east. The horseshoe-shaped village sits across many layers. It is almost as if someone carved the land to face the sun at sunset. Through the village centre sits recently renovated water features and statues. The eyes of the stupa face in four directions with helicopter pads in almost every direction. There are buildings of old rock, and timber structures amongst inconspicuous and understated concrete builds. The unobtrusive nature of man in the elements of nature and the rhythm of life is throughout the grounds. Cows and stray dogs walk the narrow passages. The silk road feels more short-gauntlet and less mammoth-journey here. Around 2000 people live here at the busiest point of year, yet during deep to late winter it feels sleepy and at rest. Save for helicopters and freight cargo flights, little sound of machines can be heard. Dal Bhat XI sat in my sleeping belly, ready to power the next new day.

#7 KHARIKHOLA 0900 – PAIYA 1730: ~ 7km.
#8 PAIYA 0900 – PHAKDING 1730: ~ 10km.
#9 PHAKDING 0800 – NAMCHE BAZAAR 1630: ~ 7km.
#10 NAMCHE BAZAAR – EVEREST VIEW HOTEL & GENERAL WANDER: ~ 10km

 

To be continued…

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

 

 

Lamjura La II: The Return

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

 

 

27th January 2019

In some ways the challenge of Lamjura La made me feel nervous. Last time round, it was not easy (see 2017’s post entitled Toils and rewards). Departing Sete (2900m) with a belly full of breakfast we started the walk at 0640hrs. The murky morning unveiled valleys below us and a clear pathway upwards. Rays of sunshine shit out from dark clouds covering Pikey Peak mountain and snow lay on the higher grounds that we approached. The cardamom plantation and streams by Kinja were long behind us. Chimbu village’s primary school squatted in a small area above the pathway but squeezed so tightly to the mountainside that a playground seemed barely possible.

A steady rhythm of one foot after the other didn’t matter. The most appropriate adjective is relentless. It is a tough, tough day. Moss-lined forests broke away and eventually a small hamlet appeared. By 0840 we arrived in Dakchu and spent half an hour so eating omelette and enjoying the view. After leaving the Sonam Guest House’s quick servce and reasonable prices, we headed off. The steam on the roof of the guesthouse, made way for a few rooftops of snow, and many places coated in the cold white stuff. Here the road reappeared and swept over the pathway time and time again. The snow went from light, to knee-deep quickly. A sudden drop down for twenty or so metres revealed an icy lake. Soon, we were heading uphill again. The mani stones became caked in snow. With the brighter sunshine, it wasn’t too cold. We stopped for another brew and snuggled two cute puppies. Beyond that we had yet another rise to clamber up. The trees became taller, wider and sparse of green leaves. The ancient landscape could have filled a Tolkein-fantasy novel.

Passing a stack of flat-packed wood, it seemed the same browny-grey cat was there exactly two years ago. The dramatic landscape smoothed off and we were at the start of the pass. The first few huts and buildings were crumbling. Spirit levels not included. The new road swallowed the original pass. This was for once, a good thing. The old pathway was narrow. The new pathway didn’t feel like the earth would fall away, despite the near waist-deep snow. Here, I had to add my thick snow gloves. The shadow of the mountain added extra chill to the occasion.

It was 1600hrs and we were in deep snow – and hungry. One single lodge, on Lamjura La, was open, high up at 3530m. We ate fried macaroni with rice and drank piping hot black tea. It was needed. The giddy puppy darting back and forth made it more of a game than a meal. The dog’s owners, a young family with a very young baby in a box, affixed to the head by a rope headband. Soon after we started eating Ishwor, Srirang and Livia arrived. After they drank and we had finished our reunion, we set out into the deep snow. Alongside us was an 80-year old Sherpa woman and her granddaughter.

We trudged slowly through our newly cut snow pathways for an hour or so to the final edge of the pass (3530m). Here a closed house, that I had black tea and a chocolate bar last time round, stood closed. The drift of snow covered one side. We took the odd photo here and eventually began our descent. The warm fire of the last lodge was now a distant memory. Light ws fading fast. Snow and hail began to shower down on us. The moss-covered trees on a rapidly steep descent hid the pathways below. The furrows and tracks resembled that of a toboggan run. Forest firs and rhododendrons cast out little sound and the air felt still despite a roaring blizzard rolling over the treetops. After a lifetime of torch-waving and some twists and turns below forest canopy, the pathway emerged by a few small houses. Many more steps were needed before the glow of the village of Junbesi could be seen in the valley below. I was at the point of utter exhaustion. Thirsty and without a single drop of water from the two litres available.

After some painful final few kilometres in a timeframe that seemed not to end, we arrived at Junbesi (2700m). The Apple Lodge made us dal bhat (#5) immediately after we arrived close to 2100hrs. Food was in the belly and an aborted attempt at a hot shower was had. The water was 60°C or 0°C – and could not be set between. In bed we all went, shattered.


28th January 2019

The following morning, Linda reported her blisters and some minor foot injuries. Livia and Srirang were knackered. Ishwor joined them for a rest day and another British couple, who had attempted Pikey Peak strolled by and said hello. A light lunch and by 1400hrs, Maria and I carried on, but not too far. At the Everest View Hotel, there was a view of clouds and a warm ginger tea to be had. Still we gently walked on, until reaching the Sherpa village of Solung at 1730hrs. Here was stopped for a brew, to be told that the pathway ahead was firmly frozen and a nightmare to pass. We accepted an invitation to stay at a Sherpa family’s home. Nawang and his wife Pupa lived with one of their three daughters. The 31 years old daughter cooked for us. They had attended a Sherpa wedding with Pupa’s older sister. The wedding procession was going on as far as Kharikhola village. Nawang was a former guide and porter. He claimed to be 80 years old but seemed much younger. From their farm came fresh milk, great vegetables and yummy eggs. Dal bhat number 6 was delicious. The best, so far, and in hindsight, the best overall.

Stories of Nawang’s hiking days, Sherpa lifestyle and the village’s culture stretched to quite late. With a frehs glass of hot milk in our bellies, we retired to the bedroom. The house, from the outside looked like a British detached two-up, two down. Downstairs half of the building served as an agricultural place and the other hald as a washroom/tool shed. Upstars the kitchen area had beds for four and the main social area. A second room, without curtains over the window (there is no invasive streetlighting), and a huge poster to the Tibetan flag and Dalai Lama stood. Maria, from China slept under that. I had the cool air drifting on over me from the window frame. Still it was a pleasant enough place to sleep. Very homely.


29th January 2019

The morning light crept through the windows. A cracking chapati with egg breakfast and wonderful milk tea set the day up well. We bid our farewell to the lovely Sherpa family and began the trek down to the villages of Ringmu. The ankle high bench of the previous lodge’s stay was a pleasant memory by now, as aches returned to pleasantly conditioning legs. I didn’t miss the playful grey cat that scratched my left hand as I slid into my sleeping bag though.

On this day the snowy peaks started to appear far closer. Ice lined waterfalls and melted under glorious beams of brightness. Numerous abandoned building ruins stood side by side their replacement housing. The scars of the 2015 earthquakes visible all over. Into a valley we walked, with huge prayer paintings that Google probably took inspiration from for its logo choice. Over a bridge meant one clear thing. The downward trend of the morning’s walk was now going to be an uphill strain. No pain, no gain – as they say. Passing orange-bellied rustic bird foraging in the damp dry ground a plateau revealed a dramatic landscape with fields towered over by nearby Himalyan peaks.

On finishing a brew in Ringmu, we passed by a ruined ghompa and mani stones. It looked dramatic on my last visit – but this visit it was surrounded by patches of scattered snow. Here we began the ascent to Taksindu (3000m) and walked through a monastery gate atop the peak, before a reasonable incline towards Taksindu monastery. The monastery looks shiny, bright and new. It was mostly a building site two years ago. On passing here, after a Mountain Man nutrition bar, the snow set in. Fearing a blizzard we moved down the mountain side at a steady pace, struggling over icy lips and frozen mud. Flocks of birds swept close to the ground, foraging whilst they could. At 1500hrs we arrived in Nunthala (2330m). A lodge was selected, one of two open in the sleepy village. Almost as soon as we dropped our things in the third-floor room, the snow stopped. Soon after a snow-swept Linda joined us with a French guy resembling Floki from the TV series Vikings. Dal bhat number 7 was greatly appreciated. Here we met a Bulgarian man, heading back from Everest Base Camp, who warned of serious levels of snow and struggles ahead. Nothing a warm brew couldn’t fix.


30th January 2019

The day had been intended to be a long one, ending in Bupsa Danda, but why rush things? From Nunthala we left at 0900hrs. A late lunch around 2pm was had in Kharikhola (2040m). Scarcely an hour later and we set down for the night at the Tashi Delek lodge (meaning hello in the Sherpa language), in the same village. We’d spent just under an hour dropping books with the Classrooms in The Clouds-supported Kharikhola Secondary School (with an attached tiny primary school). We’d even ate lunch at the Headmaster’s family home and met his son, and engineer of the mechanical kind. His friend was also an engineer, set to travel to U.S.A. to further his studies. After being shown their school grounds, a library and their new primary school buildings, we took some photos together and bid farewell. We walked a whole 250 metres in the village before meeting Srirang and Livia with Ishwor. We bunkered down for the night.

Classrooms in The Clouds have a short but rich history in Nepal. They prove that donations can make a real difference. £8.00 makes a day’s salary for a teacher. £10.00 will find three Nepali books. £15 will find three reusable menstrual kits for young women in school. Aside from sounding like just a charity appeal, they deliver. Their mouths put money and resource into action. Their expertise works with Nepali parteners, on the ground, focusing on education support, great quality new classrooms, teacher sponsorship and community work. They support their partners and their teachers. They have linked to the Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service. If students can study and leave school with the School Leaving Certificate needed, then Nepal will reinforce from within. At places such as Lukla, Bakhapalam, Majhgaun and Kharikhola. My feeling is that, every kid needs to experience school. How can we inspire without a pathway? The early Everest expeditions gave us the gift of some of the finest Himalayan trail to tread upon. This gift needs repaying. Think global, act local? Ecotourism is more than not bringing food from home. Bring something rewarding and leave a place better. Just like picking litter up at the beach. There’s a classroom in the clouds just waiting to be imagined.

That day had been interspersed by numerous mule trains and lots of inhaled dust. The trail has been battered in the last two years. A quaint lodge at the foot of a hill from Nunthala had made way for a mud-spattered filthy mule resting point. Many plants including various fruits and vegetables could be seen today. The contrast between temperate, arid and mountaineous climates was very clear. The splashings of colour, the blue skies and the icy mountain peaks give a sensual overload to the eyes. Dreams could be seen here and there.

In the evening, we met Srirang, Ishwor and Livia. We ate Dal bhat number 8 and talked the evening away, occasionally pinching a look at the clear sky full if stars outside – and the Milky Way lines. Not a bad way to hit the icy cold pillow, as the walk up Bupsa Danda loomed overhead.

#3 SETE 0640 – JUNBESI 2100: ~ 15km.
#4 JUNBESI 1400 – SOLUNG 1740 / #5 SOLUNG 0830 – NUNTHALA 1500: ~ 17km.
#6 NUNTHALA 0900 – KHARIKHOLA 1500: ~8km 

 

To be continued…

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

Johnny Marr is in Sete.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

A2809404.JPG

16th February 2019

Boarding the Yeti Airlines flight, under the colours of Tara Airlines, I lifted my feet onto the steps. The DHC-6 Twin Otter at Tenzing–Hillary Airport stared vacantly and without emotion at the asphalt. The 11.7% gradient didn’t faze the lifeless tincan with wings. Nor did the altitude of 2,845m (9,334ft). Many surprised and excited voices could be heard. Some had landed here on the journey. None of my accompanying 11 passengers had made this take-off. The pilots, with their minimum of 100 short-takeoff-and-landing (STOL) had. Thankfully. The excitement of my first flight from here came back. I sat back, looked out the window and enjoyed the moment. In less than the full length of the 527m (1729ft) of runway, it was over too soon. It had begun what seemed like only yesterday.


A2808558.JPG
22nd January 2019

Returning to Kathmandu gave me an oddly warm feel. It was familiar territory and a place that has acted as a gate for many journeys. Early expeditions to map the region started in the 1850s and continued as such until 1953, when a beekeeper called Edmund Hilary arrived with Tenzing Norgay, and around 400 men – including porters, guides and mountaineers. Anyway, here I was, once again, at the brickwork of Tribhuvan International Airport (1,388m/4,390ft) and passing the cremation grounds of the Pashupatinath Temple. The holy (to Buddhists and Hindus) Bagmati river flowed under a severe-angled concrete bridge as the hotel pick-up car drifted over it. Many bodies have had a triple-dip into that river prior to cremation. The chief mourner also takes a quick dip before setting his or her lost relative on fire. Relatives also bathe. If the Bagmati river purifies them the source in the Letter Himalayas must be the reasoning. Somewhere downstream of the source, inside Kathmandu itself is the Tukucha Khola tributary. The sewage levels are unbelievable. The city’s eight rivers are sad sights in many places.

As the Hotel Horizon car rumbled into Thamel, over less-than-smooth tarmac, I noted that the central entertainment and shopping area was now closed to cars other than taxis or those with right of way. A wise move. The streetworks that had been taking place when I left in January 2017 had been completed and smoother tarmac took hold on two or three streets. The rest was a tad muddy. New Road (another shopping district) and a road approaching Thamel looked almost new or refurbished since my last visit. My initial thoughts were surprise and pleasure in seeing Kathmandu’s partial regeneration.

At Hotel Horizon, Deveraj, the manager, that I had met on my last trip and since kept in touch informed me of a possible jeep to Shivalaya village or even as far up the trek as Phaplu. I didn’t fancy going so far up the route. Villages such as Sete and Kinja, not to mention the challenge of Lamjura La (a pass at over 3500m high) were great memories. So, I agreed to a jeep to Shivalaya, missing Jiri out completely. The bus journey last time was uncomfortable and numerous accounts show that some dangerous rides have been had. Part of me didn’t want that. How bad could a jeep journey be?


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24th January 2019

Departing at 7am, following a day of last-minute provision buying, our car departed. The backseats of the jeep, covered in a carpet, had no seatbelts. The driver was jolly but not a huge conversationalist, however, the journey was pleasant enough. By pleasant, I mean, he steered away from sheer drops and perpendicular plunges. He gave us a break here and there, about 30 minutes in total throughout nine hours of driving. The intense and terrifying journey comes with 100-metre or so vertical gravity-testing points here and declines that I for one decline to experience. Burned out wreckages of buses, cars and flat-packed former vans can be seen like rare leaf-litter. Not rare enough to ignore. Frequent enough to add as landmarks. Without a crowd of people, animals and baggage, the jeep was mildly more comofortable than the bus journey.

At least we weren’t taking our morning exercise running along the dusty Kathmandu smog-filled roads, like many groups of school students and the ever-numerous morning traffic. Over time the Kathmandu valley fell-away and we went up and down the Lower Himalayas on the Tibet-bound highway. The double-laned road occasionally filtered into a narrow single-laned road. Often our pathways went above cloud levels and passed signs of roadway expansions with Nepal advancing new bridges between communities previously cut off. Wide gorges, huge valleys, glacial stonebeds, and tree-lined foothills baked in sunshine could be seenm throughout. Clouds broke away to reveal sunshine and the traffic lessened with every kilometre covered. Soon, the odd bike and very odd car was noticed. In the final few hours as we neared Jiri, new concreted roads, patched in places broke away into muddy tracks and back to smooth concrete lanes. At Jiri we stopped, to check the road to Shivalaya was open. It was – despite very heavy rain the day before.

On arriving at Shivalaya (1770m), sunset was fast approaching. Knuckling down at the Kala Patthar lodge, enjoying the second dal bhat of the journey, the excitement set in. I stood outside for a moment by that first blue bridge of my previous Nepal trek. It felt good to be back. Eating in the lounge, with doors wide open, and cool fresh air drifting in, Maria and I met Srirang and his porter-guide-friend Ishwor. At that time, we didn’t know that we’d share parts of the journey, but here we were, an Indian, a Nepali Sherpa, a Chinese and a Mancunian. Talking with the lodge proprietor Padam Jirel, we were introduced to his son and daughter, their local schoollife and the family home. A warm night’s sleep followed a few chapters of Jonny Marr’s Set the Boy Free.


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25th January 2019

In the morning breakfast consisted of chapati, eggs and porridge. Waking up to a misty valley around the quaint village of Shivalaya (27°36’25.7″N 86°17’53.4″E) added extra emotion to the air. The feelings in my mind weren’t far off those that swpt over me in January 2017. Registering for the Gaurishankar Conservation Area & National Park and handing over NPRs, the trek began in Dolakha District, Province Number 3. Longleaf Indian pine trees, rhododendrons, alien-looking Woolly-leaved oak trees and other temperate forest species lined the mountain climbs. Within only a few hundred metres of walking and an elevation gain of not much, a few breathers were needed. The respites were quite often. My knees ached. My feet strained. The pauses and rests weighed on my mind. Had two years aged me so much that I could no loger climb or walk in the Himalayas? I tried to focus on seeing Himalayan Thars, red pandas and part of me would have welcomed a Himalayn black bear. It could have made a comfortable seat with a cuddle.

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After a wee while, a brew was needed. At this point, we’d hooked up with Srirang and Ishwor, and as we went to stop, a striding brunette with large eyes strode up, sporting two natural trekking poles of bamboo. Introductions were had, and now Linda (U.S.A.) joined us for a brief while. Soon after meeting Linda, just before Deurali Bazar (2800m), we met Livia (carrying a house or two worth of weight on her back) and at this snow-threatened top we ate lunch. The snow-dusted rooftops of a dozen closed buildings faced a lovely modern and bright façade on the chosen lodge for lunch. The cat and dog in a state of stalemate over territory and positioning were both equally cute. Srirang gave both some noodles. The lunch hour was a more than welcome hiatus. That reduced the amount of meowing and sniffing for food greatly. On full bellies, we headed downwards towards the village of Bhandar (2100m) under the cover of thick heavy grey clouds.

#1: SHIVALAYA 0830 – BHANDAR 1730: ~12km.

In the evening, at my second stay in Shobha Lodge, the great owner and her family cooked us a delicious dal bhat (#3 of the journey) and Maria roasted some small potatoes on a fire outside. A jolly evening was had and lots of conversation with Linda, Livia and Srirang revealed their reasons for hiking this trail. I stood looking at the buildings around this lodge. Two years ago, most were serious ruins. Now many appeared rejuvenated. Against one such building a red rose stood in shadows against a dark wintry sky.


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26th January 2019

The next morning gave bright light and some showered upon footing, but the weather wasn’t bad all day. We set out as a band of six, downwards with the destination aim being Sete. After crossing a delightful vale with a wooden bridge, here the old pathway faded and became swept over or completely consumed by a new carved out road, unpaved and muddy as hell. Every now and then you’d resume the old pathways, but quite often the new road zigzagged the old meandering ways. Soon after passing a small waterfall, I slipped on loose earth where the old met the new path. The devris flung over rocks and coating the unclar pathway made me twist my left knee, striking it on a rock and bending my leg in a way that my right hamstring brought my other leg under my back and bag. I tentatively stood up. I suspected in that moment that the rambling was over. After the shock, I carried on, carefully and slowly. Warning taken. As the path neared Kinja, it broke into a fork. The right fork headed to the muddy and dusty new road. The left fork appeared a tad overgrown. Linda, Maria and I carried on left. After 400 metres, the path disappeared. A chasm with the new road was presented before us. In the end we doubled back and scrambled down the right fork onto the road but the latter section was pretty messy and difficult to get over.

 

The walk into Kinja, was terrible compared with the route two years ago. The road has dismembered too many houses, farms and forested areas. A new hydro-electric plant in a mine has added to the dichotomised region. Many of the crumbling earthquake buildings have vanished. The two new bridges are seldom used. The old wooden bridge is sealed off. The new road dam-cum-bridge allows easy footing into Kinja but feels like a building site. Work in progress may mean new logistical advantages and easier access but it will probably deter hikers. It was now 1300hrs, so at Kinja we stopped for lunch over an hour’s break. The Riverside guest house and restaurant had a sky blue and white sign. What’s not to like about Manchester City colours? Oh, and it had a western toilet, of sorts. It was a ceramic squat hole.

With lunch in our bellies, the climb up from Kinja (1630m) was long and hard but easier than the previous day. The aches of yesterday faded and early conditioning of muscles was felt. Rays of sunshine, refurbished ruins and new settlements lined the upward pathway. The rise steadied and fields of green, shaped like steps leapt out from the hillsides. If enough coins could be found, it’d resemble a penny-arcade machine of the greatest scale. As light faded, we arrived in Sete. Dal Bhat (#4) was served. The Sunrise Lodge was once again my place to stay, in the Sete (2900m).

BHANDAR 0930 – SETE 1800: ~15km.

In the village of Sete, I left my Johnny Marr autobiography copy. I Set the Boy Free. So, if you haead to the Sunrise lodge, expect to find the illuminous green cover. And like me, you’ll find it hard to put it down. The former Talking Heads, Black Grape, Kirsty MacColl, Brian Ferry and Billy Bragg collaborator worked with Pet Shop Boys, Beck, Modest Mouse, andmovir composer Hans Zimmer. Not bad for a Mancunian born and raised in the supposed rougher parts of our fair city. Actually, the boy did good, working with Hulme-born Billy Duffy, having a great connection to Portland throughout his expansive and colourful music life – and being not far from where we both witnessed City’s 3-2 win over QPR on that day. Playland is one of my favourite albums ever. The marathon man was also in a lesser-known band called The Smiths. Anyway, just beyond the multi-layered poster on the wall, featuring Barmouth Bridge, that’s where Johnny’s book is.

 

To be continued…

 


 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

My first A to Z of Nepal Trekking

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae,

Before I write something about the adventure, here’s a useless guide of sorts.


 

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A is for adventure. The Himalayas has long been the stalking-ground of explorers, wildlife and nature enthusiasts. There is something there for everyone, be they seeking ecstasies, peace or tranquillity. Beware of altitude sickness and similar things. See B for be careful.

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B for be careful. Altitude kills. Many people are born in low climes. Their bodies, our bodies and even some people born higher up need to be careful. Don’t assume that the oxygen levels of onme highland or mountainous region are the same as another. Trek high, sleep low. Drink loads of water. Descend for any health changes. You can always ascend later. AMS (acute mountain sickness) is your body’s way of saying, “hey you, I need oxygen.” Headaches, vomiting, tiredness, sleeping problsm and dizziness are the initial alarmbells. BEWARE of high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). These will end your holiday trek – and maybe your life. Gradual descent and added fluids really help. It affects around 40% of people that hit 3000 metres of altitude. Just go slower. Signs can also include swollen faces, hands, pins and needles, a rapid pulse, a dry cough, and fevers. Your brain needs oxygen – and your muscles use much oxygen. Between 3500m and 5500m it is classes as very high altitude. Oxygen drops below 90% saturation in air. After this altitude, you’re in the extreme altitude zone – and guess what, there are minor fluctuations, atmospheric pressures, jetstreams, etc that can affect your pre-acclimatization and actual altitude acclimatization. Acending 300m a day is a good rule, and slepping lower than you walk, a golden rule. Acetazolamide (AKA Diamox) are available but be careful with this too.

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C is for climbing. Trekking from Jiri to Everest Base Camp and Kalapathar involves, “little bit up, little bit down. Nepal flat” as one local guy said on his t-shirt slogan. It doesn’t mention rock scrambling, craghopping or climbing. Be prepared for the odd hazardous leap up or down the surface of a landslide affected pathway or embankment.

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D is for danger. It is everywhere but easily avoided by not being a fool. Also, delightful is a word to describe every day.

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E is for Everest. Many are fixated on it. The size is spectacular but Lhotse, Kala Patthar, Changtse, Nuptse, Cho La, Gokyo Ri, Pumori, Imjha Lake, Pheriche, and the 5083m viewing point of Nangkartshang (27.90400°N / 86.83370°E) are well worthy of views. Makalu, Taboche (6495m) and Cholase (6501m), Cho Oyu (8188m) and Ama Dablam (6812m) are visible from the latter. The glacial lake at Dughla (4620m) is spectacular. The village of the same name sits a little higher up the valley.

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F is for flying. Many people fly to Lukla Airport via a domestic airline. Yeti, Sita, and Tara airline. Look out flying vultures and various other birds. You’ll feel like you are flying when you walk above the clouds.

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G is for go. Go around October and November or March and April for the best likely weather. It is the busiest time too. December to February are classed as extreme winter. June to September sees monsoons. I’ve only ever been in January 2017/2019 and February 2019. Whilst cold, I have enjoyed great times.

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H is for happy. You will be.

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I is for ice. See S for Shit/ice/mud/dust.

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J is for juice. Try as mauch fruit and juice in the lower valleys. You’ll love it.

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K, you know. Know as much as you can before, and learn as much as you can whilst there.

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L Litter is a problem. Take it with you. Leave only footprints. Tell anyone you see dropping white rabbit sweet wrappers, or cigarette boxes etc to do so too.

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M Mule trains/caravans: Wait at bridges. Wait on steep bends. Wait often between Nunthala and Namche Bazaar. Cover your mouth. Stand on higher ground, where possible. Stay safe. Take photos. Respect these beasts that are over-worked, under-rested and live a shorter-than-expected lifespand. They work damned hard and have fast taken the vacancies from emigrating porters throughout the region.

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N Namaste: The friendly greeting should be spoken to everyone and anyone encountered. It is friendly and polite, a well-wishing of kind and also a brilliant ice-breaker for opening unexpected conversations. You can walk the walk, and I guarantee after using this simple word, you’ll be talking the talk with many interesting locals. Try also, Tashi Delik to Sherpa people.

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O is for “Oh my…” – used in phrases like, “Oh my gosh!” and so on. The Himalayas provide awesomeness that is too big for wording, yet we do our best to under-exaggerate the true overwhelmingly breath-taking tremendousness of the vastly remarkable and astounding landscape.

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P People: The mountains are home to various ethnic groups. Across Nepal there are around 125 different ethnicities. Don’t assume that everyone is Sherpa. There are increasingly numbers of people crossing former racial boundaries. Be polite, inquisitive and learn as you go about the different groups of people.

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Q is for quarry. You may be prey for a tiger or leopard but their frequency is low so don’t worry. You’re more likely to fall into a quarry (pit) created by the new road network from Jiri to just past Nunthala (at the time of writing).

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R is for rucksack. Some people say backpack, but they probably also call a pavement sidewalk. Rucksacks are essentially a daily nuisance and a massive help. The bother of carrying things that you probably don’t need does not outweigh the joy of finding something useful for just one essential moment. You can never have enough gloves. Red tape can be found in buying a Sagarmatha National Park permit is required – 1000RS (about $11.50, US dollars). A local permit for Lukla upwards. Dingboche even has a local set price of 500NPRS per day if you stay there.

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S Shit/ice/mud/dust: the surfaces that you walk on are rocky and hazardous at best. To make matters more fun in winter, ice and snow are added. The constant flow of mule and yak-hybrid trains (or caravans, as they are more commonly known) gives extra traction-resistance to your shoes. Your boots or footwear will be tested in ways that gravity wants to work on you. Big falls, patches of black ice and jolly stinking puddles of mule piss await. A dustmask for the drier trails is advised, otherwise your nostrils will have black sticky dry mucus galore.

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T is for trekking poles: Be careful. They damage pathways – but they also steady footing. The new Nordic pole fashion of walking works extra muscles, bums and tums, etc. Third pole refers to the glacial arrangement and icy landscape of the Himalayas. Some predict an expiration date by the year 2100 (C.E.). Enjoy it whilst you can!

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U is for “unfortunately”. “Unfortunately, the weather is no longer clear. You can’t see Everest.” Expect clouds in the mountains during summer and winter. I met Rhys from Wales who planned to make a panoramic photo of Kalapathar with just clouds around the 360-degree view. This would be a stark contrast of the usual clear 360-degree pan of peaks and gorges beneath.

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V is for voles. There are plenty on the trail and some pop their heads out just long enough to be seen by trekkers.

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W is weather. Respect it. Each mountain can create its own microclimate and the whole region can change from sunny and clear in one minute to blizzards and monsoons in the next.

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X is for xylophone: I didn’t see one. There are many interesting musical instruments in Nepal. Try to hear a few in action and the local songs too. Folk music in the heart of the Himalayas adds extra feeling to the beautiful tones of music. X-rays are avoidable – but falls do happen so take great care not to visit a hospital, or health post on the walk.

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Y Yaks: Yak trains/caravans are plentiful between Namche Bazaar and up to Dingboche. They struggle below 3000metres of altitude. The very odd one can be found lower down the valleys but they’re rare. Y is also for yeti. I didn’t see a single yeti but Pangboche Monastery has a skull, hand and a multitude of stories about said mythical creature. In my opinion, an unvalued one at best, it makes sense that an ape-like animal of Orangutan, gorilla or chimpanzee origin or likeness once filled the higher terrain of the Himalayas. Either way, it is a mystery yet to be disproven.

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Z is for ZZZZzzzzzz: It always is. In winter, sleeping early is great and waking up may well be cold, but it is most rewarding. A good rest is advisable especially when your muscles feel fatigued. Remember, that your muscles need oygen and carbohydrates. Don’t skimp on providing them either. As you get higher in altitude, manage your muscles and sleep well.

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再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr

If I could only find the words, then I would write it all down…

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

‘If I could only find the words, then I would write it all down…’ (Read ’em and Weep lyrics by Jim Steinman/sang by Meat Loaf)

Where are the great writers? They are everywhere. Songwriters, scriptwriters, playwrights, newspaper correspondents, comedians, bloggers, and authors. Great writers are everywhere. I am nowhere near them. I just enjoy writing and have ambitions. The popular writers spill off shelves in major bookstores, on eBook devices, and fill newspaper reviews about their works. The modern classics and classics get published in varied and often colourful editions. Some copies get graphic novel versions or huge distorted modifications to lure in new and old readers alike. Books are wonderful and shouldn’t need a World Reading Day to attract a soul. Impressive braille, audiobooks and many other delightful formats, such as large print, keep penned words open to the widest possible audiences. And, then there are translations! Some of the Harry Potter novel serials have reached 80 or so languages, including Scots, Hindi, and Chinese.

‘muckle, beefy-boukit man wi a stumpie wee craigie’ (Mr Dursley in Scots, from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

The novelists aren’t a bad place to start. I find Sir Arthur Conan Doye and H.G. Wells have caught my eye more and most from the considered classical writers. The Valley of Fear and The Sign of the Four are two of the former writer’s most gripping examples.

superfudgeLooking across the metaphysical divide at female writers, there are some wonderful writers in Mary Shelley (Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus; Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842 and 1843), Elzabeth Gaskell (Cranford), Val McDermid (Trick of the Dark), the Poet Laureate for Great Britain Dame Carol Ann Duffy, Enid Blyton (The Island of Adventure), Edith Nesbit (Think Five Children and It, and not Stephen King’s It), Agatha Christie (By the Pricking of My Thumbs), Betrix Potter (The Tale of Peter Rabbit and 22 other similar tales), and Judy Blume (Fudge-a-mania and books that hist topics such as masturbation, racism, bullying, menstruation, divorce and other such family topics). But, most importantly, when I pick up a book, it isn’t based on the author’s gender.


now that daysIn my childhood, my varied reading included Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book; Jack London’s White Fang, The Sea Wolf; Colin Dann’s The Animals of Farthing Wood; Felix Salten’s Bambi; Aileen Fisher’s Now That Days Are Colder; Herman Melville’s Moby Dick; and a set of World Encyclopedias given to me by Mr Andrew Jones, in my final days in class 5AJ.

‘Now that days are colder, now that leaves are down, where are all the chipmunks at the edge of town?’ (Aileen Fisher’s Now That Days Are Colder)

roald dahlAs I grew from size 9 shoes to size 12 shoes, I picked up such reads as Eoin Colfer’s Benny and Omar, and soon discovered Michael Crichton. J.R.R. Tolkien was read with vigour. The college years involved Roald Dahl’s complete works getting a read. Douglas Adams and George Orwell added to the vibrant multihued reading material. I even had a crack at the works of Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickins. Amongst the known names, I recall reading two pieces that really caught my attention. The first was about CJD and prionic diseases. The title was rather welcoming, Deadly Feasts: The “Prion” Controversy and the Public’s Health by Richard Rhodes. There is a real detective feel to this book. It zips from cannibals in New Guinea, cattle globally, young people in America, Britain and France – and beyond. It really makes you think and carries a powerful warning about beef, and eating meat. That being said, I carried on eating meat after a year’s experiment as a vegetarian.

‘Don’t gobblefunk around with words.’ (Roald Dahl’s The B.F.G.)

wewishThe second covered a dark period of recent history and journalist Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda (the link directs to chapter one). The theme chronicles the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, in which an estimated 1,000,000 Tutsis and Hutus were killed. What shocked me, was how neighbours turned on themselves and the psychological effects followd. It skirts on the political challenges of survival. It is gripping and full of pain. I even had a crack at the complete works of one William Shakespeare. The dramas make for tough reading but nevertheless their importance and influence is beyond comparison.

‘At least fifty mostly decomposed cadavers covered the floor, wadded in clothing, their belongings strewn about and smashed. Macheted skulls had rolled here and there.’ (Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda)

aberAt university I switched into daydreaming mode and the movie popularity of The Lord of the Rings led to a re-read of everything J.R.R. Tolkien. Between daydreaming, textbooks and general procrastination of university work, I found little time for reading. There was always something shiny or distracting. However, I did read through the entire available works of Michael Crichton and the brilliant noir writer Malcolm Pryce – his Aberystwyth Mon Amour series being topical to my location.

‘That’s the trouble with people like you, Knight, you only know how to mock. How to break things. You don’t know how to create anything. You never did.’ (Malcolm Pryce, Aberystwyth Mon Amour)

JurassicparkJurassic Park had been on and off my bookshelf since my mother bought me an omnibus edition, with the novel Congo included. The distinctive movie red, yellow and black logo made for great artwork but within the text was something more appealing. Scientific facts mixed with imagination and fiction. Like every book I have read by the late Michael Crichton, there are technical descriptions crossing the genres of action (Prey), science fiction (Micro), thrillers (Disclosure), and medical fiction (Five Patients). One of my favourite pieces has been Eaters of the Dead [a tale of Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s own interpretation of his genuine voyage north and his understandings with and reflections of Vikings], however the posthumous release of the 1974 penned piece Dragon Teeth [fossil hunters in the historical fiction form] comes close. But then, Pirate Latitudes, as action goes is damn exhilarating. Whilst the movies and series versions of some of his works never live up to the style of his writing, I hope that those who watch them gain enough curiosity to pick up the books. 200 million book sales is too few for such a great writer.

‘All major changes are like death. You can’t see to the other side until you are there.’ (Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park)

ducksFollowing university, I dipped in and out of books like rain lashing the rooftops of Manchester. Ian Fleming’s great travel novellas sporting a certain James Bond gripped me for a while. Every shadow writer of that spy-battering ram has been read since. From BBC’s The Fast Show, comedy writer Charlie Higson has delivered great slices of young Bond novels for teenagers and a series called The Enemy. Well worth of a read. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert should be reviewed by the #MeToo movement. Forget 50 Shades of Gray! George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four actual reads as a documentary and doesn’t seem like fiction in one way! The entire works of Christoher Brookmyre was far more than an Attack Of The Unsinkable Rubber Ducks – more like All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Eye. Every book of his will grip you tight – don’t be fooled by his colourful covers.

“People are islands,’ she said. ‘They don’t really touch. However close they are, they’re really quite separate. Even if they’ve been married for fifty years.” (Ian Fleming, Casino Royale)

psychoIn China, I have been limited to the works of Andy McNab (notably the Nick Stone and Tom Buckingham series) alongside other odds and ends found on bar book exchange shelves or tucked away collecting dust in book shops. I have found time to re-read Peter Pan, by playwright J.M. Barrie. Johnny Marr’s autobiography Set the Boy Free, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (which wasn’t to my enjoyment, and the riveting Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. The complete works of Jon Ronson (I thoroughly recommend The Psychopath Test) have been perused. The Welsh neo-journalist loves a good debunk or conspiracy to grip and twist until all the juices ooze out into the pages. Hunter S. Thompson (Hell’s Angels) would be proud of his works! I wonder if Jon Ronson has booked a firework-clad funeral for his future passing.


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