Stage X: Shangri-la Too

Nihao! 你好!Hello!

I awoke on Wednesday just after 05:30. I’d had about 5 hours sleep. The rooster may have fell under the category of an unwanted alarm clock. Bizarrely, I couldn’t nod off again. Yesterday evening had been quite subdued. I’d hung out with Echo and QiéZi (茄子) in their funky friend Cici’s juice and snack bar. Over blueberry and banana toasties it was decided that QiéZi and I would visit the legendary Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡/Hǔtiào Xiá) on the Jinsha River (Jīnshājiāng/金沙江) in Lijiang Naxi autonomous county (Lìjiāng Nàxīzú Zìzhìxiàn/丽江纳西族自治县). The chance to see more of Yunnan (云南) wasn’t something to pass up. Besides which QiéZi is a wise traveling companion.

Checking my phone at 05:45, I see we’ve grown to a group of 6 people and we’re headed to a trek somewhere near Shangri-La county (香格里拉县/Xiānggélǐlāxiàn). I have until the 3rd of August to play with, so as the Reverend Gallaghers said:

“You gotta roll with it
You gotta take your time;
You gotta say what you say;
Don’t let anybody get in your way.” – Roll With It, Oasis

So, I gave in to not being able to sleep more, grabbed a coffee at the cosy Song Sisters Bookshop and Cafe before departing the fantastic hospitality of The Jade Emu. Song and Dave are most welcoming owners and have knitted a fantastic community for those wishing to pass through, or stay a little longer.

Nomadic QiéZi arrived with the driver and we set off, with her friend Cici to collect two more friends. The journey began with a chattering driver, who gave so much information along the way, and recommendations. We stopped for hot corn and potatoes – although I declined the corn. The driver also provided yogurt and a selection of fruit. QiéZi gave me a coffee early on too, so a welcome toilet break arrived at an ideal time. No sooner had we left than we arrived, give or take four to give hours of driving.

Our group of six entered a restaurant and ate delicious breads, with a sweet cottage cheese and a meaty potato dish. A jolly day with a few games of wéiqí (围棋, sometimes called Go). The game involves black and white stones and is a territorial game of strategy. There are variations on the original but for this occasion, it was first to five in a row. Simple. Fun. Entertainment.

The evening involved sitting on our arses talking and planning tomorrow. The heavy rain brought about my several freakish weather fronts will challenge the next two days and any potential wanderings. The group have their eyes on Abuji Lake (阿布吉错). This may prove overambitious, but not every journey has to complete. Some off the beaten tracks lack tracks at times. The hard to find details for the trail aren’t exactly clear or enlightening. If the walking starts at Jiulong Yangchang (九龙羊场) then all is good.

Right now the courtyard of Desti Youth Hostel, complete with two big cute dogs isn’t a bad place to chill and await the next day. With a giant screen showing an Indian movie and a variety of games in a covered area, it’s a great place to be.

Zai Jian! 再见!Goodbye!

Stage V: Wall’s End (Jiayuguan)

Nihao! 你好! Hello!

The pass at Jiāyùguān (嘉峪关) is the Ming Dynasty‘s western end of the Great Wall of China. From 1368-1644, the Ming Dynasty rid China of Mongols and had 16 Emperors. During which time, 168 years of facial lifts have led the Great Wall to it’s current state of appearance. That and some careful restoration work in the 1980s too. The pass lies on the Hexi Corridor (河西走廊 Héxī Zǒuláng) at the narrowest point, which is a plain between the Tibetan & Mongolian Plateaus.

For the afternoon, I visited the Overhanging Wall (悬壁长城), the First Pier of the Great Wall (长城第一墩; changcheng diyi dun) and Jiayuguan’s original fort area. The taxi driver I had selected had agreed 180RMB for the routes and waiting times. The 120RMB tong piao (ticket) allowed access to all three sites. Although at the pier site an electric car is on offer for 20RMB for those wishing to avoid the baking sunshine. The dry hot sunshine is only comfortable for so long!

The Ming Dynasty’s Great Wall’s western end was a slog down a valley to a closed bridge to look up as the river sloshed by heavily. The River Lai fed by the Qilian mountains gave life to many regions but here few plants braved the unforgiving desert earth. After a while I headed to the museum in the 56 metre high cliff face and the final beacon of the Great Wall. The signposts were published in English, Chinese and Japanese. The English mostly resembled gibberish. Although I ascertained that this part of the Great Wall was built around 1539CE across 18 years. With that I went to the Overhanging Wall, next to a huge desert with military operations under way. Best to avoid that. I looked down from the picturesque wall at a ski slope and wondered how such a hot place could ever get snow!

The final stop was the fortified city of Jiayuguan. The Silk Road’s trading and tax station of old. Rammed earth, yellow and sand-like dried mud mixed with rice pastes, stones and straw have been shaped to scar the landscape around this region. The wall, of course, was a defensive garrison and outpost of a nation growing in strength and stature. It could even be said that some sections would blend into the surrounding desert. For unlucky invaders, trenches would lay hidden on approach to the wall, often filled with hazardous death-and-pain-inducing problems. Gansu’s northwestern city of Jiayuguan is named after the pass. The loess and windswept substrate reflected the sunlight up and at you.

After exiting the ancient walls of Jiayuguan, I found the Great Wall Museum was long closed. It shuts at the odd time of 16:30. It being 19:30, I tottered back to my hotel and ate some local barbecue foods on the way. My aching feet appreciated the early night’s sleep.

Following a good sleep at the Railway Station Ibis Hotel and an okay breakfast, I was lucky enough to hire the same taxi driver for 150RMB. I had initially enquired about the July 1st Glacier and mountain park (七一冰川) but was advised the whole area is closed for safety and conservation reasons. So, a new plan was made. First we stopped at the underground tombs of 魏晋墓葬 (Weijin Muzang). Here you could only visit one of nine unearthed tombs. It being far below the surface. The museum is a little underwhelming as most of the tombs had long been plundered. The few artefacts and coffins on display are nevertheless impressive. On, by cart, to the tomb site, and you alight in a wide open space.

I’m in a wide open space. There’s a wooden shelter. Beside that a concrete block the size of a small garden shed. A mound of earth covered in pebbles and grit protrudes. A small metallic vent sits atop. It looks out of place. The aggressive sunshine beats down. I feel out of place. An electric police cart parks in the shed’s shade. It is out of place. The shed’s metal door opens on aching hinges. A policeman gestures for me to enter. He’s the site security man and ticket officer. He clips my ticket and points to a staircase. I slip down underground. A welcome respite from the heated day overground.

The 36C heat of outside fades in just a few steps. Subterranean coolness wraps around me. After a few dozen steps, I’m at a largely concrete anteroom. Here I see a wall and facade of great detail. A small arch allows access to the tombs beyond. I crouch and enter admiring the majestic brickwork entrance.

Inside the tomb’s tight entrance, the dazzling array of colours leap from the four wall. The brick dome overhead looms over my tall frame. I strangely feel no claustrophobia but do feel calm. The air is still and silent. It’s eerily unmoving. The details of the drawings and the colours envelop my eyes. It’s morbid fascination has grasped me. I visit the three tombs in a line ducking through short archways to enter each ancient gallery. No photography is allowed. The light flickers ever so slightly. I reach for my phone to use the torch function. It radiates a deep pocket within the tomb. The drawings stretch into a smaller tube lined with bricks and stones. It’s a magical piece of history. The region has ruins everywhere to see.

Next the taxi driver kindly visited Yěmáwān Cūn (野麻湾村). This village with a sand and rammed earth fortress nestles between corn and other farmland. Watermelons were being grown across the road. I shuffled around the wire protection fence admiring the sparrows and swifts that had made nests in the crumbling ruins. The front of the fortress faces the main road and the rear is less dramatic but well worth a wander. The flooded farm fields next to this barren piece of earth are suitably contrasting. The modern art of survival alongside the old dried and decayed survival walls. All in sight of the snow capped Qilian Mountains many kilometres away!

The Qilian Mountains (祁连山; Qílián Shān) peaks at Kangze’gyai around 5808m (19055′), not the name of the whole mountain range. Interestingly, the uncle of the notorious flying ace Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen (The Red Baron) had once named the almost 800km long mountain range. Uncle Baron Ferdinand went with the local name of Richthofen Range. He also created the name Seidenstraße which these days we know as the ‘Silk Road’.

My silk road following was almost over. The D2758 train at 11:09 from Jiayuguan South will whistled through Zhangye West  on Sunday passing through a place called Mingle before arriving at Qinghai’s provincial capital city Xining for 14:36. The seat I should have been on in carriage 11, had a sleeping individual across three seats on a packed carriage. His snoring was causing perturbation to other passengers. I should him. Nothing. Again. Nothing. I said excuse me in Chinese. Nowt. So, I moved to an empty seat and hoped for the best.

The Qilian Mountains straddled my right hand view. Their snow caps contrasted greatly with the foreground view if rolling desert hills and the northern reclaimed agriculture on a plain once covered in arid nothingness. That’s all for now. Time to enjoy this train journey.

再见Zai Jian/Goodbye

Stage III: Walls & Fences

Dear curious folk and readers,

I am writing from near the seat of the West Xia Kingdom (1038-1227). The city of Yinchuan is about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) away from the tombs and mausoleum. The bone dry eastern face of the Helan mountain range towers over the mausoleum site. The site spans around 50 square kilometers (19.3 square miles) and approximately 9 imperial tombs, with a huge 253 lesser tombs. They’re still making discoveries to this day.

The tombs are incredible to witness. The museum at the entrance has six very modern galleries full of relics discovered across the site. The lighting, style and interactive nature of the artefacts is we’ll organised. There are plenty of opportunities to visit the a 3D cinema, gifts shops and grab plenty of water for the outdoor experience that follows. From the museum you can walk to a bus transfer. Here we opted to walk to the mausoleums and experience the desert ambiance.

The mausoleum site is spread out, striking and feature-rich. Steles, towers, sacrifice palaces, earth walls, and natural damage by winter floodwater alongside cracks in the earth covered the whole region. Using three-wheeled scooters after plenty of walking, we managed to see huge distances of the area. Sunblock was applied almost hourly, as grasshoppers flew by with clicking sounds and cute Gerbil-like rodents scampered around. With two litres of water, the day was comfortable, but more is advisable in 38 degrees heat! The sun is not your friend.

The day was a great investment in exploring the state’s deep history and culture. A taxi from Yinchuan cost 60RMB and a return Didi taxi car cost 85RMB with entrance fee being about a 100RMB. Just over two hours on the scooters cost 130RMB (but we certainly went off the beaten track).

The following day, Mr Oliver and I set out for the Great Wall. I’d suggested the Ming Great Wall stretch by a place called Sanguankou (三关口明长城). The three passes are about 2.5km apart. We didn’t go there. Mr Oliver found a section using Baidu maps and an overhead satellite photo near to the G307 highway (Ningxia to Inner Mongolia). So, after a Didi taxi car journey we hopped out in searing heat in the mountainous Alxa desert. Having left Yinchuan’s continental arid climate we were now at the mercy of the sun.

We scrambled up a mound of earth to see a watchtower, wandered down the road and looked at the adjacent wall sections. Here we respected every fence and sign. Then we went under the highway and followed a section of wall through fields and over hills. Horses, hares and hawks were frequent witnesses to our hiking. The enigmatic landscape surrounding the wall had so much to offer the eyes.

Fences came and went, so we walked close and far at times. We started trekking at about 10:30am and ended around 19:00hrs. Some sections had the backdrop of a Jeep safari driving range, whilst others had civilian roads with a handful of tourists driving by and saying hello. At some stage though we had to get back to Yinchuan. The map shown a road to the nearby Wuwa Highway and G110 highway. We avoided the military warning signs on a path seemingly headed into the mountains, passing some civilian contractors and wandered (now without any water left) along a bleak ever-expanding straight line slab of concrete. The road was intensely energy-consuming.

Towards the last 3km, just past the tanks, a car with two men gave us a lift to the highway. That journey was curtailed and after three hours of explaining our day’s walking route, photograph inspection and travel document verification we were driven to the village of Minning. The People’s Liberation Army were extremely hospitable. They seemed to understand that we’d strayed into their tank range unintentionally. They appreciated our desire to see the Ming Dynasty Great Wall.

The gate guardsmen gave us hot noodles, a cake and some fruit. And frequent, much needed water. The chief who came with at least three officers and the Public Security Bureau policemen kept apologising for taking our time. It was all rather surreal. We were able to cancel our onward train journey, and hotel for the next night. We also apologised politely and shown our sorrow at wandering into a restricted military zone.

The Public Security Bureau policemen waited with us whilst we tried to get a taxi or Didi car. As it was midnight, nothing was coming, so we spoke with a nearby hotel receptionist. He ordered a car for us. We got in, whilst being watched by the three policemen. They approached then checked the driver knew where we were going. Finally, they checked his credentials and found he was an illegal taxi driver. So, we stepped from the car, “for your safety” and the Police dealt with him. Annoyed by that inconvenience, we started to hike and try to get back. The Police gave up and headed back. Eventually we flagged down a van.

Nestled between chicken feet in buckets, flies on the roof and 400RMB lighter for it, we made it back to the hotel we’d checked out of that day. We retrieved our left luggage and checked-in. All is well that ends well. Our next journey is the 1842 train to Gansu’s Lanzhou city to meet a connection to Zhangye. What waits for us there?

Until next time, goodbye…

Stage II: Shanxi’s Great Wall

晚上好 Good evening (or whatever time it is),

The Great Wall (长城) is massive. It’s length exceeds the distance around the U.K.’s total coastline (I believe). Fact check that at your heart’s content. Heading from Xi’an involved a night train on a soft sleeper bed. The room had old yellowing lights, grim grey walls and no power sockets. It was cost-effective to travel and bunk, than to bunk at a hotel then travel. The selected option had no shower and barely a place to brush your teeth in comfort. The on board restaurant car involved a selection of noodles, room temperature water or baijiu (rice wine).

Having finished Lee Child and Andrew Child’s The Sentinel, sleep was an easy choice. My former colleague Mr Oliver occupied the attention of an enthusiasm kid trying to charge his phone at a busted power point outside our bunker of a room. The lack of ventilation wasn’t so bad because our closest window slid down from time to time. Waking up at 01:30hrs due to a slammer of a man thumping down his suitcase, thrashing his shoes off and generally bumping everything with loudness wasn’t so bad. Until his eruptive snoring. Still, I fell asleep well.

From Taiyuan station we wandered to a bus station, Jiannan Bus Station, bagged tickets and sat down to eat in a Chinese equivalent of a greasy-spoon cafe nearby. The Shanxi pickles were good alongside egg pancakes and eggs. After an uneventful journey with a dab of xenophobia, we arrived at the mining region of Yangquan (coincidentally where I’m writing this now). Immediately a Didi taxi was booked to Niangziguan and the village of ShuiShangRenJia. The water village has multiple bubbling springs feeding babbling brooks and streams. Some pass through and under buildings. Our homestay had such a variety of flowing water over the roof and in the restaurant area.

The above was written yesterday evening and since then there has been an overnight train journey on hard seats. Think little old ladies spitting into metal pans, snoring and general discomfort. On the positive side, some fellow passengers made space for my rucksack and moved from my first seat. Mr Oliver and I drank a few McDonald’s-based beers, pretending to be customers at the American Embassy branch of Taiyuan. It passed some of the three-hour transfer time.

We have wandered through Guguan Pass and Ningzi Pass in recent days. Seeing the old stonework and some newer sections has allowed us to explore a few off the beaten track avenues. Some knee-deep in thorns and prickly bushes, with wasps the size of fighter jets buzzing by our heads. Some horsefly species surely must take their name from that of them being the size of a horse. Scorpions and centipedes have whipped by and so far been avoided. Although mites and spider bites have likely been experienced.

The jagged snaking Great Wall sections at Guguan are far more dramatic than that of Ningzi Pass. The protrusion at the latter have been remade in recent years but sit atop a splendid village and river landscape. At our lodge of choosing, the owners have decorated the walls with photos and artworks of the locality. The waterfall these days is hidden around a river-side theme park and tacky attractions. However, the Great Wall lines an ancient village.

Guguan is an oddity. The wall towers over a fantastic entrance gate. The ground is lined with centuries of horse and cart worn stones. Around the entrance, a highway slides through (under a section of bridge connecting The Great Wall). The scars of industry, mining and the Revolution periods of China’s new era shroud and strangle the Great Wall before releasing it’s higher levels to a combination of wild scrubland and farmlands.

The short stay in Shanxi was a pleasant one with local people gifting us refreshing cucumbers, crunchy crisp pancakes and an abundance of pleasantries. The food was excellent and varied. The people were generally warm and welcoming. The whole visit was delightful, despite the heat! However, I won’t miss the relentless thorn bushes (or the snarling dogs)!

Good night (or whatever time it is)!

Idyllic Wild

新年快乐!Happy New Year!

The road from Feilaisi (飞来寺) is long and winding, with concrete under foot or wheel. Towering on the opposite side of the valley is Kawagarbo (6740m) and Yunnan province’s highest point. The roads bend and wind up and down to a checkpoint. At this point, one must surrender 27.5RMB. This gains you access to the Yubeng village scenic area (雨崩村). Starting an ascent at Xidang Spring (西当温泉), my colleagues Javier and Carmen headed up alongside me. We were to follow a trail marked by green bins. The spring of the village was rather an anti-climax.

Javier surveys the spring.

Those green litter bins and new saplings littered the pathway upwards. The path would zigzag across numerous dirt tracks and one under construction concrete road. For the entire ascent, I stopped only once for hot milk and some water in a tiny rickety-old-shack. The pleasure cost me a staggering 130RMB. The man had seen me coming. Each half litre bottle of water was 10RMB and the milk was 110RMB. The man charged 200RMB for noodles to a group calling by. In the future, always enquire about prices before accepting goods. I did wonder how at least 500 noodle pots stacked up at the wooden lodge’s side hadn’t improved the roughness of the building.

The route up had a positive gain of over 1100 metres. At its highest point, my lower legs enjoyed some much needed respite. At which point, a Snickers chocolate bar, not my favoured choice, tasted marvelous. I’d passed through some great panoramic viewing points before reaching Yubeng Upper Village (雨崩上村). Nazongla Yakou (那宗拉垭口) wasn’t too dramatic, but the views on entering Yubeng certainly brought a beaming smile to my face. A good 6 hours from Xidang to YuBeng was needed. On arriving, I checked into the Yak Butter Inn.

The Yak Butter Inn has a flowery name. It should be renamed to something feline like a cattery. The lodge has numerous large moggies strutting around. Young long-haired fuzz balls can be seen curled up in various baskets and cushions. A lone dog limps around, evidently resigned to being shy of any further pack members. The pleasant warmth of a wood stove heats one corner of the room, as the sun licks through windows at another. A busy kitchen emits fragrances of common Chinese cuisine and piping hot teas. A young cat thwacks my leg with its paws seeking attention.

Yak Butter Inn cattery

I elect to stay at the Yak Butter Inn for one night. A night in a shared dormitory reminds me that I no longer want that kind of experience. Farting, belching, snoring and a roundabout of lights-on, lights-off motions are one thing. Hearing Douyin/TikTok at every hour is another. With my colleague Oliver and his entourage arriving the following evening, I changed lodges. Two nights later, we changed lodges again. No rooms at the second inn, due to New Year bookings. The kind Tibetan owner had served us great Pu’er teas (普洱茶) and good hearty hiking food.

Before Oliver arrived, Carmen, Javier and I wandered upwards to the Sacred Waterfall (神瀑). A gain of 600 metres altitude. It being winter, the waterfall was mostly frozen and receding. The valley walk up from Yubeng Lower Village (雨崩下村) was gentle with a solid pathway built to guide tourists slowly in one direction and back again. CCTV and Chinese good luck shapes marked the route making it impossible to go off the beaten track. Walking poles needed a soft base and were generally of little use. The five hour round trip was pleasant enough with sweeping chains of prayer flags coating the latter stage of the route. Overflowing green rubbish bins and hundreds of scattered Red Bull drinks cans added shame to such a holy route. Chipmunks, adventurous and cute, sought treats amongst furry green moss-coated ancient trees. The cool fresh air a certain reward for stretching your legs out.

Sacred waterfall valley

Prior to walking up the valley, our trio had a few jumps and twists around the flowing streams that sit just above Lower YuBeng. The great boulders and pebbles are home to a logging camp which causes the water channels to splinter like roots from a tree. The transition into the old woodland beyond is chilling and in the shadow of the mountain. Like many places, frozen snow regulates the ambient temperature, giving a dark murky cool feel. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Master Yoda lived here. An icy world in opposition to the sun dried bank over the gentle flow of the stream. Perfect for Jedis in hiding.

A six to seven hour walk from Yubeng Upper Village (雨崩上村) via Xiaonong Base Camp (笑农大本营) gets you to the cold dry icy landscape of the Ice Lake (冰湖) at 3900m, nestled beneath Kawagarbo. The great overhanging peak condensed with snow from seasons of snowfall and heavy wind looms overhead. The wind reminds you of nature’s power, driving in, swirling and biting sharply. Remnants of receding glacier shelves and loose looking snow shelves linger menacingly. They will fall one day. The Ice Lake lived up to its name. Some of the ascent (around 800m gain) that day necessitated crampons. My tough boots bore the brunt of careful footwork and one walking pole, as I climbed the challenging route. No crampons for some. The donkey tracks and frozen soil pathways before it zig-zagged up and down various forestry climates battering my boots into disrepair on the return journey. Rhododendrons, pines, cypress trees and other green species reflected various browns, reds and greys. It was a real rainbow of a route.

Great place to lay down and look up

Mother Nature has been busy here. The valleys around YuBeng are dramatic. They’re microclimates with epic visual proportions. Each has a mysterious feel to which evidently religion has become attached. They’re places of stories and tales, entwined to folklore and legend. As a devout daydreamer, they’re a place to let the mind go and wonder as you wander. Every twisted tree, shadowy rock or distant sound could start a new story. Farming, the traditional Tibetan ways, mixes with a blend of the modern and the local wooden builds make way for tourism-aimed metal and concrete lodges. Glamping has arrived, but the Tibetan pilgrimage routes remain. New stories will yet be told.

Abandoned cabin

Beyond the idyllic setting of managed walking routes, it’s possible to trek along an ancient Buddhist pathways. That pathway leads to a glacier, snuggled beneath Kawagarbo. Remembering that climbing the mountain is banned and ill advised, it’s possible to follow an ancient trail through woodland, across a grass plain into a kind of Alpine tundra. The evident altitude cools much of the area and ice watetfalls, streams and ponds are frequently found higher up. The thickness of mosses, lichens and bearded trees drape on wilder routes. The mountain hinterland maintains a natural ecological state, and away from the beaten track, it’s the best place to witness it. Leave only footprints. Certainly don’t attempt the long walk to Myanmar. But enjoy the diversity of fungi and lichens.

The Northwest of Yunnan has quickly become my favourite place in China. YuBeng is itself a piece of heaven on Earth. Perhaps the nearby city of Shangri La should hand over its adopted name to the village of YuBeng. This growing tourist hotspot will see many pilgrimages, changes and challenges in the coming years. Will it sustain its beauty? Only time and UNESCO status will tell. I was told around twenty households made up YuBeng in the last decade. Now, there’s a Guangdong restaurant, Hong Kong style guesthouses, plenty of Sichuan options and even a family from Shandong (Eastern China). It will be tough to retain the Tibetan charm and character. Like much of the world, this corner of Dêqên is becoming quite samey-samey. The same old KTV can be heard by a shattered water prayer wheel. Up the way, steamed Cantonese food can be ate, with an ancient Stupa baked under a solar powered streetlight. Mani stones hide behind new hotel signage. The old ways are slipping from sight.

I’ve experienced a little altitude sickness, for most of the region is over 3200m. Discomfort in sleeping for the first few days, some muscle exhaustion, breathlessness at times and minor headaches resolved mostly yesterday. Enough so to enjoy a light Shangri La Beers lager or two, with delicious fresh yak meat, at the insistence of our lodge owner.

Hung out to dry

This morning when I walked into dining area of the lodge, I thought the weather-beaten looking Tibetan men had all had an argument. The dozen men, that seem to be ever present within the lodge (under renovation and expansion), were sat one per table at various parts of the room. On getting my door key, I spied that they were all head down and deep into Mandarin Chinese writing and reading textbooks. I left them to study in peace, passed the hanging yak meat, locked my door and joined Oliver, Piotr and Benedict for breakfast at another lodge.

Piotr works for shell. Oliver had met him and others on the way up from Xidang. Sociable Oliver teaches to travel and travels well, making friends as he goes. Knowledgeable as he is, he can be a little loud, as is the Australian way for many. He’s a sound lad with a keen eye to see more, do more and learn more. It’s a pleasure to have him as a colleague at Tungwah Wenzel International School. He met Piotr and you’d think they were best friends. It’s pleasing to see. The two entered the ice cave, skidded on the ice lake and galloped up the glacier together. Some people are more astronaut than astronomer. I’m happy flirting between active and observer. The mountains are familiar and here I feel relaxed. Wandering around watching jays feeding in the undergrowth satisfies me just as much as ascending ridge lines. We did enjoy a little camp fire and tea though.

Somewhere like this

Sat reading Roald Dahl’s Someone Like You, on a moss covered rock, shaded from the bright sun, as it dropped below the mountains overhead will no doubt remain my favourite place to read for many years. The gentle stream underneath that feeds into either of the three great rivers makes me feel dreamy and sleepy. The Jinsha (later Yangtze), Lancang (later Mekong), and Nujiang (soon to be known as Salween) rivers come from the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. People from roughly 22 ethnic groups (Naxi, Lisu, Tibetan, Bai, Yi, Pumi, Nu, Dulong etc) live in and around the starting areas of these great rivers. One drop of rain water into this relatively narrow area of basins could end up in the Andaman sea by Myanmar, or flow by Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, or slip through Tiger Leaping Gorge towards Jiangsu and Shanghai. I look up from my book, watching a clump of ice break up and drift downstream. What a pleasant little journey.

Until next time…

The Mountains Are Calling

Greetings from Dalingshan, Dongguan, P. R. C.

I slept too much. Having showered around 6pm this evening, I lay on the bed drying in a towel. I woke up by 11pm. A glass of grapefruit juice and a bowl of honey nut loops followed. The crisp cold milk gave me a breakfast feel, despite no sunlight finding my balcony. I slowly awoke and reflected over a simple weekend.

For a few hours today, my Australian colleague, Mr Oliver and I walked up Lotus Mountain in Chang’an town. We descended towards Dalingshan. It was a pleasant walk but the questionable air quality and lack of visibility outside of the grey spectrum made it less impressive. Numerous people covered their mouths as two foreigners strode on by. The insulting behaviours have been less of late, but today it happened often enough to feel deliberate and perplexing. On the flip side, enough men cleared their throat whilst staring into my face, enough for me to remember this unusual yet familiar passing greeting. I still wonder if they clear their nose and throat out when they pass others, or even alone. If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to hear it, did it make a sound?

Today’s sweaty walk was riddled with steps. Yesterday’s activities involved an exchange of the B. Twin Rock rider 520ST for a Merida Challenger mountain bike. A need for a larger frame necessitated such a move. Plus the Decathlon bicycle seems cursed. Three punctures, two collisions and a creaky seat later, I feel 8 months of regret about this cycle needs to be resolved. Those who resolve conflict, seek solace.

A class with Tina, and a good salad made with heart yesterday were highlights amongst a day filled with BBC’s McMafia TV series and very little else. The autumn grey skies are here. It feels cooler but also warm at times. My mind is muggy and in need of something more. The mountains are calling.

Time to sleep. Peace and love x

I’m not gonna give up.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

Before the climb, we’d stopped in Danagyu, at a lodge on the right-hand side. It was busy. A family were playing cards. Kids were running around and one managed to hit both Livia and I with first her walking stick and second a snotty finger. I was fully aware of the coronavirus outbreak by now. It was by now February. Hygiene was on my conscience but this terrible toddler was not sharing my concern. Bogies smeared down my leg. I used soap and water to clean it away. Eventually a teenage girl came over and shuffled the toddler away. We’d already ordered pumpkin soup and momos now. Having seen the soon to be altogether contour lines on the map, our engines for walking needed some much needed fuel. One trekker’s bar wasn’t going to be adequate.

After reaching a waterfall tucked in a tight ravine, Livia went right along the road, and I went left up some steep steps. Srirang was just behind Livia, with his sore leg, yet he soldiered on and never gave in. Tough lad. After only a few steps, I started to see speedy little Himalayan squirrels and the view backwards of the peaks nearby to Manaslu was marvellous. Upwards was very much that. Up, up and away. After some crumbly steps, that could have been made of Lancashire cheese of apple crumble topping, I managed to reach the road, and cross straight over back onto the pathway. Here the green trees folded outwards ever so slightly, to show stacks of natural compost on the forest floor. The air had a damp natural earthy smell and occasional felled logs rotted alongside the trail. The track would mostly rise and do little of a fall. Soon enough the mud and dirt track became covered in frozen snow. Not the fluffy soft and easy to trudge through kind, but the solid mostly with a metre drop inwards should I find the bit unable to tolerate my weight, kind. And it seemed I was in for many steps up, and a few deep into the partially frozen snow. Heave. Heave. Heave.

The snow pretty much didn’t want to convey me and with every drop my boots, and the best part of my legs disappeared. Out came the crampons. Out came the determination. Onwards I went. My imagination enjoyed the peculiar eerie silence. I imagined packs of wolves, snow leopards and bears watching me go by. Not your ideal range of animals to picture you pass by, especially if one of them was very hungry, but here I was in the territory of nature, and damned if I was going to imagine Minecraft or a rock concert.

The pine trees shed patches of snow and melt water dripped all around me. Glorious rays of sunshine broke the canopy and occasionally I caught glimpses of mountain tops here and there. Then, a sudden crashing sound in the trees ahead, had me at full alertness. I froze solid as the iced floor around me. Silence resumed. Then a larger and louder thump and crunch. Something was in the trees ahead. I heard a racket and a commotion. Voices yelled from the canopy to my immediate left. The thuds and thumps were accompanied by a disturbance in the snow maybe a few hundred metres away. Then I spotted a monkey, Himalayan langur, springing up and down in the snow, swiftly from tree to tree across a small clearing. They didn’t seem too perturbed by the snow, but didn’t hang around either way. I tried to shoot them. My camera wasn’t quick enough though.

Throughout this journey, I had seen many mammals. These included Himalayan langurs, Assam macaques, Rhesus macaques, Irrawaddy squirrels, orange-bellied Himalayan squirrels, Himalayan striped squirrels, voles, Himalayan field mice, Himalayan pika, shrews, a variety of bats, and some wild boar, I’d never seen many animals in the snow. It was a privilege to enjoy the monkeys and hear them move over the forest. It was a welcome break from the constant in and out walking motions of the snow. I also had chance to reflect about the fall onto my walking stick which had gave the stick a slight bend, or three.

After crossing many streams carefully, over tiny little snow-covered bridges, and occasionally playing find the rock over the odd crossing point, I reached a stretched out chain bridge. Snowfall and heavy damage had ripped one end of the supports from its foundations. The two guard rails fanned out, practically useless. It wasn’t quite and Indiana Jones movie, but it looked far more precarious than comfort. The river flow was about five metres wide, pummeling steeply down to the River Marsyangdi many metres below in altiiude. I decided to chance my luck at a bridge further upstream. After 200 metres, I realised that this was the only bridge. I hadn’t seen one downstream either. Whilst I could hear the river nearby, I couldn’t see it and no alternative route evident. The flayed and flawed bridge was to be my point of movement. A way like no other.

So, off came the crampons, and then I positioned my rucksack tighter to my back. I stowed my walking sticks. I pulled out my thin winter gloves with extra grips (thanks Black Diamond) and I stepped through the first pocket of snow on the bridge. I tested the bridge for movement. First with a little weight and then applying all slowly, readied to dive into the snow to the side of the bridge. Then, I did a kind of half-hop. The bridge was surprisingly sturdy – a real testament to the Gurkha builders who had provided so many bridges across the country. From that, I leant and tested the sideways cable to my left, uphill and in appearance the least damage of the handrails. I turned square onto it. I placed my left hand over my right hand and never left any motion rightwards without one very firm hand on the rail. By the time I’d reached the centre of the bridge, the rail tilted upwards, almost as it should have been and all the snow had melted in the sunlight. I gently walked up to the other side and looked backwards. Stepping off the bridge was a relief. Then I peered left at the small landslips dotted along the river bank.

The fallen ground and occasional uprooted tree didn’t prove too much of a challenge. The trail banked left and into an open field, which led onto a rock-cobbled road. Each rock was jagged and unwelcoming. It had a Lord of The Rings feel to it. Wild, and otherworldly. Onwards, I plugged until reaching the Hotel Royal Garden, where I met Livia aftera few minutes. Here, I also met Shadow. Shadow wasn’t his name but for that day he would be my little shadow and follow us throughout the village of Timang. After a great lunch, Srirang joined us, and we checked in for the night, just 100 metres down the road. Ahead of us the weather looked bleak and unsettled. So, a Sherpa family welcomed us, and we dropped our bags into a room each. The Hotel Manaslu View Point had a view of Manalsu in the distance and the panoramic view in all directions was a clear sign that we were now in the Himalayas, proper. Timang (2630m) was about 400 metres higher than Danagyu (2200m). The air temperature was much more-icy here. Clouds floated over the mountains behind us, disguising hidden peaks and over the River Marsyangdi to the opposite side, occasional matchstick-looking pine trees, empty of leaves and needles, stood like wooden stakes in a cemetery. There looked to have been a nuclear blast over the valley. Even the ground appeared clear of life.

This village was both sinister and beautiful. Firstly, the crows, those often billed in horror movie birds, were everywhere. They made themselves known with sharp piercing cries and occasionally softer sounds. The Kāga (काग Nepali for crow or craven) here were not Carrion crows. These were bigger ravens, Corvus corax tibetanus, with long grey neck feathers. Light on their feathers gave a beautiful purple-blue iridescence. Amongst the pairs of ravens, Carrion crows moved and foraging by jackdaws, and other smaller birds like sparrows could be seen through the village. Now, the sinister, I described wasn’t too much about the crows…

One single storey building with a shop front on the right of the road gave me new heebie-jeebies. Outside the front a man swapped tyres on a jeep. At the side of this passengers from the jeep waited patiently. At the rear of the building in the garden, an animal pelt hung from a washing line. From a distance I couldn’t work out if it was red panda, a dog or something of similar size. I know that the rules in Nepal are extremely strict regarding hunting, but I could not for the life of me understand what it was. It was, in all probability, a goat – and certainly unwelcoming. And, not far from that pelt on the washing line, a dead crow was tied up by its neck, flying in the wind like a grim version of a child’s kite. I expected haunted hillbilly music and a narrative from an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

After a great dal baht, in front of a warm fireplace, we all departed for bed. The matchstick looking cluster of spiders in the toilets gave an appearance of buffalo pubic hair [you know what I mean!] – and they seemed to detect the cold too, nestling together like brush hair in the corners of the long cold toilet room.

After a good night’s sleep, a great omelette and some defrosted ice-water, we three departed, bidding our farewell to Shadow the dog and a variety of goat kids in the nursery nearby. The road headed out, skirting around the brow of the hills beside us, never quite leaving the river below. At Tanchok village it doubled back inwards, crossing a frozen stream before lurching back into the river valley below. It slid gently up to the crossroads at Koto before nestling its way into Chame (2700m), complete with signs for yet more hot springs. Monkeys had been sighted in the forest’s brow by the village of Tanchok, by Livia and I stood watching them for some time. Here the valley started to tighten up and appear much steeper than previous days.

Chame is a colourful place, but in February, the sun sets early, shrouded by mountainous ridges to the west. Here a dozen municipal buildings and hospitals can be found. Derelict military barracks stand to the village’s north. It is a town of about 1200 people. In winter it is quiet with many people heading to Kathmandu and Pokhara. There are signs of the April 2015 earthquake having struck here. There were also some very good small supply shops and chances to get some much needed fruit into our diet. We checked into the cosy New Tibet Hotel and Restaurant sandwiched between a brittle looking cliff face and the river’s east bank. We then had a wander around the village which seemed to be many scattered lodges along a kilometre of two. An upper level village to the west looked more modern and functional, but less touristic. There were the usual array of schools and public facilities with prayer flags visible all across the high points.

After the walk Livia tucked into her billionth bowl of rice pudding, and probably ordered one for the morning too. Seeing Livia eat rice pudding in a wolf/koala/bear hat was quite a frequent sight on the journey. I often had scrambled eggs, porridge and buckwheat bread of chapatti. Always with a milky coffee or tea. Several bank machines were available in the village but there was no internet and sporadic power cuts for the two nights that we stayed. There was even a roadblock on alert for any walkers from China! By now fear and panic about COVID-19 had spread up the road. I kept news that I had left China over two weeks before arriving there to myself. I’d heard Chame described as an often crowded place. We met only two other trekkers, both French and both walking solo (with a guide).

Our lodge was less than two minutes of walking from a lovely spot. The hot springs doubled up as an open air launderette. Livia and I washed our clothing in the warm flow of water, as local soldiers soaked up the minerals in the neighbouring swimming pool. The spring itself was a dull green bubbling hole with pipes jutting from it. Nothing exciting to the naked eye. The miracle of life and fresh water was surrounded by man-made concrete and exploitation. Still, it was a good place to wash my underpants. Bloody warm too. Later I scattered my clothes on the balcony and added some socks to a warm chimney to speed dry them in the fading sunshine. Night was soon rolling in, complete with starry skies and ice-inducing temperatures. To be continued…


 

On the I’d booked a flight between Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport and Shenzhen for April the 1st. April Fool’s Day. Appropriately Thai Air Asia cancelled it yesterday. As I had used Trip.com to book it, I have to use Trip’s customer services. Flight FD596 is no more. On top of that, my visa expires here on April the 14th. I have been told that to stay here, I need to have a letter from the UK Embassy to say that travel to my country of residence is not possible. The UK Embassy won’t give such a letter for British citizens traveling to China. Thailand’s Immigration won’t allow me to stay because I can currently fly to the U.K. There are flights to Guangzhou at drastically hyper-inflated prices but even they could be pulled. Trip.com’s phone numbers ring a little and then hang up, all three of them! Their email reply reads as follows:

“Due to the huge backlog of emails caused by Corona Virus pandemic, we are sincerely sorry that your email won’t be able to get reply as usual. It will be delayed but no later than 30 days. Kindly recommend to manage your ticket online or though APP.” – modern day example of a crappy auto-response from a customer disservice centre, March 2020.

I get that we’re in a global catastrophe and the world is going mad buying excessive amount of bog rolls and shutting borders, but when you haven’t got much cash, or hope to get around, and your head feels like it is going to explode if it doesn’t release the bubbling rage and worry inside. I even paid for new cycle lights to allow me to break out of my body, and fly away, like a bat out of hell… or at least peddle fast from stray dogs and monkeys now coming out from the temples and sanctuaries in search of food. Next I expect to see chameleons on sun loungers, well maybe not see them, but at least know they’re there when the fly numbers drop down. That’d be more amazing because as I am aware, there aren’t chameleons in Thailand, but with current world problems, maybe they’ll bounce back like other wildlife – especially now people are talking more about wildlife trade ending. Or, will this COVID-19 world hide a debate about climate change?

Still, worries aside, it could be worse. It could be much, much worse. I worry for others. I’ll survive and money I haven’t got will add to other money that I never had. You can’t repossess from a hobo, right? Especially one trapped in Thailand… trapped, with just two bottles of Vimto and two frozen portions of black pudding. Nope, it ain’t all that bad! Stay strong. Survive. Beyonce and her mates told you to.

“I’m a survivor (what), I’m not gon’ give up (what); I’m not gon’ stop (what), I’m gon’ work harder (what); I’m a survivor (what), I’m gonna make it (what); I will survive (what), keep on survivin’ (what)” Destiny’s Child’s song was covered by 2WEI.

 

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.”


IMG_20200201_124646

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.

 

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

Farting Fair Play & Harry Hole

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


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CHAMPIONS – AGAIN (& Financial fair play)

This season has seen one of the tightest title competitions ever. I won’t write too much. I won’t laugh at Liverpool F.C. Whilst some of their fans irk me, I respect their club set-up. They abolished their connection to a bottled water supplier with alleged possible and dubious human right connections. They paid off huge debts during their takeover with no fuss from the media. Their recruitment has been wise and fitting in recent years. Not since Andy Carroll, have they had a dud player. City were regular buyers of the over-priced until recent years. The prejudism towards City’s new money and new ability to compete may have been reported by Liverpool F.C. stakeholder New York Times (NYT) all too often, but this is life. Just like the Manchester Guardian, the NYT was set up to voice opinion and create conversation, whilst seeking truths. And in true form, Manchester City responded directly with a statement. Unlike the official website of the football club, the newspaper cites sources without revealing the sources. Essentially the same as most postings of crap on Twitter. The papers ambitions of adding to over 127 Pulitzer Prizes is based on speculation – not bias.

Anyway enough about that, Liverpool F.C. have assembled a fantastic squad with their lovely Warrior kits (owned by New Balance, a Saudi Royal family investment).

The current reported UEFA investigation may be into the past, or present. Either way it doesn’t make too much sense in terms of fair play. Some clubs and national FAs have been funded by Bosch, Mercedes, Deutsche Bank and VW. How can they claim the high ground? Although some have battled bitter history and have defeated enemies time and time again.

Top versus Runners-Up Trophy winners on the money front makes me laugh. The numbers across the board are huge – and the money is as transparent as mud. Throw in them lot over the Manchester border for comparison too. Footballs backer will always have grey and possibly rainbow-shaded areas with colour coded charts of uncertainty. Who are we to judge the rights and wrongs of a sport that creates social evils, media unjust and headlines? It’s entertainment like every other industry of ‘things people watch to escape real life’. Surely, through talking an debating we’ll realise that at the end of the day, you can buy more players, buy more seats, buy more everything to get that margin of fine gains that has been in every sport since the dawn of time. The clean as a whistle UEFA and FIFA know how it goes. They must be careful not to bite the hand that feeds them. Instead of banning, or retrospective action, tidy the bloody rules up and make things more transparent. Then, us, the hard-working paying masses can get on and enjoy the bloody game every Saturday afternoon, I mean, whenever TV dictates.

State-aided funding of airlines etc, could be a weird one. How many sponsorship companies have been bailed out by governments? How many have acted as official agents of governments and done a spot of dirty work? The US Open Skies case had Etihad, Qatar-Airways and Emirates show that they were not state-aided. Also, City have previously shown evidence on paper that their Etihad sponsorship of City was directly funded by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council. So, why didn’t UEFA act?


Manchester City
Kit supplier:
Nike, UK£72 million (US$108 million) signed 2013, expires 2019 [£12 million a season] speculation that these numbers may be fabricated
Main sponsor: Etihad Airways, UK£400 million (US$652 million) signed 2011, expires 2021 [£40 million a season] speculation that these numbers may be fabricated
Sleeve sponsor: Nexen Tire, UK£10 million (US$12.9 million) per season, length unreported [£10 million a season] speculation that these numbers may be fabricated
Deals since 2017/18: Turtle Beach, Xylem, PAK Lighting, Marathonbet, AvaTrade, SeatGeek, Nexon, Tinder [loose morales?], Barclays [questionable], Amazon [bye, bye local traders], Gatorade, Khmer Beverages , Mundipharma, Rexona [sure?] and a whole host more. speculation that these numbers may be fabricated


Liverpool F.C.
Kit supplier
: New Balance (Trump supporter and owned by club owner John Henry’s close friend], UK£300 million (US$390 million), signed 2012, expires 2019 [£42.8 million a season* *once a record figure holder in 2012/13]
Main sponsor: Standard Chartered, UK£160 million (US$236.1 million), renewal signed 2018, expires 2023 [£32 million a season]
Sleeve sponsor: Western Union, UK£25 million (US$32.1 million), signed 2017, expires 2022 [£5 million a season]
Major deals since 2017/18: Standard Chartered [squeaky clean with no state backing in the middle east at all and certainly no cartel money in any accounts], Wireless Infrastructure Group, Petro-Canada Lubricants,
Tibet Water (Chinese-owned) actually ended.


Manchester Utd.
Kit supplier: Adidas, UK £750 million (US$$1.3 billion), signed 2016, expires 2026 [£75 million a season]
Main sponsor: General Motors, UK£371 million (US$559 million), signed 2012, expires 2021 [£41 million a season]
Sleeve sponsor: Kohler, UK£20 million (US$27.5 million) per season, length unreported [£20 million a season]
Major deals since start of 2017/18: Chivas, MoPlay, Melitta, Kohler, Belgium FA [an actual country’s association], MLILY, PingAn Bank, Cho-A Pharm, Science in Sport, General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabi


 

Fair Play.

And if you want to see fairness, then compare the other 17 Premier League clubs, the multitude of top level European clubs and see where we’re at. Is better marketing allowed too?

Then compare full gates, trophies since the Premier League’s inception, a twenty year sponsorship portfolio, global shirts sales, domestic TV coverage and overseas coverage, global marketing, ambition to grow the foreign market, invitations to high-value friendly competitions, added TV sales etc, pioneering eSports etc, TV documentaries… domestic and overseas investment potential.

Another thing is how do these sponsorship deals come about, bidding, tendering, slipping your mate at a good brand some plum deal and probably a spot of tax evasion.

Think about where that club invests, how their profits are used and whether they have passed the FA’s due diligence test of new club owners. Perhaps, UEFA could up the ante and set higher standards. FIFA could be involved too. It might affect them. Fit and proper ownership could then be extended to all sponsorship deals – with clubs declaring their fully visible statements to a neutral panel, or one that accounts for UEFA member associations. Tome to end the witch hunts and go on about setting a model example. Because every piece of crap that enters a paper, with “a source said this” and “an un-named official said that” ruins certain fans and gives them a weak and annoying response. Where we you when we were s4!t?

Also, how do fans of Liverpool or ManUre view FFP and how do their club frameworks see the knock on effect? Live every news article, we can all find a source here and there, but it doesn’t mean much.

“Sorry John,yes you want to make money,and want us to be an attractive catch for when the people you are slating at citeh and Chavski comes a knocking to buy your investment from you….or would you decline such offers because your such a staunch supporter of FFP?”

And, to read further Colin Savage (Prestwich OSC) at Bolts From The Blue has it spot on. It is my understanding that right now, one board, kind of preparation court has to prepare a case with recommendations. It must have solid evidence. There is also the fact that the financial fair play cases being pushed by Belgian lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont has yet to be concluded. UEFA’s slippery net is at full risk of crashing and burning. The E.U. and Belgian courts may kick it over to a court in Switzerland. Would you trust a place that hoarded gold from dubious piles of ruins arund the late 1940’s. Oh, and they only let women race and vote as late as the ’70’s. Look up the Swiss Verdingkinder and you’ll probably understand that fairness is far from a national trait. Switzerland is ranked one of the top 5 nations to export weaponry. Now look up how few factories they have capable of such a thing, and how few soldiers that they have. Don’t count the noble Swiss Army Knife. Saudi Arabia and the Ukrainian armed forces are up as much to benefit from Switzerland as UEFA is. The battle for fair play could equally take place in another nation.

If a case ever gets presented, who will it affect? The fans. Of course, the fans that nobody cares less about these days. The agents will still find ways to make money. The clubs will lose some trade and opportunity. The clubs and their hostories may be tainted. Juventus came out of their demotion smelling of rose. Ronaldo’s rape allegations weren’t treated seriously. Wayne Rooney was destroyed by papers following an affair, or visit to an elder lady of the night. The Heysel disaster saw 14 Liverpool F.C. fans convicted of manslaughter, and many more labeled as thugs. It tainted UEFA’s history in international competitions and promptly banned English clubs for five years (six years for Liverpool F.C.). Around 39 people died that day. UEFA, the Belgian police force and Liverpool F.C. continued on.

UEFA and any external independent legal team will have to consider the impact and consequences of any punishment. Just like disasters and the investigations that follow them, this will drag on. It will ruin football for the fans. It will be bitter and painful, but at least no lives have been lost – and no ruthlessly banded phrases used. Even of that club’s fans chuck potential death-causing smoke bombs at an enclosed coach full of people, or other such facial damaging glass bottles.


anfield may 2008 (6)

You’ll never walk alone.

I disagree with any fans using the “always a victim” tagline when referring to Liverpool F.C. It is dishonest and stupid to say so. The Hillsborough disaster was a low point in football history. 96 people died. Justice has yet to be found, despite 30 years of court actions. Just like the Bradford City stadium fire that claimed 56 people, these were disasters brought about by those above and those in control of stadia and their management. It is too easy to blame fans. It is tasteless to associate the death of many in this way. I urge anyone crying the words “always a victim” to play the shocking videos on YouTube on to reach their inner humanity. Don’t be a knobhead.


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What is fair market value?

Surely, if you restrict Forest Green Rovers from buying multiple players and building a 60,000 seater stadium to allow them to grow and one day compete with the Premier League clubs, then you restrict the evolution of football. Where are the original football league clubs now? Are they all equal? Can new clubs like M.K. Dons form? Isn’t it more important to back ambition and make clubs more self-sufficient. If a club can develop a pool of 200 players in a decade, it is unlikely they will all make it. They need places to go. Partnerships and deals need to be done. Just like marketing. Sheikh Mansour and Etihad are unrelated yet it would be foolish to think the two don’t have indirect influence over one or the other. If I was Queen Elizabeth II and I owned Reading F.C., whilst I owned Weetabix, but did not manage or influence them, I’d be pleased if Weetabix wanted to sponsor my Reading F.C. club. In City’s case UEFA have already accepted fair market value for all the sponsorship by Etihad but Aabar and Etisalat remain under question.

Don’t panic. Don’t worry. As Colin Savage mentions:

“It also could be that a journalist has completely misrepresented and sensationalised what they’ve been told. That wouldn’t be the first time that has happened.”

07 AUG 2004 CITY 3 LAZIO 1 (10)

Record Matched & Unbroken

A record could have been broken recently – for the least goals scored at home. I didn’t want our record to go. 2006/07 was a bleak season but a necessary one. It produced an end of season highlights video devoid of content. Simple boredom. I remember a few good memories that season. We got to the 1/4 finals of the FA Cup and that felt pretty good at the time. We stuffed Fulham 3-1 that season, and beat Arsenal at home too. Vassell’s derby day pen was annoying. How Ball managed to stay on the field that game was beyond me. To get to May without a home league goal since New Year’s Day was underwhelming. Vassell, Samaras, Corradi, Mills, Dabo, Hamann, Ball and Thatcher were never going to produce great football. Dickov, Miller and Reyna failed to score, surprisingly but that squad had no creativity at all. Even Mark Hughes backed Pearce after the FA Cup exit.

Hudderfield Town had the chance to set a record for the lowest goals scored at home in the season. They failed. By scoring a goal through Mbenza against Ole’s Man Utd, they simply matched the 2006/07 season of Stuart Pearce’s Manchester City.

The pre-season transfer market was dull. Joe Hart would go on to be a fine signing though. Nobody came in of great note. We loaned and sold many for brass buttons and a Gregg’s pasty of two. Reebok churned out a crap set of kits. Off the field John Wardle and co were obviousy working hard but City were about as exciting as winning the Thomas Cook Trophy (which we lost that season to Porto).


index

Jo Nesbo

‘I’m a stranger here, I’m a stranger everywhere’, sang Jarvis Cocker on his ballad I’m a stranger. Well, the words of that song reminded me of my most recent book in hand. The 11th novel that I have read so far, by Jo Nesbo has been gripping. It is called Police. The central character is Harry Hole. He is flawed, gritty and as far from perfect as can be. Fate has dealt him some shitty card hands. Jo Nesbø’s stories have featured in two movies, the standalone tale of Headhunters and Harry Hole’s serial killer epic The Snowman. Michael Fassbender portrayed the tall blonde in movie form, despite not being blonde. His sister suffers from a ‘mild dose of down’s syndrome’ – and every aspect of the character play is multi-layered and deep. There is black humour galore and some depth to the stories, in factual basis and an imagination, that didn’t do bad after the author left a career playing football for Molde FK. Anyway, the first book I lifted up was Headhunters, when I was staying at my Aunty Christine’s house. Then, I started with Harry Hole in The Redbreast. Since then I read the books in order, with the exception of The Bat & Cockroaches (which I picked up in Kathmandu at the poorly named United Book Shop in Thamel). Michael Connelly first published a novel in 1992, aged 36. His character Harry Bosch influenced Harry Hole, written by Jo Nesbo, and released by the then 37-year-old Nebo in 1997. Michael Crichton published a novel under the name John Lange by the age of 23. Roadl Dahl had released a book before his thirties too. He would be 45 before his well-known titles reached the bookshops. Obviousy not science but the thirties is a good time to release a book. The greats vary in age at their main publications, so I am not worried. Inspiration can be found everywhere. Fleming was 45 and he dodn’t do too bad.


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A peak too far.

Yínpíngshan and the park around it [东莞银瓶山森林公园] mark Dongguan’s highest point. It is in the eastern township of Xiegang. The mountain peak is shy of the Welsh 3000s (914.4 m) by a little way (18m, or 59 feet). The hill is sometimes referred to as Yinpingzui, just to confuse those looking for it. It is a city boundary from Huizhou’s Baiyunzhang – or under 5km from one another. The name Yínpíngshan translates to silver bottle mountain, because it kind of has a summit that has a vase or bottle-like funnel on top.

On this journey the top was immersed in clouds. The forecasted storm didn’t arrive but walking through cloud a drizzle ensured all at the summit were drenched. On the walk up peaks and summits all around the region dipped in and out of clouds, like Gods and Goddesses surveying their mortals below. An evergreen band coated the mountains with rare breaks accommodating streams and patches of open rocks. Beyond that trees covered all.

The summit of Yínpíngshan is bare and exposed. A cliff face on one side and on another a concrete pathway much like the Hilary Step on Everest, but far lower down in altitude and much more travelled. I can’t imagine the drink and snack sellers climbing so high to sell their double-priced goods. The granite looking rocks to each side of the enclosed pathway jutted out like generals on a battlefield.

On the descent we encountered a waterfall, and some dipped their feet in the rockpools beneath. What the fish in the pool made of it, I’ll not know. I’m told ancient species of Rhodoleia championii [Hong Kong Rose] and the fern brainea insignis.

To get there, there are buses from ZhangMuTou town (2&5 to XieGang Square, then 4 to NanMian village); or a a train to YinPing station; or as we opted a Didi car journey from Changping. Here! Dongguan magazine laid on a coach from Dongcheng that day too.

Going from 180m up to a height of 896m shouldn’t have troubled me. The elevation gains total around 796m and the 11.18km distance are not things that should trouble me. They did. The aches and pains of a healing foot and ankle injury and there to be seen. Battling humidity and my own discomfort were things that I expected. Almost every walk of a few kilometres these last two weeks has been uncomfortable. My flatfooted feet can be hellishly awkward at times. Living in China, where most things are made, doesn’t mean I have access to orthopaedic supports or footwear suitable for recovery. I donned my walking boots, last worn in Nepal. They fitted like an Aston Martin in a James Bond movie. As I placed them on, I even had the famous James Bond single hornpiece playing in my head.


 

“Got it.”

“Got it.” That seems to be a standard emotionless reply to many things. Whereas, in the U.K., I’d expect to hear thank you, ta, or wilco (will comply), in China it is usually just “okay”, or, “got it.” I don’t know why ot bothers me. Perhaps it is because it is a non-commital form of later or an evasive response at the best of times. If I had a finger for everytime somebody used “got it” after I put the effort in, and then later found they’d “got it” but clearly done naff all with it, I would have too many fingers to play the entire global supplies of finger-based musical instruments.


 

The world is full of bullshit.

The holidays have passed, and many “got it” messages have been received. Part of me wanted to reply, I’ve “got it” too.  For four days of the holiday, I did somewhere between nothing and miniscule activity levels. My infinitesimal adventures made Ant-Man and co look impossibly large. I did sweet F.A. because I wanted to rest my ankle and joints. The diminutive break involved watching Avengers Endgame and regretting doing so. It was okay. Just okay. A bit long. Binge-watching Who Is America with Sacha Baron-Cohen was a pleasure. Two episodes of Game of Thrones and some walking locally wrapped up an otherwise eventfree escape from work. Some planning for summer, some editing of photos, and some writing filled in the gaps. I did some paperwork too. The kind of things that are semi-important and without a deadline so that you procrastinate over them time and time again. Why complete tomorrow’s work today if it can wait until the next day? What didn’t happen yesterday, doesn’t necessarily need to be completed tomorrow either. These are the unavoidably essential and ineludibly methods used by U.S.A. with regards to climate change. The U.S.’s approach is actually too certain to be a British government model of applocation. Anyway Bond 25 was launched. No title, no plot, no song, no commitment. Proof that Brexit uncertainty and gloom is exiting and entering all walks of life. Trump would say fake news, but he does/does not buy into WikiLeaks and all that. He never used it on his campaign trail, so he would surely not now of it afterwards.


 

How does one measure a fart?

Do we measure the volume of obnoxious gas produced? Do we check its density? How long does a fart last? Do we measure it metres, yards or time? How smelly was it? Is there a scale like the Scolville scale for chilli peppers? Do we measure the volume of sound? How much pressure was released? How far does the fart blanket over a surface area? Is the fart warmer than previous farts? How fast does it rise upwards? Is there any coloration to the gas?

All the right questions concerning Brexit and Trump are to be found in the previous content of course.


 

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

Upwards in 2019.

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

Welcome to 2019.

Einstein’s theories are bobbins. Kent is a car park. Queen are number one, again. Hair is allowed to be grown by choice and we’re being made to watch it. Earth is scarred by more than Brexit. Welcome to the year 2019. I’ve just clicked off from The Funny Thing About… Bigorexia. Russell Kane presented it. He hit the nail on the head and the hammer-in-particular he was chatting about is body dysmorphia in males. We’re all expected to look like the cast of The Only Way Is This Is Essex In Chelsea. So, after that little show I gave Jayde Adams on grief, smart little series with tough, tough topics. Privilege, being little, being offensive and online trolling are also covered. Well worth a look and listen. Made by ITN productions, it is available on BBC’s website. This is what happens when all I can find in the sports news is a story about an assumed 90 year old cycling cheat.

One word that is scary fear. And not, the James Bond meets Jurassic Park kind of petrifying. The year ahead could be a scary one if we all get too weighed down by politics, news, the environmental disasters and the problems of plastic. So, what is there to look forwards to in 2019? Game of Thrones ends too. Must look up Killing Eve and the next instalment of True Detective. I didn’t see The Bodyguard, made by BBC. Peaky Blinders should be back soon too. The War of The Worlds is also being made as British TV series – finally!

I had started writing this yesterday, ahead of hearing of a new series of Luther. BBC released a few teasers. I’d downloaded it and watched it in a state of man-flu. The Heavy’s ‘The Big Bad Wolf’ is one song that I’ve really enjoyed from this series – and its wonderful closing credit choice of songs. Paul Englishby’s input on the scoring also adds a very emotive soundtrack. Red Titanic and their song ‘White Rabbit’ (dubstep version) is deeply emotive. Grinderman’s Palaces of Montezum is ace too.

Back to Nepal.

TV and news aside. In this month on the 22nd, the planes wheels will be touching down on Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport. Having already seen Swayambhunath on the large stupa, the Kathmandu Durbar Square, and Pashupatinath Temple, I need to look at things to do in the city. The Birenda Museum was quite small, but closed, on my last visit. The Aircraft Museum doesn’t appeal – set inside one old former Turkish Airlines aircraft. Information on the Mahendra Museum is limited. The Narayanhiti Palace could be interesting but I’m hoping the Colt M16A2, Glock 19 9mm pistol, and other guns of June 2001 by the the penultimate King of Nepal (King Dipendra). He was Eton educated. Say no more. Should have attended North Trafford College or Reddish Vale School – he might have learnt some respect. At least his successor had the decency to be abolished. The Narayanhiti Palace could be a weirdly interesting spot. I wonder if Japan’s Knight Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum awarded to King Dipendra will be on display. Maybe the National Museum of Nepal will be more fruitful. Maybe my footsteps will find the Natural History Museum this time round. I’m growing quite excited by a return to Kathmandu.

The rambling plan – section 1

Despite my residual man flu symptoms (sneezing, aching muscles, headache, testicular pain and so on), I am in full planning mode for Nepal. The plan will loosely resemble the below. Give or take a few parametres. The first part is get the trekking permit, bus ticket and start the small matter of 200kms of walking… only then will it be clear as to the what is possible. Last time I started from the village of Jiri, but this time I hope the trek can start a little further up, but it must involve Kinja and the Lamjura Pass as they were stunning. A further starting point may allow a day to be sat in hand, in case it is needed later.

KTM: COLLECT TIMS http://www.timsnepal.com/
Kathmandu to Jiri (6 to 8h by road) Bus #5064? 0530am?
[DAY 1] Jiri 1951m – Ratmate – Chitre – Mali – Shivalaya (New Sherpa Guide) 14km [5.5H] Gaurishankar Permit 2000NPR
[DAY 2] Shivalaya  – Deorali 2705m – Bhandar 12km [5H]
[DAY 3] Bhandar- Kinja 1630m – Sete 2575m 15km [6.5H]
[DAY 4] Sete – Dagcha 3220m – Goyam 3000m – Lamjura Pass – (3530m) – Junbesi 2675m 15km [11H]
[DAY 5] Junbesi – Phurteng – Ringmu 2730m – Numtala 2360m 17km [9.5H]
[DAY 6] Numtala – Khari Khola 2100m – Bupsa Danda 2340m 10km [7H]

The rambling plan – section 2

The difficult part starts about here. The former section will have geared the muscles and mind. Here the key will be acclimatisation – and adjustment to an increasing altitude. Garlic soup will be on the menu.

[DAY 7] Bupsa Danda – Kari La – Paiya 2730m – Surkhe 2293m 14km [7H]
[DAY 8] Surkhe – Muse – Nurning –  Phakding – Benkar – Manjo (Monju 2835m): 1000rs entry fee at Sagarmatha National ParkJorsalle 15km [7.5H]
[DAY 9] Jorsalle – Larja bridge 2830m – Namche Bazaar 3440m 5km [4H]
[DAY 10] Namche Bazaar
[DAY 11] Namche Bazaar  – Phunke Tenga – 3250m – Tengboche 3860m 12km [6.5H]
[DAY 12] Tengboche –  Deboche – Pangboche – Dingboche 4360m 10km [6.5H] 5am ceremony
[DAY 13] Dingboche: Nangkartshang Gompa
[DAY 14] Dingboche – Duglha – Lobuche 5020m [ 1 day]

The rambling plan – section 3

This will be the toughest planned route. There is no margin of error in time. If a day can be gained before here, it will be an unexpected miracle.

[DAY 15] Lobuche: Gorak Shep 5357m/5140m – Kalapathar – EBC 5357m
[DAY 16] Lobuche – Dzongla 4840m/5545m [4H]
[DAY 17] Dzongla – Cho La 5420m – Thangnak  (4765m) [7-8H]

Crampons-5am start.

[DAY 18] Thangna  – Gokyo 4750m [4.5H]
[DAY 19] Gokyo – Gokyo Ri (5360m) – Pangka (4455m) or Machhermo (4410m)  [5-7.5H]
[DAY 20] Machhermo – Himalayan Rescue Association – Dole (4200m) – Phortse Tanga (3600m) [6H]
[DAY 21] Phortse Tanga  – Mong – Namche Bazaar [6H]
[DAY 22] Namche Bazaar-Phakding- Chauriharka – Lukla [6H]
[DAY 23] Lukla Airport-KTM

Then a day’s rest, some food, maybe a wander and a flight back the next day…

The rambling plan – let’s get ready to ramble

Between now and then there is much to do. Recovery, training and to double check my insurance cover is adequate. It isn’t mega-hard to prepare for, but it isn’t a walk in the park. Well not Scotland Hall Road Park [Newton Heath, Manchester], anyway. Less danger but more yaks, though. It isn’t a marathon but it does share some similarities. The biggest one is the need for stamina – both mental and physical. You are able to do this – but can you do it? That’s upto your mind. Attitude and altitude are similar words and probably make a good marketing slogan.

The thing about the Everest Base Camp trek is that every year young and old people walk it. The thing to remember is that it comes with easier distances, longer wanders and optional extras. Slow and steady wins the day. There is no race. Only your time constraints bind you. Many complete the up in around 8 days with just 3 days down. That’s allowing minimal acclimisation and elevation adjustment. The golden rule of not staying 300m more each day can be achieved. The problem with just 11 days on foot, is that the views and the feel for the place can’t fully be savoured – and the local life can’t be fully appreciated. I’d hate to waste a view.

This next week I must wear in my walking boots (two pairs) to work out which ones are best suited. Then, I need to buy some duck tape for emergency repairs to said boots. My rucksack I already know to be comfortable and bigger than the Vango Sherpa 65L bag I had last time. This Vango 90L bag may be a bit excessive but I don’t plan to take the 25Kg I carried at the last walk. They’ll be a few practice treks and even one with Here! Dongguan magazine at the Dongguan Botanical Gardens this weekend. I won’t be overwhelmed by training like last time, and it will be a fun process getting myself readily mobile again. I won’t be Usian Bolt. Proper practice and prepartion prevents piss-poor performance. After all, fun is supposed to be enjoyable, right?

High altitude sickness, lower jetstreams, increased bad weather… these are things you must have in your mind, be prepared to accept and meet with bodily adaptations or call it quits. A response will be needed and if you’re fit enough, you’ll rise or fall – or best just turn yourself around. The first discomfort will need pushing through. The second too. There may be more. After that, it is amazing how far you can go. Endurance grows rapidly. Difficulty and challenges may increase but you become stronger and most ready to it.

My recovery will need some aerobic exercise. I have football, cyckling and some jogging on the next 12 days of things to do. I must be able to breath and focus. The recent man-flu hasn’t been ideal. Difficulty and duration will be built up again – and hopefully I’ll feel more viking than mouse. There will be steps and one park already have my name on it. The park with my name on it and I will be good friends soon.

The strength of mind to enjoy a view, rather than bend down and try to catch breath, will be a motivation. Our bodies are designed to walk. They’re dedicated vessels for this kind of activity. This is why the park with my name on it, will see some running, some rest walks, some lighter jogs and some step sprints. I will run my balls off. Fatigue will know my name. I may do a few lunges and squats to get the lactic acid boiling. Stretches before and after will be normal.

Things to be mindful of include: time to prepare; time to adjust; increased nutrition (calories and protein); dynamic stretches in the morning; static stretches at night; and

The Himalayas await…

 

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

Winter is coming.

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

I am sat here smugly sat here, with my cup of squeezy no-added sugar Vimto. I have less than two days before I feel myself soaring into the sky…

My flight to Nepal’s Kathmandu (via Mumbai, India) departs Hong Kong S.A.R. International Airport on Saturday the 31st of December 2016, at noon. I arrive local time in Nepal at 23:00hrs. Hopefully, I’ll have my baggage collected and be mobile before the year 2017 A.D. arrives. The 2966 km journey (as the crow flies) will take longer as a budget flight dictates the change in India. Jet Airways, I have heard, aren’t that bad, so here goes a journey into the unknown and unexperienced with an airline I know little about. An adventure awaits.

Just like Father Christmas has done in recent times, I have made a list of things to take, checked it twice, thrice and more times. Am I ready? I don’t know. Did I plan? Yes. Just to prove a point, here is my checklist

Water bottle/1L water pack

Nalgene/

 
Passport photos

Insurance

Additional risk insurance

Notify bank

Flights

 
Trekking poles  
Camera and accessories

Camera bag

 
Pens  
Toilet paper  
SteriPen  
Synthetic or nylon top

Pants. No cotton.

 
Bandanna  
Trail food  
MP3 player  
Sleeping bag  
Sleeping bag liners  
Cotton pillow case  
Wind breaker  
Wind pants  
Long socks  
Day sack
Batteries/bulbs/torch/head lamp
Swiss army knife
Sunglasses/goggles
Lip sun block
Sun lotion
Medical/first aid kit
Sewing kit
Wool socks
Sun hat
Woollen hats
Long Johns

Baselayers

Gloves
Gaiters
T-shirts
Down jacket
Waterproof jacket
Trekking boots
Trainers
Hiking pants
Hiking shirts (full sleeves)
Ruck sack
Towel

After three days in Kathmandu, I will begin my ascent. I will somehow get to a place called Jiri by car, jeep or bus. From there, I will hike from Jiri (1951m) to Deorali (2705m); Deorali to Sete (2575m); Sete to Junbesi (2675m); Junbesi to Numtala 2360m; Numtala to Khari Khola 2100m; Khari Khola to Surkhe 2293m; and Surkhe to Lukla 2810m. Nowadays many people abandon the old ways and fly from Kathmandu to Lukla. Not me, I’m walking as the explorers of old did. I’ve allowed 8 days for this journey. Some say it can be done in 6, but I guess they’re more Superman than I. There are a few alternative routes that bypass Lukla and head on to Namche Bazar (3.440 m) but perhaps the altitude gain is too great. My plan involves Phakding (2.610 m), Mojo’s Sagarmatha National Park Entrance around Larja bridge (2.830 m), and Namche Bazar (3.440 m), hopefully arriving on a Friday to witness the great Saturday morning market. Khumjung (3.780 m) looking over at Ama Dablam (6.856 m), Tengboche (3.860 m) for the great monestaries, Pangboche (3.930 m), Pheriche (4.270 m), Dingboche (4.410 m), Dughla (Thokla) – 4.620 m, Thokla Pass (4.830 m) and my final place for sleeping in Gorak Shep camp (5.140 m). Here I will trek to Kala Patthar (5.545 m) and Everest Base Camp (5.364 m) to gaze upon Everest (8.848 m). After a few hours of that, I head back to Kathmandu as fast as I can. Hopefully I’ll get a day in the city before flying back to Hong Kong S.A.R. with my onward road of China by the 29th of January 2017.

Months, weeks, days and hours of planning is about to begin… I’m both excited and nervous. I’ll miss those I love, dearly, as I do. But, dreams… dreams must be put into action, one by one.

 

 

 

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