Johnny Marr is in Sete.

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


16th February 2019

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

22nd January 2019

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

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

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

24th January 2019

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

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

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

25th January 2019

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


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

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

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

26th January 2019

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


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

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

BHANDAR 0930 – SETE 1800: ~15km.

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


To be continued…



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

First steps from Jiri

On filling all seats and any aisle space, bus 5064 departed. Leaving behind Kathmandu shrouded in dust, a cold thick fog and a bustle akin to the busiest of busy Chinese cities, I relaxed, well, as much as the rock solid seat padding would allow. The nine hour journey allowed two toilet stops by the roadside, some amateur road-building as we tackled mudslide hit segments of road and a meal of Dal Bhat, a staple food of trekking in Nepal. Glimpses of snow-capped peaks, cloud filled valleys and village lifestyles passed by as Nepali Dohori (two-sided debate) and Aadhunik (modern) music styles blurted from a crackly speaker on the bus. My enquiries into the music, from a fellow passenger, of the Sherpa people, educated me that there are more than fifty different ethnicities in Nepal. He said I should expect to hear hundreds of types of different music. I welcomed this.

The bus slammed on the brakes, and slid forward in dirt. The driver, shouted in plain English, “Jiri, Hotel.” He gestured at me. I gathered my rucksack, stepped off the bus into ankle deep mud. The bus rolled away. I turned back. Hotel Everest, 1950m high, claimed the sign. Perched on stilts with magnificent valley views, I could not see Everest. Still, it was impressive. It was 100NPR for a night, with food and drink giving me a total of 1400NPR by the next morning. I ignored the ice cold shower, the next morning, fed on momo (a steamed dumpling), Tibetan bread and garlic soup. I repacked (my now 20kg backpack) and by 8.30am, I set out. The first real steps of my trek! My path through Ramate was steep, Chitre also, and by a place called Pass (maybe, they couldn’t think of a name) I was stood at 2334m. Ben Nevis, in the U.K., stands at 1,345m (4,411 ft.). It is the U.K.’s tallest mountain. I was now almost a kilometre higher. I enjoyed my first close-up views of the Himalayas, stood by a giant Ncell mobile phone mast. I marvelled how the beginning point of many Mount Everest climbs began at Jiri (fewer than 5% now walk from the once named Gateway to Mt. Everest). Now, you could get 3G reception and few people trekked from this quaint end-of-the-road village. I descended via Mali, crossing a rebuilt steel bridge into Shivalaya. Here I applied for entry into Gaurishankar Conservation Area and gazed longingly at signs advising Red Pandas lived in the area. Oh, to see one, in the wild would be amazing!

The wild glacial river of Khimti Khola pushed metres below the almost entirely rebuilt village of Shivalaya. Like much of Nepal, the earthquakes and aftershocks from April and May 2015 had affected huge swathes of the country, here this village shown evidence of missing homes, ruins, and cracks scattering a large area. The cost to community, lives and sociology appeared hidden in the local people’s eyes and actions as they soldiered on with a very positive outlook. I lodged at New Sherpa Guide. My first blister throbbed and shoulders ached. Satisfied with 14km on day one, I slid away into a calm dream. The cool air of the night soothed my aching shoulders.

Freshly ground coffee is a great morning smell. There was no such thing here today. Shivalaya’s next best thing was a Scottish-style porridge heaped with fresh banana slices and sharp Masala tea. The day would continue just as diversely. The trek went up, and up along a ridge and from sunshine into thick high cloud with snowflakes as big as dinner plates. At Deurali, 2705m, for ginger tea and a snack of momo, I met Australian father and son, John and Will. I would go on to meet them almost daily for my trek. Of the five hours of trekking, almost four hours was upwardly, the remainder down.

I arrived into Bhandar, 2190m, and bunked at Shona Lodge. A French man, Vincois, I met many times along the way and my two new Australian friends also lodged here. The owner had rebuilt the lodge, changing from stone to wood panels and timber. Throughout the journey I would learn few families favour stones or concrete above the first storey of buildings now. Traditional stone and wooden frames have been usurped by concrete foundations and wood thereafter. Corrugated tin rooftops have replaced slates and wood in many regions. 12km of walking that day, ended in a cold night’s sleep on a full belly of fuel-like Dal Bhat. I drifted off, giggling at the lady owner’s witty and pushy characteristics. She was certainly a livewire, and her daughter, a local teacher was the salt to her pepper, very kind and calm.

I tiptoed through the ruins of a hamlet located a little lower in the valley than Bhandar, through fields farmed with various leafed plants for eating and across a swamp onto more solid ground. The vast sweeping valley stretched with views of Pikey Peak to the south and south-east. To the immediate east, the pathway stretched firmly upwards. My research indicated several hours of trekking to Sete. It was all up. Passing a broken suspension bridge, I opted for the newly installed Gurkha-soldier built bridge, and crossed into a ghost-village of Kinja, 1630m. Empty shells of once life-filled buildings and carcasses of footpaths through now empty farmyards covered a headland between the two raging rivers of Likhu Khola and Kinja Khola. It felt both summery in temperature but empty in spirit. As I ascended, I ate in Chhmbu, another empty village. By 4 o’clock, my eight hour hike ended at Sete’s Sunrise Guest House. I treated myself to a warm shower (200NPR) and ate Dal Bhat with Will, Vincois and John. This followed the standard gazing at a sunset and observation of all around the valley. Oh, and a drunk Sherpa lady dancing the crests of a steep footpath having enjoyed an afternoon’s Raksi (rice wine), Tongba (millet brew) or Chhaang (fermented barley) alcoholic drinks. Her drunken laughter and songs could be heard long after she had walked many miles away.

Just before bed, Vincois, mentioned tomorrow’s walk is essentially 1000m up and 1000m down. That reminded me of the Band of Brothers line about Currahee Mountain (Georgia, U.S.A.), “3 Miles up, 3 Miles down.” I smiled wryly at the challenge. I departed Sete, 2575m, for Junbesi, 2700m. How hard could that be?