Thanksgiving Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

 

二零二零年四月八日
8th April 2020

 

给相关人士 To whom it may concern.

 

诚 挚 地 感 谢 

T H A N K   Y O U   K I N D L Y !

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Mr John R. Acton

 


 

TO THE HEROES.

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

 

Visit Kathmandu 2020.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

But, first a cup of tea…

Millennium Bug 2.0: The First Final Post?

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / How do,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye for now?

Harry Farthing’s SUMMIT: A NOVEL.

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

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

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

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

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

Namche Bazaar (is the place to find me)

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

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


31st January 2019

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

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


1st February 2019

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

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

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

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


2nd February 2019

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

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

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

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

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


3rd February 2019

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

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

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

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

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

 

To be continued…

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

 

 

Johnny Marr is in Sete.

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

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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.


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22nd January 2019

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

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

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


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24th January 2019

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

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

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


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25th January 2019

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

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

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

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


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26th January 2019

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

 

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

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

BHANDAR 0930 – SETE 1800: ~15km.

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

 

To be continued…

 


 

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

Kathmandu – a gateway to…

I landed at Kathmandu’s airport expecting a lift as arranged with my pre-booked hotel. It never came. I tried calling the Parawar Hotel via the phone number provided on the Booking.com website.  o joy. Swarmed by taxi-drivers expecting an easy fare, I eventually fell under the waves of the sharks and opted to get a taxi myself. 700NPR to the centre of Thamel, Kathmandu later and we could not find the address or Parawar Hotel. After 20 minutes of walking around aimlessly I stumbled on Horizon Hotel, as recommended by John and Will. I immediately bumped into them, like an awkward unintended stalker. I checked in. The staff of Horizon Hotel were supremely friendly, helpful and bowed to my every need without question. They went out of ther way. The showers were lovely and warm. The rooms cosy and a balcony felt most luxorious. The garden was green and warming. I enjoyed a bowl of cornflakes outside and many cups of tea. A large bag of laundry was done for 210NPR. I had a lift to the airport arranged and used the hotel’s computers to print my flight tickets. If I return to Nepal, I will book this place in advance.

That evening we went for food at the Kathmandu Steak House Restaurant. It was good, the cocktails aren’t perfect but the Everest beer wasn’t bad. I recommend the steak selections, there are many to choose from.   Later that evening I grabbed some water on the way back. During the night I was sat on the toilet, almost every five minutes for hours on end. Time and time again. I drank more water, discarding the bottle purchased the night before. It looked like a re-sealed bottle with bits in the water. I hadn’t noticed. Tuesday the 24th of January was written off. Two small pieces of banana cake and a litre of pure orange juice made up my evening’s dinner.

The afternoon and morning of the 25th involved wandering on a private tour of inner-city Kathmandu, shown by Surnesh, paying only in food and provisions for his young family. It was most friendly and cooperative. I ate a Mexican breakfast at Northfield Cafe and even at dinner struggled to tackle the aubergine dish, as Will ate is Burger blend and John a delightful looking Thai curry at Frens.

Frens has an outside location that is quaint, warm and the staff are friendly. The food is good. The starters, mains of aubergine went down well. The Gurkha beer wasn’t bad.

My second breakfast in the city was at Northfield Cafe because quite-frankly the food was good. On entering Northfield Cafe, I was tended to, given a good seat and told to relax. I was guided to a seat beneath a patio window, I was told it was warm. It was. The sun shone above but not in my eyes. I was presented the menu and shocked to see such variety, many Mexican style breakfasts and simpler choices sat there. I ordered. In fact, I returned for two more breakfasts and one evening meal with live music from a band called Samundra, playing the wonderful Sarangi (think Erhu meets violin).

I visited three temples: Swayambhunath, Pashupatinath Temple (Lord Shiva), and Boudhanath.

I visited Swayambhunath, having strolled from Thamel on foot. After exiting the dusty streets beneath, the climb between giant Buddha statues was wonderful. A step for every day of the year led past the 200NPR entrance fee booth. I paid as a Rhesus macaque pair dashed over my feet, keen to get up the top few steps before me, no doubt. At the top of the steps, I turned left, through the stalls of shiny and plasticy things for sale. From this I met a man, who I figured worked in a store, but expected nothing and he shown me each point one by one. I explained I did not want nor did I need a guide. I had read much on the temple in advance. That said, he was blooming informative, very much like the Vajra thunderbolt scepter, he stood out. His crooked few teeth and big bold eyes, friendly and inviting. He explained how the valley was once a huge lake and Swayambhunath self-created into a central lotus. He was impressed by my knowledge and thanked me for not just calling it the “monkey temple.” I did comment how wonderful it was to see monkeys and man co-existing. He introduced me to a pair of friendly monkeys, from the 1500 that occupy the area. He said these particular two monkeys were young and kept coming to him to look at him. I said, with no disrespect, that they liely saw comfort in his facial shape. He had a monkey-shaped face. I said I think this is a kind and caring blessing by nature. He laughed. I don’t think he took offence. We carried on our tour, the tour I hadn’t booked.

Some of the temple looked rough, following lightning strikes in 2011 and the April 2015 earthquake. As I toured renovation work was under way at almost every quarter. The stories of a collapsed monastery on that site, were sad to hear and the rubble still visible.

Used by both Hindus and Buddhists, this site is truly wonderful. The domed peaked stupa is cubical in places, has Buddha’s eyes looking in four directions. Torans, shaped perhaps pentagonal, carry massive statues and engravings. Thirteen tiers stand behind these and a Gajur above that. The details on all are mind-blowing. Pure enlightenment in Buddhist symbolism and deep detail. All around the main stupa there are temples, such as the Ajima Temple, and more prayer wheels than I thought was possible to construct. For me this was a proud feature in the Kathmandu Valley World Heritage site. I’m not religious but I could feel the special and sacred connection of man with belief here. It didn’t carry any pressure, just like my impromptu tour guide. I visited his stall after my tour, on my own accord. I invested in two artworks as gifts for friends.

Dr. Strange was filmed in many locations all over Kathmandu such as these three temples. I was lucky enough to see a fan dressing up as the title figure of the movie, Graphic Novels, showing even Marvel movies etc can inspire the odd person to travel and see sights from flicks. This will be most beneficial to Nepal where tourism, especially ecotourism, can booster a country in need of the world’s support. Geek Pride!

I hated the tourist experience of Pashupatinath Temple. As much as I respect the religious aspect, 1000NPR for that experience (or should I say inexperience?) was steeper than the Himalayas. I saw little. Non-Hindus are not permitted in most parts. In fact even western-Hindus are not permitted in many parts. Without clear signage, expect to walk beyond the boundaries and get shouted at. It is embarrassing and shameful. If you open your doors to guests, be clear. I was massively curious and ultimately disappointed. I’m not religious and this was the equivalent of opening a Christmas present, only to lose the ability of eyes, hands and ears to know what the gift was. Also, for the whole of the paid experience, I was tailed by several beggars. I did not enjoy it.

For lunch that day, I opted for Fire and Ice Pizzeria. It was worth a try for lunch. Good portions, amazing homemade crisps and a good side salad with my panini. The gnocchi was also very good, but lacked flavour even though I opted for butter and herbs.

Having read good reviews about Blueberry Kitchen & Coffee Shop, I decided to treat John & Will from Australia. They were flying out that day and had been most hospitable and welcoming throughout my month’s trek in Nepal. We enjoyed the breakfasts, I opted for Eggs Benedict with a great Hollandaise Sauce. It was probably the best breakfast I have eaten in Asia, including Hong Kong and many good western restaurants. Full on two great cappucinos and the main breakfast, I bid farewell and promised to write a fine review on TripAdvisor.

If walking in Thamel, firstly, try to use landmarks based on say fish for sale, signs that are unique, names that stand out. Secondly, enjoy it, push away buskers and hawkers politely. You must be mindful of pickpockets and scams but relax as much as possible. The streets weave here and there and seem to lack roadsigns or names. There are shops, cafes, bars tour operators galore. Actually, almost every alleyway masks the odd tucked away temple, with doors far shorter than the people – ghosts cannot bend, so cannot enter.

With a rucksack, now almost empty, I went gift-shopping, opting for several pieces at a shop called Beni, a recycling cooperative that handcrafts items. Beni Ghale and her team collect rubbish from the streets, old rice bags, and bike inner tubes to create something fashionable. Mostly functional too. The money goes to providing work for women in need and raising environmental awareness. They even many sanitary pads from natural materials.

Throughout my journey I had learnt much. Scenery, history, culture, and adventure had formed one delightfully exquisite and awe-inspiring view of Nepal. There were days, I witnessed the underprivileged of the country, the fragilities of a country emerging from political instability and rising from the ashes of two tremendously devastating earthquakes, but the experience remained eye-opening in many ways. My batteries of inspiration are charged to full.

Everest rest restaurant

Dropping down the valley to Deboche (3820m), passing a newly built lodge called Rivendell, drifting through low moss-cloaked trees, a plain to the left opened, beyond clumsily-stacked Mani stones. Inside a sign advised of a nunnery. It looked far poorer and less well-maintained than the monk’s residence at Tengboche Monastery. Perhaps this is a clear sign of inequality? The sign Parque del Retiro giving hints it was a home for those of later years?

After Milingga hamlet, I branched up the upper pathway into Upper Pangboche. I’d caught up with John and Will and they opted for the lower road into Lower Pangboche. My pathway swept amongst small Gompa after Gompa and Mani Stone walls, eventually reaching the village of Upper Pangboche (3985m). I passed around the walls of a square monastery, reported to hold a Yeti skull. I wasn’t allowed beyond the hall containing chanting and drumming, standing there admiring haunting sounds, “Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ…” (唵嘛呢叭咪吽). The very same phrase being inscribed into Mani stones, prayer wheels, prayer flag streamers,

I passed Pangboche school as built by Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Trust in 1963. It stands at 4000m above sea level. Beyond this my path converged with the lower Pangboche pathway at Shomare village. I stopped for Sherpa stew and a sandwich, watching Will and John pass by on the lower pathway. Satisfied with my tomato sandwich, I trundled onwards. Next up, Worshyo, and into the broad and high-mountain surrounded Imja Valley. Rock falls and landslides marking almost barren terrain beneath the imposing beauty of Ama Dablam’s western and northern faces. Through huge empty plains and between mounds of loose rocks, over dirt trails and down a steep crevice, I crossed a bridge. Upwardly, the path became substantially drier and dustier. At the top of a valley-hugging path, the pathway cut inwards amongst debris of many mountains and their violent histories.

In the village of Dingboche, many lodges lined a stone-wall lane as wide as a car, yet without cars possible. Oh, and covered in thick ice. Exposed to the elements and at some stage flooded by flowing water, it marked a slippery pathway through a town. Thankfully the odd rock and patch of barren embankment stood out beneath the neatly placed stone walls (built after farmers simply removed obstacles to ploughing their fields). I walked through the village, noting most lodges as closed. After ten minutes, I heard my name; John and Will had opted for the Solukhumbu Lodge. I greeted them and met the owner, a Khambu Rai, a people from the Sikkim and Darjeeling Hills. He welcomed me and shown me to a plywood room. By now I was used to these sorts of basic rooms. The only luxury was a light switch. I rolled my sleeping bags out, prepared my torch and laid out clothes for the next day. It was only five o’clock in the evening, yet when night came in; light would be limited and the desire to get to sleep early, strong. Almost every night so far had ended in bed by 8 or 9 o’clock at night.

Sat eating pork curry, around a Yak-shit powered stove, with the Solukhumbu Lodge owner answering questions in a kind of politely curious interview of new acquaintances it felt cosy despite extreme cold lapping at the single-glazed windows. He told us how two men, porters, lugged and regularly lugs the slate base of snooker tables from Namche Bazaar (two days hike away). Each porter takes ten minute stints to lift the 150kg load before passing the load onwards. They rotate time and time again. 22km of carrying 150kg between two souls sounds as tortuous as climbing Everest’s peak itself! A sign had boasted “world’s highest billiard hall.” I hadn’t doubted that. They would earn 50NPR per kilogram for every item they lugged from Namche Bazaar to Dingboche. That was the standard rate.

The mule trains are only permitted as far as Namche Bazaar. Some yaks are okay here after, but not so many. Porters, human labour, make the bulk of anything. I ordered a Coca-Cola, priced 200NPR above the manufacturer’s recommended price. To pay five times as much, here, seemed justified. I’d seen people carrying crates of beers, boxes of Red Bull energy drinks, gallons of bottled water. If it was packaged or meat, it came from lower down the valley. Our pork curry’s meat came from a village south of Lukla, where the lodge owner’s family had moved from. They sought the busier tourist routes for their living, renting a lodge for the year and living off the income. His wife, two year’s younger than him, aged 27, sat on one side, breastfeeding their tiny chubby baby, massively-wrapped up in a down jacket and down trousers. The nearest school was Pangboche, 10km away, but they intended to raise their kid until old enough to be taught in Kathmandu, like most kids on the region. The Yak-shit oven crackled as the owner slid the lid open, dropping on dried yak turds. The lower oxygen levels make burning yak pooh quite difficult. It isn’t actually that flammable. Wood fires are not permitted, as they destroy forests – also at this altitude, trees are not present. Following a good natter, I retired to bed, with a 3L thermal flask of ginger tea.

I entered my room. It was freezing. Way below zero. Ice had formed on a sweat-lined ski hat I had left by my bed earlier. I dived into my sleeping bag, pulled up the zip high, placing an extra blanket in the room over my body. I wore my dust-mask and spare ski hat to sleep. Gloves on.

I have never had such a restless sleep. I needed to water the plants too often. I had an unquenchable thirst. Headaches squeezed my skull and seemed to strangle my thoughts. At 9 o’clock in the morning I took some paracetamol. I napped until noon. On entering the lounge dining area, warm sunlight beat through the window panes. John and Will had finished their breakfast and were playing backgammon. They were heading for an acclimatisation walk up to Chhukhung. I was not. My head, as much as I wanted to wander, was not right. My ears hurt, my nose and sinuses seemed clogged and unclearable. If I lay my head flat it felt much more painful.

Had I allowed my body time to adjust to reduced oxygen and changes in air pressure? I thought hiking from Jiri and two nights in Namche Bazaar was enough, having read numerous accounts and heard many pieces of advice. Above sea level, altitude sickness can occur at heights over about 2,500m (8,000 feet). The affects are mild usually. In the severe form, anything above 3,600m (about 12,000 feet) is possible. At 5000m, oxygen is at 50% of the level as found at sea level. I was warned that a loss of appetite and shortness of breath were warning signs. I had neither. I did have a feeling of unsteadiness and like I was going to vomit. But, it wasn’t so bad. I decided to rest. The dizziness of the morning swept away. I read a book and enjoyed the warm dining room, napping on the late afternoon to be awoken by the owner knocking on my door. It was almost seven o’clock when I awoke. I ordered spaghetti and tomato sauce.

The next day was not as bad. My head hurt a little and I would classify myself as having “reduced performance and coordination.” I packed my bag, brushing the thick curtain over the window, “Well, I’ll be damned!” I cursed out loud, to nobody. Two nights of sleep, with the window open. The outside extreme weather had been cuddling my breathing at night. Keeping me company, keeping me dehydrated.

With a slight freshness to my mind, I set off for Lobuche (4410m), determining I could make it. I would be okay. The cold harsh peak of Taboche loomed to my left. I thought, I could turn around if I did not feel better. Armed with excessive flatulation (I later learnt this to be a sign of altitude sickness), I soldiered on. And laboured. Really laboured. Sweating profusely in cold is not comfortable. Sweat freezes fast. I checked my hands for swelling. None. My feet were okay that morning, but now they felt unusually warm. Sudden fatigue, a wave of weakness, swept over my body at Dughla (Thukla). Standing at 4620 metres, my mind argued with itself. Go on? Turn around? The mountain pass suddenly felt a million miles away from life. A small hutted hamlet with little attraction. It was a place to pass through and not stay for more than a night’s sleep. I checked my pulse. It was rapid. Persistently rapid. My breathing had quickened and finding my resting level was proving difficult. In my lightheaded state, I heard the thud of a struggling helicopter coming from towards Gorak Shep. Another rescue helicopter. The fourth, I had seen that day. I was around ten kilometres from Kala Patthar and Everest Base Camp.

I decided to turn around. It was emotional. A really, really tough decision. I didn’t want my minor altitude sickness to become the reason for death by high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) or Monge’s disease. Kala Patthar would have to wait. My nausea was close to that of wishing to vomit. I hate the feeling of wanting to be sick, but being unable to trigger a splurge. I could feel paresthesia, pins and needles. My body needed more oxygen. Welcome to the world malaise. I about turned. Passing through Nauma, Pheriche, Jamdang, Somsobuk, and Orsho, the path along the Pheriche Pass went almost unnoticed. As I approached Lower Pangboche (3930m), I watched as a helicopter landed, collected a man clutching an oxygen-cylinder on a medical stretcher. Only now, did I feel I made the right choice. Turning around was probably the wisest move of my life. If I didn’t think of loved ones and friends, I probably would have pushed myself. Too far. Having dropped from 4620m to 3860m at Tengboche, I could feel myself relax. The headaches lifted. I lodged once again at the welcoming Tashi Delak lodge. The log stove burnt well, filling a small area with heat and allowing for comforting conversation with Rai and Sherpa porters gathered alongside me. A group of Taiwanese hikers had aimed to go to Everest Base Camp but fell ill at Pangboche. They sat reasonably quietly, immersed in their glowing mobile phone screens. After a large meal of a yak burger, cheese spring rolls and potato chips, I slipped into my sleeping bag. I slept like a baby. All altitude sickness had gone.

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?

Into Kathmandu, I went

Passing through Terminal 3 International, Departure, Indiri Gandhi International Airport, in New Delhi I was a little hungry. I wanted substantial food and not fast food. I asked for lemonade – and not masala lemonade. I got the masala lemonade I said I did not want. The starter and mains were dry and quite bland with no real flavour befitting their over the top prices.

Kathmandu‘s Tribhuvan International Airport marked my entry and exit to the country of Nepal. Red bricked walls gave a homely feel as I whisked by rucksack from the conveyor belt. I had filed a visa request in less than ten minutes and exited into the icy cold air of baggage reclaim, with only an hour to spare before the clock hit 2017’s New Year’s Day. A pre-booked taxi-van, full-throttled through bustling streets as revellers greeted the Gregorian calendar year with optimistic open arms. Before long I had checked in, drank a celebratory ginger tea and gone to bed, shattered from the journey from Dongguan. Ten hours of flights and wheels hadn’t been so bad. Just not, what I was excited for.

I arrived at Kathmandu with 30 minutes to New Year’s Day kicking in. On departing the airport, tired and having pre-arranged a taxi lift by the Alobar 100 hostel, I was greeted by a mob of men, of them two men appeared to be connected to the hostel. One held my name. The other was a driver. It was a tad intimidating. I booked the taxi to avoid being over-charged and to make the passage to the hostel simple. It put me in a poor mood immediately. I was harangued into tipping, my leftover low-denomination Chinese Yuan. I had no U.S. dollars, despite pushy requests for them. Nor pounds, I live in China and not the U.K.

Check-in was simple. Advice was good. The pre-booked shared dorm for six was actually an 8-berth. No worries. After a good shower in the morning, I had a simple breakfast. I ate a few meals at the hostels. Prices for food and drink were okay. There were plenty of books to swap, and good Wi-Fi. A porter and guide service, tourist trek place is attached but was above my budget so I opted away from utilising that. That said, the lady advised me of where the main bus station to Jiri was and the TIMS office. Communal lounges and the bar were welcoming but a bit smoky. The outside balcony proved comfortable for reading. The bunk bed on the ground, bed and locker G2G (Good to go?) proved perfect for my large rucksack and lanky, heavy figure. I slept well.

The following day, I explored the city of Kathmandu and made my last minute trek purchases, some walking poles and a dust mask for the immensely dusty city.

I explored the Garden of Dreams out of curiosity. I had no idea what was beyond tall the perimeter red-brick wall. The Garden of Dreams is really well-maintained. Not a hint of dust. Combining multiple cultures and their interpretations of a stately home’s gardens, they combine well. You really do escape from the city beyond the walls. Chipmunks, butterflies and birds combine to give a feel of being closer to nature than on a road. If you like the neo-classical style and quintessential ambience of a garden, this is the only place to go in Kathmandu. I visited on a grey cloudy day and lost the feeling of that weather on stepping through the doorway. 200NPR well spent. I learnt only half of the original gardens built remain. That is a crying shame. The Austrian Development Aid, Eco Hima and the Nepal Ministry of Education have aided renovations but the gardens still need a little more, following earthquake damage.

That evening I visited Kathmandu Durbar Square at the Hanuman Dhoka Palace Complex. It is bizarrely one of three sites called Durbar Square. The earthquake on 25 April 2015 has ruined a fair portion of the site. Expect stilts, ruins and boundaries hiding the damage. However, refurbishments are under way and taking time. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is marvellous. I visited as the sunset and enjoyed the dusky appearance. The colourful

Kalbhairav at Hanumandhoka dharwar is bedazzling on the eyes. The Taleju Temple is ornate and spectacularly broad. The colours of Courtyard of Kumari Bahal are equally pleasing on the eyes.  Throughout the area there is a real wow factor.

I eventually booked a coach ticket to the beginning point of my trek, Jiri.

For 590 Nepalese Rupees (NPR), even though I paid 400 more for a taxi and arranged ticket via a tourist agency, I found myself at 5am on the 3rd of January, walking around hundreds of unlit buses looking for my bus, number 5064. I eventually met a kind soul who shown me to a cramped set of wheels with forty seats. Space was not optional. A roof area would be available for summer passengers, but the severe morning frost and fog made this uninviting. The driver positioned my lanky legs behind his seat and I was set for the journey.