Stage XI: Abuji Cuo

你好!Nihao! Hello!

Anticipation surrounded the morning. We after off for a selection of steamed, boiled and grilled breakfast mainstays of Chinese breakfasts (across this huge nation). With that, those without raincoats purchased those disposable rain jackets designed to be worn for an hour or so. The kind that would make Mr Macintosh roll in his grave with tears. Not to mention environmentalists. Sorry Greta!

Abuji Cuo (阿布吉措) sounds Japanese. It certainly seems unlike Mandarin Chinese. It’s surrounded by the Ajiagang Mountains and stands high over meadows and scattered pasture houses. It’s well off the beaten track and fairly clean of trail litter. The name comes from one of the many local Yunnan languages and people but I couldn’t find a true translation or meaning. It is apparently very holy. The China National Highway 214 and Xiangli Expressway (toll road) are to the west. Here a dirt track leads under two bridges (the new Shangri-la railway line).

The car journey led us to a gate. It had a weight on one end and two barriers across the path ahead. Here began the wander. The base camp was labelled just that. The pathway was an old track, now used by loggers as well as the original farming people of these steep damp foothills.

Rounding a bend, the footpath exited the road, passing between free-range pigs and towards a slim yet fast-rushing stream. Our group of six with a local man tagging along crossed the stream over felled logs now doubling as a bridge. Here the path gently led to an open plain standing below the face of the mountains. The phone signal had soon disappeared – something good for the quiet ahead, but unusual on mainland China.

After passing through the deep lush green meadow, the path banked left over several bubbling streams complete with stepping stones and bridging points. Here the path zig-zagged up and across gaining altitude fast. It’s steep sections were marred by slippy sticky clay interspersed by sharp shards of rock. The sides of the path displayed vivid biodiversity with wild gooseberries, something like rhubarb and wild strawberry plants amongst the plethora of greenery.

A local Yunnan man Qī Lín(七林), a girl from Anhui, a student from Guangzhou, a girl from Heyuan, a girl from Hubei, and another girl (from somewhere in China) walked up in light to heavy rain. The thick cloud thinned and grew in almost pulsating slow motion. At times the valley behind seemed hidden. At others it became a tapestry of various green hues.

The imposing mountain to our right shoulder (mostly) could have been Skull Island from the King Kong movies. It’s ferocious face looked brittle and completely impervious to those intrepid climbers who like such nooks and crannies. The artistry of nature had created such a detailed spectacle. The top range of peaks could have been a crown, or a bed of thorns. It truly sets the imagination running as wild as the fight ravines within.

The stream accompanied the walk up, and at times became the pathway giving clear flow to passersby in need of a quenching swig of freshness. After one small lake the path hugs a slope covered in knife-sharp vicious broken rocks. Blue flowers emerge where the rocks allow soil to gather. The rug of land is unforgiving and not a place to stand in awe of the view ahead.

What lies ahead is possibly the greatest lake view I have ever seen. The cauldron of clear green and blue water appears impossibly deep. Local legend has it that there is no bottom to the icy water. It’s entirely believable. The edges look crystal clear but beyond that, well diving would be the only way to know what lies beneath. The surrounding slopes are mixed in terms of harsh angles but most are barren. Life is not easy. We were stood around 4300m and the highest point is about 500m above here.

The caldera-shape of the valley spreads wide and long. From numerous vantage points it’s hard to tell what started this paradise on high. The geological features and lay of the land are mesmerising. It grips your heart whilst choking your throat of air. You can suddenly become breathtakingly awestruck. You look. It stares back blankly. Rumour has it, if you speak to loud then rain will come. Here at the top, for the most part, rain eluded our group. The feeling of healing as you look around you at the majestic landscape is overwhelming. I couldn’t help but feel my heartstrings being tugged and a tear in my eye. There are few places left that are this pristine.

Shangri-la (香格里拉县/Xiānggélǐlāxiàn) is a county and a city that draws it’s English and Chinese names from James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. It influenced China to rename the Yunnan city of Zhōngdiàn (中甸) in 2001 to Shangri-la. The Shangri-la of Hilton’s writing could have been Kashmir, Tibet or anywhere else along the Kunlun Mountains of the author’s description. But, if James Hilton had have travelled to Yunnan and Abuji Cuo to see the steep cliffs, loose and rocky earth scattered with flora and colour, he may have set his chapters here.

Abuji Cuo is about 4 to 5 hours (around 17-20km) up and only accessible from May to October. The gate (near a temple) is manned and access denied at other times to allow ecological balance. Non-slip shoes are essential, although I spied a few people in sport shoes. One unlucky soul was sporting a sprained wrist, leg injury and looked sheepish. Her local guide was guiding her down ever so slowly. The muddy pathways demand good grips. The steep falls are lethal in appearance. And there are yaks. Yaks can surprise from above, and they did on our walk once or twice. Death by yaks would be rather a bad day at the office. The road starts between to Bixiang and XiaoZhongDianZhen.

The hamlets of Nigeria, where we drank milk, and the Niguqe (尼古个) hamlet are sparsely populated so expect to see few people. The nearby hamlet of Gangzhemu (岗者木) is close to a scenic spot called Bitahai (碧塔海景区) but that could easily be a different world. However, it would make a tasty multi-day hike with camping. Scope to return? Head to Bengla (崩拉)?

The walk back down was every bit as unforgettable as the ascent. Ancient woodlands caked in drapes of moss and lichens, the sound of a chorus of different birds and the smell of flowers give your senses a tasty day. After reaching the pasture at the cliff face, a local woman gave us hot potatoes, and well wishes. After that we walked to the road and were greeted by a drift (or drove) of pigs. The curious tail-wagging group led us to discover some local fruits, to which nobody knows the name. QiéZi gave me one that looks like it is shaped like a bottom. Rather cheeky!

Soon after Qī Lín (七林) introduced us to an elderly farming couple. Here we had hot milk, sour homemade yogurt and delicious cheese. The wooden cabin was a good end to a day’s hike and we bid the farmers goodbye before jumping in a car back to Shangri-la. The unique and diverse holy Abuji pasture would occupy our minds for the evening and I’m sure that visiting there, we gained something more.

Grid reference: 27.666254378118495, 99.90886934422305 (Abuji Cuo) to Bixiang village (27.604282621386876, 99.78759058373961). 14km distance as a local chough would fly.

再见!Zai Jian! Goodbye!

Tashi Delek

Tashi Delek / 你好 / Hey, hey!

It was Christmas Eve and I enjoyed scrambled eggs, with toast and cappuccino. I decided to have an easy day of wandering. To acclimatize to altitude is important. I drank ginger tea, water and ate bananas with other dried fruits. Other tricks include walking high and then sleeping low. So, for Christmas Eve, I looked for a bumpy mountain. I had my eye on a few peaks around this valley that envelopes Shangri La city. The cold was manageable with a City shirt and my trusted Sherpa jacket. The Italian wool socks were and are highly effective too. Nighttime hit -12C outside but inside a Green Tree Hotel it was standard room temperature.

Following a late breakfast at The Compass, I headed to LánYuèGǔ (蓝月谷) which translates to Blue Moon Valley. It’s real name is Shika Mountain (石卡山; Shíkǎshān) and it towers to the west above Diqing Shangri-La Airport (DIG). The airport is at at around 3280m. I was able to wander up to about 3500m, way shy of the peak towering above. There were too many people saying, “You shall not pass.” Strong winds had closed the nearby cable car and every path upwards. Rules is rules. I headed back and spotted some cranes, a photo opportunity or two and plenty of construction. Some splendid stupas and magnificent views made for a pleasant wander. Blue Moon wasn’t all that, but the name belongs to City’s chant so what’d you expect?

In the evening, I enjoyed local Tibetan food and hospitality before heading back to rest. I woke up in the same Green Tree hotel, opposite the city bus station. At 08:20, I was on a bus headed for Déqīn town or city. Unsure what it actually is. From there many trails lead off to waterfalls, glaciers and villages.  This area is spelled as Diqen, Díqìng and Deqin (བདེ་ཆེན་རྫོང་). It’s rather confusing. Since Tibet handed over Kham province to Yunnan province, it’s become autonomous (迪庆藏族自治州). The many names should be a starting point for a clear up. By noon, after a climbing route of a road trip, the bus pulled into Deqing city’s bus station. Here I was told that I could go onto Feilaisi (飞来寺) village. I agreed and returned after a quick lunch. Less than an hour later and the bus halted outside a terrace of hotels. Opposite stood a rather imposing two metre wall. Beyond that wall, a view to a kill. The picturesque and snow capped range of MeiLi Snow Mountain (梅里雪山).

After a few minutes standing outside I checked into the a catching named hotel, Deqin Snow Mountain Town Tourist Reception Center (No.2 Reception). I couldn’t find the sequel. After dropping my bag up four flights of stairs, I grabbed my camera and crossed the road into the Mingzhu Langka Viewing Platform, and following my health code check, I was away to wander and enjoy the view. The panoramic settings on cameras was made especially for this kind of scene. The clear air, beautiful blue skies and Lancang river valley below only added to the dramatic setting. A main deck with 8 stupas, a rare Mani wall, and an abundance of prayer flags made my Christmas Day special in ways I hadn’t previously imagined.

The fluttering sound of prayer flags, slapping each other, and spiraling up and down on winds with the fragrance of incense and juniper took me moments to clear my mind. The overwhelming scenery had swallowed me up. With each majestic cloud hovering like a pirouette over the many peaks, it was easy to catch my jaw falling lower than usual. The interjection ‘wow’ felt seriously below par, yet it flew out of my mouth with consummate ease. The main peak, Kawagarbo, is 6740m up. Tibetan people refer to it as Nyainqênkawagarbo. It’s a hugely sacred mountain and climbing is banned. Climbers have tried and in 1991 it claimed 17 members of one expedition. It is a sinister and magnificent looking mountain range with twenty peaks, of those 6 tower over 6000m. Tibetan pilgrims cover a different distance each year, circumambulating 240km (150 miles) around the mountain base, praying to the warrior God inside the mountain. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a real spiritual ambience. I’d look upon the framed snow peaks on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day in wonder. Absolutely stunning.

On Boxing Day, my light stroll rewarded me with views of at least ten vultures and different angles of the mountains over the raging river below. Dinner was nothing to shout home about but the oranges and pomegranates around Feilaisi certainly need a positive mention.

The walk goes on…

Rainbow tapestry.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

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

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


IMG_20200201_124646

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

Life goes on.

 

Walking on eggshells

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

“I don’t pretend to be a gentleman, but I am entitled to paint what I see.” – Interview tapes with G B Cotton & Frank Mullineux (undated) L. S. Lowry – A Biography by Shelley Rhode

Free Pussy Riots was the best banner that I ever witnessed at a Man City game. The cardboard boos shown to UEFA were a close second. Is protesting and politics at home in sport?

“Hey John, how can you be so ignorant to China and H.K.?” – someone asked me this today, in China. And like anything else political here, I replied with, “This is not the place to have this discussion and I am not prepared to carry on.” I also wanted to say that I refuse to influence people in China – and I do. It is not my job to meddle in politics and the policy of China. Of course, I have an opinion. I have beliefs but I also have the wisdom to know that you cannot tickle a tiger’s balls and expect to get away with it.

So, NBA has gone down a bit in China due to comments on social media. Politics and sports cannot be mixed these days – and certainly not on mediums such as Twitter. At a Philadelphia Sixers game versus Guangzhou Loong Lions, a fan and his wife were ejected for shouting their views on Hong Kong. The Wells Fargo Center court is located in as Francis Scott Key said, “the land of the free”. The American national anthem features something similar, right? Well, sport, has a long-winded and painful view of politics and freedom. To cut a story short, great moments of history such as the 1968 black power movement stand out in history – because they signify defiance and stand for belief. It wasn’t part of the running material and matchday programme. Tommie Smith and John Carlos have statues on the San Jose State University campus grounds. They joined in the 2008 Global Human Rights Torch Relay which ran in parallel to the Beijing Olympics torch.

Protests affect more people than you often know. They send little and big ripples, visible and invisible, left, right and centre. One NBA tweet, by Houston Rockets’ coach Daryl Morey, who retracted it, has been slammed by President Trump.

In China, Chinese sponsors have suspended their ties with NBA clubs. The TV channels have removed tonight’s games and other games from the schedules. Since then NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended Morey’s right to tweet as he wishes. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich backed him up, “He came out strongly for freedom of speech.” NBA fans in China are backing their country over their love for the game of basketball. Most fans here demand an apology before they carry on their love affair with America’s basketball. A huge repletion of one quote can be found seemingly everywhere, “China-U.S. relations began with ping-pong, and they’ve ended with basketball.” What President Nixon did in 1971 is being undone by a closed-shop sports league that usually puts capital over principals.

What’s the story, Mr Morey? Well, he later added a post to the affects of a desperate boyfriend who has shunned the love of his life. Basketball is huge in China. China is huge. Almost every garden, park or recreation area has a court, or two, or more. The Chinese Basketball Association believes 300 million people play the sport. I feel that is an understatement. From school bus drivers to security guards to uncles minding their grand kids, and the other more expected hoop-throwing youths, it is everywhere. It dominates ball sports here. Rugby Union played its part in Apartheid; the Munich massacre happened; LGBT rights protests surrounded the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia; 8 nations (including China) boycotted the 1956 Olympics in Australia after Russia were suspended for invading Hungary; China boycotted two other Olympic games (’64 as China had entered the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO);’80 due to USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan); the massacre at Tlatelolco happened; but overall sport is essential to world relations. Now, NBA is thrust into the limelight (unlike South Park, removed from search histories).

As NBA has been met with displeasure, some hot heads have used stronger language and hate as their reply. That’s not on. It can’t be that way. How can we all find a common path to the future if we don’t talk? For some fashion and perfume brands, China is not a good place to trade now. Keeping quiet has more of a benefit than losing potential custom. Sport is the same. Discrimination is bad. The vulnerable, the needy and those subject to abuse because of prejudices need a voice. Colour, race, ethnicity, religion are always topics which will need sensitivity. But, on the other hand, how far do you believe in your freedom of speech? And right now, many brave souls are stepping up.

Whether with Extinction Rebellion at London City Airport, or forming a rather large Tibet flag at a French football game… even a 91-year-old called John has been arrested, complete with a walking stick. Of course, Liverpool FC faced opposition to their attempt to trademark the name of Liverpool, and also when they drove local property values down in a bid to buy the properties for cheaper later – because commercial development is where it is at. But, we must look at the other side of the conversations too. China may be huge but its 5000 years of civilisation as been invaded in many places, colonised and used as a factory. Now it gathers strength enough to speak out loud. China sings from the same hymn sheet – and mostly through pride in identity. Other countries are often divided – split and messy, yet they all like to shout about how it is done.

Sport is a great friendship tool. It bridges division and cultures. Iraq play football and could face Nepal, equally they could host Australia or Qatar. England can travel to Scotland, Sweden or Slovenia. The game of football, like basketball and other such sports can influence and deepen relations. Claimed sovereignty, national interests and cultures can be better understood. When two differences are clear, then dialogue can be heard – or silenced. Boycotts and closure won’t help every battle. Tolerance is not even enough. We must be careful in this day and age, as people, not to shout abuse and close our minds.

For me, I’d like to view Tibet first hand, and see the region. I will remain neutral. I’d like to speak about Hong Kong, but I won’t. I must remain neutral – Hong Kong is part of China – and the days of it being a British colony are long gone. This is a matter for the people of the affected regions and not the former occupants and their Union Flag. I’m here in China as a guest. A foreigner who feels foreign and is always reminded that I’ll never be local or Chinese. I know where I stand. That’s fine. It is accepted. I’m just trying to make a living and find a way to get onto the U.K. property ladder in my home country that is also far from free. I want to be like Mel Gibson’s William Wallace and say something like he did in the movie Braveheart, “I came back home to raise crops, and God willing, a family. If I can live in peace, I will.”

East and West are crashing together like heavy waves on a shoreline susceptible to costal erosion. For those of us living between the two, we have to knuckle down and work, without tickling any tiger’s testicles – and keeping the burning heat of tiger balm far away from our balls.

“I look upon human beings as automatons because they all think they can do what they want but they can’t. They are not free. No one is.” – Maitland Tapes-interview with Prof. Hugh Maitland 1970 L. S. Lowry – A Biography by Shelley Rhode

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

Lamjura La II: The Return

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

 

 

27th January 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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


28th January 2019

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

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


29th January 2019

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

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

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


30th January 2019

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

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

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

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

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

 

To be continued…

 

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