Farewell 2020. Happy New Year.

Dear all,

All the very best for 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and love x

John Nichols: You Know His Name

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

/vɪm/

noun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

 

二零二零年四月八日
8th April 2020

 

给相关人士 To whom it may concern.

 

诚 挚 地 感 谢 

T H A N K   Y O U   K I N D L Y !

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Mr John R. Acton

 


 

TO THE HEROES.

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

 

Spiritually thunderstruck.

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

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

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

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

A2803377

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

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

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

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

wx_camera_1581058160318

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

A2803372

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

A2803359

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

A2803410

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

So, what next?

Vivid moments on the Earth’s crust.

好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!


Eddie, Eddie give us a wave!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


 

The journey goes on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

FB_IMG_1581173028754

I’m not gonna give up.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rainbow tapestry.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

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

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


IMG_20200201_124646

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

Life goes on.

 

Wonder Lost Wanderlust

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

And, now for something completely different…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pokhara footsteps.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The journey had started. How about your journey?

Visit Kathmandu 2020.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

But, first a cup of tea…

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?

Happy New Year NHS

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

Happy Christmas and merry new year to all, especially if you’re working for the state-owned National Health Service (NHS)…

“Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge.” – Sir Winston Churchill

No Time To Die is the name of the new James Bond movie. The greying secret agent is retired. Britain is on the edge of an abyss. This reflects the mood around Brexit and the new Conservative government to some degree. My biggest worry is the NHS. Why? Well, O was born in Crumpsall Hospital in northern Manchester. It is now known as North Manchester General Hospital and has swallowed many satellite and neighbouring services. My younger brother Paul was born in St Mary’s Hospital, now part of the Manchester Royal Infirmary and University Hospital. Aside from that in Manchester, there remains Wythenshawe Hospital, a few walk-in centres and many health clinics. Dentists are out there but the waiting lists and pool of choice is limited.

There are so many people that complain about NHS waiting lists, the quality of care and the quality of aftercare. The NHS is an ugly state. It has been there for many people throughout the years offering a safe gateway into life – and one for departure from this life. It has shown me a leg fracture, bacterial infections from bites and helped me to stay inoculated. It has reinforced my immune systems, like many other people and kept my eyes in working order. During our junior years it has ensured that we all have the right access to care, that many people around the world cannot imagine. I wonder how many people take advantage or overlook this wonderful service. It can’t be taken for granted, yet many do just that.

The Conservative governments of old privatised many industries and denationalised many services. Profit always over community. Social care shrank under every Conservative government and not surprisingly people suffered. Financial despair piled onto an already overwhelmed mental healthcare network. Now, many could argue that the NHS mental health network is a collection of scattered national loose threads, waiting to be blown away by the next passing wind. Every link added is an example of tragic failure.

Typhoon Johnson is here. The vulnerable are not his concern. Status quo: an existing state of affairs which means more of the same. How things stand will be austerity and graveness as per the last decade of self-denial and scarcity given to a nation divided in more ways than one. Dividing people on issues of immigration and Brexit has won his party power. The foreigners and those who come to the UK for sanctuary are apparently to blame. Small numbers in a big pond, escalated to sell newspapers and destroy what little harmony in multiculturalism has been sewn over the decades. The tapestry is torn open to take plenty from an economy and ensure the few rich get ever richer and those at the bottom of the food chain remain just that.

Damian Green MP has announced plans for an insurance-based healthcare system. Nicky Morgan announced 50,000 new nurses (but it should take a decade), and that the government does not have a plan to stop swathes of NHS nurses leaving at present. Boris the Butcher Johnson started the Brexit campaign in front of a red bus with a slogan about taking back £350 a week from EU funding to be spent on NHS funding. Will there be any NHS left to receive this bullshit figure? Probably not. There are campaigns and investigations underway with a disturbing amount of strength to say that the NHS will be flogged. In 2018/19, almost two thirds of NHS jobs were farmed out. Ambulance service staff in Worcestershire are will be replaced by E-zec Medical Transport staff in April, according to numerous sources. Savage spending cuts instigated under David Cameron as Prime Minister in 2010 have kept on going. Many senior Conservative MPs have made profit from various sale of NHS aspects and deals. Conflict and interest? Just ask Dominic Cummings. Or smoke it all away.

Not content with shuffling Premier League football around, even Amazon are cashing in on our wanted data. The NHS has many examples of outsourced failures. There’s nothing like malnutrition and dehydration when you go to hospital! Mitie, a massive capitalist cleaning organisation spent £111 million to buy a home care division. Five years later it sold it to Apposite Capital for just £2. Yes, two lousy pounds. They blamed the minimum wage and local authorities for causing them losses. Serco, Allied Healthcare, Circle, Viapath, Arriva, Care UK, Horizon Health Choices, BMI Healthcare, Virgin Care, Capita, Concordia Health, Vocare, Coperforma, Greenbrook, and other such companies head a list of bastards threatening or damaging the NHS. 40 new hospitals were promised by Boris Johnson, but none are financially sound.

Oh, and as the landslide General Election winners crack on… The government is looking at ways to axe current environmental protection laws. Workers rights? They’re up for the chop too. Merry Christmas.


Your Christmas Gifts & Presents:

This year I have made a donation to Come Together Community in particular sponsoring my colleagues Gerry and James as they attempted and completed the gruelling Dongguan Marathon. Both are no strangers to distance runs having completed dozens of half-marathons and a few full marathons between them. Come Together Community (CTC) was set up to assist three local charities. They are Lanjing Ling (LJL) – 蓝晶灵, Zhuhai Autism Society (ZAS) – 珠海市自闭症办会 and the Charity promotion Association of Zhuhai (CPAZ) – 珠海市爱心促进会. Over the last five years CTC has raised and donated money both legally and transparently. It’s won awards too. Hundreds of underprivileged children and orphans around Zhuhai city in Guangdong province have benefited, as have their staff and supporters. CTC has a continual relationship supporting some of society’s most vulnerable people. Some of the events to raise funds include music events and much more. If you interested in donating, sponsoring or becoming a volunteer, click their website here. My second donation will go to Classroom in the Clouds, in expectation that I can hand drop some books in Nepal when I visit in January and February.

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

Leave only footprints. 请只留下脚印

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The motions of finality.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


10th February 2019

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

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

Probably, to be continued….


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

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

 

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

To be determined.

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

https://sunyatsens.com/

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

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

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

 

8th February 2019

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

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

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

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

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


9th February 2019

Morning arrived. Breakfast was devoured. We set out.

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

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

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

#16 GORAK SHEP – PYRAMID ~ 10km

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

10th February 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to follow.

 

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

The Great Pyramid of Nepal?

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

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


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

4th February 2019

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

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

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

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

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


5th February 2019

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

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

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


6th February 2019

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

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


7th February 2019

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

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

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

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

Namche Bazaar (is the place to find me)

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

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


31st January 2019

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

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


1st February 2019

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

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

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

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


2nd February 2019

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

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

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

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

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


3rd February 2019

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

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

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

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

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

 

To be continued…

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

 

 

Lamjura La II: The Return

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

 

 

27th January 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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


28th January 2019

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

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


29th January 2019

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

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

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


30th January 2019

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

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

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

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

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

 

To be continued…

 

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

Johnny Marr is in Sete.

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

A2809404.JPG

16th February 2019

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


A2808558.JPG
22nd January 2019

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

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

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


A2808567
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.


A2808576.JPG
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.

A2808586.JPG

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.


A2808602.JPG
26th January 2019

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

 

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

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

BHANDAR 0930 – SETE 1800: ~15km.

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

 

To be continued…

 


 

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

My first A to Z of Nepal Trekking

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

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


 

IMG_20190211_120915.jpg

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

IMG_20190217_195142.jpg

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

mmexport1549853421499.jpg

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

wx_camera_1549853484927

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

IMG_20190204_152127.jpg

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

wx_camera_1550032227445

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

wx_camera_1550043717944.jpg

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

IMG_20190210_105425.jpg

H is for happy. You will be.

wx_camera_1549192397956

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

wx_camera_1549210102822.jpg

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

hdr

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

IMG_20190205_071657.jpg

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

IMG_20190122_160000.jpg

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

wx_camera_1549805501853.jpg

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

wx_camera_1548331319788.jpg

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

wx_camera_1548331308980

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

dav

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

IMG_20190203_114755.jpg

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

IMG_20190203_140015.jpg

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

IMG_20190203_144048.jpg

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

IMG_20190215_192809.jpg

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

IMG_20190214_154947.jpg

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

IMG_20190214_130803.jpg

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

FB_IMG_1549030145909.jpg

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

FB_IMG_1549031638682

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

IMG_20190203_131647.jpg

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

dav

 

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

Upwards in 2019.

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

Welcome to 2019.

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

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

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

Back to Nepal.

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

The rambling plan – section 1

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

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

The rambling plan – section 2

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

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

The rambling plan – section 3

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

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

Crampons-5am start.

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

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

The rambling plan – let’s get ready to ramble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Himalayas await…

 

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

Word Up: The Bland Mid December Update

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

Moving on from a splattering of Almost Everyday Shit™, this piece of writing is more serious. I find the lack of progress in my spoken Chinese not only unsurprising but also annoying. I need to dedicate time to progression. I need to speak more. I don’t. I lack focus. I am distracted by the slightest change of the winds or a cloud shaped like a crocodile. Don’t misinterpret my lack of learning as a lack of passion. The culture is much more interesting to me. The problem is that Chinese can often be cryptic. Having simple words translated is good enough for now. My listening is improving and more often than before, I can understand the conversations around me. Food is a common topic. Really common. Stupidly common.

妈妈骑马马慢妈妈骂马; māma qí mǎ, mǎ màn, māma mà mǎ;

“Mother is riding a horse, the horse is slow, mother scolds the horse”


In recent weeks, I have attended Clockenflap music festival, with Eddy one night – and Martin the next. The latter, all by myself. Alone. That being said, it was a wonderful weekend, if not a tad expensive. Drinks were 75HKD each, so around £8. Water was free. Pizza was 35HKD per slice. Two expensive coffees a day helped. The big acts delivered in Jarvis Cocker’s Jarv.is and Erykah Badu. I enjoyed The Vaccines, with frontman Juston Young seemingly under the weather, put on an energetic set. Friday’s big set from Interpol was quite flat – as was Cigarettes After Sex. Neither act could offer the energy that festivals require. Khalid wasn’t to my taste, too popular but I was pleasantly surprised by Japanese band Cornelius. Wolf Alice, from That London, were on spot and deserve their lengthy list of plaudits. They’ll go on to big things. Canadian band Alvvays are worth a gander and I’m currently listening to their album Antisocialites. The golden performances of the weekend however belong to husband and wife, Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia. The couple come from Mali and have over four decades of performances to their name. I couldn’t get enough of those funky Afro-Blues if I tried! Sensi Lion were good, but by far the best reggae and Jamaican sound came from the fusion of I Kong with Jahwahzoo. Chinese-Jamaican Leslie Kong (who launched a certain Bob Marley – also the likes of Jimmy Cliff and Desmond Dekker) had a son. His son followed the reggae producer into the music world. His son, I KONG, is 71 years old. He may have worn the body of an older man, but he had the grace and voice of one in his earl years. My ears feel graced by a reggae god. To cap it off, he fused his music with Chengdu’s Jahwahzoo. The city famous for pandas – has talent! By far the best act of the whole weekend’s art and music festival was that of David Byrne. The former punk-indie-rock-multi-genre spinning member of Talking Heads performed an unusual set, barefoot and with a fully integrated backing troupe. The traditional stage set-up was pushed aside for part opera-part ballet-part whatever it was. It was brilliant. Starting with an almost Hamlet-esque feeling and ending with the audience roaring for more. The disparate festival of Clockenflap had here and artist to fit all the billing. Exuberant and charistmatic, the Scottish born American singer with his support made quite an impression. To be active across five decades and evolve without feeling forced takes talent. To cap it all he is an active cycling advocate.


 

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana. It seems like only yesterday that I went to Nepal. Yet here I am, planning a return trip for Spring Festival in 2019. The adventure continues. Now I need to start thinking about what music I will take with me. Johnny Marr and The Smiths will be there. A touch of Happy Mondays and Oasis too. Home always sounds in my ears. I think I’ll need some Meat Loaf. I first listened to Meat Loaf on car journeys from Cleethorpes, back to Manchester and later Morecambe to Manchester. Dad got me into Meat Loaf via The Razor’s Edge and Midnight at The Lost and Found. Some of his songs don’t age or get tiring. Some don’t register – as they’re somewhere below average and some just tide you over to the next number.

On the 30th November 2003, at the Manchester Evening News Arena I watched Meat Loaf’s Last World Tour. I’d last seen him on the 6th May 1999 in The Very Best of World Tour. I’d always wanted to see Meat Loaf and missed the G-Mex gig in 1994 and the two Nynex Arena [now Manchester Arena] gigs in 1996. Fast forward to the 16th of October 2006, I watched Meat Loaf at the Royal Albert Hall. The Three Bats tour gig was awesome. My university friend Lisa Bates accompanied me. I’d enjoyed the Sieze the Night tour in May 2007 at the Manchester Evening News Arena. In 2008, I watched Meat Loaf both at Home Park [27th June 2008] and Hamburg’s Stadtpark [23rd July 2008] as part of his Case de Carne tour. On the 9th of December 2010, at the Manchester MEN Arena, Hang Cool Tour was expected to be Meat Loaf’s final farewell tour. On the 19th of April 2013, I watched Meat Loaf at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena. Last at Bat Farewell Tour, featuring the entire Bat Out Of Hell album in the second act. On August the 16th that year, I visited Newmarket Racecourse to watch Meat Loaf on the same tour. I’m now waiting for Meat Loaf’s final, last ever, absolute ultimate closing decisive tour… 2003, 2006, 2007, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2013… we must be due one from the man who has toured almost continuously since 1977 soon?

Music is important to me. Just as great music like Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, travelled via the medium of movies from the silver screen to our ears, sounds from John Barry, John Williams and a plethora of conductors have become synonymous with movies. Their emotive nature has strangled and captured my attention time and time again. Whilst John Barry and David Arnold have given the distinct sound of James Bond, it is Thomas Newman’s scoring for Skyfall that is foremost in my mind. Soundtracks offer the perfect opportunity to combine multiple genres and contrasting blends of music. They are the cocktail to the traditional beer of the album. Fine examples include Chameleon; Weddings; No Smiling Darkness/Snake Charmers Association; Ambulance for the Ambience; Major Label Debut (Fast) – all by Broken Social Scene. Ghostbusters, as a sountrack is multi-layered funky and dynamic. The Blues Brothers cannot be topped for tempo and feel good. Kill Bill’s soundtracks offer an incite into the director’s love of music. Due South, a TV series from the 90’s offers the buddy TV show in sound. Slumdog Millionaire, alongside Sons of Anarchy travel great grounds and make good companions. If that’s how you discover Black47, so be it. Like Lost In Translation, music is everywhere to be discovered, repleated and replayed. There’s nothing better than rediscovering a long-unplayed music track like Diesel Power by Prodigy or first hearing Arcade Fire. For new music I recommend BBC Radio 6 Music or just attending any music festival. To quote Limp Bizket, take a look around!

 

47442171_10156809556650699_5899347948554158080_nRecently, I joined Here! Dongguan magazine hiking. Following that I had dinner with several people including questionable-coke supplier Charli In China. Jokes aside, she doesn’t do drugs, or sell them on but her blog is located on WordPress alongside many, including this pile of crap that I keep typing on. I can’t recommend Charlie’s Blog, as I am only now reading it, but travel and culture enthusiasts can take my view and have a gander blindly. What is there to lose?

 

Last week on one lunch time I had beef and broccoli with rice. I felt hungry still, only an hour later. Increasingly, I feel more and more hungry, sooner and sooner after eating rice. Is this a sign of ill-health or have I become immune to the hunger-busting ability of rice? Answers on a postcard (edible, preferably) please. Last night, I ate hotpot with Obama, Stone, Maria and her mother. The kind of place where they make you cook. I asked for extra onion, expecting a portion but had a full (yet chopped) onion dashed at me. Can’t complain. It fried up well eventually amongst the pig’s stomach and various bits of vegetables. Winter has arrived and with it, the necessity to eat hotpot and devour soup more frequently. I don’t see it, personally, but then I’m not the one wearing five layers or thermals when it is 12°C. Don’t get me started in last week’s sudden ten degree drop in temperature! Dongguan went from summerwear to Baltic state overnight.

In recent weeks, school life has seen the obligatory Sports Days, talent competitions (I Dance Like This, being sang by 6-7 year olds was great fun) and the joys of midterm exams. We’re cracking on for the end of semester and Spring. The relentless pace now includes tonight’s Dance Extragavanza and Christmas activities soon after. Aside from helping to decorate Winners Pub and dress of Father Christmas at last weekend’s Shenzhen Blues’ event for Crimbo, I haven’t thought about the festive season. That way homesickness waits…


 

Words are great things – and a great song title too. So glad to hear that Doves are regrouping even if I can’t make any of the three announced gigs.

 

Words, they mean nothing 换句话说,他们的意思是什么
So, you can’t hurt me 所以,你不能伤害我
I said words, they mean nothing 我说的话,他们的意思是什么
So, you can’t stop me 所以,你不能阻止我
Words – Doves

I like wordplay and authors like Roald Dahl or Eric Carle have mastered repartee perfectly. Even influencing society and movies with their jousting words. I also like crazy sentences and riddles. Anything that somehow frazzles the mind and warps perception of simple English. When the meaning clicks, it clicks and if you can get a seven-year old kid to master just one little bit, then the feeling that wit and banter will forever enter their life is quite pleasing.

“Wouldn’t the sentence ‘I want to put a hyphen between the words Fish and And and And and Chips in my Fish-And-Chips sign’ have been clearer if quotation marks had been placed before Fish, and between Fish and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and Chips, as well as after Chips?”

Words can be powerful emotive tools to convey actions. They can be linguitic symbols that appear in memes, poems and other semantic forms. They are historical, computational, anthropological and applied in structure and field. Some words reveal lots about our heritage – and many have morphed or transisted cultural boundaries. They can be generative or specific. Our languages globally depend upon them. Each word and its origin can be found. At the very least a theory given to the origin story in ways that Marvel will probably film at some stage. They do everything else. Our words are elements – that give meaning, whether objective or practical.

Now words, as stones make buildings, form phrases, languages, clauses and sentences. I threw this sentence together so that you can put up with reading it and generally feeling that I am terrible at writing. You’re welcome. Below words are the protons and neutrons in morphemes. Oh – and some make words, like erm… oh! Many words have roots, affixes and some are made of compounds. I wonder how many words feature in in affixes or compounds. It must be wonderful to know. That or you’ll be wordless.

Words make good games, not that using pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis as a subject is wise, because it is no laughing matter. The definition being ‘a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust’. At least the Disney movie Mary Poppins went light-hearted with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The word, according to Dictionary.com, which can be found at www.dictionary.com, is ‘used as a nonsense word by children to express approval or to represent the longest word in English’. Most people with a sense of humour note it as something ‘extraordinarily good’ or ‘wonderful’ – with the movie intending it to mean, ‘something to say when you have nothing to say’.

In my opinion it is worth reading some of Richard Lederman’s books and checking out his webpage, Verbivore. English lexicographer and etymologist, Susie Dent, has some eye-opening mind-bending joyous books, and the popular title, Susie Dent’s Weird Words by Susie Dent is worth a perusal. That or you could read about uttering. They make lighter reading than the plethora of dictionaries available in the wide world. On top of that, I’d be up for a game of the best anagram game ever, Scrabble. Idioms, nautical term dictionaries, word play websites, prompts, blogs, rhymes, rimes – yùnshū (韵书), spelling bees and many more sources act as great ways to develop our language skills. Debate and discussion is one such powerful method. Choose a subject, such as antidisestablishmentarianism, then crack on. Or discuss your plans to visit Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – home of the Women’s Institute and Llanfair PG FC.

Swords are powerful, so are words.

 

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

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.