Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Feed Me.

In Nepal, babies that are born perfectly healthy become brain-damaged by their first birthday simply because they do not get enough to eat.

My (other) government has decided to do something about that.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


(The bits I remember)

Flew to India...Saw poverty in the street...Saw cows in the street...Stayed in relative opulence...Couldn't drink garam masala tea...Flew to Kathmandu, couldn't land, flew to Calcutta, international flight became a domestic flight...Domestic flights are not allowed to serve alcohol...Stayed in faded glory five star hotel...Flew to Kathmandu...Landed in Kathmandu...face to face encounter with leper...Had dahl bat...Escaped the bandh and took bus to Pokhara...Caught up with friends...Caught a cold...Climbed Sarankot with small child on shoulders...Saw eagles...Saw very high mountains...Drank Special Edition Everest Beer...Oared on Phewa Tal...Stuck my hand in human shit...Had my first blade shave...Took jeep to Tansen...Driver answered mobile phone with both hands on sharp bend missing eternal abyss...Encountered Tansen Mission Hospital...Played numerous games of 'What's the time Mr. Wolf?'...Visited Nepali church in Nepali...Skipped out of Nepali church service at half time...So far avoided wiping my bum with my hand...Hit in the head by rock thrown by four year old ...More shoulder rides...Played with dirt...Read literary crud...More dahl bat...Made video of hospital...Laid around a more crud...Have generally great time with Sarah, Mike, and the three wee ones...Take nine hour Buck ride back to Kathmandu...Face to face with Downs Syndrome Nepali child in Butwal (I'm very sorry I didn't give you my biscuit)...Flew to see Mount Everest/Sagamartha/Chomolungma...Dodged piles of garbage in the street...Visted Monkey Temple with Cow, Sarah and cluelessly dressed Australian girl...Was freaked out by monkeys...Lots more eagles...Visited Kathmandu Durbar Square...Was somewhat disturbed by Hindu and Buddhist temples...Still don't know why this is...Had standout dinner at Kathmandu House Restaurant...Said goodbye to Sarah...Flew to Pokhara...Started five day Poon Hill trek in fair weather with the good guide Saran...Fair weather became less fair...Still managed to avoid using the back of the hand to wipe my bum...Started to get Heartland by The The and (Nothing but) Flowers by Talking Heads in my head... Glimpsed Annapurna South...Followed the chicken sellers of Pokhara...Learnt Nepali card game Dhumbal...Learnt that beer, toilet paper and mars bars are significantly more expensive than accomodation in the hills...Climbed to nearly the top of Poon Hill (3210m)...Cloud came down...Rain came down...Temperature went down...Hail came down...Temperature went down...Snow came down...Saw world's smallest glacier...Admired the snow in the hills...Carried on Ghandruk...Passed mute Nepali...Internally wept over mute Nepali...Did nothing else about mute Nepali...Stayed in big guesthouse in Ghandruk...Vowed to never stay in a guesthouse with TV ever again...Glimpsed Annapurna again...One kilometer straight down and one kilometer straight up in four hours...Finished walk...Returned to Pokhara for hot shower...No hot water in Pokhara...Went for shave and haircut...Had shave...Had haircut...Escaped being buggered/physically assaulted by barber by paying ten pounds to barber and his mate...Want to kill barber...Visited dry Dewi Falls and Cave Complex...Still wanting to murder barber...Spent morning oaring on Phewa Tal and admiring enormous mountains that had finally come out of their closet...Flew to Kathmandu...Eat final dahl bat dinner...Visited Bhaktapur Durbar Square...Made to visit Buddhist art school...Still uncomfortable in Buddhist temples...Pay pound to not buy any Buddhist artwork...Last glimpses of Himalayas...Flew to Delhi (no wiping of bum with hand in Nepal)...Went to visit Red Fort...Red Fort closed on Mondays...Went to visit Gandhi memorial...Gandhi memorial closed on Mondays...Went to visit Qatab Minar...Qatab Minar open on Mondays...Admire Qatab Minar...Joy-riding round Delhi on Tuk Tuk...Made to buy chess set...Visit magnificent Humayun's Tomb...Discovered I'm quite comfortable in mosques...Arrange train and guide for Agra...10.30pm bed time to be up early for train to Agra...11.30pm Capoeira starts outside hotel...12.00am fireworks start outside hotel...1.00am fireworks finish outside hotel...5.30am get up to catch Shatabi Express to Agra...Am served personal thermos of tea, plus paper, curry and bottle of water on Shatabi Express...Watch Indians crap in fields alongside track...Arrive in Agra...Visit Taj Mahal...Argue with security about the admitting of cows into Taj...Lose argument with security...Visit Taj alone...Get photo taken on Princess Di bench...Am overawed by Taj...More eagles...Visit older and littler 'Baby Taj'...Am taken to look at how marble is engraved...Penny hasn't dropped...Realise I am expected to buy something...Buy elephant embossed coasters...Visit place where carpets are handmade...Still slow on uptake...Finally realise I am expected to buy carpet...Have sweet nothings whispered in my ear by carpet salesman...Undecided about carpet...Sweet nothings get closer...Decide to not buy carpet...Carpet salesman brings out calculator...Salesman types number into calculator and doesn't use any of the mathematical operators...Affirm desire to not buy carpet...Plummet to lowest caste and am frogmarched from carpet showroom...Am taken by guide to more shops...Tell guide I do not want to be taken to anymore shops...Becoming passive aggressive...Am taken to another set of shops...Passive aggression about to become unpassive...Am finally taken to Agra Fort...Spend hours admiring Islamic architecture, views of Taj, monkeys and hundreds of eagles, while avoiding returning to the guide...Decide Agra Fort is an outrageously good place to wile away the hours and avoid guide...Return to guide...Am taken to another shop...Choose to buy wooden statue of Gandhi...Tell guide to take me to place to drink beer...Last sighting of guide...Drink beer...Driver returns me to station...Tip driver on the basis of him not being the guide...Wait on platform...Watch 16 year old boy with one leg pull himself along the platform to beg...More grieving but no money for 16 year old amputee...Return to Delhi...Have great encounters with three generations of Indian family...Still have Heartland and (Nothing but) Flowers in my head...Still haven't used hand to wipe bum...See last eagles...Leave Delhi...Arrive in Oxford...Brush teeth using tap water for first time in four weeks...Delhi Belly symptoms arrive.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Don't hire the Guide

There's a whole lot of post-processing that needs to be done post the sub continent. The process begins on Monday night with Jim, some western food and some eastern beer, and a newly acquired chess set.

So, in lieu of detailed discussion I offer this:
  • In India DO NOT hire a guide. Do it yourself, you'll be fine, and you won't get dragged through a dozen shops and have sweet nothings whispered in your ear about how good the carpet you're looking at is.
  • Mark Tuly, quoted AA Gill's AA Gill is Away was asked about how he dealt with the poverty in India. His response: 'I don't have to cope with the poverty; the poor have to cope with the poverty'. This is a very useful insight when travelling in India.
  • In India, it is best to travel with a friend.
  • To paraphrase Gill again, the Taj is not too passe. It is fucking stupendous, supremely magnificent. But don't try to take a stuffed cow into it, the guards won't let it in.
  • Equally magnificent is the Agra Fort.
  • In Delhi, you have to ask for the beer. It's not on the menu, but it is there. And Indian beer is not to be smirked at.
Here's some photos:

How is it that I look both squat and really pissed off?

Tibetan prayer flags in the cloud.

Calligraphy detail at the Taj.

Jesus and Richard on the mountain. Richard still looks pissed off...

...while the cow is just pissed.

At the Agra Fort.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Velvet Elvis

Justice has lent me a copy of Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis.

It's a very engaging study on his take on the Christian faith, and (so far) to a large extent it encapsulates my take on Christianity. I'm probably really enjoying it because I agree with it... I'll try to comment on it later when I've finished it.

However it is slightly damp due to the Rains of Nepal.

Shagged Mr. Richard

When I get the next beer down me I'm raising a glass to all the poor bastards like me who were on the Poon Hill loop during the first week of February.

I didn't climb Poon Hill. I did climb 3000 odd metres. But there was no point climbing Poon Hill. Quite frankly I'm wondering what the point of the past five days was.

For the past five days the Annapurna Sanctuary has been covered in thick cloud and heavy rain. As a result I am cold, wet, tired and more than just a little grumpy. And I saw s.f.a of any mountains. Still, I suppose I do feel better for the exercise and if there is one point or lesson to take from this, it's to check the bloody weather forecast before setting off.

If this is paradise
I wish I had a lawnmower
-Talking Heads

Friday, February 02, 2007

Walking Mr. Richard

I've still another thirteen days before I'm expected back at work. Originally I had planned to go overland from Nepal to Delhi, but I've changed my mind. I'm not comfortable with being on my tod for the two day train ride as theft is very common on the Indian railways. If I was with another person I'd be ok with this as there would always be someone to watch my kit as I go to the dodgy toilet. Secondly, there is limited assurance that I would be able to even get to the border as the terai (the lowlands between the Himalayas and India) is often the subject of bandhs, or strikes, that close the roads indefinitely. Vehicles that break the bandhs get stoned. Sometimes they get set on fire while the army watches, and in protest at the army doing nothing another bandh is arranged. And so on. So I'm not doing that. Instead I'm off for a walk. I'm back in Pokhara for a night before me and my guide climb up then around Poon Hill. This is a five day walk on the edge of the Annapurna Sanctuary. Annapurna I, the highest of the Annapurnas, is 8091m high. From the top of Poon Hill (3210m), I'll be able to see multiple 7000m+ high mountains. It will also get me away from the roads.

Yesterday, I flew alongside the eastern Himalaya as far as the Big Boy, which could and possibly should be called Sagarmatha or Chomolungma.

I've been fortunate to spend much of the last two weeks in the company of my pal Sarah, who has been an excellent travel companion. Mainly because she is a top woman, but also because she has spent much time in India (at least 12 trips, I think) and therefore knows the haggling process, and the right questions to ask when buying services. She is also an enthusiatic, yet rubbish (or chronicly unlucky) yahtzee player, which has resulted in my learning to be a gracious winner. She flies home today. Thanks for a great fortnight, mon amie.

Four days of my visit were spent in Tansen, where Sarah and Mike and the three wee ones live and work at the UMN Mission hospital. It's the only hospital for 50 plus miles, or, more importantly, two or more hours driving. Mike has a year-long placement as a surgeon. In a months time he might be redundant as the hospital is likely to run out of water.

This afternoon I have some shopping to do for the walk. If anybody wants me to bring back some cheap but authentic pashmina you need to email me specifying colour and I'll see what I can do. Within reason!

After the walk I'm finally back off to India. La vache and I are off for Lady Di pose at the Taj.

Driving Mr. Richard

Driving in Kathmandu requires one of two approaches. Either you treat your trip as an engineer would - I have a car, it is this big, the gap I want to get into is this big, and in order to get my car into that gap I need to take the following route - or you take the alternative and more popular approach. This approach can be likened to a small child armed with a hammer trying to get a square peg into a round hole. The child also has a large, loud and creative sounding horn. If it helps, the child is also high.

When queueing in Nepal for anything (such as the departure tax at the airport - Kathamdu airport, like Auckland and unlike every other airport I've been to, requires that you pay your departure tax after you've bought the ticket but before you have checked in), the approach is simply to barge to the front and wave your money furiously. At the moment, due to problems on the terai (the low parts of Nepal), there is limited access to petrol in Kathmandu. As a consequence, drivers queue for up to five hours to get fuel. They use the same approach as is required in the departure tax payment queue, but do not leave their vehicles. It is possible to see scrums of motorcyles 100+ strong involved in this. It is believed that in order to conserve petrol it is essential for drivers to switch off their engines when waiting at traffic lights.

Driving to and from Kathamndu is precipitous and requires one or more of the following:
  • gigantic testicles
  • blind faith
  • the ability to see round corners
  • momentum
  • no fear
  • no brains (for to think about what you're about to means you will not do it).
  • A very loud horn
  • The ability to make trucks that are coming towards you either disappear or fit into very small places

I've been in overtaking maneouvers on roads with 500m+ drops past several heavily decorated and lumbering Tata trucks on blind corners while being a passenger in a less decorated but equally lumbering buck, which I've subesequently learnt is called a buck 'cos it's half bus and half... As I say, momentum is important. Astonishingly, we never met an oncoming vehicle, and I'm sure either my driver had radar or telekinesis. For the 18+ hours to date that I have spent being driven in Nepal, it somewhat amazes me that none of the vehicles I've been in have touched any other vehicle. And the only tipped over Tata truck I've seen was on the terai near Butwal. It was a very straight and flat road and it had spilt its load of steel. It appeared to have collected a tree on its way to resting on it's side, with the side of the road being some 20m plus away.

The best ride I've had was from the airport to Thamel, the tourist part of Kathmandu. Our driver was as high as a kite and giggled constantly as he played with is horn. At one stop, he started to attack his dashboard, kicking and punching it with all the energy of a rutting stag. After two minutes he held up in triumph an ejected cassette. Giggling he replaced it with a techno version of My heart will go on. Later, and in mid-traffic, he happily raised the the blood-drug concentrations in his body.

For the next five days, I'm on foot...