Only spent 9 hours in Bangkok, just enough time to grab the cold-weather clothes that had been stored away a couple of weeks ago and get some sleep, before zooming off to the airport again and flying into Kathmandu (after paying yet another airport departure fee, of course!). Didn't have to wait too long at Kathmandu airport to fork out another $30 for a visa (if there is one thing that the bureaucrats over here have got down to a fine art, it is collecting your cash!), then left the airport to enter the melee of touts outside. The scene was pretty much the same as all the other airports so I had no problem at all just ignoring everybody who came up and told me that their hotel was the nicest, cheapest, blah blah blah. Eventually jumped into a taxi and spent the 20 minute ride listening to the drivers assistant try to persuade us to go to a different hotel (run by his cousin, best hotel, cheapest hotel, blah blah blah) and also to use him as a guide on the Everest trek. All fairly standard stuff really, so he didn't get anywhere.
Kathmandu is quite a nice place. There are way less beggars and hawkers than Cambodia and Thailand, and it is quite pleasant wandering down the narrow winding streets. It's fairly clean, the sewage system appears to work (strange what you take for granted when you live in the civilized world!), and in the space of around three hours, only a couple of cyclo drivers asked if we wanted a ride, and even they went away after a single "No thank you". There are only four kinds of shop in Kathmandu - outdoor clothing shops for hiking, cheap tat shops (selling more rugs than a Sean Connery souvenir stand!), internet cafes, and guest houses. The entire economy is based around tourism, so basically that is all they need to cater for. Oh, and there are a few bars, and every 10 yards or so you will be asked by someone "You like smoke?". One look in their eyes tells you they are referring to their special 'herbal cigarettes'! Even when you turn them down they seem happy, probably because everybody loves everybody else and it's like totally cool and groovy, maaaaaan!
Whilst reading up some facts about Nepal, I came across abit of a problem. Apparently over here the cow is sacred, which unfortunately means that it doesn't get eaten. So no decent food here then! This bad news was compounded by the fact that the national dish of Nepal is something called 'dal bhaat', which is a mixture of rice and lentils. Terrific! So not only am I being sent out to almost certain death in the Himalayas, but while I am out there I am expected to survive on some kind of hippy porridge! I cannot once when growing up remember my mother telling me "You'll never grow up to be big and strong if you don't eat up all your lentils". And now that baseball is banning steroids, will the players be beefing themselves up by eating an extra helping of lentils? I don't think so! The only use that lentils have is in primary schools, where the kids put glue onto a sheet of paper in a pattern, pour lentils on it, then they stick to the glue. So next time you're eating any proper food, just picture the condemned man, halfway up the mountain, trying to keep down his final meal of 'lentil surprise'!
Newsflash: Shortly after reading about all this sacred cow nonsense, passed a restaurant called the Everest Steak House. At first I thought it was a cruel mirage brought on by the thought of the impending lentil-fest, but no - it was real. Had a lovely steak, despite not being entirely sure what animal it came from (could have been a cow, but could also have been either water buffalo, yak, or careless mountaineer), and will be eating the same thing for every breakfast, lunch and dinner before setting off to meet my doom.
I understand why the world has different time zones - it makes sense for
California to be 8 hours behind England because the sun comes up 8 hours later.
But for some completely bizarre reason, Nepal is 5 and three quarter hours
ahead of England, and therefore 13 and three quarter hours ahead of California.
What are they on??? Do they really pay that much attention to exactly what
time the sun comes up every day? And what if it is a bit cloudy one morning
- is Nepal then 5 hours and 43 minutes ahead of GMT? This Mickey Mouse timezone
is playing havoc with my attempts to find out what local time the football,
cricket and rugby all start at!
Day Thirty Five - Kathmandu, Nepal
Sport on TV (obviously one of the basic building blocks of life!) is very impressive in Nepal. A whole bunch of football (that's proper football - not helmets, shoulder pads and patting each other on the bottom all the time) matches are shown live, all the scores are available, and so are all the rugby and cricket games - all shown live. In fact it's probably cheaper to fly out here and watch the weekend's sport than it is to pay for all the cable channels you need to get all this in England. Although the commentary for the England rugby game was in Nepalese, it is refreshing to know that beating the Druids is the same in any language.
Decided to leave Hotel Fleapit and move into Hotel Ponceygit today. Last night, after the local band had finished torturing a few cover versions and the rugby had finished, I finally relinquished the communal TV remote control around midnight to the half-dozen locals and went to bed. Now, I'm not sure if what followed was them deliberately punishing me for depriving them of their regular Saturday night viewing while I was watching the rugby or not, but they proceeded to play some loud crappy music show on the hotel lobby TV well into the early hours. Then, also in the early hours, we were woken up by the extremely loud and irritating voice of the hotel manager booming around the hotel as he laughed and joked with his friends over an early breakfast. Then he was surprised when we told him we were leaving because his hotel was noisy!
Spent most of the day wandering around Kathmandu in gorgeous weather (warm and sunny and not at all sweaty) and even made a purchase at one of the million tourist shops. Local opinion has it that my cheap deck shoes will not be suitable footwear for a trek to Everest Base Camp. They may look like flimsy canvas slippers to the naked eye, but more than once they have succeeded in completing the most difficult trip known to mankind - getting me from the pub back to my apartment after drinking my own body weight in Guinness. It is amazing how many times they have completed this feat - each time I have no memory of it - that I have come to think of them as a part of me - my own personal autopilot. Now I have to rely on a pair of boots that are most likely to automatically lead me to the nearest lentil factory!
After more tough strolling in the sunshine, spotted another steak house and
couldn't resist! Spent a couple of hours in there eating burgers, drinking
beer, and watching the cricket, then strolled home and watched the footy and
more cricket before going to bed. It's certainly important to absorb and experience
the local culture when you're visiting far-away lands!
Day Thirty Six - Kathmandu, Nepal
Another day taking it easy, and another purchase at the hiking shop. It seems that thong speedos are also not suitable for hiking in the Himalayas, so I had to fork out for some long trousers!
Did a 'walking tour' of Kathmandu, which involved walking the streets and
looking at a bunch of small shrines and stupas (dome-shaped structures). Probably
saw between 15 and 20 in less than an hour, and the only interesting one was
a shrine to the 'god of toothache', that consisted of an old piece of wood
with hundreds of coins nailed into it. Strange! Finished the day with probably
the worst Chinese meal ever prepared for human consumption, and I expect the
after-effects of it
tomorrow to be less than pleasant!
Day Thirty Seven - Kathmandu, Nepal
Strolled around Kathmandu again - temples, stupas, narrow winding streets, blah blah blah... Booked the trekking suicide trip and fly out on Yeti Airways (true!) in a couple of days. The bloke organizing it is very useful, and tomorrow he is coming round to the hotel at lunchtime to check out the gear we are taking on the trek. I expect him to point and laugh and ask if we are serious, then tomorrow afternoon I think we will be shopping for some proper kit!
Just to show the worldwide appeal of football, two separate street urchins today came up to me, pointed at my (beautifully tanned!) shaved head, and shouted "Ronaldo". Cheeky little sods! At least they were referring to my head and didn't think I have got teeth like Bugs Bunny!
Spent a very pleasant evening watching England win the cricket whilst eating
another big fat steak in the local steakhouse washed down with beer.
Day Thirty Eight - Kathmandu, Nepal
Woke up, watched cricket, ate steak, drank beer, went to bed (with stomach
Day Thirty Nine - Kathmandu, Nepal
Last day in Kathmandu before setting off into the Himalayas to certain death, so decided to make the most of it by wandering up a large hill to visit the 'monkey temple'. After a week of listening to rickshaw drivers ask "Sir you want go monkey temple?", we finally gave in. And of course this had nothing at all to do with last night's power cut knackering the satellite and stopping the cricket being on TV - nope, nothing at all!
Got to the monkey temple after a 30-minute stroll through the streets of Kathmandu and a 10-minute slog up a million (at least!) steps to get up the big hill. Unfortunately, last nights case of Jelly Botty was still pretty conspicuous, so a tight clench preceeded each of the steps up the hill. Got to the top of the hill, knackered, and sat down on an empty bench (without first wondering why it was empty). Big mistake! Immediately I was collared by a local who was trying to get me to hire him as a guide around the half-a-dozen temples that are at the top. I was far more concerned with how many more clenches I had in me and was I going to make it back to the hotel intact, so I politely told him to bugger off. Not to be denied, he then starts telling me that he has a dream, and that dream is to go to Glastonbury. Seems like a strange dream to me! I tried to shut him up by telling him I had never been there, but to no avail. Then he says that he knows people who have gone to Glastonbury and they all 'found god'. I warned him not to be too disappointed if he did ever make it to Glastonbury and all he found there were drugs and mud, which set him off ranting about how westerners also have dreams and they have many more opportunities to fulfil those dreams and he would never get a chance to fulfil his dreams because he is so poor, blah blah blah. I'm not sure if he wanted money, sympathy, or a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but considering his only real chance was the last option, it was probably better for him that my lazy white decadent westerner pig-dog body had recovered from the steps and I left him to his complaining (until the next victim came along)
Had a look around the buildings on top of the hill (a few temples plus a few hundred souvenir stalls!) then back down the steps to the bottom. And only then did we realise that we hadn't seen a single monkey. Not one! I was just about to charge back up to the top of the hill and demand to see a monkey (okay, maybe not!) when dozens of them appeared, right on cue. They jumped around, ate scraps of food, and played with themselves for the benefit of the tourists, then disappeared up into the trees again.
So, this is likely to be my last ever SWEAT update as I head to almost certain
death in the mountains. I'm just stepping outside now, I may be some time
Woke up at a ridiculously early hour after not much sleep (cheers to the
dozen or so loud, drunken
Brits who staggered back to the hotel at regular intervals during the night!) and still with
serious stomach problems. The perfect preparation for a mountain plane trip and trekking at
altitude! So the goal for the day was simple - try not to die before the end of it! Didn't even
attempt any breakfast (way too dangerous), but made it to the airport in Kathmandu in time to join
the dozens of other westerners trying to work out where to go and what to do. After passing the
backpack through an x-ray machine (there was nobody looking at the x-rays, but there was a chap
who grabbed the bags at the end and put a 'security checked' sticker on them, which was nice of
him), and checking in (at least we THINK we checked in), we asked where to go. The airline bod
pointed us towards signs saying 'Ladies' and 'Gents'. We thought he had misunderstood us when we
asked "where do we go?", but this was apparently the Nepalese equivalent of the metal detector. As
soon as you walk past the curtain that is flapping around under the Ladies/Gents sign, you stick
your arms out and get patted down. In order to stick my arms out I had to first put down my
carry-on rucksack, which of course they didn't even look in! And to prove this wasn't a one-off,
they repeat the process (again not checking the bag) before you get on the bus to take you to the
plane. So for any potential terrorists out there, make sure you take all your bombs and guns out
of your pockets and put them into your rucksack before getting on the plane!
So, got on the shuttle bus, not unrealistically believing we were being taken
to the plane, right?
Nope! We did get taken to the runway, but there were no planes. One chap who flew the same route
last year told us that he waited 2 hours for the plane that time. Half of the people on the bus
were kicked out to bake on the tarmac and we were left on board to bake inside the bus. After
about half an hour a cry went up of "Zee plane boss, zee plane", and we shuffled on board Yeti
Airlines flight 666. The flight was a major success, as I managed to keep from spilling my insides
from both ends. There were some really cool views of the Himalayas as we flew through the valley
(although I had my eyes closed and my head between my legs), and the cockpit had no door so you
could see a lot more than the pilot, because the only description for his stature is 'diminutive'.
I'm sure I was not the only passenger who wanted to go up and give him a couple of pillows to sit
on so he could see over the top of his instrument panel! The landing in Lukla was also impressive
- a runway is perched on top of a mountain, so you come hurtling in and hope the plane stops
before it reaches the other end. The runway was paid for by Sir Edmund Hillary, and it cost a
whopping $2,000 which gives you some idea of what it's like. I think they pay somebody a couple of
dollars a day to shoo the goats off it when the planes are coming. As soon as the plane landed,
the fat Germans who pushed past us to get onto the plane pushed past us again to get off, and I
expect to see them laying their towels out in front of the lodge before nightfall.
Met up with our slave boy for the next month (politically correctly known
around here as a
'porter', apparently), and spent four hours wandering around the mountains between Lukla and
Phakding. Most of it was fairly pleasant (despite the continuing digestive unrest), as you would
expect if you had somebody to carry all your stuff for you! The first time our porter approached
us, he was wearing a Real Madrid footy shirt, and without him even needing to turn around I knew
what was written on the back - "B E C K H A M". His claim that he was "given the shirt by a
friend, it's not mine, honestly" will not save him from mockery over the next month.
Being stuck on this mountain in the (very beautiful) wilderness struck me
that I am taking part in
my very own series of "Carry On..." films. Rather than being in "Carry On Doctor" and getting to
play with nurses, or even being in "Carry On At Your Convenience" and being within a million miles
of a flushing toilet, I start off being molested by Cambodian elephants in "Carry On Up The
Jungle", and at the moment I am definitely in "Carry On Up The Khyber". And it's not like I get
one of the cushy roles such as Sid James sitting inside a fort waiting for the next bout of
"tiffin". Oh, no - I get to be Charles Hawtrey, stuck up on the rocky, windswept mountainside
about to be savaged by sabre-wielding natives, and with just an oversized pair of y-fronts to
Got to the lodge at around 2pm, so I thought I had earned an afternoon off
putting my feet up. But
I had reckoned without "Sergeant Sharon's Monastery Madness"! As well as the main trail to Everest
Base Camp, there are optional side trips. That would be 'optional' as in 'compulsory' in our case.
So if you stagger into the lodgings with an ounce of consciessness still left in you, you
obviously need to do more walking. So an hour later, after a near sprint up a big hill to the
monastery and back down again, the 'optional' side trip was done and I drifted happily into
Day Forty One - Phakding to Monjo
Woke up before 7-o-clock (in the morning!) and it was freezing. The lodges
are described as
'basic', and that is pretty much what you get for the dollar they charge you to stay there. Heat,
light, and not having six inch gaps in the wood panelling to keep out the cold are all apparently
luxury items up here. So, I put as many layers of clothes on as possible and ventured out onto the
trekking trail once again. After five minutes all the layers were off and all the exposed parts of
the body that weren't covered with sunscreen yesterday were starting to glow nicely once again.
The day started off with an interesting conversation with another couple
of trekkers. One of them
is a journalist and has been to Everest Base Camp (one of our goals) a few times. So when I asked
him how he enjoyed walking up there, he replied that the last time he was there he drove. In a
car. With wheels and an engine. What??? It seems that this small (but obviously very significant)
piece of information had somehow not been passed on to me - I wonder why! Admittedly you have to
go up the Tibetan side of the Himalayas but I think that is a small price to pay to avoid a month
of Sergeant Sharon's Boot Camp.
Talking of which, because this morning was only a 'short' (3 hours!) trek,
we arrived in Monjo in
plenty of time to sit with our feet up for the rest of the day. Or how about the second compulsory
optional side trip - 'Monastery Madness Part Two'? Yes - let's do that instead, it sounds much
more fun than resting weary, aching limbs. So off we go, following a script once rejected by the
Marx Brothers for being "too ridiculous", we troll up another ridiculously steep hill for around
45 minutes. At one point our porter pointed through the trees at the place we were ending up
tomorrow. All I could see was the river and a couple of bridges until he moved my head back about
45 degrees so I was looking up at the mountain behind the one we were on. I thought that this, in
a similar way to an executioner showing the condemned man which electric chair he is going to be
fried in the next day was rather cruel! After we had looked at the yellow brick road / green mile,
he asked if we would like to keep going up the hill we were on. Eh??? Don't we have to keep going
up the hill in order to get to the monastery? Apparently not, as we saw when he pointed out the
monastery to us, which was not only closed but was also less than a hundred yards from our lodge.
Of course we had walked past it on the way up our 'training hill', which was practice for
tomorrow. Apparently yesterday and today were 'easy days' and tomorrow is 'more difficult'.
Turns out that this venture into insanity is worthwhile after all. Apparently a female yak is
called a 'nak'. I don't know how I have made it this far in life without knowing that!
Day Forty Two - Monjo to Namche Bazar
The days activity in Monjo finished as soon as the sun went down, due to
there being no
electricity in our lodge. There were electric sockets (without lightbulbs) and after sitting in
the increasing darkness for around 20 minutes it became apparent that nobody was coming along to
put wood in the stove and light it. So in bed (actually in lovely warm sleeping bag on top of the
bed - bed linen is another optional extra) by 6:30pm. And who said that we didn't know how to
Monjo is at an altitude of 9,300 feet, higher than I have ever been before
and where there is only
around 70% of the oxygen in the air that there is at sea level. After a very nice stroll along the
river that took an hour, we were still at the same altitude and were halfway (according to the
map) to today's target - Namche Bazar. Problem is that Namche Bazar is at an altitude of 11,300
feet, so when we crossed the river using the 'last bridge' (apparebtly named because it is the
last bridge on the trail over that river, but I think that in a lot of cases it will be the last
bridge that hikers see in their lifetime!) the only way was up. Now, in the past couple of days
there have been some steep parts, followed by flat or downhill parts roughly the same length. From
the 'last bridge' to Namche, the only flat part was when it was necessary to run behind a tree due
to drinking gallons of water (essential to help combat altitude sickness), the entire trail is up
and is almost always very steep. The actual distance is around 2km, and it took almost 3 hours.
Most of the time I felt like one of the cattle laden down with packs that were being whipped to
force them to put one foot in front of the other. Did get the first view of Everest though -
really cool with plumes of snow being blown off the top by the galeforce winds up there, until the
viewpoint was annexed by one of the German tour parties and we moved on.
Made it into Namche at around 1pm, knackered, but with a warm feeling inside
that only comes from
knowing there is no compulsory optional side trip on the agenda for the afternoon! Namche is
fairly built up for these parts - maybe a hundred buildings (mostly guest houses) - but still very
spartan - an image only enhanced by the cold winds that whip dust around the place. It does have
an internet place, which charges the same amount (30 rupees - around 50 cents) for a minute that
the internet places in Kathmandu charge for an hour. Looks like the footy scores will have to
remain a mystery for another 3 weeks then! The lodge we are staying in has a whole new idea about
sanitation. Although last night's establishment had squat toilets, at least you had a solid floor
to stand on and porcelain fixture to aim at. This place has what can only be described as a 'squat
stable'. You walk into a wooden hut that has one of the floorboards missing and a load of straw
piled up. You put one foot either side of the missing floorboard and make your deposit onto the
straw some 15 feet below, then chuck some more straw down after it. I have to admit that I haven't
been doing that final part of it, which clearly makes me a filthy pig! And needless to say,
putting one foot too close to the missing floorboard and slipping would classify as a large-scale
catastrophe. But each time I have to go back to this awful place I have a smile on my face -
because there is a lock on the outside. Unbelievable! You have to take a key from the lodge,
unlock the padlock on the door, then lock it agin when you're finished. The hut next door is for
porters and doesn't have a lock on it, so should I feel privileged that not everybody gets to use
the 'guests only' executive bathroom? What has ours got that the porter's doesn't? Better quality
straw? Only one missing floorboard instead of two? What??? I demand to know!
Day Forty Three - Everest View Hotel
Because of the large increase in altitude yesterday, today was an 'acclimatisation'
day in Namche.
By that I reckoned we would stay in Namche at the same altitude getting used to it. Nope! To aid
our acclimatisation at 11,300 feet was the standard compulsory optional side trip up another
mountain to 13,000 feet. And you know what that means - Sergeant Sharon barking in your ear while
you shuffle up an extremely steep hill for an hour and a half like a shackled prisoner. The top of
the hill was nice and flat though (very nice!) and the views from the trail around the top were
spectacular - looking down thousands of feet into the valley below at the peaks of the Himalayas,
no photographs could do it justice.
At the end of the trail is a place called the Everest
View Hotel. Built a few years ago by
Japanese investors, it is a luxury (for this part of the world) hotel. Which means that they have
heat, light, and electricity, and there isn't a two inch gap between the windows and their frames.
Apparently staying there costs $200 per night (none of the other lodges in the area charge more
than a couple of dollars), and it's difficult to see why people would pay that much. It's no use
for trekkers (it's a couple of hours off the main trekking route), and while it does have a great
view of Everest, there is nothing else to do there at all. Apparently it was set up so affluent
Japanese can be helicoptered into the local 'airport' (a patch of flat grass), but has been a bit
of a financial disaster. The joy of being in the Himalayas is in walking around them (so I have
been told, but I am yet to experience lashings of 'joy'!), and there don't seem to be a lot of
people who want to spend 12 hours each way flying here just to look at one view before going home.
Still, nice of them to build a balcony for us to sit on while we took some free photos!
First task of the afternoon was to move out of Hotel Khasi and into a new
place that had been
recommended to us. Another basic lodge and the same price, but instead of the stable they have a
proper flushing bog. And it's indoors! That might not sound like a big deal to the casual reader,
but the unpleasantness of Hotel Khasi cannot be exaggerated (even by me!). And the room has walls
that join together, carpet, and the impressive new combination of light switch AND light bulb!
Next to the indoor bog is a tap where you can wash your hands, clean you teeth, etc. (another
basic, but also previously lacking) and the communal area is warm and has even got a TV. I LOVE
this place! Up until now we have stayed in the lodges our porter has taken us to (the ones
associated with the company he works for), but from now on such decisions will not be in his hands
(as soon as we can say "This place is not fit for pigs, take us to where the humans sleep" in
Day Forty Four - Namche Bazar to Deboche
So we rose nice and early and reluctantly left the friendly confines of our
clean guest house with
indoor bog (more of that later!) to move on to the next stop on the trail. The place we were
headed for was 5-6 hours away, so it promised to be a long day plodding along. It is also 1,300
feet higher than Namche, so obviously there was going to be some climbing involved, but 1,300 feet
elevation over a lot of miles isn't too bad. But, the mountains aren't made that way, so we
started by going up 600 feet then going DOWN 1,300 feet to the floor of the valley (just to cross
a bridge over the river!), then back up 2,000 feet on the other side. Now I'm not sure if I am
becoming conditioned to the walking or just getting a higher tolerance for pain and misery, but
the uphill parts were definitely less noticeable, even though they were just as steep as before.
There were some cool things to see alng the way (as well as the views) including trains of yak
(and nak!), a huge monastery at Tengboche, and of course the 'speed teams'.
As well as the self-organized stragglers like ourselves, there are organized
of 10-20 people scattered throughout the area. All these teams are all either German or Japanese,
but there are slight differences between them. The Germans are stripped to a bare minimum of
equipment, are all kitted out the same, and move up the slopes at a reckless pace throwing women
and children behind them as they go. It's as if there is a rival German team on the other side of
every mountain trying to beat them to the top. They only stop to take over viewpoints and talk
loudly to each other before setting off on a fresh sprint. The Japanese are also all kitted out
the same, but they have a different approach - nobody gets left behind. In fact nobody gets left
as much as 2 feet behind. So the group leader will pass you, then 18 of his/her companions will
pass you in quick succession. Then the entire group will stop right in front of you on the narrow
path and wait for their one straggler to catch up, while you decide if it's worth it to pass them
all or sit and wait! Today's straggler was pretty impressive - as well as having a porter to carry
his normal gear, he himself was loaded down with a huge video camera, a huge backpack, and what
appeared to be a projector screen. It could have been something else I suppose, but it was
strapped to his back and made him look like a large skewered kebab, hitting every low branch he
Some of the loads the porters carry are ridiculous. Our chap is carrying
our 50 pound pack plus a
rucksack of his own, but apparently standard porter loads are between 70 and 90 pounds, and
sometimes even more. We have seen porters carrying huge bags full of straw, chunks of meat,
bottles of water (usually a few hundred litres), and even rocks (which seems strange as the entire
area has got them lying around on the ground). But today showed that no matter how ridiculous
something is, there is always somebody willing to go just that bit further. This chap was carrying
a cast iron stove on his back. It was about a 3 feet wide cube, with legs and even a small chimney
coming out of the top. How he even picked it up is beyond me, never mind carrying it!
Finally made it to the place we're staying after around 7 hours on the trail.
Passed through the
'gateway' to the village that is suposed to ward off evil spirits (if it warded off really tired
legs then I would be tempted to walk through it a few more times!) and were presented with two
guest houses. The one on the left looked very new, and had a sign outside containing the magical
phrase "inside toilet", while the one on the right looked a bit run-down and we could see their
toilet from where we stood outside - about 50 yards up the hill. So we decided to stay in the new
place with all the comforts we had last night - nice!
Oh, how quickly the fickle finger of fate can snatch back what it has just
bestowed! Just as it
started to snow (unacceptable, by the way!), we found out that the poncey-looking place had been
filled up by a couple of expeditions. The agony of it! We weren't expecting any inside toilets
this far up the trail, but to have one dangled in front of us and then snatched away was cruelty
beyond belief. But at least the outside lavvie couldn't be any worse than the stable from a couple
of nights ago, right? Well, if you imagine the stable, take away the special boards you're
supposed to put your feet on whilst squatting, replace them with an assortment of turds laid by
people who have missed the hole, then make the floorboards so rickety that it feels like you will
fall through into the delights waiting below at any second, then you have a good idea of what this
place is like. The woods 50 yards from the guest house will be getting my custom if necessary
during the night, and I will take my chances with any wild animals that might be lurking there.
Day Forty Five - Deboche to Pangboche
Today's entry will be fairly short because:
1. It's getting dark
2. Did bugger-all today!
The walk from Deboche to Pangboche was only a couple of hours, and I didn't
notice the climb at
all as I spent the time talking to a Scouser I bumped into about cricket. Nice to inject a measure
of culture into the proceedings! Arrived at the new place (a million times better than last
night!) and the plan was to sit around for a couple hours before taking on the day's compulsory
optional side trip up the hill to see the local monastery. But after lunch the sky got a bit
cloudy, then it got a bit windy, then it started snowing heavily. So the couple of hours lying
around doing nothing turned into 10 hours lying around doing nothing then off to bed. I am still
in shock at Sergeant Sharon not enforcing the compulsory optional monastery madness trip, even
with the blizzard!
The only interesting side note of the afternoon's conversation was that this
morning a German
woman was airlifted from here suffering from severe altitude sickness. You are suposed to eat
regularly and drink 8 to 10 pints of water per day, and in the past 48 hours she had eaten a bowl
of soup and slice of toast, and drunk one cup of tea. Nobody knows if she will survive.
Day Forty Six - Pangboche to Dingboche
Ha ha! Gotcha! April Fool! You're stuck up a mountain, a week's walk away
from civilization, after
spending another night freezing your bits off inside a wooden hut. I'm sure this won't be the case
tomorrow on April 2nd. Oh, wait ...
Another day, another emergency evacuation, another German! Really cool this
morning sitting eating
breakfast and watching the helicopter land in a field next to the guest house, throw in the
evacuee, then zoom off again. Not as cool for the chap who had come up too high too quickly,
because as well as feeling terrible his flight is costing him $5,500. Other interesting
information heard during the day is that a bit further up the mountain a porter died during the
night. It is scary to think that these are the people who are supposed to be used to these
conditions and they STILL allow people like me loose out here!
Spent a very pleasant three of four hours in the morning walking between
yet another two places
with 'boche' in their name, and arrived at the next lodge (with indoor bog - hurrah!). This far up
the mountain there are no trees to chop down (which is illegal within the National Park anyway),
so all firewood needs to be dragged up the hill by porters. Or, if you're as tightfisted as the
owner of this place, the only thing you burn is dried yak dung. Now when the temperature outside
is well below freezing, a couple of 'splats' thrown onto the stove don't go very far, and this
bloke was even mean with his dried dung. Every ten minutes he would throw a piece on and then
disappear. It would burn out after 30 seconds then everyone would sit shivering until somebody
went out to look for him again. Tomorrow night, either him or some of his firewood will be
burning, the choice is his!
Day Forty Seven - Chhukhung
Here's another interesting fact for you. The symptoms of altitude sickness
tiredness, lack of coordination, etc.) are caused because the brain expands at altitude. So,
people with large brains that are already crammed into the skull are at a disasvantage, and are
far more prone to altitude sickness than those people with a tiny pea-sized brain rattling around
inside the cranium. There was a prime example of this today during the compulsory optional side
trip. When we climbed yesterday we came up around 1,600 feet (the recommended daily maximum is
1,000, so today was an acclimatisation day wandering around for 4 hours or so up to a place called
Chhukhung). After about an hour I was close to death, suffering greatly as my large brain expanded
uncomfortably, so we headed back to the lodge where I collapsed for a few hours until I felt
semi-human again. Strangely, Sherpa Sharon didn't have any altitude sickness symptoms at all. I
will leave you to draw your own conclusions!
Day Forty Eight - Dingboche to Lobuche
Left the cosy confines of the lodge with the indoor bog and headed up another
1,600 feet to
Lobuche, traditionally the worst hiking stop on the Everest trail. And we weren't disappointed!
Dingboche is the last stop along the Koala River (or something that sounds
like that!) before we
headed along the glacier. While the hikes along the river are generally narrow, winding trails,
the glacier has wide open plains with huge boulders everywhere, and it makes you feel like you're
in a different world. It looks like the planets on the old 'Star Trek' episodes, and any minute
you expect somebody in an unrealistic rubber lizard suit to jump out at you from behind a rock!
The first half of the day was a gentle stroll for a couple of hours up an easy slope, and with the
couple of inches of snow that had fallen overnight it was all very pretty. Stopped to have lunch
at a shack that also provided mealtime entertainment - all the yak going up the mountain seemed to
prefer walking through the grounds of the 'restaurant' instead of following the trail, and the
owners would chase after them with sticks and rocks trying to get them back. Spent the hour after
lunch climbing a nightmare hill, but at the top was the really cool setting of hundreds of
monuments set up in memory of sherpas and nountaineers who have died on the Himalayas. Walking
around there through the clouds that were blowing around was a very spooky experience. After the
top of the hill, the trail opened out into the boulder-filled glacier bed, which is probably a
mile wide, and it was a gentle stroll along it to Lobuche.
Ay Lobuche, we were spending the night in Hotel Nasty. The toilet was an
open pit 30 yards up a
hill (very pleasant in the early hours of the morning when it's snowing!), the rooms were cold,
small, dark, noisy and smelly, and the blankets that were given out stank even more. Even stranger
was that the woman running that place gave these nasty blankets a good sniff before handing them
over to us. I will probably never know whether she thinks she was giving us the ones that smelled
the best or the worst! Got hardly any sleep at all and was very happy to not eat the almost-raw
pancake that was provided for breakfast and get out of there. Although we have to stay in Lobuche
on the way down, there is a Hotel Poncey there so we made a reservation for a few days time, where
we will both be extremely happy to pay ten times the rate at Hotel Nasty ($15 instead of $1.50).
Day Forty Nine - Lobuche to Gorak Shep
After fleeing Hotel Nasty, unfortunately with it's odour and ambience still
wafting through our
clothes and noses, took an 'easy' walk up to Gorak Shep (obviously named after the famous Blue
Peter dog), which is the last outpost of the Himalayas. Beyond Gorak Shep there is only Everest
Base Camp and Everest itself. The walk up there took just over three hours, but by no stretch of
the imagination can it be described as 'easy'. Unless 'easy' in Nepali translates to 'knackering'
in English. There was the standard daily helicopter evacuation (no details yet, but initial
rumours are that it was a member of one of the German 'speed teams' who was feeling a "little
tired"). Must have been too tired to lever himself into his skin-tight leather hiking shorts!
The rest of the day was spent sitting around doing nothing in preparation
compulsory optional 6-hour side trip to Everest Base Camp. We are now at the highest altitude we
will be sleeping at (16,859 feet), and EBC (as those in the know call it!) is an extra 700 feet or
so up. Just the thought of it is enough to give my lazy butt nightmares!
Day Fifty - Everest Base Camp
Today's compulsory optional side trip was a hike up to 17,593 feet to see
Everest Base Camp. But
when you're starting the day at 16,859 feet then these ridiculous numbers don't really matter any
more. Made the mistake of taking some anti-altitude sickness drugs last night, which is supposed
to aid restful sleep. But I can't really tell if I slept well because of the dozen trips to
relieve myself during the night due to the diuretic side-effect of the tablets. The remaining
tablets will be used to spike drinks of people I don't like during the rest of the trip - I think
it is important to share the pain!
Made it to Everest Base Camp
in about 3 hours, despite not being able to breathe for most of the
trek. The oxygen content up here is only 50% of that at sea level, so you have to breathe twice as
much just to catch your breath when you're not doing anything. At times it felt like running up
stairs with a plastic bag tied around your head (note to children: please ask your parent's
permission before trying this!). At first glance (in fact for the past few days) it seems like
you're walking on solid ground with patches of snow and ice lying around. But the further you get
into the wilderness, it becomes apparent that underneath you is an enormous block of ice, and in
some places rocks and dirt have fallen down from the mountains and covered it. It's quite a
strange feeling when you think you're walking along a dirt track to look down and see large
patches of ice underneath your feet.
Everest Base Camp is no more than a collection of a few hundred tents, housing
the nutters who are
planning to summit Everest in the next couple of months. People taking part in these expeditions
will be living in these conditions for between one and two months (practicing climbing,
acclimatising, etc.) before attempting to summit. Half an hour there looking around was plenty for
me! Far more interesting than the base camp itself is the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed
there a couple of years ago. The bodies have been dragged away, but everything else has just been
abandoned exactly as it was when the crash happened. The remoteness of the place seems to have
deterred even the most dedicated of souvenir hunters until now.
Can't remember much of the trek back to Gorak Shep due to exhaustion, and
after a bit of food fell
into bed, knackered, at 7:30pm. I will be getting the "late night party animal" tattoo done first
thing in the morning!
Day Fifty One - Gorak Shep to Lobuche
Today's plan was to head back down to Lobuche, where we had come up from
a few days ago in a trek
that only took 3 hours. And because it was all downhill on the way back, an easy day lay ahead.
"But what about the daily compulsory optional side trip", I hear you ask. Well, thanks for
Woke up bright and early as usual with icicles dangling from any extremities
that hadn't yet
dropped off during the past 10 days, and put on the 'summer meadow fresh' smelling clothes that
have been worn, safe from the clutches of washing powder, since the trekking debacle began. I'm
sure a yak walked past me and turned it's noes up at my odour yesterday! There is a mountain next
to Gorak Shep called Gorak Lassie, errrr, no it isn't - it's called Kala Pattar. And it offers the
best views of Everest, apparently. And your mission, should you be stupid enough to accept it, is
to climb to the top of it. The altitude at the peak is 18,373 feet! Now, the last time I was at
that altitude and wasn't inside a pressurised airplane, I was in an unpressurised airplane and was
skydiving out of it. And that time they provided you with oxygen to stop you passing out, and also
(obviously) flew you up there - you didn't have to walk! So, after a couple of hours huffing and
puffing and the valley below ringing with the cries of "leave me here to die", we made it to the
top. To find it occupied with Germans getting in the way of any attempts to take photographs! But
some quick thinking and the phrase "Did you hear that a French team has just climbed the next
mountain in record time?", soon sent them scurrying back down for their ropes and crampons!
Got back down to Gorak Shep, and after some lunch set off for Lobuche. Our
porter, who is by now
used to our lazy, slow pace, reckoned it would take is around 2 hours. But he hadn't reckoned on a
blizzard starting 10 minutes into the hike, and a mere 70 minutes after setting off, a pair of
snowmen arrived in Lobuche at Hotel Poncey. Our porter was quite surprised when we told him we
weren't staying at Hotel Nasty again, but I suppose if you've never experienced things such as
warmth and cleanliness then you will never miss them!
Hotel Poncey is owned by some Kathmandu tourism company, and is an attempt
to provide some home
comforts for the more affluent trekkers (and also those trekkers who feel that spending one more
night in a stable will drive them completely insane!). The rooms have doors that open and close
(unlike last night!), walls (instead of sheets/towels), light sockets with light bulbs in, and
although they are still cold, the blankets provided are washed frequently and appear to be fit for
humans. There was even a saddo in the dining area sitting down with a laptop! And the rules in
this place are something else. We spoke to a couple who stayed here a few days ago and asked for
hot showers. The bloke they spoke to organized it and off they went, unaware that there was a
queue for hot showers and they are only available at certain times of the day. The bloke who let
them get clean got a real dressing-down from the manager. And this afternoon I needed to relieve
myself, but wondered why the toilet had a padlock on it. I was told that it is a 'night toilet',
and because I selfishly needed the bog before 6pm, I had to go to the 'day toilet' which is
outside. Now, the blizzard had not relented since we arrived, and while the snow, mountains and
yak provided a perfect winter scene, I didn't feel the urge to be a part of it. I didn't get any
kind of sensible answer when I asked the stupid woman who was working there why I was paying $15
for the privilege of walking through a blizzard to the bog when there was a perfectly functional
one inside, so I stepped outside the front door, decided the blizzard option was unacceptable, and
relieved myself where I stood (much to the amusement of the locals and the consternation of the
people in the restaurant window next to me who had just ordered a large pot of hot lemon!). I
don't know what time the 'night toilet' is locked again, but if it is before my last toilet trip
of the night then they may well have a uddle to deal with!
Late night (7pm!) entry: The evil witch running this place strikes again!
I ordered a vegetable
curry, and along it came - a bowl of stew by itself. I wasn't particularly bothered that it didn't
taste of curry, but did ask for the rice. Only to be told that the curry doesn't come with rice.
What??? After some meaningless arguing (beginning to sense a pattern here?) I asked if I could at
least have a spoon rather than having it run through my fingers, and she reluctantly agreed. But
revenge is very swift out here. We also ordered a pot of hot lemon, and they made a pot of lemon
tea instead. There's hardly any difference and it normally wouldn't have been worth bothering
about, but obvoiusly this was a special occasion. So, with a click of the fingers it was sent
straight back with a message for the witch to "get it right". The scowl on her face as she jetted
off to the kitchen on her broomstick reduced the entire curry episode to a distant and vague
Day Fifty Two - Lobuche to Phortse
At the start of the day there was only one 'nasty' day remaining on this
bet it is!) trekking extravaganza. A 'nasty' day is one that involves 5-6 hours slog, mainly
uphill (and there have been quite a few of those recently in order to see Everest Base Camp and
Kala Pattar). And despite today being a 'nasty' day, there still remains one 'nasty' day to be
done. And of course it's all my fault! The original plan was for today to be a 2-hour stroll, then
tomorrow head over a steep pass towards Gokyo. But yesterday's storm had carried on into the
morning, and it was likely that the pass would be, errrr, 'unpassable' unless the weather
improved. Not much of a pass then, is it? Sergeant Sharon was all for sitting in the middle of
nowhere, possibly for several days, waiting for the weather to clear, but there was dissention in
the ranks and Porter Concha and Private (3rd class) Warwick decided that Plan B would be better.
Plan B involved going all the way down the valley we had spent 4 days coming up, then going all
the way up the other valley. It would involve 3 long days but would get us into Gokyo on the same
day we would get there if the pass was open. So Plan B was out into operation, and after a week of
walking uphill, going down was a wonderful experience. After 3 hours we had retraced our steps
back over 2 days worth of uphill slog, and although the three hours after that was nasty up and
downhill and was a real pain, we made it all the way to the bottom of the valley (all ready to
spend the next 2 days going uphill through the next valley - hurrah!).
The trail started in the snow, then went through slush, ice, mud, and finally
dry ground again.
And the trail took us along the opposite side of the valley from where we stayed at the lodge with
the worst toilet in the world (see Day 44). I never thought I would see that place again in my
lifetime, and the sight was only made bearable by the fact that we were several thousand feet
above and away from it!
Day Fifty Three - Phortse to Machhermo
Got up, walked uphill continually, went to bed!
Another day, another toilet anecdote. Whilst sitting in the lodge, our porter
pointed out the two
outdoor facilities, one old and wooden and the other new and metal, and suggested we use the old
wooden hut if we needed to. As part of the explanation he pointed to an old man sitting on the
wall between the two, who apparently is the local 'emptier' (for want of a better job
description!). He comes once a year (which would explain the state of some of the places I have
seen) and today emptied the old wooden hut, but won't be dealing with the delights inside the new
metal hut until tomorrow. He didn't seem to have any equipment or means of transportation with
him, so I have no idea how he performs the 'emptying', but I believe that in this case ignorance
At this point, I would like to say that these mountains have caused my calf
muscles to be so
ridiculously developed that it looks like my legs are on upside-down!
And here are the half-time trekking totals:
Number of times gored to death by irate yaks: 0
Number of beers drunk since trekking began: 0
Pounds (in weight) lost whilst trekking: At least 20
Most applicable nicknames after a couple of weeks without shaving: "Mountain Man" Warwick and
"European Armpit Hair Woman" Sharon
Days spent going to bed and waking up extremely cold: All of them
Days remaining until next shower: 10 (and counting!)
Day Fifty Four - Machhermo to Gokyo
After celebrating yesterday and the end of the 'nasty' days, this morning's
trek was also pretty
grim. The combination of being reduced to a walking, talking (well, complaining mainly!) stick-man
and reaching the point of exhaustion due to being denied fish & chips and 5 pints of Guinness in
O'Neills Irish Pub, meant that only the crack of a whip and the generous prod of the jackboot kept
me going up the trail this morning. Definitely looking forward to spending 4 whole days here
lounging in the sun room before spending 4 days going down again. The best thing about being at
the 'top of the world' is that nobody can force you to walk uphill any more!
Arrived in Gokyo at our recommended lodge ('recommended' meaning that as
long as we stay there our
porter gets free accommodation and subsidised food), which hadn't done itself any favours by
daubing it's name on parts of the mountainside as you approach Gokyo. We then found out that
although they claim to have an inside toilet, it's locked during the day. At this point their
chances of getting our business were fairly slim. We had also been recommended a newer, poncier
place, so we went to take a look. Nicer, cleaner, indoor toilet open 24 hours, and the same price.
Only problem was it was full for the night, so we would have to slum it for tonight but booked it
for the next 4 nights. Went back to tell our (somewhat nervous) porter that we would be staying at
the 'recommended' place tonight (at which point his face, stomach and wallet lit up), then broke
the news that we would be staying for the other 4 days in the poncey place (at which point he went
off in a sulk just like he did the other times we turned down the 'recommended' places, and we
haven't seen him for the rest of the day). On the way down we will be rejecting at least 2 of the
4 'recommended' places that we have already seen, so his bottom lip can expect quite a busy week!
Day Fifty Five to Fifty Eight - Gokyo
Took part in a 4-day experiment, and the conclusion is that the maximum altitude
I can go up to
without feeling ill all the time is 15,717 feet. Unfortunately the altitude of Gokyo is 15,718
feet so I spent the whole time with a collection of altitude-related malaises (I tried crouching
down, but it didn't seem to help!). The lodge looks out over a beautiful lake with snow-capped
mountains behind it, but I haven't had the energy to take a picture of it yet. Shame!
The one high point came when our porter was guessing how old we are, and
he thought that Sergeant
Sharon is older than I am. I don't know who was in the most trouble - him for suggesting it or me
for laughing so much (judging by the bruises on my arm, probably me!).
Breaking news: blah blah helicopter rescue, blah blah altitude sickness,
blah blah German. When I
said "What a surprise" to the German bloke who asked the lodge owner where the victim was from, he
seemed taken aback. Hope I didn't hurt his feelings!
Day Fifty Nine to Sixty Two - Gokyo to Dole to Namche Bazar to Phakding to Lukla
Spent 4 days walking back down the mountains, and nothing interesting happened.
At least it didn't
take the same 10 days that it took to get up there!
Missed out on the fun in Phakding. Despite us apparently being in a "safe"
tourist area, one Maoist nutter blew himself and somebody else up with a grenade a couple of days
before we got there. Sounds like it's about time to get out of here with my few remaining
extremities still attached!
Day Sixty Three - Lukla to Kathmandu
Our porter, who had allegedly confirmed our flight, told us we needed to
be at the airport at
7:30am in order to get back to Kathmandu. Naturally we checked, and found out that we needed to be
at the airport at 6:00am - the flight leaves at 7:30! So, we get there at 6. And at 9 we're still
sitting there (no planes - what a surprise!) in Lukla airport, complete with the 'eau de urine'
smell wafting around the place. All of a sudden, half a dozen planes land within the space of a
couple of minutes, load everybody on, and leave immediately. No air traffic control here - just a
free-for-all amongst the pilots. The take-off from Lukla airport is really cool - just like an
aircraft carrier the pilot bombs down the runway and instead of lifting the nose of the plane,
just wait for the runway to end and hope you're going fast enough!
Got back to Kathmandu, and got a ride back to the hotel from a very stroppy
taxi driver. Some
roads were blocked off by the police and army due to riots/demonstrations/bombings/civil
disobedience/blah blah blah, so rather than going round the block, our chap stopped his taxi in
the middle of the road and pointed "down there" towards our hotel. When we refused to get out of
the car he threw a major tantrum and was about to burst into tears. Eventually he went around the
road block, muttering Nepali curses as he drove like a maniac, and got us to the proper place.
Saved us giving him a tip, I suppose!
First thing to do in the hotel was to have the first shower for a couple
of weeks, then because
that felt so good I decided to have another one! Shaving off the month's growth took over 2 hours
and a whole packet of disposable razors, and clogged up the bathroom sink with discarded fur. Now
my face once again resembled a face and not a Turkish wrestler's backside, I spent the rest of the
day eating steak, drinking beer, and watching footy and cricket on the TV, just like the rest of
the civilized world!
Day Sixty Four - Kathmandu
Spent a lazy day doing nothing in particular. It's amazing that the constant
"mister, you want
rickshaw?" and "mister, you want buy same bloody wooden elephant I offer you hundred times
already?" is actually pleasanat (for a short time, anyway) after a month of constant cowbells.
What is considerably less pleasant is discovering that the loud, obnoxious American know-it-all
who shouted his way around Gokyo is staying at the same hotel you are. My hope is that he uses the
hotel internet and forgets to log out of his email, so I can send an open letter to everyone on
his email list apologising for his behavious for the past 30 years or so!
While we were up in the mountains, there have been several strikes and demonstrations
over a whole series of issues, and the whole place is a bit of a melting pot at the moment. Our
plans for trips to a National Park (where a family of 5 was killed by a tiger last week - how cool
would THAT be to watch???) and a lake resort have been cancelled due to the buses not guaranteeing
to get you there in one piece (and even if you do get there, there is no guarantee you will get
back!), so we will be sticking around the (relatively!) safe tourist area around the hotel before
flying back to Bangkok in a week. There is also a curfew in place, so once it gets dark, all the
shops are closing and the streets become deserted apart from the army and police patrolling
everywhere. During the day they sit around in large groups in the city centre wearing full riot
gear, providing quite a contrast with the bemused tourists and also with the locals going about
their business around the narrow, winding streets. As long as the (almost inevitable) big trouble
waits at least another week, I am more than happy to not witness it first-hand.
Day Sixty Five - Kathmandu
Got up late, warm, and with the taste of last night's beer in my mouth (still
haven't got used to
those wonderful feelings again yet!), and spent the day shopping. Not shopping as you and I know
it, but a far more entertaining version that involves a lot of good-natured haggling. Absolutely
nothing over here has a fixed price, and so everything (whether it is tourist tat, food, hotel
rooms, transportation, etc.) is open to negotiation. And if you're a tourist with cash in your
pocket and you know that the Nepali tourist industry is somewhere around 10% of where it needs to
be in order to sustain itself, then you are in a really strong bargaining position. Of course the
locals know this, but for some reason (maybe it's cultural?), every potential transaction begins
with them quoting the 'lobotomy price', meaning that only someone who has undertaken the
aforementioned procedure would pay that much. The trick is to know how much something is worth, or
at least how much you are willing to pay for it, before you start haggling. So if something is
worth 200 rupees, the chap selling it will start off at 1,000. Simlpy divide this number by 10,
and you have your starting point. They will start reducing their price by hundreds at a time wile
you raise yours by 10 at a time, and you eventually meet somewhere around the price you want to
pay. Other useful bargaining techniques include walking away (although you can only do this so
many times with each vendor as eventually they stop chasing you down the road with a lower price),
waving the money you want to pay in front of their face (you can see them visibly weaken when you
do this), and asking the next vendor on his stall 2 feet away how much he charges for exactly the
same item. I have also found that bargaining them down from 1,000 rupees to 50 and then paying
with a 1,000 rupee note can tend to upset them a little bit! Now all I have to do is work out how
I am going to get half a dozen metal stick men, 8 wooden masks, 4 shirts, 3 cowbells, 4 wooden
elephants, 15 light shades, 5 tablecloths, 3 blankets, 17 buddha statues and 5 stuffed yaks back
Took a short break from bickering with the locals down to the last rupee
(worth about a penny!) to
look around Durbar Square, and in 2 cases gave into the persistence of the local hawkers. After
refusing to pay one local cash to see the 'living goddess' (a 7 year-old girl kept chained up in
some building and shown off at particular times of the year - nice!), we sat down and were
approached for the tenth time by a bloke with wild hair and outrageous clothes, who repeatedly
said "click click photo ten rupee". Apparently he was a real Nepali Holy Man, but he reminded me
so much of Terry Jones in "Monty Python's Life Of Brian" that any minute I expected him to give me
a hard time for picking the berries off his juniper bushes! So we gave in and let him have his
picture taken with me (the price of fame!), and collected his 10 rupees! The second concession was
to a cyclo-rickshaw driver who we paid a pittance to so he could pedal us through the streets. By
the time he was finished I think he regretted pestering us for the business.
Day Sixty Six - Kathmandu
Interesting fact for the day: the water in Kathmandu contains ten times the
acceptable level of
fecal matter ('poop' to you and me!) according to the World Health Organization. So no matter how
careful you are, just one drop of water in your mouth while you're taking a shower, or maybe the
restaurant worker preparing your food DID wash his hands first, can land you with a dose of the
Galloping Trots. I only mention this now because the entire day was spent wearing out the carpet
between bed and the bathroom and doubling the share price of Nepali toilet paper!
Day Sixty Seven - Kathmandu
Made up for yesterday's inactivity, and brought a smile back to the faces
of the teary-eyed local
gift shop owners, by going on an all-day shopping frenzy. Managed to take a couple of short breaks
for food and drink, but for the rest of the day the haggling was relentless. Finally, a couple of
hours after dark, we managed to convince ourselves that there were no more open shops within a
20-mile radius and headed back to the hotel for some much-needed rest and recuperation.
Day Sixty Eight - Kathmandu
Took a bit of a risk leaving the touristy part of town and headed a few miles
away to visit the
most important temple complex in Nepal and the largest Stupa in Nepal. On leaving the hotel,
laziness got the better of us and we decided to get a taxi rather than walk to these places. This
turned out to be a very wise move, as halfway along the route we were passed by first a few open
trucks with several dozen angry-looking locals on them - all waving flags and large sticks,
closely followed by a jeep with a fixed machine-gun mounted on the back of it manned by a bunch of
soldiers. Again, something I will be happy to see the result of on the TV news tonight
rather than witnessing it first-hand.
The first building in the temple complex was a kind of refuge for the old
and infirm. Quite a
sorry-looking place with a wide range of afflictions and disabilities on show - no chance of any
healthcare over here for the vast majority of the population. Next to this was the riverbank with
a row of stone platforms all the way along it. These platforms are used for cremations, and this
temple complex is important because it's where royalty are cremated, and on the opposite side of
the river there are amphitheatre-style seats set up where the public can watch. It must have been
a busy week when the majority of the royal family were massacred a few years ago! There were a lot
of rituals involved, and friends & family members sit around for hours watching their loved ones
go up in smoke. Way better than the insincere monologues from a clergyman you've never met and
tacky organ music that you get in western cremations - when I go I quite fancy hiring a beer
garden and being Guy Fawkes for the afternoon!
There was an entire collection of Terry Jones lookalike 'Holy Men' living
around one of the
temples. Of course all of them want cash to have their photo taken (strangely despite Holy Men
supposing to have 'given up' everything), and one of them even had the cheek to ask for cash while
smoking a cigarette. When I refused he went and put his personal CD player on and sulked! If I
ever decide to work for a living again, I could do a lot worse than covering myself with flour,
donning a wig and loincloth(what a lovely thought!), and sitting around this place all day long
collecting a fortune off tourists!
Animals in Nepal seem to evolve differently to those in other parts of the
world. One temple here
was allegedly guarded by a 'fierce bull', but the temple we thought was the same one only appeared
to be guarded (although I'm not sure that's the right word!) by a small pig with an enormous
scrotum. After asking around it turns out that we were in the right place, and the statue guarding
the temple was indeed the 'fierce bull' we had read so
much about. I remain unconvinced!
Beat our way through hundreds of monkeys and a couple of arranged wedding
arranged marriages judging by the miserable expressions on the brides faces), and made it to the
largest Stupa in Nepal. Quite an impressive structure, and as the guide book said there was a
monastery next to it. What you don't find out until you get there is that every other square inch
around the place is filled with tourist tat shops. Of course we went into them all (essential in
order to get the full experience, apparently!), but maybe it would be nice if just one of these
places was surrounded by trees, fields or hills?
Got back to Kathmandu without encountering and more baying mobs or militia,
and celebrated by
shopping until everything was closed again!
Day Sixty Nine - Kathmandu
After the success of yesterday's road trip ('success' being defined as not
being shot or
kidnapped), we went for another one today. Bhaktapur is an old walled city with narrow cobbled
streets, closed to traffic, and packed with temples. The feel of the place is similar to 18th
century London (or present-day Yorkshire!), and is like being cast back in time. If you ignore the
plethora of gift shops, of course!
Turns out that Saturday is wash day in Nepal. Or, judging by some of the
locals, April 24th is
wash day in Nepal. It involves putting a large bowl out onto the street, filling it with water,
then dunking your food, pots & pans, clothes, children, etc. in the water until everything is
After hours of walking around every street in the entire city, even the camera
decided they had had enough and expired, so we got a taxi back to Kathmandu earlier than expected.
In plenty of time to do more shopping! But, shock, horror, even in mid-afternoon half the tourist
tat shops were closed. How can this be??? Theory number one is that the shops close early on
Saturdays due to religious reasons, but my own (and therefore infinitaly more reliable!) theory is
that the shopkeepers got word that we would be out of town for the whole day, and simply gave up
and went home!
Disaster strikes in the evening, when a potential 8 hours of watching cricket
on TV is scuppered
due to a downpour in the West Indies, leaving either an extremely dodgy J-Lo movie or (more
appealingly) ritual suicide as the only two options for the evening's entertainment. I have a
feeling that watching the former would have driven me to the latter in any case! Just as the
ceremonial sword was being sharpened I managed to find some footy on a different channel, thus
saving the world from J-Lo and saving the maid from a messy cleanup job in the morning. After the
footy, another (unsuccessful) attempt was made to fit the 2 tons of recently purchased tourists
tat into one backpack. Might be a busy day tomorrow trying to sell everything back to the shops!
Day Seventy - Kathmandu
Shopped for tat all day, then had a final meal of steak and beer before moving
on to eating
Vietnamese dog and Lao monkey over the coming six weeks (okay, so I'm not sure what they eat in
Laos, but I'm betting it's not steak and beer!). Apparently the planes are all leaving on time, so
if the Maoists / peasants / students / rebels / etc. (it was doctors and dentists protesting about
something yesterday!) can just relax for another 24 hours then we will have made it, and can come
back when it's safer. MUCH safer!
Day Seventy One - Kathmandu to Bangkok
Picked a good day to leave - not only were there no protests so we made it
to the airport without
any problems, but the sewer underneath the main road outside our hotel decided to rupture during
the night. Didn't fancy risking running the gauntlet of manhole covers so there wasn't any
Airport security was entertaining. There were at least 20 people working
in the security area
where you go through the metal detector and your hand luggage goes through the x-ray machine. At
least it looked like a metal detector and x-ray machine - I reckon they were both made of
cardboard and contained no electrical parts whatsoever. You could have ridden a motorbike through
the metal detector and it wouldn't have gone off, and the conveyor belt on the x-ray machine
looked like it was wound along by hand! This theory was reinforced when the role of all the people
working there became clear - you are frisked (very thoroughly - I felt violated!), and all your
hand luggage is opened and individually checked by hand as well. What I don't understand is if the
'frisker' didn't find any concealed weapons in the front of my underwear the first time he
checked, why did he feel it necessary to check the same area another half a dozen times?
And here are the final scores for Nepal (Kathmandu and Himalayas combined
- I really can't be
bothered to do them separately!). Unfortunately, the over-zealous frisking by the airport security
pervert does mean that Nepal starts off with -1 point, so ...
Views: 20/10. Unbelievable and unparallelled.
Experience: 8/10. I hiked around the Himalayas and went to Everest Base Camp - how cool is THAT
Health: 0/10. Either shed 30 pounds in the heat due to being poisoned by the water, or shed 30
pounds in the mountains due to altitude sickness, bad food and a ridiculous exercise regime - the
choice is yours!
Food: 5/10. Great, cheap steaks in Kathmandu (5 points), but have to live on melted snow and yak
dung in the mountains (0 points).
Beer: 6/10. Nice and cheap and lots of it. Except in the mountains!
Yaks in boots and short skirts: 0/10. Don't even go there!
Weather: 5/10. Kathmandu is warm and sunny, while the cold, snowy mountains are, errrrrr, cold and
Peasants: 4/10. Tons of begging and hawking, but at least it's done with a sense of humour (like
the bloke who tried to sell me some tourist tat, and when I said "no" he asked me if I would like
a haircut instead!).
Cheap tat: 7/10. Impossible to ignore, so you just tend to go along with it. If anybody knows of a
small castle for sale where I can display all this stuff, please let me know.
Comfort: 3/10. Spent most of the time either too cold, too sick, too knackered, too hairy, etc
(moan, moan, moan!) to fully enjoy the experience.
Pretty good score, considering all the pain and misery involved whilst trekking.
I reckon the
hight points total for Nepal could be relief from getting out of there alive (from both the
mountains and the Maoists), and I would definitely go back (to Kathmandu, not to the mountains -
ever!) once the killing and kidnapping stops. Oh, and after they fix the sewers!
Dean Martin, Roddy
McDowell & Robert Mitcham
are there somewhere playing 5 card stud