Category Archives: Travel

Keep Laughing

In a previous post I recounted the story of having my trekking boots nicked by the Uttar Pradesh police once I got back to India.

Well, I was reminded of it again yesterday, when big sister Jenny and I went to see Othello at the Globe Theatre in London. One sonnet seemed particularly apt:

The robb’d that smiles steals something from the thief;
He robs himself that spends a bootless grief.

Always good to see the funny side.

In other developments, I now have my visa to return to India – BRINGITON. As you can guess I’m very pleased about this… I’ll be flying back on the 18th, but until then will be flitting around London and Norwich… See you soon?

Nepal Trek Diary – Part One

Sorry for the delay folks. Part Two will follow in a few days…

DAY ZERO: Kathmandu – Dunche

After finalising a few things in Kathmandu it was time for the bus to Dunche, trailhead for the Langtang trek. This entailed an 8 hour bus journey on roads of variable quality (average to horrendous) on a bus that was designed for passengers significantly smaller than clowns like us. There was little to choose between our seats. Option one: the aisle seat, perched next to a vertical steel pole promising mild concussion every time the bus negotiated a pothole (which was often). Option two: the window seat, offering a knee-shattering orgy of pain countered only marginally by jamming one’s legs up to head height and leaning desperately out of the window.

MATT: “I feel like I’m being shaken to pieces.”
PAUL: “I know mate. It’s pretty bad.”
MATT: “Yes, but this is at the molecular level.”

Mercifully, we stopped halfway for lunch at Trisuli. Neither of us were in the mood to eat, being rather hungover after the misguided-but-inevitable piss-up in Kathmandu the night before to herald Matt’s arrival in Nepal. Whoops. The second half of the journey was little better, though the scenery out of the window was spectacular as we made our way along the narrow roads curving around the hillside. Eventually, after what seemed like days, our ordeal was over. Namaste Dunche. Luckily for us, it didn’t take long to find a nice room with fabulous views over the hills from the outside terrace. We asked at our lodge about porter-guides and were introduced to Lobsang, a friendly and enthusiastic Dunche local who had plenty of knowledge about our intended route. A deal was struck. Looking back, we were incredibly lucky: Lobsang was an absolute legend throughout our entire trip.

We had considered the issue of whether or not to carry our own equipment. In the end, the advice of many fellow trekkers – “remember, you’re on holiday” – led us to go for the porter option. No regrets. Despite giving him a load that we would have struggled to shoulder, he actually carried far less than most regular porters, who get loaded with staggering amounts of kit for tour groups: 35-40kg is a typical load. Those guys are amazing.

Before dinner we took a walk around Dunche, accompanied by a 12-year-old local lad called Buddha, who was comfortably the most precocious kid either of us had ever met. In fluent English, he quizzed us on our knowledge of geography, geology, science and sport, whilst casually reciting the heights of Nepal’s major peaks and bemoaning the difficulty he and his mates had finding a level surface to play football.

PAUL: “Come off it Matt, in years to come you’ll look back and laugh.”
MATT: “In years to come I’ll take a taxi.”

DAY ONE: Dunche – Thulo Syabru

Matt’s essential equipment: Two MP3 players, solar charger, gaiters, four-season sleeping bag, sterilised needles, IV drip, portable water filtration unit
Paul’s essential equipment: Sleeping bag liner, two books, headtorch, thermals, woolly hat Lobsang’s essential equipment: Change of clothes, handkerchief

Starting from Dunche
Starting from Dunche

Our first day’s trek was the perfect way to begin. Not too much up, not too much down, and reasonably cool as we followed a good, pleasantly shaded trail along the forested ridge. Lobsang recommended a nice lodge in Thulo Syabru, and we had a hearty dinner of dal bhat, Nepal’s national dish.

MATT (determined): “I’m not going to drink any beer until we get back to Kathmandu.”
MATT: (30 minutes later, rationalising) “Well it is San Miguel.”
PAUL (firm): “Well I’m not going to have any. I don’t feel like it.”
PAUL: (30 minutes after that, resigned) “Oh go on then. Just a small glass.”

DAY TWO: Thulo Syabru – Chamdang

The first day had been a breeze, but this was tougher, mainly because after lunch it was uphill all the way.

Porters crossing a suspension bridge near Syabru
Porters crossing a suspension bridge near Syabru


Still, for most of the day we walked along a good path up through the forest. On the way we passed a kind-faced old man taking his grandson for a walk down to Langmoche.

GRANDAD: “Where you going? Lama Hotel?”
PAUL: “Yes.”

We decided to refer to him as Ganja Grandad after that. But we didn’t take him up on his offer.

Just before we reached Chamdang – a fair walk up, we passed some guys coming down. Fair enough. But unlike regular hikers, these fellows were carrying bikes on their backs. It turns out they were world champion mountain bikers and, insanely, were actually cycling up and down these steep Himalayan paths. Tellingly, they had one porter deputed solely to lug around their enormous medical kit.

Despite his extensive kit list and collection of gadgets, Matt’s watch stops:

MATT: “Hmmm. I should have invested in that wristwatch with built in GPS and altimeter.”
PAUL (glancing at his watch then pointing at handily-placed big yellow sign): “It’s 12.15, we’re at Ghora Tabela and it’s 2900m. Job done.”

DAY THREE: Chamdang – Langtang Village

On the way up to Langtang Village (a proper settlement as opposed to a collection of lodges) the valley really opens up and there are great views up to the mountains of the Langtang Himal.

Water-driven prayer wheels
Water-driven prayer wheels

We pass some interesting water-driven Buddhist prayer wheels, before Paul stops to take a photo of a yak. Matt threatens that the yak looks ready to charge. Do yaks charge? Paul looks a little nervous in the photo.

Paul and a yak
Paul and a yak

At this altitude, it was starting to get a little cold at night.

PAUL: “I think my soap is frozen.”

DAY FOUR: Langtang – Kangjin

Matt greets Paul in the morning with a friendly “Happy Birthday” and offers him a cough sweet. For some reason we have a seemingly endless supply.

It was only a half day’s walk up to Kangjin, the furthest (and highest) village up the Langtang valley, so we decided that after checking into a lodge we’d have a crack at climbing the nearby peak of Kangjin Ri (4400m). On balance, Paul decides that yomping around the Nepalese Himalaya is a bloody fine way to spend a birthday.

We still had plenty of energy, but since we weren’t particularly acclimatised it was fairly tough going. Nevertheless, slowly but steadily we made our way to the summit.

Paul, waving from the top
Paul, waving from the top

Matt, silhouetted on the ridge
Matt, silhouetted on the ridge

At the top of Kangjin Peak, standing on an exposed ridge:

PAUL: “Shall we carry on to the peak behind?” [Kyimoshung, 4620m]
MATT: “Well, since we’re up here already… Why not?”
Suddenly, the freezing fog closes in and it begins to snow.
MATT & PAUL (simultaneously): “On the other hand…”

We descend. Rapidly.

That evening it kept on snowing, but it was great to look out from the relative comfort of the lodge dining room. Despite the somewhat unnerving presence of several lycra-clad Frenchmen, it was all quite convivial, especially when we whipped out a small bottle of Indian whisky we’d got poor old Lobsang to carry up from Syabru. It was Paul’s birthday after all.

DAY FIVE: Kangjin ‘rest day’

Paul gets up at 6am to watch the sunrise. Following the heavy snowfall, everything looks stunning in the morning light. While every building blanketed in a white layer, the sun casts wonderful shadows on the valley walls and surrounding peaks of the upper Langtang. This is a tremendous reward for our efforts so far.

Dawn at Kangjin village
Dawn at Kangjin village

There are no villages past Kangjin with anywhere to stay, so we planned to spend a couple more days exploring the upper valley and acclimatising to the altitude. We considered climbing the nearby Tsergo Ri peak (4983m) but decided to wait another day to see if the snow cleared a little. Instead, we chose to hike further up the valley, as far as Langshisha. Because the valley follows a slight bend, every time you trek a little further you’re rewarded with fresh breathtaking views of the Himalyan range. Towards Langshisha we got a great look at Kangchempo (Tilman’s “fluted peak”) and across to Shishapangma in nearby Tibet.

We also met a group of Austrians planning to establish a base camp on the high altitude pastures there before climbing some mountain or other. Fair play to these alpine types.

Given that this was nominally a rest day in our schedule, we ended up walking for 7 hours – one of the longest days of our trek. The last stretch was the toughest, since we were walking into the wind and the fog had started to move up the valley bringing snow in its wake.

Back in the lodge, the tomato noodle soup tasted damn good.

DAY SIX: The Ascent of Tsergo Ri

This was the big one. Ever since the early planning stages of our trek, we’d been looking forward to climbing Tsergo Ri; at just a shade under 5000m, it promised to be a challenge.

We were up early to begin our ascent. With fewer clouds than the day before, conditions looked relatively favourable, despite yet more snowfall overnight. Of course, the mountain looked beautiful, all dusted in white and looming broodily on the north side of the valley. Fortuntately for us, Lobsang had been up before and led the way. We took a long but comparatively gentle route up, winding around the mountain before attempting a steep scramble to the top across virgin snowfields of variable depth.

Paul and Lobsang crossing snowfields approaching the summit
Paul and Lobsang crossing snowfields approaching the summit

Hilariously described in our guidebooks as a 3-4 hour ascent, it took us 5 hours to reach the summit, partly because of the tricky final assault but mainly due to our general struggle with the altitude.

Yeti sighting?
Yeti sighting?

PAUL (having been hanging around on the bitterly cold, exposed summit for ten minutes before Matt joins him): “Right let’s take those bloody photos bloody quick so I get the f*ck down off this f*cker.”

Paul at the summit
Paul at the summit

Matt at the summit
Matt at the summit

Of course, getting to the top was only half the battle. The journey down was a struggle too (Matt’s verdict: “most horrendous descent ever”). We decided not to go back the way we since as it would take far too long. Instead, we had to follow a starkly exposed ridge, cross a sea of boulders and then pick our way along a treacherous, slippery snow-covered trail. It was hard enough before the fog closed in and – inevitably – it started to snow.

The route back down
The route back down

On the way down we rechristened the mountain as “Bastard Peak”, or “Mount Bastard”. It was physical. It was tough. But yes, it was satisfying.

Picture the scene: covered in a layer of snow and ice, looking vaguely reminiscent of Shackleton, Oakes and Scott (had they worn fake North Face gear that is), Matt, Paul and Lobsang burst open the door of the lodge dining room in a blizzard of icy wind and billowing sleet. Everyone looks surprised. Almost immediately, three people rise from their seats near the stove and move aside to leave room by the fire. The intrepid mountaineers order an enormous vat of hot lemon and begin to recount stories of their adventure…

Paul’s attempt at cultivating a hard-as-nails, mountain-man image is somewhat undermined (perhaps fatally) by a bad case of windburn, giving him hilarious panda eyes and a permanently shocked expression.

MATT: “Don’t you just love it when you return alive from something bloody dangerous?”

Panda-eyes Pablo
Panda-eyes Pablo

Welcome home

I’m back in India. BRINGITON. As I type this I’m in Delhi, spending a couple of days at Sahara before catching the train back south to Pune, a 26 hour journey.

Of course, Matt and I will post a full account of our adventures up here shortly, along with lots of photos of us looking all rugged as we tramp around the mountain passes of northern Nepal. And / or the bars of Kathmandu.

But first, I might as well recount the story of the journey from Nepal back to India. Matt had a flight back to London via Doha, whereas I was travelling overland to India via the border crossing at Bhairawa-Sonauli. This was a fairly gruelling undertaking, involving a 10 hour bus journey from Kathmandu to the border, another local bus to Gorakhpur, and a 14 hour train to Delhi.

The only other foreigners on the first bus were three Israelis – I was too bleary to catch their names – and once we arrived at Bhairawa around 4.30am we chartered a couple of cycle rickshaws up to the border checkpost, where we woke up the official and got our passports stamped. Then we ducked under the barrier (tricky with loaded backpacks) and walked up to the Indian immigration office 50 metres or so up the road. Perhaps ‘office’ is a bit grand: it was a tumbledown shed. Again we had to wake the poor official, who was dozing on a table under an elaborately arranged mosquito net. I had to lend him a pen to complete the paperwork, but within a couple of minutes I had the required stamp in my passport and was legitimately back in The India.

I’ve been to a few border towns, and I have to say that Sonauli is comfortably the worst of a bad bunch. Still, we didn’t have to linger too long, finding ourselves a ramshackle bus to Gorakhpur (nearest railhead for Delhi) which took about three hours on the bumpy road. On a couple of occasions I was catapulted at least a foot in the air from my seat at the rear of the bus, although amazingly I was still able to doze through most of the journey.

On arrival at Gorakhpur, I bagged myself a ‘retiring room’ at the station. These rooms – ranging from simple dormitories to air conditioned hotel-style rooms – are designed for weary travellers to take a rest either before or after a long rail journey. This particular one was almost a suite, with a bedroom and attached bathroom, both with double height ceilings. If being generous, I suppose I could describe it as displaying ‘faded grandeur’, looking suspiciously like hadn’t been redecorated since the mid 1950s. But for Rs90 – just over a quid – it was excellent value and just what I needed, especially since I faced a 10 hour wait for my train. In the end, my train was delayed by a further three hours, although this is the first time I can remember a departure delay of more than half an hour or so on an Indian long distance train. I think I’ve been fortunate, but it still beats the British Rail ‘experience’ hands down.

Once I located my carriage, I discovered a fat policeman dozing in my sleeper berth. He actually looked just like one of those unsympathetic police goons in the Bollywood movies. Anyway, since I had gone to the trouble of booking a confirmed reservation, I turfed him out. He harrumphed a bit and then moved to sit on someone else. Literally.

There was actually at least a dozen policemen in our carriage, none of whom who possessed confirmed tickets but had decided to throw their not inconsiderable weight around all the same. Fortunately, they all got off around midnight at Lucknow and relative peace was restored to the carriage.

When I woke in the morning, my shoes had gone missing. I’d tucked them under the lower berth, along with my chained up bags. I was puzzled. A friendly man by the window filled me in.

“My shoes have been taken also. We shall have to buy sandals in Delhi. Actually this is UP [Uttar Pradesh]. And UP is renowned for being the state of thieves and dacoits [bandits]. Perhaps you should feel lucky you still have the clothes on your back.”

Marvellous. Maybe I should complain to someone?

“Actually, I think it was those policeman fellows who took them.”

Brilliant. My trusty boots that had seen me across the snowy peaks of the Langtang Himalaya, had been appropriated by the boys in khaki.

Welcome back to India, Pablo!

A quick look back

It’s approaching two and a half years since I left the UK. About time then, for a quick look back.Where have I been in all this time? First of all to India, then to Thailand (via a stopover in Bangladesh, though I’m not counting that), then Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand again before returning to India. An extended stay this time, picking up a couple of new qualifications along the way, and then off to Sri Lanka, and back to India again. Right now, I’m in Nepal.

Let’s just say I’m taking the roundabout route getting to New Zealand.

Some forms of transport I’ve used on my travels (in a vaguely chronological order):

Cycle rickshaw
Auto rickshaw
Motor boat
Thai songthaew
Cambodian improvised railcart
Sail boat
DISHA Mobile Awareness Vehicle (D-MAV)

What I have I learned in all this time?

1) Return tickets are for wimps
2) One should be very careful when sitting on a camel
3) Arrack (Sri Lankan country liquor) and ginger beer is a drink fit for kings
4) Feni (Goan country liquor) and Mazaa (mango soft drink) is a drink fit for fools
5) Late at night, in any city in the world, you can watch a movie on satellite TV starring Steven Segal. It’s probably ‘Under Seige’, and it’s probably on channel 57…
6) There are stories everywhere you look

More homespun philosophy another day!

Recently, I was back in Delhi. It was interesting, because that’s where I first arrived into India in October 2004, and I hadn’t been back since. After spending a reasonable amount of time in various parts of the country, it was interesting to see things through different eyes. Unfortunately my visit was somewhat curtailed, but I’m looking forward to spending more time there in the future.

Just one more thought… I’ve spent so much time in Pune that I now leave loved ones behind in India as well as Europe. But I haven’t forgotten about anyone, and look forward to the day we meet again…

Paul xx