This my time time in Nepal - through the eys of a friend and helper Mick Canning. This has been reproduced by kind permission of Mick.
Friday 19th January 1996
Billed as a fun-filled social weekend, where we would meet the group from Wales and have a chance to ask any questions about the trip that we might have. To be known later as The Lost Weekend, but that's just a malicious rumour.
We arrived on Dartmoor after just five hours travelling, 4.75 of them with Ken chattering unstoppably. I think he was asleep for the other fifteen minutes. After a cup of tea at John's, he led us across the moor through winding lanes, in darkness and fog and mist at breakneck speed, to the accompaniment of Helen (who wasn’t driving) complaining at how slowly we were going.
About 35 minutes and 200 miles later, we arrived at the cottage, decanted ourselves and the gear inside and said goodbye to John who left to await the Welsh lot, who were coming down later in the evening. We dumped the gear, opened a couple of beers and began cooking. By the time the curry was ready, we’d drunk several beers and opened some wine. Hindsight is a wonderful gift; it’s just a shame that it cannot be applied retrospectively, so to speak. When John arrived with the Welsh lot a few hours later, it was to announce ‘Here’s the Kent lot, who...oh...I think they’ve been drinking a bit...’ or something like that.
A great lot, those Welsh. Totally unembarrassed, or undeterred, they unpacked and set to, to try to catch us up. We had too much of a head start for them, however...
Saturday 20th January
Saturday dawned...well, okay, I’ve no idea how Saturday dawned, but I don’t suppose that anybody else did, either. By nine o’clock there were lots of little moans and groans and hushed voices around the cottage, as pre-trek trekkers trekked unsteadily into the kitchen, searching for black coffee, aspirins and quiet, but finding an excited Zac instead. Martin is not very well at all, and has given up alcohol for life. When trying to work out later what he has drunk, we concluded that it was probably enough for anyone of normal build, never mind Martin. Ken was apparently beset by night demons and screamed the place down. Or so rumour has it. It didn’t wake me. Well, I’m a heavy sleeper anyway. And in any case, I probably chose to ignore him because I was tired, but I wasn’t there anyway and I expect it was someone else. Or something. And Jane looks rather pale today. And Helen is insufferable; she seems to be the only one unaffected.
During the morning John and Sandy threw lots of data at us, aided by Peter, the doctor, who arrived with his wife in the morning. No one seems to anticipate any particular problems. The proceedings were only punctuated by Ken’s frequent interjections and Martin’s even more frequent dashes out of the room.
After lunch, everybody piles out for an invigorating, reviving walk. I stay with Martin who is feeling better, but not exactly in show-room condition yet, and do a bit of tidying up, and prepare our food, so that we don’t end up fighting over space in the kitchen later. At supper time, Helen and I are the only ones out of our group who can face beer, apart from Ken who we have told must wait until we go to the pub later. His emotional problems are hard enough work as it is.
The pub visit is very enjoyable. We walk down the hill and invade the pub where John, Sandy, Peter and his wife have just suppered and spend a fairly pleasant couple of hours trying to limit Ken’s beer consumption. We soon learn just how much of a manipulator he can be and how his emotional problems feed his mood. Talking to him seems to do no good.
Over coffee, we all sit around and I learn where John has got many of his word games. Steve has a pretty endless store of them and no doubt will infuriate many of us many evenings in Nepal. They are a really nice crowd and I think that we will all get on well on the trek.
Sunday 21st January
Coming down to breakfast, the first thing I see is Steve and a couple of others attempting to repair the downstairs loo, or at least engaged in damage limitation. John’s friends are going to be really pleased that they lent us the cottage.
The last dribbles of data are discussed and John and Sandy attempt to sell us loads of gear. We succumb without much of a fight. Then suddenly it is lunchtime and we are packing up and leaving. It is unbelievably difficult to find somewhere to eat in Devon on a Sunday! Finally, we lunch on armfuls of rubbish from a service station.
The trip back is uneventful, but seems to take longer than the one coming down. After dropping off Jane, Ken and Martin, we pick up Pat who will drive the bus back home. She emits a satisfying yelp when she discovers Zac waiting quietly on the bus for her. On the way back, Helen invents all sorts of stories about me and shamelessly attempts to get Pat to swallow them.
Saturday 9th March 1996
Largely as a vehicle for Martin and Ken to get some walking practice, we are today walking the 5 miles from Tunbridge Wells to Harrison’s Rocks; there to camp the night and walk back tomorrow. I’m sure that it will be fun, too.
Our group is now complete with the addition of Will, but he appears rather elusive, today...he is meant to be arriving at Tunbridge Wells at 9.30, but he doesn’t. Nor on the 10 o’clock train. Phone calls, search parties and diplomacy finally get him to Helen’s flat by 1pm, where after lunch and a Wallace and Gromit video, we finally shoulder our packs and stride off into the distance. Or at least up the road to start with, where we are regarded with curiosity, especially Ken and Martin, who, with his...interesting...hat and oversized walking stick, is especially conspicuous. I walk along at the back pretending to be nothing to do with them at all.
We reach the High Rocks Inn, at roughly half way, relatively unscathed, although it is already obvious that Ken is having trouble. He admits that he has not really been doing any walking. We have a quick rest and a beer, and a passing Samaritan presses a ten-pound note into my hand for us all to have a drink on her. We all agree that it is very nice of her, and I thank her politely, but there is something in the gesture that I am uneasy with, although I'm not sure what it is. It's not patronising, or condescending, or...I'm just vaguely unhappy with it. I've no doubt that it's kindly meant, though.
We push on. The paths are very muddy and sticky and Ken is obviously having problems. Martin is doing better than I, at least, had feared, though. His stamina seems to have improved over the past year. Will just goes on, and on. He seems to have plenty of stamina and a good capacity for work, as they say. As dusk approaches us, and we approach Groombridge Place, Ken is having real difficulty in keeping up. We head down the drive to the road, where the going is a lot easier, rather than the last few footpaths to the village. The last quarter to half mile through the village and out towards the rocks is very slow and becoming a bit of a worry, in that we don't really want to have to put up an unfamiliar tent in the dark.
The tent, however, goes up easily enough in a grim half-light and soon we are all sorted out and heading back down the road towards The Junction. Ken seems strangely reinvigorated now! The evening is pleasant, fun even. The beer is good and so is the food (apart from Helen's) and Ken, by and large, behaves himself. Zac eats a lot of chips, and, added to all of the muddy water he had today, I'm glad not to be sharing a tent with him!
On the way back, however, Ken throws his wobbly. After I fail to get anywhere with him, we leave him to Helen and run away (or at least Zac tries to - it takes Jane and myself to hold him; he seems to have picked up a very interesting scent).
Back at the campsite, Helen inspects Ken's feet and finds them covered in blisters. He will not say when he has problems and we are afraid that in Nepal we are simply going to have to inspect him regularly. He won't like it, but it leaves us with little choice.
Once the guys are down in their tent, we drink a little of the whisky that Helen has brought, then I go off to get out my bivvy, grateful that I am not sharing a tent that size with a dog and one other person. Mindful of childish pranks, I'm careful to say that I'm going a long way away and then set up my bivvy on the next pitch.
Sunday March 10th 1996
Not the quietest night that I have ever spent under canvas/Gore-Tex/what you will. The fog is quite thick, although not deep, and the stars show through. For a while I lie in my bivvy with the zip open, just staring up at the sky, but then the air begins to feel too chill and I zip up and try to go to sleep. Although it has now gone one o'clock, there are cars moving around the car park, but eventually I go to sleep. I'm then awakened by the sound of some guy walking his dog near the tents! I grit my teeth and go back to sleep. Something else wakes me. I hear the church clock strike three and then voices and strangely familiar noises that I can't place. Sticking my head irritably out of the bivvy I see a couple of out of hours campers putting up a tent. I suspect that they were trying to be quiet, but in this deathly stillness the noise carries and magnifies.
Awake again at four, with more vehicle noises, but after that sleep pretty well uninterrupted until a quarter to eight, when I get up. Helen makes some tea whilst we all make early morning noises (whinging etc) and eat whatever we have for breakfast - in my case, vegetable spring roll, two onion bhajis and a banana. Then after throwing a few sticks as close as we can to the new tent for Zac to chase and generally make a noise about, start to pack up. I patch up Ken's feet as best I can, but he is obviously not going to walk very far. Martin is tired, too, and doesn't fancy our other plan of going climbing, either. So it's plan C. We walk into Groombridge and Helen loads Martin and Ken, along with most of the gear, into Terry's jeep to drive to Tunbridge Wells and install them in front of the TV whilst she returns to catch up with Jane, Will and myself who will take Zac and start heading back.
The sun is now out and it's really nice walking back along the river. Will goes on, and on...happily, chattily. I feel he'll be fine in Nepal. We make really good time, interrupted only when Zac attempts to eat a very small and irritating terrier at a farm along the way. We tell him off, but not with very much conviction. Helen catches us up just before High Rocks and we are back in Tunbridge Wells around midday.
After a quick Wallace and Gromit video, we adjourn to the Grapevine, where we agree that the weekend has been basically a success; even where there have been problems, it means that lessons have been learned (check Ken's feet regularly, don't attempt to speak to Jane first thing in the morning, etc). We disperse to homes and pubs.
Sunday 14th April 1996
It’s here - we’re off. Sitting in Sabina’s dining room looking out at the forsythia outside the window - the huge yellow blossoms hang solidly in the dull light, almost with the same feel as cherry blossoms heavy with rain. A very oriental feel, yet almost like an English May scene in the country, when the greens are suddenly thick and vibrant. The whole window glows yellow from the mass of blossoms.
West Malling - goodbyes...eventually. Ken is a bit late, Helen half an hour late - she only receives the ‘get there by four thirty’ message at four thirty. But we get away and make very good time to Heathrow, where we meet up with John and the Welsh lot and stock up with goodies: rucksack, sweatshirt and T-shirt, all with logo, unfortunately. Still, they’re free and seem to be good quality. Torches and lighters, too, from Vanessa.
By the time that we take off, I am already wondering whether Will will ever stop chattering.
Monday 15th April 1996
Dawn - over the desert somewhere between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. A long, golden red swathe of fire across the horizon, picking out solitary clouds that rapidly become more numerous, standing up like mountains and castles, or icebergs, in the morning light. When did I last see sunrise over the desert? Too long!
At Dubai we get off and then get back on again, so that the plane can be refuelled, and I am reminded of Muscat. It is quite hot already, although early in the day.
We follow the coast down towards Oman for a while and then turn across the Gulf, over the Arabian Sea and down to Karachi, circling over the mouths of the Indus. When we land it is hotter than Dubai (Could be a song title?).
We change planes, after being hassled by security, whose motto seems to be 'give 'em a bad day', and set off on the last leg to Nepal. We rise up and head NE across Pakistan, the temperature outside now 107F, across the Thar, which rapidly becomes a rocky, sandy waste. All signs of agriculture disappear within minutes of take-off. Although there is no cloud, the haze masks the ground and the horizon can only be guessed at.
Martin has just wandered past, grinning like a Cheshire Cat - almost in Nepal, now. So how long has he been dreaming of this?
Will is in ecstasies - another meal. I find it hard to equate economy class aircraft meals with Nirvana myself, though. Especially as the last ‘vegetarian’ meal that I was offered appeared to be a chicken fritter.
Formalities at Kathmandu airport are fairly straightforward, although there could be a problem in that no one has brought a tricycle with them. Fortunately, I don’t feel the need to explain that. John’s fixer gets us and our luggage into 3 van-buses, and we career through night time, crowded Kathmandu towards the Kathmandu Guest House. I should imagine that the others in the van were amused to listen to Helen and myself going on about the smells - ‘oh those spices...eucalyptus...wood smoke...sewage - brilliant!’
Kathmandu Guest House is okay, and we hurriedly decant ourselves downstairs towards beer and food. Both are eventually found, as we settle on a restaurant around the corner. The food is good. The beer is good. Afterwards some of us hit the bar around the corner and on the way back Ken throws his wobbly. Helen and I go through the now familiar routine, but it is potentially a little more serious now, since he could (and did!) offend locals, including a police officer. Fun. After getting him back to the hotel and safely tucked up in bed, we drink a bit more and talk too much.
Tuesday 16th April 1996
However...I only had four beers and a mouthful or two of Southern Comfort, but I think the altitude, lack of sleep and flight have all taken their toll.
After breakfast the six of us wander around Kathmandu, eventually having lunch at the Rum Doodle, newly moved but still serving splendid food, and stay there for an hour or two, sampling each other’s meals, using each other’s forks. This is probably not the smartest way to avoid spreading stomach problems. In the afternoon we explore, and discover just how much hard work it can be; Ken’s idea of bargaining is to create a major diplomatic incident, and Will shows great interest in any old tat that the street hawkers wander up and show us, saying how much he likes it and would like to buy it, no matter what I say to him, or how much money he has. Consequently, we are circled by great swarms of vultures, leaving other parts of Kathmandu totally unoccupied and puzzling people that have lived there for years. We also attract a lot of general attention, although we expected that. After a while it becomes quite hard to cope with. Will’s reply to me, after my telling him to ‘just say no’ is ‘no, I like talking to them’. Serious trouble narrowly averted.
We reach Durbar Square, but really are not able to enjoy it because of the swarms of piranhas. Eventually we jump a taxi and return to the Guest House. Helen and Jane go out to shop and when they return, then I do. The relief!! Just to wander around on my own without having to keep checking up on people and trying to shepherd them! I buy lots of bits.
After packing for the flight to Lukla the next day, evening is food, beer, kip. In that order. Will tells us all about the new friends that he has made today. I bang my head repeatedly against the wall.
Wednesday 17th April 1996
Up at six, check packing, wake others, have breakfast and off to the airport. The flight to Lukla is by helicopter, the first time that I have flown in one. It is slightly more primitive than I had been expecting; the inside consists of a bench seat down each side beneath the windows and an area between where all of the luggage is piled up under netting.
I enjoyed the flight and fortunately all of the others appeared to as well. Will had seemed a little unsure beforehand, but was okay. He probably thought that we might get another meal. Once we get to Lukla, the camp is already set up, and we fling our stuff into our tents and go off for lunch. Martin seems to be suffering a little from the effects of the altitude, but with a rest this afternoon will hopefully be all right. The rest of us go off for a stroll around Lukla and get back just as it starts to rain. Martin seems a little better by now and has got some colour back - mainly a sort of nasty puce colour.
As the afternoon wears on, however, people seem to feel somewhat more dodgy. In my case, my stomach feels vaguely unsettled and I just feel rather remote. I put this down hopefully to suddenly gaining five thousand feet in altitude. After a while I go off for a walk by myself, feeling the need for solitude. For the last couple of hours Will has been hanging onto me and I am feeling slightly irritated. I need to get away.
It is suppertime shortly after I get back and this seems to trigger the first serious illness outbreak. Andrew is suddenly a very unwell person and then Jonathan too. Steve and Mike go and clear up and it turns out that Steve has been being sick all day and not telling anyone. Ken starts complaining of the same symptoms as Martin and when Peter sticks his box of tricks on Martin, gets alarming readings. We end the evening making gloomy prognoses and awaiting the rest of the night uncertainly.
Lying in bed I listen to the sound of singing and drums in a nearby house. It would be pleasant if I weren’t feeling nervous.
Thursday 18th April 1996
Just one alarm during the night - amusing in hindsight; Ken called out for help, he was in real trouble. Anticipating half an hour with loo paper and Dettox, I crawled reluctantly out to join Jane at his tent. It turned out that Peter’s loud snoring in the tent next to him had woken him and he thought that he was being attacked by wild animals. We laugh weakly after reassuring him and disappear to await the next call, but nothing happens. Unfortunately, I am on edge now and sleep very poorly.
Dawn. Up at six as the tea arrives, to face a fantastic swathe of snow-covered mountains shining in the morning sun. Like the stars splattered across the sky the previous night, it was worth the trip just to see it. Which is just as well...
Martin is not a well person. There was some activity during the night, which I had been unaware of, after all. Peter’s little box of tricks is the same one that he had taken on the Rebecca Stevens Everest Expedition in 1993 and I have heard the figures explained several times now, without completely understanding what they mean. Basically, it measures how efficiently the haemoglobin in the blood takes up the oxygen and is usually around ninety eight to one hundred percent in reasonably fit people. It should always be in the nineties. It was thought bad on that expedition that up high around the South Col people dropped into the seventies - dangerous figures, associated with a very rarefied atmosphere at high altitude. The alarming measurements that Peter got yesterday from Martin were in the seventies. It also turned out that he went for a gentle walk with Margaret and Peter yesterday afternoon and at one point fainted - just dropped like a stone, with no warning. Peter is also concerned that he is showing no signs of breathlessness, but just breathing normally - paradoxically a dangerous sign, since his body is not working hard to make up for the lack of oxygen. In any case, Peter got up during the night to take a further reading from Martin and it recorded sixty-six.
Although it later climbed into the eighties, the decision has been made that he cannot go on. We can at least go out from here by helicopter, but if we go on, we go down before we go up again and if something happened then the consequences are just too serious. Although we talked about the possibility last night, it still seems desperately sad to send him back.
We talk about it a little, but there is no choice, really. He is desperately upset, but accepts it. Jane is upset too, and it is obvious that it is not just on Martin’s behalf. She would not really be able to cope for two weeks in Kathmandu on her own. I look at the mountains, bite my lip and say I’ll go down too. We talk about it and in the end decide that I will go down instead of Jane.
Jane is more inconsolable than Martin, now. She is upset because of Martin, because of me and because she feels that she has let us down. A no-win situation, but we all talk to her about it over the next couple of hours and she will probably feel better about it in a few days. She has taken over responsibility for Will, and I’ve told her that I want some good photos.
Lots of talk with Martin, too. We all talk about what he has achieved so far and what we will do in Kathmandu. After a while most of the others depart for a strategic walk, after a few surprisingly emotional farewells, considering how few days we’ve been out so far. I put it down to the altitude.
We wait for the helicopter with John. Asian Airways rattle-along again. We are seated beside the oxygen tank, in case Martin has problems. The helicopter will have to rise to more than twelve thousand feet to clear a ridge on the way down to Kathmandu and anything could happen. It is unbelievable how closely it is possible to watch someone for forty minutes. - I don’t think that I took my eyes from him until we were about to land. And as we cleared the ridge, I was decidedly worried: there was one movement he made, I can’t remember exactly what, but I started to lean towards the controls on the bottle until I saw that he was ‘okay’ ( I use the inverted commas because a somewhat wheezy, pale, worried person doesn’t really look okay).
But we are down safely and he looks much better. By the time that we are booked into the hotel we have talked a little about what we will do, achievements and lots of other things. Then we go to the Rum Doodle for lunch.
Over lunch we talk some more about what we would like to do over the coming weeks, where High Hopes will go from here, what we can afford, what will happen to the rest of the group and so on. I’m sure that it does Martin good - we talk and talk and talk. I have arranged to meet Sonam tomorrow morning, when we can begin to make some concrete plans for the next couple of weeks. I want Martin to go back feeling really ‘high’, so to speak. Even if in future we are going to have to rename High Hopes as Wide Hopes. Talking of which, after a lot more Kathmandu suppers, I could very easily end up going home as a fat person, in three weeks time.
Back to Kathmandu
Friday 19th April 1996
My turn, I think. Start the day with 500mg of Ciproxin, just as a precautionary measure. We have decided to breakfast around the corner at K.C.’s, rather than on the luke-warm offerings here. A good move - much cheaper and much better. We are now waiting for Sonam to turn up, so that we can discuss what we will be doing over the next couple of weeks. We have already arranged to change rooms, fortunately.
Sonam has been and is keen to arrange lots of things for us to do. After lunch, he is sending a car and guide to take us around Patan and tomorrow we are going to Bhaktapur, then on to stay at Dhulikel and walk for a couple of days. When we come back, we will sort out more - Nagarkot will be one trip, definitely. Chitwan would be nice, but it may be too hot and humid for Martin.
Lunch at K.C.’s. Martin orders white coffee, but we are told that there is a power cut, so does he want black? Don’t understand.
Our guide arrives at 1.45, then our driver, and we are off. Maurice is our guide, a Christian Indian from Sikkim, who paints Christian thankas. A plan is agreed and we set off. First stop is the Tibetan refugee centre where they make carpets. We have a look around and take some photos, donating a few rupees to the community fund for the privilege of doing so. Our driver takes us through the sort of area that Martin has not really seen, yet. He seems pretty unperturbed by it all. The driving is pretty standard third world, as well, with which he seems to have come to terms. We pass dirt markets, goats in low, squalid shop doorways, potholes and masses of wandering, mingling, humanity.
The next stop is the area called the Industrial District, which is the handicrafts centre. Inside, there are brass workers hammering out predominately Hindu items, carpet weavers again, with mountains of carpets, thankas, woodcarvings, statues, papier-mâché items and jewellery. We spend some time wandering around, asking questions and not buying anything.
All the time, whilst we are driving around, Maurice is pointing out things of interest and talking politics, religion, history and anything else he or we fancy. The only criticism that I have is that he tends to colour all of his descriptions of the Hindu and Buddhist sculptures or stories with Christian comments. It makes his descriptions of the Buddhist religion, at least, a little inaccurate.
Next stop is Patan’s Durbar Square, where we have to pay twenty rupees each to go inside the palace grounds, since there is a retailer’s exhibition there. Maurice seems a little reluctant for us to pay it, but we decide to. Nice carvings and statues inside. Outside in the square we see the Krishna Temple, in Indian style, facing a column with his garuda on the top, and other pagodas and temples.
On the way back we pass a chariot that has been prepared for a festival today, the Machendra (fish mother) festival, named from the Buddha born from a fish legend. This means that it is a female festival. This leads the conversation to various other legends and traditions, such as one where sisters who don’t have brothers, and brothers who don’t have sisters, go to a once a year festival, where they form deep but platonic relationships, which seem to have the main advantage that women are not quite so at their husband’s, or husband’s family’s, mercy, as they might be if they had no brothers to support them.
And so back to the hotel. In the evening we decide to try a new eating hole and find a place called the Mamma Mia pizzeria. This turns out to have good, cheap food and drink and so we unreservedly recommend it. The waiters also smile, are friendly and dispose of stray dogs and rats for the customers. On the way back we go into the Namaste bookshop, which has lots of books printed in Kathmandu - these are the cheap ones. Generally a little cheaper overall here, too.
Before we go out to eat, however, we go to a slide show a short way away from the hotel. Tonight it is on trekking in Pakistan - the K2 trek, the Karakorams, Xiangxiang and white water rafting. Entrance is free with a rum and coke thrown in. All designed to whet the appetite, which it does very well!
Martin seems perfectly comfortable with all of this, now, and says that he is really enjoying it. This bodes well for the next couple of weeks.
In the evening, after Martin has gone to bed, I decide to finish my diary over a beer outside the hotel and get accosted by a chap from Adelaide looking for a chat. We spend an hour or so chatting and watching the rats nipping under the door into the hotel.
Saturday 20th April 1996
I’m up and showered whilst Martin is still asleep, so I come downstairs to look at the papers, only to find yesterday’s papers out and the same cricket match as yesterday on the T.V. - not the highlights, but the entire match. I guess that I must have slipped back twenty-four hours - it’s a shame that the money I spent yesterday hasn’t also rematerialised.
I phone Sonam and we decide that we will go to Dhulikel tomorrow. He cannot arrange a car and driver and etc for today, so we decide to have a lazy morning and then go out to Swayambunath this afternoon. I sit around out in the sun reading, whilst Martin catches up with his diary. Then we return to the Rum Doodle for a light lunch.
After lunch we decide to walk to Swayambunath. Martin reckons he’s up to it and I reckon the lazy little git needs the exercise.
Our walk takes us out of Thamel, via the back streets and down towards the river that marks the western boundary of Khathmandu. On it’s edge we visit some Hindu shrines, then decide to cross the river by a raised plank bridge, rather than the road bridge. There is nothing to hold onto and I am quite surprised by Martin’s willingness to take these sorts of risks. He gets ten out of ten. On the other side are two major Hindu temples. First we visit Bhodabhagwati temple, where several Hindus are conducting a puja and then move on to Bijestiwari temple. In between the two are several sets of Buddhist prayer wheels - I am continuously surprised by the blurring of boundaries between the two religions, here. I think that Hindus here merely regard the Buddha as simply one more god in their pantheon. There are lots of steps up to this temple, and a group of small children try to persuade us that we have reached Swayambunath. After trying to show us around and teasing us gently, they half-heartedly try to cadge a few rupees from us. I can only laugh and tease them back - they seem so openly pleasant, so lacking in spite. In the end we smile at one another and wave goodbye.
We walk on towards Swayambunath. Half way from the temple we stop for a coke. We’ve only covered about half a kilometre, but in that time we must have passed well over half a dozen roadside shrines - to Ganesh, Pavaparti, Hanuman and plenty of others. A real mix. After the drink we wander on to reach the foot of Swayambunath Hill. It’s already 4.15, but we ambled and there’s no rush.
The guidebooks say that the stupa on the top of the hill dominates this area of the Kathmandu valley. Physically, it does not show up for too far, because wherever you are in the valley, it tends to be obscured by something. But when you're there, it has a presence that seems to pervade the valley all around.
There are a hell of a lot of steps up to the stupa and as you climb, they become steeper and steeper. Naturally, they are lined each side with mendicants and merchants. I estimate that the total climb from the river to the top of the hill is about five hundred feet and it is both warm and humid. Martin finds it necessary to stop quite a lot and I nag him to take care and turn back if necessary. He makes it to the top.
All the way up, the little furry buggers that give the stupa its nickname of the monkey temple are buzzing around. The most amazing aspect of this is that at the side of the steps, there is a steep, polished, concrete slope, and the monkeys tend to descend by sliding down this, showing as much control as an accomplished downhill skier.
A snake charmer is exhibiting his cobra, swaying from side to side as the charmer dictates, striking on command. I tell Martin that for a few rupees he can have a go. He is not impressed.
At the top, the views can only be described by using superlatives. The stupa is magnificent. The view is something else completely. The hill comprises the main stupa itself and around it are minor temples, statues, a monastery and buildings that are now shops. There is also a Buddhist library (unfortunately closed, although we rudely barged in) and a Buddhist museum, also closed. We both use up films. Eventually we descend. This is less demanding for Martin, but in some ways no less daunting. On the way down, it seems that absolutely everyone stops to stare. I talk to Martin about this for the umpteenth time - they are open about it; curious, but friendly. Compared to the western attitude, which unfortunately is often either to pretend that they don’t exist, or be downright rude, he says that he finds it quite acceptable.
At the bottom of the hill, we decide to take a tuk-tuk, and bargain a little, although not too much. It almost seems to be taking the piss; they ask so little in the first place. And so we return to the hotel, just in time for another slide-show and free rum and cokes. We can cope with this. This show is beside our hotel and again is on white water rafting.
Afterwards, well, another pakora at Mama mia’s (spicy n’good) and then a few beers at the hotel, as we get our diaries up to date. And so we have, now.
Sunday 21st April 1996
Up early, shower and all-over-head shave. Awake Martin, who goes into shock. At breakfast at K.C.’s we bump into John from Adelaide who has teamed up with a group who are sorting out treks. We all wish each other luck, and Martin and I go off to pack bags and leave luggage in the storeroom. At 10.30 our guide turns up - Kami Sherpa. Our taxi heads out of Kathmandu and towards Dhulikel. We arrange to stop at Bhaktapur on the way back on Tuesday.
The ride is interesting, but quite sedate, compared to some that I have done on Indian roads. We chat to Kami about travel, climbing, trekking, Nepal, Nepalis and etcs. At Dhulikel our hotel is the Himalaya Horizons. Pleasant enough, clean and a vastly better bathroom than the rubbish we’ve had recently. We sit outside for lunch, looking at the view, the flowers, and watching the dozens of different types of butterflies - birdwings, monarchs, all sorts of large and small, brightly coloured ones. There are also half a dozen red kites circling overhead. I suspect that they are eyeing Martin, and soon one will swoop down and carry him off.
We put lunch and soft drinks on the bill, but before we go off for a walk I go to the bar to buy a couple of bottles of water and get a bit of a shock - 60 rupees each.
Kami says that we will go up about three hundred feet, which seems fine. The track we follow is very dusty - it has been cut by bulldozer through clay which has dried out so that the surface of the track is covered with a thick, fine, pale, dust, which rises up in clouds with the slightest breath of wind. It is quite hot, although the sun is hidden in haze, and we need frequent stops. We stop at a small village under some huge trees that shade the tiny, corrugated iron school. All around the foot of the tree, there are offerings of dye and rice and flowers on roots and stones. Kami says that this is because they imagine that there are gods in everything and shrugs at the naïveté of it all. ‘I cannot understand it’ he says. ‘That is because you are a Buddhist’ I reply.
We eventually gain the top of a ridge and Kami says that we are heading for a lake. We cross the ridge and head down a slope of newly planted trees to a Hindu temple. This one is dedicated to Mahadev; a god who supposedly landed at this point once and who was frightened by the grunting of a pig and so took off to another place instead. I’m sure that there must be an allegorical point to all of this, but it escapes me at the moment.
That explained, we took our shoes off and were invited into the temple proper. A western woman, dressed as a Hindu, explained that a big ceremony was due to happen tomorrow, since the yogi who was at the temple had died at a venerable age, and since he was a saint had attained samhadi. So it was both sad and wonderful. Then we saw the fire that was kept alight all of the time, with fire pujas being performed continuously in a twelve-year cycle. They then dabbed some ashes on our foreheads for a good luck tika mark, we put a donation in the box and off we went.
Kami goes and looks over a ridge and says that the way is too uneven for Martin, so we go back to the hotel the way that we came. We need a couple of stops even going downhill, although the dust makes it even worse than it would have been otherwise. We seem to meet an awful lot of children on their way home from school and come in for a lot of good-natured banter.
We are back at about four o’clock, so the whole walk, including a good half-hour at the temple, has taken the best part of three hours. I estimate that we have covered about two miles and Martin has found it fairly hard. Dhulikel is a little under five thousand feet, so we will have climbed to a little over that. It is warm and quite humid and we will have to take it pretty easy on the walk tomorrow. As it is, I carried Martin’s gear today as well as my own, so we have little leeway. I wonder how we will fare at Pokhara. I do not have a map or book with me, but I think that it is higher than this.
Kami tells me that it is only about three thousand feet when I ask him, so maybe that will be okay. I’m sure that there are lots of short treks without having to go very high.
In the evening, I have no sooner finished my meal than I have an extremely uncomfortable feeling in my stomach and I know what is in store. I swallow 500mg of Ciproxin and prepare to spend the night dashing for the loo. I am not disappointed.
Monday 22nd April 1996
I was up and down all night, and feel tired and weak. Then, no sooner is Martin awake than he dashes for the bathroom, too. We both take Ciproxin, but he cannot keep anything down. I go over to get some water and have a glass of fruit juice for breakfast. Martin stays in the room and I make him drink water. After he has seemed okay for a couple of hours, he takes Ciproxin again, but it’s not long until he’s in the loo again. I’ve already told Kami that that we’re just staying here today, so that we might be okay to get back to Kathmandu tomorrow. I don’t know how bored he’ll be just kicking his heels here, today.
By the afternoon I seem to be improving a bit and have caught up on some sleep, but Martin’s dashes seem fairly regular. I’m waiting for a bit of a gap to get some Diarolyte down him, and another Ciproxin. Where’s the nurse when you need her?
Martin seems to be possibly running a bit of a temperature and is certainly suffering. I toyed with the idea of trying to get back to Kathmandu this afternoon, but think on balance that its best to stay here and hopefully let it work its course tonight. Martin can keep warm in bed and tomorrow may be able to travel without throwing up everywhere. I seem to now have an extremely acid stomach, which is very painful. When we get back tomorrow if Martin is no better, then I’ll contact one of the two doctors that Peter told me about.
I think that this is certainly a low point. I’m just lying here looking out of the window feeling that I’ve had enough of this. The combination of the earlier disappointment, sickness and the cash-flow problem, plus the physical travelling restrictions, make me feel very low at the moment. Perhaps I’ll feel better once I’m over the sickness. Plus, having come out as part of a group, and such a good one, too, I’m missing the others a lot. I suppose that I’m also a little uneasy with my responsibility for Martin. I’m only too uncomfortably aware how little medical knowledge I have and what the particular medical problems are with him. What is his normal pulse rate? How can he physically cope with no food for a day or two? There's nothing of him in reserve.
Tuesday 23rd April 1996
Martin had some fruit juice last night and seems to be keeping everything down, now. He also seemed to sleep okay. I slept badly, my stomach hurting all night and giving me a succession of bad dreams and nightmares.
This morning is bright and warm, but fresh. We had some rain yesterday and the gardens look good on it. We both risk breakfast, although only toast, and then sit outside for a while to await our taxi. I am trying to photograph butterflies when he arrives and after settling our outrageous drinks bill (outrageous because it is so costly for so little), we leave. Cash flow is not helped by having to pay the Sherpa's expenses as well as our own. This is going to be a recurring worry, I can see.
Now that I feel better, things do seem a little better. It looks nicer outside and we’re glad to go to Bhaktapur to look around. Partly because vehicles are not allowed in the square, partly because it is outside Kathmandu and partly because there are no restaurants, adds Kami, it is relatively uncrowded and quiet and consequently much more enjoyable, especially for travellers who are becoming a little jaded with urban Nepal. Anyway, we spend an hour strolling leisurely around and then drive back to Kathmandu Guest House, where we unpack again, fortunately getting a decent room this time, and then go off to risk something solid in K.C.’s.
In the afternoon we generally idle about, wash clothes, shower, I go for a walk. Martin gets his diary up to date and after supper tells me all of his medical secrets, which I am willing to sell to the highest bidder.
Wednesday 24th April 1996
Breakfast at Rum Doodle this morning; food was good and cheap but coffee was rank - back to K.C.’s tomorrow!
Spoke to Sonam and arranged to go to Pokhara tomorrow for four nights. This will ease the financial burden a little, as well as being nice to be out of Kathmandu valley for a while. I’m looking forward to it, as is Martin. We won’t have a guide there, as I reckon that we’re be able to see all that we want to see, without feeding one. Today we’re going to browse around Durbar Square and maybe get one or two things to take back.
We walked to Durbar Square and had a good browse around, but after a while Martin felt that all of the staring was getting to him today and proposed getting a bicycle rickshaw back. I approached one who asked fifty rupees and when I offered thirty accepted immediately. I wonder what I should have offered?
After some lunch Martin had a rest whilst I went out to get some of the duty souvenirs.
Whilst we were having lunch, Martin suggested that he do a report for the Disability Society on what he had experienced and we felt that there were positive aspects to mention as well as negative ones. For one thing, there are already one or two people in Kathmandu who address Martin, rather than me, when we meet them and for another, with the majority of people with disabilities, probably just about all of them, in fact, being effectively kept out of society by being denied educational opportunities, etc, lots of the curiosity that we meet seems to be based on awe, some even on admiration, such as a discussion that I had with a vendor in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square.
After packing our bags for the morrow and placing the rest in storage, we went off to try a new restaurant, the Third Eye, of which I have read recommendations in the past, even if I can’t remember what for.
It is quite full and we sit in the back room, which is one of those shoes off, cushions all over, low table places. My meal was really nice and it’s a shame that Martin didn’t like his. Even the coffee was great (Martin agrees on that!), and not particularly expensive. We both thought it might be a good place for an end of trip party.
Thursday 25th April 1996
Awoken at three by Martin who has the upsets again, so we won’t be off to Pokhara today. We are to meet the guy who takes us to our bus at six fifteen and obviously I can’t do anything about that at this time of the morning, so at six fifteen I just have to go down and explain to him. I said that we’d put it off for twenty-four hours.
Martin is feeling really low again, and no surprise. I did ask him if he wanted me to try to arrange to get home, but he said no. He’s just fed up with dysentery - getting rid of one lot just to get it again two days later. I go off for breakfast and then find a pharmacy and stock up on Ciproxin, just in case. I told Martin that he must use up all of his current batch, to make sure that he’s cured. It might simply have been the previous infection returning, rather than a new one. Although, on reflection, it probably wasn’t - they had different symptoms.
I felt Kathmandu getting to me a bit yesterday afternoon, when I went out to get some rolls and fruit for our lunch, supposedly on the bus to Pokhara. There comes a point when you get fed up with having to bargain for absolutely everything.
After talking to Martin I phoned Sonam and said that we would put back the trip to Pokhara by forty-eight hours. I think that even if Martin felt fine by the morning, he might not feel like seven hours on a Nepali bus, with no opportunity to stop if he felt suddenly unwell. Consequently I’ll phone again tomorrow to confirm that. I then went and found Martin a newspaper and gave him some Diarolyte, but I can’t do much about his mood and boredom. I just hope that he’ll feel better later.
It seems to be raining all day. Yesterday there was quite a lot and there were showers the previous day in Dhulikel. It reflects our moods at the moment, I feel.
The rain goes on all day and I end up reading for most of the time, whilst Martin sleeps. It is appreciably cooler now and whilst the rain continues I just don’t fancy wandering around Kathmandu. I thought of going out somewhere to get a drink, but don’t seem to fancy that, either. I guess I just feel a bit jaded. I think that if we could just snap our fingers and jump forward seven days, then we would have no hesitation in doing so. With the best will in the world, I just have difficulty in summoning up motivation at the moment. It just feels as though all those months of planning and training and fundraising and discussions have come down to killing time in a hotel in a third world city whilst it pours with rain outside and we await the arrival of the rest of our group. Listless, jaded, have I missed out any adjectives?
I went to Rum Doodle for supper in the evening and went upstairs to the bar. If it has moved since I was last in Nepal, it certainly seems similar to me. It also struck me how, with the decor, the music and other nuances, how like almost any bar in any third world country frequented by westerners it is. Obviously, I’m not pretending that they all look alike, it’s more subtle than that, but they do all seem to have things in common. They are very different from the bars run by locals for locals.
Friday 26th April 1996
Martin seems better this morning, so we'll phone Sonam later to confirm that we will go to Pokhara tomorrow. It is warm and sunny again, so we have no excuse for not getting out today. The problem is, what do we go to see? We've certainly seen most of the things that I want to see, in Kathmandu, so perhaps we should get out a little further. We'll talk about it after breakfast.
Martin just wants to laze around today, so I suggested he go and sit in the garden now that the weather is nice again. The rain seems to have cleared the air and it feels fresh and clean this morning. We just noticed an article in the local paper about a disabilities pressure group here in Kathmandu holding a demonstration yesterday, interesting in the light of what we were discussing recently. Martin thinks that he should send a copy to the Disabilities Society, since they campaign internationally.
Whilst Martin sits around the hotel, I go out for a general wander, picking roads at random and trying to guess where they lead. When I get back, Martin is obviously feeling better, because when I suggest we lunch on the rolls and fruit that we've got, he says he rather fancies the cakes at K.C.'s. So off we go.
In the afternoon we both sit around in the sun and read and after a while I go to the room and doze. I’ve bought some more fruit and rolls for tomorrow and feel lethargic, bored and fed up with Kathmandu. It’s a good job that we’re off to Pokhara tomorrow. By the time that we get back here, the others will almost be due to arrive. Although in some ways it doesn’t seem that long since we came down, it does seem an age that we’ve been in Kathmandu.
Later during the afternoon Martin decided to have his head shaved at the hairdressers at the hotel, well, at least his neck. The trainee does it, whilst the hairdresser instructs. I look on, feeling as though I am watching a documentary on Sweeny Todd. There’s something about the way that guy wields that razor...
Over supper we talk again about where High Hopes will go from here and what we need to thrash out at the trustees meetings. Nothing is wasted if we learn from it and this is, after all, the first trip and the next one will be better.
Saturday 27th April 1996
Up at five thirty and down in the lobby by six. Sonam’s chap turns up and we have the usual rigmarole about not leaving if we haven’t paid. I leave them to it and wait patiently.
The bus leaves from Kantipath at seven and we are there with plenty of time to spare. I greeted the news that this was a luxury bus with the usual scepticism, but it is better than any of the Asian buses that I have been on before, although I somehow doubt that Martin would view it as luxury. He seems happy enough, though.
We hack our way through Kathmandu and it’s suburbs and by the time that we are out of the valley it’s warmer, clearer, brighter and about two hours later. When I was in Nepal before, I travelled this road out to Ghorka and I remember it being a dirt track. It’s now blacktop and being improved along almost the entire length. We are continually held up by road-menders with rocks and hammers and all the other paraphernalia of modern road construction. Many of the buses and lorries seem to come from India, but wherever they’re from they’re much the same - brightly decorated Tatas. This is my third trip to the subcontinent and I don’t know whether that has anything to do with it, but to me the driving seems almost careful, in a way. Lots of noise, but no real risks. Am I imagining this?
We stop every few hours for drinks and to be hassled by kids. For some time we follow a river that turns out to be the Trisuli and Martin points out a couple of white water rafts. Some of the villages that we stop in seem to exist only for buses to stop in - they look a little like frontier towns, high facades with shacks behind, but each one seems to be a cafe - a whole village of cafes...
We bump and rattle along. And the further west we go, the more the goats and cattle on the road are replaced by water buffalo.
It is becoming more jungle-like, too. More exotic. This, coupled with less people, higher hills, wider and wilder rivers, makes my spirits soar.
We pass a dam, no doubt part of a hydroelectric scheme. And no doubt the poor shacks beside it have no electricity.
We pass kites and vultures. They don’t seem interested in Martin, though. At one stop, some lovely butterflies. More and more flowers, too - poinsettias, bougainvillea, hibiscus, loads that I don’t know.
Police check points, deep ravines, people washing at roadside pumps, an overturned lorry. Sheer drops, shrines... there seems to be a thread running through most of this paragraph...
We reach Pokhara at about two thirty. We reach it almost gradually - it is so spread out, that we have been travelling through the edges of it before we realise where we are. We are met and Martin has a moment’s panic as he realises that we have left one of his bags on the bus - his bum bag, no less. Fortunately, we haven’t got into the taxi yet and I dash back.
Hotel Green Peace is modern, it is smart, it is clean and comfortable and new. To us, it is luxurious. I immediately bag the bathroom and Martin tests out his bed. Then we go down to the restaurant and have a late lunch, checking that we can stick all of the food onto the bill. All seems well.
Now, do I sit outside on our balcony with a drink and my book, or is that too much like hard work?
Martin says that he’s got back both his self-esteem and his appetite. What a difference a few hours soft-living makes!
I go for a little walk whilst Martin does his washing - and discover all the bookstalls on the lakeside and one or two of the most insistent ‘onerupeetworupee‘ kids yet. After I get back we are phoned by room service, to see what we want for dinner! Because it will take an hour to get ready, we are told. It is becoming apparent that we could be the only guests here. When we go to supper, there are about half a dozen waiting on us, in kitchen and restaurant. I cannot help feeling a little embarrassed, especially when we go outside and see the hotel in darkness - no other rooms occupied. The contrast with KGH is very sharp! Wide, empty, ringing corridors.
Sunday 28th April 1996
I was dreaming just before I woke up this morning that the group were back, so I asked how they had got on, but Ken wouldn’t answer, he’d finally become so subdued, Jane was just going off bowling and John was busy tying up some packages to ship home - because it turned out that I hadn’t done them properly - and all the others were strangers. The packages were nothing to do with Nepal, either. Apparently they were Egyptian relics, but to me they looked like cubist fibreglass giraffes.
We were phoned for breakfast and ate it outside in the sunshine. We decided that the plan of action would be to wander around Pokhara this morning, have a late lunch and then laze around this afternoon.
We wandered. Out north and west along the lakeside, pausing now and again in the shade of trees - it was sunny and very hot. Water buffaloes, butterflies, birds and lots of people. Martin had a mixed morning, in that there were plenty of ‘does he take sugar’ approaches, but also a couple of people talking directly to him; one in a little restaurant that we stopped in and another in a bookshop. I made several attempts to force the issue with people, by replying ‘why don’t you ask him?’ to questions, but inevitably they dried up instantly. Also encounters with a mendicant who seemed to have hit the chang already this morning and a drug dealer (white) who seemed a rather pathetic advert for his wares.
Martin decided that he was born to shop, today. So far he has bought a t-shirt, sandals and map and we’re now sitting on the balcony waiting for lunch. The sun has gone in and it seems slightly cooler and less humid. There was a bit of a breeze a while back, but it has gone now and the air is very still. I feel that a storm may be in the offing.
My favourite sounding restaurant here in Pokhara: The Comfortably Numb.
It didn’t thunder, only a little drizzle, so I’m writing this sitting on the balcony with a rum and coke. It’s tough.
Monday 29th April 1996
The trouble with going to bed at nine thirty or so each night is that soon I’m waking each morning at five. Today was one of those days and I awoke to the sound of pouring rain. Two hours later and it’s still pouring, with clouds down low over the lake partly obscuring the hills to the west and south and the sky a drab, unbroken grey. This is not a morning for going out. We had planned to walk to the Seti Kola in the morning, have a late lunch and then take a boat out on Phewa tal this afternoon. It will have to be plan B instead - whatever plan B is...
After breakfast the rain gradually eases off, so we decide to wander off to see the falls at the end of the lake. It is soon warm and humid - obviously lizard weather. Lots of them are out lazing around on walls and leaves, including some lovely big orange headed ones. Either the weather does not suit Martin, or he is under par one way or the other, because it is exceptionally slow going. We get about two thirds of the way there, when we stop for a drink and Martin discovers a blister. He eventually decides not to go on, so we return slowly. He says that it is mainly the stares getting to him. I’ve already suggested an afternoon in the hotel, where he can just relax and not feel put upon and he agrees, but says that he might fancy a bit of a walk later.
As we return the cook corners us and asks us what we’d like for lunch, seeming a little disappointed when we only want soup. Probably looking for another chance to impress. I must say that I can only give him ten out ten for quality, quantity and variety. Martin also thinks that we ought to get in another supply of rum and coke - is this the slippery slope?
Lunch over and Martin is keen to go out and change money and shop. We go to the bank to change some dollars and then go and bargain for hundreds of t-shirts for Martin. Later we remind the manager at the hotel that we need a ticket for Wednesday for Kathmandu - apparently the bus goes at six in the morning, so Martin will have another early call, which he so loves!
After supper it begins to drizzle and over the next couple of hours steadily increases until by nine thirty it is pouring really hard. I worry slightly about this, because if it should continue through tomorrow - and the signs are not good - I don’t know what condition the road back to Kathmandu will be in on Wednesday.
Tuesday 30th April 1996
Warm, overcast and sultry this morning. The clouds are rolling down over the hills to the south, right down to the level of the lake. Here, it is clear, though. I’m up about six, after dozing for a while and read until about eight, when I call Martin. Quite pleasant sitting out on the balcony at this time of the morning.
After breakfast we check about the bus back to Kathmandu tomorrow - it is booked and we leave the hotel at six. We then decide what to do for the day. Martin would like to go to see the Annapurna Museum and also go out on the lake. We go off and get a taxi up to the museum - right up on the north edge of Pokhara.
It’s nothing special, although the butterfly collection is quite extensive and there is an exhibition on the efforts being made to conserve the Annapurna region, which is interesting. After we’ve wandered around this, I ask Martin if he wants to go to look at the river which is nearby, but as soon as we get out in the sun it is too much. We cross the road and have a coke in a little teashop and then decide to just get a taxi back. He is all hot and bothered and when we get back to the hotel I force him to drink some water.
He then goes to have a bath - this afternoon I may have to simply keep him out of the sun. Although it’s still a bit cloudy, the sun has been shining more and more during the day and it is quite hot.
At lunch I pull the weight of responsibility and tell Martin that he must stay in the hotel this afternoon. He definitely seems more and more worn out and is sleeping for longer (if this is possible for Martin!) as well as dozing during the day. The journey back tomorrow will be uncomfortable, so I feel it best if he rests now. I go out to photograph some hibiscus for paintings later and then saunter towards the shops.
Another tropical rainstorm. After an hour or so the rain ceases, leaving only the thunder rumbling somewhere in the mountains and large puffs of cloud rolling across the lake. It is cool outside, but the power is off and inside it is becoming very warm. It starts again, thunder echoing around the hills and the rain thudding down on the trees and ground.
When it finally stops, I go out for a walk and the air is thick with mayflies. As I watch, some actually drop out of the air, into the puddles and streams that are rushing down the roads.
Martin wants a doughnut, but I cannot find him one. I console myself by stopping for a beer at a bar with a cheap happy hour and buying a couple of bottles of water instead on the way back. I order packed lunches for tomorrow and check that we don’t have to pay any money. Seems good to me.
Bad Head Interlude!
Wednesday 1st May 1996
Last night it rained again, and rained. The power was out by the time that we went for supper and then throughout the evening. We packed up by candle- and torchlight and hit the hay by about nine o'clock - I'd set my alarm for 5.15. I was awoken at one o'clock by the power returning, but within seconds it was out again and I was left awake and conscious of the mozzies zinging past my ears as I tried to get back to sleep.
Eventually awake again at five and moments later there was a knock at the door - our (unordered) early morning call. Twenty minutes later another knock - had we got our bus tickets? Twenty minutes later another - can I take your luggage and take you to the bus? Are we being spoiled, looked after, or are they just trying to get rid of us?
By six fifteen we are on our bus and by seven heading out of Pokhara. For a while it is misty and looks beautiful - subtropical jungle with mist rolling through the trees, intersected by strips of rice paddy and small settlements. The road seems no worse than it was before, so presumably the rain has done it no harm, except perhaps to wash some of the buffalo dung off of the surface. It rains a little, but the driver scorns the windscreen wipers (assuming that they would work, anyway), as do all the other drivers, preferring instead to peer myopically through the misted windscreen. Martin tells me later that he was swearing under his breath at a lot of the driving today and I wonder whether this was one of those episodes?
At the first stop we buy some potato cakes and bananas, to supplement the miserable sandwiches that we have been given by way of a packed lunch. After all of the good food of the last three or four days, this is definitely a disappointment.
Soon the sun is out and it is becoming very hot and stuffy on the bus, even with the door and windows open. I urge Martin to take some water and when he's asleep nudge him every now and again to make sure that he's still alive.
The second stop comes quite shortly and I'm really glad of a chance to get off of the bus and stretch my legs. I've got a headache and taken some paracetamol, but it's not getting any better yet. And although this coach is more comfortable than the one that we travelled to Pokhara on, I still have a very numb bum. At least the scenery is good. First we follow the Suni Khola and now the Trisuli, and again we see some rafts.
The third stop comes when we are almost back in Kathmandu and again Martin decides to buy some food - more daring than me; I don't fancy the look of it at all - and my headache is no better. I take a couple more paracetamol.
Finally back in Kantipath, we get off of the bus and walk to Kathmandu Guest House, refusing all offers of taxis, etc. I feel ratty and cross; my milk of human kindness seems a little curdled at the moment.
And it’s not helped by there being no booking for us. Eventually, Sonam gets us a room in another hotel for two nights; the Harati, towards Durbar Square. I feel pissed off about this, but there is nothing that we can do. We get a taxi there after some sullen bargaining and book in. It is comfortable, and we can again put food onto the bill. And I take two more paracetamol. I also feel a bit shaky and hope that I’m not sickening for something. After a shower I don’t really feel much better, so I’ll just have to see how I go.
Speaking to Sonam, the others should get to Kathmandu Guest House by ten in the morning on Friday, so we’ll have to check out early and get there to meet them. I suppose that we will have the usual bill hassle.
I go for a bit of a walk which seems to clear my head a little, so I have a vegetable thali and a couple of beers for supper, but as soon as I’m back in the room my head starts to really ache again.
Thursday 2nd May 1996
I don’t remember ever having a headache like this before. I don’t sleep at all, since I have this awful pain behind my eyes and in the middle of my forehead, and can’t get relief from it at all unless I stand up, when it eases very slightly. I feel some churning in my stomach and wonder if it is the onset of another attack of dysentery, so take a Ciproxin. I’ve given up on the paracetamol by now, but at three in the morning, out of desperation, I swallow a couple.
At 5.30 I go down to reception and ask them to get a doctor. He comes an hour later, takes my pulse, temperature, blood pressure, asks loads of questions and leaves me some tablets and tells me to get some more. So now I’m on Stemetu, which I gather are antibiotics, and Beserol, which are painkillers. The pain continues unabated. It occurs to me that I haven’t been to the loo for a while and that the pain got much worse after I’d eaten last night, so I go out to find a laxative. All I can find is milk of magnesia, so I drink a quarter of the bottle, reasoning that whatever that might do to me could be no worse than this headache. The pain continues. Eventually at three I take another Beserol and then another quarter bottle of the milk of magnesia. I am just desperate to get rid of the pain. Around five, it starts to work, and by eight I seem much better.
Eventually, I go to bed at ten. Worryingly, the pains seem to come back as soon as I do.
Friday 3rd May 1996
I sleep until about 12.30, when I wake up in pain. I get up, walk around, go to the loo, sit around, etc, but it won't get any better. This time I feel seriously worried about it, having, I felt, treated what I was certain was the root cause of the problem and not even having eaten anything since. Maybe it's now a ‘need to eat’ headache? I take another Beserol. The pain seems to have shifted a little, in that it now seems centred behind the right eye. Eventually, about three o'clock, I drop off and sleep until 5.30.
I get up and shower, which makes me feel a little better, as it always does, but the ache is still there, behind the eye. Even when it eases off, it is one of those headaches that you would take a week off of work for (or because of, rather!)
At breakfast again I do not eat, but just have juice and coffee. I do feel quite a bit better, though. Then after checking out we get a taxi to Kathmandu Guest House, to await the others.
Quite a pleasant surprise to find that we can check into our rooms straight away, so we dump our kit and go downstairs.
The group returns about 10.30 and it was good to see them. I think that Jane and Helen were glad to see us, as well as John and Peter, but there does seem rather an indifference with the Welsh group. Once ‘hello’s are said, rooms are sorted out and various washing and changing duties are done, we predictably split up, the Welsh going off to sleep, John to sort out the next bit with Sonam, Peter and Margaret somewhere and the six of us left to decide to lunch - beers and pizza and Mama Mia’s. So the group haven’t melded into a whole - or is it too big to do so anyway?
The girls seem anxious to shop afterwards, and so we do, ending up back at KGH dragging a huge kitbag that Helen has bought full of purchases. Then after a drink, Will and Ken are persuaded to go and have a lie down, whilst we go off to shop again. After another circuit, Martin and I decide to leave it to the professionals and return to KGH for a rest. Then a beer before supper.
I propose taking over Ken for the river trip, but Helen says that she’s finally subdued him, after hell, and say’s that it should stay that way, but would appreciate it if I stepped in now and again, like coping with him at supper tonight, getting him off to bed, etc. So Jane and I will have to decide whether to return to the status quo with Martin and Will, or stay as we are.
Over supper at KC’s I sit with Ken opposite Peter and Margaret, and Peter tells me lots about the trip - he strikes me as someone who would make a very good public speaker. Then predictably back to KGH for another beer and we get the lads to bed after everyone else has disappeared, then Martin and I join the girls for rum and coke and the serious low down on the trip - how awful Ken has been, how entertaining Will has been, Welsh / English rivalry which turns a bit silly (thanks to Ken) and other bits and pieces. Helen says she missed having me to talk to, which I think hurt Jane a little bit, although Helen then went out of her way to explain that she needed the sort of climbing-partner/bloody-minded-coping-with-Ken/stupid-conversation type of talks. Funnily enough, over supper tonight Margaret told me that she thought Helen had missed having me there whilst dealing with Ken.
Saturday 4th May 1996
Awoke about four with headache back again and after a while gave up trying to sleep and got up and showered and did some washing. At least it’s getting better. Peter said yesterday that he thought it was some sort of bacterial infection and made it sound related to meningitis and that my purging was probably just the right treatment. After going to KC’s to write up my diary over a pot of coffee I go back to wake Martin.
After breakfast, we decide to get a taxi between us and the six of us, plus Chandra, a Nepalese acquaintance of Helen’s, go off to Pashupatinath, to see the ghats and temples. It proves to be possibly the most impressive temple system I’ve been to yet - very extensive. There are also several barbeques going on down at the ghats!
After lunch, which we have back at Thamel at the Typical Nepali Restaurant, we do some shopping. Evening means supper at the Third Eye and when the others retire, Jane, Helen, Martin and I take some rum and coke onto the roof for a couple of hours.
White Water Rafting on the Trisuli - and home...
Sunday 5th May 1996
When I wake Martin at eight he seems a little under the weather and at breakfast suddenly decides to pop back to KGH with an upset stomach. He takes Ciproxin and Lomotil and Peter gives him something for giardia.
As well as packing up stuff to go and stuff to leave at KGH, Helen takes Ken off to do some shopping and Jane and I take Will off for the same. We meet for lunch at Northfield’s cafe and head for the bus about 1.30, which is parked some way away, finally getting away about two o’clock.
A genuinely comfortable coach! The trip to the campsite takes about three hours and we offload to find camp already set up. All we need to do is find our tents.
Walking down the beach I find a very interesting looking plant and Helen and I go off for a walk to look at plants.
The river is quite fast and strong, so we have to watch people carefully going in for swims, which we all do to cool off.
Supper is late. A storm moves up the valley as supper nears and by six o’clock we are all shoving stones and sand on tents and guy ropes and holding down the mess tent. The wind is pretty fierce and the lightening quite impressive, although there isn’t really too much rain. We are a bit worried about the river level rising, but it only comes up about a foot overnight. Since we are camped on a sandbar, it would have been a problem if it had come up much further! Surprisingly enough, Helen and I remain quite calm and mellow throughout the entire storm.
Monday 6th May 1996
I slept really well and woke up about 5.30, so I got up and had a swim and generally lazed around until breakfast.
During breakfast, Helen lost her cool with Ken and took him off for a shout. He’s really been a pain since they got back and I’ve had several challenging episodes with him. Throughout the trek, apparently, he has been a complete git.
We got onto the water about ten o’clock. Martin and I were with Helen and Ken in our raft. And it is fun. The rapids were great fun and the gentler stretches great for just lazing. There were plenty of water fights during the morning session, including one with a raft of Japanese that caught us up and paced us during the morning. The only mishap was Will falling out in one of the rapids, taking Jane with him.
We lie up for a couple of hours for lunch and the afternoon session was more of the same. Most people ended up in the water (deliberately), but I didn’t bother today. I’d already had a few swims. Even Martin went in, but unfortunately he then got really cold on the raft, so it was as well that we were near the campsite, so we dumped him hastily on shore, I got a sleeping bag around him and we poured hot tea inside him.
Whilst we waited for supper, most of us strolled up to the nearby teahouse for a beer, taking back a few cokes for later.
After supper the wind began to get up again and for a while it looked as though we might be in for another storm, but although the pyrotechnic displays were very impressive for a couple of hours, nothing really came of it. When it had all died down, Helen and Jane and myself took our bottle of rum and the cokes and just sat around on the beach in the moonlight for a couple of hours. It’s a tough life.
Tuesday 7th May 1996
I awoke at 3.15 and found it hard to go back to sleep, although I was quite comfortable. In the end I got up at 5.30 and went for a swim.
We were underway again at about ten o'clock and the day proceeded much as before, with water fights, people being thrown in the river, rapids, gently floating along and the such. At lunchtime, Martin has a bad headache. I give him paracetamol, and later beserol, but it is not improved. It persists throughout the day.
During the morning, Helen and I decided that one of the boatmen (the policeman) needed more time in the water and managed to throw him in a couple of times. I also went in a lot (deliberately) and it was great just floating down the river.
When we reached the campsite in the afternoon, Martin's headache was much worse and Peter fed him some pills and he lay down in his tent, whilst most of us went up for a beer in the teahouse across the road. It was nice sitting there drinking beer whilst rain poured down outside. It cleared towards evening, though.
After supper, the cooks made us a farewell cake - I remember having one of these out on the trail before; you could build houses with them, and I couldn't eat mine. Not many people did, I think.
We finished our rum later and decided to sleep outside. Much less stuffy, as it was rather a hot night. A great improvement.
Wednesday 8th May 1996
Back to Kathmandu! The journey took longer than expected, due to the driver deciding to stop to eat after a couple of hours, even though we'd already said that we wanted to drive through. Not amused. We then had a meal ourselves and let him get cross waiting for us. Martin not well. Peter and John and myself had already discussed him in the morning - headache like mine, so hopefully it would disappear soon.
Back in Kathmandu, we went out to do all of our last minute shopping, after leaving Martin lying down, with Margaret and Peter checking on him regularly. His headache hadn't eased off at all and I decided that he couldn't walk from the bus to KGH, so got a rickshaw. Unfortunately, the jarring and bouncing on this had made him feel even worse.
Dinner at The Rum Doodle (without Martin) was a quiet affair. We were all there, but no one seemed to want to party. Even Helen went off to bed early. At least the early (ish) night must have done me some good, after the bad nights with the headaches that I had been having.
Thursday 9th May 1996
Awake early, showered and did all of Martin's packing (stuff all of his gear into his bags, any old how). After breakfast, Jane and I did a last-minute-panic-shop, getting back to KGH as the buses were being loaded. The bad news was that the rum shop was shut - Karachi for a night with no booze?
To the airport and loaded with few problems. Even Martin seemed somewhat better this morning, if not cured. Helen manages to buy one litre of duty-free whisky, so we should have a drink in Karachi, if it's not confiscated and we are all arrested.
At Karachi airport, there is loads of hassle to arrange our luggage and hotel - and, after Kathmandu, the natives seem aggressive and oppressive. Everybody wants rupees for just looking at you. After a while, in a spirit of tolerance, some of us begin to adopt the piss off attitude. We are all feeling a little tired. At least Ken doesn't seem to have decided to start a fight.
The hotel, the Midway, is on the airport grounds, and is tolerably decent. We have a voucher for 'refreshment' and dinner. 'Refreshment' is a bit of cake and coffee, whilst dinner is really splendid curry. The evening is spent demolishing the whisky.
Friday 10th May 1996
We leave the hotel at six o'clock to catch the flight to Lahore. Lots of rushing around and dragging baggage all over the place. We seem obsessive about our luggage, but it is the biggest problem - if we get back to LHR with it completely intact, it will only be by the greatest of miracles. Some other Brits who came in with us yesterday had hassle in their hotel - people coming into their room whilst they were asleep and rifling their luggage; it seems that we were lucky.
I have stuffed Martin's duty free whisky deep inside his large rucksack, in the hope that it won't be found. - we no longer need to worry about Helen's, unless they decide to x-ray us.
Lahore airport is a shit heap. Total chaos, pushing and shoving and having to cling on to all our baggage. We are fortunate in that John seems to have picked up the PIA manager as a fixer, to get our tickets and baggage sorted out. It's still a headache, though, and only when we actually get onto the plane do we feel that we can relax at all.
Now that we are almost home, Martin seems much better. I wonder how much he really enjoyed it all? He's talking about coming back here, so he must feel that he's got something out of it. I guess we all have. Even the disappointment of having to come down from Lukla is overshadowed by the good bits in my mind. I think that we ought to arrange the weekend down in Devon ASAP, so that Martin can feel that we are doing something positive towards the next project. John is keen and we have already had a little discussion about some of the things that we have learned on the trip, whilst sitting on the plane.
Mick J Canning Copyright 2004
Mick is an artist and photographer. Visit his website at www.mickcanning.com