Sunday, 28 March 2010

Going walkabout in the Valley

Kathmandu is a great place to be based*, and there is plenty to occupy a brief sojourn... or two... or three. There are monkeys to be visited and steps to be negotiated at Swayambhunath; far too many photos to be taken in Kathmandu / Patan / Bhaktapur's Durbar Squares (in ascending order of impressive-ness); fragrant clear and holy Bagmati river water to avoid at Pashupatinath; and several miles of prayer flag and thirty-six metres of stupa to admire at Bouddhanath.

* its vicinity to the rest of the valley makes it easy to escape.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

181m above the bottom of the top of the world

In summary: the best part of three weeks of "maybe little bit up, little bit down" and a lot of "gradual flat".

The supposedly easy part was Kathmandu to Lukla - hindered only by a broken ankle, a no fly day, more turbulence in forty minutes than a lifetime of long haul, and the world's most dangerous airport... but with two feet on solid, traffic-free, yak-populated territory the 150km trek had begun.

Via Phakding (last sleep for thirteen days and nights), Namche Bazaare (yak attack en route), Khumjung (Hillary's legacy), Khunde (yeti scalp), Tengboche (om mani padme hum and sunrise on Everest), Dingboche (getting accustomed to yak dung fires), Nangkar Tshang (never ending false summits and prayer flags), Lobuje (stunning scenery and the start of the snowball fights), Gorak Shep (Everest on fire), Everest Base Camp (the bottom 5364m of the top of the world 8848m), Kala Pathar (awesome (overused superlative but entirely deserved) views), Zongla (sleepover with the stars, the French and the rats), Cho-La Pass (rock climbing, crevasse avoidance, ice-skating with theporters), Thagna (survived), Ngozumpa Glacier (little bit up, little bit down, lots of rocks/ice/snow/scrambling), Gokyo (ready stead snow), Lakes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (frozen), Gokyo Ri (360' of spectacular Himalayas), Phortse Thanga (the snowballs continue), and then back to Namche (rain rain go away), Phakding (farewells begin) and finally to Lukla ("starbucks" and the Irish Bar on Paddy's day).

An amazing few weeks of mountains, views, walking, sunsets, weekly showers, daal baht, jam-jam, mau-mau, momos, and a welcome absence of AMS. Highlights were, of course, EBCm, 360' panoramas from Kala Pathar and Gokyo Ri, Everest "on fire" sunsets, and crossing the Cho-La Pass...

Saturday, 27 February 2010

From ABC to EBC

Before leaving Pokhara and ABC, I ticked off the final few tourist-y things to do: Devi's Fall's [more like a trickle at the end of the a dry winter], the Mountain Museum [combination of sunning Himalayan photography, and GCSE-esque geography/anthropology posters], attempted to enjoy the international paragliding championships [but bizarrely this significantly reduced the number, duration and complexity of flights...], and discovered a second establishment capable of a decent coffee - complete with refills :)

Next stop: Chitwan National Park with a small army of German medics. The usual combo of visitor centre, Tharu village, elephant breeding centre, traditional dance and bird watching were done, but the highlights were of course the big animals... A handful of crocs were up alongside our dugout canoe, bathing rhino seemed content with us watching them from our elephant taxis, and then clambered around on the back of the nellyphants at bathtime in the river. And another few dozen sunset photies to add to the collection too...

Now back in Kathmandu to reorganise, and will be AWOL from until the twenty-somethingth of March...

Thursday, 18 February 2010

NEPAL ~ Never Ending Peace And Love

A month in Pokhara, and still not bored of the stunning Annapurna backdrop, the blue-ness of Phewa Tal, the scattering of paragliders over Sarangkot, daily daal baht, or the day to day life at ABC and Manipal.

Climbed up to Sarangkot a couple of weeks ago, watched a very orange sunset and a stunning sunrise, before paragliding from 1500m, via 2800m with 3m eagles and some acrobatics, back to Lakeside.

Have also been out rowing on the lake, wriggled through Mahundra and Bat Caves, scaled the mountain up to Manamakama, not quite fallen off any motorbikes, seen more weddings that you could imagine, experienced a Nepali bank holiday and Tibetan new year, enjoyed more BBQs and campfires courtesy of Hari et al, and finally found something that actually tastes of coffee.

My four weeks of medicine at Manipal is done; met some great interns who really made it what it was, as well as the elective students for far and wide...

Heading to Chitwan in search of the Junle Book cast next weekend, then back to smelly KTM, before the real mountains begin.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Namaste Pokhara

KTM is loud and dirty and smelly, and fortunately only had to be endured for thirty six hours before escaping to the (relative) peace of Pokhara. Have been here a couple of weeks and getting quite used to my morning view of the Annapurnas glowing orange in the sunrise, my commute to Manipal (never let me complain about BGH again), twice daily rice, 9 hours of power a day, of the mid-20s'C daytime and subzero evenings around the camp fire... and of course, the holy cows.

There are mountains to be cycled around / climber up / paraglidied off, the massive Phewa Tal to row across, strikes and powercuts that do/don't happen according to some (seemingly deliberately confusing) logic, as many pashminas, down jackets and Tibetan jewelery as anyone (we likes such things) could ever want, and sunrise /sunsets that are definitely worth the frostbite.

Also, there are some hopitals and rural health camps; one of which, Manipal, I visit six days a week (lets hope the one day weekend doesn't catch on in Lothian). By some feat of Indian engineering, they have built a 700 bed teaching hospital that defies all laws of thermodynamics. Despite the clear blue skies and >25'C outside, the hospital tempreature is maintained a good 20'C below, so hat/scarf/gloves are a routine addition to your average intern's white coat and jeans combo.

Mostly A+E so far, which goes a long way to highlight the (easily forgotten) benefits of the free NHS. And that prevention or at least early intervention makes a real difference, and that pateints do die. There. In front of you, desipte the knowledge and experince of the docs. Money might not buy happiness, but it can get you some saline, paracetamol, amoxicillin and a BCG vaccine.

Anyway, enough of that. Still a bit more general med and surgery to fit in around the sunshine and campfires, and then I shall flee to the (bigger) mountains for a month...


** Autistic thought for the day: tomorrow is 01.02.2010

Friday, 27 June 2008

One World, One Dream... one week

The one year old train from UB to Beijing made the thirty hours pass surprisingly quickly. Some bright spark had the idea of putting air-conditioning on trains the trundle through 40'C heat. Although the personal DVD screens would have been more useful if they hadn't only shown XXX (dubbed in French with Russian subtitles), a Mongolian teen drama, or some wierd music video / porn concoction.

T24 seemed to be the temporary home to everyone we'd met in the previous two or three weeks: from the Moscow train, the Irkutsk hostel, Mongolian train, all eight from the Terelj trip, as well as a handful of others... although my suspicions were correct, that we'd all disperse into the fourteen million bicycles, five million bicycles (apparently), and the billions of olympic moscots which populate every shop in the city...

Ok, well Beijing is hot and humid and covered in a blanket of Lima-esque cloud (or, if the delightful Aussie on the train is the believed, it's actually smog from the burning of all the cheap Antipodean coal; and pigs can fly), contains more residential tower blocks and Chinese restaurants than I though possible, and taxi drivers with very limited geographical knowledge of their workplace.

On closer inspection, there are also many big red walls, stone lions, green and blue policemen, and small dogs... Now, these dogs are not of the malnourished midget mongrel variety familiar back home, nor the handbag dwelling peroxide-permed-blow-dried poodles of Russia. No, the Beijing ones are far worse. They come in all (small) sizes, (inappropriate) shapes, (hideous) colours and (high yappy) pitches imaginable; from guinae pigs on stilts, to furry toads, slightly oversized mice, and electrocuted rabbits. Enough said.

The standard Beijing sights have been explored: The Forbidden City, Lama Temple, Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, Mao's mausoleum (eventually), hutons, markets and a couple of Olymic stadiums (stadia?).

The "Birdsnest" appears to have been intentionally designed to camouflage perfectly with the sky; usign #204 grey. The stadium itself is finished, but the supporting infrastructure is erm, not. A few small tasks remain, including building two more metro lines, surfacing some roads, planting a few hundred trees, fixing the escalators (which currently lead nowhere but the sky), and plastering another few thousand Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying and Nini images to road signs, shops, taxis and any other available surfaces...

Highlight of China (no prizes for guessing) was a very big, old, long wall. Went to the steep Samati section. From the resevoir climbed up to the rope bridge (to the Jing______ section), and upto tower #1 (of 12). Another Wonder of the World which failed to disappoint, and look exactly like it should. Snaking its way across steep mountains and deep green forest, with frequent towers (which are surprisingly spacious inside). The Samati section is mostly steps, but some sections were just gently sloped - a relief in the heat, but presumably lethal in the icey winters? View from the top was pretty impressive (if not somewhat hazy). Almost more remarkable than that was the lack of midweek company on the wall; even at the top of the cable car (for cheats) there were only a handful of fellow tourists....

Now less than twenty four hours until home time...

A note from Outer Mongolia

The "short" twenty eight hour train journey from Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar saw more change in scenery than the five days through Siberia from Moscow. Flat green forests turned to sandy mountains in the dry desert heat. And the jolly Chinese train crew made a refreshing change to the Russian matrons policing tea consuption in Siberia.

The journey was made all the more infuriating / hilarious by the couple sharing our cabin. It never fails to amaze me that stupid people manage to get quite so far in life (or at least so far from home). They didn't know that the train went to Mongolia (and were therefore missing the necessary visas), didn't know that trains run on Moscow time (so got the departure time for their train wrong by five hours), and after submerging an old SLR in a litre of fresh OJ wondered whether our resident camera expert could fix it...

The Russian / Mongolian border crossing took a mere seven hours (not the rumoured eleven), and a quick check under the beds seemed to satisfy the customs officials (rather than the full train / bag / body search experienced in the opposite direction.

The Mongolian capital is nothing special to look at, but the massive Gandantegchinlen Khiid monastery for male nuns (apparently known as monks) is pretty impressive. And there is a small army of (stuffed) "living dinosaurs" to be found in the Natural History Museum, which bear an uncanny resemblance to camels.

Gorkhi-Terelj National Park offered what I wanted from Mongolia: a lot of nothing. Miles and miles of sand and mountains, with a scattering of trees, camels, horses, gers and people (in that order). We stayed in a ger (or yurk or whatever else you want to call it), although the multicoloured sprial pasta for lunch took some of the shine off the authenticity. Tea made up for it though. Five of us in each ger, (eventually) a stove to keep warm, and a clear sky for the fullmoon rise was pretty impressive.

Decided to be brave and do the "must do" Mongolian thing: horseriding. Much to my relief, said horse looked like it would die if it exerted enough energy to chuck me off or gallop off into the technicoloured sunset. As it was, the thing was utterly uncontrolable, and repeatidly tried to lose its saddle (and therefore me). Anyway, well done me. And Priya.

So, apart from the ATMs' dislike for my card, and the kids whose fists had an affinity for my face, all Mongolia needed was a fe more weeks to explore the Gobi.