Sunday, 29 April 2012


Do you ever reread old diaries? Not the writing notebooks - those are full of ideas (or snippets, or general passing thoughts-that-might-be-stories-one-day). But diaries, where you write about things you did that day, and maybe how you felt about them.

I keep a diary at home - and never read it. As I've no-one to turn to and say, 'you'll never guess what happened today,' my diary is where those thoughts and general daily rubbish get dumped. And no - I don't reread them; once they are on the page they are gone. My head can move on.

But the travel-diaries are different. I'm beginning to go through the diaries from Nepal - firstly, to think about whether they can be shaped into a short ebook, and if so, then how. But almost immediately I am caught up with something I'd forgotten - generally little things that feel unimportant in context of a wider story. Such as the man in leather jacket and trousers, at the domestic airport in Kathmandu, taking his baby daughter (about 4 months I think) to look at the planes. The boys playing football outside a temple in Tansen. The sign outside a health spa in Pokhara that offers a back, neck and ear massage (no, that's not a typo!).

These details feel as important as the big stories (like the tiger). They are what makes each day different, and special. I can't imagine how tedious my day-to-day diaries are at home - and nothing would induce me to go over those. But the travel diaries excite me every time I open them. They take me back to the people and the smells, the mayhem of the city streets and the glorious silence of the mountians (and yes, they scratch my itchy feet, just a little.)

And you - do you keep a diary? And do you ever reread it?

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Photos from Nepal.

Just a few photos from Nepal, to tempt you. On the left - the mighty Machhupuchhere - the mountain that looms over Pokhara. It has never been climbed - successfully. After a number of deaths, the government now refuses to allow anyone to even try. And maybe it's right that there are mountains that are simply too difficult to climb.

Overawed by the wonderful mountains (and who isn't) you can always retreat to a temple. Which is rarely a peaceful, contemplative place - rather the focus of people coming and going, connecting with god with a tinkle on the bell and the sloshing of holy powder, and then getting on with the day. This temple is in Durbur Square, in Kathmandu.

Though Kathmandu, needless to say, is a hectic city outside its temple corners. This is just one busy street. Miraculously this picture doesn't include a motorbike! Nor someone pushing a bike laden with vegetables. Nor a little man trying to sell chess sets and tiger balm.

Outside Kathmandu - this is what you are more likely to see.

There are a few more pictures on my website, here. Enjoy!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Coming home

Two days ago I was whizzing through the streets of Kathmandu on the back of a motorbike. And now I'm back in Wiltshire. It takes a while to make sense of such transitions.

Kathmandu - it sounds exotic, doesn't it? It is, in truth, a smog-ridden city - and I love it. The narrow streets are littered with potholes, lined with stalls and tiny shops selling everything from incense to saris to plastic buckets. Dogs sniff in corners. There's the occasional cow. People, taxis, rickshaws, bicycles, even buses - as well as animals - compete for all available space. Horns toot incessantly - as if anyone needs a reminder of the traffic behind them. The air smells of fumes from countless chugging generators (power cuts are endless at this time of year) and passing pongs from the river. Thank goodness for temples and the whiffs of incense. Secrets lurk in every corner.

No temples in my little market town. With its elegant shops selling tailored dresses, its bookshop (books are priced out of the reach of most Nepalis), and respectable supermarket. The busker playing 'Moon River' - easily heard above the drone of traffic. Crossing the road is simple - traffic generally stays on the left. We have the occasional pothole, but nothing that might unseat an unwary cyclist. I do not need to swerve into the road to avoid a cow, nor a stall that spills its wares hopefully all over the pavement. The air is sweetly clean after the rain.

I have jetlag, of course. But the transition is more than just jetlag. It is the struggle to accommodate the reality of both places, to find a way of understand them both without putting them in boxes - Kathmandu is There, and now I am Here. It is a strange misplacement - part of the process of coming home.

I'll get back into my blogging stride soon. Meanwhile - please bear with me. And if anyone has ideas on how to accommodate transitions, I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Close Encounter of the Tiger Kind

I came to Bardia National Park, in the south-west of Nepal, to look for tigers. Apparently, I am more likely to see them here than anywhere else in the country. So it has to be worth the hazards of the journey to get here.

My guide, Gautan, in his khaki trousers and shirt, loves the forest with a passion.  He leads me through a river, and into the jungle. I know, I said I wouldn’t go looking for tigers on foot, but there is something about this man, with his eyes that giggle and long wooden pole, that makes following him compulsory.

It is steamily hot. But still the birds keep up their chorus, and we spot drongos and eagles and kingfishers and a magnificent owl asleep in a treetop. He leads me to a hide – a tower by the riverbank, where, apparently, it is common for tigers to drink, or play, or generally mess about in the water. Gautan scours the scene before us with his binoculars. Finds a rhino with her baby, about half a mile away. But no tigers.

Then he stiffens; tiger is there – he points up stream. You hear the deer, they are calling, tiger, tiger. We climb down from the hide (which seems like a bad idea to me) and head off in the tiger direction. We lurk on soft sand by the river – sit, says Gautan, relax! Again he peers through his binoculars. Tiger is here, he says; there are no monkey and no deer – tiger is here. He motions me to stand up.

And suddenly there is a crashing in the jungle. A large animal has clearly taken flight.

Tiger, says Gautan. About ten metres away. But it is the male. The female has four babies, she would not run away. He brandishes his wooden pole, standing like a warrior with an absurd smirk on his face which is meant to convince me he could frighten away a dinosaur. So – that’s all right then.

Off he walks – following the direction the tiger has taken. I have no choice but to follow. For about an hour we skirt the area, Gautan listening with every bit of himself. But the tiger remains firmly hidden.

So no, I actually haven’t seen a tiger. But I promise – never again will I walk in the jungle.

Monday, 9 April 2012

What is it like to have a mother up a mountain?

A couple of months ago, when we were talking about her latest trip, mother slipped a request into the conversation.  Would I, she said, write a guest post for the blog whilst she was away, talking about what it is like to have a mother who travels.  Of course, no problem, I replied, taking another sip of my coffee.  And promptly thought out a post in my head.  Which I have now forgotten completely of course.  So all I can do is try to answer the question - what is it like to have a mother up a mountain?

It is harder than it sounds.  All my life I have known my mother was somewhat unconventional.  She looked and dressed differently from my friend's mothers, and seemed to have a different outlook on life to them.  (Although my one close friend who remains from schooldays also now has a mother who travels a bit - so maybe she wasn't as different as I imagined.)

The itchy feet thing was always there as well.  We might not have gone abroad until I was nine, but summer holidays were seen as essential, and we travelled all over the UK, seeing lots of different places (including one very wet summer studying the inside of a caravan in Swanage, which we still managed to make an adventure).  After that first trip abroad - to visit friends in Sweden - several more followed - to France, Italy and Ireland.  I still have many memories from those holidays - swimming in the sea fully-clothed in Pembrokeshire, the family of artists we met in Ireland, getting badly bitten in Venice and having to hobble painfully back to the campsite, and as an adult following my stepdad's death, the barman in the pub outside Killarney who knew our drinks order so well it was on the bar before we got there.  However, these were holidays, made brief by the necessities of life, the need to earn a living and get an education.  They calmed the itchy feet but never entirely satiated them.

All this is a long-winded way of explaining that when mother first told me she was retiring and going travelling I was not really that surprised.  In fact I was relieved she seemed to be being sensible about the whole thing - starting in Australia and New Zealand, and travelling with Tika initially in India and Nepal (I've since read the book - and now I pay much more attention to what she is not saying!)

Throughout her trip we were in occasional phone contact, but mostly I heard from her through her blog - which I now realise was a sanitised version of events!  I was mostly excited by her stories, and keen to keep in touch by any means necessary.  And even though the phone call that precipitated the end of her trip was one of the worst I have ever received, I could hear in her voice a determination to carry on travelling - whether on that trip or on others.

And carry on she has, to America, Vietnam and Cambodia, and now back to Nepal.  I was worried about her initially when she first started going away again - but I could see that she was looking after herself (probably better than she does at home, truth be told).  Technology has got better, and she has got less of a Luddite - so we can keep in closer touch than ever.  She even managed to log into iChat the other day to wish us 'Happy Easter' face to face - or rather face to pixelated image - the bandwidth in your average Nepali internet cafe is not great I am told!  Every time she goes away she has new stories to tell of the adventures that befall her - I just try and close my ears to the scary ones!

Not that I am in any position to judge.  I travelled a lot in my late teens and early twenties, and lived in Greece for a while, although I am now settled back in the UK.  I have some idea of what it means to travel - to immerse oneself in a new culture, with all the excitements that entails. Any attempts to suggest to mother that she might like to be 'sensible' for a minute are met with an entirely appropriate 'pot, kettle' response.  Mostly she listens quietly for a minute or two to what I think she should do - then ignores me and goes along with her plan anyway.

So in answer to the question, in my case it is like life. Sometimes exciting and sometimes horrific, but mostly just part of everyday living.  Keep travelling mother, just try and stay out of trouble please.


Thursday, 5 April 2012

Why climb mountains?

Trekking is, indeed, putting one foot in front of another.  There’s nothing inherently alarming about it.

Except – trekking in the Himalayas involves tramping about in mountains. And these mountains are seriously huge. With side so steep that paths cling to the mountainside or (worse) are steps build of irregular stones that can stretch on for hour after hour. My guide, kindly, allowed me to reduce the four-hour climb up steps to a mere hour and a half, by taking a serious detour and a jeep along one of the few tracks that are accessible to a 4x4.

Never again shall I complain about living in a house on three floors. People who live in these mountains leap up and down these steps every day.

Was it worth it? Or course it was. And not only for the views, which are astonishing. But how else would I have met Devi Lam?

Devi Lam is a wizened man, whose job is to ‘look after the forest.’ It’s very unclear what this means, as I only saw him sitting about look at the view. Sit by me, he beckoned. He had no English, and my guide translated the rest of our conversation.

You have a husband? (It is a question I am often asked here.) He died, I said, sixteen years ago. My wife, too, she died; I have two sons and a daughter. I was enjoying too much the local wine, and one day I woke up and my wife was dead. (No, I couldn’t quite make the connection either.)

How old are you? he asked. I told him. He is, he said, the same age. It was clear he hadn’t the faintest idea how old he is. But he turned to me with a twinkle in his eye and a wicked, impossible, unspoken thought – and suddenly it was funny. He put his arm round my shoulder when my guide took our photo. And still we were laughing.

Why was he special? Because – in spite of his limited experience, and the reality of his harsh conditions in the mountains, he dared to play with an impossible idea, and to find it funny.

Now all I have to do is work out how to get a copy of the photograph back up all those steps.