Monthly Archives: October 2015

Beware your tattoos in India!!

Yellama tattoo....

Yellama tattoo….

My tattoo....

My tattoo….

Tattoos are for life and not just for a whim.  They should come with a warning, or deep pockets and a huge dose of pain tolerance in case of a change of heart!

I have no problem with my own tattoo and display it proudly in the Indian subcontinent, albeit often plastered in factor 50 to prevent it from fading in the all too bright sunlight. After making the decision of going ahead I thought long and hard about a design I could live with for my remaining days.  And I only found out afterwards about the tenuous link that exists in China between cherry blossom  tattoos and a celebration of sexual freedom…  And let’s face it, in Europe it  will be neatly hidden under socks, tights or inside other footwear to cope with the often cold and inclement weather.

Not so in India where flip flops and sandals give my feet breathing space in the great outdoors.  And indoors, in my own classroom, my bare feet on cool stone floors help to regulate my body temperature.  So at school, my tattoo has indeed been the subject of curiosity. Not just from the younger children, mind you, whose little fingers struggle to resist the temptation to touch and brush my foot to check if it’s real.  Older children ask questions, ‘Is it a transfer?’ whilst my fellow teachers shake their heads in disbelief that anyone would go to these kind of lengths for some skin decoration.  ‘What’s wrong with a henna pattern?  At least it is not permanent!’  They are clearly missing the point!!  My room mate and fellow English teacher for three months, A., confides that she thought my tattoo was the prettiest she had ever come across.  By the way, I feel rather good about my tattoo, and definitely no regrets.  Sticking to the flowery pattern was the right course!

But spare a thought for a twenty-something Australian tourist, Matthew Gordon , who on a visit to Bangalore, had the audacity to air the tattoo on his shin depicting the Hindu Goddess Yellamma.  It was hot; he is male, so shorts should not raise any eyebrows! The tattoo was neither offensive nor intended to offend; it merely mirrored his interest in Hinduism, an interest stemming from earlier visits to India.  As a matter of fact, the tattoo in question was inked on his shin IN India…  But last Saturday his display riled some local Hindu ‘fanatics’ (including a local politician)  in Bangalore, who threatened to skin his leg to remove the tattoo.  And if the Australian had hoped that the interference of the police would have been helpful, he found out otherwise.  Instead of the ‘aggrieved’ Hindu followers being reprimanded for their violent behaviour, the police officer in attendance expected the Australian tourist to write a letter of apology for his gross insult to the religion of Hinduism…    It was not so much the picture that was deemed inappropriate, but having it tattooed on his leg was ‘hurting their religious sentiments’.

Possibly not quite having anticipated the public and media interest in the story, the politician who had been the voice of the mob, mellowed a little later on.  In an interview with a national newspaper, The Hindu, he hinted that maybe it was not Matthew’s fault after all…  Maybe it was because Hindus, being not sufficiently outspoken, had failed to educate some Indian tattooists properly so they would understand the importance of positioning these pictures on the correct body parts (apparently not below the navel???) or somewhere out of sight.  After all, they had suggested that Matthew cover up the tattoo – as it clearly would not be a simple task to remove it – by wearing a pair of trousers as they feared for his safety at the time of an important Hindu festival, Durga  Puja, which would be taking place just a few days later.  They were very ‘understanding’ and only had his best interests at heart…

What was all the fuss about?? A New Age Crusade in India??  It certainly made for entertaining reading on the web and in the newspapers.

There’s something brewing in the hills of India, and it isn’t tea.

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Lush green tea leaves, waiting to be picked, but no one picking them...

Lush green tea leaves, waiting to be picked, but no one picking them…

For the best part of four weeks, tea leaf picking ground to a halt!!  The lush hills of the Western Ghats were brimming with greenery: bright green tea leaves bursting from their buds and begging to be picked.  But there was no one on the hills to do the picking.  Fed up with low wages and paltry living conditions, women put down their baskets and took to village and town squares and to plantation entrances to sit in protest and to demand a decent hike in their monthly pay packet. And after four or five rounds of talking, negotiations had reached stalemate with neither the women nor the plantation owners willing to budge from their positions, and then there was the added interference of a government out of its depth…

This was not the first such protest and probably won’t be the last, but this time the women tea pickers refused to be represented by the ‘official trade union’ consisting mainly of men.  Women were beginning to find their own voices, not wanting be sold out by the men who most likely would have been bought by the plantation owners anyway.  In a society that treats women as inferior in every aspect, apart from the areas of cooking, cleaning, child bearing and rearing and keeping silence, this led to tension between the women’s movement and the official trade union.  And on occasions the women were pelted with stones or attacked in the dark on their way home…  It had not gone unnoticed by the men that whilst the ranks of protesting women had swollen as time went on and they formed their own ‘union’, the numbers of participants subscribing to the agitation by the ‘official’ men-led union had not seen a similar increase…  And in the meantime, the prospect of a quick end to the dispute remained elusive as the plantation owners demanded an increase of productivity of nearly 50% for a meagre return of about 25 rupees (roughly 25p).  It was clear that the demands of the women would never be met entirely and the stalemate would only be resolved with compromise on both ends… Which is what happened last week as the strike was called off after an agreement was finally reached.

But it was encouraging to see that there are  women who are prepared to take the initiative and defy the order society has imposed on them far too long.  Women are just as capable as men and their views are just as valuable; they just have to learn to believe in themselves.  And it will take time and bravery, but those happenings in the tea hills are a sure sign that the tide is turning in India and women power will eventually come, whether men like it or not!!!

Striking women in Munnar.

Striking women in Munnar.

The Vengeance of the Retreating Monsoon.

‘Be patient,’ Indian Man in the Know reassured me some time ago.  ‘It will come, the monsoon.  You will get your experience.  And when it comes, you will soon wish it hadn’t, when it stops you doing all the things you want to do…’

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I watch BBC World Weather religiously, BBC World News being the only worthwhile channel my TV package allows.  I have followed the Monsoon over the summer and seen Maharashtra and Bombay pelted with flood-inducing showers, Gujarat and West Bengal overwhelmed by water, other parts of India sporadically soaked to the bone and even got a flavour of it myself in Nepal.  But Kerala, especially south of its capital Trivandrum, remained tinder dry until now with the onset of Retreating Monsoon heralded by the weather men.

And indeed, as Newton’s Law predicts that things that go up have to come down, the upwards progress of the Monsoon in a Northerly direction is eventually thwarted by North-Easterly winds sending it back downwards towards Kerala, which in normal years gets a double whammy of Monsoon rains with no respite in between: six months of rains stretching from about June until November. Enormous dark grey clouds build up during the day, filling the atmosphere with unbearable humidity which makes my skin glow with moisture and trickle with perspiration. And late afternoon and evening, when the clouds can no longer hold their water, the downpour begins…  Ear-deafening cracks of thunder chase after blinding flashes of lightning, hot on the heels of gushing water from the leaden sky.

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And monsoon rains inevitably go hand in hand with power cuts!  Three times last Thursday night the house was plunged into complete darkness, any moonlight obscured by rain clouds and every street lamp in the vicinity smothered.  Everything blacker than black.   I was lucky first time round and had the light from my iPad to find my way to my torch and candles.  My little torch is a wind-up one, which is very useful as it saves me having to buy batteries.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to work out yet how to dislodge the winding lever from its ‘permanently stuck’ position and the light is growing dimmer with each power cut.  And when the electricity finally comes back, I usually have better things to do than to search the internet for a solution and then rue my forgetfulness the next time when the electricity fails.


So when on Thursday my iPad retired  into sleeping mode and extinguished its light, I resorted to candles…  I fumbled with the sodden matches when I finally found them, damp and limp from the lingering moisture in the house.  I tried in vain to get them to light, striking against the box time and again, only for the little sticks to break and the sulphur at the top to crumble.  When I eventually extorted a flickering flame, the room suddenly exploded in a brilliance of light as electricity surged again.  I left the candle burning just a little while, until I felt the menace of power cuts had vanished.  But no sooner did I blow out the candle, than the power disappeared yet again.  It happened twice, exactly the same… And as the rain continued unabated, I gave up in the end and went to bed, early, very early..  There was no point in attempting to follow a film on TV and the news had certainly not changed for quite a while.  I took my book for company and  thought that in bed at least I would not have to go on a hunt for light sources when the next power cut doused all the bulbs; I would be in the right place for a long, good night’s rest… Maybe power would be restored by the time my alarm went off.  And as the temperature in my bedroom dipped below 30 degrees and things turned nippy, I slowed the fan down a notch or two and searched for a blanket to cover my icy feet…

I shared my woes with ‘Indian Man In the Know’ who raised his eyebrows. ‘A lighter…,’ he suggested, as he inhaled the smoke of yet another cigarette. ‘They do have them in India and at home we used an oil lamp and turned down the wick in between the power cuts. You can be guaranteed there will always be more!’  How very true!

View from the auto-rickshaw...

View from the auto-rickshaw…

And indeed, the monsoon plays havoc with daily life and my plans…  I have arrived late at school, not just Indian late, but at least half an hour late because the roads were blocked and everyone was trying to navigate around the floods.  And Thursday, the third Thursday in a row, I did not venture to the gym for my workout.  Somehow, I did not fancy getting wet on my way TO the gym, as well as AT the gym, and then again ON the bus back from the gym….  I stayed at home and watched the rain, and a little later on my way to buy groceries, I waded through all the deliciously deep puddles and wished I could go back in time to the days I took my children out in their wellies and we all jumped and splashed in the puddles…

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monsoon 2


A brush with Hindu death in Nepal: Pashupatinath

On my first day in Kathmandu, I visited the Garden of Dreams.  ‘An absolute must,’ Ashok insisted, ‘if you have the time…’  So after my immersion in Kathmandu and Nepal’s history in the early part of the day, I ventured out in search of the garden AND the pizza parlour opposite, on Ashok’s recommendation.  And I did fancy pizza!!  Apart from a dismal imitation I bought in a local bakery in N (India) months ago, I had not tasted pizza for ages, certainly not since leaving the UK at the end of May.

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The Garden of Dreams was indeed rather breathtaking: a little gem hidden from the tourist masses and an unexpected oasis of calm and peace in the midst of Kathmandu’s charming chaos.  Constrained architecture blended seamlessly with dated buildings, statues and voguish plant-scapes (is this even a real word??? If not, I have coined it now!!!). After the morning’s hectic, Japanese-style sightseeing, I felt the need to rest my feet on a comfortable bench and was joined by ‘Nameless Man From England’.  We exchanged Kathmandu experiences and whereas I completed three major tourist attractions in one morning, his approach had been rather more leisurely.  He had already spent a full week in Kathmandu, exploring each and every heritage site unhurriedly, but he admitted, ‘maybe a week was too long,’ and he was ready to check out the rest of Nepal.  ‘But,’ he continued, ‘ you must visit Pashupatinath, the sacred Hindu cremation place. Interesting and very worthwhile.’  I cannot say the idea of cremation immediately grabbed me, but with still a whole day to fill in Kathmandu at the end of my trip, I made a mental note of the name and added it to my list of things left to do.   I suppose I could have spent some time shopping, but I promised faithfully not to collect more ‘things’ on my travels which then have to be stored in my son’s garage.

Having duly consulted the internet, on my return from Pokhara I asked Ashok to organise a taxi driver to take me to Pashupatinath, one of the most holy Hindu temples of Nepal, dedicated to the god Shiva.  The  ancient temple complex straddles both banks of the Bagmati River on the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu.  For centuries, this has been where many Nepalis faithful to Shiva have chosen to be cremated in the belief that they will be reborn as humans because any misdemeanours in their past life will just be brushed under the carpet.  In the final weeks of their lives, those Nepalis travel to Pashupatinath to meet their death and, after cremation, to travel their last journey carried along the waters of the sacred river, which later joins the river Ganges.


When I arrived, hawkers were in waiting, encouraging me to buy apples or bananas, or beaded necklaces and bracelet.  At the entrance a shopkeeper displayed a rainbow array of coloured tikka paints, the paints used by husbands and wives to put marks on each other’s forehead and the paint powders used in the festival of Holi, when no one can escape being covered in paint and paint powder.

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Not being familiar with any of the Hindu death rituals, I gratefully accepted the help of a ‘guide-at-a-price-who-may-take-liberties-with-the-truth’ to explain the goings-on at the temple. As a non-Hindu, I was not welcome in the bowels of the temple but could view the cremations from the river bank on the opposite side.  I looked on, spellbound, as the funeral pyres on the ‘poor side’ billowed with smoke whilst the families stood by.  On the rich side, the dead were covered with orange sheets and men performed the necessary rites to ensure the recently departed were cleansed and bathe in the water of the holy river before their send-off.  And yes, I did see some of the dead bodies…



Next to the river, I watched a family’s puja on the anniversary of a death of a close relative.  One of the male relatives, assisted by a priest, prepared offerings to appease the Gods and secure a safe passage for the departed into the next world.  The ‘prasad’ of food and money was set afloat on the river, where eager monkeys and children sat in waiting.  Whilst the monkeys feasted on the rice and edible treasures, the children chased the rupee notes and coins…






The PashupatinathTemple is also a magnet for Sadhus or Hindu Holy men from all over the Indian Subcontinent and my guide expertly guided me in the direction of their abode on some steps in front of ancient shrines where they pose for photographs with eager tourists, all for a fee of course. Clearly, I could not escape and had to take part in the photo session: various poses, various combinations with ashen grey men (covered in grey ashes from cremated bodies), brown men, naked men and barely clad men with unkempt hair and straggly beards.  I allowed myself to be promised a long and happy life again (hence the red dot) for which I gave a generous (in my view….) donation. But then again, having made vows of celibacy and poverty, the Holy men depend on the charity of householders and tourists for their food whilst they spend their days meditating and contemplating in order to escape the cycle of death and rebirth.  And to be fair, their ‘accommodation’ at Pashupatinath did not exactly shout ‘comfort’.

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The rest of the tour of Pashupatinath covered many stories about the various temples, shrines and different versions of Shiva, but the one that kept cropping up was Shiva’s appearance as Lingam, Erect Phallus, and could be found all over the complex…

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Just like many of the places I visited in and around Kathmandu, the area around Pashupatinath’s one main temple was jam-packed with smaller buildings and shrines, most of which withstood the powerful April earthquake and showed only minor damage. 
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On The Trail of Sher Khan.


‘This reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book,’ Mike reminisces.  And indeed, watching the convoy of elephants lumbering through the dense forest cloaked by early morning mist, you can almost hear Colonel Hathi’s Dawn Patrol or Elephant Song and imagine Mowgli following at the tail end…  Mike is a retired history teacher, with a love of nature, wildlife and travelling, and we are sharing an elephant’s back on a trek through the jungle in Chitwan, Southern Nepal, on a quest to spot some grazing rhinos and the ever so elusive tiger.  Of course, we are sure to see deer and hopefully some wild boar or mischievous monkeys, but to catch a glimpse of the evasive tiger would be a highlight of any trip.

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Mike takes out his camera to shoot a little video so his Facebook friends can get a flavour of riding through the jungle on an elephant.  ‘I have tried out almost all possible modes of transport,’ he reveals, ‘and riding an elephant completes the list.’  He feels a little smug at his accomplishment, brushing away the invisible cobwebs hiding in the low-hanging branches which are slyly sneaking up on him.  Although I would not consider being squashed in a wooden box with three other bottoms on top of an elephant a comfortable ride, it is a vast improvement on my last elephant adventure sitting astride a large pachyderm in Kerala – my legs took hours to get back into normal position.

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Trumpeting its loud protest, our elephant is cajoled and encouraged to wade through the crocodile infested river and into the darkness of the rain forest.  We hold on for dear life as with sudden speed and an unexpected spurt, it obliges the commands of the mahout.  We hobble through the jungle, being jolted left and right, forward and back again, as the elephant squelches through the slippery paths, muddy and slick after the heavy monsoon rains, and plods through algae-covered slimy ponds.  Sitting well above ground level, we scour the dense thicket for tell-tale movements in between the leaf cover and the mahout scans the forest floor for familiar paw and hoof prints. And there, just at the edge of the river, the mahout points out a tiger’s paw prints, fresh looking paw prints and a sure sign that a tiger is not far off.

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tiger paw prints

‘These are not any tiger’s paw prints,’ the mahout explains in Nepalese. ‘These are the paw prints of the tiger that attacked and killed a local woman only last week.  She was in the jungle collecting food for her livestock.’  Lucky for the two non-Nepalese speakers in the box, Mike and me, one of the other tourists is happy to translate. Even if the stories of a prowling tiger are true, the early morning bush is brimming with local Tharu women ignoring the dangers to forage for food and medicinal plants they can sell in the markets. They fill their enormous bags, fastened around the head, with heavy loads as they live in symbiosis with the jungle, the tiger their nemesis.

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However this is not the last time we are entertained with the killer tiger story, only there appears some disagreement about whether the victim was a woman gathering firewood or medicinal plants or a man doing a spot of fly fishing.  And the timing seems a little vague: was it indeed only last week or did the fatal tiger encounter happen a few weeks ago?  Do all visitors to Chitwan get fed similar stories? But recently a tigress with three cubs has been spotted in the area, a mother fiercely protective of her brood making her a dangerous animal to cross.  At least we are sitting high and dry on our elephant should the tiger make an appearance now…  In the event, we see no tigers or rhinos, but are rewarded with sightings of deer and a lonely wild boar accompanied by the noisy twitter and tweets of the birds’ dawn chorus.

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In the afternoon, when the heat of the day has subsided, I continue my game watching with a guide and take to the river in a canoe hollowed out from a huge tree trunk.  We look around expectantly for rhinos drinking lazily at the river banks after a day’s grazing.  But only the crocodiles play ball, lurking just beneath the surface of the water, eyes unblinking, waiting for the right moment and the right prey.  When we get out of the canoe to start our jungle walk, I keep an eye out for crocodiles sunning themselves on the sandy river banks, just in case. We trample through the soggy mire of the forest floor but only come across deserted termite mounds, a herd of fleeing deer and a camera-shy wild boar.  We admire parasite trees looping and snaking around twisted, gnarled tree trunks and watch huge orchid leaves on the branches, waiting to spring into bloom. Rhinos and wild elephants, we see none.  We make our way to the Elephant Breeding Centre when suddenly we spot another tiger paw print on the marshy path; I feel just a little on edge with this morning’s stories of Sher Khan still fresh on my mind and my guide just carrying a long stick for protection.  But although plenty of evidence of tiger is abound, very few people have actually ever seen one and in his fourteen year long career in the jungle, my guide has tallied only about twenty sightings.

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To complete my day’s ‘Jungle Book’ experience, I take up my guide’s offer of watching the sun set over the river.  It was to have been the closure of my previous day, but then heavy, leaden rainclouds blocked out the sun and  hampered any chance of a worthwhile sundown.  Today we reach the spot just in time, together with a handful of other tourists who have come to delight in the spectacle and maybe a last glimpse of the wild animals that are drawn to the rivers and waterholes now that the air is cooler.  A lonely canoe traverses the river, cutting through the golden shadows on the water and the blood red river in the sun’s fading moments.

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And suddenly some commotion!  On the other side of the river, a creature crawls from the shallows of the water.  ‘Is that a wild boar?’ a woman asks her guide, who quickly trains his binoculars into the direction of her pointing finger. ‘No, it’s a tiger!’  And as I am standing just next to her, I whip around to see the animal, but it is too far away to be sure. I grab my camera and take a photograph and then zoom in to expose the distinct features of a tiger.  Having just pulled itself up from the murky brown river water, the tiger’s coat looks matted and bedraggled, its zoo-familiar stripy pattern concealed by the mud clinging to its body and paws.  But its face leaves no doubt that it is a prime example of the Royal Bengal Tiger, a real Sher Khan, strutting across the riverbank I walked on just over an hour ago!  And all I was worried about was sleepy crocodiles..

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The news of the sighting travels ahead of me and at the hotel I am greeted with awe as if merely being in the proximity of a tiger endows me with celebrity status.  ‘You are one very lucky lady.  No one ever sees a tiger..,’ they sigh.  Or could it be that very few people who see a tiger, live to tell the tale…

I have not yet finished with the Himalayas!!!


Day 5 (Friday)  – Leeches continued (Landruk to Dhampus)

I wake up early, far too early, it is only quarter to six. But nature calls and I untangle myself from the comfort of my sleeping bag to make my way to the ‘toilet and shower’ block. This is rather a grand label for what is essentially one toilet and one shower!  Not a problem for me as I am the only guest of the establishment, but  I hate to think what happens when there is a full house.  Queues for the shower AND the toilet?

Clouds hide the mountains...

Clouds hide the mountains…

Early morning revelations.

Early morning revelations.










As I glimpse in the direction of the hills, I am rewarded with another mesmerising sunrise over Annapurna South, the mountain which was hidden behind yesterday’s afternoon cloud deck.  Most mornings the sky is clear until the sun starts warming the morning dew and wispy clouds ride across the glittering mountains.  And as the day passes, rising moisture darkens the sky until it can no longer hold onto the water and the afternoon showers begin.















We continue our walk along the Nepalese Flat,gently meandering through woodland areas and always watchful for leeches. Often the path turns treacherous where yesterday’s heavy rain has made the algae covered rocks very slippery and havens for bloodthirsty leeches.  So we catch a few on our boots and even in our boots where the tell-tale bloody patches on my socks give away their presence. I am still not keen on picking them off by hand, but can remove them with a stone or a leaf but am freaked out when at our morning tea stop, the tea house owner spots one on my neck and swiftly takes it off.  I need strong tea after that, ginger tea with two teaspoons of sugar!

No leech to be seen, but the unstoppable flow of blood a clear sign it was there as some stage...

No leech to be seen, but the unstoppable flow of blood a clear sign it was there as some stage…

For my final tea house stay I am spoiled by having a room with TWO double beds and my OWN bathroom with working, hot shower!  Plus a socket in the room so I can charge my iPad whilst I am reading or writing and I do not have to sit idle in the dining rooms where usually they provide the one and only charging point for guests.  The small luxuries in life that we take for granted in the West!

So I make use of my bathroom and have a brainwave.  I wash my walking trousers, which I have been wearing for the last five days.  They are no longer fresh…  I hang them on the washing line outside my room, and then the real Monsoon arrives.  It rains bucket loads, I can no longer see the hills and feel my trousers getting damper by the minute.  Maybe washing them was not such a good idea after all as they will probably not be dry by tomorrow.  It looks like I will be walking the British Flag!  At least it will be easier to spot the leeches on my bare legs than on my trousers.IMG_5195



Day 6 (Saturday):  The Last Leg (Dhampus to Pedhi to Pokhara)

Once more I get up early, at the crack of dawn…  To me 5.45 am is the crack of dawn; to my guide this would probably be more like midday.  When he is not busy taking tourists into the mountains, Namal lives a homely, Nepali life, which means getting up at 4.00am to get food for the cattle, milk the cows, look after the chickens, collect firewood to heat the home and provide fuel for cooking and help his wife with preparing breakfast and getting the children ready for school… But I get up early with the promise of a spectacular panoramic view over the Annapurna range.  Only this time the heavy rains from yesterday and during the night have not done their usual trick and the sky has remained misty, wrapping the mountains in a dense blanket of cloud.  A little later, they lift here and there to reveal a glimpse of what lies beyond and I grab my camera to quickly snap shimmers of The Fish Tail and Annapurna South.

Today we finish the last leg of our trek and it is downhill all the way.  We have the luxury of Nepalese Flat first (a gentle downward slope), but soon are back on the steps of rocks and boulders which are extremely treacherous after the rains. So no time to worry about leeches! But on sound advice from the internet I have sprayed my socks with Jungle Strength Mosquito spray which is supposed to keep the leeches at bay and maybe they are right as I don’t spot any unwelcome guests today.   We follow small streams bordering green paddy fields and feeding the thirsty rice plants: nature’s irrigation system works perfectly well and the fields are a-swimming.  It only takes us an hour to get to our destination, much sooner than the two hours predicted in my itinerary and we wait for our ride to town.

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Whilst sipping my usual ginger tea, a local guide decides to strike up a conversation, but being somewhere in his mid thirties and clearly the worse for wear, it does not take long for the chat to head into familiar territory. After the obligatory questions about name and country, things veer into the unwanted direction, and ‘No,’ I tell him, ‘I do not feel the feel of love for him…’  He seems unperturbed as once a year he has this woman or girl who comes to see him, for you know what.  ‘Marriage?’ he carries on. ‘There is a wife, but well, that’s just the wife… And divorce will cost me money. So things are better this way. No harm done…’  Life in the mountains certainly appears very simplistic indeed, but I wonder about his bravery once the alcohol has worn off… It is a relief when our taxi appears and I can escape.

After a refreshing shower at the hotel and clean clothes, I head into town and eat the most delicious Dal Bhat (Nepali rice and additions meal) and cannot resist a relaxing massage afterwards.  Maybe not the most relaxing experience after all as the masseuse seems to give the most intensely painful muscles of my legs a good workout.. but I am sure it can’t do any harm…

But no matter how much my muscles ache, I will be back.  One day, one day soon, I will aim for Base Camp and who knows, maybe I will aim for Everest Base Camp…  Anyone can do it, so they all say.  Now that is a challenge….

Trekking with Uninvited Guests

Day 4 (Thursday) : Ghandruk to Landruk


Yesterday’s mammoth trek has taken its toll: my knee joints are welded in an unyielding position and my calf muscles are all a-jitter.   And this is even before beginning today’s walk.  ‘Today is an easy walk,’ my guide assures me. ‘First two hours downhill and then an hour uphill, and the last stretch is on the Nepalese Flat.’  The Nepalese Flat? Better not to ask and wait for the surprises at the end… ‘We are heading for Landruk, just across the valley,’ he further explains and points to a distant village on the opposite side. And as no one has yet built a bridge across, the only way to reach it is by descending to the bottom of the valley, crossing a raging river which fills the air with thunderous noise, and then start uphill again to reach Landruk, at just about the same level as Gandruk, but on the other flank of the valley.  A bit like yesterday then, just not so many hours.  My knees start protesting and my calf muscles freeze up at the mere thought.4.12



The walk turns out very leisurely actually; there is no rush to reach our destination and we have all day. As long as we get there before the afternoon downpours, there is no hurry.  So we don’t.  We slowly make our way to the bottom of the valley; I use my walking stick to avoid slipping disasters whilst the guide bounces down nimble as a goat carrying his belongings and most of mine. Although there is no sign of any sun peeking through the clouds, I soon hot up and feel rivulets of sweat running down my forehead and pearls of perspiration dripping of the end of my nose.  The back of my t-shirt, smothered under the weight of my backpack, clings damply to my body… And I have mirages of clean clothes, freshly laundered and cool, waiting for me at the other end… If only, it will probably have to wait until I get back to Pokhara.4.2On the way down we bump into children on their way to school, carrying their heavy backpacks, and cheerfully greeting me with their tourist English, hoping for some rewards: ‘Namaste!  Chocolate? Photo? Sweets? Rupees?’  At the school gate, one of the older girls ventures further, ‘What is your name?’  I oblige, and their chants of ‘Have a nice day, Leefa!’ follow us down the path.  And a little while later, a two year old is quickly mastering the essential language for grabbing attention from tourists.  She carefully puts her hands together making the traditional greeting sign and shouts to me: ‘Namastechocolate!’LEECH

Today we are traversing leech country, so are constantly vigilant to spot uninvited guests who may have taken a ride on our boots and are hoping to feed on our blood.  But this time it is a real leech country as yesterday’s rain has left rocks dewy and greenery buoyant and we have to cross many small streams and leafy places where leeches like to live. Sometimes the water cascades down our rocky path making our descend more treacherous and as well as looking out for leeches, I try to find the least slippery way down.  But here and there the mossy stones are deceptively slick and only my stick keeps me from tumbling over.4.14











We reach …. and stop for a ginger tea and a spot of lunch. I suddenly become aware of a strange pinching feeling inside my left boot.  Maybe I brushed too close to a prickly bush and caught a thorn?  Whilst untying my boot, I notice the blood soaked stain on my sock; it is a lot of blood… A big thorn, I wonder.  I carefully peel back my sock and scream in horror at the sight of two fat bloodthirsty leeches having the feast of their life…  One, already fully gorged and probably drunk and delirious having tasted my blood,  falls off of its own accord; the other has no intention of letting go.   I, for one, have no idea how to tackle this, so whilst the owner of the tea house rushes to get out the salt, I grab my camera… Priorities, priorities…  With the creatures removed, I try to stem the flow of blood and cannot find a tissue; the owner provides stacks of napkins to mop up the blood and puts the bin right next to me…  Eventually I grab my first-aid kit and cover the bloody mess with a huge plaster, cover it with a sock and hope for the best.4.8

After lunch we continue the walk and I soon discover the meaning of Nepalese Flat, which clearly is not in the least bit flat but rather less steep than the rest of Nepal… But it makes a nice change from the steps and boulders on the way up and down the Mountains and hills lying in the Annapurna Conservation area.

The Nepalese Flat... not so flat after all, just less steep and without steps...

The Nepalese Flat… not so flat after all, just less steep and without steps…

Just after two, well before the afternoon rains have started, we get to the tea house.  I am desperate for a hot shower to wash away today’s grime and blood and feel fresh again.   ‘Hot or cold?’ I ask the guide, when he points to a ramshackle little building housing the toilet (Western, hooray!) and the one and only shower.  The guide seems convinced that hot water will be available as he has noticed the solar panels.  I head to my room and take off my boots and hazard a glimpse at my left foot.  The plaster has become detached and I notice another, tiny leech…. ‘Where is the salt?’ I run downstairs to find my guide; I cannot possibly touch this ghastly, slimy creature so he does the honours for me… Another leech bites the dust.

And the shower? Just perfect once I had waited half an hour for the hot water to finally flow… But today, there was no rush, so it was all fine!