Monthly Archives: January 2016

One smelly fruit and a wedding

Durians look intimidating because they are so big. They exceed every other fruit in size. They also exceed all other fruit in foul-smelling, some would say. Street vendors will open it for you and sometimes they provide you with disposable gloves to prevent your hands from stinking to high heaven. I think durians taste great. Quite a few hotels forbid you to take durians inside the premises because the smell is obnoxious to the uninitiated.
It looks like a football with thorns and it tastes like custard with baked onions.


On your way to buy some durian (1906)

I was drinking kopi at my favourite food stall as a man came standing next to me. He placed a rumpled packet of cigarettes on the table.
Two ringgit, he said.
Sorry, I said.
He put the cigarettes away and looked despondent. It rained heavily and my feet were getting wet. I produced a one ringgit note and gave it to him. He put the cigarettes on the tabel, again, hoping that perhaps I had changed my mind and had warmed to the idea of smoking.
I don’t want your cigarettes, I said.
He looked forlorn.
Two ringgit, he said.
I looked away into the rain. Maybe I could make a selfie with the man.
What is two ringgit to me? I thought. I felt in my pocket and found another one ringgit note and gave it to him. His face shone when he left. Soon the rain ceased and I went back to my hotel.

In the hotel an older foreigner came sitting next to me. He had a white beard and wore a panama hat. His dark tan betrayed many years of living in the tropics.
I heard you talking to Rita last night.
I said.
Where are you from?
I am from Holland.
I thought you were American.
I said.
You sound American.
I said.
He was from Sri Lanka and belonged to a white minority that once ruled the country when it was still known as Ceylon. He was one of the Burghers. When I was there a few years ago, I had read Running in the family, an autobiographical work that I remembered was written by Michael Ondaatje.
That’s a cousin of mine, he said.
We have a crazy family, he went on, my grandmother was crazy. She floated down the river and she was laughing. She was laughing when she was drowning.
I smiled appreciatively, he must have been referring to a passage in the book I had forgotten.
It’s a beautiful country, I ventured.
There are too many tourists now in Sri Lanka, he said. They all go to the beach. The beach is where the poor people live, he explained. We Asians don’t go to the beach. The fishermen, they live in huts on the beach and shit on the beach, next to where they live. He laughed. We only go to the beach in the weekends to swim. We don’t sit in the sun. He laughed again.



When I walked around the Indian temple, trying to appreciate the opulent ornaments, I heard music coming from the inner coartyard. Two musicians were playing on their instruments, one on a nadaswaram, an Indian trumpet, the other was beating a small drum. Several people had gathered and a small wedding ceremony was under way. Curiously I sat down, leaning my back against a pillar and listening to the captivating music. The rituals were conducted by two priests who were were bare chested, dressed only in lungis. The ceremony included the moving of  flowers to the left, where they had been to the right before, a bowl with fire was swayed around and participants were given dollops of paint on their foreheads. Ancient rituals that symbolised forgotten legends (I conjectured) and I no longer watched the nuptials, but only listened to the music that had sent my mind wandering.
A white woman was taking photographs with a big camera. She was sweating profusely. Soon her Facebook page would be awash with ununderstandable scenery of these foreign rites. The drums swelled and the nadaswaram went besirk.
Afer some time the music stopped. The wedding guests had left and I walked to the vestiary where I paid 20 cents to get my slippers back.


Walking around Kuala Lumpur

After landing I took a shuttle bus from the airport to central Kuala Lumpur where I found a hostel in Chinatown.

I LOVE CHINATOWN. No more dal bhat, no more power outages, no more cold nights.

In the market in Chinatown, not far from where I was eating, there was an open air chicken butchery. When I was waiting for my Madras rice noodles, I saw how live chickens were thrown in a scalding basin. They flapped their wings like mad, quite understandably, and two managed to fall out, but after that, lay lifeless on the ground.

Dead chickens. If you don't see dead chickens, you might have installed the vegetarian version of Google Chrome...

Dead chickens. If you don’t see dead chickens, you might have installed the vegetarian beta version of Google Chrome…

In the afternoon I walked over to the Petronas Towers,but to go up to the observation deck to enjoy the views cost a whopping 85 ringgit. My guidebook, which I had picked up somewhere where it was gathering dust, mentioned 10 ringgit, but oil prices have fallen and Petronas is looking for other sources of revenu. This time I just visited the mall on the lower floors and wandered around in the cool air conditioning, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Versace had all set up shop here and there were a lot of people around who had not found the Tao of Cheap yet.

Downtime in Pokhara

After coming back to Pokhara, I spent some time to unwind after the rigors of trekking through the Himalaya. It was wonderful to sit in the garden  of my hostel, drinking many small pots of milk coffee and reading the Kathmandu Post. It had interesting quirky news items and unfathomable cricket stories: England were 167 for three at tea after winning the toss and making first use of a pitch with good bounce but minimal sideways movement. I gathered that England was doing well… An item about rhino conservation brought the news that the Nepalese Army was instructed in the use of cameras, binoculars and GPS, which was about time one would think. To stress the importance of this training it was reported that more than 70 rhinos were killed in Bardiye National Park. Only that was between 2001 and 2003, which is a staggering 15 years ago.

Big monkey, Kathmandu

Big monkey, Kathmandu

Some people seem to think that trekking around the Annapurna is a perilous undertaking and that a guide, or at least a porter guide, is needed. I want to  explain the advantages of going it alone. First of all, I don’t think there is any  danger of getting lost on this trek. In the high altitude areas, the path is very clear and the direction is obvious.  At lower elevations, where there is at times a plethora of small paths used by local farmers, there is a more imminent threat, but getting lost here is hardly dangerous just because of the many people around that are happy to point you in the right direction. The only exception would be snowfall at the high pass on the circuit and I was determined to take no risks in case it would start to snow…
This brings me to my second point. It is easier  to minimise risks by having more time, making it possible to wait till conditions improve. This is also easier done when having no guide, so that adding extra days is never a problem. When I was sick for a day and had another extra day to recover, I had not to fret over running out of time or paying my guide his daily wages for the extra days where I didn’t need him.
Last of all, I have seen quite a few guides that I was happy not to have hired Some were babbling harmless nonsense all the time and some were outright disagreeable.  Having no guide means there is no requirement to be sociable. As for company: I have met many other trekkers and guides that were perfectly happy to talk to me. Even though I had taken the precaution of bringing a book, it is telling that I hadn’t finished it by the end of the trek.

Of course, having a guide can be very helpful as half the time I had no clue which mountain I was looking at… But it doesn’t comply with the Tao of Cheap…

Face on wooden door Kathmandu

Face on wooden door Kathmandu

Walking around Annapurna IV

Day 19: Ghorepani to Chomrung
Ghrorepani is generally regarded as the end  of the Annapurna Circuit. It is close to Poonhill, a famous viewpoint where people go in the morning to see the sunrise. My stomach was a bit upset and I decided to stay in bed. I was quite happy to do so, because it was bitterly cold outside, and I wasn’t too worried about missing out on the spectacular views. Soon I would see those mountains from up close.
Around seven thirty I felt much better and after a nice breakfast, I started to walk to Tadapani where I had lunch. Because I knew that Tatopani meant hot water, and Ghorepani meant horse water, I was curious as to what Tadopani might mean and was amused to learn that it translates as: far from water… It started to snow, but only a few flurries. When it stopped snowing I decided to press on to Chomrung, a village two days into the Annapurna Base Camp trek.

Day 20: Chomrung to Deurali
A long day leading from farm fields, through jungle to high altitude scenery. In the dense forest I saw grey langurs (also known as Hanuman langurs) in the trees. With their distinctive  black faces they are far more attractive than the ordinary  rhesus macaques.
By the time I reached Deurali, clouds had drifted into the valley and the temperature had plummeted.

Machapuchare comes in view

Machapuchare comes in view

Day 21: Deurali to Annapurna Base Camp
Machapuchare Base Camp (MBC) is not actually a Base Camp (anymore) as it is no longer allowed to climb this mountain. In 1957 it was climbed by Wilfrid Noyce, who was a member of the successful 1953 Everest expedition, and David Cox up till 50 metres from the top. They had promised not to set foot on the top as it was believed to be a holy mountain.
The name of the mountain is sometimes spelled with two double aitches, or even more ridiculously as Machhapuchchhre. In all cases, its name means fishtail in Nepalese.

High altitude selfie

High altitude selfie, my hair frozen…

Annapurna Base Camp in the snow

Annapurna Base Camp in the snow

Annapurna Base Camp is the base camp for the more difficult southern approach of Annapurna I and for this reason its more precise name is South Annapurna Base Camp. It is not the base camp that was used by Maurice Herzog in 1950, who used North Annapurna Base Camp.
In the afternoon it started to snow and the next morning the ground was covered in a centimetre of fresh snow.

Day 22: Annapurna Base Camp to Sinuwa

Glacial arch

Glacial arch


Drinking coffee

Drinking coffee on the way down

I have to admit a certain sartorial imperfection in the trousers I wear in the photo above, but I had torn out the seat of  my only pair of trousers and  these were the largest I could find…

Day 23: Sinuwa to New Bridge
In Jhinu Danda I had lunch and after that I joined some other trekkers to the nearby hot springs, I did this bit on my flip flops, which was a bit ambitious. In the hot springs I noticed a little shrine hanging above the pools. One of the guides told me it was for the god of the hot water (obviously, a freak phenomenon like hot water is holy in Hinduism).
Which god? I asked.
Do you know how many gods Hinduism has? he answered rhetorically.

Leaving Annapurna behind

Leaving Annapurna behind

Day 24: New Bridge to Siwar.
Bus to Pokhara from Siwar.

Postscript : The beard has gone. I shaved it off.

Walking around Annapurna III

December is the shoulder season in the Annapurna trekking region, which means that it’s getting cold, but not yet brutally cold. Generally the weather is fine, but there is the off chance of snowstorms, whiteouts and avalanches. These in turn can lead to hypothermia, frostbite and, in extreme cases, death.
Hypothermia is the condition of having an abnormally low body temperature. Symptoms of this disorder include: loss of judgement, slurring of speech and general denial on the part of the victim. Obviously, these manifestations could also rise from indulgence in chang or rakshi, two Nepalese alcoholic beverages of choice….

When preparing for the trek, I was reading The Mountain Traveller’s Handbook, written by Paul Deegan and published by the British Mountaineering Council. I learnt a lot about acute mountain sickness and how to recognise symptoms of the dreaded pulmonary oedema and  cerebral oedema, both of which can be fatal. It described the merits of bringing a pressure chamber which can be operated with a foot pump, but, after ample consideration, I thought it would add too much weight to my daypack…
Other useful tips involved methods to stay warm at night: if you put up with a bursting bladder, the night will feel much colder because the body will be forced to divert precious heat to the bladder to keep the liquid at a manageable temperature (..) you’ll be better off if you get up to relieve yourself.
This was something to keep in mind when lying under cosy blankets in an unheated room with temperatures dropping below zero and  where going to the loo involved a lengthy trek through dark, icy corridors to a frozen toilet.
It made the tailor made luxury trekkings very appealing, where clients get a warm towel after arriving at camp, and where a western style toilet is carried up by a porter to save clients the inconveniences of using a squat toilet which are the norm at the more basic lodges…



It was not only the cold season that meant fewer people on the trails. The past year saw a massive earthquake too, and the recent blockade at the border with India with its resulting fuel shortages, hasn’t helped much either in luring trekkers back on the trail.

Day 15: Kagbeni to Tukuche
This day was harder than I had anticipated… Although my sphincter was back in line again, I had not yet fully recovered. Still, I chose the trail rather than the dusty jeep road but had difficulty with the accumulated elevation gain that far exceeded that of the more gradual road on the other side of the river.
Tukuche was the village where Maurice Herzog in 1950 based himself and it was here that he and his team decided to climb Annapurna rather than Dhaulagiri as they had permission to climb either one of them. Their decision was based on the grounds that Dhaulagiri seemed impossible to climb which, in hindsight, is ironical because since then Annapurna has proved to have the highest fatality rate of all eightthousanders.
In 1960 a Swiss expedition left from Tukuche to reach the summit of Dhaulagiri. An important role in the undertaking was played by the pilots Emil Wick and Ernst Saxer of a Pilatus PC-6 Porter airplane who delivered supplies for the expedition at a landing strip in the snow near the North East col. They took the opportunity to return with some unusual  cargo: We were staying in Pokhara, but there was no electricity. So we always carried a big drum up to the glacier, filled it with snow, flew it to Pokhara and cooled our beer. Eventually, towards the end of the expedition, they crashed on take off at he Dhampus pass and, though both pilots were not injured, they were not acclimitised eiither, but they nevertheless managed to walk down to Tukuche.
The 1973 US expedition saw Wick back at Dhaulagiri where he dropped supplies. The high flying Americans had asked for two bottles of wine and a chicken, the latter which, for reasons unknown, was still alive when it plonked down from the aircraft. Because the sherpas wouldn’t allow the chicken to be killed, as they believed it would anger the gods, it was kept as the expedition pet.

Bridge on the Annapurna Circuit

Bridge on the Annapurna Circuit

Day 16: Tukuche to Ghasa
Good views from Dhaulagiri, which was the highest mountain in the world for a while, a title that was, until then, bestowed on the Chimborazo, a volcano in Ecuador.  It was measured by British surveyors in 1808, a remarkable accomplishment given the fact that Nepal at the time was inaccessible and the triangulation was done from India. Most people outside India thought the outcome was preposterous and continued to entertain the view that Chimborazo was the highest mountain in the world.
In Ghasa I drank two glasses of delicious apple cider for which the region is famous.



Day 17: Ghasa to Tatopani
An easy day along the jeep road that fortunately saw very little traffic and was mostly downhill. In Tatopani I found a pleasant lodge with a nice garden where trees were laden with mandarins. In the late afternoon I enjoyed a bath in the hot springs on the other side of the road of the lodge. Tatopani means hot water in Nepalese.

Day 18: Tatopani to Ghorepani
This was a long day with a lot of altitude gain, Tatopani being at 1190 m and Ghorepani at 2860 m.  Ghorepani means horse water in Nepalese and was historically a watering hole for mule caravans.

To be continued…