Nepal's Banksy was here!

Nepal's Banksy was here!
Strong message, Simple words

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Festive reflexions.

With no festive build up is was hard to believe that Christmas was approaching. For us there was only one shop with a splash of the trappings that towns and villages are festooned with at home. The only turkeys that we see do not have to worry about Christmas platters. These live in Besishahar outside, and often in, a laundry shop (spot the turkey under the ironing table)!They always look very chilled!
Our good friend Sarah came to stay in December and we were amazed by goodies that she unpacked. Marmite (phew!), cocoa powder, a Christmas pudding, Christmas Cake and stuffing. Oh there were also parcels and 2 red stockings pulled from her luggage which would lie tantalising but untouched for a while. On December 20th the three of us set off to attempt the Annapurna Base Camp trek which Simon has described brilliantly in a previous blog. However there were a few special memories for me.
How amazingly trusting the Nepali people are. The father of this gorgeous young man was dealing with a tree that he had felled over the path. After helping us scramble over the precarious trunk, a long drop fell to the right, he asked if we could watch over his son on his way home. This gregarious lad was only 2 years old and the walk home was about 20 minutes along the mountain side path. He skipped, chattered  and often tipped his head back and chortled with infectious laughter. He wore green wellies and was delighted by puddles where he splashed despite scary potential falls close by. We reached his cluster of houses where neighbours, and then his mother, were not in the least surprised by our chatty companion. What a charmer!

Christmas Dinner on the way up.

We passed, and were overtaken by, these chickens several times on the way! We were later amused by a huge sign prohibiting any meat products beyond. There was another enormous sign warning us that spitting was not allowed further up the mountain path. We had no problem obeying this instruction but it was obvious that the locals could not all control the deeply rooted  habit!!
On the ascent we walked under the beautiful Machapuchre Mountain. We fell silent and continued in our own meditative moods. It wasn't until Simon and I conferred later that we realised that we had both felt very deep and powerful sensations. Our thoughts were with others. I remembered that a dear friend had talked about the Majesty of this mountain.
Nearly there. Evening light on the majestic Machapuchre
On December 23rd, a day earlier than planned, we reached Machapuchre Base Camp. We were delighted that we met up with several young people who we had seen, and bonded with, lower down the slopes. Good company to enjoy this beautiful and glorious evening. Cold but very special.

Christmas Eve was another day of spectacular glory both physically and emotionally. I was glad that we were a day ahead of schedule and the hard work of the final oxygen deprived climb used up similar energy to Christmas eve preparations at home! But no Brussel sprouts to prepare or presents to wrap here!! As we reached Annapurna Base Camp there was time for thoughts of family so far away but so close in mind.
Thoughtful mood at Annapurna Base Camp
The descent was understandably faster and easier on the heart but not knees! We passed several groups of merry souls each wishing us a Happy Christmas. My dream would have been to have all of our family with us but we had to wash that away with a luxuriant bath from natural hot springs. Those who know us well might not be surprised that we did dip into the cold flow first!
Amazing relief for our aching muscles and a great Christmas bonus!
A few days later, having left Sarah to carry on with her explorations, we were back in our home from home. More excitement to come!! Yes, those packages sent from home. Obviously practical and vitally necessary!!

Santa soon stood on the top of our makeshift tree.

They know us so well. Sudoku, marmite, wine gums and chocs. Essentials.

Other wonders included a family calendar, Clipper Tea,  rugby anthems, healthy tinctures, potions and more. I hope to indulge in the enjoyment of guitar playing again and Simon keeps threatening to start  drawing. Plenty of inspiration here. Best of all was the news that Jennie and Chris had booked tickets and would be with us for the New Year.

Relaxing on a local trek

Jennie was soon enjoying the enthusiasm of local children and attracted a crowd. We delighted in this little group who were flying plastic bags.
While Chris and Simon tried their hands (and heads) at carrying the loads that these slight and frail-looking ladies spend hours collecting and carrying home.
Jennie and Chris bought a large number of dokos. They turned a few eyes as they carried them up the street, Nepali style. 
It was with a sad heart that we waved them off 2 weeks later. This marked an end of our first Christmas and New Year away from family and friends. We had certainly been through a roller coaster of emotions but there is plenty to keep us busy here in Lamjung and like these rays of light we will have many more things to amaze and enlighten us. Plenty more visits from family and friends as well.


Friday, 23 January 2015

Skill sharing with a buffalo dairy farmer

Krishna climbs the hill to his customers in Besisahar

Krishna is a local stock farmer who produces milk which he sells in Besisahar. We first met on one of my early morning walks when I was passed by a fast walking local carrying a ‘doko’ filled with small plastic containers.  ‘ Tyo dudh ho?’ (Is that milk?) was my question. I discovered in the following short conversation that he was delivering milk to his customers in Besisahar and his small farm lay across the river in Bhachhokbesi.  Eager to learn more, these days I operate well out of my comfort zone, I asked if I could make a visit to look and learn. An appointment was made and we went our separate ways.

The climb to Krishna’s village is steep but after 40 minutes I arrive and meet Pumfa his wife, and Sarita his daughter. As we talk and Krish shows me the stock more family members arrive and pretty soon they line up for a team photo.
The whole family
Simple housing typical of the district, with straw stack at the rear.
This farming family, like many in Nepal, have slowly built a herd of buffalo and cows but are landless. In the wet season they feed their four buff and 2 cows with grasses collected from the surrounding countryside. Now we are in the long dry season and the main forage is rice straw with a few branches from forage trees. As is common practice wheat bran, rice polishings and a dark molasses containing meal are the other feeds which are mixed with water and fed twice a day. Sources of starch like maize and wheat are not easily available for livestock feeding locally, since they can be eaten by people. So on the face of it this ration is very short of protein, and I explain my concerns to Pumfa as she feeds the animals.  She displays her knowledge of the subject by explaining that the dark meal contains urea, a basic nitrogen source which will do the job of real protein when all else fails. I’m pleased that this sort of technology is available to farmers who have little to offer their stock other than low value forages.
Krishna stands proudly next to his dry, white cow. A Jersey cross heifer has a nuzzle!

A lovely, baisi, the female buffalo, in great condition. The milk is rich and sweet.

No mixer wagons here. Pumfa takes great care feeding each animal, but this is the only water given, till the next feed.
Pumfa displays her knowledge of feeding by explaining that the meal includes  a
nitrogen source, urea.


Krish explains that he carries 20lts of morning milk to shop and household customers each day. The charge is 100 rupees per litre, and the milk round takes three hours. Husband and wife share the milking, and unlike some of the bigger dairies, this herd is looking in fine condition.

Buff tucks into a meal

A couple of days later I am invited to return as their white cow has calved and they want me to see the calf. Jude comes along to meet everyone and together we climb back to the village. Water feeding is still a concern, with milking animals just getting 40 litres a day. So I have with me a fact sheet that I’ve written and had translated. The advice goes down well and I feel we have done something to repay their warm welcome. As we admire the newly born I check on colostrum feeding and am pleased that all is ok. As Pumfa demonstrates her skills at feeding the calf I am able to offer another skill and show how to use my fingers to get the calf to feed on its own.

The freshly calved white cow

With her heifer calf.
Walking back down the hill, towards home, I confess to Jude that this has been one of the most memorable days since coming to Nepal. The joy of transferring such a simple skill as bucket feeding a calf, and the obvious happiness on the face of the beneficiary, is almost overwhelming. I guess I’m finally seeing what my placement, and the philosophy of VSO, is all about.
Simple living conditions, twin pressure cookers!

Buff milk heated and ready for serving. Look I finished the whole cup!

One thing in common, both dairying families.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Cheeky Monkey

Evening clouds as we beat for home from that first sighting of a silver grey primate.

Tucked into the bottom of my Christmas stockings throughout my youth, and occasionally during married life, the other side of the chocolate money, is always a lovely round Satsuma. The slightly soft, dimpled skin when it is broken with a bite from front teeth issues a nostril filling citrus mist which cries ‘the festive season has finally arrived’.

In Lamjung Satsumas don’t hide in woolly socks but instead hang on trees and we are coming to the end of their availability. A few ladies can still be seen carrying baskets of the fruit which they display in carefully constructed pyramids on sack covered pavements and sell at 100nrs a kilo. We were lucky enough to be invited to the grand celebration of the ‘suntalaa’ season at a local producer’s orchard during which we scrumped pocketful’s of the tangy orbs, most of which did not make it home.

It was on that homeward journey from between the orchard, through a tall wooded area and the village of Kalipani that we were entertained by a troop of Grey Langur monkeys that occupied the highest branches. They were very shy and we were hurrying to return home before dark so the encounter was only brief. A month later we have climbed the hill again. Passing Lamjun Darbar we pay a quick visit and are invited in to look at the Hindu mandir that is housed within the simple brick building that stands on the site of an ancient Lamjung King’s summer palace.

Lamjun Darbar, the ancient Lamjung King's palace with Manaslu (8190m) on the horizon

The Mandir contained within

Leaving behind the Darbar we follow a path by a small holding, across some now dry paddys, to the wooded area. To our surprise the Grey Langurs are still in residence feeding on berries high in the canopy. We creep up the steep bank to improve our view but these primates are no less shy than at our last visit. Their black faces peer through the branches and we witness mothers with young slung around their bellies, nimbly dashing along branches and hurling themselves out into the space between trees. Their fall is broken as they clutch a drooping twig which miraculously bears their weight and propels them onto the next canopy.
A fleeting glance of a Grey Langur monkey in the upper canopy

The tree top vines hide the Grey Langur whilst they feed
One food source

A less timid youngster

Maize stored outside is a big temptation

Another outside store

Another  unforgettable cloud formation
After twenty minutes of entertainment we return down the slope to find our way home. Proving that not all of the beautiful silver grey tree climbers are of a shy nature we encounter a large adult that has hurriedly crossed between the forest and close by dwellings to pillage the maize cob store. Unable to make it back to the safety of the trees without stopping for a nibble it makes a great photo opportunity albeit not quite true to nature.

On the run! Cheeky Monkey


Wednesday, 14 January 2015

ABC trek takes us closer to home

The early sunrise casts shadows over our pathway leading to the Annapurna Base Camp

The bus trip to Pokhara was done. Our permits had been paid for and the taxi  sent on it's return journey to town, we shouldered our packs and faced the steps leading to our first real trek. The path that ends at  Annapurna Base Camp lay ahead. The four day ascent may test our stamina and our ability to cope with altitude but it would take our minds away from the thoughts of Christmas back in the UK. Our first Christmas away from home and our children.

The staging posts are to be some of the many simple guesthouses clustered along the way. Together with the warm Nepali welcome, for this is a district inhabited by the Gurung ethnic group, these houses offer a basic room, set menu rich in starch essential for walkers and some even provide a hot shower. As we climb, the facilities become more basic but the food is always good and our needs are more than met. To minimize the haggling and ensure the cost is covered of manhandling gas, food and all manner of things the trekker regards as essential to achieve comfort and happiness, prices are set and rise with altitude. The room rate of 350nrs is the same whatever the height but vegi. daal bhat is 300nrs at the trek start rising to 530nrs at base camp, where a bottle of water will cost nearly ten times the normal rate. No guesthouse offers heating so we carry sleeping bags and thermals for the long nights which begin at sunset, or when the first power outage dims the lights.
Our first night is spent in Syauli Bazar, where things are quiet since this is the off season.

Simple but clean.

Jude and I have been joined by our first UK visitor, Sarah.  She is on her way to Australia and has broken her trip to spend Christmas with us and our plan is to have reached base camp and celebrate there. The trek begins at Nayapul, 1070m and will finish when we reach the lower slopes of Annapurna 1, the world’s 10th highest peak, 8091m. The base camp is 4150m, so nothing too challenging but our first taste of Himalaya, proper.

Along the way we pass women making traditional mats from rice straw. The mat width being set by the length of straw. It must have been a reasonable season here, the mats look wide.
Another one of the many uses for rice straw. These mats are mainly used to sleep on.

Gas bottles are carried by man or mule to all places on the trek but cooking over wood is still most common.

Sunrise over the terraces

The terrace method of cultivation is amazing in many ways. Since the autumn rice harvest only a small area is replanted,
demonstrating the marginal nature of the farming but also showing that these fallow paddy fields could be a lost opportunity
to grow much needed fodder for the livestock.
Our route is along an increasingly narrow valley, which even here is still carved up by paddy terraces that step away into the clouds. The rice and millet harvest is long gone and some ground has been replanted with familiar potato and cauliflower crops. A testament to the mild winters, even here. On other steeper scree clad slopes the vegetation is scrub but to our surprise bamboo grows well by the rushing melt water fed streams, and even at 3000m we see the Grey Langur monkeys feeding high in the evergreen canopy. Their black faces peer down at us, but at the first sign of a camera disappear behind the nearest branch.

Grey Langur Monkeys look down as they feed in the canopy

Grey Langur's are the most common monkey in S. Asia

Jude carefully negotiates a rough timber bridge
Native Honeysuckle and Bougainvillea adorn the houses even at 3000m

Winter flowering Jasmine has a delicate scent.
Small Alpine members of the Primrose family.
One of the many resting places where stone steps and benches are handy
to put the many bags hauled by porters, and also provide a level place
for our bovine friends to relax.

Above 3000m the gorge narrows and there is a risk of avalanches as the sun melts the recently fallen snows. 
You either love ‘em or hate ’em but long sections of the path climb and descend using beautifully crafted stone steps. The dry stone constructed houses remind me of Hartsop in the Lake District where my parents lived and our family holidays were spent. The Bell Bros. from Patterdale, who are masters of dry stone construction would feel totally at home in these villages where local building stone is split from ground rock using steel wedges and sledge hammers.  
Many similarities between the dry stone construction of  our family home above and the Nepali houses below. 

A typical stone Nepali house of the district

Rice straw drying
As we go along altitude plays it’s part in slowing progress but just a little shortness of breath and nothing more. The less fortunate pass us, descending to try and alleviate the crashing headaches and nausea or worse still have to be airlifted to safety.
Not the most subtle of names but the noodles, daal bhat, or Gurung bread that is the usual fare at these
guesthouse is very welcome as we burn up the energy.
Simple rooms offer little insulation as the night time temperatures plummet
Who wouldn't want to be guided by Kaji Sherpa who has already climbed Everest eight
times and was so helpful to us as we plotted our way to the base camp. We chose to
trek on our own but most parties use the skills of guides like Kaji. Behind him is a
 young porter carrying two bags.

Towering over us since the first day is the massive double pointed fang, Machhapuchhre, the Fish Tail (6997m), which seems to diminish as we get closer and her lower slopes hide behind lower peaks. We meet the first snow at Deurali and as the valley closes this Hindu holy mountain reveals its full glory like a bare icy rock shard reaching to the heavens. Scaling these faces is strictly off limits due to the sanctity of the peak and looking from our trail they seem beyond human ability and totally unclimbable.

The Hindu Holy Mountain, Machhapucchhre towers over us.

The soaring  Steppe eagles seem to be gripped by the strong forces radiating from Machhapuchhre. We also fall under its spell as MBC approaches. The Christmas season, all that has happened since arriving in Nepal, and the strivings of our family back at home come together and our hearts flutter along with the prayer flags that adorn each Buddhist stupa. The small ghumba bells we ring, send sounds drifting up into the clear cold atmosphere taking with them our silent ‘pooja’.
Christmas Eve morning, 5.30am., and Annapurna 1 finally shows herself in a blaze of early sunshine as we slowly make
the final climb. The wind lifts a cloud of snow spume from the peak.
As we rise early from our slumbers, our plan is to leave Machhapuchhre Base Camp behind and climb the last few hundred meters to ABC in darkness to fully appreciate the rising sun. Despite the closeness we have not yet seen Annapurna 1 but as the light fills the fiery sun’s rays illuminate the bowl of peaks which surround our final destination like some surreal gold leaf temple dome.

As the daylight appears Annapurna 3 (7555m) shows her scooped peak to our rear.

Jude looks back to ABC from the stupa at the foot of Annapurna.

 Like ants blinded by a glowing light we creep ‘Lowery like’ through the snow to the huge, prayer flag adorned, bell stupa which is guarded by the surrounding Annapurnas whose summits are blurred by rising whisps of snow spume. Glaciers, moraines and all the effects of erosion by ice lie before us in this bare lunar landscape, all of which seems to be out of scale as any reference points are lost on the massive slopes. Maurice Herzog, back in 1953, must have scanned down on this awesome landscape before he turned and made his horrific descent of Annapurna's North Face after making the first ascent.

A moment of reflection

The Buddhist Bell Stupa, destination, with its commemorative plaques. We add stones to the cairn before returning. 

  A few memorial plaques to climbers who did not make the return journey home but lost their lives in this icy place, adorn the stupa. In a few moments we place our own small stones and flowers to mark the place where we remembered those who did not see out 2014, and then with damp eyes we descend to the huts that mark the base camp. Time enough to warm with a cup of chyaa, and capture a group photo of those with whom we had shared this remarkable climb and special moment. Soon, as the day opens out, we are making our own return journey to lower less formidable places.

Some friends we made along the way.

Simple cooking facilities at Base Camp.

ABC canteen

A warming Cuppa sharing space with the images of many famous climbers of what is known as the 'World's Deadliest Mountain'.

Jude takes a final glance back at the 'Fish Tail'

Life goes on. These men will take three days to climb the route it has taken us a few hours to descend.