Monday, December 29, 2008

Ketchup with LJ aka Sniffy and Wasta

An enjoyable time has been spent with Lost Johnny over the Christmas period. Despite some confusion on his part on when he was due in to Pokhara, we successfully met up at the Hotel Tropicana and spent the afternoon in hazy discourse. Time is of the essence as LJ calculates we have 3 days on the trail before he has to make his way back to work in Hong Kong. Fortunately the Annapurna Park permit office was open on Christmas Day and we soon hit the Ghorepani trail.

LJ rightly boasts about completing the Annapurna Circuit in less than 8 days, a trail that reputedly takes 21 days. I am a little anxious that I´m going to quickly fall behind, especially as the trail is all uphill. This is clearly unfounded as we both huff and puff up the trail. The weather remains overcast.

LJ has certainly come prepared, and his experimentation with a wide variety of pharmaceutical products is clearly bearing fruit. He provides us with green capsules to assist our progress. We enjoy a dal bhat and mashed potatoes with cheese for Christmas Lunch before continuing up to Sudarne where we hole up for the night. LJ bravely ploughs into another dal bhat.

Next morning we head on up about 8am. The path is very steep in parts and after lunch, rain further disrupts the pace as the stones on the path become more slippery. Despite the weather and pain, it is a really worthwhile experience tramping through the Nepali countryside. Rather than continue to Ghorepani (and Poon Hill look-out point) a place we have both been to before, we opt to end the day in Nangge Thanti. It´s very cold and we know we have to repeat our trail in reverse to get back to Pokhara by tomorrow. LJ can´t get enough dal bhat which he eats with vigour. It´s too cold to stay up so we head to bed early. We both sleep erratically. LJ is not looking good, his face is rather crumpled and face very ashen. We take the remainder of the green capsules and head down the trail stopping at some of our favourite break points on our assent. Cheese is expensive in Mcleod Ganj so I buy a kilo of delicious yak cheese for US$10. Rain is falling sporadically and legs are feeling the sharp impact of rock underfoot. I lose my footing three times, but the worse that happens is I graze my hand. We miraculously get lost from the main trail, which results in fording the same river twice. I was reticent to spend GBP120 on North Face Gore-Tex boots in the summer, but they have been worth every penny.

We are close to trail-head at Birethanti when LJ informs me he feels sick and heads into an alley between two houses where he proceeds to vomit vociferously. We head out of the village rather sheepishly. With good fortune there is a bus waiting at the trail-head in Nayapul that takes us back at nightfall to Pokhara. I sleep like a baby. We have recognisable Chinese food at Lua Hua´s (my first duck in six months) and LJ heads to a pharmacist for a wide selection of colourful pills to cure his ailments.

It transpires that LJ´s flight leaves a day later, so we have a day in Pokhara to hang out. It is also the first day of the Street Fair celebrations and a large parade led by an elephant passes through Lakeside. LJ is still on the frail side and waiting for the flagyl and friends to take effect. There are CD shops, Internet places, cafes and restaurants aplenty – indeed a mini-Thamel (Kathmandu). Between us we have four really sore and aching legs.

I´m insistent that LJ takes me to Bistro Caroline for our last night together. This swanky restaurant would not be out of place in Mid-Levels, Hong Kong with the bill totalling less than US$30. Unfortunately it stays in LJ´s body for less than 20 minutes. We stay up late and he heads off back to Kathmandu for an early flight this morning.

My legs are still in pain, but I thought i´d do a solo hike into the Annapurna Santuary. A 10 - 12 day hike into glaciers seems too good an opportunity to miss.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Royal Massacre

On June 1st 2001 Crown Prince Dipendra took at least one AK47 to the King, Queen and eight other members of the immediate royal family who all died instantly. Which is more than can be said for Dipendra, who after turning the gun on himself, failed to make an immediate impact. He was crowned king whilst in a coma and died a further 2 days later. How awesome an image is the massacre? Imagine Little Prince Harry “borrowing” a sub-automatic and turning on Elizabeth, Daddy and Parkers Balls? Or Chelsea coming down for breakfast with ol´ Bill and Hilary with a Kalashnikov? Awesome! My money is on Harry.

Conspiracy theories abound. A common held view is that his parents disapproved of the woman he wanted to marry, and after a cocktail of cannabis, alcohol and opium he turned up to dinner with a gun. I´d be amazed if he could stand after all that lot. The official lines of enquiry claim it was “accidental”. Indian Secret Service and CIA plots claim others.

Once pretty much revered, the Nepalese Royal Family has become somewhat tainted, and the current king, and his eldest son are either disliked or hated. The current Crown Prince is currently living in Singapore probably to avoid court hearing for drink driving offences. He was the proud owner of the only Harley Davidson in Nepal.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sir Francis Younghusband

I am just completing Younghusband´s “Wonders of The Himalaya” He writes well and oozes a very strong and clear sense of morality and humanity. Although a devout Christian, he clearly respects others´ religions of his travelling companions, (God by any other name) and embraced Darwin´s theory of evolution. This is the same Younghusband who indiscriminately massacred five to six hundred of Tibetans in the hamlet of Guru. I wonder if Hitler shows the same degree of humanity in Mein Kampf – I have never read it. After all, he was a vegetarian.

Younghusband (1863-1942) writes “when I first started travelling it was the outward aspect of the world that interested me. Now it is the character and motive.” It´s a natural progression methinks.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Lonely Planet Bible?

I am often familiar hearing from other travellers they “have The Bible”. Useful as it can be, a Bible it is not.

I checked in yesterday to the “View Point Lodge” in Pokara. Highly recommended by LP as a “charming” retreat in the quiet end of Lakeside. “Guests tend to be bookish types in search of peace and quiet.” It rents rooms by the hour.

I am now perched in the penthouse suite of the Hotel Tropicana (circa 1990) paying US$5 a night in the penthouse lake-view suite. It is a little chilly and overcast, but it´s nice to be back. I have a visa to extend here before meeting up with Lost Johnny aka Wasta for another short hike, this time in and around Annapurna.

Chitwan No Longer Royal National Park

On Nepal´s southern border lies the Terai. 932 square kilometers in area, it was designated a National Park status in 1973, and reaching the attention of UNESCO´s World Heritage sites in ´84, Prior to ´73, the park was used as a hunting lodge for the elite. British monarchs George v and Edward viii are alleged to have slaughtered 39 tigers and 18 rhinos on safari in 1911. Until the late 50s the only inhabitants were a few Tharu villagers who seem to have a genetic resistance to malaria. However, after a huge malaria eradication programme the hill-dwellers moved into this fertile land and sent the human population soaring. This was clearly impacting on the wildlife, so a large relocation project ensued and park buffer zone was set up. The Maoist revolution did not aid the decline of the rhino, tiger and leopard. Nepalese border guards stopped a truck carrying 32 tiger and 579 leopard pelts in 2003. Current numbers of Bengal tigers vary from 80 – 112 and about 400 rhino.

My experienced jungle guide for the next few days was Razu, who bemoans the protection these endangered species are given. The army presents is scant and most of the serving men don´t give a damn. Poachers who are caught are quickly released and the real villains, (often, although not exclusively, the herbal Chinese medical profession), are basically untouchables. Razu is Tharu born inside the park, and has been leading tours since 1990. He tells me that with the increased poaching, so the animals head further into the park. He also points out that each territorial tiger has a marked area of some 60 square kilometres. Thus Chitwan can only reasonably expect to house just a few.

The elephant breeding ground remains a successful project at the park. These majestic beasties receive a lot of care and attention, each elephant being assigned three personal humans. The gharial breeding station also continues apace.

A very large middle-aged Singaporean, Arun, her much younger Buddhist teacher and Indian travel agent, myself and Razu head off early in a dugout down the Rapti river. It is a cool and overcast morning with low-hanging mist. This does not look promising for crocodile spotting or photography. A number of electric azure kingfishers perch at the side of the bank, and there is plenty of bird-life, but not much else.

After about 20 minutes Razu stops the canoe and holds up his hand. He hears two rhinos fighting close by. We all stop stock still and strain our ears, but hear nothing. The boat continues slowly in the lazy current, but Razu looks increasingly concerned. He says he thinks the canoe has been spotted by at least one of the rhinos. We all remain silent, even the talkative Singaporean. As we come close to a grassy knoll the dugout is brought to shore and Razu instructs us to put camera and other things into a bag, and swiftly jumps out. Moving cautiously through the long 3 metre high grasses, (known locally as phanta), he tries to peer in. After a few moments, he runs back to the boat, orders a junior to remain on shore and tells the boatman to get the hell out. The young ranger is looking clearly distressed as our dugout heads to an adjacent bank. The Singaporean is all a-flutter as well for she feels the immanent unseen danger. The boat drops the tourists off, before going back to rescue the boy. I had really heard or saw nothing of those mysterious rhinos. Razu informs us that aggressive rhinos have been known to attack canoes before. We are meant to spend the next hour and a half following trails on foot, but the Singaporean is still in shock and talks incessantly so we see only a few of the 500+ bird species that spend time in the area.

Five days ago a ranger had been attacked by a rhino and was still in hospital with 6 cracked ribs and a fractured skull. Two guides have also died this year from the paws of the tiger and a charge of a rhino.

I get chatting to Ram, another local guide working for Tiger Paws, a trek specialist in the village of Sauraha. He lives next to the Parkside Guest House where I am staying. I told him I hadn´t really seen much. He confirms that the big cats and rhinos were still plentiful in the heart of the jungle. He offered to give me a three, four or five day tour, “but instead of having a 3% chance of a tiger sighting in the periphery of the park, your chances rise to 80%”. Tempting as it was, I still had the elephant safari and the Watchtower as part of an extended program.

The elephant rides are extremely uncomfortable, but do give an interesting perspective to the forest. 4 people are squished into a padded basket designed for two. Our five tonne friend today was a 45 year old female. Despite the lumbering gait and crashing noise, wildlife appears to take no notice of us and we quickly spot two groups of spotted deer. Within 15 minutes from setting out, we come across our first gaida (Indian rhino). It´s busy feasting on some short grass and is happy for to come right over and remain for a few minutes. Less than 2000 of this fantastic prehistoric beasts remain in the wild today.

My last afternoon, evening and night was to be spent in the watchtower within the National Park. Situated between two watering holes with short grass around it it should have been an excellent opportunity to see some more stuff. We arrive at about the same time as some wild buffalo. There are some spotted deer lurking at the edge of the forest. We decide to head for a walk where we see tiger scratch-posts and even some fresh paw-prints next to one of the watering holes, but that is as close as we get. We are invited to a Tharu home for a Dal Bhat and rice dinner, and apart from insects, monkey screeches and two trees being trampled on by rhino, we were left with the noise of the jungle.

I first came here in the early nineties and had a great time. Although knowing tiger sightings were rare, I enjoyed viewing the various abundant wildlife. I had become blasé with the endangered one horned rhino, and seen a load of marsh muggers and strange snouted gharial crocodiles. The endangered species continue to decline in what should now be a safe refuse.

The Tharus are a very warm and welcoming tribe and the vegetation in the southern border regions lush. If for nothing other than this the Terai is worth visiting in it´s own right.

A few pics can be found at

Monday, December 15, 2008

Langtang Trekking

Safely back in The Du after an excellent hike from Dulche to Chisopani via the lakes at Gosaikund. Although the first hiking day was shrouded in cloud, climatic conditions turned in our favour as we headed rapidly up to 3800m. The often desolate trail is steep and indeed very steep in parts with gradients of 70+ degrees. I had forgotten how undulating these Nepalese trails can be. he days varied from five to nine hours per day, and truly painful at times.

Just approaching the full moon, it shone down so brightly, one could see as if day, with long moonlight shadows reflected on the rough terrain.

frozen lake

Hitting 4300m and it was bottom numbingly freezing during the night. A dirty, thick blanket enrobed my 3 seasons sleeping bag where I lay awake, cold and motionless in 2 pairs of full body thermals, a Hard Rock Café, Bogotá sweatshirt, fleece neck-warmer, gloves and jacket, red pashmina scarf and topped off with my Bolivian llama wool hat.

With a local Full Moon festival being held in a neighbouring valley, the trails and remote settlements are almost entirely deserted. My guide, Sherpa Mungma, loved to sing loudly and tunelessly for long periods every day. He found no further favour for having a bad dose of wind for three days. Zed, the porter was a trooper and we enjoyed sharing a bottle of Bond´s Black Label and some varieties of fermented and distilled assorted vegetables to keep out the chill. I would recommend the radish in particular.

Zed - my quality porter and drinking bud

Apart from the ubiquitous dhal baat, the culinary highlights had to include fried Mars bar momos and fried Tibetan bread with Druk orange marmalade.

Check out a few pics and share some comments by clicking here.

I´m heading to the jungles of Chitwan tomorrow.

The Reincarnation of Buddha

An intriguing news story caught my eye last month emanating from Nepal. Ram Bahadur Bamjan (now aged 18) was found meditating under a tree in the jungles in South Nepal in 2005. He came out of the forest for the first time last month, allegedly without taking any food or water. He is clearly in some very deep meditative state and seem by many as “proof” that he is the reincarnation of Buddha. Devotees in their thousands came from many parts of Nepal to Ratanpur, 160kms south of Kathmandu to be touched on the head by the boy. He was silent throughout the blessings. Ram has subsequently walked back into the jungle again. Check out his official website

Saturday, December 6, 2008


In Delhi I picked up a copy of "The Week" an excellent India news magazine. In his editorial, Mahesh Dattani bemoans the decline of chaupals. A chaupal is a meeting place (often under a banyan tree and can be found in almost every Indian village. Similar to the old cafés of Montmartre, they provide the environment to discuss social, political and artistic ideas to be shared and mulled over. Post-modernists would claim Starbucks´is now providing this role, but I disagree, people go there to surf or read,. The three cities in the Kathmandu Valley this occurs daily in their respective Durbar Squares. Young and old come and spend time “chewing the fat.”

Today was spent in Baktaphur, the oldest of the three main towns of the valley. It dates back to the 12th century and artistically it is a showpiece of Newari craftsmanship with ornate woodcarving bedecking age-old buildings. Not surprisingly it is part of UNESCO´s World Heritage sites. It is almost like entering a time warp and visiting the Dark Ages. Today was a day for portraits (not a saddhu in sight!) as I get back in practice for village trekking.

I´ll shove on some cityscapes at some point.

Tomorrow I will be heading into Langtang National park for an 8 day hike to the Northern glaciers of Langtang. Armed with a Sherpa Mungma, and Zed my porter we´re heading from Kathmandu´s 1300m up to a pass over 4000m. Well that´s the plan if it isn´t too steep! Photos will no doubt go up when I arrive back.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Red Nepal

It´s not Socialist, it´s not even Communist: Nepal´s parliament has a Maoist majority. After 10 years of fighting a Peoples´ War, they now control the majority in the Nepali parliament. Aligned with other Communist and Maoist fringe organizations in India and throughout the Indian Subcontinent. Hang on! Wasn´t Mao a totally deluded nutter? For me, communism makes absolute sense, but Maoism???? I highly recommend the biography by his personal physician, Dr Li Zhi Sui for a fascinating insight into The Man.

The first area where Communists were democratically elected into power was Kerala,on the SW coast. They boast excellent medical care and quality schools and where they have the highest literacy rate in India.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pashupatinath and Bodhnath

Today was really superbly spent at Pashupatinath and Bodhnath on the north east fringes of Kathmandu. Pashupatinath temple is the holiest of Hindu temples in Nepal and one of the most important Shiva temples on the subcontinent. Although non-Hindus are not admitted into the complex, outside are burnning ghats on the Bagmati river. I was invited to sit and watch the proceedings on two different viewing terraces. Apart from one violent mourner in a succession of cremations, it was all rather serene, and a great place to appreciate the concept of mortality.

Climb up the hill to the Vishwarup (non-Hindus forbidden)and Goraknath temples to find literally a jungle of temples to watch the monkeys. The temple is often used by expected mums´ to ensure the birth of a boy. Huge penis´s adourn the grounds. Past the other side of the hill and you come across the Guhyeshwari Temple dedicated to the Goddesses´vaginas. We should all pay homage to the punani.

There is a short trek across to Bodhnath ends up in a large Tibetan community for it is the largest religious centre in Nepal. Reminded me of home. The centre includes one of the largest stupas in the World and still remains part of the old trading route from Tibet.

I have now uploaded some of today´s photos at including captions.

Some of them are probably not appropriate and viewed at your own discretion. I am happy for anyone to take intrusive pictures at my funeral.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Returning to The Du

It´s been 10 years since I was last in Kathmandu, and although much has changed there is still a charm about this historic city. I chose the International Guest-house just outside Thamel and probably just as well. This classic travellers´den which was basically just a few roads and allies has unleashed its tentacles and sprawled in all directions. Navigation through the dusty and narrow streets remains difficult as you weave through the people and other wildlife, a wide assortment of vehicles, potholes and all kinds of dirt on the road. It was almost reassuring when the electric curfew came on for a few hours in the evening.

Up at dawn to capture some early morning light. Some of the photos of the day can be found at

I am hanging around Kathmandu for the next few days as I draw up a plan of action. There is so much to do in Nepal, even though both Annupurna and Everest base camp treks are potentially dangerous at this time of year. Being the start of low season, I´m hoping for some bargains to be had.

It´s sunny, picturesque, dusty and historic. I´m glad to be back in The Du!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

England: A Breeding Ground for Terrorists?

To hear that many of the terrorists involved in the Mumbai operations may have originated in Hartlepool, Bradford and Leeds adds to the disillusionment of the last few days. Islamic areas in England which also bred the London bombing attacks. The UK authorities are also guilty for these horrific atrocities. The myth that England is a classic example of a successful multicultural country is shown for what it really is. A myth.

Heading down to Delhi tomorrow and flying to Kathmandu on the 2nd December for five weeks of play so this blog is likely to be only sporadically developed. I´ll try and check in when I can.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai Will Recover

India continues to reel under the atrocities in Mumbai. It transpires that a warning email had been sent by the Indian Mujahideen warning that Mumbai “are already on our hit-list and this time very very seriously." The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), the main opposition party, immediately tried to score political points claiming the ruling Congress Party were unfit for government. Yet such attacks are so sporadic in nature (New York, London, Bali, Madrid) that no-one can predict where the next target is. There was an excellent editorial in The Tribune written by H.K. Dua who was asking for unity across the country and indeed further afield.

Whilst there seems to be a strong link with Pakistan, that does not necessarily mean that the Pakistan authorities were complicit in the attack. Pakistan quickly condemned the attack and have promised to bring any culprits to justice. I hope they follow through on this.

Mumbai is well known for being a resilient city and will recover from this atrocity, but it will take time.

We are flying down to Delhi on Sunday and will be staying in a small, inconspicuous and unassuming guest house.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mumbai Massacre

The stories coming out of Mumbai today have been shocking. Whilst there have been several bomb attacks going off sporadically around India in recent months, nothing quite as violent and certainly nothing so co-ordinated.

A previously unknown orgnasation, the Deccan Mujahedeen, has claimed responsibility. It is thought they have links with Students' Islamic Movement of India, outlawed in the country. Young South Asian culprits were seen from CCTV cameras, looking very jovial, and clearly happy to show their faces. British and American citizens seem to have been particularly targeted, leading to possible links to external organisations. The death toll is thought to be over 100 and 900 people injured. Amazingly 9 terrorists are thought to have been captured.

The severity of the situation is highlighted in the postponement of all international cricket competitions. Indians are totally nuts about cricket and a tournament with Australia, South Africa, England and Pakistan was due to start on 3rd December. Lucky for England! They are currently being hammered in the one day test series 5 - 0!

Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, claims everything will be done to protect Indian citizens and the perpetrators brought to justice. How do you protect over a billion citizens?

Mumbai is the heart of the Indian economy and markets have been closed throughout the day. Many questions have been raised over security at the top hotels, as well as the Indian Security and Intelligence Agency.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fly The Flag

There is a growing campaign that is encouraging Tibetans and Tibetan sympathizers to fly the Tibetan flag to generate awareness and dialogue. This is being organised by the Raise Tibetan Flags Campaign (RTFC) which has just set up a tea-shop and offices on Jogiwara Road.

The Tibetan flag is one of the more wacky designs to be found, and , perhaps not surprisingly, full of symbolism.

The six red bands in the dark blue sky represent the original ancestral tribes of the Tibetan people.
The snow - clad mountain in the middle is symbolic of the Himalayas with the rising sun behind it.
The pair of snow lions represent the victorious accomplishments of a unified and secular life.
The swirling jewel between the snow lions represent self-discipline of correct ethical behaviour, embodied in the 10 exalted virtues and the sixteen modes of conduct.

We have a large Tibetan flag adorning our window. It would be great if you would “fly the flag” and show you care. You can even print it off this page!

More details on this campaign can be found at

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Beggars - Part 2 - South Indian Beggars

There is a small horde of migrant beggars on the streets of McLeod Ganj. They are invariably carrying a young baby in their arms and request food. Feeling somewhat sorry for one of these women, and also more comfortable that she wanted food, not money, I walked with her to the grocers´shop. I bought her some rice and powdered milk which cost over 100 rupees. I saw her her in the street just a few moments later approaching other travellers. I asked to see the food products I had just bought for her and she could not. I presume she must have sold them back to the shop and cashed them in almost immediately. I feel somewhat resentful to all of these women now, and fortunately they know better than to approach me.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rabies Epidemic

There have been four recorded cases of rabies in Dharamsala this month already. The latest victim was an Australian tourist attacked by a ferocious dog on the streets. All bite victims have to be rushed to Chandighar within 12 hours as there is no provision for medication at the local hospital. This is not easy as Chandighar is about 7 hours drive from Dharamsala. I´m trying to give all animals a wide birth at the moment. However we did have an unexpected night visitor on our balcony - a grey tabby amazingly found its way up. It mewed all night outside the window and I was faced with no other choice but to rescue it. A real hero under such circumstances.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tibetan Parliament in Exile Update

We attended the feedback meeting today with 200+ others organised by Talk Tibet. Unfortunately it was all in Tibetan – not a language I have grasped yet! I am thus very grateful to the Tibet International Post ( for their coverage of the specially convened meeting. The 500+ delegates clearly still support the Dalai Lama and his efforts in developing a Middle Path. This will continue, passed by the majority of attendees – Tibetans should have their own autonomy in Tibet. However, if the Chinese continue to stall in talks, the Tibetan community will start advocating complete independence and self-determination from China. The proverbial ball is still very much in the Chinese court. If nothing else, democracy of the Tibetan people in exile has prevailed and the Dalai Lama´s actions vindicated by the Tibetan people.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Kenneth Williams

I am just re-reading the Kenneth Williams Diaries. A real master of character acting and a huge variety of comic voices at his disposal, his career spanned several generations. He acted with some of the best including Richard Burton and Orson Welles, and struck up several friendships with the likes of Joe Orton and Tony Hancock (although the latter relationship subsequently turned sour).

Williams´diaries (a compilation of 41 volumes found on his shelves at the time of his death) are an incredible insight into some of his inner-most thoughts and can often be too personal for anyone´s liking – he regularly notes his self-masturbatory experiences (referred to in rhyming Cockney slang as “The Barclays”) and other bodily functions. His own self-hypocrisy, troubled mind and faltering relationships with others spans more than three decades and is an excellent read. His suicide over 20 years ago has done nothing to diminish his cult status. A very strange and dislocated person.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Living on a Film Set

Walk around the quiet streets of Mcleod Ganj and you invariably walk into a film crew. With continuing meeting about developing a “new” approach to resolving Tibet, the media have hit town big time. Such media attention can only benefit the Tibetan cause.

Discussions continue all day at the Parliament building and will continue until Saturday lunchtime, although I am unsure of what conclusions can be reached. There will be a feedback meeting for the community on Sunday which I will check out. Meanwhile President Bush will be speaking to Hu Jintao in Peru about human rights including the Tibetan situation.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Keep Himachal Pradesh Green

Catch the bus from Lower Dharamsala to McLeod Ganj and you will notice many signposts at the roadside. They are encouraging the community to develop their environmental conscience. My personal favourites include “A Thing of Beauty is Joy Forever”, “Divinity In Nature” and “Nature is not a Place, it is our Home”. This does not deter some locals from tipping rubbish wherever and whenever it suits them. I fear it will take a long time for the culture to change.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Life Without A Washing Machine

For the last five months I have been hand-washing my clothes. It is the first time I have never had access to a washing machine in my home. It is a tiresome chore and takes ages. With so much dirty laundry from our trip, I couldn´t face the rigmarole so I took it to the “Premier Laundry Service” next to the Megastore. For US$4 they washed and cleaned 6 shirts, trousers, boxers, 3 pairs of socks and a sweater. Smelling sweetly and immaculately folded, I have learnt an important lesson; damn the expense!

Ed. Note: Apart from on my return from Nepal I am regularly washing my clothes by hand. I am trying to tell myself it is a cathartic experience!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


There is a quietness around the village at the moment. On Mondays, most of the village is closed. However, even today the streets were deserted. Although there is a winter cold and crispness in the air which may be slowing the traffic of tourists in the village, there are also talks being held throughout this week in the Tibetan community about developing a new course of action in the quest to develop a new approach in the liberation of Tibet.

The Dalai Lama, clearly frustrated with the lack of dialogue with the Chinese government, has asked for the Tibetan community to find a way forward. His Holiness is not attending these debates. Last week, David Miliband, the UK foreign secretary, recognised Chinese sovereignty in China for the first time, thus further legitimizing China´s claim.

The Guardian quoted Zhu Weiqun, a vice-minister of the Chinese Communist party's United Front Work Department, "if one day, [the Dalai Lama] really seizes power, he will without any compunction or sympathy carry out ethnic discrimination, apartheid and ethnic cleansing." What planet is this guy from?

Zhu said there had been no progress in last week's talks, blaming the Tibetan side. He described the current system as "perfect" and in need of no revision, adding: "There is no other way."

It´s all looking pretty grim.

Monday, November 17, 2008

From Pushkar, Through Delhi, Up To Amritsar And Back Home Again

Despite the presence of thousands of camels, they don´t come cheap. A top quality one will cost Rp80000 and the cheapest model won´sell under Rp20000. Fortunately I have had no requests for one, and even if I found a cute one for myself, transporting one back to McLeod Ganj would be impossible.

Pushkar is a very religious place and you need to be culturally sensitive if you wish to avoid the wrath of locals. As previously mentioned, no-one is allowed to take photos of the lake and the bathing ghats. Other frowned upon activities include: -
No kissing in public
No alcohol
No meat (including eggs) are allowed in town – however I did get my first avocado since South America!

We successfully met up with our friends in Delhi and I am now the proud holder of 5 packets of Juan Valdez. Unfortunately I had a bout of vicious Delhi Belly and was unable to eat anything, including medicine!

On to Amritsar and out train made excellent progress into the Punjab. However the train failed to reach its destination due to a farmers´ strike plus road and rail blockage. We spent K.´s birthday with a morning at the Golden Temple followed by witnessing the outrageously extravagant and nationalistic border-closing ceremony at Attari. This is an event not to be missed if you are in the vicinity. Some pics can be found at

Delighted to be back home in Mcleod Ganj despite the cold– it really is so much nicer than facing loads of people trying to fleece our money.

Pushkar Collage

Several people have complained that they are not able to access the picasa albums through their server. I have therefore put a collection of a few favourites, although there are many more higher quality pics available for those that can access the picasa gallery.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lord Brahma

Brahma is the Hindu God of Creation. He is a major deity often depicted with four faces and four arms and legs.

It is said that Brahma wanted to perform a yagna (self-mortification) at Pushkar Lake. When his wife, Sivitri did not show up for this special moment, he married another woman on a whim. Not surprisingly Sivitri was pretty pissed and vowed that Brahma would not be worshipped anywhere else. And so it was!

My friend S. tells another story. Vishnu and Brahma were arguing about who was the more powerful. Shiva stepped in to settle the argument. He created a fiery phallus and challenged them to find the end. Vishnu buried downwards whilst Brahma went skywards. Despite his best efforts, Vishnu gave up. Brahma saw a lotus flower fluttering past and claimed he retrieved it from the top of the hot rod. Shiva knew this was a lie and punished Brahma accordingly.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Made To Measure

If you ever find yourself at Laxmi Market, check out my new tailor at Sunita Handicrafts. Mr. Sampat Lal Prajapat has made me made to measure 100% cotton shirt and trousers for Rp450. I paid Rp400 for my first Indian suit back in 1989. Together with my new camel leather shoes at a bargain Rp320, I´m looking good!

Those photos keep on coming, and if you are not already "camelled out" have a peak at

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Fair Continues On

As I feared, my sleep deprivation continues. The music and/or chanting around the lake was broadcast throughout the night. No wonder I was up at 4.20am this morning!

Yesterday at dawn I walked around the lake, whilst this morning I headed to the Camel Fairground, with about 50 other keen photographers. The light wasn´t as spectacular as it was yesterday, so I took up the offer of breakfast with some musical desert gypsies. I politely sipped some chai whilst they treated me to a special personal concert. I managed to get a cracking recording on my new mini MP3 player which I´ll use for another Windows Movie Maker feature when I return home.

I was seriously accosted by two rather stunning gypsy girls who decorated my hands with henna “for luck”. It was horrible, but they certainly didn´t feel lucky with the 40 rupees I gave them. They wanted RPs1000!

Some more pics have just been uploaded onto picasa. I hope you enjoy them!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Camels Abound - Pushkar Fair

It is said that Lord Brahma dropped a lotus flower on Earth and Pushkar floated to the surface. Although the temples are not ancient, there are hundreds around town dedicated to Brahma. Around the holy lake there are 52 bathing ghats. The great Mahatma Gandhi was cremated here. Photography is strictly prohibited around the ghats and lake

We finally made it into Pushkar at 11pm last night – a journey time of only 51 hours!

Up at 6.20am for the opening day of the festivities and it really was awesome. The sights, sounds and smells cannot be captured in the photos, however hard I try. The whole town is clearly ready for the party and music echoes all around the lake.

You can keep track of some of the latest photos that I am taking during the Camel Fair at

Check out the slide-show feature in the browser! Please note all photographs are copyright on Picasa.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Last Orders - A Camel Anyone?

If you need a camel, the best place to purchase one is at the camel fair and festival in Rajastan. Every year in the small oasis town of Pushkar , in the heart of the Thar desert, the nomads with their camels in tow descend from miles around. Trading begins in earnest at the start of Kartika (the 8th lunar month of the Hindu calendar). Kartik Purnima (the full moon) is noted as particularly auspicious, and devotees come to bathe at the ghats of Pushkar lake. This colourful event guarantees an interesting palette for photographers and probably very little sleep. The festivities will last for over two weeks. We´re heading down for this magnificent event, along with a predicted 200,000 others and will share some favourite pictures when and where I can.

After the festival, we will pass through Delhi and then head on to Amritsar to pay homage at the Golden Temple before returning McLeod Ganj in the last week of November. With visa renewals required in December, K. will head home to Singapore, whilst I will do the Kathmandu run via a brief stopover in Benares. Come join me for breakfast at the Everest Steakhouse in Thamel in early December! I´ll be hanging out there for a while. If I can locate him, I hope to meet up with Lost Johnny for a hike in Jomsom over Christmas before returning to India in the 2nd week of January. Postings will probably be erratic throughout this whole period. Will you survive without your daily dollop of ketchup? Coleman´s English mustard may help.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Boom Boom V

Situated along the lower Jogiwara Road, towards Dharamsala, Boom Boom the Fifth is owned by Boom Boom, a rather wacky Australian woman. Previous reincarnations of the Boom Boom restaurants were to be found in Australia and Bali. It certainly has a unique ambience. Decorated with yellow walls and blue chiffon curtains, it boasts 3 balconies adorned with large comfy cushions. One of the balconies is equipped with a large wooden swing overlooking the valley. The flooring is made of a smashed tiled mosaic. The menu is also somewhat eclectic, including burgers, pizzas, a wide variety of salads, and somewhat amazingly, smoked salmon and cream cheese baguettes. Music varies from jazz and Latino sounds to opera and classical. With very little persuasion, Boom Boom will serenade you with jazz and operatic renditions.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Monkey Business

In and around the village you will see playful Langur monkeys. Often seen as a pest, several districts in Himachal Pradesh are running sterilization programmes to curb the population growth. What a job! I find these playful monkeys both cute and entertaining.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Death of Zen

My Creative Zen MP3 player is slowly dying. The volume cannot often be adjusted and the forward and rewind controls are erratic at best. There are several electronic shops in the village, but they won´t touch it with a proverbial large barge-pole. 40GBs worth of quality sounds and downloading going to waste as the installed files seem non-transferable. Aaaaarrrrgggghhh!

Our Landlord Celebrates

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Dear Reader – I´d like to wish you all a very happy, special, and in this time of global financial uncertainty, prosperous Diwali!

Diwali is the festival of light and celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over dark and knowledge over ignorance.

Diwali festivities have been quite low-key here in McLeod Ganj. However, several buildings are adorned with fairy lights and fire crackers have been echoing around the valley sporadically, so the place sounds like guerilla insurgencies around Kabul.

Our friend S., an Indian colleague in Bogotá, has safely arrived into Delhi laden with my five packets of Juan Valdez Colombian coffee confiscated from the boxes we sent to India. They should be safely in my hands in the second week of November. The best Diwali present ever!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fight For Your Rights

BBC World announced today that the Dalai Lama has virtually given up in developing dialogue with Beijing despite many overtures. Somewhat the realist, HHDL knows that Tibetan independence is an impossibility under the Chinese regime, and has already conceded sovereignty and the right for China to conduct foreign affairs. His Holiness is requesting local autonomy and religious freedom.

The cultural genocide of the Tibetan people continues apace. Han Chinese are given land rights, interest free loans and tax exemption for moving into Tibet. The recent construction of a direct rail connection from Beijing to Lhasa is now completed to accelerate this process and Tibetans are now a minority in their own capital city.

Tibet is not the only country under Chinese oppression. The Uygers, Muslims living in Xianjing, face similar oppression. Continued growing unrest has resulted in many deaths of police and government officials.

Beijing were awarded the Olympic Games in the belief that their human rights record would improve. Indeed watching the opening ceremony the Chinese “minorities” were paraded as a prize trophy. Yet all the participants were Han Chinese. A similar charade can be witnessed at the daily “cultural” show in Kunming. Yet China continues to oppress.

The Dalai Lama is generally conciliatory, taking the Middle Path. However, he has alienated more militant Tibetans who would like to take a more direct and aggressive stance against China. Whilst not directly opposing the Dalai Lama one such movement is Students for a Free Tibet -

I believe Tibetan culture will outlive the current Chinese regime, but at what cost?

There has been no official announcement on the Dalai Lama´s homepage

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Momos are the Tibetan contribution to world cuisine. They are like little dumplings and come either fried or steamed. Available with a variety of different fillings including mutton, chicken, vegetables or cheese, they are an excellent inexpensive snack. Food-stalls and restaurants sell them in abundance. There is even a restaurant devoted to this culinary delicacy – Momos – A Taste of Tibet! Perhaps strangely, our favourite momos in town are from Palwan Dhabar, a Punjabi restaurant on Temple Road. Their fried chicken momos are top quality and served with a sweet soy sauce and spicy red chilli.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Man Had Balls

I have finally got around to reading “The Sacred Mountain” by John Snelling. Seen as the definitive guide to Mount Kailash, it has travelled with me across three continents and has received plenty of damage on it´s travels.

Snelling quotes reports by Swami Pranavananda about the Sikh adventurer Zorawar Singh who marauded through Ladakh and forged into Western Tibet in 1841. With forces numbering 1500 men, they defeated the local Tibetan forces of 8 – 10,000. A secondary Tibetan army was raised assisted by Chinese forces to try and defeat the marauding Sikh. Pranavananda claims that Singh became quickly revered by Tibetans for his bravery and labelled “The Lion King”. It was believed he could only be killed with a golden bullet. This was duly dispatched with a fatal shot to the knee.

Zorawar´s body was swiftly dismembered for many locals wanted these as trophies for good luck. A chorten was built with several other body parts. Pranavanda claims that one of his testicles was kept under lock and key at Simbiling gompa which was proudly paraded around every 4 years during the Tantric festival of Iron Fort held in the 2nd Tibetan month of the year. Unfortunately, the monastery was destroyed by Chinese artillery in 1967. A hand with three remaining fingers is allegedly still preserved at Sakya monastery.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Another Roadside Attraction

There are 2 roads that make up the village of Mcleod Ganj; Jogiwara and Temple Road. Along both streets there are lines of handicraft stalls and shops selling a wide variety of goods. Many of the stalls are selling goods from Tibet including lots of jewellers selling silver, precious and semi- precious gems. Yak wool products are also big, including colourful socks and warm blankets.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


One of the more challenging aspects of living in, or travelling through India is the amount of beggars on the street. For the uninitiated, it is difficult to confront. Beggars come in many shapes and forms, often quite literally! In any village, town or city, they are always out in numbers. Most passers-by choose the “ignore” strategy; they do not exist. A few, will stop and pass on a few coins – often more affluent folk.

There are no doubts about it, I cannot adopt the “ignore” strategy. At the same time, I would be bankrupt pretty soon if I gave to all and sundry. I will always greet them with a “namaste” greeting, and, if familiar with them, ask them how they are doing today? Indeed I now have a few friends in town who I meet and greet in the streets. It seems to brighten both our days! I hardly ever give more than a greeting. One particular guy who can be found sitting outside the post office has had some really nasty abrasions on his hands and feet, so I picked up some antiseptic cream for him. Unfortunately I fear he now always expects more than a greeting.

This is just a basic overview and a topic I will return to again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Gospel According to Nita Mehta

PT is leaving Mcleod Ganj next week, and I wanted to reciprocate lunch. I rustled up a tasty shahi kaju murg taken from Ms Mehta´s seminal book “The Best of Chicken Recipes”. Her recipes are quite tricky and high in preparation time, but so far, the results have been pleasing. It tasted scrummy and PT produced another classic tom yum kai. A truly international lunch experience.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A New Frontier for India?

It was announced today that India is sending an unmanned lunar satellite into space from the Bay of Bengal. It is part of India´s claim as a world super-power. At the cost of US$80 million, the satellite will be looking for water sources and develop a new three-dimensional atlas of the moon. The project boasts total indigenous technology. A good use of government funds?

Monday, October 20, 2008

DANGER - Lemon Soda

Limca is a very tasty and refreshing lemon/lime fizzy drink, far superior to 7Up in my humble opinion. I fell in love with it on my first trip to India in 1989. This was in spite of the frequently made claim (rumour) that it was carcinogenic. Made by the Italian company, Bisleri, I was repeatedly informed that it had been banned in all European countries and could only be purchased in India. For 8 rupees, and with the absence of Coke (Thumbs Up, a local attempt was totally foul), I was clearly prepared to run the risk of cancer! Limca is now bottled by the Cocoa Cola company, just as delicious, (especially when served ice cold), and hopefully not so injurious to the health! These days the price is up to 15 rupees, but still worth every rupee.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Leaving Home

We live below the main village. When we leave our room, there are 66 steps to climb to the car-park. From here there are 2 main arteries up to Mcleod Ganj. Our first option is up a muddy unsealed path that takes you to the bottom of the village which is then another 10 minute walk up to the centre. Our second alternative is to follow a flat path that leads to a stairwell of 235 steep, undulating rock steps. This brings you out much closer to the centre. With Mcleod Ganj perched at 1780 metres breath can often be short at the best of times. Not for the feint-hearted, we are certainly getting fitter, although we have yet to complete all the steps without stopping for a rest.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hollywood Comes to Town

Mc-LLo´s restaurant is a Mcleod Ganj institution. Situated above the bus station, it provides high-quality Indian, Chinese and European cuisine in comparatively salubrious surroundings. During one busy lunchtime, sitting on the ground floor next to the stairwell, my chair is regularly kicked by people heading up. On the wall above is a large signed portrait of Pierce Brosnan sitting in front of a pizza. After about 10 minutes, another space becomes available and I am very keen to move. The waiter comes over surprised at our shift in tables. I have apparently just moved out of Mr Brosnan´s favourite place he reliably informs me.

The Dalai Lama attracts a lot of media attention wherever he goes and has done much to make Buddhism “fashionable” in The West. Richard Geer is another regular HHDL fan and visitor to Mcleod Ganj. Must get an autograph for my mum! Madonna, Annie Lennox, Philip Glass, Jet Li and Goldie Hawn have also made the trip to Mcleod Ganj.

Friday, October 17, 2008

On The SIte

Who says that Indian society does not treat men and women equally? Here in the village, like India in general, the vast majority of the builders and road workers are women. Often migrants from the South, these dark skinned women wear bright saris and head-banners, and are almost always painfully thin. They work like Trojans on site and precariously balance bricks and other aggregates on their heads. They are the only builders I have ever seen who never share their butt-cracks with members of the public.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Global Hunger

BBC World News and The Times of India newspaper released information today on the most recent statistics from the Global Hunger Index. India scored extremely poorly, behind many war-torn African countries including Congo, Rwanda and Sudan. It was claimed that India scored so badly due to the levels of malnutrition amongst children under the age of 5. India would like to regard itself as a developing country, with the potential to become a world super-power. I hope the government take note of these statistics and address the levels of poverty in the country.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Tibetan Children´s Village

The Tibetan Children´s Village is situated about 8kms out of McLeod Ganj. Set up by the Dalai Lama in 1960, he was keen in providing an education to children of Tibetan refugees, orphans and to children that escape Tibet without their parents. The school in Upper Dharamsala currently has 2000 children run by 200 staff members, and five other centres have been set up across India.

On average about 850 children escape across the border each year, but concern has arisen that there has only been 15 children to make it across the border this year. It is feared that the Chinese government have launched a huge crack-down on escaping refugees.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Balmiki who?

Maharishi Balmiki´s birthday was celebrated in Himachal Pradesh yesterday. There was a small parade in the streets of McLeod Ganj with boys in make-up and fancy address, two trumpeters and some totally outrageous dancing.

A Taste of India

A Taste of India is the best restaurant in town. Looking somewhat run-down with just a few no-frills tables inside, they serve consistently excellent Indian dishes at very reasonable prices. US$3 will buy you a delicious curry and freshly-baked naan. The tandoori oven is tucked away at the side of this eatery in the ramshackle kitchen. Nisha, the owner, also runs a popular weekly cooking class.

Yesterday, our waiter was wearing a red T-shirt with “Chealsea” printed on the front and “Crespio” on the back. Now how cool is that?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Miss Tibet 2008

A lot of excitement in the village last night with fireworks and loud music at the upper levels of the valley. It was due to the Miss Tibet 2008 competition held at TIPA (Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts). It was a close run competition as there was only two participants. Congratulations to 18-year old Sonam Choedon from Lithang, in eastern Tibet. For more pictures and information, check out

Diwali is Coming

Diwali falls on the 28th October, but the Diwali lights were shining in Sidarth House (our residence) last night. In contrast, I remember hearing Christmas Carols being played in Woolworths in Bristol in October, so I guess it is not premature.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lunching with a Monk

Phra PT is a Thai monk who lives in the block next door. He is in McLeod Ganj studying English at the LHA centre which runs subsidised classes. He is clearly a very motivated student and attends several classes a day. We invited him up for coffee last week and yesterday he more than reciprocated with an invite for some home-style Thai cooking of tom yum kai and fried chicken. It was fantastic; he is a great friend indeed!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

After The Party

I am now safely back in Mcleod Ganj after an interesting Dasera experience in Kullu.

Kullu is the administrative centre of the local area in central Himachal Pradesh. It is famous for its shawls and it´s festivities for the Hindu festival. Over 2000 religious deities are carried on huge bamboo poles from miles around and paraded around the town. However, to the uninformed, each deity look very much the same.

It is only 240kms away, but I was almost on the verge of tears when I finally arrived after a ten hour local bus journey. Says a lot about road travel in Northern India. Set close to the famous Parvati Valley, the town is a typical bustling market town at the best of times, but with the huge crowds descending in, accommodation was scarce. I finally ended up in the Aaditya Hotel next to the Beas river. The mattress was almost non-existent and my next door neighbours were clearly in the mood for partying.

Each village community that had brought their local deity celebrated with a mixture of silver and brass horns, a selection of drums and oboe-like instruments, and they each clearly wanted to outdo the others in the level of noise.

Along with the deities, there was a fun-fair, market, cultural show, street performers and food-stalls spread over the cricket ground and recreational fields. This vibrant colourful extravaganza lasts for a week.

Some photos of this event can be found at

Being such an auspicious festival, the sadhus were out in number. I have subsequently updated the appropriate portfolio to

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


This Hindu festival is being celebrated on 9th October this year. It marks one of the three and a half auspicious days of the year. Nine different food grains are offered to a wide variety of deities. The day is associated with valour and victory. Major celebrations are taking place at Kullu, 10 hours by bus to the east of Dharamsala. I´m heading off on tomorrow´s early morning bus to check it out, and attempt to avoid any fatal crushing that seems to be plaguing devotional Hindu festivals. If I survive, I´ll share some snaps with you!!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Artisan at Work

The Norbulingka Institute

About 15kms out of Dharamsala in a small backwater area lies the Norbulingka Institute. A beautifully crafted temple and a series of workshops provide Tibetan refugees and 2nd generation Tibetans with work and/or craft skills. Classes are given in all the traditional crafts including painting, woodwork and tailoring. Building began in 1988 and completed seven years later. It is a thriving community of artisans with some studying their apprenticeship for up to 12 years. Their products are sold at a boutique that would not look out of place in Manhattan, London, Paris or Hong Kong. Check out their website for more information.

The Weather Turns

Snow on the Mountain Tops

The Dhauladhar mountain lies at the top of the valley. At 4800 metres, it dominates the landscape. Literally translated dhauladhar means “white peak”. Whilst last night the village was hit with a ferocious downpour of rain and hail, and consistent sheet and forked lightning for several hours. This morning the mountain peak is glistening with freshly fallen snow.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Caffeine Fix

I never drank hot drinks until I was 24. My teeth were rotting away through Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper abuse. Tea was undrinkable in any form and my only exposure to coffee was my mum´s Nescafe. I finally discovered “real” coffee when I was living in Hong Kong. What an enlightenment! A wild variety of flavoured coffees including chocolate/raspberry, double chocolate/mint, and wild peach were readily available from Coffee Château. The ultimate blend however was Blue Mountain from Oliver´s Deli retailing at a costly US$8 for a miserly 100g. Bloody awesome stuff though – dark, rich, aromatic and lustrous. Not surprisingly, the first purchase when relocating to Bogotá was an espresso machine. A veritable coffee heaven awaits caffeine fiends! My biggest concern when moving to India was a lack of a decent caffeine fix. Five packets of Juan Valdez was placed lovingly into our boxes to be sent. Regrettably these were confiscated by Colombian officials. Devan coffee is available in the supermarket here, however Juan Valdez it is not!

Saturday, October 4, 2008



Sadhus are “Holymen” who have “dropped out” of society in the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. Often hermetic, they travel around the sub-continent living off donations, although it is also open to abuse by non-devout beggars to obtain freebies. The genuine sadhus often live in caves, forests and temples, and wander across the country in their quest for moshka (liberation) through meditation, contemplation and yoga. Traditionally, in the initial stages, an apprenticeship is served under a guru. There is thought to be about 5 million sadhus in India alone.

I find them highly photogenic and putting a special portfolio of these. A section of these can be found at although it is unlikely this will be completed until I finish my tour of Nepal during December and January.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

India – A Smoke-Free Zone?

To coincide with Mahatma Gandhi´s birthday, India today banned the use of tobacco in public places. This global phenomena is getting out of hand. A spokesman said it was important that India kept in line with other 1st World Nations – a pretty crap excuse! CNN claimed that 900,000 people die each year in India from smoking-related diseases. In the words of the late and great guru – Bill Hicks “guess what? Non-smokers die every day!

I am a fairly environmentally aware citizen. I don´t use plastic bags, recycle paper bags, refill water bottles and I don´t drive a car. However, I am made to feel a social leper for my only vice. I am hoping this law is not going to be rigorously enforced in Himachal Pradesh.

I remember being in New York when they introduced the Smoking Ban in April 2003. Within 48 hours a club bouncer had been stabbed to death by a disgruntled patron. I was convinced it would be rescinded within days. No such luck!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Keep up with your Studies

The Dalai Lama has been teaching again this week – currently a delegation from Taiwan are in town! You can keep up to date with his teachings with his daily recordings at

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Probably the most remote region of India, and part of the Tibetan plateau, this valley is cut off from the world for over six months of the year (mid-October to July). Averaging an altitude of 4000 metres this baron area is almost exclusively inhabited by Tibetans. The lunar landscape is dotted with small gompas (Tibetan temples) with some of the most special and historical thankas (religious paintings) to be found in the world. It is also the hunting ground for the always elusive snow leopard.

We packed up armed with cameras and plenty of winter woolies. I haven´t been here for over 10 years and was curious to see what changes have taken place. However we have now been forced to revise our plans. A group of Belgium travellers were air-lifted out after a series of landslides in the region, as was the Kamapa Lama! Six local shepherds have disappeared in four metre snow-falls. Feeling bitterly disappointed that this trip will now have to be postponed until next July.

The Dalai Lama will be giving another lesson over the next four days so it will be some redemption. Can´t believe that lessons will now take precedence over travelling!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Don´t Wait For Me

Don´t worry, Buddhist philosophy states we will all reach enlightenment; a state of nirvana. Doesn´t that sound reassuring? Unfortunately most of us are many life-times away. Whether we like it or not, we are all on the learning path. Rather than stumble around, the Dalai Lama was preaching the importance of using a road-map. We must be open-minded, and show an intellectual capacity and interest. Being an aquarian and fire horse, I often travel without a map, enjoying a different path. I´ll get there in my own time. Please don´t wait for me!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama is back in his adopted home town to deliver teachings to a group of Singaporean Buddhists. Kemmy is clearly very excited about the prospect, although knows no-one coming over. This is a fairly common event whereby he receives funding for the Pro-Tibetan cause for his lessons. As a spiritual leader for the Tibetan people he needs wide shoulders to carry this heavy burden, not least due to the global travelling he undertakes to promote the Tibetan cause. Now aged 73, he was taken to hospital last month for stomach problems brought upon by exhaustion.

Mcleod Ganj fills up with a wide variety of disciples to partake in the teachings. Live translations are given in English, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, etc. and most of the students are armed with FM radios to tune in to these.

Last month he was giving teachings to a Korean delegation. Between each lesson, HHDL walks through the throngs. He stops right in front of me to have a conversation with a very wrinkled and old Tibetan woman. On completion he walks vigorously down the aisle and stops in front of a European woman on the opposite side. She immediately breaks down to uncontrollable tears which he attempts to subside with little success. He moves with vigour and vitality, and whatever your religious background, he clearly has a serene and enlightened aura around him.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Food Stall

The End of the Monsoon Fair

Mcleod Ganj traditionally celebrates the end of the monsoon with a street market, food fair and dangerous-looking fairground rides. Street vendors selling a wide variety of plastic toys, jewellery and kitchen utensils. The assortment of few products are beautifully displayed although distinctly unhygienic. Outsiders descend on the village for the festivities cluttering the main street. The fair has now been and gone which is more than can be said for the monsoon.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Where Eagles Dare

I have come to take eagles for granted. Along with crows, they are the most populace bird in the valley. Graceful and sharp they are gorgeous to watch. However this morning I have been watching a whole herd of about 10 soaring and swooping around our balcony playing “chase the crows”. Too fast to photograph unfortunately.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I saw Tenzin Palmo in the streets of Mcleod Ganj. It was pretty weird in the sense that I only saw her last week, as the subject of the documentary movie “Cave in the Snow” which tells the story of this famous nun who lived in retreat in a cave in Lahaul for 12 years. (I would never had recognized her had I not recently seen the film). Growing up in the East End of London as Diane Perry, she left to India at the age of 20 and received tuition from a high lama. In the documentary Tenzin Palmo was asked what had she learnt from the experience? She said that it was the only way she could really get to know herself. When we are part of a societal relationship, we are always playing a role; a friend, confidante, an associate, a work colleague, etc. It is only when one is confined to oneself that these “roles” can be fully eradicated and we can get to understand our real self. 12 years wasted? I think not. Fancy living in a desolate cave in the middle of a freezing cold desert for more than a decade? Probably not.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Swampy Monsoon

Mcleod Ganj

We´ve been here in Mcleod Ganj for well over month now. The monsoon is now "officially" now finished and the days are now, in general, much warmer and dryer. Just as well as it was all getting somewhat swampy. Get the feeling we should have done this years ago.

The apartment is compact and bijou with outstanding views across the valley and we are very much enjoying the tranquility of the place.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Oberoi Maidens Hotel


Almost unrecognisable since our last trip here in December 2003, it now seems to work. Gone are the potholes in the road and the new Metro is highly efficient.

The bookshops are like an immense paradise (especially in comparison to Bogota). Books in English from Lonely Planet guides to the karma sutra, and all at very reasonable prices!