Monday, October 22, 2007

Book post

Last days rituals : slimming down my pack after a prelim weigh in at the train station before the flight, which involves sending books, maps etc. home by post. The most time consuming part of this is the making of a approved book post package : a sewn parcel with a inspection slit.

This years version was so-so , I'm thinking of bringing the makings of the parcel with me next time .

Saturday, October 20, 2007

One last lap

Morning in Boudnath , the semi-legal taxi should be , not leaving without a last kora round the stupa.
Fall in to the rustling river of people , crowded at just after six in the morning.
On the second lap I come to a dead stop : everybody has stopped and turned their backs to chorten.
A dove hangs up there , trapped on a piece of wire from a kite that has tangled in the phone lines. An old Tibetan woman smacks her lips loudly ; not a sign of disapproval but of concern. Two monks start to throw a bundled upper robe to dislodge the dove , with great public support ...oooh! aaah ! .... and roaring laugh as a final high throw almost succeds ... and lands the robe on a high window ledge.
Finally the dove is freed , and lands in outstretched hands , but not in good form. Sadness and concern in a great circle of down turned faces.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Leaning out , backwards , and looking up in to the sky as in supplication the boy says something I can't make out from where I'm sitting. Response arrives from above , a wad of rupees in to his hand. New passengers.
We have just hit tarmac after some hours of .. not in class with Ladakh , but still tiring road work, and are starting to pick up speed. Roofs on all the other buses as well are crammed with people and goats : the Dasain festival is getting in to full swing.

Myself I'm looking forward to a bucket shower (last night in the trailhead latrine without light hardly counts), a new pair of pants and a wall plug for my camera : my one unstolen battery gave up i the Gosaikhund pass , and the days after that were practically all spent walking in plugless country , in rain and fog - little help from my solar charger.

Will up and backdate more tomorrow. Or maybe I'll just live here , in the moment.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Relatively easy walk up to Gosainkund after the acclimatisation night in Laurebina. Steep outside the trail with alpine flowers reminding me of home.

Somwhat relieved to find that Ben and the others did'nt suffer anything worse than a bad night : worst case scenarios for forced ascents to these altitudes are are daunting even with good medical backup , and unthinkable without. Gosainkund has in fact been the focus for a medical article I read before leaving , and up in the lodge I find the consent form for another study : " you have been selected for this study because you have been diagnosed with HAPE/HACE." Informed consent from persons suffering from a disease that by definition diminishes their mental capacity.. that must have been an interesting discussion in the ethical commitee.

Friday, October 05, 2007


As I start to walk out of the monastery guesthouse , I become convinced that the Nepali realitity (elections just postponed , Maoists destroying printing presses of the Kathmandu Post , and bandhs ) have washed in on the monastery grounds.
Loud voices , shouts .. and then i recongnise the handclaps , "the thunderbolt" - debate hour for the monks.

Just finished my extensive preparations before setting out for Langtang with Ben , a photographer I met first time in Manju ka Tilla. Iodine , sunblock and lit an oil lamp.

Monday, October 01, 2007

On seclusion , and photography

I sit again , after the morning kora , in the New Orleans Cafe. The Boudha stupa shows just how heavy the rains have been , the whitewash being rinsed away from all nearly flat surfaces. The morning paper carries a story of of three villagers being killed in a flash flood near the border, an irregular event in early October. I'm still on a eating binge , after the ATM run (mostly on tsampa , tea & dried fruits) and generally being dhaba'd out. The New Orleans serves perfectly mellow potatoes , salads (something I normally don' touch on the subcontinent) and apple pies .. at a price. The kora revolves just outside the open doorway : monks , teens in jeans .. with iPods and malas, a prostrator with ironsoled flipflops as hand protection, and tourists of course. The doorway nags at the edge of my consciousness : I like sitting at the one table there , with my notebook and camera , but when I walk by it later I get to see it from the outside : the doorway becomes the frame for a shooting gallery for camera wielders.

Photography ... can't avoid the subject any longer. Source of many of my best experiences ... and equally the worst. It's easy to distance oneself from the
picture , and in some ways the the telling true tales of horror are related to the "real traveler " myth : content is to varying extent real , but the function is to boost the self image.

On the other hand , there are real issues. Two years ago in Ladakh , I went in to center court of a Ladakhi monastery - during services - to bring back (controlled words but face flaring like a Mahakala ) a tourist who used the altar as a support for his video camera.
Today the word hunting pack pops up in my mind as I see some groups shining up as groups of monks or Tibetan women comes in to range. A few makes the tactical choice of walking crosscurrent to the stream of kora walkers - something which requires some conscious effort , cuts you out of any blending or participatory experience ... but gives you the face shot.
The language in photography is propietary , exclusive : you take the shot , you shoot film (or chips) ... and then on the other hand digital photography has wrought a major change. When I first arrived here with a camera it was seen one of the obscure things that angrezis devoted themselves to . Today I meet people who take their right to their self image as granted : take a photo ... sure ... now show me . The way it should be, and often a source for joy . The Tibetan pilgrims from Nakchu and I had a lot more in common than one would think of first : places we both had been to , places we wanted to go to .. all unraveling as we went through a full 512 mb memory card.
And ,reactions to the blaring insensitivities aside, one must keep things in perspective : most people try to be nice . Seeing the odd crosscurrent walkers brings home one of two points : either their actions , or how few they actually are.
Responsibility is after all individual ... and includes the option of just standing in the way of the telephoto lens at the right moment.

Yesterday I had an other sudden flash of outside view of ourselves in the small garden of the New Orleans , eating organic vegetables and imported Italian pasta as the construction workers hang on bamboo poles above us , legs curled around the bamboo , tying together the scaffolding. We sat , not with elongated earlobes from the jewellery , but with sloping shoulders from our digital SLR:s , as in a modern day Kapilavastu court. GoreTex , the silk of today. To complete the irony one of the most common books found on the coffe tables is Siddharta - a book about a man who actually left his sheltered life and confronted himself with the realities of of living outside the court.

IndiaMike carried the same day a story on how a quarter of a billion of Indias citizens live on 14 rupees a day - which is a lot less than what we pay for the Darjeeling tea in the New Orleans.