Very Random Sri Lanka!

Finally, it’s warm and sunny here! Hooray!

So here are a few random pictures I took in Sri Lanka some while ago. So what relevance is there in that? None, really…

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I just like the randomness of them.

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Lurking Kingfisher…

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That, incidentally, is a Cannon Ball Tree.

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And that’s why.

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And I have no idea what that tree is called, but the strange roots are little more than a hand-breadth wide, and as tall as I am.

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Bilbo In The Breeze

This is another standalone poem from my linked series, a work in progress, poems written around the theme of the weather.

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Please don’t ask me when the whole thing might be completed!

Bilbo in the Breeze

 

Tonight, there is no moon,

But I hear dry leaves,

Swirling and clattering on the path.

Fingers brushing my cheek,

Cold breath on my face.

 

Leaves, dry leaves,

Flung into the air and a voice,

A spiteful, hissing voice,

Whispering in my ear:

‘What has it got in its pocketses?’

 

There are nasty, cold fingers

Poking and prying around my pocket.

I feel a tug at my jacket,

A sudden push in my back.

 

I jam my hands in my pockets

To warm them and keep the nasty fingers out.

 

My fingers touch…

Something dry…

It crackles…

What have I got in my pocket?

Writing Update

When I started this blog almost three years ago, it was with the intention of both writing about writing, and building a bit of an audience for my own writing.

It has altered rather a lot in that time, but I try not to completely lose sight of those aims. One of those aims is to every now and again blow my own trumpet a little bit, as well as bring you up to date with what I’m writing at the moment.

And, today’s that day again, as since the last time I posted about my book I seem to have gained a lot of new followers (well, quite a few – see 1000 Up), including a good number from India, where the story takes place.

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About the book…

This is a story concerning both the way that women are seen and how they are treated in traditional Indian society. I am extremely fortunate in that I have received many kind reviews for the book, and would like to quote part of one of these:

This beautifully written story, set in a village in Bihar, draws you in from its first page. We see the household through the eyes of Siddiqa, wife of Maajid, mother of two school-age girls and her son Tariq, who is married to Naira. We are drawn into the rivalry between Siddiqa and Naira, in a society where the men are the only wage earners and the women’s lives must, by tradition, revolve around their wishes. Small incidents pile up, one after another, as the underlying harmony of the household is fractured by the resentment and self-loathing of Naira. The family is Moslem, the village is a mix of Moslem and Hindu, and one incident threatens the uneasy cohabitation of the two communities. The police, seen as a hostile force in the village, get involved with an unpredictable outcome to the novel.

And it can be bought by clicking on this link: Making Friends With The Crocodile

And what am I up to at the moment?

Goodness me, much too much, as usual.

Some of you may remember I have been working on a novel with the working title of The Assassin’s Garden for quite a while, in an on and off sort of way. It had grown into what threatened to become a trilogy, but I recently decided that much of the plot line no longer worked for me.

With that in mind, I began reworking the first part into what I thought would simply become a novella or novelette (I can never remember which is which), but with a new thread and suddenly a new set of ideas linking them, it looks as though the trilogy is still very much on.

So the new first book is some 30,000 words in length at the moment, and looking good!

I am also working on a short story in response to one written by a friend, a rather tongue-in-cheek Sherlock Holmes mystery. I may post it later this year on the blog.

I’ve several other short stories put aside for the present, as is the other novel I’m working on sporadically.

Speaking of short stories, though, I decided against publishing the collection of short stories I had planned for last winter. I felt they didn’t really work as a collection – I felt I’d rather have a more coherent theme (such as ghost stories, or Indian stories or what have you). One of them has now been published in a collection by my writing group (Stories From Anywhere), and I have submitted another for the follow-up book which will be out later this year, hopefully. I’m sure the others will see the light of day in some form or another at some point!

Every now and again I churn out another poem, although I see these largely as a bit of an educational exercise. I’d love to write good poetry, but…

With luck, I’ll get some of them finished this year!

No Going Back

In a somewhat pensive mood, today.

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We all try to do it in our own way.

Me, I walk the woods and hills, trying to recapture

That half-remembered birdsong from my childhood.

Looking for the clear nascent sunlight,

And the cool morning breath of a magical wild rose.

 

Others revisit old haunts,

Tread half-forgotten streets and peer in shop windows,

Leaf through foxed and fragile pages

Of Peter and Jane, hold china dolls,

And gaze wistfully at black and white seasides.

 

It’s more than elusive,

But what they have in common,

Is leaving today behind.

Maybe, what I’m really searching for,

Is a different me,

Although I wouldn’t want to be a teenager again.

 

And if you haven’t tried it,

If you haven’t caught the sound of yesterday,

Or smelt the stale cooking and damp mothballs

Of a long-dead indulgent aunt,

Then perhaps you’re still too young.

Annapurna Circuit, Nepal – 5: A Life Less Lived?

It could have happened.

Everybody needs a challenge.

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Sunset on Everest and Nuptse from Tengboche, Nepal.

Well, most do. I guess there are a few people who are so content with their lot they have no wish to stray out of the round of their day to day life, but I think they must make up a tiny minority.

And while it is a great achievement to be satisfied with your life, and not to constantly want a more expensive car, or clothes or jewellery, we all need something to strive for, otherwise we tend to stagnate.

Even the most altruistic, who might strive to eradicate poverty, or bring justice where there is none, need a more personal challenge sometimes.

For some it might be speed – the need to have a go on a fast motor cycle or racing car somewhere. Maybe to try a bungee jump. To feel the adrenaline surge that comes with the mixture of excitement and fear.

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On Lake Dal, Srinagar, Kashmir, India.

For others it might be the very opposite. Many of us need the opportunity to spend time away from the 21st century. Those of us who do not like the noise and speed and intensity of our modern life, need to find respite in places like the mountains, or deserts, or somewhere else remote from modern life. Woodlands at night, perhaps, or a windswept beach on an island. The challenge is frequently to find these places or to access them. Perhaps even to make the time to do so.

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Monks on their way to morning Puja, Bodhgaya, India.

Those are the sort of places I need, and where I often feel I can do my best creative work. The only places I feel I can really relax.

And the reason I had to walk the Annapurna Circuit.

Just while putting together this set of posts, at times I have looked around the room at the photographs of the Annapurnas, the maps, then at my rucksack in the corner, and felt an almost irresistible urge to just…go.

This sense of adventure is frequently in conflict with the other strands of my life, though, because (like most people) my lack of money and the demands of work and family, and other commitments, prevent me just scooting off for a week or month away whenever I feel like it.

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A track through fields and woods a mile or so from where I live.

But I have always tried to take the opportunity to go off to these places when I could, as I reasoned that I couldn’t know how long I would still be able to.

What made me determined to do this was a missed opportunity when I was working temporarily in Peru. I knew that when I finished my six week stint and returned to UK, I might no longer have a job. So when I was offered the chance to stay on for a week to visit Cuzco and Machu Pichu with friends I declined, even though it would only have cost about a hundred dollars for the whole trip. And I regretted it ever afterwards.

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Little Adam’s Peak, Ella, Sri Lanka.

I have no intention of looking back on my life later and wishing I had done these things when I had the opportunity.

Annapurna Circuit, Nepal – 4

Part Four – from 30 years ago.

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On the western side of Thorung La, the climate is much drier and in places the scenery is very much that of a desert landscape.

 

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As you descend, though, you soon come across settled areas where meltwater from the snows and glaciers higher up enable vegetation to grow.

 

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Mani stones plus a fine set of argali horns on top of a wall in Kagbeni. The argali are the wild sheep of the Himalaya.

 

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In Tukuche, at 2590m – less than half the altitude of Thorung la, which we had crossed just two days before.

 

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It was in places like this, that we really felt we could be in another century. Buildings of stone and beautifully carved wood, ponies for transport, no wheeled vehicles, and the two fellows to the right of the picture are busy crushing lengths of bamboo to a fibrous pulp, ready to make into paper.

It was in places like these, actually, that I felt I could just leave the world behind and spend the rest of my life. Yes, totally impractical, I know, but…

 

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We came for the high peaks, but the mountains lower down have a breathtaking beauty of their own.

 

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Sunrise on Poon Hill is a treat most trekkers ensure they don’t miss. Unrivalled mountain views, and in the spring the massed flowers of the rhododendron forests.

 

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Ah, yes. Did I just mention the rhododendron forests?

 

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Photos just don’t seem to do them justice.

 

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And then a few days later it was over, and we were back in Kathmandu…

…and that is a different kind of wonderful…

Annapurna Circuit, Nepal – 3

At Manang, we pitched our tents on the flat roofs of the buildings…

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…essentially, it is the only flat area in the village that doesn’t either have someone living on it or crops growing on it.

 

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A Buddhist temple in Manang. We took care to visit the priest and receive his blessing for the crossing of the pass in a few days time. The high pass- Thorung La – is at 5416m and  is the highest pass in the world, and who knows what the weather and fate might decide to throw at us.

 

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A view of Annapurna I (I think!) from Manang. Annapurna I is the tenth highest mountain in the world, but also one of the most dangerous. The reason for my uncertainty is that the route of the trek takes us around some twenty or so peaks, including Annapurnas I – IV, Gangapurna, Tara Kang and Khangsar Kang, all of which can be seen from the Manang part of the trail.

 

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Nomadic herders’ camp above Ledar, at about 4300m. Theirs is not an easy life.

 

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Bridge across the Khone Khola, near where we camped before crossing the pass. The bridge is covered to protect it from snowfall.

 

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The porters at Thorung Phedi, where we camped before crossing the pass.

 

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A couple of hours later…

 

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We were snowed in the next day (and you can get very bored stuck in a tent for a day), but the following day we set off at dawn to cross the pass (Note the small figures passing the first rock).

 

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Some of the rocky, icy, snowy, lumpy bits beside us as we crossed the pass.

 

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After several hours hard slog through the snow, and the pass crossed, we began descending the western side down towards the village of Muktinath.

Annapurna Circuit, Nepal – 2

We followed the Marsayandi River for most of the first half of the trek, from the second or third day until we left it at Manang to head for the high pass – Thorung La. More about that next time, though. Not much chat on this post, I’ll let the photos do the talking.

On a technical note, I have slightly boosted the yellows on some of these photographs, as this is the main colour that age seems to have leeched out. Unfortunately I can’t do much about those photos that are slightly out of focus (I blame my poor eyesight) or the scratches and other blemishes that show up here and there. It was quite difficult to keep dust and grit out of the camera, and back in those days we used, well, you know, film. Film doesn’t like dust and grit, especially when you wind it on.

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We passed a school…

 

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And a pony train returning empty from the mountains to pick up more goods…

 

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After leaving Bahundanda…

 

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…we began passing high waterfalls. This one was just outside Sattale.

 

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In Sattale, where we camped on our sixth night.

 

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In Chame, we passed this beautifully carved mani stone. Chame sits at an altitude of 2670 metres, and the following day we were climbing steeply up to Pisang, at 3300 metres, and now we began to see the Big Stuff (this is a technical term, of course).

 

 

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The Big Stuff, although there was plenty more Much Bigger Stuff to come.

 

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And at Pisang we spent Night Nine of the trek.

 

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Carved and painted window in a house at Pisang.

 

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Large Prayer Wheel at Pisang.

 

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Pisang Village.

 

Annapurna Circuit, Nepal -1

In 1988 – thirty years ago! – I walked the Annapurna Circuit. This has long been regarded as one of the top ten walks in the world, and is certainly the walk I have enjoyed most. I put up a post about the circuit a year and a half ago (here) should you wish to read it, but as a celebration of that anniversary, I thought I would put up some more photographs over several posts.

Today, they are all from our second day’s walk.

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We camped the whole way, since there was virtually no accommodation on the route then. It was sometimes possible to sleep on the floor of a tea-house, but that usually meant an uncomfortable night in a very smoky atmosphere, and probably not a great deal warmer than a tent. It meant we were travelling with four guides, a couple of cooks, a couple of ‘kitchen boys’, and an average of fifteen to twenty porters (every so often one or two would leave, and others get hired from a village we were passing through).

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We began our walk from Gorkha, walking through the Terai – the sub-tropical forest region that stretches across most of Southern Nepal and much of the Himalayan Foothills of Northern India. This was a land of small rural villages, terraced fields carved painstakingly out of the hillsides, and, naturally, wooded hillsides.

Much of the woodland had already gone, cut both as clearance for fields and for fuel and fodder. It was already leading to much soil erosion and the degradation of the remaining soils. With the passage of thirty years, this can only have got worse.

On day 2 we walked from our campsite beside the Dharandi Khola to the settlement of Chepe Ghat.

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Transport in these areas was entirely by foot, usually in the form of porters who carried massive loads upon their backs. Occasionally by pony, or by bullock, but never by yak – they do not survive at these comparatively low altitudes. In 1988, walking the Annapurna Circuit was entirely on tracks and paths, since there were no roads of any description on our route. Today, there are motorable roads along part of it, but back then we did not see or hear a motorised vehicle for the duration of the trek.

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Building materials in these areas were, and predominantly still are, wood, thatch, and mud. Stone was used only in larger settlements.

The boy pictured above, incidentally, will now be in his late thirties.

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Wooded hillsides, with the terraced fields belonging to a nearby village encroaching.

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Rice paddy – terraced fields flooded for the planting of rice, the staple crop of the Nepal Lowlands.