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.

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Stories From Anywhere

I am proud to announce…Tah…Rah!! A book of short stories from Tunbridge Wells Writers.

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My regular reader may be interested to learn that the collection includes a fairly long short story of mine, World’s End, and I’m reasonably proud to point out that the cover is also designed by me.

A dozen stories in total, this is available at the moment as a paperback on Amazon (the link is here), and it will be published as an e-book on Kindle fairly soon. Once it is, I’ll put up a new post.

From the blurb on Amazon…Twelve writers, twelve stories. From intrigue in Colombia to bizarre adventures in Italy, from an unusual protest to a prison break in Chile. Get ready for an exciting journey with this collection from Tunbridge Wells Writers… 

Just Playing…

Take one photograph, play around with it a little, create 3 new ones, all different.

Add some autumn haiku, since it’s almost spring.

That was fun.

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Yellow maple leaves

Rattling wildly in the wind –

Autumn’s prayer flags

 

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Obsession with time

Is climbing trees in autumn

To get down the leaves.

 

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The last yellow leaf

Hovers above the brambles

Waiting for the wind.

All Hail The Conquering Hero!

I’ve never wanted to ‘conquer’ mountains.

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Or any other parts of the world, really.

I’ve always felt this was the wrong way to think of a journey. It was ridiculous to think I could impose my will upon a mountain, or on a desert, or indeed upon any part of my route. That I could, perhaps, somehow bend it to my will.

I feel it is more a case of preparing as best as possible, including mentally, and then perhaps said mountain will tolerate my presence; will allow me passage.

‘Conquering’ also carries the implication of invasion, of fighting, of strife. That is not the sort of relationship I want with mountains, or with any other place I choose to travel.

Certainly, in the past I have travelled at least partly with that mindset at times.

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Some of you may recall I wrote about an extremely foolish journey I took in Oman when I lived there almost 30 years ago (Mr. Stupid Goes For a Walk). Although I was running low on water, I pushed myself to the limit to reach the final ridge of hills on the route I had decided I was going to achieve one day, nearly killing my stupid self in the process. And although I achieved my aim, I didn’t feel victorious.

Only a bit stupid.

I prefer instead to think of myself as a visitor. And as a visitor, I need to have some manners. You do not expect to find the visitors pushing through your house and demanding to see this or to be given that, so I don’t.

I am not out to break records, nor to prove how tough I am.

This does not imply a lack of ambition, nor a lack of determination. Indeed, I have both – it’s just that the mindset is a little different. In particular, I give myself different priorities. I want to reach my goal, but if I don’t it does not matter. I think I’m more attuned to my own safety, and perhaps that of others. I hope I can be receptive to the feelings of others, too.

A good example in the climbing world is that of the mountains in Nepal that climbers are forbidden to reach the summit of, due to the belief that they are the abode of gods. Theoretically, a climber will stop some 10 meters or so short of the summit. Opinion is naturally divided over whether a climber would, or wouldn’t, in the absence of any witnesses, respect that ban.

I would respect it every time.

The mountains, of course, are inanimate. They do not wish me harm or otherwise. Neither do deserts or oceans. Even the most inhospitable of landscapes is neutral. It does not care whether I succeed in my aim to reach or traverse a particular part of it, and it will not hinder or help me in the attempt.

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My feelings about a landscape are just my reactions to it, and if I should choose to give this landscape a kindly or vindictive character, I am only projecting my own feelings onto it.

This may give me comfort, or otherwise, but will make no material difference.

Maybe I am simply suggesting it’s good to travel with humility.

I have touched upon that before!

The Beastie From The Eastie

Yes, we’ve had some snow.

And oddly, despite this being the UK, lots of things are still working.

Although, to glance at the newspapers you could be forgiven for thinking the End Of The World was here.

But the sun was out this morning, so I wandered out for a bit of a bimble in the countryside.

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Fresh snow always feels magical.

I suppose this is because it is a pure white, because it sparkles in the sun and even in the night time it appears to glow.

It covers things up, but sits lightly upon them.

There is a purity to fresh snow that causes the landscape to feel cleaner and purer, too.

While the snow is falling, sound seems to be muffled and absorbed, so that one exists in a silent wonderland.

Shadows

It transforms a dull winter landscape into something bright and very special.

some paths are still clear

Some of the paths are still easy to find,

Some paths are less obvious

While others have become less obvious.

tracks

The animals have their own paths, that we are often unable to tread.

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But there is a silence over everything, and every now and again a breath of wind sends a thousand sparkling snow diamonds drifting down through the branches of the trees.

some things are hidden

The snow hides much…

Footprints

But it reveals where we have been.

Some shapes become more mysterious

And it makes some shapes more mysterious.

Supermarket Gripes

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I haven’t had a good rant for a while, so best I put that right.

I had cause to go into a large store of a well-known supermarket a while ago.

Make that a very large store.

An extremely large store. Obscenely large.

It was like a medium sized city inside.

Or possibly a large cathedral, which would feel more appropriate, since these things are the glorification of the worship of money. How so? This store, like most others of its hateful ilk, does not simply sell food, any more.

Oh no.

It sells clothes. It sells white goods. DVDs and CDs. Computers and accessories. Mobile phones. Books, stationery, and greetings cards. Items of furniture. Garden items. DIY stuff. It has started its own bank and offers everything from insurance policies to bank accounts. The list seems endless. If I had wanted a lighthouse or a wolf they would probably have got me one from out the back.

There seems to be very little that it does not yet sell, although I have no doubt that it will only be a matter of time before those few gaps are filled.

Its business plan is simple – put every single other type of shop out of business, and corner the market in everything.

I had the strangest feeling – the feeling that I was somehow diminished, just by being in there.

And the food items? The reason I went in there in the first place?

Apparently it is essential that we are able to choose from well over a hundred types of cheese which particular one we need – strong, very strong, beat your brains in, mild, sliced, grated, chopped in cubes, turned into string, low fat, no fat, cows’ milk, sheeps’ milk, antelopes’ milk, crocodiles’ milk, virtual cheese, and all produced by four or five different companies.

And that’s just the cheddar.

Its website tells me that it sells 343 different cheese products. I’m all for choice, but, good grief!

Interestingly, looking at a website for a rival big multinational, I find they sell 344 of these products. Perhaps I should go there, instead? I wouldn’t want to miss out on a shopping opportunity. They might be able to offer me a better ‘shopping experience.’ For my ‘shopping solutions.’

Why do advertising agencies have to come up with that drivel?

And that brings me to another interesting thought.

There is the push to encourage all shoppers to use the ‘self’ check-outs, but at least they seem to have reined back a little on the verbal persuasions. I was standing in line at my ‘local’ small branch last year, when I was approached by a member of staff who suggested I use a ‘self’ check-out.

‘No thanks.’ I said.

‘It’s okay,’ he told me, ‘I’ll show you what to do.’

I can see perfectly well what to do. I don’t intend to use it.’

‘Why not, sir?’

‘Because it’s sole purpose is to take away your jobs.’

‘That’s not so…’

‘I suggest you look at their website, then. Because I have. It clearly states that is one of the advantages of buying one.’

Damn the lot of them.

1000 Up

Apparently, I how have 1000 followers.

Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!

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But, really?

I suppose this should be reason to celebrate, or at least look pleased with myself, but let’s just stop a moment and examine the figures a little.

Out of those 1,000 followers, 150 of those are my Facebook friends.

Because that’s what WordPress does, it automatically adds them to your tally. No matter if they are all blog followers anyway, they add the lot. So lots have been counted twice.

So that takes out around 50.

And of the rest of my Facebook friends, a good half never, ever, visit my blog (fickle lot!).

So, another 50 gone. And we’re down to 900.

But out of those 900, there are a lot who have left the blogging scene completely. Without trawling through every one of them, it is fairly easy to take a random clutch of them (quite a large clutch, I must say) and go to see whether they are still active. It’s hardly a scientific method, but approximately one third have either disappeared completely, or haven’t posted for three months or more, leading me to suspect they’ve packed up.

So, down to about 600.

Of those 600, again looking at a few random clutches, after their initial contact and ‘follow’, I don’t think a good third ever came back again; they probably just hoped to get a follow back.

Down to about 400.

And out of those, about a third again don’t seem to have visited for at least a year.

So, I suspect the number of actual, active followers is close to 250, or a quarter of the ‘official’ figure.

But what does it matter, anyway? The point about posting is that someone should read what has been written, and then hopefully interact by commenting occasionally, or at least ‘liking’ now and again. It’s not compulsory, of course, but it would be odd if a regular visitor never did either. So as long as I get a decent number of regular readers who do interact with my posts, I’ll be a happy bunny.

On the other hand, if this post gets 1000 likes, I will eat my words.

Fate

There is no such thing as fate; not in the sense that something was somehow pre-ordained to happen to us. Always, we have free will.

Always, we can make our own choices.

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People sometimes talk about momentous decisions, about arriving at a crossroads and having to make a choice of some sort, but every moment in life is, in reality, one such crossroads. Even the smallest choices, such as whether to have tea or coffee, or whether to cross over to walk on the sunny side of the street, might have major consequences. Consequences we cannot foresee.

And we do not see the consequences of an alternative choice, because we always make the choice and move on; we can never go back and make a different decision and thereby see how things might have turned out so differently.

And sometimes, those decisions we assume are going to be momentous, are nothing of the sort.

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is not fate, it is chance.

Fate itself is no more than chance.

It is the path that we have chosen, and every single moment we can make choices that will change our lives for ever.

Exciting, huh?

The Collector

Inspiration, writers’ block, ideas…I could write about all or any of these topics. Instead, I thought I’d simply post another poem – plus, of course, a picture (with far better weather than we’re having here) – and let it do the job instead.

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I’m a collector of images long stored in my memory,

A desert inferno of razor-sharp rocks.

A mountain breeze rippling an icy cold puddle,

Thick mists and thin soups, flowers, trains, and old shoes.

 

I’m a collector of memories, both mine and ones borrowed,

The harrowing journey, the lovers’ first kiss.

There’s betrayal and loyalty, flatulence, hope,

There’s a child being born, and a wolf at the door.

 

I’m a collector of stories, the stranger the better,

Believable, odd, and ridiculous too.

Close to home or historical, alien, fanciful,

Some to keep secret and some I can tell.

 

I’m a collector of moonbeams and of chance reflections,

A collector of sadness and bittersweet pain.

A collector of strangely shaped stones in a circle,

And dreams that tell stories I don’t understand.

 

Some Flower Paintings

All poppies, in fact.

Since the weather is so miserable outside, it seemed a good idea to inject some colour into my life. Or into my blog, anyway.

I hope you enjoy them.

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Poppy #1. Acrylic on board. Size: 11ins x 14ins.

poppies and daisies

Poppies and Daisies. Acrylic on Board. Size: 18ins x 24ins.

poppies

Poppies. Acrylic on board. Size: 24ins x 18ins.