Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Now correct me if I'm wrong but...

I thought the economy was here to serve the needs of society, and not that society was here to be subserviant to the needs of the economy.

Maybe I'm just strange, but that appears to be how we live now.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Promised Land

It's time for something different. Yes...time to publish some song lyrics...I'm afraid you'll have to imagine the world-class music that goes with them!

The Promised Land

He arrived in San Francisco, back 1849
Came round the Cape Horn searching for his fortune
Followed all the wagon trains, running from his life
Climbing over mountain trails to where there was a fortune

He’s a gold prospector
Burning in the mid-day sun
His water bottle empty
His nuggets all hard-won
Digging in the dirt
With bloodied, blistered hands
A Frisco 49er
Searching for his promised land.

Left his golden dreams, buried in a riverbed
Went back to San Francisco, still without his fortune
Found himself out on the street, reduced to eating bread
Came across a pack of cards. Time to win his fortune.

He’s a desperate gambling man
Choking in the blackjack hall
Down to his last dollar
Waiting for the cards to fall
Through weary, bloodshot eyes
He’s bluffing with an empty hand
Drinking with the local whores
And dreaming of his promised land

Sleeping in an empty doorway, he’s a man who’s all alone
Sheltering from a vengeful wind, ten thousand miles from home
A shadow of his former self, he’s pawned everything he owned
Now huddled tight against the cold, dreaming of a golden road.

He’s a man without a home
A nomad with a wandering soul
Searching for his life’s big break
Waiting for Fate’s dice to roll
Haunting all the streets and docks
His dreams now turned to sand
Believing each new ship that comes
Will take him to his promised land.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tips for enjoying life No. 1

Have you ever just sat beneth a tree, closed your eyes and listened to the wind rustle through the leaves above? I recommend it.

A glass of red wine helps too!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Travel: Snowman Trek (Part VIII Days 19 - 21)

Day 19

This was a shorter day as we trekked along the undulating plateau. We were treated to a sparkling clear day and magnificent views of this barren landscape as well as a clear panorama of the surrounding mountains. The landscape can only be described as severe, with jagged mountains and shattered scree covering slopes in every direction, caused by the freeze-thaw action of water. There were more lakes and streams, many of which were in streambeds far bigger than their current volume required – an indication that during the snowmelt vast quantities of water tumble across the plateau before thundering down to the valleys below. We also came across small glaciers that were carving their own valleys. At this altitude, even the 100-metre or so climb to the two passes we went over, including Loju La, felt difficult, however we persevered and eventually reached our camp at Jichu Dramo.

(View from Loju La)

(View across the plateau)

Day 20

Today we climbed over the highest point on our trek, Rinchen Zoe La. This pass is recorded as anywhere between 5360m and 5600m, so I will settle on 5450m and hope that is somewhere near the right answer. Below the pass was a milky white lake full of sediment from melting ice. We spent a while at the pass getting photos and generally enjoying the ‘peak’ of our trek and looking at Gankar Pussum, at 7561m the highest moutnain in Bhutan. Then it was down, a long walk past some lakes with some occasionally boggy areas to walk across. We descended a steep-sided valley and found a campsite on the flat valley floor at about 4400 metres. The additional oxygen down here was immediately noticeable after the best part of three days over 5000 metres. The dinner that night was very enjoyable as we celebrated the biggest pass of the trip. We had just one pass left to conquer and that was a comparatively modest 4655 metres.

(View of Gankar Pussum)

(Lake on the way down from Rinchen Zoe La)

Day 21

Our yak herders had already left early, racing to get the best campsite for the next night as there were limited choices. They left at a run! It has snowed in the night and we had a cold start, but it did wake us up. We carried on at a more sedate pace, descending below the tree line and down towards the valley floor. As we reached the bottom by the river, the valley became extremely narrow and steep – a real v-shape. It was like walking between two walls. We found a pleasant, if somewhat muddy, clearing where we had lunch. It was used as a campsite by yak herders and had copious amounts of yak dung lying on the grass.

(It was cold in the toilet tents this morning!)

After lunch, which was a good opportunity to rest weary legs, we carried on and found ourselves climbing up the side of the v-shaped valley. This was a tough climb that took us about 3 hours. It was a winding path up through the forest that gave us magnificent glimpses of the valley falling away below us. As we neared the top of the climb, the slope eased and we were treated to a sheer rock face rising at least 100 metres above us. Then it was up alongside the waterfall, a very steep and demanding section, and then over to the lake where our campsite was situated. A short half hour walk around the lake and we were there. Our yak herders had won the race and we had the best site. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground and snow-capped peaks above. In the evening light, the lake was a magnificent blue against the mountains and sky, and was framed by the rising evening mist from the valley below. It was a cold night, but tomorrow was the last pass.

(Evening at Tampe Tsho)

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Ashes is back in English hands (the 5th Test)

So the Urn is back in English hands…hurrah!

Freddie Flintoff did bugger all in this match, but his mere presence on the field seemed to be enough to spur Stuart Broad on to great things. He did run out Captain Pout…so we can’t ignore him entirely. It was a good note on which to retire.

Captain Pout spent far too much time gobbing on his hands and far too little time at the crease. But he cannot be blamed for this loss – unless his psychic abilities that failed to win him the toss are considered.

Nathan Hauritz probably needs treatment for depression after missing out on the best turning pitch of the series. He was a forlorn character for most of the match as he watched each puff of dust with an agonised expression.

However, the performance of the series goes to…the Australian selectors. Nobody can deny that their steadfast refusal to play a specialist spinner at the Oval was the single most influential performance of the whole series. North toiled away stoically, however it was not ever going to be enough.

There were, however, some other notable performances. Shane Watson made sure that everyone was worried about the pitch by nervously looking at it and constantlypatting it down. His psychological attack on his own team must go down as a crucial act in this test. They spent 5 overs getting the first five runs and after that it was such a struggle. Australia’s batsmen made the pitch look like a minefield, and then England cantered to almost 400 on it. The pitch was not a factor until the last innings.

Even so Strauss appeared very reluctant to win. He did his best to ensure no wickets fell early by refusing to put in close catchers and giving the batsmen an easy ride. I think he was probably beaten up after day 3 and told not to be so soft on poor Aussies.

Ian Bell, showed how is apparent inability to hit a straight ball was, in fact, just a ploy to lull the bowlers into a false sense of security. His seventy in the first innings was vital. However, I don’t think it was necessary for him to use the ploy of being unable to make the grade again in the second innings when England needed runs. That was just showing off.

Scattergun Johnson once again struggled to find a good length, and sometimes struggled to find the cut surface. He tried to break his own foot with a bouncer (perhaps he thought that injuring himself might result in a proper bowler being used!), but merely sent it ballooning over the batsman’s head for a wide. He managed to take the same number of wickets as Siddle at about the same average – but without anywhere near the same impact. Once again Hilfenhaus was the best bowler – the quiet achiever.

And what about Hussey? Too little, too late...but maybe there is more to come.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Normal Service has been resumed - The Headingly Test

Ok. Normal service has been resumed in the Ashes. As collapses go, England showed that they are the masters of the triple bogey, double summersault spineless capitulation. At least they improved in the second innings with some spirited batting by the new boys. Time for some changes?

I wouldn’t normally say that after one defeat, but the next test decides the Ashes so this is no time to go for youth over experience. England has had a gaping hole in their batting between the openers and number 6, a hole wider than the Grand Canyon that needs to be filled up quickly.

On to specifics though.

Stuart Broad played as if he had some aggression about him, both with bat and ball. I thought the snarling and staring showed the Australians a thing or two. It might have had more effect if England were not 300 runs behind at the time and looking decidedly shaky and the game was, to all intents and purposes, over. Still, it was good practice for the future.

England’s bowlers showed their true spirit with an act of charity that must go down in history as one of the best. The way they studiously avoided bowling any dangerous balls for the vast majority of Australia’s innings showed what gentlemen they are.

Scattergun Johnson finally got some reward for bowling his brand of random deliveries with a haul of 5 wickets. Imagine the surprise of the batsmen when he managed to bowl more than one straight ball every ten overs.

Peter Siddle’s liberal application of sunscreen on his lip finally paid dividends with the resultant glare getting him a bagful of wickets by blinding the batsmen and umpire at the same time. This is just as I predicted.

Ravi Bopara is saving up his big innings for The Oval. He has successfully lulled the Australian bowlers into a false sense of security and will light up the ground with a sublime double hundred. Mark my words (unless of course he isn’t picked – in which case he will languish on the sidelines with Bell-like grumpiness).

Ian Bell showed why he has been overlooked for the England side for a while. I assume that his selection was just a form of ‘ground truthing’ to make sure his initial dropping was the right thing to do.

Harmison took a wicket in his first over and then relaxed into his normal Johnson-like randomness, with the exception of a spell where Watson, for some reason, played as if the lights had gone out. I foresee a rest for Harmie.

But who is that I see in the shadows…is it Mark Ramprakash once again averaging over 100 in the county season (Third time in four years), is Marcus Trescothick averaging 78 this season and pondering whether he can do one more test for England, or is it Ian Trott, young and keen and averaging over 80 this season. Or is it all three?. My betting is that England will change at least two batsmen and drop Harmison for Flintoff. If they don’t change at least two middle order batsmen, they are buggered. This is one test that has to be won and not one where youth is to be nurtured.

PS. And Captain pout didn’t pout. Hallelujah. I didn’t check to see how much spit he layered onto his hands in this test.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

DiVenuto and Harmison in fine form - but for Durham

Yes...Michael DiVenuto scored 254 this week...and Harmie took a few wickets. And a test was played at Edgebaston in between the rain periods. Harmison looks like his form is on the wane though, and this probably means that he'll come into contention for the Oval test match - a flat batting track where underperforming bowlers get hammered. The selectors will wait until he achieves Mitchell Johnson-like accuracy and then pick him - dropping Broad who is starting to look like a test match bowler.

But on to the test match.

Phillip Hughes was dropped and then whinged about it on Twitter. He's looking like future captain material. Watson came in and looked like an opening batsman, before playing Freddie Flintoff into form with some pop-gun bowling. Haddin was awarded the Glen McGrath medal for injuring himself in the warm-up and allowing Graham Manou to make his test debut.

Johnson once again bowled some surprise straight balls, although I must admit that he did find a few more than usual scattered between his randomly directed thunderbolts. Hilfenhaus once again shouldered the burden of bowling England out - surely he's now running classes on swinging the ball for other Australian bowlers. Siddle

I also noted the return of sledging to the game. Or perhaps they were just passing the time of day during the dull parts of this match. Maybe Broad was explaining to Johnson about bowling and the art of getting it to go straight? Who knows, but Swann was certainly doing that and it paid dividends when his coaching finally paid-off when Johnson got his wicket. This is what all coaches live for. I'm sure Swann felt a warm feeling of satisfaction as he walked off. He may also need to coach Captain Pout on playing off-spin too - judging by the large gap between bat and pad that Punter obligingly left for him to exploit in the second innings. Memories of Harbajan Singh must have come flooding back.
The Edgebaston pitch become a bit lively with the rain, but then realised its reputation was at stake and settled down in the last two days to become the featherbed we all know it is. Once this happened there was no danger of either side winning.
The return of Ian Bell caused no waves whatsoever - I was hoping this well known whinger would compete with Captain Pout, but alas he kept quiet, obviously content with the amount of whinging he'd already done about being dropped from the team in the first place. With his colouring he reminds me of a mimime Boris Becker - but without the power, the sense of humour, charisma, or physique or the tennis racket (boom boom).
Michael Hussey showed that he is master of leaving the straight delivery...few other batsmen can have shown such a skill as he. Michael Clarke showed that he is possibly the best batsman on either side and ruined a good match by stubbornly batting through the last day. Surely the crowd derserved a batting collapse or two...but it was not to be.
And one point to raise. I have noticed that Captain Pout reached a milestone to be remembered. I'm not talking about him becoming Australia's highest scoring batsmen by passing the gritty and far grumpier Allan Border (although Border did have good reason to be Captain Grumpy given the sides he had to captain and frequency with which he found himself facing the might of the West Indies and watching a spectacular batting collapses while he himself stoically batted on).

I am infact referring to Captain Pout becoming the greatest ever spitter. It is a little known fact that no cricketer has ever directed so much sputum onto his hands in the history of test cricket. He has kept up a steady stream of spit into his palms and during this test reached the milestone of 100 gallons. He is to be commended and it seems unlikley that anyone will pass this record. Well done Captain Pout.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Of umpires, 'scattergun' Johnson and Freddie's knee - Lord's Test 2009

England have broken their Lord’s hoodoo against Australia, and done it in style. There were some questionable decisions but, as I can attest from personal experience, people tend to remember the decisions that go against them when they lose and don’t worry too much if their team won. Having said this, the umpiring has not been of the standard required for test cricket. Perhaps this is because umpires are now trying to second-guess what the TV replay is going to show – I don’t know.

But on to the cricket. Phillip Hughes has to stop trying to tread on the square-leg umpire’s toes every time a short ball is bowled at him – imagine him against the West Indies of old – he’d have had a test career with the longevity of an ice-cube in an oven. Toughen up son! Get your back foot in line and you won’t have to worry as much about edging to the slips. You looked like a timid schoolboy.

Michael Clarke looks the goods, and Hussey managed to get some semblance of form and was a touch unlucky (just a touch!). Punter did a magnificent job of keeping Broad’s confidence up. I think he’s trying to keep him in the side for the next test and trying to keep Harmison out. But Harmie will play in the next test – take my word on this. Broad will need a haircut and this will be just the excuse England need to drop him.

But what of scattergun Johnson? He once again got wickets with his elusive straight ball. Keep him in the side I say…he’s great entertainment. Perhaps he’ll be kept in for his batting.

Nathan Hauritz continues to do his best to disprove my theory that only his mum would have selected him for Australia. Perhaps his mum should have picked the whole team. He continues to masquerade as a test-class spinner, and seems to be doing a good job of it.

Freddie once again proved that only having one good leg is not enough to stop him single-handedly wresting the Ashes from Australia’s grasp. Personally, I thought Strauss missed an excellent opportunity in the first innings to send Freddie in at number three when England had just put on 186 for the first wicket. A quick 40 or 50 would have been the equivalent of a few solid punches below the belt. It would have been worth the risk. I predict that by The Oval, Freddie will be roaring in, in a wheelchair, and still delivering 150kmh thunderbolts.

KP continues to limp and this means that England is two legs short of a fit cricket team. Surely a team with only 20 legs between them did not beat Australia. Bopara continues to promise a Gower-like innings without actually delivering one, Collingwood still refuses to smile while batting, Prior just belts it, and is very entertaining as a result, and Cook is looking bewildered by the crap bowling he gets to play him in at the beginning of his innings and the way his technical flaws are studiously ignored until he has got some runs. Strauss can obviously only go downhill from here!

Graeme Swann finally showed some of the flight and guile that has taken him so many wickets in the last year. Possibly the ball of the match that got Clarke.

Punter Ponting has some decisions to make. Is Lee fit and will he better his bowling average of 40 in the last series if he is selected here? Is Stuart Clarke fit, and will either of these bowlers replace Johnson’s stoic batting at number 8? But Punter he has re-affirmed his faith in Johnson and Hughes – surely the proof that their places are in jeopardy – but there is no reserve specialist batsman.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Saga of Punter's Bottom Lip - Of time-wasting and the absence of Warne and McGrath (1st Test)

The first test ended in a draw...Siddle didn't take a bag of wickets, Hauritz outstripped expectations (including mine), Punter scored a magnificent hundred as did three others, the umpiring was woeful, Collingwood showed enough guts for the whoe team, and KP played perhaps the worst shot of his career - so far.

However, as I predicted, Punter's bottom lip was in evidence in the last session. His unhappiness about England's time-wasting tactics was more from frustration that he couldn't land the killer blow. One session, three wickets needed, a new ball, and batsmen of the class of Panesar and Anderson, and he still couldn't finish it off. Don't let the time-wasting issue distract you...Australia weren't good enough to bowl England out twice in the time available - with the aid of a bit of rain.

Also, as I predicted, Mitchell Johnson got wickets with surprise straight balls. Poor old Cook was so worried about his off-stump he forgot to hit one that was going to hit middle. Johnson struggled get anything near the stumps for 90% of the time. This hardly boded well for his ability to bowl out the tail - those guys simply aren't good enough to hit anything wide to the fielders - and so it proved.

It is now clear (as it always was to true cricketing fans) that without Warne and McGrath, Australia would win less tests. The batting is still OK, although they weren't really tested this time, but the bowling is average for test match cricket.

Umpiring. My god...I can remember at least four LBWs given not out that were clearly out (2 on each side) and I saw Andrew Strauss robbed of a run when the ump gave a leg-bye to a ball that missed the middle of his bat by a centimetre or so. Even so it was a gripping last day and good for the series. It's all still alive.

My sources (and they are as reliable as rain in the Sahara) tell me that Harmison is a shoe in for the next test, and that Siddle is looking for a brighter zinc cream. They also tell me that Simon Jones watched the England bowlers this weekend and reckons that he could do better even if he only has one good leg. Watch this space...who knows what could happen at the England selection table.

That's all for now...keep tuned in for the exciting installment of The Saga of Punter's Bottom Lip

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Punter's pout or Flintoff's knee - what will have the biggest impact on the Ashes?

OK, the Ashes are starting and it is time for me to start staying up until the ungodly hours of the early morning to watch the action live. Who will win? Some people may say ‘Who cares who wins,’ but they are philistines and do not deserve any attention. Cricket is, after all, the best game in the world. Anyhow, on to important matters.

I foresee that the series will be close and that England will win (I think the couple of nights staying up watching the Tour de France have already made me delirious). In between the following events;

  • Punter Ponting sulking when things are not going his way,
  • Andy Strauss suffering anxiety attacks every time he watches Flintoff running in to bowl (wondering which part of his world class all-rounder is going to break this time),
  • the whole of Australia, except his mum, wondering why Nathan Hauritz was picked and what he’s going to do from now on,
  • and the whole cricket world wondering why on earth Cardiff was picked to host the first test and what on earth the Welsh know about cricket?. I suppose they did give us Simon Jones and that can't be underestimated - England could do with him now.

    I think England will win 3-1.

Some further predictions:

  • Peter Siddle will probably take the most wickets for Australia assisted by the glare coming off the zinc cream on his lips (no one has told him the sun doesn’t shine in the UK).
  • Michael Johnson will settle into a line a whole metre outside off-stump and take wickets with his surprise straight ball.
  • Jimmy Anderson will befuddle the Australian top order with his swing bowling hoping they are good enough to get an edge. He will have a better than even chance of having nervous break down as they keep wafting and missing causing him to question what he has done to deserve such poor luck.
  • Alistair Cook will vainly try to bend his surgically straightened front leg and not to fall to Stuart Clark’s unerring off-stump line.
  • Flintoff will break both his legs and still carry on resolutely taking a series-winning 5 wicket haul in the final test.
  • Punters bottom lip will cause bad light to stop play as it blocks out the sun when things are going against Australia.
  • Steve Harmison will magically re-find his form in county cricket and be ignored by the England selectors for the whole summer.
  • Shane Warne and Ian Botham will be called upon to don their whites due to injuries and have a gripping battle as Botham tries to score the quickest hundred in test history while saving England from defeat.

I kid you not...this will all happen. I stand by my predictions and will wager at least 10 cents on the outcome.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Travel: The Snowman Trek (Part VII - Days 16-18)

Day 16

This was a long walk. We began by crossing the pass above Green Lake (Keche La – 4665m) and then began a long and steep descent into the valley of the Pho Chhu. It was not a particularly challenging descent and we came across some villages on our way down including Tega, where we stopped to take in the views of the valley and look at a local Chorten. Across the valley there were hanging valleys and waterfalls cascading down from the plateau above. Below was a sheer gorge with a raging river. It was quite relaxing!

(View into the valley from Tega)

From Tega we descended before coming across a bridge that took us over a waterfall entering the valley. It was loud and a bit wet, but another good place to stop and take in the views. Once we reached the Pho Chhu we came across two of the local girls who were collecting wood. They kindly posed for a photo. It was interesting to see the significantly different clothing they wore compared to the Layaps. We walked along a very rocky trail before climbing up the steep banks (about 20 – 30metres) to the village of Lehdi. It was raining now and there was a cold wind; we were glad to find some shelter in the lee of a hut where we could eat our lunch.

(Some locals near Lhedi)

All that was left was a long walk up the valley to Chozo. In our way we glimpsed the magnificent Kungfu Kung (7100m) as it appeared out of the clouds. This wasn’t a particularly steep walk; however the final climb up the valley through large boulders seemed to take a long time. I think we were all glad to see Chozo when we came around the final corner. The village was bathed in soft sunshine that was spearing in through the clouds. I looked to the east to see Table Mountain, however all I could see was a cascade of cloud tumbling down the west face, the summit and top half of the mountain being obscured. We had a rest day to look forward to and I was not going to waste it!

(Arriving at Chozo)

Day 17

I did very little on this rest day, other than wander around the village. Miriam and I persuaded one of our guides, Ash, to take us to look at the monastery. This was also a fortress, the only one in the Lunana region. It was the only traditional designed Bhutanese monastery we had seen, however we were not able to gain entrance as there was no caretaker around. It is said to be over 600 years old.

Some of the group, only two (perhaps three) went to visit the nearby village of Thanza, somewhat closer to the base of Table Mountain. Now…Table Mountain. This is an awesome piece of rock; there is no other way to describe it. It rises some 3km from the valley floor to its flat summit (approximately 7100m). The summit stretches for kilometres and has a cornice of snow on top that must be a couple of hundred metres thick. It dominates the view east from Chozo with its seemingly vertical west face. Simply magnificent!

(Table Mountain)

The locals came to visit camp and chat as best they could with us. The lad with the big purple hat was a standout among the locals! There was also a house blessing going behind the camp, so there was an opportunity to visit and experience this ceremony. I felt (rightly or wrongly) that I would be intruding so stayed at the camp.

I could have spent the whole day just staring at it, but I had washing to do and lunch to eat, as well as morning and afternoon tea etc. One of the guides showed me the route we would be taking the next day up on to the Lunana plateau. It didn’t look too bad. I ended up thinking that it was a good time to have a rest day.

Day 18

After a chilly start to the morning we crossed a short bridge over the Pho Chhu and began the long climb up to the Lunana Plateau. By golly it was tough! Even the yaks were puffing and panting when they finally caught us and left us behind. We climbed up over 1000 metres to Sintia La, and it took me about 5 hours. We stopped for lunch on some rocky outcrops not far beneath the final pass. Up here there were small glaciers coming down from the craggy plateau edge and a view back towards Table Mountain and Kungfu Kung that was ample reward for the hard work. We were even rewarded with a spectacular avalanche on Table Mountain. We had heard the rumbling of a few avalanches in the morning; however we only saw this one.

(Avalanche on Table Mountain)

Once we reached the plateau we came a across a beautiful, if barren, landscape. It was rocky and framed by snow-capped peaks, with small lakes and streams cutting through the rocks. There were more of the strange alpine plants unique to this part of the world, and we were blessed with clear, crisp weather. While our path was reasonably easy, off to the east were large craggy peaks beside deep valleys that had been incised into the plateau. We strolled with comparative ease across this landscape but the altitude did eventually start to tell. We were staying up at about 5000 metres for two days. By the end of the day, the campsite at Tsho Chena could not come soon enough.

(On the plateau)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Travel: The Snowman Trek (Part VI - Days 13-15)

Day 13

After a windy night we awoke to a cloudy day that proved to be a poor photo day. We climbed up to a valley that was quite open and it was here that we saw some of the rheum nobile – a cylindrical plant that was either red or yellow. It’s a strange plant and I am sorry to say that none of my attempts to capture it on film were successful due to the light (or perhaps my ability with a camera?). Another steep climb followed and we got tantalising glimpses of a big mountain high up in the clouds. A lot of the day involved climbing over moraine and rocks and it proved to be reasonably challenging. By this time we were at about 4900 metres. It was cold and I looked forward to having dinner and then climbing into my sleeping bag.

(Our yaks and yak herders appearing through the mist)

Day 14

I awoke on Day 14 of the trek aware that the tent felt rather warmer than it probably should, given that it was snowing when we went to bed the previous night. As I managed to focus my eyes I could see shadows on the side of the tent. At the same time as I touched them they moved with a ‘sssshhhhh’ sound as the snow slid down towards the ground. A cursory look outside the tent revealed a white landscape that was gloomy under the blanket of a thick mist.

After we had breakfast the mist lifted and we were treated to a magnificent view down the valley with the sun casting a soft light on the snow. We could see for miles. Many miles. There were peaks stretching off in the distance as we looked west towards Nepal. Opposite was Gangla Karchang, a magnificent, sheer rock that reached up to 6300 metres. It was difficult to understand that it was over a kilometre higher then we were – it seemed almost close enough to reach out and touch. The scale of the landscape was very deceptive.

It was a short climb up to the pass (5020 metres) during which time magnificent, if small, glaciers were visible, along with the seasonal deposition lines in the snow. After crossing Karakachu La we began a long descent. Very early on I was able to catch an avalanche on film. This morning was one of the most spectacular on the whole trek. The clear sky and crisp morning snow made the thin air much less tiring, and the view from the pass was awe-inspiring with 7000 metre peaks marking the border with Tibet. Below the peaks was a precipitous valley some 3km lower. These views made the 1000 metre steep climb down from the pass into the valley more seem easier than it actually was. There were plenty of opportunities to stop and admire the view and the rhododendrons.

(On the way up to Karakachu La)

(View from Karakachu La)

(Avalanche on way down from Karakachu La)

Once we reached the valley floor it was a three-hour walk along the flat valley floor to the camp. However, because we had spent so long talking to our Bhutanese guide, Sonam, about the flora of the area, we ended up reaching the camp in the dark using torches. It has been a hard day, but the views were easily the best yet and made the effort seem a small price to pay to see them.

Day 15

We started today walking through the bottom of a glaciated valley that had many large boulders strewn along its length. The river, Tarina Chuu gurgled happily beside us, making the walk rather pleasant, although there were some rather muddy patches.

(The Tarina Chu)

We then began a long climb up towards the village of Woche. This was, as usual, quite demanding and took up until lunchtime. At Woche we lay on the grass and had lunch in the afternoon sun, and watched the locals at work preparing their wheat. It was quite idyllic, however we did need to move on to the next camp.

(Kids at Woche)

We left the village and crossed a large moraine deposit which involved many short, steep climbs before we got to cross the Woche Chuu. As we came down towards the bridge one of our yaks fell in the raging torrents (it’s a reasonably wide river) and we watched as the yak herders kept their heads and managed to guide it back on to the shore. If we had lost the yak, we would have lost everything attached to it for good. However, I’m sure the yak was even more please than we were with its survival!

Just to finish off the day, then came to a very steep climb up to our campsite. It was at least 50-70 metres and proved to be a real effort. Just what we needed. The camp was right next to Green Lake and gave us a great view of Kangphu Kang (7200m) to the north. The lake was indeed green and provided a much-appreciated place to stop for the night.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Travel: The Snowman Trek (Part V - Days 10-12)

Finally got around to the next installment of the Snowman Trek. Read for days 10-12.
Day 10

Only a half-day walk today. Four hours and only sixty metres of climbing and we would be in Laya. As in all cases when the day promises to be easy, it is always just that little bit harder than expected. Nonetheless after leaving camp and walking along an undulating path with lots of short, sharp climbs and descents, we came over a ridge and found ourselves on a plateau and only a few minutes walk from the village of Laya. Having flat ground was a bit of a novelty, as was a collection of houses greater than a handful.

(Arriving in Laya)

After finding our campsite, having a hot lunch in one of the houses (adorned with a very clear picture of a penis – apparently a holy man came through Bhutan a few hundred years ago and his teachings included putting such paintings on houses protected their occupants from bad luck and evil spirits) and spending some time watching the locals go about their business sorting the grain and wheat, it was time to do the usual chores that come with time at a campsite – generally washing and dying clothes. There were also a couple of shops that became apparent after some looking around.

(Layan Lady)
Our leader had thought that, as we were all travelling well, we could ignore the scheduled rest day and keep on moving the next day and give ourselves an extra day ‘in the bank’ in case of trouble later on in the trek. However, our change of yaks had not yet arrived and would not be arriving until late tomorrow. So could relax and rest instead.

(Typical Bhutanese architecture in Laya)

Day11 (Rest Day)

So, what do you do for a day in Laya? There were some shops to go and explore, there were view aplenty to sit and gaze at for a while, and there were hours to snooze and regain some of the energy that had been lost on the previous leg of the trek. Some of the guys visited the local school and had a good time talking with the teachers and children.

One of our crew livened up proceedings by finding a plank of wood and fashioning a cricket bat. We made a ball out of whatever we could find – lots of tape, and then the game was on. Cricket at 3900 metres! A good indication that I was over the altitude effects was that I could run around now and my headache had gone. We played around for an hour or so, repairing the bat when necessary, and providing some entertainment for the locals.

That evening we were treated to some traditional local dances and some local Black Mountain whisky. We partied on into the night, even getting up and trying to learn the dances, which were not that difficult, although some found them more challenging than others. I was happy that we had had a rest day. I felt refreshed and ready to tackle the next leg.

(The author drives through the covers in Laya - photo courtesy of my wife Miriam)

Day 12

Today we started going down; all the way down below 3300 metres. This was cruel, because we then had climb back up to 4200 metres. Once we had reached the bottom of the valley and crossed the Mo Chhu, we then began a long 100 metre climb back up to our camp for the evening.

This was a long climb up to Rodophu. At the start we made our way through often muddy and rocky forests with sharp, steep turns that provided very few places where we could move out of the way of our yaks when it was time to let them past. Like many other days, the yak’s passage gave us an opportunity to rest for a while. This was a seven-hour climb and it was relentless, particularly where there were high rock steps to climb up. The landslides were also interesting; they gave us an opportunity to look right down the precipitous slopes to the valley below.

On the bright side we saw yet more rhododendrons and pine trees, and the forest sheltered us from direct sunlight during the morning. It became cloudy later in the day, and rained a little bit. While we were still in the valley there were plenty of waterfalls coming down from the clouds above. We arrived at camp fairly late in the day and were happy to rest our feet. We were treated to a old hit, which sheltered us during dinner from the cold wind that was blowing in the evening. Well, partially sheltered us as there were no windows in the hut, but it was nice to sit inside. We did, of course, sleep in our tents. Tomorrow we would climb yet again to our highest camp to date, at just below 5000 metres.

(The camp at Rodophu)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Philosophy: Patience really is a good thing!

Patience is a virtue. This is an often quoted sentence and one which appears to be becoming increasingly ignored.

The ever accelerating nature of society and its desire for instant gratification has led to a widespread attitude that everything must be had now. If we can’t have it now, then we have to go and look for something else that is instantly available. Then, once we have whatever it is we obtained, be it either an object or an achievement, we are then immediately looking for the next step rather than enjoying or appreciating what we have.

The rate at which modern society loses interest in new things, on both an individual and societal basis, shows that not only are we losing patience but also that boredom is the result of this loss. Life has become more focused on achievement rather than the journey to achievement. This leaves people in a constant state of stress – unable to relax because there is always another goal which must be attained.

And what is boredom really? I can understand being a little bit bored at work when a job is not stimulating, but there is no excuse for boredom at home. Boredom at home is surely just a sign of a lack of imagination, and probably the reason why so many sit transfixed by the gogglebox as it spews tripe at them. But I digress.

A little bit of patience brings relief from stress and can also bring a far greater reward than the endless treadmill of goal-oriented high achievement. The patience to sit in front of a painting at an art gallery and marvel at the intricate brushwork and the imagination and the talent of the painter to produce such a dynamic picture brings an affirmation that we, as humans, have an immense amount of talent stored away if we could only access it. It may have taken the painter months or even years to produce the work. It would have been unachievable without a good store of patience. The same can be said of authors, architects (at least those who genuinely want to create, rather than build a box!) and many other creative people. Accessing this talent is usually the problem, sometimes because people may grow up being told they have no talent, but also when people don’t have the patience or imagination to try new things. How do you know if you can paint or not unless you try? One of my lost opportunities is drawing; I know I can draw because on one, and only one, occasion I drew a walking boot in incredible detail, but I haven’t had the patience to it again. It did, however, help me get rid of the notion that I couldn’t say I couldn’t do something unless I had first tried it.

However, perhaps the most important use of patience is to take time to learn about ourselves as individuals. There are so many messages being thrown at us every day verbally, visually or subliminally, that it is difficult to sort out what we want as individuals from what we are being told we should want by other interested parties. These include private companies, advertising firms, our employers, our families, government and many more. It is like trying to see the night sky through a telescope in the middle of a city. The stars are visible, but without seeing what the night sky is like without all the light interference from an urban area, we are unaware of how magnificent it really is.

It takes a significant amount of patience to sit and learn about yourself. Some people never find this patience and go through life in cascade of ever-changing values dependent on the latest expectations others have of them. This patience might be thought of as meditation, but I do not necessarily agree with that interpretation as patience and self-knowledge are not necessarily about spirituality. The application of patience in life provides a long-lasting benefit. It allows us to spend time thinking about what we really want, not what society and/or mass marketers are telling us we should want. Once we know this, our decision-making processes become a lot less conflicted.

Patience allows unhurried and clear assessment of options and of opportunities. It is also a shield from over stimulation and a way in which life can be simplified and made far more enjoyable. It clears the fog that is advertising and spin and allows contemplation of what is on offer. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there needs to be certainty of outcome, far from it, but it does mean that if the future is clouded, this fact is accepted and doesn’t cause unnecessary stress. Patience will assist in bringing calm until the haze clears.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Travel: The Snowman Trek (Part IV - Days 7-9)

Day 7

After spending a night trying to sleep while the local dog population was intent on running riot through and around Chebise, we had a quick breakfast and then began our walking. We headed up towards the next pass – Gombu La. This was a very steep 450 metre climb up to the ridge on which the pass was located. The views back towards the mountains (Jichu Drake (6850m) and Tsheri Kang (6532m)) were magnificent, and made up for the burning feeling in my lungs and legs. I was even able to laugh when I left taking my picture of this view a little too late and had to put up with clouds obscuring the two peaks.

Looking back towards Jichu Drake (obscured by cloud)

The landscape up here was that of grasslands, probably inhabited by small mammals judging by the small burrows we came across. There were bound to be some birds of prey eyeing up these mountainsides looking for the merest hint of movement that would show them where their next meal might be. I didn’t see any, but others did.

It didn’t take more than about two hours to get to the pass, and then we began descending through forests of rhododendrons. As we walked down to lower altitudes we entered a forest of fir and larch trees that was full of autumn colours. Reds, oranges and yellows combined with the dark greens to make a wonderful sight. We stopped for lunch at a yak-herders shelter and enjoyed the opportunity to sit down and rest for a while.

On our way down we could see steep cliffs and gullies on either side of the valley. There were waterfalls cascading down from the cloud above that obscured their origin. The descent took some time and we eventually reached a braided river that we had to cross to get to our campsite on the other side. After a few hops and jumps we could sit down with a cup of tea and reflect on the successful completion of the first week of the trek.

Day 8

Yet another great breakfast to start the morning. Our cook once again excelled himself, filling us up with enough fuel for the day. I wish I could remember his name. I wrote them all down and now can’t find them.

This was a very hard day. We climbed up to over 4700 metres to Jare La in the morning. This was a climb of over 750 metres and it certainly felt like it. Being quite steep and with the cloud being low, we didn’t really know how far we had to go as we trudged on ever upwards. However, once we reached the pass, we were greeted with the smell of Sandalwood which reinvigorated us to some extent. We had a short stop here before we carried on and walked down through a beautiful, wet but treacherous forest. There were lots of sharp corners and the occasional slippery rock, but in between this there were some great views of the valley into which were going. The descent seemed to take a long time and was hard on our legs.

Once down into the valley we were able to relax a bit, and once we’d crossed a makeshift bridge we were on a flat valley floor. In the distance we could see a traditional black yak herder’s tent made of woven yak fur. I tried to get a photo, but it didn’t turn out very well, and we were keen to get to our camp for the night so we didn’t venture of the track too far.

To round the day off, we had a short but steep climb up to a flat campsite on a wide grassy plateau on the side of the valley. By this time I was looking forward to the traditional cup of tea and nibbles at the end of the day and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we were going to do our first 5000 metre pass; the crew filled us up with carbohydrates for dinner!

Day 9

Oh dear…this was a hard day. I wouldn’t usually swear, but - f***! Over 800 metres of climbing in the morning, and it was a rainy and grey experience. There are no pictures of this climb because I was tired, and it didn’t seem worth the effort to take pictures on such a dull day. And it was also quite slippery in many places.

Glacial lake and scour

There were no great views from the top; however the rain did ease once we made it over Sinche La (5005 metres) to the other side. Even though it was tough, it was sobering to see a member of another expedition being carried up the mountain on horse-back, clearly suffering from altitude sickness. The Bhutanese guide, Sangey, was genuinely worried about him. He made it over and down the other side, and on to the end of the trip, but this must have been a very bad day for him. It was good to see Sangey again, he had been our guide on a previous short trek in Bhutan, and he still had his sense of humour and mischief.

Coming down the mountain we had great views of the valley ahead, another classic glaciated U-shape with steep sides and scree-slopes. Further down we came across further evidence of glaciation - a scoured mountainside and glacial lake being retained by a terminal moraine. As walkers would know, after a long hard climb your legs can be a bit wobbly on the descent, so we found a good spot to sit and appreciate the view. There were yet more rhododendrons and fir trees on the steep hillsides which our path clung to.

On the way down from Sinche La

We carried on mainly down hill in the afternoon and camped in some sandy soil by a river. The next day promised a short walk to the village of Laya, and then we would change yaks and move on towards Chozo and the Lunana region.