Travel Blog

This page is intended for friends & family to follow my travels. I will try to update with news and travel notes & tips when and if I come across internet cafes.
14th August

Arrived safely in Ulaanbaatar- a LOT colder than expected...

HAPPY 30th BIRTHDAY SAILA!!!!!!!!!

6th of August 2009

In preparation for my trip, as always, I thought to gather as much information about my host country as possible before departure. I include below the facts which I- personally as someone about to travel over three days, boarding a number of non refundable Aeroflot flights transiting via Moscow, to eventually reach Ulaanbaatar- found most striking about Mongolia (all from Wikipedia):

Population density:

1.7 inhabitant per km2, least densely populated independent country on earth.

Geography & Climate:

Ulan Bator has the lowest average temperature of any national capital in the world.

The name "Gobi" is a Mongol term for a desert steppe, which usually refers to a category of arid rangeland with insufficient vegetation to support marmots but with enough to support camels.

Food and drink: :

The boodog, or marmot barbecue, is particularly worth experiencing. For about 10,000 tugrik, a nomad will head out with his rifle, shoot a marmot, and then cook it for you (…) the meat, vegetables, water and stones are cooked inside the skin of the animal. They skin it very carefully, and then tie off the holes at the legs and anus, put the food and hot stones inside, tie off the throat, and let it cook for about 30 minutes.
The national drink, made from fermented mare's milk, is called Airag and is certainly an acquired taste….if you aren't accustomed to drinking sour milk products the first time might give you diarrhea (…)There are numerous ways to describe the taste, from bile-like to a mixture of lemonade and sour cream. The texture can also be offsetting to some people since it can be slightly gritty. It is worth keeping in mind that Airag is milk and a source of nutrients (…) you might want to build up your tolerance by drinking lots of milk in preparation for your stay because they don't drink much else, except perhaps boiled water if you specially request it during a longer stay. Cold drinks don't actually exist in the countryside…it's generally recommended that you don't drink anything cold after eating mutton, as it can cause the fat to congeal in your stomach and make you ill.

Economy:
One of the poorest countries in the world
Inflation reached 40% in 2008
The Mongolian Stock Exchange, established in 1991 in Ulan Bator, is the world's smallest stock exchange by market capitalisation.
Health:
Nomads' dogs may have rabies.
Marmots should not be eaten at certain times of the year because they can carry bubonic plague. That said, the disease is carried by the marmot's fleas so the afflicted tend to be fur traders,


Having gathered the usual tourist information, I thought I should familiarize myself with the local etiquette so as not to commit any “faux-pas”...Mongolian etiquette rulebook transcribed in full below with some personal comments / gut reactions / general wonderments:

1. IF YOU ARE IN A GER AND FEEL THE CALL OF NATURE, GO OUT THE DOOR - WHICH ALWAYS FACES SOUTH - AND HEAD TO THE NORTH-WEST IF YOU ARE A MAN, THE NORTH-EAST IF YOU ARE A WOMAN. AT A SUITABLE DISTANCE YOU CAN RELIEVE YOURSELF. THERE IS NO TOILET IN A GER.

South?? North east??... Ordinarily such instructions would be a little confusing for someone like me (i.e: a woman with limited sense of direction :) .... Nevermind when I desperately need to wee after a few jolly rounds of fermented vodka mare milk!!! Undoubtedly one of the hardest etiquette rule I've ever come across in my travels...

2. WHEN LEAVING AN AIL, EITHER ON HORSEBACK OR IN A VEHICLE, DO SO IN A CLOCKWISE DIRECTION.

First what is an "ail" (I would have thought that would be my condition after a few Airag-on-the-rocks)? Second, referring back to the etiquette rule on the relief of oneself: if women must head north-east and men north-west when leaving the "ail" by the south door and must do so in a clockwise direction, does that mean that the men necessarily ride past the women on their way to relief???

3. REMEMBER THAT YOU WILL GENERALLY BE OFFERED FOOD IN A GER. MILK TEA, AIRAG VODKA, THEN BOILED SHEEP RIBS, FOLLOWED BY A STEW WOULD BE A TYPICAL MEAL. IT IS POLITE TO ACCEPT AT LEAST TWO BOWLS OF STEW.

4. WITH RIBS, ALWAYS STRIP ALL THE MEAT AND FAT AND LEAVE THE BONE CLEAN. "WE DON'T FORGET THAT WE HAVE TO KILL TO EAT, SO WE DON'T LEAVE ANYTHING ON THE BONE", IS THE ATTITUDE OF MONGOLIANS TOWARDS THEIR FOOD.

5. IF YOU ARE OFFERED A SNUFF BOTTLE, GENTLY LOOSEN THE TOP WITHOUT REMOVING IT, SNIFF IT, EXAMINE IT BRIEFLY AND THEN HAND IT BACK TO ITS OWNER. THE OWNER WILL SNIFF IT AGAIN BEFORE PUTTING IT AWAY OR PASSING IT TO ANOTHER GUEST. IF YOU HAVE YOUR OWN SNUFF BOTTLE, ALWAYS SNIFF IT FIRST BEFORE HANDING IT TO A FRIEND OR GUEST AND ONCE AGAIN AFTER IT HAS BEEN HANDED BACK.

6. IF YOU ARE OFFERED AIRAG VODKA, MAKE SURE YOUR SLEEVES ARE PULLED DOWN TO YOUR WRISTS AND THAT YOU ARE WEARING A HAT. IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A HAT, BRIEFLY PUT YOUR LEFT ARM OVER YOUR HEAD TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE FACT.

Daaaam i knew i should not have put my Ascott hat on sale on e-bay!! What will I wear now???

7. ALWAYS ENTER AND LEAVE A GER VIA THE LEFT-HAND SIDE.

If i understand correctly upon exit from the ger one must take a first left whilst going in a clockwise direction (does that then mean that the women get to walk past the men too?)…. Inside the ger meanwhile it is polite to sniff and it would be uncourteous not to drink vodka if any was offered.

8. IF, DURING A WEDDING OR GATHERING, YOU LEAVE THE GER TO ANSWER THE CALL OF NATURE, LEAVE YOUR HAT IN YOUR SEAT TO SHOW THAT YOU INTEND TO RETURN.

What if one leaves for reasons other than the relief of self, should one then still leave one's hat on one's seat? And if one does not have a hat, must one leave one's left arm instead? As for indicating "intention" to return: might one not be returning, despite one's intention, because one is desperately looking for an inhabitant to enquire where one may find a suitable "ail" to go round in a clockwise direction taking a first left on exit from the south door heading north-east to a suitable distance in an attempt to find some reception??

9. NEVER LOOK AT, OR FACE TOWARDS, A HOLY PLACE WHILE PERFORMING AN ABLUTION.

"performing an ablution"...what the h£ck is an ablution?!? Is it mandatory? Can one abstain? How often exactly do these have to be performed? And why o why must one not look at a holy place whilst performing it??...is it somehow sinful?? Oh dear lord...could it explain the dismal population density of the country or their acquired taste for nutrient-full sour milk?

10. DO NOT MAKE A HABIT OF PRAISING PEOPLE TO THEIR FACE. IT WILL NOT BE WELL RECEIVED.

Should I then infer that "your-nutrient-full-fermented-mare-milk-airag-looks-like-sperm-and-tastes-like-sweat" will be better received??? (note: to self: inversing the simile might qualify me more than the airag)

11. NEVER PASS ANYTHING BETWEEN THE TWO UPRIGHT SUPPORT POLES IN A GER.

I thought i'd read something else instead of pole and was thinking to myself that is was little wonder it was the least densely populated country on earth...must be down to something in the airag then...

12. IF YOU ARE OFFERED AIRAG, BUT DON'T WANT ANY, JUST PUT THE BOWL TO YOUR LIP AND THEN RETURN IT OR GIVE IT TO THE NEXT PERSON.

Should you do that even though the person before you was a marmot fur trader?

13. ALWAYS MAKE A POINT OF EXAMINING FAMILY PHOTOS AND ITEMS ON THE CUPBOARDS FACING THE DOOR OF THE GER. UNLIKE ENGLISH PEOPLE, MONGOLIANS DON'T MIND YOU PICKING UP AND EXAMINING PERSONAL OBJECTS IN THEIR GERS.

14. THERE IS GENERALLY NO NEED TO REMOVE YOUR SHOES WHEN ENTERING A GER.

Presumingly that is to enable faster exit through south door to relieve one self following the ingestion of the various stuffed and fermented delicacies in the ger (having of course taken a left to circle ger clockwise a few times before reaching a suitable distance to the north)

15. WHEN RECEIVING SOMETHING, EITHER FOOD OR AN OBJECT, TAKE IT IN BOTH HANDS OR IN YOUR RIGHT HAND SUPPORTED AT THE ELBOW BY YOUR LEFT HAND.

16. AFTER FINISHING A BOWL OF STEW, POUR MILK TEA INTO THE BOWL TO FINISH OFF THE LAST SCRAPS. IF YOU EAT YOGHURT, LICK THE BOWL CLEAN.

If only I could have read up on Mongolian etiquette 25 years earlier: not only would I probably not have booked non refundable tickets to Ulaanbaatar but also I could have used the knowledge to advise my parents that licking the bowl clean was nothing other than the manifestation of an acute concern for multi-cultural considerations as demonstrated by the integration of other nations’ customs and traditions into an otherwise intolerant and insular environment (yes that is how I expressed my inner thoughts as a 2 yr old!!- and you wonder why 25 yrs later I am going, somewhat disoriented, round a Mongolian “ail”, furiously cleaning my hands with antibacterial wipes, having politely “snuffed” the bottle of some nomad riding a camel who happens to be a marmot trader (the nomad, not the camel… In case that is not clear ?)




29 August 2008


ok I have about 55 minutes to try to tell you everything that has happened over the last few days... I ll do my best but so much has happened forgive me if its a little random / all over the place... I just don t know where to start, wanna tell you everything...

Ok, I am ashamed to admit it but with four four bodyguards attending to my every need I was somewhat bored the first few days...

Contemplating the freshly cut bouquet of flowers which awaken me every morning, I could not help but to think of Anna Karenina and iddeness as a human condition.... With four full time employee looking after my EVERY need, I had lots and lots of time to reflect on things like human nature, the relationship between man and nature, the disapearance of roots in the western world etc etc... but I wont bore you with all of that...

Oh God, I only have 38 minutes left... ok I ll skip the crocodiles, the monkey, the dolphins, the 5000 zillion birds & fish and the cameleon (officially the world's COOLEST animal, completly in love with cameleons!!!), and my 2 hrs swimming in the sea under torrential rain, and my being bitten by a shell fish, and the rice fields and the arrival of the fishermen by sea and the visits to the remote villages, the long discussings with Mansour, tonton, Marc, Kalilou on NGOs, marriage, religion, the price of rice which has doubled and so many other things, to tell you about TODAY!!!

The little girl, Djanaba, arrived yesterday with her little brother Cayre and her father- they left their village in Senegal Oriental a couple of days ago and have been traveling by Taxi to get to Ziguinchor, the nearest big town where I am staying... they were delayed because of the floods (I tell ya, the rain does not mess about here... forget the landmines and the rebels... the torrential rain and flooded roads ( if a collection of holes filled with water can be called roads) are far greater threats to safety!!!) so anyway they got here last night (they qre stqying with me at the guesthouse)... the girl and her brother are simply two of the most beautiful kids I have ever seen, they have angelic faces, are so affectionate, full of life... this morning we took Djanaba to the hospital to have her kists (spelling?) examined by the doctor (the purpose of the journey / trip)... I'l spare you a description of the hospital (the dead cat lful of flies ying in the waiting room, the buckets collecting the waer dripping from the roof, the power failure in the middle of the visit etc)- or lack therof anything which could qulify as such-... having had a quick look at her kysts the dr suggested it might be neuro-fibromateuse, a genetic condition which if left untreated can degenerate into cancer... to be sure though he wanted to remove one of the kists and have it sent for anlysis...so he proceeded with the mini operation... in the room were only the "surgeon", Marc (founder of help travel), Djanaba and myself... he asked us to assist with the operation as no one else was available to do so.. djanaba was terryfied, she was holding on to me so tight, as he inserted the needle with the local anasthetic, she was in so much pain, she started screaming in her dialect, we had to physically restrain her... the dr was not impressed with her cries of pain... no time for crying children here... those who get to the hospital should consider themselves lucky... I was doing my best to reassure her, carresing her face, closing her eyes, trying to get her to breath... all the while physically restraining her... as the anasthesic began to act, she calmed down, stopped screaming and was incredibly brave... unfortunately I was less so: there was blood everywhere, drippig on the foor, the surgeon was going straight in with her scalpel... I was trying to pull myself together thinking I could no possiby faint now... I really really tried my best not to pass out... but then the dr had to leave, he asked me to stop the blood flowing whilst he attended an emergency and as soon as he left the room... well back out... dont remember much ... Marc is there trying to stop the blood flowing out from Djanaba whilst trying to bring me back to consciousness with his foot... I come back to "life" only to find arc livid, white as a ghost, sweating and about to pass out himself (felt a bit less stupid- the man has been living 20 yrs in Africa, he must have seen a thing or two... and yet clearly it was al a bit too much for him, to take)... realising he is about to pass out, he asks me if I can hold on the pressure whilst he sits down... I manage to do so for about " minutes before felling my knes wooble again... eventually we both had to sit down and Djanaba had to hold on the pressure herself until the dr came back... he did eventually, put her Cyst in "formol" and informed us we had to find a way to bring it to the lab in Dakar ( a days ride by car)... most likely I will bring it on my return by plane next Saturday... When the aneshetic wore of, I knew so because silent tears flooded Djanaba's face... she did not so much as express discontent... I saw the surgeon cut her up with a scalpel, saw her up with a needle and thread... trust me she must have been in agony when the anesthesic wore off... I touched her forehead, she was boiling... I gqve her her paractamol and antibiotic and tried to make her sleep but to no avail... eventually I decided to make her up to distrqc her a little... I only brought one thing of make up with me... because I thought the mirror inside might be useful... I wish I had brought so,e nice jewelry / make up to give her... I feel so stupid with my useful-but-impersonal solar powered calculators :(... I can buy things here but its not the same... they are fascinated by everything I brought in my suitcase... Cayre can t stop playing with my camera (clearly stresses me... so scared he might accidentally delete the pictures.... but I dont have the heart to tell him to stop)... I guess the eyeshadow is pretty much the only thing I can leave Djanaba... its Channel... nevermind... if I send stuff, excise and duty will demand that they pay a tax... taxes on imports are pretty much the govt s only source of revenue and even personal packages / aid gift are taxed import duty...

In the afternoon, to cheer her up, Marc's Senegalese wife and I went shopping to buy "back to school" things for Djanaba and her 4 sibblings. 100 euros bought 3 school bags, 12 jotters, 3 sets of colour pencils, 3 reading books, 3 chalk boards, 3 rulers, a compas, 100 chalks, various geometry ruler hings (equerre, raporteur etc), 8 new outfits, a pair of shoes, a football, 3 pair of earings, 18 second hand tops, 7 second hand dresses, 12 second hand troussers & shorts, 8 second hand dresses... I wanted to let Djanaba chooses dresses & shoes etc. she liked... but she kep choosing "fashionable" items in denim... I tried to explain the merits of a beautiful apple green cotton dress in 40 celsius heat... but as well as I supported my case, denim stilm seemed to be he choice... in the end I just got both... as for the shoes... I tried to get her to buy leather sandals which she could still fit in even if her feet grew (she only had one pair of flip flops which were clearly too small for her)... but she choose some blue plastic shoes, which will make her sweat and surely give her blister... argggggggh- I remember bing a teenager, I remember these discussions with my mother... somewhere along the line turned into her.... Marc's wife is my age and it was fun to haggle with her for the children' sclothes... although incredebly tiring... I think I could cook for 5 children no problem... but the shopping... boy it would kill me!!! how would I fi my lovers????!!!

arghhh just a few minutes left... ok this may be the only t,e I get a chance to give you so,e news as to,orrow I a, taking Djanaba and her brother to the sea (they have never seen it) before we set off to bring the back to their village in Senegal Oriental... I will then stay with them in their village for a few days where I will meet Djanaba and Cayre 's 3 other broher and sisters (ranging from 12 to a few months- Djanaba is 8 and Cayre 6) as well as their mother.. I will head back to Zichingor next Friday and take my flight back to Dakar on Saturday.

Quickly & finally for my mum (now that I understand her even better :)- happy to report I am sleeping loads: 8 to 10 hrs a night with no sleeping pills, compared to my usual 4 to 6!! and the more I sleep, the more I feel like sleeping, I am even taking the odd nap!!! I am also eating a very balanced healthy diet... I have a full time cook for ...erg... well.... just me... I eat fresh fish (lotte, gambas etc etc) every day, lots and lots of fresh fruits... I mentioned I loved fresh coconuts, so "Kalilou" climbed 50m up a tree and got me about 30 from the garden... girls if u ever decide that coconuts d do instead of the moon, Kalilou here will gladly oblige :) .. I am also trying lots of local things I have never tried before, a couple of days ago was offered some raw "manok" in one of the villags I visited...tasted like a cross between a carrot and celery... I asked Kalilou to cok me some in the evning.. cooked it tasted a bit like chesnuts: delicious! also tried "solom" in one of the markets I d describe it as a kind of cross betzeen a nut and a fruit, velvet like texture, tastes like honey...





26 Aout

Still all ok. No point worrying I have a number of biiig black super sweet body guards following me about everywhere I go... tried losing them but so far no luck... basically have my own cook, driver, guide, cleaner, gardner... nothing to worry about!! AND I met the head of the anti landmine programme at the airport, so he told me all the places where it was safe and not safe to go :) cant see any conflict here, all very peaceful... ALL IS FINE!!!internet connection very difficult though..


24 august 2008

arrived safely!!

Bien arrivee tout va bien!!!

il pleut!!! its raining!!!

I know a little bit more about the project i will be doing... I am going to look after a family of four children whilst they come to the city to see if the youngest girl can get an operation... i will take her to the hospital for diagnosis ... the family will stay with me in Zinchiguor (its 3 gilrs and a boy, the eldest is 12) and then i will take them to the sea as they have never been and then i will go back with them in their village where i will stay... i will live in their house for a few days... I am sitting in Marc s house to write this he is one of the two founders of help travel, he has a little autistic girl who is sitting on my knees as i write this, she is the most adorable little girl... i came in the house, she took me by the end... her cousin is here... he likes food.. he told me he looooves food... that is his passion, he will eat anything.. i have to go and be initiated to the lion game. i don t think there will be many chqnce to connect to the internet... lots of love. mel xxxx


19th Oct 2007

Head over heals in love with Delhi....


so many story to tells since I last wrote... but only have 20 minutes so will concentrate on my new love: Delhi!
We had two days planned in Taj Mahal but decided to visit Red Fort and Taj Mahal all in one day so we could spend an extra day in Delhi. Laurene and I signed off the intrepid trip this morning, left the hotel at 5am and took a train to Delhi from Aggra (that was an experience in itself!!)... We went to visit a couple of monuments (took the tube- wayyyyy better than london tube- its even got air conditioning!!) some moghul tomb and some moghul ruins in New Delhi (I'll have to update you on name later, don't have my Rough Guide with me...)- they were both AMAZING, full of soul, history...peaceful, beautiful, dare I say magic! (I couls have spent hours and hours taking picture...but with only two days in Delhi, I have decided to piut the picture takinbg on hold and just immerse in these unique surrounding).... as with some of the other palaces I have visited over the last few days, what I find fascinating is the intertwinning of religions & culture- jewish, hindu, muslim and buddhist symbols are harmoniously juxtaposed in the same palace, mosoleum or temple ...its not the result of different rulers adding their mark, rather it was built like that... so much beauty, so much ingeniousity, so much diversity its hard to take it all in...

in late afternoon we went to the India "champ elysee"- I was sceptical at the very thought but again Delhi took me by surprise- this part of New Delhi had such a European air...somewhere between England, Germany and Rome, I noticed a couple of elephant statues and monkeys going up the buildings...this place is truly unique! Then we went to the Delli Haat market...by now I am the queen of silk negotiations...no tourist can bargain silk lower so quick ;)!! on our way back to the hotel, came across some sort of street celebration...our hotel street was full of colour, music, life...food was being distributed...I wanted to buy a couple of chapatis...but a local told me "no money, no money"...they gave me a bag of five for free...celebration spirit... I then bought myself one of these giant cocunuts for 20 rupees...I could not be botherred haggling...still trying to work out what are true local costs...difficult to find reference point...but current rate indicate 10 giant cocunuts equal one silk scarf...

Tomorrow is my last day, the rest of our intrepid group will join us back and our guide will take us to Old Delhi, which I understand is closer to Kathmandu (i.e:an incredible- in a brilliant kind of way- mess)... such contrast- I am definitly coming back!!
I'll be back on my knees with exhaution (caught a nasty cold in the 16 hrs train journey from Varanasi (the most soulfull city I have ever been to!) to Orcha...air conditiuoning was a little too strong I guess), I am sneezing, caughing and all and continue to sweat out the fever...have not caught more than 5 hrs sleep a single night on the trip...but all end on such a highlight with Delhi, I coul;d not care less... Ashish- I am coming back here with you...we'll go to Rajastan next time!! and I am very tempted by Kerela also!!

Anyway I guess next time you'll hear from me it'll be live... off to bed so I can enjoy spice market et al tomorrow...my flight is at 7am on Sunday...will probably go to the airport in the evening and not get any sleep... Ciao ciao from this amazng city.

12 Oct 2007

In India, exhausted!


Have not had a chance to write in a long time as have been in the jungle (this time was definitely a jungle!) for 3 days- more precisely in the Chitwan National Park in the Terai region (south of Nepal- bordering India). Last Saturday I joined my Intrepid group in Kathmandu- a retired Australian couple, a young german lady who is taking a one year sabatical to travel round Asia, a Canadian Intrepid Tour leader who is joining our group during his time off (he usually runs the Tibet and China tour and is very knowledgeable about Budhism) Laurene, myself and our Indian guide Vivek, who is very sweet. We stayed the first couple of days in Kathmandu- did the more traditional tourist things (all world heritage sites) which I had deliberately ommitted in my first week...went to the biggest Tibetan / budhist temple in the world- as all Budhist stupas its in the shape of a big circle...seems almost everything is circle-shaped in in budhism (prayer wheels, stupas and even bhudda himself is quite round in his shape) which I guess symbolises their belief that everything is inter-connected, that life is a wheel....whereas the catholic cross is, obviously, much more linear- interesting to consider that we view life in a more linear and individualistic fashion (achive this by the time we are 30, that by the time we are 40 etc)... what I write may be completely wrong, just some personal observations.... anyway after a couple of days in Kathmandu (where we did not fail to visit the Durbar sq with all the positions of the Kama Sutra graphically sculpted in wood carving on the main sq- he he!!)

We then headed off to the jungle-the first day we went to see an elephant breeding center: learned lots of things about elephants (they are born weighting 100 to 150 kgs and eat more than 100kg of food per day!!). The next day we went for a 12km walk in the jungle - the grass was 3 m high and we did not see any big animals but I'll let you in on a secret: considering that the instructions we had received early in the morning, as we were loading our backacks with enough food & water for the day and our overnight things (weighing roughy 8-10 kg) included "if a rhino charges you run in zigzags and climb at least 8 feet up a tree", I was quite glad not to have seen some of the bigger and more dangerous animals (tigers, rhinos, crocs etc). We slept in the jungle and the next day went to a crocodile breeding center before returning to our base in jeeps (1.5hr ride on unpaved bumpy bumpy roads- unbelievably unconfortable!!) and enjoying a 2.5hrs ride on elephant back- now there is little way to describe just how unconfortable elephant riding is (jeep ride on bumpy road is the only thing that compares!!) but it was the most amaing thing: we were 4 on his back plus the elephant jockey, we crossed many rivers and, from our peak, spotted 3 rhinos and 3 deers...we came withing 20m of them!!

The next day we drove 6 hrs to Lumbini (less than 200km- gives you a clue as to the states of the roads!!) which is the birthplace of lord Budha- only one thing to say: highy disapointing.

Today we crossed the border with India, and after more than 10 hours travelling we arrived in Varanasi. Its a magic- but crazyyy- place. More than 3000 years old, its one of the oldest cities in the world and one of the seven holiest in India. After a quick shower we went on a boat on the ganges for a candle light ceremony- we sent litle baskets made of leafs containing a lighted candle and some flowers down the gange, each time making a wish..if the candle stays lighted for a long time the wish will hapen, if not it won't... it was incredibly peaceful and beautiful..in sharp contrast to the constant and incesant noise of the city...I had been warned that India was a noisy place but I don't think one realises what constant horning and beeping actually means until one hears it non stop from 6am to 12pm....on the back of the truck there is a big notice "please horn"- drivers use it to warn traffic that they are there...our bus drivers horned all the way from Lumbini to Varanasi... bycicles, cars, trucks everyone horns constantly, the noise never ever stops- it is exhausting...nerves reach a limit and we all have migraines...words simply can not describe it...to the chaos on wheels, add cows, monkeys, pedestrian, stray dogs in the middle of the circulation and you will barely get a glimpse of the chaos here...

I must admit I am beggining to feel the strain- I became dehydrated in the jungle and had almost 40C fever by the evening, I am longing for fruits and vegetable so badly I dream of salads every night :), although I have not had any major "incidents" diarroehea has become a daily thing, sleeps is difficult due to heat and mosquitos and headaches due to noise and dehydratation are constant... nothing major but definitely very tiring... I believe I would not enjoy travelling for months on ends- its truly exhausting!!

Thats all from me. Tomorrow we go on 24hr boat ride down the ganges, sleeping in tents on the bank- ladies have been warned to take a sarong as there is no toilet on board and not many bushes on the banks....niiiiiiiice!!

Just so you know, my mobile died. I think the humidity killed it. I'll be looking to get my hands on one when I get back if any one has any spare/ idea where I could get a sed one cheaply....

Hope this email finds you well. I'll try to write again when I can.

Farewell from this unique place!


4th October 2007

Feeling poo!

Since last writing I headed for the mountains unfortunatly yesterday disater struck- I lost all my pictures. After watching the sun set over the himalayas (breathtaking), I went to my room to charge my battery but the electricity was not working properly and whilst looking for the battery indicator in the menu setting I accidentaly formatted my memory card which deleted all the pictures- those who know me well will know how distressed I am. I tried ringing home for confort but needless to say there was no reception in the flimmin himalayas...I could not sleep (too upset + bed bugs (niiiiiice) + animal howling to death all night outside my room) managed to catch just one hour before getting up with the sun to see it rise over the himalaya- again it was breathtaking but my heart wasnt quite there. I tried going back to bed afterwards but to no avail.. so headed into the jungle (my guide Nema called it the jungle- not quite sure what differentiates jungle from forest...but if its humidity this mountain forest would qualify), we did a 20 km walk through the rice fields and villages it was extremely beautiful- did not see a single tourist all day...away from the touristic areas the people were once again extremely sweet- as I walked passed a school the headmaster invited me in to visit the school: I was the attraction of the day, if not the year...all the kids were fighting to get into the picture frame, they were coming so close I couldnt take any pictures... on the board was writeen in English "my name is..." so I asked every single one of them what their name was... but the teachers did not seem to speak much english so I am not sure how they could teach it... they were all running towards me and fighting to see thepictures I was showing them at the back of the camera, there were 100s of them...anyway seeing all those kids so joyful did cheer me up a little and after making a donation to the school, I felt somewhat happier. As we walked from village to village I saw many eagles incredibly close (maybe 20 m away) and a young villager who practised his english with me seemed amazed that I had never seen an eagle- I said we had pigeon in London :) ... after a much needed shower and some time sifting through the pictures of the day I can not help but feeling very upset with the loss of my pictures though- not only were some of them the best shots I had taken in a long long time but I just can't believe I won't be able to look at those amazing children, all those smiles I captured...when I close my eyes I remember each one of them vividly, I could describe each picture lost (300) in great details,the colour of the clothes these kids were wearing, their personality, how many tooth they had missing... I tried shooting some more children today but when my heart is not in it, i don't take good pictures. I stopped using the memory card as soon as it happened- I had protected many of them which stops them from being accidently deleted if one accidentaly selects "delete all" but I acidentaly formated my memory card and the "protection" function appears powerless in this instance- I just can't believe there is no warning message saying "are you sure you want to format memory card, this will delete all pictures"...I am clinging to the hope that I will be able to retrieve them on my return- I had bought an extreme III sandisk memory card precisly because it had a function to retrieve accidentaly deleted pictures...but I did not delete them, I formatted the flimming card....in the meantime my friend laurene who arrives the day after tomorrow will buy me a new memory card so I don't have to use that one in case the pictures can be retrieved (have a small capacity card spare to keep me going in the meantime).... I know I should not be so upset, especially when surrounded by all these people who have much bigger problems than I, who have nothing, and yet never seem to lose their spirit (I tell you people here seem so much happier than in the "developed" world)...but my pictures mean the world to me, they give meaning to my life... I will take some more of course but I know I will never get so close to "real" Nepal with Intrepid- I have been extremely lucky to find a guide who knows the "real" Nepal so well, speaks Nepalese and being English realises what will be interesting for a Westner to see... if I can not retrieve them I will try to write a travel diary giving a detailed account of those smiles- I prefer "discursive" writing but it will be a new exercise for me. Anyway hope all is well with you- hope next time I write I will be a little cheared up. The 20km walk should ensure i catch some sleep tonight- I am sure all will be better in the morning after a good night's sleep. Back to Kathmandu tomorrow for my dinner with the high flying Neplase family and Laurene will be here Saturday. Ciao ciao for now

1st October 2007

some news (very random)

3 days and I have been so many places no tourist ever goes to- I visited at least 5 villages in the kathmandu valley, on the way to one of them two little girls who wanted to practice their english showed us the way , when we walked passed their house they invited us in, the family welcomed us so genuinely, they invited us to drink tea in their bedroom- 3m by 3m sleeping the parents and four children, they had nothing, when I say nothing I mean nothing, no windows, no bathroom, no fridge, no cooker, no floor (just dried earth), no furniture, no running water, just two boards as bed... I really really mean nothing, just 4 walls.. and yet they did not ask for a penny, they were so nice...the next day a tantric priest invited house into his house above the temple, he was such a happy person, he did all the tantric yoga position for me, his wife made us some tea, he was a little better off to the extent that there wee sheets on his bed and he had some furniture but still no bathroom, window etc... again did not ask for a penny...today we went to a factory... then to Baktapur- much more touristic and less friendly (it seems as soon as a place is touristic, people start asking for money and are not nearly as nice as where there are no tourists) but then all the tourists comes here just for the day, knowing this, my guide booked a night here- around 5pm when everyone leaves the place becomes amazing...everyone in Nepal lives outside..there is no concept of privacy, life is just on the street...tomorrow we are heading for the mountains and then on Friday I have been invited for lunch by the mountain guide and in the evening a fairly high up politician who is friend with my english guide, knowing that I will be travelling alone, has invited me and the guide for dinner- it will be interesting to see the more waelthy Nepalese way of living- I think he is the secretary to the prime minister or something like that...
The children here are so nice, the happiest little kids I have ever seen, I am taking millions of picture of them and showing them the image on the screen at the back and they are so happy, they are incredibly smart also, and so well behaved...they just live outside ...

there is no way to describe the mess of kathmandu- it is quite a culture shock- imagine unpaved roads with pedestrians, mopeds, cars, chicken, cows, no traffic signs...Laurene I'd definitly recommend taking closed shoes- the roads are not paved, its basially mud...yesterday i walked on something skeashy...not sure what it was but it had a tail and was pretty decapitated...there is so much I want to say but I am connected from a very slowband and the key board has been used so much there is no more letters on the keys making it a little difficult to write...plus there is onl candle light to light the room and my guide is waiting outside...and if I leave him for too long he will get pissed again... this place is definitly more of a culture shock than china, loving it! the food is amazing (not sick yet so great news!) allhough things are not nearly as cheap as in china as basically the Nepalee are too poor to afford any of the stuff so everything is made for tourists only... no dirt cheap souvenirs & hotels etc here

I am striggling to access gmail- anton regarding my guide (active eye Nepal) the guide will take you to places to ever guide will ever take you- he has been living in Nepal 20 years and speaks some Nepalee which is extremely handy- he works with a Nepalee to bargain hotel prices etc and another to guide you up the mountains- they are both super sweet. They are all extremely reliable. Nick is very interesting knows so much about Nepal and will do his outmost to show you real Nepal although his core business is really trekking and hiking- he used to own a lodge in the mountain- overall I would most def recommend him...he drinks quite a lot which means by evening he can talk quite a lot of nonsense but if there is two of you you wont have to talk to him all the time plus most probably u'll go with the more discreet sherpa- overall I'd strongly recommend active eye Nepal- I think contact details are below somewhere (Nick Fry).

Laurene & David saw I had some emails from you but can't open them. I seem to receive text but I am not able to send any.

Basically all is well- have to go now otherwise won't get any food- everything is closed by 8pm... having a great time, walking all day long, taking pictures all day long, playing with the kids- loving it!!


9 SEPT 2007

After 30 hours of travelling, arrived safely in Kathmandu WITH luggage. Guide was there to greet me whith two sherpas and hand-made welcome flower neckless.

Apres 30 heures de voyages, arrivee a bon port. Guide et deux sherpa etais la pour me receptioner avec collier de fleurs. Tout va bien.

Note for Laurene & Anton: 3 out of the 4 locks on check-in luggage missing and some (not too important) stuff missing from the side pocket of my luggage- think about it when you pack

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22 Sept 07- J-6

FLYING BANGLADESH AIRLINES- YEAH BABY!


Disclaimer: Mum don’t worry, the anecdotes are to make an interesting read, I will be fine!!


“A week today I will board a BA flight”- so I told my grandmother yesterday. That, in this case, BA stands for Bangladesh Airlines is not something she needs to know I decided. I had little choice. Many Nepalese living in India go home for the post- monsoon Dasain festival- the biggest Nepali festival celebrating the victory of the Godess Durga over evil- meaning that 6 weeks prior to departure there were no more flights, not a single one, from Delhi to Kathmandu (there are no direct flights from the EU & US to Kathmandu)- to my bafflement, the only option was via Bangladesh (trust me, I looked into every possible alternatives: different dates, routes, airlines…but to no avail). I was somewhat reassured upon learning that the plane was an Airbus but the feeling was short-lived- further investigation unveiled that the model was Airbus’ second oldest, dating back to the early 1980s, and discontinued a couple of years ago (I didn’t dare ask whether that meant that spare parts were no longer being manufactured). A few days later, my friend Laurene who will join me a week into the trip and who happens to be an engineer at Airbus, forwarded me a newspaper clipping about Nepalese airplane maintenance procedures (below):

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Goats sacrificed to fix Nepal jet

Nepal's state-run airline has confirmed that it sacrificed two goats to appease a Hindu god, following technical problems with one of its aircraft. Nepal Airlines said the animals were slaughtered in front of the plane - a Boeing 757 - at Kathmandu airport.

The offering was made to Akash Bhairab, the Hindu god of sky protection, whose symbol is seen on the company's planes. The airline said that after Sunday's ceremony the plane successfully completed a flight to Hong Kong.

"The snag in the plane has now been fixed and the aircraft has resumed its flights," senior airline official Raju KC was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Nepal Airlines has two Boeing aircraft in its fleet. The persistent faults with one of the planes had led to the postponement of a number of flights in recent weeks. The company has not said what the problem was, but reports in local media have blamed an electrical fault.

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I just hope to God Akash they serve rice-wine on the flight!

Of course, I may not even board the flight- so many scenarios could unfold! I only have 1 hour to change plane in Bahrain and if I miss the flight I will have to catch one the next day- unfortunately there are no more available seats on any flights to Kathmandu for a whole week thereafter, regardless of the route (bear in mind that only 6 international planes or so land in Kathmandu daily)… so I could find myself stuck in Bangladesh with no visa (none required for transit)!! I have decided to assign a low probability to such a scenario. More likely, is that I am unable to land in Kathmandu due to strikes- as the election nears, instability in the region is rising. Both my guide and the French ambassy in Nepal emailed me yesterday to let me know that things were getting “interesting”: wide-spread strikes and no more petrol… now, no more petrol IS interesting coz, unless they have rice-wine powered engines, it means no more transportation…


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26 Sept 07 J-2

ALL PACKED

Disclaimer: I’d imagine the below to be rather boring to read unless you are a traveller thinking about what to pack…although it does give you a glimpse into my borderline psychotic tendencies ?

I’d advise travellers to shop at Decathlon (very wide selection and by far the most price competitive- London store is in Canada Water) and Kathmandu, Blacks and Nomad.

I am all packed: universal solar charger (to charge camera and phone even if there is no electricity, had to order it from the U.S, it’s the coolest thing: www.solio.com), Canon 400D, 70-300mm USM IS Canon zoom, 3 memory cards (better to have several 1 or 2GB than one 8GB- learnt it the hard way!), 2 spare batteries, spare charger, polarizing filter (for the sun), ultra violet filters (transparent- their main purpose is to protect the lens- better to replace a £15 filter than £300 lens) lens hoods, camera armour (shock absorbent), SLR gorilla tripod (strongly recommend it- £40 worth investing for those night and indoor shots!), universal adaptor, camera rain-sleeves (to protect camera if shooting in the rain)- all packed in 100% waterproof bag in my small carry-on luggage backpack and ordered from www.warehouseexpress.com (strongly recommend it for camera equipment- I was very impressed with their service, they have the widest selection of photographic equipment I have come across and deliver in 24hrs!)

Iodine tablets (water purification tablets), malaria tablets, travellers cheques, copy of travel insurance documents, dollars, visa cards, plane ticket, passport and phone- all packed in my safety money belt (wrapped around my waist with two cleverly hidden thick metal wires meaning its difficult to simply cut through with scissors or a knife [happened to my friend Laurene in broad daylight last year in Shangai!])- I’ll be wearing it 24/7 even when asleep (at least when sleeping in over night trains & tents etc)

Venom extractor, head torch, whistle, emergency cover (cost about £3, protects from extreme heat or cold in emergencies; can also be used to carry injured people; weighs about 25g and takes no space whatsoever- every traveller should have one!), stretchable clothes line (as well as the obvious, can be useful to attach mosquito net), muji foldable mini tool kit (hammer, screwdrivers, pliers etc), disinfectant, lighter, sewing kit, army emergency water filter thing (to filter muddy water from streams [then need to add iodine tablets to kill nasty stuff]) and scissors- all packed in my “emergency” kit which I’ll be carrying whenever venturing out in the wilderness.

Anti itch-cream, muscle cream, paracetamol, diarrhoea tablets, rehydratation salts, anti-bacterial eye ointment (new product not needing refrigeration, ask pharmacist), antiseptic, plasters, indigestion tablets, multivitamins, sleeping pills- all packed in a waterproof “medical” kit.

Four mosquito repellent bottles (50% DEET), mosquito net (which I impregnated yesterday meaning any bug that touches the net will die on contact- niiiiice!), "Bugproof" mosquito treatment for clothes (spray on clothes, any insect will die when coming into contact with cothes’ fabric for a period of two weeks [quite expensive though]), mosquito net repair kit- all packed in “mosquito” kit.

Sun hat (light coloured, foldable and designed to be soaked in water to keep your head fresh [won’t drip etc] its Australian made!), 2 bottles of high factor sun cream, sun glasses, 100% cotton sleeping sheet, water bottle (1 litre- water purification tablets have to be dissolved in 1 litre of water for two hours), water bottle isolation cover, plastic flip-flops (to wear in the shower), antibacterial hand-wash (no water required), travel towel (weighs about 80g, takes no space whatsoever!), neutralizing tablets (to remove the horrible taste the iodine tablets leave in the water), ear plugs, 2 pairs of hiking shoes (one closed, one open), K-way, toiletries (all packed in small travel containers to minimize space), swimming goggles, Rough Guide to India, Nepal Lonely Planet, small leather diary to take travel notes, business cards (apparently Indians like to exchange business cards…one should also take pictures of one’s family to show around…), address book, spare pare of glasses, contact lenses - all packed in various pockets of my main bag.

Seven 100% cotton short sleeved white t-shirts, 1 linen short-sleeved travel shirt, 4 travel trousers (light, breathable water resistant, can be folded up to below the knee, secret pockets…note that in India women should avoid showing shoulders and knees- don’t go around in sleeveless t-shirt and shorts!), long skirt (ladies… apparently very useful for woman travellers in Nepal wanting to use some of the less secluded toilets…hmmmm nice!), one long sleeved breathable, high neck black t-shirt (in the evening one should be as covered as possible to protect against mosquito bites; note that white attracts mosquitos- dark colours are recommended), pyjamas, pareo, swimming costume, 4 pairs of summer trekking socks, 4 pairs of 100% cotton white socks, as many knickers as I could find, couple of sports bras, 1 fleece, 1 jumper- all packed in the main section of my super travel backpack (80L +10L) with wheels and small detachable back pack!

And finally three combination padlocks as well as one chain (to attach bag to things) to secure bag … oh I almost forgot my drinking straw which I mounted on a cord to wear round my neck 24/7 (its a sort of light portable water filtering system to filter out enzymes, bacteria and various other things I don’t want to be drinking- can be used in addition to purification tablets, good for 500L, costs about £20)

I think I am done- I have also of course got a photocopy of my passport and visa in my main bag oh and a couple of identity pictures for my Nepalese visa (delivered at Kathmandu airport)




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LINKS

www.francenepal.info

www.nepalnews.com
Hourly Nepalese news

www.kantipuronline.com
Hourly Nepalese news

www.nepalresearch.com
Large selection of Nepalese press articles

www.un.org.np
Nepal section of United Nations website

www.nepalonline.net

www.info-nepal.com