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The story of a four week trip to Ladakh in Northern India to visit our Tibetan friends and trek the Markha Valley before attempting to reach the summit of Stok Kangri (6150 m), a popular trekking peak.

Note to my companions

once again living dangerously, I have published the text of my diary almost verbatim apart from the odd explanatory addition (and a few bits that Clare made me delete!). Much of it was written at altitude. All of it was written by a lazy bugger! None of it is intended to cause any offence - I think you are all great people and I would travel with all or any of you again. - Andy

’I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant’ - Robert McCloskey, US State Department Spokesman.

29.07.2005

Once more unto the diary dear friends, and I find that 5 months of pounding keyboards has left me virtually unable to hold a pen. Oh well, on with the aimless ramblings. I sometimes wonder about the onset of CJD but perhaps it’s never being in one place for more than a few days, or maybe an adult version of ADD? Anyway, here I am again at Oslo’s Gardermoen airport, in the middle of the Norwegian holiday season, waiting for a flight to London. 27kg of luggage, including plastic boots, packed in the hold of SK805 on the first leg of its journey to ’Little Tibet’ as Ladakh is apparently known. First stop is Dartmouth to stuff yet more gear into Clare’s bags, plus presents for Tenzing and his family.

This is going to be an interesting cultural and climbing(ish) trip. As usual I haven’t done nearly enough training but I’m hoping that climbing to 6100 m on Stok Kangri won’t be a major struggle. Have been that high a couple of times already this year.

The rubber coating on my zero gravity space pen (-50 to 400 degF) is peeling off. Probably a good thing if the American flag [logo] goes along the way. You never know how people are going to interpret these things! So far the only likely terrorist I’ve seen was the girl who checked in my bags [at the SAS desk], definitely not the friendly type.

They want 24 kroner for a coffee here in the non-shengen section - incredible. It’s not even freshly squeezed so I think I’ll wait until I get on the plane.

I wonder how the platform is getting on. I left there yesterday and there were some problems, things were looking up last night but I didn’t check this morning - too depressing if it’s all gone to ratshit, I hate to leave half-way through a job, even if my contribution is not that great.

Bought a waterproof wallet to keep my oversized US dollars in, since they never fit too well in my money belt. Who knows what’s secure these days anyway? Waiting… waiting… waiting…

30.07.2005

Totnes railway station, outbound to um… Paddington. Had a reasonable journey yesterday. The flight was supposed to be delayed 30 minutes due to traffic at Heathrow but actually landed 10 minutes early. Three Brits in the row behind me, two travelling on business and one know-it-all coming back from a cruise on an icebreaker. Had his wife sitting across the aisle and had to keep up a running commentary on what he was doing - ’I’m fastening my seatbelt…’ blah, blah! Bloody hell! Another family of Brits - looked like 3 generations travelling together - got miffed because the cabin crew asked them not to stand up just as we taxied onto the runway for takeoff. The British abroad - there is no hope.

Anyway, a pleasant overnight stay in Dartmouth, sampled a fine selection of beers from my collection - 6X, Pedigree and Spitfire. The latter is still the best in my opinion. A disturbed night’s sleep though due to ignorant ’youfs’ shouting and generally behaving badly from midnight to 1AM - bastards!

So now we are at Totnes waiting for the delayed 14:27 train to Paddington. Then the Heathrow Express back to Heathrow and overnight stay at the Crown Plaza for an early check-in tomorrow.

31.07.2005

Heathrow, Terminal 4. Premature departure after an all too short night at the Crown Plaza, just off the M4. Memo to self - next time check the travel itinerary to avoid getting up at 04:30 instead of 05:30! At least I’ve been getting up at this time for the last week while working offshore so it feels quite normal. And a double espresso followed by a cappuccino doesn’t hurt either. Not sure Clare would agree but she doesn’t drink coffee - better to die early but awake if you ask me. So, more waiting before we can check in for the flight to Delhi. This will be interesting, having seen what goes on and off the Air India flights operating out of T3 it will be interesting to see how BA does it. Still, since I’m attempting to be less negative on this trip, I’m going to keep an open and optimistic mind!

Airside at T4. Amazingly painless check-in, even with 64 kg in the hold. No idea where it all comes from. Found out that we are in ’Eurotraveller Plus’ - extra legroom plus even more extra legroom - can’t be bad although I’m not sure how it happened. Got Clare a new watch to replace the one that is ’lost’ under one of the usual piles of stuff in the spare room back home - ’I can hear it ticking, I just can’t find it’. Struggled to find three books to read from the bookshop’s 3 for £18 deal. Seems like dumbing down is extending to travel literature now. Unless you like Dale ’Hype for Dummies’ Brown you’re pretty well screwed these days.

1.08.2005

Welcome to Leh, capital of Ladakh and isn’t that amazing? 3500 m above sea level and about 30 minutes sleep in the last 24 hours. No wonder it’s hard to write. The flight to Delhi was uneventful, watched two movies; Downfall and Sahara. Two extremes but both entertaining in their own way. KE’s organisation was surprisingly good - we were met at both Delhi and Leh airports so no stress. All the bags arrived as well. Only downside was finding out that we only had about 2 ½ hours at the hotel [in Delhi]. Arrived at 00:30 and had to be up again at 03:00. Never mind, the 4 ½ hour time difference helped a bit.

Flying into Leh was amazing, flew over several ranges of snow covered mountains with glaciated valleys in between, then over a more arid area. Very brown, totally abused geology but some oases of green in a few valleys where irrigation was being carried out. Last few minutes were spent circling down between the mountains until landing on the tarmac. Quite a lot of military activity, several Russian [made] planes on the ground.

Temperature 17 degC at 08:00, more in the sunshine. The air is amazingly fresh and inspiring, really uplifting despite the altitude. And it’s so peaceful despite the repeated use of car horns out in the street.

Tenzing [Tsegyal] was there to meet us outside the airport with his mother, baby sister and aunt [Kalsang] (who fortunately speaks English). Incredible to actually meet him after so many years although he is quite shy and it’s difficult to communicate. He understands some English but can only speak a few words. We all piled into a minibus for the short trip up to the Kang Lha Chen Hotel.

First impressions of Leh - a bustling town, narrow streets, many tightly packed buildings with narrow pavements. Some open spaces. Surprising amount of traffic (relative to the size of the roads) along which progress is made through liberal use of the horn. A tad noisy. Abundant tourists moving around, most seem to respect the local sensitivities but there are a few with an embarrassing amount of flesh on display. (Apparently some [minimally dressed] French women went out in Delhi a few days ago during a religious festival and were stoned, although not seriously injured. They only have themselves to blame).

Tea and biscuits at the hotel, then we were left alone for a few hours after arranging to meet again at 15:00 to go for a walk around the town.

The main entrance of the Kan Lah Chen hotel. The garden is to the left where the umbrella is. Cognoscenti pass the flagpole on the right hand side in true buddhist tradition. [Photo: Clare]
Taking tea in the garden at the Kan Lah Chen hotel just after we arrived. Tsegyal, Andy, Kalsang and Sherap with baby. [Photo: Clare]
Clare, wearing the silk scarves we were given as we left the airport, getting to know Tsegyal and family. [Photo: Clare]
Later, Andy catches up on his diary in the garden. The sun is baking, it’s only possible to sit in the shade which has a habit of moving. [Photo: Clare]

The room is pretty good, even a TV with BBC World, at least when there’s electricity available. We get three meals a day here, a mixture of buffet and waiter service. They are all very friendly. Lunch was mushroom soup followed by a selection of dishes including rice and a lamb casserole. Quite tasty.

Spent the afternoon wandering around the shops with Tsegyal and family. They wanted to show us everything. I have the usual British problem when it comes to haggling over prices and it’s especially hard when we have so much and they have so little. There is some similarity between Leh and Namche Bazaar in Nepal. Lots of stalls selling ’authentic souvenirs’ and cheap clothing and T-shirts. Some backstreet boutiques selling bootleg climbing gear - Mountain Hardware seems popular to copy these days.

Oh yes - Tsegyal gave us a box of fruit, which was really nice. It’s a stressful business trying to balance giving presents and things - too easy to embarrass people. We offered to pay for a taxi to take them home but they wouldn’t accept it. We need to establish some ground rules.

Dinner was a selection of different curries with rice - very nice. The staff appears to speak good English but it is all too easy to be confused, what you think you’ve agreed turns out to be the complete opposite. Of course, they could just be having fun at the expense of the bloody tourists, and I wouldn’t blame them for that one bit.

Totally knackered after several long days and little sleep, have been travelling more or less continuously since Thursday and it’s now Monday evening. In bed by 22:30, hard bed but actually surprisingly comfortable, not too warm for a change although I’ve no idea what the [night-time] temperature was.

 
2.08.2005

Awake at 06:20 but dozing until 08:00. Definitely not wanting to get up. Slight headache that gradually went away. Not surprising at this altitude, but 3500 m here feels better than 2500 m in the Andes. Decided to start recording air pressure vs altitude to see if there is a big difference. Technically the atmosphere should [get thicker as you get closer to the equator].

Found out there are two Jagged Globe trips here at the moment, seems popular with all the problems in Nepal I guess people are looking for alternatives. Spoke to a couple of guys from one group, they are off tomorrow for Stok Kangri. Have done an acclimatisation trip to 5000 m. Sounds like the usual group dynamics are in effect already - small cliques forming. One guy said he was a Christian and found all the swearing offensive, but on the other hand he was boasting about haggling for every last rupee in the shops - not exactly a Christian attitude then.

The view from our bedroom window is over a lovingly tended vegetable garden. [Photo: Clare]
Tourist shops and restaurants line the road near the hotel. [Photo: Clare]
In the main room with Tsegyal’s family - Tsegyal, Woeser, Clare, Tarpa, Kalsang , Dachen, Sherap and Kalsang’s baby daughter. [Photo: Andy]
Woeser trying to steal the show with another nursery rhyme. [Photo: Andy]
Fun and frolics in Choglomsar. [Photo: Andy]
Fun and frolics in Choglomsar. [Photo: Andy]
Cuddly toys that we have sent over the years, two reindeer, a brown bear and a very grubby seal pup. [Photo: Andy]
Opening presents in Choglomsar is an experience to be shared by everyone. [Photo: Andy]
Woeser again! [Photo: Clare]
Andy attempts to explain the finer points of oil exploration, Tsegyal is not impressed. [Photo: Clare]
This is Teyang, Tsegyal’s baby sister. [Photo: Clare]
One of Kalsang’s older children - Pema? [Photo: Clare]
Fun and frolics in Choglomsar. [Photo: Clare]
Teyang must be one of the most content children a parent could hope to have. [Photo: Clare]
Tsegyal, Dachen, Tharpa and Pema. [Photo: Clare]

Kalsang and Sherap dress Clare in traditional Tibetan clothing. It’s not as easy as it looks and there’s no manual enclosed. [Photo: Andy]
The finished result. [Photo: Clare]
A quick visit to Kalsang’s home for more tea and biscuits. The poster on the wall shows Lhasa, capital of Tibet. [Photo: Clare]
Andy relaxing back in the Kang Lah Chen hotel. The beds were among the hardest we’d ever encountered but we weren’t complaining. [Photo: Clare]

Sitting outside in the hotel garden, the sun is up and there are a few clouds around. Very hot in the sun but cool in the shade. Good [weather] for acclimatising slowly!

Pulse rate at 11:00 was 66.

At 15:00 we took a taxi down to Choglomsar to visit Tsegyal and his family. Choglomsar is the Tibetan area [about 7 km south] of Leh and, although it seems hardly possible, is probably even poorer. The houses are built of mud and stone (the newer ones of concrete) and are separated by small dirt roads and alleyways in a seemingly random arrangement. They wash their clothes in the river and have a communal pump for water (some may have piped water). For all that, most of [the houses] are bigger than ours in Dartmouth, and they are well kept and draped in prayer flags. Building work is still on-going around many of them.

At Tsegyal’s we were met by his mother, Sherap, and grandmother since the children were still at school. Amazing how this harsh way of life affects the elderly, but it’s impossible to know someone’s age based on our western experience [Tsegyal’s grandmother was actually in her 70’s and survived fleeing the Chinese invasion of Tibet - I take it all back!] Their faces have so much character and reflect the problems they have faced due to the Chinese suppression of Tibet and the escape over the mountains to India. Once in India they were forcibly settled in the harshest areas in the mountains, partly because they couldn’t survive at lower levels and partly because they were not wanted in an already poor country. But they hacked a living out of the land which is more than most of us in the West could have done.

It turned out to be a really fun afternoon, a little awkward to begin with, but when the children came back from school things took off, with Clare playing and singing nursery rhymes with them. They are taught English ones at school so recognised them and could sing along. Tsegyal has a younger brother called Tarpa and a sister called Woeser, plus a baby sister. His aunt [Kalsang] also has a couple of children, two girls I think although it’s a little hard to tell (although it appears that girls get their ears pierced at a few weeks old here, maybe that’s how other parents tell!) We were inundated with snacks and drinks. The hospitality is overwhelming.

The main room in their house has windows along two walls with mattresses underneath them. There’s a sofa and chair against the third wall. They have a TV set in a cabinet on top of which were all the cuddly toys we’d sent out over the years, including a very grubby seal pup. They had also put our photographs on the wall which was pretty moving. There were also photos of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, the Himalayas plus various other family members.

It was a great afternoon. We gave them some more presents and they gave me a Tibetan silk shirt. Clare was given a complete Tibetan outfit, as worn everyday by the women here. It was quite an honour. She certainly attracted some attention on the way back.

Had a quick tea also with Kalsang [in her house] before we left and threw a few Frisbees with the boys. Took a taxi back to the hotel, a nightmare ride due to the amount of tea drunk and the quality of the road surface, not to mention [the delay due to] getting diverted by roadworks.

We were so full we didn’t really want dinner but felt obliged to go along anyway. In bed by 10:30.

 
3.08.2005

Pulse rate this morning was 56. Went down to Tsegyal’s school this morning and were given a quick tour. Saw the primary (first year) kids in a lesson - learning the English alphabet and English words. They were amazingly well behaved, studying in small groups and making notes on their own. Unfortunately we only had a quick tour, I guess they were fed up with tourists and we hadn’t booked ahead. So maybe [the administrators] were less friendly than usual. Anyway, the setup was impressive and it’s nice to see where the money goes. Definitely worthwhile.

The head office of the Tibetan Administration in Choglomsar, not far from Tsegyal’s school. [Photo: Clare]
Tibetan craft shop in the grounds of the Tibetan Administration compound. [Photo: Andy]
A back street in Choglomsar. [Photo: Clare]

A back street in Choglomsar. [Photo: Andy]
Tibetan Medical Institute in Choglomsar. [Photo: Andy]
Everyone was really friendly even though they must have been sick of the sight of tourists with cameras. [Photo: Clare]
No doubt about the feeling here for what the Chinese have been doing in Tibet for the last 50 years. [Photo: Clare]

Back to the hotel for lunch and some more relaxing in the sunshine. New groups arriving including some loud Americans - come back Al’Quaeda.

Very lazy afternoon, doing nothing. Evening meal in the restaurant. We arrived first which was good - first to get to the buffet before the rabble get their hands all over it.

Went for a short walk after dinner, found quite a few interesting looking restaurants hidden behind high walls along the road [towards Shanti Stupa]. Maybe worth a visit sometime. In bed by 21:30.

 
4.08.2005

Slept nearly 10 hours last night, not bad. Late for breakfast but they served us anyway - nice guys, we are already collecting tip money for them.

Phone call from Kalsang just as we were leaving for [Leh] Palace. Arranged to meet again at the school tomorrow. Hopefully no misunderstanding this time.

Walked up to the old palace and castle/fort above Leh. Actually not very far, it looks a long way when you see it from below but the palace is only 60 m above [the town]. It’s an impressive 16 storey building built in the 15th century. Inside, it’s a maze of passageways and stairways, small and large rooms, some with big windows and balconies. On the walls are countless wall paintings, sadly most have been defaced by graffiti or perhaps for religious reasons since the faces of the characters have been gouged out.

Leh Palace, seen from the Kang Lah Chen car park. [Photo: Clare]
The path to the palace winds through the narrow streets of Leh. [Photo: Clare]
Wherever you go in Leh you come across Budhist monuments like this stupa. [Photo: Clare]
Looking out over the town. [Photo: Andy]
Trees abound on the western side of the town in contrast to the arid eastern areas. In the greener areas the air seems less polluted and the temperature is definitely more bearable. [Photo: Andy]
Leh Palace. [Photo: Clare]
The main entrance to Leh Palace. Most of the wood in the windows has been replaced recently and restoration work is on-going. The palace is over 500 years old and is 16 storeys high - an impressive piece of architecture. [Photo: Andy]
On the roof of the palace, inside is a maze of dark passageways, stairs and large and small rooms. [Photo: Andy]

A monk keeps an eye on the entrance to a Gompa near the palace. [Photo: Clare]
Statue of the Buddha inside a Gompa. [Photo: Clare]
Buddhist images adorn the walls of each Gompa. [Photo: Clare]
Inside a Gompa - traditionally there are always either 7 or 11 bowls laid out. The case on the left with the chimney contains an eternal flame fuelled by vegetable oil. The rum bottles lying around hint that some ’additives’ may be required to keep it burning. [Photo: Andy]
Inside another Gompa. [Photo: Clare]
This Gompa was on the upper floor of a building. The doorway is as small as it looks in the photo. Shoes are always left outside, socks too if they are not considered clean enough. [Photo: Clare]
Inside the Gompa. [Photo: Clare]
The teachings of the Buddha, contained in wooden covered books, occupy one wall of the Gompa. [Photo: Clare]
The old fort on the hillside above the Palace. It is reached via the zig-zag path - not as hard as it looks. [Photo: Andy]
The fort seen from the small hill to the east. It must be a challenge to put new prayer flags up but this is certainly the place to do it if you want to ensure that the wind will carry the prayers away. [Photo: Andy]
The old fort. The red building below is another Gompa. [Photo: Clare]
Looking down on Leh Palace from the fort. [Photo: Andy]
A typical narrow street in Leh with central drainage channel. Whoever owns the building at the top of the steps obviously has a higher than average salary - probably in the tourist business. [Photo: Clare]
An everyday hazard in the streets of Leh. [Photo: Clare]
An older house in Leh. [Photo: Clare]
From the Terasse Restaurant, looking across the main street towards the Palace. [Photo: Clare]
Connecting to the mains supply in Leh appears to be a matter of twisting a couple of wires on to the nearest power line. This is definitely not European standard. The power lines are frequently within easy reach of balconies and windows - shocking! [Photo: Andy]
Tourists dominate the streets of Leh - Germans, French, Scandinavians, Brits and especially Israelis. [Photo: Clare]
Toxic shock - a chicken sizzler brought smoking to your table. Tastes good but you don’t want to be anywhere near it until the fumes have cleared. [Photo: Clare]
The band warming up in preparation for the display of traditional Ladakhi dancing in the grounds of Leh Palace. [Photo: Clare]
The dancers, members of the Ladakhi Arts Society of Leh, begin their demonstration. [Photo: Clare]
The costumes are amazing. [Photo: Clare]
The costumes are amazing. [Photo: Clare]
The demonstration continues, each dance has a theme… [Photo: Clare]
… this one involves hunting (or being hunted by) a yak. [Photo: Clare]
This dance was created to serve chang (beer) to a Ladakhi king. [Photo: Clare]
This dance was created to serve chang (beer) to a Ladakhi king. [Photo: Clare]
Finally the women and men get to dance together. One of the girls had a giggling fit while attempting one of the dances, much to the amusement of we in the audience. What set her off is anybody’s guess. [Photo: Clare]

There appears to be on-going reconstruction - a lot of the upper rooms have had the wooden beams replaced although the new carvings are not up to the same standard as the originals. Hopefully the building will last another 500 years, it’s certainly an impressive construction.

We also visited a number of Gompas, several containing impressive statues of the Buddha that were over 12 m in height. In one Gompa one wall was lined by a bookcase containing dozens of centuries old texts enclosed in wooden covers. The paper appeared brown and desiccated and it [may well be] impossible to open them now. Would be fascinating to know what they contained [actually they contained the teachings of Buddha].

Finished off with a trek up to the castle, 220 m above the town. It was closed but we sat and surveyed the town and had an excellent view of Stok Kangri in the distance. Back in town we stopped off at the Terrasse Restaurant for lunch. I had a ’chicken sizzler’ - [not unlike having a toxic bonfire brought smoking to your table]. Clare had a vegetable Tikka that was really excellent. Bombed on the drinks though - Clare’s mango lassi [fruit yoghurt drink] was like cheese - the trials and tribulations of not having electricity 24 hours per day.

More garden lounging this afternoon, followed by a walk back up the trail to the Palace for a demonstration of genuine Ladakhi dancing. Fantastic costumes although the dancing and music became a bit monotonous after a while. A yak dance with pantomime yak and cracking whip did liven things up a bit though!

Back to the hotel for dinner and another early night. Tried an after dinner stroll into town but the pollution levels in the still evening air were through the roof. In the end we beat a retreat back to the slightly cleaner climes of the hotel.

 
5.08.2005

A good day and a bad day, good because we had a better visit to the school and bad because I either picked up some bug or maybe ate some bad food. We took a taxi down to Choglomsar just before 10:00 and this time were able to meet up with Kalsang who showed us her class of 11 year olds. They were learning about measurements; metres, centimetres, millimetres etc. in a bizarre mixture of Tibetan and English. The kids thought it was really funny to see a couple of pale Europeans coming into their classroom. We also visited Tsegyal’s class and then Tharpa’s. Tsegyal had his baseball cap on backwards, I think he may be a bit of a rebel although he’s quite shy when he’s on his own.

Children in Kalsang’s class at the TCV school in Choglomsar. Learning about measurements and conversions. [Photo: Clare]
Children in Kalsang’s class at the TCV school in Choglomsar. Learning about measurements and conversions. [Photo: Clare]
A reading lesson for Tharpa’s class. For most of the kids it’s funny to have a visit from a couple of weird foreigners but a little embarassing for Tharpa! [Photo: Clare]
A reading lesson for Tharpa’s class. For most of the kids it’s funny to have a visit from a couple of weird foreigners but a little embarassing for Tharpa! [Photo: Clare]
Kalsang and Andy outside one of the school buildings. [Photo: Clare]
In the kitchen at Sherap’s home with Kalsang and her mother. [Photo: Clare]

Tsegyal in TCV uniform in the garden at the Kang Lah Chen. [Photo: Clare]
Tsegyal and Dechan. [Photo: Clare]
Dechan - Tibetan youngsters seem to be incredibly well behaved compared to their western counterparts. [Photo: Clare]

We also saw the kitchens where they cook up enough dahl, rice and bread for 500 students. An impressive operation based only on a few gas rings.

Kalsang took us round to Sherap’s [Tsegyal’s mother] for some juice and more hospitality. Found out that the grandmother is 79 years old - incredible. Like most of the old women who escaped the Chinese invasion of Tibet, she sits for much of the day spinning her prayer wheel and hoping for Tibet once again to be free.

Jumped on a bus back [to Leh]. 5 rs instead of 100 rs in a taxi. Slow but fun, we even managed to help out with some change for the bus conductor - nobody else could change a 100 rs note (about £1.20)

Walked back through the town, not so much fun due to stomach cramps. Took an aspirin at the hotel and then wandered off for lunch at a nearby restaurant. Clare had an Israeli vegetable dish but I opted for a cheese omelette to be on the safe side. Back to the hotel afterwards to camp in the garden. The stomach cramp seemed to be turning into a flu-like bug with a headache and sore joints but it gradually faded after a few hours - weird.

At 16:45, Kalsang came for an hour with Tsegyal and Dechan, her baby daughter. We had apple juice and biscuits. Kalsang surprised us a little by insisting on opening the bottles herself rather than letting the waiter do it - another of life’s cultural mysteries that will probably defy the language barrier.

 
6.08.2005

Seems like I recovered and Clare picked up whatever I had yesterday. Must be some weird 12 hour bug… could be worse.

Had a quiet morning and then took the bus down to Choglomsar, slightly more challenging since we had to change at the bus station but, after much gesticulating, we found the right one. Got off at the school and met Tsegyal, Tharpa and the other kids walking home, they look so smart in their TCV [Tibetan Children’s Village] uniforms.

Sherap had cooked us a fantastic [traditional] Tibetan meal - meat and vegetable momos, lamb soup, vegetables, rice and curds. Far too much for us to eat, it was a little embarrassing. We did what we could but there was no way we could eat more than a fraction. I hope that they will be able to eat what we left. Fresh papaya for desert - very nice.

After lunch we gave the kids more presents and also the clothes from Jeremy and Myriam. The clothes were a big success and Tsegyal looked great in the denim jacket. Tharpa found a denim shirt that fitted perfectly and they liked the other shirts too. It was good fun watching them. Woeser, Tsegyal’s sister, is a real show-off, she’ll end up as a Bollywood actress if she continues like she is at the moment.

Eventually we took a bus back to Leh with Kalsang. She had some stuff to do in Leh and Clare wanted some help bargaining for a necklace. I left them to it. It’s difficult listening to them talking, half the time I think they’re talking about totally different things. Just when I think something’s been decided they start all over again as if the discussion never took place. Better not to get involved!

Too full to eat dinner this evening, watched Gone in 60 seconds on the TV. Patchy sound and the satellite dropped out entirely during the big car chase at the end!

7.08.2005

Tried to walk up the 500 steps to Shanti Stupa today, about 1 km walk down the road [from the hotel]. The weather was good, sunny but not too hot, slightly warmer at the Stupa where there’s no vegetation. Unfortunately, Clare got sick and became progressively worse as we climbed higher. We struggled to about three quarters of the way up but it was too much and we had to retreat to the hotel. We must have broken the record for the slowest decent ever from Shanti Stupa. On the way back we bought cinnamon rolls and ’farmer’s bread’ from and ’English bakery’. The rolls were good but the bread was a little over the hill.

Andy posing below the stupa at the start of the long climb to Shanti Stupa. [Photo: Clare]
There are 542 steps on the path up to Shanti Stupa. [Photo: Andy]
Old stupas beside the steps. [Photo: Andy]
A well camouflaged lizard suns itself on the rocks alongside the steps. [Photo: Andy]
Tourists and locals alike doing laundry in the river. [Photo: Andy]
Traversing the ridge below the old fort. [Photo: Andy]
Panoramic view over Leh. [Photo: Andy]
Panoramic view over Leh. [Photo: Andy]
Panoramic view over Leh. [Photo: Andy]
Panoramic view over Leh. [Photo: Andy]
Panoramic view over Leh. [Photo: Andy]
Stok Kangri (6150 m) is the peak to the right of the prayer flags. Snow is falling on the mountains and it looks like bad weather is approaching the town. [Photo: Andy]
View of the garden at the hotel from our bedroom window. [Photo: Andy]

After lunch I took a little stroll up to the castle following the same route we’d used before. Just below the flagpole I took a detour along a path that contoured behind the hill, but I was eventually forced back up on the ridge. At least I discovered what happens to dead prayer flags - they end up in the prayer flag graveyard in a hollow behind the ridge.

From the ridge I took the tarmac road northwards, away from the castle and then after 500 m cut left up a track. I was aiming to climb the small peak behind the castle for some better acclimatisation. The early part of the climb was up easy, sandy rolling hills covered with sparse vegetation - green lichen-like plants with thousands of red berries, arranged in chaotic, widely spaced lines. I was taking care to follow existing paths as much as possible to avoid disfiguring the area.

After a while the path steepened into a scramble over large granite slabs covered in a layer of loose pebbles - three steps up, two steps back. The path was easy to follow though thanks to several discarded sweet wrappers that I intended to pick up on the way back. After I reached 3900 m, a little discretion was starting to cut in - there was a moderate risk of a fall or sprained ankle on the way down and nobody knew where I was. Plus, there was some bad weather sweeping across the valley from the direction of Stok Kangri. So in the end I decided to turn back. I was also under the impression I was close to the top [although subsequent evaluation through the binoculars showed it] to be a false summit.

The decent was tricky as expected and I opted for a scree slope to the left of the ridge. This turned out to be less scree and more a thin layer of pebbles over granite slabs, not the easiest ground to descend when you are trying to minimise environmental impact. But it was not too long before I was able to traverse back onto the easier ridge and retrace my steps to the road. A nice little scramble and an acclimatisation walk to 3900 m - not bad.

I took a dirt track back into Leh, passing a large number of rectangular, tomb like structures, some painted white with Buddhist decorations [which turned out to be cremation sites]. Also passed a large, unprotected electricity transformer with a bizarre jungle of wires attached - seems like anyone can tap into the main grid here [if they have the nerve].

Back in Leh I detoured through a wealthier area of the inner town - large houses with big windows and small gardens, satellite dishes on some roofs, and even what could have been garages built underneath them. But the waste from the houses still poured into an open drain running down the centre of the narrow street.

Back at the hotel it was easy to see that I’d been further from the top than I originally thought, a typical false summit. But at least I was in one piece. Another early night, watched the end of an unknown Denzyl Washington movie on the TV. The voltage was pretty marginal for TV watching though.

 
8.08.2005

Up early this morning since the rest of the group is arriving today. Breakfast at 07:30 and then out in the garden to wait. They arrived later than expected having missed the first flight, fortunately there was space on the second.

A mixed group; Howard the Chemical re-distributor from Yorkshire, now living in St. Ives, Hunts. Graham, a lecturer and former shoemaker from Sheffield. Justyn from what used to be Andersen Consulting. Sheila, a graphic designer from Suffolk, originally from London. John S (Dr. John), physics lecturer and an unlikely looking mountaineer. Two other couples, Tony and Vanessa from Barnsley and John (Big John) and Kate. Completing the group is David, a teacher with previous experience from Kilimanjaro, South America and Mongolia. The KE trek leader is Dan Short, fresh from Camp 2 on Everest via the Markha Valley.

The next couple of weeks could be an interesting time but we seem to be getting on OK so far. It’s a bit of a shock to suddenly become part of a large group after being on our own for a week.

[We were told about] a shop selling boiled water for a quarter of the price of bottled water so we went into town for 6 litres - almost a day’s supply. Otherwise just relaxing in the garden and chatting with Howard ’The Chainsaw’, John and Sheila. Dinner at 19:30 and then an early night. Found out that Dan was on the KE Everest trip - he got to camp 2 at 7700 m - good effort. Apparently Ian [who we met on Aconcagua] got cerebral oedema on the way down from the summit and has lost some vision in his left eye - he thinks it was worth it (for the free food for life at Rum Doodle’s in Kathmandu)!

9.08.2005

Temple tour today, up at 06:30 so that Clare can prepare her digestive system for a morning on the road. Seems like some improvement this morning but she won’t take any antibiotics. Got to be better by Friday when we leave on the trek.

The main courtyard at Hemis monastery. [Photo: Andy]
The main courtyard at Hemis monastery. [Photo: Andy]
The main courtyard at Hemis monastery. [Photo: Clare]
The village of Hemis, set into the hillside below the monastery. [Photo: Clare]
Thiksei monastery. [Photo: Clare]
Doing the tourist thang… taking photographs of Thiksei monastery from the road below. Ok, we’re stopped in the local crematorium but we don’t care! [Photo: Andy]
Inside Thiksei monastery. [Photo: Clare]

The gompa containing the statue of the Future Buddha. This part was built to the Dali Lama’s own design in the 1970’s. [Photo: Clare]
This small room contained stautues illuminated by several hundred vegetable oil lamps. The heat is quite intense. [Photo: Clare]
The upper part of the statue of the Future Buddha. The gompa has two floors enabling visitors to get a close-up view. [Photo: Clare]
The upper part of the statue of the Future Buddha. The gompa has two floors enabling visitors to get a close-up view. [Photo: Clare]
Part of Sheh Palace, the original residence of the Ladakhi royal family before the capital was moved to Leh. [Photo: Clare]
Part of Sheh Palace, the original residence of the Ladakhi royal family before the capital was moved to Leh. [Photo: Andy]
View from Sheh Palace showing the contrast between the cultivated and barren areas of the region. [Photo: Andy]
A mud brick factory lies in amongst the growing crops - both need a regular supply of water. [Photo: Clare]

Visited the monasteries at Hemis and Thiksei. Large statues of Buddha and the Future Buddha, the latter dating only from the 1970’s. Buddhist culture is fascinating but when you’ve seen one monastery you’ve really seen them all and doing ’the tourist thing’ is quite embarrassing. It feels wrong [to me] to intrude on their religious ceremonies and prayers. I can’t imagine any Christian (so-called) religions being so tolerant. Last stop was at Shey Palace, the old residence of the Ladakhi monarchy before the capitol moved to Leh.

Apparently new heirs to the throne still have to be conceived there, which could be interesting. Otherwise - just another big statue of the Buddha. Shey apparently means ’Glass’ and when the sun sets the light reflects off the nearby lake making the Palace shine like glass.

Back in time for a late lunch and then off to the Leh Women’s Alliance for a 60 minute showing of a film called ’Learning from Ladakh’ about how western ways are destroying Ladakh and how we could learn to live better lives from studying Ladakhi methods. Stayed for a second film about a couple of Ladakhi women who went to London on a ’reality trip’ to see what the west is really like - visiting old people’s homes, rubbish dumps, supermarkets and, bizarrely, Totnes in Devon. During the discussion at the end of the movie, Helena Norberg-Hodge dropped in. Director and author, responsible for founding the Women’s Alliance, close friend of the Dali Lama etc.

Got back to the hotel at 18:30, dinner at 19:30 and yet another early night.

 
10.08.2005

Up at 07:00, found out that the space shuttle had landed safely - so that’s OK then. The rest of the group went white-water rafting on the Indus but we stayed in Leh and went back to the Women’s Alliance to see another film about ’Afluenza’, made in 1997, to do with the increasing materialism in the west making us all miserable. Afterwards we had ’skew’, a Ladakhi vegetable stew with small ’dumplings’, which was quite bland and not as advertised [I’ll stick to material stuff - thanks]. At least the vegetables were edible.

Tsegyal, Andy and Tarpa at the bottom of the steps leading to Shanti Stupa. [Photo: Clare]
Shanti Stupa. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Shanti Stupa in the early evening sunshine. The stupa was built by the Japanese in the early 90’s. [Photo: Clare]
Tarpa and Tsegyal looking over Leh towards Choglomsar. [Photo: Clare]
Tsegyal models the sunglasses that the boys found abandoned on the Stupa. [Photo: Clare]
Tarpa also tries on the sunglasses. It never occurred to either Tsegyal or Tarpa to keep them - they were both anxious to see them returned to the owner. [Photo: Clare]
Tarpa, Clare and Tsegyal on Shanti Stupa. [Photo: Clare]
Possibly the first time that races have been held around the stupa. [Photo: Clare]
Clare, Tarpa and Tsegyal with a new friend. [Photo: Clare]

Andy, Tarpa and Tsegyal on Shanti Stupa. [Photo: Clare]
Pizza supper at the KC restaurant. [Photo: Clare]

Made a quick trip into town for water and bought a piece of chocolate cake and some cinnamon rolls from the German bakery. Much better than ’skew’. Afterwards sat in the garden and talked a little to the group, just back from their [cold] dip in the Indus. Apparently they had a good time battling the Germans and Japanese for control of the river [just like old times!]

So now we are waiting for Tsegyal and Tharpa to come up on the school bus…

Had a fun evening with the two boys, they said they weren’t hungry so we took them to Shanti Stupa and climbed the 542 steps (150 m) with them. Reassuring that they were puffing and panting as much as we were on the way up. [At the top] we all admired the view, I don’t think they had ever been up there before. Afterwards they had races around the Stupa while Clare timed them. They seemed to think it was great fun.

Later we walked back down and took them to a garden restaurant for a pizza. They managed three pieces each, lucky that Clare was restraining herself so there was plenty to go around. They have a few words of English since their lessons are partly in English at school, but are quite shy at speaking. (On the other hand, we asked them what ’Lamdon’ was since it’s a common name on various signs around Leh. They looked at us as if we were mad and said ’it’s a city’. I guess they are not used to the way that we speak English compared to their teachers). Eventually we took them home in a taxi, the driver took us right to the door despite the road conditions and was happy to wait while we went inside.

We had to have tea and biscuits, all the kids were there again, gathered in the candlelit kitchen. It was an amazing experience. Before we were allowed to leave we were given pieces of red yarn, a gift from the Dali Lama, to tie around our necks for protection on the trek. Also some holy seeds to scatter in the event of bad weather or a hard trail. We felt really honoured.

Took the taxi back to the hotel to show off the gifts to the rest of the group!

 
11.08.2005

Crossing the river before heading for home on the groups first acclimatisation outing. [Photo: Andy]
What goes up must come down, Clare leads the way. [Photo: Andy]
Farm tracks on the outskirts of Leh. [Photo: Andy]

Today we went on a three hour hike up the [Leh] valley via Shanti Stupa. Then back to the hotel for lunch. We sneaked off with Howard for pizza and more cinnamon rolls. Finished off with dinner in the restaurant and some gear sorting, getting ready for the trek.

 
12.08.2005

Said goodbye to all our friends at the hotel and loaded the vans for the drive to Chilling. Seven vans, two in each van, luggage on the roof. Ours had a Tibetan driver but it was hard to keep a conversation going - Clare is better than I am with these things but I was sitting in the front due to significant lack of headroom in the back.

The confluence of the Indus (foreground) and Zanskar rivers. Our path lies along the narrow road on the left of the photo. [Photo: Clare]
Free advertising for KE Adventure on the road to Chilling. Due to the condition of the road surface these vans could only carry 2 passengers each so we needed seven for the entire group! [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Campsite at Chilling, our first night under canvas. The tents are absolutely brand new - a welcome surprise. [Photo: Clare]
The Zanskar river seen from the campsite at Chilling. [Photo: Clare]
A silversmith at work in Chilling. [Photo: Clare]

It turned out to be a three-hour drive out past the Indus/Zanskar confluence and then along single-track dirt roads to the village of Chilling. In some places the drops beside the road are precipitous, there are no crash barriers and the roads are narrow, especially if a lorry or bus is coming in the opposite direction. We survived but it is not stressless travel for people used to Western habits.

On the way I had an apparent recurrence of the same bug I’d had a week ago, with the same slight temperature and sore joints manifesting themselves by the time we got to Chilling. As a result I retreated to the tent for the rest of the afternoon. Fortunately things improved in the early evening, although I wasn’t interested in eating much food.

It was a really warm night, too warm for a 5-season sleeping bag so I slept in the silk liner with the bag on top, which works OK if you don’t move too much.

 
13.08.2005 Trek to Skui in the Markha Valley

Up at 06:00 for ’bed tea’ - the sherpas bring round kettles filled with tea and washing water for the clients - the British Empire is embarrassingly alive and well in Ladakh. Packed by 07:00 and then breakfast. Supposedly on the road by 08:00 but we were delayed for some time. Eventually we walked down to the trolley bridge across the Zanskar River. More waiting while another big group was ferried across and then it was our turn. It was good fun being hauled across the fast-flowing river in the basket but I managed to make a big hole in my right hand - impaled it on a nail on the edge of the basket. It looks pretty nasty - yuk! Blood everywhere [much to the alarm of the trolley bridge operator]. Stuffed it full of antiseptic cream - not much else to be done. Tetanus booster would have been handy though!

Clare, Howard and David wait for the backlog to clear at Zanskar river crossing. Dave is modelling the latest in titanium umbrella technology… I must get one. [Photo: Andy]
Waiting in the sunshine beside the Zanskar river. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Waiting in the sunshine beside the Zanskar river. Our gear is in the blue and yellow fertilizer sacks. [Photo: Andy]
Loading the trolley bridge on the Chilling side of the river. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Crossing the Zanskar by trolley bridge. [Photo: Andy]
Howards makes a solo crossing of the Zanskar. The wooden stick will be his constant companion throughout the trek, even following him halfway up the mountain. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
At the top of the first climb after leaving the trolley bridge. Anyone expecting a cool walk in a green and pleasant valley is sadly disappointed. It’s as hot and dry as it looks. [Photo: Andy]
Stopping off at our first tea-house for a Coke. This woman was passing the time by spinning wool. [Photo: Andy]
Our second campsite was located in a pleasant field close to the river. Rimo even provided foam matresses which made a pleasant change to the old thermarest. [Photo: Andy]

From the trolley bridge we walked up a steep incline in baking heat and covered the distance to Skui - our campsite for the night - in about four hours with lunch at a ’tea house’ we passed along the way. These teahouses appear every few kilometres along the trail and are usually just an army surplus cargo parachute suspended on a pole to give shade. They usually sell Coca-Cola and tea [plus a selection of snacks]. The cold drinks are ’chilled’ in a nearby stream or just a hole in the ground. Normally I wouldn’t touch Coke but it really helps up here, being so full of sugar. [The price increases by about 5 rs per day as the distance from the road also increases. This is about 7p which seems totally reasonable considering the labour involved in getting it from Leh to the middle of nowhere. The biggest surprise for me was that some people in the group actually complained about the rise!]

[After an angry exchange over territory with another Rimo group] we found a great campsite beside the river. Great view, only the smell of horse [urine] detracted a little from the experience. A few of the group went to cool down in the river. I had a quick [left-handed] splash but I didn’t want to get anything into my hand [having probed deeper into the hole made by the nail this morning and seen some stuff that you normally don’t get to see!]

I was obviously [recovering from the bug] since I managed to eat some dinner - mashed potatoes and cauliflower. In bed and asleep by 21:00. Must still have been dehydrated though since I didn’t need to pee all night. There were ponies with noisy bells around their necks wandering behind the tents all through the night to keep us entertained. [Away from any light pollution] the stars were amazing but I didn’t recognise many of the constellations - saw one shooting star though.

 
14.08.2005 Trek to Markha Village

The usual bed tea and breakfast. On the trail by 08:00, walking up the Markha valley. Incredibly hot in the sunshine again, Clare finding it particularly hard - she doesn’t ’do’ heat - but is persevering nonetheless.

The trail winds along the side of the valley. In the middle distance you can see the white parachute of another tea-house where we had lunch on the second day. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Crossing the river by wooden bridge. [Photo: Andy]
In the Markha valley. [Photo: Andy]
In the Markha valley. [Photo: Andy]
From time to time we come across small farms and communities of two or three buildings. How they manage to survive out here is a mystery. [Photo: Andy]
Mani walls, stupas and prayer flags dot the landscape. [Photo: Andy]
Mani walls, stupas and prayer flags dot the landscape. [Photo: Andy]
Our first river crossing takes place in the afternoon sunshine. The water is pleasantly cool and we are almost reluctant to leave it. [Photo: Andy]

Graham, Clare, Vanessa, Bhim, Dan and Sheila crossing the Markha river. [Photo: Andy]
This impressive building was located beside out third campsite. Clare and some of the group were invited over for tea. [Photo: Clare]
Inside the house, in the kitchen preparing tea and chang. [Photo: Clare]

Amazing rock formations along the Markha valley, really messed up during the Himalayan orogeny and then eroded and redeposited only to be cut through by the river again. Some of it looks pretty unstable.

Small pockets of [human] life scattered along the valley although God knows how they survive out there. Villages with perhaps only a couple of houses. Impressive irrigation systems, fed from the river and travelling for miles. I don’t know when they were made but the labour required must have been extensive.

Had lunch under some trees by a small river and waterfall - very pleasant in the shade. Managed to eat the food too although my stomach complained afterwards [so did everyone else’s - those chick-peas are lethal!]

Nice campsite next to a teahouse just before the Markha Village, had another Coke and then a couple of glasses of juice. Stomach still complaining, eventually took an antacid pill - haven’t done that since the Mongolia trip, in fact it’s the same packet that Graham [the trek leader in Mongolia] gave me back in 2000! Sheila was also ill this afternoon.

Aired the [sweaty] sleeping bags and then went for a splash in the river - cold, very refreshing. Stood and rinsed off the sweat in an eddy behind a boulder. The main flow was too powerful to stand up in, plus there were some pretty big rocks being washed downstream.

The ’townies’ are having another wash day! Just heard [on Dan’s short-wave radio] that a Greek airliner has mysteriously crashed near Athens. Clare went off to drink Chai [tea] at a nearby house while I stayed in the tent to catch up on this diary. Dinner in a few minutes.

We’re now at 3800 m, pulse is 69.

 
15.08.2005 To a camp beside the Nimaling Chu

Managed to eat a reasonable dinner last night - at least two bowls of chicken soup, can’t remember what the main course was - oh yeah, curry and spinach pie, not bad! Slept until 05:40, had some weird dreams but that’s [normal at] altitude. Usual breakfast and on the road by 08:00.

Walked up the valley through the Markha Village, which was actually quite a large settlement. Amazing colours, green wheat fields against the harsh brown of the rocks. Some really spectacular rock formations along the sides of the valley; finely laminated slates, dozens of big faults, minor folding (well, small scale, highly intense folding actually) - pretty impressive that it all stays up there - I haven’t seen any rock falls yet.

At the start of our fourth day on the trail we passed Markha village, the largest settlement in the valley. [Photo: Andy]
First glimpse of snow covered peak since we entered the valley, Kang Yazzi (6450 m) comes into view. [Photo: Andy]
Snack stop for the horses. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Snack stop for the horses. [Photo: Andy]
Kang Yazzi - actually a collection of four summits. The one normally climbed is to the right, reached by a steep climb up the left hand edge of the snowfield. The main summit is rumoured to be unclimbed although it’s hard to see why this should be. [Photo: Clare]

Leapfrogging an Italian team most of the way [today], but the first thrill was a couple of river crossings - icy water and not as much fun as yesterday. Boots off, sandals on for the crossing. Slow, relaxed walking today and there was some hazy cloud that lowered the temperature to almost bearable.

Walked with the group this morning but there wasn’t much conversation going on. I don’t think I am very popular with some of [them], especially the other couples. Oh well, each to his own. I don’t have much in common with them and I’m not great at the [general] bullshit so they probably think I’m an ignorant git or something like that. [...] I guess I’m not a group walking person - you only get to see the back of the person in front and you have to continually change pace while people disappear for a photograph or a piss. At the front you can see what’s ahead, you get to choose your preferred path and you seem to float along instead of drowning in group inertia.

Today’s camp is at Nimaling Chu, 4258 m (from GPS), in a flat area where the valley widens out. By chance our tent has been put on the last pitch which is sloping and rough - bummer. But I don’t suppose Clare will notice [she can sleep for England]. Some of the others may be feeling the altitude a bit, I think they found the last climb a little hard. But it didn’t stop some of them disappearing off for a wash as soon they got here. I feel OK, just a slight headache on the steeper parts that faded soon afterwards.

Intermediate camp on our ascent to the Nimaling Plain. [Photo: Justyn Evans]

Dan has just been round taking orders for beer so I thought I’d go for it. See how much acclimatisation I lose as a result. At this point we are more or less [at] the same [height] as Plaza de Mulas (basecamp on Aconcagua). They have beer there too.

Clare is completely wiped out after the walk [due to being ill].

16.08.2005 Trek up onto the Nimaling Plain

In the tent at 4800 m. Thermarest on top of foam mattress, bit like riding a bucking bronco but dead comfortable. Just a short walk [today], two and a half hours with a climb of 600 m. Overcast with a few spots of rain and occasional wind squalls - easy walking. Even Clare was having fun and did a victory lap around a tent to prove it. Things are looking up.

The route takes us through a steep gorge cut through fantastically distorted rock formations. [Photo: Andy]
Bizarre erosional structures have evolved as a result of boulders sheltering the underlying rock from rainfall. [Photo: Andy]
The slopes of Kang Yazzi reflected in a small lake on the Nimaling Plain. [Photo: Andy]
Acclimatisation camp on the Nimaling Plain (4800 m) [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Acclimatisation camp on the Nimaling Plain (4800 m) [Photo: Andy]

Howard still has a headache, Big John said he was ’wiped out’ and Tony is not on good form but otherwise a good day. Got all afternoon to laze around in the tents. And we are staying here tomorrow too for a ’rest day’ although we’ll probably have to go for an acclimatisation walk. Had a good lunch with baked beans, coleslaw, croissants and sausages - yum. Seem to be able to eat most things except pasta now.

Off to immerse myself in the MP3 player for a while.

Pizza for dinner plus roast potatoes, binzle [a kind of pink eggplant] and pumpkin, followed by an apple and cinnamon tart - incredible, I don’t know how they do it.

Managed to get to sleep easily despite the altitude. Still not drinking enough, nowhere near 4 litres a day. But no symptoms of AMS and my skin [passes the pinch test so] is not dehydrated. Will try to drink more tomorrow.

 
17.08.2005 A rest day or contingency day

Woken at 03:30 by the sound of Justyn vomiting noisily somewhere near the tent, at least it sounded close. Thought about offering to help but felt too apathetic and, anyway, as long as he was puking he was definitely still alive and I didn’t want to wake Clare either.

Think Dan is getting worried, about half the group is ill now - Dr. John, Sheila, Justyn, Tony and Howard. He was dispensing double doses of antibiotics at breakfast and asking the affected people not to pass bowls to the healthy ones.

Porridge, pancakes and fried eggs and off up the hill for a spectacular view of Kang Yazzi. Climbed slowly up to 5300 m and sat for an hour soaking up the lack of oxygen. Clare was discussing doing the North Col with Dan, sounds like that could be on the list after Antarctica. I’d like to see the top of something smaller before we get too ambitious.

Vanessa, Kate and Big John didn’t want to sit around [on the ridge] so climbed further up another ridge - they must be feeling pretty good, I guess they must have reached 5600 m before they stopped. Looked like they might keep going forever - not exactly what Dan had in mind.

Back down in camp now, listening to the rain on the outside of the tent. We had some snow showers [while we were on the ridge].

Cleaned up my [injured] hand, looks like a mess but is not infected as far as I can see. Not really healing with the elastoplast on 24/7, maybe it will have to wait until I get back to the UK. Wonder what the incubation time for tetanus is?

Played cards (Whist) in the mess tent with Dan, Howard, Justyn, Sheila and Dr. John. Good fun even if I only managed to win one round. Beginner’s luck. Still, it passed the time.

Lamb burgers for dinner tonight - a sheep [from a nearby flock] was killed and our group got some of it. Excellent. Also more battered binzle and spaghetti. Pretty impressive. Tomorrow evening we have asked for egg and chips - hopefully we haven’t offended the cook! In bed and asleep by 21:00 - it’s a hard life.

18.08.2005 Cross the Kongmaru La

Happy Birthday to me. Up at 05:40, Clare gave me some birthday cards delivered by special Lammergeyer. On the road at 08:00. Climbed slowly away from the Nimaling Plain and Kang Yazzi, up to a height of 5300 m and the Kongmaru La [pass]. The 500 m climb took not much more than an hour. Hung around on top for a long time, it was pretty chilly in the wind. Surrounded by prayer flags and small cairns. One Italian idiot knocked a cairn over and didn’t give it a second thought… pillock! Finally we started down, expected a steep and treacherous descent but actually it was pretty easy - a well-defined mule track, just a bit slippery in places. Tried to get ahead of as many people as possible on the way down. Justyn was going downwards at great speed, perhaps desperate to get back to richer air!

Looking back over the Nimaling Plain towards Kang Yazzi. During our rest day we climbed onto the ridge in the middle distance, reaching 5300 m. Vanessa, Big John and Kate ascended close to the top of the small peak to the left (actually the end of a ridge) which must have taken them close to 5600 m. [Photo: Andy]
Sheila approaches the prayer flags at the top of the Kongmaru La (5300 m). [Photo: Andy]
Andy admires the view of the Karakoram mountains from the top of the Kongmaru La. When there is less haze it may be possible to see K2. [Photo: Andy]
The horses reluctantly ascend a steep trail up the side of the valley. [Photo: Andy]
Descending back into the river valley after detouring to avoid a problem section. The trail is steeper than it looks and covered in a fine powder which makes parts of it rather slippery. [Photo: Andy]
Upturned beds form rows of jagged teeth along the sides of the valley. [Photo: Andy]
A considerable amount of work has gone into constructing this narrow path along the side of the valley. [Photo: Andy]
The sun sets on our tents at our campsite on the northern side of the Kongmaru La. [Photo: Andy]

Waited at the bottom of the pass for the rest of the group and then continued down the ravine. The geology was spectacular - massive, upturned sedimentary beds, metamorphosed into beautiful greens, reds and browns and then differentially eroded. Incredible colours.

At one point we had to wait while the mules climbed up and around a rocky outcrop - one slip and we’d have been eating mule [horse] for dinner. But everything went OK - they obviously do this time and time again.

Lunch by the river and then a short walk into camp, arriving around 14:00. Some tea-tents close by and a couple of flat platforms for the tents - a room with a view today, very nice.

The washing brigade started as soon as we arrived, hair and clothes. David and Sheila even went down to the river to wash. This is not what we expect on an expedition. Yesterday I changed my underwear and t-shirt, that’ll do me until the end of the trip!

Oh yeah, saw a Lammergeyer while we were on top of the Kongmaru La. Tony and Vanessa were complaining that they never even saw a condor while they were in South America. Didn’t bother to tell them about all the condors nesting on the cliffs in the Puna de Atacama.

Had egg, chips and beans for dinner, followed by a surprise birthday cake for me - just when I thought I was going to get away with it. Really well done, it even had ’Happy Birthday to You Andy’ written on it. Once again I’m amazed by what the cook is able to do.

 
19.08.2005 Trek westwards to Shang Po

No rest for the wicked, up at 06:00 and on the road by 08:00. Porridge followed by eggs and bread for breakfast. Bhim tied a white silk scarf to the top of my rucksack - a present from yesterday.

In the early morning sun the horses are lined up to await their loads. [Photo: Andy]

A short walk down the valley before taking a steep pathway up to the pass at 4720 m. I’d been practicing walking at the back [of the group] - these skills come in handy - but worked my way up through the group to get to the front [for the ascent]. Overtaking the sherpas at the front was problematic but I slipped through during a more enthusiastic round of conversation. These guys can keep a constant babble going even on the steepest hills - amazing. Surprised to find Tony and Vanessa hot on my heels although Tony was blowing like a steam train while I was taking it relatively easily. But the guy is 62 and refuses to use walking poles. He’s almost as competitive as Carl Carstens! Hope he doesn’t overdo it when we get higher again.

Leaving the normal trekking route we finally turn towards the west and head towards Stok Kangri. [Photo: Andy]
Howard and David beside the trail on the way to Shang Po. [Photo: Clare]
Cairn with decoration. [Photo: Andy]
Relaxing after a steep climb. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
The farm at Shang Po where we camped for the night. It was a surprise to emerge over a ridge from a desert valley and find this settlement. [Photo: Andy]

From the top of the first pass we descended a little, contouring round the side of a valley before crossing a river and making a new ascent to another pass at 4820 m. We had lunch there and then descended into a new valley. Came over a ridge at the end of that valley and found a large farm below us - quite a surprise. This turned out to be our next campsite and we arrived at 14:00.

Tents up and juice on the go by 14:40 - good going. As usual people off to wash themselves and their clothes in the river. Meanwhile tea will be served at 16:00.

Played cards after tea, Howard won so many times it was starting to get boring. Pasta for dinner - not good, only managed a small portion. The onion pakora we had with tea earlier were the best food so far on the trek.

The moonlight tonight is absolutely fantastic, it’s not quite full but you can see colours quite vividly. An excellent night’s sleep apart from a mule sounding like a foghorn wandering between the tents all night.

 
20.08.2005 Cross the Shang La to Gangpoche

An excellent 6-hour trek from Shang Po, up a river valley with spectacular views back down the trail to several mountain ranges in the distance. Slowly climbing up to the Shang La pass at 4960 m. I stayed in front for a lot of the way up the trail, keeping a steady pace based on Howard’s breathing behind me. Worked OK until the Sherpas caught up just below the pass, their talking was ruining my mountain kharma so I let them past. After that several of the group made a break for freedom but, since I was having a mellow day, I just left them to it. From the top of the Shang La we could see Stok Kangri in the distance - looking good.

Discussing the view at the top of the Shang La. Is that or is that not Stok Kangri in the distance. Apparently it is. Howard wants to go home now. [Photo: Andy]
Chatanga and ? relaxing at the top of the Shang La. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Stok Kangri (6150 m). [Photo: Andy]
Horse train leaving our lunch stop. [Photo: Andy]
Some of the trails are quite narrow and it’s a long way down to the river below… [Photo: Justyn Evans]
… but if horses can do it then so can we. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
It’s not over til the fat lady sings. She may not be about to burst into song but her horse might - burst that is! Clear the trail - heavy load coming through. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Campsite at Gangpoche. [Photo: Andy]
Deteriorating weather over Stok Kangri, unfortunately there was no new snowfall to make our ascent more interesting. [Photo: Andy]

From Shang La we descended [no other choice!]. I opted for the left hand gulley which gave a few scree-running opportunities, Justyn [master descender] was slightly miffed to have taken the more straightforward right hand gulley with a simple track. The two of us continued on ahead and met a group of 37 English 17 year-olds on the way up [at least they had the cricket scores for Dan and Howard].

The trend continued on over several more minor passes, contouring round the sides of hills until finally crossing the Tokpo River. Surprising how uncertain some of the group are when it comes to crossing small rivers and on exposed mountain tracks. Dr. John’s poor coordination is a valid excuse but some of the others are quite weak when it comes to stepping over some of these obstacles. Since there were no guides around I felt I should keep an eye on them crossing the river - hope they didn’t mid too much. Graham came along later [photo-happy] and couldn’t find the crossing resulting in wet feet.

Had an energy drink for lunch resulting in a sudden burst of energy, which I had to run off. Unfortunately no one was around to see me jogging up a small peak to get a photo. Back on the trail the ’fat lady’ from the Canadian group was continuing to torture her mule (don’t ask - conflicting stories about blisters, boils and ligaments) so I took the opportunity to leap ahead and jog down the trail for a few hundred metres. At least going down feels really good.

A few more ridges and gullies took us to our next campsite at Gangpoche. A small sheep / goat farm in the middle of nowhere. Much distress was caused by the red sediment contaminating the nearest river, resulting in a long walk to another river for washing and laundry purposes.

Sat around later with some of the group listening to Clare alarm them with stories of derring-do amongst the snow and ice peaks.

Tea, biscuits and more games of Whist to fill in the time until dinner. The weather was changing and a cloud bank moving in. With the moon behind the clouds and the mountains silhouetted in its light the effect was quite stunning. You could even see moonbeams coming through the clouds.

 
21.08.2005 To Stok Kangri basecamp

Today we moved up to Stok Kangri basecamp. Almost a repeat of yesterday, crossing a couple of passes and traversing some valleys, with a river crossing or two thrown in. Arrived basecamp about 14:30, 5000 m. In the distance you can see Leh [actually it wasn’t Leh, it was the next valley to the east], it’s not so far from here since we have more or less walked two thirds of a circle.

Basecamp at Stok Kangri - not the most pleasant place in the world. [Photo: Andy]
Basecamp at Stok Kangri seen from above. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Our tents at basecamp, the trail to advanced basecamp and Stok Kangri can be seen in the distance. [Photo: Andy]

Basecamp is pretty busy with several groups here and others heading off down the valley. Yaks and donkeys wander here and there and dig through the rubbish tip. Not a place you really want to spend too much time, but we are here for two nights since tomorrow is a rest day. Never mind, definitely need the rest; it’s getting harder to get up the hills, only Vanessa seems to be unaffected. Big discussions about how old she is - Tony is 62 but she has to be some years younger. Even so, she’s pretty incredible [apparently completely unaffected by the altitude - a female Lance Armstrong?]

 
22.08.2005 Rest day at basecamp

A rest day. Spent a couple of hours doing rope practice on the slopes above basecamp. Quick demonstration of knot tying - alpine butterfly for tying into the rope. The Nepali guides seem to favour an overhand knot though - I don’t think they were too concerned. Afternoon spent sorting gear and getting ready to move to high camp.

Graham and Howard are willing to share a tent for one night at ABC, but having to share a kit-bag as well is really asking too much! [Photo: Andy]
What to wear? What to wear? Sheila tries to decide what to leave behind at basecamp… [Photo: Andy]
… while Graham and Howard make helpful(?) suggestions. [Photo: Andy]
A yak browses through the rubbish left by previous expeditions. Unpleasant and not particularly rich in calories - the rubbish that is, not the yak. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
 
23.08.2005 Climb Stok Kangri

Late start again. More gear sorting. We don’t have to carry anything; the horses will take everything to ABC. Easy money compared to South America. Left BC at about 13:00 expecting a 3-hour walk and ascent of 500 m. Turned out to be 90 minutes and 350 m.

First snow on the trail from basecamp to advanced basecamp. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Andy watches the horses arriving at advanced basecamp. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Advanced basecamp. [Photo: Andy]
Advanced basecamp lies on the morraine beside the glacier. The route tomorow crosses the glacier further up the valley. [Photo: Justyn Evans]

ABC is a series of tent platforms carved out of the moraine beside the glacier. From here we can see some of the route we will take tomorrow. Looks pretty steep but it’s a really nice looking mountain.

Played cards lying on the floor of the mess tent until dinnertime. Not much space for the entire group to eat since it was also the cook tent. Cosy. Great food considering the circumstances.

Back to the tents at 18:30, we have an early start tomorrow.

 
24.08.2005 Climb Stok Kangri

Wake up call at 01:00, not that I really needed it since I hadn’t slept very much anyway, at least it didn’t feel like it. Beautiful half moon and starry sky, occasional shooting stars streaking across it so fast that you think you imagined it. A bit of wind but not cold, fleece and a windshell to start with.

Throw some gear into the rucksacks and then it’s over to the mess tent for breakfast of hot cornflakes followed by omelettes. Surprisingly hungry. Everyone eventually gathered in one place although not all enamoured of the early start by the look of it.

Just before 03:00 we set off along the moraine. A nasty little walk on broken rock. Fortunately the moon was bright enough to allow headtorches to be switched off, although some people kept theirs on for some reason. About a km up the moraine we turned right to cross the glacier, no real problems here, just a couple of streams to cross - still flowing even at this time in the morning which shows how warm it is here.

The last part of the glacier traverse is slightly uphill then it’s back onto crap moraine again. A pain in the butt in the dark with different people moving at different speeds and never able to develop a steady rhythm. Dr. John has got his ice-axe out and has a walking pole in the other hand. On the steeper sections he’s down on all fours like Gollum with tools flying in all directions! Still in the dark, we’re zigzagging up steep slopes of rubble with occasional icy patches. No need for crampons unfortunately, this is a shitty mountain when it’s dry. At least the size of the rock fragments underfoot is decreasing.

Clare, David and Vanessa approaching the summit of Stok Kangri (6150 m). [Photo: Andy]
Canadians and Brits mingle on the ridge before the final climb to the summit. [Photo: Andy]
Doctor John arrives on the summit. [Photo: Andy]
Vanessa and Tony on the summit dome. [Photo: Andy]
Sheila beside the collection of prayer flags on the summit. [Photo: Andy]
Andy poses in the sunshine - note the light dusting of ice on hat, it’s colder than it seems. [Photo: Andy]
Clare on the summit. [Photo: Andy]
Looking good Dave! [Photo: Andy]
The low angle of the sun behind Clare is a good reminder that it’s only 7AM. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
The low angle of the sun behind Clare is a good reminder that it’s only 7AM. [Photo: Andy]
Sheila, Kate, Big John, Doctor John, Dan and Bhim - the closest we can get to a group photo. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Sunshine on the top of Stok Kangri. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Sunshine on the top of Stok Kangri. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
View to the south from the summit. [Photo: Andy]
View to the southeast from the summit. [Photo: Andy]
View to the south from the summit. [Photo: Andy]
View to the southwest from the summit. [Photo: Andy]
View to the west from the summit. [Photo: Andy]
View to the west from the summit. [Photo: Andy]
View to the west from the summit. [Photo: Andy]

Beginning the descent from the summit. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Preparing to leave the north ridge of Stok Kangri on the descent. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Clare and Andy, Sheila slightly further back, descending from the ridge. [Photo: Justyn Evans]
Waiting for the group at the bottom of the ridge before crossing the glacier. [Photo: Andy]
Andy getting comfortable on the morraine. [Photo: Andy]
Howard strolls across the glacier. [Photo: Andy]

Meanwhile the horizon is starting to brighten with the first signs of dawn. It’s too warm so people are starting to ditch clothing, I take off the windshell, which is OK as long as you don’t stop for too long. Chatunga is in the lead and he’s stopping every few minutes to allow people to get their breath back. I’m not sure I like this since I’d prefer a slow, steady pace but there’s no option. As we get higher though I start looking forward to the rests more and it gets harder to get started after each one.

Up ahead are the [head torches] of the Canadian group that we’ve been leapfrogging all week. They are going slowly.

Somehow the sun has come up but I haven’t really noticed it. Finally we’re on the south ridge and overtaking the Canadians, they are not too amused and [the leader] complains about ’pressure’. Tough. We weave up the ridge between jagged outcrops, on the left it’s quite exposed, the potential for serious injury due to a slip is quite high. Somehow I’ve moved up behind Sheila who’s at the front and moving really well. We can see the summit, with a mass of prayer flags blowing in the wind, about 100 m vertically above us but it looks agonizingly far away.

The air pressure is now less than half that at sea level and it’s hard to keep going for more than a dozen or so steps at a time. Even Sheila admits that she seems to be running out of energy. Eventually there’s nothing else to do but ignore the pain and go for it. We emerge [from the shadow of the ridge] onto the summit dome, passing three people on their way down. A few more steps and we’re there.

On the left is the pile of prayer flags, on the right an easy snow ramp up the last few metres to a stunning view down the north face of Stok Kangri, with the town of Leh just visible in the haze 2.5 km below. A few minutes later the rest of the group begin to arrive. The summit is crowded with people trying to take photographs and congratulate each other. It’s around 07:00, we’ve climbed Stok Kangri in 4 hours from ABC, which is pretty fast according to the guidebook. Finally even Graham is on top, despite having looked a little wrecked earlier in the day, and Dan is handing out Gummibears while trying to prevent Big John from lurching over the north face.

The Canadian party emerge on to the snow and we watch with interest as one girl appears to collapse. After much back rubbing and group hugging she’s back on her feet and they stagger to the top emitting loud and intrusive victory yells. Bloody hell, somebody shove them off the cornice. Fortunately the thin air can’t sustain their enthusiasm for long.

I untie the silk scarf that Bhim have me on my birthday from my rucksack and tie it to the pole supporting the prayer flags. I hope this will bring additional good luck - looking at the way down I may need it.

Eventually we start down, the ridge is tricky but not as bas as it looks and going down requires far less effort than going up. Not everyone is so confident and the group is quickly spread out. But we don’t care, we want to get away from the loud Canadians so we keep going. At the bottom we try glissading over a small snowfield but the snow is too sticky and we keep falling over. Above the glacier we stop and rest in the sunshine, waiting for the others. Finally only Graham is missing so we leave Dan to sort him out and begin to descend to the glacier. There’s a bit more water flowing but it’s still OK.

Back at ABC our bags are still waiting to be picked up. Nobody wants to hurry back to the tip at BC so we lie in the sun and wait. Eventually the horses turn up and are loaded, meanwhile we find out that Kate has sprained her ankle on the glacier - oops! At least she’s still mobile - she and Big John couldn’t move much slower anyway.

When the horses leave so do we, the walk back to BC is easy even though we are tired.

Back at BC some of us help to put the tents back up while Bhim confronts a French group over territorial rights - we win by putting the tents up, possession is 9/10ths of the law after all. Remember Agincourt!

After a while we try playing cards although we’ve been awake since 01:00 (or longer in many cases). Howard quits after managing to play two cards in one round without even noticing - we have to count the cards to convince him.

We have our final meal under canvas. The cook has really done his best but we’re too tired to eat much although we do enjoy the Stok Kangri cake for pudding.

Meanwhile, outside, the horsemen have cunningly tethered their horses in lines around our tents so that we are constantly disturbed by the sound of the bells around their necks. I guess they are in league with the French who leave noisily at 02:00 the next morning.

 
25.08.2005 Trek to Stok, drive to Leh

Up at 06:00 but not on the road until 08:30. We have a brief ceremony to hand out tips to all the staff who’ve been with us on the trip. The tip money is probably equal to their wages for the entire trip so it’s really important for them.

Breakfast on the last morning before leaving basecamp - who stole the tent? [Photo: Justyn Evans]
The Rimo crew gather for a group photograph. [Photo: Clare]
Descending from basecamp… [Photo: Andy]
… into a valley of nightmarish geology. [Photo: Andy]
Approaching Stok Village the valley starts to widen and flatten. [Photo: Andy]
The end of the trail. [Photo: Andy]
Mobile hedges or perhaps just donkeys carrying loads of hay. [Photo: Clare]

Kate’s ankle is worse but she won’t ride a horse. After only a few minutes she and Big John are a long way behind. We continued to walk downhill past the intermediate camp used by ’4-day’ peak baggers and on through a really surrealistic gorge, very much out of Lord of the Rings. Waited to see if anyone else appeared but no signs of the tail-enders so continued up over a small pass and into a new valley, passing tea shops and encountering groups of German storm troopers coming in the opposite direction. As someone pointed out, we’re getting more rest stops today than at any previous point on the trek.

Increasing vegetation, even some small trees, together with a flattening and widening of the valley floor indicated that we were approaching our final destination. A few walls, an irrigation system to negotiate and finally we reached the Last Tea House (or First) in the village of Stok - the end of the line.

Sat and drank Coke while waiting for the rest of the group to reassemble. Speculated about getting a taxi back to Leh but suddenly the horses appeared with Kate riding on one - a sensible move by Dan even if it required threatening the lead horseman with violence before he finally relented and provided one, redistributing loads between various other members of the team.

Once the horses were unloaded we piled into the waiting jeeps for the 25 minute journey back to Leh. A stark contrast to be suddenly surrounded by noise and pollution again after two weeks of mountain bliss.

Back at the Kang Lah Chen Hotel we got a nice room on the second floor - thanks to Clare making friends with the guy on reception - albeit without a television this time. No hot water but even a cold shower was welcome after so long without a wash - wet wipes only go so far.

Bhim wanted to distribute silk scarves at 18:00 but in the end it all got a bit confused since Kalsang and family turned up around the same time. Clare also bought a tanka to support Bhim’s Nepalese artist friend. Sheila and Dan also bought one each although Sheila later sold hers to Clare. I don’t think anyone else was persuaded to buy one although the cause was definitely genuine - different values and appreciations.

Packed and sorted gear in preparation for an early departure tomorrow.

Kalsang, Pema and the rest of the family gave us loads of presents, which was really kind of them, so we have a lot of things to carry home. It was very sad to say goodbye to them but we will no doubt be back at some point. They took the bus to Choglomsar, we didn’t even try to persuade them to accept the taxi fare this time.

Meeting our friends, including Tsegyals’ father, Pemba, back at the Kang Lah Chen Hotel. [Photo: Clare]

Went out for dinner with Howard, Justyn, Sheila, Clare, David and Dan. Back to the K.C. Restaurant again - everyone had pizza although the quality was mixed. The beer was good though and it was fun to watch the nouveau-hippies posing around the campfire.

 
26.08.2005 Fly to Delhi, sightseeing

Up at 04:00, breakfast at 04:30 and off to the airport at 05:15. Massive queue to get through security but eventually we made it. Bhim gave out his silk scarves and Wang-Di put Kang Lah Chen stickers on all the bags before we left the hotel.

The flight to Delhi was slightly delayed but we were soon sweating in 36-degree heat. Quite a contrast to the temperature at 3500 m in Leh. Fortunately Claridge’s hotel was supremely luxurious and air-conditioned. Took a trip over to the famous Imperial Hotel for afternoon tea, alas the fabled tea ritual overseen by three guys in imperial uniform was apparently a thing of the past. The coffee, however, was excellent.

Pigged out on food and beer at Claridge’s before attempting an early night - we have a 05:15 start tomorrow. Spent a sweaty night due to the inherent threat of the a/c system - eventually forced to bite the bullet and switch it on as the temperature in the room rose into the 30’s.

27.08.2005 Free day in Delhi, evening check-in

Taj Mahal. An interesting but long day involving a 2-hour train ride, a 3-hour tour of the sights of Agra, lunch at the Agra Hilton and then a 4-hour taxi ride back to Delhi. Tiring but worth it. Unfortunately Justyn became ill during the Taj tour but we were all glad to have an excuse to terminate proceedings as early as possible - it was HOT!

Entrance to the Taj Mahal. [Photo: Clare]
Classic view but look at the crowds… and this is early! [Photo: Clare]
It’s not only western tourists who come here, many Indians also visit the Taj Mahal every year. [Photo: Clare]
Andy and Clare pose infront of a poster of the Taj Mahal - just kidding… it’s the real thing! [Photo: Clare]
Clare does the Diana thing on the bench infront of the Taj. [Photo: Clare]
Princess Howard… [Photo: Clare]
... and Princess Justyn! [Photo: Clare]
The Taj Mahal. [Photo: Clare]
No internal combustion engines are allowed near the Taj Mahal, lawnmowers use alternative energy sources. [Photo: Clare]
Accomodation for visiting VIPs. [Photo: Clare]
View of the river from beside the Taj Mahal. A black mirror image of the Taj was planned for the opposite bank of the river but was never built due to a small family dispute. [Photo: Clare]
Close up of the detail work inlaid into the marble of the Taj Mahal. [Photo: Clare]
Intricate carvings in the marble. [Photo: Clare]

Back at Claridge’s I had a shower, a few beers and then a huge Indian meal before leaving for the airport at 22:00. Said goodbye to Dan who was staying for another 24 hours.

Delhi International Airport was chaos but Clare and I managed to get in ahead of the main group [by judicious choice of entrances]. We found that the flight was overbooked and were [miraculously] upgraded to business class - there is a god sometimes. Fully reclining seats (beds), free booze and very polite cabin staff. Only marred by the ongoing catering strike but even so the chicken curry wasn’t bad, even at 03:00 in the morning. [The luck continued, the flight from London to Oslo was also overbooked, I volunteered to wait for the next one in exchange for 500 Euros, another upgrade to business class and access to the SAS business lounge in terminal 3 - not bad!]

A high note to end a very special trip on - even if another holiday is required to recover after all the early starts. Back to work tomorrow!

Julay!

 
 
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