The Photoless Photography Blog Post - Part IV

From jungle to juniper and back again, we successfully traversed the Langtang Valley. It was epic, steep, cold and fraught.

Our second trek was made all the more difficult by sickness and the erroneous budgeting of both money and toothpaste. It was certainly tight, but fortunately for our gums and stomachs, we didn’t run out of either. The toil paid big with monkeys, glaciers and an unexpected cuppa in a monastery with a trio of Tibetan monks. A situation that arose after we befriended an affable teahouse owner on our way to Kyanjin Gompa. She plied us with bubble gum and without any heed to the advice given to us as children we followed the strange lady back to her house. Stopping abruptly with her weathered finger outstretched and pointed toward a rustic looking shack she claimed excitedly ‘There’s monkeys in there!’ before striding purposefully through the gate with a generous bunch of mustard greens in hand. Exhausted and expecting grey langurs, we follow. Instead, we were greeted with a cosy kitchen and a group of maroon clad monks, one of which had the kettle on.

Yes mate.

‘No money, we’re monks!’ the man cried as Damaris rifled in her purse for two brews worth of rupees. Luckily, after a couple of months in Nepal, we’re now the kind of folk who don’t leave home without a few ounces of buffalo ghee in their rucksack. Hand churned by yours truly on a cold Chitwan morning several weeks prior and ensconced neatly in tupperware, we presented them with our buttery gift and they accepted the ghee with glee. We were delighted too, to have traded an unforgettable experience for something hand crafted. All that lactic acid was worth it. Cultural win.

Using physical cash brings joy to my heart and was one of the unexpected pleasures of visiting Nepal. No bloody contactless payments. A process, which in my mind, aims to separate the act of spending from the amount of funds available to you and is no doubt training a whole generation of financially illiterate people. Even the name riles me, there’s no such thing as a contactless tap. To prove it I tried to get my wife’s attention with one for an entire hour the other night, by which point the sausages had burnt and were inedible. Thanks capitalism.

After two months of consuming mostly carbohydrates we’ve become daal bhaat connoisseurs. The staple Nepali dish of rice, vegetable curry, pickle and lentil soup is open to many different interpretations and across the spectrum we’ve sampled a hearty rainbow. It’s both inexpensive and healthy, but the very finest bit about daal bhaat is the endless refills.

“When out of the mist came a beast more stomach than man”
- Captain McAllister – The Simpsons, 1992


So here it is, our definitive and completely subjective list of the TOP 3 DAAL BHAAT IN NEPAL. Anyone unfamiliar with the numbering system should acquaint themselves with prestigious 1980’s game show, Bullseye:

INNNNNNN three - Himali Kitchen, Kathmandu
The first meal we ate upon arriving in Asia holds a special place in my heart. Convinced that Nepali food would be laced with nuts (I’m allergic) or crammed with bacteria that’d give me the squits, it was a relief to eat a meal that had neither. Served on traditional brass plates with a chalice of soup, it’s a solid daal bhaat on solid kitchenware.

INNNNNNN two - Anjana’s Kitchen, Adhikari Farm in Chitwan
Anjana makes this twice a day, every day. She’s a pro. It’s home made, comforting mum food and the high watermark that her children will forever judge other meals by. Green beans and mustard leaves picked from the garden, sautéed in spices with a cup of freshly squeezed buffalo milk. Delicious, all organic and packed with nutrition, it’s more like medicine than a meal. Thumbs are firmly up.

INNNNNNN one - Thakali Kitchen in Pokhara
Technically a thali, this technicolour daal bhaat is so flavoursome it’s like a disco in the mouth. A multitude of different pickles accompany a highly spiced curry and a mound of verdant spinach. There’s even a dollop of tamarind jam with the stone to suck on for a pudding mouthful. Ruddy great.

Living differently for two months has allowed me the opportunity to re-assess my lifestyle, break a few bad habits and hopefully form a few good ones. My twenties were spent working exhaustively; overnight, weekends and mostly in dark rooms under relentless air conditioning designed for machines and not people. Not good for a chronic eczema sufferer. A break has been good for my brain to reflect on what I’ve done well thus far and what I haven’t. I’ll always work hard but now I’m ready to work wise too.

Right then, there’s just enough time for a quick stop at Himali Kitchen before some frantic packing and the realisation that we might’ve over indulged in cashmere and copper kitchenware. The souvenir haul is extensive, including a hand painted teeth sign purchased from a confused dentist, it’s weathered appearance a good indicator of what might happen to us should we stay, a brick with the word SUPER on it and a ceramic resistor that’d fallen off a pylon.

That’s yer lot, the Nepal adventure is at an end. It’s sad to leave but exciting to return home to embark on the next phase of my career. We came to Kathmandu, we Kathmandid and now we’re Kathmandone.


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The Photoless Photography Blog Post - Part III

Hurrah! Trek number one done and now we’re indulging in the spoils of Pokhara, the safest place to fall over in the known Universe as you’re never more than four feet from a vendor erupting with cashmere. The eleven hour bus journey from the trek to here deserves special mention. Firstly, it was eleven hours long, that needed repeating. Secondly, we were delayed by diggers, big ones, clearing the road of rocks as large as cars from a landslide so recent it was still slightly happening.

Luckily, diggers are cool and that distracted us from the peril.

Roads in Nepal are an abstract concept, sometimes they’re a collection of mismatched rocks, sometimes they’re perpetual slop. Other times they’re an endless arrangement of holes so frequent that it’s a cosmic mystery how such a small amount of road can support so many holes. Hopefully, one day, the last of the road will erode and all that’ll be left is road shaped hole where the road used to be. Much less bumpy indeed.

The mud got the better of us at one point so the conductor dug us out with his trusty conductor’s spade. We cheered a little bit but he played it cool. No biggie. The bus had a TV at the front and he celebrated by putting an action film on. The loud, dramatic music and sounds of people screaming made for a journey that was not at all very stressful. If anything it distracted us from the lack of road to the left of the bus and the sheer drop into the valley should we topple. The conductor knew how to work a crowd.

Fortunately for our nerves that’s all a distant memory and we’re knocking back poached eggs at Sacred Valley and getting massaged by blind people at Seeing Hands Spa. As the epicentre of a raw, vegan salad magnet, Pokhara attracts a particular persuasion of tourist. Clad head to toe in hemp, the men have longer head hair than the women and the women have longer underarm hair than the men. Thanks to a strident bout of male pattern baldness I’ll never conform to that demographic, my wife could be the armpit Rapunzel but the good lord Darwin has blessed me with genes that will forever save me from a floppy top knot. I may be a bit of a hippy on the inside but I’ll always look like a Milwall supporter.

Attempting to further differentiate myself I’ve started spouting my repertoire of football vernacular. ‘Kick the ball!’ I cry as the unwashed festival types in the queue ahead of me order something called a ‘Buddha Bowl’ with additional flax seeds. In the same cafe another longhair attempted to woo an uninterested lady by silently drawing her then proudly presenting the finished work, presumably expecting spontaneous intercourse. Her frown, unchanged from the frown she’d been wearing all along, suddenly gave way to the words ‘that doesn’t look like me’ in a pleasingly blunt Eastern European manner. All to the soundtrack of me shouting ‘Teddy Sheringham!’ and ‘Transfer deadline!’.

The bit about me shouting footy banter was a fabrication for creative purposes, but also an excellent excuse to quote some golden era Simpsons:

"The following tale of alien encounters is true. And by true, I mean false. It's all lies. But they're entertaining lies. And in the end, isn't that the real truth? The answer is: No."

- Leonard Nimoy - The Simpsons, 1997


The bit about Biro-Casanova was, unfortunately for him, all true.

Dinner’s just arrived so I’ll keep this one brief. I’ve got a small bowl of curry with a pancake the size of a professional kite. Fingers crossed the wind doesn’t pick up.


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The Photoless Photography Blog Post - Part II

"The stiffer the climb, the gnarlier the dude."

- Albert Einstein, 1998


We’ve ascended. Steeply. The lines and valleys in the faces of the locals we meet deepen as the climbs heighten. Albert was right, to thrive in the Himalayas these folk need to be tough as the boots they’re too tough wear.

For a bit of context, we’re currently in the final stages of the Annapurna Circuit, a classic Nepali teahouse trek that takes a couple of weeks. The Annapurna’s are a bunch of mountains that are mostly rather large (Annapurna I is the 10th highest peak in the world) and we’re on our merry way semi circling around them. The route we've chosen is 90 miles long and ascends to a whopping 5416 (very precise) metres.

It’s hard to describe the epic nature of trekking past peaks just shy of 8000 metres, it was humbling enough to see those that reach a mere 4000 metres, crumbs, a pair of large hills in Oxfordshire have been known to fill me with wonderment. One involuntary phrase, spoken under my breath to no one, came close to describing the awe I felt gazing up toward the ancient tectonic sculpture of Annapurna II (7937m). It was as if the rock itself had reached into my mouth and plucked, between snow capped thumb and fore finger, the delicate and poetic words:

“Fuck off you fucking mountain”.

The obscenity, free from my subconscious and wafting whispered on the Himalayan breeze, will be heard forever more by those that follow in our footsteps. Lucky buggers.

Thorong-La was the ultimate goal of the trek, it’s a pass between mountains, one called Thorong, the other something else (not La). It’s the culmination of 10 days gradual incline and careful acclimatisation to the increasingly thin air, before 4 days descent and a bus back to civilisation. We journeyed from stepped rice paddies through pine forests and eventually to a mystical snow covered cold mountain realm. There were vultures (endangered white rumped ones) circling us at one point. They know when stuff is near dead and my body... My body was telling them, yes.

5416 metres is a lot of metres horizontal but a steaming shit load vertical. Colder than a witches tit, the water and food in our rucksacks froze instantly as we embarked at 5am. Thankfully, the bitter cold made me unaware of just how sunburnt I was. Thanks nature. Somehow we made it with a great sense of achievement in tow, although I've never shouted the phrase "I'M NOT HAVING FUN ANY MORE" and meant it quite as much as I did that day.

Of all the British creature comforts that have reached the remote villages we stayed in, I’m glad ‘taking the piss’ hasn’t. Dressed like a twat with trekking poles, desperately gasping my way through the lack of red blood cells required to exist at altitude, I’d be ripe.

Now, after the heady challenge of Thorong-La, flat ground is on the horizon and it’s a sight for sore thighs. Tonight we stay in Kagbeni, where the entrance of the town is guarded by a pre-Buddhist wooden statue of a man with an enormous erect penis. I have great faith in the protective powers of this gentleman’s member and feel certain his mighty phallus could intimidate a Mongol horde. I’ll be sleeping well tonight.

The photo-less photography blog continues. Crusty old words from my brain will have to suffice until I’m back home, blistered and broken on a South London sofa, with a cheese and tomato sandwich in one hand and laptop in t’other.

Maybe one day I’ll mount a photography exhibition where, instead off photos, there’ll be descriptions of what the photo would have been written on 6x4 photo paper. Ooh, that’s well arty, that is.

Don’t worry I won’t do it.


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The Photoless Photography Blog Post - Part I

The vacuous expanse of interstellar space is second only in size to the vast stretches of time between my blog posts. Their frequency tallies quite neatly with time spent away from work, when the muscle of my mind relaxes and I remember how to write real good and stuff.

Time away from work is currently and joyfully in abundance. I’m travelling around Nepal with my wife for two months and it’s one holy cow of an adventure. There’s mountains, some so high they need a taxi home to sleep it off. There’s bumble bees as big as my thumb. I would go as far as saying that most things are a different size to what I’m used to. It’s well exotic.

So far we’ve been on a few jungle safaris, one on top of an elephant, the other walking. Elephants are decent, great trunks. We saw some fresh tiger footprints but no tigers. The guide on the walking tour found magic mushrooms in a crusty pile of rhino dung which delighted him greatly. He'll give them to "a friend" he said. Yeah right mate, the packet of fags mum found in my school trousers belonged to the same friend.

In the southern rural areas the local delicacy is fish head, deep fried until the bones go soft. The hosts laughed heartily when we asked "How does one eat a fish head?". The response was "You put it in your mouth and chew". Someone had taken too many shrooms the day they thought that was a good idea. I can’t see them catching on in the UK. Not because we’re snobs though, the Brits will consume their body weight in anuses if you sprinkle with herbs, wrap in pastry and call it a sausage roll. At least Nepali’s eat the friendly end of their animals. Maybe I’m wrong and deep fried fish head with smashed avocado, plucked with chopsticks from a waiters pocket will be the next big thing in London.

Should there be photos on a photography blog post? Yeah, probably, but you’ll just have to put up with words on this one.


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