KE Blog

Letter from Kathmandu - Shaken not Stirred

By: Jo Chaffer, posted 1st October '11

Hello from Kathmandu!  I’m back in the Nepalese capital after a very long break for mini adventures and misdemeanours elsewhere in the world. A lot has happened since my last blog: a sunny trip to the Lakes where I reconnected with friends, spent a few days in the KE heartland (though missed out on a leg-breaking in the leaders’ footy tournament) and immersed myself in all things British (mainly of the foaming ale and crusty pie’d variety); followed by a great trek in the Cordillera Blanca with the lovely lads and lasses of Fulford School and the indomitable Val Pitkethly. Fulford raised a whole bundle of cash for a Juniper Trust community project supplying solar lights, toothbrushes, schoolbooks and football kit to several remote villages high up in the hills. It was a long way to go but warm and musical welcomes and the insights into Peruvian society made it very worthwhile. The trip back was even longer as a I dipped in and out of a riot torn London – the only time I’ve considered checking the FCO site for advice on going home!

Back in Nepal the autumn adventure season is upon us and the city’s bars are already filling up with the tall tales, rumours and non-urban myths of excited and slightly anxious would-be mountaineers, trekkers, bikers and the like. “The permit offices are closed for Dashain, Kanchenjunga fell down in the quake, a woman’s running the entire Himal barefoot, there’s no beer left in Namche” and other such Rum Doodle-esque fabrications fill the air …

Somewhere amidst the rumours and posturing there are indeed some extraordinary events taking place: Lizzy Hawker, one of the world’s leading trail-runners and winner of the Mont Blanc Ultra Marathon is on her way over to run the Great Himalaya Trail – with shoes on! Supported by KE’s local agent, Thamserku, Lizzy will be starting her epic run in the far East under the trails of Kanchenjunga (which, by the way, hasn’t fallen down) crossing the major trekking areas to eventually finish in the far West before the snows start. Lizzy came over to Nepal earlier this year to run the Annapurna 100. Clearly one Himal was not enough!

KE’s own leading legends are heading this way too. Victor Saunders has already been in and is now out Tibet-side with a team somewhere on Cho Oyu. Once that’s in the proverbial bag Vic will be Nepal-side again teaming up with climber, artist and fellow legend, Andy Parkin for a jaunt up the Khumbu and a second attempt on the new route that eluded them a couple of winters’ back.

There are plenty of other KE legendary figures on the loose or just about to be: Rob Fraser is on his way to take a new bunch of friends around the Limi circuit way out on the edges of Humla; Issie Inglis is back for a gentle trip up to Everest Base Camp creating a new digital combined map-guide as she goes; the awesome biking duo of Matt Reedy and Pramod Shrestha are back on the road again after quite a few years’ break – the road being the Freedom Highway from Lhasa back to Kathmandu, one of the best bike rides in the world I reckon! Ade Summers will be illuminating the bars and trails shortly with the Welsh word on a wild summer of epics in Pakistan, Mongolia, China and beyond, we’ve borrowed Uden Sherpa (the Godfather) from India to lead a trip from his home town of Darjeeling over to Bhutan where he might bump into Stuart Holmes. Stu won’t be flying off Ama Dablam this year but he will be pedalling across Bhutan with a group of happy KE cyclists. The big boss is out too – Glenn Rowley will be leading the appropriately name Tour of the Tiger in Bhutan – grrrr.

Me, I’ve been asked to hang up my trek leading boots for the season and stay put in the city. I’m hoping to get out into the hills again with a few pals this winter though for a trek up the Chadar Gorge in northern India – a sparkling, chilly wonderland of creaking ice, smoky caves and maybe even the magical snow leopard.

Meantime I’m still pondering my place in this land of happy chaos; wondering why my hair goes curly in Kathmandu; what exactly is in a Mmo:Mmo; what makes the monstrous ridgeback, devil-goats smell so unbearably concentrated goaty; why Bakeries are always German (and not French or Italian)……….and what will happen the next time the tectonic plates shift and shuffle beneath our feet.

This time we were lucky – the quake on the 18th September was 6.8 on the Richter Scale with the centre over in Sikkim. My apartment blocked swayed and shuddered for a terrible minute or two – an awful, feeling of complete powerlessness: the world might really be ending any second now and there’s nothing you can do. After a few initial moments of incomprehension (who is shaking my chair, what’s all that noise…) my brain finally registered the continuous and total trembling of everything……….absolutely everything… but still I wasn’t sure what to do. Under the table? No it’s plastic. Down to the garden? But, stairwells are dangerous aren’t they? Outside on the terrace? Yes, no, yes it should be ok. No what about the water butts? Just do something…

The big one will come soon – we’re 30 years overdue – and it will cause total and utter destruction in the Valley. This was a wake-up call. So how to sleep at night, how to carry on with impending doom latent in the earth we stand, live and work on? For what it’s worth I now have a quake alarm for those extra few seconds, a pair of trainers under my bed and a quick-run bag by the door. And an acceptance that what will be will be – live for now and enjoy the moment!

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