I am reminded: this is a spiritual quest. Sitting in the allowing, annealing, transforming fire. Impossible to come out as one went in.
Yesterday in Delhi, at Maya's Nest, met a lovely 20 year old Swedish girl, Johanna, who has been in India since Jan and not the least bit jaded, tired, or embittered. Indeed, she must soon go home, but is already planning another trip to India. She has already done the 200 hour Yoga teaching certificate, and the Tushita Meditation course. She has no trouble on busses. Amazing to imagine seeing the world through her eyes.
12 June 2017
Left Manali about 4pm on "deluxe" bus with Dave Steyn for Rishikesh. It's now 6:15 am and we still haven't arrived. Scheduled arrival was 5:15 am. Crazy drivers and bouncy shocks. Vomited 5 times. Feel like hell.
30 May 2017
Sanker Gompa, high above Leh. The man in the photo is the Gyalywang Drukpa, the leader of the Drukpa branch of Vajraya Buddhism. Other branches are Ningyma, the oldest branch, Gelugpa (of which the Dalai Lama is head), and the Karma Kagyu. In Ladakh the Drukpa and Galukpa, are dominant. The Dalai Lama will visit next month. The Gelugpa monasteries are spiffing up like mad. Soon I will make an entry or two about Diskit Gompa, where he will stay.
This is strange. For several days I have been completely cut off from family and friends. I did not know it would be like this.
At the Sankar Gompa. Note what is written on the young monk's cap. Coincidence? Probably...but Buddhists generally dont believe in coincidence.
Notice too how grubby they are. Something to do with the freezing air and water. And the long hours.
29 May 2017
Chemday Monastery, Sakti, Leh
26 May 2017
The Chokhang Vihara Centre in the centre of Leh. Next to Ladakh Buddhist Association, just off the main bazar.
Notice in the photos the sole monk sitting in his command centre, whence he chanted, played instruments, and answered questions.
I asked him when he took a break and wandered around the room, "Are you Drukpa?"
He replied, "Yes, and you?"
I said, "Kagyu."
"Oh nice." He smiled.
"Do you live here in Chokhang Vihara?," I asked.
"I am on loan for a year from my monastary, then I go back. End of summer. 45 km from here."
"And another monk comes to do what you do?"
"Yes, from a different monastary."
The multi-arm/head figure is an emanation of Chenrezig, the bodhisattva/deity of compassion. The central figure with crown is an emanation of Shakyamuni Buddha, whom the monk described as Jo-Shakyamuni. Then there is Padamsambhava, the sainted figure who did much to spread Buddhism in the lands east of the India of the day. Other statues are of Shakyamuni.
25 May 2017
Another one for Chris, who likes to see where I am. This is the breakfast room at Shoalin Guesthouse, a half-hour walk (or climb) outside the centre of Leh. Run by two ethnic Tibetan school teachers, Mr & Mrs Dorjay. One sits cross-legged on a low bench covered in plush rugs, and eats from a narrow table. I am not sure what Tibetans have for breakfast. I was served tea, an omelet, and some masala flavoured instant noodles. The woman pictured is Mr Dorjay's mother. She speaks no English, but we communicate through simple gestures. She's the tea maker and radiant smiler. In true Tibetan peasant fashion she seems not to have washed her clothes, of which she wears many layers, even though the house is not cold, for years at a time.
Since I arrived in Leh I've had 4 of the 5 main symptoms of AMS: headache, fuzzy-mindedness, general fatigue, faster than usual breathing. Advice given: lie down, take Diamox, take headache meds, take lots of fluids, do not exert yourself. Today did nothing.
24 May 2017
Chris, buddy, this one's for you.
My son loves pizza. It's my first night in Ladakh and I'm listening to Indian Hip Hip (as awful as other HH) as I sit in a rooftop eatery called Il Forno and munch on a vegetarian pizza. (Pizza & beer = 450 INR / £5.30).
Let me explain. No Internet means no TripAdviser. Most of these places in Ley look pretty funky. So I chose something I understood. Wood fired pizza is cooked at a very high temperature, hence few bugs. Leave out the meat and you lower the risks further. And there you have it. Thanks for inspiring me, Chris. You're the best!
Too late I began to wonder: where do they get the cheese, how do store it? Oh well, we'll see.
I am stuck in Ladakh with no money or contact, but Arsenal beat Everton 3-1. Bravo. I don't know how the restaurant had a feed of the game but could not process payments by card. But that's the nature of spiritual journeys -- things don't have to make sense, tthey have to be accepted and enjoyed.
Next morning Ok
I think we're all on that cruise ship.
Late last week an avalanche somewhere near Kargil cut the Internet cables connecting this region to the rest of India. They won't be repaired quickly. Phuntsog Dorjay, the owner-operator of the place I'm staying (Shaolin Guesthouse - www.shaolinguesthouse.webs.com), thinks one of the cyber cafes in the town centre may have a satellite connection -- he's offered to take me to see what can be found. In meantime I can write and take photographs -- I just can't post them, or receive anything.
Leh reminds me of Santa Fe, New Mexico, another high desert town dependent on tourism. In Leh too houses are built of dried (rather than kiln fired) brick (adobe). Houses are squarish, two or three floors, with flat roofs and ceilings of uncut round beams interwoven with sticks. But here the windows are very elaborate and lintels, too, are of elaborately carved wood. This style extends to larger buildings. You can see a concrete framed building (shops & offices) being infilled with dried mud bricks.
Abrupt transition from Kashmir to Ladakh. The whole flight was about 45 minutes. Flying over miles of sharp, snow covered mountains between Kargil and Leh. Those mountains are higher than those at Leh, a comparatively low 3500+ meters. It's still high enough for there to be frequent warnings about AMS (acute mountain sickness). Rest for 24 hours, every guide book and website says.
If the chief resource of Kashmir is water, that of Ladakh is dust. This is a high desert, unimaginably arid. Landing at Ley airport one is immediately aware of it. No greenery.
The ride from airport to Shaolin Guesthouse was much longer and more circuitous than expected, taking me through several commercial streets. This is a tacky tourist town where ⅔ of the shops sell "genuine" tat of one sort or another. If I get too tired resting, I may take a walk, but the streets have no markings and loop like spaghetti. I'd get lost. Little English spoken.
My taxi driver had a picture of Padmasambhava on his dash.
I began taking Diomox last night in anticipation of ascending to Leh, where the altitude is 3500+ metres.
The departures security at Srinagar airport must be some sort of make work project. First, before you get to the airport you show your ticket and passport to someone carrying a gun and wearing a bullet proof vest. Then, also before getting to the airport, in a corrugated she'd your bags are x-rayed in machines that are held together by duct tape. X-raying happens at least three more times. One steps through innumerable metal detectors. At each step a piece of paper is stamped and tied to one's luggage. They appear to care more about the stamps than about any gaps in security.
The airport appears to have been designed by someone who'd seen something by N. Foster in an in-flight magazine. The shapes are okay, but not the scale. The departure "lounge" is full of black birds and at least one lean and stealthy cat.
Neither airport nor airplane is remotely clean. The airport security staff, a division of the J&K police, have smart, well tailored uniforms. But they, too, are rarely clean
23 May 2017
Youasif called the floating jeweller, who had already shown me an opal pendent I thought Ola might wear. She doesn't like jewellery much, and rarely wears any.
A while later the jeweller pulled up in his shikara. We showed the opal pendant to the holy man. He was not familiar with opals, but after a short conversation with the jeweller he approved it. A way was devised to secret the minutely written prayer behind the opal. The jeweller left to do the work.
So here I was about to buy an opal pendant (with secret prayer) for a woman who appears to hate me and is threatening (for the umpteenth time) to divorce me.
Aside from the cooling opał, there are other things I have been tasked to do. Placing a prayer under her pillow. Dissolving a prayer in water and drinking from the same glass. Something else. I've got it written down.
In my world, it doesn't get much more mystical than that. The spiritual journey accelerates for take off.
Yesterday I participated in a little mysticism. Youasif asked about my family, and I told home, as well as I could. He said I should speak with his "holy man." Well, why not? This is a spiritual journey.
The holy man has a day job as a manager in the department of roads. He arrived at the houseboat with an extraordinary book that looked to be a cross between the Zohar and abook on cryptography. It was old and worn and written in several languages, but mostly Farsi. He said he had got from Iran.
He asked me to write down the answers to a few questions. My name, Ola's name. Date's of birth, and so on. And then he set to work counting letters and adding numbers, flipping from one page to another in his book. Making charts. At the end he said I must buy a "cooling stone" for Ola, which she should wear near her heart, and with the stone she must also wear a prayer he would write.
Most healing occurs in the mind, so this is really just another sort of prayer. Cont.
Youasif insisted I go to Mughal Darbar before I left Srinagar. It's obviously well liked -- when I arrived at 12:45 it was almost empty. Half an hour later it was full. Frankly, it was just OK, and rather run down. It was also relatively expensive (2460+ INR / £29+) for two.
Two? Yes, I invited my tuk tuk driver, who had probably never eaten in such a restaurant before. As usual, the mutton was gristly, the Chicken was stringy, and the seasoning nothing special. The best thing was the drink: iced lemon juice with soda water. Nothing else. Simple. Perfect.
The toilets were squat. I mean, really. In a restaurant supposedly catering to foreigners.
The most interesting dish was a rack of baby lamb deep fried. The only seasoning was salt.
Getting around Srinagar the old fashioned way... one sees horse drawn carts and carriages fairly often.
This is Srinagar's Gurudwara (Sikh temple) -- unlike the Gurudwara I visited in old Delhi, this one was practically empty. I was told there would be chanting and praying in the evening. I thought of going but it grew hot and I grew tired.
The final photo in this series shows the booth in the courtyard where anyone, Sikh or not, can receive free food. This is a feature of all Gurudwaras, I am told.
A veg merchant and a halvah seller near the city's Sufi shrine.
Bits of the Sufi shrine. Unfortunately one can't photograph the most interesting central parts -- the shrine to the Sufi saints and the low-ceilinged, intricately carved prayer hall.
A barber shaves the head of a child. (Note that in the family group leaving the shrine the woman on the right is carrying a child with a shaved head.) there were several stall selling religious books. The cemetery is in the middle of the Sufi complex, but this not where the remains of the saints are kept.
Gates leading to the Sufi shrine. And inside the complex of buildings, where I saw a barber and a seller of religious books. Shaving the heads of young boys (and girls?) appears to have religious significance in Sufism. Unfortunately photos are not allowed in the inner sanctum. There I saw two elaborately draped sarcophagi, covered in jewelled velvet.
INDIA DOGS GO BACK! A wallside graffito in central Srinagar. Unless one speaks to Kashmiris about politics, or travels outside the central city in a northwestward direction (toward the disputed territories), it's easy to overlook the political tension in the air.
Kashmir was independent of both Pakistan and India until 1948, when Pakistan staged a partial invasion. Kashmir asked India for temporary help, which has lasted until now. India has grown reliant on Kashmir's most abundant resource, fast moving water, which equates with electricity as well as water for drinking and irrigation. It seems unlikely India will give up it's claims. Pakistan and china also have claims. Kashmir's great hope is for independence. For now they live under conditions of occupation. Police and soldiers everywhere. Some carry 5' sticks. Some machine guns or shotguns. Their vehicles are armour plated, with thick wire covers over the glass. There are often small turrets on top.
Ubiee (24) and Mohamed (73) Shangloo (center and right). Son and father., owner/operators of the houseboat I stayed on. Mohamed told me much about when the British were in Srinagar.
22 May 2017
Roadside rice paddies on the way to Lake Wular. In a true "India moment" my camera/phone stopped working shortly after this and then worked again hours later. But most of the trip didn't get snapped.
Gushtaba is, so far, my favourite Kashmiri food, known as the Food of Kings, typically served st weddings. Mutton meatballs flavoured with green and black cardamom, cooked in yoghurt. Give it a try.
The only problems with Kashmiri food are that it is heavily meat oriented, with vegetables an afterthought at best, and it's fairly predictable, with the same flavourings applied to many dishes. There is no pork of course. Mutton is the overwhelming favourite. Chicken an also ran. The chickens are small and scrawny; their meat is stringy and tough.
Gushtaba is interesting in part because it is different from the red sauce (tomato and chilli) that is applied to most things.
I am having a long jeep trip into the countryside close (too close?) to the disputed de facto border with Pakistan. A big loop. One way to Lake Wular, another way back. About 7 hours altogether. Unfortunately, now (6:30 am) it is raining -- we are leaving at 9:30, and it may stop by then. I am told the scenery all the way is lovely. Kashmiris say this part of world is heaven on earth. At this time of year it is difficult to disagree. But winter is very hard.
21 May 2017
This is the reason today is a holiday (though definitely not a celebration) in Srinagar. http://www.tribuneindia.com/mobi/news/jammu-kashmir/community/kashmir-shuts-on-moulvi-farooq-s-death-anniversary/83610.html
There are still Indian army and police everywhere. There is a small barracks just 30 meters from my houseboat, and many more like it throughout the city. The Kashmiris resent the Indian official presence mightily. Once Kashmir was independent. It would like to be so again.
House boats along Lake Nigeen, a crane standing on water lilies, the Heaven's Breeze, where I am staying. A bedroom on the Heaven's Breeze. Apparently there are no new houseboats being built, as the forests are protected. But wood from old houseboats is salvaged and refashioned into newish houseboats. I can imagine my father lounging in one of these, gin and tonic in hand, servants to do his bidding, 1946-1948.
Among the backwaters of Lake Dał one sees many small enterprises along the waterfront.
When you find the cat, you will have found a fisherman's house.
The water is very high, making travel under low bridges difficult. Also today is a holiday. Whatever the reason, instead of dozens of vegetable sellers there are only a half-dozen. Cauliflower, onions, lotus root, white turnips (I like turnips and I haven't actually seen any in any food), and kohlrabi. Most boats are small and have only a few items. One boat is larger. It buys up the stock of most of the others. He's the middle man. He will sell on to shops, restaurants, larger houseboats, and hotels.
Back in Srinagar as of Saturday afternoon. 2 hour harrowing drive down from Naranag. Stopped for lunch along the way. Usual Kashmiri food (meatballs, kebabs, rogan josh. As always, not very spicy. Kashmiris eat like many muslims, using only their right hands. They squeeze together a small ball of plain rice, add some meat and sauce, then shovel it all into their mouths.
Very tired, but waited up to call kids. Ola never answered, having set the time herself. Wonder what she is aiming for.
Awakened Sunday at 04:20 by the Shikara man who was meant to arrive at 04:45. A crescent moon in the sky. We are on our way to the floating vegetable market, across Lake Nigeen and into the knotted canals on the Old City side of Lake Dal. The lakes and canals are clogged with water lilies. Dawn is breaking slowly. There is the amplified sound of prayer/chanting. Today, Yousef told me, marks the martyrdom of someone in Kashmiri history. Perhaps that is reason for such early morning prayers
20 May 2017
This man is a jeweller. He says his "old uncle" and "young uncle" are among the most famous Kashmiri jewellers. They live about 50 kilometres from Srinagar. He carries their creations, wrapped in white paper, in three or four battered briefcases, going from houseboat to houseboat, doggedly selling things. He could sell ice to Eskimoes.
He wants me to buy these pieces for Ola, saying that when she wears them they will sooth her, calm her, bring out her happiness, and make her love me. I have my doubts; it cant be that simple. If it were, the self-help industry would go bust. The bracelet and earings are cannonite (not sure of spelling). The pendant is opal with seven colours of topaz. All but the opal are sourced from the Indian subcontinent.
If you enlarge the photo a bit you'll see the students from school just mentioned doing their school work outside.
This the school is at the trailhead in Naranag.
We set off down the mountain at about 9:45am. Riyaz, Abzel, two grown horses, one foal, and me. Going up the mountain had been difficult. But since I did at least half of it on horseback, it wasn't so bad. A bit saddle sore and bandy-legged is all. The hike down was terrible. Walking on loose rocks and slippery mud is hard on both legs and knees. Half-way down my legs were quivering uncontrollably and I had to stop frequently. A bit further on and my knee caps began to spasm. In the end Riyaz walked next to me, steadying me when I slipped. An amazing guy, as kind and patient as can be.
We reached the school at about 12:40.
Morning. 8 am. I've had my Kashmiri tea, omlet, and mango juice. I've sung "Oh what a beautiful morning" from atop the grypsy house to the bemused shepherds below. I have longed for a hot shower, a shave, clean clothes, a cold beer, and something to read other than last week's news on my iPhone.
19 May 2017
The rain came, but wasn't heavy and didn't last. After that were fierce winds. Because the Kashmiri shepherds had set up their tent in line with the wind, it filled like a spinnaker and eventually came lose. It nearly blew away completely. The men were mostly with the sheep, though came back quickly. The women, who had been cooking and making fire pots for the men, were strong enough to hold on to the flapping tent but nothing more. (A fire pot is a little heater filled with burning embers. They squat over them with their "ponchos" outside to contain the heat.)
Riyaz and Abzel immediately went down to help. I joined them, but language problems prevented me from contributing much. Riyaz persuaded the shepherds to reorient the tent by 90 degrees, so the wind would come from the side. It worked perfectly. I learn something every day.
Some of the Kashmiri shepherds up close. The people are much younger than they appear -- result of hard lives, unvaried diets rich in meat but little else, and exposure. These girl are no more than 15 or 16, already married. But I don't think either of them was the mother of the little boy. She, if I am right, was doing the cooking. The oldest man was only 70. No doctors, no medicines, no help with childbirth, almost no schooling, few barriers against the elements, few means of washing themselves or cleaning their clothes. And yet they seem perpetually delighted with life. When their tent almost blew away, most them started laughing. As Riyaz put it "They have nothing but God."
They do have mobile phones.
A storm is coming. I can hear the thunder. Between the storm and the sheep, it promises to be a hell of a night.
There aren't many things cuter than a lamb, but the cuteness doesn't last.
They just keep coming...creating one hell of a racket. A shepherd told me there are 1500 sheep, though I wonder how he can say -- for these people are neither numerate nor literate. In any case, there are a lot of sheep. And four goats -- I saw them earlier.
Riyaz knows numbers 0 to 9. I think this is because he needs them for his mobile phone, to do business. Otherwise , what use are they to him?
The completed Kashmiri tent -- before it nearly blew away.
The shepherds are Kashmiris, not Gypsies, but I can't tell any difference. There isn't much, Riyaz says, except language. The Kashmiris don't speak Goudgery. Some can, but these don't. Like Gypsies, these Kashmiri people are essentially nomadic, though year by year they become more rooted. I'm reminded of the time I spent with the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota, another once nomadic people. I hope the Gypsies and Kashmiris fair better, but I doubt they will. The glittering trinkets of modernity are too enticing. Unlike the Sioux, they don't drink (yet).
The Shepherds packed in a great deal of stuff, because they will be in the mountains (but not in one place) all summer. They did not pack tents, only tarpaulins. They made a large tent by cutting trees for uprights and a crossbeam, then slung their tarp over the frame. It looks pretty good.
The view from about 3300 ft, and from 3600 ft. I am standing on the roof of a gypsy summer house.
Climbing the mountain to camp for the night. Cowboy Andy and his trusty Sancho Panzas, Riyaz and Abzel. After 2-½ hours, at just 3600 feet altitude, we reach the meadow where Riyaz plans to set up camp.
We have lots of neighbours, most of which ba and bleat incessantly.
Can you spot the stolen electricity? Gypsies have a pragmatic attitude toward many things. Power, cleanliness, the practice of Islam. If something is difficult, they find a way around the difficulty. And keep smiling.
Every possible patch of land (they can't be called fields) is planted with maize. The people eat the corn on the cob; the animals eat the stalks and leaves.
I am terrible with names, so I will write them down. There is Riyaz, age 29, he thinks, my main guide. His wife, Zarina, whom he married in an arranged marriage at age 13 or 14 (he seems unsure). His oldest son (12 or 13 -- ages are unimportant to Gypsies, it seems), Parvez. His daughter, Shagufta, age six. She has recently begun school at the village school. And the youngest, Nesir, age four, who is a very impish boy, a real mischief maker.
Here is a picture of Zarina with Shagufta, in the cooking area of the living room (open plan by necessity) -- with some of their many cooking pots. They seem to have more than is usual. Riyaz says his wife is crazy about cooking pots -- it seems so.
This morning we go up the mountain. Abzel, the second guide, will join us soon. He is Riyaz' brother in law.
I've just finished my breakfast of omelette, chapati bread, and Kashmiri tea. Riyaz had peanut butter and jam sandwiches made with chapati bread. East meets west!
Last night, having come down from the wedding party we stayed in Riyaz house in Nagarag, along with his wife and three children. About 8pm we had dinner. I expected us to eat together, but, as guest, I was served first, which made me uncomfortable. Then the children ate. I suppose Riyaz and his wife ate afterward, but by then I had been led to the only true bedroom in the house and covered in enough blankets to keep me wonderfully warm. I was asleep in minutes.
This is the morning view from their bedroom window.
18 May 2017
A Gypsy toilet -- sometimes called a squat toilet, and at one time called a Turkish toilet. This is a sign of real poverty, second only to an outhouse (of which I have seen many in Kashmir) But I remember that when I first went to Paris, my favourite wine bar, the Taverne Henri V, had such a toilet. Plus ça change, and all that.
These last couple of days have made me rethink poverty. These people have almost nothing, and they struggle for what they have. But they have real community and relations of friends and family. On the drive back from the wedding the driver stopped several times to say salaam aleichem and shake hands through the window of the car with people he knew. Generally, relationships re obviously more important than things. Status as we mean it is an absurdity. They have little choice, but it didn't seem to bother them at all. They never stop smiling. Though it may be all the English they know, they come up to me and say "Hello, how are you?" They joke all the time.
Shelling peas and chopping carrots -- yes, vegetables -- for tonight's mutton dinner. To be added: cauliflower and green beans. I have rarely been so happy to see vegetables!
Riyaz' wife, Zarina, lying on the floor of their living room. Gypsy houses often have no furniture. I am eating dinner here and staying the night. Tomorrow, if the weather holds, we are finally going up the mountain. Better late than never.
Of course the Gypsy wedding was amazing and not to be missed. I may see other mountains -- quite soon, in fact. But I doubt I shall again see a Gypsy wedding.
On the way back we had to wait for an hour for the 4x4 to pick us up and return us to Naranag. It turned out the next door house was also hosting a (much smaller) wedding.
I asked Riyaz what happens if one is invited to both weddings (as might easily happen). "Go back and forth."
This was painted on the outside of a small village community centre in the village near the wedding. Riyaz told me it is a saying from Urdu, one IOC the many languages he knows. Bad grammar aside, the message is one I accept and embrace as much as I can. The great 20th Century Buddhist Lama, Chogyam Trungpa frequently expressed similar thoughts. My favourite was "Your spiritual friend (meaning one's teacher or guru) should be an asshole."
We've left the party and descended the mountain into the village. As we near the village we see the procession of one of the two grooms (it's a double wedding - two sisters) beginning to climb in the other direction.
Gypsy boys love to be photographed. They strike poses and push themselves to the front. Gypsie girls will look me in the eye boldly, smile broadly, and even act mildly flirtatious. But if I ask to photograph them the answer is always No!
This is terrible, because many of them are strikingly beautiful, and nearly all are beautifully dressed (and immaculately clean, unlike the boys, who are uniformly grubby and unkempt).
I took these pictures from a balcony overlooking the entrance to the wedding tent. They are the best I could manage.
For an idea of their beauty, remember, if you can, a cover of National Geographic featuring an Afghan girl with green eyes. Gypsies have brown eyes, but their features are much the same.
The three main cooks -- the boss is on the right. Stewed sheep testicles. Kasmiri meat balls. Mixed mutton and cows' tripe. Kebabs. Spicy sauce. A Gypsy wedding, provided the family can afford it, offers only meats, no veggies. I asked my guide the cost of this type of meal for 100 people. About 2000 INR. (£24.50).
These cooks travel around from event to event, carrying all their cook pots, knives, skewers, etc.
Young member of wedding party. These people never stop laughing, smiling and teasing (mostly teasing me).
Boys are boy everywhere, rich or poor.
Tea tent. Kashmiri Samovar. Men hang out in tea tent. Women in the wedding tent. The man in the hat holding the bag is Riyaz, my main guide. He rarely lets me out of his sight. His senses of caring and responsibility are inspiring.
Telephoto of the wedding site. Somewhere nearby a dog is barking. The sound of the rushing river can be heard. Sheep are bleating. Children playing. Crows fly overhead cawing. Very rarely one hears a car or bus horn from the valley floor. The air is perfectly clear.
Cluster of four houses and two barns, about 200 metres downhill from the householders'. Everything must be carried up to these mountainside dwellings. Riyaz says a pack can sometimes weight 50 kilos. These are not large people. A 50 kg pack is serious business. My pack, fully loaded, weighs about 16.5 kg.
The home of the householder, and the wedding tent.
The view from the wedding site. Yes, we had to climb the mountain to get there. I am surprised anyone came. 100+ did.
The householder whose two daughters will (eventually) be married, sometime today or tomorrow, though no one seems to know or care when). Riyaz, my main guide, the wedding tent empty. The wedding tent with the women in it. Unfortunately, the lighting was very poor (3 low wattage bulbs, powered by stolen electricity), so night photos were pretty awful.
Speaking of offal, that's largely what was served for dinner. I discovered that lamb heart is not my favourite food.
17 May 2017
My guides are both Gypsies from Naranag. Yesterday Riyaz' wife and sister came out to our camp. They all spoke together in "Goedgury," the regional Gypsy language, which I think may be a kind of patois involving Urdu. It came out that there would be a family wedding elsewhere in the valley. The wife, sister and children wanted to go, but needed help from Riyaz. Impulsively, I asked him if he wanted to go. "It's not possible. You are my work. We are trekking." I said a family wedding must be important, and anyway it was raining. He could go and come back, and I would be ok. He talked to his wife. "No, sir. Better idea. You come to wedding."
Wow. A Gypsy wedding. What to expect?
Wedding cook tent - preparing food for 100+ guests for two days. No refrigeration. Chicken and mutton. No vegetables except onions and garlic. Lots of onions, lots of chilli.
Lunch in my tent (because rain has started up again). Mutton with cauliflower, potatoes, onions and tomatoes. With rice.
I'm taking Imodium (called Stoperan some places) the way some people take Tic-Tac mints. I'm surprised my guides haven't died or killed someone by their ideas of hygiene. We are camped in a field of free roaming goats, sheep, cattle and horses, which means there is shit everywhere, including the streams and rivulets leading down to the raging river. These streams and rivulets are our source of cooking water.
Until I asked for some soap or detergent this morning, I wasn't aware that they didn't have any. They immediately went to a nearby camp and borrowed some.
An old Gypsy couple from Jammu, who come up here with their two sons and a carload of goats to escape the heat of Jammu. Their summerhouse was badly damaged by last winter's heavy snows. They are building a new one. In the meantime,they live in tents, with their goats all around.
Riyaz said "carload of goats" was the literal truth: one son packed about 8-10 goats into his car, the other son packed the old people and their necessities into the other car. Keep in mind that goats aren't housetrained (or cartrained).
Estragon waiting for Godot. Godot became Chicken curry last night. A similar fate awaits Estragon, who will eventually become fried chicken chunks in the ubiquitous tomato and chilli gravy that is a signature of Kashmiri cooking. Oddly, Kashmiris (or at least Gypsies) do not find the favours of chicken and onion compatible. Onions appear heavily in mutton dishes, but not in chicken dishes. So sayeth Riyaz.
From L to R... Riyaz sister, about 20. I know nothing more. Is she married? Probably, since she is old enough. Where and with whom does she live? Don't know. She has the ability of Gypsy women to stare right through one without flinching. Riyaz young son, Nesir. Age 4-ish. A very impish boy. Always laughing. Riyaz wife (very slightly freckled) with a bright smile. Very hospitable -- cups of tea and packaged "English style" biscuits.
Time/age seem very fluid to Gypsies. Riyaz told me he is 29. His national identity card gives his birth year as 1980, which would make him 36. I asked. He said all the young gypsy men in Naranag had the same birthday -- easier for the census taker and tax man. Since everyone is illiterate and innumerate, they couldn't care less. No one is born in a hospital. Records are minimal and unreliable. I rather suspect the local census taker and tax man (who probably doubles as a shop keeper and taxi driver) is equally illiterate and innumerate. Funny place.
The cattle have once again joined us in the camp ground, led in by a small boy and two gypsie girls. It turns out that the girls are Riyaz' wife and sister, and the boy is his son, Nesir. That answers the question of whetherRiaz is a gypsy.
The animals spent the night in his home.
Stuck in my small, unlit tent as the rain came down, I began reading Michel Richard's voluminous and authoritative "Altruism" on the Kindle app of my phone (Oh brave new world indeed). Ricard straddles the worlds of Buddhism and western science at higher levels than most others who are investigating the connections. They are usually either scientists or Buddhists foremost, with the other topic added on somewhat awkwardly. Ricard started early on as both. He therefore writes with more confidence than most - avoiding jargon and esoteric language without oversimplifying his topics. Beautifully written book. Highly recommended.
The camp, the cook tent, and all that remains of last night's chicken.
Incidentally, I was once again asked "spicy?" "Yes, spicy, please." But the food wasn't spicy at all. Probably just as well in view of the problems I had in the middle of the night.
My main guide's name is Riyaz. His assistant's name is Abzel. Among horses, all cinnamon brown, there is a gelding to carry overweight, inexperienced Anglo-American quasi colonials (remember, my father was here with the British Army 1946-48). There is a stubborn mare pack horse. And her lovely foal who follows her mother closely and who will one day become a packhorse as well. The horses are treated very well, as valued assets, but they do not appear to be loved. No time or energy for that.
As an example of the unsentimentality of Gypsy life.
Last night as the rain was coming down, and I was stuck in my tent, I remembered something from my experiences as a Boy Scout, 50+ years ago. The best camping trips were the worst camping trips. The ones soaked with rain or fog or mired in mud. The ones where the cooking pot got knocked over and we all went hungry. The ones where the Scoutmaster confiscated our copy of Playboy.
16 May 2017
Yikes. The return of Shiva's revenge. In a tent. In a soaking rain storm. At 10:30 at night. In total darkness (except the light of my phone). I can't even find my toilet paper. There doesn't seem to be a solution to the problem before daylight. Yes, I know it could get worse. (That which does not kill us makes us stronger.)
Gypsy summer homes near the site of our first camp. In effect, they are tents made of wood. The gypsies appear to be mostly herdsman -- goats, sheep, cattle. Their animals roam free, and they don't appear to use dogs help them.
Naranag, about 90 minutes into the mountains from Srinagar, along mostly nad but crowded roads. In Srinigar they say this is a Gypsy town. The houses are different, the language is different from both Kashmiri and Hindi. But, to my untrained eye, the people look and dress the same as those in Srinagar.
Naranag is the site of a Hindu temple said to be 2,000+ years old. The first impression is like that of Stonehenge: how in the world did they do it without tools or technology of any known kind?
This is only partly a physical journey -- and that is not, in any case, it's main function. It is intended to be a spiritual journey. As Chogyam Trungpa many times pointed out, a spiritual journey is never comfortable, never easy, never what is expected. And one's demons (Mara) are very much along for the fun.
My demons are, for now, a wife who does not love me (or who does not express love for me), and a fast dwindling supply of money. I have categorised these as "nightlife" because they affect my sleep.
15 May 2017
Today I went sight seeing in Srinagar with Udiee (0ne of the houseboat operators) and Deb, an American woman about my age from New Mexico, who has fallen in love with India and particularly Kashmir. She's been here for weeks. Tomorrow she goes home for a month, and then comes back.
We visited gardens and mosques, then went to a traditional carpet weavers, in the same family since 1847.
First is the first mosque in Kashmir. Prior to that the area was almost entirely Buddhist (what sort? my guide didn't know). This mosque is built entirely without nails or metal brackets. The roofline is unusual, as is the fact that building is entirely rectilinear. I read these features are typical of Indo-Saracen architecture. From a distance the building looks dark or brown. Up close the doorways are intricately painted with polychrome floral designs.
In a more austere variant of Indo-Saracen architecture, this is Srinagar's main mosque. Comprised of four gates and huge in courtyard, Udiee said it was the most popular place to pray, with separate areas for men and women. Ramadan starts on the 27th May and ends a month later with a feast and celebration called Eid. Udiee said that for Eid every square centimetre of each pavilion and all of the courtyard would be occupied by people joined in prayer. A very joyful occasion.
The electricity went out in the middle of the night. That knocked out the WiFi. Suddenly I am in Kashmir and only in Kashmir. No connection to wife or kids or friends or news or Jack. Strange feeling.
This message won't be posted until the electrics come back on.
Inshallah (God willing).
Morning light, different to but just as soft as the evening light. A flower merchant, and then another one, came up to boat. I am told this will happen all morning and evening -- not just flowers but all sorts of things.
14 May 2017
I'm now in Srinagar in a houseboat on lake Nigeen. Wonderfully tranquil after the chaos of Delhi.
Lake Nigeen at dusk and sunset. The large boats are Kashmiri houseboats, hand-made of local pine. Floating inns with 2-4 bedrooms. All have whimsical names -- mine is Heaven Breeze. The small boats are Shakara, which can be used as water taxis, but in the evening are used for taking shakara rides around the lakes, rides simply to enjoy the evening. (BTW lake Nigeen is really a sort of isolated bay of the much larger Lake Dal. By reputation Lake Dal is "party central," while Nigeen is quiet and contemplative. The man in the photo is Ali, one of the men who runs the houseboat. He has a reputation as a fixer -- apparently well deserved. With a couple of phone calls he was able to adjust my itinerary in ways I thought impossible.
Last night I had, onboard the houseboat, a delicious dinner of rice with kebab in onions, chicken curry, fried cabbage and potatoes. Alcohol is available but not openly or easily. The food is not very spicy -- I wonder if it has been adjusted to western tastes.
I met Jimmy Gann in the Starbucks in terminal 1-D. Interesting guy - I may write more about him later.
Indira Gandhi Airport (Delhi), terminal 1-D, flight to Srinigar on SpiceJet. The Shop in the background is Hamley's, the English toy merchants.
Everyone who hears I am going to Kashmir says "Be careful, sir." I smile and nod. I am not sure of what I am supposed to be careful. Or how.
13 May 2017
It's 19:45 in the evening and it's still 40 C. Fortunately, it's dry heat. Still, going outside is Iike being slapped.
Each day I learn something. Today I learned that the maximum withdrawal a foreigner can make from a bank is 10,000 INR per day. Sounds like a lot, but it's only £120.
I also looked into buying an Indian SIM card. It's a real hassle. They need to see your passport and visa, and to get a passport style photo. There's a fairly extensive and intrusive questionnaire. And a delay of 1-3 days. That killed it for now, since tomorrow I go to Kashmir.
42 C should be illegal. I hope it's not like this in Srinigar (Kashmir).
Shiva's Revenge struck last night as I was trying to sleep. To be expected. No pain, fortunately, just hourly diarrhoea for many hours. And feeling very tired. I should be in Dharamsala, but it seems absurd to travel under the circumstances. So my plans have once again gone askew. That's India, as everyone tells me.
The phone has been another serious problem. Before I left Europe I talked at length with my UK carrier. I told them I wanted service as near as possible to the package I had in the UK. No problemo, they chirped cheerily.
I don't think they intentionally lied to me. Just got their lines crossed, so to speak. But the result was the same: WiFi was great, but as soon as I left a wifi zone my phone became a paperweight. In Delhi this isn't more than an inconvenience from time to time. But I am headed for the far north (Kashmir, Spiti, Ladakh) -- not a lot of WiFi.
I do everything on my phone. Book flights, trains, guest houses, find places to eat, talk to Ola, Chris and Meggie. Send emails. No data package no can do.
After a lot of time talking to my UK carrier, and an Apple reseller in Delhi, I found out that they had locked my phone so I could not use a local SIM card. They agreed to unlock it because of the problems I was having, problems they had created.
I lost my English bank card on the first day. I had cash and my Polish bank card. When I tried to use the Polish card in an ATM I received strange messages, such as "you've requested too much money." I would request less and receive the same message again and again. Grrr. 😡😱🤔. Eventually I called my Polish Bank (God knows how much that cost). They had blocked my card to prevent fraud. (As in "India? You must be joking." OK it was unblocked. I sent money to it to fill it up, but it took a while to arrive. In the meantime I was down to 47 złotych (INR 783 -- which isn't much).
Ola very kindly advanced me 2000 złotych until the money transferred from England. Once it did. I sent Ola's money back.
One problem solved ... for now!
12 May 2017
This is the restaurant where I suspect I picked up the intestinal bug from which I've been suffering. It was located in old Delhi up two flights of barely lit stairs. No sign that I saw. Pretty funky in every respect. But the food was the best tasting I've had so far in India, even though it was not the most hygienic.
Sign outside a Gurudwara in old Delhi.
11 May 2017
Remind me to tell you about the continuing problems with my bank card, about phone SIM cards, and about my startling introduction to 10 goats inside a small apartment building.
Indian wheat beer. Delicious.
These are house fronts from an old Jain street tucked behind the spice market. I got the sense that many Jain families are in the jewelry business and have been for generations. Jains are very strict vegetarians. In many respects they resemble Buddhists, but Jains are thought of as good businessmen. There is no Jain God, but there are 24 prophets. Like Buddhists, Jains are nonviolent, not harming even insects.
At the end of this street was a thousand year old Jain temple made mostly of marble. I was asked not to take any pictures either inside or out. There were many statues. The swastika symbol figures prominently in Jain decoration. There were three floors of ceremonial rooms, all very ornate. Many of the items must be washed each day in a special way, a process that takes hours.
Most curious thing: the man who is in charge of overseeing many of the rituals, and who refers to himself as the priest, is not a Jain. He's a Hindu. He took over the job from his uncle, also a Hindu.
The wiring in old Delhi is a nightmare -- it looks like something from Blade Runner.
Views into the courtyard of the largest mosque in India (the "Friday" mosque, built by the Moguls at the same time as the Red Fort, to which it is very close.
View of the Mogul Emperors harem quarters - now just more dilapidated, overcrowded housing. The emperors harem was comprised of 350 women.
Spice and nut merchants.
Within an hour of arriving in India, I had lost my NatWest bank card (probably chewed up by an ATM at the airport). All part of the adventure. 😀 I had my Polish bank card. And I was able to transfer money between the two...except it takes a few days. Today I ran out of money. Fortunately Ola came to my rescue. Her money took about 5 minutes to reach my account -- and thank God, for I am Going to Dharamsala on Friday.
10 May 2017
I went to the Red Fort in mid-afternoon, when the sun was most brutal. I went to the ticket kiosk and saw a sign that said: "Indians 35 INR, Foreigners 500 INR." I was angered by the discrimination and unfairness. That and the heat made me rethink the whole project. Shortly after I was tackled by a tout cum tourist guide with dyed red hair and the persistence of poison ivy. I wanted to go back to my place (officially called Maya's Nest). The barnacle got me an auto rickshaw (sometimes called a tuk-tuk.) He climbed in too and took me to shop that presumably paid him a commission. I didn't expect to buy anything, but they had a small painting in Moghul style of a man and woman together in a garden. It was subtle, exquisitely done. I hoped Ola would like it. I bought it and sent it to her. 👍
Large Jain temple -- next to a Hindu temple, the largest mosque, and a large Sikh temple. At one time India was even more tolerant than it is now. Except for friction between Hindus and Muslims, India remains remarkably easy-going.
Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib. Short distance from Red Fort. Old Delhi. I had heard that the music at this Sikh temple was especially fine. I listened mesmerised for about two hours. It helped that the temple was cool and calm, while outside was sweltering. The selfie inside the temple shows me in the head cloth provided by the temple. No cloth, no entrance. Must also remove ones shoes and store them with the attendants. All very well organised.
Clothing merchants in Old Delhi.
Bicycle rickshaw in Old Delhi.
Mother and daughter, Asha and Maya, run a "home stay" (bed and breakfast) from their large apartment, which contains numerous images of the Hindu god Ganesh. There are potted plants in the stairwells, Ganesh bits hanging on the wall outside the door, and a largish shrine in the living room
9 May 2017
These photo's were taken between the airport and where I am staying - a gated community called Vasant Kunj. It's a gated community, but not as we might think of it. It's too soon for me to judge how things are or what people mean when they say spacious, middle class, safe, comfortable, etc.
The green and yellow things are three-wheeled taxis. Look closely and you'll see cattle eating garbage beside the road. There is an improvised outdoor restaurant, quite common. And finally a heartbreaking shanty town. I'd been told to expect shocking poverty. There it was.
School had just let out. Boys, all in white shirts, were dodging traffic. Too close for comfort.
Oops. I just brushed my teeth using ordinary tap water. I hope I don't get sick. Stupid me.
Just as the 777-300 is the most lavish airplane I've flown in, Dubai airport is the most compressive and well-thought out airport. It's as stress-free as an airport can be. There are information booths (some with people, some with touch screens) to get one to the right place on time. There are kids' zones, quiet zones, and the usual shops and restaurants. Lots of seats. Lots of electricity for charging phones and tablets. And lots of flight to everywhere. Bologna, Luanda, Beijing, Budapest, Glasgow, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Jakarta, Auckland. You get the idea. Everywhere by Tel Aviv.
8 May 2017
Flight overnight from Geneva to Delhi via Dubai. Emirates Airways. Leaving Monday about 9:40 pm; should get to Delhi about 2:45 pm Tuesday. Several hour layover in Dubai.
7 May 2017
Tonight Emmanuel Macron, a young (39) centrist-globalist politician not affiliated with any traditional party, triumphed over Marine LePen (48), a right wing anti-EU politician, in the second half of the French presidential elections. This has significant implications for other European elections. Unfortunately, Trump remains the 800 pound gorilla in the room.
My trip will, I expect, feel and reflect the ripples of these events.
Last selfie in Perroy. Will I look different when I finish my trip? I am thinking of growing a beard (but haven't decided).
6 May 2017
Rustic seafood dinner at Cap Breton with Francois Durafourg in Rolle, a lake-side village near Perroy. We hadn't seen each other in 23 years, but there was no awkwardness.
By the way, if you are ever in Rolle consider trying Cap Breton.
5 May 2017
For weeks in Switzerland and the French Alps I have been seeing a flowering vine whose name I knew but had forgotten. And then I remembered: wisteria
4 May 2017
All journeys have unknown endings, just as all lives have unknown endings. (As Buddhists emphasise, the reality and inevitability of death are clear, but the when and how are indeterminate.)
Normally we stave off our fears and reservations regarding a journey by referring, however tenuously, to a presumed return by which we expect to arrive at "home". We think of home as a fixed, familiar place populated by people of special worth to us. Most of us can give an address to that place and can name those people.
I have given up my addresses, though there are various places where I might receive packages with some sense that I will some day collect them. My wife and I are rarely reliable bulwarks for one another, though it isn't true that we don't love each other. We are tossed on stormy seas. Tossed, but not drowned. Certainly not becalmed. Predictably unpredictable.
From most journeys we expect to return as we left. That isn't the point of this journey. I hope for change.
In my cultural naïveté I had imagined the cathedral to be Roman Catholic, which it was originally. But the Reformation changed all that, and the Swiss Reformation was as potent as any. So the cathedral became Swiss Evangelical Reform. To learn more: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lausanne_Cathedral
3 May 2017
Yesterday, in a last minute impulse of tourism, I visited the Cathedral Hill of Lausanne, the oldest part of the city, with many beautifully preserved buildings, quite a few featuring elaborate metal signs for shops that hadn't existed in hundreds of years. Notwithstanding the presence of a large cathedral, there was a small town feel to the area, except there were almost no people. The rest of Lausanne was bustling -- parking and traffic were the nights they are in most modern cities.
1 May 2017
I am a week away from leaving Europe and flying to India. This will be the first time I am so far out of my comfort zone geographically and culturally. I fly to New Delhi, a city of nearly 19 million, significantly larger than any city in America or Europe.
I have been learning something (the universality of Murphy's Law?) for the last several days, thanks to the Internet of the Tech Powerhouse called India. I wanted to stay my first three days at the Aurobindo Ashram (http://sriaurobindoashram.net/) -- quiet, cheap, serene, well located, highly recommended. But the application process was a nightmare. Every time I started, I would get ½ way (or more) and then it would crash and revert to step one. I wanted to stay there so much that I went through this gruelling insanity 7 or 8 times. (What's that quote attributed to Einstein?)
Yesterday I gave up and booked a normal bed and breakfast. And then things at the Ashram started to work.
A few farewell photos of Perroy (near Rolle), Switzerland. It's been great, and restful (and expensively Swiss), but it's time to go. I am a bit frightened of what comes next...
26 April 2017
More about Sarnath: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarnath
The pressures of chasing after visas for Nepal and China ended (I hope) suddenly over last weekend. Obtaining a visa for Nepal can be done at the Nepalese point of entry. Obtaining a visa for China can be done in Kathmandu in a few days.
This sudden dissolving of pressure has been a bit disorienting, but it also gave me the space (and confidence) to get on with things. I booked a flight from Geneva to New Delhi, for example.
I plan to spend a couple of days in New Delhi acclimating (or in British English, acclimatising) and getting over jet lag. Then, as a suitable start to my spiritual journey, I want to visit the "deer park" (Sarnath), where Buddha delivered his first discourse to his five former companions. This discourse, the Four Noble Truths (and the Noble Eightfold Path), which is the foundation stone of Buddhism. The five former companions became the first Sangha. Therefore the three refuges of Buddhism -- Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha -- first came together at Sarnath.
24 April 2017
Last night I exchanged several messages with Kristin Liu at TibetVista, the tour group with which I will be touring Tibet for 15 days. It appears my anxious and confused efforts to obtain a visa for China through the Chinese visa office in London have been not only mind-numbing but wrong. Since I will be entering Tibet from Nepal, it appears I must obtain my visa in Kathmandu. A visa previously obtained anywhere else will at that point be cancelled -- the time and money spent in obtaining it will have been totally wasted.
At one time I thought about entering Tibet from the Chinese side. That's probably where things went wrong both for me and for those advising me.
22 April 2017
Kindle (guidebooks), UK passport, bank card, ancient MacBook Pro, new printer, drafts of application and detailed itinerary. Bottle of water. This is China Visa HQ in Perroy, Switzerland.
20 April 2017
Having not got access to a working printer in Switzerland (Claudia's son has one but it doesn't work -- the fate of all printers, which always stop working at the worst possible moment), I went to the "local" Media Markt in Cressier and bought one.
I need it for my never ending Chinese Visa application.
A side benefit is that I will be able to send in my postal vote for the UK parliamentary election on 8 June.
19 April 2017
I am seriously behind schedule in preparing for trip to India, Nepal, Tibet & China. Must break out of my procrastination. Switzerland feels like a bubble. Of course it was wonderful having Ola and kids here from 13-17 April.
18 April 2017
Chris, Meggie and Ola back in Poznan. I miss them all. But I love this photo that Ola sent of Chris triumphantly displaying one of his favourite foods: pizza
17 April 2017
What is in any way interesting about this photo of a public men's toilet in a Market Town along Lake Geneva? Look closely. There is no graffiti. There is no trace of any graffiti. I would say this picture sums up a chief chacteristic of Switzerland. The public toilet was nothing special. It was located near the lake, but was not posh.
The lakeside fortress in Rolle. The gun slots point in all directions, suggesting the towns people and the governing classes did not always get along.
Not everyone in Switzerland drives a 1927 open top Bugatti four seater... but someone does. The man who drives this one said he bought it 28 years ago from the automobile museum in Turin. I asked him if it was a lot of work -- he told me it was constant work.
It's a quiet and chilly day in Rolle. Nevertheless there is a cluster of enthusiasts around the hole in the wall from which Venezia ice creams are sold. These are Claudi's favourite ice creams (and sorbets), and a single scoop is persuasive. It's well located next to the Vesuvio pizzeria -- the perfect combination.
I am strolling down the Grande Rue, less than a minute from this place (Place de la Harpe) and two minutes from the lake. Very windy and cold today.
Ola, Chris and Meggie are flying back to Poznan via Frankfurt am Main. I am headed back to Perroy via Rolle, by train.
On the perfectly punctual, and almost empty, train from Geneva Airport to Rolle.
16 April 2017
The view from Claudia's living room, across vineyards toward Lake Geneva.
These are photos of the Easter Egg hunt Claudia and her son Robert put on for Chris and Meggie. A real splash -- resulting in a couple of kilos of eggs and bunnies to carry home to Poznań. After the hunt we had a delicious meal of braised goat, roast veggies, and apple crumble. All washed down with Sablet and Vaqueras 🍽🍷
Chris's "Absence Seizure" medicine -- don't leave home without it.
Ola rough-housing with the kids in the flat we rented in Les Houches.
15 April 2017
Driving back from Annecy-Le-Vieux to Les Houches listening to Miles Davis's Kind of Blue album on the car radio (via Bluetooth from my phone). Very nice indeed.
In Annecy we rented bikes, saw a bit of the old city, road along the lakeside, had a pleasant meal in the Old City and, after we turned in the bikes at 18:00, drove up to Chamonix, where we went to the Pizzeria des Moulins because Chris wanted pizza. You can find my review in TripAdvisor.
Photos of Ola and kids in Annecy Le Vieux.
14 April 2017
After the boat ride on Lake Geneva, Meggie wanted to climb a mountain, so we returned to Les Houches and walked toward the looming ridge. We didn't get very far before we reached a lovely meadow.
This is what a ski jump looks like without snow.
The "Belle Époque" boats are a great way to see the lake and its surroundings. We chose a luncheon cruise from 12:30 to 14:30.
13 April 2017
These are not MY flights. Ola, Chris and Meggie are coming to spend Easter with me. It takes one flight and two hours to fly from Poznań to London. It takes two flights and a total of 4 hours to fly half the distance. They arrive tonight at 18:55, and then we take a rental car up to Les Houches (near Chamonix) on the French side of Lake Geneva. That drive takes an hour according to Google.
12 April 2017
I used AirBnB to find accommodation, having recently had luck with it in Poland. But trying to find the right space in the right place at the right price at Easter was a nightmare, especially given AirBnB's request/accept system. At first I was looking for something on the Swiss side of the lake near to Claudia. Nothing quite fit. So I looked in a larger radius. Eventually I noticed that one got more for one's money on the French side and in the French Jura. I settled on a place in Avignon-lés-St. Claude deep in the French Jura nature preserve. Perfect, except the owner is doing some work on her house, so it was unavailable. Another house in the same village was similarly unavailable. Disappointing, but the worst part was that I'd spent a lot of time waiting for responses from the owners. With each hour gone there were fewer places available.
Ultimately I got a very nice, not very cheap, duplex apartment in Les Houches (Chamonix), France.
11 April 2017
Airline Pricing Algorithms should come with a health warning. Yesterday I got the green light from Poznan HQ to book Easter along Lake Geneva for Ola and kids. For several days my airline apps had been flashing red. "Prices are expected to rise steeply and unpredictably between now and Easter." But the prices had stayed the same. Then within a couple of hours (in one case as I was trying to buy tickets) the prices more than doubled. But the arbitrage of tickets is not simple -- it goes down as well as up.
At one point it looked as though there were no more tickets at acceptable prices. I had to say as much to Ola. Then, overnight, prices dropped again. And the race was on. Eventually I booked flights at acceptable prices, at acceptable times.
But flights were only part of it. I still had to hire a place to stay and a car. These, too, proved difficult. I am still not certain about the car.
10 April 2017
In Morges there is currently a TulipFestival near the Armory.
The marina (note the mountains on the far side of Lake Geneva), the Armory, the Tulip Festival.
Morning coffee and croissant in the sun-filled garden.
No answer yet from Ola regarding coming to Switzerland with Chris and Meggie. She tried to call last night at 12:35, but I was asleep and didn't hear the phone.
I returned the call this morning, but I expect she was already at work, where she can't speak on the phone.
9 April 2017
The other night while speaking to Ola and the kids, I invited them to come here for Easter. To my delight, Ola seemed drawn to the idea. She's thinking it over. It would be a great experience for her and the kids. In my view, the more they get out of Poznan and see other places, meet other people, hear other languages, taste other foods, the more flexible and open-minded they are likely to be. A gift for life.
If Ola doesn't decide by tonight the window of opportunity may close down. In Europe, travelling at Easter is always fraught. I've learned the hard way.
8 April 2017
Today the weather was great. Shirtsleeves, no need for a jacket. Claudia took me to an arboretum in Montherod. It looked lovely, but it was overrun with people, so it was anything but restful. After ten minutes we decided to go back on a weekday. Instead we drove down to the lake shore at St. Prex and walked though a nature preserve. Claudia pays no attention to rules, so she picked enough Ail d'Ours to make her favourite pesto. I had never heard of this herb until a couple of days ago. It appears to be a local delicacy, and this is its peak season. We saw swans, ducks, and a heron. Plenty of dogs, of course. The Swiss, at least those in this region, are dog-mad (especially little fluffy ornamental dogs, yappers). The "wild" birds are totally unfazed.
Walk along the shore of Lake Geneva at the village of St. Prex. There is a small nature preserve. Blissfully few people.
7 April 2017
Claudia, of whom I should take a photo (but like many women of our age she is uncomfortable in photographs), and I are discussing taking a short side trip after I finish my third week of vaccines. Possible choices are nearby France (for example Annecy, Lyon, Dijon) or nearby Italy (not sure where yet, but not far). I finish my vaccinations on 19 April.
I am finding my rhythm again with meditation. My pattern has always been to meditate in the morning, soon after awaking. I can do it other times, but it doesn't come as naturally. Here I can meditate as soon as I awake. While staying with Ola and the kids finding the right rhythm, place, time of day was difficult. Ola's apartment is cramped, so that getting 15-20 minutes of peace is difficult. But here the most disturbing thing is birdsong, which is not disturbing at all. I attach a selfie, taken shortly after meditating. Do I look enlightened?
6 April 2017
Perroy is a wine making village. The wine is mostly white, mostly made from the chasselas blanc grape. It tends to be thin, crisp, minerally, and bone dry, but covers the whole range of styles. It's very pleasant, but hasn't enough body to be memorable.
The architecture of Perroy is shown in the photos: large houses that sometimes include ample wine cellarage. There is an austere Catholic Church, to which I might go on Sunday in order to see the inside. (I have read that there are Catholic parishes in Switzerland that still practice the Latin Rite -- wouldn't that be something!) There is a proud boulangerie and a small epicerie. And of course there are vineyards, both surrounding the village and in it.
There is one restaurant in Perroy. La Passade, well regarded for the regional specialty, fried perch served with French fries and salad. Claudia doesn't like it much because it has no garden. We haven't been -- I doubt we'll go. Everything in Switzerland is expensive. There appears to be no such thing as an inexpensive restaurant.
The first stop I will make in the Indian Himalayas will almost certainly be Dharamsala and Its adjoining town of MacLeodgan, named for a British governor. HH the 14th Dalai Lama has his compound in MacLeodgan. The Tibetan government in exile is based in the same town. Nearby is the residence of HH the 17th Karmapa.
Popularly, the Dalai Lama is thought to be the leader of all Vajrayana Buddhists. This is not strictly true, though he is generally revered and respected by all Tibetan/Vajrayana Buddhists. He is the leader of the Gelugpa lineage, and for decades he has been the spokesman for the interests of Tibetans inside and outside Tibet. The Karmapa is the head of the Kadgyu lineage. HH Sakya Trinzin is the head of the Sakya lineage. The Nyingma lineage, which is the oldest lineage, either has no head or several heads depending on one's viewpoint.jk
The house in which I am staying in Perroy. It looks large, and it is, but because it's really two 17th century farm houses awkwardly joined together, the effect is of a warren of rooms rather than of a coherent home. The guest room in which I am staying has large windows and gets lovely light all day.
5 April 2017
Blast. I am losing things already. Somewhere between here and Thaxted, where I was last Friday and Saturday, I misplaced some folders of papers to do with my trip. Nothing irreplaceable, a waste of time all the same.
Perroy is a peaceful place for me to complete preparing for the Himalayas. I would like to have been able to do it with Ola and the children, but it would have been much more difficult.
Today I will start the medical preparations that I wasn't able to do in London. These include vaccinations for Japanese Encephalitis, Hepatitis B, and Rabies. Rabies, I am told, is especially necessary for Nepal and Lhasa (Tibet), because of feral dogs.
I am still getting used to this app, and I expect some of my entries are disjointed as a result.
Wednesday, 5 April, Claudia arranged for me to see her doctor so I could finish receiving the travel vaccines I'd begun in London. All very well organised, as one expects of everything in Switzerland. Her doctor had been educated both in Switzerland and the USA, and was very attentive to detail.
As well as vaccines, I wanted to top-up my supply of medications so that have enough for 160 days. I don't plan to be travelling that long -- more like 120 days -- but I don't want to run out. Claudia's doctor gave me the necessary prescriptions. What I discovered at the pharmacy was that medicines that I receive without charge on the NHS are shockingly expensive when purchased privately in Switzerland. Ouch.
4 April 2017
Rolle is a market town next to Perroy.
Catching up. Today is Thursday. I arrived in Switzerland from the UK on Tuesday. In the early afternoon of Tuesday, Claudia took me for a walk along the lake in Rolle. I thought of Meggie when I saw the swans on the lake, and of Chris when I saw all the spring flowers in bloom. It wasn't exactly warm, but the temperature and breeze were pleasant enough to eat outside.
I have finally made it to Perroy, after a mad chase around Geneva airport, Claudia and I always in the wrong place and unable to connect. Finally, we gave up trying to find each other at the airport. Instead, she drove to the ultra-swanky La Reserve on the shore of Lake Geneva. And I took a taxi there from the airport. We did not, of course, set foot in La Reserve -- not for the hoi palloi. But the trip to Perroy was equally insane. We used Google Maps, but half the time Claudia turned right when GM said left, so very scenic trip lasted forever. Still, here we are.
About to land in Geneva.
I offered to pick something up for Claudia from Duty Free. Fortunately, I remembered at the last second. Absolut Vodka and Marlborough Light cigarettes. Damn, a carton of cigarettes cost £42.00. How can anyone afford to smoke?
Stansted Airport is packed. I am told it is "half term," something I have never understood.
2 April 2017
This gizmo says I started 3 April. In fact, I fly from Hingstonia to Geneva tomorrow on a 7am EasyJet flight (which means getting up before 5am).
I am currently staying with my cousins, Chris & Maureen, on Castle Street in Saffron Walden, Essex.