Saturday, 31 October 2009


Arrived in Pokhara last night late after a 10 day trek down the Kali Gandaki. Therafter up to Gorepani and across to Tadanpani and finally down to Naipul. There followed a helter skelter local bus to Pokhara.

As ever things here work like a "Nepali" watch. Slow but sure.

The Kali Gandaki is no less sensational now than it was in 1980. The comparison is compelling. Now they have what is called a road here but is no more than a trak. And everywhere there are buses and jeeps plying up and down in a cloud of dust. But the mountains and the geology are as good as anywhere.

It all started with an 18 minute flight from Pokhara. The views of the mountains were excellent. We skimmed along and I sat in the back with all my camera equipment and the air hostess who exhorted me to look right and then left. The North Face of Dhaulagiri flashed past - Rick the Dhaulagiri photo is for you, before I could get it. And we screamed onto the runway. Chiring was there to meet me having trekked for three days to get there.

We walked up to Kagbeni on the border with Upper Mustang. Where we had no permit. So we stopped there and started taking Large Format images. It was here that things almost went wrong. The camera blew over in the strong afternoon winds. And my duvet jacket blew over the edge. Fortunately the situation was retrieved largely due to Chiring.

Kagbeni is right on the join between the Indian and Chinese plates and has some amazing structural geology. It also is more Tibetan than Nepalese in culture. It feels like a step back in time yet with this bizarre addition of modern "things" like jeeps and motor bikes and telephones and electricity. Not to forget our guest house -Yak Donalds restaurant.

We walked on down the broadreaches of the gorge - the highest on the planet (apologies). And jeeps and buses rushed by with trekkers many of whom had crossed the Thorung La and succumbed to modern traffic to Pokhara. It takes them a day and a half. In 1980 it took us 6 days!!!

We photographed 3 times a day. At sunrise 6 am, during the morning and a at sunset. And in between we walked. Sometimes on the road sometimes on the old trail. And we met loads of interesting people - more of which in a later entry.

This morning in a fitting finale. Laxman arrived in his taxi with Chiring and we headed up to the stuppa above Pokahara to photograph the broad spectacle of Annapurna Himal. We witnessed a wonderful sunrise replete with Buddhist chants and drum thumping. Unknown to us we had happened upon the 10 year celebration of the building of the stuppa. There followed a bizarre 2 hour period when the buddhists went into overdrive - among them some heavy hitters in the Buddhist world - see photo. We paced up and down trying to capture a panorama that did not want to yield. I was caught in this dilema of what to photograph. In a wonderful moment they threw loads of paper flower petals from the stupa above us which drifted into our photographs!!!

Sadly I said goodbye to my trusty friend and aid Chiring today.

Bus to Kathmandu tomorrow morning.


Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Machapuchare - Triumph of form over size?

Machapuchare looks so sensational from Pokhara. Like the Matterhorn you cannot stop looking at it. Two AC members went to within 50m of the summit which incidentally is 2m short of 7000m. Is a summit still inviolate 50m short? Extract from Wikipedia.

Machapuchare has never been climbed to its summit. The only attempt was in 1957 by a British team led by Jimmy Roberts. Climbers Wilfrid Noyce and A. D. M. Cox climbed to within 50m of the summit via the north ridge, but did not complete the ascent; they had promised not to set foot on the actual summit. Since then, the mountain has been declared sacred, and it is now forbidden to climbers.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Fly Like a Bird

I flew with Sergei Gunchenko in his microlight from Pokhara airport at 7:20 this morning. We were due to fly at 6:30 but at the last minute a bank of early morning mist enveloped the mountains. So we waited and then went for it. Sergei seemed a solid Russian name and I felt comfortable even as the air rushed by and we headed up into the mists above Pokhara. All their instincts were of course good and the mountains swirled out of the mist. It was a huge adrenalin rush. More so than the bus trip the day before:-) Initially I couldn't hit my stride because of the force of the air. But dropped the visor and got going. The mountains were stunning close up. But more so was the valley and the lake. A selection of the photos including Machapuchare and Annapurna are attached.

Sergei has been flying since 1989 and comes across from Russia for the trekking seasons. He started in hang gliders and progressed. "You fly like a bird". Now there is someone happy in his work!!!

Having run the gauntlet of Nepalis buracreacy I now have a trekking permit so will leave for Jomsom and my second trek tomorrow. Wherupon hopefully Chiring will be waiting for me.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Chiring has left for Jomsom

Off to Pokhara tomorrow by bus. Excited about the flights and the trek. The road is the road. Was the reply from an American NGO worker on enquiry about the journey. Sounds like the title for a book.

Mahesh phoned to say that Chiring has left for Jomsom and will meet me off the flight on Thursday morning. Not sure but I think that it will take him 3 days to walk there. It is reassuring to know that he will be helping with my camera. Even if his head does suddenly appear under the dark cloth :-)

Had breakfast with an interesting lady who regards herself as a dental trekker. She has just endured a grueling trip to the west of the country. The situation there sounds very different to the trekking regions. She has spent significant time doing voluntary dental work in Afghanistan and Nepal. Ralph I have given her your email address. Hope this is OK.

Todays image is the Nepalese chicken at the butchers.


Saturday, 17 October 2009

Dipawali - Nuts

Enjoyed Dipawali immensely. The Nepalis went nuts. Very reminiscent of the French on Bastille day. The firecrackers are smaller here. But the lights and spirit are big!!! I enjoyed the puja in the shop - attached.

The taxi driver who took me home told me he loved Nepal and that it is a wonderful country, this as we picked our way throught the pot holes in the road. You don't need a lot for happiness. People still have time for one another here. There is no television to speak of and it is still a step back in time.

One more day of photography in Kathmandu then pack tomorrow then off to Pokhara.

Kathmandu River Landscape

Here is the image that goes with the previous post.

No Electricity - But Lots of Energy

I met with Mahesh this morning and we have set the plan for my next trek. I leave on Tuesday (20th) for Pokhara on the Tourist Bus. It takes 5 hours theoretically but I have yet to meet anybody who hasn't taken 9 hours. That assumes the bus does not break down. I will fly to Jomsom. Thereafter I plan to walk down the Kahligandaki and photograph Dhaulagiri and much else besides. It is 29 years since I was last there and so it will be interesting to see the changes. There is a new road or let's call it jeep track, recently opened there and this, in a country with no transport infrastructure in the mountains to speak of, is a significant development.

Yesterday I visited the processing lab and viewed my negatives for the first time. They were as as Kirin said all excellent. I have surprised myself as to how well they have turned out. It has taken a lot to get these images. 4 people trekking for 29 days. Then 3 technicians working for 7 days to develop the negatives. But perhaps the main goal of the expedition has been achieved – to photograph with a large format camera at high altitude (18000+ ft). Just need to do some printing!!!

For the photographers – the thing that surprised me most about the negatives is how much contrast they have been able to get out. This, on reflection, is probably because I have exposed the highlights consistently on Zone 7, so lifting the exposure up the exposure curve but not to the point of burning out the highlights. There is a great clip on YouTube by Bruce Burnbaum discussing this. As always overexposure is preferable to underexposure. Anyhow it was a relief to see the negatives.

It is now more than a week since I returned from the Khumbu. As promised some overiding thoughts – firstly I went early and so the views were fleeting and there was lots of clouds and mist. Suits my style of mountain photography – ethereal. The Khumbu was wonderfully green. Secondly as we were coming down there was obviously a serious number of people / trekking groups headed up. Line upon line of trekkers. Stories of difficulties getting beds and queing for an hour to cross the bridges have become legion. Finally I was more than a little shocked by the attitude of some of the trekkers. They seemed to think it OK to keep on ascending and some at fast rates, irrespective of how they felt. Inevitably everyday a helicopter would appear to take someone down to Kathmandu. This emergency service costs 6000 dollars and if you cannot prove insurance or a method of payment then there is no flight!!!! A Swiss trekker died at Pheriche 3 days ago. 16 people died of high altitude sickness last year. Centes like the CAN (Community Action Nepal) centre at Machermo undoubtedly help to keep these numbers down. Finally and most interestingly it is not only trekkers who fall ill – it is also the porters.

Off to Dipawali.


Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Dipawali Starts On Friday

I am relaxing in Kathmandu. Developing a routine of morning preparation and afternoon photographing in the streets of Kathmandu. Soudershan and Soudest are helping me by guiding me around the city and carrying my large format camera. Everywhere we go we get, so far, an interesting reception. Somewhere between did you come from the moon and nice camera, nice camera. It is a pleasure after years of having to do it all myself to have someone to hand me the camera and the lense etc. You are never quite sure what will greet you around the corner. It is both a learning experience and a very enjoyable one. More like being on holiday that it was in the mountains which always felt serious.

Dipawali - Diwali to you and me, starts on Friday. It promises to be exciting with fireworks and much colour. The focus moves around various outlying centres of the city and I plan where possible to attend.

I have been going back over my trek photos and post now three images from my day at the Jumbaise monastery. Hopefully you will get a feeling for how happy and friendly the nuns and monks were from these images.


Monday, 12 October 2009

There Are 40000 Dogs in Kathmandu

There are 40k dogs in Kathmandu or am I getting confused with bicycles in Bejing. There is nothing confusing about the cocophony of noise that gets going at any hour of the night. One starts and the noise resonates, I suspect across the city in a wail that is quite extraordinary.

I am passing my rest days in Kathmandu photographing daily life across the city- from the margins to the centre. Yesterday I was on an obscure bridge by a very polluted Bagmatti river when I was acosted by a tourist who wanted to know who I was!!!! Turned out that after he removed his sun glasses that he was Phil Norris of BP. So it is true. You can run but there is no hiding!!!!

Kirin called today to say that B&W negative processing continues at 30 per day and that the exposures look good. This is encouraging.

I have gone back to Gokyo files and offer for todays delight some images from Gokyo RI sunrise. The owner of the hotel who claimed he had the highest choclate shop in the world. He was born and raised in Gokyo, has a large and well run establishment, owned 6 yaks and only went to Namche or Kathmandu at fesitval time, spoke excellent English. When I was leaving he rushed out and presented me with a Cadburys choclate bar. Very touching. I ate it on the Cho La. Didn't taste at all like the wrapper suggested so I guess it was yet another Chinese product!!!!!

The bonus is Gokyo sacred lake number 3.

Putting together some thoughts on Large format capture at high altitiude for the photographers that are following the blog. Also in the next couple of days some reflections on the trek.

Stay tuned.


Saturday, 10 October 2009

Kalapatar Images

All being well with the vagaries of Kathmandu upload here are some photographs of Everest and others at sunrise on a perfect October morning. Enjoy!!!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Late Late Monsoon - Flew From Lukla this Morning

I got up in Lukla this morning at 5 and was in the Vajra Hotel in Kathmandu at 8:30. The system although chaotic works as it does in any third world country. You just have to go with the flood of humanity. Pasang the old owner of the Coffee Shop hotel in Lukla was outstanding. He blessed us with a prayer scarf. Popped up at the check-out desk and checked us in and greased the wheels like a Mr Femi and hugged me goodbye. I was very touched. The planes landed and took off at 10 minute intervals and literally from touch down to load up was 10 minutes and there was a sea of frantic activity. The landing strip has a gradient of 25 deg and a length I suspect inferior to many aircraft carriers. The plane taxied to the very top of the strip, reved up to terminal propeller velocity and we shot off down the runway and hurtled over the Duhd Kosi.

Yesterday as I arrived in Lukla I bumped into Sandy Allan and his clients on their way to Ama Dablam. Sandy was in good form. Looking older than when I last saw him. We talked about his recent ascent of Nanga Parbat. Also caught up on Rick.

The weather has turned for the worst. Seems like a good time to quit the mountains - temporarily at least. As we flew across the foothills there was mist everywhere and it is raining hard. The monsoon started late and is continuing late. This is not good for the rice harvest which should be happening now but is delayed.

We spent 29 days on our trek. It feels to me like a marathon walk. But I am now fitter than I have been in the last 20 years and my batteries are recharged. Dunbadur Tamang and Chiring looked after me as one of thier own. We had a fabulous time together. I will cherish the memories of setting off at 4 in the morning and watching the sunrise as the high Himalaya revealed itself. They never lost their enthusiasm even as I wearied and kept me going.

Today I will deliver my B&W negatives to Kirin. I have >8000 digital shots. Will start to post some of these tomorrow.

Best wishes


Saturday, 3 October 2009

Arrived in Dingboche Zermatt of the Khumbu

After 23 days on the trail my happy band and I have arrived in Dingboche. We trekked up to Gokyo Lakes then crossed the Chola Pass and headed round to Gorak Shep.

We climbed Gokyo Ri in perfect weather. Setting off in the dark in order to photograph at sunrise. The views were amongst the most stunning I have seen from any peak. Towering 8000m peaks Choi Oyu, Everst amongst them. For a geologist with all the amazing rock structures this was Disneyland. For a photographer it was heaven.

At Gorak Shep we did likewise and climbed Kalapattar. The weather again was completely clear and so Everest was very close. Many of the trekkers who made to the top got very emotional and there was an outbreak of song as the sun rose in 10 diferent languages!!!!

The Chola lived up to it's reputation and was covered in snow and mist. I kept on telling myself this was not Ben Macdui - given all the pink granite.

Health good, acclimitization no issue. Waiting for the mist to clear on Amam Dablam. Expect to be in Kathmandu in 4-7 days whereupon I will upload some more images.

Best wishes