Tuesday, October 16, 2007

...the rain is gone

I've had my first check-up. I had no trouble reading the chart, and a bonus extra small line was revealed. I made a decent job of reading that, which means that my vision is now better than 20/20, or 6/6 in metric. It is more like 20/10, which means that I can make out detail at twenty feet that someone with normal vision could discern at ten feet. The downside at the moment is that I am not allowed to wash from the neck up for another two days. The main problem is salt encrusted eyelashes. I can't wait until I am allowed to rinse them! On a positive note, I bought myself a pair of Oakley sunglasses to wear in place of the less than glamourous shades that the surgery provided. It is nice being able to buy any sunglasses without bothering about prescription lenses. One of my fellow surgery victims was there for a check-up too. She was literally jumping for joy when she left. This kind of surgery reminds us jaded souls just what wonderful things are available to us in the 21at century. Give me my flying car, and a portable fusion reactor, and I'll be a happy man.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

I can see clearly now...

I haven't posted in a while. Mainly because I haven't been up to much outside of work. Almost half a year ago, I enquired about laser eye surgery. This was after my latest pair of glasses was demolished by my daughter. I had a preliminary examination around then, and was told that my eyes were suitable. However, the surgeon in question is frequently out on the lecture tour, so I wasn't able to have the operation performed. Then I went on holiday to the UK, and had more or less forgotten about the surgery.

Last Saturday I received a phone call asking if I could attend the surgery. When? 3pm. OK. When I got there we had a quick eye test, which confirmed that my prescription hadn't changed. Then I was asked if I wanted the surgery. Yes. Tomorrow? When? Noon. OK. That was a pretty quick turnaround!

So I came in a midday on Sunday. They were a bit behind schedule, so San and I headed off for lunch. She had her South Indian treat of Idlis, whilst I had a Gobi Jal Frezi. It was excellent. Refreshed, we returned to the surgery, and I began the first of a long course of eye-drops. There are three separate drops to take, and I had one of each regularly prior to the operation. Then I was called in. You lie down on a padded bench, with an indentation for your head. Then the blinken-lights technology is maneuvered into place. It all takes place quite rapidly. First some strips of clear plastic are placed over an eye. Next a clamp is placed which prevents you from blinking. A vacuum device is then placed over your eye, once the vacuum is present your vision is lost. Then the scary bit happens. They need to slice a flap from your cornea, so that the laser can work on the underlying structure of your eye. It sounds and feels a bit unpleasant. Not painful in any way, just a bit icky. After that your vision is prety blurry, so it is not so scary, and then comes the laser. You can make out all sorts of interference patterns. It like a FPS computer game when you pass a security check. The laser stage takes all of five seconds. You can smell burning eye though. After that they fold the cornea flap back, and it's time for the next eye. Quarter of an hour and you're done.

Except you still have to wait around for more eye-drops, and a vision check at the end. I was first of our group to have the surgery, so the others asked how it went. I think my dislike of having things held close to my eyes made them more nervous! One of the girls did think my Ray Charles goggles made me look handsome though, Another four or five courses of eye-drops and it was time to have my sight tested. Despite having slightly sore eyes, and a bit of exected fogginess, I was able to read the bottom line of the eye chart, where before I could barely make out the enormous

at the top.

With that I was sent of home with a pack of eye-drops. Three drops an hour for the first evening, before reducong to a more sane four times a day regime. I went to lie down in a darkened room for an hour or so. After more darkness, rest, and eye-drops, my eyes were feeling much more comfortable by 9pm. I suspect I'm not up for a full day in front of a computer tomorrow though. My experience has been a good one. Messing with your eyes is always going to be somewhat sobering, but I am happy with the results so far...


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cockroach in Ear

Last night I stayed up past midnight watching England give India a good hammering in the cricket. All of a sudden my wife came out of the bedroom, bent over double, screaming, and generally freaking out. Turns out a cockroach has crawled into her ear. Not unreasonably she asks me to extract it. Cue a search for some tweezers. They are eventually found, but it is no use. The beastie has obviously crawled deep into her ear as it is not to be found. More freaking out suggests that it is still alive and scuttling though. A few more probes with the tweezers only succeed in retrieving a tiny bit of shell.

After giving up on the tweezers I fallback to the trusty internet. Googling for 'insect ear' brings up some useful links. They suggest not poking things in the ear. Ooops. They do suggest turning the affected ear upwards. San is reluctant to do this, and it seems to lead to an increase in insect activity. Next suggestion is to pour oil in the ear. Two search results suggest the same thing - that's as good as medical fact in my book. The first oil I find in the kitchen is mustard oil - probably bad. More searching reveals some corn oil. I tip some in. The cockroach doesn't bob to the top, but on the plus side it appears to have drowned. No scuttling means no more freaking out.

It's half past midnight by now and we need to find a professional to remove the carcass. Our daughter is asleep so we don't want to wake her. Fortunately we live in an apartment block with 24 hour watchmen, and one of them agrees to babysit whilst we head for the hospital. A medical drama is the perfect excuse for driving as recklessly as my 800cc car allows. The roads are empty, apart from the sleeping dogs, and the car is slow so it is safe enough. We park outside the gates and walk in to reception. They're all watching the cricket too, although with India 40/4 I suspect they're not too happy with the way things are going. A doctor is more than happy to leave the game and take a look in San's ear. He manages to extract some small pieces of insect, but is unable to retrieve the main body. This makes me feel better about my failed attempts. The ENT specialist is called from his home, and says he will be round in 15 minutes. Meanwhile a crowd of doctors, asssistants and nurses has formed - they're loving it. True to his word the ENT guy arrives at the promised time and invites us into his surgery. There's obviously a knack to extracting things from ears, as he pulls out the obstruction with one attempt. The doctors crowd round to take a look at the expired culprit. For some reason San doesn't want to join them.

A few swabs of iodine later we return to reception and settle up the bill. 400 Rupees, that's £5 or $10. The staff thank us for livening up their night, and we return home some time after 1am. San stuffed her ears with cotton wool before going back to sleep.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Island Holiday

San (The Wife) is missing my blog entries, even though she knows what I'm up to. So, here's an update. I spent most of July in a small village on an oceanic island. Sounds a bit more glamorous than 'I was back in the UK for three weeks'. However, we do forget that there are some pretty places on our island. I mailed a link to some pictures of Cadgwith and Kynance to my Indian colleagues and some of them were mightily impressed. 'Only seen places like that in the movies!'.

I had a good time back in familiar territory. I even had a quick trip up to Brum, and popped into the head office. I took advantage of the trip to the metropolis and bought a shiny new 17" MacBook Pro with pretty much all the trimmings. Since I live outside the EU I can claim back the VAT; a decent saving. It got some approving comments from colleagues in in Birmingham, and predictable derison from the Philistines ;). The rest of the Birmingham adventure was spent in the pleasant enough Ibis Hotel on a roundabout by the inner ring-road. Not as bad as it sounds: the room was fine, and suffering from 20 months of wine withdrawal, I splashed out and bought a bottle of 1989 Chateau Musar. Rather better than the pints of Carling offered in the bar below. The salesman in Selfridges asked if I'd had it before. Yes. He replied that it was magnificent stuff, and then we got into the normal conversation about how it is miraculous that they produce anything at all considering the location.

Enough on living the high-life in the second city; back to the Southwest on Virgin's much maligned trains. I thought the trains were great, especially the power points for plugging laptops into. I was happily watching Life on Mars on the way back. I'd heard that Life on Mars was a good TV series. In fact I'd heard enough to buy the box sets of both series. It is brilliant. I don't think I've seen a two series TV show where every episode hits the mark since Fawlty Towers. It's that good.

My Dad and one of his friends have/will celebrate their 60th birthdays this year. As part of the celebrations they held a party on the Cornish cliff-tops. A more than good time was had by all. The situation, on the cliffs above the village, was fantastic. Added to that was a top band and some good local beer on tap. Can't go wrong. To top it all there was an amazing sunset - it looked like the sky was on fire.

The one downside to the holiday was that the airline KLM/NWA managed to lose my hold luggage on the way out. This meant that I arrived in clothes that I had been wearing for 24 hours with nothing to change into. A phone call to KLM got me €100 which was promptly spent on Tesco's finest attire. I was awarded a further €200 after the luggage failed to materialise days later. Weeks have passed and there is still no sign of it. More €€€ to claim...

On a more positive note I got a ride in my Dad's 60th birthday present to himself - a Porsche Cayman S. It's a bit nippy. It could haul round some fairly tight bends at quite a lick with a very unreasonable lack of drama. Overtaking was proved not to be an issue after a few demonstrations. The most impressive thing about the car is how calm and quiet it is when cruising; yet when you let rip it sounds like hellish furies have been unleashed. My Maruti 800 feels inadequate.

ATTENTION SAN (or anyone else whose been on the Moon for the last few months) - Life on Mars spoilers follow. Don't read the last paragraph until you've watched it.

And then back to India - this time my luggage made it. By now I had compulsively watched every episode of Life on Mars. Returning back to India I was reminded of the last episode. Sam had returned to the real world, but jumped off the roof to return to 'Mars'. I know why he did it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Clouds, Bikes and Lonavala

This is a bit of a disconnected entry to catch up with what I've been up to in June. We're almost halfway into the month, and the monsoon approaches. The sky clouds up in the afternoons now, and we have had some showers. No proper downpours yet; we have that to look forward to. The temperature has already dropped. It has been in the mid to low thirties for the last few weeks. Once the rain starts in earnest it should drop further. In the evenings the light and cloud look quite atmospheric. I suppose they couldn't be anything else really.

I've been driving the roads in Pune and further afield in Maharastra for a while now. I am obviously getting jaded by the mayhem as I have bought myself a motorbike to increase the thrill factor. It's a Honda Unicorn, a bike specifically for the cost conscious Indian market. It's mighty 150cc engine is plenty for me to be getting on with for now. Especially considering that I'd never ridden one before. I've been using it to go to and from work for the last few weeks, and am finding it a lot of fun. I'm not sure how much fun it will be when the heavens open though!

Last weekend we had a work day out to Lonavala, a resort town between Pune and Bombay famous for its Chikki. We met up at Pune station and caught a local train to our destination. My previous experience with an Indian local train was in Bombay. I'm pleased to say that the ones around Pune are not quite so manic, and as we were boarding at the first stop it was easy enough to get seats. The seats were as hard and narrow as the train was slow. It was a bit uncomfortable. Fortunately Lonavala isn't too far, and we arrived in under two hours.

We had a snack at a nearby restaurant. Lonavala is on the old Pune to Mumbai highway. Traffic is much reduced since the opening of the new expressway. I as told that in its heyday it would have been an achievement to find a seat. After eating we headed off on a walk, ostensibly in search of lunch. Once out of the town the road followed a long dam. There was a no entry sign and a closed gate, but we scrambled up the wall to walk along regardless. At this time the cold drinks came out. What looked like a harmless bottle of Thums Up, the local idiosyncratically spelt cola substitute, turned out to have a mighty whisky enhanced kick. Full of vigour, we headed off along the wall only to be turned back by a security guard on a cycle. Once we had retraced our steps no-one was in the mood to re-retrace the route along the road in the hot and humid conditions. Therefore the cold drinks were finished off and we headed back into town in search of a late lunch.

A restaurant was located, lunch was eaten and it was time to head to the station and return to Pune. We stopped off at a chikki shop to buy our souvenirs, and from there we went to the station. Once again we were at the initial stop, but entraining was more challenging. This was because the train arrived full of passengers from Pune who wanted to leave whilst everyone on the platform wanted to board as quickly as possible to make sure they could grab a seat. We all managed to get ourselves seated and had an uneventful journey back to Pune.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Himalayan Holiday - The Credits

So, this is The End. It's taken about as much time to write up the holiday, as it took to actually partake in it. It was a wonderful experience. I have wanted to see the Himalayas since the first time I came to India, and it can turn out that expectations can exceed reality. Fortunately, this was not the case, the holiday was fantastic.

Credit must go to Paras, and his Himalayan Holidays company. He organised everything superbly, and reacted to last minute changes of plan without skipping a beat. He took us to places that we would never have found by ourselves. Reading this blog you will see that we had the odd hiccup. That we had so few hiccups in India is nothing short of astounding. I have no hesitation in recommending Paras. If you fancy a trip to Sikkim, or the Darjeeling region of West Bengal, you could do worse than contact Paras - himalyanholidays@yahoo.com / 09932980738. He's good enough for the BBC, and he's good enough for me.

Oh, and well done to San for finding him, and conducting all the business with him. Thanks also to Andy for putting us up in Bombay, and hanging around the airport at ungodly hours.


Himalayan Holiday - Kurseong, Kalimpong, The End

We wake up in a large bedroom in Selim Tea Estate. It is a 150 year old bungalow. Bungalow is a word that was appropriated by English in the days of the Raj. In India it refers to a detached property; the number of floors is unimportant. We were in the first, and topmost floor. We headed down for breakfast. First we sat outside for some Darjeeling tea served on the verandah. We were right on the edge of the Himalayas, and could see the flat plains stretching out into the distant haze. We then went inside for the proper meal. Our host was the manager, a Rajasthani. His cook provided a delicious breakfast, the highlight being a Rajasthani pastry filled with various vegetables, onions, and homemade tomato sauce.

After eating, we had a tour of the factory. There were some tremendous Heath-Robinson style devices which sorted the leaves - my favourite being the Britannia Balanced Pucca Tea Sorter. Only the final stages in the factory were operational, as they work through the night to avoid the daytime heat. the tour completed, we headed out for a pony trek around the estate. My prejudice for bovines over equines was confirmed, as I nearly slid over the other side of the pony's narrow back on mounting it. No such problem with the stout yak a week ago. The estate is 'organic', so pesticides are not used. There were many butterflies, crickets and strawberry plants amongst the main tea crop. The manager complained of a lack of investment. The tea plants are 120 years old, and every year some of them die. There seams to be little money made available to replace them.

After our trek we leave the estate, and head all the way down to the plains to have lunch with Paras. It's a relatively short journey, but the difference in heat and humidity from the tea estate is extraordinary. Fortunately Paras has some cool beer. We were introduced to his parents, and his wife and baby. He takes us out for a walk around his house. I had seen some strange fencing on the road to his colony, colony being the Indian equivalent of estate, he explained that it was electric fencing designed to keep elephants out. The houses were built on an elephant migration route, and were a major hazard. Indeed a local woman had recently been killed by one of the animals.

Paras told us that he BBC had been in the area filming elephants. Paras had arranged their permits and passes - if he could deal with a foreign camera crew, then it was no wonder that he could arrange such a smooth tour for the two of us! He mentioned that the locals were amazed, and at the same time very worried, at how close the cameramen got to the wild elephants. However, they never got into trouble, so they showed their expertise.

In the afternoon we headed back up into the hills to Kalimpong. This was a bit of a rushed finish, but Paras was not to blame. We should have been here on the first day, were it not for our airline problems. It was only Paras' last minute juggling that let us come here at all. We had a quick look around a cactus nursery before turning in for the night at another government run hotel.

Again the rooms were large, and the room service excellent. After eating San watched a Bollywood movies, and I read a book. In the morning we wanted to leave sharply, as we had a plane to catch. Unfortunately the staff at this hotel were as inept as the staff at the government run place at Jorepokhri. San ended up bossing them about to achieve results.

Eventually we headed off down the valley to the airport at Bagdogra. We arrived with time to spare, but rather less than I was comfortable with. Our plane landed a few minutes late from it's incoming flight, but then an Indian airforce transport landed and our plane was marooned on the edge of the runway whilst the military plane was emptied. We left just late enough to give us the slimmest of chances of making our connection in Delhi. You're never so late that you can abandon hope are you? There is always that tantalising chance dangling in front of you to keep the stress levels at maximum! We waited, and waited for our bags to appear on the Delhi carousel. We had learnt our lesson from the outward journey, and San stayed with me. We then had to race across to the departure building; the temperature was a cool 45˚C. Exhausted after a dew hundred metres of running in this heat, I made it to the X-Ray machine, and was told that the connecting flight was delayed. Hooray - we had made it!

Not so much fun for Andy in Bombay though. He eventually picked us up at 11pm. Even at this hour Bombay was hot and sticky, and the space outside the airport infested with touts. Safely in his air-conditioned car we set off in search of dinner. Heading out from the airport we passed a 737 on the road, which would become infamous a few days later. We reached Navi Mumbai, and found a restaurant that was willing to serve us after midnight. It was after 1am by the time we left. We headed the short distance to Andy's apartment and crashed out. All that was left was to drive back along the expressway to Pune in the morning.


Himalayan Holiday - Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Today we were due to travel on the Toy Train from Darjeeling to Kurseong. The proper name for the service is the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, but the narrowness of the gauge makes the nickname very appropriate. Trains have been running this route for 150 years, and it is rightly considered an engineering marvel. The track follows the road, hairpins included, for the most part. It only diverges a few times to tackle the steepest sections by using loops and z-reversals. It's amazing that the trains can tackle the route, and it is worth bearing in mind that they do not use a rack and pinion system to scale the gradients.

First we had to leave Jorepokhri. We had woken up early, and for the second time on our holiday were rewarded with views of Kanchenjunga. It was hazy, but after so many missed opportunities due to the unseasonal weather we were hardly going to let that bother us. Leaving was a bit more stressful than it should have been. First our vehicle didn't turn up on time. Eventually John went off to procure another. Eventually one turned up; I don't know if it was the original or one that had just been booked. Last evening the room service was excellent. However, the lodge revealed government run inefficiency when it was time to check out. First someone had to run into the back room to find a manager. He took an age to add up our simple bill for last night's meal. When he was done it took yet more time to procure 100 Rupees change. This was a stark contrast to the private hotels we had been staying in.

Eventually we settled the bill and headed off. We still had enough time, but a Darjeeling traffic jam could always cause a problem. Fortunately the road was clear, and we reached the station with time to spare. Paras was waiting, and provided us with some crisps for the journey. Our train was diesel rather than steam - less romantic, and as it would turn out, less reliable. We had first class tickets, and the carriage was decorated with bamboo dragons, and scary masks. We pulled out of Darjeeling on time, and made our way to Ghum, the highest station in the Indian railway network. As I mentioned earlier, the train follows the road for the most part, and on the busy urban stretch from Darjeeling to Ghum it is as involved in the local traffic jams as any other vehicle. We came to a stop at one point as a truck manoeuvred out of our path.

We reached Ghum and stopped. And stopped. And stopped some more. The news reached us that the locomotive had broken down, and required a new belt. Unfortunately no one thought to stock any belts in the hills, so it would take four hours to deliver one from the plains. San contacted Paras and he quickly came to the station. She had had enough, whilst I wanted to wait it out. Paras bought me some more junk food, and took San off to our next stop - a tea estate near Kurseong.

A more reliable steam train passed us. I had read a few days ago that they were running experiments on the old steam locomotives. The idea is to run them on oil, rather than coal. The experiment was unsuccessful, with the oil powered steam engine unable to ascend the hill. Still, at least it moved unlike our more modern diesel. We had a few false starts with the broken belt jury-rigged with copper wire. It always snapped apart when any demand was made of it.

By the time the replacement belt arrived only myself and two Bangladeshi sisters. They told me that they were doctor, and assured me that nothing like this ever occurred in Bangladesh. They both had much more faith in Allah than Indian Railways in reaching their destination.

Almost exactly after four hours had passed, a new belt arrived (from a steam engine) and we were off! At least the delays were on schedule. The euphoria was short lived; within minutes we ran into track works. There weren't meant to be trains running at this time after all. It took the best part of an hour to proceed past he red flags. The weather had closed in a bit by now, but the ride down was pleasant. Since there were only three of us in the carriage, we could sit anywhere we wanted. The delay meant that the train was descending at the same time as schools were finishing. Some pupils took advantage and grabbed a free ride. The train moves at barely a gentle jog, so it is easy to jump aboard.

The last straw occurred a few kilometres above Kurseong. We were so late that the up-trains were on there way, and we were pushed into a siding to make way. We waited, and waited. Eventually the railway staff hailed some taxis and put us out of our misery. I disembarked at Kurseong station, and called John's mobile. He replied, but I couldn't make out what he was saying. He then hung up, so I paid the shop fellow and turned around. Only to see John pick up my bags and lead me to a taxi. The poor guy had been waiting for hours.

After a twisty, bumpy journey in the dark we reached Selim tea estate, where San had been ensconced for hours. I couldn't see much in the dark, but was ushered to a comfortable living room. We were served a delicious, and welcome, dinner. Exhausted, we headed off to bed, but not before finishing the remaining wheat brew.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Himalayan Holiday - Jorepokhri

For reasons unknown John is keen for us to leave Rimbick as soon as possible. We have our breakfast on the lawn, pack up and leave. My trusty bamboo stick that has aided my ascent and descent is left leaning against our room door. We then climb into the waiting jeep and head off on the twisty roads to Jorepokhri. We pass some keen Western mountain bikers who have legs that appear more than adequate for these hills. At one point we stop to donate our spare tire to a stranded jeep. I assume that their is honour amongst drivers, and the tire will be returned at some point in the future.

Jorepokhri is one of those Indian tourist resorts that cater to the local population. They aren't really my thing. The centrepiece is a slightly worn, concrete, multi-headed cobra sitting in a lake of honking geese. Apparently there are splendid views of Kanchenjunga, but once more we see nothing but cloud. We have to wait for room service to prepare out room, so the mystery as to why we were in such a hurry to leave Rimbick deepens. On the positive side, the room is enormous. We have a very large bedroom and an adjoining lounge to ourselves. The room service is also excellent, and we are well looked after at meal times.

With not much else to do in the gloom we worry about our bags which we left in the Viceroy in Darjeeling before our trek. We are also running short on cash; I should have taken more before leaving our last ATM in Darjeeling. John walks down with me to the nearby Jorepokhri town. It is only a couple of kilometres away, but my legs are aching from yesterdays downhill section. Just before the town we pass a group of monkeys that are eating carrots that a benefactor has provided. Once in the town we wait in a taxi. It will not depart until sufficient passengers have crammed in. After about twenty minutes our driver is happy, and heads off towards Darjeeling. We leave the vehicle at Ghum, and I get some money from an ATM. John establishes mobile contact with our agent Paras, who is on his way to Jorepokhri with our luggage.

John and I return in another taxi. This one isn't shares, so we leave immediately. We are greeted by Paras at Jorepokhri. He tells me that I shouldn't have gone to Ghum, he would have lent me some cash. He is disappointed that we are not so fond of the resort. I suspect if the weather had been better, and we could see the mountains, I would have had a better opinion. Ever thoughtful he asks if I want anything to drink. On hearing that I have sampled various local concoctions he knows what to do. Paras and John head out, and return with two bottles of caramel coloured gloopy liquid. This time it is made from wheat. It tastes alright, and is not at all strong.

Himalayan Holiday - Trek Day 4

We went to bed with optimism fuelled by the starry night sky. It turned out to be false hope. The first light revealed thick cloud, strong winds, and a few snow flakes. There was a postcard pinned on the common room wall showing what we could have seen. It did look spectacular, but you can't rely on the weather in the mountains. With nothing much to see we finished our breakfast (more porridge) and bade farewell to the English couple who were returning back along the ridge by Land Rover.

Since we are on the highest piece of land in West Bengal the only way is down. We are heading to the village of Rimbick down in the valley. We were initially told that it would be a 14 kilometre walk, but our guides inform us that it will be 21 kilometres. San is worried. At least it is all downhill, but our guides say they prefer heading up - downhill strains the calves much more.

Before heading down I have to present myself at a final Indian army checkpoint. The guard is happy to inform me that England are out of the cricket world cup. I reply that they lasted rather longer than India. He laughs. Fortunately only the very top of the mountain is in the foul weather. We are soon below the cloudbase where the wind stops, and we have a reasonable view of the surroundings. Apart from the copious quantities of bamboo, the grassy slopes look rather European. Our guides spot a deer, but it leaps into the bamboo before we respond to their calls.

We pass an Indian group, but shortly afterwards a lone 'Aunty' powers past us in her flip-flops. Soon we hear the crack of thunder - is this why she has broken away from her group? Rain and hail follow. The larger stones give quite a sting when they hit. The path is getting muddier, and by this time we have overtaken flip-flop woman. San on the other hand has found a hitherto unexpected turn of speed in response to the inclement weather, and is rushing down the mountain at such a rate that it is hard to keep up.

We make it to a tiny village before the storm truly breaks. We find shelter in the house of John's sister's mother-in-law. There is another cat keeping warm by the stove; this time San joins it to dry up. There is also a dog, but it is getting wet outdoors. We have a nice meal - including cocktail sausages! We also have some local rice based brew; not the best source of alcohol I've tried. First the hail, then the rain, lashes down. It will stop and you can see clouds form at the base of the hill and rise up. Then it starts again. Meanwhile San thinks she can see a fly on my neck. I swat it an she says it's still there. Puzzled I rub my fingers along my neck, and feel what must be a tick. We call John over and he pulls it off. He proudly states that it is still alive as he chucks it outside. Being a Buddhist he won't kill any animal. I had seen this earlier when he flicked a caterpillar off the footpath lest anyone following trod on it.

The rain stopped again and it was time to leave. The guides said it would remain dry, but I decided to put on my fluorescent orange waterproof trousers. It turned out to be unnecessary as the guides were right of course. The village was at the head of the valley, so the gradient levelled out, and the vegetation became lush. We passed waterfalls, wild orchids and Alpine, or should that be Himalayan, strawberries. We also passed some ponies carrying supplies up the valley; even the Land Rover's wouldn't make it up these narrow paths.

We crossed the river at a suspension bridge populated with many camera snapping tourists. After that the last stretch towards Rimbick was comparatively tedious. We did pass some houses with beautiful gardens, but the scenery couldn't compare with the higher altitudes, and we were getting tired. Eventually we reached Rimbick at 5:30pm. The accommodation was better than the summit, but still fairly basic, as was the food. The ambience was not helped by the fact the two yappy dogs were tied up in the restaurant area. After dinner we realised the guides were right about downhill causing the most pain as we hobbled down the steps to our bedroom. At least it wasn't freezing any more, and tomorrow we would be a little closer to civilisation.