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 - / 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.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Himalayan Holiday - Trek Day 3

The next day was a short seven kilometre, but entirely uphill, trek to the top of Sadakphu. At 3,600m it is the highest point in West Bengal, and of course offers splendid views of not only Kanchenjunga, but also Everest. We say farewell to our hosts, but meet the father and one of the daughters at the next checkpoint, they having overtaken us. Today the cloud has lifted from most of the nearby peaks, but the top of Sandakphu is ominously lost in the murk.

We reach the top after two hours of marching upwards. It is very windy, very cold, and the visibility is approaching zero. Splendid views indeed. We are shown to the accommodation and have some lunch. There is a stove inside, which could do with lighting. We are told that it will be in the evening. In the meantime our guides take us on a misty walk towards Phalut. This is the next stop on the trekking route, but we are heading downhill tomorrow.

When we return to the summit an hour later, we see two huddled masses. Under the blankets and wooly hats are two English tourists who have come up by Land Rover, and are staying the night. Cheating perhaps, but we didn't carry our own bags, so we can't talk! At five the fire is lit, which makes a big difference. We all sit around and warm ourselves up. One of the tourists has a guitar, which John offers to play. We then head off for dinner. They can't bring it from the kitchen because the weather is too foul, so we head off into the blackness to the dining building.

I mentioned that there is no electricity in the mountains, but that's not quite true. All the villages had solar panels on the roofs which charge up car batteries during the day. These then provide light in the evening. We sat down for our meal which included some yak meat. It was served diced and some chunks were tough, but others were very soft. Not too bad.

After finishing dinner we head back to the accommodation building. The stars are visible, which gets our hopes up for the morning. We sit around the fire and talk some more about Bollywood, Hindi soap operas and songs. When a local, sitting on a bed in the main room, begins talking to himself we all decide that it is time for bed. We retire to our freezing rooms, and go to sleep. Will we see mountains tomorrow?


Himalayan Holiday - Trek Day 2

It was another early start the next day. The cold made it fairly easy to wake up, as we were keen for someway of getting warm. There is no electricity up in the mountains, and no heating. There are some stoves, but they weren't in use. Probably just as well as they can be a source of carbon monoxide poisoning. Getting into bed last night was a challenge. We needed both duvets and blankets, and it was still freezing. You have to sleep close together to stay warm. John came with our tea at 5:30, and an hour later we moved back to the main building for our breakfast. I'm not the greatest fan of breakfast, but was glad to see a warm bowl of porridge on the table.

Heated up, we left at 7:00, and the French party looked like they were ready to follow. The clouds had returned in the night, but once again we were spared any rain. We stopped for some more tea in the next village, and left the faster French party behind, as they stopped for their breakfast. We then started on a downhill stretch which culminated in an army post and checkpoint. By now the French had caught us up once more, and their local guide was very interested in my PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card.

We had gone down as far as we would for the day, and the path headed steeply upwards from the checkpoint. The hill slowed San down quite considerably, but we were eventually back up on the ridge. We stopped for some more tea inside a hut in the next village. The woman there was huddled round her stove with a cat for company. John soon joined them there. Today we were heading for Kalpokhri, which means black lake. As the name suggests there is a lake near the village, which is at an altitude of about 3,200m. The rest of the walk along the ridge was cloudy, but there were occasional breaks, so we did get to see some scenery.

The lake is surrounded by prayer flags, and immediately afterwards, before you reach the village, is another army checkpoint. As I write my name in the book, I see that the French passed through an hour ago, and are heading onwards to the main summit at Sandakphu. We're taking it easy and doing that tomorrow. We are shown our room for the night, and we lie down. This room is lighter than the last one, but every bit as cold. The weather closes in, and whilst there is no rain, it becomes very cloudy. We venture out in the early evening, and I call my mum in Scotland from the ridge, surrounded by inquisitive yaks. Whilst we are outside my boots pass the waterproof test as I stick my foot into a deep puddle of cold water.

We go back into the lodge and sit round the fire with the owners and their family. I show interest in what the man is drinking from: a miniature keg filled with seeds from which he drinks with a bamboo straw. It is called Tongba, and is made from fermented millet. He described the process. It is quite involved, but involves fermentation, drying out and storage in the loft for six months. It is served by placing the dry mixture into the mini-keg and then you just add boiling water. the alcohol dissolves, and the bamboo filters out the seeds. When you have finished you just top up with more boiling water, until all the intoxicant has been consumed. Surprisingly, it is pretty nice, and the first flush is fairly potent.

He speaks to us about life in the hills. Unsurprisingly it is tough. We ask about hospitals: the nearest is in Darjeeling, hours away in an expensive, hired Land Rover. He says when someone gets ill the rich go down, whilst the poor go up... There are local schools up to the age of eight, but then the children have to go to boarding school in Darjeeling to continue their education. This is the busiest time of year for the tourist trade. In the wet season no one ventures up. In winter there are only crazy Europeans marching around in the snow, the locals stay down on the plains. Shopping too is done in Darjeeling. They hire a Land Rover, and buy in very large quantities, to minimise the number of times they have to make the expensive trip.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Himalayan Holiday - Trek Day 1

Another early start, though not as bad as yesterday. We left he hotel at 6:30am and headed for the start of our trek at the village of Manebhanjan at 2,150m. Paras, our travel agent, had thoughtfully arranged for the Viceroy hotel in Darjeeling to hold on to most of our luggage, so we set off with a small rucksack full of gadgets, and a larger one with our clothes. Once at Manebhanjan I had to fill in some forms, and buy permits for our still and video cameras. For once I am charged the local Indian rate on account of my PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card, although one of the officials mentions that I don't look very Indian!

After a breakfast of meat momos, exactly which meat was never determined, we head off up the hill. It's a long and steep climb to the ridge, and San discovers that she doesn't like uphill that much. We are following an unmetalled road through the forest. Occasionally a stepped footpath can be used as a shortcut letting us miss a few hairpins. The downside of course is that the direct route is steeper yet. A couple of hours later we reach the ridge, and the India Nepal border. There is a low fence and a stone marking the boundary. There is no passport control as we go through a gate in the fence, and head off through the mist to a monastery. We are served tea and biscuits inside one of the monastery buildings - very civilised!

Our break over we head off along the ridge. It is still misty, but the gradient is much reduced to San's relief. John is with us again, and we have another guide, Kumar, for the trek. They are carrying our backpacks and the food supplies. Our backpack is quite light, so John marches ahead. Kumar is laden down with supplies, so heads up the rear. By late morning we pass a small village. John was there first of course, but Kumar has passed us too, and they have laid out some fruit, juice and chocolate. We take a rest and eat what has been provided. Then it is time to press on. We pass a vintage Land Rover that is parked in the village. We have seen a few of them today. Interesting that these old machines are preferred to the local 4x4s when the going gets really tough. There is less mist than earlier, but little in the way of views. John is quickly ahead of us, and invisible in the fog. Fortunately he writes his name in the ground with an arrow showing what direction he is heading at frequent intervals.

Today we are heading for Tumling at an altitude of 3,000m. Before we get there we have lunch at another village. The Nepali proprietor is asking a couple of Italians where they are from. He then asks if they can speak French. When they admit to some knowledge he starts talking to them. His French is better than theirs, so the conversation does not go far. After lunch we have a few more kilometres to cover before heading in for the night. Once we arrive we are shown our room and have a rest. Almost immediately we hear thunder, and the heavens open. We are lucky not to be drenched! Less lucky are the next party to arrive. They are French, so I hope they had a chat with the restaurant owner in the previous village. We leave our room and sit in the main building's living room. It is cold so we are around the fire, along with the drying clothes of the French party. As the sun sets, the French party's guide announces that the mountains are visible. We head out and walk to the top of the ridge, and we can see that the recent storm has cleared the air. Kanchenjunga is visible looking one way, whilst we can see quite some distance into Nepal when we look in the opposite direction.

The light is now failing so we head back to the warm fire. We read books to pass the time, and eventually we have our dinner. It's pretty basic rations, but we're hungry and eat up. We then have to head outside and to the accommodation building. It is very dark, and the clouds are still broken. Venus shines as bright as a diamond.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Himalayan Holiday - More Darjeeling

We left the hotel for the second time shortly after nine. John, our guide, wasn't available as he was busy sorting out details for our forthcoming mountain trek. The replacement wasn't as good, not leaving the car when we were takeen somewhere, so John was missed. First of all we had to negotiate the narrow and crowded streets of Darjeeling. By now the trains were running, and they staked out there own claims to the roadspace. Our first stop was the zoo. It had a fair collection of local wildlife: leopards, snow leopards, wolves, deer, yaks and various birds. Unfortunately quite a few of the animals just paced up and down their enclosures. We also saw some red pandas; a native animal not related too the Giant Panda of China.

Adjoining the zoo was the Himalayan Mountain Institute. The museum had some interesting exhibits. These included the flags that Hilary and Tenzing took to the summit of Everest. There were also various items of equipment from expeditions past. More esoteric was the freeze dried carcass of an eagle recovered high up Everest by an Indian army expedition. Outside the museum was the last resting place of Tenzing Norgay - a black slab surrounded by prayer flags.

We left the zoo area and drove to Tenzing Rock. This small outcrop has a fixed rope for tourists to clamber up. San had a go and was soon at the top. She found going down a bit harder, as she wasn't too keen on leaning back as she descended the rope. A short distance down the road was a tea estate. There were a group of tea pluckers conveniently sited for photographs. After watching them for a while we had a cup of the estate's tea, and bought a small pack of leaves.

The race course was next on the bill. This is one of the smallest and highest race courses in the world, but it is currently under army occupation. Our guide showed us a nearby football pitch instead. We quickly moved on. This time we headed out of town and to the Tibetan Refugee centre. This part of India is home to many Tibetan refugees who have fled their homeland since the Chinese occupation. The refugee centre provides work and shelter for those without. It has a museum detailing the history of Tibet, and the centre itself. As might be expected there is a lot of China bashing, most of it deserved. We went to the shop where I bought a long sleeved stripey shirt, and San bought some miniature prayer flags and some incense.

Our local tour complete we headed back to the hotel. We decided to eat out at Glenary's, a nearby restaurant. The food was alright, but nothing special. After lunch we walked around the town and did some more shopping. We bought some traditional wooden masks. The faces look quite demonic, but apparently they're meant to be friendly. Shopping complete, we headed back to the hotel for another early night.