Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bye for a while...

I've successfully replanted in Hackney. The move went fairly well and the new place is great. I'm loving getting to know the local area and so excited that I can do most of my shopping in markets and independent local shops. This morning I left home late enough to watch the sun rise over east London. Nice.

The only unhappy consequence of the move is that I'm without a telephone line, television or internet access until after Christmas. And with almost everyone I know out of London at the moment, it's going to be a very quiet, reflective holiday!

I really can't be bothered doing much blogging from work and tomorrow is my last day anyway. So goodbye for a week and half and merry Christmas!

Friday, November 30, 2007


It's been several weeks since I last rode my bike. First I got a puncture. Then I fixed it and got another puncture straight away, I guess that whatever caused the first puncture is still stuck in the tyre.

I did buy another inner tube but then I got a cold and the weather turned pretty nasty. I've recovered now and should start riding again but have got into a lazy routine of taking the underground.

I have more patience for the underground than I used to. When I enter Tottenham Court Road Station in the morning I have to go down the stairs and through a lot of chicken wire lined passageways because the escalators only go up before 9am. It's like being on an abandoned Dr Who set and I quite enjoy it.

Having spent hours recently navigating these filthy little passageways, I wasn't surprised this week when I read a news article about the underground being full of toxic dust.

I can just imagine the the speeches from defensive Londoners:

'What people don't think about is that this dust is 150 years old. It's all very well to compare it to less-toxic dust in Delhi or Singapore but those places have much younger underground systems. If anywhere else in the world had 150 year old dust, I'm sure it would be just as toxic as ours. Besides, we should be proud that we have one of the oldest and biggest underground networks of toxic dust in the world.'

I really should start riding again.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I'm moving to Hackney. Haggerston to be exact. Our current landlord has sold the property and we beat them to serve notice, just in time to move out before Christmas. The new flat is almost identical to the current one with a view over East London and significantly lower rent. Plus it has bike racks and an 'environmentally excellent' rating! It's better in every way.

Thus I'm planning to quit my second job at the college today. It will be less feasible to commute to outer Croydon when I'm not 5 minutes walk from Charing Cross Station. I feel sad about quitting a job that I enjoy (esp since it pays more than my main job!) but I've worked 6 full days a week (including 2 evenings) since September and I need to calm down a bit.

Hmm. Very boring but that's my life at the moment. Oh, except yay Australia!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Light entertainment

I asked some of my students today whether they have any special skills which could enliven the end of term party. The 85 year old has volunteered to give a Turkish dancing demonstration with his wife.

Another student offered acrobatics. 'Juggling?' I asked hopefully. 'No, human pyramid,' he replied, 'but need two more people'. He used to be in the circus.

I'm looking forward to asking the rest of the classes this week. Even without the pyramid, it's going to be great.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


It's worth travelling an hour and a half to my second job, just to have a change of scenery. Someone was stabbed (they're ok now) outside the college for a mobile phone this week and I still can't picture it happening in the lovely countryside.

Not the most exciting photo but it's the view from the room I teach in. I'm starting to understand why so many English people rave about autumn.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Starting fresh

I went looking for a new hairdresser near work last week. I'm not quite sure why men's hairdressers in London all seem to charge either £5 or £25, amounts which put me off for different reasons. After a search, I found a place on Golborne Road that charged £15, expensive enough to instil confidence yet not too painful to pay.

My new Polish hairdresser studied law before moving here several years ago. She had hoped to get into her field but found it too hard and is thus still hairdressing. I empathised and felt a little fortunate too. I don't think my qualifications get enough respect here but at least I can work in the field I trained in.

When I left the salon, I almost collided with one of my students in front of the entrance. 'Teacher look very nice!' he complimented. Gosha had put wax in my hair and I must have looked a little edgy because I was offered a wide selection of drugs while walking back down Portobello Road to work.

I was heading back to help a student write a CV. Her husband's employer had been taken over by another cleaning company and he had been told to provide a CV in days or lose his job. I found out that he'd been a goldsmith in Sudan in a prosperous family business.

Despite Gosha's obvious flair for hairdressing, the afternoon left me wondering why people are so willing to move to the UK and start at the very bottom.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Disco pain

I'm sure that London is the middle of the world. I went to an Afghani concert last Friday and Congolese the week before. And I discovered that I'm not the only white person who thinks they can do a bit of soukous dancing.

I've been taking afternoon coffee breaks at a Portugese cafe near work but I'm now thinking of sharing myself with the Palestinian Cafe across the road, owned by the son of one of my students.

And these days, London is the place to hold the world premiere if you've made a big budget Hindi film. I'm slightly devastated that I'll be at work next Thursday evening when 'Om Shanti Om' premieres. Otherwise I'd be off to Leicester Square with the camera.

I've never really been a SRK fan but I am becoming one after seeing this interview where he really sends himself up for 'exposing' in 'Dard-e-Disco' ('Disco Pain'). The full English translation starts at 1:40 but why not watch all the way through and test your Hinglish?

And for Pip (and others?), here is the exposing...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

In which the author experiences a minor epiphany

While I was in Australia in September I applied for a job in Hong Kong. It was a vacancy which doesn't come up very often and I only noticed it a couple of days before the deadline.

I was invited for a phone interview which didn't go too well. I was quite sure that the interviewers hadn't read my application, CV or the 3 references they asked for in advance.

And I realised that the job wasn't exactly what I thought it was. They were looking for someone to teach kids though the daytime and then adults in the evening.

I started to worry that my students would all be kids with pushy parents and adults hoping to climb the corporate ladder and buy £10,000 diamond rings (ask Jean!).

And then I realised how much I enjoy my classes here. Ramadan finished the day after the interview and suddenly classes were full and students were all kissing each other.

I had a few thoughts. It's quite important to me that I'm teaching classes that are free (or close to it). I also like the fact that I'm teaching people of mixed age from a variety of countries.

I'm still not sure where I want to live but I know what I do (and don't) want to do. So I was quite relieved when I didn't get that job.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Unwanted guests

My world is spinning out of control. Our real estate agent called last week to say that the landlord is selling our flat.

There have been inspections every day this week. The idea of moving is scary but not as much as the thought of all the dirty shoes tramping through.

It's horrible coming home and realising that things have been moved while I was out. If inspections go on much longer I think I'll lose the will to clean.

The flat is up on the agent's website and is listed as 'under offer'. Hopefully it's sold soon. When it is, I think we deserve a commission for making it look like this:

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sydney (in pictures this time)

Semi-interesting things are actually happening in my life now so I'm hurrying up and posting the rest of my holiday pictures.

It was such lovely trip. Especially since I was staying in the new family home at the bottom of Manly Beach.

In a beautiful old house with a gorgeous balcony for drying armpits...

... and a cosy lounge room for um... relaxing with friends.

Plus, it was just minutes away from a great wedding photo location. They looked so lovely!


Having coeliac disease in Hong Kong made life tricky. Many things used for flavouring in Chinese food (soy sauce, oyster sauce, Chinese wine, MSG etc.) contain gluten. White rice and Chinese tea anyone?

Thank goodness for the illegal Nepali restaurants of Jordan. They provided the basis of my diet, supplemented with all my old favourite snacks like water chestnuts on a stick, still only $HK3!

And this grapefruit and durian pudding. We went out for midnight dessert with Deco, Daisy and Joseph after they closed their shop. You can see Daisy still deliberating in the background.

And of couse, lai cha. When I told Daisy where I'd been for tea, her eyes opened wide and she whispered across the table 'That is the famous meeting point for .....'.

No wonder it was so atmospheric! I'll make it a regular hang out if ever I go back and send text messages to friends like 'Mido. 11am. Bring little finger'.

Friday, October 12, 2007


One of my colleagues said this week that she is having difficulty getting students to talk about their own lives. 'They don't seem to do anything except cook, clean, go to Tesco and look after the kids' she complained.

'Replace kids with work and that sounds just like my life' I said. It's lucky I still have holiday photos to blog. Since I got back, work has consumed most of my time. I'm doing more hours this term and the start of the school year is a very busy time.

Anyway, here's more stuff from HK:

First of all, my old home, right above this sign. It was weird to see it with someone else's curtains up.

And my old work had changed too. The same mural was still up in the classroom with some noticeable additions. I told my ex-colleague she should be flattered but then she asked if I had noticed the messy sentence at the bottom.

I love the way that the elderly are depicted in public service notices in HK. This one is as good as the one with cheerful and cute old ladies with buns getting pickpocketed by somone who looked like Hamburgler.

Does anyone actually bother to look at this notice except for me? I had fun figuring out what each of the pictures meant.

And I thought these were kids' clothes until I saw the sign...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Wo ai ni, wo ni jiang

When one of my friends invited me to a charity concert in Sha Tin by disabled performers I wasn't sure what to expect. It turned out that I'd got a ticket to a sold-out concert by an group on a world tour.

It started with a dance by deaf performers. Not being able to hear the accompaniment, they followed a couple of conductors (and each other) and managed to dance spectacularly in perfect timing.

Unfortunately, I got in trouble after taking the above photo (without flash, I'm not that bad) and had to put my camera away. Subsequent performances were amazing. There were blind singers who did a song in Mandarin called 'I love you, my home' which is still in my head.

And the highlight was a scene from a Chinese opera. A blind orchestra played while a blind man and a deaf man enacted a dramatised fight. Incredibly, the blind man made sure they kept in time with the music while the deaf man made sure their movements were coordinated.

Hooray for such generous friends. I later found out that another friend was supposed to go and had given up his ticket for me! Poor guy had to content himself with the DVD. I felt bad but also very lucky!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


My camera has returned and there are plenty of holiday photos I want to post. I'm starting with the day that Jason, Mary and I headed out to Lantau Island...

My first surprise was getting to Central and finding that the Star Ferry pier was no more!

Mui Wo had changed too. My old crumbling home had been made over as 'Casa Elmira', replete with a security gate and concrete wall.

Sunset Peak, however, was still the same. Up top it was at least five degrees cooler than the rest of Hong Kong and a refreshing breeze was blowing.

I've never seen many people staying in the huts at the top. I guess that scouts or school groups must occasionally use them. It's not somewhere you would want to stay more than one night.

We hiked down towards Mui Wo and strolled along the beach before getting the ferry back into the city again. It was nice to be back.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Back to work

The rest of my Sydney time was great and the wedding was beautiful. I've got plenty of photos that I'll post when the camera flies back into London on Tuesday afternoon.

After so much holiday it felt great to get back to work. I've picked up an extra IT class and it's going to be a busy term. First week went well and I've got some great new students.

A couple of them speak beautiful varieties of English that I am loath to desecrate. Correcting someone who says 'Sir, I must to the toilet, I am truly pressed' makes me feel positively evil.

I've also had a rush of attractive new students. My colleague was a little shocked when I told her this and asked if it's okay to fancy my own students. Of course it is! Particularly as most are older than me. There should be some perks to working in adult education!

And there are wacky ones. One girl burst into class and came out with, 'Professor, I'm sorry I will need to leave 40 minutes early each lesson because my job in the disco bar. Next two weeks I will be in Italy for visit and I will maybe return Italy permanent in December but I am very happy to joining this class'.

But the highlight of the week was getting back to the old men's class. I was relieved that everyone lasted the holiday and was back in full health. Imagine my delight when one 74 year old Afghani grandfather puts on a pair of tinted reading glasses just like the ones below.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Sydney is beautiful. The sky and sea are blue. The air is sweet. Birds sing, squawk and swoop at my head. Being away two years has made me appreciate the place much more. I'm not sure if that's a reason to come more or less often in the future.

The weird thing about being back in Sydney is that I become a child again. I left as soon as I finished study and I'm ignorant about how to be an adult here. I still live at home and I've got no idea how much things are supposed to cost.

It's four years since I left and being back encourages reminiscing, some of it good. My parents now live in Manly, the setting of my innocent first romance. Suddenly I'm transported back to the middle of 2003.

Some memories are not so good. Being pushed around, jeered and then slapped by a group of drunken idiots (on Oxford St of all places) on Saturday night was like being sent straight back to high school.

I'm so happy to be back wth my famiy and friends and I'm loving the beauty and clean air. But I'm also feeling less Australian than ever.

Anyway, the wedding is the important thing right now and I can't wait!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I'm half way through my week in Hong Kong and of course I'm loving it. Jason, Mary and I went hiking on Lantau on Saturday (hurry up and post pictures!). After Sunset Peak we toured my old village and I was shocked that my shabby old house (which I suspected may be no more) had been reborn as a high security, bright orange/yellow mansion named 'Casa Elmira'.

Plenty more has changed in Hong Kong but it is still incredibly familiar. I still run into someone I know every five minutes and I've had emotional reunions with everyone from old work colleages to my real estate agent. I love my small group of friends in London but I'll never be as connected there as I am here.

Anyway, I'll save further description for when I can post some photos. I'm off to a friends house now - he passed the net cafe, saw me inside and then insisted I come see his new baby.

Oh, and some advice. If you ever recognise someone whose blog you read, think twice before calling them by name and letting them know they are in your favourites. Be it in PP or anywhere else, you risk seriously freaking them out. Unfortunately I was the culprit not the blogger - I'd be flattered!

Friday, August 31, 2007


My neighbours are such a miserable lot of people. There are about five people in the whole building who will even reply when I say hello.

Meanwhile, I'm the most civic minded person in this whole council block. I've taken on sole responsibility for cleaning the common areas of our floor (see photo in last post). I'm at war with rodents which I didn't attract. My balcony garden is a credit to the building. I set an example of cleanliness in the rubbish room.

So far I am even ignoring the fact that the lady upstairs has dedicated 3-4am as Lionel Richie hour. She doesn't even play 'All night long' which is my favourite Lionel song and clearly the most appropriate.

So what's suddenly got me annoyed?

Yesterday I was coming through the front security door with my bike. I let the door go too early and my pedal and wheel got sandwiched. A man from upstairs was behind me and opened the door again for me.

I was impressed because I only know three other people in the building (apart from me) who will hold the door open for anyone. I thanked him and gave my most grateful looking smile. It's not easy to get through that door with a bike.

And in return? He gave me evil and goes 'Shame you scratched the door'. Aiyaah!

One more week and I will be back in Temple Street where I know I can count on a warm reception from my old neighbours!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Back on the bike

The sun has finally come out, two weeks after I arrived back in London. The plants are recovering and I'm on my bike again. Suddenly I remember all the things I like about living here.

And I have a new accessory. It was a 5 pound special from Columbia Road and this seemed like the best way to get it home. I got even more attention than I did in the nappy.

This time I had entire families laughing and construction workers calling out from the side of the road. How will I top this?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Back to work

After more than a month of holiday, I'm starting to get very fidgety. I used the first couple of days of this week to sort through the whole house, making several bags of things to take to the local charity shop.

A friend called from Perth to wish me happy birthday on Monday and asked what I was doing. 'Well, I've been keeping a pile of magazines with recipes inside. I'm cutting out all the recipes and pasting them in a scrap book'. Oh dear. Just weeks ago I was climbing mountains.

I also made two bags of teaching stuff to take to work. I try not to do any lesson preparation at home these days because I'm terrible at it. Even at work, I'm much more productive if I place myself in a seat where other people can see what I'm doing.

I decided I had better go back in to work before I donated everything in the house. There are only a couple of weeks now until I go to HK and Sydney so I need to start preparing for the new term - I start teaching on the same morning I arrive back.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Returning to London from India is much less difficult than returning from India to Sydney used to be. It's not only the reassuring smell of urine, there are plenty of other reminders here.

The day after I arrived back, we headed with House Negro to Brick Lane. I dislike the Brick Lane restaurants but we managed to find a low key place that had a Sunday biryani special. And then did a shopping trip to Bangla City.

On Friday I misread my Eurostar ticket and missed the train to Amsterdam. Shekerim was over (between Hungary and Armenia trips) and we decided that it must be kismat that I'd missed the train (which is a Turkish and a Hindi word and I suppose Arabic as well).

A replacement single ticket for a later train was more expensive than my return had cost. I was too angry with myself to spend much more money so I booked an 11pm night coach. That left the rest of the afternoon and evening to pack and tidy for the flatswap.

I was watching the evening news when they went live to a Bollywood celebration in Trafalgar Square, part of the India in London season. Trafalgar Square was conveniently placed between home and the coach station so I headed straight down there with my luggage.

I sat watching artists finish a huge mural. The music was loud and some entertaining spontaneous dancing was going on. I texted Shekerim to say that missing the train certainly was kismat. Ironically, a Tarkan song then started - the one Holly Vallance covered.

And then the show began. Abseilers dancing to the music of Niraj Chug. I loved it.

Amsterdam wasn't bad either.

Friday, August 17, 2007


A couple of months ago I set mouse traps in the hot water tank cavity. The mice who run around under the floor, making noises at night, had made a nest in there.

When I didn't catch anything, I made a deal with them. I'd let them be, as long as they stayed behind walls and under the floor and didn't come further. I don't like to use poison.

But the day after I arrived back, I found this in the bathroom. A mouse had chewed its way in through the skirting board overnight and the floor was covered with sawdust! And for what?

War is now on. I filled up the hole with steel wool and expanding foam and from now on will show no mercy. Grrr.

Monday, August 13, 2007


I'm now back in London and mountains, monasteries and 12 rupee lassis feel a world away.

After I wrote last from Dehra Doon I spent a couple of days in my friend Nandu's village and loved it. Nandu's family has gained two buffaloes and a cow since I last visited and are now selling milk to the whole village. Throughout the afternoon, people would turn up from all the nearby houses to collect their milk and have a chat.

While I was there, I took a day trip to Rishikesh to see old friends, get more clothes mending done and go for a haircut and shave plus face and head massage (for just over a pound!). Catching up with old friends was great, particularly an old lady who I wrote a short biography of for an assignment when I studied there years ago.

Yashuda's family migrated from Calcutta 30 years ago and she sells flowers on the ghat. When I arrived there, another flower seller recognised me and told me where to find her. After a happy reunion, she packed up her stall and invited me to her place for tea (and lunch which I declined - I had already recieved several other offers!).

Yashuda and her husband live with their four children (and their respective families) in a four room house. In addition, they have a steady stream of visitors staying with them from Calcutta. I felt terrible that they didn't have any tea ingredients in the house and someone was despatched for milk, tea and sugar as soon as I arrived.

If Rishikesh and Dehra Doon were all about seeing friends, Delhi was all about eating and shopping. After the limited range of food in the mountains I went a bit crazy. I'd been craving yoghurt and on my last day there I managed to drink 9 lassis! I feel very much at home in Delhi and have several favourite hotels and restaurants.

The lassis in one shop were so good that I didn't care when the guy making them added tap water and scratched his toes before throwing in a handful of ice. A little bit of dirt from the air had settled on top of the yoghurt and there was a hair in my glass but I was enjoying the lassi so much (my 2nd at that sitting) that I forgot to take it out!

This trip definitely was my best holiday in India yet. Not getting sick made a huge difference. I can't believe that all these years I've thought India made me sick when it was actually just the rotis, naans and parathas. Travelling to such a beautiful area really made the trip. It was the perfect combination of relaxation, exercise and scenery.

But meeting fantastic people was the best part. I had so many invitations for chai, meals and accommodation (many of which I politely declined) that I struggled to spend any money at all. Apart from expenditure on presents, I think I spent 200 pounds or less in a whole month. And I didn't bargain at all for anything!

My Hindi hasn't improved much over the last few years but I think my general conversation ability has. And conversation is so much easier in India where it's perfectly acceptable to ask all kinds of personal questions of a complete stranger! I also realised that having much more liberal religious views (than when I first went to India 8 years ago) has made relating to people so much easier.

I'm really going to miss the interaction and sense of community. I spent five minutes chatting to the lady in the dry cleaners today and she named all her celebrity clients (I'm in good company!). I wasn't so successful in the post office where I freaked the staff out a little with excessive friendliness. It's going to take a while to settle back in!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The descent

I'm now in Dehra Doon, well and truly out of the mountains. It's hot and I'm stinking.

My trip down Kinnaur was a lot more adventurous than the trip up. And I managed to do it without stopping in any place mentioned in the Lonely Planet. With mixed success.

After getting the bus from Spiti to Kinnaur, the first village I stopped in was Spillo, a pretty non-descript town by the river where buses stop for meal breaks.

I spent an afternoon and a morning hiking up to two spectacular villages on the hillside above, Khanum and Labrang. Both had amazing views back towards Kinnaur Kailash.

Khanum had an ancient monastery. It had been renovated not too long ago but the prayer room (which I couldn't photograph) was at least hundreds of years old (the lama thought 1,000).

And Labrang had an ancient fort.

Lamas in both villages showed me around the monasteries and fed me cups of tea. One even gave me a bag of dried apricots and almonds (both local) to go back down the hill with!

I then headed off on foot for Lamba, a village in a remote valley which I knew nothing about. I had been assured by several people that there would be a place to stay there. After seven hours on foot, I arrived to find out that it was little more than a settlement for migrant road workers!

I stopped in a little restaurant in a hut, run by an old Nepali man. It was almost dark when I arrived and luckily he offered me a space on the floor of his hut.

I spent a really interesting evening sitting around the fire in his little restaurant while he dispensed wise advice to the young migrant workers from poorer parts of India. They were smoking a lot of marijuana so I'm not sure how much advice sank in. He didn't seem to mind.

It started raining heavily during the night and the hut was very draughty. I was very grateful that very little water seemed to get through the holes in the roof! Some time in the early morning I heard noises which I think was some kind of small animal coming in to shelter from the rain.

In the morning I paid the old guy a hundred rupees (he asked for 40 - i.e. 50p for dinner, accommodation and a lot of cups of chai!) and got a ride in the first vehicle leaving the village. I had been hoping to hike further up the valley but the weather was really misereable.

I then headed to Roghi, a village on a steep slope with incredible views. It was misty when I arrived there but the locals entertained me with tours of their apple orchards and an old holiday house left by the British.

And they plied me with a lot of local alcohol. Each time I finished a glass there was another type that I had to try because it was better for some reason or other. After finding out that the last type I tried was 50% alcohol, and then finding out I couldn't walk very straight, I insisted that I couldn't take any more.

I really am going to miss the apricots, fresh and dried, and the apricot wine!

The weather did clear up on my last night and the views were fantastic.

I sat on the rock in the foreground of this photo and watched the sun set on the mountains.

Roghi is on the old high up highway to Tibet, (built before a new one was blasted into the rock face next to the river) and I walked several hours on the old highway to get further down the valley.

After walking through a forest, passing more abandoned British holiday houses and a couple of villages, I took a shortcut down to the new highway and got on a bus out of Kinnaur.

I've spent most of the last couple of days on buses. Speed on mountain roads is frustratingly slow, particularly when you have to pass through congested little villages. I've taken my last bus now - I spent a couple of hours in a queue this afternoon for a train ticket to Delhi at 5am on Thursday.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Still in Spiti

I'm back in Kaza again, Spiti's big town. I made a mistake last time I was here, I needed to apply for an inner line permit to travel back to Kinnaur and didn't realise that the day I was planning to do it was a Sunday. So I'm here again.

I've spent the last couple of days going for long walks up mountains in the morning and then crashing at the monastery in the afternoon. I don't think I've ever been so fit. And on top of that, I'm clearer of celiac symptoms than ever. It must be the diet of rice, dal, vegetables and occasional fruit and yoghurt. Plus plenty of chai. At the monastery it's like chai is on tap.

Every time I walk I say to myself that I won't do anything that difficult again. And then I do something harder the next day.I went over 5,000m yesterday and the day before. You can see the start of the path I followed going up the hillside below.

I'm handling the altitude fine but the camera is not so healthy. I pulled it out to take pictures of some mountain goats yesterday and started screaming when it wouldn't even start. It now seems to be taking pictures but the viewfinder isn't working. Luckily I made a second sighting of mountain goat things. Without the viewfinder, however, I didn't manage to zoom in on them.

As much as I'm loving it, I need to calm things down a bit. My hands and face have had a bit too much sunn (despite incredible precautions) and don't match the rest of my body. And with the exercise and diet, I look like I'm auditioning for 'The Machinist II'. I can't afford to lose any more padding because roads here are really bumpy. In a bus yesterday passengers forced a crazy old saddhu to get off the back seat and move forward. As soon as he did, the seat flew off the frame and landed on the floor!

On the same bus trip, we drove past a field where 100+ people were standing in a circle. Our bus stopped to watch them and it turned out they were doing the hokey pokey/cokey!

There were a couple of foreigners there so I guess they were to blame. Earlier that morning I was walking towards a mountain village when a kid started shouting from the top of a cliff. I stopped to listen and realised he was singing 'Inky pinky ponky'. I have no idea who to blame for that!

And the monastery has also provided plenty of ridiculous moments. There's a French girl staying there at the moment and we're having a lot of fun sharing observations. It really is the Fawlty Towers of monasteries, it's a lovely place with lovely people but it's incredibly dysfunctional. The young lamas seem to run wild. I sat in on prayers this morning and they were playing and giggling through the whole thing. The ones nearest me were even playing with a very realistic looking toy gun!

Being a Hindi speaking foreigner often makes me a confidant and at the monastery it's particularly true. Several of the younger lamas have told me that they find monastery life pretty boring but think that it is better than doing farm work in their village. Monastery life is weird enough when you've chosen it yourself but even weirder when you were thrown in at a young age. Lamas can get released but their family needs to pay a sum of money to the monastery. I guess that plenty must do this because there is hardly anyone there between the ages of 20 and 40.

Anyway, I leave Spiti tomorrow and I'm going to miss the place incredibly. Lamas at another monastery in the valley have asked me to come back next year to teach and even with my misgivings about the system I'm considering it. The monastery is gorgeous.

And the view from the monastery is just as amazing.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


After a couple of epic bus trips, I've made it from the green Kinnaur Valley into the dry Spiti Valley. Each place I stop at seems to be more beautiful than the last.

My first stop was Nako, a town in the transition between the two valleys.

I managed to rent a room with a local family, fantastic except that electricity and water supply were intermittent at best.

I also did some more work on my herding skills. This time it was goats and I was quite pleased with my efforts. I was on a long walk when I ran into a goatherd who insisted on carrying my bag - in return for conversation.

The walk was stunning. Incredible new views lay around each corner but after walking five hours I was hungry, thirsty and exhausted and forced myself to turn around.

I moved on from there to Dhankar - a town towering over the Spiti River with an (almost) 1,000 year old monastery stuck on a rocky outcrop. Dhankar is quite a climb from the road which travels along the bottom of the valley and I was lucky enough to get transport up.

The monastery guesthouse seemed so luxurious (snow views, delicious food and occasional hot water and electricity) that I decided to base myself there and do the rest of the valley in day trips.

It's a little village. The only guesthouse is in the monastery and the guesthouse contains the village's only shop. The monastery is also the only place to get food, which comes only at set times. I've been very content just sitting around watching the light change throughout the day.

The monastery kitchen is a fun place to hang out and I'm guaranteed to get offered a cup of Tibetan salty tea.

I also love watching the goats and sheep get driven down from the hills at the end of the day.

And then watching the locals use various methods of rounding them up. Mostly, it's the grandmas job to lure their own goats into their pens with bits of bread. This girl had a more aggressive approach.

A huge advantage of Dhankar is that there are only a couple of other tourists there each night. I've now split from my little group and a lot of the other tourists around here are particularly annoying. About half the tourists here are from one country and they have a bad reputation. I've witnessed enough unpleasant behaviour to understand why.

So this is where I turn around and head back the way I came, stopping at smaller places along the way. I'm only just over halfway through the holiday but I know the next two weeks are going to go incredibly fast! I should be back in Kinnaur and online again in about five days.