Friday, 29 February 2008

Bus conductors in the hills of north-west India

A beautiful and warm Saturday morning in Delhi. The mountain part of the journey is over and I have started re-exploring Delhi, where I lived for six years between 200 and 2006.

So many lingering memories of my trip in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh are vividly etched in my thoughts but one that stands out is the bus conductors and the local buses. I dedicate this small tribute to them: The photo above is from the Hindi Movie the Bus conductor.

The are efficient, officious and strong characters. Their status lies on one key ring and chain which hangs the following: whistle, stapler, ticket puncher and a wad of tickets. He wears an unwritten sign on his face, “ I am important, don’t mess with me.”

At every stop he has to woo passengers aboard in coaxing tones, announcing destination and quality of bus, which resembles mostly a rust bucket. Like a half bred crab and monkey, he has to swing down an aoisle full of sweating bodies and dusty suitcase and large bundles, and claw his way towards fare dodgers. He cares for the elderly ensuring that young people give up their seats, and treats the arrogant justly with disdain by ignoring their complaints. Pretty women tend to get more that a cursory glance, and anyone he classifies as undesirable, he doesn’t let on the bus. Foreigners he treats no differently as long as you pay respects and pay your fare.

To get to Delhi, I caught one bus the 240 km trip from Kullu to Chandigarh which took almost seven hours and then another bus from Chandigarh to Delhi taking 6 hours.

I am off shortly to see my close friend Anuj Bahri, bookseller and publisher who took me just over two weeks ago on the start of my journey. As I did not manage to get to Dehra Dun, I am hoping we will travel together in his luxurious 4 wheel drive as my back doesn’t feel like another long local bus trip.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

A wedding, a worn path, tea plantations and a fresh snowfall.

Fresh snowfall on the Dhaula Dar mountains on Monday night

The last night in Sidhbari with Rikhi Ram and our live-in family

The path through the village

The wedding band in the main street of Sidhbari

Tea plantation at Palampur

After a trip to Chamba and Parvati valleys, I felt like a day off. So on Tuesday, I told Rikhy Ram, to give me some space. Space in India ? No, I am now part of his family and Sidhbari village and Rikhy insisted I come. So I walked the 2 km across the worn path through wheat fields (see photo) and small house with the Dhaula Dhar mountains towering above.

Loud music led me to where the wedding was being held. I met the charming Colonel and his beaming wife whose daughter was getting married. It started with the local band leading the bride and groom in a car through the main street of Sidhbari. Every shopkeeper, woman, man, child, dog and cow in the village turned out to watch this grand affair. I wonder how many married women who lined the street were thinking, “foolish girl, she doesn’t understand what is ahead of her.” Life for a married woman in the hills of India is a hard life where the husband is King and the women seem to do most of the work.

After the wedding procession and the vows, it was time to tuck into a great feast of Indian food, all vegetarian.

It soon turned cold, “ It will be snowing in the mountains.” said Rikhy looking knowingly at swirling dark clouds. After the wedding I took Rikhy to a local internet cafĂ© to show him Google Earth. Rikhy, who worked most of his life in military intelligence and worked in Pakistan (undercover spy) for two years, Bhutan, Chinese border with India, gathering intelligence and filling in blanks on the map, at 72 years of age, had begged me to show him the latest satellite imagery. Within a minute I had Rikhy glued to the computer screen as he named remote places and I zoomed in on Google Earth and he could see every spur, path, peak, nullah (creek) on the map. He was dumbfounded. “ I spent almost my whole military life getting information like this, and now we can just sit here and see all this detail,” he exclaimed excitedly.

As we came out onto the main road, the cloud was lifting, and there before us was the freshly blanketd mountains looking so pure and majestic.(see photo)

We visited the local tea plantation in Palampur keeping one eye on the sparkling Himalaya as we drove.

That night, my last in Sidhbari, we lit a charcoal fire on the brazier, and sat on the balcony with Rikhy, Gurbachan (watchman) his wife Rekha, and children Aanchal and Mushkaan. As the embers reddened, I looked across to the Himalaya sparkling in the dark and I reflected on 11 days in Himachal Pradesh. A dream had come true. When I first visited the Himalaya in 1972 and I travelled to the hill stations of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Gangtok, I wanted to see more of this vast mountain range. In 1975 I lived a year in Nepal and travelled from east to west in my work and holidays seeing most of the high Himalayan peaks. Then after years of working in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, I was able to see and connect the Tienshan, Pamirs, Hindu Kush, and Karakoram to the Himalayan ranges.

Since 2003, I became obsessed with the valleys of Himachal Pradesh and I wanted to understand and connect in my mind, the lesser Himalayan ranges the Pir Panjal and Dhaula Dar.

The reddening coals could see my happiness as Rikhy and I toasted to our trip next year, planned to the remotest valley of them all, the Pagi valley, right under the Pir Panjal.. As I age, I prefer dreams to memories. I always need to have that last valley to visit. That is the essence of my life.

Across the last blue mountain barred with snow
Across the angry and glimmering sea

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Parvati Valley - Himalaya

High peaks in the Himalaya from the Parvati valley, Himachal Pradesh, India

Rikhy Ram talking to villagers at Pulga

Kullu valley before Bhuntar with the Beas river flowing through.

Boy and gil at Mandi with baby lambs and goat

Caption:Crossing the bridge to the old part of Manikaran, Parvarti Valley

Sheep, Nepali roadside restaurants, freezing cold, fresh snow, cheap dirty hotels, hydro electric schemes which blot mountain landscapes, high mountains, roaring rivers, terraced rice and wheat fields and a good dose of diarrhoea have been part of my life for the past few days.

From the feet of the Dhaula Dar and Pir Panjal mountains in the past 10 days, yesterday I stood at the foot of the Greater Himalayan Range from the eastern end of the Pavati valley..

The Dhaula Dar and Pir Panjal are the two lower Himalayan Ranges that make up the western part of the Greater Himalaya.

On Saturday and Sunday (23 and 24 Feb) I visited the Parvati valley and walked up to almost 3000 metres from the roadside village of Pulga, I have now been able to visit all the main valleys in Himachal Prade since 2003: Spiti, Lahaul, Chamba, Kanga and Kullu. It was a real privilege to be accompanied by Rikhy Ram, a 72 year old ex-army intelligence officer who knows the mountains of Himachal Pradesh better than most and has walked over most passes and up and down all the valleys, except Parvati. So to have his company was a real treat, Rikhy speaks all the local languages and helps me piece together the history, people’s impressions and as an artist, photographer and cartographer, is invaluable to unlock many of the geographic mysteries that remain on the por quality maps of the region.

We stayed Saturday night in an hotel at Manikarran, which is the ugliest town I have ever visited in the entire Himalaya. I am not one given to complaining, but it epitomises the worst in India’s lack of city planning. The only thing going for it was that we could buy two bottles of Red wine in one of the shops.

Clearly the highlight was the morning we spent around Pulga village and to mix with hill people and migrant workers from Nepal. Rikhy takes copious notes from his conversations and within a few hours, hasput together a potpourri of stories, facts, names of mountains and the like.

Snow was down to the river side and people were huddled together in shawls trying to catch patches of watery sunshine..

We got back late last night to Sidhbari just 20 minutes from Dharamsala. Today I plan to visit Dharamsala and Macleodganj with Rikhy. I have been there a number of times before but Rikhy wants to show me some new places I have not seen.

Tomorrow I am planning to go to Dehra Dun and ;possibly Mussorie via Chandigarh. The

Thursday, 21 February 2008

To Dalhousie and Chamba valley.

The magnificent Pir Panjal range as seen from Dalhousie.

Master weaver in Chamba. I bought two beautiul shawls from him.

Chamba township in the Chamba valley

Anil (l), the manager of the Hotel in Dalhousie, and me right. Anil is a mountaineer and trekking guide.

Ari walking through the snow in Gandhi mall, Dalhousie

The Pir Panjal range from Dalhousie.

Ari (l), Rikhy Ram (r) and me in the middle, planning our trip to Chamba valley.

Snow, rivers, lakes, spectacular mountains, freezing cold and cheap bus trips have been the main elements of my journey during the past few days.

We returned from Dalhousie and the Chamba Valley late last night to Sidhbari where we have our base.. The cold spell continues throughout Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. It was -9 oC in Phalagahat on 20 February. We arrived in Dalhousie on 20 February after a one and a half hour drive from Sidhbari then a 4 hour bus trip from Chakki in the Punjab. The trip cost 40 Rupees (1 US$) from Chakki to Banikhet and then 5 rupees (approc US 10 cents) from Banikhet to Dalhousie. Heavy snow lay everywhere around Dalhousie as the road had only been opened two days earlier after a heavy snowfall a week early, two metres deep. Most of the hotels were closed for winter but we found one called Mehar’s. I stayed in the room that Subar Chader Bose slept in 1937. His photo proudly adorns the wall. He led the Indian Nationalist Army in the second world war in support of Japan and Germany against the British.

I am travelling with Ari a really fine Dutchman who lives in Delhi. He has the honourable profession of house husband.

I selected Dalhousie for the first night as I had yet to see the Western end of the mighty Pir Panjal range (part of the Himalaya mountain system). Dalhousie at 2115 metres affords superb views and is a spectacular entry point to the remote Chamba valley. After a night freezing in Dalhousie, we got a local taxi van and wound our down narrow roads 100o metres of pine forests and beautifully terraced wheat fields to the Ravi River which flows through the the Chamba valley. To the north of the Chamba valley the Pir Panjal tower over the valley, and to the south, the Dhaula Dhar range. At Chamba town it feels narrow, and the mountains hem you in. I visited an old man who weaves beautiful shawls for men and women and bought two,
Chamba at 996 metres is the district headquarters. The main attractions are the Bhuri Singh museum, Laxminarayan temple, Rang Mahal and Chamunda Devi temple.

For me, I have now visited the main valleys of Himachal Pradesh, The Kullu, Spiti, Lahaul, Kangra, and now the Chamba. Tomorrow we are heading from the Kangra valley, into the Kullu and then the beautiful Parvati valley....

Highest peak im the Dhaula Dhar mountains

On 18 Feb when I was out walking with Rikhy Ram, he pointed out the highest peak in the Dhaula Dhar Dhar range. Beautiful.

Monday, 18 February 2008

On the path again

Vijay Lal (l), Auntie Lal in the middle. and me right at the Judge's Court. Vijay's family has owned this property for 11 generations

Judge's Court at Pragpur

A lane in the Pragpur heritage village, Himachal Pradesh

The Dhaula Dar mountains taken last night just before we reached home.

I last posted on Sunday 17 Feb and after that. visited the very sacred Chamunda Devi temple. Yesterday, Monday, Anuj, Rikhy Ram and I went to Pragpur to visit the Judges Court and the Heritage village attached. It is owned by Vijay Lal and there is a histor dating back 350 years which I will tell you about when I fid time. Today another friend arrived, Ari, a Dutchman who loves travel, and tomorrow we go to the Chamba valley, which is sandwiched between the Dhaula Dar and Pir Panjal ranges. This is a beautiful and remote area. Early next week Rikhy Ram wants to take me up the Parvati Valley, to see its magnificent mountains.

It is so tranquil here and every path has at least one Buddhist monk walking along it as the Dali Lama lives just 20 minutes away and Gyto Monastry a short walk from our house. With Hinduism, Buddhism and strains of Sikhism coming through, it is a very spiritual region with all religions influencing the architecture. Yesterday at Pragpur you could see the influence of Sikhism merging with the Hindu architecture.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

At the foot of the Himalaya and the Dalai Lama

The majestic Dhaula dar mountains.

Master cartographer and Himalayan guide, Rikhy Ram

Aanchaland Muskaan the daughters of our watchman in Sidhbari.

Anuj buying fruit t Nangal

Buying oranges. Note the scales and the rock as a counter weight.

Having potato and onion paratha nea Panipat. Bob (r) Anuj (l)

Potato and onion parathas, juicy oranges, cold Fosters beer, crazy drivers, egg-timer traffic jams. Monkies on the roadside and the climb out of the dusty Pujab plains, crossing the mighty Beas River, (one the the five rivers that the Punjab is named after. Panch and ab, Persian for water) and then the climb for two hours up winding roads to the Himalyan foothills. The lights of Dharamsla and Macleodganj where the Dalai Lama lives, were twinkling to the north west.
Rikhy Ram and the live-in family who looks after the house and ground, were waiting to warmly welcome us.

The nine and a half hour journey turned into a 12 one and
Incredible India lived up to its reputation yesterday. We are now ensconced in a beautiful village nestled in the the first range that makes up the Himalayas.

Last night over a glass of whisker Rikhy Ram a great mountaineer in his younger day, spoke to me journeys to the Parbati and Chamba the coming weeks

Friday, 15 February 2008

The Wayfarer has found the atlas

Just got a taxi down to Anuj's bookshop and would you believe I found the book I was looking for ALL MY LIFE. Its full of great maps and this fool has no reason to be lost again in the Himalayas.

David Zurick and Julsun Pacheco

The Himalaya are world-renowned for their exquisite mountain scenery, ancient traditions, and diverse ethnic groups that tenaciously inhabit this harsh yet sublime landscape. Home to the world’s highest peaks, including Mount Everest, and some of its deepest gorges, the region is a trove of biological and cultural diversity. Providing a panoramic overview of contemporary land and life in the Earth’s highest mountains, the Illustrated Atlas of the Himalaya is the first full-color, comprehensive atlas of the geography, economics, politics, and culture of this spectacular area. Drawing from the authors’ twenty-five years of scholarship and field experience in the region, the volume contains a stunning and unique collection of maps utilizing state-of-the-art cartography, exquisite photography, and engagingly written text to give accurate coverage of the Himalaya. The volume covers the entire 2,700-kilometer length of the mountain range, from the Indus Valley in northern Pakistan and India, across Nepal and Bhutan, to the hidden realms of northeast India. The Illustrated Atlas of the Himalaya not only offers detailed explanations of geological formations, climate, vegetation, and natural resources but also explores the human dimension of the region’s culture and economy. The authors devote special attention to discovery and travel, including exploration, mountaineering, and trekking. Packed with over 300 easy-to-read, custom designed full-color maps and photographs together with detailed text and map indexes, the Illustrated Atlas of the Himalaya is a superb collector’s volume and an essential reference to this vast and complex mountain region.

DAVID ZURICK is a geographer, writer, and photographer. He has written on the Himalaya for publications such as Sierra and The Explorer’s Journal and is the author of two award-winning books, Errant Journeys and Himalaya: Life on the Edge of the World.

JULSUN PACHECO is a cartographer and geographic information systems specialist. He is a major contributor to the Atlas of Hawaii and the Atlas of Southeast Asia.

Price: $50.00, Rs.1795/- Special for Asia

India Research Press
Flat 6, Khan Market, New Delhi – 110003., INDIA
tel : 2469 4610, 2469 4855., fax : 2461 8637 ;

Delhi Dreams

Delhi dreams and memories

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain,
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done,

My tale was heard and yet is was not told,
My fruit is fallen but yet my leave are green,
My youth is spent but I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun, And now I live, and now my life is done,

I sought my death and found it in my womb
I looked for life and saw it was a shade
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and my life is done.

Woke up to a cool, quiet New Delhi morning. The flights from Jakarta to Singapore and then Singapore to New Delhi were uneventful, except for the great movie I saw Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Cate Blanchett played the role of Elizabeth magnificently and the film was full of pageantry and intrigue. The movie was brilliantly directed by that great India film maker Shekhar Kapur

I thought of Chidiock Tichborne who was executed in 1586, after pleading guilty to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and put Queen Mary of Scots on the throne, His poem on one man's brief life has long outlived his noble crime. The poem written above, he wrote in the Tower of London before they lopped his head off.

Last night as I slept, dreams and memories started drifting back of the hardest days of my entire life working here after the massive earthquake that occurred in Bhuj, Gujarat State.

I wrote this on

6 March 2001: The last 35 days have been the toughest of my life. More difficult than the North Pole expedition of 86, tougher than any mountain I've climbed. The first 5 days I had no sleep and since then for the last 30 days I've survived with a handful of hours every night. God knows how I've kept it up. Finally I am having this weekend off after having spent the last 14 days in Bhuj and Bachau. The dust, the dirt and stench of decomposing bodies permeates every pore of your body. People speak of a death toll of over 100,000 now which I can readily believe.

Running and coordinating a team of over 150 foreign delegates, supervising a 350 bed hospital plus two other field hospitals, getting vital relief goods out to over a million of the worst affected people, organising pycho-social counselling teams, orthoppaedic centres for those 2000 or more children who lost limbs has been a momentous challenge. We now have a team of highly trained professionals from 21 countries working together with the Indian Red Cross.

Phil Goff, our Minister of Foreign Affairs arrived last night and is travelling today with the NZ High Commissioner and a top level mission from NZ, from Delhi to Bhuj on our plane (which we have chartered for the first 3 months) to see our operation. As I desperately need some time to myself I have sent my deputy, Alan Bradbury, another NZ'er with them to show them round. I have dinner with them when they get back

So the dreams and memories of the ten years or more I have lived in India have been reawakened by my return to this land full of wonders, miracles and curiosities. I am staying with my good friend Nina, who I have worked with in Central Asia and India..

She told me of a dream she had recently where the Dalai Lama spoke to her and was teaching about the impermanent nature of everything-even the work we do. He was emphasizing it is only a tool of our own development.

The name on my blog title is wayfarer and it aptly describes who I am. My journey has been a long one and I have had my share of experiences along the path of impermanence. I have been given freedom and choices and I am the tool of my own development.

It is 9 a.m. and the sun is warming the path. It is time to go and explore New Delhi before leaving for the throne of the Dalai Lama tomorrow, situated on that hill at Macleodganj.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Packing my bags.

I am off late tomorrow morning Thursday 14 Feb to New Delhi. I have got reports the snow is thick up there around Sidhbara and Dharamsala so I may have to bring out the skiis. Will keep you posted.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

A fool on the path

I leave in a few day's time for the Indian Himalaya. I was thinking of all the new paths I will walk and the paths I have walked. I, then thought, maybe I could become a fool on the path. I was reminded of one of Buddha Shakyamuni's sayings:

" How long is the road to the weary. How long is the wandering of the fool who cannot find the path"

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Floods, storms kill 12 in Indonesia's Java

There has been heavy rain in Jakarta and other parts of Java this weekThis morning I was woken by a text message from the Indonesian Red reporting that floods triggered by heavy rain killed eight people in two districts in East Java over the past two days.

Four people died on Saturday when an electricity pole was toppled by storms, hitting a car in which they were travelling in Bekasi, east of the capital Jakarta, he said.

The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) has swung into action supporting the affected people.

At Field Level
- PMI Bondowoso Office has a evacuation centre for communities in the vicinity
- PMI Bondowoso volunteers have evacuated communities to safer places.
- PMI Situbondo Branch providing meals through field kitchen to the survivors.

PMI Central Java Chapter
- Monitoring the situation and supporting hranches in affected areas

- Post command in NHQ still monitoring the situation
- Released early warning to Chapter prone area for flood and strong wind
- Updating the information from all resources through media
- Shared information to all stakeholders

Several areas in Jakarta, where flooding killed five people this month, were under water today, Subday, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Indonesia suffers heavy flooding and landslides every rainy season.

Rain and floods forced about 100,000 Jakarta residents from their homes early this month and brought the city to a standstill.

Last year floods hit our house in Jakarta and we were without water and electricity for 8 days

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Your disability is your opportunity

Robin Judkins left and yours truly right

Old juddy and I go back a long way. I met him first when I did my first Coast to Coast in 1987 and after that we became firm mates.

Three years ago Juddy came to visit me in India and we travelled to Nepal together and had a great time in that fabled city, Kathmandu. We're good mates and exchange emails every so often. Usually I start off with the phrase, "where are you?" and, are you still alive?"

Just over a year ago his reply was, "yes, but just. I've had a quadruple heart bypass." Juddy's determination to drink life to the lees, saw him slowly but surely recover. Some years back we talked for more than an hour about disabilities and how you need to turn them into opportunities. We marvelled at our friend Steve Maitland, who lost a leg in a motor cycle accident, and was regularly able to beat most people with normal legs on the Coast to Coast, a gruelling endurance event over the Southern Alps of New Zealand then kayaking for four to five hours down a major river. Steve Naitland did this event countless times and never saw himself as handicapped in any way. He had the guts and belief he could do anything and he did. Similarly Juddy has made a marvellous recovery after his quadruple heart bypass. Juddy, or Robin Judkins is the organiser, inventor of the Coast to Coast.

The Speight's Coast to Coast is a contest of categories – events within a grand event that allow athletes to measure themselves against those of a similar age or inclination.

There are the two-day individual competitors, those who prefer the company of teammates, and band of intrepid adventurers who challenge themselves to complete the course in a single day.

There are classifications for men and women and, within both, age-group classifications.

From the many hundreds of competitors who are unified by the event but divided by the categories, the organisers have compiled yet another list of 43 competitors who are all different but share a common bond.

They are competing with an existing medical condition. There are no dispensations for them; nor would they seek any. They are identified only so that they may be assisted, should their condition require it.

Their conditions are many and varied – allergies to bee stings, asthma of varying severities, penicillin allergies, renal impairment, a knee reconstruction, a bleeding tendency, a shoulder injury, allergy to sticking plaster.

Ali van Polanen is on the list because she has Crohn's disease, an auto-immune affliction that affects her gastric system. Ulcers form in her small intestine and they persistently recur.

"They are controlled by medication, or when they're deciding to have one of those moments, they're not controlled at all," she says.

"It's a chronic condition. Once you've got it, you've got it for ever. It's just a question of whether you're flared up or in remission. We'll give it a few more months before we say I'm in remission, but it certainly looks as if I'm that way at the moment."

When the Crohn's is rampaging, van Polanen suffers pain and fatigue. There are other nasty symptoms that accompany it too, she says.

"I take an immune suppressant to dumb down my immune system. That's not ideal when you're an athlete, because you want a good immune system, but it's what you get used to and what you deal with," she says.

"I am fortunate. There are some people with Crohn's who are very unwell. For them, an event such as the Coast to Coast would be simply out of the question.

"At times it frustrates me because you feel, `What if?' But it's what I've got and I can't change it. That's the hand I've been dealt and I have to play it the best I can."

Has the condition ever caused her to contemplate withdrawal from athletics?

"Never," she says.

"If I didn't have multi- sport, which takes up so much of my time, Crohn's would become life-consuming.

"I would probably dwell on it a lot more and it would be a real problem."

While she resents the psychological burden of being dependent on medication when she considers herself to be a happy, healthy person, van Polanen views the necessity of it pragmatically.

"I guess it's like being an asthmatic. Unless they have their inhalers, they're in trouble, too. You have to adjust your schedule, and you have to be sensible, but it's what you get used to and what you deal with. It's literally what you make of it," she says.

"In the last six months, I've been ticking along happily. Then you can have periods when you can be quite unwell. It comes on slowly. You have to look for the signs and make sure you listen to your body.

"I've had to get used to managing it and managing my training around it. You can't work out patterns, but I think we've got the medication a little more sorted this year and that is a big help. I've also been seeing a nutritionist, who has been able to help both in terms of sports nutrition and with regards to Crohn's disease."

Although she wages a running war with the condition, van Polanen stoically refuses to proffer it as an excuse for poor performance. She will contest her third Coast to Coast at the weekend, and says she has improved with each one.

"This year, I've been a bit more consistent. I did a bit of strength work during winter. I've tended to drop my weaker disciplines over winter in the past and ignore them. I feel much happier about the way I've been going this year."

The 26-year-old Christchurch consents manager, employed by NZ Windfarms, says the company has been supportive by being flexible with working hours as she prepares for the event.

"I'm very fortunate to have such a great employer.

"Everyone on the staff has quite an interest in multi- sport. People's understanding has been greatly appreciated."

The Coast to Coast will be a special occasion for van Polanen and her family. Her father, John, will be celebrating his 50th birthday when he contests the Longest Day for the first time. Her sister, Claire, will also be doing the running leg in the teams competition.

"It's been great training with dad, considering it was him who encouraged me into running. Not many fathers and daughters can share a sporting interest the way we can share running. It's been good to show him kayaking, too. He only started last winter."

She will start the Coast to Coast with confidence and optimism. As she tames the course, so too will she score another win over Crohn's disease. Two victories in one day – that's success.

So whether it's Crohn's disease. heart problems or you have one leg, the Coast to Coast is a way to prove your disability is your opportunity.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Off to the Himalaya in a week

This weekend I will start packing for a trip to Himachal Pradesh, one of the most stunning parts of the Himalaya, Pir Panjal and Dhaula Dar mountain ranges. I enclose a map and photos to familiarise you with the region. I will keep friends and relatives updated regularly on the 3 week trip which has no shape or form. The only planned part is I leave Delhi for Sidhbari on 16 February with my good friend Anuj Bahri, well known Indian publisher and bookseller. The only planned part is to stop for breakfast just past Panipat for the best potato paratas in the world. Will keep you updated.

Cycling round the world to save the world

Mohammad leaving Multan and saying goodbye to his host Bashir

Mohammad Tajeran - Mountaineer and cyclist

Caption: Mohammad and his Mother on the day he left Meshad.

Every day in Jakarta is different for me. About 11 am a strong handsome guy walked quietly into the office asking for help. He had cycled from Tehran to Jakarta taking 120 days and covering 12148 km. He was having problems getting a visa to Australia and New Zealand. He had a letter from the International Committee of the Red Cross in Tehran and others verifying he was a member of the iranian Red Crescent Rescue team. Naturally I was happy to help Mohammad. What a feat. So I wrote him letters to both the Embassies asking to help a man with a mission to plant trees and publicise climate change.

Why is Mohammad cycling round the world ? Let him tell his story in his writings.

Our beautiful planet” earth ” , which is moving on the boundless space .
is the only planet that we know of with one which there is life in it and many different living creatures ,that they all need oxygen , water and food to live there .
To find some signs of life in the other planets such as Mars and Venus , the scientists have done a lot of investigations , but they all have been disappointed . The high temperature in Venus which is 445C and the low temperature in which is - 45C Mars makes it impossible to live there .
How ever , it is 12C on the earth . storage of Oxygen in other planets is another vital reason for lack of life there . But there is a nine layer combination of different gases around Earth which includes %21 of Oxygen and just %0.02 of Carbon dioxide . The amount of Oxygen and Carbon depends on the amount of trees and plants , so if they become extinct changes in temperature o pollution , then the blue pearl of space ( a nick name for the Earth which is called by the scientists ) will change into a lifeless planet with a temperature between -264C to +360C .
The harmful effects of pollution on the Ozone layer is absolutely tragic because it will destroy the jungles and pastures So we should do our best to help the environment .
Now we are going to move and go around the world and give our message to you , all of you and all people of the world without considering their race , religion or nationality .
We are going to ask all the people of the world to keep the “ world to care for and plant tree ” , because our life depends on the life of the trees .
To put it in action , we have decided to get in touch with NGO groups . then with their the cooperation , we are going to plant a tree in each city we get there to remind all of us of keeping trees as a symbol of Gods blessing . To achieve this goal , the supporting team will help us by getting contact with NGOs and they will inform them of our presence and our trip .
The cooperation of NGOs with us will help to achieve our goal .

Overloaded ?

Information about Mohammad

From : Iran

Born : July , 15 , 1976

1992 The beginning of sports activity in bicycling for 10 years.
2002 The beginning of mount climbing for 3 years.
Climbing to some 4000 meter mountains.
Climbing to the top of Mountain Damavand with about 5671 meters high.
A member of Azadegan Mountain Club.
Being active in Tourist Bicycling for 8 years.
Having Batchelor Degree in mechanics.
Tourist cycling guide in Iran .
Interested in mount climbing , caving , Tourist cycling and photography.
mail :

Weblog :

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Various Short Walks in the Hindu Kush

A photo kindly provided by the successful Noshaq 7492m Expedition in 2000.

My affair with the mountains of Afghanistan started in 1976 when I first visited the country to work for the International Red Cross in villages destroyed by earthquakes in the Hindu Kush. In 1993 I got the chance to work again in Afghanistan and have almost been there two years. During this time my work with refugees, displaced people and victims of natural disasters have given me the privilege of crossing many major passes and criss-crossing the Hindu Kush on numerous occasions and spending time in the lesser, but equally spectacular ranges. Most climbers have heard of Afghanistan's Hindu Kush but some of the lesser known ranges, between 6500m and 3000m, provide some of the most spectacular scenery and is home to hardy mountain people.

Mountains dominate the landscape of Afghanistan and these massive ramparts have shaped the lives, culture and the minds of the Afghans for thousands of years. People and carpets are named after mountains, poets write about them, artists paint them, legends abound and grow and conquering Kings fell homesick for their grandeur and beauty.

Mountains cover 653 000 sq. km and dominate the central and eastern parts covering 75% of the country. It is a land-locked country lying between 29o 35' and 38o 40' northern latitude and between 60o 31' and 75o 00' eastern longitude on the mountainous and desert areas where the Iranian plateau borders with the mountainous systems of central Asia.

Afghanistan is bounded on the north by the Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan (2380km), on the north-east by China (96km) and India (102)km, on the south and east by Pakistan (2310), and on the west by Iran (925 km) Afghanistan is roughly quadrilateral in shape, with the long finger called the Wakhan stretching east wards, bounded by Russia, China, Pakistan. The mountain systems are quite complex and erratic, but generally run north-east to south-west.

At the feet of these great mountains ranges civilisations were born, nurtured shaped or dramatically changed. The mountains were the birthplace of great religious thinkers and philosophers. Zoroastrianism and Brahminism owe their origion to Afghanistan and the two religious classics, the Rigveda and Avesta were written here. Buddhist monasteries, many carved out of solid rock, are scattered through the mountains. With the coming of Islam, it wasn't long before the mystical Sufi's with their Islamic-influenced spiritual and poetic philosophy, came from Iraq to the mountains of Afghanistan, where it was strengthened further.

The mountain passes of Afghanistan have echoed to the tramp of would-be conquerors on the march between the barren steppes of Asia and the fertile plains of India - Alexander, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, nineteenth-century British mule trains and twentieth- century Soviet tanks. The Hindu Kush is a land with a history of violence; a land of startling colours, strong passions, fierce independence where the mountains have shaped the people.

"a wild desolate country of great peaks and deep valleys, of precipitous gorges and rushing grey-green rivers; a barren, beautiful country of intense sunlight, clear sparkling air and wonderful colouring, as shadows lengthen and rocks turn gold and pink and mauve in the light of the setting sun."

But it was travellers like the Chinese Buddhist pilgrims Fah-Hian and Sung-Yun in the 4th century, Marco Polo in the 12th and Ibn Battuta in the 13th century, who left behind records of their travels with quite remarkable detail of the mountain passes, the mountains and the people and popularised this ancient land.

Later came a more recent era, the 18th and 19th centuries, an era where madness was considered close to Godliness and there are plenty of examples of eccentric European travellers like the intrepid Alexander Gardiner in his tartan jacket and trousers who courted Kings, Kafirs and Khans and the English religious zealot Wolff who walked naked from Bamian to Kabul, a trip of a week or so.

No one has described this part of the world (Hindu Kush) better than W.K. Fraser-Tytler, a former British minister to Afghanistan. he wrote, "a wild desolate country of great peaks and deep valleys, of precipitous gorges and rushing grey-green rivers; a barren, beautiful country of intense sunlight, clear sparkling air and wonderful colouring, as shadows lengthen and rocks turn gold and pink and mauve in the light of the setting sun."

No foreigners have climbed in Afghanistan since the Soviets arrived in late 1978. I had heard about the passes and valleys strewn with land mines so it was with some trepidation I embarked from Kabul in October 1994 on what was probably the first expedition into the Hindu Kush for at least 17 years. I travelled with two British climbers, Ian Clarke and John Tinker, to the Chamar valley for an attempt Mir Samir, a peak made famous by Eric Newby in his book, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. Tinker was fresh off an ascent of Everest by a new route on the north side and Clarke was head of a British Mine clearance organisation in Afghanistan and was a necessary companion as the area had received large amounts of small scatterable mines, dropped from Soviet aircrafts to prevent the freedom fighters crossing the mountain passes. Our safety was dependent on his knowledge of mines and where battles had taken place. Tinker and Clarke attempted an unclimbed face on Mir Samir and got surprising high considering the unseasonably soft snow that had fallen. While the others were attempting Mir Samir, I climbed an unnamed peak around 5000 metres and looked over to the enticing mountains of Nuristan, formerly Kafirstan. We explored a number of neighbouring regions with the hope of returning to do further climbing. .In June 1995 I did another trip was Clarke, crossing from the Panjcher valley to southern Badakshan by way of the 4260 m Anjuman Pass. It was a unique opportunity to explore this spectacular part of the Hindu Kush and check routes on the major peaks in the area ranging from 5900 to 6500 metres. One of the best peaks in the area in Kohi Bandak. The highlight of the trip was when returning back over the Anjuman Pass when at about 3400 metres in high alpine pastures we met about 50 Kuchi (nomad) families on their annual journey to this area. Some were on the move, other camping in their black, low-slung goat hair tents. We passed strings of camels with babies and young children with intricately embroidered bonnets, tied on the backs. Young girls with page-boy style hair cuts, flashed their shy blue eyes at us as we passed. We stopped in tents to share pots of tea and watched how they cared for their animals. Young goats were inside the tent, sheltering from the hot sun, women tenderly carried young lambs in their arms, and an old lame sheep, rode past on the back of a camel. Over the hillsides women and children were gathering alpine herbs, wood, leaves and wild vegetables. Nearby an old women was weaving a carpet. This is what the mountains of Afghanistan are about, tough friendly mountain people who have a symbiotic relations with the hills. They name their children after the mountains, names such as ‘Kohzad’, meaning of the mountains.

                                                          Crossing the Kotale Anjuman.

Despite the warmth of the people, many disasters befall them. Thousands are killed annually by avalanches and landslides. In late March word reached Kabul that a massive landslides had hit the village of Qarluk, situated high in the mountains of Badakhshan.
I was part of a Red Cross survey team that walked and rode by horse to the site. The whole village had been engulfed killing 350 people, all women and children. The landslide occurred at 11 am when the men and boys were out in the fields and the women. We arrived to find only one female survivor, 11 year old Gulnesa Beg, her arm broken in two places and with her good arm, hugging her father. A whole village wiped out by nature. Here we spent weeks running a relief operation to assist during the emergency phase and started helping these rugged Hazara people put their lives back together again.

In August this year, the highlight of my time in Afghanistan was a trip to Nuristan, the legendary 'land of light'. The Afghan Red Cross is establishing a medical clinic in the Parun valley and I went with our medical staff. Nuristan hugs the southern side of the Hindu Kush and is been isolated from the rest of the country. Six main valleys make up Nuristan each with their own language and for four to five months of the year, the mountain passes in and out of Nuristan are blocked. In is an area where snow panthers, wolves and fox thrive in forests almost untouched by human hand, this is paradise on earth. These blue-eyed and sometimes blond haired people claim they are either descendants of the original Aryans, while others say they are descendants of Alexander the Great. In 1895 they were forcibly converted to Islam and even today their are remnants of their former pagan past. Nuristani villages cling to mountain sides, sometimes perched on peak-tops. a legacy of the past to avoid invaders. Like the mountain Tajiks, the Nuristanis are true mountaineers. In 1889 George Robertson the author of the book ‘Kafirs of the Hindu Kush’, described the Nuristanis as" 'magnificent mountaineers<- agility.="" and="" because="" br="" fitness="" mountain="" of="" skills="" their="">In my office is in Kabul, situated at 1800 metres I am so often distracted from my work by the surrounding mountain ranges that soar to just over 4000 metres. On Friday, the only day off during the week, it is possible to climb among the various 4000 metres peaks in the Paghman range from where you get spectacular views of the Hindu Kush and Hazarajat area. Climbing 4000 metre peaks in a day makes living in Kabul a joy. Also for the enthusiastic skier, a two hour drive takes you to the Salang Pass at 3,878 metres an excellent ski-mountaineering area. My good friend Ian Clarke the mine clearance expert gives the opinion that when the area is likely to have land-mines, if it is covered with snow, and you are on skis, it is almost impossible to trigger of a mine as the body-weight is evenly distributed. Clarke did a lot of telemark skiing in the area between 1993 and 1995 in the Salang Pass are before taking up a ski-instructors job at Cadrona, near Wanaka, for the New Zealand winter of 1995.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Interview with Ahmed Shah Massoud

Interview with Ahmed Shah Masoud: Tuesday 30 July 1996

Ahmad Shah Massoud (l) and Bob McKerrow (r) taken in Wazir Akbar Khan. Kabul.  30 July 1996

I lived in Afghanistan for almost four years. First in 1976 and again from 1993 to late 1996. After explaining in detail the book I was writing at the time called the Mountains of our Mind - Afghanistan, I asked Commander Massoud if he would answer some questions which would assist me with my book. He gladly agreed. Here are extracts from the interview. The book is available at

Where did get your knowledge of using the mountains as a place to fight the Soviets from ?

The failed uprising in 1973 ( a coup against Doud in 1973) helped me understand the mountain terrain of Kunar and Laghman. I left the Panjcher when I was 20, and about 24 during the failed uprising. Living in the Panjcher as a boy I walked in the mountains a lot and gained much experience.

You frequently crossed passes in winter. Did you see people die of exposure, avalanches etc ?
I saw many peple die of cold, exhaustion and avalanches. Frostbite was common.

Did you use the mountains as a weapon, a friend or what ?

The mountains are the best base to fight from. They are both a stronghold and a shelter. It is the best terrain for Guerilla fighting.

I have noticed that when I travel in the mountains most of the people are uneducated and most know little or can quote little from the Koran, but can quote from memory for hours or days the poems written by the Afghan/Persian poets who were clearly Sufic influenced . Do you think I am right ?
You have discovered something unique there, (laughter) you are probably right.

In most cultures people worship mountains, such as the annual Nauroz festival in Mazar which worships the snow. What feeling do you get when you look at the mountains ?

Mountains remind me of the past. When I see the mountains I have love in my heart. When I am in Kabul I feel surrounded and bored. But when I see the Hindu Kush a new horizon opens up.

If you could choose to live anywhere in Afghanistan, where would it be ?

The Panchjer.

When Ahmed Shah Durrani was living an Delhi he wrote a very moving poem about missing the mountains of Afghanistan. When you travel do you miss the mountains ?

Yes, I have the same feeling as Ahmed Shah Durrani expressed in his poem.

There is a saying in Latin, Montana Semperi Libre, Mountaineers are always free. Perhaps it could equally be applied to Afghanistan ?
I like that expression. We have a saying in Dari that if there is a dispute in the city between Afghans, the weaker is killed. If one is in the mountains no one can catch him.

Let me tell you a story said Masoud. One of my body guards, Miraj, was a tough man of the mountains. He died in Takhar during a major offensive. Sandy Gall filmed him die. The film was called Agony of a Nation. Well Miraj used to walk from the Panjchir, over a pass to Nejrab, buy a 70 kg bag of wheat and walk back home over the mountains with it on his back. This was more than a 20 hour journey and he never stopped to rest. I doubt is a professional mountaineers is able to walk on the mountains like we do because we know them so well. Often, Afghan mountaineers wake up in the middle of the night and walk over the mountains

One thing Dari and Pashtu speaking poets have in common is their poems express that same intense love of the mountains. Do you agree ?
Yes there is a common love of the mountains by all Afghan, regardless of race.

During my writing I have discovered that Afghanistan has had three great mountain men. The first was Alexander the Great, the Babur, who wrote a chapter in his book Babur Nama on the mountains of Afghanistan, and yourself. What is your view ?

They all knew the mounatins intimately.I have read Babur Nama, and agree he knew the mountains well.

One of the great factors for a leader is how to use the mountains as a strong hold, as a shelter. During the war against the Soviets we needed to capture the Hindu Kush from the Pamirs to the Kohi Baba and all the mountains north and south of the range. The mountains were useful, we needed to know them well.

Before you leave, I want to thank you. The Red Cross, led by you, has done great work for the people of Afghanistan. When the UN closed its offices during the heavy fighting in Kabul, the Red Cross stayed here. I tell people of the UN you should have stayed here like the Red Cross.

Our allies admired the country when we fought against the Soviets but the same countries give us negative publicity.

Thank you for writing your book on Afghanistan. I urge you to translate in into Dari.