Tuesday, 21 March 2017

"Join us on the land" - Boris Lisanevich

"Join us on the land"

Remembering the legendary Boris Lisanevich, founder of the Royal Hotel

I had the pleasure of meeting Boris when I first went to Nepal in 1975 and today found this nostalgic article written by Lisa Choegyal which I am sure she would agree that I run on my blog.

S DNEM ROZHDENIYA: Boris cutting this 75th birthday cake in 1980

We recline on trekking mattresses on the sweet-smelling grass, bees and insects busy in the overgrown garden. Nursing a tin cup of Boris’ signature bullshot, a mix of local vodka, tomato juice and home-made beef bouillon, I take a break from the lunchtime picnic chat and gaze over the brick wall. Across the Valley stand the white peaks, crisp and clear in the luminance of 1970’s Nepal light.

I turn back and see Boris slumped precariously in a plastic chair, his bulk overflowing under the arm rests and a flowered shirt stretched tight across his stomach. He gesticulates with delight, laughing at one of Jim Edward’s more outrageous stories. Boris leans forward with difficulty and I hear him declare in his Slavic lilt: “I swear by vodka – it is part of life. I even have my head massaged with vodka!”

Other guests lounge on the ground, enjoying the wit, the lunch (always delicious pork schnitzel and rich potato salad) and strolling through “the land”, as Boris and Inger’s un-built plot in the south of Kathmandu Valley was known. As in: “Please join us midday Sunday on the land.” Regulars include painter and writer Desmond Doig, journalist Dubby Bhagat and Bernadette Vasseux of the French Embassy.

At the party Alexander Lisanevitch (Boris' son) Lisa Choegyal, Jim Edwards and Toni Hagen.

Boris Nikolayevich Lisanevich is a legend. One of the first non-official foreigners to live in Nepal, he was invited by King Tribhuvan in 1951 to open the Royal Hotel in Bahadur Bhawan. An ebullient White Russian ballet dancer and hunter born in Odessa Ukraine, Boris’ exotic background included fleeing Bolshevik persecution, performing with Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes and Massine throughout Europe, and founding the 300 Club in Calcutta, the first to accept Indian members. With him in Nepal were his long-suffering Danish wife Inger, three small sons and a mother-in-law with a taste for collecting antiques.

By the time I knew Boris, the famous Royal Hotel had already closed, stories of its chaotic hospitality lost in the building’s lofty arches but immortalised in Michel Peissel’s book Tiger for Breakfast. One of my favourites is how Boris had to be extracted from a spell in prison to manage Queen Elizabeth’s 1961 visit. Today, the hotel building in Kantipath houses the Election Commission, but its corridors echo with the former footsteps of Boris’ guests – Jean Paul Guerlain seeking ingredients for his perfumes, Jean Paul Belmondo making a film that was never made, and Queen Sophia of Spain on her honeymoon.

Jim greatly admires Boris and has helped him through many lean times as he struggled with a series of restaurants in Kathmandu, always strong on entertaining but light on business acumen. Boris had restaurants in Dilli Bazar and Durbar Marg, but the first and most memorable for me was his Yak &Yeti in Lal Durbar. Lute Jerstad, the blond, intense climber who summited Everest with the Americans in 1963, took me there for my 23rd birthday in 1974, and Tenzin and I had our first date perched in the uncomfortable window alcoves around the circular hammered-brass fireplace. I was mesmerised by Prince Basundhara, slightly the worse for wear, and the sophisticated choice of flavoured vodkas, borscht, quail and becti fish.

Boris and Inger.

Boris was always kind, enveloping me in a generous bear hug and whispering tonight’s speciality. A highpoint for me was being asked to arrange his surprise 75th birthday party, where dinner-jacketed and bejewelled Nepalis mingled with guests from many continents, wine flowed and Desmond designed the layered chocolate cake.

Boris is long gone (he died at age 80 in 1985) inconveniently during Dasain so Jim and I had to mobilise a team of Mountain Travel Sherpas to dig his grave. Buried in the British cemetery, the funeral service was dramatic with Russian wailing, sobbing and embracing the coffin – followed by the final Boris party.

Outside today’s Chimney Restaurant, where the decor and even the menu are little changed, a plaque in the Yak & Yeti Hotel garden remembers Boris as the father of Nepal tourism. At its unveiling a couple of years ago amidst in-laws, grandchildren and Kathmandu’s travel industry, I was astonished to find myself the only person who had actually met him. 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Photographing the Russian Empire in colour

Pioneering photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii developed innovative techniques
 to capture parts of the Russian Empire in colour for the first time. This is almost
unbelievable. Such composition, texture, light and colour. Thanks to the BBC for
permission to run this. Have a look at this link.


Sunday, 12 March 2017

Dog sledding in the Arctic and Antarctic

Every spare day I can find, I spend at least an hour sorting out photographs and slides taken over 50 years. Today I am working on the various trips I have done in Antarctica and the Arctic with dogs and sledges. When I reflect, my trips with dogs, they are the most memorable of all my expeditions, and this is due to the relationships that builds up between you and the dogs. Here are a few of my shots.
For more on Scott Base, Antarctica huskies, see this link.

Travelling by plane with 50 huskies from Igaluit (formerly Frobisher Bay) to Eureka (79.9889° N, 85.9408° W) on Ellesmere Island. Then we flew in Twin Otters to Ward Hunt Island, our starting point for the North Pole.

                                   My two strong lead dogs at Scott Base, Rangi (l) and Oscar.

In 1985 we did a 1500 miles dog sled trip from Arctic Red River on the Mackenzie river Canda, to Point Barrow Alaska. A lot of the time was spent travelling on the Arctic Ocean. Paul Schurke (left) puts our gear in the tent while I check the condition of the dogs. (right)

         "Let me sleep another hours.' Odin, a Scott Base husky in 1969. (Antarctica)

The last of the Scott Base huskies, I shipped them from Antarctica to Lyttelton, NZ in 1987, and then to the US via Hawaii, to join Will Steger's kennel in Ely Minnesota. Here they are at Christchurch ready to be flown to the US.

 Following behind Chris Knott with his dog team near Scott base, Antarctica. 1970.

 Training for the North Pole on Baffin Island where we tested dogs, equipment and team members down to minus 45 oC.

                        A master of Antarctic dog sledging, Chris Knott. 1969 at Scott Base. 

                               Setting out on a trip from Scott Base with a team of huskies.

 Lead dogs, Mike and Kulak. Stronger than oxen and set good work ethics for the other dogs. Scott Base 1969-70

                                 Settling in for the night as the sun dips. Arctic Ocean 1986.

Brent Boddy was one of our North Pole team members who lived in Iqaluit, Baffin Island. Here is Brent with his dogs, his house behind and wife and son Nigel. Brent always carried a harpoon with him to test the thickness of the ice. A highly experienced Arctic traveller.

On our trip to point Barrow Alaska, we often skiied out front to coax the dogs along when they got bored. 1985

Friday, 10 March 2017

Three low-wattage luminaries

 Three low-wattage luminaries: left to right, Pete Barry, Aat Vervoorn and Bruce Jenkinsin on Tasman Saddle. Photo: Aat Vervoorn collection

One of the best books on NZ mountaineering covering the 60s and 70s, is Aat Vervoorn's 'Beyond the Snowline.'
I love this quote from his book: 
"Mountaineering is merely one among many mediums for self-realisation. What makes it exceptional is that, in mountaineering, it is difficult to credit yourself with spurious motives or convince yourself that your efforts actually matter to mankind. Halfway up a mountain face, with the glacier falling away below and around you sweeping buttesses of ice and rock which bring you face to face with weakness and fallibility. it is hard to pretend you have willingly exposed yourself to the danger that shoots you through with fear in the belief it will benefit society, or meet the pathetic animal needs that drive your body."

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Video of a solo ascent of Aoraki Mount Cook - 2017

What is it like to be on the summit of New Zealand's highest mountain, Aoraki Mount Cook?

Click on the word video to see this amazing solo climb by Greg Duley  of Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain just a few weeks back. 
When I was much younger, I climbed Aoraki three times. The first in 1968 by the Linda route, then on Christmas Day 1971 I did the east ridge with Chris Timms, descending into the Hooker valley. Then in 1973 I did a guided ascent with 64 year old client Vern Leader, and fellow guide Aat Vervoorn. Some photographs of various climbs of Aoraki. 
All photographs by Bob McKerrow

                           An aerial shot of Aoraki Mount Cook taken in 2016

                                          Just approaching the summit of Aoraki. 1973
                                                              On the summit ice-cap
Aat Vervoorn (l) with 64 year old Vern Leader on a Grand Traverse of Aoraki Mount Cook.

                                                 East Face of Aoraki Mount Cook

                           Aoraki Mount Cook from the west. Taken from Hokitika.

On the East Ridge of Aoraki Mount Cook with Chris Timms on Christmas day, 1971.