Day 4 We begin with clouds and showers, heading out of Askole through the muddy narrow streets, stared at by impassive locals. Soon enough though, the sun comes out and we are trekking in bright sunshine. The first day of the trek is long, but our energy is kept up by the generous spread of biscuits, tinned fish and dried fruit laid on for lunch. Unfortunately, two of the team have problems already. Darwin and Anthony struggle along the trail looking tired out, suffering from the dreaded Lau Sai. (This is a new Hokkien phrase in my vocabulary. I won’t translate it literally, but colloquially it means, er, tummy trouble. Lau Sai will be a recurrent feature and topic of conversation as we progress.) In other news: Chia decides to try and blend in with the locals by putting a towel on his head (see pic). Day 5 Another long day, but this one is very hot. The party spreads out over the course of several kilometers, the fast cheetah-like Timothy in front, laggards behind. We are shocked to discover that our trek masseuse, Lynn, is the first to actually require a massage. Fortunately the trek Jack-of-all-trades, universally known as “Uncle”, is able to provide one. Later on, rugged man-of-the-mountains Herbert tries to deliberately lure Chris and Moira onto the wrong track to save his embarrassment at having trekked up the donkey trail. Despite a strenuous detour involving crumbling rocks and a yawning chasm, we rejoin the main group and eventually all arrive safely at Paiyu, our third campsite.
Yesterday I made the crossing from Lahore to Amritsar in India at the Wagah border. Lahore was a fun city to wander round for a couple of days, and to rest after the harsh environment of the northern area. It also has an excellent bookshop.
I also saw the largest goat I have ever seen in my life. It was practically the size of a horse, well okay, not actually that big but huge by goat standards. Its floppy ears were a foot long. It was on a leash in the Old City (which just oozes with authentic subcontinental chaotic charm). I decided to bargain for the animal, as I reckon I could make a fortune exhibiting it as a curiosity in the malls of Orchard Road; however, my generous offer of 3000 rupees was ungratefully refused.
I also recommend the dessert I sampled from a street hawker in the Old City. I have no idea what was in it, but it tasted great!
We arrive in Islamabad and are taken to the Flashman Hotel in Rawalpindi, where we are informed that the Gondogoro Pass is closed due to a massive crevasse opening up in the ice. Everyone is disappointed, but despite my purist suggestion to leap the crevasse carrying the ponies and kitchen staff, the others wimp out. The good news is that we can still trek to K2 base camp. The following three days are spent on the road: the first two days are in a bus on the Karakoram Highway (“Eighth Wonder of the World”), a road between Pakistan and China over the mountains, following the river Indus for much of the way; the third in a jeep winding precariously along a tributary to the Indus, towards Askole. We camp at Askole and are introduced to our kitchen staff, who serve an evening meal of chappatis, rice, chicken and dhal. We are ready to begin the trek.
Interlude to introduce the trekkers and staff:
The trekkers are
Anthony – a.k.a. “Lau Sai King”, for reasons which will become apparent
Herbert – rugged man of the mountains
“Uncle” Chia – bitten by a radioactive Ibex as a child, he has the power to adapt to high altitudes at a super fast rate
Yip – “Mr President”, he has the power to relate numerous anecdotes of previous expeditions
Lynn – our trek masseuse. Every trek needs one.
Moira – a.k.a. “The Kite Runner”
Eric – “The Twitcher” – spent the trek shamelessly chasing the birds
Timothy – faster than a speeding bullet, with trousers that can blind onlookers at a hundred metres
Darwin – “Talcum Boy”, his array of personal hygeine products is awesome
… and then there’s me, of course. The Purist himself.
The staff include Sadaqat Hussein, Chief Gobshite, I mean, er, Guide; Akhtar, a.k.a. “Son of the Boss”; “Uncle” Made, who seems to do, er, everything; Nissar, who cooks the food and agonizes over whether we are enjoying it; Ali and Jaffar, who help in the kitchen; two “Sadars”, who boss the porters around; and fifty three porters. Yep, that’s right, 53. We have porters to carry our food and porters to carry the food for those porters. There are loads of them and most look like Rumplestiltskin from hard lives carrying heavy stuff up and down the trail in the harsh sunlight.
I’ll show a few pics of all these guys as we go along, but right now, my fingers are tiring and i need a shower…
Stay tuned. In the next exciting installment, we actually start trekking.
Behold! I return from my mountain wilderness like Zarathustra, bringing great wisdom!I have braved the wilds of the Baltoro Glacier almost single handed, with only a team of nine other trekkers, two guides, four kitchen staff and fifty-three porters for assistance. Not a gin-and-tonic or broadband internet connection to be found anywhere. It truly was a wasteland. Of course, all of the great wisdom-seekers and wise men of ages past spent extended periods in mountainous places. And I am no exception. In my quest for existential knowledge of the inner meaning of life etc., the mountains have proved invaluable. I now know how Jesus must have felt during his forty days playing chess with the devil in the Scandinavian wilderness. However, temptations were few and far between on the K2 base camp trek, so my ordeal was even tougher!In my selfless ongoing effort to pass on the spiritual fruits of my inner journey, I now intend to pass on to you, free of charge, Part I of “The Way of the Purist”. It’s a step-by-step guide to gaining the maximum enlightenment from any mountain experience by shunning all wordly pleasures, such as soap and clean socks, and fully embracing the harshness of mountain life. I haven’t written it yet, but when I have it’s guaranteed to change your life. Further installments can be ordered for $10.99 each via the PayPal form at the foot of this message.
I am in Bangkok airport in transit, on my way to Pakistan, and being a hard-blogging internet slave I feel I must risk missing my conection to indulge narcissism once more. However, the blogger site appears to be in Thai, so I’ll have to guess which button to click.
After a week of busy packing I am on my way. And emboldened by my victory in tuesday’s Travel Haiku poetry slam, I have a new brutally short haircut. If the photo uploads quick enough you might even see it. I can feel the Zen enlightenment seeping in through my scalp even as I write. An I am wearing an orange T-shirt so I look totally like a local here. Or not.
Doesn’t look like it’s going to upload in time… you’ll just have to imagine the awesome chakratastic Om-ness of my new hair. Ciao for now, sentient beings!
Saturday night was a great party, rooftop a la Beatles/U2, rocking the financial district, with a hundred or so people crowding out the open air Rogues Bar. Thanks to everyone who came along to say au revoir, it was excellent to see you all.
And today, I have finally extricated myself from the office and am thus free like a bird. Squawk!
But now …. post party horror sets in.
Yes, it’s time to pack up my apartment.
Anyone who knows me well will be aware of my usual approach to packing for a holiday. If I have a morning flight, say I have to be at the airport at 6am, I will typically follow the following approximate schedule:
1) Pre-day before: no packing
2) Day before: no packing
3) 9pm: go out and get drunk
3) 1am: return home and watch TV
5) 3am: throw stuff in suitcase
6) 4am: sleep
7) 5am: wake refreshed, ready for a hard day’s travel
8) 6.45am: doze off standing up at check-in at Changi
Packing up all my worldly goods is the same story on a larger scale. The removal people (Mr Eric Goh et al) are arriving at 9am tomorrow. I have just arrived back from the movies. I look around me. Sigh. Well at least the evening has been a good one up to now.
Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going? How do I live a good and meaningful life? How do I rid myself of this all-pervading sense of urban ennui, become less jaded and start living in the moment, embracing each beautiful drop of precious existence? What’s for lunch? This blog is dedicated to those people who believe that the answers to these and many other questions can be answered by going on holiday.
My holiday hasn’t started yet. But if you’re in a rock band, as Aerosmith succinctly put it, life is a Permanent Vacation. You get to pose on stage with a guitar. You get to wear sunglasses indoors. You get to make more noise than is strictly reasonable. You get to tell people you’re in a band. And sometimes they don’t snigger.
Last night was my final gig at Fluid, the bar I’ve been playing regular Fridays nights at with my band The Rogue Traders. And tonight I will play with the band one last time. It’s the end of an era, a time for reflection, for getting drunk and maudlin and waxing nostalgic. No more will I be able to shamelessly try to upstage our lead singer by pratting about in a purple feather boa, or chop out funky porn-riffs on the wah-wah pedal, or create beautiful soundscapes of noise which drown out all the less important members of the band. “It’s time for me to go, the autumn moon lights my way,” as Robert Plant so poignantly sang before starting to wail on about Gollum. And so I have to Ramble On.
Playing in a rock band is the ideal hors d’oeuvre for an existential vacation. Maybe life itself is like rock and roll music – “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players,” as Shakespeare so memorably wrote, although he probably didn’t envisage cover versions of You Shook Me All Night Long. Maybe life is like playing a guitar solo, starting out slow with a couple of bum notes before building in confidence and rising to a wailing sort of frantic widdling climax then ending with one foot in the air and a pained expression on your face. Or maybe not.
I may have overdone the philosophy for today.
There’s a fine line between clever and stupid.
Several people have suggested that I should write a blog during the coming year. If you are reading this, you may be one of those people, or at least you probably know me. This page is to let my friends know where I am and what I’m doing, just in case any of you are interested in where I’ve got to, or are worried about me, or just bored in the office on a Friday afternoon. I’ll try to make it as amusing and informative as possible. Kind of like the Discovery Channel but with more lame jokes.
I will leave Singapore, at least temporarily, in a little under two weeks. I’m taking a year’s unpaid leave from my job, giving up my flat at Clarke Quay, putting my chattels in storage in Clementi, redirecting my mail to a P.O. Box and heading off with a rucsac and a camera or two. Yes, I know, it’s a cliche: I’m off to “find myself”, or to lose myself, on my pre-mid-life crisis, a kind of existential vacation. (Thanks to Mark Phong for coining the phrase over lunch the other day. Not pretentious at all, oh no. And an honourable mention goes to Andy Chakravarty for suggesting I have a contest to name the blog and then call it ‘Budget Terminal’.)
Here are a few things I will miss about Singapore: Kopi ‘C’ and Kaya toast on a sunday morning; people-watching in coffee shops; makan (noodles, prata, Thai food at Golden Mile, a hundred others); browsing at Kinokuniya; jamming at the Crazy Elephant on a Sunday; the Poetry Slam; sunday dinners at Camelot; late pub nights playing with the Rogue Traders.
I shall put nostalgia aside for now. My first stop, on the 29th June, is Islamabad, and on to the Gondogoro trek in north-east Pakistan. I have some preparations to complete before then.