Published: January 27th 2013January 27th 2013
More farewell tours than Frank Sinatra . . .
In 2003 I was chatting with Neil after our trek and we agreed that over the previous fourteen years, and seven visits, we'd probably seen the best of Nepal, and that it was unlikely we'd be back . . .
. . . . Garth should have been with us in 2003, but ended up in hosptital instead. He demanded that another trip should happen, so in 2007 there we were again. After the trek I phoned home. I commented that it was an odd feeling to be saying 'Good bye' to Nepalese friends. Mavis, obviously psychic, said 'Why 'Good bye' ? You'll be going back won't you ?' . . . .
. . . . so in 2008 as we reached Chaurikharka I asked Terry, Chris and Richard to go on ahead, and to leave me to enjoy undisturbed my last hour of trekking in Nepal . . . .
. . . . and in 2009, as he drove me to the airport at the end of the trip, Krishna said 'When are you coming back ?' I said it was very doubtful that I would
be back. He was only partly convinced . . . .
. . . . perhaps Terry was being kind. He visited me in 2010 whilst I was recovering from my hip replacement. and suggested that possibly a trek next year might be a good idea . . . .
. . . . so I celebrated my new hip joint's first birthday in 2011 at 4600 metres on the Laurebina La for what I felt was almost certainly my last visit to Nepal.
For 2013 I can blame Matt Dickinson, and he’ll never know. I heard him lecture at Giggleswick, and after a not very inspiring talk, but with superb photographs, about his Everest ascent in 1996, I was talking to various acquaintances who were saying that they’d love to go to Nepal. As I drove home I realised that it would be no trouble to me to try to organise a trip, and it would give me the opportunity to make yet another ‘Farewell tour’. An hour with the map, and with memories of past trips, produced a workable outline, and another couple of hours slaving over a hot computer produced an illustrated ‘brochure’. This time the process was different: whereas before there had always been at least two or three of us committed to a trip from the start, this time I circulated the brochure to a few chosen friends and acquaintances, including, out of courtesy, to the 2011 team, and to Neil and Garth. Surprisingly rapidly there were positive reactions. Whilst for various reasons none of the 'usual suspects' could commit themselves to the trip, Alan and Linda Martingell, now settled in Settle, had already expressed an interest in a Nepal trek on several occasions. The AgeUK minibus around Settle on alternate Fridays transporting ageing ladies to shops and lunch clubs seems an unlikely place to recruit Himalayan trekkers, but there I recruited Merrilyn, who had the relevant credentials - an Australian, inveterate traveller, thirty-year resident in Paris now retired to Settle. (For the sake of accuracy, I drive the bus, and Merrilyn is our courier !). She accepted the invitation with alacrity. Helen was similarly swift in her response. In a way that didn’t surprise me as over the past forty years she’s been subjected to bursts of enthusiasm about Nepal on the occasions I’ve met her, and as indirectly it’s all her fault (she first demanded that I went caving, through which I met the strange collection who were the dramatis personae for early trips to the Alps, whence came the first Nepal trip in 1989). It seemed fitting that she should be invited along. To my delight Tom Watson, dogged survivor of the Gosainkund and Helambu trip from 2011, who had obviously enjoyed his first Nepalese experience, was up for a second one. This would be a trip with differences: it would be the first truly mixed party I’d trekked with. It would also by my first trip outside the Autumn post-monsoon season, partly in deference to Helen who was the only one amongst us still working, and partly as response to the weather on the last Autumn trip. In consequence Easter 2013 was the chosen time.
Email exchanges with Sanam at 'Spirit of the Himalayas' who have facilitated all of my trips since 1996, soon fleshed out an itinerary, and a reasonable price. A couple of days in Kathmandu, including a guided tour as none of the others had had that experience, will precede a flight to Pokhara, and then an Annapurna foothills trek of about eight days. After the obligatory day of relaxing in Pokhara we will be off to Chitwan for a couple of days, then back to Bhaktapur, and, at Sanam’s suggestion, Balthali (rather than Nagarkot, on the grounds that I’ve visited Nagarkot frequently already), before a final couple of nights back in Kathmandu. Sanam also agreed, as normal, to employ Dhanraj Rai as our guide/sirdar: it will be the eigth time we've trekked and climbed together, and I couldn't imagine doing a trek without him. Not only is he very competent, and delightful company, but he also understands my need for slow trekking and frequent replenishing of my caffeine level.
Hours of surfing the web finally produced what appeared to be excellent flights, from Manchester rather than Heathrow (which obviously suits the northern contingent, is of little consequence to Helen as it’s not much further to Manchester from Warwick, and of no consequence whatsoever to Tom as he lives close to Heathrow, but was anxious to use some of the mountain of air-miles that he accumulates from frequent visits to America, and has made his own flight arrangements). Compared with the hideous scheduling of the 2011 flights this trip appears to be luxury: Etihad should transport us via Abu Dhabi, with only a couple of hours stop-over each way, and it was cheaper too ! I was delighted that the team all managed rapid responses to my phone calls, quickly committing themselves to the trip by shelling out the cash for the tickets, much to the relief of my bank manager as I'd issued a cheque for all five tickets.
We keep in touch by regular Updates, and slowly count down the months. By a happy circumstance Helen’s visit to Ingleton became the focus of a gathering in Settle where at least five of the party were able to meet (Tom sending his apologies as he was in Exeter on grandparent duty). A cheerful morning, looking at photos and answering questions, was useful not only in resolving a few issues, but also as at least now the disparate elements of the team might recognise each other when next we met, which is likely to be at Manchester airport for the outward flight (and again in Tom’s case that meeting will be deferred until our separate arrivals in Kathmandu).