LAST SUNRISE IN KATHMANDU – goodbye to Swaggies, KC, backstreets and friendly puppy, 1976

KC, restaurant owner, Thamel, Kathmandu

[Last sunrise in Kathmandu – goodbye to last of the Swaggie friends and final breakfast at KC’s before Nikki and I flew away from the snow-clad Himalayas.  Chrispin waved us off – he was heading off to do more travelling around India, so I took his large suitcase home and leant him my backpack and sleeping bag not thinking I would have need of them again for a while … bad call as it turned out!]

THURSDAY 30TH DECEMBER, 1976 – Part One

“Up very early because Heidi leaving at 6.  As she went I could lie and see the sunrise out of the door.  Lovely winter morning – dark clouds with orange-pink light seeping into sky behind.  Hils dark behind and trees in foreground full of the noise of birds.  Streets quiet for once but dogs already beginning to stir in hotel courtyard (big black one and little black puppy that looks like a baby bear and plays with my tatty jeans!)

Waved off Heidi, Pam and Mark – fresh cool air of early morning.  Met Chris and Nikki and went for breakfast at KC’s – he was still asleep on the chairs!  OK and KC helped get us breakfast – fried eggs, toast and lovely milky KC coffee.  Back to hotel after KC wished us happy journey – amused when I said I’d see him in Scotland.  He has a saying that: Chinese food is best food, Japanese women best women, Nepalese dope best dope and Scotch whisky best whisky!

Taxi waiting for us.  Frances saw us off – Adrian still sick in bed.  Went to airport via narrow lanes – last glimpse of narrow streets inhabited by cows and dogs.  Our into fields then airport.  Chris organised us into right queues etc trying to cheer Nikki up.  Customs nosed around in cases – opened my souvenirs.  Body search – girl helped herself to coconuts and Nikki’s cigs!  Walked out to small Nepalese plane – Chris waving us off from terrace.  From plane, Nikki noticed that he lit up cigarette (she was always trying to control his consumption).  Waved us off even when in the air. 

Circled over Kathmandu – saw terraced brown fields and houses for last time growing more distant – picked out the Boudhnath Stupa.  Great white range behind us, slightly clouded; then left Kathmandu Valley and on into smaller range of hills with roads winding through them.”

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SUNRISE OVER EVEREST – burning snow and sugar in the porridge, 1976

[Not even the discomfort of a cold night or sugar in the porridge could detract from the awe-inspiring sight of the sun rising over Everest and the Himalayas – and the sound of school girls singing through the dark.  Not surprisingly, this magical memory has stayed with me and influenced a scene in my novel OVERLANDERS.]

TUESDAY 28TH DECEMBER, 1976 – Part One

Banging on door at 6.  No one felt like waking – pretty cold because only a few blankets and no bag. 

Staggered out and up very steep hill again (Nagarkot about 6,000ft)  View was breathtaking – mist rising out of valley – mysterious blue ridges, then dark blue ranges of the Himalayas, nearer ones snow-capped, waiting for sun to rise – great feeling of expectancy.  Gradually deep pink light began to seep into valley and catch the peaks – snow really burning in dawn light.  Then sun rose to the left of them all – brilliant orange light.  Saw Everest’s blue peak clearly – little orange cloud above it.
Group of girls chanting down the road – lovely sound.

Down hill again for breakfast.  They put sugar in the porridge and the coffee!  Not my lucky day!

Set off 8.30 down to Karapati again – met a little guide (in his pyjamas!) – thought Pam woul know an Aussie girl that he had the passport photo of, because she came from Oz!  He pattered along beside me – english quite good, 11 years old.  I gave him my passport photo (spare copy) and wrote my address for him – he looked at picture and said “very good” with a grin!”

Girls singing in the sunrise, Nagarkot, 1976

EVEREST COTTAGE – Tibetan bread, roaring fire and Eagles (Californian variety!) NAGARKOT 1976

[The strenuous puffing and panting of unfit overlanders that morning was rewarded with specacular views of the Himalayan range and Everest hidden in cloud that my Kodak Instamatic did not do justice to!  Magic surreal moment was after dark sitting by cosy fire in candlelight, eating simple meal to the strains of The Eagles, at the Everest Cottage …]

MONDAY 27TH DECEMBER, 1976 – Part Two

“Lovely view over valley and jungle to the right.  Cay stop – sat on terrace step in sun.  Reached top at about 4.  Two vans up there at viewpoint – fantastic panorama of Himalayas – from Annapurna to beyond Everest (semi-circle).

Went for coffee at nearby coffee house – all really thirsty.  Then rushed out to see sunset over mountains -lovely pink light and gorgeous blazing orange behind clouds over Kathmandu Valley with dark trees silhouetted on hill in front.

Then rushed around trying to find somewhere to sleep – eventually went down very steep hill to “Everest Cottage” – opened it up for us because no one else there.  Lit a big fire in large room with hight matted ceiling.  Candlelight in all rooms – sat round fire relaxing.

Then had Nepalese meal – plain but good fare – rice, little omelette, veg curry and dhal soup.  Finished with Tibetan bread (like stodgy pancake).  Sat round fire drinking Chris’s Country Liquor.  They put on tape – Eagles.

In room with Chris and Nikki (Mark and Pam other side of partition) – wall to wall bed and nothing else!  Mouse running above our heads in the roof!”

TREKKING OVERLANDER-STYLE – jeans, wedges and an orange! 1976

[After three months of sitting on a bus and doing nothing more strenuous than sightseeing and drinking cay, a trek into the foothills of the Himalayas – however short – was a test for the average Overlander.  Standard trekking equipment – jeans (newly washed for the first time since Kabul), Afghan jacket and scuffed wedged shoes!]

MONDAY 27TH DECEMBER, 1976 – Part One

Nagarkot, foothills of Himalayas, 1976

“Waved them [Rob, Maree and Diane] off from hotel – going to Bangkok.
Left after eleven with Chris and Nikki – meeting Mark and Pam at trolley bus.  After and few 100 yds the ropes of trolley came off the rails!
At Bhaktapur walked across vale – stopped for cay after 2 mins!  Asked way to Katipur, but man said didn’t have any of it!  Over bridge saw women washing below – and through filthy streets of Bhaktapur to Durbar Square.  Had another cay stop! (lovely curd).

Then piled into minibus with milk churns crunched up against our knees; 2 lads kept swinging in and out of van door collecting fares and pushing in sacks and people on top of us!  Really good fun!

Dropped at Karapati then started walking – little boy guide joined us plus various little fellas with baskets strapped to heads.  Up rocky path – very steep straight away.  Stopped on rocks for lunch (my breakfast) of cheese, bread, tomatoes, and an orange.  Talking of cheese, Chris said look behind me and I nearly jumped 10ft to see 2 black goats peering over my shoulder!

Went on past lovely little hamlets – yellow and orange painte houses with thatched roofs, with hens and kids rushing around, little stores with nuts and grain etc., women pounding grain and sieving it; cows trying to block us off!  We were wheezing and panting all over the place!  I managed to keep up near front!”

SEVEN MINUTES IN TIBET – or at least gazing at the sentry post! Tibetan border trip, 1976

[Overland drivers were a resourceful lot and often had to supplement low wages (or no wages) with side trips until they got paid.  They held the trump card – the bus itself.  The Derek referred to in the diary was Derek Amey, another driver for Asian Greyhound whose overland trip had set off a little before ours.  I signed up for his day trip to the Tibetan border – that mysterious land under Chinese control that had fascinated me since reading ‘Seven Year in Tibet’ by Heinrich Harrer. 

In the 1920s my mother had been a baby carried around on a makeshift carriage through the Himilayas on my grandfather Bob Gorrie’s forestry work.  A family story tells that some high up British diplomat was piqued to discover that some British baby had beaten him into Tibet!

Derek Amey, who now lives in Australia, has set up a brilliant overland website covering many trips and bus companies from the 60s and 70s.  http://www.indiaoverland.biz/]

SUNDAY 19TH DECEMBER, 1976

Up early – Derek’s bus trip to Chinese border (ie Tibet).  Misty to begin with.  Lovely scenery into foothills – wooded winding gorges, green rivers; stopped at one which begins in Tibet and flows into Ganges!  Stopped at fantastic waterfall – another division between Tibet and Nepal.

Saw brown mountains of Tibet peeping between green slopes at borderBridge with Chinese guard in green sentry box at the other end.  Had passport stamped on Nepal side. [Kodari]

Stopped for lunch by river and hot spring baths (grotty concrete affair) – good KC’s packed lunch.

Stopped at swing bridge for fools to rush across (ie I didn’t!)  Grandmother, mother and happy kid – old woman with huge earrings in ears and big discs in nose.

Saw rice paper factory at side of road – mill to grind corn then muslin screens which woman used to sieve water and pulp mixture (bark pulp and ground corn) then left to dry in open air and then paper peeled off.

Lovely villages – mellow orange brick and dark thatch.  Women breast feeding by road.  Little kids carrying even littler kids!  Got back sixish.

Went to Shangri la with quite a few of the others – so service slow.  But nice when it came – shared a Tibetan dish with Di (like omelette) and also Buff Bean Curd (Buffalo meat) Nice.”

ANNAPURNA DAWN & CONSTIPATION IN KATHMANDU – the final day on the bus, Nepal 1976

[Our final day as Swaggies/Overlanders began with a breathtaking sunrise over the Annapurna Range at Pokhara.  Then we were doing all the chores for the final time: dismantling the tents, heating up last night’s leftovers, cleaning out the bus … but not the rat!  Then is was off to Kathmandu, our final destination on the hippy trail.  Whether from nerves or excitement or strew and baked beans for breakfast, I was doubled up with constipation for this final leg of the journey and remember lying out on the seat unable to sit up listening to everyone oohing and ahhing about the view coming into Kathmandu.  I did get a look at the mountain tops though … 

Kathmandu – a magical medieval muddle of houses and mayhem of rickshaws, bicycles and animals.  We decamped into cheap tourist hotels of the Thamel District – the Asia and The Star – and discovered the delights of KC’s restaurant and cake shop!]

THURSDAY 16TH DECEMBER, 1976

Woken at dawn, shouts from outside that view fantastic, so grabbed clothes and staggered out to see pink light on Annapurna range, behind hotel!
Really breathtaking and clear, with dark wooded foothills in front and thatched huts in foreground.  Everyone clicking away with cameras.  Peak of Machhapuchhare in centre really magical – gradually whitening then disappearing in morning cloud.

Last breakfast – stew and baked beansThen great clearing and washing of bus and equipment, (rat still stowed away with us!)
Left Ian at Pokhara – lake looked glass-like as drove past with fringe of mountains around.  (Nice, cheerful, quick blind boy said goodbye to us – helped at hotel until went blind – no money for operation – Neva and Julie want to help him financially if possible).

Lovely run to Kathmandu – negotiated festive archways out of Pokhara (nearly lopping picutre of queen off), had to rush to front of bus then to back to change weight and height of bus!
Lovely valleys with rounded mountains, thick with green vegetation – deciduous trees and banana trees, paddy fields, haystacks, thatched shelters in the fields; small villages, lots of cattle and hens – with good reflexes!  People carrying heavy loads attached by bands round heads, including small kids.

Climbed up pass from Pokhara valley into Kathmandu valley.  Lovely view of Himalayan range in evening sun – paddy fields set into side of hairpin bends!  Not much room for buses!

Had incredibly painful stomach pains by this time (constipated on final day!) so had to lie down the whole time.  Could hardly walk when reached Kathmandu.

Called in at Blue Star – most people felt too expensive, so drove through city to other side – narrow streets with brick and wooden houses – got stuck trying to get round corner – great hootings from rickshaws and consternation from shopkeeper whose house we were about to take away!

Dropped in street by KC’s restaurant – had look at “Asia” and “Hotel Star” – latter cheaper so most piled in there (Jan at Asia waiting for Fred who’d gone to Pokhara to meet us!)  Shared room with Big Pam and Neva (on floor). 
Went to KC’s for meal (stomach relieved by this time!) with Fran, Sally, Di, Heidi, Adrian, Chris and Hans.  Good meal – I had cheese jaffle (like puffed up bread) and apple pie – soon learned about excellent pie and cakes – KC’s have separate cake shop across road from restaurant!”

ROAD TO POKHARA – paddy fields, purple padded jackets, and a king next to our camp, 1976

[We climbed into the Himalayan foothills of beautiful Nepal and on to Pokhara below the Annapurna Range (with our resident rat still in tow).  The village was full of soldiers because the King was in residence in his palace, while we made camp for the final time in our orange ridge-pole tents by his stunning lake.]

WEDNESDAY 15TH DECEMBER, 1976

Mouse was trapped last night!  Rat still at large!
Stopped before hills at busy village – small shops in shacks next to newer buildings.

Into hills – beautiful tree-covered slopes and paddy fields below – lovely rivers.  Lunch stop by cay shop and small thatched houses with open verandas, supported by rough posts.  Beautiful big green river with big bridge over.  Little kid by me and “Little” Chris chatting away, then suddenly turned to us and said “Piss!” – well what could one say?!  Nice old woman serving cay – obviously the Granny of half the village – purple wrapover jacket.
German man very excited about fish in the river – had “very good speckles on” so he could see them!

Lovely gorges and hillside villages – lots of road tolls.  Small people – Mongolian and Indian faces – all wear coloured hats.

First view of Annapurna Range in distance!  High white peaks in setting sun, half the valley in shadow.
Pokhara full of soldiers and decorated archways over the road – apparently King here at the moment.  Went past his summer palace and nice village by edge of beautiful lake – lots of little restaurants.  Piled into one and had lovely cheese paratha and coffee.  Chris gave me fags for Dad – rhinos on them!

Camped in grounds of cheap hotel (army in usual place).  Walked round village with Di, Heidi, Shirl, Chris and Hans – no sign of Tibetan dancing.  Diane and Maree threatened with gun because out after curfew! 

Last putting up of tent! – I pegged!”