Sunday, October 21, 2007

Meet the Gang.

At a roadhouse restaurant on the road from Lhasa to Gyantse. From left to right. Claire, Margaret, Jo, Bec, and Barry.


Margaret and Claire.


Mother and daughter who hail from Middlesbrough, UK, Margaret and Claire are both nureses by profession. They happen to work in the same hospital. Both had a desire to travel to this part of the world so mother and daughter arranged for 5 weeks off work and are hitting the road together - after Tibet and Nepal, it was onto India.

The three of us really bonded over the two weeks that we travelled together - we suffered through altitude sickness together, we explored cities, towns and villages together, we shopped together, we shared meals together, we laughed (a lot) and most importantly, we looked after one another to the very end. On my last morning in Kathmandu, we (along with Barry) had breakfast together. Although I didn't have to leave for the airport until 1:30pm I thought I would say goodbye to them just after breakfast so they could go and enjoy their day. But they insisted on spending my last morning in Kathmandu with me. Such a nice gesture. There wasn't much time to do anything so we wandered the streets of Thamel - at one point taking time out to have some tea. Their's were the last faces that I saw before I got into the taxi to go to the airport. I will miss being with them in person. Luckily I have lots of photos and fond memories to remember them by and I hope to keep in touch.

Jo and Bec.



Jo (short for Joanne) and Bec (short for Rebecca) are two friends who live and work in Dublin, Ireland. Jo is originally from the UK and Bec from Australia. After Nepal and Tibet, this pair was also heading to India and when they found out that they would be in Goa at the same time that Margaret and Claire would be, plans were made for all four to get together. Sometimes the world really is a small place!

Barry.



Barry, or Baz as I've since come to know him as, is a social worker from Brisbane, Australia. Although this isn't the best photo of Barry but I had to post it up because every time I look at it, it reminds of how kind hearted and considerate he is. He had made a promise to the person that knit his cap for him that he would wear it when he got to Everest. It's absolutely f-r-e-e-z-i-n-g cold and getting dark but he had to keep his promise so he asked me to take a photo which I did just as the sun disappeared over the horizon.

Baikuntha.

Our Nepalese tour leader. Anyone who meets Baikuntha would be completely humbled by this modest,
young man. To top it off, he's one of the niceset guys you'll ever meet......and be forwarned.....he's one hell of a card player!


Group Photos.
Hard not to have group photos when you travel as....well, a group.

Our first "official" photo as a group, taken in front of the Potala Palace.

Huddling together to keep warm in the dining hall, Rongphu Monastery.

Our last night. Photo taken at the rooftop of Rum Doodle Restaurant and Bar, Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal. Though Barry was unwillingly "tikka-ed" by an Nepalese (who wanted money afterwards) on his way to the restaurant, he wore the red mark on his forehead all evening.


The girls. Photo by Barry. Taken at the Funky Buddha bar where we hung out after dinner for drinks. There was a surprisingly good Nepalese cover band providing tunes.

So what was it like travelling with this group? Well, here my thoughts, accompanied by photos.

To start with, I had the great fortune with a group of very compassionate and open-minded individuals. If there was a child in need, someone on the group would also be there to help out - sometimes it was nothing more than a few kind words or a pat on the shoulder but no child was ever ignored.

In Gyantse, this little girl caught Jo by complete surprise by coming up to Jo and wrapping her arms around Jo's waist. Her friend wanted Bec to fix her earphones for her which unfortunately, were not easily repairable.



We quickly realized that it really didn't matter what we gave to the children - they were always happy with whatever we handed to them.....as long as we handed them something! Credit goes to Bec for taking the free toiletries from the hotel and handing them to the children and for using her moist towelettes to wipe off the face of many a Tibetan child!
Even animals in need were not overlooked. We came across this poor calf trying to find his way across the road. Margaret and Claire were ready to help. A few biscuits and some water later and he went on his way.

....and Barry couldn't resist leaning down and scratching this l'il calf on its head.



Language did not prove to be a barrier to interacting with locals. We got good at whatever phrase guides we had, our hands and if there was a translator around, dragging them into the conversation as well.

Here's Margaret with a Tibetan shepherd that we met up with somewhere enroute from Sakya to Rongphu Monastery. He was as curious about us as we were about him. Through a translator we learned that he was tending about 100 head of sheep that collectively belong to members of his village.



.....and Barry with a Tibetan monk (who spoke virtually no English) in Lhasa, Tibet.

Barry could and would easily strike up a conversation with just about anybody. It was through him that I met the Rai family of Kathmandu, Nepal. The patriarch of the family, Surinder, ekes out an meager living by selling trinkets to tourists. His 14 year old daughter, Sharmila, dreams of becoming a doctor someday. Despite what little they have, this modest family invited Barry and I to dinner at their house and on my last night in Kathmandu, we had dinner at their home. It turned out to be a very memorable experience.

Barry with Surinder and Sharmila Rai.


But it wasn't always serious. We had our fun moments.

Jo often kept us amused with her stories. I will miss seeing the dimple that appeared on her left cheek whenever she smiled.

....and who says riding the bus is boring?

Barry enjoyed immersing himself in the Tibetan culture. Here we are at a cultural dinner and performance. He's the first to toast - Hapta!



Getting to Everest Base Camp was definitely a highlight of our trip to Tibet. Jo and Bec can't hide their joy at finally making it!


Not to brag....okay, who am I kidding? It was to brag but those that had cellphones with them called home to let loved ones and friends know that they were calling from the foothill of Mt. Everest. (Yes, believe it not, there was perfect cell reception at Base Camp.....better than what I get at home. sigh.)

Walking and hiking. We did our share as a group and there were always plenty of photo ops along the way.

Bec took the lead on our hike around the Ganden Monastery kora.

You could always count on Margaret to have food on hand. In fact, she kept our driver, Toni (our Tibetan guide) Baikuntha, Claire and I fully fed on all our road trips. I can still hear her voice, "Crips?" as she passed around the Pringles can.
Enjoying the view courtesy of the Kyi Chu Valley below and enjoying biscuits courtesy of Margaret.

Playing Kings and Asses. The first game took place in the dining hall in Rongphu Monastery.

The next day, we were stuck in a caravan of cars waiting to traverse the mountain pass to Zhangmu. We had a three hour wait. Someone suggested we play Kings and Asses to pass the time. There wasn't enough seating space in a single car to acoomodate for all the players so Barry came up with the idea of rotating players between the two LandCruisers we were travelling in. The game would be played in the front car. The loser would have to move from the front car to the back car. I sat out the game so I was in the back car. After a while, those of us in the back car started a second game of taking bets on who the next loser would be. Bec kept losing and with each loss, vowed that she would not play another round but she inspite of herself and eventually, her luck turned.
With all of us focused on the game, time flew by and before we knew it, we were on the road again.

On our last night together as a group, I gave the deck of cards to Baikuntha and told him to take them with him on the next tour. I hope they get as much enjoyment out of it as we did!

...and last but not least, there were the all too precious, cheese-y, tourist-y moments as a group.. At Yamdrok Tso, Tibetans were lined up with their yaks. For 5 yuan (about 75 cents) you could sit on the yak and have your friends snap as many photos as you wanted. Barry and Margaret couldn't pass up the opportunity so they geared up and mounted up.

I think I'll end this posting with these last two photos - something to make you smile, as I did when I saw the images come through my camera lens!
I had a great time travelling with Margaret, Claire, Jo, Bec, Barry and Baikuntha. Luckily, I took a lot of photos so I have something to remember them by!