Tuesday 16 December 2014

Day 179: Dolpo day 10 - The Chang Express

Pamela and Sheeti
Pamela has not been feeling well for the last few days; her pulse races even when she is at rest and she struggles for breath on ascents.  But it is still eight days walk to the road head and a helicopter probably would not make it over the five thousand metre passes that garrison Upper Dolpo.  It was time to hire a horse.

Sheeti ('White Horse') arrived first thing in the morning with its tail plaited and bright rugs cushioning its saddle.  Its coiffeur had taken time - something that could not be said of its owner.  He was short, middle-aged and carried a bottle of white-coloured liquid in his hand which he frequently refilled from a larger bottle at his waist.  This is the local tipple, Chang.  Before we reached the end of the village he had fallen over in what appeared to be a drunken stumble.  It set the tone for the rest of the journey.  Before long, we regarded him as the most colourful member of our expedition and nicknamed him 'The Chang Express'.  Pamela, meanwhile, held tight to the reins as he led Sheeti along the trail.

All that day The Chang Express and the rest of us walked down the valley past picturesque farmsteads, gompas and villagers harvesting grain against the clock.  Each village was flanked by chortens and mani walls, two of which were spray-painted with a pink Maoist hammer and sickle.

Eric Valli's film "Caravan" had a big positive
impact for the people around Saldang who were
extremely accommodating with Guy's
frequent requests for photos.
"This isn't very respectful," Guy said to one of the sherpas, "it's a religious site. Why have they painted the communist symbol on it?"

"But they don't believe in religion; they don't believe in culture," the sherpa replied; "they're just Maoists".

Defacing villagers' beloved religious monuments seems like a strange way of winning popular support but apparently this was a Maoist heartland.  "They also burned down schools," Tony told us.  Now they sit in Nepal's parliament while the country enters its eighth year since the suspension of its constitution, without any sign yet of the replacement.

For the afternoon's entertainment, Guy decided to have a go at carrying Babu Hari's load - a torso-sized basket full of kitchen pots and jars of sauce, carried using a head strap.  "No, no," a distressed Hari protested.  He looked tired and perhaps he feared we did not think he was up to the job.  But Krishna explained that we were just having fun and Guy set off up the path with the bundle so fast I could hardly keep up, while Santa shouted "yes, good, very good".  When Guy finally returned the bundle to Hari, Santa gave him a hearty handshake.

Next it was time to have a go at donkey driving and Guy copied Dholbadu and Narinda's pattern of shouts (donkeys have a language?) while they almost wet themselves with laughter.  Within minutes of Guy taking charge, the beasts decided it was time to give up load-carrying and start grazing the shrubs at the sides of the path.  While Guy might make a decent kitchen boy, I doubt he will be hired as a donkey driver.

Sheeti, meanwhile, barely needed to graze as The Chang Express gave him dal bhat for his lunch.  Only when we reached camp, in the rising ground of a side valley, did he need to start foraging.

Morning light in Saldang
Children on their way to school
Chortens and wheat fields 
The entry to Saldang
What do you call a chorten with a passageway?
A local boy...
... and his brother
Mani wall
One of a number of small gompas in the valley upstream from Saldang
Colourful Saldang landscape
This lady spoke impeccable English and ran a well-stocked shop!
I took a number of photos of this little fella, didn't smile once!
Blue sheep on the approach to camp
Blue sheep seem to be able to climb the most vertiginous of cliffs

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