Tuesday 16 December 2014

Day 182: Dolpo day 13 - Begging for balloons

Transit vans dwarf their driver on the approach to Dho Tarap
With our feet turned downhill, we paid off The Chang Express, a day too late.  He had spent the night drinking with one of our kitchen boys and daylight found the latter too inebriated to proceed.  The Chang Express himself, meanwhile, was hardened against the effects of chang.  Presumably he re-stocked his supply before leaving the town and heading north, leaving our kitchen boy in a heap behind him.

The walk down to Dho-Tarap, the capital city of these parts, was short but eventful, remembering that after twelve days in the wilds little action is needed to constitute an 'event'.  Some children played badminton (which seemed very suitable given the proximity to the Tibetan / Chinese border - will it be table tennis next?).  Youths in leathers rode Chinese motorbikes up and down the four mile path, with their heads held high, as though showing off a new Mercedes.  A group of people waited for an ambulance helicopter to take them to Kathmandu.  Dilli, our cook, passed us, carrying the drunk kitchen boy's baggage.

A Himalayan Vulture?
(Could William Vittery please comment!)
By lunchtime, we had pitched camp and spent the afternoon wandering along a side valley to visit two half-derelict gompas.  "Hello, give me a balloon," the children called as we passed.   We wondered who on earth first raised this expectation in a remote Himayalan valley; balloons are a strange choice of gift.  Back in Dho-Tarap, others called "give me chocolate" or, most often, "give me money".  A mother turned her baby's hand into a begging posture and held it out to us, expecting us to see need not manipulation.  We had encountered nothing of the kind in Upper Dolpo.

Guy continued to befriend the children when he could, asking their names and ages.  As everyone had learned the same phrases, the mantra grew familiar.  "What is your name?"  "My name is Guy."  "What is your sister's name?"  "What is your brother's name?"  "I am thirteen years old."  Always I was shocked by their ages.  When I guessed a girl was ten years old, she would say "fourteen".  A slender female waif, surely no more than eight years old, would lay claim to twelve years.  These girls looked too young for teenagers, too young to be married in a few years time.  But above them in age lay a demographic gulf.  Middle-aged adults abounded in this valley and so did children.  But where were the young adults?  Where were the men and women in their late teens and twenties?  Had they gone to Kathmandu to work?

The bike still had Chinese plates... but where's the road?!?
Yet some people in the valley must have money jangling in their pockets without leaving home in search of jobs.  A helicopter to Kathmandu costs a four figure sum, and that's dollars not Nepali rupees, yet we had heard a chopper pass overhead earlier in the day.  For those who cannot afford such necessities, a long donkey ride will take you to the air strip in Juphal, several days journey away.  Anyone acutely ill could die on the ride.  Upper Dolpo is a place where an attack of appendicitis (amongst other things) could easily kill.

"Give me chocolate," called a child.  "Give me a balloon."  Many things are hard to come by here.

A Yak silhouetted in the morning light on the road to Dho Tarap
Village en-route to Dho Tarap
No bikes to be seen here fortunately
Chortens and mountains
Traditional load carrying
Yaks intimidate as they pass us
These ones are less of a threat though
Despite some people with money, many people in Dho Tarap are still peasant farmers
Separating grain from chaff using the wind
Monastery near Dho Tarap (the interior was being renovated)
The monastery on the east side of the river (just north of Dho Tarap)
The arid landscape of Dolpo

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