The planned route (Click to enlarge)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Very Merry Christmas; if the Maoists allow it

3 days to go until our second Christmas away from home. Things have been getting interesting in Kathmandu. The Maoist party in Nepal have called a 3 day nationwide bandha (strike) forcing all traffic off the roads, all businesses to close and our movements have been restricted to within walking distance of our house. It's been a surreal experience.

The Maoists, who won the majority of votes in elections in 2008, resigned from government after the president overruled their decision to sack the army chief. The former rebels say the president's move was unconstitutional. Their programme of civil and parliamentary disruption is aimed at forcing the government to debate this issue, something the government refuses to do. We got our first real taste of this when returning from town on Saturday. We were making our way towards the central bus station, which is enough of a test of the nerves at the best of times, when we saw smoke rising in the dusky light. Coming round the corner to Ratna Park we witnessed a mass protest with thousands of people marching the streets with flaming torches, chanting and shouting anti-Government slogans. The effect was dramatic, but thankfully the mood was not. Nonetheless, with traffic grid-locked and darkness falling, we decided being inside a taxi was a safe bet and so we jumped in one and waited for the roadblock to lift. A sudden revving of engines temporarily transformed the street into a Formula One grid, however, the illusion only lasted for around 12 seconds as everyone bolted off the line only to grind to a halt 50 yards further on.

Our sighing taxi driver wove his way through ill-lit backstreets, clattering over discarded flaming torches whilst ghostly figures loomed out of the haze of smoke, dust and fumes. Occasionally we saw flickering faces deep in discussion, until the road eventually disgorged us somewhere on the outskirts of town. 2 hours later we made it back. Exhausted, but glad to be in more familiar surroundings.

Since then the mood has lightened with 3 days of strikes feeling more like a holiday than anything else. 2 nights ago there was suddenly cheering and hooting and we thought the strike might have been called off, but last night we were woken in the middle of the night by what sounded like air raid sirens. In the absence of up-to-date news, this has meant just making do. We have spent the last few days welcoming in heaps of volunteers, playing with the kids at the orphanage, painting new classrooms and planning Christmas. And this morning, when one of the volunteers needed to get to the airport to fly home, we just walked. Jason and I set off in the thick morning mist to walk the deserted main roads into Kathmandu. The usually choked streets were devoid of any vehicles save for speeding UN vans, Red Cross jeeps and ambulances. It felt like a war zone, but the peaceful smiling faces remain the same as those welcoming us when we arrived in Nepal. You just want to know what the people are talking about as they huddle round their small roadside fires to keep warm. Is the talk full of political opinion and dissent? Or is it simply people enjoying three days off to catch up with family and friends? Exactly how people are responding is unclear, although it is unquestionable that this is crippling the economy of Nepal and can only make things worse.

However, we now have a bus ticket that should wing us to the slightly warmer Pokhara tomorrow morning. Asking Rupa about whether there would be much traffic, her response was simply, "After bandha... Ha, ha, ha". Indeed. After two days of leisure including HOLLY'S BIRTHDAY on the 24th (Ahem) we are planning to guide ourselves up into the Himalayas to Annapurna Base Camp. I can not think of a better tonic to the claustrophobia of the bandha than a couple of days of lounging, bathing and feasting before strapping on a pack and heading into the snowy mountains. We just hope we aren't sat at the same desk tomorrow evening with no prospect of getting away.

In the meantime... Merry Christmas to one and all back home. Not (that) long until we are back and this time next year we hope to be sharing yule logs, booze and crackers with you all.

Latest photos:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Not Christmas, but almost as good

Today was the closest we will probably get to a big family Christmas this year, in the form of a Hindu house blessing ceremony. Tej, our boss, and Rupa, his wife, have been living in their new house for a couple of months now. A recent bout of bad luck (hopefully nothing to do with us being here) has persuaded them to get the house formally blessed. So the Brahmans were summoned and they declared Monday 7th to be the lucky day for the blessing. From here on luck should flow freely around the house and all those living within it.

Preparations started early yesterday morning with the grinding of grains to make flour for about 300 donuts. Such culinary expertise continued late into night, only to start up again early this morning. It later became clear that the importance of this feast was not only to serve up to 200 hungry humans but to also please the apparently quite greedy gods. At the crack of dawn today it was all go; the party tent arrived, giant cooking pots got steaming, vegetables turned up by the bicycle load and the household put on their finest.

The blessing ceremony took place in the form of Pooja (Hindu prayer), which started at 8am and went on for an extremely dedicated 6 hours. This all took place in a room on the bottom floor of the house, which was transformed into a den of holiness for the day. The once mundane room was filled with incense, offerings of money, potatoes, flowers, rice, 5 very stern looking Brahman, the family of the house, a huge bonfire, holy water, every spice under the sun and never-ending chants. At the end of the ceremony the Brahmans walked around the house blessing everyone and every corner with a sprinkling of holy water chanting 'peace here' (in Hindu). For the finale a huge sheet of white silk was hung from the roof and water and flowers were poured down it to Tej, Rupa, Riza and a very confused Tiya (2 years old) waiting 3 stories below. Chains of flowers, bananas and donuts were hung around the house and then everyone got stuck into the vegetarian buffet, curd, sweets and milky tea (at last!). You cannot help but be entirely captivated by the mystical sounds, smells and colour of it all. So laptops were shut and we soaked up a day of blessings, feasting and entertaining the little ones. I am now particularly excited about instigating all of the above traditions for our new pad warming party on return to the UK.

We have been in Nepal for five weeks and now feel very at home. Our home is a remarkably peaceful suburb of Kathmandu called Pepsi-Cola Town Planning, inspiringly named after the adjacent Pepsi factory. Time has raced by at an alarming rate, reminding us of the woes and joys of routine, staying in one place and having a job to do. No doubt a gentle reminder of what to expect on arriving home in about 5 months time. Despite some initial trauma linked to space (lack of it), snot (an overload of it) and smog (trying to train for a marathon in it), things are now looking very rosy. Not only have we been blessed by the gods, but our adventure tales got published in a real magazine and we achieved our first work related task in 14 months. VSN's new website is now up and running at

To have completed the website feels like quite an achievement, especially since the process only involved one or two 'storming out' moments. All this burying ourselves in html and entering the world of cyberspace nerds compensates a little for ample time spent away from computer screens in the last year. Our next challenge is to send the website racing up search engine rankings (any advice much appreciated!) and to spread the VSN word around Nepal and beyond. But its not all work. Between teaching kids to talk proper and all the marketing faff many an hour is spent sipping whiskey at our local, The Hut, dodging rabid dogs on runs and watching the world go by from our roof terrace. And then weekends (only Saturdays off shock horror) take us to such cultural delights as Kathmandu zoo, the tailors, the best fried eggs in town and guesthouses with fire places in remote hillside villages. So with all this we should remain nicely occupied until trekking and feasting time in Pokhara come Christmas!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Yum-Yum Noodles vs. Saving the world

As Hol said in the last blog, our jobless arrival in Kathmandu was less than pleasant. Having spent too much of our budget on extra strength margaritas in Colorado, fixing Carlos in Vancouver and just existing in Japan, we were left with the challenge of spending 3 months in one place whilst effectively living on £1.25 a day each. Not much fun.

The chasm of pennilessness stretching out in front of us was threatening never to be filled. We had flung hopeful emails to all corners of the Asian subcontinent (Hol's mysteriously tending towards Goa) in the pursuit of work with not a whiff of a suitable response. This was until we arranged our first meeting with Tej, the Director of Volunteer Society Nepal. We had stumbled across an advert whilst in Xining asking for someone to write a marketing plan for the charity and it seemed to suit the skills of both Hol and I. So it was we uncrumpled our only shirts, considered the merits of creasing our jeans and proudly gripped our new notepads and biros as we waited outside the Kathmandu Guest House. Tej arrived and after an hour of discussion over lemon tea it appeared we had a job offer. It sounded perfect. Both of us working on developing a new platform for Volunteer Society Nepal. How would we recruit more international volunteers? How do we present the organisation online? How do we develop all the materials for the organisation to run more efficiently when we leave? We went straight to the pub to celebrate and got drunk after one beer.

The next day we were grabbing some breakfast and checking emails when an email pops up from the ad agency Outreach Nepal. I had found these guys advertising a full time post for a Nepali employee and had emailed them saying I was in town for 3 months and did they want a consultant. A very long shot. Not having thought anything more about it, I was now faced with the prospect of an interview with their MD Ujaya in ten minutes time at a cafe that was 12 minutes away. Dirty shorts: tick. Smelly yellow novelty t-shirt: tick. Dusty trainers: tick. Sweating on arrival: tick. Job offer at the end of it: tick. Despite an up and down discussion where at one point I suggested it wasn't a good idea, we now had the second option of me working as a copywriter and creative consultant on their accounts and Hol researching foreign handicraft exports. Wow. The 24 hour turnaround was total. Glorious, gainful employment. Mental stimulation. Budget relaxation. Splendid.

The next 10 days were spent pondering the options. In the end VSN won out. Tej seemed like a top bloke, full of enthusiasm. The accommodation was in a nice place away from the hectic centre and smog of Kathmandu. It was a morally good thing to do. And we got to try our hand at website design and teach kids if we wanted to. Also, the more I looked around at the prevalent marketing output in Nepal I began to wonder about the level of work I'd be doing. The leading noodle brand Yum Yum noodles had spent literally tens of rupees developing their tagline, 'Yummy'. Then there was the Real juice slogan, 'It's really... really... nice'. Our decision was made. We were destined for the suburb of 'Pepsi-Cola Town Planning' the day after waving the mother's goodbye.

We have now been here for 3 weeks and the time has flown by. We have eagerly thrown ourselves into work from the first day. This slightly took Tej by surprise I think, but having not opened an Excel spreadsheet in anger for 14 months it felt good to be up and pivot tabling again. We have our own 'office' on the 1st floor of Tej's house where we live. It has a grand Chinese (falling apart) desk which Hol and I both work on opposite sides of. The addition of a small kettle, instant coffee and some tunes and suddenly it felt like we were up and running. The internet is sometimes painfully slow, there is no heating which necessitates woolly hats and novelty slippers at all times, and we work on Sundays, but we are stuck in and loving it. We confidently pronounced we could build a website during the interview, and there was an awkward few days when this became patently untrue. However, since then we have taught ourselves, with the indispensable aid of the unknown multitude of nerds posting 'how to' guides on the internet, and we are well underway. You can fully expect a range of tear jerking emails, letters, tweets, pokes etc. to flood your in-boxes sometime in the near future.

As well as the work for VSN we have also been thrown into teaching in the local school. At the start of the 2nd week we had a meeting with the principle to discuss the ethos of the school, ways of working, curriculum, timings and methods. This meeting lasted roughly 2 and a half minutes. Before we knew what was happening we were in front of a class of 12 expectant teenagers and 45 minutes later a small segment of the youth of Nepal had a rudimentary knowledge of tandem mechanics, 1930's Norwegian sailing boats and the wildlife of Yellowstone park. Not strictly on the curriculum, but you never know when you will need to escape from an enraged hoary marmot on a hand brazed Santana tandem with nothing but a three strand rolling hitch to your name. We now teach 2 periods a day and I have to confess to really enjoying it. There is minimal lesson structure to keep to and so we just freestyle through the text books. The kids are great and the concentration and behaviour are a world away from how schools in England are portrayed (at least by the Daily Mail). On top of this we were also asked to help teach Gurkha recruits in the final days before their selection tests in Pokhara.

The Gurkhas have been part of the British Army since 1815 and are a proud part of Nepal's history. To become a Gurkha for a young Nepali is seen as not only a well respected job, but also one of the best paid. Around 20,000 Nepali men between the ages of 17 and 21 apply for the 230 places available each year. Acceptance means 15 years guaranteed employment, £1,200 a month, a pension and the chance of a British Passport. To put this in context, the headmaster of the school we work at gets £200 a month. It is estimated that around 30,000 families in Nepal rely on these salaries. The selection tests range from the physical; minimum of 14 chin ups and a 5km run up a mountain with 25kg of rocks on their backs in 48 minutes, to the mental; GCSE standard Maths and English tests, to the dental; no more than 2 fillings and no gaps. We helped the recruits on dictations, mock interviews and other English tests. It was pretty humbling asking these guys why they want to join, why they are willing to die for the British army, and also realising that for many of them this is their 3rd or 4th attempt. They were all so earnest , some very nervous, all sincere, but they also all beamed back the minute you smiled at them. Taking the role of the interviewing officer gave us a small glimpse into their motivation, which only reinforced respect for these young guys who are training so desperately for 10 months to get in. Some good pictures here

After the final class the people who ran the training center insisted on taking us out for some snacks and tea. The personal trainers, the manager and the English teacher all bundled into a small restaurant and were laughing, joking and asking lots of questions about us. Over chicken and milky tea they all happily regaled us with stories of training, Nepali wedding parties and everything in between. Once again Hol and I left after two hours totally disarmed by the friendliness of the Nepali people. This is a country that was in the grip of a civil war up until a few years ago which saw 12,000 people brutally killed. Yet in their character is only warmth, hospitality and a clear self respect. There is no trace of self consciousness, cynicism or bitterness that can charaterise more developed countries. Before we left one of them spent 5 minutes saying goodbye and saying how happy and grateful they were. They made it very clear that they particularly wanted to write us a thank you letter as well when they got back from final selection. These people sometimes talk about the famous British manners, but one can't help but feel they have adopted and exceeded them.

There is lots more to talk about to do with the orphanages, the smaller schools we have seen and also all our contact with various NGOs working out here, but that can wait for another blog. All that can be said, is that this country is perhaps the friendliest we have been to and we are very happy to have chosen it as our base for the next 3 months before we embark on the final leg home. Right off for some Dal Baht and then a jog around the airport and along the Bagmati river. I think I'll stick upstream of Pashpatinath temple where at any one time there are around 6 corpses being cremated and swept into the water.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Catching up on some soul food in Nepal

Crossing over the 'Friendship Bridge' that divides The People's Republic of China (aka Tibet) with Nepal, was an emotional experience. The contrast between the two countries slaps you in the face immediately. Having been effectively herded around China by innumerable officials, once you cross that bridge you are on your own. In Nepal there are no special forces to push you in one direction and no great mass of humans to follow. So we found ourselves standing on a heap of uncollected rubbish, a cow to one side, chickens to the other, trying to work out where immigration was. A quick ramble down towards some shack-like buildings and we quickly found the immigration hut. 'Welcome to Nepal', beams the very well groomed official as he takes our passports, gives them a quick look over and stamps his stamp of approval. 'Is that it?', we ask, by now used to the third degree and thorough bag searches. 'Yep, have a lovely stay here in Nepal'. Fluent English? A smile? Great. It suddenly occurred to me that for the first time in a long time we were free to do as we wished, unwatched and unrestrained. So off we skipped into Nepal.

The contrasts didn't stop there. Nepal is the poorest country we have been on the whole trip and, though parts of China are still lost in poverty, the country appears wealthy in its infrastructure. On entering Nepal the smooth highway turns into an off road roller coaster and the houses that line it are mostly made of mud and corrugated iron. Rubbish fills the streets, power cuts occur for 6 hours every evening and lives are lived out of doors for the world to see. Consequently, everywhere you look there is something fascinating. As we bumped along for 5 hours from Kodari to Kathmandu vivid colour, penetrating noises and intoxicating smells were splattered across our senses with not a moments respite. Lush green landscapes, bright orange houses, red, yellow, green and blue saris floating in the breeze, beautiful smiles and a deep blue sky. Temple chants, cows, goat bells, cockerels, children playing, dogs fighting, water gushing and people laughing. Giant pots of steaming spices, rotting piles of fly covered rubbish, freshly ploughed fields and cowdung mingled with the black fumes from brightly painted, ancient trucks battling with the hills. The plentiful, genuine and wide open soul of Nepal was evident right from the start.

Despite this immediate joy and relief, after too many days of inhospitable landscapes, arriving in Nepal was an emotionally challenging time. First off we experienced a minor culture shock on arriving in Thamel, the tourist bubble of Kathmandu. Here everything is geared towards the Westerner; English is fluent, food is international, the streets are filled with ethno or hiking-clad white folk and everyone wants to sell you something. So from having virtually no contact with anyone for 30 days we were suddenly being communicated with left, right and center. But this was quickly got over. There was a deeper problem. The whole crux of our trip is that it is a journey. We set out to carve a single line around the globe taking us far away from, and back to, home. When on that line, progressing towards home, we are full of purpose. Once we move off the line we quickly become disorientated and despondent with the trip. This is the crisis we found ourselves in when we arrived in Nepal.

We came here to find work for 3 months. This is because we have to wait until winter thaws before we can cycle back from Istanbul, and because our budget is looking a little worse for wear. But in order to come to Nepal we have to double back on our line. It sounds small, but for the first three days in Nepal the horror of this wracked my mind. How could we have ruined our perfect line? So I desperately sought out remedies. Pakistan and Iran, exciting? Yes. Feasible without causing near heart attacks to parents? No. Skirting Iran by freighter towards to Suez Canal? Pirates. Crossing the Indian-Chinese boarder? Closed. Crossing the Burma-Chinese boarder overland? Closed. Getting a boat from India to Malaysia? Smashes our budget. So with all other options ruled out, I had to come to terms with the line crisis. But then there were still no jobs, Kathmandu was teeming with tourists and not being able to afford to go trekking left us pondering why the hell we were here. But the biggest panic was that we only had 4 days before the mother's came out to see us. We had to get rid of this black cloud before they came out, instantly detected it and worried for the next 6 months.

Luckily, the 20th October was our saving grace. In the space of 24 hours we had received two exciting job offers, escaped the horribly manic tourist hub, found the heart and soul of Kathmandu, found a restaurant that fed us delicious food for 50p, found out that tours back into Tibet were half the price of our one over here and worked out that we could go trekking without a guide and therefore afford to do it. Black cloud gone, bring on the mothers! The two weeks that followed emotional airport welcomes were a haze of falling in love with Nepal, catching up with home and planning a wedding.

Wandering around Kathmandu is to walk back in time. The Durbar squares are labyrinths of ancient red brick and intricately carved wooden temples, palaces and shrines, all jumbled together in a space that was once a kingdom of its own. And in lots of ways it still is. Time has not eroded the purpose of these central points. Women still come to wash at the giant stone wells, old men still meet on palace steps to contemplate life, and families still gather to present gifts and sacrifices to their gods. Pashupatinath, the holiest Hindu site in Nepal, was the only place where the openness of life became a little too much. After stumbling our way through a maze of shrines, temples, cows and monkeys we eventually descended onto the shore of the Bagmati River. On the bank opposite us a dead women was brought down on a bamboo stretcher, cleaned by her relatives, covered in wood and burnt, until the ashes were ready to be swept into the holy water of the river. It was not long ago that widows would practice sati here, throwing themselves onto their husbands funeral pyres. This was considered the highest form of service a wife can provide to her husband and offered an escape from the social perils of being a widow. Our experience at Pashupatinath would have been an interesting one, but it became depressing once we explored the perimeters of the complex. Litter fills the banks of the river, meditation caves ooze the smell of urine, faeces of all varieties litter the floor and monkeys sinisterly stalk the shrines. We decided it best to make a move on catching a glimpse of a rotten dog being eaten by another on the river bank upsteam from the cremation sites.

But no time to linger on dark interludes. Once we had stuffed o ur heads with culture it was time to head to the mountains. The bus trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara and back is as joyful as the one from the Tibetan border. Except this time I got to sit next to Mum; a new bus partner for the first time in a ridiculous number of bus journeys. The next 8 hours were a surreal mix of thinking we must be chatting in our kitchen back at home to being shaken back into Nepal by a jolt or bump of the bus. Pokhara was our haven of relaxation for the next 5 days. A lakeside resort that feels more like a village than the second largest city in Nepal, dominated by paddy fields and forested hillsides. On arrival we were welcomed by 5 enthusiastic Nepali staff all beaming at us, 'Ah Mr Nick, it is a pleasure to have you stay in our hotel, welcome to Pokhara!', and things just got better from there.

Sitting on the shore of Phewa Lake in Pokhara is one of my favourite spots of the trip.Whilst soaking up the sun one looks onto brightly coloured women washing clothes, unconscious children diving in and out of the water completely naked, men building and repairing boats, red robed monks strolling back to their prayers and buffulos grazing in and amongst it all. One morning we whetted our thirst for trekking by getting up at 5am to watch the sun rising onto the Himalayas. Half way up the ancient cobbled pathway to the designated sunrise view point, a shop owner ushered us onto his roof terrace. Here we received our own private viewing of the pink, orange and misty mountain show over a very welcome cup of coffee (Nepali) and flapjacks (UK). We spent a magical couple of hours taking in the gradual awakening of the land before us. A maze of stone pathways guided us down to town, through hillside farmlands and small settlements. The sounds of farmers chanting whilst they gather hay in the fields and the occasional cockerel filled the air as we stomped in and out of the low morning cloud.

Whilst the mothers were with us such active excursions were obviously done with interludes of copious amounts of wine and one too many Nepali thalis (rice, spinach, vegetable curry, lentils, naan and radish). I was particularly grateful for some female company, which prioritized talking over anything else and meant I could go shopping guilt free. And both of us appreciated two weeks of hot showers, good food and relaxation at a time when our enthusiasm for the road was waning.

So our first two weeks in Nepal was a perfect introduction to our first country of residence in 14 months! But more on screaming at kids, blagging our way through website design and chicken feasts with the Gurkha's to follow...

More photos of Nepal on flickr here

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How grateful we are to the People's Republic of China to be able to travel to Tibet and see the real situation there for ourselves

“Over a long period of time, Tibet was covered with a mysterious veil. People always felt that Tibet was so far away and beyond the periphery of one's knowledge, and even that all things related to Tibet were a great mystery... However, the mysterious veil was gradually lifted after the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951.”

So runs the introduction from Eyewitnesses to 100 years of Tibet: Interview whith [sic] eyewitnesses. Holly and I were very lucky to find this book, published by the China Intercontinental Press, in a hotel on our final day in Tibet. We had heard many things about unrest and 'cultural genocide' in the Chinese province, but by the time we had left thankfully the record had been set straight for us about many of the incorrect things we had heard in the West.

Our first experience in Tibet was on the world famous train across the Qinghai-Tibet plateau to Lhasa. Thanks to the incredible engineering feats of the People's Republic we traveled from Xining to Lhasa in just 26 hours. Before it's construction this would have been an arduous journey of several months. The road climbs to 5,100m in crossing the plateau and in order to be built certain areas of the track needed to be sunk into permafrost. In order to maintain stability the ground is therefore artificially frozen year round. Hundreds of kms of mighty bridges span giant rivers and take the train past sapphire blue lakes. We had heard some people say that many workers had died in the construction of this railway. However, the people who claimed a life was lost for every 2km of track were very wrong. The announcements on the speaker system of the railway informed us that “nobody died of high altitude diseases or plague” due to multiple temporary hospitals and stringent measures such as heated toilets so people wouldn't catch cold. We were also happily corrected about the rumours we had heard about the railway's significant impact on the fragile eco-system of the Tibetan plateau. This relieved us very much as we rode this “world beating sky road to Lhasa”.

On arrival in Lhasa it became clear the accusations of social problems in the capital of Tibet were also not true at all. Instead of an ancient mountain capital we found wide concrete roads, lots of cars, modern concrete and glass buildings; a busy modern city. The police and army were making the city very peaceful and we now understand why the Tibetans must be so pleased with the changes. Our thoughts were confirmed in more extracts from Eyewitnesses to 100 years of Tibet:

'Of course the citizens of Lhasa are delighted. Zholgar, working with the sanitation bureau said joyfully, “through developing a market economy, Lhasa is even closer to the hinterland, various new products add richness, their prices are continually being lowered and living standard get better each year.”'

“Zhasang, a Tibetan whose parents performed slave labour for a manor in Lhasa before the peaceful liberation... describes [the changes] as being like a dream”.

Also, we didn't realise how happy the Tibetans were as a consequence of the large scale relocation of Han Chinese to the region. The scholar Balsang Dainba explains how Tibetans have been so grateful for new foods becoming acceptable, “Over many years [Tibetan diets] were limited to meat of beef cattle and other large animals and we dare not eat fish or frogs due to our stifling religious culture... we made irresponsible remarks that the food [of people outside the Snowland] was nothing. This showed we were too pigheaded and exclusive.”

It was such a pleasure to find the truth and that the Tibetans were so happy.

As we left Lhasa and drove through the valleys of the Himalayas towards the Nepali border we passed many small villages. Before us rose the awe-inspiring bulk of Mt. Everest as we crossed passes up to 5,300m high. But what was even more amazing than the mountains was that making their way into the teeth of the freezing winds were occasional solitary goat herders. They appeared to be living truly nomadic lives passing from scrub to scrub with nothing but a simple tent to their name and eking a subsistence living in the harshest of environments. Yet it made me feel a lot better to know that he has a warm house built for him by the People's Republic with a colour television and fresh water. I think he just chooses not to live there at the moment.

Cedain Pucog, a Tibetan historian writes “I have heard some people overseas believe former Tibet had humanity and its civilians were very happy, but today's Tibet has no humanity and it's civilians are miserable, and have no human rights. I, as an old Tibetan, living half a lifetime in both old and new Tibet, was deeply surprised to hear these words, and I feel a responsibility to introduce some true facts drawn from my own experiences”. We read how before the peaceful liberation in 1951 serfs would have their eyes gouged out and would be used for target practice by their landlords. The thought of the repression of these poor people by a far more powerful and wealthy master is terrible. Thank goodness this has changed since the People's Republic of China were welcomed into Tibet in 1951.

Photos of Tibet: Click here
Slideshow: Click here