Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2



It has been a little while since my last newsletter, but don't worry, I don't think this will be one of my epics, sighs of relief from all, including me.

Since my arrival in Nepal I have once again being my best to take it easy much of the time. Several things that I find particularly appealing about Nepal, particularly Kathmandu are: - western style food available (rather good steaks in particular), friendly local folks, plentiful supply of well stocked book shops, recent films being shown in restaurants and some good drinking haunts. As you will no doubt appreciate I have done my best to do justice to each of these assets. Since my arrival here, I have read copious quantities of books (twenty-three in the past six weeks) and purchased a variety more to keep me going for a while. This is probably an appropriate space to recommend "Freedom in Exile" the Dalai Lamas autobiography which I found to be informative and entertaining.

For the first while I spent in Kathmandu, I spent the time generally chilling out, enjoying the facilities, waiting for my Indian visa to be processed and also attending services for the Jewish New Year at the Israeli Embassy. In that time I also managed to meet several people I had previously met in Tibet. On my first night here Bianca, who I had originally met in Lhasa and myself ended up going to a night-club. The music and rules were dragging the atmosphere through the floor so we took the piss out of the security in order that they lighten up (one of the stupid rules was that no-one was allowed to touch the handrail around the dance-floor), which seemed to work. Then I went to have words with the DJ, telling him that I had worked at Ministry of Sound (which had the little Nepali in awe of me). I proceeded to try and put together the start of a set (from his horrendous collection of music) that would liven things up a bit. This I did and as I left the DJ booth he was almost in tears at my departure calling out "please don't leave me" as he played the tracks I had told him to. The next half-hour or so went rather well, the westerners were all enjoying it and then he slipped back to the same sort of crap he had previously been playing. Oh well, at least I tried but some folk don't learn. A few days later I met an English bloke called Dale as we were watching the football together in a pub, after a while we got talking to another Brit. When I introduced myself with hand extended she shook it with her left hand, this didn't particularly phase me, and when Dale introduced himself she did so again. He wasn't too impressed by this use of her left hand so asked "What's wrong with your other hand?"

She then held up her other arm which ended in a stump and said quite matter of factly "Sorry, I've only got the one".
Dale blanched a little and didn't say anything until Katie went to the loo and I thanked him for saying that instead of me, as I know that I would have felt very stupid putting my foot in my mouth like that. He mumbled something to the effect of "I can't believe I said that".

Dale and I decided to meet to go to Durbur square (the religious centre of Kathmandu) the following day for Daisin, the biggest festival of the year, when they were supposed to be slaughtering large numbers of livestock. We got there to see several pools of fresh blood in front of shrines, fake Saddhus running around for tourists to take photos of them (and then charge them for the privilege) and that was about it. After having a look over the sight for a little while, and being informed by various locals that nothing was going to be happening, we went back to out hotels. Later we heard a new version, that the sacrificing was going to be taking place at midnight so a bunch of us went back down to the square to see some slaughtering. This time we were told that it was all going on behind closed doors in the Kumari's (living Goddess) palace. Once again we went away disappointed but we also noticed that there was a lot more blood around in front of the various shrines than had been there earlier. The following day, Dale and I were walking through the streets here in Thamel (the main backpacker area) practically tripping over cobras on every corner as the snake charmers were out in force due to the holiday. As we were wandering around I noticed Jamie and Kat walking towards us (who I hadn't seen since getting drunk with them on the sofa at Paul's in Chengdu). We went off for a drink together and were chatting about various bits when they mentioned how they had gone along to Durbar square earlier and for some reason they were sacrificing all these animals, something they didn't expect. I told them what lucky bastards they were for having stumbled across unintentionally and unwillingly what we had been actively searching for.

Dale and I decided to go off to Chitwan National Park and got a cheap organised tour to take us. This included our food, accommodation and various activities. The main reason we went was to see Rhinos. Dale had never seen a Rhino outside a zoo before and I wanted to complete the Rhino set, having seen both Black and White rhinos in Africa, I only needed the Asian rhino to complete the set. On our first afternoon we were taken to see the elephant stables and also a traditional Terai village, with our guide. As our ticket included various activities we thought we'd get our monies worth. I was surprised at how much uglier the Indian elephants are than there African and Thai counterparts. We then had a nice dinner and were taken off to see the "Traditional Dancing" which was generally more amusing than interesting, at the end several participants were dragged out the audience to take part, Dale once again making a fool of himself. The following morning we were woken early to go for a canoe ride and walk, the canoeing being done by some hired help, we actually had to do the walking ourselves. On this excursion we saw a variety of bird-life, some interesting insects and some deer. We went back had a nice lunch and then later were taken for our elephant ride when we were guaranteed to see rhinos. After some time uncomfortably perched on our elephant we spotted one, several tourist-laden elephants descended on the poor creature which promptly bolted, out Mahout gave chase but we lost the rhino. We then headed off in another direction, after a while I spotted something behind a bush, not quite sure what it was. I instructed our Mahout to go and check it out. When we got there it turned out to be another rhino which was much more relaxed as there was only our, and one other elephant there. The rhino was a lot more armoured looking than either the Black or White rhinos I had seen in Africa. We felt our mission was accomplished. That was it for that day, the following day we got up early for a bird watching walk and sure enough saw a whole range of bird-life, we then got the bus on to Pokhara to do a bit of trekking.

We had decided to do the Annapurna Base Camp trek (also known as the sanctuary trek). The most popular trek being the Annapurna circuit (or half of it), this is a shorter trek, yet quite intensive and those I have spoken to subsequently who have done the base camp and the circuit say that it is apparently much more taxing. We agreed at the start that we go at our own paces and if we stop in the same places so be it, if not, we'll meet on the way down. We also decided to carry our own stuff as there is not that much needed and a guide is unnecessary. The start of the trek is from a small village called Phedi and there is a flight of stone stairs that disappears into the mountainside. These stairs reach on for seven or eight hundred vertical metres. As a start it is bloody tiring, before you dismiss it too lightly think of it as climbing up the stairs to the Petronas towers (the tallest building in the world). Then when you get to the top, going up the same distance again. Needless to say it was rather bloody tiring. Dale took off much quicker than I did and I ended up meeting other people who were going at a similar pace to me. By the end of the first day there I was pretty tired and for the next few days things didn't improve. Much of the walk is through quite thick forest so there are not often good views. The walking itself involves climbing up and down generally over reasonable paths. When I got to the base camp, I went the last couple of hours very slowly as there was an excellent view of Machapuchare, "Fish Tail Mountain". As I was walking through the valley towards the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) a thick amount of cloud followed me and at several points it framed Machapuchare within a ring of cloud, very nice. I got to the ABC about two in the afternoon having climbed thirteen hundred vertical metres that day. Unfortunately, there was a fair amount of cloud so I could see nothing of the sanctuary. I was a little light headed from the climb in altitude, but mostly I was cold. I dressed very warmly and went and chatted to some folks in the canteen. After a few hours I went to sleep early, wearing my thermals, fleece gloves and a balaclava (looking like a cold terrorist. I woke after a little while and had a look outside where it was snowing heavily, not sure at the time if that was a good or bad thing. In the morning I got up to have a look at the "Sanctuary" with the clear dawn light. The snow had made the whole scene incredibly beautiful; it lay thickly on the buildings and ground as well as on the mountains. The valley I had walked through that had looked rather brown was now a pearl white and the snow made it appear that one was surrounded three-hundred and sixty degrees by tall mountains. The name "The Sanctuary" started to make real sense now, as it appeared one was cut off from the rest of civilisation with Annapurna One towering away at over eight thousand metres in front of us.

From there I decided to head back quite quickly, I had made it an objective to try and reach Pokhara again within two days. So I set myself quite a fast pace heading back (which for much of it is no easier than heading up). After a full days walk I got to Chomrong (probably the largest village on the trek) that evening, which involved a long climb up to it. However, when I got there, there was no room at any of the places. I carried on walking until I eventually found somewhere around the back of the mountain and part way down the other side. By this point it had got dark and I had managed to follow some odd path for a short while before realising it wasn't the right one. The following morning I set off again at a fair pace, at one tea house where I stopped for a drink I began speaking with a school teacher / shop keeper from one of the villages I had just passed. He told me there was an easier way to get to Pokhara than the one was going to do, furthermore as he was heading that way, he'd show me it. So I set off with him and some other villagers he was walking with. One of these was an older woman who had probably broken her leg. As there are understandably inadequate medical facilities in the mountains she was being taken to Pokhara hospital by her family. This meant her sitting in a chair strapped inside a basket (as she obviously couldn't walk on the leg) whilst three men took it in turn to take her, with a strap that went on their head. A little way on from where I had met the party the paths diverged (the one the tourists take from the one locals do). We went over undulating mountain for a couple of hours more (much better than the descent which would have been murder on my already tired knees. There were also spectacular views of much of the Annapurna range of mountains. When we eventually reached the road we were lucky enough to be able to get straight onto a bus which then went down for twenty minutes before we passed Phedi, where I had started my trek. This guy told me that he had never been to Phedi, despite having lived in the mountains all his life, as it was a much more difficult starting point. Getting on the bus and getting back to Pokhara was a real relief. It was nice to have a proper hot shower and a nice bed. I relaxed there the next day and checked my e-mail finding out that Klaus whom I had spent a week with in Pakistan was currently in Kathmandu but leaving in a couple of days, so I booked a bus back to Kathmandu for the following day.

That evening Klaus and I met at Tom & Jerry’s a pub in Thamel. We had several beers and a lot to catch up on, not having seen each other for about four months. We ended up being out until dawn the next morning getting rather drunk. That day we went and saw a couple of the sights in Kathmandu. Firstly the Bouddinath stupa, apparently the worlds largest stupa. Then later we went to the monkey temple, which is also rather impressive. We met later and had a couple of drinks, but Klaus was leaving early the following morning and we were both still a bit wasted from the previous night. So, once again we said our goodbyes.

Over the time since I have met several people, some new and some from before the trek and had a number of good nights out, which has slowed my departure from Nepal. There were also the Diwali celebrations that seemed to involve kids going around the shops singing at people until they gave them money to go away. There were also bangers constantly going off in the streets and some bands wandering around, one on the back of a truck and also a long candlelit procession that passed my hotel as I was leaving and I inadvertently got caught up in for a short while.

Now however I have decided to finally push on and I plan to go to India tomorrow or the day after at the latest. So once again that brings you mostly up to date. Keep well and keep in touch Raphael



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