Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Land of the Thunder Dragon. Land of Studio Ghibli.

Bhutan. Its like stepping back in time as well as going half a world away, but with a kind of modern outlook and modern day appreciation of old traditions. Most of the country is national park, there is a great respect for natural resources and the traditional way of life. It is so picturesque, if anywhere in the world was like walking into a Studio Ghibli movie, visiting Bhutan is. I half expect the racoons (of which i've seen none) to talk and Laputa to appear in the sky. The fields of rice are yellow like The Golden fields of Nausicaa, and the clouds roll in over the mountains and the mist covers the prayer flags in the morning. I've never been anywhere like it. So peaceful and... happy.
YET Heavy metal still lives! Our tour guide Thimley loves Metallica and i saw a kid in a Cradle of Filth t-shirt today. I threw him the horns from our bus.
We're now in Thimphu, 2 hour drive from Paro. Along the drive the landscape is just so majestic and beautiful, buildings like the bath house in Spirited Away, but all in White and red, sometimes with gold on the roofs. The people are so smiley, although i think slightly bewildered, and maybe even nonchalant about tourists now and again. The Bhutanese policy towards tourists is low number, high value.
Talking of value, i bought my "national dress" (which everyone has to wear in Bhutan to work or school or they get thrown out the building, but it does actually seem to be the preferred dress of most people anyway). It set me back $85 for the skirt, jacket and belt. But we bought it from the place where the skirts were being weaved, and i wanted to dress for the Tsechu tomorrow. Some of those skirts take 4 months to weave so i can't say that my plain one was bad value.
High value. Low number.
The weather is alpine, beautiful sun, refreshing rain, and everything is so green. I tried momo's today ( think that's how they're spelt) - Cheese dumplings! Yum!
Talking of food, its nearly 7pm here and i'm really hungry - so i'm gonna go eat. Food prediction: Rice, chillis, Vegtables.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu, Everest and arrival in Bhutan

*n.b. Before reading this you must understand that there should have been a blog from Kathmandu yesterday, and although i wrote it, i could not send it because o2 doesn't seem to have any service here in the Himalayas, so my good plans of keeping my online diary and letting you know about my travels have already reached a large impediment. I will post the first blog at a later date when i have coverage.

So here i am sitting in the hotel in Paro, Bhutan typing this blog from the hotel computer behind reception where i've made friends with the 3 girls who would on the desk. One of them is called Nobru and is 23 and married with a son who is 1 year old. One of the girls is my age. She has 2 children. The girls are asking why my family isn't with me. I have explained i have no children, so i think they mean you Mum and Dad!
I have gone from very hot this morning in Kathmandu to rainy cool and alpine here this evening in Paro. But let me tell you about my day.
Our hotel in Kathmandu, Dwarikas, was very "premium" and constituted from pieces of older buildings and temples. Its really quite enchanting, but maybe 20mins out of the centre of Kathmandu, that i have yet to visit.
It was however rather near the river where the Nepalese conduct funeral rites by the Pashupatinath Temple.
So nearly all the group left Kathmandu for Bhutan at about 6am this morning, apart from 3 of us who were booked on a later flight. This may seem very odd, but The Royal Bhutan Druk air (I keep wanting to call it Drudkh air) do as they please. They are the only airline that fly to Bhutan, and you will fly when they say you will fly. So Tessa, Jayne and i flew out from Kathmandu this afternoon, which enabled us to have a bit of a sleep in, which was much needed, and to visit the Pashupatinath temple this morning.
The sun was really scorching this morning as we walked out of our hotel past ramshackle buildings and hoards of electric/communication cables stringing along the streets, cows, kids, beeping mopeds and buses with people hanging off the sides. It took us a little while to find our way, but it wasn't far and we made it down to the river where the bodies are burnt. It costs money to get in for tourists. I assume they tell who are tourists by looking at the colour of skin. We were accosted by a few people wanting to guide us before we got there, then once were paid of a ticket we kinda picked up a chap named Krisna who had been working there for 25 years (i assume he must have started there pretty young) who talked us through everything, Hinduism, Shiva, Kali, Sacrifice, Burning bodies, His personal social/political views, how many monkeys there are in Kathmandu (2000), Gurus, Sidhus etc. Pashupatinath was bigger than we expected and we didn't have all the time in the world, as you have to be at the airport 3 hours early for flights to Bhutan, by order of Drudkh air. Sorry, Druk air.
Monkey run wild, bodies are burnt, (i saw just the toes left) important people get burnt to the left of the bridge, more ordinary people to the right, but everyone can reach Nirvana if they have a funeral pyre at Pashupatinath. Its such a well desired end that there are several old people's homes in the complex, one of them run by the nuns of Mother Theresa. We went to meet some of the old people, bless 'em. I said Namaste and got some toothless grins, but mainly i dont think they noticed us at all until we made a somewhat compulsory donation.
Because it was a Monday, it was sacrifice day apparently, but we arrived too late to see the duck/chicken (not dog, monkey, or cow - if you eat/kill one of them you'll be reborn a women!! No!!!) being killed, we only saw it's pooled blood.
It was a festival day today in Kathmandu too, celebrating overcoming demons. Everyone had a tiki, and i didn't realise this until later that this was to make you lucky in love. I didn't get one. Ugh! Fail!
Anyway, after wandering round the temple with our guide Krisna and watching some bodies burn, and some kids and mothers bathe in the river opposite the bodies as the ashes fell into the water, we had to get back to the hotel to meet our lift to the airport. It was really pretty hot, and i was sweaty and tired. When we got to the airport Drudkh air was not ready to check us in yet, so we waited around for a while. I tried to get reception on my blackberry from the airport WIFI (wifey) no luck.
Anyway, after more forms, more paperwork and multiple frisking and bag searches, and a delay of about an hour during which i dropped off to sleep we were off! To Bhutan!
We managed to get a window seat on the right hand side of the plane, and not only were we afforded a fantastic view of Kathmandu as we flew away, but magnificent view of Everest! Awesome! Its almost level with the plane as you fly past peeking above the clouds. Everest! The highest mountain in the world! Quite spectaculour! And i've seen the top!
Then landing in Bhutan, only a 50 minute flight, but what a flight. Coming into Bhutan (Paro) airport is jaw dropping. You wind inbetween mountains all green and forested with the odd red and white house or temple dotted into the landscape and then you land at what looks like a temple. The airport is infact designed like a temple, and the immigration is like an altar! Not to mention the chap that goes round measuring your temperature to see if you have swine flu and whether you're allowed in or not. Everyone (working) wears national dress in Bhutan. Men in tunics to the knee and knee high socks, and women in long straight skirts and jackets. I've never been anywhere like it in my life. Its straight out of a studio Ghibli movie. Really enchanting. So now i've just had dinner and found a computer, and i'm going to go and crash out. We go to the capital Thimphu tomorrow and i want to get rid of a bit of jetlag and be on top form for choosing my national dress and finding out more about this amazing, isolated place.
So i hope i'll be able to find another computer soon.
Tashi delek!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Kathmandu - for the first time!

I'm lying in bed in Dwarika's in Kathmandu, and I can't sleep, and my phone has no reception. So this blog is surely going to appear late.
Before I start telling you about this amazing place I've arrived at, let me first tell you about the journey. I spent the flight from London to Delhi with two Mamagi Grannies on their way home. We had some very smiley conversations even though they didn't speak any english and I don't speak any gujerati. Shamefully I didn't even know (still don't) if its gugerati they were speaking. I also spent the flight watching The Hangover, trying to sleep and oogling a guy a few rows ahead of me on the flight who had the most gorgeous arms/face/hair hahahaha
Anyway, before leaving London I'd met most of our group and already hit it off with Tessa who reminds me of my mum (hello mum!) www.tessapullen.co.uk and so when we got to Delhi to wait for our flight to Kathmandu Tessa, Jayne, Toni and I were hanging out. They said I should go and talk to the man with nice everything - but I'm pretty timid when it comes to approaching guys y'know...But ladies together are pushy... And then I kid you not, one of the airport staff came up to me and said "the man you are looking for is downstairs" I said "sorry?"
Thinking cynically I thought this was some kind of ambush, but Tessa took me by the arm and frog marched me to the downstairs departure gate, and sure enough there was the chap, waiting for the flight for Kathmandu. So Tessa asked him if it was at the right gate for Kathmandu then left me there to talk to this chap called Emil, who is Swedish and going to be a rafting guide in Nepal for 3 months.
We switched seats so we could sit next to each other for the flight, and all I can say about that is that I hope we will see each other again before I leave for London.
Now that's more "personal" info than I usually put on my blog but I know a few readers who will want to know this stuff and it was just so strange that I had to mention it before I speak about anything else.
My first 3 hours in India spent in Delhi airport I didn't get to see much. When I walked out with Emil to get the next flight I was hit my a huge wave of heat that I hadn't realised anything about in the terminal. It was 30degrees there or more, and it seemed quite flat and lush. The flight to Katmandu was maybe 2 hours in a smaller plane than London-Delhi. I had been told by the air hostess on the flight from L.A. earlier this year that landing in Kathmandu was an amazing experience. Unfortunatley it was pretty cloudy coming in to Nepal, but you could still see the huge tree covered hills rising out of the clouds with little houses dotted about. It looked so fantastic it was truley hard to take in, and still feel like its unreal.
Upon arrival in the airport that Emil thinks looks like a military bunker we're greeted with hand painted signs about Swine Flu and people in masks and an extra form to fill out asking whether we feel short of breath. Then there's the visa application and arrival form to fill out. The paper is very thin and my pen kept going through it. The visa application centre has no computers and long queues. I make friends with some french old boys going up a mountain. Emil and I are taking bets on which group of mountaineers look most likely to succeed with their escapades. The three Germans look like a good bet. Its humid and overcast in Kathmandu and not so hot as Delhi. I go through the pleasant confusion of getting a visa where the chap behind the desk likes my name very much and tries to let me jump the queue but the lady with the stapler and scissors gets a bit mad with him.
After picking up paddles and saying goodbye we're hearded off to our bus and greeted with scarves and a welcome to Nepal. I saw a bus with its roof covered in goats and monkeys, wild, sitting on the fence and fumes rising from the funeral pyres. What a mad place! We arrive at the hotel about 4pm, and I'm sorry to say I haven't seen much more of Katmandu yet. But this hotel is a wonder! Constitued from pieces of other old buildings its red brick and wood carving and trees and vines and really pretty enchanting. I jumped in the pool as soon as I could, then we ate dinner at the hotel and I got tired and went to bed! Having not slept on the flight though, its understandable. But now its the middle of the night and I'm awake. So I'm gonna give sleep another try now, as we leave for Bhutan tomorrow and I don't want to miss a thing!

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Saturday, 26 September 2009


My mum says she's never seen me so excited about anything. With excitement comes nerves. And I am very nervous. My mums worried that I'm so excited it will be a dissapointment. I'm worried now that I've started on this adventure that it will be over too soon.
So here I am sitting here in the departure lounge waiting for the flight. I'm with my new friend Tessa who's talking to her daughter on the phone about make up she had to buy her in duty free.
There's a load of Princes trust women on this flight who's matching tshirts say that they're changing young people's lives. Thing I've noticed about female Prince's trust volunteers - they all wear sensible knickers and zippy off trousers I despise (no I still don't have a pair of zippy trousers)
There's a lady with purple hair in my group. They all seem good fun.
I'm getting less nervous now after eating Toblerone. It'll be my first time in India - if only for a few hours in Delhi before leaving for Kathmandu.
Still can't think straight about all this. I'm going to Kathmandu! Hahaha wooo!

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Where am i going exactly?

Whilst i sip on my mint and camomile tea in my comfy bed safe(!) in London and think on what i've forgotten to do before i leave on holiday, i thought i might take 5 mins to post some pictures of things i might see over the next couple of weeks.

I will be updating this blog from my travels by email, and i may be able to drop in a photo or two on http://www.talitatwoshoes.tumblr.com/ but really i just want to keep a travel diary so that i can remember the adventures.

So as a prelude:











If i ever ever think that life is unfair or that i have a rough deal, i am very foolish.
I can only hope its even a tenth of how amazing it looks in these photos.
I am a very lucky girl.

Monday, 21 September 2009


So it's the Monday before the trip. 5 days to go, and an earthquake has just hit Bhutan. Apparently the epicentre was 110 miles east of Thimphu where i will be going next week.
It measured 6.3 on the Richter scale, and apparently has caused damage to temples and blocked roads, but there are no reports of large-scale damage, so at the moment i'm still heading to Bhutan next week.
Strangely enough, there was an earthquake the day before i arrived in L.A. this year too. I'm beginning to feel like a harbinger of doom.

Friday, 18 September 2009


Its recently occured to me that i'm visiting the area that has mythically been called Shangri-La. Shangri-La. A fictional place? Like a Utopia.

I remember studying Thomas Moore's Utopia at school. Utopia meaning No place. An ideal.
I'm not an idealist. I've never thought of going to Tibet as some ideal, perfect forbidden city. It's a long way from that these days. I think i even expect to be saddened by how unlike the garden of eden it once was painted like it is in present day.
Thomas Moore's Utopia depicted his ideal political system and state, the best kind of republic.
I'm not sure Shangri-La had the same connotations, but its ironic if it did, as apparently Tibet (Tibet Autonomous region) , China and Pakistan have all claimed that Shangri-La was within their geographical boundaries.
Shangri-La was described in the 1933 novel 'Lost Horizon' by James Hilton, a book which i intend to read on holiday! The phrase "Shangri-La" most probably comes from the Tibetan ཞང་,"Shang - a district of Tsang, north of Tashilhunpo" + རི, pronounced "ri", "Mountain" = "Shang Mountain" + ལ, Mountain Pass, which suggests that the area is accessed to, or is named by, "Shang Mountain Pass".

Some think Bhutan is the last 'Shangri-La' now because of its unspoilt nature.

Some think Shangri-La is a state of mind.

I never thought i was going on a search for Shangri-La, i've heard of people doing that. I'm sure it was something that was really popular in the 1970's! But in some ways that's exactly what this is!

One week to go. I can still hadly think about it for being so moved.

Its nice to dream, some say its one of the things that differenciates humans from animals. But i think cats dream, and dogs dream, and orangutangs dream... animals dream.

But i dont think any of them are so stupid or naieve to dream of a Utopia. Wishful thinking. It's beautiful.

So much of my current life is taken up with thinking of 'the fall' and the temptation rather than the idea of the Garden of Eden.

Sex, drugs and rock n roll - i'm sure its some people's ideal, but it wasn't the Utopian place that has been dreamt of in this literature, and in sober moments i'm sure its not what metalheads would really want.

I'm a pretty sober person, who's practical, not so much a dreamer as a do-er.

So here i am going to the mythical Shangri-La. Will i dispell a myth? Or will i find out how what came before 'the fall' was so much better than the aftermath.

In terms of the myth of the Garden of Eden, the innocence Adam and Eve were supposed to have before Eve bit into the apple from the tree of knowledge... that kind of innocence of being un-aware - that doesn't seem like paradise to me. Ignorance, one of the 3 major poisons in Buddhism (Ignorance, Hatred and Lust). Ignorance, something we were meant to aspire to when wanting to return to a Garden of Eden like state.
The apple Eve took - from the Tree of knowledge of Good and Evil - that made (hu)man aware of lust, sin etc.
I have most surely partaken in that most dichordant apple as a daughter of Eve, but surely its only when you've seen that can you appreciate Utopia/Shangri-La - i dunno, do people in Bhutan think that they're in paradise?
And is it true that once you've partaken in the apple you can never return? And would you really want to if you could?
Well i'm getting on a plane in a week, i'm not ....returning! I'm just visiting.
And i can't wait.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Are you ready?

Are you ready?

23 days to go! Am I ready? The easy answer is no. But I’m getting there.
In my mind I had a plan. I always have a plan. I planned that before I left for Tibet I would have read all the Tibet-related books on my shelves and understood some of the Buddhist philosophy I’ve been trying to understand, or more believe than understand. Such as “The Tibetan book of living and dying” by Sogyal Rinpoche. Which I haven’t got through… yet. And I can’t say I totally ‘get’ yet.
“Learning to live is learning to let go”
I understand the concept. But I am wary of one line generalisations. But it’s a good one. But you have to first hold on to things in order to have something to let go of.
I think its all well and good basing things in the mind and knowing that everything you do and see is filtered through your mind, and that mind is capricious etc and essentially unreal… but I want action. I am a girl of action. This year I wanted to take action, get things done tick them off the list. Accomplish. DO… stuff.
It says at the beginning of “The Tibetan book of living and dying” that there are different types of laziness and procrastination… those that sit around doing nothing, and those that fill their days with things to do avoiding whats important. Buzzing with things and avoiding the issue. But surely its a good feeling, ticking things off the list - like starting physio, or sorting out old boxes of books... etc.
And too much sitting around thinking makes me sad.
Introspection makes me sad. Doing makes me happy. Maybe i'm never gonna be a Buddhist.
Maybe that's not a bad thing.
Am i ready?
In my mind this trip is a big deal on every level. Not just financial, but personal, spiritual, physical, mental - definitely mental.
I've been thinking i should prepare myself, prepare my mind, but either i'm avoiding it or procrastinating or both - cause i'm not getting through these books very quick and i still haven't finished my injections! Or my insurance!
And now i'm avoiding cracking on cause i'm writing a fucking blog!
I better go... or i'm gonna end up shouting at myself!!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Hip hip hooray


I was born with dislocated hips. When i was little i used to have to have to see a specialist. He was old and called Dr. Catterell. I had to see him every Friday, then every year, then every 5 years, then i stopped when i was 18. I guess Dr. Catterell is probably dead now, and i was never really that troubled by my hip problems - partly because i never really did any sport, and partly because i thought it was part of me being 'special'. Seriously. I think part of me was like 'oooh Talita, you are special cause you're hips dont work so well'
My sister also had dislocated hips, when she was born they put her in plaster and her hips set, the end. When i was in utereo my mum could hear my hips clicking so she knew i too had dislocated hips although the docs poo-hoo'ed her sure enough when i popped out my little legs were all over the place. The docs put me in a frog splint, which my mum knew was wrong, and complained and they gave her a kind of 'shut up nervous mum' attitude, but she could still hear my hips clicking, so she knew it wasn't right. After 6 months my hips hadn't set so they then put me in plaster and after i was a year it was all ok.
Obviously i don't remember this myself - this is the story so it goes.

Apparently with congenital dislocated hips-
" Some studies suggest a hormonal link. Specifically the hormone relaxin has been indicated.
A genetic factor is indicated by the trait running in families and increased occurrence in some ethnic populations (e.g. native Americans, Lapps/ Sami people). A locus has been described on chromosome 13. Beukes familial dysplasia, on the other hand, was found to map to an 11-cM region on chromosome 4q35. With nonpenetrant carriers not affected."

I don't know what a nonpenetrant carrier is, but i'm not Native American, Lapp or Sami.

Anyway, now and again throughout my life i've come into difficulty. Now and again one hip or the other would completely give way. But mostly its no problem. Just clicky clicky clicky.

But then again i have never been a sporty person. Partly because of laziness, partly because of embarrassement, partly because sometimes you have a choice of sport of music and i chose music and partly because lacrosse sucks.

However i do LOVE rollerskating. I have always loved rollerskating. I had a big 10 year break in rollerskating after i ruined both my knees skating outdoors down primrose hill with no knee pads and getting a twig stuck between my wheels.

I joined London Rollergirls 2 years ago. I wanted to skate more. As you can see from the little photo of me at the rollerdisco though, my knees bend inwards and i look a bit odd. Apparently i have been compensating for my hips through my knees etc for a long time. Not suprisingly when it came to crossovers i found them really difficult. In my own way i paid no attention though and just thought i was 'special' cause of my hips and that i would find a way round it.

I left London Rollergirls before Christmas as i was having more and more pain in my hips and i didn't have the time. I put of going for physio, then i got on a waiting list. Then my hips got a whole lot worse after the 14hr flight from Buenos Aires and i had an x-ray. Then after swapping docs and another wait, i eventually had physio yesterday for the first time ever.

I'm not sure they did physio so much in the 80's when i was little, but i learnt alot in a short space of time yesterday and had a bit of a shock. I mean, i guess i never thought about it all too much, but the muscles around my hips are shockingly bad apparently and i have been compensating in different ways for a long time - making my knees go bendy inwards (hence my duck waddle walk), using my ribcage and arms to get up more than my pelvis muscles etc.

So no i have 2 exercises i have to do 20 times a day, and then i have to go back in 2 weeks. She says i'll be able to skate and run and swim breaststroke again in 6 months if i'm good, but that i need to improve my muscletone and that now's the time to do it before i end up with arthritis.

So hip hip hooray for physio. Although it hurts a bit. Another thing i'm gonna get done in 2009. Honest guv.