Diary of Lisa Taylor, reluctantly 42 (and a half)

Or.. 'f.ck me I'm forty.. two.. and a half', though can look 38 on a - not so deluded - good day. Or 'How to reconcile a well experienced mind trapped in a still - but for how long? – youthful body.' Don't have the 30somethings angst/problems, neither have the resigned (?) ageing baby-boomers in safe family territory outlook yet. Here's how I cope, one day all sexy women will get old... but never invisible. © Lisa Taylor 2005/6/7/8/9. Jeez.. so much for the 42 and-a-half delusion

Sunday, November 20, 2011

8 November - Apples & Potatoes

I could say I miss the office gym but …. the Himalayas kick butt more. But thank god at some point in my life I did enough lunges and squats because yesterday I walked (with a guide and another tourist) a round 22km , some of it uphill or downhill on dry riverbeds and mountain paths. I’d say the first two hours were easy-ish, through time forgotten villages, but when you get to the third and fourth hour and you have not had lunch yet, you do wish you could just go ‘Taxi!’, but then you have a second wind and you do another three and voila’ seven hours trek done. That’s on top of all the other walking , easily 6 or 8 km a day up and down to villages here and there. The other tourist, a dutch girl, has been in India for two weeks and she showed me her trousers are falling off her, and we were both marveling at the fact that we’re putting sugar in tea and coffee (never at home) and eat cakes and lots of starch and drink sprite. That’s sort of proof if we needed any that exercise burns more fat than sticking to diets. Actually the other western thing that’s missing is any alcohol. Nobody seems to drink, so the idea of a beer or a glass of wine doesn’t enter your head. Plus you don’ t snack. why go to a Spa when you can go to the himalayas heh?

Am glad boyf. is not with me initially as he would have objected to 10 hours on bumpy local buses on scary roads in the night (but that’s better than a week on the jubilee line as far as am concerned) and also to my sleeping habits, ie 12 hours a night. I could never achieve this degree of rest in London as would always have something to do and would feel guilty wasting time but since I have no master here, 12 hours it is. My next job would be one that starts at 11am I think since my ‘without alarm clock’ waking up time seems to be around 9am. er...that will never happen.

So in a day or two I will have enough energy to face another 10 or 12 hours on a scary bus on a bumpy road to go say hi to the Dalai Lama, he’s not there but his house is, in Dharamshala. then i'll do the same to go to Rishikesh and beyond . There are so called luxury Volvo coaches which are more comfortable especially if travelling at night but am here in low season so they don’t run them. Drat! Local bus it is, which resemble something you see on those documentaries about kids going to some village school in Africa, they were built the year I was born and the suspension pads never existed. And the roads get routinely washed away or the tarmac does and you're left with a muddy track. Sigh…. But a bit of yoga on arrival will sort out the achey spine.

So things you learn no. #55. The other day I stopped to buy a banana and 2 apples. The banana I know is 5 rupies, so when he asked for 30 for the apples I thought no way, this is where you GET apples, the whole region is apple orchards galore and 30 rupies is 50p which is massive for 2 apples in the apple region of india. So I left them, was in no mood to barter. Yesterday on the a 22km round trek with the guide, he was telling me that this year the crop of apples has been dismal. His father has an orchard and year before he produced 800 boxes of 20kg of apples and this year he got……………23 boxes of 20kg. so his father didn’t have apples to spare to give to him (bear in mind that they make cider from those and some other local potent brew). So me buying apples at 50p was no more than a tokyo dweller buying an orange back in the 80’s , astronomical. Guide also told me that prices are going up for Indians too. When a couple of years ago a kg of veg was 20p , now it’s edging towards a pound. I like finding out about economy. funny though as every single one has a mobile phone. and not just the cheapest nokia to talk only, approx 12 quid, but more advanced models. Which reminds me I spent a day and 8 quid to have one of my spare london handsets unlocked, doh. Except that this way I don't contribute to any child labour in a Congo mine to extract the minerals needed for mobile phone function. So there, smug or what, and i contributed to the local economy and skills practice since the guy doesn't get asked often to unlock a london phone and was chuffed he managed it.

Then we saw some massive quarry and asked ‘why/what’ . he said they’re starting construction of a 9km tunnel under massive mountains (currently it takes hours to go from 2,000m to double that where the pass is to continue on the other side and the road /pass is closed to traffic as of now because of snow/weather. ), the tunnel will take over 10 years to build. I said ‘exuse me but what do they produce in Ladak (the other side, 2 road days away). Do they have minerals? He said no, do they have oil?, he said no, gas? , he said no. So I asked what do you care then if they’re cut off for six months of the year, that was always so ….. it was kinda nice no? (all western townies long for some forgotten way of life but could only stand it themselves for a week max of course)

And the said in Ladak they produce practically all the potatoes that you eat in india!!!! But potatoes are cheap I argued, why spend zillions to make them available, when you can , I don’t know, ship them in from… Ireland? But he had no answer and thinking about it I don’t think the production of potatoes in Ireland or Italy or Poland or Germany could ever be enough to feed billions of Indians.

So now we know about apples and potatoes.

now for climate change. last year they had no snow here. No snow. that's like... scary! and the guide (born in 1980) says he has picture of the glacier when he was a teen and now and the glacier is well, considerably smaller . if you think about the fact that i rushed here from delhi because in early november they get tons of snow and therefore i would not have been able to get to the pass and instead not only is it not snowing, it's 28C during the day, you get an idea of weather patterns screwed up. However, i think Italy will destroy the world economy before we have to worry about disappearing snow. The last time the river here overflew and took out the entire road down to the valley was in 2004. now of course it's dry season still and there's a trickle of water but if no snow = no river = no er...lots of things, and no rubbish carried down to the sea also.

now for nationalities. the guide says the dutch always ask lots of questions about birds species and and nature and they love mountains presumably because their country is so flat. he didn't offer anything about other nations. he said the Israelis come here and don't want to trek. why we don't know, since er. you come here to trek or smoke. i offered that perhaps since they are obliged to do military service for 2 and a half years, when they are here they don't want to exercise but smoke and rave? he agreed. that was the end of nationalities/cliches. Apart from a story about some woman who suffered vertigo even walking on a path that was not overlooking a cliff or anything and kept crying but kept wanting to go on treks. He had to hold her hand all the time. Uhmmm...

oh , i had to laugh. we met the guy who accompanied the Himalaya/indian skiing team to the winter olympics in Turin a mere 6 years ago i think. bless. i saw the slopes here. they are er.. 1 slope in place called Solang Nallah. One slope, think a Red. ok so higher up there are others, and you can heli ski so if you're good you can be parachuted down to some glacier but no way is there the network of slopes we have in europe or america. not quite jamaican bob sleigh team but....

My guesthouse is nice but more than that seems to have the best food around. The food costs as much as the room but is worth it, and in light of the above economics of vegetables and fruit, the fact that my muesli with yogurt and fruit had the following on top is extraordinary: apples and bananas , standard, plus melon and pomegranate, exceptional. The chef makes a mean pasta arrabbiata sauce and a good pizza.

The essential thing though is that total quiet never exists anywhere. The place is full of stray dogs , all of india is since they don’t put down any creature. During the day the dogs are perfectly peaceful if manky and seeing 7 puppie at your feet when you drink tea is kind of cute, especially when a yak goes past, yes, one of those giant furry mountain bulls and the 7 puppies decide to bark at him and chase him. As if! Very funny. Then you go to bed at 9pm and w/o fail at 10 or 11 or 12, the dogs start some elaborate drama , dozens of them barking at each other or fighting since there is no human on the streets at that time. What the f? I wish I knew what sets them off. But at least am not under a canopy of trees inhabited by zillions of crow (that’s kerala and goa for you) or surrounded by hens and cockerels that cookadooodledoo at 3am (that was laos). The trusted earplugs that kept me sane from listening to ex colleague’s hour long phone conversations with her mother/sister/friends daily at work well here too. Never travel without plugs!

I have a lot more in common with the middle classes than I have with the poor despite some of my family thinking am here to seek some mother Theresa style mission. The guesthouse has a large collection of the india version of conde nast Traveller magazine which is highlighting tons of places India that are up and coming as opposed to the over-visited Rajasthans etc. plus reviews of chic hotels and restaurants up and down the country. I like, and it makes me laugh when I see a tourist board page ad for visiting…. Manchester. Check it out, it tells you could see lakes nearby, or go on a steam train or drink in fashionable bars, must be interesting if you’re a middle class Indian from Delhi looking to escape the heat there in summer.

The guest house library is also full of FHM magazines with great looking Indian guys and their six packs on the cover. The ads are super daring for these parts, ads for condoms, ads for nutritional supplements, (can’t get the six packs just with exercise don't ya know) and ads for fashion and grooming products, all correlated with half naked gorgeous Indian lady models . none of these people are to be seen on the streets, much as London is not full of Helena Christensens on the tube to work but still, how does the life of the magazine co-exist with the local women here who wear a blanket held together by broaches at the top , belted in the middle and plastic/rubber flat shoes and cardies ? necessary attire for spending hours in the woods collecting branches and grass to fill huge wicker baskets which to then carry home to store for fire or feeding cows in winter. then again some housing estate dweller in Glasgow has no thread in common with an ad in Glamour magazine so have given myself the answer already. Ain’t I clever?

But the quiet life here in the mountains is attractive up to a point. I will soon long for Mumbai and the scene. Am busy learning the names and faces of bollywood stars in case I come across them in real life. Half of them share the surname Khan, the other half are Kapoors and there are a few Chopras and one other surname i can't remember.

The gossip mags are full of them and they are more candid than our stars , they all comment negatively on the others, (example 'Goa is full of girls who look like Freida Pinto (she of Slumdog millionaire) says a MALE actor! how ungracious) but maybe that’s a bit like having Jordan calling Posh a moody cow or something so again, maybe the west is the same, long time since I read the National Enquirer.

November is the season of weddings, 20 in the past two weeks alone am told in old manali village which holds 2 or 3000 people. That’s a lot. Have seen various processions but think they were the ones to bless houses rather than seeing any brides or grooms. Thank god here they don't subscribe to the notion of dowry which is widespread in the rest of india and is themost appalling thing. Should be outlawed as far as am concerned, much as throwing yourself on the funeral pyre of your husband is outlawed since the sixties or seventies thanks to Indira Ghandi (I think)

I’ve seen various old mills to grind flour using the power of rushing mountain streams in action. I have seen similar in Italy but I guess if you were 20 years younger than me you wouldn’t have. It’s no longer done. Same for seeing various old ladies spinning wool on those spools or using machines to make carpets, I remember my gran spooling sheep's wool under her portico but don’t think any of my ‘nieces’ would have seen similar as their mothers are my friends and or mothers never did, it was already a lost skill. Same as killing and plucking a chicken. Yewwwwww. One of my grans did as lived in small town so rural habits still persisted in the sixties, and I was obliged occasionally to assist in the plucking. Double yewwwww.

anyway, back to reading a novel or two.

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