Sunday, May 22, 2005

who should you vote for (a bit late, I know!)?

I wish 'd found this before the election as it may actually have encouraged me to vote.

However, it does not take into account local goverment policies, which is, effectively, what you are voting for... all to complicated for me!



Who Should You Vote For?

Who should I vote for? v2

Your expected outcome:

Liberal Democrat


Your actual outcome:



Labour -6
Conservative -23
Liberal Democrat 25
UK Independence Party -2
Green 6


You should vote: Liberal Democrat

The LibDems take a strong stand against tax cuts and a strong one in favour of public services: they would make long-term residential care for the elderly free across the UK, and scrap university tuition fees. They are in favour of a ban on smoking in public places, but would relax laws on cannabis. They propose to change vehicle taxation to be based on usage rather than ownership.

Take the test at Who Should You Vote For

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

time standing still...

I had planned to use these few days between trekking and my flight home up at the Last Resort, a tranquil little place out of the Kathmandu Valley where such relaxing and rejuvenating activities as bungee jumping, canyoning and rafting can be undertaken.

While I am certainly not interested in bungee, or, for that matter, some other weird jumping off high thing whilst being attached to a rope (save the bouncing around for ages afterwards), I would thoroughly enjoy canyoning - essential, rappelling or abseiling down into a canyon, swimming, dossing around, and then rafting/canoeing out - and really wanted to give rafting a go whilst in the rafting capitol of the world!

However, due to circumstances out of my control, i have been unable to fulfil these last ambitions of Nepal. Firstly, I wanted to stick around and play tour guide to a couple of the others who finished the trek with me and who hadn't seen much of Kathmandu beforehand. Secondly, having left a few bits and pieces with out trekking company in Kathmandu (namely my laptop, passport and plane tickets...), I was reluctant to leave for more fun and frolics before relocating my valuables (so to speak). Today, I finally have my laptop back, though no passport and tickets. I am reliably informed, however, that they will be brought to my hotel when someone comes to pick me up to take me to the airport for my flight - at little bit last minute for my liking, but there is no arguing with these people! And thirdly - I am simply too ill to move very far from a toilet; I know - not a nice concept - but brutal honesty is my middle name, as most of you, no doubt, know. Oh yeah - and fourthly (not sure I've got that high before!) - I leant my wifi card from my laptop to a local bar owner who was trying to set up a free wireless access point in his pub, and I am still waiting to get it back...

So there it is. I'm stuck in Kathmandu. Up until today, however, this had been a pleasure as I had been showing Matt (friend from trekking) and Ruth (random chick we met in the Hotel) around the major sights. Did the regular ones again, and finally managed to visit Pashupatinath - a religious site (aren't they all - I am just about templed out already!) down on the river, where they cremate their bodies.

I say "cremate" - what I actually mean is BURN - they do so in open fires on little "pires" by the side of the river. When all is done, a little man with a stick and a bucket chucks the ashes into the river - the same river where people are having full on baths and washing their clothes just metres away. Seriously - I have photos to prove it! Very peculiar.

Matt and I were rather unimpressed with Pashupatinath. The buildings are all a bit dilapidated, the gardens are rather unkempt and there is litter, detritus and filth just about everywhere you look. I can't imagine St. Paul’s in London would be very popular if we let it get such a state!

These last few days in Kathmandu have been mostly spent, despite the above, panicking about my return to the UK: not only have I got finals to worry about (and believe me, worrying I am), I have received a torrent of emails about various matters which need dealing with NOW! Mostly, it seems i have missed the deadline to "apply to sit my final exams". I couldn't believe it when I read this email - who wouldn't want to sit their final exams having spent 5 long years building up to them?! I think more the point is the Registry - sorry, that should be Education Directorate - have forgotten who is doing an extra year and who should be graduating this year! There are also numerous bits of work and assessment forms that need handing in, most of which i haven't done yet, and without which I will not be allowed to sit my finals.

Then there is all the graduation ceremony nonsense I am supposed to have done already (I have actually done all this online now, but it doesn't seem to make me feel much better>>>). I have to pay 250 quid just to sit for hours and wait for my name to be called, trudge to the front, all embarrassed, and collect a fake scroll of paper, all whilst wearing silly clothes I have to pay MORE to hire. And what's more - my parents are going to be there! It's all for them I suppose - they have waited quite a while and paid an awful lot to get me this far. And they are just chomping at the bit to finally complete their embarrassing photo collection - I'm sure, as I type, Mother is clearing a space next to my Brother's graduation photograph, and simultaneously thinking what she's going to wear (not possible just to do one thing at once, you see!)

Ho hum. I suppose I can console myself with the thought that hopefully (touch wood) it will all be over in just a few months and I can piss off on holiday before the trudge of the Real World and a Job kick in in August.

And on that merry note - I'm not nearly as miserable as I make out, you know (I'm actually quite fun really) - I shall toddle off!

Maybe more later - i have a good few hours to while away in the departure lounge at Abu Dhabi...!

TFN (is anyone actually still reading this -please leave comments!)

Nx

Sunday, April 17, 2005

I didn’t get shot or fall off anything - oh hang on I did…!

Mother’s prime concerns about my trek in the Himalaya were that I’d either be inadvertently shot by Maoist rebels or I would fall off some high thing; it is her job to worry, after all! While we didn’t meet any Maoist troubles whatsoever, I did manage to fall off the front door step of a lodge in Pheriche (2 days from Gorak Shep – our highest sleep point) and severely twist my ankle… The next morning it had swollen to the size of an orange and I could barely walk on it. I had the physiotherapist look at it and (there happened to be one on the trip with us – thanks aemar!) strap it up for me and took a diclofenac, both of which helped enormously. Nothing broken and the ligaments in tact, I was able to continue with the trek, though whether this was a blessing or not I have still not decided.

The trek was incredibly hard work. Particularly the day climbing up to Namche Bazaar, the Sherpa capital, with 700m ascent over about half a kilometer; and the 600m climb up to Tyenboche (very famous – possibly highest – monastery in the world) with nasty effects of altitude (see below) wasn’t much fun either. Also, the 8 hour round trip to Everest Base Camp (5364m), from Gorak Shep (5140m), was horrible – and on getting there we were mostly too tired and ill to bother photographing the disappointing pile of rubble and tents! Gavin randomly met Appa Sherpa as we were doing a side walk on a rest day in Namche, who agreed to share camps at base camp; Appa Sherpa is currently the living record holder for the most summits of Everest and is very famous in Nepal! Whilst at Base camp, we helped Gavin make his tent platform (clearing rubble and ice to form a flatish space with a small wall around it) – or should I say: those of us who weren’t feeling like crap did!

Unfortunately, we all came down with something after our base camp day (combination of sun, exertion and some weird shit we were given to eat when we got there – sampa (a cake made from millet and rancid yak milk (looked rather like chocolate cake or fudge so we all took huge bites!) and chang (an alcoholic beverage again made from millet, and simply left to ferment – or go off to you and me! – in a big barrel). It is rude to refuse, so none of us did, and all but 2 of us became ill. One of our party (Matt – an engineer from Devizes) was vomiting every 20m on the way back. Great! It doesn’t say any of this in the guidebooks!

Another trip from Gorak Shep was our attempt on Kala Pattar – a 5545m peak with beautiful, close-up panoramic views of Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse and the rest. Unfortunately, we attempted this the day after Everest base camp, when many of the group had been up all night vomiting (and worse) every half hour. Of the 14 or so who reached Gorak Shep (I didn’t mention yet that 2 people turned back after Lobuche, 4920m, did I?!), only 9 felt well enough to attempt Kala Pattar, and Matt and I had to stop about halfway up due to illness and exhaustion (and, in my case, a brief but alarming incident of haematemesis!) – we reached approximately 5300m, took our photos, collapsed for 20 minutes and then got the hell out of there! The 7 others summitted, and have the photos to prove it.

We all headed down that afternoon, our destination Dingboche (just over a head from Pheriche (4150m) – about an 8 mile trek (which at altitude and having not eaten for 3 days feels like 30m), those of us who had been on Kala Pattar were particularly knackered.

The group then split in 2 – the four of us not going on to do a trekking peak called Island Peak (Imja Tse), 6139m (not sure why it is called a trekking peak – it is a pretty serious endeavor, permanently covered in snow and requiring ropes and harnesses, etc), and Richard (Vet, 55) whose Bronchitis had got to such a state that he felt unable to continue; and the 9 or so gap-year students, including the physio (not a gap-year student). (we were all really impressed with Richard – despite coughing up all manner of shit overnight, and clearly operating on a significantly reduced lung volume, he stayed with the group all the way up. He was great company too, and didn’t mind losing at ShitHead!)

The trek back down to Lukla (2950m ish) was done in two further days, about 12 miles each. These were long and arduous, despite being mostly downhill, especially considering we were all nursing diarrhoea and vomiting, and unable to eat. Needless to say, we all lost quite a bit of weight. In fact, we are thinking of writing it up and selling it to OK or HELLO as the Khumbu Diet!

All in all an interesting experience, some amazing views, great company, good exercise and an experience of the effects of altitude. I know it doesn’t sound like it, but I did enjoy myself. I would be hesitant, though, to recommend it to others with no experience of altitude about 4000m, and anyone but the extremely fit!

Sorry this has been a bit of a rant, and not really a step-by-step account, but I didn’t write a diary while out there and now all I can remember is the rant!

More maybe later…


Nx – sore and tired!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Foster Factor strikes...

My friends will know that the "foster factor" is the unexplainable force which causes anything that could possibly wrong to go wrong in all matters relating to me (and sometimes the people unfortunate enough to associate with me). Some may recognise this as the familiar "law according to Mr. Sod", but this is not sufficiently specific enough to refer solely to me.

Anyway, after a month of living in Kathmandu, I finally get ill. There is much speculation about what it could be - Nhish is still adamant I had an acute seroconversion illness (HIV) after my blood donating session (another story) - but I know it I was ill before I gave blood, and that HIV usually takes about 2-4 weeks (min) to seroconvert.

Infinitely more likely is that I have a case of food poisoning, which, I hear you all cry, is hardly a case of the foster factor striking – until you hear the reasons:

1) Having been ‘studying’ at the hospital for a month, I could easily have been ill. Having four or 5 days off then would have been almost enjoyable. However, to get crook on the LAST DAY of my placement is clearly unfortunate.
2) Factor into that the fact that I had just, only the day before, confirmed my tickets for Chitwan – a 300 USD jungle safari extravaganza (more later + piccies!)
3) And of course, I am due to start my Everest (base camp) trek in only 5 days (from time of illness.

So, I think you’ll agree this is a trip-threatening turn of events, easily qualifying of foster factor status!

My illness comprised mostly of terrible colicky abdominal pain (worst, surprisingly, at night) and a swinging, high grade fever the likes of which I cannot remember ever having (no mother, I don’t remember the infantile febrile convulsions, ok?).

However, after one day of inability to leave the house, I ventured out – to Chitwan! Took things a little easy, and tried to stay relatively close to the toilet. And keep a bottle of water with me at all times. And it didn’t really ruin the trip. I had decided that if I was not much better by the time I got back (5-6 days into the illness) I would run along and pick myself up some ciprofloxacin, but the illness I had the day I flew back to Kathmandu (yesterday) was mostly alcohol related – a couple of auzzy guys and English gals showed up at the Jungle Island resort on my last night and insisted we ‘celebrate’ something or other…

So I guess I’m ok now; stomach still a little delicate. But nothing to stop me embarking on my Everest (base camp) adventure first thing on the 1st April.

I have had a last minute thought though – this isn’t all an incredibly elaborate April Fools joke is it…?

See you all soon(ish).

Nx

Yak and Yeti

Today is Nhish’s birthday (unbeknownst to me) and so he suggests we go to the Yak and Yeti (a top hotel) for dinner. Mostly because of the name and partl because of our Kilroy’s and K-Too experiences, I am expecting a not-so-posh, themed hotel with taxidermised yaks and fake yetis; I am amazed at the luxuriousness of the place and impressed with the architecture – the hotel has a side street all to itself, is a massive complex of buildings and has 2 swimming pools and 4 restaurants.

The taxi drops us off at the casino (only tourists allowed and only in hotels) and we are directed to the Chimney Restaurant, which, according to the guidebooks, is supposed to be the ‘bistro’ (read: more sensibly priced). As we enter, I catch a glimpse of the menu at the door and manage to read: Sizzling duck breast, 1400 Rs (10.37 GBP); oh boy – I’m not even hungry…

We are led into a subtly lit, circular room with a central copper column, candle-lit from beneath, which I assume is the “chimney”. Around the circumference are tables nestled into brick-arched alcoves. The tables are highly polished, light-coloured wood, with shiny silverware arranged on woven silk place mats. We are ushered to a table, the candle is lit, and immediately we are brought hot flannels. We are given the wine list, and, whilst I see a few of my favourites, we settle for beers (Everest of course).

The menu is specially bound in orange rice card, and beautifully printed in perfect English (a rarity here!). It is also extensive, with a page each for hors d’oeuvres, soup, fish, steak and desserts. Nhish, predictably, chooses a smoked fish dish and I go for the tenderloin béarnaise – medium rare. When it arrives, it is on the rare side of rare, but that’s ok. Nhish’s fish is plain, with equally plain boiled vegetables, but he says excellent nonetheless.

I do miraculously well considering I’m not even vaguely hungry, and Nhish clears his plate, though refuses to have a slice of my steak as he is saving room for dessert. He tells me it would be rude not to – and who am I to argue with his customs…?! I opt for the flambéed baked Alaska (mostly because I wonder how it can be both flambéed and baked) and Nhish chooses the apple crepes (most like his favourite: apple crumble). We also order coffee, which is brought along with dessert after a suitable interlude.

The service is impeccable. We are one of six guests in the restaurant the whole evening, and are easily outnumbered by the subtly attentive staff. We are even visited by the scented, suited hotel manager, who unreservedly offers us his service. I almost ask him to waive the bill, but think better of it at the last minute.

After we have finished dessert, but before the coffee is gone, we are brought a plate of homemade truffles but neither of us can manage more than one!

The bill arrives, and is less than we thought - which is always nice; a three-course meal for 2 with beer in a 7 star hotel cost less than 30GBP!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Night out with the locals...

Having got on swimmingly with the local students posted in the ER for the majority of my stay, we decided to celebrate their moving on to internal medicine rotation by having a social evening...

Nhish and I were keen to do the local thing and get a taster of medical student social life here - purely for comparative purposes, you must understand. We were a little baffled when Surya and Sumit were unable to think of anything to do... Eventually we decide on a time to meet and wander down the road to a local "hotel". A few brief exchanges with the waiter in Nepali later and there arrives some snacky things and a bottle of gin... oh dear! Lime gin, no less.

Having sampled it on its own, Nhish and I were rather glad when a bottle of mixer arrived - "mountain dew" (for those of you who don't know or can't remember, this is basically sickly, caffeinated lemonade).

(At this point, I should probably explain that Nhish and I were planning to visit Nagarkot - a small tourist-based village in the mountains on the east border of the Kathmandu valley with panoramic views of the Himalaya - this weekend, and that, ideally, it required us to leave by taxi that evening to catch the sunrise on Saturday and get back to be in the hospital again on Sunday... Suffice it to say, the local students persuaded us that this was "dangerous" - read silly - and that we had to stay with them that night...)

After a few sips, when the conversation started flowing, we (naturally enough for medical students, I suppose) got talking about alcohol dehydrogenase, and more specifically, whether or not Nepali people have any: judging by their performance, I would hazard perhaps not!? ;)

The rest of the evening was spent being grilled on the relative virtues of "upper and lower F" ("upper F" apparently being french kissing...) and having our apparently legendary alcohol tolerance tested to the limits.

I am not normally a spirit drinker (rob and iain - you can just shut the hell up!), and so this concoction took its tole on my relatively quickly. The locals were impressed however, that we continued to drink what was put in front of us (I think they stopped after one or two)!

We had lots of nibbles and some fascinating conversations (apparently) about which nurses we found attractive, over a few more "gindews" (or should that be "mountgins"?) before retiring back to the local halls of residence for some more gindews, combined, I seem to remember, with After Eight mints... After that it all gets a little vague, but I have since been reassured that I was "entertaining"! hmm.

Apparently it is "local tradition" (read: you can't argue with that) that guests do not get out their wallets under any circumstances; I dread to imagine how many month's budgets Nhish and I drank, but we certainly wouldn't have had so much if we realised we wouldn't be allowed to pay for it. But then again, refusing a drink (or any hospitality) is incredibly rude here...

Anyway, in order to compensate the local students, and because it was actually all very fun, Nhish and I have insisted on returning their hospitality (we insisted it was customary in England!) and have arranged to take them out this coming weekend. We will go to Thamel and try to find as British a 'bar' as possible. We debated taking them to Kilroy's (a rather posh international themed restaurant, owned by the same people as K-Too - see previous post), but decided that this might work out a little expensive, even for us westerners.

So I’ll let you know how that goes too, I guess.

Oh yeah - and I’ve been working hard and learning lots; and I’m not worried about finals in the slightest(!)

Love to all.

Nx

Monday, March 21, 2005

photos...

These photos have been moved...

I have created another blog for my photos, so those of you with dial up (mother) can look at photos when you want, and not have to wait for them to load to see the rest of my blog (ie text).

I will link to new photo posts when i upload them.

The first lot of photos (thanks againg big G) can be found here:

  • photos
  • Wednesday, March 16, 2005

    At Ang Rita’s request…

    Ang Rita visited our floor the other night – he does this every other day or so just to check we are all right and have everything we need I guess. We were watching some film on HBO and again he offered for us to go downstairs and watch it on the bigger telly. We decline, more for fear of being plied with millet whisky again than anything, explaining that this is more than adequate, and that we should really be working anyway…

    He then proceeded to ask us a favour, and, as is often the case, it was difficult to tell exactly what he meant (his English, while being infinitely better than my Nepali, is self-learnt and heavily-accented), but the gist of it was that he’d like us to visit a school he sponsors in the north of the city. Well of course we were more than happy to do him a favour to thank him for his generosity, and it would be interesting to see some more local culture. Keen for it not to interrupt our hospital placements, he agreed for it to take place on Saturday afternoon (after our mountain flight).

    When he left us to our film, Nhish turned to me and we both simultaneously asked each other what we had just agreed to!?

    On returning from our mountain flight, Ang Rita asked if we could take our white coats and stethoscopes to the school with us, and Nhish and I decided to “dress up” for the occasion and both donned ties with our regular hospital shirt-and-trouser combinations (a tie in the hospital would look very much out of place next to the jeans-and-t-shirt-under-white-coat attire of the local docs)!

    Still non-the wiser about our activities on reaching the hospital, Ngima accompanied us there and we were introduced to the principal: Mr Chinawa (or something like that). It is then that we asked what we were to be doing, and were told the kids were coming in especially for us to “teach them something about medicine” – we had no idea and hence had nothing prepared!

    After the initial shock and fear had subsided, I quickly wrote a list of topics to cover: strategies for preventing illness (basic personal and food hygiene); home management of simple illness (fever, colds, etc); basic first aid (management of cuts, scrapes, bleeding, fractures); recognising an unconscious patient and opening an airway; and the recovery position. We thought we could then fill some time with playing with the steths and pen torches by listening to each others’ heart and breath sounds and looking at tonsils. We had from 1300 – 1600, and I reckon we could pad out what we had to maybe 2 hours at most…

    There were about 40 kids, ranging in age from 2 or 3 up to about 18. While they are taught English very early on in their schooling, it is by no means their first language, and it was apparent that throughout the theory section (never the favourite with kids) that most of it was above their heads.

    Nepali kids differ significantly from the English kids I have taught (CPRiS project, etc) in that there are much more shy. There were 2 or 3 really bright kids asking questions and writing notes, but even these keen ones took about half an our before they were brave enough.

    We tried to make the theory interactive by asking the kids what experiences they had had with the various things we were talking about, but it seemed that none of them had ever been ill and never witness illness nor injury!

    After about 15 minutes or so, I decided enough was enough, and moved swiftly on to some more practical stuff: we had asked for some simple props from the school infirmary/shop and had been given some bandages, tape and a small bottle of dettol. So I asked for a volunteer (had to pretty much pick one of them – but tried to steer away from the really timid-looking ones) and we went through a big, dramatic enactment of them cutting themselves and me getting covered in blood. I was amazed, however, when I asked for suggestions on how to managed the ‘patient’ that many of the kids not only had understood out ramblings for the past 10 minutes, but had remembered it too and were able to put into practice. I think my silly acting encouraged their involvement a little too and soon they were calling out: “apply pressure”, “clean the wound” and “put on a bandage”. We had some fun with bandaging a couple of the kids up and stealing their shoes and things. That went down well.

    Then I moved on to the recovery position, which I demonstrated on Nhish. We were out in the dusty playground in the heat of the day and he got a little mucky – but that was all part of the fun! It brushed off – was only dust! So I showed them how to call out an instruction, to open the airway (I encouraged gentleness, but didn’t go on about c-spine protection – it only confuses and scares them off actually helping at this level), to check for breathing and then to put the patient into the recovery position. I used my “SUPERMAN!” technique, which involves putting both the patient’s arms straight out above their head like they are flying, which only serves to remind the kids what order to do things in.

    After I had finished my demonstration, I asked for another volunteer and had three had shoot into the air – finally I was engaging them! Then I insisted that Mr. Chinawa get involved and be the patient – they loved that! I got the smallest volunteer to do it, to demonstrate that you don’t have to be big or strong to save someone’s life. Again, I was impressed with their recall as the other kids helped the volunteer with suggestions.

    Then we spilt the kids into groups of three or four and got them to take turns practicing it on each other. Nhish and I wandered around critiquing and making sure everyone was having a go to the occasional background calls of “SUPERMAN!”. It is truly gratifying to see that the children actually learnt something – that they can recall what you have told them and put it into practice is rewarding indeed.

    We then spent a further half hour or so, after a much-needed brief interval for soft drinks, passing around our medical toys and getting the kids to listen to each other’s chests. During this, I’d pick on kids at random and “test” them with a scenario from earlier (bleeding, fracture, fever, unconsciousness, etc) and see if they could remember what to do. They were very good, and required little prompting – much better than the English kids I’ve taught.

    Eventually, by 1500, we had run out of things on my list and explained to Mr. Chinawa that we couldn’t think of anything else to talk about right now. I told the kids how impressed we were with them and how much better they were than the English kids and got them all to clap each other. An awkward ten minutes or so then followed during which the kids all silently stared at us, expecting more. Eventually, one of the other teachers called for a group photo and the group then split up.

    Mr. Chinawa thanked us repeatedly and offered to meet us for dinner in Thamel that evening. It being rude to refuse we agreed and met him at 1800. We went to a Chinese buffet place, which was pretty good, and had a fun evening. It turns out he lived in Worcester (near my home town) for two years doing his masters degree!

    So, all together a daunting but enjoyable afternoon. J

    I’m still here!

    Last weekend (read: Saturday - they don't have Sunday off here!), Nhish and i had a mountain flight booked.

    Having heard about it from a travel agent advertising his wares on the street, we asked Ang Rita (who runs his own trekking company and can apparently organise any touristy stuff), and he made all the arrangements for us.

    We went out on Friday night to K-Too (see previous, rather inebriated post!), but, anticipating an early start, and because we have to ring the bell to be let in to the house at night and the family retire early, we weren't too late back: about ten 0'clock or so. It was at this time that Ang Rita finalised the arrangements: we were to be collected by car at 0530hrs, delivered to the airport, where the car would wait for us and take us either back to the house or on to a destination of our choice in Kathmandu.

    So with little over 4 and a half hours sleep, i drag myself out of bed - always much easier when i have something interesting to do that day! It is still dark outside, but more worryingly, there is a thick fog limiting visibility to 20ft! Having not been up at this hour before, i am unsure whether this is normal or if we have chosen the worst day imaginable for our expensive, weather dependent and non-refundable mountain flight experience?!

    The driver and travel agent who collect us don't even make reference to the weather, so Nhish and I assume it is nothing to worry about, and we head off to the airport. During the half hour, the fog appears to improve significantly, though we are not sure if this is just the effect of the rising sun. We arrive to the airport early, and are turned away by the armed guards - the day just gets better and better! After waiting at the side of the road for 15 mins or so, we re-approach the main gates to the airport and, this time, are waved through. By now it is past 0600hrs and the sun has risen. The fog, however, persists and visibility remains poor (20-30ft I’d guess). Security at the airport departure gate is significantly more stringent than at arrivals and we are scanned and searched and our bags are x-rayed with someone actually looking at the screen!

    The check-in gates are quite busy, with a particularly big queue for the Lukla flight - the start of the trek up to Everest. The queue comprises of an interestingly moustached group with an array of expensive-looking equipment - you have to wear as much of your gear as possible because the weight restrictions on luggage are tight, and mountaineering equipment is heavy! A couple are wearing some neon yellow, solid plastic grade 1 mountaineering boots, and i come to the conclusion that either this is a group of Americans with more money than sense, or a serious group of mountaineers attempting the summit of something big and cold (there are 10 or so other decent peaks accessible from Lukla).

    Our travel agent has accompanied us into the building and is now checking us onto the flight - this is the way to do it: we are left to wander around admiring other people's footwear while someone pushes to the front of the queues for us.

    A woman sitting on the floor in the corner with several big thermos(R) flasks seems to be the departure cafe, so we approach her to enquire about cups of tea. Our travel agent materialises at this point, and insists on paying (only a few rupees, but not included in our flight, I’m sure)! The tea is served black, but is not your regular "English breakfast" - this stuff is ginger tea, and while being quite sweet and pleasant, is a little too spicy for me so early in the morning and gives me reflux! It is also incredibly hot - as i found out when i spilt it all over my hand and scalded myself badly!

    Our travel agent approaches with the boarding cards and we are ushered through to the departure lounge (with another body search on the way for good luck).

    The lounge is relatively quiet, we must be among the first 20 here - that’s the advantage of having someone push in queues for you i guess! But there is no sign of a departure time for our flight, and we can't see more than a few feet towards the runway out of the windows. The security guards are sitting reading the paper and so we gather we won’t be leaving any time soon. It is now nearly 0700 and the departure lounge is filling rapidly. We peruse the three tea/coffee/biscuits-cum-bookshop stalls for things to read or drink. Eventually i buy a novel and some coffee to keep me occupied!

    Our flight is eventually called at 0900, and by this time visibility is much improved and the sun has some warmth to it. We are directed towards a bus, which drops us off in front of a tiny little twin prop plane. Eventually we are allowed to board one at a time up the little fold out stairs. The fuselage is only big enough for one seat either side of a very narrow aisle - at least this means everyone gets a window seat! The headroom walking down the aisle is only about 5 feet, so we have to stoop very low. One of the American women is apparently claustrophobic and after 10 minutes of umming and aahing, decides she will stay behind and a scramble ensues to swap seats (one guy with 2 very big cameras didn't have a window)!

    After lots of revving of engines we pull onto the runway and take off smoothly, and the stewardess, who is small enough to walk down the aisle comfortably, hands out cotton wool and boiled sweets.

    After less than ten minutes or so of fantastic views over the city and surrounding 'hills' (most of which being bigger than the highest peaks in the UK), with beautiful terraced landscapes to allow cultivation, we sea our first himal (permanently snow-covered mountain) vistas out of the plane's left side (i am sitting on the right and hope that we will turn around at some point!). The stewardess revisits every one in turn and helps us identify the visible peaks and gives us their names (we have a diagram supplied with our boarding cards, which identifies the prominent peaks). Much camera snapping ensues, and each person in turn is sent off to the cockpit. The views from the cockpit are by far the best, with polarised single-layer and clean glass! From here, Everest is already visible!

    We get nearly as far as Everest before turning around, and finally i can get some unobscured pictures. There is a tiny airport at the foot of the mountains, which I assume, is either Lukla or the other smaller one closer in (whose name i have forgotten), but we pass too quickly for me to get a picture.

    The view is fantastic - well worth both the money and the delay - and i take about 65 photos! In every direction there is another snow-covered peak with amazing ravines and valleys. The photos really can't do it justice. I'd recommend this to anyone visiting Nepal - it really gives you a sense of the grandiosity of the Himalayas (i think they do flights through the Annapurnas too).