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Mezze is widely served in the Greek and Middle eastern world. An assortment of little dishes and tasters which accompany a nice ouzo or a glass of wine. So when you read mezze moments you will have tasty snippets of life as I live it, India for four years and now Brisbane Australia, all served up with some Greek fervour and passion.

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Friday, 28 September 2012

A trek in the Himalayas Part 2

The good news was that Gina and Jonathan's tent had not been swept off the peak where it was pitched in the night. The hilarious news was that we all looked as if we had botox injections all night. Bloated and puffy with limbs and faces feeling the effects of the altitude. The bad news was that Ravi announced cheerily at breakfast that this was our hardest day yet with at least seven hours of walking.
Palatuna however was not shitty - it was totally breathtakingly stunning and we woke up to the sun and unimaginable vistas.
Today we were climbing to our highest peak, some 4,200 metres. The uphills were continuous, we crossed river beds, beds of screed, areas where the recent monsoon had caused massive landslides and we walked along the sides of unstable mountains with very little to hang onto. Along the way bear paw marks and fresh scat so they were definitely walking where we were walking ! We saw wild goat and watched lamerger eagles soaring above us.
Bear Paw Big !
Fresh bear scat
C's boot - all of 35 years old, clearly had had enough and the sole slipped off on an uphill. It was the perfect Ray Mear's moment as Jonathan took out his survival kit and duck taped his sole to his boot until the porters arrived with the rucksacks.
There were 7 of them and the youngest was a boy of 16 Anil, who on this particular morning took his trousers off to dry off and walked in his underpants with a great load on his back. These porters ran down these mountains and ran up them with no change of pace, no change of clothing and no sign of discomfort. Most of them wore chappals, open flip flops. They wore most of their clothes all of the time and must have thought it so funny that we stopped all the time, be it for water, to take our jackets off, to put our thermals on and catch our breath and boy did we have to do that a lot !

At the highest peak of Surani we did a puja to the gods and gave an offering to the little shrine built into the mountain.Jonathan disappeared up a promontory and Gina and I caught our collective breaths and hoped he didn't slip off either side. I have enlarged the picture so you can see him as a speck in the distance.

A well earned break on Surani
The shrine
The promontory
A kinder path around a mountain

Ravi, never one to mince his words,  described the walk ahead as "mostly downhill but with some up bits and not so good bits". True to his word there were loads of all of that and we walked along edges that we needed to hang onto. Screed that saw me losing my balance twice. Edges where I had to use all four limbs to carry on. At one point where we had all stopped to help each other over a very challenging rock face the rock that Gina was hanging on to just came away in her hand and she fell back.  Luckily Ravi was able to catch her in time. We rounded that corner to be faced with several hundred sheep and goats that were disturbed by our presence and came hurtling down the mountain at us.

Seeing the camp site at a distance was some comfort but altitude sickness and nausea had already set in for some of the group. We had the next morning off deservedly I thought, while C explored a glacier higher up and Gina washed her hair in the freezing cold water of the stream by our camp. We wanted to keep moving so we agreed to start at lunch and head to a new campsite in the evening.

Anil with the precious blue box - see further down
Some of the river crossings

I struggle with downhill at the best of times but this was relentless and very muddy and slippy. There were deep channels that were formed of the path and the plants sometimes reached to my shoulder. At other times it was open pastures but with gullys of wet sloppy mud and an unbelievable amount of cow poo. I hung onto my stick and thank god Jonathan came to my help everytime there was a big step down. However our path was slow and difficult and I was growing very weary. Ravi indicated that it was not far to a river and once we had crossed the river the camp site would not be too far on the opposite side.What he didn't mention is that the river was a torrent, we edged our way across wooden planks with flagstones positioned on top and got to the other side to see that we had to climb a whole mountain - I kid you not - it was straight up for an hour at the end of a very hard day's walk and we were walking in the rapidly fading light. I was determined to make it to the top where a very wet boggy forest clearing was waiting for us. They set the tents up in the dark and it started to rain heavily.

We crawled into our tents and lay down exhausted, too tired to eat or wash. It rained all night and this time it was Ravi who spent the night awake thinking the little pond that we were camping by would have flooded our tents. Gina and Jonathan were flooded and a lot of their clothes and possessions were wet and damp so we waited for the rain to subside and I just hoped to god that the way we came up would not be the way we came down.

A very damp dawn
Just about smiling
 Slippery slopes
 It was worse. While the start of the walk was through pastures, the rest was through woods with stones, roots which were muddy and slippy. And I guess I forgot to mention - it had started raining heavily again so we were walking in a torrential downpour.It did not matter as half way down we came across a camp of Gujjar pastoralists and everything immediately came into perspective. They live under a tarpaulin and sleep in the hay. There are women and children in camp while the men tend the buffalo herds and they were cheery and rosie cheeked and beautiful so we had NO cause to complain. Our life was a bed of roses compared to theirs. We chatted and took pictures with them and they warmed up some of their thick and delicious buffalo milk for us to drink.

The Gujjars - a pastoralist nomadic tribe

 Their home

So with renewed energy we went on and with some relief that we got to a Bhagali village where we took refuge in the school and feasted on instant noodles. We were DAMP from head to toe !

The afternoon, our final walk was meant to be a lighter version of all the above but actually I was no longer expecting anything better - my feet are sore from all the downhill and the paths of stone are jarring and uneven. We walked solidly for perhaps three and a half hours and turned back to look at how far we had come down the mountain.Very far !The last bit was on tarmac as we rounded a flowing river and went to the little village of Ghangnani famous for its hot springs. That night - a bed in a hotel ( the tents being too wet for us to stay in ) and a dip in the hot springs which come out of the mountain  burning hot. So hot we couldn't stay in it but unbelievably soothing on all those aching muscles. Our first wash in seven days.

We returned to Barsu, our starting point, by jeep the following day, where we thought the dilapidated Indian guest house with its power cuts and cobwebs, its lack of water that morning and its dirty sheets was the ultimate in luxury.We spent the afternoon drinking chai with all the women in the village. In the evening  a final meal cooked by our wonderful two young men Yesbeer and Lokesh with Gina and I participating in a cooking session since one of the undisputed highlights of this journey were the wonderful meals we were served out of this magic blue box.
The village children at the Mandir and swinging from the bell

The magic Blue box

This Himalayan eggs were to die for ..well you know what I mean, we didn't really want to die and were dead hungry and they tasted like the heavens we had come ever so close to.

Himalayan eggs!
Yesbeer and Lokesh were our cooks for our Himalayan adventure and food never tasted so good. This was our absolute favourite from the week.
3 eggs + one egg white
12 small waxy potatoes
Garam marsala
Veg stock powder/ chaat masala / subji powder
Salt and pepper
Corn flour
Mustard seeds

Hard boil the eggs and peel. Boil and then peel the potatoes - mash well and add GM, salt and pepper and spices to taste. Fry the mustard seeds in a tbsp oil, add the potato mix and cook while stirring well for 2 minutes so that all the potato is coated with the mustard seeds.
Cool the potato and then mould round the eggs. Coat in corn flour and then egg white beaten slightly.
Fry in more oil for about 2 minutes and then allow to cool before cutting in half. Should be crispy on the outside, with a soft inner potato filling and a lovely egg in the middle.

Heaven on the Himalayas.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

A trek in the Himalayas ( part 1 )

We were four ;two doctors, one well equipped, an actuary, whose job it is to assess risks but who secretly wants to be Ray Mears, and I, middle aged and momentarily swayed by the attractive itinerary. It was too late to back out, friends flew in from Liverpool in the UK, we took the overnight to Dehradun and jumped into the waiting 4X4 which took us safely but precariously on a six hour journey to our starting point. The road was reasonable to Mussorie and then it became a morass of tight U bends, narrow, with cavernous drops, breathtaking brimming rivers and landslides where the recent heavy monsoon had unstuck huge boulders of rock as if they were putty. Everywhere along the way debris and the destruction were evident and none more so then in a little village where the force of the water had taken buildings,cars and human lives.
Our journey to our start

 The village swept away
 Being asked to drive slowly in a sinking area !
The side of one of the roads we were on.
So reaching was pleasurable, momentarily. Our tour guide Ravi had joined us at Uttarkashi and we travelled up to what we thought was our camp site in the village of Barsu. Except when we got there he took us to a dilapidated Indian Government Guest house with damp on the walls and faded, torn carpets. I was taken aback by this and expressed my disappointment- "Where was our idyllic camp site?" I asked annoyed.
He muttered something about the monsoon rain extending this year and then said electricity and hot water here madame, the significance of which were lost on me then, but were to be words I returned to at the end of our trek with a new found appreciation.
The view from the terrace of the Indian Guest house with the peaks of Gangotri I and III, Jaunli, Draupdi ka Danda and Srikanth coming in and out of the clouds.
 One of the temples in the village of Barsu from where our walk started.
 By a village granary
The Mandir at the top of the village in the fading light of the day.
Tea on the terrace gave us a glimpse of what lay ahead but as evening came, so did the power cuts and dinner was a candlelit affair of simple rice and subji, vegetables to you and me. When I enquired where we were going the next morning Ravi answered in a very matter of fact way. "Straight up" he said.

The village nestled in the hillside was going to be our last encounter with people, apart from the shepherds and the pastoralists who we met over the next week. The path through the forest was beautiful, a work of love and necessity with big stones laid flat to enable those using it to travel well. We stopped for the birds and the vistas and then walked and walked and walked for hours to get to our clearing in the forest and the place of our first camp site by a small flowing river called the Dayara Bugyal (a meadow to you and me). By that time the clouds and the mist were rolling in and we were feeling tired but perhaps content that we had managed the day with no major incident and with considerable admiration for the forest that we had just walked through of pine and oak and deodhar.
She was an exceptionally beautiful specimen. Almost with a velour auburn coat.

Otherwise all we encountered were herds of buffalo and some lovely locals
 The beautiful stone path leading up into the forest.
One of the view points
The men, aspiring to their hunter gatherer persona, went out looking for wood and I think that we had the funniest time watching them trying to light a fire with the slightly damp wood. Perhaps this is my favourite picture of my beloved hunter.
The swirling mist rolling over the hills
Getting the water to boil for tea with wet wood is a hard task
The tents were put up and after a  nourishing meal we retired quite early, a pattern that was going to stay with us.It was dark and a little dank and revelry was not top of the list. We snuggled down but sleep did not come easily. The mats kept us dry but the sleeping bags are a little restrictive and we had forgotten to bring pillows which unbelievably can make an enormous difference to the way you sleep. Our friends had floral blow ups with them which we much admired. The rain started half way through the night and if we had slept we were promptly woken as it pounded down on the tents  in a torrential downpour. Gina and I separately stared at the tent cover and catastrophised that a flash flood would sweep us all the way down the mountain and to certain death so we were both pleasantly surprised to be awake and well the next morning and tucking into a hearty breakfast of hot porridge, eggs and toast before setting off across the meadows to wind our way around a mountain.

I would say that this was my favourite walk in the whole week. It was dense jungle but we were walking on the edge of a mountain side and it was full of the most beautiful flowers and plants. We stopped to admire them and press a few in the pages of C's bird book. Then the climbing suddenly became more acute and we were rapidly heading up and finding ourselves walking in swirling mist and more often then not on the edge of a narrow ridge with views ( restricted ) either way and drops ( unrestricted ).We had climbed from 2750 to 3475 metres. The wind was quite chilly and we had our first deviation from the itinerary if you like when our lunch went missing. Ravi had to go back to find the lunch boys who usually took steeper, shorter paths then us and who followed us from camp site to camp site. We grew very cold and all the water proofs came out of our day bags and we sat on the cold stones, bettter then the wet grass, and considered the possible scenarios of losing our guide to the mist and our lives to the mountains. We were never so happy to see soft shades of humans coming over the ridge and we devoured a lunch of potato salad and chappatis like there was no other.

A shepherd with a lively flock of sheep and goats
The beautiful flowers we found everywhere.

Our afternoon seemed interminable, more paths on narrow ridges, rolling mist, often quite thick at times and ascents of several hundred metres at a time leaving us breathless and beat. We arrived at the camp site described by an irritated G as the shittiest camp site she has ever seen, nothing was even, the water was a long way down a mountain, the way the tents were erected seemed precarious to say the least and we felt head achy and tired but suddenly with a new sense of admiration for our gadget king who had brought out his water filtering device to cries of hilarity and Ray Mears taunting. 
We had run out of water. Hugely important at these heights so however shitty the camp site may have appeared it did at least have running water at some distance. So the men took it in turns to filter the water and make sure our water bottles were filled up. Dinner was in the dining tent, too cold to be outside and  with moments of complete hilarity about what we had let ourselves in for as well as some sober ones where we wondered very seriously if there was enough in all of us to carry on.