Tuesday 29 July 2014


Festival Arts et Vigne

3 to 10 August 2014

This will be Chatillon's 20th Festival Arts et Vigne and our third.  We don't imagine that we are the only ones amongst the 70-odd exhibitors still scurrying around at this late date to get everything ready.  Last year we were thoroughly spoilt with a prime location in the Mairie, opposite the fountain.  This year we have a more humble yet more interesting, vaulted space in the medieval village.

Chatillon-en-Diois, the medieval village seen from the path that leads to the summit of Glandasse which towers 1200m over the valley.

As our exhibition space is smaller than last year we'll have a little less work to do but a lot more careful editing is called for.  We have been working on the results of a couple of highlights during our last 12 months:  A visit to our friends, Shasha and Suhail Shaikh, at Lamastre in the Ardeche  -  Shasha virtuoso of fine batik painting and Suhail the master of exquisite paper sculpture, both regular exhibitors at the Festival.  And three weeks spent trekking in Nepal.

Our memorable week-end with the Shaikhs included a visit to the old Chemin de Fer du Vivarais railway station where Georgina took a couple of shots of an interesting and unusual rusting locomotive standing in the sidings.

 The image of the locomotive was not particularly prepossessing and did it no justice as it was surrounded by weeds and clobber and the rails were not visible.  Many hours spent in front of a computer have turned the image into something completely different and, we hope, more worthy of the subject.  We printed an A1 file onto canvas, framed it with a raw moulding, worked on the frame to complement the image and added rivets and a little rust.

Our visit to Nepal in November/December last year was not only a photographic exercise but, naturally, there were irresistible opportunities.

Captive cloud in the light of the setting sun from Annapurna Sanctuary.
We walked for most of our time in Nepal but we spent a couple of productive days in Kathmandu and Patan.

An intricate, carved wooden facade in the Maidan, Kathmandu. Duplicated and repeated.  
Window in the ancient capital of Patan.
Tuesday mid-day and still a lot to do.

Monday 13 January 2014

Nepal     2nd article   Please read our first article on Nepal below

November - December 2013

This follows on from our first Nepal blog of 8 January. 

We don't necessarily rate sunrises particularly highly.  It's not just the need to get up at ridiculous hours of the morning in freezing temperatures, but that somehow the contrast doesn't work very well.  There's too much of it.  And when the summits are right, there's no detail in the valleys.  And later on, neither of them is right.  However, there are exceptions and this sunrise from Dobato was worth the effort  -  perhaps we should have made the effort to get back up to the top of the hill but that would have been the best part of an hour's climb, then back down again, then back up again to return to Deurali.

Annapurna South and Machhapuchhre, the Fish Tail mountain.

Later that morning we walked down into the valley to visit a yak farm.  We had tasted the yak's cheese and we've yet to work out how, at the farm, they make such tasty cheese in such unpromising conditions.  But that applies to the food at the lodges as well.  We arrived after milking and there were over a hundred yaks, mostly placidly chewing the cud, which is not the normal image of these impressive beasts.

Like all the other domestic animals that we saw, the yaks were sleek and obviously well cared for.

On the return walk to Deurali, once again we got some of the best views  -  those of Machhapuchhre in our last blog and many others that could look repetetive.  But as we turned from the top of the ridge towards Deurali, we saw the Dhaulagiri range and a few minutes later a view across the ridges and valleys and Ghorepani at the bottom left.

For all our elation at finding ourselves in this gorgeous spot, there had to be a down-side.  Nothing to do with us, or at least not much.  Or perhaps it's just a streak of pessimism.  But all is not well in Nepal.  And the Annapurna Range, in all its magnificence, magnifies the problem.  Global warming is very much an issue.  Even though we were there in December, there was not a great deal of snow on the peaks.  According to Nare, our guide, ten or fifteen years ago most of the major rock faces would have been covered in snow.  The glaciers are receding at a frightening speed and there is a lot of dust lying around that doesn't have a local source.  But then, Nepal is a small country sandwiched between the two most populated countries in the world and two of the most polluted.  

 Apparently, the local farmers are finding that their old cropping patterns don't work well any more.  There is sometimes not enough rain for two consecutive crops in the year and some crops are not growing well at all.

We are both tree enthusiasts and find the big pine forest especially appealing.  After a glacial night in Banthanti, we climbed through a steep valley and at the top were rewarded by stands of magnificent mature Abies Spectabilis or Himalayan Fir (our inexpert identification).  After walking for a while it became apparent that these mature trees were almost the only examples.  Hardly any medium sized trees and almost no saplings or seedlings.  We did find a few but very few.  Perhaps this is also a result of the changing climate.  Bamboo seems to be spreading down from the higher forests where it is dominant and once it has gained a foothold it's more difficult for these pines to propagate themselves.

Higher up, where the bamboo predominates, it seems to have squeezed out some of the rhododendrons as well.

Why the gloomy mood in such a place?  We were told that, and had already suspected, greedy eyes would have noticed the potential of the fast-running rivers coming down from the Annapurnas for hydro power generation.  Apparently there is a project under consideration to build a dam that would flood a great part of the upper Modi Khola valley with disastrous consequences for the local people and the environment.  Of course, the usual rationale applies:  -  India needs the power and Nepal needs power too;  the destruction of a lifestyle for a relatively small number of people in a remote place and the inevitable disaster for local plant and animal life, not to mention local agriculture, is a small price to pay, given the benefits that would accrue to Indians starved of electricity and the development that electricity would bring.  We understand that the development would be a private/public partnership and on the usual optimistic assumption that in 40 or 50 years the development costs would have been met and the project, which would be built by Indians for India, would be handed over to Nepal at the end of that period.  Of course the end of the period never comes.  The chances of Nepal benefitting at all are remote.  And as with all resources curses, the local people and their interests will be ground under foot.  One can only pray that common sense will triumph and that the local people and their wonderful environment will be left alone to construct more of their mini-hydro schemes that supply them with all that they need without any apparent downside at all.

Machhapuchhre dominates the skyline again.

Mules release human porters from the burden of carrying some of the bulk needs of the villages and lodges  -  cement, rice, gas bottles and such-like make good loads and we noticed that, on the whole, the beasts were carrying about 60 or 70 Kg which seemed very fair given the number of loads approaching that weight that we saw on the backs of porters.  We passed an elderly man with a load of firewood  -  he obligingly put his load down and pointed out a tribe of monkeys in nearby trees.  His load was not easy for us to lift let alone to carry long distances.  We're a species in decline.  There were over 2 000 stone steps down from Chhromrong to the new bridge and then a similar climb up to Sinuwa.  Porters take it all in their stride and school children from Sinuwa and farther afield make the journey every day to school in Chhromrong.

Traditional stone house -  the hollowed out logs under the eaves are bee hives.
There's Machhapuchhre again, the most prominent and most beautiful of mountains.

 A large proportion of young Nepali men goes abroad to seek their fortunes.  Construction sites in the Gulf, Ghurka units of various armies, and even domestic service pay just enough to allow them to send home money to their families.  However, as we saw in Papua New Guinea, there are fewer able-bodied men than there would naturally be and the labour of building farmhouses, lodges etc. in the traditional style is a greater burden than using modern materials, especially concrete and corrugated iron.  It's easy for us to lament the past but one only has to look around to see that there is something idyllic about the traditional lifestyle.

We didn't see many photogenic shrines near to the tracks but we found this lovely spot just below Landruk a few hundred metres into the forest.

Our first, relatively distant, view as we approached Annapurna.  There's a tiny shrine on the hill between the two big trees.

Misty sunset from Ghorepani.

We imagine that the water buffalo had work to do, ploughing and cultivating, but they didn't seem to have a lot to do while we were there.  Either lying around looking sleek and unconcerned or standing idly in the middle of the paths and getting in the way.

And back to Kathmandu.

And Patan.



Wednesday 8 January 2014


November - December 2013

From time to time we need to find a new source of inspiration and photographs for our gallery.  Almost two years ago we went to the Venice Carnival and came back with some very satisfying results.  But since then life has been busy, doing other things, and we needed to get back to what we enjoy and what we do best.

Enigmatic cloud - sunset from Annapurna Sanctuary.

Nepal wasn't an obvious choice, especially at our age, but when a colleague showed us a website he had made for an Nepali friend and trekking guide, Nare Magar, http://www.trekkingguides.co.uk    we reckoned that a long walk in the Himalayas was something we should do.  Now we want to go back to Nepal as soon as we can -  there's a lot of ground still to cover.

Nare recommended a trek to the Annapurna Base Camp and some side trips.  17 days walking and two or three days in Kathmandu.  The trek wasn't easy and it wasn't at all what we expected.  It was far, far better than we had imagined.  The Annapurna Sanctuary is well named.  The whole area and the route that we took from Phedi has something mystical about it, almost sacrosanct.  We found ourselves speaking in hushed tones and not talking much at all as the atmosphere and the magnificence of it all commanded respect and attention, something like entering an ancient cathedral, but much more.

We hadn't expected the lush forests that lead up to the Annapurna Ranges.  The path takes you through several levels of vegetation from sub-tropical, damp jungle-like forest up to mixed rhododendron and oak forest and then into conifers, birches and eventually pure stands of bamboo.  Then of course, the rocky Alpine landscape as the track approaches 3,700m in altitude.  The Sanctuary itself, at 4,200m, is pure mountain and glacier, a place for contemplation, an atmosphere that seemed to affect everyone there.


Visiting one of the most beautiful places on earth is hard work.   Apart from the walking and the altitude, the lodges, while astonishingly good for the location, are fairly basic.  The higher lodges have no heating at all and the temperature falls well below zero every night, especially in winter when we were there.  For the local people life is really hard.  Everything must be carried on the backs of porters or, occasionally, mules.  And that means everything.  Gas bottles, food, building materials, bedding  -  everything.  We saw fridges and washing machines in lodges and these had been carried up for several days on porters' backs, a climb of several thousand metres.  Despite, or perhaps because of, the demanding life that they lead, the people are the friendliest and most welcoming and amongst the most cheerful we have met in our travels. How do they manage to serve up such fresh and nicely cooked dishes?  The food was always plentiful and excellent  -  we ate really well.

We didn't know about the stone steps either.  They're an engineering masterpiece and, given the heavy use of these tracks and the wet climate, the lack of erosion is a testament to the foresight of the builders of these tens of thousands of usually irregular massive stone steps.  But they are hard work for the uninitiated.

Also, we didn't know about the farmers' terraces.  In fact we didn't know much at all about what we were going to see.  Our guide, Nare, explained everything, anticipated everything and spotted everything.  He described the crops, pointed out the birds, the monkeys, the mountain goats, even a mouse hiding by the track, even leopard paw prints.  He showed us the beehives hanging from the eaves of the houses and the massive hives built by wild bees clinging to cliffsides.  

We always thought of rhododendrons as large shrubs.   But here they are major forest trees often of well over a metre in diameter and well over 20m tall.  They make lovely forests with their covering of creepers, mosses, orchids and lichens.  What must it be like when they are flowering.

In 17 days' walking we were hardly ever out of earshot of torrents, streams and waterfalls.  There is water everywhere and it's wonderfully refreshing and picturesque.

On the way back from the Annapurna Sanctuary we took a different route and followed a little-used path over a ridge rising to 3,700m to Dobato.  This was probably the hardest walking of all and as we nearly reached the top Nare stopped us for a break and offered us a cup of tea.  We thought he must be joking as we were miles from any lodge.  He produced a previously hidden flask of our favourite tea.  The views from the ridge were amazing.  Dhaulagiri, the Annapurna Ranges and Machhapuchhre all in one great unbroken sweep.

Many of the lodges function only as stops for trekkers.  But further to the south and west where agriculture is a practical proposition, there are hamlets and villages.  The most appealing that we visited is Ghandruk.

We met independent walkers with neither guide nor porter.  While that sort of independence has always been our choice in the past, we can't imagine going to Annapurna without our amazing guide, Nare, and our porter, Tek.  Quite apart from looking after our every need, Nare radiated calm and patience, which he needed and, thanks to him, this might have been the most tranquil three weeks of our lives.

Nare (left) and Tek

We were advised to spend a couple of days in Kathmandu and were glad that we did.  It's a chaotic and sort of run-down place but even in Kathmandu we found an atmosphere of relative calm.  

As seems to be the case with all cities, the past is more interesting and appealing than the up-to-date.  We went to Patan and were fascinated by the art and architecture and, once again, the laid-back atmosphere of the place.

"Man is made by his belief, as he believes so he is".  Bhagavad -  Gita

We've travelled a lot for our work and have visited many countries and worked with all sorts of different people.  Our trip to Nepal eclipsed most of those other experiences and reminded us of the happy and formative three years we spent in the Papua New Guinea Highlands in the early 1970s.

Thank you Nare and Tek for making Nepal such a memorable experience.

We'll post more photographs in the near future.