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Talking Location with author James Ellson – NEPAL

28th March 2020

#TalkingLocationWith..  James Ellson, author of The Trail set in Nepal

They say write what you know, so perhaps it’s not surprising my debut novel, a crime thriller called The Trail is set in Nepal. I have visited the country many times: for environmental research, and on trekking and mountaineering expeditions. The people are friendly, the villages fascinating, the mountain scenery breathtaking. It has ancient history, strong religions, and some of the best walking on the planet.

The plot of The Trail concerns a person missing from a trekking expedition to Nepal, and much of the book is set in Kathmandu and a trekking trail towards Everest.

Most visits to Nepal start in the capital. Hotels and guesthouses cluster in the tourist district of Thamel. Moving around there can feel like an assault on your senses – but in a good way!

“Hundreds of people packed the streets, along with Tuk-tuks, bicycles, and hand-carts. Dogs scavenged and roamed in packs. The shopfronts were narrow, but sold everything. Mountaineering equipment, linen, carpets, plastic containers of every size and shape, grey meat cuts covered in flies. Wafts of incense fought with the stench of sewage and diesel that choked the Kathmandu valley. A pig ran down the street, scattering people and knocking over a table of books.”

The Kingdom of Nepal lies between Tibet and India and includes a large slice of the Himalaya including eight of the world’s fourteen mountains above 8,000 metres.

In 2004 I climbed 6,812 metre Ama Dablam known as the Matterhorn of the Himalaya. It’s a stunning peak near Everest.

However, you don’t need to be a mountaineer to see the mountains. Nepal is the walker’s ultimate destination. Walking is how the locals move around, and in the foothills at least, there are no roads. Sherpas are their HGVs and typically carry a load of fifty kilos. Some incredibly carry a hundred kilos, enough to make the strongest commando struggle. They wear only basic clothing, often shorts and wellies.

A trekking expedition is one of the best ways to explore and understand the country. Such a trip takes effort and planning, but is enormously rewarding. They can be booked with travel companies at home, or when you arrive. Alternatively, porters can be hired to carry luggage, or you can carry your own. The frequency of tea-houses makes an independent trip quite feasible.

A puja ceremony (to bring good luck before a trek or climb)

My tips for an enjoyable trek include: getting fit and wearing in your boots before you go; packing walking poles, a headover and gloves, and a duvet jacket for the cold evenings. And of course a book or three!

Food is surprisingly varied and western in the tea-houses (pizza and apple pie), but do try the fabulous local fare. Momos for breakfast, noodle soup at lunchtime, and the Nepalese staple dal baht in the evening. Rice and lentils, and a (very) spicy sauce to go with it.

Terraced fields of a hillside village

A highlight of treks is visiting the hillside villages. They give an inspirational insight into a traditional and largely self-sufficient way of life. Locals are friendly, and children inquisitive.

“A woman appeared from the back of the shop and stood in the doorway. She was tiny. Her ears and nose were heavily ringed. Wrapped around her body were countless layers of colourful cloth. She was thin, but the folds of material made her look plump. She could have been thirty. Or sixty. Around her ankles were more layers of cloth, like puttees. Her feet were bare, her toes splayed and dirty.”

The Trail

Popular treks include Annapurna Base Camp, the longer Everest Base Camp, and the three-week Annapurna Circuit. The last is a challenging route which reaches 5100 metres, and is one of the walking wonders of the world.

On a trek, an unusual sight is around every corner.

“The man carried long planks of wood strapped horizontally across his back. The planks were attached to a thick band wrapped around the man’s head. He wore flip-flops on his feet, and multicoloured hooped socks. Calf muscles solid as bones.”

Villagers at work

Pre- or post-trip reading could include: House of Snow (an anthology) for a good introduction. Memoirs include The Snow Leopard (Peter Matthieson); While The Gods were Sleeping (Elizabeth Enslin) an account of village life; and Mustang, a lost Tibetan Kingdom (Micahel Piessel) – currently out of print – a tale of a 1960s trip to the remote Kingdom of Lo. Touching The Void (Joe Simpson) and Into Thin Air (Jon Krakauer) if you want mountaineering daring-do. The Trail if you like crime thrillers!

I can’t wait to go back!

Thank you so much to James for such a wonderful “visit’ to Nepal and some top reading material! We can’t wait to GO! You can catch him on TWITTER

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