Friday, 16 February 2007


The Mushroom Hunter

It's one of those sparkling sunny autumn days. The early morning air has a cold snap to it, but the sun has warmth that buoys the spirits. It's an Indian summer that has been briefly broken by a couple of days rain. Now the sun is back and it's a perfect day for mushrooms. All the signs are there, the twinkling dew drops, the slight mist lifting from the fields as the air warms. This will dissipate leaving the air crystal clear, as all the dust has been laid by the rain. The dark rich earth of freshly ploughed fields is covered with the gossamer threads of a million newly hatched money spiders, launching themselves into space on the slightest breath of wind.

Turning down the lane, he branches right into the gated road. Unlatching the gate, he passes through and closing it carefully behind him enters a brilliant red, gold tunnel. The road is lined with horse chestnut trees, their dying leaves, every shade of yellow, orange, red, through to bronze, reflect and mask the sun dappling through them. Small drifts of leaves cross the road, dotted here and there with spiky conker husks. The occasional one is split open to reveal white pith and the rich shiny brown of the nut within.

After a quarter of a mile or so the chestnut avenue ends with a muddy duck pond and a chocolate box brick and oak frame cottage on the right. The lane bends left, then right again and passes through a field, the grass cropped short by grazing animals, though none are there now. On the left of the lane, almost in the centre of the field is a small grove of trees. It's just like the groups that mark ancient sites though the field is pretty flat and there are no signs of earthworks here. Leaving the lane he wanders slowly across the field, his head moving from side to side, scanning the ground in front of him. After five minutes or so, "There." he spots a small mushroom and bending plucks it carefully. He turns it over to inspect the colour of the gills, grey, brown, "Perfect." No sign of bugs chewing their way up the stalk. Popping it into his mouth he chews it slowly and thoughtfully. It has a delicate mushroomy taste, slightly earthy, and a rather chewy texture. He moves on and in a minute or so spots another and picks and eats that too. After he has eaten about five, he begins to see the mushrooms everywhere. Their honey coloured skin and distinctive nipples glow in the green grass as if illuminated with inner light. He is now near the grove and the mushrooms dot the ground before him, some in almost perfect fairy rings. He becomes more selective, picking only the plumpest and most perfectly formed ones. Like the breasts of a dark skinned fairy queen. After he has eaten about a dozen, he plucks a few more and stores them in a brown paper bag.

Although the mushrooms still shine out at him, his attention is spreading outwards. Everything around him is taking on an intense presence. All his senses seem heightened and tuned to the abundance of life and energy that surrounds him. He can almost feel the plants growing, their leaves stretching up to the sunlight, their roots reaching down into the soil, the rumbling tremors of a passing earthworm, chewing its way through the ground. The air itself seems to dance in front of his eyes. He chews and swallows to summon up some saliva in his dry mouth and notices a slightly acid taste in the back of his throat.

He is wandering aimlessly round the field now, roughly circumnavigating it, but readily distracted. "What is that incredible rich earthy smell?" He approaches the dead shell of an ancient oak. Only bits of the trunk are left, vestiges of gnarled bark cling in places. The inside is gone, rotted out years ago. Yet even this dead thing radiates life and energy. It vibrates in front of him almost as if he can see its very atoms pulsating. He is trembling slightly himself, though not from fear. His wandering brings him back to the tarmac of the lane and he moves slowly down it, marvelling at the beauty of everything, sunlight, colour, texture, birdsong. The road goes through a gate and winds down a hill, through another field and then into a wood.

He branches off again, this time to the right on a small path. On his right is the field he has just walked through, sparkling in the sunshine. Above him and on his left is the gloom of a plantation, Norway spruce or somesuch. The rich earthy smell fills his nose again, radiating from the composting needle covered forest floor. Here are mushrooms too. On the edge of the wood is the elegant brown and creamy coloured parasol. He veers of the path and into the dark. All the lower branches of the trees are gone, killed by the gloom and it's easy walking on the springy needle bed. The mushrooms glowing here are more sinister looking, cold white, deadly glistening purple they phosphoresce in the murk. Suddenly he is through the dark of the evergreens and into a stand of oak and beech. The ground is undulating here and a small stream bubbles busily along. It bounces down to a waterfall, so artfully arranged, surely it must have been landscaped. He works his way down and sits on a slab of moss covered stone at its base, watching the water drop in glittering strings, ten feet, to splash into the pool below. The whole scene is washed in greeny gold light filtering from above.

The rush from the mushrooms is fading now, and more than half the day is gone, but he is still attuned to the life and energy coursing through everything. For a brief while he has been conscious of the unending cosmic dance of creation and destruction and he dances in step with it as he wends his way homeward.


Wednesday, 14 February 2007

From Rishikesh to Gangoktri the Hard Way

Here we are in Rishikesh at the Ashoka Hotel, next to the bus station. It’s new, clean and surprisingly cheap, costing only 20 rupees for a double room, or twenty five if you make the mistake of arriving by rickshaw. The extra five goes to the driver for bringing you here.

The hotel is owned and run by a young, slim, longhaired Indian who is always dressed in immaculate white clothes. His main reason for owning it, seemingly, is to provide his social life. He made the money to build it and support the leisurely lifestyle he lives here, in Goa, though he won’t say how. I suggest smuggling and he smiles. He is always trying to persuade us to come to his rooms to watch T.V., drink beer and whisky and smoke. Rishikesh, the city of saints, is a dry and vegetarian town and he has to drive twenty miles to get his supply of booze.

The Ashoka is built in the modern reinforced concrete box style that is typical of all new Indian buildings. Posts and steel bars stick out of the flat roof so that when enough money is available another story can be cast on. The design here is more spacious than usual and the rest of the building almost lives up to the opulent reception area. The hotel is built around a courtyard with open stairs and balconies to all the rooms. The floors are polished, reconstituted marble and the walls are painted pale yellow giving the place a light and airy feeling. It is cleaned from top to bottom every day by teams of room boys in blue uniforms who are fast and efficient, unlike any others I have met. In most places, if there are any room boys at all, they are more interested in lounging around, combing their lank hair and fantasising that they are Michael Jackson. Here whenever we enter the hotel we are immediately offered cold water and if we ring someone arrives straight away. We are even offered clean sheets.


About six months previously Susan and I flew out to Kathmandu in a make or break attempt to resolve our ailing relationship. After a short trek in Nepal and a visit to Darjeeling, we travelled south to Goa and then down the west coast to Cape Cormorin and back up the east coast to Calcutta. From there we went to Benares, back to Nepal and then to Delhi to book a flight home. Susan had taken large quantities of photographs and I had made copious notes with the idea of compiling a lavishly illustrated book of our journey on our return to England. Unfortunately on the way to Delhi, I became involved in an argument with a lad who had trodden on Susan’s flip-flop sending it under the wheels of the train we were boarding. Whilst I was thus distracted I heard a whoosh noise of sliding baggage and the bag containing my notes, sketches, camera and all of Susan’s exposed films was stolen. The bag also contained a small but delectable soapstone carving of Ganeesh, the elephant headed Hindu God of wisdom, dancing. Some message there perhaps? Just another in a long line of incidents that had jarred the progress of our journey. In Goa, Susan spent a week living in complete paranoia, periodically having to be talked out of giving herself up to the police after unwittingly eating an exceptionally strong hash cake. Further south we discovered we were being watched by a vigorously masturbating fisherman after making love on what had seemed a completely deserted beach. Susan lost the paperwork of her visa extension which involved us in some harrowing interviews with Indian bureaucrats and at one point it seemed that we would have to retrace our steps from the north of India to the very south. However all was finally resolved at the Nepalese border with a 50 rupee bribe. An American who also had some visa problems was scandalised. “ Is that all it takes to bribe these guys? That’s pathetic.” Added to these incidents were the usual liberal dose of diarrhoea and bed bugs. We were two walking matchsticks, able to see this quite clearly in the other, though not in ourselves. With our relationship broken rather than made, we found ourselves with three weeks before our flight out and decided we would go north to the source of the Ganges.


The town of Rishikesh seems much like any other, hot, dry and dusty, waiting for the monsoon. The new part is rows of concrete blocks that give little shade to the streets between them. The buildings themselves act as heat stores, so fans run continuously, apart from during the inevitable power cuts. These leave people prostrate in the oven-like rooms. Holy cows wander the streets stealing from stalls or sit morosely chewing bits of cardboard. The sun beats down from the hazy blue sky and most days it’s almost too hot to move between the hours of ten and five.

The old town has more action and more shade too. The streets are narrow and there are old trees and awnings strung from the shops in the hustle and bustle of the bazaar. Street vendors are everywhere selling fruit, veg, hot snacks, salads, cold drinks and every kind of junk imaginable. Some people sell just one thing, a tool for cleaning the jet on a primus stove, a set of ear cleaners or a bunch of safety pins. One specialist has a row of live lizards lying on their backs so they can’t move, and more of the same, dead and fried in a greasy black pile in a pan. Presumably medicine is exempt from the vegetarian rule. The worst of these fringe medicine practitioners are the ear cleaners. They hunt in packs and are extremely persistent. They all look very similar as if they are all from one tribe. They are dark skinned men with shiny black hair and thin moustaches, dressed in grubby white shirts and checked lungis. Around their waists are belts with neat leather pouches containing the nasty looking steel tools of their trade, their certificates and books of references from past clients.

“This is to introduce Krishna Patel. He is a great ear cleaner. He put some wonderful stuff in my ear that frothed bubbled and tickled like crazy. After I could hear real well. Ron Wartburger, Washington, USA”

I was lounging on a beach in Goa the first time I met one of these people. He handed me his bunch of testimonials and while I was distracted, plunged one of his grubby tools into my ear. Before I could offer a word of horrified protest he had pulled it out again, at the same time palming a great blob of black grease on to the end of it. If this had actually been in my ear it would have rendered me stone deaf.

“Look Baba, ears very bad, I give good clean, you read here many people from your country very pleased with me.”

I could scarcely contain my rage and fear that he had done my ear irreparable damage and suffered from psychosomatic earache for a week afterwards.

Back in the old town palmists and astrologers are here too. In one popular method of fortune telling, cards are laid face down and a parakeet hops out of a cage and turns the key card over. The experience is saturation bombing of the senses; not just the eyes with the intense light, colour and movement, but the nose with the smells of flowers, spices, joss, food, urine and shit; and the ears with the non stop hubbub of hustlers and traffic. The roads are choc-a-block, ox carts, buses, cars, heavy trolleys pushed by sweating porters. The drivers use their horns instead of their heads. Everywhere there are hordes of desperate cycle rickshaw men who look too thin to propel the heavy trikes with their big upholstered passenger seats unloaded, let alone with a couple of passengers and luggage.

“Hello Sahib, you want rickshaw?”
“No thanks.”
“You need hotel?”
“I know very good hotel Sahib, very cheap, only forty rupees double.”
“I already have a room for twenty rupees.”
“You want Ganges? Only two rupees.”
He drives in front of us, steps down and slaps the leatherette seat.
“This very good rickshaw Sahib, you come.”
“No, No, NO.”
They work by a process of attrition in the hope that eventually desperate for peace and quiet you will take a ride anywhere to stop the hustle. It can of course backfire. I have seen a poor driver, rickshaw and all hurled over by an enraged Aussie unable to take any more. Whether it is the climate or the crowded conditions I don’t know, but people’s tempers are on much shorter fuses. Almost every day I have been drawn into interrogations along the lines of:

“Why are you visiting my country?”
“Where are you going?”
“Where are you from?”
“What are you doing?”

It soon becomes obvious that the questioner doesn’t understand a word that I say in reply. After a few interchanges like this I find myself shouting at the top of my voice, usually at a genuinely interested enquirer, whose hurt expression leaves me mortified and mumbling guilty apologies. As for the rickshaw wallah there can be no blame. The poor man is desperate to earn the pittance for which, he pedals his undernourished body to an early grave.

The Ganges is a couple of hundred yards away past rows of small shops selling beads, coloured powders, chillums and pictures of the Gods. Under two huge banyan trees groups of Sadhus, orange robed and matted haired, smoke chillums and make puja at the Shiva shrines built into the tree trunks, or simply lie asleep. Next to a hodge podge of squatters’ shacks made of packing cases, old tin cans and anything else that comes to hand, a small crowd of people surround a seated man. He is wearing a black dress with a long flared skirt. His fingernails and lips are painted red, his face black and covered with multi coloured sequins. As Susan and I watch he carefully straps on four extra arms and a belt of hands made of black stuffed gloves. He places a golden crown like hat on his head, and after a last meticulous scrutiny of himself in a hand mirror, takes up a bowl with smoking incense in it and a large curved sword, then strides off into town leaving us all staring after him. He can only be Kali, Goddess of destruction and consort of Shiva.

We are feeling thirsty and head for a drink shop. Top of the menu at this one is ‘Iced Crime.’

“Namaste, doh soda.” I say in fluent Hindi.
“Soda?” The shopkeeper looks around in vague desperation. “I am sorry we do not sell this thing.”
“Oh yes you do. I bought one here yesterday.”
“What is it you are wanting?”
“Soda, Soda, Soda.” I say, reduced to the classic English technique of communication with foreigners and shouting louder and louder.
Another customer joins in. “He is asking for Soda.”
“Oh Soda. How many?”
“No two, doh, doh,................. Thankyou, thankyou very much.”

The Sodas in this shop come, as they often do in very thick glass bottles with a marble trapped in a glass chamber, the pressure of the gas in the bottle keeping the ball forced against the top until it is pressed down with a pop by a grubby finger. Although we tend to stick to the plain ones, the Sodas come in all sorts of lurid colours and remind me of nothing so much as the penny drinks and lollies I used to buy as a child.

It is here by the Ganges that one of the things that makes Rishikesh different manifests itself. Just before sunset crowds of pilgrims come to bathe and worship Mother Ganga, the source of life, sprung from the matted hair of Shiva in the high Himalayas. At this time of the year the river is low and below the ghats is a large stony beach. Here a row of beggars must be negotiated. Some are holy men and women, some are cripples, lepers or blind. At each end of the row sits a money changer with piles of coins in front of him. These are given, minus a small commission, to pilgrims in exchange for notes. The pilgrims then distribute the coins to the beggars in order to gain merit. The beggars in turn trade the coins back with the money changers. This is why no shopkeeper in India has small change, they give you sweets instead, the beggars have all the paisa.

Beyond this gauntlet the beach widens out. Here and there are small wooden platforms on stilts. On one of these a group of musicians plays and sings holy songs, the sound wafting out on a P.A. system. “Hari Ram, Jai Jai Ram.” Crowds of people wander at the waters edge; brightly dressed women from Rajasthan, the golden sunlight glinting on their mirror work embroidered clothes, their menfolk sporting walrus moustaches wear huge turbans, dhotis and pointed leather slippers. There are orange robed Sadhus, one old one with a long grey beard and marvellous twinkling eyes comes up to us and tries to talk. He is quite happy for Susan to photograph him and doesn’t ask for baksheesh which is most unusual. Many of the more exotic looking ‘Sadhus’ make a good living posing for tourists. The westernised Indian middle class look more alien to the scene than we do. The men step gingerly over the rocks, desperate not to scuff their brightly polished Italian style loafers or mark their polyester permacrease trousers. The women follow cautiously concerned to keep their fine Benaris silk saris clean and dry. A group of female pilgrims clad in simple shifts that are soaking wet and clinging to their bodies, hold their saris out like huge flags to flutter and dry in the warm breeze. I stare at them surreptitiously, playing the English voyeur. They are shaven headed and apart from their faces, hands and feet, covered in tattoos and extremely striking. In the fast moving, murky water devotees, fully dressed, immerse themselves, then pray towards the source, sprinkling water right and left, on their heads and in their mouths, while little boats made of leaves containing lit candles flicker by. Further out a man washes a beautiful white horse that has large orange spots painted all over it. The horse is not very keen on what is happening and keeps turning towards the land, dragging the man over, giving his master a rather more thorough wash than he is getting himself. We sit for an hour or so drinking in the scene. There are no hustlers here, even the beggars just wait patiently. The atmosphere is a holiday one with an indefinable spiritual quality to it, entirely opposite to the frantic wheeling and dealing of the town.

As darkness closes in we make our way back and pass the man-woman Kali in black. He dances from shop to shop poking out a big red tongue and collecting money in his bowl. Later we sit out on the street eating dinner, a lovely rich tarka dhal and chapatties. The chapatties are made by a master of the art. He squats above an oven, which is like a huge pot with a fire at the bottom. Taking a small ball of dough in his flour covered hands, he pats it gently back and forth. As if by magic it stretches and flattens in to a thin perfect circle that he slaps against the inner wall of the oven, where it sticks and immediately blows up like a balloon. He shapes, slaps, sticks and pulls out the cooked chapatties in a continuous flow. Whilst we eat, the white horse, now spot free, goes by carrying a proud bridegroom in a golden turban, his smart suit covered in bits of tinsel and banknotes.

The next day we discover the other difference about Rishikesh. We walk north out of the town for half a mile or so and take a ferry across the Ganges. The queue of passengers has to be rigidly controlled by means of roped off walkways to prevent the usual stampede that public transport causes. This would capsize the boat and send us all to the bottom of the river. Even so there are still queue jumpers persistent enough to push or sidle past. Their burning desire to get on or off something first can only be dealt with by physical restraint. The river is wider here but we still chug across it at a very acute angle, forced downstream by the power of the current. On the other bank is a relatively new development of Daramsalas and temples, fronted by an awning covered bazaar selling the usual souvenirs and snacks. We enter the temple gardens and find ourselves in a low budget spiritual Disneyland. The garden is a series of gravel paths flanked by concrete walls which separate the plants from the people. Scattered in the gardens in wire cages and in the temples in glass boxes are life-size and larger, brightly painted cement sculptures of Gods, Goddesses and saints. Shiva sits cross legged on top of the Himalayas, trident in hand, the Ganges spouting from his hair. There is a whole progression of images from the life of Krishna. One of him as a boy has the whole world painted inside his open mouth. Vishnu lounges on a lotus and lies sleeping his cosmic sleep on a seven headed cobra. In a glass case the Buddha meditates and smiles a blissful smile, while next to him, Mary nurses the infant Jesus. Inside one of the temples is the piece de resistance, a huge multi headed, multi armed God. His heads are the heads of all the major gods and his many arms carry their symbols. He stands at least twelve feet tall and has mirrors behind and to either side of him so that he is reflected infinitely. We rest awhile on the cool marble floor of the temple, then walk back to the bazaar. At the end of it is a sign inviting us to witness the miracle of the floating stones. We pass a row of cell like rooms inhabited by old people here on pilgrimage or perhaps to die, and come to an ashram. There in the entrance are two steel tanks with iron grilles over the top of them. One is dry, a stone lying in the bottom of it, but the other is full of water on which floats a large stone with a few small coins and a dead marigold on top of it. Suddenly we are set upon by a tall slim Sadhu with immaculate orange robe, gleaming white teeth and dreadlocks.

“It’s being cleaned out.” He explains, pointing to the waterless tank. He leads us into a room and hands me a magnifying glass. The walls are hung with paintings all containing a circular design, which when examined through the lens, prove to be scriptures written in a spiral of minute lettering. There is a sudden whirring and clanking noise from the other end of the room and we turn to see the arms on a picture of Krishna and his mother move backwards and forwards like windscreen wipers as the baby Krishna defends himself from a smack for giving sweets to poor children. After this we are lead downstairs to a cellar to view the electric cave exhibit, rows and rows of pictures of Gods and Goddesses whose arms and heads shake when the frames are tilted. Electric motors begin to buzz jerking a statue of Vishnu to life. His head turns from side to side as a finger on one of his many arms spins a discus of coloured light bulbs. The effect is enhanced by a Heath Robinson affair of strings and pulleys not quite hidden behind him. The Sadhu suddenly dashes back upstairs and we follow, to find him engaged in a fierce conversation on the telephone. Susan and I wander back outside the Ashram and read the rules for guests which are painted on the wall in two languages, Hindi and English. There are forty eight of them including one that states “Mad persons are not allowed to stay here.” Further on is the place where the east bank development all started, the Maharishi Ashram of Beatles fame, but it’s hot and foreigners are no longer allowed in, so we turn back.


Today we are up early as we have to travel right across town to another bus station specifically built ‘for the convenience of pilgrims,’ as far away from the other bus station as possible. We go by motorised rickshaw, a three wheeled motor scooter with a bubble shaped cab painted black and yellow. Driving at ten miles an hour in these things is as nerve racking as doing a ton in a sports car. We get there quickly enough after negotiating the price and persuading the man that we are in a hurry and have not hired him to listen to the interminable conversation he is having with another driver.

We have decided to break the 290 kilometre trip into three days to make the journey tolerable and give us a chance to look around the two major towns on the way. We get tickets surprisingly easily and manage to find the bus after ten minutes of searching, with some seats still free. It is usually wise to ask questions and directions very carefully and from more than one person. This is because of the Indian habit of telling you what they think you want to hear rather than the truth, in order to avoid being the bearer of disappointing news, a charming but somewhat frustrating or even dangerous trait. We sit in the bus, cooking gently in the heat, until it is crammed full with passengers, then off we chug.

The road turns away from the Ganges and winds up through a forest and on to a hillside enlivened by the brilliant yellow flowers of giant laburnums. In a pleasant village at the top of the pass, we stop for tea.

Here in India tea is made completely differently to the English method. A spoonful of dust tea is put into a saucepan along with the correct amount of water sugar and milk and brought to the boil. Often the tea maker will add a pinch of a favourite herb or spice to make his chai unique. The tea is then poured through a strainer into a glass and often from glass to glass to reduce it to the right temperature for drinking. It is almost impossible to get a chai wallah to change a recipe, if for example you don’t like milk or sugar. Without these ingredients it is simply not tea and they are unable to make it.

After the village we follow the hillside for a while until it opens up into another valley, where we gradually descend. The sky clouds over and by the time we reach the valley floor it is an unremitting grey, which matches the bleak surrounding countryside. The mountains are deforested, bare but for landslides, great piles of shattered rock, dusty roads that lead to factories and clusters of ugly concrete buildings. It is like the very worst aspects of a gigantic and dry Welsh mining valley and we begin to wonder what we are doing here.

Tehri itself is an unprepossessing place perched on a steep hillside that is covered in rubbish and slag from the hydro-electric project in progress below. There are only three hotels, all overpriced for the small grubby rooms they offer. We stand at the bus station dithering. Shall we go straight on, straight back, or stay? In the end we stay, as the thought of another bus journey that day seems worse than any room.

The town is a one road strip and the old part of it, furthest away from the hotels and the bus station, is the most pleasant. Here the buildings are more organic and interesting with some well carved woodwork on the doors and windows. Across an open space of beaten earth is a gently decaying and peaceful temple. It begins to rain, large blobs of water, a huge downpour which turns into hailstones the size of marbles. Amazing forked lightening flashes all around us. We take refuge with a family of pilgrims under a corrugated iron shelter outside the temple. The poor people’s cooking fire is completely doused and they have to move their few belongings from one side of the shelter to the other as great sheets of water are blasted in by the fury of the storm. Soon there is no dry floor space left and they have to pick up everything, leaving them with the prospect of a damp night ahead. In the temple entrance three scrawny cows wrangle with each other for shelter. There is only room for two. Eventually the weakest stands head down in the hail which is falling so hard and fast it has turned the ground white.

As suddenly as it started the storm is over, leaving the air fresh and clear. We pick our way around puddles to find a place to eat. The street has turned into a stream with people up to their ankles in water improvising dams across shop fronts. The deluge has made everyone happier and there are smiles and laughter as we wade down the street in the icy water. Dinner is the usual fried dhal with chapatties, but we do find some dangerous but wonderful orange ices with real ice cream centres. Then we return to the grubby room and oblivion.


In the morning after more dithering, we decide to press on rather than return to the oppressive heat of the plains. Again we get seats on the bus with no trouble. This time our route stays more or less with the river and as the road goes up the valley the hills get greener. The slag heaps are left behind and trees appear again. The weather gets brighter along with the scenery. As usual the bus picks up people until there is absolutely no space left, then it rumbles on without stopping.

The valley narrows for a while, then opens out and we arrive at Uttarkashi. A fellow traveller has told us that all the hotels here have bed bugs. We pick the cleanest looking one and throw most of the bedding out of the room. The hotel is run by a family of Sikhs, one of whom visits us immediately to see if we have anything to sell. After we manage to get him out of the room we go for a look around. It is another small old market town that has been buried in a concrete block development. There are a couple of nice old temples, one of which is dedicated to Shiva. It contains a huge lingam with a cauldron suspended above it. From this a constant trickle of water splashes on to the head of the stone phallus. Apart from the temples there is not much to see but the bazaar and another hydro-electric project. It starts to rain again, drizzle this time, so we go in search of dinner. We manage to find a restaurant that looks reasonably clean and doesn’t lace the food too heavily with chillies, so the meal is only marginally hotter than a vindaloo in England. The menu is the usual fried dhal and chapatties which we follow up with Indian sweets and tea. We get back to the hotel to find that the passageway outside our room has been transformed into a dormitory and is filled almost wall to wall with beds. We spend a restless night with the light on, killing bed bugs, managing to doze off fitfully at dawn, only to be woken up, what seems like minutes later, by the occupants of the dormitory getting up. People hacking, coughing and blowing their noses loudly with their fingers into the sink as they have their morning wash.

The two buses of the day that go to Gangoktri leave incredibly early in the morning. We arrive in time to catch the second one, only to find it is already full and that there is a small riot going on in the ticket office. This is a wooden shed, the back third of which is separated off by a four foot high wooden counter. Above this is thick wire netting that stretches all the way to the roof. It is very securely fastened and only pierced by a few small holes at counter height to make the ticket booths. The system here is ludicrous for you cannot buy a ticket until the bus arrives and there are no seat reservations. If a lot of people want to travel on a particular bus, as soon as it appears it is besieged. As one group kick punch and elbow their way through the door, others are scrambling and heaving themselves in through the windows. Meanwhile another crowd are pushing and shoving at the ticket office, all trying to get their hands through the small hole in the wire mesh for a ticket. We resign ourselves to another day in Uttarkashi. The possibilities of the town are soon exhausted and I go for a walk in the hills while Susan returns to the hotel. It is a fine day, the sun burning down out of a brilliant blue sky, made all the more intense, though not oppressive, because of the altitude. I find a secluded spot on the pine and scrub covered hillside and sunbathe for a while recouping some lost hours of sleep.

When I awake I wander back to the town. In the square a snake charmer is giving a show, wrapping a large green snake around his neck and making a cobra writhe and sway up out of a basket, hood spread and tongue flicking in and out of its mouth. Snake charmers seem to command a lot of respect and most of the audience are staring wide eyed, transfixed by the performance. Next to him some kind of gambling game is going on with people buying little piles of cards from a man with a very fast line of patter. Gradually cards are eliminated until one man with one card is left. As the winner he gets the pick from a pile of large cloth offcuts.

When I get back to the room I find Susan involved in intense negotiations and hard bargaining too, selling one of the Sikhs a cheap digital watch. After about half an hour of hustle, side-tracks and hard luck stories on both sides, she sticks at seventy rupees while he stops at sixty. He disappears and returns with his brother for a second opinion. The brother is more interested to find out if we have anything else he can lay his hands on, like a camera or a walkman. Eventually the other one pulls out a wad of notes and peels off sixty, but Susan stands firm and finally with great reluctance he adds another ten. I now introduce a subject of much more importance to me, namely the bed bugs. We produce some corpses as proof and are promised that something will be done. The brothers leave, never to be seen again and nobody comes to spray the room either, so we have another bad night.


This time we are up with the first spit and nose blow and out into the deep pre dawn blue for the first bus. We divide forces and Susan fights for seats while I wrestle for tickets. I find a good technique is to push and shove along with the rest whilst loudly reprimanding the people around me for their terrible behaviour. This distracts the less single minded of them enough so that I can elbow them out of the way, the bites from our night time room mates adding vigour to my arm. Susan is also successful and as the sun comes up, to our great relief, we leave town.

The bus follows the river again, sometimes having to wind its way high up the hillside as the valley narrows to a gorge, sometimes driving right by the river where glaciers have eaten out a great plain, leaving a desert of crushed stone. As we head north and then east, the Ganges becomes more and more youthful, a bounding and lively stream. We catch tantalising glimpses of snow clad peaks. The imprint of man on the landscape diminishes, with only an occasional village and a few terraces carved into the hillsides. These are isolated spots in an increasingly dramatic and beautiful wilderness. A huge vulture perched by the road eyes the bus speculatively as we pass. The white peaks are all around us now. Where the snow ends there are huge, jagged, sometimes sheer rockfaces and below, where they can gain a foothold, pine and birch trees.

Finally the tarmac ends and we are in a forest clearing full of buses and a shanty town of tattered tents. We get off the bus and have lunch in one of the tents, just for a change it is dhal and chapatties. No wonder I am thin as a rake and all my teeth are loose. Now we have to walk before a last bus trip that will take us the final twelve kilometres. There is one more bridge to be finished before the tarmac goes all the way. The path leads through an old pine wood. We are over ten thousand feet above sea level and it is fresh and sunny like an English summers day. The bridge is a huge steel construction over a deep gorge. The sign next to it tells us that it was due to be finished over a year ago but the piles of girders everywhere tell us that completion is a long way off yet. A team of six men slide a steel beam along inch by painful inch. A winch lies, ignored to one side. They don’t even ease their task by using rollers. We scramble across the metal obstacle course and after a short walk on the other side reach another shanty town and set our packs down.

When the bus arrives people immediately dive in through the windows. They can’t get in through the door, though some are trying, because of the press of people trying to get off. I leave Susan to fight for seats while I put our rucksacks on the roof. This is not as straight forward as it might seem. First it is necessary to climb the ladder at the back of the bus, and apart from others trying to do the same thing there are people coming down as well. Fortunately our bags are light enough that I can carry both at once, one on each shoulder. When I get up there I have to find a secure place for them. As usual there are no ropes, so I tie them to the roof rack by their own straps. I then keep a wary eye on them to make sure they don’t get re-arranged or something unpleasant dumped on them, like a cage full of chickens showering their droppings everywhere. When I get down I see Susan has managed to get seats at the back.. She asks me if I have seen the detective who has got her passport and wants mine. There is no sign of this man and we both go into a state of pure panic. I rush round the bus searching for him and then realise I don’t even know what he looks like. I get back and am just about to get on the bus so Susan can get out, when to our immense relief, he turns up. We vent our pent up tension on him at the very idea that he should just walk off like that. He stares at us as if we are crazy, then hands Susan her passport back and takes the details of mine. I squeeze my way on board and worm my way to the back, having to climb over a couple of people on the way. The driver heaves himself on board, wearing a towel on his head and a pair of dark glasses, and we roar off down the road in a huge cloud of dust. Both of us have to lean forward as there is only an iron frame behind us, no upholstery, and hang on for dear life as the bus bounces down the dirt road at ridiculous speed.

So we arrive in Gangoktri. It consists of a cluster of stone and timber houses and an old Shiva temple. There are three small bridges across the river, which drops fifty feet down a waterfall in the middle of the village, then rushes through a gorge that is no more than three or four feet wide in some places. The pale yellow granite is sculpted and rounded into strange forms by the force of the water, as if a collection of Henry Moores are half buried here.

The first place we try for a room is the Yoga Nikanta Ashram. We find the manager in bed. He tells us that the minimum donation is twenty five rupees per head which we think is a bit pricey. He explains this system has been brought in because a lot of western tourists have stayed a long time and then on leaving have given very little. “Look around but it is the cheapest here. You will be back I think.”

We wander out and are struck by the fact that there are no children about and no food being grown. The place only exists for the pilgrimage and tourist season. We come to the tourist lodge and I approach a group of Indians sitting outside.

“Have you any double rooms?”
“Yes, twenty five rupees.” Replies one.
“No, no, forty rupees for a double.” Interrupts another.
“That’s outrageous, we didn’t pay that much for a room in Delhi, your capital.”
“Yes, well the rooms are all full anyway.”
“You’re full too.........full of shit.”

A few more encounters like this and we end up back at the Nikanta. The manager gets out of bed and orders tea to be made for us. He is young, short, plump, cheerful and bearded.

“Beards, I love the magnificence of beards. It’s very good that you have a beard. I am a poet. I have written over eight thousand poems and will now create one in honour of your arrival. What is your names?”

Whirlingly moving reached the cradle

The world is round and everywhere
the snatching and seeking have their place
From the inception of my conscience growing
I have been fascinated to destroy the grits by knowledge mace

Trivcet* and Susan came to my room
when I was relaxing to relinquish my fatigue
Both of them made the query
about the charge of the room
and were intensely disturbed
When they heard about the little charge
and went to quest for the room in charge lesser,
Surprisingly enough searching searching
eventually moving whirlingly
they reached Niketan
the blissful cradle
Viswa Se Vak
Presented with love and affection

* His interpretation of my name

We now move from the creative to the bureaucratic phase of the proceedings. Wherever you stay in India there are always two or three forms to be filled in, usually in triplicate, and entries to be made in books and ledgers. The only place on the whole trip this has not happened to us was in Rishikesh, where the hotel owner seemed actively against it. Something I found vaguely disturbing. Was he planning to do away with us, leaving no trace of our presence in his books? Here Viswa seems to want to do all the paperwork himself.

“There must be no mistakes or it is big problem for you.”

He takes Susan’s passport.

“Ah you are older than me. Then I shall call you Didi, it means older sister in our language, and you Trivcet shall be Bye, my brother.”

He looks at my passport.

“You are smiling in this picture. That is good, very good.”

After about half an hour the form filling is finished.

“Now I will take you to the special room I have for you and you can relax.”

The special room turns out to be a gloomy cell with two small, hard beds and barred windows. The room is enlivened only by a calendar picture of Krishna pinned to the wall, however it does have a veranda. He joins us there later for tea and explains some of the Ashram’s philosophy.

“We are not good, but we are trying to be good and that is important I think.”

An Australian comes over to see him about some problem.

I am sorry I cannot come at the moment as I am being hospitalised by my brother and Didi here.”

I ask him why he is wearing a whistle hung on the end of his prayer beads and he explains:

“We Indians are by nature a lazy and inefficient people, so I must give a few blasts on the whistle now and then or nothing would get done here.”

Another day he comes up to us:

“Didi may I speak with you?” He looks a bit embarrassed.

“What is it?”

“Do you think you could keep your shoulders covered in the Ashram? It is a rule.”

Susan says she thinks he is being sexist as the cook wanders round day and night with nothing but a bit of cloth round his waist. When she explains what sexist means, as he has never heard the word before, he says:

“Yes you are right about the cook. I have spoken with him but he is uncontrollable.”

Susan asks the cook if he doesn’t feel the cold. The nights are freezing and we walk around wrapped up in sleeping bags and blankets. He replies:

“Yes it is cold, but I must learn to control the body. If I cannot do that how can I control the mind?”

There are three meals a day. Tea and sweet tsampa (finely ground barley flour with sugar) at six in the morning, chapatties and dhal at eleven and the main meal in the evening of chapatties, rice and dhal or a vegetable with occasionally a banana or a sweet. Before we eat in the evening we chant together, “Aum, Aum, Aum.” Then Viswa sings a song of thanks with which the long term inmates, who have learned the words, join in. Then there is a blast from the whistle and we eat accompanied by stories and poems from Viswa. This is the only compulsory ritual, the Yoga and other classes are a matter of choice. The only other requirements are, smoke only in your room, wash your own plate and cup, and dress decently, excepting the cook.

We stay three days, unfortunately all we have time for. I go walking while Susan who is suffering from the shits, goes to the Ganges to sunbathe and take photographs. I walk some of the way up the river. It is very boulder strewn above the village with lots of moraine from the glacier. Here and there are little stone cells, built under big rocks, where people retreat to meditate. We are shown one, a tiny space, where a swami lived for twelve years before going to America, leaving behind an aged disciple and a pile of pamphlets.

The vibe of the place is wonderful. Apart from the magnificent scenery, the crowds of people who have come here on pilgrimage are uplifted by the experience. They gather on the banks of the Ganges, by the temple, to bathe, make puja and collect the holy water to take back with them. They are wreathed in smiles.

I decide to head for the glacier and the snowfields. I take a path up behind the Ashram. It ascends steeply through pine forest, then birch trees and alpine pasture. Waterfalls dropping from sheer crags are blown to spray. Delicate wildflowers dot the mountainside, rhododendrons covered in purple snowballs spill on to the path. Onwards and upwards, I reach the first patches of snow. The birches here are stunted and barely in bud whilst they are in full leaf below. I can see the pass I am aiming for now and beyond it a massive pyramid of a peak, a white cone of snow below which is rock that glows orange pink as though lit from within. Exhilarated I round a bend in the trail and find the path gone, down in a dusty landslide too steep and slippery to cross.


Time to leave. We make smiling, sad farewells and take the bus back down. It is full of happy singing pilgrims. The bridge is still the same. The labourers still sweat, inching a beam along. It could be the same one. Others move earth using the standard two-man shovel technique. A rope is tied to the bottom of the handle’s shaft and as the man holding the shovel pushes, the rope man pulls. We file past over the bridge and down to the bus park, where we meet an Australian couple from the Ashram. The ticket office is a small metal folding table and a couple of chairs in front of a shack. Of course we can’t get tickets as the bus has not arrived. When it does come, it parks so far away that we don’t realise it is there until far too late. We have to take this bus, so we forget about fighting for tickets and climb on the roof with the luggage, along with four others, and refuse to come down. The result of this is an ongoing battle between the six of us and the driver which lasts the whole journey. It is illegal to travel on top of a bus in this state, so every time we approach a check point we are forced to travel inside. The bus is small, a thirty six seater, with standing room for ten. Standing for midgets that is. There are actually about seventy of us on the bus, so that when the six of us come down from the roof, the door can only be closed by compressing us so tightly that if you can manage to bend your legs, it is possible to take both feet off the floor and float. Most of the time I have to adopt a position with my head bent forward and to one side, with an arm up next to it, flat against the roof to protect my head from banging. The other arm is locked immobile in the press of bodies and is clutching my small bag of valuables. As soon as the bus stops after a checkpoint we burst out of the door and make a dash for the roof. Up there it is wonderfully comfortable stretched out on mounds of soft baggage in the sun. The only hazards are the occasional low slung telephone wires. We gaze at panoramic views of the mountains and swap the usual travellers gossip on food, the state of our bowels and other important topics. Then the bus stops again and the conductor comes up ranting about another police post. How can it be perfectly legal to cram us inside like sardines in a tin, yet not allow us to lounge on the roof is unfathomable.

At one stop a smartly uniformed policeman tries to get us to go up the road to an office to have our passports examined. We insist he bring the book to us, as if we go to the office the bus will certainly leave without us. He goes back and forth, his superior officer is obviously too lazy to come down and on his third trip back we cram into the bus and leave. At this point the journey sinks to a new level of hellishness. something goes wrong with the gearbox and for most of the rest of the trip it is stuck in first gear. This extends the journey time from a slow six to an interminable ten hours. Every time the bus stops the engine stalls and we have to get out and push to bump start it. Worse still there are so many check points we can’t go back on the roof. I try and stay on the steps near the door as at least I can stand up straight there, though only on one leg, as there is not room for both feet. Eventually the ghastly trip is over and we arrive in Utterkashi.
We avoid the bedbugs this time by staying in the tourist bungalow, in a room without bedding. The next day after some hard bargaining with the Sikhs, we sell our sleeping bags for a good price and get seats on a relatively comfortable bus straight through to Rishikesh. We have one night in the Ashoka hotel drinking beer and whiskey with our ‘ex-smuggler’ friend. Only one more long distance bus ride to go, taking us to Delhi and an aeroplane.

"Oi You, Buonarroti, No"

I'm sitting looking at a bunch of pictures on a wall. They are mostly simple still lifes with one or two abstracts, all painted in muted greys with hints of watery yellow. "What do you think of them?" my partner says. "Not a lot." I reply. She: "A lot of them have sold." Me: "They must be cheap." She goes and looks at the price list. "They aren't." Me: "What do you think of them?" She: "I like them." Me: "Why?" She: "They're restful." Me: "They're gloomy and have little to say." She: "No, they're cool and gentle." Me: "They're just the kind of dull colours we're surrounded with outdoors most days of the year, why would you want to bring them into the house as well?" She: "I'd buy one, they would fit in well with the decor." Now that is almost terminally depressing. Then the penny drops. All those odd remarks over the years. Variations on the theme of "We love your work, but we can't really fit it in the house anywhere." They are talking about decor. What they really mean is "Your bright bold colours are nice, but unfortunately anything that isn't dirty grey or muddy brown will clash with our paintwork." Here is the stark choice, move somewhere bright, dull my palette, or continue to starve. This is the powerful pressure of market forces. The majority of the money out here is in the pockets of Barbour jacketed, Telegraph reading riff raff lookin' for a nice Huntin' print for the hall, so I'm semi stuffed to start with. Oh feck it, I can turn my hand to some nice dinky little ink sketches of half timbered houses can't I?.......can't I? Surely pictures should be a bit more than an extension of a decorating theme shouldn't they? Imagine the scene: Pope Julius the second enters the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo is high above on the scaffold. He has been lying on his back for the last four years, painting looking upwards. Apart from the tortuous physical difficulties involved, anyone who has ever painted in this position knows of the tendency of the paint to run down the brush, over your hand and down your sleeve, rather than up on the ceiling where you want it. Glancing heavenward the pope starts, then steps backward aghast. "Oi you, Buonarroti, No!" He bellows "All those bright colours will upstage my stylish decorating scheme of magnolia columns and eau de nil shot silk wallpaper. You're off the smeging job, I'm bringing in Laurence Llewelyn Bowen and the Changing Rooms team."

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Climate Change

I have noticed that the grapes grown on a pergola in our garden in the UK have developed a higher sugar content as the years pass. They were originally inedible but are now quite passable. A programme last night had an interview with a farmer in Devon who, in anticipation of climate change, has planted Olives and Almonds. His olive trees are already producing ripe black olives three years ahead of the expected time. Apparently Olives need a long growing period and a cold spell to thrive. This will presumably mean that Olives in Andalusia will have to move further and further up the mountains till they disappear off the top, the avocados chasing them and coconut palms flourishing on the bits of the coast that are still left above sea level. Blackpool will of course become the Costa del Sol._________________
I have been getting about 1 and 2/3 crops of fig's from my tree in Derbyshire. The second crop just caught the frost before being ready to eat._________________
Enjoy it while you can. The weather will start cooling down again after 2012 if the solar activity predictions are correct. Man made global warming: a bandwagon for tax collectors. _________________
Yomper Please tell us more or give web site etc._________________
Todd some good pictures of solar flares here. Wikipedia has info on the cycles but there seem to be several of them of different lengths, so its quite complex sorting out a pattern and I haven't found anything that shows this simply and clearly. Yomper enlighten us please._________________
Wow Grouser, that page is interesting. I like the bit about high altitude aircrew getting a low-level radiation enhancement equivalent to approximately one chest x-ray may be observed for these personell. _________________
Yes, the writer has an unusual grasp of the English language._________________
For a look at what happened to sunspot activity around the time of the Maunder Minimum or 'little ice age' have a look at It comes around every three hundred years or so and we're due another one fairly soon. This guys work is interesting. This graph shows what's going on in the troposphere temperature wise, which is unaffected by surface temp anomolies caused by the urban heat island effect etc. Despite emotive footage on ITV last week of chunks of ice falling off the edge of Antarctica (where do they think glaciers flowed to before man set fire to coal?) the antarctic ice sheet is currently thickening by around 9 gigatonnes a year. I'm sufficiently convinced that I'm buying a house in Andalucia rather than Lappland. _________________
Spanish Hopes
Well I don't know if it is climate change or not, but it's bl00dy cold here in the UK.
Nevada Smith
antarctic ice thickening - one of many scientific 'thoughts' on the subject...
Thanks yomper. Your information puts a new slant on global warming / cooling / second ice age / planet going to turn into desert etc. So now I can throw sun spots into the discussion next time the topic comes up in the bar. Can't see it being more than two days before someone brings it up in conversation._________________
Spanish Hopes

I'm sufficiently convinced that I'm buying a house in Andalucia rather than Lappland.

If you have half as much pleasure from it as I have already had and a quarter as much as I intend to have you will be a lucky man. Enjoy it and don't let the prophets of doom on here put you off because they are jealous that you may make the success of it that they have so far failed to do.
Yomper do you know if any of the current climate modellers factor in solar flare cycles and if so what results they get? From what I understood from the links you posted it would seem to be cooling the planet by only 1 degree celcius when the low cycle kicks in, which if the other predictions are correct would only modify warming. How does the temperature in the troposphere have any effect on climate change on the ground? Nevada, thanks for that link, sadly it would appear from it that the ice build up is a temporary thing. Spanish Hopes 'Prophets of Doom' who they?_________________

Spanish Hopes
I wasn't referring to you grouser but you will no doubt have seen the many negative postings on here which are designed to shatter dreams. I don't mean the postings which point out difficulties and offer advice either as they can be helpful, and not at all intended to discourage.
nevada smith wrote:
"antarctic ice thickening - one of many scientific 'thoughts' on the subject...

"Sea levels are currently rising at about 1.8mm per year, largely because ice sheets in polar regions are melting, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said"
So in 550 years it could go up nearly... a yard. "Antarctica's "weight gain" is due to extra snowfall, caused by rising temperatures" Of course! the extra snow is due to ... you guessed it: Global warming.

Grouser wrote:
"Yomper do you know if any of the current climate modellers factor in solar flare cycles and if so what results they get? From what I understood from the links you posted it would seem to be cooling the planet by only 1 degree celcius when the low cycle kicks in, which if the other predictions are correct would only modify warming. How does the temperature in the troposphere have any effect on climate change on the ground? "

The computer models beloved of the IPCC don't take any account of solar influence. CO2 (a relatively weak greenhouse gas), can only raise the planetary average temperature by a degree or so. The rest of the 5 degree doomsday scenario relies on a computer model which predicts that a 1 degree shift will somehow propogate lots of water vapour ( a far more powerful greenhouse gas) into the upper atmosphere, where rather than forming clouds which would reflect more heat away fromt he surface, it would intensify global warming. To date, all the high altitude balloons which have been sent up to collect data have failed to find this computer modelled 'vapour'. The troposheric temperature is far more stable for long term measurements than the ground stations and offers the best 'background' measure we can use for longer term change. If the earth really is getting hotter overall, it'll show up in the troposphere, which is the layer immediately surrounding us. At the moment, in the big scale of time and temperature, we're just emerging from an ice age where the global average temp was around 11C. It's currently around 13C. Over the last 8 million years or so, the interglacial periods, (which are much longer than the glacial periods) have seen the global average temp peak out and rest in a steady state at around 22C. In the long run, itt's going to get hotter no matter how much less coal and oil we burn.
I'm all for better care for the enviroment, but this shouldn't be confused with climate change doomsday bullsh1t. Especially when the government peddling tax rises to you is helping to open new coal fired power stations in China on a monthly basis._________________
Said it before. A very learned friend who advises governments on environmental issues once told me that we are still coming out of the last Ice age. The great glaciers are still melting and the land mass is still heaving and subsiding. To simplify this. The planet is in a constant flux. Coupled with this is the volcanic actions of which many are under the sea and are lifting the sea floor while those that are on land discharge billions of tons of ash and gasses into the atmosphere. Planetary cycles, some of which are measured in thousands of years and solar flares all come into play. We cannot stop the universe or prevent the changes. It's not long since we were all being warned about the second ice age! Enjoy life, Life is so so short and your time is nearly up. Don't worry be happy
Spanish Hopes
I think one previous poster was exactly right. Climate change is simply another excuse to tax us into oblivion. _________________
Yomper thanks for the comprehensive reply, which helps to clear the fog a bit from a complex subject. My conscience will feel a little easier when boarding a plane next time. Spanish Hopes, I hadn't taken it personally, I had hoped that 'The Prophets of Doom' were a thrash or heavy metal rock band, so that I could impress my son with my knowledge of popular culture._________________
Spanish Hopes
Grouser wrote:
"Yomper thanks for the comprehensive reply, which helps to clear the fog a bit from a complex subject. My conscience will feel a little easier when boarding a plane next time.
Spanish Hopes, I hadn't taken it personally, I had hoped that 'The Prophets of Doom' were a thrash or heavy metal rock band, so that I could impress my son with my knowledge of popular culture. "

If I knew what a heavy metal rock band was I'd impress myself. I was referring not to the many informed and helpful posters who as well as pointing out negative problems also give useful advice and encouragement, but to those who have taken the opportunity to fulfil their dream but appear to want no-one else to do so. They constantly put down any genuine request for help with pat phrases such as, 'I hope you aren't disappointed', 'You have no chance',
If the government was to take all the moneys collected on fuel taxes and use it to install every house with a solar energy water heater that would although not completely heat the water but reduce domestic power requirements by over 30%, wouldn't that both reduce emissions and demand on our dwindling power resource. Or am I being silly and missing something in my calculation?_________________
Spanish Hopes
You are being silly todd. The taxes collected to combat and reduce emissions are probably earmarked to pay for the wars in the middle east, or to BUY votes in the next election by being used on some PC project advocated by various minority floating voter groups. There is no way they will be ever used substantially for the purpose they are allegedly being collected. Everyone could of course pay for their own solar or other alternative heat source, then once it becomes popular they will find a way to tax that too.
The official term is hypothecation which means reserving the revenue from a particular tax to spend on a specific thing. In the UK, government policy (that's every government) is not to hypothecate taxes, so all monies from every source goes into one big pot that the exchequer portions out. This lends considerable creedence to Michael O'Leary's claims (to give one example) that fuel levies, or green surcharges are "just another tax" as they all go into the single central purse and don't therefore get spent on improving the environment. Personally, I'd be less annoyed about the tax I pay if I could see that (for example) my road tax was going to be spent on better transport. ­­________________
Personally I don't object to paying a bit more to fly in the form of taxes. However I do think the money needs to go into alternative energy. Fossil fuels, even if they are not a major contributor to climate change, are not going to last forever, despite their name. Indeed there is evidence that supplies are about to, or already have peaked, (new finds will not equal current wells being exhausted) yet demand for them is ever increasing. So it makes sense to pay a bit more now if it alleviates a future problem._________________
None of us will be around to prove/disprove the global warming theories.
Valencia Paul
katy wrote:
"None of us will be around to prove/disprove the global warming theories."
Our children will though, and their children.
The fact that you may not be around to find out if something does or does not occur is no reason not to try and understand what may happen and hence develop an informed opinion on it, particularly when it is a topic that may have ramifications for the whole planet. I know that eventually our sun will evolve into a red giant and expand and engulf the earth. Just because that isn't going to happen for billions of years doesn't mean it isn't interesting or worth pondering on. Also as Paul says what is happening now and how things change in the immediate future will affect our children and the generations after them, so we have an obligation to them to try and make informed decisions ourselves and help them to do so as well in their own lives. Apart from anything else if my son asks me about climate change I would like to be able to make an educated response to his question and hopefully discuss the pros and cons with him rather than just say "I have no idea, go google it"_________________
I have no problem debating the concepts and science with man made global warming proponents. I'd welcome responses to the points I've raised. I hope I still have an open mind, and am ready to be persuaded by logical argument and good evidence supported by verifiable sources. Unfortunately, much of the argument seems to be based on a belief in computer models which make some big assumptions about complex gas mixes which are poorly understood at the macro level. It's worth bearing in mind that it's not many years since we were being warned about our activity precipitating a new ice age.... Anyway, lets enjoy the lovely climate. _________________
There is an interesting article in the Telegraph about the myth of climate change here _________________
At the beginning of this thread I had taken it as pretty much a foregone conclusion that climate change/global warming was caused by greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide in particular. The fact that George Bush didn't believe in it would have been almost persuasive enough. As the thread has progressed though it seems more and more evident from the links and evidence presented that the sun is a much more likely cause of the majority of what is happening, with carbon emissions playing a minor part. In one sense this has left me more confused. If this evidence of the sun's role in this is out there for all to see, why are prominent scientists, politicians and heavyweight media figures like David Attenborough ignoring it. I can see that there are sound reasons for weaning ourselves of our reliance on fossil fuels as they are a finite resource, but this is no justification for bad science. What is going on?_________________
Valencia Paul
For those interested here is some info on climate change theories and solar variation. I'm not convinced by Yomper's links. If we carry on burning fossil fuels then the CO2 levels will continue to rise indefinitely. If solar activity kept us cool for a period what would happen when we go into a hot solar activity period and we had unprecedented CO2 levels as well. You are right to be cynical about government taxes but I believe there are real dangers ahead and even Bush now seems to be going with the majority scientific predictions
The three main problems with positing Co2 as a major forcing in climate change are: 1) No matter how much there is in the atmosphere, it won't raise the temperature much more than around 1 degree. 2) Ice core samples show that rises in temperature precede rises in atmospheric Co2 by 800 years. There's a problem with causation here for proponents of man made global warming to explain. 3) Co2 and global average temperature don't correlate very well.
Regarding "Majority scientific predictions", the apparent consensus is somewhat illusory. Lots of scientist agree that the climate is changing, but when you dig a bit deeper, you find that a lot of those who obediently pay lip service to the IPCC line in thye intro to their papers, then go on to demonstrate climate science at odds with the 'party line' This may have more than a little to do with issues around obtaining funding for their work._________________
More criticism of the Stern Report in today's Telegraph. _________________
Interesting article Sid. I particularly liked this line: 'The dons get so piqued by Stern that some resort to the deadliest weapon of academic warfare — the footnote.' Still can't see what his motivation would be though._________________
Nevada Smith
google up "global warming" and you are confronted with 1 - 10 of about 23,000,000 english pages... i'm reminded of a line from one of dylan's songs - "a lot of people don't have any food on the table, but they got knives and forks and they gotta cut somethin'"...and then there's robert frost's poem, 'fire and ice', which led me to these pages

Art kitch tecture

Straying out of my field a bit here, but one of the things I find frustrating about the border towns and in particular Ludlow is a certain preciousness. This manifests itself, with one or two minor exceptions, as a refusal to believe that anything worthwhile has happened in architecture, building design and materials’ development since the end of the nineteenth century.
One of Ludlow’s great visual strengths is that it has a mishmash of beautiful frontages built in various styles and periods. There are stone, brick and timber frames of high quality, usually burying a jerrybuilt hovel somewhere behind the façade. However this organic upgrading ground to a halt around 1900 to be replaced with pastiche. Don’t get me wrong, pastiche can be a useful tool in the armoury of expression, I make use of it myself in my art. However when it is virtually all pervasive it becomes stultifying. We have building developments of toy town housing with pseudo Victorian ornament stuck on them, a new police station that looks like a Wimpey home on steroids, yet doesn’t even have a lockup, and infills of fake Georgian façades for modern apartments. An affront to my eyeballs that I have the misfortune to see every day is the ghastly development called Galdeford Gate, built on the site of the old police station. I would guess that this architectural concoction is supposed to imitate one of the town’s fine streets, with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Instead it looks as if a child has been given carte blanche with a box of mixed period building blocks. We are presented with a cacophony of pastiche in a horrendous jumble. It’s a bloody great mess of fakery.
Some weeks after writing the above I find that venting my spleen on this development has allowed me to view it with a slightly more kindly eye, or perhaps it’s just that I’ve discovered another new building in Ludlow I like even less. The new Travel lodge out on the bypass seems to have nothing whatsoever to offer architecturally. Dear reader I challenge you to name one visually redeeming aspect to this building, despite my rather flattering photograph of it.
The most galling thing about this is that it need not be that way, as the minor exceptions prove. The glass fronted entrance to Ludlow Assembly Rooms, although completely modern in design and construction, fits in perfectly. So do Ludlow College’s new art and design building and the service tower on the refurbished Marston’s building down by the railway station. The very contrast between the decorative brick building and the glass column with its curved roof is refreshing to the eye.New technology and design concepts, leading to energy self sufficient buildings need to happen and the best buildings of the future will be the ones that take this on board, using function to dictate form and allowing the mixture of materials to develop their own vernacular, according to their properties. If the town cannot see this it will become a pastiche of its own history, a kind of theme park, and disappear up its own fundament.