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I am a writer, editor, reviewer and dance teacher based in Perth, Western Australia.

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The first novel of my trilogy, The Talismans, is available as e-books from Smashwords, Amazon and other online sellers. I do have paperbacks of The Dagger of Dresnia at the low price of $AU25 including postage within Australia. I also have a short story, 'La Belle Dame', in print - see Mythic Resonance below. Book two of the trilogy, The Cloak of Challiver, will be available again shortly. The best way to contact me is via Facebook!

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The first two books of The Talismans trilogy were published by Satalyte Publications, which, sadly, has gone out of business. I hope to see my books back on Amazon under a new publisher in the near future.

The Dagger of Dresnia

The Dagger of Dresnia
Want a copy? Contact me at satimafn(at)gmail.com

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The Cloak of Challiver
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Mythic Resonance

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Mythic Resonance is an excellent anthology that includes my short story 'La Belle Dame', together with great stories from Alan Baxter, Donna Maree Hanson, Sue Burstynski, Nike Sulway and nine more fantastic authors! Just $US3.99 from Amazon. Got a Kindle? Check out Mythic Resonance.

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Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

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Places I've lived: Tamworth, NSW

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Places I've lived: Auckland, NZ

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Places I've lived: Adelaide, SA

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Places I've lived: Lynton, Devon, UK

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Places I've lived: Braemar, Scotland

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Places I've lived: Barre, MA, USA

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Sunday, 5 April 2009

Climb an occasional mountain

I am sixty-six years old and I can count on one hand the number of mountains I have climbed. By international standards, not one of them is seriously worthy of the epithet, but then, this is me we're talking about. I don't even walk unless I have to, much less roam about on hilly protuberances. However, I have scrambled to the top of Auckland's Mount Eden (196m) as well as other baby mountains in this part of the world, including Mount Schank in South Australia (which boasts about the same height, or lack thereof, as Mount Eden) and, when I was much, much younger, I once climbed Australia's highest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko. It's a positive giant for this country at 2228 metres, or 7310 feet.

None of these can match the mountaineering adventures of my friend Carol Ryles who tackles mountains as readily as she does underwater caves (shudder) or treks in wilderness of all kinds. But when I boasted to Carol that I have climbed a real Himalayan mountain she told me I ought to blog it. So here is the story of my adventure on Phulchowki.

I spent three weeks in Nepal in February, 1995. Someday perhaps I'll blog other aspects of the trip, during which I explored Kathmandhu, met lots of wonderful people, managed to catch Giardia and survived a nasty bout of food poisoning, but climbing Phulchowki was definitely one of the highlights.

One reason for visiting Nepal was my lifelong love of rhododendrons, which grow in profusion on the hills around Kathmandhu. (Locals do not think them worthy of being called mountains, even though Phulchowki, the tallest of them, is, at 2760m, taller than Mount Kosciuszko.) My Lonely Planet guide assured me that Phulchowki was quite the best place in the Kathmandhu Valley to see rhododendrons, so I asked around the hotel, seeking information on how to get there. I'd made friends with a few other tourists by then, and one of them was a Pakistani named Kumar. He spelt it Karma, which seemed a bit eccentric until he explained that his mother had really wanted a girl and had thus lumbered him with having to spell his name aloud to every clerical officer he encountered. He assured me that he was an experienced climber and offered to take me to Phulchowki the next day. Climbing, he said, was his spiritual practice. I was intrigued.

So we got up bright and early and made our way to Patan, where we caught a bus to the village of Godawari, nestling on the lower slopes of the hills. After a cup of steaming hot black tea from a roadside stall, we hiked the short distance to the foot of Phulchowki, which rose above us into the clouds. Phulchowki is home to one of the last surviving "cloud forests" in Central Nepal. This means that the vegetation acquires much of its moisture directly from the clouds rather than from precipitation. That's not to say that it never rains or snows on Phulchowki. In fact, it can sometimes snow even in February. But it wasn't snowing that day, and the clouds were clearing as we ascended the gently sloping path up the hillside.

It remained gently sloping for about 20 minutes, then suddenly, sheer cliffs rose above us. They were not very high, but I had no idea how I was going to climb them. Not to worry: Karma found a sturdy stick about two metres long. 'Watch where I put my hands and feet,' he said, and then, clutching the stick in one hand, he hauled himself up the first little cliff. Lying on his belly, he leaned over the edge, holding the stick by one end. 'Hold onto the stick with your right hand,' he instructed, 'and put your left hand and your feet in the same places as I did.'

What had seemed like a good idea back at the hotel no longer seemed nearly so enticing, but I could hardly say so after Karma's kindness in offering to act as my guide. So, swallowing hard and definitely not looking down, I followed his instructions. With a bit of coaxing and careful instructions as to the whereabouts of the handholds and footholds, I was soon beside him on a ledge, and facing another steep clifflet.

We repeated the exercise again and again. I soon realised why mountaineering was Karma's spiritual practice. There was room in my mind and body only for the next handhold; the next foothold. I became as focussed as I had ever been in my meditation practice and more focussed than I'd ever been in any other kind of lesson. After all, one slip and I could break a leg. Or worse. It's amazing what such thoughts can do for your concentration.

After an hour or two I pleaded that I needed to rest, and after just one more (and one more, and one more...) small ascent Karma and I sat down to enjoy the view over the valley. Little villages dotted the landscape below, and around us the first few rhododendrons were just coming into bloom. I had brought sandwiches which Karma did not want to share. In fact, I didn't see him eat all day.

He told me we needed to push on if we were to make the summit and return to the world below by nightfall, so off we set again. More steep cliffs, more hauling on the long-suffering stick. I was seriously tiring by that time. After all, mountains were not part of my normal exercise routine.

Just as I was wondering how I could possibly reach the top, let alone come back down again, we suddenly arrived at a road. Its dark surface gleaming in the sunlight, it embraced the mountain like a spiral bracelet. On the other side of the road, the vegetation changed abruptly from shrubs to trees. Rhododendrons were still in evidence, but towering over them were magnificent oaks. And the ascent looked pretty steep.

I was starting to feel a bit cranky. If I'd known there was a decent road up the mountain I would have simply hired a taxi to bring me up. What was I thinking of, wasting over half a day hauling myself up a hill? It was nearing the early dusk of late winter, and I told Karma that I would follow the road and return to the village below. He, however, wanted to press on to the summit. We had come over two thirds of the way, which was enough for me. After all, I'd seen the rhododendrons and the cloud forest, and had more than enough of mountain climbing, thank you. Karma didn't have any water and he wouldn't take mine, which worried me a little, but really, I just wanted to get back to civilisation. So with a final wave to my guide as he entered the oak forest, I turned to follow the road downhill.

I had gone only a few yards when there was the sound of a car behind me. I moved over to let it pass. Unlike most cars in Nepal, it was a late model, shiny-black limousine, and it pulled up alongside me. A Japanese woman wound down the passenger side window. "Can we give you a lift?" she offered in perfect English.

Could they what! Thankfully, I crawled into the back seat of the car. My saviours were a diplomat and his wife who had not only spent a tour of duty in Canberra, but had a daughter who was born there. We had a pleasant chat about life in Australia, and then they asked if I'd mind if we stopped off at the orchid nursery in Godawari, home of the Royal Botanic Gardens. Mind? What a silly question! So I not only saw the rhododendrons and the cloud forest, but a wonderful display of native Nepalese orchids as well. I went to bed that night tired and happy, all angst having faded away on the car ride back to the Star Hotel.

As for Karma, he turned up in time for breakfast after spending the night in an army hut on the summit of Phulchowki. He and the diplomatic couple were just two of the many lovely people I met in Nepal, and that outing was just one of the many wonderful experiences I had there.

Because I'm in Perth I don't have access to my own pictures of that outing, so here is one I pinched from the Samrat Treks website. Next time I'm in Mount Gambier I'll try to remember to post some of my own and I hope the proprietors of Samrat Treks will forgive my plagiarism in the meantime!

5 comments:

Marilyn Z. Tomlins said...

I once sat fairly near to the top of a mountain. Didn't climb up; went up by cog-wheel train. But sitting up there with the world at my feet I understood why people climb mountains. Looking down on the earth gives one a feeling of power.

Graham Clements said...

About the highest thing I've climbed is Uluru, back before the Aborigines rightfully gained control of the national park and told tourists they would prefer they didn't climb it.

The most exhausting trek I did was a walk into Lake Talikan (phonetically spelt) in East Gippsland, Victoria, on a 40 degree day, camped the night and walked out on a 40 degree day. The trek out was helped by having to cross a shallow river a number of times.

Jo said...

I have never climbed a mountain, and I guess at my age I am never likely to now. Sounds like a fascinating experience thanks for sharing it.

Satima Flavell said...

Wow, I think Graham's 2-day trek in 40 degree heat beats my little excursion!

But indeed, there is nothing quite like a view from high on a mountain.

carolryles said...

That sounds like a fantastic trip you did. I'd love to go to Nepal. Maybe one day. Also, I must confess, I don't explore underwater caves any more. Too cold :)

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