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Archive for January, 2013

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Over the Hill

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Cute curious child

Cute curious child

 

Pangsang Danda

Pangsang Danda

 

View to Langtang (Shingla Pass)

View to Langtang (Shingla Pass)

 

Manaslu in the distance (8176m)

Manaslu in the distance (8176m)

Around Paldor Peak

Around Paldor Peak

 

Road to Nowhere

Road to Nowhere

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The Biman flight from Dhaka to Kathmandu is virtually empty. In the airport I spotted a group of Pakistani men dressed in turbans and robes, all wearing matching stern expressions. They sported opulent beards streaked with grey that hid severe features and aged them considerably. As they dined near me in a restaurant I imagined them talking of theology and wondered (assuming them to be holy men) whether when they travel together there is a kind of macho one-up-man-ship to see who can appear the most religious and God fearing, much like there might exist between a group of UK boys in relation to drinking and shagging. Perhaps they even assign puerile nicknames to each other based on devotions shown on past trips; Cain, Solomon, and maybe even Ruth!

They were in the departure lounge and for some reason I did not imagine that they might be travelling to Nepal. They were. They boarded the plane after me, and as they passed by one man, whose beard was yet to receive the silver touch of age, smiled broadly and waved to get my attention. He asked me where I was from and seemed pleased with the answer. They moved to the back of the aircraft.

About 40mins in to the flight, just as I saw the first Himalayan peak above a thick blanket of cloud I heard a wailing from the back of the plane. The eldest Pakistani gentleman with a large perfectly straight nose, big white teeth and a beard flecked with white and red that reached at least to his sternum, was calling prayer. With his fingers in his ears he cried the name of Allah in a high pitched screech that sounded as though it should discomfort a man of such masculine features.

I imagined this this occurring on a trans-Atlantic flight. Nervous twitches and hushed tasteless jokes would have rippled through the plane immediately upon their embarkation. Quizzing eyes would dart to them and a vague physical notion of concern would brew in the bellies of Westerners aboard, try as they might to use the extent of their liberalism to crush all sinister thoughts. Deep into the in-flight entertainment they would hear the call to prayer. Heads turn. A young man at the front of the plane quickly reaches his left hand across his body to grab his chair behind his right shoulder so that he may raise himself up to get a better look. Upon seeing what is occurring he half raises himself to his feet, the blue cotton jersey that had been on his legs crumples to the floor.

A sex doll hostess with cherry red lips maintains a plastic smile as she approaches the man from behind. She walks with feigned decisiveness and gestures with her hands in an n attempt to assure the nervous passengers both that everything is OK and that they should stay in their seats. She is now so close that she could touch the man.

“Sir?” She says firmly but in a low harsh whisper, brandishing her smile from side to side nervously.

“Allaaaaah”

“Sir?!” This time more forcefully. She touches his shoulder but he is lost in his devotion.

She leans around the man and turning her palms upwards makes a shrugging motion to a male colleague down the cabin. She bites a corner of her lower lip which leaves a small red lipstick stain on her front teeth, and she knits her brow. A woman a few seats forward who has turned around anxiously sees this and screams. A child starts to cry.

“Allaaaaaaaaaaaaaah”

On the either side of the aisle forward of the Pakistani, all heads are now turned. The sound of unclicking seat belts chatter as man after man rises to his feet and takes in the scene wondering if they will be the one to do whatever it is that should be done.

“Allah, Allaaaaaaaaaaaah”

The forward cabin male attendant who received the pleading shrug from the hostess begins a resolute stride. His teeth are clenched bringing out high cheek bones under his round orange tanned fleshy face. His fists are tightly clenched with his thumbs tucked under his fingers. He feels in a dreamlike state and is not sure what he is going to do, although he knows it will become clear the nearer he gets to the holy man.

“Allaaaaaaaaaaaaah”

He is only a few metres away now. The plane banks slightly and the holy man takes his fingers from his ears and stabilizes himself by placing his hands on the seats either side of him where his companions sit with bowed heads. The male attendant wobbles slightly but his resolve is not weakened.

“Allaaaaaaaaaah”

Frightened friends grip each other’s hands

“Allaaaaaaaaaaaaah”

Passengers are involuntarily shaking and bracing

“Allaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah”

Suddenly, Samuel L Jackson jumps from behind the first class curtain and shouts:

“Will somebody get the mother fucking Muslims, off the mother fucking plane!!!”

It is over. The holy man slowly inhales a deep breath through his nostrils and gently lifts up his head. His eyelids twitch momentarily and open. The male attendant sees the softness of his light brown eyes contrasted against his heavy jaw-line. His previous momentum is carrying him still forward toward the prayer caller, and only manages to stop himself directly in front of him. The holy man is confused in the look of terror in the attendants perspiring face, and wonders at all the eyes directed at him. He blesses the attendant with a wave of his hand and sits down. The plane lands in London 2 hours later.

***

Later in the flight I went to the back of the cabin for a moment to look out of the window at the approaching mountains. In the row behind the seat I selected was the holy man. He clutched at a string of beads and, hiding himself from general view behind the seat in front of him, he quietly picked his nose and ate what he found.

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