A Himalayan Investigation


Casper James Amos

Travel Writer

(Published by alan macmillan orr, on the supposed demise of Casper James Amos in 2010)

Day One

The sun shone brilliantly in the dusty November morning, as myself and my trusty driver Hari, left Langol village in our white Suzuki taxi for the last time, and onto the highway towards Pokhara in search of the highest flying butterfly in the world, Paralasa Nepalica found only in the Dolpa region of Nepal.

I had been advised that the best time to visit the park was in spring or autumn, but given that I probably wouldn't be coming back to Nepal any time soon, it seemed worth taking the chance, despite the knowledge that we would be up to our necks in snow, with no sight of this elusive, but beautiful creature.

I looked at Hari, as we turned onto the highway, and said, “are you sure this is a good idea?”
“No my idea Mr Casper, you idea!” he replied casually.

“No, what I meant was, do you think the car’s going to make it all the way, after all, we did bugger it up a bit at Bariyapyur.”

“This Nepal taxi, you know worry”, he replied, worryingly.
I enquired to Hari, about the distance, and whether he had a map, or any idea of an ETA, but he just shook his head, and said “Too Much long, too much long.”
I took that to mean that he had no bloody idea, where we were going, or when we would arrive, but at least the roads were dry, and mudslides were at least another six months away.

“How much long to Dahl Baht time, Hari?” I enquired.
“Dahl Baht time three hours, you need pissing?”
“No, for the moment I am fine, but I’ll let you know.”
“Very Good Sir, Mr Casper, you tell me, I stopping.”

And so, as we trundle along the aptly named East-West highway, I should give you a bit of background to the trip. My name is Casper Amos, I’m Sixty Three, English, and a luxury travel writer, and so should know better than to be travelling across country in a taxi in Nepal. Last week, I attended a most bloody ritual sacrifice, where many goats lost their heads, witnessed a monk setting fire to himself, and learned rather a lot about myself.

Last night I got drunk on Nepali wine, and rather than catch my Air India flight back to the UK, I decided to avoid a pleasant business class experience, and have embarked on a mission to hunt down, (not in the literal sense) a recently discovered butterfly, which can fly as high as 14800 feet, and exists only in one part of the world, Shey Phoksundo National Park in the Western region of Nepal.

“Do you think we’ll need winter clothes Hari” I enquired of my driver?
“Winter clothes? Yes.”
“So this linen suit isn’t going to crack it?”
“No Sir.”
“And do you have any idea where we will buy such winter clothes?”
“No Sir.”
“Helpful as ever Hari, helpful as ever.” I replied, exasperated with the difficulties of trying to do anything in Nepal.

As I gazed out of the dirty window, I remarked upon the changing landscape with Hari.
“It is getting much flatter here Hari, I thought Nepal was mountainous, aren’t we going into the mountains? You know, H-I-M-A-L-A-Y-A-S!?

“I know Himalaya, Mr Casper, I no stupid, I Nepali. We now drive in Terai, this flatland, no mountain. We close India.
“India? Good god man, don’t take us to India, are you sure you know where you’re going? Shall we buy a map?” I asked.

“No need map, only one way, this way, and where you think you buy map? This Terai, not shopping mall.” He replied in his usual brusque manner.

Before we go any further I need to tell you about Hari, well, the little I know of him. He is, of an indescribable age, has a name more akin to an Englishman, is possibly younger than he looks, and as you see from the picture to the right, almost blind. The fact that I trust him to drive me hundreds of miles into the Himalayas is testament, not to his driving skills, which are far from exceptional, but his humanity.

Until last week, I had never experienced true kindness, but Hari, a simple taxi driver, with very little material wealth to show for his life on this earth, has one of the biggest hearts I have ever had the joy to experience, and I now consider him a friend.

If you ever have the honour of being driven by Hari, you will experience what a true Nepalese welcome is, you will see him at Kathmandu airport, casually standing by his little white taxi, with bottle glasses, and a jaunty hat. A word of warning. Don’t let his comedic appearance deceive you, he is a shrewd negotiator (he even took my Omega watch as a deposit, before taking me anywhere).
“Yes Sir, but you had no money, and Hari, lent you money, didn’t he Sir? He even pay your breakfast sir, and lend you money for bribing police Sir..”
“All right Hari, that’s enough, I’m sure the readers won’t be interested in that!”
“Very good Sir. Hari no mention bribing again.”

Please forgive the intrusion, but Hari was most insistent that I write down what he said. Where was I? Ah yes, on the highway, in the Terai, in a rattling, dilapidated, “Sports” Suzuki 800 with no heating, but equipped with a sound system which would put many a concert venue to shame. It has an 800cc engine, with the overtaking power of a snail, the cornering ability of a Sherman tank, very and the quick braking of a Boeing 747.

All in all, ladies and gentlemen, my review of the Suzuki 800, is that there’s a reason it’s cheap. I challenge Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear to take it for a spin on their test track and tell me I’m wrong!

But this is not a car review, this is a butterfly investigation, although neither Hari, nor I know anything about them, apart from A. They fly, and B. That’s it. I asked Hari, what he thought the purpose of butterflies was.
“I don’t know. They here to have sex?” He replied, expertly.
“But surely there must be a purpose, Hari? And what would it be doing all the way up the mountain?”
“Looking at View?” He replied unhelpfully. “Mr Casper,” he continued “I not know why butterfly here, but I think it must have reason, if God create. God no create nothing without reason.”
“Oh God, we’re not getting into a religious discussion are we Hari? Not on an empty stomach anyway! Next restaurant we see, we stop.”
“Very good sir. Then we go pissing too, he laughed.
“Yes, Hari, I’m glad you are learning that urinating in the street is damned uncivilised.”
“Ha you very funny Sir. You very funny.”

11.42am – Lunch Stop. Bharatpur. Unknown roadside restaurant.

For the uninitiated, the traditional twice a day meal for Nepalis is called Dahl Baht, served in the late morning, and the evening, and consists of what could be construed as a sculpture of Mount Everest in rice (Baht), served with a watery lentil “soup” known as Dhal, accompanied by some curried vegetables and perhaps some pickle and chillis. That’s it. Twice a day, and as someone more used to a gastronomique diet, this came as quite a shock. But, it’s tasty, and filling, if a tad monotous.
“But remember Sir, Dahl Baht Power, Twenty Four Hour” piped up Hari.
“Yes, and as I told you, Hari, that is because of the large amount of carbohydrate we are taking in, not because of some inherent quality of the meal.”
“But it true Sir.”
“Yes Hari, it true.
So, there you have it, Nepali cuisine wrapped up in less than one hundred words. Oh here’s another word. “Gastroenteritis,” and if you don’t know what it means, make sure you try some of the local Nepali water, it’ll have you regular all day (perfect to loosen that carb heavy meal.)
In case you are unaware, Nepalis eat with their hands, (or right hand, as the other one is for wiping, or is it the other way round?) whereby the hand moves fast around the plate, unsubtly combining rice, veg, and sauce, whirled into balls, and deftly slopped into La Bouche with whooshing sounds, all very circus like.

After we had all finished whooshing, and slopping, I asked Hari if he had been to the Western region of Nepal before, and he told me that as he was a taxi driver in Kathmandu there were not many people wanting to pay for a two thousand kilometre round trip in a cab, when they could get the bus for under two pound fifty.

I told him, I wished I had taken the bus. He agreed, and told me he wished he had taken the bus too, as it would save him driving for nearly twenty four hours to Jumla. In a flash, I replied.
“What are you complaining about. You have Dahl Baht Power Twenty Four Hour! Ha!”
“Touché!” He replied, or would have, if he had understood the joke.
But Hari was a good soul, and a fine road trip companion.
“I’ll pay today Hari.” I said, as we stood up to leave.
“You pay every day. You rich man. Me poor man.”

I looked across at him, about to say something, when I saw a wry smile develop in the corner of his mouth as he stroked my Omega constellation 38 on his wrist (part of a settlement package from the Gadhimai trip.)
“You are a cheeky bastard Hari, you know that?”
“Yes Sir! And that why you like Hari!”

While we were enjoying the repartee, a young boy with dishevelled clothes of no more than Eight came gambolling over, holding out one hand and putting his other hand to his mouth.
“Ten rupees Sir? Ten rupees?”
I turned to Hari. “I tell you what, Hari, lets give the boy a job shall we? Tell him we’ll pay him a hundred Bhat and buy him a meal if he washes the car, it looks like it needs it.
“Two hundred” said the boy with a super quick counter offer.
“Two Hundred? I’ll give you two hundred!”
“Yes sir, that’s what he ask” said Hari, somewhat confused.
“No, Hari, that’s not what I meant. You need to listen to the inflection old man. ‘Two Hundred! I’ll give you two hundred!” compared to ‘Two Hundred. I’ll Give you Two Hundred.”
“Same same no different,” he replied.
“There’s no teaching some people.”
“Teach them what?”
“Ok, tell him we give him two hundred, and not a penny more.”
“Not a rupee more. Yes sir. Not a rupee more!”

After what felt like several hours, with Hari, and I chain smoking our way through my Marlboro Golds, the boy finished and ran up to me, beaming, with his hand out. I handed him the two hundred and I took a picture of the car. “A good job well done, my boy,” I said to him, casually patting him on the top of the head.

He grinned a semi toothless smile at me, obviously pleased with his work.
“Sir, why you insist on patting children head! Child, not dog.”
“Thank you for reminding me, Hari. My boy” I said to the young child, “there might be a job waiting for you in our local hand car wash, you would put the Poles out of business for sure! And now Hari, let us put this beast to work once again. We have a long and tortuous journey ahead! How much further do you reckon?”
“Too much long Sir, too much long.”
“That’s all you ever say Hari, one day you might get a Sat-Nav!”
“Very Good Sir!”

The drive continued uneventfully with both of us content to listen to music, me interchanging the bollywood boom, with the occasional piece from Holst’s “The Planets” much to Hari’s annoyance.
“This no dancing music Sir, no fun music.”
“No Hari. It is not. It is not, but there’s only so much Bollywood I can listen to!”
“No Bollywood! Nepali!
“Whatever you say old man. All sounds the same to me.”

6.30pm – Arrival at Tulsipur.

The four hour drive from Bharatpur had been uneventful, save for the occasional heart stopping overtaking moves by trucks, and motorbikes, but the East-West Highway is relatively pothole free, and leaves plenty of time to gaze at the long plains stretching out as far as the eye can see towards the south.

And so, ten comfort stops, fifteen cigarettes, four packets of Magic Masala crisps and Two Thums up! (Indian cola at its finest) later, we arrived in the dusty, barren town of Tulsipur, where rubbish was king, and men looked forlornly into makeshift fires by the roadside to keep warm.

Not having booked anywhere to stay, I left it up to Hari to find us appropriate lodgings for the night, and I retired to the local tea shop to partake of some lemon tea, which, surprisingly enough, was most agreeable.

Twenty minutes later, Hari returned with a beaming smile.
“Sir, I have found us lodgings, and foodings!”
“Excellent, Hari, lead on.”
“It is call Star Lodge and is most recommended by the local people, and only cost seven hundred rupees for room.
“What about your room?” I asked.
“Little problem. Hotel very busy, we share room. This Okay with Sir?”
“Sharing Hari? Sharing? Man, I’m Sixty three, and I have never shared a room with anyone but my wife, and I’m not about to start sharing with my Taxi driver! Whatever next?”

“I thought I friend, not just taxi man! But I sleep in car if Sir not happy.”
“No, no Hari, don’t worry, don’t be silly, you’ve done well finding us a place, and as long as you don’t snore, we’ll be fine.”

At check-in I noticed that the man in front, was being charged five hundred rupees, and asked the proprietor why.
“Sir, he local man, you foreign, you pay more.”
“Pay more!? More? Damn you. We bring money to your country. The least you can do…”

At this moment Hari intervened, but whatever he said, it seemed to annoy the proprietor even more.
“Get out! We will have no men sleeping in same room, doing things to each other, no Gay hotel!” he snapped.
“What? I don’t understand. What have you done Hari?”

As we gathered our bags and headed out onto the filthy street again, a cow looked over at us, chewing large pieces of plastic it had found for dinner.
“Fuck this Hari, why did I ever come to this God-forsaken place. What in God’s name did you say to that fellow?”
“I tell him, we sharing same bed so can make it cheaper?”
“Sharing the same bed? Are you mad?”
“No, but I see you are Sir. I just try helping.”
“Well, you’ve definitely helped – to leave us without a bed for the night!”
“I sorry Sir.”
“Well, let’s get some food and get out of here, I’m sure we can find a hotel further along the Highway. How much further to Jumla?”
“Maybe ten, maybe fourteen hours – maybe longer, too long driving, but I good driver.”
“I know you are, but leave the hotel arrangements to me next time.”
“Yes Sir, Mr Casper.”

Driving at night, as anyone can tell you, can be a rather frightening experience, but the Karnali Highway, towards Jumla was something I wasn’t prepared for. Looking back, I should have known that a 428 km journey which takes fourteen hours giving an average speed equivalent to rush hour in central London, means only one thing, hills, and bends, lots of them.

“This road has more twists and turns than a fucking Le Carré spy novel Hari” I shrieked as we began our ascent, rather glad that I couldn’t see over the side towards our potential doom.
“Don’t worry, Mr Casper, don’t worry.”

I glanced over at him grimacing, a death grip on the wheel, wrestling with the little white Suzuki to keep it on the road.
“At least no raining, no mud on road, like monsoon,” said Hari helpfully.
“Are you sure we don’t need four wheel drive?” I asked as we slipped around each corner.
“Suzuki have four wheels. You making joke with me Mr Casper!”
“Yes, Hari, I making joke with you.” And I slipped into an anxious slumber, safe in the knowledge that I would be finding out if heaven and hell did exist before the morning dawn.

I woke with a start.

“Hari? Why have we stopped? God, it’s freezing up here, why didn’t we buy winter clothes? Hari? Hari!”
Hari, mumbled something like, “I tired, I fall asleep, I no want us die tonight.”
“Well I don’t want us to die either, but I think we might die of cold up here before we die in a car accident! Maybe we should keep going. What time is it?”
Hari peered at my watch, through the moonlit sky (and his bottle glasses).
“4.12 in Morning.”
“What time is dawn, daylight?”
“Maybe Seven.”
“Haven’t you got any blankets?”
“Blankets? This Taxi, not hotel.”
“Yes, well whose fucking fault is it we don’t have a hotel.”
“You fault. I no want to come here. I taxi driver in Kathmandu, no mountain guide.”
“You will be handsomely paid my friend. And anyway, it’s an adventure!
“I have enough adventure last week. Burning monk on roof, goat on front seat. This taxi, no animal transport, no dead monk transport! I tell you.”
“I know old chap. I’m sorry. Smoke?”
“Okay Sir, why not! It is better than freezing to death.”
“We may still freeze to death.”
“Yes but we will be happy freezing after smoking.”

Sometimes Hari didn’t make much sense.

We smoked for about three minutes, then Hari decided it was best to keep driving, even though the heater didn’t work.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive Hari? You could sleep for a while.”
“You driving Taxi! Yes Mr Casper, that funny. But you no crashing, or you paying fixing.”
“If we crash Hari, there will be no need for paying fixing, we deading.
“Deading, what is deading?”
“Never mind, right, now how do I drive this thing?”

I wish I had a photograph to show you, but imagine it in your minds eye if you will. Me, six foot, in a Suzuki 800 “sports” which happens to be a taxi, in Nepal, in the mountains, in the winter, in Nepal, in a cream linen suit. Priceless.
“At least you lot drive on the same side as us Hari.” I said, and wheelspun away up the hill into fear and darkness.

Day Two

I looked over at Hari, in his crumpled clothes, sleeping deeply, unaware of the danger he had put us in by letting me drive, but the dawn was starting to break, the fear starting to leave me, and I began to gain confidence. Here was I, an Englishman in his sixties, who should be wrapped up in bed at home, driving a taxi in the middle of the night, in the Himalayas! No one would believe it!
“Good Morning Sir,” yawned Hari.
“Ahh, Good Morning to you Sir! I take it you slept well, and my driving was agreeable?”
“I’m am very surprised that I am still alive Mr Casper!”
“Oh ye of little faith Hari. I told you I’m a good driver.”
“Maybe you get job as taxi man when we return to Kathmandu!”
“No, I think I’ll leave the city driving to you. I’m more of a mountain man myself.”

We laughed together, stopped for pissing and smoking, and Hari took the wheel of the car again.
“How much long until breakfast Hari?”
“How I know? I city man, no mountain man!”
But sure enough, two minutes later we turned a corner to be welcomed by a restaurant on the side of the road.
“Why do you always make me go to the toilet in the open Hari? I could have waited five more minutes!”
“You no like local style pissing?”
“Err no, Hari, I think we’ve had this discussion before!”
We pulled in to the restaurant to be greeted by several tour minibuses, four wheel drives, but no Kathmandu taxis.
“Ha ha. Look at that Hari! Titanic tours! I’m glad we’re not travelling with them!”
“Why funny?”
“You haven’t heard of the Titanic? The incredible unsinkable ocean liner, that hit and iceberg, and, sank!?”
“No, but no iceberg here, this mountains, don’t worry.”
“Sometimes, Hari, I don’t know if you’re making fun of me or you’re serious.”
“Serious Sir!”
“Hmm. I’m not sure you with you.

We sat down by the open fire, in a forty five gallon drum, and warmed our hands, with everyone staring at us. We must have looked like the odd couple, Hari, and I.
“Why you no wear jacket?” Demanded a Nepali man. “Winter, very cold.”
“Well, you see…” I stopped, realising that this would be a futile conversation, and just smiled and shrugged my shoulders.
Why didn’t I have a jacket? And why didn’t Hari have a jacket? We would have to sort it, but first, breakfast.
“Dahl Baht Hari?”
“Of course. Best fooding in the world.”
“Don’t tell me, something about twenty four hour power!?”
Hari ignored me, and we sat down to sweet chai, and slop, which warmed us from the inside.
“Right, finish this up, and let’s ask someone how far to Jumla, I want to get there nice and early, so we can buy some damned clothes.”
Hari, finished whooshing, and slurping, and after washing his hands, I could see he was deep in discussion with one of the locals. He came back and sat down.
“No problem sir. Maybe four hours.”
“Excellent. Want me to drive?”
Hari ignored me, and got into the drivers seat, and started peering at the dashboard with a worried look on his face.
“Mr Casper. Why you no stop for fuel last night? Light on. Nearly empty.”
“Ahh, what’s that you say?”

I suddenly remembered seeing the light come on, but due to concentrating on not sending us over the side of the hill, purposely ignored it. Damn.
Hari, went to ask where the next fuel stop was. He came back with a look I hadn’t seen since the “monk incident”. Half anxious, half angry.
“No good?” I said helpfully.
“No good,” he replied woefully. “At least one hour until next fuel. We stuck here! Why you do this to me? Why you make my life difficult!?
“Now wait a minute!”
“No! You waiting a minute! Last week, you cause me many problems and you promise you no cause me no more problems, and now we are here, with Problems! My Life! Why I listen you?
“I’m sorry old chap, I’m sure there’s a solution. Why don’t we ask that man you were talking to for a lift to the next petrol station, get petrol in a can, come back, fill up, and Bob’s your uncle.”
“Who is Uncle Bob?”
“Ha ha.. Oh Hari, That’s what I love about you.”
“What is? Why you laughing? Why you making fun from me?”
And we both started to laugh, for laughter is a great healer, especially between English travel writers, and their Nepali Taxi drivers.

I grabbed my unreasonably battered luggage from the boot, Hari locked the little white taxi, and arranged a reasonably priced lift to the next stop. But as we walked over, I stopped in my tracks and said, “I don’t fucking believe it!”
“What Sir?”
“We’re only going on the fucking Titanic! Now we’re really screwed Hari!”
And we laughed. Heartily.

The Titanic was filled with young western tourists, who seemed quite intrigued by an English gentlemen on a bus with his Nepali driver. Our driver wasn’t impressed, and given that I was in the front of the cab next to him (almost on top of the gearstick) struck up a conversation with me.
“Why you take driver with you? Why no fly?”
“Good question! Well, you see, Hari is no ordinary driver he is actually my friend, and he is coming on a little adventure with me.”
“How long you know driver friend?”
“Oh, about a week…ish.”
“So, no friend, just driver.”
“Well, no actually, well it’s a long story.”
“We have time. Take your time.”
“I’m not going into detail, but basically my friend and driver Hari and I are going to Shek Phosksundo National Park in search of a butterfly.
“A fucking butterfly? What, are you Richard Attenborough or something” Piped up one of the uncivilised British oiks in the back, to much laughter from his audience.
“Actually,” I said, turning back to look at him sternly, “I think you’ll find that’s David Attenborough, Richard, his brother, is a film director and actor.”
“Whatever, I was just messing with you mate.”
“Yes, well, anyway..” I turned back to the driver. “It is the highest flying…”
“What, in your fucking safari suit? Are you having a laugh?”
“No, dear boy, I am not, ‘having a laugh,’ my friend and I are going to purchase appropriate clothing and footwear once we reach Jumla.”
“So, why run out of gas? Not good driver if forget to put gas in,” interrupted Amil, the unpleasant.
“Strictly speaking, it’s not Hari’s fault, I was driving.”
(much laughter)
“So let me get this straight, you paid a taxi to take you all the way to Jumla, and you ended up driving yourself, your taxi driver’s conning you mate,” said the uncivilised one’s unwashed girlfriend beside him.
“And your driver looks like he should be registered blind with those massive goggles he’s wearing,” chimed in the boyfriend.

“Are you sure you were driving Sir, and not your blind friend?” said Amil, trying desperately to provoke a response.
“No, quite sure.”
“Well, if you are not blind too, you would have seen that there was a gas station ten minutes before the restaurant.”
The whole bus erupted in laughter, and Hari, stoic as ever, sat silent.
“You mean to tell me that there is a petrol station, ten minutes away, yet you agreed to take us to a petrol station what is more than an hour away?!”
“Yes, because you asked for lift, and we going forward to Jumla, not backward, so in my bus petrol station one hour,” said Amil indignantly.
“That’s fucked up dude,” said the unwashed.
“And just for that moment, I had to agree with him.

I wanted to shout and scream at Hari for being so stupid, but when I turned back to look at his face, and his old eyes peering out of those glasses, he was smiling in an ever so slightly embarrassed, I fucked up way, and I just couldn’t hate him. He’d been kind to me, and I owed him a lot, not least of which was a bit of support when he was under attack by a bus load of youth heckling him.
“Hari,” I announced loudly, is a former Gurkha, and an accomplished mountaineer, who shall be my guide when we are in Shey Phoksundo, and so I will thank you all to offer him a little respect.”
“Wow, that’s so cool dude,” said a previously quiet member of the crowd in Hari’s general direction, and Hari, whether embarrassed by the lie I had just told, or actually believing he was that person, sat up straight, and nodded in everyone’s general direction.
“Why you no tell us you’re friend Gurkha?” Asked Amil, We have much respect for Gurkha soldier here. As you my new friends, I take you both to Jumla, no charge, and I get one of my friends to fill car, and drive to Jumla for you. It is least I can do for someone who served his country so well.”

‘His’ country? I’m not sure if Amil actually knew that the Gurkhas fought for England, and despite Joanna Lumley campaigning for them to be given rights in the UK, and proper UK pensions, they would never truly be recognised by their home country, or the one they elected to fight for. And anyway what was I thinking? Hari was just a taxi driver, with no education, and nothing to be proud of – he was certainly no Gurkha and certainly no mountaineer, but I was happy with the way the lie had turned out.
“Thank you.” I said to Amil, you are most gracious.”
“You are most welcome Sirs!”

As I sat being thrown from left to right in the Titanic, we trundled quickly and dangerously up the hill, into the unknown, the golden winter sunlight reflected off a snow capped peak and caught my eye. Whatever this adventure turned up, I thought to myself, the Himalayas certainly were magnificent beasts, majestic, wonderful, splendiferous! And I closed my eyes, dreaming of butterflies and lies.

After several local pissing stops, accompanied by several Marlboros, I was glad when we descended the Titanic intact, at Jumla Main Bus Station (it isn’t), handed the Suzuki keys to Amil, and managed to escape before anyone questioned Hari about his time on Everest, or fighting in the Army.
“Quick now Hari, no time to lose, let us make our away!”
“Yes, sir. Thank you for saying those nice things about me on the bus, most kind.”
“You’re welcome. But you do know you didn’t fight with the Gurkhas, don’t you?”
“Yes Sir.”
“And you do know you are not a famous mountaineer, don’t you?”
“Yes Sir.”
“And you aren’t going to start telling people you were in the Gurkhas or a famous mountaineer, lest we lose our heads, are you?”
“No Sir!”
“Very Good. Carry on!
Hari mock saluted me, and Amil, the captain of the Titanic, looked on with pride, happy that he had performed a great public service for one of his country’s finest citizens, and his English gentleman friend.
“See you soon Gentlemen!” boomed Amil, your car will be waiting here when you return. God be with you.”
“God be with us? Where the fuck are we going Hari, the moon? Right, come on, lets get kitted out and find a mountain guide.”
“But I thought I was the mountain guide?” Smirked Hari as we walked up the “Main Street”.
“Don’t push your luck Hari. Don’t push your luck.
“I no pushing. I no pushing!” he cheeked.

The first thing you notice about Jumla, is well, how shit it is, and I told Hari as such.
“Hari, Jumla’s a shit place. We don’t want to spend a minute longer than we need to here. Understand?”

A travel writer of sixty three should not be using these words in the same sentence, but desolate, windswept, barren, cold, grey, snow underfoot are all words to describe the “town” we had arrived in, and although Hari looked not unhappy, I desperately tried to push my feelings of anguish into the furthest corners of my mind, lest I showed how afraid I was to be stuck above two thousand metres in a linen suit, with no chance of immediate escape.
I determinedly pulled myself together, and instructed Hari to find us suitable accommodation, and a trekking shop to outfit ourselves better, whilst I took tea.
“Yes Sir, Mr Casper, I find.”
“And do not try to save us money by offering to share a bed with me this time, please!”
“No Sir! Two rooms Mr Casper.”
“Right, off you go. Pronto!”

I sat in a small Tea-house sipping hard on my Lemon tea daydreaming that I was in fact sitting in the Compleat Angler having afternoon Tea with Asiya and the girls, not sitting on the roof of the world, in winter, with my only friend, a bottleyed taxi driver!
After twenty minutes, Hari returned.
“Good news Sir.”
“Yes? What is it.”
“I have found our lodgings and foodings.”
“Excellent news, but you can’t use the word ‘foodings’ it doesn’t exist in the English Language.”
“Well, it exist in English in Nepal!”

We made our way to the Hotel Kanjirowa and were greeted by the amiable Norbu, who welcomed us, filled the paperwork up with the efficiency of an army General, quickly arranged a trekking guide for the next day, and showed us to our rooms, which I have to say, were exceptionally clean, and, after a quick bounce review of the bed, much to the amusement of our host, decided it was comfortable enough to sleep on for one night, and I certainly wouldn’t be cold under the mountain of colorful blankets.
“Happy Hari?”
“Most happy!”
“Good, now let’s get kitted out.”
“Norbu recommended a trekking shop, and we carefully made our way through the snow, my Loakes Kalahari Boots, more accustomed to London streets, soaked through, and Hari’s flip flops, well, he was wearing flip flops in the bloody Himalayas for God’s sake!
“Good afternoon Sir” said the young shop assistant, “may I help you?”
“Yes my man, I am going trekking, and need kitted out, what do you recommend?”
He looked me up and down, and with a puzzled look, said “you trekking?”
“Yes? Why?”
“No reason Sir. We have lovely North face jackets, boots, hats, backpacks, gloves…”
“So everything is North face?”
“Yes, Sir. Very good quality. No fake. Real.”
I muttered “I doubt that very much.”

Ten minutes later, I stood, head to toe, in North Face, looking every part the mountain climber.
“What do you think Hari?”
“Look very handsome Mr Casper Sir.”
“Damned right I do.”

The owner of the trekking shop beamed a smile at me, before looking Hari up and down, and said without a hint of irony, “And, something for your Sherpa?”

At this I burst out laughing.
“Sherpa? Hari?”
Hari seemed bemused, and stood silent. Good for him.
“Yes, my Sherpa will have the same as me. And make sure you get him a decent pair of boots, you’re not wearing fucking flip flops to hike in!”

We walked out the store, with our civvy clothes in plastic bags, and for the first time in the whole trip I felt “appropriately” dressed. I looked at Hari, and said, Hari, I think we’re going to enjoy this trip old chap. Right, let’s celebrate, bar?
“I no drink. I Hindu.”
“Well, you can watch me drink. Chop chop.”

Day Three

“Mr Casper? Mr Casper?”
“Hari was standing over my bed.
“Oh my God. What the fuck happened?”
“You very drunk, you and your friend Mr Twelve Pipers.”
“Twelve Pipers? Oh you mean the whisky? If that’s what it was. Don’t remind me. And I’m starving, but I think if I eat I might throw up. What time is it?”
“Seven. Come we get dressed and meet guide after breakfast. But look, you are already dressed. You sleep in mountain equipment!
“Alright Hari, no time for jokes. Give me a minute to clear my head, you go and arrange coffee – lots of it. And black, no bloody yak milk for me.”

Drink had always got the better of me, especially on a night out at my beloved Two Brewers at home in Marlow, and although I was thousands of miles from home, I couldn’t seem to shake its grasp.

Instead, of focussing on my work, and researching a most interesting butterfly on a once in a lifetime trip to the Himalayas, I instead opted to drink to the point of oblivion, only to be woken by my taxi driver, standing in silent judgement of me. What an absolute fool I had been.
For a fleeting moment, I thought about chucking the whole thing in, getting a plane back to Kathmandu, and running home to Asiya, but then I remembered the morons on the bus the day before, lampooning Hari and I, and through sheer bloody mindedness at proving to them wrong – that we could go trekking at our age, and we would find that damned butterfly, I went to the bathroom, undressed, and in a fit of madness, threw a large bucket of ice cold water over myself.

“Jesus F***ing Christ!” I shrieked, before hurriedly drying myself with a sandpaper textured towel, and climbing into my North Face gear again.
Hari, upon hearing my girlish squealing came running into the room.
“What happen Mr Casper? You alright?”
“Yes thanks Hari, just cleansing myself from last nights shenanigans.”
“What is this shenanigans?”
“You know, the drinking last night.”
“Yes but what is shenanigans?”
“Oh, the word! Erm, it’s well, when a grown man who should know better does things against his better judgement, and then regrets it the next day. Is that a good enough definition?”
“Good enough. Now we go?

Scrambled eggs, bread, jam, weird coffee. Breakfast. Done. It was now time to be introduced to our guide. I paid up, and threw my backpack over my shoulder, before gaining a little humour back, and asking Hari if he wanted to be my porter.
“No Porter. Sir carry own bloody luggage. Hari is Taxi driver!” He answered somewhat indignantly.
“Alright old chap, calm down, just a little joke.”
At that moment, a young Nepali man approached us smiling.
“Are you Mister Casper?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“I am amil, your guide. I see you have engaged a porter.”
I started to laugh, and Hari’s face went redder by the second.”
“Erm, no, this is my friend Hari, he will be accompanying me on our trip. He’s actually a taxi driver by trade.”
“Taxi man? Why he come trekking then? This for western tourist, not local trekking.”

“I told you, he’s my friend, and if it’s going to be a problem, we’ll have to find another guide, you understand?”
“No problem Sir, you are the boss” he shrugged, “but he no get discount.”

“You are to treat him exactly as you would treat me, as a guest.”
“No problem Sir, I treat him like western tourist, even though I know he Nepali taxi man.”

“That’s right, now, do you have a plan of how we are going to find this butterfly?”
“Butterfly? What you say? No butterfly. This winter. Butterfly in summer. Oh no Sir, you will not find butterfly. This winter in Nepal, no summer.

Of course. It was winter. So why had Ravi’s friend omitted to tell me that it was not flying season for the Paralasa Nepalica? And why had I been so stupid as to not realise that even in England, butterflies did not fly in the winter?
“What do now Mr Casper?” Asked Hari.
“What do now is go back to fucking bed Hari.”
“So no trekking, Sir? Asked the young guide.
“No trekking. I’m terribly sorry. I will of course pay you for your time.”
“But why butterfly important Sir? We can trekking, seeing beautiful country, and lake.”
“Frankly, at this moment in time, I don’t really give a shit about your stupid country, or your lake, or trekking in the fucking snow” I said, to myself, thankfully. “Actually, young man, the reason for this visit in the first place was to see the butterfly. I am a travel writer you see.
“Oh, you famous man then?”
“Of sorts. I am well known in certain circles.”
“So why butterfly important?”
“Actually, it isn’t. In fact, I have no idea why I’m here, why Hari is here, and why anyone would come here to look for a butterfly. It has no importance whatsoever.
“I see Sir. But if you looking for butterfly, why you no just visit butterfly museum on main street?”
“What? A butterfly museum? Why didn’t you say? Right, well lead on, then.”
“No, I joking sir. No museum. This Jumla, no Kathmandu, trekking only.
“Well, that was fucking helpful, wasn’t it Hari?
“No helpful Sir.”
“That’s right. No helpful. So we bid you farewell, young man, and thanks for the chat.”
“You’re welcome Sir.”

I told Hari to go and relax whilst I gathered my thoughts.
“You want I change from mountain equipment Sir?”
“No Hari. Stay as you are. Stay as you are.”

I went to my room with a bottle of Twelve Pipers, took some Hotel paper and began to write.

What a fuck up.. It’s the first of December tomorrow, Christmas is but three weeks away. I miss Asiya and the girls terribly.

I’m stuck in the mountains of Nepal with no story, because the selfish butterflies are on holiday for the winter. I’ve got a rotten headache, I’ve dragged Hari all the way up here for nothing. I’m miserable, anxious, and right now all I can think about is escaping to a far away land to run, and run, away from myself. But I know it is not possible.

What to do? What to do? Why do I put myself in these situations? Can anybody answer me? If there is a God, please tell me what to do!!! Where shall I go?

But I know there is no God, and I am completely alone. My arrogance has brought me here, my need for fame, to be recognised as a great writer. But I am surely not. I a fraud, a man with no value, a ghost. I might as well be dead. I want to disappear, to not exist, to not feel this way any more.

This is the situation.

Casper James Amos
Writer of some (ill) repute.
30th November 2009

I then decided to compose a letter to Asiya.

30th November 2009

My dearest darling Asiya.

I know I have disappointed you for many years and I am truly sorry. I know you expected more from me and God knows I have tried to be the man you wanted me to be, but I have always been and always will be a failure.

I know that you always supported me, through the darkness and the light, but I have always sensed that you resented my failings as a writer, but mainly as a man, a deeply flawed man who frittered away of his talents on drink and fun.

I am so sorry, but I cannot bear this pain any longer. I am sixty three and of no use to anyone, I am worthless.

I know that you will be better off without me. Please don’t come looking for me.

Do not worry my darling it is for the best. Tell the girls I love them with all my heart and I am sorry.

All my Love forever



Moments later, a knock at the door disturbed my melancholic alcoholic train of thought, it was Hari.

“Everything all right Sir? Why you stay in your room alone all day?”
“All day Hari? What time is it?”
“Nearly five in afternoon. Now getting dark. You miss lunch. I eat already. What we do now Mr Casper? We go back Kathmandu?” He said in a half excited half anxious tone
“Hari, come sit. I need to talk to you.” I slurred.
Hari came and sat next to me, looking a little scared.
“Now, there's nothing to worry about Hari, but I am going to send you back to Kathmandu alone my friend.
Hari looked worried.
“But why Mr Casper? Why I go alone, I no want to go back without you? Where you go?”
“Don't worry about me old friend. I have something I need to do.”
“What you do? Why I no stay? I your taxi driver. I no leave you alone Mr casper. I no! You no send me away.”
“And keep the trekking clothes. You never know, you may yet become a Sherpa my boy.”
I noticed a tear well in Hari's eye, and he flung his arms around me.
“Sir, you are kindest friend I ever have, even if you cause me many problem in life, and always owing me money, and making me taking goats for sacrifice, and bringing dead monks on roof. Sir, please, I want stay with you. I afraid for you.”
I hugged Hari with all my might, here were two men, brought together by a goat, a mere week beforehand, about to part, the best of friends.
“You're a good man Hari. You have been so kind to me, I will never be able to pay you what I owe you.”
Hari wiped away a tear, and quipped sarcastically “you will pay me, we go ATM now.”
“Of course, Hari. You take my bank card, and take out what you think is fair. Now the pin code is 7245, don't forget it, all right?”
“No Sir. Why you no come?”
“I'm a bit tired Hari. I think the Pipers might have got the better of me.”
“Sir. You always drinking too much. You no good Hindu.”
“No Hari, I am not. Neither am I a good Christian or anything else, now would you kindly bugger off.”
“Just go!”
“Yes Sir. I come back quickly.”
“No need to disturb me again Hari, I'll be fine.”
“But your card Sir?”
“Give it to me another time. Bye Hari.”

Hari closed the door, and I went to the bathroom and took a long hard look at my face, with the years of drink and anxiety etched into every line. I took off my North face gear piece by piece, until I was finally standing in front of the dusty mirror. I looked myself up and down, and slowly shook my head, not recognising the being standing there, and this troubled me. Thoughts raced through my alcohol drenched brain, and I wondered if I was indeed going mad, or that my mind’s expectations of what I looked like naked were far from the reality of the mirror’s reflection.

Standing under the lukewarm shower, I ritually cleansed my body one last time, and stood to attention as I shaved away the grey shadow that had begun to appear around my face.

I then began to dress, methodically buttoning my freshly laundered shirt, and ‘suiting’ myself as Hari would say, before adjusting my tie, and slipping on my favourite Loakes brogues.

I laid out my trekking gear on the bed, and placed it in the Tusting Weekender, along with my passport, wallet, and these notes, before giving myself the once over in the full length mirror.

“Casper.” I said to myself, “You look every part the English Gentleman.”

I turn towards the door, and walk out, closing it quietly behind me.

My Name is Casper James Amos. This was my story.


This short story has been compiled from notes by Casper’s Close Friend Hari Ram Nepali, after Mr Amos’s presumed death in Nepal in December 2010.

Hari only knew Casper for just over a week, but during that time they went from taxi driver and customer to the best of friends.

In Hari’s own words. “Yes Mr Casper always owing me money, and causing me many troubles, but he my friend. I miss him like I miss my own brother.”

Hari is currently writing his own book

“Confessions of a Kathmandu Taxi Driver”

Chinese (Simplified)