Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Hoot La

My father has just got back from plant-hunting in Arunachal Pradesh, the bit of India that's further east than Bangladesh.  They went right to the eastern end, between Tibet and Burma.  My father was, at 60, one of the younger members of the group.  Before he went my mother kept making dark references to Last of the Summer Wine, which made every one of us who heard her think of them all careering down the Himalayas in bath tubs...

Anyway, plant-hunters are a tougher bunch than most of us.  They travelled all day on foot but often got no further than about a mile, not just because of the extremely sloping ground, but because there were almost no paths except for hunters' tracks, and they had to hack their way through the forest.  Most nights there was no flat land to put their tents on, and apparently the bearers would cut a small shelf into the muddy slope, and pile up bits of vegetation at the other end, and they'd just try not to move too much in the night in case the tent started sliding down the mountainside in the mud.  They went to a place called Hawaii, and a place called Hoot La.  "What a great name for a place," I said to one of the people who went with my dad.  "Well Hoot was very nice," he said, "but not so much the La."  La means pass, apparently, like Shangri La.  Their bearers were Adi, though they called themselves Abor, my dad says, which was originally an ethnic slur but which they are now adopting for themselves.  He gave me an Adi scarf which one of the bearers gave him when they left.  It has proper hand-made flaws in the weaving, and I like it.  Also it smells of rancid yak butter.  (If you are wiser than me you will never try authentic Tibetan tea with rancid yak butter, but some years ago my dad made it for us all at Christmas with such an air of puppyish enthusiasm that we all of us suspended our better judgements and gave it a go.)  I may nick some of my father's photos of Arunachal Pradesh and post them, if they're good. The problem is that most of them will be of rhododendrons.

In noveling news, I'm still perversely enjoying the terrible terribleness of my work, and every dull sentence and wooden piece of dialogue is filling me with a sort of righteous anger.  Perhaps I like the way it vindicates my hitherto novelling-free existence...  Though I did write quite a lot of one when I was fourteen.  It was called "The Rose and the Thorn" and had its own bright orange binder on which I drew a rose in permanent marker.  It sort of tailed to an end when I realised that the hero was an arsehole.  Adolescence -- such a magical time.

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