We started out in Kathmandu
& then we went Beyond.
One day we’ll get to Timbuktu
For we are vagabonds!
My oldest son, Mark, and his wife, Kirsty, are peripatetic respected members of the international travel and tourism industry and travel bloggers’ fraternity. They’ve both worked in the industry since the late-‘80s/early-‘90s, initially desk-bound with an occasional sortie abroad building up to, in 2008, a full-blown back-packing life on the road in order to ‘travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations and seek out unconventional things to see and do in better known places.’ To date (2020), this adventure has taken them to over one hundred countries and, no doubt, they’ll be back on the less-frequently-travelled road once the current Covid-19 pandemic has been brought under control and travel restrictions lifted.
Here they are at London’s Heathrow airport on the 30th November 2008, the day they started their back-packing journey, en route to Kathmandu via Delhi:
From the beginning of their travels, Mark and Kirsty have kept a blog. Named and stylised as Kathmandu & Beyond, the blog details their experiences in over one hundred countries and while I have been locked down in self-isolation, I thought I would pass the time of day by re-reading some of their stories and composing a few limericks, ditties and other poetic creations. Here they are in random order and with brief explanations and links back to the originals plus an occasional photograph from Mark and Kirsty’s website, reproduced with permission.
Before I start, however, let me make it clear that I am not potential Poet Laureate material. Some of the names of foreign countries and places they’ve visited defy rhyming words. Take Kyrgyzstan, Nagorno-Karabakh, Bishkek, Krk and Transnistria for example. I have exercised ‘freedom of speech’ in some of my creations plus made liberal use of the excellent RhymeZone and Word Hippo websites. I am open to suggestions for improvement, however. Feel free to comment and to submit your own poetic creations.
Street Art and Brutalist Architecture
Street art is our passion
Along with concrete porn.
We’ve more than seen our ration
When often we are drawn.
Brutal constructs dominate
In countries to the east.
Especially in the Russian states
When Stalin was the beast.
Street art, defined as image-based art either done with permission and even by commission, attracts Kirsty’s photographic eye and you will find many striking examples on the website. Enter ‘street art’ in the search engine on their website. Graffiti, defined as word-based markings, is more unwanted defacements although there is a bridging form known as graffiti art containing words and simple images such as emojis. Basically, however, street art is art, graffiti is vandalism.
Mark, on the other hand, is drawn to the architecture that flourished in the fifteen states that made up the USSR and particularly the style that prevailed after Stalin’s death in 1953, known as Soviet Modernism. Characterised by chunky austere design with strong geometric lines, brutalist buildings and monuments are constructed from a lot of concrete; hence the term ‘concrete porn’.
There was a young man from Afghanistan
Who wanted to visit Jaipur.
When asked by a fan,
‘Why go there, man?’
Said, ‘’Cos I’ve not been there before.’
There was a young man from Kolkata
Who was considered a bit of a nutter.
He stood on his head
While eating naan bread
And his face became covered in butter.
India is one of Mark and Kirsty’s favourite destinations. They’ve travelled there frequently, attending festivals such as the Kumbh Mela, visiting holy places like Amritsar and Varanasi, picked tea in Darjeeling, travelling on the cross-country trains, and writing about a host of other experiences in this vast and diverse country.
Obi-Wan had some fun
In a place called Tataouine.
It’s in Tunisia, don’t you know?
For Star Wars’ fans, the place to go.
There was a young man from Dougga
At school he learnt to play rugger.
His tackles were hard,
He almost got barred.
All in all, a bit of a bugger!
In 2019, Mark and Kirsty spent three weeks back-packing their way around Tunisia. What they found impressed them. George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones action movies, was inspired by the buildings and scenery of Tataouine and he based the fictional planet of Tatooine on the place. Evidence of the film sets can still be seen.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Dougga, south-west of Tunis, contains many interesting and reasonably well-preserved ruins of a small Roman town. I’m not sure if that includes a school that taught the game of rugby!
I’m in love with Ama Dablam
A mountain in Nepal.
I climbed up with David Beckham
And came down with Queen RuPaul.
While in Kathmandu, Mark worked part-time for a trekking company and completed many treks in the Himalaya mountains. You can download a free guide of all the treks from the website.
I joined him for the Annapurna trek and both Carol and I for the Everest Base Camp trek. When trekking in the Himalayas, you are besieged by mountains. They’re all around you and you become a bit blasé about their presence. ‘Although beautiful, once you’ve seen one mountain, you’ve seen ‘em all!’ is what I used to say to Mark. On the way up to the Everest Base Camp, a mountain called Ama Dablam, 6,812 metres, is constantly in view. It’s a well-shaped majestic-looking mountain and Mark frequently pointed it out and extolled its attributes including the rolling rhythmic clickety-clack properties of its name; hence my rejoinder. Beckham (an ex-footballer and possible stigmatophile) and RuPaul (drag queen and all-round entertainer) were the only words I could find to rhyme with Dablam and Nepal!
There was a young lady from Bishkek
Who considered herself linguistic.
‘What rhymes with this name?’
‘What words can I claim?’
Try biscuit or, got it … it’s fish cake!
In Sary Tash in Kyrgyzstan, we were stuck without a car.
Our aim to travel far away to the Chinese town, Kashgar.
We stuck out our thumb to try our luck
And soon came along a great big truck.
Our driver resembled the Yorkie Bar Man,
But his cabin was clean, all spick and span.
Swiftly we travelled past scenery wild
Sometimes he sang, and oft-times he smiled.
One night we slept on a surgery floor
Offered to us by a kindly doc-tor.
When finally we made it to Kashgar,
Guess what we ate? A Yorkie Bar!
Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, is another challenge for a rhyming word. I was pleased when fish cake came to me in the middle of the night.
Bishkek was also the start of an epic journey first to Osh and then on to the border town of Sary Tash, both still in Kyrgyzstan, with the intention of crossing over the border to reach Dushanbe in Tajikistan. In the event, Mark and Kirsty finished up in Kashgar in China! The epic journey and explanation of the mention of the Yorkie Bar Man can be explored here and here.
To the tune of ‘Let’s call the whole thing off’
♫ You say Calcutta, I say Kolkata
You say Bombay, I say Mumbai
Calcutta, Kolkata, Bombay, Mumbai
Let’s call the whole thing off. ♫
We still call Myanmar, Burma
But we call Rangoon, Yangon.
From the Generals we’ve heard not a murmur.
As they say in France, c’est bon!
With the ending of colonial rule in India in 1947, there were moves to ‘shake off the imperial yoke imposed by the British’ by renaming major cities, territories and states. For different reasons, a similar renaming happened in 1989 in what was Burma, and, following independence, in Pakistan. The process of renaming was long and tortuous with the result that some people, including visitors, still use the old names whereas others have adapted. As seasoned travel bloggers, Mark and Kirsty try to adhere to the modern names but, occasionally, they will use the old names for the benefit of those readers who have not adapted.
Thanks to Mark and Kirsty for commenting and correcting earlier drafts of the three posts, and to my sister, Maureen, for polishing the scanning, grammatical and rhyming aspects of many of my poetic creations. Anything that still jars is called poetic licence!