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Nepal Day 9 - Lumbini, Pokhara

October 7th, 2013

Another early morning with breakfast at 7am. Porridge toast, boiled eggs and a spicy savoury potato dish with coffee.

Group photos on the lawn and then we set off for Pokhara. We stopped after 5 minutes because there was a Maoist demonstration. We wanted to check it wasn’t on any of our roads out. It was, but an inspector came aboard the bus to verify we were all tourists and let us through. So off we set.

The journey to Pokhara took us up 1000m in altitude. Roads were treacherous, narrow and extremely bumpy. I could hear yelps from the other passengers as we were occasionally thrown completely out of our seats. It’s safety first for me so I always wore a seat belt. I figured out they had been fitted to the bus incorrectly so I fixed mine. All this meant was that I wasn’t thrown quite as far up as the others but my bum still left the seat! Oh, and if the coach decided to join any of the hundreds of coaches that had taken bad turns and rolled down the hill, I’d be the only survivor!

After 2 hours we stopped for a rest break near a large bridge. We walked along down to the river which was a beautiful opaque turquoise colour, probably due to the high mineral content in the area. The sand was light grey but it glinted like diamonds. On closer inspection there were lots of tiny flecks of quartz mixed in with the sand. Butterflies fluttered next to the water’s edge. When they were grounded they were jet black but when they took off they revealed bright cyan colours under their wings.

The other guests on the tour had nicknamed me the Pied Piper because all the children seem to migrate towards me. I think its because I’m the tallest in the group, or they associate better with odd socks or it’s some kind of morbid curiosity; I seem to be the one they hassle first for sweets.

Back in the coach and continued the journey. I sat in the cab of the coach for a few minutes and saw the driver’s eye view. It was extremely frightening, hurtling around blind corners on a mountain pass at 30mph, but after a while you kind of got used to it. It was all about watching what was on the road ahead and remembering it - a bit like driving in the countryside except that if you make a mistake it was a 500 meter drop instead of hitting a bush or tree.

As we travelled through a small village we saw a film crew. It looked quite interesting so after a straw poll we decided to make a stop here and have a nose around. Pabi said she recognised the policeman character but didn’t know the rest. We later found out that the policeman was the lead character in a TV cop show and, by all accounts, was a bit of a heart throb in Nepal. This went a long way to explaining why the stop was sudden and unscheduled and why Pabi was practically drooling while we all watched what was going on. Elsewhere on the set there was a barber complete with posters of dolly girls stuck to the walls of his shack. Nepal is a bit religious, so all the dolly girls were fully clothed and properly presented; no Page 3 here!

Finally made it to Pokhara at about 5pm and checked into the hotel. This was a real hotel with an en suite bathroom. As usual I was sharing with Jon again who had been a bit unwell over the journey and so was the first to try out the facilities. The toilet didn’t flush properly so he had to do some DIY to fix it.

I’d been stuck on the bus all day and was gasping for a pint. Went for a wander to find somewhere to have a drink. Pokhara feels a lot like one of the Greek Islands: a central strip with tourist shops selling tat. Every other shop was a camping shop pushing knock-off North Face gear at rock bottom prices. Most of the people where white or Chinese and I can’t say I liked it as much as the other places we had visited.

Found our way on to a platform which extended out into the lake. Unfortunately there was a haze that spoilt what would have been a wonderful view. After admiring the haze for a bit we continued our search for some amber nectar. Found a nice place with some good trance tunes and plenty of shade. Had a couple of beers with Rob and watched the sun set.

Photos on my Facebook page.

Change Power Plan when application starts

September 30th, 2013

Most of the time my computer runs using the Balanced power plan. This turns the display off after 10 minutes and puts the computer to sleep after 30 minutes. So you can imagine how upset I get when the computer goes to sleep after 30 minutes, before it can complete the 2 hour download or 3 hour video transcode.

In the control panel (Control Panel -> Hardware and Sound -> Power Options) you can select different power plans. You can then set up desktop shortcuts to configure the system to use the different power profiles. Sadly this is something that you have to remember to do before you start the special program and again after the special program has completed.

I looked all over the internet for a program that will alter the power options (or power plan) automatically depending on which applications were running. Needless to say I couldn’t find one! So I’ve had to write it myself using PowerShell.

Version 1 of the program is really simple. The program has 2 power states, one for when a special program is running and one for when no special programs are running.

There are a few things you need to do to get yourself going.

  1. Open a Control Panel -> Hardware and Sound -> Power Options find or create 2 power plans. I changed Balanced to turn off the display after 10 minutes and send the computer to sleep after 30 minutes. I created another power plan called No Sleep which switches the display off after 5 minutes and never puts the computer to sleep.
  2. Open a command prompt and type: powercfg list

    C:\Users\mrn>powercfg list

    Existing Power Schemes (* Active)
    ———————————–
    Power Scheme GUID: 381b4222-f694-41f0-9685-ff5bb260df2e (Balanced) *
    Power Scheme GUID: 8c5e7fda-e8bf-4a96-9a85-a6e23a8c635c (High performance)
    Power Scheme GUID: a1841308-3541-4fab-bc81-f71556f20b4a (Power saver)
    Power Scheme GUID: b1b44a00-a3a0-4cf7-9ef1-a2a1c117dc5f (No Sleep)

  3. Pick the 2 power schemes from the list and update the variables $programs_running_cfg, $programs_running_cfg_guid, $programs_not_running_cfg and $programs_not_running_cfg_guid inside the program.
  4. Next we have to find out the names of the special programs, so we can watch for them. Open a Powershell command line. Type: Get-Process. Load in the special program and type Get-Process again. Compare the outputs of the command to yield the process name.

    PS C:\Users\mrn> Get-Process

    Handles NPM(K) PM(K) WS(K) VM(M) CPU(s) Id ProcessName
    ——- —— —– —– —– —— – ———–
    152 15 3364 8776 57 1864 Azureus

  5. Do this for each special program you want to add.
  6. Take the ProcessNames and add them as a quoted comma separated list to the variable $special_programs

Finally, add the program to your start menu Startup folder. If this is the first time you are using PowerShell you may have to change the execution policy to RemoteSigned to allow it to run.

Obviously the program is really simple so if anyone creates an update or a better version then I’d be happy to update this post to share the changes. So without further a do, here it is:

Code

$special_programs = @('Azureus', 'VirtualBox')
 
# dos> powercfg list
$programs_running_cfg = 'No Sleep'
$programs_running_cfg_guid = 'b1b44a00-a3a0-4cf7-9ef1-a2a1c117dc5f'
 
$programs_not_running_cfg = 'Balanced'
$programs_not_running_cfg_guid = '381b4222-f694-41f0-9685-ff5bb260df2e'
 
$loop_delay = 60
 
while ($True)
{
  $special_programs_running = $False
  for ($i = 0 ; $i -le $special_programs.Length – 1 ; $i++)
  {
    Get-Process -ErrorAction SilentlyContinue -Name $special_programs[$i]
    $running = $?
    if ($running -eq $True)
    {
      $special_programs_running = $True
      # break
    }
  }
  
  $current = powercfg -getactivescheme
  if ($special_programs_running -eq $True)
  {
    write-host "Special programs running"
    if ($current -match $programs_running_cfg_guid -eq $False)
    {
      write-host "Switching to " $programs_running_cfg
      powercfg -setactive $programs_running_cfg_guid
    }
    else
    {
      write-host "Power profile already set to " $programs_running_cfg
    }
  }
  else
  {
    write-host "No special programs running"
    if ($current -match $programs_not_running_cfg_guid -eq $False)
    {
      write-host "Switching to " $programs_not_running_cfg
      powercfg -setactive $programs_not_running_cfg_guid
    }
    else
    {
      write-host "Power profile already set to " $programs_not_running_cfg
    }
 
  }
  
  write-host "Sleeping..."    
  sleep $loop_delay
}

Nepal Day 8 - Chitwan, Lumbini

September 6th, 2013

Woke up before the alarm at 6.20, cold shower (no hot water) then down to breakfast.

Mary and Rob had been bitten to death by mosquitoes so gave them some of my Piriton (antihistamine). We left Chitwan at 8am bound for Lumbini, home place of the Buddha.

Stopped at a little village about 10 minutes away. The village had been there for 1200 years. The villagers survived the malaria epidemic by smoking the cannabis which grows locally all around the village, well that was their excuse! The houses or huts were made from mud and clay.

On arriving at the village 2 boys came to say hello and then they said “Candy". What a cheek! Had a rummage around my bag and found a chocolate bar from the last road trip that I hadn’t eaten yet, and gave it to the boys. I gestured that they had to share it. They scampered off a couple of meters and after struggling to get into the packet, the eldest split it into two and they started happily munching away.

At the back of the village there was an animal pen and a vegetable patch. A little girl came to watch us watching the pigs. After two minutes she said sheepishly “Candy". I had another look in the bag to see how much lunch I had left. Found a bag of sweet croissants and in the time it took to get up the girl had been joined by six other children including the two from earlier. I split them so they could share the food equally amongst themselves. Rob made a joke that if we came back in a year, they would have got rid of their village statue of Shiva and replaced it with a statue of me handing out chocolate and cakes to the children!

Back in the coach for 2 hours. After we had a rest stop there was a quiz. Steve is by far in a way the worst quiz master ever. It’s so bad it’s good! Yet again the quiz was full of ambiguous multi-choice questions which we all had a laugh about.

Stopped for lunch at a school about an hour from Lumbini. There was a shaded area outside the classrooms so we sheltered under there while eating our pack lunches. Quite a crowd of women and children started watching us from doorways and other shaded areas. Various people in our group had left overs, so walked over to the onlookers and distributed them.

The area was very rural and I think foreigners were a bit unusual. In spite of being a very poor area all the school kids had a school uniform. Most of the uniforms were western in style: shirt, tie, trousers (or skirt) and in some cases a jumper, blazer or both - yes a jumper in 32°C! but they didn’t seem to mind. Back in the coach for the final leg to Lumbini.

We stayed in the Buddhist pilgrim monastery on the edge of town. Tourists are usually not allowed but Losan knew some people in monk-world and so was able to get us in. After arrival we unpacked and relaxed for a bit before meeting in the lobby.

Today was a cycle tour of Lumbini: Development Trust. It was a 1.5km by 6km square block of land which was devoted to Buddha. Bab’s had popped her knee getting down from her bathing elephant so Mary and her were met by a Rickshaw outside the monastery and the rest of us had to walk down to the cycle hire shop. My bike had a dodgie seat and only one break but it seemed to work ok. It was nice to see I could still cycle with no hands when the road (or path) was flat enough.

Losan (our friendly neighbourhood monk) and Steve guided us to the centre where Buddha’s birth place was. The actual spot was enclosed in a white castle building. We had to take our shoes off, so I was getting smiles from everyone because I wear odd socks and they were more obvious now. There was a pool at the back called “The Puskarini, The Holy Pond“. Steps led down to the murky light jade coloured water. Visibility was only a few centimetres and after seeing a turtle we starred in contemplation wondering how deep it actually was. At that point an absolutely monster fish appeared from no where and then was gone. I think the pond was an up-side-down pyramid and the steps to it were just the first steps of many to the bottom.

The whole park was very relaxing and we sat in a semi-circle surrounding Losan while he talked about Buddhism. He explained how to sit and hold your hands. Then we started to meditate. After listening to Losan talking us through meditation for about 30 minutes I realised that I actually meditate quite regularly at home and in my normal life, I just never referred to it as meditation. The were various members of the group who were very spiritual and bought into the whole ethos of relaxing and sitting around doing nothing, but I’m sorry it’s not for me! I use it for sensory exercise - “use it or lose it” (I’ll probably get another blog article out of that when I’ve finished my trip articles.)

During Losan’s meditation under the trees in Buddha’s garden a lot of people came and sat in our semi-circle. I think they thought “our” monk was a general monk for everyone which was okay at the beginning but the numbers soon grew to include hordes of Indian children who were fighting and disrupting what we were doing so we called it a day. We had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves on the proviso that we had the bikes back by 6.

The park has a long channel of water (or canal) that connected Buddha’s birth site in the Sacred Garden to the World Peace Pagoda about 3 km away. Along the canal were the various headquarters of Buddhist factions from around the world. At the end is a World Peace monument with an inscription along the lines of “…Buddha freeing us from the shackles of Gods…". It reminds us that fighting and killing each other over made-up space fairies was no way to behave and we should all just concentrate on keeping ourselves happy by being nice to each other. I had a lot of exposure to Buddhism when I was travelling around Japan and if I had to choose a religion to follow this would be it.

Back on the bikes and the scenic route back to the hire shop. I had caught the sun so I risked an ice lolly! before heading back to the monastery for a shower and dinner.

Drinking and smoking were forbidden at the monastery so a small contingent of people decided to venture out to find somewhere for a post-dinner pre-bed drink. By a strange coincidence the only people who stayed out were from science related professions (engineering, I.T. and analysis). All the nurses, environmental health officers and accountants stayed in. Just had one bottle of Gurka beer (650ml) for 180rs (£1.65).

There was a huge Hindu festival on in the park. A man’s voice came over the public address system when we dropped off the bikes. The voice sounded like it was announcing something but then the drums came and the announcing changed into manic Indian ranting, almost like he was trying to whip the audience into a frenzy. Tractors with trailers full of revellers had been driving up to the festival site and back all evening and at 10pm when we wanted to go to bed it was showing no sign of stopping, even manic Indian man was still ranting down the P.A. only now he was banging drums too.

Jon and I had checked the room for mosquitoes before hitting the lights but it was still really hot. The extra noise wasn’t helping me sleep. After about an hour the manic Indian shouting and drumming was replaced by 2 voices monastically chanting. This was much easier on the ears and I soon fell asleep.

Photos on my Facebook page.

The magic bullet of health is exercise

August 27th, 2013

Featured in BBC2’s Dara O Briain’s Science Club on 22 August 2013. Dara was interviewing Professor Dame Sally Davies the UK Chief Medical Officer.

Dara: What are the major health challenges that we face?
Sally: Well, clearly there’s always what we call health protection. Infections, and we’ve talked already about antimicrobial resistance and that going to become worse. We’ve had a pandemic in 2009, we know there’s flu in China at the moment, we know there’s a novel coronavirus coming out of the Middle East. But as well as that, we have new epidemics and people talk about the non-communicable diseases but there are lifestyle ones. There are size, because we like food. It’s an abuse of alcohol particularly in our young and our young women and it’s a lack of exercise.
If there’s a magic bullet, it’s exercise.

Nepal Day 7 - Chitwan, Elephants

August 19th, 2013

Up at 6am for breakfast at 7. We were in Southern Nepal now so the temperature was a few degrees more, we were in the malarial zone and the humidity had increased. The hotel ran on its own generator for about 6 hours each day, usually during the evening. There had been no air-conditioning in our bedrooms so the night had been a little bit hot and sticky.

Buffalo sausages and toast for breakfast. We also listened to some of the other guests showing off the mosquito bites they got during the night. Jonathan and I had yet again escaped unharmed.

The first activity of the day was crocodile and bird spotting on the river. There was a mist on the early morning river which gave quite a calming feeling. The only noises were the natural sound of the river and odd splashes from boats and birds taking off. It was quite eerie. The river was very clear and reeds flowed by. You kind of wanted to put your hands in the water and feel its cold loveliness but I had to keep reminding myself that it was full of crocodiles and bugs designed to give me the trots!

The boats were made out of hollowed out trees and felt distinctly unstable. It didn’t help that there was a man standing on a little ledge at the back steering with a gondola style stick and a man standing on another edge in front of us describing what we were seeing. It took quite a while for us passengers to get used to riding in the boat. It was a little bit like riding pillion on a motorbike. You had to let the boat rock naturally which was very unnerving. There were quite a few fast deep intakes of breath as people thought the boat was going to tip over, but after about half an hour I think we’d all got the hang of it. This was lucky because that’s when we hit the rapids! I’m not talking New Zealand white water rapids but when you have 12 people sitting on a stick moving through crocodile infested waters then it was just as scary.

I caught a glimpse of a baby crocodile poking its head out of the water so the trip was a success. It was a lucky sighting as we had arrived at our stopping point at the edge of the jungle. We de-camped, added more sun-cream and deet and headed into the jungle in search of rhinos, tigers and other jungle beasties.

It was really hot, walking around the jungle for 2 hours especially as the only thing we saw were a few tiger tracks and a few bugs. At one point everyone had to go quiet as the ranger moved stealthily in for a closer look but it turned out to be another party who thought we were a tiger too! We walked all the way back to the place we had climbed into the boats.

The next activity was elephant bathing. We had to sign a disclaimer for this activity but Steve said it was fun. He’d done it and said it was great fun but couldn’t do it with us because it’s too dangerous. It took a while to work out what he meant: it’s ok to do it as a one-off but doing it each time would increase the risk. Everyone was a little bit apprehensive but Rob and I had seem some people doing it as we walked back through the jungle and thought it looked all right. We bravely stepped forwards as first to have a go. Or more, they asked who wanted a go and I foolishly jumped in and made Rob follow me!

I climbed on to the bare back of the elephant. It was a lot warmer and hairier than I had imagined. The elephant man stood on its back behind Rob and me and walked us all out into the river where it was a bit deeper. The elephant slowly bent its head down slurped a considerable volume of river water up its trunk, then raised its trunk up over its head and expelled all of it at a considerable force straight into my face. From that point I could not stop laughing. It was pure fun. After a couple of blasts I predicted when the next one was coming and at the last moment I bent forward over the elephant’s head, the jet of water completely missed me and hit Rob in the face. After the usual complaints about not being ready he was laughing uncontrollably too.

Babs popped her knee when she came down from the elephant and there were a couple of other minor injuries as people fell off the elephants but all-in-all it was well worth it. Left the elephant men with a little tip and went back to the hotel for a shower and lunch. Lunch was pretty nice, some kind of clear vegetable soup and a mixture of eastern and western food. Pabi was sitting on her own so I sat with her. I explained to her that leaving someone to eat on their own was considered rude, so we had a little food related-cultural exchange over lunch which was interesting.

No time to rest and we were back in the Jeep travelling to the Elephant Reserve. We spend the afternoon riding elephants through the jungle looking for tigers, rhino and deer. 4 people per elephant sitting in a metal poled box with our legs dangling over the edge. Once you got used to the walking motion of the elephant it was okay. Still didn’t see any tigers but we did get quite close to a rhino. The park ranger told us that rhinos were more dangerous than tigers so that made us feel better!

One thing that we all commented on was how rude we thought the Indian people were. They turned up tried to jump the queue and left a trail of litter behind them. It was clear that the park rangers had a lot of work to do and we could tell that they were very disappointed with the Indians casually discarding their litter into the river or where ever they were standing. There were litter bins all over the reserve but they just couldn’t be bothered to use them.

We had a free night and we had all thought that it was so nice sitting next to the river that we went back after dinner. I spend a bit more time chatting to Julian and played with the sunset settings on my camera.

Photos on my Facebook page.