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Day 88: Kunming

Kunming, China 
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Elephant basketball at the Nationalities Village.
Michael Palin - HimalayaThe first English-language newspapers since we left Kathmandu. It's not often I read the papers these days and feel cheered up, but The China Daily's news of the first full ceasefire in Kashmir for 14 years is heartening. Kashmir was the most traumatized of all the areas we've been through on the Himalayan journey and its problems seemed insoluble. Now, President Musharraf has ordered a ceasefire along the Line of Control and there is a suggestion that he will allow talks to go ahead on the future of Kashmir without prior conditions. Previously, the Pakistan government has regarded a plebiscite in Kashmir as a sine qua non of any talks.

The Bank Hotel in Kunming is one of exceptional comfort but in the short time I've been here I've had to call someone to fix both the heating and the lights. Now I find that my bathroom scales don't function. This is not, I realize, a big deal, but we're paying for this little bit of luxury so we might as well get it right. I ring for assistance and have a not altogether satisfactory conversation with someone who seems unfamiliar with the word 'scales', but happier with 'bathroom'.

Within less than a minute the doorbell goes. Standing there is a hefty girl with a plastic cap on, flanked by two men in protective overalls, one holding a red rubber plunger and the other an enormous wrench. They stand there motionless for a moment, like figures on a coat of arms. I have the distinct feeling they would rather not be here.

It's quite a squeeze with all four of us in the bathroom, and, as we shuffle round, the man with the plunger gestures nervously towards the toilet bowl. When I shake my head and hand them the defective scales, their manner changes completely and, with lavatory-unclogging off the menu, we are one happy family, nodding and smiling and joking.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 88: Kunming
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Kunming
  • Book page no: 206

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