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Basil's postscript
After nearly 30 years, tears for the dead finally came on flight TG320 from Kathmandu to Bangkok. Before George can finish the first refrain of ‘While my guitar gently weeps...’, tears are pouring down my face like a broken dam, dripping off my chin and onto the iPod in my lap. I turn my face away from the woman sitting next to me. Outside, the blurry outline of the Himalaya sparkles in the morning light.

I cry on planes, a lot, that’s no secret. Sonia never tires of recounting to her friends how her father once bawled his eyes out on a London-Hong Kong flight during the movie Independence Day, when Will Smith decides to marry the stripper (sorry, exotic dancer) before going off to ‘kick some alien arse’.

But these tears are different. They are not the aftermath of jetlag, or the unwitting emissions of twisted passions speeding at 500 miles an hour 30,000 feet in the air. They are drops squeezed from a heart of stone, through floodgates broken by fear; a flow of grief and guilt and shame for all the loved ones who have passed away without my ever shedding a single tear. Not even in private; not until now.

One week before, while I lay semi-conscious in the stone hut at Macchapuchare Base Camp, inside the palm of the Annapurna, they all came around for a visit. I was gasping for breath in between fits of gut-wrenching coughs - a strangely comforting affirmation that I was still alive and unwell. As I floated along the edge of sleep and sentience, they came. One after another, they appeared in the pitch-black room, a space so utterly cold and dark and silent that it may as well have been the bardo.

As I fought off images of exploding porcupines, gladiators in spiked armour wrestling giant crocodiles inside my chest and Cinderella stuffing her broken slippers down my throat, visions of my friends’ lives, and sometimes their violent deaths, played out on the spectral screen that enveloped my feverish brain. Shivering from irresistible chills in the core of my bones, I sweated out the burning hallucinations spawned by flu and fear, and struggled to stay awake. More than once through the long bitter night, I thought if I went to sleep, I would not wake again.

Clapton’s exquisite solo cuts through the reverie. Ignoring the tears that continue to gush from my eyes, and the furtive glances from my fellow passenger, who is politely pretending to be engrossed by her in-flight magazine, I sit stone-still through the turmoil inside, while the music washes over me, with a tremendous feeling of relief. I remain frozen like a statue for most of the flight, as song after song pulls at the heartstrings, loosening the knots and unlocking the secret dungeons where deep feelings buried in long-forgotten memories struggle with each other for liberation.

Finally, the music stops; the programme has run through the entire W, X, Y and Z songs and is back on main menu. I wipe the tears from my face with the back of my hand and glance out the window. The mountains are gone; in their place is the gaping mouth of the Bay of Bengal and the immense flood plain beyond. The confluence of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers sprawls out to the horizon like the roots of a massive tree, or perhaps arteries of a giant’s heart.

By nightfall, the top respiratory specialist in Hong Kong will either check me into a hospital, or warn me to take it easy on the cocktails. One way or another, in ten days’ time, ready or not, I will be up at Everest Base Camp in Tibet, over 17,500 feet above the rivers below.

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Michael's introduction
Basil's postscript
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