The Brummy in Nepal
By Keith Beech
Birmingham-born Andy Griffeths left home three decades ago never to return. He can now be found in a corner of Nepal - selling mountaineering equipment to travellers.
Welcome to Thamel
Thamel is the bustling tourist district of Nepal's capital Kathmandu.
Located near the Royal Palace, it's said you can find anything in the area.
A plethora of bars, restaurants and massage parlours litter the district, and quaint, tucked-away shops sell everything from hand-made metal and woodwork to Tiberian art and Buddhist artefacts.
Above the noise of the hustle and bustle of the street life though, first time visitors may be shocked to hear the bellowing voice of Brummy Andy Griffeths.
Shona's store, Thamel
Andy runs a mountaineering shop with his Nepalese second wife Shona. Between them they share seven children from previous marriages.
Andy first visited Nepal in 1969 and has made the country - sandwiched between the Indian and Chinese borders - his home.
"I wanted to get away, to see the world," he explains. "I've never had a life plan but I arrived in Nepal, saw the mountains, saw Shona and fell in love with both and I've never felt like leaving again.
Andy Griffeths, born in Hall Green, describes himself as a climber - hence his chosen profession - and admits he was first bitten by the bug back home in Birmingham.
"When other kids growing up around Hall Green and Moseley were playing with a football I would be up a tree," he says. "I just loved getting to the top of things that were difficult to climb and I've never changed.
Andy and Shona
"One of the great things about living in Birmingham as a youngster was the fact that you could get out into wide open spaces within just a few minutes. I loved the citys parks and can remember going up the Clent Hills, though the mountains I've climbed since are a fair bit bigger!”
In Birmingham Andy went to Acocks Green School though he admits that after the age of 14 he spent more time skipping than he did attending classes.
His father, a Birmingham accountant, and his mother, a proud housewife, lived in Hall Green until 1975. It was then that Andy decided to travel.
"I didn't know how long I'd be away but I've never really been back."
Andy's round-the-world journey took him to Australia, where he still has a second home, to Russia, Africa and finally to Nepal.
Voice of reason
It was here that he opened his own shop, Shona's - named after his wife. The couple have supplied trekking equipment for the past 13 years and can kit out anyone with all the necessary gear for a trip to the Himalayas.
They both work seven days a week and sell, or rent out, around 120 sleeping bags and 90 trekking jackets each month of the season.
Backpackers visit the store though not just for the latest hiking equipment; Andy's a great source of advice for budding adventurers, and offers an experienced voice based largely on his own climbing and trekking experiences.
He refuses to admit that his trekking days are over but when he does get time off from the shop during the monsoon season it's not the hills that he heads for but his second home in Australia instead.
Thamel in Kathmandu
Andy hasn't returned to Birmingham for 33 years. When his father died at a fairly young age his mother moved to Spain. She passed away in recent years too. But he hasn't lost touch with his routes altogether:
"All the Brits know where I'm from as soon as I open my mouth. My accent is still as strong as ever so I get regular updates about the old place whenever anyone from the Midlands comes into the shop. I hear it's changed one hell of a lot since my days, I don't suppose I'd recognize it anymore.
"I'd like to go back to have a look but I'm not sure what with the shop and the family that I'll ever manage to make the trip. It's been so long I'm not really sure what I miss anymore, but it's certainly not the British winter weather and you can get HP Sauce here in Nepal too!”
last updated: 25/04/2008 at 16:29